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.

 

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.

***

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. . .

Poetry process and progress

Even when winter sadness nips, even when parents are ill, every day I remind myself how lucky I am to be doing what I’m doing. To be working with who I work with – genuinely fantastic, intelligent, fun, and intriguing people – and to be encouraged to write!

Today here’s a short blog post about process – my current “pencil only” notebook* is, as a friend put it, the “under the bonnet” bit of writing. (* I have different notebooks for different writing purposes!) Thanks to the University’s Poetry in Practice sessions, and a theme challenge from Dr Sam Illingworth, I’ve written a new poem – possibly not completely finished – in the form of a Ghazal (let’s call it a “sort of Ghazal“). I thought I’d share my writing process for it in order to demonstrate how a piece progresses. Have a peek under the bonnet!

 First pass - spot the cheesy rhyming scheme, scribbling out, the terrible handwriting.


First pass – spot the cheesy rhyming scheme, scribbling out, the terrible handwriting.

 

Second attempt - hmm, still scribbles and changes being made but it's beginning to take shape.

Second attempt – Hmmm. Still scribbles and changes being made – but it’s beginning to take shape.

 

Third go - perhaps this is nearly it! The closest to the final thing...

Third go – perhaps this is nearly it! The closest to the final thing…

 

So, what’s your process?!

 

A liberated battery hen. Image from https://www.flickr.com/photos/72284410@N08/8567581815 (Creative Commons share license)

A liberated battery hen. Image from http://tiny.cc/freehen (Creative Commons share license)

Ghazal for the Battery Girls

No gilded life, still she tries to fly. Turn gold;

the sun is setting. Spark in her eye – turn gold.

 

Dusk is settling, her sisters: a feathered mass.

Hens compose a discordant cry. Turn gold.

 

The liberators  – silent shadows in black plumage –

snip razorwire in half-light, no one will die. Turn gold

 

when freedom is complete. Battery barn empty of promises.

Re-homed as sunrise paints the sky, return gold.

NaPoWriMo #2 – Dreamless City (Brooklyn Bridge Nocturne)

Today a translation for NaPoWriMo day 2 (following someone else’s suggestion this morning)! I’ve been learning Spanish over the past couple of years, but started taking it a bit more seriously this year. Here’s a translation of one of Spain’s finest poets – Federico García Lorca. (I apologise in advance if it’s a bit surreal, this is all my own translation!)

No sleep for anyone

No sleep for anyone

Dreamless City (Brooklyn Bridge)
No sleep for anyone. Nobody, nobody.
No sleep for anyone.
The moon creatures scent and hover above their shelter.
Iguanas will come, living and biting men who will not dream
and what flees with a broken heart around corners
an incredible crocodile still low has the tender protest of the stars.
No sleep for the world’s nobody. Nobody, nobody.
No sleep for anyone.
Well a dream in the cemetery far away
they mourned for three years
because their knees were dry in the passage
and the boy they buried yesterday they cried so much
it was a necessary call for the dogs were silenced.
Life is not a dream. Alert! Alert! Alert!
We fall off ladders capture the humid earth
or rise and sharpen the snow with a chorus of dead dahlias.
Yet there is no forgetfulness, nor dreaming:
fresh meat. The kiss concerns the mouths
in a morning of recent veins
and what mourning, sympathise with the sympathisers without interruption
and what fear of death leaves their men.

One day
the horses living in the bars
and the furious ants
attack the sweet, yellow heaven of refugees with cow eyes.
Another day
we go and resurrect preserved butterflies
along a passage of grey sponge
we go, our wedding rings sparkle and well the roses on our tongues.
Alert! Alert! Alert!
What guarded footprints claw and the downpour
those boys that cry and don’t know the invention of the bridge
or those dead where they had a head and a shoe,
the wall has leaves has iguanas and tills hope
where hope is bear teeth
where hope is the mummified hand of a boy
and the camel skin the sea urchin with a violent blue shiver.
No sleep for anyone. Nobody, nobody.
No sleep for anyone.
But whether someone closes their eyes.
Whip! My boys! Whip!
The beech tree is a panorama of open eyes
and bitter wounds alight.
No sleep for the world’s nobody. Nobody, nobody.
No the good say.
No sleep for anyone.
But yes, whether you have a surplus night of temple moss,
open the scuttle see under the moon
the fake cup, the poison and the theatre’s skull.

—-

Ciudad sin sueño (Nocturno Del Brooklyn Bridge) – de Federico Garcí­a Lorca

No duerme nadie por el cielo. Nadie, nadie.
No duerme nadie.
Las criaturas de la luna huelen y rondan sus cabañas.
Vendrán las iguanas vivas a morder a los hombres que no sueñan
y el que huye con el corazón roto encontrará por las esquinas
al increíble cocodrilo quieto bajo la tierna protesta de los astros.

No duerme nadie por el mundo. Nadie, nadie.
No duerme nadie.
Hay un muerto en el cementerio más lejano
que se queja tres años
porque tiene un paisaje seco en la rodilla;
y el niño que enterraron esta mañana lloraba tanto
que hubo necesidad de llamar a los perros para que callase.

No es sueño la vida. ¡Alerta! ¡Alerta! ¡Alerta!
Nos caemos por las escaleras para comer la tierra húmeda
o subimos al filo de la nieve con el coro de las dalias muertas.
Pero no hay olvido, ni sueño:
carne viva. Los besos atan las bocas
en una maraña de venas recientes
y al que le duele su dolor le dolerá sin descanso
y al que teme la muerte la llevará sobre sus hombros.

Un día
los caballos vivirán en las tabernas
y las hormigas furiosas
atacarán los cielos amarillos que se refugian en los ojos de las vacas.

Otro día
veremos la resurrección de las mariposas disecadas
y aún andando por un paisaje de esponjas grises y barcos mudos
veremos brillar nuestro anillo y manar rosas de nuestra lengua.
¡Alerta! ¡Alerta! ¡Alerta!
A los que guardan todavía huellas de zarpa y aguacero,
a aquel muchacho que llora porque no sabe la invención del puente
o a aquel muerto que ya no tiene más que la cabeza y un zapato,
hay que llevarlos al muro donde iguanas y sierpes esperan,
donde espera la dentadura del oso,
donde espera la mano momificada del niño
y la piel del camello se eriza con un violento escalofrío azul.

No duerme nadie por el cielo. Nadie, nadie.
No duerme nadie.
Pero si alguien cierra los ojos,
¡azotadlo, hijos míos, azotadlo!

Haya un panorama de ojos abiertos
y amargas llagas encendidas.

No duerme nadie por el mundo. Nadie, nadie.
Ya lo he dicho.
No duerme nadie.
Pero si alguien tiene por la noche exceso de musgo en las sienes,
abrid los escotillones para que vea bajo la luna
las copas falsas, el veneno y la calavera de los teatros.

NaPoWriMo #1 – Hollingworth Lake

The first prompt from NaPoWriMo’s is to write a poem of negation. So, here goes…

Hollingworth Lake, image from Friends of Hollingworth Lake (links to website).

Hollingworth Lake, image from Friends of Hollingworth Lake (links to website).

Hollingworth Lake

It will not drain the sun,
nor spill over from the moon.

It’s not made from your heart
nor from your darkened lungs,

the cillia fanning out
drifting in a flesh vacuum.

The breath from your body
doesn’t even leave a ripple.

Its tide is not pulled by birds
and words are not enough to make it

language is not deep enough
to skim the bottom of the lake.