Stem

Last month, I donated stem cells to someone I don’t know. I wanted to write a little bit about it, because I don’t think nearly enough people know how astoundingly easy the process is, and I strongly suspect more people would contribute if they knew.

So here’s the thing. If I understand it right (this is going to be a very crude description—sorry) then blood does a lot more than carry oxygen around your body; amongst a multitude of other things, it’s also crucial to your immune system, and how your body transports nutrients and waste. Healthy blood is maintained by stem cells, which are stored in your bone marrow.

Leukemia is cancer of the blood. If you have leukemia, your blood loses the ability to replicate and filter itself, and so your blood systems, and therefore everything else, collapse. Chemotherapy can kill the cancer, but also annihilates your stem cells and your ability to produce more. To survive chemotherapy, you therefore need a gigantic transfusion of healthy stem cells.

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Matching stem cells is hard. It’s really, really hard. There are some extremely specific genetic factors that go into making a match, and if they don’t line up exactly so, then the transfusion will fail. When someone has leukemia, members of their family or friends will often throw themselves at the chance to donate, but that’s seldom enough of a spectrum to work from. The nurses told me of a man with ten brothers and sisters. None of them was a match for his stem cells (he found a match elsewhere, thankfully).

It’s therefore so, so, so important that as many people as possible register with the databases. The more people who sign up, the wider the range of options becomes, and the more likely it is that a match can be made.

I became involved in this because I give blood. I signed up as a stem cell donor during a regular blood donation clinic by asking for an extra sample to be sent to the British Bone Marrow Registry. That was about three years ago. A year or so after that sample, I was flagged as a potential stem cell donor, and the BBMR sent me a pack of blood tests in the post. These were completed by my GP and promptly sent back in the mail. From this extended test, I was actually ruled out as a donor, but it gave them a complete profile of my blood. Last December, when I came up as a potential donor for a second time, they already had all the data they needed. I was still willing to donate, and so the BBMR passed me over to the Anthony Nolan Trust.

This blog post is about what happened.

On December 21st I took the train to Sheffield, then a taxi to Royal Hallamshire Hospital. Over the course of two or three hours, I had an X-ray and an ECG, they measured my BMI, I gave a dozen samples of blood and one of urine, and spent about an hour talking to a doctor about my medical history and the apheresis process.

What’s apheresis, you ask?

I’d never heard of it either.

Remember how the stem cells are stored in your bone marrow? There are two ways of getting them out. The first is an operation conducted under general anaesthetic, in which a core of bone marrow is removed from your hip. Honestly, that freaked me out. I would still have done it, even though I really, really didn’t want to, but it turns out that operation is quite rare these days—it’s only used in about 5% of donors. For all other cases, they use a process called apheresis, where the blood is removed through a needle, spun in a centrifuge, the stem cells skimmed away and saved for the patient, and the rest of the blood returned through a second needle:

ApheresisProcess_Infographic

As a longterm blood donor, the thought of this process didn’t worry me at all—particularly when compared with the prospect of the full hip operation. This is why I’m writing this post. Everyone I’ve spoken to about this has said incredibly nice things to me, as though I’ve been making a gigantic sacrifice. I really, really haven’t. It was easy. I’m not being humble, self-deprecating or disingenuous.

It was easy.

We’ll come back to this later.

Back in Sheffield, my medical was finished by teatime. I took the train home that night and went to a pub quiz. A few days later—just after Christmas—I heard back from the Anthony Nolan Trust. My medical was all clear and my blood samples were good. The day of the donation, or ‘harvest’, was set for January.

Stem cells are stored in your bone marrow. They needed to be pushed into the bloodstream to collect them through apheresis and so, in the days prior to the harvest, I was visited by nurses—twice at home, and twice at work—who injected me with a growth hormone called GCSF. This stimulated my body to produce countless more stem cells than I could ever need, and flushed those cells from my bone marrow into my blood. I’d been warned that these injections would make me feel very achy, and set about the next morning like a glass man, only to find that actually, I was completely fine. When I’m hungover, I occasionally get aches in my joints. To begin with, the side effects of the injections were no worse than that. After my fourth injection, my knees and hips became a little sore, and at a couple of points my legs nearly buckled. They didn’t, though. So that’s good.

Almost immediately after the fourth injection, Mon and I took the train back to Sheffield, where we stayed in a hotel a few minutes from the hospital. We set off for the Royal Hallamshire first thing next morning. Within minutes of arriving, I’d been wired up to the apheresis machine. There were tubes and wires everywhere, but as the donor, it was very simple—I simply let them get on with it. A needle went into the crook of my left arm. This extracted my blood into the machine, where it was spun in a centrifuge. The centrifuge imparts massive gravity on the blood, which then separates into its constituent parts. The machine skims off the stem cells, and a little plasma to help the transfusion, and then the remaining red blood was returned into my right wrist. I sat like that for three and a half hours, in which time I read The Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb, which I’d been meaning to get around to for ages. (It was very good.)

About halfway through the harvest, an Anthony Nolan volunteer came to talk to me about the next stages in the process—for me, and for the patient. By the time my donation was complete, a courier was already waiting to collect the stem cells and go. And that was that. We stayed that night in Sheffield, took the train home next day, and I went back to work.

I’m being completely honest in this post, so please believe me when I say this: the single most painful part of the entire process was when the nurses ripped off the bandage that held the needle in my wrist, because that took a block of arm hair with it.

People think I’m joking when I say this. I’m not. I’m really not. That hurt most.

Yes, the GCSF injections made me ache.

Yes, the needles sting, and there are a lot of injections and blood samples.

Yes, my arse went numb from sitting still for three and a half hours.

Yes, I was a little achy for a perhaps a week afterwards.

But that’s it. Hand on heart—that’s the net sum of my discomfort.

My stem cells have gone somewhere, to someone. I know nothing about the patient except he’s an adult and he’s male. He might be in the UK, or he might be on the other side of the world. I don’t know, and I probably never will. It doesn’t matter. That’s not why I donated. I donated because my daughter is four years old and if I was diagnosed with leukemia tomorrow, I’d want a stem cell transfusion, and I wouldn’t care where it came from.

There aren’t enough people on the registers. I’m writing this because every single person I’ve spoken to believed the process was difficult, dangerous and a gigantic sacrifice on my part. It isn’t. I’ll say again: it was easy. I’m almost ashamed at how easy my part of it was, and I’ve been profoundly humbled at the humour, skills and grace of the people I’ve met along the way—my contact at the Anthony Nolan—the nurse who came to my house through floods to inject the GCSF—the doctor who spent a patient hour talking me through the process—the woman who came this close to losing her husband to leukemia, and visited the ward to tell me why he survived—the nurses in the apheresis clinic, laughing about the snooker on the telly, even as their eyes flicked to the machines, to me, to the bags of blood, always evaluating, checking, deciding—to the man who sat beside me in the ward, another stranger on another machine, donating his stem cells because he could.

This has cost me nothing. The Anthony Nolan Trust paid for my trains, my taxis, my food, my hotel. College gave me paid leave (though the Anthony Nolan would have covered me for loss of earnings if they didn’t). There are centres in Sheffield and London. If you’re aged 18-30, you can register directly with the Anthony Nolan, who’ll start things off by sending you more information. If you’re over 30, then ask at your blood donation session for an extra sample to be taken for the British Bone Marrow Registry. If you’ve never given blood before, then start with that and see how you feel about the process. If you have given blood before and still aren’t sure, then consider donating platelets for a quicker experience of apheresis.

I’m not writing this to guilt-trip anyone into registering. There are a host of reasons why your blood is better off inside you than inside someone else, and that’s fine. You might be phobic of needles, or have a family history of chronic illness, or simply not want to, and that’s completely OK. But I hope, for those of you that can donate, that this has illuminated the process a little from a donor’s point of view. If anyone wants to ask me questions then please, please do. I’ll be happy to answer what I can.

Any regular readers of this blog know that I want to write. I hope to be writing all my life. I want to live from my writing, though that’s many years away, if it ever happens at all. But I know this: if one person reading this signs up to the registers—just one—then this is the most important thing I’ll ever write. All my silly stories about mirrors and memories and mandrakes and mud are just a fart in the wind compared to life—real life, actual life, shaved away in seconds—tick, tick, tick, tick, tick.

The question isn’t why you should want to save a stranger, but how you feel about the situations being swapped, and a stranger saving you.

Give Blood

British Bone Marrow Registry

The Anthony Nolan Trust 

 

Unfinished business

This is my first post since 1st October 2015; a window of more than three months, and the longest I’ve gone without an update since I started the blog. I signed off because my head was on fire and I needed some space. As a result, I haven’t shared some amazing things that happened to me last year—ten awesome days of rain and shine on the beaches of Coll and Tiree, an appearance at Bloody Scotland crime-writing festival, the US publication of The Visitors, and most especially my first time at Edinburgh International Book Festival, where I was reading with the ManBooker shortlisted genius Chigozie Obioma. Maybe he was as nervous as me about the festival, but something just clicked. I don’t know if I’ve ever warmed to someone quite as spontaneously as I did Chigozie. In the middle of our discussion a battered bookmark slipped from the pages of his book. It said, Literature tastes better with beer, and I thought, yeah, this is one of the good guys. (And his novel, The Fishermen, is a wonder.) Edinburgh is a city like no other, and the festival was an extraordinary experience. To cap it all, walking back to the hotel through the summer gloaming, I came up with a new novel idea. That was a good day.

My head was on fire because of The Hollows. I finished the second draft in June and took the print-out on holiday to Coll and Tiree, where I spent my downtime going through it with a red pen. I finished the last pages as the ferry trundled back into Oban, redrafted in a week, and asked some friends to read it. To be completely honest, I was feeling pretty pleased with myself. I’d written the whole thing in about thirty days, edited it in another five, and I thought it was good. I blogged about experiencing something of a slump, but that’s normal for me, and I expected to get out of it. Unfortunately, I didn’t get out of it at all. It became worse.

The problem probably goes back to the Kate Mosse incident. I think that skewed my compass more than I realised at the time; in writing the second draft, trying to make some space between me and her, I moved too far into the fantastical, and away from the magic realism I’m pitching at; and my sheer joy of progress in writing the new draft so quickly—the drowning that I long for in my writing—that same joy blinded me to things I should have been more conscious of, things I should have been stronger about. My amazing beta readers enjoyed the book, but a couple of issues cropped up time and time again, and this consensus helped me gain some perspective on the book. Put more bluntly, it became clear that a particular strand of the story wasn’t working as well as it needed to. So go and change that one strand, right?

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I sometimes think of writing a book like weaving a tapestry: the multiple threads of the characters, settings, atmospheres, emotions and plot woven against the weft of pace and rhythm, all of them bound together into a single piece. As a metaphor, it works. The problem comes in trying to unravel one or two of the threads: it can’t be done without wrecking the rest. Pull at one, and the whole thing falls apart. When I tried to redraft, I found I couldn’t do it; between the first failed version of the story, and then the flawed second, I was utterly discombobulated. It made me miserable for a very long time. One day, I’d start writing it again, completely from scratch, with the ghosts of my characters screaming outrage over my shoulder—the next day, I’d junk everything I’d done the day before, and go back to my second draft, pussyfooting around with single words and phrases—and the day after, I’d return to the very first version, and work out what I could salvage, looking for something, anything to show me the way.

At this point, I was overthinking it. I was tortured by possibilities, and wound up going backwards. The whole miserable process was compounded by the aching, awful thought of all the time I’d lost—by my reckoning, nearly a quarter of a million words of finished work over two years, and none of it anywhere near an actual book. At times I’ve been utterly inconsolable, and at other times I’ve probably been horrendous to live with. I’m extremely lucky to have in Monica a partner who understands these processes.

At the start of November, half-a-dozen small video jobs dropped into my lap in the space of a fortnight. That meant no writing for the rest of 2015, and I spent the rest of the year working flat-out to finish the films—they are now mostly wrapped, and so my writing days are back. In the end, some enforced time away has been helpful. My feet are back on the ground, and I’m not wallowing anymore. I can’t pretend I have a completely clear vision of the way ahead, but I’ve finally started getting some sense of the way. After days and days of effort and countless hours with my notebook and the myriad manuscripts, I’ve cut 70,000 words from the draft, tweaked those strands I needed to tweak, and I’m now writing into empty white pages for the first time in a year. I no longer know what will happen in some parts of the story, but actually that’s fine—that’s one of the fun parts. As daft as it sounds, I’m going to bed earlier, too, and waking with a little time to write. That helps.

I shared too much about the last draft. I’m never confident about my work, but I think I became a little complacent after discussing it in such detail. Having experienced heartbreak once, with the Kate Mosse incident, I simply didn’t believe it could happen again. I think I felt I’d paid my dues with The Hollows—that I was owed a bit of a pass. I was therefore unprepared, and it hurt much, much worse. It has taken months for me to want to write again—rather than feel I have to. And I do want to write, now. The drive is creeping back. I feel far more cautious, and I’m approaching every writing day with care—care for my story, and care for my heart—but I want to be writing, which is the big thing. I’m miserable when I don’t write.

The Hollows has sung to me for three years, and I’m going to get it right. The characters evolve and change, much like the fens they live in, the fens I’m writing about, landscapes in flux, stories in flux. I would say watch this space—but don’t watch too hard. I’ll be a wee while. Third time lucky.

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The Slump

In the nine years since I started writing fiction, I have completed three novels and a novella. All of them have been written in the first person, and needed me to immerse myself entirely in another character, another world; and so I’ve been a veteran of WW2, flitting between London and Burma; a 17-year-old girl, desperate to escape her Scottish island; an arthritic fisherman walking across Morecambe Bay; and a fortune-teller seeking herself in a world of swamps. My stories are becoming steadily more fantastical. They’re taking me further from myself. That’s fine in terms of what I want to write about, but it also makes it harder to come back. My friend Ali Shaw once compared writing to being underwater, and I think that’s right; the deeper you go, the further you get from the surface.

After finishing each of these four stories, I’ve experienced a few weeks of manic creativity, cartwheeling through handfuls of shorter pieces. Most recently, on wrapping up a first draft of The Hollows, I redrafted and typeset Dare in a week. But then, after these bursts, I’ve always fallen into something of a slump, and that’s where I am now, casting about for what to do, suddenly convinced that all those months of work are worthless.

I’ve talked before about how I write to drown. Over time, that immersion—especially in something as big as a novel—becomes total, until it’s the real world that becomes disorientating. I’m so fortunate to have in Mon someone who understands that stories leave me stoned; she helps me find my way. But returning to the real world feels odd. I’m struggling to get excited about things I should be excited about. I’m distracted and quick to gloom. I suspect that almost all creative work is built on a measure of doubt, and right now that’s all I have, needling and nagging all the time: what if it’s garbage? All of it? Everything I’ve done? The last year was wasted work. What if this year is too? How would I start again?

I would start again, because I have to. But the further I get from The Hollows—and it’s vital, I know, to get some perspective, to put distance between me and it before I go back to redraft—the more that doubt creeps in. Almost everyone I know, and certainly all the writers and artists, struggle with doubt. Carving out and sharing these inside parts of your head is an excruciation. I couldn’t write without that doubt; it keeps me lean, questioning, pushing myself to do better, to be better. Doubt is the compass of when I’m not good enough; and so to cut, rewrite, cut, rewrite, cut. But here’s the crux: when I’m not writing, not working on a story, that doubt—the same doubt I need to write in the first place—has nothing to gnaw on but me. It bites harder than ever after spending so long in another world, and then leaving it behind. That’s the Slump.

So quit wallowing and start something new, right? It’s not so simple. I have several ideas lined up for what I’ll do next, and I’m 2,000 words into my first proper short story in over a year. But from a pragmatic point of view, it’s senseless to start another big project before I’ve polished off the last, and every redraft is distinct and demanding. The Slump goes beyond that anyway. It’s a spiritual anticlimax. It’s hitting a wall after running a marathon. It’s a burn out, an exhaustion of ideas. I don’t really know how to get myself out of the Slump, other than to take heart from the knowledge that I always have before. This morning I played hide and seek with Dora. That helped. This afternoon I’m going back to my short story. That may help too.

Half-a-dozen people have now read The Hollows. They’ve all enjoyed it, I think, and they have all suggested a few things that don’t quite work; thankfully, these things have pretty much been the same for all of them, and they also tie into my own sense of the story, now I’m getting some distance from it. Redrafting would be impossible without that sense of triangulation, which is, in turn, why writing needs community. I’m gearing myself up for potential edits, but I’m not there yet. I think I’ll be ready by the time this slump comes to an end; or perhaps the slump comes to an end because I’m ready. It’s coming closer, but it’s not here yet.

Writing is doubt. Writing is perspective. Passion. Immersion. Empathy—books are empathy machines. Writing is the witch in your kitchen in the corner of your eye. If you spin to look at her directly, she’s gone. Writing is a sideways mirror. Writing is accidents of words, like wind chimes are accidents of music. I don’t know what else to do but play on through it.

john kenn

The sounds of The Hollows

With a first draft of The Hollows finished and sent away, I’ve emerged, blinking, into the light, with pasty skin and mild RSI. I’m still hungry to keep working while I have these little windows, though, so I’ve tweaked and typeset all the stories in Dare, and sent it to the printers; I’ve started thinking about some new flash stories for my guest spot at Verbalise in October; and I’m catching up on some long overdue blog posts, including this one.

When I wrote The Visitors, I had a tight-knit soundtrack to shape my work. This consisted mostly of:

Come On Die Young by Mogwai

Mar of Aran by British Sea Power

Raise Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven by Godspeed You Black Emperor

Just Beyond The River by James Yorkston

…and everything by Bat For Lashes.

In combination, they did what I needed them to do; for me, music for writing needs to hit several things at once. It must be engaging, immersive, transporting; but also neutral enough to let me tune out and play it in the background, and not get too involved. For this reason, I tend to go for records with minimal vocals; or, at least, records (like the James Yorkston and the Bat For Lashes) where the vocal is tonally consistent, drifting, utterly woven into the fabric of the music.

On starting The Hollows, I developed a new soundtrack. Some of the same culprits are there, but with different albums; listening to my Visitors soundtrack takes me back into The Visitors, and I needed to be somewhere very new for The Hollows, which is a more fantastical, more magical place. And I say ‘evolved’ quite deliberately; albums have dropped in and dropped out as the manuscript developed. Ys by Joanna Newsom was a big part of last year’s stumbles, but she gradually shifted down the running order as the story unfolded. Instead, Jonathan Eng’s wonderful soundtrack from the computer game Sailor’s Dream moved in to take her place (thanks in no small part to the wonderful vocals by Stephanie Hladowski). Another video game soundtrack has proven to be extremely good music for writing: Thomas Was Alone is an utterly beautiful game in and of itself, but the score by David Housden stands alone.

The most recent addition is I Want To See Pulaski At Night by violinist Andrew Bird. My friend and colleague Dom introduced me to this record while we were in the depths of a marking slump, and it parachuted into my writing soundtrack next day. Mostly instrumental, Pulaski takes its title from this glorious centrepiece:

The running order is important (to me, anyway – it’s totally cool if you don’t care). Andrew Bird is first on the list, as I Want To See Pulaski At Night is both sleepy and sparky, making for exactly the right way to start the day. Then comes Thomas Was Alone, which takes me somewhere deeper, calmer, more concentrated:

From Thomas Was Alone, British Sea Power take it up a notch with the drive, shift and transporting tumble of their film soundtrack From The Sea To The Land Beyond. Thanks to pal Kirstin Innes, Mon and I were lucky enough to witness them play this live at the Glasgow Film Festival earlier this year. Their performance was magisterial. I’ve now seen the film half-a-dozen times, and it’s a masterpiece: a social history of Britain told through our relationship with the sea, drawing together a century of archive footage from the British Film Institute. Watch it. Watch it again. Tell everyone.

Next up is Sailor’s Dream. By this time I’m ready for something less immersive, and the vocal interludes of the days of the week (this makes sense if you’ve played the game) saturate my head with little magics, thresholds, otherworlds.

Next comes Balmorhea. I discovered this post-rock band last year when friend Jon kindly gave me his old iPod, and I became addicted in days to their sweeping arrangements. There’s a timelessness to Balmorhea’s music that I find completely immersive. They sustain this over several records with different measures of minimalism, but it all works for me. After Sailor’s Dream I go into their album Constellations, but from this point they recur every other album, working up to Live At Sint-Elisabethkirk, which is perhaps the best £5 you’ll spend today, because this:

After Constellations, Mogwai strike back with Rock Action, the follow up to Come On Die Young. Here’s why it’s one of my favourites of their many awesome albums:

Then comes phase two of the mighty British Sea Power, with their short and astonishingly sweet soundtrack Happiness, then Balmorhea again, then Rachels and Remember Remember. I seldom make it all the way to the end, though. After Happiness, I tend to start the playlist over. It’s almost nine hours long, which is most of a working day for me.

Every time I think I won’t find any more music that’s right for me, something always comes along. Dom introduced me to Andrew Bird, and Jon to Balmorhea. I do wonder, looking ahead to next novels, how the soundtrack will change.

Cellar steps

Last night, more or less six months since I started, I gave the first draft of The Hollows to Mon to read, and I sent it to my amazing agent Sue. Mon and I took Dora out to tea, then she started reading. Sixty pages in and she hasn’t ditched it in a flurry of disgust, so there’s hope for me yet.

I thought it would easier to let go of the second book, but I was wrong. I thought I’d feel more confident, more certain. I don’t. If anything, the stakes feel higher. What if I’ve moved backwards? What if no one likes the story, the characters, the writing? I’m happier with this story than anything I’ve done before, but what if I’m wrong? What if I’ve got worse?

I didn’t entirely understand the proverb about not seeing the wood for the trees until I started writing novels. When I’m so immersed in my work, in my worlds, it’s easy to lose perspective on whether it’s actually any good. My own, personal instinct for story is stronger than ever, and getting stronger still; but there’s nothing on Earth to say it’s actually right. There’s no way to triangulate what happens in my heart with the world around me. In that sense, every novel – and I’ve written three of them now – is a first novel, feeling in the dark for cellar steps. Maybe it gets better in time. Maybe it gets easier. But I can’t imagine what that feels like, how that would be. It’s strange to be so terrified of the only thing I want to do. As Mon was reading, I glanced across at her every thirty seconds, every minute: which page is she on? What happens there? Oh lord, is that all right? Does that dialogue work? Do I believe it? Will she believe it?

Dora woke at 4.30am this morning, claiming it was too dark to sleep. I put her back to bed, where she fell asleep in moments, but then I couldn’t because, ahahaha, it was too light. So I’ve been up for hours, listening to songs I love, making a Mogwai mixtape for a friend, catching up on email, gazing out the window and thinking, thinking. There’s no light quite like the glow of dawn. The world is luminous, and then it turns to gold, and it sleeps on into the rising sun. No one knows but foxes, cats and milkmen. I imagined what it must look like on the river Kent between Burneside and Staveley right now, right now, with no one there at all, only the swallows and the martins flitting on the river, vapours coiling on the water, sun sliding sideways through the trees, a hidden valley with half the world in shadow and half the world on fire.

I know what my next four or five novels look like, and I have fourteen flash stories to write. Today, though, I’m taking my daughter swimming. She’ll be Peso the penguin and I’ll be Kwazi the cat, and we’ll look for treasure and help sick sea creatures along the way. Dora loves swimming, but she’s scared of having water on her head – she won’t jump in, and hates being splashed. But today, for the first time, we’re going to see how things go with goggles. Maybe – with some support, some courage, and some curiosity, today will be the day she looks underwater, the day she discovers there are other worlds, other places, other ways to see. Letting go is hard. Feeling for that cellar step is hard. Maybe all of us need to be brave.

Bad Language at Kendal Calling

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Photo by HDDN Media http://hidden-media.co.uk/

The excellent people at Manchester’s premium spoken word experience Bad Language kindly invited me to join them for a reading at Kendal Calling festival this weekend. Wading ankle-deep through mud to the Carvetti stage in the Lost Eden area, I was humbled to join Mark Powell, David Hartley and host Joe Daly in bringing words to the woods. They are fantastic writers, and it was an absolute delight to hear more of their work. And because we all camped together, I was actually able to have a natter with them afterwards – on the rare occasions Mon and I go to Manchester, we always have to leave early, so it was a pleasure getting to know them better. Good people. Between Dave’s otherworldly species-bending marvels, Mark’s lists of life hacks and surreal perfume adverts, and Joe’s wonderful reinventions of everyday struggles as particular and personal Everests, it was humbling company to keep.

I read Coffin Routes, some of my new circus stories and several bits of Marrow. It was a tough and mobile crowd – the stage was right beside a main walkway between much louder stages – but there were gasps, winces and laughs throughout, so I think we held our own. We made the Top 12 highlights of the festival for Gigwise, too.

We didn’t catch much else of the festival, but what we caught was fantastic. As always, British Sea Power were magnificent. There aren’t many bands who sustain years of constant reinvention without sacrificing their core identity – Mogwai, for sure, and maybe Super Furry Animals – but BSP are treasures. They made ferocious headliners of the Woodlands stage on Saturday night, tearing through their back catalogue to finish with a sprawling Spirit of St Louis complete with crowdsurfing and Ursa the bear. One day, I will be that bear. One day. That was the sixth time I’ve seen them, and they keep getting better.

And then there was Kate Tempest. Mon and I knew and liked what we’d already heard of her work, so thought we’d mosey along to see her set on Friday. We were there early enough to be right at the front for one of the most amazing hours of my life. We thought she’d be good, but she was extraordinary. Brimful of passion, rage, courage and love, she was electrifying from start to finish, scintillating, blazing her way through the set like a sermon. And the music, too, was titanic, walls of sound that towered upward, a perfect fusion with the words. It was magnificent. Near the end of the set, Kate made eye contact with Mon for ten, fifteen seconds, rapped to her, sung to her. For the rest of that night, and the next day, and even now, aftershocks of her performance are still shaking through my life. Nothing seems quite the same.

The only downer was missing Seven Seals. They were playing at the same time as the Bad Language set on Sunday. In between readings, I could hear them scorching through their psychedelic synth-punk wonders. More people need to know about Seven Seals. Everyone needs to know about Seven Seals. Go and see Seven Seals.

When the reading was done, Mon and I said our farewells to the Bad Language crew and fled while we could, squelching through the swamps to the car. The campsite was a happy, slightly delirious Lord Of The Flies. Festivals and mud. That’s how it goes, right? A hundred tons of woodchip to soak up the swamps. It’s just as well I’m writing about bogs. Kendal Calling proved invaluable research.

Thanks again to Bad Language. It was an honour to serve with you, gentlemen.

Here’s Kate Tempest: