Tuesday, January 31, 2006


This beautiful thing was my best Christmas present. It really is that small, it fits in my hand perfectly, and has wasted many hours of my time already. The version of the Nano I have takes 500 songs - I thought that would be masses but already I'm up to nearly 400, so I've been organising them into playlists.

My favourite list is the one of songs about writing and/or books. So far I have a measley six - but I'm sure there are many more to collect:

Every day I write the book - Elvis Costello
Mr Writer - Stereophonics
Paperback Writer - The Beatles
The Book I haven't read - Lambchop
Sonnet - The Verve
Lady Writer - Dire Straits.

Any other suggestions?

Finding music I can write to is always hard. When I was writing Something Beginning With, I had such a clear narratorial voice in my head, but because editing was some months after the initial writing burst, I found it hard to get back to that particular rhythm. I struggled and struggled, until by chance I started playing the music I'd been listening to fairly obsessively during the time I'd been writing the book, and voila - I was immediately back there in Verity's head. The music? Bryan Ferry singing old ballads. Don't ask.

There's a beautiful site I found which combines Japanese music and storytelling, and that's Elizabeth Falconer's work. Definitely worth visiting. I particularly love the concept of storytelling being about generosity, trust, sharing and determination, and the koto has such an extraordinary, evocative sound. I don't know Elizabeth, but she has her own blog that I've been reading and finding inspiration from. It's almost illegal, this feeling you get of knowing people through their random jottings on the internet. Like stalking.

And my writing prompt for today comes from one of the reviews on the site above and it is 'a feather-light touch'.

Monday, January 30, 2006


Not writing them, that actually helps your writing (see Jane Urquhart's wonderful pages of architectural drawings and notes) but choosing the perfect one that's going to allow you to write best-sellers for ever.

There are certain criteria it has to fill for me. It has to fit my hand, to be tactile, to have lined pages, a ribbon (oh, a ribbon) bookmark, and best of all one of those elastic band thingys that go round so I can swack it satisfactorily when I've finished my notes. Most of all though - it can't be too pretty or expensive. That just freezes me.

There are shelves of journals now in bookshops (will there be a time when there are more blank books than published novels for sale? Now that would be frightening!) - and also on the internet, which have been giving me hours of non-writing pleasure. I keep clicking on the palmistry one. Will that tell my fortune as well?

My writing prompt comes from a news story over the weekend that teenagers are using the word 'book' instead of 'cool' nowadays because it's the first choice of the predictive text on their mobile phones. I love that.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

A poem in progress... no prizes for guessing where the inspiration for this one came from!


And they are. I can't stop looking.
One day soon, I'll walk over, zip
into a spare skin, pat the tight
leather gloss of it with my hard red
nails, water tight. I'll do the splits,
juggle flaming torches, walk right
up to the bar on my spiked heels,
order drinks I can't pronounce, fire
my throat and turn to him, ask
if his smile is for me, knowing it is,
and we'll leave, just a flounce of hair
instead of a backwards glance.
I'll know what to say, what to do,
and it WILL be fabulous. Apart, that is,
from those times I won't let him find
the zip, hoping he'll stop tapping, late
at night, trying to feel his way
past, looking too long. One day soon.
There are so many websites, books, even tutors like me, who are dishing out writing tips left, right and centre. Here's one that got me excited this morning though. Not that there are 50 things you can do - that's rather overwhelming - but I just can't stop thinking about number 17, which is the act of putting two strange things beside each other to make a story. The writer uses the seduction of Emma Bovary at an agricultural fair, as an example, and it makes me think of a writing prompt that proved so successful there was a whole book written about it. So I'm going to use that particular prompt for writing today, and it is ... a wedding cake in the middle of the road.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

I have been thinking about getting older recently, not least because my friend Lynne gave me a Fabulous Broads calendar which I keep by my bed, and most of the quotes from it seems to be from - and about - older women. Not only that, I find I'm mentally saying them in a strange version of a Southern accent, starting and ending them with 'Honey', even though looking through that's never in any of the quotes. 'Honey, a salad is not a meal. It is a style, honey' (Fran Lebowitz). You get the picture.

There are many that make me laugh out loud, such as: 'If your house is really a mess and a stranger comes to the door, greet him with, 'Who could have done this? We have no enemies.' (Phyllis Diller). Others though make me smile and then feel bad, because the humour largely relies not just on being cruel to men, but on getting money or 'stuff' from them, and surely that's the antithesis of a fabulous woman? The women I want to admire aren't playing any kind of gender games. Honey, they just go out and buy diamonds for themselves, honey.

But then there are other quotes that bring me up short, and think 'yes, that's what I want to be like'. Here's one from Erica Jong: 'Do you want me to tell you something really subversive? Love is everything it's cracked up to be. That's why people are so cyncial about it. It really is worth fighting for, being brave for, risking everything for. And the trouble is, if you don't risk everything, you risk even more.' It sums up everything I've been thinking recently - that it's actually more of a risk, and harder, to trust. Cynicism is just the easy way out. Ho hum. I do have a sense of humour, really.

But... just before I 'here endeth the lesson', here's a real lesson in how a fabulous broad takes responsibility for herself, and what she thinks. This is Sharon Olds's open letter explaining why she wouldn't be attending last year's National Book Festival, also courtesy of Lynne. Seamus Heaney defined a writing voice as knowing your stance in life, and putting this into your words. It's interesting thinking about that and reading this letter, because I just know the person who wrote it is the same one who has written the poems in 'The Unswept Room', for instance, and I can respect that in a writer more than any technical excellence. So I guess my definition of a Fabulous Broad is someone who will always have things 'worth fighting for, being brave for, risking everything for,' and Sharon Olds is my 'Broad of the day'.

And my writing prompt is from Mrs Dalloway, and is 'She stood her upright, dusted her frock, kissed her.'

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The building site on the right is my writing room at the moment, so it's probably not hard to understand why I'm a bit obsessed at where other people write. My ideal is to have a hut in the garden, like George Bernard Shaw's which actually rotates so that it's always in the sun, but the closest I'm likely to get is one of the huts in the allotments above!
I fancy the skinny tall one.

I was interested though to find this article about communal writing rooms in New York, and was feeling envious about it being only in America writers could find such spaces, when I came across some in London's Soho Theatre. Definitely worth a look, although I'm guessing you wouldn't be able to leave things a mess there. I identified completely with the story about Angela Carter in the National Gallery's Interrupted Lives book. Apparently when a photographer went to take her picture at work, he was horrified to find she'd spent days clearing up beforehand. The photographer, Mike Laye, commented "My assistant and I set to, emptying the waste-paper bin and scattering the contents over the floor, then adding books and records that had been nicely racked, into piles on the floor! She was pretty shocked at what we had done to her once-tidy study but did confirm that we had returned it to pretty much its usual state!"

In the meantime, it's just me and the builders making messes on our own. Expect lots of stories about strong tea and mobile phone tones - have never heard so many different ones. It's almost beautiful.

And my writing prompt for today is the parrot that gave the game away. Strictly fictional, of course.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

I am not sure whether it is a wise fable or a piece of surreal randomness, but I enjoyed Fernando Sorrentino's very short story, Essence and Attribute, this morning on the
Eastoftheweb site. This site is a useful pool of lots of classic and modern short stories too.
And, joy of joys, I found a site featuring poets reading their own work, including Elizabeth Bishop reading The Armadillo. Magic. Enjoy!
For my writing prompt this weekend, I'm going to use the photographs of Andy Goldsworthy's strange arch over a wall at Goodwood. I love the idea of something constructed to do nothing very much at all, except make you wonder!

Friday, January 20, 2006

Recently I drank a strange man's champagne from his fridge, ate his pasta and slept in his bed. And more than this, I've never even met him! Living in furnished rented accomodation is weird - I find I'm making up stories about my landlord from his choice of lamps, curtains, even - especially - pictures. I suppose the moral of this is never to rent your home out to a writer. I was excited though to find here a whole narrative being given to a sofa left in a skip. Makes me think about the stories we're making up everyday without even being aware of it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

I'm tired of shouting at British politicians on the radio who are sounding more and more alike, plus it's raining, so what better time to start my own revolution, to create my own world. I should be writing, but instead I'm going to spend some time planning who I want to run this. Kindness is going to be the most used word in our new language, people will be rewarded for their generosity to everyone, not just for talking louder than anyone else and/or bullying, and we'll all be allowed to progress at our own speed. In fact, we'll gain points for taking things a bit slower, and be rewarded by packs of glitter, coloured pens and sticky things. No, have not gone mad - I do know I'm sounding like I want everything to be a giant Liberty's department store, where my friend swears they put soporophic drugs in the potpourri so no one complains at how long it takes to buy anything (if you can afford it), and that's not reality, but, oh but. Good game here anyway.

The best book I've read on female utopia's is Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman - you can read it on the Project Gutenberg site for free.

And my mission for today is to learn how to do links in these posts, and my writing prompt comes from Carol Ann Duffy's TS Eliot Award Winning collection, Rapture - and is 'the answers I don't know by heart, yet'.

Monday, January 16, 2006

In London's Marylebone Road, there's one of the best chocolate shops in the world. Rococo. It's a tiny little jewel of a shop - almost like a boutique of the senses, and there are chocolates shaped like tiny vegetables, eggs, nipples, lips ... anything you can imagine. It's breath-takingly expensive, but even the packaging is beautiful, picturing blue and white fish, and boxes that you want to keep for special things. Trouble is I've just found out they have a website, and I've just been seduced, no other word for it, into ordering myself a box of their famous venus nipples. I'm going to use them as inspiration, I tell myself, for writing this erotic story I'm determined to finish this year. Wonder if I can write them off against tax! But all is not lost ... I'm going to confess on this great feature on the site, which asks for your chocolate confessions and awards a box of their best chocolates to the best one!
Watch this space...

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Nothing better than finding something that makes you laugh AND makes you think, so here's my site of the week. Well, it makes a difference from my constant raving of 43things!

And my writing prompt for today is the first line of Jacqueline Rose's book on psychoanalysis and the modern world, ON NOT BEING ABLE TO SLEEP, and it is ...
Shame requires an audience.

Friday, January 13, 2006

A lovely start to the morning today - and a bit of synchronicity. I'm a great fan of the bookcrossing site where people all over the world are encouraged to swop books - www.bookcrossing.com - and it's been such an ambition to find one of these 'released' books, that I put it as one of my goals on 43things. Anyway, walking my dog in our local park, I noticed a book left lying on a bench and picked it up. There was a letter inside from a woman called Sue who was determined to prove her friend wrong when this friend said that all everyone cared about these days was getting more and more material things. Sue's new years resolution was to be more generous, and leaving the book was part of this! It made me laugh and when the park-keeper came up to chat, I told him about it. He was so pleased that it had happened in 'his' park that I gave the book to him. He texted Sue to say how nice she'd been, and although I only held the book in my hands for just a few minutes, I'm still smiling. It would be fantastic if the park could become an unofficial booksharing site, if people trying books they wouldn't normally pick up.

Another goal that keeps coming up on 43things is having a ride in a hot air balloon, and it makes me feel smug because I've done this! In Shropshire last year, we went out about 6 o'clock in the morning, when the land was just waking up. It was like floating, moving at a completely different pace. I've put some of the photographs up here.

And my writing prompt for today comes from one of the best books on writing I've found - If you Want to Write, by Brenda Ueland, and it's the heading from one of her chapters. 'Art is Infection'.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Live with intention.
Walk to the edge.
Listen hard.
Practice wellness.
Play with abandon.
Choose with no regret.
Continue to learn.
Apperciate your friends.
do what you love.
Live as if this is all there is.
- Mary Ann Radmacher

OK - I'm cheating because I stole that quote from someone's list at the wonderful http://www.43things.com site. I'm addicted to this at the moment - forget about the worthiness of resolutions, these ones make you laugh out loud, and cry, and just want 100 more years to live so you can do all these things!! Although I'm the only one at the moment wanting sto start my own asparagus bed which is a bit worrying. And there are thousands wanting to write a novel, which is possibly even more worrying.

My writing prompt for today is ... All the lights in the house are off except one.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Have been so involved with editing firstly Tell Me Everything, and more recently my PhD thesis, that I'm in danger of getting tired of words. It was good then to discover Martin Waugh's beautiful photographs of liquid sculpture - these include raindrops, drops in your cup of tea, dew ... anything. I've been looking at them for hours - just love the way they form perfect cups in themselves. Think it's probably against copyright to post one here, but the site is on http://www2.liquidsculpture.com - and is well worth a visit.
And another site a friend passed on to me is http://mydrobe.com. Never again can you say you have nothing to wear ... just post up the options and the events, and the public will choose the best option for you. So many possible stories here, and it reminds me of those little paper dolls we used to play with, which came with a selection of paper outfits that you just fitted on with tabs that never quite worked. Oh, but times were good then ...

And my writing prompt for today is ... 'The Pillow Book of ....'

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Oops. The other blog I wanted to mention is Keris's on http://www.keris-stainton.com. Not only does this woman like handbags and Seth Cohen, she's very funny and a great writer.
The one advantage of the tension I feel between writing and teaching is that when the teaching is temporarily over - for holidays - I feel a burst of creativity and manage to get into the flow of writing. This Christmas holidays I've been hard at work finishing my phd thesis, which, I'm SO proud to say, I've just printed off for final reading. I've also been searching on the internet, and found other writing blogs, which have led to more websites, and more, and more. It's so inspiring to see how creative people are, but more than that, their generosity in sharing. I've followed leads to some fantastic stories, beautiful pictures, and fun. After this, I wasn't surprised to see a report in the paper that women are using the internet more than men. When I tracked back on what sites had impressed me, I was amazed to see most were created by women. I wonder why this is?

So here are some of the sites I've been loving ...

Ros Barber is a brilliant poet, author of the collection How Things Are on Thursday. She's currently writing a novel and keeps progress on http://shallowlands.blogspot.com

Clare Dudman is a funny and clever novelist, author of 99 Reasons and Wegener's Jigsaw. Her blog contains her writing progress and also interviews with other writers. http://keeperofthesnails.blogspot.com

I'm a bit worried I'm stalking Myfanwy, but I came across her work from the website Smokelong after I received a rejection email for one of my stories from the editor and forwarded it to a friend with the mature comment: 'Bum'. Yes, you've guessed, I in fact pressed reply and swore at the editor instead! She was surprised but gracious, and when I searched shamefaced through archives, I came across Myfanwy's work and looked at her website. It's brilliant and interesting, and I've spent far too long there following up Myfanwy's links. http://myfanwy.blogspot.com

Kay has been my friend since we were 11 and we've seen eachother through good times and bad. Less recently though, as she moved to Germany some time ago with her family. She'd be the last person to admit it, but she's one of the bravest and most accomplished people I know and I admire her so much for starting again in a new country, learning the language and becoming such a valuable part of the community. Her blogspot is on www.diaryofahousefrau.blogspot.com

And my writing prompt for yesterday was secrets. Today is the title of Paul Durcan's poetry collection: The Art of Life.

Monday, January 02, 2006

A lovely day yesterday with my brother and his family. We went for a walk across the fields and saw in the distance the windmill where Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was filmed, and drove through a nearby village which was where Cruella De Ville lived in 101 dalmations. Almost as exciting, we learnt the rules for Congestion Scrabble where you try and use as few letters as possible in as least space as possible. Can't wait to try that one out. The people in the village my brother lives in are so polite that when I saw some people standing on the doorstep of a house called 'Sarah's Cottage' I went up to them and said over-excitedly that my name was Sarah. 'How nice', they said a bit bemused until they realised I was linking it to the name of their house. They'd thought I'd just been introducing myself.

Today I was sitting in front of the fire today feeling so lethargic I could hardly move when I suddenly thought I didn't want to spend my New Year like this, so I went off to the allotment instead to sort out my raspberry canes. I've entered the heaviest marrow and pumpkin competition in the annual show so I also cleared some ground and spread good thoughts. Whether that's enough, time will tell.

And my writing prompt for today comes from Virginia Woolf's diaries and is a line from her entry of January 3rd, 1933 'This is a little out of place, but then so am I'.

I'm taking comfort from another entry of hers for Tuesday May 11th, 1920. She writes: 'It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything. I'm a little anxious. How am I to bring off this conception. Directly one gets to work one is like a perosn walking, who has seen the country stretching out before. i want to write nothing in this book that I don't enjoy writing. And yet writing is always difficult.'

A site that makes me laugh every time I use it is http://www.thesurrealist.co.uk/sheep - the sheep shift around to make a different poem every time. Do give it a go.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

A very happy new year..

and my writing prompt for the first day of 2006 comes from Razorlight: 'Looking for you in the city tonight'.