About Me

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On the bright side of the road
Lover of words. Usually found with a book or a pen in my hand.

Monday, 8 October 2018

Buffers Against Life's Storms

Image courtesy of Tiny Buddha
There's a lot to be upset about in the world at the moment. We're bombarded daily by the bad things. My morning ritual tends to start by checking my emails and Facebook, then I spend a little time with Twitter. I catch up with friends and stories which is lovely but then I check.....what's trending, which is a bit like a Lucky Bag - you just don't know if the trends will be delightful or some rubbish thing that makes me disappointed or worse, sick to my stomach. (I'd like to ask for more 'highly amusing', please.)

But ten days ago, something kind of wonderful happened. Many of my Twitter friends were horrified by the news (I won't go into details, but I'm sure we all know the reasons why) and as an antidote Stephanie Hutton (@tiredpsych) offered help and support to a fairly new writer of flash fiction. Naturally, replies came in quickly and Stephanie ended by accepting sixteen writers into a group called #SistersOfFlash. Stephanie jokingly said that she is procrastinating about working on her novel but the truth of it is, she is a hugely talented writer with an enormous heart. She is incredibly busy but she's still found time to reach out and to make a difference - to offer a hand to writers who could do with a little bit of direction or a critique of their work.

As my Twitter bio says, I try to make a difference in small ways, as I'm sure we all do. And after Stephanie's kind offer, I pledged that I shall help other writers if I ever become successful (as many other writers do). But that's (hopefully - and all my fingers are crossed) in the future and I need to do something now. Stephanie has inspired me. I'm no longer a full-time carer and I'm currently job hunting so my world is changing and I'm uncertain about how much time I'll have once I'm at work. But I've decided to volunteer - to give some time to two charities that helped me through some very dark times. I think it will help with the transition from my old life into my new but more importantly, I just might make someone smile.

Image courtesy of Newby Teas
I'm so lucky to have supportive friends - and I wouldn't give up my Twitter friends for all the tea in china. Social media's been getting bad press, but in my own little world of Twitter, I have, as they say, found my tribe.

Stephanie has had many pieces of flash fiction published and she has written a beautifully haunting and evocative novella in flash called Three Sisters of Stone, published by Ellipsis Zine. You can find my review of it here.

Since then, Gaynor Jones (@Jonzeywriter) has offered writing support to women - amazing! I'm blown away by the kindness of others. Do you know of any others? I'd love to hear about them and read their work - and shout all about them on Twitter.  :o)

Thursday, 13 September 2018

The Magic of Friends

Lately I've been thinking a lot about the power of friendships. What makes people drift in and out of your life and, more importantly, what makes them stay?

September is turning out to be quite a month for spending time with my friends. At the beginning of the month I spent a weekend at Gladstone's Library with a new friend. We met last year at a writing retreat she organised at Greenway in Devon (Agatha Christie's holiday home) - and I made friends with two other lovely writers there, too. We got on so well and the break was so productive that we're having another retreat there next year. We message each other and follow each other's progress, supporting and generally being hopeful for one another. These are new friendships born of the modern age: we met through Twitter but I feel comfortable with them, as if I have known them for years.

At the end of the month I'm spending the weekend with one of my old school chums. We are as different as chalk and cheese, and we don't see each other often (she lives about three hours away) but when we get together, the years melt away and the laughter is belly-aching. She makes me feel like I'm fifteen again and I love her for it.

I have a dear friend whom I worked with several years ago, a lovely friend from when our girls met at primary school, other old school friends, neighbours, couples, old and young. And they have one thing in common: they are all so different, which is exactly what I love about them. With each friend I feel they own a little piece of my heart and when they're all joined up, it completes the core of me and I am settled.

And then there are my Twitter friends: my tribe. The writing community is so supportive and although we've never met, I share in their successes and difficult times. And I am always blown away when I get the same back - my heart is swelling at the thought of it.

Friends. They have a special kind of magic. Maybe it's because they choose to be with you that makes them so special. I don't know. But my life would be bare without them.

Friday, 6 April 2018

A sense of place (part two)

Chalkwell Hall
A couple of weeks ago I was one of twelve Essex writers chosen to spend a week at Metal Southend Culture LAB.

Metal Southend had turned their residence, Chalkwell Hall, into a pop-up writers' house for the month of March in partnership with Essex Book Festival (which runs for the whole of March).

The lovely Syd Moore was the Writer in Residence and she was on hand to give advice, chivvy us along or just have a chat/giggle over a cuppa. I've read The Drowning Pool which I really enjoyed and I'm looking forward to reading Syd's latest book Witch Hunt. I had a 1:1 session with Syd and she asked questions about my wip that really made me stop and think. Consequently, I'm working on a major overhaul but I think it will be much stronger once finished.

Two Tree Island
Our week was very intense: each day started at 10am and finished at varying times. We visited Two Tree Island on a bitterly cold afternoon with author Rachel Lichenstein. Rachel is a master at writing about place and it was great to spend time with her and to look closely at the estuary environment. I am currently reading Estuary which is beautifully written and informative.

We also spent time with Agnieszka Studzinska whose poetry transports you to the emotions attached to places and events. What Things Are is truly moving and several of her poems particularly resonated with me.

And we listened to Paavo Matsin talk about his life in Estonia and his book Gogoli Disko which is not yet published in English - although you can read a translated excerpt here.

Added to this we had creative time, a dinner, a performance evening......and the Writers' House had a café with an open mic each lunchtime throughout the whole of March.

Chalkwell Hall is a beautiful old building, and a superb addition for the month was the use of a desk in the attic which has been beautifully designed as a creative work space. Two desks were available each day and each writer could book two places throughout the month. I took advantage and booked my two days which were both completely different. The view across the estuary is amazing and quite inspirational. I pretended just for a little while that I had a room of one's own.

The pop-up Writers' House has been so successful that plans are in place to create a dedicated Essex Writers' House. From what I understand, the plans are at the ideas stage at the moment, and it may take some time, but I am sure there will be one. We have proven that there is not only a desire, but a need for one. It's so inspirational to meet with other writers and to feel that you belong, that you have a sense of place. I met some wonderful people during the month of March - and the week I spent with my eleven peers was fabulous.

Often I hear people say that you don't need to visit a place to write about it. Technology can take us where we want to be. In one sense, that is true. It works if you are writing about something on a surface level. But if you really want to get inside the bones of a place, understand what makes it special, then you have to spend real time there. I have written pages of notes about how the wind felt, the chill on my cheeks; about the changing cloud formations - low and claustrophobic or as big and wide as a prairie; the ebb and flow of the tide, how the water makes rivulets through the mud. No amount of Googling could give me the essence of this part of the Thames estuary and there are more places I'd like to explore so I can inject a complete sense of place into my writing; make it come alive.

And now, the twelve writers chosen for this very special week have formed a bond and have vowed to keep in touch and meet up. We don't have a dedicated house (yet!) but for now, technology will facilitate our meeting space.

Watch this space.........

Witch Hunt by Syd Moore is published by Avon (ISBN: 978-1-84756-269-2)

Estuary by Rachel Lichtenstein is published by Penguin (ISBN: 978-0-141-01853-9)

What Things Are by Agnieszka Studzinska is published by Eyewear Publishing (ISBN: 978-1-908998-38-5)


Thursday, 29 March 2018

A sense of place (part one)

For the last few months I've been exploring a sense of place in my writing. I've been wondering why we are drawn to particular things: woods, hills, museums..... And how these places affect our emotions and wellbeing.

As many people are, I'm particularly drawn to water: both the sea and rivers (not lakes, so much but I'll take one if that's all there is!).

I'm currently working on (what I hope will be) a novel which is set in a quiet estuary town and I'm exploring how the river sustains life yet it also has the power to take it away. My characters are all drawn to the river, they couldn't live in a land-locked place and while I'm exploring relationships between people, I also want to look at their relationship with the water and how it defines them.

Naturally I'm carrying out lots of research which I'm thoroughly enjoying. Who wouldn't like to take a stroll along the riverbank under the guise of 'research'!

In April last year, I was on a family holiday in Devon: a cottage on the River Yealm - yes, all my family are drawn to water. And Lovely Hubby, Lovely Mum and I took a day trip to Greenway, Agatha Christie's holiday home. I was entranced. So much so that I tweeted about it and Lovely Rosie Longstocking tweeted back that Greenacre Writers were holding a retreat there in March 2018. Sadly they were all booked up, but luckily for me, one of them dropped out and so I quickly snatched a place.

And so the year wore on. It turned out to be quite a horrific year for news and family illness. Little did we know that the holiday in Devon was the calm before the storm and I'm so glad we were oblivious because I'll treasure those memories for a very long time.

I didn't give the writing retreat much thought until it was almost upon me. With a month to go, excitement set in.  I was a little apprehensive as I'd never met Rosie (@Rosie_Canning), Nicole Fitton (@MisoMiss) and Ingrid Jendrzejewski (@LunchonTuesday) but I reasoned 'how bad can it be? - they're writers!' I'd asked my friend, Michelle Cunnah to come along, too and before very long (I think it was over tea and scones when we first arrived) that our friendship took root. Needless to say, we had a fantastic weekend with lots of laughter and fun - as well as writing.

Greenway was a wonderful place to be. The apartment overlooked the River Dart and I felt I really got to know the river in our short time there. I watched the tide come in and out, the ferry chugging up and down and rowers in the early morning. I walked around the grounds twice each day which was invigorating and helped me to put my thoughts in order. And I wrote loads.

Greenway closed to the public on the Saturday at noon because of the impending snow storm. We decided to stay and walking around the grounds on that afternoon felt magical. Although I'd tramped around when the gates were closed to the public and enjoyed the solitude, now it seemed as if we were cut off from the world - although we weren't at all as the snow didn't really come in until the following morning. There was something special about our final dinner, all sitting around the kitchen table, feeling as if we were isolated, marooned. Somehow it made my senses sharper, my writing deeply emotional.

It was a wrench to leave Greenway and my new friends. The journey home was tricky but exciting! The weekend has left me with another question to ponder. Why are we drawn to certain people? I don't know. But the combination of this special place and my new friends inspired me to write new things and to open all my senses to the world around me.


Monday, 12 March 2018

Words after death

I read an interesting article in The Guardian on Saturday about a subject that’s been on my mind for a while. Should an author’s dying wishes be obeyed?

Blake Morrison explores the issue of unpublished works: does anyone have the right to publish them after the author dies? It’s a tricky one and I don’t think there’s a definitive answer.

Now, I’m only a scribbler, certainly not an author. But everything I write is personal, not intended to be read by others unless I explicitly send it out into the big, wide world. But would I feel differently if I were a successful writer? Would I be happy for others to trawl through my writing and decide if it is publishable?

As some of you may know, the last three years have been difficult (although, thankfully, things seem to be on an even keel now) and I used my journal to write my greatest fears, vent my anger and frustration and to reflect on what my life had become. I filled journal after journal and hid them at the back of a drawer in my bedside table. They were never meant for anyone else’s eyes. They were never meant for publication. I tried reading some of them a few months ago but the memories were too painful, the writing too raw and simple. There was nothing poetic or meaningful in those journals, they were simply a receptacle for my emotions when I had nowhere else to go. They were deeply personal. And I say ‘were’ – I couldn’t bear anyone else to read them, even if they weren’t looking for publishable material – so I burned them.

Burning my journals was a cathartic action, it closed the door on the painful times and allowed me to let go, to move on. But it also ensured that no-one would read them – I wasn’t afraid of being judged, but that my fears and sadness may affect the people I care about in some way.

I also think about the fiction I write. Again, I wouldn’t like family or friends to trawl through and read it – it’s not ready (if it ever will be) for going out into the world. It’s precious to me but not for sharing. Would I feel different if I were an accomplished writer? I don’t think so. I would hope that the work I choose to send out is enough, that this work is a reflection of me – not the countless drafts, ramblings and experiments.

And so I’m going to make it clear to those I love that when I pop my clogs, I want them to have a great big bonfire for my writing. Don’t read it, just place it on the fire and let it go. The stories that were important to me I will have cultivated and shared. All the other words are simply weeds.

Friday, 9 February 2018

WinterFest: to warm the cockles of your heart

Image courtesy of Natureflip
Just along the coast from me lies the little town of Brightlingsea. And last Sunday afternoon I attended a Spoken Work Open Mic event which is part of their WinterFest programme.

I found out about it through the power of social media and I dragged along Lovely Son and Lovely Writerly Friend. It was a freeeeezing day and the loft of the sailing club was quite chilly but we were entertained by some wonderfully talented writers and storytellers. I've never been to a spoken word event before but wow! I'm converted.

One of my favourite poets was Dorothy O'Grady whose silken words gently moved me. Lovely Writerly Friend gave a cheer at the end of her performance and afterwards, Dorothy came over to introduce herself and we had a lovely chat. It turns out she is also in a folk band called The Columbines and so I plan to try and catch them over the summer (https://www.columbinesmusic.com/).

I'd not heard of the Brightlingsea WinterFest before and so I did some Googling when I got home. And I was amazed that this little town by the water holds this cultural programme each year. This year events started on 27th January and run until 25th February and there really is something for everyone: various music events, a winter walk, comedy night, a wellbeing day....... And it's all in aid of the charity Mid & North Essex Mind.

Here's a quote from their website, explaining what it's all about:

'Since it began in 2015, WinterFest has been helping fight depression by raising spirits and developing a sense of community during the darkest time of the year. It's a serious subject, but we have a lot of fun with a host of music, arts and other events taking place throughout February.'

To find out more, do please take a look at their website: https://www.brightlingseawinterfest.co.uk/

What a wonderful way to lighten up February. The three of us all had a lovely time, and I've tentatively agreed to take part in the Spoken Word event next year......so I'd better start working on my piece!

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

The inevitable end

It's a difficult subject to talk about, death. I know that there are 'death cafes' here and there where people can talk openly about it. There is the Day of the Dead in Mexico where families celebrate their dead. But in our culture, we fear it. The inevitability of it. The end.

It's a topic I've been tussling with for a while. Last year we lost my mother-in-law who had suffered with Alzheimer's for many years, and my father who was fit and well but died shockingly in an awful accident. So we've been grieving on both sides of the family.

Dad and Me - my wedding day
Added to that, I've been researching my family's past for a story I want to write. It's an unusual story but hasn't been well documented. Through my research I met with a distant relative last week who has discovered much. It was lovely to meet him and to share our information and look at old photographs. The thing that got to me (and my relative) is that each of the people we were looking at had a life, a story. They were important to those around them, but now they have been forgotten.

My great-grandfather was one of fifteen children: eleven boys and three girls. Eight of the boys went off to fight in the Great War and three of them died in France. There are no graves, just their names are inscribed onto a memorial. We have some history of the men of the family - but nothing of the women. All we know is that the mother of this large family was illiterate. We can find no trace of the daughters.

My mum said something strange to me last night. She doesn't want my dad's name removed from any records: bills, statements, anything. She said that she doesn't want him to be forgotten. I proclaimed that he won't be forgotten: how could we forget him?

And yet, for the next generation he will be just a photograph with perhaps some marks on a family tree. A life that was so vital will be nothing more than scratchy stories passed down the line.

Helen Dunmore was awarded the Cost Awards Book of the Year for Inside the Wave, last night and the poem she wrote in her last days, 'Hold Out Your Arms' is one of the most moving pieces I have read:

'As you push back my hair
- Which could do with a comb
But never mind -
You murmur
'We're nearly there.'

I've thought that I write to help me understand myself and the world around me. But I now know, that I also write to leave something behind. That perhaps next generations will have a little idea of who I was and that maybe I will help them to understand the world I live in. I'm not a great person, I'm quite unremarkable. But I live with love and hope and surely that counts for something?