17 December 2016
And what a year it’s been. Busier than ever it seems.
Glorious meetings with writers and talking with them about their books in front of audiences at Beverley and Ilkley literature Festivals. The moment when the lights when up at an event in Ilkley and I realised that I knew about twenty folk in the audience, two of whom from college days of nearly fifty years ago
Reading from latest collection ‘Cinema Stories’ and previous collections everybloodywhere [see google maps] from Ledbury Poetry Festival [where I met up with an old friend and his wife], to Cardiff to Sheffield, Haworth and Rochdale and even in Leeds, sometimes in the company of my estimable co-writer Matthew Hedley Stoppard, and sometimes on my own. The journeys themselves have often been particularly memorable, coming back to Leeds by the replacement buses [three I think] from Ledbury to Shrewsbury on a beautiful Saturday afternoon and evening through astonishing countryside. The next parts of the journey were just as beautiful as I took the train from Shrewsbury to Manchester and then another on to Leeds.
Working in schools continues to delight, and I would like to celebrate the work I carried out in Otley primary schools, and then Headingley primary schools [as part of the Headingley Literature Festival]. Only this morning in Headingley I bumped into a parent who had been at an assembly I had taken showcasing children’s writing. The prompts I use to stimulate the young people ranged from dragons, to Beowulf and to a tin-plate rhino [pictured]. In each school I wrote a poem using the same focus. It may be that there’s a collection of poetry for children developing there.
May I take this opportunity to wish you all a very lovely end to 2016, and best wishes for 2017.
28 September 2016
There’s always a moment at the beginning of September when I have a flashback to my teaching days.
Beginnings of terms and beginning of years bring memories and experiences to the surface.
I am someone who spent so long in education that ’next year’ for me always begins in September.
September brings with it huge amounts of ‘revving up’ to get myself back into top gear.
A lovely warm up to the new academic term has been my involvement in the Brass Remade project at the Barnsley Civic Art Gallery, working with young people around the glorious Cornelia Parker exhibition [pictured]. Four primary schools from South Yorkshire, having the marvellous opportunity to work with composer Lucy Pankhurst and instrument maker Paul Jefferies.
The young people [brass players themselves] write their responses to the exhibition, come up with music for Lucy to use, and designs for instruments for Paul to develop further.
The sheer beauty of the exhibition, a marvel of shapes and shadow and the gleam of metal inspired the children to write some fabulous things for me.
The project will culminate with a concert of music, poetry and instruments in March 2017. I’ll let you know more nearer the time.
Apart from that I’m reading and preparing for the Ilkley, Beverley and Off the Shelf Literature Festivals at the beginning of October, interviewing luminaries from Tracy Chevalier to wine connoisseur Jancis Robinson, from Louis de Bernieres to James Kelman.
And a nod to November [when I will give more detail] is a concert in Cardiff where I will have the huge honour of hearing my specially commissioned sonnets set to music….
10 August 2016
I was working at the fabulous Calder High School toward the end of last term
with a bunch of the nicest Year 7s you could hope to meet.
Bright, interested and engaged, I talked to them about the poetry of Ted Hughes
before getting them to become poets themselves and write about the
de-coy crow [pictured] I had taken in with me as a stimulus.
It had felt like a Hughes-appropriate object to use with them.
In fact all four sessions had a Ted Hughes flavour to them, from the time I left Mytholmroyd railway station, where there are panels celebrating his wonderful children’s story ‘The Iron Man’, to strolling along the valley and then up an aerobic hill to the school, past the Ted Hughes Theatre to school reception.
Ted Hughes, I was emphatically reminded, once lived in this village!
I’m not often daunted but this did give me pause? Was I a fake poet compared to Hughes? How could I possibly emulate him?
So when the student asked, in all seriousness, ‘Are you Ted Hughes?’ I was sorry to have to disappoint him, and say, ‘Well, actually I’m James Nash’.
But the sessions went well and all the young people produced brilliant work. And as in all Calderdale schools I only had to look out of the window to see beautiful countryside. A complete joy.
On my last day I had been asked if Calder High School could film me writing a poem in thirty minutes or so to a subject of their choice, talking all the while about the process and the decisions I was making. The lovely media staff set me up in front of a camera, I was given my topic title, ’Cooperative Values’ [the activity the school was celebrating on that day] and then left me to it. It was like being in a newspaper office again, working to deadlines. I produced a first draft in the allotted time. The end result, after several more drafts, is my poem of the month for August.
11 June 2016
I recently chaired an Independent Press Panel with Jim Hinks (Comma Press),
Jamie McGarry (Valley Press) and Ray Russell (Tartarus Press),
as part of the first ever Northern Short Story Festival, hosted by the fabulous Leeds Big Bookend Festival 2016.
It was an excellent event with each of the publishers showing utter commitment to what they do, Comma Press publishing short stories from the UK and abroad, Valley Press publishing poetry, fiction and non-fiction and Tartarus specialising in collectable, hardback, limited editions of literary supernatural/strange/horror fiction.
The conversation ranged from how their presses began, to what they as publishers were looking for in terms of new writing. The audience, full of writers, hung onto every word and came up with some cracking questions at the end.
What was compelling about the hour long session was the passion and knowledge of the three publishers, how they felt they were doing something that the huge publishers did not want, or were not able to do. And how they felt able to take risks with new writers in the genre.
They talked about their own short story passions which ranged from Chechov, Arthur Machin to Sue Wilsea.
It’s well worth checking out all three publishers on line and looking at their back catalogue and submissions policies. And then send them something!
Photographs by Raj Passy
16 April 2016
Yesterday I was ‘on the wireless’, the very excellent Chapel FM, based in a beautiful converted Methodist chapel in east Leeds. I was being interviewed as part of the Writing on Air Festival by James Moran, a young writer himself and fellow cyclist, about how I started as a poet.
As in all the best interviews I found out stuff about myself that I hadn’t processed at any conscious level, helped by the fact I felt utterly comfortable with Zoe and James [yes, another one, there were three James people in the studio] the technicians, and my old chum Peter Spafford keeping a wise and experienced eye on the proceedings.
So it was just like therapy and all for the cost of a taxi fare from home.
What did I discover about myself? Well a lot of things about early influences both musical and literary, helped by the fact that I was asked to choose three musical tracks to be played during the programme.
I talked about me as a young gay man growing up in west London, listening to Billie Holiday’s recordings of the thirties, forties and fifties and finding something in her music that called to me. I talked about being given a copy of Joni Mitchell’s album Blue in the early nineties after a second marriage collapsed and how the album found words for the turmoil I was in.
I realized, as I talked, that writers and musicians have often found the words for me, and in my turn perhaps I was trying to find the words for others.
The thirty minutes we gone in a flash, the interview was over and a lovely bond had been forged in the radio studio with the folk there; one which I hoped extended to the listeners.
You might want to listen again! Go to the Chapel FM website
PS: My final track was Esther Phillips singing, ‘And I love him’, a glorious piece of sixties Atlantic soul from another of my favourite singers. This last was just pure indulgence…..