What’s the first rule of M.E. club?

Yep. Don’t overstretch yourself.

What have I done?

Overstretched myself. I’ve signed up for all the things, said yes to all the jobs and I’m just about coping…

The thing is, new year, new intentions, the weird belief that being in lockdown means I’m less busy (being in lockdown isn’t that different when you’ve got a chronic condition) and a good deal of need for distraction means my “no” filter is well and truly clogged.

Cat is disappointed with my lack of discipline

Starting the year with a rejection or two

is never ideal. It’s part of being a published writer, and I am less likely to weep and wail and snap pencils in half* than I used to be but it still hurts. One in particular was for a set of poems I’ve worked really hard on, and pinned a host of hopes to and the days after finding out they’d not been chosen oscillated between Pollyanna-like positivity and a touch of crushed despair. Putting your heart on a page to be judged will do that I guess. Add in the context of knowing people are going through a whole lot worse than you, others are working round the clock to save lives, continue education and feed people who are too stubborn to wear a mask, and the whole business of submitting poetry feels a little hollow.

Poetry isn’t pointless though

nor is music, art, tv (unless it’s actually Pointless of course) film or any hybrid collab you can shake a stick at.  It helps distract, comfort, crystallise emotion. It might make someone laugh or be the gateway for unshed tears. I’ve said before, the thing that means the most to me is when people getting in touch to say what I’ve written resonated with them, moved them, mattered to them. And of course I’ll keep going because that appears to be what I do, what I stick at despite the challenges and what I seem to be good at. I’ve sent another batch of submissions out today…I’ll spend the next week or so checking my inbox far too often, then forget about them and get either a fabulous surprise or another knock. And so the cycle continues.

Reading is hard at the moment

because I’ve taken on all the things, when I stop, it’s hard to focus on reading. I know this is bad – my brain needs food to function. Having said that I’ve enjoyed a fabulous collection of short stories Black Vodka by Deborah Levy is a collection that explore all kinds of love, in all kinds of cities and all kinds of lives. I miss travel, I miss people, and this collection of stories has snaked its way around my heart and mind. The writing is so beautiful I can almost taste it as I read.

Poetry wise I’m revisiting an unfinished book Urn & Drum by Lila Matsumoto. The poems are sparse. They leave me with a sense of hanging in the air. I enjoy the quiet that surrounds the words, the focus that inhabits each line. It’s a collection I’ll return to.

Halfway through February

already and it’s Valentine’s day! I love this day, the hearts, the kitschness, the overcommercialism. I am taking the weekend off to spend time surrounded by paper hearts  eat every heart shaped item of food I can find and drink every pink drink produced to celebrate the brutal martyrdom of a 5th century member of the clergy I can lay my hands on. At this point in winter, it really is a case of any excuse for a celebration and I really do love a heart or two.

Thank you for reading, stay safe, wash your hands, eat your greens and hug a tree

Kathryn xx

What is micro fiction?

If you follow my social media you’ll have seen my delight at being shortlisted for Lightbox Originals‘ 100 word story . Being shortlisted for anything is always exciting and this is no exception – especially because it’s a genre of creative writing that I adore but can find somewhat challenging.

Back to the matter in hand. Put simply, micro fiction is a very, very, very short story. It has a beginning, middle and end like any other story, but unlike any other story it has very few words. This particular competition set a limit of 100 words. Not many at all.

Very happy to be shortlisted for the #100words story competition from Lightbox Originals

Is micro fiction like poetry?

For me it feels like it is. I use rhythm and pace to create atmosphere, and every word has to count – there’s no room for waste. I’m not a chatty sort of soul and I think this is why I enjoy working with so few words.

I’m also aware of a change in my understanding of poetry. Reading more widely has helped me to see that the work I really love is the work that tells a story – takes me somewhere. I’m seeing a change in my recent work moving away from description and introspection towards more imaginative work. I think it’s a sign of personal development (remember all that therapy), as well as the improvement I’ve made as a poet,largely through the excellent prompt a day courses courtesy of Wendy Pratt.

Isn’t that a bit of a big headed thing to say?

It certainly feels like it is; I’m part of the generation that has the phrase “pride before a fall” running through my veins, for whom thinking I am good at anything is worse than being good at nothing.

Despite this I’m sticking my neck out and saying I am a better writer now than I was this time last year. I can see how I’ve progressed – both in poetry and in my paid work as a copywriter. I think that’s ok to say. Actually, I think it’s essential. If I never see that I’ve improved, where is the impetus to continue ?

Reading more and more poetry this year like this gorgeous book from Robert McFarlane

Can you really tell a story in 100 words?

You can tell a story in six. Maybe less. It all relies on understanding that the story is in the reader – they bring their experiences to match with your words. The result may be a quiet ding or a church bell level resonance, but the meeting is there and that’s what makes the story, however many words there are. The skill lies in having something to say that others will warm to, and saying it well. The best writers have an extra bit of magic that I haven’t figured out yet.

When will you know the results?

The results are announced next week. It would be amazing to be placed but, honestly, just entering is a huge achievement never mind getting to the shortlist. Putting work out is always scary, and knowing it’s being judged is extra scary. I’m quite matter of fact about losing and getting rejections these days – it’s a side effect of trying I suppose – but it’s always an absolute joy to gain a glimmer of achievement.

Thanks for reading – I’m much better this week, and hoping I can fully regain some balance to my health soon. Your support means the world!

Stay safe, wash your hands etc.

Kathryn

Xx

My illustrated poetry zine inspired by work from artists around the Severn Gorge is available through Etsy or by emailing kathrynannawrites@gmail.com.

You can buy #YesToTigers in my Etsy shop or by emailing kathrynannawrites@gmail.com

Two eggs – a folk tale



The creak of the barn door excites him as much as it did four years ago. Echoes of “weirdo”, “misfit”, “oddball” fade as he sees the shimmer of gold shell,the faint fissure crack, the ooze within.
Just a few more months.
He inches closer to the eggpen,pats the straw, wipes the struts of protective wire. Hiding in plain sight was a phrase he learned years ago and it serves him well. The jester-prince is in his thrall; bestowing years of flattery and bamboozelement have stuck in his throat but his creation is complete. Lowering himself has come to fruition.
The urge to cradle the egg is strong – he turns. Discipline is essential for some, on carefully curated occasions, and he needs to experiment with how it might feel. Also he there is a faint chance it may fall from his hands.
As if. He could never be so foolish. No this is the time to open the cage and breathe in its beauty for one last time before….
“Sir, sir, there’s another egg. Quick sir they say it’s important. More important. “
the boy glances sidelong at the eggpen. No one is supposed to know. Many do, but the knots of acceptability are so tangled most workers stay silent for fear of each other. Especially errand boys like this one.
“I’ll have you whipped for falsehood and fakery! Nothing is more important than this. Nothing. We will be richer and more powerful than the outlanders and northfolk ever imagined.”
“But it’s here. Here,packed in a velvet lined box. It looks more important …”
the boy tails off at the sight of his glare. It was a new one he’d been practising. Good to have chance to try it out. He flashes it again. The boy scurries out.
He lopes off, carefully arranging his face somewhere between sullen and smirk. The crowds of scroll masters and criers irk him more than usual. Whispers about an egg that would change the world play about his ears and he feels the work, all the work begin to whittle away. He makes a note to organise those monks to amend his ledgers.
Battling through the odorous masses, enraptured by the jester-prince on the steps, he steps on the cats tail. Not for the first time. He would have kicked it – but the masses never approve. Another thing to iron out.
He reaches the main hall. There it is. Small. Much smaller than his beautiful golden wonder . Darkest green, iridescent, a jewel in its centre. The kind of dark beauty he dreams of but always slips from his pallid grasp.
Scowling at the chattering fools gathered around, plugging his ears to their talk of how mysterious – almost powerful – it looks, he clatters out of the room to his basement,bellowing instructions that he is not to be disturbed and issuing demands for ink and candles. This sort of thing always finds its way beyond the walls and he fancies it makes him more fearsome.
He dreams of the egg all night. Outshimmering his glorious gold creation. His moment. His chance to show them that he is the cleverest of them all.
He wakes with a start! This could work to his advantage – the people could pay the price of both eggs. He’d just tell them the new egg was a fake, a hoax a lot of nonsense. Bide his time. Once they’d seen the hatching it would be too late. But he needs to act fast.
They line up as instructed. Alchemist, jester, taxman. Monks have been scribing just three words on parchment since his three am epiphany

Gold
Beats
Green

The phrase adorns the walls of the courtyard,on banners sewn by the tailors. He even hears it whispered.The sound of his genius muttered by the masses gives him a thrill like no other. Finally.
The egg bearers assemble. Three for the imposter,fourteen for his. That kind of thing is important. The carpenters have worked for hours constructing the egg carriage,lined with silk, not a whisp of straw in sight. Imposter egg? A plain brown box,turned so the dark hearted jewel could not be seen. At the last minute he fashions a few artful tears to make it even more lowly. Oddly satisfying to work with his hands.
At the sight of his nod from behind the drape, the egg bearers begin their parade. The crowd begins to chant Gold Beats Green, Gold,Beats Green. He feels his foot tap. Frivolous nonsense. He allows a smile. It will work. They will forget and just get back to paying attention his beautiful, beautiful golden marvel.

The cat.

The cat saunters. The cat turns. The cat stares. Green eyes lock with insipid blue.
The cat saunters. The crowd purrs. The cat darts. The eggs tumble. The shells shatter
The stench. The stench. The stench seeps to throats and nostrils, tears spring to eyes, skin begins to blister.

“Gold beats green
Gold beats green
Gold beats…”

the jester-prince stops beating his marotte, looks around to see if anyone is still joining in. He stops and scans the courtyard for an exit.
The crowd turns. A small girl whispers to her mother, who whispers to her sister who speaks a little louder and the clamour begins to rise. The stench is from the egg. No one knows which one. They both look so different but even the lowliest amongst them knows a bad egg is a bad egg. There are mutterings that the torn box egg is still intact, people begin to look, but it is no-where to be seen.Not even the torn box. Fragments of gold shell lie all around and the stench is rising. But the golden egg cannot be bad. The golden egg cannot…be bad?

Those who can begin to move, to march. Jester-prince has fled. Taxman counts. Alchemist tries to treat the sickest. The drape flutters. The cat sniffs at a speck of yolk.

New poems, new short story and a bunch of thoughts

An early prompt on Staying in and writing it out was to create a piece of dystopian flash fiction. I have a reputation for being slightly contrary, and found myself writing a sort of dystopian rom com called Bread and Roses instead. Have a read and, if you fancy, leave some comments about it, (or anything else!)

At the moment, writing feels very odd, almost disrespectful.The gravity of the situation in the U.K. grows each day, and each day brings its own brand of strange awfulness. Did you imagine in January that the words “596 dead -see page four” would not only not be headline news, but reduced to some kind of “teaser” with fun splash graphics? Me neither. We had it on Monday from one of our most tawdry of papers. Social media is a minefield of opinion and accusation where anyone asking any questions is decried for not “being positive”, yet no-one seems to have any answers. So yes, sitting in my sunny room writing poems and silly stories feels pathetic, and entirely unhelpful.

What else am I going to do though? I’m growing vegetables and flowers (which also I do in non-pandemic years), I’m cooking, baking, cleaning, trying to make sure I take care of my health (which also feels disrespectful) and just, well, living. The discipline of daily prompts from my course means I can step into a different part of my head for a while, and stop obsessing about my next online delivery for at least fourteen minutes. I’ve written more this year than in the whole of last year, and that is good. I need to step away and redraft a some of the pieces, and disregard others, but it feels good to just be writing. The contradiction of this calm with the chaos I know is happening in wards just a few miles away is palpable but not writing will not curtail the pain of others. In all honesty, there’s no conclusion to this little piece. Here’s a link to another new poem, and I hope you’ve noticed I managed to write a whole post without using the word “unprecedented”.

Wash your hands, stay safe, ask questions.

Kathryn xx

On being an amateur

Amateur comes from the Latin amator ‘lover’, from amare ‘to love’ – one who does something for love. The modern definition is less wonderful, describing an amateur as a person who is incompetent or inept at a particular activity. Curious how it is no longer enough to do something just because you love to do it. The response I hear most when I tell people I write is “ooh are you going to be the next JK Rowling” –I scuttle away from the subject, and feel ashamed that no, I haven’t made a great deal of money from having work published, nor do I expect to. Those who know me know that making pots of cash has never been a driver for anything I do – I’m not an aspirational type of person and have no wish to be anything other than happy. I make a little money from writing, but that is lowly stuff like online copy for cabinet makers or theme parks. I love doing it and do it well but it isn’t flashy or shiny, and it is simply a means of paying for the weekly shop. I am a tiny bit thrilled to be writing for a living though, however meagre.

Why am I telling you this? I feel like I lost my way a little last year. I focused on publication, to validate, and confirm that my work is ok – and that is still true. Nonetheless, the literary world feels still feels like one I can’t be part of, as though I’m knocking the door, but there’s a secret knock that I’ll never quite know.  I’m not sure I’ll ever want to perform my work or read it at literary festivals – the thought terrifies me, getting anywhere is a nightmare because of M.E. and, I don’t know, it just doesn’t feel like me. Is this sour grapes? I don’t think so. I’m a behind the scenes sort of person. I like the limelight, but from a safe distance, and in a safe environment. Online communication works for me, because I can choose the time, the format – I’m in control, and I don’t have to worry about the impact of my health.

©kam

This feeling of being a perpetual outsider has got me down. It has also made me ask myself why I write. It’s not just for myself, it’s because I want people to read what I’ve written, and to enjoy it. I wrote a tiny script for an online course Staying in and Writing it out and got lovely feedback. I made people smile and giggle and that felt great. I think the conclusion I’ve come to is that I’m going to stop taking all so very seriously. I don’t mean the work; I mean the whole circus of creating a career out of something I love. I’m not a corporate soul, I really don’t like working with others (apologies to all the folk who suffered this over the years) and I just don’t seem to fit. In short, I have decided to continue to be an amateur, to continue to be a person who does something for the love of it, and to embrace the freedom and joy that that brings. The thrill of publication will always be a wonderful, but I don’t want it to be my end goal. I want to write stuff I love.

https://theoatmeal.com/

On that note, I’ve decided I’m going to put more of my work on this blog you can read poems, short stories, including a new one called Pica and earlier work too as well as the pieces I’ve had published – it means I can’t submit so much, but the most frustrating thing is having work tied up in the system and not being able to share it. I love writing, I love people enjoying what I’ve written and we have the wonders of the internet, so why not? I’m including a bit about process too and as ever I love to get your feedback and comments. I’ll try to add a new piece at least every week.

Hope all is well, hope you’re safe and I hope my odd little stories and peculiar poems bring you a smile in these oddest of times.

Kathryn xx

Writing is happening (thank goodness)

Self imposed isolation for almost a month (I’m not on an official list but getting a simple cold puts me out of action for weeks, so I’m taking no chances for fear of relapse). My brain has thought of nothing beyond how terrified I am for everyone and being utterly obsessed with making sure everyone I know has enough food. I seem to be morphing into some kind of domestic fanatic, making bread, baking cakes, growing veg and generally about finding one hundred and one recipes to use up beetroot. I’ve been too scared and angry to write anything that isn’t work related (and therefore essential to keep eating) and that’s been fine….

…except I’ve missed it. I’ve missed going into another world, I’ve missed sitting seeing if I can taste the right word to use, I’ve missed hunkering down into language to let all those glimmers of joy quietly glow. I abandoned my Poetry School course (thankfully I have a credit) and wasn’t sure how I’d get on with my two new ventures this month. One is a free weeklong short story course, designed by Tania Hershman, courtesy of Arvon, and my other is another poetry course from Wendy Pratt. I missed out on funding to go to Arvon this summer, so I was thrilled to have the chance to benefit from Tania’s unique take on the world and how she incorporates this into teaching and as you’ll remember from my February blogs, there is something about Wendy’s approach that gives me a freedom – and a feeling of being good enough.

I started both today, after doing a super long piece of work about safety in the construction industry (I know). My brain is sleepy, and my thoughts are a little swimmy, but I seem to be able to connect to that part of me that can escape. The first exercise in the short story program was to gather phrases from three poetry books, two instruction manuals and a recipe book, then build a story,and the prompt form Wendy was to recall and respond to being the butt of a joke ( loads of material for this one).

My random collection of phrase sources

I’ve written a story about eating squirrels and drafted a poem about styling out a loss of control, both of which seem ideal for the current situation.

I doubt I’ll write King Lear, discover great scientific theories, or even get around to polishing up all the pieces I want to submit, but I finally feel a little more like me again, and that is a wonderful thing.

Dedication

I hated Record Breakers. It was incredibly dull (except for the domino challenges), and all that wholesome patience grated on me. It still does, even more so now I know it’s true.

Getting work published takes a long time. The first step is research. Which journal is most likely to like my work? Where’s open for submissions? Who’s judging competition x and have I read enough of their work to know their style and interests? Next, you submit. Follow the guidelines about word count, number of lines, preferred font. Write a good cover letter (not too long, but enough to show you’ve read the journal). Then you wait. And wait. And wait a bit more. I’ve had responses in a week. I’ve waited over six months. Some places accept simultaneous submissions, many don’t – so my work sits and waits too. It’s a frustrating process, but since many indy presses are run by tiny teams or volunteers, it’s understandable. The thrill of having something accepted is wonderful. Even a kind rejection (where they ask to see more work soon) is ok. The waiting is tough, but the best way to get round that is to throw myself into something new.

Cat is waiting to hear about his poem “Why do the mice all run away?”
Attingham park looking moody

I’m looking forward to Autumn now – although I miss the light terribly- it’s a time for squirrelling myself away and writing. Obviously Secret Severn work takes priority, and my goal is to get drafts done by Christmas. I’ll put them away for a while, then revisit and revise in the spring. I’ve got an urge to write stories again too, so I’m hoping to spend time with writing prompts and get some of these floating ideas down on paper. It’s a time of watching the garden fade and prepare itself for next year, reading all the things I’ve not got round to reading, and maybe watching a bit of Record Breakers*.

Thanks for doing such a great job last week, after my slightly awkward plea for interaction with my social media pages. If you’ve chance to do the same again that’s ace – plus I really love talking to you !

Click to read my published poetry or published flash fiction. You can read old drafts and work in progress by following the links on the menu.

*I’m probably not going to watch Record Breakers.

I submit…

Lots and lots of submissions sent today, it’s a funny mix of happy excitement (they might accept) and nervous negativity (they might not) but the good far outweighs the bad. Having work accepted for publication validates it somehow; it moves beyond just being liked by kind friends, and into something that is valued by people who want to sell their magazine or increase traffic to their blog. Having said that, the loveliest feedback is when someone takes time to get in touch to say how a poem moved them. Writing needs to be read, and knowing someone has felt some kind of resonance is the most precious thing.

Health has been frustratingly up and down…four days laid up last week but, thrill of thrills, I managed two outings with dear old friends last week, which lifted me and left me feeling warm and loved. Marvellous stuff. Exciting things are happening work-wise too, and I’m hoping to bring more news soon.

I’ve a couple more pieces to polish before sending off, then I’m going to knuckle back down to doing some actual writing. I have a fancy to write some short fiction again, so I’m at the germinating ideas stage which is always exciting.

The long and the short of it…

The long and the short of it…..

wp-1483975758664.jpgI’m on a longlist….for the uninitiated, that means a competition judge (in this case it was the Fish Publishing  Short Story prize) had read my submission, and put in their “read again” pile. It’s not as cool as being able to say “I won” or “I’m on the shortlist” but it is still a cool thing. For me it is further confirmation that I can do this, and encouragement to keep going. As well as my publication earlier this month, I’ve two more forthcoming publications, which makes me happy.  I still have the words of a friend

I’m not writing a great deal of new work at the moment. It’s not writers block or anything dramatic like that, quite simply I’m really, really tired. I’m learning that I have a great rush where all I think about is writing, reading, and listening, then suddenly it stops and I need to do other things, like gardening or just sitting with the cat before I can go into another phase of writing. I think every one has their own way of doing things, and old adages like “write every day” can’t be followed religiously.

One thing I am doing, as part of my Crafting musical poetry course is trying to push myself to be more open in my work. Each piece I’ve submitted has had good feedback, along with a wish that I’d said a little more, gone a little deeper. I try to kid myself it’s because I want to “show not tell” but the reality is I’m a little scared. The other reality is that it’s only by being bold in my expression that my work will have the impact and resonance I want it to. I’ve been reading In search of equilibrium by Teresa Lola and the raw elegance with which she expresses herself is captivating. I need to learn to silence the voices of  those unhelpful folk who think discussing any kind of weakness is a search for attention. Ultimately, for me at least, it’s a search for understanding and resolution.

I’m always amazed by the support I get from my friends, even just in my lovely local people make the effort to say they’ve read my blog and they’ve liked my work. It’s cool. I kind of imagine that all of these words float out into to the world and are mostly ignored by everyone but my mom. It’s great to get feedback. It’s a bit scary too, and I find myself wondering whether I should be less candid on here, perhaps adopt a more professional tone but that wouldn’t be me – I’ve never been great at being fake, so I think for now I’ll carry on with the diary style and carry on being a tiny bit too honest.

As ever, read, like, share and do comment…I love getting your feedback online too.

It’s kind of like a drug…..

……this writing lark. The more I do the more I want to do and the more my brain pesters me with ideas and random sparks of  sentences. I’m obsessive by nature, and easily become fixated on things. Sometimes my brain actually hurts (you’re allowed to think of the Gumbies) and that is when I have to stop, and that is when it gets really frustrating. I suppose it’s like a runner pulling a muscle. 

What has caused this fizz of enthusiasm ? I think it’s partly time. I’ve been hibernating, not gardening, not going out and not seeing many people at all.  I’ve had the luxury of waking up with nothing to do but write. Admittedly, a good chunk of that writing is about sofas and storage lockers, but it’s still writing. And it still makes me happy. 

I’m having a good creative spell too though. The Short Short Fiction course from Poetry School  has produced a tangible improvement in my flash fiction, which has had the happy effect of inspiring me to sort and collate my poetry from the year. I’ve realised a key failing for my Primers application was that there was no real theme. It’s not that I have to create a collection of poems based on my love for toasters or the like, but there does have to be a thread of commonality. Obviously I didn’t have a clue about this at the time, I just put together six poems I didn’t hate. This is where the hard work I talked about in my last post comes in. Research, reading, and really understanding what I’m submitting is crucial. The time I spent today has illuminated my themes, however subtle, and moved me towards creating a considered collection, rather than a random assortment.

Submissions

Submissions are happening. I have to wait until January at the earliest to get feedback. It’s a pest, but it’s how it is. I read a tweet from a fellow poet today that he has had 90 rejections and 17 acceptances this year. That’s a sobering percentage. The reality is that my focus and joy has to come from creating pieces that I love. If others love them too, then that is a bonus. 

Thanks as ever for reading, please do comment, and if you can take a second to like and share on one of the social media platforms, it really helps support me.