Sunday, 21 August 2016

Weekend roundup

Sunny Staithes already seems a long time ago
I've only been back at work for a week and it's as though I've never been away. All my freelance work was sitting there waiting for me - which will be nice when payday comes around, but was something of a shock to the system. Even so, I still managed a couple of coffee/lunch dates, so it's not all been nose to the grindstone and shoulder to the wheel.

I also dropped into the Weaving Words writers' group. I can't often make this, because they meet on Wednesdays when I'm usually teaching yoga. It was nice to see Kezzabelle and the gang. We sat in her garden until it went dark, wrapped up in blankets and illuminated by candles and lanterns: all very bo-ho!  We began with a prompt -  'camping', 'strong women' and 'encouraging words' - and it always amazes me how varied the results are when we come to read them out.

Also on the writing front, I made it to the shortlist of the Words With Jam First Page Competition, but didn't win.  Oh well, back to the drawing board. Congratulations to the winner, Annnie Walmsley, and there were a few names I recognised on the shortlist, too, so well done us!

This writing lark is clearly in my blood. My mum has recovered from her recent malaise and has a little something in the local paper's letters page. She has also heard from the Daily Telegraph that one of her contributions to its letters page will be used in its next book. Honestly, there's not stopping her!

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Staring at the sun

I've had a lovely couple of weeks off, mooching and walking and eating and sleeping and, of course, reading. I sat and read Stephen King's On Writing in a whole day, which was bliss. Another of the books I've seen off was lent to me by one of my yoga students. We have parents of a certain age and were musing about life, the universe and everything - and death. The book is Staring at the sun: overcoming the dread of death by Irvin D Yalom. No, don't click away! It's one of the most optimistic books I've read for ages. So anyway, in amongst the  philosophising and coping strategies, there were a couple of snippets that I thought might be of interest to my writing friends: 

'Montaigne suggested that a writing studio have a good view of a cemetery in order to sharpen one’s thinking.' I once had some crystal therapy (don't judge me) in a room that overlooked a churchyard. The lady giving the treatment loved the view. Make of that what you will.

‘Indeed, the desire to be of value to others is largely what keeps me pecking away at my keyboard long past the standard time for retirement.’  Pecking away: isn't that a lovely image?

‘The act of writing itself feels like a renewal. I love the act of creation from the first glimmering of an idea to the final manuscript. I find the sheer mechanics to be a source of pleasure. I love the carpentry of the writing process: finding the perfect word, sanding and burnishing rough sentences, tinkering with the tick-tocks of phrase and sentence cadence.’  Stephen King says something similar. Again, a lovely image, don't you think? 

The other thing that struck me as an editor is that Yalom twice refers to the subtitle of his book as 'overcoming the terror of death', a word he deliberately chose in favour of anxiety. I wonder if his publisher changed it to dread without asking him. 

Friday, 29 July 2016

Celebrating the simple things

On Monday evening, I went to a session on mindfulness led by the lovely Sarah Fereday from One of the many simple ways she suggested bringing ourselves into the moment was literally to stop and smell the flowers. She gave the example of some beautiful yellow roses she had passed on her way to work that brightened her journey (and took her mind off an impending dull meeting).

With that in mind, today's Celebrate the Small Things is focused on the lovely flowers in my garden.
At the moment I have a supply of self-set sweetpeas that come back year after year. I don't get many blooms off them, but hey: they're free! We also have some glorious dahlias, bought on a whim from Wilkinsons. We didn't know what colours they were going to be, so I'm delighted that one of them is a vibrant purple/pink: my favourite.

And in an uncharacteristically creative moment, I've potted up a fuchsia and a trailing something in an old teacup!

I'm taking a couple of weeks off from tomorrow. Well, not a complete break, because I'm self-employed and therefore permanently anxious. However, my online presence might be reduced.

Have a lovely weekend folks, and I'll be back soon.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Making the most of a lit fest

Everyone has their own plan of attack when they go to a literary festival (or any other festival, for that matter). This is what works for me.
  1. Go by yourself. No, really, this is by far the best way, because you don't have to consider anyone else's feelings. There's none of that Are you ready for coffee? or What do you think about trying the politics tent? If you want to talk to someone, there'll be plenty of folk to engage with.
  2. Sign up for advance notice of who's speaking, because the best and most famous speakers (not necessarily the same thing) will be booked up quickly and often on the day the tickets are released.
  3. If you're planning to queue up for a signed copy, buy your book before the talk so you can be near the head of the line.
  4. Go with an open mind and buy a ticket for at least one speaker you've never heard of, or at least whose books you've never ready.
  5. Check your timings! There is usually a reasonable changeover between speakers, but make sure  you haven't left yourself five minutes to get to the other side of town. Chances are that latecomers won't be admitted.
  6. Leave at least one session free so that you can book it on the day. Yes, this means you will probably end up in a sparsely populated tent listening to someone talk about something obscure, but this may well turn out to be your lightbulb moment.
  7. As well your notebook and several pens, take a bottle of water and a few (discreet) snacks. It will save you wasting valuable time queuing for an overpriced wrap.
  8. Explore the grounds/town. There are often pop-up sessions going on in odd corners of the venue. I've come across a lovely poetry readings, street performers, string quartets: all sorts of things and all for free. Don't forget to throw some money in the hat.
  9. Just sit. Watch the world go buy. Assimilate what you've heard and seen. Make a few notes.
  10. Become a volunteer at the festival. You will be exhilarated, stimulated and exhausted in equal measure, but boy: you'll have a great time.
Have I missed anything?

Friday, 22 July 2016

Something to celebrate (up to a point)

It seems that the harvest has begun in earnest. This is obviously a cause for celebration, but it is also a signal to roll up my sleeves and pretend I'm a housewife. Back in early spring, I was allowed to help put the netting over our fruit bushes. We've had too many seasons when they've gone from 'nearly ready' to 'ravaged by the birds' overnight. I don't know, then, why I was surprised when Himself fetched up in the kitchen on  Sunday afternoon with pounds and pounds of blackcurrants and redcurrants. 

'Lovely,' I said. 'I was wondering what to do this week.'

Since life is too short to take off all the nibbly little stalks to make proper jam, I've opted for jelly, which took care of about 6lb of fruit. That's plenty, given that while clearing a space for the jars I discovered some of last year's preserves that we still haven't eaten. 

We've eaten some of the new crop just as they were, cooked down and stirred into Greek yoghurt (and, yes, served with ice-cream, too). The rest are now bubbling away enthusiastically in demijohns on their way to becoming wine. They are in the corner of my 'office', making a reassuring bloop-bloop-bloop.
Cherry tomatoes are on their way

We've started digging up potatoes, as well, and onions and garlic are hanging in the shed to dry. Any minute now we shall be gathering courgettes and beans, and the tomatoes won't be far behind. Lovely stuff!

Have a great weekend, folks. 
Celebrate the Small Things  is a blog hop. Visit Lexa's Blog for the rules, and then post every Friday about something you're grateful  for that week. Originated by VikLit) and co-hosted by L.G. Keltner @ Writing Off The Edge and Tonja Drecker @ Kidbits Blog.  


Thursday, 21 July 2016

Could you be Birmingham's next Poet Laureate?

Writing West Midlands 
Well, no, I couldn't - but could you? I've received the following from Writing West Midlands.

We’re working with Library of Birmingham to find two talented poets to become Birmingham’s next Poet Laureate and Young Poet Laureate. No formal qualifications are required. If you have the gift of poetry, share it with us. If you live, work or study in Birmingham, you can apply for these honorary posts. You have until 12 August 2016 to submit your application.
The two-year role has a small budget to commission poems and fund activities. This might include writing poems to commission, performing poetry, running workshops, getting involved in cultural events and working with the city’s many poets and poetry groups.
To apply, candidates must submit two poems – including one about Birmingham - along with a personal statement outlining what they would like to achieve with the role.

There is more information at: