Tuesday, December 31, 2019

A New Year's thought...

I'm in Australia. It's New Years Eve here already and the world is burning. Or at least, parts of Australia are.

I ought to be in Woodford, at the Festival. I'm not. I'm in Melbourne, convalescing from flu and bronchitis. The last time I got sick like this was three years ago, landing in Queensland, on my way to the Woodford Festival. Which I also missed, because I was ill. I'm starting to suspect it's actually long haul plane flights I'm not good at.

I've written so many New Year's wishes here...

(This is a link to a New Year's Post from the last time I was sick in Australia, where I collected them all together:

I think today I'll put something else up instead. Here in Australia bush fires are forcing people into the sea, forcing towns to be evacuated. There's loss of life, human and animal. Loss of property, too.

Meanwhile, in the Northern Hemisphere, it's winter. And it's going to be a hard winter for a lot of people.

A month ago I wrote a poem.

This poem began with asking people on Twitter what “warmth” made them think of. Thousands of people replied. I was planning to write a story, but a poem felt a better way of including all the different thoughts and points of view and memories.

And I read their responses, and then wrote this:

What You Need to be Warm.

A baked potato of a winter's night to wrap your hands around or burn your mouth.
A blanket knitted by your mother's cunning fingers. Or your grandmother's.
A smile, a touch, trust, as you walk in from the snow
or return to it, the tips of your ears pricked pink and frozen.

The tink tink tink of iron radiators waking in an old house.
To surface from dreams in a bed, burrowed beneath blankets and comforters,
the change of state from cold to warm is all that matters, and you think
just one more minute snuggled here before you face the chill. Just one.

Places we slept as children: they warm us in the memory.
We travel to an inside from the outside. To the orange flames of the fireplace
or the wood burning in the stove. Breath-ice on the inside of windows,
to be scratched off with a fingernail, melted with a whole hand.

Frost on the ground that stays in the shadows, waiting for us.
Wear a scarf. Wear a coat. Wear a sweater. Wear socks. Wear thick gloves.
An infant as she sleeps between us. A tumble of dogs,
a kindle of cats and kittens. Come inside. You're safe now.

A kettle boiling at the stove. Your family or friends are there. They smile.
Cocoa or chocolate, tea or coffee, soup or toddy, what you know you need.
A heat exchange, they give it to you, you take the mug
and start to thaw. While outside, for some of us, the journey began

as we walked away from our grandparents' houses
away from the places we knew as children: changes of state and state and state,
to stumble across a stony desert, or to brave the deep waters,
while food and friends, home, a bed, even a blanket become just memories.

Sometimes it only takes a stranger, in a dark place,
to hold out a badly-knitted scarf, to offer a kind word, to say
we have the right to be here, to make us warm in the coldest season.

You have the right to be here.

I wrote it for UNHCR, who had it made into a scarf. We did it to raise awareness of the plight of Syrian refugees who are facing winter and need help. For UNHCR's Winter Emergency Appeal. There's a website:  Go and look.

It's a warm scarf, too.

And I hope in the year to come you won't burn. And I hope you won't freeze. I hope you and your family will be safe, and walk freely in the world and that the place you live, if you have one, will  be there when you get back. I hope that, for all of us, in the year ahead, kindness will prevail and that gentleness and humanity and forgiveness will be there for us if and when we need them.

And may your New Year be happy, and may you be happy in it.

I hope you make something in the year to come you've always dreamed of making, and didn't know if you could or not. But I bet you can. And I'm sure you will.

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Sunday, December 15, 2019

Ocean at the End of the Night

The press night of the National Theatre production of Ocean at the End of the Lane was wonderful. Also, emotionally gruelling. I sat between two women who both cried a lot, and a reviewer next to them who was doing fine until tears started splashing on his notebook. It's not that it's sad, exactly, more that it can hit you right in the feels...

The reviews are five star and four star. They say things like

INeil Gaiman’s “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” a story of childhood for adults or an adult view of the world for children? As director Katy Rudd’s astonishingly theatrical production of Joel Horwood’s adaptation resoundingly proves, the answer is: Both. Although wisely recommended for audiences above the age of twelve – the age of the central character – this captivating piece of theater, now premiering at the National Theater in London, is as scary as it is splendid and as moving as it is, in every sense, magical. (Variety)


I don’t know why but I assumed this stage adaptation of a 2013 fantasy novel by Neil Gaiman – award-winning but not, I think, widely known – was a contractual obligation Christmas show, something to ensure the building could open its doors to families (at least those with children aged 12 and over) during the holiday period. 
Far from it. As one decade gives way to the next, what we have here is the NT’s successor to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – something of that order and wow-factor. The similarities with Mark Haddon’s novel are striking: the protagonist is an alienated boy drawn into a hurtling adventure cum psychological maelstrom; yet The Ocean at the End of the Lane is still a different kettle of fish, enfolding us inside a much more discombobulating narrative labyrinth.  (Daily Telegraph)

And it's all true.

This is far and away my favourite of any of the adaptations of my stuff people have made. I just wish more people were going to be able to see it. The Dorfman is an intimate theatre, and the run ends on January 25th.

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