I travelled into Manchester on a warm and stuffy bus, the heat only adding to my lethargy. I’d had only four hours sleep due to the late arrival of the student due to stay with us. (Don’t ask. No really- don’t ask! My WordPress word count couldn’t take it.)
After delivering him safely to the academy I called for a quick early lunch at the food court in the Arndale Centre. Sporting different stalls offering food from many different countries, I opted for a halloumi pitta from Zorba’s.
Don’t worry this isn’t a food post, I’m not that kind of blogger.
I took a table and began to eat while reading the book I was currently in the middle of, maybe not a good idea whilst making a mess of myself with yoghurt sauce. A voice reached me from a neighbouring table: “Do you like Greek writers?”
I looked across to him whilst frantically dabbing at my chin with a napkin. He did indeed look Greek, but I don’t think he was one of Zorba’s workers. Perhaps an expat with a craving for home cooking.
Emboldened by the name of the food stall, I replied “I’ve read most things by Nikos Kazantzakis.”
“He is Cretan.”
I conceded that he was, and that I’d actually seen the author’s grave in Heraklion.
“Crete is not Greece,” my neighbour said firmly. And then he glanced down at my plastic tray. “And halloumi is not meat.”
You had to hand it to the guy, he certainly knew his stuff. Again I conceded the point, and briefly considered asking him for both author recommendations and favoured meat dishes but decided to cut and run. For no doubt English would not be Greek and my wife’s cooking would not be his Mother’s.
I packed both my book and lunch into my backpack and said a hasty goodbye, bus to catch and all that, making my escape through the adjacent indoor fish market. As usual with the fish market it is your sense of smell that registers before your sense of sight, but then Conga eels, live mussels and all types of fish parts catch your eye, including, at the end of the display, a sign for Cod Flaps.
Cod flaps? What part of a fish could that be?
A timely photo maybe, with today being Good Friday, but this isn’t a religious site-rather it’s the tomb of Nikos Kazantzakis, author of works such as Zorba The Greek and The Last Temptation. When we were in Crete in 2008 I travelled to Heraklion to seek it out. I have most of his books and I do like to make personal connections. Fortunately I have a very understanding wife.
Although deeply spiritual, his books often reflected his struggle to find truth in religion and spirituality. Many Orthodox Church clergy condemned Kazantzakis’ work and a campaign was started to excommunicate him. His reply was: “You gave me a curse, Holy fathers, I give you a blessing: may your conscience be as clear as mine and may you be as moral and religious as I”
The tomb is quite plain, made of stone marked with a wooden cross. The epitaph, taken from one of his works, reads:
‘I hope for nothing, I fear nothing, I am free’.
A few months ago I read The Noise Of Time by Julian Barnes, written from the perspective of the composer Shostakovich in Stalinist Russia. I remember thinking at the time how difficult it must have been for creatives living under such regimes. Often it is the writers and the poets who are the first among the disappeared.
I woke in the early hours of this morning with the remnants of a dream clinging to the shirt tails of my emerging sense of self. The dream was of an artist-a painter, who was living in a country that was under some kind of communist or military rule. He had been called to be conscripted into the army, but his passion was for his art. He was stood before a desk being questioned by a seated officer, a strict disciplinarian, who was giving him the party line about what his duty to his country was, and what an honour it is to serve the ‘leader’ and to give your life for the cause.
The young man replied that he had no intention to die for the cause, but rather to live for his art.
This provoked a concerted effort from the officer to bring the young man around to the official way of thinking.
The artist replied “I’m not going to be a soldier anymore than you are going to be my psychologist.”
That was it. I woke up with that last line rattling around my brain, a film with no closure, a story with no end.
It has been some months since I read The Nosie Of Time, and haven’t really thought of it since, so I’m not too sure if that was where the seeds of my dream were sown. And to be honest the storyline was not really the same as that in my dream.
But I feel a little cheated. I was filled with admiration for my conjured character, whoever he was. Maybe he served as an archetype for all of those creative types that I spoke about at the start of this post. I feel like I really need to know what happened to that young artist, and what price he paid for his courageous stance.
I probably will never know. Perhaps I should write it myself.
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.
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.