Wednesday, 24 March 2021

A kick-start resource

 I want to tell you about a new website from the people at Paragraph Planet. You may have come across it on Twitter, but if not it is called writing workout. Here you can find timed writing exercises. There are four of them - warm up, random, randomisers and junior (for young writers). Each section gives you a word or situation and you write against the clock. These exercises remind me of those days when my writing group used to meet by the river and we had timed writing slots with words we had either put together by word association or our leader had used for that weeks theme.

Having seconds slip away before your eyes certainly makes you panic! You either get on with it or you stare at the ticking down with a blank mind! Working this way really works for me. The first time I worked this way, I found I wrote something I would never have written without this. I've always been one to stare at a page and have no idea where to start. It was rather throwing me in at the deep end, but I am so grateful because it seems to have cured me of the 'stare into the lights' phenomena.

If this sounds what you might need to kick-start some writing, then head over and give it a try.

As for my own writing, I have been waiting for things that were about to happen. One of these was the publication of The Poetrygram Annual 2020 from Helen Cox Books. My copy arrived about a week ago. My poem, Slowing, is published in this. I also heard from The People's Friend that they are going to publish the two poems I sent them last year. They will appear in their Fireside Book 2022.

Submissions have been few. New writing is difficult. Mainly I have been writing poetry and little flash stories. Being outside is a necessity for me right now, so with the better weather finally making a show of itself I have been in the garden weeding, clearing, cutting the grass. There has been ample time for sitting on my garden bench and reading! And I've taken up jogging again, six months after I said 'no more'! Yet being out early in the morning with the birds singing and the sun coming up, there is nothing better.

I have so many pieces of work waiting to be edited, yet I cannot bring myself to start on them. For now physical work outdoors, whether gardening or walking or jogging works for me. But when the muse hits, like after jogging this morning, some lines get written.

Monday, 15 February 2021

Doing things, but not writing

It has been a tough month and I can't wait for it to go. I'm not a winter person, and what with lockdown I have been struggling. I have no motivation to write, though I have submitted a handful of pieces over January and February. A piece of flash fiction was published by Visual Verse in January, one of only two new pieces I've written this year.

I find concentration hard these days. I flit from one thing to another, but nothing holds me. Even reading has been a struggle, but maybe I chose the wrong book for my mood; I firmly believe in the right book at the right time. I find non-fiction works slightly better, and am reading a very interesting book called Square Haunting at the moment. The book by Francesca Wade, is set around Mecklenburgh Square in Bloomsbury and follows five women who struggled to be who they wanted to be - independent, and follow their own career paths. It features H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), Dorothy L Sayers, Jane Ellen Harrison, Eileen Power and Virginia Woolf, who all lived in the square, though not necessarily at the same time. There are appearances by others, men who were lovers and friends, including Ezra Pound and D H Lawrence. As a Bloomsbury group fan, this book widens my horizons in that era of art and literature that broke moulds.

I was intrigued by Robert Harris's book Second Sleep. A post-apocalyptical story of a young parson sent a village to sort out the affairs of the parish priest who had died. He finds amongst the priest's things banned books and items from the past deemed heretical. Before long the young parson is caught up in things that go against his teachings, but is drawn in bit by bit by curiosity. Well worth a read.

What I am reading now is a collection of small press magazines. Popshot and Dreamscape are magazines I subscribe to. I love the mix of short stories, flash and poetry. I've bought a one-off copy of Butcher's Dog to try it out. 

So, if I am not writing, what am I doing? Well, in January we had a new garden shed which is rather nice! It is to be a for multiple uses. Last year I worked on the garden more than I ever have in the past. This year I want to really begin to understand how to do it properly! I've been seed sowing already, though I've had to move them indoors because it has been bitterly cold even my new insulated shed! When the weather is warmer, it will be a space for me to work in too. I have two fold-up garden chairs there and a large fleece to wrap myself up in. There is even a solar light, and I have bought a solar/wind-up radio!

Walking still keeps me sane, and I go out when I can. My last walk was on a bitterly cold day. My fingers ached from the cold. I had to take my gloves off every time I took a photo. Taking photos is my other obsession. It always has been, but since the pandemic I've taken way many more than I would usually.

This morning I booked for my first Covid vaccine. Perhaps there is a small glimmer of hope back to a semi-normal life. Warm weather would also help. I long to be in the sunshine and feel its warmth again. Meanwhile I shall keep reading, walking and gardening when I can.

Monday, 11 January 2021

Year Review

I didn't think I would bother reviewing my output, sucesses and failures from last year, but sometimes it does help to get things into perspective.

Last year I only submitted to publications that I like/read, or felt I had something that fitted a competition/theme. It was less random. What my list shows is that I submitted far more poetry than anything else. Here is a breakdown:

Poems submitted           31 - Three have been published, one is about to be, and two I am still waiting                                                    on.

Flash submitted              7 - Three were published.

Short stories submitted  5 - One was highly commended and may appear in a future Anthology.

Pamplet submissions     2

Novel in flash                1

The poetry and flash are all (except for one) published by either Visual Verse or Paragraph Planet. I had one other poem published but the acceptance came the year before! The People's Friend work so far in advance that I forget about them once I've had the acceptance, as it can be six months or more before publication. The two waiting poems are at The People's Friend for (hopeful) publication at the end of this year!

Last year I also got three projects completed - my year of poems, and two novellas that I had been struggling to finish. I also wrote my first novel in flash, and took two online poetry courses, and a poetry prompt challenge. 

As for this year, I don't have any plans or projects in the pipeline, apart from learning about self-publishing. Also there is certainly a lot of editing I could do with the novellas. For now I am taking a break as I had a full-on December to get my Christmas based novella finally completed after about three years. Never has so few words taken so long!

Tuesday, 22 December 2020

Christmas, but not as we know it

This year is fast fading and what a year! I have to admit that I have struggled in the last few days as London went into the new Tier 4. It all happened so fast and we have had a decision to make, though I know we are luckier than a lot of people. My youngest son's girlfriend was due to come to us for Christmas. She is on her own (parents in Japan) and after the first lockdown ended she formed a bubble with us. However, my husband is Type 1 diabetic and worried about things. If she came she would have to stay for at least two nights as neither she, nor us, have transport. She lives in London, but not local. The decision has been made that my son will spend Christmas with his girlfriend. I am putting together a box of home made bakes, plus their Christmas crackers that I made myself.

During the stress of all this I started getting dreadful toothache - like over senstivity, but much worse. The pains went into my sinuses, my head and neck. I had to resort to painkillers which took the edge off. I phoned my dentist on Monday and got an emergency appointment for today. I ended up with two appointments whereby I had fifteen minutes at home to shove some food down myself before going back (porridge, was the quickest!). I saw a specialist in Endodontics. She is a miracle worker! After tests and x-rays she drilled into a crown to clean the area, put antiseptic on and pack it. She says that one of the nerves has died and the other is dying but inflamed, hence the pain. I have to go back in January for root canal treatment, but I am pain free and can eat and drink without going through the roof in agony. I am so grateful.

I thought I might get a chance to do some live carol singing as the choir I belong to was asked by a church if we would do that. It all went downhill when first we went into Tier 3 and some of the singers lived in Tier 2, so it was cancelled. Little did we know that just two days later we would end up in yet a higher Tier. I have missed singing so much. We are hoping singing might happen in the summer term, but that's so far away. I did do a voice part for the virtual choir (I have given the link at the bottom for the YouTube video), but other than that I have had to make do with with some Live Facebook concerts where I could join in with Christmas carols (and I had mince pies and mulled wine to toast them with!)

Though everything got on top of me.,I'm determined to enjoy Christmas. Everything is done and ready, save making my mince pies and a cake - not a traditional cake, but a vegan one! Apart from the Quorn Roast, which is vegetarian, not vegan, everything else will be vegan (and some turkey for the one meat eater who will be here!)

On the writing front, I am so pleased that I have finally finished my Christmas Novella. It's been at least three years in writing, but I love my characters. This is the first draft. I know there is still a lot to do, but the fact that I have finished the story is a point of satisfaction. 

I am still waiting to hear about the publication of the anthology which will contain one of my lockdown poems. My first novella-in-flash didn't make it to the next stage of the competition, though I was told that it was enjoyed and has much to recommend it. I intend to submit elsewhere now, but ultimately if I can't find a publisher, this is one that I would consider self-publishing.

I had a short story highly commended recently too, and this may at some stage appear in an anthology. I've had many rejections of poems and short stories - not unusual! I have written few poems in this time and have been unable to meet my writing buddy for several weeks. Instead, I have been buying books! I had a nice collection of three books from Valley Press a few days ago, the last part of subscription, as well the current book I bought from them called Glass Work Humans, a collection of stories and poems by Paul Cowan Tom Gillespie and John McKenzie, all Scottish! I've began reading it today and am really enjoying the collection.

I am hoping for a few books for Christmas too.

With a new year coming I am starting to think about new ventures. I love writing my travel blog, though at times with lockdown it hasn't always been easy, especially during the second lockdown when I wrote a blog a day for NaBloPoMo. I had to be resourceful. Strangely, I have walked and taken more photos this year than any other, and I am waiting for the green light to start proper travel. I have a long list of places in the UK I want to visit, and walks I want to do.

My plans haven't go further than that - planning for travel. It's the main thing I want to do.

This will probably be my last post here before Christmas (and probably New Year), so I'd like to wish everyone a Happy Christmas, however you are able to spend it. Let's hope that next year is a much better one for us all. 

Saturday, 28 November 2020

Book Review - What the Turtle Taught Me

I bought Words the Turtle Taught Me by Susan Richardson as a recommendation by Live Canon while I was taking part in their course on writing climate crisis poetry. I'd read/heard one poem from it and thought this was for me. However, I was so bogged down in the world of climate change and reading so many books and articles (as well as poems) about it, that I got to saturation point. I felt I couldn't read anything else. There comes a time when so much reading about and around a subject like the climate crisis when it all becomes too much and you feel rather hopeless about the whole state of affairs. That's where I was at.

Then along came Covid and down days. I began reading through my backlog of books until I came to this one again. Wow! It is good. It is more than a poetry book because after the thirty poems there are notes. The poems were commissioned by the Marine Conservation Society to highlight the Thirty Threatened Species Project. To write the poems Susan attended workshops, lectures, went out on boats to see dolphins and puffins, and researched the species she would be writing about. The second section of the book are comprehensive notes about that process, and how she came to find ways into each poem, The book also has beautiful illustations by Pat Gregory.

The poems are arranged in the order in which they are listed on the register for endangered species from of Least Concern, Data Deficient, Near Threatened, Vulnerable, Endangered and Critically Endangered. The title of the poem doesn't always give away the type of species the poem is about, but under the title is the creature's latin name, so the poem Charmed has the latin name listed as Balaenoptera borealis, which is Sei Whale. 

I love Susan's use of rhyme (not end rhymes necessarily, few of those), but internal rhyme, how words chimed with each other directing the rhythm. Descriptions were visual and often ethereal.

Reading the notes really brought alive the poems, and I will re-read these again with a little more understanding. I found it interesting reading Susan's process of writing each poem. The discussion on how you engage people in the climate crisis and whether poetry has a part to play in it was something discussed in the Climate Crisis poetry course. I always feel that when I talk about the climate/environment I am preaching to the converted, because those who don't engage are usually not the ones who read poetry either! I am not sure how you change the minds of some, but having seen what happened in the early stages of Covid, my theory is sadly they will not do anything until it affects them or their family. Things happening in the ocean, far off lands and to others does not directly impact on them. A line in the poem Brink which is about the plight of Puffins highlights this - It's a sad to see but clearly not my fault away. This and another line - It's a sorry, I just haven't got the time away - really resonated with me.

I'm one of those people who posts quite a lot about the environment on my Facebook page and I always know who will 'like' and those who will just ignore it.  We become horrified at he bush fires in Australia with people fleeing and animals with severe burns, but how many actually did something, changed something in their lives, one small thing that might help to combat climate change?  I think you can tell that I am passionate about these things, and I will not apologise. We all have a responsibility to this planet. We live on it, feed off it and use it. If we don't do it responsibly we will soon be like the Dipturus batis (Common Skate), on the Critically Endangered list.

Sunday, 8 November 2020

One month on

It's been almost a month since I last posted. And here we are back into lockdown, albeit not so hard as the last. In fact not a great deal seems to be different. There are lots of cars on the road, the buses vary, sometimes busy, other times quiet, and the high street doesn't appear much different either. Places are open for takeaways, and I used one myself yesterday. I don't feel as low as I did the first time round, in fact I feel quite positive. Having said that, I was with a friend on Wednesday, the day before lockdown. We were in London and managed to fit in some writing together outside before it got too cold. When we said our goodbyes, and I was on my way back to the station, I felt sad to be leaving London. It was the strangest feeling, like saying goodbye to an old friend.

So what have I been doing in the last month? Well, several things really. I've begun looking into self publishing and am currently taking a course in how to do it. It's a free course and very thorough. It covers the pitfalls, all the downsides as well as how to make and reach goals. You are warned that you will be overwhelmed. Yes, I am! But for now I'm just going through everything and making notes to see if this is what I want to do. Some of the information won't be for me, but I am learning a lot. I found the section on book covers particularly interesting, formatting work totally mind numbing. So, I am allowing myself a year to consider this and might put a toe in the water eventually.

Meanwhile, I have been submitting more than I have in a long time. I know I have a poem coming out in one of The People's Friend annuals very soon, and I was thrilled to hear last week that one of my 'lockdown' poems has been chosen for an anthology. More news on that soon. I have signed up for a course with The Poetry Kit, a three week course on Poetry and Music. And I have also joined Jo Bell's Try to Praise the Mutilated World initiative with daily prompts for however long lockdown goes on. I find I am mixing with poets whose books I've read, seen read and admire, as well as a former poetry tutor! Could be quite intimidating, but not, Everyone is lovely.

I'm hoping to take part in another virtual choir this month. Quite excited about that, but not about the prospect of having to record myself again It is always a fraught time and I have warned my son in advance!

When I'm not writing I try to get out for a walk. While the weather is in a warmer sunny mode I am taking advantage of it. Yesterday I even managed to sit on the garden bench and read for a while. Bliss.

I think I have been more places and taken more photos this year than I would in a normal year. I have found peace in walking, being with the trees and by water. This masked, restricted way of life is now becoming normal. I guess that's how people in war zones feel after a while because you cannot live in that kind of high anxiety forever. You accept what it is and get on with life the best you can. Not that I can compare Covid 19 with what Syrians have to deal with, but you get the picture. Life does go on, it has to, so you accept it and live.

Monday, 12 October 2020

We Must Be the Change

 This is not writing related, but it is creative. I took part in another virtual choir project run by ex-Euphonix Musical Director, Ben, and the video is now available on YouTube. Fifty singers make up the virtual choir and the song was also heard first on TEDx-Bath Countdown on Saturday night, though no video and only a snatch of it. TEDx-Bath is a series of speakers promoting environmental change in these times of climate uncertainties, and the song speaks about how each one of us must be the change for the future. It's a simple song, but was quite difficult in the recording as there are so many parts. Still, Ben has made us sound great. I am at the top left singing the higher parts.

I must thank my son for helping me with setting up for recording. His patience was stretched, to say the least! He tells me I need a microphone as the quality on the laptop is not good enough. I ended up recording it on my Tablet, then needed my son's help to transfer it to my laptop as it was easier to email it from there. I played it to him this morning so he could see all the hassle I gave him was worth it.