Sitting on the train back from Manchester I let my mind wander. Is space really the final frontier? Perhaps, but I would argue there is one that lurks a lot closer to home. The confines by which we live, think, engage and converse are all set…by us. We have errected our own barriers, our own limits. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the way we work.
We have conditioned ourselves to be busy bees, always having somewhere to go, something to do. ‘I’m busy people’ we shout to anyone that will listen. But what if we stopped? Someone I admire once said if he saw me staring from the window he knew I was thinking. I may have just been thinking about what I’d like for tea, or when I needed to feed the dog, but the fact I’d given myself the head space meant I was already a step ahead. Giving yourself the freedom to ‘just be’ and let your mind do its thing can sometimes get lost in the drama of life. The ‘I’m too busy’ to think mantra perches on your shoulder and before you know it 💥 – another day gone.
So lovely people my advise for a rainy December day – ditch the ‘busy barrier’ and give yourself the time and space to think – you’ll be amazed at what happens!
No one said this writing lark was easy! Well, if they did they were either lying or delusional.
With lots of ‘life events’ consuming a large portion of 2018, my writing for the most part has taken a backseat. Yes, of course I have dabbled, I have written everyday but not ‘big’ writing. For ‘big’ writing I needed time and headspace, both of which have been in short supply this year.
From birthing puppies (I kid you not), to providing a taxi service for the kids, 2018 has added a few more ‘life lived’ chapters to my story.
With Autumn well and truly ensconced (what a fine word ensconced is), I am getting back into my groove and tap tap tapping away. Dark nights and dark mornings I love them!
Book 3 is back on my desk and I’m editing like crazy. It has been good to step away and come back to it. Amazing what you discover the third and fourth time around!
Now it’s a race to the finish – on your marks, get set… Go!
When Gail Aldwin and I met on Twitter we were keen to share the experience of living and writing in the South West of England. I am pleased to welcome Gail to my blog. She answers our shared questions below, followed by mine. First, let me introduce Gail.
Gail Aldwin lives and writes in Dorchester. She is Chair of the Dorset Writers’ Network and works as a visiting tutor to creative writing students at Arts University Bournemouth.
1. Have you always lived in South West England?
Dorchester in Dorset became my home in 2007. At the beginning, I wasn’t particularly pleased to be moving from my lovely life in south London but my children and me had to up sticks when my husband got a job in the county town. I soon came to appreciate the benefits of living in a county area and it certainly extended the childhood experiences of my son. He spent his summers building camps and swimming in the river where his London friends thought a good day out was visiting Chessington World of Adventures.
Although I was brought up in London, I spent several years travelling overseas and have lived and worked in Australia, Papua New Guinea and Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. I do like a remote and beautiful location but living in one is not always easy. There are stories set in Australia and Papua New Guinea in Paisley Shirt, my recently published collection of short fiction. Something of a place remains with me from all the different locations I’ve experienced.
2. Is there one particular place in the South West that is special to you, if so why?
My husband is from Cornwall and we spent many summers on the north coast when my children were little. Our favourite beach is Chapel Porth near St Agnes where a river meets the sea. Out of season, my husband and son spent many hours damming the river in order to flood the beach but that wouldn’t make them popular in the summer when it gets packed with visitors. My novel The String Games draws from my experience of losing my son when he was three years old on a crowded beach. While I was busy smothering my daughter in sunscreen, he wandered off. I started searching for him by heading in the wrong direction. In spite of a tannoy announcement, he was lost for forty minutes then I eventually found him way down the beach jumping over the ways and completely oblivious to the panic he had caused.
Closer to home in Dorchester, it’s possible to walk across the water meadows and experience Thomas Hardy country. I love going to the cottage that is the place of his birth in Higher Bockhampton. I usually take a detour to visit the great writer’s gravestone in the churchyard at Stinsford. Although it was Hardy’s dying wish to be buried there with his parents, the executor of his will had other ideas and Hardy’s body ended up in Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey while his heart was buried in Dorset. Along the shaded riverside walk, I imagine how this place sparked ideas for Hardy and try to generate a few myself!
3. What’s it like to be a writer in the South West?
Dorset has a thriving writing community with literary events scheduled across the county. I am Chair of the Dorset Writers’ Network and work with the steering group to inspire writers and connect creative communities. We do this by putting on workshops and talks to support writers at different stages of their writing journey. The South West is full of creative people and I love to link up with writers in different counties. I have taken steps to achieve this by joining activities in Devon. I delivered a spoken word performance at the Sandford Y Festival book event and participated in the Chudleigh Dragons pitching competition as part of their annual festival. I would love to see better links for writers across the South West so that we can celebrate the creativity of the region.
The short answer is no! I started my journey towards living in the West Country as a ‘grockle’ (tourist). The children were small back then and we would set off at the crack of sparrows and head west. Like many who’d travelled before us, we would wind our way slowly down the A303 for two glorious weeks in North Devon come rain or shine! We promised ourselves that if we ever got the opportunity to relocate we would grab it with both hands. Well, that’s what happened. In 2010 we relocated because of my husband’s work. It was a big decision. I am so proud of the way our kids adapted. It was a big shock initially, but within a few months they were taking everything in their stride – even school lessons delivered on the beach – now that was a first!
Until our move to Devon I had lived mainly in big cities such as London and New York. My work in international PR and marketing took me all over the world, and I know I draw on a lot of those experiences when I write.
I now live betwixt the villages of Iddesleigh and North Tawton. Iddesleigh is famously the home of author Michael Morpurgowhilst North Tawton was home to the late poet laureate Ted Hughes. It is a place of isolation, and I love it. There is something quite profound about my small hamlet which runs along the river Taw. Perhaps it is the ebb and flow of the river. I’m not sure, but I know it has worked its way into my bones. Living in a farming community the effects of late harvests, early harvests, failed crops, all subconsciously inform my thinking. I seem to draw on the landscape especially with my short stories.
2. Is there one particular place in the South West that is special to you, if so why?
I find myself drawn back to the River Taw time and time again. When we first arrived in Devon, it was the first place I discovered within walking distance of the house. We would spend many a happy hour skimming stones, swimming or sitting on ‘the beach’ (a patch of sandy shingle by the river’s edge). There are many ‘hidden’ parts of the river and every time I walk there I find something new.
Further afield I would say it would have to be the North Devon coastline. It is wild and structurally stunning. The rock formations you see are dramatic and magnificent. I have a story in mind for that coastline! Peppered in between the ancient stone cliffs are sandy coves and big expanses of golden beaches. My favourite beach is Westward Ho! The only place in the UK to have an exclamation mark as part of its name – fact!
3. What is it like to be a writer in the South West?
Devon is a superb place to write, and if someone were to do an audit or something clever like that I believe they would find a writer present in every village! There are a wealth of literary festivals and events across the county, which provide fantastic opportunities for support and collaboration year-round. It is such a positive community. I belong to a group called the Sakura Positive Press Writers Group; we hold open mic evenings in our local pub for storytelling. It’s great fun. It would be great if we could roll this out across the region. Stories were initially told that way, and it would be great to see this form reignited.
Today I happened upon this quote. It spoke to my heart so I thought I would share it.
“At heart write always for yourself, not for family and friends, for admired teachers, for reviewers or publishers; but make sure you write from your real self, not that one besotted by vain glorious dreams of a future self. One day you will realize that the true rewards of writing lie inalienably in the writing itself.”
After the week I’ve had (I know it’s only Tuesday) all I needed to do was to lie quietly in a dark room and recharge. After a super early start and a 5-mile walk with the naughty dog, I sat down to write. It was to be my quiet time, my time to complete another round in my (editing) chamber of hell. That reminds me, my third novel, I’m pleased to report is being tweaked and polished… Again! As a distraction, I wanted to work on something that did not involve a red pen and lines.
For inspiration, I looked through projects I’d begun and not finished. Works which for whatever reason I’d put onto the back burner but didn’t burn. Maybe secretly deep down I hoped they could be resurrected. After all, where there’s life there’s hope, right?
I spend the first hour or so on the internet doing ‘research’ (OK… randomly doing anything but writing), then set to it.
I had two lightbulb moments –
‘who the hell wrote this dross?’ and ‘some of this isn’t that bad.’
The dross has now gone to the log basket to be ‘recycled’ – the rest? Well, the rest is being restored and will be looking for a home in the not so distant future. Onwards people onwards…
Now in its seventh year, National Flash Fiction Day is dedicated to the celebration of writing in one of its shortest forms (Flash). Flash fiction is usually considered to be a story under a 1000, 500 or 300 words. Anything less is regarded as ‘micro-fiction’ (100 words) or a ‘minisaga’ (50 words).
The roots of flash fiction go back (literally) centuries. In the 1920’s flash was known as ‘the short short story’.
Flash fiction sits perfectly with our crazy busy lifestyles. A 500-word piece can be easily read on the train, bus – in fact anywhere.
The nuts and bolts of what measures up as a piece of Flash Fiction are difficult to pin down, but I’ll give it a go. For me, the art of a good piece of flash fiction lies in what the author does not say. It’s down to you the reader to grasp the meaning and fill in those spaces between the words. It needs to grab you, keep you wondering.
This year I am lucky enough to have my flash fiction ‘Yellow’ feature on the Flash Flood Journal blog in celebration of Flash Fiction Day. Take a peak here
Tomorrow June 16th is National Flash Fiction Day. As part of the celebrations, I have been fortunate enough to have my flash fiction story ‘Yellow‘ selected for inclusion. I shall be featured alongside some fine authors each with a captivating story to tell. For 24 hours from midnight tonight you can read a myriad of fine tales all 500 words or below. My offering ‘Yellow‘ will be up at 05:00 BST. I would love it if you could set your alarm, give it a read and post a comment (I know a big ask but if you don’t ask and all that…). I am in good company, my friends and fellow authors Jane Lomas and Rosie Canning also have their flash pieces included. Rosie’s story ‘The Swimmer’ will be up sometime between 06:00 – 07:00 and Janes story ‘First Love’ will be up at approx.07:12. Whenever you tune in there will be a story to tickle your literary taste buds. Check out all of the wonderful stories from midnight tonight here
Here is an important post from my friend and fellow author Amy M. Reade. This is so heartbreaking but so important. Thanks for agreeing to share your blog post Amy. Over to you…
The post I originally wrote for today was about my summer reading wish list, but that will have to wait until next week.
Today my heart is broken for a family I’ve never met.
Yesterday a student at the high school two of my children attend took his own life. I found out about it this morning through my church’s prayer chain. I have no words for the sorrow I feel for this boy’s family.
This is not the first time this has happened at the school. In fact, it’s at least the fourth time in as many years. There is something really, really wrong when a child feels there is no hope and no help.
Please, please, if you know anyone who is thinking of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can also contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline via chat at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/.
Whether you contact them by phone or online, someone is there to help 24/7 all across the United States. And because I know people from all over the world read this blog, click here for a list of suicide hotlines by country. Please note that Northern Ireland, Scotland, and England are listed under United Kingdom. If you know any information on that list to be incorrect, please let me know and I’ll post the correct information below in the comments.
If you know someone who is struggling emotionally or mentally, you could be the catalyst for getting that person the help he or she desperately needs. Please visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-someone-else/ to find out what you can do to help. There’s also great information about things you shouldn’t do.
Please keep struggling families in your prayers, and please remember to be kind–you never know what someone else is going through.
A few days ago I received some rather good news. One of my short stories has been shortlisted for a competition. After the initial ‘yes, it really is your story, no you are not dreaming’, came gasps of joy, disbelief and an overwhelming sense of all good things. Buried deep, almost hidden I found strength. Let me explain… Writing can be a lonely experience, the road is often filled with diversions. Great big signposts fill your head – ‘give up’, ‘you’re rubbish’, ‘not good enough’. Writing novels is a long experience and takes an awful amount of strength. As time goes by that strength can wane, as it does those ‘signs’ sitting on your shoulder grow bigger. Being shortlisted has refuelled me. It has given me strength, provided re-enforcement to keep going.
I do not know if I will win, but I do know that I am now superwoman and can conquer the world once more!