Monday, 27 February 2012

Claims to Fame

Me and Kenny (with Superlambanana ears)
I stumbled across the end of some sort of football match on Sunday, and who should I see but my old chum 'King' Kenny Dalgleish?

I may have shown this pic here before, but can't resist bringing it out again. It's the big yellow ears.

But this time I thought I'd add in a few other pics of me hobnobbing with more celebs.

Me wanting to be a millionaire, with
Chris Tarrant....
... and with another ex-member of the TISWAS team


Me and John Hegley sporting the giant
glasses I made for his visit... bit blurry

TV's Nick Knowles judged a poetry slam I did.
He gave me 70.  One less and it would have
been a whole different story!

So, spill the beans!  
Have you rubbed shoulders (or other body parts) with anyone notable?

Friday, 24 February 2012

Something amazing about word verification

I've spotted a few blog posts recently about 'captcha' word verification since Blogger now asks you to decipher two words - which often look unreadable - to 'prove you are human.'

Maria Zanini has found and shared the amazing truth here: The Awesome Secret About Captcha. It isn't as random as it looks: every time you give those squiggly words your best guess you're part of an international project to digitise books.
Seriously, go and read her post and listen to the guy behind it - Luis von Ahn in the video on her site. Von Ahn, a Guatemalan uber-geek, named one of the '50 Most Influential People in Technology', invented reCAPTCHA, which has basically turned 750,000,000 Google users into a human computer. Why? Because we can read words that a computer can't.

That's why there are two words. The easiest one to read will identify you as human, the one you are squinting at and cursing over is your small part in making 2.5 million old books a year available digitally.

And now the fun parts: firstly there are some amusing examples of where two random words get together at the wrong place at the wrong time: a reCaptcha on a US church site came up with: 'Bad Christians'

But best of all, there's a website called CaptchArt where artists come up with illustrations for these random couplings, some of which I've shown here.

All of this makes me feel a whole lot better about captcha - how about you? If you want to get rid of it go to Smitten Image who will tell you how. Also, does it ask you to do it on this site? It shouldn't!

Tuesday, 21 February 2012


Are you ever troubled by a song that sticks in your head and compels you to keep singing it?

If it's just a line or two from a gentle ballad it only drives you mad, not everyone around you. But yesterday, after someone returned a travel guide to Brazil, I found myself humming that catchy samba song from the movie 'Brazil'*.  You can't really hum this song quietly... ah, it might start out with a semi-muted dum dum dum, dum dum de dum, but you absolutely have  to launch into the main refrain with mucho gusto, and a degree of flamboyance not generally seen (or heard) in a library.

And as I'm writing this in my lunch break, I may well be at it again  this afternoon - but as it is Mardi Gras I might just get away with it!

Anyway, you'll be delighted to know there's a word for this.  No, it isn't 'crazy' - it's 'earworms.  I know this because I read a passing comment about it on this post by The Last Leaf Gardner who says it comes from the German 'ohrwurm'... although I suspect they might be more inclined to hum Wagner. Apparently it comes about when a song triggers a part of the brain called the auditory cortex. According to Wikipedia, you could also call it 'stuck song syndrome' .. but why would you when you could call it earworms?

Wikipedia also says: "One reason that this occurs is that melodic music tends to have a rhythm which repeats. This cyclical nature may cause endless repetition unless some way to achieve a climax is found which breaks the cycle."

I hope I don't climax in Large Print this afternoon....

Then again...

Much more about earworms (and how to get rid of them) here:  Why do songs get stuck in my head?

Here's the song (listen if you dare!):

* One of my fave films, by the way - an Orwellian nightmare from the creative insanity of Terry Gilliam.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Other duties as required

I have a line in my novel-in-progress where the heroine considers her position:

"None of this was in her job description – and yet technically all of it could come under the catch-all: ‘Other duties as required.’" 

Which led me to the HR Specialist website in the US, which lists exactly what some employees have been asked to do as 'other duties.'
They include, but are not limited to:

  • drop off a pet's stool sample at the vet's
  • assist the boss with do-it-yourself dental surgery
  • type, proof and correct the boss's son's homework
  • help boss's wife put up shelves in their home
This reminded me, a little belatedly of the Valentine's story I was going to tell you: when I worked in a bank, the Office Manager had hemorrhoids and used to send his deputy out to buy cream for it. Nice. The deputy got his own back by sending the Office Manager's wife a Valentine card, bearing the loving message:

If you're looking for love...

...I've got piles!

All of this makes my own adventures pale into insignificance: having to dress as a pile of rubbish and appear out of a wheelie bin (yes, that is me in the picture!), put cream on someone else's piles (not the Bank Manager), dress as a dinosaur, drive a lifeboat, dress as a carrot (yes, there's a pattern developing here), and bid for a superlambanana.

What's the worst or funniest thing you've had to do under 'Other duties as required?'

Thursday, 16 February 2012

One Today!

Roses are red

Violets much less

Poetry24 is one today

Happy Birthday to us!

Just over a year ago, fellow blogger Martin Hodges from Square Sunshine made me a proposition: how did I fancy co-editing a new news-related poetry blog?

If I'd stopped to consider the hours involved in setting the project up, promoting it and updating it with submissions from poets around the world on a daily basis, I may have hesitated. But it seemed like a really good idea - and a year ago today we posted our first few poems.

We've kept it going through thick and thin, and you know what? It still seems like a really good idea. I know from all the poetry open mic nights I've been to that poets are often inspired by current events. But so many poetry mags take forever to respond - six months or more, some of them. We reckon Poetry24 is unique in that it only publishes poems on subjects linked to recent news - and does so really quickly - a quarter of the poems we use are published in less than 24hours.

111 poets, 312 poems

subjects covered: Arab Spring to Zanesville Zoo

Saturday, 11 February 2012

How NOT to write a novel

(one of the) broken biro 'techniques'
There's plenty of useful advice about writing a novel 'out there'. I have at least half a dozen books telling me the BEST way to construct a plot and write a best-seller - all of which are wildly different from each other. I'll do a separate post on them.

But meanwhile, here are my Top Ten ways NOT to write a novel. I think most of the books I've got will probably agree on much of this:

  1. Make your opening the least interesting part of the book
  2. Fiddle about editing what you’ve already done instead of finishing it – at which point you realize whole beautifully-edited chunks are no longer required
  3. Stop working on it for a couple of weeks so you can’t remember where you’re up to
  4. Change genres half way through like Tarantino did it in Dusk til Dawn, leaving you sitting there with your mouth open
  5. Do a wholesale ‘find and replace’ for a name change when a name could be part of a ordinary word. e.g. change the name Wish to Noon and end up with ‘Noonful thinking’ and ‘a yellowNoon hue’
  6. Write sections so dull you fall asleep over them and end up with a keyboard pattern on your head and 25 pages full of the letter ‘Y’
  7. Stressed about the parts that aren’t working, put it all away in a box for 9months to see if it sorts itself out
  8. Wait until you’ve written 50k words before deciding it would work better in third person.
  9. Send the first three chapters out to readers – or even better, agents – when you haven’t finished the rest of the book
  10. Write a blog post that implies you’re disorganized and the novel isn’t any good, when actually you’re pretty pleased with it.

Related posts:
On writing - what started me back into my novel
A novel request - appeal for volunteers to read by first three chapters
Bringing back the dead - changing genres mid-novel

Saturday, 4 February 2012

The Library Phantom

A mysterious figure lurks...
It's National Libraries Day! Who would have guessed? (A: You, if you read this blog last month when I got the date wrong!)

In celebration, I'm going to tell you about the Edinburgh Library 'Phantom'.

Books are just my cup of tea!
Last March the first of a series of 'book sculptures' was found in Scotland's Poetry Library.

Three months later a mini cinema was exposed in the Edinburgh Filmhouse, then a tiny paper gramophone turned up at the National Library and a dragon’s egg was discovered hatching on the window sill at Edinburgh's Storytelling Centre.

Lost in a good book
 During the city's summer book festival, two more intricate artworks appeared and then the Central Library received one of their own.  There's been a pair of fluffy gloves, a cap, a cakestand and a 'poet tree.'

These intricately-crafted pieces are left anonymously but sometimes have notes supporting libraries and the arts. All they reveal is that the perpetrator is a woman (and a woman fond of ellipses, which narrows it down a bit) who loves words, books, libraries, ideas.......

The perpetrator has never been identified... but if I catch you in my library with a pair of scissors you'll 'feel the back of my hand'! (and not in a genteel, strokey way

- The Library Phantom Returns!
- More pictures by Chris Scott

Thursday, 2 February 2012

A curate's egg

This is not about eggs, or, indeed curates.*  It's about my first 'proper' review, which was, sadly, 'mixed'.

My feelings about it are mixed too.  A proper paid gig at a reputable poetry night at Liverpool's The Bluecoat arts centre is not to be sniffed at, and a review of any sort is a novelty in the easy-come, easy-go world of open mic nights.

I have my share of rejections and am generally not hurt or angered by them despite their implied criticism of or distaste for my work. But a review is much more personal.

The reviewer started by saying he's seen me at open floors:  "I have to say that her work is, generally, not to my taste and I normally wrote her off as being the “Beryl Cook of poetry”, rather in the same mould as Pam Ayres."

He liked some of my poems ("It was a pleasure, then, to hear her reading some of her more serious works") and believes me able, when pushed to "knuckle down and compose really good poetry" but I'm afraid 'tedious' 'tiresome' and 'not very original' are all in there too.

Oh, alright, read it for yourselves - I'm in the middle.

I don't mind being compared to Pam, but I'm not keen on tedious and tiresome, and I think I'm quite original. It's tricky putting together a 20min set of poetry when your style veers wildly from serious lyrical poems to romping rhymes and dreadful puns.  I like to mix it up, with something for everyone. Maybe I've got it wrong and for a proper poetry reading I should stick to serious poems?

The same reviewer raved (quite rightly) about Pauline Rowe who headlined the evening. Her poems are stunning, her delivery calm. But poetry nights where everyone does beautiful, serious poetry can be too much - too beautiful, too serious. Am I a philistine?

I like to make people think, yes, but I see myself as primarily an entertainer, an ambassador for poetry in all its guises. Also, I'd been billed by the organiser thus: "Clare Kirwan will challenge and amuse with her lively, socially engaged poetry" so I planned around that.

So although the review is a wee bit hurtful in places, I will treat it like any rejection - as a matter of personal taste. What pleases me more is that various strangers came up to me later to say how much they enjoyed my poems - each naming a different favourite. Even the girl on the door said she thought I was brilliant "' I wouldn't say tha' if it wasn't true, 'cos I'm a right cow."

* Ah, you don't know the saying?  The curate's egg is 'good in parts'