Friday, 23 January 2015


Here are some words I came across in my Poem for the Day yesterday. I actually read four, all by George Mackay Brown, a poet born in Orkney in 1921.  The poems are all infused with images of the sea and sea-life.

I had to look all the following up in a dictionary:

Ichor -  Blood (Greek)
Skerry - A reef or rocky island covered by the sea  (Old Norse)
Smirr - Fine rain, drizzle  (Scandinavian)
Haar  - A wet mist or fog (Old Norse)
Selkie  -A seal, or an imaginary sea creature which resembles a seal in the water but able to assume human form on land.

I've always loved the power of a dictionary, and held faith in the goodness of learning to triumph over the evil of narrow-mindedness and sectarianism.

In the light of events in the last three weeks, I've had to re-examine these ideas at length.

In The Guardian this week, writer Neil Gaiman and illustrator Chris Riddell put down their thoughts on the subject. 

"I believe that in the battle between guns and ideas, ideas will eventually win, because the ideas are invisible and they linger, and sometimes they are even true  ....."

In these uncertain times, I do hope that they are both right.  I would not presume to have a more definitive answer myself.

Friday, 16 January 2015

A Poem A Day Keeps the Cobwebs Away

I actually made my new year's resolutions on Monday 12th January, because that was the day that I finally made it out of the post-Christmas morass of cleaning, washing, ironing, using up left-overs, and arguing with hubby about what happened on New Year's Eve (oh, the poison of alcohol! how it loosens tongues and brings out a person's weakest points!)

So first resolution (as mentioned in the post below but one) is to write something every day. I've also set myself various reading goals, which include to read a classic short story every day (I'm currently working through Katherine Mansfield starting at the end of her output, and working backwards), a modern short story every day (John Cheever but working forwards) and to read a poem every day. 

Reading a poem every day is the shortest work in time span, but by far the most interesting.  I haven't actually read any poetry seriously since I was at university, 40 years ago, and had shied away from it, wondering where it would fit in my life.  When you look at the idea as a personal goal, instead of entertainment (which it really is not) or an academically imposed task (which kills it stone dead), the project is extremely liberating.  I open a book of poems at random.  The one I'm using is "The Oxford Book of Contemporary Verse, 1945 -1980", which I've had since 1992, as inscribed on the flyleaf.  I don't recall that I have ever read any of them.  I then pick one off the page to read, and give it a bit of thought. Then I might go back to it later in the day, and often another aspect reveals itself.  I'm just loving it.

And then I spotted Hilary Mantel's tip, item 3 in the list below, so I feel even better about it! 

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Ten Writing Tips From Hilary Mantel

Acknowledgements to Hilary and to : Bridget Whelan

Ten things I’ve learned….since I started writing my first novel, in 1974 (which feels like yesterday). Ten things to think about, or ten rules I try to keep: I won’t call them advice, as I’d hardly presume to give it.

  1. If you see a problem in your narrative, go there fast. Head for the point of danger. It’s where the energy is.

    2. Free up your creativity: Liberate it from your expectations and experience. When you have an idea, don’t assume it’s a novel or story, just because that’s your usual medium. It might be a play, poem, song, or movie. Who knows, it might be best expressed as garden design. Or maybe you should knit it?

    3.  If the rhythm of your prose is broken, read poetry.

    4.  Cut every page of dialogue by one-third.

    5.  If a phrase troubles you, strike it out, and if there seems no alternative, try simple omission. If you are dubious about it in your manuscript, you’ll shrink from it in the printed book.

    6.  If you don’t know how your story ends, don’t worry. Press on, in faith and hope.

    7.  If you see a habit forming, break it.

    8.  Control where the story starts. In a novel, don’t put anything important—like a clue—before “Chapter One.” Prefaces, epigraphs: 90% of readers ignore them.

    9.  When you break through, not everyone close to you will enjoy your success. Accept this.

    10.  Writing for the theatre is the most fun.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

New Year Resolutions

I haven't made a new year resolution since, oh, at least my thirties.  It seemed, as my elder daughter said, that if you wanted to do something you would be doing it anyway.

However she then revealed that she has made a resolution this year.  It is to cook something new every time she cooks.  Not once a week, mark you, but every time!  Although, as she doesn't cook every day, it is not as tiring as it sounds. Last week she told me she had stuck to it so far.  I was impressed.

So today, disappointed by the lack of anything to show for my full retirement last year, I have resolved to write something every day.  Either a post here, or a letter, or something for my weekly class.

Here's my first piece, and it reflects the jaded post-Christmas tensions in a household.

"Marriage is a scaffolding sustained by a complex web of mutual misunderstandings.  If you press too hard, you risk pushing your foot through the gossamer floor."