Monday, 5 October 2015

Everyone's Reading

Last week Leicester was alive with reading and writing events for this year's Everyone's Reading Festival. I went to quite a few sessions and thought I'd share some of them with you here.

I attended a poetry writing session run by the talented Helen Mort. Helen inspired us to write portrait poetry which ranged from the personal to the surreal. It was a great evening and I can see why Helen has been the Derbyshire Poet Laureate for the last few years. I'd like to know why Leicester doesn't have a poet laureate.

I visited the Leicester Writers' Club for an open evening. I used to be a regular member in the last century! (I feel so old!) It was lovely to go back and meet old friends and they were all so welcoming. Their evening consisted of a panel of six members who had each chosen the book that inspired them to start writing. More about this when I've told you about the rest of my week.

My signing table at Waterstones Leicester
I was invited to BBC Radio Leicester to talk about The Children's Book of Richard III and my imminent appearance at Waterstones Leicester. It was going to be a proper interview but there was so much happening last week that they didn't manage to squeeze in more than a quick shout-out but it was fun and when I arrived at Waterstones there was a queue waiting for me, so it must have jogged a few memories.

I love to hear the questions that children ask at these bookshop events. I'm humbled by the awe that they express when I tell them that I did, indeed, write the book. I would like to think that my book, and the story I tell them about writing it, inspires some of them to have a go at writing themselves, which brings me back to the topic of 'books that inspire us to write'.

The panel from the Writers' Club said that they had great trouble selecting one book that inspired them to write and I'm not surprised. I've tried to think of one but I'm stumped. I think that the inspiration must have come from a mighty mixture of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and newspaper/magazine articles.

I can come up with several books that influenced me in life. As a child I was totally enthralled by Enid Blyton's Famous Five and Secret Seven. I wanted to have a secret den and plans of trips by boat to deserted islands with lemonade, sandwiches and a scoundrel of a dog to add to the excitement.

When I became a teenager it was Wuthering Heights that had me gripped. I was besotted with the hopelessness of their relationship and the depth of love and indeed hate that this relationship created. It suited and probably fuelled my mood of teenage angst. I spent several years collecting old versions of the book and still have them all on my book shelf.

I'm intrigued to know which books have most inspired you.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

From Fasting to Feasting

It has been a busy time here. Two weeks ago it was the Jewish New Year and last week it was the Day of Atonement, the most holy day of the year when we have to fast for 25 hours. Not easy!

By way of a contrast, today there was a food festival at Leicester's Belgrave Hall. When I saw a stall from the well-known vegetarian Indian restaurant, Bobby's, I eagerly joined the queue. The girls were serving up a choice of two vegetarian curries. The left-hand tray contained paneer curry, the right-hand noodle curry...

And this was my lunch. Delicious...

Belgrave Hall is an 18th Century house built by a rich hosiery merchant and now used as a museum. It is right in the centre of Leicester City and yet you can walk round its walled gardens and feel as if you're in the countryside. This is where we ate our lunch...

The Most Haunted House in Leicester:

Belgrave Hall has the reputation of being the most haunted house in Leicester. A victorian lady has apparently been seen walking around and apparently the aroma of Victorian-style cooking has been smelt. There is a video that apparently shows a ghostly white lady walking through the upstairs rooms, but today, on this lovely sunny autumn afternoon, there was certainly nothing spooky going on at all. 

Mind you, I wasn't about to hang around and am now home, safe and sound, long before the sun sets when I fear that ghostly apparitions might well walk once more. 

Thursday, 17 September 2015

The Rik Basra Leukaemia Campaign

Pass It On

Yesterday I took part in Rik Basra's dynamic Pass It On Campaign. Before I talk about our excitement at collecting the flag from the Leicester Fire Brigade, I shall explain a bit about the campaign.

Every year, 2000 people in the UK need a stem cell transplant to help them to battle against blood cancers but suitable donors are often hard to find. The Rik Basra Leukaemia Campaign has organised a month-long event to encourage people, especially from minority groups, to sign up to the Anthony Nolan Bone Marrow Register.

A flag is being ceremonially passed between Leicester groups by members of the Leicester Fire Brigade. It is covered with signatures of all those people who have registered and, when the project is completed, the flag will be displayed at the Leicester Royal Infirmary Cancer Unit. The photographs below show myself and Miriam, Chair of the Leicester Progressive Synagogue, collecting the flag. The firemen made quite a display of passing it on to us with ornamental firehoses playing and a huge crane ladder.

We were on the balcony watching as the flag swung into the air and into our hands. (That's me with the yellow jumper on.) It was all very exciting.

We then took the flag back to the Progressive Synagogue where a small but enthusiastic group of supporters turned up to register and add their signatures to the flag. 

Of course we would all willingly have signed up too but for the age restriction of 16 to 30. As Miriam pointed out, even our children are too old to contribute! That hurt, but at least we were able to do our bit to spread the word.

You can find out more about Rik Basra and his campaign at his webiste, The Rik Basra Leukaemia Campaign

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Tenby and Happy New Year

We've been in Tenby, Wales, for the week. The weather was glorious and the view from the living room window was amazing.

From that same window we were able to watch the athletes training for today's Ironman Competition. It involves swimming, cycling and running. Not for the faint hearted!

It's a shame we couldn't stay to watch the swimming part of the competition as we would have had a 'front row' view but we needed to get home in time for the Jewish New Year which starts at sunset tonight. So I wish you all shana tova, a happy and healthy new year and share my usual helping of apple and honey with you.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Has Shakespeare seen better days...

...or has he gone full circle?

I love the way that Shakespeare has placed so many well-worded phrases into our language. I suspect that some people will argue that he took many of these phrases from earlier writers, but even if that is true it was Shakespeare who provided us with their legacy. If he had not used these phrases then they would have been lost forever. It was from his plays that they have become part of our everyday speech.

This picture did the rounds a few months ago on Facebook. Apologies to whoever compiled it but 
I couldn't resist using it for this post.

One of my many favourite extracts from Shakespeare is the famous speech given by Jaques in As You Like It:
All the world's a stage.
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.....

This was something that, as a teenager, got me thinking for the first time about the aging process, about the concept of 'seven ages of man'.

What is your favourite Shakespeare extract or phrase?

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

August Reflections

August is the only month that I've never known how to spell in French. This is because I was never at school in August. August is a month of disruptions; people on annual leave, meetings cancelled, a month with no routine. How apt, therefore, that my blog took on a different look. I hope you enjoyed meeting some of my writing friends. I told you Leicester was an interesting place to live.

I’ve been keeping busy while I’ve been away from my blog. I drove up to Manchester for a family visit. I’m getting braver at driving… a little braver anyway.  It’s always a fun, action packed time in Manchester. I was proud to see Son practicing for his first ever 5K run to raise money for Junior Diabetes Research, JDRF. As I’ve mentioned before, my five-year-old grandson has Type 1 Diabetes and it’s a 24 hour-a-day/7 day-a-week worry for them all.

The highlight of my month was a trip to London. We went to see Gypsy at The Savoy Theatre. It was a belated birthday present from Daughter; a fabulous day and an impossible-to-beat present.

I love The Savoy Theatre. If you’ve never been then you must visit it next time you’re in London. It is on Savoy Court next to the Savoy Hotel entrance with its top-hatted doormen and strange little street which must be accessed by driving on the right hand side of the road (the only such street in the UK apparently, an anachronism, something to do with carriages and ladies alighting.) When you go into the theatre you have to go down the stairs even if you’re up in the Circle. There are red velvet curtains and triangular art nouveau lighting. It’s small enough for you to never be too far away from the action, and what action it was! Imelda Staunton as Gypsy Rose Lee’s mother! She made the hairs stand up on my neck.

And now it’s September, a month of new beginnings. Of course, I no longer have the trepidation of a new school term but I have enrolled on a new course. It’s a poetry writing course so expect to see lots of poetic blogs over the next year. September is also the month when we welcome in the Jewish new year of 5776 with lots of apple and honey but more of that in another post...

If anyone would like to donate to the Junior Diabetes Charity, JDRF, this is my son's Just Giving Page. He was, until recently, a self-confessed 'couch potato'. With an apology for repeating myself, I'm so proud of how hard he is training for this.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Science and Story at Space Centre - Siobhan Logan

An August Blog Event - Leicester Writers

My final Leicester Writer Visitor has a  story to tell that is truly out of this world. Siobhan, a writer friend for many years, is more than qualified to tell the story herself so please give an astronomical welcome to Siobhan Logan:

Thanks to Jacob Ross for this picture
Next week I am joining scientists and astronomers to celebrate the Rosetta space mission at the National Space Centre. Pinch me now. In all honesty, I was rubbish at science at school. The Bunsen burners scared me, Physics was the dark arts and the only bit I enjoyed was drawing diagrams. Yet as a poet and storyteller I don't seem to be able to stay away. Why didn't they tell me then that physics could explain rainbows and Northern Lights or take you on astral journeys across the solar system?

So when the European Space Agency steered a space probe 317 million miles from Earth to land on the alien world of a comet, I was on the edge of my seat. Watching Philae plunge into the darkness, 'may-fly winged, fire-fly bright', I knew I wanted to write about it. The drama of Philae's tricky descent, only to bounce out of sight, was riveting enough. But then there were the extraordinary photo-shots of comet 67P's landscape that mother-ship Rosetta captured. I'm quite a visual writer and those black cliffs, empty dunes and mysterious sink-holes had me mesmerised for months.

The other thing that hooked me is the ESA's preoccupation with myth. They named their mission after the Rosetta stone that decoded the language of Egyptian hieroglyphs. And they are promising to unlock our solar system's secrets as comets are believed to be amongst the oldest bodies left-over from its formation. As I researched the myths, I found more parallels. The Egyptian version of astronomy revolved around the long, perilous and cyclical journeys of the sun-god Ra, sailing his boat across our skies by day and through the underworld at night. A wonderful analogy for Rosetta's trip, dodging fierce jets of ice-dust and gas as the comet's orbit brings it back towards the sun.

So here I am relishing this collaboration with local scientists and preparing a 'mash-up' of poetry & physics, ancient myth and modern science to enthral our audience. My poems will appear in the form of an Egyptian scroll and we have a 'build-your-own comet demo'. Come join us! It's on Tues. 1st September 7pm at the National Space Centre. Leicester Astronomical Society welcome guests (£2 on door) but advise pre-booking on their Facebook page here.

You can read more about this exciting event on Siobhan's blogon this University of Leicester press releaseon the Rosetta Blog and on the Space Centre Website.

Siobhan Logan's prose/poetry collections Firebridge to Skyshore: A Northern Lights Journey and Mad, Hopeless and Possible: Shackleton's Endurance Expedition are both published by Original Plus Press. They have been performed at venues including the British Science Museum, National Space Centre, Ledbury Poetry Festival and British Science Festival.
Between a teaching day-job, she writes, blogs, reviews, mentors other writers, offers workshops, performs, gives talks and writes some more. In 2014 she led WEM's first-ever digital residency on writing Letters to the Unknown Soldier at Paddington Station. Her latest obsession is space: the race, the rockets, the final frontier …

Siobhan's blog Shaking out the Colours 
Siobhan's website

Thank you so much for all your visits during this month devoted to Leicester writers. As I've already said, there are many, many more of us. It truly is an exciting place for wordsmiths to live. Next week I'll be back with my usual mix of work, life and thoughts. Have a good Bank Holiday weekend.