Celtic Illumination, part 300, He giveth with one hand.
I have to admit, and as you would probably have expected, I was quite pleased with myself, not in a cocky way, but I had managed to achieve my goal. I was speaking to one of the poets on the course, Jean who lived quite close to me in Ainsdale, Jean assured me that the fact that Carol Anne Duffy was now supporting my writing career was no surprise to anyone on the course. I might have been wandering around singing the praises of Carol Anne Duffy but I was unaware that she too had been energetically applauding my work. Like an actor at an awards ceremony I acknowledged that it was a combination of all the people involved that had got me to where I was. People like poor old John Clancey who had spent a fortnight with Irene and myself as he attended a course in preparation for him leaving the armed forces.
John would come back to our house in the evening and probably want no more than a cold beer and perhaps to relax with some soccerball on the television whereas the poor fellow had to put up with me reading out what I had written during the day and asking for feedback. Even my sister Carol over there in Italy was getting sent work from me for her to comment on. At the time she was being sent around Europe interviewing writers like Umberto Eco for her university, so although mostly hostile, I did appreciate her feedback. Feedback was not in short supply at Lumb Bank and we continued with writing exercises and the like during the day while after the evening meal we would read to each other, fuelling our vocal chords with copious amounts of red wine. My only regret was that there was no telephone at Lumb Bank so I couldn’t tell Irene about my success because her support had been a big part of it. In fact there was nothing very modern at Lumb Bank, no television or radio, it was lovely.
On the final evening we settled down for our last meal together and then launched in to the after party. We were having quite a giggle when I stood and read out my ditty. I managed to write one verse for everyone present, which was received quite well, when I finished I was surprised that Shields stood and asked for the applause to stop. He had managed to glance over my notes in the library and worked out what I was up to, so he and the girl he was working with made up a verse about me. I can’t remember the exact words he used but I do remember that it focused on a rather unsteady Irishman trying to find his bed at some ridiculous hour in the morning.
One by one people peeled away from the party and I found myself alone in the dining room. I was full of life and had one of my mad ideas so went off to the performance area. Next to the main house was an old barn that had been converted into a sort of theatre where performance works could be presented and analysed. I remembered having seen a large roll of paper, about a meter wide in the theatre. I held a torch in my teeth while I unwound what I hoped would be about thirty meters of paper. I do remember hoping that a ghost would show up as to have met some historical literary giant would have been the perfect end to my week, but I think all the ghosts, like us, had been seriously affected by the spirit world.
Back in the dining room with my booty I cleared the long dining table and began to mark out the paper. I had no pens or paints so was using lumps of charcoal from the fire. It was a very simple idea; I was making a banner that would say ‘Carol Anne Duffy is grate.’ Yes I know it is spelled incorrectly, but that was the joke. I was immersed in my own little world when a bird made me notice it was dawn. This wasn’t a little bird sitting outside on a branch chirping its heart out. This was a bird tip toeing down the stairs from the small flat where the two facilitators stayed. She saw me and burst in to tears, why? I have no idea, perhaps because she had been rumbled, but who had she slept with? Carol or John? I didn’t ask.
She made her excuses and I promised I wouldn’t mention what I was now aware of, to anyone. And I never did. I finished my poster and went upstairs and woke Paul. I can remember shaking him and asking, “Are you a poet?” I then demanded that he accompany me on a mission of great poetic importance. Paul got out of bed and followed me to the dining room where I explained that I wanted to hang the poster outside on the railings that surrounded the raised garden at the house. Armed with staples and sellotaope we went outside into the fresh morning air and hung the poster. Once satisfied I went to bed and slept for an hour or two. The noise of everyone getting up and getting ready to leave woke me and I dragged myself out of bed.
As a bloke it took me about five seconds to pack my belongings and head down for some breakfast. Everyone was outside admiring the poster so I joined them and got one of ‘those’ looks from Carol Anne Duffy, but she wasn’t upset or angry. In fact she posed under the poster with me so a couple of people with cameras took our photograph. And if any of you reading this have a photograph of Carol Anne and myself under that poster please contact me as I would love to see it as would I suppose most of the Illuminati. Cars and taxis began to arrive and people left. It was sad to say farewell to people especially Shields who had formed a real friendship with me during our stay. Tony arrived and I managed to spend a few final minutes in the library trying to breathe in as much of the atmosphere as I could. I didn’t want to leave the place.
It most certainly was one of the best weeks of my life and I shall never forget it. I was full of excitement as we drove back towards Skelmersdale telling Tony all about my literary adventure and how Carol Anne Duffy was recommending me to her agent. Tony was pleased for me, but like a lot of people I don’t think he really understood the significance of what had happened to me. In a way it was understandable, for Tony was more interested in the following week and meeting Grahame. He had planned our day trip down to the last second and he couldn’t wait to tell me what time we should leave at and prompt me that perhaps I should telephone Graham and remind him what time we expected to arrive. I was back in the real world and wasn’t very happy about it, but there was nothing I could do.
I had spent a considerable amount of time building up and now maintaining my daily word production and could quite comfortably plough out my seven hundred and fifty words. I found that the letter I was writing to Carol Anne’s agent was one of the most difficult pieces I had ever had to write. It had to be as short as possible but at the same time be as professional as possible. It was certainly written more than once. When normally writing to literary agents or publishers I would include newspaper clippings about myself but I wasn’t sure if I should this time or not. I ended up with quite a short letter and leaving out the newspaper clippings sent it off, wishing, as we all tend to do, that I had written something different. It was a week or ten days later that I got my reply. The company logo stamped boldly on the envelope. My heart was in my mouth as I opened it wondering if I would be invited to visit, or call, or would they come to me. As I read the letter, which like mine, was short and to the point my heart sank all the way through my body and probably would have continued on down through the floor if it could have. It was the standard reply from literary agents. They were very sorry but they were far too busy to even look at my work.