Saturday 31 August 2013


The theme this year was the swinging 60's - wish fulfilment for some...
Purbeck was great fun. Highlights for me were the Bonsai Pirates and Carrie Rodriguez . Though MarthaTilston was excellent as well. I also read with a wonderful poet Carrie Aaron, who I am hoping to interview soon.

The Bonsai Pirates!
Carrie & Barry
I have to say that I was saddened by the news of the death of Seamus Heaney. He was such a stunning poet. He had the ability to conjure precisely the right word that would make the line resonate, the poem live in your head. I have not the words to do him justice. I only met him once, many years ago, at a reading. He was very generous with his time and was an inspiration to me. He will be missed.

This has been an interesting week really. I returned home to Somerset to be greeted by the news that the pilot badger slaughter was to start. As I write it is being carried out. There is no real evidence that badgers infect cows with TB. It is as inconclusive as real life. Still the government presses ahead. Why we do not simply inoculate the cows is beyond me.
Alex cooks a vegetable fideua

the bass player from Saturday Sun
a worm hole opens in the Long Barn

Alex's Festival Potatoes-they were delicious 

Then there is the fracking. The papers tell us that to protest is to prevent the poor from accessing cheap energy and they portray anyone who is not in favour as some sort of demented, eco freak.

The papers fail to mention that fracking is a short term solution, twenty to thirty years of energy at the most. That it will not bring employment to Somerset and that the people of Somerset will have to live amid the squalor and spoilage and a polluted water table for generations to come.

The Case for Fracking

Things have got desperate.
It’s that point in the evening when even the green liquid
You bought on holiday ten years ago,
tasted once and put to the back of the cupboard
looks enticing.
You know you should just drink water,
go to bed, await for the inevitable hangover.
Deep down you realise that this emerald liquor is not a solution
but that does not stop you,
experience does not deter nor sense call a halt.
You do not taste the first glass, so you pour another.

We will all regret it in the morning…

Not sure it works. But I think the only way to approach the issue is by metaphor – what do you think?

This post has turned out rather more sombre than I imagined. However, I shall leave you on a more positive note. Here are the Bonsai Pirates at last year’s Purbeck.

Have a good week.

Tuesday 27 August 2013

Minnows by Lizzy Stewart

There were indications that Lizzy Stewart had become a poet in Cardigan Heart, but now with her new work Minnows there is no denying the fact.  Lizzy emerges as a poet with her own distinct style-influenced, I suspect, as much by song lyrics and artists, as by the poetic tradition. She has a wonderfully fresh voice.

Minnows can be savoured for her beautiful illustrations, which at least, rival, if not outdo Cardigan Heart. It also contains some excellent poetry. 

You in the first instance, the opening poem, Lizzy presents a single moment in time. Two people on the cusp of a relationship. There is a clever use of the negative that informs the reader of how the relationship will develop. This poem sets the scene for the rest of the book. The accompanying illustration focuses on the feet of the lovers, the shadows their legs cast and the eye is drawn to a row of terraced houses in the distance. It is an effective statement of intent.

Throughout my initial reading of the book I was struck by the confident way in which Lizzy handles words. Whether she thinks so or not, I believe she is a poet. The second piece Every place I have lived presents eight line drawings of the places she has lived since leaving home. There is a colour coded list of people and events that illuminate her life. It is charming. I found this a very original take on the list poem.

Lizzy has an acute appreciation of the ebb and flow of life around her- the Big Parade, as King Vidor called it. We are all surrounded by the triumphs and tragedies of others and Lizzy captures this in a sensitive and respectful manner. In Cardigan Heart we had a series of illustrations (At 12.42) of what people were experiencing at a specific moment, in Minnows Lizzy presents us with Bravery and heroism on 27th May 2012, South London.  In the 12 scenes she presents we need text to understand exactly what is happening, and it is beautiful. Lizzy demonstrates that she has the eye of the poet and more than a smattering of the novelist.

Ok, it doesn’t all work; A Poem and Another Poem appear to have wandered in from an earlier stage in her development. But the other work, especially Minnows itself more than makes up for this.
We are presented with a man who is interested in river words and we are able to savour a selection for ourselves: pebble, pond skate; riverbed and their small illustrations. We are told:

The Minnows that shoal up the high street are not like the ones that he caught in a jar.

On the fourth page we are presented with a woman in a dress composed of the river and surrounded by reeds. It is beautiful. There is both joy and love here.

At the end of the book Lizzy states that she cannot really write, this is not, she claims what she does:

but gosh I want to write stories for you.

You have Lizzy. Thank you.

Tuesday 20 August 2013


 This week’s interviewee is a real gem. She makes me smile every time I see her witty and urbane tweets. Carol Hedges is an accomplished author; her tweets are fun and her blog sublime. High praise indeed you might say- but then you haven’t read her YA series Spy Girl or the other eight books she has found the time to pen while working and blogging. And it’s not only me who thinks so. Her novel about a teenage suicide, Jigsaw was short listed for the Angus book Award and long listed for the Carnegie Medal in 2001.

I should say at this point that Spy Girl is available through Amazon, and can ordered from all good book shops.

 I cannot recommend her blog highly enough, if you have not read the pink sofa yet then you are in for a treat. It is both interesting and funny. Carol is a generous blogger and very supportive of other writers.


Her latest book is available as an ebook. Jigsaw Pieces carries off the rare triumph of being both a cracking and a thoughtful read. Carol writes believable characters in real situations. She is, as they say, the real deal. Enough from me let’s hear from Carol.
Why books? What made you decide to be an author?

I can trace this back to a teacher called Mrs Myers who taught me when I was in Year 7. She used to set us small compositions every week, sometimes a story, sometimes a descriptive piece of writing. I got used to writing from my imagination, to not seeing the blank page as an 'enemy'. It is sad that the current English curriculum discourages creative writing, because it was from this ''little acorn'' that my career (as such) grew.

What were the early influences?

Before ever Mrs Myers came on the scene, there were books. Luscious books. I discovered them at my local children's library, where I used to get dumped (age 4). I can still remember picking up a dull covered book - in those days they all had library bindings, opening it and there was Orlando the Marmalade Cat, his Dear Wife Grace and their three adorable kittens Pansy, Blanche and Tinkle. I was hooked. Books have been and still are so important to me.

At this moment in time, which authors have it?

Hahah. Define ''it''? If you're talking big bucks, then it's E.L. James and her anatomically impossible 50 Shades. For me, it's Robert Harris - just finished reading The Fear Index and now I understand hedge funds! I also like Jo Nesbo and Henning Mankell.

What would you have done differently?

I would NOT have got an agent. I now do not have an agent. Nuff said.

Tell us about 'Spygirl'.

The books are aimed at young teens. They are set slightly in the future. The heroine is a rather truculent 15 year old called Jazmin Dawson. Her mum works for the International Security Agency (kind of CIA/MI5). Each book deals with a different international situation: in the first, a body revealed by global warming in the Arctic is stolen. Other books deal with selling illegal body parts, and a holy relic that goes missing. Very fast paced and funny. I could say they're like 'Dan Brown' for teenage girls. But I won't.

I have written 11 published books (more sit in a drawer). Writing the Spy Girl series was fun because I had a set of characters already 'living' so I could focus on the exciting adventures. Sadly, Usborne doesn't want to publish a 5th one. I have written it - any takers?

You are passionate about urban green space - could you tell us a little about your campaign?

Brief summary: my local council, Harpenden Town Council (100% Tory) has been trying to sell off an old allotment site to a developer. On the site and in the immediate area are Red Listed Roman Snails, bats, Tawny Owls, slow worms..etc. That's why I'm passionate and have been fighting tooth and nail for their lives. Urban green space is becoming so threatened by greedy developers. We are losing our precious wildlife. Someone has to make a stand. In this case, it's me. (Check my blog for the ongoing story).

If you were me, what question would you be asking you?

What wakes you up at 3am? The fear that I might never have another book published
And what sends you to sleep with sweet dreams? Thinking about my lovely daughter and her new husband. And my far too tolerant husband of 38 years.

What's in the pipeline?

Maybe another YA book, like Jigsaw Pieces, my ebook....but I'm not going to jinx things by saying any more.

If you were a book what book would you be and why?

Yowzers, you ask the stretchy questions! I would be a crime fiction book, with a feisty but loveable elderly heroine. Who drives a 2CV.

Thanks Carol.

You can also follow carol on, twitter and the wondrous blog.

Friday 16 August 2013


As I mentioned last post, I have been camping in Dorset, not that you can call taking the campervan camping. Especially not when you have a real bed and duvet.  It was good to catch up with friends and to sit under the stars and talk nonsense late into the night.  We sat and watched the shooting stars as the planet passed through the Perseids. A Catalan friend of mine told me that they call them the tears of St Lawrence (apparently he was martyred on 10th August) which sounds a rather better name for them to me. 

We went for a walk to look at an old shepherd’s cottage with amazing views. It was literally a two room house, derelict as you can see from the photographs.  The house reminded me of an old song-hence this week’s title.

Here’s a poem with, as of yet, no title:

In the big blue bowl lie blackcurrants,
shiny, some over-ripe, others hard,
it is between us,
the place to fix my eye,
as reluctantly I listen.
Hear more than I would chose to know.

Your hands comb these cobbles,
collect stalk and leaf.
We walk around your puzzlement,
you talk to make it sense
The arguments…the silences…

Now you hold a large blackcurrant,
I imagine it the ivory ball,
the wheel is spinning,
your present life the stake,
the odds are against you.

Don’t you know the house always wins?

The poem is still under construction-what do you think?  Seeing the house all abandoned and deserted made me include it in this post.


You meet her under an umbrella.
It’s innocuous enough, a jazz concert,
you exploit my passion for cover.

She brings her husband, who she says
Once roomed with a man who made a CD.
No one looks at anyone else’s eyes,
you face him across a round table,
conversation is still born.

I can remember not one note
But you two lean as close as you dare.
Confirmation plays and the husband knows it.

Outside in rain, after stilted farewells
and long last looks;
I ask you what the hell you are about.
You quote someone else’s poetry,
I shake my head and unlock the car.

Again, this is not finished but it seems to bookend the first poem. Confirmation by the way is a Charlie Parker tune. As I say I don’t remember a single note of the performance but artistically it fits the poem.

Nick gets seriously arty.

I am going to leave you with some more positive images. The rabbits at the campsite were so used to people that they wandered where they would.

Have a good week.

Saturday 10 August 2013

The Thinness of Things

I am late this week because I have been in Dorset for a couple of days visiting friends.-more on that next time.

The photograph is from about 1960 and is me with my bother Peter-he's the tall good looking one. 

This is a poem from a few years ago. It describes a difficult time.

The Thinness of Things

1. Any Work Morning

I climb the stairs
Three floors high
Grey smooth steps
Panic kindles
I spin inside my head
Panic ignites
I see the concrete
Become quicksand
I sink
I fall in space
I keep walking to my hot desk.

2. Teaching

9.30am the time to start
So I stand and almost taste
The expectations of the group
I feel the carpet under my feet
I could fall through the weave
Through the floor
Through the job
……..through the world in free flight

Around 10am I make contact
With the truth
Of the words
Of the individuals
And give of myself for another day.

3. On The Run

Off with stress
Off in the car
Off back to Widnes.
I cross the Avon Bridge
My palms wet
In my head I describe
The space beneath the arc
My car slowly sinks through the tarmac
Panic rages
Spins through my head
Shakes my hands
I talk to myself
To ground me on solid ground
To keep from screaming
I talk to myself
To keep me moving
To cross this void.

The photograph below show my sister Dorothy with two of her dogs-there is about a ten year difference between the two. 

And here is the follow up poem to the Thinness of Things

Burnt Out

I had not even noticed
There were no flames
No fires consumed
Rather each day
Another small part of me disappeared
Then when I was hollow

I realised I could not find me anymore

This last one combines two different incidents again like the photographs of Dorothy they happened about a decade apart.

14 Lines on your Life
For J.I.

In Yorkshire on the coast
He marries for the second time
I saw the photograph
Chernobyl bloomed overhead  
They stand slightly apart
In the bright blue sky
Their dinner date is forgotten
We waited sat at the set table

I saw you in the distance
Locking that red car
I measured the space between and my options
Then walked toward you and your surprise

Tell me what have I missed?
We go to a pub
Chart our disjunction
Parallel paths of misery

Bond us again in our distress

I shall be posting on Tuesday. have a good week.

Tuesday 6 August 2013


 ©Lizzy Stewart. Used by permission.
My niece has a wish list. When we were looking at it for something to buy her for her birthday we came across the title Cardigan Heart and I was captivated by the artwork. My wife ordered two copies, the second one for me.

When I read Cardigan Heart I was so impressed by the work of Lizzy Stewart I could not stop looking at it.  The artwork and the text came together in such a way that the book was a delight and it repaid repeated revisits.

Let me give you an example. On one page is a drawing of a mug and next to it is written:

You teacup sat on the side for a few days after you'd visited. It was nice seeing it there; an unassuming little monument to the fact that you'd been here. I washed it eventually; I was concerned that leaving it any longer meant I was creepy.

The whole book is a joy.

Edinburgh with colour
©Lizzy Stewart. Used by permission

I just had to interview such a talented artist. When I did I discovered that we had both been at the same gig in Bristol many years before-the first time The Decemberists toured the UK (here's a link to a photo-it's at the very bottom of the page.. It was an excellent night. I am not going to ramble on but instead leave Lizzie to do all the talking.

You were on a Fine Arts Course at Edinburgh when you decided to concentrate on telling stories and smaller spaces-prior to this you had been working on big canvases-can you tell us what they were like?

I was very young and very greedy. I wanted to paint like every artist I came into contact with. I was ok. I don’t think I’d have set the Fine Art world on fire but the work wasn’t awful. I was trying stuff out and figuring out what my view point was, what exactly it was I had to express, but I don’t think I was old enough or focussed enough to be able to pinpoint one exact approach to painting.

at 14.42
©Lizzy Stewart. Used by permission.

You have mentioned previously that you keep a book of lines from songs and sentences that you use to kick start our creative process-can you share with us a couple from the book?

Ha, no. This has long gone. I used to do it whilst I was on my BA in Edinburgh. Since then I have decided that I wanted all my work should come from me so I abandoned “borrowing” from books and songs and started writing for myself a bit more. Its obviously a far slower process than my old magpie approach but I like the sense of ownership it gives.

at 14.42
©Lizzy Stewart. Used by permission.

You have said before that you are influenced by Carson Ellis (as are we all- I met her once it was after the Decemberists first played Bristol-a charming woman she was reading a book about Russian prison tattoos that her sister had given her for her birthday, which coincidentally was that day), which other artists have influenced you?

I went to that gig to! At St. Bonaventure’s Social Club? I went with a boy from Exeter who I’d just met and we ended up being together for six years, that trip to Bristol is part of our folklore.

Anyway. Yes. Carson Ellis was a big deal for me. I found her work, around the time of that Decemberists gig, whilst I was in sixth form and before that I had no idea that illustration was a job beyond children’s books I mean. It was eye-opening. I love her work, so much narrative clarity, and she creates worlds so thoroughly. You feel you could climb into one of her paintings and live there.

I love Maria Kilman’s books, they’re so full of life and personality. Judith Kerr was integral to my childhood, so she’s an influence too. I think Maurice Sendak’s approach to writing for children is pretty much spot on – “tell them anything you want.” Though I find some of his illustration work a little uncomfortable visually I think that as an artist and a human being, he was unparalleled.

What moves you at the moment?


I saw Francis Ha last week, that felt pertinent to me that this stage (being a slightly self-indulgent 26 year old).
I saw Steven Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along in the West End (twice) and loved that. It’s about losing sight of dreams and friendships and how we get to be where we are. The cast were perfect and the songs are excellent.
I saw a piece called Fleabag at Latitude this year and I thought the writing in that was staggeringly good. It was very funny and very dark and at times acutely pinpointed. That made me want to write tougher things (I won’t but I wanted to).
Continuously- A good sky over Waterloo Bridge, the excellence of my two closest friends, any stories about ordinary families, when the tube stations play classical music in the ticket halls, brass bands playing Christmas songs.

What’s in the pipeline?

I’m self-publishing a new book and I’m quite excited about that. I feel that every book is a step closer to being the kind of artist I want to be. The first was Toska and that was exciting because it was the first thing that I’d ever had to fork out a decent amount of money to make so it felt like having enough confidence in my work , to spend that amount of money was momentous. Cardigan Heart, last year was a step toward using more narrative and a broader range of mediums and parts of that worked I think. Other parts didn’t but it felt good to give it a go. This new book is called Minnows and it features fourteen short stories and poems. In some places the focus is on the writing and the illustration is just...padding and that’s a new thing for me. I’m not a great writer by any stretch but it was fun using different tools to tell stories.

Other than that-I’m reworking the book I did for my MA with an editor. I have no idea what will become of it, perhaps nothing at all but maybe it’ll get published and that’d be a dream.

hazy maze
©Lizzy Stewart. Used by permission.

Are there any early works that you have yet to show?

Probably not. I think that if things haven’t seen the light of day then there was probably a good reason for that. I’m not a huge fan of re-visiting old work, I feel like I always need to be “ploughing on”. I worry about stagnating. Though occasionally an old idea will fall out of an note book or something and I’ll be able to see the good in it and try re-working it so that it fits with what I’m doing at the time.

In one interview you said you would like to write fiction- got any ideas you could share?

No! Absolutely not! I can’t have writers who are actually competent stealing all my ideas. Nope. No way.

I have the starts of lots of stories. I have the opening lines and the closing lines, fully developed characters and so on and so forth. But I don’t think I have the staying power at the moment. I’m a bit scattered, with stuff going on all over the place. I’d like to write something for teenage girls though, for real. I have ideas on that front. Something about ordinary girls in painfully ordinary towns and what it is like, without vampires, and werewolves messing stuff up. Thats what I want to write about the most I think.

What do you think your MA in Communication Design has added to your work?

I feel i’m still processing my MA experience, I found the whole thing sort of incredibly disappointing and it’ll take some time and a bit of distance to feel more positive about it. I arrive at Central St Martins hoping to leave a better illustrator but struggled with tutors who were from a design or a design academia background. Instead I think I got better at talking about illustration but a bit visually lost. My work has definitely changed and I think that was a reaction to the polish of graphic design-heavy course. I abandoned digital work altogether and now I mostly work in paint and ink. Which feels very honest and appropriate to me but maybe didn’t fit in with the “communication design” environment.

If you were a song/book what would you be and why?

My best friend had the singer Tom Rosenthal (who is excellent) write a song about me for my birthday this year. So I’d be that song. But no one else has heard’ll have to think.

Nope. It’s too hard. To me songs sound like other people, people I love, but not me. And a book...I have no idea. Maybe a children’s book Beatrice Alemagna’s A Lion in Paris or...The Tiger Who Came to Tea, by Judith Kerr. Either way something about a big cat getting in the way a bit.

If I was an animal I’d be a llama.

Thanks Lizzy. I am already looking forward to Minnows. Lizzy's website is a joy and well worth checking out.