Wednesday, 5 November 2014

How to fill a church - Show not tell.

In writing as in art, show not tell.

Damien Hirst's 'Fallen Angel' and David Mach's 'The Thief'.

Show not tell: possibly the most common advice given to beginner writers. It doesn't always hold. Sometimes a simple 'She was sad,' is preferable to 'Her eyes gushed like an open fawcet'. Anyway, a visit to the Crucible 2 sculpture exhibition in Gloucester cathedral got me thinking about the subtler lexical scope of 'showing'. The sculptures were a masterclass. A thousand-idea matrix of associations linked them one to another, and with the setting.

Edward 11's effigy could not have been more dead. Stiff, cold, stony; dethroned by the common marks of 18th century graffiti. At its feet Henry Moore's Bone Skirt, earthed, curvy as a slug river. Each is a commentary on the other; the sum greater than the parts.

A gilded angel is unremarkable on the altar of a cathedral, until you see the cross-hatched forearms, the tourniquet, the spoon and syringe. The attitude is not prayer or repentance but heroin stupor. Behind her the sacrificial table, and saints in fractured glass stepped to unreachable heights. The eloquence of the pairing is exquisite. A still-life sermon on suffering, desire, temptation.

Framed by the arches the thief with his cross. Fifteen feet high, anger and resistance on a face made of coat hangers. Christ to his right is slumped, surrendered; rugged and stratified as though birthed in a quake from his crucifix. People gaze in silence but the volume of dialogue between the pieces is high.

We monk-tread the oyster shadows of the cloisters, plain song hovers in the roof shells. And here is a man, modern but primitive, the base schema of aboriginal lines in red plastic. The sculpture is more brazen in its solemn setting.

The power of the exhibition lies in the interplay. So it can be with writing. There are unspoken dialogues between ideas, scenes, characters, individual words. In a poem it is clear that spaces and frames matter.  Prose can 'show' in ways which go beyond action, body language and metaphor. There's meaning and fascination in surprise juxtapositions: solemnity and wit, anger and surrender, rigidity and motion.

Note to the ArchB of C, the cathedral was packed for two months. Show not tell could be the way to go.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

The Stolen Child

Inspirations - there's one of mine. Mike Scott, sitting behind the book-signing desk in the festival tent: black hat, musical mist about him, song in the lilts of his speaking voice, minstrel to his bones. Shook the hand that strums. He wrote on my book.

Listened to him earlier in conversation with screenwriter, Richard Curtis (4 weddings, Black Adder). Mike is Richard's musical hero. Richard got teary just speaking the lyrics of Mike's songs. I know how he feels.

When I first heard 'The Stolen Child' I cried. The words of Yeats spoken in a brogue made of peat smoke. How can music smell green as the wet of water-mint, make a dawn-dim dell of the ceiling dark, show faery faces in yellow-damp woodchip, bear the host of the sidhe on the window draught, take us back where morals don't even matter because all is play.

The vision comes with wist and yearning. We have a pact. Eternal childhood is forfeit. Our destiny is to return and suffer. That is our pass out, not the hand of a faery. Oh, but we're drawn...

I've now begun book 3 of the Waifs trilogy. I've called it Nigma. It's informed by Yeats' poetry and Mike's music. My hope is that, for the space of a sentence or two, it calls the human child away to the water and the wild. This side of the divide is lighter when a poem, a song, a book, opens to the other and sends us out to play.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Satsang with Kosi

It's said in some circles that the next stage of human evolution is accelerating. The ego is a construct, a suffering manufactory that can be dropped. There's a contagion of waking up. Illuminated dominoes.

 I've reached the final edit of Book 2 in the Waifs of Duldred series. The waifs arrive in a utopia called Nondula. I'll leave the reader to figure out why. Its people have rumbled ego for what it is and kicked its ass.  Yesterday I went looking for Nondulans.

Bristol. The glass and gloss of Cabot Circus. House of Fraser, Reiss, Harvey Nicks. There's a fashion show; grim models strut hips first to a thumping beat. The back roads of Bristol. A woman meticulously weeds between cobbles. A grapevine overhangs a wall. Tiny haemorrhoids.

 I forgot the house number. Mostly there are clues through the windows: rainbows, chimes, crystals. I push the door. Incense. People are seated; they look long and unseeing at the carpet, quick and seeing at each other. There are always two or three with clear eyes.

Kosi's assistant has these clear eyes. He tells us Kosi likes to begin with a meditation. She will arrive by car. He will go out to meet her. He will be filming, does anyone object? She will leave on time so please ask all questions within the session. The energy in the room can be intense so be prepared.

The cynic reads this as mystique-building. Wait and see.

She arrives smiling, greeting. Warm American voice. Black trousers, white shirt, blue scarf, sensible shoes. Her skin is careless smooth with a sheen. A classic angel, yellow hair, brimming eyes. The cynic lasers for flickers of falsity. Nothing. We meditate. She chants trailing into 'shanti, shanti, shanti'.

Kosi speaks. Advaita. Standard. She invites questions. A woman - black shawl, knotted eyes - goes up. Kosi holds her hand. The woman has had blissful experiences and openings. She cannot come to terms with world suffering. She wakes every day with the pain of it. Kosi peels the onion. The woman sheds. Guided back to her five-year-old self, she lets go.

A young French man goes up. He is angry. He is angry at the angry people who act without thought and harm each other. He wants to fight the fighters. She guides him to the real source of his anger. He lets go.

A woman with snowy hair and a story face takes her turn. She has gained self-realisation through many years of spiritual tourism, daily meditation, and art. These things served to a point. What next?

There's sincerity and commitment. The teacher feels genuine. The clear-eyed ones I guess are already Nondulans.

I'm a way off, still scribbling.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Coleridge woz 'ere

 Coleridge Cottage, Nether

In Nether Stowey, visiting Coleridge's cottage. Coleridge lived here for two years. In that time he produced all his best work. There's a vial of laudanum on the shelf of his writing room. Out of the bottle swim sacred rivers, ectoplasmic ancient mariners and damsels bright. It feels like the scene in Indiana Jones when the Ark is opened and the winds of spirit are released, the holy and the unholy.

I wander on, beams above, flags underfoot. Here he ate, here he slept and made love. My thoughts fall into rhyme and metre. Invited to scratch an 'I woz here' note with a quill: clumsy, bleeding words.

In the garden I ate his blackberries, his bitter apples. Southey appeared over the garden wall. Coleridge looked into the eyes of Southey over the garden wall.

The well has a cool, plinky magic. A brick-lined tunnel with the mystery of lakes; what lies in the depths? Gibbet-like with its winding rope; death by letting down, not hoisting up.

There is a cafeteria. People are public-eating, slow-buttering scones, pouring tea with fingers on the lid, saying that things are 'nice' or 'lovely'.

I leave the cottage and walk his walk, hear his stream, see in his colours. Pass Walford's Gibbet in the high corner of a sloping field. Here a man hung for the murder of his wife. A dying place; his last moments were these, this field, these birds, this air, and thousands gathered to watch. Why? It was eight years before the time of Coleridge. Would he have watched? Would he have written about it?

Eat under a crooked tree among the heather, fern and gorse. Through woods to Bin Combe. Here he wrote 'Nature! Sweet Nurse! O take me in thy lap - And tell me of my Father.'

A poet's mind bathes in the juice of poppies, the milk of paradise. Beware, beware, his flashing eyes, his floating hair. There's danger in the depths of wells.

Or sip tea, visit the National Trust gift shop, stay safe where this is 'nice' and that is 'lovely'.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Novelty junky

Image result for balloon fiesta free images

There's a list in The Huffington Post of 18 things creative people do differently. They:
daydream, observe everything, work the hours that work for them, take time for solitude, turn life’s obstacles around, seek out new experiences, ‘fail up’, ask big questions, people watch, take risks, view life as an opportunity for self-expression, follow their true passions, get out of their own heads, lose track of time, surround themselves with beauty, connect the dots, make time for mindfulness.

Last night I was tired and hungry. So why, after a day’s work, did I go to the Bristol Balloon Fiesta nightglow, alone in the rain?

The faces were beautiful in the dusk, so many, so various, so many heads carrying so many stories. The movements of children, lifting smoothly from the churned grass for a better view, orbiting their parents like electrons buzzing heavy nuclei. The beautiful Japanese girl sitting cross-legged on the grass, great symmetry to her face, mouth like a bruise, steals a chip from a boy, swirls it in salsa, eats. The voice of an android ‘Seven minutes to inflation.’ Manic bulb-studded fairground. Cold, quiet trees. The people organism commutes the walkways. A boy twirls a liquorice lace, catches the end in his mouth, ingests in gathers. The fudge tent, like a building yard for sugar igloos. ‘One minute to inflation.’ The flaccid casings ripple and begin to rise with a giant’s breath. Puff, they grow. I’ll huff and I’ll puff. Hemispheres rising. Full and lovely they rise, a dozen air balloons. In the crowd miniatured balloons on a thousand phone screens. The balloons glow, fired in synchrony. The music, M-people, ‘I can feel my soul ascending.... what have you done today to make you feel proud,’ a West country anthem, ‘Ruby, Ruby, Ruby, Ruby,’ the crowd sing ‘oo-ar, oo-ar, oo-ar.’
The balloons shrink and sink becoming cloths, just as ghosts become sheets, dolls and clowns lose their night-time animation, and the human spirit fleas the body. The sky explodes.

It was irresistible to me because I'm a novelty junky and it ticked at least half of the boxes above. There it was: rain turned to atmospheric beauty, people-watching, new experiences, observing everything, out of my head, solitude in a crowd, mindful, forgetful of time, connecting dots and asking questions. Oo-ar.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Barbie speaks out

Welcome to the ‘Look At All The Women’ Carnival: Week 3 – ‘The 
Eclectic Others’

This post was written especially for inclusion in the 
three-week-long ‘Look At All The Women’ carnival, hosted by Mother’s Milk Books, to celebrate the launch of 
Cathy Bryant’s new book ‘Look At All The Women’. In this final week of 
the carnival our participants share their thoughts on the theme ‘The 
Eclectic Others’ (the third, and final, chapter in Cathy’s new poetry 

Please read to the end of the post for a full list of carnival 


 Barbie: feminist icon? Listening to her speak I think the answer must be, yes.

To all my Fans

My name is Barbie. You all know what I look like, so I don’t really need to describe myself, but I will, for the pleasure of it. I have a finger-width waist, wide blue eyes, shiny nylon American hair and I’m made of rigid plastic, all hard and smooth. Nothing moves. Nothing jiggles or wobbles, wrinkles or sags. My boobs always point forwards – no fried egg splurge when I lie down. Even upside down my curves stay just where they are. My arms and legs are slender and tapering. My feet are tiny and moulded for heels. Plastic mules are my favourites. I have them in white, yellow and pink. I like to wear them with tight pedal pushers or ball gowns. To get around I use a pink car or wedding carriage with a net canopy. My legs don’t bend which makes driving difficult, and sex. When the girl, Livvy, puts me and Ken in a boyfriend/girlfriend clinch, there’s some perfunctory groin rubbing. For hot sex I wait till later. Action Man has articulated limbs, so if I do a sort of scissor kick, we manage. I have a younger sister, Skipper, but no babies obviously. There’s no give in my stomach and Barbie doesn’t do maternity wear. If I had a mother she must have been a cloth-bellied pre-war type, or, I don’t even want to say this –  I’ll spit it out quickly – a cabbage patch doll. The mushroom head, the ropey hair, the peg-bag chic. Why?
    While I’m on the subject of mothers, that’s what I’m here for. I want to complain. This goes to all you mothers out there. You’re not bringing your daughters up properly. Livvy doesn’t play with me much, but when she does – picture the scene:
    ‘Barbie, Barbie, come and see,’ says Skipper.
    I’m made to pogo across the carpet. ‘What is it Skipper?’ (I’m beginning to hate Skipper).
    ‘I know, let’s go on holiday.’
    My first thought is, great, I get to wear my Tropical Barbie outfit with matching towel, pink sunglasses and radio (I prefer the word transistor, it harks back to a time when girls were girls). And I can show off my perfect body. No panicking that I need to lose ten pounds in a day and a half. I don’t even need to breathe in.
    ‘Let’s go to the Brazilian rainforest,’ says Skipper.
    ‘What about Spain,’ I say, ‘or Barbados?’
    Livvy and Skipper overrule me. Safari Barbie it is – zebra striped top, pink vest and sneakers, and off we go. One of Livvy’s many faults is that she has no imagination, so she pulls up the rainforest on You Tube and chooses a cast of extras from her box of cut out figures. There follows the longest thirty minutes of my life. We are greeted by near naked women with boobs – flaps I should say, ravaged by years of breastfeeding, and they don’t hunch or hide. There’s no hint of envy or competition in their eyes when they look at me. They’re welcoming and curious. They try to help as my sunglasses keep falling off.
    But I feel pointless. I mean, that’s what I’m for, to make you feel inadequate. That didn’t come out right, I’m there to give you an ideal to strive for. Skipper is getting too much attention. I raise my pointy hand and clear my throat. ‘Girls, girls,’ I say, above the chatter. ‘Want to know who first thought of Brazilians? Me of course.’ I don’t think they get it. ‘You know, smooth, down there.’ More giggling.
    One old girl is eyeing my chest. That’s more like it. That gappy grin is probably a mask for envy. I lift my vest to give her an idea of perfection. ‘My anti-nipple campaign hasn’t taken off yet,’ I explain, ‘but it will when women start to see the advantages. Just think, no more breast or bottle guilt-tripping, just, ‘Sorry, no nipples, pass the bottle.’’
    The crone pats the ground beside her. I don’t want to get that cosy, but Livvy plonks me down with my arms and legs sticking out stiffly in front of me. The old girl unfolds her limbs and copies me. She seems to think it’s hilarious. Again it’s down to me to educate. ‘Cat-walk Barbie,’ I tell her, ‘is more posable. But on the whole it’s best to avoid movement. What does bending equal? You’ve got it (she hadn’t) –  wrinkles. Look at your knuckles – ugly, elbows – not nice. Think immobile, think smooth.’
    The tribals offer us some white slop to eat. I say, ‘Let’s have a pizza party.’ Skipper translates – I don’t know where she learned tribal languages. She has a secret life I think. More giggles. Never mind, at least they’ve seen perfection. There’s no going back now, the seed is sown.
    Next thing we’re back in the air. Livvy has enough imagination to make a whooshing noise, clip a cocktail into my hand and a book in Skipper’s. ‘Next stop Burma,’ says Skipper.
    ‘Do they have shops?’
    I settle comfortably into my seat. ‘That’s alright then. They’ll have heard of me.’
    ‘Not where we’re going.’ She leans towards me. ‘Do I see venom in those blue eyes?’
    I would like to pinch her, instead I lower my sunglasses and stare out of the window. I see the mountain tops before the clouds. We’re going down.
    Still no sign of a beach. We’re in a church thing. Churches – useful wedding backdrops, otherwise, big thumbs down. I want to cover my ears to shut out this dreary chanting but without elbows my hands end up above my head. I fiddle with my transistor till Skipper takes it. It’s not respectful she says. The place is full of men with shaven heads and identical pink robes – no wait. I see chest swellings, bosoms. These baldies are women. ‘What are they doing?’ I say.
 ‘Cultivating inner beauty,’ says Skipper.
 ‘Well what’s the point of that? Intestines are intestines. Beauty comes from without, and for that you need hair.’
    I pogo to the altar, grab one woman by the hand and pull her out of that cross-legged position. It’s makeover time.  I lean over the bald head and drape my hair around her face. ‘Now isn’t that better? Pink is good but we need to lose the draping.’ I pull the robes tight and twist them behind her. ‘Look, you’ve got a waist, and a bust. Not quite the 44, 16, 34 ideal but it’s a start.’ The woman examines her new shape with a peaceful gleam in her eyes. ‘I wouldn’t look so perfectly content if I were you,’ I advise her, ‘you’ve a way to go yet.’
    What’s that I hear? A helicopter. Skipper and I run outside. It’s Action Man. Skipper gets to him first and starts a play fight. That’s alright, it gives me time to change. I’ll dazzle him with my fashionable fuchsia glitter glam outfit. When I get back, they’re rolling around in the mud. I don’t really want him near my dress but he says that’s okay, he’s done what he came to do and gets back in the chopper.
    Back on the plane. Skipper asks me why I like to make girls feel insecure. I tell her why. Listen up, mothers: insecurity is not a dirty word. It’s the best gift you can give your daughters. Motivation is the precious child of insecurity. Trust me, without it they’d be slobbing around eating doughnuts, or up a tree with the nearest man in combats.
    Slam dunk. I’m not just a perfect face and body. Do your worst, Livvy. Barb’s on a mission now.
    As we land, Skipper says brightly: ‘Here we are in Indonesia and there’s the Mentawai tribe. Hello, I’m Skipper and this is Barbie.’
    After that the conversation flags. ‘Do you have a crush on anyone?’ I say.
   These women look more promising, they’ve made an effort with beads, but what is happening to that girl?
   ‘They’re making her beautiful,’ says Skipper.
   By sharpening her teeth with a knife and a stick? It’s clearly very painful and the result looks terrible.
    ‘This vampire vogue is just a fad,’ I tell the girl. ‘Bleach is all you need for teeth, and stay off the food – that goes without saying.’
    ‘Ah,’ the girl says. That’s all she can say with her jaw wedged open like that but I’m sensing another convert here.
    ‘You won’t catch vampires wearing pink,’ I say, ‘or real women wearing black.’
   ‘Twilight Eclipse Barbie,’ Skipper taunts. ‘The only one with style. And the Edward doll – yum-yum slurp.’
    There are times – very few, granted – when I could use another facial expression.
    ‘Are you constipated?’ says Skipper.
    I graciously overlook the comment. ‘Eclipse is a here today, gone tomorrow aberration. Why do you think she dumped those dreadful clothes on you? She couldn’t wait to get some pink on her back.’
    Skipper always wears black or drab neutrals, or even Action Man’s camouflage when she emerges from his shoe box in the morning, after a night of goodness knows what noisy games. Ah well –  boyish by name, boyish by nature. ‘Real beauty is timeless,’ I say. ‘I’ve hardly changed since 1959. I was then, and always will be, the standard.’ I grab the dentist’s knife and throw it into the big leafy things.
   Skipper butts in. ‘You know, this isn’t nearly as bad as the things you make women do.’
   ‘Like what?’
   ‘Like having their faces peeled off, pulled up and stitched back on; like having their boobs cut open and stuffed; like having tubes stuck up their…’
    ‘That’s not the same at all. It’s worth the effort to look like me. That’s what women are for.’
    ‘You monster,’ says Livvy, in her own voice.
    Here we go again. I’ll get my own back in a minute. She goes to her Facebook group page. It’s called I hate Barbie, – now do you get how twisted she is? You’d think a twenty-two year old would be more mature. She posts my latest holiday snaps and a little account of our trip. In the next hour, 1087 people click on ‘like’. That just shows, they all agree with me.


]Book cover for Look At All The Women by Cathy Bryant
***Look At All The Women by Cathy Bryant
Look At All The Women is now available to buy from: The Mother’s Milk Bookshop (as a paperback and PDF) – we can ship books around the world! and as a paperback from It can also be ordered via your local bookshop. If you’d like to know more about Mother’s Milk Books — our submission guidelines, who we are and what we do — please find more details here: Please take the time to read and comment on the following fab posts submitted by some wonderful women: ‘Heroines and Inspirations’— Cathy Bryant, guest posting at Mother’s Milk Books, shares two of her own powerful, inspiring poems, and the stories behind them. ‘Sensitivity’Marija Smits shares a poem, with an accompanying image, that gives a glimpse into the inner workings of a highly sensitive person. Georgie St Clair shares her creative female heroines in her post ‘Creative Others: Mothers Who Have It All’ ‘The Eclectic Others – Or What Would I Have Been Without You?’ — Kimberly Jamison posts to her blog The Book Word a thank you to the women of literature and history who have been in her life, shaped her life, saved her life and gave her a future. ‘Barbie speaks out’ — Ana Salote at Colouring Outside the Lines shares a platform with feminist icon, Barbie. ‘Her Village’ — An older (much older than most) first time mother, Ellie Stoneley from Mush Brained Ramblings firmly believes in the old African adage that it takes a village to raise a child. To that end she has surrounded her daughter with the love, mischief and inspiration of an extremely eclectic bunch of villagers. Survivor writes about the inspiring life of La Malinche and her place in Mexican history at Surviving Mexico: Adventures and Disasters. Sophelia writes about the importance of her community as a family at Sophelia’s Adventures in Japan.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Bonobos are my heroines: putting the nature back into nurture

Welcome to the ‘Look At All The Women’ Carnival: Week 2 – ‘The Mothers’ This post was written especially for inclusion in the three-week-long ‘Look At All The Women’ carnival, hosted by Mother’s Milk Books, to celebrate the launch of Cathy Bryant’s new book ‘Look At All The Women’. This week our participants share their thoughts on the theme ‘The Mothers’ (the second chapter in Cathy’s poetry collection). Please read to the end of the post for a full list of carnival participants.

For me giving birth triggered an instinct. Despite the white-out pain I felt like an organism fulfilling its destiny. My double helix unwound into a track, leading back through aeons to my origins as some amoeboid coagulation of space dust. What I felt for my child was not as fickle as emotion; it was unwavering, fixed, a connection beyond will. Here was something I would defend to the death, not out of courage, out of instinct.

The mothering instinct is a powerful thing. The establishment, through the media, transmutes instinct to serve its own needs.

The 1920s. Woman’s primary function: wife and mother.

I have a collection of women’s magazines from the twenties. Child-rearing was mainstream; it had not been shunted to a specialism. The middle classes indulged an ideal of motherhood. Women wallowed and exulted in ‘chubby bundles of flesh, with tender creases, delicate gossamer layers and skin-folds as soft as silk’. They tenderly administered to their rosebud-mouthed ‘wee treasures’, fortifying them with bone marrow, egg yolks and cod liver oil. Motherhood was sacred, sensually delicious, emotionally fulfilling.

To keep her brain occupied and to ensure cultured companionship for hubby and dinner party guests the middle class woman of 1927 was allowed wider interests. Good Housekeeping ran articles on theatre, ballet, the law, the church, nature, current affairs, philosophy and children. The thermosetting qualities of plastic were discussed (if only to choose a plastic bowl), and complex probabilities (if only to be a skilled bridge player). Writers of stature wrote elegant pieces. Vocabulary was impressive. Sentences were of brain-training length and complexity. (I’ll admit that Woman’s Own was less wide-ranging and the seam of sickly, snot-nosed, extra mouths to feed; loved but often lost, was not acknowledged.)

Fast forward 90 years. Woman’s primary function: sex object.

(Secondary function: economic unit. If she wants a shot at mothering, it’s up to her to fit it round the other stuff before the eggs run out. Apprenticeships in motherhood + the benefit system available to the poorly qualified.)

We started it ourselves. Feminism homogenised us with the male. It suppressed the instinct that would keep us in the home, pushing us out into the arenas of power. The status quo creaked, stalled, adjusted. Patriarchy could no longer distract us with stay-at-home motherhood, but another instinct would do just as well. Mating displays were transmuted into a narrowly defined Sisyphean goal: to look like an elongated child with G cups, from age 14 to 90. Air-brushed slebs fix the goal before our eyes. To keep the ball rolling back downhill our food supply is adulterated with an addictive lipogenic fat:sugar ratio called the bliss point. Bonus: fashion, dieting, cosmetics and surgery are massively lucrative. (And now to ensure that men have the same fantastical standards, their instincts are distorted by unlimited free porn.)

We fuel it ourselves. We write it. We pay to read it. Women's mags, columns and pages are obsessed with appearance. Can there be anything left to say? It’s like an autistic monomania: bingowingscrowsfeetthighgapthreadveinkneewrinklesbikinibridgenanoblurring...
Stop it!

Contrast this with 1927. Health and beauty occupied two pages out of 258. The article ‘Banishing Liverishness’, is about anatomy, biochemistry, diet (not the weight loss kind) and exercise (the liver massage kind). 

If we can free our instincts from the transient, often paltry ideologies they’re forced to serve, then we can discover, explore and celebrate the true nature of nurture and choose for ourselves how to direct it. I’d like to see the arena of power dispersed from a secular cathedral where men go to bray, to the heart of communities. Matriarchy – mother power, works best there. The alpha male instinct makes disastrous government. Men in suits bray hakas, play digital games with virtual money, and war hammer games with real people, with just enough smokescreens and spin to stay in power. They draw stonking salaries with fully funded kitkats. Women are in the field conciliating and cracking on, doing what’s best for the next generation. The matriarchal instinct is for welfare, the patriarchal is for wealth and war. The matriarchal is needed to bring the world back into balance.

So I asked a bonobo matriarch where to start. This is what she said: Find a safe outlet for alpha maleness. Sport will do. Make it men’s only form of self-esteem. Make 80% of male appearances in the media sports related. Give them an impossible goal, the lungs of Wiggins, the pecs of Becks. Bonus: it’s lucrative and you get a lot of buff men. Was her tongue in her cheek? Possibly.


  Book cover for Look At All The Women by Cathy Bryant Look At All The Women is now available to buy from: The Mother’s Milk Bookshop (as a paperback and PDF) – we can ship books around the world! and as a paperback from It can also be ordered via your local bookshop. If you’d like to get involved in the ‘Look At All The Women’ carnival please find more details about it here: Please take the time to read and comment on the following fab posts submitted by some wonderful women: ‘Moments with Mothers and (Imaginary) Daughters’ — Cathy Bryant, guest posting at Mother’s Milk Books, shares more poetry from Look At All The Women — her own version of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’ and a poem inspired by her imaginary daughter. ‘The Cold Cup of Tea’Marija Smits shares some poetry that gives a glimpse into the everyday life of a mother. ‘Creative Mothers: You Need to Stop!’Georgie St Clair, shares an important reminder, that all mothers need to dedicate time and space to be creative. ‘The Mothers – Or Promises to My Future Child’: Kimberly Jamison posts to her blog The Book Word what she has learnt from her own mother, and writes an open letter to her future child. ‘Bonobos are my Heroines’: Ana Salote at Colouring Outside the Lines puts the nature back into nurture. Stephanie from Beautiful Misbehaviour wants to challenge society’s treatment of the post-birth body. Helen at Young Middle Age talks about finding strength from thinking about all the other mothers, during hard times.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Explicit v Implicit

Welcome to the ‘Look At All The Women’ Carnival: Week 1 – ‘The Lovers’ This post was written especially for inclusion in the three-week-long ‘Look At All The Women’ carnival, hosted by Mother’s Milk Books, to celebrate the launch of Cathy Bryant’s new book ‘Look At All The Women’. This week our participants share their thoughts on the theme ‘The Lovers’ (the first chapter in Cathy’s poetry collection).   Please read to the end of the post for a full list of carnival participants. ***

Implicit v Explicit: The role of literature in educating children about relationships.

It begins in the primary playground. I watched my daughter, then aged 9, open two Christmas cards from her boyfriend, one was public, the other containing 51 kisses (she counted them) was private, it came with a Thornton’s Sicilian lemon bar. Not long after that he dumped her. She campaigned to win him back by buying a football and learning French. I didn’t quite get the French thing. Most of what she knew about relationships came from Disney films and books.

Romantic relationships are a key facet of life and can be introduced through literature quite early. Peter Pan’s love triangle with Wendy and Tink, Bert’s courteous admiration of Mary Poppins, and, more realistically, the romance which unfolds beautifully over nine volumes in Little House on the Prairie.

My own books are full of pairings: Jeopardine and Miss Spindle, Molly cook and Sly, Alas and Lucinda, Oy and Linnet, appear in book 1 of my Duldred trilogy. I very much enjoyed writing about these different, often humourous dynamics.

Literature offers a wonderful and very broad education in the varieties of courtship and the subtleties of human relationships.

It’s sad that this has largely been replaced by the anatomical biology lesson and the no less anatomical sexting of body images, or crudely stereotyped ‘lessons’ from poorly filtered cyber-dross.

By the age of fourteen I had seen Jo March choose mature love for an ageing mentor over a tempestuous match with the dashing, moody Laurie (I still think Prof Bhaer is icky). I had lived with the heavenly hellish obsessive love of Heathcliffe and Cathy. Social equality with the insipid Linley could not survive inequality of passion. Passion went beyond death. Scarlett O’Hara gave a master class in coquetry, wiles and manipulative pragmatism, but also spirit, courage and independence. Her adulterous yearnings for Ashley revealed the allure and idealisation of the forbidden. There was the slow burn of Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester. The quiet haven of modest, dependable character relieved the fast and literal burn of madness, danger and bestial beauty. In Sons and Lovers Mrs Morel mirrored my own mother, trapped and stunted by rough and narrow masculinity, while retaining her respect for the dignity of labour. If only Scarlett had been there to give Nancy a good talking to when she was abused by psycho Sikes. Then Mammy could have come out and sat on him.

It’s a long time since I’ve read any of these books. It would be interesting to go back and see what they now yield. I’m sure I missed much, but consciously and unconsciously, I learned from thousands of finely graded thoughts and emotions in their pages, all achieved with barely the flash of an ankle.

Implicit v explicit. I know which I prefer.

*** Book cover for Look At All The Women by Cathy Bryant Look At All The Women by Cathy Bryant

Look At All The Women is now available to buy from: The Mother’s Milk Bookshop (as a paperback and PDF) - we can ship books around the world! and as a paperback from It can also be ordered via your local bookshop. If you’d like to get involved in the ‘Look At All The Women’ carnival please find more details about it here: Please take the time to read and comment on the following fab posts submitted by some wonderful women: ‘Fantasy, love and oddity.’ — Cathy Bryant, guest posting at Mother’s Milk Books, shares two of her favourite poems about lovers from her second collection of poetry, Look At All The Women. ‘The Walnut Hearts’Marija Smits shares some ‘nutty’ poetry about love and reflects on the role good communication has on a harmonious relationship. Georgie St Clair shares her feelings on why we should indulge our passions as lovers in her lighthearted post — ‘Creative Lovers: Not Tonight Darling’. ‘The Lovers – Or What I Don’t Know About Love’ — Kimberly Jamison posts to her blog The Book Word what she has learnt about love from story books, people watching and her own life and wonders if she actually knows anything at all. ‘Implicit v Explicit’ — Ana Salote at Colouring Outside the Lines considers literature’s role in teaching children about relationships.

Monday, 19 May 2014

My Writing Process Blog Tour

First dip into the world of blog tours. I'm following on from Abigail Watkins. You can read about her writing process here

What am I working on?

My writing life is at an exciting stage. I’m collaborating on a number of projects but my main focus has to be the Waifs of Duldred fantasy series for ages 9 to adult.

Book 1, Oy Yew, was longlisted for the Times/Chicken House Award. After some near misses with the big six I’m delighted to be working with indie press, Mother’s Milk on the trilogy. I’m currently sorting out the tricky middle section of book 2. Managed to write for a sneaky two hours at work today - I'm self-employed so only myself to answer to.

This morning we had a production meeting for a beach panto to be staged this summer in Weston-super-Mare. It's based on the 1930s poem 'Albert and the Lion.' It brings Albert to Weston where he searches for lost treasure in the company of witches, pirates and dragons. We're using puppets and actors. I've really enjoyed writing for the show and am looking forward to seeing it realised.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I think the voice is different. I see a lot of chatty writing. I prefer the language of the classics: Mary Poppins, Peter Pan, The Wind in the Willows. They are my benchmark. I aspire to Philip Pullman's readership, the literary end of the crossover market. The themes run deep but there’s plenty of humour in the mix. 

Not following the crowd is both a weakness and a strength. It was wonderful to get this email from a commissioning editor for one of the big houses. She first read Oy Yew some time ago:
I have read and considered a fair number of submissions since then, but yours has stayed with me – the characters were lightly drawn and yet fully realised, and I so enjoyed the warmth of your writing. With so many authors writing either for the older age group (teen/YA) or for this age group but going down the slapstick humour route, it’s really quite rare to find such a lovely story with such a classic feel.

Despite her enthusiasm she played safe. If your work is eccentric - try the small presses.

Why do I write what I do?

So I can go there.

I want to go to the worlds evoked by WB Yeats: twilit places of wood smoke and leprechauns. Through the looking glass, laws and limits fall away. The characters are the sort you watch with awful fascination. My best writing happens when I step through the glass and scribe.

How does my writing process work?

The Duldred books started with chimneys: they have that mysterious portal quality. Then came Alas, the chimney sweep laden with fears and guilt. Oy crept in, extremely quietly, yet somehow demanding top billing.

Some scenes come chronologically and fully formed; others have to be worked at. I’m catching at language and images, consulting the mental hoard. Characters fill out and dictate events. The ending is decided somewhere in the middle. It’s random, organic, all over the place.

Sculpting comes later. 40,000 words are cut. 5,000 are put back. I draft and redraft, adjusting a sentence when the rhythm is off,  changing a word or action that isn’t true to character, varying the pace, strengthening the plot, adding signposts.

Then I leave it for at least a month. When I can read it without blushing it’s done.