Friday, October 31, 2008

Oh Oh Oh...

Beautiful vowels

It took seven years to write Eunoia

Eunoia is the shortest word in English containing all five vowels - and it means "beautiful thinking". It is also the title of Canadian poet Christian Bok's book of fiction in which each chapter uses only one vowel.

Mr Bok believes his book proves that each vowel has its own personality, and demonstrates the flexibility of the English language. Below are extracts from each chapter.

More here, and I see some commenters are asking 'why?', to which I can only say, Christian Bok, marry me...

How things have changed ....

In my file of potentially useful things to hold against the children should it become necessary (what? You expect me to believe you don't have one? All parents should...) I have my son's first published piece of work. Along with a drawing of him looking like Edward Scissorhands for some reason, all hair and fingers, there's this:
I came to school and I haud no curectshens and then we went down the hill to get the bus but it wasn't theyr it had brocen down then we went to maisieq the firer (nope, I don't know what this mean either - probably involved some sort of snack. They seemed to snack a lot in Edinburgh. Anyway it all adds to the narrative tension I think he's achieved perfectly because look what happens next ... ) then we came bac and we went up the hill.

And now I have just received his latest published piece of work. A little different maybe, not least because I can understand every word. I bet he still had no curectshens... And that's the end of the proud mother alert, apart from the fact this isn't going in the potentially embarrasing file - although I have a dreadful feeling he might be keeping one on me now and this blog post is so going in there!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Pitch me a story ... quick!

Lots of good stuff in Catherine Ann Jones's book, The Way of Story, but I particularly liked this anecdote of the origin of word, 'pitching', for selling a story.

According to Jones, during the Spanish Inquisition, Torquemada would tell imprisoned playwrights that if they could interest him in an idea, he would let them live long enough to write it. If not, they were dropped into a large vat of boiling tar.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Another day another garden

To the Chelsea Physic Garden recently of which much more later but because this blog likes chocolate (oh yes it does) here's some more proof gathered, if needed, of the scientific botanical evidence that chocolate is good for you ...

From Pepys .. the cure for a hangover ...

Hans Sloane, obviously a man of taste even if he is the patron saint of flowery head-scarves ...

And lastly, in the spirit of scientific experiments, I've been testing just how calm this makes me (although a friend did suggest wine might be quicker)...

And here's Hans Sloane himself, although, look, someone's just stolen his bar of chocolate from his hand. Bloody typical behaviour of those sloane rangers...

The Butchers Shop

Passing this on ... looks terrifying if you (or your story) are the 'body', but I really want to watch!

Just a quick note to let you know that BAD IDEA magazine is launching a new monthly writer’s workshop and theatrical experience called ‘The Butcher’s Shop’ this Thursday at the Old Operating Theatre Museum in London. Short stories submitted by guests will be dissected, chopped up, and improved through an intensive process of live editing and debate. An audience of 50 other writers will discuss and argue with BAD IDEA’s editors as they place the writing of guests on a 19th century operating table – project it onto a big screen – and go to work removing inefficiencies, excising flabby adjectives and probing narrative structure. The ultimate goal: to create live debate about the editorial process, and involve attendees in a dramatic ‘theatre-in-the-round’ exploration of the writing craft. Sponsored by Hendrick’s Gin, tickets include complimentary cocktails in the theatre’s Herb Garret. If any of you are in London on October 30, or have students who might be in the area, we’d love to see you there.
Anyone who puts their name down for a ticket in the next couple of days will also eligible to have their story reviewed on the night: if any of your students are interested in attending and would like to submit a short story/ies of 350 words length, please tell them to send the text through to Stories submitted by Mon/Tues stand a great chance of being edited/reviewed during the event. Despite the gory title, 'The Butcher's Shop' live editing process will be playful and fun. More info is online:
(The ticket price, including open bar and gifts from Hendrick’s and Fentimans, is £12. Workshops are from 7pm – 9pm on the final Thursday of every month, beginning 30 October 2008, at the Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret, 9a St. Thomas’s St., London SE1 9RY. Places limited. All stories must be submitted in advance of the event. We cannot guarantee that all stories submitted will be edited at the event. For further details please contact BAD IDEA

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Great Dixter - October

In September, I put up the first of a monthly series of photographs of Great Dixter. Now here are some from yesterday - a perfect Autumn day spent at possibly one of my most favourite places. There was a slight breeze too, and it was beautiful how the plants moved in the wind. A real living garden.

A literary warning to shameful shoppers....

That's me, apparently!

I was happily surprised to see a poem of mine, Night Letters, quoted as part of an answer to the question - Dear Book Doctor, I haven't actually been affected by the financial crisis yet but it still feels unnecessarily frivolous to go out and buy lots of new clothes right now. What do you think? Eva, London - in the Financial Times yesterday.

According to 'book doctor', Rosie Blau:

"...the lesson of literature is that shopping won't serve you well.

"Like letters he keeps her bills/on a spike by their bed,/each pierced through the heart," run the first lines of Sarah Salway's poem "Night Letters". The picture that emerges of this shopper isn't attractive: "He thinks of her then, prowling the shops,/licking her lips at a colour, or the cut/of a jacket, focussed ahead,/ hearing nothing but the click/of her credit card."

Of course, Night Letters is taken from a series of poems based around a shopaholic, looking at the thin line between a pleasure and an addiction, so it wasn't supposed to be attractive. It's been hard to write too, because I seem to have become extra-sensitive to all the incentives to shop, spend money, buy this, that, anything in the quest to be a different person.

Perhaps that's why I've been enjoying this blog and this blog recently.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A resolution a day...

... makes me happy. I'm loving these daily resolutions from this site. The best countdown to the end of the year I've ever had.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Look what Alex has found ....

The House of Books has No Windows. (Although Alex thinks it looks more like a shed, of course).

Has anyone seen it? I'm wondering if the no windows bit is a good thing, or a bad. Are they saying that too many books make us look inward, rather than out of the windows? I'm thinking of the exercise in The Artists Way where you have to give up reading for a week. Yep, that's it. The one that makes most writers hyperventilate.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

It's back ... and it's even more lean, mean, intense ...

The Your Messages project was definitely a highlight for me last year.

So how could we not do something again this November?

Trouble was, what? Lynne and I knew we couldn't do it exactly the same all over again - not least because we worked out we read nearly three times the equivalent of War and Peace, however wonderful it was!

BUT we have worked something out. Come and join us on the Your Messages website, and keep November 1st in your diary.

Here are the details:

Every day during the month of November 2008 we will post a writing prompt of exactly 30 words and you’re invited to respond, via the comments box, with your own original piece of writing which may be either exactly 30 words or 300 words long.

At the end of the month we’ll be choosing one response as the overall prize-winner (although we may well comment on one or two others as well) and the writer of that piece will receive signed copies of our books: Leading the Dance, Learning How to Fall, Something Beginning With and The Oven House.

And how will we make our decision from so much fine writing? Here are a few things to bear in mind:

1.There should be some kind of link to the prompt, e.g. theme, image, word or phrase
2.It should be a stand-alone piece of writing.
3.It has to be brilliant! :-)))

We look forward to meeting up with as many old and new ‘Messagers’ as possible online from 1st November.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Musical writing prompts

I've let the writing prompts in the sidebar slip this week, largely because I've been engrossed in what I still call, 'The French Idea', because that was the subject title of all the original planning emails.

So to make it up to you, here's one of the exercises we did - and which produced some good work. I played a blast of different songs - just a minute - and then we all wrote in response to the emotional feelings evoked. I tried to pick songs about wanting something, and not just love!

What was interesting was that afterwards, almost without the writers being aware of it, the words in their pieces echoed the exact themes of the songs. Here are two of the clips we used if you want to try it yourself (although we didn't have the videos, you might have to listen with your eyes shut first, particularly I think to the Joanna Newsom)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Oh no, here it comes again....

.... the wanting, the needing.

Just when I thought I was safe with Nigella, my benches and the occasional shopping trolley, I'm halfway through Elspeth Thompson's wonderful Wonderful Weekend Book when the lust starts rising all over again.

Why have I never thought of learning to play the ukulele before?

It's all I have been able to think about today. And look, I can even make my own here.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

If I ever needed to remind myself ...

why I like to write and teach, these photographs of my weekend spent facilitating a writing group in France will do just fine ....

Whether it's the mornings...

Or the plotting ...

Or the multi-talented writers ...

Hearing good work...

The HUGE window in our workshop room...

Or the food ...

The view from my bedroom window ...

Or the possibility that, if I didn't mind freezing to death, I could just dive in this swimming pool...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

What have you got in that shopping trolley???

Well, will you look at this. It's an exhibition on wheels! Another use for a shopping trolley.

Here are some of the pieces Anne Kelly and I have been working on. They're based on the Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon.

There are eleven at the moment, but we're planning more.

Here's the official blurb about the project:

The Pillow Book Project – Anne Kelly and Sarah Salway

What is The Pillow Book?

Written in the eleventh century by a Japanese Court gentlewoman, Sei Shonagon, The Pillow Book* is a scrapbook of lists, poems and reflections. Sei Shonagon’s observations range from the funny – (in a section, Things that Create the Appearance of Deep Emotion, she puts simply, “Plucking your eyebrows”) – to the poignant – (in Rare Things, we find, “A son-in-law who’s praised by his wife’s father. Likewise, a wife who’s loved by her mother-in-law.”) There are sections on Japanese Court Dress, lists of flowering plants, birds, mountain ranges. All of which add up to form a picture of what a certain section of Japanese life was like in the Heian period.

Why we liked it

Although the form is fragmentary, it’s easy to gain an idea of Sei Shonagon’s character through her intensely personal, and sometimes dogmatic, choices. We found ourselves thinking what we might put under certain of her sections – what makes us alarmed, or close our eyes with happiness, for instance? This became a challenge to write our own lists for today. Although our lives couldn’t be more different from Sei Shonagon’s, doing this project made us pause a little and look, with curiosity, both within and without, at what’s important. It was a reminder how effectively the ‘small’ can be used to tell the bigger picture. The use of fragments also fitted in with the magpie tendencies we both have in our creative process.

How we did it

To begin with, we sat together and worked out which section headings appealed to us. Then Sarah made lists and lists of what she felt suited each section – stories, images, thoughts, sometimes just words. Meanwhile, Anne worked on what different background colours she wanted to use. Then we came together again. Sarah cut and changed her words, and Anne found images, shapes and textures that fitted both literally and metaphorically with the emotion and atmosphere we decided together that we wanted to create.

Now what?

Just as we wrote on from Sei Shonagon’s orginal lists, we don’t believe our own Pillow Book will ever be finished. So we’d like to invite you now to add your own ideas. Just what does The Eight Month summon up for you, for example, or what things do you feel should be plump? Please fill in a card so we can incorporate some of your thoughts. Or give us a whole new section. We look forward to the challenge!

(* The Pillow Book, Sei Shonagon, (translated by Meredith McKinney), Penguin Classics)

Monday, October 13, 2008

In London tonight?

I will be reading tonight at the Rada bar foyer in Malet Street - details are here. If you come along, do be sure to say hello!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Recognise any of these?

From One Continuous Mistake by Gail Sher:

A list of erroneous indicators of failure that often have the devastating effect of inducing a real failure:

• I want to write but I don’t feel driven. I don’t feel ‘no matter what’. Actually some days I do, but other days I feel quite lazy.
• For me, the longing to publish is so old and so deep that I can’t get around it. It’s like a sore. Only one balm will heal it.
• I write every morning but I like it best when I get a ‘buzz’. If I sit there and nothing comes, I get impatient.
• I know I’m a good writer but I haven’t found my ‘form’. Without it I feel I don’t know what I’m doing. Somehow writing doesn’t ‘belong’ to me.
• I definitely have writing skills but I can’t get myself to finish anything.
• I keep being pulled away from my ‘own’ writing by the thought ‘If I could write a screenplay and sell it, then I would have all the time in the world for my own writing.’
• Sometimes I feel I’m just writing the same thing over and over. What’s the point?
• Writing is really hard for me. Getting to the first draft is hard and it’s impossible to imagine my pitiful language ever turning into the fine prose I see in the bookstores.
• I’m thirty-five. (Or forty-five. Fifty-five.) Many famous writers reached their peak in their adolescence or their twenties. Aren’t I too old to just be starting out?
• I can’t seem to get past ‘me’. All my writing is about myself and renditions of my life. Even I’m bored with it.
• I long to write but I’m so afraid of failing (I fail at everything I try) that I can’t bear to begin. I can’t bear to fail at something I want this much.

Gail Sher says:

‘All of the above are focused on what. The antidote: stay with how. If you emphasize the product, you are selling yourself short. Don’t permit your self-esteem to rest on such flimsy bedding. Products have a self-life.
‘But you don’t. Your soul is boundless. When you emphaize the process, your writing roams. The cosmos itself becomes your sitting room, you pen, the moon – around which, like stars, ‘problems’ settle themselves.’

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

I want it ... I want it ... I want it ... I NEED it ....

I was walking round the supermarket yesterday, list in hand, when I caught sight of her.

Mocking me. Luring me. Smiling just for me.

I carried on, putting green peppers, celery, lettuce, in my basket. Throwing them a little too hard against the wire, pretending I wasn't angry with them for not being her.

She was all I could think about.

The healthy bacteria yoghurt drink things went in next. Then the herbal teas. I clutched my list harder.

I could enjoy myself without her. I could. Really, I could.

I was making excuses not to go down the aisle where I knew she'd be waiting. I hadn't expected her to come for weeks, thought I'd have time to prepare myself.

And then, all self-control disappeared.

Look who I took home with me...

I am very very happy.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Hello Stony Brook Mathematics Department!

It seems, quite rightly, that I have become the terrible danger warning for maths students who don't get their papers in on time. So, if you've come here through that link, listen to your teacher, it will be fun. Hmmm. AND GET RIGHT BACK TO YOUR BOOKS NOW!

Phew. Another end of the world avoided there ....

So what did you do over the summer, Sarah?

Well, I'm going to disappoint you but at the circus, I didn't heave myself up to the tightrope, or get dressed up in sparkly outfits, but I did help to make this animation on just how the first ghost came about.

That's Holen under the sheet, btw - we were playing in the graveyard at midnight and it's a series of still photographs that Carlos magically put together to make a film. Call me naive, but I just didn't realise how animation worked before, I thought it really WAS a film, or that it would take about four hours of pushing bits of cotton wool about a half millimetre at a time in order to make those four seconds of clouds swooshing round the graves. Good though, eh?

You can find more circus videos here.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Two nice things ...

... in one day.

My piece on Alice Duer Miller has gone up on Vulpes Libris and people have left comments saying they want to read more of her. Yay...

... and Nik's done an interview with me on his website and said all sorts of blush-worthy things.

Thanks to both.

Oh, and here's a third - remember the baby squirrels in Iowa - look how big now...