Thursday, April 29, 2010


OK, so we all probably know that not getting desperate about rejection is one of the key traits a writer needs. One of my heroines, Maya Angelou, said: "We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated."

And one of the best ways to learn anything is to practice.

Which is why I am trying to grow another giant pumpkin for the allotment show. (Yes, I do see that this is a pathetic attempt at trying to claim that the time I spend on the allotment is 'work'...)

Anyway, my last attempt was in 2006 as I blogged about here.

This is my pumpkin then. NO! Not the big one, the little one hiding behind....

And so, let me introduce this year's baby ...

I will record its progress here. It's work, you know.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Or maybe the better question might be, who am I today, because I can't tell you how pleased I am to be the guest of writer, Stephanella Walsh who runs The Creative Identity Website.

She asked some great questions which really made me think about my writing identity:

What is your greatest writing fear?

What is your greatest writing extravagance?

So now I am going to turn those two thoughts over to you, dear blog readers.

What are your greatest writing fears, AND extravagances....?

I'd love to know.

Do put Stephanella's site on your to be visited regularly list too. She has great information, promps, advice. I really like her style and energy.

AND she's running a short story competition here, deadline is 30th June, and the theme is IDENTITY.

If you need an inspiration kickstart and live near enough to Manchester, there are still some places left on her Creative Identity workshop, details here.

This is what makes me SO happy about the internet. The friendships, the inspiration, the wonderful, wonderful wonderful people there are out there doing wonderful things - and all of which I might have missed out on if it hadn't been available at my finger tips. And far from being passive, as all of these sites above show, there's a wealth of creative inspiration out there.

Phew! How lucky are we? It's one big sweetie shop!

Monday, April 26, 2010



So I was supposed to be in Ireland this week, but for volcano reasons, it didn't work out.

Gutted wasn't the word for it.

No, determined not to have my week spoiled may have been the better phrase.

Luckily I ended up having the best and most productive time ever writing in different reference libraries around London. As well as editing a poetry collection, I wanted to find out more about two things - pain and garden extravagance. The two are not necessarily linked!

Monday = The London Library.

Bit of a cheat this one, because I am a member already, but it eased me gently into the week and I planned my schedule. Anyway, this one won on the noise of snoring fellow readers, and magazines I wanted to read. It is, also, the only one I had to pay for.

Tuesday = The Wellcome Library in Euston Road. Brilliant selection of books on every kind of medical matter you might want to look up. Also, fantastic cafe. There was no entry fee, I had to provide identification and a reason for wanting to research but the librarians couldn't have been more helpful, not even blinking when I said I wanted to find out more about pain. A great online resources for images too, including this one of the smallest medical chest ever.

Wednesday = First library fail. The British Library had little, if any, space left even though I am a reader there. The librarians said it was full now by 10.30 am, and it felt crowded and stuffy. Not what I was looking for so I made my way to the RHS Lindley Library in Vincent Square, Pimlico. It was a beautiful day and I sat on the steps for a bit watching small schoolboys play cricket in a pitch in the middle of the square. Sometimes it's hard to believe you are in London. To use this library you have to be a member of the RHS, but if you're interested in plants and gardens or garden history at all, then oh boy, are you in for a treat. Members can borrow books from here too. No cafe.

Thursday = National Art Library in the Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington. Thanks to twitter for this suggestion, it was possibly the best library to work in ever.

I had no problem getting a library card, in fact the librarians were interested and helpful in what I wanted to look up. I had to order any books I wanted to study on the hour, and they came approximately 45 mins later, but I had brought my own work with me and sitting in the surroundings (above) was positively inspiring. Great cafes in the Museum, good people watching, and best atmosphere. How had I not known about this before? Reference only.

Friday = RIBA Library in Portland Place.

I wasn't sure I was going to be allowed into this one, but in the end it couldn't have been easier or nicer. I was signed in immediately as a day guest - no one asked why I wanted to work there. There were plenty of desks free, and as it happened, my table was exactly near the shelves I wanted to explore - garden buildings and follies. As you might imagine, perfect people watching, and a great, great cafe. Reference only.

Any suggestions for further libraries will be gratefully received, but in the meantime, if you are looking for somewhere different to write and research, my top three were:

a) The Wellcome Library

b) The National Art Library

c) RIBA Library

And I haven't even started exploring the public libraries yet...

ps I didn't do this but wish I had ...

Sunday, April 25, 2010


I haven't been keeping up with the writing prompts I used to put up daily in my side bar. Bad Sarah.

However, I have been writing daily myself to prompts I put up on Twitter. Good Sarah.

You can follow me there - @sarahsalway - please do, and please say hello. But I'm also going to put up a week's worth of the writing prompts regularly on here. Perhaps there's one that takes your fancy. I tend to use these prompts for no reason other than to wake up my writing muscles, force myself not to take the first option that comes to mind when I read them, and to just enjoy the writing rather than concentrating on the product. I write something like this six days a week, and sometimes just for five minutes, but I miss it if I don't do my writing stretch!

And the prompts:

* hiring a private investigator

* the questions I'd really like to ask you

* 'jam to-morrow and jam yesterday - but never jam to-day" (Alice in Wonderland)

* two truths and one lie

* if I weren't here, I'd be .... (thanks to Kate for this one)

* staying in bed when there is a world to save.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Oh how I love this woman...

Run Rabbit Run - a fifty word photostory

Don’t go to any trouble, he says. He means it. He’s going to tell her it’s not her fault, it’s his. He’s not worth the trouble she goes to. He won’t say it embarrasses him. That one month together isn’t worth celebrating anyway. She should get a life. Without him.

Friday, April 23, 2010


About this time every year, I'm reminded about how much I love colour. Even my writing seems more colourful. It's as if it wants to fight the greyness in me and burst out!

So it's a joy to bring it into my home (and balcony).

This is where I sit and work when I can - me and the pigeons.

And to bring some colour to your computer too, here are the three most beautiful and colourful blogs I've been enjoying recently:

1. The joyful Color Me Katie

2. The designer eye of Kris's Color Stripes

3. Yolanda's gardening and general gorgeousness blog

And I'm going to set you a challenge to write about colour - not just one, red or blue or yellow, but them all!


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Shhh... a fifty word photostory

Their honeymoon was cut short when a romantic midnight walk goes horribly wrong. People whisper about the insurance settlement, but no-one likes to talk too much. She wears black, rarely leaves her house. Opens the door only at night to a stranger no one likes to talk about. Just whisper.

More fifty word stories here

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Two years ago, I ran away to join the circus. Or an animation project in Iowa anyway, the Tiny Circus. Some of the things I learnt there and the people I met have definitely changed my creative process.

So it's great to see the project gearing up for its third year via its blog. Here's one of the videos I worked on when I was there (I may have put it up already, but I like it and this is my blog):

This one is really sweet too:

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


This is a photograph of Elisabetta Gut's artwork, Book in A Cage, 1981, which I saw in Washington last year. I wish the photograph could adequately show how moving it was. The explanation read as follows:

"Book in a Cage represents humanity's struggle to communicate, set against the constraints it places on itself that prevent expression. The open door to the cage is a metaphor for the inherent liberty of ideas. The work, which places a French-Italian dictionary behind bars, also touches on the inadequacy of language to express thought and the isolation that can result."

Monday, April 19, 2010

Cutting the Family Tree - a fifty word photostory

Her family tells her that if she carries on behaving like this she will just be cut off. She laughs, imagining an old-fashioned will and testament being torn up. Until they don’t return her calls. Or answer letters. And what’s worse is she can’t remember who she is any more.

More stories here.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Which one do you relate to? This one:

Or this?

(and I'm sorry to be shallow but am I the only one who thanks that moment when Derrida falls into English about his nap is just so sexy)

Saturday, April 17, 2010


When the independent publisher Bluechrome agreed to publish my collection of short stories, Leading the Dance, I was delighted. I have always loved the idea of people who are slightly outside the norm, and who are prepared to take risks, and all for the sake of Art. And Bluechrome was all of that.

Put that with the list of authors they were publishing, and then the way they published Messages, my collaboration with the brilliant Lynne Rees and its little sister, Your Messages, and it seemed like a real winner.

So much energy, so much talent, so much FUN!

But then sadly as has been reported elsewhere things went wrong, and bluechrome disappeared literally over night. Leaving authors without books, unsure, angry, puzzled and demotivated. I was one of the lucky ones, my books had already been published, and the charity Lynne and I had selected - the Kids Co - got their money, but it was still heartbreaking. Too much potential and dreams ruined for nothing.

I think that many of us didn't like to say anything at the time. Anthony who ran bluechrome was chaotic, disorganised, always behind himself. But he was also lovely. He wouldn't let us down, would he?

It seemed he would. And by the time we realised just what had happened, many of us were just too exhausted and disappointed to go on the warpath.

So it is FANTASTIC to see something good coming from it all.

One of the bluechrome queen writers, Sue Guiney has organised a special reading to help us put it all behind us.

Beyond Blue: A Reading by Bluechrome Authors

Bluechrome writers who will be there, either to read or just to lend their support are, among others, Ruth O'Callaghan, Patrick Osada, Joe Stein, Sue Rose, Jim Bennett, Patricia Debney, Leah Fritz, Adele Ward, Carolyn Oulton.

Sadly, I won't be able to be there, but I have heard many of the authors and poets on the reading list and they are really worth a listen, so it is with pleasure and a lot of nudging, that I encourage you to attend. And to buy the books - collectors items at the very least!

Thursday, 22 April 6.30 pm
St Benet's Church
Queen Victoria Street EC4

Friday, April 16, 2010

ps Collage workshop

Several people have asked for details of the collage workshop I mentioned below, so for the benefit of all, it was run by Ann Beazer and her website is here.

Thoroughly recommended!

The book you NEED to write...

If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it. ~Toni Morrison

So what's yours? I'll share if you do...

Thursday, April 15, 2010


The strange thing about grief is that you think you are fine, you really do, you're not just saying that, when suddenly something happens to knock you completely off course.

For me, yesterday, it was finding this calendar amongst Dad's stuff. We'd given it to him for Christmas, and of course only the first few days of this year have been torn off.

And all I can do is to let go and feel the hurt once again.

But at the same time there's laughter too. And as a writer there's the nagging thought that if this was in a novel, it would make a great metaphor - the cartoon calendar as an image of someone's life.

And then the guilt hits that I'm thinking something like this in the middle of real life. Not just real life. MY real life. I have a feeling (a hope) that other writers reading this will know what I mean.

The other - better - thing I did yesterday was to go with my sister to a visioning course. As with all these courses, we agreed to keep what other participants said confidential, but I can tell you about my experience.

The course was based on the work of Lucia Capacchione, and as a fan of her Creative Journal, I was really excited.

However much I rely on words, I believe that images can tell us more.

To begin with, we flicked through a pile of magazines, newspapers and catalogues to find the photographs and images that appealed to us somehow. Not too much thinking. Just what you were drawn to.

It was FUN! So many beautiful pictures. So sensual. The colours. And no one to say 'be careful with the scissors' as they used to in kindergarten which was the last time I did anything like that.

In fact it was so much fun, I hadn't really expected my selection to tell me anything. I was just picking the prettiest pictures.

Yep, I thought, this is interesting. I'm not choosing anything to do with gardening, or garden history, or history. Perhaps I'm following a false lead with the BIG secret idea I'm currently working on.

Oh yeah? How had I not even noticed these slipping on to my collage...

So that was curiously reassuring. And then I noticed this picture right near the centre, pulling all the different threads of my life together.

But then, just as I was analysing and computing, I saw this one:

And right at the moment Ann, who led the workshop, read out this extract from Lucia's book:

Don't Just Do Something, Sit There

Visioning follows the pathways to the heart, which are neither linear, rational nor predicatable. Rather they meander through the field of dreams and turn up the most wonderful surprises. In this case, the shortest distance and the most effortless path between two points is not a straight line. It's more like water flowing around rocks in a river bed. Your heart's desire has its own momentum, rhythm and impulse. Your job is to stay true to the dream, be alert, and open the door when opportunity knocks.

So that's my lesson for the day. I'm not going to rush ahead as I normally do. Planning and goaling and strategising. Nope, if it's the time for anything at the moment, it's not to do anything. Just sit there and wait to see what might happen and know that wherever I'm going, it's on the right track.

It's curiously exciting, sewing seeds like this. Child's stuff. Real life.

Sticks and Stones - a 50 word photostory

Her mother says just to ignore the bullies. That one day she’ll look back and wonder what the fuss was about. But she knows that’s not true. She’ll be carrying the words around forever … fat, smelly, stupid, worthless … and a thin skin hurts more than any broken bone.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


I like what she says about the difference between writing poetry and prose too, how poetry begins with a rhythm. Although I think good prose does too. And needs it to sustain the reading as well.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Neighbours for Supper - a 50 word photostory

Linda seems nervous, but I can hear her husband talking loudly even as I slip out to the kitchen. Originally I’d planned to reveal how I knew about my husband and Linda over pudding. But now I’m not sure. I overhear talk about barbecues, daytrips, cards. It sounds nice. Neighbourly.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Decisions - a 50 word photo-story

It's been a while since I've done a snap, but I've missed them. For those new to the blog, these are 50 word stories linked to a photograph. Please leave your own 50 word version in the comments section - or link to your blog - if you want. Writing small is an interesting - if sometimes frustrating! - exercise:

She doesn’t want a complete memory destruction. Just her childhood. Although not the good bits. Or the bits she survived. Which was it all, so could it zap her adult life instead? But not the bits with John. Or without. Actually maybe she could just not remember the future. Although…

Thursday, April 08, 2010

“… in order to write well you must first learn how to listen. And that, in turn, is something writers have in common with their readers. Reading well means opening your ears to the presence behind the words and knowing which notes are true and which are false. It is as much an art as writing well and almost as hard to acquire.”

Al Alvarez, The Writers Voice

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Getting off the wrong track with ALICE MUNRO...

Nice to know it happens to the best of us.

Here's Alice Munro being interviewed by Jeanne McCulloch and Mona Simpson for The Paris Review

How do you realize you’re on the wrong track?

I could be writing away one day and think I’ve done very well; I’ve done more pages than I usually do. Then I get up the next morning and realize I don’t want to work on it anymore. When I have a terrible reluctance to go near it, when I would have to push myself to continue, I generally know that something is badly wrong. Often, in about three quarters of what I do, I reach a point somewhere, fairly early on, when I think I’m going to abandon this story. I get myself through a day or two of bad depression, grouching around. And I think of something else I can write. It’s sort of like a love affair: you’re getting out of all the disappointment and misery by going out with some new man you don’t really like at all, but you haven’t noticed that yet. Then, I will suddenly come up with something about the story that I abandoned; I will see how to do it. But that only seems to happen after I’ve said, No, this isn’t going to work, forget it.

Can you always do that?

Sometimes I can’t, and I spend the whole day in a very bad mood. That’s the only time I’m really irritable. If Gerry talks to me or keeps going in and out of the room or bangs around a lot, I am on edge and enraged. And if he sings or something like that, it’s terrible. I’m trying to think something through, and I’m just running into brick walls; I’m not getting through it. Generally I’ll do that for a while before I’ll give it up. This whole process might take up to a week, the time of trying to think it through, trying to retrieve it, then giving it up and thinking about something else, and then getting it back, usually quite unexpectedly, when I’m in the grocery store or out for a drive. I’ll think, Oh well, I have to do it from the point of view of so-and-so, and I have to cut this character out, and of course these people are not married, or whatever. The big change, which is usually the radical change.

That makes the story work?

I don’t even know if it makes the story better. What it does is make it possible for me to continue to write. That’s what I mean by saying I don’t think I have this overwhelming thing that comes in and dictates to me. I only seem to get a grasp on what I want to write about with the greatest difficulty. And barely.

You can read the whole interview - and it's definitely worth it - here.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010


After a hard judging session round a bridge table, the winner of the love and old age quote competition is ...




"Even when we sleep we watch over one another
And this love heavier than the ripe fruit of a lake
Without laughter without tears has lasted forever
Day after day one night after us."

From Paul Eluard's - 'Even When We Sleep'.


And big confession here because I haven't heard of Paul Eluard before so I'm a double winner. Here he is ..

And you can find out more about him here, but for the moment, here's a video worth watching made by some French schoolchildren of his most famous poems, Liberte:

(There's an English translation here)

BUT more importantly, congratulations HOLEN! A signed copy of GETTING THE PICTURE will be on the way to you shortly. Just send me your address, and thank you EVERYONE for all your lovely quotes and stories. It was a real privilege to read them, and I felt very lucky to launch the book on a wave of love words like this!

Friday, April 02, 2010

Author Blog 2010 Competition

I feel as if I've stepped off the world recently and am only now tiptoeing back to find things moving awfully fast, and that I've somehow lost part of my normal language to understand and to be understood. Strange times.

ANYWAY, something nice. I'm very happy to have been nominated for the above competition. Thank you to whoever did, and please let me know if you'd like a proper appreciation! And just as importantly, the site gives the links to hundreds of other great writing blogs. What a resource. Just clicking the button should take you through to the site. I hope they're going to keep this list up for longer so I can explore properly.

There are even prizes for voting.

But for now I'm back to revising the Dictionary of the Real World ...