Wednesday, January 30, 2008

It's all about YOUR MESSAGES!

How very very beautiful is this ....?

A copy, hot off the press, of the Your Messages book, which contains a selection from the November collaborative project, Your Messages. I haven't been able to stop reading them - they're fantastic, and it's going to be a great evening tomorrow night meeting many of these writers personally. The strange thing is that I feel I know some of them already through the pieces they contributed throughout November, so it's going to be interesting to see if I've got it right.

And what's more - all the profits from the Your Messages book go to the charity, Kids Company. Think I'm proudest of that than anything else.

Because it's going to be a busy few days, here's a list of the prompts I'll be working with ...

Wednesday ... just like your mother...
Thursday ... It's no joke ...
Friday ... Fear me ...

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I think they really liked me in Virginia...

One of the artists there even invited me to be photographed and included in a piece of work:

The fact that it's captioned, 'Sarah - dying - very painful' was perhaps a bit surprising, but nevertheless, I could still be the next Mona Lisa (if the lions don't get me first). It's strange looking at it, not every day you get to see your own death.

You can see more of Carlos's work here, I'm really excited about it (even if, a little disappointingly, it doesn't all feature me). Also his blog here.

And today's writing prompt is ... I need to tell you something ...

Monday, January 28, 2008

Lamb House and Co-incidences

One of the books I picked up in New York was this one, Lions at Lamb House:

It's a novel about a visit paid by Sigmund Freud to Henry James at his house in Rye. Part of the pleasure of reading it was that it reminded me, not just how much I like reading Henry James, or that I'm only half way through Peter Gay's brilliant biography of Freud, but how much I love Rye - luckily just an hour away from us at home so this weekend we went to the beach at nearby Camber Sands:

Everybody and their dog (and horse) seemed to be there too:

And after our walk, we went for a cup of hot chocolate in Rye and to see Lamb House:

One of the lovely scenes in Edwin M. Yoder's novel is a dangerous bicycle ride Freud took - arms and legs akimbo - down one of the cobbled paths leading to the sea road. I could imagine it perfectly when I saw this:

And of course, another writing resident of Lamb House was E F Benson, author of the fabulous Mapp and Lucia books. It was good to see that their gossipy spirit lived on in one of the Rye windows:

And my writing prompt for today is ... looking out of the window ...

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Great Chieftan of the Pudding Race...

Of course for anyone with Scottish connections, there was only one thing to eat on Saturday night (should have been Friday but we were busy)...

We missed out the neeps but had tatties and cabbage. Look at the beauty spilling out when the casing gets split open ...

I interviewed someone from MacSween's once about their haggis, and was very impressed by them saying how their vegetarian version started off as a one-off joke but is now a best-seller. Last night we were trying to work out how many other successful business ideas started off as playing in some way. It's a bit like writing - the worst thing you can do is to try too hard to get it 'right' and forget what fun it should be.

And my writing prompt for today is ... what's in the shadows ...

Saturday, January 26, 2008

My three nice things

I have been wondering about facebook. I'm on there, and am determined to win at least one game at scrabulous and scramble before I leave, but there's something about the status updates that are too weirdly addictive for me - both to write and to read. Maybe it's because you have to speak about yourself in the third person? Anyway, yesterday I put up that I wasn't nice to be around, which - as most people who know me will admit - isn't that much of an unusual thing and got some lovely emails asking what was wrong which cheered me up and made sense of the 'friends' thing. So today, Sarah is pure sunshine, and that's also partly because of three nice things that happened to her yesterday. They are, in no particular order:


Watching Central Station. This has to be one of the strangest, funniest, sweetest films I've seen. Hurrah for Amazon's 'you might also like...' for introducing it to me.


Reading Suzy Zeus Gets Organized by Maggie Robbins. I love novels in verse anyway, and Suzy Zeus is the genuine nobody's nice girl, so she was just right for my mood. After all...
'Suzy Zeus likes guys with handguns./Suzy Zeus likes beer in kegs.'
And she's also got a loser boyfriend called Harry:
'Touch him and she'll break your legs.'
A perfect model for my no-more-lovely-Sarah year, I feel ...

3. Hearing that the Blow Monkeys are getting back together. Of course, I've pre-ordered their forthcoming album, and am not listening to any of the rude comments I've been getting (you know who you are, Mr P...)about my boys, particularly Dr Robert.

And my writing prompt today is ... They always come to me ...

Friday, January 25, 2008

Better late than never...

Rumours that I have been spending the day admiring my new sharp haircut (with fringe - haven't had a fringe since school!!!) are completely false, but my writing prompt for today is ... looking in the mirror...

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Why is Tally so sad?

Because it's not only humans who have to go on diets in January, that's why.

It's pathetic, the way she stands moaning over her empty food bowl but I'm standing firm. Apart from when I get distracted by gossip and turn round to find her scavenging for bacon sandwiches in the park's outdoor cafe with her friend, Zach.

You can tell that Zach is one of those cool dogs just by looking at him, can't you? The truth is that he'll only play with Tally if there isn't any one better on the horizon, but we don't mind. During diet time, we're happy for any crumbs that come our way.

And my writing prompt for today is ... She was levitating ...

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Prompting and classes

It's a housekeeping sort of day. I've just sent details of the next bunch of weekly writing classes I hold in Tunbridge Wells - hopefully if you're interested and you've contacted me through the blog, you will have received this by now, but if not, it's not personal. Email me, or leave a comment below, and I'll send you the stuff.

Also I've finally got round to adding on the right hand column the list of sites belonging to writers who are following regularly - or irregularly! - the prompts put up here. Do have a look, (it's under all the bits about me showing off) because they're really good, and let me know if you want me to add yours.


There are lots of compensations for being home, including, HURRAH HURRAH HURRAH, these - I actually cheered out loud when I saw them in the shops on my first morning back:

..and the Your Messages party next week - I can't wait to meet all the people who took part and trying to work out names and faces (sorry about the morning shake here, shouldn't have had that second cup of coffee!):

... and Duffy. Where did she spring from though - suddenly she's everywhere, it's as if Britain had a Duffy transplant while I was away.

And my writing prompt for today is ... a love letter to a household object ...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Writing Prompt, distractions, duds

and this morning I'm writing to .... everything looked different ...

(Can't concentrate though cos I have a dentists appointment this morning for a tooth that broke in America, and I HATE the dentist. This time I don't even have Alice to hold my hand, as she did so capably in Virginia. Tip for travellers... never, ever eat these:

I only did because I thought the name was funny, but no one I was with at the time seemed to even get that joke. That'll teach me.)

Monday, January 21, 2008

A lovely review

For Leading the Dance by Nik. Here's what he said:

Like Chocolates

Some books, more specifically short story collections, are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get. And I found myself thinking this about Leading The Dance, by Sarah Salway this week.

You see, I never read the stories in collections in order. I don't know why, I just don't. Last week, after many weeks of dipping in to it, I realised that sadly I was nearing the end. I probably only had one or two stories left to read, though, as I'd not read it in order, I didn't know how many.

So, like those last few chocolates in a box you've really loved, I tried to save them. You know, as a treat. I didn't want to be greedy and scoff them all in no time. And I didn't want to lift the lid and see how many (or few) I had left. I wanted to enjoy them. And enjoy them I did but...

The box is empty now, and I'm disappointed.

I want more.

I loved the first book (Something Beginning With) of Sarah's I read. And I love this, I think, as much. It is, I think, the best collection of short stories I've read. It's delicate and tender in places, and heart twistingly sad in others. It's not short on laughs either. And if there's one thing that's present right the way through the book it's the uncanny way that you can empathise with or recognise almost all of the characters.

It is expertly written and hugely enjoyable. The prose sparkles mostly, while at times it is nothing short of dazzling. And touching.

A fantastic collection.

We have Messages .... at last!

There's not doubt that the amazing Your Messages project was one of my highlights easily from last year. It was originally designed to celebrate the relaunch of the Messages book Lynne and I wrote together, but for various reasons, the new edition has only just been published. Never mind though, it's well worth the wait. So so beautiful it makes me cry. Look at them nesting here so sweetly in their box:

And Lynne and I have just spent the morning signing copies for the Your Messagers who ordered one last year and have been waiting patiently.

Many many thanks all for your support, and not shouting at us too much. Your copy is on its way. And I have more copies here if anyone wants to buy a signed one from me... not sure about Christmas any more, but the perfect Valentines gift!

OK everyone, BREATHE

Order is restored. I should have pointed out that the mess pictured yesterday isn't my everyday work routine, but a sign that I'd just got back and shoved everything on my desk. But here we are now....


Even my notebooks are colour co-ordinated...

And for the voyeurs amongst you who have already spotted the lucky pants up on the noticeboard in the photograph above, here is the other most important part of my working process - my magic cards, given to me in moments of need. Hey, I'm not suspicious but if I don't have these in view, I'll probably die ...

And my decorating tip for writers? Get a disco ball theme going ...

There's rarely a day I don't dance in my studio ...

Sad (according to my teenage daughter), but true.

And my writing prompt for today is ... I've never seen his face ...

I'm going to put up some of the places where other writers are following my prompts on the sidebar later on today. Let me know if you want to be included.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Spot the difference...

My desk in Virginia:

And my desk at home (this morning):

So New Years Resolution Number One is to DECLUTTER!

And my writing prompt for today is ... My Real Name Is ...

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Packing up

The real world is beckoning. And because I'm going to be travelling for the next few days, here are my prompts to follow...

Today (16th) - Write about a bed
Thursday (17th) - Write about a scar
Friday (18th) - Someone is calling your name
Saturday (19th) - What are you looking for?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

last night

Like a jug handle - all on one side

One thing that's interested me since I've been here is my reading habit. Normally I'm surrounded by books, I'm most likely to be found on my knees searching through my shelves, but because of Virgin Atlantic luggage restrictions, I've had to limit myself. Which means I spend more time looking at them.

I got out an edited notebook of Conrad Richter from the library here, and although he's won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, I hadn't heard of him before. I've made lots of notes though - here's one quote I liked:

“Writers today read too much & do likewise … Animals who feed on other animals are not good to eat – only those who feed on grass … Natural people are the grass and there are few left.”

And what's particularly wonderful is that there are lists and lists of words taken from his original notebooks. I'm going to put some more up later, but here is a collection of his 'Miscellaneous Sayings – Old-time, Country, Southern'

A woman’s name should be heard twice in public. Once when she marries & once when she dies.

Christmas comes but once a year but when it comes I’ll have my share

He doesn’t know where his behind hangs (said of proud person)

He died from shortness of breath

A word and a blow and the blow first (hasty temper)

I’d know him if I saw his hide in the tanyard

Like a jug handle – all on one side

You asked me for a lie and I gave you one

“We don’t hang our money on the wall” (told to peddlar selling enlargements of photos)

ANd my writing prompt for today is .... It's my belief we are all crazy...

Monday, January 14, 2008

Places to sit

I have decided that one of the necessities for a writer are good places to sit outside. Here are some of my favourites here:

How do I love thee?

And because I need some treats to look forward to, here is a yummy looking PEN event:

Date for your Diary…
Booking is now open for our Valentine’s event on February 12 when Jackie Kay, James Fenton, and Josephine Hart will be discussing the history of the love poem in ‘How do I Love Thee?’.

The love poem was once an indispensable weapon in the armoury of any young lover. Has the era of the Hallmark card made troubadours of us all or merely stripped the language of love of any artistry and true feeling? James Fenton, editor of The New Faber Book of Love Poems, and Jackie Kay, acclaimed poet and novelist, ask whether we can still be seduced by verse. Chaired by Josephine Hart, author of Damage.

Venue: Guardian Newsroom, 60 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3GA
Time: 7pm talk; 8:30pm drinks – please arrive promptly
Tickets: £5 members; £7.50 non-members
How to Book:; or call 020 7713 0023.

All tickets include a complimentary glass of wine after the talk, courtesy of Waitrose Wine

And my writing prompt for today is .... Why not...?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

books to films

An interesting article here.

The next time...

With only four days left, I'm already panicking how I'm going to maintain this level of work when I get home. Work, and fun. So the solution is either come here again or go to another artists colony for a whole chunk of time next year. I was warned it was addictive, but it's more than that. It feels essential now.

And my writing prompt from the magic red book today is ... After midnight.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

A quick prompt...

... because internet is unreliable today ... These are the things women know about love.

But, oh before I go, this is cool. Kathryn has started a blog for her responses.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Help please!

I know lots of you are more music literate than me and I'm looking for songs about shopping for a piece I'm writing. I can only think of Hey Big Spender, and The Clash, Lost in the Supermarket, and at a pinch, Pulp, Ordinary People but there must be more.
Many more if you think how much time we spend shopping!

And my writing prompt for today is ... He'd never let me take his photograph.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Lovely Review...

by the lovely Caroline for Leading the Dance here. Am mightily chuffed. (and that's a word I've found isn't in use here - it was strange to explain because it's more than pleased, it's a combination of champagne and puffed up, which I'm sure academic research will show us is how it probably came to existence.)


Only a week left, so it's head down in the writing studio. First though, because I know people have been following them (and I like that because it makes me write better feeling I'm part of a community), is my prompt for today ... My younger self fled not toward but from... (it's a quote from one of Marge Piercy's poems).

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Jane Eyre For President

In case someone hasn't noticed, there is an election going on over here. This short piece, Jane Eyre Runs for President By Sean Carman, in McSweeny's magazine made me laugh.

A Virginian Shed for Alex!

No door or any other entryway, and it may get a trifle cold to work there in winter, but there's a bench built into one side and this is the view...

And my writing prompt for today is ... I saw her dancing.

ps Check out Gina's responses to some of the prompts I've put up here. I love her detail of the creaking stairs in particular, and the father's boots.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


One of the joys of being here is having the space to think. Not just to write. I've been catching up on some reading and watching that, if I'm honest, I do have time for back at home but never seem to get round to. For instance, this documentary about Jacques Derrida has been sitting on my shelf for about two years. I have thought about watching it several times, but somehow always end up in front of something like Dog Borstal or The L Word instead. However, when I finally got round to watching it yesterday I was enthralled. It's one of those pieces that you have to keep stopping so you can scribble notes down all the time. Like little flashes of light coming at you.

It's probably not the best way of learning about Deconstruction or Differance, but I did learn how Derrida's mother told him off for spelling difference with an 'a'. And it's beautifully done. It's moving, lyrical, even beautiful and shows rather than tells a lot of Derrida's theories. I can't tell you how many times I replayed one of the end scenes which films Derrida watching a film of his wife leaving the house again and again. And the look on his face when he was filmed during an interview and was asked which philosopher he would have like to have been his mother was priceless.

From some of my scribbled notes:

* When you write a text about someone you fix them in time. So someone who reads just a paragraph but interprets it in his/her own fashion is more of the biographer.

* The eyes don't age. To find your childhood, look in the eyes. An old man still has child's eyes. The gaze has no age.

* Staying on the verge of a confession.

* Does one love someone or does one love the something about someone?

* Love is the movement of the heart.

* When his mother was ill and confused, she told him - the son she didn't recognise - 'I have a pain in my mother.'

There's lots more, but these were just some of the phrases I could decipher.

I'm going to put up my morning prompts from my magic red notebook because I know from emails that some people are planning to follow them too. If you manage to write something from one of the prompts, then do please let me know. I'd love to link them here, or even just read them! So today's is ... It's what I do in the middle of the night...

That's easy here - it seems I get up. Not quite in the middle of the night, but here's dawn this morning from my window:

Monday, January 07, 2008


I received a lovely poem yesterday by email which featured a little bird and homesickness that cheered me up no end. I'm feeling really settled here now, I've even been off the center - there's a sign at the end of the property which says 'The Real World' which I must get a picture of before I go, but for now, here's the cardinal - the state bird of Virginia, and which I caught perching just outside my studio window.

It feels a happy coincidence that it matches exactly the colour of my new page-a-day Moleskine diary.

I'm doing this year what I did about three years ago - I've written a prompt at the top of each page right up until 31st December and am writing something - anything - to the particular phrase I find for every day. When I did it before, I thought it would just be a way of flexing writing muscles but it ended up being a treasure box of ideas when I wanted something to work from. Today's prompt is Once when no one was looking....

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Marcia and me....

When you hear of another writer with a supposedly similar style (and thanks to Ted for making my year already by linking me to Lorrie Moore - oh how I wish!) then you're immediately interested. Last year, I found this literature map with my name on, and was intrigued by the close link to Marcia Guthridge. I hadn't heard of her, did some research and even then couldn't find much more about her.

So it felt like a gift, albeit a rather spooky one, to find this book by my bedside at Virginia:

Because what was the first name on the cover that caught my eye but one Marcia Guthridge. Of course, I turned straight away to her story, The Host. It's stunning - just listen to the first few lines:

"I've never understood about fishing and buffalo stomachs. I admit it freely. I am no cannibal. But there are connections between me and the world. I am not a cog. I am a bolt."

But what I like almost better are the author's own notes about writing the story. I'm going to let you have those in full because I think they're almost a narrative in themselves, whether you've read the original story or not:

"Years and years ago I caught a large kingfish off a party boat like the one in "The Host". I was so proud that I began to think of myself as a fisherperson, and I kept right on thinking that way through hot fishless days on other boats. At parties I talked as if I knew all about bait and tackle. I read Jimmy Carter's book on fly fishing; I watched the Saturday morning fishing shows on TV while my kids clawed at me, screaming for cartoons. Finally I realized that my kingfish had provided me not with an avocation but with one of those life-defining moments; and since it was beginning to look as if that mackerel was the only real fish I'd ever catch, I figured I'd better write a fish story. When I'd finished, it was just a silly little story about catching a fish: no challenge to Hemingway or Babe WInkelmann. So I decorated it with stuff about the Texas Gulf Coast and being married. I know it's nothing without the decoration, but to me it's a fish story."

How engaging is that? I have a serious writerly crush now on Marcia. Sadly, all I can find of her work is stories in anthologies, and my luggage is heavy enough already for more book buying, but I'm proud to hang out with her on the literature map. I think we could be friends!

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Hello from Virginia

Welcome to you from paradise! Just starting my third full day, and I'm getting used to this completely different pace of work - being able to leave papers out and come back to them just as they are, not having to rush or be anywhere apart from at the desk, putting writing absolutely first. I only wish I hadn't discovered I could get the internet, but I'm going to restrict myself, and besides, I've been ridiculously homesick. It's nice to hear from family and friends. Emergency parcels are very welcome!

There are about eighteen of us here - a mix of writers, artists, photographers and musicians. As well as our bedrooms in the main house, we also get our own work studio. I was particularly excited to see the bed, because I like working in bed with my laptop:

Just a few steps outside, there is the most beautiful countryside. It's sunny here, which is unexpected, and the forecast is for it to get warmer:

And there is also the opportunity for serious object crush:

This thing of beauty belongs to one of the artists here. He has converted it to run on vegetable oil and it has a ship's wood burner inside. When I said how lovely it was, he replied, 'yep, everyone always likes my truck more than me.'

I'm working on my novel here, but somehow my shopping series of poems keeps popping up to the surface. Maybe it's because I'm such a long way from any shops...

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

A Happy New Year from New York..

...where only the cab drivers and English writers who haven't got accustomed to the time differences are awake! May 2008 be special for you.