Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Me and My Avatar in Poetry News

I've been in the Poetry Society since I was a young teenager and the quarterly issue of Poetry Review through the post has had many emotional impacts. It has never made me laugh as much as it did today though. There was a face I recognised on the front page of Poetry News, the newspaper-style publication that accompanies Poetry Review these days. It was the face of my alter ego on the virtual world of Second Life - that tireless champion of poetry and writing in the 3D world, Ms Jilly Kidd. And boy does she look earnest.

I'm tempted to sing 'Me and my Avatar' to the tune of 'Me and My Shadow' as I talk about Jilly. She has accompanied me through the 3D world doing all sorts of things I'd love to be doing in the real world, and while others use Second Life to live out their various fantasies (which I'll leave you to imagine), ours seem to have centred very single-mindedly around writing and writers. I've brought my two sons up on my own since my husband left 8 years ago, so doing all this around London would be tricky as they need me at home, and poets are generally broke so childcare isn't always an option.

For years I've thought how lovely it would be to be in a Poetry Society publication, and I've admired the poets whose work I've seen in there. More and more I'm seeing names of people I know personally, which feels very special. The last thing I thought would be that I'd see myself there, with my better half Jilly talking about the virtual Stanza we run for the Poetry Society. These Stanzas are usually run by members in real towns all over the UK and abroad so that local poets can get together and encourage and support each other. I found it hard to get out to them myself but really wanted to take part and the Second Life Stanza has let me do that. I hope it also helps others who can't get out of the house easily for various reasons, and the added bonus is that it lets poets from all over the world get together.

I think I shall just go and share this moment of enjoyment with Jilly, and if you're a poet or writer maybe you'll join us on Second Life. It was fun to see how they overlapped photos of me and Jilly on the inside back page where the Stanza Profile articles appear, and how Jilly's photo made it to the top of the front page without me of course! There's no stopping that girl.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

The Day My Book Arrived

There was a knock on the door and I could see through the glass that it was the package I'd been waiting for. I could have kissed the Rastafarian postman carrying it, who was needlessy afraid of my chihuahua Max (he really should have his photo on here). Max was in my arms and very cool and relaxed as chihuahuas go. It's true what they say about dogs imitating their owners or vice versa.

The postman was carrying something very different: a brown package containing the author's copies of my poetry collection Never-Never Land. Let me just say here that I will Never Never give a book such an ominous title again. Delays beyond anyone's control have kept me waiting two years to hold this book in my hands, so just in case titles can have this effect I'll call the next one Hot Off the Press.

After such a long delay, punctuated by regular intimations that the book launch was imminent, I'd started getting excited so often that this time I expected to feel nothing. I thought I was numbed to that thrill of seeing and touching the actual printed item. I've been a writer most of my working life, mainly in journalism, so having my writing published is a familiar feeling. My first job as a journalist was when I temporarily left school at 16 wanting to go away and become an author, and a very brave editor of the Kentish Gazette in Canterbury let me join as a junior reporter.

For a year it was my job not only to write but also to get the cheese rolls from the pub downstairs for everyone at 11am, and also to go to the basement print works and gather a pile of newspapers as they did quite literally come hot off the press and into my arms. Upstairs the reporters waited hungrily to flick through the pages to see which of their articles had got pride of place and which had been considered good enough to earn them a byline.

Since then I've had many articles published and also a book of non fiction, plus 14 poems in an anthology by John Murray. But this is my first full collection and poetry is such a great love of mine. The feeling when I opened that parcel and lifted out a book, stroked its cover and looked through the pages, is almost indescribable and something I could never have imagined. I can only compare it to that feeling I had as a child at Christmas, the excitement that's so physical it stays as a thrill in the stomach and radiates through the whole body. It's a feeling you think you will never have as an adult, but there it was again. Bluechrome lets authors have a lot of say in the choice of cover and how they want their book to be in all sorts of ways. To have imagined a book, from its writing to its physical appearance, makes it a wonderful moment when you actually hold the finished article. I shall now go and see how it smells!

There are a limited number of signed copies available from Amazon reseller Muse Harbour Books.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Selling My Library

It may sound like selling the family silver and it feels like it too. I'm selling off my lovingly chosen and read books - needs must. For the poet at the bus stop life is always lived very close to the breadline, and what with the credit crunch income and expenditure no longer add up. This writing habit is a hard one to finance.

'What?' I hear you mutter at your computer. 'But surely there's no money to be made from secondhand books.' Well, I've always wanted a secondhand bookshop, and apparently secondhand books are one business that's thriving during the recession. People might not usually skimp and save on the cost of a book, but suddenly they are. So I have to admit there's a certain pleasure when I receive an order from somebody wanting the very books I wanted to buy so much once upon a time. A pleasure that continues as I wrap and send them off and imagine that person watching for the post in anticipation of a good read.

One day I might leave London (hard to imagine in many ways) and one thing that would tempt me would be the possibility of getting a house and a little shop somewhere, by the sea probably as I only seem to love the city or the sea. Until then it's easy and free to do it all by mail order, offering all my beloved books bit by bit on Amazon. Off go my Carol Ann Duffys, my Paul Muldoon and even the long Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo that I lived with so happily for months. I'm an editor as well as a writer so I read almost as slowly as the authors write some of these books.

I had set up as an Amazon reseller before but didn't have much luck. This time it's definitely different, so perhaps people are realising secondhand books are a helpful saving. Hardback poetry books and sought after novels for as little as 1p each - the resellers can manage because Amazon charges so much for postage so that alone is enough. There are some books I just couldn't part with because I turn to them so often - all my Pascale Petit collections and the anthologies by Sylvia Plath and Hilda Doolittle. Apart from those I think I can part with them and find them at times I'm looking for a particular poem, and the flat is definitely starting to look less cluttered.

The emails are coming every day as the books are ordered. Is it the credit crunch, the desirability of my much loved books, or the name I chose for my virtual secondhand shop - Muse Harbour Books? Whatever it is it feels nice to know somebody else will enjoy them and as finances improve I may well buy some hardbacks for 1p each myself.

'How can you make any money on 1p sales?' I hear you ask. The postage from Amazon means you make at least 60p from each book and that's dinner for me. 'What??' I hear you cry. 'But Jamie Oliver rants on about dinner for under a fiver at Sainsbury's.' Well, I have some recipe and shopping tips to help you all through the recession and will share them in future posts. We won't starve in our garrets or ground floor flats, and whatever the recession brings the poet at the bus stop will be smiling and still writing.
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