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The final push

The final push

So Wimbledon has been and gone, which is always a blessing and a disguise. I always feel that I haven’t made the most of it, and watched enough tennis. That said, it does mean that I might finally get back to writing properly. Tonight under the light of a gas lamp and fairy lights draped around the patio I finished typing up what I’ve written to date.

55222 / 80000 words. 69% done!

So now comes the final push! I’m so close to finishing book two in the Mr Tumnal trilogy.

A Cathedral of Books

A Cathedral of Books
Today I have discovered my new favourite bookshop and it’s going to take some beating! For somewhere so local, it is criminal that I have never been to Banbury’s Books and Ink before – they’ve been there for 12 years already! Nestled at the back of an old coaching inn behind the high street, this award-winning independent bookshop is an Aladdin’s cave of books and joy. I’d heard of this bookshop before from other friends and fellow authors, and I’ve been meaning to visit for years. It’s a scandal that it’s taken me this long…
I’ve recently noticed teens and young adults taking a particular interest in building up their book collections. I’m delighted to see this. A personal collection, however large or small, new or old, displays  your personality  and interests so that your personal home space resonates with you and there’s something quite tactile and reassuring about a real book. Samantha Barnes, Owner
In the same way that my visit to Snowshill Manor was like walking through my brain with the eclectism of interests, browsing the shelves of the 25,000 books housed in the cavernous Books and Ink was like seeing my every interest and enthusiasm reflected back at me. I can see myself making return visits to this emporium of joy frequently and making it my new best friend.

Lion’s Mouth

Weep not for the mighty oak
brought down by wind and rain,
and the weathering of a long, full life
now ended.
The soul of the mighty oak though, lives on
New trees grow from the rotting stump,
and fauna thrives in the slain carcass,
that lies beside.

Weep instead for the sweet chestnut,
or the cherry, barely some twenty years.
Culled in half a day and cleared
To make way for another new road,
or municiple car park.
Twenty years it has grown,
and reached towards the sky
Only to be swept away at public convenience.

The mighty oak of the Lion’s Mouth
lives on after a slow, decaying death.
Hundreds of years after a tiny sappling
pushed its way out of the woodland floor
It still gives back and will do so still
for hundreds and hundreds of years
after the ancient, mighty oak fell.

Weep not for the mighty oak
that has seen generations of much changed lives.
Weep instead for the sweet chestnut
who was just living through its first.

Written at The Lion’s Mouth, Felbrigg, Norfolk, 26 May 2017, 1.25pm.

10 Years On

Ten years ago, it was my last day working at Blackwell. A Monday. An odd day to have the last day, but when you’re being made redundant to be replaced by a machine…

This means it’s also ten years since I left my work colleagues definitely wanting more. I’ve always been a private person, and so, when they discovered, on my last lunch with them in the cafeteria that after seven relationship-gossip-free years that I now had a girlfriend and she had not one but two and three quarter cats, this was definitely the way to leave them.

Giving Voice to the Silent

On Saturday I took part for the second time, as author and panellist, at the 3rd Hawkesbury Upton Literary Festival. I reprised my role from last year for the talk on Writing About Difference.

Writing About Difference panel 2017, from left: Dan Jefferies, Debbie Young, Thomas Shepherd, Dan Holloway, Joy Thomas, Jo Allmond and Jess Hiles. Photograph by Joanna Penn.

Writing About Difference panel 2017, from left: Dan Jefferies, Debbie Young, Thomas Shepherd, Dan Holloway, Joy Thomas, Jo Allmond and Jess Hiles. Photograph by Joanna Penn.

This is a discussion that, just as at last year’s festival, was something very special, and for my own small part on it is something that I am very proud of being part of. One of the proudest achievments over the last year is meeting Joy Thomas, and Jo Allmond and Jess Hiles. It was because of last year’s festival and the panel discussion that we were all on together that Jo and Joy put together Silent Voices, an anthology of poems written by those who are not always heard.

This is a collection of poems written by authors, some of whom have preferred to remain anonymous who are directly affected by seen or unseen difference, or who are the carers of people with mental or physical disibilities. My only part in this project was to typeset the book for print and ebook, but I gladly gave this time in order that Joy and Jo could have the book ready to launch at this year’s festival – back where it all began a year ago.

The paperback edition is released on 1 May 2007, but you can download Silent Voices to your Kindle now.

Ten years on: courting days through email subject lines

Ten years on: courting days through email subject lines

Ten years ago, Emma and I were exchanging daily emails that led up to our first date. During that time the subject lines were every bit as important part as the emails themselves. It’s fun just to read them back a decade on, just on their own…

Emma: Match.com alert: EmEJ has winked at you!
Emma: Did you say you were a writer?
Thomas: RE: Did you say you were a writer?
Emma: Hello Mr. Writer
Thomas: Greetings Miss Vet 🙂
Emma: [subject blank]
Thomas: RE: beech woods and kittens
Emma: The Owl And The Woodpecker
Thomas: Over Sea, Under Stone
Emma: What a coincidence…..
Thomas: Calling flat number 1-9. Calling flat number 1-9…
Emma: Good evening, Mr Thomas,
Thomas: Good morning, Miss Emma,
Emma: Thomas it is then!
Thomas: Milk, no sugar, and possibly even black and in a glass…
Emma: Well Hello Mr Shepherd,
Thomas: Life’s what happens to you when you are making other plans
Emma: Positive Mental Attitude!?
Thomas: Positiveness is what you need *cue trumpet solo*
Emma:
Oh, dedication!
Thomas: Oh, perseverance!
Emma: A message from the very scary Emma….
Thomas: A message from (normal is boring) Thomas…
Emma: A message from Paparazzi Emma (I like that, it sounds good!)
Thomas: Hoping that I don’t get stage fright on Saturday after a build up like that…
Emma: You bloody well not get stage fright on Saturday!
Thomas: Maybe now isn’t that best time to tell her I’m actually mute!
Emma: From a Confused psychopath of Amersham.
Thomas: Umm, must remember to bring my pepper spray along with me…
Emma: Tommorow never knows…..
Thomas: …and where will be the day after tomorrow?
Emma: Today’s the day.
Thomas: Not just memories
Emma: Fit as a fiddle.
Emma: You just said I love you!
Thomas: RE: You just said I love you!
Emma: Another World
Thomas: Peculiar as a Piccolo
Thomas: but a good world, I hope?
Emma: To my blue eyed boy
Thomas: It’s not easy being blue; being the colour of so few ordinary things…
Emma: Now then, Are you paying Attention?
Thomas: It’s the Muppet Show tonight!! {cue fanfare}
Emma: Anticipation, excitement and Butterflies.
Emma: Discraceful Behaviour!
Thomas: Utterly discraceful!
Emma: Sunday, the day after yesterday.
Thomas: The Whole Horse
Emma: And nothing but the horse.
Emma: Hello dearest
Thomas: RE: Hello dearest
Thomas: And not a papier-mâché horse in sight…
Thomas: So what did you say it was?
Emma: Tuesday, all day.
Thomas: Is it really Wednesday
Emma: Jobs, home, life!
Emma: RE: Is it really Wednesday
Thomas: Wednesday? Not anymore it’s not…
Thomas: Work to live, not live to work
Emma: Raining cats and dogs
Thomas: Cats and dogs? More like Cows and horses…
Emma: Contrasts….
Thomas: RE: Worry not silly boy
Thomas: [Addentum] Worry not silly boy
Emma: Walking, shopping, recycling and house hunting
Thomas: RE: Walking, shopping, recycling and house hunting
Thomas: Ronald: The Face
Emma: My address
Emma: AAAAAGH!
Emma: Surprise!
Thomas: Surprises are great!
Emma: Monday.
Thomas: RE: Monday.
Emma: Tuesday
Emma: A quick note to say…
Thomas: Little House In The Country
Thomas: [Additionally] Little House In The Country
Thomas: More of Monday
Thomas: [Additionally] More of Monday
Emma: Friday already!
Thomas: RE: Friday already!
Thomas: Thank you for the weekend 🙂

Pathways

I’ve always had a thing about paths and pathways, so when I saw on instagram that that my relatively new friend Laura was reading The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane and that it was a book all about ancient paths and how they came into being, I just knew that it was a book I was going to have to read.

I say I have a thing about paths – I also have a thing for doorways, maps, and ruins but in this case I’m talking about paths – and pathways. My final degree show pictures included paths and pathways and I documented maps of the routes they incorporated.

A map of the Cevennes region of France inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Travels With My Donkey’ and Richard Holmes retracing of those footsteps.

A ficticious land drawn from the topography of Wales, with street patterns from France.

In my second year of university I even made my first ever video project around the theme of paths, tracks, and the way that we, as a people, are scarring the landscape with our feet, our tracks, and our roads. It’s a short film about going places (and getting there), and the damage we leave behind…

The day The End came

The day The End came

The outcome of the European Referendum on 23 June last year was a shock for me as it was for just about half of the population of my country. I am a child of the European Union. The United Kingdom joined in the year that I was born and I grew up with optimism that it gave us. I saw things get better.

As I was becoming aware of politics and current affairs, communism was coming to an end around Europe (not forgetting the events – albeit eventually tragic – in Tiananmen Square), and the Berlin Wall fell. Borders openened up, and their was the promise of a single currency. As things turned out, I think we were probably right to stay out of what became the Euro at that time, but I remembered back then having enthusiasm for the ECU. I remember applying for an arts grant for my writing which would have been paid in Euros.

Back then the world was changing and I genuinely think the better. Today, with the triggering of Article 50 and the knowledge that in two years, come waht may, we will be leaving the EU, the world is scary and uncertain place…

Today seemed to be an appropriate time to rewatch a classic from that time of optimism and hope for a future europe. It’s poignant and beautiful and I love it. Keep playing this Song for the Unification of Europe and hope, because hope is all we have.

Mr Tumnal, Aspergers, and Me

Mr Tumnal, Aspergers, and Me

Today sees the start of World Autism Awareness Week. Autism and aspergers are hidden conditions. At their most pronounced autism is a condition that can isolate people from the world and make it hard for them to cope, but even at it’s mildest it is a challenge to live with in a world where other people don’t consider to be a problem what they can’t live. Just because they appear to be normal, hold down 9–5 jobs, and appear to have normal family lives, does not make their day to day lives any more of a struggle.

It took until I was 30 and put through workplace bullying before I discovered I probably had aspergers and it was another couple of years before I had a semi-official diagnosis and 1-2-1 coaching to overcome some of my biggest challenges. Since then, I have had progressed in my career and found my one-true love (and accompanying menagerie of furry, feathered, and fishy beasts), and I am so much better than I was at understanding the world and those unspoken cues. Sometimes I think I understand too well, and that it makes it all too easy for other’s to forget that sometimes Thomas, through no fault of his own, just doesn’t get as quickly as you might expect him too, what others understand straight away.

In my writing life, the thing that I struggle most with is showing not telling. Considering that probably the single-most lofted criticism at a writer is that they tell not show, this is unfortunate thing to be lacking in. The fact that I pull off the very personal story of Mr Tumnal is something that I feel very proud of, and if I can do the same with it’s forthcoming sequel, then I will be extremely lucky in deed.

Mr Tumnal is outwardly a story of a man who married his imaginary friend. How much that imaginary friend has to with fairy magic is something the reader must discover. At a more personal level it is a story of a man who is not friendless but without that one close friend; who is not alone but is lonely. It is a story of a man illequipped to deal with the complexities of ordinary social situations that most people take for granted. He finds comfort in his own company because that is where he is understood. Some might brandish him a weirdo. I would argue he’s just different. And like everyone who is ‘different’ from the norm he has his own gift to bring to the world.

In supporting World Autism Awareness Week and the work of the National Autistic Society, I would like everyone to find out a bit more about what makes some of us different, and the challenges we face, and to give us a bit of space of understanding in the world.


TE Shepherd is the author of Mr Tumnal and The End Of All Worlds. In support of World Autism Awareness week, from 27 March to 2 April 2017, he will be donating 50% all profits raised from the sales of his book to go to help support the work of the National Autistic Society.

Blustery times in the garden

Sunday. It was bright but blustery day today. As part of much-needed Emma-therapy I took her up breakfas in bed of cereal, white tea, and buttered hot cross buns and then settled down to a leisurely breakfast myself. Then I headed out into the garden to clean out the animals but got distracted by giving the grass a first cut of the Spring which led to trimming the hedge (something which I somehow failed to do all of last year)…

Then, I finally ended up cleaning out the animals, to take me up until lunch. In the afternoon, Emma-therapy continued with a Sunday afternoon drive out in search of fields of  woolly baaa lambs. En route, we ended up at Bunker’s Hill Nursery, to buy a new barrel to pot up our Magnolia Stellata. Whilst there I found three lavender plants going cheap on the graveyard stand to extend our newly formed hot bed in the front garden.

All in all, today, I’ve had a lot of fresh air and exercise, rounded off with a new Slimming World recipe of Jamaican Beef Pepperpot Stew which was deliciously spicy.

Adventures in poetry

Selected Poetry of John Clare by John Clare, edited by Jonathan Bate

It’s been a perrennial ambition of mine to read more poetry. Unlike last year when I fulfilled an aim to read Tolstoy’s War & Peace, poetry is much more of a struggle for me, and that pains me. I wonder whether that my aspergers and the way I ‘read’ things literally causes me an added problem with poetry where it is is, ‘all’ metaphor?

So why this volume of John Clare? And why now? I’ve been reading some nature writing recently, principally Melissa Harrison’s Autumn and found myself exposed to his work. I also work with Simon Kövesi – one of the leading experts on John Clare – an instigator in the biopic, By Ourselves and I have found myself drawn to find out more about the man and his poetry.

This volume, edited by Jonathan Bate, is an excellent primer to one of our finest working class, romantic poets. Obstensivly it’s just a collection of his poetry, but I found it to be so much more than that. In the way that it’s collected together it reads like an autobiography – an autobiography of verse and song. Starting with the innocence of the countryside and the village traditions, it moves through a period of ‘fame’ and into a more political phase, and then, a wayward abandom of directly critiquing society and the ruling classes, to a quiet reflection and introspection.

This is a volume of poetry that makes you realise how much we have lost of our heritage and our ways of doing things. Farming back then, was hard, backbreaking work but we were so more connected with nature and the natural rhythms of the seasons that we have lost by now. This makes me sad. At the same time, some of the most poignant of John Clare’s poetry succeeds in giving optomism for the future.

Bang!

Wednesday started with a very large Bang! Possibly thanks to my very large sleep in on Saturday/Sunday night I have managed to get up to catch the earlier of two buses this week, and today was no exception.

On the plus side, my morning commute wasn’t inconvenienced by the shockingly wet rain that followed, but I could have done without the properly large Bang! that accompanied my cycle commute as all the air dramaticly escaped my rear tyre. I’ve never had a tyre blow-out and it is quite a scary experience. I had to dismount and wheel my bicycle around the corner onto The High and get a bus up the hill from the end.

Taking advantage of the folding nature of my bike I was able to take my bike back on the longer, direct bus home and be rescued home across Biceste by Emma in the car.

Thomas Two Bikes

After four weeks now of cycle commuting with my fold-up bike, today I got out my ‘other’ bike this morning. Emma is working this weekend, and so I needed to go on the cycle food tour of Bicester to provision myself with meat from the butchers, bread from the bakers, and veg from the market stall.

That’s right, I have become the kind of person to have multiple bikes. Previously I have been purely monogamous  in my bicycle ownership. From the tricycle to cheap secondhand bike of my younger childhood to my first (and supposeably only) ‘new’ bike, aged thirteen. It was metalic blue and and I loved it but within 3 years I outgrew it and so I had to a second new bike with the biggest wheels and highest saddle you can get. That saw me all the way through college and multiple moves, for  the next 20 years. Both those bikes came from the same Raleigh shop on London Road South in Lowestoft.

Both my current bikes came from Broadribbs of Bicester. The first, with money from last Blackwell bonus, on the day that I met Emma 10 years ago (I rode it to our first date), and the second purchased last month with the work CycleScheme for the daily commute. Big and little brother make quite a pair don’t they.

Two of my most favourite things

Sunday. Emma and I took a day trip down to Hampshire today to Mottisfont so that I could enjoy two of my most favourite things. Snowdrops, and an exhibition of work by my favourite artist, Rex Whistler. For years Rex, has been in the shadow of his more famous namesake, but he finally seems to be getting the recognition that he deserves.

Rex Whistler was an artist, like many others, who’s life and career was cut short by the war. I first encountered his work whilst a teenager on a family outing to Plas Newydd on Anglesey where you can look on Rex Whistler’s largest, most-famous, and probably best mural. I studied him for an A-Level art project, and corresponded his brother to borrow some of the rarer books, and have collected a number of his books and made pilgrimages to see other pictures and murals. Whilst working on my A-Level project, my parent’s drove me down to London one Sunday to see the mural in (what is now) Tate Britain’s restaurant … only to find it closed. We managed to talk our way in though, and I managed to swipe a menu that had a detail from the mural on the cover.

Rex Whistler was a master of trompe l’œil – a visual illusion where the eye is tricked into perceiving a two-dimensial painting as a three-dimensional object. Whilst, at Plas Newydd the trompe l’œil is a pictorial scene to mirror that of the Welsh mountains opposite through the windows, at Mottisfont, his mural is the room itself. With the exception of some plain, curved coving and a few details around the bay windows, the entire room is one huge trompe l’œil of plasterwork effect. It’s a stupendous achievment.

At the moment, the National Trust have an exhibition of his other work, which included portraiture, book illustrations, posters, advertisements, cartoons, doodles on war documents, and stage designs.

It goes to say that the snowdrops in the gardens were wonderful, as was the beautiful setting by the Test river valley, with firecrest dogwoods in the winter garden.

Powerful and disturbing drama from Creation Theatre

George Orwell’s 1984 is just as relevant, possibly more relevant, today as ever it was. It was and is a disturbing book, and Creation Theatre‘s production at Oxford’s Mathematical Institute was always going to be a difficult watch.

It feels odd to say it, but it was bloody fantastic, epic and powerful. It was not an easy watch though. It was both Creation Theatre at it’s best, utilising a unique space in an inventive, effective way, and totally new – normally their shows are fun and fantastic and have you come out feeling good about yourself.

The show began with us corralled us into the bar area beneath a geometrically astounding atrium with the actors heard talking through speakers from where they could be seen on the bridges above. And then we split off in our row orders to be led into the auditorium (in itself a Big Brother-esque act of separation and control). The stage itself was the underground entrance way to the building, in which we watched the action played out in front of us and on computer monitors. The theatre crew were clearly on view working away in the background like they themselves were Big Brother or the Thought Police.

The show featured nudity, scenes of a sexual nature, and simulated torture but it was absolutely in context and very cleverly portrayed. By the end of the play we are left ourselves doubting what is truth and reality. Powerful, emotive drama, absolutely worth putting yourself through if you can get to see it before it closes on Sunday 5 March.

Valentines meals, disturbing theatre, and college friends

Valentines meals, disturbing theatre, and college friends

Friday. Eschewing my bicycle for the first time in three week’s today, Emma collected me from work this afternoon and we went into Oxford, first to wander and potter and buy too many books, and then to enjoy a belated Valentines Day meal at the Acanthus Restaurant in the Randolph Hotel with their special, cheaper, pre-theatre menu. In a relaxed dining environment we enjoyed a lovely three-course meal. Then, we went for something completely different…

We walked up the length of St Giles to the reasonably new Mathematical Institute to see Creation Theatre’s latest site-specific offering of George Orwell’s 1984. You can see my review here. To lighten the mood pre- and post- show we enjoyed bumping unexpectantly into my old college friend Julie and her eldest daughter. She hasn’t changed one bit in the twenty intervening years – has it really been that long?!? – and makes me even more determined that we should meet up again properly soon.

It’s actually scientifically impossible to have too many books.

A Poem A Day

A Poem A Day

It has been a longheld resolution to read more poetry, but it is an ambition for whatever reason I find really hard. In all honesty, whilst I consume novels and stories with a passion, I do find it hard to “get” poetry. Last April, on Shakespeare’s birth/death-day we watched the Shakespeare 400 Live celebrations, and enjoyed listening to some sonnets. Some of the staff and students at work also gave a lunchtime reading of their favourite sonnets. I determined to read more of them – well, let’s be honest – some of them… For my birthday I received the Arden Shakespeare’s Sonnets but I have yet to break into them.

I have however read some poetry over the last year. Melissa Harrison’s seasonal quartet of books – so far I have read Autumn and Winter – includes poetry in amongst it’s prose and nature writing, and some of it has been John Clare. It’s true to say that Clare avoided me during my school and college life, but circumstances have conspired to draw him into my life. On Thursday I listened to BBC Radio 4’s In Our Time in celebration of Clare’s life and work, with my colleague Simon Kövesi, and on Saturday whilst visiting my Mum and Dad we watched the biopic, By Ourselves. I borrowed from the work library, a book of John Clare poetry and I have decided to read at least, and hopefully more, one poem a day.

And I shall read those sonnets, and I shall make a habit of consuming poetry. What is it they say about doing something everyday for 21 days and then it becomes second nature. Can reading poetry become second nature?

One car family

Well that was surprisingly easy. Tonight we’ve sold my car… for not that much money at all, but it would probably have cost us much more at some point and it wasn’t really going anywhere much on a day to day or even year to year basis.

Cars aren’t really my thing but it was still sad to say goodbye to my Peugeot 206 which I’ve had for 12 years. It’s a good little car and I will miss it.

Of grandmothers and cunning plans

Of grandmothers and cunning plans

Sunday. After yesterday’s leisurely start if outdoorsy-busy day, today Emma and I got up and breakfasted, before packing my mini-kitchen into freezer bag and our new Blue Texel farm shop bag. Then we headed out to Amersham to see Emma’s Grannie…

Grannie, thought that we were just going over to see her for the afternoon and have a snack lunch with her, but we have been harbouring a secret and cunning plan. A while back after speaking to her one weekend, probably as I was finishing up cooking our roast, I had the idea that next time we go and see her for the day, we should surprise her by turning up in her house, and cooking her dinner.

Today, that day came and we pitched up at her house. Only yesterday she had phoned to check if there was anything she had needed to get in for lunch. No, we lied.

Of course it wasn’t quite the meal that we had originally planned. I had intended to roast a couple of pheasants but when we went to the butchers yesterday the man who provides the pheasants hadn’t shot any in the last week so they had none! The man had been aiming his bow and arrow at something a little larger (hence the rather delicious venison steaks we had last night). So instead we bought duck breasts and I made my seared duck with orange, and parsenip mash meal (all constituent bits of it came from the Slimming World Festive Feasts book).

Emma’s Grannie was touched by our actions and I think we might have given her quite a nice big event to remember. 🙂

New beginnings and the end of things

New beginnings and the end of things

Wednesday. Seven years ago I was still only just six months into my job as Web Designer for the School of Social Sciencs and Law and had just completed my first major project to overhauled the fractured school website – 42 templates I say(!!) is about 41 too many – and relaunched the new Department of Law website. Four year’s on and the university had the new CMS and I was champing at the bit to get in it. Over the intervening three years I have seen our server limp on requiring regular warm words and encouragement to keep it going.

I have been developing websites within the unversity CMS for about three years – indeed I launched the first mini-site to be hosted on it outside of the main site, and have since developed some other, not insubstantial sites (Do you know how many poems are in the Poetry Centre website? I do. Lots. And I migrated them all. I kept finding them hiding behind others, it went on forever…).

Today though, I passed a major milestone and migrated the School of Law website completely off the old webserver and into the sparkly new CMS. And you know what, it switched over pretty smoothly. I’m pleased. One down, four to go, and few more miscelaneous minisites and intranets and I’m done. Maybe that day of turning off a webserver that I really shouldn’t be responsible for maintaining is actually in site.

Onwards, then… to my self-imposed deadline of 1 May to get the other four core departmental sites migrated.