Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

It began when I traced time in the condensation gathered on the windowsill. 

The turn. The season slips gently from late summer to early autumn. The tree leaves shift colour from their starchy, chlorophyll to yellows, gold-flecks, tannins, dip-dyed red; carotenoids, anthocyanins.

panorama from Royd Road

My working day usually starts with a “commute”: a circular walk from the house taking in Royd Lane, up a slight hill, down a steeper hill, then back up a moderately steep hill again, then home (this route order changes; to mix it up a bit, you can do it counterclockwise!). I’m a fair-weather commuter, travelling when the mood takes me.

I’ve felt fatigued since lockdown started, I think it’s down to stress and worry mainly. Anxiety is never far away. I’ve been feeling a little worse this week so thought I’d best get checked out. I am fine, of course, the worry chips away at me, though. I worried this morning whether it was hypochondriac to be hypochondriac.

These daft circular worries, constantly rippling out, the repeated weary sensation of what now? Feeling angry and dismayed about the country that I live in. Being part of the world and yet not feeling like I’m of it; feeling like I am unable to effect any significant change. Watching the unfolding horrors of the climate crisis – wildfire, soil erosion, water stress – observing biodiversity collapse in motion. Where are the oak galls? Where are the small tortoiseshells that we had an abundance of last year?

Shifting colours, becoming something else, wondering what comes next.

mini writing workshop – rewrite the rules

This is an exercise from ”Play-Full Writing’, a workshop I gave in March for Touchstones Creative Writing Group. Full blurb for that workshop is on the sporadically updated Writing Rochdale blog.

This is a fifteen – twenty minute (or however many minutes you would like!) exercise that I’ve written up as a self-led activity. Any questions please drop a message in the comments box below and if you’d like to share your work I’d love to read it. One of my favourite things about running creative writing sessions is the magic that comes from a blank page to a page full of ideas, potential, and wonderful words.

Resources

You will need something to write and record your ideas and work with – PC/laptop/phone/tablet, paper and pens/pencils, audio recorder.

Part One: the games we played

I’d like you to think about what games you played as a child. At home, at school, in parks, elsewhere. I’ve offered some suggestions below but feel free to add yours. If possible, think about games that either had rules with them or rules that you made up. Jot these rules down as you go. Set a timer for 2 – 5 minutes for this or just go until you can’t think of any more.

  • Tag (run!)
  • British Bulldog (run FASTER!)
  • What time is it Mr Wolf? (“DINNERTIME!”)
  • Football / netball / anything with rules plus a ball
  • Elastics/Jumpsies (one of many primary school chants: “Eng-land, Ire-land, Scot-land, Wales / in-SIDE, out-SIDE, donkeys’ tails”)
  • Card games (playing cards, Top Trumps, Pokémon, Magic the Gathering…)
  • Board games (sometimes it’s wet so chess seems a good option until you realise that the lad from the year below has demolished your King in five moves… just me?!)
  • Clapping games
  • Roleplaying games (let’s pretend we’re aliens)
  • Computer games (Pong, Space Invaders, Mario Bros., Sonic, Tony Hawks Pro Skater, Assassin’s Creed, Nethack etc.)
  • It’s all about tree climbin’, mud slidin’, brook leapin’ action
  • I’m sure you can think of some more – have a think! Give yourself a few moments and list them.

Part two: the fun we had(?)

Now, delve deeper into your own experience. I would like you to think about how the games made you feel. Pick one, or two of the ones from your list and jot down your memories. Have a think about the others that were around to if any, think about them too. Again give yourself two – five minutes to think about this.

Part three: put it all together

This final part is all about freewriting. So give yourself ten minutes minimum on a timer and consider the following within your piece that you’ve already considered above:

  1. What are the rules of your chosen game?
  2. What are your memories of the game?
  3. How could you change the rules?
  4. What could be the effects of this on the game / on other players / on you?
  5. What happens next?

Write a poem or piece of prose, if you get stuck, write the name of the game over and over until you can carry on. This is your first draft so don’t worry, it won’t be the final piece if you want to give it a polish.

To set you off here’s a slightly more polished draft of a poem I wrote using this exercise that you can download here: British Bulldog, March 2020 and you can hear me reading the poem on Soundcloud via this link. This is the third draft of what was a ropey first draft with lots of repeats. If you would like to polish your work, give yourself a further twenty or so minutes for the next draft. And then the same for the next draft. (Because writing is rewriting!)

Good luck, and if you do give this a go, and want to share it, please do so in the comments below :-) If you’re commenting on someone else’s piece, please be kind and constructive. Remember: it’s not the person, it’s the work you’re critiquing!

the write way up

Yes, everything is kind of f*cked but there’s still writing to be written and stories to be told. Some reflections on a month of writing every day while staving off the quotidian existential dread.

At the beginning of June I dusted myself off, avoided reading news headlines, and took a few things in stock. I have tried to move beyond the feelings of: “Jeez, this thing really IS going to kill everyone we’ve ever known and ever loved, and OMFG everything really IS shit, n’est-ce pas?” to a kind of acceptance that this is the way things are at the moment, to do my bit and follow the science rather than the spin-the-wheel-of-random advice from the current UK government. (AKA the cabinet of the contrary: “we’ll clap for carers but buggered if we’ll test them for CV19 or give ’em any PPE”. And, seriously, what’s with the  Berlusconi levels of machismo/pointless willy wanging push-ups? Our current PM is looking less like a Winston Churchill <em>Stars in Their Eyes</em> attempt and more like a thatched cottage after a rave.) I am worried that three weeks after “Super Saturday” the Nightingales may be at capacity. I have also been trying to avoid the horrific foaming racists on Twitter (report and block, report and block, report and block ad infinitum). For the avoidance of any doubt: black lives matter and do consider supporting the amazing black curriculum campaign and initiative.

And, finally, finally, finally, I *think* I’ve pulled myself out from that self-absorbed sad feeling of: ‘now I’m two years post-PhD viva everyone has moved on, and everything within that field is so beyond me that I’m less on the sheep dotted fringes and more floating just off the continent of WTAF’. I know it’s on me and I’m playing catch up in my reading, and doing the research and redrafting and updating my work from 2018 (see below).

Right, slightly ranty and rambling update out of the way for now and onto the creative process and progress goodness. During June I took a free course provided by Writers HQ (go and click on that link; they’re great) which was called ‘Couch to 5K Words’ (#C25KWords) riffing on running without breaking a cardio-related sweat. This was mostly to kick my arse back into a semblance of a writing habit again. Oh, and to work on what I think might be a novel. Like a proper novel. Like not one that might sit on my laptop and gather pixellated dust (looks at the ‘Ley’d’ file: 50,043 words of something). I have always thought that I didn’t have a novel in me but this time I might be wrong. Anyway, it’s sort of sci-fi/fantasy (naturally), climate crisis concerned (because stories are ostensibly about what it is to be human, this is a huge crisis and it involves all of us to process it and try to mitigate in whatever way possible), could be considered YA/crossover (if you want to simplify reading into banded ages and, spoiler, I don’t believe in banding reading in ages), and set in Manchester (but of course).

#C25KWords included daily prompts and writing exercises focussed on working up to 25+ minute writing sprints which I appreciated. I’m an enthusiastic fan of sprints; I discovered this while working on the writing and rewriting of my PhD thesis. I work better in focussed sprints, it might not work for everyone but it suits my easily distractible brain. (Oo, robin on the bird feeder! *looks out of the window*) Writers’ HQ also provides free dedicated fora in which to share victories and frustrations with other writers. Did I mention that I think they really are great? While I should have been running a writing working shop today – and, LOL, it was going to be focussed on “travel writing” – it’s lovely to find an online community of writers in (temporary) lieu of actual bodies in a room/outside. There are certainly pros and cons around online interaction (see, for example, Alicea Lieberman & Juliana Schroeder (2020)), however, it will do as a temporary measure until we can run physical writing workshops again.

As for Writers’ HQ online workshops? Well, I’m now toe-deep into the next course – yes, I bought a membership which I’ll offset next year as part of my freelance work – and it’s helping me to get my structure together for the novel. Who knows where it will go, possible nowhere, possibly somewhere. We shall see and I’ll add notes on the writing process as this interests me when I read / see others talking about their creative processes. (Plus, as a nerdy but precarious academic, I am fascinated by practice-as-research / research-as-practice so I would like to share some of my learning post-PhD in this area as well as continue my own learning.)

And I’ve kicked out a couple of pieces for consideration. Fighting the fear that seems to stop me with getting work, and words, out there. If you’re writing, or making art, I hope that it’s going well. If not, I am sending gentle thoughts your way.

Next Thursday there will be a writing exercise which I ran back in March (AKA what feels like five years ago). Until then happy writing, happy reading, happy causing a ruckus against all the bad things.

WiP it good! (Writing works in progress for July / August.)

  • Blog post on Ashenhurst Pond (this will go up once I’ve researched some more, I’ve found a few maps but this will be a wait-until-the-libraries-reopen-job).
  • Tidying up some flash fiction for this year’s Mslexia competition.
  • Folklore piece (might film it, might not, depends how confident I’m feeling).
  • Slow progress on an article for an academic journal (for me, not as part of current PDRA role which does involve collaborative journal writing) which could be a long shot as I need to get up to speed with what’s been going on (see above).
  • Continuing work on a collection of short pieces inspired by fairytales  – this is a passion project / creative procrastination activity – and I’m taking my time with it.
  • Getting back to collaborative projects…

Well-worn paths

Image

‘Originally erected 1815 to commemorate the surrender of Paris to the Allies after the Napoleonic Wars. Rebuilt, after collapse, to a new design by John Green (Portsmouth, Todmorden) in 1856 by public subscription. Restored 1889.’ Historic England

View from Stoodley Pike to the eastern track of the Pennine Way.

View from Stoodley Pike to the eastern track of the Pennine Way.

Stoodley Pike, obscured by the clouds from the bottom of the valley. Pronounce it “stud-lee”. Victory monument, a stocky stone peace memorial. Ascend from Mankinholes Bank from the busy, pedestrian-unfriendly, Causeway Wood Road. Slip down Lee Lane, take a left near Lee Dam (observe a group of wild swimmers preparing to bring in the New Year through goosebumps when they dash into the icy waters). Squelch through the muddy bridleway, past Incredible Farm (site of organic growing, site of heated debate on online fora). Up to the stone flags past the sheep (Swaledale? Rough Fell? Lonk?) and a photogenic ram.

Ram posing face on to the camera, there are two ewes in the background which is a sloped field.

Curious ram

See him pose for a few photographs before he shakes his tail and trots off to find better grasses to chew.

It’s sheltered along the wall but the gentle mizzle provides a gossamer veil over my glasses.

Follow the path, the flat flags, the gritted surfaces maintained by Calderdale Council (signs decree that no mountain bikes are allowed nor horse riding along certain parts of the Pennine Way). Some of the nearby surfaces are carved by intertwining thick lines, telltale cycle tracks. This is no wild landscape; it’s carefully maintained and gleefully used. Even if I tried to avoid it, following this path to the Pike is inevitable.

An uneven flagged pathway through fields

The flagstones of the Pennine Way from the southeast approach to Stoodley Pike.

These flat, uneven teeth bisect the field. Looking around see how the grasses sweep back in the wind like hair. Like a comb-over. The blond and russets yield in this extreme breeze.

A landscape photograph of different fields, the landscape slopes down towards the market town of Todmorden.

Russets, blonds, and greens.

Approach the pike from the southwest like our ramble, or the steep, precarious northwest. Or from the east, the way from Cragg Vale. Approach it with your eyes down to the ground against the wind, the ends of your fingers reddening in gloves. (You may feel almost a tingling sunburn feeling on your face later from the relentless wind.) Leap onto the erratic boulders that jut out, avoid the peaty mulch of the ground between the gritstone rocks. Be grateful that this isn’t tick (Ixodida) season. But do wonder where the insects are as you stare down. Stumble the last few hundred metres to the pike. Shelter on the eastern side from the wind, pass and say hello (many “hellos”, many “nice weather for it!”s). Clamber up the dark spiral staircase – bring a head torch! – within the pike and risk a lookout over the barrier, take a picture in spite of this tumultuous weather. And consider the route down to the market town. But first, before returning, consider the nearby pub to defrost and have a pint to celebrate a kind of success.

Stoodley Pike monument is in the distance of this image where millstone

Life in a cloud.


I’ve lived in Calderdale for nearly three years now and hadn’t visited Stoodley Pike. Which is daft, really, as it is a less scrambly venture than several other walks I’ve done since living here. Time slips past, wind through the grass.

I know it’s been a while, nearly two years, since I last blogged. There are myriad reasons for this. (Life happened, basically, as well as other reasons including bouts of fatigue, job hunting, losing my writing groove a little post-PhD.) I know this is imperfect; the grammar is all over the shop for one thing! But this is a way back into writing, a way back into blogging. Well-worn but it works. (Not that I’m ever worried about experimenting and going off-piste rather than off pissed.)

And in a world that’s increasingly frightening, I’d like to find my path back to being able to process and write about things in a way that could be helpful for others. (Either through creating, either through signal boosting information.) So yes, I’m following familiar metaphorical paths (writing, activism, making) but implementing some changes along the way as well as trying to not overstretch myself which I’ve had a nasty habit of doing to the stages of burnout over the years. To stretch the walking metaphor further: I’m exploring the many erratic boulders of ideas that are poking up in my mind. Observing, following, or willfully neglecting any waymarkers – to stretch that metaphor to absolute breaking point. I’m changing direction, a little, in that my online presence is changing. This site will now be dedicated to blogging which will include writing anything I like, reflecting on creative practice, sharing ideas (which I really hope get some engagement as I love a good debate), and keeping notes for folkloric work I’m planning to do during this year. The latter will be just for fun, just to keep making and exploring some creative pieces that I’m not sure fit anywhere, also I want to sing and make music again. This creative work may not lead to anything but I know I will put my heart into it as there’s no pressure and so no anxiety over it being “perfect”. (Whatever “perfect” is anyway.)

Academic work, research, tutoring, and what I consider – possibly somewhat flippantly – the “grown-up, professional stuff” will live on the other website for now. I may integrate the two in the future, I may not. The URL £ rent isn’t mega on either so they’ll be separate for now. As for posting, I am working on having loosely scheduled writing going out. I do still offer freelance project/ad hoc work, but I’m employed in two different – but not completely unrelated – jobs where I’m on a casual contract so any planning is mostly on a week-by-week basis in the short term.

Until then, I hope all is is well in your worlds and that you can safely get out into the elements at some point.

 

Day 18: fangirling and other tales #40daysto40

Today I went to “Hebden Rag”, a haberdashery and all things thread-based day organised by Hebden Bridge Women’s Institute.

I managed to buy some very lovely things including nearly 3 metres of high-quality black linen, pretty viscose, four skeins of fingering-weight yarn, books, a steamer (to dye yarn in) and some other bits and bobs. We also met Mr X Stitch briefly so I did have a small fangirl moment. (My heroes seem to be educators, creative types, artists, writers, and NHS staff!)

Signed by Mr X Stitch!

Signed by Mr X Stitch!

I moved to Todmorden over a year ago now and I’m still finding my feet a little. I’ve found that as I’m getting older it’s become harder to make friends. I have some wonderful people in my life who I do get to call friends so all’s good really. I do feel grateful and blessed to have met three wonderful women who live nearby.

Day 13: body says “no” #40daysto40

Having one of those weeks where your body just says no. Last week was punctuated by aura migraines – the shimmy, opaque trippy spiky eye illusions that they cause (I call them “disco hedgehogs”). And mild labyrinthitis-like dizzyness. (Since my first bout of labyrinthitis, accompanying an Oxford folk festival weekend (my timing is impeccable) this sicky-feeling dizziness now accompanies flu, blocked sinuses, and colds. Yay. At least I’ve never struggled with travel sickness and don’t throw up easily; I hear that if you have travel sickness then labyrinthitis can be so much worse.)

Today: painful period contractions (yep, went there) like a fist pulling downwards on my lower back. They’re rare, only every other month over the last decade, but these are the screaming ones. The I-can’t-quite-open-my-mouth-loud-enough-to-make-a-noise-that-befits-the-cramping. Then curl into a ball — a shape like a nautilus — tucked into myself. And then the big clots of blood.

If you’re reading this male. Lucky you.

I can’t really push myself as hard as I used to. Over the last month, I’ve pulled several writing all-nighters and, when I do get some sleep, afterwards — my word! — I feel as if I’ve been hit by multiple bricks. Sluggish and slow. When will I learn?

While I feel well, and relatively happy, I forget how frail and fleshy and easily broken we actually are.

I guess as I get older, there will be more aches and pains to come. And I’ll learn how to deal with it. At least, I hope I will.

Day 12: On honesty #40daysto40

You know those Instagram-perfect desk pictures. The ones with the iPad, almond-milk cloudy coffee in a gorgeous ceramic mug – possibly Denby or Anthropologie, a fountain pen, a Leuchtturm notebook with fancy calligraphy and Washi tape. Probably something seasonal too like some pine cones, cherry blossom, sunflower seeds, a novelty bauble, whatever. Artistically arranged on a tabletop of rustic wood or marble. Photographed from above with a mobile phone with excellent pixel potential or fancy DSLR camera. Well. Here’s some honesty heading at you.

This is how I write.

Photo of a messy desk with empty coffee mug and random ephemera

I call this art piece: ‘ephemera’

Taken with my mobile phone with nothing cropped or photoshopped (although I use GIMP). I’ve just scaled it from around 4,000 pixels to 800 by 600 so it will upload.

I cannot even claim that this is ‘organised chaos’. What you can’t see on the other side of my ancient, heat-guffing laptop is: a lamp, the other speaker, a used cotton “man-sized” handkerchief, a pile of dog-eared PhD thesis notes, a spool of Gütermann thread (colour = 890), and a tennis-ball sized stress ball in the shape of the earth.

(In defence of my own writing wankery. Yes, that IS a Leuchtturm notebook with my original #40daysto40 thoughts. I like the binding, nifty envelope at the back, and note paper; it’s more durable and leakproof than Moleskine paper. I normally use a fountain pen – the second cheapest Parker (the Urban) is the preference if you’re really interested – with refillable cartridges as I have some sort of weird belief that they’re more environmentally friendly.)

Honesty, dude, it’s the way forward.

As I’m getting older I care less what others think. I care more about being kind and honest.

(And with that in mind – I do have to admit that some of the Insta desks are very pretty in an impossibly aspirational kind of way. Sadly, it’s just not how my own entropic life works. Although I may go and try to find some pine cones later. To tell the weather with obviously!)

Day 11: I am not a poet #40daysto40

I have decided to break up with poetry. Oh, Poetry. It’s not you, it’s me.

Now, I’m not expecting a stampede. A chorus of ‘don’t do that’. I am just done with writing poetry and will be concentrating on other writing. At least over the next year or so anyway. I’m going to concentrate on writing other things like stories and non-fiction pieces. (I know that I’m excellent at describing things. Which is, to be frank, a useless skill. Unless I’m planning on moving into the catalogue industry.)

As Marianne Moore puts it in her poem ‘Poetry’:
‘Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers that there is in /
it after all, a place for the genuine.’

So, I will still flirt with poetry. Trying to discover ‘the genuine’. I’ll metaphorically flutter my eyelashes at it, offer to buy it a drink. If it’s a fine piece of poetry then I’ll listen to the music of its words and allow myself to sink into it.

Loving poetry is a fine, and perfectly, acceptable practice.

But poetry writing – you and me are o.v.e.r. And don’t you dare give me a “booty call”. . .

Day 10: never turning back? #40daysto40

It doesn’t bother me that I’m getting older and I don’t mind talking about money (or, more often, the lack of it). This, I believe, is not culturally English. I’ve only lied my age before I was eighteen to get into nightclubs – and even then I wasn’t ID’ed until I was 26. I’ve been thinking about the idea of returning or looking back. Visiting places where I’ve lived, perhaps. Or considering Googling ex-partners to “see what they’re doing now and where they are”.

It is so tempting, so seductive. I think we mostly live in memory and through experience – even if there are plans made. I’m not sure whether we’re built to be “future” thinkers that can consistently live in the ‘then what’ rather than the now. (Not everyone, I recognise this is just conjecture.)

And then there are the roads not taken, the regrets, the choices we didn’t make, the things left unsaid or un-did.

And I know that there is no going back in my life to take back some of the crappy things I’ve said or done to others. That a “sorry” is neither desired or enough.

The past holding hands with the future.

And, in some respects, I’m nervous about the future. I’m nervous about the knackering impact that humans are having on this planet. I often find myself thinking about wildlife, in particular hedgehogs. Will we live to see the extinction of these mammals in England? And raptors – will we live to see an extinction declared on hen harriers in the next few years? I do hope not. I hope that the decline in other species can be slowed down, I do fear that it cannot.

And then I think of the human aspect again. I think of loss and the people that I would love to talk to again. To speak with. Some are dead, some are no longer in my life.

If someone asked me “what years would you ‘do again'” I have a vague idea, although they’d play out just the same into the years that I wouldn’t ‘do again’.

No returning.

Going forward.