Category Archives: random thoughts

Being a writer is…

I was going to write a blog about writing – but then it turned into a poem.


Being a writer is:

About being able to take rejection…

About being able to do something else to pay the bills…

Accepting that you are unlikely ever to pay the bills from your writing,

but carrying on with it anyway…


About being able to take criticism calmly and respond

with a crocodile’s smile when they take you apart…

Being able to realise that people often take the easiest way out of,

or into, your piece…

Which is often personal, or seems downright mean…


Being able to believe in yourself when others don’t…

Realising that you are not your characters – even

though everyone thinks you are.

It’s fictional. (Usually…)


Keeping going even when you don’t win that competition or

your mss is returned unread…

It’s brilliant, it’s true, they just don’t get it.


It’s not stopping for lunch

Because you are not at home, but in your head.


Being a writer is:

Thinking, I wish I’d written that,

When reading something glorious,

Looking for ways to make yours better after

Reading something glorious…


Being able to write through the tears…

Being able to write despite the tears…

Writing something good because of the tears.


Writing is:



Doing displacement activities.



Rewriting more…


Writing notes on any handy bit of paper,

The icy dread when you lose those notes,

The rush of exhilaration and relief when you find those notes.


Writing is:

A drive / a compulsion / being human.

Nothing else is real.

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Top six things to do and see in Stockholm

After a lovely trip to Stockholm in August – here are my highlights! It’s a very accessible city, with trams, buses and metro (Tunnelbana), although walking is the best way to see it, if you don’t mind walking up and down steep hills of which there are many.

1) Sodra Teatern terrace bar
More a complex of cool bars, than a simple terrace, at the back of the Sodra Teatern, the oldest theatre in Stockholm. Here seems to be where all the groovy young things go to unwind during the warmer days and evenings. Fantastic vibe, fantastic salads. Nearest metro stop Slussen, exit via the Hökens Gata exit or you will have a steep climb up a cliff to get there!

photo of Sodra Teatern

Perched on a cliff, Sodra Teatern

2) Gamla Stan – the old town

Gamla Stan is a proper old town with medieval alleyways, cobble streets, and fine architectural details everywhere. The centre of town gets very busy, but is worth just wandering about and discovering on your own. Take spare batteries – it’s a photo opportunist’s dream. Metro – Gamla Stan.

Photo of a door detail in Gamla Stan

Gamla Stan door

 3) The Vasa Museum
Even if you are not all that interested in ships or naval history it is worth queuing up to see this amazing piece of history – the only one of its kind in the world. The Vasa sank on its maiden voyage, then it lay for 400 years, covered in mud that preserved it in an amazingly pristine state. There is also a complex of other museums near to the Vasa Museum, and if you do like ships, there is a nice cafe on an old ice breaker, which is free to visit, where the cakes were splendid. Buy a ticket on the Hop on Hop off sight-seeing tour boat and arrive in style from Slussen all year round and from Nybroplan during the summer.

Photo of the Vasa

Like a skeleton of a sleeping dinosaur, the Vasa

4)     Stockholm City Hall
The City Hall was designed by the architect Ragnar Östberg, and opened on Midsummer’s Eve in 1923. When you win your Nobel Prize, the banquet is held in City Hall. After dinner downstairs in the Blue Hall, Nobel Prize recipients, royalty and guests dance in Gyllene salen, the Golden Hall, with its 18 million gold mosaic tiles. It is not generally open to the public but you can get a daily guided tour.  Metro – T-Centralen.

Photo of City Hall

Upstairs in City Hall

5) Festivals
In the short time that we were in Stockholm we stumbled across several festivals, and looking at a calendar of events for 2012-13 it looks like there are plenty more to come! In just a couple of days we saw arielists, men playing musical instruments in a giant wheel, children building an island, opera in the open air, rap music in a park, and an immersive theatre piece ‘The Guide’ in the Dance museum from Spanish company La Reial Companyia de Teatre de Catalunya.

Photo of musicians at the Culture Fest

Kulturfestival musicians

6) City centre wildlife
Whilst you are in Stockholm, take time out from looking at the buildings to look around you at the streets, where you may notice an abundance of flowers… and birds. Apparently Stockholm is made up of 30% parks and green spaces, where you can see hares and other wildlife, depending on the season.

Birds in city centre wilderness

Spot the birdy!

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Meandering the Medway (1)

Picture of a rusty boat

Horrid Hill abandoned vessel

I have been persuaded to do some walking along the River Medway. Phase one involved a walk from Otterham Creek  to Horrid Hill. And here is a poem that the walk inspired.

Interrogating the detritus

It is interesting to see what people throw into the river
/ or what falls from boats
/ or what people bring specifically to leave behind.

Though once they liked this thing
They don’t care about it anymore.

Abandoned and rotting hulls of vessels,
Poking up green and skeletal from the mud
Like the carcasses of mammoths, or more pertinently, whales.

We make up stories about
The smuggler, or the pyrate, or the asylum seeker,
Or Bonnie and Poppy’s dad,
Who sailed the boat, but

Though once they liked this thing
They don’t care about it anymore.

We see the trolley freed from its supermarket shackles,
Still pristine, made from some rustproof alloy,
Wallowing in the mud.
How many years before it sinks completely from view?
We see tyres, miles from any roads,
We see traffic cones (of course),
emerging primeval from the goo.
Plastic bags flutter in the trees,
in the breeze like grungy ghosts.

We see a rusted box the size of a small safe,
that fell from somewhere a long time ago.
No longer metal, just flaking green and red.
Weed latches onto its sides;
The salty water corrodes it;
And one day it will cease to exist.
Dissolving to be a part of the river.

And though its owners once liked it,
They don’t care about it anymore.


*You can find more info about the walk on The Estuary Monologues site.

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Seeing what you say: words inspiring pictures


Glow (c) Naomi James, 2011

Glow (c) Naomi James, 2011


‘By shooting these set of black and white photos, I want to show our state of mind as a collective, living in the city of London.’ Naomi James, photography student, UEL

I responded to a call out on the ArtsJobs website for writers to send work to inspire photography students at the University of East London. I sent a selection of work from Barry and myself (mainly from the Encyclopaedia) and was delighted that one of Barry’s pieces – a prose poem called ‘Glow’ about how it never gets dark in cities, was selected.

We went to The Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club at the end of November to an event organised by the photography students and their tutors, to see the photos and read ‘Glow’. I documented the night in a short film. We were really impressed by the work on show.

Several students chose to interpret Barry’s text and I interviewed one of them, Naomi James, about her responses to the poem and how it inspired the pictures.

‘As people who live in one of the most lit cities in the world, (…) We are in a state of constant distraction. When do we ever get the chance to be in complete stillness whilst being in our ‘awake’ state in darkness? Are we afraid of the dark? Are we afraid of hearing our own voices without diversion?’ Naomi James

I have been thinking a lot about creative collaboration recently, so I think it’s great that the first year photography students at UEL are being encouraged to respond to, collaborate with and investigate other artforms from the very start of their course. It occurs to me, that so often once someone becomes a little successful in their artform that they seem to focus in tightly on that, becoming very protective of it, and lose interest in working with artists in other disciplines.

Working with artists in other fields has always been what excites me, to develop my own practice and to hopefully stimulate other’s thinking too.  Perhaps this is because my primary focus has been writing for the theatre, and I’ve been involved in a very hands-on way with producing my plays, so I have always been very aware of cross-disciplinary working. And always been willing to have a go at things I wouldn’t call myself an expert in, (including making props, hanging sets and giving notes!)

The brief for this project, part of the course was, ‘Seeing what you say’ and the photographers had to respond to pre-existing writing. A further, and more exciting, step would have been to create some new work together; a new mix of words and pictures, and perhaps there will be a possibility to do that in the future.

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NANOWRIMO: the hard middle bit

picture of post its


This month I have been neglecting Tweeting and blogging as I am attempting the craziness that is NANOWRIMO – National Novel Writing Month – where brave, foolhardy, sleep-deprived and simply ace writers let go of their inner editor and just pour out a 50,000 word novel in a month.

I thought I’d give it a go.

I didn’t bother to do any outline or synopsis, I came up with the title and a rough idea (written in a couple of lines) about what it was going to be about – but didn’t do any more planning than that. Quite different from my usual style.

I got off to a flying start. 2,000 words a day seemed to work OK for the first week, but now we’re into week 3 the wordcount has fallen desperately behind. I need to write about 10,000 words today in order to catch up. I always thought I was quite a fast writer but I don’t think I can manage 10K a day.

The trouble is – it’s incredibly hard to switch my editor off, so I do keep going back and correcting things. Plus my novel, ‘The Incredible Mind of Evelyn Vera Hawkins’, has gone off on some historical tangents that mean I have to get myself on Google researching aspects of the story constantly. This is the problem with having the Nazis in your novel. You need to get the facts straight. The only answer to catch up is to get up a couple of hours earlier, I did it today, but let’s see how the rest of the week goes.

I’ve written the last chapter of it, like JK Rowling did with Harry Potter, so I know where it’s going. I have a few plot points and am sticking the completed chapter titles on post it notes on my wall as a go along, as I saw Will Self do something like this on an interview. It’s just getting there that is taking some work…

Still, I’m amazed at the story that is growing quite holistically. Think Indiana Jones meets Tombraider and throw in some Greek gods and a bit of magic and you have something that is turning out to be really not the sort of book that I thought I’d ever write. So we shall see how this turns out… And now I’ll stop procrastinating, make a cup of tea and write some more!

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A new short story, a giant ship in a bottle and Rufus Hound’s weak bladder

Some things I’ve been doing recently – wrote a short story for a competition last week. Cross your fingers for me! Quite pleased with it and got the short story fire in my belly now, so going to try and do a bit tomorrow… Also been writing pieces for two events that I’m performing in – this Saturday I’ll be at Kent County Hall, performing a piece for i am small THE WORLD IS BIG, called ‘Memories of my world in RUBY slippers’. The weekend after it’s the Dickens Festival, and for that I’m doing a short play about Estella’s mother.

I also met with lovely playwright Samantha Ellis, and once I upload my interview with her to the 17Percent Youtube channel, I’ll put a link.

The fourth plinth - Ship in a bottle by Yinka Shonibare

The fourth plinth - Ship in a bottle by Yinka Shonibare

This week I had the best Tuesday. Travelled into London to see Ghost Stories, but before seeing the show wandered down into the Crypt of St Martin’s in the Fields, where after some healthy school dinners type nosh, wandered into a private view and had a nice glass of red. Coming out of the Crypt cafe we saw something interesting in Trafalgar Square, so popped over to see this magnificent ship in a bottle. Sat next to Rufus Hound in Ghost Stories, he must have been scared as the first thing he said when it finished was how he needed to go to the loo.

We couldn’t get into Charing Cross tube, so walked over to Waterloo and from the bridge saw a load of beach huts. (This is beginning to sound like a dream!) However there are some Festivals going on at the Southbank – which I’m definitely going back to.

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