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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, 24 October 2014

Getting into performance mode for Needlewriters Lewes.

Yesterday reminded me of my singing days when I learned how to prepare for a performance because, last night, I was doing a reading, just down the road from my house, at Lewes' excellent quarterly literary event, Needlewriters Lewes. On days such as these, as I remembered from the days when I'd be doing a performance of, say, German lieder or an oratorio, the show always begins directly you get up in the morning. So, yesterday, was a classic example of preparing but not over-doing things so that you peak at just the right time.

Every road in Lewes, yesterday, seemed to lead to the Needlemakers Centre where the event was to be held.

A brisk walk round town was just right to get my lungs going and to clear my head.

I'm fortunate to live in such an attractive town and, this time, it was also good that the venue was no more than a two minute walk from my front door.

The Needlemakers centre, once a candle factory then a surgical needle factory, is now a cosy conglomeration of craft shops, an excellent bookshop, Skylark, and a restaurant where the readings take place four times a year. I was booked a year ago but I was still trying to decide what to read on the day. I was sharing the evening with the poet, an American but now Lewes resident,  Liz Bahs, who writes absorbing poetry sequences where the subject is approached from a variety of different angles. She was in great, exuberant form on the night. The other reader, also a fine poet, was Sian Thomas, a friend from the days when I used to run a Lewes poetry event called First Wednesday Writers. She read from her wonderfully sardonic but powerful pamphlet, Ovid's Echo (published by Paekakariki Press) where she takes classical themes and gives them more than just one twist. She, like Liz, also read some new poems - her's, written as part of her project as Poet in Residence for Ashdown Forest, were richly evocative. I don't think she actually has to live in the forest but she's certainly spending a lot of time there.

I was the only prose writer in the mix so I had no doubt about reading from my novel, Stephen Dearsley's Summer Of Love but I thought it would be fun if I read a short passage from my new novel too. Blue Notes, Still Frames, will be published next year, and as both books are set, just down the road from Lewes, in Brighton there was an added local interest in reading them in Lewes. Stephen Dearsley's Summer of Love is the story of a young fogey who discovers a whole new world in that hippie summer of 1967 and Blue Notes, Still Frames, returns to Brighton, thirty years on, with different characters.

As I have had a neurological stammer since my brain haemorrhage, six years ago, I'm always slightly anxious about reading prose in public so I decided I too would read some new poetry. I hardly ever stammer if I'm reading poetry as the speech rhythms seem to help. I wrote a new batch of Fibonacci poems in September for my on-going Fibonacci collection Brief Encounters, ten of which are about to be published in the Fib Review by Musepie Press so I thought I would give them their first public airing as a warm up for me, my voice and my stammer, before moving on to the prose works. When I'd finally decided on the ordering of the poems and the sections I would read from the two novels, I uploaded all the texts onto my Kindle so that I didn't have to do all that fiddling around between books.  All I had to do now was some of my old singing exercises and to put my brain into dormant, meditative mode trying not to imagine that this must be what if feels like for a prisoner awaiting execution. If I could disappear,  out of body and out of mind for a few hours then, I thought, I would be ready to 'turn on' my public persona for the evening.

Some more vocalises helped to clear the remnants of the fluid on my lungs which are the aftermath of my Pulmonary embolism, and I was ready. Actually this was the first time since the publication of my novel that I have felt at all well when doing public readings from it. So dressed suitably flamboyantly, I headed off down the street to met my fate.

As I walked into the venue, all that meditative monkishness disappeared and I was set to go. A bit of socialising as the audience arrived - it was heartening how many of my good friends made the effort to attend, and then it was just a matter of a single glass of wine on an empty stomach and I was, abracadabra, in performance mode.

The preparation paid off because, once I was up there, I felt terrific and, yes, I actually enjoyed myself.

The Needlewriters audience was the very best - attentive, responsive and, or so it felt,  gentle and generous.

They've got it just right at Needlewriters, people can have a drink and some food and get mellow without getting legless and the ambience is intimate without being claustrophobic.

I was glad that I decided to read some of those Fibonacci poems not just because, people said, they enjoyed them, but also because they did their trick and my speech barely stumbled all evening.

I even sold and signed some copies of the novel and, yes, enjoyed the whole evening thoroughly. I was ready though,  when it was over, to walk round the corner to our excellent Indian restaurant for a late night curry and, yes, I have to admit it, the rest of that bottle of white wine. Thank you Needlewriters Lewes for inviting me and thanks again to everyone who came along.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

It's Grown Up Time: We won't save the World by turning off the News and looking for salvation in Nigel Farage.

I'm told people have stopped listening/watching the news in Britain because it is too depressing. Well, there's no question about the gloomy nature of the World today so, I suppose, we can't blame people for wanting to look away from so many serious issues. The problem is, dare I say, that people not just here in Britain, are not watching the news because they are frightened of the truth and are looking for solutions from populist politicians who are saying everything is easy - trust me, I'm an ordinary guy just like you. The trouble is, in our democracies, these ordinary guys might just get elected with their easily digested and simplistic answers to complex questions. In Britain this might happen next May just at a time when the country and the world needs politicians who can see beyond easy answers and who refuse to pander to the emotions of an anxious electorate looking for solutions in  single issue politics.

Here in Britain, we have the phenomenon that is Nigel Farage, the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party.  His simple political solution to the world's problems is for this small island to leave the European Union and to close the borders. It is simple, no question, but it is also balefully wrong and, let's face it, it won't work.

The trouble is that he is very persuasive and is seen as an attractive alternative to Britain's 'main' political leaders. It is easy to hate our politicians and all of us can come up with easy reasons why 'the economy isn't working', 'foreign immigrants are taking all our jobs,' 'Europe is the cause of all our problems,' etc. etc. etc. We can all come up with other catch phrases over a pint of beer with the friendly Mr. Farage. He is so persuasive that he has Britain's political leaders on the back foot.

Prime Minister, David Cameron, is tearing up his old 'liberal' speeches and looking for ways of sounding electable and acceptable to an electorate looking for scape goats.  Every day we are being fed new 'back of an envelope' policies from his 'think tank' and, increasingly, he is being pushed to the right and now he is alienating Britain's European partners and worrying the United States. He knows, but daren't admit it, that Farageing the Conservative party is a road to disaster.

Poor much got-at Ed Milliband, the leader of the Labour party, is on the run too. He is only just holding on to a slender lead in the polls and is egg-splatteringly unpopular in the country. He is having to react to the Farage phenomenon too. Miracle-seeking Labour voters too are looking for happy endings in Mr Farage's saloon bar politics.  Mr Cameron and Mr Milliband are not fools even if they are unloved - their sin will be ignoring what their intelligence tells them about British and international affairs and ducking their responsibility to inform the British electorate that next May's general election is grown up time.

This is serious folks - like it or not. By ignoring the news, we ignore the developing problems in Europe and beyond - problems that Britain should be helping to resolve for all our sakes. All of us folk lucky enough to have a vote need to open our eyes and look.

President Hollande of France isn't laughing , he's made mistakes for sure and he too is deeply unpopular in his own land, but France should be our friend when we have enemies watching us with hatred in their eyes.

The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is the great survivor but even she is beginning to look rattled by the future  and not just by the economics. She is much more Britain's friend then Britain realises and she is depressed by Britain's growing isolationism.

President Obama too is having a bumpy time. He is facing the Mid-Term elections in a country where the people there too have stopped watching the news because it is depressing. Ebola, a potential catastrophe for some African countries, has turned into an American nightmare, a symbol of fear and a stick with which to hit their politicians, both Democrats and Republicans alike. Everywhere in the Western democracies, people are looking for simple solutions to complex problems and distrusting their politicians.

They are looking for simple solutions in some of the most troubled parts of the Middle East too. When the news is bad at home in Saudi Arabia, Tunisia or Yemen, their young men look to ISIS for their own naively imagined happy ending and flock, along with European and American 'Jihadists', to Syria and Iraq. The result doesn't need repeating - even if we don't watch the news, we all know about the horrors that the world has ignored for too long.

So, ignore the news if you want but, please, don't think the solution to these many crises will be solved over a pint with the dangerous Mr Farage. I say it again, wake up Britain, it's Grown Up Time.

Friday, 17 October 2014

I'm feeling great! Now when was the last time you heard me say that?

I'm feeling good today. I know that's not headline news stuff but, actually, for me, it is. Some of you may know that I have been ill with Pulmonary Embolism, blood clots in my lungs, since about this time last year. It hasn't been fun feeling ill most of the time, having difficulties breathing and, at times, even walking. Well, after some rough months of illness, I got diagnosed in March this year and then the medication began.

First of all a few weeks of self-injecting with a drug called Tinzapanin sodium - this was a great way of getting over any squeamishness I might have had about sticking needles into myself. Soon I was doing it as if I was merely putting a pin into a pin cushion. This was the emergency treatment which was designed to stop the clots from growing any larger.

Then I was moved on to Warfarin tablets, the stuff often used as rat poison, yes, I know, charming,  I thought so too. I had to take these tablets for six months, the plan being that they would lower my blood's coagulation rate so that the blood clots could begin the long job of dissolving without the danger of new clots forming. This, of course,  increased the danger of haemorrhaging so I had to carry an emergency card just in case I had an accident because the scene would have been rather bloody. I was told I couldn't have a tooth extracted or any surgical procedures while I was on Warfarin.  I was also told that the doctors didn't want me to take it for more than six months because, six years ago, I had had a brain haemorrhage. So you can see, this has been a difficult year.

These daily doses of Warfarin where regulated by regular blood tests to see the level of coagulation in my system.

This ritual was performed twice a week, then once a week, then eventually once a month, unless the level of anti-coagulant dropped. I was often recognised as the man with the bandage on his arm.

After all those scans and x-rays, I wasn't too worried about this blood-test regime and, gradually, I started to feel better - less breathless as the fluid on my lungs dispersed, and, eventually, I felt almost energetic again. The consultant decided after regular visits to the hospital, that six months of Warfarin should do the trick as they could find no underlying cause of those blood clots and decided that they were probably caused by the severe lung infection I suffered last winter.

Pulmonary Embolism is a serious, in fact a life-threatening condition so it is with relief that I can now consider myself out of danger. There's a 1 in 5 chance of developing another clot once you have had the condition but, I'm told,  that this is unlikely in my case and I certainly hope that the doctors are right. I have to repeat  something I have said on these pages many times before: yet again, in my experience, the British National Health Service, in spite of its difficulties, has been fantastic. Without its care, I might not have been here writing this. So, as I said at the top of this blog, the fact that I'm feeling good today is news-worthy - well for me anyway.

Before my diagnosis, I did a number of public readings of my novel, Stephen Dearsley's Summer Of Love, without realising that I was seriously ill. I'm glad I didn't realise the danger I was in when I took part in the Polari Literary Salon readings at at the Royal Festival Hall in February but, looking at the short video that someone took, I can hear that my breathing was anything but normal. Phew. No such problems next week then when I'm reading at Needlewriters Lewes with the poets Sian Thomas and Liz Bahs.

I plan to read from  my first novel Stephen Dearsley's Summer Of Love (published by Ward Wood Publishing) but also from my new one, Blue Notes, Still Frames, to be published by Ward Wood in 2015. If you are anywhere near Lewes, UK, it would be great to see you there - no wheezing or breathlessness and definitely no blood this time, I promise.

Monday, 13 October 2014

I'm one of three East Sussex writers booked for the next Needlewriters Lewes.

I'm getting ready for my next novel reading and this time, very conveniently, it's in my home town of Lewes, UK, just down the road from my house at the building known as The Needlemakers.  I shall be sharing the evening with two other East Sussex writers, the poets Sian Thomas and Liz Bahs.  http://www.needlewriters.co.uk/

The building was once a candlemakers' factory that,  during World War I, became a surgical needle manufacturers. It now houses an eclectic collection of specialist shops and a splendid cafe where the Lewes Needlewriters' meetings take place four times a year. The events are usually well attended because Lewes folk appear to like the mixture of readings, food and drink. The atmosphere is always benign and receptive so I am really looking forward to it.  http://www.needlemakers.co.uk/

The Needlemakers Cafe doesn't just russle up great meals, it makes an excellent performance space too in the middle of our arty and rather liberal town here in the South Downs National Park. So, you might like to come on down next Thursday and make a night of it with some wine, supper and, I hope you'll agree, some interesting readings.

I am now thumbing through my novel, Stephen Dearsley's Summer Of Love (publisher Ward Wood Publishing) trying to decide which passages to read - the bits that give the spirit of the novel without giving out too many spoilers.

I'm also trying to decide whether to read some of the Fibonacci poetry that I have recently put together in a collection called Brief Encounters about, yes, some of my brief encounters,  or, maybe to include a chapter from my new novel, Blue Notes, Still Frames, also like Stephen D, set in Brighton and due to be published by Ward Wood in 2015. I may just go with the flow on the night. These Needlewriters events are always supported by Matt Birch who runs Skylark, one of the Needlemakers shops, a splendidly Lewesian emporium that stocks not only books but arts and crafts many with an ecological and ethnic bias.  http://www.skylarkshop.com/

Matt Birch at Skylark

Matt is one of that great but endangered species, an independent bookseller, and I, for one, am impressed by his support for writers - and not just us local ones. He will be selling tickets for the event but he will also do a display of the books being read on the night so, if you haven't done so already, this would be a great opportunity for you to buy yourself a copy of my and the other readers' books - the authors' signing will be free!

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Syria and Iraq: A few RAF planes will not do the job

So we're sending a few bombers to join the other nations who are using their planes to do too little too late. David Cameron, the British Prime Minister may talk big about defeating the monstrous organisation known as ISIS but if he really thinks that our RAF planes are going to make any difference then he's as naive as he thinks we are. Let's not be taken in by the rhetoric: this is a public relations job by our silver-tongued marketing Prime Minister.

A few planes against a vicious, fanatical and murderous army is just not enough. We are becoming the talk big, do nothing country and all this new bombing campaign will do is attract more crazed murderers to further acts of terrorism against the UK. If we buy into this without looking at the small print we're in for a big disappointment.

If we want to end this horror then we have to do more than just shout loudly and do the minimum to save face. We have sat back while the Syrian president has committed genocide against his own people and we have sat back while ISIS grew in strength. Isn't it time that we actually tried to stop the carnage? Isn't it time that the grisly activities of  President Assad and ISIS are brought to a conclusive end?

How many Syrian and Iraqi people have to die (let alone the British and American hostages) before the United Nations declares enough is enough. Maybe, Mr Cameron believes that half a dozen British planes can end the horror of the last four years. Isn't it just a sham to deny the necessity of going into Syria and Iraq where hundreds of thousands of civilians have died and millions have been made refugees? Or do we just not care here in the West with our isolationist instincts?

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Scarborough's pioneering theatre picks a winning team.

Charlotte Harwood and Christopher Harper in Slipping 

I was in Scarborough's Stephen Joseph Theatre this weekend to see Slipping, a new play by the young writer Claudine Toutoungi - directed by my son Henry Bell.

Henry Bell in Scarborough

. I have to acknowledge my prejudices here. 1) I'm the director's Dad  and 2) I'm not immediately attracted to eye operations. Well, firstly, I saw beyond both prejudices last night watching this powerful , witty and emotionally gripping production - son or no son and as for that eye stuff there was no need to look away - no horror just enlightenment about how we are affected, changed and, ultimately challenged to accept who we are and how much we can ever know about other people.

This is a terrific production - design, music, outstandingly well acted and, yes, directed, giving this new play every possible chance to make its impact.

Charlotte Harwood and Christopher Harper commanded the stage in this potent two-hander, playing doctor and patient but, in this play, showing how many different personalities compete within each individual. Both actors gave us an epic cast of different personality types. A brilliant achievement superbly observed.

Congratulations all round - no less to the Stephen Joseph Theatre for investing in new work by unknown writers.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Me in China: Kungfu, Fouchou and my Bonsai tree.

I have always liked the idea of growing Bonsai  and, for my birthday last week, I was set up for the challenge and given this beautiful little tree called Syzygium buxifolium or Chinese myrtle. As today is China's national day, it's good to celebrate that great but far from free country's culture with something of such beauty.

I'm a little bit daunted by the responsibility of caring for it but I've placed it on my desk so that it's in the right environment, next to a South-facing window, with some direct light and plenty of air as I mostly keep that window open unless it's really cold outside. I know not to over-water it and that I should use rain water or cool boiled water to prevent it drying out in summer. I will turn it weekly to control the growing pattern and trim the roots every two or three years. Mostly though, I hope, I shall sit and watch it grow - already it has injected a Zen-like spirit of tranquillity into my working space.

Chinese Myrtle grows to its full height in Southern China including Fuchian province where I visited in February 2008 - it was in China, rather than Japan, where I first saw Bonsai trees growing in ornamental parks like this one in Fouchou.

I was visiting China with my White Crane Kungfu club, White Crane Fighting Arts, to study Shaolin Dog Boxing with renowned Master Lin Zaipei.


Apart from the Kungfu,  there was time to see the country,  visit temples and, of course, to eat and drink the Chinese way.

I even earned myself a certificate in Shaolin Dog Boxing presented by Master Lin Zaipei himself.

Of course, when we weren't training, there was also time to go out on the town in Fouchou city.

I had a great time there so it's especially good to have this little Chinese Bonsai tree as a daily reminder of the positive aspects of Chinese society while we, at least, are allowed to see in our media, those brave  Hong Kong demonstrators taking to the streets demanding democracy from the often hard-faced government of leader Xi Jinping.

Wish me (and the tree) luck, everyone, but don't forget to wish luck to the great Chinese people too - when I was there they were welcoming, hospitable and very charming.