Monthly Archives: April 2014

Tales from the Marches, Tunes for the Road

On Friday we had another fine Stroud Story Supper – this time Kirsty Hartsiotis was on hosting duties, and the Newent Club were the guests (Newent meet in each others’ houses – so this was a rare chance to see them all perform in public). Glenn started with his version of ‘Canonbie Dick’, a classic tale about a sleeping King Arthur being disturbed by a greedy fool – this one from the Scottish Borders (I mention it in a recent paper I gave at Falmouth). Next up Val did a spine-tingling rendition of her Beltane Hare story. David shared his tale from the Welsh Marches of the Crusader who has to prove his wife loves him to his captor Sultan. And finally, Austin rounded the first half off with his epic bardic retelling of the arrival of the Milesians. It was great to hear their fine stories, and there were many other good contributions as well: after the break we had the latest instalment from Jim of his Icelandic saga, complete with doll; I did my version of ‘the Ogre of Etin Hall’, also from the Scottish Borders; Chanty kept to the High Road with ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’; Anthony offered his great version of Simonides of Ceos and the Palace of Memory (an apt meta-narrative about the storyteller’s art); and Fiona finished off with an abbreviated version of her Theseus and the Gorgon. A great night!

On Saturday my partner and I wended our way our way down to the Mendips – stopping for a windy walk at Priddy Nine Barrows (and a hearty repaste in the Queen Victoria, a Jamaica Inn of a pub, out in the sticks, with its low beams, inglenooks, cauldrons and cast of local ‘characters’) enroute to the Pedal Folk house concert. Pedal Folk are a trio following in the cycle-tracks of the late great poet Edward Thomas*, who cycled from London to the Quantocks in Spring 1913 – a journey he recorded in exquisite detail in his book, In Pursuit of Spring (a favourite of mine). The dedicated folk-cyclists have been recreating his journey – cycling to each venue with all their kit, averaging 30 odd miles a day, negotiating some serious hills, in all weather. Tonight they were appearing as guests of a pair of most generous hosts who opened up their splendid house to around 30 or 40 people – providing a magnificent spread of food and drink. Pedal Folk (the talented troubadours Tim Graham and Robin Grey alternating on guitar and guitarlele, and the exquisitely skilled Canadian Chance Kellner on violin) performed two sets blending new songs inspired by Thomas’ ride, with songs associated with the places he passed through or stopped, reels and airs, and the odd contemporary song from Robin. It was all very engaging and the trio had a relaxed bonhomie on ‘stage’ – showing the kind of rapport that comes from sharing a journey together (both physical and creative). What was played of the Thomas material sounded fantastic and I can’t wait to hear the full album (a demo was available on the night). The show felt like a work-in-progress that will no doubt be fine-tuned and added to over the coming months. What gave the whole endeavour authenticity was the fact these lovely folk were cycling all the way. Such an environmentally-friendly initiative deserves to be applauded. I wish them well on their journey – and hope they enjoy a well-earned rest afterwards!

* I’ve been a massive Edward Thomas fan for a while now – having co-authored a feature-length screenplay about his friendship with Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken (with Terence James). I was drawn to Gloucestershire partly because of the inspiring tale of the Dymock Poets – a group of writer-friends who gathered in the Glos. village before the First World War – and this year I have co-organised a centenary symposium, The Golden Room (Sat 26 July, Stroud Subscripton Rooms) with my partner-in-rhyme, fellow poet Jay Ramsay. Read my article on Creative Fellowship here.


Song Bird

On Saturday night Irish song-poet Martin Donnelly flew into town for a special one-off gig at the Star Anise Cafe. Hailing from the north of Ireland, Martin enraptured the small but appreciative audience with his sublime songsmithery. His Irish brogue and avuncular manner eased us into his beautifully-crafted songscapes, often inspired by the coastline of his childhood, his family and friends, and his great passion: birds. Their presence was felt not only in direct references and imagery, but also in the melodies themselves. When asked about the influence of his ornithology on his songcraft, Martin at first offered a brush-off, ‘Isn’t it obvious?’ before responding in a more considered fashion. He illustrated how he has a hyper-awareness of them, their songs, habits and rhythms of movement. They clearly deep move him – the song of a curlew causing a tight pain in his chest, so exquisite he finds it. It was touching to see a man talk about his passion this way.

Particular highlights of his set were ‘She Is’ (his feminist revisioning of the anamorphic ‘Song of Amergin’); and the ‘Green Man’ – two iconic tunes showing the man firing on full cylinders. His poetic songwriting (influenced by Seamus Heaney among others) was matched by his skilled guitar-playing. His gentle, soulful style reminded me (in a good way) of Christy Moore.

Martin provided witty pre-ambles for all the songs and was consistently amusing – to himself as well as to the audience! It was a delight to see someone from Northern Ireland in such gay spirits – normally the gift of the gab, the humour and the craic is seen in the Southern Irish. But Martin Donnelly is a great ambassador for the North – his songs made me want to visit that coast. Martin joked he should be employed by the Northern Ireland tourist board. If you get a chance to catch this skilled songsmith, then please do. It was thanks to Caroine Kelly, director of the Waldorf College, that Stroud was graced with his presence. I hope his migratory path crosses this way again.

Wild Words for a Better World

Last Friday (11th April) saw the culmination of a major storytelling project co-ordinated by Alida Gersie, Buck Schiefflin and my dear old friend (& fellow Fire Spring) Anthony Nanson. The trio are the key editors of Storytelling for a Greener World, published by Stroud-based press, Hawthorn, was launched at the Subscription Rooms – the town’s main venue – to a full house. After weeks of publicity – expertly looked after by Meredith Debonnaire – rehearsing and liasing it all finally came together in a fantastic tour-de-force of top bardism.

Some of us met up beforehand in Kitsch for pizza and a cuppa – it was nice to finally meet the rest of the team, and there was a warm-hearted camaraderie. My amazing collapsing chair routine seemed to do the trick at breaking the ice!

Loins girded, we wended our way to the hallowed halls of glory on a glorious evening.

Stroud-based community choir, Circle of Song, warmed up the space with their beautiful songs; and then publisher Martin Large kicked off the evening with a brief introduction – and then it was over to the storytellers! Australian wordsmith Eric Maddern, all the way from his eco-retreat Cae Mabon in North Wales, got things going with a clever little tale called ‘The Phantasm’, which offered a metaphor for the project, a kind of meta-narrative. Next up, we had local master teller, Anthony Nanson, who performed an immaculate version of his heart-rending ‘The Passenger Pigeon’ story. Then it was Alida’s turn, who led us through some stimulating techniques, aided by Jon Cree – a fellow key contributor to the book. At one point the whole audience were linked by sticks held between fingertips and communicated in ‘stick-talk’. The first half was rounded off in a spacious, present way by Nailsworth-based storyteller, psychotherapist and horseman, Kelvin Hall, who shared profound anecdotes about human-animal communication as related to him by people he knows.

Then there was a break – a chance to recharge glasses, buy books, chat – and in my case, warm up as I was straight on afterwards. I did my original story, ‘The Gate’ – first devised for performance in the Sub Rooms 5 years ago (for Heaven’s Gate – an epic showcase co-ordinated by Jay Ramsay and Rick Vick). This time round it felt even more resonant. The performers for the second half were expected to stay on stage, and I found myself sitting next to Jonathon Porritt – who was there to promote his eco-book, The World We Made. He came across as a really nice (and intelligent) bloke. Once I sat down I was able to relax and enjoy my pint of Budding, while I listened to the rest of the show – Kirsty Hartsiotis performed a fine version of ‘The Lake that Flew’. Buck related an amazing real-life experience, ‘Reframing the Apocalypse to Reclaim a Rain Forest’. This all was a hard act to follow, by Jonathon Porritt more than rose to the occasion with his impressive performance as ‘future historian’ Alex McKay, relating ‘The World We Made’ 36 years hence. He cleverly customised the story, as I had done, to fit its context – relating it as though to an audience in Stroud in 2050. Alida rounded things off, and Jonathon fielded one question that an audience member was bold enough to ask – did he think he was possible to make his vision a reality? He was unequivocal in his reply – yes! He had done the research and was convinced it was still possible to turn things around. We have the technology. We just need the political will (including people voting for green candidates and taking positive action on their doorstep). Martin thanked everyone – and then Eric led us in a final singalong with his eco-anthem, ‘It’s Been a Long Time Coming.’

What a night! It was an excellent example of what can be achieved by creative fellowship. Well done to all those who made it possible and all those who came along. It was a resounding success! We well and truly wetted the baby’s head and it bodes well for future Storytelling for a Greener World events. May it inspire many wild words (and a better world).

Storytelling for a Greener World cover

Storytelling for a Greener World

Environment, community and story-based learning

Edited by Alida Gersie, Anthony Nanson and Edward Schieffelin with Charlene Collison and Jon Cree

Foreword by Jonathon Porritt

A treasury of 43 stories, creative activities, techniques, tips and descriptions of inspiring practice to both empower newcomers and seasoned practitioners.

A handy, unique and authoritative resource for developing innovative story-work, and a key sourcebook of lasting usefulness.

This handbook offers time-tested stories, creative activities and methods that environmental educators and storytellers can use to affect people’s pro-environmental behaviour.  Whether it is a brief mention of seeing a skein of geese flying in an evening sky, or children from a tough area getting inspired by kittiwakes, both adults and children can engage profoundly with nature through the imaginative power of story, with lasting personal and environmental changes.

It explores the links between storytelling and emotional literacy, place, environmental justice, connecting with alienated youngsters, how to encourage children and adults’ curiosity about nature, building community, sustainability and indigenous peoples, local legends, human-animal communication and how to co-create a sustainable future together.

This book brings together the wisdom of cutting-edge storytellers who offer a range of distinctive but complementary approaches to the art of telling stories for environmental education in 21 chapters.  Alida Gersie, an editor and contributor, is a world authority on story-work, therapeutic storytelling and popular education.  The contributors will be speaking, performing, running workshops on the book’s theme, starting with The Society of Storytellers April 2014 Conference, and the Forest School Conference in Autumn 2014.

Writing Between the Worlds


Guest blog by Lancashire poet Lorna Smithers, first posted on

Creative Fellowship

This post was written as an article for Literature Works; but I’ve added it here as it relates directly to the Cotswold Word Centre project.

Soul of the Earth book launch, Waterstones, Earth Day 2009 - organised by Kevan Manwaring, including the much-missed Mary Palmer (in blue)

Soul of the Earth book launch, Waterstones, Bath, Earth Day 2009 – organised by Kevan Manwaring, including the much-missed Mary Palmer (3rd from left), plus bards from Bath, Stroud and Frome

In the summer of 1914 a group of friends gathered in a village in Gloucestershire to share poetry, ideas and support each others’ creative journeys – they were Lascelles Abercrombie, Wilfrid Gibson, John Drinkwater, Edward Thomas, Robert Frost, and Rupert Brooke and they became known as the Dymock Poets. The imminent First World War was to have a devastating effect on their coterie, but for a brief while the poets and their families enjoyed the fruits of creative fellowship. On their famous ‘walks-talking’, Frost and Thomas would range far over the fields and hills, discussing the intricacies of poetry and their lives. Around campfires and country cottage feasts the poets shared their poetry – washed down with plenty of cider – inspiring each other to write some of the best loved poetry in the English language: ‘Adlestrop’; ‘The Road Not Taken’; ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’; ‘The Soldier’ – many of which first saw print in their own self-published journal, New Numbers, produced in their homes, a literal cottage industry. The shadow of war reached to even this sleepily idyllic corner of England, and tore apart the Dymocks. Thomas and Brooke went to war and did not return; Drinkwater, Abercrombie and Gibson did their bit on the homefront; and Frost returned to America, where, with his reputation as a poet made by his friend and renowned critic, Thomas, went on to win the Pulitzer Prize no less than four times, reading at JFK’s inauguration and becoming known as ‘America’s beloved poet’ – and yet he never forget his time with the Dymocks and maintained his friendship with Thomas was the ‘the closest friend I ever had and I was the closest friend he ever had.’

I find the story of the Dymock Poets deeply moving and inspiring – enjoying some of that fellowship in the co-writing of a feature-length screenplay about them (with Terence James, former ITV news editor) over the last 4 years. I have been inspired by other similar creative fellowships – notably the Inklings (JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, Charles Williams, Owen Barfield, and others) who met every Tuesday lunchtime in a pub in Oxford to share their work-in-progress – including drafts of The Lord of the Rings and the Narnia books. I wrote a radio drama about their story – ‘The Rabbit Room’ – and that has resulted in a collaboration with a Stroud-based theatre company, Spaniel in the Works, who have performed it script-in-hand at their scratch theatre nights and recorded it for an audio CD.

Of course, there are other famous creative fellowships – the Bloomsberries (Virginia Woolf, TS Eliot, Ezra Pound, Brooke, et al), William Blake and the young Samuel Palmer; Rimbaud and Verlaine; George Sand, Chopin and Alfred de Musset; and in popular music, the perfect storm of Lennon and McCartney, Jagger and Richards, Page and Plant, and others.

Whatever the intricacies of these often volatile (but productive) liasons, what is the benefit to the modern writer?

Creative fellowships can offer mutual support; camaraderie; the creative buzz of sharing ideas and generating new ones; discussing theories and trends; experiencing and critiquing other creative works; a group identity and shared vision; a collective marketing presence which enables a bigger ‘pull’ and impact; and dear friends to share the highs and lows of one’s craft.

For ten years I ran a small press, Awen Publications, and I organised several successful book launch events and showcases – great evenings made more special because they are the culmination of a shared creative journey. By the time I handed over the reins Awen represented over thirty international authors on its lists – and I saw this as an artistic eco-system interpenetrating the wider communities in which the authors existed – cross-fertilising within the group, but also with the outer world, sharing out and drawing in inspiration (soil, water, and sunlight into oxygen). Such organic grassroots structures creates resilience in their communities – mutually empowered and sharing the load, we feel stronger. Our roots are deep – embedded in where we live, our love for our particular patch of Earth, our neighbourhood and local ‘scene’ – and our branches reach far, making creative connections.

Writers’ Cafes, writers’ networks (such as Literature Works, or the Gloucestershire Writers’ Network, co-ordinated by Rona Laycock), e-bulletins (e.g. Spoken/Written Newsletter, produced my Shane Wolfland), open mics, small press anthologies, lit-fest showcases, group book launches, and so forth, can help to facilitate these fellowships. If you lack one, and want one, then the best way is to start one – put the word out and see who comes out of the woodwork.

Here, in my neck of the woods I have recently created the Cotswold Word Centre, in collaboration with Hawkwood College, as an umbrella for all the wonderful word-based activity in the area – writing groups, book clubs, small presses, live lit performances, commissions, walks, etc.

And this summer I am co-organising a centenary symposium on the Dymock Poets, along with my friend and fellow poet, Jay Ramsay, celebrating Gloucestershire writers past and present. We wish to encourage creative responses to the works of the Dymocks, (who were writing in the shadow of the First World War); but more than just commemorate that vast tragedy, I wanted to focus on the creative response to conflict, and to the voices of those living in the area now – so we are not strangled by heritage, but have a conversation with it across time. It is respectful to honour the great writers of the past as long as it doesn’t turn the present into a museum, e.g. ‘Jane Austen’s Bath’. We can be inspired by the creative fellowships of the past in the stimulating connections we seek and make – helping us to survive and thrive in the modern world.

Copyright © Kevan Manwaring April 2014

Cotswold Word Centre: a platform for language, literacy and literature (based at Hawkwood College, Best Venue in the South-West, Spark Awards 2013)

The Golden Room: a celebration of writers of Gloucestershire past and present, takes place at the Subscription Rooms, Stroud, Saturday, 26th July.

Zoot Allures!

Denis Gould getting down to it in the SVA

Denis Gould getting down to it in the SVA

Jeff Cloves - still burnin'

Jeff Cloves – still burnin’

Friday night saw the launch of ‘RiffRaffRocks’ – the latest poetry pamphlet from 2 of Stroud’s literary legends – Denis Gould and Jeff Cloves.  Impeccably dressed in their zoot suits, these jazz cats showed all the young dudes how it’s done down at the SVA, where the ‘John St Social Club’ – as they call their Friday night knees up – was in full in swing. The elegantly dressed Ella Fantazia was cutting some rare grooves on the decks, and the mood of the crowd was convivial. Alot of Stroud’s gliterati were there – poets, clowns, goddesses and freaks. With libation in hand I settled down to an hour of poetry (Jeff feels more than an hour of poetry is too much, and I have to agree – keep it short and sweet!). Their new collection has a music theme, and each poem references at least one musical inspiration – from Jazz, Blues, and the Counter Culture – Dylan and Cohen were there in dispatches of course – and the ghosts of the Beats were evoked. This could have been a poetry reading in the City Lights bookshop in SanFran, circa 62 – and it’s not surprising that is when Denis started out and Jeff, not long after. The RiffRaff Poets (with the late lamented Pat West) – as they became known, first performed at the St Ives Festival in 1970, and they’ve been regulars of Glastonbury Festival over the years, in Pat’s Poets and Words Tent, alongside Denis’ letterpress, which produced the posters which define this grassroots movement. This is DIY culture at its best – anarchic, libertarian, peddle-powered and people-focused – long may it continue!

Riff Raff Poets - SVA 4 April 2014

Riff Raff Poets – SVA 4 April 2014

A Feast of Bards

Stroud Story Supper – 28 April

Samuel Breton Troubadour entertains the audience at the Stroud Story Supper

Samuel Breton Troubadour entertains the audience at the Stroud Story Supper

Last Friday saw a packed Black Book Cafe for quite probably our best Story Supper yet. Local storyteller Fiona Eadie was on hosting duties and she did an excellent job. I had invited regional story clubs to come and have a ‘guest night’ – and as a result we had not only a couple from the Mendip Circle, but also three from the Malvern Storytellers, and one from the Cardiff Story Circle! So, a bardic cornucopia! And if that wasn’t enough (on top of our local coterie of excellent wordsmiths) we also had a Breton troubadour, Samuel Allo, passing through – he rocked up with his psaltry, antlers (!) and whistle just in time, having thumbed it from West Wales! He’d been hitchhiking around Britain and Ireland since early January – singing, or telling (or both) for his supper. When his turn came, he told a story from his grandfather about the Corrigans – the indigenous fairy folk of his homeland, who are just as mischievous as the British variety. Luckily he told us how to outwit them (with riddles). To make him feel at home Fiona performed a mermaid tale from Jersey. We had fine contributions from the Mendips, Malverns and Cardiff – and Wroughton (a song from Chantelle). The standard was high and the atmosphere was most congenial. Although I didn’t get to do a turn – as they ran out of time – I sat back and enjoyed the satisfaction of seeing the Supper really flourish. The next one is 25 April and we have special guests, the Newent Circle, coming along, so should be a great evening.

‘it was lovely coming to the storytelling supper last week. it’s a lovely venue and a lovely event.’ Kate

‘Good turnout, good stories and good atmosphere.’ Colin


Stroud Story Supper is a Cotswold Word Centre initiative