Wednesday, 11 January 2017

An interview with the author Jill Rutherford



Well,  hello there! Tis a while since I updated this thing, and SO much has been happening, it has been impossible to keep up. So a catch-up article is in the pipeline.


However. Before that, continuing in the tradition of occasional interviews with writers, I'd like to introduce you to Jill Rutherford, from Eastbourne, in Sussex. I met Jill some time back, and as writers do, we fell into conversation. I remember being fascinated by her own story - that of falling for Japan thanks to seeing a performance by a Japanese all-female theatre company - and moving there, living  and working there for seven years. 

Jill Rutherford
I  was lucky enough to meet up with Jill more recently, and was delighted to discover that she had almost finished the third in an extraordinary trilogy of novels set in Japan - the Secret Samurai trilogy, a fantastical story of a female samurai. (Why should men have all the fun jobs...) And  now she has indeed finished, and here they are! She has self-published all her books, and her Japanese work is beginning to be recognised by those who know - a tough journey, and I admire her sticking power. 

Jill told me that her novels have been included recently on a list of Savvy Tokyo's 7 must-reads set in Japan.  http://savvytokyo.com/7-must-read-japan-related-books-female-authors/
They said she is: "a writer with great insight into Japanese culture and the power to deliver unique plots and marvellous characters"
                                      Savvy Tokyo Magazine 
- well that's some accolade, coming from a Japanese publication!
So, not to be outdone - we had another natter here. 


Me: Come in, sit down, have a cuppa!  I love the title of your latest novel, the final one of the Secret Samurai trilogy - so tell us a little about Secret Samurai?
Jill:  It’s not the usual kind of samurai book. The story is a time-travel adventure involving two women who become samurai and the two men they fall in love with and the women’s influence upon them.

The first is a modern English woman who moves in and out of the mind of a samurai fighting in the civil war of the 1860’s which dragged Japan into the modern world. She lives two lives in parallel (modern and old Japan).
The second is an aristocratic woman of the 1860’s who is forced to disguise herself as a samurai in order to survive the war. Living as a samurai gives her influence and respect – things she has never experienced as a woman of her time. She becomes intoxicated with the power of it and this takes her down unprecedented paths.
The historically accurate story revolves around the war and politics of the time, and they play an important part, but it is more about the relationships of the four main characters, their development, ambitions and perceptions and how their lives change.


Me: They sound absolutely extraordinary! What an imagination you must have. Tell me a little about your writing process, and where the books came from.
Jill:  It all took three and a half years to write and it proved to be a difficult story from the beginning. I thought I knew enough Japanese history to, with the help of a few history books, write the story. I soon found out that this period is the most complex in the history of Japan. Nothing stayed the same for long, factions changed, people altered their names, it was a convoluted war that lasted for fourteen years. As I didn’t want my books to be – or read – like history books, I had to simplify it. That was the hardest part, how to keep the history easy to follow and not bog down the reader. It took a lot of work as I wrote and re-wrote, paring it down each time. Finding ways round obstacles. I hope my readers will be totally unaware of this. If not, then I haven’t done my job.
As to why I wrote this particular story. It started about four years ago when I had to have an operation. While I was at home recovering, groggy from the anaesthetic and pain killers, I closed my eyes one afternoon and suddenly, the story of Secret Samurai came into my mind. I went to my computer and, muzzy as I was, I started to write. The story got bigger and bolder and more exciting until it spread over three books. It was inspiring to write about these four special characters, especially the two samurai women and the way they influenced others. The story developed as I wrote, one thing led to another in a natural way. An organic process.

Me:  And the books are published and making their way into the world? 
Jill.  Indeed - and I’ve had some very positive results. Now the trilogy is finished and people can read the whole story, I’ve been picked up by a couple of magazines in Japan. Recently, an author I don’t know approached me via social media saying she wanted to include the trilogy in an article she was doing for Savvy Tokyo Magazine, entitled, “7 Must Read Japan-Related Books by Female Authors”.
That exposure has made a huge difference. On the back of that, another magazine, Love Japan, is using my trilogy as one of the prizes for a writing competition they are doing.

Me: Fantastic. Congratulations. When did you first get interested in Japan?
Jill: When I saw a programme on BBC 2 in 1994 about a unique and rather strange theatre company in Japan. It’s called the Takarazuka Review Company and is an all female company with over 420 performers who play both the male and female parts on stage. (Off stage, the company is almost exclusively male run).
It’s full of fun, glitz, glamour, sequins, feathers – a real throw back to old Hollywood Movies and the Follies-Bergére . But also, it has its serious side and the Japanese history plays they perform are exquisite, many with sublime music and singing. A real gem of Japan hidden away from most foreigners.
I went to Japan to see the theatre and much to my surprise (for I wasn’t interested in Japanese culture at that time) I fell instantly in love with the country, the people and the culture. Many holidays later, I wanted to live there, to experience, ‘the real Japan’. Alas, I lacked a university degree which is requisite to obtaining a working visa; therefore I couldn’t get a job. So I went for a year’s holiday and didn’t come home for seven. I found a way to open my own English school and prospered.
Me: I think that's something many people would love to do, but never do. Tell us about the book  you wrote about your time there?


Jill:  Yes, I wrote, Cherry Blossoms, Sushi and Takarazuka, Seven Years in Japan about eighteen months after my return to the UK. I realised I had a story to tell and an irresistible urge to tell it. So, I wrote it all down and haven’t stopped writing since. The first draft flew off my keyboard. Then, when I went back and read it through, I realised it needed a re-write. It took eighteen months of hard work, but I got there in the end. I now know that all first drafts are just that. First drafts. You need to go back and hone and polish over and over until you have the best you can do. 
Me:  What would you say to new writers starting out?
Jill.  There’s a misconception that writing a book is easy. I heard of another writer who recently met a scientist at a party. He asked her what she did and on hearing that she was a novelist, he replied, “When I retire, I’m going to write a book”. She retorted, “And when I retire I’m going to write a paper on quantum physics.” Good for her. It’s hard to write a book. I’d say you have to write, write and write. Read, read and read. Go on every writing course you can. Listen, learn and practice. Subscribe to a writing magazine. Join a writing group.  Learn from the books you read, the good points and the bad. How they use dialogue, descriptions, start and end their stories. Look at the structure and start to analyse stories. Practice it yourself until you find your own style. Never stop writing even if it is only a few minutes a day. Always improve on what you have written. I saw a play once about F. Scott Fitzgerald. Someone asked him what he was doing and he replied, “I’m working on a sentence”. That struck me as funny then, but now I write my own novels, I realise how pertinent that comment is.

Me:  Great advice. Do you have anything else in the pipeline – anything more about Japan? Or will you go onto something completely different?
Jill.   I’ll go back to the book I was writing before all this! It’s a family story set around a mystery. It starts at the turn of the 20th century in the Welsh Mining Valleys. It needs a complete re-write, but at least the story is there.
I’m also playing with the idea of a mystery series, but it’s very early days yet.
I’ve written several short stories about Japan which have won competitions including the Charles Dickens’ Fellowship Short Story Prize for my take on A Tale of Two Cities. Mine were Tokyo and London. Plus first prize and also runner up for Eastbourne Writes Festival 2012.
Me.  Congratulations. Are these published?
Jill:  Yes, in a book of short stories entitled, The Day After I Won the Lottery . . . and Other Short Stories.

Me. I do love your covers. They are very eye-catching. So - tell us a little about you, apart from ‘Jill the writer’, who else is she?
Jill.  That’s a difficult one. How you perceive yourself is often so different from how others see you.
I hope I am honest, straightforward, engaging, humorous and hard working, as those things are important to me, but I don’t know if my friends would agree !
 I try to remain positive in this increasingly spiralling world. I follow world affairs – via the BBC – where hopefully, the news is not faked ! I still love the Takarazuka Theatre.
I wish I could master social media and be the Twitter and Facebook Queen with ‘friends’ and tweets everywhere. Alas, it is not my forte and I fear I am being left behind. I do try, but feel it’s a big failing of mine. Another generations’ adventure. So, if I’ve any fans out there, please forgive my strained efforts.
I like to drink red wine, eat out, walk my dog, spend time with friends, go to writing groups. I’d like to be a best-selling author, but then, wouldn’t we all !

Me: Thank you Jill. It's been a pleasure to natter, and I wish you so much good luck with all your books. 


----------------


So - if you are a fan of Japan, and would love to try these hugely imaginative stories about the life and loves of a female samurai - her books can be found in the usual places. Don't forget - independent bookshops will always order books for you!


Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Genesis of a poem

Today is the centenary of the Red Dragon blow, in Givenchy, Pas de Calais. A visit to the spot and many others in 2011, in the company of military historian and battlefield guide, Jeremy Banning, sparked not just the draft of a novel, but poetry.
       Perhaps it might be of interest to see the story behind a poem? So here, tweeted this morning by Jeremy, and with his permission, is the story of William Hackett and Thomas Collins. Then, my thinking, and finally, my poem.









































I found it impossible to stand and look at that field without feeling that time is wobbling,  folding in on itself, and that those men are somehow there below ground, and not there, at the same time. See the field after harvest, after ploughing, and there is an almost imperceptible depression in the furrows.     Below that, all those layers down, the space where a hugely brave man sacrificed himself for a fellow tunneller. On both sides of my family in south Wales not that long ago, there were miners. Maybe there is something echoing down the years?

But how to respond to this particular place in poetry, when I was working on a collection of poems responding to WW1 memorials and places? Maybe my background as a writer of prose, stories, allows me to imagine, try to share for a second the horror those men would surely have experienced, the fear, the pain, the hope, then the despair when they realised that rescue efforts had stopped? But then what? What words would be good enough? I didn't write for some time. For a couple of years at least.

My grandmothers, both of them from Merthyr Tydfil, lived in two of the many rows of terraced houses that cling to the valley sides. They both had great pride in their back gardens, little patches of dark soil. One grew produce, fruit trees along an old brick wall, and in the borders there were shallots, herbs, potatoes  - the other had a rose or two, a straggle of flowers, a tiny lawn. An apple tree. What would I do if I knew time was short, and I was entombed underground? If I knew I was close to death. If all was dark, no light anywhere?

I had the poem.

So this is for both men, but in particular for Thomas Collins from Swansea. Who got no awards, but died in the most awful way in his efforts to do his bit. And whose injuries led to William Hackett's extraordinary, extraordinary comradeship and bravery, for which he was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross. Here's to them both.




To a Welsh tunneller killed in 1916 in France, whose body still lies 40 ft below ground
                                                                               
Did you prefer your garden wild, 
all edges softened, scented? Did grasses 
seed for you 
in the evening light, and 
Spanish daisies dance 
                                    down the old brick step? 
Did shallots wait in untidy rows, with 
chives and parsley frills and leeks, and 
on your two apple trees, did russets grow?

Was all stone mellow, 
none bright, and in the ivy 
were dunnocks nesting year on year, 
and robins too, wood pigeons in the ash?

Everywhere was light, everywhere 
the kindest shadow,
and when it rained 
at night
did you stand at your open window,
                       the sweet air on your skin,
and listen
to the small sounds, 
                                as though


you could hear the whole world, greening?






From Memorandum, poems for the fallen. Published Feb 2016 by Cultured Llama.  http://www.culturedllama.co.uk/memorandum





Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Passing it on...the importance of teaching and mentoring




Who was it said, 'Those who can't do, teach'? I don't agree with it, as a general statement, embracing all. Applied to writing, I reckon some can do it rather well and also teach. It is certainly one way in which writers can actually earn something, especially when you turn to poetry, which isn't exactly an earner for most of us. Some no doubt do one or both better than others - but all the writers I know who take time out to share what they do do it so well. Most of them, because they care. It is nice to pass things on.

Me, I care, sure - but I learned a lot from those who taught (or tried to teach) me. It was at times an object lesson in how not to teach - therefore wonderful grounding for later, when I would be passing on to the next generation whatever snips of wisdom I'd amassed along the way.

Mentoring too.

I have just finished a year-long mentorship with a novelist, through New Writing South. On her second novel, she wanted to be supported while she wrote a fair draft of her second.
I am into mentoring another writer already - a partnership between NWS and Creative Futures, the writer is someone who might not otherwise take these things up, for her own reasons. http://www.creativefuture.org.uk
And as good things come in threes, I am mentoring the brilliant Divya Ghelani through the equally brilliant Word Factory. Her novel Runaway made the longlist of the inaugural Deborah Rogers Foundation Prize. (Nowt to do with me!)

Mentoring is an interesting beast. It isn't teaching as such, in most cases. It is support, being a sounding board, an interested colleague. More of a guidance role. And that's fine.

Many years back, I spent a year abroad at a school, and it put me off teaching. That is sad - because actually, I think I'd have loved it - so long (and it is a big so long) as I loved what I was sharing,  encouraging others to try, experiment, see if they loved it too.  And that's what I see teaching as, now.
Encouraging. Opening people's eye to what writing can be.

I ran a workshop a few weeks ago, on the short story. I started with one of my favourites - The Raft, by Peter Orner. Here it is in its entirety, all 1200 wds of it - in the archive of The Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2000/04/the-raft/378128/
           It never fails to give me enormous pleasure to see participants' faces when you unpack that story - and every time I do, I see new things myself, as they tease apart the threads, identify the craft elements.

My goal at a workshop is not to tell people how to do things, then pack up and go home. It is to show them the possibilities, open their eyes, fizz them up, strengthen their confidence in their abilities - and I hope they leave fired up with enthusiasm, full of ideas, and knowing that they CAN do this thing.

Later this year - workshops at Wordthing Festival, at Gladfest - and one or two others - then that will do. It does take a different bit of the brain to do this, and it takes a while to get back into creating mode, lovely and important as it is, for this writer. Next year, plans afoot already for fiction workshops in Venice, in Ireland and again, Gladstone's Library. Can't wait!





Sunday, 3 April 2016

Kate Dempsey's poetry collection, The Space Between. And other things. Including Thorium 238...

If you write creatively, whether poetry, plays, prose, you may well be aware of Kate Dempsey’s Emerging Writer blog - http://emergingwriter.blogspot.co.uk  a rather useful blog to say the least, containing a constantly updated drip feed of markets and opportunities for writers of all sorts, in depth interviews and interesting reviews. It is indeed rather brilliant stuff. And it's constant, and it's a free resource, even if occasionally someone drops in the cost of a coffee, I bet that doesn’t happen very often. Among other things, Kate is a poet. A poet who performs as well as sits in a darkened room. Who not just performs but is part of a group of women poets called Poetry Divas. I quote from one festival line-up I read:  
The fabulous Poetry Divas Collective are a glittery group of poets who read their own material at events and festivals all over Ireland including Electric Picnic, Féile na Bealtaine, Dublin Writers Festival, Dromineer Literary Festival and Kildare Reader's Festival. Each line-up and show is different, blended to the occasion but they guarantee a deliciously infectious show that's bound to touch a nerve and blur the wobbly boundaries between page and stage. The Divas include Barbara Smith, Maeve O’Sullivan, Triona Walsh and Kate Dempsey. 
The Poetry Divas. Kate on the left. In tiara. 

Kate had her own debut poetry collection out at the end of last year, with Doire Press - The Space Between. I happened to be in Dublin thenabouts, happened to be staying in a hotel a stone’s throw from where Kate works, and she kindly whizzed down one lunchtime to deliver my very own copy. 

I don’t review many books. However. This book is different. I don’t know Kate from Eve, apart from the fact that she is a hugely helpful person for other writers - but felt I ought to say I have met her for all of three minutes, in a Dublin hotel foyer, before saying that if you appreciate poetry that is by turns witty, funny, poignant, insightful, beautiful, strange,  and above all memorable, you ought to be getting yourself a copy. I can’t lend you mine, it is covered in scribbles. Its the sort of collection that makes me want to write myself. High praise. 



Look. Here’s the opening poem. (I have Kate’s permission to reproduce this one, and a couple of others, here.)

It’s What You Put Into It
For Grace

On the last day of term
you brought home a present,
placed it under the tree,
a light, chest-shaped mystery
wrapped in potato stamped paper
intricate with angels and stars.

Christmas morning
you watched as we opened it,
cautious not to tear the covering.
Inside, a margarine tub, empty.
Do you like it? eyes huge.
It’s beautiful.
What is it, sweetheart?
A box full of love, you said.

You should know, O my darling girl,
it sits on the dresser still
and from time to time, we open it. 


My heart does a backflip every time I read this one. I wish I’d written it.
Let’s move sideways, to something completely different. Dublin conjured from scents and sounds:

There’s fresh oranges on Mary Street,
fresh words, fresh-sprayed on concrete walls.

Or sideways again, one of my many favourites - a few couplets to give a flavour of 

Verbatim (i m Barbara Ennis Price) :

Its all the fault of the British, she said.
The cursing came in with the troopers,

(...)

Sure, weren’t we a gentle race
until the squaddies boated in?

(...)

What did we have to swear about 
until the British came?



I bet that one brings the house down.  And sideways yet again to this, which had me laughing out loud on a Ryanair flight. (There’s not much to laugh about on Ryanair..)

Thorium 238

I am Thorium
luke on mi magnifisens an kwiver.

(...)

U can bild yr collider in a playgrown,
bombard me wiv protons,
thro evrything u hav at me,
an 1 glorus day I will radee-ate 2 order. 
I am de answer, earthlings...

I googled Thorium 238. This is what it looks like. 
Thorium 238. Great, isn't it? 


I hope you are getting the point. This is not an easy collection to categorise. It is broad ranging, fascinating, and terrific. Sorry, but I love it. 

Kate Dempsey was born and raised in the UK, seems to have lived all over the world, and now lives and works in Dublin. She once studied Physics at Oxford University. (See, we have a lot in common. Not that I went to Oxford, or indeed studied Physics anywhere - I dropped it before O Level. Long Story. But in the run up to the publication of I Am Because You Are, the short story antho in celebration of the centenary of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity (Freight Press, eds Tania Hershman and Pippa Goldschmidt) I went to Oxford Physics Dept for four private seminars for the commissioned writers, to be fodder for said Relativity themed creation. Yup. Moi.) 

The Poetry Divas, her bio also says, blur the wobbly boundary between page and stage at events and festivals all over Ireland. The collection certainly contains poems I can ‘hear’ being read out loud, as well as those I want to curl up with and enjoy quietly (such as that first one up there.)  So we nattered, remotely. I asked her about the two. 

Moi: Performance and page poetry. Which came first, for you? How did the sideways shift occur? Can you pick one you define as a performance poem, and one that really belongs on the page? Why? What is it that pushes this divide?

Her: Well, page is always first. You have to write a poem before you can perform it. A poem that only works as a performance poem is only half a poem, and vice versa. If a page poem does not work out loud, then something’s wrong. Poetry started as recitation long before it was written down.I do have poems that would lean one way more than another. I have quite a few poems I would not put in a book as on the page they are missing something. Maybe that something is the voice? I don’t know. If I could fix it and make the poem work on the page too, I would. And then again, I have poems that are good on the page but when I’ve read them to an audience, there’s too much going on on the page for a listening audience to get much out of it in the first run through. So those would be stay-on-the-page poems.  
Moi: Some poems seem to straddle to divide neatly. For example: 'Tell me about your scar'. May I reprint this one?

Her: Sure, go ahead 

Tell me about your scar

that pucker of skin in the shape of an owl.
Was it an irritable pug,
a fight about a man, a look, the price of pie? 
Were you cursed by Minerva?
Did your knife slip making a rocket from a bottle?

Is it perhaps where you had a rash tattoo removed? I hear the laser hurts more than the needle.
Were you caught climbing barbed wire into somewhere,
out of somewhere?
Did you fly into a window, smash a mirror?

Was it cancer, may I ask, a nasty melanoma?
Did a small owl-shaped alien erupt after one to many bad nights?
Was it self-inflicted?
Is there a matching half on your other arm,
your leg, your brother?

Does it ache when storms are near?
Do you still notice it? 
Does it disappear in sunshine, 
in the shower, in the snow,
when you sweat, when you fall in love?

Do you have a story
or shall I make you one?
I can do that.
Sit still.
This will hardly hurt a bit. 

Her: I started that one because I wanted to write a poem with a reference to classics, originally Athena but she changed to Roman Minerva. On top of that, I have taught creative writing in schools and one prompt I’ve used is to write the true story about a scar. Everyone has a scar with a story. And then to tell a story for the scar that isn’t real. Works well.

Moi: Specific question - it seems to me that humour is a fundamental for performance poetry, in whatever quantity - a flash thereof, or a lot.

Her: I don't think so. Maybe it is in mine but there is plenty of performance poetry that is fiercely passionate or angry with no humour at all. I'm thinking Kate Tempest as  a terrific example and many other performance poets who think that anger on its own will make a poem, which it won't. I don't always intend to write funny poems but humour tends to creep in. In a performance environment, a funny poem or a poem with at least touches of humour is good to keep the audience on your side. A laugh relieves the tension of listening (or not)

Moi: I laughed out loud in the plane home, at Thorium 238. I love the humour that runs through the collection - favourites might be I Could Lie and Running Out. And Regeneration... despite the serious echoes underneath

Her: Thorium is one of the more Science poems. I wrote it to be displayed in the Bodleian Science Library in Oxford, which was really cool. Thorium and Thorium 238 in particular some scientists believe have the potential to release very cheap clean energy but they haven't figured out how to do it yet. So I imagined Thorium as some kind of a partially literate superhero, sniggering as he watches humanity trying to work it out.

Moi: O Lord. Thorium 238 is now my favourite. It has to be. To celebrate... here is that pic of...
Thorium 238. Still great...
But doing an about turn, I am wondering, as there are many very insightful, hilariously sharp poems about blokes  in the collection, is this a feminist collection? I am thinking of Karl, poor poor man, ghastly man,  in his very own poem.. .

We weave around conversational sinkholes, as he ploughs
into his half-a-bloody cow, chewing open-mouthed 
as if we all want to savour the flavour...

and 

He’s all for diversity so long as the service industry
speaks English with no accent.

Her: Now there's a question. I come from a generation where it is almost taken as read that if you are a woman, you are a feminist. Of course I'm a feminist! And feminist beliefs will inevitably pop up in some of my writing. But I don't think anyone gains anything by forcing doctrine down other people's throughts. Subtlety and light humourous undermining of assumptions is my main weapon. But if I had to pick out an overtly feminist poem, I would be hard pressed. Perhaps While It Lasted, about a mother taking some time off from running the house and family. Actually my mother worked too, but that's not mentioned specifically. Or Running Out. I may have to address feminism more overtly in some new poems, I think.

Moi:  Love that one too. here it is, on writing.ie: http://www.writing.ie/guest-blogs/poem-for-mothers-day/
On to Physics.
Can you say a bit about how this (and broader science) does or doesn't inform your poetry? Noted: Hydrogen, Equations on Waking. Again, may I use Hydrogen on the blog?

Her: I am fascinated with Science, specifically Physics from my Physics degree so I think it is inevitable that some science will creep into poems, even if they are not specifically about science. For example Schroedinger's famous, much maligned and misunderstood cat appears in a poem about a lump in a breast. I sometimes read at Science events so I specifically tried to write a few really science-y poems. I also collect interesting science facts for future poems, I jhave notebooks bulging with ideas waiting for time to craft them into something more than scratchy notes. I wrote a sequence of poems about elements represented as women, which was much fun to research and imagine. I should thank my daughter who is a Chemistrry graduate as well as Wikipedia. Hydrogen addresses varoius attributes of the element, the lightness and flammability. In a lab, the test to see if Hydrogen is released is to set it alight so it will pop. And it commonly occurs as H2, in a pair, two protons, no neutron, so that went into the poem too.

Moi: I knew it. Honest.

Hydrogen.

You can’t hold me down for long,
buouyant, I’m ready to burn bright, pop.

Simple? Say straight forward,
I say what I mean and I am what I am

a singular girl and 
a star in the making.

If you think about it,
it’s your all-natural pairing --

no need for a gooseberry neutron
my twin and I hold it together just fine. 



Still Moi: You were at Oxford University. One line that sticks in my head from the poem entitled ‘Pure Class’ is this,

Poetry won’t get you outa here,’ my da says. 

Is the 'City with stones of gold' form the poem of that title, Oxford? Can you talk a bit about the class boundaries and their blurring - how class becomes an education thing as opposed to a money thing? Did you feel you were the chosen,  ‘shucking the limits of hometown grime’ (your lovely phrase)?

Her: Yes. Oxford, a beautiful place that I loved for my 3 brief years. I made life long friendships there as well as the education. I went up there from a very ordinary Midlands comprehensive school and the class divide was a shock to me as was suddenly not being the cleverest person in the class. But also working with people who were as interested in science (and reading) as you were. I literally still dream about it. But not everyone managed to survive it. People failed, dropped out, someone from my school killed himself. So there's a price. It's not for everyone. University is not for everyone at that age.

Moi: Lots more I could ask, but I know you are busy.

Her: I am! Apart from working full time, I am running an 8 week online poetry workshop with 7 other poets where we take turns to give a prompt each week and then write a poem to respond to it. So each week I have a poem to write and 7 to respond to. It's a hard slog but very rewarding. We're all going to meet up in Dublin at the end in person.

Moi: Sounds wonderful! No rush. Am off to Gladstone's Library to write from 25th to 1st.

Her: How lovely. How do you get that gig? I would love a week off to write ...soon soon.
Moi: But you can. Anyone can go - its now a terrifically unusual hotel, with this Victorian Gothic library, Gladstone’s memorial, attached. I am hooked. I ran a workshop for them last autumn, and my payment is two blissful weeks of my own this year, glorious.


Ok, peoples. If you only buy one poetry book this month, make it this one. You can buy Kate’s collection direct from Doire Press. http://www.doirepress.com/writers/f-k/kate_dempsey/ Support quality indies! 
OK. We know... Thorium 238, right? Byeee!

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

19th March, New Venture Theatre, Brighton Our Sons As Well - poems and prose

“I am the enemy you killed, my friend.”
Wilfred Owen’s ’Strange Meeting’ reminds us of the human cost of the Great War, and of the individual personalities behind the wartime propaganda and the faceless military uniforms.
An evening of poetry and writing from and about a conflict which affected millions - men and women, parents and children, sweethearts and lovers. The event will feature a selection of poems, letters and prose - some contemporary, some modern - read by New Venture actors and special guests. There will also be a short extract from the forthcoming production of ‘How Many Miles To Babylon’.
The image usually brought to mind is of the trenches of the Western Front - but WWI was truly a World War, sweeping up citizens of many nations. European soldiers of all nations, Indian soldiers of Empire (in France and Belgium as well as Mesopotamia), Turks and Anzacs at the Dardanelles. And all these combatants were supported by families and loved ones, as well as the industries and medical services that underpinned the war effort.
‘Strange Meeting’ was written from the Western Front, but the shared humanity of soldiers is universal. The monument at Gallipoli reads - “your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”
I am delighted that some of my own work will be performed during this event by New Venture Theatre actors, including Poem for Seven Voices. This long poem, first published in The Half-life of Fathers, is part of Memorandum: poems for the fallen, from which my work will be taken. Far more importantly, poems by Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen, Isaac Rosenberg, Sarojini Niadu and many more, form an integral part of the event. I am privileged to be reading Rosenberg's wonderful poem, Break of Day in the Trenches, and the Naidu, The Gift of India. Caroline Davies also has a poem in the lineup, from her forthcoming collection Voices from Stone and Bronze (Cinnamon, May 2016). 

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Interviews are like bloody buses... :)

A few interviews - I seem to be pixellated - scattered liberally all over the internet:

One just up on Storyscavenger website looks at the writing process - and asks, among other things,  what advice I’d give to newer writers. Hmm... 
I’ve had all sorts of advice from all sorts of people - some rubbish. Some sort of OK, sometimes. The only advice that really stands the test of time is: 
Writing well is hard work. Don’t expect it to be easy. The writing world is hard. Don’t expect it to be easy. If you aren’t prepared for hard work, and for knock back after knock back, you’re in the wrong job.” 
Whole interview here, a natter with Wendy Ann Greenhalgh: 
http://www.storyscavenger.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/interview-vanessa-gebbie.html#more

An interview also appears on The Short Story website - 
“In my work poetry and prose do a kind of dance, in that sometimes they are so far apart they turn their backs and refuse to have anything to do with each other, and conversely sometimes they move so close that they are almost indistinguishable.”
Interview here, with Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn:

On Litro, a fascinating article about the totemic articles that writers surround themselves with, and which, in some cases, become inspiration for their work, includes my version of Dalou’s ‘Le Grand Paysan’. The original, in the Musee d’Orsay, is huge. A bit like this one... but darker: 


And they might have noticed if I nicked it. Couldn't get it under my coat...but this wonderful work certainly became a huge inspiration,  and is the genesis of the town statue of a coal miner in The Coward’s Tale.  I love it so much I bought my own mini-version...
“The poet Selima Hill once described going for long walks along the Dorset coastline as part of her creative process, collecting stones and shells or any interesting object that caught her eye along the way. For poet and novelist Vanessa Gebbie the inspiration for her first novel, The Coward’s Tale, set in a Welsh mining village, was a larger than life bronze statue, Dalou’s Le Grand Paysan which stands in the Musee D’Orsay in Paris.As a surrogate, Gebbie acquired a much smaller bronze replica of a similar statue, Picciole’s In Labore Benedictio, to connect her to her story.”
Full article here, by Niyati Keni:


On Brighton Retreats website, I was interviewed about procrastination - there’s a laugh. The best way to procrastinate is to spend time on these questions... (!). 
“Q: Do you listen to the interminable Inner Critic? How do you keep him/her quiet?A: We argue. Constantly.  I remind him (it IS a bloke) that he is very useful indeed at the right times. Indeed, indispensable. Like blokes are. Some of the time. This one is indispensable when I am rewriting, editing, because he lets me see the work as others will. Other times, I shut him up by turning off the screen when I type, or turning the font to white.”


On Chester University’s digital repository, I am also in pixels - you can download an interview that appeared in Short Fiction in Theory and Practice, entitled ‘As of on a magic carpet...’ - about the importance of flash and the flash process. 

Writing flash fiction was and still is absolutely crucial to my development as a writer - an ongoing process. I initially wrote a lot of flash with other writers to tight time constraints, inspired by prompts - a single word, phrase or line of poetry. I found a great strength and a creative buzz in knowing that unseen others were tackling the same prompts at the same time.  The concision, the need to examine every word was a great discipline. The creation of character through hint rather than description was a great skill to learn.”
Interview here, with the editors of Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Peter Blair and Ashley Chantler: 
http://chesterrep.openrepository.com/cdr/handle/10034/592823



That's probably enough!