Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The Books of...Trilogy

As 'The Books of..' Trilogy looks like it will have a fourth member soon (!) it seemed a good time to explain something about the project and what it's trying to do. To quote the back covers 'The Books of...Trilogy are satirical, topical, comical, powerful and sometimes startling takes on the state we're in'.
As the Indictment of the Month (a poem-of-the-month section but themed around The Books of...Trilogy) on the website has now stacked up quite a few pieces, some of which seem to naturally hang together, it seems they are organically fashioning a fourth in the series. Why 'Indictment of the Month'? Well firstly I reasoned, loads of people have a Poem of the Month - how could you possibly know which of the thousands you wanted to read? You certainly couldn't read all of them. Secondly, a month timescale implies topicality, so it seemed natural for it to reflect The Books of... project, which is current affairs-inspired. Also choosing such a theme means they're more likely to get written! if the criteria or brief is new work because the News is always full of terrible things and worrying facts, so the material for them is always appearing/happening. Lastly, 'Indictments' were chosen, as Contentions or Offences weren't as appropriate.

To enlarge; 'The Book of Contentions' is really a different kettle of fish to its siblings - it is only 2,500 words in total, (twenty minutes in performance) and while it is in over 150 parts, most of them are very short, and they are actually a serial poem in that each part is meant to follow on from the previous one and lead to the next in a tight order. The work was fashioned out of the issues arising from the invasion of Iraq.
The Book introduces the reader to three characters - the Book itself, the Shepherdess and the Shepherd. 'The Book' i.e. the character/voice, ranges from the one who is innocent - the one to whom the awfulness of the News is put before - to the one who quests or questions for answers or a way out of the quagmire. The Shepherdess is depicted as 'Holly Hobby' (a child's cartoon figure printed on harmless toys with a giant bonnet) but with a kalashnikov; thereby denoting her status as a meta-being, and one whom one doesn't mess with. Everyone must be 'nice' - or else! And the Shepherd is both a foil to her and an everyman, lost in a world that he on the one hand feels to be not of his own making, and yet has a lurking suspicion that he is also not guiltless in its perpetuation.

'The Book of Indictments' and its sequel 'The Book of Offences' are 'serial' poems only in the sense that they expand and develop the theme and expand on the characters, but other wise they are stand-alone poems titled as chapters. They change the role and voice of the Shepherd, and he becomes both more critical and more central in the dialogue, as he and each Book try to decide what we should all do to solve the world's problems. The Books themselves also take on part of the Shepherdess' role, in that their expectation is for people to act for the common good - and when they don't, to identify this and challenge it in some way. The Shepherd then takes on the role of the cynic, but a far from unconstructive one.

'The Book of Offences' as the name suggests has slightly more of an emphasis on challenging solutions or identifying problems that are overlooked, whereas 'The Book of Indictments' starting point was continuing the what-does-it-mean-to-have-invaded-Iraq? theme. But the 'Indictment of the Month' still seemed the best title for the section on the website, as it seems to cover what most of the poems are inspired by / about. However, the fourth Book will take the baton on from 'Offences' in that it also will be dealing with the knock-on effects of Iraq/Afghanistan following on from the areas of civil liberties, citizenship, etc. to deal with immigration, cultural imperialism and so on.

Why I've also been inspired to work on a fourth is because the first edition of 'The Book of Indictments' has sold out! The last copy was bought at the last Taking the Mic event, which was very heartening. Like much political satire and political cartoons like 'Thin Black Lines Rides Again', unfortunately much of work like this doesn't seem to date quickly - only the odd specific reference. But that is at least a convenience for printing, if a tragedy for the world as a whole.........hmm!

Lastly I guess what's kept me going on with it is hearing that a friend who works with disadvantaged teenagers in North Devon has been using The Books of Indictments and Offences as a means to explore issues such as citizenship, civil liberty, etc. with his clients. When I started writing 'urban' (as opposed to literary or pastoral) works as a teenager myself, the idea of the work being there for folks in tough situations to see other angles on it and highlight stuff that needed to be highlighted, was just the kind of really good use I hoped that the work could one day be put to. I was much moved therefore to think that someone else had thought them useful enough to be put to the test.
Big thanks to him, his clients, and everyone who's bought a copy!

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Loudmouth Show

Had just got my breath back from the Bath Japanese Festival Launch, when it was time to head off to the Phonic FM basement studios as a guest on the Loudmouth Spoken Word Collective monthly Friday show hosted by VJ Vittoria, and this month's guest co-presenter - gifted musician and singer Kimwei Westbury. Other guests were Fin Irwin of the Bike Shed Theatre, Richard Thomas, Totnes poet and regular performer on the Totnes and Exeter scenes, and hosts Kate Wilson and Adam Brummitt of the spoken word night at the Bike Shed Theatre called Poetry Underground. It was a fun couple of hours and especially interesting to hear from Fin Irwin about all the many things which the new Bike Shed Theatre venue and folks have been doing, are putting on and planning. A completely packed series of events and runs for plays of all kinds - from classics like Strindberg to new writing. Things really are taking off as 'artists are doing it for themselves'.
When they came to interview me, I hadn't intended to mainly talk about The Books of...Trilogy, having brought a copy of 'Porlock the Warlock' and also meaning to highlight Spoken/Written, but after the earlier performance of the week, we ended up pretty much discussing The Books of... and Vittoria and Kimwei got me reading several pieces from The Books of Indictments and Offences (The Book of Contentions really being a continuous single piece serial poem no more than 2,500 words in total of around twenty minutes in performance). They were extremely kind and laughed at all the jokes! as whilst The Books of...project deals with serious issues, it treats them with a good dose of satire.
There was also quite a multimedia theme, as not only were the presenters involved in more than one artform, but Fin Irwin spoke of happenings of all kinds at the Bike Shed Theatre, Richard Thomas was mixing his words with musicians and making video forays, and of course I work with the Collective and as well as words, am a theatrical storyteller, maker, do photography, occasional video, have also performed to music, with dancers, etc.. So quite a convocation of those interested in many of or all the arts and mixing them together, which was interesting.
All in all much good humour abounded, and there was a really nice atmosphere. When I listened to the show later, I couldn't help wincing at all the time-to-think phrases that one uses when one hasn't rehearsed answers for radio ('like', 'y'know' and 'sort of like' seemed to comprise most of one's vocabulary!) but it was a great show with lots of interest, and all power to VJ Vittoria and Kimwei! they did a fantastic job.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Bath Japanese Festival Launch

Being only able to leave quite late, and just hearing that there was a weather warning out! off I set for Bath to attend and perform at the Launch Party for the Bath Japanese Festival. The evening swapped between beautiful May dusk full of dramatic skies over full leafed landscapes, and pouring rain! Arriving late, I made my way to the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution, a lovely building in Queen's Square. The evening alternated with performances of poetry and chill out zone time with sushi, origami, cherry blossom tattooing and other fun, and book stalls (one of which was a Spoken/Written / Cartwheels Collective Publishing one). It was great to see loads of adults all hypnotized by making origami figures! Performers of poetry included Alan Summers, haiku specialist, Japan Times award winning haiku poet, founder of With Words and co-organizer of the Festival, Hazel Hammond (whose book launch was coming soon) of splendid poetry and cherry blossom tattoos, and Carrie Etter's engaging work (latest collection out by Seren Books), Masuda Aika haiga painter and Masuda Junko haiku poet, performance poet David Johnson (also one half of Paralalia), and Lee Coombes, comic actor. There were some great poems (and the last two acts very funny), and altogether there was a good vibe, folks enjoying themselves and enthusiastic about the Festival.
One of the themes of the Festival was to raise awareness of modern slavery and the issue of people trafficking, so I performed a piece from 'The Book of Indictments', Chapter Seven on the Abolition of Slavery, followed by the first part of a chapter in the fourth in the Books of...Trilogy (yet to be named). They seemed to go down really well, people gave kind praise and copies of The B. of I. were sold on the strength of it, and some people signed up for Spoken/Written.
BIG thanks to Alan Summers for inviting me and for organizing what looks to be a great new festival on the South West scene!
And to those who bought chapbooks - I hope you enjoy them!

Check out the Bath Japanese Festival - a festival celebrating and incorporating elements of Japanese Culture including Book Arts, Films, Haiku and Renga - at;

and the Facebook page is at;

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Storyclub at the Globe

Last night's Storyclub was a rare treat - it's not often that we get Tyburn Jig AND the Storyfella and Raventales and David Heathfield plus ourselves, Widsith and Deor, all at the same event. We're regulars, and Tyburn Jig run the evening, but the others live a long way off and/or are often busy, so it's quite an occasion to have such a gathering of professional tellers all in the same informal setting. Dave and Jon (of Tyburn Jig) did epic Celtic tales one leading on from the other (you could tell they'd just returned from Outlore!) with their customary aplomb and Michael (of Raventales and fresh from the Lying Competition at the Crick Crack Club in London), did a lovely 'feelgood' Robin Hood tale set in May...I could almost hear the rustle of the trees, (and smell the ordure of the dungeon!) and I loved his interpretation. He set it in the time of Edward II which was also interesting, rather than Richard the Lionheart/King John. A classic rescue adventure full of cunning and cameraderie! And told with Michael's usual effortlessness and unerringly deft touch.
Clive (the Storyfella) told a spooky tale of his own devising, called 'Hawthorn Cottage' and it was splendidly sinister, which contrasted nicely with the seemingly easy-going and gossipy character he chose to play in order to narrate it. It had a dark ending, yet a fitting one too, and we were all on the edge of our seats (as is often the case with Clive's tales!). Also cleverly, it had a traditional feel while being set in the modern day.
Deor told a fairly dark story about a man who chooses Death as his son's foster-father! But there were some good laughs before the grim ending, and it went down well; and I told a rather nice tale I'd meant to tell at some point, but never had (choosing one at the last minute! as is too often the case lately, as things are so busy). But the story was so strong - of hospitality and grace outdoing fear and violence in its power - that I didn't disgrace the company. To round off the evening, David (Heathfield) told a fine - 'who was stupid? the man or the donkey?!' - story, with djembe drum and a sung chorus which we all joined in! I am always in two minds about choruses - some work to enhance and some patronise the audience. This one however I'm happy to say was firmly in the former uplifting category, and made us all just feel more a part of the story! (which is of course the true function of a good chorus done properly). It had a comic ending of the satirical-wisdom variety, which I liked a lot. Finally Jon told a very short cryptic Zen-style word-of-widsom/joke, and then it was time for the storyteller's hobnob! As we all talked of gigs both good and bad, books read and books written, events organized and plans for shows - and what good fun that was.

Having got completely soaked in the rain earlier today, jeans wringing wet, and all layers needing the radiator, (despite a recently-bought waterproof jacket - the second in a useless line of such items!), the storytelling van being away in Somerset waiting to be mended, the Spoken/Written saga, and other stuff to worry about, i.e. despite being in a filthy temper - as I recalled last night to write this blog, by the end of writing the above, the clouds had lifted both from my mood, and the sky...
Just a roundabout way of saying - what a night. How great it was to see them all. And what a brilliant thing is the Storyclub. Thanks threefold to Jon, Dave, Clive, Michael, and David, and our delightful non-teller regulars, for making it what it is.

Spoken/Written Splits in Two

It was really hard putting together the last Edition of Spoken/Written, and a surprising amount of work to split it into two - a paying full edition, and a shorter free edition. Having said that, so much stuff was sent in for this one, that even the 'shortened' edition was twelve pages... But it felt (and still feels) like a leap into the dark, or setting sail in uncharted waters...
Can the Bulletin make it alone? It needs to make at least £2,000 to continue. Folks who read Spoken/Written's Endpapers, or earlier posts in the blog, will know that it was far from my first choice to split the newsletter. But with only a partial grant, and independence as the goal, after racking my brains, there seemed no other way around the problem. On the one hand, I definitely wanted to keep a quality service that folks considered worth paying for, going. A really useful network tool and opportunity-focussed bulletin. On the other hand, the idea of a public service that all could access and was free to everyone was also important. And the spilt Bulletin is the result of discussions late into the night and much soul-searching.
I can only hope that it works. PLEASE DO go to website - links to the right - and click the Donate button, or e-mail me at; bulletin-editor@blueyonder.co.uk for where to send a cheque.
Big thanks to those who have already done so!

This post would have written as soon as the last Edition was off, but for the imminence of the Dumnonni Chronicles' Outlore event. I was very grateful to have something to take my mind off all the worry... And can't help remembering what some people said when I told them I was starting Spoken/Written...'you must be mad!' 'never edit a magazine or anything like it' and so on and so on......I can only hope that Spoken/Written's subscribers justify my optimism against the doom-sayers...

Monday, 3 May 2010

Tales round the Campfire

Just back from the Outlore Festival, the third time we storytellers have performed at the Dumnonni Chronicles' largest live action role play / fantasy re-enactment event of the year, set in the idyllic Dark Age settlement of 'Culhaven', deep in Devon countryside, and held at Beltane.
On the way, we looked up warily at the dark grey skies, took against the chill in the cold north wind, and spoke of warm pubs as the rain spat. Arriving at the site however, the van rode over the mud at the entrance (which can be a complete mudbath) with ease. After greeting Dave and Jon and getting kitted out by Dave, we went up to the causeway - but being very muddy, we entered by the back gate instead. At first few people seemed to be about, except warriors preparing for battle, but we told a few tales and after lunch, the wind dropped, the sun came out, the mud dried up and we told Viking tales for delicious ginger cake, around a fine big cauldron full of apple pie! with a courteous clan from Holland and made a healer and her companions laugh a lot, by the central fire, and in return being plied with very warming spicy ginger wine, and a bowl of strawberries... Highlights of the day included visiting the falconer and - following last year's magical encounter with the huge raven on my arm! this time it was the eagle owl. While it stood on other's forearms, I stared at it and someone remarked it seemed to be staring at me too - it's huge blood-orange coloured eyes hypnotised me. And then it was time for it to stand on my arm. What a privilege to have such a large, rare and magnificent wild creature so close. The falconer urged me to stroke it, but I touched it with immense care and not for long, as I know that feathers are very breakable, being designed for flight and air, not contact. I was also grateful that it just alighted onto my arm without any tricky acrobatic turns. It was like a dream, and when it was taken back by the falconer, I was not at all surprised to see the central meeting place filled with acrid green smoke, thick as dried ice! Magic was in the air.
By dusk, we had told many more tales, including round the fire in the atmospheric gloom of the roundhouse, with its shields and horned stag heads, and as the lights were lit and the settlement transformed by many lanterns and candlelight into a faery realm, we made our way into the longhouse to greet and listen to the very fine Goliards. As ever Tracey's drumming thrilling and Lawrence's bagpipes beautiful. The sunset was another star of the festival, with a huge golden sun behind dark trees in the soft dales and hills, with purple cloud and rays of light, then a plume of fiery gold on mauve before it sank, deepening the landscape into May twilight... And finally it was time to go, smoky, muddy, tired, full of images, music, impressions, kind praise and good food and wine...off over the torchlit causeway, and into the night.

Big thanks to Dave and Jon as always for inviting us and organizing such an amazing event, the Goliards, and all who listened to our tales and shared with us the 'sacred laws of hospitality'. The outdoor show season has begun.