Sunday, 29 January 2012

Staring out of the Window is also Work

Writers tend to spend a lot of time staring out of the window. What is not so widely known, is that this is part of the writing process and therefore it can be called work.

I find it very hard to write in rooms with no or very small windows. If I write in a cafe or a pub I usually choose a window seat.

Something is happening when you stare, I believe. Your thoughts reorganise themselves. One morning this week I spontaneously popped into the Medusa Bar in Preston Street for a cup of green tea (miraculously making it last for an hour and a half). In my bag I had a few sheets of poems in progress that I'd printed out. Staring at the street, staring at the sheets things started to happen, and I scribbled frenetically in the margins, making up new lines, crossing bad ones out and moving a few words around. I'd had an idea for a very long time, but didn't get anywhere with it - now I ended up with three different poems on the same theme (compliments).

I am in need of different views now and again, so it's good that Brighton & Hove have an abundance of bars, pubs and cafes. And when I do my Swenglish project I'll have a different view every week, unless someone puts me up in their basement or even worse wardrobe! (The view in the picture belongs to one of the people I'm going to stay with.)

Monday, 23 January 2012

Shake the Dust

This spring I'm happy to be involved in a project called Shake the Dust run by spoken word organisation Apples & Snakes.

Shake the Dust is a celebration of the spoken word and will get young people into writing and performing their own poetry. My role is to assist another poet (the brilliant Mike Parker) delivering workshops in schools. Well, funnily enough my job description is "Shadow Poetry Coach", so for me this year is all about being a shadow (because shadowing is also what I'm going to do for my Swenglish project)

Last week I went to the first training session with poet Jacob Sam-La Rose. He insists on trying all the writing exercises himself before he tries them on his students. A very sound idea! The Poetry Coaches and their Shadows had to use their heads and pens and come up with a group piece.

Jacob calls this method "row writing": you write for a couple of minutes on a given theme and then pass the paper on to the next person. Our group came up with a very funny piece on the theme of truce called "It's easy to forgive a pet". We then performed this poem, standing on a line, looking angry at first and then moving closer together. I'm now looking forward to see what the teenagers make of this exercise ...

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Hurry up and Wait! - interview with author Isabel Ashdown

This week I'm delighted to present my interview with author Isabel Ashdown. Her latest novel, Hurry Up and Wait! kept me awake for a whole night as I couldn't put it down. I do love coming- of-age stories ...

They say the second book is the hardest, but you’ve done such a good job, and I think Hurry Up and Wait is even better than your debut Glasshopper which I really loved. How was the writing process for you? Was it easier or harder to write the second one?

Thank you! I suppose the writing process was always going to be very different for my second novel; this time round I had a publishing contract – an audience – and, gulp, a well-received first novel to live up to. So in some ways, I felt a little more exposed. I’m a very private writer – with the exception of two close writer friends, I never reveal my work until I feel it’s ready. Even my husband doesn’t get to see a word of it until it’s at an advanced stage. Thankfully, my fiction editor at Myriad, Vicky Blunden, is very understanding, and she left me to get on with it until I was ready to share.

Where did you get the initial idea from?

The seed of it began with a five minute screenplay I wrote several years ago, in which a woman reluctantly attends her high school reunion. I thought, how would I feel about a school reunion; would I go? The thought of it filled me with horror. My writing always starts with the character, and the Sarah of my screenplay was so clear to me, that I suppose it was inevitable I would go back to explore her story further.

How much did you plot and how much did happen as you were writing?

I tend to free-write initially, while I discover the characters and sense of place. Then, once I have a strong feeling about my new world, I panic. I panic over the lack of structure, the hazy direction, the absence of strategy ... In life and in business, I’m one of life’s natural planners, so this way of working is alien to me – but if I’ve discovered one thing about my writing, it’s that it does me good to let myself go a bit, before I pull everything together with a rough plot outline. Of course, the final story never ends up looking very much like that initial plot outline!

Any thoughts on the structure? Did it help using a school year as a model?

It seemed right to locate this story within one full, final school year. So much can shift and alter in those last ten months, as girls teeter on the edge of womanhood, so desperate to be treated like adults, yet so inexperienced and vulnerable. The end of exams and the start of the summer holidays seem to me such poignant turning points in anyone’s history.

How come you decided to frame the novel with an event taking place twenty-four years later?

The story opens in present day, with 39-year-old Sarah preparing to attend the school reunion. Her 40th year felt like a significant moment to take her back to a place and time that changed her forever.

Did you have all characters clear from the beginning or did extras pop us as you were writing?

There are always a couple of very strong characters who draw me along, and everyone else seems to appear as they’re needed. Often I’ll discover someone new, quite by chance, and it’s thrilling, like being handed an unexpected gift. Today, whilst working on my next novel, I discovered Gordon; he’s a brilliant, quirky character I hadn’t planned at all – but somehow he managed to sneak in and steal the scene.

Did you make detailed character sketches or did they happen more organically?

They just seem to develop naturally. I guess the writer’s job is to supply the situations, to set the scene, and to provoke those characters into showing themselves as they really are.

How much did you think of your own school time as you were writing?

Lots – although I was careful not to inadvertently include any real people! I purposely set the events in my own school year, which helped me to stay true to the atmosphere of the era.

Why did you decide to use the fictive names East and West Selton? (It’s clear you had East and West Wittering in mind, as you even mention that a Rolling Stone got a house there?)

Within the novel there are a number of anagrams of real places – for example Selton is Solent. I wanted a fictional town, to allow the story to go where I needed it to. But if pushed, I’d say Selton is a complex blend of coastal East Wittering, where I grew up, and inland Chichester, where I attended high school. Nice to see you got the Rolling Stones reference!

What role did the band Blondie play for the novel?

When I was fifteen, I was massively into Blondie, even though they weren’t all that current by the mid-eighties. I loved the punk influences; Debbie Harry’s stance was so sexy and cool, and above all, the music seemed to speak to me. In part, I was probably indulging my own nostalgic memories by drawing a favourite band into the story. But more importantly, a band like Blondie represented an exotic ‘otherness’ to a conventional girl like Sarah, growing up within the suffocating constraints of small town England in the 1980s.

Did you have to research the 80s stuff of did you remember most of it?

I’ve got a good memory for that kind of detail, so the story sprang out of that. But as I wrote, I was constantly researching information to check my memories were accurate, particularly for historical detail like news footage of the Chernobyl disaster, or for release dates of albums or films I might mention.

Finally, what’s the theme of your next novel?

I’m busy at work on my next novel, which takes place on a British island one summer in the 1970s. It’s a family drama centred on a scandal in a small community, set against the shifting Seventies backdrop of political unrest, social change and vibrant cultural development. The research part of the process is endlessly fascinating, and as well as exploring the historical details of the era I like to immerse myself in the music, which is no hardship as far as that decade is concerned. In fact, I’m just cueing up Bowie’s Young Americans as we speak ...

There’s still a lot of work to do, but it’s gradually coming together. Having done this a couple of times now, I know there’ll be moments of fear and uncertainty along the way, but with any luck, moments of enlightenment and joy will visit me in equal measure!

Thanks for asking me along to chat, Louise – and I’ll let you know when the next book is due to hit the shelves.

Thank you too, Issie for your inspiring answers!

If you want to find out more about Isabel Ashdown and her books visit her website here.

Hurry up and Wait! is available here. What are you waiting for?

Monday, 9 January 2012

Introducing Swenglish

I've created a new blog for my 2012 Swenglish-project.

Please check it out here:

(I'll still use this blog, Living Lou, to write about other topics.)

Wednesday, 4 January 2012


2012 doesn't have a face yet
I don't know which face to show
but I am facing this year in my own way

2012 is the Swenglish year
the year I'm going to work out
where I want to live and what I want to do

who I want to be even.

(more info about Swenglish to follow)

Sunday, 1 January 2012

2011 A-Z

A is for

Ace Stories (Brighton's best live lit event)

Agent (this year I signed the contract with my literary agent!)

Alexander Technique Lessons

Are you sitting comfortably? (live lit event)

B is for

Bath (where I went with my family)

Bang Said the Gun (the poetry slam I won in London in September)

Barcelona (where I celebrated my 29th birthday)

Beat (poetry gig)

Beer (too much)

Bombanes (poetry gig)


Brighton Festival and Brighton Fringe Festival

C is for

Camping in Hassocks

Chatterbooks (my book group for kids at the library)

Cocktails at Hotel Pelirocco, and Tara’s Cocktails party

Cooking (I’ve cooked for people at 7 different occasions which is 7 more times than last year!)

D is for

Drop-in Drama at New Venture Theatre

Duke of York’s Cinema

E is for

Elly-Mae (the working title of my new novel project)

Events (that I organised/compared at Hove Library)

F is for

4thirtythree (the band I did improvised spoken word/music gigs with)

5rhythms dance

Floetics (poetry gig)

G is for

Game Girl

Grit Lit (short story night)

H is for

Hammer & Tongue (Brighton’s one & only poetry slam, this year I made it to the final!)

Hippie dreams

Horseplay (poetry gig)

I is for

Idea (the big Swenglish idea that I’ll embark on in 2012)

Ice as in Lou Ice

J is for


John Cage (part of tribute performance)

John Cale (Brighton festival)

K is for

Kay Sexton (who launched her book Minding My Peas & Cucumbers in a Windmill)

L is for

Laurie Anderson (Brighton Festival)

Lecturing at Loxdale Centre


Library Blues (no comment!)

LOST (Sky and I watched the last episode ever of the only TV series that I’ve ever followed. Well, at least since Beverly Hills 90210)

M is for

Marching f(or Public Services in London and for Pensions in Brighton)

Marwood’s Cafe

Midlife Crisis (an early one!)

Midsummer Camp Festival in Norfolk


Modern Art

N is for

Natalie (the main character in REPLACING ANGEL/UNDER THE LIP)

Nick Cave

Not for the Faint-Hearted (writing workshops)

Nässjö (my hometown where I spent some time in the summer)

O is for

OMG (and other modern age abbreviations)

Orange juice with bits

P is for

Photography (the picture is from the forest where I spent the last day of the year)

Planet India Restaurant

Poetry (got back into writing & performing poetry this year)

Pizza (Swedish style with bananas!)

Psychogeography (thank you James!)

Q is for

Queer & Quirky Brightonians

R is for

Rattle Tales (short story event)

REPLACING ANGEL (my English novel that changed name to UNDER THE LIP, see U)

Rock 'N' Roll

S is for

Sandy Dillon (the best music artist I’ve discovered this year)

Short Stories (not that many written, but quite a few published)

Sister’s Circle

Something Wholly Inappropriate (poetry gig)

Spilling Ink Review

Stockholm (stayed with my brother and visited one of my best friends)

Story Scavenging

Story Studio (short story event)

Sue (our “creative coaching” meetings are great!)

Sweat Lodge in Stanmer Park

Sweden (three trips this year: surprising my Dad on his birthday in June, summer bliss in August, and Xmas/New Year)

Swimming in the sea

T is for

Tax Return

Tea (Green)

U is for

UNDER THE LIP (my English novel that is under consideration for publication in both Sweden and the UK)

V is for

Visitors (Laura, my aunt, my family, Pernilla, Sara)

Voice Work

W is for

Waiting (for news about my book)


Whale Writing (a project with my writing colleague Lotus)


X is for

Xmas tree (dancing round the tree at work and with all relatives on Xmas day!)

Y is for

YLG (Youth Library Group) conference in London

Z is for