You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2008.

I like things with a certain…symmetry? weight? Presence. I like things that come into the world already artefacts.Messages cover Messages and Your Messages are two such things. The original Messages project, between Lynne Rees and Sarah Salway, grew out of a collaboration, just an idea that both of them stuck to. The result is hugely neat and satisfying: 300 pieces of 300 words each. Deep sigh.Your Message cover

Now it’s launching into a smaller format, along with the culmination of the Your Messages project, another brilliantly conceived and executed collaborative project. Lynne and Sarah collated the work, choosing at least one piece for each day of the month, and bluechrome have produced an anthology from it: all proceeds to charity. Talk about art. Yes, let’s talk about it: art as in making from materials, where process is valued as much as product. Where something emerges which moves the eye, the mind and the heart, fully occupying its own space.

Longer term readers of this blog will remember the fun I had doing my first one, on 8 November. It’s the one in Your Messages. Which I can’t wait to get my hands on.

Here’s the thing. A long discussion with a seven year old about point of view. I mentioned M’s new obsession with Nancy Drew The Secret of the Old Clockmysteries last week or thereabouts… Now it emerges why she’s so taken with them: she feels she’s trying to solve everything along with Nancy. Ah yes. And how with Harry Potter she felt that she sometimes knew more than Harry did (because there were different scenes) and she was waiting for Harry to catch up…Ah yes again. So at the moment she loves Nancy Drew, because she’s right there with her.

I clearly remember having a similar discussion with E at about the same age, about what we know as narrative tension. This time it was over how the beginning of Brian Jacques’ Redwall didn’t grab him, didn’t make him ask questions like ‘what happens next’, whereas the first Harry Potter does. I remember him getting so excited that he took down both books and read the first paragraphs to me: see, see!

It’s remarkable how early on in their reading lives children — people — become aware of what works, and what doesn’t. For them, anyway. Which brings home with an awful crash how utterly vital it is to feed children the right books, to keep your eyes and ears open for where they are, what they might like, to keep broadening and opening out…And yet of course, my children are priviledged enough to have constant access to books of all sorts. So stupidly many aren’t.


Related to this, as part of my Canterbury Laureate brief I’m putting together a shortlist of children’s books — three categories I think, 5-8 years old, 8-12, then Young Adult. About three titles per category, to be used as ‘Summer Reads’ in the last term of 2008, put then to an online vote…Great stuff.

Any contributions or thoughts for unmissable children’s books would be gratefully received! I’ve got some ideas of course, and am spending some delicious time reliving the bookcases of my children…But I’d love to know others’ thoughts. Many thanks!


On the way back from school.

M: I found out I got a Work Star today Mummy that I didn’t even know I had.

Me: Wow, that’s good. In what?

M: History.

Me: For what?

M (obviously waiting for this): Well, you know how Egyptians believed things about going to the Underworld, and how their hearts were weighed on these scales against a feather…and if it was heavier or lighter then they went different places?

Me (not sure where this is going): Sort of…

M: And Osiris accompanied them. Pauses. I’m not sure how he was supposed to go with everyone, one by one. Pauses again. Maybe there was a whole army of Osirises…but the story goes there was only one. Hmm…Maaay-bee (warming to it now) everybody waits and then piles into something like the Eurostar, and as they are all getting comfortable, over the loudspeaker comes this voice (she shifts to a game show announcer), ‘And your driver today is…Osiris!’ And of course it’s always Osiris! And it goes on like that, all these dead people waiting at the station….

We guffaw over this image for maybe half a mile.

Me (calmer, finally): Okay, but look, what did you actually get the Work Star for?

M: Oh yeah! I drew such a good picture of the real story, with all these diagrams….I think that must be what I got it for.


I don’t think I’ll ever again be able to hear poor Osiris mentioned without thinking of him as a train driver. It’s a shame in a way that her teachers didn’t hear this invention — but I don’t think she would have got a Work Star for it, alas. More’s the pity, I can’t help but think.

Have I ever mentioned Jolie Holland? Have I? Well I’ll mention her again if so.

E is busy searching out songs and albums for his snazzy xmas present iPod. Has started me surfing. Again.

Formerly of the Be Good Tanyas. If you don’t know her, go find her. This is one of my all-time favourite songs of hers…The first time I heard it, I wept all the way through. I mean, all the way through. Standing in my kitchen.

I’d say not the best ever version (instrumental too loud). But couldn’t resist just sticking this up.

I mustn’t worry about how I am a) not writing b) not cooking c) not able to remember where anything is in the chaos…d) not keeping up with paperwork and this e) not in close enough touch with friends. Nor how much I miss doing/knowing all of these things.

Instead I shall rejoice in what I am doing/thinking/knowing. Let me just think about this….okay:

a) thinking. Mainly about writing. Find this rewarding, and I only really do it when teaching. Like to ponder process, the finer workings of rhythm, the creative process itself.

b) dancing. Managing still to do this twice a week, at last too in a ‘real’ class, with proper music, proper combinations. Am learning to acknowledge that grand plies — and any sort of pivot in fondu — are just not on the menu. My knees are thanking me and rewarding me with another class the following week. An added bonus is that when I’m dancing, I’m not thinking about anything else.

c) teaching. Yes, I really do love this. Good to be back. Could do without the admin, without the way time becomes juddery, punctuated by panicky emails or dire jobs — but the actual time in classroom and tutorial: yes.

d) imagining. Life in a new ground floor, one where we can all sit together, cook together, and where the dishwasher and refrigerator are actually in the same room as everything else.

e) ignoring. The floor in the bathroom that didn’t go back down well, the persistant plaster dust, grey hairs, dry knuckles. Etc.

f) noticing. Daffodil and crocus tops coming through the pots, lighter afternoons, striking pink mornings on the way to school.

g) enjoying. E’s obsession with iTunes and gathering music (the urge to collect from his father!); M’s new fascination with Nancy Drew mysteries (more later).

h) lastly, re-discovering. Things we’d thought we’d forgotten or lost while packing up for the plasterer, like a single given to me by a student years ago, which we all used to bop around to (okay, not R). While I’m ambivalent about its musical longevity — it does help me feel better about where this post began. It’s not that I’m not writing, it’s that the rest is still unwritten. Oh yeah, that’s right…


From January 2010, my new blog is Waving and Drowning


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Who am I?

A writer born in Texas, who grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia (yes, like the song), and who's been living in the UK since 1988. I've published two books (see below), and teach creative writing at the University of Kent. I'm married to a composer, and we have two young children. See About for my full profile.