Tag Archives: Patricia Duncker

Oranges and LemnS (for the Belles of St Clemns)

I can hear you festival-goers from St.Clémentin groaning at my blog post title. For the unlucky readers and writers who weren’t able to come this year’s literary festival, some explanation may be necessary.

Who planted the seeds on my bike?

Who planted the seeds on my bike?

The LemnS bit is easy. Olympics (and a long list of other awards) poet Lemn Sissay, the festival’s keynote speaker, wowed everyone with his unique performance. His choice of clothing – a slick grey suit with fluorescent green trainers – was only the tiniest hint of the paradox to come.

It’s not every day that a performance combines first class stand-up comedy with heart-rending poetry. His desperate themes delivered in dramatic poses and followed up by boyish grins and jokes were a see-saw of emotions. The image of him hanging over a cliff face, clutching a branch, is engraved in my memory. What a man of contrasts! His name, although he pronounces it as ‘Lem’, sounds more like ‘lemon’ in Ethiopian. It means ‘why’. Surely that shows a poetic destiny?

After we’d lived his poetry and sympathised with his answers to Roisin McAuley‘s astute questions, we plundered the festival bookshop for his books.

The ‘Belles’ part is fairly easy too – these are the lovely ladies present at the festival: the readers, writers, speakers, helpers and, of course, the belle organiser Jocelyn Simms. Perhaps I should also mention the beaux men, headed by Gordon Simms and followed closely by John Hudson (see my blog post about him here), Roger Elkin, Ian Mathie, Gavin Bowd, Peter Hoskins and all the others I didn’t manage to see.

During the festival, Gordon kindly announced my publication deal with Impress Books, which led to an invitation for me to lead a workshop at the Charroux litfest in 2017 and lots of congratulations from my supportive fellow readers and writers.

There seem to be two kinds of writer: those who tell stories about their exceptional life experiences, and those who use their language skills and imagination to invent or retell stories. At St.Clémentin you could find both. Ian Mathie kept a full room of spectators spellbound with his tales of living in a mud hut in Africa for forty years. And Clare LeMay gave us a fascinating insight into the skills of an audio describer for theatre, film and art galleries.

We were spoilt for choice of practical workshops for poetry, play and prose writing. Alison Morton, of Roma Nova fame, doled out generous helpings of tips for self-publishing. And, as it’s a bilingual festival, different translators talked about what it’s like to inhabit two languages. Ed Briggs, notably, pleasured her audience with her poetic essay on English and French words – which Katherine Gallagher advised her to take to Bloodaxe.

Yes, yes, we get the point, I hear you say. We’ll make sure we come to the 2018 edition. But what about the ‘Oranges’ in the title?

Patricia Duncker

Patricia Duncker speaking at St.Clémentin

Orange is a reference to Patricia Duncker and her infectious, grounded energy – and I don’t mean the colour she was wearing. Patricia’s literary knowledge, technical craft and analytical skills qualify her as an intellectual. But she’s not a whimsical ‘wrrrrriter’ (as she says with a flourish of her hand and rolling of ‘r’s).

Her bold opinions and her passion for literature inspired us all and made us laugh. Those lucky enough to participate in her workshop (Me! Me!) had a thorough dousing in beginnings, structure, double narrators and genre. She also lavished advice on us concerning the challenges we face in our own work.

She is a writer who truly knows what she’s talking about, both in English and French literature. I can understand why Michèle Roberts, when she was a judge for the 2010 Orange prize, argued in favour of long-listing Patricia’s novel ‘The Strange Case of the Composer and His Judge’.

Ha! There you are: the oranges. It took a little research…but you’ll find the reference here, in the article Michèle wrote for the Independent in June 2010.

So the festival is over for another two years. I look through the programme of the 70 events which took place over three days and wish I could go back and attend all those I missed. Perhaps I could have squeezed in a few more – but then I wouldn’t have met the other literary lovers and discussed reading and writing with them over tea, cake, aperitifs, picnics, lunch…

Bravo and many thanks, once again, to the Simms, to their host of helpers, to the speakers and to the enthusiastic public. I’m sure there will be some official photos on the St.Clémentin website in the weeks to come.


“What comes in threes?” I asked my family at the dinner table last night.

“Triplets,” said one daughter.

“Granola biscuits,” said the other.

“Petits cochons,” said my husband. “Et les Trois Mousquetaires.” (He’s French)

This was much more fun than arguing about who left the tap running or why we’ve banned mobile phones from our bedrooms.

“Buy 2, get one free. Star Wars trilogies. 3 Cheers. Triathalons. Christopher Columbus’s 3 ships, Triple Leffe beer,” my family continued (I’ll leave you to guess who said what).

“The 3 parts of the ear. Darts. The boyband Two be Three – or was it Free? Three times a lady. World War 3.”

Actually, there’s a lot you can learn about people from their brainstorming ideas. I must remember to try this during aperitifs with friends.

Triple jump. Three-leafed clover. A trouple (what’s that? I asked. A couple, but with three people in it, my 13-year old replied. They learn a lot at school in France).

yippee before“Anyway, why do you want to know?” they asked, around dessert time, when things had passed from ridiculous into boring.

The thing is, I was looking for a title for this post. I wanted to use ‘Good News Comes in Threes’, but the grammar devil sitting on my shoulder (drinking a cocktail) swiped me around the ear and growled that news was an uncountable noun and so I couldn’t have three of them.

I considered ignoring him. It’s fun to ignore your grammar devil from time to time, as long as you’re good at dodging his swipes. Then I thought of all the grammar devils sitting on your shoulders – you who are reading this – and I got a bit scared.

Good News sounded too biblical. And ‘Three Pieces of Good News’ was too long and finicky. (As you can see, I have an issue with titles). So I thought about Curtis Bausse’s agent friend, Sydney Lushpile from the Books Ahoy Literary Agency, and cut it to one word.

You may have gathered that I’ve received some good news this month.yippee

Firstly, one of my short stories is going to be published in the October issue of The French Literary Review. This journal is edited by poet Barbara Dordi, and invites submissions with a French connection. Contributors include Ann Drysdale, David Pollard and Katherine Gallagher.

By the way, you can meet Katherine Gallagher at the excellent St.Clementin Literary festival in the Deux-Sèvres on 24, 25 & 26 June. This festival promises inspiration, with special guests including Patricia Duncker and Lemn Sissay. I’ll be there, playing the groupie and learning from the greats.

Secondly, my short story ‘Three Goddesses’ – you’d think I had a bit of a fetish for threes at the moment – is going to be published in a competition anthology. It’s being edited by Curtis Bausse (yes, him again. You should check out his blog if you like a good laugh) and is full of cool stories about cats.

And thirdly… well, I’ll come back to you later about this even more exciting one. (Take that, Grammar Devil).