Monday, 20 January 2020

Looking forwards

A month's gap since that last post - let's just say the year didn't perhaps get off to the start it might have! But two thirds of January are now behind us, the evenings are gradually beginning to get just a little bit lighter and spring may not be so far off. In fact I saw this daffodil out on New Year's Day and over the weekend I found quite spectacular banks of snowdrops in the hedgerows when I was driving through rural Shropshire. The worst of the winter weather may well yet be to come but signs of better days always cheer me no end.

The other thing that has cheered me no end in the last couple of days has been planning a couple of new projects and arranging two visits to Ty Newydd, the National Writing Centre of Wales, over the summer. Ty Newydd has to be one of my favourite places on earth; I never fail to be inspired by my visits there. For various reasons I've not been able to go for a few years now, so I shall be delighted to get there again. One of the weeks I'll be spending there is dedicated to "Writing Wales" - fortunately with bilingual facilitators as my learner Welsh may not stretch to accommodating anything else quite yet!

In the meantime I'm well into the scripts for a series of programmes for Upbeat Radio which may appear at some stage in book form too. I'm looking forward to restarting "The Writers Room" broadcasts before long as well; the twelve month series which ran 2018 - 2019 was very well received and gave a platform to a variety of local writers. I enjoy the challenge of live radio work - though being expected to master the technology when working with community radio stations I sometimes find intimidating! No major calamities so far but quite a bit of flying by the seat of my pants ...

Wednesday, 25 December 2019

Christmas greetings

After a turbulent year for so many and with an uncertain future ahead, here's hoping for a restful and peaceful Christmas for us all.

Sunday, 22 December 2019

Routines and rituals

I can't remember how many years ago it was that the tradition started. But Christmas hasn't begun for me until I hear Messiah sung somewhere locally - then you can legitimately bring out the mince pies, "deck the halls" etc. and wish people a Merry Christmas. Yesterday evening we went to hear the Three Castles Baroque in St. Mary's Priory Church in Monmouth with four superb soloists and first class instrumentalists - a really lovely evening. Now I feel galvanized into preparing for the coming festivities!

Near Goytre Wharf
But it's prompted me to think about the rituals and routines that we as writers often adopt, the little things we "have" to do to get ourselves going, to focus on the job in hand. I don't think we're obsessional, but I know so many people for whom the same pen, the right chair or the order in which they approach a task makes the difference between achieving a writing objective or not. For me an essential at the planning stage of a new project is a long walk; last Sunday it was along the Monmouth and Brecon Canal as I tried to get to grips with a plethora of ideas that had been forming for some time but refusing to coalesce into some sort of coherent whole. Another definite is getting something mapped out on paper in long hand (be it a long book or a short poem) before I start; the laptop is redundant until I can literally see the shape of what I'm doing.

The evening also started me off thinking about how large Christmas features in so many books and stories - usually, though not always, highlighting the negative! The enforced jollity, the high expectations of family get-togethers that crash to the ground on the first evening - we've all had them; the alcohol-fuelled outbursts, the stifling cocooning from well-meaning parents, the intrusive questioning about a life thankfully being lived out miles away ....  No wonder writers capitalize on the season for dramatic effect in their work. There are, of course, happier accounts; I was rereading A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas recently (it so reminds me of some of my own childhood experiences there) and I love Laurie Lee's tales of carol singing and family Christmases in Cider With Rosie. Let's hope that for all of us this year there are more pluses than minuses in whatever the season finds us doing!

Monday, 9 December 2019

Catching up before Christmas

If it hasn't been looking after someone else, it's been looking after myself since that last post! I hate being ill at the best of times but when life is as busy as it should have been ... Still, I'm back in the land of the living again now, and fortunately was in time for our Women Aloud Christmas lunch, which I would have been very sorry to miss.

But things have got very behind schedule with a couple of deadlines missed and a rush on now to get things done before the festivities are upon us in two weeks time. I'm working on a series of radio scripts for when I resume hosting The Writer's Room in the New Year, to which I'm very much looking forward now. The series is going to look at Welsh life past and present; I've had a very enjoyable couple of days working on a programme about Welsh folk tales, some of which I've known most of my life but several of which I've come across more recently. Fascinating stuff - and a welcome relief from current reality with this week's election business hanging over us! Although how much of that comes into the realm of fantasy ...

Fall asleep on Cadair Idris and you'll wake
up as a poet or a madman!

Monday, 18 November 2019

Life writing - who's it for?

Further to that last post - I've had rather more time to read than I anticipated. For the past fortnight I've been away looking after a very ill family member and late nights and early mornings have provided a surprising amount of reading time - not that I'd recommend it as a catching up strategy!

A couple of the books I've been reading have been memoirs, which, as some of you know, constitute a favourite genre of mine. Perhaps some of you also read Hadley Freeman's article in last Saturday's Guardian - it certainly struck a chord with me. "Some of my most beloved books are memoirs - but there's a subtle art to doing it well," she wrote. She was actually discussing a new publication by Will Self but her premise holds good for any published life writing; "One of the most common flaws in personal writing is forgetting that you're supposed to be writing for the reader's pleasure, not yours."

I'm in no way denigrating personal writing as a therapy when used appropriately; I hold LAPIDUS, the words for wellbeing association, in the highest regard and worked with older people in care for several years to promote healing and health through writing. But recently I've come across much published life writing that, whilst purporting to be for the enjoyment of other people, indulges the writer at the expense of those others. In doing so Hadley Freeman sees those writers as "self-cannabilising." Fortunately the books I've enjoyed over the last couple of weeks have been written by authors with far deeper insight into life in general and writing in particular. Antony Doerr's "Four Seasons In Rome" for example I couldn't rate too highly - do try it if you haven't already.

(And if you haven't seen this month's Snakeskin on-line poetry journal, do give that a try too; I'm delighted to have three poems in some excellent company there!)

Thursday, 31 October 2019

Something missing ...

Life has been a bit out of hand for a couple of weeks - things going on socially, a major writing project underway  - and, of course, housetraining the new addition to the family! But I had a feeling that something was missing in all of it, something wasn't quite right. And, when I thought more about it, the missing item? Reading.

For the last few years I've kept a reading diary, noting down all the books I've read, my thoughts on them, why I've enjoyed them or disliked them, what techniques the writer has employed that have (in my opinion) worked or not. It's been a very instructive process and one I'd certainly recommend if you want to really get everything you can out of a book. But the diary pages have been tellingly empty over the last couple of weeks - apart from reference material to do with my current project, I've read very little indeed. And I don't see how writers can hope to write effectively without being readers too.

So - definitely a need to make time where I've been telling myself I haven't any. In recent years I've set myself writing goals for NaNoWriMo - never a novel I hasten to add, but different mini-projects to feel I'm at least in solidarity with those slaving away over their 50,000 word manuscripts. This year I'll be using the time though to catch up on the books sitting by the bed, waiting in my Kindle - and there's no shortage in either location; half a dozen by the end of November ...

Saturday, 19 October 2019

A busy week

In a week that has seen a significant birthday, I've had much to be thankful for. I was joined for lunch on Tuesday by writing colleagues I've worked with over the past eight years and I was so aware of how much I owe them - for the inspiration they've provided, the constructive criticism they've offered when they've fed back on my work, the encouragement they've given me when the going's been tough. I free-lanced for many years in my professional life; much as I enjoyed the freedom that afforded, it could have been a comparatively lonely existence. However, I was fortunate then to have a network of peers to whom I could turn for support and I now value my writing groups for the same reason.

And, having been dog-less for the past eighteen months or so, this week also saw the very welcome arrival of Carys, a six year old Beagle. Having been a breeding bitch on an Irish puppy farm, I'm so glad to say that she's now in honourable retirement here with us. The poor girl has never experienced home life so certainly comes with her challenges, but she's already taken up residence in my writing room and listens very attentively when I read drafts of work in progress ...

...before snoozing in the sun!