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  …

 

 

 

Calafell Calling

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I’ve just returned from a visit to my daughter who lives in Catalonia, Spain.  She works in Barcelona, which is a beautiful city, but she is moving into a new apartment a bit further along the Mediterranean coast at Calafell.

Calafell is in the Tarragona region on the Costa Daurada or Golden Coast, to the south west of Barcelona.  It has miles of spotless golden sandy beaches, which the local council workers clean and smooth down every morning.  The warm Mediterranean Sea here is reasonably calm and shallow, which makes it a perfect holiday destination for families.  When I went it was May half term in the UK but not in Spain, so everywhere was quiet and very relaxing.

It is a fascinating town, which is great to explore on foot, and easy to get to by high-speed train from the airports of Barcelona or Reus.  The railway station is in the newer part of town where all the amenities you could want are situated.  There is a hospital, schools, supermarkets, museums, football club, sports stadium, and gorgeous parks with ancient olive trees and cooling fountains.  There are even co-operative offices within the library which you can rent by the hour or for longer periods.  These are great for entrepreneurs, writers and small-business people like my daughter who don’t need their own permanent offices.

A short walk up a very steep hill took me to the heart of the town.  Many of the ancient stone buildings have been renovated and turned into cafes, restaurants or artisan shops.  But the rich character of the old town is still visible.  It is all set around a public square, Plaça de Catalunya, which was established towards the end of the 18th century.  There is a church which was built in the 19th century by the people of the town when the bishop could no longer make the steep climb to the old chapel for his visits.

The original chapel was in the castle, which is situated at the very highest point of the old town.  Here the buildings are medieval or older.  Indeed, parts of the Castle of the Santa Creu of Calafell date back over a thousand years.  From the top there is a magnificent view of the surrounding area with its medieval buildings, Roman ruins and vineyards as far as the eye can see.    For this is the heart of the Catalonian Cava region.  My daughter recommended the Freixenet which is produced locally.

The local officials in Calafell are clearly very proud of their heritage and culture.  There are informative posters and signs in several languages close to any site of historical significance.

One such poster explained that

“22 million years ago the hill where the castle is now situated was a coral island surrounded by vast, fine sandy beaches.  Now completely fossilised, one can still see the remains of coral (grey coloured rock) and molluscs (yellow coloured rock) in the fossilised sand.”

And I could!  It also explained that

“The melting of the polar ice caps caused the sea level to rise to its current level and the Cobertera stream formed a fertile valley that has been agriculturally exploited since the time of the Iberians.  During the Roman and Medieval periods and well into the 20th century, cultivation spread throughout the basin and even the surrounding hills were deforested and margins built on them for the cultivation of vineyards.”

Being fascinated by the history of any place I visit, I spent many hours wandering in the old town of Calafell.  However, I was with two of my young grandchildren, so the sandy beach was the place to be every afternoon.  It is amazing what children will find to play with in the absence of their usual toys.  Pebbles, shells and the sand itself kept them busy for hours.  Chasing waves was a delight, especially as they had my daughter’s tiny dachshund dog to compete with.  And washed up bits of wood triggered off magical games.  It was a joy just to watch them.

In the evenings, when the children were in bed with their parents taking a well-earned rest, it was time for my daughter and I to explore some more.  Alongside the beach there is a beautiful paved promenade dotted with palm trees. Along here there is a 5-star hotel with a gorgeous beach bar and lots of privately owned apartments with swimming pools.  But nearer the town there is a little group of remaining fishermen’s houses including Casa Barral.

Carlos Barral (1928-1989) was a writer and publisher and a bit of a character from what we read.  He used to gather other writers around him for literary conversation.  These gatherings would consist of lots of drinking and smoking and loud noise which drove his poor wife to distraction.  When she could stand it no longer she banished them to a nearby bar called L’Espineta.

Since 1999 Casa Barral has been owned by the town and converted into a museum to preserve the seafaring customs and lifestyle of this small community.  It also reflects the literary importance of Barral, who was a very influential figure in 20th century Literature.  One of the writers who gathered regularly at L’Espineta was Gabriel García Márques (1927-2014).

I have read two of his books; One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, and I have to say I found them hard to understand.  However, I can appreciate his genius.  Being American Spanish from Colombia, he is considered to be one of the best writers in the Spanish Language.  His style has been called ‘Magical Realism’ and most of his stories explore the theme of solitude.

The bar, L’Espineta, that they met in has remained exactly as it was, owned by the Barral family, until very recently when it was sold.  The new owners have kept every detail intact even down to the pictures on the walls.

There was a reopening party on the night I arrived and I went every night while I was in Calafell.  It truly is a strange experience sitting on the chairs García Márques would have sat on and drinking from the glasses he would have used in the bar he knew so well.  I felt submerged in his world of Magical Realism.

The final detail that sticks in my mind about Calafell is the incredibly ornate Cementerio.  I am used to decorative statues and ornaments on graves in our local cemetery, but they are not nearly as ornate as those in Spain.  I discovered that there is actually a European Cemeteries Route in Spain which celebrates the historic and artistic heritage of the most distinctive examples.  And, Catalonia is the region with the largest number of significant cemeteries.

While I don’t think I will be going on the Cemeteries Route, I am almost certain that I will go back to Calafell if I can conquer my terrible travel anxiety.  I had such a lovely time but it takes me a week to recover from the stress of the journey!

Enjoy my photos of Calafell~

Old town and Castle

Park, Beach and swimming pool

L’Espineta

Beach fun

 

 

 

These are the days of our lives

 

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I went to the funeral of a dear man this week who was my next-door neighbour for many years, and, as these occasions are wont to do, it made me rethink the value and purpose of our lives and what we leave behind.

Listening to the heartfelt words of his children and grandchildren I was reminded of the saying, “people may not remember what you did or said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”

Not one of them mentioned a gift he had bought them or how much pocket money they had received if any.  They didn’t mention his house or his décor, his car or his clothes.  They didn’t mention his looks or his job.  What they all mentioned was that he was kind; always there for them, would do anything for them, and that they had fun with him.

He was an ‘ordinary’ man, one of 9 children in the 1940s, when large families were more common.  He was a happy rascal as a little boy, playing truant from school to hunt for rabbits in the countryside.  He met his wife to be when he was 15 and she was 14.  They married at 19 and have been happy together ever since.

He grew up at a time when it was possible to get a job for life in a large, local company.  He worked hard, enjoyed the job, was on friendly terms with all his fellow workers, and stayed there for 40 years.

Apart from his family, the love of his life was his garden.  We always used to look after and water each other’s gardens whenever either of us was away.   His garden was a delight but his passion was such that he eventually took on 2 allotments as well.  There he grew all the fruit and vegetables you can imagine, for eating, and to brew his home-made beer, wine and cordial.

Gardening was so important to him that this lovely poem was recited at his funeral.

The Glory of the Garden by Rudyard Kipling

Our England is a garden that is full of stately views,
Of borders, beds and shrubberies and lawns and avenues,
With statues on the terraces and peacocks strutting by;
But the Glory of the Garden lies in more than meets the eye.

For where the old thick laurels grow, along the thin red wall,
You will find the tool- and potting-sheds which are the heart of all ;
The cold-frames and the hot-houses, the dungpits and the tanks:
The rollers, carts and drain-pipes, with the barrows and the planks.

And there you’ll see the gardeners, the men and ‘prentice boys
Told off to do as they are bid and do it without noise;
For, except when seeds are planted and we shout to scare the birds,
The Glory of the Garden it abideth not in words.

And some can pot begonias and some can bud a rose,
And some are hardly fit to trust with anything that grows;
But they can roll and trim the lawns and sift the sand and loam,
For the Glory of the Garden occupieth all who come.

Our England is a garden, and such gardens are not made
By singing: – “Oh, how beautiful!” and sitting in the shade,
While better men than we go out and start their working lives
At grubbing weeds from gravel-paths with broken dinner-knives

There’s not a pair of legs so thin, there’s not a head so thick,
There’s not a hand so weak and white, nor yet a heart so sick.
But it can find some needful job that’s crying to be done,
For the Glory of the Garden glorifieth every one.

Then seek your job with thankfulness and work till further orders,
If it’s only netting strawberries or killing slugs on borders;
And when your back stops aching and your hands begin to harden,
You will find yourself a partner in the Glory of the Garden.

Oh, Adam was a gardener, and God who made him sees
That half a proper gardener’s work is done upon his knees,
So when your work is finished, you can wash your hand and pray
For the Glory of the Garden, that it may not pass away!
And the Glory of the Garden it shall never pass away!

And it reaffirmed in me the knowledge that wealth, position and possessions, ultimately mean nothing to the people who truly love you.  They remember your smile, your kindness, and how you made them feel.

Although the funeral made me sad and thoughtful, this poem comforted me.  For, like the glory of the garden, this dear man’s goodness will live on, in his widow, his children and grandchildren.  His life had inestimable value to them and to all who knew him.

In memory of my neighbour I will give you a photographic guided tour of the Rococo Gardens in Painswick which at the moment is aglow with snowdrops and hellebores.

 

 

 

Transformation

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

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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.

 

 

Layers of Leaves

Layers of Leaves

I can’t resist the photos of my grandchildren, layered in clothes, playing in layers of leaves in the woodland.  Autumn has arrived in the Cotswolds, and it is certainly a magical time of year.

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Layers of leaves lie

Overwhelming the senses

Deep in the forest

 

 

 

Walk this Way

Walk this Way

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Almost the end of the summer here in the UK and Autumn is definitely in the air.  So, I went with the grandchildren to Westonbirt Arboretum.  The arboretum is so popular that the car park was overflowing, but once inside the woodland is so vast that it didn’t seem crowded at all.   The aim of the visit was to go on the Gruffalo trail but we found that a bit disappointing.

However, a new experience for us was the bridge-like structure which takes visitors right up into the canopy of the trees.  The bridge is very cleverly built with angled slats on the sides so that even the smallest children or wheelchair users can see the trees every step of the way.  At intervals, there are viewpoints like ‘crow’s nests’ with information and pictures of the wildlife you can find.  Some of the wildlife was a bit too realistic as there were swarms of bees building hives in some trees!

Up there on the walkway you get a totally different view of, and perspective on the 15,000 trees from all around the world which thrive there.

All around the arboretum there are woodcarvings and buildings created from the trees in the woods.  They are magnificent.  But the grandchildren’s favourite was in the adventure play area.  There was a sea theme with a huge pirate ship, small canoes, sharks and fish, all carved from the wood.   The grandchildren loved it and I can’t wait to go back in Autumn when the trees have turned golden and red.

Wooden Walkway and other structures at Westonbirt

Trees are structures just made for climbing up and over, or jumping off!

The Western Red cedar is a spectacular structure

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And lastly,  a woodcarving

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.