Julia’s Diary

Friday 7th March

—07/03/2003

I’m back from an epic holiday on the Cape peninsular in South Africa. It was like being in a wonderful rock garden, with icy blue seas and rolling waves, and an abundance of everything…like fresh fish and mangoes. We visited Robben island where a former political prisoner showed us round Mandela’s cell. the prison is more or less as it was, a harsh, uninviting place with a cruel history. We heard about how Mandela and others were treated and how they managed to get through the years. We visited a township too and were shown lots of projects that were helping people deal with AIDS and such. It was really inspiring how positive people were, but also shocking to see a country with such riches and so much poverty. From the top of Table Mountain the landscape is like a John Martin painting..you can see for miles in every direction….all blue and rocky and misty. It was an incredible holiday. I read about snakes and went to a snake farm. Also read The Horned Man by James Lasden…a wonderful and gripping novel which is full of delightful ideas, and Daughters of Jerusalem by Charlotte Mendleson…enjoyed that loads too…and Fortunes Rocks by Anita Shreve which was romantically gripping in a way that I might not have stayed with had I not been on holiday. Now I’m reading Mandela’s autobiography.

Back at work again in my room…it’s kind of nice to be back in cool England. My eyes ached with that bright South African light. I got my first migraine! Amazingly my body is doing very well though, and hasn’t made much fuss at all about having to travel thousands of miles.

Saturday 22nd Feb 2003

—22/02/2003

I’m about to go on holiday to South Africa! Yippee. It will be really hot. We’re staying in a place outside Capetown by the sea. There are baboons and surfers. Hard to imagine when you’re in Newcastle in February. I shall return as a bronzed babe with sand between my toes.

This week I’ve has a rather busy social life. Wednesday was the PROUD WORDS AGM. THis is a year long festival of creative writing for lesbians, gays and bisexuals and friendly people. There are workshops and readings and other things. I was around when it began about four years ago. Now it’s got accounts and a constitution and all sorts. I went down to do a poetry reading after AOB. I got given a beautiful glass bowl made by my friend Cate Watkinson as an award for services. It was unexpected and really lovely. Now I don’t know where to put this wonderful objet d’art. I move it all around the house.

Rosie Lugosi, the vampire lesbian did a set of songs and poems on the same night. Although I’m a cocoa and pyjamas girl myself, she was very entertaining with her whip and wig (sounds like a pub).

On Thurdsay there was an art opening of paintings by Emma Holliday. Emma paints familiar places from around the area, like the Baltic, the river, buildings etc, and is a wonderful colourist. She is really producing some fantastic work at the moment. I met Clare and Shirley, who I said I would mention in my weblog…they were looking very well, I thought. I was glad to see that Emma had cheese and pineapple on sticks, as lately you seem to get nothing but crisps at such dos!

Now I must pack my flip flops and beach towels. Wish me luck!

Thursday 13th Feb 2003

—13/02/2003

I went to see my dentist yesterday who is also a guitarist. I was thinking about how nice it is as one gets older finding the right people to do things to you. I like my hairdresser too, and my acupuncturist. I suppose we all gather a little troupe of people who ‘see to us.’ My dentist came to the ‘Valentines Poetry Reading’ that I was involved in last night. There were six poets and two musicians all reading and singing about love in its widest sense. the reading had been directed by the dramaturg Duska Heaney, and we’d done lots of work reading the poems in different ways, like they were shopping lists, or directions to somewhere. She put us all on luxurious looking sofas, and we didn’t speak between poems, so there was no rustling of papers, or talking about why we wrote the poems. This helped to make the reading wonderfully short. Poetry readings are very odd affairs…often you haven’t the faintest idea what the poet is on about. Still, this one was very successful and we got a good audience. Actually, I think poetry audiences are on the increase. Perhaps it’s because everyone feels a bit distressed at the moment and poetry is good medicine for complicated feelings. On Sunday Sean O Brien and Kathleen Jamie read at Live Theatre. It was a fantastic reading. Kathleen read poems about dolphins and whales, and Sean’s work was as inventive and brilliant as ever. Poets have so many good ideas, all packed into tiny poems. When I’m writing fiction I think reading poetry is very inspiring. It is where all the best images and ideas come from…where language is being made.

Now I must get on with my radio stories. I keep thinking about the women’s hour listeners. Once I went to hear Jenni Murray read at Hay on Wye from her book about the menopause. It was a hot day and the marquee was full of intelligent, grey haired,no-nonsense menopausal women who were all sweating and fluttering fans. Terrifying!

Friday 7th February 2003

—07/02/2003

I am hurtling from event to event at the moment. Last Sunday we had an evening at Live Theatre when writers read from their work about the North, and picked extracts that explored ‘Northern-ness.’ It was a really interesting evening, with David Almond, Andrea Badenoch, Margaret Wilkinson and Sean O’Brien. Much of the work looked at our heritage of coal mining and industry, and hardly anyone talked about more recent changes in the Northern landscape. The question which was raised, but not answered, was what it meant to be a ‘Northern writer.’ All of us were very influenced by the landscape, even if we weren’t native to the North East. I have been living here for years, and just about everything I write is based in Newcastle. The Taxi Driver’s Daughter is set right in the city, naming particular streets and areas. I have never found that being specific about where something is based stops it becoming relevant to readers who live elsewhere. Andrea Badenoch said an intersting thing; that when you come from a place it is always much more complicated to describe than if you talk about somewhere as an outsider. I often think that my relationship to this city is a very emotional one, like a relationship with a person. Anyway, when we got to the discussion part of the evening the audience were unusually quiet. I wonder what they went away with?

There’s been other events too…a reading of the poetry MA students from the university at the Literary and Philosophical Society. It was packed with people. It seems to me that poetry audiences are getting bigger at last. Next week the writers from the university are reading together at the Gulbenkian studio for Valentine’s night. This event has involved much talking and rehearsing. We are trying to present poetry in a more inventive way than the usual lectern and shuffling papers method. I think it will be a really good night, with the poems creating a dialogue between writers, all on the wide subject of ‘love.’ I am going to lie on a sofa!

This Sunday Kathleen Jamie is reading at Live Theatre with Sean O Brien….Jamie is really one of my heroines as a poet. Her work is rich and direct and fiery and full of fearsome women. These events at Live Theatre are Free…what a gift!

I have finished reading ‘Cold Mountain.’ I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s a book that is full of hunger and food, and everytime I open a can of something I think about Inman eating a bear over a fire, or nibbling walnuts to stop himself from starving.Now I’m reading Michael Faber’s latest book…a great heavy Victorian epic that is impossible to read in the bath as it’s so heavy. The title has the words Crimson and White in, but I can’t think of the order they go in.

I feel very lucky sometimes, to be able to live in this nest of words, and not have to do a boring job that I would like to leave but can’t.

Thursday 30th Jan 2003

—30/01/2003

So I went to London, and sat watching About Schmidt in Covent Garden in the afternoon. In my quest for relaxation it seems that sitting in cinemas is a good wheeze, especially if one is being paid for it. The film was fantastic. I never really liked Jack Nicholson that much, but he’s really good in this film. It’s so well written. Then I went to Broadcasting House and was quickly ushered into a recording studio, where I did my best to have opinions. It’s very hard to converse in those situations. The other participants made statements that sounded very well thought out. I seemed to dart into the discussion with quick quips. Still it was good to have all these things to think about in January, and it was all over quite quickly.

I met my agent and realised that the new novel comes out in June! Usually books take years to reach the shelves, so that you’ve just about forgotten them by the time everyone wants to ask you questions. June will be a lovely time for a book to blossom.

Now I’m immersed in short plays/stories for Woman’s Hour. There’s always a deadline on the horizon.

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