This is a beautifully written book that vividly imagines the extraordinary life of a remarkable man.
Owen Sheers finds a book in his father’s study which puts him on the trail of one of his distant relations, Arthur Shearly Cripps, also a poet. The journey takes him from the Rhodes Library in Oxford to modern-day Zimbabwe to London as he traces the life of his missionary ancestor, who left England at the turn of the twentieth century for what was then Southern Rhodesia.
In July 2008, on the way back from Italy, I visited the Becourt Military Cemetery, Becordel-Becourt, near Albert in northern France. Years earlier, my mother had made a promise to her own mother that she would make the trip and find the grave of one of my cousins, Private W S MacKay of the Seaforth Highlanders, who died there on 14th September 1915 aged 19.
One of the reasons I like listening to writers read their work is so that afterwards, when I’m reading it myself, I can hear their voice in my head. (It keeps the others company. – just kidding!) What it does is help give me a feel for the rhythm of their writing, which, in turn, enhances my own reading of their work. Assuming, of course, that they read well. It doesn’t always enhance my enjoyment and understanding of their work.
No such concerns over having Don Paterson read his poetry to me. Driving through heavy rain for over an hour to get to the Drill Hall in Chepstow seemed like such a small effort to make in order to listen to him introduce and read a selection of his poems. He is quite brilliant. I do have a soft spot for his wonderful accent but it’s not that alone which makes him such an excellent reader. You truly get the impression when he’s reading his work that he lives and breathes it and understands it inside and out, backwards, forwards and every which way. He is, also, very entertaining in the links between each poem with what could be throwaway remarks and anecdotes but are, in fact, intelligent and witty insights into the inspiration behind his work and what they mean to him, the poet. I would drive a lot longer than an hour if I had the opportunity to listen to him read again. If you get the chance, seize it.
I went to a Creative Writing Workshop at Garth Olwg Lifelong Learning Centre in Church Village today and, shortly after sitting down in the classroom, I almost bolted out of there and ran home. What was it that caused me to do this? Those fateful words of the tutor’s: “Today, we’re going to be working on some poetry.” Poetry. The one word guaranteed to strike fear into my heart and make me break out into a cold sweat.
Apparently, November is National Novel Writing Month, which doesn’t just mean that we should be celebrating that fact that novels get written. No, it means that some crazy brave souls out there attempt to write an entire novel in one month flat.
Initially, this proposition filled me with wonder and awe, especially when I look back on how long it’s taken me to write my own novel thus far. Then this mad thought crept into my head: given that it’s still only the 4th November, maybe I should sign up and give this a shot and see if I can write a complete novel in one calendar month? I can’t quite decide whether to go and lie down in a darkened room until this feeling passes or to just sign up and be done with it. Will keep you posted on what I decide.