My Literary DNA

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On a sea of ink

I sail to oblivion

On a paper boat

I have been thinking and reading a lot about this writing life recently and trying to gather all the hints, tips and advice I have gleaned.   One of the bloggers I follow, Jamie Lee Wallace says:

A writer’s voice is that often intangible yet unmistakable something that defines the author’s work. Like literary DNA, it is as unique and complex as a fingerprint. Syntax, diction, dialog, and punctuation are combined with characterization techniques, scene delivery, and other stylistic elements and then distilled into an elixir that lets us see the world through the writer’s eyes.

But I think there is more to it than that.

The words a writer uses are like the lava flowing from a volcano.  The story may have been churning and burning deep inside for many years; changing, developing and demanding to be written.  The overflow of words is edited away like so much waste gas and ash, until the lava cools and sets into a final draft.  Once published, the writing is set like stone and the crust that protects the writer’s vulnerability and privacy has been split open irrevocably.  For make no mistake, the heart and soul of the writer is laid bare by the writing process.  It takes courage to put your thoughts, feelings, experiences and imagination into print for all to read.

The need to write is an itch that won’t go away; a fire inside that won’t be quenched except by expressing your own inner life in prose or poetry.  It is an incredibly personal thing that sets each writer apart from every other writer.  What you need to write comes from deep inside.  It was probably always inside you and was determined by the journey you have travelled during your life.  Every story you consumed, every experience you enjoyed or endured, every trauma, doubt, dream and question became part of your writer’s voice.

So it was with me.  Firstly, I wrote my own life story.  I needed to deal with a traumatic event in childhood, a disastrous first marriage, family things, work things, ill health and major depression.  I wrote it all out ~ then I shredded it and burnt it before I moved house!  This was so therapeutic, I not only put it all behind me, I wiped it off the face of the earth. Because that was not me!  All of that was what other people, situations or events had done to me.  And, I made a conscious decision to try and live the rest of my life as who I wanted to be.  And to…Get a life worth writing about.

Whatever kind of writing you would like to pursue, here are my tips for you:-

  • Take a course ~ Artists Way, Creative Writing, Futurelearn, anything that will stimulate and unblock you
  • Read some self-help/motivational books such as Change for the Better by Elizabeth Wilde McCormick or Life’s Companion, Journal Writing as Spiritual Practice by Christina Baldwin, if you are blocked by any of life’s unresolved issues
  • Buy Writing Down the Bones, Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg
  • Start a Journal or more than one
  • Save poems, ideas for stories, photos, cuttings, inspiring phrases in spiral bound notebooks
  • Buy pens that feel good to hold and flow nicely. Many writers use fountain pens but I prefer gel pens
  • Find a colourful box big enough to store all your magazines, books, pens and journals together
  • Start a blog on WordPress or Blogger, it’s easy to set up and you can safely practice and develop your creative skills,
  • Subscribe to, or borrow and read Writing Magazine (www.writers-online.co.uk) ~ hard copy or online ~ endless supply of ideas, advice, competitions, courses and opportunities
  • Get involved in something that involves meeting other people ~ I was WI secretary, on the Campaigns and Public Affairs Committee, an Extra for BBC ~ I did charity work and joined a Choir and local theatre group
  • Observe the world, daydream, imagine, embellish, invent ~ all the things that got me into trouble when I was a child will enhance my stories!
  • Carry a notebook and pen with you always, or a fancy phone that takes notes and photographs! Jot down and capture anything that strikes you as interesting, unusual, meaningful or beautiful.  You will be surprised at how often a phrase or snatch of a song or poem touches you.
  • If so inclined, take photos whenever you see anything that inspires you

Maeve Binchy said her greatest tip was to, “Write as if you are talking to someone”.  I have always written about day trips, places I’ve been and things I’ve done.  And, I used to write a monthly article for a charity magazine, but I didn’t think I was a ‘writer’.

When I had grandchildren that changed.

Initially my role models were Beatrix Potter and Kenneth Grahame who were unashamed of creating an escapist world with the animals.  So I started off by writing stories for Ben and Rosie, my grandchildren.  I wrote about Humphrey the pheasant who hangs out at the fishing lake, and Bart the cocker spaniel who emigrated to Vermont and had lots of adventures.  Humphrey and Bart are real but their adventures come out of my head or were embellished.  My plan was to write just for the grandchildren, and about the grandchildren, in order to help them develop their reading and writing skills.  Success was achieved when Rosie told me to stop making up a particular story about a tortoise because she wanted to finish it herself!  I was over 50 before I realised that ordinary people could be writers, she was 5!

Then I had to find something else to write about, so I started my blog at http://heavenhappens.me

I wrote the blog posts to rationalise and record positive aspects of my life’s journey.

Teaching; Twinning in Kenya, Russia and Poland; Trips to Lourdes; Travelling in USA and Europe; Becoming a carer; Joining Amateur Dramatics and a Choir; Working as a BBC Extra; Performing in Cathedrals, studios and theatre; WI committees; Charity volunteering: All of these experiences informed and enriched my writing.

My inner critic was silenced because I didn’t think anyone else would read it.  But gradually a community built up with whom my writing strikes a chord.  There are over 750 readers now who follow my blog.  I feel I have found “my place in the family of things”.

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
In the family of things.

 

Story time

Just give me the grandchildren and I’ll make up the stories

Now that I have 4 more grandchildren, I have reached a point where I want to publish some of the stories I write for them.  Every thing they say or do, and everywhere we go to play, inspires me to write more.  So, I have decided to start a new blog in addition to this one, just for my stories.  I realise that it is highly unlikely that any of them will ever be professionally published.  So, I will just post them for my and others’ pleasure.  I will of course retain the copyright just in case!!

Now what on earth should I call my new blog?  Suggestions please in the comments  …

 

 

 

A Thing of Beauty

Mothers Day Gifts 2018

A thing of beauty is a joy forever: its loveliness increases: it will never pass into nothingness… by John Keats

Since I downsized from the house my children grew up in, I have let go of lots of possessions. There is simply no room for them in my new home, which is small verging on tiny.

At first, I found this ‘letting go’ hard, because every item tells a story. There was my late parents’ furniture and knick-knacks, as well as the paraphernalia that my adult children left behind when they move on with their lives.  But now I realise that the experience has actually been a positive one.  For, now that I am officially ‘old’, my mind is focussed on what I really value enough to keep.  And also, I’m aware that my children will have to dispose of it all when I’m gone!   So, these days I embrace William Morris’s golden rule:

“Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

My photos today are of several things that have pride of place in my home and are, in my opinion, truly beautiful. They make me happy whenever I look at them and each one has its story.

There is a pot by the local artist Molly Abbott, that is definitely not practical but is so beautiful and vibrant in colour and form.

Molly Abbott

Next there is a beautiful piece by Daffyd Rouse. It was given to me some years ago by my daughter in law.  She is a nurse now and was working for Headway at the time.  Headway is a charity that supports people with traumatic and acquired brain injuries.  One of her clients was Daffyd, a very creative and talented man.  Sadly, Daffyd had a motorbike accident in 2005, which took away his independence and left him with serious head injuries unable to pursue his love for art, prose and pottery.  He generously decided to sell his vast collection of work to raise money for charity which is how I became the proud owner of this pot.  Sadly Daffyd died aged just 65 in June 2014, but the beauty of his artwork will ensure that his story will never be forgotten.

Daffyn Rouse

And, last but not least, is the gift I received today for Mothering Sunday.

Claire Prenton 1

This could be a melancholy time if three of your children live abroad as mine do. However, I feel very lucky that in my case it often means that I get three mother’s days ~ the Spanish one and the American one as well as the UK one.

I don’t know how she does it, but my eldest daughter always manages to send a gift from the USA that arrives bang on time. So today I was very excited when the postman knocked!  Once I had opened the parcel I was thrilled to find an exquisite piece of ceramic art created by Claire Prenton.

Claire used to live in the Cotswolds, which is where she and my daughter became friends, when they worked together. Co-incidentally they both emigrated to the USA, Lisa to California via Vermont and Claire to Cincinnati via Seattle!  They both share a deep love and respect for nature and animals ~ although they do differ in that Claire adores her cats, while Lisa can’t live without a dog.

Claire makes the most exquisite and delicate porcelain pieces, which she embellishes with features from the natural world. Insects, birds, flowers, leaves and twigs, corals, pearls and shells feature in the ornamentation. You can see them here in her gallery. Last year Lisa sent me a beautifully decorated cup and this year she sent a plate from the same collection.  Claire tells me that her exquisite cup is tough enough for me to have my daily coffee in!  But, of course I love it so much that I will never use it in case I damage it.  I would rather just look at it and appreciate its beauty.

Lisa also sent me a beautiful card with an icon of the Madonna on.  I have loved and collected these for years so that was very thoughtful.  She also included a page from the colouring book which she has designed and created by hand,

Truly I feel blessed to be surrounded by such beauty and such love.

 

 

 

Transformation

It is truly amazing what a transformation takes place when a mural is added to a boring wall.

BJ Kennels2

On the rare occasions when I travel, I put my little dog, Toffee, into kennels.  The facilities for the dogs are great and no expense was spared when they were built.  The owner of the kennel used to be a RSPCA inspector so his standards were always high.  The kennels were sited near our small local airport.   As the airport got busier and the planes got bigger, it became necessary to extend the runway.  As the kennels were right in the way the owner was made a very generous offer to move.

This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for him to build a state of the art facility.  He travelled the country researching the best kennels and what they offered.  he then had his new kennels built to the highest standards.  Each kennel has its own  little exercise area.  There is underfloor heating.  The walls and floors are finished in hospital quality anti bacterial finishes that can be easily washed down.  There are open fields behind with country walks, and enclosed exercise areas for play.  There is even an agility course and grooming salon!

Altogether, this makes for a beautiful environment for the lucky pets who spend any time there.  The staff are also first rate.  They treat every visiting dog as if it were their own and give lots of love, care and attention as well as exercise.

However, the outside walls, which faced the carpark, were a bit boring to say the least.  But on a recent visit, I was delighted to see murals by a local artist had been painted on the outside walls.

One was based on the film 101 Dalmations.  The other reminds me of the stage musical, Cats.

BJ Kennels

I absolutely love them.  I took my puppy-loving granddaughter along to see them and she loved them too.  They have even continued the theme along the fences with puppies here and there.  It is adorable.  Enjoy my photos of this very special place.

 

 

The scale of the tragedy

The scale of the tragedy

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26 foot Knife angel made of surrendered knives

We hear awful things about gun crime in the USA, which is really worrying.  In the UK we don’t have gun crime on the same scale because we do not have the right to own or carry guns thankfully.

However, knife crime is a serious problem here with even quite young teenagers taking knives out with them for ‘protection’.  The consequences for many young people and their families are tragic.

The government, police forces and traders have been working together to tackle the issue in many ways.  One of the ideas was an amnesty on knives that were handed in or placed in ‘surrender boxes’.  These are secure boxes that are placed in police stations and YMCAs amongst other places.

Recently I went to see what has happened to all the knives that have been handed in so far, and I was staggered.  Artist Alfie Bradley has created a 26-foot sculpture in the shape of an angel out of the 100,000 or so  that were surrendered nationwide.  It took him 2 years to create his memorial, which can be seen at Oswestry’s British Ironwork Centre.

The many coloured handles form the surface of the body of the angel, while the blades form the wings.   I can’t describe just how moving this sculpture is, as many of the knives have actually been used in crimes.  It has an expression of such tragedy on its face that it reflects the awful pain felt by those who suffer the consequences of knife crime.

The Knife Angel will be travelling around the country eventually to be displayed in other towns, but for now it is a thought-provoking entrance to the amazing artwork on show at the British Ironwork Centre.

I can recommend spending a day at the British Ironwork Centre.  It is in a beautiful, unspoilt area of the country and the displays of art and craftwork are spectacular.

Here are photos of some of the other pieces of iron art on display.  All are truly beautiful, but the gorilla is very interesting because it is entirely made of spoons donated by  children from many countries after an appeal by the magician Yuri Geller.

Sands of Time

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A fascinating challenge this week ~ to share a photograph that signifies transitions and change, to explore the ways in which a single photograph can express time, while only showing us a small portion of any given moment.

I spotted this man building a sand sculpture at Gloucester Docks recently.  It was to celebrate the Tall Ships festival, which was taking place over the weekend.  He worked, oblivious to all around him, with patience and skill.  It was wonderful to see his pile of sand change into a beautiful work of art.  I was mesmerised.

I have written about Gloucester Docks before as it is one of my favourite places locally.  The whole area signifies transitions and change to me.  The wonderful old warehouses, which were once the thriving heart of business in the area are now recycled as accommodation for students, restaurants, museums, or offices.

The old Mariner’s Church in the background of my photo tells its own story  of how the area has changed over time.

In Victorian times a visitor to Gloucester would have found the docks teeming with sailors from all over the world as well as British emigrants preparing to set off for a new life in North America.

Spanish seamen brought onions to Gloucester and sold them in the streets to local housewives. A local newspaper account in 1860 describes the many nationalities that could be seen and heard at the Docks:

‘Here we see a Frenchman from the rich vine districts of Brittany, an Italian from the fertile plantations around Palermo or a swarthy Negro escaped from the Slave States of America. These, with a few Americans and a sprinkling of Norwegians, Danes, Dutchmen and Germans, compose the motley crews of the arrivals in our port’.

In those days, seamen and bargees were distinctively dressed and there was a social barrier between them and other citizens, especially on Sundays when citizens would wear their Sunday best to go to church.   It was decided by a local wealthy businessman that the mariners needed a chapel in which they could be welcomed regardless of language or dress.   And so it was that the simple Mariners Chapel was built in 1848, primarily for the workers at Gloucester Docks and crews of vessels moored there.

The first chaplain, Rev James Hollins, must have been an inspirational man.  He organised services in foreign languages when necessary, and used a portable organ for services on the quayside. There was a Sunday school for boatmen’s children. Religious tracts were given out in many languages, including Welsh, Hindustani and even Chinese. In its first five years, 2,000 copies of the Bible and over 14,000 leaflets in 12 different languages were distributed.

The local watermen and families were often uneducated and living very basic lives. Drunkenness and bad language were common social problems among them. In 1884, an old cheese warehouse with two flats was purchased nearby, for use as a meeting hall. Mariners church started up a coffee bar there, and gave reading and writing lessons. The hall also provided a place simply to relax.

Today this is where I take my granddaughter to a ‘mini-mariners’ playgroup.  it is also where the Galley serves hot lunches every Friday to the local homeless community, or anyone needing help for whatever reason.

Mariners is a proprietary church, independent of the local diocese.  It was set up specifically to meet the spiritual needs of the docks’ community.   There was no dress code and no language or social barrier.  Just a christian desire to help and support the community.  Today this work continues.

Enjoy some of my photos from the tall ships weekend.

 

I had quite a nautical June as I also went to Bristol Quays on a day trip.  The SS Great Britain is fully restored sitting proudly by pleasure boats, ferries and old warehouses now turned into luxury flats.

 

. “A Wet Sheet and a Flowing Sea”, written by Allan Cunningham, is one of the best British sea-songs, although written by a landsman.

A Wet Sheet and a Flowing Sea

A Wet sheet and a flowing sea,
A wind that follows fast
And fills the white and rustling sail
And bends the gallant mast;
And bends the gallant mast, my boys,
While like the eagle free –
Away the good ship flies, and leaves
Old England on the lee.

“O for a soft and gentle wind!”
I heard a fair one cry:
But give to me the snoring breeze
And white waves heaving high;
And white waves heaving high, my lads,
The good ship tight and free –
The world of waters is our home,
And merry men are we.

There’s tempest in yon horn’d moon,
And lightning in yon cloud:
But hark the music, mariners!
The wind is piping loud;
The wind is piping loud, my boys,
The lightning flashes free –
While the hollow oak our palace is,
Our heritage the sea.

 

 

A Lego Doughnut

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I have made a rather obscure link to this week’s photo challenge theme, which is ‘security’.  But, as regular readers of my blog know, I will use any excuse to write about my grandchildren!

One of the many advantages of spending lots of time with the grandchildren is that I can have fun playing with their toys.

Currently I am enjoying Lego Duplo with Stanley who is 4 and Thea who is 2.  The sets are a far cry from the uninspiring little pieces I remember from when my children were young.  They are so colourful and child friendly now, with animals and themed sets.   Yet they still stimulate the imagination and encourage a world of creative play.

Fortunately I don’t have a tablet, or an ipad, or a kindle, or any of the gadgets they seem to get addicted to as soon as they can hold them these days.  And, horror of horrors, I only have terrestrial TV channels, not games on demand!  So at grandma’s house creative play still rules.

Thea is particularly enjoying the Forest Park and Family Pets sets because she loves animals while Stanley loves the vehicles and characters.  But, however many sets they get, their first desire is still to build the tallest tower!

My older grandson, who has reached the ripe old age of 13, is also into Lego.  He has a bedroom full of it and is very expert.  I don’t even attempt to meddle with his models though, as they are very technical and way beyond my skills.

So, you can imagine how impressed I was to hear recently that part of our national security agency, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), which is based near my home, had set it’s employees the challenge of modelling the building out of Lego. This is not just any regular building,  it is shaped like a doughnut, which must be really difficult to model.  But they did it and the result is impressive as it would be with all their skills brought to bear.

I can’t take credit for the photo as it was on the official GCHQ website, but I do have permission to use it.  I think it is brilliant, especially as it was created in order to raise funds for a local charity, Elisabeth’s Footprint, which is very dear to my heart.

Do click on the links to see more blogs on the theme of ‘security’ and if you want to know more about the Doughnut Lego model, or the inspiring story of the marvellous woman behind Elisabeth’s Footprint.

What else can you do with grandchildren in the absence of gadgets? Well, We build dens, paint, play with sand and water,  picnic in the woods, take the dog for walks, or go to farms, parks and forests.  If it is cold or wet we make up stories, poems and fantastical adventures…

What did you do today?

Did you go to the airport with an alligator,

Or go to the beach with a bear?

Did you eat in a café with a camel

And frighten the people there?

 

Did you build a den for a dinosaur,

Or run through the grass with emu?

Did you go to the fairground with a fox?

Did he win a goldfish for you?

 

Did you play houses with a hedgehog,

Or go ice-skating with an impala?

Did you drive a jeep with a jellyfish,

Or fly a kite with a koala?

 

Did you eat lunch by the lake with a lamb,

Or play marbles with a monkey?

Did you go on a nature trail with a newt?

Now that would be quite funky.

 

Did you eat an orange with an octopus,

Or splash in a puddle with a pig?

Did you quiver and quake at a queen bee,

Then go out and dig?

 

Did you ride the rails with a reindeer,

Or go to the seaside with a snake?

Did you climb a tree with a tiger?

Now that would be a mistake.

 

Did you race upstairs with a unicorn,

Or drive a van with a vole?

Did you make a wish with a wallaby,

Or did you do nothing at all?

 

Did you swim with an x-ray tetra,

Or sail on a yacht with a yak?

Did you go to the zoo with a zebra?

Tomorrow ~ are you coming back?

 Poem by Brenda Kimmins.

Time to play

Time to play

 

Toffee aged nearly 7 months

Each week I spend lots of time with my pre-school grandchildren and I love every minute of it.  I have so much fun joining in their fantasy worlds where dinosaurs roar, toy trains hurtle through tunnels, sparkly unicorns upstage colourful ponies, and teddy bear families have picnics under blanket-covered playpens.

There is not a bit of my tiny house that hasn’t been given over to play, and that includes the garage, shed and garden.

I realised this week that although I may be getting close to my second childhood, I am actually reliving the one I missed and wished I had enjoyed.

I was born just after the  second world war in a northern city which had been in dire straits with poverty and unemployment even before the shipyards, mines, factories and chemical works were bombed.  The after effects of the war meant more joblessness, more shortages, and rationing of even  essentials like food.  Toys were a luxury that very few children in my area had, unless they were home made.   Thankfully I had a clever mum who knitted dolls and soft toys, and a wonderful dad who wittled away at wood to make tops and whips and covered them with shiny paper for decoration.

Add to the mix the fact that in the 1940s children tended to be tolerated in the family rather than central to it as they are now.  And, as well as all that, or maybe because it, I was a very sickly child who spent a lot of time in hospital, or a horrendous children’s convalescent home where the idea of play therapy was light-years away.

The result as I remember it, was a rather unhappy childhood, thankfully worlds away from the one that my grandchildren are enjoying.

However, the advantage of my early experience is that I developed a vivid imagination and have a buried need for creative play, which is at last being given free rein.

The trigger for this line of thought is in the photo.  No, not my puppy, but the mouse!  I have been collecting the characters from The Gruffalo story for the grandchildren and the mouse is rather special.  It was created by a local woodcarver from a bit of fallen tree in the Forest of Dean.  There is a marvellous museum there called the Dean Heritage Museum celebrating the mining and forest crafts that used to go on in the area.  One of the attractions is a magnificent Gruffalo trail where each of the characters is carved from wood.   I just had to have the mouse for my garden.  I thought it would enjoy living among my daffodils  for a while.   As I stood atop them I wondered if I could find a home in my garden for a 6 foot Gruffalo?  The grandchildren would love it!

Grandma’s house is very small
Just 2 bedrooms off the hall
A tiny kitchen, shiny-floored
A larder where my treats are stored
A shower with a seat inside
Wardrobes where doggy and I can hide
An archway leads into the lounge
Where furniture gets moved around
To make a station for my trains
Or an airport for ‘copters and planes
Sometimes it’s a racetrack for my cars
Or a farmyard with tractors, paddocks and barns
Grandma puts blankets over the table
To make a den, a forest or a stable
In the garden there’s gravel that scrunches when I walk
And a patio where I can draw pictures with chalk
In granddad’s shed there are drawers full of tools,
Boxes of nails, tubes of glue, jars of screws
A little mouse is nesting inside the wood store
While outside live birds, bees, hedgehogs and more
Grandma says her shed is a magical place
It’s furnished and carpeted and curtained with lace
Lavender hangs drying from the painted ceiling
While pine shelves are covered in things that have meaning
Like Icons from Finland, and medals from Lourdes
Calabash from Africa made out of gourds
Matrushkas from Moscow, maracas from Spain
I can’t wait for summer to play there again
Grandma loves it when I come to play
She makes indoor picnics we eat off a tray
She has lots of photos all over her wall
The best one is my mummy when she was small.