Writing the Rural: Sparrowhawk, by Roy Marshall

close up of eagle
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

Last week, I was lucky enough to have a ringside seat at a bird murder. I saw a sparrowhawk take a jackdaw in my neighbour’s garden. It took me completely by surprise. I was padding past the window in my early morning routine when it happened. I did not see the hawk appear, I saw instead, a black mass of feathers hit hard and fast and pinned to the grass like a magic trick. I didn’t see much after that as it took the jackdaw into the shadows, behind the neighbour’s greenhouse, dragging it as it kicked and screamed and fought, really fought back. What I did see was the reaction of the other birds in the garden and in the surrounding trees and roof tops. There was a racket: the herring gulls were circling, dive bombing, crying in a raucous cacophony of excitement or warning. The other jackdaws, whom I know well as they live on my roof, were on the telephone lines around the site of the attack and would drop down, glancing off the sparrowhawk’s back then dive back up, cawing and crying to each other and into the air. Other, smaller birds looked on under the constant circling canopy of seagulls, jackdaws and now crows. After a while I could see the movement was becoming calmer. I could no longer see the shadowed flaps of the jackdaws wings and assumed that the sparrowhawk had killed it. They eat their prey in situ, wings outspread above the corpse. The seagulls had moved in, but were no longer dive bombing. The jackdaws had given up and moved to the roof tops to watch, their caws became quieter and directed at each other. They were huddled. It would be easy to say ‘grief’ and perhaps this was the case.  Two magpies turned up and got closer and closer, rasping and hopping through the branches of a nearby tree, several more carrion crows arrived and they too got closer, spiralling down, into the trees and then dropping onto the grass. The Jackdaws had something to say about the arrival of the crows, there is no love lost between the resident crows and the resident jackdaws. It was clear that the killed jackdaw was now a buffet, and everyone wanted some. I think at this point the sparrowhawk had had its fill anyway, and left them to it. And then, calm, quiet, a slight lull perhaps, in which I imagined the birds gathering themselves after seeing an accident, and then the world moved on.

Sparrowhawks are quite a common bird of prey. But that isn’t to say they are background, they are uncommon when witnessed up close. I’m looking at a picture of one now, in my RSPB Wildlife of Britain book. Everything about them is focused, quick, right down to the small black pupils in a disk of bright yellow, the brows ridged for aerodynamic, precision flight. Short wings, long tails, long legs, they are an incredible bird. Look at this:

Sparrow Hawk Flying

After the event I went looking for poems specifically about sparrowhawks. The poet, Roy Marshall stepped forward, after I did a shout out on social media, and in his gentle, self deprecating way, offered up the poem below, fresh formed and waiting to be appreciated. I’ve known Roy for a while, the poetry world is small, I follow his career and know him as a poet of incredible, quiet talent. His poems are refined, careful, precise. His poems feel like they are being crafted with a jewellery makers kit, they are delicate, perfectly complete, the sort of poems that make you look and look and look to absorb the thing that he is seeing. I’m reading his collection The Great Animator published by Shoestring Press at the minute, which you can buy directly from Roy (follow him on twitter here)  and it is beautiful. I’ve only recently fallen in love with poetry again, I’d abandoned it after finishing my new collection, which has seen delays in publication, but this sort of poetry, the beating circulation of language, is the thing that has drawn me back. I am grateful for poetry during the pandemic and grateful for poets who generously offer up their words. Here is the brand new poem by Roy, which is something special:

Sparrowhawk

I’m coming out of the house
into the sort of quiet, clean air
I remember from a nineteen-seventies childhood,
and spread-eagled on the hawthorn
is a Sparrowhawk, her out-stretched wingspan
surprisingly broad. She is sunbathing
maybe, or waiting for the flit of sparrows
from the heart of the hedge, brown contour bars
rippling down through the cream
of her chest and neck, a flash of yellow leg
visible underneath,  as she turns to lock me
with bright citrine eyes; she, caught
in the act of her luxuriant sprawl, and me,
awkward in my trespass, straddling the threshold.

What do I like about it? It captures the ‘commonness’ of this incredible bird and makes it uncommon by placing it within the context of an ordinary event: leaving the house to go somewhere we never find out. It’s directly and precisely narrated, present tense, we’re immediately in the thick of it, and there is no fanfare, no build up, no applause, we step into the scene with the narrator, into the

…clean air
I remember from a nineteen-seventies childhood,

I like that line. It says something about wild childhoods perhaps, I’m thinking of Kes and playing out in the fields and poking things with sticks; that sort of thing. There’s also a beautiful internal, unobtrusive rhythm to it, a natural rhythm, and the whole thing is contained within fourteen lines. Is it a sonnet? Maybe a flexible, organic sonnet, there is a turn around line eight when the poem’s perspective turns from the narrator observing the bird to the bird observing the narrator. This is what I like about Roy’s work, it is deceptive, it is so well crafted that you don’t notice the craft in it, which is how it should be. Then those final two lines, that observed/observer point of view reenforced at opposite ends of the spectrum in a mirror of physical positioning: the narrator is straddled, awkward, but the bird is luxuriously sprawled.

What a journey the poem is.

I have some sponsored places left on the new course Walking and Writing which starts on the 1st of May, it’s officially fully booked now, but I have sponsored places still to fill. If you are facing financial difficulties drop me a line.

And don’t forget you can subscribe to my shiny new youtube channel too: You Tube

 

Until next time, stay safe, take care

 

x

Ten

agriculture countryside crop cropland
Photo by Jahoo Clouseau on Pexels.com

 

For my daughter, on what would have been her tenth birthday. We love you. We miss you. Even in the pandemic we do not forget you. x

Ten

 

My darling, this year we must

commune at a distance.

 

I can’t go to your grave

and fetch you back to me

with ritual and gifts;

 

can’t carry you home

in a sling of blue sky

and cherry blossoms.

 

You remain resolutely

earth bound, despite

my incantations.

 

In the early hours

I pace the house bare foot,

looking for a sign from you

 

but find only the penny whistle

of a blackbird,

the gentleness of pigeons on the sill.

 

Where is the ten year old

you would have been?

 

For a moment I feel you

beside me at the window.

My skin goose-bumps

 

against your red hair.

We stand stock still

to watch a Sparrow hawk

 

kill a jackdaw in the garden.

Then you are gone. Slipping

further away than ever

 

folding the earth beneath your feet;

away across the heath, the heather.

 

 

 

Writing the Rural: The Horses, by Ted Hughes

photo of trees in forest
Photo by Jose Vega on Pexels.com

 

I am thinking of a walk I took in the last of the late summer of 2019. I am reminded of it by the sound of the trees that I now hear every morning from my new office on the other side of the house. These are big, graceful, beautiful trees which are clustered along one edge of a field and horse stables, land belonging to a farm in the village I live in. My morning routine is an early one, i like the dream time at the beginning of the day, when my brain hasn’t settled itself into worry and routine: meditation, journal writing, coffee, work. The first thing I do each day is to pad, barefoot, into the new office, my writing room, and open the window for the breeze and the trees. I feel I breathe better around trees. I don’t think it’s the extra oxygen or anything to do with any sort of chemical reaction, I think it’s the sound. I have loved the sound all my life. And today I am reminded of a Ted Hughes poem because I am reminded by the trees, by the sound of the trees outside my writing room. I am reminded of a walk I took last summer when it was not something unusual to seek out the landscape and the feel of muscle burning, feet gripping, the push and climb of walking. I had driven to a spot I know, somewhere I came across while I was a professional dog walker. I had seen a sun rise here once and wanted to capture it with my camera. It was early, not even six. There was just me. I slipped out from among the houses of the nearby village, where I had parked the car, and climbed a steep slope to the woods. I did get the picture I was looking for: the sun rise, I got it coming over a hill which was smoothed to white with morning mist, the scene broken by rolls of hay bales.

I entered the woods with reverence for this quiet, creaking place of unseen wings flapping, and the breaking of dry twigs by who knows what. There were deer here, I’d seen them before, and I’d seen a sparrow hawk here too. The sun filtered silently down. Though I tried to walk quietly, it was impossible not to crunch and scrape over the dense detritus of the forest floor. I must have alerted all animals in the area to the fact I was there. I didn’t see much in the way of wildlife except the roe deer.  This was a plantation forest, neat, except where it wasn’t. I don’t know the first thing about plantations, but at some point the straight, chalky path fell away and the trees were different, straggling, their roots exposed. There is something watchful about forests, about trees. After doing quite a lot of research around them for a course I ran last year, I genuinely believe they are watching, communicating with each other, testing the air for chemical danger signs. In the darkest part of the forest there was a dead bird, it had once been a pigeon, but now it was just wings, a rib cage, not much else. It lay among the soft detritus of the forest floor. I don’t know why I would remember it so keenly except that its coloured had muted and it seemed to be becoming the forest, as if through osmosis it was being absorbed back into the earth. That image arrived in one of my own poems years later. At some point I sat down on some exposed roots and inhaled the smoky, earthy smell f the trees.  I closed my eyes and listened to the slight movement that had begun as a breeze began to lift from the coast. I breathed it in. And then I saw the deer. They were doing nothing, and by that I don’t mean that they were stood still and listening, they were doing nothing: not sleeping, not resting, they were laid delicately on their knees, or stood by the trees staring into the middle distance, as if they were at the side of a stage waiting to go on. They were not aware of me, I must have been down wind and I realised that the way I had always seen animals was really the way they were reacting to me, I realised that I had very rarely seen a roe deer simply being.  It reminded me of this Ted Hughes poem, which I am reminded of today as I watch the trees from my window, because poetry speaks like that, doesn’t it, in ripples.

THE HORSES, TED HUGHES

I climbed through woods in the hour-before-dawn dark.
Evil air, a frost-making stillness,

Not a leaf, not a bird-
A world cast in frost. I came out above the wood

Where my breath left tortuous statues in the iron light.
But the valleys were draining the darkness

Till the moorline – blackening dregs of the brightening grey –
Halved the sky ahead. And I saw the horses:

Huge in the dense grey- ten together-
Megalith-still. They breathed, making no move,

With draped manes and tilted hind-hooves,
Making no sound.

I passed: not one snorted or jerked its head.
Grey silent fragments
Of a grey still world.

I listened in emptiness on the moor-ridge.
The curlew’s tear turned its edge on the silence.

Slowly detail leafed from the darkness. Then the sun
Orange, red, red erupted

Silently, and splitting to its core tore and flung cloud,
Shook the gulf open, showed blue,

And the big planets hanging-
I turned

Stumbling in a fever of a dream, down towards
The dark woods, from the kindling tops,

And came the horses.
There, still they stood,
But now steaming, and glistening under the flow of light,

Their draped stone manes, their tilted hind-hooves
Stirring under a thaw while all around them

The frost showed its fires. But still they made no sound.
Not one snorted or stamped,

Their hung heads patient as the horizons,
High over valleys, in the red levelling rays-

In din of the crowded streets, going among the years, the faces,
May I still meet my memory in so lonely a place

Between the streams and the red clouds, hearing curlews,
Hearing the horizons endure.


I had to get my battered old copy of The Hawk in the Rain out to find this poem again and to help me to re-experience the first time I read it. This was one of my starter poems. One of my guiding poems which helped me see that there was room for me in the poetry world. I didn’t really know who Ted Hughes was when I found this collection on a shelf in my local library. But reading it opened something in me. I could feel my own connection to land and nature in it. How wonderful is a poem, that it can be a box in which so many connections are stored. Ted Hughes is not everybody’s cup of tea. It’s difficult to separate the personal and the artistic, but I don’t think I’ll ever stop loving his work. Why do I love this poem? You can spot a Ted Hughes poem a mile away, and this is definitely one.  I like the space in it, all that white around the (mostly) couplets. And look at those line lengths, the poem is moving in and out and in and out. It’s alive, it’s breathing. There’s a rhythm in it, and a great deal of word repetition. One of the things that people critiquing poems pick up on as a negative is the same word used more than once in a poem. But here Hughes knows the power of repetition, and that there is no one rule that fits all poems. This repetition is bold, it works:

making no moves/making no sound.

Frost making stillness/ a world cast in frost.

It’s all about the rhythm, and Hughes poems, especially from this collection, which is early Hughes (1957) are very rhythmic. He is tapping into the oral tradition here, using it, utilising it, building around it and playing with the imagery of gods and myth and magic. He places imagery like monoliths or henge stones. The language itself is also big, gripping, powerful; I want to say masculine, but what is masculine, what is feminine? It’s almost biblical, this narrative in which al things are given personality, power. I think my favourite line of the poem is this:

The curlew’s tear turned its edge on the silence.

Isn’t that just the most beautiful, enigmatic, atmospheric line? I would strongly suggest you read this whole poem out aloud, slowly, letting the words rest on your tongue. Go on, do it, you won’t be disappointed.

Jeanette Winterson says: a poem is an act of memory. 

Ain’t that the truth. Look at those last four lines, the way the poem circles around and comes back to what is known about life by the narrator.

When I think about Ted Hughes poetry I think of him as being a bridge between the language of the wild world; which is movement and blood and bone, and the language of communication; which is emotion and experience.

Now I am away to re-read The Hawk in the Rain, with the window open and the trees moving in the breeze.

 

Stay safe and don’t forget I am still taking bookings for the new online course starting 1st May 2020: Walking and Writing

 

 

 

New Course: Walking and Writing Starting 1st May 2020

empty wooden pathway in forest
Photo by Pille Kirsi on Pexels.com

It’s that time of the month again, time to launch the next online course and I have a treat for you, another brand new course to keep you writing through lockdown.

I said this last time, and since the situation prevails, I will say it again:

Unless you are already living as a hermit in a cave, you will be aware of the current pandemic of Coronavirus, COVID-19, which is forcing events to shut, book launches to be postponed, festivals to be put on hold and regular meetings and gatherings to be temporarily closed. Everybody knows that public health must come first, but it doesn’t stop it from being a little bit gutting, especially for people already isolated, who rely on getting to small gatherings to stay sane! From an economic prospective it’s a bit of a disaster too, especially for the self employed and those in the creative arts who rely on community engagement for their living.

Keeping this in mind, the fact that more people will be worried about their income and there will be less money for entertainment, I’ve decided for this course to have one single low price of £20. You can still sponsor a place for someone who is going to be lacking that £20, and please, please do, if you can!

Because I am expecting a larger group than normal I am briefly reverting back to a closed facebook group model, rather than the closed website model until I have ironed out the glitches in the new model (it does look like a new bells and whistles website will have to be created specifically for the course now, which is no bad thing, but will have to wait until the financial fall out of Covid19 is over and done with!) which means no live chat nights on this one, which is a shame. However,  every course I have run so far has had fantastic, warm groups – each one slightly different – that have taken the courses so far. And there is always lots of chat and encouragement on the facebook page.

What’s Walking and Writing About?

The course will begin on 1st May 2020 and end on 31st May 2020. Over the four weeks we’ll be talking a virtual walking tour of four different locations and using that walk as our inspiration to write. We’ll be visiting cities, forests, nature parks and towns, we’ll be looking at nature, community, physical health, mental health and how landscape and geography influence and inform our work and the works of the writers we’ll be using as examples. Although the examples used are mostly (but not all) poetry, we’ll be working in poetry, fiction and creative non fiction and you’ll be encouraged to push out of your comfort zone and try new was of writing in a safe and friendly environment.

Do I Need to be Physically Able to Leave the House for this Course?

No! If you are able to leave the house for your daily exercise you’ll be able to marry the prompts and notes into your daily walk, but the idea of the course is to create virtual ways of visiting nature and exploring the world.

How Will It Work?

Once you have signed up, you’ll receive a welcome note and a link to the closed Facebook group. You do not have to join the facebook group at all, lots of people don’t, but in my experience it has been a real bonding experience – open, friendly and encouraging. Within the closed group people are able to share their work, and post comments on the work of others. You can join and not post anything, or you can lurk quietly if you want. Everyone is different, and what creates anxiety for one person may not for another, so there is no pressure. This is a no pressure environment where the purpose is to get writing, not necessarily to produce a finished piece of work. You’ll be sent a set of notes exploring the week’s theme at the beginning of each week, and every day you will be sent a new writing prompt aimed at stimulating your creativity and getting you to set pen to paper, fingers to keyboards and get writing in a supportive and encouraging environment. The courses are suitable to all levels of experience, from complete newbies to experienced writers wanting a little motivation.

How Do I Sign Up?

Simply go over to my shop and pay the fee. If the email that you want your materials and prompts sent to is different to your PayPal address, drop me a line at wendyprattfreelancewriter@gmail.com. Once you’ve paid you’ll receive your welcome letter and facebook group link and you will receive your first set of notes and first prompt on May 1st, direct to your inbox. When you join the facebook page you’ll be asked if you have paid for the course. If your facebook name is different to that used on your PayPal, let me know as I marry up names to PayPal in a spreadsheet and I don’t want to inadvertently block you from entering the group! That’s it.

Places are limited, and I am expecting this course to be very busy, so please don’t wait and be disappointed!

YOU CAN SPONSOR A PLACE

Even if you aren’t interested in doing the course, you can still sponsor a place and give a leg up to a writer who has hit hard times and can’t justify the disposable income for a creative writing course. If you ARE doing the course, you can also sponsor an extra place.
Simply visit the shop and choose the appropriate button!

I look forward to having you on board!

Stay safe

Wendy

x

 

On being an amateur

What a beautifully honest blog. xxx

Kathryn Anna Marshall

Amateur comes from the Latinamator‘lover’, fromamare‘to love’ – one who does something for love. The modern definition is less wonderful, describing an amateur as a person who is incompetent or inept at a particular activity. Curious how it is no longer enough to do something just because you love to do it. The response I hear most when I tell people I write is “ooh are you going to be the next JK Rowling” –I scuttle away from the subject, and feel ashamed that no, I haven’t made a great deal of money from having work published, nor do I expect to. Those who know me know that making pots of cash has never been a driver for anything I do – I’m not an aspirational type of person and have no wish to be anything other than happy. I make a little money from writing…

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Writing the Rural: Pippa Little

 

shallow focus of sheep
Photo by Leigh Jeffreys on Pexels.com

These are such strange times. It’s difficult to know how to approach blog writing, and social media engagement. I’m about to start a YouTube channel too, which will be aimed at helping writers who might have come to working in the arts from backgrounds in which it’s difficult to get a leg up – working class folk, people living in rural areas, people who didn’t go to university, or people who have come late to their writing careers, that sort of thing. It all feels strange though, to be carrying on with life, to be aiming for goals and aspiring to move career and business forward. It feels wrong, but I’m not sure what is the right thing to do, what is the right approach to take. So many people are facing such intense emotional and physical pain and danger, it feels selfish to be living a relatively normal life. But what else can one do? We must all do what we can do, help where we can, do what we can and, I guess, not lose sight of the end, the other side, the place at which we are going to emerge.

And so I come back to the blog. While I have been working out a plan for the YouTube channel I decided to rejig the blog and make a plan for that. I want it to reflect the research that I am doing now, the poetry and prose that I am coming across and I want to use it as a platform to explore the rural writing experience and the validation of writing about the countryside, which includes landscape, nature and the lived experiences of people who exist within a rural setting.

I am a rural writer, working class. My work, even the poetry and prose that is very personal, is informed by the place that I live, the world that I live in. I want to explore that further in terms of roots, ancestry, pyschogeography, art, writing, writers and poetry, of course poetry.

There is a tendency for the rural experience to be seen as either pastoral or primitive, or both. The experience of rural living is often devalued because it is not metropolitan and the arts, and funding for the arts, is often centred around cities and bigger towns. This in turn leads to the idea that art based around or informed by rural life, landscape and or nature, is often (not always) seen as ‘less than’ rather than ‘different but equal to’ writing based on the personal or the urban. I want to challenge that in my own writing and my work. It’s important to me that the rural experience is recognised and validated and I want to use my blog to talk about and explore this further. This will be a regular blog, on a Friday. There will be occasional blogs that are more personal in nature too, and maybe the occasional ‘how to’ blogs, but the backbone, I hope, will now be about the work and the research I am doing.

And so, to my first ‘show cased’ poem, Coalend Hill Farm, 1962 by Pippa Little. You might remember a review I wrote of Pippa’s collection Twist, which I wrote for Northern Soul a while ago. Here it is, in case you want to revisit it: Twist Review

Coalend Hill Farm, 1962

I don’t remember the Beanley orra-man,
his boots down the lonnen black as a wet day, his caravan
under a butchered elm’s imaginary wingspan,
rusted, cantankerous: ‘all that can’s been done’,
my mother said, then, low, ‘he’s God’s own one’.
I can’t recall his singing of the Kingdom come,
or whispering from underneath his hands
‘if my soul the Lord should take’, or how he crept away
like Billy Blin, awake long hours before the blackbirds, eager to begin
carving off a dead lamb’s skin to roll one barely-living in
under a dazed ewe, force tongue to tit, tit to tongue :
mole-blind he’d move, from east to western sun, more whole
in his Gomorrah than the doucest thing, but slow,
immortal, helpless as his beasts to conjure up tomorrow.

 

What do I like about the poem? Well, firstly, it’s a sonnet. And I like to see writers using structure to enhance the power of the poem. Structured forms are challenging, they’re fascinating in their own right, like trying to solve a puzzle, but at the end of the day, the structured form is a tool to enhance the content of the poem. So what’s that sonnet structure doing here? It’s keeping the content contained, it is ensuring that nothing is wasted, the limitations of the form are condensing the imagery. And it’s a kind of love poem, not quite nostalgia, but something closer to appreciation.  I feel that the structure is containing the poem in a metaphorical sense too. It’s mirroring the character, the orra-man who is also a contained person, contained within his own personality, his solitary caravan, his religion. The turn at around line eight or nine is deftly done too, it see-saws the poem, turning it  so we are looking up at this man, rather than down at him. Clever stuff.

There’s also an unapologetic use of dialect. That first line opens up so purposefully with ‘orra-man’. There were three words in total in this poem that I had to google. That’s on of them. And I am richer for it. Too often colloquialisms, dialect and non english language are seen as barriers to accessibility, but I don’t think this is the case. We have the world at our finger tips. We are enriched by the experiences and language of others. Not everything should be a walk in the park, some things should be a joyful climb into another world. I love how this poem does this, it makes it stand out, it defines itself, places itself in a region, a geographical  locality and it doesn’t say ‘I hope you understand what I’m saying’ it ‘says: ‘This is my experience, this is my language, this what is how I say it.’

What else do I like? I like that perhaps I haven’t seen everything, or understand everything that the poet has put in here. The narrator begins with ‘I don’t remember theBeanley orra-man’ before going on to describe him in depth. How can the description be so full if the memory isn’t there? I don’t think I want to know. Part of why this strangely dark and unnerving poem works is because we don’t know. Again, we, the readers are given space to decide, to imagine. We’ll interpret it differently, we’ll be part of the conversation, the exploration that good poetry ensures.

There are other things I love about this poem. I love good imagery and wow, this has some fantastic images. The line that includes : under a butchered elm’s imaginary wingspan,

is perhaps my favourite. It is an incredible, earthy, grounded image. ‘Butchered’ used in this description is setting something up too, isn’t it. Something real and bloody, a signpost to what is coming. The structure too helps lead us through the poem, like stepping down stairs into a cellar in which there is real vulnerability amidst the care of a new born lamb. My dad’s cousin used to farm sheep. The skinning of a dead lamb and jacketing a new born is something that happens, it is an age old custom and very effective. This is what we ask of farmers. This life and death is a fact of farming. Incidentally, if you want to follow a real life farmer on twitter, someone who is passionate, and compassionate about his livestock and his land, I recommend @herdyshepherd1

And then that last line, wow. It feels like the narrator is dusting their hands off, job done, tools set down.

I would love to know your thoughts on it, and any recommendations you have for poets, creative non fiction writers and fiction writers that you think I should know about!

 

Until next time.

Stay Safe.

x

The Coronavirus Pandemic: Recording Your Everyday Experience

photo of person holding cup
Photo by Alina Vilchenko on Pexels.com

 

Hello!

I felt like my last post was a bit self indulgent and pity party-ish. so to make myself feel better, I thought I’d write something that deals directly with the COVID-19, Coronavirus Pandemic and the importance of recording the everyday.

I’m a journal writer; a diary keeper, I have recorded my everyday life on and off since I was about nine years old. There are whole years in which I didn’t record anything, and although I aim to write a page in my journal every day, this doesn’t always work out. First rule of journal club is self forgiveness, if you were wondering. If you make it a chore you won’t stick to it, so don’t make it into a chore.

Why are journals and diaries important?

History is written by the people in charge. This isn’t necessarily because their opinion or their experiences are the most important, it’s because the official documents are the documents that are recorded, protected and preserved. This means we generally have a good idea about what happens in terms of significant events where dates, government policies even high ranking option is concerned, but without first hand, primary sources from ordinary people, we don’t know what their history is.

The novel I am currently working on is historical fiction and I can’t tell you the number of times I have wished that my character had kept a diary, or written more detailed letters. I would have loved to have known how world events affected her and the ordinary folk who were living at that time.

Yes, social media is recording everything we are doing, but is that an accurate recording of how the world is right now? Who knows if twitter and Facebook will even be accessible in the future, and do we really want to base our opinion of historical events on what we put in out tweets? Most of mine are funny videos of cats or, where instagram is concerned, pictures of my phenomenal cookery skills.

8C43F28A-BE19-4057-9EE9-15AD4ADA4256

You may have noticed that we are living through a historic period in history. It’s a weird concept because we can’t see how that will be seen from the telescopic perspective of the future, all we know now is that huge changes are occurring such as we have never seen before and we are the people that are in the middle of these changes, living through them.

Your story, your voice and your experience, whatever that is, is a valid one and one that should be recorded for yourself, for your family and possibly even for history. Before you get your long lost diary out and start Dear Diarying, here are a few tips for recording the Coronavirus pandemic through your own eyes:

  1. Write for yourself, not for others. Abandon the idea that you are writing for someone in the future who will use your diary as a primary resource to define the era. That isn’t to say you can’t write for or to your children or grandchildren. But when we write as if someone we don’t know is going to read what we are writing, we tend to edit out bits of our lives (she drinks how much gin?!!) and assume a voice that is perhaps more formal than the way we actually speak. Your voice is valid, your gin consumption may well be an accurate representation of the sort of stress that this point in history is putting you under, or it may be that you really like gin. That’s ok too.
  2. Don’t just focus on presenting the facts in prose. Try capturing the day in a daily poem; an English haiku perhaps or something else impressionistic and short. Poetry is a translation tool which allows us to capture a lot of the personal emotion. Filtering the days we are living in through our own creative lens is important.
  3. Don’t just write out what’s in the papers. Try to think in terms of personal events rather than global events. By that I mean, it’s fine to record how you feel about the terrible situation in Spain, or how nervous the increased police presence being recorded in the papers is making you, but don’t record the headlines, the news. That’s already being recorded, in the papers. The best thing about journals and diaries is their ability to record personal thoughts and feelings; what is happening to you directly in your own life, the impact that global events are having on you specifically.
  4. If you do want to write about the political situation, keep it personal. What are your opinions on how the pandemic is being managed, who did you vote for in the last election, would they still have your vote? How do you feel about politicians becoming sick and being taken to hospital? The people at the top are shaping the lives of ordinary everyday people underneath them, how do you feel about their guidance?
  5. Record the effect on those in your immediate surroundings. What is happening within your home? What are you eating, what are you drinking, how are your neighbours coping? How is the sense of community in your neck of the woods? How are you communicating?
  6. Remember to put the differences you are seeing in context. People looking back will not necessarily know what the ‘normal’ state of affairs was, they might not know what sort of things you ate normally or what was stocked in supermarkets, so remember to compare and contrast, so that when you or your family look back in twenty years time when all food is in pill form you’ll be able to reminisce about lentil and butternut squash shepherd pie (see above. Delicious)
  7. Don’t put pressure on yourself to record EVERYTHING. You can’t. I tend to set myself one page a day, no more or less. It is a good way of ensuring you pick out the bits that are important to you. You could even record a single hour of the day, every day, and just keep it as that.
  8. Don’t forget to record the natural world. Everything that is happening is also impacting on the natural world. What have you noticed in your garden, or in the parks now that there is less traffic and less pollution?

 

Keeping a journal or diary is an excellent way of transporting the stuff that is in your head into a nice safe book, something that can be closed at the end of the day, so it’s very beneficial for mental health, something we could all do with looking after at the minute. Why not have a go and let me know how you get on?

 

Stay safe

 

X

 

 

Extraordinary Times call For…

opened-book-near-ceramic-mug-176103

…whatever is right for you.

For some of us, this means carrying on as near to normal as possible. I work from home anyway and I am self employed, the pandemic has caused a big chunk of lost earnings in the form of festival bookings and workshop bookings, but thankfully most of my ‘bread and butter work’ is done from my home, online. I am still running my online workshops which, touch wood, even in a market in which everyone is now teaching online out of necessity, still appear to be popular. I am still mentoring writers. Not much, then, has changed in my working life, except my husband who is also working from home now, is putting me to shame with his strict routine and enthusiasm. I have seen a version of him, the work version, that I haven’t really seen before. Work-Husband is a very slick, confident person who ‘gets things done’ and is keen to motivate his staff.  He has gone to great lengths to make sure his staff and their jobs are secure, that they are safe. I’m very proud of him. However, he is making me look like an utter slob. Last week the computer went mad while he was trying to work on it: it wouldn’t stop writing FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF and I was able to diagnose it immediately as a crumb stuck in one of the key pads, as this happened to me a lot. “You eat over the keyboard?” he asked, incredulous, and suddenly I realised that yes, yes I do, regularly, while still in my PJs. Some days I can’t remember if I’ve brushed my hair or washed my face. I am the slob writer cliché when I wanted to be a smart writer in her lovely office cliché. I am going to make a real effort to be a bit more professional from now on. I love that my husband is here, it’s so lovely to have someone to talk to, and to share in the little details that are part of my world.

For the first week or so of these strange times I did have a little meltdown – my play was cancelled the day before I was going down for the final preparations. It was very disappointing. But very understandable, and then I watched the festivals I had secured paid reading slots at cancelling one after the other and the festivals at which I was running workshops, workshops which were already fully booked, cancelling.  And my husband’s work took a sudden dive (the company my husband works for print exam papers, so you can imagine the very sudden drop in work when exams were no longer needed) and although the company is robust, it won’t stay robust forever, like most places there will be redundancies and who knows how far away that is.

I stepped back a bit, because I just felt suddenly as if everything was completely pointless. I did some bits and pieces in the garden, got used to the new normal as my neighbours took advantage of family time and good weather in the garden, and DIY projects and playing games and drinking and eating outside in the good weather and what have you. I will admit it did feel like being on the outside looking in, as I don’t have a family, and then felt I couldn’t just sit in the garden with my tea and my laptop to work. Children will be children. And these are strange times in which everyone is worried about their families and the awful fear of them dying. At least I don’t have to worry about my children dying in the pandemic, on account of my daughter being dead and me having no other children. But I’ve still got an immunocompromised mum to worry about and family members with severe asthma too, who work in the health services. There’s a whole mix of emotions and difficulties for everyone and we can’t ever know what’s going on in other people’s lives.

We are keen to make sure my mother in law who is far away in Derby is supported. My husband is an only child, and she, and my husband, suffered the loss of her brother, our beloved Uncle Rod, who had been beaten so severely by robbers at his home in South Africa that he later died of his injuries. That was a big loss in their lives, in our lives and horrible, horrible circumstances. Rod wouldn’t have hurt a fly, he was gentle and loving and welcomed me into the family. Always ready with a glass of wine and a hug, was Rod, and we will miss him immensely. It’s hard not to be able to get to the midlands and support my mother in law directly with this huge loss, and then also in the pandemic, as she’s in her mid seventies and we don’t want her going out. But I’m pleased that her neighbours are rallying round and she still has her Virgin wine delivery, which is something I wish I had if I’m honest.

For some people, coping with the lockdown and the general anxiety and the watching and waiting will mean finding ways to take control, to fill the time with plans and projects. NaPoWriMo couldn’t have come at a better time for those people, and the people on my course are even more enthusiastic than usual. I have a very pleasant two hours on a morning reading their work and commenting and checking in on them every single day, and it is genuinely one of the highlights of the day. At the beginning of April I decided to take a facebook break, except for, obviously running the closed FB groups for the course, and also occasionally posting in my Facebook Author Page. I have a lovely community of friends on Facebook, but right now it feels quite oppressive there, and it makes me a bit anxious. I decided to have a look at what is important to me at the minute and started to factor into my planner not just some complete social media free days, but days in which I could work on my own writing. I have been working on my novel, and have made huge progress with it this week. It’s slow going as it’s historical fiction and needs a lot of research, but the research is wonderfully absorbing, and I am very much enjoying disappearing into my characters and becoming other people. I also started working on a new pamphlet this week, using NaPoWriMo to kick off the poems and make some notes.

And if that wasn’t enough to keep me occupied, I am  judging the Paper Swans Single Poem Competition and would LOVE to see your poems, so get submitting!

My big message this week, then, is to not worry about what the right thing to do is at the moment. Especially when it comes to writing, even if you are normally working from home, this will have an impact on you and your work. This is unprecedented, these are extraordinary times, there’s no right or wrong way to behave. And there is always going to be non pandemic stuff going on underneath the obvious worry, inconvenience and stress.

This week I ended up turning to old friends on Fertility Friends where I knew I’d find solid support. I’m worried about the pandemic, of course, but I’m also quite upset that on what would have been her tenth birthday, a big milestone, I will now not be able to spend time at my daughter’s grave. We won’t be able to partake in the rituals that are part of our grief, part of us saying out loud ‘you are not forgotten‘ . We will still do something together at home, but there will be no gifts for her on the grave, there will be no flowers or the ritual tidying of her grave site (which must just look awful right now as I can’t get up to tend to it) and it is unsettling. This year I had hoped to do something special, because ten is such an age, isn’t it. Double figures. Such a long time and yet, no time at all. Not being able to do that has left me feeling quite emptied out and generally low about it. I will write her poem, as I do every year, and I will remember her, but all the physical stuff, which I find soothing and important as a demonstration of our love for her, non of that will happen. It seems such a small thing to complain about, certainly where survival and caring for people and not travelling etc is involved it is insignificant, non essential to visit her grave. But it is essential for my heart. Her birthday will be swallowed up by this and I fret about her being forgotten. I can still fret about that and feel compassion for those who are being directly effected by the extreme worry of the pandemic. The two are not mutually exclusive, and that’s something to remember: it’s ok to still have other worries, it’s OK to grieve for other stuff and to feel sad about cancelled plans and changes to your life.

These are small things, in the grand scheme. We are healthy, we are in no immediate danger, we have a simple but cozy home and quiet areas to walk and we have each other, and I am loving having my husband here right now. Perhaps this will end up being something to treasure, in a strange way. My heart goes out to the people who are facing danger, those putting their lives at risk, those with serious health conditions, those who are worrying about their loved ones.

Thank you to EVERYONE in the NHS, and a big shout out to my ex colleagues woking in the labs, I applaud you.

Whatever you choose to do, whether it is PJs 24/7 and Netflix in a drip, or business as usual, dressed to the nines and with rigid plans in place, do it because it is what works for you, not because you think you should. I shall be back in a week or so to launch the next online course for May, I hope you’ll join me then.

 

Stay safe

 

x

 

For Mother’s Day

shallow focus photo of pink ceramic roses
Photo by Acharaporn Kamornboonyarush on Pexels.com

 

Mexico, 2014

Wendy Pratt 

It is like saying goodbye again.

This is the longest I’ve been away from her

since she was delivered like a hot brick

into my husband’s arms.

 

We are flying from four years

of investigating her death. I think

even the turquoise of the Caribbean

can’t bring me back from the tiredness.

 

But I calm to the white sand, the tiny shells, so similar,

so different to the ones on Filey bay. I watch

the diamond shadow of a sting ray, gliding gently in its world.

I climb the hot stone ruins of Tulum,

wade the warm sea, swim in cenote,

drink margaritas on the beach.

 

I make an offering to the Mayan Gods; have her name set

in Mayan silver, hieroglyphics on a piece of black stone,

and I wear it round my neck, watch it glitter as I swim in the perfect blue,

feeling guilty I can’t dandle her legs in the sea.

 

 

New Online Creative Writing Course for April: Staying in and Writing it Out

blank paper with pen and coffee cup on wood table
Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

 

It’s that time of the month again! Time to launch April’s online writing course, this time with a few changes.

Unless you are already living as a hermit in a cave, you will be aware of the current pandemic of Coronavirus, COVID-19, which is forcing events to shut, book launches to be postponed, festivals to be put on hold and regular meetings and gatherings to be temporarily closed. Everybody knows that public health must come first, but it doesn’t stop it from being a little bit gutting, especially for people already isolated, who rely on getting to small gatherings to stay sane! From an economic prospective it’s a bit of a disaster too, especially for the self employed and those in the creative arts who rely on community engagement for their living.

Keeping this in mind, the fact that more people will be worried about their income and there will be less money for entertainment, I’ve decided for this course to have one single low price of £20. You can still sponsor a place for someone who is going to be lacking that £20, and please, please do, if you can!

Because I am expecting a larger group than normal I am briefly reverting back to a closed facebook group model, rather than the closed website model until I have ironed out the glitches in the new model (it does look like a new bells and whistles website will have to be created specifically for the course now, which is no bad thing, but will have to wait until the financial fall out of Covid19 is over and done with!) which means no live chat nights on this one, which is a shame. However, this course is aimed at generosity, community spirit, being kind to one another and sharing our stories around a virtual fireplace, and every course I have run so far has had that in bucketloads, thanks to the fantastic, warm groups – each one slightly different – that have taken the courses so far.

What’s ‘Staying in and Writing it Out’ about?

The course will begin on 1st of April 2020  and end on 30th April 2020. Over the four weeks we’ll be looking at what it is to be a society, what it is to be a human animal, we’ll be sharing experiences of testing times, survival and the kindness of society, but more than that, we’ll be looking at nature, enjoying the small things that life has to offer, we’ll be enjoying the start of spring and sharing the joys we have experienced and the pain too. We’l be writing poems, creative non fiction and flash fiction, and we will be sharing a sense of purpose and community, combating loneliness and remembering the good things, the kindnesses of life.

How Will It Work?

Once you have signed up, you’ll receive a welcome note and a link to the closed Facebook group. You do not have to join the facebook group at all, lots of people don’t, but in my experience it has been a real bonding experience – open, friendly and encouraging. Within the closed group people are able to share their work, and post comments on the work of others. You can join and not post anything, or you can lurk quietly if you want. Everyone is different, and what creates anxiety for one person may nt for another, so there is no pressure. This is a no pressure environment where the purpose is to get writing, not necessarily to produce a finished piece of work. You’ll be sent a set of notes exploring the week’s theme at the beginning of each week, and every day you will be sent a new writing prompt aimed at stimulating your creativity and getting you to set pen to paper, fingers to keyboards and get writing in a supportive and encouraging environment. The courses are suitable to all levels of experience, from complete newbies to experienced writers wanting a little motivation.

How Do I Sign Up?

Simply go over to my shop and pay the fee. If the email that you want your materials and prompts sent to is different to your PayPal address, drop me a line at wendyprattfreelancewriter@gmail.com. Once you’ve paid you’ll receive your welcome letter and facebook group link and you will receive your first set of notes and first prompt on April 1st, direct to your inbox. That’s it.

Places are limited, and I am expecting this course to be very busy, so please don’t wait and be disappointed!

I look forward to having you on board!