I trained as a radio journalist. For years I read news bulletins in commercial radio stations. One minute to sum up all the news in the world and region. One minute every hour, that sometimes, I would make more exciting by only writing in the last five minutes before I was due to read it on air; “It’s five o clock, Brad and Angelina have split up, Afghanistan’s going wrong again and there’s a big queue in the Tyne Tunnel, goodnight.”
I now work as a stand up poet. Delivering poems to audiences who will either laugh or do a poetry “Ooh” or instantly ignore me at the end of my set after polite applause if it’s not gone very well. I’m often still finalising my set list as I step up to the stage.
I also write topical poems for Saturday Live on Radio Four. The myth put about when the show started was that the poets instantly respond to what happens during the show, penning a poem in a few minutes. We don’t. We have a whole day, between finding out what’s on the show and delivering the poems to two million listeners; i.e; still not very long. I also deliver instant-reaction poems at conferences sometimes. A sort of reportage on events during a day or a session. Most recently for BT’s Human Resources managers and some colostomy nurses. I think of it as producing “Word cartoons”.
As you can see, there are two things I gravitate to as a writer. Speed and instant response.
The very opposite of being a novelist. Novel-writing is everything I find most frustrating and worrying about writing. No audience feedback, slowness and no guarantee that it will ever go anywhere.
Nonetheless my forays into long form writing, with an unpublished memoir and the novel that was shockingly shortlisted in the Mslexia competition, have led to periods of working that made me feel more fulfilled at a deep soul level than anything else I’ve ever done. It’s as if much of what I do for a living is a manic chattering that keeps my demons at bay and my brain in functioning order, but novel-writing taps into places that lead to a much deeper sense of harmony. The stand up poet me is a goldfish, taking in information, processing it quickly, then forgetting it. The novelist me is an owl, holding onto complex patterns, carrying the web of thoughts and feelings and actions that reflect the patterns and allowing myself to be a container, then gradually an explainer of these inter-relationships. It’s the goldfish me that blogs and that therefore probably isn’t going to go back and correct the terribly mixed and inaccurate simile about me as goldfish and owl. The owl has some faith that the process of writing will allow what I meant to be evident anyway.
I have great gratitude to the Mslexia competition for allowing me to be swept away by enough initial speed and instant response that I was able to carry on working on my novel. It’s currently with an agent who’s quite quick at getting back to me with suggestions for edits. Though I still need to get my head round the fact that unlike a poem I speak into a microphone, this piece of work won’t evaporate into sound waves, but-hopefully (terrifyingly)- slowly materialise and then stand around on shelves for years to come.