An origami yoda for sure… other things here…
And what about you?
What will you make one day?
An origami yoda for sure… other things here…
And what about you?
What will you make one day?
I haven’t just been busy collecting Kent Writers recently, or even Wise sayings. No, I’ve been spending much of my time in four of Canterbury’s public parks thinking up what we’re calling ‘gentle interventions’ as part of the Wise Words Festival.
The idea is to make people look again, and not just take their parks for granted. There will be origami apples on trees in an orchard – each with a different word on it so you can rearrange poems on the branches like fruit magnetic poetry; QR codes on benches which take you to the stories of the people who have used the park over the centuries – you can move to ‘sit next to’ the boy who got seven days hard labour for stealing a rose or a woman watching a display by 500 visiting French professors of gymnastics in the 19th century (two true stories). Or in another park, you’ll find a hermit’s hut in a wildflower meadow where you can write a card TO a stranger and take home a message FROM a stranger; and lastly, – my favourite – all the signs in one of the busiest parks have been changed.
Hopefully Pleasure Garden Bylaws will never look the same again!
Here’s a sneak preview, although it will be printed on a proper rose sign and not perched on the end of Wendy’s hand …
Born in Birkenhead, Steve Matthews has lived in Canterbury since 1995, when he moved back to the UK after living for many years in Bilbao.
He runs a small social research and consulting firm with a friend and has previously worked in education. A fluent Spanish speaker, his interests include books, music, nature, permaculture and transition. You can read some of his writing here, but in the meantime, here are his five sentences…
When you were small, you wanted to …When I was small I wanted to be a TV repair man, an astronaut or a DJ on Radio City (the commercial station broadcasting from Liverpool). I later did become an occasional DJ as the Latin part of Canterbury’s Another Planet DJs, whose residency in the Blind Dog ended one January when no one came (I was away at the time, of course).
The one thing you can never resist is … Temptation, probably and predictably, especially as this refers to books, music and other vices.
You may not say it aloud but…I want to do things that will help set people free and do what makes their heart sing. Myself included.
The last time you went ‘WOOP’ with excitement was … I’m more of a “yay!” kind of person, and it was this that I said this morning when a frog jumped out a patio bag of strawberry plants when I was watering.
Your five favourite words are …. This is very hard, but would include, “civilised” (like when there’s nice food, drink, people and music) and “love”. Rude words that have lots of consonants sound great but tend to upset people.
Favourite writing place in Kent:
My little, “stacked” garden is often where little ideas come to me, but actual writing things (including not very exciting day job reports) tends to happen at old second-hand desk I got at Bits ‘n’ Pieces in Wincheap, not long after first coming to Canterbury in 1995.
A book about Kent or by a Kent writer you would recommend:
Easy: “Riddley Walker” by Russell Hoban. A sad and beautiful tale, about loss, set in and around Canterbury, of what we might become if we carry on as were are.
Thank you for coming on here, Steve. And as a little gift, here’s a lovely review of another Russell Hoban book, the closest thing to a frog jumping out of strawberries that I could find…! You may also find a tribute to Riddley Walker (a favourite of mine too) in the Westgate Gardens next week if you look hard!
I think this photograph of Nina Bell (by photographer, Joe Plimmer) is one of my favourites of the series so far. Doesn’t she look just as if she’s about to pour you a cup of tea and tell you a good story?
And of course, in her novels, including the wonderful The Empty Nesters, she does. (well, you have to pour your own tea.)
Nina is the pen-name of Alexandra Campbell, and she’s had a distinguished career in journalism, latterly as Managing Editor of Good Housekeeping magazine and freelance writing for The Times, The Independent, Good Housekeeping, Ideal Home, House & Garden, You Magazine, The FT Magazine How To Spend It and many other national newspapers and magazines. Now she concentrates on writing novels, luckily for us!
Although she’s happily settled in Faversham, she had an eventful childhood in South America – Peru and the Dominican Republic – where earthquakes, hurricanes and revolutions regularly disrupted or completely abolished school. So, she says, “I read everything I could find and when I ran out of books, I wrote my own stories.”
Here are her answers…
When you were small you wanted to be… A writer. Or a vet. Or a ballet dancer. As I am hopeless at science and completely uncoordinated (plus wholly unmusical), there was only one remaining option.
The one thing you can never resist is….chocolate. And answering the phone.
You may not say it aloud but…I hate people moaning about where they live. It brings everyone down. If you don’t like it, move, and if that’s not practical, make the best of it – both for yourself and everyone around you. Individuals can make a big difference to communities.
The last time you went WHOOP with excitement was…last week in the public records office, researching the 1965 revolution in the Dominican Republic, where we lived. I found one of my father’s telegrams, passed to Prime Minister Harold Wilson. It read: ‘Embassy surrounded by 25 armed rebels… conditions are appalling, dead in the streets, hospitals without water, wounded lying unattended in corridors, some sectors under reign of terror. Staff all safe in the Embassy with essential supplies, such as Scotch Whisky, but we could use some bagpipes.’ Harold Wilson underlined ‘bagpipes’, scribbling ‘send them some. It will frighten the enemy even if it doesn’t encourage the staff.’
My five favourite words are… Vamonos con la musica al otro lado de la calle, ( five if you exclude all the de, la, el, con etc). It’s a Spanish saying: ‘Let’s go with the music to the other side of the street.’ I say it to my dog every morning instead of ‘walkies’ so he does his stretches every time he hears Spanish.
Favourite writing place in Kent. My office at home in Faversham. I’ve had RSI in the past so I am hot on having the right chair, back support, angle to the screen, etc. I’m passionate about all writers thinking about posture and work conditions, because even if you’re only writing for an hour a day, any physical problems like RSI, frozen shoulder etc are hell to get rid of once you’ve got them.
Kent writer I can recommend: Elizabeth Buchan was a graduate of the University of Kent, so I hope she counts. Her books are relationship-based, like mine, and I particularly love her ‘The Revenge of the Middle Aged Woman’ and ‘Separate Beds.’
Thank you, Nina. I absolutely love that bagpipe story, reinforces every comment that the truth is often stranger than fiction. And here’s a gift for you coming on here…
(The chocolate telephone comes from this website, you can chomp your way through your telephone calls!)
Derek Sellen is well known in Canterbury literature circles, not least because as he says, he “can usually be found in The Jolly Sailor on the second Sunday of each month at the sessions organised by the indefatigable Luigi Marchini.”
His poems have won or been placed in various competitions, including 4th in the National (“I went around kissing and hugging people for a week before I realised it wasn’t as big a deal for other people as it was for little me”) – here’s one of my favourites of his, a simple but chilling war poem. A selection of poems from 1972 until 2007 are in ‘The Arch and its Shadow’ and his Spanish art poems are in ‘Storm at Galesburg’ and ‘Kaleidoscope’ (Cinnamon Press).
Here are his sentences:
When you were small, you wanted to … believe it or not (I’d rather you didn’t), I wanted to play cricket for England in South Africa and then swing off into the jungle to live like Tarzan of the Apes; there was another dream, to be a writer, which I’ve come nearer to achieving
The one thing you can never resist is … an invitation (and the common cold virus)
You may not say it aloud but… I have a good feeling about the future. Even in the short time since I wrote this, things have started to go wrong, so perhaps I should have kept my voice down but then we never really know if what seems wrong at first is really so. My last poem came out of a highly embarrassing and wrong incident on a bus, so embarrassing I won’t even whisper it let alone say it aloud, but I’m grateful for the gifted poem.
The last time you went ‘WOOP’ with excitement was … when the small plays I’d been rehearsing and developing with Japanese students actually worked in performance and made people laugh (as intended!); the next time I’ll go ‘WOOP’ is when I arrive in Santiago de Compostela later this week after 40 years away or when somebody I love writes to me again after what seems like a very long time, whichever is the sooner
Your five favourite words are …. roquefort, limoncello, Anna, miracle, deceit
I’d give a completely different list if you asked me in five minutes’ time. But the principle of selection would remain: something that tastes good, something that sounds good, a woman’s name, something that would make me feel good, and something bad.
Favourite writing place in Kent : I’d like to say on the cliff at St Margaret’s Bay looking down on the sea and across to France on a sunny day or in St Martin’s churchyard in Canterbury or in an orchard in blossom in the Weald, but regrettably most of my writing is done in a very cluttered and dark study while many of my ideas come on the walk to or from work along busy roads.
A book about Kent or by a Kent writer you would recommend: The Island Normal by Brian Jones ( Carcanet 1980 ) This is not a book to read if you’re already feeling depressed (Larkin would be lighter) but among the many fine and wide-ranging poems are some about East Kent, for example ‘The Winter Harvesters’ who ‘crop cabbages’ in the Thanet flatlands or ’1976′ which speaks of the ‘dustbowl fields beyond Sarre’ or ‘Summer: a Kent Village’ which simply demands to be read and recognised by anyone who knows the villages around Canterbury. I believe there are plans by Shoestring Press to publish Brian’s ‘New and Selected Poems’.
Lovely! Thank you, Derek. And I didn’t know Brian Jones before, so I’m grateful for that introduction too. Sometimes the photographs I gift to the writers come easily, others I have to think about more… for you though, here’s a view you can look at in your ‘cluttered and dark study’!
I’m taking bets that my next Kent Writer is one you might not have heard of yet, but soon will! Mary Hamer spends much of her time in Whistable, when she’s not researching books such as her debut and forthcoming novel, Kipling and Trix which will be out in November.
The book, which tells the story of Rudyard Kipling’s sister Trix, is already a prizewinner though, as winner of the Virginia Prize for Fiction.
Here’s the blurb:
A fictionalised life of Rudyard Kipling intertwined with that of his collaborative sister ‘Trix’, told in a series of historical narrative chapters from their traumatic childhood, when they were brought back from their beloved India and placed in the ‘care’ of a family in Southsea, until Kipling’s death in 1936. Taking in the sweep of Kipling’s early career in India, his marriage to an American and their time in Vermont, the novel explores his obsession with Rhodes and Southern Africa and of course his prolific writing career.
It describes the triumphs and tragedies of Kipling’s life along with Trix’s early success as a lady of letters. Following an unfortunate marriage, she becomes interested in psychic matters and automatic writing, unfortunately resulting in frequent bouts of mental illness. In old age, after all their sufferings, brother and sister meet for one last time at Batemans, Kipling’s country home.
I’ve been lucky enough to read some of it in draft form, and can vouch for the fact that it’s a great read as well as being thoroughly researched – Mary even bathed in Kipling’s bath! And appropriate that this is her debut into fiction because, although she has published many works of non-fiction, she says it was reading Kipling’s Jungle Book, in a small branch library in Harborne that offered her the first hint that there was a different, more exciting way to see the world.
Here are Mary’s Five Sentences:
When you were small, you wanted … to bake a cake for another 4 year old I didn’t like AND PUT POISON IN IT. My mother didn’t respond warmly to this plan. I felt crushed.
The one thing you can never resist is … a quick trip to Carole Ridley’s shop in Whitstable, to prowl along the rails.
You may not say it aloud but… I can’t help fancying Jeremy Clarkson
The last time you went ‘WOOP’ with excitement was … When my six year old grandson ran to fling his arms around me
Your five favourite words are … elucidate, mofussil, gremolata, bombazine, slither
Favourite writing place in Kent: sitiing high up on our balcony over the beach in Whitstable, with an A4 pad of lined paper on my knee.
A book about Kent or by a Kent writer you would recommend: ‘Dymchurch Flit’, one of the stories in Puck of Pook’s Hill by Rudyard Kipling, set in the mysterious landscape of Romney Marsh, tells how the Fairy people, ‘the people of the hills’, left England. Compelling and thought-provoking.
Thank you, Mary! Jeremy Clarkson, eh. Well, wonders never cease, and as a thank you for coming on, here’s Jeremy as close as I could get to slithering…
Thank you all who came last night, who read with and for us, who listened, and who helped organise us. And thank you to the wonderful Beach House for the venue, a real reminder of how, and what, art should be…
We collected loads of Wise Words last night, on post-it notes, scribbles and cards. Remember you can leave yours here, there are some real gems already.
We’re delighted to be taking Wise Words on the road again with an exciting event at the Herne Bay Festival on Monday 20th August.
We will be at the Beach House, Beach Street, Herne Bay, CT5, tickets £5 on the door, and starting at 7.30. There will be an Open Mic at the end too.
Here’s what is happening:
Canterbury Laureate Sarah Salway showcases the very best words of wisdom to come from the Canterbury District through the Wise Words project; a community creative writing project which puts the youth of today in correspondence with the golden generation. Expect poetry, memoirs, letters, lyrics, perhaps a recipe for happiness or even song and dance!
HOPE TO SEE YOU THERE!!!!