(Re)telling tales: Peg O’Nell

The following text reproduced below was adapted to retell the story of Peg O’Nell, retold for Georgey on BBC Local, October 2017.

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Clitheroe lies south of the Forest of Bowland. It’s a pretty town in the Ribble Valley, Lancashire and close to Pendle Hill, the site which continues to capture the imagination as it’s linked with the famous 1612 witch trials. With rows of stone clad buildings and lovely hills and a petite Norman keep. This keep with its famous hole in the side attributed to a local legend that the devil, Old Nick, himself had caused it, a lucky hit from lobbing boulders he’d collected from the nearby Pennines to throw… But that, in the words of the magical storyteller Shonaleigh, is a story for another time.

This evening I’m going to tell you a story that to chill you, one that causes goosebumps. And that is the tale of Peg O’Nell who is said to haunt the area around Waddow Hall.

We’ll start how all good stories start:

Once upon a time, a very long time ago there was an old hall located in Waddington. This is Waddow Hall, a fine manor house that overlooks the river Ribble. So the legend goes, there was a well in the grounds, just by the river. For many years, standing next to the well was a statue of a lithe young woman, a stone figurine that from a distance and at first sight seems fine but look a little closer and you’d realise that it was battered, pitted with time and wear, and headless. This is said to be the statue of Peg O’Nell, who many months, years and moons ago was a servant of the Starkie family.

Imagine, the life of a servant girl! Running around after the spoiled rich inhabitants, warming the bath for the master and mistress of the house with nary a hot drop for herself. Eating any leftovers in the back rooms with the cook and other staff of the house. And the last days of Peggy were not happy ones. Peggy and the lady of the house had never seen eye to eye; the mistress thought Peggy was feckless, lazy, a good for nothing. But we have to remember that Peg was probably no more than a young teen.

The bickering and cajoling went on all year. And in the winter time, the chill really sets in the north west of England; it’s wet, it’s freezing. When it snows, the hills look as if they’re tucked into thick white sheets. On one of the bleakest, wintry nights, the Mrs ordered Peggy to draw some fresh water from the well near the river:

‘Right my girl, ah’m talkin’ to ye, go addle some water from yon well’
‘But missus, it’s so cowald art there.’
‘Stop yer blubber, brat, if yer don’t aw’ll beat yer; aw’m not coddlin.’
‘But missue, ‘tis so icy, aw’ll break mi neck if aw try’
‘Be off wi’ yer, an’ may yer break yer neck indeed!’

So, poor Peggy, scared of yet another beating, tried to quell her fear as she strapped up her badly cobbled boots and stepped outside. The wind cut through her, she panted scared clouds of condensation formed clouds in front of her eyes, fine threads of ice, like spider webs, formed in her hair. As she lumbered down the path to the river, struggling with a heavy bucket, but as she came near to the well she slipped on some icy stepping stones, tipping forward, and then landed, heavily down on her head. There was a sharp snap, as her neck broke sharply in two and her body rolled slowly down the hill, down the bank, and tumbled into the river. It was hours before a search party was sent out and there, in the water was the body of the girl, floating awkwardly on the water, the empty bucket on its side near the well.

Not long after, there were a series of accidents and calamities. Any sickness or misfortunate was blamed on the residents of Waddow Hall and on Peggy’s ghost. And every seven years, there was a mysterious death in the nearby village. All of this, of course, was attributed to Peg whose restless spirit some reported seeing near the river’s edge.

Of course, like any legend, this blew out of all proportion when it is said that people began to offer an animal sacrifice to appease the spirit. It’s been a little while since I’ve been in those parts, however, when I’ve walked down near the Ribble I swear I hear a voice singing, entreating me to enter its waters.

Take a life, take a life, every seven years
appease the spirit of this place
forgo any tears
keep Peggy sweet, keep us safe, it’s only just the one
give a life, give a life, or we’ll all be done

But I’m sure that I’m imagining things. At least I think I am. As for the statue, well, it was still there a few years ago, still mutilated all overgrown with bindweed and moss. And as for the ghost of Peggy herself it seems at rest, but beware; if you’re near the river on Peg’s Night and it’s the turn of the seventh year then you’d best watch your back.

(REPOST) Poetry Collaboration – ‘A Woman’s War’ (link to the poem)

This is reposted from my PhD research blog: www.writingRochdale.wordpress.com.

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Rochdale Rainbow

Wandering past the leisure centre heading towards the rainbow: last night’s walk to KYP’s headquarters in Rochdale.

I have written a brief summary of last night’s event organised by KYP, however, because I can’t quite work out how to reblog it verbatim, here’s the link to Touchstones Creative Writing Group’s website* where I’ve just republished our poem: Earnshaw & Bailey debut new poem commissioned by KYP.

I enjoyed this whirlwind process, getting back to research, and the challenge of writing a poem in a week over email as the snow scuppered any face-to-face meetings. (Some of my reflections on this process are in the two previous blog posts.) Working with Eileen was a complete joy; it’s not the first time I’ve written/created with others but it is the first time that I have co-created a poem. Collaboration is ace.

I hope that we’ve captured some of the voices and tales of the women, I feel that there are still so many narratives to learn and many we never hear. I will try writing something more substantial on last night’s event, mainly because there were stories that I was unaware of and alternative perspectives that I need to think about some more. This will be in the future as there was quite a lot to digest  – not just the amazing basmati rice and samosas! – and the next blog posts on Denis Wood and the Northern Powerhouse have already been planned and are being drafted.

Note

* Just want to state, for transparency, that I do facilitate writing sessions and am part of the group’s voluntary committee where my main role is web/digital coordinator for the writing group. I’m still working on fettling that website!

“you can dance and I will sing and merrily pass the day”

Snowdrops begin to shoot up through leaf litter. Fletcher Moss Park, Didsbury. January 2018.

Snowdrops begin to shoot up through leaf litter. Fletcher Moss Park, Didsbury. January 2018.

February is a month of pearl: the snow has nearly been completely replaced by the sheen of gold or royal purple croci. The bright white bells of snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) droop down as if contemplating the earth.

I submitted my PhD thesis on the 13th Feb, hooray! (Even after being hit with flu again just before finishing – who gets flu twice in less than 2 months? Seriously?! Me obviously…) Anyway, a chunk of goal 1 has been met! It will take anywhere from 6 – 10 weeks (perhaps longer) before I have to defend it. Trying to suspend panicking about this.

So.

I’ve been trying to have a small break from thinking about: Rochdale or place theories or maps or the Northern Powerhouse (of course I’ve thought about all of these things). However, I have been trying to indulge in goal 3 (make stuff) over the last week through knitting a pair of socks. But have RSI in my middle finger which I’m going to blame on too much tension while sock knitting and watching some of the breathtaking, and incredible, Olympic snowboarding/skiing tricks. Annoyingly, this has coincided with the – expected but hard to take – post-thesis hand-in comedown after last week’s joyful relief of slam dunking it in. Knitting was keeping me sane! Ah well.

As for other goals:

  • Goal 3 (make stuff): Current RSI in finger has put knitting on hold, going to sew up my mum’s birthday present this evening.
  • Goal 4 (friends): Working on it! Sorry friends. Went to a family party in Bristol, though, so getting back into being sociable.
  • Goal 5 (make music): I’m not singing – yet. Will rectify this when I’m feeling a bit more up-for-it (winter = never a good time). It WILL happen. Yes.
  • Goal 6 (avoid despair, do stuff): Erg, with the current torrent of poo that is politics I suspect that this one may be a deal breaker. However, much solidarity with those affected by Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS pensions) who’re striking for their and their colleagues – and their colleagues to come – futures.

Goal 2 is currently in progress, however, I’m trying to take on more tutoring while looking for something a little more steady. I have had an application rejected recently which I was a little surprised about as I thought I was qualified enough to at least get to the interview stage – hey ho, one of those things. In the meantime, I am tutoring one student at the moment who is capable, creative and funny but a bit stubborn in completing homework tasks. When asked to give the synopsis of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde this was the response: “Jekyll’s just, like, chillin’ while Hyde does the killin’.” Teenagers are ace. I love teaching. (I have advised that this is perhaps not the best context to use when in exam conditions!)

Exciting writing collaborations and commissions are still happening so will post more when things are firmed up. And my heart is warmed by the return of blackbird song. Spring is definitely getting louder.

Song inspiration:
Samson & Delilah, ‘Begone Dull Care’, And Straight On Till Morning.

‘the blues they send to meet me won’t defeat me’

It’s been a while!

Moon on 1st January, not quite a super moon but still brilliant through the silver birch.

Moon on 1st January, not quite a super moon, still brilliant through the silver birch.

That new year freshness, a small glimmer, even in the constant Yorkshire rain. Not a blank page, perhaps a hopeful continuation.

These are not resolutions per se, more loose goals for this year (well, except goals 1 & 2; they’re fixed). Writing more is taken as a given so I’ve not included ‘write more’ as writing is part of who I am regardless of sharing it. I’ve not included more walking in wildlife too as above.

2018 Goals
1. Finish PhD thesis, hand it in, try to pass PhD. Take a short break after this to recover.
2. Find a job/some sort of paid work that draws upon goal 1.
3. Make at least one thing a month; crafting keeps me focussed and stops feelings of inadequacy; I can be joyfully amateur in this pursuit. Expect pictures of knitted objects/dresses over on Instagram.
4. Reconnect with friends.
5. Start singing again (I’ve now promised 2 people that I’d do this and I hate breaking promises).
6. Try not to get depressed about ongoing crappy political bobbins, but take action when possible/able.

There are continuing projects (two writing groups, some teaching and tutoring), and I’ve some ideas for projects – the sort of stuff to make the heart satisfied if not happy and not necessarily for cash. I’m trying to balance expectations, including my own. I can overstretch myself by being over-ambitious – sometimes too ambitious for my skill set – & this, as I discovered in December, leads to burnout & then succumbing to every bug that’s floating around northern England.

I am excited about an upcoming writing collaboration which I’ll share more of when it gets going (ooo, intrigue!).

Finally, I mentioned this site is changing last year. So, when blogging personal stuff, I’m going back to a convention I used over a decade ago when Livejournalling: trying to find song lyrics to sum up the blog post I’m writing. I’ll note the artist, song & album (where relevant) in case you want to look it up.

Song inspiration:
B.J Thomas / Burt Bacharach ‘Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on my Head’, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Original Score

Writing back into it

I had a job interview last week, I didn’t get the job. It was a (very) part-time, temporary post, but I still would have liked it as the department looked ace. I did, of course, put a lot of preparation and thought into it. (Not going to whine: this preparation isn’t wasted as I can use it with my creative writing groups and future interviews.) This meant that last week the work towards PhD thesis completion was a little limited.

I have a month to go.

I’m so close. It’s nearly at the complete draft / rip bits up / rewrite problem areas – or at least flag ’em up for potential discussion / neaten and sort out the (blasted!) referencing stage.

‘Er, Jen?’ I hear you say, ‘If you’re so close then why the heck are you writing here rather than in Chapter Six 19.09.17.docx?’

Well, since you asked so nicely, it’s partly because I feel a little burned out and therefore moderately distractible/down, partly because of the time of year, but mostly it’s The Fear. The last two chapters were supposed to be the “best” chapters, the two I feel that I know most about. A chance to showcase some of my own creative work.

I open the document.

Know what I have to do.

Then stare at the cursor, it beats on the screen as if it’s constantly giving me the finger.

Flip, flip, flip.

I’ve built it into this impossible thing – where ambition outstrips ability (and time-scale). To evoke a simile involving the South Pennine fringe: it’s like climbing up the surface of the sheer gritstone face of Summit Quarry in the rain, with no carabiners nor any climbing nous. I’ve gotta climb this beast and the only way, for me, to do that is to write into it. Et voila, a blog post.

Hyperbole aside, while this piece of work, ultimately, won’t change the shape of the universe: ‘there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle’. Over the past few years, it’s taught me a few things about writing. In creativity, there is ‘a place for the genuine’.

Rather than a WOW! These Ten Writing Tips will BLOW YOUR MIND, the following is a list of things I find helpful (when I remember to put them into action). And I’m sharing them in the hope that it’s a helpful list! Would love to hear your thoughts too.

  1. That little voice, you know, the one that says ‘What the hell are you doing?! What right do you have to do that? You know that it’s going to be rubbish anyway? You can’t!’ may not go away but there are ways of coping with it
  2. You ARE good enough. And you CAN do this. Just gotta believe it – while retaining a sense of humility.
  3. Foster a resilience: learn it, remember it, put into practice.
  4. Locate your allies, they do exist. (In my case: my supervisory team, friends, family, fellow creatives.) If low, and feeling on your own, they will be there.
  5. Unless someone has something constructive to say, ignore the trolls. (I know, it’s hard, people can be gits.) As Taylor Swift sings: ‘Haters gonna hate, (hate, hate, hate, hate)’.
  6. Sometimes you’ve got to write your way in, or around it, to get where you need to go to. Or, if not, to take you on a wobbly, or even circuitous, route elsewhere.
  7. Your writing &/or research is important; there may not be many other people writing about, or looking into, this area (yet!).
  8. LOOK! You just made something up/wrote something down that wasn’t there before. That’s some kind of magic, yes?!
  9. If you can’t write, do something related to it. (I make stuff in a joyous amateur way, possibly not/never for sharing!)
  10. Nothing is ever really completed.

I think I might have written somewhere before about the feeling that when you make something, and then share it, that sometimes it is like putting your heart on a platter. And with that, I’d better pop off and get that organ ready for plating.

Flip, flip, flip off cursor.

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In other news, this week marks 20 years since I left home for a tumultuous three years in Sunderland. If someone can go back in time and tell the tempestuous little idiot pictured below that, while everything won’t quite be all right, it’ll be more or less OK.

Red eyes! I think that I got an infamous Boots 'Quality Control' sticker for this one.

Red eyes! I think that I got a Boots ‘Quality Control’ sticker for this one.

Some plans & schemes & ‘better dreams’

Hello hello to the readers of these irregular dispatches. Hope all’s well in your worlds.

Wow, August was physically and mentally exhausting. Bit glad that it’s done with, to be honest with you! Phew. It’s the last month of pulling my PhD thesis together and I can make out some dim light at the end of the dark tunnel (is that an angler fish? Best not think too hard about it).  So, yeah, anyway, that was August and now we’re into the colour changing days of September. And writing writing writing.

And sometimes writing, thinking about writing, worrying about writing, feels frivolous. There’s so much else going on in the world – if, indeed, there is any world left by next week – so it feels a little futile sometimes carrying on in this  (mostly) introspective endeavour. But carry on we must!

In terms of carrying on, this means keeping an eye out for jobs during the final Thesis Write Up™ so that I don’t become a Calderdale statistic once I’m done. Although if I do need to go to the job centre I will do so in the biggest, flounciest dress that I own.  Mostly to cheer myself up, mind. In all seriousness, I have had to sign on in the past and it isn’t a big bag of fun but it is a safety net that I have appreciated. I will never grumble about contributing to it.

Anyway, I’m not here to give big grandstanding political statements, not at the mo.

Moving on.

I’ve been thinking about this Wild Writes website and blog. I set the site up as part of a project originally, but it’s sort of developed away from what that was.  I’d like to keep this to blog with because I really like using WordPress. My other “professional” website www.jenbee.me.uk uses Drupal which is a bit of a pain in the bum to use and I have guilt chills when I think about how much updating it needs (sorry Drupal fans). Once I’ve finished my PhD I’m going to have a bit of a think as to what to do with my social networks, websites & blogs as they’re a little unwieldy. I would like to keep a blog – to share practice and some blether on what I’m getting up to.  I’d like to just keep it even if it’s just to pop some of the gorgeous sights/sites of West Yorkshire, where I’ve moved to.  Oh, sharing some less salubrious sights too, of course.

tl;dr: I have too many online things, I want to rationalise them.

I think that I’d like to blog about making things; I’ve written somewhat on the writing process, but crafting feels different. Perhaps it’s because I feel that there is so little to lose in the process of making. Writing is important to me; it’s possibly one of the few things I love doing and know that even though I may get anxious about what others think of my work I do – most of the time – think that it’s something that I’m at least OK at! Crocheting, sewing, sketching, and baking I find fun and feel less emotionally invested in these endeavours as they are like a sort of release. Making is a kind of therapy (read that last term in your best Freud voice!). I have a load of sewing that I’m looking forward to as a reward for completing my thesis (including a compass-themed dress and pyjamas for my mum).

So yes, just thought that I’d share some thoughts and, hopefully, we’ll all be less worried about the threat of nuclear winter by the next update. . .

Here's to Better Dreams for all

Here’s to Better Dreams for all. . .

On anxiety, “procraftination”, and academia

Content warning: some of this blog post discusses anxiety, depression, still birth.

This is possibly the most personal – but hopefully helpful – post that I have done (and think I will do) on this site.  Over the last few years, I have changed and the Wild Writes project will change too. Here we go.   Continue reading

On not completing poetry and the near future…

So, didn’t quite achieve a poem a day like last year. Partly because I’m writing up, partly because of the onslaught of bad news, partly because I didn’t have a solid theme. I will do better next year!

Follow the route against the current. (River Goyt through Woodbank Park, Stockport, Greater Manchester.)

Follow the route against the current. (River Goyt through Woodbank Park, Stockport, Greater Manchester.)

All concentration is now focussed on finishing my PhD thesis – not as easy a task as it sounds. Writing up various notes, editing bits that – whoops – are currently ropey and need smoothing and/or expanding. And I’m thinking of the future. I was worried last September that time had zoomed by and that I would be unemployed/underemployed/unemployable by October 2017. Basically, I love this job. I love the mix of outreach which has incorporated teaching/tutoring creative writing, the research, and writing. Statistically, however, I may not be able to break into an academic role. I’m not as worried now, though; I’m sure that I can use this academic knowledge to share skills in different, possibly unorthodox ways! I am confident in my skills as a speaker/teacher, even with some “stage fright” at conference times. (Anyway, public speaking is just acting, like creative writing is acting.) While my research is niche, I do have publishing ideas with the work I’ve done so, hopefully, I can get that out there when I’ve finished. Finally, being “Doctor B” will be awesome (no, not that sort of Doctor but I can pop you in the recovery position if need be).

So yes, there will be more poetry/writing but it may be after I’ve finished this 80,000ish word document!

And with that – back to writing Rochdale.