Stuck in the mud

Today, I have a confession. Despite my writer’s resolutions, I haven’t had a good start to 2018. Yes, I have tried to write something every day – a bit of poetry, some thoughts and a few story ideas. But no, I haven’t worked much on my novel. If I’m being really honest, I’m feeling a little stuck with it. Like the gooey mud I trudge through daily to look after my goats, the bare pages suck and cling to my pen making progress slow. Like the grey, gloomy skies above, thick with rain cloud, my mind is a blank, heavy mass.

There is plenty of material to work with, I think,  but I cannot seem to organize it in a coherent way. My scribblings stretch across numerous notebooks, scraps of paper and sticky notes. I have part chapters and sections on my computer, along with completed ones. My method so far, if it can be called that, has been some sketchy planning and then writing with the flow. This has helped to develop some interesting ideas but also plenty of disorder. My writing style seems to have uncovered a secret me that I was unaware existed under my skin – a messy, uncoordinated me. Normally a fairly neat control freak, I seem to morph as a writer into a scruffy, chaotic hoarder.

Before I can carry on with my novel, I need to put this right. I need to find order so that I can get some clarity. My aim over the next week is to gather all my writings together in one folder. Then I think I’m going to continue my novel writing in one place – a large notebook. Once written in the notebook, I can transfer it to computer ready for editing. I’m still old-fashioned and write much better with a pen in my hand first time round, though I’m fully aware this is a much slower process.

I’m off to Ireland soon to visit a friend – on my own, what luxury! There I will have space, time and quiet. Surrounded by lush, green mountains, I hope to tackle more sections of my novel and come home feeling that I have achieved something. So, I have a deadline (which is good for me as I’m sure part of my problem is only being answerable to myself). I have to get sorted before my trip.

Wish me luck!

 

Is it just me or have you ever got stuck with your writing? Are you a muddled writer or highly efficient and organized?

Four lads go out for the day

Another poem using material gathered on my recent train journey.

 

Four lads go out for the day

 

Posing, strutting,

rubbing crotches

along the seat.

Shouting, braying

billy goats on heat.

 

Throw our cans,

crunch of tin,

on the luggage rack.

Furtive, frightened glances,

give ‘em a smile and wink back.

 

I’m a big man now.

Did anyone see?

Only me mam would

be ashamed of me.

 

A boyo’s day out,

rampage in the city.

Shake our tails,

feathers wide.

Don’t we look pretty?

 

Throw our wrappers,

plastic rustle,

on the dusty floor.

Tutted annoyance meets

with snorted guffaw.

 

I’m Jack the lad.

Look at me ‘ere.

Only me dad would

clout me ‘round the ear.

 

Attracting attention,

standing out

from the rest.

Silver-backed apes

beating our chests.

 

Throw a quick f-word,

sharply crude,

in the stuffy air.

Young kids in the next seat

but we don’t care.

 

I’m a foolish child.

Hear me loud.

Only me parents would

be so proud.

 

 

‘Tis better to have loved…

“’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Alfred Lord Tennyson, in his poem In Memoriam A.H.H, spoke from the heart about the loss of his friend and the grief he felt.

On Boxing Day, we had a car accident in a surprise snowfall. My husband lost control, despite driving at a sensible speed for the inclement weather, and the car skidded. As we danced a graceful pirouette, a full 360 degrees across to the opposite side of the country lane, time seemed to elongate. I watched in horror, completely powerless; thoughts of dread that my son or daughter might be injured or killed filled my mind. “It’s all right…Hold on everyone!” I said aimlessly. I braced myself against the seat as the car returned to the correct side of the road and landed with a gentle bump against a fence post. When we stopped, the relief that everyone had escaped without harm was immense. Walking the three miles home through freezing sleet, feet slopping and slipping on the wet snow, I felt protective of my two children and husband. I led the way, torch in hand, fussing about our insufficient coats and footwear. I needed to regain some sense of control. It felt as if I had nearly lost everything that mattered to me, everything that I loved, and that shook me far more than the accident.

When I was a child, I had a recurring nightmare. I stood watching as my parents and brother descended an escalator straight into a sheet of plate glass. Every time I had this dream, I would awake crying and shaking, believing that it had happened. I was alone; I had lost everything. Since having my children, I regularly experience anxious dreams. A multitude of horrible images where they have been maimed or killed in all number of horrific incidents. When they were babies, I would imagine falling down the stairs with them in my arms. These nightmares leave me feeling drained and afraid. There is nothing I can do. I have opened myself up to this vulnerability; I have no control over what may (or may not) happen to my children. I love them and this involves the risk of getting hurt.

A few days ago, my lovely old dog had a funny turn. My husband and I returned home from searching for a replacement car and he ran excitedly to greet us, then collapsed trembling and letting out a long stream of urine over the carpet.  As we bent down to help him, he looked up at us with confused, frightened eyes and we both burst into tears. We thought it was the end for him. He is nearly sixteen; his weak heart makes him pant continuously and he stands on shaky legs, often falling over. Miraculously, it was not the end and he recovered, carrying on much the same as before. I realize this cannot continue forever, of course. Every day, week, month spent with him is a bonus.  Soon, we will have to face the heartache of losing him. We made the decision to get a dog; to let him become part of our family. We allowed ourselves to love him and must suffer the pain that is to come.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why choose to have partners and children and bring pets into our homes? Why do we allow ourselves to love when we know it will mean pain and loss at some point? Would it be better to protect ourselves from this pain; to avoid love?

Quite simply, to love is to live. Life is about having relationships with others; to make connections. I have had many moments of fun and laughter with my dog. My children have enriched my life and made it more worthwhile. If we do not allow ourselves to love through the fear of being hurt, then we do not truly live our lives. Having relationships and loving others helps us to grow and learn. It gives us meaning and purpose. There will be times when it brings us pain and loss, but living a life alone and afraid would be unbearable. Life is difficult, we must share it with others – family, friends, neighbours, pets.

I have found somebody who explains it more eloquently than I am able:

“Every time we make the decision to love someone, we open ourselves to great suffering, because those we most love cause us not only great joy but also great pain. The greatest pain comes from leaving. When the child leaves home, when the husband or wife leaves for a long period of time or for good, when the beloved friend departs to another country or dies … the pain of the leaving can tear us apart.
Still, if we want to avoid the suffering of leaving, we will never experience the joy of loving. And love is stronger than fear, life stronger than death, hope stronger than despair. We have to trust that the risk of loving is always worth taking.”    Henri J M Nouwen

Going down Cardiff for the rugby

Train journeys always provide inspiration for writers as we get to spend time with a bunch of colourful, interesting characters. We can be observers and eavesdroppers; imagining where and why the other passengers are travelling and creating stories for them. I love sitting with my notebook, listening, watching and scribbling. It helps the journey pass quickly too. I am thankful to my fellow travellers for sharing with me such gems.

Here is a poem based on a conversation overheard on a recent train journey (it would have been impossible not to hear it!). It brightened up my trip and made me giggle. Ideally, it needs to be read in a Swansea accent. Warning: it’s a little bit naughty!

 

Goin’ down Cardiff for the rugby and Linda’s 40th.

Got the T-shirts printed,

lookin’ good girls!

C’mon girls, find a seat, find a seat!

One ‘ere, one ’ere,

one by ’ere, next to me!

Open up them jelly shots, girls.

Get ‘em down yoo!

Have a drink.

Have a jelly shot.

Have a drink, girls!

Oh my God…we got a celeb ‘ere.

Gethin, he is.

We got a celeb ‘ere, girls!

Eastenders!

Quick girls, get down there…

Selfie, selfie.

Get a good’un

for Facebook like.

Don’t mind, do yoo?

He don’t mind.

Gethin he is.

Eastenders!

The teacher, he is…

Do your nails, girls.

Stick ‘em on,

stick ‘em on.

Did mine last night, mind.

Bet they’ll fall off.

‘Ow much make-up yoo got in there?

Good God!

Where yoo sleepin’ tonight?

Top ‘n tailin’ in the

same room.

Share with me,

share with me.

Mind, yoo don’t know what I got in

this ‘ere bag!

Vvvvrrrmmm –

yoo know what I mean!

No, not really like…

left it at home, didn’t I?

Don’t use one, do I?

Don’t need one.

Lucky yoo!

I got a couple of

cucumbers though.

A big one for yoo,

this long!

Come and sit up by us, Gethin.

Oh, c’mon, have a drink.

Have a jelly shot!

Have yoo put that

selfie on Facebook?

With Gethin, selfie with Gethin.

Send it me, send it me!

Gethin, sit by me ‘ere.

Sit by me.

Squish up girls,

gettin’ crowded in ‘ere.

The rugby, see.

Ooh! Squish up!

There’s nice.

Gethin, c’mon, squish up by ’ere love!

Have another jelly shot, girls!

We’ll be fallin’ asleep in the rugby.

God, I need a fag.

Not long now,

not long now, girls.

Them shots it is.

Soon as I have a drink,

I need a fag.

Gettin’ warm in ‘ere, mind.

I’ll be strippin’ off next.

Gethin, I’ll be strippin’ off love.

C’mon girls, have a jelly shot.

Cool us down, like.

Have a cocktail.

I got ‘em, in a tin, like.

Cocktail in a tin.

What in a tin?

No, not a cock in a tin!

Cocktail in a tin.

Better than tinned cock!

Gethin, come by ‘ere.

Have a cocktail, Gethin.

Want a pringle?

Want a pringle, love?

No, a pringle!

I’m starvin’! Should have

made sarnies…

We’ll fill up on cocktails, girls!

My fortieth, right, I’m

doin’ a party.

Butlins.

Brilliant.

That’s class.

I’m havin’ karaoke,

limousine, bubble disco.

That’s a date, that is.

Class.

Date that is, girls!

Gethin, come by ‘ere…

You’ll come to my fortieth, won’t you love?

Butlins, Gethin.

Class.

He’s from Eastenders, he is.

Got a selfie on Facebook.

A celeb.

Are we ‘ere?

Oh my God, I need a wee.

Desperate I am, girls.

Lookin’ forward to this, I am!

I’m free!

No kids.

I don’t get out much, see.

Resolutions of a writer

As the end of the year draws near, it is time to take stock and to think about what lies ahead. We remember the year that is passing – its joys, sadness, successes and failures – and wonder what the new year will bring. At midnight on New Year’s Eve, when we open the back door to let out the old year and the front door to let in the new, hopefully, we let out any regrets, bitterness or disappointment and welcome in positive thoughts, forgiveness and love. It is up to us to decide what to take into the future and what to leave behind in the past. The past is gone and cannot be undone. We can only move forward. The new year provides fresh opportunities. Our lives are wiped clean to begin again.

I have been thinking about my resolutions as a writer for next year. I may not have achieved all my writing goals this year but it is time to start anew. I will forgive myself and carry on.

 

Here are my resolutions:

 

Write every day

 

Take my notebook everywhere and write in it

 

Get on with writing the novel

 

Write first and edit later

 

Just write!

 

 

Do you like to take stock at the end of the year? Have you any writing resolutions?

Be grateful for the small things

I have just returned from visiting my daughter at university. It was wonderful to see her and I felt extremely proud at how well she is coping; living independently and managing the demands of her degree course with confidence. She is adapting to city life, although she misses the quiet and fresh air of the countryside.

Cities tire me out nowadays. It is a long time since I lived in one, or even in a town, so I find the change dramatic and difficult. I feel worn down and frayed at the edges after only a couple of days. My nerves jar with the constant noise, the bright lights, the flow of busy, pushing people. The air chokes with traffic fumes and the pavements are squalid with the grime of vehicle exhausts, chewing gum, dog excrement and dirty litter piling in corners. Heaped up, like the rubbish, are the homeless, pitiful in the freezing weather, wrapped in sleeping bags and inadequate blankets. My daughter finds this the hardest thing to face every day – the growing population of dispossessed individuals, so many victims of austerity.

In cities, far away from my peaceful country existence, I begin to feel desperate and hopeless. I am reminded of the vast mechanisms we humans have created – the buzzing shopping centres, the traffic networks, the huge housing estates and business developments; the concrete, tarmac, plastic and metal. I think about our debt creating consumerism, the easy-come, easy-go, throwaway habits, the pervasive, cynical advertising and longing for a celebrity lifestyle. In cities, I become fully aware of the enormous levels of resources used and waste created. Our disconnection from what is important, from our roots in nature, seems vivid.

Back home, sitting in a café overlooking a pretty little harbour on this bright, cold winter’s day, I think I must be one of the luckiest people on Earth. Reflections ripple on the sea, green like a gull’s egg. The vast sky is baby-blue with perfect fluffy mountains of cloud. Pale, winter sunlight casts clear light over hills that stretch for miles around the coastline, folding into mist in the distance. Earlier, I stood on the harbour wall and watched a pod of dolphins feeding in the bay. Darting arcs of darkness in the water, then flashes of white and pointed blades of tails slicing the waves as fins disappeared into the depths. Gulls tumbled and called sharply above betraying the visitors. An awe-inspiring sight, a glimpse into another, unknown world, and rare for me to see them so close in.

As I sit with my pot of earl grey tea, the realization overcomes me that I am privileged to witness these wonders. I am lucky to live where I do, to have the time and enough money to gaze at this picturesque scene. Not everyone has the opportunity and I worry that I have been a snob; smug and patronising in my attitude towards city life. I think I have been too hard on cities and their occupants. It’s easy for me, tucked away on my smallholding, to be negative about cities and to extol the virtues of the countryside with its space, peace and clean air. Yes, cities highlight the problems we humans have created but the countryside is not a total idyll either. Perhaps the truth is that I’ve hidden myself away from the realities of life. The countryside has its issues. Looking around me, I see other customers engrossed in phone screens, unaware of what they have around them. People here have become disconnected too; they have the same obsessions with quick, fake news stories and social media. They are wrapped up in the mundane, every day of their lives. There is litter here, I pick it up with growing irritation as I walk my dogs. Farms cause environmental problems with their abundant use of fertilizers and pesticides. Animals are often treated as commodities in the countryside, not living creatures deserving our respect. There is homelessness and poverty too, though it may be less obvious. Last week, I bought a copy of The Big Issue from a young woman who has recently started selling it in my nearest small town.

When I feel despair overtake me, I try to stop and be positive. Yes, we humans have made a mess of some things but we are capable of great things too. I try to remember these great things. They may be small but they are there, in the cities and in the countryside. People are inherently good. It is up to us, no matter where we live, to put things right. Steps are being taken in our communities by caring individuals. Those small steps make a difference; a slow but continuing change for the better. Visiting my daughter in the city, I saw evidence of these good things: a young man giving money to a homeless man and having a conversation to show someone cared; a food bank project for those in poverty, my daughter collecting unwanted items from her student friends to donate; a nature reserve in the middle of the city mayhem; a vegetarian restaurant with Hindi temple, education centre and hostel; an allotment project for those who have experienced homelessness, drug misuse and mental health problems. Here in the countryside too, people are working to make life better: my nearest town is a fair-trade town; there is a permaculture centre up the hill from me; organic and local food initiatives are growing; the vegetarian café is running a Christmas shoebox scheme for the homeless.

We must be glad of these small steps. We can find hope in them. In our crazy, chaotic world where sometimes our lives can seem pointless or we can feel powerless, we can make a difference. I’ve come to the conclusion that life isn’t really about striving for a purpose or about making or achieving great changes in the grand scheme of things, though of course there are those that will. The point is, we all can make some difference by living our lives in the best way we can. We must be kind, loving and caring. We must treat all living creatures and our environment as we would wish to be treated. We must make the most of every day and look for the good things. We must live simply and not selfishly. Yes, at times it is hard – the bad stuff that goes on will hurt, my experience in the city left me feeling bruised for a while, but I think we must keep spreading, communicating and sharing our feelings, our beliefs and our love. That way we can make a difference in some way to the world, and that is a special thing to achieve.

A meeting in the garden

Recently, I have returned to a childhood favourite, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. My copy is tatty and falling to pieces as I’ve read it many, many times over the years. I remember receiving it for Christmas when I was ten, and being very excited. It was my best present that year. As a child, I devoured books and was always in need of something new to read. Both my children enjoyed the book as their bedtime story when they were small, so it is special to me and my family.

Revisiting The Secret Garden is like being wrapped in a warm blanket. I know the story so well I can relax completely into it; comforted in the familiar. I meet up with old friends and reacquaint myself with their personalities. There is Mary, spoilt and selfish, with a tragic past. There is Martha, with her sunny disposition and optimistic outlook. There is Ben Weatherstaff, grumpy and cross, with a hidden, soft heart. There is Colin, crippled by his heart-broken father’s rejection. There is the bright, beady-eyed robin, intelligent and all-seeing. Finally, there is Dickon, a breath of fresh, untamed air, bringing nature and wild things with him.

For an ordinary girl, living on a dreary council estate in the 1970s, an isolated manor house set on a beautiful, unpredictable moor provided the perfect backdrop for the story. The idea of a secret, walled garden opened exciting, romantic possibilities. My own life, with worries about school and growing up, could be forgotten for a while. I think I fell a little bit in love with Dickon.

Now, turning the yellow pages of my ageing book, I am reminded of days sitting reading for hours, immersed deeply in the story, unaware of anything going on around me. Although I still read as much as possible and get lost in other worlds, it is rare for me to abandon reality in the carefree way I did as a child.

 

Which old favourites from childhood do you enjoy revisiting? Do they stir any memories?

The wait is worth it

Being a parent to teenagers seems to be a process of waiting. Certainly I spend hours every week waiting for my son. With coat and shoes on, keys in hand, I wait for him to be ready to leave the house. In the car, windows fogged, radio on, or scribbling in a notebook, I wait while he has a piano or guitar lesson, or for him to finish work, or for his college bus to arrive. Breath bated, I wait for him to make a decision (about anything – he likes to think things over).

Whenever I begin to feel impatient or frustrated about the time I spend waiting, I stop and remind myself that this won’t last forever. Each stage of parenthood is a fleeting moment on a whirlwind train journey; each station passed in a blur. We have our children with us for such a short time before they head off and make their own way. Once, I waited for nine months, nervous and excited, for my babies to arrive. Today, I can barely remember what it felt like to hold their warm bodies in my arms; tiny, vulnerable and needing only me. As I paced the bedroom floor every sleepless night, humming lullabies and rocking my restless little ones, I would never have believed I could forget; then it was all-consuming, now I miss it sometimes.

So, I am thankful for these moments of waiting for my son. I am happy he is still here for me to enjoy his company. I make the most of the time we have together before he is off, like his sister before him. Waiting provides me with an opportunity to think, to listen, to observe and to create. The radio is an intelligent companion and suggests many ideas for writing. Looking out of the window, I observe interesting characters passing by. I watch the changing sky and the swooping birds. The pages of my notebook fill up. Great chunks of my novel have been jotted down as I sit waiting.

Waiting is worth it.

 

 

 

 

Talking to yourself is a sign you’re a writer

I am never alone. I have multiple personalities inhabiting my head. A throng of people, of varying genders, sizes and ages. Sometimes these people talk; they whisper, shout, argue, cry and laugh inside my mind. Sometimes they burst out into the real world. They escape on to paper; become stories and poems others can read. Sometimes they break out as words; fragments of conversations spoken into the air where others can hear. My husband and children are used to my odd behaviour. ‘What did you say?’ they ask and I reply, ‘Just talking to myself’, or ‘Just thinking about a bit of my novel.’ With a shrug of the shoulders, they carry on. When it happens around other people, it can be embarrassing.

The first time I remember, was as a small girl, in a supermarket which was rather dull. I was making up a story to relieve my boredom. I’ve forgotten what it was about. In the middle of an involved exchange with some imagined character, I looked up and noticed two shelf-fillers had stopped what they were doing and were listening to me. They had broad, entertained grins on their faces. Reddening, I turned and hurried back down the aisle.

Since then, I have had many experiences of being overheard. My mind gets carried away, the characters come to life and out the words come, normally hushed under my breath. It can happen anywhere; on buses, trains, walking the dogs, shopping. I have had people ask if I am all right or if I am speaking to them. I have had people laugh or sneer. I have had people edge away awkwardly, concern on their faces. Mostly, I am met with bemused amusement. I feel a little foolish but it does no harm. In fact, it even does some good. The listener gets a good chuckle and something to talk about, while I develop my story lines.

It is acting with me taking every role. Playing out different scenes and characters helps me work out the plot. I become that person for a while; think, feel and respond as them. I decide how they would behave in each situation. It is part of who I am; I cannot imagine my life without the company of these others. Once, it worried me. I thought perhaps I was too caught up in a fantasy world; I was a bit kooky. After all, they say talking to yourself is a sign of madness. I am no longer bothered by it; I am aware where reality ends and the stories begin. It turns out that talking to yourself is a sign you’re a writer.

 

What do you think, fellow writers? Do you talk to yourselves too?

 

 

 

5 things my goats teach me about writing

Anyone who knows me, knows I love spending time with my goats. Every day, their affectionate and funny antics make me laugh. I am happy and relaxed in their company.  My gingerbread boys help me think about myself as a writer. They provide inspiration and encourage my creativity.

Here are 5 things my goats teach me about writing:

1. Be on the look-out

Goats are always alert. No matter what they are doing, one ear is pricked listening, senses heightened, observant of any action taking place in the vicinity of the house or garden. Any passing vehicle, any person opening a door or gate, any animal or bird, wild or domestic, is noted with interest. Heads pop up, eyes bright and intelligent, to assess the situation.

As a writer, I must be observant. I must be on the look-out in my environment, searching for new ideas and experiences. An idea may come from anywhere. I must be open and ready. My own senses heightened, aware of sounds in my ears, smells in my nose, tastes in my mouth, colours, shapes and images in my eyes, feelings and sensations on my skin. I must use these sensory experiences to inform and improve my writing.

2. Be curious

Goats are intelligent and eager to learn. They constantly explore their environment. Anything new needs closer investigation. At first from a distance, looked over thoroughly with calculating eyes. Then, if considered safe, a close and rigorous sniffing with velvety, wet noses, and tasting with soft, malleable lips.

As a writer, I must be curious and eager to learn. I must go out and explore my environment to find material. Where necessary, I must research new topics to add interest, realism and depth to my writing.

3. Have fun

Goats enjoy life. They love to play; skipping and leaping around the paddock, butting and scuffling with one another, climbing logs and fences. They find pleasure in everything they do. They test out any object discovered, experimenting and turning it into a game.

As a writer, I must have fun. I must be playful; unafraid to experiment with different ideas.  Trying out new techniques, will empower and develop my writing abilities. It will help me find my voice as a writer.

4. Be sensitive

Goats are gentle, empathetic creatures. Just as they are aware of their surroundings, they are aware of other’s emotions. They can sense a person’s mood; giving a reassuring nuzzle or bounding up for a game depending on what is needed.

As a writer, I must be empathetic. I must be aware of the emotions of my characters and deal with them sensitively. I must also be aware of my reader’s emotions and experiences which will influence the way they read my novel. Understanding how other people feel will help me write more effectively, touching upon the realities of other lives.

5. Persevere

Goats never give up. They are determined, stubborn animals; spending time plotting and planning their moves. Once a decision is made, like jumping a fence or breaking into the vegetable plot, they will not stop until they have achieved their goal.

As a writer, I must never give up. I must be stubborn and determined; planning, plotting and writing my novel until it is finished. I must face rejection and still keep going until I have achieved my goal. I will not stop.

 

So, I believe we can learn a lot from the way our animals behave. What do you think? Has an animal inspired or helped you with your writing?