The Workshop at the End of the Universe

I went to a short story workshop yesterday at Leicester University.  The first challenge was finding it.  Not the university – I can see that from my bedroom window – but the room in which the seminar was held.  You’d have thought the building and room name would be enough to get me there, but when I arrived at the Charles Wilson there was no reception, no floor plan and no-one to ask.  Whilst it was refreshing to walk into a university building without being challenged by security guards, issued with a pass and subjected to frisking; some kind of information would have been good.  Instead of which I had to resort to flagging down people with name-tags on, who all looked vague and said sorry, they’d never heard of the room in question.  Fortunately another seminarian overheard my plaintive cries and told me the room was on the second floor.  We arrived at the second floor; there was no sign of it.  In the end we asked a lecturer who said there was ‘some kind of annexe’ at the far end of his room – and this proved to be it.

Once the workshop got started it proved very good.  Led by Thomas Glave

a slightly camp Jamaican with an American accent – very personable, chatty and insightful – it allowed each of us in turn to read from the stories we’d prepared.  I went first; it’s always hard to read your work in front of people but the discussion hinged on people’s reactions to the characters rather than on evaluating the quality of my writing (although that is in itself a form of evaluation, of course).  The resulting discussion threw up some helpful thoughts for me, including David’s suggestion that when I get stuck with my novel I should reflect that if someone were putting a gun to my head I would definitely manage to finish that chapter.  He’s absolutely right, of course, and it sent me back to the novel yesterday afternoon with a renewed determination to finish.  I should give myself a timetable, I think, otherwise the thing just recedes into infinity.

So that was all good.  In the afternoon we each had a short tutorial with him, during which he was quite enthusiastic about my story.  It’s called ‘Sides to Middle’, a reference to that thing people used to do with worn sheets, and also to the format which we were asked to use which was to start the story in the middle and work to the end, then continue from the beginning and work to the middle.  The instructions made my head go round and round… anyway, he had strong emotional reactions to my main character and what she was doing and that meant, he said, that I’d ‘done my job’ as a writer.  That was good to hear.  As I left he gave me his card and I gave him a book of my poems.

Which are not like Vogon poetry!

So: today I shall be tackling the second section of the novel as well as forcing myself to watch the dreaded Max Hastings try to justify the First World War.  Max Hastings makes me shudder.  I shall need a lie-down afterwards.

Kirk out

Vote for Your McP

Mark means well, but sometimes his efforts at complimenting me go a little awry, such as this morning when he commented that he’d written a lot of nice stuff about me in his diary.  ‘Oo, read it out!’ I said – so he did, and -well, most of it was great; stuff like how good it was to be with me, what an awesome person I am, how happy he is, etc: but in a long list of my amazing qualities he noted my ‘chubby cheeks, facial hair and massive boobs.’

Mmm… thanks, darling…

Moving swiftly on, let us consider today’s question: who is actually running things?  Who is in charge here?  The people of Scotland are about to get a vote on their future, ostensibly so that they can have more control over their own country.  I’ve got a lot of sympathy with this: Scotland is a nation with a long history and on the whole if the majority of people there want independence, I think they should have it.  Of course this has implications for the UK as a whole, for the role of the Queen, for Scotland’s role in Europe, and so on – but it is a question to be decided by the people of Scotland.  After all, that’s what democracy is about, isn’t it?  The voice of the majority decides what happens.  That’s what we all believe in, isn’t it?  Even Winston Churchill who, god knows, was a long way from me politically, had this to say about it: ‘Democracy is the worst system – apart from all the rest.’

Actually I have paraphrased a little: here’s the original quote –

Yes, the people of Scotland will decide.  But here’s the rub: today Standard Life, a big employer and investor in the country, have weighed in with the comment that they will leave and go to England if Scotland votes for independence.

To be honest I find this outrageous on several levels; but mainly because a financial institution with vested interests should not be publicly trying to influence a democratic vote.  The principle of democracy is one person, one vote – but this is being skewed by corporations and their vested interests.  I worry very deeply about where we are going with this.  I worry that the people in charge are not the government we voted for but the multinationals behind the scenes.  I worry that if we privatise many more of our institutions there will be no-one and nothing left whom we can trust.  The Royal Mail has gone, the NHS is being parcelled up – how much longer before your MP, like the speaking clock, is sponsored by Accurist?  Or McDonald’s?

Vote for your McP, anyone?

Kirk out

Lizzie the Pinggk!

Wow, what a Pinggk that was!  It was my first ‘gig’ as a headliner, and I am now officially a Landmark Poet of Leicester, a status which I shall treasure.  My ‘set’ as I believe poets call it, took the form of a journey: we started off at Duffy’s bar and travelled West to where the Bowstring Bridge once stood, where we paused to hear the Ballad of the Bowstring Bridge.  From there we jumped sideways to view the bones of Richard III, encased appropriately enough in a Shakespearian sonnet, and then we left Leicester and jumped on a train to London.

You get onto the Piccadilly line and head West towards the airport.  You get off at the station which was once the terminus, before they extended the line through to Heathrow.  Turn left: walk 200 yards; there’s a church.  Go round the back, there’s a house.  And the garden is now a block of flats.

After a poem about the garden of the house where I grew up, we leapt across London to another garden, this time in Camden, and to a place where Alan Bennett’s Lady in the Van once lived.  I did this one as a parody of ‘The Lady of Shallott’

so if you were there, see if you can spot the echoes.  Sticking with parody, I followed this up by a Lewis Carroll take on a woman looking in the mirror, ‘To the Looking-Glass’, and then we were on the move again; this time to stand outside Parliament and protest about the Bedroom Tax.  This poem, called ‘There’s a War On’, proved to be the most popular of the evening.  It was requested again at the end; and it was videoed and will be on youtube.  I’ll put a link when it’s up.

And so! we took a train and travelled down to the South coast, to a part of East Sussex where the tide has retreated over millennia, leaving behind markers which mostly seem to be military.  Taking in Derek Jarman’s garden and Dungeness nuclear power station, we paused to frolic on the beach at Camber before starting to make our way back.  Then Jacky was called.  The owner of Duffy’s bar has been so generous to Pinggk over the years, and now that she has to leave and find other premises, I thought it fitting to end with a poem to her.  Here is that poem:

For Jacky

Out on the city’s edge you kept a welcome

for refugees who come from scattered lives

to gather here, doors closed around the heat,

to sing, and dance, and talk and weave our words

into the tapestry that we call Pinggk.

I hope you found us worth it, after all,

after the freezing draughts of economics

had fingered everybody’s spine like death;

I hope you found the poets worth the pain

I hope you felt some measure of our joy.

It’s a cold country, England.  Warmth like yours

no longer heats the back-rooms of the city

– it’s always winter in the banker’s heart

and now that we are up against the wall,

cast out, and left to wander on the edge,

so may you find a new home to keep warm

for refugees like us, out on the ledge.

Kirk out

Thinking Inside the Box

I am getting rid of our boxes today, all being well: they have overrun the sunlounge for too long now and are to be freecycled to someone who is also moving house.  I was going to keep them but frankly if we do have to move again after a year (which God forbid) I will get hold of some Proper Boxes and not pack things in dribs and drabs using cast-offs from the Co-op.

If I seem a little distracted it’s because I’m listening to the News Quiz as we speak.  The NQ is very funny and well worth listening to more than once especially if, as we do, you listen to it over dinner and therefore have half of it drowned out by conversation.  Yesterday we went to see Daniel’s exhibition, ‘Open 25’: it’s the second year he’s been exhibited at the New Walk Museum, so he’s done very well.  There’s some good work there, so go and see it while it’s on:

As regards the iplayer, I can’t settle at all.  All my fave drama series have finished and I can’t get into Inspector George Gently, so I’ve been watching the occasional film which crops up there.  This one was quite good, and I got to practise my French into the bargain:

After that I did try to sit through the BAFTA’s, but in spite of it being hosted by Stephen Fry I found the mixture of toadying and self-parody as nauseating as ever.  I don’t think Fry does himself any favours by hosting this: he doesn’t appear at his best.  Not at all.  Give me QI any time.  Which I did, and have now exhausted the available episodes of this.  So it’s back to the videos I think…

Kirk out

National ATOS Demo – A personal Account

I am reblogging this Jane, as a way of compensating for not being there. But perhaps it was better that the protest was made up of those who have genuinely suffered from ATOS, as I have not


Yesterday I was spokesperson for ATOS DEMO, the day started with a home interview on local radio at 8.00 am, which in my world meant getting up at 5.00, to allow my drugs enough time to work for me to coherent; I then had 2 hours to recover to attend my local demo at Leicester.

Arriving slightly early to meet up with my fellow organisers, we were immediately approached by a police officer with a community support officer, asking who the organiser was; we informed them there was no one person locally, we were a group of ATOS survivors protesting about the companies role in Welfare Reform. This really surprised them, I really don’t think they’d come across a protest that wasn’t organised by a Party or group before; on refection the age of both officers might have something to do with this, they were too young to remember what…

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Hey you! Shut your mahf and look at the size of my Widget!

Well, didya notice the widgets?  The little informationy things at the side there, which tell you when I’ve posted and stuff?  I hope you did… I’ve been resisting using the twiddly bits of wordpress partly because I’m a little wary of twiddliness, but also – if I’m honest – because I’m a technophobe.  Whenever I’m confronted with words such as ‘sidebar’ ‘widget’ and ‘select’ – perfectly innocent words on their own, but deadly in combination – my brain goes into a coma and won’t wake until I’ve given it several really hot cups of tea.

Hang on, let’s take a slurp.  That’s better.  But I was persuaded to take a look yesterday and maybe add one or two of these features.  I keep meaning to study blogology with the aim of improving my traffic (I’ve learnt that term, at least) but I never get round to it.  It took me about two years just to connect to Facebook, for god’s sake!  (Incidentally does your spellchecker underline words such as ‘Facebook’, ‘internet’ and – I’ve just noticed this one – ‘spellchecker’?  That would mean that the spellchecker disapproves of itself!  But perhaps it wishes to be hyphenated: let’s ask it.  Spell-checker?  Ah, yes.  It’s perfectly calm now that I’ve added a dash (LOL) of punctuation.)

But I digress.  You can tell that because of the brackets.  Still, as with Proust it’s the digressions that are the most interesting, I think.  And speaking of Proust, I need to get finished today a memoir I’m writing called ‘I am the Anti-Proust’.  It needs to go off tomorrow, and I’m far from satisfied with it: still it will have to do.  I may have mentioned this before, but I wouldn’t remember because – appropriately – the piece is about memory-loss.  I’ve been suffering from memory loss ever since I started this blog – not that the two things are connected, except insofar as the blog helps me to remember what I’ve been doing.  Memory loss is horrid and it’s far more common in menopause than most people realise.

Oo!  I’ve just realised that the spell-checker doesn’t like the word ‘blog’.  That spell-checker is never satisfied…


On the other hand, I am happy to report that I did manage to pick up my inhaler yesterday.  So the day wasn’t wasted.  Oh, and Holly went to Lancaster on the 3 am coach and apparently loved the place!  So that is good.  I guess she’s sleeping it off now.

Kirk out


I blogged a few weeks ago about the advanced technological state of our new GP’s; although the receptionist is perfectly friendly the entire system is geared up to avoid any human interaction at all until you actually see the doctor: from having to ‘arrive yourself’ through touching a screen to the remote ordering of prescriptions (well, with a request slip, anyway) I would not have been surprised to be confronted by a Medibot on penetrating the interior instead of a human being.

So this morning I went along to see if my prescription was ready and it wasn’t: apparently they can’t sign them remotely but have to come in and do it in person.  Who knew?  Anyway in spite of this technological weirdness it seems to be a good GP practice, so I’m going to stick with it.  It’s even closer than our old surgery was, and that’s saying something since that was virtually just across the road.  But this is literally just across the road…

So: back to the iplayer and what I’ve been watching this week.  Now that they’ve taken Father Brown off I’m lacking an anchor for my viewing schedule, but this has now been filled by a copper: to whit, WPC 56:

It’s set in 1956 and features a WPC; so to that extent it does what it says on the tin.  The series treads the line between good period drama and caricature; there’s a black-and-white fogginess to the OB shots: dark streets, sinister alleyways, split windscreens etc.  It’s a bit issue-y; recent episodes deal with arresting gays, prostitution, and sexual harassment in the workplace, but it’s entertaining nonetheless, and punctuated by cries from me of ‘I remember that!’ and ‘We used to have a car just like that one!’ to which the children roll their eyes.

Holly is in Lancaster as we speak, having got up at the crack of doom to get a coach up there to an open day.  I really hope she gets something out of it; the plans went awry when her promised lift backed out, leaving her to get the only affordable National Express leaving Leicester at 3 am.  She’s doing the same coming back, though her boyfriend is going with her so I’m not worried.  Good job it’s in half-term week…

Must go now as I have to pop across to the doc’s and see if my prescription has been arrived yet…

Kirk out

Dem Bones, Dem Bones, Dem Bones…

It’s very difficult to know which of Kathy Reichs’ books you have read, because they are almost all called Something Bones. Or Bones Something, or Something and Bones, or Bones and Something.  You get the picture; lots of bones. In her day-job, Reichs is a forensic anthropologist, and that’s what she writes about in her novels too. Yet even though I’ve read most of them at least once, I still keep picking them up. What is it that fascinates me? Partly, it’s the enduring appeal of murder, partly it’s the endless fascination of human anatomy. Reichs’ plots thunder on like – well, like an express-train, though in quite a different idiom from Ian Rankin’s. Reich’s leaves plotlines hanging in the air, whereas Rankin dispenses quite early with red herrings, as if to say he’s not that kind of writer. But they both work.

And why is it that crime writing is so compelling? Is it our endless fascination with human anatomy? Or is it that the crime novel allows us to explore our own darker side without risk?

What do you think? Tell me who is your favourite crime writer and why.

Kirk out

Of Kites and Chewing-Gum

I was seized this morning with an urge to tell you all of what I’ve been reading lately.  But before I do that I must mention a remarkable young lad I met this morning: this lad is 16 and Home-Educated; and he told me that he is reading, of all things, Thomas a Kempis’ ‘Imitation of Christ’.  Not only that, but he is utterly gripped by it, and says it’s the best book he’s ever read.  He suggests that though many people may not know it, a lot of its phrases have entered the language, such as ‘there but for the grace of God, go I’.  I have a vague memory of reading bits of it in connection with Eng. Lit. at some point; maybe I should dig it out again.

But! thanks to Steve, this week I’ve been reading Caitlin Moran and Khalid Hosseini.  You may have heard of Caitlin Moran; she’s a journalist, author, broadcaster and -according to her website – some kind of stand-up:

Anyway, I’ve been reading ‘How to be a Woman’, and I’ve had mixed reactions to it: half the time I want to throw it down in disgust; the other half, I start laughing and carry on reading.  It’s sort of like ‘Jackie’ magazine meets Edna o’Brien; or maybe a female Adrian Mole; entertaining with touches of darkness, but on the other hand, distressingly close to chick-lit (which I previously thought was some kind of chewing-gum*).  Still, she has a very individual style and on the whole it’s oddly compelling.

Before that I was reading ‘The Kite-Runner’ by Khaled Hosseini.  This I can hardly find fault with; it’s a first-rate novel, set in Afghanistan and divided, like the recent history of that place, into two halves.  The first half concerns the childhood of Amir, growing up with a servant boy he later learns is his half-brother.  The highlight of their year is the kite-fighting which takes place in Kabul; Hassan is the ‘kite-runner’ of the title, who runs to fetch the kites when they fall.  The imagery of this is clear; though Hassan is a servant and Amir rich and privileged, Amir cannot survive long without his half-brother.  But he betrays him when the neighbourhood thug beats him up, and cannot live with himself.  Only in later life does he expiate his crime, going back to Afghanistan from America after the Taliban have taken over.  this era of Afghan history is brilliantly portrayed in just a few chapters; and it turns out that the local bully is none other than one of the chief Taliban members.  Amir expiates his former cowardice by rescuing the dead Hassan’s son, Sohrab, from an orphanage and finally bringing him back to the States.

The second half is a little drawn-out, I thought; however this is a haunting novel and well worth reading if you haven’t already done so.

Kirk out

*this may not be far from the truth

The Blogfather

Yes, as I told you before (if you’ve been paying attention) Hanif Kureishi can properly be called the father of this blog, since it was his idea.  We met in Leicester Library; I asked him for one piece of advice, and quick as a flash he said, ‘Start a blog.’  I didn’t hang around; and Lizardyoga’s weblog was born the very next day.

I have to say I liked him better in the flesh than I did on TV.  The BBC’s profile did not show him in the best light; he appeared bad-tempered and defensive, particularly when asked about the direct way in which he had put his family members into his work.  He had left his wife and children; just walked out of the house – at least that was the way he told it – and then written in a very direct way about that experience.  And here’s the rub: this is a dilemma for all writers – at least those who are not Science Fiction authors or writers of preposterous romances – what do you do about the people in your life?  Do you just go ahead and put them in your novels, warts and all or, given that most disguises are easy to penetrate, do you disguise them?  Some writers don’t let it bother them: D H Lawrence didn’t, and lost friends as a result, but he seemed to regard it as an inevitable part of the process.  Kureishi, however, reacted to Alan Yentob’s questions as if he had no right to ask them; and I think this is a mistake.  Of course a work of art is what it is; stands alone and ought to be judged as such, blah blah blah, but to ignore the connection between it and a writer’s life is to leave out a vital part of the equation.  Anyway, judge for yourselves as it’s still on iplayer:

It is tempting to wonder how Jane Austen’s family reacted to the characters in her novels: who was the original for Mrs Elton?  Or Lady Catherine de Burgh?  This problem is something I wrestle with – one of the reasons I was unable to write as a child (I started a novel at the age of eight and couldn’t continue it) was that on some level I knew my parent’s marriage was in trouble and couldn’t bring myself to write about it.

I’m still struggling with this problem because, unlike Kureishi I don’t think it’s OK just to put people in your novels willy-nilly and disregard their feelings on the matter.  But neither is censoring your own life a very satisfactory answer.  So what do you do?

Answers on a postcard please…

Kirk out