Of riffs, tweets and bees

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Twitter can be a source of unabashed delight, I want to tell all the non-Tweeters out there. I spotted a lovely picture of a white bee posted by Kate Long – and alerted Joanne Harris to it. Those who follow her will know she starts every #storytime with

There is a story the bees used to tell, which makes it hard to disbelieve..

It seemed likely she’d enjoy it as much as I did. And then one bit of sharing led to a happy little exchange of riffs on the white bee theme. Joyous.

From that exchange, a little story has emerged in a flurry of wings and pale fur. I hope you enjoy ‘A Tale of White Bees‘.

Before the Dawn

I tried to have a nostalgic wallow – a warm sound-bath of memories from the 70s onwards. We had the snacks, we had the beer and we watched two hours of Kate Bush on BBC4 – her career and her performances.

It turned out quite differently.

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That voice split open my carapace. The notes burrowed somewhere behind the centre of my ribs and gave my heart room to swell. How could I have forgotten how much those songs meant to me? The words gave me no chance to appreciate their cleverness in some filtered way – they swooped in and demanded to be loved again.

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I wonder, does it hurt hermit crabs to creep out of their too-small homes? It hurt me to be excavated like that but – ‘what a lovely feeling!’ 

Those songs draw me into other worlds I desire to experience – so many lyrics I have learned by heart. And they dance in my mouth, they move me literally. Her passionate vulnerability rouses mine. Like dry moss in a downpour, it twists, stretches, grows green and fresh again.

Exuberance is Beauty – William Blake, Proverbs of Hell, 1790 – 1793

She sought her voice in her first recordings, tried out all manner of characters – and adolescent me went along for the ride. Alone in my attic bedroom, my shadow was Kate’s. It spread long fingers over the postcards of Pre-Raphaelite beauties on the sloping walls, and swirled amongst the incense trail and cobwebs. It became the woman in The Warm Room, clawed at Heathcliff or flew off In Search of Peter Pan.

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Kate Bush’s songs are full of narrative; poetic, sometimes impressionistic, but still they tell stories or fragments of them. I recall that in one of her rare interviews she echoed this sentiment from one of my favourite writers:

I am far more interested in other people than in talking about myself – Joanne Harris

They both want to give the stories themselves a voice – I admire that so much.  I am in very good company: Jeanette Winterson, Neil Gaiman and Stephen Fry are amongst the writers who treasure that literary spirit. How could I not adore a singer whose first hit was based on Emily Brontë?

My adult self does not wish to be her, but I’ll have a shot of that engaging weirdness. I’ll knock back a tincture of esoteric flavoured by a dash of out there and infused with the dark and ethereal.

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I rejoice that her songs and voice and their meanings have deepened over time. It takes more musical power to crack open scar tissue and release that spinning, yearning girl of the Seventies. So many moments of pleasure, jugsful that refresh and sometimes chill the jaw with a rush of pain.

I will take long inspiring gulps on Tuesday, even if my eye-teeth howl like banshees – and there will be no barriers between us if I can help it.

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I will be at the Hammersmith Apollo on Tuesday 26th August. Please do say hello.
[Heaven help anyone whose I-Pad, phone or any other gizmo gets in my way, though!]

 

 

 

Away with the Fairies

On Saturday 12th January, I went to the launch of the Golden Egg Academy in Bath. I expected that I would meet at least a couple of people I knew – and I could now tell them about my latest success. I had known since before Christmas that The Selkies of Scoresby Nab had been long-listed for the Times/Chicken House Competition. You would think I’d be bursting to tell anyone and everyone – but I felt oddly reticent. Shy even.

I found myself lost deep in La-la land: talking with the Barry Cunningham, finding that Beverley Birch had read a  previous blogpost and remembered it, welcomed by Imogen Cooper as an equal. I had slid into a world of my imagination.

But in my daydreams, it had been easy, I had confidence – not this edgy feeling I have now. I feel I’m tiptoeing on the borders of Fairyland, nervous and full of hope and fear.

Joanne Harris by kind permission of Kyte Photography

I’ve had lovely little glimpses and excursions: a workshop with the much-admired David Almond; twitter conversations with the wonderfully accessible Joanne Harris; and even Susan Hill. There was astonishing interview with Greg Mosse on the MA at West Dean where for a moment he helped me soar, to feel like a proper writer.

But I’m scared. I’m frightened to succeed.

I’ve grown accustomed to being second-rate, an also-ran. Grade B ‘O’ & ‘A’levels, a II:I English degree at Loughborough, not Oxford, a minor teaching post. It’s all been quite comfortable – and I bitterly resent it. It’s also painfully true that I envied Susie Wilde her well-deserved First in her MA at West Dean.

There are times I really don’t like myself.

I wonder, am I bringing my own danger into the Perilous Realm? I really don’t mean to be smug or condescending or self-satisfied – but I hear those thin, superior voices in my head. They distract me from paying proper attention, they tell me I know that or this already.

On one hand, I am so wary of pride that I find it hard to rejoice.On the other, I so desire recognition from authors I wish were my peers that I fear I must be insufferable. I look to see who has congratulated me far too often – yet I am genuinely moved when anybody does wish me well.

Am I hunting for fairy gold?

 

Writers are not rivals…

…or why I continue to review other people’s books.

I found Jane Friedman’s piece: How Long Should You Keep Trying to Get Published?   convincing and useful. As you do, I read other articles on Writing on the Ether and came across this one written by journalist and critic Porter Anderson:

Amazon Reviews: Damned If It Does and…

I put up with the annoying adverts and read it. I thought about what he said a lot:

Maybe it’s because many authors are only now beginning to grapple with the realities of a business world.

That struck home. And:

And vendors — in this case, authors — can never be seen as unbiased and fair if they’re evaluating and holding forth on each other’s work.

But then I thought longer.

I thought of the lovely Maeve Binchy . She saw us writers as all putting another stone on the cairn, building up our collective work.

We are not rivals – we’re fellow workers.

I am comfortable reviewing Candy Gourlay’s work because I will never write like her. People looking for work like hers won’t switch to mine no matter what I said.

And it wouldn’t even matter if I comment on someone sort-of similar, Frances Hardinge say. She will probably produce a book a year – and so will I. Fans of either us will read more than one book a year I think – so they might like both. No conflict of interest – real or perceived – in my view.

Another way of looking at this: I want a knee surgeon to comment on the effectiveness of a recent  eye operation. I’m more than happy for the owner of a fish-and-chip shop to give her evaluation of Jamie Oliver’s 15. Especially if they tell me what they do as part of that review.

It’s what Joanne Harris said – we know what we’re talking about. You can chat to Joanne on Twitter – and I do – and there is no agenda. She has no need or wish to hide, dissimulate or do anyone else’s writing down.

Of course, I was shocked and saddened by the sock-puppetry scandal. I wrote about this and Roger Ellory in a previous article. It genuinely made me cry. But it’s like No Cycling signs: the beggars who are going to knock old ladies over will ignore the signs – and the ones that obey would take care anyway.

On a more philosophical note, I have another objection to his stand –

Politicians, the smart ones, learn to do all they can to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest, even if they have no such actual conflict.

I hate the concept  ‘seen to be doing the right thing’. Just do the right thing.

Concern about appearances leads to tick box sheets and checking up on them – not the thing itself. It’s how we get nurses so busy filling in forms they haven’t time to care. It’s how we get teachers so busy planning by day, week and term they are too tired to respond and adapt to changing circumstances – and marked down if they do.

That would be why you’d get mealy-mouthed comments – more concerned with appearance than honesty.

So I stand by my reviews.

I will continue to do the right thing.

 

 

A small matter of education for all…

 

Regular readers of my posts and my tweets will know I love libraries. I mean to write about them again and here are some reasons

                As a consequence of the Comprehensive Spending Review 400 libraries are under threat. Compare this with the situation in South Korea where 180 new libraries are being built.

South Korea is top of the PISA international rankings for competence in reading. In ten years the UK has fallen from seventh to twenty-fifth. This is no time to cut libraries.

  • I checked about Korea and the reading stats

    courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/philbradley/

  

After all that, I have nothing left to write except Support Your Local Library!