Out of the blue

Alice Seabold
Some of you may remember that I did an event with Alice Sebold, author of Lucky, The Lovely Bones and The Almost Moon, late last year as part of the 2007 Ilkley Literature Festival. We had never met before, had only twenty minutes to chat before the event, and then talked on stage in front of a packed hall who listened in rapt silence to what she had to say, and to her breathtakingly good reading from latest novel The Almost Moon.

And it seemed to me that we had made a connection, just the two of us, on the stage talking easily in front of the audience like old friends.

As usual at the end of the event there was the confusion of author signings, chatting queues around the bookshop and technicians packing away the sound equipment. In a brief lull she managed to thank me, ask me if I had any poems to show her, before disappearing into her public role again. I had by chance a battered reading copy of Coma Songs in my bag which I handed over slightly self-consciously.

Imagine my surprise when last Saturday, seven months later, I received a buff coloured card in a matching envelope through the post. I sat at the kitchen table unable for the first few minutes to work out who had sent it. It was from Alice Sebold and it thanked me for the way I hosted the event and said,

’A rarity for me to find someone who gets it all: the work, the life, the human world we all share.’

And on the envelope, a rather wonderful postscript,

“I would list the poems I found brutal, funny, biting, joyful, f-cking awesome but there would be too many. Perhaps enough to FILL a book’.

I hope Alice Sebold won’t mind me writing about her communication and actually quoting her. It was such a thrill to receive her card, and to have something confirmed.

We had made a connection.

Waking Early -
Post Performance Stress Syndrome

This morning I woke very early, at around 4am. I would like to say it was the birds shouting away in the trees which woke me. They were indeed making a racket. But actually it was because my system was still flooded with adrenaline after a performance in Leeds last night, at Borders bookshop, with the incomparable Joolz Denby.

James Nash and Joolz Dendy
It was a great evening.

The Borders staff were amiable and helpful in setting up the event. At one point there were about six of them putting the sound system together, prompting one to say, ‘How many Borders staff does it take etc. etc. ‘

Joolz was on stunning form; the fact that this was part of a gruelling schedule over past weeks, curating an exhibition, ‘The Body Carnival’ for Cartwright Hall in Bradford [opening in August] , appearing at Glastonbury etc. etc. did not dim the quality of her readings which were beautiful, human and witty. They can be heard on the spine-tingling CD of her work [with music by Justin Sullivan] Spirit Stories.

I read, among other things, from a short story I’ve just sent off to a publisher and a poem written to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the publication of Alan Sillitoe’s novel, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.

For most writers readings are a rare treat when you can meet like-minded folk and see how your writing works when you are communicating with a live audience. And last night’s audience was a good one, slowly growing, so that every time I looked up there were more people in front of us [and listening up the stairs, onto the first floor] somehow appearing from behind pillars and the bookshelves at the sides of the store.

But the aftermath [and it’s not an awful one] is often waking at dawn still popping with energy and deciding whether to continue in bed and listen to the birds singing or get up and write something. This morning I got up, made some tea and readied myself. The light was silvery when I first came down the path to my office, and as I opened the gate into the back garden I saw the washing lines hung with half a dozen vintage swimming costumes, moving and expanding in the breeze.**

It was a surreal and strangely beautiful sight, and I felt the adrenaline calming in my body, as I thought to myself, ’Remember that sight, and its effect on you, and write about it sometime soon’.


** This is not as random as it might seem as my partner runs a vintage and retro shop in the Hyde Park area of Leeds