Category Archives: London

Goodbye to Writeidea

Look at that amazing tweet. I’ll come back to it during this lengthy, rambling but happy post. I’ve been volunteering for East London’s free reading festival for the last two years and now I’m saying goodbye. Here’s my round-up from 2013 which pays a quick word of tribute to some of the amazing writers to take part last year.

This time was different and much more demanding as I was also curating the Festival Fringe. I’m very proud of introducing this idea last year and hope it continues. Unlike many of the big lit fests, the main festival Writeidea folk actually get paid. But the Fringe folk do it for free and they are a wonderful and noble race.

It seems very, very hard to single out anyone or any session from this year to mention and time is too fleeting to do them all justice. So I am going to mention some random personal highlights both in and around Writeidea, which should not be taken too seriously by those involved.They’re partly personal as they involve the folk I invited to take part, as this is my blog and it is all about Me.

Anyway, please don’t sue me or my tiny child will not have goose this Christmas (she won’t anyway as the Great Vegan Experiment is underway. Sort of):

Best Festival Footwear: A Gordian knot of a tie between Liz de Jager’s Boots of Awesome

Sarah Jackson’s category-creating shoes

and the Socks that Launched a Lambchop into Space, as wrangled by brilliant Nikesh Shukla.

Best Creative Use of a Fire Alarm

No, it wasn’t me smoking in the loos (honest) but someone did. Despite the fact that, among others, poor Jake Arnott had his fascinating talk full of 18th century slang interrupted: I’m almost glad that it happened. That alarm gave the world its first Create a Comic on the Street by a Supermarket masterclass, from the unflappable Louie Stowell.

Look here she is in the Guardian doing something similar but sans fire alarms. I met Louie through last year’s Writeidea, making it even more of a Good Thing.

Best Historical Talks

I live-tweeted Tom Holland on the origins of Islam until my tendons howled with multi-syllabic exhaustion

And I got to talk to him about cricket in the pub after. Alhough I missed his talk, archaeologist Dave Sankey on the Crossrail excavations beneath Stepney was standing room only and easily one of the most popular events this year.

Best Local and Alternative Histories

Organiser of the East End Suffragettes Festival Sarah Jackson read from her ace book about Sylvia Pankhurst and her awesome contemporaries – in the East End where it all happened, at a time of austerity and attacks on the freedoms on women. A real privilege to hear such a generous and talented person. That was followed up by the last but most definitely not least Fringe event: a fascinating look at London’s urban legends from Scott Wood of the London Fortean Society. From Springheeled Jack (talk coming up in January) to vengeance- (or not) inspired gargoyles, I could listen to Scott all night.

Best BSL Interpreted Talk

Another superb writer I invited but had to miss, darn it, as a Fringe Curator’s work is never done – star of the YA universe, here in his factual persona with This Book is Gay *bows*: the Queen of Teen, James Dawson. At least I got to meet him during that fire alarm break. And he got some lively signing done: ‘sexyfuntime’ caused no difficulties at all … 

Personal Biggest Coup Feel

Three top indie publishers – some of whom may well have done similar paid-for prestigious events elsewhere – came to talk book trade and times for free.  These are very special people. Meike of Peirene Press is bringing contemporary European literature to new audiences, Kit from Influx has published one of my favourite contemporary poets, Chimene Suleyman, and is doing amazingly radical work (watch out for the anonymous anarchist) and Sam from Galley Beggars brought us wonders as diverse as Simon Gough, Baileys’ prizewinner Eimar McBride and possibly the greatest author ever: Francis Plug.

Best New Getting Folk Involved Sessions

I know ‘interactive’ is the right word. But it feels a little impersonal for three events that were each in their own way very special ways for people to come together in real life. Lots  got together to eat cakes and write letters. Proper ones, on paper, thanks to the lovely Letter Lounge.

 

I am very, very proud to have organised the first Death Cafe in Tower Hamlets. Lots of us talked, listened, laughed and cried. We were really lucky to have this led by Annie Broadbent, again for free, gave a wonderful talk about dealing with bereaved people.

Another expert in dealing with difficult conversations, Ione Rojas of Furry Tales, came to help. And it all came just in time for me to deal with another death.

And there was #QuizYA created by Jim Dean of YaYeahYeah who has read more, preached more and inspired more people to read, love and be social over Young Adult (and other) books than anyone can possibly do with a mere 24 hours in the day. He’s busy bringing lots of lovely indie bookshops to daily view at the moment with #indieadvent. A real star.

Other generous people helped that to happen – that’s brilliant debut writer Robin Stevens on Jim’s left – @redbreastedbird mentioned at the beginning. She’s taking over the Young Agatha Christie mantle: one murder and bunbreak at a time. Robin also gave up her time for free, to chair a terrific session with Tanya Byrne: Tanya makes such beautiful, original writing look effortless. More pride here, at getting such hugely-talented YA writers involved. I don’t think I’ve ever written such a pleased with myself piece 😉

But that tweet, back at the beginning, has to be my Desert Island highlight: the one thought I’m taking away with me. This isn’t a humblebrag but a proper, delighted, ”I done good one. I helped out at a festival, invited writers and publicised it to booklovers. Sally, a young writer and bookblogger came to see, hear and meet writers she admires. Now she’s even more inspired to write. Here she is with Liz de Jager, author of the utterly brilliant Banished and Vowed, who also gave up lots of time and energy to give a brilliant free session on fan fiction.

I’m really sorry to step down as the Festival’s only non-staff  volunteer organiser but I’ve taken on a big role with the Society Of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and only have so much volunteering time to spare. But that tweet gives me a truly wonderful, my work here is done feeling. It’s been fun. And next year I will be in the audience.

 

 

 

Lost and Found

St_Eanswythe_FolkestoneIt’s been a death-intensive year for my family. After Dad dying in January, my much-loved Uncle Bill died a couple of weeks ago. His funeral was last Thursday at a pretty church in Hemel Hempstead.

The ‘moor’ of Boxmoor is a small green space on the edge of an ever-growing town that has swallowed up the cottages and cowslips of my Mum’s 1930s childhood. When I was small, heading to the millpond by the canal with a fishing net, it was a wild expanse of trees. Probably with bears.

So it feels timely that a poem I sent to the fun Verbatim Poetry site back in the summer inspired by, yes, death, has just been posted. The Verbatim Poetry idea is to add punctuation and spacing on to non-poetic text, from ‘road signs to shampoo bottles.’ It is, I warn you, addictive. As well as editing any text in front of me, I now scan it for verse potential, which often means talking aloud to myself in shops and other public places.

I took my poem – Floral Tributes – from the excellent and informative handbook produced by the Natural Death Centre.

Up until today I felt I’d lost my regular blogging ability. The Weekly Blog Club was such a wonderful impetus.

Now found: my own much-needed ‘just get on with it and don’t rely on wonderful Janet E Davis to encourage you’ push to post regularly again.

By the way: the photo is a different churchyard: St Eanswythe in Folkestone on a summer’s day. Definitely my favourite saint with superpowers as she made water run up hill.

Here is a wonderful description of another favourite and local to me cemetery, with some stunning photos – the gloriously gothic Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park: visited by The Gentle Author of Spitalfields Life on a a misty winter morning. Beautiful and moving. And that’s enough death, thanks.

Writeidea Festival

Guerilla Garden Grows

It’s almost a year since I mentioned my forbidden garden: the plants in pots I’ve smuggled on to the roof. Here it is today, on a murky Tower Hamlets morning.

It’s growing. There’s a leggy hydrangea that had been given up for dead, not far off opening into handfuls of white blossom. Sweet peas are climbing up a thriving bougainvillea among the violas.  I bought that for a pound, to use as an attractive stick, as the stall holder said it had had it. It’s a bit of an interloper in my urban cottage garden but can only add to the life among the bricks and concrete.

The bright pink pelargonium is part of an original more than 16 years old: it sat on a Barbican  balcony all that time until my daughter’s father brought it here a few months ago. The white peony smells sweet and delicious: my husband bought it for our 4th wedding anniversary (‘flowers and fruit’) and was disappointed that it wasn’t the blowsy red dramatic version I remember from my gran’s garden. I think it’s perfect.

A constant supply of ants covered the three tight peony buds and I have to confess to some ignorant attempts at formic cleansing,involving dregs of coffee cups. Then we found out they are needed to open the buds. Well, there’s a thing.

The peony is next to a rose of almost blue, from Watney Market, some fading snapdragons and more sweet peas: my favourite flower (apart from all the others.) It’s the first year I’ve kept them alive so long, on a roof blasted by wind and scorched by sun.

I still have to wash the bay leaves very, very thoroughly, as  various people who wander the roof still see a public urinal sign that’s invisible to me. The caretaker is still turning a blind eye and the bees are back in force.

I set up my wobbly wooden table to write. I’ve reached an understanding with the lone magpie who hovers around, explaining that I am not superstitious and so will not say good morning to him. The peregrines that usually roost over the way don’t seem to be around this year. I blame the invading parakeets. But there’s a single blackbird too, at dusk, with the loveliest song.

 

 

Polling Day: barefoot and no biscuits.

East London  Suffragettes Festival

East London
Suffragette Festival

Dawn over the rooftops of Bethnal Green. Not quite sunset over the Florida Keys but the photo on Twitter was enough to inspire me to go on my Stepney roof for a picture early this Polling Day.

It’s a flat roof; I’m not stupid. Achilles tendons screaming in protest at tiptoeing over rain-soaked moss between the stone tiles, I hear the unmistakable sound of the front door slamming shut behind me. My mobile, with perfect comedy timing, beeps and dies.

Husband has left for work; daughter sleeps in an exam-, revision- and not-much- past-dawn-induced coma. Stage whispers through the letterbox and gentle knocking are not enough so after ten minutes I am shrieking and yelling and booting the door. Ow. Barefoot.

She’s up, with a pale face and unopened eyes, clutching a cat. No words.

I’m not telling her it’s Polling Day.

When she was little, I took her with me to vote.  In 2001, I was on the Home Office’s new press desk that dealt with electoral matters. I put together a briefing document for the media. On paper, digital natives; I know.

I talked often and excitedly to her about how we were able to get rid of bad people in charge, if we didn’t think they were doing good things, and could stop worse people trying to be tell us what to do. About the long, hard struggle of workers and women and how we must always, always, ALWAYS use our special, wonderful votes.

‘That’s right: they’re a sort of magic.’ She came along to the polling station expecting a form of Narnia and scowled at the tall City of London policeman on the door. ‘They didn’t even give us a biscuit!’

She wasn’t convinced and delivery of the suffragette movement for school history certainly hasn’t given her my passion for the mandate. It’s a shame she wasn’t studying here, in the heart of the East London Suffragette movement: look what’s happening to celebrate them soon.

Next elections, she’ll be old enough to vote. She will and I will and you should: today and all the polling days.

Just like my daughter

My daughter is one of only two white girls at her East London school of 1,400. She may be the only one; she is unsure about a fleeting glance she caught of a younger girl. Nearly all of her Year 12 friends are Muslims, from Bangladeshi or Somali families. They’re studying science AS levels and want to go to university. Just like my daughter.

Most of the girls wear headscarves. She was excited at going on a residential field trip a few weeks ago: “I’ll get to see their hair!” They spent the evenings chatting and giggling, swapping sweets and studying. Just like my daughter

Over the last few days, my daughter has got swishy new specs from a hip new City optician. She’s been on a day trip to the Royal Veterinary College: her first university visit. There were lots of girls, practising sutures and listening to lectures, full of plans for their careers. Just like my daughter.

She’s watched Game of Thrones and gazed adoringly at Jon Snow (even though he knows nothing), and been angry and upset by the rape of Craster’s wives: some of them just young girls. Just like my daughter.

And back in a world as random and horrific as anything Westeros can devise, she’s been shocked beyond telling, reading about and listening to the news about the girls in Nigeria. Girls of 17,  sitting their  exams. Girls from loving families. Just like my daughter.

May the Fourth: 4 by 4

May the 4th is Star Wars Day. It’s my wedding anniversary, by happy coincidence: we chose it to make a long Bank Holiday for people coming from abroad.

It’s also our 4th anniversary and I like the number 4. I voted for it as the world’s favourite number – see no. 7 here (I think seven cheated to win.) So I though I’d find four groups of four things about our wedding, with the four photos above.

Four Musical Things:

The Swedish Wedding March. A nod to my background by birth, for going into the register office. We’ve heard all the jokes about strangling cats, thanks.

Nick Cave: Straight to You. There had to be St Nick, forced upon a captive audience. The setting limited our choice a bit. One other devotee was happy and she’d traveled from the States; several older guests who’d come from Kent and Herts had a little doze.

North Sea Radio Orchestra. For one reason only. First dance: shortest piece of music from a band we both love.

Arash: Boro Boro. Because you’ve got to have an Iranian-Swedish crowd-pleaser. And everyone gets to do hand-waving and make up their own words.

Four Decorative Things:

Life-sized plastic horse. You can see him behind the table if you zoom in. I’ve said it before, the London Canal Museum is the best place for a party. It’s got the horse AND one of the only ice wells you can look into.

Place names: Friend did the nice writing, paper cut into strips and stuck with a pin through a pink heart chocolate. Soppy but nice. With the replacement of a black jelly baby pinned through the heart for our much-loved Welsh Goth.

Confetti cones. Not to be quirky or wedding-magaziney but because I enjoyed using old wrapping paper and sheet music to make them. And our two bloke ushers looked amusing carrying them.

Orders of Service: Sister-in-law enlisted to help cut paper as above, stick on more paper with song and poem titles, stamp with special name and date stamp, thread with ribbon and shove a bit of rosemary through the ribbon. Took ages: looked lovely. Which brings me on to –

Four Things I Forgot:

Orders of Service. Left at home. My daughter tried to tell me as we got in the cab but I didn’t listen. Sigh.

Vases. Carrier bags with the little vases I’d found in charity shops over months, for flowers on the tables, left under the table with the above. The flowers looked just as good in bar glasses.

Marylebone Register Office waiting room: It is lovely. Actually, they forgot to tell me it existed so Best Friend and I went to Starbucks before and I had to tiptoe around on a ladies’ floor with rather more urine on it than is acceptable.

Sense of humour: Starbucks and the rain made me a bit hacked off for a while. Sorry, Mum and Amelia.

Four Brilliant Things:

Going through London on our own big red bus on the opening day of the Elephant Parade.

My nervous daughter reading poetry in front of loads of people.

Friends from all over and from all stages of our lives.

Family for the first and last time they’ve all been together. Four of my half siblings made it. My birth father. And all four of my and Steve’s parents.