Wednesday, July 28, 2010



Tuesday, July 27, 2010

On Hardship (and Kendal Mint Cake) - a 50 word photostory

They start the explorers off with cosmetics. Ranulph Fiennes drops out when he’s caught crying because they’ve discontinued his perfect Chanel lipstick. Then Sir Edmund Hillary faints because his corset is laced too tightly. Bear Grylls lasts the longest. He’s spotted trying the gladiator sandals, his glittery false eyelashes fluttering.

(More fifty word photostories here.)

(pps You all did know I'm climbing Kilimanjaro, right?....!)

Monday, July 26, 2010


... than members of your family reading your books?

Luckily Rach approves!

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Today is the first handover between the artists and writers involved in the Tunbridge Wells Art Gallery project, to be exhibited at the start of the next year.

I have written already about the ideas that didn't make it to the final round, (here) so here's the one that did.

Please welcome for her first outing anywhere apart from my radiator at home one of my little STORY DOLLS...

The idea is that each body part represents a different part of the story. Either you can leave the story as it is, or you can use it to write something new from it. Or you can swop in another body part and make a completely different story. Rather like those women who used the dress patterns could make up different parts of the doll's dress and therefore create a new story for the doll every time they used the pattern.

And here's one of my stories from the doll above..


I tell the guards I didn’t do it, but they tell me that’s what people like us always say.

Except in the papers there was no ‘us’, there was only me. EVIL BUS DRIVER’S ROYAL KIDNAP ATTEMPT.

I didn’t even know who she was at the time. Thought she was just another dumpy old mad woman. We got those a lot round here. Especially after 10am when they can travel for free.

‘Help me,’ she’d begged. ‘My train is late, and I must get to my sick mother.’

Everybody knows the Queen Mother is dead, they said at the trial, but I didn’t know she was the Queen then, did I? And it was the sick mother bit that got me too. I always go that bit extra to help customers. Plus it was a question of pride. I wanted to show that buses were better than trains.

There’d been a fuss going on at the station. The Mayor and lots of camera crews were there, so I wasn’t surprised that the trains were late. I took her through the back way where my bus was waiting. Behind us, someone started blowing a trumpet. There was no way the passengers on the 5.45 were going to get in on time so I could make it to the hospital and back.

Her hat blew off as she climbed on board. Perhaps I should have twigged then, but I was trying to work out who her voice reminded me of.

‘This is exciting,’ she said. ‘Much better than judging boring hanging baskets. And of course we have private buses at Windsor but not so thrillingly dirty.’

I was about to get cross because I have high standards of cleanliness, when I saw the police lights behind and the helicopters above.

‘Oh, this always happens,’ she said then, ‘just when I’m having fun.’

The others on the prison floor tell similar stories, but no one ever believes us. Not people like us.

She visited the prison this afternoon though. I watched from the window as that new warden escorted an anonymous dumpy woman in need of help through the side door. And then I heard the sirens.

They’re already making up a new cell.


To be honest, I'm rather worried about my little story dolls and hope they get a good reception. Luckily I'm much more excited though to see what the others in our group have come up with. I feel very lucky to be involved in this project.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Dummy - a 50 word photostory

She makes Claude at evening class. At work she boasts that she has a new man. A fencer. He can’t come to drinks, she says, because he’s always sharpening his sword or washing his moustache. She laughs at him. It’s much better than when they used to laugh at her.

(This is one of the fifty word stories I write to accompany my photographs. You can read more here, or write a 50 word story of your own and add it in the comments box. But be warned - they are addictive!)

Monday, July 19, 2010


Last week was an amazing time for meeting new people who now feel like old friends ...

(with Lia Leendertz and Joe Melia)

and starting new projects ...

(Catherine Smith and I promise that no animals or short stories were harmed in the creation of our new no longer mythical 'thingy', shortly to be announced)

and which culminated in an amazing evening in Bristol at the Bristol Short Story Prize celebration, won by super talented Valerie O'Riordan (seen here trying to escape from my clutches...)

It was such a great evening, wonderfully organised by Joe Melia, and happily coinciding with the birthday of short story queen, Tania Hershman. As she was one of the judges, I feel really grateful she invited me to speak. I had a few wobbles - not least because I was chronically shy as a kid (like so many writers it seems). So much so that I once locked myself in the bathroom and refused to come out just because my mum had asked a 'friend' round to play with me. The friend had to go home eventually, much to my relief as I could get back to my books and cuddling up with the dog. Anyway, I have learnt to control it most of the time (the wonders of the internet and best shyness cure EVER) and I'm particularly glad I came out of the bathroom this time, because I had a great night and met lots of lovely writers including Clare Wallace, Claire King, Jonathan Pinnock and many many more who I know I am going to enjoy reading more of, and about, in the future.

But this week is a bit quieter. A time to settle down and process some of the new thoughts, ideas and projects that are currently swimming round my head. I'm reminded of this poem by Jane Kenyon, who just always says it right.

by Jane Kenyon

It's quiet here. The cats
sprawl, each
in a favored place.
The geranium leans this way
to see if I'm writing about her:
head all petals, brown
stalks, and those green fans.
So you see,
I am writing about you.

I turn on the radio. Wrong.
Let's not have any noise
in this room, except
the sound of a voice reading a poem.
The cat's request
The Meadow Mouse, by Theodore Roethke.

The house settles down on its haunches
for a doze.
I know you are with me, plants,
and cats - and even so, I'm frightened,
sitting in the middle of perfect

Beautiful, eh? That perfect possibility...

You can buy the Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology here, and I strongly urge that you do. This is GOOD writing - short stories at their best. And so varied. Even those people who are determined they don't like short stories will find something to love here.

Friday, July 16, 2010


Recently I have been watching Janet Frame's An Angel at My Table again, for about the squillienth time.

Is there a better film - or indeed book - about being sensitive and writing? Or about sensitive writing?

And when I went on Youtube to look up some scenes to put up here, then this is exactly the one I would hope to find because it sums up so exactly my fears (and I know not just mine) about standing up in public:

Almost, but just not quite, unbearable. That's what you would call what happens next in the film.

Of course, this has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that I'm going up to Bristol today to present the prize at the Short Story Prize there. Actually, it really hasn't. I've read most of the stories that will be appearing in the anthology now. And I can tell you that they are absolutely sensational. It's going to be a real honour to meet everyone, and to get to talk to the writers.

And of course to help make the winner deservedly happy.... Sometimes I really really do love my life!

Thursday, July 15, 2010


The Trinity Arts Centre...

Love this idea of volunteers from local schools organising this evening:

Sat 17 Jul 2010 7.30pm

Join us at Trinity for a special showcase night night with some of the best local bands and solo artists around.

the sound project aims to give local unsigned bands a platform in a professional venue to showcase their talent. It is run on a non-profit basis by a group of young volunteers from local secondary schools.

For the sixth and final event of the season, the project invites some of the best local bands to record a live album at the theatre.

Headline and support acts will be performing in the main auditorium. Acoustic acts will be performing in the foyer before and after the main show.

7.30pm Authentic Acoustic
A local talent performs in the foyer
Acoustic Stage

8.10pm In Tyler We Trust
Thumping bass and driving beat
Alternative Rock
Drum n Bass

9.00pm Sevenscore
Thom Yorke meets John Lennon
Acoustic Rock

9.50pm The Good Ship Band
Infectious brand of indie-folk + memorable tunes
Folk Rock

10.40pm Midnight Music
More acoustic acts to enjoy in the foyer
Acoustic Stage

Acts are subject to change. Please check the website for the latest line-up.

£6 in advance | £8 on the door
Buy Now Online

For line-ups visit:

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Don't ask me why, but I have been mulling over the message I might want to send to our friends in outer space recently.

This is the one President Carter put on the record sent out on each of the Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977:

This is a present from a small distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images, our music, our thoughts and our feelings. We are attempting to survive our time so we may live into yours. We hope someday, having solved the problems we face, to join a community of galactic civilizations. This record represents our hope and our determination, and our goodwill in a vast and awesome universe.

I don't know why but that seems almost unbearably hopeful and nostalgic to me now. Like watching old episodes of Star Trek. and remembering how, as a kid, I would always rush to the window after. Just to gaze.

So what would you put in your message? And what music would you include in your space capsule?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Days of Roses will be hosting a special event as part of the Oxfam Bookfest on Tuesday July 13, at 91 Marylebone High Street, W1, five minutes from Baker street tube station, starting at 7. Admission free. Donations encouraged. Do check this out. Featuring:

Faber's Jo Shapcott, with her new collection Of Mutability

Guardian Music's Laura Barton, with her debut novel Twenty One Locks

Oxfam's Poet in Residence Todd Swift

Malene Engelund

Gareth Jones

Robert Selby

Retta Bowen

Laura Forman

and music from Mr Dupret Factory

Monday, July 12, 2010


One of the subjects I got asked most about during the last year as the RLF Fellow at the LSE was about grammar. Always as if it was a dirty secret. Something people should be ashamed of. So although I've written about it before on here, I thought it might be useful to pass on some of the best sites I've found on the internet.

1. Grammar Girl. Who knew that grammar could ever be so entertaining, let alone ‘quick and dirty’ but this is someone who loves her stuff and wants you to love it too. Just be warned that this is an American site, so you may need to double check the British usage.

2. Royal Literary Fund Fellowship Although primarily designed for students, these pages offer some good, clear advice about grammar, structuring an argument and how you can prepare yourself for writing.

3. Plain English More than thirty years ago, the Plain English Campaign started their campaign against official ‘gobbledygook’. They offer a series of free guides on their site covering subjects such as letter, report and even business email writing.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Enough guinea pigs, thank you!

Feel really chuffed to be able to say that my pilot on-line group is now full, with a waiting list. I do love you lot - for those that didn't sign up, we'll let you know how it went when we get to the other side!


Sharon takes pictures of pebbles. She’ll move on to shells one day, or even the sea, but for now the pebbles are too fascinating. She imagines lives for them: the dreary stoniness of the grey ones, the soap opera dissatisfaction of the holey ones. And snap, she captures it all.

Thursday, July 08, 2010


Hello I’m Sarah’s daughter, Rachael Salway, making a guest blog!

I’ve just spent the last month in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda, and it really was an eye opener. I originally went to solely volunteer in an orphanage for babies called Sanyu Babies Home.

However on going along to this other organisation as a one-off with a friend who spent a lot of time there last year, I got completely absorbed. The organisation is called Peace for Children Africa and started off as an outreach programme in the slums, founded by two intuitive lovely young men called Paul and Martin who grew up in the slums of Kampala themselves. They luckily received a couple of donations, alongside all their own savings and managed to build a centre to home some of the kids they counsel in the slums that are most in need of an escape.

The centre currently hosts just under 25 children, ranging from 3-21 in age, and despite their age gaps they all just act like family to each other. They could not be more grateful and positive despite the fact their situations are still so far from perfect. Martin and Paul really have changed the lives of so many of these lovely children, and they want to expand the centre even more, and buy a place just outside Kampala so they can help many more children who at present have little chance to achieve their dreams.

Most of the children at PCA are lucky enough to be sponsored to go to school and in the evening and at the weekends Martin and Paul ensure that the children have a lot to keep them going like dance lessons and acrobatic lessons, as well as teaching them skills like wood carving that will help them in later life. It is only thanks to support from kind people that these kids are given these chances, but they are still only just scraping by at the moment.

Martin and Paul’s work doesn’t just stop at the children at PCA. They still continue their outreach programme in the slums every Wednesday and Friday, teaching the children basic lessons and giving them a free meal. They offer counselling to any child that desires this, which is understandably a depressing majority. They’ve also recently decided to set up training sessions with the local police force to educate them on how best to handle the children in the slums, as due to their situation the crime rate is high but the police are not very sympathetic to their situation and can be quite corrupt in their manners. Martin and Paul always welcome any new suggestions and could not have kinder hearts with their only desires being to help these kids in any way possible. PCA isn’t as well known in Kampala as it should be and it still needs as many visitors, volunteers and donations as possible!

They are currently working on the website to make it easier to give donations by Pay Pal but if you find any problems with the website or want to email Martin and Paul regardless, they will be happy to receive it. Giving to these children will be a decision you will never ever forget. Even giving just £10 will buy one mosquito net which could potentially save a child’s life in the prevention of malaria.

Thank you so much for taking your time to read this.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010



It was a bit like Ernest Shackleton's famous expedition advertisement, except with more reward and less danger, but just over a year ago, I put up a tiny post on here asking for people to do the Artists Way with me.

It was my first taste of an internet writing group and to be honest, I wasn't sure how it would work or whether it would work at all. But it did. And I hope that everyone who went on the journey with me found it as inspiring, amazing, extraordinary, surprising and useful as I did - and those adjectives refer to the work and talents within the group as much as the benefits I personally received from doing the exercises.

So now, I'm trying something new again.

I'm working on a new book and workshop idea, and I'm looking for guinea pigs to try out some of the exercises with me. Like The Artists Way it will be 12 weeks long, it will start in September, be internet based, will involve writing but you do not have to be a writer at all at all. We will concentrate on writing and working with your family stories, and hopefully writing new ones.

You can join in wherever you live, whatever age you are, however much talent you think you have or don't have, and whenever in the day you have time to do the exercises, join in the discussions etc.


However there are conditions. As Molly says in my novel Tell Me Everything, "there are always conditions."

My conditions are:

* That you will do your very best to participate in and finish the 12 weeks
* That you come with an open mind to at least try the exercises
* That you do a brief email interview with me afterwards about how it goes
* That you will be prepared to share some of the work that comes up during the 12 weeks - with full approval of which pieces and the context in which they will be used
* That you will think about using your real name for this, although pseudonyms can be given if necessary
* That - apart from the interview and the pieces agreed for possible publication - you will keep the exercises, discussion and other participants in confidence to ensure a safe place for everyone
* That you think, despite the above, this sounds interesting and fun!

So anyone up for it? Either leave a comment or email me on sarahsalway @ gmail . com (but without the spaces!) - all I'm looking for at the moment is an expression of interest, but I will be limiting the group numbers-wise rather than making it a free for all so don't leave it too long.


I've been sharing some of my favourite new poetry books recently, so as soon as I read Simon Armitage's SEEING STARS I knew I wanted it to be my next choice up here.

It's a series of dramatic monologues, speaking direct into your ear and conjuring up such pictures in your mind. As the blurb says 'Here comes everybody: The man whose wife drapes a border-curtain across the middle of the marital home... an orgiastic cast of pie-worshippers at a Northern scultpure farm ... a Christian cheese-shop proprietor in the wrong part of town."

As that may suggest, some pieces made me laugh out loud...

At the annual Conference of Advanced Criminal Psychology, Dr Amsterdam and myself skipped the afternoon seminar on Offending Behaviours Within Gated Communities and went into town to go nicking stuff...

(From The Delegates)

But others were more dreamy...

When you ask me what time it is, it's purple. And when the alarm goes off in a morning it's a sort of metallic, minty green, like the noisette triangle in a packet of Quality Street - a particular favourite of mine but hard on the teeth. And when you say you love me, and whisper your love for me, personally, into my inner ear, it's custard-yellow embossed with a bold red heart, lie a door I once saw in an otherwise dried-up town on the side of a hill near Salamanca.

(From The Overtones)

To be honest, I'm still not quite sure what Simon Armitage is writing here - poems, or prose poems, or even flash fiction. They are nicely eccentric though, and by about half way through I felt fiercely and strangely protective of them. I think this book is going to spawn a whole new generation of copy-cats but if that's so, I hope they manage to keep some of that perfect balance of extraordinary imagination and empathy.

Then slowly but slowly I opened my fist to the unknown. And out of the void, slowly but slowly, it came: the pulsing starfish of a child's hand, swimming and swimming and coming to settle on my upturned palm.

(From I'll be There to Love and Comfort You)

I couldn't find any clips of Simon Armitage reading any of his poems from Seeing Stars on Youtube - but I did find a video of him deconstructing The Smith's "This Charming Man'. I'm not putting it up here because it may just put you off him for ever, but if you're interested look here, but don't say I didn't warn you...

Better still, read this book instead.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010


She is so determined to overcome her fears that she swallows the mixture the local so-called witch sells. It’s made from unicorn’s tears and grass stains, tastes like a rainbow, is called fairyheart. She’ll do anything to get more of it now, even the most frightening things in the world.

You can read more fifty word stories here

Monday, July 05, 2010


As a writer, I like to think I come in peace.

I shy away from books or websites or teachers that talk about things like War or Battles or Bootcamp and especially Hard Work.

But I was persuaded recently to look at Steven Pressfield's The War of Art, and hey, I loved it.

Now Steven Pressfield is a bestselling author, but this book feel so authentic you can tell it hasn't been all easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy-let's-just-write-and-make-money for him. The chapters are small but hard hitting. And they do hit hard - right at the smelly dark secrets most of us think we are hiding in our writing process.

Here's a flavour:

Are you paralyzed with fear? That's a good sign.

Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do.

Yes! Punch those fists in the air right now. Oh but then, he brings me back to earth with the following quote. How does he know what I am thinking, and why isn't he being nice any more?

We get ourselves in trouble because it's a cheap way to get attention. Trouble is a faux form of fame. It's easier to get busted in the bedroom with the faculty chairman's wife than it is to finish that dissertation on the metaphysics of motley in the novellas of Joseph Conrad.

Oooo... now, of course, I've never actually been busted in the bedroom with the faculty chairman's wife, but I do recognise that feeling of 'actually, I'm a bit bored, I might just start an argument with someone' or getting myself into a little bit of a panic that I can 'share' with friends, or God forbid, twitter.

The WAR in this book is against resistance, and he's right. Resistance isn't our friend. In writing or in anything else. And he pin points exactly - for me - the places where I might be giving into it, albeit unconsciously. I found it so useful, and know I'll go back to it again and again.

But if there's one thing about this book I could love Steven Pressfield forever for, it's this:

In the hierarchy, the artist faces outward. Meeting someone new he asks himself, What can this person do for me? How can this person advance my standing?

In the hierarchy, the artist looks up and looks down. The one place he can't look is the place he must: within.

March on!

Sunday, July 04, 2010


Hugh arrived back from university on Friday bringing with him a good game - to design your fantasy music festival. Three days. Rules include no dead people, but you can have bands that aren't currently together.

No dead people? (Of course this led us into subsidiary thinking - were some musicians we wanted to include dead or alive? - useful site here for such questions)

So here is mine - line up changes possible, but more or less my fantasy music festival:


Headliner: Radiohead

The National
Frank Turner

Blitzen Trapper
Mumford & Sons
Dixie Chicks
The Streets


Headliner: The Smiths

The Ramones
Curiosity Killed the Cat (original)
Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Elvis Costello
Roxy Music
The La's


Headliner: Leonard Cohen

Frightened Rabbit
Tom Jones

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
The Verve
Saint Etienne

So there you have it. Finish on LC, and we all go home depressed but full of poetry and soul.

So, would you come?

There's also going to be lots and lots of poetry, Nigella will demonstrate cake making, we may do some river swimming and we all get to grow some of our own vegetables.

Do not just snipe at my choices, btw. Would love to find out your fantasy music line ups.... It's much much harder than you think. And funner too.


Here's a selection of the daily writing prompts I've been putting up on Twitter. Take one day by day if you like, or use them all in one piece (I'd like to see that!), or give yourself ten minutes for each one and have an hour writing marathon, but most of all enjoy!

* Today she will swim to work....

* Early Girl, Cherry and Big Boy fight it out in the tomato patch...

* Two or three things I know for sure (D Allison)...

* The worst pun I have ever heard...

* She has decided to get her life sponsored ...

* Ice cream stick art...

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Dark - a 50 word photostory

Her friend Tanya has a night-light.

When the dark comes, a lit-up ladybird keeps Tanya safe.

Susie’s mum is cross. Susie should grow up and not be scared of everything. And stop telling stories.

Every night Susie lies alone, watching the light disappear. Listens out for footsteps. Says nothing.

This story is exactly fifty words long. It's part of a series of 50 word stories I've been writing to accompany photographs I take. Sometimes the photos and stories are a direct match, other times there's something about the photo that sparks off an idea. I'm not sure why I started doing them, but I know they have helped me to look a little bit harder. To take the kind of frame Anne Lamott talks about in Bird by Bird and apply it to bits of my life that I wouldn't otherwise notice.

You can read more 50 word stories here.

Friday, July 02, 2010


IT is a truth universally acknowledged, that a writer in search of a good muse, must be in want of an elephant...

So let me introduce you to SALWAY THE ELEPHANT, amazingly made for me by Kay Sexton.

Kay put in an absolutely perfect mini-self for the Science museum project, and I was so impressed I hinted (actually begged) for her to make something for me.

The strange thing is that Salway the Elephant (you have to call him by his whole name otherwise he gets upset) does help me write. Finding a place for him to sit every day helps with the settling before I get down to the business. And now I can't wait for my next reading and hoping for someone to ask me the question, 'Do you have any writing rituals?'

Well, I'll say, there is this pink elephant...

But actually, since we're on the subject, do you have any writing rituals?

And does anyone else out there have a writing mascot they would be prepared to share?

If you're interested in what happened to all the mini-selves at the exhibition, Stitch London have been recording the whole thing on their blog. An amazing enterprise. I do like the cider drinkers, although disappointingly mini-Rachael and me have been "very well behaved", apparently.

I am in awe of this particular teacher, who still remains in control of her mini-class:

Can't you just tell she is the sort of teacher those children will remember fondly for the rest of their lives? There only needs to be one.