Category Archives: Books & Letters

It’s a Kinda Magic

Well. I finally did it – and boy, was it worth it! I’ve been wanting to attend an Arvon course for so long now that I was half certain the actual experience would never live up to all my expectations, but I have to say that in fact, it exceeded them.

It all happened at Arvon’s centre at The Hurst, when 16 travel worn souls uncertainly entered the doors to seek guidance from two established experts in the field – and walked out a short week later with notebooks brimming with ideas, the beginnings of promising first novels and an address book full of brilliant and supportive friends who could always be counted on to provide advice and encouragement along the journey.

The course, titled ‘Starting to Write’, was designed for those of us who are looking for some sort of validation that yes, we should indeed take the plunge and commit to the writerly life. Taught by the dazzling, and utterly organised, Kate Long and the witty and insightful Simon Thirsk, the objective was to help us find our voices, bring out our stories and help us embrace ourselves as honest to goodness ‘Writers’. A tall order by any measure, but one that was delivered in no uncertain terms.

Simon and Kate provided a perfect complement to each other, covering multiple genres and styles between them, guiding us through topics ranging from brainstorming characters, planning plot and managing your time to defining yourself as a writer, approaching the world of publishing and prioritising your work when back in the real world.

Out there, nestled in the Shropshire hills, cut off from cell phones and wi-fi, surrounded by literary goodness and the warmth of friends and mentors – it really felt that we could conquer the world and had stories worth telling. I think we have all come away with a renewed desire to commit to the labour of love that is writing and I look forward to reading the wonderful novels, ranging from psychological thrillers, to historical romances, to literary fiction, that have been conceived during this lovely week in a most memorable November by the talented writers I am proud to call my new friends.

Heartfelt thanks to the Arvon staff, Ilona, Deborah, Kerry and Dan; our wonderful tutors, Simon and Kate, and the amazing writers – without whom the experience would have been incomplete. If you have the slightest inclination to explore your writing, I would urge you to try an Arvon week on for size – you will certainly not regret it.


Yes. It is finally in the works. I think it has been more than 9 long years now that I have been dreaming of an Arvon week. Why has it taken so long, you ask? Let me tell you in a poem:

illusions of grandeur

I’m glad not to have pursued those dreams
Sometimes the failure to do, it seems,
Can be all that remains if you are to speak
To yourself of all that you could have been.

Yes, indeedy. There is cowardice at the heart of it. But I did tell myself 2012 would be the year to take this bull by the horns and put pen to paper at last – and what better way to brush off and breathe new life into an old dream than a week of wonder at The Hurst.

Due to a mix of troubles, financial and logistical, I was unable to stick to the original plan of attending a Fiction course with the beautiful and talented Sarah Hall and equally beautiful and talented Owen Shears this September. Being a fan of their very lyrical prose, I was quite thrilled to have gotten a space in their workshop and was hoping to have a modest body of work done over the summer to show. But the best laid plans…you know how it goes. So since I have to spend the summer trying to earn the money for my little adventure and don’t expect to have to much writing time, I have moved myself along the calendar to November, when Kate Long (a lovely lady who, curiously enough, seems to share my love of prickly rodents) and Simon Thirsk (of Bloodaxe Books, eeeeeeee!!!) will be running a course designed specially for those of us who need permission to write. And you never know, maybe after I get my ‘permission’, my toehold on an intangible goal, I may scrimp and save my way on to another one of Arvon’s offerings in due time.
Three months to go!

An Ideal Bookshelf

A combination of my love for all things bookish and whimsical painterly designs – is a fun project by Jane Mount. According to her site ‘Jane paints portraits of people through the spines of their favorite books: the ones that changed your life, that defined who you are, that you read again and again’ – how wonderful is that? And though initially part of a larger project, Jane now has an online shop and will paint your books or you can buy prints of other sets in her shop. Do check it out.

Tell Me A Story

I love stories. I believe we are all storytellers and that is what separates humanity from the rest of the natural world. Imagination. To be grossly reductionist, I would maintain that we are all beholden to narratives, those we create, those we believe – and without them we get lost. And that in itself as a feature of (wo)mankind is fascinating.

And just today I came upon a website that’s just perfect for all us story-tellers and story-lovers – it’s called Cowbird, and in their own words:

Cowbird is a small community of storytellers, focused on a deeper, longer-lasting, more personal kind of storytelling than you’re likely to find anywhere else on the Web.


Click through and either pick a picture or type in a key word and be transported to a land of a million little stories, the kind we’re all made up of! I’ve a feeling I’ll be wandering through these for a while.

it’s always ourselves we find in the sea

Ode to Bicycles


I was walking
a sizzling road:
the sun popped like
a field of blazing maize,
was hot,
an infinite circle
with an empty
blue sky overhead.

A few bicycles
me by,
the only
that dry
moment of summer,
barely stirred
the air.

Workers and girls
were riding to their
their eyes
to summer,
their heads to the sky,
sitting on the
beetle backs
of the whirling
that whirred
as they rode by
bridges, rosebushes, brambles
and midday.

I thought about evening when
the boys
wash up,
sing, eat, raise
a cup
of wine
in honor
of love
and life,
and waiting
at the door,
the bicycle,
only moving
does it have a soul,
and fallen there
it isn’t
a translucent insect
through summer
a cold
that will return to
when it’s needed,
when it’s light,
that is,
of each day.

Pablo Neruda




Book Recommendations

Thought I’d share a couple of book recommendations written last year. These were published in Paper Magazine’s first issue.

SUM by David Eagleman

If traditional views on the hereafter leave you cold, if you believe you’re meant for more than worm fodder, or if fountains of milk and honey don’t really grab you, then step right this way, for David Eagleman has an afterlife for you that will not disappoint. Sum is a collection of forty short stories, each a re-imagining of what happens after you’ve been excused from life as you currently live it. What if one was reborn to discover that life had to be relived, only in reverse? What if you died and were given the option for another shot, with the ability to ask for just one thing to be different? What if God turns out to be even better than they said, but no one is prepared to accept a version different from their religious beliefs? This odd and provocative little volume will keep you enthralled and wanting more.

Eagleman, a neuroscientist in addition to being a writer, has brought this rather morbid topic into the realm of the fantastical with a twisted sense of humour and a lot of ingenuity. This imaginative and insightful book has won fans across the world, including Philip Pullman, Stephen Fry and Alexander McCall Smith.

Best devoured in greedy little bites, with thoughtful mastication to follow.

As Time Magazine puts it – “Read Sum and be amazed. Reread it and be reamazed.”

The City & The City by China Miéville

China Miéville’s intelligent and highly original volume begs to be compared with Kafka and Orwell, in that it creates a nightmarishly bizarre vision of a totalitarian dystopia fraught with a maddening bureaucratic framework, sure to engage fans of either author.

Initially it appears to be set in a perfectly acceptable fictional city, culturally reminiscent of south eastern Europe, with its mix of Balkan refugees and some Germanic and Slavic language thrown in for good measure. Told from the perspective of a police officer, this could be an otherwise believable detective story, with all the fixings of murder and conspiracy. However, it soon becomes apparent that the city of Beszel has an unconventional and extraordinarily intimate relationship with the city of Ul Qoma, which is not a neighbouring city, as one would rush to imagine, but in fact exists in the same physical space as the former. Citizens of each place are psychologically conditioned to ‘unsee’ anything that doesn’t belong in the city they call their own for fear of the secret police. Now add a city-less murder victim and some power politics and you have a truly different animal. (Yikes! If you’re already perplexed you may want to give it a miss, but if you’re a fan of the quirky and ready to tangle with this new ‘urban surrealist’ genre, you won’t find a better story than this to do so).

It’s hard to escape the parable that we all choose to ‘unsee’ the parts of reality we don’t want to acknowledge or accept, but Miéville follows through with his page-turning detective story rather than flouting our demons in our faces too obviously. So take a leap and try out, what Neil Gaiman calls, ‘the fiction of the new century’.