Archive for December 2009




My Green Man

It’s been a busy but mostly great Christmas this year (my husband was a little poorly on Christmas Day), with two very special gifts.

The first was my beautiful niece, Chloe, born on December 22nd. Although she’s the other side of the world, thanks to the holiday break we’ve managed to combat the problems caused by the time difference and snatch a fair few skype video chats. Hurrah!

The second was my ‘Green Man’ – a painting by one of my artist friends that I’d liked in her recent exhibition. I can’t believe my husband managed to sort buying it without me guessing at all!

What with the festivities, visiting family, entertaining energy-filled children (and the inevitable extra tidying!) and organizing a birthday party, I haven’t had much time (sadly) for reading or writing the last week or so. But I have been enjoying the break and have managed a few trips to the cinema instead – Alvin and the Chipmunks 2 for the kids and Avatar in 2D (rather than 3D), which has some fantastic and enchanting animation though I did find it rather long. Even more enjoyable, for me but not my husband’s cup of tea, was the Miss Potter film on BBC 2 yesterday.

Anyway, no films tonight as I shall be trying to stock up sleep ready for tomorrow’s New Year’s Eve party for  friend’s 40th. Happy New Year everyone!

Add comment December 30, 2009

The First Noel

A letter from an old friend has set me off on a new challenge over the Christmas break – translating French poetry.

Actually, to be precise more one poem than volumes of it! The card from my French penfriend reminded me how rusty my written French has become, when having studied it for years at university and lived in Normandy , I really should be using it.

I’ve toyed with translating French poetry before. But my favourite poet is Jacques Prévert, who wrote in both English and French. So while I’ve always seen translation as a creative in its own right (not just a copy of re-creation), I’ve always kind of felt that when writing his French poems, Prévert could have written them in English but chose not to for a reason and that I ought to respect this. However, I’ve managed to justify this to myself by incorporating the translation into a larger poem and telling myself that’s all right!

I’m not sure about the result. But I’ve certainly had fun. I found it amazing how the process of translating really highlighted different poetry techniques as I tried to work whether and how to incorporate them in an English version. In fact, I think I could be hooked…when I have some more time after the festivities.

Meanwhile, I’m firmly back into traditional English this evening, sorting the last loose odds and ends for Friday. This will probably be my last blog before Christmas so MERRY XMAS everyone! (Or a Joyeux Noël! 😉 )

Add comment December 21, 2009

Weighty Waiting!

It’s arrived – hurrah! The wait is finally over!

My sixties costume for a friend’s 40th birthday/New Year’s Eve party arrived in the post today. Well in time, despite all the Christmas cards in the system. It’s very flared and floral, with a fab hat. I can’t wait!

Talking of which, I’m starting to get excited about Christmas now the kids have broken up and we went to the Christingle service last night. We’ve almost sorted the food for Christmas Day and have booked a restaurant to take my Gran out for Christmas Eve lunch – so long as there isn’t too much snow!

The most important wait for us at the moment is far from over. My niece was due on Tuesday and still hasn’t made her appearance despite causing my sister a fair share of pain. It’s funny though how our waiting miles away over this side of the Atlantic (she lives near San Francisco) has kind of brought home the human side of the Christmas story, anxiously waiting for that baby’s precious first breath. At least, they don’t have to worry about no room at the inn – and hopefully not at the hospital either!

Meanwhile, the other thing waiting – lots of tidying around the house!

Add comment December 19, 2009

Yes, no, yes, yes, yes!

Oh no, it’s not! Oh yes, it is! The preview page for my poetry collection Into the Yell is now up on the Circaidy Gregory website. Hurrah! You can check it out at: http://www.circaidygregory.co.uk/sarah%20james.htm .

Anyway, that burst of excitement over (okay, so it’s not over but I’m trying to enjoy it without getting distracted from the children’s festive excitement), back to the gritty (well, unsmooth, at least!) rather than the literary side of life. Last week saw me enjoying (?) the panto (Dick Whittington) with my younger son (and the rest of reception) at the Swan Theatre in Worcester. It was great fun but tiring. What with also taking the kids to Santa’s Grotto and two children’s parties yesterday, I haven’t had much energy spare for writing over the last few days. And to top it off, I wasn’t the only one with a flat battery by last night, as my car also refused to start!

Still, a jump start got us home relatively quickly and safely. Now I’m hoping that a trip to the gym tomorrow morning will give my energy a jump start. But just in case, I’m in countdown mode – not to Christmas, but five days till my husband’s off for two weeks and (in theory) around to help me with the boys and last minute Christmas preparations. Of course, in reality, this probably means it’s six days until the start of the countdown to my wishing him back at work so I can restore some kind of order to the chaos! (Three boys in the house to run around after, help!)

I’m only kidding! 😉 You never know, I might even get the chance to do a little bit of new writing over the festive break…

Add comment December 14, 2009

The Novella one would be Crazy to Miss

Crazy Bear by Mark Rickman, paperback,  pp 128, Circaidy Gregory Press, £7.99,

Reviewed by Sarah James

Michael Brent is a self-pity wallowing drunkard who barely seems to register those around him, let alone care about them. This is not the description of most people’s ideal hero, not even the CV of any main character one might expect readers to empathise with. But such is the skill of Rickman’s characterisation, storytelling and writing style that we not only empathise but come to care a great deal about  Michael. In fact, from very early on in the novella, I even found myself admiring the widower and his fantastically fearless, no-holds-barred alter ego Crazy Bear.

The story follows the 43 year old as he attempts – or more accurately is forced to attempt – to rebuild his life several years after his wife Margery’s death at just 38 years old from cancer. Helped – or hindered – by his well-meaning sister-in-law Delia and her plans to sort out his life and introduce him to new women, Michael reluctantly struggles to pull himself together.

But this is not a recovery, learning to love again, romance. No, this is far more interesting. Take its realistic look at love, sex and relationships and add in the tensions of work, family and an ex-husband. Then throw in a murder, in which Michael becomes the prime suspect, and the real fun starts – without any slackening in characterisation and plausibility.

This dark comedy/thriller/unique story in a genre of its own is so gripping and compelling that I literally couldn’t put it down. So much so, in fact, that I was almost late to pick up the children from school, except that as a novella of 128 pages, Crazy Bear packs all the plot and pace into just the right length to easily read in one go. There’s definitely nothing ‘crazy’ about picking up and enjoying this book – in fact, I’d be surprised if anyone could ‘bear’ to put it down again unread!

Add comment December 7, 2009

Artistic Dilemma

I’m in love with a green man. There, I’ve admitted it now. There’s just one problem…

At my friends’ fantastic art exhibition opening on Friday night, I was really taken with this picture. (I love the 3D, texture effect.)

My husband has agreed we can buy it, I’ve spoken to my friend and if it doesn’t go…But there is my artistic dilemma. The selfish part of me really wants it not to sell so I can have it. But the friend part of me knows it’s better for her if someone else buys it because then other people will have the chance to see how brilliant she (and the others) are!

Anyway, I’m still alive and had great fun doing the storytelling at Santa’s Grotto yesterday, with my The Night Santa Lost His Way (my Night Before Christmas style poem/story), though I’m feeling less alive after a great evening out with friends last night! I may need to take a little care of my head before braving the children’s party we have this afternoon. Help! 😉

Add comment December 6, 2009

Identity and Where We Come From

No, before anyone asks, I don’t mean the birds and the bees. Or God, the Big Bang, Darwin and the answer is 42. (Not that the latter isn’t fascinating to discuss but it’s too fascinating to deal with sober and in the short space of a blog!)

What I’m talking about is nationality/geographical location and I’ve been thinking about this since reviewing Magdalena Ball’s new poetry collection Repulsion Thrust. Maggie was born and raised in the U.S., spent some time in England (she’s married to an Englishman) and has lived (and still lives) in Australia for more than 20 years. When I asked her how she preferred to be ‘labelled’ nationality-wise, she said she was fine with Australian. But the whole thing set me thinking about homes, nationality, identity and belonging. (It wasn’t Maggie’s actual nationality I was interested in as such, but I needed a one-word (for the flow of the sentence) factual (rather than opinion-based) adjective to describe her as poet and Australian seemed to fit, not so much in terms of nationality as the cultural background/setting she writes from.)

Of course, I inevitably then thought about my own geography. I’m not so widely travelled so nationality is less of an issue. (I’m English though family trees suggest I probably have a fair amount of Welsh ancestery and some Belgian/German roots further back.) But I have moved around a bit – born in Hampshire, brought up in Sussex then the Worcestershire/Midlands. Univeristy at Oxford, year abroad in Rouen, more Oxford, postgraduate at Cardiff, first job in Burton-upon-Trent, first house in Lichfield, then back to Worcestershire. The end result – an accent that is a peculiar mix of southern Queen’s English and mild Brummie and no concrete sense of belonging. Though I love Worcestershire greatly, part of me regrets not making more of Oxford, I miss the beauty of Lichfield and a great chunk of me yearns for the cultural opportunities of London!

So where does that leave me and my sense of identity? I’m not sure – and ironically that is probably as accurate an answer as any!

1 comment December 4, 2009

The Thrust of It

Repulsion Thrust by Magdalena Ball, paperback, pp 112, BeWrite Books, £5.99,

Reviewed by Sarah James

This debut full-length poetry collection by Australian poet Magdalena Ball is full of poetic thrust, propelling the reader through thought-provoking and beautifully crafted considerations of love, illness, identity, genetics, the environment, planet – and more! Indeed, the quality of the poetry is inherent even in a simple listing of some of the intriguing poem titles: pale club of wind, Silicone Womb, Rock Talking, Pie in the Sky, Heebeejeebees…

The ‘Black Dog and Other Enigmas’ poems of the first of three sections show us:

“amnesia a fist
replacing memory with a thud” (Black Dog Two).

And then the hospital ward as a chess board where:

“two knight nurses can’t force checkmate
against lone king
you hold your knees
rock and wail
stalemate” (Black Dog Three).

In the second section, ‘The Crucible’, we see love as a relationship of maths where “I fell back/to integers” as “I watched you trip/into the transcendental” (10 digits of e). We are infected by the “skunkweed” of the Idea Virus and the “hailstorm of greed” where “the illusion of freedom/moths at your cashmere” (Hailstorm). This section also presents us with “entomologists in black leather” as insects out-evolve man in his doomed clichéd “corridors of history”(Evolving Insects) and Repulsion Thrust, which neatly encapsulates the purpose and momentum of the whole collection:

“thrust through the repulsion
turn it to love

what else is there?”

That this is not just a collection of dark moods, illness and bleak futures is evident too in the third section, ‘Only Rock and Roll’. This opens with De-evolution and prefers “the old way” in Virtually Enhanced but there is still freshness and hope. “When the explosion comes/spring rushes out” in Equinox and in Love in the 21st Century , “The world greened up.”

As may already be obvious, science, physics and maths pervade this collection. This is not surprising, as physics is everywhere. Though I am not a scientist and may not always understand the full complexity of physics, that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate its beauty. The same is true of this compelling collection. Fractals, quantum physics and quark are something I have limited knowledge of but the poetry in the language and images Ball uses are well within grasp. More than this she turns them into something not just poetically palatable but tangibly delicious, as in Six flavours of Quark:

“The sweet reds; sticky greens; cooling blues.
Like Italian ices I would lick
quick
as a kid
tongue stained to match.”

In fact, this collection invites us as readers, like the lover in Echo of The Big Bang, to:

“Meet me at the singularity
where unknown physics
gropes us
ordinary matter
stretches to a spaghetti of longing
and trillions of neutrinos
tickle us without a trace.”

Many of Ball’s poems in this collection are enhanced by this kind of appealing conversational touch and sense of character, as in False Alarm’s “Dallying at the edge of big stupid/gravity” or Quantum Crucible, where “in the gallery of mirrors/you pissed on the laws of physics”. As in the final poem of the collection, Blackout, where “for all our fancy footwork/here in the 21st Century…it only takes the flick of the switch/and we’re stuffed”, this seemingly light-hearted tone only gives a sharper edge to the wider implications: “the whole damn show/is over”. But, of course, the best thing about this highly re-readable collection is that it is one show which is never over!

Add comment December 3, 2009

Christmas Stocking!

I’ve been getting in the mood for my Santa’s Grotto storytelling on Saturday. The tinsel is out and the lights are up. (The kids would have them up in June if they could, so once the advent calendars are up that’s it!) I’ve also been practising my reading for the school’s first family Christmas service tomorrow. The service follows the Christmas story with hymns, poems and short stories. I’ve got a great, funny  story with the grumpy innkeeper being constantly woken up by Mary and Joseph, the star, the shepherds, the kings…

 

Anyway, my first Christmas stockings of the blog title are the kids’ sacks which have now been filled for Santa and the second is my Christmas stocking up on food, which I started today!

 

While on the subject of food, the new Writelinkers Christmas issue (at http://www.writelink.co.uk/magazine/wlxmasissue.pdf ) is a real feast of poetry, short stories, articles, recipes, jokes, photos and tons more. If you haven’t checked it out yet, make sure you don’t miss out, as it looks like the perfect accompaniment for enjoying with the season’s mulled wine and mince pies!

 

Talking of seasonal fare, I am also looking forward to my sons’ school Christmas fair and the opening of some friends’ art exhibition on Friday…A yummy week indeed – on the cultural front as much as the food one! Hope everyone else is enjoying similarly. Bon appétit!

Add comment December 1, 2009

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