SEAMUS KELLY AND SOPHIE HANNAH words from the writer: by Norman Warwick


words from the writer: by Norman Warwick

What Robin Parker and I started in the UK more than ten years ago soon included Steve Cooke, who took over the reins when I eventually left to come to retire here, or ´to run our all across the arts European office´ as I grandly announced it. In the years before I left, though, we had been joined on the UK team by the likes of Steve Bewick and Alan Lawless as our jazz correspondents, John Cooke reporting on the visual arts, Eileen Earnshaw and Ray Stern on literary matters and Katie Haigh on anything that took her fancy. More recently we have included work, on my Sidetracks and Detours blog, by the likes of Michael Higgins, Graham Marshall and Dave Espin. They all have that knack of writing an article that offers plenty of information but that will invariably enthuse you to make explorations of your own about a name that is new to you, or that you feel you have overlooked for far too long.

That was certainly the case when I saw a piece released recently for our all across the arts UK outlets, in which one of my favourite poets, Seamus Kelly, wrote about another of my favourite poets, Sophie Hannah. Come join me as we look at her web site.

Morman Warwick (left) with Seamus Kelly

I knew Seamus around the arts scene for many years before I retired over here: He was always helpful, and a significant contributor to writing groups and performance poetry events. He wasn´t one to shout and demand or command attention, though, and if I´m honest I thought of him as a decent enough bloke, but because it was never accompanied by any beating drum or blaring trumpet fanfare his poetry kind of passed me by.

 When I realised I ought to ask somebody to fulfil some engagements I would have to leave outstanding in the UK once I had moved over here, Seamus Kelly´s, though, was the first person I wanted to ask to take them over. That surprised me.  In fact,, to quote another Irish voice, ´it stoned me to my soul, stoned me just like Jelly Roll´

There were plenty of other good, brash, even cocky pub poets around just like me who would have been a like for like swap,….but somehow, I looked to the quiet guy in the corner, Mr. Reliable, Mr. Dependable or Mr. Perhaps Just A Little Bit Too Serious, as I had carelessly labelled him. And yet, I was magnetically drawn to ask him if he would step in for me, and, of course Mr. Dependable agreed to do so.

Ever since then I have become increasingly aware, from a couple of thousand miles away, of his quiet integrity and resolute, but often unspoken, determination. Kids in schools would usually respond pretty well to what I thought was my rapier wit and irrepressible personality. And yet I constantly hear how they respond to Seamus and his poetry, with its rhythm and cadence and sincerity, as it gently steers them towards mature discussion and reflection.

If you think I am demeaning him, or praising him too highly, have a look at his web site, http://seamuskellypoetry.co.uk/ The man cannot be diminished and his writing cannot be praised too highly. He faces straight ahead into concerns that even poets often turn away from and he addresses those concerns with an honesty and a courage too many of us lack.

The stoicism in his verse is an inspiration but you don´t have to look too deeply to find an optimism, too, in his poetry. Nevertheless, like their writer, his words talk quietly but carry a big stick as they knock us back into our seat to make us think.

It is a mark of the man that is  Seamus Kelly that he remains keen to learn from his peers, regularly attending talks by other writers, as evidenced below.


Sophie Hannah

Seamus Kelly recently wrote in the all across the arts page of The Rochdale observer recently about attending a talk by poet, novelist and self-help book writer Sophie Hannah about her Dream Author project, a coaching course for writers. Seamus spoke about how the audience at The Royal Toby where Sophie gave her talk seemed surprised to know that even published and well known authors suffer from the same occasional self-doubts, plot paralysis or character development as do aspiring writers. Seamus reported that some of Sophie´s advice was surprising too, and that it would be far too simplistic to say she merely implored them to more positive thinking.

In fact, in the closing question and answer Sophie, as a guest of the Rochdale Literature And Ideas Festival, responded to them all, many from frustrated aspiring writers, with honesty and humour. Seamus was no left in no doubt that all her advice had been gratefully received and that all those in the audience left enthused to write, or read more, or both.

The home page of Sophie Hannah´s web site leaves you in no doubt that she is a hugely successful author, qualified to offer such advice, but then you probably knew that already, before you took a goggle at google. If you are a lover of paperback novels that is probably what sparked your interest. Her best-selling books are mystery thrillers that also take an acute look at family and other human relationships.

Maybe, though, you have gone to goggle because you have read her poetry and been beguiled, as thousands of others have been before you.

Perhaps you have read one of her self-help books, and thought, hello, she speaks a lot of practicable common sense. Let me find out more about her.

Sophie Hannah has two different audiences in our house. My wife reads her novels and I am a lover of her poetry.

There are, nevertheless, more than two or three drop down headings on her web site that reward our exploration with further information. Those headings are Books, Extras, News And Events, About Sophie and Contact. This home page is clean, tidy, easy to follow and perfectly legible in largish print, depicting perhaps the common sense she displays in her self-help works.

If we open the pull-down titled Home at the top, we can immediately see the diversity of her work and the number of genres she writes in. Immediately we notice information about a new Hardback thriller due out, also in e-book and audio, on January 23rd 2020.

Sophie Hannah´s new book

Coincidentally whilst sitting on the beach reading my morning paper today I came across a very positive review in, The Daily Mail, calling Sophie ´one of this country´s most accomplished writers.´ Her new book, Haven´t They Grown, published by Hodder And Stoughton and reviewed today in the psycho thriller section of the paper´s literary page, ´bears testament to Sophie´s ability, as she creates a convincing narrative, cleverly managing the suspense whilst dealing with many contemporary themes.´ Reviewer Christena Appleyard also assures us that Sophie Hannah hasn´t lost her knack of sending readers chasing off in the wrong direction.

The pull down section on Sophie´s official web site https://sophiehannah.com/ also give us Perfect Little Children paired in tandem with this new work.

The Killings At Kingfisher Hall is not due out until August 6th, but already The Times is waxing lyrical about ´a literary marriage made in Heaven; Sophie Hannah and Agatha Christie…´ In this work Sophie manages the return of Hercule Poirot to unravel a mystery, allowing the The Sunday Telegraph to preview the book by observing that Agatha Christie and Sophie Hannah share ´an ability to show us that the impossible might be possible after all.´

This section of her website also tells fans how they can add their name to her readers´ list and join her on social media.

We are given an even more comprehensive picture of her work, however, when we click on Books, and pull down a page that shows a list of her UK and USA fiction and the titles of her self-help books, including How To Hold A Grudge with its clever, symbolic cover showing a watering can spraying some very prickly looking cacti. Happiness: A Mystery is the title of another, and given that in her fiction work she always solves the mystery, there is hope in that title for all readers.

Opening ´About Sophie´ we find a photograph and a brief biography from which we read conformation that Sophie, as a Sunday Times and New York Times best-selling writer of crime fiction, is published in 49 different languages and 51 ´territories´ whilst selling millions o books worldwide.

Her work on Poirot novels (she has now written three) is undertaken with the blessing of the Agatha Christie estate, revealing their satisfaction that the central-character detective is safe in her hands. Sophie has won The Crime Thrillers Of The Year Award as well as the Specsavers National Book Award.

There will still be many who first knew, and maybe only know, her work as a poet for it is certainly true that she has enjoyed great success in that genre too. The latest of her five collections of poetry is Pessimism For Beginners and was nominated for The T S Eliot award. Her work is now firmly placed on the educational curriculum, being studied from GCSE level to degree level across the UK:

That is appropriate because it seems that Sophie Hannah sets great store by education and, indeed, she recently helped design a Creative Writing Masters degree course at the University of Cambnridge where she is the main teacher and course director. She has also founded Dream Author, a coaching course for aspiring writers.

The ´Extras´ pull down is self-explanatory about what is in store here. Sub headings include latest News, Interviews and Articles by Sophie.

The Latest News section was announcing, last time I browsed there, details of a school staging a ¨Sophie musical´, details of the Dream Author coaching programme, some travel writing and a piece on how and why she plans her novels. Her name is often seen in magazines such as Writing News discussing practical methodology.

On the Interviews ledge we find her talking on Classic FM and elsewhere on the radio nattering with Norton of the Graham variety or in print with newspapers like The Independent.

The News & Events pull down reveals that this month Sophie is out on the January ´Haven´t They Grown´ tour, to promote the new novel we mentioned earlier. It sounds as if, to coin a phrase, she will be following Sidetracks And Detours all across the arts as she wends her way from Waterstones in Cambridge on 21st January to both Lytham St. Annes and to York on the 31st January, in what sounds like an exhaustive, and exhausting, fifteen gig itinerary in only ten days.

Later in the year it seems Sophie will be speaking at various writing and literary festival and writers´ retreats etc. If you have a look at her web site to find out when she will be in your area, and if you attend the talk and speak with her please say you read about it here in Sidetracks And Detours all across the arts at https://aata.dev

It is really gratifying to see my former partner Steve Cooke continuing to afford space to local contributors in Rochdale and to see his pages still running as forcefully as they ever did to promote the arts and to introduce them to non-traditional audiences. Steve had his own article on the page alongside Seamus in the January 10th edition of The Rochdale Observer talking about local theatre productions.

His piece was as informative as they had always been when we were working together, and from it I learned that The Bolton Octagon Theatre, a venue I worked in, and reported from, many times when living in the UK is in the final stages of a multi-million pounds renovation.

Miri Anwar

Steve mentioned that, only in passing, as he delivered news of the upcoming production of Shirley Valentine at the nearby Bolton Library Theatre, where Mina Anwar will be playing the eponymous role in this play by Willy Russell (another one time guest at Rochdale Literature and Ideas Festival). Mina herself is perhaps best known for playing a WPC in television comedy Thin Blue Line with Rowan Atkinson.

The romantic comedy of Shirley Valentine, from the same writer as Blood Brothers, of course, was turned into an unforgettable and award winning film starring Pauline Collins (one of my heartthrobs when I was a younger man) and Tom Conti. This production runs for two weeks from 10th February and tickets are available from the Bolton Museum or at The Box Office. I hope Steve, or one of the all across the arts family, get there to review it. I would enjoy reading that.

At the bottom of that all across the arts page I noticed what Steve had listed in the what´s on column that used to drive us both batty as we struggled with the countless scraps of paper we had been given by people who wanted us to include their event.

This particular week Steve was carrying notification of the Castleton Literary And Scientifc Society, a group I have given a talk to on a couple of occasions. It seems they have come a long way from the depths of ridiculousness of me talking about my first haircut (yes, honestly !) to the sublime of Ross Tetlow giving a speech on long distance walking in The Nepal Himalayas.

At Rochdale Town Hall was the first performance of the year by the World famous Rochdale Town Hall Organ (yes, honestly !!). Organ and violin duo Alexander Binns and Dora Chatzigeorgiou played a concert, followed by light lunch.

Finally, this nostalgic trip through what Dylan would have called My Back Pages, brought me to Steve´s notification about another concert later that same week.

Mezzo Soprano of The Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) and Duncan Glenday on the piano (RNCM and Manchester University) gave a lunchtime recital in the huge and atmospheric, and some say haunted, church of St. Mary On The Baum in Toad Lane in Rochdale.

So, there is an all across the arts scene in Rochdale, as there is in the rest of the UK and there is an all across the arts scene on Lanzarote as there is on the rest of The Canary Islands and throughout Spain.  Those of us who wander all across the arts, to report to wherever you are reading this, follow Sidetracks And Detours, and so very rarely even walk in parallel lines.

Even so, as you can deduce from this, we might be ´never together, but we´re close sometimes´ as Johnathan Edwards wrote, then The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band sang in 1983 and Carlene Carter echoed in 1989.

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