I am returned from a whole load of readings and hotel rooms. I started off in Manchester library…arriving late and bursting into the wrong room and announcing ‘I’m HERE!” It was an adult ed course. When I finally found the right room I had a wonderful audience of smiling people. I really enjoy reading poems and talking about using poetry as part of a recovery process. Reading from the novel is much harder, as it’s not really me who is speaking, whereas the poems are all about my experience. In Ilkley I read with Gordon Burn, stupidly trying to read a chapter that was full of dialogue. I read really badly, although I enjoyed the discussion. I am asked to speak about the novel and the North quite frequently. Gordon’s book is also set in Newcastle,(The North of England Home Service) although he doesn’t mention the place. I wonder what I would write if I lived in London? I do find the Northern landscape inspiring, and the rhythms of speech are completely familiar to me. However, I don’t feel part of a school of Northern writers, even though I am a great fan of other writers up here, such as David Almond, Sean O’Brien, Andrea Badenoch, Gillian Allnut, Linda France, Debbie Taylor. I like living here, that’s for sure. Anyway, that’s what we talked about at Ilkley. Then I went to Cheltenham, and met my mum who came to stay with me in the delicious Kandinsky Hotel, where we ordered sticky toffee pudding and fruit salad late at night and happily watched tv from our huge luxury bed. It makes so much difference when you stay somewhere lovely when you go to do readings, and also having someone you love with you. The Kandinsky was very characterful and comfortable. The festival was good too…we went to see Don Patterson and Lavinia Greenlaw, and Blake Morrison. We hung out in the writers room, eating egg sandwiches and chocolate cake, and bought lots of books. We saw John Agard, Roger McGough, James Berry and Grace Nichols read in a theatre packed with children, and were a well behaved participating audience. Fred D’Aguiar was a guest director at the festival, and it was great to meet him with all his family. It was not like work at all. I did a discussion with Abdulrasak Gurnah and Tim Pears, in which we talked about writing and novels. Although I get nervous about these things I enjoyed this event, which was well hosted by Marcus Moore. After Cheltenham I flew to Belfast for 99p and joined a wild party of women celebrating my partners fortieth birthday. I loved the botanical gardens there, and we even went on a minibus trip to the giant’s causeway, like a proper excursion. I spent rather alot of time in the jacussi and steam room. I am turning into a fish…I love all that stuff. Then after a day back home I got on another train and joined the novelists John Murray and Peter Plate at a writer’s course at Arvon in Yorkshire, where I was guest reader. It was a very grown up, hard working course, and it was lovely to be there again, by the crackling fire reading in my socks from an armchair. I wish they would get a heater in the bedroom though! Then I was off again to Cockermouth , to read with the poet Henry Shukman. I am a fan of Henry’s. I think his work is fantastic and authentic. We had a good crowd, and the next day I ran a workshop on ‘Sympathy and Empathy’ when creating fictional characters, which is much more complex than you would imagine.
Now I am home, and so pleased with myself for managing all these events without suddenly collapsing in a public place. I am writing a story for the Big Issue now, and next week I am going away to work on the novel. I have a new sofa in my writing room. Life is marvelous.