Monday 25 November 2013

Ubud Writers Festival / Aldeburgh Poetry Festival 2013: The Festival Diaries

From Ubud to Aldeburgh / The Festival Diaries

Its 4am and as usual I wake up to write, I have been sleeping on top of a mountain of books, they are piled so high, my nose touches the ceiling. These books are signed and precious, they are limited editions of poetry and fiction and memoir. They have been written by real people I have been meeting and drinking with and so…before I pick up another microphone and say “Good Evening my name is…”  I need to unpack my heavy gig bag and as I do so, what happens, but out pours all these books, characters and memories. So, with the soft rumble of the tumble dryer and the crackle of the logs on the fire, I invite you to sit here with me in my kitchen. I’ll share some snippets from my diary, pour you some tea, invite you to click on the bold names, just to introduce you to a handful of the wonderful people I have had great pleasure meeting on my most recent travels and adventures from Ubud to Aldeburgh.

As you know writing is a solitary sport, reading a necessity, travel feeds the soul and fills the heart, it is difficult but nourishing to leave your desk and comfort zones, to get out of your own head to study the map and read the clues left in the spaces between other peoples words and worlds. More to the point, it is both funny and awkward to meet like-minded adventurers and poetic hearts, and festivals are so important and valuable for all of this. That’s why I am writing this, because I love festivals, I always have. This past six months or so I have been crowd funding my literary childhood memoir ‘Springfield Road’ in real life this has meant asking people to bid and getting out there to actively seek support, I’ve had to leave the comfort of my books and desk and gig more than ever this year, and this crowd sourcing adventure has taken me from Hay-On-Wye to Cornbury to Latitude, Stoke Newington Literary Festival, the wild fields of Wilderness Festival and beyond. 

 Most recently this great adventure took me to spend a weekend in Suffolk at the 25th anniversary of the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival and it was a beauty of an event. With a line up featuring thirty poets from seven countries, I met a rich and diverse crowd and heard fantastic and multi-varied work. Whilst in Aldeburgh my fiancé Dickie and I stayed in a lovely house with poets Luke Samuel Yates and Herbert Moore and their partners. It was a lovely holiday home and we had some funny breakfast chats over toast and tea. I highly recommend you seek out their books, I so enjoyed our time together, beers and laughs with these fine fellows. In fact two of Herbert Moore’s books are on the top of the book mountain as I write this, what tenderness is in these pages, poetry with grace and kick.

Diary: On Thursday evening we arrived in Aldeburgh just in time for the welcome drinks in the Peter Pears gallery. There was wine and readings from some of the poets from further afield, I remember most of all the brilliant stance of this fantastic Russian Poet called Vera Pavlova. I don’t think anyone can ever underestimate how nerve wracking this is going to be,  to read poetry aloud to a room full of actual poets, I mean people that call themselves poets, prize winning poets and academic poets to boot. It’s going to be quite a weekend. Anyway after the drinks we wound our way down the salt and silent foggy Aldeburgh streets with Alison Brackenbury, it was lovely to see her again. The vibe was warm and lovely, we all had supper at The Poets House. It was delicious and the wine flowed as you can imagine…and afterwards some of us went to the pub and allegedly I made us do some shots…

The next day I started my feast of poetry nourished by the wisdom of the great Dennis Nurske. After that my jaw dropped listening to an American poet called Terrance Hayes too. Other Aldeburgh high points for me were the excellent readings from pamphlet poets - Richie McCaffery, Kim Moore, Shazea Quraishi and aforementioned Luke Samuel Yates. 

And later on I was thrilled to hear the work of gutsy feminist Katha Pollitt, she was also a great and unforgettable character to meet. I will never forget Karen Solie, finding her poetry haunting and evocative of her sense of home and Canada. And as I write that now I am also remembering the stunning poetry of Olivia McCannon, she made everyone at her reading cry with her heart breaking work. It is not easy to write death and I thought this was a beautifully executed and a brave performance.  Also most memorable was the opportunity to hear Nikola Madzirov both in English and Macedonian. He has such a powerful stage and page presence, he made quite an impression on everyone that weekend, as he launched his latest Bloodaxe published collection, Remnants Of Another Age.

Ian McMillan & Fran Crowe 'Pilotage'

 Saving the best until last, another bright light highlight for me was a rip roaring set from the great Ian McMillan, a beautiful gig packed with self-effacing warmth and humour. I’ve only ever known Ian in his radio capacity, having met him when I have been asked to read poetry on The Verb, and so it was wonderful to watch this sumptuous feast of witty poetry. His show included reading from his Poetry Trust commissioned book Pilotage a collaboration with Fran Crowe, who I also had the delight to meet and which is another book on this book mountain of mine that I am enjoying immensely. 

Diary: After Ian’s gig on Saturday night we chose to stay in The Plough and Sail pub to watch the open mic slots and I’m so glad we did. I was blushing, quite flattered to hear Amy Wragg doing a cover version of my poem ‘Ding Dong’ it made me laugh! Most of all I thoroughly enjoyed hearing new poets Rowan James and Fenland poet laureate Leanne Moden’s poem about pubic hair, she cracked me up… 

At Aldeburgh festival I had two sets: On the Saturday afternoon I was asked to participate in a session sponsored by poetry webzine Ink, Sweat and Tears and introduced by Robert Seatter a fifteen minute talk-set on the subject of ‘beauty’ and you can hear the results of this for yourself here  ... The next day, on the Sunday lunchtime, I did a longer 30-minute show in The Plough and Sail pub in Snape and you can hear the audio for that here 

Ah Aldeburgh, it all went so fast, the weekend was ram packed with a hub bub of activities and talks and laughs. I loved it and this diary is shared with huge thanks to all at Aldeburgh, to Naomi Jaffe and The Poetry Trust. Get your tickets for Aldeburgh 2014 here  

 Part Two: UBUD
Back in my kitchen, I sit here poking the glowing coals on the fire grate in November, it is dizzying how fast the weeks fly by and incongruous to recall that before Aldeburgh, my October, was filled with epic landscapes of emerald rice paddies, turquoise waters and humid jungle.

Pondok Pisang
Dickie and I arrived in Denpasar and headed east. We laughed and called this our pre-honeymoon,  a honeymoon rehearsal, spending our first few nights in Bali shacked up in a wooden cottage at the secluded Pondok Pisang. We had our own private deck with steps down to the beach. If you go there, its situated just down the road from the livelier resort of Candi Dasa. Its out of season and quite quiet in October and so we pretty much had the place to ourselves. 

The Balinese are the friendliest and most beautiful people on the planet - And when I say that I am paraphrasing David Attenborough on purpose.

 Diary: Timeless. I have no idea what the time is. I know that back in England the tomatoes have all faded, the school bells ring and the sky is soup, but here it’s tropical and a bright morning light. Yesterday we hired a car and drove up through the jungle-green; we took spiralling winding roads to a place called Blue Lagoon Bay. So beautiful. Dickie talked me into snorkelling for the first time. I was afraid of the deep water and the unknown, but I held his hand and took a deep breath and it was another world, a beautiful blue world, multi-coloured coral and luminous fish...

After some blissful days staying at the Amarta Cottages
we travelled south to the Bukit Penisular. There we slept up high on the top of a cliff in a Tarzan and Jane tree house, if you ever go that way, I highly recommend staying in ‘The Crows Nest’ at the friendly Suara Ombak. Below us the view of the ocean was breath taking...

Treehouse bed

Diary: and the waves are holy cathedrals, the surfers are the choir, the worshippers, at foam and green altars, magnificent architectures, rising and crashing to the shore...

 We hung out there on Bingin Beach for a few days, gazing at sunsets, watching the waxing moon and noting the star and constellations of the southern hemisphere, we had BBQ’d red snapper and rice cooked there on the beach and we sped about on our motorbike exploring. I remember we visited The Water Palace and The Monkey Temple and lived on nasi goreng and drank Bintang beer, thrashing each other at black jack…

And the jet lag passed and the time flew and soon it was time to travel across country inland towards Ubud to meet writing comrades for the UWRF13 cocktail party at The Ayung Resort

Ayung Resort
These photos don't do it justice but the Ayung Resort is opulent, with the most decadent entrance adorned with statues of gold and marble, lions, elephants and Gods. Dickie and I were lucky enough to be booked to stay there throughout the festival. When we arrived we could hear the party had started and traditional music and Gamelan dancing was beginning beyond the terrace in the amphitheatre. 

Opening ceremony, traditional dance
The festival created a replica night market with delicious Balinese food stalls. I was so happy to see friends from my last visit, wonderful folks like The Cambodian Space Project and Clementine Ford to name just two. And after the live music and dancing was all done, we headed into down town Ubud to drink into the night at the Havana Bar. Writing this I now remember this was the night where I first met and made friends with brilliant Australian poet Omar Musa and also had great laughs and shots with the beautiful Egyptian author Mona Prince, and then the next night was the opening ceremony at the palace…

Opening Ceremony
Diary: Tonight we were invited to The Ubud Palace for the Festival Ceremony and The Gala Dinner. This is the 10th Anniversary, so it was extra special, the beautiful and colourful Gamelan dancers and traditional music. There were a lot of speeches and thank yous to all the people to make this happen. They showed a montage of ten years of the festival… Afterwards at dinner I was seated next to my Voewood buddy, the brilliant Glen Duncan. It was fun, we were opposite Sebastian Faulks and his wife. My first impression of Sebastian Faulks, he reminded me very much of the late Iain Banks, I told him as much and he didn’t seem to mind at all.
Bernice Chauly and Salena Godden, Bar Luna, Ubud 2013

The following day I had to get to work with two readings on the same day and luckily both were at Bar Luna in Ubud. I say luckily because the traffic can get quite hectic and it can be a panic to get transport to the different events going on all over the town on time. My first show was a double bill with Malaysian author and fellow memoirist Bernice Chauly, this was followed by a Q&A. It was a friendly crowd and so heart warming to meet Bernice, we hit it off right away, our stories were quite similar, our journeys and memoir writing process also echoed. After a break and some delicious food and cocktails, we hosted The Book Club Boutique Bali style.

Dickie at Bar Luna
One of the Bundy Brothers, the blue eyed boy himself, Dickie Cripps opened the show and warmed everybody up with some drinking songs on the was a great beginning for what turned out to be a fantastic night of Books, Booze and Boogie-Woogie in the true spirit of the early days of BCB - it reminded me of our shows down in Dick’s Bar. Our line up featured special guest poets and authors – am remembering Clementine Ford sharing a heart-breaking letter to her mother. The fabulous boogie-woogie element was provided by the gorgeous bluesy Monique DiMattina on piano and fantastic hip hop, lyrics and beats from Quincy Davis aka Soul Minor. This magical night ended with a jam, a big make-it-up song, improvisation, everyone falling about laughing and joining in, and Ozzie musician Tommy Spender did one of his infamous whistling solos.  

Monique DiMattina at The Book Club Boutique Bali Style 2013

Then suddenly its Sunday morning and I have to be on a panel at 9am - Oh how cruel festival programmers are! Janet Steele hosted our session with authors Bernice Chauly and Agustinus Wibowo on the subject of ‘Memoir’ - I was so nervous and worried about it, but it ended up being another highlight of my trip. It was a fantastic session, but don’t take my word for it because the audio is here  

Diary: Just as we sat down to begin the session I spilled coffee all down my clean white shirt in front of everyone, the lid just came off...Thank God I put a spare dress in my gig bag for the second show. Brilliant to meet Janet Steele, she said she’d read the book and said she loved it. Amazing meeting the other memoirists too, we discovered we have so many things in common. Not just in our stories, our childhoods, our ghosts, but also our struggles to get our books written and published. Writing and talking about memoir wasn’t easy. But this session was a highlight not just of this trip but also of this past six months and this Unbound crowd-funding journey, I feel like my book has brothers and sisters now, although they are written in different languages, the landscape and homeland of childhood is universal.  

Janet Steele, Salena Godden, Bernice Chauly, Agustinus Wibowo

Later in the festival I was asked to host a discussion about poetry, a debate about ‘Page V’s Stage’ with as pictured below, left to right, poets CJBowerbird, Angelo V. Suarez, Omar Musa, Jun Nizami, on the panel. It was a lively debate, they are all such fantastic poets, we each read and talked about pieces we 'thought' were considered page and stage and debated it, in the end we were heckled by Angelo's son also pictured below, and you can hear the audio that goes with this photo  here 

I was invited to read from 'Springfield Road' and take part in a panel about crowd funding and publishing with StuartBuchanan, Hermawan Kartajaya and Marcus Westbury, hosted by Jill Eddington – have a listen and you can discover the pros and cons of crowd funding and self publishing in other countries here

The Ubud Writers and Readers festival was a huge success and I thank everyone most especially the beautiful Janet Deneefe so much for inviting me to participate. I urge you to have a listen to all the audio archives, check out the talks and debates by the likes Lionel Shriver and Clementine Ford and Sebastian Faulks to name a few. Needless to say there was loads more to mention, a kick ass poetry slam, street parties, more laughs into the small hours, that fabulous feast that was ‘Dinner with Janet’ at The Honeymoon Guesthouse. 

Dickie, Clementine and Salena
The end of the festival party was stunning with fire-dancers and...there was a rave... there was the secret pool party... and the after-after-party...and the Festival Hangover gig at Bar Luna...and the after-after-after-that party…

Nila Tanzil and Agustinus Wibowo

Omar Musa
Clementine and Salena

Eventually Dickie and I left Ubud and decided to complete our stay in Bali with a trip to Amed. There we had more adventures, sailing with a fisherman, meeting a turtle, jelly fish and baby sharks, going off-road exploring deepest  jungle, reading books and drinking rum... but I won’t share everything here, you have got to leave some things just for yourself. And of course I suggest you get yourself a ticket to Ubud 2014 and write your own festival diary and your own adventure:

Diary: We are in Amed, staying at the Blue Moon hotel, overlooking the ocean. This morning Dickie and I went snorkelling in a Japanese shipwreck....These are our last nights here, we are naming the stars of the Southern Hemisphere for the last time, and we watch the full harvest moon rising, orange and gold and plump out of the ocean.

"Come a little bit closer, 
hear what I have to say, 
just like children sleepin', 
we could dream this night away…. 
Harvest, harvest moon."

Come and find me:
 December 2nd : Warwick Arts Centre   
reading and talk show hosted by Jo Bell

 December 3rd:  The House of Lords
I'm going to The House of Lords to speak at 
The 21st Birthday of the UN International Day for Persons with Disabilities

December 6th - 8th: Edinburgh
See flyer below!