Sunday, 28 September 2014

Hammer & Tongue National Final, Fuck Yeah

They day for me was chaotic, between a lack of trains, trouble sorting babysitting, time broken by the demands of food and know how it goes, sometimes. But for all that, for what I could attend...the gig was good.

More than good. My fingers itch to take up a pen again and revisit my poetry that has had to be relegated to subconscious soup of late.

The final took place in the Royal Albert Hall's underground Loading Bay. High ceilinged, bright lights casting comforting shadows, gratified rock gods circling benevolently around a cross country, cross continental audience that awaited words and rhymes with grins and rapture. And booze, obviously. And nerves for those who watched the stage they would soon ascend.

And ascend they did, with diverse offerings, and each and every one should rest easy today with a sense of pride. Because you are all awesome.

There were about 50 poets performing from Bristol, Hackney, Cambridge, Oxford, and Camden chapters as well as Bang Said the Gun, Apples and Snakes, Outspoken and the qualifiers from the Roundhouse, Glastonbury, the Commonwealth Games, Strawberry Fair, Farrago, Word4Word and the BBC and Scotland slams. Too many to detail here.

Some of those I had the pleasure to hear, to see, and stood out in memory were Torrey Shineman, whose naked cartwheels called bullshit on supposed beauty ideals. Tom Gill's unfortunate serendipity and pop culture references melded with beats and bleak humour. David Lee Morgon's call that we all become crazy santas and fight for the rights for all children to know love and safety. Rik the Most's critique of an education system in thrall to the meanness of averages, remembering those doomed to drown in mediocrity. Tim Ledwitch's remembrance of a friend who died of cancer but was not lost to it, a pain that demanded we embrace the thunder, dance in the rain. Justina Kehinde whose brutal words wove elegantly, and without succour, the reality of female genital mutilation.

Kate Tempest enticed and awed with a guest performance. Who is, to put it quite simply, fucking amazing. Given a choice of a couple of pieces of shorter, known material or a longer, new story we called for the latter and were gifted with the a modern retelling of Tiresias. Woven with all the verve and energy and delicacy you would expect, blending the ancient and the contemporary, interspersing stabs to the heart, claws to soul with bright flashes of knowing humour and that smile.

Then, the individual slam winners. There were two this year, both wielders of vaginas...and talent and fury and wisdom.

Vanessa Kissuule, candidly sharing philosophical life hacks and an introspective critique on the infrastructure of the event and judgement.

Leyla Josephine, in conversation with Beyonce, refusing to accept domestic violence with a blase booty wiggle and a memory of her introduction to sex through the gnarly visuals of hardcore porn.

Congratulations, and thank you to all who performed or worked their asses off to put on this event.

And you? Want to try your luck, think you may be next years winner? Want to be entertained, inspired or help choose who gets to compete for the title? Then check out whats going on in your local area because the regional slams start this October.

**Edited for greek idiocies. apologies. This is why editing is a valuable tool.**

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

A Little Good News

I've had my first short story acceptance!

Somebody Else will be featuring alongside the tales of other talented writers in the Fox Pocket anthology In an Unknown Country by Fox Spirit.

The release date is yet to be confirmed but likely to be in S/S 2015.

I'll post more details when I know them. In the meantime you could always have a read of their other publications and blog posts. :)

P.S. I'm still editing a Song of Sorrow.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Rejection Blues and Burning

I'm editing again. I cannot honestly say that the first draft is done, as I'm never quite comfortable saying that until it is ready to be read by another. And it would be more accurate to say this is, at least, the second incarnation.

This time last year I had just started my collection of rejections. I did my research, soon encountering the vast sea of my ignorance and dived in regardless. I've always found learning by fire a good way to temper knowledge/action, and yes I blundered, a bit, occasionally. Ahem. Instead of the coldly calculating wisps who slid easily into snide that I had been fearing, and seen much moaned about online, I found my correspondence with agents, and their assistants, to be rather friendly. Even the form rejections are written with a hand that holds yours comfortingly, perhaps offers advice from an experienced perspective. It is important to remember that agents are people and, not only that, but people who read. We all want good books.

Over the autumn I carried on writing the next part of the story, carried on submitting, researching, learning. There are some sites that advise that writers can collect a 100+ rejections before getting that longed for acceptance. I've always thought you would do better to try and identify why it elicits such a negative response. A few may just be down to luck or a matter of taste. If it is just based on your covering letter then perhaps that needs to be improved, but if its on a call for your first chapters? That strongly suggests it's your writing, story, or characters (or worse, dread of dread, the whole lot).

"trap of over writing"
"far too overly florid"
"it just didn't grab me enough"
"need to have a better idea of what the main drama and thrust of the plot is"
"the writing can be tightened up and simplified"

Some of the constructively critical barbs that struck. It took a few months for objective scar tissue to form, for me to figure out whether it was just the first three chapters that were a shambles or if the problem went deeper. To figure out how restrictions cause friction, how to utilise that and when to let go and recognise that structure is not rigid, but more a glue, an anchor, a backbone. Your writing does not hang from, nor frame, your plot but flows from it. There is a part of me amused that one of the themes explored is that journey, those concepts of innocence and experience.

In the spring I burned around 51k of prose, plus an unknown amount of sentences, paragraphs, phrases, a few characters; sub plots died or evolved. The 30kish that had been the beginning of book two merged with the old, contracted, expanded. The chronology fell to chaos. The arc in Of Bloody Reflections was shaken down and combed over, redistributed and refined into a duology. I certainly understand the value of a working synopsis (not notes or plans) better now. Like an ultimate spoiler guide/battle plan/literary analysis.

The discordant mess of  Song of Sorrow settled, slowly, into something approaching a story once more.

I've missed my self imposed deadlines, but am not too fraught over it. With every cliff I jump off it gets a bit better. I think. I mean...not just florid, not just far too florid, but overly far too florid! Florid to the third degree. FFS. That haunts me.

But summer is maturing into autumn once more, and the writing has ripened.

Soon it will be ready to be read, again, for the first time.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

When the End is Nigh: Understanding Narrative

   On lock down.

Pressure of last ch.s, followed by yearned for and feared readers, leads to much stereotypical anguish.

Coffee, how I used to drink it, and cigarettes, note to self:

Less words written is more.

Re-read: MS; structural edit and synopsis, time-lined plot/s/arcs/themes/clues. Re-examine chara's action/reaction vs motivation/conflict. Hold disparate threads clear in mind and view as a whole.

Word count is important (whatever it may be): data to delineate pattern of story structure. All those pies from childhood, less strenuous to an already chaotic mind.
-how aligns to classic structures?
-how/why differentiates?

//buisnesshead: Look at what sells in market, commerciability consideration to temper creativity.//

Re-writes: Understand what you meant to say, but probably failed at.
-Keep final ch.s trim//pacing
-Expand within rise/fall of earlier tension (just replace the unnecessary description from where your subconscious knew where something was meant to be but wasn't quite a kenning exactly what it was yet.)
-Keep taunt

Restrictions create necessary friction but beware constriction. Don't hold back. Let go of fear and remember the smell of books on a rainy summer day, curled up around another world.

(also: blogging doesn't count)

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Made Glass

Softly gently dust is blown from
these hidden gems, these hard worn gleams
of dreams, memories.
When fear crowds close.
When grief keens.
Edges of reality in blurred sharpness.

Moments caught in grass, in conversation, in books,
in the sky setting like blood.
And always laughter.
And adventure.
When life trespasses briared boundaries.

And sometimes in seems,
caught in striken impasses,
that those moments never last
they linger, made glass.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Poetry & Pieces of Soul

   As last summer came to a close, back when I had first begun submitting that rather rambling first draft, I started to attend some poetry nights. I had become aware of the scene via my terribly talented friend Moden and slowly the enticement won over. My prose style had always had a poetical leaning, and this creative transition was to mark the beginning of a refinement in my writing style. I think. I hope.

And poetry has that habit, of coming from a much rawer place within.

Which contrasts strangely with that next uncomfortable realisation: the confrontation of an audience. When you are writing long form you have to get lost in your world, your narrative, in the story. It is easy to lose sight of the outcome of publication. Being that people are going to read the bloody thing.

And that seems like losing a valuable insight, a way of writing aware of impact.

Because there they are, these faces; anticipating, shuffling beyond this strange, intimidating contraption that is the mic. As you may have guessed by the saturation of adjectives that this situation makes me rather nervous. The first time I shook like a leaf in changing winds, turning colours and twisting on an uneven stem. I read a prose-poetry extract from Song of Sorrow to the wonderfully supportive, lyric twisters of Fenspeak, a group run by Elaine Ewart and Leanne Moden, with Atlier East. I explored the scene a little more with Allographic hosted by Faye Roberts. Slowly growing more comfortable, confidant enough to enter a slam or two at Russel J Turner's The Birdcage in Norwich, and Hammer & Tongue. Starting to memorise poems, to shed that barrier of paper.

I want an audience to be spell bound, to rouse that fire and let it burn bright...

Fire there was in plenty, born on the darkside, following an experience of sexual assault. Another, and I doubt the last. And so I thought of this, trying to remember hope, scratching scraps of words on envelopes, stuttering and starting with the final chapters of the book. Remembering to take time and breathe, embrace routine and easy moments.

An opportunity came up for a set on the Wild Strawberries Stage at Strawberry Fair. I took it. Planning to perform, from memory, Naturalising and the new poem I was working on.

As Anthem began to coalesce I also thought of 'we', of what feminism meant to me, to others. Of the need. Of the hundreds of missing Nigerian schoolgirls, of pictures of the two Indian girls who were gang raped and hung, of the tumult of shared voices via The Everyday Sexism Project and #YesAllWomen, of the women that were murdered in the Isla Vista shooting.

The morning broke with storms, of course, but the sun burned them off and talent spilled golden. The usual suspects that are always good to hear and talented new voices too; Meg Burrows and Joe Navarro.

I asked the audience to repeat the lines that began with 'we', to catch the rhythm and spit it back at me. The first set went well, they heard, words caught and were called back. Lyrics flowed but my nerves hemmed me in... I also entered a later slam, a smoother performance perhaps though with a greater constriction of allowed time. This time their perception was cooled by the judging process, though I hope my words still stirred.


We are hurt
Shot, stabbed, raped
and we are leaving
the false safety of your sails

No longer knotted in conforming
contortions of genteel glamour,
but teeth bared
gritted with a rage that clamours

We are marching
Weary, wary, ready
and we are speaking
denouncing the lies that pale

And I find myself betrayed,
wearing beauty like a blade,
my body made political when
I fight the force of fingers seeking

To strip me from my autonomy.
My sisters,
denying repression, suppression,
this is expression

And you will listen
And we will rise
With rage and words
tears mixed with ink upon the page

Its time for a new age.

We are hurt
Shot, stabbed, raped
And we are fighting
We are speaking

Its time for change.

Song of Sorrow, Extract: VI The Last Eagle

   Creak. Hiss.
    The vicious wind, coldly cutting, soughing through; twisted branches, razored outcrops.
      The man-thing waited, wary.
        No song was sung.
         Stone failed to scour his broken feet. White slashes evidence of his long standing relationship with pain. In his dreams he remembers boots. Tough, leather scented, practical existence. The pinch and rub of breaking them in, once bemoaned. He finds a longing for such pain now, with its promise of protection.

 The man-thing stirred, peering.
   Crept from the dubious shelter of an old landslide. Shards of rock angled together like the primeval arrowheads of some gigantic god. There were no gods. Just…

 The man-thing snarled, twisting.
   Exposing the broken fragments of his teeth;  blackly mouldering. His emaciated grip tightened on his crudely fashioned spear. Twisted wood, a broken sword fastened to its tip. More rust than iron now.  Useless, really. He scrabbled down the steep slope, seeking the dark depths of the wooded crevice below. Within the pines death waited. But he had no choice. He must continue onwards. This route offered a possibility of a pass. Above a purple topped mountain loomed, behind him the sky was violated with a host of thrusting peaks. Now but one remained between him and the north. He didn’t really know if it offered hope. He didn’t really care. He had fixated on it long ago. His thoughts tangled and he stopped thinking. This is best. Keep going. Don’t think. Don’t stop. Don’t look back…

   The slope splintered abruptly. Stunted trees clung to shadowed fissures. His scabbed nose snuffled, the aroma of dead meat caused his hunger to roar! Muscles trembling, his crooked fingers sought handholds…for a moment he hung on the precipice with desperate fervour. Violent mutterings of shock echoed from his hollowed gut, head beating its agony. Mortality weighed heavy on him. It would be so easy to let go. To choose his ending.

   His poor feet scraped against a cruel surface, and he flung himself there, breathless. He pulled himself farther in the weeping walls. Long deteriorated fabric tore, the once shirt fluttered from him, caught fluttering on the wail of the wind.

   The man-thing hungered, famishing.
     The corpse of a rodent, found. Blunt teeth and torn nails ripped apart the aging flesh ferociously. Chewing briefly, gagging the meat and maggots down. Bones gnawed, crunched, sucked clean. The foul remains a bloody smear dripping in his matted beard.

   The man-thing wept, unknowing.
     The whites of his eyes flashing wildly, he eyed the great pines swaying before him. Pale fabric spilled wantonly down a darkling trunk. Terror struck him; no, no! No...just harsh light, slicing through the tapering treetops. His bloody fingers slipped as he heaved himself out, down. Blood bought knowledge finding the slightest handhold. Where no more were offered he dropped.

   The man-thing crouched, fearful.
     Softly, silently on the needled ground. Gaunt form ready to burst into movement, spear poised; still. It snarled and drooled, its eyes seeking, sweeping, surveying the ancient quiet beneath this towering world. Each shadow lay evilly, eyes awaiting his next move. This was her territory. She had taken them, the others, one by one. Inevitable her embrace. He alone remained. Bloated, she hunted him. Slowly. His face spasmed uncontrollably, fingers danced nervously on his spear. Don’t linger, don’t linger, don’t look back…

   Toes digging deep into the mast he ran, a stumbling, limping gait. The valley, such as it was, lay narrow and dark before him. Run, run. Run! Breath came in stabbing gasps. Always he searched ahead. There: white clawed hand gripped rough barked branch. Red sap oozing. No! A bird cawed its annoyance at his intrusion, small teeth like splinters in its beak.

   Everything was hungry here.
    The wind abated.
      The man-thing bolted, panicking.
        Pushing speed from his abused body. The sound came. The rush of rapids, the awful staccato rumble of rocks falling, the deathly maddened yowl of a mountain cat. Her laughter lapped at his heels. Fear sickened him. His terror escaped him in inhuman noises, his throat constricted, distorting the sounds of his sobbing into madness. He ran, ran. Run! This is no madness! Oh no, if only...only too real, this hunt, this fear, this pursuit. An ending, inevitable, but the horror of such pitiless rending drives him beyond.

   Don’t look back!
    The man-thing screams, defiantly.
      The wind returned. With a roar it beat at his back, assaulting his mind with twisted desires. It sought to harden his manhood with images of her carrion feeding, searing his vision. Far too late. The desiccated, grey member lay shrivelled; his bootlaces tied tight, scarred flesh creeping over them. Agonising, it gave him enough power to remain aloof of her urgings. To keep running. His body, so empty of what makes man, propelled him up the sudden cliff that closed the valley. Lacerated flesh bled listlessly, his manic flight wearying. She called him.

    The man-thing on all fours, running.
      Fingers breaking grievously on the gravel. Too weary for bi-pedal existence, he regressed. Was lost, broken, prey. His voice ripped from his lungs, body tensely clinging to the final cliff top.

    The man-thing’s mind, breaking.
     Not understanding what he saw. Far, far below waves crashed with mindless abandon against the feet of the mountains. Endless, mist wreathed seas. Sails flashed in the distance, an almost forgotten memory of civilisation glowing white in the sun. Overhead a great eagle soared, dun feathers rippled in the wind. Its mournful screech shattering his last moment.

  Despair won.
   Nowhere to run. Don’t look back…
     The man-thing turning, abstracted and final.
       She stalked. Emerging from the dark and quiet of the primordial woods, her smile fracturing her face.
   She reached for him.