Monday, 29 June 2009

PS to the last post

The last item on the list should have been:

I have also been finishing my story for the next Bewilderbliss. It's inspired by my work with the archives, and since I had to write something as a product of that work as part of the internship, I was killing two birds with one stone.

As an aside, I like proverbs with animals in, they feel older and somehow truer than any others. Two birds with one stone is good. As is 'a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush'. They have one with an identical meaning in Madagascar, which translates as 'you can't catch two rabbits'. It obviously means that you can't catch two rabbits at the same time, and it's somehow better than the bird one. It feels more earthy and real, birds in hands and bushes seems a little too poetic by comparison.

I have been posting, but not here

This is not an excuse for neglecting my blog, but I have been posting to the new blog I have with the beautiful girl.

Though, in fact, I'm a post behind on that as well. But I have got in 5 posts this week, which is uncommonly good for me, and quite distracting.

As for other things I've been doing (in a list because it's that sort of mood):

I learned how to do some Scottish country dancing. It was at a party, I was drunk and won't be doing it again. I was not good.

I've been asked to sell my felt in the lovely gift shop of John Rylands Deansgate.

I've made a big to-do list to stave off the mental breakdown that came scarily close earlier this week.

I took a break from the excessively long We were the Mulvaneys to read I, Robot. The second of those was better, but did have some really really awful snippets of prose sometimes. It's interesting that even though it's incredibly dated (since lots of the 'future' is now in the past and we still don't have robots with positronic brains of hyperdrives to travel to the far reaches of the universe) lots of the issues it raises are still very interesting. I didn't realise it would be lots of short stories, but I liked it, I enjoyed the suspense of each story and I loved the ending of the whole thing. Read it.

I've cleaned the entire house. Don't know what's come over me. My dad's away and I tend to let the house get really messy when he is, but not this time. Weird.

I've booked my tickets to get to London for the Elaine Feinstein book launch next week.

I've been reading lots of stuff in the archives at John Rylands. I've been reading up on the past of Madagascar, there were lots of English missionaries there is the first half of the 19th century. They had some very funny ideas about primitive natives. But they are often useful as well - it's good to see the changes in the country, makes me feel a part of it and hopefully it will help me figure out the plot points missing in my novel.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Wilbur wants to kill himself

I had a wonderful day writing with the beautiful girl. It was one of those really amazing days where every time you look at the clock you're shocked to see how far its slipped forwards without you noticing. And because the sun was in the sky for hours, the day just seemed to last forever. A friend dropped by on us for lunch and another came by in the evening. It was one of those days when you think that if only every day could be like that then there would never be a single problem in your life. It's more than that as well, because while you're in the day you really do feel as though that is the sort of day that you'll have forever. It feels totally normal even though its really spectacularly rare and perfect.

When I got home, I felt like a sit down and a cup of tea before bed because I wasn't ready to let go of the day yet. I flicked on the TV and came across a film that had just started. I was watching it half-heartedly at first - just letting my brain wind down and collapse from the high of the day. But soon I found that I was watching the most startlingly incredible film. I'm sure part of my love of it was that I wasn't expecting anything from it, I was just going to watch a snippet and go to bed. But the film itself is genuinely great. It's called Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself, and the best thing about it was the details. It was so quiet and understated and it was filled with all these quirky touches of dialogue and funny little actions. It was so sad, but genuinely so, there was no exaggeration and no punches pulled. And at the same time it was funny - not a fake laugh-out-loud hilarious, but the funny of the best parts of real life. It was the perfect ending to the day. I already want to watch the film again, but I also think that I might never watch it again - that I'll just keep it firmly tied to this perfect day and never let it become diluted or lost in the wrong mood.

It's been so long since I've had this desperate desire to just live in this one moment for the rest of my life. I'd almost forgotten this feeling could exist. This foolish sense of wishing that I never had to go to sleep and so the day could just go on and on. I remember reading that F. Scott Fitzgerald was once being driven through the streets of town in autumn and he was crying because he knew that the world would never get more beautiful than it was at that exact moment. That's how I feel now. It's a crazy feeling - the sort I only get at night when I'm alone. I even love the intensity of that pathetic feeling - the fabulous melodrama of it.


But I do have to sleep. That most ordinary way of spending a night. The default position.


My new blog for writing. Exercises between me and the beautiful girl.

Sunday, 21 June 2009


I went to an exhibition at Stockport college recently. It was the end of year show for the arts students, of which a friend of mine was one. The work there was really amazing and all the books that the students had made to show the development of their ideas were incredibly inspiring.

The students had to show some of the work that had influenced them and put examples of that in their books. This was a really nice way to be introduced to artists I wasn't familiar with.

A couple of artists really stood out to me:

One was Stephen Gill, especially the photographs of everyday scenes which were printed and then embellished with fruit and flowers and then photographed again. There were some really beautiful effects, especially one of a dump-truck pouring out a load full of dried petals.

Another one that I loved, though for different reasons, was Jenni Penni. She's kind of cute a quirky, I thought this one was really sweet and this one.

Thursday, 18 June 2009


I got my first sale on Etsy and I want to use that encouragement and roll it on to more pro-active selling. As part of that I've made a treasury - a sort of on-line poster of good pieces from Etsy on a theme, which includes a piece of my own. Check it out here. And my shop is here.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Catching up

The internship is over.....sort of. I have to go back into the library some time this week to finish cataloguing the last box I was working on. Then I will have done all the letters and magazines from the 50s to the 70s. And there is it, this complete phase of life that can only be glimpsed on the page. The letters are like butterflies pinned in a display case - merely specimens, only those few fragile samples that have been caught and kept.

Soon, the whole thing will go full circle and I will be inside the story. I'm going to Elaine's book launch, and the invitation will go into the special bottom drawer that forms my archive of sorts.

And I'm writing a piece, or maybe a couple of small pieces, inspired by the archiving to go into my magazine, Bewilderbliss.

This post is all very disconnected. I've spent the last few days catching up on things I'd let slide while I was finishing my masters essay and doing the internship. I've even squeezed in a bit of felting to make a commissioned piece for somebody and a scarf for a friend. Now I feel like I just want to sleep for a few days.

But I can't. I feel like I'm making progress with the novel after it had been lost for a while. I've got out several hefty books on Madagascar from the library so I can get totally immersed back into the subject.

The only problem as far as that goes is that the books I ordered last week have arrived (the Bananas anthology and the Tsvetayeva-Pasternak-Rilke letters that I mentioned here). They're very distracting and the summer sun is calling for me to sit in it and read by its warm light.

Finally, I'm sure I've mentioned it before, but I have to point to Max Dunbar's blog. It is always interesting and hugely varied and even when I've got no time at all it somehow manages to suck me in.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Almost Over

So my internship ends tomorrow. I can't really bring myself to believe it. I've become so comfortable in the little closed and completed world that I've been reading about. Everything in there is knowable and interesting. Everything has already happened and waiting to be discovered.

For that reason I prefer to read about all the ups and downs of the lit mags from the 60s and 70s than deal with my own. I really should be sorting out the selling of ad-space in Bewilderbliss issue #2, but instead I've spent the day with my head stuck in the very curious English Intelligencer and the absolutely wonderful Cambridge Opinion.

I'm even interested in the adverts in these other magazines. Especially those in Prospect! It's 50 years since it was set up and I love to flick through the adverts for things in a version of Cambridge that's so different to the one I know. There was one (in Cambridge Opinion as far as I recall) for Gardenias guesthouse, which I'm guessing was the forerunner of the wonderful Gardies, source of so many late night kebabs. Another advert was for an indigestion remedy, the copy was so dated, it was something like 'It may seem like a good idea to hurry your meals inbetween lectures or over you essays. But it's not good for your digestion!' Below that was a picture of a neat-looking young man with a nice suit on and a perfect parting. I love that world. No, actually I love to feel nostalgic for a world that in reality never existed, but in my head is so delightful and proper. In that world, gentlemen wear buttonholes every day and they ask ladies to dance or escort them home.

The Cambridge Opinion I was reading today was Issue 14, the one that Elaine Feinstein edited. In it I've finally found where all her correspondence with the beat poets came out. There's a really wonderful piece she's written on all of them, and she quotes a bit of Ginsberg that really seemed to express its ideas so perfectly. It's about people:
'who cut their wrists three times successively
unsuccessfully gave up and were forced to open
antique stores where they thought they were
growing old and cried'

Another exciting thing I've discovered in my archiving is that the dozens of letters from some bloke who signs his name as Alan are actually from Alan Sillitoe. He has some really beautiful things to say about writing. One that I've made a note of because it seems significant to me and my problems with writing is:
'It takes real imagination to show reality and truth. You have to be capable of eating your own heart.'

I feel entirely inspired by my work with the archive. Now I just need time to get away and really intensify it all. I need to get away from worries about ad-space and uni work and anything that keeping me from being honest and real. I really don't know how Elaine has managed to be a writer on top of all her work on magazines and her huge amount of correspondence and raising three boys. I feel exhausted and spread too thin just trying to keep up a fraction of that. Well, I am going to the launch of her new book with Carcanet soon, so I shall have to ask her.

Finally, as a result of working with the archives I've had to expand my library. I've just purchased the Bananas anthology and a book of the Tsvetaeva-Pasternak letters that I mentioned in a previous post. It's probably a good job I'm finishing work there tomorrow or I'd bankrupt myself with new books....I say that as though that isn't the normal situation, as though I've never spent my last £3 on a book rather than food.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Listen to Elaine Feinstein

Joel Feinstein commented on the last post with a link to hear his mother reading. I'm re-posting it here for those who don't read comments. Click here to listen to Elaine Feinstein read her poems and a couple of her translations of Marina Tsvetaeva's poems.
I saw Elaine read a few months ago and she is absolutely wonderful. I'm much more of a prose person than a poetry one and I often find it difficult to get into that mode of listening to poetry. But Elaine's reading was so incredibly engaging that I was riveted. I enjoyed her reading so much that I bought a book of her poetry at the event. I never do that, I couldn't even really afford to do it then, but I was just so in love with the poetry after hearing it read that I couldn't help myself.
Do listen to her read by following the link. It is a real treat.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Penelope Shuttle

I'm still working away in the archives. I'm really loving it, especially today when I was cataloguing lots of issues of Elaine Feinstein's magazine from the 50s/60s: Prospect. It is my new favourite magazine, it had such great stuff in it, I wish I lived in a time full of that sort of stuff.

In the same box as the copies of Prospect was an issue of another magazine of the same era called Bananas. It's quite a rubbish name I think, and very misleading in that way because the work it contains is powerful and incredible. Bananas is one of those things that makes me entirely rethink the way I connect people in my head - associate editors include Elaine Feinstein, JG Ballard and Angela Carter. I can't quite imagine how they came to work on the same magazine.

The issue of Bananas I was reading was 'The Russian Issue', which contained too much good stuff to mention. I will just describe two absolutely great things I found in it:
- Marina Tsvetaeva's letters to Pasternak. He famously lost her letters (which were part of a rather unusual correspondence between those two and Rilke, none of whom really knew each other in real life, but they were very intimate in their letters), but thankfully she had drafts of them. The few letters that were in Bananas were beautiful and have made me desperate to get the full book of their correspondence. One part was just so wonderful I had to write it down:
'My dear Pasternak,
My favourite mode of communication is in the world beyond: a dream, to see somebody in a dream.
My second favourite is correspondence. A letter is, as a form of other-worldly communication, less perfect than a dream, but the rules are the same.
Neither can be ordered. We dream and write not as we want, but as they want. A letter has to be written; a dream has to be seen.'
She goes on to say that for this reason he should never feel guilty if he's slow in his response.
- A story by Ted Hughes (which seemed to have nothing to do with the Russian theme of the issue) called 'The Head'. It starts out with a line about his mad wife and I thought it was autobiographical, but then it went on to describe a trip to the woods with very scary results that are definitely fictional. It's not the sort of story I'd go looking for, but I loved it, perhaps even more because it surprised me and sucked me in despite me not really looking for it.

The other wonderful thing that happened today was that Penelope Shuttle came to visit the library. Strangely enough, I had just been reading an advert for a novel of hers in the issue of Bananas that dated all the way back to 1978. She had heard about the sonnet exhibition and wanted to visit it. And since she is a friend of Elaine Feinstein's, Stella thought that she might be interested in seeing the archive I'm working on and talking to me about it. Penelope Shuttle has the most wonderful presence, and it was almost like a part of the archive had gathered up its strength and appeared in corporeal form. It wasn't just that which was pleasing though, meeting Penelope Shuttle was wonderful in itself. She was so genuinely interested in everything I was doing and she asked just the right questions to make me feel comfortable and knowledgeable.

I can't believe that my work with the archive finishes on Friday. I really don't want to leave. Though now I'm a reader at the John Rylands I don't really have to leave, I can come and go as I please and read all the lovely archives every single day.

Oh, also, in my researchy travels I found this interesting interview with Elaine Feinstein conducted by Michael Schmidt, if you want to know more about Elaine. If you want to know more about Michael then you'll have to google him because he has just done too much interesting stuff to mention.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Orange Prize Review

The Orange Prize review that I did that went onto the Manchester Review website has also gone onto the Orange Prize blog. For some reason the titles say all the reviews are by me, but in fact you need to look at the bottom of the reviews to find out who they're by. Mine is the last one on the page.

Thursday, 4 June 2009


Curses to people who sign letters with their first names only!

I've spent all week trying to work my way through Elaine Feinstein's archives and I've hit a whole batch of letters that are written by people who have not used their surnames.

It's sort of fun because it's like detective work. I have to try and find bits in the letters that will lead me to understand who's written them. Lot's of it's guess work for a while. Like today I found a letter from somebody writing about poems in PR. I had to turn to the trusty book that lists all magazines and small presses in Britain that Stella's letting me use. I found a few options, but Poetry Review seemed best. Then I had to google around the editors that it could have been and confirm as best I could who wrote the letter.

I actually think I'm getting pretty good at this, and it's a very good way of getting all the people and their links stuck in my head. In fact I'm not sure there's any better way to learn about things than trying to work them out yourself from fragments.

The best thing I've found in the archives so far is a shaped-poem my Michael Horivitz about a cat and how difficult it is to draw one. Then by his signature he's drawn a cat, it's a sort of stylishly rubbish picture that I absolutely adore. That's probably not the best thing, but it's the one that makes me smile the most.

There's also a postcard that's made from a sugar puffs packet. It reads like it's written by two people, neither of whom have any regard for punctuation. Neither of them signed it, but after about twenty minutes digging around I discovered that one of them was the poet and film-maker Piero Heliczer. I am now crazy in love with Piero, who is intriguing in every possible way.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Tired eyes and book-smelling fingers

I spent my first day in the archives of the John Rylands today. I got to go into the super-secret store room where I passed stacks tantalisingly labelled Victor Hugo, LP Hartley, Carcanet....and on and on it went. The Elaine Feinstein section contains 174 boxes. Today I catalogued about half of one of them!
That half of one box contained letters from Beckett, Ginsberg, Pinter, Octavio Paz, Lawrence Ferlinghetti.......

It's harder than you'd think to read other people's letters, it's like listening to half a conversation. It was so rewarding though. I feel totally inspired. Also, I was the only person in the library reading room laughing - I felt awful for disturbing people but Ginsberg was to blame. His letters are crazy wonderful.

Finally, I reviewed one of the Orange Prize shortlisted books recently. My review is on the Manchester Review website.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Etsy Treasury

For anyone who doesn't know, on Etsy you can create a treasury, which is basically an arrangement of some of your favourite things for sale on the website on a theme of your choice. They're really hard to get but I finally snagged one and made a collection of lovely spring and summer themed items since the weather is so nice.

Check it out.

Also, while you're in the Etsy mood, check out my store.


I went to the John Rylands library last week to organise my work with the Elaine Feinstein archive. It was really exciting and I feel like I can do something good with it. I don't know why I never thought of archiving before, it involves organising papers and making notes and lots of stationary. Those are all things I secretly love. I'm also really interested in how people create archives and how different it is to creating a scientific taxonomy.
I'll be writing a lot more about this, and hopefully a lot more clearly, once I've seen the part of the archive I'm working on tomorrow.

So now I feel much more confident about that I've got something else to be nervous of. I'm interviewing Jackie Kay on Thursday for Bewilderbliss. Jackie is really supportive of new writers - she's even written a piece for the magazine and set the theme of the upcoming issue. I've met her a few times before and I know she's really nice, but I'm still worried that I'll have nothing interesting to ask her. Maybe I'll have to have a dig in the archives to see if I can find anything relevant that will make me seem knowledgeable.