Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

For the last two years, I have spent the start of each year at an artist residency in America on a residential fellowship. This year, I'll be at home. Counting my blessings and looking forward to a great 2010 for us all.

But one of the insights from 2009 that has stuck with me came from another Fellow I met at VCCA this time last year. She started growing a hyacinth in her studio to remind her that - in the artistic process - while nothing much might seem to be happening on the surface ...

... there was nevertheless a lot of solid root growing going on under water ...

This feels like the best image of 2009 for me. It might have seemed less overtly SPARKLY than other years for me but I'm hoping the hard work of solid root-growing, nourishing and composting that has been going on almost invisibly at times promises well for the future. I can't tell you how excited I am about some of the projects I've got lined up for next year. Well, actually I seriously can't tell you about some at the moment, but I'm sure I'll be spilling the beans about them very very loudly as things get confirmed!

And here are some of my BEST OFs... because I've enjoyed these lists on other blogs...


Diane Ackerman wrote two of the books I've enjoyed the most this year. A Natural History of the Senses and The Zookeepers Wife.


Has to be a toss up between White Hot truth by Danielle Le Porte, and Advanced Style. Both always make me feel alive in very different ways.


2009 was a year of documentaries for me. Exciting, mind-opening and often funny and heartbreaking - sometimes both. I particularly loved Helvetica and Grey Gardens.


Has to be The Antlers, although I'm still attached to last years Blitzen Trapper so you can have that too.


Did you really need to ask?


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Do you want to be on my mailing list?

So another of my resolutions is to be more organised.


BUT I do have plans this year, and if you would like to be on my mailing list then email me (sarahsalway -at - - you have to put the @ thingy in yourself) or leave a comment, and I will include you.

These plans include a monthly newsletter, news of workshops, mentoring, more prompts, ideas for collaborations, info about my books and even other people's books (although theirs will be in smaller print) , etc etc etc.

Be there or be square.

(Do you know, in my head I say that a lot, but I think that may be the first time ever I've said it out loud. I rather like it. 2010 is shaping up to be quite a year. I will not be stopped.)


We went to Brussels just before Christmas.

It took us about two hours to get there on Eurostar. We preened and we gloated that it was so easy. And then of course we had to get back. Major disaster. Luckily we weren't one of the ones caught in the tunnel, but instead we made the trek across Belgium and France - sixteen hours and three buses, three trains, a taxi and a boat ride later we got home. Fine for us, not so much fine for the elderly or those with small kids.

BUT now we're all chilled out (as opposed to just being chilled after two hours spent standing in the snow at Calais), there's lots we really enjoyed about the trip...

The joy and respect of proper craftsmanship - and not seeing the same chain stores every where. This is the beautiful jeweller Olivia Hainault who let us into our studio and introduced us to Belgium style:

It wasn't just the snow that made us feel Christmassy. Little touches like these golden posts made us smile too:

And, oh, the stationery shops. Look - a whole shelf of inks:

There was plenty of humour too. This dog is a statue, a nod I think to the famous Manneken Pis. The man with the Christmas tree behind was a lucky accident:

And of course there was the Cartoon museum, which celebrates how Belgium is the home to the Smurfs, Asterix and best of all, Herge - creator of Tintin:

Look who's behind the counter in the museum shop:

Most breathtaking of all was the Art Nouveau architecture. I was too amazed by the Victor Horta house to take pictures, but it's everywhere - light and joy and beauty:

And I haven't even mentioned the chocolate!!!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Had enough?

(via Shedworking)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas!

I wish you all a very happy and peaceful festive season. May we all make more beautiful things in 2010.

Corresponding with so many new and old friends through this blog has been both inspiring and nourishing. I'd really like to thank
you all xx

Sunday, December 20, 2009


Is this the only blue plaque in London dedicated to a fictional character?

I walk past it every day on my way to work at the London School of Economics and Political Science. It's placed just outside The Bloomsbury Deli by Bedford Square. This is a description from Dickens of the wonderfully named Charles Kitterbell...

Mr. Charles Kitterbell was a small, sharp, spare man, with a very large head, and a broad, good-humoured countenance. He looked like a faded giant, with the head and face partially restored; and he had
a cast in his eye which rendered it quite impossible for any one with whom he conversed to know where he was looking. His eyes appeared fixed on the wall, and he was staring you out of countenance; in short, there was no catching his eye, and perhaps it is a merciful dispensation of Providence that such eyes are not catching. In addition to these characteristics, it may be added that Mr. Charles Kitterbell was one of the most credulous and matter-of-fact little personages that ever took TO himself a wife, and FOR himself a house in Great Russell-street, Bedford-square. (Uncle Dumps always dropped the 'Bedford-square,' and inserted in lieu thereof the dreadful words 'Tottenham-court-road.')

Saturday, December 19, 2009



(Image created via wordle.)

Gwen Bell has the best post I've seen about creating a personal manifesto. I'll share mine, and if anyone else wants to share theirs it would be great to see!

Read more:

1. Learn Origami

Friday, December 18, 2009


(This has made me laugh and laugh just thinking about it. Thanks to a tweet from Guy Kawasaki for this link)

Thursday, December 17, 2009


If you do have to throw plates at someone, gather the pieces together after and turn them into a nifty skirt like this.

Read More:

* Useful Christmas tips No 1

*Useful Christmas Tips No 2

*Useful Christmas Tips No 3

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


A lovely lovely night yesterday reading in Soho, London for the new guide to writing short stories, Short Circuit.

(photo from my facebook page courtesy of Elizabeth Baines)

My chapter in the book is about how we use inspiration from other people - friends, family, newspaper stories, anecdotes - for our fiction. Not just repeating almost word for word what we've been told but searching for the seed in the story that engaged us in the first place, and working it out on the page in our own unique way. The more I think about it, the one word that sums up inspiration best in writing is desire. I know that sometimes when people tell me a story I'd like to write about, I feel a pang of something that could probably be expressed best as desire - both in terms of wanting something but also, and as importantly, feeling the loss of it.

Anyway, no losses last night. I got to spend time with some of my writing friends I normally meet on-line, including Elizabeth Baines, Tania Hershman, and Vanessa Gebbie, Also to meet Marian Garvey.

Star of the show was Vanessa with her reading - looking round the room I could see I wasn't the only one who was moved. Quite right, because she's the editor of the book, and the good news is that she announced last night that it was already on the required reading lists for a number of universities as well as getting good reviews already from individual writers.

Here is the info on the book:

Short Circuit is a unique and indispensable guide to writing the short story. A collection of 24 specially commissioned essays from well-published short story writers, many of them prize winners in some of the toughest short story competitions in the English language. The writers are also experienced and successful teachers of their craft.

Each essay picks up on one or more craft or process issues and explores them in context, within the creative practice of the writer. Each writer has given of themselves very generously, exploring what it is that helps them produce strong short fiction, looking at their sources of inspiration, revealing more than a little of what goes on ‘behind the scenes’. They share favourite writing exercises, and suggest lists of published stories they find inspirational. Much of the guidance can equally be applied to writing longer fiction.

Contributions include five essays from winners of The Bridport Prize. There are interviews with Clare Wigfall — winner of The National Short Story Award — and with Tobias Hill whose short story collection won the PEN/Macmillan Silver Pen Award. Other prize-winning writers in this book include winners of The Asham Award for New Women Writers, The Fish Histories Prize, The Fish Short Story Prize, The BBC Short Story Prize, The Commonwealth Award, Writers Inc. Writer of the Year, The Willesden Herald Prize, NAWG Millennium Award for Radio Short Story and the Per Contra Prize.

You can buy it here or here.

Many thanks to Jen of Salt for a lovely evening, and happy pizza after!



Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Brian can’t remember where the idea came from. Maybe a dream? He woke up one morning and knew he wanted to make the world more beautiful. He started painting Big Ben with poster paints. And then he moved on to the Houses of Parliament. Everyone smiled. Sharing the same dream.

Read More.


OK, here's another grammar clunker ... when do you use it's and when is it just its?

Simple rule - NEVER put an apostrophe in ITS when it's used to indicate a possession. For example, this blog likes its short stories. But you ALWAYS put the apostrophe in when it's being used as a short form of IT IS. It's clear this blog likes its short stories.

And a nice segue (oh beautiful beautiful word) to my new find, The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks. "Loving" this example in particular...

Read More:



Monday, December 14, 2009


The wine’s off, he says, sending it back. He takes her hand and strokes her fingers. I wanted everything to be perfect, he says. It is, she says. Besides she’s with him. What else matters? But both know that the evening’s tainted. Even the new bottle can’t make it fresh.

Read more 50 word stories here.


Further to my earlier post about the typewriter in the museum, I had forgotten this artist book I saw in Washington.

It's called 'The Swiss Army Book' and it's by M L Van Nice. She says it is a simple trope: 'Here is the written word; burn the written word; rewrite the written word; leave the matches for the next guy.'

Read more:


Sunday, December 13, 2009


Ride the Word XIX
Free Event
Christmas Special
'Short Circuit' Celebration
Tuesday 15th December 2009
6.30 for 7pm - till 9pm
45 Berwick Street, Soho, London W.1
Vincent de Souza,
Jay Merill,
'Short Circuit' Editor, Vanessa Gebbie
Salt Publishing Director, Jen Hamilton-Emery
Arts Editor of 'Prospect' Magazine, Tom Chatfield
Tania Hershman, Sarah Salway,
Marian Garvey, David Gaffney, Lane Ashfeldt
Elizabeth Baines, Chika Unigwe,
David Grubb, Alex Keegan, Catherine Smith
Floor Spots on first come first served basis
Hosted by
Jay Merill and Vincent de Souza

(nearest Tube: Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Rd.,
All Oxford Street buses - to Berwick St stop)


Every year it's the same. You promise to do better. To lose weight. To work harder. To be a better person. It lasts until about January the 10th. The same day the diary entries always stopped. When the gym emptied out. One year you’ll give up. You’ll just be. Content.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


(From the Newseum, Washington)

Lady Gaga Obsession Alert...

I can't help thinking about her. What must it have taken to get to this...

from this ...

Is it an artist stripping away both her inhibitions and the expectations of others, or a more cynical creation of an image?

Either way is fine by me. I LOVE Lady Gaga - but I can't help thinking what a great character she'd make in a novel. Personality by Andrew O'Hagan keeps springing to mind, a fantastic description of how someone created a public 'personality' for themselves. And its consequences.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Speed - a Snap

We laugh about the time there were cars. When people relied on metal and rubber and oil to get around. And so fast. They were always in a rush to get to the next place. And then the next. Why didn’t anyone think about what they were missing? we ask.


* Useful Christmas tips No 1

*Useful Christmas Tips No 2

Thursday, December 10, 2009


One of the projects I'm working on next year will finish in an exhibition at The Tunbridge Wells Museum. It's a collaboration between a group of four artists and four writers, and all of us have been spending time in the storage rooms of the museum choosing one object that isn't normally seen by the public. We will then create something individually - either through words or visually, and then here comes the interesting part. For the second stage, each artist will pick a piece created by one writer, and vice versa, to create a further piece - something inspired not by the original object but by the artist or writer's interpretation of it. And so on for three rounds. It's a form of creative consequences, and the exhibition is as much about the creative process as the objects themselves. Remember the game, Chinese Whispers? I imagine the results will be something like that!

But how to pick just one thing?

I have been looking and looking at an old typewriter carefully stored away. I love how it makes writing so sensory - from the feeling of each key under your finger, the sound and the solidness of it. And just look at those almost cinematic reels of print. It really is it's own mini opera house.

I was almost convinced, but then something kept drawing me back to an old box of dolls dress patterns I spotted right at the top of one shelf. And this is what I've finally picked.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do yet. I've been playing with envelopes of patterns on how to make a life, to make peace, to make a world. Or origami clothes made out of poems and stories. Or a short story on who would have dedicated themselves to making something so small and yet so complicated. Look ...

Even more poignant in my view is that some of the pattern pieces are cut out of pages from the Honolulu Independent of 1899. Here's a scrap of news that I desciphered:

… her character, and he wrote a letter to her ordering her to leave the house of his relatives, or if she did not await his return when he would kick her out bodily. The letter was produced in court and described by Judge Wilcox as being couched in the most filthy, dirty, obscene and scurrilious language that it ever had been his misfortune to see. the learned magistrate discharged the case and advised the woman never to go back to a husband who could act as the brute before him had done. The judge regretted that the defendant did not have a big brother or a father who would thrash the plaintiff within an inch of his life. It was one of the instances where the whipping post was sadly needed.

I can't help wondering if whoever it was who so carefully cut out a sleeve pattern from this read it, and perhaps got a thrill from the story? Maybe she needed a beer after? This is one of the adverts:

For That Tired Feeling
That steals over you as the days work is over, there’s nothing else so good as a refreshing glass of RAINIER BEER. It is the tonic you need, beats all the medicine you can take, brings on around refreshing and healthy sleep and makes one feel like a new person. On tap or in bottles at the Criterion Saloon.

There's something about it that reminds me of one of the most beautiful artists books I saw in an exhibition in Washington this year. The artist, Yani Pecanins, had made the 'book' out of one of her childhood dresses:

In a note by the dress, she explains that she was inspired by the diary of Anne Frank, and when her mother gave her the old baby dress, ... 'it brought me closer to Anne Frank's words of feeling fragile and strong at the same time, knowing that you are growing but have so far to grow, that you are someone but you know not who, that you are just beginning to discover yourself.'

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Serious Words - a Snap

Book – take a look, learn to cook, another road took, catch the crook, find a nook, follow the hook, feeling shook, never a schnook. Then there’s a flybook, a chapbook, a logbook, a workbook, a sketchbook, a handbook, a studbook, a scrapbook, a notebook. The never never ending book.

* Nothing Better

* Grounded

(And I had the lovely treat of being nominated for a Kreative Blogger Award by Essiegie this week, and I am referring back to my post here and dedicating this story to Essiegie as a thank you!)


This is obviously the time of the year to make lists of your favourite books. But allow me a little self-indulgence here because I want to tell you about the FOUR BOOKS I've been lucky enough to put my name to this year, each of them is a little gem and I couldn't be more proud and grateful to the authors and editors for asking me.

1. Black Boxes by Caroline Smailes. This is a real roller coaster of a book, and Caroline's second novel. What I loved most about it was the quality of the voices, she managed to get the young girl's so absolutely perfect that I really believed every word, and the raw pain Pip feels acts as a lovely contrast to the increasingly dreamy mother who slips away as the book continues. Not the lightest Christmas read but really worth adding to your bookshelf (and leaving space next to it for Caroline's next book which is due out in the Summer.)

2. I'm really interested in novellas. I love the intensity, the way they allow us to focus on one strand of the story and enjoy a breathless one night of true love with them. Elizabeth Baines's Too Many Magpies did all this for me. I'm thrilled she's been getting so many good reviews because it deserves every one. I'm interested that the word used most often is 'haunted', there's definitely a lasting quality to this book.

3. I had a guest story in the Birkbeck MA anthology last year, but this year I was pleased to give a quote for issue 6 of the Mechanics Institute Review. I've loved this collection, and read it again and again. It's exuberant and funny and there's more than one writer I'm sure will be hitting the big time soon. But most of all, it felt confident. Proof, if anyone needed it, that writing MA's no longer need to justify what they do. At last. At last. Please now can we lay to rest the very vexing (to some people) question whether writing can be taught or not?

4. And last but not least, A C Tillyer's An A-Z of Possible Worlds is just a drop dead brilliant idea. I'll admit that the minute I got the proof I was overcome with raging jealousy. WHY HADN'T I THOUGHT OF THIS IDEA? Anyway, one saving grace is that it's done so very well here - a beautiful box containing 26 short stories for each letter of the journey - all taking the reader to a different place in the imagination. It's a treat.

I'm making no apology for bursting above with godmotherly pride. These are great books - one of the best things that's happened to me this year is that I've been allowed to have my name on them too because it allows me to shout even more about liking them so much. I love the fact too that these are from two of our more adventurous independent publishers - Salt and Roast Books.

I've put them on my amazon store for ease, and to keep them together, but please don't feel you have to buy them there. They're also available at The Book Depository, Salt Publishing, Roast Books, and Plus, of course, all good bookshops.

Read more:

* Blurbing

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


(Thanks to Michelle Lovric for nudging me towards this)

Fantasy - a Snap

She said there were fairies in the garden. Meanwhile her mother and her father kept shouting. They tell me what to do, she said, picking up the knife. Her father lifted his hand to hit her. The fairies love me, she said, but her mother screamed too loud to hear.

(Image was taken at the Newseum in Washington.

Read more:

* Soft

* Shadows

Sunday, December 06, 2009

As it rains and rains in Britain ....

This video of a TED talk by Anupam Mishra on the Ancient Ingenuity of Water Harvesting puts a different slant on the view outside the window...

Saturday, December 05, 2009


Do you need a room of your own this Christmas? Here's a dandy solution for more peaceful writing....

Pop Up from abw on Vimeo.

Read more:

* Useful Christmas tips No 1

* Pop Ups!

Friday, December 04, 2009

I don't wanna be nice

I wish I could remember where I got this from, so if it's from YOU (yes, you) then thank you! Love it.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Clapping - a Snap

Sometimes they’ll hear a splash and get excited, but there’ll be no lights shining. See, when a fairy falls into the water, there’s a sparkle after. The crowd will wait some nights until the last fairy’s gone. It’s the only way to prove they once existed. That, and the dark.

Read more:

* Shall I Be Mother?



Useful Christmas Tips No 1

Find interesting ways to recycle your bottles.

The Daily Green website says:
"The Community artist Ilona Bryan says she has "done a lot of strange things with recycling plastic drinks bottles" over the years, although she apparently never thought of building walls. She snapped this photo of a natural sewage treatment area for Scotland's Earthship Fife.

"The facility also has a greenhouse made in the same way, as well as various renewable energy and alternative building demonstration project."

Here's a warning for you all...

My website,, was designed and registered for me by a friend, who very sadly died last year. She was beautiful, helpful and wonderful in every way.

When she did the website, she registered the ownership of the domain name under her account, and never officially transferred it legally to me from the domain host, Freeola.

And now, it seems there's nothing I can do to get it back, short of them sending an email to my friend's address - which is no longer operating - and her, miraculously replying.

I am not making a joke. This is what it seems they need. I have provided customer support with emails from just before she died in which she states that she tried to transfer the domain ownership but she clicked on the appropriate button a few days too late and it had run out. She writes that she's happy to transfer though.

But apparently this isn't good enough as a gesture of intent.

I have emails on record from her talking about how she's going to set me up with taking it all over, but boy is she feeling bad from chemotherapy.

Apparently this also isn't good enough to be taking into account.

But hey, I've told Freeola - it's my name. I can prove it. I can prove that I've written the books it advertises too. And that's me in the pictures. It's a personal website.

Nope, this isn't good enough either.

What can I do?

Nothing it seems.


If anyone can help me at all, I'd be very grateful. It's a strange thing not to own or have any rights over your own name.


What's the difference between affect and effect?

This is another question that's been sprung on me recently, and here's what I said:

To affect someone means that you have an impact on them, whereas to effect means to bring about, or to cause something.


The new leader is effecting big changes, which directly affect my work.

The best tip I've heard of if you are unsure is to see if you can put in the verb 'to make' for effect without, er, affecting the meaning.

Read more:

* That or Which

Wednesday, December 02, 2009


Now I'm worried - oh heck, I'm ALWAYS worried - that my post here sounded like a poor me whine. It wasn't meant to be.

I LOVE how my kids are setting out into the world, and in some ways I'm looking forward to it. Every stage has been the best yet so far, but this IS different because I'm not in charge of the organising, planning and entertaining any more.

Maybe this is why the word 'nowhere' felt wrong. As if I was saying that because I'm no longer the one at the centre of all their activities, I've nowhere else to go. I hope that's not true, because that's not how I feel at all.

It's just that I have to spend some time getting used to this new land of 'nowhere' I'm finding myself in. It's less 'going nowhere', as 'nowhere I have to go.' There's a big difference there!

And what I'm finding is that staying put is sometimes an adventure too - one I have to write my own map for. What a terrifying privilege that is. No one else to hide behind. Phew. No wonder I don't want to hurry into anything. I remember once my mother telling me 'never to wish any time away', when I was longing for the time I didn't have to be the one everyone relied on to get out of the house in the morning! All the things I could do if only I didn't have to look after everyone else first. My mum was probably experiencing some of what I am feeling now. But she wrote her new map. As I will.

Now here's a woman who really knows that 'life loves the liver' - at every stage!

The wrong dream - A Snap

The hypnotherapist says to imagine that in the box there is something you’ve been missing all along. Your heart races. A white horse. At last. But you feel silk and lace instead. No! You want to be an adventurer, not a princess. You sigh. Somewhere, far away, a horse neighs.

Read more fifty word stories:

* Hobbies

* Dust

* Patterns

* Substance

Tuesday, December 01, 2009


This is a funny Christmas for me. Just after it, in January my daughter is taking off traveling for months and months and months before going off to university in September. My son is already at university, and is coming home just a couple of days before Christmas because he's working.

Yep, I'm facing the good old 'empty nest' syndrome. And I'm afraid I'm not taking to it very well.

Of course, I want the kids to go off. It's always been part of the parenting contract for me, and I'm lucky I had them so early. Over the last years it's felt that we've grown up together as we've faced misdiagnosed illnesses, disillusionments, pressure, partying, stress, lack of stress, and all the good things too. You name it, we've had it. I certainly haven't raised paragons as children, they're normal human beings and hurrah for that.

But this time of year has brought it home to me that my life isn't going to be the same any more. I love Christmas more than anything, so when I went for a walk recently and looked through lit windows, it physically hurt to see the crayon drawings up on the walls, the cartoons on the television, the climbing frames in gardens everywhere. When I'm out shopping I find myself looking at the latest must-have toy, the tiny little soft dresses and jumpers, the christmas stockings. I'm even contemplating asking to borrow a friend's kids so I can take them on the Santa express.

Don't worry, I am not completely misty eyed. The photograph below was taken on Christmas Eve years ago, after I had spent hours and hours trying to pretend the kids that they had to go to sleep before Santa arrived. Finally, I gave up and went to pour myself a stiff whisky. When I came back, lo and behold, some Christmas magic had taken place! Yes, it's one of my favourite photographs now, but I can remember what went on around it too!

And of course, I'm one of the lucky ones. In so many ways. And there's masses to look forward to. And I'm hardly going to be moping around the whole of next year. Still it does feel as if I've shifted over to another place. I can no longer put up baby buggies for instance - something I used to be furious with my mother about when she never quite managed the knack I had of unfolding a buggy with one hand in two seconds. Buckling up children in car seats makes me cry. And as for the names of all the cartoon characters ... how did I retain such a lot of useless information! I used to know them all, plus their friends. And their friends too.

Actually come to think of it, there are advantages. I no longer have to partake in random exams on all the Pokemon people. Heck, I don't even have to worry about how I can't spell Pokemon.

One thing I remember myself about coming home for Christmas as an adult was having to walk round the house before I could really settle down. I'd complain if a picture had been moved, if my mum hadn't cooked the rock buns she always cooked every year, if a certain decoration wasn't put up where it was always put up. I'd check what she and dad were reading, I'd look at the Christmas cards to make sure I knew who they were from. It was more than petty childishness (although it was a fair amount of that too), it was needing to know that my parents and the house would always be there if I was going to successfully take off myself. The privilege involved in this was something I wasn't aware of at the time. Sheesh, I can still remember the fuss we all made the year Mum idly wondered whether she would cook something different instead of turkey.

So that's my new role. Going nowhere.

Luckily for me, I have the blank page on which to really explore new territories!