New Canterbury Tales in performance

2nd October today! Autumn - my favourite season for its colours and nestling down, its preparations for winter. I like to think of it as a season for ideas to ferment, for planning in front of big log fires, of 'going underground' into the psyche. I have spent all year it seems, with the help of my good friends, planning for this October, as it sees the launch of a new and exciting project for me - the publication and launch of my first work of fiction Canterbury Tales on a Cockcrow Morning. It is a collection of short stories loosely based on the original, through the telling of tales in relation to the idea of pilgrimage in the form of new and better lives, of new migrants and settlers in Canterbury. The idea has fermented for several years, stemming from a story written under the title of the collection, a love story of a Creole woman, the English city, and a Spanish musician, in which the narrative is told through their different and varying voices, including that of the city. It led me to thinking of Canterbury as a place which still leads one to think of it as being one of pilgrimage, but in a different form, tourism for instance, visitors interested in the history of the city, or those who come to settle. Whilst remaining a centre of religious worship, most people are not concerned with a notion of a monotheistic notion of God, prayer or sacrifice, but of love and work, settlement, of language and individualisms within a shifting sense of British society. The stories cannot of course, offer every perspective, or seek to represent any or every body or culture, they have developed through my experiences and sense of the city, my knowledge of a place where I have visited, studied and worked and been part of its artistic development since the mid-70s. As a student in the 90s I was fortunate to have been awarded the TS Eliot Student Prize for poetry, and with poet Caroline Price, was part of a project called Muse, women poets representing Kent in Europe, a project which begun its journey in Canterbury - certainly a pilgrimage for me! In recent years I have judged the Canterbury Festival Poetry Competition twice, took part in Poetry City, and regularly work in schools for World Education Development Group. I have seen the city grow and develop, breathe out to let new people and new ideas in, and become the richer for that. It is a city that has its problems as cities do, where the haves walk past the have-nots, where shopping can be seen as the new God, but it is also a city brimming with ideas. It is a city in which I have met and worked with some of the most unselfish, open-hearted and supportive people in terms of education and artistic collaboration. Last year I was commissioned to write a poem on the Siege of Canterbury, and my research educated me, granting me a sense of what had gone before, and allowing me to see myself, as a migrant, become part of it. Hopefully these tales will stick around after I'm long gone, as a representation of a migrant voice, a tribute to language, an awareness of tradition and a reflection of the richness of cultural diversity and hybridity.

As a poet who regularly engages through performance, I did not want my stories to lie quietly in a book. The stories are influenced by orality as well as the literary, and some I felt could be given the storyteller treatment, and be heard as poetry should be. So I dreamed up the idea of launching them over seven days and venues, and inviting others to join me. The person who has made this possible is Luigi Marchini, currently poised to walk Kilimanjaro to raise funds for Dementia UK. he has been kind enough to source the venues for each event, and the poets who are joining me include Luigi, Jo Field, Chris Hobday, Eleanor Perry, Lorraine Kashdan, Mark Holihan and Sarah Tait, who have each written a poem in response to a tale. The storyteller Emily Parrish will also be joining us to tell a tale, and musicians Bob Carling and Sienna Holihan will be adding some musical variety. This a project done completely for love, no money has been granted towards our endeavours. But along the way the waters have parted, postcards have been designed and printed for free by John Drapper and the wonderful poster and book cover displayed has been designed by artist and writer Mark Holihan. The book itself has been published by Kent's newest and friendliest publishers, Cultured Llama, who have recently also published Bethany Pope's collection, 'A Radiance', and whose next publication will be Unexplored Territory, an anthology of prose and poetry by Kent writers, which will be launched at The Beaney, Canterbury Library, on 15th November.

Canterbury Tales on a Cockcrow Morning  will be first launched at Chives Cafe, Waterstones on 21st October at 3pm and over the week at The Veg Cafe,the  University of Kent, The New Century Chinese Restaurant, The Grove Ferry Inn at Sturry, Canterbury Library and the Jolly Sailor Pub. Other launches will be held during the Folkestone Book Festival in November and at the Smiths Court Hotel, Cliftonville, accompanied by a Cream Tea. The Canterbury events are all listed on on the Canterbury Festival website and my website www.maggieharris.co.uk  

 There will be Open Mic opportunities at each event, for poems and short fiction (5 mins max)