Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Rap, by Danny

Danny isn't an author, and the rap isn't a book - he is a young man I met today at the National Crimebeat Awards in London. He is a member of the Respond Academy team from St Leonard's on Sea, East Sussex, who won third place - and we are hugely proud of them all. Chris had put this brilliant initiative forward for the awards - and we are delighted they were not only finalists but prizewinners!

Danny was going to perform a rap as part of the group's presentation - but for one reason or another, he was not able to.  He was kind enough to give me a copy of the words, which tell how important  music has been in helping him turn his life around when 'home' is not the place of safety we like to think it is. 


The minute people realised I was a big kid who could throw a mean slug
people would stop turning round and labelling me as a thug.
After that day I would go home and never receive a kiss or hug
and never receive a single ounce of love
‘til I turned round and said that’s it. 
Enough is enough.
Because I turned round and walked away,
that’s the reason I can talk the way I talk today.
See, I was taught to be a criminal and commit crimes every day,
until one day I woke up and realised crime isn’t the way.

Back then I was a confused little kid, so I focused on my music.
Music is like therapy helping me and that’s why I use it,
so now I been given this opportunity I’m not going to abuse it.
Music is my life, and that’s why I choose it. 

Brilliant. Thanks to Danny and the whole team. 

All the winners were taken off for a fab trip to the London Eye - a lovely day for it! 

Read on for more about Respond Academy, which helps young people who for one reason or another aren't fitting into the education system...

Pablo & Jc McFee  2006 devised a specialist education programme using the  Arts, Music & Media that  gave  young people a thirst for learning and helping them to find  new ways of working within the creative fields to create employment or work along side other Artists and professionals on incredible high profile or local  events or projects. Jc realized that the  Arts Award in 2007 was the way forward  to obtain qualifications for our Community members as well as some of the most excluded challenging Students from  EBD schools giving them 2 Gcse’s to enable them to go towards their further education.
Respond Academy has a proven track record from 2004 that has given numerous life changing  opportunities  to young people in our community to learn art, dance, photography,   writing lyrics, learn how to use apple iMacs  inc ;Numerous software for Film, Production,  Vocal Booth, Sound Desk, Live instruments Music Music, IT,ART mixed media ,Painting or Drawing
Here is a short-list of just some of the achievements some of the young people who attend either as part of the  alternative education project or the community project.
    • At university to study; law, Film,multi-media, drama, art, & business studies
    • Returning to mainstream school and maintaining behaviour to continue at college. .
    • 100+ young people starting at college and completing their courses.
    • 50+ young person going to college at 18 years of age – after no formal education since  they were 13/14  years old
    • 50+   employment in their chosen fields  various jobs including , Teaching assistants, Legal secretary, Admin / Welfare officers, Manager of print/graphic design company, WebDesigner, Global Dj  & Mc , Film maker, Web designer, Graphic designer,
    • 12 gained training and employment on film’s  working with a mainstream film producers and commercial film company
    • 59 students gaining GCSE level qualifications (Silver Arts Awards)
    • 2 students gaining AS level qualifications (Gold Arts Awards)
    • 12 Bronze Arts  Award
    • 11 BTECs in 1st Certificate Music Production.  1 student obtained a Double Distinction after having been excluded from EBD unit  School and dispite not  able to read or write but having a natural ability  for iMac  programmes and software .
    • 100+ Learning to understand their behaviour and consequences
    • 30+people attending various training courses
    • 15 Peer trainers gaining paid employment for workshops they had devised and delivered
    • 2 young people sought their own funding for music/art projects they had devised. Both these projects exceeded all expectations
    • A core group of 4 successfully co-event managed Parklive 2007 a youth music festival linked to The Annual Beer Festival in Hastings
    • A group of 10/12 facilitated various music/dance/mc-DJ events throughout 2007 through 2012 in East Sussex
    • A group of 4 devised & delivered short reels, an innovative film project in conjunction with Children’s Services, Youth Development Services, and local schools in 2009 .
    • 2 members  sought funding from Youth Bank  and started an incredible  successful youth monthly Disco event called VIBES in 2007-2009 VIBES   founder   Lauren  was so innovative that she Booked Tynchy Stryder the WEEK before he went into NO1 & then she booked  Tinie Tempah  & the next week  he was  A Star   and a few other  exciting Artists  .Everything was run  and managed by a an amazing team of young people aged from 14-21 years old.
    • we have a selection of  Respond Academy  LIVE Up & Coming Artists
    • Devonerri  &  Sully won   MAKING TRACKS  with a tune called {I like Hastings } Southern Railway in 2011
    •  we have a in house  z1 Film Crew
    • JUNE 2012  our Youth Ambassador went to Sierra Leone  to make new Links with other Youth Groups  Watch this Space.
    • Members are commissioned to  run multi/ mixed art /live music workshops with CAMHS  young people  in-house at The academy & then Eastbourne in 2012
    • Members are commissioned to run  Dance workshops at Specialist schools   in Bexhill on Sea
    • Members  are commissioned to event manage and host  community events.
    • Members are commissioned to make flyers  for Companies  and Artists.
    • Members are offered film extra roles .
    • Members have been commissioned to make  live soundtracks for Films 2012 .
    • Members have been asked to sit on numerous  forums to give their opinions  as young people .
    • Members have been asked to perform  live at numerous community events since 2007 -2012
    • Artists Rebecca Youssefi hosted numerous art exhibitions and events  on her own and members work whilst in house Curator for The Academy   and Coastal Currents in Hastings 2011
    • Numerous innovative In – house video shorts including dancing, singing

You can read more about the National Crimebeat Awards here:

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Two books...two indie publishers

Contracts flew backwards and forwards a couple of weeks ago, between two lovely indie publishers and meself.

First, then, Ed's Wife and Other Creatures, the illustrated flash collection, my collaboration with the terrific Lynn Roberts, will be published by a new imprint of Cinnamon called Liquorice Fish Books, and with a fair wind will appear in early October. 
       I loved the name when I heard it, love liquorice as anyone knows who has read The Coward's Tale! I looked at the website to see what they were going to publish...and it said this: they were here to:
"promote the innovative and idiosyncratic in contemporary writing: writers who are passionate and committed to finding an individual voice and approach to their writing; who are restless and want to explore the many possibilities inherent in language and the written word; or who wish to celebrate and extend the vibrant and varied traditions — and anti-traditions — that emerged during the 20th Century but which have been too often marginalised and belittled by the world of corporate authorship."
Would they like this strange collection which didn't seem to fit anywhere?
     Suffice it to say they did, am enjoying working with editor Adam Craig on the final manuscript, and can't wait to see ED in print!

This is what they say about ED's Wife:
"Described by Tania Hershman as “funny and poignant”, this exquisite collection by well-known poet and writer, Vanessa Gebbie, and illustrator, Lynn Roberts, explores the ever-shifting face of relationships and what it means to allow another person into your life. Delicate and disturbing by turns, gently surreal yet anchored in the everyday, Ed’s Wife and Other Creatures is a book not to be missed."

Next, a full poetry collection has been accepted for publication by the lovely Cultured Llama.
Based in Kent, this great publisher is very local to me, and I have briefly worked with Maria McCarthy and Bob Carling, the owners. I am so delighted to be working with them on 'Memorandum' - a collection of poems inspired by war memorials of the Great War. The book should be out in the Spring 2016.

My calculations make that books number seven and eight since 2008. That'll do for now, although there is another on the chocks with Cultured Llama - number nine, due out in 2017. I'm still working on that one, details later on.

So here's to the independents. Support them, readers. Buy their books, keep the guardians of originality afloat. And writers - get your work out there!

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Reading, working with friends

Thursday evening last week, and a chance to read poetry with poetry buddy Caroline Davies at a rather terrific event in Bedford, called Ouse Muse. Organised by poet Ian McEwen, this friendly, well-supported event also is a chance for local poets to take one of the open mike slots available - and it was great to hear such a range of work. Poetry really is alive and kicking in Bedford!
Staying overnight with Caroline, in Wing, about an hour away - such an historic place - and spent a couple of hours the next morning running a creative workshop for members of her writing group who meet in the village library.
     I love this side of the writing life - sharing readings, sharing tips, giving permission to other writers to open up and enjoy their gifts.

The next event planned is this:

Niyati Keni is a terrific writer - her debut novel Esperanza Street (Andotherstories) is a beautiful, poignant exploration of a community in danger, in the Philippines. I know, I endorsed it! It is being launched in Brighton at a triple writer event also celebrating those works of art that inspired three novels - Esperanza Street,  my Coward's Tale, and Suzanne Joinson's 'A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar'. Look forward to this one very much!
It is free entry, with a cash bar - so if you are in Brighton - come along and say hello.

Friday, 2 January 2015

2014 round up, with special mentions.

From March onwards, 2014 was always going to be on the slow side writing-wise thanks to The Other Half becoming a High Sheriff - a great honour, but something which was going to impinge on our lives for a twelvemonth.  

Poetry seems to have taken a front seat, no matter how much I tried to ask it to move the back of the room.  Here then, a month by month look at the "quiet" year that was 2014...


  • Poem ‘Cenotaph’ up on Matter Press Journal of Compressed Arts:
  • Gladstone’s Library: my own writing for a whole ten days!
    I managed to 'finish' the second novel in a final blast of creative energy. It was great fun to research and write, and a brilliant challenge, while it lasted. However, ‘Kit’ is staying put for the moment - it’s not quite there.  
  • Oxted Book Festival, reading with Dan Powell, Alison Macleod and Tom Vowler. Nattering over tea.

  • Winner, Sussex Poetry competition
  • A commission, together with a group of poets, to use a Royal Academy exhibition as inspiration, write and then perform a poem at The RA. The exhibition, Sensing Spaces, was a collection of monumental installations in all the exhibition spaces, created by eminent architects from all over the world. The challenge was to respond to one, some or all of these in whatever way we wished.  The brainchild of novelist, poet, actor and academic Emer Gillespie, and poets Catherine Smith and Abegail Morley - a team called Ekphrasis. This was a marvellous opportunity, one that came to life on the performance night - as we all interacted with the visitors, performing our poems in situ. The event was filmed, and a booklet was published - it really was the most extraordinary thing to do for a first poetry commission. Follow that, as they say. See here for the Royal Academy blog writeup:
  • Interviewed by Bath Short Story Award :

Don't know what happened in April...

  • London Short Story Festival, a terrific series of events organised on behalf of London’s Spread the Word by Paul McVeigh.
    I ran a series of fun freebie writing thingummies in the basement of Waterstones Piccadilly and chairing a panel discussion: getting secrets out of publishers and agents...
  • Runner up in Adlestrop Poetry comp
  • Poems accepted by Onslaught Press for ‘Poems for Gaza’ publication
  • Gave a masterclass on character at Waterstones Piccadilly, and read ‘Dodie’s Gift’ for The Word Factory, alongside Carys Bray and Val McDiarmid. 

  • The Thirteenth International Conference on the Short Story in English, held for the first time in Vienna. I attended thanks to marvellous invitations to teach, to read, and to participate in a panel discussion.  To go to writerly receptions and readings hosted by the US Cultural centre, the Irish ambassador, the Canadian Australian and Austrian embassies.
    And what a joy it was to be with friends, to meet many new ones, and to spend the best part of the week immersed in talks, readings and discussions about one of the best forms of fiction.
    There was also a stonking great anthology!
    Thank you, thank you for an unforgettable week to Sylvia Petter.

  • Adlestrop poetry comp organisers to publish an anthology.
  • ‘Poems for Gaza’ poetry book published by Onslaught Press

  • Gladfest! Ran a workshop on running a writing group, and interviewed the marvellous Sarah Perry (above)  about her debut novel “After me comes the flood”. 
  • Judged Cinnamon Press’s short story competition
  • ‘Ed’s Wife and Other Creatures’ accepted for publication by Liquorice Fish, a new imprint  from Cinnamon. 
  • Joined the Board of Trustees of New Writing South 

  • 2-6 - Writers’ Pals trip to the Somme and Ypres, guided by the redoubtable Jeremy Banning. Two days on the Somme, one day visiting Loos and the Boar’s Head among others, and two days in and around Ypres. 
  • 9-17 - Poetry Masterclass week with Bernard O’Donoghue at Anam Cara. 

  • A prose poem ‘Ocean to Drop’ is published on Visual Verse
  • A poem “Stages of Remembrance” is published in the lovely print magazine Confingo, and read at their launch.
  • 11th: a great salon event at Brighton University, invited by writer-in-residence Clare Best, debating and mulling on the subject of Remembrance, Resistance and Writing, together with Neil Bartlett, followed by a smashing supper with all the creative writing staff - so good to catch up. 
  • 15th- a visit to Bristol for a special WW1 event, and the launch of  a very special project, a series of beautifully produced postcards - the culmination of a collaboration between two friends, battlefield guide and military historian Jeremy Banning and writer Tania Hershman.
  • 19th” a lovely poetry event - a very impromptu last-minute arrangement, thanks to Sasha Dugdale, a poets’ walk from various points to the Chattri, the Indian memorial on the Downs above Brighton.
    Modern Poetry in Translation was focussing on the poetry of WW1 - and Punjabi Poet Amarjit Chandan was the guest of honour. He read a eulogy to the departed, and his translations of Punjabi songs written by those women whose men left to fight for us in the Great War.  Readings and soup!
  • 19th: Dinner at Nat Liberal Club to celebrate the winners of the 2015 Gladstone’s Library Residencies.
  • 20th: the launch of ‘Letters to the Unknown Soldier at the RCA, edited by Kate Pullinger and Neil Bartlett- such a good event - as many of the 120 writers as could make it - including several youngsters and their parents. My highlight was hearing a letter read out by Andrew Motion - to discover the writer was a besuited young lad aged about 10, knee high to the proverbial, parents proud as anything.  
  • 20th: The biggest surprise - The Half-life of Fathers was  reviewed, and included ‘among  ‘the best pamphlets of 2014’ by the TLS. 
  • 22: Fab workshop from The Word Factory at Waterstones’ Piccadilly by the unparalleled David Vann

  • Poem ‘Timeline’ accepted for publication by the print publication Acumen, in January.
  • Two poems accepted for Poems for a Liminal Age anthology (Sentinel, 2015).

One of the joys of this writing stuff is being in the company of others on the same but different journey. (They will know what I mean!)

2014 special mentions:

Andrew Marshall, hugely valued writing buddy, whose career spans so many facets. And Gail Louw, playwright extraordinaire and member of the same writing group - whose plays are now hitting the stage all over the place - UK, South Africa, USA. Amazing people both. 

Poetry buddy Caroline Davies, whose steady incisive feedback has been so valuable too, and with whom I’ve had such fun and interesting times this year, tracking down war memorials, among other things.

Sarah Hilary, the hardest working, most tenacious writer, whose debut thriller, “Someone Else’s Skin” has just been an amazing star, and it’s going to be on telly and everything! Sarah visited the blog here:

Sarah Perry, whose debut “After me comes the Flood” from Serpent's Tail is simply wonderful, storywise and writingwise. I was so glad to endorse it with a cover quote and then to interview her at Gladfest this year.  (see above)

Sylvia Petter, the whizziest person I know,  and a fantastic writer, who organised the Thirteenth Conference on the Short Story (see July) with such aplomb, and whose company is absolutely magical, a stream of endless interest. 

Tania Hershman and her co-writer Courttia Newland,  whose terrific text book on writing the short story has just been published by Bloomsbury -

Sue Guiney, whose writing has led her down very inspirational paths. Her work among the young people of Cambodia is seriously changing lives : . Sue is the founder of Writing Through Cambodia, a program which uses the creative writing of poetry and short stories to develop English fluency, conceptual thinking and self-esteem for Cambodian students and teachers.

Lane Ashfeldt, whose short story collection Saltwater was published this year by Liberties Press. The collection contains  a few prizewinners among its twelve stories and a novella.  Lane runs a rather lovely bookish B and B in Knighton, if anyone enjoys walking, writing, mulling.

Sarah Salway, who not only makes me giggle, but who (via Cultured Llama) published the most beautiful book I’ve read this year: Digging up Paradise

Clare Best and Catherine Smith, who, with the above-mentioned, made up the best company for a nutty foursome weekend writing retreat - and I do hope we do it again! 

That’ll do. 

Here's to a Happy New Year! 

Monday, 1 December 2014

Remembrance, resistance, writing

A new kind of war memorial, the brainchild of Neil Bartlett and Kate Pullinger, went live earlier in the year. Focussing on the statue by Charles Sargeant Jagger on The Great Western War Memorial at Platform 1, Paddington Station, this was an initiative which, like the ceramic poppies at The Tower of London, burgeoned into something bigger than at first envisaged. The statue represents a Tommy in a hand-knitted scarf reading a letter. The public were invited to write that letter...
       The initiative, pump-primed by 50 well known writers, attracted a huge response.  Almost 22,000 letters came in, up to the closing date of 4 August 2014.  Some direct into the website. Some handwritten and posted 'To the statue, Paddington Station.' The posties got to know where to send them. Letters from all over the world. 
       Letters from children, from adults of all ages, the very old,  letters from veterans and serving soldiers, from politicians and teachers. From writers too. 
      Initially, that was it - the website where all the letters are available to read, and subsequently archived by the British Library - a clever war memorial for today. But then along came publisher William Collins,  and the anthology was born. 120 of the letters were selected for multifarious reasons, and bound in a rather great hardback. 
       Unindexed, you have to read wherever the book opens. You might stumble across a letter from Ed Milliband or Dawn French, Stephen Fry or a ten year old schoolboy. From 1914 Sikhs or a schoolgirl, Benjamin Zephaniah, Daljit Nagra or Andy McNab. Mark Haddon. Or David Cameron. And a mass of others, including 10 Anons, and one by me.
Here it is on the Book Depository:

And here is the start of my letter:

Things you do not know:
      When you leave, you will leave a child, growing. When night falls on the day you die, your officer will write two letters to two families, your and his own. He will say to his mother that he has never had to write a letter like that. He has never knowingly lied before. He helped three of his men bury what was left. He will ask does his mother think, under the circumstances, he did the right thing when he said 'it was quick'?

You can read all the letters here:


A few weeks ago, I went to see another memorial - Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red - the ceramic poppies filling the moat of the Tower of London. Because each poppy was intended to represent one death of a British soldier in WW1, I waited to go on the penultimate day when all but one or  two were in situ. It was an extraordinary sight, and one I won't forget.

It is a brilliant work of art. It looked extraordinary  from ground level, and even more extraordinary from The Shard - the day was so sparklingly clear on Monday 10th November that it was worth spending the cash to travel up in a lift to grab the views. But for me, something was missing. 
    The way they'd allowed the installation to be used for political purposes by the Prime Minister for example, and Ed Milliband - who happened to plant poppies surrounded by a battalion of the world's press -  cheapened it for this viewer. A shame. That overshadowed the day.  But a brilliant work of art, still. 

On 11th 11th, we spent most of the day at Seaford, starting with a service at a windswept cemetery which contains the graves of men who died at the training camp in WW1. They include the graves of soldiers from the West Indian Regiment who died of the flu. You can read a somewhat disturbing account of how we used the West Indian Regiment here:

   There are also the graves of two Irish soldiers who drowned off the beach a matter of a few weeks after arriving: one got into trouble, his friend tried to save him and they both drowned. And another - the grave of a man who was known to be a dreadful bully, and who made the lives of the new soldiers hell. He was shot by one of those young soldiers, who gave himself up immediately. And oddly, he was only given a three year prison sentence...

We then joined the members of the Seaford branch, Royal British Legion in their club for lunch. 
     I was particularly moved to meet an Irish veteran. For the last twenty years, he told me, the Irish Veterans  had marched at the Cenotaph on Remembrance day, and laid a wreath. This year, they had not been allocated any places in the line-up, or on the march. Thinking it was an oversight, he had repeatedly tried to contact the organisers to rectify the situation, to no avail. 
    Watching the ceremony on the television, they saw the Irish Prime Minister laying a wreath, for the first time. 

Again, a political move, this time sidelining veterans in order that someone might make a political statement. A shame.


The evening was spent in Brighton University, invited with Neil Bartlett of Letters to the Unknown Soldier fame, and many other fames,  to a literary salon called Remembrance, Resistance and Writing. The invitation came from writer-in-residence Clare Best. 
     The event opened out the resistance I'd been feeling to how these things can be manipulated. Neil was very impassioned about Remembrance - very keen to show that without action it becomes questionable - "yes, he said, you are moved by these things. And?"

       He pointed out how poor it was that the organisers had not protected the Tower art installation from exploitation.  How easy it is to manipulate a an example,  he cited an image that I'd found disturbing since Remembrance Sunday - a child in uniform placing the final poppy at the Tower. 
    I asked the student audience to place that image alongside the recent 'Passing Bells' - a series on the BBC aired in the evening, aimed at young people. The reconstruction of battles was so pretty, so bloodless, literally - lots of smoke, lots of men lying in artistic poses on the ground afterwards - with not so much as a cut. No shattered limbs. No split skulls. No blood. No bone. 
       And according to the BBC, there was utter silence after the first day of the Somme, apparently. Maybe not utter - a few slight groans from a few perfectly whole men in shell-holes - as if they had hangovers.

   Not good enough. Bringing up a generation of kids to think that war is not as terrible as it actually is. And patronising in the extreme - most of the viewers of that programme have far more violent and bloody games on their phones.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

September/October catch-up - Western Front, Poetry, Physics, call for short story submissions, Holidays...

Caroline Davies at Pigeon Ravine Cemetery, one of the prettiest and most poignant cemeteries on the Western Front. 

On 2nd October, the 2014 Writers' Pals met at Lille Europe for the annual trip to the trenches with military historian Jeremy Banning. Five days, four nights to The Somme and Ypres this year, with a flying visit to Mons and the Boar's Head en route between the two - it was another unforgettable trip. We'd asked to walk as much as possible, thus the cemetery above became to start of a very hot walk up the 'Gloucester Road' up to Lonsdale Cemetery, Authuille. We had extraordinary weather this year!
        Caroline Davies and I are collaborating on a collection of poetry inspired by the memorials of the Great War, and these trips are always such a rich source of ideas.

Unveiling of the monument to the Royal Sussex Regiment, at Priez
 The regimental badge, the wreaths

Back in time a few weeks, to 10th September, and we (Chris and I) were in France as well, at a village called Priez, for the unveiling of a monument to the Royal Sussex Regiment. The village is tiny - blink and you'd miss it, as they say - but 100 years ago to the day, Sussex lost its first men on the Western Front right here. It was poignant in the extreme to be with many ex-servicemen of the Sussex Regiment, who marched down the hill from the ridge on which the battle was fought, into the village - man in their eighties, seventies - veterans of the last war, many of them.

The Western Front holds many such memorials, most of which were put up after the Great War. It was a huge privilege to be there to witness this one being unveiled - and when the French band played Sussex by the Sea with great gusto, this Sussex-dweller certainly felt it.

Backwards again - my husband isn't the keenest of battlefield visitors - but on our way down to Priez, I managed to introduce him to a few places, not just British/English memorials, but Vimy Ridge (Canadians), Mametz Wood (The Welsh), the Ulster Tower (Ulstermen), Ayette Cemetery (Indian and Chinese and a German grave), McCrae's Battalion memorial (Scots), and Thiepval memorial (Commonwealth and French).

Dieppe marina
Fast forward - having enjoyed our Dieppe trip (see previous post) in August, C and I also grabbed a few days later in September, just the two of us, and went back to this terrific city - so often, I think, rushed through by visitors arriving off the ferry, on their way somewhere else. The harbour is surrounded by bistros and restaurants, there are fascinating cultural visits to make - a converted theatre holds a wonderful exhibition on the Dieppe raids, for example. Art galleries, castle, gardens - sea, beaches, plenty for the kids - what more do you want for a decent place to stay in for a while?
Church, Varengeville, with Monet's view of the same church from the valley...
Not far away, the cliff-top church at Varengeville, where Claude Monet found inspiration. While C sketched in the graveyard, I took myself off on a walk down the same track Monet went all those years back. Magic.

Writing things have not taken that much of a back seat - (despite the fact I'm not meant to be writing much, opportunities keep popping up, too good to miss!)
Hershman and Gebbie, Oxford. 
Yes, that says 'Physics' - and it is the Physics Dept at Oxford University. Let's put this into context - I was so hopeless at it, for reasons which will become clear - that I did not even take O Level Physics. It was fine by the way, until I had the temerity to ask what electricity was and exactly how it worked. The teacher could not answer, blustered and said I didn't need to know that. Yes I did! Hence, no more working, pen down, dig in.  However. Friend and writing colleague Tania Hershman is co-editing a short story anthology to be published on the centenary of Einstein's Theory of General Relativity next year. And a group of writers have been approached to contribute stories. Thus, we all had four rather stunning (and in places completely incomprehensible) lectures, after which we will extrapolate, and mull, and produce a piece of short fiction for this initiative. Freight Publishing is producing the anthology - and there is an open call for submissions - details on Tania's blog, here:

And, also with writing,  I had a wonderful wonderful week at Anam Cara Writers and Artist's retreat from 11 to 19 October. Goodness me - what a lot I learned. Led by Bernard O'Donoghue, and in the company of some stunningly good writers from the US, Ireland, UK and Switzerland, it was the sort of week that should be prescribed on the NHS and after which all would be well for years.

Other writing bits - poetry getting written, a poem due out in Confingo Magazine, and nice news about the illustrated collection Ed's Wife and Other Creatures, which has found a publisher - but  more of that when contracts are finalised.

Thursday, 21 August 2014


The promenade and beach at Dieppe, Seine Maritime, today. With its bright noisy fairground,  people enjoying blustery  August walks on the pebbles, the ferry port buzzing with visitors, shops, markets, cafes, restaurants  - it is hard to imagine how it was seventy two years ago. 
On 19th August 1942, the scene looked a little different, as a disastrous raid from the UK led to the deaths of hundreds of young men on Dieppe's beaches, most of them Canadian volunteers. This photo is on the information board at Puys Beach - scene of one of the worst massacres. The raid, it is said, can be justified because we learned much from our mistakes that day that led to our success on D-Day, two years later. However, these assumptions can be questioned.  There is a good reasoned article here:

Afternoon, 18th August. The first ceremony we attended was in remembrance of  two badly injured young Canadian airmen who were cared for by the villagers of St Aubin le Cauf at great risk to themselves.  Sadly, the airmen both died, and were buried in the local churchyard. After the war, the families of the airmen asked that their lads should stay among those who had cared for them. Every year, still, the village remembers them in style.
This permanent display is above their graves, on the church wall. John Edwin Gardiner, aged 23.  Norman Monchier, aged 19. RIP

Then on to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Canadian Cemetery, Cimitiere des Vertus, for a twilight vigil. Here, there are 948 graves, of which 187 are unidentified. 

The vast majority are Canadian soldiers, sailors, airmen who died on the day  - 19th August 1942.   Annually, on this date, schoolchildren place red roses by every grave. It was the most poignant experience, to walk between these graves and see the same date on them all.  More casualties of the raid are buried in Rouen, where the wounded were taken to hospital. Others lie in Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey. 

After a wreath laying at the foot of the Cross of Sacrifice, there was a vigil held in front of the Stone of  Remembrance,  and an 'eternal flame' (inverted commas as it is dismantled after the ceremony...) burning at the heart of a maple leaf.  Here, the young people in red jackets, forming the Fourth Guard to stand vigil, are members of the Vimy Foundation 
The following day, 19th August, the actual day of the raid, we were back at the Cimitiere des Vertus for the main wreath laying, and the number of wreaths was astonishing. Moving. Above you can see  just some of the wreaths waiting to be placed - some young people from the Vimy Foundation again, and four clergymen who would be taking an interfaith service in French and English. 

'The Angel of Dieppe' - Sister Agnes-Marie Valois, who celebrated her 100th birthday in July. She tended casualties on the beach.  Seeing a German soldier about to shoot a badly injured young Canadian, she stood between the injured man and the gun and said he'd have to shoot her first.

"It wasn't war," she said. 'It was a massacre."

Sister Agnes-Marie laid a wreath. She stood, with help,  throughout the silence.

Then we went to a new development on the outskirts of Dieppe, where seven of the new streets are being named after the fallen of 19th August. Robert Boulanger was the youngest to die that day.

Flowers were laid at the new street sign with due dignity,  and a minute's silence. All in the middle of a huge building site. The mayor of Dieppe's speech was very good - knitting the past, the present, and the future as well - represented by the two hundred families who will be moving in to the first phase of the development.
Back to the town and to the Square du Canada, and the main memorial in town, where wreaths were laid by many many individuals and groups, including the Dieppe Fair queen resplendent in  a dress of mauve and silver netting. Speeches followed in the community hall which replaced the casino, destroyed in the war.

On to the final ceremony, at Puys Beach, where the Canadians took their worst losses. Chris laid a wreath here, as he had at all the other places, causing not a little interest in his 18th century court get-up as High Sheriff. In the pic is Revernd Canon Will Pratt, C's Chaplain.

Today Puys Beach was benign, with the sun shining, families playing on the sand. Seventy two years ago it was a different story - the beach strewn with bodies of both dead and wounded, as the landing craft had emptied out their men onto a beach with no access to the valley. In front of them rose a wall topped with barbed wire, and there were gun emplacements on either side. You can still see these.

Puys Beach 19th August, 1942. 

So ended one of the most moving series of commemorations. The series had begin at Newhaven, in Sussex, the week before, with a ceremony at the Canadian Engineers' memorial, as so many of the Canadian soldiers left from here for Dieppe.
        In Newhaven, I chatted to an elderly gentleman in a wheelchair - a veteran of the Raid. His name is Alan Saunders, and he is nearly 92. Blind now, he told me he was looking forward to going on the longest zip wire in Europe, in north Wales, after his 92nd birthday. (!) He was wearing not only his own WW11 medals, but those of his father who served in WW1.

        On 19th August 1942 he was nineteen years old and serving with the Royal Marine Commandos. Caught on a French beach amid shellfire and bullets, he and three chums decided to swim for it rather than stay and be killed. They made it five miles out into the channel before being picked up by one of our destroyers.
        At the wreath laying, he was just about able to stand out of his chair, make his way with the help of two colleagues across the grass to the memorial, and lay a wreath.

Then he stood alone, snapped to attention, and saluted.