A memorable month. It began with the inaugural Poetry In Aldeburgh festival over the weekend of 4-6 November. I loved every minute of this from helping to set up the festival hub in the Garage Gallery, to eating freshly caught herrings on the beach courtesy of Caroline Wiseman and her log-burning stove in The South Lookout, to introducing Blake Morrison and Anne-Marie Fyfe for the opening reading the Friday evening and finally doing my own reading in the Jubilee Hall with Goldsmiths colleagues, Maura Dooley and Jack Underwood. There’s good write-up of the festival here.
I’m delighted to have a poem in a new anthology, Lookout, Edited by Tamar Yoseloff, which was launched during Poetry in Aldeburgh and also had a London launch last Friday.
The week after the festival I was invited by a book group in Cambridge to be their guest at the meeting where they discussed my third novel, Taking In Water. This was such a privilege to hear what attentive readers had to say about my book. It’s wonderful the way in which a story takes on its own life. They asked searching questions about characters and where ideas had come from. I’d looked through my box of early research and surprised myself when I found a newspaper cutting that I’d clipped in 1999, way before I’d starting writing the story. It was a full-page photograph showing a hotel that was in danger of falling into the sea. Along the margin I’d written, No. 3 – A person living on the edge? A reminder to myself that if you follow a simple question, other questions will suggest themselves. From that first scribble a story of nearly 80,000 words grew.
I’ve since had two more invitations to guest at book groups in 2017. It’s daunting but also fascinating.
Throughout the month I’ve been getting to know the work of my new students on the MA at Goldsmiths. It’s exciting to work with a writer at the start of novel. As well as steering the writer it’s a way of reminding oneself about how a novel gets written - more asking of questions. A bit like being a detective, you follow your curiosity. So much of a first draft is done in the dark, feeling your way.
Always mindful of keeping a balance between output and input, last week I did a workshop with visiting New Zealand poet, Bill Manhire. A fun day in which we explored the value of following the unplanned, the mistakes you make in drafting – where might they lead? Too much planning can shut things down. He offered this quote from Grace Paley, “Remain open and ignorant.” Not a bad mantra to take into December, to keep asking questions.