I really should. After years of writing by hand after midnight, on an old typewriter where any but the tiniest change meant re-typing the whole page, and waking up with a vivid dream that had to the seeds of a delicious poem and had to be committed to the word processor at 5am, I should give it all up and commit to knitting. Fact is, I have no gift whatsoever for publicity. Even when I did have a novel published I missed my own launch party because I was in hospital having a baby; it was shortlisted for a prize, and then the publisher went bust and that was that.
Some time ago I’d written another book – first book of a fantasy trilogy, about a merman searching for his sister, who’d been forced to marry a human and smuggled away. I sent it to an American agent and he phoned me – when I was peeling potatoes, the children just home from school and talking to me, one in each ear.
“I like your book, though it’s a third too long,” he said. Elder son was telling me that his girlfriend’s piercings had been oozing all over him – eh, what? What piercings? How oozing? “I’ve got three books here and I’ll be taking one of them. One’s a first novel by a brilliant young novelist. One’s a novel by an established writer, wants to change agents. And one’s yours. Tell me, why should I choose yours?”
I was worried about this oozing all over him business, but – “Wait a minute, darling,” I hissed.
“What? Why should I take yours?”
I couldn’t think. “The brilliant young novelist sounds a good bet?” The potatoes boiled over – steam spurting all over the stove – I pulled autistic small son away from the scalding water. “Tell me! Why yours?” His temper was getting short. I couldn’t think of a knock-out answer -not remotely. Brain fog alert!
“Uh – because it’s a good book and people will like it?” I hazarded.
“What! Brits are modest – Brits are intelligent and reticent about their work! You’re not intelligent – you’re not even British!” And he ended the call with a snort that rang right across the culture divide.
I mopped up the mess and started some more potatoes. It was a belly-button piercing and both nipples. What, the whole lot infected? “Salt water?” I suggested. “Bath in salt water?”
“I’ll tell her,” he said.
“Tell her plenty of salt!”
Speaking of salt water, if you want to read the fantasy novel, I put it on Kindle and it’s called “Demons of the Sea,” by Tess Appleford. Yes, in a spurt of desperation and attempt at rebranding myself, I put it on under a different pen-name. Appleford Meadow is the name of a field near where I live. Maybe I should have gone the whole hog and called myself Meadow Appleford. Meadow. Quite like it.
I hope you liked the poem on Ink, Sweat and Tears. To finish, here is another mother/ child poem.
“He won’t sit still”
the teacher said
As a star flickers and palpitates
as a leaf dances in the wind
as a lamb gambols and leaps on the hill
as a star flickers and palpitates as it hangs over the void
as a leaf dances before the wind whirls it forever away
as a lamb gambols and leaps in the chill February
and the fox watches
and the wind cuts to the bone
and this night lambs will die
as a star flickers and palpitates hanging over the void, a pulse of joy
as a leaf dances before it flees, as leaves dance ever,
as a lamb leaps in the brief playtime of the year,
so my wild child
won’t sit still.
Spin the ropes to tie him down
spin the bonds of stern reproach
twist the nerves with ordered rows
of children wound in custom’s threads.
“All the others can sit still,
listen to the teacher’s voice,
learn their lesson, write in tidy lines.”
Pin him down with a label through his heart,
O that so old and wild and wise a language as Greek
should be corrupted to such purposes!
Train him to listen to the teacher,
not to the pulses of his own blood
crying: “Play in the long grass, beloved of the sun,
where the grasshoppers play all summer;
play in the dark, crowded woods, among dust and leaves and woodmice;
play on the river’s edge, where ducks dabble;
the world and the world’s sweetness, and you part of it!”
Grow deaf to the words of the wise blood, my wild child.
Forget the sweet world and your intemperate joy.
Turn from the silent blaze of the stars and do your homework.
Leave off playing with music and practise your scales.
The grown-up world is waiting
to embrace and criticize,
to entrap, confine, and train you, and teach you manners,
and hang on you the mantle of all the years,
their guilt, their sins, their glory and their knowledge:
to flog you with the reproach of a thousand fathers,
and grieve you with your smallness, to others’ gain.
But whether you rebel or conform, they will change you.
And I shall weep for my wild child,
who listened to the song of his blood, and the bird at the window,
whose eyes dreamed, and whose face was fresh as flowers,
and who like the stars and the leaves and the spring lambs
couldn’t sit still.