Season of mists

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I’m not sure the above needs much explanation, except to say I’ve been trying to make quick notebook entries first thing in the morning, when I get back from walking the dog (and before I go to work). This one seemed to want to be a poem, but I didn’t have time. If it seems rather slight, it reflects my writing process at the moment: short and sporadic! Autumn mornings interest me though, that sense of transition, of crossing the border between seasons, of leaving the lighter longer days behind and embracing the dark.

Here are a few pictures I took in the garden this afternoon. As you can see, not everything is dying back. In fact, the sedums (bottom left) have only recently bloomed. I love the colours of the berries and the patterns of fallen leaves. I’m trying to get back into ‘poetic’ writing after finishing the first draft of my novel. I don’t feel comfortable if I’m not writing anything and I’ve missed poetry. The notebook entries are like a mini journal,  a way of freeing myself up, of getting words down on the page. It’s too early to say if they will become poems. I suspect they won’t. It’s really just about writing, about training myself to notice the small details again, to be in the world and to write it as I see and experience it.

 

 

 

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Give yourself a gold star

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… or a silver one, or anything shiny as a way of marking your achievement. As you can see from the above picture, I keep a note of everything I send out. If I get an acceptance, I mark it with a foil star. Childish? Perhaps. But it works like a little affirmation that I’m doing the right thing, a way of acknowledging that something I’ve created has found its way out into the world.  I think I got the idea from reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, although I’ve been doing it for such a long time now I might be mistaken. Anyway, I know some poets use spreadsheets, but I like the hands on approach!
I’ve featured a notebook page from about 18 months ago when I had a real push on submissions. Lately, I’ve been so tied up with the novel I haven’t had any poems to send out. I miss that, polishing a poem, sending it out, the occasional acceptance that leaves you on a high for a while. Writing a novel is a very solitary activity – poetry is far more sociable (for me anyway, attending various workshops and readings etc).  I can’t wait to get back to all that.
Anyway, I’m giving myself a gold star this week, not for having anything accepted, but for completing the first draft of the book. Not that it’s finished in the true sense of the word – too many shifts in time and viewpoint. I know it will take a lot more work to give it a coherent structure, but the words are there, typed up, and I’ve done what I set out to do – complete the first draft. I feel like I could do with a block of time now, to dedicate to the editing, but that’s not likely to happen in the near future. So, I’ll have to just try to do what I can in the evenings and at weekends and see where that leads.
In the meantime, award yourself a gold star for following me on this creative journey. It’s great to be part of an online writing community. The blogs I read are a constant source of inspiration and I hope my posts inspire you in some small way.

 

 

The result is what you see today

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Here’s a quick plug for The Result is What You See Today (Smith/Doorstop, 2019). I not only recommend this anthology for its poems, but also for its brilliant biographies: funny, poignant and strangely revealing.

Curated by poet-runners Ben Wilkinson, Kim Moore and Paul Deaton, The Result is What You See Today threads running and poetry through myriad routes, venturing into the how, why and where of a timeless human act.
This affirmative anthology shows that poetry and running have much in common, fulfilling a basic need to live freely, expressively and to feel alive. The poems gathered here reflect this freedom in all its forms: from the track to nature’s trails, from sprints to endurance, from near-spiritual moments of private connection to the buzz of competitive camaraderie.

Thank you Smith/Doorstop for including a poem of mine in this anthology.  I’m not a runner and I didn’t think my poem would qualify. It was one of those last minute submissions which says something about my lack of confidence perhaps. However, it turned out to be worth sending. So, my advice to anyone who’s pondering whether to submit work at the moment is JUST DO IT! You aren’t necessarily the best judge of your own work. And if it’s not to the editors’ taste you can always submit elsewhere.
Good luck.

 

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Following on from last week’s post on tidying my desk, I just wanted to share a quotation from Eric Maisel’s book, Fearless Creating: ‘If we are not working on a project, life is that much safer (and that much deader). No messy paints, no messy pages of notes, no messy confusion. This is the choice that would be artists make (and seasoned artists some of the time), to avoid the chaos of working and gain perfect safety …
Although tidying my desk wasn’t done to avoid writing, it did coincide with a necessary moment of reflection. I needed to assess where I was up to with my novel and I also needed to get a sense of how far there was to go. Clearing away the clutter has hopefully allowed me to re-focus and I do feel that I am inching slowly towards the conclusion. In fact, yesterday I allowed myself to reread a few pages from the start of the book which I’ve only done once since starting the project. Yes, there are mistakes and inconsistencies, but the characters are full of life and I still find them engaging (I was worried that when I reread the opening I would want to change so much of it that a complete rewrite would be in order). This isn’t to say that there’s no editing ahead – there is, and it will take a while. And I have to remember that I haven’t actually finished the first draft yet, so there’s still a lot to do.
I’ve included the picture (above) just to prove that I still work in chaos at times, although interestingly I was working on a poem when I took this photo. It’s taken at the kitchen table, which is where I do most of my actual writing/ creating. If you’re interested in other people’s desks, check out Josephine Corcoran’s ‘Notes from a cluttered desk‘ and Robin Houghton’s ‘And from this cluttered desk‘. I find other people’s working practice endlessly fascinating so I really enjoyed these posts. Of course, it will come as no surprise to you that my desk upstairs, the one I tidied in order to help me gain some sort of control over my novel, is already starting to get cluttered again. Maisel has a point, ‘chaos’ is part of the work. Without it, nothing is created.

Maisel, E., Fearless Creating (Tarcher Putnam, 1995)

 

Empty desk syndrome

I aim to post something once a week on my blog but last weekend I skipped it. Maybe I didn’t have anything to say. Maybe I didn’t have the energy or drive to write it. Anyway, I thought I’d better get on with it today before another weekend slipped by.
I’ve shared some odd pictures today, shots of my empty desk. Okay, not completely empty, but much less clutter than a month ago. Yes, there’s The Rialto, still waiting to be read, but the teetering and rather intimidating book pile has gone. While it was there (and those unread books had been accumulating for quite some time) it induced feelings of guilt and panic. Why hadn’t I got round to reading those books? When would I ever find time to read them? I realised I had to get tough with myself. With my current schedule, I had to own up to the fact that I wasn’t going to read them, at least not in the foreseeable future. So, I had to either make space for them on my already crammed bookshelf (out of shot) or I had to give them away to charity and to friends. I did both and it felt right.
Of course, I know I’ll gather more books and the book pile will soon teeter again, but clearing desk space has cleared a little mental space for me too. The first draft of my novel is slowly nearing completion. I’ve arrived at 70,000 words or thereabouts, although without really knowing how it will end. I do know it’s moving towards some sort of conclusion though, which I find reassuring. One way or another, it feels important to complete it. I’m under no illusions about publication. Although I’m coming towards the end of the first draft, there will be a lot of editing needed and that will take time, possibly as much time as the writing of it. At the end of all this, my novel may very well never see the light of day. It’s only at this stage, when I’m reaching the end, that I realise it’s the writing of it that’s been truly important. I needed to go through the process and I need to complete it, just like I needed to pile up those unread books in order to thin them out again, and hold on to what’s important. That’s writing. That’s life.

 

 

So faint we could be ghosts

 

Meet Ozric, my lovely lurcher – puppy photos on the right, handsome 2 year old now on the left. I wanted to share the prose piece below (first published in Brittle Star earlier this year). It’s a winter piece, which seems at odds with the beautiful sunshine outside today, but I thought if I put some pictures of Ozric on the blog I could justify it. Hopefully it gives you an insight into the place my writing comes from.

 

So Faint We Could Be Ghosts

5.30 in the morning, walking along the Trans Pennine Trail, my headtorch casting an indifferent beam, the covering of snow just enough to bolster the torchlight. I always walk with my dog, a 15 month old lurcher named Ozric, who’s curious but not brave and will bolt at the slightest noise, like an idea you believe in but don’t have time to write down.
Frost crunches underfoot like cinders and it reminds me of ash from the hearth at Bank House, how we used to tip it into a bucket then empty it onto the path when it was icy.
Sometimes I try to imagine what that house must be like now, inside – it’s 40 years since I sat in the kitchen, the warmth of the pale blue Aga, a kitten called Young Tom clambering over the Alsatian dog, the air hazy with smoke from hot lard spluttering in the frying pan, the sour smell of goat’s milk. My friend Steph lived there, and her mother used to say there were ghosts, that when she was on the phone, she could smell perfume, distinctly, as if another woman was standing beside her. She didn’t know who’d lived there before, but it was a manner of haunting that’s quite common round here, like rooms which have a cold end where the dead are said to sit.
Other houses have similar stories. There’s a place up near the Flouch where ornaments are flung off the mantlepiece by an invisible spiteful hand, and there’s a ghost that sits in the Dog and Partridge where locals have seen the empty rocking chair going to and fro.
I carry these stories with me when I walk, as I cut off the trail and into the horse field. There haven’t been horses here for years, but we still call it the horse field. I’m not scared of the dark, and I don’t mind walking alone. I could conjure up the horses if I wanted to, two grey cobs breathing into the cold, so docile they don’t move when we approach.
In truth there’s no one about except Harry Benson cutting cabbages, the swipe of his sickle working to cut and trim, cut and trim, the smell of cabbages hanging in the air, his trailer already stacked with enough veg to turn a profit, and if he has a weakness for drink it doesn’t show at this time of day. His face is tanned even in winter and his eyes are narrow, focused on the job. Sometimes he raises his arm and shouts mornin’, other times he prefers to carry on with his work. Either way, he doesn’t straighten his back.
Towards the stream the path is uneven, rutted with boot prints frozen into the mud. An aeroplane passes low, heading for Manchester, its orange lights twitching. Ozric puts his ears back, then lowers his head to sniff the frozen grass. It’s a confidential act, entirely between him and the ground, a moment I’m excluded from. He loses himself in the scent, in the half dark, in the space between the black sky and white snow-sheen.
When we reach the stream, the collapsed stones, which were once part of the boundary, are glassy. For a minute I’m filled with a sense of responsibility, for myself and for the dog. If I fall no one will find me for at least another hour because no one walks here at this time in the morning. There’s the dog too, young and slightly inept. He’s fine-legged, a sighthound cross, bred for speed, not clambering over icy stones. I pull him to heel before we continue. The stream is partially frozen and the thin ice gives under his weight. He bounds on the spot in surprise and his legs splay like a foal trying to find its balance in a world that is utterly new.
Perhaps because I’m a poet, I want to condense this landscape into words, but of course it can’t be contained like that. Language can outline it, but not replicate it. Between here and Manchester there’s nothing except heather and peat bog, the ruins of forgotten farms and cottages, the crumbling walls of a pub that used to stand on the salt route from Cheshire, a route which holds its own ghosts. There are a few trees, mainly hawthorn and elder, but they thin away to nothing. I can see the red warning lights on the masts at Holme Moss and Emley Moor, and the tail lights of cars just starting out on the early commute over the Woodhead Pass.
I’m walking up the last hill now. The pull of the slope on my calf muscles slows me down and the cold makes my cheeks burn. I’m swapping open country for the faint shiver of streetlights, the skatepark’s sculptured curves, a limp innertube hung over a security light. The thin moon is held in place by a couple of stars. Other than that, the sky is still so dark it seems as if daylight will never erase it. To anyone waking up now and looking out of their window, I’m a lonely figure trudging home, the dog beside me, alert, excited by the snow. We’re so small we’re almost nothing, so faint we could be ghosts.

 

 

Old Woman’s Lane

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I don’t normally share holiday snaps, but this one was too good to miss!

I’ve had a couple of small poetry boosts this week. The proofs for Tears in the Fence came through for me to check – two poems, one of which I think of as a ‘menopause’ poem. Is there such a thing? Well, there is now. I can’t give too much away about the poem as it’s not been published yet, other than it references Susan Sontag and uses some found text. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve submitted to that magazine, so I was on cloud nine for a while after they accepted the poems. The other good news is that I’ve had a poem accepted by The Interpreter’s House. Again, I was really pleased as it’s a magazine I enjoy reading. Having said this, I’m aware that I don’t have many poems in reserve now. I haven’t written any new ones  for quite a while as I’ve been typing up my novel (unfinished, but it feels like it’s nearing some sort of conclusion). So, there’s a quiet sense of dread in knowing that particular well is empty, and knowing the only way to fill it is to knuckle down and write some more. Ultimately, I know it’s a case of priorities.
As for Old Woman’s Lane (I feel duty bound to add the apostrophe) it makes me think about how women are classified, and maybe how we classify ourselves, in terms of age. I have to say, it’s something I always try to resist.  I’m more inclined to see myself in terms of what I’m doing, which is probably why I tend to have a few things on the go at the same time. I love to be doing something, walking the dog (he’s just out of shot on the photo) swimming, writing, creating collages and assemblage art boxes. If I’m honest, I do have a habit of taking on too much, and then feeling overwhelmed. My husband is always reminding me that ‘there are only so many hours in a day’. Still, even when I’m panicking that I’ve taken too much on, I also recognise that I’m incredibly lucky to be able to any one of these things.
And now I’m going into the garden to hang the washing out, then some lunch, and after that the supermarket shopping. Tomorrow I’m back at work. I know I won’t have time to do half the things I want to do next week, but I still count my blessings.