The five ‘performers’ – Kayla, Ruxandra, Martin. John and Samuel Moore in front of the four paintings they evoked so well

Saturday was quite a day for me. Some pain I had throughout Friday carried over into Saturday and worsened but not only was I scheduled to support my writers’ club colleagues in a unique event, entitled ‘Evocation’, in Leeds Art Gallery, being also no less than ‘official photographer’, but later Petronela had booked into my favourite restaurant for my annual ‘birthday treat’. I was determined to enjoy both so employed mind over matter, helped by a few paracetamols, and had a wonderful day. I suffered on Sunday, matter overcoming mind with a vengeance, but I was happy.

I’m pretty sure the Leeds Art Gallery event was unique. Each writer first read a story or poem – about 5 to 6 minutes – which one of four pictures, very different, but in close proximity, had evoked for them. Each reading was followed by an interpretation, of not only the picture but also the ‘story’ from the writer, by a wonderful flamenco guitarist Samuel Moore.

There had been a rehearsal in the club but I studiously avoided this so the experience was absolutely fresh for me. What an experience it was too: the stories from the writers were little short of brilliant and Sam’s musical evocation was not only brilliant but emotionally moving. Perhaps because I have several copies of Sutcliffe’s famous (notorious ?) photograph of naked boys enjoying the sea at Whitby, I was particularly taken by the painting with a similar theme and when the music came I was bathing in sunshine, hot Spanish sun brought to an English scene through some astounding flamenco guitar.

The story doesn’t end here; in June stage 2 of ‘Evocation’ will take place with another four paintings in the gallery. For this event I will not be ‘official photographer’ but one of the writers, attempting to relate what a painting, Haynes King’s ‘An interesting paragraph’, evokes for me. I might need more than a fistfull of paracetamols.

Birthday treat at Emporio Italiana

This was the third time my ‘birthday treat’ has been dinner at Emporio Italia in Ilkley. This tiny restaurant, far from Ilkley ‘posh’, transports you straight to Italy. It’s not only the superb food but the atmosphere, complete with ‘waiters’ who know their food, explain each dish in detail and sing, adding to the hussle bussle you’d expect in their home country. There is no ‘menu’ as such, just what proprietor chef Luigi feels like cooking on the day, written on a large blackboard carried from table to table as required. I love it!

For the record, I had an extraordinary ‘tartino di pesce’ as a starter, salmon and prawns in a cream sauce under a cover of amazing potato mash with pork; my main was rabbit ‘coniglio alla cacciotora‘ – superb; finishing with delicious coffee and walnut tart. Petronela and I shared a bottle of house red, excellent.

Comical aside: to ensure we could get into this small restaurant Petronela booked the table way back, maybe February, and neither of us could remember what date we had booked – the Saturday before, the Saturday after or the day itself, Tuesday 15th. A panic telephone call on Friday established it was booked for the Saturday before.

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If you don’t like so-called ‘classical music’ this post will not be of interest. However, if you do and have yet to discover ‘Classic FM Revision’ it might be.

I have listened to Classic FM for a few years – it’s my background for many things but particularly writing, at low volume – despite the often annoying advertisements, silly announcements that I am listening to Classic FM between every piece of music, some really irritating presenters (hence the low volume) and, for me, one boring programme. Now, with ‘ … Revision’ at least the last two can be switched off without losing the continuous (but it’s not, despite the claim to be music “all in one continuous stream”) music. Also, the music seems to be on a ‘loop’ so we seem to hear the same pieces repeatedly but if it is a loop it’s quite a big one.

Don’t get me wrong, not all the Classic FM presenters are irritating: none of the women, not David Mellor (my favourite programme) , Alyd Jones nor many of the other men. So who are the irritating ones who now definitely have me switching to ‘ … Revision’?

Top of the ‘irritating’ list

First and top of the ‘irritating’ list is that presenter of some pointless tv quiz who tries so hard to be witty, Alexander Armstrong. What is more, although he has a decent voice he cannot sing, but other presenters feel obliged (are obliged?) to plug his albums and people buy them – it’s beyond me; his ‘Christmas’ offering was surely the most boring Christmas album ever produced. He even jumped on the band wagon with ‘Peter and the Wolf’, again irritating after David Bowie did it so well.

I didn’t mind the plugs for Alyd Jones as he really can sing and the diction is wonderful – as both man and boy. Handel/Somervell’s ‘Silent worship’ sung by Alyd is a delight no matter how many times I hear it.

Other irritants and the boring one

Not far behind Armstrong in the irritation stakes are the Yorkshire (unfortunately) gardener, Titchmarsh, and Suchet; both speak to us as if we’re in primary school. The most boring programme? ‘Saturday night at the movies’; there is some excellent film music, written to accompany a film, but relatively little of it can stand alone as music in my opinion, and even less might be given the tag ‘classical’.

Not continuous music

Classic FM Revision’ claims to produce non-stop music ideal for the students who like a music background to studying, as I would. It’s not quite true. The stupid frequent reminders of what programme we are listening to are there, maybe a little less frequent as there are no presenters for each piece. The silly or inappropriate advertisements are still there (are students really interested in buying a holiday home?) but, for the moment at least, they seem less frequent.

But the big plus is that when one of the irritating presenters is due to come on I can switch to ‘ … Revision’, but switch back for a more varied selection of music with a pleasant presenter when they have finished.

Haiku (translation):
an ancient pond
a frog jumps in
the splash of water
Matsuo Basho, 1686

Anyone who has been following my blog for a while will know I like to write ‘short’ and have sometimes written so-called ‘English haiku’ following the format: three lines of 5,7,5 syllables or, more correctly, sounds. In fact recently I collected together my scribblings in this format and put them under a menu heading of ‘Haiku’

However, recently I have come to the conclusion, after reading hundreds of them from other writers/bloggers, that although they are often beautiful, sometimes moving, short poems, haiku they are not – for me. The same applies to tanka, which add another two ‘lines’ of seven syllables to a haiku (or rather, the haiku resulted from removing the last two ‘lines’ of tanka).

I have to assume that Japanese haiku are just that but as I don’t read Japanese I cannot make any judgement. I read translations of them but I’m certain they lose something. I know Romanian poetry, which I can read in the original, certainly does. I sometimes wonder whether I, as a native English speaker who speaks Romanian pretty well, could do better.

Few of the English ones I’ve read come close to a true haiku, in my opinion, but I haven’t read even one that I now consider to be a haiku – there’s an indefinable ‘something’ missing: Japanese culture perhaps? I certainly haven’t written one.

I find my little 5,7,5 poems easy to write when the moment grabs me, the same with poems that rhyme – haiku do not of course (most people I know say that it’s the rhyming they find difficult). I think I’ve become better over time with my ‘haiku’ attempts but I’m still a long way from being satisfied.

Despite these doubts, I will not stop writing them as I enjoy the discipline of writing to the 5,7,5 format and trying to get closer to a haiku; I think I’ve said before I always enjoyed writing headlines as a journalist and there are similarities. Also, the tanka, and so haiku, goes back 11 centuries and there is something satisfying for me to try to create something with this long a history. In the past one of these short poetic forms was often sent to a friend or family member who added to it and sent it back. It might go back and forth like this for years.

Capturing the ‘decisive moment’

Silhouettes of couple kissing and figure of person with umbrella jumping, with Eiffel Tower in the backgrounc

‘A decisive moment’ captured by Henri Cartier-Bresson

An essential characteristic of a true haiku is that it captures a brief moment of time, and as a keen photographer I cannot help but compare that with the photography of Henri Cartier-Bresson, who said: “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.” Substitute ‘haiku’ for ‘photography’ and ‘words’ for ‘forms’ and you have, I believe, the essence of a haiku.

So, here’s a challenge: add two seven syllable lines to the following attempt at an ‘English haiku’ I’ve just written, to make a ‘tanka’, and put it in comments. I’ll attempt to respond to each one with another ‘haiku’.

bluetit … food in beak

pauses outside hole in wall

cat waits patiently

Formatting as a book motivated me to work again on my ‘long’ (for me) story – shelved before last summer. That was the subject of my previous post. But it’s still not that easy.

What is slowing me down now is research, though internet makes that easier than it was in the past. I am firmly of the belief that setting a story in a location you do not know well is to invite scorn from readers who do know it well. I remember reading a much-followed blogger’s self-published novel set in Paris and it rapidly became clear to me that he had never been there or if he had only on a brief superficial visit (I have been several times but not enough to set a novel there). You might get away with it for a small anonymous town but Paris, never. Of course writers of fantasy might not have this problem but it is not a genre I enjoy so never read it.

(As an aside, if you do intend to make a visit to Paris in the near future be sure to read a post from Charlotte Hoather, a young soprano whose blog I have been following for a few years. She’s not a travel writer but it’s the best bit of travel writing I have read! I was tempted to jump on the next plane to the French capital.

1960s/70s London

Back to my story, working title ‘Miranda’. It is set in 1960s/70s London, when and where I not only lived and worked but became caught up in the several cultures rife at the time. So why do I need to research?

I’ll give two examples. Even with internet researching just these two things are taking a lot of time.

An important event in the story is when Miranda is taken to Covent Garden to see Nureyev dance with Margot Fonteyn. It was an actual, special, historic performance. I was at it (alone!) but I couldn’t remember the exact date; important for the sequence of the story to make sense.

What is more, for the occasion I wanted Miranda to wear a dress based on one designed I think maybe by Givenchy for Audrey Hepburn, a dress I could ‘see’ even after about 60 years. I had to be sure that the dress appeared before the Covent Garden event. I’ve not yet nailed this one so if any fashion buffs recognise the dress let me know please. It was gold, long with a short train and had little ‘droplets’ decorating the front.

Of course I, as a former journalist, enjoy the research and it leads me to many ‘unnecessary’ (from the point of view my story) but fascinating discoveries. It’s easy to lose a day, or more. And I have.

Temporary cover and the start of ‘Chapter 5’.

Stuck on your ‘big story’ in progress? I may have found the answer to get you going again.

Don’t leave it formatted as a manuscript, format it as a book. The motivation to finish it is difficult to resist.

It’s not difficult to do: to get it near enough to a paperback just set an A4 page as landscape and make it two columns. Choose a book-suitable typeface, though Times (default for many people) will be fine. Start each chapter on a new column, about 1/3 down the page, and put a centred chapter heading over it,

et voilá

If you can make a front cover then the motivation becomes even stronger, but it’s not necessary. I did, as in picture, as it’s not difficult for me after many years formatting magazines, newspapers and brochures, though never books.

Novella or novel?

I cannot guarantee it will work for you of course but it has certainly worked for me. The characters are just clammering to be heard. They are suggesting perhaps a further six to eight ‘chapters’ which, with completing a few of the current 14 ‘chapters’ as yet unfinished will, I reckon, take the word count from the current 21,800 to around 40,000, so more novella than novel. But who knows?

If you want to submit to a publisher then you’ll have to go back to industry standard manuscript but that’s no problem of course.

If I do finish it I’ll decide then whether I think I can ‘sell it’ to a publisher and maybe have a shot; multiple rejections wouldn’t bother me. Self publishing doesn’t interest me. At least, not for now


The few words, related in ‘Chapter 5’ by the male protagonist, with the fairly appropriate photo for the female protagonist, Miranda, perhaps give a flavour of the story (tap the image to enlarge enough to read the words). I’ve avoided the ‘spicier’ passages. You’ll also see part of one of several observations from a narrator who butts in from time to time.

The picture I ‘borrowed’ from The Daily Mirror’s 1969 campaign ‘Save the mini’. The model’s real name was Julie I believe.

No children today (children’s film next door) but an attentive older audience. ‘Props’ for one storyteller on the floor.

In my previous post I said that I was writing a story for children, to be read as my contribution to what is becoming a regular presentation by our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe, in Ilkley public library – each autumn, winter and spring. Our latest ‘spring’ presentation was earlier today.

As with so many of my stories, this one was ‘inspired’ by a post on one of the blogs I follow; the recent post related how a Latvian family, with three young sisters, had been ‘puzzling’ over a weekend. This story was, as usual and as I explained in my previous post, related to me by the  characters; all I did was write it down.


The Magical Spring Garden

That’s part of a crocus,” Melanie said.

I don’t think so, I think it’s part of a daffodil, in fact I’m sure it’s from a daffodil,” Lizzie said firmly. Lizzie, Melanie’s elder sister, was always sure of everything.

Daffdill, daffdill,” shouted Jilly, at two and a bit the youngest of the three sisters and always willing to back up her oldest sister.

Well I think it’s a bit of a crocus,” Melanie muttered grumpily.

Please don’t argue about it, just try to do the puzzle nicely and quietly.” The girls’ mum was used to these squabbles when the girls did something together, often ending in a fight, especially if that something was a bit difficult. This jigsaw puzzle was certainly not easy; one thousand pieces and really intended for an adult – or was it? The older sisters were just five and four years old.

The puzzle was about half done, thanks to a lot of help from mum, with parts of it looking just like the beautiful picture on the box but a lot of pieces had no obvious place to go, some of them looking just like another.

Well, I bet you don’t know what this is,” shouted Melanie, holding up another piece which had a complete star-like flower, again bright yellow.

Easy, easy, it’s a buttercup,” cried Lizzie triumphantly, “isn’t it mum?” as she grabbed the piece and held it up.

No sweetheart, this is a Spring picture but buttercups don’t come till the summer. That bright, shiny yellow star is called a celandine. Now girls, please stop quarrelling; I have to go upstairs to do some cleaning and I don’t want to hear a lot of noise or have to come down to stop you fighting. And be careful with that table; it’s a bit rickety.”

Can you tell us again what the picture is called before you go upstairs, please?” asked Melanie.

It’s called ‘The Magical Spring Garden’ and it does look magical doesn’t it, with all those flowers, some trees with half-opened blossom buds and lots of birds. Now, be good while I’m upstairs.”

For a couple of minutes the girls worked quietly but when Melanie tried to fit a piece into somewhere it would not go Lizzie grabbed it from her hand and, as Melanie tried to grab it back, the table tipped and all the pieces were on the floor, most separate, some not the right way up.

Look what you’ve done Melanie!”. Lizzie’s voice, half angry, half sobbing, faded away before her sister could answer, and she pointed at the floor.

The girls watched in complete silence as the pieces began to move, slowly, round and round, slowly, slowly one joining to another. Soon, the puzzle was complete.

That’s why it’s called ‘magical’. I’m going to call mum.” Melanie’s voice was trembling as she spoke, partly wonder, partly fear.

Suddenly, a bluetit in one of the trees flew from a branch and landed on Melanie’s shoulder. “Don’t call your mum, she will come down soon to see why you are all so quiet but this puzzle is only magical for children; adults don’t believe in magic. You just watch.”

Just watch quietly,” a robin, which had flown onto Jilly’s shoulder, whispered in her ear.

Two goldfinches flew to Lizzie’s shoulders, one on each, singing the same beautiful song before saying, together, “We do everything together, we’re oh so sociable, and never quarrel. That’s what you and your sisters should do. It’s much more fun like that. Now watch.”

The sisters, totally silent, watched amazed as one after another the blossom on the cherry trees, white on some, pink on others, red on just one, opened fully to fill the magic garden with colour.

One after another, white, yellow and purple crocuses opened to cover the grass with a rainbow of colours. At the bottom of many trees, the little bright yellow stars of celandines turned their faces to the sun.

Oh I’m going to pick some of those,” shouted Jilly as she began to get down from her chair.

Oh no, you should never pick the flowers. Here you will break the magic; outside, the flowers you pick will die and the others will be very sad. Just enjoy them where they are,” said the robin on Jilly’s shoulder.

Upstairs, just a bit worried she had heard nothing for such a long time, mum moved towards the stairs. Trying to make no noise herself she began to go down.

Downstairs, the girls heard the stairs creak. All of a sudden, with a soft rustling sound like the fluttering of birds’ wings, all the jigsaw pieces flew onto the table, arranging themselves into an almost completed picture of the magic Spring garden, as the birds flew back into the trees. Just a few pieces were not in their places.

Mum stood still as she slowly opened the door to see the girls sitting quietly with an almost completed puzzle . “Good heavens, I’m amazed. See what you can do when you don’t squabble,” she said.

Mum, mum, you’ll never believe what happened,” the sisters shouted together.

And, of course, she didn’t!

Club members reading today: from left, Danish, Romanian, Canadian then – as far as I know – British till, partly Viking he says, at far right.

St Patrick’s Day today and I guess there’ll be a multitude of  blog posts about it. As Ireland is one of my two favourite countries in the 43 I’ve visited, the other is of course Romania, I have to post something, but what? Last year I posted about a wonderful personal experience in the land of fairies. I might have seen a leprechaun on that occasion but I did have rather a lot of Guinness and Irish whisky; I’ll settle for less today.

I am trying to write a ‘fairy story’ today, as our writers’ club (Writing on the Wharfe) has one of our occasional ‘performances’ in a local library, Ilkley, next Saturday afternoon. Recently we have done it for Spring/Easter, Autumn and Winter/Christmas. It doesn’t have to be a children’s story though it has to be suitable for children. I love writing for them, drawing my inspiration not from the impressive list of Irish story writers but from children I know, daughters of a friend in our village or, on this occasion, and some past, from the daughters of my blogger friend in Latvia. However, back to Ireland … …

Irish writers

It is extraordinary how many Irish writers jump immediately to mind, way disproportionate to the size of this astoundingly beautiful country and people. I just made a list but I’m sure someone will say “what about … …?” I cannot put them, poets, dramatists, short story writers and novelists, in order of preference so I spent a minute putting them in alphabetical order.

Samuel BeckettBrendan BehanRoddy DoyleJohn EnnisOliver GoldsmithSeamus Heaney, James JoyceC. S. LewisLewis MacNeicePatrick McCabeIris MurdochEdna O’BrienLiam O’FlahertyGeorge Bernard ShawBram StokerJonathan SwiftOscar WildeW. B. Yeats.

Personally I’m hard pushed to make such a list for any other nation.

I could, though, make such a list for Romanian poets, they have a language which seems to me perfect for poetry.

Which brings me back to writing and a post earlier today from one of the first bloggers I followed, Romanian; at the time I was struck by how good his written English was and found his writing on writing interesting, which was unusual for me as much as I like to write, reading about writing rarely interests me.

His post today (or rather the one which interested me; he tends to post several times a day, most of which I do not open) is titled ‘Being a writer’ and includes a short video clip of American tv writer Chuck Lorre’s response to being asked for advice to new writers. I’ve never seen one of his sitcoms but what he said hit home:

Write what you love … write what’s real, write what you care about …”

When writing for children I write ‘inspired’ by children I know, so what I write is always based in truth. Those children may not always be entirely ‘real’, though they often are, but my method of writing whether for children or adults is simple: I ‘dream’ of the characters, wait for them to speak to me and write down what they say, do or think. If they don’t speak to me I don’t write, so I cannot follow the advice to write something every day. But as I write for me, with no aspirations to be published more widely than my blog, it doesn’t matter.

PS. Congratulations to the Irish rugby team which beat England today to win their first Grand Slam for 9 years and the third ever.