When one blog just won’t do…


I’ve started another one, just for The Moon Cannot Be Stolen. As many of you know, I start touring the show on 1st May. As you may not know, I’ve already started rehearsals with my director, Matt Cummins, and mentoring sessions with the lovely Hannah Jane Walker. I expect that the development process will lead to

some re-structuring and re-writing, so I’ll be blogging about that and other stuff – new ‘travel diaries’ as I visit my venues; new ‘bonus track’ poems as I look more deeply into the show’s themes; guest slots from Matt and others; maybe even some chances for you to submit a poem as I develop writing prompts for the workshops I’ll be running…

It would be great if you could follow the blog and tell others about it. Thanks!


Envy – A Rant

I try to keep my envy as a pet, sometimes a lapdog and sometimes a brass-clawed basilisk the size of a bendy-bus, but always a snarler. I try to keep it on a leash, but it often tugs me sideways when it catches the spoor of someone else’s success. I find myself hurtling along in its wake, until we both sink panting onto our rumps and concede that it is a futile chase. Better to console each other picking fleas – I am too old, too lazy, too busy, too ordinary anyway to ever catch the tail of that other person’s achievement.

Because it’s all about the other person, isn’t it? Where would envy be without comparisons? There is the shining example of what could be, and there is the brutal judgment of the self by the self. These are outward- and the inward-looking faces of Envy, the gatekeeper god. Not a pet at all, but maybe a guide. Don’t believe me? Ask yourself – whose success do I envy the most? When does it turn into the flaming hulk blocking out the sun? When someone else gets a novel published, or receives a 4-star review, or starts their own imprint? Whatever it is, that is the aim you should be working towards for yourself, that’s the gateway to self-knowledge that Envy is signposting for you.

Note – working towards, not receiving without effort as your due for being alive. Note – for yourself, not for the chance of standing room on the bandwagon.  Not sure where your double-headed Envy is really looking? Have you become so habituated to feeling envious that any accomplishment by anybody can rouse a niggle? I wouldn’t blame you – we’re all products of an educational paradigm that quantifies and rewards success in terms of comparison to others.

My lovely best friend Georgina is passionate about educating her children in Steiner schools. One of the reasons for this is that the Steiner pedagogy does not believe in using praise, which is thought to turn children away from their inner authenticity and outwards towards external sources of esteem. Have a quick read of this short link and see if you agree.


Do you think that substituting encouragement for praise may help us transform envy? One of the extraordinary things about taking a show to Edinburgh recently was the plethora of opportunities for feeling envious. We poets were offering them to one another like hoops to poodles – how is your show? How many people, how much money in the bucket, how many reviews, how many stars, how many re-Tweets?

My only stated aim was to survive a week without either forgetting my words or suffering an eczema flare, both of which I managed.  But still a week after my return, I watched my disappearance from the Twitter feed with a sinking heart; a month later and I wonder if I should just check to see if someone did review my show unbeknownst to me….oops, is that a tug on the lead? Or a god clearing its throats?





Feedback is critical

Last night I gave my first scratch performance of the full show before heading off to Edinburgh, and this morning finds me reading through the audience feedback, monitoring my reactions.

It’s a tricky business, receiving critique. I’m lucky, the comments received last night were universally positive, nay fulsome in their praise – and with only four days to go until my first performance it’s an enormous relief to feel that little needs to be changed in order for this show to work.

But is that just my ego speaking? Whenever anyone creates a performance, are we really just being treated to the spectacle of their egos prancing about on stage? Sort of. I think there are two people at work – the self that needs praise from others and the self that needs to express itself, to meet its own standards of excellence, regardless of general opinion.

This second self has been the one slogging away for the past six months, realising that generating fifty minutes of material that could stand as a coherent whole is a big leap away from writing a decent poem, realising that I’m a bloody amateur, realising that I need help…the feedback this self needs is NOT praise, no matter how bleak the pall of self-doubt. Praise to the fumbling teaches nothing. Questions are much more effective – the Socratic method; what are you trying to communicate with that section? How would you like your audience to feel? WHAT DO YOU MEAN?

The difficulty is finding an watcher who is able to ask the pertinent questions in the right way to lead you to your own deeper understanding, so that you can make authentic creative choices. Without this, all suggestions of change feel like impositions to be argued with, defended against, overturned in rebellion. It’s a rare skill, requiring compassion, sensitivity, focus, attention to detail and an understanding of the technical aspects of the artform being critiqued. I was extremely lucky to have director Helen Ferguson watch my first full run-through. Her questions initially left me deflated, but trying to answer them fully in the writing and the performance quickly transformed almost everything about the show’s structure and delivery for the better. With that crucial critique providing the clarity to complete the show, subsequent scratch performances became opportunities to tweak elements and start gathering some confidence-boosting quotes.

Because of course after all the second self slogging, the first self does still want the praise – and why not? It’s been earned now. All those beautiful bits of feedback, they’re my harvest, they’re going to sit in the storehouse of my soul like yummy pickled baby beetroots so I can perk myself up on those days when I feel as flat and dull as a cheese sandwich, those days when I’m convinced I am talentless and gutless, those days that are certain to come again. Probably halfway into writing my next show.