Scarborough Literature Picture Parade

Some wonderful pics from my recent jaunt to Scarborough, where I hosted many events and had great fun.

The photographs are by the wonderful, and very smiley, official photographer Liz Cawston. There will be a prize of several of my books, plus a copy of my new collection some things matter: 63 sonnets, when it comes out in October, for anyone who can name all the authors in these images.

I love these photographs, after the usual, initial discomfort of coming to terms with what one really looks like...Thank you Liv.

Harry Gration

Female panel

Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

Michael Slater

Marina Lewycka

Scarborough Literature Festival 2012

This was probably one of the busiest and most successful literature festivals ever for Scarborough. For me the pleasures of working with the same amazing team of library staff and volunteers, the great programme [with something for everyone], the beauty of the town itself, and meeting so many fabulous authors made it a personal best.

There were some challenges, but they were mostly to do with travel.

So when my train was cancelled and no-one knew if there'd be another that day, I got a cab across Leeds to the bus-station and made the Coastliner Bus with minutes to spare. Coastliner [motto possibly, 'We visit every village in Yorkshire before we deliver you to your destination'] was an unexpected treat, as I sat upstairs and was driven through the most beautiful Yorkshire towns and countryside. On Friday I left Scarborough for Wigan where I was doing an evening event with the lovely Sarah Waters, and with enormous luck managed to get home in Leeds by midnight that night, only to have to get up the next morning and off to Scarborough again.

Is there any particular highlight of this marvellous festival I should mention? Perhaps it was the ending of my event with Kathy Lette, Jojo Moyes and Rosie Thomas when Kathy jumped onto my knee, followed by Jojo and Rosie to the delight of the audience. Later a friend had to dab my face and head with her hanky to remove the lipstick.

This never happened when I interviewed Andrew Motion!

Adventures in Creative Writing

Many of us feel we have a poem, a story or a book in us. It’s not quite knowing how to access it, or needing some feedback or support at the different stages of writing, that can often be quite challenging. I’d like to tell you about two courses I’m running in the Leeds area, over the next month or so which will support writers and help them find their writing voices.

One is a continuation of my initial six-week course at the Bowery in Headingley, which begins on Thursday 26
th April from 7pm-9pm. The group is friendly, talented and very supportive of each others’ writing, and you would be most welcome to join us.

For more information check out or ring Sandra on 0113 224 2284 to register your interest.


The other is a new departure on Friday mornings at the Otley Courthouse, an arts venue in Otley just outside Leeds. It’s organised by the WEA and will initially run for five sessions, beginning on Friday 4
th May, from 10.30am to 12.30pm. The course is entitled Adventures in Creative Writing and is open for everyone who wants to write, from beginners to more seasoned writers. It will cost £30 for five sessions.

If all goes well it will start up again in September 2012, same time and place, and run for twenty weeks.

Contact me via my website, email me on
[email protected] if you have any questions about either course.

I'm gonna live forever

The pleasures of seeing yourself in print are not to be underestimated. There was the time I was 17, and was up for cycling along a no-cycling path at Uxbridge Magistrates Court, and carefully removed the court list from the noticeboard [one brass drawing-pin] so that I could put it on the wall of my 6th Form classroom. This was not the beginning of a life of crime, but the beginning of a life of part-time narcissism, which is the writer’s lot.

If I’m in print I must exist.

Later seeing a collection of my poetry books in the Leeds Borders [of blessed memory] window I felt a huge rush of belief in my own existence . Even seeing battered copies of my books from ‘sellers’ on Amazon has its own bitter-sweet, super-charge of reality.

Last week a collection of my poems went straight to kindle; I must point out this is not the equivalent of a Steven Siegel film going straight to DVD, though we are both bulky men of a certain age, who should know better… A Bit of an Ice Breaker is a collection drawn from earlier books with some until then unpublished poems. It’s a kind of warm up to the main act in October when my new sonnet collection will be published Some Things Matter: 63 sonnets by the excellent Valley Press.

Oddly enough, as I do with any new books, I raised the kindle to my nose to sniff my new collection. It smelt fantastic, plastic with the heady extra of coffee splashes and ginger biscuit crumbs.

I’m gonna live forever!


Glorious interview with poet Pippa Little

I recently interviewed poet Pippa Little, thinking that I might edit down her answers to my questions, but as you can see her responses were magical; a tonic for all writers.


'I started writing stories when I was about eight. I used to make up tales and illustrate them! I loved exercise books which I could fill up with long sagas about families and intrepid heroines. I also liked to design fashion collections and draw maps of imaginary islands. One of my best Christmas presents ever was a child’s typewriter which I got when I was ten and I used to type out long stories on that, but I really preferred writing in the exercise books with my biros.

I write or think about writing every day. I don’t have a routine as such. I was struck recently by something John Glenday said about inspiration being an active rather than a passive thing – you can’t wait around hoping it will appear! So even if I am having a bit of a writer’s block I still try to write something, just to keep the process active. If not writing something from scratch, then there is always correcting, editing, drafting, trying again in a different tense or voice.

Recently I’ve taken to thinking for longer about a poem I am going to write – let it come in its own time rather than rush to put it down on paper. Walking the dog is a kind of writing for me, when I think about words and ideas, make connections and notice what’s happening around us.

Reading is very important in my life. I used to read a lot of fiction but these days I find I read more poetry and non-fiction. I’ve always read a lot of poetry, I’m always curious to discover voices new to me and it’s a huge pleasure to visit charity shops and bookshops where I can find collections and anthologies, old and new and in between! I couldn’t or wouldn’t write myself if I didn’t read poetry widely. It’s a replenishing and an invigorating thing. It’s also a great way to learn about craft and forms, whether you realise it or not as you’re enjoying the words and images!

Reading aloud is also important – whether at event, informally in a workshop or earlier on in the process, alone in your own space. You can discover what works and what doesn’t by listening to your poem as it emerges in your own voice.

Returning to familiar poets is comforting. I often revisit Neruda, Frost, Dickinson,, and many others according to my mood or need. It’s a bit random. I seem to come upon something in a pile that I didn’t know I needed to re-read until that moment. There are specific poems I love and need to go back to – Cavafy’s’ Ithaka’, Charlotte Mew’s ‘Rooms’, Tennyson’s ‘The Crimson Petal and the White’, Frances Horovitz’s ‘Rain : Birdoswald’, Matthew Arnold’s ‘Dover Beach’ come to mind – but on another day, the list would be quite different!. Then there are poets like Larkin – I love several individual poems more than his whole. Some poems connect me with people I’ve loved, like Edward Thomas and Gerard Manley Hopkins with my father, or a time in my life, like Adrienne Rich, when I was researching feminist poetics.

I’ve begun a collaboration with an American poet called Angie Vorhies as part of the ‘Conversations Across Borders’ project, a worldwide attempt to connect disparate areas through writing and photography. Angie lives in San Diego, near the Mexico/US border walls. We are working on ‘what washes up on different shores’ which includes the broadly political such as pollution issues, as well as the politics of migration/immigration controls and the fact that we both live near borders (mine is the England/Scotland border with the presence of Hadrian’s Wall still evident) and near the estuaries of rivers which constitute borders – the Tijuana river and the Tweed. We are thinking about how you can establish a border line in water…I’m really enjoying this. I’m going to do a guest blog for the project soon.
And I’m also thinking about a sequence of poems about space, the invisible thing that defines us, or we, it – invisibly. I saw an exhibition last year at the Barbican called The Surreal House which really fascinated me.

The following poem won the Norman MacCaig Centenary Poetry Prize. I was able to spend a week up at Glencanisp Lodge in Assynt on a writing retreat and to take part in the MacCaig Festival there, where I met and read with Liz Lochhead, Alan Riach, Alan Taylor, Colin Will, Mandy Haggith and Sandy Moffat. It was a wonderful experience!

Coal End Hill Farm 1962

I don’t remember the Beanley orra-man,
his boots down the lonnen black as a wet day, his caravan
under a butchered elm’s imaginary wingspan,
rusted, cantankerous: ‘
all that can’s been done’,
my mother said, then, low, ‘
he’s God’s own one’.
I can’t recall his singing of the Kingdom come,
or whispering from underneath his hands
‘if my soul the Lord should take’, or how he crept away
like Billy Blin, awake long hours before the blackbirds, eager to begin
carving off a dead lamb’s skin to roll one barely-living in
under a dazed ewe, force tongue to tit, tit to tongue :
mole-blind he’d move, from east to western sun, more whole
in his Gomorrah than the doucest thing, but slow,
immortal, helpless as his beasts to conjure up tomorrow.

(Published in The Best British Poetry 2011, ed. R. Lumsden, Salt, and in Overwintering, Oxford Poets/Carcanet 2012)

If I have any advice to new writers, it’s to try to be as kind and encouraging to yourself as you can. Don’t be afraid of the times when you feel you have nothing to say : it’s all a part of the creative process, trust in yourself and allow the fallow times to come and go. Stay connected with writing, though, through reading, going to hear other poets, writing a diary or even just bits and pieces of things – you never know what treasures you might have to return to later.

It’s easy to listen to the self-critical voice in your head, but don’t let it take up too much room. Be glad for yourself and celebrate success! Also, I don’t think you can over-estimate the importance of other people. It’s so much harder to do it alone. Join a group or a workshop or an online forum, and share!
Have faith in what YOU do – don’t imitate others, compare or wish to have their path. You are the only person in the world who can write what you write! I’d also say it’s important to be open to learning and improving and able to take on board valid and constructive criticism from those you trust!

nce of other people. It’s so much harder to do it alone. Join a group or a workshop or an online forum, and share!
Have faith in what YOU do – don’t imitate others, compare or wish to have their path. You are the only person in the world who can write what you write! I’d also say it’s important to be open to learning and improving and able to take on board valid and constructive criticism from those you trust! '

The Long Weekend -Scarborough 2012

forge valley

It’s Scarborough Literature Festival time, The Long Weekend, which runs from the 12th to the 15th April. I’ve been associated with the festival since its inception and it’s a great thrill to be involved with it still, as a host and presenter of events.

In such a fabulous array of distinguished writers, who range from Joan Bakewell to Susan Hill, and from Andy Kershaw to Roy Hattersley, it’s going to be hard to pick out whom you might want to see. I would want to take in all the above but also Marina Lewicka, Kate Atkinson and Susan Hill on the way. This year’s festival is blessed with novelist Patria Duncker as Writer in Residence, and even has old friend Val McDermid popping up to chair a crime panel.

To be honest I can’t do justice to this year’s festival; it just gets better and better. See for yourself on

And although I’m a bit biased about the Yorkshire coast, how can you beat staying in elegant Scarborough for the festival in one of the many wonderful hotels and guest-houses and perhaps visiting the beautiful Wolds countryside [I’ve just been to see Hockney’s latest exhibition of paintings and artwork at the Royal Academy] at the same time.

It feels like spring...

It feels like spring
Yesterday was cold and snowy; my office hummed with the heat of two oil-filled radiators, and the sound of my brain struggling to keep up.

It was hand over time and James Ward, the wonderful creator and manager of my website, was showing me how it all worked. How to blog, upload pictures, keep it all up to date etc. etc.

Brain, struggle, struggle. Light dawning dimly. Brain, struggle, struggle…

We’ve worked together for five years or so, and have created something that we can both be proud of, with forty plus podcasts with interviews both of the very famous, and of those at the very beginning of their writing careers.

But things change and other projects beckon for both of us.

I need to think of fresh ways to communicate using my website. So I intend to archive the podcasts from time to time, so that the best and most interesting interviews can be easily found. I intend to use my blog to advertise forthcoming events, and to share thoughts and inspirations. There will be the occasional book review, and a monthly interview with a writer or someone who works in the book or literature world, which will replace the podcast. In the next day or so I will publish a fascinating interview with writer Pippa Little.

Curiously today I can see sunshine in my garden from my office window and it feels like spring...