Thursday, April 30, 2009

Nothing Better - a 50 word story

Nothing better than meeting friends of someone you love for the first time, and having almost TOO much to talk about…. than sharing thoughts about writing, blogging and wasting time (or otherwise)… than finding you’re reading the same book… than feeling grateful about just how your world keeps getting bigger.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Because we all need some real glamour sometimes...

Here's an interview with Coco Chanel. Got to love that voice...

And here's her apartment. Got to love this voice too...

My best line - 'she had a room at the Ritz, of course.'

Of course.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Silence - 50 word story

The models had to spend a month standing round the yard as the stonecarvers worked on their faces. Bored, they started to share their hopes and dreams. Told secrets that, later, kept on being shouted out to anyone who bothered to listen. Like a nightmare, they couldn’t shut themselves up.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Grounded - 50 word story

It started in Tunbridge Wells. Look Mummy, I’m flying. Then it hit London. A businessman took it to New York. From there, it invaded China. Everyone loved it. No one stopped to question the lack of wings. Or how long the earth had slowly been slipping away from underneath them.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Reading Deprivation Week...

I haven't written much about the Artists Way group set up via this blog, but it's been such a privilege to be part of it. And to have hands to hold during some of the exercises. And to be able to say, phew, someone else feels that too.

BUT... this week has been hard. This is the famous week in The Arists Way where there is NO READING.

And this means we can't go on the blog to see how other people are doing. If it feels like anything, it's like being part of a mini, and thankfully less public, Hells Kitchen. Who will survive? Who will decide that actually they want to 'hold' other peoples words more than carrying on, that their first prize is out of the kitchen? (Not that I was watching, of course, but oh how I love Bruce.)

Anyway, it's true that I would have been booted out of Hells Kitchen because I haven't kept the challenge to the letter. In fact, any letter's seduction was far too much for me. It hurts to realise I'm the earnest student Julia Cameron talks about in her book who comes up after Reading Deprivation Week is announced to say she's far too important not to read. The world will not, in fact, survive without her reading their words.

But I have been depriving myself this week - I haven't read any books (not even in the loo. Let me repeat that, not EVEN in the loo), I haven't let myself wander round the internet as normal, and I have consciously noted every radio and television programme I might have looked at briefly when I've been in the same room. JC says that the idea is to jolt ourselves out of our normal routines, and to think about what WE think rather than what other people tell us to think. And it has worked. Not least to make me realise how much I've taken reading, internetting, watching tv, for granted.

And more than that - I've realised how fragmented I've allowed myself to get. I rarely concentrate on just one thing any more - watching TV, I'll have a book or a laptop on my knee. When I'm speaking on the telephone, I'll often check my emails at the same time. When I'm writing on the computer, I'll have instant messaging up on the computer so I can see when a new email comes in. Doing nearly everything, I'll also have the radio on - and sometimes I get so used to the background noise, I will even put on another form of noise because I'm just not noticing the first one any more. Traveling, I'll often sink into a book with my blackberry besides me, rather than enjoying the journey. And of course there's solitaire which is always around, tempting me.

It's been a wake up call.

Besides, the ways I've been distracting myself have been, at first, just that. Distractions. But yesterday, I noticed that I was feeling clearer and more focused. Cleaner somehow. And that's not just my cupboards. Oh you should see how beautiful my cupboards are - even my scarves are now colour co-ordinated.

I'm looking forward to reading again. But I'm going to keep an eye on how I use it. I'm even planning to have two internet-free days a week from now on. As JC says, "For most artists, words are like tiny tranquilizers. We have a daily quota of media chat that we swallow up. Like greasy food, it clogs our systems. Too much of it and we feel, yes, fried.

It is a paradox that by emptying our lives of distractions, we are actually filling the well. Without distractions, we are once again filling our way."

Ribbons - a 50 word story

She wears a red ribbon in her hair on Wednesdays. Every day a different colour, but always red on Wednesdays. He imagines rituals, a lost love, secret messages. He could ask, but instead enjoys how his fingers itch. There’s something about the red that makes him want to undo her.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A must see...

Just found out about this - a world premier, tickets available still and in my home town too! Good news...

Cracks - 50 word story

Step on a crack and the bogey man will get you. Except it’s a woman. She’ll whisper how happy she’ll make you, and you’ll follow her, all the way up the path. It’s not that you won’t like it. You will. But you won’t be able to look back. Never.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Anywhere - 50 word story

Five years after he died, you move to Doncaster. Your friends ask why not India, or Thailand? A fresh start. But you remember him saying once how he loved the way the word Don-cas-ter rolled down the throat. You walk the grey streets, mouth open, tasting him in the air.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Did you listen to me?

I'm so happy to hear that Elizabeth Strout has won the Pulitzer Prize for her wonderful novel in stories, Olive Kitteridge.

It was my book for 2008, and you can hear an interview with Elizabeth here from the excellent Pen on Fire podcast. This podcast is one of my many addictions - I love the interviewer, Barbara Demarco-Barrett.

I wonder what it must be like to wake up this morning and be a Pulitzer Prize winner. Nothing would be the same, would it?

Monday, April 20, 2009

It's all action in my writing studio..

The last month has been a momentous one for me in that I have given up my teaching. It may be temporary but at the moment I'm feeling as if I've stepped off the cliff. What will I do?

Ah, yes write of course.

And today I got a helping hand. Meet my new writing guardian, Jane Austen herself...

She has special super-powers - just see her weapon of choice...

But then so do I. It's official (or at least according to the groups of my lovely ex-writing class who gave me Jane today together with this label which made me laugh a lot) ...

I'm famously fussy with what I keep in my writing study. But Jane can stay. Look how pleased she is about it (you should see her everytime I shoot off a particularly beautiful comma ...

And she is getting on well with another member of the Writing Studio menagerie. Have I introduced you to Howl's Moving Castle yet? I don't want to boast too much but this very model used to belong to Ursula Le Guin you know. But if they didn't like each other, perhaps it wouldn't matter. Jane Austen apparently said: 'I do not want people to be agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them.'

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Rhubarb - 50 word story

He talks on and on, and she loves it. She keeps lists of possible subjects and picks a new one every morning. He’ll think for two minutes, and then for the next 24 hours he talks about dogs. Or lighthouses. Or avocados. No day is ever too long for them.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Gingerbread visceral realists poets ...

Am thinking of starting a new craze of cooking snacks to go with whatever novel I'm reading...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Candles - 50 word story

Although he’s worked there for fifteen years, no-one remembers his birthday. He signs cards for others, drinks their champagne, and every 15th April, he goes home to complain about how his colleagues made a stupid fuss over him again. His family smile, feel less guilty that they’d forgotten the day.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

On being lost

I'm writing an article at the moment on the joys of getting lost which means I am happily spending hours exploring maps and thinking how people navigate round themselves. The Strange Maps blog from which the map above, and the description right at the bottom of this post, comes from is particularly good for frittering away time.

And I'm also enjoying re-reading Rebecca Solnit's A Field Guide to Getting Lost. Here's one of the many quotes from that book I've copied out:

The question then is how to get lost. Never to get lost is not to live, not to know how to get lost brings you to destruction, and somewhere in the terra incognita in between lies a life of discovery.

Beautiful. I want more and more to enjoy a life of discovery.

And here's the description of the map illustrated here:

“The American Geographical Society Library has acquired an extremely rare and unusual map, The Man of Commerce, published in 1889 in Superior, Wisconsin. The highly detailed 31” x 50” map/chart conflates human anatomy with the American transportation system, in an apparent attempt to promote Superior as a transportation hub.”

“Its metaphor makes West Superior ‘the center of cardiac or heart circulation’; the railways become major arteries; and New York is ‘the umbilicus through which this man of commerce was developed’. “

“The explanatory notes conclude: ‘It is an interesting fact that in no other portion of the known world can any such analogy be found between the natural and artificial channels of commerce and circulatory and digestive apparatus of man’. “

“Only one other copy of this map is known to exist. The map’s cartographer was A.F. McKay; the publisher (probably) Land & River Improvement Co.; and the printer Rand, McNally and Co.”

VCCA Fellowship

I've written lots on this blog about my time at VCCA, and I've just had this email from them which may be of interest to some readers. You'd still have to pay for airfares etc, but it seems like a great opportunity. The website is here:

The VCCA is accepting applications for the Goldfarb Family Fellowship for Nonfiction Writers. This is a fully funded two-week residency where a nonfiction writer may concentrate solely on his or her creative work. As with all residencies at the VCCA, writers will be provided a private bedroom, separate studio, and three prepared meals a day, in the company of 23 visual artists, composers and other writers. The postmark deadline is May 15. The application process is the same as the regular VCCA application process, but we must have work samples, so applicants may not submit a re-application. You may obtain an application by visiting our web site.

Please forward this email to
friends and colleagues who might
be interested in applying for this

You may contact me at 434-946-7236 or e-mail me with any


Craig Pleasants
Program Director