Tuesday, 25 August 2020

The best laid plans ...

We've recently returned from a trip to Mid Wales that didn't go quite to plan. Whoever would have thought that a walking expedition in Wales in August would have to be abandoned not because of rain but because of the heat?! We did manage two further shortish stretches of our Wye Valley Walk project but, when the temperature rose above 30 degrees and kept rising, discretion was the better part of valour and we opted out for the time being. That should have freed us up to carry out some research in the area for a new non-fiction book I've started working on (loosely based around my husband's family history) but of course all the relevant archives were closed because of the Covid-19 situation ...

In the event we actually had a very useful time pursuing some research from a rather more personal angle, and meeting some distant relatives in the process; that's led me to rethink the approach I'd planned to take quite considerably - and it will probably be a far more interesting book because of it! We met some very knowledgeable people and came upon some unexpected, fascinating places - none more so than the mill my husband's great great great grandfather worked in 1856! Hidden in a remote dell, miles off any beaten track, from the outside it looked virtually derelict; to our amazement, when we ventured up a rickety ladder, we found almost the complete workings still intact and looking as if they could be coaxed back into action tomorrow. 

Going rather more to plan has been the preparation of my poetry collection, which should see the light of day this autumn. It's had a long gestation and I'll be glad to see it safely delivered now. That has a poem in it about a mill, Clenchers Mill near Malvern, which has been beautifully restored and is occasionally open to the public - well worth a visit should you have the opportunity.

Give us this day …

Except for days like this

when history, briefly resurrected,

leaps into life to catch us unawares,

they’re stilled and silenced now -

wallowers, brayers, bridge trees, tuns.

Alien to our generation,

those names our great grandparents knew,

whose daily bread depended on them -

stone nuts, runners, damsels, shoes.

But in this soundscape of the miller’s world -

the clank of wheel, the scrape of stone -

we haul them back like sacks of grain,

dust them off, reclaim them for the moment -

launder box, penstock, layshaft, flume.

Copyright Gill Garrett 2020.

Thursday, 6 August 2020

A sad situation

I was much saddened to read that the poetry component of some literature exams is to be dropped in the wake on the Covid-19 situation. I know I'm not alone in this - I've seen a lot on line and in print from other disappointed writers who feel that it's symptomatic of those in charge having little appreciation of the actual subject matter on which they're pontificating. Poetry is such an integral part of our literary heritage and we've recently seen a tremendous rise in the number of young people enjoying poetry, writing poetry, performing poetry. Yes, it can be quite demanding on students in an educational environment, but is that a reason to do away with it?

I've been very heartened to see the number of younger people taking part in workshops over the period of lockdown - and very impressed by their contributions. I recently sat in on a Writing West Midlands workshop at which Sara-Jane Arbury was the guest speaker. She was talking about her very exciting work with children and young people's groups; Writing West Midlands coordinates twenty two separate groups for 8 -18 year olds. Perhaps we are now going to have to depend on agencies such as these to keep the flame alight if schools are opting out - but how many youngsters, unable to access such opportunities, will that then exclude? 

Saturday, 11 July 2020

A world away and nearer to home

Paradoxically, the lock-down has opened up the world in some ways. Having to use platforms such as Zoom to meet up with writing groups, attend workshops and generally keep in touch in the writing community, things have become much more international, with all the advantages that can bring. Last week I was in one workshop with participants from Uganda, Spain and Canada, earlier this week in another with poets from the States, Belgium and Ghana. I sometimes feel that groups can get more than a bit "cosy" and it's a breath of fresh air to meet and greet writers from very diverse backgrounds, with often very different approaches and viewpoints. Especially when they challenge your own!

Last Friday's Cheltenham Poetry Festival workshop with Rowan McCabe was fascinating. I'd not heard him read before and loved his perceptive but gentle take on everyday life. He's currently the poet in residence at Wordsworth's house in the Lake District, but Covid has obviously meant that's a bit of a sticky wicket at the moment. Undaunted, he's offering "poetry by post" in Cockermouth! Having been a "door to door poet" in the past (yes, that's just what it says it is!), he's now sending stamped addressed envelopes to random addresses in the town offering a poetry service by return - and getting a fair number of takers. If you've not come across his work, do look him up.

Now that the five mile limit has been lifted in Wales, we're properly underway again with our Wye Valley Walk project. Last week we were covering some of the ground so familiar from Kilvert's Diary. Rural life may have changed a bit since he was writing in the 1870s but the bones of the deep Radnorshire countryside have changed very little. No wonder it has inspired such fantastic prose and poetry - it really is exceptionally beautiful.

Builth Wells next stop ...

Friday, 3 July 2020

A different Ledbury 2020

We're getting used to having to "go" to festivals on line now, of course, but I shall miss a proper visit to Ledbury this year. I love the town itself - the beautiful architecture, the narrow streets and lanes, the shops with their festival contributions on display, the lovely old tea and coffee shops - and the poetry is never less than inspirational. This would have been the opening weekend in normal times; instead, this is it for this year, two days with nine events. But they should certainly be worth registering for - or you should be able to catch up on the Festival YouTube Channel afterwards.

There's a preview at ten o'clock this evening on Radio 3's The Verb, where you're invited to "celebrate the spirit of the Ledbury Poetry Festival".  Poet Laureate Simon Armitage will be opening the weekend itself on Saturday lunchtime. His session will be followed by the competition winner's event, Kim Moore celebrating European poetry, poetry films made by the Young Writers Collective, poetry of the lockdown and so much more. Do check the website and see what's on offer - and of course it's all free.

Sunday, 21 June 2020

Independent Bookshop Week

In keeping with so many other retailers, bookshops have had a really tough couple of months. And re-opening isn't an easy exercise with social distancing a headache in small shops, often with confined space, and the tendency most of us have to browse through books before buying them meaning that items have to be quarantined before going back on the shelves. I've been so impressed by how some independent shops (such as Griffin Books in Penarth) have managed to keep a thriving, upbeat presence on line though, posting books out to customers and ploughing on regardless with launches, author readings and book clubs. Hopefully there will be lots of support all around the country for Independent Bookshop Week, which began yesterday.

Where would we have been without books over these weeks of lockdown?  With libraries closed, it's been interesting to see how communities have come together to ensure that anyone who wants a new book to read can access one. Yesterday we were walking a stretch of the River Wye and came across this in a bus shelter -

                                                           - a help-yourself-to-a-book stop, with a whole variety of 
genres to suit most tastes. Last week, walking by the Usk, we saw a book swap in a disused phone box. People have been nothing if not inventive through it all.

As you'll have gathered, walking has featured large for me recently. We're so fortunate to live in such close proximity to some stunning countryside. And, as always, the opportunity to walk has presented plenty of opportunity to think and plan. The main project on which I was working earlier in the year was derailed (temporarily I hope) with travel being out of the question and interviews and research I'd set up (not possible except on a face to face basis) having to be put on hold. But the time freed up has enabled me to pick up and run with an idea from a while ago that had never come to fruition - it's certainly making progress now and hopefully will see the light of day, initially on the radio and then in print, later in the year.  

Saturday, 6 June 2020

Quick as a Flash

In haste! Just in case you 're not aware that today is National Flash Fiction Day. There are a host of activities going on on line this year including a Flash Flood (with a new piece being published every 5 - 10 minutes on the online journal), The Write In (a prompt every hour - use it to write on and you can then submit the piece until midnight tomorrow for a chance of publication) and the 2020 Anthology Launch (this evening from 7 - 10pm on the YouTube channel). There may be other more local activities in your area but these are well worth checking out. Enjoy!

Friday, 22 May 2020

Changes and chances

Today should have seen us off to Scotland, for a week walking in the Trossachs, a week pursuing some research for a biography I'm working on, a visit to old friends and a 70th birthday party. Needless to say, none of those will be happening in the present situation. Hopefully the visits and the walking can take place when life returns to whatever will pass as the new "normal" but the biography project will have to go on ice for the time being. This is particularly frustrating as it had a long gestation phase but has made significant progress over the last couple of months; most of that progress however has been based on historical records and others' accounts and memories. I really need to "walk the walk" and get a feel for my subject's original environment and experiences.

Looking at the positives, however - the Hay Festival this year is not as we have always known it but is freely available to everyone virtually. Do look at the programme if you haven't seen it. Starting today, I've booked for a dozen events to which I certainly wouldn't have had access in other circumstances. I'm really looking forward to hearing Mererid Hopwood and Ali Smith - favourite authors of mine - and I've also booked for a couple of sessions quite outside my usual sphere. A good opportunity to open up other horizons without feeling you've spent unwisely if they turn out to be ones you'd rather leave orbiting elsewhere!