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  …

 

 

 

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.

Happy Times Past

Rest not! Life is sweeping by; go and dare before you die. Something mighty and sublime, leave behind to conquer time. — Goethe

tile-spirit-squared-for-abw

The prompt in the Weekly Photo Challenge this week is the word ‘Nostalgia’ and my friends and I are certainly feeling nostalgic today.  We had some truly upsetting news about our old school. The huge tile frieze that we created in 1999 to mark the new millennium, was destroyed in a fire.

It is hard to imagine today just what a big deal it was being on the threshold of a new millennium.  There were all sorts of apocalyptic warnings about power failures, planes falling out of the sky, computer systems not being able to cope etc. No-one really knew what would happen at midnight on 31st December 1999 or what the new millennium would mean for civilisation.  So, as St Thomas More School was such a huge part of my life, I wanted to mark the occasion with something very special and permanent.

In the early 1970’s I watched the new school building rise in the middle of an open field that had once been farmland and an orchard. There was an ancient hedgerow all around the site and just one magnificent old oak tree in what would be the playing field. When it was opened in 1975, I was having my third child so was not available for teaching. But, as I drove past the school every day, I vowed that one day I would work there.

I got my wish in 1984 when my youngest child was ready to start school. I was offered a job and jumped at the chance. The next decade was a time of great blessing as I worked in virtually every class, teaching all age groups, then became deputy Head.

In 1994 the original Headteacher was due to retire and, to my surprise, I was offered his job. He had been such an inspirational Head that the school was a joy to work in. Taking on his role, I tried to emulate him while making my own mark and bringing my own vision for the school into being.

Due mainly to the quality of the staff and their outstanding teamwork, the school became a strong and successful community, ‘an oasis of excellence’, appreciated by staff, pupils and parents alike.

In 1999, as the new millennium approached, the staff wanted to mark the year 2000 with a special feature. We wanted the whole school community to be involved in creating something totally unique and meaningful. We came up with the idea of making a large tile frieze. Each year group was asked to brainstorm their favourite lessons, subjects, or topics, and represent their ideas on paper.

Reception class, the youngest children were just 4 or 5 years old and had only just started school. They had their photographs taken in their shiny new uniforms, so that was their contribution.

The Year 1 class had helped to build a pond and were raising ducklings which they had hatched from eggs in an incubator, so they drew pictures of that. I have a wonderful memory of the day the ducklings hatched out ~ the local policeman had called up to the school on a social visit and he watched as the first duckling struggled to crack open the shell. When it finally succeeded and out popped this beautiful and perfect little bundle of yellow feathers, he was overwhelmed by emotion and had tears in his eyes.

In Year 2 the 7 year olds made their first Holy Communion as it was a Catholic school so they drew a chalice and host. Being the most significant event in the year ~ yes honestly, not SATs! That was their contribution.

Year 3 was the first year of juniors and the children enjoyed learning about Vikings and the Human Body, so they drew lovely longboats and skeletons.

In Year 4 things got much more subject focused so Maths was represented by a calculator and mathematical symbols.

In Year 5, Creative Arts such as Music, Dance, Drama and painting were the main features, so a pot of paint and a brush was drawn. Science too was represented by the planets.

By Year 6 the children were getting ready to move on to secondary school. In order to give them a taste of independence and adventure, it was our tradition to take the class away to Shropshire for a week to stay in a Youth Hostel. Here, in the Ironbridge Gorge, birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, we had a wonderful time. We visited the Iron Museum, The Jackfield Tile Museum, Blist’s Hill Reconstructed Village, River Severn Museum and of course the first Iron Bridge ever built. We also had amazing night hikes, midnight feasts and parties. Altogether it was an incredible opportunity for fun and learning. So naturally the Ironbridge at Coalbrookdale was the emblem of Year 6.  Yes, again it wasn’t SATs that featured large in their lives.  How times changed!

For our frieze the staff gathered all these pictures and images together and chose the ones that would be painted on to the tiles. The Year 5 teacher, Anne Bate Williams, a wonderfully creative artist and teacher, took on the challenge of putting all the ideas together and creating a design on tracing paper which could be transferred onto numbered ‘green’ tiles. It was agreed that we would go to Jackfield Tile Museum to create the finished work.

A representative group of staff, parents and children spent a weekend at the Youth Hostel and were each given a small area of the tile frieze to paint. Anne had done a magnificent job scaling all the children’s artwork up or down so that the frieze would truly reflect the life of our school.

It was agreed that the year 2000 would go at the top, as well as the 4 trees, oak, ash, poplar and beech, which were the school emblem.  In the top corners would be tiles depicting the Ironbridge itself.  The children’s artwork would go around the edge, and at the centre would be the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove surrounded by flames.

We painted the tiles in coloured glaze.  I will never forget the atmosphere in that studio at Jackfield as we worked on the frieze.  There was a stillness and peace in the room which was truly sacramental.  While we worked, the Spirit moved in that place and heaven happened.

When we finished, the tiles were left at the Jackfield tile Museum to be fired.  A couple of weeks later they were collected and set into a frame made by Tony O’Shea, the reception class teacher’s husband.

Bishop Mervyn Alexander of Clifton RIP came in the year 2000 to celebrate the school’s 25th anniversary and he blessed the tile frieze.

Although most of the staff who worked at the school have retired or moved on now, the frieze stayed proudly in the school hall for the last 16 years and with it, a little piece of all of us who made it.  And now it is no more.

Nostalgia  in my dictionary is defined as ‘a feeling of sadness mixed with pleasure and affection when you think of happy times in the past.’  I think this sums up our feelings today perfectly.

So here I go down Memory Lane…

 

Woodcarving

This post is inspired by the last two prompts from http://haiku-heights.blogspot.co.uk/

Mum's woodcarving

Mum’s woodcarving

Their hands held the tools

As they carved out the figure

That touches my heart

~

She whittled in wood,

Carved, chiselled and sanded.

A figure was formed

~

My parents now gone

Left a lasting impression

Character forming

~

She saw through the wood

A spirit living within

And set his soul free

~

Silent and stooping

The essence of pure sadness

Released from the wood

~

Working with the wood

His chiselled features forming

Smooth-sanded statue

The first prompt “fingerprint”, made me consider how special some things are to me simply because they belonged previously to, and were held by, someone I have loved. I was reminded especially of a figure that my mum carved out of wood many years ago. The wood was hard to work with so my dad helped with the chiselling and carving. I distinctly remember them both working away very happily at this piece of original craftwork, their fingerprints ingrained in the wood.
Gradually the character in the wood was revealed. It was a particularly striking piece I always thought, but my mum thought him a little gloomy for display in the house. So he lived on a plinth in the garden for years. As he stood battered by the weather he gradually looked more and more dejected.
The second prompt word is “sand” which fits nicely into the second stage in the life of this figure.
After my parents had both died the figure came to me. He was battered, discoloured and very rough but very precious to me, having been physically created by my parents. So my lovely husband took the figure off its rotten plinth, cleaned and sanded it down, then fixed the base. He still looks very careworn and dejected ~ the figure that is ~ not my husband, but I love it so much that it now sits on a shelf in my lounge.
I would not part with it at any price.

Sanctuary ~ a Sacred Space

My Sanctuary

At WI I received a lovely gift in the lucky dip.  It was a silver bag containing a little silver and diamanté heart and 2 bottles of Sanctuary; a brand of luxury bathroom products.  It was lovely, although as I only have a shower, it may be passed to someone else!

The word ‘sanctuary’ comes from the Latin root word, sanctus, which means holy.  So the primary meaning of the word is, ‘a sacred space’.  Following on from this is the idea of a ‘place of refuge’, where someone can escape to and find safety.

In the year 2000 I retired exhausted from full time working, and spent a year seeking ‘sanctuary’ from a life so busy that it had overwhelmed me.  Being too ill to go anywhere, my sanctuary had to come to me, so my wonderful husband built me a summerhouse at the end of the garden where I could find some healing peace.

It was 3metres by 4metres made of solid wood lined with tongue and groove pine panels with a waterproof, pitched roof and 4 doors.  Each door had 12 glass panes and I was inspired to paint them with glass paints.

At the time I was reading “Landmarks”, An Ignatian Journey, by Margaret Silf and the book inspired me to consider my faith journey.  Knowing that the Domain in Lourdes has been the most formative place in my faith life, and thinking (wrongly) that I might never be well enough to go there again, I decided to reflect its importance in my summerhouse.  Each door would have a depiction of the grotto and of water included, as well as images that I love.

I chose the 4 seasons as my theme and decided to paint the doors Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.  Before the doors were hung I measured out 4 pieces of wall lining paper and sketched my designs

 for each door.  I used trees, laburnum, wisteria, maple, holly, bending towards each other to form arched shapes.   I then drew images from nature related to each season, mice, hedgehogs, robins and anything else that came into my mind.  Once the paper design was complete I stuck the paper onto the back of each door and drew over it straight onto the glass with ‘tube lining’.  This dries quite quickly so then I started to paint! 

I am not an artist so the result was very primitive, but because the glaze comes in such beautiful colours, the overall effect was stunning.

Once the doors were hung we laid electricity cables to the summerhouse so that we could light it from inside or out.  This meant that at night we could see the stained glass effect shining down the garden from the house.  If I was in the summerhouse on a sunny day with the doors shut, the stained glass effect cast coloured light all over the inside of the summerhouse.  If I was in there at night I sometimes turned off the lights and lit candles to gain a different effect.

This was my sacred space, my sanctuary, my still point, my little bit of Lourdes and I loved it.  In my summerhouse I looked deep inside my self; I wrote my life story; I restored my spirit; I emerged a different person.

Sadly, I had to move home 3 years ago, and I could not take my summerhouse with me.  But I have the photographs and I just have to think of it to find a beautiful stillness.