Friday, March 31, 2006

(Thanks to my lovely web-goddess Francesca for this cartoon)
Changing your regular daily newspaper is a stressful thing, not just in the disloyal feelings it arouses but just the general inconvenience. Why, oh why, does the Independent put the tv guide in the middle and not the back where the Guardian has them? I keep looking on the back page and know now the football scores off by heart. When I was writing for the Scotsman in Edinburgh and it underwent a major and exciting change, I remember the editor saying he'd got more letters complaining how he'd shifted the deaths announcements column to a different position than almost anything else.

I could forgive the Independent anything, however, (even their trying-too-hard front pages) for Tracey Emin's column. She's a model for reflective thinking - and just when I was feeling I'd had enough of bleed your heart soul-searching from almost anyone else, she seduces me back. A paragraph she wrote today is one of the best and most elegant summings up of the creative mind/body/heart I've read. It made me nod along and laugh out loud.
I've been very unhappy recently. And the unhappiness has manifested itself in anger. So I am constantly questioning why, and I will not accept the surface of the situation. I'm unhappy with the boundaries and the lack of space that I have created for myself. It's somehow spun out of my control. The only place where I seem to find happiness is when I'm asleep. And the first moment when I wake up and just for a second I forget who I am. Or in this morning's case, not knowing where I am. Just existing, being, without the weight of the Self. It probably has something to do with being an artist. Everything I am is inside of me. And there's lots of it. Far too much of it. And sometimes I feel like I'm going to explode. That's why it's good for me to have stimulating conversation. Particularly with hetrosexual men.

And my writing prompt is going to be to try to write how I really feel.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

A quick walk to the allotment today and there's still no real sign of growth on my cherry tree. I planted it two years ago, because I had visions of lying under it, flat out on the lawn writing, while cherry blossom petals floated down to land on my inspiring manuscript. Don't know whether to be pleased, or slightly miffed, that gardening is the new cool hobby - although I have to be honest and admit that cool hasn't really hit my allotment site just yet. It has here though. I'm not really going to make a habit of including recipes, but this piece by Kelly Gilliam has some good passionate writing. You grow girl!
I love this idea of using the internet to store memories:
I'd like to draw attention to a new non-profit project called MemoryWiki
( MemoryWiki is designed to be a permanent
repository of 'memories,' by which we mean stories, recollections,
memoirs, or any musings about the past. In short, MemoryWiki invites
everyone to record their memories about almost anything. The motivation to start
the site was the sense that the internet offers new, very efficient ways for us
to collect, catalogue, store and distribute collective memory.
It's good to see a variety of books being recognised in this year's British Book Awards although I'm puzzled at the timing of some of them - surely The Time Traveller's Wife has been out for more than a year, or is it time travelling itself? But at least it's given me my writing prompt for today which is going to be ... filling a time capsule.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Somehow over the years, I've managed to keep some kind of educational authority over my children - mostly by not letting them know exactly what a rebel I was at school. However, they found my reports recently - Geography - I hear Sarah is giving up Geography this year, however I was under the impression she gave it up several years ago. History - Sarah has no phobia for spiders. Biology - Sarah must learn to concentrate and not be silly when there are boys about. And now I've just been sat down to do this intelligence test. My only excuse is that it's harder than it looks and Moby was playing in the background, depressing me.

And my writing prompt is .... exams.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

I have a strange childhood memory of being taken to see St Etheldreda's fingerbone in a church in Ely. Surely not? Anyway my semi-Catholic childhood has definitely left me with an obsession for stories about Saints bones - one I love is when the bones of an Italian Saint were sent overseas to a monastery, the monks opening the parcel forgot what he was called and renamed him the Italian word for speed because that was what had been written on the side of the box. Which is a cheesy link to what I'm going to write about today, a quote taken from Joyce Huff's lovely poem, The Hymn of a Fat Woman, on the Poetry 180 site and is
I imagine I will find my kind outside
lolling in the garden
munching on the apples.

Monday, March 27, 2006

From English Pen:
JONATHAN HEAWOOD: “Since someone first scrawled their thoughts on a rock in Mesopotamia, writers have been on the front line of cultural exchange. It’s not always a role that we relish – some writers would rather just hunker down with their rock and a sharp implement. But so long as there are governments, corporations, terrorists or individuals who want to limit the free exchange of ideas, and refuse to give literature the space to flourish, there is a role for PEN. This year’s International Writers Day – to be held at the ICA on Saturday May 13 – takes the title ‘Migrations of the Mind’. Speakers including Jung Chang, Tahar Ben Jelloun, Elif Shafak, David Edgar, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, Gary Mitchell, Monica Ali and Dubravka Ugresic will discuss the role of writers in a truly global society. More details of the programme and how to book will follow soon.

An event like International Writers’ Day exemplifies PEN’s dual commitment – to both literature and its practitioners. We are not just an abstract pressure group; we are an active fellowship of writers. Each month’s packed event at the Adam Street Club shows just how engaged PEN members are with today’s most pressing issues – whether free _expression, the future of copyright control, or the lacing of Elizabeth Bennett’s bodice. Through these events, and our successful campaigns, PEN is attracting younger members, who can help us identify tomorrow’s challenges before they hit us. Please help us to grow by telling your friends and colleagues about PEN. Membership is far better value than that of any comparable organisation, far more worthwhile – and far more fun.”
From the truly wonderful, and truly addictive, Overheard in New York website, this gem:

Girl: Excuse me, do you have any biographies of TuPac?
Library guy: Probably, though they'd be with the other biographies on the second floor.
Dude: But isn't this the fiction section?
Library guy: It is. You might be able to find some books about him in non-fiction.
Girl: "Non-fiction"?
Library guy: Non-fiction means true.
Dude: ...And fiction means false.
Library guy: Sort of.
Girl: So if it's in non-fiction then that means he must still be alive.
Library dude: I don't think you understand.

--Brooklyn Public Library, Grand Army Plaza

Overheard by: Matthew Sahd Mohammed
A speaker at a conference I attended recently (mostly on visual arts) said we should have a statement of faith as to what our art means to us. His, he said, was that it should be:

* intentional
* original
* command a visual response
* command an emotional response
* command an intellectual response

Another point he made was how patrons of the art have changed in their taste. While previously they would want paintings around them that showed an ideal life, often with themselves painted in the background, now it's the opposite. Conflict, he also said, always produced good art.

And my writing prompt for today is ... finding yourself in a painting.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

I really like this story - THE RULES OF URBAN LIVING by Kara Janeczko. I was hooked from the first paragraph:
Kept awake by a mouse rearranging its furniture within her walls, Lorraine called Simon in the middle of the night. “It’s reckless,” she told him, “how you throw around love.” She told him everything she’d been thinking and feeling; that his love felt shallow, light, easily shucked, that she was disappointed in him, that it was about working things out, pushing through hard times, making it last. She lay in bed and let the cat rub its chin against the phone.
My writing prompt for today is ... secret language.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

I'm pleased to find this site - Poetry 180. Apparently there are 180 days in the US school year, so there's a poem for every school day. I particularly liked Linda Paston's A New Poet. When you're reading one you enjoy, she says,
And the words are so familiar,
so strangely new, words
you almost wrote yourself
I think I know what she means - there's a joy in reading something you might have written, if only you'd thought of it first. It's the same sense of recognition you get with people sometimes, and you think 'yes, this person might just be a friend.'

"When we read a story, we inhabit it. The covers of the book are like a roof and four walls. What is to happen next will take place within the four walls of the story. And this is possible because the story's voice makes everything its own."
John Berger

"The failure to read good books both enfeebles the vision and strengthens our most fatal tendency--the belief that the here and now is all there is."
Allan Bloom

One of the best things about finishing the writing work for my PhD is that I've recently rediscovered a love of reading for its own sake - that sinking into a book I haven't done for far too long. Recent books have included The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen and the very wonderful On Beauty by Zadie Smith. My best book ever for getting lost in though was Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy. Despite its scale, after the first few pages I was taking it everywhere with me, even to the cooker while I made supper. And for some time after, I was telling people about a friend I had... until I realised it wasn't really a friend, just a character in the book. It was - and still feels - like a gift to get that involved.

What surprises me most is how when I read good work, I'm drawn back to the page to write, so perhaps all writing is a dialogue - not just with the reader who will hopefully pick up your work but with other writers too - dead and alive. It's all about adding your graffiti mark on the wall. The poetry group I belong to - the Kent & Sussex Poetry Society - had their annual competition prizegiving on Tuesday. In the judge's summing-up, there was the sentence that goes something along the lines of 'It's clear from some of the entries that the writers are not reading contemporary poetry' - a line that you hear again and again in competition round-ups. But for me, reading is one of the main parts that make up writing, and all the writers I respect seem to say the same thing when they discuss their process. How can you expect to write without reading?

And what better example of being lost in the story than the painting above. It's from the Book of Hours and demonstrates to me the universality of writing, and reading, through time. Another beautiful reading painting is on Patricia Storm's excellent blog. I love the way the woman in this painting has obviously moved her chair over to catch the sunlight but got so engrossed in her book, she hasn't noticed she's now in the dark. And Patricia Storm is a woman who understands reading! I spent ages lost in her words, nodding and nodding along with her. Thank you - good cartoons too!

My story for the weekend is Lisa Clarkson's Shirts. The first line (see post below) is a poem in itself, and captures the deceptively clean and simple language of the rest of this story:
They wake together, as lovers often do. She makes breakfast, wetting cereal with milk; he cleans his teeth and shaves the grit from his face.
This edition of Pulp, guest-edited by me, will only be up until the end of the month. Catch it while you can - I'm particularly proud of getting the poet, Paul Farley to answer the literary top ten questions.

And my writing prompt is ... she turned towards home.

Friday, March 24, 2006

A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.
Thomas Mann
Writing on from other people's first lines is a great exercise, not least because you can see just how original your own work is. Give a roomful of eight people the same first line, and you get eight completely different stories - and the strange thing is that everyone of those eight will probably be convinced that their version was the only way to go.

I was really excited to find a journal doing just that. The First Line asks for contributions following on from a given prompt. So the current one is going to be my writing prompt for today:
Tessa sent up a hasty prayer for forgiveness as she slipped on
the dress Mama had bought her in exchange for a promise not to marry Al.

And following on from the short, short story of the last post, a friend sent me this link to 12 fifty word stories about Thursday's UK budget. This one gets my vote for its simplicity if nothing else:
Fewer fags, less wine, no big wheels, half a house is better than none, more free education, education, education, more money for victims and athletes, more free travel for the elderly, fewer draughty homes, a dash of green and a sprinkling of credits - but, bottoms up, spirits untouched.
P Birrane-Scothern, London

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Just found possibly the shortest short story I've ever seen on the Story Bytes site. Doesn't do anything for me, sadly not even make me smile, although I do love the fact that with The Grief Recovery Handbook by M. Stanley Bubien, the title is twice as long as the actual story!

OK, only twenty two more chocolate-free days of Lent to go, but already I'm thinking about eggs. Chocolate ones, of course. The question is whether I buy one of those Cadbury creme eggs every day to save up for the biggest glutton fest ever, or be noble - and suffer. In the meantime, am practising egg party tricks to help with my Easter social skills. My latest is learning how to stuff an egg into a bottle. Yep, fun party goer me.

Easter is also, of course, a time for families, not just chocolate. (I'm joking, I'm joking. I'm a convent school girl. I know all about Easter.) Yesterday, Lynne and I did our first reading of Messages (see below) at the University of Kent, and it reminded both of us how much fun it was to respond to other people's writing. So today I'm going to do a cheesy link to my writing prompt, which is to write from this particular 'Message' from the book:

Three Word Games to play When Visits to Grandparents Get Boring without Getting Your Best Clothes Dirty or your Hair Messed Up
All games are for one or more players:

1. Allocate selected risque words to players before the visit. These words should have double meanings and, for smooth running of the game, be able to be used innocently in conversation. Suggestions could include Cock, Balls, Prick, Tit, Screw. Every time a grandparent utters the selected word gives five points to that player. Each player is responsible for keeping their own score.

Tips for playing – plan lines of conversation which will use your word beforehand. For example, if your allocated word is Balls, turning the talk to Wimbledon can give tremendous scope for point scoring. Grandfathers, in particular, tend to show particular interest in new balls. Grandmothers will use the word ‘Tit’ a lot when it is accompanied by a gift of some bird food for the garden.

2. This game involves the use of sports pages as a prop. Each player needs to take his/her turn of taking centre stage as it can only be played one at a time. The skill is in finding the exact moment when conversation reaches that mundane but involving point, e.g. a distant cousin’s marital problems, when the player can read out the football scores without being noticed. The winner is the player who reaches the end of the second division. Extra points for any third division games read out.

Tips for playing – keep the voice conversational with exclamations and inflection rises not reliant on score ends.

3. Dependent on a grandparent, usually grandmother, who finishes your sentences for you. Points are given for the number of sentences completed with a different ending than the one intended.

Tips for playing – practice your cliches.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

My writing prompt for today .... a single red rose left by the bin.

The Writers in Prison Committee of English PEN is mounting a Demonstration

Monday 10 April 2006
outside the
22 Nottingham Place
London W1U 5NJ

(Nearest tube: Baker Street)
at 12 noon until 2pm.

A letter of appeal on behalf of our honorary members will be delivered to the High Commissioner at 1.30pm

If any members have contacts in the press please notify them of the demonstration and please encourage all media coverage

If you are able to attend please contact Lucy Popescu
at English PEN: Tel: 020 7713 0023

English PEN Honorary Members

Profession: Opposition politician and writer. Date of arrest: 12 August 2005. Details of arrest: Nasheed was among several members of the newly established opposition party the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) to be arrested on 12 August 2005 during a peaceful protest in Malé. Nasheed was reportedly charged on 23 August 2005 with terrorism for ‘inciting violence against the president’ in a speech he made in July. Mohammed Nasheed is accused of saying President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom would face “a violent overthrow” unless he held elections or stepped down. Place of detention: Has been transferred to house arrest. Treatment in prison: Reportedly beaten after his arrest. Previous political imprisonment/problems: Has been arrested and sentenced several times in the past 15 years for his critical writings and opposition activities. First detained from August 1991-June 1993 for an article written for the popular political magazine Sangu. Re-arrested in 1994 and 1995. In 1996 he was sentenced to two years imprisonment for an article he had written. In 2000, he was elected as a member of the parliament for Malé. Six months later, in 2001 he was tried and sentenced to two and half years banishment for the theft of unspecified “government property”. In November 2003, Nasheed left the Maldives and joined Mohamed Latheef to help establish the Maldivian Democratic Party, in exile, in Sri Lanka and the UK. He was recognised as a political refugee by the British government in 2004. After about 18 months in self-proclaimed exile, Nasheed returned to Malé on 30 April 2005. Briefly detained on 2 June 2005.

Jennifer LATHEEF
Profession: journalist, human rights activist and pro-democracy campaigner. Date of arrest: 12 August 2005. Details of arrest: Latheef was among several members of the newly established opposition party the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) to be arrested on 12 August 2005 during a peaceful protest in Malé. She has been charged with terrorism offences for ‘instigating violence’ during the 2003 riots and allegedly throwing a stone at a policeman. The only witnesses are police officers. Latheef strongly denies these charges. She was sentenced on 18 October 2005 to ten years’ imprisonment. Previous political imprisonment/problems: Latheef was arrested on 22 September 2003 for documenting and reporting on the riots in Malé following the murder of Evan Naseem, an inmate in Maafushi prison beaten to death by security personnel on 19 September 2003. She was released in November 2003. Arrested again during a peaceful protest in Malé on 13 August 2004 along with 200 other protestors, and kept 74 days without charge. It is believed that Jennifer Latheef is being persecuted for her writing and because she is the daughter of opposition leader Mohamed Latheef, co-founder of the Maldivian Democratic Party.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Cough... cough... please meet my beautiful new baby! This is the press announcement from the publisher which went out today:

New Title: Messages by Sarah Salway & Lynne Rees
A wilfully unusual and creative book, Messages is what can happen when two talented writers share their words, without meeting. Using email, 300 pieces of exactly 300 words were exchanged, each one returned within a time limit of 72 hours. Links between the pieces were made creatively – words, theme, character, object, form, or even mood. In all, the project took eighteen months to complete and the results are now available in book form.

Messages is beautifully produced in a book 8" square, and features a cover based on original artwork from Tony Crosse. Scheduled to be officially released on the 22nd of May, we have a limited number of pre-release copies currently available and they are well worth investing in with a RRP of £10.

About The Authors
Sarah Salway lives in Kent with her family. She is the author of Something Beginning With (Bloomsbury 2004) and her second novel, Tell Me Everything (Bloomsbury), will be published in 2007. Her poems and short stories have been widely published in magazines and anthologies. Sarah tutors on the Masters in Creative Writing and Personal Development at the University of Sussex, and her doctoral research is on family stories.

Lynne Rees was born and grew up in Wales. She is a creative writing tutor for the University of Kent, the first creative writing tutor to receive the Faculty of Humanities Prize for innovative and imaginative teaching practices, and runs AppleHouse Poetry, an independent project supporting poets in the South East through masterclasses and workshops. She is the author of a novel, The Oven House (Bluechrome 2004), and a collection of poetry, Learning How to Fall (Parthian 2005).

Title: Messages
ISBN: 1-904781-92-6
Author: Sarah Salway & Lynne Rees
Published by: bluechrome
Page count: 324
RRP: £10
Released: 22nd May 2006
Availability: In Print

Order This Book Now

And my writing prompt is ... Messages!

Monday, March 20, 2006

Great story here, Oral Tradition, by Carolyn Steel Agosta. I love this writer's humour and very observant asides, such as the narrator having two kinds of shirts - those that show too much 'boobage' and those that don't.
Nothing worse than walking into a room and realizing too late that your breasts are pointing at people.
An email from the editor of Chroma, Shaun Levin which arrived today:

We're proud to announce the launch of Chroma's Issue 4. We're having a big launch party and we hope you'll be able to join us. And seeing as it's the Cinema issue, we're giving away free Butterkist, thanks to Cadbury Schweppes. The party starts at 5pm on Sunday, April 9 at The Langley in Covent Garden (5 Langley Street): there'll be some free booze, readings from contributors, and great music.

We'll also be appearing at the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival alongside Jake Arnott's The Long Firm.

Issue 4 has more stories and poems than previous issues, stunning artwork, and a gorgeous cover by the wonderful Del LaGrace Volcano (check out our website for all the info

We're also launching our first International Queer Writing Competition. We're proud to have Mark Doty judge the poetry category, and Ali Smith and Michael Arditti judge the short story category. There are big cash prizes for the three winning stories in each category (and publication in Chroma). Please see our website for all the rules:

The winning UK entries will appear at the proudWORDS Festival in October 2006.

We're also looking for submissions for our next two issue: Competition and Island. You can see more details and suggestions for stories and poems on the website.

And my writing prompt for today is .... I want to...

Sunday, March 19, 2006

I learned that you should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten - happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead on after another.
Brenda Ueland
As well as spending time with my kids, I seem to devote a lot of time to finding books for them to read. Books which, of course, they fall upon with glee and joy (hahaha!). But recently looking through the teen girl bookshelves made me think about the differences between what I used to enjoy reading, and what I think my daughter should like. There's something good (to me) about having her inspired by butt kicking princesses, but actually when I was her age, the girls I wanted to read about were good girls - the Jane Eyre and Emma types. The books I liked featured order, and discipline, and people all getting together at the end of the day, no matter how many 'adventures' they'd been on. Little Women was perhaps my ideal book, although embarrasingly I always preferred Amy to Jo, and since I'm confessing, I am the only female I have ever met who wanted to be Ann, and not George, in the Famous Five. Why on earth would anyone choose to hang out with creepy (and bossy) Julian, when you could stay at camp where it was warm, and at least you'd be able to get some peace? So what I'm thinking is whether I've got it wrong as a book-buying parent. Rather than buying the books I think I'd like to read if I were a teenager now, I ought either to suggest books that are the equivalent of home-baked cakes and warm baths (as those books were for me), or, even better, let her choose her reading herself! Maybe for teenagers, there's enough chaos in the world already, without finding it between the covers of your book? Or maybe I'm just a wimp. Hmmm.. no need to answer that one.

And my writing prompt for today is a random word from the dictionary - sweptwing - having wings swept (usually) backwards.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Something(s) to read for the weekend? Here are two stories which create very different atmospheres. Try Chris Mann Shaw's funny story, Dead Laundry:
What we aim for is, invariably, not what we get. By we I mean all of us. Or some of us. Or maybe just people like me.

and Myfanwy Collins's sparkling short, Prey:
There is not a great deal of light.

She lives at the bottom of a hill, in a valley of sorts. The sun goes down early. In the summer, it is behind the three big oak trees by 5PM. Without this light is a depression or an excuse to have cocktails earlier and earlier. By December, the glasses and ice were coming out at 3:59PM in anticipation of 4PM and darkness.

And my writing prompt for today is taken from the title my favourite comic book of the moment: Life's a bitch. (Oh, how much I love Roberta Gregory)

Friday, March 17, 2006

I've been at an arts conference all day, but I'm still determined to write so my prompt for today will be ... 'a letter left under the pillow.'

Thursday, March 16, 2006

If you like gadgets at all, you'll love swissmiss's blog. I've become addicted, but in particular this doggie bag (above) made me laugh so much.
I've been doing too much analytical and critical writing recently, and not enough creative, so when I turn to thinking about fiction or poetry, my brain (or imagination) feels lazy and wants to get back to facts. It's like a rusty old wheel that needs to be cranked up. So today on my dog walk, I made a note of what I saw ... a small schoolboy pushing his older sister in a wheelchair and bursting into tears because he couldn't manage to get her up the hill and his mother had to come over to help; a smartly dressed woman in a fur hat swearing like a sailor because the gate she wanted to take a short cut through was locked; a man I know has just been made redundant looking as if he was having to learn how to walk in a different way without his briefcase weighing him down on one side; a woman trailing a suitcase on wheels behind her like a dog suddenly skipping in the middle of the path; the park keeper telling me about an albino badger he's been feeding and how he thinks about it all the time; a previously beautiful man made ugly by the way he's shaved his head ...

And my writing prompt for today is to sit in three different public places and just write what I see and hear.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Lovely, solidly observant story - Juvenalia, by C Bard Cole - here (or should that be there?)
"The reader has certain rights. He bought your story. Think of this as an implicit contract. He's entitled to be entertained, instructed, amused; maybe all three. If he quits in the middle, or puts the book down feeling his time has been wasted, you're in violation." --Larry Niven


My current top five are (in no particular order):

Al Alvarez, The Writer's Voice
Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
Brenda Ueland, If You Want To Write
Natalie Goldberg, Wild Mind
Susan Wooldridge, Poemcrazy
Any other suggestions welcome...!

And my writing prompt for today comes from a quote by Barbara Kingsolver, which probably puts trying to make sense of all of the above into perspective! It is: Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don't try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It's the one and only thing you have to offer.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

I'm just about to change laptops and am frantically saving material from my hard drive, because I'm not as careful as I should be about keeping stuff. But it made me think. When I was looking through my notes for the next novel, The Seduction Committee, I made the decision just to keep the working files. So this means that when I'm famous, dead, or just dead famous etc etc, I will look like even more of a genius with none of the crossings out, wrong turnings, that we like to look at, and preserve in the libraries of universities across America, with the work of writers who actually wrote by hand. I, on the other hand, will seem to have got the writing process right first time. One of my most precious possessions is the hand-written manuscript of a play by Alice Duer Miller - there's something about seeing and holding a piece of paper she's written on, that you just can't replicate from a printed sheet. Lucky anonymous bidder then of the David Beckham letters, even if they concentrate mainly on girls and football. And so - just to stop this completely being a gratuitious excuse to post a photograph of that beautiful back - my writing prompt today will be 'buying David Beckham's tattoo.'

Monday, March 13, 2006

The New York Public Library - who actually own and have on display the original Pooh Bear and friends (see below) - have issued their list of 25 Books to Remember from 2005. Of course, the list is American so it's not surprising I haven't read that many. If it had been British, it's obvious I'd have read all 25. Hmmm....
I'm feeling very happy - a friend of mine has won second prize in the National Poetry Competition. Fantastic news, Dom, and a very well deserved win! You can read the winning poems here, with more details on the Poetry Society webpage.
There's an interesting series of readings on time coming up in London this month. The blurb reads:
How do writers use history to make their own mark on the literary landscape? Switching from personal memories to political milestones, looking at place, myth, art and architecture, Stop the Clock questions how we read the present through our collective past. In this major series of talks on history and the perception of time, British and European writers will discuss the way contemporary writing explores these themes. The series will run through March in the Purcell Room of the South Bank Centre.

The programme can be found here.

And thinking of time (or wasting it), counting sheep has never really worked to send me to sleep because they always get too active jumping over bigger and bigger fences, but there's something restful - and addictive - about these poetic sheep. I can't stop shuffling them into different word formations. Keeping the sheep theme, I'm going to use this half-cut lamb as my writing prompt today!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

How do you read a book of poetry? If you're like me, then rarely do you start at the beginning and work your way through to the end. However, many poets I know seem to spend hours sorting out their collection into a particular order for just that kind of reading. I've not written enough poems for a collection, but in the Independent, Hugo Williams had this to say about organisation:
When putting a book together I always think of what Philip Larkin told his publisher when asked if there might be another book in the offing. "In the past I've always had 10 good ones and the rest were fillers. Well, I've got the fillers.'' Not all of us are so rigorous. We go ahead and publish our fillers and are damned. Larkin said he always liked to put a good one at the beginning and at the end of a book. I always look there before buying anyone's new book. If the last poem's no good they're in trouble. Another consideration might be to sprinkle your "good ones'' throughout the book, to give an impression of quality, or at least to spread out your "fillers'' so they don't gang up on you.

I like the picture he creates of how he goes about it:
My method at this time is to clear the room and place all my poems on pieces of furniture where I can see them. Now I stand in the middle, suitably coffee'd up, and attempt to conduct the storm. The idea is to make something greater than the sum of its parts by having all the poems cast an eye both forward and back - a virtually impossible demand of poems that are also required to stand on their own.

One writing friend of mine reckons all writers need a dog to add the necessary element of chaos to their life (what, not enough already?); another is trying to train up the perfect writing dog - one that will sit for long hours patiently during 'writing time', but always be ready to go for contemplative walks when needed. My own dog, Tally, is the very opposite of this as she wants to go for action walks the whole time and whines when she's not the centre of attention, so I was all set to replace her with this intelligent robotic guinea pig I found. It looked wonderful - can even find its way out of a maze - until I read on and saw that if you don't play with it, 'he becomes lonely and scared and he will go hiding in a dark place' (sic). Just like a writer, in fact.

So here instead is one of the best short stories featuring a dog (just to keep the theme), Anton Chekov's Lady and Lapdog, but my writing prompt for today is ... a dark place.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

This picture by Mary Cassatt, The Boating Party, is my writing prompt for today. There's something about the uneasy relationship between the woman and the man I want to figure out.
And something for the weekend? Enjoy Cheryl Moskowitz's disturbing story, In Her Shoes.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Clare Dudman has a really good account of a recent talk by Baroness Susan Greenfield on her blog. One bit I found particularly interesting:

"She also went on to consider the concept of creativity - theorising that it is necessary to
(i) be able to deconstruct (ie to be able to work within small networks like the child, to abstract sensations);
(ii) make unusual, idiosyncratic connections;
and (iii) trigger new associations and therefore see the world in a new way and so activate more extensive connections thereby triggering the 'Eureka' moment."
I was lucky enough to share one of my first readings with Mil Millington and despite being so nervous I could hardly speak, it ended up being a happy time, not least because Mil is genuinely funny and generous. Anyway, that time in Newcastle has set the tone for others, because it made me see readings aren't there to punish the writer - in fact, you can actually enjoy them yourself! I find Mil just as funny on the page - see here, and his new book, Love and Other Near Death Experiences. He says himself it's a 'divisive' book, and looking at the Amazon reviews makes me think he's not exaggerating. What is it about some books that do this? The Sea by John Banville comes to mind. I loved it, loved the language, got swept away by it in fact, and then read some of the reviews and couldn't help thinking they'd picked up a different book.
"The test of any good fiction is that you should care something for the characters; the good to succeed, the bad to fail. The trouble with most fiction is that you want them all to land in hell, together, as quickly as possible." --Mark Twain

Writing prompt for today, from 'homage to my hips' by Lucille Clifton: 'these hips have never been enslaved'.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Really pleased to find two of Kate Chopin's stories here. As someone who is trying to kick the Amazon habit, not least by turning off on-click, I can't get over how much is up for free. When I have all the time in the world, I'm going to start working my way through all the books on Bibliomania's site too.

Book titles are hard. When I was writing Something Beginning With, it was provisionally called 'A Lexicon of Love', but then we found another Lexicon of Love coming out around the same time which was, from memory, subtitled 'a dictionary of depravity', and with the best will in the world, my novel couldn't really compete with that. Imagine my sister's dilemma then, when she had to find a suitable name for her book on self-massage. Strangely enough we could come up with lots of suggestions, most of which we found very funny indeed, but none with the air of family values and professionalism she wanted. Or deserved, because it's not just sisterly pride that makes me think hers is a really great book. Funny though how easy it is to think of titles for other people's books, but not your own. Perhaps you just get too close to it. There's a great site for finding out whether your title has any commercial value or not. It's here.

And my writing prompt for today is ... a meal to remember.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

It's International Women's Day today, and so the Independent newspaper celebrates with a front cover of facts including - women in full-time jobs earn an average 17% less than British men; 1 in 7 women in Ethiopia die in pregnancy or childbirth (it is one in 19,000 in Britian); 67% of all illiterate adults are women; 85m girls worldwide are unable to attend school, compared with 45m boys. In Chad, just 4% of girls go to school; 700,000,000 women are without adequate food, water, sanitation, health care or education (compared with 400,000,000 men) and 1% of the titled land in the world is owned by women. A link on Myfanwy's blog took me to this site, Women for Women. Seems like a good day to actually do something.
My writing prompt for today comes from a list someone sent of quotes from the late darts commentator, Sid Wadell, and is: "You couldn't get more excitement here if Elvis Presley walked in eating a chip sandwich!"

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

So the longlist for the Orange Prize has just been announced - my wish is for Beyond Black, but this is a great list. I want to read all of them.

And my writing prompt for today is ... a random line from Rumi: 'cut holes in it, and called it a human being.'

Monday, March 06, 2006

Well, this is very disappointing. After my weekend post eulogising E H Shepard and his illustrations of Winnie the Pooh, someone has drawn my attention to a story about how much Shepard hated his drawings towards the end of his life and even referred to his creation as a ... shock horror gasp ... 'silly old bear'. Must admit that's almost worth the let-down. What a wonderfully pooh-ish thing to say!
There is no end.
There is no beginning.
There is only the infinite passion of life.

Interesting poll in yesterday's Observer newspaper of the most powerful people in British publishing here. I actually think the Richard and Judy woman deserves a place near the top - those are some good books she's picked, and varied, but is she really the most powerful person in British publishing today? There have been an awful lot of decisions made before she gets the books. I'd also love to know if those authors in the poll actually feel that powerful still when they're submitting their latest manuscript to the publishing houses.

OK, I'm obviously getting too cynical but things are getting tough here chez Salway in that I'm starting to have arguments with the page-a-day calendar I keep by my bed. Yesterday, I felt good all day and one of the reasons was Sunday's quote from Betty Friedan, 'I'm my age and I feel glorious.' It just made me want to laugh with how ridiculous the whole age thing was, but also the positivity of it all was silly enough to make me smile. Particularly as a friend of mine asked last week whether I'd take part in a feature in one of the Sunday newspapers. Although very flattered, I couldn't make it, but when I opened the paper yesterday, I found that the feature I should have been in was headlined 'Older and Wider.' A lucky escape. Today, however, I did what many men must dream about and woke up to the fabulous Mae West, 'Getting down to your last man must be as bad as getting down to your last dollar.' Why is the assumption always that we need men in our lives and can't survive without them? But more than that, there's a sense of using men somehow - both monetary and emotionally - that comes through these quotes. 'Humorist' Merill Markoe is quoted as saying 'THere is a definite correlation between a man's gift-giving and the longevity of a relationship.' God, I can feel another rant coming on, so now I'm off to search for my sense of humour - or another cup of coffee. Or maybe I'll just crawl back to bed!

My writing prompt for today comes from the first line of 'Infestation', from Catherine Smith's The Butcher's Hands and is, 'You hear them before you see or smell them-'

Sunday, March 05, 2006

'Everyone who's worth anything begins life again somewhere between thirty-five and fifty - begins it destitute in some important respect.' Alice Duer Miller.
Winnie the Pooh and 100 Acre Wood

From my window I can just catch sight of Ashdown Forest which was the inspiration for A A Milne's 100 Acre wood in his Winnie the Pooh books

Luckily, it's curiously unspoilt, considering the books have now been disneyfied, and even the Poohsticks bridge - which really exists - has been kept low-key. In fact, apart from the village of Hartfield which has a Pooh gift-shop, about the only nod in Pooh's direction in the forest is this plaque which I walked past today - the view above is taken from this spot - apparently it was one of AA Milne's favourite spots to sit.

I like the fact that E H Shepard gets a mention too, because his illustrations are almost as important in making the stories come alive to kids.

And so my writing prompt for today is ... to write about a childhood teddy or favourite toy.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Writing prompt for today ... I wish I could say this was a love story, but ...
Something for the weekend.... OK, I should really have waited for April for this one, but it's a glorious Spring day here so enjoy this story, On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One April Morning, by a writing hero of mine, Haruki Murakami. Can't say where it came from because I stole the link from another forum (sorry), but his The Wind Up Bird Chronicle is one of the best and strangest books I've enjoyed in a long time. Definitely worth buying because if you're like me, you'll want to read it again.

Friday, March 03, 2006

I can't wait for the Oscars. There's something so inspiring about all that team work, even when it's individuals winning the gongs. I think that's what I miss most about being a writer - I love all the tittle-tattle and stupid jokes that go on when a group of people work together. So one of my missions for this year is to do something that involves working as a team, not just teaching. Anyway the full list is here.
So it's the third day of Lent, and I've kept my pledge to eat no sugar, so no biscuits. How can writers write without munching a constant supply of biscuits to keep them going? This one is struggling anyway, and fruit just doesn't do the trick. Instead I'm fantasising about them - squashed fly biscuits, chocolate bourbons, hobnobs. Oh yes... But perhaps not fantasising about them as much as the Chinese artist, Song Dong, who is creating a whole Asian city out of biscuits in London's Selfridges department store. I might just have to give it a visit. Have always fancied eating my way through a whole street... and that's going to be my writing prompt for today!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

I'm very pleased to announce that the edition of Pulp that I've been 'looking after' is now up. It's been an amazing experience, not least to see how hard the real editor, Elaine, works to put it all together. One thing I'll take away is that when I've got a rejection from an editor saying 'Not right for us', I'm going to pay it a bit more attention. To be honest, there were many more stories received that I would have been proud to publish, but for various reasons - not least getting a mix - just didn't fit. However ... I really love the three stories I did pick. They're worth a read, and I'd love to hear comments if anyone's got them.
We found this lovely inscription on a park bench in Primrose Hill, London, last weekend when watching my daughter run in a cross country race. It sums up all I love about these memorials - they actually tell so much about a personality (in this case two!) in so few words. I can really picture these two men, with their view over London, discussing life and everything. A real exercise in character development!