I see you’re back to
Be a dear,
Leave the best bits
I see you’re back to
Be a dear,
Leave the best bits
Cocooned in sleepy warmth, they lay in midnight’s silence, oblivious to the world.
Blankets a tangle around entwined limbs; heads resting close on pillows; fingers unconsciously seeking skin, lost in wonderment, their whispered voices held the cadence of the lapping tide and the hush of a shooting star.
What they spoke of did not matter: hopes and fears; the mundane and the magical; gods and monsters. All that mattered was that moment in which the universe belonged to them alone.
With eyes only for each other, they saw nothing beyond their own slowly curving smiles. They did not see the words they breathed take flight in the night. Did not see their dreams light up and dance above their heads like fireflies. Did not see those little specs of luminescence weave together and hold back the shadows.
The moon outside the window gazed down in awed affection, the tiniest hint of envy in his silvered rays. What a wondrous thing: to build a world from whispers in the dark.
“You’re a storyteller. Dream up something wild and improbable,” she pleaded. “Something beautiful and full of monsters.”
Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor
Inspired by Erin Morgenstern’s Flax-Golden Tales, I have decided to embark on my own creative writing blog series, “Wild & Improbable Tales”, as a way to write more freely and more frequently. At least once a week, I will choose a card at random from The School Of Life‘s ‘Small Pleasures’ box and use the image and/or writing on the back to inspire a short piece of creative writing. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
For a long time I have been saying that I want to write. And for a long time, I haven’t. There are all sorts of reasons for that but mainly I never had the time. Which actually means I never made the time. I never made the time because sitting down to write felt like such an indulgence; there were always other things that I ‘should’ be doing. I never made the time because I was convinced I wasn’t actually any good at writing and so what was the point. I never made the time because I was scared: here was a thing I wanted, badly, to do well at. A thing I would love to make at least part of a career out of. But what if I tried and failed? By never actually doing it I could hold onto the daydream, writing odd snippets here and there, but never risking the possibility of discovering it was never meant to be.
You’d have thought I’d have learnt by now: dreams are worth the risk, and sometimes we should try just for the joy of it.
So I have started writing. Not quite daily at this point but more than ever before. I found the key was to let go a little of my fears and doubts; actually, not to do it in the hope that it would come to anything. Not to do it for anything or anyone. Just to write for me. Because I love it. I love the feeling of creating something that wasn’t in the world before. And when I approached it like that I found that the seeds of things that had been rattling round in my head started to grow. I wrote so many poems I stopped counting. And, even more joyfully, I started to write the story that has been in my mind for more years than I care to count.
I had an outline, written and rewritten over several years, and I had an opening to the story, which I wrote about a year ago, but nothing more. Because I stopped. I even liked what I had written, although it needed some editing, but in spite of my outline I just didn’t feel I knew what the story was, so I abandoned it. It was actually my students, and a couple of lovely friends, who encouraged me to pick it back up.
I run a creative writing class at the secondary school where I work (I know, a writer who doesn’t write teaching other people how to write…the irony is not lost on me) and for some time now my students have been asking to read something I had written. So one day I decided to be brave (and yes, it did take a lot of courage to do this – teens are nothing if not direct and, sometimes, brutal with their feedback) and share that opening chapter with them. I did it as part of a session on how to constructively critique other people’s work.
Firstly, I read some of their pieces and, as I always do, gave them feedback, this time trying to demonstrate my thought process: What did I really like and why? Tell them. What did I think had potential and how could it be developed? Tell them and make suggestions. What didn’t feel right in their narrative, why and what might make it feel better? Tell them but also enquire about their choices (as this might change the reading of it), explain why it didn’t feel quite right for me and work in partnership to see how it could be developed. It’s a lovely, collaborative process and the young writers I work with are so full of enthusiasm for writing, and so want to improve, that they are genuinely open to it and take on board feedback with interest and commitment to developing themselves, and their skills as writers. It’s inspirational to watch.
Next came the part where I had to be brave. Enthusiastic though they were to receive their own constructive criticism, they are often reluctant to give it to each other, usually deferring to me to do that part, purely because their class mates are also their friends and they were afraid of hurting one another’s feelings. Hence why I offered my work up as a guinea pig. I did tell a little white lie and assured them I was very used to receiving feedback of all kinds, positive and negative (not the case because I rarely share my writing other than what I post on here) and told them they should be very honest. I promised them my feelings would not be hurt if they didn’t like it (mostly true) and that their honest opinion was more important to me as a writer than any false praise they might want to give me. That was the truth. With a deep (internal) breath I gave them my opening chapter and pretended not to wait on tenter hooks as they read it.
The first person to finish looked at me and said possibly the best thing I could have been told: “It sounds like you, Miss.”
Now something sounding like me is not necessarily praiseworthy but what that meant to me was that she felt it was authentic. And that IS praiseworthy. Some of my fear fell away. Even if they didn’t like it, whatever I had written was true enough to myself that this student recognised me in it. I hadn’t even known that was important to me until that moment. As others finished reading they said they agreed, one commented that it “read like the colour red” – she couldn’t quite explain what she meant but it felt like a compliment! In fact the compliments came rolling in along with requests for the next chapter, please, and I had to steer them back to our critiquing framework. Flattering though the positive feedback was, I wanted their honest and thought out opinions. I wanted their ideas for improvement. And I got them. Tentatively, at first, but eventually with growing confidence they pointed out turns of phrase that resonated with them and ones that didn’t; they suggested alterations to vocabulary choices; they discussed certain sentence structures and whether they flowed as well as they could; they generally proved themselves to be the perfect first readers of my long locked away opening pages. (Well, not quite the first: my mum read them too.)
I made the alterations they suggested and since then not only have I shown those pages to two other people (both adults this time and one of whom, it turns out, is writing a book of his own – we did a pages swap!) but I also picked the story back up with gusto. I now have nearly ten thousand words of the story that has been tucked away for so long. On top of that, I also got up the courage to submit four of my poems to a publishing house, for consideration for an anthology. I have no idea if anything will come of that but it doesn’t matter, because I did it. I wrote the poems for me and I took the chance to share them. That is enough.
I am under no illusions that I will be the next J.K.Rowling. I have no idea whether any of my work will ever be published. But it turns out that it’s not the publishing that makes you a writer. It’s the writing. Just for the joy of it.
Any writers out there: what’s your work in progress? What stops you writing and how do you get over it?
Today is World Poetry Day and I had the pleasure and privilege of accompanying a group of students to our local care home, where they performed poetry they had written for the residents. It was a wonderful and moving experience to see these young people engage with such care, kindness, and interest with the older generation in our community. It was also a true testament to the power of poetry to move and inspire.
The students involved revelled in the opportunity to create poetry, several of them never having attempted anything like it before. The whole experience reinforced my own love of the poetic word and prompted me to reflect on my own experience of writing poetry. Unlike with other forms of writing, I often find that poems materialise inside me in a very natural way. Writing stories, articles, and blog posts usually takes a conscious effort of considered construction, but poetry often seems gifted to me.
I heard a wonderful TED Talk by Elizabeth Gilbert in which she shares Ruth Stone’s poetic process:
“…when she felt it coming – because it would, like, shake the earth under her feet – she knew that she had only one thing to do at that point, and that was to – in her words – run like hell. And she would, like, run like hell to the house. And she’d be getting chased by this poem. And the whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper and a pencil fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. And other times, she wouldn’t be fast enough. So she’d be, like, running and running and running and the – she wouldn’t get to the house, and the poem would, like, barrel through her. And she would miss it. And she said it would continue on across the landscape looking, as she put it, for another poet.”
My own experience of being discovered (or chased!) by an emerging poem is not quite so dramatic but I can completely relate to the idea of a poem coming to the poet! Don’t get me wrong, my poems don’t just blink into life fully formed before me. I usually find that they sneak up on me and then just part of it will just appear to my consciousness very suddenly. It is like seeing something glinting in the grass and when I pick it up it becomes a thread for me to follow. I follow the thread and hope I can figure out where it was supposed to lead. I weave it into something new and hopefully capture that moment in time.
Lat summer, I was lucky enough to stay at Gladstone’s Library – something which I HIGHLY recommend to any writer or bookworm – and my time there really rekindled my love of writing poetry. One poem found me whilst I was writing in the library late one night and I thought I would share it with you today:
Night birds sing their sunset tune,
As the eloquence of trees is cloaked in shadow.
The final note rings out the day
And silence envelopes the warm, red brick.
But lights still glow through the leased windows,
And gentle figures sit in quiet reverence,
Breathing deep the ink and parchment dust
Of ages past.
Walked in by layers of words and prayers and panelled oak,
Held close by the carved pillars and balustrades
That guard the ancient knowledge of the library;
A knowledge of their own.
Outside the darkness creeps
And chases off the warmth of day
But inside the write by their own cones of light,
Cocooned in the low steady burn of ideas.
And even as the lights dim and blink out,
And heavy heads hit feather pillows, to
The seemingly slow and silent life of the library,
Carries on it’s endless forays into
History and Destiny and Fantasy,
Because imagination never sleeps.
Are we all
In an endless search?
For that certain
That we crave
What it is.
Is the whole of
In an endless seeking?
A seeking in which
Every time we find
What we thought
We were looking for
On the horizon
That catches the light
And with it
And the thing we previously
With all our
From our hands.
A discarded toy.
Maybe we leave behind us
A debris trail
Of Found Things.
The list of what
What we really
Is not the
We are searching for
But the searching itself.
Because without looking,
Without flipping the stone
Following the unmarked path
Peering round the next bend
Turning the page
How would we ever
Maybe when they said
“Seek and you shall find”
They were right.
Just when it seems
That the world has
And skeletal trees stand testament to a
We hang stars on every branch and bough
And light candles in every window,
Bringing warm hope
To the cold night.
When it seems the whole world should be
Hidden away and
In quiet solitude
For the Sun’s return,
Stories and laughter and gifts
Over vats of mulled goodness
Under a man-made Milky-Way.
And when the sharing is done
Like a thick, woollen throw, around our weary shoulders.
We sigh and allow our stuffed selves to
Into a contented sleep
With a wish of snow upon our lips
If we’re lucky,
We wake to find the world muted and muffled
By a new kind of
And we are reminded of the
That can be found in a
When she woke, it was gone. Everything else was in its rightful place: watch laid out on the bedside table, its gentle tick having lulled her to sleep hours before; earrings placed carefully side by side, hooks aligned so as not to become entangled with the copper filigree leaves that hung below; bracelet creating an uneven circle of shadow, light glinting off the worn, engraved bar bearing a simple motto of encouragement: inspire. But of her necklace there was no sign.
Searching with increasing puzzlement for the gleam of the fine, rose-gold chain, she tried to recall any ‘safe place’ she may have left it, mentally rolling her eyes at her own uncanny ability to sabotage even the simplest of her daily routines.
She lifted each book from the stack by her bed. She rifled through the pages and lifted the dust-covers. She checked inside the pillow cases; unmade and remade the bed; peered under the bed frame; checked in the bathroom and even looked through the wardrobe. Nothing. Not a link or clasp to be found.
With a great air of frustration and disappointment, she gave up the search and got on with her day, feeling distinctly unfinished without the light touch of the chain round her neck. It was a day filled with quiet busyness. She worked in silence whilst grey clouds scudded past the window and a late summer drizzle darkened the panes with silvered rivulets. As the day wore on, she forgot her missing necklace, distracted by imagines worlds and daydreams. It was only after she had eaten supper and headed up the creaking stairs to bed that she recalled it’s absence.
She fell frowning into a fitful sleep.
The next morning, she woke to a dull, misty light filtering through the small bay window. Stretching, she swung her sleep heavy legs out of bed. As she rose, a tiny, unexpected glint if light caught her eye. There, at the foot of the bed, just visible under the fold of her rumpled duvet, was her necklace.
With warm surprise she tugged the duvet back further. Surely she must still be dreaming! She knew how carefully and thoroughly she had checked the bed. But maybe she had not been thorough enough, for there, as she perched back on the edge of the mattress and peered a little closer, without doubt was her necklace.
As she reached out to pick it up, she paused in a moment of surprised curiosity. The necklace was not, as one might expect, lying in a knotted clump but rather in a perfectly cooked pile. When she picked it up, it uncoiled to reveal not one knot, not one tangled link.
How strange, she thought, before fastening the clasp behind her neck and continuing with the business of preparing to face the world.
Her mind already wandering to the tasks that lay ahead, as she remade the bed she missed the tiny folded note that became lost in the folded sheets, like a fallen bonsai leaf in a snow drift. She missed the words hidden within, written in a tiny perfect hand:
Borrowed with thanks. It saved our lives.
The Earth smoulders
With the turning of the season
And the clouds drift down
To kiss the burning land.
A veil of tears
Lands softly on flaming leaves
But even heaven’s weeping
Cannot dull the
Of autumn’s inferno.
And when the most parts,
Making way for the pale light
Of winter’s promise,
And the chill of year’s end
Arrives on the breath of the hills,
The leaves curl and crisp underfoot,
Rustling their accompaniment to fading birdsong.
Polished conkers gleam amongst summer’s debris.
Woodsmoke hangs in the air,
The crackle of logs echoing in the quiet.
The world exhales
A long sigh of letting go.
As though, after a long day,
She has come home to rest.
I seem to keep promising myself two things: that I will write more, and that I will share some of what I write. I am never very good at keeping either of these promises. During my wonderful stay at Gladstone’s Library I had intended to write some short stories and maybe a bit of poetry. What actually happened was that I wrote quite a lot of poetry and only two little segments of a short story. Turns out I am not very good at actually getting to any sort of narrative. (Note to self: work on that.)
Regardless, I’ve decided to share one of the little bits I wrote. I’m sharing it raw and unedited because if I get into all that I will never share it. This particular snippet was inspired by a writing prompt I found on Pinterest: “write about a new season and it’s impact on the world”. I had in my mind the effects of climate change, and how sometimes our seasons appear all out of whack, and I decided to set it in the far future, but beyond that initial thought I basically free wrote. What came out was a sort of message in a bottle…
No one knew what to call it. The first time it happened it was a ‘freak occurrence’; a ‘meteorological abnormality’; ‘nothing to worry about’. We were captivated by its beauty, and we believed them.
The light was entrancing: ethereal. Streaming from the sky in undulating ribbons, almost pearlescent and tinged with dawn colours. Like a day-lit aurora, it seemed as if each heavenly light fall should deposit a seraph in our midst. We soon discovered they were more of hell than heaven.
After years of this beautiful torture, the equatorial line is now a deep, permanent scorch, circling the Earth’s belly, growing wider with each passing orbit.
The Sun giveth, and the Sun taketh away.
We never know when the burning season will arrive. Unlike the old transitions, there is no gradual change; no slow curling and crisping of leaves as the hues shift to flame; no slow emerging of buds and shoots as greenery pushes its way to the surface once more. It comes in a sudden, terrible blaze. Without warning, the clouds part and the sun spears down, searing everything it touches from the face of the planet. It has proven impossible to predict when it will come and where it will fall. The Northern and Southern Hemispheres are now cut off from one another completely. No one dares cross the scorch band and the light falls have slowly created a no-mans land, not only on the surface but in the upper atmosphere as well. It was a shock when the first satellite fell.
Understandably, people fled from the Earth’s belt, humanity tearing like a seam around the middle. People surged North and South, seeking refuge; the upper and lower reaches of the planet have become unbearably crowded and we are running out of room. The scorch band expands inexorably towards us. All the old boundaries are gone and we are on the brink of war.
As if fighting the sun was not enough.
We did not heed the warnings and now nature takes its revenge for our ignorance and arrogance. The universe sends a mere sliver of its power, through a crack of our own making, and our downfall is sealed.
There is nowhere left for us to run. All our technology and bold proclamations are useless in the face of such relentless, uncompromising destruction.
This is our final hope. These words. Sent out in a direction we can’t control, into the vacuum of space, where we don’t know if anyone is listening. Where anyone who might be listening could be forgiven for ignoring our plea. Our trespasses, after all, are great and many.
But we plead with you anyway.
Because if you are reading this, you are our only hope.
If you are reading this, please send help.
I am just coming to the end of four glorious days staying at Gladstone’s Libary in North Wales. It is housed in a beautiful red brick building and is one of the finest residential libraries going. Staying here has been an introverted bookworm’s dream, and was the ideal place to nurture the aspiring writer in me. I got to stay here with my reading-writing-partner-in-crime – my mum! To some a trip like this would seem the height of boredom but it’s has been truly wonderful for us. We have been able to read and write to our hearts content in the beautiful surroundings of the library, stopping only to sample the delicious coffee, cake and regular meals in the restaurant, and the occasional conversational interlude. It is quiet and peaceful here and the history of the place itself provides a comforting atmosphere – somehow it feels familiar and there is a sense of unspoken community with bibliophiles past and present.
Each day, we have proceeded to the library or the common room, armed with books, notebooks, pencils and iPads, and luxuriated in the opportunity to explore all the ideas and possibilities that live inside our brains, that every day life just never seems to leave room for. We played with concepts that have lurked on the edge of consciousness for time untold and discovered new writing inclinations we didn’t even know were there. It has been restful and productive, and although I am looking forward to getting home to my hubby and my own bed, I will miss it here and know I’ll be coming back.
One thing that this trip has really brought home for me is that I really DO want to write. If only for pleasure, I find there is a certain peace and clarity that comes from just putting something down on paper. I have long harboured a secret ambition to be a writer but it always feels like such an indulgence, and also such an effort, that I rarely allow myself the time. I fret that there’s no point in spending the time writing if it’s not going to go anywhere, and the likelihood is that it won’t. I worry that my writing isn’t really any good and I always want to produce something that appears polished and complete the first time around – editing scares me because I’m always convinced that when I come to edit my own writing I’ll just want to scratch the lot. But here’s the thing: I really do enjoy writing, even if it’s imperfect; even if it will never be seen by anyone; even if what comes out on the page is nothing like what I had in my head. So it’s time to find time. I have no doubt it will be hard at first to create writing time in my routine, that I will fail miserably on more than one occasion to put pen to paper instead of scrolling through instagram, or get up early rather than lying in bed. But my commitment to myself is to keep coming back, to keep trying, and to remember that I do want to write for writing’s sake, without agenda or expectation.
Not every aspiring writer has the luxury of taking time away to attend a retreat or stay somewhere quiet for a few days. It’s certainly not something I have done before and although Inhope to do it again I know it won’t be a regular occurrence. So I thought I would close by pulling together some of the elements of this week that I have found helpful that could feasibly be recreated on a smaller scale at home.
So there you have it! My rambling, barely tried and tested advice. I’d love to know of any other tips and tricks that help you get writing so stop by in the comments and say hi.
Huge thanks to the staff at Gladstones Library for making our stay so wonderful, and , as always, to my mum for her company, friendship, support, and all the giggles.