I will be giving a talk on fiction writing at the next Folken gathering in Liverpool on 9th December. Pronounced Fol-ken (not Folk-en, that sounds a bit rude), which means “people”, the event aims to inspire and create networks and links for those who want to do something a little bit different in 2017.
I have a new radio show, 6-8pm each Monday. You can listen to it online here or if you’re in the Liverpool area, on 99.8fm. I’m playing lots of new releases, local music from the Merseyside area, and older songs I love a lot.
In other news, I have a short story in a new book, published in 2017. The book, A Furious Hope, will be available in print and e-book and, as the title suggests, is intended to offer some hope in these often grim times. More updates as I have them!
I chaired an author panel at Knutsford Library last week, with members of the fabulous Cheshirati.
We talked about sex (on the printed page, of course), self v traditional publishing, plotting (novels!), the value of writing groups, and why book bloggers are so flipping wonderful. We had a very lovely evening indeed, insightful questions from the audience keeping the talk lively and bopping along nicely. And there was wine, always a plus.
A third of the way through, though, a tangle of what looked like Donald Trump’s hair tumbled across the library’s carpeted floor…further inspection revealed it to be an orange-brown spider with the longest and thinnest legs in the history of the world ever. It was duly rescued and removed by a member of the audience. We wonder where that spider is now…
Afterwards, someone in Knutsford library tried to sell me a coat. In Liverpool pubs I’ve been offered ciggies, vodka, batteries, bacon etc etc – but it has never happened in a library before. I’m still musing over that.
Then at the weekend I was in Kendal Library, for a Get It Loud In Libraries show. As the name suggests, they put gigs on in libraries.
I loved that Kendal Library was on a road called…
On the way home the next day we stopped off at Wigan to buy butter pies, the good honest Lancashire comfort food of my youth.
The pie shop was on the corner of…
I kid you not.
November is National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo for short. Read best selling crime author Elizabeth Haynes’ shares her top NaNoWriMo tips with me here.
Bob Dylan‘s Nobel Prize for Literature win last Friday was an unexpected one. Leaving the discussion about the definition of literature aside, because I haven’t got a spare year to hand, the auto declaration that Bob Dylan is the world’s greatest poet, the poet of American pop who creates poetry for the ear, and other platitudes, irks. Not because Dylan is not a fine songwriter – only the churlish and argumentative would insist that – but by slapping him with the poet tag we are denigrating songwriting, and the art of pop and rock songwriting itself.
Poetry, as singer songwriter and composer Scott Walker says in the documentary film 30th Century Man, ‘isn’t written to be sung’. And he’s right. His own lyrics, like Dylan’s and alongside other songwriters, are often wrongly referred to as poetry. But poetry is written down. It is performed, sometimes, but it is not sung.
And neither is rap the same as poetry. There’s been many a spoken word and poetry night where someone has cheekily called their work poetry and everyone has thrilled, because it’s so different to all the sonnets and whatnot, but I’ve thought, ‘nah, babe. Who are you kidding? That’s a rap. And you jolly well know it.’
A song with lyrics is different to a poem. The musical part of a song emphasises, heightens and underlines emotions and meaning. Lyrics are not poetry. Even if you write down the lyrics to a song, glory in them on paper, enjoy them, weep or fall in love over them or pluck inspiration from them, they are still not poetry. Reading out lyrics as poetry results in something akin to Peter Sellers orating Lennon & McCartney’s A Hard Day’s Night in the style of Laurence Olivier.
Lyrics are lyrics, and there is no shame in referring to them so. The word lyric is not an insult. We don’t typically consume lyrics as we do poetry, in physical book form, although very few people buy poetry in 2016. The sale of poetry books and pamphlets is consistently and depressingly low, year on year. I’ll wager any books of lyrics published are largely left on bookshelves, or displayed on coffee tables for the benefit of visitors, but rarely read. That’s because lyrics require music to hit the sweet spot, the tender flesh of the heart.
Pop songwriting and lyric writing are equal in value to poetry. You get bad poetry in exactly the same way there is awful songwriting. One is not a better or worse art form than the other. There’s an instinctive response to try and legitimise pop music somehow, an underlying feeling that pop is not good or worthy enough on its own, like it needs that extra bit of class to make it better. As if it is lacking. Calling a songwriter a poet appeals to the vanities within us. If we enjoy lyrics and claim them as poetry, it makes us cleverer, deeper, more intellectual than those who foot tap and enjoy rousing choruses. We are elevated above all that, we are the brainy ones! Aren’t we good?
What bollocks. It’s snobbery, and not unlike the horrible trend of slathering unnatural orchestration over pop songs, or even worse, concerts with orchestras banging out versions of Beatles songs and theme tunes from James Bond and Dr Who; y’know, to get the kids into classical. And let’s not leave out the pop bands with no classical bent in their musical DNA whatsoever, hooking up with Philharmonic orchestras, and slapping on an extra ten or fifteen quid on a concert ticket.
For artists like The Last Shadow Puppets and The Magnetic North, to take two examples of contemporary artists who combine pop and orchestration on their albums, the combination is a natural, understandable thing. And it works. But I have no truck with some, those who push their luck, big time. We all know who they are.
For the Christmas record market last year, someone at RCA had the bright idea to re-work recordings by Elvis Presley going to the bother of hiring the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to perform alongside the songs, with a choir bellowing away on top. The resulting album, If I Can Dream : Elvis Presley With The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is a ghastly affair. Recording the original version of the title song, part of the 1968 Comeback Special, was a pivotal moment for Elvis.
In it, he had to prove himself, after years churning out bad films, and lordy, he did precisely that. It’s a powerful, emotional vocal performance but it’s the imperfections that make it perfect. A lone guitar string moans – with pleasure or pain, it’s impossible to tell – and his voice cracks and trembles, his vulnerability exposed. It’s utterly fucking beautiful. But once If I Can Dream is, erm, reworked, we don’t hear any of that. It is reduced a vulgar, rude blare, strings and piano and choir combined into a sickly sweet layer of icing that makes us gag. And don’t get us even started on what they’ve done to his song Burning Love. There’s another Elvis Philharmonic album coming out this year. Help us all. If he were still alive, Elvis would shoot the telly. And who could blame him?
My point is, declaring lyrics as poetry, plus pop and rock bands suddenly out of the blue performing with formal and straight orchestras might make us feel all cultured and highbrow, but it is patronising towards pop music and those who enjoy it for what it is. Pop and rock music is fine as it stands. It needs no extra trimmings, or validation. We should stand up for what we love, our beloved pop and rock. Adding extra tags and qualities to either, ones which simply aren’t there, is completely and utterly unnecessary.
Who knows if Bob Dylan himself feels the same? For now, the body that awards the Nobel Prize for Literature has given up trying to contact the singer-songwriter – not poet! – regarding whether he accepts the prize or will attend the ceremony in Stockholm on 10 December.
I was walking to the shops the other week. A woman parked her car on the other side of the road, and came over to me with a strange look on her face. As she came closer, I realised she was smothering a smile.
“Did you know you’ve got your skirt tucked into your knickers?” she said, before corpsing big time.
SHE PARKED HER CAR. Bless her darling heart.
We had a good – and long – laugh, because what else could you do? It genuinely was very funny. “You really wedged your skirt in…really high…” she added, making folding motions with her hand, which set us both off again.
Someone said to me afterwards that it was luck on my part that this Good Samaritan for Women Who Can’t Dress Properly helped me, partly because there are so many people who would’ve filmed me on their phones and put it on YouTube (or wherever). You know, for larfs. And the bantz. I honestly never thought about that. As far as I know no one has (please God) but it got me thinking, and worrying.
At the boxing gym this week I was sparring with a new member, and before I had chance to blink her mate had filmed our session and put it on Snapchat. I wasn’t asked if I was ok being filmed by some stranger, and to be honest I’m not even sure why I didn’t say anything. Ordinarily I would.
I think it was because I was shocked, and my defenses were down. The gym is a safe place where you’re meant to be able to sweat (or glow, in may case ‘cos I’m a lady) and look as rubbish as you like. If you can’t relax when you’re working out, when can you?
But then again, why can’t we relax everywhere? Going back to the tucked in knickers incident again, even a couple of years ago we wouldn’t dream of even thinking someone might take a snap of something like that. But now it’s an automatic reaction.
My point is, we should be able to go out for a pint of milk without wariness. But that goes for everything else we do too. I get a shiver of horror when I see sneery photos of folk on social media getting their shoes mocked, VPL zoomed in on or unfortunate women like me who accidentally and foolishly expose their underwear.
I think it’s rude to take photos of people without their permission. To my mind, it’s ok to take the piss out of yourself with this sort of thing, but definitely not ok to do it to others.
It’s like we’ve turned into a nation of terrible paparazzi. Very bad manners, in my opinion, whether we think someone else looks daft or not.