I was pondering the impact of place names yesterday afternoon as I drove down the M5 to Worcester for a writers’ networking event, organised by Jonathan Davidson, Chief Executive of Writing West Midlands. When I first moved to Sutton Coldfield with my family, more than thirty years ago, the county of our address was Warwickshire, a name with a rural and picturesque ring to it, but soon after that, it was changed to West Midlands, which conjures up a distinctly urban and industrial landscape.
It was only quite recently that I fully realised that the term, ‘West Midlands’ has two meanings:
(1) the West Midlands metropolitan county,
(2) The West Midlands region which encompasses many rural shires, from Staffordshire to Herefordshire.
A meeting room had been booked in The Guesten (a beautifully restored Queen Anne House) in the grounds of Worcester Cathedral – a lovely setting. Jonathan introduced the proceedings by asking everyone to give a brief account of themselves as writers. I felt very privileged to have been invited to give a short presentation about my own writing and my publishing experiences to the 20 or more other writers present, many of whom were published authors and poets with decades of experience themselves.
After a brief welcome by Peter Spalton, who had helped organise the event, I was interested to learn more about Apples and Snakes, a national organisation which promotes the spoken word and describes itself as Poetry with Bite.
The presenter was Bohdan Piasecki, Programme Coordinator for the West Midlands, based at The Drum, in Birmingham. For me, the highlight of the afternoon was Bohdan’s response to a request for a demonstration of ‘performance poetry’ by delivering a poem of his own.
After a short pause, he announced that he’d try out a brand new piece that hadn’t yet been tested. It was brilliant. The silence that followed his performance spoke volumes – it took me a while to step out of the space he’d created, back into the reality of the present. My only complaint is that I haven’t got a paper version, or better still, a video clip, so that I can see and hear it over again.
As for my own talk, I enjoyed myself enormously. Somehow, when I’m addressing an audience of writers, I come away with renewed energy, and today was no exception. Talking to a group of readers produces a similar effect, but there’s something about sharing the experience with other writers that gives me an extra boost, especially when I’m explaining how and why I started Novel Press.
Yesterday’s event made me focus on my achievement in transforming a manuscript into hundreds of copies of a beautiful and totally professional paperback book, a good proportion of which have already been sold – and are still steadily making their way across the UK and around the world. Who knows what the future will hold for Novel Press?
It’s a whole week since my book launch and I still smile with delight when I go over the events of that evening, so I’m about to indulge myself shamelessly by giving a few more details of my conversation with Clarissa about Paper Lanterns, and how my writing career has been linked to our friendship as you can also see in my profile, published last week in the Birmingham Post, and now available to read on-line
As I said last week, we’d been treated royally by the Ikon Cafe staff, and you can read here about Clarissa’s comments on the food.
Friendships forged in childhood, especially those based on shared incarceration at boarding school, can last for a lifetime, and Clarissa felt that the best way of explaining how we’d met was to read a short extract from her autobiography, Spilling The Beans.
Our lives have taken very different paths through adulthood. It’s no secret that Clarissa is a recovering alcoholic, and when her drinking was getting more and more out of hand, I was so worried about her that I wrote a short story based on this.
I entered it for a competition run by BRMB and the Birmingham Readers & Writers Festival in 1985(the forerunner of the Birmingham Book festival) and I still have the clipping from the (then) Sutton Coldfield Times with the account of my prize winning story.
That was my first ever success with my writing, and in 2005, Clarissa was there to introduce me at the Birmingham Book Festival’s launch of my first novel,The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society.
Neither of us could have predicted this wonderful event and the changes in both of our lives 20 years later – Clarissa was no longer drinking and had forged an amazing new career for herself in television, and I was a published novelist at last.
We talked about other events in my writing career, and the ups and downs of my attempts to get published, and then I explained the ideas, inspirations and themes that produced Paper Lanterns. This included the story of how I discovered the original letters from 1920
First I read a long letter from the married English woman, and then the one from the young Chinese woman written 4 years before that to the same man. (I’ll post that one soon, but meanwhile, here’s an extract from the English woman. As I explained during the launch last Tuesday, I brought the dates forward to 1930, and changed the setting from Canton to Hong Kong, as this is a place I know well. In my novel, I’ve kept as closely as I could to the original letters, and have invented a series of journal entries, involving a totally fictional story line for a key section of Paper Lanterns.
Ah, Mr McFarlane, you are a disturber! What do you mean by upsetting the equilibrium of two highly respectable (!) ladies in their heretofore blissful states of married and single blessedness? And two at once, mind you! And you so young and all. The poor young idlers that we endeavour to teach to shoot must certainly not have got their money’s worth this morning and now at our first opportunity (recess) we two rush together to weep on each other’s shoulders for what we haven’t got and will never get. It’s a great bond, this being crazy about the same person. I only hope I’ll be able to preserve enough of a sense of decency from the wreck to give her the chance I wish I could take myself.
After these letters I read more extracts from the novel itself, and then went on to explain about the founding of Novel Press. I was delighted with the comments of Jonathan Davidson on the Writing West Midlands blog, where he suggests in his article “New Ways of Publishing” that:
“the means of production is moving away from being held in the hands of one conglomorate… Good writing will surface for us all to enjoy: poor writing won’t be quite so often foisted upon us in an attempt to get a return on investment or to distort our reading tastes for purely commercial gain.”
BEFORE YOU READ ABOUT Radio Wildfire Live, Click here for my BOOK COVER DESIGN CHALLENGE and give yourself the chance of winning a FREE copy of Paper Lanterns(CLOSING DATE: 31st December)
I’ve been so busy replying to the numerous kind people who entered, that that this is the first new post for a couple of weeks
One of the many nice things about the Writers’ Conference I attended a couple of weeks ago, was the chance of catching up with former writing friends and making new ones. The only other Writing Conference I’d attended was a residential weekend in Winchester in June 2008. It was inspiring, informative and great fun, and it made me wonder why there was never anything like that in Birmingham. (Even the East Midlands seemed to have more going on for writers then those of us in the West)
That is, until Jonathan Davidson puts things right with his Writers’ Toolkit. James Walker, a writer from East Mids, has written an excellent report of that day – I’ve just spent time I haven’t really got to spare, browsing his own site. But then again, he’s saved me some of that time by expressing a lot of what I’d intended to say myself.
So now I can skip that and get to Dave Reeves, director and programmer of Radio Wildfire,a spoken word radio station that streams content 24 hours a day over the internet. It’s the LIVE transmission that is the really exciting part for me, as Dave has invited me to take part in this TOMORROW, Monday 7th December, between 8.00 and 10.00 pm UK time.
Dave has a great way with words – I’d sent him a few short paragraphs about my writing life, and here’s how he introduces his Monday evening guests: “A Laureate, a Plinther, and a mountain climbing Guinness drinker.” (that last phrase is the way he’s chosen to present me – it’s made me quite nostalgic for those far off days in Dublin)
The Laureate and Plinther is Adrian Johnson, “the current Birmingham Poet Laureate and a man with an enthusiasm for storytelling… Earlier this year he became a ‘plinther’ in Trafalgar Square, standing in the sunshine at 3pm on a Saturday - almost exactly 20 years from when the Poll Tax riot erupted on 31 March 1990.” He’s a great performer of his own poems, and from this YouTube video,it looks as though it’ll be a lively evening.
Here’s the more serious part of what Dave has written about me: “Christine Coleman’s first novel The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society came out in 2005. While that was mainly set in Birmingham and Sutton Coldfield, her forthcoming book, Paper Lanterns, was inspired by finding a cache of love letters written in China by two separate women to the same man.”
And there’ll be a lot more to squeeze into this couple of hours:
“Amongst the artists we’ll be playing from CD is Coventry based Chris Hoskins from her collection of monologues Relatively Speaking, and singing with the superb a’cappella trio Free Harmony. And there’ll be some of the sort of Christmas literary offerings that you’ll only get on Radio Wildfire as we look at office parties with Roz Goddard; Christmas presents with Brendan Hawthorne; and reinterpret a couple of well worn seasonal tales.”
And now I’d better go and sort out which extracts from my books the listeners might like to hear me reading on Monday evening