Show 031: June 2010

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June marks the launch of two anthologies I have had the honour to edit. ‘Reflections from Holme’ from the Holmfirth Writers is launched on Monday 7th June in Holmfirth, and the Capturing Words anthology is launched at the University of Leeds on the following Monday. Both contain stunning work, the first from writers based in the Holme Valley in Kirklees, and the second from six high schools in West Yorkshire. Both collections have brilliant poetry about landscape, a continuing pre-occupation of poets and artists.

One of my poems is the poem of the month on Crysse Morrison’s website this month, on her blog page. It’s my Ozymandias[ a sonnet by Shelley about the vanity of seeking immortality it art] and is called some give their names to stars in vain . This poem was directly inspired by the few days I spent in Ibiza last week.

I’m working again this year at Allerton High School on the short story project!! It’s my third year, must be doing something right!!

I’m looking forward to hosting writing days in Calderdale over the next few months, with a week away in Caerleon tutoring on a writers week in July.

Book review

The Hand That First Held Mine, by Maggie O'Farrell
The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell

This novel by Maggie O’Farrell [whom I interviewed for my podacst in December 2008] has two stories: one about a girl, Lexie, who arrives in London from a stuffy and conventional home and makes a life for herself as a journalist in the London of the fifties and sixties. The other story in present day London concerns Elina, a young Finnish painter who has just had her first child. Elina is struggling with the experience of birth and the huge emotional and physical changes it has made to her, and her partner Ted starts to experience sensory and emotional flashbacks to a world he has no knowledge of.

With a magical narrative skill Maggie O’Farrell drives on the two story threads. As readers we know they are linked but cannot at first work out how, why and when. I was intensely gripped by the two stories, but also fascinated by the fifties world of Soho she invokes, the world of Muriel Belcher, Francis Bacon and John Deakin. I was only eleven in 1960 but she seems to have pulled off a brilliant evocation of the time and place, and made some journeys into the past [as Sarah Waters did in The Little Stranger] by mining the writing of the time, so I sensed Iris Murdoch, Muriel Spark and Margaret Drabble gathered around me as I read.

But Maggie O’Farrell’s writing is not pastiche; it is full of her wonderful ability to convey emotion, heartbreaking and wonderful, without every descending to sentimentality. I think this novel, along with her previous Esme Lennox, shows enormous maturity. Sometimes unreconstructed male writers talk about women not writing about the big themes, or of not being capable. What bigger themes are there than childbirth, family and death, which are the content of this magnificent novel?

In a recent interview Maggie O’Farrell said,

“I don't write autobiographically... The scenes about motherhood I couldn't, of course, have written without having been a mother myself. The rest is made up.”


Belinda Bauer
Here follows an edited with Belinda Bauer whose debut novel Black Lands I reviewed in last months’ show; it’s a chilling story of family dysfunction, and a serial killer’s part in that.

I started out as a journalist and then I moved into screenwriting; only one film ever got made. So eventually I got fed up and decided to turn my ideas into novels.

The trigger for this book [ which I quickly left behind] was seeing Winnie Johnson, the mother of Keith Bennett, on the TV and realising how tragic that event was, not only losing her son but losing his body too…and I thought about the effect of this crime on subsequent generations.

I don’t like to over-egg the pudding when I write. When I was a child I liked it when I was able to have the chance to use my imagination to move around the writing, and have room to think.

I hardly read at all now, because I’m almost nervous now to read in case in I’m influenced by what I read. In ‘Blacklands’ I knew that the boy Steven and Avery the serial killer would have to meet, and that’s what the reader feels, and I don’t mind giving that away, as long as I get there in an interesting way.

‘Darkside’ my next novel is out in January 2011. It’s a complete stand alone. I’m going to stay in the crime genre for the time being. Crime is such a universally useful genre to write in; you enjoy meeting your characters, and then putting them under pressure.

The scenes that I enjoy writing are always strange situations happening out of a complete normality. It’s nice to keep that sense of normality throughout the book. I’m completely emotionally involved in my writing. I sometimes even cry while I’m writing because I care so deeply for the characters. I have to admit that when I’m writing a book I have the most awful nightmares. During the daytime I’m thrilled, I don’t care who’s killing who, but at night the nightmares come in.

I had to become Avery when I wrote him, in a way that was not sympathetic to him but that was empathetic. One day I realised that he didn’t think that what he was doing was wrong – he feels that he’s normal. Crime captures the popular imagination so well; it’s the job of the writer to explore alternative territory. If I hadn’t read ‘Salem’s Lot’ I wouldn’t have created Steven. Salem’s lot was the most influential book from my childhood, but I think my favourite book of all time is ‘Jaws’

Poem of the Month

This month’s poem of the month is ‘Oxfam’ about the experience of getting old clothes ready to take to the charity shop.