Roddy Williams – The Atheist Poet


Poetry Exercises: Fifty Word People

OK. Here’s a thing I’ve been doing for the last year or so. You might like to give it a go.
Pick a place you go regularly which has a changing clientele; a pub, a coffee shop, a bus stop, a laundrette, a regular train. It needs to be somewhere where you will be sitting or standing near a stranger for at least five minutes. My particular place is a coffee shop I visit quite regularly, usually to do some writing, although I do confess that other coffee shops are also employed. As long as there is some kind of consistency of background you are allowed to change gyms, laundrettes or bus-stops, as long as you move from gym to gym and not gym to laundrette. This will help to build a collection of work where the subjects are related by the location.
Pick someone and study them closely. Ask yourself questions. What are they wearing? Who are they with? Why are they there? What are they doing? (Many of them will be engaged with a mobile device of some sort, but don’t let that put you off. What are they doing with it?) Be Sherlock Holmes and attempt to deduce from your observations a background to your subject. What is their mood? How do they move and speak? What do they do with their hands? Look at the body language.
What do they eat and drink?
Sometimes they may speak to you, or you may overhear what they say. Try to record not only what they say but how they say it.
Now, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to write one poem per visit, of exactly fifty words about your chosen subject. Title each one and number them sequentially in the same format such as ‘Kings Arms Drinker No 6’
It is for one thing a marvellous exercise in brevity and paraphrasing and forces you to make difficult choices in order to present information with the minimum of words.
It’s also (at least for me) fascinatingly addictive. I am up to ‘Costa People No 59’ and may well have chosen number 60 by the time I finish writing this.
You may also find yourself looking at finding different and more interesting ways of constructing your pieces as your collection grows which should have a direct effect on your other work outside of this process.
You will also find that you, as the writer, become an additional character in this disjointed narrative of fleeting lives.
I should, I suppose, provide an example. I like examples. Don’t however assume that you need to copy this style. The people you select will be yours to do with whatever you may.

Costa People 12

god knows how long
he has dozed
chin on armrest
clutching a dumb phone

two carrier bags
rucksack gagged mute
badly turned up for the black books

‘i’m waiting for a friend’ he mutters
when the barista
frothing frustrated steam
wakes him with a
stare of eviction
espresso intense


Murderous Reviews: Blood and Justice – Rayven T Hill (2013)

Blood and Justice (Jake and Annie Lincoln, #1)

Annie and Jake are in the early days of their Private Eye business and have been commissioned by the mother of a missing teenage girl.
Jenny, as we discover, has been kidnapped by Jeremy the fledgling serial killer who murdered her boyfriend.
All these names beginning with J are a tad confusing it has to be said, and this novel has other issues.
One is pace. Apart from Jeremy’s murders there isn’t a lot of excitement. The other is the technique of flashbacks to Jeremy’s childhood to show how he became the person he is. This would have worked better later in the novel, as it would have accentuated his cold ruthlessness in the first half. Maybe later we might then see unveiled the tragedies in his past which turned him into what he is. This would add another dimension to Jeremy’s personality.
It was a quick and decent read but like many other books published too hastily, might have benefited from a serious re-draft.

Murderous Reviews: Black As He’s Painted – Ngaio Marsh (1973)

Black As He's Painted (Roderick Alleyn, #28)

Inspector Alleyn is given a headache to deal with when an old school friend, now the President of Ng’ombwana decides on a trip to the UK. The President eschews excessive security protocol despite previous attempts on his life and has a habit of wandering off for a walk whenever he feels like it. Alleyn has been charged with visiting Ng’ombwana to persuade his old friend to accede to UK protocols, to which he reluctantly agrees. Meanwhile, a retired diplomat, Mr Whipplestone, has moved in quite near the Ng’ombwanan Embassy and acquired a stray cat whom he names Lucy Lockett.
Many people in the area, including Mr Whipplestone and his ‘help’, The Chubbs, appear to have previous connections with Ng’ombwana.
On arrival, the President sets up a reception in the The Embassy grounds, but despite stringent security from the police and the security services, death comes to the party anyway.
It’s written in the early nineteen seventies but the general impression is of an earlier era. Certainly, the Chubbs, who attend to several residents in the area, have the aura of people from the Nineteen Thirties. Having said that, people do have servants even today so maybe that’s just my naivety.
Marsh has peopled the novel with larger than life characters, in some cases grotesques, which she handles with aplomb. There are expressions of racism from some characters, but this is in context and are views expounded by unpleasant people. This was the nineteen seventies after all, a less enlightened time and although we have come leaps and bounds in racial tolerance there is a strong underbelly of racial tension thriving even now.
It’s an excellent read with a rather good mystery at the heart of the novel which I failed to unravel, and was very pleasantly surprised at how the various threads came together to a neat and satisfactory conclusion.
Quite wonderful. I shall certainly be reading more of Ngaio Marsh, an author who has been sadly neglected by me until now.

Murderous Reviews: Along Came A Spider (Alex Cross #01) – James Patterson (1993)

Along Came a Spider (Alex Cross, #1)

Alex Cross is hard bitten black detective who is called away from a brutal family slaying in a black neighbourhood to assist the FBI in the kidnapping of two rich white children from a private school.
Untracked serial killer Gary Soneji has been working at the school and has planned what he thinks is the perfect crime.
I must admit that it was 40% into the book that things became very interesting for me. I was misdirected into thinking of this as a simple kidnapping. The plot suddenly becomes more complex and deeper than I was expecting. I can’t really add any more without including spoilers, but from then on I couldn’t put it down.
There’s great characterisation and a troubling view of how much politics and policing are intertwined. Patterson, a white American, has in my view, which is probably not an important one since I am neither black nor American, created a very believable black lead character. Certainly, the books are very popular and I have not read of any criticism of Patterson having misrepresented black people so I hope I am right.
Thoroughly enjoyable.


Thank you very much for submitting your work. After careful consideration, we have not found a suitable place for it in our upcoming issue.

We appreciate the opportunity to read your words, and we wish you the best of luck in placing your work elsewhere!

Best regards’

I have been going through one of those periods of acceptance drought. Despite submitting over a hundred poems here and there I have been getting relentless rejection of late. One does get hardened to this, although one cannot help a certain ennui setting in when one has opened yet another of these ‘Thank you for your recent submission but..’ emails.
After many years of this I am somewhat numb to rejection, seeing it for what it is. It’s not personal. There’s huge amount of stiff competition out there and I can at least console myself with over a hundred previous publications.
There’s a but though. Sometimes, just sometimes, it brings you down. It’s not helped by the fact that I suffer from recurrent depression during which times I look at my work and see only amateurish ramblings. I’m wise enough to my moods to now know that this is not the true picture and carry on regardless, knowing that at some point The Black Dog will trot off back to wherever it lives when it’s not visiting.
Having said that I have developed a cathartic process of envisioning myself, just for a few seconds, angrily shaking my fist in the general direction of the publishers in question and shouting ‘Bastards!’
It doesn’t half make me feel better, and no one need ever know… until now obviously. But I trust you. I know it won’t go any further.
Thankfully I had one acceptance very recently of four pieces which will appear next year in the marvellous ‘Obsessed with Pipework’.
The best thing to do is to send out more. I’ll enter the National Poetry competition and there’s half a dozen or more well known mags open for subs this month.
Onwards and upwards.

Murderous Reviews: Dying to Get Published – Judy Fitzwater (1995)

Dying to Get Published (Jennifer Marsh Mysteries, #1)

Jennifer Marsh has written at least eight novels but has had no luck publishing anything. Watching Oprah Windrey one say she sees a woman being interviewed who was falsely accused of murder and now has a best selling book. This gives Jennifer the idea that were she able to carry out the perfect murder, and have a watertight alibi, she too could be a best selling author. She also has the perfect victim in mind, Penney Richmond, an unscrupulous sociopathic literary agent who, it seems, has been responsible for ripping off and demoralising countless authors.
Via her work with a catering company, Jennifer meets Sam, a handsome young journalist who wants her to assist him with an investigation into the apparent suicide of a TV presenter.
Jennifer puts her plan into action but at the last minute decides she is not actually the murderous type and leaves the scene of her attempted crime. Later she is arrested as it seems someone else had exactly the same idea and murdered Penney Richmond anyway. It’s up to Jennifer and Sam then to identify the real killer.
It’s not bad at all, this. An enjoyable read with some interesting characters. One might suggest that the protagonist, who has written several unpublished crime novels, might well have come up with a better plan, but that’s a minor point. The plot is decent enough and the murderer was something of a surprise, at least for me. It’s funny without trying too hard to be funny and it ticks all the boxes as an amusing cosy murder mystery.

Oh Look! Jesus! (2008)

Oh Look! Jesus!
No, I mean, it is
in the next carriage.
I knew he wasn’t white like in the Bible pictures.
No, don’t take a picture. That’s so tacky
And I bet it won’t register the halo.

He’s getting off at Vauxhall
Why would he do that?
I’m sure he’s needed more in Stockwell.

Oh Look! Morton Harkett!

Fox (2007)

As I savoured the day’s last cigarette
a fox appeared, brazen, from Nando’s yard,
too cocky for one so ill-proportioned,
tongue proffered with a wet invitation
as he turned to gaze at me, appraising
my place in the general pecking order.

He swaggered from the car park then, slunk off
into the darkness like a one-night stand
who’d not even stayed for the entire night
but left while the streetlights were still burning.

I’d seen those eyes before, on a cool prowl
for something uncomplicated, easy,
sweeping languidly around a packed bar,
sometimes from the mirror, bounced back to me.

On Poetry – Glyn Maxwell (2012)

.On Poetry

The Poetry Society recently had a giveaway of five copies of Glyn Maxwell’s ‘On Poetry’ and on a whim I chucked my name into the hat – via an e-mail – and promptly forgot all about it.
About a week later a package arrived. I’d actually been pulled out of the hat.
I hadn’t known very much about the book beforehand, presuming it to be one of your regular ‘How to Write Poetry’ books. I’ve a shelf full of them. The only really useful one I previously read was ‘Teach Yourself Poetry’.
This is not like any of those. It’s a joy and a revelation.
By the end of the first chapter I realised I knew nothing. This is a good thing. It’s what they did to us at University when I was doing my illustration degree. They tear away all your bad habits and preconceptions then reassemble you.
This is a collection of Maxwell’s writings about Poetry itself, dramatised by a possibly fictional Poetry workshop/class where his four students write and critique each other’s exercises.

Maxwell is – as you may be aware – one of our foremost poets and clearly knows what he’s talking about. For anyone struggling with their writing – and my view is that if you’re not struggling with it you’re not doing it right – this book will make you reappraise how you approach writing, maybe shrug off some bad habits and evolve some new approaches.
I feel I really want to read the whole thing over again, and that’s something I hardly ever do without an intervening period of years.
It’s a brilliant piece of work. Thank you, Professor Maxwell.

Murderous Reviews: The Man With The Dark Beard – Annie Haynes (1928)

The Man with the Dark Beard (Inspector Stoddart, #1)

This is great vintage stuff, introducing Inspector Stoddart who is called in to investigate the murder of a doctor, a doctor who recently confessed to a top defence barrister that he had information about a crime that had gone unpunished.
The doctor was found dead, shot in the head in his study, having left a mysterious note saying ‘It was the man with the dark beard’.
There’s quite a lot going on, what with red herrings, sundered love trysts, disappearing parlour maids, mysterious men with beards, secretaries behaving strangely, another murder and a missing Chinese box. There’s also some interesting characterisation such as Miss Lavinia, who is quite delightful and whom I pictured in my head as Joan Sanderson, one of the UK’s most indomitable battle-axe actresses.
To be honest it’s not hard to work out who the murderer is, although rather more interesting trying to guess the how and the why.
The only failing here is that the denouement fails to fully explain the entire sequence of events concerning the murder.
It’s a good read though, and quite fascinating to read a contemporary account of how British fashions and cultural mores were noticeably changing at the time.
I’m very much looking forward to reading more.