Face Trumps Book

I have spent the last couple of weeks not being on Facebook.  At first it was hard getting out of the habit of checking my updates every half-hour, but after a couple of days it stopped figuring in my consciousness: my mind was clearer and more importantly my emotions were calmer.  No more anger, no more upset, no more reading posts and not knowing whether to laugh or scream, no more having to ignore insults when I express the mildest disagreement, no more gloomy world-view, no more angry echo-chamber.  I shan’t yet delete my account but I will keep it in a coma until I decide what to do with it.

Along with this disengagement from Facebook I have stopped watching or listening to any news.  I do think it’s important to keep up with what’s happening, but whether hourly bulletins and a constant drip-drip of articles on social media actually help you to do this is debatable.  Instead I look at online news sites and a couple of times a week we get a newspaper: it may be a generational thing but I find I don’t concentrate at all well reading from a screen.  All of this means I can engage with the news when I’m ready rather than having it come at me willy-nilly; it means I can follow up whichever stories I want and leave the rest.  It also frees me from the obligation to check out stories on Facebook to see whether they’re fake or not – or, most irritatingly, whether they are outdated.

I am calmer and happier now; the world seems less threatening, and those things I thought I’d miss out on – like contact with friends and keeping up with events – well, they haven’t materialised.  I keep in touch via messenger, text and email and, the most old-fashioned way of all, by face-to-face communication.  You can’t beat it…

Kirk out

Gigging for Momentum

Momentum in the area of gigs is something I’d really like to have; to swing from one (paid) gig to another, to travel the country bringing emergency poetry to areas of need, to hop on a train down to London one night and up to Nottingham the next, then over to Brum, maybe up to Edinburgh the next week; that’s the life for me.  Swinging from tree to tree…

I’m a poetess and I’m OK;

I gig all night and I write all day

(Before you write in, I dislike the word ‘poetess’ as much as anyone; I just used it for its syllables.)

But until that day comes I must content myself with a gig for Momentum.  This happened on Sunday at the Criterion in Leicester:


a venerable pub with plenty of good beer (alas, I was driving so had none) and a separate music room.  It was a good afternoon with a mix of musicians and poets: I met some old friends and encountered a new poet, Will Horspool, whose poetry I enjoyed.  Myself, Bobba, Richard Byrt and Will were the poets and Steve Cartwright, Sheila Mosley and Paul (sorry Paul I forgot your last name) the musicians.  It was a game of two halves with each of us having a ten-minute set in each half.

I have now finished Stephen Fry’s ‘The Ode Less Travelled’ and begun my poetry journal.  This is proving very useful as I can record not only what I’ve done in terms of practising and writing, but the thoughts and ideas which occur while I’m practising and writing.  These are many and varied and writing them down is a good way to begin organising them.  To my intense relief Fry says ‘Please do not send me your poems.’  He is terribly polite about not having the time to read them, and it releases me from any compulsion I might otherwise have felt to send him a sonnet I’d written in response to one of his prompts.  However in case he should stop by this blog for a moment, I’ll reproduce it below.

The poems for Momentum were:

Spike (written for Sound Cafe)

A Hostile Environment (about the effects of austerity on the poor)

Spirit of ’44

More in Common (for Jo Cox)

Poet-Tree, a peace poem

and The Lady in the Van.

These were well-received.

The sonnet prompt in Fry’s book was to write about voting in elections from two opposing points of view.  This is the first sonnet, exhorting people to vote – the second is a work in progress, probably because my heart isn’t in it (if you’re interested, this one is based on Wordsworth’s poem about Milton:


On Voter Apathy

Voter!  Thou should’st be living at this last

hour, for all the signs say life’s expired

x does not mark the spot: you can’t be arsed

for apathy is tiredness beyond tired.

Arise!  The ballot box hath need of thee

thy paper crossed and folded but complete

your vote could be the one to change the MP

take part instead of voting with your seat.

La politique s’occupe de vous, said Jean-Paul;

he’s right: not voting now is voting Tory

to sofa-sit effects no change at all

you have the power – now go get the glory.

They fought for this, the people of our nation

sometimes a right implies an obligation.

(c) Liz Gray, 2018

Kirk out



How to be Awesome


Now as you guys all know I’m a sucker for a new notebook.  I try not to get one just for the hell of it otherwise it languishes without a real purpose but it’s a joy when purpose and notebook come together, as they did today.  I’ve just about reached the end of Stephen Fry’s ‘The Ode Less Travelled’, a whistle-stop tour through English poetic forms, and one of his suggestions at the end is to keep a poetry journal.


I only take up other people’s ideas if there’s a thunk of recognition in the breast; an ‘aha!’ sounding in the brain which tells me this is a Good Thing For Me To Do – and with that there was a sort of thunk and a sort of think which led to a sort of thankyou and off I went to The Works to see just how cheaply I could buy another notebook.

This exercise is not unaccompanied by guilt, as I wonder whether most paper nowadays is recycled and if not why not and whether I should be devastating the tree population in this way for my own amusement.  Of course it isn’t mere amusement, it’s work; and if I could find a way to make it happen digitally I would but there’s something so organic about the conjunction of pen and paper which seems directly to connect the brain with the page as though the pen were joined to the bloodstream.  We shouldn’t take this image too far though, else we’ll end up like Harry Potter in detention:

Aaanyway, as usual in The Works they had a range of exciting notebooks in just the right size for my poetry journal and so the choice came down to what was on the cover.  As you know (and can see from this blog’s motif in the top left) I like a notebook with a motivational message, so I chose the one which told me to be more awesome.  What’s not to like?  I now have a total of nine notebooks:

One is for daily thoughts and ideas (I’ve kept this sort of ‘diary’ for 34 years now)

Two is for short story ideas and writing prompts (https://writerswrite.co.za)

Three is for current poems

Four, five and six contain older poems which I still perform

Seven has ideas for the novel and eight, a squared notebook, contains designs associated with it i.e. spiral patterns and outlines of the tapestries which accompany each chapter.

And finally, nine is a tiny notebook which records things I’ve sent to publishers.

Kirk out


Radio Silence

WordPress are still threatening me with that editor coming to level up my layout and I wish they wouldn’t as I have no idea what that means or when it will actually come.  Oh wait, apparently it’s here and I have to select it.  It tells me I can now use ‘blocks’ and I have no idea what that means either.  Why does everything have to use such technical language?  Why can’t they just say ‘if you click on this thing which you will find in the top-left corner then it will create a box for you to type in’?  I seem to have created such a box here and I don’t know if I want it or not but it’s academic because I can’t tell how to undo it.

Phew!  Now I’ve switched back to Classic Mode which is fine except I’m still getting those annoying messages about a new editor…

I don’t know about you (I expect it’s probably my age) but these days I find that there are just too many things for me to get my head around.  No sooner have I got used to an app than they go and change it, sometimes for good reasons and sometimes just for the hell of it.  Well I guess at some point I’ll try out this new editor, but preferably at a point where I’m not actually trying to write a post.

I’m still off Facebook so there will be radio silence from me on there, but none of this is what I was intending to blog about.  It was this: every six months or so the BBC in her infinite wisdom has a Window; and when this window appears it’s the time for drama writers of all colours and persuasions to submit to the great Clearing-House of Drama called Writersroom:


Doesn’t matter what it is; whether a full-length play or a short drama, a series or a sit-com; whether it’s for TV or radio, it all goes to Writersroom.  A great sifting then occurs and if you’re lucky they’ll pick up your contribution, give it a shake and send it to the editorial team to be half-baked, whereupon it will be sent back and forth endlessly before being (if you are exceptionally lucky) Actually Produced, at which point you may finally see some dosh for your efforts (though I’m not entirely sure they don’t pay on broadcast.)  Is it worth it?  Financially no, not at all.  But in other ways yes; the idea of telling a story through radio drama intrigues me.  I have a good ear for dialogue and whereas I have no sense of ‘theatre’ in the physical sense I do have a good sense of what works aurally, so I think I’m in with a chance.

This is not my first attempt at writersroom.  I have previously submitted at least one radio play as well as a sitcom called Waiting for Theo (no prizes for guessing that Theo was based on OH).  With sitcoms you send an outline of the series (usually six episodes to start) plus one full episode.  It didn’t get commissioned but I did get a letter back saying they quite liked it, so that was something.

I’m not starting from scratch with this current project either: I had previously laid down the bones and written some scenes, so the story and all the characters are in place.  It’s coming on quite nicely.  And to help me I’m listening to as many radio dramas as possible, including this one:


Kirk out

How I Done It

So how did I solve those crossword clues?  Well my strategy is first to have a fairly quick look-through over tea in bed and see if anything leaps out at me.  If I can’t do the first ‘across’ clue, I’ll look at some of its ‘crossers’; if I have some success there I’ll stick with doing the North-West corner, as we solvers call it, before I move on.  Then I generally go through the rest of the ‘across’ section before tackling the ‘downs’.

How easily I get into it depends on two things: my state of mind and the compiler.  Compilers can be difficult for two reasons; either because they just are hard (Paul and Araucaria come to mind) or because their mindset is just very different from yours: Puck and Arachne are two of these.  So if I’m really struggling I like to check the comments and see if it’s just me or if everyone’s finding this hard.  You’d think you’d get to know the style of each compiler but with the Guardian there are too many of them, and my favourites have both now departed: Araucaria:


whose clues I used to get largely by osmosis, and Rufus who made a lovely easy puzzle on a Monday morning. 

Once I’ve had a quick run-through it’s usually time to get up, so I tackle the rest over breakfast.  This time I think more thoroughly about the clues, interrogating the evidence (as post-modernists so pretentiously call it) to work out what type of clue it is.  Does it contain an anagram?  Is the answer written within the clue?  Where actually IS the def?  After a while you start to get a handle on the compiler; whether they use lots of anagrams, whether the clues are an agglomeration of tiny bits or just have a couple of parts, and so on.  To give you a flavour I shall tell you how I solved yesterday’s clues.


So the def would either be ‘bony’ or ‘northward.’  Now ‘northward’ is often a hint that a word is spelled backwards, besides the word itself doesn’t have too many synonyms; so ‘bony’ would seem to be a better bet for the def.  OK so we’re looking for an eight-letter word meaning ‘bony’.  ‘Itinerant’ could be an anagram indicator, so let’s start with a possible anagram of ‘elks’.  This might give us ‘skel’.  Aha!  I think I see where this is going.  Skeleton?  Hm.  What about the ‘departed northward’ bit?  What other words mean bony?  Skeletal?  That would give us ‘late’ backwards, ‘late’ also meaning ‘departed.’  Result!


Here the def suggested itself straight away: ‘old prison’, which led immediately to ‘Newgate’.  ‘Put up’ serves the same function as ‘Northward’, ie a backwards indicator, so ‘wen’ backwards gives ‘new’, and now I have to confess I can’t parse the rest.  We obviously use all the letters of ‘great’ except the ‘r’ but I can’t see how ‘then demolished’ achieves this.  But no matter; it fits.


This was harder to solve, though it led to a ‘tea-tray’ moment when I finally got it.  ‘Jam’ is the def and your mind is being led by the clue to think of jam as a noun when in fact it’s a verb (this is part of the compiler’s art, to use words in one context but mean them in another.)  ‘Full of’ indicates that the answer is to be found inside the other words, and sure enough if you look you can find the solution thus: domeSTICKitchen.  To jam is to stick; sorted.

And that’s how it’s done.

Kirk out

Always a Crossword

Sometimes I wish this blog would be like Facebook and offer me memories from this day last year or ten years ago or whatever it is: it’s interesting to look back and see what was happening on the 21st November in previous annual cycles of my life.  It would also be helpful if it told me when I’d already used a title for a blog post – I had a sneaking suspicion that I’d used ‘Never a Crossword’ before and lo! I was right; in January I posted about this very topic:


I have now changed today’s title to ‘Always a Crossword’, making it a companion piece rather than a repeat.

But instead of offering me all these useful things WordPress keeps threatening me: every time I log on and try to make a new post it says, ‘A new editor is coming to level up your layout.’  I have no idea what levelling up my layout means but it certainly feels like something I should worry about.  Interestingly that sentence could easily be a cryptic crossword clue: ‘A new’ would give the letters ‘an’, ‘your’ could be ‘yr’, giving us ‘anyr’.  Not very promising.  ‘Level up’ could be an anagram indicator; anything that suggests rearrangement often suggests that, so let’s see; what can we do with ‘level up’?  Pull Eve?  Possibly.  So far we’ve got:




pull Eve.

Can we make anything of these?  Oh but wait, I forgot ‘editor’.  This is usually abbreviated to ‘ed’ which gives us quite a long word:

anyredpulleve – or if you prefer, any red pull Eve.

Is pudrevellany a word?

And in all this parsing (as they call it) I’ve forgotten the def. or definition.

The def. comes either at the beginning or the end, which would make it ‘a new’ or ‘layout.’  The latter is more probable, though you can never assume, so if ‘layout’ is what we’re looking for that gives us two ways to come at the answer, both of which can be cross-checked with each other.  Does the word mean ‘layout’?  And does it parse with the other elements?  If so, you’re in.

Once you’ve begun solving these cryptics you can, if you wish, enter the weird and wonderful world of commenting.  This has its own language which is as cryptic as the puzzles themselves; comments on today’s Guardian include the following:

Every frame a Rembrandt!  Great drop of the shoulder on 23 had me scampering after the ball.

the East went in quickly but the North-West took a long time

I thought some of the defs were waving too exuberantly today

Jazzy surfaces as ever

In addition to this colourful language there are terms to be learned: in addition to ‘parsing’ = figuring out those bits of the clue which are not the def, there is LOI = last one in, ie the last clue you solved; a ‘tea-tray’ moment, which I describe as a ‘duh!’ moment when you finally get it (and it was a lot easier than you thought) and ‘surfaces’.  This last refers to the idea that the clue should read like an English sentence and not like some cobbling-together of elements.  The best compilers make their clues sound completely coherent, all of which adds to the Zen-like complexity of the experience.

Here’s a few from today’s Guardian.  Answers below:

Bony, itinerant elks departed northward (8)

Old prison of Great Wen put up, then demolished (7)

Domestic kitchen full of jam (5)

Tomorrow I’ll tell you how I solved these

Kirk out









The Scold’s Bridle

I have recently signed up to receive a daily writing prompt from Writers Write:


These are designed to get you going in the morning – a sort of verbal laxative, if you will – and I’m finding them very useful.  The idea is, you set an alarm for five minutes and write without stopping until it goes off.  Today’s prompt was ‘Reading This Book Made Me Feel…’ so I decided to write about the novel which I’ve just returned unfinished to the library as I could take no more of it:


This was puzzling, as I’d seen an adaptation of the novel years ago which both thrilled and horrified me:


and so I expected the book to do the same.  It didn’t.  Here’s what I wrote:

Reading this book made me feel utterly bewildered.  So many people had eulogised this writer (though I’m not sure she was dead) that I expected to find… well, skill, deftness, a way with words.  Instead I found what I can only describe as acres of stodge.  The dialogue was like old treacle, the characters barely more than cardboard cut-outs (they all have names like Spede and Orloff; names you only find in crime novels) and the plot – well, I suppose the plot was good but I lost the will to discover it as the action was revealed not through narration (let alone exciting narration) nor description but yet more turgid, stilted and unnatural conversation.  It’s what Agatha Christie does – and I don’t understand why people rate her either.  I think she’s the most boring writer in Christendom.  But hey, ho – we live in an age of plot.  And that is why I find it so hard to get published.

Have you read ‘The Scold’s Bridle’?  Feel free to take issue with the above.

Kirk out

One Man and His God

Years ago, in the dead hours of Sunday afternoon before Songs of Praise and after the black-and-white film, you could watch One Man and His Dog.  This most spectacularly dull programme featured a farmer and his sheepdog performing such feats as getting a flock of sheep through a gate two at a time (zzzzzzzzzzz) arranging them in a quadrangle, a square, a tortoise and a wedge like a Roman army; getting them to leap over hedges and perform the double pike with arabesque, and having them pile one on top of the other like the sheep in Wallace and Gromit’s A Close Shave; all of this using just a whistle and some arcane words only the dog could understand.  (Incidentally one of the best jokes in the Aardman film comes when Gromit is up before the judge on a charge of sheep-rustling: the headline reads ‘Sheep Dog Trial.’)

I’ve been impressed with Aardman lately (not that I wasn’t impressed before, because I was.  Deeply.)  But just recently, determined not to fall foul of the artistic industry’s tendency to ‘pick it up, f*** it up and drop it,’ they have sold a number of shares to their workers, thus avoiding the danger of a takeover and subsequent Disney-fication:


Anything that avoids Disneyfication and keeps things local is all right by me.  I shudder to think of what Disney might do to Wallace and Gromit: I still haven’t forgiven them for the outrages they committed on the work of A A Milne and by way of compensation I spend a long time looking at the wonderful illustrations to the books by E H Shephard:


On Sundays when I was a child there were any number of church services: an eight o’clock, then family communion followed by Matins and then Evensong in the evening.  The church would be full for communion, less so for Matins and Evensong and very sparse at eight o’clock in the morning, but my poor father had to do them all even when no-one else was there.  Because after all God was there.  So it was one man and his God…

There!  I got there in the end…

Kirk out



Forget Jonathan Franzen – Here are My Top Tips for Writing


The author Johnathan Franzen has come under fire for some of his top tips for writers:



So I thought, why don’t I write some too?  Then I can come under fire just like him.  And here they are:

  1.  If you want to be a writer, write.  Michael Caine used to say that people would come up to him and gush about his life.  They’d say how great it must be to be an actor and how they’d love to do it – and he’d think, no you don’t.  If you wanted to act you’d be doing it; you’d be out there in rep or am-dram; you’d be reciting in pubs or on street corners; you’d be doing monologues in open mic slots, whatever it takes.  And I think the same thing when people say to me how great it must be to be a writer; how interesting and exciting*; I think, if you really wanted to be a writer you’d be doing it.  You’d be keeping a diary and a blog; you’d be writing little snippets and sending them into newspapers; you’d be… well, you get the picture.  If you want to be a writer, write.
  2. Persevere.  Unless you’re extraordinarily lucky it will take more perseverance than you ever dreamed possible.  Imagine climbing Everest and then K2 and then coming down again and finding that nobody cares, then running a couple of marathons and swimming the channel.  That’s what it feels like – and if you don’t want to bother, you don’t want it enough
  3. The 10,000 hours thing is true but crap.  It may well take 10,000 hours to be expert at something (I haven’t counted) but the point is, why the hell would you put all that effort in for something you’re not utterly passionate about?  If you ever had piano lessons as a kid and hated them you’ll know what it’s like to spend time doing something you don’t enjoy.  So don’t worry about the hours because if you’re driven to do it you’ll rack them up and if you’re not, why would you bother?
  4. Finding your own voice is difficult.  Miles Davies said ‘Man, it takes a long time to sound like yourself’ and that’s just as true in writing as it is in any other art form.  For years I had to read authors who were completely different from me because otherwise I just ended up sounding like them.  Imitation is not a bad place to start but it’s a bad place to end up.  Finding your voice takes time: lots of time.
  5. Find your own routine.  If you have lots of time to write your problem is going to be discipline.  It took me ages but nowadays I get to my desk by nine and after lots of experimentation I’ve ended up with a routine that is roughly nine-to-five, Monday to Friday.  I don’t work at the weekend which means I get a good break; I also don’t work in the evening.  But that might not be right for you; you just have to figure it out
  6. You may be one of those people who can hold down a job and write in your spare time: I’m not.  I never have been, so I can’t advise you about how to do that.
  7. Be like Pooh.  Don’t be like Eeyore who interrupts the flow (such as it is) of his verse with comments and criticisms; be like Pooh.  Pooh listens to the Forest and the river; he lets things come to him (unlike Rabbit who always goes and fetches them).  Pooh’s verse flows because he waits for it to come.  Be like Pooh.
  8. Don’t stay like Pooh.  Pooh is in a state of innocence (in the Blakeian sense) but we must live in the adult word.  And in the adult world there is Work.  You must work at things once they’ve come; hammer your words into shape as a carpenter works with wood or a potter with clay.  Michaelangelo may have been right when he said that the sculpture was already there in the clay, but it’s the artist who has to find it and give it shape.
  9. Know when you’ve nailed it.  You’ll know when you’ve nailed it because there’s a sense of rightness, a feeling of deep satisfaction.  This has nothing to do with orthodoxy and everything to do with art.
  10. Don’t read lists of top tips.  This list will self-destruct in ten seconds.  Ten… nine… eight…

Kirk out

* this never happens