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  • Writer's pictureJohn Dempster

Chris Powici at HighlandLIT

We had a wonderful, and well-attended HighlandLIT meeting last night at the Glen Mhor.

First of all, Paul Shanks our Chair made a formal announcement of the shortlist and winners of the recent Writing Competition, and congratulated and presented prizes to the winners who were able to be present.

And then Chris Powici read some of his poems. Chris is a poet and writer who teaches English and Creative Writing for The Open University and The University of Stirling. Until recently, he was the editor of Northwords Now. I found Chris a warm and engaging person, and I loved his poems. Many are about nature and wildlife, and he has the ability to help the listener see as he has seen by the powerful deployment of words, phrases and images. I loved among much else the evocation of pink-footed geese in In October in Montrose, their ‘brute allelujah,’ their ‘holy hollering.’; I loved the closing lines of Ochil Blizzard: ‘The sky is nowhere / all distances are ghosts.’

After the interval, Chris introduced Three Kinds of Kissing, the newly-published novel by his late wife Helen Lamb, who completed it just before her death in 2017. He was joined by Maggie Wallace who read intriguing excerpts from this novel. Helen was a gifted poet and short-story writer: Three Kinds of Kissing was her first novel.

Three Kinds of Kissing, says Cynthia Rogerson, is ‘a modern classic about friendship, loss of innocence and the myriad ways families can self-implode.’ Says the blurb on Amazon:

Once upon a time, there was a girl who lived in a house of clocks, a house that ticked like a bomb... Officially, Olive's only been gone one day, but Grace knows she's been lost much longer. Her schoolmate's disappearance forces Grace to recall the dark secrets she and Olive still share - including the one that shattered their friendship four years ago, the one that haunts Grace now.

Helen, Chris told us, had a vivid sense of place, and showed in the novel that both the characters and the town evolve together as time passes. Although it is not explicitly set in Dumblane, Helen Lamb’s home town where she lived for much of her life, the community where the action takes place has many similarities with it. Dunblane she felt, was the perfect size for a town – not too small, yet not so large that there was no sense of shared community.

This novel reveals Helen’s interest in the small things which happen in people’s lives, which have ripples and consequences. It was crucial to her, Chris continued, to write truth – the truth about people, the truth about things. For her, if writing lacked truth, there was no integrity in it. Writing is a craft, she believed. You need to learn to write, and learn to edit ruthlessly. If something doesn’t work, then it had to go.

Helen had a superlative gift for crafting sentences – Chris quoted one from the extracts Maggie had read – ‘So far I hadn’t told a lie,’ which packs so much significance into seven short words. Her gift in this respect reminded Chris of the famous American novelist, who, when asked at a reading what advice he would give an aspiring novelist, said ‘Do you like sentences?’

We are very grateful to Chris and Maggie for their contributions last night. Paul, in his concluding words, mentioned that we had been enriched by three things – poetry, fiction, and the living human voice.

Chris’s latest collection is The Weight of Light


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