Friday, September 26, 2008

Postcard from Totnes

Totnes has so much going for it. First, there's the route in by train – cutting along the Exe estuary and the coast, in and out of hewn tunnels, right up against the water. I almost wished it had been a stormy day. Then, there are the buildings – so much history in every brick along the high street. Can it be true that the largest number of listed buildings in any town is found here? Could be from how the place looks.

Having to walk up a steep hill to see these buildings justifies stopping for cake. Fortunately, there's a fine selection of cafes and interesting, counter-culture shops to browse around. My visit to Totnes was certainly the first time I found myself reading a window display inviting me to weave my own coffin.

As the photo shows, it's a big feeling town in a very rural setting. I was there less than 24 hours, but I'd happily return – is the invite still open, Ali & Dave?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Postcard from ArtsFest

I haven't been inside Birmingham's Museum and Art Gallery to look at the art for a long time; but a display of images of some of the most popular works enlarged to epic sizes and projected onto the outside of the council house to a soundtrack of classical music was quite something to see. It was called 'Light Night' and was part of the annual ArtsFest – a weekend of free arts events.

I sampled comedy and poetry in a pub on Friday night and had an incredibly varied day on Sunday. Robin Bailey, the 'bard of Moseley', just about managed to make his great poems heard over the air conditioning in one of the rooms of the Art Gallery; the Notorious choir demonstrated how good the acoustics of the Industrial Gallery were for an acapella rendition of the Doctor Who theme tune, and KerrangFest on the Centenary Square stage left a ringing in my ears.

Council Tax in Birmingham is high, but subsidising events like this makes it sting a little less.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Postcard from The Retort

Kings Heath High Street is 'paint by numbers' – put a Boots just there, a Sainsburys up the top, you'll need a McDonalds, then fill in the gaps with charity shops and take aways. Venture into the side streets though, and things start to improve (well, choose your street carefully…).

The first Sunday of the month is Retort Cabaret night at the Kitchen Garden Café on York Road. They host a mix of live music, comedy, poetry, magic and almost anything else that can be performed. The quality is mixed but this month I was impressed by two headlining acts familiar to national tv and radio. Shazia Mirza made us all laugh and Rebecca Hollweg strummed and sang a blend of folk and jazz that sent everyone home happy. And there's a great selection of organic wines and beers too!

Kings Heath's not boring, you just have to know where, and when, to look.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Postcard from the internet

The opening chapters of my novel 'Map Reading' are now available to read on the HarperCollins website . Please take a look. I'm thrilled by the number of enthusiastic comments I've had so far.

Map Reading is the first novel I've completed and has spent the last year or so being polished and improved. It's essentially the story of a woman trying to find happiness and is set against a background of travel, friendship and romance. You never know, it might be your kind of thing!

It would be great if you could look at Map Reading on Authonomy and, if you like what you see, register and vote for me by putting the book on your online bookshelf. This will increase my chances of getting into the top five and potentially winning a critique from an editor at HarperCollins. I'd love to get that feedback from a professional but I'd also really like to hear your thoughts – please drop me an email and let me know.

Postcard from the pub

What do you mean, 'Liverpool's a strange place for a holiday'? It certainly kept me busy and interested. From the musical history at 'The Beat Goes On' exhibition to the social history in 'Seized: Customs and Revenue Uncovered' at the Maritime Museum. From oil paintings at the Tate to Antony Gormley's men on Crosby Beach. From the spooky entertainment of the Shiverpool ghost tour to the cheeky Superlambananas – the city has something to interest everyone.

Best thing though, are the pubs. Here in Brum you can't escape from the huge, soulless, identikit chain pubs. In Liverpool they're blessed with a cosy, classic pub around every corner. And the people are so friendly, happy to chat to anyone – even invite strangers to join their whisky tasting club for the night (shouldn't have done that on an empty stomach). My tips – try the local brew – Cains – and eat at the Everyman Bistro.

Postcard from the Proms

Tradition, grandeur, eccentricity – the Proms could fill the Albert Hall several times over. The best thing about Prom 62 though – some Beethoven and Sibelius, played by the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester – was that they did it differently.

Think classical music is boring? The way these guys play it, it's packed with energy. And it's a treat for the eyes as well as the ears. The predominantly female string section used bare arms to draw elegant arcs with their bows, while the dapper double bassists dipped their instruments in an embrace like lovers on the dance floor. If it wasn't choreographed it could have been. And, when it was all over, the orchestra shared the type of celebratory hugs usually reserved for the football pitch.

OK, so it'll take more than this to bring classical music to the masses. Must the orchestra wear black tie? Couldn't someone speak to the audience occasionally? But, last night at the proms, I enjoyed a performance that was modern, accessible and down to earth.