- St Michael’s Churchyard
We nose amongst the gravestones, dog and I,
Inside a choir sings a Christmas song
While I read the names of lives gone by,
Sometimes the past and present get along.
The old church music always comforts me,
I hum along to carols that I know
Amongst angels of stone and memory.
The dog just wags her silly tail. The flow
Of choir and life practice are much the same,
Follow the line, attempt to read the tune,
And if we stray, lose ourselves, try again;
Here my path is steady, I’m nearly done.
Trusting the faithful find what they might seek,
I feel the lightest feather brush my cheek.
James Nash © 2023
There was an ad some time ago [probably longer ago than I think], ‘I can’t believe it’s not butter’, and in the same vein I hear myself thinking, ‘I can’t believe it’s November already’.
October was spent doing many things that I love, slowly getting a collection together to share with my publisher, hosting half a dozen events at the fabulous Ilkley Literature Festival [now in its fiftieth year], and then a holiday in Spain, not far from Malaga, to celebrate a friend’s special birthday. A golden year for both of them.
Getting poems together that I’ve written over the last few years, some in the last months, is an emotional journey. The Inner Critic [a complete bully] reads every poem over my shoulder with a lot of scornful heavy breathing and tutting. Occasionally we both realise that a poem is alright, and I sense the IC’s disappointment. They’re nearly ready to dispatch, and I will wait [as I always wait] fingers crossed to hear whether they are worth publishing..
Ilkley this year was very special. The same crew of event and stage managers, the technicians and the Festival team who produced a stunning programme this year; it all feels like I’m working with old friends. Audiences were large and enthusiastic, ready with questions and enjoying the lovely ambience that the festival generates. The Grove Bookshop, always there with festival books to sell and the stunning venues from the intimacy of Ilkley Playhouse, the splendour of the Parish Church to the glory of the Kings Hall all delight me as ever.
I interviewed Anton du Beke about his series of novels set in the world of ballroom [the latest ‘A Paris Affair’], and he was greeted by the audience with loud cheering, a very popular and entertaining visitor, always at the ready to spring from his chair to demonstrate a dance move, funny and engaging, I can’t remember an hour going so quickly.
Helen Rebanks and Lev Pariakan, shone with their books about farming and flight, Emma Young hosted the best cheese and wine tasting, based around her fascinating book ‘The Cheese Wheel’. And how quickly it seemed that
after a few sips of wine the event become louder and more convivial.
The Reverend Fergus Butler-Gallie talked about his book, ‘ Touching Cloth’ aided in our discussion by the Bishop of Leeds also on the platform with us. This was a brilliant event, heartfelt and honest, in which the audience truly engaged.
Mijas, near Malaga did not disappoint, meeting up with friends old and new, many shared meals and gatherings to celebrate the birthday. We stole away for a day to visit the Picasso museum in Malaga, and found much to enjoy there. As ever I found a few paintings to sit with and to enjoy the thoughts and feelings they promoted. How contemporary so many of those paintings and sculptures still look. A feast for the eyes and the mind. Poems will appear as a result I’m sure.
- Inspirations: September 2023
As a writer locations are often the things which inspire me. A quick look through my photographs on my mobile tell me what I observed in the last month, and what made me pause a while. These will indeed help me to write over the next week when David and I will be staying in the East Riding at our Bridlington hideaway. David will be painting for an exhibition he has in October and I will be pulling together the last two years of writing to send a good sample to my publisher [fingers crossed].
The Hepworth Gallery, Wakefield
It’s always a pleasure to come here often on a Sunday morning if we’re in Leeds, to see whatever exhibition is on. It is the combination of art and the magnificent setting of river and modern building, that never fails to give me ideas. Good shop too.
St Michael’s Churchyard, Headingley
At the end of our road, this little oasis of green, of trees and gravestones, is a favourite place for our little dog and me. Mostly the only people there, I can read the histories of past Headingley folk, spot jays quarreling in the trees, with only the sounds of buses on Otley Road to distract us.
The Leeds Library, Commercial Street, Leeds
I’ve ben coming here for over fifty years. A private library in the centre of Leeds, it’s an escape form the city. A cup of tea, a book and beautiful surroundings, what could be more perfect, with a bicycle rack nearby to tether my trusty steed.
The Lobster Shack, Flamborough Head
A new discovery. The bliss of crab sandwiches at Flamborough Head, just a few miles from Bridlington, close to the iconic cliffs and wild heath where rare orchids can be seen. The combined pleasure of scenery, flavour and fresh air cannot be underestimated.
Amphibian neighbour, Headingley
We have a basement kitchen in Headingley with a lightwell. We have been aware of our amphibian neighbor for a long time [whether a frog or a toad is beyond my natural history knowledge, though it has unwebbed feet, so is it a toad?] I discovered the little creature staring into out kitchen while based on a large leaf. I wonder whether it is taking notes for a TV series it’s writing…
I’ll tell you soon about interviewing four fab writers for the post of East Riding Laureate which I was part of early in August, and Ben the Good Samaritan on a bike who rescued me when I had a puncture on the Leeds Liverpool Canal last week. In their way both events were inspirational, confirming my belief in the basic goodness of other people.
- The Ilkley Literature Festival
Two main activities bring me joy in my working life apart from my own writing; these are working with children and young people in schools and colleges and hosting event at the Ilkley Literature Festival. Fifty years old this year, the festival is still vibrant and young at heart.
There is something so inspiring about meeting and talking to writers about their books in front of live audiences. The hushed attention, the sense of massed enjoyment and the absolute privilege of hearing a writer talk about their writing. From cookery writers to poets, from novelists to travel-writers, memoirists to politicians, I’ve interviewed hundreds of writers and found the whole experience fascinating and delightful. This week as part of a summer festival event I’m talking to poet, novelist and critic Blake Morrison about his collection of family memoirs. First appearing in 1993 to talk about his recollections of his father in ‘When Did You Last See Your Father’. I’ve chatted to Blake many times about his books. A Yorkshire lad, originally from Skipton, Blake Morrison’s writing is honest, true and tender. In recent poetry collection ‘Skin and Blister’ and autobiographical ‘Two Sisters’, he deals with heartbreak and love [and guilt]. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to catching up with him again.
Over the years it seems to me that the trick of the whole business of interviewing writers is to make it all seem relaxed and informal so that it becomes a conversation between friends, however recently introduced, in front of an audience of perhaps two hundred people. It’s more like a circus act than anything else I do, walking a high wire and juggling plates at the same time.
Fingers crossed it goes well.
PS: It always has so far, the slight tension I feel just before an event has the benefit of keeping me on my toes!
- Getting your mojo back
All writers, and artists generally I should imagine, have times of what feels like low creativity. The urge to write dwindles and it feels as if you can no longer call yourself a poet. This happened to me during the writing of ‘A Bench for Billie Holiday’, about five or six years ago.
I remember very clearly thinking that I had to take charge and write something every day. And that’s what I did. I ‘churned out’ a sonnet pretty well very morning for about a month, so thirty or so. Of variable quality some of them had lines of which I was proud, or which would demand another look. But it was the feeling of achievement of doing something which spurred me.
I decided to do the same at the beginning of this month and send any new poems off to a friend, not for feedback but using them as a witness to my writing and to act as a kind of sonnet bank. I have about twenty poems now and again the feeling of motivation gained from just writing something is ahem extremely motivating….
And then last week Corinne Pollard [whom I had first met as student in a Calderdale high school], contacted me about an article they wanted to write about sonnet writing, referencing me and the greatest master of them all, Shakespeare. It was published online and I found it to be a very engaging, informative piece.
Again a motivating experience, as well as interesting to see what poems she chose….
You can read it on:
But for getting yourself in the writing mood, try the daily writing challenge… it may work for you too.
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