Lit Fests & Stand Up- Why YOU should

Although a few days have passed, I wanted to write a blog following on from Debbie Young’s blog in which she mentions a writer who popped over the pond from Australia to attend this year’s Hawkesbury Upon Literature Festival (like you do). If you didn’t know, Debbie is the founder and organiser of this excellent authors’ festival which is based in Gloucestershire, in the beautiful Cotswold village of Hawkesbury Upton. All the excitement came spilling out on April 21st at 10am and continued throughout the day with readings and author panels and Q&A sessions. Short stories, poetry, historical fiction, crime (a VERY popular talk!) were just some of the highlights of the day. Debbie asked me to read in the poetry session and also take part in a Writing Your Passion (in my case – why do you write creepy weird stuff?) session in the afternoon, hosted by Caroline Sanderson, who is Associate Editor of The Bookseller. You can follow Caroline on Twitter here @CaroSanderson. There were some great questions from the audience, all of which I have forgotten, but I know the answers were good! Of great interest was a book written by Peter Lay in collaboration with Chinese author Zaiming Wang, which is part English, part Chinese. More information here. Such is the diversity at Hawkesbury Upton
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The next festival is already booked – April 27th 2019, so get it in your diaries now! And look – if you’re an invited author, you get a badge as well as books sales. What’s not to like!
A few days later, further inland at Stratford upon Avon, I was privileged to organise and run the first fringe event in connection with the Stratford Literary Festival. A host of amazingly talented independently published writers and performers entertained a packed house (standing room only) at The White Swan Hotel. The Warwickshire Young Poet Laureate Annabel Peet read some of her stunning work, and writer Mark Rutterford gave the best reading I have ever heard on love – from the point of view of an alien and which was the funniest thing I’ve heard this year. We had Spanish authors, Armenian authors, English authors, American authors, all reading the most incredible and moving stuff. I didn’t get a badge on this occasion, but did go to bed chuffed, knowing that there is so much writing talent of all ages out there.

So if you’re a writer who’s stalled a little bit recently, check out any open mics or small author events near you – you will discover a bottomless well of inspiration. Go for it!

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Tonight’s The Night!

If you’re at a loose end tonight and anywhere near Stratford Upon Avon, please come along to The White Swan Hotel (it’s just the one swan actually) where you’ll find a plethora of mightily talented writers reading and performing their work FOR FREE (yes, For Free) from 7pm. We have prose and poetry, dance and plays, and it’s all part of the Stratford Literary Festival Fringe. Yeah Edinburgh – we got one too!!2a FREE EVENT SLFF copy.png 

Get Out and Network!

Work out or work shop? Depends what you intend to exercise – in the case of a recent visit to Delapre Abbey Northants, it was my brain. It all started with one of those websites I sign up to – ie all of them – this particular one being Literary Festivals UK. Well, LFUK popped into my inbox way back one snowy day in February and under the title ‘new festivals’ I found a note about a half-day spring poetry workshop being run at Delapré Abbey by author Kevan Manwaring. The session included a wander around the newly refurbished Abbey gardens where hopefully we would discover inspiration flourishing in its many forms.

And what an inspiring afternoon it turned out to be. 12 of us – including a real live poet – (he was very good) embraced the three hour session with gusto and we all, tentatively, wrote and read out some poetry. Now, I have never alluded to any ability to write a jaw-dropping poem, or even – let’s face it – A Poem – due to the poets’ part of my mind often redirecting itself to limerick-land for far longer than is healthy, but this time we were kept on track by Kevan’s light yet inspiring touch and his wonderful choice of Spring poems. If we didn’t find anything to kick-start our creative motors then we didn’t have the right to refer to ourselves as writers. 

Some of the writers at the workshop were too shy to share their work, others did but felt dissatisfied with their effort. The same could be said for a lot of people to whom writing poetry doesn’t come easily. But don’t be put off – imagine a poem as a cross between a winding stream and a work of art: unique to the artist (that’s you) but free, unhampered and creating its own path (the evolution of the work, just like a stream) and just go with it. The more you paint, the better the picture…

There once was a woman from Surrey
Who married a man up near Bury
But the cold northern weather
Couldn’t keep them together
And she moved back down south in a hurry

Pathetic.

An overweight old man from Dover
Dropped dead in a large field of clover
The farmer that found him
Had to harvest around him
Concerned about over-exposure

Think I’ll stick to short stories…

The first ever Festival of Books at Delapré Abbey will run over the second May Bank Holiday weekend. There’ll be Author talks in the Victorian library, Bookstagram talks, Book signings and meet the author, Workshops, Storytelling, Career talks, Magazine presentations and more. And most importantly, a Children’s writing competition… Here Here!!

…Lights

Frisbeegolf anyone? I didn’t get to play this as obviously everywhere was under ten foot of snow, and I never got to aFrisbeegolf.jpgsk what it actually is, so I guess I’ll never know, but Golf and Frisbee are not two sports you would naturally put together. A bit like skiing and snorkelling but hey, who am I to comment. I haven’t won too many gold medals in the sports arena although I did come first in the discus many years ago – y’know, when flexibility was still in the mainframe. We were lucky to see the Northern (or Polar) lights two nights running, but not clever enough to have taken a friend’s really posh camera so that I could capture the moment. But trust me, we did see them. Magical. All that stuff in the atmosphere wafting about – so cool.

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What I did manage to photograph though, was this-  yes yes, I know, it’s a rubbish photo, but trust me – wearing mittens the size of sleeping bags makes it hard to take a good picture. At least you get an idea of how dark it was. But not how cold. On our last night we went on a Reindeer Safari in search of the northern lights. What in essence the evening turned out to be was being towed around in a narrow sledge in an enormous field by a reindeer in the dark in minus 30 degrees. But wow! – the stars! and the lights! I don’t know why, but I was surprised when the tour finished and we clustered around a large bonfire which strangely wasn’t giving out any heat, and found we were covered in ice from top to toe. Balaclava an’ all. That would explain why the fire wasn’t that warm. The reindeer were lovely creatures – placid and calm, so it seemed incongruous to be offered a reindeer sausage to round off the evening.

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The adventure was drawing to a close. On the last evening – once thawed from our snow trek, we worked our way through the brightly coloured rainbow of alcoholic beverages in the hotel bar, a sip here, a gag there, settling eventually on the local beer – which, as it turned out, was very drinkable. Who’d have thought.

The following morning we took our Onesies back from whence they came and had a lovely long chat with the lady behind the counter. Much was made of the wonderful weather – ie the constant sunshine and lack of wind (which could have resulted in a bit of snow blindness for the unprepared). “We’ve just come out of the Dark Period,” she said, and I felt a shiver run down my spine. 
Sweden Finland.JPGAlthough Finland is said to be one of best places in the world to live, I think I might go slightly loopy if I didn’t see daylight for six months. Here is Muonio in summer – looks lush! Muonio in summer.png

So Hyvästi, Finland – until we meet again!Hometime.JPG

All details here – Harriniva

…the Northern…

So did we see them you’re thinking…Well, yes we did. In all their astronomical wonder and delight. But enough of that. Let me tell you about this beautiful sculpture.SAM_1379.JPG I don’t know who she is or what her name could possibly be – in Finnish or English – as it was carved by an unknown (to me) artist on the ceiling of an igloo. Or Ice House. Or Deep Freezer. Or whatever you would like to call it. Yes, I had the option of leaving my very warm and cosy Nordic wooden bed and spending a night on an ice bed in an ice house surrounded by ice. Wow did I jump at that chance! NO OF COURSE I DIDN’T. I am a total wimp when it comes to the cold – I even went into the sauna wearing a jumper and some thermal tights just to be on the safe side. But isn’t she beautiful?

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Each room in the ice house had some sort of art carved into the walls depicting nature and appropriately, as this ice house was on the edge of the frozen Muonio lake, Ice Bedroom.jpgfish and all things watery. Yes that is a double bed there,  all set up for a good night’s sleep.  The ice table in the reception room was also Ice Table.JPGimpressive, although I can’t imagine supper staying very warm for very long. And talking of the lake, there are other dangers than the mere cold, as this sign indicates. I’m guessing it means – apart from Danger – 
Danger!.JPGDon’t try crossing the frozen waters because there might be a bit that isn’t as thick as you need it to be. I think this is one of the best signs I’ve seen for a long time. What you can’t see is that the leg just out of shot is broken and not in the snow at all. So come the thaw I guess it’ll just fall in the river and disappear downstream. We didn’t try walking across to Sweden and neither did we try the Ice Dip, which is as chilling as it sounds. Apparently you heat up in the sauna (with or without a jumper) and then plunge yourself into the frozen lake through this little hole. An activity for some of our hardier Northern European cousins I feel. 
Ice Plunge.jpg Some German gents we got chatting to were goading – sorry, that should say Encouraging – each other to strip off and take a dip. When Klaus got out his Go-Pro and put on his sunglasses we decided to leave them to it.
At midday, it was our turn to meet these wondrous beasts.Hello Cheeky!.jpg Born to Run, these amazing creatures can pelt along at about 30 miles an hour, almost howling in delight at the moon, even during daylight. Such beautiful animals. Having been rendered useless the day before at Wild Dog Pass, being surrounded by 24 barking, shouting, howling huskies almost brought me to my knees. Our guide, however, was lovely:
“You don’t like the dogs?” he asked me gently. It was all I could to shake my head ever-so-slightly, having lost the ability to speak, move and breathe. However, I eventually managed to sit on the sledge and then that was it – we were off. There was no holding them back – all they wanted to do was run and run and run. I would have got some action shots but needed both mittened hands just to hold on. Invigorating if nothing else. Feeling too wimpy to steer the sledge (I could see the icy corners being troublesome, not least because I was aware of the second pack of huskies behind us pulling another sledge and with images of me trashing the corner and ending up face down in the snow being sniffed up the arse by a ferocious husky I opted for being passenger only) I left the ‘driving’ to my best beloved. There were a few iffy moments but I didn’t like to comment on his technique as obviously I hadn’t done it myself. On returning back to HuskBase however, it transpired his balaclava had worked its way across one half of his face leaving him with only one eye to see from, but also his sunglasses had been knocked a-skew and had steamed up, so the limited vision he did have was in fact foggy to say the least. Or blind, as he put it. It’s amazing we a) got back to base, and b) alive. But hey – look at that tongue!! (All the better to lick you with….)Husky Tongue.jpg

In the third and final part in our quest for the northern lights, we shall be going on a Reindeer Safari. In the dark. At minus 30.Resting.jpg So until then…..

In Search Of…

Minus 28 you say? Perfect day for a walk.
Minus 28.JPGAnd indeed, that is what the frost-hardy Finlanders do, so it would have been churlish not to join them. Not too long ago I took a flight from LHR to somewhere.. er.. colder.. not having seen any snow in the UK for a while.. there’s irony for you…to land in a wet and foggy Helsinki. From here we took another flight north…and then some…landing at Kittila,  http://www.kittila.fi/en/kittila-informationpage – which in case you didn’t know, is in Lapland. Yes that’s right. Having ‘enjoyed’ the visit of the beast from the east recently, as if that wasn’t enough took a flight to almost the north pole, just to get some, oh, y’know, more snow and cold like I have never experienced before. As you can see from the photo, I’m really not joking when I say -28!  That’s Muonio, Lapland for you – a place where the cold is actually jolly cold and 75% of the land is covered in pine trees. From the air the trees look like millions and millions of miniature brushes sticking out of icing sugar and as far as the eye can see. Very Gulliver’s Travels.

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As is the custom in this part of the world our hotel was floor to ceiling pine and as warm as toast. Mind you, with triple glazing that you couldn’t open unless you had a Special Key, it would be. Such is the clever Nordic design however, that these handy air vents keep the air moving. Fridge Door. Not.jpgLiterally a small door to the outside. Genius. We thought the little space would act as a brilliant fridge too until the morning when I retrieved frozen yoghurt , frozen lettuce and a slightly solid bottle of wine.  Idiot.
After breakfast, over our already multiple layers of clothes I had been saving for such an occasion, we donned our snow suits. Think Onesie made out of a50 tog quilt. Add a balaclava (to go over the one I was already wearing), pop on some snow-boots (weighing about 10 kilo each – nice lower leg work out there, making its way up to the inner-thigh region by about lunchtime)  and some mittens – no gloves allowed – mittens only as they keep your fingers warm. And no, you can’t do up a zip whilst wearing mittens. Remember that scene in the film The Day After Tomorrow when the helicopter pilot looks out of the hatch and promptly freezes to death?

Nuff said.
So, kitted up, we headed for the border. What, you say? What border? The Swedish border silly! We walked – or should I say dragged our onesied little bodies – along the 
Frozen MuonioFinland-side of the frozen Muonio river (that’s it in that photo there – not a field of snow) toward the border crossing. This was a walk we only completed once, and one way, due to the fact that as we passed by some log cabins that were hidden from view, two sabre-toothed hounds of hell came bounding through the snow to confront us, showing us their lovely collection of extremely large teeth and slightly deranged expressions. I could see where the legend of Little Red Riding Hood and her mate Wolfie had come from straight away. Weimmediately named this particular route Wild Dog Pass, or as I referred to it in my head Jesus Get Me Out Of Here I’m Going To Die Pass. You cannot, no matter how hard
Wild Dog Pass.jpgyou try, run through three metres of snow wearing a 50 tog quilt Onesie and snow boots. Really, you cannot. So taking deep breaths, with arms folded across our chests and staring forward only, we continued on our way ignoring the salivating hounds FinlandSweden.JPGat our heels and headed, literally, for the border.  Ten heart-stopping minutes later we did eventually arrive safely at the border of Finland and Sweden, hot, sweaty and slightly terrified. A swim seemed out of the question – for more than one reason – so we headed instead to the nearest village to meet the locals, appreciate the gorgeous Finland environment, and just immerse ourselves in the wonderful, wonderful culture. Oh yes, and find a beer.
Next time on How Not To Freeze To Death At Almost The North Pole:Ice Plunge.jpg

Fancy a dip? 
No, me neither.