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Leaving Cleopatra

Cleopatra is insisting that I stay. She tells me that no one has ever left her before. Apparently, it’s just not done.

I was hoping that she’d understand but when I told her she almost choked on the grape she was eating. We were having dinner at Caesar’s and it caused quite a scene. Men rushed over to her and she positively lapped up all the attention. She went a little too far, if you ask me, and milked it.
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Cardiff Bay Lunch by Simone Mansell Broome

Simone reading at the Cardiff Bay launch for Cardiff Bay Lunch on 21 October 2010
Simone reading at the Cardiff Bay launch for Cardiff Bay Lunch on 21 October 2010

I first heard Simone Mansell Broome read her poems at a poetry magazine launch in 2009. Hers were the poems that stood out for me that night because they spoke of real life events that I could identify with but they were also delivered with a healthy dose of humour, real warmth, empathy and a highly-perceptive understanding of human nature and all its foibles.

Simone’s first full-length poetry collection, Cardiff Bay Lunch, is no light and insubstantial buffet but a satisfying spread to feast upon and I guarantee there will be something from the extensive menu to suit everyone’s taste. It is an eclectic mix of poems covering subjects ranging from childhood illness to the death of a parent; compassion fatigue from constant demands for donations to offering temporary housing to a relative in need and family members returning home; everyday work and life in rural west Wales to holidays abroad; the joy of living with cats to how dementia sees tigers instead; the visit of a troublesome distant cousin to that of the Pope; an exuberant Hen Party weekend to a more sobering look at the dismal wedding breakfast of the title poem. They cover universal themes of love, loss, dejection, rejection, hope, doubt, guilt and joy in the context of relationships, home, family, community, Wales and the wider World.

Simone’s poetry is both immediate and accessible: almost deceptively simple at first sight, peel away the layers and it has real depth; it is observant and insightful, sometimes cuttingly so; it is often funny but with serious undercurrents and concerns; it looks at small events in everyday life yet manages to find the beauty or poetry in those moments, often at times when most of us would struggle to find anything remotely poetic. In doing so, Simone helps you see their importance: that ultimately everyone’s life is comprised of a series of small moments, some seemingly inconsequential, and larger events, such as illness or death, which all combine to make us the person we are and create the world we inhabit. Her poetry is often about the moments we overlook or dismiss or rush past but she clearly shows how it is those that often say more about us and our lives than we can imagine or give them credit for.

Some of the highlights of the collection for me were as follows: Simone traces her daughter’s days off school through the years in Under the Quilt with Rocky, mapping various stages of her daughter growing up through her changing taste in films. The poem ends on a wistful note when she realises that her daughter’s childhood is over; In For a Dead Princess Simone looks back at the dignified funeral arrangements she wanted to make for her mother, compared to how the funeral service itself played out with a wry look at how her best-laid plans were thwarted by the church organist. Despite this, she touchingly reveals how the music chosen, so butchered on the day, still brings tears to her eyes. The wedding breakfast in the title poem Cardiff Bay Lunch is heartbreaking in its bleakness and you fear for the bride’s prospects of future happiness surrounded by the ominous “sulk of black clad staff” and “a flushed pink-shirted groom telling a guest, / male, conspiratorial, how he had / your sister first.” Gorge Walk is a terrific example of a poem that shows how a walk in a gorge in Greece brings on not only the normal fear of falling and heights associated with the terrain but also more deep-rooted self-doubt and fears. Afterwards, as most of us do, this is forgotten or swept aside so that we can offer up the sanitised account of our day – “Oh yes, a good day… challenging: / you plan the postcard, draft the script – / all-in-all, good.” It offers up such a telling contrast between the workings of our inner minds and how we present ourselves to the rest of the world.

The descriptions and imagery in Simone’s poetry are vivid and immediate. In Against the Grain a lazy dog “drops his boredom like a spent match”; a woman’s fate, bartered over a market table in marriage, is likened to “spilt salt” in Last Chance in Narberth; in On Meeting My Cousin Simone remembers his “bright / button eyes, travelling light, / trailing the unexpected” of an antipodean cousin who brought a whole lot more baggage with him than first appeared; and in Notes from a Carmarthenshire Landlady, Simone recounts playing hostess to a hen party for the weekend “hens – some happy, some weepy / all well watered, are decanted into / your coop.”

Cardiff Bay Lunch is a wonderful, vibrant collection of range and insight from a gifted and talented poet. It is full of life and everything associated with it. Together with the energy, humour and vibrancy, you’ll also find those darker elements of death, disappointment, sadness and illness that cast their shadows over it. Because, after all, that’s what life itself is all about. I cannot recommend this collection highly enough. It’s one that I will keep going back to and re-reading.

Simone has very generously donated a signed copy of her collection, Cardiff Bay Lunch. Just leave a Pick Me comment below by midnight GMT on Sunday 14th November.

Cardiff Bay Lunch is published by

) and amazon.com.

Simone Mansell Broome was born in West Wales. She now lives on a Carmarthenshire farm, co-running a small centre for groups, workshops and courses – Ceridwen. Since 2006, Simone has been successful in written and spoken poetry competitions. She has been published in anthologies, magazines and represented Wales in BBC Radio 4’s poetry slam. Not exactly getting anywhere but… a pamphlet of her poetry was published in 2008 and was followed by a slim volume, Juice of the Lemon, in 2009. She’s a fervent believer in both page and stage and finds humour in the darkest moments. Cardiff Bay Lunch is her first full-length collection.

Skiouro and the Meltemi

Every time the wind changes, which is often here, Niko watches me from his spot on the rooftop wall. He lies there like a cat, flexing his feet and letting the sun warm his stomach, a cigarette resting between the index and middle fingers of his right hand. He watches me, waiting to see if, this time, the meltemi will pull me down to the harbour and out to sea again.

Happy Hallowe’en!

In honour of it being Hallowe’en, I’m posting a poem. However, it’s not one I wrote this year, last year or even remotely recently.

This is a poem written by my eleven-year-old self, so please bear that in mind when reading it!

There are a couple of things I’d like to go back and ask her, if I could, like what I meant by the diamond in line 3? But I like the sound of that sentence so perhaps that’s why I used it, and I like the description of clouds in the last verse.

Anyway, here it is, you can decide for yourself whether it’s a Trick or a Treat. HAPPY HALLOWE’EN!

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

The witch who flies on broomstick
Flies to wake the dead
The diamond turns the dead awake
To steal the night away, away
They groan and grumble
Clink, and clank a scream
Death awakes, the scream again I hear
And in the distance hoots an owl.

The leaves crunch as foxes prowl,
Bubble, bubble the cauldron boils
The witch flies back to her haunt
To stir and stir, then away to soar,
The children who are not asleep
Waiting, waiting for the noises,
Bumps and bangs in the night,
The vampire bat flies out to hunt.

A storm blows up in the night
With clouds so grey they frown
And burst out crying with a wail
The toad jumps into shelter
As the troopers go past
A queer voice groans and the clock strikes
The first hour of the morning, they die
To their graves they flee.

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Waiting for Don Juan

Il signóre Maglian was in the harbourside cafe drinking his espresso, waiting for his friends to return. The harbourmaster sat facing the sea. He could smell a storm coming in: the breeze was picking up; trees on the seafront were whispering it would be a bad summer squall; and fishing nets on the quayside were shifting slightly, nodding in agreement. Allóra. He would not see his English friends today, after all.

He rolled a cigarette, tapped it on the back of his hand, before striking a match and lighting up. I signori would be sure to stay on with their friend and wait for the storm to pass. It was a shame. He had wanted to see the Don Juan round the headland in full sail. She had left Lerici on the first of the month and it had been perfect sailing weather. La bella barca had flown, once she’d cleared the harbour. Maglian had watched her leave, remembering the trips he had taken in her as far as Massa, often in rough seas. I signori had laughed at Maglian’s nerves, and scoffed at him saying they would not be able to swim to shore in such weather. Precisely why he had not bothered to learn to swim, il signóre had said, there was no point when it was you against the might of the sea.

The Don Juan was an unorthodox craft. Il signóre had called her “a perfect plaything for the summer.” And she was certainly that. Maglian stood up and walked along the quay, drawing on his cigarette. Captain Roberts had designed her, she was supposed to be a down-sized American schooner, and then together with il signóre Williams, he had improved her again. Much more sail, a false stern, an extended bowsprit and prow, and more pig iron ballast. Hardly any deck on her at all. Some of the fishermen thought she was “crank” but a beauty nonetheless. Maglian simply remembered thinking at the time that there was more canvas on her than he’d seen hanging from the line on wash-day in Lerici. And the boat was fast. She beat the felluccas as if they were at anchor. Il signóre said she passed them “as a comet might pass the dullest planets of the heavens.”

Maglian walked the rocks in the harbour, still half-hoping to see the sails of the Don Juan. The fishing boats were coming back in, only a few of the ones who went further afield were still out there now. He prayed they would make it home before the storm was full-blown. Even here in the harbour, the boats were rocking as the sea began to boil up outside the bay. The men were securing them as best they could, fastening them down for the squalls to come. One more cigarette, Maglian thought, and I will head home. There is nothing more for me to do here. They will not come home today.

They found the bodies washed up on the shore near Spezia ten days later, Maglian tells the fishermen in the cafe. Someone on the shore thought he saw the Don Juan hurtling home at full-sail, when the storm crossed the bay near Spezia. They should have cut the top-sails but they were trying to beat it home. A violent squall whipped up from the west and they couldn’t outrun it. The wind buffeted the eye-witness on the cliffs and he had to shield his eyes from its force. When he looked back, he could no longer see the Don Juan.

One of the fishermen asks if it was definitely them, if there was any sign of la bella barca. Maglian shakes his head, no, no boat, but it was them. They were identified from the clothes they were wearing and the authorities knew it was il signóre Shelley from the book of poetry in his pocket, a book of his friend’s poetry, il signóre Keats, who died last year in Roma.

The bodies were buried in the sand to comply with quarantine laws, and now il signóre Shelley is to be burned on the beach. Il signóre Trelawney is making up an iron casket for the body, and the locals are helping build a funeral pyre. It will be on the fifteenth, I think, says Maglian, and I will go to say goodbye to my friend.

Was it really the storm that killed them? one of the men, sitting in a corner of the cafe, asks. He has heard, as have the others, the rumours about dark, suicidal thoughts that swirled around inside il signóre Shelley’s head.

Maybe the Don Juan can tell us that, when she is found. If the sea will give her up.

Limbering up for NaNoWriMo

Last November I toyed with the idea of doing NaNoWriMo – the National Novel Writing Month during which you write 50,000 words. However, I chickened wimped decided against it because it was already a few days into November and I’d done no planning or preparation whatsoever. I was also worried about the prospect of having to get the word count done, without there being any scope for my much-needed “ponder time”. (This veers wildly from brainstorming ideas in a notebook to hot writing to creating family trees and devising flow-charts to watching the squirrels in the trees out back while eating chocolate and drinking tea and a lot of other things in between.)

This year, however, is different.

This year, other writers who’ve taken part in previous years, 2009 included, have positively encouraged me to give it a go. I’ve talked to published writers like Miranda Dickinson and Keris Stainton, who have successfully used the month to get a jump on a novel by writing 50,000 words of a “dirty” draft. (This is also known as a First Draft but a “dirty” one just sounds like it’s more fun to write, doesn’t it?) Both Miranda and Keris have subsequently gone on to write the remaining word count (50,000 words is not enough for a complete novel, despite the name of the month), finish, edit and polish it. You can read what Keris says about NaNo here.

Roz Morris has some great advice from some of her NaNoWriMo winner friends on her blog Nail Your Novel. (If you’re a writer, I really recommend you following Roz both on Twitter where she tweets as @dirtywhitecandy and on her blog, Nail Your Novel. She also has a book out under the same title and I’m finding it invaluable, as it’s packed full of practical tips, hints and checklists. Check it out here: Nail Your Novel. (I’ll be posting a full review shortly.)

This year, I am being more organised about the whole thing in order to give myself the best chance I can for success. I’ve already signed up and made the commitment to take part, for starters, and I’m currently working out which of my ideas I’m going to submit to the NaNo treatment. I’m going to spend this month prepping it, factoring in some “ponder time” and putting down some ideas. I am also going to be doing mini-NaNo’s to get myself into the habit of writing at least 1,667 words a day. (If you’re doing NaNo, feel free to buddy up with me. I’ve signed up as “katheastman”. Highly original, I know!)

This year, I’m doing my research with some recommended reading, such as Chris Baty’s

This year, I have my buddies doing it with me. Thanks to social networking – take a bow Twitter and Facebook – I now have a support group of other writers, most of whom have taken part in NaNo before. We’re going to be cheering each other on and helping each other get past that finish line on 30th November with 50,000 words a-piece. I feel more confident about taking part this year because I know I won’t be going it alone. And, out of everything I’m doing this year, this is what’s encouraging me the most. I believe I can be a NaNoWriMo winner.

Have you taken part in NaNo before? Did you manage to cross the finish line with 50,000 words? Have you worked on what you wrote that November and finished a novel? Do you have any tips or hints for things I should be doing this month to get ready or for November itself?

Elephants and Pink Flamingoes

If the title of this post seems a bit strange to you, I think it perfectly encapsulates the type of weekend I’ve just had and, if you persevere and read on, all will become clear-er. I was in London again, thanks to my trusty steed, megabus.com. And it was a scorchingly hot and beautifully sunny couple of days but very much a weekend of two halves.

Leaving the Promised Land

Tulip beds outside the National Museum of Wales
Tulip beds outside the National Museum of Wales

I didn’t know when I set out yesterday that my second outing to The Promised Land was to be my last. For Poetry on Tap, at any rate. (As far as I know, they’re continuing to operate as a pub and there will, therefore, continue to be beer and other beverages on tap.) Poetry on Tap, the monthly event which only started back in November 2009, is now so successful and well-attended that it needs to move from its starter home to a bigger pad. As of May, the event’s new venue will be Old Orleans in Church Street, Cardiff.

So what is Poetry on Tap? Well, it was founded by the dynamic duo of Mab Jones and Ivy Alvarez, who are tireless in their promotion of poetry and spoken word events in Cardiff and the surrounding area. It’s an afternoon programme showcasing two guest poets (Sunday’s poets were Jackie Cornwall and David Woolley) reading or performing a selection of their work, followed by an Open Mic section, and then a second session from the guest poets. It works incredibly well and the two afternoons which I’ve attended so far have been both interesting, stimulating and a great way of sampling (for me) new poetry and poets. I haven’t braved taking part in the Open Mic yet but I admire anyone who has and does and again, it’s an opportunity to listen to poetry and poets that you might not be familiar with. If you’re interested in taking part in the Open Mic, you need to get to the venue early and sign up (places are limited and fill up fast). The organisers run a lucky dip for those not ‘lucky’ enough to make it onto the running order. This ensures that one poet is picked out of the hat to take part in the Open Mic and there’s an element of anticipation for both those waiting for their name to be chosen and the rest of us in the audience wondering who’ll be up. I think this is such a great idea and adds a little extra frisson to the afternoon’s proceedings. Of course, I might think differently were my name ever to be in that hat and I was the one waiting to see if I had to go up and read or not. I’ll keep you posted on that one!

Thanks to the vagaries of Cardiff’s meter parking, I had to disappear before the winners of the Open Mic were announced but I was thrilled to later find out that Susie Wild (whose poetry so impressed me at the Seren/Poetry Wales event back in February) and Leeum Johnson had both won. I’d heard Leeum’s poetry before at the first Poetry on Tap I’d attended and, rather fittingly seeing as how Poetry on Tap was held on Valentine’s Day, had loved it. He didn’t win on that occasion, so I’m very pleased that he came out on top this time around.

I’m already looking forward to seeing Poetry on Tap in its new home in a month’s time when the guest poets will be Mike Jenkins and Thaer Al-Shayei. And who knows, I might even be closer to venturing up to that Open Mic?

Poetry on Tap is Cardiff’s freshest monthly poetry and spoken word series, co-curated by Ivy Alvarez and Mab Jones. It provides a showcase for electric experimentation and lively risk-taking through poetry, with exciting and uncommon pairings between poets and spoken word artists. To find out more, check out Poetry on Tap’s blog or join its Facebook page.

LBF Masterclasses Part 2 – 17th April 2010

The second (afternoon) session of the London Book Fair Masterclasses was How to Write for Screen: Film & TV. Again, it was a panel discussion, this time chaired by Julian Friedmann (Agent, Blake Friedmann) with Paul Ashton (Producer, BBC Writersroom), Craig Batty (Author & Senior Lecturer in Screenwriting, Bournemouth University) and David Nicholls (Screenwriter) on the panel.

Having met up with a Twitter pal, Brigid Coady, after the morning session, I decided to live-tweet the afternoon session, rather than jot down notes as I’d done for the morning session. (Brigid had live-tweeted the morning’s How to Get Published session using the #LBF10 hashtag.)

This is a collection of my tweets from the afternoon session, Sadly, I can’t type on my iTouch as quickly as I would like so some of these have been amended to help them make a bit more sense. Anyway, here are the highlights as I saw them:

  • Julian Friedmann (JF) opened the Screenwriting Masterclass quoting from & recommending Steven Bochco’s book Death by Hollywood
  • JF said there was no significant increase in high quality scripts being seen by agents. Still a need for in-house training by outfits such as BBC Academy
  • We’ve lost 600 – 700 hours drama programming over the years. A lot of successful writers working today are untrained academically.
  • Far more radio plays so possibly these are a better route into industry than writing for TV, although you should also consider stage plays, novels, blogs & social networking, internships
  • If you want to write scripts you should be reading them rather than how-to books – read 2-4 a week and you’ll absorb them and what works or doesn’t about them
  • David Nicholls (DN) started writing a sitcom at BBC & then edited a screenplay which was made into his first feature. Worked as script editor for ITV
  • DN then got job writing for Cold Feet when it was doing well with 11 million viewers. He wrote Rescue Me off the back of that but found writing for TV brutal, disheartening work
  • Most TV dramas fail so it is vital to do other work in order to stay sane – theatre, radio & film + adaptations. Mix it all up
  • Now Craig Batty is up. Went into scriptwriting for the glamour & name in lights! 😉
  • CB wrote for himself, went to Uni and studied for an MA, then wrote for Neighbours while on work experience while studying, came back to Britain and got PT work lecturing, then wrote articles on writing before doing his PHD
  • JF said that one writer he knows turns her script over to writing class to critique. Panel said that script editors/commissioning editors/producers/agents all want to give input on your manuscript. Let them but remember that it is your script and you make the final decision on what advice you take on board.
  • Whether writing a novel or script, editing and revision doesn’t happen often enough or for long enough You need to seek out constructive criticism of your work-in-progress.
  • Present yourself as someone who looks for criticism in order to improve as a writer but also try and understand why the changes are being asked for. Ask questions of those offering you their critique.
  • Writers – make your intention clear. What did you set out to say/achieve? Makes it easier for agent to pitch your idea or script/screenplay if both you and they are clear and agreed upon this.
  • Questions from the floor: what about the use of consultancies? Can be useful and constructive but check their credentials first, especially if they’re online. Who’ve they worked with? Why are you going to them? What’s your purpose in seeking them out? It has to be for more than a pat on the back and to be told that you’re a good writer.
  • Feedback from other writers through online or face-to-face writing groups might be better than going to a consultancy. Check out blogs (e.g. Lucy Hay’s) to see what those offering crits have already done/said & do your research
  • Consider going on a script factory course which will teach you to properly read scripts. Until you can do this, it’s arguable whether or not you’ll be able to write them properly.
  • Look for someone who will read your script and come back with 3 big questions that get to the heart of your script rather than go through every tiny detail of the script or attempt to re-write their own version of it
  • Reading scripts hones your gut instinct about what makes a script work so that you can then implement this in your own work.
  • David Nicholls: remember that a great screenplay is nothing more than a set of instructions set out well.
  • Should we start writing for corporate films? Try and secure any gig that you can get – you’ll be able to demonstrate that you can work professionally to deadlines
  • How concerned should we be about writing for the Market? Read the Trades like Screen International, get a website, a blog, tweet, Facebook page, sign up to and subscribe to Twelve Point
  • This is a great time for writers to be out there networking and inform themselves about the market – you can’t afford to be self-indulgent and stay indoors in a bubble writing
  • Getting to know your market is not the same as second-guessing what is needed, what will sell. What is always wanted is great writing. Quality writing. Irrespective of what is trending if only because there will be something else trending by the time you’ve written and pitched and sold what it is that you’re writing.
  • Projects which have worked best have been ones that I have passionate about and were of personal interest or of a personal nature to me. – David Nicholls
  • The panel then discussed the pros and cons of social networking for writers – it was generally agreed to be and seen as a good way of marketing oneself and one’s product and also as a good source of industry news/gossip
  • There are no trends as such but it is always useful to look at which independent producers are getting access to the BBC, for example. However, saying that, children’s programming and low budget films are good at the moment and always looking for new talent.
  • The UK Film Council, EU Media Agency, and the Regional Screen Agency in your area all offer financial help and/or information and support to writers

As with the morning session, the key message from this afternoon session was that the industry is always on the look-out for new talent and quality writing, with the emphasis very much on quality. It is not enough simply to write and dash off an idea or a script and send it off. It needs to be polished and only sent off when it is the best that you can possibly make it. Then, there is a chance that you, too, will make it.

Part 1: My write-up of the morning Masterclass session, How to Get Published, is here.

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