Monthly Archives: February 2012

Collecting Old Books

The collection so far

Antique dealers collect old books because they’re valuable. And some artists collect old books because they can be altered– scribbled on and cut to make new works of art. I’m collecting books for something different. I’m getting married in September and I’d like the table decorations to be book-related. So far my fiance seems willing too. 

This has become an excuse to dive into as many old bookshops as possible and I suspect I have more than enough books for the day. I’m hoping we can find a nice bookshelf to put them on when we move in together after the wedding.

But next I need to come up with a way of displaying them on the day. I’ve seen several clever ideas on the internet, but I’m not sure if they’re practical. If people are eating and drinking it might be better to have them in a basket which can be placed elsewhere if they start to get in the way.  If anyone has any suggestions let me know.

This Christmas my future mother-in-law very kindly gave me some old books as a present. Apparently she was going to give them to me separately at another time, but my fiance said I’d really like them and she should wrap them up.

An elephant on the front cover of The Jungle Book

He was right, they were just from the charity shop but I loved them. They were one of my favourite presents that day, books last longer than chocolate or bath salts and even clothes.

Now I’ve caught the collecting bug it’s hard to stop popping into the Oxfam book shop, or looking up my favourite titles on eBay to see if I can get a good copy. Fortunately or unfortunately, whichever way you look at it, I’ve yet to bag a job as a journalist so I can’t splash out on too many….

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Female writers at Agent 160 steal the show

Although women make up 52 per cent of the population, men write 83 per cent of plays, according to feminist theatre company Sphinx. Now Lisa Parry, artistic director for Agent 160, an exciting new female writer-led company, aims to change all this.

Twelve female playwrights will steal the limelight during the launch of Agent 160, at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff, this weekend. With £16,520 worth of funding from art councils in Wales, England and Scotland, Lisa’s new venture will support rising female talent.

Playwright Lisa Parry

A former journalist, Lisa turned to playwriting after freelancing for several national newspapers. She returned to university to study scriptwriting at Birmingham. But as a regular theatre goer, Lisa soon found most plays were written by male authors.

“There was a definite run of them,” said Lisa. “Some writers are absolutely brilliant but it is unequal, you need to hear as many voices as you can. Writing is one of the ways which we express ourselves, we are not getting the full picture if there is no female voice. Frankly it’s not fair for young girls who want to write.”

Two years ago Lisa e-mailed several of her favourite female writers and Agent 160 was born.

“I got an e-mail from Lisa saying I’ve got a project, do you want to be involved?” said Welsh writer Branwen Davies, who is currently studying for a scriptwriting PhD in Aberystwyth. “I was horrified by the statistics when Lisa told me, it wasn’t something that I had thought about before.

“I thought through my favourite writers and a lot of them were men. Then, because I’m a Welsh speaker, I thought about the Welsh speaking playwrights who jump to mind and they were all male. I’m not really sure why this is, but the writers who are breaking through at the moment are all female. I think this will tip the balance.”

Agent 160 playwrights describe their plays in one word

After this weekend Agent 160 will perform in London and Glasgow. The team includes artists who live as far as Scotland and Ireland. Lisa, however, whose family is from Merthyr Tydfil, was happy to see the project launched in Cardiff. “I wanted to go there, it feels more like home,” she said.

Without an office, each writer works from home, using computers and secret internet forums to communicate. This keeps company costs down and makes the project all-inclusive. “All the writers are completely different,” said Lisa. “We deliberately gave them an open brief as some of the writers felt they were being pigeon holed.”

Branwen’s play is called Genki? – it means happy in Japanese,  and is based on her experiences during a year out in Japan.

The piece uses two female actors, with the second actor playing several different parts.  “I wanted to give it a sense of fun, to look at what Japan is like,” said Branwen. “The rehearsals went well yesterday, we had a good giggle.

“I think there is a stigma about female writers, that they write about how bad men are, and how wonderful women are. I wouldn’t say I’m writing in a typical female way. When I write for female characters I want to make them really powerful, I worry if they are too girly.”

Although the scriptwriters are female, other positions in the company are open to men, including London producer Dan Baker. “I think the men love it,” said Lisa. “Everyone has been working separately so I don’t think Dan has been exposed to the full female troop at the moment.”

Agent 160 takes its name from the restoration playwright Aphra Behn. Behn, who was one of the first women to earn a living by both acting and writing, also worked as a spy for Charles II and Agent 160 was her codename.

“I would hope she’d approve,” said Lisa. “From her plays it is obvious she understood power and gender politics.

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AuthoriseBlog talks to crime writer Sally Spedding

Crime writer Sally Spedding published her first novel Wringland in 2001. Since then she has written six more titles, as well as several short stories and poems. Last year Sally was winner of the Welsh Poetry Competition. Her latest chiller Cold Remains, which was released this February, is published by Sparkling Books and is set in the spooky Carmarthenshire countryside.

When did your desire for writing start?

I began, aged eight, combining my love for drawing with words – creating my own ‘newspapers’ – up in the attic of my Dutch grandparents’ house on the Blorenge, near Abergavenny. An escape, to make sense of this world, yet hearing the mighty rows raging down below.

The cover of Sally's new book

Why crime fiction? What is it about this genre you enjoy?

My problem is I can’t equate ‘fiction’ with what is made up. What I put on the page is as real to me as what I can see, touch and smell.

Explorations of the dark side of my characters and places are driven by an intense curiosity to unravel who and what they really are. To quote a maxim, which is so true, ‘people don’t change, they simply reveal themselves.’

I feel the crime genre box needs to be broken. The best crime writing includes horror, the paranormal and other elements so many readers have actually experienced. Johan Theorin is a good example of this, as is Pierre Magnan.

How has Wales inspired and influenced your work? 

Wales, like France, is a country of unfinished business. Living here, even as a Welsh-born, but non-Welsh speaker in a small, rural community in the late 1970’s, was like facing a furnace. That sense of exclusion – despite teaching at the local comprehensive school for 15 years and making some good friends – is hard to forget. However, we came back here four years ago, because it’s still home.

In France, the far right is, yet again, gaining ground. In our village in the Pyrenees, an Arab family is openly ostracized. Etrangers find it hard to get work, and not so far away, amidst the lovely vineyards and mountains, is a former military camp – the Sahara of the Midi -used for the zealous deportation of Jews, gypsies and homosexuals.

As a writer, nothing is wasted.

What was your inspiration for Cold Remains in particular?

In Cold Remains, it was the silence of the disused lead mine workings, just outside Rhandirmwyn, which inspired me to research further. Below the marshy ground lie treacherous caves with their secrets. Just like the silted-up swimming pool at Heron House. Just like those who live there…

Why is the country just as scary as the city? What’s the scariest place you’ve been?

The Rupert Bear books and cartoons are to blame. They always have an ominous speck on the horizon, or someone popping out from behind a bush. At least on a street someone will hear you scream…

The scariest place was around The Wash near Sutton Bridge in Lincolnshire, where my first chiller Wringland is set. Here, as Hilaire Belloc so aptly says, ‘the mud and tide commingle’ and the air seems full of unhappy ghosts.

Would you agree that horror can give a more realistic representation of today’s world?

Yes, of past and future worlds. Have you ever visited an abattoir? Seen what’s happening in the area of genetic engineering in innocuous looking laboratories? True horror is a close neighbour of reality.

Author Sally Spedding

Have you seen a rise in the popularity of crime fiction since you began writing?

I’ve seen a rise in the detective series certainly, it’s a rather overcrowded marketplace now. Anyone starting out needs to have a fresh vision and steer clear of stereotypes.  For example the cop with a drink problem and a wayward teenage daughter. Also, young girls and women as murder victims. These have literally been done to death.

As an author, whether in novels or the short story, I’ve kept the blinkers on and in doing so, am proud to keep pushing at the boundaries of conventional crime writing.

What has your experience of being a writer working in a world of changing technology been like?

Exciting. Twitter and Facebook keep me connected to those on this same, strange road. However, I love writing in longhand first, then editing  while transferring the work to my computer. I can draw my characters’ faces, create maps and generally feel the flow through the pen. It’s a long process, but I won’t change now. I have, however, become obsessive about saving work and taking my memory sticks with me everywhere.

As an experienced author, do you find the writing process goes more smoothly?

Having had a wonderful editor in Peter Lavery (Pan Macmillan) I find making things clear to the reader easier than I did. Sentence structure can make all the difference, I will always be grateful for his advice. I become suspicious if things go too smoothly. The most challenging aspect is when a main character evolves in a previously unplanned way.

Every novel, every short story or poem has its own challenges, but without these life would just be merely an existence.

Sally has her own website which you can see by clicking here.

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Mab Jones makes her mark on Cardiff’s literary scene

Four years ago award-winning poet Mab Jones stood up to perform her first gig at Cardiff’s Shot in the Dark, City Road. Three gigs later she found herself in the semi-finals for Radio 4’s National Poetry Slam and shortly after, in the semi-finals at the Funny Women awards. Now she has a busy schedule working as a full time poet after quitting her call centre job last year. Before Christmas she performed eight gigs in one week.

“It’s a catch 22 situation really,” said Mab, sitting in Milgi Lounge, a trendy vegetarian coffee shop which also hosts open mic nights. “If you’re working in a job just to earn some money, you can’t do the work you really want to do. When you’re a poet you’re inevitably going to be a bit poorer than you would like, I can’t buy Gucci handbags but I can still afford cups of tea and nice cake.”

Mab at an open mic night

Humbly putting her success down to luck and meeting the right people, Mab is a modern poet who uses sites like Facebook and Twitter to market her work and is sometimes employed through these. “It’s difficult to imagine how it would have been without social media,” she said. “It’s the only thing I can think of that has made the greatest difference.”

Mab’s first foray into the literary world, however, was as a teenager, when she ran a fanzine from her bedroom. Her brother, Mao Jones, photocopied the first issue secretly at school and they sold copies at a local shop. But it was only later on, while attempting to write her first novel, that she discovered a talent for poetry. After three months of writing and living on a Literature Wales grant Mab started to write rhymes for light relief.

Inspired by poets like John Cooper Clarke, Elvis McGonagall and Luke Wright, Mab’s witty poetry is often quick to point out humanity’s failings or idiosyncrasies. Often her poems are based on life observations, on things which have happened to friends and acquaintances. “When I first started I was very angry,” said Mab. “But to have the energy to get up in front of that many people you’ve got to have some sort of anger. I was in my 20’s, I was a trade union rep and I wanted to save the world.  Now I’ve mellowed out.”

Time for poetry

Since 2004 Mab has visited Edinburgh three times to perform 50 gigs in total for the fringe festival. Her biggest performance was at Latitude music festival last year in front of 3,000 people. Performance, however, didn’t come naturally.

“I had to place my hands behind my back and press them together to stop them shaking,” said Mab. “After a while it went away. Now I enjoy interacting with the audience. The best gigs are on a large stage to a large audience. When you have a small gig, you can see people and you know them that’s really hard.”

Today Mab is not just a performer, she is an organiser and runs regular events of her own, including the Pechakucha nights at Chapter Arts Centre. Performers have 20 images and 20 seconds to talk about them. Mab also hopes to set up a listings site with fellow artist David Lee and is looking for volunteers. “I’ve come to the conclusion there are two types of people, competitive people and collaborative people,” said Mab. “I think I’m in the latter type. I do believe when you find the thing you love the fates let it happen.”

Mab has her own website which you can see by clicking here.

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