Swiftly Summer Comes

The seasons don’t always stick to calendar dates to mark their entries and departures. It can be an inconvenience, I know.  Sometimes we must look for signs, heralds that differ depending on where we live. Although sometimes nature throws us a curveball or two, on the whole I carve up and measure my time according to these local constants.

I’ve heard of people who, when it comes to summer, take stock of the darting flights of swallows as they pursue insects in the feeding lanes above their houses. But I prefer to wait for the ones that come after these, the birds that are among the last of the migrants to arrive: the swifts, living up to their names in their aerial manoeuvres. Around dusk, for the next couple of months, you can here them screaming overhead in their fraternal raiding parties, announcing to all who can hear: we are here, riding in on the southern winds to claim what is left from those who went before us. 

Nature is like that. History is like that.

On leaving the nest in which they hatched,  these birds fly non-stop for three whole years! Do you hear that? I have a daughter who won’t walk fifteen minutes into town.

These bird feed on the wing, mate on the wing, hell, they even sleep on the wing: snoozing with one side of their brain before switching over to the other. Three years of constant flight. My arms ache after one three minute, alcohol-fuelled session of YMCA.

Why don’t they have the occasional time out? You’d think that once in a while they might, I don’t know, sit on a telephone wire or something, and take in the sunset for a while, wouldn’t you?

But they never do. Swifts would make terrible poets.


When Is A Writer A Writer? (And Don’t Mention The P-Word)

Some of you guys may have read that I have just had my first fiction published, and also that I have signed a contract for a chapbook of my poetry  to be released soon. Well the publisher asked for me to send them a few headshots which they could use for the book, and to publicise its release on their website.

I had nothing suitable, I’m either goofing around or carrying kids or I am giving that smile that looks like I’ve entered a gurning competition. This was the first time that I’ve been asked for anything like that, and I felt like I was definitely in uncharted territory.  I’ve never been one for publicity, (I shirked a tv interview not so long ago when a national tragedy had tv crews flocking to my community), and I wasn’t really sure what was expected of me.

What is the standard fare for this kind of thing? I googled Author Headshots. The majority of images that came up looked very professional, immaculately groomed heads in front of blank canvases, barely a hair out of place. It wasn’t reassuring.

Where could I have mine taken? And how? All that I have is a camera phone. Regular Jackdaw readers may recall that I have a techno guy, constantly trying to field my desperate calls for help, normally when my latest Jackdaw post has crashed. Well, I knew he had a fancy camera, so somehow, with a bit of skulduggery, I managed to get hold of him.

He came around last night. More with a fear of pretentiousness than vanity, I began to question myself. Do I have a shave? What do I wear? Am I supposed to smile? Look thoughtful? I found a tip that said the photo was supposed to represent my style. Fashion style? That would just kill my Mrs.

I asked Techno Guy where I should have the photo took.

“Well, as you are based in Manchester, I was thinking maybe sat in a chair, in front of a Manchester landmark somewhere, looking at a book or a kindle.”

I was mortified. “Oh God, no! I’m not having it taken outside in front of anybody! What I meant was, in front of which wall? We have no canvas. We have no blank walls. If I have it in the front room there is all that seventies flowered wallpaper to contend with.”

“What do you mean-seventies?!” my wife cut in. “There’s nothing wrong with this wallpaper!”

I thought that I would look like an extra in Life On Mars or something, but I bit my tongue. Techno Guy suggested the other wall, which was patterned with small squares, claiming his fancy gadget camera could blur the background so you could not see the lines. (The indoor stipulation of mine was correct-outside it was gale force winds and torrential rain. Could you imagine what that would have looked like? Wavy hair blowing all over the place, showing my fod, water dripping off my nose like snot. It would be the worst author photo ever!).

He got me to stand a few feet away from him. “Right, look at the lens.”

As soon as we began, I started giggling. I couldn’t help myself. I felt stupid. Look this way, turn that way, smile, don’t smile. The kids watching didn’t help.

Not that long ago I read a biography of Marilyn Monroe. I recalled how so many people said that in front of the camera she came alive, how she had a magnetism that made love to the lens.

Mine was like an idiot having a drunken fumble with a Polaroid. He took a few more shots. Then he suggested:“How about sitting on a chair now, chin resting on your hands. Maybe holding a pen sticking out of your mouth.”

“Not a chance-I would look pretentious as Hell!” (That p-word again.)

After ten minutes he showed the results to me.

“I look old and fat.” 

My wife tried to appease me “I told you when we looked at that photograph of us all at that party at the weekend, we are definitely middle-aged now. But you are not fat.”

I should have lifted my head higher to hide my double chin. I cursed my Dad for the hereditary jowls. I asked Techno Guy to do them in black and white to hide my corned beef blemishes. He said he would do the best he could.

We were winging it.

This still feels new to me. Though I’ve written for a while, and had poetry published here and there, when I had my first fiction published recently a kind soul informed me that I was now a published writer. And, with my poetry collection pending, that I could now call myself a writer and a poet. It isn’t sitting well with me. I always considered myself as somebody who sometimes writes poetry, or fiction. I adopted no labels.

Although I am beginning to feel a little more validated, a little more authentic, if you like, I can’t bring myself to say to someone “I am a writer” or “I am a poet.” It feels both awkward and embellished in my mouth.

When my wife was taking a copy of the folklore anthology that has my story and poem in it up to her mum, she asked me to sign it for her. I said no. She asked why.

“Because I feel like a knob.”

She laughed, but I do have a fear of coming over all pretentious.

When does come the time when you can say “I am a poet” rather than “I write poetry”? Is there really a difference?

Over to you guys.