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I’m reading a lot at the moment….. September 28th 2017

I always read a lot but those of you who have known me for some time will know the slightly shifty ‘must get back to my book’ look I have at this time of year. It’s festival season and I’m reading the latest books of writers I will be interviewing for different events. I think it’s polite to read a book before you talk to the author about it, particularly in front of an audience of several hundred folk.

I am always reminded of the final exams for my English degree of forty-seven years ago. I was reading then at a highly accelerated pace, and although it was notionally revision, for some of the writers it was for the first time. And with some of them I wished I had read them more slowly at the time I should have read them, they were so good. Reading pretty well the whole of George Eliot in a week [not ‘Romola’ though, has anyone actually read that one all the way through?] was a super-charged experience like no other. I think it was then that I gave up on Milton, finally and with some relief, having sweated through him at A Level too.

I have a similar sense of urgency each autumn, but it’s always alleviated by the knowledge that I will have a chance to talk to each of the authors before each event and on stage. And sometimes I’m blown away by the quality of the writing, the subjects covered, thee issues raised, and sometimes I make a mental note to read more of their work after the festivals.

Books I have enjoyed so far include Linda Grant’s ‘The Dark Circle’ and ‘The Bedlam Stacks’ by Natasha Pulley, but I’m already lost in Michele Roberts, with Katie Hickman destined for tomorrow…

It’s a filthy job but someone’s got to do it!

I’m supposed to be retired…well that’s not going to happen, is it?

What an extraordinarily busy time it has been in the last few months, working at the delicious Humber Street Gallery in Hull with a feisty group of students looking at and writing about the Sarah Lucas exhibition there,

Sarah Lucas

interviewing the very brilliant best-selling crime novelist Amit Dhand [who also happens to be my pharmacist] at the Headingley Literature Festival . I appear to be grinning like a fool…

Me and Amit

and helping launch the Valley Press Anthology of Poetry later that week at The New Headingley Club, alongside a brilliant score or so poets…

Yorkshire Anthology

Other highlights have been reading with a brass band and young people, playing on marvellous hybrid instruments, in a huge tent in Thurnscoe. This followed on from working with primary schools in South Yorkshire around a Cornelia Parker brass-themed exhibition at the Barnsley Civic Gallery [another fabulous Moved By Art project, see Humber Street above]

Brass posterBrass instruments

And taking part, for the second year running at the marvellous Milim Jewish Literature Festival to a packed audience., and with a host of other great writers and performers.

Incidental and ongoing pleasures have been reviewing with my two Otley Writing Groups the lovely collections being produced at regular intervals by Candlestick Press.


I’m working on my next collection of poetry too, of which this month’s featured poem will be part, sixty-nine poems to celebrate sixty-nine years of life. PHEW!

The Year in Brief...


And what a year it’s been. Busier than ever it seems.

Edited highlights.

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.

The whirlwind that is September and October

Photo 20-09-2016, 10 12 03

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.

And me.

Photo 20-09-2016, 10 19 12

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….

Link: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/coma-notes-music-and-poetry-exploring-consciousness-and-coma-tickets-27955208782

Are you Ted Hughes?

Crow sml

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.