City Stories and Country Songs

June 09, 2020

I’ve just come back from a cycle ride. I’ve been based in Bridlington in the
East Riding of Yorkshire since lockdown, and it’s had an effect on many
things.


I have for the first time seen spring in the countryside and by the sea from
beginning to end. I have seen wild flowers from their green shoots, through
exuberant flowering to their final expiring on the banks at the side of the lanes.
Taking the dog for a walk in the nature reserve at South Landing,
Flamborough, a few miles from our flat, has meant we have seen the trees
move from bare branches to almost full-leaf. In the last few days butterflies
have started to appear in more and more numbers, Orange-tips, Red
Admirals and Woodland Brown. We have found ourselves among the trees
stunned by the variety and beauty of the birdsong. And then climbed down
the steps to the little beach and the sea where the lifeboat station is, and
where many of the poems in my last collection, ‘A Bench for Billie Holiday’
began.


And it’s completely shifted the focus of my recent writings. I had thought I
was writing about the city, my living in Leeds for almost fifty years, but actually
those urban sonnets have been counter-balanced by many poems celebrating
the wonders of the natural world, the deer glimpsed moving through the
woods, a hare running across a meadow and this morning a fox joyously
springing around in a field as it hunted a small animal.


My city stories now a strong flavour of country songs. And I’m looking for a
title to wrap them in. All suggestions gratefully received.

Leeds Lit Fest 2020

March 10, 2020

Leeds Lit Fest 2020

 

 https://www.leedslitfest.co.uk/podcasts/  

 

Leeds Lit Fest was a miracle in this its second incarnation, bringing books, authors and events to audiences on a city-wide scale.  I was very lucky to be involved in the initial five podcasts where Leeds-based writers talked about places in the city that have particular significance for them. 

esting? Write a catchy description to grab your audience's attention...

Burgled

January 01, 2020

Burgled

 

My outside office has been burgled twice in the last week.  The vandals, singular or plural, may be the same ones, either returning to complete the job of completely trashing the joint, or lying low somewhere, behind a bookshelf perhaps to continue with their self-imposed task of shredding, destroying and leaving their foot prints on every clean piece of paper they can find.

 

I thought I’d chased him/her/them out on Friday night when I was first aware of the burglar alarm flashing on the outside of my little office building and going to investigate.  My first response was the common one to home invasion, a stunned incomprehension at the discovery of mess and damage followed by the slow processing of what must have happened.

 

The light shades were down on the floor, indeed the flexes completely sheered off, the blind ripped torn and broken and there was ankle-deep litter around my feet.  The computer screen at a crazy angle, the printer chattering away to itself.

 

And then I saw the burglar in a panicky streak of grey fur, the giveaway bushy tail, the small, dark eyes liquid with fear.  I left the door open and retired to the house to them make good their escape.

 

Steeling myself I went to tidy up this morning, and just as I was binning showers of paper from the floor, I saw Squirrel Nutkin again, racing around the room at eye level in an extraordinary Grand Prix hysteria.  I left the door open and hoped that this time they have the sense to leave and not come back.  We’ll see.

 

And I’m left with a strange mixture of feelings.  Affront at the invasion of a private space.  Sadness in the face of destruction.  Boredom at the need to tidy up and make good.  Irritation at the cost of a new printer. 

 

But there are little shreds of optimism that this might all be a good thing in the long run.  An opportunity to reorganise the little room and make it work more efficiently for me.

 

I’m writing this at the kitchen table on my laptop.  At first it’s not the right place, not as quiet, not as organised or as dedicated to writing.  But the thing that will carry me through is my need to write, my need to create.

 

And writing is my home, and nomad that I am, that will be wherever I wish it to be!

Burgled

February 04, 2020

My outside office has been burgled twice in the last week. The vandals,
singular or plural, may be the same ones, either returning to complete the job
of completely trashing the joint, or lying low somewhere, behind a bookshelf
perhaps to continue with their self-imposed task of shredding, destroying and
leaving their foot prints on every clean piece of paper they can find.


I thought I’d chased him/her/them out on Friday night when I was first aware
of the burglar alarm flashing on the outside of my little office building and
going to investigate. My first response was the common one to home
invasion, a stunned incomprehension at the discovery of mess and damage
followed by the slow processing of what must have happened.


The light shades were down on the floor, indeed the flexes completely
sheered off, the blind ripped torn and broken and there was ankle-deep litter
around my feet. The computer screen at a crazy angle, the printer chattering
away to itself.


And then I saw the burglar in a panicky streak of grey fur, the giveaway bushy
tail, the small, dark eyes liquid with fear. I left the door open and retired to the
house to them make good their escape.


Steeling myself I went to tidy up this morning, and just as I was binning
showers of paper from the floor, I saw Squirrel Nutkin again, racing around
the room at eye level in an extraordinary Grand Prix hysteria. I left the door
open n and hoped that this time they have the sense to leave and not come
back. We’ll see.


And I’m left with a strange mixture of feelings. Affront at the invasion of a
private space. Sadness in the face of destruction. Boredom at the need to
tidy up and make good. Irritation at the cost of a new printer.


But there are little shreds of optimism that this might all be a good thing in the
long run. An opportunity to reorganise the little room and make it work more
efficiently for me.


I’m writing this at the kitchen table on my laptop. At first it’s not the right
place, not as quiet, not as organised or as dedicated to writing. But the thing
that will carry me through is my need to write, my need to create.


And writing is my home, and nomad that I am, that will be wherever I wish it to
be!

Reading, reading…

January 18, 2020

Reading, reading…

 

I read all the time.  I think most writers do.  It’s my go to relaxation activity, it’s my way of finding out about myself and the world that is not me.  I’m a two novels a week boy, unless it’s a splendidly commodious Victorian novel that I can bathe in for, oh I don’t know, a week. I read genre novels, literary fiction and most printed things. Put in some short stories, a lot of poetry, memoirs and two daily newspapers and that can be a lot of reading.

 

But I don’t watch television and apart from the odd film my soundtrack is Radio 3 or Radio6Music.  This means I can read in any spare corner of the day.

 

In November I put up a review of Reuben Lane’s splendid booklet, ‘Freedom of Movement’ as my latest news, and found myself writing another for the fabulous poetry of John McCullough in his collection, ‘Reckless Paper Birds’.  It appears in the recent addition to my website, ‘Books I’ve Been Reading’ lurking under ‘Latest News’ .

 

I’d love to hear your recommendations too.

Recommendations can be sent to: james@jamesnash.co.uk

 

Freedom of Movement by Reuben Lane

December 09, 2019

Sometimes a book just chimes with your own experience and you read it at the perfect time, so Reuben Lane’s book featuring the oases to be found in a cluttered, messy and gorgeous London, resonates with my own recent explorations of my adoptive city of Leeds.

 

Written in a loose, diary form, and taking place over four months, he has collected a series of vignettes showing the unexpected beauty to be discovered, often hidden from general view, where he can write, contemplate and observe.  And how beautifully observed it is.  So from a piece about Clapham Common,

 

‘This version of the soul plays its part after dark on the Common. The line of epiphany trees that cloak the footpath from the bandstand to the top of the long hill that leads down to Battersea’.

 

Laced in to the different entries are themes of homelessness and insights into the writer’s own life and experiences as an older gay man.  Certain places tug at his memory, others have significance in his relationship with his partner.  And every now and again contemporary news seeps in, like the murder of Jamal Kashoggi, Or a bitingly funny satirical piece where he imagines Donald Trump masturbating in his Paris hotel room while avoiding an important commemorative occasion because it’s raining.

 

On the front of this rather beautiful book is a sketch map of key places in a city and a life.  I was immediately tempted to chart my own Leeds life in the same way.

 

But more than anything by the end of ‘Freedom of Movement’ I felt I had made a new friend, a travel companion I would love to accompany again in the future. 

 

More please.

 

You can buy your own copy, from Gay’s The Word, 66, Marchmont Street, London WC1 1AB

 

Contact: 0207 278 7654

Email:  sales@gaystheword.co.uk

 

Reuben Lane lives in London where he grew up. He moonlights working in theatres and cinemas in the evenings, allowing him the daylight hours to wander, walk, cycle and write. Reuben's short stories have been published in the film journal 'Vertigo' and  in anthologies, including ‘The Time Out Book Of London Stories Volume 2’ and ‘Pretext Volume 1’ from UEA. Reuben's debut novel, Throwing Stones At Jonathan (Pulp Books) was shortlisted for the Waterstone’s Mardi Gras Prize for best LGBT work of fiction.

 

'Freedom Of Movement' is a self published booklet of narrative non fiction with flashes of fiction written and set during the autumn and winter twelve months ago.

More Collaborations...

November 01, 2019

There have been many great artistic collaborations over the years, Lennon and McCartney, Rogers and Astaire, Laurel and Hardy etc. etc. where both artists brought something extra to the mix.  Famously Ginger Rogers commented on her pairing with the magical Fred Astaire,’ I did all he did, but backwards and in high heels’.  Apocryphal or not, it’s a good story and it got me thinking of the collaborations I have taken part in over the last twenty years.

 

Last month I wrote about working with Dortmund poet Thorsten Trelenberg, but I realised I could go even further back to look at just how many times I’ve worked with other poets or visual artists.

 

So I worked with the brilliant poet and performer Char March twenty years ago, and we produced a book of some of our performance pieces, ‘Deadly Sensitive’.  After that it’s a roll-call of artists and photographers, Kevin Hickson, Murat Oskasim, Casey Orr and many others who brought something to my words while hopefully my poetry gave an extra dimension to their wonderful images.  And then my most recent poetic work-mate was Matthew Hedley Stoppard in our collection ‘Cinema Stories’ [Valley Press 2015].  It was a joy to work with another poet on a shared enthusiasm, the old suburban cinemas in Leeds, and a lovely antidote to the usually solitary activity of writing.

 

Just recently me and my old pal, writer and photographer Bob McBurney, got to talking about a project we might embark on, showing the Leeds we have both known for many years in a book of images and writing.  It’s Bob’s terrific photograph of the Black Prince in City Square that recently accompanied September’s Poem of the Month. 

 

What an exciting idea! 

 

Watch this space, as someone unafraid of clichés might say.

Collaborations

October 03, 2019

I have been involved with a lovely project these last few months celebrating fifty years of the twinning of the German city of Dortmund and Leeds.  The demon-organiser Peter Spafford who presents arts programmes [amongst many other ventures] at the iconic Chapel FM teamed up ten Leeds writers and ten of their Dortmund counterparts to share their writings and with the help of translators to turn them into poems and pieces in the ‘other’ language.

My poet was the irrepressible Thorsten Trelenburg, my translator Oliver Lawrie, a student of German [and diplomatic tact] at the University of Leeds.

The theme we were working with was ‘neighbourhood’ and it was immediately fascinating to see how Thorsten and I interpreted this idea.  For Thorsten it clearly had European dimensions in the light of the current situation. For me already embarked on poetry celebrating the city I’ve lived in for nearly fifty years, it was much more an exploration of the neighbourhoods of urban life.  To add to the challenge I tend these days to write exclusively in the Shakespearean sonnet form which to put it mildly might offer quite a challenge to the translator who wants to convey the flavour of the original form as well as the words.

The next month or so saw us exchanging writings and then working on our versions of our partner’s poems.  Oliver was my continuing support here, able to give advice on tone and intention in Thorsten’s very amusing pieces, and helping me get it closer to the original poems.

Then this Wednesday I appeared in the first of two programmes celebrating our collaborations.  Peter Spafford held the whole thing together with immense skill and charm in the face of some technological meltdowns and I sat open-mouthed at the power of the poetry and the skill of the translators.

The wonderful Barney Bardsey, another of the Leeds writers involved, read her own work and we both shared some of the  poems of  Zoe Carty and Jo Brandon who could not be there. We  were much aided Nicola Good, German teacher from Benton Park School, who gamely allowed herself to be hauled from the live audience to read many of the German texts for us.

For a close up of the work and collaborations:

https://leedsdortmund50.com

And to hear the programme:

https://www.chapelfm.co.uk/…/09/write-across-borders-part-1/

Isle of Wight

January 01, 2020

Some years seem to come laden with the past, particularly if one has reached a significant birthday as I did with my seventieth a few months ago.  It’s brilliant to be able to say that one was doing a certain thing fifty years ago and the five decades seems to give it all a special significance.

 

This week had a resonance all of its own.  I met up with a friend from my undergraduate days.

 

‘What’, asked John, ‘Is our schedule?’

 

‘To just keep talking until it’s time for us to catch our trains back home’. 

 

And that’s what we did, with great brio.  Oh the joy of discovering that one had made such good friendship choices all those years ago, and that we still shared the same political views, the same sense of humour, and many of the same key memories.

 

The next day I received a text from another college friend Bob which said, ‘Fifty years ago today you and I sat huddled in a one-man tent [designed for a twelve year old boy scout], about to survive on a sliced white loaf and jar of apricot jam and preparing to force our bodies not to have a crap for three days because the facilities were so disgusting.  Happy Birthday Isle of Wight 1969’

 

And those three days in a field were brought back so vividly.

 

By chance that evening I already had a telephone call booked in to talk to my great friend Angie whom I first met in 1971 when I began my MA in Leeds.  She was embarking on her Ph.D. and we got on immediately .  We had a very happy hour catching up on our pasts and presents.  At some point I will board a train and go down to Devon to visit her and husband Johnnie.

 

And the sheer restorative medicine of being in touch with folk whom we knew when we were still boys and girls and who knew us from that time.  Some things with such long-lasting friends don’t need to be explained or recounted [apart from the pleasure that such retelling can bring] for they just ‘know’.  If I felt exhausted at the end of this week I think it was the pleasurable fatigue I feel sometimes when I’ve watched a particularly poignant film, read a brilliant novel ori listened to some thrilling music.

 

Except on this occasion the film, novel or music recalled me to my younger self.  Watch out for some sonnets; they’re on their way.

Retirement

August 06, 2019

People often ask if I’m enjoying retirement.  It happened again last week.  I have to rally myself a little, because writing every day, running workshops for adults, working in schools and hosting literature festival events doesn’t actually feel like the retirement they might mean.  It mostly feels like fun, but not as if I have vast empty spaces to fill in my life.

 

I think that me being on the cusp of elderly confuses folk, as does the fact I left full-time teaching about twenty years ago.  What I have done in that time is what artists often have to aim for [so they can write, paint, compose etc.]  which is to balance their ‘art’ with a freelance career.   For me as an extra bonus books and writing have always been at the core of what I do. And all that experience of teaching has never let me down in terms of a confidence in public speaking, preparing workshops, and the simple act of engaging with a roomful of complete strangers.

 

So in the past few months I’ve been in schools, worked with LGBTQ groups and with folk dealing with mental health issues, performed in public several times and written quite a lot.

 

Standout experiences amongst all these [and to be honest they all had their own magic] were working in the very lovely Benton Park School in Leeds with extraordinarily talented young people and handing out prizes at King James School in Knaresborough a few days later.  I felt inspired by both occasions, which probably proves the old saying, ‘You can take the boy out of teaching but you can’t take teaching out of the boy’.

 

All in all, if this is retirement bring it on……

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