Tuesday, 15 July 2008

A Birder's Eye View

Touching the weird

‘It’s like Arsene Wenger coming to train the RSPB football team,’ was my reaction to hearing that Mark Cocker had offered to coach a group of conservation colleagues in writing skills. No disrespect to them, or their literary abilities (or to our footy players either, for that matter), but Mark Cocker is an author of considerable renown, as anyone familiar with Crow Country, for example, will attest.

I take my place in a group of eager students, wedged into a small office at our Strumpshaw Fen nature reserve, somewhere between Norwich and the Broads, between fen and sky. Mark is holding forth on what it is to write, to discover, to ‘puncture the meniscus’ (the surface tension, as in water) that separates us in our everyday lives from the fascinating world that lurks beyond. To realise, to understand, perhaps, when a stick is not a stick. I can explain.

In our midst is a small table, and occupying most of its surface is a large, glass-topped box. Visible within this is a pile of egg boxes, and prominent on the topmost of these is what looks like a fragment of birch stick, glued on. I’m itching to have a closer look, to delve into this box of tricks – or sticks. I have a strong suspicion that the piece of birch is actually a moth.

Closer inspection confirms that it is a moth. A buff-tip moth. It is one of those creations that would have you (if your attention were ever drawn to it) marvelling -boggling, even - at the bizarreness of evolution. That a mere moth can look so much like a piece of tree, suggests a world of infinite possibilities. It has a frayed-looking, broken end (its head), while at the other end it looks like it has been cut with a knife, as though to be sharpened like a pencil, revealing a wood grain effect within the flecked, grey-white bark. Its legs and antennae barely protrude. Sticks, after all, don’t have such appendages.

The buff-tip has achieved this outfit, you suppose, for the purposes of being able to sit very still for long periods, and not be recognised as a potential meal (and scoffed by a robin, for example). Because of this, you could be forgiven for going a lifetime without ever seeing one. Seeing only sticks.

There are other impostors among Mark’s egg cartons. There are moths that look like leaves, like dead leaves, like droppings. There’s even one (elephant hawkmoth) that looks like a pink and green jet fighter aircraft. Not sure where evolution was going with that one, or who it was with influence in naming stuff that got the elephant bit past the committee, but never mind.

‘You’ve just got to go and find some weirdness.’

If only more of my teachers could have issued such instructions. This is Mark’s final one to the dispersing group, as we are loosed on the nature reserve, minds opened up to strangeness, perhaps as a child might find it.

A train ploughs through the reserve. Strange! Don’t worry, it has a track to run on, but nevertheless...

There are three bee orchids by the car park fence, cordoned off with a length of coloured string, drawing the eye to them. I show Sarah, of the group. These are plants evolved to look just like bees, for reasons too strange to elaborate on here. That’s not all that’s strange about bee orchids. There is a Laurie Lee essay called ‘A drink with a witch’, and the drink she gives him is bee orchid wine. Much oddness and witchery ensues, and I don’t think it is just the drink talking. Apart from anything, imagine an age when there were enough bee orchids in any one place to make wine.

‘You do this sort of stuff all the time,’ says Sarah. Writing odd stuff, I think she means.

‘Yes, but…’ I don’t really want to form a proper answer. I’m trying to think differently, today.

I wander across the railway line, enjoying the unusual legality of this, here. I amble down a leafy lane, past drowsy horses, looking up at cornfield poppies against a blue sky, crowning a steep bank. Further on, a flowerbed slopes uphill to a table mat-cute cottage. A handmade sign reads: ‘Come and see the swallowtail butterflies, if you like’, or words to that effect. There are none present, but I like the kindness of the offer, just as much.

Opposite, a gate tempts me back across the tracks, to what I take to be a path onto the reserve on the other side. I don’t know it yet but I am crossing too early. I’m not the first person to have done so, as there is a path of sorts through neck-high fen verdure. A swallowtail bustles past my face, across the reed surface. I press on, hoping to intersect soon with an official path. This doesn’t happen.

The fools’ path peters out. Rather than plunge on, or retreat, I elect to stop for a bittern’s-eye view of the fen. At an isolated willow, I duck through its fronds to the murky ‘room’ within. I perch on a low bough, above a small pool. There is a welcoming committee of bouncing mosquitoes, apparently jumping for joy at my arrival.
We share lunch – well, I have sandwiches and crisps, and they settle down in various places to try to have me. I get the hand lens out, to get better acquainted with these much under-examined beasts. What, after all, do moths have that mossies don’t, apart from relatively vast expanses of pigmentation, and occasionally bizarre disguises? Determinedly open-minded, I home the lens in on the trouser-piercing mouthparts and – as it turns out – comically bulging eyes - of these small (and some not so small) man-eaters. Alas, I can’t not think of the Gary Larsson cartoon, where one mossie, sitting on a stretch of flesh, is saying to another, which is filling like a balloon: ‘Pull out! You’ve hit an artery!’

I toy with the idea of letting one of them sup from me, in close up, but hey, it might hit an artery. And how weird are we supposed to be getting here, anyway? The study is terminated.

Retracing my steps carefully, and climbing back out of the fen, I notice a derelict hut by the railway: a mossie-free quiet space in which to write up my notes, for our feedback session.

Returning to the group, I meet Sarah again. I show her a broken branch I’ve picked up along the way. ‘How about this for a moth?’ I ask her, holding out the branch. Sarah doesn’t think this is funny. Undeterred, I try it on Mark. He doesn’t get it.

I guess sometimes a stick is just a stick. But despite my pale imitation of a joke, the lesson remains sound: it is always worth looking – and listening – a little more closely, for a little bit of oddness.

Conor Jameson


The hawkmoth conveyed me back to a childhood scenario: me retrieving a football from a ruck of rosebay willowherb, at least as tall as I was. And as I delved within these very everyday plants I found some monstrous-looking life forms: fat as my fingers, with enormous cartoon eyes. Caterpillars, it turned out, with these eye-designs intended to scare birds – and quite possibly small children. After a suitable period of getting acquainted, I took some home for adult input, and my mum got the book out so we could see these larger than life larvae, and the adult forms they would turn into. They were elephant hawk moths-in waiting, as it turned out.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Poems from Salhouse Primary School

Please scroll down to read a selection of beautiful poems created by YR 6 children at Salhouse Primary School, inspired by a Norfolk Reads and Writes workshop with Mark Cocker. 'Ladybird' by Georgia Whitton is particularly striking, but they're all of a very high standard, - if they're writing at this level in YR 6, what's next? Well done to all who took part, and keep up the writing!

Moth began

He took the bark from a tree
and the standing hair from a shock
and made his wings.

He took the curl of the waves
and the fluttering of a leaf
to make his flap.

He took the structure of a skull
and the smoothness from a feather
to make his head.

He took the length of a finger
and the width of a piece of paper
and made his body.

For his antennae
He took the curl from layered hair
And the strength from a unicorn’s horn.

And moth was made.

by Natasha Frankland

Bee Began

She took the dome
A famous land mark,
With the many hexagons,
And made her eyes.

For her antennae,
She took to bendy willow,
And the quiver of a leaf
In the wind.

She took the transparent glass,
Making marks, segments,
For her wings.

For her legs
She took the fur of a mouse,
The segments of a woodlouse.

She took the black of the night,
The yellow of light
And made her markings.

For her sting,
She took the pain of the
Sharpness of holly
And point of a needle.

She took a helicopter blades,
An engine humming,
And made
The bee’s unique buzz.

And bee was made.

by Alice Southwood

Grasshopper Poem

Long-legged, small-headed,
High-jumper, loud-chirper,
Song-maker, leaves-breaker,
Frog-prey, eaten-alive,
Big-eyes, pretty-wise,
Hairy-legs, lays-eggs.

by Dominic Newnham


Happily, steadily, growing,
I grow - a single blade of grass;
September draws nearer.
Happy we are
Standing in the field.
We stand facing the playground
Waiting, staring, waiting, staring
We know our fate
Our fate lies ahead,
Thunder draws nearer:
They’re coming!
They trample on us,
Ruin our happiness;
Footballs roll over us,
They slide, skid and slip on us
But we will come back
Strong, tall and steady.

by Genevieve Pascall


Ladybird began.

She took the emptiness of a cave,
She took the hollow of a hole,
Then silenced it for her voice.

For her elytra,
She took the glow of the sun,
She took and ink blot from a pen,
And cased it over her body.

From the top of a tree,
She took the switness of a swallow,
And the buzz of a bee,
For her flight.

Love and passion,
Went into her soul,
And for her young
She took pride.

by Georgia Whitton

I, Privet Hawk Moth

I, Privet Hawk Moth,
Will wake up at nightfall,
And hover around through the cold, cold night.
I used to creep, slither and crawl.
But now I fly through the air like a miniature kite.
I lay my egg on Privet.
It finally hatches,
What I used to be comes out.
My baby will creep, slither and crawl!
My little caterpillar will turn into a pupa in the
Develop, develop!
And turn into what I am now,
I, Privet Hawk Moth.

by Liam Temple


Scorned at by the butterfly
Moth’s tears of greys and browns and blacks
Engulf him in his anger.
He’s sucked into an ever - deepening hole
Of emotions cascading down, down, down,
Forcing out sadness and despair to all creatures.
The moth will go down in history as
Earth’s killer even though it was
The butterfly.

by Molly Elsegood

Privet Hawk Moth Rap

Big, some huge, some quite hairy,
People think they’re really scary,
But I don’t think that ‘cos they’re cool
A man called Mark came to Salhouse school.

He showed us the massive privet hawk
The end of their legs look like a pitchfork;
I held it in my hand, it kept tickling when it flew,
The wings started flickering so it must be a moth,
A moth, a moth, a giant great moth:
The body feels like a small piece of cloth
It’s a moth, a moth, a giant great moth,
So everybody put your hands up for the moths
Everybody put your hands up for the moths!

by Jedd Bobbin


I wriggle out of a cramped hole
Into the open world.
I wonder
And as I do so
I shed my skin –
Over and over again.

Through the grass
I grow and grow,
And as I do
I grow my legs.

Then I’m free,
Singing my creaking song
Then I L E A P!

by Sean Hendley

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Norfolk reads and Writes 2008 - The last Hurrah

Positively our last contribution for this year - a poem and artwork by Sandra Walmsley, who attended Mimi Khalvati's workshop at Rockland Marsh.

Elderflower champagne

Bitter sweet intoxication of elderflower champagne.
Sitting sweltering in the sun on the last day of May
Clotted cream foam flowers hang heavy on the air.

Transport her to a childhood tree where she sits and mourns
Under Sambucus nigra is buried her big black dog.
Bitter sweet intoxication of elderflower champagne.

Over brittle yellow fragments spider ink trails crawl
Grandma’s recipe for hand cream of blossom lace and lard.
Clotted cream foam flowers hang heavy on the air.

A fat-softened hand offers a sparkling draught
To the girl in the garden on a hot summer day.
Bitter sweet intoxication of elderflower champagne.

The woman sips vine fruits from a foaming flute
Her educated palate detecting floral notes.
Clotted cream foam flowers hang heavy on the air.

Once humble elder’s riches were a harvest for the poor
Now a fashionable flavour for the gourmet drinks trade.
Bitter sweet intoxication of elderflower champagne
Clotted cream foam flowers hang heavy on the air.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Five Days in Norwich: the Last Post

I leave Norwich this morning with a new muse, after all the city and the university have been so lovely to me this week. Chris Gribble, head of New Writing Partnership, who invited me down, spoke after J.M. Coetzee's reading, of it being a special place - and I can only agree with that. Literature is an art without frontiers, or the need for frontiers. Early, in the week the Polish writer, Adam Zagajewski had made the point that 20th century literature had the dominant narrative of exile. I've sometimes talked about the "shorter" 20th century, beginning, not with the calendar, but with the demonic rift in Europe, that was the First World War. Coetzee spoke yesterday of the two great Western censorship trials, "Ulysses" and "Lady Chatterley's Lover", Joyce and Lawrence. They were both exiles, and in their different experiments with form, truth, style and content remain amongst our most important 20th century writers. In his biography of Lawrence, "Flame Into Being", Anthony Burgess makes the point that in our academies, to be both a Joycean and Lawrentian would be seen as an impossibility. For a writer, of course, such contradictions are our lifeblood. When Poland became members of the European Union, I had a drink to celebrate, and felt, knowing the history, that some healing had taken place that day. We cannot know what will be the defining narratives of the 21st century. If Freud, Marx and Nietschze were the presiding intellectual spirits of the last century, what for this? I'd make a case for Marshall McLuhan, Pierre Bourdieu, and James Lovelock; the concepts of communication, habitus, and gaia, becoming ever more relevant to our current state of being. Yet, there is hope, as this week made clear; for if the shooting of Archduke Ferdinand has a contemporary equivalent, it will sure be an environmental absurdity - perhaps Gretel Ehrlich's description this week of the thnning of the arctic ice, perhaps some media event that resonates beyond its few days in the sun. Writers - and other creative artists - remain vital in chronicling and contradicting the absurdities of the age. Globalisation makes us all neighbours, with the computer I'm typing this on made in the far east, and the server that hosts this blog held in the Californian desert; so if I've been reminded of nothing else this week, it's that the 21st century exiles aren't going to be Britains and Americans flocking to Paris, but writers from across the world, settling down wherever they are welcomed. That's the aim of New Writing Worlds, and for the last week, that sanctuary has been here in Norwich.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Never underestimate

Thursday Evening

It is always possible, I guess, to sell out a large hall to see a great writer speak. Dickens toured America after all. Yet, I think its important that we don't underestimate our great writers, rather, that we give them their due. I found myself, on Tuesday, sat next to J. M. Coetzee, and he poured me a glass of water at the start of our literary salon. Tonight, he was the main casting, central billing. Coetzee talked tonight about a singular, vital issue, censorship. Not in any polemical way, but based on his own experience. It is very easy to forget that he has lived through far more turbulent times than we have, and, in the conversation we've been having all week about "how writing can change things" he was writing novels at a certain frontline. A few years ago he was given the "readers reports" of his early novels. They were all published in London, imported into South Africa, and had to get by the censors. What surprised him was that he knew the reviewers, he'd been invited around their houses; in the small intelligentsia of seventies South Africa, he'd been sharing hot dogs with his enemy, without knowing it. He read, not from his latest novel, but from two of the novels they had censored. It is fascinating to see such a calm man gnawing on a thirty-year old bone in such a measured way. I've so much admiration for a writer that , given this situation, is non-polemical. He leaves it to us to decide whether the Afrikaaner censorship board was behaving correctly or not.

New Writing Worlds 2008 - Final Events

Thursday Afternoon

After an exciting week, tonight sees the final events of New Writing Worlds 2008. A final reading at the Millennium Library featuring Jonty Driver, Tishani Doshi and Tijs Goldschmidt, at 5:00, followed by the Nobel Prize Winner J.M. Coetzee, reading at the UEA from 7.30. It's been a wonderfully varied week, taking in readings of poetry and fiction, music, a trip to Strumpshaw Fen, and fascinating 3-day salon on the theme of "Human:Nature," with writers from all over the world contributing to a fascinating debate - and I realise that this week has only been one small part of a much wider range of literary events in Norwich and at the University. With one event left to go, this blogger needs to leave my computer behind, for a while, and get ready for the evening.

Nature and Imagination

Thursday Morning

If in previous posts I've been writing about something incomplete, I realise now, I can write about something whole. It's a tribute to the organisers of the writers salon, that both the themes of the 3-sessions, and the chosen speakers, have created an arc, both of argument and narrative. From "nation" to "panic" to "imagination", I feel that we've been steadily humanising, if not nature, but the relationship we have with nature. Gwyneth Lewis lead today's session, as equally nuanced as the presentations we'd had on Tuesday and Wednesday. However, she'd made some adjustments to her original speech in response to the arguments, the questions, and the controversies. She talked about the two types of writing we'd been talking about this week, "nature writing" and "creative writing" and that partly she wanted to see how these can be brought together, writers becoming advocates for the natural world, with, certainly in the case of a poet, them becoming "natural historians" of language (my quotes.) It's a wonderful phrase, since if our arguments earlier in the week had sometimes been hard to paraphrase, surely that was a question of language as much as anything else? She elaborated, with an example. Out looking for cranes with the nature writers, Mark Cocker and Richard Mabey, they'd drawn a blank, cranes apparently not liking to be seen out early on a Tuesday evening, with rain threatening. That is the nature writer's difficulty, transcribing an uncertainty - a creative writer (and the nature writer, the good one, becomes that as well) - has to know what the language will do under all atmospheric conditions. In talking about language, Lewis, is talking from a position of complexity - the role of the Welsh language, its relationship both to English and to nature/landscape - that requires both a sense of metaphor and a literal understanding of what words mean. When the Welsh poet Taliesin says "I was born in the region of the summer stars" it is both metaphor and literal truth. To illustrate further, she read John Clare's "Transcription of a Nightingale's Song", a co-authorship if you like, between Clare and the nightingale.

Chee chew chee chew chee
chew—cheer cheer cheer
chew chew chew chee
—up cheer up cheer up
tweet tweet tweet jug jug jug

...it begins. Perhaps, felt Lewis, we need to think of our own role, in nature, how our own bodies - the relationship to them - our frailties, and particularly our illnesses are our most intimate understandings of "nature". Becoming, somehow "naturalists of ourselves" and using this example to more better understand our relationship with and to wider nature.

This opening piece gave us a kind of synthesis of the week; not just the salon but the other events - even the visit to the fen - and seemed to loosen up the discussion, taking it away from what the writer can hardly affect (climate change) and therefore must be in anxiety about, to what the writer can do - to create a bridge between words/language and the natural world (including ourselves) that they describe. Adam Thorpe appropriately asked that we still had to "define" nature - and this seemed only right, but also difficult. That ecologists don't use the word loosely, as its too later. "To return a wood to its natural state" - is this an idea of past nature - or rather a future nature, different in many ways. Those of us who'd been to the fen turned to the recollection that some of the fen had been ploughed and some hadn't and that one act had made an indelible difference to the habitat. Nature, even in a small way, can be damaged or changed, in a way that makes it "unnatural." Given that "nature" was a problematic word in itself, then the term "human nature" - that ancient discourse between "reason" and "our nature" was given added bouyancy. In this context, literature is not "knowledge" and how it contributes to knowledge is perhaps an unecessary - and unhelpful - burden on the writer. Given the scope of panic that we'd identified earlier in the week, from Gretel Ehrlich's description of the inuit's deteriorating landscape, to Geoff Dyer's recollection of the holy Indian city of Varanasi, and its massive contradictions of the spiritual and earthy, Lewis talked about appreciating the "sparrow in the garden." In other words, no longer searching out the exotic nature, but valueing the everyday - that may not be there much longer.

But we'd had a sense - all week - that despite our individualism, and our differing viewpoints, experiences and priorities, we somehow should be taking a "stand." The despair - if you like - was partly because of how little power we had to change things. Literature rarely does, and when it does, it is accidental, perhaps banal. The European sparrow was introduced to America, we were reminded, by a group of American Shakespeare lovers bringing over every bird mentioned in Shakespeare. A single reference in Henry IV, got the sparrow its passage, and it was a highly successful import, so much that it's now virtually plague like. Be careful, writers, for what you wish for.

In summing up - synthesising - the week's sessions there was an opportunity to remember the persistent issues; the role of metaphor, when describing nature; valuing the subsistence lives that have been chosen by the inuit and others as a model for how one lives with the planet; how we see nature through the prism of the story, through the human response to it; the difficulties of a political response to impending crisis - but the importance of at least being aware of it; and finally, I think, the author's right, in their work, to join together in front of their readers, to state, firmly, and without embarassment, this is my work, and in it, "I am I."

I realise that none of these posts can be more than a snapshot of a detailed, nuanced skein of arguments. I think if we'd have stayed discussing climate change again today - the fallout perhaps of monday night's orginal debate - we'd have been lost to an insoluble argument. Yet writers are at their best, I think, when they can mix together the strains of science, history, nature, and, yes, creativity into some coherent whole. There was some sense of writing being always a study in "uncertainty", yet I think this is self-effacement. As Gretel Ehrlich pointed out, in explaining her interest in the inuit peoples, writers have to choose subjects that mean something to them. Therein lies the value. There is both the political statement, and the philosophical argument. Human:Nature - the use of the colon had perhaps set up a conflict, a dichotomy; I'd like to think that a different punctuation mark might now be appropriate.

I think we've all felt privileged to be involved in such an interesting discussion this week, me especially - I've felt that I've learnt alot, from unusual sources, and in different ways, that will probably take quite a while to surface. In blogging about the salon, I've tried not to betray any confidences of the room, whilst at the same time giving a flavour of the arguments that have been developed, and the presentations - all five of them excellent and thought provoking - that led our discussions. Any misrepresentations are mine alone - and each piece can only give a taste of the salons themselves, which were conducted in a spirit of honesty, collaboration, and frequently, though this is the hardest thing to replay outside the room, with humour.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

From Angola to the Arctic

Wednesday Evening

One of the key points to make about New Writing Worlds, and this is as an outsider, seeing it for the first time,is the interface between the public and the private. Yes, its to some degree, a private conversation - albeit with some eavesdropping such as this blog - but it is also open, with a range of high quality literary readings for the public. I've sometimes been to places where there's a conference or something on, and you've felt excluded, almost embarassed at asking if you can come to something of interest, only to be asked, "are you a delegate?" The public readings in the library earlier in the week, were followed on Wednesday by a range of events in the Sainsbury Centre at UEA. Like a large glass-and-steel shoebox, this impressive Norman Foster-designed building was a cornucopia of wonder, from the walkway by which we entered, through its impressive art collection, down to the readings themselves. I'd spoke briefly with Mia Couto and Jose E Agualusa earlier in the week; Portugeuse language writers from, respectively Mozambique and Angola, they'd just flown in from Africa via an event in Lisbon, and had a packed few days. Tonight's event "Connecting Worlds", seemed an entirely appropriate title. A little later, in another part of the building, we moved from the heat of Africa; to talk more about nature itself - from Geoff Dyer's exploration of Walter de Maria's "Lightning Field", to Gretel Ehrlich reading vividly from her travels with the inuit. I don't know if it was the building or the displacement of the subject, but at some point I felt a little disorientated, and looking back on it now, I seem to be looking down on them both speaking, seeing vividly their readings, as if I was almost - but not quite - a participant.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Bittern

Wednesday Afternoon

Conferences have to walk it like they talk it, so just as it would be wrong to have a technology conference in a place without technology (believe me, I've been to them!) a nature conference that is purely indoors would seem a little bit of a missed opportunity. Luckily, New Writing Partnership have been working with the RSPB these last few months, and so with them, and the nature writers Richard Mabey and Mark Cocker, we headed off to Strumpshaw Fen. The drizzle stayed off, despite a big cloud over the weather map when I woke up this morning, and we had a pleasant hour and a half walking through the maintained land of the fen. A marsh harrier was seen carrying a pheasant to its young; a family of coots were having an afternoon out on the water; and finally, in the distance, a bittern was spotted, poking its long neck above the grass. Twenty writers, some with binoculars, others straining to see, looked over for the distinct neck in the distance, but like a magic eye picture where you're not quite sure if you've seen it, not all of us managed to see it. However, we definitely saw the bizarrely beautiful bee orchid, a plant that has flowers that looks like bees, and being self-pollinating, annoyed Darwin no end. Stubborn little fellow, the bee orchid.

Writing Catastrophe: Nature and Panic

Wednesday Morning

The second salon session's title "Nature and Panic" was a sombre title. In the idyllic surroundings of the UEA campus, where the only possible threat is the physical size of the numerous rabbits (clearly being fed on student ready meals), the ominous world can seem along way from us. Adam Thorpe gave the first presentation, and followed on from some observations he'd made yesterday about having a particular view of time. On an archeological dig a few years ago, he'd been amazed by how an ancient site had brought up evidence of a hearth that had been used for hundreds of years. Our ancestors it seems believed in the eternal - without a written history, and with peoples spread out across the land, a sense of permanence, if not of life, certainly of existence was commonplace. If the history of this planet was revisited as the journey from London to Norwich as had been posited during Monday night's lecture, we are apparently just coming into Norwich station - but Thorpe baulked at this: for what comes after? This, he insisted, was not scepticism about the science, but about the almost theological tenets of the climate change debate, with scientists as priests. Surely, science was equally to blame in getting us into this mess? Thorpe's often written about history, but with a contemporary sensibility - and made the link, between medieval indulgences, available to the rich to forgive their sins, with modern ideas of carbon offsets to forgive our "carbon sins. Our panic is both a media one, and a Western one - as other contributors to the debate pointed out. For those in Britain and America, our fears and perils are different than those in, say, Eastern Europe, where freedom, and the loss thereof, remains a living memory. Whilst in India, just beginning to gain some of the benefits of a growing economy, the idea of climate change as the key issue of the day, or a reason to "panic" would seem absurd...a marginal and marginalised affair. It was pointed out that though on the one hand there seemed to be a need for some trans-national movement for ecological change, the risks of ecological Robert Mugabe were real.

If our sense of panic is so embedded now in the Western psyche - then how writers deal with this was a more difficult issue. We'd moved on, it seemed from yesterday's thoughts around being true about nature, to something more difficult to articulate. Yet, at the same time climate change, like 9/11, was in danger of becoming a media event, with the artistic imperative forced upon us for that reason. Should we, the writers in the room, be making some kind of statement, lying as if dead on the rabbit-plagued lawns of UEA?

C.K. Williams, in the second part of the day, talked about his own writing, and how increasingly climate change had become his subject, finding its way into many of his poems. He talked about early man, the Paleolithic cave painting from 30,000 years ago, where, it appeared, an aesthetic was already in place. Our response to nature could, even that far back, already encompass humour, aestheticism, even love for our landscape. Man has already suffered climate change, or a changing climate, with the virtual wiping out of the reindeer in an earlier age, causing unknown catastrophes from which we only somehow survived. He spoke about how the sense of dread that you get from knowing more about climate change can certainly affect a writer who has takes a depressive view on things; but also, that as a writer - the task is always to look for beauty. He spoke about the lack of hope in a novel like Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" - a book I'd packed in my bag on the way down to Norwich, but had left for another time - with its incredibly sadistic, dystopian view of the future: our darkest fate if you like. I probably wasn't the only person in the room wanting a little light at this point, enter stage left Beckett, who, always seems to turn up in conversation when there's some brooding to be done. A need for a kind of optimism, even if it's only humour, or perhaps humanity, becomes a necessity. There's always the search for beauty even if its a broken world. I don't know if we all agreed with the dark pessimism that was sketched out here: after all, even in the worst of times, art - and great art can flourish. Though, its perhaps not the very worst of times; compare the flowerings of Weimar Germany to what happened afterwards, or the virtual extinction of music in post-revolutionary Ethiopia. Was there a certain pathology in extreme situations that led the writer into a dark place? If so, what was the way out? It was a rather nervous laugh we gave when Gwyneth Lewis pointed out the mordant truth, that people often got to beauty spots to kill themselves.

A panic hadn't really gripped hold of the group - but a sense that we still needed to tease out the mysteries of how to deal with a sense of "dread" - perhaps the west has had it since the 2nd World War - potential nuclear holocaust first, global warming second. Yet, may that be a better state than walking blindly into battle, because God and your country needs you? Like yesterday, both speakers gave detailed and learned "think pieces", adding history and philosophy to yesterday's ecological expertise, and demand reviewing, revisiting, when they're put up on the web, following the event.

The Planet Has The Last Laugh

When we talk about saving the planet, what we're really talking about is saving ourselves. Species come and go, the planet keeps on turning. Here's a fantastic poem which reflects on just such matters from Jenny Toms, an RSPB worker who attended Mark Cocker's Reads and Writes workshop at Strumpshaw Fen.


The rain brings back the smell
The memories of ancient things
The sodden peat, driving out new life
From decaying dreams
of bark-dark canopies and liverwort.
Horsetail, not just clinging on, but thriving
through the aeons,
makes the solitary tern
seem a new strange thing.
A sudden happening.
Brief, then gone.
Too fancy; too new-fangled
to survive for long
And flowers - fashionistas:
what use for them?
next to the ages of this wise old man
Who knew the world long
before horses - or tails - had come along.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

A Tuesday Six Pack

Tuesday Evening

The "overnights" are never easy - those first cut reviews of the night before's "show" - but at least with this week's events they're delicious one-offs, be there or its gone. With 3 poets tonight in Norwich Millennium library our accompaniment this time was a jazz band tuning up. Libraries used to be built with walls as thick as castle keeps, but in our "open plan" present, everything runs into each other. Never mind, for another packed audience came along for C.K. Williams, Gwyneth Lewis and Adam Zagajewski, each given a rounded 20 minutes. There's all kinds of poetry readings, of course, but twenty minutes, just poetry, with three poets of intelligence and reputation, is perhaps an unbeatable model. They all commented wryly on the theme of "nature", since poets, good ones at least, don't write to theme - but it's rare to find a poet who hasn't seen something in the natural world to admire. Zagajewski read in translation, except for a short poem he read both in Polish and English, and the value of having a regular translator could be seen when he gave us a very recent poem, freshly minted, freshly translated. Williams half name-checked his Polish friend in one of his new poems; the opportunity to read something new - as well as something old - one of the advantages of the "twenty minute set." The last poem he read was a parade of his personal saints - yet, these saints were poets, a reminder of how art itself can have the power of the spiritual. Whilst Lewis gave us a mix of poems, some sad, some funny. Norwich is lucky indeed to have so many poets and other writers passing through its doors, and nipping out for a quick reading, such as this one. Before we moved on to a show at Norwich Arts Centre, everyone sat down for pizza. A pizza of course is very like a poem, From the outside it always looks rather familiar, a mix of dough, tomato, cheese and toppings. You need to bite into it to find its essense. I'm pleased to say, the pizza was delicious.

Norwich Arts Centre is in an old church, and as a result has both a grandness and a quirkiness to its layout. Tonight's show, "Turning up the Temperature" was a livelier, lighter kind of event. Performance poetry has sometimes been the bane of my artistic life living in Manchester, but arriving to find Ben Mellor sat on an exercise on the edge of the stage, was a surreal start. A one-man show, (albeit with audience assistance), Mellor gave us a performance, not just perfomance poetry, which generated its own energy (literally). He was followed by the Jamaican writer Kei Miller, who read both his poetry and fiction, to much acclaim; humorous, confident and orginal. I've been a little allergic to bands/artists singing in front of films ever since seeing the Beta Band many years ago, where all their musical genius couldn't quite hide how awful their student film backdrop was. Art students, eh? So apologies to Samia Malik, completing the evening, who sung and performed her set with confidence, if it took me a while to shake off my post-Beta Band aversion to film backdrops.

Nature and Nation

Tuesday Morning

The first session of the writers salon took place in the Council Chamber. We were sat around like knights of the round table, or perhaps, Alderman passing parking legislation... but so much nicer than being in a lecturer theatre, all facing forward. The theme before us, Nature and Nation, with the "unacknowledged legislators" including poets, non-fiction writers, memoirists, fiction writers, and, best of all, multitaskers. Last night's debate, primarily on climate change, had seen the imagination take a little bit of a backseat, as the heaviness of science's worst predictions seemed to label the creative writer as being either a denier or a propagandist. The writer, I've always thought, can sometimes go underground when faced with politicians, economists and... yes, scientists. A few years ago there was a big splash about poets like Lavinia Greenlaw writing about science in their work, poetry apparently requiring a specific relevance to time and place...

...so the first job of the day, I think, was a bit of untangling, an unburdening, if you like of the expectation that writers could somehow be enlisted in some environmental Peace Corp. The messages here were far more subtle. Gretel Erhlich has spent many years travelling with the inuit, and she was never less than fascinating. It was the detail that stood out: the mythologies of the people; their belief that over the ice horizon, was simply more ice; even the insistence that they are modern people (fax machines, portable radios), living an ancient, and endangered life. The danger, of course, comes from the changes to the ice, where even in the coldest February, the ice hasn't the thickness to carry sleighs; not the cold, but the turbulent waters underneath causing it to crack and shatter. "Nation" here defined itself, not with flags and anthems, but with ice, with polar bears and reindeer, with finding and sharing food. I'm reminded of Thomas Hardy's "Woodlanders", an enclave community, that is still holding on to an ancient way; the difference being that here it's not "progress" that is destroying the life, but the effects of progress. Her most important point, I think, iterated from the floor, was that if we lose these people and their lifestyle we lose an echo of our own past life, and with it the skills, the understanding that we might just need in the potentially turbulent future.

It wasn't so much that the naturalist and nature writer, Richard Mabey, had a different view, as a different subject. He talked more about the need for us - for writers - to have, and he put it bluntly, a less colonial attitude to nature. The emphasis on writers is to tell the truth, to get it right. Neither to sentimentalise nature by our reference to it as "our" landscape, nor to denigrate it when it's less than beautiful. It is not the snow leopard or the elephant whose extinction that will be unforgivable, but the insect life, the microbe life, the plant life. Extinction, we were reminded, is a relatively modern concept - not a comfortable one for theologians, I guess, and even problematic for Darwinists, with their emphasis on "natural selection."

How then to reconcile these complex messages? Mabey felt, not uncontroversially, that there was a duty now on writers to "get it right" when talking about nature; that using the moody landscape as a "prop" for our own melancholy was no longer enough. Teasing out how all writers - any writers - can take on board a responsibility that seems counter-intuitive to the creative process, was one of the day's - so far - unanswered questions. Mabey's other points perhaps got lost in the complexity - and politicisation - of the argument. His initial point had been how for much of his life he'd wanted to "own" a landscape, one where he'd lived for so long, and yet when illness led to him leaving, it also freed him. Our own "private" nations are adaptable, it seems, if we're willing to accept a different kind of citizenship. When owls arrived in his village, he had to dump his preconceptions of owl life, and think again, on their terms. This, it was agreed, was no longer a scientists' job; perhaps a writers.

I think everyone in the room will have had more things that they didn't say, than did, as both Mabey and Ehrlich, ably chaired by Jon Cook, were giving us the anti-Powerpoint, a polemical essay. Emerson, Dickens, Shakespeare, Stevens, Sebald, Thoreau, Rousseau, Wordsworth, Clare and Ruskin were mentioned in despatches, amongst others. Literature - great literature - changes us by letting us see the world through its prism, understanding more in the process. Though certain writers can appear to be express universal thought (wither the Lakes without Wordsworth for instance?) it is their individual sympathy and empathy (John Clare, suggested Mabey) that comes first. If, as Adam Zagajewski, maintained, the 20th century writers state of being was primarily that of "exile" - what of the 21st? I suggested that both of our "case studies", if you can call them that, the inuit community of Greenland, and the threatened Norfolk coast, were both, in their different way "margins", but ones which were increasingly valid to our understanding of what comes next.

Future Imperfect?

Monday Evening

The majority of the "worlds" writers arrived tonight, and there's something quite inspiring about a group of virtual strangers, with something in common, getting together. For what...? Well, that will come clearer over the next few days. A writer, at least should approach something like this, without preconceptions. I'm reminded of a country house mystery, we're all meeting in the drawing room, and haven't yet realised the chambermaid's been murdered in the kitchen with a staple gun. Yet, if tonight's debate, "Future Imperfect?" discussing the planet-in-peril, is anything to go by, the victim is already tagged, it's US. Prof. Andrew Watson gave us a cautionary history story about blue-green algae who manufactured the oxygen that took over the atmosphere and destroyed all life on the planet; leading the way (much, much later) for our evolution. Giles Foden, whose next novel, Turbulence concerns the weather conditions at D-Day (a kind of gung ho "Perfect Storm" perhaps), is investigating another kind of evolution - for that event remains one of the key events in our living memory. An imaginative writer can do justice to D-day, but to humanity as the next blue-green algae? The subject suddenly seems too big and serious for art; yet at the same time, artists, writers, poets - though rarely bellwethers (aside: I was very pleased, a few years ago, when I found out that the "bellwether" was nothing to do with the weather, but referred to the practice of tying a bell round the the neck of a castrated ram to lead the sheep home) are still something of the written conscience of a society. We don't have to go as far as Harold Bloom, who reckoned that Shakespeare showed us how to be ourselves, to appreciate that art is like a cultural flouride, providing a slow, counteraction to our decay.

Earlier in the pot-banging maelstrom of Norwich Millennium Library (Q. at what point in human history did libraries not just stop being silent, but became loud?) Mimi Khalvati and Adam Thorpe read bravely above the din. Mimi read from her book, the Meanest Flower. A question from the audience to Mimi said, "I'm a bloke, I only buy flowers for my missus when she's ill, so they don't really interest me that much." Men should be more careful in their appreciation of the dark beauty of flowers, there was many a husband who didn't recover from a bit of digitalis (the poisonous foxglove) in the soup. Nature always has its way.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Bishop's Garden: inspiration through the rain

At about 1pm yesterday afternoon, the rain was thundering down on the NWP tent, and spirits were sinking. Will anyone really come out in this weather? We talked of Dunkirk spirit and such, and said yes yes they will, and then all fell silent as the hail bounced off the tent. Yet at 2pm when the gates opened a steady stream of the truly great British public started coming through, just as the sun splashed out onto the green.

Half an hour later there was a queue for the ice-creams, children running round the maze, and much toing and froing from the cafe. Yet for many the beautiful Bishop's gardens served as a backdrop for the main event - the readings - which were delivered to a packed tent, despite all the other attractions on offer. It was easy to stay interested, as each reader delivered a little insight into their world and the world of their writing, and the general feeling was of wanting to hear more. Mark Cocker, Jay Griffiths and Richard Mabey all related how they turned to nature during periods of depression. Nature was presented not only as a salve, but as the essential base of our nature that we have to get back to. Griffiths elucidated most directly how the lack of 'Wild' is at the root of many of the social ills that we see today, however all the writers delivered the same insistent story - that we ignore our natural home at our peril. The joy of living more directly with the natural world was evident in the writing - from the colourful images of Guthrie's poems, to the poetic imagery in Cocker's Crow Country; all in all it was inspirational.

The kids showed us how it's done as well, running around through the flowers, and taking part in the many RSPB activities. Thanks to the RSPB, Charlie CrickCrack , all the authors, and of course all those who came out despite the showers...

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Workshop With Susan Fletcher at Titchwell RSPB Reserve

Intrepid authors braved uncertain weather on the North Norfolk coast to take a guided walk around Titchwell in the company of guide, Dale Harrison and prize winning novelist, Susan Fletcher. Fortified with hot coffee, they then learned ways of using landscape to help tell a story and carried out various writing exercises in the picnic area. Happily, we missed the rain by the skin of our teeth!

New Writing From Reads and Writes Workshop Participants

The Moth Box
‘I want you to do weird.’ Mark Cocker tells us,’ get away from what you think and look at the extraordinary in front of you. Look into this.’ It is 9.30 and raining and we’re standing in the tool shed in Strumpshaw Fen at the start of a workshop on nature and writing.
‘This’ is a moth box, a square wooden box with two pieces of glass making a valley where moths have crept in to lie among a forest of egg box fragments. We cluster round as Mark takes out a large piece of grey carton, and look as the subtly patterned and coloured creatures come into focus against the dull background. The moths remain still as he passes them round, some with wings spread, others held close to look like extra nubbles on the moulding.
‘They won’t fly off, this is their night time,’ he explains. And they do lie still, asleep except for the eyed hawk-moth, large and plump bodied, as it shivers its wings desperate to fly our attentiveness. The poplar hawk-moth is the grandest, a plum grey the colour of dusk, its uplifted tail and deeply serrated wings like a galleon give it a stately and, if I were thinking of eating it, an alarming appearance.
‘A peppered moth,’ and Mark points to one with outspread wings and variegated speckles. I am handed a piece of egg tray, admire a ‘snout’ the colour of crumbly old paper near a moth of such velvet black with a patterned band, an embroidered elizabethan cape of a moth. Turning over this moth bed I see more and more, they have no sense of up or down and it’s me that worries about them falling off.
I find a traditional looking one, with flat folded wings making that familiar shallow v at the tail end and a mark. ‘There, that pattern, that’s what gives the moth its name,’ says Jenny, a veteran of Strumpshaw Fen, ‘A setaceous hebrew character.‘ Well weird.
The rain continues and so do we dispersing into the woods and the fen itself, our weatherproof greens and browns melting into a landscape where everything is blurred. We need a bird sharp eye to see, and a quiet mind to hear. The next hour gives up woodpecker nestlings, the red headed sort, lesser I believe, then a toad, and for others on this workshop more dramatic sightings, marsh harriers and a grebe.
But the moths still cling to my memory, tiny ones, a finger width or a hand span big, furry legged, blotched or eyed, and I want a dress for summer evenings, softly spotted like the wings of the peppered moth. At home that evening I leave the light on and the door open and there’s one on the faded white door, off white and banded. Tonight I see its uniqueness and want to know it.
Bernardine Coverley

Mother Nature’s Palette by Melanie Beck.

It is interesting how as children we are taught
The sky is blue, trees are brown, leaves are green
Now take a closer look, beyond the simplicity of a child’s colour blocks
Into the artist’s paint box, to see the true colour of nature’s palette

The sky is blue on sunny days but rarely a flat wash of one tone
In reality the wash is graduated, a mixture of hues
Cerulean, cobalt, ultramarine, with large brush randomly blended
Interspersed with white fluffy curls bringing the blues alive

On stormy days there is no sky blue, instead an indigo
Intense, dark and dominant between shades of grey
Pewter, charcoal, almost ivory black with less blending, few random strokes
More thought and defined edges around the silver grey smoke like shapes

Trees are brown it is true but look at that weathered old stump
Ageing bleaches that outer shell, paler, greyer, faded
Unexpected colour like drops from the brush, green moss, pink fungi
Draws your attention, pulls you further into the tree, into the palette

Look deeper into the stump; peel away the layers one by one
Subtle colour changes are exposed with each discarded skin
Careful brushstrokes of sepia, burnt sienna, red ochre, raw umber, Indian red
Separately or combined intensify the strength and depth within

It can’t be denied that leaves are green but what is leaf green?
Light green, dark green, yellow green, olive green, intense green, grey green
Bright and shiny as if still wet on the paper, dulling as time passes, as the colour dries
So many leaves, so many greens, working together complimenting, highlighting

Splashes of floral colour that catch the eye, prominent, distracting
Brought into the foreground by the wealth of greens happy to fade away
Rose, crimson, lemon, gold, violet, mauve, single colours, mingled combinations
Attention to detail painstakingly applied with the finest of brush and the steadiest of hand

With no pattern to copy, no instructions to follow, no advice to listen to
An abstract is created from freedom from restraint, or pressures
Expressing a personality with each colour chosen, each application made
Everything belonging, being important to the picture unfolding

The scene may appear simple before us in its execution of colour
Like that of a child’s innocent eye, not knowing how to express what is before them
Yet is seems that Mother Nature knew exactly what she was doing and the complexity before her
When she carefully selected her colour palette and created her masterpiece.

Monday, 9 June 2008

More New Writing from Mark Cocker's Workshop

Birds on the Broad

A Poem by Jo Kjaer

They flap and wheel,
stack red legs in,
spill over reed tufted nests,
their three letter quarrels deafening;

lifting off like helmeted
kamikazes from abroad,
dive bombing local swimmers
gliding by on the calm mirror,

a-swanning and a-grebing,
their unruffled upending
undeterred by gull words
that have no meaning.

Jo won the first Cafe Writers Norfolk Poetry Commission in 2007. Her first collection, 'As The Crow Flies', was published earlier this year.

Birds and People

Norfolk Reads and Writes writer in residence, Mark Cocker, is working on an exciting new project to produce a book about the joys of birdwatching with contributions from the public via the Birds and People website. Visit http://birdsandpeople.org to find out more.

Writers Workshops

About thirty writers, some experienced, some less so, and some who have never tried their hand before at poetry or creative prose, have enjoyed guided walks and workshops on nature writing with poet Mimi Khalvati and nature writer Mark Cocker.

Mimi's group visited Rockland Marsh with RSPB guide, Matt Wilkinson, then worked on their poems in the RSPB's hide overlooking the broad, or lurking among the vegetation for all the world like wildlife themselves! Here are two poems by Millie Comerford which came out of a lovely day in the sun and fresh air:


When you were all gone,
I could see again,
This year’s teasels standing there.
The meadow took on colour
And best of all,
A willow smashed up by lightening
Lay scattered
On that Euro funded footpath
Through the marsh.

When you were all gone,
I sank back into that childhood place
Where I could see pink and green.
I played in the ooze and slap of mud.

I could see Paddy,
A blur of old clothes and a hat,
A haze of kindness and delight
From an old bachelor
Allowed to like children.

When you were all gone,
The marsh took me in,
took me in,
Offered me water and warmth,
I felt it in my hand.


It’s like a grip to the wrist.
It fills the mind.
It filters into the emotions,
A peaty place.

I am tangled in the plant
Losining my way,
Even in the sunlight
Of the bright summer marsh,
Losing my way.

From afar others feel
Pity or horror.
For me the harrier
Hovers his prey.

Don’t let them see the darkness,
The water lapping at your edges.
Determination may emerge coot like
And the crab apple offer it’s fruit.

Dedicated to Mimi Khalvati

Our second workshop took place at Strumpshaw Fen, followed by writing time at Brundall Library where hot coffee was gratefully received by dripping but dedicated nature writers. I shall leave it to participant, Liz Barnard, to give a flavour of the day:

Nature writer

It is one of those drizzly mornings the Irish call ‘soft’ when the air is so heavy with moisture it coalesces into raindrops; ideal (not!) for the nature writing workshop I am booked onto.

On my way to the workshop I get lost in the cats cradle of roads between Lingwood and Strumpshaw and become very familiar with the Household Waste Recycling Centre which I pass three times: ironically it is much better signposted than the bird reserve I’m heading for. I arrive at the car park, flustered, fifteen minutes late, just as the fuel gauge warning light flashes on my dashboard.

The workshop has already started: ten women and one man. What is it about nature writing that draws more women than men? Some of our best nature writers are men, including our tutor: most bird watchers are men - so where are they? Not here, for sure.

Mark Cocker, our tutor, is well prepared with a giant wasps nest and egg boxes full of moths caught in his garden the night before. The nest resembles a lava flow, convoluted and colourfully striped depending on the wood the wasps had scraped that day: the moths so exotic they could have come from a tropical rainforest with names to match; Flame Shoulder; Pale Prominent; Cetaceous Hebrew Character. Their wings have a velvety pile, some shot through with gold iridescence as though conceived and fabricated by an eccentric textile designer. My favourite looks like a Stealth Bomber in camouflage and is prosaically named Snout! (I’m going to recommend this name to the RAF for their next commission). We peer through magnifying lenses, oohing and aahing until shooed out to do our own research.

We disperse to various points on the fen in search of inspiration and I soon regret bringing the kitchen sink: with one hand holding an umbrella against the steadily increasing rain, and the other clutching my bag with stool, camera, coffee, lunch there is no free hand to swat the mosquitoes.

I lose my companions as I aim for the orchids, hoping that my interest in wildflowers will provide ample material for some nature poetry. I rehearse phrases like ‘trembling grasses’ and ‘raindrops like diamonds’ until I sink to my ankles in waterlogged cattle hoof prints and change my mind. The ragged robins beside the path are bedraggled; I’m bedraggled; there are no orchids and my companions are distant blobs. All of a sudden a rainproof bird hide seems irresistibly attractive.

I step over the red twine directing me across a bridge over a dyke and plod on round the field edge, through a barbed wire fence and up a slippery bank onto the path to the hide - and shelter. The leaves of reeds and flag iris punctuate the dark water of the dyke alongside and I silently juggle words; sheaths, swords, slicing… but the creative well is dry.

I clatter into the monkish silence of the hide and join four other writers just as a bittern starts booming. Well, that’s a first! It has been worth coming just for that!

Through the window the landscape is layered by the rain into a child’s cardboard theatre set; sharp green nettles in the foreground, then reeds and water, elder in flower in the middle distance, then banks of willow and in the far distance the pale, misty outline of larger trees on drier ground. A bedraggled marsh harrier perches damply on an exposed branch. Mark points out another making a ‘food pass’ in the background. I wonder, given the projected global food shortages, whether this is the sort of rationing vocabulary that will soon pass into general use.

In the foreground, on the mere, is a stationary grebe, not doing any of the things I associate with grebes, like diving, but looking, from the rear, like a floating haggis, until with a glorious balletic movement it preens, arching its handsome russet head and white throat over its back.

I drink the decaf cappuccino to lighten my load and wonder if it’s too early to broach the packed lunch. It’s only 10.30. Somehow I’m not in the right mental space for this workshop. That said I could happily sit here all day looking at the view.

We are due back at 11.00am and leave the hide in one by one. I find myself alone on the path enjoying being solitary, aware of the charm of the shell pink saucers of the arching dog rose and the primitive spindles of horsetail. Chilled and damp I head for the toilets, passing a group member earnestly photographing a single bee orchid by the waste bin. I squash four mosquitoes on the loo wall before they can bite my exposed parts.

On the way to the car park a fellow writer tells me that Brundall library, where we are headed next, is ‘on the main road’. Shouldn’t be a problem; public libraries are prominent buildings; I’ll find it, no trouble. By this time my fuel gauge warning light has ceased flashing and is glowing steadily. On my way to through the village is a Budgens store. I stop to replenish my carbohydrates only to spot a notice saying they are closed for thirty minutes due to an electrical problem. Judging by the amount of rain that has fallen I expect their fuse box is waterlogged.

I drive on, confident that Brundall Library will smite me between the eyes. At one point I mount the pavement, a manoeuvre made necessary by a line of parked cars and overtaking traffic. As a result I miss the sign pointing to the Library. By the time I reach the Total garage on the bypass I know I’m lost. But I can fill up with petrol, at least I thought I could until I realised I’d left my debit card at home. Still, a fivers’ worth of petrol, which is all I have, buys enough to get me home and the garage is offering two large packets of Minstrels for £2.67 which will do wonders for my flagging self-esteem. The cashier tells me, in the calm, measured tone you use with panic-stricken children, how to find the library and I set off again.

Somehow I end up outside Budgens a second time where a young man taking a cigarette break tells me they will be closed until 3pm while they wait for an electrician. But, I’ve spotted the library, which, far from being prominent, is a modest building down a long path identified only by a notice on a narrow iron gate. I fall in through the door to face the collective gaze of my fellow writers, grateful for the warmth and the offer of coffee.

Mark scrupulously gathers in our creative contributions in turn, praising our use of language and making constructive suggestions when we anthropomorphise nature too frequently. He’s really very good at this. He laughs so generously at the account of my misfortunes that while I shall abandon my aspirations to become a nature writer I just might consider comedy.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Notes From A Book Crosser

Last weekend I travelled to York by train and set books free in station cafes, on trains - even one in a ladies' cloakroom! I got some strange looks, but I know they've been picked up and journaled about, and no-one came up to me to tell me I'd left my book behind. So join in, don't be shy. Read something you never would have dreamed of reading. Learn something new. Have fun. And do blog here about your book crossing experiences.

BookCrossing Kicks off Norfolk Reads and Writes

Norfolk Reads and Writes was launched in style last week by Cllr Brenda Ferris, Mark Cocker, Lorna Payne (Norfolk Libraries), Agnes Rothom (RSPB) and Chris Gribble (NWP). We set free the first of a flock of 100 books from the Castle ramparts and are looking forward to seeing how far they travel by the end of June. Each of the books is by a Norfolk writer or is about Norfolk in some way. They each have a 'Read Me!' sticker on the front and details of the BookCrossing scheme inside. If you spot one of our flock in a park, cafe, shop or bus near you over the coming weeks, just pick it up, log on to the website you;ll find inside and let us know where you picked it up and what you thought of the book! Simple as that. Once you've read the book, leave it somewhere for another book lover to pick up and enjoy - it's an endless chain for all lovers of reading and Norfolk and we hope you spot one near you soon. The book that travels the furthest over the coming weeks will be declared the winner and all the people in the chain will get a prize. Onwards to New Writing Worlds in June!