Wednesday, 25 February 2015
Leaving late afternoon on an impulse to undertake a mini adventure and having a free ticket for a Royal Society of Literature event at LSE this week, time gave me a journey and exploration.
There was a bomb scare at LSE, the building evacuate, so I diverted around the square of Lincolns Inn Fields to the home of Sir John Soame, architect of the 18th and 19th century (Bank of Engalnd) and collector. His house a treasure, stuffed with artefacts from floor to ceiling, crowding the narrow doors, dark and gothic. A crypt contained a sarcophagus to rival any in the British Museum. Emerging into sunlight, a little time for lavender cake and reflection, sitting in a draft in The Fields cafe, plane leaves piled up like discarded writing drafts.
Time to wander over to LSE. I spot Ali Smith outside, walking purposefully towards the building, a small creature with a sharp face, wrapped in a mustard yellow scarf, carrying bags of books, does she bring her own books for signings?
Time to find the venue. The basement, a modern structure, ceiling hung with red and silver spheres and white glass teardrops. They remind me of the colour of my primary school uniform. It's so corporate, the students flow from the lecture theatre, well dressed, not a worn down heel between them. How things have change from my student time when we dressed in second hand, not vintage. Into the lecture theatre, a proper lecture theatre, I haven't been in one for years. I miss studying, perhaps because of the theatre, the need to perform, these talks help fuel the flabby brain cells. The stage is set, it's time to start.
Ali Smith sits on the stage winding a ribbon, she's just winked at someone. I like her. The host introduces her,"Every time you find an adjective that you think nails her, the opposite is true." Ali Smith giggles.
Why write Ali? She completed How To Be Both in just over a year, "I had a tax bill." Taking writing seriously as a calling/career after a diagnosis of ME. Why does she write about grief? her companion on the stage, Marion Coutts, wrote a memoir accompanying her husbands when he was dying, it's obvious why she should write about grief, but why Ali,
"It's part of where I come from, an undercurrent, death is not in the current of the everyday." Her books have grace and energy, what Blake called 'eternal delight', "the connection between the vibrancy of life and the going thus."
Ali Smith once gave a sermon in Manchester Cathedral about time. In How To Be Both, her Booker shortlisted novel, time, "Bursts it 's banks." She was inspired by a picture she saw in a magazine, "It was so beautiful I wanted to go and see the original." She went to Ferrara to see the Fresco painted in the 1460's in the room of the months, "you walk into an empty room and it's full of life, time just doesn't exist." Ali talks as she writes, articulately, lyrically, yet accessible, deep thought with a light touch. She reads from How To Be Both with more inflection than I gave it, a scene in Italy, a perfect pinch of the mother daughter relationship and a ruminescence on time, "The interest in her is the life, eyes bright with a purpose." I remember my copy of How To Be Both had been leant to my eighteen year old daughter, a lovely, slippy, perfect sized hardback that I would very much like back. I decide to buy another copy and speak to Ali later. There's not enough well written mothers in literature, she reminds me, "they are either absent or dead". And we're back to the cyclicity of life. Her eyes are bright with purpose, she shows intest in me and my work, and the possibility of a visit to the forest where I teach. I'll hold you to that Ali, thank you.
Thursday, 29 January 2015
She Who Dares Writes: The netherworld doldrums of January: I have vague memories of the animated 1970's film 'The Phantom Toolbooth', a linguistic road trip based on Norton Justers book,...
I have vague memories of the animated 1970's film 'The Phantom Toolbooth', a linguistic road trip based on Norton Justers book, with similarities to Alice in Wonderland. I tried, but never made it through the book, reading it to my children years later. But I have a strong memory of one part of the film - The Doldrums, a quagmire of a place in the dark wood where thinking and laughing are not allowed.
That's January, post winter festivals, it sneaks in with dark mornings and hibernation temptations. My bed has become a magnet, I find it hard to leave it in the morning and it calls to me through the day. It's not a bad place for writing, but then I fall asleep and the words are lost.
My words are out there somewhere in January land, in the doldrums. My novel, Girl In The Box, emailed to agents with bright, perky, hope filled covering letters. Short stories sent to magazines and entered to competitions. Now silence, the waiting, the tumbleweed rolls across a writing career. The metronome of work beats on, inbetween I plan the next batch of stories, work on a new novel, plan entries to Mslexia and other competitions, find myself on page 23 of their latest issue in the synopsis surgery. A sign that something good may be about to happen? And wait..
Saturday, 15 November 2014
She Who Dares Writes: Rage against the dying of the light Clive james: I was about twelve when I filched my dad's copy of Clive James's Unreliable Memoirs and took it back to my bedroom to read. It tol...
I was about twelve when I filched my dad's copy of Clive James's Unreliable Memoirs and took it back to my bedroom to read. It told of another life beyond my small town, a life of adventure and travel, told in the voice of a consummate storyteller. I didn't think I would ever get to see Clive James in the flesh, but in the hallowed surroundings of the Cambridge Union Chamber I wait with anticipation and many others. We're lucky, Clive may not be making many more public appearances. Clive is dying, shuffling off his mortal coil, battling Leukaemia and emphysema with the assistance of the Addenbrookes staff and a raft of meds. There is a hush in the chamber, Clive shuffles in. A smaller man than I imagined or remembered from the television appearances, bent by time and illness, but with an impish grin that widens as the crowd breaks into spontaneous rapturous applause. He welcomes the applause like an opera singer on their seventh encore, it feeds him, feeds an unashamed ego. Yet there's no pomposity, he accepts the praise with kindness and humility, and a knowing smile. He's enjoying this last kick at life,
Mr. James has a voice made to recite poetry and a perfect voice for broadcasting, deep and sonorous and full of wit. He recounts how at school they were made to recite a poem by heart, standing by their desks at the end of the day, until the teacher released them home. Some of his classmates are still there. He treasures the value of learning poems for recital, although his impromptu performances to female undergraduates in his youth met with disinterest. To the consternation of his family, his home has grown into a library and he brings books home as waifs and strays, nurturing them to health, many from his favourite place in Cambridge, the book stall in the market square. Words are his life, without them, he says, he was a faithless creature, a liar, a lost soul who may well have ended up in jail in his native Australia. If he wasn't a writer, he says, he doesn't know where he would have been, except maybe in jail.
Reciting poems interspersed with anecdotes, he reaches Auden. It's so important that he says if he gets it wrong he might as well drop dead on the stage then and there. He launches forth, the words flow, then there is a pause, a long pause. The audience holds it's breath, willing him to breathe, listening to the effort of his breath from emphysema crushed lungs, hoping that he will not fall, he will not stumble. Looking at the scuffed floor, the worn leather of many benches gripped by urgent hands. He moved on, leaving a gap. The lines returned near the end of the evening, coming to him in a burst which he shouted with a flourish, with a new energy. In true poet style, raging against the dying of the light, to rapturous applause.
Thank you Clive James.