Singing in the room where it happens …

This isn’t a tribute to Hamilton, although that is an astonishing piece of work. Wonderful. No, this is about the privilege of telling a story in the room where the action takes place, and singing songs inspired by that story there too. The video is below, have a watch. When I started out writing The Light Keeper a long time ago, I was living in a new town by the sea, trying to get used to it all and looking for friends. I walked the landscape around Belle Tout, Beachy Head and the Seven Sisters with an open mind and heart, looking for a way to respond to it as I had the landscape of the Dingle peninsula in County Kerry for the book Hungry for Home. I was hungry for home when we came to live here; hungry for a place to settle, raise kids and belong. So what a joy to be able to go up into the Lantern Room of the Belle Tout lighthouse and tell stories and sing songs from The Light Keeper, which opens and closes with scenes in that very room. The views are breathtaking, genuinely, as you will see during this performance filmed by Neil MacInnes. The song is Come Way, written by myself and David Perry, who is on guitar and vocals, with Bruce Pont and Phoene Cave also singing. Thank you to David Shaw, the lighthouse owner, for making it possible and for the manager Ian Noall for hosting us with a small audience. The great news is that we are hoping to do it again in the Spring, and there will be another chance to win tickets. In the meantime, you can come and hear the stories and songs at the National Trust Cafe at Birling Gap this Saturday at 5pm. This will also be very special, as it is another place where the action of the story happens and it too is right on the edge of the cliff. Tickets are available here. Get yours now because there aren’t many left. But also have a look at this, for a taste of what you will hear.

Are you afraid of heights? Better not watch this then…

Here’s what it’s like to step out of the Lantern Room at the Belle Tout lighthouse near Beachy Head in Sussex, in the South Downs National Park, and walk around the platform on the outside of the tower. Yes, the outside. A long way above the ground, and beside a four hundred foot drop. I’m afraid of heights – my children still laugh at the way I clung on to the inside wall of the Eiffel Tower for dear life, genuinely scared, so this was a challenge. The heavy breathing is because I was frightened! Worth it though, for the astonishing views. Enjoy! It’s the setting for The Light Keeper, my first novel, published this August. If you want to know more about the book or read the first three chapters for free, just let me have your email here. You’ll automatically get the chance to win a night in the lighthouse.

Syrian Dreams in the Cuckmere Valley

Last night at the Lapwing Festival I watched and listened to the Syrian musician Maya Youssef play a piece of music called Syrian Dreams, which she wrote after watching the news with her young son asleep on her lap in London, seeing a child of the same age in a war zone familiar to her from home, who had died. It’s a piece that expresses both sadness and hope, and special in itself, but seeing it in that location was extraordinary. The sides of the tent were open, the breeze was on our faces, there were flaming torches to keep us warm and beyond that was the Cuckmere Valley with the chalk faces of the Seven Sisters looking out to sea. It’s one of the great views of the world, expressed in art of all kinds many times, and it has come to represent a certain kind of idyllic Englishness. There were certainly people in the audience who had grown up with or aspired to that ideal. But last night, migrating geese were passing and calling as Maya played, bringing their life and energy from elsewhere in the world. The cliffs were a reminder that although we like to think this time and place is all there ever was or will be, they’ve been both present and continually changing as the sea washes up against them for centuries. For millennia, actually. Heading that gorgeous, profound music that comes from both here and there, seeing that landscape that is both ancient and always changing, I thought about the ways we define ourselves and our borders against the Other, whatever we perceive it to be. And in that moment, in that time and place of connection and humanity and beauty and resonance, all our borders seemed to dissolve and there was no them, just us. One moment doesn’t seem enough. I wish we could live like that all the time, the world would be a better place if we could only connect.

Here’s the piece, have a listen. If you’d like to hear the podcast about the festival I made with Emily Jeffery it’s at http://www.edgeofengland.com or on iTunes as Edge of England, episode four.

Continue reading “Syrian Dreams in the Cuckmere Valley”

Standing on the Edge of England

I’ve been making a podcast with my friend Emily Jeffery, an award-winning presenter and producer, about the landscape in which we live, down here on the southern Edge of England. There’s a dog called Mabel, a Spitfire that haunts us, a lighthouse and a lot of cliffs, some incredible stories and a beautiful bit of Bach by the beach. The first season of six episodes is on iTunes or you can listen to all of them on the website www.edgeofengland.com.

Thanks, do share if you like it and let me know what you think.