Something to Crow About: My 510th Post—A “Caws” to Celebrate

I forgot to check when I reached the five hundred-post milestone. That was actually several weeks ago. Whoops.

Recently, one of my grad school classmates reposted a comment on Facebook about some crows at a wildlife facility that said, “Caw,” to imitate the humans who said that to them. Someone who worked at the facility explained that the crows mocked the humans who assumed that crows only said, “Caawwww.” I was so fascinated by that remark, that I decided to search out videos about crows, especially after hearing a crow calling out as it flew by my home.

I wound up watching a twenty-two-minute TED Talk on crows and ravens by John Marzluff, a professor at the University of Washington.

I totally get that you don’t have twenty minutes to watch a video. But the first few minutes at least are worth watching, because the way a crow problem solves in a clip Marzluff shows is fascinating.

Around the fourteen-minute mark, Marzluff plays an audio clip of a raven saying his name—Edgar (ha, how fitting). But here’s a different video of a raven saying hello.

With all of this talk of corvids, of course I think of City Jackdaw, Andy’s blog, since jackdaws are in the crow family.

It’s interesting that crows and ravens are usually portrayed as sinister in literature. Think of “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe and the many, many fantasy novels that mention them or feature them on their covers. This post lists several. Like this novel.

Even Raven, a member of the Teen Titans superhero group, is the one with dark powers. And there’s the Crow, a dude brought back to life by an unusual crow to seek revenge.

The fact that crows eat carrion probably edged them toward the dark side in the minds of many authors. But I think they get a bad rap. I watched a video of a crow saying hello to a squirrel, which seemed kinda sweet. You can watch it here.

Maybe it’s time for crows to get a break in literature. I’d love to hear of some stories where crows or ravens did something cool. Oh wait. I know one. It’s this one.

What do you think of crows? Please comment below, especially if you know a good story about crows or ravens.

Another place for cool facts about corvids: https://www.sciencealert.com/crows-ravens-corvids-best-birds-animal-intelligence

Crow photo from pubicdomainpictures.net. Raven from Teen Titans image from wallpapercave.com. Six of Crows book cover from Goodreads.

Advertisements

Check This Out: Every Shiny Thing

Today on the blog, you will find not one, but two of my incredible VCFA classmates: the marvelous Cordelia Jensen (left) and the awesome Laurie Morrison. They are here to discuss their middle grade novel, Every Shiny Thing, which was published by Abrams in April. Click here to read the novel’s synopsis.

   

Cordelia and Laurie are represented by Sara Crowe. After the interview, I’ll tell you about a giveaway of their novel.

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Laurie: 1. I used to be able to hula hoop for hours on end, doing all kinds of fancy tricks. 2. I ran three marathons before hurting my knee while training for a fourth. 3. I think chocolate chip cookies are pretty much the world’s most perfect food. 4. I have a brother who can play the piano by ear, like Ryan can in Every Shiny Thing.

Cordelia: 1. I was a certified scuba diver in high school. 2. I was a camp counselor for eleven summers. 3. When I turned 39, I got my first cavity, my first dog died, and I broke my first bone. It was like I turned 9 not 39! 4. I have boy girl twins who are 12, now we all read the same books!

El Space: How did your premise—two middle graders who come up with what has been described as an ill-advised Robin Hood scheme to raise money for people in need—come about?
Laurie and Cordelia: We started with a vision for our two characters and the relationship they would form, and we thought it would be compelling if Lauren developed a compulsion to shoplift and Sierra felt like she had to cover for her. But Laurie, who wrote Lauren’s point of view, is terrified of breaking rules and couldn’t fathom why Lauren would shoplift until she thought of the middle school students she taught and how passionate many of them were about social justice. We thought: what if Lauren is angry about the inequality she sees in the world around her and wants to do something to make the world a fairer place, sort of like Robin Hood…but then she gets carried away and her well-intentioned scheme spirals out of control?

El Space: The book was written in prose and poetry. What was your process for writing? What was your favorite thing about working together?
Laurie and Cordelia: Laurie wrote Lauren’s sections in prose and Cordelia wrote Sierra’s sections in verse. We had a big brainstorming session before we began writing, during which we figured out the midpoint and ending, and once we had written a little more than half of the book, we met again to plan a chapter-by-chapter outline for the rest of the story so it wouldn’t run away from us. But for the most part, we just went back and forth in a Google doc, one of us writing a chapter, then the other building off that chapter to write the next one, and so on. We both found the process incredibly energizing because we could bounce ideas off each other and improvise with each other as we went. And it was pretty great to get immediate feedback on the sections we wrote so we knew right away what was working and what wasn’t. And we gave each other lots of compliments as we went, which was also very fun and validating!

El Space: Talk to us about your main characters—Sierra and Lauren. How are they different than or similar to middle grade you? What advice would high school you give to Sierra and Lauren about surviving middle school? Why is this important?
Laurie: I was conscientious and loyal, like Lauren is, and I had brothers I felt somewhat protective of. I cared about injustice, but not as single-mindedly as Lauren does. And I was a rule-follower, so I never would have stolen! I think high school me would have been overwhelmed by the misguided intensity of Lauren’s Robin Hood plan. There were a couple of times when I was in high school when I really wanted to help a friend but realized I was not equipped to figure out how to do that, so I went to a trusted adult—the guidance counselor at my school—to ask for advice. High school me would have gone to the guidance counselor to work out a plan to help Lauren, and I likely would have tried to help her talk to someone she trusted, like her Aunt Jill or her teacher, Mr. Ellis. I would have advised her that there are times when things get intense and hard enough that you may need adult reinforcements and sometimes you may want to turn to adults other than your parents, and that’s just fine.

Cordelia: I was definitely a caretaker like Sierra is, which is part of the reason I wanted to write this book. I would tell Sierra (1) you are safe now, let yourself trust in your new environment and the people who are caring for you (2) if you feel overwhelmed in a relationship, seek help and support. Dare yourself to ask for help even if it feels impossible. Feeling like you are the only person who can help someone can become an addiction itself.

El Space: Social justice is a big theme in society and in your book. What do you hope kids will take away from your book?
Laurie and Cordelia: The School Library Journal review of Every Shiny Thing says the novel may encourage some readers to examine their privilege, which we were thrilled to see because we definitely like the idea that the book would make readers stop to think about things in the world that aren’t fair and things they can do—without resorting to illegal measures like Lauren does—to make a difference.

In addition, if kids are struggling with an addicted parent, we hope they will see that there are resources out there that can offer help.

El Space: Please tell us how your passion for writing books for kids developed.
Laurie: I only began writing fiction after I began teaching middle school. There was something about my students’ passion, humor, creativity, and honesty that inspired me deeply. I also went through a lot of big life changes when I was in middle school and high school, and I very vividly remember what it felt like to be that age and deal with big revelations and relationship shifts. I feel a lot of empathy for my middle school and early high school self and am moved to explore some of the intense feelings I had at those ages.

Cordelia: I have always been a writer and even concentrated in Creative Writing at Kenyon College as an undergrad. However, I began writing for kids after working with them. Besides having an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, I have an M.Ed in School Counseling. I worked as a counselor in my twenties and was also a camp counselor for a long time (see fun fact). Once I became pregnant with my own kids, I was drawn to write stories and poems for the kids I had worked with for so long. I felt I had a lot more to say to kids and teens than to adults.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Laurie: I’m finishing up edits on my next middle grade novel, Up for Air, which is a summer story about competitive swimming, self-esteem, fitting in, and standing out that will come out next spring, and I’m working on a couple of other projects that are in much earlier stages.

Cordelia: I’ve been working on a picture book, a MG novel, and a YA—all in verse!

Thank you, Cordelia and Laurie, for being my guests!

Looking for Cordelia and Laurie? You can find them at these locations.

Laurie Morrison: website, Twitter, Instagram.

Cordelia Jensen: website, Twitter, Instagram.

Every Shiny Thing is available at a bookstore near you and online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indiebound.

If you’re a teacher and need resources to teach about the topics in Every Shiny Thing, click here.

One of you will be given a copy of this book simply because you commented. Check back on June 21 to discover the winner. 

Having read Every Shiny Thing, Lippy Lulu and Macy Macaron are inspired to do something to help others in need.
What would you do?

Cordelia Jensen author photo by Marietta Pathy Allen. Laurie Morrison author photo by Laura Billingham. Hula hoop from keywordsuggest.org. Scuba gear from ladyasatramp.blogspot.com. Social justice image from stephenandmary.org.au. Google docs image from heavy.com. Robin Hood image from freepins.com. Middle school image from sites.google.com. Shopkins Shoppie dolls—Lippy Lulu and Macy Macaron—by Moose Toys. Photo by L. Marie.

It’s a Matter of Perspective

It’s Labor Day here in the States. On this day, we cease from our labor and go to the home of friends and enjoy fondue.

Oh wait. That’s just what I plan to do today. But for many of us, this is part of a much-needed three-day weekend. (Unless you work in a hospital, store, or restaurant and have to work on Labor Day.)

Before I head off for fondue, take a look at this photo. What do you think it is? You can see what it is if you scroll down to the end of this post. How close were you in your guess? Does the photo below change your perspective?

So many things in life are a matter of perspective. Ever reread something you wrote but put aside for years, thinking it was a lost cause then, but now discovering a treasure? Or perhaps you recently took another look at a DIY project you finished years ago. What did you think of it when you first finished the project? What do you think of it now?

Time can change your perspective. Think about all of the books, TV shows, or movies you loved or hated when you were a kid. Do you still love/hate them? Case in point: my parents loved documentaries. But when I was a kid, I thought documentaries were too serious and were super boring—unless they had something to do with predators like lions or sharks. Then I was interested. But now I love documentaries of all kinds.

Anyway, I recently reread some poems I wrote years ago, when I first began a daily poetry challenge. Now, I don’t consider myself a poet at all. Andy of City Jackdaw and his new poetry-centric blog, Coronets for Ghosts, is a published poet. Charles Yallowitz regularly features poetry on his blog. I just dabble at it, thanks to the assignment of a grad school advisor (also a published poet), who told me to get The Aspiring Poet’s Journal and do the exercises in it every day to inject more whimsy into my writing. I was a little resentful of the assignment at first. But I soon grew to enjoy it. I now look forward to my daily sessions.

When I first began writing poetry, I was convinced that a kindergartner just learning his or her ABCs could write better poetry than the ones I churned out. But last week, when I reread one of my earlier poems, I was surprised to discover that I wasn’t as embarrassed by it as I’d assumed I would be. Time had softened my perspective. And no, I don’t plan to post it here. I don’t have that much nerve.

Off I go for some fondue. Before I go, let me ask you this: What perspective shift, if any, have you experienced recently?

Labor Day image from wallpapercave.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

Check This Out: Mythos

With me on the blog today is the awesome Andy Murray. If you’re a follower of his blog, City Jackdaw, you know that he’s a poet who released a collection of poems called Heading North, published by Nordland in December 2015. We talked about that here on the blog. Now, Andy is here to talk about the short stories he contributed to Mythos, the second volume in the Northlore series, published by Nordland in December 2016. (By the way, Andy contributed a short story and a poem to Folklore, the first volume of the series.) Stick around after the interview to learn how you can get your hands on Mythos.

coverreveal Andy Photo

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Andy: 1. I’m at least six-generation Mancunian. 2. I knew my wife for twenty-six years before we got together. I play the long game. 3. I’m vegetarian. 4. Despite my name, I don’t like tennis!

El Space: What interested you about writing stories for this second volume? When I read the premise, I couldn’t help thinking of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. I’m also reminded of Juliet Marillier’s Bridei Chronicles, in which the author mentions the Picts’ desire to hang on to their religion as Christianity moves forward in the land.
Andy: Well, I knew that the Northlore series was a planned trilogy of books, and being a part of volume one was such a positive experience I wanted to be a part of the succeeding book. Folklore was a great collection of prose and poetry, with something for everyone, and Mythos feels like a step up. They complement each other perfectly.
I’m not familiar with Bridei Chronicles, but I know what you mean about American Gods. The stories in Mythos are arranged in chronological order, in many different locations, and some of them are indeed set in modern America. The premise of the collection is that with the advent of Christianity the old gods knew that their time had come and they withdrew, but they didn’t cease to be. These are their continuing stories.

30165203     25296

El Space: What was the inspiration behind your stories, “Into the Storm” and “Saga”?
Andy: My wife and I used to be foster carers. A private tutor used to visit the house to give extra tuition to a teenage girl who was living with us. Through no fault of her own she had missed out on a lot of schooling and was behind many of the students in her class. In a bid to encourage her English, the tutor decided to set a writing competition for the whole family. My wife was mortified. She stipulated that our stories could be about anything, but had to bear the title ‘Holes’. I came up with a story set in the Somme of the First World War, you know: foxholes, shell holes, etc. But also a depiction of how some people seemed not to be made in the same way as others, as though there were pieces missing from their character and they were riddled with holes. I can’t recall how exactly I put it now, but it was along those lines. Anyway, I had that story lying around, and when I saw the call for submissions for Mythos, I took it and adapted it in a way that fit Nordland’s criteria. ‘Holes became ‘Into The Storm‘.

‘Saga‘ was born on a half hour bus journey from Manchester to my hometown. I was sat on the upstairs deck, daydreaming. This is how I sometimes get lines for my poetry. In my reverie, these spontaneous lines crossed my mind:

She asked me to write a four word love story:
she came home early.
She asked me to write a four word horror story:
she came home early.

I don’t know where this came from. Do we ever, really? But I began to think about it. How ‘she came home early’ could fit both love and horror stories, and what they implied. But, more importantly, I began to wonder about who ‘she’ was who was doing the asking. By the time I reached my destination I had the story finished in my head, but not trusting my memory I jotted down the outline on the Notes part of my mobile phone.

El Space: In a 1957 interview with Truman Capote [photo below] in The Paris Review, Capote said, “When seriously explored, the short story seems to me the most difficult and disciplining form of prose writing extant.” How would you respond to this?
Andy: Well, I love Capote, and I know that he was a very disciplined and methodical writer. I’m also reminded of Dylan Thomas referring to ‘my craft or sullen art’. In contrast with these two huge figures, though it may sound simplistic all I can say is that I write the type of fiction and poetry that I would like to read, and endeavour to make them the best that I can.

mtiwnja4njmznzyxodu5mdg0

El Space: When it comes to short story writing, which comes first for you: a character; a situation/plot; or an image? Any of the above? None of the above? I mentioned image, because C.S. Lewis once explained that the image of a faun with an umbrella came to his mind way before he wrote The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Andy: A faun with an umbrella—that’s pretty cool! I wonder if he was on a bus? 🙂 I think for me the gist of the story comes first. I have in mind the kind of thing that I want to say, and in pondering on how to realise this everything else is born.

170609

El Space: What was your introduction to writing?
Andy: As a child I loved books, and loved writing too. My primary school teacher expressed concern to my mother one parent’s evening about the type of books that I read—James Herbert, Stephen King. But I later learnt that that same teacher used to pass my stories around the staff room for the other teachers to read. On my last day, before leaving for high school, she wrote in my autograph book ‘I hope you manage to get a book published one day‘. I tried to track her down recently to present her with a copy of Heading North, but was unable to find her. I’ve not given up, though.

397867     9917996

El Space: What will you work on next?
Andy: I’m actually on the second draft of a novel at the moment, provisionally called ‘Seasons On The Hill‘. It is about life on a northern housing estate, as seen through the eyes of different, interacting characters. The estate in question is actually a fictionalised version of where I live. Although none of the characters are based on real people, many of the situations involved really happened. Maybe with a little embellishment. Part humour; part tragedy. The stuff of life, yes?

El Space: Yes! Thanks, Andy, for being my guest!
Andy: Thank you Linda for this opportunity. As I saw someone comment recently upon one of your posts: you’re such an enabler!

El Space: Aw. I’m just glad people want to stop by here. 🙂

If you’re looking for Andy, head to Facebook and his blog.

You can find Mythos at Amazon. But one of you will find it in your mailbox or on your tablet. How? Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner TBA on February 4.

Mythos cover from the Northland website. Other book covers from Goodreads. Truman Capote photo from biography.com.

Check This Out: The Language of Stars

Today on the blog, it is my privilege to welcome the wise and wonderful Louise Hawes, who is here to talk about her young adult novel, The Language of Stars, the latest of her many novels. I met Louise my first semester at Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she is on the faculty. Click here to read a synopsis of The Language of Stars.

Language of Stars_REV 0827_email  Lou.promo.1016

Louise is represented by Ginger Knowlton. The Language of Stars, published by Simon & Schuster, debuted in May of this year. At the end of the interview, I’ll tell you how you can get this book. Now, let’s talk to Louise!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Louise: 1) I’m allergic to chocolate. I know, I know! Weep for me! 2) I’m part of a group that meets every week to share responses to our dreams. 3) Before I was an author, I was a sculptor, in wood and stone. 4) My three sisters and I give creativity Playshops all over the world.

ag1017

El Space: The premise for The Language of Stars is so intriguing. What inspired its inception?
Louise: The summer residency schedule at Vermont College of Fine Arts must have had some “air” in it in 2008. Although VCFA’s students and faculty are usually busy morning to night, I somehow found time to pick up a paper, sit down, and read it! What caught my eye was a story about a group of teens arrested for vandalizing Robert Frost’s historically preserved summer home in Ripton, Vermont [below]. Because they were all underage, and couldn’t serve jail time, the teenagers were “sentenced” to take a course in Frost’s poetry.

robert-frost     AP-Frost-home

I’m sure you can imagine how this article triggered my writer’s “What if?” machinery: what if the poet wasn’t Robert Frost, but a fictional celebrity poet from North Carolina—where I live—who’s done for the landscapes and people of the South, what Frost did for New England? What if this poet, unlike Frost, was alive when his house was vandalized? What if he decided to teach the course himself? And what if he met a young student who . . . well, you get the idea. I just couldn’t stop!

El Space: Your prose has such verve! I love your play script sections. Words and sounds seem very key in this book. Is this your first novel to include poetry? Please tell us how that came about.
Louise: I knew from the beginning that Stars would include both prose and poetry. After all, most of the characters in the novel are writing poetry instead of doing hard time! And two of the characters, Rufus Baylor, my Superstar Poet, and Sarah Wheeler, the 16-year old student whom he meets and mentors, hear the whole world talking to them. That’s where the snippets of dialogue, those play scripts, come in. Sarah, I learned after months of free writing with her, is a wannabe actress, and so this third format was included for her. The lines of dialogue in these scripts aren’t usually people, but things—plates spinning, furniture breathing, sand crabs busy under the beach. Everything has a voice!

sand crab photo on sand

And yes, this is first novel of mine that’s featured poetry as an integral part of the book. Actually, though, the poetry in Stars was the least difficult part of bringing this story to life. While the research into Frost’s life and work, which entailed reading everything he ever wrote and everything written about him, was a long, hard process, the poems? They flowed, they filled me up. You see, I’ve always read and written poetry. In fact, I often write a poem for each prose chapter as I’m drafting a novel—not for publication, but to provide an emotional benchmark, to make sure I’ve got the feeling tone I want. So poetry wasn’t new for me, but making it public was. I’d never thought of submitting it, instead I’d kept it private, close to the bone. So even though I’m a bit old to be a “debut novelist,” I guess, in that respect, Stars is a first for me!

El Space: What aspects of your personality, if any, did you donate to Sarah? To Fry? Why?
Louise: Wow! I can tell you’re an author yourself, Linda! We writers know so well that a large part of what we do is building bridges between ourselves and our characters, finding the parts of us that feed them. So far as Sarah, the teenage narrator of Stars, is concerned, there are a lot of bridges: once I’d free written with her—I keep a notebook of free writes for every book I work on—I discovered that she, like me when I was young, wants to be an actress. I even had a brief and supremely mediocre acting career out of college. I learned, too, that, like me and so many other adolescents, she cares achingly about what other people think, so much so that she has trouble finding herself in the mix. As for Fry, her popular, seductive boyfriend? He reminds me of that part, in all of us, that takes good things for granted until it’s too late. It’s funny, because just a few days ago, I got a letter from a reader who wrote me that, although she never expected to feel sorry for Fry, by book’s end, she did. I did, too. . . .

El Space: A poet mentors Sarah in the novel. Who mentored you as an author?
Louise: I am so grateful to you, Linda, for asking this question. It gives me a chance to pay tribute to a teacher I took for granted, someone whose role in my life I failed to recognize at the time. His name is Calvin Atwood, and he was my high school English teacher. He gave me my first book of poetry; I still have it, and it’s inscribed: “For Louise, who will find and give treasure . . . everywhere, always.” That’s a mantra I say every day now. What a blessing it is when someone believes in you that much!

teacher

El Space: So true! What writing advice would you like to share about writing for teens or about poetry?
Louise: Three other VCFA faculty members and myself put together a panel on poetry just a few semesters ago. We all wore berets and sunglasses and flounced to our seats as Dave Brubeck music played in the background. Then, of course, we took off the hats and sunglasses and got real. Our point? You don’t have to suffer or live in a garret or exist on some esoteric, unreachable level of sensitivity, to love, read, and write poetry. Its rhythms and music are as essential as a heartbeat, and often just as necessary for survival. So have fun and get down with poetry, don’t put it on a pedestal. Love it, don’t leave it. Feel it, don’t analyze it. Your life will be richer, wider, deeper for it.

poetry-ink-blot

El Space: What will you work on next?
Louise: I’m working on two novels right now—an historical fiction called The Gospel of Salomé—yes, she of the seven veils!—and a book for middle graders called Big Rig, about a father-daughter trucking team. I love having two projects going at the same time; that way you never get bored or over-stay your welcome with one story’s characters!

Thank you, so much, Louise, for being my guest!

Looking for Louise? You can find her at her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

The Language of Stars can be found here:

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Indiebound

But one of you will be given a copy of this book just for commenting below. Winner to be announced on August 15.

Chocolate allergy image from stickyj.com. Teacher image from globalcatalystgroup.com. Robert Frost from writingasaprofession.wordpress.com. Poetry image from annawrites.com. Sand crab from milkweedpods.blogspot.

How to Really Win the Holidays

I’m very late getting this post  out, having been offline for three days. Obviously, I’ve returned! 🙂 But I said I would announce the winners of the book giveaways today. Better late than never, eh?

If you’ve watched TV at all recently, you’ve probably seen some of Best Buy’s recent “win the holidays” campaign. You can win by purchasing gifts of technology at—where else—Best Buy. The clear winner of course would be Best Buy, who would significantly add to its coffers with your money.

bby-stock-best-buy-logo

But I’m sure you know how to really win the holidays. With the angels proclaiming peace on earth and goodwill toward men (Luke 2; consult A Charlie Brown Christmas, which comes on TV every year), you can extend goodwill toward people. How?

    • Instead of texting, call or visit a friend or family member—especially someone who lives alone or suffered a recent loss. Maybe you don’t know what to say. But your presence is more valuable than words.
    • Buy someone homeless a hot meal. You’ve probably seen this viral photo, which involves a woman doing just that. Think of the impact you can have. A hot meal might seem like a drop in a bucket compared to an ocean of need. But it’s an act of love that will never be forgotten.
    • Make a card or a gift for someone. Remember how excited you were when you were a kid and could hand off the paper chain or wreath you made? Recapture the fun and wonder by making a gift for someone.

Happy Foot

This is a Happy Foot coaster I’m making as a gift (pattern by A.D. Whited of Enchanted Hook).

  • Instead of stressing about where you can find that bobble-head figure from the Star Wars franchise (Toys R Us or Target by the way—you’re welcome), take a hot chocolate break. I know. Easy for me to say. I don’t have an 11-year-old who is dying to get a storm trooper bobble head. But I know some would love to chat about the movies or shows over a nice cup of hot chocolate.
  • Give an animal friend a treat. Even if you lack a pet, you can still give to the animals around you. The orange tabby who lives in the area likes to stop by for tuna. (Though he’s very finicky about brands. He won’t eat the dirt cheap kind.) If you have a garden that rabbits and deer enjoyed over the summer, relax. You’ve already given.

Another way to win is to get free stuff. So let’s get to the book giveaways: All We Left Behind by Ingrid Sundberg

ALLWELEFTBEHIND Ingrid Sundberg Author Photo

and Heading North by Andy Murray.

Andy Photo 12294646_10153732827966740_3177437019818522964_n

The winner of All We Left Behind is

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Carrie Rubin!!!

The winner of Heading North is

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Laura Bruno Lilly!!

Winners please comment below to confirm.

Best Buy logo from slant.investorplace.com.

Check This Out: Heading North

Here on the blog today is the awesome Andy Murray. You probably know him from his blog, City Jackdaw. We started blogging in the same year, each reading the other’s fledgling efforts. So I’m thrilled that we’re here today to not only say happy birthday to him but also to celebrate the launch of his poetry collection, Heading North, which was published recently by Nordland Publishing. Woot!

12294646_10153732827966740_3177437019818522964_n  Andy Photo

happy-birthday-100980969848

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Andy: 1. I haven’t moved very far from my roots—I live next door to my childhood home [in Manchester, England].

manchester_map2. I have a thing about sharks, courtesy of watching Jaws as a kid.
3. My dreams begin while I am still awake.
4. I almost died from loss of blood after an accident with a vinegar bottle when I was eighteen months old. Imagine a world without City Jackdaw!

El Space: I can’t! 🙂 Please tell us how this poetry collection came about. How did you come up with the theme? What was the time frame for putting the collection together?
Andy: I saw a call by Nordland Publishing, a great new Norway-based publisher, for submissions of fiction and poetry inspired by Scandinavian folklore for an anthology that they were putting together. My story, about a Myling, was accepted and came out this year in The Northlore Series Volume One: Folklore. I was particularly pleased as this was my first published fiction. I also have a poem in it.

image

The editor contacted me, enquiring about other work, and we got talking about the possibility of doing a poetry chapbook. Nordland were planning to publish books by different poets in a series under the umbrella of “Songs of the North.” The first book, recently released, is by a great poet named Katie Metcalfe, and I have been given the daunting task of following her.

I came up with the idea of a collection of poetry arranged in a deliberate order, reflecting a journey of both geography and time: from the childhood and youth of summer in the south, to the mortality-facing winter of the north. Hence the title Heading North. I already had some poems that fit this theme, and I wrote some new ones to compliment them. The collection took shape over a period of about six months. The oldest work included in the collection are two poems that were written around twenty years ago, and the newest being a last-minute addition from when I recently went to Sweden, when, it being the furthest north that I have ever been, I thought it too good an opportunity not to write something for the book.

310px-Arrow_North_CFCF.svg   Winter 2

El Space: What’s the genesis of a poem like for you? Do you get an idea and start jotting down words? How much revision is involved?
Andy: Most of the time I “get” a few words or sentences when I am out and about, normally thinking of other things. My antennae must be up. I try to make a note of them, otherwise they become lost. When I was a postman, I used to scribble lines on “while you were out” cards. No wonder the post was always late! Then, when I have a little quiet time, I rewrite those words and take it from there. Normally I write them pretty fast, maybe an hour at the maximum, once I have that initial inspiration. There might be the odd word or line that doesn’t feel right and I will return to it later. I find that, for me, labouring over them doesn’t work. It becomes heavy, while inspiration is light. If I’m struggling, I leave it for another day.

poetry-poetry-31167131-998-783

Sometimes I mess around with words, a bit like how musicians jam on their instruments to come up with a song. While sitting in front of the TV, or listening to music, I write down any old thing that immediately comes into my head, adding lines together, substituting one word for another, until occasionally, something starts to take shape. There are times when the poem takes on a life of its own and runs, becoming by the end something totally different to what it was at the beginning, subject wise.

El Space: What first brought you to poetry? What causes you to stick with poetry?
Andy: In my schooldays I used to write humorous poetry, daft things really. I still have some off these lying around. Being a big Beatles fan, I discovered that John Lennon used to write similar, nonsensical things that were compared to the English poet Edward Lear. I have never read Lear, but knowing that one of my musical idols wrote things in a similar vein to me kind of validated it for me. But I never had any pretensions about it—it was just something that I did for a laugh. In my early twenties I discovered The Doors. Jim Morrison is one of the few rock stars to be taken seriously as a poet, and through him I discovered the likes of Blake and Rimbaud. Everybody points to somebody else! Poetry, fiction, music—they are all part of a family tree.

John-Lennon jimmorrison

I have stuck with poetry because it is how I think, and so it is how I express myself. And of course I love words, and the endlessly possible combination of words.

El Space: What do you consider to be the qualities of a first-rate poem?
Andy: I think this is different for everybody. One man’s meat is another man’s poison: I think that this is especially true of poetry. Music too. Different styles and subjects speak to different people. Sometimes a poem can touch you but you cannot say exactly why. In a similar way, I am not one for explaining the meaning of my own poems. I like people to take from reading a poem what they will, as long as the poem itself is not too obscure.

poetry

El Space: On your blog, you also post a lot of old photographs. How have you united both passions—old photographs and poetry?
Andy: You remember that great, old photograph that has featured on my blog a couple of times: “Mary and her grandfather, Jasper, around 1900”?

image43

El Space: I do.
Andy: Well in a poem called “Old Town,” there is a woman reading a book by Truman Capote (I had The Grass Harp in mind), and she is using that old photograph as a bookmark. I love old photographs such as this one, although most of the time we never know the names of the people that feature in them, and never know what happened to them after the photo was taken. Did they go on to have good lives? Tragic lives? Were they part of a great love story, or now lie miles away in foreign soil? Are their descendents walking around among us now, unaware of these people and their own beginnings? This absence of resolution both haunts and gets the imagination going.

142781

El Space: What books or authors inspire you?
Andy: All of them! I am never without a book, or a backlog to work my way through. My wife bought me a Kindle in a last-ditch attempt to consolidate what space is left in our home. My favourite book, like so many other people, has always been To Kill A Mockingbird, since I discovered it in my English Literature class, and these days I am working through many titles from the Penguin Modern Classics range. But I read anything, all genres. Recommend me a book, Linda—I will read it!

2657

El Space: Let me think about that. 🙂 In the meantime, what advice do you have for people who would like to start writing poetry?
Andy: Do it! Don’t worry about style and subject and comparing yourself to others. Just keep writing and find your own voice. It develops over time. Some of my very early stuff from when I was younger makes me cringe now. You will never see it—I’m burning the evidence.

El Space: Ha ha! What are you working on now?
Andy: Currently I am writing the second draft of a story for the next anthology in the Northlore series. It involves the Scandinavian God Loki being in the trenches in First World War Belgium. After that I am gearing up to attempt a novel-length book of short stories containing recurring characters, based in a fictionalised version of the town that I have grown up in. But that is a big step up for me, in terms of length. Let’s get Christmas out of the way first! And, of course, some poetry.

El Space: Thanks, Andy, for being my guest.
Andy: As a long time reader of your author interviews, I’d like to thank you for this opportunity.

El Space: My pleasure!

Heading North is available from Amazon, Amazon UK, and Barnes and Noble.com.

I’m giving away a copy of Heading North to a commenter. The winner will be revealed on December 14.

Book covers and author photo courtesy of Andy Murray. Other covers from Goodreads. Manchester map from manchester.university-guides.com. Winter image from natural-hd-wallpapers.blogspot.com. Jim Morrison from pedrocolombo.blogspot.com. John Lennon from veteranstoday.com. Birthday image from sodahead.com. Poetry images from fanpop and msfindlater.blogspot.com. North compass image from en.wikipedia.org.