Saturday, September 13, 2014

After the Dawn: To London and back

Kate Bush or bust! Being given the "diplomatic" treatment
by Karen and Colin for the ride to the airport.
UK immigration officer: What's the reason for your visit to the United Kingdom?

Me: I'm here to see Kate Bush.

UK immigration officer: That's a very good reason. [Stamps passport]

The exchange with the immigration officer after I landed in London was a good sign. To be honest, I had been sweating this trip because, out of all the visits I've made to the UK in the last 19 years, this one was the most important. I would finally see my muse Kate Bush live on stage - not once, but twice.  I was scared something would happen to stop me from going: the Icelandic volcano (I had already selected an alternate route to Spain and a series of train trips), terrorist attacks (the threat level in the UK was raised to "imminent" the day I left) or I'd be hit by a car. I wasn't going to be able to relax until I was in my seat in the Hammersmith Apollo and Kate Bush was onstage in front of me singing.

But I shouldn't have worried. The flight over was uneventful and I finally got to see Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive with the brilliant Tilda Swinton. Since I was planning to make a pilgrimage to Derek Jarman's cottage in Dungeness, watching his muse from such films as The Last of England and Edward II, seemed like a bit of synchronicity.

The view from Agnes' flat.
After a long ride on the London Underground, I arrived at the flat of friend and fellow writer Agnes Meadows. She lives on the sixth floor of a gorgeous old mansion block in the Clerkenwell neighborhood, but there is no elevator so the climb is a death march, but the exertion is so worth it. The flat is filled with light and books and Agnes herself. There's also a million dollar view of London that still takes my breath away.

After a nap, we jumped on the bus to Islington and the N1 Centre opposite Angel tube station. This is where Agnes introduced me to her favorite writing space – a coffee house called Tinderbox. Baked goods, incredible iced tea and coffee and fabulous warren-like booths underneath the stairs made for the perfect place to write. We went to Tinderbox four or five times and each visit meant I got a solid two to three hours of writing done on Leaving Paris. As a matter of fact, I finished the last chapter at Tinderbox. It seemed only appropriate that I started the novel in London two years ago while staying with Agnes and finished it with her, too.

Derek Jarman's Prospect Cottage at Dungeness.
After a weekend writing and getting settled, I headed down to Rochester to meet up with my friend Donna (who was over from Virginia for the Kate shows) and our friends Peter and Krys. We all piled into the car and headed south to the coast and Dungeness. We were surprised to find our friend Ian waiting for us at a fantastic pub called The Pilot and then we drove on across the lunar landscape of Dungeness to Derek Jarman's Prospect Cottage. The windswept desolation of Dungeness is beautiful in such a strange way. It's classified as Britain's desert, despite being on the English Channel. Jarman's cottage isn't open to visitors, but you can roam the garden made up of strange plants, driftwood, scrap metal and a great rotting rowboat. On the side of Prospect Cottage are stanzas from John Donne's poem "The Sun Rising." I was moved by the visit, and Krys took some fantastic photos of me there that will eventually be used for Leaving Paris.

We drove on to the end of the peninsula to see the two lighthouses and the giant, humming Dungeness nuclear power station. The landscape is truly like something out of science fiction. On the shingle-filled beach, we watched the ocean crash and searched for shells and talked about the upcoming Kate shows. It was a beautiful day with friends in a wild, amazing place.

Outside the Hammersmith Apollo to see Kate Bush at last!
On Tuesday, Sept. 2, I headed over to the Hammersmith Apollo to meet up with Donna for our first Kate Bush show. There was already a queue of fans outside the theatre waiting to get in early and grab up souvenirs. Once inside, I already knew I was seated on the third row but I was absolutely gobsmacked at how close I was really going to be to Kate Bush. You can read my review of the show at Beige at this link, but suffice it to say the concert was one of the most extraordinary things I have ever witnessed in my life. A rock show and West End theatre production all rolled into one starring an iconic singer who hadn't performed in 35 years. As I noted in my review, she was in fine voice and the technical wizardry and audaciousness of the show will surely not be matched anytime soon. It was worth the wait. If my plane had gone down over the Atlantic on the way home, I wouldn't have cared. I had reached the mountaintop, crossed off the number one item on my bucket list.

With BFF Donna in the lobby of the Apollo before seeing Kate.
After the concert, we went back to Donna's hotel around the corner from the Hammersmith Apollo and met up with other fans in the bar to decompress and talk about what we had seen. I decided to splurge and get a room at the hotel (since it was almost 2 a.m.) rather than trek back across London in the wee hours. It was lovely to meet fans who had come from Northern Ireland and others who had come from around Britain just to see Kate in concert.

On Sept. 3, I travelled out toward Greenwich to visit another friend and fellow poet, John, and we talked about the concerts, literature, film and our projects-in-progress. Before long, it was time to head back to the Hammersmith Apollo for night two with Kate. This time, I was "up in the gods" on row Z of the circle. It was a million degrees, there was a 30 minute technical delay in the show, but Kate was once again in great voice and the audience was totally with her. During the finale of "Cloudbusting," even Kate was taken aback (and obviously pleased) at the gusto in which the audience was singing along.

Writing with Agnes at Tinderbox.
The next day was one of rest, so I slept late and then Agnes and I headed out to Tinderbox for another night of writing and dinner at Chilango, one of the best Mexican meals ever. I recalled back in the mid-90s when there was one Mexican restaurant in London and now they seem to be on every corner. Even as I type this, I'm craving one of Chilango's burritos.

On Friday, I headed back over to the Hammersmith Apollo area to meet up with my friends Louise and Stuart, who had taken the train down from West Yorkshire to see Kate. We had lunch at a pub and talked Kate for two hours. Then it was back to meet up with Agnes for another writing evening at Tinderbox. As a side note, Agnes and I always rounded out our writing evenings by watching trashy British television - silly gameshows, ridiculous murder mystery dramas and crap reality TV. We had many laughs.

On Saturday, I got up early and headed over to the National Portrait Gallery to see the Virginia Woolf exhibit. It was small, but filled with photos, first editions, letters, pages from her diary, the walking stick she left by the bank of the River Ouse when she committed suicide and the letter she left to husband Leonard (Dearest, I feel certain that I am going mad again…). I am a devotee of Woolf, so the exhibition was incredibly moving to me and I went a little crazy in the shop buying up books, catalogs, postcards and magnets.

After a morning with Mrs. Woolf, I headed over to Victoria Station to meet my friend Dave for another trip down to Rochester for an evening watching the new series of Doctor Who. We happened to run into fellow Kate fans Sean (creator of and Thomas at the station before we caught our train. I got the chance to explore some of the shops along Rochester high street (where every other shop is named after its most famous resident, Charles Dickens, or one of his books) before Dave and I met up with Peter, Krys and Donna. After our Who fix (Peter Capaldi is amazing as the new Doctor!), Dave and I headed back into London where he was DJ'ing at a club called East Bloc. He was spinning Kate Bush tunes all night and the place soon filled up with those just out of the concert. It was great to catch up with Mike, Tarsem, Neil and "other" Collin and sing and dance along to our favorite songs. I finally stumbled back to Agnes' flat around 2:30 a.m.

Foyles on Charing Cross Road. A cathedral of books.
After sleeping in, Agnes and I made our way to the new Foyles bookshop in Charing Cross Road on Sunday. The new five-story flagship store is a cathedral. I was positively vibrating being around so many books in such a dazzling space. I was good, though, and only bought two books since I was starting to worry I wouldn't be able to get all my goodies home in my small bags.

That brings me to my final full day in London and my reading at the Polari Literary Salon at Southbank Centre. Host and author Paul Burston had graciously asked me back when he found out I was over for the Kate shows (he's also a big fan of her music). I met up early with Krys and Donna (and finally had the garlic dough balls from Pizza Express I had been craving all week) and then it was time for the show. Polari was sold out, so the Level 5 Function Room with its awe-inspiring backdrop of the London Eye and Big Ben was full.

Me reading at Polari (Photo by the brilliant
Krystyna FitzGerald-Morris). 
Trudy Howson read poetry, Carole Morin read in character as Vivien Lash from her book Spying on Strange Men, Juliet Jacques read a fantastic essay about attending performance artist Marina Abramovic's just-ended 512 Hours piece at the Serpentine Gallery (which I hated to miss) and how it intersected with her transition from male to female and Joanna Briscoe read from her new novel, Touched. I read exclusively from Render and got some big laughs by reading "The Virgin Mary Appears In A Highway Underpass," "Detour" and "Sex Machines" among others. The audience was truly enjoying the night, and I could feel their energy pouring over me. A brilliant night. You can read a great recap and review of the Polari reading at this link.

And then it was over. On Tuesday morning, I headed to Heathrow, got upgraded to "economy elite" on my Delta flight, had a row to myself and watched four movies (including the fabulous Grand Budapest Hotel). Before I knew it, I was home (thanks to swift pick up by Colin) and unpacking. The post-trip comedown set in almost immediately. I'll be back in London in the spring, but until then I am counting down the days. And still trying to win the lottery or find a rich British husband.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Kate Bush live: A review

I saw Kate Bush twice this week and reviewed the concerts for Beige magazine in London. The shows were spectacular beyond words. You can read the review at this link.

In other fantastic news, the Polari reading at Southbank Centre on Sept. 8 is sold out, but a few more tickets have been added. If you're in London and want to attend, visit this link fast!

I'll have a full wrap-up post on the trip next week. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Kate Bush Live: Really happening to ya!

My essay about Kate Bush returning to the stage after 35 years is on the Beige magazine website today. I write about getting the phone call back in March, the panic of securing tickets and a little history of my love for Kate's much for the past 30-odd years. Check it out at this link

Kate is on stage right now as I type this, performing the first show. I'll be writing a review for Beige after seeing it myself on the evening of Sept. 2. All the images and set list coming from London have whetted my appetite even more. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

An update on the novel

The view of London from Agnes' window.
I'm 31 chapters and nearly 300 pages in on the first draft of the Leaving Paris manuscript. I've allowed myself to let the novel take a strange course to its conclusion to see just how far I could push the storyline. By doing so, it's shown me exactly what I need to do to for the rewrite. Veering off the outline and original plot also opened up some scenarios that will make the final edit.

I should have a completed first draft by mid-September and will then begin the rewriting and editing process. I've realized while writing this book how hard it will be to say goodbye to these characters  that I've lived with for almost 20 years. Perhaps that's why writing this book has been so much more difficult than Conquering Venus and Remain In Light.

I wrote the first scenes of Leaving Paris sitting at the kitchen table in my friend/fellow writer Agnes Meadows' flat with its magnificent view of the London skyline occasionally distracting me. That was the summer of 2012. In a perfectly synchronistic, wibbly wobbly, timey wimey twist, I will write the final scenes at that same table in just a few weeks. Next spring, I'll head to Paris as I'm finishing the rewrite and edit.

If you haven't read the first two books in The Venus Trilogy, now is the perfect time to pick up the paperbacks or eBooks.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Introducing the Sibling Rivalry Press Foundation

Sibling Rivalry Press has taken a huge step forward in its longevity and ability to bring even more amazing books to readers. The nonprofit Sibling Rivalry Press Foundation is now accepting donations to help organize, support, and promote literary events, readings, conferences and workshops.  The foundation will also lend support to other small presses and authors, preserve small press publications of historical value and support literary projects with an emphasis on (but not not exclusive to) LGBTQ projects.

At the new SRP Foundation site, you can make a tax-free donation to an individual (including yours truly to help fund a tour, workshop or other event when my next book is out); to a new literary scholarship; directly support SRP and a selection of other growing small presses; to literary events; and support donations to rural libraries, under-funded schools, correctional facilities and more. Explore all the options at this link.

Under Bryan Borland and Seth Penningtons' guidance, SRP is doing amazing things. With Maureen Seaton, Denise Duhamel and Eduardo Corral joining the SRP family soon, the roster of established and up-and-coming poets continues to grow.

I am proud to be part of SRP and I hope you will lend your support to keep small presses a vital and viable part of literature in America.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Persona poems workshop

If you happen to be in Fayetteville on Tuesday, Aug. 5, at 7 p.m., I'll be giving a free poetry workshop at the Fayette County Public Library as part of this celebration of Maya Angelou. More details in the flyer image above.

Collin Kelley: Modern Confessional

Welcome to Collin Kelley: Modern Confessional, the website for poet, novelist, playwright and journalist Collin Kelley.