Keeping My Soul


Oh Lion in a peculiar guise,

Sharp Roman road to Paradise,

Come eat me up, I’ll pay thy toll

With all my flesh, and keep my soul.

These lines come from Stevie Smith’s poem The Roman Road A Christian speaks to a Lion in the Arena.

stevieStevie’s words inspired my colleague Sandy Chadwin to suggest Keeping My Soul for the title of this coming Thursday’s event at North Shields Library.

Keeping My Soul: A Feast of Poetry, Story and Prose is an evening of performances by members of The North Tyneside Writers’ Circle (NTWC) which I run with Sandy and  Jennifer C Wilson.

NTWC meets on the third Saturday of most months in North Shields Library. The circle is free to attend and is open to writers of all ages and abilities. Keeping My Soul is a celebration of the group’s collective talent and will feature a mix of poetry, prose and memoir.

The line-up runs: Krys Wysocki, Susan Collings, Suzanne Lambert, Jane Roberts-Morpeth, Rob Walton, Penny Blackburn, Mary Pickin, Ross Punton, Alex Heppell and James A Tucker.

The event starts at 6.30pm. It’s free to attend but please book in advance by phoning (0191) 643 5270 or contact any North Tyneside Library. See you there!

by Elaine Cusack






Luck plus one

Are you sitting comfortably, then let Sandy Chadwin tell you all about the Pot Luck Club, returning to Newcastle’s Old George on Thursday 22nd March….

IT WAS NOT twenty years ago today but about two years ago that Elaine Cusack, Jen Wilson and I were drinking in North Shields’ oldest pub, the Low Lights Tavern. We were chatting about the spoken word events we were considering when one of us, I forget who, came up with the idea for the Pot Luck Club.

It had started as a joke. We had chatted about our perfect spoken word evening.  Who would we invite if we had access to unlimited funds and a time machine? I was holding out for Stevie Smith but Elaine vetoed her on the grounds that she had heard recordings and Smith had a terrible reading voice. TS Eliot was vetoed on the same grounds. Byron was dismissed as he would probably insist on bringing his bear with him and none of us were sure whether public liability insurance covered that kind of thing. I forget who ended up on the list, if we ever actually settled on a definitive one, which I doubt but I do remember that we agreed that such an evening would be invite only. A private evening for the connoisseur as it were.

fab-audienceAnd then, as these things happen, the conceit began to mutate and warp. We discussed the various writing forms that we had all experimented with but were outside our comfort zone. We chatted about how appalling it can be that first time standing up at an open mike evening in front of a friendly crowd who are, nevertheless, partly wondering if this is going to be the complete car crash reading of the night.

So the idea of the Pot Luck Club was born. We would invite established performers to try something different. Poets reading prose, story writers reading poetry and so forth, along with first time performers, nervous but wanting the experience. And it would be a safe space as the audience would all be invited.

There it was left and we moved on to discuss other matters of high moment and philosophical depth. Honest.

Later that  year Elaine and I were back at the Low Lights and were sitting in the separate room they have there, what in Edwardian detective or ghost stories would be described as the parlour, which has no bar, an open fire and is cut off from the rest of the pub by a glass door. Cloud 9, the Coast based theatre company, were performing a play in there the next week and we could see posters for talks and other such events, all to be held in this room.

This, we decided, was the venue for Pot Luck Club.

mister-creenSo it was, in late January 2017, we held the first Pot Luck Club and it was a success. We had playwrights telling stories, poets singing, story tellers reciting poetry, writers who had never before stood on their hind paws before an audience reading their stories and poems and the Legendary Ken Creen rounding the evening off. Did it work? Well it seemed to. The only problem was that the room was too small.

The logical, though sad, thing to do was to find another venue and this, with heavy steps we did. After some rootling around we chose the Old George in the centre of Newcastle. As it happens, the Low Lights Tavern is widely thought to be North Shields’ oldest pub and the Old George is widely believed (since the closure of the Cooperage) to be Newcastle’s. A pleasing albeit unplanned bit of continuity. We had already held a Pure Fiction event in the upstairs room there and found it good so, in the autumn of last year, we held the second Pot Luck Club. Same as before, though it happened that there were more first-timers this time rather than people outside their comfort zone though Elaine did recite a poem she had written that rhymed, a thing she had never done before in front of strangers. Vicky Arthurs, the poet, did us proud by acting as the headline act.

And now we’re doing it again. Same place, upstairs at the Old George, off the Bigg Market in the centre of Newcastle. We have established writers doing new and daring things and newer writers risking a plodge for the first time. Harry Gallagher is our headline. Other performers include  Rob Walton, The Cornshacks, Krys Wysocki, Alex Heppell and Isaac Parker .Harry Gallagher photo credit Phil Punton

And you are all, of course, invited.

The Pot Luck Club, Old George Inn, Cloth Market, Newcastle, NE1 1EZ. Thursday 22nd March. Free entry. Thanks to Chris Anderson and Phil Punton for photos.

Pure Talent next week

What does  “Dystopian novel” mean? We’ve taken the phrase as our theme for this Thursday’s Pure Fiction event at The Old George in Newcastle. Fancy joining us to listen to Sue Miller and Emma Whitehall reading from and discussing their work?

Pure Fiction celebrates writers of fiction and their work. Previous events have featured Jennifer C Wilson, Kitty Fitzgerald, Sandy Chadwin, Carol Clewlow, L.A. Craig, Rod Glenn and Victoria Watson. On Thursday 16th November it’ll be the turn of writers Sue Miller and Emma Whitehall. Host Elaine Cusack will let them run with the Dystopian novel theme and we’ll have the chance to ask questions and chat with them afterwards. Elaine’s colleague, Sandy Chadwin will kick off the evening with a Tall Tale.

Doors open 6.45pm and the evening starts at 7pm. Tickets cost £3 and can be bought in  advance or on the door. Here’s more information on Thursday’s authors…

emmapicEmma Whitehall is a writer, reviewer and spoken word performer based  in the North East of England. Emma specialises in supernatural fiction, and has been published in the United Kingdom, America, Mexico and Ireland. Her Flash Fiction has been longlisted for the Bath Novella in Flash Award, and shortlisted for the Fish Flash Fiction Award.

For more years than she wants to remember, Sue Miller  worked with families and communities locally and nationally as a psychologist, teacher and manager. Those experiences have given her knowledge and insight into the stories we all become: ordinary people often made extraordinary by what life throws at us. Sue’s debut novel 20/20 Vision They Didn’t See it Coming was published earlier this year and on Thursday she’ll  read from her current work in progress, a prequel to 20/20 Vision.

Sue Miller



Top of the Pops

Last Thursday’s talk They Walk that Should Not about ghost stories has prompted Sandy Chadwin to list his favourite writers and stories:

Top Three Ghost Story Writers (in alphabetical order):

Robert Aickman
EF Benson
MR James

Top 10 Ghost Stories (in no particular order):

1/ ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ – Charlotte Perkins Gilman
2/ ‘Three Miles Up’ – Elizabeth Jane Howard
3/ ‘The Screaming Skull’ – F Marion Crawford
4/ ‘Man-Sized in Marble’ – E Nesbit
5/ ‘How Love Came to Professor Guildea’ – Robert Hitchens
6/ ‘The Turn of the Screw’ – Henry James
7/ ‘The Ghost-Ship’ – Richard Middleton
8/ ‘The Signal-Man’ – Charles Dickens
9/ ‘The Haunted and the Haunters’ – Lord Lytton
10/ ‘The Red Lodge’ – HR Wakefield

MRJames1900Catch Sandy talking about MR James this coming Thursday in Newcastle’s Old George

October is the busiest month

We managed to sellotape Sandy “Busy Bee” Chadwin to his laptop for 10 minutes so he could write this blog…

For reasons that escape me, but are partly do with the time of year, I have a fair bit to do this autumn. Three gigs, to be precise, with two of them on the same day but it should be fun.

SandyFirst out of the hatch is They Walk That Should Not Walk, a talk that Elaine Cusack and I will be giving at the Northumberland Park Community Room (it’s attached to the café, or so I’m told) at 1:00pm this coming Thursday the 12th  of October. It’s part of the ‘Age Takes Centre Stage’ shenanigans that the council have put together for this month and it’s free though I think you need to register. Fuller details are here. If you’ve not been to the park (it’s between the golf course in North Shields and the Tynemouth Lodge pub) it’s a charming little place complete with its own pet cemetery and remains of a mediaeval hospital. And there’s a café. The talk (or chat more likely) will look at the history and fascination of the ghost story and if you’re coming, bring along memories of your favourite whether it’s one from Charles Dickens, EF Benson, Mrs Gaskell, or one of the James boys – Henry and MR. Should be fun, albeit in a somewhat macabre way.

Following that, I will have a brief pause before heading off to the Exchange in North Shields where, along with the Cracketts (a husband and wife folk duo) I’ll be presenting Tales from the Dead House at 7:30. This is an evening of spooky and macabre stories (from me) and songs (courtesy of the Cracketts) and is ticketed at £3.00, available on the door. Storytelling is a thing I do, unless politely but firmly stopped, and fits nicely with folk music and as the nights creep into the day, it’s the time to sit and listen, if only to escape the darkness outside. In the US they have the tradition of the campfire tale, a creepy and often gory story told while sitting round the fire while camping. Many of the urban myths we are so fond of probably started off as such tales – you know the kind of thing I mean. The Vanishing Hitchhiker (driver gives lift to girl only she disappears while still in the car and on subsequent investigation he discovers that she was run down and died on that very spot); Hairy Hands (woman gives lift to old lady but notices that she has suspiciously hairy hands and so when the old lady gets out at a garage to visit the toilet, the driver drives off and when she looks inside the bag left by the old lady, she finds it full of bloodied knives and a police investigation finds the clothes of an elderly woman in the toilet at the garage) and there are many others. I was actually told the hairy hands one by a friend back in the late ‘70s with the addition that the old lady was in fact the Yorkshire Ripper, who was still at large.

 MRJames1900Then, a full week later, I shall be giving a talk on the aforementioned MR James at the Old George in Newcastle at 7:30pm on the 19th. That has the bargain price of a mere £2.50. Buy your ticket in advance here. MR James is, I will be arguing, one of the best, if not the actual best, ghost story writer in English. He used to write them to tell to his Cambridge fellow dons on Christmas Eve and they are a potent mix of donnish humour and subtle horror. I did my dissertation on him back in the mid- ‘80s when you weren’t meant to take things like ghost stories as serious literature. My supervisor spent the first week or so constantly thinking I was writing about Henry James (no mean slouch at the ghost story himself as anyone who’s read ‘The Turn of the Screw’ will attest) and the external examiner mourned that I had wasted my time on such a petty subject. But now, Newcastle University does a module on them as part of its Eng. Lit degree or certainly did so a few years back, and you cannot buy a critical study of James or ghost stories in general for less than £30 odd. Hmm, perhaps I should dig out that dissertation…

Anyone for tennis?

Last Sunday Sandy Chadwin participated in a literary cricket match in Cullercoats. It was The Cullercoats Test, part of the IRON in the Soul Festival…..

Sandy in colourThis time last week, for reasons that remain complicated and mysterious to me, I found myself playing cricket in front of a small crowd. This has made me consider my relationship to sport in books.

                Now I am not a sporty person. I have only ever been to two football matches, one cricket match and at school I was always the last boy chosen to be on the team. I rarely watch sporting events, though I do have a soft spot for the ball-by-ball commentary the radio does for the Test Matches. So, it is not altogether surprising that my library has little sport related material in it.

Amongst the many sports that I do not play is golf. So it is slightly odd that after the Jeeves tales, my favourite PG Wodehouse stories are his Oldest Member ones which are all about that particular sport. Wodehouse himself was a mildly obsessive player and was known to complain that if he hadn’t had to make a living doing all that writing and so on, he might have ended up with a half-decent handicap. Even if you’ve never played or watched a game and don’t know your mashie from your driver, do give them a go. They’re the literary equivalent of exquisite dainties to be relished and lingered over. And the Jeeves & Wooster stories are even better. Then there’s the golf match between James Bond and Goldfinger in the novel of the latter’s name which is surprisingly tense and entertaining to read. That has more to do with Ian Fleming’s underestimated writing skills than any putative interest I might have in the game. And the Magic Roundabout tie-in book, Dougal’s Scottish Holiday (written by Eric Thompson, Emma’s dad, who improvised the TV show’s narration) has the immortal line: ‘”Niblick?” said Angus. “At your age? ‘Tis a mashie-niblick at least.”’*thompsons

                Now, those of a certain age may remember a humour writer called Michael Green. He wrote an endless series of comic books with the running title of The Art of Coarse [insert subject matter here]. They were everywhere, along with those silver-spined Executioner thrillers and Alastair MacLean novels. Anyway, the first of this epic series was The Art of Coarse Rugby. Now, I had to play rugby at two the educational establishments I ended up attending and have been left with a deep and profound loathing of the game and all who have any doings with it. I do, however, have a soft spot for this comic guide to it. Possibly because it’s mainly about cheating and one-upmanship and has a happy disregard for the rules that would have reduced certain masters and enthusiastic pupil-players to apoplexy.

                And that does seem to be pretty much it. Terry Pratchett’s Unseen Academicals (football) has its moments but they never entirely gel for me. And there was that children’s book The Goal Keeper’s Revenge & Other Stories which every boy had presented to him during the ‘70s but which I never read. Actually, if anyone reading this did read it, give me a shout. Remembering it, I’m now mildly interested in what it was about/like. Anyway, Dick Francis’ horse racing thrillers are nearly always fun. They were co-written by his wife, by the way, who was never given any credit as the publishers thought acknowledging the input of a woman (!) would damage sales. Hey ho.

                But to end on a happier note, I cannot speak for the rest of the mixed gender team that I played with, but it was fun and you never know, I might have a go at playing again.  Or at least writing about it.

*Dougal’s Scottish Holiday is worth reading for many reasons, not least being that it’s the funniest portrayal of ‘professional’ Scotsmen that I’ve read, and I’m an enthusiastic ‘amateur’.

The Power of Genre

 Over to Sandy Chadwin for our latest blog…

1 TYEUFV4SoXzBcevMtS0uzgSO congratulations to Naomi Alderman whose novel The Power has won the Bailey’s Women’s Fiction Award for this year. This is interesting as, to the best of my knowledge, this is the first time a book that is openly identified as being within a genre has won a literary prize. For most of my reading life genre fiction has been looked down upon with weary or angered dismissal by the great and the good and when something genre-like is lauded it of course ceases to be considered as part of that genre. This is why novels such as 1984 and Brave New World are usually to be found in the general fiction section of shops and libraries. Some authors were in the habit of denying that what they wrote was in fact within a genre. Margaret Atwood describes her work as speculative fiction and, it is said, has angrily dismissed suggestions that The Handmaid’s Tale might in fact be SF. The boundaries can be fluid. Does John le Carré write novels or thrillers? He’s treated with a respect that the authors of the latter rarely receive. But then Len Deighton’s cold war spy book Funeral in Berlin is now published as a Penguin Classic. Salmon Rushdie’s first novel, Grimus, was originally sold as a SF novel and according to Brian Aldiss, Midnight’s Children was going to be as well until at the last minute the publishers decided to market it as a literary book.

                And this is the thing. Genre is as much to do with marketing as it is with identifying the style of book. So, when Penguin originally published John Wyndham’s novels which involve walking carnivorous plants, aliens taking over the world’s oceans and other such things, it carefully avoided packaging them as science fiction at all. Indeed the only reference to the genre comes in the little bit near the beginning where they tell us about the author which contains the gorgeously dismissive line ‘[he] decided to try a modified form of what is unhappily known as “science fiction”.’ It’s like that business of calling ‘comics’ ‘graphic novels’ that took off in the ‘80s when comics became briefly trendy.

                But not everything has changed. Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2015 novel, The Buried Giant was greeted with derision and dismay by the critics with Private Eye’s book man being particularly scathing, his premise being that the novel could not be of any artistic value because of its fantastical elements. Ironically the following issue bemoaned the failure to recognise the late Terry Pratchett’s literary skills. Pratchett himself complained about this in his speech when he accepted the Carnegie Award:

                                ‘Recent Discworld books have spun on such concerns as the nature of belief,

 politics and even of journalistic freedom, but put in one lousy dragon…’

So what has changed? The success of the Lord of the Rings films and the Game of Thrones TV series with non-genre readers obviously have had something to do with it. But I think it is more down to writers like Naomi Aldermen who refuse to accept the rigid demarcations and, in Ms Alderman’s case, leapt at the chance of writing a Doctor Who novel. PD James and Ruth Rendell’s detective novels paved the way by being steadily accepted by the better class of critic and the following generation who are building on it. Harry Potter may have something to do with it. Certainly Professor Harold Bloom statement that he would rather children did not read at all than read JK Rowling’s books did a lot to reveal the degree to which certain people see reading not as a pleasure but as a stand to look down on people from.

                Well, here’s hoping anyway.

Sandy Chadwin is co-running the next  North Tyneside Writer’s Circle this Saturday 11am to 1pm in North Shields Library.