Tag Archives: Sapphist Writers

Ramblings…

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I’ve got one or two things to talk to about tonight. Nothing very profound, but still, good things. I’ve been tired lately, I’ve been working so much. At my day job, you understand, at the Galleries of Justice museum, which is many jobs rolled into one. I’ve been a Victorian warder, a Georgian murdress and a servant-whore in the last couple of weeks, as well as working with school groups.

Today was an interesting day at work. The Galleries of Justice also operate the City of Caves, a short distance away. This is a network of caves, accessed through a 1960s shopping centre. The caves, like the hundreds of others beneath the buildings of Nottingham, are manmade, cut into the sandstone rock on which Nottingham stands. It’s the same rock that Nottingham Castle is perched on, and into which the dungeons of my usual haunt at the County Gaol are cut into. They go back as far as medieval times, but found their heyday later, when used as a tannery (where leather was made). Still later, the residents of Drury Hill, an infamous thoroughfare in Victorian and early-twentieth century Nottingham, cut down into the rock to make cellars and extra rooms below their houses. Later still, they were used as air raid shelters during the Second World War. It’s a fascinating place. The history is tangible, and you can see it in layers, like a physical timeline. In one part of the cave system you can look above your head and see the concrete underside of the uncommonly ugly Broadmarsh Shopping Centre. Just below–in places almost touching it–are the remains of the red brick walls of the houses of Drury Hill.

Drury Hill

You can even see some of the old kerb stones. You are practically standing in the cellars of those houses, looking at the steps they cut into the stone, the broken dividing walls that made them into seperate properties. And you see the sandstone itself, the older caves, the medieval well. Just a little further on and you find an old tavern cellar, divided by just a wall from the railway tunnel that brought about the demolition of the tavern itself. The whole place is a mess of chronology and archaeology, fact and fable.

Part of the Tudorl tannery

It’s hard to be a tour guide there. But what a privilege to spend time in such a meeting point of history. So many human stories, over so many centuries, all gathered in some gloomy holes in the sandstone, cowering under the concrete of progress. But still there, persisting, when they could have been filled in and lost. Even Drury Hill, once so notorious and now invisible from the surface, still lingers there. A ghost of the past. These are the things that move me. These are the things that make me want to write historical novels. I want to find the stories, resurrect the ghosts, find their traces in our present and bring the history back into the light. It makes me feel excited about being a writer again.

On a different–but related–topic, I’m excited to talk about a new anthology. My writing group, Sapphist Writers, have been busy for some time writing and collecting poems and short stories. And now we’ve put it all together into an anthology. Even the wonderfully exuberant front cover was a collaborative effort. This collection is all about celebrating the diversity and creativity of a group of women brought together by a love of words. It will be available online (we’re finalising in which formats) through the Sapphist Writers’ blog, from 28th February. That’s the launch night, and also the night that Sapphist Writers are receiving an award at the Nottinghamshire’s Rainbow Heritage Celebration Evening. The anthology contains two of my poems and two short prose pieces, and a whole host of other wonderful pieces. All proceeds will be going to Nottingham Women’s Centre.

So, good things. And writing about them has made me happy, despite my being hormonally grumpy tonight. I’m finding life’s like that at the moment. There’s lots of depressing, agonising, sad and difficult things. They don’t go away. But the bright, happy, exciting, colourful things are always there too. And that’s wonderful!

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Part of the furniture

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I was never a big fan of creative writing exercises. Maybe it was because whenever took part in them at school I always felt as though the teacher wasn’t quite understanding what I was trying to say. Maybe  little arrogant part of me thought I was a good enough writer that I didn’t need to practice. I think a big part of it was the idea that such exercises are somehow overly indulgent. Playing with words just for the sake of it.

But, since I’ve been part of my fabulous writers’ group, Sapphist Writers, I’ve changed my mind. Funnily enough, every time anyone suggests an exercise, my brain freezes and I think “I can’t do that!” If they told me to write a novel over the space of the next month, I could. But experiment with words in a limited amount of time? Create something distilled, something with stands alone, something which follows the rules of the exercise? That scares me.

Which is why I want to share the results of last night’s exercise here. Not that I think my piece of writing is especially wonderful. But because it still amazes me, and makes me feel grateful that I can produce such a piece. That I had more than a blank piece of paper at the end of the 15 minutes we gave ourselves. And because it was such a simple exercise too, to produce what were deeply felt emotions. Once more, I am indebted to Nicki for suggesting the exercise–thank you! 😀

The exercise: If you were a piece of furniture, what would you be? In 15 minutes, write about the piece of furniture you are and the way you feel.

My writing:

I am a desk, of indefinable age. In some lights, I look antique, experienced, as though many have rested weary elbows and pondered here. But look again, and my lines are strikingly modern and, despite the marks on my scratched surface, you will see I am, in fact, quite youthful. With a kindly hand to polish me, I could be like new again. But no one thinks to polish me.

I am strong, but not showy. I don’t have a place for everything, like some of my kind. My drawers can hide secrets, but you cannot always lock them. Sometimes the lock jams and you can’t open them again.

I support people. Paper and pen, laptop, wax crayon and colouring book; I am here, holding firm, for them.

I’ve been sat on, even stood on once to paint the ceiling. I still have the splatter marks to show for that. I’ve had weary heads on folded arms, sleeping peacefully. I’ve been talked across, hidden under. Always I’m here, sturdy, strong, unnoticed. I listen and support and help as much as I can.

But sometimes I wonder. What if I wanted to be noticed? Silent and supportive no longer. What would they do to find my surface skewed, or one of my legs buckled? If my tired wood began to creak and groan and they were forced to hear me?

I worry, for what would they do without me? How would they write cheques and essays, surf the internet, do homework, write letters, draw their pictures? If I started to make a noise, or my weary slanting made their writing irregular. I am useful and necessary and proud of what they achieve because of me. I don’t want to be cast aside as firewood.

But still, I am scarred, paint splattered, and tired. I fear, before long, something will break. And they will hear me.

Have a go at the exercise yourself. Tell me what you think of mine. 😀

Oh and just a reminder…Ghosts of Winter is already available as an ebook here. And the print version will be out this month!!

Perfect Words (exploding poetry!)

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I haven’t written a post about words for the sake of words in a while. I suppose I’m not really the kind of writer that plays with words for their own sake very often. Hence I’m a novelist, not a poet. I tell stories more than I create small exquisite works of art, painted in words. But I do love words…I adore language…And I have written poetry…

At a recent meeting of my writing group (Nottingham’s very own Sapphist Writers) we did a writing exercise which involved “exploding” a poem (and thanks to Nicki for suggesting this one to us…) The rules for this are as follows: Take an already written poem. Write a new poem, using only the words in your chosen poem, adding no extra words. You can repeat the words and you don’t have to use all of them.

The poem I worked with was Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnet 43 (from ‘Sonnets from the Portugese’), also known as ‘How Do I Love Thee?’ I’ve always loved this sonnet, an incredibly strong and passionate poem, by a Victorian woman. I found working with the words a very moving and educational experience. It really forced me to look at the “building blocks” of the poem, the nature of the language, the way it hangs together. And creating my own poem with the same words taught me an important lesson about words too. The same words–with a bit of reshuffling–can convey an entirely different set of sentiments and ideas, a whole different tone. It really shows the writer’s craft for what it is. We all work with the same building blocks–words–but we all create different end products…

I lef the poem in my notebook for a while. It was just a writing exercise after all. But every time I see it, I love it. What I wrote actually has very great meaning to me. So I’m going to share it now.

First, here is Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s orginal:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

And here is my own poem, created with her words:

In my soul and my Being

My old passion I seemed to lose.

By candlelight I strive

To love thee.

My childhood’s faith lost.

With tears, purely

I turn from ideal Grace,

And God,

And choose

To love me

In the sun.

And my breath, my need

Reach the depth, and breadth, and height

Of my old passion.

Now, poetry experimentation over with, back to being a novelist and eagerly anticipating the release of Ghosts of Winter. It’s very soon!!

Oh, and in further news…I just signed the contract for my third novel. Watch this space for more details 😀