People often show me some writing and then ask how they can get published. I stifle a sigh, and then try to tell them, as kindly as possible, that there is no hope of getting their work published, and they should write just for the fun of it. It’s a shame, but it’s the truth, and they are much better writing just for their own pleasure, and perhaps that of their families and friends, than with any hope of being published.
Anyway. On Monday, I had a panic, thinking I had lost my credit card. I phoned the shop where I had last used it, but it wasn’t there, and I phoned the credit card company to cancel it. This was all handled professionally and swiftly – and as I put the phone down I remembered where the card was. I practised for the slam I was in in the evening, spread some more gravel on my drive, made some phone calls and answered loads of emails. Not a great deal of fun in all that, really; and I set off for the slam in Wantage, which is quite a long way for me. Very soon after I arrived, the excellent slam poet Mark Niel walked in, and I said to another poet that with Mark in the slam, there was little point in the rest of us being there, except to make it an evening’s entertainment for the audience. “I’ll never win a slam that Mark’s in,” was my actual comment. Ok, then – this evening I was doing it just for the fun of it, with no hope of winning.
In the first round I was in a different heat from Mark, fortunately; I tried my new poem, Nuts, and got through to the semi-final. I came second in the semi, but only through a tie-break; I beat Mark by 1 point. I’m not sure what the tie-break was, but perhaps it’s the same as the one I use – if there’s a tie, then the winner is the one with the highest score for quality of writing – but that’s only a guess. I was in the final. Alison Brumfitt went first, with a very funny poem. I knew I couldn’t beat her on laughs, so I did a serious one; I like doing the occasional serious poem in slams anyway, just to show that it’s not all about comedy. And I won. Wow! Was I pleased! What’s more, there was a quiz as well that evening, and Fergus (another good poet, and a lovely bloke) and I won that too, so a good evening all round. Perhaps doing things just for fun means that I’m more relaxed and perform better; I don’t know.
Tuesday was a prep day – prison; my doctors’ surgery group; my young people’s writing groups. In the evening The Bloke and I went to see Trollhunter, a rather odd Norwegian film – daft, but again, good fun; it had a kind of amateurish charm.
Wednesday was more prep, and two sessions at the hospital. You really do meet all sorts there. I worked with an astrologer, who told me that next year big things will happen; there will be a major shift in human consciousness. You read it first here. I try to keep my opinions to myself when I work with people, and I think I did with him. More gravel spreading. I quite enjoy doing this – the results are immediately visible and gratifying, and there’s a meditative quality to the actions needed. But I do seem to have been doing it for ever, and I still need more gravel.
On Thursday I was in the prison, with my great group who had all written excellent homework pieces. I had a bet with the other prison writers – they said that they wouldn’t be able to get their guys to write as if they were prison officers, but I said I was sure that mine would – and they did: every one of them wrote a little piece about a prison officer getting home at the end of a day at work. If you don’t have empathy, if you can’t put yourself in someone else’s shoes, then you can’t call yourself a writer, and all my lot want to be good writers. Or perhaps it’s just that in my prison there are generally very good relations between prisoners and officers. Anyway, I was proud of them, as always. The afternoon was frustrating, though – I needed to see five people, and none of them was in – even the one who is a prisoner was in hospital.
On Friday I worked on the latest book of pieces from the prison – it’s very nearly finished, but I ran out of time, and had to leave it, because I was off with The Bloke for the weekend, to take my mum for a weekend away. We stayed in a strange hotel. It’s adults only, which doesn’t mean any indulgence in naughtiness; it just means that they are nearly all old. It was ok. We had a go at archery, and went for a mooch round a nearby town, and watched an Elvis impersonator in the evening. On Sunday we took my mum home, picked lots of apples from her tree, and then came home ourselves. My mum enjoyed it and liked her birthday presents, so – much fun all round, especially as The Bloke was dragged up onto the stage by the Elvis guy and acquitted himself well.
So, there’s been work this week, but a lot of it has been fun. Tonight I’m going to see a good friend of mine, Jonathan Davidson, reading bits of his newly-published poetry book as part of the Bristol Festival. I don’t usually mention things I haven’t done yet, but if anyone is near Bristol, I would encourage you all to go and see this event. Jonathan is a wonderful supporter of literature and poetry, and has helped me a lot – and the fact that he has had a book of poetry published just proves me wrong, I guess. Do it for fun and you might still get what you want.