Sunday, 28 December 2008


I just heard Gillian Slovo being interviewed by Mariella Frostrup on Open Book, say, "Fiction gets us closer to the truth. You have to really inhabit your characters - live them deeply however loathsome they may be on the surface. Non-fiction obfuscates the truth because it is loaded with facts."
This was a discussion about writers' relationship to their characters, often members of their own families. Gillian Slovo appeared before the Truth and Reconciliation Committee along with the men who murdered her mother. She came to know them intimately.

THOUGHT TWO (Same day, but can't remeber who said it.) The consolation of the Imagination is NOT imaginary consolation.


Queens Park, London. A Blazing fire. Watching Wallace and Gromit with the three grandchildren plus mum and dad and daddad Mikey -- and oh, the new dog: the black kamikaze whirlwind with eyes like saucers and blood-drawing needle teeth. A manic pint-sized pooch name of Tet Suya (hope I've got that right.) Pushed in face; inch-high legs with a wagglethumb of a tail; thinks he's a bull fighter. That's because he hasn't been out of the house yet and has nothing to measure himself by, except soppy humans who minister to his every need -- at the moment, anyway, and when he's not taking leaps at the baubles hanging on lower branches of the Christmas tree or chewing the electric cables. This activity, he's learning, triggers wallops with rolled up magazines.

The tree, an 8 footer fills the bay window space, and is knee-deep in pressies and decked with lights.

Then there was the goose-feast. The bird had been brought up from the Devon/Dorset border by Michael three days earlier, and now, cooked to a turn by Sandhya, it reposed on a dish of fresh bay leaves, its golden-brown breast topped with bouncing and glistening cranberries and succulent slices of quince in a red wine gravy. Squeezed between the crackers and the glasses were its companion dishes; crisp roasted potatoes, a dish of roast pumpkin, onion and chestnut, and another of thin green beans with shitake mushrooms. There was a strong Japanese flavour to the whole day. From the cups of green tea, to a new DVD of Spirited Away from the wonderful creative imagination of the Japanese film director Hayao Miyazaki who made Howles Moving Castle and Laputa, to the minuscule Tet Suya; name meaning Arrow of Philosophy. At least the arrow bit was fairly accurate.

That was Christmas. What more do you want!

Wednesday, 3 December 2008


VERY LITTLE TO REPORT LAST MONTH, not because there wasn't anything going on, but because there was too much - a lot of family stuff including older generation illness and death. But also more work than I could cope with around the business of finding eager buyers for This Strange and Precious Thing, i.e. my new book. Marketing! That's the last thing I wanted to let myself in for, but it seems to be the inevitable consequence which follows writing a book.

And now it's December. And Christmas rushing up. Lordy, Lord! Which brings me to ... BANANAS

Late last Spring I noticed a strange bump. We have this banana tree in the house - we've had it since it was a baby, and almost lost it at the old house where we kept it in our conservatory which went unheated through the winters. Twice it almost gave up the ghost. But three or four years ago we downsized, and moved to a two floor cottage in Combe Down. Small as you enter it from the street, but amazingly spacious when you get inside - and, it included a built-in conservatory at the end of the sitting room. So our plants, as it were, live inside with us.

Discovering this bump one day, I took a closer look. A strange growth! I had to look closer. Hard to believe what I was seeing. Hidden under its great green leaves was a purply flower and a couple of mini bananas. My friend Kirsten, who was with me at the time and heard me squeal in disbelief, rushed over, camera in hand. (She just happened to have a camera in her hand.) Maybe this is everyday stuff; maybe everyone has bananas growing in the corner of their rooms, but for me it was sheer magic.

Throughout the dreary summer -- remember it? -- it rained -- but the flower flourished and the nanas kept on growing. Today I fondly inspected it again, wondering if it had taken fright at the frost on the windowpane. But the bananas are still defiant. A proper hand of half sized fruit, and I'm beginning to hope they'll go on growing through the winter.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

A LITTLE VERSE for November 4

This verse by the poet Rumi was sent to me by a great friend in the U.S. Daniel Jacob, on the morning Obama was elected.

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you;
Don't go back to sleep. You must ask for what
you really want: don't go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don't go back to sleep.

Sunday, 26 October 2008



My grandmother, when she was a child, and that was way back in the eighteen-whatevers, was handed a piece of paper by her grandmother, (and that was even wayer back in Victoria's glorious reign,) on which she'd written :----
YY U R, YY U B, I C U R YY 4 ME. Get it! (Too wise your are, too wise you be, I see you are too wise for me.)

Friday, 24 October 2008


What's all this dragon business, then? Scary, or what? Well, let's have a look.

Dragons have appeared all over, from Wild, Wet Wales to China. And in this part of the world they've got a bad press, eating all those virgin princesses - well, princesses in general, I suppose. A complex and universal symbol, according to the Illustrated Encycolopaedia of Traditional Symbols; J.C Cooper. A book I highly recommend. ...combining the bird as spirit, and the serpent as matter. ... the breath of life, and the life-giving waters. In those long-ago days the beast represented the Sky gods and their earthly embodiments: emperors, queens and kings.

Breathing fire and lightning, they symbolised the four primal energies combined into One: the earth, the waters, the fire and the air. But also, in the good old days, they embodied male and female in a balanced whole. But like all good things this original state didn't last; they became ambivalent and finally they split. In our neck of the woods, the Occident, they came to be seen as dangerous, negative, evil. The fearsome powers of the dark beneath the Earth; monstrous, chthonic, undifferentiated, destructive. While in the Orient they continued to streak the heavens as beneficent celestial powers.

Yet, at some point inbetween, in Greece for example, they were regarded as guardians of the gold within the earth against whom a creator has to strive for mastership, and which the hero must fight and conquer. Or as the poet Rilke says, 'Our deepest fears are like dragons guarding our deepest treasures.'

Will that do for starters? I wish I had a picture. Maybe I should try to paint one.

I sit down with my materials, sketch book, pastels, paints, with this picture in my mind, but I soon I realise that the image is beyond me to put down on paper. The colours aren't like anything I've seen before, and I don't think pigment paints can capture them. The dragon I see is gold, but purple violet incandescent earth-red all together - all at the same time. In fact it's more the colours than the dragon's form that I'm aware of. Its shape is the usual thing - prehistoric lizard sort of head with fiery, bulging eyes you can't meet and can't look into. Its body, scaly, spiny, massive and heavy - powerful, thrashing its tail - so you can't catch it -- hold it in your vision long enough to paint it. It doesn't say still. It changes and shimmers, and moves so lightly, as if it is made of silken thistledown. So transparent that you realise you're seeing into it, and it's like looking into a cauldron - molten streams of metal, different metals all swirling, mingling their various colours, which as your eyes are drawn further down into the maelstrom, become everchanging streams of water, pouring into fathomless, underground lakes and seas.

It's all still and silent down here among these unnameable blues and greens - a silence like a long-held breath - - 'til you begin to wonder, how long. You're transfixed by a tension - a building pressure - and then you see bubbles rising to the surface - bubbling, boiling - and the pressure mounts, forcing jets of steam up and out.

They come roaring and rumbling like thunder, out from the dragon's nostrils in clouds --thunderclouds, dark and ominous, rolling and filling the sky - until, watching them, it seems they're starting to soften. And the thunder in the deep cavern belly which had been shaking the earth, begins to turn to a purr. The dragon's breath mists, silver and shimmery, releasing pearly scales of honesty, luminous moonpennies, and snowdrops glinting with a million frozen crystals - falling soft and quiet, covering the Earth.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

So, I just couldn't get it in the right place, so here's another! Two for the price of one. You can never have enough of a good thing, says Grandmother Dragon.
What's all that about? This dragon thing? More on that later.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008


Look! I've got to say something. All this time it's taken - gestating - and then the launch a month ago, giving birth, getting it out there, and I haven't said anything yet about This Strange and Precious Thing, my new book. But what's really itching me just now is the little preamble I decided to give at the launch. I'd already read excerpts from it to different small groups of people in the weeks and months before it was finally printed, and not wanting to bore people by reading the same again, I thought I'd try to tell them what I thought the book was about.

I know, I know. If a book doesn't speak for itself, then what's the point of it. So, maybe that was a mistake, but I really wanted to clear a few things up. This categorisation thing, for a start. What kind of book is it, Fact or Fiction? That was easy. It's fiction - but what kind of fiction? Straight, literary fiction, or, as one reviewer had said, sci-fi? Or yet another - two actually -had declared, fantasy? Then yet again, is it a love story? Is it a man's book or a woman's? As far as I was concerned it was all of the above.

And then I wanted to go further and give some indication of the wider context in which it is set, and the underlying and deeper significance of the background without making it sound impossibly complex or serious - which it isn't. So, on the 17th of September I came out with this statement: WE'RE LIVING IN STRANGE AND CHALLENGING TIMES - YOU MAY HAVE NOTICED. All this stuff happening about us at the moment. A whole load of new characters about to hit the stage, dramatis personae. Last year it was the devastating Caterina. This year it's Gustav and Ike. Then come Freddy May and Fanny Mac -- seasons topsy-turvy, credit crunches escalating to financial meltdowns. Famine, flood, war and pestilence - you know - the list goes on and on. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse galloping towards the abyss! -- Are we about to get flushed down the pan? Is this The End of Civilization As We Know It? Well, YES! Why not? As far as I'm concerned, CIVILIZATION AS WE KNOW IT is well past its sell-by date.

Well, you may also have noticed, that two or three days later.... .... Perhaps you'd all better sit up and take notice!

But that still leaves a few more of my prophetic utterances to come. My take on Fantasy, for instance. Fantasy, in my book, is another word for Potential. But perhaps I'd better leave that for another time. Today, after all is a day to celebrate another of my granddaughters birthdays. The middlest one this time is ten years old today! Three granddaughter's birthdays in three weeks - the eldest one come next. I wonder if I can find pictures for them too.

Saturday, 4 October 2008


I heard this only today - on Today, as a matter of fact, radio 4. Some incredible geek has read and digested all 20 volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary and come up with this --

Onononoflab--- or was it Onomonoflaph .... Hells bells, what was it? Blast! I've forgotten it! Anyway, I can tell you what it means: it means some blithering old duffer who starts spluttering with frustration when he just can't recall the word he's searching for.

Odd, that! Been my problem all along, that.


That little angel sitting inside you - oh, yes, everyone has an angel inside - but did you realise it is a child?

Watching some old footage of the violinist Pinki Zucherman last night, what impressed me - apart from his incredible mastery - was - well, it wasn't just youthfulness - he was young in those days, after all, (I mean this was maybe back in the 60s and 70s) but it was something else, something I couldn't put my finger on. And it wasn't just him. I noticed the same thing in his flautist wife and the other friends playing with him - particularly Jacqueline Dupres. He was on fire! incandescent with some undefinable spirit.

It wasn't until I watched him playing with the English Chamber Orchestra - brilliant musicians all - but - none of them had this thing. Impish, Puck-like, Pan-like. And then it struck me: the spirit, the angel inside is always a Child. That's where the miracle comes from.

Friday, 3 October 2008


Written September 26th 08

Well, you have to begin somewhere so I might as well blaze in on a wave of glory, riding piggy-back on this picture which Crysse took last week when she graced the occasion of the launch of 'This Strange and Precious Thing.' That is, as soon as I manage to crack how to paste up pics. I might even start with a picture of my youngest granddaughter who is celebrating her 7th birthday today at Leggoland.

This is the one with the comic teeth which she was wearing on her 5th birthday, and perhaps paste in another, a really nice one of her without the teeth.

She's got teeth in that one, of course, but her own, and demurely not on show.

Just ten days ago I was celebrating the birth of my third book.

Bath writer, Esme Ellis, is how Crysse (Morrison) on her Sept. 21st blog, described me. Writer! But I've never been able to see myself in that role. Words, either in speech or on the page, don't come as easily to me as they seem to come to others. For the best part of my life I've communicated with my fingers - No, I don't mean sign language - I mean through my art, and in particular, my sculpture.

Any formal education I missed out on when, come the eleven plus, way back then, I opted, or rather my mother, bless her, spied in the list of tick-boxes for all the secondary schools on offer at the time in Sheffield, one we hadn't known about; Junior Art School. We did English and maths, and all that, but minimally, and I left at the age of 15 for a full-time course at the Sheffield College of Art. So, That's it. I've begun.