About Me

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Lewes, East Sussex, United Kingdom
Hello and welcome! I am Colin Bell, a novelist and poet, previously a TV producer-director of arts programmes, also known as the blogger Wolfie Wolfgang. I hope you find something here among my daily blogs. I write about anything that interests me - I hope it interests you too. Let me know.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Night walking: a good way to come down after a poetry reading.

Wolfie Wolfgang reading last night

Last night in Lewes, UK, there was a chill in the air and, or so I'm told,  snow on the outskirts, but it was warm enough in the Lewes Arms, my local pub, when it hosted the 7th anniversary of Lewes Poetry and showcased some of the poets who have read there over the years. I was glad to be invited back as I have happy memories of the first time I read there as, six years go,  it was the venue for my very first poetry reading as I described in yesterday's blog.

Lewes Arms Pub, Lewes.

There was a good turnout considering we, the South-East English, are known to make an unnecessary fuss if the January temperatures sink anywhere lower than warm. The success of Lewes Poetry, and the reason why so many people risked less than mild temperatures, belongs to its host and creator, the wonderfully chaotic Ollie Wilson, poet and compere at these suitably anarchic events where 'stage' poets share the stage with 'page' poets and everyone gets along just fine. I read some of my recent re-writes of my first poems which all dated from 2009 and this seemed a suitable anniversary for their first public reading. I had been nervous about tinkering with poems that had already been published and, possibly, set in stone, but they seemed to go down well, people clapped, laughed and were silent in all the right places,  and I left feeling that those rewrites of early poems still had something to say, but now had much stronger legs, considering that they written when I didn't really know what I was doing.

Ollie Wilson

Outside, as you can see in the photos below, if they weren't at the Lewes Arms,  or some other local hostelry, Lewesians were all snuggled up at home. Well, you don't want to catch cold on a chilly January night.

When Lewes is busy, it is very, very busy, but when it is quiet, it's deserted.

It is a real pleasure wandering outside on a night like this when the streets, or so it seems, belong to me.

I always feel a bit stranger than usual after performing my poetry - it's an exposing experience where hidden parts of myself have a brief public airing, and, afterwards, I need to take time to return to what, I guess, is 'normal'.

On nights such as these, there's nothing better than a solitary walk in the middle of town, especially when it is as pretty as Lewes.

If you're interested in Lewes Poetry, here's the link:

Thursday, 29 January 2015

I'm returning tonight to the poetry event where I first dared to read my poems.

Lewes Arms, Lewes

I've been asked to read at a poetry event tonight just round the corner from my house here in Lewes, UK. The splendidly anarchic Lewes Poetry is having its 7th Anniversary celebration upstairs at my local pub, the Lewes Arms where I first dared to read my poetry at my first Lewes Poetry event in 2009 when I was still recovering from a major illness. I'd been told that it would have an open mic element so I went along, after much persuasion, with my little file of poems only to find that the open mic part had been cancelled because the evening was so full of invited poets including the much admired Lewes poet, John Agard, later to win the Queen's Medal for poetry.

John Agard receiving his medal from an unusually amused Queen

I thought I'd run away when I heard this, after-all, I'd only been writing poetry for less than a year even though I'd been lucky to get some published in various journals,  but the organisers saw that I'd brought my poems so decided to fit me in. Several expletives passed through my head when I heard I was to follow John Agard, who incidentally, was quite brilliant. Actually, hearing this man's wonderful delivery, forced me to drop my inhibitions and to 'go for it.'  Well, I survived and have been back to the events several times since.

Poet John Agard reading at Lewes Poetry at the Lewes Arms with a very nervous Wolfie in the corner.

I've been rewriting a lot of those early poems recently so it seems appropriate to re-read some of them tonight as a gesture of appreciation to Lewes Poetry and all those nice folk who were so encouraging then to an unknown, brain-damaged and stammering poet wannabe. It would have been so easy to have put me off for life.

I'm not sure who else is reading tonight but it is always fun so come along if you can.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

When the sun shines through my window, Lewes fools me into thinking Spring has arrived.

My little garret writing room is bathed in sunshine this fine January morning here in Lewes, UK. Me and my Bonsai tree aren't sure if it's summer of Winter in here and, if it wasn't that it's too easy to turn into a weird eccentric when you spend too much time working at home on your own, I'd be tempted to change into Bermuda shorts and sunglasses but it's good enough to feel the sun on my face as I sit here squinting at my trusty computer screen.

Looking out of the window, I see that my neighbour's almond tree is in blossom and, as usual round here, that plucky little tree is the first herald of life in the middle of Winter.

The sunshine and almond blossom are enough to lift my spirits when the international news talks of snow blizzards and preposterously low temperatures. I suspect it will end up getting cold here again but, for now,  I'm happy to bask in the spirit of this false Spring.

Out in my garden, I too have some heralds of Spring - snowdrops are always in the vanguard of those flowers that defy reason to bloom in the most inhospitable of times and mine return with a smile every January.

My primroses too, unexpectedly brighten the darkest corner of my garden with their radiant but tasteful shades of pale yellow. These have been flowering since before Christmas even though they are not supposed to open their petals for at least another couple of months.

That's enough gazing out of the window, back to work.

Monday, 26 January 2015

A grey Monday in Lewes, UK.

It's a grey day today here in my home town of Lewes, UK.  It might not have the radiant colours of the Mediterranean but I rather like all those muted tones.

If you have to have a Northern European urban winter then Lewes has a lot going for it. Being a market town set in Sussex's South Downs, there always a dash of green to liven things up.

 We have a lot of hills here in Lewes - at first it's feels a bit hard-core walking up the High Street but you get used to it quickly and, in no time, Lewesians just take steep climbs in their stride.

Lewes Castle (11th Century, Norman) sits on its very own hill, just round the corner from my home, and its flint stone walls add a lot of grey to our townscape.

Somehow, the subtle shifts of colour work for me as I hurry past on a wintery morning.

I'm very lucky that my walk home takes me under this splendid, and yes, grey, 12th Century archway.

History is all around us here in this little grey town and, yes, this path is uphill too.

Flintstones go well with rain clouds and leafless trees - it's like living in my own monochrome photograph where there's just a hint of brown to remind us that grey is a colour too.

If you find all this grey getting you down, then let's be grateful for the good old British telephone box and, of course, our red pillar boxes, too. Now, red doesn't get any redder than these most British examples of street furniture.

There's red too in my street and, on a day like today, maybe there's nothing better than going to the very pleasant Pleasant Stores for a cup of tea or coffee and a good chat with friends.

Friday, 23 January 2015

The many faces of Wolfie Wolfgang are really one and the same.

Wolfgang Glinka in the virtual world Second Life.

If you've found my website then you'll be at least partially internet savvy and, before you hurtle off on your travels around the worldwide web, I'd like to thank you for stopping for a moment and, while you're here, I'd like to tell you about some of my adventures in cyber space.

I'm lucky enough to spend most of my working day writing - either poetry or fiction - so a lot of my life unfurls in front of my trusty computer up here in a small room at the top of my house a small market town in the UK. Anyone who has ever written anything of any length on an old-fashioned typewriter will know that computer word-processing has replaced typing hell with a walk in the park. Computers are an essential in my life,  no matter how many luddites bemoan the effects of computers on the modern world.

It's not just the word-processing that has revolutionised my life. The world-wide web, the internet, has opened up so many opportunities for writers, like me,  who mostly live solitary lives alone with their obsessions. It's not just the access to information that has helped me in my struggles, it is the access to an international community of writers whom I can meet on-line without having to leave my cosy nest. I'm not just talking about social media even though sites such as Facebook and Twitter provide marvellous opportunities for those 'water-cooler' moments when you don't work in an office or a factory and you fancy a break from writing. Over the years, I've made many good friends over the internet many of whom, I've gone on to meet face to face. I love the way I can mix my writerly need for solitude with the extrovert joy I get from conversation - so easily achieved with a click on a keyboard.

The biggest online difference to my life as a writer has come from my experience in those often misunderstood sites known as virtual worlds. Some years ago, I found the most famous of those sites, Second Life, and experimented with it as an amusing game. The idea was to imagine what it would be like if you really could have a second life. You had to create an avatar, at first a clumsily comical animated cartoon, and then there you were - it was all up to you. That was when I 'created' my avatar Wolfgang Glinka who was really just another manifestation of Wolfie Wolfgang my cyber name but, of course, agelessly youthful and shamelessly trendy.

It was inevitable, I suppose, that the more I experimented in this alternative life, I merely found more of myself. Wolfgang Glinka, Wolfie Wolfgang, Colin Bell, three-in-one and one-in-three - actually, technology apart, they are, of course, the same person. If Colin Bell is a poet and a novelist in the 'real world' then so is Wolfgang Glinka in Second Life.

It didn't take long to enter the various writing communities in Second Life and, for a number of years now, I've been hosting my own weekly poetry event called Wolfie's Poetry Surf with an open-to-all open mic hour mixed with readings of my own poetry. It is now an established event with poets attending, in the wonderful way of the internet, from all over the world. We've had Brits, Americans, Australians, Dutch, Chinese, Singaporeans, French, Georgians, Germans, Italians, Jamaicans, Spaniards and Portuguese among our regulars and many more nationalities besides. The worldwide web makes us truly international just as you, my blog readers, come from every nation in the world.

I particularly value the opportunity to test out new work at these meetings with such a great community of writers. Last night, I tried out recent re-writings that I've been making to some of the poems I wrote when I first dared to try my hand at poetry. What looked OK on the page, didn't always work when read out-loud and I found myself making alterations as I read. It is a wonderful opportunity for any poet wannabe so I'm forever grateful to Second Life.

If you fancy turning up for one of our sessions, it's not as difficult as you'd think. We meet every Thursday at 1pm American East Coast time (9pm Greenwich Mean Time) and all you have to do is follow this link into Second Life (which is free) and spend a short time making a simple avatar - all is explained and, believe me, it is very easy.


It would be great to see you there.

Here are some of my other Second Life poetry events:

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Was I wrong to be moved by these beautiful images of the Prophet Muhammad?

The Prophet Muhammad enthroned,  Iran, early 14th century. Freer/Sackler Museum Of Asian Art/Smithsonian Institution.

I don't want to trespass in ignorance as my knowledge of Islam is minimal but it was only recently that I learnt that images of the Prophet Muhammad are not actually banned by all branches of Islam. This beautiful picture from the Smithsonian Institution is certainly no caricature or cartoon but you can see the prophet clearly in this realistic representation. As someone who's always been attracted to medieval art and to the many beneficial ways European art was influenced by Arab culture, it was wonderful to see this image and to appreciate the similarities with Christian religious art from the same period.

The Annunciation, 14th Century. Artist unknown.

So it was news to me that The Koran doesn't actually prohibit images of the Prophet even though some modern sects of Islam have developed a strict no imagery tradition. Apparently what the Koran prohibits is the worship of idols -  very much the same as the Christian Bible does with the Old Testament story of the Children of Israel and the Golden Calf. Moses took a dim view when, returning from the mountain with the tablets of stone containing the Ten Commandments, he found the Israelites, lead by Jeroboam, making sacrifices to the golden statue of a 'pagan' god.

Jeroboam Sacrificing to the Golden Calf (1752) by Jean Honore Fragonard , École des Beaux-Arts, Paris.

Both Christianity and Islam tried to supplant the polytheistic religions that preceded them and replace them with the theology of belief in one god. There is, according to some Islamic traditions, no comparison between icons of the Prophet and the worshiping of 'pagan' images. Other sects, as we have seen, take a very different view with a tiny minority, as we have seen recently, regard the showing images of the Prophet as a justification for murder. I'm told that The Koran disagrees with them over both religious imagery and murder.

The Koran and The Bible are open to interpretation but it is not for me to take a view on this. It's worth remembering, perhaps, in these troubled times, that Christianity too has been tainted by fundamentalists who reeked destruction on religious imagery like this 15th century tomb in Hereford Cathedral where the saints heads were hacked off during the wild days of the English Reformation.

Vandalised tomb of Bishop John Stanbury Hereford Cathedral, England. 15th Century.

I'm sure that it's not my place to second guess every devote Muslim's attitude to the use of images of the Prophet Muhammad, but I for one love the dignity and sanctity of those medieval paintings that show him as a wise and loving man.

The Prophet Muhammad and the Abrahamic prophets in Jerusalem, anonymous, Mi‘rajnama (Book of Ascension), Tabriz, ca. 1317-1330. Topkapi Palace Library

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

No panic here in Lewes as we get a small smattering of January snow.

So no snow ploughs here in Lewes, UK, this morning,  and no snowmen either. It's pretty though, our smattering of snow. Here in South-East England, so far, we've been climate lucky and I'm not complaining. Even other parts of East Sussex have more snow that we do here in Lewes.

My small urban garden doesn't mind the snow. A bit of cold is good for it. It kills off some of those bugs and diseases and toughens up the plants that survive.

More snow may come our way but I won't be panicking - my snow shovel hasn't been used for two years and recent winters have been so mild that some of my annual plants have refused to die and have rather outlived their welcome.

It's never so wintery in my January garden that there isn't always a hopeful sign of new life.

My snowdrops look fine in the snow as does my first camellia bloom.  So no complaints around here. I may, of course, have to eat my words but, it is January and it's supposed to be cold.