The power of the notebook

Today has been a gift. From me, to me. For the first time this year, I have allowed myself a morning to enjoy and absorb poetry. Word bathing, if you like. Time spent rolling sounds around, feeling the different textures, noting the first reactions, second reactions the oh of course reactions. This morning has felt like exhaling. For the first time in about a month.

February and rebirth

Imbolc, St.Brigid – February is a time of beginnings. The birds know we do not need to wait for the saccharine lambs and fluff tailed bunnies of modern Easter for spring to begin. The birds are already pair-swooping, dawn greeting, land grabbing. Sleep is over. Change is coming.

I wrote a lot last year about becoming more attuned to the seasons. Lockdown, writing for Spelt, understanding the importance of my own little patch have all led me to notice and nurture change and to learn more about the way the land speaks through tradition.

All of which sounds very calming – and it is. Unfortunately, I lost the ability to tap into this through January. The month was spent too much indoors, too preoccupied with the mess of life to step outside and breathe in the cold, watch the sleeping, listen for the first stirring. Too busy to be. It happens so often, and I always imagine I will learn from past mistakes and I never do. There is always hope and, so far in my life, there is always spring.

Snowdrops by Bruce Kelzer on Unsplash

The power of the notebook

Back to my morning. I love to write, and I have lovely friends who give me gifts of beautiful notebooks. Notebooks that I place on my dedicated notebook pile and save for when I will write something worthy of its quality paper and captivating cover. I promise myself I will redraft all those rough notes of poems on scraps of whatever, and copy them into the hallowed ivory pages, using my best copperplate handwriting.

I never do, of course. The notes remain scrappy, the lucky few make it into my computer and are sent out to the accepted/rejected by busy journal editors or sifted by competition judges. The notebooks remain pristine, unsullied by inexpert words or blotchy Bic biros. The notebooks, if they could feel such things, are probably sad.

Today, as well as giving myself time, I gave myself permission to use what is my very favourite notebook ( it’s so beautiful I shed a tear when I unwrapped it) the kind I would never, ever buy for myself. I’m not using it for a special project or grand, completed prizewinning poems. It’s for this year’s adventures in poetry. There are thoughts on what I’m reading, notes from my courses with Nine Arches Press and Wendy Pratt, and clumsy, jumbled responses to poetry prompts. The paper is divine, the physical act of writing in these books feels decadent, the sense of allowing myself to use something beautiful for my own work is liberating.

All this from a notebook?

Even as I write this, I’m second guessing and berating myself for being stupid. But yes – all this from a notebook. Choosing to use this represents permission, represents valuing my own words, represents not writing for the editors or judges, but writing to record, to explore and to chart my own adventure. It represents freedom.

Confidence boosters

I received pretty positive feedback for my accredited short course with York CLL, with some useful actions to help me improve my work. One was to work on my titles, the other was to have more confidence in my writing. The titles will be a challenge, but not unachievable. The confidence – a little more tricky. Two fab things have happened this week though. One was getting a message showing me a phot of one of my bespoke poems gracing the walls of its owner, and the other was getting a message saying how my crowdfunded poetry pamphlet Yes to Tigers inspired a fellow Raven Studios bursary recipient  Lewis Wyn Davies to self-publish their own work Comprehensive (which looks amazing). I often describe my reason for writing as being to connect with others -and I can’t think of two better ways to realise that something about all this is working, albeit intermittently.

So I begin this month in a better place. With a sense of possibility and hope, rather than panic and disillusion. The nature of my sometimes colourful mental health means this may all change tomorrow of course, but for today I will relish the feeling of being grounded, the noticing of spring, and the smooth bound pages of this beautiful notebook.

Money makes the world go….

round? Well yes it does I suppose. Food, heat, light,time to write. All the essentials. I send out a lot of invoices for writing work, and it still gives me a bit of a thrill (people pay me to write ). Today I sent out a slightly different one – to my local bookseller, The Ironbridge Bookshop. They stocked my poetry zine last year and have just sold the last one. Now I’m not going to be retiring to the Bahamas (after commission and the graphic designer’s fee I could just about get a day out in Brum) but this does feel special. There’s something about the fact that someone has walked into a shop, seen my work and liked it enough exchange some of their hard earned cash in order to take it home. It feels like validation I suppose – as though there is a market for my words, and that it genuinely connects with people.

I’ve spent my earnings on two more courses. One is with Spelt magazine all about how to submit to magazines, which I’m obviously doing but I feel I could perhaps do better, with a bit of practical help. The other is a workshop which sounds right up my street both in terms of method and subject. I’m not great in a classroom situation (thank you repressive girls’ school) and struggle to contribute but this workshop seems like it might be just the right balance of contribution and contemplation. My experience on my York CLL course has really shown me how much I learn from a workshop style, and how it builds on everything I’ve read about poetry in the last couple of years.

Things feel good at the moment. I mean obviously everything is terrible, but this tiny poetry aspect of my life feels like a refuge, rather than yet another point of worry. And refuge is, after all, one of the reasons I write.

You can buy Yes to Tigers from Ironbridge Bookshop, or direct from me – just email kathrynannawrites@gmail.com x

What I love about poetry prompts

This year has been one of my best. Ok, so that’s not entirely true – what I mean is, this year has been one of my best as a writer. I’ve been longlisted and shortlisted in several competitions, had various pieces published including one in actual print, which always feels super special, plus I’ve published an illustrated poetry zine. Compared to the gloom and despondency I felt about my work at the start of the year, I finish the year feeling positive – about writing at least- and I put it all down to poetry prompts.

Why do poetry prompts help ?

For me it works in two ways. Firstly, it’s the element of playfulness. A prompt kick starts my mind, starts the language and rhythm circling. It may not be a subject I like or would consider, but once I give the words time, often something good emerges. Often something terrible emerges too and that’s also cool. It’s all writing and it doesn’t all need to be seen.

I’ve learnt that I either write something super quick, like my shortlisted 100word poem/story for Lightbox Originals winter competition, or I need to spend several weeks thinking, tweaking, revising. I guess this is true for most writers. I think the greatest thing that working with poetry prompts has given me is a sense of fun and possibility. I love writing again in a way that seemed impossible at the beginning of the year.

My prompt a day notebook – I’ve almost filled it this year

Where do all these poetry prompts come from?

Ah now this is my secret weapon. If you follow my blog, you’ll know I’ve taken several “prompt a day” courses, created and run by Wendy Pratt. It’s a simple idea with immense results. I benefit from the discipline of daily prompts. I also benefit form being part of a very kind online writing group that’s associated with each course. I’m not a great group person, but I’ve felt welcome, safe, and confident enough to share my work  and seek feedback.

The other aspect of this is that I’m reading countless poems each day, understanding what works, understanding how a quirk of word or comma can completely change the feel of a poem. I’m also learning what a huge range of responses a small group of people will have to a prompt. There’s no sense of “getting it wrong”. A lot of this has to be down to the attitude held by Wendy herself – even the simple fact that she allows some of us to pay a little less for the courses (and gives excellent way of self-assessment) shows an understanding that this sort of thing really is a luxury and helped me feel there was a place for me here. It’s a good feeling.

As the year draws to a close, I feel aware of myself as a writer.  My work has grown tremendously over the last twelve months; I see a stark difference between what I’m writing now and the work in Yes to Tigers for example. I seem to have a bit more confidence, and I’m definitely having a lot more fun.

Oher news

I’ve given my site a bit of refresh – I’ve a dedicated page for  my published work, as well as an updated “Why this all began” page.  News on my pamphlet submission will be coming in the next few months (and I am hating waiting – this is one of the biggest things I’ve done so far) plus I’ve the usual round of competition and journal entries.

By far the best news is that my recent ill spell seems to have passed and I’m relishing having two or three days a week where I feel able to write and work and feel very slightly free.

Wash your hands, stay safe, eat a  mince pie, and read your favourite books. Maybe try a poetry prompt too.

To a commission a poem, piece of short fiction or buy a copy of Yes to Tigers email kathrynannawrites@gmail.com

You can find  out more  about Wendy Pratt’s poetry,the courses she offers and her brand new magazine Spelt here

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

Your shadow at morning – poetry film

So I need to generate some publicity for Yes to Tigers. Readings are out – at least for the time being, so I made this poetry film.

It’s one of the poems from the zine, first published in Words for the Wild,and inspired by work from Angie Silkstone and Jo Clarke aka Both in Stitches.

What do you think? Good? Bad? Meh?

Let me know – and if you like it please share xx

You can buy a copy of Yes to Tigers by emailing kathrynannawrites@gmail.com or just use the contact form x

Yes to tigers!

If you happened to see my super-awkward “unboxing” (it’s a thing you have to do these days) video last week you’ll know my zine Yes to Tigers is available now available to buy. I’m thrilled to have reached this point with my writing, and thrilled to have something to share with everyone who’s supported me over the last few years. Thank you!

What is Yes to Tigers?

Yes to Tigers is a 24 page illustrated poetry zine. It’s my first foray into indie publishing and crowdfunding and is the fruit of my time spent as poet in residence for a group of artists in the Severn Gorge. The poems are inspired by both the artwork, and the people themselves. The zine includes photographs taken during my visits, it’s a cool thing, and I think you’ll enjoy reading it.

Why Yes to Tigers?

When I started getting in touch with the artists and makers to arrange studio visits, I followed various social media pages, to get a feel for their work. I was nervous about stepping into this world- that old feeling of being inadequate – and rarely interacted beyond a like. As I got to know people I realised this was daft, and grew a bit bolder.

Browsing Instagram one evening I spotted one of the artists, Caris Jackson, canvassing opinion on the finish for one of her pieces, Fairground Baby (which is fab) should there be tigers ? The only sensible answer is Yes to tigers! Tigers were included, the final piece looks amazing and I was astounded my boldness. That boldness kept me going when things got a little tricky with the project, kept me working on the poems when I had no idea how/I’d publish and gave me courage to send the finished work out to people to see what they thought.

Fairground Baby – by Caris Jackson

Why indie publishing?

Essentially it’s about time. When drawing up plans for my role as poet in residence my aim was to have the zine published in a year, and I wanted to stick to this. Art is a fluid thing, and this represents where the artists are at a certain point. The process of submitting manuscripts to publishers is long and didn’t feel right for this project. You can find out more about the thought process behind indie publishing and crowdfunding on my blog post Why this all began

How can I buy a copy of this wonderful zine?

You can buy direct from me! Just get in touch via my contact form or email kathrynannawrites@gmail.com. This is also the best way to get in touch if you’re interested my bespoke poetry packages.

As ever, I’m terribly coy about this,and nerves make me a bit dismissive of it as a piece of work. It does look good though (thanks to Amanda Hillier Printing) and I hope you’ll enjoy reading the work. I’m spending the last part of the year organising more magazine submissions, and drawing together another collection of work to submit to publishing houses.

Thanks as ever, stay safe, wash your hands, read more books xx

………to good things coming soon.

It’s finally happening, my poetry zine is on it’s way to the printers! Very excited, and very grateful to Amanda Hillier printing for her patience with my endless edits – finalising poetry punctuation is hard – finalising poetry punctuation when you’ve a head full of brain fog is almost impossible. We got there though, and the finished zine will be with me soon.

A poetry zine sounds like a wonderful thing, how can I buy one?

If you live in Telford, you’ll be able to pop into the Ironbridge Bookshop to pick up a copy. If you’re further afield just drop me an email or a message and I’ll post one out to you. I’m planning to set up an Etsy/Folksy shop to sell the zines, as well as some bespoke poems which will make great Christmas gifts too, and I’ll post the links here and on my social media pages.

A short post today – brain fog is beating me, but I’ll write a longer one soon.

Stay safe, wash your hands, wear a mask,

Kathryn