LAUNCH EVENT – 3rd Loose Muse Anthology of New Writing by Women

Featuring the work of 40 UK and international writers, 33 of whom will be reading on April 4th!

Loose Muse - Spring 2013

Thursday 4th April @ Cottons Caribbean Restaurant – Downstairs Bar

– 70 Exmouth Market, London EC1R 4QP – Free Event

Doors open at 7.00 for a 7.30 p.m. (sharp) start.   

Agnes Meadows (founder and Chairwoman) will be hosting.

Agnes Meadows

Writers featured include:Sue Johns, Chikodi Nwaiwu, Steph Pike, Patricia Foster, Sarah Reilly and many more…

Patricia Foster

Sue Johns

Steph Pike

SOMETIMES IT’S HARD TO SAY GOODBYE

 

 

When the weather is relentlessly dreary, winter stretching ahead in a louring canopy of grey on grey, it doesn’t help to  hear a friend you’ve known for  more than half your life has died.

 

Just when you’ve finished writing a poem acknowledging there will be things you never get to do, places you won’t ever get to see, lovers you finally acknowledge will never be yours, someone else you cared about for decades is added to that ‘never ever’ list.

 

My friend Linda, who spent years planning all the marvellous thing she was going to do when she retired, but who was struck down with cancer only months after that retirement. So she never got to do any of it – to busy struggling with treatments, tests, medications, and hospital visits.  And the moral of that has got to be, don’t postpone having the life you want to have, filled with the things bringing you joy.  Because Fate is cruel, and the only day you’re certain of having is this one.

 

My friend Linda…a talented, smiling woman whom I shared so much laugher with.  For years we lived in flats opposite each other in Central London.  I didn’t have a ‘phone at the time (hard to believe, but true), so if I wanted her to come over for a coffee and a natter, I’d ring a hand-bell out the window, the signal for her to come over.  It never failed to amuse us, and passers-by would often wonder what the hell was going on.

 

She was the first person I told I was getting married in 1986.  I was living in Istanbul, had met and fallen madly in love with a young Turkish musician, but too broke to call everyone back home to let them know my plans.  So I called Linda and asked her to spread the news to friends and family (including my mother – it was years before she forgave me for not calling her first!).  It was midnight when I finally got through to my pal.  Erhan and I were booked with the Registrar at 8.45 the following morning; we’d only got permission to marry late that afternoon, and I was flying home the day after, so things were a tad tense.  I explained all this to Linda, who shrieked enthusiastically before asking, her tongue firmly in her cheek, if he was a waiter.  The fact he was a classical musician and his parents were both opera singers calmed her down a lot. But we laughed about that for years.

 

She and I shared a love of fireworks, Cornwall, Cornish cream teas, castles, and the gardens at Sissinghurst.  We had the same sense of the ridiculous, loved cheesy jokes, Tommy Cooper, Morecombe & Wise, and music in all its forms.  She had a fine singing voice, but was too nervous to make a career as a performer.  She didn’t share my wanderlust, being perfectly content to stay in England, but loved hearing about my foreign adventures and followed my trips with avid interest.

 

And when she met the man she subsequently married, she was as nervous as a teenager.  I had to calm her down with lots of tea and cake.  It all worked out beautifully, and he was her devoted partner until the day she died.

 

If I was to sum up her life in a few words, I would say, hers was a quiet life lived in laughter, surrounded by love and friendship.  And that’s got to be something to celebrate.  I know I’m not the only one to miss her.  So goodbye, my lovely.

 

The next Loose Muse is another celebration of talent and friendship with two featured poets – Kate McLoughlin, and Isabel White, both wonderful but in very different ways.  April’s Loose Muse is on April 10th, at the Poetry Café in Covent Garden, for more details see our events page.

 

Hope to see you there,

Until the next time,

Love

Agnes

 

Some fabulous pics from March’s Loose Muse…

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FOR LOVE OF A KING ( or HORSE? WHAT HORSE??)

Richard III facial reconstruction

 

Have spent the past few weeks in a frenzy of excitement and anticipation, a condition that’s likely to continue for quite some time to come.  Why, I hear you ask.  Is there a new man in my life?  Well…sort of.  Except the object of my affection has been dead for 528 years.  You see I’m a devoted fan of Richard III, England’s most enigmatic and much maligned king – the last English king to die in battle, in 1485.  The recent dig in the social services car park in Leicester, where his skeleton was unearthed,, has re-ignited my adoration.

 

I’m a paid up member of the Richard III Society (don’t knock it – the Society has been having 1.4 million hits a day on its website, so clearly I’m not alone in my interest!), and I’ve done an awful lot of reading about Richard and his life and times over the past 30 years.  I’ve happily and heatedly debated the ‘did he, or didn’t he?’ question regarding his two nephews, too often to count.  So the Leicester find and subsequent academic and historical interest has really excited me.

 

Last Saturday (March 2nd)I went on a one-day conference at Leicester University, entitled “The Greyfriars Dig: A New Richard III?”.  I was beside myself with excitement, as were the 500 fellow Ricardians attending.  And no, they weren’t all crusty old academics or badly dressed weirdo’s living in a 15th Century twilight world.  They were ordinary folk drawn together by their love of history and the desire to see this dead monarch of ours seen as a human being rather than as a pantomime villain.

 

It was an awesome conference, with some truly high quality speakers, sharing their knowledge and experience with us.  I don’t know how many of you actually watched the original “King in the Car Park” documentary on Channel 4, which featured Philippa Langley, the woman whose tireless dedication made the whole thing happen.  By dint of rather unkind editing the programme made her seem like an over-emotional loony.  This was far from the truth, as she’s actually a highly intelligent and articulate woman, and a successful screenwriter.  As one of the key speakers, she explained the long history of the project and LeicesterUniversity’s involvement in it.

 

Another speaker was Caroline Wilkinson (Prof. of Craniofacial Identification in the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification at the University of Dundee – try saying that quickly after a night in the pub!), who was fascinating in her explanation of the reconstruction process of his face based on computer regeneration of his skull.  They’d brought the head for us to see; it was much smaller than I expected, which underlined the fact he was only about 5’ 6” and slightly built.

 

And the business of his ‘hunch-back’?  Not entirely Tudor propaganda as it happened, as he clearly had scoliosis, curvature of the spine.  Originally the scientists involved had said he was a hunchback, but then had to admit they’d made a mistake – scoliosis is a different condition altogether and much more common than people think.  Some really famous people have it, and it hasn’t done their reputations any harm, e.g. (amazingly enough) Usain Bolt, and Elizabeth Taylor.  But deformity was a moral judgment in the Middle Ages.  Richard would have accepted it in the same way as he might have accepted wearing a ‘hair shirt’.  It certainly didn’t hamper his prowess as a warrior, and all accounts, even those of the usurping Henry VII, refer to his bravery on field.

Prof. Mark Lansdale, an Experimental Psychologist, discussed Richard’s Psychological profile, outlining the Elements of Psycopathy – narcissism, self-preservation, disordered thoughts and difficulty with inter-personal relationships.  He said Richard didn’t display any of these trains, although Henry VIII did.  Therefore, in his view it was extremely unlikely that Richard was a psychopath…there’s no evidence for it.

 

And…did he/or didn’t he kill his nephews? Well the jury’s still out on that one.  Although it’s interesting that son of Richard’s brother George, Edward of Warwick, had a much stronger claim to the throne than the two princes given Edward IV’s supposed illegitimacy.  Yet he was alive, and was finally executed 14 years later by Henry Tudor. You go figure.

 

There’s so much more – I could go on for a very long time…don’t even get me started on the armor and weaponry…I’ve always been turned on by men in armor!!  So I’ll stop before your eyes glaze over and you cross me off your Christmas card list.  But if you want to know more about Richard and his life and times, log onto the Society’s excellent website – www.richardiii.net – and watch this space for Ricardian inspired poetry over the next few months.

 

And talking of poetry and writing, March has two brilliant features and a special guest to inspire you.  There’s the multi-talented Morgen Bailey (writer and blogger extraordinaire), the warm and wonderful and Rosemary Harris (poet, novelist and all-round good egg), and Special Guest appearance by Margaret Eddershaw, (poet, writer and performer) flying in from Greece to join us.  That’s on Wednesday, 13th March at the Poetry Café, 22 Betterton Street, Covent Garden. Kick off 8.00 p.m. £5./3

 

So be there or be square,

Love

Agnes

 

Some pics from February’s Loose Muse

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Kate Fox reading from Fox Populi

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Agnes Meadows hosting

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Nandita Ghose

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WEASEL WORDS AND THE FAMOUS NOVEL

weasel

 

At last I have some time to continue with The Famous Novel!  Hoooray!!! I seem to have been writing it for about a hundred years, and there are those who probably believe that it’s actually a myth and that I’m just playing at being a writer.  I can’t say I blame them because it’s been several months now since I put down my pen – first I was travelling  then I had a commission to write 10 poems, then I was in hospital, and then life kind of got in the way and I had to do some ‘day job’ work to pay the rent.  All this conspired to prevent me from finishing the master work.

 

But now, finally, I’ve got the Christmas holidays to devote myself to getting my heroine out of the terrible mess she’s in.  As some of you may know, it’s a historical novel – provisional title ‘The Book of Betrayals’ – set in the 12th Century between the 2nd and 3rd Crusades…a turbulent enough period by any standards.  My heroine is a woman soldier (yes, there women soldiers!) who has fought in the regular army of the Byzantine Emperor Manuel Comnenus in Constantinople.  But to make life even harder, when the book opens, she regains consciousness in a forest in the south of England, and she’s lost her memory…not a good position for her to be in, especially not with the church’s attitude to women in the 12th Century, and her covered in blood with a jewelled sword in her hand and no idea who she is or what has happened before.

 

If you want to know more, you’ll have to wait until I’ve finished the book and see it on the book-shelves.  I’ve only got another 30,000 words to write before the first draft is finished, and I’m hoping to break the back of that before I return to work on the 7th January.

 

writing

 

As you can imagine, there’s an awful lot of research that goes into writing something historical, and I’ve come across some seriously weird and wonderful facts in my research on life and habits in the 1100’s.  For example – and believe me once you’ve read this, you’ll never ever forget it…promise! – a suggested method of contraception for women was to (wait for it!!) to tie the testicles of a dead weasel round their neck.  I promise you this is true!!!  It’d certainly do the trick, I think…no block would want to come near you once he saw the weasel testicle necklace, and that’s for sure.  Watch this space for more weird and wonderful facts in the weeks to come and things hot up novel-wise.

 

But, writing frenzy notwithstanding, I’m not forgetting the next Loose Muse is on February 13th featuring novelist Kate Fox and playwright poet Nandita Ghose.  AND don’t forget to send in your submissions for the next Loose Muse Anthology by 31ST  January for the third anthology, to be launched early March.

 

AGNES

 

The New Year is here!

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Hey gang,

 

Welcome to 2013, and let’s hope this year is the year we all get what we need in spades, and that all surprises winging their way to us are diamond geezers instead of nasty, evil demons that ride on our shoulders whispering doubt and vitriol in our ears. 

 

One of the last things I did in 2012 was write a report for the Arts Council on the what had happened with the first year of the grant it had given to Loose Muse, plus an article for Write Out Loud on its Tales from the Venues slot, also on Loose Muse (which should be published some time in January).

 

Looking back on our progress, even I was surprised at how much we’d actually done.  For example, since Loose Muse started in 2004, we have featured over 160 women writers of all genres drawn from all over the country and overseas – from the USA to Argentina, Europe to Singapore via the Middle East.  True it’s a tad poetry/poet heavy, but that’s my world, so hardly surprising.  But those who attend know it’s completely cross-genre, with novelists, playwrights, bloggers, song-writers and journalists as well as women writing flash fiction, shorts stories, or who work in film, theatre or radio.  Basically Loose Muse is for any woman who write anything at all, so that those who want to write can learn from, and share skills with, those who already do.

 

The grant has also enabled Loose Muse to commission six writers so far for two series of poems and four short stories, as well as produce two amazing high-quality Anthologies of new writing by women, with a third one open for submissions – deadline end January, with a launch probably early March, so get your submissions in soon!

 

And Loose Muse is also going national, with gigs/events planned over the next few months in Manchester, Surrey and Loughborough (at the university there), all with a view to encouraging women young and old to pick up their pens and start writing.  Way to go ladies!!  I’ve also got my eye on expanding this list to other parts of the country, and hopefully collaborating with all kinds of other organizations and groups, so watch this space.  Tomorrow…seriously…the world!

 

Until then, the next Loose Muse is on February 13th, at the Poetry Café as always, featuring novelist Kate Fox, and playwright/poet Nandita Ghose, both writers of power and strength.  So be there, or be square!

 

Cheers,

 

Agnes 

Yes, It’s Christmas Captain, But Not As You Know It!

geeky-christmas-ornaments-collection-7If you believe all you see on tv or in the movies you’d think Christmas was the one time of the year that we all loved each other, there was a blanket of unthreatening snow on the ground, and a Dickensian glow in our hearts. But that’s not been my experience, though it’s not always gloom and misery either. For example…..

There was the Christmas I spent in Jordan with my friends Catherine and Anna. We arrived at Aquaba airport to be greeted by swarthy Jordanians in jelabas and plastic ‘Santa’ beards, ringing hand-bells and saying “Welcome to Jordan”…highly surreal. On Christmas Day we woke to a cloudless sky of duck-egg blue, swam in turquoise seas, ate a specially prepared traditional Festive Meal in blazing sunshine, and smiled at the prospect of visiting the Rose Red City of Petra, ‘half as old as time’. Pure magic.

There was the Christmas I spent in Gaza. My apartment was in Gaza City by the port, overlooking a long beach of grubby yellow sand. It was a normal working day there, without the remotest hint of Christmas in the air. Everyone I knew was at school or work, so I ate a solitary medal of spaghetti before the IDF turned the electricity off (again!). My mother and brother called me to wish me Happy Christmas, but we were interrupted by the drone of war-planes. There was no bombing that day…that came later.

One year I stayed with my pal Miranda in Ireland over Christmas. She was an ardent animal lover with a collection of dogs and cats and two Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs that had stopped being cute and were now enormous. She insisted on treating them like people, keeping them in the house instead of letting them run free. Well, pigs are intelligent creatures and don’t take kindly to being kept indoors, so they quickly got bored (no pun intended!). One morning when Miranda was at work I heard an ominous crash – the pigs had knocked over the tree and were eating it, baubles, tinsel and all. Another night we came home to find everything covered in white foam rubber – they’d eaten a sofa! Certainly put me off bacon!

Another Christmas my mother came to stay with me and my ex. We walked into her room laden with presents, to find…she was on the floor, nightie round her neck, in a diabetic coma. The ambulance service was on strike that year, so it was the police who took her to hospital. We spent most of the day in Casualty, taking Mum home when she’d been given the all-clear. The rest of the day was very subdued, and Mum never stayed with us again.

Then there was the Christmas I was suffering from a broken heart and decided I’d rather be home alone than pretending to be jolly with family or friends. Unexpectedly, my friend Fiona came round on Christmas Day while I was wallowing in misery. At that time she lived in extreme poverty, but had brought me a carefully wrapped present – 3 onions in Christmas tissue, all she had to give. It was the single most touching and the most generous gift I have ever received, and it taught me a lot about openhandedness and the spirit of the Season.

So many Christmases, some painful, others joyous, many feeding the nomad in me. Maybe next year I’ll have other seasonal tales to share. Until then, have a good one, and hope to see you at the first Loose Muse of 2013, on January 9th, with features artist/poet Janice Windle, and writer/singer/artist Linda Shanson. And don’t forget to submit to the next Anthology…you can either bring it with you on the 9th, or email me your submission by the end of January.

So come share the passion, share the joy,
Agnes

Mentoring – Marvelous or Just Plain Mean?

A couple of weeks ago a young writer friend of mine phoned me in absolute bits regarding her work. She’d won second place in a poetry competition the prize for which was the publication of a pamphlet of her work…usually a cause for celebration and congratulations.

Because she’d wanted to buff up the work to make it a stronger and more polished collection, she’d paid for a mentoring session with quite a well-known writer in the hope that he’d be able to help her strengthen each piece and make it shine brighter. Sadly, instead of getting the kind of constructive criticism she was expecting, and which she’d paid for, she was subjected to a barrage of negative comments that told her none of her pieces were up to scratch, each one needed re-writing, and she should not only do more work to improve the quality of the collection, but that she also needed several more (expensive) mentoring sessions with him.

As you can imagine, this left her distraught. Instead of celebrating, she’d been robbed of her confidence, and was on the verge of giving up writing – her creative spirit had been broken. I was, and continue to be, absolutely incensed. Suggesting she spend more money on additional mentoring sessions, especially when they were clearly being used as a vehicle to disparage her talent, was just plain unethical as well as not being terribly professional. I re-read her collection, and while I agreed that some of her pieces did need another look to clarify and strengthen what she was trying to say, I felt that fundamentally her work showed great promise and sensitivity. It was far from being trash!

Surely the job of a mentor is to encourage not dishearten? I’ve judged a fair few literature competitions in my time, run workshops in many places, and edited the Loose Muse anthologies. Some of the work I’ve read has been exceptional, some promising, and some either mediocre or just plain poor. But it’s not my job to tell people they’re rubbish…I try to encourage and support budding writers no matter how hackneyed, clichéd or unimaginative their work is. I try to find something positive to say alongside the criticism, suggesting ways of improving what needs to be enhanced, and hopefully helping them to move on to another level.

We’re not all born with the genius gene! Most of us have to work hard to produce something we’re reasonably content with. And it takes courage to expose our naked poems and stories to the critical eye of the ‘professional’ writer. Thoughtless ego-driven criticism can do a lot of damage and ultimately serves little purpose. That’s why I try to make Loose Muse a friendly and supportive event where women writers can come and share their work without being afraid they’ll be pilloried, after all the central ethos of Loose Muse is that we’re there to help each other, not to discourage. The next Loose Muse is on 14th November, featuring Natasha Morgan and Patricia Foster, and plenty of open mic spots from the floor. Come along and enjoy the atmosphere, and if you want to, show us what you can do…I promise we’ll be gentle with you!

Love,
Agnes

PS: A great book to help writers improve and sell their work is Wanna Be A Writer by Jane Wenham-Jones. I cannot recommend it highly enough as it’s packed full of excellent tips written with good humor and common sense – a great Christmas present!

Thunder, Lightning and The Weeping Statue of CAFÉ MONO

If it’s been weeks since I last blogged, that’s because I’ve been ill for what seems like an eternity and suffering from severe brain fag. The last time I wrote I closed by saying I’d report on the gig I did in Oslo in September with fellow writers Patricia Foster and Dzifa Benson, so here, at last, are some of the edited highlights.

The three of us were a tad nervous arriving in Oslo on September 18th, only because arrangements had been very last minute, and we had no idea if/when we were being met, where we’d be staying or when our gig was. All we knew was that we’d been booked to re-start the poetry programme of the Café Mono, one of Oslo’s leading music hang-outs, and that Norway had a reputation for being one of the most expensive places on the planet. We’d originally been invited by Oystein Wingaard Wolff, a Norwegian poet of some reputation, who seemed to know everyone in Scandinavia, and whom I’d hosted more than once when I ran Angel Poetry (the companion gig to Loose Muse, which ran until late 2009). But we didn’t have to worry – the very agreeable young manager of the Mono, Harald Christian (or HC as he preferred to be called) had come to collect us and drive us to our hotel. Phew….we wouldn’t have to sleep on the airport floor for the next couple of nights after all!

Dzifa Benson, Patricia Foster and me, Agnes Meadows.

As we drove towards Oslo, the sky darkened and pretty soon we were engulfed in a rain storm of such epic proportions it threatened to wash us off the motorway and into the pine forests stretching endlessly in every direction all around. Several brutal thunder-claps and forked lightening bolts convinced me that the Norse Gods up in Valhalla were greeting us, and telling us to behave ourselves. But as quickly as it had appeared, the storm faded, and we arrived at the Golden Lion Hotel in blazing sunlight.

A quick change of clothes, and the delightful HC took us to Café Mono in the heart of Oslo, to meet up with Oystein and eat what was probably the most expensive lentil burger (Patricia’s a vegan) in the world… delicious though, so I’m not really complaining. Café Mono is an interesting place with a well-thumbed look to it; several dimly lit rooms around a central bar and performance space, with a café and restaurant attached, all of which were heaving with tall young men and women who looked as if they’d just come back from a week in the woods hunting elk. The music was typically melancholic in the Norwegian way. When we asked the DJ if he had anything livelier he looked as if we’d just said a very rude word, shrugging forlorn shoulders with a crisp ‘No’. But we were treated like superstars, and everyone was unfailingly generous and enthusiastic. And they all – and I mean ALL – spoke flawless English, much better than many native-born English, which is a bit of a disgrace really. We’d be performing the next night, so spent the rest of the evening drinking, being generally raucous, and having a very good time indeed (though I don’t know how anyone can afford to tie one on in Norway given the price of drinks…thank you HC for buying us drinks all night…can I marry you?!)

The next day Oystein introduced us to several Norwegian publishers, where we exchanged ideas about poetry and work in translation and explored the possibility of getting some of our work published in Norway. We also had the chance to have a brief look at Oslo. Now I’ve had a life-long love affair with the Mediterranean – cross the Channel and turn right has always been my motto – but I totally fell in love with Oslo; small, clean and perfectly formed, it really is a great place to hang out, and we all wished we could come back to take a closer look at it.

Out and about in Oslo with Oystein and Dzifa.

Can’t remember his name but apparently, he was the founding king of Norway.

And then it was evening, and we were back at the Mono for our gig. Although it’s primarily a music venue, the Mono had a well-attended monthly poetry night until a couple of years ago when the guy who ran it became a dad, parenting winning over poetry, so the night stopped. We were there to kick start it again, and had a lively and appreciative audience who greeted each of us with warm applause. Dzifa and Patricia both wowed the audience with a range of their most powerful and popular pieces, and I was last to go on. And yes, I did read the ‘Shoes’ poem (how could I not?!), which was as much appreciated in Oslo as anywhere else I’ve read it. And I must have been doing something right because I sold every one of the books and CD’s I’d brought with me. Yes… I LOVED Oslo.

Post-performance cuddle with Oystein.

As we were settling in for another good night’s drinking and mayhem, the irrepressible HC said he had something to show us….the famous ‘weeping statue’ inside Mono’s other café across the road. So we all traipsed there to see this statue, the head of a local artist, inside a glass case. The instructions were to step close but not to look into the statue’s deep-set eyes…which meant of course that’s precisely what everyone did. Poor Patricia was the guinea pig, and got well and truly caught. She peered into the glass case, closer and closer….when sudden fierce jets of water shot out of the two eye holes and frightened the living daylights out of her…I swear she lifted two feet off the ground in surprise, and we nearly all wet ourselves we laughed so hard. I’ll post the video in future blog post. It’s hilarious!

And then it was time for us to go home. HC got up at the crack of dawn to drive us to the airport. Leaving him behind was a real wrench, as we’d all grown incredibly fond of him, insisting he must come to London to visit so we could repay some of generous hospitality he’d shown us. And hopefully in the Spring we might get invited back to read at the Mono again…I honestly cannot wait. Really, if you’re wanting somewhere fabulous to go for a weekend break, I’d totally recommend Oslo, and especially the Café Mono. But do take plenty of cash…you’ll need it.

The lovely HC outside our hotel.

And if you want to hear about Patricia’s freak out with the weeping statue first hand, she’s one of Loose Muse’s feature on November 14th, alongside Natasha Morgan. So why not come along and check it out – Poetry Café, 8.00 p.m. £5/£3 concessions. It promises to be another fabulous night out, with just a hint of Norway about it. Love, Agnes