Tag Archives: Stroud

The quest for pretty things

IMAG0354I live in a small flat, and it’s not a property innately full of character. Lots of little boxes, and when I first landed, lots of white walls, beige carpet and all the personality of a motel or travelodge. I’ve been working on improving that.

I like playing with fabric, it’s something I can do in my downtime that has little or no cost and some utility. I’ve also discovered that if I sit down to do some crafting, it gives me the necessary headspace to think about writing fiction. I can use it for breaks between scenes while I’m gathering thoughts, as an offset to block and a way of creating space for the writing. I’m seldom in a state where I can just sit down and write, and crafting helps with the transition. So, this was made alongside quite a lot of story.

The underpinning is a hessian sack (bought from the Stroud Valley’s eco-shop). To this I added blue and green background fabrics, and the patches of colour in the centre (fabric mostly sourced from freecycle). The leaves, flowers, trees and birds all came from swatches of curtain samples, picked up very cheaply (fabric shop in Mills Courtyard). I pinned all of this to my sack, sewed it down and embroidered the edges and the bird (there’s a fantastic haberdashery near Bank Gardens for embroidery silks). The frame is wool spun by Theo, which I knitted using an adaptation of her pointy scarf pattern.

It now adorns the back of the bedroom door, hanging from a door-towel-hook-thing, and the ‘pole’ across the top of the fabric, is a bound together bundle of aluminium slats from a cheap blind I picked up in order to Frankenstein it into a much more cheery Roman blind. I don’t waste much. I’m now plotting a second one of these hangings, to cover a glass door, and afford a bit more privacy for anyone staying over. My son was so enthused by the first one that he’s asked to be involved in the design and layout stage of the second, although he doesn’t have the needle skills for the sewing (yet) but is inclined to learn

Stroud Short Stories

One of the things about being an author is that you spend a lot of time doing things you know are long shots, and probably won’t amount to anything. Every approach to publishers, agents, magazines, media outlets, competitions, bookshops, festivals and so forth feels that way, and all too often what you send out into the world disappears in silence.

It doesn’t help that the stories about writing are all about the successes, because no one likes to talk about failure, or the streams of setbacks, the frustrations and moments of being so demoralised that you want to quit. No one talks much about the people who quit, either. There’s a lot of it out there.

Obviously some of my long shots have worked – I’ve got books with Moon Books, I’ve had two graphic novels published, there’s the Prof Elemental novel, I write for Sage Woman blog and Pagan Dawn Magazine and podcast stories for nerdbong… and that’s all very visible. What is less obvious from the outside is all the things that don’t work out. For everything that went somewhere, there are dozens that didn’t, submissions and entries that didn’t match the project, events for which no one was interested in me, book signings that were quiet, bookshops that come back and say ‘you’re not commercial enough’ (Nailsworth!) or ‘I don’t like graphic novels’ (Gloucester). It can be bloody frustrating some days.

It’s so easy to build a bubble around a few books and imagine you’re getting somewhere, but in reality for all that I have an array of books to my name, I only usually get things done by banging on people’s doors and asking, and that’s true for any creative person who isn’t a household name. Even those who appear to have made it can find, a few years later that they’re back to banging on doors and passing round hats again.

I’m saying this for context. Much to my amazement, one of the long shots hurled into the wind actually came to something. I entered Stroud Short Story competition a while back. Apparently in all there were some 64 authors submitting 82 stories. My story got through, and I will be reading it on Sunday 26 October at SVA (Stroud Valleys Artspace), John Street, Stroud GL5 2HA. Doors open at 7.30. Prompt start at 8.00. It’s £5. As I’ve done a fair amount of reading for the nerdbong podcast, and have some experience performing as a musician, the reading in public part isn’t as intimidating as it might be.

It’s a first person story, so it means I can really use my voice as an instrument. I wrote it for the contest, aware that the end result *could* be a public reading, and that influenced my approach. First person works better than third if you’re voicing something, it creates immediacy and drama. I’ve listened to a lot of spoken short stories, to storytelling and to radio drama, and it doesn’t work in quite the same way as the written word. I think somewhere after the 26th, I’ll either record it, or put it on here for people to read. It is a dark tale. I’ve been doing a lot of more comic stuff lately, for the podcast and writing with Professor Elemental, so it’s good to change track for a while and do something different.

Here are the readers for the 26th, in (librarians’) alphabetical order by title –

Barry Parry – Andrew Stevenson   (Nailsworth)

Erosion – Michael Amherst   (Tewkesbury)

The Handmaiden – Stephanie Smith   (Broadwell, Forest of Dean)

Imaginary friends – Nimue Brown   (Stroud)

J – Laurence Cotterell   (Cam)

Preparing for winter – Ali Bacon   (Emersons Green, South Glos)

Public transportation – Jo Bousfield   (Stroud)

Signing off – Alice Jolly   (Stroud)

The Tigers’ ball – Joe Eurell   (Cheltenham)

Trog and Kron attempt to re-fuel – Philip Douch   (Stroud)



Nothing Changes in Stroud

Last night I went to a Spaniel in the Works production – Nothing Changes, part of the Stroud Theatre Festival. It’s an updated take on Robert Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, re-written by John Bassett and much to my surprise, there were songs in it. I’ve not read the original book, but it’s on the kindle awaiting a day or ten when I have time to do it justice. However, after poking around online for a plot synopsis, it’s evident this hundred year old tale of poverty and inequality didn’t need much re-jjgging to fit in a modern context. As the title says, Nothing Changes.

You’d think after a hundred years, we might have made some headway, but the horrendous social setbacks this country has endured under Tory leadership are in many ways enabled by the same issues that were apparently at play a century ago. Considering the ways in which we do it to ourselves, is not a comfortable business. Without the co-operation of its workers and consumers, big business would not be able to pillage so successfully. We are still far too willing to accept that the affluent somehow earn or deserve their massive bonuses, government handouts, and disproportionate share of the profits. Those of us nearer the bottom than the top will all too readily buy into the idea of a natural order of things that put us here. We know our place…

One of the things the play explores is the way in which creating a profit margin contributes to screwing the masses. Profit is the difference between what a thing costs and what you can sell it for. To achieve profit, you push down the costs as far as you can – that invariably means paying your workers as little as possible and giving them as few benefits as you can get away with. Then on the other side of the equation, you have to get your buyers to pay as far above the actual worth of the product as you can. Meanwhile the difference between cost and price delivers cash to shareholders, who did not contribute a great deal of effort to the process. The money that is invested is given a far higher value than the work, by such a system.

If you reward people for having money, you will inevitably keep the money flowing towards the people who have it. That’s what we do. As the saying goes, if it was hard work that led to wealth, African women would be the most affluent people on the planet.

Is there anything natural, inevitable or unchangeable about what we’ve got? I don’t think so. Neither, evidently, did playwright John Bassett. Change is possible. However, to make changes we have to stop buying into the existing system, and stop assuming that there are no other options. We have to imagine that money itself might not be the thing to prize most highly. The profit orientated exploitation system inherent in capitalism is not the only way. Co-operatives, crowd sourcing, small companies, local projects… there are better, fairer and happier ways of underpinning an economy.

More about Stroud Theatre Festival here – http://www.stroudtheatrefestival.co.uk/performances.html

Democracy is in danger, from us

Yesterday I was out in the streets of Stroud with a lot of other people, raising awareness of the Trans-Atlantic trade deal under way and its grim implications for democracy. I think big corporations have too much influence as it is, giving them more power is not a good thing. http://www.38degrees.org.uk/ttip is you haven’t signed the petition yet.

I had a lot of really good conversations with people. I had a lot more where I said ‘this is a real threat to democracy’ and people shrugged, or said ‘I’m not interested’ and walked away. I can’t help but feel if I’d said ‘this is about a real threat to your television watching’ they would have cared. Such are our priorities.

People died to get us the democracy we have. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than many of the options. And yet we’re so complacent about it, and so blind to our own power and responsibility. We’ll abdicate power to any outfit that wants it. We’ll shrug, not wanting to make the effort to know, not wanting the inconvenience of getting involved. I can’t help but feel that if we act that way, we will get what we collectively deserve, namely a ticket back to the dark ages with our hard won rights stripped from us.

We all have power and we all have responsibility, it’s just that the vast majority of people prefer to ignore it. If we all decided, today, to fix all the inequalities in the world, sort out long term sustainability, deal with climate change and protect species from extinction, we would be well on the way to fixing every problem there is within the week. All we have to do, is do it. All we need, is the collective will, and that collective will is made up of individuals getting their bottoms into gear. Democracy is us, and if we bare our necks to the teeth of the corporate vampires, we really shouldn’t be surprised if they bite us.

I love 38 degrees. People led, people funded, doing what it can, and getting results. Every time you see a UK news item where the government have changed direction, there’s usually been a campaigning group in the mix, pushing for just that. Hundreds of thousands of people have roared, and something has shifted. Some of those wins are small, but every win counts. You can tell it works because they’re trying to legislate to shut us down around elections.

I think crowd-based campaigning, coupled with crowdfunding, are the future. When we come together to make things happen, we make things happen, and that enables a lively, active kind of democracy. Anyone who shrugs and walks away loses their voice in that, and may not like what it gets them, but that’s also part of what democracy means – choosing not to speak up means choosing not to have a voice. If enough of us can’t be bothered, then a small minority rules unchallenged. It’s like feudalism, only without the leprosy. Although saying that, if we privatise health so that the poor cannot afford care, (and TTIP makes that more likely) we open the door to get our mediaeval illnesses back. Because everyone loves the romance of weeping sores and untreated cancerous growths, right?

Tiger feet

IMAG0331At the end of September, the 5 Valleys Walk around Stroud happens – an annual event raising money for meningitis charities. 21 miles up and down hills makes it quite a challenge. However, we’re doing it – all three of us – and the boy (he’ll be 12) is fundraising. At time of writing he has over £200 of sponsorship pledged (thank you everyone who has donated so far). We’d set an original target of raising £100 so the support has far exceeded our expectations already.

Meningitis can kill, and leaves many survivors damaged, so the charity – Meningitis Now – is about research and rebuilding lives.

As we do a lot of walking, and a fair amount of going up and down hills, we think we can manage this. I’ve done it before – a long time ago, in the rain. It’s further than we’d normally walk. We thought about doing it last year, but did not feel equal to the challenge. This year I’m a lot fitter and healthier, the boy has radically improved stamina, and as Tom has always had elf-feet, we assume he’ll be fine. We adults are going as support crew for the lad, and donating to participate. All the fundraising is his.

So, if you can spare a pound or two  to support both the boy and the cause, that would be awesome. He’s been really inspired by how people are responding to him and will give the challenge everything he’s got. And otherwise, take a moment to familiarise yourself with the symptoms  because meningitis strikes rapidly and being able to spot it quickly makes worlds of difference.

The photo shows James outside a barrow, on the day we tested out his new walking boots. He’s very proud of the boots, and of what he can do in them.

The ultimate punchline

Nothing puts life in perspective like death. Other people’s deaths can give us a lot of perspective on what matters and doesn’t in our own lives. An awareness of our own mortality will get us thinking about how we really want to use our time. Death-aware people make very different choices (there was a study, it was in New Scientist) tending to lose interest in consumerism and becoming more concerned about quality of life. So, from a practical perspective, one of the easiest ways to get people engaging with greener approaches to living, is to get them thinking about dying.

On Friday, as my contribution to Stroud’s Clocking Off Festival I will be encouraging people to consider their own demise.  As that’s not a wholly comfortable subject, there will be every encouragement to joke about, write things in terrible taste, big yourself up and otherwise not be too serious about it. I’m a big believer in using the ridiculous to help tackle the painfully difficult.

So, if you fancy coming and talking about death, thinking about death, taking a sideways look at your own journey down the curtain to join the choir invisible in a context that will provide both cake and giggles do join me!… And yes, that means cake or death…

Or possibly both. But the cake is very good, because we will be in Black Books Cafe  from 7.30 on Friday the 11th July. £2.50 on the door, all proceeds going to the funding of the Clocking Off Festival.




Cake and tentacles



Bird dances with moon































Today we are out as part of the Open Studios bit of Stroud’s SITE festival we aren’t in the program, we aren’t opening a studio, but our kind friend Grizelda Holderness invited us to do a stint at her show in Woodruffs cafe, and so ‘Cake and tentacles’ was born. Woodruffs will be supplying the cake! Tom may supply the tentacles, as he will be propped against a table, drawing. And as for me…

I said I’d write silly verses and flash fiction to order. On a good day, I can do small custom pieces on demand. On a good day, the inspiration and words flow with ease. How do we tell if it’s a good day? I won’t know until I get there. Fun and games! Nervous? Only a lot.