Walking, working, chasing some words. Away from the house and the phone and computer. Snowdrops bloom in clusters and clumps in the garden.
Walking, working, chasing some words. Away from the house and the phone and computer. Snowdrops bloom in clusters and clumps in the garden.
Please find attached to this posting an invitation to the Welsh Books Council World Book Day Lecture.
I will be talking about 30 years of working in the publishing industry, how I started in my career and what I am working on.
I will read stories and show paintings.
I will also touch on what it is like to work in one of the only industries I know that takes its new, shining products and reduces their value by offering at a discount from day 1, that choses to work with bookclubs who demand so high a discount that the artist/writer’s royalty is reduced to pennies. I will talk about how when a book is championed by independent bookshops the industry then choose to sell large quantities at high discount to supermarkets like Tesco, Costco, undermining the same bookshops who led to the success of the book in the first place. I will talk about how when times are hard for publishing companies the easiest people not to pay are the creators of the products that are the bedrock of the industry.
I will talk about the absolute importance of the free access of all to books and literature and technology through a publicly funded and well staffed library service, in and out of school.
I promise it won’t be a rant.
I will attempt to be amusing without attempting to be a poor shadow of a stand up comedian.
Most of all I will try to be interesting.
And I will take along a prize for the most interesting question that is asked.
So, be there if you can ( you must email Menai as places are restricted, so please confirm your place and then if you can’t go let her know). And if you can’t come please share, tweet, link on facebook etc.
I will be reading an extract from Wild Swans and also talking about and reading from A Hole in the Sky.
See you there. It might be an interesting evening. I do hope so. And at the end of the day it is a wonderful venue.
From The Wild Swans, to be pub 2015.
She sat Eliza, draped in a great towel, down in front of a large mirror, and began her work.
First her hair. The queen took out her own comb and ran it through the thick, dark fall of hair. Sparks crackled through the bone comb as she untangled and then wound and wove and twined until she had tied up nine witch-knots through Eliza’s long red locks. In the mirror Eliza saw hair that danced into heavy plaits and curled in a beautiful way, framing her face to perfection. In reality the queen had pulled and back combed and filled her hair with things. Eliza saw jewelled combs where there were only tangled twigs and thorns, and the ragged nests of birds. Then she put cream on Eliza’s face and in the mirror the girl saw it smooth away the creases of worry and polish her skin until it glowed, but in reality the queen scrubbed in dark walnut juice to stain and blotch and mark her perfect skin. She drew her lips in black and her eyes into dark shapes with kohl. She polished Eliza’s teeth until the girl saw them sparkle and shine in the mirror, but the queen had really painted them black. Then she dressed her in dark rags, tags and tatters, slashed through with old leaves. Mice nested in the pockets of the cloaks she wrapped around Eliza’s filthy shoulders. Around her neck the queen offered Eliza a necklace of chrysalis and the glassy wings of dragonflies. She crowned her with a coronet of ever moving dark moths. When Eliza looked in the mirror the girl who looked back was unrecognisable to her. Beautiful, dressed in cloth of gold with a deep green velvet cape and a crown of tissue of gold and silver filaments and a necklace of diamonds and jet. Because of the witch-knots braided through her dark locks, and perhaps because the mirror held a little glamour too, Eliza saw only beauty.
She smiled at the queen, thanked her for her kindness and the queen smiled too.
Saturday morning, waking early to walk dogs because I have to go to Cardiff. Lying in bed thinking, 3 minutes. A 6 hour car journey to speak for 3 minutes. So much work to do. I need to stay home and paint. But instead I get ready, drink water, drive to Llanelli and join Matthew and his family as we travel together to Cardiff, to the Hayes, to lend our voices to the celebration of libraries and the protest against the cuts. It was National Libraries Day and I hadn’t realised before that this was something recent, founded by Alan Gibbons to help fight the cuts to the library services.
3 minutes. As the crowd gathersI get nervous. They suggested I read from one of my books, but 3 minutes of reading isn’t enough and there’s no relevance to libraries in a 3 minute passage. But what is relevant is my whole life. Because libraries taught me to read, gave me access to more books than I could possibly afford and librarians gave me the guidance as to what to read. So, my whole lifetime, condensed into 3 minutes?
I tried not to be nervous. I was speaking after Peter Finch and before Phoebe, who is 12 and I didn’t want her to be nervous. Anyway, trying didn’t help. I am a better writer than I am speaker. I can organise my thoughts better through writing. So here is what I should have said.
“Libraries taught me to read. And because I can read I have a structure to frame my thoughts and can express them through words, writing in particular. I have a voice. Free at the point of use, a library is a treasure house. A local library, yes, but each and every local library forms part of a national treasure and as such should be funded nationally. We don’t fund defence county by county. Why do we fund libraries county by county? Only because then the anger at their decline is focussed away from the national government.
Because I learned to read I have had a very different one to that which I might have had. I make a reasonable living from my work. I have paid back in tax far more than my student grant, and I have contributed to the common wealth of this nation through my taxes, but now I say I want books not bombs. I want an educated population with access to knowledge free at the point of use. I want trained librarians there to help people like me who walked in to the maze of books without the parental guidance of what to read, what might interest me. I want that expertise. I want those librarians, whose jobs are funded by my taxes, whose expertise is developed with use of my tax money to stay employed so that they can lead a new generation forward as libraries change and develop to fit the modern world.
Because they do, and have changed and developed.
To those who would say that libraries are a middleclass institution I say this. The class system is a nonsense maintained by those who ‘have’ in order to divide and rule those who ‘have not’. I am working class, if I have to be anything. Just because I am educated doesn’t change the fact that my dad worked in a factory before becoming a policeman, that my aunts and uncles all worked in factories and my aunt cleaned offices at night. Just because I was the first person in my family to go to college doesn’t mean I suddenly become middle class to fit someone else’s idea of the class structure.
I say to those who claim they are a middleclass institution that if you can say that then you are not doing your job properly because your job is to see that EVERYONE knows how to use the library, especially those who are the poorest among us. The way to do this is through schools and the schools library service and if you don’t accept and action this then you are failing in your job, councillor Richard Cook.
And I say to those who say that “libraries are as irrelevant in the modern world as public phone boxes”, No, they are not. They are not replaceable by the internet because even if you put every book online just imagine this:
Imagine you are a parent and you sent your child into the internet. Imagine it is a huge room. Inside that room there are many many people trying to sell you things. There are books, there is knowledge and there is a huge mass of nonsense that is underpinned by 0 research. There are pornographers and sexual predators and deviants of more kinds than I care to imagine and there are good people who do and make beautiful things, and there are images so violent that you don’t want to even think of them. And that is just a tiny part of the massive thing called The Internet. ( Thanks to Nicola Davies for this analogy)
The internet is not a replacement for a library and not a place I would wish a child to wander through. The library is more relevant than ever today when the world is dominated by the tyranny of the literate and 25 % of our population are still functionally illiterate. Librarians are far more valuable a commodity than many realise. Yes, the internet is wonderful, a marvellous tool for communication, an addition to the library and I love that those without computers, without broadband can access it through a library. Long may it be so.
I can access books that are hundreds of years old, but I can’t access files that are 10 years old because of the way the platform moves with software. Books we can read now on kindle will be inaccessible in 20 years time as technology ‘moves on’ so that a multi-national can sell you a new device. I will still be reading my book, accessing it by opening the covers in 20, 30 years time.
It was good to see so many people coming together. There should have been more. But it is not too late. Among the great and the good who spoke were Peter Finch, Belinda Bauer, Gillian Clarke sent a letter of support, The Manic Street Preachers, who like me owe their careers to the library, Alan Gibbons and Cathy Cassidy, again through messages as they couldn’t be there in person. But the biggest round of applause came for Phoebe Howard. 12 years old and hobbling on crutches, and I can vouch for the fact that even the short walk there was painful for her, non the less she made the effort to go and to speak up for what she loves.
I had asked in a previous blog posting for people to demonstrate against the cuts by writing to Cardiff councillors to say what the libraries mean to them. Fight the cuts, but fight with words, not with riots. Because we can. We have a voice in this modern world. Pheobe’s letter was so strong that I gave it a blog post of its own. She stood and she read infront of the crowd, so well. Phoebe took the time out from homework to write a letter, hobbled across Cardiff to the stage to read it. Please, use this link to find addresses, add your voice. Send your letter too.
Pheobe’s letter has been retweeted by many of her favourite authors, shared across the world, read at the demo, reprinted in Western Mail online…. she has made her one small voice heard. If more voices were added we would reach a point where those who hold the purse strings would have to listen.
I went into the library to take a photo looking down. I was surprised to find a security guard there. I asked if he was always there and he said no, he was just a council worker who was drafted in to act as security while the demo was on. Obviously the council feared what this hoard of angry readers might do to their beloved library. But it was not unreasonable to have guards there. You never know. He said he thought that the council was wrong. They should never close a library, or withdraw funding.
And who was absent from the demo? Anyone representing the cuts.
A statement in the Mail from Councillor Bradbury states:
“In fact our proposal for Cardiff Central Library is to create a flagship super hub that will offer a number of council services under one roof, which includes library services.
“The Hub approach within Central Library represents an effective and sustainable way of bringing together the excellent services already offered with partner advice services that will maximise the positive outcomes that we always aim to achieve for the population of Cardiff.
“The City Council remains very proud that our landmark library was officially opened by The Manic Street Preachers.”
So, they aren’t cuts at all it seems. Instead we get not just a hub, but a ‘flagship super hub’ that involves losing 2 more floors of an already reduced service. Well, Cardiff City Council, we don’t want a HUB, we want a library.
Anyway, I guess if I was better at public speaking that is what I would have said.
We need an educated population. If we don’t have that then the gap between rich and poor will grow wider and wilder. Please add your voice to the debate. Let’s not be the first generation to not only saddle our students with crippling debt, but also ravage the public library services when we should be investing in them. Help turn the tide.
Oh, and join the library. The best way to fight the cuts is to join the library.
Otherwise soon all libraries will look like this:
We hear authors speaking out for the libraries. It’s time we heard from other disciplines. Surely there are lawyers out there who first found their vocation through access to libraries? Doctors, surgeons, musicians, like the Manics, who had their horizons expanded by access to knowledge acquired in libraries. Structural surveyors, engineers, software designers, god help us, politicians? Surly. Don’t leave us standing alone here, join us.
To celebrate National Libraries Day I am going to Cardiff to add my one small voice to the protest against library closures and reduction in service.
At 12 noon I will be at The Hayes, outside the library, rain, snow or sunshine and at some point will read very briefly from a book of my choosing. I think the main reason that I learned to read was because of access to so very many books when I was young, in the public library and the school library.
This piece in The Guardian Online says it better, and with pictures too.
One of the best ways to help fight the cuts is to join the library. The more people who use the library the harder it will be for the people holding the purse strings to justify closing them. So join. It’s easy. It’s free at point of use. And libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries.
It was a casual conversation with Nicola Davies that started it. I was saying how I had always wanted to spend time learning how to sculpt but that the relentless treadmill of publishing didn’t allow for time for self development. Nic said there was a sculptor called Matt Caines who lived in Abergavenny and did weekend workshops. She had just bought a small sculpture by Matt. Nic suggested we book onto a course and I said I couldn’t as I had a book to finish. And then I listened to myself. For thirty years I had been wanting to learn how to sculpt. Thirty years was really long enough to wait.
So Nic booked a date and I worked really hard up to that date, with the thought of taking a bit of time out spurring me on. As the time came nearer I began to regret it and to worry, but still so looked forward to it. I had settled in to the new book and wanted to do my best for my editor, for my readers, and really want to hit the deadline. But still I looked forward to going.
And so I set off, last Thursday. It snowed, gentle snow falling straight down, marking the tree branches with white. Beautiful. First stop was Crickhowell to sign books for Emma at Book-ish and a meeting with Oriel Crickhowell to discuss paintings being included in an exhibition in September/October. Then supper with Karin at The Angel in Abergavenny.
Friday we woke up and headed down to meet the stones. I was nervous. The house is hidden behind a high wall. The studio full of stones and tools and pictures. Matt settled us straight down with some clay to make moquettes of what it was we wanted to make in stone. I began with a bear, then a bird then a hare and settled on the stone hare.
Matt fetched us some stone and talked us through tools and then off we went.
The best way to learn is to get on and do it. The first thing that really surprised me was the smell of the stone when it was cut. We had Portland Stone. The scent of it was like sulphur. Gorgeous. I struggled many times trying to work out how to find the hare that slept in the stones, how to shape it and Matt was great at showing me how to work the tools. I loved listening to the rhythm of the tapping of the hammer or the mallet on the chisel’s head.
Nic worked away down the other end of the bench, shaping a whale out of her stone.
I loved the dusty trail of footprints that led out of the workshop and round to the loo. And the moment when everything stopped because Matt had started talking about visiting the Innuit people, and brought out his box of treasures. A walrus penis bone, some polar bear teeth, musk ox horn, all very beautiful.
Three days went so fast. I loved the way the chisel shaped the stone and now I want to get some tools to try and continue. One of the reasons I wanted to do this was to get some exercise. It seems more sensible for me to exercise in a creative way and smashing stone with a hammer and chipping away with a chisel is very good for keeping warm.
Matt is a brilliant teacher. I would recommend his courses to anyone. I had never touched stone or chisels before. His work is very beautiful too. And if you ask him nicely he will show you his polar bear teeth.
Nic and I had both been talking, about talent, about application. Nic came out with a phrase I love. She said it takes 10 000 hours to begin to become proficient in anything. 10 000 hours. I have started on that path with 18 hours. Hoping to make the time to become proficient, so only another 9 982 to go.
I have a new book coming out with Graffeg soon. It is a narrative non-fiction story about a peregrine and the relationship of this bird with a woman who rehabilitates the bird and sends it back into the wild. It is a coincidence that this book has been written around the same time as H is for Hawk has done so well and I jokingly call it F is for Falcon and hope it benefits form the interest rather than suffering from comparison. I have yet to read H is for Hawk.
Anyway, there is discussion as to what the title should be. Below are a few suggestions. I would welcome comments, from individuals and from book sellers as to what they think.
So, please leave a comment. The image above will be the cover image.
1. A Hole in the Sky ( there is a phrase in the book,” A bird in a mews is a beautiful thing, but a bird in the mews leaves a hole in the sky”.)
2. For Love of a Wild Thing.
3. Ramsey Falcon.
4. About a Bird.
5. Fifty Shades of Falcon.
So much to do, means working late, although I still had time to take Ivy out walking, up the hill and down the beach.
The last few days have involved doing battle with a double paged spread. Third time lucky-ish, and almost time to move on. She’s not the heroine of the book, or won’t be for most people. She is a character who fascinates me, neither good nor bad. She has just done something bad. Very bad.
Finished swans, watched by creatures. Eleven. With crowns.
Outside Pembrokeshire is looking so beautiful. I need to stay inside to paint.
We woke to a morning of frosted grass and blue sky.
With too much to do and deadlines looming the weather was too good to waste so we called Ffion to see if she and the Eelhound wanted to walk up the hill. It was time to see how the Fillyjonk would walk with the White Cat.
Up the hill, through the green fields, the frost melting fast away, and the Fillyjonk and her sister ran circles and the White Cat came too.
On top of the hill we stopped to look over the view.
The White Cat rested on the rocks for a while. Eel hound checked the air for mischief. Then then Ivy ran, over the rocks and around the gorse, chasing a raven, the trickster bird and I thought she was gone as we called her and called, but then she halted and looked around and raced like the wind and back to our side.
Blue sky, bright sea, Ramsey in mist. Warm winter sun, birds and peace.
Then home through the garden where we showed Ffion the new septic tank ( we know how to entertain guests in Pembrokeshire. ) And the White Cat had left his mark on the concrete.