29 May 2009

What is the blogosphere equivalent of a birth announcement?

Someone more clever than I feel right now needs to come up with that one... In the meantime join me in welcoming fellow-Brussels-based writer Tonnie Walls to this brave new world. Don't miss his first post.

The value of exercise

I am nearly there with the poem I'm submitting for this month's Guardian Poetry Workshop. I have worked on the exercise steadily since last week. I had something I was "OK" with.... Something I could have lived with. It didn't thrill me. But I kept going.

Then on Monday I had to come up with a "literary exercise" for my writers workshop. I might have explained this before, but maybe not. Every two weeks, I meet with some other writers. We read and give feedback on each others' work. But we also are meant to do a "literary exercise" -- to write, in any form, on any subject we want, a brief piece to read aloud at the start of the meeting. On Monday, of course, I realized I hadn't done one yet, and sat down with my notebook looking for clues. I tried one thing -- nope. Then another thing -- nope. And then I found some notes that I'd made for the GPW poem.... Bits that hadn't made it to the piece I was working on.

And I thought: why not? Maybe I can do something with them now.

Well, it was a breakthrough.

This is not the first time that an exercise has surprised me. But once again I am astounded at how just playing can ... work. Within seconds I felt I was onto something good. I've been tweaking the resulting poem ever since. This one does excite me. I'm going to submit it this weekend. If it doesn't make the results piece, I'll post the poem here.

But cross your fingers for me -- maybe it will make the cut.

28 May 2009

The to-do list beckons...

To shop for: hair clip. bananas. orange juice. something for dinner.

To research: poetry and rhyming. why do so many (contemporary) poets not do it?

To remember: Monday is a holiday. The grocery stores won't be open.

To email: Vincent, re Button. Perhaps we can record it Monday.

To edit: my next sumission. I want to mail it next week.

To prepare: May stats for a blog post.

To explore: the question of shame.

Poetry: it isn't just for breakfast anymore

Commentary from Norman Geras on THAT poetry saga....

And more about Salt in The Guardian....

Plus, all sorts to disover on Poetry Season including quote of the moment from writer Patrick Neate who says
Some people think poetry's all black coffee and angst. They're not wholly right.

You can read on here....

Feeling the Block? Hitting the wall?

Check out the post and discussion at Strictly Writing.

image from Wikimedia.

27 May 2009

Salt is worth saving...

I first came across Salt Magazine when I started submitting poetry for publication, and was amazed at how few online options there were. Little did I realize then but Salt Online is part of a much larger operation, Salt Publishing, an independent publisher of fiction and poetry all over the world. Among those you might have heard of are Tobias Hill, John Hartley Williams, Jane Holland, and John Siddique (hm, him again!). But there are so many others....

What's great about Salt is that they are
passionate about breaking great new talent and rediscovering writers. We love finding readers and supporting books (and genres) that truly matter. We love brave books and writers who take risks.

Chris and Jen Hamilton-Emery love their list so much they gave up corporate life (health, wealth, mental stability and a big fat Audi A6) to run a family business with domestic publishing programmes in the UK, USA and Australia....
(from Salt's Facebook group description).

One week ago Salt asked for help: affected by the economic downturn, sales were down 80%, leaving a gargantuan budget deficit. Salt's publishers turned to the internet, asking

Please buy just one book, right now. We don't mind from where, you can buy it from us or from Amazon, your local shop or megastore, online or offline. If you buy just one book now, you'll help to save Salt. Timing is absolutely everything here. We need cash now to stay afloat. If you love literature, help keep it alive. All it takes is just one book sale. Go to our online store and help us keep going.

UK and International


You can read what's happened since here, but warning, you might need to get out your hankie.

It's wonderful, the power of the internet -- which is really, when it comes down to it, the power of individual people.

Of course, one week's infusion of support won't be sufficient. That's why I'm running this today. Salt is worth saving in the long term. I'll even throw in a sweetener: If you buy a Salt book and write a review, I'll post it here on the blog.

26 May 2009

eBook + GPS =


(We're on an e-roll today, I guess we'll just go with it. Thanks, SGL!)

Help with publishing math

I'm having trouble understanding the costs of print editions of things vs their digital edition costs -- can somebody help?

The other day I received an offer from a magazine I read regularly, which I purchase from a local bookship via standing arrangement.

The offer was for a standard "European" subscription (the magazine is UK-based) of £24 for one year. Along-side this was a standard digital subscription for £19 for one year.

Hm, I thought. That is only a £5 total difference. What about the printing costs that are being saved? No fancy paper, no four-colour glossy. What about distribution? There's no mailing cost. No delivery costs. No sorting. No stamping or weighing.

The magazine is a quarterly, so that's a £1,25 per issue difference.

Is that really all the paper, printing, warehousing, handling and posting costs per single issue?

I put the question to my writers workshop last night. General consensus was that digital-only editions should be about half of a standard print product.

Of course, none of us are (yet) publishers. One will soon be a small one.

Also, this was very informal and off-the-cuff.

However, I think our general gut reaction is telling. Even if print/distristribution costs are only about 20% of a magazine's cost, the reduction from £24 to £19 sure doesn't seem like enough of an enticement for a product that you can only read on-line. There's something else going on psychologically.... Something along the lines of, if we (readers/subscribers) don't get something tangible, physical, that we can take to the beach or read in the bath, a 20% reduction in price isn't going to cut it.

But I'd love to hear your thoughts on this -- and see your math, if possible!

See also
Calulating a fair price for e-books
Switch11's Kindle book cost analysis

Good old Beeb

It's a shame about Ruth, Derek, and the whole top-dog Oxford thing. But if you want to get back in touch with what poetry's really all about, check out the BBC, where it is Poetry Season. Thank goodness. (Thanks for the tip, SGL.)

25 May 2009

Poetry: sex and power shocker. Is this Oxford or EastEnders?

Well, now you have it. And here, too, if you prefer the Guardian. Leading poets vie for top Oxford spot -- or a guest week on EastEnders!

Episode one: Someone, anonymously, tips off press about one candidate's sexual misbehaviours (because the press are sure to miss that!)... The other most likely candidate denies she's involved. So unfortunate, but nothing to do with her. Nick Cotton looks suspicious.

Episode two: The first candidate does, indeed, have quite a history of sexual predation, practised largely on his female students. Although he probably would have been given the post, he withdraws his candidacy. Will Phil start drinking again?

Episode three: The rest of the square takes sides. Stacey wears the shortest skirt in the history of television.

Episode four: The "tipper" gets the spot. Billy faces his fears.

Episode five: It comes out that the that the tipper emailed the press about her opponent's history. The tipper admits it. Her former supporters call for her to step down, but she refuses... Peggy throws the lot of them out of the Vic.

23 May 2009

Elsewhere on the internet,

Editortial Ass gives a very good description of the possibilities for making money with your book (you know, royalties and advances and stuff like that).

I must go down to the sea again...

Came home from eating pizza last night and stumbled upon a fantastic programme, Off by Heart on BBC 2. If you can catch it on the BBC iPlayer, do so... The show charts Britain’s first national poetry recitation contest, following the 12 finalists. They are kids from all over the UK, of all different backgrounds, all between seven and 11 years old. By the middle of the show we were chanting the poems right along with them.... They had to do "Sea Fever" (first line above) by John Masefield, plus another poem of their choice. Many chose Roald Dahl's "Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf", but two did cats from T.S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (first edition cover image, left). Positively inspirational.

20 May 2009

Belgian holiday

It's a public holiday here tomorrow, so I don't know whether I'll get a chance to post. I'll catch up with you later! Bye for now....

19 May 2009

New poetry workshop!

On the Guardian. With John Siddique*. Check it out -- and happy writing!

*(OK, I admit, I've never heard of him either. But he sounds like a good sort.)

What am I willing to do?

There are times I have to ask myself: what am I willing to do?

For instance....

Why am I willing to embark on a training course for something completely unrelated to writing, when what I want to do in my heart of hearts is be a writer, a published writer, maybe even a well-paid published writer?

I have been considering taking up a part-time course that would last at least 2 years. I was motivated to do this by the deathly dullness of my day job. However, even assuming I passed the course with flying colours, it wouldn't mean I would be able to quit the day job. It would just mean I could ease the pain a little.

But while easing the pain a little sounds OK in theory, the truth is, this isn't what I really want to do. And the time I would need to do it in would not come out of the day job. We all know what would be sacrificed.... Writing time. That precious substance.

And why am I willing to shift time around, including 4 tutorial weekends per year, for this training course, but not for my writing projects?

Why do I think I am justified in asking for help with those weekends (e.g., with the children), but not for writing-related weekends?

I've been dreaming of taking an Arvon course in November, Starting to Write a Novel. But if I start this other thing, I won't be able to do that.

The bottom line question is, why don't I put my efforts into what I really want?

Sometimes I feel like I used to know how to do that: do what I wanted. Did I use up all my selfishness? How can I get it back?

18 May 2009

Find an Agent! Win a Website! Woo-hoo!

Are you at the "I need an agent" stage? Do you hope to be one day? Well, then check out QueryTracker -- either the website or the blog. The website is a database that both (1) gathers information about writers experiences with queries and agents, and (2) can help you find an agent. The blog has posts to help you write a synopsis, a one-sentence pitch, the all-important query letter, and so forth. Because it is a jungle out there in the publishing world, and far too often we writers are left to fend for ourselves in unfamiliar territory.

And if you happen to check out QT between now and 5 June, be sure to pop into the Carnival to help celebrate their 2d birthday. There are contests, prizes, and yes -- you could win the grand prize, a FREE WEBSITE. (Designed by Purple Squirrel Web Designers.)

Details are on the carnival page (link above and image to the left)!

PS For Bloggers. You can get an extra entry by announcing the carnival on your blog. Read all about it here.

Oh my stars

A brief summary of life since Friday, with stars:

THREE STARS. Didn't do Write your a** off day, not on Friday, and not on Saturday, BUT I did manage to squeeze in about an hour of writing on Saturday morning, while girls were under strict instructions not to disturb me or they would not be allowed to go to the fête de l'école (school fair). That worked a treat. I was particularly keyed up to do some work after not having had my regular Friday routine, and also because my Amazon order came through and I had devoured the first 20 pages of Wanna Be A Writer? by Jane Wenham-Jones. In those first 20 pages are good, practical tips for getting started, which is frankly what I need. (And I hope the next 20 pages are full of good, practical tips for keeping going.)

TWO STARS. Then this morning I pushed myself, hooray, carrying on with the notes I started writing on Saturday. I've started to doubt who would want to read the story, but am trying to ignore that because if I start to listen to the Doubtman I am done for.

TWO MORE STARS. These have nothing to do with writing, but I am taking them anyway, for having played a Handel cello duet with The Eldest in concert yesterday. We messed up plenty in rehearsal but the performance came off without a hitch. It was also great to see and hear all the other students of our prof, the lovely Hélène Viratelle, and now more than ever I want to play a tango! Maybe in 5 more years.....

NO STARS. Now I've I just done a very stupid thing and spent far too long immersed in comparing myself to another writer. Consequently I feel like crap. There is no good reason for me to envy this person or want to be this person, so why do I waste my time? Not only is it unproductive, it is destroys my self-esteem. I know there's no cure for love, but tell me: is there a cure for envy? writer's envy? Does anybody else get stuck on this? If so, what do you do about it??

15 May 2009

Bit of fun for a Friday

I started translating some Jacques Prévert poems yesterday, for no good reason really, but was at the Youngest's flute lesson, and the teacher had a copy of Paroles. I've loved these poems since I first discovered them, I think for two main reasons. Number one, your French doesn't have to be that great to understand them. Number two, neither do you need to have read (or understood) Lacan, Foucault, et al.

But also because they are beautiful, simple, and slightly surreal poems.

These were published in 1946. Are they free game for translation? I was thinking of sending one off to the Stephen Spender prize. Alas, it is open only to UK residents or citizens.

Anyway, here's one I did earlier... Rough, mind you -- very rough.

(Note -- idea! -- one day I might run one of them through an on-line translator. Just to see what happens.)

Despair Sits on a Bench
("Le désespoir est assis sur un banc")
by Jacques Prévert

In a square, on a bench, is a man
who calls to you as you pass.
He wears glasses and an old grey suit.
He is smoking small cigars
and he calls out to you
or else he waves
but you must pretend not to see him.
You can't look at him,
or listen to him,
you must carry on,
go quickly --
because if you look,
if you listen,
if you give him a little wave,
then nothing and nobody
can stop you from going
to sit next to him.
And he will look at you and smile
and it is horrible.
And he will keep on smiling
until you smile that same smile,
and you are the same as he is,
The more you smile, the more horrible
it gets.
And the worse it gets, of course,
the more you smile.
There is absolutely nothing you can do.
You are stuck there,
smiling on the bench,
with children playing around you
and other people passing by you
so peacefully.
Birds fly out of one tree
and into another.
And you, on the bench,
and you know
that you will never
play like that again,
you will never
be one of those people again,
passing by
so peacefully;
and never again will you leave one tree
for another,
like those birds.

Feel free to correct my grammar!

14 May 2009

Survey says...

A local paper, the Vlan, is doing a survey ("sondage") about the infamous school inscription madness (see previous rantings about this here, for starters). It asks, "Has your child been the victim of the inscription procedure?"

As of this posting, results were....

Oui, on attend toujours une place!
(Yes, we are still waiting for a place!) - 39%

Oui, nous avons servi de cobaye
(Yes, we were used as guinea pigs) - 29%

Non, mais nous avons échappé de peu au cauchemar
(No, but we escaped with little from this nightmare) - 17%

Non, notre enfant est inscrit dans l’école de notre choix
(No, our child is signed up at the school of our choice) - 13%

Elsewhere, I have it on reasonable though unofficially-confirmed authority that there are now 1000 students without a school, and 750 multiple inscriptions. That leaves a gap of 250, but that makes sense because there are probably some really crap schools that have places left.

It is looking better for us -- our latest stats are at the bottom of this post.

Image from homeroomteacher.com. But no apple for education minister Christian Dupont (or his little cronies)!

13 May 2009

Just give me time... a lot of it, please

There's a really good idea floating about -- devote one full day to your writing. The original poster, John at Running After My Hat put it like this:

Even if you never lay your fingers on your keyboard, never pick up your pen or handheld voice recorder, even then: can you set aside 7-1/2(ish) hours in a single block of 24 hours to think about, work on, research, accommodate, market, and/or otherwise honor the act and craft of writing? Your own writing, that is, and not someone else’s?And my first response of course was "Yes, I can John! Yes ! Yes ! Yes !"

And, like many of the commenters, both there and over at moonrat where I picked this up, I thought I would do it on Friday, tomorrow, because the day proposed to do it was originally Saturday the 16th but most of us women-with-children types are committed elsewhere on the weekend. But then I realized that I'd already traded my free Friday for a working Wednesday, because I volunteered to ride around with Eldest's class on their bike day. So now it can't be Friday and it can't be Saturday, and our cello concert is on Sunday and next Friday is a holiday.... So maybe I can get to this in 2 weeks' time??


Image credit: Photo J. de Selliers, from the Clockarium, the Museum of the Art Deco Ceramic Clock in Brussels

That just about covers it....

I just try to say what I have to say about anything that strikes me as worth saying something about.

-- L.A. Poet Gerald Locklin, in interview in today's Denver Books Examiner.

12 May 2009

YouTube, MeTube, ButtonTube

Vincent wants to make a YouTube of my poem Button. He asked me last night. I'm so excited! This poem was honourably mentioned in the 2004 Mslexia Poetry Competition (judged by Selima Hill) but not published, which rather left it in a sort of limbo, but now I'm glad as it means that the poem is free to be played with as I want. We will of course be needing lots of buttons. Anybody got any buttons for a good cause?

They can be red and yellow and green and brown and scarlet and black and violet and fawn and lilac and gold and chocolate and mauve.....

OK, I'm getting carried away now.

11 May 2009

Ringo at a service station selling flowers

Ah, yes. Monday again. It does keep coming around. I wrote about 300 words this morning and it didn't feel like enough. I think I can do more later during "homework hour" after school, but in that case I have to figure out when to get the groceries. Sometime between leaving the office, I guess, and arriving at the school. I don't want to do it later, I have my writers workshop this evening. I need to come up with an exercise to read as well as cook the dinner. It would help if I were a wee less obsessive about food. Ha. Will someone please invent an html tag for understatement?

I started doing Christopher James's workshop. It's part of the Guardian's poetry workshop series. I've never heard of Christopher James but I like his exercise. You choose a person, a place, and a situation from the lists he has provided. Then you write a poem using those three things. The results article has already been published, if you're curious. I also like his attitude. "The objective," as he says,
is not to come up with a perfect poem. It's to send your writing mind to a place it has never been before. The exercise may produce nothing more than a line that can be transplanted elsewhere. But what's there to lose – except a few minutes from your lunch hour?

Indeed. So. I'm doing Ringo Starr at a motorway service station. He has given up everything to sell flowers.....

09 May 2009

Is it a coincidence? You decide....

Today I planned to post about the ProBlogger Challenge, and then I find that the latest post on Blogging Without A Blog says

Don’t write about blogging.

The only people who really care about blogging are bloggers themselves.


Well, I'm going to do it anyway.

Why? Because it shouldn't be a secret. Yes, I'm trying to improve this blog, and there are lots of other bloggers who want to do the same. There are maybe even other writer-bloggers who struggle with balancing the book-writing and the blog-writing. So I'm going to share it all...

This is what I've discovered after doing the first 5 days of the Challenge :

It is very hard to work on the blog and keep up the regular work-in-progress.

I sympathize with the comment left by Ronnica on a recent post. I still think everything we do, creatively, counts, but the boundaries seem to be always shifting.... I have to be very firm with myself. It's so easy for something -- almost anything -- else to wiggle between me and the writing. I don't know why this should be the case, how even the minutest household task can
become so appealing. Is this merely procrastination again, in one of it's trickier forms? It is some sort of resistance, I am sure.... (And I've just found two interesting descriptions of resistance, and ideas for dealing with it, here and here. These are in the context of meditation but it's the same old resistance.)

The challenges have been great each day and I'm learning a lot. It's even exciting! But the biggest thing I've learned so far is, I've still got to pay attention to, and remain conscious of, my priorities.

08 May 2009

4 Poetry Books that Work for Me

Inspired by a Strictly Writing post about submitting manuscripts, Just Post It, I've started drafting a post about electronic submissions and the poetry world. It's a potentially controversial subject! While doing a little research I was trawling through my bookshelves, and came across a few keys books I think are worth recommending. Ideally one day I'll set up a resources corner on this blog, but for now I hope this list will suffice. These are books I'd loan to you if you told me you were starting to write poetry, or had written reams and now wanted to dip your toe in the poetry market.

1. Writing Poetry by Matthew Sweeney and John Hartley Williams. This is part of the Teach Yourself Series. My edition (from the Dark Ages) is called 'Writing Poetry and Getting Published'; interesting that they have changed this as the content appears much the same. Full of exercises and advice from experienced poets, I would say this book is a cornerstone of my practical writing collection.

2. A second essential guide is Writing Poems by Peter Sansom. Vital for any contemporary poet. No need to say more.

3. A companion guide to #2, Getting into Poetry by Paul Hyland. Billed as a 'reader's and writer's guide to the poetry scene', it doesn't deal with the nuts and bolts of the writing process, but just about everything else. My edition is from 1996 and I didn't find a newer one. That's sad because the listings section reads like a time capsule: no email addresses and no websites!

4. How to Publish Your Poetry by Peter Finch. Explores the ins and outs of every kind of publication, with the exception of the very latest technologies (my edition is 1997, and Amazon shows one updated only as of 2000, so don't expect to find anything about the Espresso in here). Still, it gives you the basics and a good springboard from which to launch.

If you have any other recommendations, pass them along!

07 May 2009

True Love Notebook

It appears to be an artist day (see the one I did earlier), though I didn't mean it to be. I just started a new notebook and I was going to show it off, because no matter how much you need your PC, it's the notebook you love truly.

And I love my cheerful, stripey petal Orla Kiely notebook!

(You're going to have to make do with the link, because OK's website wouldn't let me copy the image.)

But I had no idea that Orla Kiely was an entire fashion label. I thought she -- assuming the name wasn't made up, like Haagen-Dazs -- simply did a fun line in stationery. Well I was wrong. She's got clothing, bags, accessories, house and stationery. And a shop in London (hmm...). And a very enticing complimentary offer, with any purchase of a Multi Flower Check Book or Shoulder bag, a complimenary accessory. Here are 2 designs the site let me copy...

... Well, what do you know. It's so much more than notebooks!

Isn't this gorgeous? Nicole Baillieul

One day I'll have enough extra cash to buy one of Nicole's lovely paintings. In the meantime I will sigh over them at her latest exposition.

For those of you in Brussels, the vernissage is Friday 8 May from 6 pm at:

Louise Baterna
Market Breaks
290 rue Josaphat (1030).

You can also visit Wednesday-Friday from 1-6 pm and Saturday 9.30 am-6pm, until 30 May.

About Nicole: After receiving her diploma from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of Bruxelles, Nicole received the Prix Potter in 1991 and was laureate of the Prix du Rouge-Cloître in 1997. Her collection of poetry, "An entrelacement de souvenirs," ("An interlacing or weaving of memories") was published two years ago.

06 May 2009

Free Agent: The dream comes true

Great news everyone: Jeremy's book was released yesterday in the UK. Release day in the US is end of June. Can a wannabe writer think of anything as exciting?

Jeremy has worked his butt off for I don't know how many years to make this happen. As someone who read the book's early drafts, I couldn't be more proud.

The book is the first of a series of 3 featuring Paul Dark, 'a cross between James Bond and Jason Bourne.' It's a thriller set between London and Nigeria during the 1960s -- at the height of the Biafran War. 'The action is fast and violent and so is the hero,' says this month's Britain's Literary Review.

Want to find out more? Read an interview with Jeremy and enter to win a copy of Free Agent at The Rap Sheet. The competition is open to readers anywhere in the world, hooray, so if you're in the US or Canada, where the book doesn't come out until the end of June, this is a good chance to nab a free copy early!

Otherwise do what I'm going to do and support the debut author via amazon dot co dot uk!

05 May 2009

The secret life of a list maker....

I love lists. I looooooooove making lists. I'm sure there's a condition about this. If you know it, send me the name, I'll put it on my resume.

Famously I once told my BF, before he was my BF, that I didn't make lists. I didn't want him to think I was a nutcase, or incredibly anal-retentive, because I'm not. I just like lists. I find them comforting. I didn't think he would remember that little piece of information.

He already knows I make lists now. But maybe the rest of you don't. So in the interests of openness and honesty on the Internet, I'm coming clean today, with 7 lists -- LIVE!-- from my journal.

Ready? OK, here goes.

1. Shopping list from yesterday:
Emmenthal cheese
nuts to put on salad
chicken breasts
white plastic garbage bags
rice cakes
tins of tomatoes
fruit juice in cartons
something quick for dinner

2. Food Diary (today, so far)
1 coffee
1 bowl of cornflakes
1 banana
bowl of Greek yogurt spiked with strawberry Activia yogurt

3. Poems I Just Submitted to My Writers Workshop
Paper Cut
So Tired
Where do poems come from
Thoughts While Making Toast

4. Synonyms or Related Words for the Word 'Cut'
separate, divide, split
reap (reap what you sow)
suffer, suffering, sufferance
sharp, shooting
misery, miserable
smart (you think you're so)
no heart. heartless

5. Various Facts About Paper Cuts
- thin, sharp paper slices the skin
- pain -- stings
- the cut smoothly parts the skin
- chemicals are in the paper (like bleach) that make it sting
- skin closes quickly but the fibers from the paper stay inside
- they don't bleed much because close up quickly ?

6. Writing-Related Sites I Want to Check Out Soon
cinnamon press

7. Current School Waiting List Places Held by Eldest for September
- Athenée Charles Janssens: 16 (up from 29!)
- St Boniface: Only 2 in front of us now!
- Uccle I - holding steady at 80 (up from 162, expecting update at end of May)
- Notre-Dame des Champs (don't ask)

There. Feeling all listed-up? Feel free to share your own lists in the comments.

04 May 2009

April's Statistics

April was a cruel month this year, with two weeks of school holiday following some weeks of vague depression, but I was able to keep things moving during the first week of the holidays, and didn't lose momentum or the freshly regained motivation.

It is hard to quantify poems and working on poems. It isn't like generating fiction where you can document daily word counts. So when I've worked on poems I try to summarize what exactly it was I did.

I was keen to have a cool little graphic to show what I've been working on all month, and I've done that, partly, but I don't know (yet) how to get it into this post, or onto the sidebar, but I think this will work. When you're viewing these stats, remember that I'm writing for about one hour a day, four days a week, and we always hope for a little bit more on Fridays.