Kiri and Lou

With a toddler around, CBeebies becomes a way of life, and in general it’s fantastic. The schedule is packed with quality kids’ programmes, from Clangers (now narrated by Sir Michael Palin) to Nick Cope’s Popcast (witty, well-crafted songs about unlucky hedgehogs, rusty robots, and rockhopper penguins).

For me, the jewel in the crown is a stop motion New Zealand import: Kiri and Lou. Kiri is a playful, impulsive dinosaur and Lou is her gentle, loyal friend who loves napping and sniffing flowers.

Lou (Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords!) and Kiri (Olivia Tennet)

Their prehistoric playground is essentially the New Zealand bush, with its towering trees, tangled vines, and dense ferns seemingly constructed from dozens of layers of paper, and the wonderfully lumpy clay characters animated on top.

Each episode is a simple 5-minute story, and often involves our heroes meeting and befriending another creature, or resolving some tiny disagreement. They also all feature a fun musical number by Harry Sinclair and Don McGlashan, intricately arranged and seamlessly blended into the jungle soundscape. Those songs have withstood many repeat viewings, many hours rattling around our brains, and many kitchen table performances!

Our current favourites are probably Carrying Song and The Palorchecies, but they’re all household anthems.

Check out this amazing sand sculpture by In Good Form, created in New Brighton back in July, and see if you can spot your favourite Kiri and Lou creature.

Things that helped is my series of posts about the stuff that kept me going in 2020.

Second draft completed

Over the weekend, I completed the second draft of Margot and the Maelstrom. It became more of a rewrite than I’d anticipated, but I’m really pleased with the book now – it’s much more pacy than a year or so ago, and as good as I can get it without fresh eyes on it.

Finishing an early draft is a bit like reaching the top of a mountain – except as you catch your breath and begin to plant your flag, another, even taller mountain rises up out of the earth before you. The ground beneath your feet shudders. You watch as beloved characters and clever subplots are swept away in some sort of enormous landslip. There goes that lovely but unnecessary paragraph about conkers, buried under the wreckage of the second act.

You pull the map from your pocket and suddenly can’t make head nor tail of how it relates to the journey ahead. A low chuckle comes out of nowhere, carrying across the thin air and mocking you for your moment of hubris.

Somehow, you muster the courage to start climbing again.

Today, I’m still savouring that tiny, triumphant moment at the top of the mountain.

Winter Peaks: Quinag, Suilven, Canisp, Cul Mor
Winter Peaks: Quinag, Suilven, Canisp, Cul Mor by Bill Higham launched in the UK last Monday, offering an easy way to buy any book whilst supporting and promoting indie bookshops – who don’t have to fulfil the orders, but do get a healthy chunk of the profits. I’ve now received my first bunch o’ books, and can highly recommend the service. Buying directly from your local shop remains the best way to keep them going, but there really is no excuse to resort to Amazon now, if there ever was.

In under two weeks the site has raised a whopping £125,000 for local bookshops. It’s great to see the UK books community embracing it, especially during a time when it’s not possible to browse a physical shop here, yet we’re all keen to stock up on winter reading.

One clever feature of the site is the option for authors, bloggers, book clubs, or anyone else to set up an affiliate page and put together lists of recommended titles – then get a little commission when people purchase books whilst browsing their ‘shop’.

I do love a list, so have wasting no time in getting set up and putting these together:

More lists to come, no doubt.

Bad Seed TeeVee

In Spring, Nick Cave should have been embarking on his European tour with the Bad Seeds. Frenzied fans from Antwerp to Zurich should have been screaming the words of ‘The Mercy Seat’ back at him, touching the hem of his Gucci suit, and hearing just how the extraordinary, ethereal Ghosteen was going to work live. We’ll have to wait a while for all that.

Instead, Nick launched Bad Seed TeeVee, a 24/7 YouTube channel that rotates a generous selection of music videos, interview clips, outtakes from films, ferocious live performances, and other odds and ends from the Cave archive.

I’ve dipped into this channel many, many times since April. In the early weeks of its existence, fans in different timezones were swapping notes on how long they reckoned the loop of footage to be. Some of us were setting our alarm clocks for the next chance to catch an engrossing, previously unseen 40-minute jam from the Skeleton Tree sessions, ‘Life Per Se’. Since then, the channel has evolved, and kept on surprising. There have even been weekends devoted to fan-made music videos and fan cover versions. On 26th November, Nick will be joined by ex-Bad Seeds Mick Harvey and Blixa Bargeld for a Murder Ballads listen-along commentary.

Beyond the non-stop delights of Bad Seed TeeVee, back in July Nick beamed a solo piano performance entitled Idiot Prayer into our homes. Recorded in an eerily empty Alexandra Palace, it was a gig like no other – song after beautiful song plucked from his back catalogue, punctuated only by the shuffle of Nick’s lyric sheets and the clink of his gold rings on the ebony of a gorgeous Fazioli grand. The whole thing is soon to be released as a double live album.

Nick Cave performing 'The Mercy Seat' in an empty Alexandra Palace
Nick Cave performing ‘The Mercy Seat’ in an empty Alexandra Palace

Nick has also continued to field questions on his agony uncle blog, The Red Hand Files. The answers are often hilarious – I loved the string of posts about his attempts to secure a piano like the extremely expensive one he used in Idiot Prayer. Just as often, they have humbly suggested ways we might cope with these turbulent times.

We will be asked to decide what we want to preserve about our world and ourselves, and what we want to discard.

Nick Cave, The Red Hand Files #89, What Do We Do Now?

Nick Cave’s work has long thrilled and inspired me – I’ll sometimes just watch the final monologue from 20,000 Days On Earth when I need to borrow a jolt of creative energy. I needed as much of that as I could get in 2020, so I appreciate how Nick’s managed to find these new ways to connect with us throughout this difficult year, across the void.

I can’t wait to see him live again, someday, and thank him in person.

Things that helped is my series of posts about the stuff that kept me going in 2020.