Bits of a Writer’s Life …

On Friday evening, April 22nd, I was at the Poetry Society’s Poetry Café in Covent Garden as one of the guest readers in this month’s Fourth Friday, a long running evening of poetry and music organised by Dix Schofield and the indefatigable Hylda Sims. I’ve read there before and it’s always been enjoyable, but for some reason – the range and quality of the readers from the floor, perhaps? – this seemed an especially rewarding evening. The other guest reader, Danielle Hope, whom I knew from the days when I published her work in Slow Dancer magazine, was sharp and funny, and Liz Simcock – now back solo after several years of working with a small band – was in fine form.

4th Friday

My daughter, Molly Ernestine, had come along and we took the opportunity to air what has become our poetry party piece, a shared reading of the poem, “Hollywood Canteen”, which I wrote some good few years back when my older daughter, Leanne, was living and working as a dancer in Paris – the central section of the poem, the section Molly read, and which Leanne herself used to read – being more or less a transcription of Leanne’s words on the occasion in question, when we’d just come away from watching Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams.

Here’s the poem …

HOLLYWOOD CANTEEN

It seems too much of a cliché
almost, to tell it, but there,
up on the counter
of the Hollywood Canteen,
there among the images
of Marilyn, James Dean,
she pushes back her plate,
lights her cigarette
and right over the juke box
she says, nineteen:

I hate films that end like that,
stuck out on the porch
in the middle of nowhere
watching the sun go down –
as though it could ever happen,
Jesus! It’s like your parents
bringing you up to believe
it’s possible to tell the truth
out there, when one minute
after they let you out into the world,
you can see everyone else is lying.
I mean, you just try being nice out there,
just try it! You won’t last five minutes
and I’ll tell you this, I haven’t met
a single person since I was sixteen
who wasn’t a bitch underneath
and I haven’t got the strength
to stand up to them, not on my own,
and that’s what I am.
And happiness, that’s a laugh
and one thing I am sure of,
it isn’t sitting out on a dumb porch
in the middle of Iowa, staring
into some technicolour sunset.

She turned her head aside
and closed her eyes
and when she did that
she was as beautiful
as I had ever seen her.

What do you think, she said,
the pancakes with the maple syrup?
You think we should have the ice cream
as well? Maybe the chocolate sauce?

Seeing my face, she smiled.

The following day Molly and I took the train up to Stevenage for an afternoon event at the library, as part of Hertfordshire Libraries Litfest 16. Aside from a  few occasions when Notts County were the visitors to the Stevenage F.C. ground on Woodhall Way, this was, I think, the first time I’d been back in the town since I spent several years teaching in the English department of Stevenage Girls’ School in early 1970s.

The plan was to give an overview of how I managed to kick start a writing career and then keep it on track from its starting point in 1975, when my first book – Avenging Angel, written at the kitchen table at my flat on Webb Rise during my last year of teaching – was published; then, after some Q&A, to concentrate on the Resnick books, in particular Darkness, Darkness, and the challenges  in adapting that novel for the stage, which is one of projects I’m currently working on.

While Molly ran through the slides before we started, there was just time for me to completely, and embarrassingly, fail to recognise one of my former fell0w teachers, as well as a former next-door neighbour and three former pupils, two from my A level English class, one of whom had passed, and one failed – even at this remove I felt responsible, though it hadn’t stopped her from becoming a teacher herself in due course.

A slight hiccup in the technical department at the beginning – the computer froze and slides we’d checked previously refused to appear – gave me the opportunity to begin the session with an unplanned reading of my Chet Baker poem, which I was pleased to do as it allowed me to dedicate it to one of the long-time stalwarts of the British jazz scene, sadly no longer playing, bassist Pete Blannin, who was with his wife in the audience. I remember seeing Pete with the great Humphrey Lyttelton Band in the early 1960s, as well as with groups led by the likes of Tubby Hayes and Tony Kinsey. It’s a bonus for me that he likes crime fiction.

IT problem solved, things moved along smoothly; there was a good, attentive crowd – I’d guess around 50 – and no shortage of interesting, even challenging questions. My good friend, Sherma Batson – another former pupil, now county councillor and recently Mayor of Stevenage – taking me to task for killing off one of my running characters, Lynn Kellogg, thus giving away the plot of Cold in Hand in a single swoop. But never mind. Friends still.

Just before the end, Molly left her spot at the desk, where she’d been working the laptop, top join me in a reading of one of the scenes from the Darkness, Darkness play script – its first public airing. As I pointed out, despite working in various other forms, I had never, up to the present, written anything for the theatre, my only experience in that area having been putting on plays when I was still teaching, something that gave me a great deal of pleasure at the time, not least for the large numbers of students it was possible involve, and still gave pleasure in retrospect. At Stevenage, I remember with particular fondness a version of Alice in Wonderland, with a soundtrack ranging from Bach and Vivaldi to Miles Davis and Jefferson Airplane, and Split, a play about a teenage girl with schizophrenia that was built up almost entirely from improvisation. Those were the days!

That I could even begin to venture into such areas was almost entirely due to my great friend, the late Tom Wild, a wonderful and talented man who died far too young; seeing the work that Tom did with secondary modern children in Yorkshire, often using improvisation as a way into Brecht and Shakespeare was an inspiration for me and, I’m sure, for the pupils involved – I doubt if they will ever f0rget it.

Here, finally, is a little Stevenage Girls’ School memorabilia [no flash programmes in those days!]

Alice 1

4th Friday 1

Split 1

Split 2

 

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Giggin’ Around …

With several events I’m due to take part in on the (near) horizon, time for a little gentle self-publicity …

This coming Friday, April 15th, I shall be at the Poetry Café in London’s Covent Garden as one of the guests in Hylda Sims’ long-running monthly poetry and music evenings, Fourth Friday. The other poet reading on this occasion is Danielle Hope and the music, as is quite frequently the case – and why not? – comes from singer-songwriter, Liz Simcock. It all kicks off at 8.00pm and there are floor spots for any poets wishing to try their hand. And this is Liz …

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZUDwAWQ1sEA&list=PLsTBkU5Nq459CiFEDCAzMayjqW30Cs_Uk&index=1

The following afternoon I shall be returning to Stevenage for just about the first time (other than for a visit to Broadhall Way by Notts County) since I taught there in the early 1970s.

Layout 1

My plan is to talk about some forty years as a professional writer, a career which started in what some might call less than spectacular fashion with Avenging Angel, a tale of everyday Hells Angels published under the so-trying-to-be-trendy name of Thom Ryder and written – the first draft anyway – during my last year of teaching. Shows promise, but must work harder.

avenging

As you’ll have noticed from the poster, your admission money gets you tea and cake, added to which there should be a free book of mine – not including, I’m afraid, Avenging Angel – for the first 25 ticket holders to arrive.

http://websites.uk-plc.net/Hertfordshire_Libraries_ticket_sales_and_free_tickets/

And finally, a little further ahead, on Friday, June 3rd, as part of this year’s Derby Book Festival, along with the band, Blue Territory, I shall be reading in a Poetry & Jazz evening at the Cube Café/Bar in Déda on Chapel Street, beginning at 9.30pm.

COV_bluer

 

The Year Ahead

Belated Happy New Year! Here’s what it has in store for me so far …

EVENTS

Thursday, 21st January. 8.00 – 11.00pm
WORDS & JAZZ
Vortex Jazz Club / Vortex Downstairs
11 Gillett Square, London, N16 8AZ
This is a lively and well-attended Poetry & Jazz event, hosted each month by Nicki Heinen. I shall be reading along with three other poets: Richard Scott, Ann Macaulay & Will Roychowdhuri, & music will come from Rachael Cohen (sax) with Mark Lewandowski (bass).
Details & Info: http://www.vortexjazz.co.uk/event/words-jazz/

Thursday, 25th February, evening.
PIGHOG POETRY
Redroaster Coffee House, St. James Street, Brighton BN2 1RE.
Another regular and lively Poetry venue where I shall be reading with Chrissy Williams and poets from the floor.
Details & Info: www.facebook.com/Pighog

Saturday, 19th March. 10.30am – 12.30pm
BROMLEY HOUSE LIBRARY
Angel Row, Nottingham, NG1 6HL
As part of the Library’s 200th Anniversary Celebrations, crime author and Nottingham native Daniel Pembrey will be interviewing me about my writing, the Resnick books and their Nottingham connections, notably Darkness, Darkness (2014) the final book in the Resnick series.
Details & Info: enquiries@bromleyhouse.org

Saturday, 2nd April
DEAL2NOIR
The Landmark Centre, 129 High Street, Deal, CT14 6BB
I shall be one of a number of writers taking part in this one day festival of crime writing near the Kent Coast, organised by Susan Moody.
Details & Info: https://dealnoir.wordpress.com

Tuesday, 12th April, 7.30 – 9.00pm
NOTTINGHAM CIVIC SOCIETY
St Barnabas Cathedral Hall, Wellington Circus, Nottingham, NG1
Illustrated talk about my 40 plus years as a professional writer, including the various connections between my work and the city of Nottingham and the surrounding area.
Details & Info: http://www.nottinghamcivicsociety.org.uk

Friday, 22nd April, evening.
FOURTH FRIDAY
The Poetry Café, 22 Betterton Street, Covent Garden, London WC2H PBP
This is a monthly poetry & music event hosted by Hylda Sims. I shall be reading alongside one other poet, yet to be named, and music will be from singer-songwriter Liz Simcock. There are also readings from the floor.
Details & Info: https://fourthfriday.wordpress.com

Saturday, 23rd April, 2.30pm
HERTS LITFEST
Stevenage Library, Southgate, Stevenage, SG1 1HD
To celebrate World Book Day I shall be returning to the town where I taught English and Drama in the early 1970s to give an illustrated talk, My Life as a Jobbing Writer – From Blackboard to Best Seller.
Afternoon Tea for all and a free signed book for the first 25 ticket holders arriving that afternoon.
Details & Info: 01992 555947 http://www.hertsdirect.org/libraries

Friday, 3rd June, Evening
DERBY BOOK FESTIVAL
The Cube, Déda, Chapel Street, Cathedral Quarter, Derby, DE1 3GU
Poetry & Jazz with the band Blue Territory
Details & Info: http://www.derbybookfestival.co.uk

In addition to which, the band and I will be playing three Nottinghamshire Libraries poetry & jazz gigs in October, venues and dates to be confirmed.

POETRY

With poetry in mind, I have two new poems in the new issue of The North
http://www.poetrybusiness.co.uk/north-menu

and one forthcoming – March? – in the online magazine, London Grip New Poetry
http://londongrip.co.uk/category/poetry/

FICTION

As if to prove that old pulp stories never die, the four Scott Mitchell crime novels I wrote for Sphere Books in the mid-1970s – Amphetamines & Pearls, The Geranium Kiss, Junkyard Angel & Neon Madman – are to be republished in the States with a new introduction, in both paperback and Ebook format, by Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Press.

Distribution will be through Open Road Media, who have a nice little video on their web site, showing me walking on Hampstead Heath, sitting in the garden, and expounding on the writing of crime fiction from the comfort of my settee.
http://www.openroadmedia.com/contributor/john-harvey/

RADIO

Towards the end of last year, my dramatisations of two Inspector Chen crime novels by Qui Xiaolong – A Loyal Character Dancer & When Red is Black – were broadcast on BBC Radio 4, along with a third – Death of a Red Heroine – adapted by Joy Wilkinson. Three more books have now been commissioned, with Joy this time adapting two and myself the third – A Case of Two Cities – in which the Inspector visits America.

THEATRE

Together with Jack McNamara, Artistic Director of New Perspectives Theatre, I’m working on a dramatisation of Darkness, Darkness, the 12th & final Resnick novel, for Nottingham Playhouse. Details soon!

Whew! …