Friday, 30 June 2017

You Couldn't Make It Up...

If you go down to the woods today...
When I started writing my new series, the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries, and set myself the ambitious target of publishing a cycle of seven novels over two years, I had no idea how much I would come to enjoy escaping into its fictitious Cotswold village of Wendlebury Barrow.

Having now drafted the first three in the series - Best Murder in Show was published in April, Trick or Murder? will launch in August, and Murder in the Manger will be my 2017 Christmas special (no surprises there) I feel as if the characters are old friends. I feel entirely at home with them.

My second home...
That shouldn't really come as a surprise, because in real life, I've  resided in the small Cotswold village of Hawkesbury Upton for over a quarter of a century. 
Both the fictitious and the real village are safe, fun but eccentric places to live. Frequently heard in response to Hawkesbury Upton events is the phrase "You couldn't make that up!" There are probably more implausible events happening in the actual village than in the pretend one.

The long and winding road to Wendlebury Barrow - I mean, Hawkesbury Upton

I love living in Hawkesbury Upton, and although I've been careful to make all my characters and events fictitious, I write about Wendlebury Barrow in celebration of the kind of village life that surrounds me.
I've only once so far caught myself writing "Wendlebury Upton."

Of Darker Places

Which leads me to wonder whether authors who write much grittier crime books than mine feel the same about the grimmer worlds that they have conjured up. Do they live in places like that? Do they want to visit them? I don't think so.

Yes, I do know about catharsis, but the closest I get to enjoying it in fiction is in the likes of Alice in Wonderland, with its classic "oh thank goodness it was only a dream" moment.
As for me, I'd rather feel safe all the time, whether weaving stories in my fictional world or walking the streets of my home village.
Not for me the more violent books, films or television programmes that my husband enjoys. You probably know the sort of thing I mean: where the soundtrack consists almost entirely of the physical impact of violence (fists on flesh breaking bones, bullets sinking into fleshy targets) and the dialogue would be half the length if all the swear words were omitted.
Or maybe that's why he watches them - precisely because they make me swiftly leave the room. Perhaps straight afterwads, he channel-hops to "Strictly".

Incitement to Murder

However, I must admit that writing the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries is also in part a response to his previous complaint that "nothing happened" in my three volumes of short stories - well, nothing violent, anyway.
My pre-planned series of titles commits me to at least one murder per book. My only problem now is that I'm getting so attached to the characters that I don't want to kill any of them off. 
Which my neighbours in Hawkesbury Upton will probably be very glad to know...


Available to pre-order now
The first Sophie Sayers Village Mystery, Best Murder in Show, is set in the summer months, at the time of the traditional village show, so it makes the perfect summer read. It's now available to order Amazon in paperback or ebook here, or from your local neighbourhood bookshop by quoting ISBN 978-1911223139

The second in the series, Trick or Murder?, an autumnal story set around Halloween and Guy Fawkes' Night, will be launched at the Hawkesbury Upton Village Show on Saturday 26th August. (No wonder I'm getting the real world mixed up with my fictional one!) Meanwhile you can pre-order the ebook on Amazon here

Thursday, 29 June 2017

The present is another country: N M Browne

I am currently working on an historical novel set in England in the mid sixth century. I have written
historical novels before - sort of. My Warriors series: Warriors of Alavna, Warriors of Camlann, Warriors of Ethandun’ and the stand alone ‘Wolfblood,’ were all set between the first and ninth centuries. I have always done my research  but, as these books have always included fantastical elements, my brain has allowed me a little wriggle room with the facts. I still angsted over the kind of sword that would have been available to my protagonists but permitted magic, and metamorphosis and, yep, I admit it, I’ve made a lot of things up.
 This time it is different. This is history not fantasy and I am in dire need of magic. This England is  a muddled kind of period, or at least I’m muddled about it.  
  It has been enormously helpful to hear Hilary Mantel reflect on the writing of history in her Reith Lectures. They are brilliant if you haven’t caught them yet.  She points out  that ‘Evidence is always partial. Facts are not truth, though they are part of it – information is not knowledge. And history is not the past - it is the method we have evolved of organizing our ignorance of the past. It’s the record of what’s left on the record.’ Wise words indeed, especially for a period when the record is relatively small and contradictory.  Like all writers, my job is to get to the place where the facts, what we know about the time, disappear into an understanding of what it is like to be a particular person at a particular moment, but it is hard. The written word and the archeological record speak of different worlds. I cannot hold the contradictions in my head. I am struggling to reimagine a world that makes sense to me. Each book I read is like a biopsy of a different organ and it does not seem to belong to the same body. 
  At Sutton Hoo, I see the incredible artefacts produced by craftsman of enormous skill which utilise an elaborate iconography. I picture a complex hierarchical culture, in which trade with the continent still features, the pagan gods of Woden and Thunor still dominate, in which men feast in meadhalls and die glorious deaths on the battle field. I imagine Beowulf. As Hilary Mantel  says ‘We hear the facts, and our brains print the legend.’ 
   Then I discover the evidence of extreme poverty and malnutrition found in other burials from the same period. They indicate a very high maternal death rate, which suggests a large number of orphaned children and a lack of mothers and grandmothers. The drainage systems of the Romans are not maintained, agricultural yields were likely to be poor and in many places only the most basic kind of housebuilding occurred. I read extracts from Gildas, a sixth century Christian monk, existing within an apparently well established church hierarchy and once more I am lost. How can all these snapshots of a time suggest such radically different life experiences?
  And then  the horror of Grenfell Tower occurs and shows us all how extreme and atomised our own time is. How extreme wealth and desperate poverty live side beside, but inhabit different worlds, how neighbours eat different food, use different artefacts, believe different things and have such different life experiences that their inequalities would show up in their bones, their teeth, their age at death. How would some future writer imaginatively accommodate what might be found in the archeological record of Grenfell with what might survive from the homes of the super rich living almost next door? 
Our present is contradictory, complex, impossible to grasp, and so, inevitably, is our past. 
 It doesn’t help me much, but then no one said writing was easy.


Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Cow in a Tree, Malign Inanimate Objects and Heligoland. - Enid Richemont

To counteract the horrors in London news over the last few weeks, I have been unashamedly posting my own local London image. In my suburban street there's a cow stuck in a tree, and she seems quite happy up there, semi-floating against a hot blue sky, although she clearly disliked being photographed because she kept bouncing. I wonder what the birds will make of her? With those slightly aggressive, horizontal udders, maybe she's begging to be milked? Maybe someone could send up an inflatable milkmaid with a bucket?

I'm feeling that this is going to be a rather silly blog - put it down to the heatwave we're currently experiencing, or to the fact that I write picture book texts as well as more serious stuff. Take the story I picked up on Facebook today, about the misfortunes of a colleague, one of whose Birkenstocks went solo walkabout just as she was getting off a train, forcing her to limp with one bare foot through the ticket office. This confirms my long-held theory based on the innate intelligence of inanimate objects, and their ability to annoy or even harm us (who was it that made the horror movie about a car with a murderous mind of its own?) There is definitely a reason why, when I tip out a vitamin pill, it rolls on to its side and across the table to the floor, or a garden hose mysteriously loops itself around a watering can, which it then drags across the garden. I think the time has come for us to fight back, so in the case of my colleague, also a writer, I'm suggesting revenge. She must retrieve her wand from the cupboard, dust it down, and perform a Transformation spell on the culprit, wherever it is, and I can't imagine a more shameful fate for a Birkenstock than to be changed into a Glass Slipper - oh, the shame of it! Go on, do it, Catherine!

And with even more recourse to things magic, I'm currently looking for a Fox Whisperer, but a Pied Piper would do - someone who could persuade my current foxes that my garden is a disgusting and dangerous place in which no self-respecting animal would want to dig, and as for wasting one's valuable marking poo - "my dear - unthinkable!"

 My very long-term friend, Miriam Frank, has recently published the sequel to her first autobiographical book: "MY INNOCENT ABSENCE" with a sequel "UNFINISHED PORTRAIT" in which explores her relationship with her mother - the portrait in question, which was indeed unfinished, being the work of her late ex-husband and eminent painter, Rudolf Kortokraks. Miriam was a child refugee during the Second World War, as her family were not only Jewish but belonged to a group of intellectual Communists living a somewhat alternative lifestyle, and Miriam and her mum were forced to flee from the house they were living in, just outside Barcelona, into Vichy France, and eventually put on a refugee ship to Mexico, and from Mexico sent on to live with Miriam's aunt in New Zealand - and even writing all that makes me feel exhausted!  In New Zealand, Miriam eventually studied medicine, and came to practice as a GP and later a consultant anaesthetist in London, which was where she met Kortokraks. Both books are absolutely fascinating, especially if you're interested in that period, and in the second one, Miriam researches her mother's life in the Twenties and Thirties, much of it based on a collection of family photographs. I do highly recommend both books. The stunning cover image on the second was taken in Heligoland in the Twenties, and shows a couple of naked women performing some kind of gymnastic dance. Heligoland seems to have been the island of choice for alternative communities.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Using Reviews as Promotional Tools - Andrew Crofts

Faithful followers of Electric Authors may remember that I talked a year or two ago about my novella “Secrets of the Italian Gardener”. 

To recap; I launched it on Amazon through their White Glove service, with the help of United Agents. That sold a good few copies via Kindle and print-on-demand - and garnered some good Amazon reviews.

I then produced a hardback edition through Red Door Publishing, with the aim of getting non-Amazon reviews, with the help of Midas PR.

When Red Door suggested that the time might be right for a paperback, I realised that we had managed to collect quite a few good endorsements from these previous two incarnations and it might indeed be worth producing something for the bookshops.

Red Door commissioned a redesign of the cover and we included flaps back and front so that we could smother them with lavish third-party praise and on July 4th the paperback will be making its way out into the world, supported by PR from Bookollective's Esther Harris, one of this year's "rising stars" in The Bookseller. 

(This illustration does not get close to showing how sumptuously colourful and glittery it actually is).

I have taken the liberty of reproducing the reviews that will be appearing on the flaps below, which seems horribly unsubtle and immodest but unavoidable if I want to convince more people that it might be worth giving the book a go.

“…the characters are so carefully created and multi-layered, and the storyline so involving that we are led into contemplating the banality of evil and the complexity of the human psyche almost without realizing it. …
             – Vulpes Libris

 “Write about what you know – good advice, which Andrew Crofts has wisely followed in this novella, whose narrator is, like the author, a leading ghostwriter …. a story of personal tragedy with an intriguing glimpse behind the scenes of dictatorial power.”
                                  – Mail Online. Literary Fiction

“This fast-paced narrative will have you gripped from start to finish.”
                                  – The Lady

“Robert Harris meets Paulo Coelho in a thoughtful, intelligent story”
                                 – Words-in-Jam

“A contemporary re-casting of Ecclesiastes, this story is about the vanity associated with the desire for power and possessions and ultimately about the cycle of birth, growth, death and re-birth”
– Robert Kirby, United Agents

“One of the most compelling, intelligent and emotional books I have read in a long time …. It speaks volumes of the world we live in today and I can’t remember ever being this excited about a work”
–Wattpad  review 

Reviews on Amazon.

“This is not a long book, but it is a classic piece of well-written, thoughtful and worthwhile fiction. Despite the lightness of touch some very serious issues are touched upon, and dealt with in a satisfying way. This is the sort of book that people who read a lot of books are happy to recommend. “

“… it has really left a deep and thoughtful impact. Andrew Crofts’ story is a beautiful look at what it is like having to view the world changing around you, both personally and globally, and having no real way to affect the outcomes in it. The characters are complex, the imagery of scenes vivid and beautiful, and it allows us to explore the ideas of who ,or what, is considered wrong and right. Will the choices of our past and present really represent how we are viewed in the future? Or can the carefully crafted words of a witness to a key moment in history change the outlook for the entire world? I feel my review may not accurately capture the jewel that this small story is, and I encourage anyone to read it and discover what the secrets are, both in the gardens and in your own life.”

“A philosophical yet unnerving look at power, tyranny and fear through the eyes of a ghostwriter and a worldly gardener who turns out to be anything but the man he appears.”

“Delightfully unexpected, this novella is an excellent read.”

“The story is quite fascinating and the thoughtful nature of the prose allows remarkable insight into the greed and corruption which lies at the heart of a fraudulent regime.”

“Coelho with cojones …”

“Secrets of the Italian Gardener is an original, well written story, and a thoroughly good read.”

“A fast-paced political thriller.”

“Packed with drama and political intrigue, the story draws you in from the first page.”

Monday, 26 June 2017

Reinventing the Book Review in the Age of YouTube, by Dipika Mukherjee

On most days I know how lucky I am to work with words everyday, and in doing so, meet some of the most creative minds of the world.
On other days I think I should be coding alone in a basement so that I can be paid without ever making a public appearance again.
Don’t get me wrong...I teach and write, so I am quite comfortable pontificating in front of large (captive) audiences. The problem starts when I am being recorded doing so.
As I write about Asia, and Asian audiences are right at the forefront of embracing our digitally visual world, I am finding it hard to avoid YouTube. I can, of course, always decline being videotaped, but I find myself more and more on camera, whether it is my publicist wanting a YouTube video, or a radio station in Chicago telling me that folks are much more likely to click on a YouTube link than an audio podcast (and then taping a Part I and Part 2!) 
So I found myself at Star Malaysia’s TV studio in Kuala Lumpur in May; not only had they commissioned a book review for Shambala Junction, they also wanted to embed a YouTube video of the Author-Reading-From-Her-Book.
I showed up—suspecting rather glumly—that what they were really hoping for was such an effing mess on camera that the clip would immediately go viral. You know, like the spectacularly entertaining BBC interview on Korea. 
The thing is, when one is doing an email/phone interview you can spout all kinds of wisdom in a pajama-clad unbrushed state, and that happens frequently when the interviewer and interviewee are in different time zones. But an on-camera appearance requires hours of make-up and hair prep, thinking about clothes, and then, during the interview, worrying about whether your face is appropriately authorial or you come across as a complete jackass with a penchant for grinning unnecessarily.
But Malaysia is an amazing country and Malaysians (and their playful, diverse workplaces!) are a joy to work with. I was to be directed by Lennard (who would bring his acting workshop experience to improve my Shambala Junction reading); a brilliant Ian behind the camera; and the erudite Sharmilla had commissioned a book review.
And they were all WONDERFUL, despite my being such a jackass, starting with wardrobe. This is how the emails went back and forth:
Lennard: What to wear: Nothing too fussy. If you're going with prints, patterns or stripes, keep it simple. Preferably with no words, images or branding. We also have a tiny green room where you can check yourself before we start.
Me: I did an Astro Vbuzz interview on May 12, where I wore a sari. Should I wear a sari again or would you prefer something non-ethnic and neutral?
Lennard: Saree is good; non-ethnic and neutral also works; whatever you feel comfortable in. What would Iris wear? :) 
Me: As to clothes, hmmm, do men ever agonise about this like women do? (rhetorical question, don't answer)
Lennard: The men with mirrors do.

In the end, the Star Malaysia team made me so comfortable in so many significant ways that despite the multiple takes, I stopped stressing. I am rather pleased with the end product.
And I really like this notion of the author reading from the book WITHIN A BOOK REVIEW.
Of course it helps that the book review of Shambala Junction is so positive. But more than anything else, I loved the collegiality of the Star team, how they clearly enjoyed working with words, and the precise attention to detail. To get the last shot of the steaming cup and the closed book, the lipstick mark on the cup had to be just so, the water still warm to steam in the freezing studio, the shadow on the wall just the right dark. 
It was a true labor of love. Along the way, I learnt much about voice modulation and the stresses on onomatopoeic words, the gaps to underline meaning (but maybe that’s for another post).

Please take a look at the finished product and let me know what you think!  

You can meet Dipika Mukherjee at GrubStreet in Boston on July 29th or at the Sunday Salon in Chicago on July 30 More about the author at

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Moniack Mhor by Susan Price

Early this month I spent almost a week at Moniack Mhor. (The 'Mhor' part means 'big' but I'm unable to find out what 'Moniack' means.) The week was a Society of Authors 'retreat' organised by my friend and tireless ball of energy, Linda Strachan, who is always organising retreats and conferences and what-not while we beg her to pause for a moment and take a deep breath.

The place is near Inverness and not that easy to find if you've just driven for eight hours from the West Midlands and got lost because your sat-nav died. They tried to guide me in by phone but by that time my brain was scrambled and they had to sent out a rescue party to guide me in. It was not the first time, they said. I was happy anyway. The countryside I got lost in was some of the most beautiful I'd seen for a long time.

Above is the view from my little bed/writing room. The camera never captures the chromium yellow intensity of the bonny broom which blazes fiercely even at dusk or on an overcast, storm-lit day. It's never as yellow in England.

Above, the courtyard.
          Below, the 'hobbit house.' The thatch is supported by arching branches and the walls are built of straw bales. In the chilly Scottish June, it was heated by log-burning stoves and it's powered by solar-panels. It's a 'tutorial space' but since there were no tutorials, my friend Penny Dolan holed up in there with her laptop and worked.

Below, one of the lanes I walked when I got tired of looking at a laptop screen. There are quite a few crofts in the area.

I came across this little fella (below.) Him and his mate were obviously trying to drive me off. They hopped from fence-post to fence-post and broom twig to broom twig, all the while scolding me with a curious call which started with a sweet, 'Chip, chip, chip,' and ended with a harsh, 'Craak, craak, craak.' Once back at Moniack, I used this photo, memory, Moniack's intermittant internet connection and the RSPB app to identify the birds as stone-chats.

Below - most of the fence-posts wore hats.

Indeed, there were some very fine crops of lichen.

And as a lover of all blue flowers, I'm going to have to grow some of these next year:- a himalayan poppy growing in Moniack's garden.

I even got some writing done. Every day we made our own breakfasts in Moniack's kitchen and chatted to however many of the 14 writers were up and seeking coffee at the same time. Then we retreated to our bedrooms to work - though, of course, you could always go down to the kitchen again for coffee and a chat, or out for a walk.
     Lunch was at 1pm, prepared by the staff and dinner was at 7pm. Dinner was cooked by that day's team of writers and all the meals were delicious, especially the haggis with whisky sauce and cranachan cooked by Linda and her team on the Friday. The haggis, as was proper, was introduced by a piper.
     Most of the writers seemed to disappear off to bed by about 9pm, but Linda, Penny and I, the Scattered Authors contingent, sat up late, telling stories and talking about writing as the long summer night dimmed outside and the gorse continued to blaze.

I think I could live there happily at Moniack Mhor for a year. But Saturday arrived and I had to head back down south through teeming rain.

If you're a member of the Society of Authors and you get a chance to spend a week working at Moniack Mhor, I recommend it.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Keep calm and carry on writing? I wish. by Jo Carroll

We live in dangerous times.

Not that you need telling - unless you’ve decided that the news is just too terrible to watch any more. I know someone who rations her news-watching to once a day, as she finds it too distressing. I get that - if we allow ourselves to think about the full horror of everything that is going on (not just here in the west but all over the world) we can easily by paralysed by it.

But where does that leave us as writers? I present this as a dilemma - I have no solutions. For if we are going to write about the fires and the terrorist attacks and the political shenanigans and the civil wars and floods and droughts … where do we begin? Is it possible to write about all this in a way that is new, and different, and enables the reader to think about things differently? Are there any new words for horror, or trauma, or tragedy? Is it possible to tell the story of one man or woman in the middle of all this and let that stand for all the others - when each story is utterly unique? 

I'm sure there are fiction writers, somewhere, constructing novels against the backdrop of this mayhem. How do they keep up? What it is like to weave characters in and out of terrorist attacks, a tower fire, political incompetences - with situations changing by the day?

And what does it do to us? I worked in Child Protection and was good at keeping a distance between my professional and personal lives. I stayed intact, most of the time. But at the moment journalists are racing from one disaster to another and have so little time for personal reflection that they must surely feel permanently bruised.

We can, of course, write fantasy, or history, or crime. We can fill the pages with fiction and entertain our readers. Which is wonderful, of course - we all need to escape from reality from time to time. 

At the same time, how is it possible to write in a vacuum? Is it possible to clear your head of all the contemporary crap and concentrate on something you've made up? 

I don't have an answer - and maybe I'm simply voicing my own concerns. But if anyone has found a way to carry on writing as if none of this were going on, then please tell me. 

I might add your recommendations to my website:

Thursday, 22 June 2017

The mystery of language: Ali Bacon is disconsolate when words fail her on a trip abroad

The  lovely port of Santander, so much better than a bank
Last week on a trip to Cantabria, we visited the museum of Altamira where a startling range of Neolithic cave paintings were discovered in the nineteenth century, dating from somewhere around 20,000 to 14,000 BCE. Yes – they are roughly 16,000 years old.  

In the ‘new’ (replica) cave, visitors can watch reconstructions of daily life  and observe the tools and skills these people are thought to have used in the stone age. But the projected display had no sound-track, and the same thought occurred to myself and a fellow tourist – how did they speak? What language did they have?

Language and communication were in fact pressing concerns on this trip. I used to consider myself a bit of a linguist but it appears I came to Spain and Spanish too late in life to ever feel comfortable with it and have to fall back on a dumb tourist act to get through any holiday, something that grieves me for the duration but which I always forget to do anything about before setting out again.   

Golfing Spanish style - no easier than at home
This time was no different and 9 holes of golf with a Spanish couple, (golf is a less international language than you might think!) did nothing to bolster my confidence. As we left the golf club a car drew alongside us, the window was rolled down and a map brandished. ‘Excusez moi, nous sommes perdus!’ Never disparage school French. Here was a language I could do something with and I took disproportionate enjoyment from knowing my droite from my gauche.

But my travails with Spanish weren’t quite over. Next day, having consulted the not- very-trusty guide book, we embarked on a short(ish) excursion to the valley of Soba – or as it turned out the valley of Ason. So far so confused - and so was the sat nav. 

Soba/Ason - not a bad place to get lost
We stopped at a wayside inn which turned out to double as the local pork butcher. Asking for drinks was just about within my grasp but I was nervous of asking directions. In the end I told him the name of the place we thought we were heading and waved my arms to ask ‘this way?’ (back the way we came) – or ‘that way?’
That way! was the reply, and before long we also had a map, X being where we were,  Rameles where we should be heading and along the way a campo di football (international language of sport) and a - something else. I was mystified but Bar-tender/Butcher hurried off and came back with a slightly faded souvenir biscuit tin bearing a view on the front of a dramatic waterfall. Yay – who needs words?
A bit like Pictionary?
And, said Bartender,  la cascada was right on la carretera – I was getting the hang of it after all.
Now if you are heading to the source of the Ason river, I have to warn you it may be more of a trickle than a cascada, but the road  is spectacular and I was only sorry I hadn’t bought the biscuits by way of thanks. Ignore the satnav, by the way and take the first right after Rameles de la Victoria -  it’s a circular route. Or you can use the butcher's map!

But it makes you think about the ways we use language, written and spoken, and how hard it is to be without the comfort blanket of everyday discourse. For this article I actually looked up the possible dates for the origins of spoken language, which are of course entirely obscure and linked to all kinds of physical, psychological and sociological developments, but 100,000 years ago seems to be a popular stab in the dark.

So of course the inhabitants of Altamira did have linguistic communication, although what it sounded like we’ll never know. I certainly won’t be brushing up on my Proto-Indo-European any time soon.  

Waterfall? It's behind you!!
Ali Bacon writes historical and contemporary fiction. Find out more at

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Midsummer 99p Kindle sale - Katherine Roberts

Forgive me, but it's far too hot down here on the beach to write a long blog post. So here's a little Devonshire ditty (please excuse the accent), followed by a few 99p treats for your summer holiday Kindle... enjoy!

There was a young author from Totnes
Who wrote a book about a quest.
It went out of print
When her publisher was skint,
Which saddened our Devonshire authoress.

Along came a site called Amazon,
Champions of digital fiction.
E-book or paperback,
No title do they lack
By authors whose books sell for a song.

Now readers worldwide can rejoice
Because there's never been so much choice.
Many ebooks are free
Or ninety-nine pee*,
Why not download one this Summer Solst(o)ice?


You'll be relieved to hear Katherine Roberts does not make her living as a poet. She writes fantasy and historical fiction for young readers with a focus on legend and myth, and historical fiction with a touch of romance for older readers under the name 'Katherine A Roberts'. 


For one day only, Katherine's backlist Kindle titles are just 99p* each (time zones may differ, so please check the price before downloading).

Echorium trilogy:

Earthaven series:

Seven Fabulous Wonders:

Alexander the Great from the horse's mouth:

Short story collections:

More details of all these books at


Our brand new Authors Electric fiction anthology publishes today, also at the bargain price of 99p* for a limited period!

(*or, with an American accent, 99c)

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

The power of words by Sandra Horn

The power of words, eh? I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately, partly because of Jo Bell’s ’52 poems’ challenge (I promise to stop banging on about it in about six months). There’s been a lot of struggling to find the most precise and satisfying way to express my response to each challenge – first things, weather, a celebration, a letter, a famous person, and so on. I was moderately happy as I wrote each one, but looking back over them has put a big dent in that. I am managing to say what I want to, but it doesn’t come near the poetry I admire. If poets are born and not made, I’m genetically deficient, but as I’m pig-headed (unofficial motto of Sussex: I wunt be druv) and I also believe that working at something can (sometimes) overcome such deficiency, I plough on. My ‘famous person’ is Nelson Mandela and I’m writing about ballroom dancing on Robben Island, which is an image I’ve always found inspirational. It’s coming slowly! Another recent effort, ‘a letter’  was to Alice Oswald, in which I used the Greek word chrysopoeia.  It comes from alchemy and means the transformation of the base or everyday into gold. It started me thinking about all the other words of power and music and evocation – all the magical things words can do.

I raided the poetry book case for some well-loved pieces to sooth and uplift. Oswald’s ‘may I moften wake on the broken bridge of a word, like in the wind the trace of a web.’

M.R. Peacocke’s heron ‘drawing behind him a long wake of solitude’; Ted Hughes’ ‘woolly-bear white, the old wolf is listening to London’; Eiléan Nί Chuilleanάin’s , ‘you look down where the high peaks are ranging, you see them flickering like flames -  they are like a midge dancing at evening’. 

 Shiver! I went on and on.  I was high! Off on a riff about the positive power of words -  until an incident at a series of writing workshops I attended. They were led by four different facilitators, all of whom gave us exercises to do on the spot and plenty to think about and work on for later. All good.  But then there was one who introduced herself as a journalist -  ‘a tabloid journalist’ she said, with a bright smile, as if proud of herself. Something in me shrivelled. I was there to work and learn so I carried out all the instructions she gave us, but when it came to the invitation to share what we’d written, I couldn’t. Not with her.  
She’d had us working on quite personal stuff, but it wasn’t that – nor did I expect to find our revelations splashed all over the ‘newspaper’ she worked for.  It was that it brought back to me, painfully, an event from the past I hadn’t thought about for a long while.  Neighbours of ours, an unassuming family, had made the most enormous sacrifices to send their son to a very prestigious fee-paying school.  Mad, perhaps – not my business.  At some point he was expelled for bullying. It was devastating for them all. Worse, it was soon in the tabloid press and their minions were outside the house, going through the bins, trying to get them and their neighbours to talk... Their modest semi with no garage and a tiny front garden became ‘£300,000 house’ (which sounded much more impressive then) and they were presented in an unrecognisable way to anyone who knew them.  How did it happen that this personal tragedy made the tabloids? Apparently they have people hanging around places like public schools etc. offering money to anyone associated with them for juicy tidbits, which they then present, suitably distorted, to their avid readers. Words used to destroy people, vilify them, make them into fodder for the ignorant masses.  We’ve all seen them lately.  The power of words...
But then there’s always Shakespeare, the King James’ Bible, the glorious writers and poets of uncountable generations and still coming. So many potent counterblasts to the guttersnipe (now there’s a word!) usages. ‘Oh, brave new world, that has such people in’t!’ Hats off to you!