Monthly Archives: October 2011

The Power of the Word

12-16 October

Kevan performs at the Bristol Story Cafe

It’s been a particularly rich ‘bardic week’.Wednesday night my friend Ola and I performed our show ‘Tales of the Desert, Desire and the Red Thread’ at the Bristol Story Cafe, held above the funky wholefood shop, La Ruca, in Bristol. I started things off with a bit of Rumi, then my Garden of Irem story, finishing with Phaethon and the Chariot of the Sun’, a Greek myth which explains how the deserts of the world were created. Ola then stepped up to the plate to regale us with the tale of the Woman who gave birth to the Moon – a story from her collection, ‘The Firekeeper’s Daughter’. Mine were inspired by my novel, The Burning Path. Escaping Bristol, we wended our way back to the genteel suburbs of Bath.

On Thursday I caught up with my friend and co-writer, Terry James. We listened back to the recording of the Dymock Poets Story read-thru – a week on. It was magical, hearing our words brought alive by the ‘company’. Lots of exciting emails have been whizzing back and forth recently about famous directors and actors who might become involved. Can’t say any more than that at present!

Friday night I treated my partner to a mystery night out – taking her to see the master storyteller Abbi Patrix and his talented percussionist partner Linda Edsjö at the Playhouse in Cheltenham – part of the mega Litfest on at the moment. A small entourage of us went over from Stroud, in Fiona’s ‘bardmobile’ – following the moon along the scenic Birdlip route. While climbing to our seats in the stalls I commented to an elderly lady heading in the same direction: ‘This literature lark keeps you fit!’ She replied ‘Nothing can keep me fit!’ It was AS Byatt. We got chatting about her new book Ragnarok – which she was talking about the following day. She was a charming lady – unpretentious and approachable; as was her fellow Booker Prize winner, Ben Okri, who also happened to be sitting in the same row as AS, two rows down from us. Afterwards, enjoying a post-show drink and discussion in the bar, I bumped into him on the way out. We shook hands and had a brief discussion about the wonderful show, which I called ‘Shamanic’. ‘The perfect word for it,’ he said. He asked my name, and what I did. He had a lovely graceful presence. Meeting two writers I admire in one night – I went home happy!

The next day I popped into town and enjoyed the atmosphere of market day – bumping into friends old and new on the High Street – feeling I am lucky to live in such a lovely, friendly place with a vibrant, creative community, stunning countryside and great pubs! Later, I paid a visit to my local, the Crown and Sceptre, joining the Saturday afternoon crowd watching the match. I supped my Budding in its mug and perused the papers – it’s one of those pubs where you can have a quiet read in the corner and no-one thinks you’re an alien with two heads. Along with their weekly nights of ‘stitch ‘n’ bitch’; Up the Workers Wednesdays; bikers & poker night, they also have the occasional arts event – eg a film show with live soundtrack or the up-and-coming book launch. I talked to the landlord Rodda about holding one their for my imminent book, Turning the Wheel.

That evening I went to the Lorca in England finale at Whiteway Colony Hall – which had links with the Spanish poet and his Civil War comrades in the Thirties. It took some finding along the dark backroads – the weird no man’s land that is the ‘Cheltenham triangle’. Eventually we pulled into the carpark in time to hear the jazz – Lorca’s poems set to music, against the backdrop of an impressionistic ‘Lorca-mentary’ made by a local film-maker. In the summer, a competition for the best Lorca poem in translation was held. Tonight the shortlisted poems were read out – by the entrants who could attend (one had come from Paris), or by local Rimbaud, Jeff Cloves, and the judges – two American poets, flown over especially for the event. The suitably international winner was announced (an Italian living in France). Another well known local poet, Philip Rush MCed the whole event in a witty and informative way – a cool school-teacher daddy-o. The rioja flowed as we hobnobbed with the crowd of poetry-lovers afterwards. It’s not often one goes to a bilingual poetry reading – and has a good night. The whole thing wasn’t so ‘worthy’ as to be dull – it had a slightly anarchic air to it. The archive footage of the Wall Street Crash and soup kitchen queues, the spectre of Fascism and the fopdoodle of the media made the whole thing eerily resonant. One could imagine Lorca being at home with the protesters around the world who took part in a global anti-austerity/corporate greed demos today. Power to the People!

And today – Sunday – there is the Stroud Short Story night at the SVA. Words galore! What a place to live!

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Elected Friends

Dymock Poets Dinner Party

6th October

Dymock Poets Dinner Party at Daisybank, 6 October 2011

Last night seven of us gathered at Daisybank to celebrate a special friendship. On the 6th October 1913, the poets Robert Frost and (then prose-writer) Edward Thomas met for the first time. I decided this was an auspicious anniversary to have the first read-thru of the screenplay I have co-written with ex-ITV news editor Terry James about the lives of the Dymock Poets (a mutual passion of ours – Terry wrote a play about Thomas and his wife thirty years ago). Having the initial flash of inspiration in Spring 2010 after a discussion with Terry about another project, we began work in earnest late last summer – I drafted the initial treatment while on Skyros, running my first Writers’ Lab course. This was an evocative place to work on it – being the ‘corner of a foreign field that is forever England’ (Rupert Brooke, one of the Dymocks, is buried there). Having the village in Gloucestershire where it all started on my doorstep helped to bring it alive also, and I’ve spent several weekends on writers’ retreat there – staying at a lovely place in Redmarley D’abitot, walking in the footsteps of Frost, Thomas et al along the Poets’ Walks in the area. Talks and walks organised by the Friends of the Dymock Poets also helped to stir the cauldron (most recently, last Saturday – with excellent talks about Marsh and the War Poets). The recent wave of media interest in Thomas was an uncanny coda to my own ‘Dymock Fever’ I’ve been experiencing this last year and a half (to the point I even moved to Gloucestershire last December).

Kevan Manwaring - co-screenwriter of the Dymock Poets story

I invited 6 people to my soiree – the dress code was ‘Edwardian/Georgian’ and everyone made a real effort. I provided a roast dinner and there were contributions of pears from Herefordshire (from David’s garden), home-made cake, Wisset’s Pink from Suffolk, and other tasties. After the meal we read out some of the Dymocks poems – beginning with ‘The Sun Used to Shine’ by Thomas, about the ‘walk-talking’ rambles he used to enjoy with Frost in and around Dymock.

Then we repaired to the ‘lounge’, where a fire was roaring – not for port and cigars – but for a read-thru of the screenplay. Roles were allocated and the casting seemed to be spot on as the respective thesps rose to the occasion – Jay carried off a good American accent for Frost; Anthony was perfect for Thomas; as his partner Kirsty was for Farjeon; Gabriel played Helen (& the barmaid!); Ola, Brooke; David, Marsh (& Bott). The other parts were played by ‘members of the cast’, as they say. I read out the scene descriptions and filled in where necessary. The dialogue flowed well and the group held the focus for over two hours – with no one breaking the spell for a loo break, etc. At times, with the fire crackling in the grate, the atmosphere was powerful. And once again I found the Dymock story deeply moving.

Afterwards, there was cake and crit – although some had to depart due to the lateness of the hour. Finally, the guests left (except Ola, the Bonn-Bath migrant, who had to crash over), and I went to bed feeling replete – a perfect night, made so by exceptional friends, all talented writers, storytellers and poets. The Dymock Poets story has such a pull for me, because I find the way those poets (their wives; close friends; & muses) inspired and supported each other very inspiring.

Here’s to creative fellowship!

Ola, Jay, Anthony & Gabriel - creative fellowship