The Feather Dress

FTR_cover_translucentThe latest of my #5MinuteStories is available now in the latest edition of the Fairy Tale Review. It’s called The Feather Dress, and it’s based on an old Chinese tale about a man’s strange obsession and a woman’s transformation.

It’s a strange story of heartbreak, hope, and whether our hopes might grow wings. You can find it in the Translucent issue, along with many other fantastic stories, here.

 

A Digital Rebirth: The Book of Crows at The Pigeonhole

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My 2nd novel, The Book of Crows, is about to be serialised on  (an online book club). There are still a few spaces up for grabs, so why not join in?

I’m really excited about this new digital rebirth for the novel. It’s a few years now since it was first published, and this gave me a chance to re-read my book and get caught up in the story once again. The Book of Crows is a novel about a mystery that stretches throughout Chinese history. Featuring a young girl who is kidnapped and taken through the desert to an isolated mountain brothel, as well as a suspicious landslide near Lanzhou, and a grieving Chinese poet, the book follows characters on the Silk Road, all caught up in the story of the mythical ‘Book of Crows’.

The Pigeonhole sends the reader a new chapter of the book to read on your phone or tablet every day. What’s even more exciting, is that there’s lots of ‘extras’ in the digital version. For instance, I’ve recently recorded an interview about the book, created an annotated map of the setting, made a playlist of the Chinese music that inspired it, collected photos I took during my trips to research the story, and written a guest post about it here. So there’s plenty of reasons to dive in!

 
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The Other Shore

I’m delighted to announce that my latest poetry pamphlet is now out. It’s called The Other Shore, and it’s been published by Eyewear Press.

Quite a few people have asked me about the title already. It comes from a Buddhist parable I first heard when I was travelling in China, about a man who journeys along a difficult path until he comes to a stretch of water. All around him are dangers and troubles, but the other shore in the distance looks calm and inviting. He works hard, and constructs a raft from twigs and branches and grass, and at last paddles out into the water. When he reaches the other shore, the Buddha asks, what should he do? Of course, he must abandon the raft.

meekings-4The parable is often taken to mean that teachings – be they Buddhist dharma, or any principles or beliefs that one lives by – can only take a person so far, and that there will come a time when you must venture further on your own. (Of course, this is not the only interpretation, and the meaning of the lesson has been much debated.) But this is the idea that appealed to me, to keep going you may have to give up much of you used to take for granted.

What is the Other Shore? It’s the place we aim for, and hope one day to reach. But it might also be the place we reach once this life is over. Not long after my brother died, I started travelling through China, in search perhaps of some other shore where life is different. All the poems in this collection were written during or after those travels.

My exploring took me along the path of the Silk Road, that winding and multitudinous trail that stretches across continents. In the past, travellers and traders working their way along it would have finally reached Xi’an, the capital city of Tang Dynasty China. It was here that I travelled too, and here that the germ of many of these poems was planted.

The book contains a number of translations and adaptations of Chinese poetry, all from the Tang Dynasty (618–907), often referred to as China’s ‘Golden Age’ of art and literature. I was drawn to the poetry of this time because it takes the strict forms of previous ages but uses them to reflect not on formal and ornate courtly themes but on the messy, untamed world beyond the palaces and temples.

In these translations, and in the other poems I wrote about the journeys I took, the places I visited, and the stories I heard from the people I met, I aim to draw attention to one reason for travel, and indeed for reading: of engaging in an unending conversation with the past. In this way, I sought to try what those poets from a thousand years did before me, by taking traditional forms, and adapting them to new ideas. After all, as any traveler knows, the end of any journey is also the beginning of another.

In other words, these are poems about how to reach that other shore.

 

Poetry Bike Tour

This week I took part in the first ever Poetry Bike Tour in the South Downs. It was organised by the South Downs Poetry Festival, and features a group of poets and musicians cycling through Sussex and stopping off at pubs, cafes, bookshops, town halls and churches along the way to give readings and performances.

As I haven’t been on a bike in many years, I was a little worried I wouldn’t make it that far – especially as our first stop was at the top of Beachy Head! By the time our group had made it to the top, most of us were red-faced and drenched in sweat!! Nonetheless it was a great event to be a part of, cycling that day 17 miles up from Eastbourne to read at Beachy Head, then Birling Gap, a fantastic book shop in Arlington, Chatleston House, and finally at Firle. I hope to do it again next year!

A local news report of the journey can be found here.

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July Tour: A Wild Run of Readings

Throughout July and August I’ll be touring around the south coast, reading from my new poetry pamphlet, The Other Shore, coming out soon from Eyewear Press.

  • Cnp5leQWcAAF19AOn the 10th July I’m reading at the Priory Park Festival, so do come along and enjoy music, food and drink, poetry, stories and lots of fun.
  • On the 17th July I’ll be launching the pamphlet at my event at the Chi Inn as part of the Chichester Arts Festival. The pamphlet is a book of poems about the voices the dead use to speak with us. Tickets available here.
  • On the 19th July, I join the Poetry Bike Tour and head from Eastbourne all the way to Firle: come meet myself and poets such as Paul Deaton, Hugh Greasley, Stella Bahin and John Davies along the way.
  • Then on 21st July I’ll be reading some of the poems I wrote while poet-in-residence at Bunhill Fields as part of a celebration of the poetry of William Blake, along with actor Michael Jayston and local poets Stephanie Norgate, Alan Morrison, James Simpson and Barry Smith at the Weald and Downland Museum.
  • On 23rd July I’ll be reading in Petersfield at the inaugural South Downs Poetry Festival. They’ll be cake, workshops, books, and more poets that you can shake a stick at!

 

Writing as Spaces 2016 Conference

This month I returned to Mansfield College, Oxford, where I studied for my BA about sixteen years ago. It felt like travelling in time, though I’m not convinced I enjoyed being reminded of being 18 again!13566965_10157151715980707_2940566787654281282_n

I was there to present a paper at the 2016 Writing as Spaces Conference. As this was an Interdisciplinary Conference, it was a great opportunity to meet and discuss ideas with architects, theorists, journalists, philosophers and educators, as well as other writers.

I talked about how digital spaces allow writers to reconsider the process and reception of writing. Traditionally, form shapes the way that writing is both transmitted and received: a sonnet or haiku will dictate the structure and composition or a poem, while the physical manifestation of a book signals to the reader the structural limits of the story. I argued that it is exactly the same with digital writing:  Twitter chain-stories, Instagram narratives, and podcasts each present a model as distinct and formally challenging as a sonnet or novel.

We talked about how both practitioners and instructors might respond to the new constraints of online environments to find new solutions to old problems.

It was a great opportunity for me to bring together two of the things I love: the work I do in the classroom teaching students to use writing as a form of exploration, and my own writing projects – particularly #5MinuteStories. This work will soon be published as a chapter in a forthcoming book.

And of course, it wouldn’t have been a complete trip back in time to Mansfield without a trip to the Turf Tavern afterwards…

IABA 2016: Excavating Lives

13332801_10157006074550707_1673160119999588840_nThis May I attended the IABA 2016 Conference on Excavating Lives (IABA being the International Auto/Biography Association) at the University of Cyprus.

It was a fantastic experience: writers and scholars from all over the world came to Nicosia to talk about the different ways we research, uncover, present and understand lives.

As well as listening to some fascination papers about digital lives and lives in translation, among  others, I got to explore the historic city (including the border that runs through the middle and splits the Greek Cypriot south from the Turkish Cypriot north). I attended a poetry reading on a rooftop, and dined with newfound friends in traditional local tavernas (complete with Cypriot dancing).

My own paper was about how we write about grief. I argued that grief memoirs expose the fact that writing about the self means defining the narrator in terms of its relations. In other words, when we write about ourselves we’re always also thinking about how we are linked to other people: as a father, a son, a teacher, a boss, an employees, a Brit, a foreigner, a liberal, and so on. But how are we linked to the dead? I looked at Joan Didion’s A Year of Magical Thinking, and the ‘auto-fiction’ of Karl Ove Knausgård, as well as some of my own recent writing about grief, to examine what this means for our understanding of books about loss.

Essentially, I paper argued that often the dominant mode of autobiographical writing is that of constant positioning and comparison. So when we lose someone close to us, we actually lose something of ourselves.

More links to follow when the article I’m working on about this is published…

Coldnoon Journal of International Journal of Travel Writing & Travelling Cultures

redoubt-fortress-342107_1280 2This week a piece of my life writing work-in-progress has been published in the Journal of Travel Writing – you can also read it online. ‘Gods of Luck and Chance’ is an account of strange journey to the past, a house that never was, and a city of sleeping streets. But it also considers what we mean when we conceptualise ‘home’, and whether each of our lives is bound to a particular (and peculiar) geography. Do you have a place that calls back your imagination again and again? Read my own account of how space and time intersect here.

2015: The Year in Review

It’s been another restless year, but a good one! Here’s my short round-up of everything I got up to in 2015:
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January: I started my  series (if you still haven’t checked them out, have a look here)

February: Went to Manchester for the first time ever – can’t believe it has taken me this long! Will definitely head back!

April: Completed a CELTA course in Hove and made some great friends along the way.

May: Visited Portugal for the first time and somehow managed to burn my feet to a crisp (ouch!!!)

June: A busy month. First I presented at the British Graduate Shakespeare Conference where I was awarded the 2nd prize in the Liz Ketterer Award for my abstract. Then for the annual Mixed Borders festival in London I was the Poet-in-Residence for Bunhill Fields. The Poetry School created a chapbook of work from the festival, including my poems, that you can read for free here.

July: I was awarded an Authors’ Foundation Award from the Society of Authors to help me work on my 3rd novel Between Falling and Flying. I also presented at the Travel Symposium at Nottingham University.

August: Returned to Doha, Qatar, to work once more as a Writing Lecturer.

September: I had a great time reading at 100,000 Poets for Change at the House of Wow in Doha.

November: Turned 34. The less said about that the better.

December: I had my PhD viva and passed (with minor corrections) and so can now officially call myself Dr if I want (though I can’t see it happening any time soon). I’ve also got myself in gear and created a LinkedIn profile.

So what’s next? Watch this space, and roll on 2016!

Bunhill Fields: Poet-in-residence

I’ve had a great time this weekend as a poet-in-residence at Bunhill Fields. I’ve met all kinds of people come to explore this wonderful historic site in the centre of London: some who live nearby, others who have travelled from abroad for the Open Garden Squares Weekend; some with an interest in plants, flowers, trees and gardening, others with an interest in Blake, Defoe, and Bunyan, the great and unconventional British writers buried here; some drawn by the long and somewhat macabre history of the nonconformist burial ground, others happy to wander around in the present.IMG_2652

All of these people helped give me ideas for the poems I worked on over the weekend. I’ve talked to people about the history of Bunhill and the history of poetry, the death (and life) of poetry, and the purpose of poetry today. People have been interested to hear the drafts, and even to make the suggestions about things I should add! Others have been kind enough to share their impressions of the place, their feelings and ideas about the site, and have allowed me to use these in the poems I’ve been creating here. And a fair few people have come right out and asked me: what are you doing here?

It’s a good question. And I told them that what I’ve been doing is the same as everyone else who comes to explore this garden: looking and listening. Each of the gardens open this weekend is unique, and each has something to offer. In Bunhill Fields, history speaks to us about the present. It says something different to each of us, and sometimes its not clear exactly what it might be saying at all. But each place has stories, and that is what I wanted to discover, explore and share during my time here. The poems I wrote in Bunhill Fields are distillations of the unique things I learned, heard, shared and experienced in this garden.

IMG_2625It’s no surprise that the poem’s I’ve worked on and (mostly) finished over the weekend have reflected a balance that is intrinsic to this hidden oasis of calm in the middle of a frenetic city: between the past and the present, between the extraordinary and the mundane, between life and death.

 

Here’s one of those poems that I started yesterday and managed to finish today, about the many people sharing plots beneath the ground in every corner of the park. You can listen to it here:

Towards the edge of the afternoon, I read the poems created here to some of the people in the park, and that seemed like a great way to end the weekend and the residency: by sharing the experiences and ideas that had been planted and grown in this entrancing place.

You’ll be able to read some of the poems I worked on during the residency over at the Poetry School website. And if you’ve never been to Bunhill Fields, do pop by if you’re ever nearby to see this small but important piece of our history in the heart of the city.IMG_2655IMG_2638