I am not a number!

I wrote the following poem after recalling a trip to Portmerion – a magical little village in North Wales where they filmed the cult 60’s series The Prisoner, starring Patrick McGoohan.

I’d rather be a prisoner, than be free in my life now
Jump off this daily treadmill and quit this rat race hell
I waste so many hours pinioned in my car
Tamping down frustration. Not getting very far.
At my destination I swap driver’s seat for desk
This sedentary existence, a never ending test
Of boredom, disappointment, blank faces, déjà vu
A daily re-enactment, that somehow I get through.

Through a million different lenses they watch my life unfold
Know everything about me, even stories I’ve not told
When finally, I do get home to sit and watch tv
The news channel says we’re all doomed, while I choke on my tea
Unable to relax or think, I like awake at night
I know there is a better life just hidden in plain sight

I’d rather be a prisoner
In the village, by the sea
With a penny farthing emblem – that’s where I want to be.

prisoner villageWhere jaunty capes are de-rigueur and parasols abound
Where names are swapped for numbers and maps cannot be found
No traffic jams to vex me, little golf carts take the strain
Hidden tannoys make pronouncements on the likelihood of rain
And everyone is friendly. Be seeing you they say
They tip their hats and stop to chat, exhorting me to stay

But what if I got itchy feet, unlikely as that seems
Would number 2 know what to do to foil my escape schemes?
I could fight my way through undergrowth past statues that revolve,
Run from huge inflatables. They’d catch me and convolve.
After all this exercise I’d reappear anew, all glowing skin and rosy cheeked
I know what I must do.
If number 6 wants out, I definitely want in.
I’d rather be a prisoner still
Than risk becoming mentally ill!

I’d rather be a prisoner
In the village, by the sea.


To write at home or NOT!

Am I more productive at home or elsewhere?  I have been pondering this question since I took a day’s leave at the end of last week and traveled into Manchester.  I had a particular destination in mind when I caught my train that morning.  A new bookshop/cafe has recently opened in the city’s Northern Quarter called Chapter 1 Books (https://twitter.com/chapter1uk) and I was keen to have a look round and also see whether I could get some writing done out of the house.

I’ll hold my hands up.  When I am home I do sit down to write, but not as often as I’d like to.  One of my excuses is time.  I work full time and commute to work by car.  Traveling one way can take between 50 minutes on a very good day to double that and more, during term time or snowy conditions.  The result is that by the time I get home and have cooked something and cleared up, the last thing I want to do is sit down and start to write.

I try to combat this by leaving work in progress where I can see it.  It draws me over to read it; tweak it and crucially add to it.  Its not foolproof, but it works some of the time.

At the weekend when I’m writing, I have to adopt tunnel vision.  If I glance up from my work, I guarantee I’ll spot something else that my conscience tells me I should be doing.  It’s painful.  It really is.  Which brings me back to Chapter 1 Books.  How did I get on?

Surprisingly I started writing before I actually got there, scribbling away in a notebook for thirty minutes on the train.  Feeling ridiculously pleased with myself, I then headed for Chapter 1 – a bookshop; a cafe and a performance space in one.  I ordered a pot of tea and then headed in and found myself a wingback chair tucked into a corner.

chapter1 I dug out my notebook and got started, only breaking half an hour later to order another pot of tea (absolutely essential to my creative process!) and take some photos of my surroundings.  I sat in that bookshop for two hours and wrote a lengthy poem from scratch and in doing so I realised I am much more spontaneous when I am away from home, when the distractions of domestic chores are removed.

chapter 1_2The ambience in Chapter 1 certainly helped.  Surrounded by books and writing booths with the low hum of voices and laughter in the background I felt inspired and motivated to write.  I’d really recommend a visit if you are in the Manchester area.

Back at home I know that it is more realistic for me to try and do the bulk of my writing at home.  To minimise distractions I’m going to invest in a desk so that I have a dedicated area that is just for me.  I’m also going to have a couple of days a month where I take myself off to the local library or a cafe and write there.

Hopefully this strategy will pay off.  In the meantime though, where did I put that ironing board?…

Spoken Words

Last night, I went to my first spoken word event. Spoken Words is a monthly gathering of poets and story tellers that is held at a small café/bar in Buxton called the Tea Chest. I approached the venue with some trepidation as the poster gave limited clues as to how the event would run.

It’s always a bit nerve racking going somewhere new for the first time, especially when you’re on your own. Thankfully any fears I had were unfounded as the attendees were all very welcoming. About twenty people were there, with a real mix of ages and backgrounds.

After initial introductions and drinks the night got started. Everyone got five minutes to read a piece of their original work to the rest of the group. Once everyone had completed a reading we then broke for refreshments (Drink! As Father Jack would say) before doing a second round.

The night isn’t about giving feedback to authors, but there was lots of encouragement on offer with everyone getting applauded for their efforts.

It was also really interesting listening to the different pieces being read out. Personally it gave me an idea of what works and what doesn’t and while I know, that assessment is mine alone, I think it will help guide the length and shape of my future compositions.

I left with a promise that I would return and read something which is good news for my writing practice.  I am far more productive when I have a deadline looming!

If anyone lives locally I would recommend attending especially if you want to share your work and hear different approaches. The next event will be held on Tuesday 1st September at 7.45pm.

The Pleasure and the Pain

Do you remember Back to the Future with Michael J Fox?  Of course you do.  Well unfortunately for me after an amazing week away from it all, it was…Back to Reality.  I know of course, that to experience pleasure you have to be familiar with the opposite emotion, but did it have to run concurrently?  Anyway suffice to say that I have found it quite difficult to rejoin the real world after the bubble that was Lumb Bank.

The good news though, is that I have written more this week than before and have reworked a couple of pieces I started in Yorkshire. I have listened to podcasts on writing; bought books on writing and woken up thinking about what I am writing!  The course and subsequent contacts from the writers I met, have really given me the impetus to get going.

I have even found a Telling Tales night held once a month in Buxton where I’ll be able to go along and listen to others’ stories.  If I can muster the courage I could always read some of my work too.  First night is 4th August, so I shall let you know how it goes.

Inspiration has landed

Yesterday I returned from West Yorkshire and my course at Arvon’s, Lumb Bank.  It was one of the most exciting and challenging weeks I have ever had.  I met 17 other writers, among them my tutors, Emma Jane Unsworth and Stephen May who were incredibly generous with their encouragement; advice and wit.

It was a week of firsts including reading my work aloud to an audience – something I had not thought possible before.  I was forced to work at speed with timed exercises.  Again I was a complete novice, but found the discipline freed me up and allowed me to produce some pieces that I plan on developing further.20150714_080423

I was also introduced to a quote by Ernest Hemmingway.

“The first draft of anything is shit.”

What a freeing statement, especially for a perfectionist like me.  I will be keeping this firmly in mind and on my pin board from now onwards.

More on Lumb Bank to come next time.

Lumb Bank

I’m getting nervous now (and excited).

Next Monday I head off into the unknown.  Well, Hebden Bridge to be precise.

My ultimate destination is Lumb Bank, the former home of poet Ted Hughes.  I have booked myself onto an Arvon Course at Lumb Bank to give myself the push I need to write regularly.  The course promises morning workshops; one to one sessions with tutors; inspiration and feedback from other writers.

Watch this space for news about how I get on.

I have a cunning plan – Part Two

Step 2 of my new found approach is to immerse myself in all things writing so I have taken out a subscription to a quarterly writing magazine called Mslexia.  It is full of features; stories; publication opportunities and course details.  When this drops onto the door mat every quarter it should give me the creative boost I’m after.

I have also started searching the web for inspiration and recently watched a TED Talk featuring Nathan Filer, author of The Shock of the Fall.  Nathan had 7 golden rules that he shared – all of which I have now written up and refer to each day.

Most importantly I have started writing every day.  Correction – that should say I have started ‘trying‘ to write every day.  Sometimes I sit at the table for half an hour and nothing comes, but having set aside the time I hope that with practice and perseverance, I will eventually find it easier.

I have a cunning plan – Part One

One of the reasons I have struggled to write in the past is that I haven’t had a plan. I can still hear my teacher now – failing to plan is planning to fail!  They were right of course, so I know that if I’m going to stay motivated this time, I’ll need to set myself mini goals to work towards and seek out inspiration and encouragement to keep me going.

I know I work best with a deadline in mind so my plan is to look at competitions across the year and select a number to enter.  I then have a deadline.  I have no expectation of winning anything and might not even enter, but I will make sure that I have a completed entry by the closing date, as I want to build up a portfolio of work.  This approach is already bearing some fruit.  I entered the Buxton Poetry Competition in April and wrote my first ever poem.  The theme was time and I entitled my entry – A Pilgrimage

It has been too long
I always think this and mouth the words in silent penance

The swings are still here
Different colours, but the same

Four decades ago
In joyful arcs
This would have been my destination
But not today

Undulating baize flows down towards the Abbey
This once bloody meadow
Now benign

Close by, you wait for me
Your green cocoon
Guarded by forgotten behemoths
Testaments to those who dwell elsewhere now

With whispered greeting
I place my flowers at your feet
And promise solemnly
I will not forget

I was really pleased with this, my first effort.  I think poems are a good place to start in teaching myself that less is more.  I’ve since entered another poetry competition at the end of May.

My aim is to always have a work in progress.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a simple step.” Lao Tzu

It sounds cliched, but I have always wanted to write.  The problem is, I haven’t.  I can’t blame my career in Housing or a lack of time.  The problem, has been me.  Olympic level procrastination skills and a lack of confidence have stopped my fledgling attempts to write every time.  Until now….

Earlier this year, I decided that it was time to push past the obstacles and start writing.  I have started writing poetry for the first time and have also had an article published in the local paper.  To really give myself some impetus I have also booked myself onto an Arvon course at Lumb Bank in July.  The course’s title says it all – The art of beating demons.

This blog will form part of my journey going forward.  I hope to capture the highs and the lows and what works for me and what doesn’t.  If nothing else, I don’t want to regret not having tried to find my voice.  Wish me luck!