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!

 

 

Coping with Rejection: How Not to be Your Own Judge, Jury and Executioner

 

man showing distress
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

I love a good stock photo. Look at this guy, he has evidently been turned down by the Arts Council for the seventh time and now has to find a way to fund the project he’s been planning for a year. Or perhaps he’s just had the manuscript he’s spent six years writing turned down by the publisher he felt it was a perfect fit for. Or maybe the poems he thought were his best, his absolute best, the best thing he’s ever written, have been turned down and returned to him with generic rejection in which they got his name wrong and called him Farty rather than Marty.

Oh, the pain.

I have now been rejected more times than I can shake a stick at, and readers, I can really shake a stick.

People will tell you that rejection is just part and parcel of being a writer and it definitely is, but saying it’s ‘just’ anything is a way of dismissing the natural emotional reaction to it. Yes, it happens all the time, more than you can imagine, and yes, it hurts every time, to a lesser or greater amount.

Four Things to Remember When You Get the Inevitable Rejection

  1. It’s normal, natural and absolutely necessary to feel disappointed. It’s how our complex human brains sort stuff out – this is how the brain compartmentalises stuff that happens to us, allowing us to deal with things and move on, it’s a process- It’s ok to feel crap, it’s completely natural to feel upset. You have already imagined winning/being accepted and, especially if you are a professional writer, you will have planned your future life/work around the potentially positive news. The trick is not to fight it, accept that you’re going to be upset and make plans to manage that: take a few days off social media, pour your heart out in a private facebook group where you know that others will have experienced the same, write it all out, including all the jealousy, anger and resentment, the anger at yourself, the fears of never getting anywhere, in your journal. Have a duvet day, ice cream, pizza. Allow yourself the little grief that comes with someone telling you that, essentially, they thought someone else was better. Allocate a day or two of down time, and then get back onto the horse. That’s the important bit. I will say this, it is harder to do this at the beginning of your career when you haven’t had many successes. But you will have successes. You will use them as the journey markers that let you know that you are on a journey, and where you are going.  There are more pressures, different pressures, the further you advance in your career, but when I think back to my very first reactions, I recognise how important those tiny successes were:  a long listing in a comp, an acceptance to an online magazine, a bit of feedback from a publisher telling me they saw something in my work – they helped to keep me putting myself forward.
  2. YOU are not being rejected, your work is. Focus on having an open mind when it comes to your own work. Recognise that the personal opinion of the judge/editor/funding body counts for quite a lot, but also don’t be afraid to ask for any feedback that can be offered. It might be that you got very very close to your goal, but you’ll never know if you don’t ask. They might have advice that you can use to improve. Be open to it, no one is perfect. Obviously there will be times when the person who has made the judgement just doesn’t have the time to offer feedback, don’t bug them for it, accept it, it’s just the way it is. Recognise that, even though your words might well be very personal, might be about personal issues, the rejection is not personal and is much more likely to be about budget, space or theme.
  3. Do not judge your entire life by the rejection. I need to remember this one. Similarly, do not judge your entire body of work by one rejection. With any project you will find that you become absorbed in it, and it becomes much bigger to you than it actually is in real life. So when the rejection comes, it feels like everything you see and know, everything about YOU is being rejected. It isn’t, you need to step back and do something else until the perspective resets itself. Stop writing for a bit, down tools, take up painting, go walking. Then come back to it with fresh eyes.
  4. Every single writer has been rejected at some point. Every single one, even the ones doing the judging. You are not alone.

 

My Rejections

Last week I was rejected for the scholarship I needed to be able to accept my place at the University of York to do my PhD. I’d been working on the application to both the university and the scholarship board for roughly six months. I’d put such a lot of work into it, and when the rejection came, unexpectedly early, I was quite crushed. It was a big one. I took my own advice and went and hid from the world for a couple of days. Then I forced myself to seek any feedback they had to offer. This was particularly hard as I felt skinless, like I had no armour to deal with more bad news, or someone telling me, confirming to me the underlying suspicion that I am not good enough, that I’m not the right fit, not clever enough, too working class, not likeable, that I will never really belong.

It turned out they had thought very highly of me as a candidate and of my project, but were very limited by the budget. Other people had been more successful than me, but I hadn’t, after all, had my project chucked in the bin with a snigger. It changed how I felt about it. They asked me to reapply next year, which I will do. And I’ll not forget the lesson learned here, which is to not rely solely on the voice in my head which constantly tells me the most awful stuff about myself. On the flip side, last week I had an acceptance. The rehearsed reading of my play To Be Undone is to be supported by the Arts Council England which pleases me so much. If you’ve followed my blog you’ll know how many times I have applied. It’s a tiny grant, enough for me to do some promotion and to actually travel down to Huddersfield to be involved with the rehearsals, but it has made a huge difference to me, and means I can focus solely on being a writer for a few days. Look out for more information in the new shiny newsletter, which you can sig up for here. The new newsletter will be going out twice a month and includes information on courses I’m running, general news, a few bits of resources and what not and also a free writing prompt to get you writing!

That’s all for now, except to let you know that if you’re near Scarborough you can come and see me read poems about Scarborough at this fantastic event: Rotunda Nights. It’s going to be a lovely, warm friendly gathering with WINE and nibbles.

Thanks for reading!

X

New Online Course, Starting 1st March 2020: Writing in the Blood

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Photograph copyright Wendy Pratt

It’s that time of the month again, when the new course is announced and bookings are open. First, though, I wanted to tell you about some changes that I have made. There will now be no closed facebook page for the online courses, in its place there will be a secret, hidden website which only paid members are invited to join. This is closed to the public and nothing in the group can be shared outside it, making it entirely secure as a space where writers wish to share ongoing work, work which they are hoping may be published at some point. Within the secret invite-only website there will be areas to post your work, which won’t chew your line breaks up, and spaces to comment. There is also a live chat facility, again private and invite-only, where course members will be invited to a weekly discussions on the course themes. I’ve run live chats in the past and my experience is that they are invigorating, fun, and exciting events. I’m very excited to be going into this next phase of the online tutorials and hoping to expand and build on this again in the future.

And so, to the march 2020 course, a band spanking new course which will consist of daily prompts delivered directly to your email and weekly course notes as well as the super shiny new invite only website.

Writing in the Blood

Writing in the Blood is a brand new biology and anatomy based creative writing course, beginning on 1st of march 2020 and ending on the 31st of March 2020. I’ll be putting my biologist hat on to take you through biology based prompts, we’ll be exploring our internal organs, the networks of nerves that keep us feeling, the grey matter of our brains, the blood in our veins. We’ll be think about bacteria, viruses, illnesses, recovery. We’ll be asking ourselves what part the body plays in our emotions, our reactions, how we feel about ageing, the lost youth of smooth skin and lithe bodies. We’ll be talking disability, ability, fitness and the joys of having a body that works, the social pressures and stigmas around bodies that don’t.

As ever, this is a fun course, there is no homework, no pressure to produce anything at all, if you don’t want to, the main aim is that you enjoy the writing. The courses are designed to be safe areas in which people feel at ease and the website will be monitored by myself daily. You might not see me, but I am always about.

This course is suitable for beginners and experienced writers and is aimed at poets, fiction writers and creative non fiction writers. Over the four weeks this course/online workshop will help you reconnect with your body. Each week you will receive a ‘lesson plan’ with a weekly writing focus, resources, writing examples, tips and guidance. You’ll also receive a daily creativity prompt to help stimulate your writing potential. These will be delivered directly to your inbox. as mentioned there will be a private, invite only website, where course attendees can chat, exchange ideas and share work for gentle and constructive criticism.

Because the new secret website is new to me, I am keeping numbers in this group fairly low, so please don’t leave it until the last minute to book a place!

I am so excited to have you join me on the next leg of the journey!

How to Sign Up

I now have a simple payment method in my shop where you can make a payment to sign up. If the email address you want your course materials, and your website invite sent to is different to your PayPal address, let me know by emailing me at wendyprattfreelancewriter@gmail.com.

To make things fair, and to make sure that my courses are available to those on lower incomes, I have a tiered pricing system. Details below. And don’t forget, you can sponsor a place for a writer who doesn’t have the money to sign up. What a great  gift that would be! I currently have one sponsored place.

Payment Tiers

For this course, and all future courses, I am bringing in a method of tiered payment, a ‘pay what you can’  method which relies on the honesty of course attendees. There are three payment levels: £20, £40 and £60. There is also the option to sponsor another place at the price level of your choice so that I can support disadvantaged writers.

Why I have given the option to pay more

Lots of previous attendees have told me, during feedback sessions, that they would have paid much more for one of these courses, comparing it to other courses available to them. But at the same time, lots of people have told me they were grateful for the lower cost as it meant they could afford to develop their writing within their own means. I am from a working class background and still live in a working class town. There’s a grey area when it comes to WC folk, and it’s the place where almost everyone I know lives – the place where you are certainly not living in poverty, but you can’t justify retreats, courses or workshops because there is always something else (Christmas, birthdays etc).
It’s my opinion that everyone should have access to exploring their world through the arts, creative writing is my niche and in a world in which the arts are being slowly eroded, where funding is reduced and reduced, I feel I need to do something practical to help people like me, from my background. At the same time, as a working class writer and workshop facilitator, I need to be able to pay my bills and continue doing the things that I have trained for. Hence the option to pay more if you feel you can.
I know from experience how difficult it is to work out which level is right for you, so I have put some guidance together, below. I’ve based my reasoning mainly on the value of £20 in relation to  food and alcohol for some reason:

Sponsored Place – 

If you would need to make a choice between the course and essentials like food and electricity, then you are most likely entitled to a sponsored place.  Get in touch at wendyprattfreelancewriter@gmail.com for a chat. I don’t interrogate, this is an honesty system and giving writers a leg up is important.

£20 

If £20 is what you might spend on a takeaway and a bottle of wine, this is probably the tier for you.

£40

If £20 is what you spend on a bottle of wine and a nice bar of chocolate, the forty pound tier sounds about right for you.

£60

If twenty pounds is the amount that you might put into a charity box, or a church collection, then this is probably the tier for you.

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. You might choose to pay £40 for yourself and sponsor a £20 place, you might be an absolute angel and pay £60 and still sponsor a £20 place, you might be a virtual saint and sponsor two £60 places. It’s up to you. Mix and match.

 

What Happens Next

Once you have paid by PayPal (please drop me a line if you have paid in another way, I may miss your payment otherwise) I will use the email provided to invite you to the secret website, I will also use this email address to send a welcome letter to confirm that this email is working.

There might be a slight delay, while I get used to the new website, but you will get your welcome letter straight away (or the next day) confirming your place on the course.

 

Thanks for being a part of this adventure!

Wendy

Rural Writing

photography of mountains under cloudy sky
Photo by Simon Matzinger on Pexels.com

I’ve just got back from an exhilarating dog walk through the tail end of Storm Ciara, or maybe the head end of Storm Dennis, who knows. The lane follows the curve of a stream, which feeds into the river Hertford a few fields over, but you can see that it’s been manipulated at some point, the stream, to meet the requirements of drainage and farm land. In rough weather, when it’s rained a lot, the original river rises in the field, next to it, which once upon a time was a village park and cricket pitch. The old stream is slowed down to puddles of standing water, trying to speak its mother tongue, as if the compulsion to flow the way it has flowed for thousands of years is still strong. Whenever I see it, can see the track of it, the rises of its long gone banks, I think of this poem; Dunt, by Alice Oswald.

There are dozens and dozens of beech trees on my walk, and twisting, ancient hawthorn hedges, and strange rocks which have been used to shore up banks, rocks that have had a previous lives in walls or buildings or maybe something earlier, touching their fingers to the past. On one side of the lane is a sudden hill, which I felt sure was a tumulus when I first moved here, but now I’m not so sure. Either way, it’s terraced with the marks of medieval plough shears, the peaks and troughs catch the evening sun and cast long, spinal shadows at this time of year. The sun sets over it. Currently there are sheep in that field, and the magpies and crows that accompany them, picking the wool off their backs. But not today, today the sheep are sheltering on the other side, out of sight, and the birds are tucked up in hedges and trees. The storm is still raging. Hailstones were being thrown down the main street  as I came down the village – like having ice gravel thrown in your face – and the roar of the wind in the trees was deafening, it made my heart lift in my chest, a sort of thrill and fear at once. And then, after a satisfying, but not long enough walk home there comes the sudden, satisfying click of door and the total stillness within. As I write this, I can hear bins being blown about outside and the skittering of rubbish blowing over tarmac. We are the lucky ones, barely any flooding here. It’s good to be inside and back at my desk.

trees covered with snow
Photo by Markus Bürkle on Pexels.com

 

I’m thinking a lot about how landscape, weather, nature continues to influence my writing of late, with a view to new writing projects for the future. I keep drifting to weather related poems, like Ted Hughe’s very well known Wind and My old favourite Sylvia Plath’s Hard castle Crags. Writers are so drawn to weather, it does something to us. I always come back calm in my heart after being outside walking or even just being in front of a window watching the weather.

This has been a bit of period of self reflection, in general, I feel I’m finally getting chance to do some work on myself.  I am delighted that Poetry Wales are publishing some poems of mine, but even more delighted that they commissioned me to write an article on my process of writing through grief and how that journey has influenced the collections of poetry I have written to date. The Hare and the Witch: Transforming Grief into Poetry is in the next issue, 55.2, and the first with wonderful new editor Jonathon Edwards, you can buy it here. The article caused me to reflect on how much returning to the loss of my daughter has enabled me to focus in on style and composition, but also hone the emotional side of poetry – working to how to make a poem work for other people and not just myself. I enjoyed going through my books, looking for the signposts that are there. It is good to reflect on your work, to look at where you’ve come from, where you are going. Right now, moving forward, I’m trying to reconnect to the things that mean something to me, that are a part of me, and this – living rural, being in the landscape which has been the backdrop for my whole life, the archaeology, the psychogeography- it’s coming through strongly and defiantly and allowing me to uncouple myself and disappear into in that wonderful, trance like state that writing often brings. I’m trying to re-focus, undo the need to strive and succeed and instead be present in the journey that I am on, and aware of the lessons that are there to be learnt, the enjoyment that is to be had here.

This valley that I call home was once the biggest lake in Europe. The lake was created at the end of the last ice age as the glaciers which had carved the valley melted and filled it with water. It took thousands of years for the lake to recede to wet land, bog land and this was eventually drained, like my village stream, to create farmland. In pre-history times it was a site of huge ritual significance, with people’s travelling to be near it. I’ve spent quite a lot of time researching the area, and reconnecting with my childhood memories of digs around the lake site. I’ve found myself thinking in terms of ‘lake people’ and finding that, living where I do, and having lived here all my life, I am a lake person too. This pleases me, somehow validates me, I want to make more of that connection.

There is something meditative about walking out, in the weather, it makes me write. Something perhaps about footfall and language rhythm, that connective part of the brain that comes alive with poetry, that rocking motion that babies in cars dream to, perhaps that is it. Now that I have stepped down as the editor of Dream Catcher, and given up all my other unpaid roles, I find myself, finally, able to place myself into my work in a more thoughtful and less stressful way. I am able to make more connection with the people taking the online courses, something which I’ll be building on, and I have increased my meditation practice and also started to add some daily yoga practice in, though this is less spiritual and reflective and more about undoing the aches and pains of sitting at my desk a lot. I’m hoping to have saved up enough to buy a lap top next month, so I can actually get out and about and change where I write occasionally. I’ve started writing the novel, too, and I need to get out and research some of the historical stuff, which I am so  looking forward to, but I’ll need a good laptop to do that too. All very exciting.

I got some good news last week. I have been offered an unconditional place at the University of York, to do my PhD. It’s a big deal. But I dare not get too excited as I cannot do the PhD without the scholarship, which I applied for at the same time, and which I won’t even know if I’ve made it to the next round with until March. Apparently there are roughly 400 people applying for forty positions across three universities. That’s a lot of competition. I do not know what I am up against, and I know academically that perhaps I am not the strongest candidate, there will be people applying who have gone from GCSEs to A levels, to BA to MA and then into a PhD, full time. And then there’s me whose gone from GCSE to office work, to shop work, to factory work, to more factory work, to lab technician, to part time BSc, to Microbiologist, to OU distance learning BA to distance learning MA, to dog walker, to failed PhD, to freelance writer, to workshop facilitator, to full time, self employed writer. I took the working class route, I took the scenic route and by God, I am glad I did. I have so much life experience and so much determination, but life experience and determination don’t often land you full scholarships and I know I would need support, which is also what this scholarship is offering. If the failed PhD taught me anything, it’s that I would have benefitted from a lot more support, that I wished I’d said more about feeling so working class, so much as if I didn’t fit in, didn’t know the system, wasn’t confident in myself, and I didn’t know what I was and wasn’t supposed to know.  I definitely could have made my feelings of isolation a lot clearer, only I was sinking into depression and it was a complicated situation with staff losses and a department under pressure, and I couldn’t make enough money working to pay my fees and have time to do the PhD, it all came apart so horribly and it was an awful part of my life. But, I have benefited from the experience, hugely, it taught me so much. And I wrote some kick ass octopus poems too. I want desperately to prove that I can do this, and do it well.

Anyway. If nothing else, I have been offered an unconditional place at the second to top university in England for English, to do a PhD in an area that I am hugely passionate about, on a subject that I am in love with, and all of it relating to a community where I feel the work would make a huge difference. And I’m going to grasp that achievement, and put it in my little heart locker, I’m going to be proud of that.

Until next time, look out for my #dailydiary tweets and also look out for news of a brand new online course I’m going to be running, which will open for bookings on Friday (14th February) for the starting date of 1st March 2020. It’s going to be a good one!

adult beverage caffeine cappuccino
Photo by Brigitte Tohm on Pexels.com

x

 

 

Last Chance to Book!

four rock formation
Photo by nicollazzi xiong on Pexels.com

 

I have sold out my How to Write a Poem course, starting tomorrow (1st february) but I have plenty of places on the Approaching Your Writing With a Beginner’s Mind course. One of my own personal favourites, this one, and probably the antidote we all need on this stressful political climate. Details below

Approaching Your Writing with a Beginner’s Mind

pink waterlily flower in full bloom
Photo by Ithalu Dominguez on Pexels.com

Do you remember why you began writing? If you close your eyes and settle your mind, can you remember the feelings you experienced when writing your first story, your first poem or even when you read your first book? Does the process still spark the same joy?

In this month long, online course you will be invited to reconnect with your beginner’s mind and explore your creative process not from a new perspective, but from an old perspective, casting off the self doubts and worry that often accompany the writing process and embracing the mind of the beginner.

What is the beginner’s mind? The expert’s mind is full of knowledge, it knows about technique and is widely read, the experts mind is full of purpose and definition but is also constrained by them, worrying about ‘getting it right’. The beginner’s mind is open to new experiences, new ways of looking at the world, the beginner’s mind is free to express itself. In the beginner’s mind, creativity is the key part of the writing process.

This four week course/online workshop will help you reconnect with your beginner’s mind. Each week you will receive a ‘lesson plan’ with a simple mindfulness meditation exercise to try, a weekly writing focus, resources, writing examples, tips and guidance. You’ll also receive a daily, optional, creativity prompt to help stimulate your writing potential. These will be delivered directly to your inbox. There will be a closed Facebook group, which is optional, where course attendees can chat, exchange ideas and share work for gentle and constructive criticism.

Ready to embrace your beginner’s mind? Places are limited so book early to avoid disappointment. The course begins on 1st February.

How to Sign Up

I now have a simple payment method in my shop where you can make a payment to sign up. If the email address you want your course materials sent to is different to your PayPal address, let me know by emailing me at wendyprattfreelancewriter@gmail.com. To make things fair, and to make sure that my courses are available to those on lower incomes, I have a tiered pricing system. Details below. And don’t forget, you can sponsor a place for a writer who doesn’t have the money to sign up. What a great  gift that would be! I currently have zero sponsored places.

Payment Tiers

For this course, and all future courses, I am bringing in a method of tiered payment, a ‘pay what you can’  method which relies on the honesty of course attendees. There are three payment levels: £20, £40 and £60. There is also the option to sponsor another place at the price level of your choice so that I can support disadvantaged writers.

Why I have given the option to pay more

Lots of previous attendees have told me, during feedback sessions, that they would have paid much more for one of these courses, comparing it to other courses available to them. But at the same time, lots of people have told me they were grateful for the lower cost as it meant they could afford to develop their writing within their own means. I am from a working class background and still live in a working class town. There’s a grey area when it comes to WC folk, and it’s the place where almost everyone I know lives – the place where you are certainly not living in poverty, but you can’t justify retreats, courses or workshops because there is always something else (Christmas, birthdays etc).
It’s my opinion that everyone should have access to exploring their world through the arts, creative writing is my niche and in a world in which the arts are being slowly eroded, where funding is reduced and reduced, I feel I need to do something practical to help people like me, from my background. At the same time, as a working class writer and workshop facilitator, I need to be able to pay my bills and continue doing the things that I have trained for. Hence the option to pay more if you feel you can.
I know from experience how difficult it is to work out which level is right for you, so I have put some guidance together, below. I’ve based my reasoning mainly on the value of £20 in relation to  food and alcohol for some reason:

Sponsored Place – 

If you would need to make a choice between the course and essentials like food and electricity, then you are most likely entitled to a sponsored place.  Get in touch at wendyprattfreelancewriter@gmail.com for a chat. I don’t interrogate, this is an honesty system and giving writers a leg up is important.

£20 

If £20 is what you might spend on a takeaway and a bottle of wine, this is probably the tier for you.

£40

If £20 is what you spend on a bottle of wine and a nice bar of chocolate, the forty pound tier sounds about right for you.

£60

If twenty pounds is the amount that you might put into a charity box, or a church collection, then this is probably the tier for you.

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. You might choose to pay £40 for yourself and sponsor a £20 place, you might be an absolute angel and pay £60 and still sponsor a £20 place, you might be a virtual saint and sponsor two £60 places. It’s up to you. Mix and match.

 

 

Launching Today: Two online Courses Starting 1st of February!

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Every year I walk into January with my head in the clouds, expecting all my New Year plans to fall perfectly into place. It’s like I forget that January is one of my busiest months as a freelance writer, not only am I catching up on December’s work because I dared to have a a few days off, but I am setting things in place to ensure future projects are nailed down and diarised. So forgive me for not managing to update my website or start the series of mini videos I’d planned (is it a vlog? I don’t know, I’m past forty so everything involving technology is beginning to be scary and confusing) These things are coming. In February I will be investing in some tools to help me get the most out of my website, and to set up the videos in a more professional manner. Trial and error has shown me I need a proper microphone and probably some lighting for them to work. By March I should have upgraded the website to add a chat room function and closed members area so that I can finally let go of my reliance on Facebook which is irritatingly glitchy and leaves me at the whim of facebook management changes. I should have an automated newsletter set up too, so you can sign up for updates on the online courses, but not this month! January, like I say is a phenomenally busy month. To give you an idea of what I have been doing this month, and so I can feel good about surviving it, here’s a little list. This month I have mostly been:

  • Running the current online course
  • Mentoring
  • Applying for a university place
  • Applying for a Full uni scholarship
  • Applying for a small ACE grant to help me with marketing for the play – script in hand reading in Huddersfield, details to follow!
  • Putting issue 40 of Dream Catcher magazine together
  • Applying for a big commssion
  • Catching up on book work
  • The dreaded tax return

Also trying to get to the gym more, eat better and not drink at all. It has been a ridiculous month in which it feels like everything is competing for priority. Still, half way through the month and I’m nearly through the list. February should be less chaotic but I’ll be sitting on my jangling nerves waiting on news on nearly all the above. Sigh.

That’s the end of my busy boast/slight mental break down. On to news of the new course/s.

I’ve decided, in February, to re-run not one but two previous courses, with some updates and new prompts for both. One of the courses involves detailed critique and ‘homework’ and is therefore more involved. It’s called ‘How to Write a Poem’ and details are below. There are very very limited spaces on this one and it’s a fixed price to reflect the amount of work involved and the small group, close contact nature of the course. The other course is my prompt a day Approaching Your Writing with a Beginner’s Mind course, details below. This one is a popular one and perfect for putting good self care habits around your writing. You can sign up for both using the PayPal button in my Shop if your email address is different to your PayPal address, drop me a line at wendyprattfreelancewriter@gmail.com . And do get in touch with questions or queries.

Here are the details for both courses:

 

Approaching Your Writing with a Beginner’s Mind

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Do you remember why you began writing? If you close your eyes and settle your mind, can you remember the feelings you experienced when writing your first story, your first poem or even when you read your first book? Does the process still spark the same joy?

In this month long, online course you will be invited to reconnect with your beginner’s mind and explore your creative process not from a new perspective, but from an old perspective, casting off the self doubts and worry that often accompany the writing process and embracing the mind of the beginner.

What is the beginner’s mind? The expert’s mind is full of knowledge, it knows about technique and is widely read, the experts mind is full of purpose and definition but is also constrained by them, worrying about ‘getting it right’. The beginner’s mind is open to new experiences, new ways of looking at the world, the beginner’s mind is free to express itself. In the beginner’s mind, creativity is the key part of the writing process.

This four week course/online workshop will help you reconnect with your beginner’s mind. Each week you will receive a ‘lesson plan’ with a simple mindfulness meditation exercise to try, a weekly writing focus, resources, writing examples, tips and guidance. You’ll also receive a daily, optional, creativity prompt to help stimulate your writing potential. These will be delivered directly to your inbox. There will be a closed Facebook group, which is optional, where course attendees can chat, exchange ideas and share work for gentle and constructive criticism.

Ready to embrace your beginner’s mind? Places are limited so book early to avoid disappointment. The course begins on 1st February.

How to Sign Up

I now have a simple payment method in my shop where you can make a payment to sign up. If the email address you want your course materials sent to is different to your PayPal address, let me know by emailing me at wendyprattfreelancewriter@gmail.com. To make things fair, and to make sure that my courses are available to those on lower incomes, I have a tiered pricing system. Details below. And don’t forget, you can sponsor a place for a writer who doesn’t have the money to sign up. What a great  gift that would be! I currently have zero sponsored places.

Payment Tiers

For this course, and all future courses, I am bringing in a method of tiered payment, a ‘pay what you can’  method which relies on the honesty of course attendees. There are three payment levels: £20, £40 and £60. There is also the option to sponsor another place at the price level of your choice so that I can support disadvantaged writers.

Why I have given the option to pay more

Lots of previous attendees have told me, during feedback sessions, that they would have paid much more for one of these courses, comparing it to other courses available to them. But at the same time, lots of people have told me they were grateful for the lower cost as it meant they could afford to develop their writing within their own means. I am from a working class background and still live in a working class town. There’s a grey area when it comes to WC folk, and it’s the place where almost everyone I know lives – the place where you are certainly not living in poverty, but you can’t justify retreats, courses or workshops because there is always something else (Christmas, birthdays etc).
It’s my opinion that everyone should have access to exploring their world through the arts, creative writing is my niche and in a world in which the arts are being slowly eroded, where funding is reduced and reduced, I feel I need to do something practical to help people like me, from my background. At the same time, as a working class writer and workshop facilitator, I need to be able to pay my bills and continue doing the things that I have trained for. Hence the option to pay more if you feel you can.
I know from experience how difficult it is to work out which level is right for you, so I have put some guidance together, below. I’ve based my reasoning mainly on the value of £20 in relation to  food and alcohol for some reason:

Sponsored Place – 

If you would need to make a choice between the course and essentials like food and electricity, then you are most likely entitled to a sponsored place.  Get in touch at wendyprattfreelancewriter@gmail.com for a chat. I don’t interrogate, this is an honesty system and giving writers a leg up is important.

£20 

If £20 is what you might spend on a takeaway and a bottle of wine, this is probably the tier for you.

£40

If £20 is what you spend on a bottle of wine and a nice bar of chocolate, the forty pound tier sounds about right for you.

£60

If twenty pounds is the amount that you might put into a charity box, or a church collection, then this is probably the tier for you.

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. You might choose to pay £40 for yourself and sponsor a £20 place, you might be an absolute angel and pay £60 and still sponsor a £20 place, you might be a virtual saint and sponsor two £60 places. It’s up to you. Mix and match.

 

How to Write a Poem Course

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Photo by Dom J on Pexels.com

The course starts on February 1st and lasts for four weeks, finishing on February 29th. There will be two lesson plans per week which include homework assignments.

Included in the course is personal critique of four poems per course participant, worth £32. You can choose whether these are poems which you have developed on the course, or something from another project that you’re working on. There will be a closed facebook group to chat, share ideas, share poem drafts and critique of each other’s work, but as always, this is not mandatory.

One of the things that I have noticed while running previous courses, and workshops and when mentoring, is that people worry that they haven’t had any ‘formal training’ as a poet. There is a fear that every other poet you will ever meet has been to poetry university and learned the secrets to writing a poem. In actual fact, there are far more ‘untrained’ poets than poets that have any formal education and you certainly do not need to have a university degree to write a poem. The aim of this course is to get the writer past their imposter syndrome. It’s perfect for those lacking confidence in their ability, good for beginners and also good for those wanting to refresh and get writing again.

briefly, the course covers:

Getting From Inspiration to First Draft

Developing exercises and techniques to actually get pen to paper. We’ll look at how and where inspiration can come from, the role of the poet and getting a first draft down without wanting to burn it immediately.

Working in Structured Form

We’ll be looking at a few different forms, and how to write in them. We’ll look at putting older forms into context and how and when to use form, how to choose a form for your poem and not to let the poem be consumed by the form.

Working in Free Verse

The course will look at the natural rhythms and structures of free verse, the use or non use of punctuation. We’ll look at poems which push out of their boundaries as well as looking at line breaks, and the tools in the poets work box.

Smoothing the Edges

The course will also look at editing,  what to kill and what to keep, how to develop a critical eye and how to stop editing. The course will also, briefly, look at finding an outlet for your poems, how to write a cover letter and how to keep a good record of submissions.

Cost: £60

There is no tiered payment method for this course. You can book a place on the course via the PayPal button in my Shop remember to drop me a line at wendyprattfreelancewriter@gmail.com if your email address is different to your PayPal address, and drop me a line if you have any questions.

Wendy

x

 

 

 

 

 

2020: The Year of the Novel

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First of all, Happy New Year, and happy new decade! I wish you all a year of light and love.

How wonderful to have reached another new year and to be alive and full of hope for the future. That is genuinely how I feel going into this new year. I have lots of plans which I’ll tell you about below, but before I get onto the good stuff, I wanted to do the whole decade comparison thing. It was a BIG decade.

At the start of the decade I was pregnant and feeling relived that our long journey through infertility (six years at that point) was over, we’d made it, and on our first and only NHS funded IVF cycle. I felt completely blessed and incredibly lucky. In 2010 my entire world imploded when, partly due to clinical negligence, our baby girl died during an emergency crash section. At the end of the decade I have finally dealt with her things and rehomed them, and accepted that we will never be parents and never have a family and let me tell you, it was hard hard. You can read about it here.

In between those two events, amongst other things, I…

  • Fought to have Matilda’s death recognised as preventable and the protocols changed to prevent someone else gong through what we went through
  • Fought to get the children’s cemetery protected to allow parents to grieve in whatever way came naturally to them
  • Got a BA in English literature with the OU while working full time
  • Got an MA in creative writing, with distinction, done distance learning whilst working full time
  • Did part of a PhD, which I have no regrets over, and through which I learned an enormous amount about myself, no regrets about leaving that one either.
  • Wrote four collections of poetry, all published
  • Finally wrote my fifth collection, about my daughter, the one that I am most proud of.
  • Wrote a play
  • Left my secure, full time job to be my own boss, set up a successful animal care business which I used as a stepping stone to eventually..
  • Become a full time freelance writer, workshop facilitator and mentor

I started the decade as a microbiologist and ended it as a writer.

I feel like I am almost unrecognisable from that pregnant woman who went into 2010 so innocently hopeful about the future. The feeling of that hope, and I can literally feel it like a bomb in my chest, even now, is painful. It broke me completely, that year, and the years to follow, but I also feel like it grew me, or grew the person I was meant to be. It stripped everything away so that only the things that were truly important were left, I’d lost the most important thing to me; the most important person to me, other than my husband.

I did alright there. i did what I needed to do to survive. i worked and I wrote and I made it through.

And now, to the future, oh the plans! The plans!

First of all, at the end of 2019 I took the decision to step away from all unpaid work. All of it. It meant making difficult decisions, but my paid work has increased so much that unless I give unpaid work up, I will never get time to actually write. I felt like I was using the unpaid work as a shield so that I didn’t have to face failing as a writer, which is crazy as I have never failed yet and besides, it’s not polarised like that, there are less successful projects and more successful projects but no writing is a failure because the act of creation is often the point of the process and the project. If that makes sense.

I have been dithering over writing a novel for about two years now, finding excuses and moaning and moaning because I didn’t have the time I wanted to put into it and suddenly it dawned on me that if I cut that unpaid work out, it would free up roughly 8-15 hours a week to write. sometimes that will be less, sometimes more depending on my paid workload, but I should always from now on have SOME time to write and also be able to take Sunday off every week to do absolutely nothing. This feels like the most incredible gift and the thing that I have been working towards for the last five years. I sat down and worked out what I want to do with the novel, worked out my research time, planning time and actual writing time, looked at plot lines and time lines an I am now seriously ready to do it.

And what’s more, I am only setting myself two goals this year and no resolutions. The novel is one goal and the other goal is myself. I want to reconnect with myself, get healthy and fit again, get myself better physically and mentally. This decade was hard, I was driven and grieving and filling the wound of my daughter’s death with work and now all that working, those fifty, sixty hour weeks are starting to pay off and I feel like I am in a good place, the sort of place that will allow me to prioritise myself and my health for a while, and my writing is a huge part of that.

As is the nature of the writer’s world, the arts world, I will be continuously applying for funded projects, commissions, grants, jobs and of course the scholarship for the new PhD, but I’m not putting all my eggs into those baskets; if they come through then I’ll adjust my plans, but at least until September I have this year to focus on the novel and myself.

I’m also hoping to build on the online courses, bring in more blogs that have less of a personal slant, more ‘how to’ blogs and I am hoping to start up some vlogs too. I’m hoping to get a chat room on my website soon so that I can make the online course system smoother and I am going to be learning how to use modern technology (yikes) to streamline further and build a proper mailing list etc. No mean feat when you are as crap with technology as I am. Watch this space!

I didn’t know how I would feel this year, my little girl would have been ten in 2020 and that feels significant. But I actually for the first time in such a long time, I feel at peace with the world and ready to take my place in it.

A massive thank you to everyone who has supported me along this journey and to the people who continue to support me, thank you for sticking with me when I was mental crazy and depressed, thank you for sticking by me now.

Happy new year, much love.

 

X

 

 

The December Round Up Blog

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It’s that time of year again. I’ve already started planning my 2020 goals, which I’ll tell you about in next week’s blog, but I wanted to end this year on a high, so to speak, and make myself a little Ta Da! list for 2019.

In a lot of ways it’s been a transitional year, one in which I have found myself facing challenges: I was turned down for every grant application I applied for and also although I knocked on a huge amount of doors, I never managed to make progress in the big projects I had planned. It’s almost impossible to get big projects off the ground without help from bigger names and organisations, but the catch 22 is that you have to BE a bigger name to actually secure the partnerships. I got a bit down about this, but actually, this has been an area of growth for me. I have learned to roll with the blows and be patient, to not compare myself to others. Once I started working on stuff I wanted to work on, rather than stuff that I thought the Arts Council wanted to see or publishers wanted to see or would make a successful PhD I found that I was happier in myself and pottering along happily in my career. Not everyone gets the meteoric rise, some of us are slow burners, and that’s OK. The other knock back came in the way of my new collection with an unexpected delay meaning that it might not come out for a good year or two. This is, again, disappointing and I’ll fill you in more when I know more. It would be easy to fall into a gloominess about all this and start labelling myself as a failure at everything I have tried to do this year. But actually, this is the arts, this is the reality of being a writer and it’s the bit that people don’t talk about. For every brilliant success, the road is littered with false starts. So, instead of focusing on the gloomy bits, I am going to celebrate myself. Well done Wend. Here is my Ta Da! list for 2019:

  1. I had my play show cased as a script in hand excerpt by the Stephen Joseph theatre
  2. I was commissioned to write an article for The Wellcome Collection on a subject that meant a huge amount to me.
  3. I was commissioned by Poetry Wales to write an article about creativity and grief, and my own journey.
  4. I had poems accepted for Poetry Wales
  5. I had poems featured in brilliant anthologies
  6. I had poems featured in The North
  7. My play is being produced as a script in hand reading for Huddersfield Literary Festival as part of their Anne Brontë day celebration
  8. I have been invited to talk about the play and Anne Brontë on a panel at Hudd lit fest.
  9. I was invited to teach a residential day for the Centre of Life Long learning in York, and it was a fantastic experience, it made me want to do more face to face teaching, I think I might be quite good at it.
  10. I made the decision to give Matilda’s things away, and I did it, and that was genuinely one of the harder parts of the last thirteen years.
  11. I worked hard to build the online courses without losing my ethical grounding and managed to increase my income. After leaving my job as a microbiologist four years ago, I am still no where near the £22,000 I was making then, but I am able for the first time in years to set a tiny amount of savings to one side every month. This was a big thing because it meant when a client let me down with a payment in December, I had savings ready to cushion the fall.
  12. I got up every time I got knocked down and kept going. I did not give up on myself, and I did the best I could.

Don’t forget there are still places for my Beginnings and Endings  January online course, book quick though, I only have five places left!

I have big plans for 2020, but that’s for the NY blog post. In the mean time, thank you for reading my blogs, have a very merry Christmas and may your days be filled with love and light.

 

Wendy

x

 

The Last Big Thing: Giving My Daughter’s Moses Basket Away

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Photo by Rahul on Pexels.com

 

I apologise in advance, I know there’s a big election on today, and I feel I should be posting something about that, but life is handing me different things to deal with right now. This is a post about baby loss, grief and the complexities of dealing with life changing trauma. If that’s not your thing, feel free to wait until the next blog comes along, I’ll be doing an end of year round up soon, which might also not be your thing but you can’t please all the people…etc.

Today, this is the blog that needs to be written. I need to write this out of me today. Experience, and wordpress stats, tells me that years after I’ve posted something about my experience of baby loss, people who are in the eye of the storm of their own losses are finding my blog posts and, I hope, finding some connection there. If you are reading this and you are in the eye of the storm that is baby loss, or you are years down the line and have fallen into one of the worm holes that grief creates in your life, I want to say this: it won’t always be like this. You will reach a point in your life where you will surprise yourself with your own bravery, you’ll know that something painful needs to be done, and you will do it despite of, or maybe even because of, the pain and the grief, because the weight of grief is equal to the weight of love. Be proud of that, be proud of yourself.

Yesterday I took Matilda’s Moses basket to Leeds General Infirmary, where I donated it to the bereavement suite there. The basket had been on top of my wardrobe, carefully wrapped up in plastic, where I had seen it every single morning when I woke up and every single evening when I went to bed and every time I went into the bedroom for the last nine years and eight months. Of all the baby things that we had bought in preparation for Matilda’s birth, this was the most important. It had taken on a significance all of its own. I have photos, which I won’t share here, of me; selfies of me pregnant with Matilda, days before she died, with the Moses basket set up in the background with her toys in it. It stayed ready for her arrival for a good few weeks after her death. I think it stayed set up until after her funeral, when all the lilies and flowers and cards had been put away and I realised it was starting to get dusty from lack of use. I remember how painful the day of packing it away was. All of these steps have been painful. It stayed waiting on the wardrobe top through all the years of IVF and the failed IVF and the long drawn out investigation into her death and the promise of two more pregnancies and the hopelessness of two miscarriages and it had become background, a part of my life that was unchanging.

This year has been very much about moving forward. I have reduced the baby stuff to the minimum now, we have only one more batch of stuff to go and Chris is wanting to be involved in that, we think we might donate it to a women’s refuge, or a baby bank. Yesterday was the big one though, the one I’d fretted about. I’d tried to do this last year but it became unbearably painful, so painful that it reduced me to not being able to function, so I’d backed out. I revisited it, amazingly, a year to the day – there must be something about this time of year and the premise of a fresh start that galvanises me into making these changes – and I arranged for yesterday to be the day that I would take this most precious of objects from the place where it had been all that time, take it out of the house for the first time since it came into the house and drive back to the place where we had been blessed to conceive with our very first ICSI, our only NHS funded attempt, and also the place where my daughter died.

I was frightened of how it would feel to do this, but after talking it over with friends, it became just completely clear that it wouldn’t matter what I did, there was just no escaping the utter pain of letting go again, and that’s what it feels like, it feels like letting go of her, every single time. I have so little of her life. There will be nothing else of her ever again, so it feels all wrong to peel these bits of her, of that time in our lives, of the hope of it all, away and send it off somewhere where I’ll never know it or use to or feel it again. It’s hard, but like I say, there’s no escaping that pain. I decided I would just have to grit my teeth and do it. I’d planned a way of finding the basket a new home that felt right – I know the basket will be used by families who are grieving their babies right there in that room where we grieved Matilda- and I hope they are told something of her, of us, so that they know we are here, reaching out to people we’ll never know, but with whom we have a very special connection.

The day was fine, sunny, sometimes cloudy, occasional rainy. I decided to break the whole day up into tiny steps, getting through each one in a way I could handle, hopefully without a full blown pain attack or a melt down.

Step One: Get Out of Bed

I was tempted to just take to my bed and avoid the situation. But I’d put ‘get out of bed’ on my To Do list, and so it was done. As it happened I was up early, I didn’t really sleep the night before. There was this awful similarity to the day of her funeral in which I knew too that I was saying goodbye and there was a terrible, grinding finality to that, but that also, it needed to be done. There’s something about the Moses basket, a sort of determined personness about it. It is specifically made for a little baby and is shaped in a way that it simply couldn’t be for anything else. I kept thinking of her coffin, the small person shaped coffin that was baby sized, and I kept thinking of that day and how I’d just had to get on with that too: I was carrying her coffin to her grave and that was that – no escape, just acceptance. This image stayed with me all day.

Step Two: Take the Moses Basket Down

I drove chris to work and treated myself to a packet of ’emergency cigarettes’ despite having a touch of bronchitis which I’d been fighting off for days. I am my own worst enemy. At some point I was ready and all that needed to be done was to take the Moses basket down and unwrap it. I think I stood there looking at the cocoon of it for about fifteen minutes wondering if I could back out and hoping that I might fall down the stairs and break an arm or something so that I wouldn’t have to go through with it. I’ve been doing this new thing lately in which I make a decision about the day, at the beginning of the day, that will make me proud at the end of the day. It’s a new way of thinking about stuff and often involves not having a drink or a smoke, or adding an extra gym class in or making a healthy choice in one way or another and I kept reminding myself that this was the thing that I was doing today that I would feel proud about later. I hooked my fingers under the basket and pulled it down onto the bed, careful not to dislodge the inch of dust on the top of the plastic. And then I unwrapped it and, oh my god, there it was.Of course it was exactly how I had left it, of course it was the same thing, a little pocket of time which I would never have again.  It smelled slightly of washing powder and newness and it was as lovely as I remembered it. I congratulated myself on my new mum taste, the basket was simple and elegant and really pretty. I’d forgotten it had a hood with it, so that came as a pleasant surprise. I thought about setting it up on its stand one more time to see what it looked like, and then decided against it. It felt too tiring to think like that, and I knew what it looked like, I have photos, the photo of me in front of it with the lovely, neat bump in my favourite maternity trackies and pretty top.

Step Three: Load up the car

This was one of the parts that I was most worried about, strangely. I didn’t want anyone to see me carrying the basket out to the car and to ask about a possible baby. Most people  in the village know what happened to us, some don’t though and ten years, or nearly ten years is a long time. I laid a blanket down on the back seat and then I literally held my breath while I went in for the basket and brought it out. It was so strange to see it there in the car. I kept thinking of her coffin in the back of the limousine on the way to the funeral, how strange that she was there between us, that we were holding hands over her, how final it all felt. But I didn’t feel upset by it, just curious. In fact I struggled to feel anything about it for most of the day. It’s catching up with me a bit more now, mind, I’m crying as I write all this. I grabbed the stand, put that in beside it, grabbed the details of the ward, the phone number, my cigs, my bag and there was nothing else to do but set off.

Step Four: Drive to the Hospital

The hospital is  about an hour and a half away. I felt like I knew the way, but I had my sat nav on and let it break the whole trip into tiny manageable pieces for me. It was a nice drive. I actually really like driving; I like the physicality of it, the routine of foot to pedal and hand on gearstick, I like the bubble of safety that a car affords. But every now and then, I’d realise that I had the Moses basket in the back of the car and a little shiver of anxiety would go through me knowing I was getting closer to the hard bit. All along the drive I felt like I was flitting though different points in my life, I felt like vapour seeping into my own memories and I was able to be many versions of me in all the different places, but also the me that was doing this thing and tidying up the the loose ends of it all. That will sound a bit crazy I imagine, but I can’t help that. When I drove past the place where, on the day of one egg collection, we hit a diversion and had to tell a police man how urgently we needed to get to the hospital (there’s a window of time which is very precise between having the trigger shot and having the eggs collected) and that feeling of excitement returned to me. I could almost see us both in our car, turning off to the diversion and speeding along, me getting more and more anxious, Chris reassuring me. When I passed the other hospital with its lovely old clock tower, and the cemetery opposite, I could so clearly remember walking around the graves finding interesting in names and engravings while we waited for bloods to be analysed, waited for news. So much waiting. And the route itself, that bright beautiful blue-sky day all those years ago, me pregnant and uncomfortable, white faced, driving to the appointment early in the morning, not realising that this was the last time, but also knowing that things were going horribly wrong. Another day in which I knew I would just have to get on with it, deal with it, face the pain head on. I couldn’t know, of course, how it would repeatedly undo me over the years.

I found the hospital, but managed to park in the wrong bit, so my little step by step approach fell to pieces at that point. I had to ring the ward before I was ready, to get directions to the place that I was supposed to be. But I did it, and my natural coping mechanism of being very bright and chirpy kicked in so that I could do the phone bit without panicking. I have a terrible phone phobia, and it gets worse with anxiety, it was one of my biggest worries because I knew I had to use the phone, so I thought I might be a bit f****d over by the phone calls, but actually it was fine, I surprised myself.

Step Five: Arrive at the Hospital, Park Up, Phone for the Midwife

When I turned up the tiny weird back road that is the entrance to the Clarendon Wing, it all came back in a huge wave of emotion. But again, not all of it bad. I remembered, of course, the car park, arriving, running though the hospital led by the consultant, running to have the c-section. And god, the horrible vulnerability of stepping outside again, three days later, with my c-section wound, wearing my maternity clothes because I hadn’t thought to bring anything but those clothes, stuffed full of painkillers and emptied out of my daughter,  the way I’d kissed her and hooked her cold finger and signed the form to send her for a post mortem and worrying. And then getting back into the cold car,  which was the car of pregnancy and family and expectation and it was the first of the shock waves of walking back into a life in which someone had been suddenly removed. But also the memory of the step where we had excitedly found the ‘lucky penny’ on the ground, it was the first day of our IVF all those years ago, it was the same place, and the hope in me and the joy of it all, that it was our turn. It’s a tiny, tiny car park. It has a tiny roundabout which I went round and round and round panicking slightly as there were no parking spaces. In the end I took the decision to park in a disabled spot, to my shame. I would move if it was needed, and since I was going to be minutes rather than any prolonged time, I thought it would be ok. I phoned the ward, asked for the midwife and she was on her way. It was time. I still hadn’t cried, still didn’t really feel much except this constant feeling of having her coffin in the car and this distanced observation of it all.

Step Six: The Handover

I got the basket and the stand out by the side of the car so that I would be easily recognisable. I knew that it was one of the midwives who had looked after us on the bereavement suite, but I was worried I’d not recognise her. I stood there in the car park and suddenly felt quite vulnerable. A couple of tears shed themselves, as I stood there looking out of place and then there she was and I did recognise her, she was someone who had been so gentle with us at a time in my life when my world had come so completely to pieces. She had brought a wheelchair to carry the basket back to the ward. She greeted me like a friend and told me how kind we were to do this, what a difference it would make. She told me about the bereavement suite and how it had been decorated recently by Ikea, for free, how the Moses basket would look beautiful with the new colour scheme. I lifted it up and placed it on the chair, placed the stand on top and suddenly it was not mine anymore. I was outside of that time and I was now looking at it as belonging somewhere else. It was an entirely new perspective, and I began to cry. The midwife hugged me. She was also crying. She asked me if I wanted to come in, she was concerned that I was driving while upset, but I was sure I’d be ok. Then we said our goodbyes. I asked for photos of the basket in situ and I hope that she’ll send some. I didn’t watch her go back with it, I couldn’t watch it. I got back in the car, set the sat nav and set off home feeling the space where Matilda had ben getting smaller and smaller. I imagined the basket being taken up to the ward, the conversations they might have about it, about us, the conversations that would be had on the suite, the first people that might use it, and how it felt right to do this, to be a part of a continued kindness that would go on and on for years.

Stage Seven: Home

The drive back was fine, I found my way, I cried a little driving home and then I was back. I had a tidy as a friend was coming round, and then I let my husband know I was back, checked on how he was. When my friend came round I couldn’t quite articulate what it had been like, I still felt quite distanced by it and just very tired. But it was good to connect with someone who cared and to have a normal chat about stuff. Then later Chris and I went for a couple of pints at our local and shared some wine and I slept, last night, better than I have for a while. I had a dream in which I was laid against the huge beating heart of a blue whale, and that image has found its way into a poem.

To conclude, finally

I did it. I feel proud of myself. Until today, writing this, I hadn’t really cried about it, but I am crying now. In half an hour my husband will be home, we’ll wander down to the polling station I will exorcise my democratic privilege, I’ll vote for kindness and a better society, then we’ll go over the road for a pint. These things are important.

This morning I woke up and looked up to the place where the basket had been just yesterday, and it was empty and it surprised me that it seemed so absent, but at the same time I don’t feel its absence. It’s still inside me somewhere, the experience, and I guess that’s all there is to it.

Thank you for reading this.

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