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  …

 

 

 

Landscape ~ For ever, for everyone

Landscape ~ For ever, for everyone

 

Tailor of Gloucester Shop on left

The Tailor of Gloucester’s Shop recreated inside and out as illustrated by Beatrix Potter

Landscape is the theme for the Weekly Photo Challenge and it inspired me to get out and about on a literary trail with my little Panasonic camera.

So many of our great writers were, and still are, inspired by the landscape.  I know I have previously blogged about Thomas Hardy’s Dorset, and I have probably exhausted my readers with photos of Shakespeare’s Stratford on Avon, so just for a change, I set off for Gloucester, and The Tailor of Gloucester’s house in particular.

I chose this because 2016 marks the 150th birthday of Beatrix Potter who wrote a delightful story about the Tailor of Gloucester following her success with The Tale of Peter Rabbit and the Tale of Squirrel Nutkin. I am auditioning this month to be part of a community choir that will perform in the Everyman Theatre’s professional production of The Tailor of Gloucester and I could not be more excited.  The theatre, in my home town, is putting on the play to celebrate the 150th anniversary, and to celebrate the fact that a new Beatrix Potter story has been discovered. The new book, called The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots, is to be published on 1 September 2016.

Beatrix Potter was passionately interested in conserving and protecting the landscape to be enjoyed by everyone.  She was a great supporter of, and benefactor to, what is now the National Trust, whose Motto is the title of this blog~ “For ever, for everyone”.  She was so generous to the trust in fact that when they moved their headquarters to the site of the Steam Museum in Swindon, they named it Heelis, which was Beatrix’s married name.  Altogether Beatrix bequeathed to the nation the 15 farms she had bought in the Lake District comprising over 4000 acres of land, farm buildings, cattle and flocks of rare Herdwick sheep.

The building which now represents the Tailor of Gloucester’s house and shop can be traced back to 1535.  It is in a historic cobbled street which leads through an ancient archway into the cathedral grounds.  Having been through many changes, the building was eventually bought by Beatrix Potter’s publisher, Frederick Warne and Co Ltd in 1978.  Using the illustrations which Beatrix did for the story, they replicated her vision of the inside and front of the building.  

While in the shop I read an account of the remarkable background to the story:

“The inspiration for this story came in May 1894 when Beatrix Potter was staying with her cousin, Caroline Hutton.  Whilst at the Hutton’s home, Harescombe Grange, which lies 5 miles South of Gloucester, Caroline told Beatrix the curious tale of a local tailor.  Closing the shop at Saturday lunchtime with a waistcoat cut out but not sewn together, he was surprised to discover when, on Monday morning he opened the shop again, that apart from one button hole, the waistcoat had been sewn together.  A tiny note was pinned to the button hole which read, ‘no more twist’.  Beatrix requested that they visit Gloucester the next day when she saw the tailor’s shop and sketched some of the city’s buildings.”

Spoiler Alert!

The actual event did of course have a much more logical prosaic explanation than the wonderfully magical one imagined by Miss Beatrix Potter.

There was an actual tailor in Gloucester called Mr Pritchard who worked in a building at the end of the lane leading to the Cathedral.  He was young and very keen to succeed.  He did have an order for a very important client which he had not managed to complete.  He left the garment all cut out when he closed up his shop on Saturday lunchtime ready to be finished on Monday.  However, his two assistants, knowing how worried he was about the garment, came back over the weekend and finished it beautifully for him.

Poor Mr Pritchard, who had obviously been worrying all weekend was amazed when he found the garment completed so beautifully.  In fact he was so surprised that he put a sign in the shop window saying he believed fairies had sewn the garment.

It was some time later that his assistants admitted their part in the mystery and his wife eventually broke the story.

But of course Beatrix had elaborated on the event as only she could, making it Christmas and the poor tailor ill.  It is believed that she actually used her Gloucester friend’s coachman, Percy Parton, as the model for her illustrations of the tailor.  Her other illustrations were drawings that she had done in and around Gloucester and Harescombe Grange.  The most identifiable picture is of College Court, the lovely old lane leading from Westgate Street to St Michael’s Gate, an ancient entrance to old Abbey, now the Cathedral precincts.

Beatrix chose number 9 College Court as the setting for her tailor’s shop and this is the building which Frederick Warne and Co Ltd purchased and restored just as Beatrix had imagined it in her illustrations.

Below are some of my photos from the actual shop.

 

Do enjoy some landscape photos from around the Cathedral Grounds and the Gloucester Docks close by the Tailor of Gloucester’s shop.

A Saint~Me?

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There is nothing more pitiful than a defenceless child at the mercy of cruel, heartless, ignorant and selfish people. Such children are so vulnerable, easily hurt physically, traumatised mentally, and damaged emotionally.
The lucky ones can take a lifetime to recover. The unlucky ones cut short their lives, unable to live with their wretchedness.
So in response to today’s DPChallenge, If in 300 years time I were to be known as a saint for anything, it would be for being a defender of the defenceless child.

The lion and the lamb

The lion and the rabbit

Grandma’s Angels

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She’s 5 going on 25 with long red hair that gets tangled in the shower. She has a smiley face and the loveliest nature. She lives with her brother who’s 8. He has the same red hair but short. He’s cool with a cheeky grin and a mischievous nature. They live in a small market town in Wiltshire with mum, dad, 2 guinea pigs and a whippet-cross dog from the rescue centre.
She loves to copy her mum; her hair, her makeup, her clothes, and especially her jewellery!
She would love to go horse riding, but it costs too much, so she goes trampolining instead. I watch open mouthed as she bounces; doing front drops, swivel hips, back somersaults, straddles and turns. She is fearless.
He loves to copy his dad; playing football, tennis and golf; soaking up anything sporty. 2012 will be his best year yet, Olympics in Great Britain, what a dream! He is already collecting commemorative 50 pence pieces. He knows every design and every sport. He has collected 15 so far with 14 to go. I could order him a complete set but there’s no fun in that. It is far better to search in pockets, purses and change.
I love it when they come to stay for the weekend to give mum and dad a break. All thoughts of housework fly out of the window as our home is transformed into a tiny version of Disneyland. We do beading and baking, chalk patterns on the patio, create fairyland in the shed, tie imaginary horses to the gazebo and sail pirate ships on a gravel ocean.
He wanders off to find grandad. She sits on my knee and we chat. Tugging at my gold cross and chain she asks,
“Grandma, why do you always wear that?”
“My mummy wears pretty necklaces. She changes them all of the time. She has lots.”
I’ve heard this question before and I usually say,
“I wear it to remind me of my dad because he bought it for me a long time ago.” And that’s true, but today I will tell her the whole story.
A long time ago before your mummy and daddy met, your daddy lived by the seaside in Somerset in a fisherman’s cottage. The cottage was 200 years old and it was a wreck when he bought it. It had pine panelling all over the kitchen and lounge. When he took the panelling down he found 57 types of mould growing on the inside walls. It was very colourful mould, some of it quite pretty, but not healthy to live with, so he had to pay someone to come and treat it. The cottage roof leaked, the windows didn’t open, and the walls were damp. But bit by bit he repaired it and made it beautiful. He put on a new roof, damp-proofed the walls, sealed the floors, replaced the windows and doors, and put in a new white bathroom. He did all this quite cheaply because he searched through scrap yards for things he could use. One day he found an old church window in a scrap yard and he bought it for his bathroom. He knocked down part of the wall and put in the beautiful stained glass window. It was full of colour, rich red and blue, and it had angels on it. When the sun shone into the bathroom it glowed with a heavenly light.
Now he was happy with his cottage and he decided to invite the whole family down for the weekend to celebrate the end of the work. Grandma and Grandad went of course, and your daddy’s three sisters. They were teenagers then and they had a little mini car which they shared.
It was a perfect weekend, sunny and warm. We scrambled on the beach and hunted for bits of pink quartz washed out of the rocks by the tide. I still have them in the garden.
I had my cross and chain on then too, it wasn’t long after my dad died. I felt that when I wore it he was close to me and he would watch over me and keep me safe.
It was a long and tiring day so we all went to bed early. I took my cross and chain off and put it on the cabinet beside the bed. We slept really well then got up early to go home. I had a shower in the bathroom and I was fascinated by the coloured lights shining through the stained glass window. It was so beautiful that I said a little prayer before we left. I said thank you for my beautiful family and thank you for a lovely weekend. Then off we set for home.
On the way back home I realised that I had forgotten to pick up my cross and chain. I was a bit cross with myself for forgetting it, but I wasn’t worried because I knew it would be safe. The girls were staying for another day so I guessed they would bring it home for me when they came. There were no mobile phones in those days so I couldn’t call them!
The next day was Sunday and the girls were sharing the driving home after a lovely weekend. They had found my cross and chain and remembered to pop it on the dashboard before they set off. They were very happy driving along, listening to their music and singing. They reached a sharp bend in the road just as another driver was speeding along. He misjudged the corner and crashed right into the little mini. The car was dreadfully smashed up and my 3 precious girls were taken off to hospital in ambulances.
The policeman who came to the crash shook his head sadly thinking the girls would be badly hurt. But at the hospital they were absolutely fine, just a few bruises and a bit shocked. The girls did not want to tell me about the crash as they knew I would be really worried and upset, so they phoned their brother to come and collect them. He got into his car and drove along the same country roads that his sisters had travelled. When he reached the bend in the road he saw the mini being towed onto a breakdown lorry. He got out to watch and was shocked to see the damage to the car. Just then he noticed something glinting in the road. It was my cross and chain. He picked it up and put it in his pocket, then drove on to the hospital to pick up his sisters and bring them home.
When I saw them and heard the whole story I knew that my dad and the angels had been watching over my girls as they travelled in their car that day. They protected them from harm. That is why I always wear my cross and chain. It reminds me how blessed I am.
One day I will give my cross and chain to her, my angel.

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Creative writing from the bottom of my memory

I am quite excited today because this evening I am going to the inaugural meeting of our new Creative Writing Group. A couple of months ago I was asked to come along to an Artists Way meeting to chat about my blog and how I got it started.
I was a little daunted but very pleased to be asked as I still consider myself a learner in the blogosphere. In fact, the more I delve into it and the more wonderful bloggers I discover, the humbler I get!
But I went along and found the group to be made up of lovely, enthusiastic and creative people. All of them have a story they want to tell and they were full of stimulating questions. I tried my best to encourage a lively discussion but the evening went far too quickly. So, we agreed that what we need is a writing group. There are some well established groups in our area but they didn’t fit our bill. So we decided to start our own. There is no leader or teacher, just a group of us who will hopefully be encouraging while reading, writing and discussing each others work.

Now if any of my blogging community can give me guidelines or tips that I can pass on I would be very grateful. Perhaps you have been part of a group and found a particular session really useful, I would love to know.

Of course one of the things I had to do before meeting the group is decide what makes my blog tick. I have my lovely quote from Tom Stoppard after my header and I truly believe that. However
the essence of my blog can be expressed in a quote from The Way of the World by Nicolas Bouvier,

“I dropped this wonderful moment into the bottom of my memory, like a sheet-anchor that one day I could draw up again. The bedrock of existence is not made up of the family, or work, or what others say and think of you, but of moments like this when you are exalted by a transcendent power that is more serene than love.”

This is how and why I write, I treasure memories and moments when I felt like heaven happens. I will again reblog something I wrote right at the start when not many people were reading my blog. You have to read right to the end for the little bit of transcendent power though!!
I hope you enjoy it.
http://wp.me/p2gGsd-g

NaPoWriMo 3 ~ Charm to disperse Toxic Smog

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Today’s prompt asks that we write a charm, spell or rhyme.
In view of the unusually high level of air pollution in the UK at the moment, that is the target for my spell!
I just came back from a walk with little Stanley and I was grateful for the huge Chestnut trees that grow near my house. Trees are brilliant at soaking up the pollution from the traffic. I hope my spell will get them to soak up the toxic smog and Saharan dust that is filling our skies this week. It is so bad that although Stanley and I could hear the helicopters which regularly trundle across the skies to a nearby small private airport, we couldn’t see them because the smog was so thick and low. Very disappointing for Stanley so a spell is required!

O chestnut tree, o chestnut tree
Bend your branches, listen to me
the air is full of toxic dust
Its hard to breathe although we must

O chestnut tree, o chestnut tree
Lower your leaves, listen to me
Dark clouds are forming in the sky
Helicopters are hidden although they fly

O chestnut tree, o chestnut tree
Turn your trunk, listen to me
Buildings and vehicles are shrouded in sand
People are suffering throughout the land

O chestnut tree, o chestnut tree
Call forth your conkers, listen to me
There’s an invisible killer in the land
We need you now to give us a hand

This rhyme seems gauche but it has a serious side. The local council have plans to cut down all out lovely mature chestnut trees to make way for a third lane on the bypass dedicated to buses. Not only will this be the end of conker collecting in the Autumn for the local children, which has been a joy for generations, but it will be the end of our one and only dedicated cycle path so cyclists will have to share the very busy main road. This is something I have strong feelings about. The whole project is money wasting madness.

Writing and reading tips

Gosh what a useful and entertainng post I just read. It kept me fascinated so I have pasted it below for you. Honestly there is so much in it.
I’m in hospital at the moment and likely to be stuck in bed for a couple of weeks so thank goodness for the blogging community! I will have time to read every word! I am also enjoying books by Sally Vickers – I have meant to read them for a long time but now I can. Just finished The Cleaner of Chartres and am enjoying Miss Garnet’s Angels x will hunt out more online !
They are gently mysteries set in beautiful places such a Venice and Chartres, with a spiritual angle, lots of psychological insight and history as well – all written in glorious prose x magnificent!

http://nhwn.wordpress.com/2014/01/11/saturday-edition-what-were-writing-and-reading-44/

April 23rd 1964 ~ 400th Anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare

As it is Shakespeare’s birthday celebrations in Stratford this weekend I thought I would reblog a post I wrote when I first started blogging.

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William Shakespeare was born on April 23rd 1564 and died on 23rd April 1616.  1964 was the 400th anniversary of his birth and I was living in Stratford on Avon, which was certainly the most exciting place to be at that time for a theatre mad teenager.

The highlight of my acting career had been the part of Mole in Toad of Toad Hall at St Gabriel’s Convent in Carlisle.  Cardinal Heenan was the honoured guest in the audience.  My part was memorable as it involved a tea party at Toad Hall.  We had real cakes and biscuits.   I had never seen those pink and white marshmallows with a biscuit base and coconut all over the top.  I became so engrossed in examining and eating them that I forgot where I was and had to be prompted to continue my lines.  “Oh, you silly ass, Mole”…

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Small Stones 6 ~ New Journals

Full Journal 2012

Full Journal 2012

Hard back now broken

Skin leathered, wrinkled and worn

Soul spilled on the page

Having tidied away the decorations, cleaned the house and washed the dog and her bedding this weekend,  it is now time to sort out my boxes of journals.  The one above is a much used notebook from 2012.  The yellow leather binding is worn, the ribbon is frayed and the pages are falling out.  In fact it looks a bit like I feel;  but inside it, the essence of me is distilled.

On a sea of ink

I sail to oblivion

In a paper boat

Do you remember the feeling you used to get every September when school started?  Everything was new ~ uniform, pens, pencils, rulers, rubbers, sharpeners, geometry equipment, art materials and virginal exercise books covered in pretty paper.  Whatever had happened the previous term, the new school year was filled with hope for a fresh start, a clean sheet, a  copybook with no blots!

Well I got that feeling when I opened my Christmas presents and found a beautiful new journal.  It is from the Wedgewood Archive Collection and the design is called Yellow Butterfly.  Of course one journal is never enough for the addicted writer so  this year I have bought 2 other journals in the sales!  I am torn as to which one to start writing in first, they are all so beautiful.

Three new journals for 2013

Three new journals for 2013

On pristine pages

Bound with butterflies and birds

I journal my journey

Trawling the depths of

meandering memories

In rivers of words

Haiku Heights ~ Script

The prompt for Haiku Heights this week is the word ‘script’.  I knew immediately what I wanted to write about but it is a painful memory.  When my father was very ill with cancer I would sit by his bed for hours on end whenever I was not at work.  He was a self taught man who left school at the age of 13 to work in the shipyards in the North of England where he lived.  He spent his whole life working with steel, eventually owning his own business.  He was in great demand as a consultant on huge projects from bridges to buildings like Canary Wharf in London and Terminal 4 at Heathrow.  He was also recognised as a bit of an expert on safety in Nuclear Power Stations which he used to inspect.  I absolutely adored him and shared his passion for bridges, buildings and anything of beauty.

Now my father kept a diary all his life and his last sentence on every entry was a prayer of thanks for his day. He always used a propelling pencil and wrote with a beautiful script.  As he got weaker his diary became really important to him.  However hard it was to write he would still insist on filling in the days news.  He recorded every visit by doctors, nurses, priests and friends.  The day before he died he was quite distressed that he could not hold his pencil and he insisted that I should write what he dictated, which I did.  When he fell asleep with the exhaustion of it I took a peek at his diary and I was totally shocked by what i found.  For the worst months of his illness he had ended every entry with a prayer to St Jude ~ patron Saint of Lost causes!  This was a bit upsetting.  But the really upsetting thing was that for the last two weeks his entries were in mirror writing.  Every word and line was written backwards.  It was still legible although the writing was getting rather spidery.

I found this deeply moving as it seemed to me that his life was going into reverse.  After he died I mentioned the mirror writing to the doctor and he said it sometimes happens as a result of neurological disturbance.  I suppose this would make sense as he was so ill and on strong pain relief.  But I still found it very unsettling.

I have heard since that some people like Leonardo Da Vinci used to do mirror writing.  It is a strange phenomenon still not fully understood.

As in a mirror

His writing flowed in reverse

His Life rewinding

Man of steel, my Angel of the North

Man of steel, my Angel of the North

Creation ~ haiku

creation illuminated manuscript from St John's bible

Illumination

Meditation on the word

Sacred creation

This haiku was inspired by the September Challenge on haiku heights ~ today’s word is Creation.

One of the most beautiful creations I have seen in recent years is an exquisite handwritten St John’s Bible.  It is the fulfilment of a lifetime’s ambition for the artist and calligrapher, Donald Jackson.  Working with a Benedictine community  in Minnesota, USA and with scholars in Wales, UK, he has created over many years “a work for eternity”.  Every word is written by hand and every illustration is a modern meditation on the text.  Do click on the link ~ you will be amazed by the beauty of the work.

I saw the first edition when it was displayed at St Martin in the Fields Church in London and was lucky enough to buy prints and take photographs.  I believe it is on display in USA now and it is well worth seeing.

I could have written lots of haiku on the “Creation” theme ~

Created with care

A harvest in harmony

Floral creation

A harvest time floral creation in Hereford cathedral

Illumination

Sunlight reveals its beauty

Creation in glass

Creation window at Cirencester Agricultural College

tained Glass window in the chapel at Cirencester Agricultural College

Stained glass depiction of Jesus in Gloucester Cathedral

Illumination!

and the most important one ~ my soon to be born grandchild!

Life is unfolding

In the comfort of the womb

A new creation

Coin Street Chronicles

Having just celebrated the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and been amazed by Her Majesty’s strong constitution, sense of humour and resilience, I have been reflecting on all that her generation have lived through.

This led me to a book, beautifully written by Gwen Southgate, called Coin Street Chronicles, which was recommended to me by an American friend.   Gwen was born in 1929 into a very poor but caring family, and grew up in the Waterloo District of London.  By the time she was 10 the World War had started and Gwen, along with all her classmates was evacuated to the Dorset countryside.  Gwen moved six times over the next few years and grew in maturity with a very positive attitude to life, despite its hardships.  Gwen was a very intelligent girl and devoured books.  Her teachers were amazed that, although she spoke with a strong cockney accent, she wrote in beautiful prose.

Eventually Gwen managed to get to London University where she studied Science, and met her future husband!  She taught Science in high schools for many years.  She married and had 2 children before moving to Chicago.  She had two more children before moving finally to Princeton, USA.

When Gwen retired from teaching she started writing her memoir as a legacy for her children.  It took her 15 years. Her remarkable memory and the ability to recall every detail from a child’s perspective enabled her to write vividly and with humour and sensitivity.   She published her book herself in America through iUniverse and gave readings for friends and book groups.  Her book was passed from friend to friend and grew very popular through personal recommendation.  In fact it became so popular that it was an Editor’s Choice book from the beginning and won a Star award!   On the American Amazon site there are 23 wonderful reviews and everyone gives Coin Street Chronicles a 5 star rating.  It has been read by academics, editors, reviewers and has twice been likened to the writing of George Orwell.

My review of Coin Street Chronicles

Coin Street Chronicles was recommended to me by a friend who lives in London.  We both thoroughly enjoy wandering the streets of London and finding out about the buildings, streets and boroughs, and what life was like for the residents in years gone by.

The houses in Coin Street are long gone and the area is now part of the very glamorous South Bank with its wonderful riverside walk.  But reading the book transports us back to how it was before, during and after the Second World War.  The book also covers parts of Wales, Sussex and Dorset where Gwen and her little brothers spent years as evacuees.  It is a snapshot of a 20 year period when life was so different from today.

But having read the book, devouring it would be more accurate, I can’t stop thinking about it.  This book is so much more than a memoir, although as a memoir it is brilliant.  All of life is here in its pages.  There is history, humour, pathos, tragedy, wisdom and truth revealed, which is almost Shakespearean.  The book is simply written, in a conversational style, but it deals with issues that are relevant to us all whatever our age or personal situation.

There are complex family relationships, childhood confusion and misunderstanding, education problems, teenage angst, marital difficulties and the problems of living with family members with a range of physical, emotional or mental difficulties.

It is fascinating to read a firsthand account of coping with air raids, bombings, food rationing, evacuation, homelessness and poverty.  Beneath all that there is the gradual revelation of how misinterpretations or misunderstandings between family members can lead to alienation and lifelong estrangements.  My heart breaks for Bertie and Derek and I think Gwen should write another book just about them!

But the part of the book that will stay with me is the complexity of the parent/child relationship.  For a variety of reasons Gwen and her mother had a difficult relationship and it was only when writing the book that she felt she truly understood what a wonderful woman she had been.

I think everyone would gain from reading Coin Street Chronicles: the elderly for the memories of a time gone by, the middle aged to truly appreciate what their parents lived through and the young to help them understand themselves and their parents.

I think it would make a wonderful radio play or TV programme and it should be required reading in schools as part of History lessons.

Brenda Kimmins

It is available in the UK to order from various bookstores, or to buy or download online.

Journaling my Journey number 2

Journaling my Journey

Some years ago when I was feeling very low, my daughter sent me a copy of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.  I started writing ‘morning pages’ as Julia suggested.  It was just 3 pages of stream of consciousness words, whatever came into my head.  Sometimes, if words just would not come, I drew sketches.

I used to get up very early in the morning anyway as I was finding it difficult to sleep.  So before I listened to the radio, read the paper, did Sudoku, filled in a crossword, switched on my computer, or had any distraction or outside input I would write my morning pages.  I did this religiously (interesting word) every day for the weeks and months that followed.  I did not read the pages back and I did not show them to anyone.  In fact if I was really down I would wrap the pages round with Sellotape and hide them in a cupboard, figuratively locking away the pain that was revealing itself on the pages.

The Artist’s Way is of course a 12 week programme for creative discovery and/or recovery.  However, apart from the urge to draw little sketches alongside my pages I did not discover any hidden artistic talent during those 12 weeks!  Nevertheless, I continued writing my morning pages and taking myself off on ‘artist’s dates’ for another couple of years, and my depression lifted.

In Autumn 2011 I saw an advert for a course at the Isbourne Foundation on “The Artists’s Way”.  Knowing how much I had enjoyed following the book, I was intrigued and inspired to sign up, which I did.  There I met tutor Dr Lesley O’Neill and joined a small group of women whom I immediately felt connected to.  So I read the book again and inspired and encouraged by Lesley and the group, I discovered to my joy that I did have some creative talents.  Poetry popped up, Haiku hurtled out. I dabbled in drawing, played with Plasticene, discovered Zentangles, started writing stories, and carried my camera everywhere I went.  Now, I wrap my pages in pretty ribbon, not Sellotape, and I save them in a beautiful turquoise box with doves all over it.  I now live the Artist’s Way.  I am part of a small local community of creative and inspiring women and my life is transformed.  With them I am free to be myself and express myself, with no pretensions, no explanations and no alibis required.  There are never enough hours in the day for all I want to do.  I have several writing projects on the go including newsletters, travelogues, competition entries, children’s stories, my blog, and of course my morning pages.  But now I realise that they too are transformed into Journal entries.  I realised this after seeing a recommendation for the book “Life’s Companion, Journal Writing as Spiritual Practice” by Christina Baldwin on the New Hampshire Writer’s Group blog www.nhwn.wordpress.com that I follow .  I bought the book and look forward to continuing my journey of discovery ~ discovering myself!

Rapeseed field ripening in the Cotswolds

April 23rd 1964 ~ 400th Anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare was born on April 23rd 1564 and died on 23rd April 1616.  1964 was the 400th anniversary of his birth and I was living in Stratford on Avon, which was certainly the most exciting place to be at that time for a theatre mad teenager.

The highlight of my acting career had been the part of Mole in Toad of Toad Hall at St Gabriel’s Convent in Carlisle.  Cardinal Heenan was the honoured guest in the audience.  My part was memorable as it involved a tea party at Toad Hall.  We had real cakes and biscuits.   I had never seen those pink and white marshmallows with a biscuit base and coconut all over the top.  I became so engrossed in examining and eating them that I forgot where I was and had to be prompted to continue my lines.  “Oh, you silly ass, Mole”, as rat would say.  But I think I got away with it.  The Cardinal singled me out for praise afterwards, impressed by the realism I portrayed!

I moved to Stratford from the north of England in 1960, the same year that Peter Hall founded the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and became Artistic Director at the theatre.  Sadly the two events were not connected but our paths crossed over the next few years.  At that time he was married to Leslie Caron and they lived on the Warwick Road near St Gregory’s Church.   I was a teenager at the local girls’ grammar school, Shottery Manor, passionate about literature and especially Shakespeare.

In those days you could pay 4 shillings (20p) to stand at the back of the theatre in Stratford and watch the plays.  From 1960 to 64 when I left school I think I saw every production, often going to the matinee and the evening performances.  My all time favourite was King Lear in 1962 which I have never forgotten.  Paul Schofield played Lear and a young and gorgeous Diana Rigg played Cordelia.

In 1964 when I was doing my A Levels I watched the full history cycle; Richard 11, Henry 1V part 1 and 2, Edward 1V and Richard 111.  I became familiar with actors such as Roy Dotrice, Peggy Ashcroft, a very young John Hurt, and my hero David Warner.  All the girls at school had a crush on him as he was so 60’s with his gaunt look and flowing scarf.  We would hang out at the Dirty Duck pub by the river Avon, barefoot and with flowers in our hair, hoping the actors would pop in after the show, which they often did.  I was such a regular at theatre events that I somehow got to know Peter Hall and Leslie Caron.  I was asked to babysit once for the child of actor Tom Bell and his first wife when they were visiting the Halls.  Tom Bell had become very famous for his part in The L Shaped Room in which he played opposite Leslie Caron.  He and his wife were lovely and I was so sad to see that he died some time ago after a long and magnificent career.

1964 also saw the opening of the Shakespeare Centre where visitors could study every aspect of Shakespeare’s work.  I was privileged to work there part time while at school and full time in the summer after I left.  I loved it.  For the centenary year there was a special exhibition with all the sights and sounds and smells of Shakespearean Stratford.  As I remember it the plays were performed on a loop and the visitors could wander in and sit down to listen for as long as they wanted.  To me it was heaven.  I don’t think any exhibition since has bettered that experience for me.

Every year in Stratford there are celebrations for Shakespeare’s birthday but 1964 was spectacular.  There were flagpoles put up in the centre of the streets leading from the theatre to the Holy Trinity Church where the bard is buried.  Representatives from 115 countries of the world came to unfurl their flag at 11am.  This was followed by a procession of dignitaries, townspeople and pupils from the two Grammar Schools, King Edward V1 school for boys, which Shakespeare himself had attended, and Shottery Manor, the school for girls.  I was in that procession and will never forget it.  After the church service and laying of wreaths at the tomb in the presence of Prince Philip, there was a festival on the Bancroft Gardens.  Primary school children danced around maypoles and there was all the fun of the fair.  It was a glorious day.

I still consider King Lear to be the greatest play ever written, and William Shakespeare to be the greatest playwright.   It is almost 449 years  since he was born and the celebrations will  take place this weekend in Stratford.  But they could never match those of 1964.

http://www.britishpathe.com/video/shakespeares-400th-anniversary-1

Shakespeare’s 400th Anniversary

Photos show a portrait of William Shakespeare, A photograph of my old school Shottery Manor, The parade through the town on 23rd April 1964 and a view of Bridge Street from the roundabout at the top.

July 1964 Click this link to show a class photo of our school leaving day,