For me, my poems serve as a diary. When I look at them I can remember where I was when I got the idea for each one, and what it was that acted as the initial inspiration. The opening poem in my book, Heading North, is called Midnight, July.
The title indicates the when, but not the where and why.
The words for this one came when I was sat in the back garden with a coffee. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and I was looking up at the stars and wondering whether we could be alone or was there life somewhere out there?
We writhe with a rage to know the unknowable, blind to great masses that dance in dark orbits. And a soft, summer wind on a night beneath stars is no balm.
While I was sat there, neck craned in the quiet of the night, the stillness was broken by the sound of somebody passing by the front of the house, their presence announced by their whistle as they went.
From somewhere a whistle casts a line, a fragile camaraderie in a world fell silent, where white moth-wing is riotous and a spider's touch carnal.
That faceless person, whoever it was, initiated the close of this poem. Sometimes we go about life oblivious of the effect we have on others, positive or otherwise. And writers can be voyeuristic vampires, stealing in secret what they need from those around them.
I had half of another poem entitled Old Town. When writing it I had the idea of an American-type run down town in the middle of the desert, with people eking out a life in a place where unknown others lived long before them.
As is their wont, the ancestors speak of nothing, just leave their handprints on rock, drying in shadow. In sterile dust we kick careless trails, tracks opening up in animal minds. In towns we lay our markers down, watering holes within arid charms. The rats have our number, wait us out, sandstorms filling our lungs like egg timers.
I wanted to add a second part to the poem.
Regular readers of City Jackdaw will no doubt know of my love for old photographs. There is one in particular that has featured on my blog a few times before. It bears the legend Mary and her Grandfather Jasper. Around 1900. In many cases we never know who the people are in photographs such as this one, but with this we know enough to give it a personal dimension.
I wanted to somehow include this in my book, and so for the second part of this poem I envisaged somebody using it as a bookmark, reading a Truman Capote book (I had The Grass Harp in mind) while, in contrast to the whole ‘heading north’ theme, thinking of the south where the author came from and set his stories.
On the porch she reads Capote. Turns her face to the south. Her bookmark is an old photograph of an old man; a girl; a dog: 'Mary and her grandfather Jasper, around 1900.' He: sat, stern and saturnine, wearing the dust. She: stood, hand lightly on his shoulder, glaring at the camera, facing down posterity: Not yet. Not yet. The dog is unnamed. The birdcage in the window, empty. In the book there are voices on the wind. Here, just the parched whisper of turned vellum.
Just weeks before Heading North was to be published I went to stay for a few days in Sweden. It being the furthest north I’d ever been I thought it an ideal opportunity to write something as a last minute addition to my collection of poems.
And thus was born Three Poems In Stockholm.
The first poem came about when I was staying on a boat that served as a hostel and I was woken early by the sound of a foghorn. On looking out of the cabin window I was greeted by the unexpected sight of a Stockholm blanketed by thick fog.
Anchored mists hold down the grey waters of Saltsjön. The mournful baritone of a foghorn splinters the hull, grinds the bones, raises us up from our slumbering wooden berth, to climb high above the city's fitful dreams.
I got dressed and went for a walk. Wandering around there was hardly anyone else around: it was a Sunday morning and the shops were still closed, even in this capital city.
I found myself on an empty street, myopic in the cataract effect of the fog. Suddenly a girl came into sight. Perhaps in her twenties, she wore a bright chequered dress, and beneath her arm she carried around half a dozen sunflowers.
The contrast between her and her surroundings struck me, and I immediately knew that this encounter would feature in the poem I was writing.
In Södermalm, shining in a multicoloured, chequered dress, a girl breezes along with an armful of sunflowers, creating a fissure of brightness in the milky gloom, ploughing a passage of light right through to the warm facades of Gamla Stan. Blind to all else, we follow her down.
Although another two Stockholm based poems followed, this is the one that reminds most of my time there. It was that image I can still see now: within a fog-bound scene a flame-haired girl in a bright dress, clutching yellow sunflowers. A centre of colour in a colourless landscape. It was like a painting.
Of course if I’d have approached her and said I was going to write a poem about her I could have been hit with a restraining order or something much more painful.
So somewhere out there, probably still in Stockholm, there is a girl who inspired a poet and is immortalised in a poem that featured in a book.
And she will never know.
I don’t know about you guys, but I think that’s kinda sad.
Hi guys, here is a link to my Amazon Author page. Check it out if you get five minutes during this busy Christmas period.
Thanks people, wishing you peace-at least for those five minutes 🙂
The second of The Northlore Series of books is out today. A planned trilogy of books, the first volume was called Folklore, and this second one is called Mythos. I have two short stories featured in it.
The premise of this one is that since the advent of Christianity 2,000 years ago, the old Norse Gods didn’t just cease to exist but continued on, right through to the present day. These are their stories. There are tales of different times and different places: from the Russian Plains, to the Somme, to a cafe in New York. A varied collection that holds something for everyone, it is a great companion piece to Folklore.
In Folklore, I had included a poem about a Mara, and a story about a Myling. A reviewer (in a good way), described my story as ‘Murray’s bleak take on the Myling legend’. If he thought that was bleak, wait until he reads my World War One tale in Mythos! Though I liked ‘bleak’. I think I’ll take that.
The books contain humour, too. There is a good balance throughout: light and dark, prose and poetry.
Both books are available here:
And for American customers:
In a couple of days, my poetry collection Heading North, (Nordland Publishing), will be a year old. I may celebrate this, even have a little cake and wear a hat.
The blurb reads:
Heading North is a collection of poems arranged in a deliberate order to take us on a journey where we travel from the childhood and youth of summer in the South to the mortality-facing winter of the North. ‘We ride in the wake of glaciers, leaving behind the sunshine straits. North, north, always north, heading into midnight.’
It has garnered some great reviews, all of which I’m thankful for. Here are a couple of excerpts:
‘In short, there is real poetry to be found in this first collection of Murray’s work and a depth of pleasure to be gained from its reading that is all too often only notable by its absence in the work of many of today’s poets. Highly recommended.’
‘Without a question or a doubt, Andrew James Murray’s poetic collection certainly encompasses key elements of geopoetical dimension, and gives the reader a sense of north. His quest took him as high as Orkney. Elegant in places, harsh and chiselled with flair and savagery in others, Heading North is an invitation to beauty. Very much recommended.’
The link for American customers:
And if anyone wants a signed copy, you can get one direct from me, via PayPal. Just leave a comment below.
This post isn’t a book review, but I will share with you first what I wrote over on Goodreads when I finished Wicked Beyond Belief:
This book is from the perspective of the police force that was hunting the Yorkshire Ripper. In the time before computers, it documents the blunders that allowed Sutcliffe to keep on killing, and their desperation to end his reign as they realised he would just keep on killing. (In five years he was credited with murdering thirteen women and attacking a further seven, though it is suspected he is responsible for many more.) He was actually interviewed nine times without them realising he was their man. Officers’ health and marriages suffered as the force was totally overwhelmed by the biggest criminal manhunt in British history. For five years the north of England was terrorised by this man, when even female police officers were escorted to their cars after work as nowhere was considered safe. I can remember, as a child, the newspaper headlines every time the Ripper struck, and as a ten year old when the killer’s identity was finally revealed. This book reads like a thriller, and is the best crime book I’ve ever read. Appendixes include his confessional statement and interview transcripts.
Much to my wife’s chagrin, for some reason I like to keep her up to date with what’s happening in any book I’m reading. Even though I’m not talking about the grisly parts, I guess I may be a little taxing for her.
Yesterday morning, early yesterday morning, as she was getting ready for work, I knocked on the bathroom door, quietly as not to wake our student or the children. I’m thoughtful like that. She opened the door, half dressed, half awake, hair all tousled.
“Jen, they’ve started a covert operation.”
“They’ve started a covert operation. In a world before computers, they have secretly began recording the Reg plates of men who are entering certain areas looking for sex.”
“What are you going on about?”
“They totally underestimated the number of men who were actively looking to pay for the services of a prostitute. They were shocked.”
“You’re talking about that bloody Ripper again aren’t you?!”
“Have a guess how many?”
“In West Yorkshire alone-150,000 a month. In Manchester 4,000 a night!”
I let the numbers sink in. She let the door close quietly in my face.
I waited a few minutes. Let her floss. Knocked on the door again. She opened. Still wearing the look.
“Six times he’s been interviewed up to now. Six times! His records misplaced. A file lost for a year. Mistakes are being made.”
“I think I made a big one twelve years ago!”
She left for work. I assured her that I’d let her know how things went.
So, sat with my book in the local coffee shop, I felt sure she would need to be updated with developments. The (short) text conversation went like this:
“They’ve got him.”
“I’ll let you know how the interviews go.”
“Can hardly wait.”
“Wait until you hear what he was wearing when they caught him.”
“I’m not coming home.”
I know secretly that she can’t wait to see what book I choose next. But as tomorrow is Saturday I will let her have a lie in first. Maybe leave it until 8.
Speaking of Saturday, have a great weekend, guys. Give thanks for criminal databases.
See you on the flip side.
It is my pleasure to share with you guys a very worthy book, written by two of my Nordland Publishing stablemates Martin Baker and Fran Houston.
Their book is called High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder
Although living on different sides of the pond, their story illustrates how, in this modern age of technology, distance need not be a barrier in forging supportive, positive friendships. But it is much more than that, so I will leave Martin to introduce you to their book in his own words. Links follow below.
High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder
By Martin Baker
“We live three thousand miles apart and I would not be alive without you. Wherever I go, there you are. However I am, you accept or gently challenge. Whatever I do, you cheer me on. You are the best friend I could ever have.” (Fran Houston)
You never forget the moment your friend tells you they would not be alive without your support. More than 450 million people worldwide have mental health problems. With one in five adults experiencing mental illness in any year, and ten million adults affected by bipolar disorder in America alone, that could include you or someone you care about.
Celebrity-led campaigns such as Bring Change 2 Mind and Time to Change have raised public awareness, but there is little guidance on how to be a good friend when your friend is mentally ill. Memoirs shed light on what it is like to live with mental illness but are of limited practical relevance. Workbooks describe symptoms and treatments but tend to be generic, lack detailed examples, and are usually aimed at the person living with the illness. “Friends and families” titles are almost exclusively written for partners. Crucially, given that friends often live far from one another, there is nothing that describes how to support someone at a distance.
Fran and I are best friends living on opposite sides of the Atlantic: me in the north-east of England, Fran on the east coast of America. Fran has bipolar disorder, also chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS/ME) and fibromyalgia. Despite living three thousand miles apart, I am Fran’s primary caregiver and life-line. Since 2011, I have supported her through mania, depression, chronic pain and debilitating fatigue, with her suicidal thinking our almost constant companion.
In High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder, we share what we’ve learned about growing a close, mutually supportive friendship between a “well one” and an “ill one.” Writing from the caring friend’s point of view, we offer original approaches and practical tips illustrated with our own genuine conversations and examples. Uniquely, we show how technology and the internet mean no one is too far away to be cared for, or to care. As Fran says in the epilogue:
Friends like Marty who are willing to be with me in the darkness are the ones who give me light. Yes there are medications. Yes there is therapy. Yes there is personal responsibility. But caring friendship is the best medicine of all. Then life begins to have purpose.
With a foreword by Rachel Kelly, best-selling author, mental health campaigner, and Ambassador for SANE and Rethink Mental Illness, our book focuses on being there. Discover how to build a relationship strong and flexible enough to handle mania, depression, and suicidal thinking. Explore what illness means. Learn strategies for wellness and how best to support your friend and take care of yourself, whether you live on the same street or oceans apart.
Published by Nordland Publishing, High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder is available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and at selected booksellers.
About the Authors
A highly successful electrical engineer until illness struck, Fran Houston has lived with bipolar disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia for over twenty years. Her first book, For the Love of Peaks: Island Portraits and Stories, was published in 2010. Fran lives in Portland, Maine. Three thousand miles away in the north-east of England, Martin Baker works in the Information Technology Services industry. He is an ASIST trained Mental Health First Aider; a member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Stigma Fighters, Mind and BipolarUK; and Fran’s primary support and life-line. His Collected Poems: 1977–1984 was published in 2008.