Saturday, June 04, 2011

Back to Writing

It is just over five years since I launched this blog site, Oliver’s Poetry Garret, and a little more than five months since the publication of my first poetry book, The Commuter’s Tale.

Looking back over these different periods is a strange feeling. I was in a very different place and state of mind in June 2006, living in a garret flat in Leamington Spa, under often-tough circumstances, and in Lewes at weekends, attending performance poetry events across the Midlands, and looking for a way of expressing my enthusiasms and, I guess, my angst.

In the five and a bit months since the launch of my book, I have devoted the majority of my spare time to promoting it. Poetry sells about as quickly as asbestos burns. Nonetheless, I have persevered, using all my publicity know-how and contacts to get it some kind of profile and into more than 130 bookstores in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.

I believe it has been as successful during that time as one could realistically have hoped for, earning some lovely comments from journalists, celebrities and, most important, the public.

I have promoted The Commuter's Tale in every way I, and my friends and supporters, could conceive. However, before I grow to hate promoting it, now is the time to set the book free, to allow the seeds I have sown to germinate, and Lady Luck to do her bit.

Whatever my friends and mates say, I do not particularly like promoting my own writing. I much prefer doing publicity and marketing on behalf of others - far less embarrassing. That said, I have received some great reaction from people; getting a postcard with a rave review of the book from Hugo Williams, an esteemed poet whom I admire, was one highlight; the wonderful reception from booksellers in Waterstone’s branches across Britain another.

I’d like to thank all those who have given me support and shown enthusiasm for the project. It has meant such a lot to me, guys!

Of course one takes the rough with the smooth. Having your first book published is one of those life-changing events, like having your first child, which splits your social circle. Most are delighted for you; some totally ignore it; while a few are jealous and find that hard to conceal.

For instance, I received an email from one poet complaining I had been published under a pen-name - who'd have thought that Oliver Gozzard wasn't my real name! - and also that I had used rhyme, something she professed to find "irritating"!

Later, the same poet emailed me a second time to admit that she had always wanted to have a book published.

Moreover, a member of the Poetry Society, of which I am also part, sent me a missive, complaining that I had posted a sample of The Commuter's Tale on the Poetry Society's FaceBook "wall".

Poetry on the Poetry Society page! Quelle horreur! It seemed she was more interested in which Poetry Society politico was in or out - leaving or staying in post - than actual poetry or poets. Every walk of life attracts politics and its apparatchiks.

At weekends, I have spent a good deal of time telephoning bookshops and have had a great response from many of them.

A lot of booksellers are really enthusiastic about writers and their books and have been thrilled to stock my book. You get the odd bad experience, though.

My worst occurred when I had the temerity to call a bookseller in a place called Tonbridge. He immediately suggested I send him a complimentary copy of the book for him "to sell"! I replied that I would be more than happy to send him a comp to read and inspect, provided he then ordered a copy to sell from the distributor if he liked it.

The unrepentant bookseller insisted he wanted just the complimentary copy. I inquired: "What would the publisher and the author get out of it if you sold it." Evidently pleased with himself, he replied: "Nothing!"

I was baffled and disturbed by his brazen approach. He did not consider it reasonable for me to receive even one penny for my hard work! I could not help but think: "What a Kent!"

Five months is a hell of a long time to be promoting one item. I have never tried anything like it before - and will probably never do so again.

Now this time is over, I am beginning to get the rest of my life back, watching some television, going to public house out and again and catching up on my mountains of paperwork at home and my friends.

I want to get my life back on track, to look to the future and have some kind of plan. I particularly want to get back into writing.

With editing and promoting The Commuter's Tale, I have written hardly any poetry, or prose fiction, for at least 18 months - far too long, in my view. It has even been difficult for me to find time to write this blog.

I have an idea for a style of poetry I want to try writing in, and am keen to work on developing this new style.

It is shocking how promoting and distributing a book can knock the writing right out of you. It is as if it employs a different part of the brain which stops off that kind of creativity.

A lot of things have happened in the last few months, of course. I have to admit I rather enjoyed The Royal Wedding. I watched it on telly - by far the best view - and once Kate and Wills were safely wed, hopped on the train to London to join the wedding-day crowds.

There was a great atmosphere and it was entertaining to see my old sparring partner, Tim Wilcox, now a BBC freelance anchorman, having a wee run-in with The Fuzz (who, admittedly, were being typically officious).

Working near Buckingham Palace, I also witnessed the build-up to the wedding. I have never seen such a media circus or such quirky campers.

I enjoyed taking some pictures of the preparations and of the big day which I have sprinkled randomly around this blog entry.

Since December I have been using FaceBook and Twitter to promote The Commuter's Tale (MySpace is a dead duck, in my opinion), posting updates on reviews, orders and other developments.

And from the anniversary of Lord Byron's death on 19 April till the end of May I put up a stanza or two of the poem every day. In total I "Facebooked" and tweeted 70 stanzas - 560 lines - of poetry, which in among the regular tittle-tattle on the social media site.

On Facebook and Twitter there is, of course, some interesting material, but it is exceptional. Most of what appears is even more inane than the current appalling Doctor Who series.

I am often surprised by what people publish on Facebook and Twitter and I don't just mean the posts or tweets about the superinjunction-celebrities known to the great public only as "COK, DIK, CNT, WNK, RSE, TIT, RYN and GGS".

However, as I have observed in previous postings, FaceBook can be horribly addictive. You garner far too many so-called friends (around 725 of them in my case to date) and end up clicking "like" to so many of their comments, somewhat diminishing the significance of the few genuine friends whose comments you genuinely appreciate.

Now I have quit Facebook and Twitter, I feel like a rampant sexaholic released from his libido!

In the run-up to the Royal Wedding, I thought of tweeting and Facebooking the blatant lie - my invention - that my dear Icelandic friend Midders is related to Kate Middleton and her sister, 'Her Royal Hotness Princess Pippa'.

I resisted the temptation to publish such nonsense, so imagine my surprise when I was surfing the web and found an Icelandic newspaper article on this very subject.

It would appear that my friend Midders is indeed related to Kate and Sister Hotcheeks, and that his dad attended the wedding.

I am sure I saw Midders Senior go into the Middleton post-nuptials bash at the Goring Hotel, where I had attended my dear friend Lucian Hudson's 50th birthday bash about this time last year.

In Lewes, the Royal Wedding generated minimal interest. The people of Lewes are very independent and generally don't even like the idea of their MP being a Government minister.

The big event in town recently was the re-opening of the Priory ruins. It was a great day, basked in sunshine, albeit a show of two halves.

The top part of the site was run by the Priory Trust and was a bit stuffy in its nature.

The bottom part was organised by Southover Bonfire Society and was totally packed and a huge succcess. Overall, the event was great.

I had been roped in to do the announcing. Imaginative children's poet Simon Welsh performed on the main stage as well as some brilliant young musicians from Starfish. It was touching to see a songstress singing her heart out while three young boys played around her.

More than four thousand people attended the fair, raising a substantial sum for Southover Bonfire Society, of which I am a member.

The fair ended with a tug o' war, surprisingly won by the team put up by Lewes FC fans - the only trophy the club is likely to bag in the foreseeable future!

Lewes FC (the so-called Mighty Rooks) have had a terrible season, managing to get themselves demoted, despite every opportunity of staying up.

I am not alone in being glad to see the back of manager Paddy Tosh "Tim" O'Shea, and was quite taken aback to have read in the Sussex Express that the Board had wanted, and tried, to keep him on for next season.

He could easily have succeeded in keeping up Lewes - but failed miserably. We desperately need a new manager to galvanise what remains of the team and rediscover winning ways.

But hope springs eternal. I was buying a couple of beers down at the corner shop the other night when I was approached by the playwright, comedian and actor Patrick Marber who, to my surprise, apologised profusely for having not read my book yet, explaining that he wanted to do so in one sitting. Somewhat taken aback, I said that my friend behind the counter of the store had been a professional footballer and was ready and willing to help Lewes FC as a player or even manager. Marber, who is on the board of Lewes FC, showed some interest in this remark but hinted good news was on the way on the manager front.

And, tonight, I was walking past the ground and saw that the fixtures board contained the words: "THE KING IS BACK" which, I can only assume, means legendary Lewes FC manager Steve King (who, bizarrely, was sacked three years ago after earning the club promotion) is returning to his rightful place at the helm. Absolutely fantastic and amazing news! Well done, Marber and fellow Directors!

* We have had some excellent weather. Despite the many hours I have spent at my desk, I have found some time to enjoy the amazing run of sunny days. The sunsets in Brighton and at my allotment at Earwig Corner have been sublime.

The flip side, naturally, is that the allotment has been like the Sahara Desert - arid and hard to grow anything in but weeds.

All the same, I have managed to get the weeds down and keep a few onion and garlic plants, at least, moving upwards. It is a sanctuary of tranquility at Earwig Corner. One day I might even write some poetry there.

My poetry club, Lewes Poetry, has been shuffling along in its own inimitable way. The last couple of gigs have had some great performances by poets such as Sian Thomas and Rebecca Hurst.

Both have also contributed poems to the Fifth Birthday Edition of the Oliver's Poetry website, along Oxford poet Laura King, old friend Tony Constantino (brother of my late friend John Constantino), from Portugal, and ace poet (and employment law adviser) David Burridge.

The five years since I launched the site have gone all too quickly. I have published around 90 poems contributed by other poets - from the famous to completely unknown - as well as a selection of my own work.

Writing Oliver's Poetry Garret blog has been enjoyable, although I am not your usual blogger in style, having chosen to blog only very occasionally but then at length on a range of subjects, illustrated by large numbers of my own photographs. Over five years I have produced only 92 blog entries - a mean average of around 18 a year, although it has been even fewer recently!

It is possibly not the most public-friendly way of blogging, but I like it and it suits me.

This whole experience - a creative journey, really - of creating the Oliver's Poetry site, its blog, performing poetry in clubs, and writing and publishing The Commuter's Tale has been an instructive one.

I am learnt a lot about myself and about the people I know: those you are wonderfully enthusiastic and supportive, and those who are flaky, crazy and unreliable. Who if truth were told couldn't give a fig about you.

Life is full of surprises. You get great moments - like a review broadcast on the RRRants collective's radio show - and also great challenges. It is a constant fight.

But that's life.

P.S. Here, for the final time, I promise, is the updated list of quotes from people who've read The Commuter's Tale:

What the readers say:

‘An uncompromised work of genius’ Chris Mason-Felsin

‘A brilliant and truly stunning piece of work’ John Eckersley

‘Had me hooked and wanting more’ John McJannet

‘Clever, witty and kept surprising me’ Juliette Mitchell

‘A unique mix: Byron meets ‘Candide’ meets ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ - immense fun to read’ Trefor Stockwell

‘Made me roar with laughter’ Elizabeth Darcy Jones

‘A book like no other’ Tom Quinn

‘Absolutely superb’ Sarah Crouch

‘A racy read in rap style’ David Burridge

‘Good fun – I really enjoyed it’ Chris Fowler

‘Very absorbing, gripping and engaging – a great read!’ Amanda Banks

‘Gozzard is cooking on gas in this vibrant odyssey’ Roderick Spode

‘Really, really good. Respect!’ Doug Taylor

 ‘Accessible, entertaining and different’ Jamie Crawford
‘So funny I read it twice’ Ian Hunt

‘Cracking – I couldn’t put it down’ Iona Jette

What the famous say about The Commuter’s Tale:

‘I just couldn't do it justice!’ Jeremy Paxman

‘A fine book, The Commuter’s Tale. Very readable’ Hugo Williams

‘Shows initiative and a sense of humour’ Joanne Harris

‘Very entertaining - chunters along like a train’ Channel 5’s Matthew Wright

‘A rollicking odyssey of joy’ Radio 4’s Elvis McGonagall

‘Belloc meets Byron meets Chaucer’ Attila the Stockbroker

'Bold and engaging, told with brave commitment and good humour. Most unusual’ Jeremy Stockwell, star of BBC2’s The Speaker

‘I support The Commuter’s Tale and wish it every success’ Transport Minister Norman Baker MP

What the media say:

‘The ideal read for a train journey’ Splash FM

‘A thriller in verse’ Metro

‘A dramatic yarn’ Tim Cornwell (John Le Carré’s son), The Scotsman

‘A delightful world of romance and adventure’ Michael Prescott, ex-Sunday Times

‘Poetry in motion’ Sussex Express

‘Loads of pace! I read it in one sitting on a train and really enjoyed it!’ Kenny Farquharson, Deputy Editor, Scotland on Sunday

‘Neatly calls to mind the reassuring rhythm of the railway’ Alex Leith, Editor, Viva Lewes

‘A page-turner’ Artists and Makers

‘Highly acclaimed’ Scunthorpe Telegraph

‘Poetic thriller by poet who knew Philip Larkin’ Hull Daily Mail

‘Brave and singular, unlike anything else you are likely to read this year’ The Frogmore Papers

‘Read this book! It will inflame any hidden craving you may have to break away from your norm’ RRRants radio show

‘A swashbuckling, thrilling odyssey – excellent! Waterstone’s