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Opening Lines for World Book Night

For World Book Night I invite you to stop and think about how many times you’ve opened a book and been taken by surprise by the opening line.
Whilst there are many excellent and often quoted opening lines, the only one that has made me do a double take or double read to date is:
‘In the crypt of the abbey church at Hallowdene, the monks were boiling their bishop.’
This opening line is taken from Sylvian Hamilton’s The Bone-Peddlar.’
What’s your favourite or most memorable opening line, and the one in the book you have chosen to read this World Book Night?

Branching out into Historical Fiction

Having recently started work as an historical properties steward with English Heritage I have branched out into reading historical fiction. My favourite so far is Philippa Gregory’s The Kingmaker’s Daughter (Simon & Schuster UK: 2012) which follows the life and trials of Richard III’s wife Anne Neville.
The story is told from her perspective with chapters structured according to place and date e.g ‘Barnard Castle, County Durham, Autumn 1465′:
‘We are both summoned, Isabel and me, to my father’s private rooms in one of our houses in the north: Barnard castle. This is one of my favourite homes, perched on cliffs over the River Tees, and from my bedroom window I can drop a stone into the foaming water a long, long way below. It is a little high-walled castle, surrounded by a moat and beyond that a grey stone outer wall, and behind that, clustered around the wall for safety, is the little town of Barnard Castle where they fall to their knees when we ride by. Mother says that our family, the Nevilles, are like gods to the people of the North, bound to them by oaths which go back to the very beginning of time when there were devils and sea serpents, and a great worm, …’
Readers of this blog will know that I can trace my own family back to this area which has both inspired much of my poetry and provided me with arts/heritage contracts in recent years.
Due to recent reductions in arts funding and some lateral thinking on my part I have secured a part-time contract with Richmond Castle which is part of a cluster of four properties including Barnard Castle, Middleham Castle and Mount Grace Priory.
The work is both varied and interesting and has had an impact on my reading which at some point in time will no doubt carry through into my writing. I’m not planning on producing a work of historical fiction just yet but I was interested to learn of a short story competition which invites people to write 2,500 words inspired by or set in a real or imagined historical house.
Further details of this free to enter competition are available from http://www/ and are mentioned in Avril Joy’s newsletter (my source of information) available from
As for the Nevilles, oaths, devils, sea serpents and great worms, I’m sure there’s a story in there somewhere involving my paternal ancestors. As I recited in my poem Recording at a well attended poetry evening in Leyburn on Sunday night,
‘The Bowman’s came to conquer,
with William in ’66,
started the search for silver,
copper, iron and zinc,
hushed the Pennines for lead,
struck veins of black gold.’
In Land of my Ancestors, the title poem of the series, I mention how my forefathers transformed the spine of England into ‘a dragon’s glinting backbone.’
These and other poems inspired by research into my family history are available as free downloads from my author page at

Poetry First for New Arts Centre in Leyburn

On Sunday 6th April I will be guest poet at the first poetry event to be held in Leyburn’s new arts centre.
This is a free event with an open mic section for poets who wish to give their work an airing.
I will be reading from my collection ‘Land of my Ancestors’ which was inspired by research into my family history, a journey which started whilst I was working for North Yorkshire library services at Hawes.
It was in Hawes library and community information centre that I first made the acquaintance of ‘Alice’ a distant relative who kept popping up in online searches for a ‘John Bowman’ born in 1839.
As her name kept appearing I decided to follow the link and discovered that she was in fact John’s wife. Some administrative error must have led to her name being inputted into his record, a fortuitous mistake as it turned out for me.
Coincidentally, she was born in Hawes and moved down the dale to Wensley on the outskirts of Leyburn.
With each census entry both her name and place of birth changed from one decade to the next and became a source of inspiration for Soul Collecting:

‘If you want to talk to old relatives,
go to Staindrop churchyard,’ Mam said.
‘There’s a nation of them buried there.’

I never went for fear of collecting the wrong souls.
How would I know which Arthur, Tom or Mary
was our Arthur, Tom and Mary?

But Alice sought me out, Alice, Alles and Allaes
kept popping up in every search, the long lost wife
of great, great, great, great Uncle John.

To hear more poems from the collection and share a few of your own, you are welcome to attend this first poetry event at The Old School House, Richmond Road, Leyburn, North Yorkshire, DL8 5DL from 7.00 – 8.30p.m.
The centre aims to host a wide range of artistic events, details of which can be found on the website at

Poetry or Short Stories

If you like poetry or short stories and live in County Durham you might wish to participate in one of the following:
* Poetry: Read, Listen and Share at The Witham, 3 Horsemarket, Barnard Castle on Wednesday 26th March from 5.30 – 7.00p.m. Tickets £5
Further details from Pat Maycroft, email: and mobile: 07751 831722
* The Short Story Back to Basics Spring Workshops at Bishop Auckland Town Hall, Market Place, Bishop Auckland on Wednesday 2nd, 9th, 16th and 23rd April from 2.00 – 4.00p.m. with Avril Joy and Wendy Robertson. Tickets £2.00 (per date)
Further details from Bishop Auckland Town Hall, email: and tel: 03000 269 524
* Haiku showcase opportunity at The Forum, Northallerton.
As per previous posts the deadline for receipt of Haiku is Monday 31st March. Poems will be displayed during Japan Day on Saturday 17th May. Entries with name and address via email to:

Broaden your reading horizons

Book cover of Shaman by Kim Stanley Robinson
Broaden your reading horizons is the title of a course I am planning for September 2014 and it is the idea behind this post for World Book Day.
I would like to suggest that you broaden your reading horizons by browsing the bookshelves from Z-A and selecting an author whom you would not normally read.
This is how I found Shaman by Kim Stanley Robinson, a New York Times bestselling author who is more famous for his science fiction.
Shaman is the story of Loon, a young man who is training to be a shaman and sets out to find his own path in the world.
His journey takes place during the Ice Age and is worth comparing and contrasting with Jean M. Auel’s The Clan of the Cave Bear.
My love of the latter was the deciding factor in giving this new novel a go and so far I have not been disappointed.
If you decide to take an unexpected twist in your reading journey this World Book Day I would be interested to find out who and what you end up reading, and why.

E-book Week

Read an Ebook week
With National Book Day coming up on the 7th March I wanted to draw your attention to Ebooks taking part in the Smashwords Ebook Week.
Ebooks can be downloaded free from their site at
My own mixture of fiction and poetry are available from my author page at:
The most reviewed fiction title At the Gates is a short story about a young man who enters an English monastery in search of a better life and ends up trapped in time.
The most popular poetry title is Land of my Ancestors. This is a collection of poems inspired by research into my farming and mining roots in Teesdale, Weardale and the Upper Pennines.
Given that I both read and write fantasy and poetry I would like to leave you with this thought from one of my favourite authors Ursula le Guin:
‘We like to think we live in daylight, but half the world is always dark; and fantasy, like poetry, speaks the language of the night.’ (The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Quotations:2003)

Haiku Revisited

Hot Air Balloons

Did you go for a walk and come back with a haiku? Here’s mine …

surprise in the sky
cold, dry February day
air balloon rises

… and the second checklist:
* Does your haiku contain the correct number of lines (3) and syllables (17)?
* Are the images concrete?
* Does it have a seasonal and/or natural reference?
* Is there a clear break to form a one-line and two-line unit?
* Is it written in the present tense?
* Can it be read in one breath?
* Is there a play on words?
* Do you have strong words at the end of each line?
* What can you take out?
* What can you add in?
* What else can you change?
* Is it open to interpretation?
Hopefully you have experienced a moment of insight in answering all of the above. A moment that the Japanese express with the word ‘Katsu!’ A moment such as that expressed in the image which I have used to both complement and contrast my haiku.
Once you are confident that you have produced a haiku which you would like to have considered for inclusion in the Japan Day display at The Forum, Northallerton, North Yorkshire on the 17th May, email it to
Please add your name, town and country as you wish them to be printed beneath your verse. Entries must be in English and received by the 31st March.
Visitors can attend Japan Day free of charge although there may be a small fee to participate in calligraphy, origami and other Japanese craft workshops.
Further details of events and activities available from 11a.m. to 3p.m. can be found at


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