Category Archives: Uncategorized

More in praise of Alice Munro and the short story

After the popularity of Saturday’s blog on the short story, I wanted to add a few more links. The always excellent brainpickings has Alice Munro on the secret of a great short story:

Earlier this Autumn, Literature Wales, Swansea University and the Rhys Davies Trust held a conference on the short story, with everyone from Edna O’Brien, Tessa Hadley, to Will Self in attendance. I was unable to attend, but am grateful for the coverage from the excellent Wales Arts Review, Volume 2, issue 23, which I highly recommend:

This edition includes interviews with Rachel Trezise and Will Self; Patricia Duncker, Stevie Davies, Alison Moore and others on their favourite short stories;  a revisit of classics such as two of my personal favourites, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper and William Trevor’s wonderful The Ballroom of Romance. The recent announcement that William Trevor has been awarded The Charleston Trust/ University of Chichester inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award in Short Story Writing seems to affirm this sometimes overlooked form is having its time in the limelight. Let us enjoy…

2013 Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry launches today.

As a former winner of The Ted Hughes Award, I was sent this press release today and asked to share…

The Poetry Society launches the 2013 Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry.

“I’m delighted to be announcing the fifth Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry. In a short space of time the award has established itself as one of the major national prizes for poetry, recognised for the breadth of its connection with other forms of artistic expression. It’s an award that helps to promote both new and established poets, and it provides a platform for emerging artists, like last year’s winner, the wonderful Kate Tempest, allowing a whole new audience to appreciate their work.” – Carol Ann Duffy, Poet Laureate and founder of the Ted Hughes Award.

Established in 2009, the Ted Hughes Award highlights the ways in which poets engage with other art forms. In order to reflect the collaborative nature of the award, the judging panel comprises artists from a range of backgrounds: this year, poets Sean Borodale and Denise Riley team up with artist Eileen Cooper RA.
The award seeks to reward poetry in books and beyond – on the stage, on the radio, on film and TV, in art galleries and around us in the built environment.

Previous winners of the £5,000 prize include Kate Tempest in 2012 for Brand New Ancients, a spoken word story told over a live orchestral score, Lavinia Greenlaw in 2011 for Audio Obscura, a sound work; the playwright Kaite O’Reilly for her 2010 verse translation of The Persians; and, in 2009, Alice Oswald for her illustrated collection Weeds and Wildflowers.

Kate Tempest said of winning the 2012 award: “I was overwhelmed. It was amazing to be in that room with those judges and have them say to me ‘we loved your work’. When you’re a performer or on stage people are looking at you, judging you but they’re not necessarily looking at the work […] what felt really special about the Ted Hughes Award is that it was about the work.”

In order to consider the full sweep of new poetry, the Ted Hughes Award invites members of the Poetry Society, and / or Poetry Book Society, to recommend a living UK poet, working in any form, who they feel has made an outstanding contribution to poetry in 2013. Recommendations are shortlisted by the judges in February 2014 and the winner is announced in March.

Recommendation forms are available to members of Poetry Society and Poetry Book Society and can be found by clicking here. Completed forms should be sent to Helen Taylor at 

A range of work is showcased on a dedicated ‘New Work’ page of the Poetry Society website, which aims to demonstrate the scope of work recognised by the award, and suggestions for additional projects are welcome.

Best wishes,

Robyn Donaldson

Marketing Assistant
The Poetry Society,
22 Betterton Street,

Phone: 020 7420 9886

Don’t forget to enter the National Poetry Competition 2013!
Deadline for entries 31st October 2013

20 Questions….. Johanna Devi.

Earlier this year I started a strand on this blog where I invited a broad spectrum of artists – novelists, sculptors, choreographers, directors, poets, burlesque dancers, playwrights, visual artists, and many more in between – to engage with the same twenty questions about creativity and process. I hoped this might create  interesting and illuminating reading, and an intriguing archive – not just in the often wise and considered answers these individuals give, but as a body of opinion, shaped by experience and form.

I’m delighted to continue this series with dancer and choreographer Johanna Devi, whose complex, graceful, and innovative  work it has been my pleasure to witness in Berlin over the past two years.

Johanna Devi

Johanna Devi

Johanna Devi was trained in contemporary dance and ballet from the age of six at Jessica Iwanson, Munich, Germany. Additionally she has been studying the classical Indian dance form Bharatanatyam in India, Germany, USA and Canada since 1995. She concluded her studies with the ‘arangetram’ in November 2006 in Berlin under Rajyashree Ramesh .
Johanna completed her modern dance training at danceworks-berlin e.V. and at Alvin Ailey School of American Dance Theater in New York City. Besides her dance trainings she studied classical music (piano and music theory) with professors of music universities in Munich, Graz and Berlin.  Since 2007 she has worked as a freelance dancer and choreographer throughout Europe, Canada, the Middle East, India and Cuba. She has danced for companies like Felix Ruckert, Sampradaya Dance Creations, Mavin Khoo, Sadhana Dance, Gwyn Emberton Dance and has created Solo and Company work as a choreographer. In 2012 she founded the Johanna Devi Dance Company in Berlin, Germany. In 2011 she has been invited as one of eight dancers worldwide to perform at the 2nd International Dance Festival (sponsored by ICCR) in Delhi and Chandigarh, India. In 2013 she won the prize for best staging at the 17th International Theater Festival in Baghdad, Iraq (Bernarda Albas Haus; director: Ihsan Othmann, choreography: Johanna Devi)

For further information please also see

What first drew you to your particular practice (art/acting/writing, etc)?

I started my dance training (ballet and contemporary/modern dance) as a child. I saw my first Bharatantyam performance when I was about 8 and started to train in that style at 14. I had visited India already and simply wanted to combine my passion for dance and India. Dance and Music just came naturally and easy to me and fulfilled me to an extend that I kept wanting to investigate more. So I feel like I didn’t really make a conscious choice.

What was your big breakthrough?

It’s yet to come…

What is the most challenging aspect of your work?

To define what I am doing.

It seems like people like to label art-forms. But I am dancing inbetween different styles or languages as I like to call it. I am neither a ‘typical’ German contemporary dancer, nor an Indian dancer. I am usually confronted, when talking about my work, with questions like if the dance style I am doing has something to do with folk, ethnic dances, multi culturalism, esoteric spiritualism, Bollywood, belly dancing or other forms of show dancing. But I simply created my own choreographic signature. Merging contemporary dance with Bharatantyam, working with contrasts and just taking selected aspects of the different styles (such as polyrhythm, isolation, coordination, release and flow etc)

What’s more important: form or content?


 Do you read your reviews?


What work of art would you most like to own?

An original (i.e. hand written) score from one of the great composers

 What are you working on now?

I am working on a dance piece with my dance company where rhythm, sound and movement work symbiotically together.  Complex rhythms are made visible and tangible before they are audible.

What do you wish you’d known when you were starting out?

How important it is to stand to yourself and to take the feeling of being ‘different’ as a strength rather than as a feeling of not belonging.

How do you tackle lack of confidence, doubt, or insecurity?

I redirect my focus to a place that is free of my own judgement

 And the best thing?

(translated from German; a review on my production ‘santosham’)

“Moving Poetry
The movements are as soft as velvet, as fluid as water. Fareastern sounds are opening the heart, the soul is exposed. Magnetized one follows each of the soothing, soft gestures of the three dancers. They remind of priestesses of ancient cults, who try to bring themselves in accordance and unison with the world. Classical Indian and contemporary dance merge poetically into one wave, one stream of energy. Again and again one dancer breaks out of the triad of the synchronized movement patterns, tells her own story and depicts physically her conflict. Dynamic and reflection create a mystical dialogue throughout the fingertips of the graceful dancers. Everything flows. (ail)”
100Wort! independent newspaper of 100° Festival 2012, Feb 25th 2012

If you were to create a conceit or metaphor about the creative process, what would it be?

A flexible, transforming and flowing, labyrinth

 What is the single most important thing you’ve learned about the creative life?

To be determined and simultaneously be open to surprises and changes

What is the answer to the question I should have – but didn’t – ask?


Johanna’s showreel from 2012
The trailer for the Johanna Devi Company production called SANTOSHAM

20 Questions… Alison Lochhead

Continuing my series of questions on process and creativity with a large range of artists and writers from many forms…. 20 Questions….Alison Lochhead.

Alison Lochhead

Alison Lochhead

Alison Lochhead studied art and ceramics at Loughborough College of Art and Design and Wolverhampton Polytechnic from 1971 – 1975.  She studied tapestry weaving in Poland during 1975 – 1976. She has lived and worked in many countries, working with access to justice. Her experiences are reflected in her art work. Alison works with different materials, all integral from the earth and with their own strengths and reaction to heat and to each other; iron, clay, oxides, wood.  In the kiln alchemy takes place as the various materials are drawn together or reject each other, they are transformed.  Some elements get lost and burn away, others fuse and create a different form. She has exhibited widely from 1977 to the present day, with 16 one-person shows and over 50 group exhibitions.  Alison is a member of Sculpture Cymru and 56 Group Wales. Her website is:

What first drew you to your particular practice (art/acting/writing, etc)?

I have always wanted to work ‘creatively’, messing about with materials, trying things out.  More this than drawing/painting – although I was always doing this as well as I grew up.  Basically making marks in some way.  I have never been academic, and my way of expressing myself was either through histrionics or creating something; usually both. Why specific materials?  This has varied throughout life depending on what I want to express; but something I can get my hands into – materials which have their own statements to be made.

What was your big breakthrough?

My biggest breakthrough in terms of my own practice was when I gave up on the intellectual.  I had been working with putting my political thinking and passions around how women are treated in society; and had come to an almighty full stop as the work was completely horrible; it was dead and ‘said nothing’.  After about 18 months of not doing anything in the workshop I felt so bereft and empty; a missing inside; that I decided to go back to what I loved – colour, textures and a love of rocks and their colours; textures; ancientness etc.  I made casts of my body and decided to make them look like a piece of rock.  I have never looked back and any time ‘the intellect’ tries to intervene – I push it as far away as possible.

What is the most challenging aspect of your work/process?

Wanting to work on a much bigger scale but unable to without it involving other people and doing the work elsewhere (in a foundry or whatever) and the huge costs involved – plus ‘what do you then do with it’?

Is there a piece of art, or a book, or a play, which changed you?

I don’t think there is one piece which has changed me.  Turner’s water colours inspired me and freed up something inside me at an early age. There are many books, poems, paintings, plays which inspire, confirm or give me an hint of something different.  I am hopeless at remembering names etc.

What’s more important: form or content?

The two are inextricably connected.  They cannot be separated.  They both totally work together and inform each other.

How do you know when a project is finished?

I don’t really.  Somehow I find it has shifted into something else and evolved into a different process or being.

Do you read your reviews?

If I had any I would!!!!

What advice would you give a young writer/practitioner?

Keep true to your inner instincts. Don’t try and adjust your work to ‘the market’ and if you need to then get another job to pay the bills.

What work of art would you most like to own?

Turner’s paintings, such as Storm at Sea (Can’t remember the exact name) One of the atmospheric elements ones.

What’s the biggest myth about writing/the creative process?

That you get ‘inspiration’ without the constant working at it.

What are you working on now?

Reacting to the Cambrian Mountain Metal Mines; their stories, maps, the pains and rape of the land and the people who worked within it, the scars on the landscape and the stories these tell, the responses of the spoil rocks and the giving up of secrets in the fire of the kiln – a beginning of a journey.

What is the piece of art/novel/collection/ you wish you’d created?

No idea!  Probably a collection of rocks with artefacts which relate to them in terms of pieces of work made from them; but small and ‘want to put this in my pocket’.

What do you wish you’d known when you were starting out?

How do I know this?  I really can’t think of anything as even if I had known something I probably would not have known what to do with the information as not in a space to ‘take it’.

What’s your greatest ambition?

To be able to do my own work.  I guess to be ‘known’.

How do you tackle lack of confidence, doubt, or insecurity?

With difficulty. Just try and work through it; think of the positive things people have said and tap deep within and feel that ‘I am OK really’. Also the feeling that if I did not feel any of these things then my work would be crap as arrogant – but wish I did have a bit more confidence in myself.

What is the worst thing anyone said/wrote about your work?

The worst thing was someone saying ‘maybe you have no imagination’; when I was confiding in them that I was feeling really stuck in my work.

And the best thing?

That my work makes them cry; shiver; and makes them look deeper into their reactions to my work.

If you were to create a conceit or metaphor about the creative process, what would it be?

Tearing and tumbling; floating and diving in muddy clear water.

What is your philosophy or life motto?

Live every minute as life is short and goodness knows what may happen.  I wish I really lived by this!!!

What is the single most important thing you’ve learned about the creative life?

That it is not a choice and it is essential to trust inner process of what emerges, the materials speak for themselves – trust them.

What is the answer to the question I should have – but didn’t – ask?

I do it because I cannot do otherwise.


For further information about Alison’s current exhibitions and her work:

Alison Lochhead      Mine Memories        

Oriel Fach Queens Hall Gallery, Narberth.

The exhibition runs from 11 May to 15 June 2013

Wednesday–Saturday 10.00–5.00

tel: 01834 869454;;                          

Mine Memory by Alison Lochhead

Mine Memory by Alison Lochhead

Mine Memories is the beginning of a journey exploring the histories, stories and memories, and physical realities about and around the mines in the Cambrian Mountains and hopefully beyond.

What lies under the ground and what gets revealed to us when we dig it up? How do we exploit, use and explore what the earth holds?

The sculptures and prints work with the visual impact mines have on the landscape, the juxtaposition of raw material, construction, exploitation and change. Through working with the rocks and spoil of the mines and by putting these back into the fire, in a kiln, to see what they will transform into: to explode, disintegrate, change into another form, join together, push apart, melt; and what the earth reveals to us, what is gives to us and what in its turn it takes from us – the lives, the health, the pains and traumas.

The mines are a mix of construction and raw material and the work exploits this juxtaposition, linked to the memories of the lives linked to them.

The materials used are mainly cast iron, mine rocks, clay and wood. Each material has its own ‘meaning’ of place. The materials will connect, pull apart, explode, fuse, burn away, fragment, partially remain – the final pieces are unknown, the materials will speak for themselves through the way they form and connect together. The pieces will be representing the differing aspects of the mines, the memories, the pain and anguish, the working constructions, the scaring, the metals and minerals, the transforming of landscape. This exhibition is a small fragment of the work already undertaken and a hint of work yet to be done with exploring the Cambrian Mountain Metal Mines.

Albert Camus quotation


A friend of mine sent this to me by email. I know she got it from the internet, but exactly from where, I don’t know. If anyone does please email me or leave a  comment so I can credit it. Meanwhile – think, reflect, enjoy….

International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day.

International Women’s Day

It’s March 8th, International women’s day, and women of Wales have been invited to blog about those who inspire them. 

Today I am both humbled and brought to the edge of tears by a blog my friend and fellow writer, Sandra Bendelow, posted:

So in reply, who might I name?

There are so many – maybe too many to name or this becomes a self-congratulatory roll call. The presence of many of the women who inspire me to strive to be better than I am are already on this blog.

But perhaps it is important to reflect on women and their achievements in what has felt to me recently as an increasingly misogynistic world. It is a world where a fifteen year old girl can be shot in the head on a school bus for wanting to have an education; it is a world where a female medical student can be raped on a public bus and left to die at the roadside in Delhi; it is a world where a sixteen year old girl can be stabbed fatally on the Birmingham bus taking her to school, twenty four hours ago. Sexual assaults in august institutions and by ‘national treasures’ dominate the press amidst gagging orders and white-washing, whilst casual sexism creeps back into the media and stalks popular culture.

Maybe it’s my skin getting thinner as I age, but I am feeling the cold more – and the gender climate outside is feeling decidedly hostile and chilly.

So before I depress you all, let’s seize the moment to celebrate and give thanks. I salute the campaigners and the whistle blowers, the activists and the doers, ‘the  difficult women’ and ‘the ball breakers’, the scary marys and their redoubtable chums, the viragos and the slatterns, the harpies, hags, and shrews, the biddies and the xanthippes, the jezebels, medusas, gorgons and graeaes, the vixens and the fishwives, the battleaxes and witches, the crones, ogresses, and old bags… keep answering back, keep leaving your mark, never be bowed and long may you continue….