Blog Archives

Landscape Poems

            In the Mist

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Calling cranes cross overhead like ghosts in the gloom,

Bells echo down the hillsides from hidden forest horses

Like shots across the valley, voices and dog barks below

Reveal others on the path as invisible to us as we to them

Knowing surrounds only by memory and sounds in the

Silence, the mist expands our senses out like landscape,

Until the sun lifts the veil and sends down into our pocket

Of the earth, a gentle caress of golden warmth and sets

The sky blue brightness shining off mountain cloud

Shimmering across imagined land beneath silver shroud.

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            The Same Scene a Thousand Times

A painter can select one scene,

One view, from a certain lookout,

Turn it into their subject: treat

It a thousand ways, in varying lights.

But can a poet? Write a thousand times

Of one mountain range and valley?

Of all the many shadows and scudding

Clouds along its sides, and all 

Aspects of the mists across its sky.

A painter can settle in one spot,

A cottage on a cliff:

Paint through the window.

A poet may install himself

In the same place,

But can he use words more than once

To illustrate the landscape?

Or once used, need he seek new views

To inspire new vocabularies?

It seems the answer lies in the

Lines, led along by eyes, looking

In ever-finer focus always finds

The mind inspired to write.

The scene from above the village of an evening.

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I have no photos of the scenes that inspired the first poem, but the second poem was inspired by sunset in the same spot I watch sunset most Sunday evenings, and each time it’s inspiring, but can I write of the same valley for the rest of my life? Possibly. It depends less on the inspiration and more on my ability I suppose!

Procrastination, Panic, and Priorities in the Pandemic

So for the last couple of months I’ve been living like Hemingway. Well, without the writing, so much.

Or the bulls.

No bulls this year. No fiesta in Pamplona.

But I have been in Spain, enjoying the sunshine, and drinking.

I’ve been getting up early, with intentions of getting lots of writing done.

I have a run, or a cycle, while it’s cool, then have a swim after cleaning the pool.

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A road I recently cycled along with some friends – I usually go alone in the hills.

And I’ve spent an hour or two on the laptop, staring at the screen, as I scroll through my social media and read about the horrible things happening, the shitshow that is the former lone superpower, the rising death rates in various countries, and watching videos of the violent racism so many have to deal with and the violent reaction to any request for such racism to stop.

Then I get breakfast for my kids when they surface from their darkened bedroom around ten, and pretty much any chance to get writing done is gone until perhaps mid afternoon when I wake from a siesta and have another swim to get my brain restarted.

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An outing with the kids to an old windmill in the valley. We normally stay in the village, and I don’t normally post photos of the kids – but they’re unidentifiable here.

 

Of course, it’s a strange time to live. But we’re alive. And in the end, well, what more can we ask for?

People are worried, though. And I was thinking about this – about panic and procrastination in these times of pandemic.

Sometimes we think that when people panic they start doing things: racing around, becoming very busy.

But they don’t.

Instead it seems that they are paralysed and they do nothing.

However, perhaps their reality is that they see that given the futility of the situation, and their imminent demise, there’s basically no point in doing anything. Instead it’s best to just relax and do nothing.

Because doing nothing is in fact the best thing to do.

Perhaps it’s only when we’re faced with death that we realise that we should’ve been doing nothing all along.

The object of our existence is to do nothing.

Doing is not the important thing, it’s just being.

We should just be.

We should just watch, and chill out.

So while it seems that I have done very little in these days, and there are several books that are waiting to get finished and some to get started, I’ve decided to not worry about that because if I do get sick, I’ll probably just stop writing rather than race to get them finished.

I’ll do what I have been doing – looking after the kids, being with the family, enjoying the scenery and the flowers in the garden and the birds around the house.

At the end of the day, does it matter if the book is one third finished one half finished or three quarters finished if the book is unfinished? Perhaps it’s best to nearly finish at least, but I’m loath to spend my last days worrying about it.

Of course, I am not sick, and I hope I’m not in my last days – keeping the head down here!

So I have written some. And I will have some to show people soon.

And I never stop writing poetry.

So here’s some of that:

 

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A view of the olive tree centre of the world in Andalucia… peaceful, if pretty poor species-wise…

Where Would You Go To?

 

Racing downhill, skidding over gravel path between pine peaks.

Slide to a stop beside scarlet-poppy-strewn field of barley, golden

Eagles calling overhead, staring at gliding silhouettes, shielding eyes

Against glare of sun, hot upon shoulders. A lone figure, surrounded

By a chorus of chirps, whistles and warbles, sheet of susurration

Wind through poplar leaves under a blanket of blessed silence,

Among a bouquet of orchids and other wild flowers, wondering

Where would one go from here?

 

Eventually remounting, rolling onwards over eroded pudding-stone

Thinking this is the destination of a multitude, but home to me.

 

Many would trek to get here: the very idea posited as post-retirement

Plan, proposed to stretch the Mediterranean holiday eternally past

A year in Provence; sold to dozens of millions dreaming of this,

Present position I’ve stumbled upon for life. So,

 

Why would I want to do any more than simply be, here?

 

Everything I can add upon this blessing only gravy, icing.

What matter if my works are acclaimed or even hailed?

When their very creation brings my own elation, and this station

Provides all the time, and space to do so at my pondering pace.

It’s only left to me to accept this grace, riding though this pretty place.

 

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The view from our local windmills, one of the places I cycle. The hills on the right are where the golden eagles breed.

 

Cloud Impressions

clouds 3Thoughts on Clouds.

 

There are many useful words

To describe pre-precipitation atmospheric condensation

Or as we call them, clouds.

Precise nomenclature of

Scientific phenomena,

Predicting what weather to expect:

Stratoculnimbus, cumulocolumbus, cirronimbulus,

 

No matter what construction,

None suffice

To describe

A scene

Of scudding shades of purple and blue and white,

Whorls and wisps and fluffy tufts,

Grey layering over the landscape like heavy cream,

High, hazy hovering, herringbone brush strokes:

 

Thus do poetic panderings, pattering,

Find themselves equally insufficient.

 

Nor would a photo, nor even painting

Do any justice            .

Nothing works as well as our unspoken

Constructions, sometimes,

 

So we simply suffice with stopping,

To stand, and stare, and smile.

 

 

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Enter September

 

The Subtlety of September’s Entrance

 

The bees don’t know it’s September;

They yet forage on the flowers before the porch

Under a sun shining on, strong as August.

 

Martins and swallows still flit for flies,

Gather on the lines, unready to leave;

Unconcerned the village is deserted,

Windows shuttered underneath their eaves.

 

None have truck with the times men impose,

Their clocks and dates; assigning names

To days that are every one the same.

 

Their seasons do not turn on a tick

So they stay on, as we sadly turn away.

 

 

Yes, the kids, and I, are back to school, back to Pamplona after summer spent mostly in the village….

And the above is my lament.

 

But at least the swallows and house martins had a good year, after a slow start where I was worried we’d have a big decrease over last year. There were plenty of flies around this year, though, (really annoying ones!) after a very mild winter that didn’t seem to kill many flies at all.

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A few hundred house martins and some swallows assembling on the lines above the village. 

 

Things you learn from reading books

It’s amazing what you can learn from books.

Sounds silly, that sentence…

I love when I’m deep in a book and something stops me halfway through a paragraph and makes me say “Holy shit!” out loud – I never knew that! Or, “Wow. Who knew?”

And sometimes it’ll send me off to investigate further.

There are some writers, editors etc., and I suppose readers, who don’t like this. They don’t anything that makes you interrupt the story, that keeps your nose in the leaves.

But for me, a really rich book is one that makes you pause every now and then and think about what you’re reading, ponder the meaning of what you’ve read, assimilate the knowledge this piece of writing has given you over and above an entertaining read.

This is why people read fiction. This is why science indicates that people who read fiction are more empathetic.

Here are three examples:

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I started reading Homo Deus, a recent non-fiction book, the sequel to Sapiens, which you might have heard of.

But before I go deep into it, I wanted to read a similarly titled novel – Men Like Gods, by HG Wells.

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An interesting book. We are clearly still in Wells’ Age of Confusion, with our population soaring way, way past what Wells worried was too many (2000m), and our world yet being pillaged by the rich.

But what really amazed me, in a book about a crossing dimensions into new universes (where the telecommunications department knows where every human is at all times but the knowledge can only be used for the good of the individual!) was the fact that the main character commented on the fact that there were thrushes singing in July – that he knew these birds stopped singing by June.

This is a character who writes for a liberal paper in the centre of London.

I’m a zoologist – sorry, I have a doctorate in zoology (there are picky fuckers out there in twitterlandia who like to point out that there’s a difference if I no longer gain employment from zoology except by teaching biology, who I hope die when they’re on a plane and a retired doctor tells them he’s no longer qualified to give them first aid while they suffer cardiac arrest, but I digress) – though not an ornithologist, but I had no idea.

He also commented on the fact that nightingales could be found in Pangbourne and Caversham, both in Reading just outside London were great places for nightingales (I wonder if there are any there now) which was amazing knowledge for an average Joe, too.

Why don’t we all know such things now? Where is our general knowledge of the life of other species around us gone? I was only familiar with the Blackbird and Robin – aside from the magpies and seagulls – back home in my hedgerow.

 

How much we have lost, even from such busy, hedonistic, polluted and poverty-stricken times as 1920’s London.

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Another book I recently read, and commented on in my facebook feed, is Point Counter Point, by the contemporaneous Aldous Huxley, who only predicted the future in this particular novel by talking about the fact that the world would run out of phosphorous, and other important raw materials and minerals due to unhinged addiction to progress, while politicians fucked around with petty, inconsequential nonsense that they hoped with get them elected over someone equally competent – or in competent, as the case usually is – while the problems that really affect us only snowball.

 

The third novel was Meridian, the second novel by Alice Walker, the author of The Colour Purple.

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At the end of the book, Walker describes the main character in the following paragraph:

“On those occasions such was her rage that that she actually felt as if the rich and racist of the world should stand in fear of her, because she – though apparently weak and penniless, a little crazy and without power – was as yet of a resolute and relatively fearless character, which, sufficient in its calm acceptance of its own purpose, could bring the mightiest country to its knees.

And I couldn’t help but think of Greta Thunberg – a beam of light in our own dark times, who seemingly powerless, is nonetheless, so resolute in her purpose that she has an immense effect upon countries.”

It is so often the person who seems weakest who can stand the strongest.

I only hope that in contrast to how people treated people like Meridian in the era of civil rights, that we will appreciate Greta for the positive influence she is on global justice and the survival of our society, and protect her from the evils we know some amongst us would wish her.

 

 

 

Inhale

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I can’t Breath

 

I cannot respire

Fast enough to inhale

All the perfume

I desire hanging

From blooms

On my short cycle

Under a stand of trees

Between streets

Breathing fumes.

Universal Connections

 

 

Universal Connections

 

I sit upon a hotel terrace,

Gazing out at grebes

Diving between white and yellow

Water lilies, trying to grasp our universe.

 

This Dark Matter they say

Gives gravity to our galaxy

Must mingle with us here on Earth,

Else why do I feel such linking

With other species, the lake life teeming?

 

I am entwined with these trees

More than merely exchanging molecules.

 

Reincarnation is reality. A part of me

Exists outside myself, with which I can commune;

 

Fragments of my former lives abound in this pond,

Fine portions of prior bodies populate the forest.

There’s a strand of me in that serene swan

Stately sliding, signets drawn behind like magnets.

These geese gliding in on the twilight and I

Share atoms. The stones under our feet,

Still throb with the vitality of ancient seas;

Our electrons once spun in the same shells

And yet retain the memory of those orbits.

 

Since the energy of starbursts vibrates on in ourselves,

These connections are impossible to erase,

We are one: our earth, the stars and empty reaches,

Really only fractals of an elementary existence.

 

 

I wrote that a couple of months ago while staying in this hotel, having breakfast on this terrace. Just to show there are positive poems going round my head too!

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It was in the Netherlands, and the lake was man-made, created when dredging to make higher land elsewhere in town. The motorway went past behind those trees, but it was still wonderfully quiet and peaceful, and the waterfowl didn’t care how their home was made. It shows that nature can come back strong when given a chance, even in the midst of our habitations.

Here’s another in the same vein, one of a few I was inspired to write that week…

As you can see from the photo at the bottom, it’s hard not to be inspired in that light.

 

Twinned with an Egret

 

They say every electron has a twin;

In space and time, while even atoms

Exist in two separate places at once.

Well, that would explain this affinity

For egrets and owls and willow trees.

Motes might not have the energy to

Escape gravity, but bits of bodies split:

My twins vibrate in other entities.

 

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The Drought Breaks

 

The Rains Return

 

The sky weeps;

Bent low,

Hills soak to refill rills.

Upon the porch, we sit still.

 

The rain – snow in the high ground – has finally returned to much of Spain, bringing some relief to the drought we’ve been experiencing this year.

The spring that supplies our village in the Valdorba is still flowing at a trickle, though. It will take much more rain to raise the water table and refill the reservoirs.

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the spring last week above, the same spring in September below…
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But everyone has been happy to see the rain, despite the need for umbrellas instead of sunglasses.

This is a photo of one of the beaches in San Sebastian, aka Donostia, taken when I was there last week.

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I sat on the beach and wrote this poem.

 

Donostia, December 2017

 

On the breakwater, as tide rises,

Shielding eyes to see gleaming mountain

Snowmelt trickle by.

 

 

We shouldn’t be able to see the mountain from the beach at this time of year, for the blanket of cloud that normally shrouds the city.

But what is normal anymore?

 

Anyway, I wrote a few poems that afternoon. It reminded me of another poem I wrote a few weeks ago, which describes a little of why I’ve written so little recently, and posted less.

But maybe we’ll get back to normal sometime soon…

 

Words Come Forth

 

They say our words won’t be kept down;

They bubble up, under pressure, like lava

Pushing through a fissure,

Bursting forth if they can’t flow.

 

But instead, they are drawn

Under empty sky,

Sucked out by silence,

Pulled forth by the vacuum

Of open space,

Giving them a place to emerge

Timidly into tranquilly

Like deer from the thicket at twilight.

 

 

Five things I learned writing the Silver Nights Trilogy

So, I know it’s been a while, but things have been as hectic as a 2-year-old in a new playground. Literally.

My final chapter of the Silver Nights Trilogy is out now, and so I thought it a good time to recap what I learned in the process of writing it.

 

1) Things take longer than you think…

Especially when you think you can squeeze side projects in there between…

I always knew I’d finish my trilogy (I advocate the finish your shit mantra) but I thought I’d have it done a couple of years ago – around six months after the first novel came out and I realised just before publication that it was going to be a trilogy. The nuclei of the second two parts came to me very clear and I reckoned that I’d have them both done by Christmas – I had a part time job and summer in between, after all.

But then I got the idea for a novel about Loch Ness, and that just grabbed my attention like a talon clutching my balls, insisting I go along with it. So I thought it best to comply. The first draft spun out easily, but then there were drafts to go over before I submitted, and another project popped up. This was going to be easy – my publisher put out a call for erotic romance novellas set in one night in any city, for a series called City Nights. Well, I had a long short story set in Madrid that could be refitted in a jiffy. Or not. The challenge of writing erotica wasn’t half as hard (fnarr!) as shaping it into a longer story that was still under 25k words. Anyway, despite it taking me several rewrites I got the bug and did 2 more cities since, Pamplona and Boston (for these the story was simple, starting from scratch always is simpler) published under the name JD Martins – yes, I am a school teacher. Then there were edits for a YA paranormal and a children’s fantasy novel to go over for publication (yes, I’d a drawerful of old novels that I finally found willing publishers for). And of course, real life did it’s usual trick of getting in the way. Our daughter was diagnosed diabetic at two and a half, so I spent a lot of time cycling across town to inject her at lunchtime, we had another sprog six? months ago… all that great stuff. But the sequels kept simmering away in the meantime, slowly taking shape… of course, people kept asking when they’d be ready and I kept telling them a date not too distant in the future – three months or so, by this Christmas, as soon as submissions reopen, I’m sending both books straight away…

 

2) Think before you decide to write a trilogy.

At least, think before you tell everyone, and have the second and third pretty much ready to go before you tell everyone. Sure, the idea for the second and third novel might come to you real quick and seem pretty safe and secure, but they need to tie together like a trilogy, and, more importantly, people are going to be waiting on them – some won’t even read the first part till they know the second and third are written and out there for them to read straight after – hands up who’s waiting on Game of Thrones to finish it’s run before even starting? Only me? Oh… anyhow, though the ideas might seem pretty solid, they have to lead directly from the first to the second and into the third and though there might be three books, hence trilogy, a series can have three books, too – you just don’t write the fourth book, and nobody’s going to feel cheated. Are you? It’s not that the second and third novel aren’t solid, but the challenges facing the characters can’t be the same, and things that happen in the sequels need to have a coherency with the first, so perhaps write them all at the same time, rather than have one done and decide to add two more

But definitely write part two and three together. It might piss off those waiting impatiently for the second to come out, but it’s better in the end. Also helps keep all those characters in your head at the same time – werewolves have big families, dammit, especially when they’re trying to build up their numbers after centuries of persecution.

 

3) Stick to your original vision

I wrote the first novel in this trilogy, Leaving the Pack, twenty-five years ago. The time in between turned out to be very useful. I was inspired by Whitley Strieber’s novel Wulfen, and to honest, I never really read much about them since then. I liked my werewolves (almost as much as Strieber’s) and I didn’t much like the movies I occasionally saw or the few books I read. Having a book out before you write the next leads to the temptation to take reader’s opinions into account as write. But making everyone happy isn’t a possibility and if the reader didn’t like the first book, it’s pointless to try please them in the second, or the third. Besides, when I looked around at some of the other werewolf novels out there, I realised their tastes were more aligned with the books I wanted my story to stand out from – the real tribe who engendered the original myth.

 

4) Don’t bother reading in-genre – it’s probably not your genre, and there’s some weird shit out there.

I did read a few other books over the years, but reading other werewolf novels was a bad idea. They filled my head with stuff that I didn’t like, making me second-guess the world I’d created – a real world where shifting is just as physically impossible as it is in ours.

In tandem with their physiological lunar rhythms, these people worshipped the wolf, had an affinity with their four-legged brethren that had led their enemies to assume they turned into beasts.

As a zoologist, I knew that wolf mating is similar to dogs, where they are unable to separate afterwards for a while. I went to double-check the term (knotting) in the final edit and discovered a sub genre of werewolf novels that was eye opening, let’s say.

 

5) The real world has changed, and so must your characters.

Even though my werewolves are first found roaming the city during the late Eighties, when homosexuality wasn’t nearly so visible in our cities, and I have no interest in writing gay sex scenes – and I doubt I could make them hot enough for the readers of werewolf knotting – I totally agree that we need more diversity characters in our novels. The werewolves are an ancient tribe, and the poster boys for patriarchy, but even they have to evolve to deal with the way things are nowadays, including equality for their daughters. But such changes are a joy to write, to put your characters in awkward situations. One thing that has not changed for the pack, however, is they still hate vampires, and real vampires are not so nice as they’re made out to be.

You can get all three books here….

 

 

Peace on Earth

Peace on Earth; at least This Part.

 

Sun rises over the mountains Christmas morn,

Shreds lingering mist strings off the oak slopes.

Starlings sing across vale from barn and shed,

Sparrows flit back and forth on tree and hedge.

Windmills steady, cows still not lowing, nor

Dinging. Dew dries, roof drips, while kite

Shifts on bough, readying to take to clear skies.

Robin skips in goodwill, trilling to a lone soul

Soaking silence embracing peace on Earth;

This piece, yet in the absence of men.

 

 

Wrote this on Christmas morning, sitting in that sun – it’s a remarkably relaxed time in Amatriain, where mass was the day before, and, dinner was very late, and  lunch has usually been taken care of already (and doesn’t consist of turkey).

Hope everyone has had a nice holiday season and that we will have some peace in 2017.

I’m about to start edits of Silver Nights Part 2, Leading the Pack…. almost as excited as a kid at Christmas!