Thursday, 13 November 2014

Armchairs and writing

I was very excited this week to hear I’d been successful in my application for the Armchair Artist Residency at the Beaney House of Art and Knowledge in Canterbury. It’s an amazing building in the centre of Canterbury, and houses the library as well the museum.

I learnt the value of residencies a few years ago when I occupied the Little Blue Hut for six weeks. When you’re busy with the daily slog of work, house, pets, plus trying to squeeze in quality family time, it’s often hard to find the time to be creative, it’s often hard to justify taking time out from necessary chores. Residencies give space to think and feel, and they give a justification for ignoring other demands, these things are incredibly valuable to creativity.

Also, working in different places, responding to different environments and people takes us out of our comfort zone and often produces unpredictable results. In my application for the residency I explained how, in addition to the collections in the museum, I was looking forward to exploring the interaction between the artifacts and the community visiting the museum. I’m always fascinated by relationships that develop between people, places and objects, however, I’m almost expecting something unexpected to happen and for my work to take off in a completely different direction. I can’t wait till January to find out…

and to find out if there is an actual Armchair involved…

Thursday, 2 October 2014

The importance of exercise

I took part in one of the Wise Words Festival’s writing workshops a couple of weeks ago.  I thought it would be fun (it was), I thought it would be interesting (it was) and I thought that I might get some writing out of it (I did). What I didn’t expect was that I’d be reminded of something so fundamental that I can’t believe I’d forgotten it.

The wonderful Sarah Salway had us all gathered around a bench in the garden and we began by doing some free writing, the kind of thing I do fairly often. But then we began a more structured exercise, focussing on our surroundings and listing anything that impacted on our senses. Between us we soon built a huge long list of concrete ‘things’ that were in the park. (On a side note, it was interesting to see which senses were predominant; sight and sound registered most with the group).

Sarah set us the task of coming up with metaphors for some of the objects. While trying to think of creative and imaginative metaphors, I started to struggle to think of ANY metaphors that seemed even vaguely appropriate. I could honestly feel the tendrils of my brain searching and stretching to find them.

Some of mine were flowers are farewell kisses, the mud is an empty promise, the grass is a whisper, the sunlight is a flicker of tomorrow.

We also generated poems using these, and played around with garden memories. At the end of the workshop we tied our poems to fences and trees around the Westgate Gardens. 

It was the first time in ages I’d done these kind of exercises, and I could feel it! I had forgotten the benefit of making myself write things I wouldn’t usually, I was also reminded of the power of writing in different locations. It’s far too easy to get caught up in a ‘this is my desk where I write’ or get stuck in a comfortable way of writing, so it’s good to stretch those imaginative muscles and exercise from time to time.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

The spaces between

On Friday I went to the Gulbenkian to see Carol Ann Duffy perform as part of the Wise Words Festival. I knew it would be inspirational to hear her read (last time I saw her she made a comment about how the sonnet was the ‘little black dress of love poetry’, which inspired the form of a poem I’d been struggling to write – Little Black Dress.)

I was impressed last time I saw her, and this time, even more so. Last Friday she had musician John Sampson on stage with her. He plays various wind instruments, ranging from Sopranino recorder, to a Chinese woodwind instrument that I’d never heard of. He seemed a genuinely nice guy, with a quick witted sense of humour delivered in his Scottish accent.

Listening to poetry live, especially in a great performance venue like the Gulbenkian, is always powerful. Hearing a poet lift words from the page, and project them out into the world, adds a new dimension. When we read poetry in a book, the formatting is important, the shape of the lines, the white space on the page change how we interpret a poem. When listening to poems read aloud, it’s the silences that affect us, the inhalations, the exhalations, they are as important as the spoken word, they give shape and definition, they give us space to reflect, to absorb what’s being said.

Silences around music are important too. A silence provides an edge for us to collide with. I used to play in school orchestras and bands, and my favourite moments in a performance were those split seconds of silence, when the music has stopped and the moment seems to hang in the air, just before the applause starts.

Combining music and spoken words multiplies the effect of these silences. The spaces between the words and music become deeper and more intense, and by contrast so do the words and music. Carol Ann Duffy’s performance was full of those moments of silence, concentrating the resonance of her work.

I am in awe of people who have that kind of power over words. Using everyday language she gave me goosebumps, tingles down my spine and choked me with tears. It reminded me of what’s possible.

I tend to get embarrassingly star-struck around good poets, my tongue just won’t say the things I want to say to them, and I struggle not to sound like a gushing teenager. But at least this time, as she signed my book, I managed to tell her how wonderful I thought the combination of words and music was without drooling on her shoes

Thursday, 4 September 2014


As a writer, rejection is something you have to get used to if you want your work out there. At first you may hesitantly show some writing to a loved one, then you may tentatively show a few more people, if you go to a writing class, you’ll be reading your work to other people there too. These are the baby steps that are often necessary for us to begin feeling like we are actual ‘writers’.

Of course anyone can say they are a writer, but I feel it takes a leap into that relationship with a reader that turns tenuous scribblings into something more tangible. Of course we can all journal, write down our angsty/gorgeous/poetic/catastrophic/whatever words, and that’s totally fine if that’s all we want to do, it’s a way of expressing ourselves, just getting it out of our system. But, if you have something to say, it’s good to feel that someone will listen to it.

By doing that though, we risk that people won’t like what we write. That we won’t be good enough. I think all writers have that critic on their shoulder at times, the one that says you can’t write, you’re rubbish/boring/predictable, no one will want to read anything you write etc etc, the critic that stops us writing, and keeps everything we do write private. It’s hard to take the risk of hearing that voice from real people – it’s bad enough if we think it, if other people do, then it MUST be true.

And the thing you learn, when you do start getting out there, when you do start sharing your work, is that most people will be kind, most people will like something in your writing, but some people won’t. And that is ok. Reading and writing is such a subjective personal thing, that just because someone doesn’t like what you do, it doesn’t mean it’s rubbish. It may mean it needs more work to realise its potential, or they may just not like your style. Of course sometimes there will be things that just aren’t working at this point in time, pieces it’s worth putting to one side, or even abandoning. But that’s just one piece of work, it’s not true for everything you write, and it doesn’t mean you are a crap person.

And when it comes to sending your work out for publication and competitions, the rejections come in thick and fast. It’s disappointing when your prize poem doesn’t make it into print, or doesn’t quite get placed in that competition. But it’s important to remember that these are often a numbers game. If a journal receives hundreds of submissions and can only print twenty, or ten, or if that judge has to pick only 3 winners – then you’re more likely not to be successful. It may be that your work isn’t up to the necessary standard, but its also possible that it didn’t quite fit what they were looking for, or they’d had something on a similar theme last issue, or they just didn’t like your style (remember the subjectivity thing we’ve got going on).

So I think the message is to take on board constructive criticism, to not take rejection personally, and to keep on submitting. The more you send out, the more you risk rejections, but also the more chance you have of being successful.

And on that positive note, I’ll share what sparked the idea for this post. The Wise Words Festival asked people to send in short poems to be selected to be displayed in shop windows throughout the festival, and one of mine is going to be up in Costa’s in Canterbury. So all the time I’ve spent sending things out over the last few weeks has paid off.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

100 years ago

The deadline for the SaveAs Writers ‘The Bigger Picture’ competition was yesterday. It’s a great idea for a competition; produce a piece of poetry or prose inspired by art about the Great War. 

In case you’ve been living in a cave, and have missed all the media coverage, it’s 100 years since the start of the First World War. On 28 June 1914 Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo, and on 4 August 1914 Britain declared war on Germany.

It’s a horrific part of our history that we’re so lucky not to have lived through. And even though it’s so long ago, emotions surrounding it still run strong. It’s incredibly moving looking at paintings, hearing music from the time, seeing films based on events that happened then – the suffering of those who experienced it rushes forward across the years to hit us in the face, to make us stop and think, and appreciate what we have now.

The centenary seems to seep into our everyday life. I’ve lost count of the number of conversations that I’ve heard or taken part in around it, it triggers conversations about the Great War, other Wars, personal experience, family traditions.

Last week on the beach it led to a woman I didn’t know, telling me that she can’t see Spitfires at airshows without crying, as her dad was involved in secret ops during WW2. She didn’t find this out until after he died. Even talking to me, her voice was loaded with emotion as she said this explains why he was like he was, but at least he came home. And it made me stop, and wonder,  how many survivors were damaged to the point that they couldn’t show their feelings, couldn’t be good parents? And how was this translated through the generations, I’m sure children born today are still affected by this.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Farewell MA

My dissertation is finished! 28 poems based on Propertius’ Elegies. Now I just need to get it printed, bound and handed in. So that’s top of my list for next week. I’m actually really chuffed to have finished it 2 weeks before the submission deadline, and it’s taking a lot of willpower to stop tweaking. But when you’ve taken out and replaced the same comma 6 times, you know it’s as done as it’s going to be at the moment.

So… MA done and dusted! Now what? Now of course is my plan to take the poetry world by storm by writing a best seller and making millions and… oh… but of course, that doesn’t happen if you write poetry. Can you imagine if 50 Shades of Grey had been a series of sonnets? I’m sure we wouldn’t be bombarded with trailers for the Valentine’s launch of the film.  On a side note, E.L.  James, the author of 50 Shades, was a University of Kent graduate, she studied History, the-powers-that-be keep that one quiet ;)

More realistically, my plan is to pull together everything I’ve written over the last couple of years, edit it all some more, get submitting to magazines & competitions, see if I have enough for a collection, and also see what direction my new writing will go. I’m also looking to get some more work doing community writing – I love showing people that anyone can write, we all have our own story to tell.

On paper those things look very achievable, however I know it’s going to take a lot of determination not to let my writing time get swallowed up by the rest of life stuff. While I was officially studying I had a justification to ignore the washing up, now it’s somewhat harder. 

Friday, 25 July 2014

The trouble with blogs...

is that they remind you of good intentions. Coming back to this after a while I’m reminded of the month of first drafts I tried to write. But life got in the way, I did write a fair few, but they didn’t make it as far as this blog.

I guess though that there is something to be said for keeping on trying, even if we don’t succeed. Life knocks us off track, but we keep on trying again and again. So here’s another entry, full of good intentions to keep it going, but without any promises.

At present I’m working on a portfolio of poetry for my MA dissertation. The fact I’m working on my dissertation is a kind of ‘Wow I’m nearly there’, but brings with it ‘how will I get it done in time? Will it be good enough?’ Along with the thorough enjoyment of what I’m doing.

And underlying all that is a slight panic as to what I’ll do with myself once it’s over! I’ve been studying for years and years, and I know that I write much better when I have deadlines. So somehow I need to find a way to get that motivation going.  Give myself some self-imposed deadlines.

My dissertation is  based on translations of Propertius’ Elegies. He was obsessed with a woman called Cynthia and wrote so many poems about their love story. They’re sort of romantic to work with, but at the same time, now and then I think if he was around today he would be officially emo

If his relationship with Cynthia was truly as he wrote it, they sound a co-destructive couple. However, if I think back to my lovelorn angst ridden teen poetry, I can assume that what he writes is very biased, we’re only seeing one perspective on his life, so I have to hope it wasn’t as bad as he makes out.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Day 3 - the super quick draft

I've had very little time today, and have literally sat down and boshed this out while dinner is cooking. From start to finish the draft took 20 minutes.

I tried a brief response to an image (I usually love using images as prompts) but was getting nowhere, so I returned to another old favourite - line replacement. For this technique of poem generation, randomly select a poem from a book, copy out every other line, fill in the blanks with your own words (it has to make a new poem that's half yours, half the original poem). Then write out the lines you wrote and fill in the blanks again. Voila, you end up with all your own work.

Today I used Denise Riley's poem 'Knowing in the Real World'.
This was my result.

My yells rebound, puddle
at the feet of strangers

the echo simpers towards me
unable to contain that moment

between wavelength & velocity
each vibration sizzling against my skin

like sunburn. I am scorched
tears evaporate

I seal my lips, huddle
beneath my imaginary silence

wrap myself
in invisible conversations

We always underestimate
the way they speak, whispers

cut skin, and this blood shadow

shouts beyond the dark.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Second shitty first draft :)

I have this printed out, ready to tweak n edit, but decided to be truthful and post the real first scribbled draft. It amazes me sometimes how these seemingly random collection of words end up being shaped into something completely unrecognisable, its like a treasure hunt where you get clues and have to dig for the real words underneath it all.

This disjointed hand free falls
curves past tattered faces
that tangle and writhe
we tried to hold on
but they plummet

we can never keep
cracked knuckles immobile
shudders spasm them open

Impact will not shatter us
only tears and voices
make us crumble
it’s the moment before we fall
that splits us

we hope these frantic gestures
give us something to hold
that what we cling to

is what crashes  us down.

Monday, 14 April 2014

In celebration of shitty first drafts! Day 1 :)

The wedding is all done and dusted, I'm officially a 'Mrs' now for the first time in my life. I've spent the last few months doing the headless chicken wedding planning dance, and now that's over, I need to get on with the rest of my life.

A big part of that needs to be my writing. I have a dissertation to complete over the next few months, so need to get back on track with my writing. The slight problem I have is that, in my poetry, I've been following a similar theme for the last couple of years and that seems to have come to a natural end. So I need to find out where it's going now.

Having done bugger all over the last couple of months, I need something to kickstart myself and have decided to attempt the poem a day for a month challenge. I tried this quite a few years ago and it worked really well. Most of what I churned out was crap, but some of it wasn't, and it helped a lot with the writing discipline. Although, having just spent over 2 hours battling with my internal critic, and trying to breath life into something, I'm going to rename it to the 'Shitty first draft a day' - just to remind myself that it really doesn't matter whether it's any good, it's the doing not the end result that's important.

Everyone writes truly awful first drafts at least some of the time, for most people it's most or all of the time. And it's far to easy to listen to our critic shouting at us that we're no good, that it's pointless, that we may as well give up now.

So, all hail the shitty first draft! Here's mine for today :)

Cloud shadows
bombard skin
threaten to scour away
the weight of her world

she pins each toe, ankle, knee
stops herself running
pierces thighs & hips
stomach to still his butterflies

pulls skin taut over ribs, breasts
limits her inhalation
punctures throat, stops
that scream

pins eyelids, lips closed
fingernails first left
then right self-

only thumb and forefinger

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Counting days up, counting days down.

My life seems to be pivoting on counting up and counting down now...

I've been doing the #100happydays on Facebook. 42 days later, without a day missed, I can say it has changed the way I look at things. Each day I'm looking for what I'm going to post, it's making me much more aware of the positive things in each day. Some days I'm spoilt for choice!

I've also noticed that so many of my happy things are to do with Lee or Willow, both of them make me smile so many times each day. I feel so lucky to be where I am right now.

So that's the counting up... Now the counting down, it's 32 days till the wedding!! We seem to have been doing the proverbial blue-arsed fly rushing around, but things are slowly getting sorted. All the major things are in place now, it's just the finer details that need tweaking. We are alternating between panic and excitement!

Sunday, 5 January 2014

New Year's resolutions

It's been over a year since I blogged - and that's pretty bad for a writer! So one of my resolutions is to properly blog, I actually made loads of resolutions, but have been sensible and cut them back to basics. My main one is that I'm going to find things to motivate me to make time to write. I've taken some whole days recently to write (I have a portfolio due in at Uni), and I had forgotten how much I love it!

So, with this in mind, I'm taking part in the 100 Happy Days challenge. The idea is for 100 days you post a picture of something that made you happy that day. We all have sometime, no matter how little, that gives us happiness in our days, just half the time we don't pay attention. This challenge makes us pay attention. You can read about it here:

I'm going to be posting on Facebook each day, but will stick the pics up here too, it just won't be everyday.

My one today was a really bad photo of some scribbled notes, but it shows the thing that made me happy today was doing lots of poetry editing.