What obstacles come up when you want to write?

One reason I do my free writing groups is that I just love being among writers, chatting about writing and having a good old scribble/type. On Monday the Rose Lane Writers met, about eight of us, in the café of Canterbury’s Waterstones for our monthly writing get together.

People often come to writing groups because they’ve stalled or can’t get started with what they want to write. In June 2018 I discussed this with my Churchill Writers and wrote When the writing flow stops – 12 tips to keep writing. The Rose Lane chat on Monday went slightly differently.

As usual, we scribbled around our obstacles for around ten minutes, with everyone writing intensely for the allotted time. What had they come up with?

Fear was top of the list. Most of all, fear that the words would be sub-standard. That they would not live up to the deathless classic we were all born to write… 83476402_10159024301662835_8504221175214243840_oI mentioned (as I always do) Joseph Grand, the civil servant in Camus’s The Plague whose way of writing a novel was to tackle his first sentence every night, rearranging clauses and sub-clauses, deleting and replacing adverbs and adjectives, but never progressing beyond that first precious sentence.

It was ‘Papa’ Hemingway who said, with characteristic clarity, that ‘all first drafts are sh*t’. The important thing with any first draft is to get it written. Forget about expecting inspiration to hand you perfect pages. Start somewhere, anywhere, and write lots and lots and keep writing. The more words you write, the more choice you have when it comes to picking your best ones. If you wait for ‘inspired’ words to arrive, you could wait your whole life.

There’s a wonderful paradox here. Give yourself permission to stop worrying how perfect your writing is and you are more likely to find really great passages flowing from your fingers. Loosening up your expectations makes your writing a happier place for you and that makes it easier for the good stuff to get to you. That is why a good session of wool-gathering or pot-holing is just as important as the day when you push your chair back and congratulate yourself on writing a page that really zings. It’s all part of the same process.

Years ago, in my drama-writing days, I had so many rejections that for a year and a half, I could barely write a shopping list and was getting thoroughly unhappy. I thought a course might help so I signed onto an Arvon course. Workshop after workshop came and went, all great stuff, but I still couldn’t get more than half a dozen words down, about anything. (Anyone who feels this fear has my sympathy.) My thanks go to dramatist Abi Morgan, tutor on the course, for dispatching me to a room on my own where I was to write without stopping for three full hours. To begin with, I dithered, swore, paced around. Then I sat back down and got on with it. I can’t say that brilliance fell onto my pages, or that the problem vanished but it was a turning point and I’m deeply grateful. These exercises might help you…

The senses exercise

Sit on your own somewhere, anywhere, with paper and pen or your favourite screen. Let yourself become aware of nothing but where you are and what your senses tell you. Scribble what you find, just for yourself.

Check your way through the five senses. Four of them are handy there on your head: eyes, nose, ears and tongue, with the fifth covering all of you as touch and feel. Scribble about what you smell, hear and so on. This is private writing with no perfectionism in sight. The only thing that matters is to keep writing and see what comes.

Are you warm or cold? Become aware of what you’re wearing and what pressures it makes on different parts of your body. Can you feel the air moving on you? Are any parts of your body tense? (I usually write in something like a sprinter’s starting position, forward on the chair, up on my toes.) What is your mood? Is it changing as you sit here?

Most of our senses are more complex than we realise day to day. Even on the most silent beach for example, we can stretch our hearing to catch a thousand sounds from far away. We can zoom in like hawks for precision as we choose.

Feel free to develop this for as long as you like. A time limit of ten minutes might feel comfortable, and it’s always surprising how much can come to us in just ten minutes. If you find you’re writing freely, keep with it as long as you have time.

This exercise can do several useful things for us:

  • It helps us get into the swing of writing, gets us limber. The point is to ditch all thoughts of perfect pages and cultivate a sense that writing is fun, easy and a joyous place to be.
  • It helps us to bring concentration to our writing wherever we are, however distracting and noisy it is around us. We learn to use the distraction, to concentrate on it and write about it and its detail. Then select a bit of what’s going on and let it take you into your writing world. In no time you will be writing happily in your bubble.
  • This exercise can (as Proust showed us) take us on a ramble through our memories, something we can also harness for the good of our writing.
  • The more we develop our ability to be aware of specific details, the better our writing will become. Really notice yourself and the effects your life has on you. If we’re excited, our heart and breathing rates increase, our stomachs might clench, and we might even start to shake. How and in what order do you feel things? Does one effect lead to the other or do they happen independently? What do you taste when you’re excited? We’re looking for unusual little things that the readers might not have noticed much but which they recognise immediately as true.
  • After a few minutes, do you feel this kind of writing taking off on its own journey, that you’re writing something you never thought would come to you today, or ever? This is my favourite aspect of this relaxed writing: the more we do it, the more it can produce a sense of adventure that brings freer, better writing.

The hillside exercise

Imagine that your writing journey is like a climb in the hills. As you reach one peak, you sit and rest your eyes on the horizon and spot an even bigger peak further off. Sitting here with your writing today, you have reached a peak in your writing journey by the sheer fact of writing and learning about your craft.

Write privately for yourself about how far you’ve come. Take some time to enjoy where you are. Remember the days when writing was a longing that wouldn’t go away, maybe it was all talk but you didn’t know where to start. Sea level. Congratulate yourself on how far you’ve climbed, feel in those writing hands of yours how different you feel.

Have a look higher up the hillside at what’s next. Try to describe how that might be and how you’ll feel about it, about what climbing steps could get you there. There’s no need to push this anywhere, just see where it takes you. Rosie Scenic 1Emotions

List all the emotions you can think of, then choose one and write about it for ten to fifteen minutes. You can write fiction, non-fic, drama, memoir, in whatever person or tense you like, whatever works for you, with one proviso: do not name that emotion in what you write.

Rose Lane Writers

We have new dates for our writing group – always on Mondays between 10 and 12 noon: 20 April (skipping past Easter Monday), 11 May, 8 June and 13 July.

Usually from Easter I move a group on to learning tricks of the craft but we still have work to do on plot. So, our April session will be about thrillers, in May we’ll look at love stories and from June we’ll move on to aspects of our writing craft, starting with dialogue. For us writers, a day with writing in it always feels better than one without. If you would like to play with this free writing for longer, you might enjoy this page of writing prompts.

Have a happy time, everybody. May your writing soar…whit evening

 

 

 

Places of Poetry anthology

I’m thrilled to have my poem Carnlough Bay accepted for inclusion in the Northern Ireland section of the Places of Poetry anthology coming up soon. The anthology draws from the fascinating Places of Poetry map co-directed by Andrew McRae and Paul Farley.

Places of Poetry … aims to use creative writing to prompt reflection on national and cultural identities in England and Wales, celebrating the diversity, heritage and personalities of place.

The map is such a great idea. Goes to show that you can think something up (just guessing here) on a rainy Sunday and months later we’re all enjoying a beautiful reality.

Carnlough is a place my parents loved. My mother painted the harbour there in her last years and the pair of them probably dropped into the Londonderry Arms across the road in the course of the day. Thanks go to Anne-Marie Fyfe: it was on a poetry course of hers in Carnlough (with Cahal Dallat) a couple of years ago that I wrote a first draft of the poem. 72205944_10158608512257835_2227087357843079168_o

They gave me flowers!

My Churchill Writers gave me flowers yesterday. I’m full of amazement & gratitude. What a fantastic lot they are.

We had our last session for the term in Churchill College, Cambridge yesterday. It’s a lovely chance to enjoy being together in an atmosphere where our writing selves, so often squeezed out in the rest of our lives, can flourish.

We shared out copies of our wonderful anthology – it’s even more exciting and beautifully written than I remembered – with special thanks to everyone involved in the publication, production of a stunning cover, sub-editing (that’s you, Caity Ross) and the writers themselves. You can order a copy here.

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Lauren, a wonderful baker as well as a superb writer, brought us celebratory brownies which went down beautifully while we all discussed thrillers, using this blogpost of mine as our template. There’s always something new to be discovered whenever you sit down to write. During the exercise where we scribbled about our favourite thrillers, I found myself relishing not only the degree to which Endeavour (the young Morse) is an exile in his world, never quite fitting either with the police or the academic world, but also his, and Wallander‘s, capacity for naivete. Thriller detectives (whether they’re officially police or not) are usually well rounded characters with plenty of quirks. As well as a passion for justice, and courage, do we need them also to have a certain sweetness to accompany us through the dark thriller world? Holmes is not particularly sweet but Watson has it. Something to think about.

Have a happy writing Sunday.flowers

 

 

A perfect day

At Faversham Literary Festival yesterday, poetry took over the whole day at The Limes pub. Poets and poetry do have a tendency to take over, I find, in the nicest possible way and the whole place was a rolling celebration of words, human vulnerabilities and laughter.

We started with a pop-up event featuring Word of Mouth #Whitstable. My guest poets were a wonderful range of published poets who’ve all read at Word of Mouth (originally Words on Waves): Sue Rose, Gillie Robic, Charlotte Ansell, Setareh Ibrahimi, Mary Anne Smith and (briefly) myself. 87174688_10159185181327835_5561464456220770304_oIt’s Mary Anne who looks as if she’s wearing John McCullough’s hat. These are all poets I admire very much and I was honoured to read alongside them. More details about them are hereme reading at Fav Lit 2020Excellent husbanding going  on below, allowing Setareh to relax after her reading. 87200514_10159185181662835_4489400903576584192_oJohn McCullough is an exceptional writer from Brighton, very moving – here he reads  from his excellent Reckless Paper Birds (Penned in the Margins). 85259234_10159185181707835_374045708216434688_oThis is Luke Wright spellbinding us all with a beautifully crafted story that combines poetry, love and personal heartbreak, politics and rant: Remains of Logan Dankworth87273273_10159185181852835_8082300076434653184_oAnother important highlight of the day was an hour devoted to Kent poet Rosemary McLeish who brought her poet friends Clair Meyrick and Barry Fentiman Hall in support. Sorry the photograph is blurry but this was an event of high emotion, generated by all three of these marvellous writers. 85258032_10159185181947835_1252314697173041152_o

Faversham does actually have a ‘Love Lane’ so that was our title for an hour of poetry about love combining the words of Derek Sellen and Gary Studley with Mary Anne Smith and myself again. The breath-held hush while I read from Orion, my ‘classical love story’ published by Lapwing Publications in 2012, will stay with me for quite some time. 

Many thanks to everyone at Faversham Literary Festival for a fantastic series of events and for a complex, wide-ranging festival that hums along like a Rolls Royce and brings such literary excitement to us every year. One more day to go – see you there later!

 

Churchill Writers’ anthology

The Churchill Writers’ anthology is not only published, it has just been catalogued at the Churchill College library. I am bursting with pride!85088216_10159138761222835_47307733325578240_o

I set up the group in early 2011 and have been thrilled to watch writers develop confidence, skills and great friendships. Many thanks to all the writers who contributed and especially to Gervase Vernon who took care of the publishing mysteries and Caity Ross, our sub-editor, for bringing such an excellent final product together. 

In this, the group’s first anthology, you can find romance, mystery, sci-fi, memoir, poetry and an important extract from a forthcoming biography of Churchill College’s first Master, Sir John Cockcroft. You will also discover the range and excellence of the group’s writing.

It’s a wonderful read and you can buy a copy here.84033074_10159138761252835_749386250288365568_o

Off to Glasgow in April

It’s too long since I’ve been in Glasgow and the Medical Humanities ECR Group at the University of Glasgow are kindly putting that right in April. I’ve been asked to read from Six-Count Jive (Lapwing Publications, 2019) at their Public Health, Private Illness interdisciplinary medical humanities conference.

The conference website says: We want to interrogate the public/private distinction within health, medicine and wellbeing, and to examine the many and complex intersections between public health ideals and the individual experience of health, illness, body and mind. There is a call for related creative writing that might interest you – details are on their page here. The deadline is 24 February, 2020.

See you in The Butterfly and The Pig on Wednesday, 8 April. D8913E25-878C-4DAE-8CE1-930633358E27

Faversham Lit at The Hub – special lunchtime event for Word of Mouth #Whitstable 22 Feb 2020

Faversham is rightly proud of its excellent Literary Festival, happening for only the third time next month. As well as the many top writers on offer, the festival is hosting a whole day of POETRY AT THE HUB on Saturday 22 February, 2020. Tickets are £10 for the whole day – just £10! – or £3 for single events. Headliner is marvellous Luke Wright – tickets for his event are £8. Where’s The Hub? It’s at The Limes pub, 59 Preston Street, Faversham, Kent ME13 8PG. 

Between 12 noon and 1.00pm that day, please join me there with an outstanding and unusual combination of poets. They’ve all read at Word of Mouth/ Words on Waves so it’s A CELEBRATION OF WORD OF MOUTH #WHITSTABLE – you can book your tickets here.

Sue Rose‘s poetry is published by Cinnamon Press and Hercules Editions. Her latest, Tonewood (Eaglesfield Editions, 2019) luxuriously combines her beautiful poems about trees with Lawrence Impey’s black and white photographs. In 2009 Sue won the Troubadour Poetry Prize and was Canterbury Poet of the Year in 2008. She is a founder member of Scatterlings, a group of poets formed to give readings in Kent and beyond. She lives in Herne Bay and recently got herself a beach hut to write in.

Charlotte Ansell‘s collection Deluge was a Poetry Book Society recommendation last winter. She lives moored on the Medway and her floating but anchored life is reflected in her words. The Society says: Deluge by Charlotte Ansell, as with her previous work, displays an unerring emotional honesty. Confronting displacement, ageing, therapy, family, as well as social shifts like gentrification, Charlotte draws perspective from the community she lives in and distils it into the stunning exhortations and vignettes that make up this collection. Having moved from boat moorings in London to boat moorings in Sheffield, Deluge nods to the change with poems such as Queen of the North, which opens with “Oh my God Sheffield why/ do you always leave your coat at home?” and Dear Canal, a private note to the waters “still harbouring/ knives, forks and spoons.” 

 Gillie Robic is a Live Canon poet with two beautiful collections and appearance in several anthologies to her name. She has been a professional puppeteer for many years and designs, writes and directs for her company Suspended Animation in London. So, not only does she play marvellously with words, her storytelling is intoxicating too. 

Setareh Ebrahimi’s collection ‘In My Arms’ is published by Bad Betty Press. The Poetry Book Society says this: Spy on stolen moments between the intrepid and humanely flawed figures who populate Setareh Ebrahimi’s world. In My Arms is an assured and seductive debut, dancing to its own musicality. Setareh lives in Kent and is currently exploring the poetic possibilities of new motherhood. 

Mary Anne Smith is well known in the north Kent poetry world. She has been published in many magazines and anthologies, and has won prizes internationally, listed here on her website. She is well known for her beautifully told biographical poems about literary figures like Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf. IMG_2314

 

Word of Mouth #Whitstable on Thursday 6 Feb, 6.30pm

On Thursday 6 February, 2020, 6.30pm, WORD OF MOUTH #WHITSTABLE at the Umbrella Café will be a GREAT BIG OPEN MIC OF LOVE in honour of St Valentine’s Day. Everybody is welcome to read for up to FIVE MINUTES and your time in the limelight can have an Un-Valentine’s flavour if you like. There are so many kinds of love. There’s the family kind…IMG_E0885love of our hobbies and pastimes…IMG_6425 (1) love of favourite places…img_3394and of course the romantic kind.82102471_10159016207752835_4921278780225355776_nWe can explore and honour them all in prose, poetry, non-fiction, drama, memoir and music. You’ll have up to 5 minutes each or two poems, whichever is shorter.

As ever, this is a FREE EVENT and the lovely, licensed Umbrella Café will be open. I look forward to seeing you there – we start at 6.30pm. 

 

Writing workshops at the Faversham Literary Festival

Faversham Literary Festival is incredibly suave and successful for something that’s only in its third year and I am thrilled to have been invited to facilitate two of the FAVERSHAM LITERARY FESTIVAL WORKSHOPS, both on SATURDAY 15 February, 2020 in Faversham’s famous Guildhall.

The festival will provide paper, pens and biscuits but feel free to bring your favourite writing materials if you like. As always, I’m looking forward to writing alongside you (it’s one of my favourite things) and having a happy chat about writing that I hope will help.

To help you find your way through the festival website, here are details of my workshops with booking links:

Get Writing – Keep Writing

Are you longing to write and have no idea where to start? Have you begun, stumbled and would love to find your way again? Published novelist and poet Rosie Johnston runs writing groups in Canterbury and Cambridge and will write along with you while she shares tricks to help you get going, keep going and enjoy your writing.

10–11.30am £15. Book tickets here

The Essence of Storytelling

What magic tricks keep us reading to the very end of a story? Published novelist and poet Rosie Johnston runs writing groups in Canterbury and Cambridge and will write along with you while she shares tips on making your novel, short story or memoir compelling from the first to the very last page.

12.30–2pm £15. Book tickets here

The original of this cartoon hangs in the room where I’m typing now…Golding cartoon

Thank you, Loose Muse Winchester

I’m just back from an excellent time at Loose Muse Winchester. What a welcome they gave me. Sue Wrinch organises these monthly Winchester evenings (a sister ship to  Loose Muse London) where she invites two writers each time and, with an excellent open mic, everyone celebrates women’s writing. It was such a pleasure to be there.
Sue Wrinch hosts beautifully and included three poems from her own new publication, Stained Lips (Morgan’s Eye Press). Sue is so good at expressing heartbreak with economy and beauty.
My fellow feature was Isabel Rogers who has moved from poetry into fiction and read from her second novel Bold as Brass, a laugh-out-loud account of school teaching in the UK with important observations about how music is taught.
Special thanks to Angela who made it to the evening in spite of illness and managed to read her beautiful poem Darling. She took the time to introduce herself and tell me that she is a great fan of my first three poetry books and was looking forward to having the latest. We shared some time talking about how the darkness of abuse never quite leaves us, but that recovery enriches us in ways we could never have imagined.
The crypt of Winchester Cathedral floods often and here is Sound II, one of Antony Gormley’s statues of himself. The statue’s cupped hands hold water reflecting its face and the whole scene interlocks archways, light and ripples in exquisite stillness.
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