Tuesday 31 July 2012

'Love or Money' by Dean Atta - Free Download Link!

Out today is Dean Atta's new EP, which is available to download for free!
Following on from ‘Reason & Rhyme’ and ‘Missing Piece’, ‘Love or Money’ is a 5-track EP of poems performed by Dean Atta with music and vocals from his very talented friends Michael Antoniou, Kareem Dayes, Yussef Dayes, Chantelle Nandi, Renell Shaw and Ayanna Witter-Johnson. It was mastered by Matthew Zouhar - Lewis @ Mazoulew Recordings and the artwork is by Ben Connors.

Download it here http://deanatta.bandcamp.com/album/love-or-money and enjoy!

Poetry Writing Workshop for 8-14 year-olds this August

Monday 30 July 2012

The Story Behind the Story - Guest Blog from author Eric Pullin

It would seem that my life has gone "full circle". As a young man I was a primary school teacher. I loved every minute of my days in school. Now, older and I hope wiser, I am a children's author - a job that once again gives me the opportunity to work in schools with young children. I still love every minute of my days in school.

There is no greater reward for me than to watch a young face light up with joy and amazement as I read one of my stories. I'm a sucker for kids - and they know it. They wrap me around their little fingers and I wouldn't want it any other way. They are our future - a future which, through them, I have the priviledge of helping to mould.
Classroom sessions invariably end with a host of questions about me and my work, about books and favourite characters etc. At this point I always tell my class that the most important questions to ask any author are, "Why did you write that story?" or "Why did you become an author?". Having met and talked with many fellow story writers, I have found that the answers to those questions always give a greater understanding and appreciation of their work. The story behind the story is often as entertaining and informative as the story itself.

What was that you said? Why did I write that story? Why did I become an author? O.K. I'll tell you all.

Nine years ago, my first grand daughter was born. When Lucy came along I, like all grandads, wanted to be the best grandad in the world. I wanted to find a special gift for Lucy - a gift that she would carry through life - a gift that would say "I love you" every time she saw it. I decided that I would write her a story, just a little bedtime story, a story that I hoped she would always remember, a story that she would tell to her own children, one day.

I had never written a story in my life and for over a year I struggled with all the usual children's story topics - fairies, princesses, witches, wizards, magic, fantasy worlds, you know the list. I soon found that I was not very good with the written word.

I was on the point of giving up on my idea when one day, as I sat in my office at home, Digweed my cat came and jumped on my lap, wanting to be fussed. As I listened to his purring a thought entered my head. Lucy will get to know Digweed as she grows up. She will play with him and fuss him just as I am doing now. I will write her a story about Digweed. Into my computer I typed the words "DIGWEED THE CAT" in big bold letters, and I began to write.

Four months and 100,000 words later I finally typed "the end" - the end of my story. I had become an author.

"Digweed the Cat" was hardly "a little bedtime story". It was useless as a gift for an 18-month old child, but I had found so much enjoyment in writing my story that I couldn't wait to start my next project.

There is a happy ending. On Lucy's 7th birthday, one of the gifts that she received was a book called "Digweed the Cat". For many hours Lucy and I would sit together in a big armchair and she would read "Digweed the Cat" to me. Lucy loves her story. How special do you think that makes me feel?

When Lucy was 3 years old my second grand daughter, Lulah was born. Having written a story for Lucy I had to do the same for my new little girl. Once again, finding the right title for my story was proving difficult until, one day, I took a walk in the woods behind my home with Lucy for company.

On our walk we met a lady who was out with her two dogs. Not just ordinary dogs, these were the biggest dogs that Lucy, or I had ever seen. Though she was tiny, Lucy showed no fear of the huge animals and began stroking one of the dogs whilst I chatted to the lady. The dog who was not receiving Lucy's attention became jealous and started to bark - big dog - very loud bark. This frightened Lucy. The owner began to shout and scold the dog for frightening such a sweet little girl which only seemed to upset Lucy more. I tried to calm the situation by telling Lucy that the barking was just the dog saying "Please can I have some fuss too!" Lucy accepted that this was the case and stroked the jealous animal. All was fine again.

We left the lady and her dogs and continued our walk, but I could tell that something was bothering Lucy - she wasn't chattering away as she usually did. When I asked if she was alright she turned to me and said, "Grampy, why don't animals talk like we do?"  Lucy had been thinking that if only the silly dog had said "Please stroke me too" instead of barking, there would not have been any trouble.

I began trying to explain animal noises and we had great fun for the rest of our walk making all sorts of silly sounds, but when I was alone later that night I realised what a wonderful and imaginative question that little 3-year-old had asked me. It turned out to be a question that changed my whole life.

"Why Animals Don't Talk" - I had found a title for my story for Lulah. That same night the story was written and, over the next few days, turned into verse - my first venture into poetry.

I soon realised that titles for future books would no longer be a problem. "WHY" would be my signature word, "WHY" would link my stories together. I could write about "WHY" anything. Before long I had written "Why Stars Come Out At Night",  "Why Pigs Have Curly Tails", "Why Tomatoes are Round and Red" and many other similar stories - all in verse - all to exactly the same format.

"The Why Series" was born.

Once illustrated, the stories were published and a whole new world opened up for me. Thank you Lucy and Lulah for changing my life.

There is a story behind all of my stories. I never know where inspiration will come from but I am always ready when the spark occurs. Recently, I was walking to collect Lucy from school, a trip that I take every day. My walk took me through a small wooded area of oaks, beeches and pines. Under my feet was a bed of soft grass and moss sprinkled with pine needles and beechnut husks.

Suddenly, I noticed a bare patch of ground - a spot where nothing grew - no grass no weeds - nothing. I began to wonder why, in just this single small patch, no seed had germinated, no grass had encroached, no moss had spread. I must have passed this spot hundreds of times before, but never noticed it. As I looked and pondered my imagination started to take over. Could this be an alien footprint, a witch's grave, a fairy playground - could anything ever grow in this place? And then, all became clear in my mind. This was a spot that the woodland was saving for a very special tree to grow. This bare, barren patch of ground was reserved for the seed of "The Magical Tree".

"The Magical Tree" is my latest story. Once again I have chosen to write in verse. The book is currently being illustrated by a group of students at Edinburgh's Stevenson College, a college where pupils and tutors have been a massive help to me over the years. I will see those illustrations in a few weeks' time and I will have the wonderful, but very difficult task of choosing a student to co-publish "The Magical Tree".

So if ever you meet an author, do remember to ask ,"Why did you write that story?" and don't be surprised by an amazing reply.

The most successful series of children's books ever has to be Roger Hargreaves "Mr Men" books. Though I have never been able to confirm this urban legend the story behind "The Mr Men" brand goes like this ...

Roger Hargreaves was a brilliant artist who worked for an advertising company. One day at lunch with his wife and small son, his lad turned to him and said, "Daddy, can you draw me a tickle?" I guess that most of us, in that situation, would have tried to draw something like a feather being used to tickle but Roger Hargreaves had a different idea. He took a pen from his pocket and a paper napkin from the table and drew the image that later became "Mr Tickle" with the long arms and tickly fingers. Once he had drawn that image he realised that he could create a series of similar characters and soon Mr Happy and Mr Bump and many others were born.

"Daddy, can you draw me a tickle?" - "Grampy, why don't animals talk like we do?" - the story behind the story is always worth hearing.

If you read this blog and would like to contact me about my books or about my work in schools I would love to hear from you. If you are thinking of writing your first story and would like me to comment or help I am always available. If you are 8 years old or 80 yearrs old it doesn't matter. My contact address is eric.pullin@tiscali.co.uk or you could visit my (not very good!) website at www.thewhyseries.co.uk.

All of my books are available as both ebooks and printed books via Amazon. If you have any difficulty in finding them please contact me directly.

I'm just waiting for my next story to "happen". I have no idea what it will be about, but I know that it won't be long before something sets me writing again.

© Copyright (Text and Images) Eric Pullin July 2012. 

Puffin Virtually Live webcasts with Jacqueline Wilson, Michael Rosen and Quentin Blake

PUFFIN VIRTUALLY LIVE is a series of  live interactive webcasts from Puffin's best-loved authors. www.puffinvirtuallylive.co.uk / www.facebook.com/puffinvirtuallylive

Great news for Jacqueline Wilson fans … the next Puffin Virtually Live webcast will be with Jacqueline Wilson, she’ll be talking about her new book, ‘Four Children and It’. She will also be answering questions live from the online audience! Register here www.puffinvirtuallylive.co.uk to watch live online on Monday 20th August at 5pm.

Puffin Virtually Live has a special interactive webcast for Roald Dahl Day - Roald Dahl's legendary illustrator Quentin Blake will be drawing live and in conversation with the award-winning writer Michael Rosen, author of the brand-new ‘Fantastic Mr Dahl’ biography.  There will be a special guest appearance by actor and comedian David Walliams as The BFG too! Unmissable! Register here www.puffinvirtuallylive.co.uk to watch live online on Monday 24th September at 2pm.

If you do miss any of Puffin Virtually Live’s webcasts they are available on demand to view at www.puffinvirtuallylive.co.uk.

Friday 27 July 2012

National Poetry Day 2012

This year's National Poetry Day is on Thursday 6th October 2012 and this year's theme is 'Games'.

For free teaching resources and plenty of ideas please visit www.nationalpoetryday.co.uk.

Of course, if you would like to book a poet for your event, for a workshop or performance for National Poetry Day (or any other time!) get in touch at info@bookapoet.co.uk.

Australian Poet Wins £5,000 in 2012 Cardiff International Poetry Competition

Entries to the Cardiff International Poetry Competition arrive each year by the sack-full from poets spread across the globe, as well as from within Wales and the rest of the UK. In 2012 the truly international reputation of the competition continues as the judges award First Prize of £5,000 to multi award-winning poet Mark Tredinnick from Australia.

Mark was awarded the prize by judges Patrick McGuinness and Sinéad Morrissey for his poem ‘Margaret River Sestets’. No stranger to competition success he has won many Australian poetry awards, including the Blake and Newcastle Prizes and last year he won the prestigious Montreal International Poetry Prize. Mark, who lives with his family on the Wingecarribee River, southwest of Sydney, has been described as “one of our great poets of place - not just of geographic place, but of the spiritual and moral landscape as well” (Judith Beveridge). He has published eleven works of poetry and prose and a second volume of poetry, Body Copy, will appear in 2013, along with a memoir, Reading Slowly at the End of Time.
On receiving his prize Mark said: “The Cardiff International Poetry Competition is one of the world's great poetry prizes, and it's a joy to win it this year with a poem that evokes country a long, long way from Wales - a fair way, even, from New South Wales, where I live.”

Second Prize of £500 was awarded to Jonathan Edwards from Crosskeys in south Wales for his poem ‘Evel Knievel Jumps Over My Family’. Jonathan was awarded a Literature Wales New Writer’s Bursary in 2011 and won the Terry Hetherington Award in 2010. His first poetry collection, My Family and Other Superheroes, is forthcoming from Welsh publisher Seren Books. Digital editor and Creative Writing tutor Harry Man from London was awarded Third Prize of £250 for his poem ‘Lost Ordinance, Sussex, 1943’. His work has appeared in a number of literary magazines and journals including New Welsh Review and in 2011 Harry produced a contemporary dance and poetry collaboration for the London College of Fashion.
The top three winning poems will appear exclusively in print and digital formats in New Welsh Review 97, published on Saturday 1st September 2012.

The five equal runners-up in the competition each receiving £50 are: Annemarie Austin from Weston-Super-Mare for her poem ‘Cremated Girl’; Ben Holden from Bristol for his poem ‘The Lepidopterist’; Brett Evans from Conwy for his poem ‘Directed by Sergio Leone’; Jo Hemmant from Tonbridge for her poem ‘The Portreeve's House, East Street’; and Kathryn Simmonds from London for her poem ‘The San Michele Cemetery’.

Click here to find out more about the 2012 winners and to read their prize-winning poems.

The Cardiff International Poetry Competition is administered by Literature Wales and supported by Cardiff Council. The 2013 competition will be launched in autumn this year. The 2012 competition was judged by poets Patrick McGuinness, Sinéad Morrissey and filter judge Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch.

Source: Literature Wales 

Pete 'Cardinal' Cox, Poet - Guest Blog 27th July 2012

July in Peterborough started with the Summer Festival the finale of which is a weekend in our glorious Central Park, except it was raining, as it was over most of the country, so about 3 o’clock the whole event got closed down. Well, I say whole, while the organisers' collective backs were turned Mark Grist kept the Live Literature tent running for another half an hour. The intermittent rain had actually been helping to drive an audience into the tent. Come for the shelter, stay for the rhymes, could have been the motto. I had done a few poems early in the day as part of the general start-up of ‘make some noise and try and attract people’s attentions’. After that an organiser of some local events had asked if I wanted to run a workshop, but the truth is, although I have done a couple in the past, I have to admit I’m not that good at them. I have attended a number of workshops by other people (a particularly good one run by Sue Butler and held at Cambridge’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology always stands out http://haddon.archanth.cam.ac.uk/haddon-specials/library-online/writing-workshop-30-october-2010 ) as I figure there is always something to learn. Plus athletes always train to keep their muscles in top condition, so shouldn’t poets equally train to maintain the old noggin? However many workshops I attend though, I never find I can replicate the ability to inspire others to create. Which is a shame because when you come down to it, workshops are one of the main earning potentials for poets. Back at the festival (or more accurately, after it’s early closure, down the pub) the person who had invited me to run the workshop said that they’d signed up an excellent local rapper to run the day, and I’ll admit I thought good for him.

The week after was the John Clare Festival in Helpston (organised by the John Clare Society http://johnclaresociety.blogspot.co.uk/ ) that I’ve been going to for many years. Ok, not strictly true, I go to Helpston, but never actually make it to the Festival proper. First this year was a visit to the pub The Blue Bell where Clare had been a pot-boy, then to the John Clare Cottage next door (http://www.clarecottage.org/ ) for some cake, Bakewell Tart, I think. Then across the road to an artist’s studio where I chatted with the abstract painter. His wife offered a cup of tea and I declined as I was next going to the village hall where the W.I. put on refreshments. “Oh no”, she looked as though I’d said something terrible, “I promised to bake them some scones”, and scampered off. As I said, next was the village hall for another piece of cake (a lovely sponge with enormous strawberries and thick cream) and then into a local gallery to buy some cards. Then to see some more local artists (one of whom had asked for a poem from me to accompany a piece of work, but that’s still in the creative process) then to The Exeter Arms where John Clare had laid before being buried. The Exeter Arms has just been bought by the John Clare trust so was closed, so a visit to the church was in order before catching a bus home. At the bus stop I bumped into an old school teacher of mine who was bemoaning that she’d been refused service at the village hall. Apparently they’d thought she wouldn’t have had time to drink her tea and eat her cake before the bus came. To stir it a bit I described how tasty the cake I’d eaten had been. Caught the bus and continued chatting and just before I got off (to really put the cat amongst the proverbial) showed her the slice of cake I’d bought for my girlfriend. So no, I never quite make it to the Festival itself.

At the end of the month I took part in a guided tour with various artists and playwrights (I contributed some old riddles I’d written for my first poetry trail for the Cemetery where I’d been Poet-in-Residence for three years) and all went well until we were stopped by the police. Perhaps we were a suspicious looking bunch of middle class, middle aged ne’er-do-wells. Can’t have that sort in the run-down areas of the city…

To finish with, another plug for something from the small-press, this time Leeds’s based poetry publication Krax. 60 pages filled with excellent poetry, plus a fantastic review section covering a good number of publications from Britain and the rest of the world. Well-worth subscribing to, I think, so send an SAE to Andy Robson at 63 Dixon Lane, Leeds, LS12 4RR for full details and buy yourself a sample copy before submitting to.

Thursday 26 July 2012

Man Booker Prize for Fiction: 2012 longlist announced

The longlist, or ‘Man Booker Dozen’, for this year’s Man Booker Prize for Fiction was announced on Wednesday 25th July 2012.

The 12 books were chosen by a panel of judges chaired by Sir Peter Stothard, Editor of the Times Literary Supplement. The longlisted books were selected from a total of 145 titles, 11 of which were called in by the judges.  

The longlist is:
Author                       Title (Publisher)

Nicola Barker           The Yips (Fourth Estate)
Ned Beauman        The Teleportation Accident (Sceptre)
André Brink               Philida (Harvill Secker)
Tan Twan Eng         The Garden of Evening Mists (Myrmidon Books)
Michael Frayn         Skios (Faber & Faber)
Rachel Joyce          The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (Doubleday)
Deborah Levy         Swimming Home (And Other Stories)
Hilary Mantel           Bring up the Bodies (Fourth Estate)
Alison Moore           The Lighthouse (Salt)
Will Self                      Umbrella (Bloomsbury)
Jeet Thayil               Narcopolis (Faber & Faber)
Sam Thompson      Communion Town (Fourth Estate)

Peter Stothard, Chair of judges, comments:
“Goodness, madness and bewildering urban change are among the themes of this year’s longlist. In an extraordinary year for fiction the ‘Man Booker Dozen’ proves the grip that the novel has on our world. We did not set out to reject the old guard but, after a year of sustained critical argument by a demanding panel of judges, the new has come powering through.”

The 2012 longlist includes four debut novels, three small independent publishers and one previous winner. Of the 12 writers, seven are men and five women; nine are British, one Indian, one South African and one Malaysian. The eldest on the list is Andre Brink at 77 and the youngest is Ned Beauman at 27.

The shortlist of six authors will be announced at a press conference at the Man Group headquarters on Tuesday 11th September 2012. The winner of the 2012 prize will be announced at a dinner at London’s Guildhall on Tuesday 16th October, in a ceremony covered by the BBC. Each of the six shortlisted writers is awarded £2,500 and a specially commissioned beautifully handbound edition of his/her book. The winner receives a further £50,000.

Peter Stothard is joined on the 2012 Man Booker Prize for Fiction judging panel by: Dinah Birch, academic and literary critic; Amanda Foreman, historian, writer and broadcaster; Dan Stevens, actor and Bharat Tandon, academic, writer and reviewer.

2012 marks the 44th year of the prize, which began in 1969. A full history of the prize, including an interactive timeline, can be found on the Man Booker Prize website – www.themanbookerprize.com – which has just been re-launched, allowing visitors to experience the prize across a variety of new platforms and formats.

News about the prize can also be found on Twitter @ManBookerPrize, which now boasts almost 15,000 followers.

For further information about the prize please visit www.themanbookerprize.com or follow them on Twitter at twitter.com/ManBookerPrize

Wednesday 25 July 2012

A Note from Michelle Paver - Award-Winning Author

"Gods and Warriors" is the first book in an epic new five-part Bronze Age series for adventure-loving girls and boys aged 9+, here Michelle Paver tells us about her brand new series ...

"The story of Hylas and Pirra takes place three and a half thousand years ago, in what we now call the Bronze Age. As you may have gathered, it happens in the land we call Ancient Greece. However, the Greece of the Bronze Age was very different from the Ancient Greece of marble temples and classical sculpture with which you may be familiar. The Bronze Age was long before that. It was even before the Greeks ranged their gods and goddesses into an orderly pantheon of Zeus, Hera, Hades and all the others.
We don’t know as much about Bronze Age Greece as we do about what came afterwards, because its people left so few written records. However, we know something about the astonishing cultures which flourished at that time, and which we call the Mycenaeans and the Minoans. Theirs is the world of Gods and Warriors.
Here I need to say a quick word about the place names in the story. What Hylas calls Akea (or Achaea, as it’s usually spelled) is the ancient name for mainland Greece; and Lykonia is my name for present-day Lakonia, in south-west Greece; but I’ve kept the name Mycenae unaltered, as it’s so well-known. Concerning Pirra’s people, I’ve adopted the name ‘Keftian’ for the great Cretan civilization which we call Minoan. However it’s one of the mysteries of the ancient world that we don’t actually know what the people of that civilization called themselves; depending on which book you read, they may have called themselves Keftians, or that may just have been a name given to them by the Ancient Egyptians. As for the Egyptians themselves, although the name ‘Egyptian’ comes from the name given to them by the Greeks, I’ve used it in the story because, like Mycenae, it felt too awkward and artificial to change it.
In creating the world of Hylas and Pirra, I’ve studied the archaeology of the Aegean Bronze Age, particularly its tombs and strongholds, artefacts and weapons. But to get an idea of how people thought and what they believed, I’ve also drawn on the beliefs of more recent peoples who still live in traditional ways, just as I did when I wrote about the Stone Age in Chronicles of Ancient Darkness. And even though people in Hylas’ time lived mostly by farming or fishing, rather than by hunting and gathering, as they did in the Stone Age, I’ve no doubt that many of the skills and beliefs of those earlier hunter-gatherers would have lingered on into the Bronze Age, particularly among the poorer and more isolated people, such as Hylas himself.
Concerning the geographical setting for the story, many people believe that Bronze Age Greece was a land of scattered chieftaincies separated by great mountain ranges and forests. It’s also thought to have been wetter and greener than it is today, with far more wild animals both on land and in the Sea. In creating the Island of the Goddess, I didn’t have a specific Greek island in mind, but based it on my sojourns over the decades on the islands of Ithaka, Kephalonia and Alonissos. More recently, and to gain inspiration for Lykonia, I visited Lakonia, including the Acropolis at Sparta, the Eurotas river and the deserted and immensely evocative ruins of the nearby Menelaion. To get a feel for Hylas’ mountain home, I explored the Langada Gorge that winds through the Taÿgetos Mountains, and stayed for several days at the top of the Langada Pass. Wild boar still haunt the forests there; one morning, I had a slightly unnerving encounter with five piglets and their watchful mother.
To experience the caves in which Hylas and Pirra hide out, I explored the extensive, watery cave system of Vlychada, on the Bay of Diros in south-west Lakonia, as well as its small but highly informative local museum. There I learnt of the dreadful fate of some of the cave’s earlier inhabitants, one of whose calcified remains sparked the idea for Pirra’s encounter with the Vanished Ones. To get a feel for Keftiu, I visited Crete, where the ruins at Knossos and Phaestos, as well as the museums of Iraklion and Archanes, provided much inspiration for Pirra’s homeland.
Spirit is, of course, one of the most important characters in the story, and to get to know him better I swam with socialized dolphins in Florida, where one of them kindly gave me a fin-ride, as Spirit does for Hylas and Pirra. I then travelled to the mid-Atlantic islands of the Azores, where I spent days observing wild dolphins of different species: Striped, Atlantic Spotted, Common, Risso’s and Spirit’s own kind, the Bottlenose. It was only when I saw wild dolphins in their natural habitat that I truly appreciated the mysterious synchronicity of their swimming. Snorkelling with them gave me a powerful sense of their otherworldliness, which made it easy to imagine how Hylas feels when he sees the dolphins swimming in the phosphorescence which he calls ‘the blue fire’. Above all, watching those wild dolphins gave me an imaginative insight into how Spirit experiences life in his deep blue world."

Michelle Paver Bio 

Born in Malawi in 1960 to a Belgian mother and a father who ran the tiny 'Nyasaland Times', Michelle Paver moved to the UK when she was three. She was brought up in Wimbledon and, following a Biochemistry Degree from Oxford, she became a partner in a big City law firm. She gave up the City to follow her long-held dream of becoming a writer. She is the author of the brilliantly successful children's series, "Chronicles of Ancient Darkness". "Gods and Warriors" is the first book in the story of Hylas and Pirra, which tells of their adventures in Akea and beyond, and of their fight to vanquish the Crows. The next book in the series will be published in autumn 2013. Visit Michelle’s hugely popular website, THE CLAN for exclusive features: http://jointheclan.com/. Michelle Paver is the winner of the 2010 Guardian Children's Fiction Prize - for her sixth and last book in the "Chronicles of Ancient Darkness" series and her books have sold over 2.5 million copies worldwide and are published in over 35 languages.

'Gods and Warriors'
By Michelle Paver
Published by Puffin, 28th August 2012
RRP £12.99 (hardback)
ISBN 9780141339269

In the turbulent world of the Mediterranean Bronze Age, a boy and a girl battle for survival with the help of three animal allies…

Set long before the Greek Myths and before the Trojan War, Gods and Warriors tells the tale of a young boy called Hylas and a young girl called Pirra who get thrown into battle. Hylas is a lowly 12-year-old goatherd, thief and outsider. His story starts in the mountains of Greece where in a single night, his world is overturned – his camp is attacked, his dog is dead and his sister is missing - setting Hylas on a journey that will take him far from the mountains and across the seas as far afield as Crete and Egypt.

Through Hylas’ adventures bonds will be formed and allies will be made with animals - including a lion, a falcon and a dolphin – against a backdrop of chariots, ocean-going ships, slaves, warriors, myths and magic. Can Hylas and Pirra defeat tyranny and withstand the elemental powers of the gods of land and sea?

Highly recommended for readers aged 9+

Poetry and Pictures: a manifesto - Guest Blog from Nick Owen

From the earliest days of printing, a world of visual images with associated thought and feeling, juxtaposed with text has been part of the western way of enculturation, to help in the process of translating meaningless ciphers, squiggles on a page, into the stuff of inner experience, into understood written words, leaping from the page or screen into constructs of a mental world.

I will never forget the moment when words and images entwined and danced for me as I began to understand written text for the first time. It was like the moment when stumbling and sinking transform into skiing and swimming as learning transforms to achieving.

The real father of Poetry and Pictures as a genre has to be William Blake, a visual artist by trade, and one of the greatest poets in the English language. More recently, the last poet laureate, Ted Hughes, set the ball rolling for modern artists with his book, “The Remains of Elmet”. He wrote poems specifically for a photographer’s art works here. In a second book, “River”, he juxtaposed poetry with an artist’s photographs without connecting them more intimately.

Hughes only wrote the poetry. He collaborated with others to create these poem-picture works. We are encouraging such collaborative work, and are open to both photographers and poets, but we are mostly focused on creating a combined work made by one author. “Poetry and Pictures” is, I believe, the first attempt to establish the two arts together as a genre for the twenty first century. 

Photography has always struggled to establish its credentials as an art form in its own right. Poetry in turn, has struggled to make a case that it is still relevant to this fast changing world. Much modern writing is as uninspiring as a snapshot from a cheap digital camera. I believe that combining ideas expressed visually with ideas expressed in words can make for a powerful medium of expression, both folk art and high art. The idea is to link a poem with a picture or series of pictures. The two can also blend together into a single visual image, which is both poetry and photography. I am not sure how many variations on the overall theme will emerge. Already there are versions I had not dreamed about. I find the merging of words into visual art in graphic artistry a particularly inspiring form. Poetry condenses experience. A photographer or graphic artist can do the same with a visual image.

Video Poetry

Some of us are beginning to explore spoken poetry alongside a series of video images.

You can see examples here: 

and here: 

Critical Evaluation

Poetry and Pictures will receive much unkind critical comment from both poets and visual artists. A poetry critic is likely to think that a specific image can only diminish the power of the inner imagery generated by a poem. Sometimes and for some people this will be true. At others it will not. Poets may write in such a way that the two interweave.

Visual artists often protest that words detract from the image. But our culture is saturated with low grade imagery, devoid of emotional content. Some images are poetic on their own. Most are not. Individual P&P artists are building their own fascinating, challenging, even riveting approaches to this work. It is much too early to make adequate judgements.

I am indebted to Martin Kimeldorf, a member of the Poetry and Pictures International Group, currently hosted on the Flickr website, for the suggestion that we are creating a new folk art. Just as great novels grow out of fairy tales and great symphonies build from folk songs, so we may be able to create works of art at many different levels of merit and complexity. The way we identify ourselves as human beings and relate to each other as people is already being transformed by web formats such as Facebook, and Twitter, as well as weblogs. Poetry and Pictures can be incorporated into such a web format to create a way for everyone to develop self expression, self affirmation, a new kind of intimacy, friendship and better social relationships. The international group I have formed currently uses these very powerful tools for communication both in words and pictures which is provided by
flickr.com. It is not perfect, since it is primarily designed for photo sharing rather than poetry. But the group already had 180 members within a month of starting, and representatives from Europe, North America and Asia. Within two years it had members from every continent. It grows at about 20 new members a month. There are now over 600 members. Oxfordshire has some of the leading lights, which include Mike Jones and Giles Watson.
Biographical Note

Nick Owen is a poet, playwright and photographer with over thirty years experience in the field of personal development education, working with all ages from unborn babies and their parents through to old people’s reminiscence groups. He has been a director of a school of psychotherapy. Nick recently won the Witney Calendar Photography competition.

 To find out more visit   www.nickowenphotography.co.uk

Monday 23 July 2012

Celebrate ROALD DAHL DAY this September ...


September 2012 marks the seventh annual celebration of Roald Dahl’s work, life and diverse legacy. This year’s celebrations promise to be the BIGGEST to date. It’s a chance to salute the World’s No. 1 Storyteller, Roald Dahl, who is read and loved by millions of children - and adults - all over the world. The festivities last throughout the whole of Roald’s birthday month of September.

This year, it’s a double celebration - indeed you might even say a GIANT celebration - because it's not only marking Roald Dahl’s birthday but also wishing a splendiferously “Happy 30th Birthday” to The BFG, one of Roald’s most popular books and characters.

Here are NINEwhizzpopping ways in which everyone can get involved:


The BFG collects dreams – good and bad – and shares the good ones with children on his nightly travels. So the theme of Roald Dahl Day 2012 is “DREAM BIG”. This year the foundation will be making young people’s dreams come true in a number of ways, with some truly amazing competitions and unique prizes, working with phizzwhizzing partners including Waterstone’s and British Airways. To keep track of the latest competitions and promotions, visit


"THE FANTASTIC MR DAHL" by Michael Rosen – a biography of Roald Dahl specially written for young readers by poet and former Children’s Laureate Rosen. (Puffin, £6.99, September.)

THE BFG" - Jubilee paperback edition – saluting 30 years of the BFG plus the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and highlighting the moment in the tale when the BFG and Sophie breakfast with HRH the Queen at Buckingham Palace. (Puffin, £6.99, OUT NOW.)

"The BFG" – Limited edition boxed hardback. A stunning collector’s edition of the classic tale, illustrated of course by Quentin Blake. (Puffin, £25, September.)

"ROALD DAHL’S MARVELLOUS JOKE BOOK" – The Marvellous Crocodile is sure to get your tonsils tickling in this new joke book which will help raise funds for Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity. (Puffin, £4.99, September.)


Don’t miss the chance to see two superstars, both former Children’s Laureates – Quentin Blake and Michael Rosen – talking, drawing and answering YOUR questions online on September 24th at 2pm via PUFFIN VIRTUALLY LIVE. Quentin and Michael will be coming to you live from the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, where they will take you behind the scenes AND read out a selection of YOUR wildest dreams. Last year’s PUFFIN VIRTUALLY LIVE reached hundreds of thousands of people all over the globe – let’s make the 2012 event bigger still! Register now at

There are two more great chances to see Michael Rosen talking live about his new book "THE FANTASTIC MR DAHL": at London’s National Theatre on Saturday September 8th (book your tickets at
www.nationaltheatre.org.uk) and at the Bath Festival of Children’s Literature on Sunday September 29th (book tickets at www.bathkidslitfest.org.uk ).  


What better place to celebrate Roald Dahl than at the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, the award-winning venue, in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire? There are two fun and fact-packed biographical galleries – one now housing the interior of Roald Dahl’s writing hut – plus the interactive story centre. Look out for the museum’s Roald Dahl Day celebrations on Sunday September 9th, in conjunction with a special opening of Roald Dahl’s nearby garden. Find out more at www.roalddahlmuseum.org or call 01494 892192.


Get set for the second annual Dahlicious Dress Up Day on Friday September 28th. Schoolkids all over the UK will be dressing up as their favourite Roald Dahl characters to raise funds for Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity, which helps seriously ill and disabled children. Claudia Winkleman, ambassador of the charity, says, “The Dahlicious Dress Up Day offers a fantastic opportunity for schools to work together for a common goal and stimulate children’s imaginations whilst inspiring compassion for other children living with a serious illness.” There’s still time to register for your fundraising pack at
www.roalddahlcharity.org or email schools@roalddahlcharity.org. Registered charity number: 1137409.


Go see the award-winning Royal Shakespeare Company's musical version of Roald Dahl’s "MATILDA", playing to sell-out audiences at London’s Cambridge Theatre. With book by Dennis Kelly and music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, it’s a complete delight!


2012 marks year 5 of the Roald Dahl Funny Prize – dedicated to finding the best new comic writing for young people in the UK. The shortlist will be announced in September and the two category winners in November.


Why not organise your own BFG birthday party? For everything you need to make it go with a bang. Download the WHIZZPOPPING PARTY PACK now from


Roald Dahl's collections of short stories sees him at his macabre best. And in 2012, for the first time, 43 of Roald Dahl's most celebrated short stories will be available as both CD and Digital Audiobook compendiums and as digital audiobook singles, read by a celebrity cast including:

"Someone Like You" - the first collection of Dahl's classic, famous, dark and sinister short stories, read by Juliet Stevenson, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Richard Griffiths, Adrian Scarborough, Gillian Andersen, Will Self, Richard E Grant and others.

"Switch Bitch" - four tales of seduction and suspense, read by Richard E Grant, Derek Jacobi, Gillian Andersen and others.

"Over To You" - ten tales of war and flying, read by Julian Rhind-Tutt, Cillian Murphy, Juliet Stevenson and Sophie Okonedo.

"Kiss Kiss" - eleven devious and shocking stories, read by Juliet Stevenson, Adrian Scarborough, Derek Jacobi and others.

All of the above are also available in eBook as well as the rest of the Dahl short story collections: "My Uncle Oswald", "The Wonderful World of Henry Sugar", "Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life", "Boy, Going Solo" and "Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories".

For further information please visit www.roalddahlday.info.

Friday 20 July 2012

Behind the scenes at the Man Booker Prizes: new website launched

Intimate insights into the lives of Man Booker Prize writers and judges, an interactive timeline from 1969 to the present and the latest news from the literary world: just some of the treasures that can be found on the new-look website for the Man Booker Prizes, launched on Friday 20th July 2012.

Reflecting the evolution of the Man Booker awards in the digital era, the enhanced site will continue to focus on the very best in fiction whilst allowing visitors to experience the prizes in greater depth and across a variety of new platforms and formats. It’s never been easier to keep up with prize news online, be it on pocket-sized smartphones, tablets or widescreen monitors. Live feeds from Twitter and Facebook also mean up-to-the-minute updates on what people are saying about the prizes and the wider world of literature.

Regular features will include video interviews with highly acclaimed writers, kicking off with Howard Jacobson talking about his experience of winning the 2010 prize and writing his new novel, Zoo Time, as well as Kazuo Ishiguro and Sarah Waters, talking about the impact of the Man Booker Prize on their careers and giving a behind-the-scenes glimpse of their writing habits and favourite authors. For the next month, visitors will also have the chance to watch an exclusive interview with 2011 Man Booker Prize winner, Julian Barnes, as he speaks candidly about his experience of being shortlisted and, finally, winning the prize.

As well as hearing about prize-winning authors, two key names behind the prizes – Ion Trewin, Literary Director of the Booker Prize Foundation, and Fiammetta Rocco, Administrator of the Man Booker International – will give an insight into what it is to oversee a leading literary prize. There will also be podcasts from the prize season, such as Dame Stella Rimington’s winner announcement at last year’s award ceremony, as well as interviews with 2011 shortlisted authors.

Additionally, in the coming months there will be picture galleries from Man Booker Prize events and an events calendar to help book lovers keep up with writers and judges throughout the year, from local bookshop signings to major literary festivals.

Visitors to the new site can also explore the history of the prizes through an online archive; over 40 years of fascinating facts from 1969 to the present day. This timeline allows visitors to filter information by years, prizes, books, judges and writers.

The Man Booker Prize celebrates its 44th year in 2012, whilst the Man Booker International Prize will award its fifth winner in 2013. In the last year alone, the Man Booker Prizes website has attracted in excess of a million visitors from across the globe, whilst its Twitter feed has accrued almost 15,000 followers. The new website is the latest in a series of digital initiatives for the prize, which include a Man Booker Prize room on Apple's iBookstore and Kindles for Man Booker Prize judges.

The 2012 Man Booker Prize judges will announce ‘The Booker Dozen’, their longlist of 12 or 13 titles, on 25th July 2012, followed by a shortlist of six titles on 11th September.  The winner of the 2012 Man Booker Prize will be announced at London’s Guildhall at an awards ceremony on 16 th October 2012.

For further details please visit www.themanbookerprize.com

2012 Rubery Book Winners Announced along with New Competition!

The Rubery Award has announced its 2012 winners:

First Prize
The Restorer by Daniela Murphy

Historical Fiction

A beautifully presented book in hardback and consistently well set out. The story was measured, detailed and well paced.  Murphy has a fluid style and knows her subject. She is clearly familiar with the region of Florence from both a historical and geographical perspective and also has a deep and intimate knowledge of the business of restoring wall paintings. She makes good and imaginative use of both past and present tenses and switches effectively between first and third person narrations. There was some beautiful writing in this novel and lovingly careful presentation.

Second Prize
The Master's Tale by Ann Victoria Roberts

This is a very timely book, produced in a professional manner. It takes the familiar account of the last voyage of the Titanic and examines it from a fresh perspective.  It is told by the master of the vessel, Captain Edward Smith.  The writer, who clearly has much specialist knowledge of the manner in which passenger ships are run, has seen the original log books of the master before the last tragic voyage, and shows a clear-sighted recognition of how these facts might have affected his decisions.  The character of the master is strong and believable and the reader’s sympathies are constantly with him, as the novel takes us through his earlier life in a series of well-handled flashbacks. A small criticism is the claim on the front cover that it is a ghost story.  Although there are some references to a ghost on the ship, this seems a small and insignificant part of a powerful strong story, and the claim is slightly misleading.

Third Prize
Sea Things by Carol Mead and Gareth Davies
Children's Poetry

The illustrations are excellent with use of vivid colour and imagination. Much thought has gone into the appearance and it is eye-catching without being flashy. The typesetting is playful and in keeping with the intention of the book.  There were a few problems with the presentation.  The judges’ main criticism was that there is too much information at the beginning. These pages should have appeared at the end as they might deter a young reader.  It takes too long to reach the main content of the book . There are also  page numbers on pages that should not be numbered.  However, all the judges agreed that it was a beautiful book and it would be good for schools.

The Shortlist

Sarah Lacey - Elizabeth Dye

A time-travel story, taking the central character back to the nineteenth century and the use of children in the mining industry.  The facts have been well researched and are convincing. The end pages indicate that it is part of a series, but nothing in the text indicates this, so it stands alone well.  It is nicely written, with a strong, believable protagonist with whom the reader can easily identify and the action is well paced. It is written in a way that would appeal to children.

Dance Lessons - Aine Greaney

This was beautifully and carefully crafted with a great sense of character and place.  It painted a warm, evocative picture of rural Ireland, effectively contrasting it with the world of academic life in the US..  There were many short, vivid episodes, which skipped between viewpoint, place and time.  This device was mostly effective, although the judges thought that it sometimes slowed down the story. Nevertheless, the writing is exceptionally good and the presentation  contemporary and sharp.

The Empathy Effect - Bob Lock

The book is well written, the setting one the author knows well, and it shows. The style is slightly experimental as part of it is told in first person while the third person is used for the scenes where the main character does not appear,. The limited colour palate of the cover works well, although some of the judges  felt that the title and author did not stand out enough, and preferred the image on the back to the front. There were a few concerns that the plot contained too many coincidences, but it was nonetheless an exciting, well-constructed novel.

Toward the Heliopause - Joan Michelson

Joan Michelson’s tribute to her husband Geoff Adkins is relentless in its focus on marriage, family, daughter,  sudden death and its aftermath.  There is much emotional power and appeal here. She investigates the meaning of her husband’s death from many angles, with consistency, compulsion and determination. The narrative about the family life is interesting, but might not appeal to all readers, especially if they are not familiar with her and her husband’s work.  The poetry is impressive and laudable for human reasons, however.   The judges felt that the cover was not sufficiently eye catching but they accepted that this was probably deliberate given the nature of the subject.  Although some of the writing is a little repetitive, the poems are very well constructed and create a dramatic effect as a book, a concept and a collection.

Act III - Richard Romanus

A well produced and enjoyable book from an accomplished writer, a film actor and his wife, both of whom have enjoyed considerable success in Hollywood. It is an account of their move to an idyllic Greek island in retirement.  The location, Skiathos, is portrayed vividly and with much affection, and the narrative came to  life for our readers. It was felt by one of the judges that, although some of the characters had fascinating stories, they were not explored at sufficient length. The writer’s background enables him to drop in regular references to his previous Hollywood life  - well-known people and films– and this is an added attraction. 

The Longlist

Timestop - John Alcock

This is a readable and likeable collection: cheerful and quite lightly, cleverly witty, but also a bit patchy: plain, clear and nuanced, but sometimes derivative.

Mirror of the Soul - John Dewey

This is an erudite work which has clearly been exceptionally well researched and equally well written and presented. An impressive read about this little known poet. The referencing and index are particularly helpful.

Beatrice - Fiona Joseph

A well-written account of Beatrice, a member of the Cadbury family who was determined to give up her inheritance and use it to benefit the workers at the Bournville factory.  She and her husband become anti-capitalist protestors and peace activists, making considerable efforts to leave behind her earlier existence as a privileged member of a wealthy family.

The Figurehead - Bill Kirton
Historical Fiction

An interesting idea for a detective story, set in 19th century Aberdeen.  It is left to the local wood carver, a man who specialises in quality figureheads, to take on the role of detective when a body is found on the beach. It has not been washed up after an accident, as everyone believes at first, but shows signs of something more sinister.  A well-written detective story    

The Damascus Drum - Christopher Ryan

The illustrations, engravings from 1881 by Edward Whymper, are the most compelling aspect of this book, but they do not always relate directly to the text. The book is very attractive, with a well-designed cover, and the writing is poetic. It is the story of a journey across Syria, a goat, and the drum made out of its skin.  It is the stuff of fantasy and mysticism.

Brother 'Lijah Built the Ark - Glennis Stott

A chillingly realistic book that reflects the fear that everyone feels towards religious sects with a dominant, controlling leader.  The story has more strength than the characterisation, which was felt to be a little simplistic, but the plot is very well handled.

Snack Yourself Thin - Richard Warburg and Tessa Lorant
Non fiction

An interesting concept that explores in some detail a new idea for a diet.  Anecdotal evidence from  one of the writers and his acquaintances is convincing and the information is well set out, although the pedantic insistence on using the trademark becomes increasingly irritating throughout. It was well-written and readable and worth serious consideration for those wanting to lose weight.

Hobgoblin - Tessa Lorant Warburg

The second part of a trilogy set in America and Germany, an interesting perspective of the Second World War from the German point of view and based on the author’s family.  It is extremely well written, with vividly realised scenes, although it sometimes feels more a memoir than a work of fiction.

The Rubery Award are now running their annual short story competition. First prize £500 (approx 805 US$; €609). For further information please visit the Rubery Book Award website at www.ruberybookaward.com

Thursday 19 July 2012

The Poetry Archive features Mark Grist

Mark Grist

The Poetry Archive exists to help make poetry accessible, relevant and enjoyable to a wide audience. It came into being as a result of a meeting, in a recording studio, between Andrew Motion, soon after he became UK Poet Laureate in 1999, and the recording producer, Richard Carrington. They agreed about how enjoyable and illuminating it is to hear poets reading their work and about how regrettable it was that, even in the recent past, many important poets had not been properly recorded. 

We were delighted when The Poetry Archive invited Mark Grist to take part and create his own Guided Tour. If you haven't already visited The Poetry Archive, The Children's Archive or read and heard Mark's contribution, then get yourself over to www.poetryarchive.org. You can read Mark Grist's Guided Tour here.