Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Poems for multiple voices

When Carolyn Howard Johnson reviewed my poetry book Fool’s Paradise as “Very experimental. Wholly original” I was surprised. Of course I don’t think of what I write as particularly original, what I write feels normal.  So Caroline’s review made me think, after all Caroline is a multi award-winning poet.

As I have said in previous post I was blessed with being taught by an inspiring creative English teacher – Elizabeth Webster – who introduced me to the work of some wonderful and great poets. In particular she introduced me to the work of the British poets of the early to mid twentieth century – T S Eliot, Dylan Thomas and Louis MacNeice. And surprise, surprise the works she first introduced me to were all verse plays: Murder in the Cathedral by T S Eliot, Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas and The Dark Tower by Louis MacNeice. 

Those early readings were etched into my memory and, I suspect, my poetic DNA. Every year at this time on the cusp of winter I find myself repeating the lines from the opening chorus of Murder in the Cathedral:
Since golden October declined into sombre November
And the apples were gathered and stored, and the land became brown sharp points of death in a waste of water and mud

What is more under her direction I acted in a number of verse plays – including Under Milk Wood and plays by another British verse play writer Christopher Fry. Plays like Under Milk Woodand Louis MacNeice’s Dark Tower were written to be performed on radio, the BBC was a major sponsor of verse drama. But the roots of poetic dramas are deep in the beginnings of theatre. When I was twelve or thirteen I performed in a production of Alcestis by Euripides, first performed in the 5th century BC. I can still remember some of the lines:Daughter of Pelias fare thee well. May joy be thine in the sunless houses.

Just listen to the cadences in that one line. And of course there was Shakespeare. I was playing Caliban in The Tempest at the age of twelve, loving the poetry in the play (Caliban has the isle is full of voices speech) and realizing how verse can by woven into drama. Later I was to play Viola in Twelfth Night – another character with some great poetry. 

The poetry group at the Arts Centre, which Elizabeth ran and of which I was a member, gave regular readings and in one of these we performed MacNeice’s The Dark Tower and in another extracts of Blood Wedding by Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca. The poetry group with its emphasis on reading aloud taught me the importance of poetry as performance. Some of the best poems, even when not written to be read by different voices, are dramatic. And some, such as Eliot’s Four Quartets, although not written as plays nevertheless have different voices woven into them. My long poem called Poem for Voices, is the same.

You can see why writing poetry for different voices is so natural to me.  I don’t always write for voices, many of my poems are to be spoken by one voice. But writing for voices allows me to explore textures, emotions and forms in a unique way. This approach, which was once so prevalent, is now so unusual that Carolyn comments on it. Have I developed it further? I don’t know. It’s just how I write sometimes. But then it does seem to me that if people claim their work is original and experimental it almost certainly isn’t. 

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Desert Island Books - Jane Eyre

Orphaned Jane Eyre grows up in the home of her heartless aunt, where she endures loneliness and cruelty, and at a charity school with a harsh regime. This troubled childhood strengthens Jane’s natural independence and spirit – which prove necessary when she finds a position as governess at Thornfield Hall. But when she finds love with her sardonic employer, Rochester, the discovery of his terrible secret forces her to make a choice. Should she stay with him and live with the consequences, or follow her convictions, even if it means leaving the man she loves?

Jane Eyre was the first “grown-up” book I read. I must have been about eleven, when I discovered I could read adult books. I loved the book and reread it regularly through my teens and still read it occasionally. I think Jane Eyre is an ideal book for teenage girls. I identified with the heroine, as did Charlotte Bronte. Like Jane I felt unattractive and awkward in society. I admired her resilience and spirit and I was delighted when Rochester expressed his love for her. My love of the book was reenforced by an excellent BBC TV series starring Sorcha Cusack in the title role and Michael Jayston as Rochester. It was shown in the early evening on Sundays, and I was always worried that I would not get back from rehearsals at the Arts Centre, but I didn’t miss any of it. It was only later that I discovered that Elizabeth Webster, the director, was also a fan and so stopped rehearsals with time to spare. Michael Jayston was the ideal Rochester, not particularly handsome but with the sexiest voice! He was my first crush.

Now that I am mature woman I find new depths in the book. The psychology of the book is spot-on. What is it that attracts a rich man of the world like Rochester to the plain inexperienced Jane? He has been surrounded by women who flatter him because he is rich, Jane is totally unlike them, she speaks the truth. He does not know what to make of her and wants to know more. But there is more than unfamiliarity – on the surface Jane is reserved, but underneath she is capable of passion. In the second scene between them Rochester examines Jane’s weird paintings in which her imagination takes her to the northern seas. How like the book’s writer: her imagination escaping the restrictions of her life?

The Jane Eyre plot is a classic Cinderella/ugly duckling story.  There are only so many plots and this is one of the most common. It is a plot that I have used in my trilogy The Healer’s Shadowtrilogy. Some people say that Jane Eyre is a Cinderella meets Bluebeard plot, but they are wrong.  Bluebeard is a psychopath that destroys the female, Rochester may have a first wife in a tower, but she is alive, as Jane discovers to her cost.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Photo Inspiration - Forest

I took this photo in the Forest of Dean last Sunday. I love the forest. When I was a little girl I stayed with my grandmother in Berryhill, not far from Symonds Yat. My house in the Czech Republic is only fifteen minutes walk from the forest. When I can’t write, I take a basket and wander through the trees looking for mushrooms.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Desert Island Books - Earthsea books

A superb four-part fantasy, comparable with the work of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, the “Earthsea” books follow the fortunes of the wizard Ged from his childhood to an age where magic is giving way to evil. As a young dragonlord, Ged, whose use-name is Sparrowhawk, is sent to the island of Roke to learn the true way of magic. A natural magician, Ged becomes an Archmage and helps the High Priestess Tenar escape from the labyrinth of darkness. But as the years pass, true magic and ancient ways are forced to submit to the powers of evil and death.
Goodreads description

I managed to not read Ursula Le Guin’s books as a child and a teenager. It was not until my student son read The Wizard of Earthsea and told me that I would love it, that at last I settled down with the book.He was right, I loved it and all the other Earthsea books. Why, oh why did I wait so long? Maybe because I wrongly thought of them as children’s books. They can be read by children, but an adult reader will get so much more from Le Guin’s writings. What makes Le Guin so special?Le Guin has a genius for world creation  – Earthsea feels like somewhere I know and will know. Sometimes, as with my own fictional worlds, I come upon a place in this world which is Earthsea. Of course every reader will have a different Earthsea; Le Guin is brilliant at giving enough but not too much description so that we each can see our own vision. The same is true of the descriptions of her characters. I have an image of each, but what I remember tends not to be their physical appearance, but their thoughts, motives, loves and fears. For all Le Guin’s genius in world-making, she writes about humanity.

I love the way she is able to create fantastic worlds which allow her to explore big issues. In the Wizard of Earthsea, the first Earthsea book, the young hero makes an error of judgement and must face the consequences. In Jungian psychology all that we dislike and repress about ourselves is called our shadow. In order to be fully mature we must turn, face it and name it, something most of us fail to do. This happens quite literally in the Wizard of Earthsea. There are other similarly important themes in her other books.I had been a poet, playing with symbols and metaphors. Le Guin showed me that this was possible in a novel too and that it was possible to do this whilst telling a good story.
Ursula Le Guin inspired me to start writing novels. And she even provided the best book I know on writing – Steering the Craft.

This morning my new book Love of Shadows had its first review on Amazon and Goodreads. In it the reviewer says that she thought the series “similar to Ursula Le Guin’s books set in the fictional country of Orsinia”. I could not be more honoured by a comparison.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Photo Inspiration - Olsina

This is a photo of Lake Olsina in Southern Bohemia. I can walk here from my Czech house. It’s a very special place for me. It is set in a natural bowl formed by the surrounding hills. One of its attractions is that it is undisturbed. Much of the surrounding forests are in a military zone, which means that it is accessible only at weekends and that building is restricted in the locality.

The lake is man-made – a renaissance fishpond, which is still farmed today. Every other Autumn (in October or November) the sluices are opened and the lake drained. The carp are herded into the nets of the waiting fishermen. My friend Hannah had an old cottage next to the lake and I stayed with her one year, waking at 6 to watch the harvest. Crowds gathered to watch and buy fresh fish. When everyone had gone, it was the turn of the water birds to arrive – gulls of course, but also herons and white egrets.

At other times I have watched the mating dance of crested grebes rising and bowing on the still surface of the lake. In the summer Hannah and I would go swimming in the lake’s now warm waters, with the carp blowing bubbles around us or we would wander into the forest to collect wild mushrooms.

On the day of Hannah’s funeral I came to Olsina and launched a little paper boat on the waters in remembrance of her. In the boat’s prow I set a picture she had painted of a man waving. The boat bobbed in the current before disappearing round a small headland. My farewell said, I returned to my car and drove home. Later when I looked closer at the picture I saw that it was titled “Crossing Lethe.”

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Desert Island Books - Weirdstone of Brisingamen

A tale of Alderley
When Colin and Susan are pursued by eerie creatures across Alderley Edge, they are saved by the Wizard. He takes them into the caves of Fundindelve, where he watches over the enchanted sleep of one hundred and forty knights.

But the heart of the magic that binds them – Firefrost, also known as the Weirdstone of Brisingamen – has been lost. The Wizard has been searching for the stone for more than 100 years, but the forces of evil are closing in, determined to possess and destroy its special power.

Colin and Susan realise at last that they are the key to the Weirdstone’s return. But how can two children defeat the Morrigan and her deadly brood?
Amazon description

This (and Moon of Gomrath, the second book in the Alderley trilogy) has to be my all-time  favourite book from my childhood.  I remember arguing with my teacher Elizabeth Webster that Alan Garner’s stories were better than Tolkien’s.

What makes this so great is the authenticity of the stories – they are based on real localities (Alderley Edge) and local myths. They are fantasy, but their roots are in the hills of Cheshire and British mythology. Garner arguably gave me my first introduction to magic realism, the genre in which I write. I could have chosen other books by this writer – The Owl Service, Elidor and of course the great Red Shift, but Weirdstone was how I first experienced Garner’s work and so it holds a special place in my heart.

Whether the book had such a strong hold on me (which it retains) because it chimed with my vision of the world – history and myth woven in to the present – or because it informed my view is impossible to say now. But I read this book over and over again throughout my childhood, delighting in Garner’s wonderful descriptions – the account of Colin and Susan’s journey through the disused mineworkings of the Edge beats the journey through the Mines of Moria into a cocked hat.

After many years Garner has just published the sequel – a book for adults called Bonelands. It’s on the list of what I want for Christmas. That’s if I can wait that long.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

My fox - World Animal Day Blog Hop

The first thing I do when I arrive back at my house in the Czech Republic, even before I unlock the door, is rub the muzzle of the fox door knocker. It is an old farmhouse on a hill called Liski  Dira (Fox Hole in Czech) and the house is just like a fox with its haunches buried into the earth. As I lie in bed at night sometimes I can hear a vixen calling in the orchards above. The village dogs respond with frantic barking, but you can hear the fox laughing at them. “You have sold your freedom for a bowl of meat,” she says. “I have the moon and all the dark spaces in the forest.”

When I first bought the house I didn’t see any foxes, perhaps I was too busy restoring the house. I certainly wasn’t writing, although I had bought the house as a writing retreat. One evening as a taxi brought me from the station a fox crossed the road in the headlamp beam. “Liska,” said the driver with a smile. The following day I walked down from the woods with a basket of chanterelle mushrooms, called lisky (foxes) in Czech. It had started raining as I picked them and now it was sheeting down, so my head was bowed. Then I looked up and there standing in the middle of the lane a few yards away was a large fox looking straight at me. It contemplated me for a while and then trotted off across the fields. When we lived in London we were used to the brazen nature of town foxes, and  even had a family of them sharing the garden with our cat, but in the countryside foxes are shy of humans. I told my Czech friend about the meetings with the fox. “That’s wonderful,” she said. “Foxes are lucky in this country, just like black cats in England. No wonder the taxi driver was pleased when a fox crossed your path. They are meant to be the familiars of witches, you know.”

After that sighting, the fox started to appear to me all the time and as it did so I began to write again. It seemed the fox was now my familiar and a bringer of words. Then during one stay in the house I didn’t see my fox at all and yet I still managed to write. My husband was visiting from the UK and as we stood in the back bedroom I commented on my fox’s absence. He grinned and said “Zoe turn round and look out of the window.” There, only a few feet away from us, my fox was strolling through the orchard. 

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Toadstools - Photo Inspiration

How about these for classic fairytale toadstools? You can almost see one of the little people sitting on the top of them, can’t you? Fly agaric is the correct name. It’s not for eating, in fact a good rule is not to eat  red mushrooms. Fly agaric is a hallucinatory mushroom and eating it is said to give you the sensation of flying. It is a therefore part of many a shaman’s toolkit.

There are tales of reindeer eating the mushroom and staggering around trying to fly. Maybe Rudolf had eaten one too many!