The final gift of 2020

My news feed is full of folk feeling joy at “seeing off” 2020. I get it. The year has oscillated between terrible and banal, frustration and despair. People have lost loved ones in a way none of us would choose. Teachers, healthcare workers,retail staff, hospitality teams are all working to keep things running so we can keep feeling “normal”. The year has been hard, and the things that keep us going have, well, gone.

Christmas covid-style. Fire pit and family.

For me – it’s not been so very different. Being trapped at home is my “normal” and in many ways not feeling the pressure to socialize (one of my biggest energy sappers) has created a sense of calm. I miss people terribly, but I realize that the round of events I rope myself into does need to be managed more closely when we emerge from the constraints imposed by the pandemic.

We’ve had fun stuff too. Lockdown birthdays with Llama bunting, livestreamed gigs, a visit from friends complete with exciting trip to get a sausage roll from our local café. It’s been a year of thinking small, and learning what I really love.

This considered calm has meant more writing. I’ve developed so much this year. I think I’ve had more publications, including my pieces in Popshot and Paper Swans Press, I’ve launched my own bespoke poetry business and dipped my toes back into flash fiction.  More than this, I feel like something has shifted – I feel like I understand that I’ll never understand,that I’ll never feel like the world’s best writer, that my work may never be declaimed from the rooftops. And it doesn’t matter. What matters is that I write, what matters is that I think. I end the year feeling that small quiet strength that carries me through so many changes and challenges.



The final gift of 2020 came a few days before Christmas, when we learned our neighbours are planning to build a large house directly opposite our bedroom window. This means we may be facing a house move. This in turn means leaving a community we’ve been part of for twenty years, and losing the support, safety and calm I enjoy and rely on for my mental and physical health. It’s a blow, and has caused some distress during an already fretful Christmas,but I’m trying to keep my positive hat on and see this as an opportunity rather than a loss.

I’ve been lucky to have this view for 20 years. It seems my luck has changed.


Sending hopeful wishes and thanks for your support over what has been a most unusual twelve months. Here’s to more love, kindness and empathy.

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

Do you remember…

a post I wrote last year, talking about the restrictions I experience as a result of M.E.? Well I’m cured! Ha. Not really, it’s all still the same, tricky getting about, needing two, three times as long to do simple stuff like prepare a meal. All here, doing it’s stuff.

Despite this, I have some news that baffles and delights me. I’m publishing a collection of poetry. It’s based on my time as poet in residence for Secret Severn and is an achievement in many ways. Not only have I got twelve poems that I think people will enjoy, I’ve put aside my disappointment at having my funding withdrawn and pushed ahead.

Why keep going?

I believe in this project. The overriding feeling is joy and respect, a desire to celebrate the relationship between art and words. I gain so much sense of place from enjoying the work created by these talented artists and makers, it didn’t seem right to waste the time and effort we spent putting in the groundwork with visits and follow-ups.

Why crowdfund?

The usual path of approaching indie presses didn’t seem right for this project. Firstly, it’s a fairly local scene and subject – that doesn’t mean it’s all just poems about the iron bridge* but it does mean it’s something that may not have the mass appeal the average indie press needs to guarantee sales. Secondly comes the issue of time – it’s been a year since my first visits and meetings – this feels like the right time to publish.

Crowdfunding is nerve wracking. The whole thing of asking for money feels weird, and a bit rude. This is why I created a reward system – essentially people are buying a copy of the poetry zine. I’ve put together some reward bundles too, so it doesn’t feel quite so much like asking for handouts. It’s worth exploring why this whole thing feels so awkward though – perhaps a subject for another post.

How’s it going?

Really well. I’ve been amazed by the level of goodwill and positivity from people – it’s good to know there’s an interest and that there is a market for when I come to sell. It’ll be in Ironbridge Bookshop, and I’m hoping to place it in local cafes, bookshops further afield as well as selling direct. It’s more than the funding – it’s about having people believe in what I’m doing.

When will it be published?

Assuming I meet our funding target, it should be published in October – just in time for Christmas!

*there are no poems about the iron bridge – sorry bridge fans xx

You can buy a copy of Yes to Tigers by emailing kathrynannawrites@gmail.com and popping in to Ironbridge Bookshop just as soon as pandemic restrictions have waned.

Thanks as ever for reading, and for your ongoing support

Kathryn

xx

Managed May and the Ballad of the Bees

Just when I think I’m adapting to lockdown, another wave of grief rears up. I got very teary about not seeing my Mom and Dad, and May was packed full with gigs, family stuff, birthdays and general merriment. In hindsight perhaps a little too packed, and a bit of me is relieved to have the pressure taken off.

This mix of relief and grief is curious, and it’s directly related to having M.E.. May is M.E. awareness month, and it’s also my anniversary of falling ill. Seven years now – which I find baffling. I feel like I’ve learned everything and nothing. I push myself. I always have, and it seems that I always will. I have a brain that is always leaping forward or back, and a body that can no longer keep up. I suspect this aspect of my nature may be the reason I ended up with this dratted thing, along with our culture of “pushing through” any kind of illness or sadness. I’ve always lived at extremes and my response to M.E. is no different.  I’m either extremely busy, pushing myself, or extremely incapacitated. Over the last seven years I’ve learned to accept this. Adopting a measured, managed life isn’t likely to happen, and I’m coming to terms with the extremes, and coming to terms with the fact that every activity I throw myself into will have a consequence (usually in the shape of two or three days in bed). Giving my body time to recover is crucial, and perhaps this enforced return to simplicity is doing that.

The sharp eyed amongst you will notice this isn’t Yorkshire

May also marks the beginning of a new poetry course, Walking and Writing. As many of you know, walking is a challenge for me and I’ve not been able to do any sort of coastal or hill walks for the last seven years. I was disappointed when I read the title – assuming that I wouldn’t be able to take part and it was only reading a chance comment that made me realize I could. Our prompts are a mix of videos, articles and local legend, which we take and build into a piece of poetry or short fiction. This week we’re on the coast of Yorkshire, and spending a morning watching the sea whilst wondering about dragons has been marvellous. I can’t recommend Wendy’s courses enough – whether you’re a beginner, seasoned poet or somewhere in between you’ll find inspiration and a spark of joy. I’m back in love with writing again, and I’ve said goodbye to that square peg feeling of not being good enough for the poetry world. I’m still a square peg, but I’m learning to love my corners. On that note, here’s a poem I wrote as part of last month’s course, which was published on Pendemic. Our brief was to write a ballad, in response to the concept of telling it to the bees. I worked in the traditional ballad form complete with rhymes. This isn’t a fashionable form but I like the way it lilts along.

Ballad of the Bees


He said he knew how I felt

when I told how my world had grown small,

when I told of my fears, my guilt,

that I could have spread it at all.


He buzzed about days in the hive

when they realised all was not well,

described colleagues crawling with flies,

bouncer bees growing fierce with the bell.


He couldn’t explain where it came from,

he couldn’t explain what to do;

distancing wasn’t an option,

pollen can’t be gathered by few.


His buzz grew loud as I cried

for people I thought I might lose,

wondering whether my life

could return to be what I choose.


It grew louder as though there were thousands

hovering over his wake,

I looked on further horizons,

realised my part in his fate.


I accept that my world may be shrinking,

I accept change has to be made.

I’m embarrassed this bee has more inkling

of the collective impact we create.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading. Please comment (feedback is nectar to a writer) and please share this post wherever you’d like, just click the buttons below or to the side.

Kathryn xx

Year seven, week two

What does M.E. feel like? Like a holiday. No, seriously it does. Like a holiday where you’ve gone down with the food poisoning the guide book warned you about, and you’re bravely/bitterly waving everyone off to climb up a hill or eat some delicious food.

I’m clinging on. Physically I wake up feeling a little worse each morning. My arms, legs, feet all have a dull ache and weirdly limited range of movement. I sat at my desk this morning, full of grand plans to apply for some more freelance work, and

get another batch of submissions in. I managed one before my brain slowed and fogged. Without work there’s no spare money to study, or enter competitions, or go to readings or buy the magazines I want to be part of.

You get it, I know. You’ve been following this blog, and you’ve read it all before. It’s groundhog day. Dull, tedious and repetitive. I’m striking things out of my diary, missing birthdays, wondering if I’ve been overambitious in my plans for the year, wondering if I’ll be well enough to get the seeds sown or the garden tidied, or sort out my desk. My world is a small white room and it’s getting smaller.

Year three

I’m at the start of my third year of writing “seriously” and my seventh year of having M.E.. I feel less than terrific about both of these things. If I compare to this time last year, when I was merrily writing travel pages, and confidently submitting here, there and everywhere, things feel considerably less buoyant. I feel considerably less buoyant. Sinkable, in fact.

I’m trying to muster positivity, but the bare fact is M.E. is limiting my life. It feels kind of good to say that out loud.And kind of awful. I try to downplay the impact and try to “be positive” but my reality is that I have about four useful hours each day. I frequently go over those, sometimes deliberately, sometimes through guilt, and very occasionally because I’m having too much fun to stop. Then my body makes me. No option. I’m on day five of my post Christmas crash. This year’s festive period was particularly tricky, and I’m not surprised I’m so ill. I’m just sick of being sick. There’s so much I want to do, and so much that needs to be done to try to make things better, lying at home feels both privileged and pathetic.

How to regain hope then? I’m struggling to find the answer. I’ve a nagging feeling that I need to calm down, stop pushing and start enjoying the minutes of wellness that I have. Ha. It’s impossible. I love the ups and downs and adrenaline. Recognising what is important is the hardest thing. Perfection is subjective, and my lens changes every five minutes. Mostly I need to rest, but while body has a way of just “stopping” my mind won’t quit, and I can’t even divert myself by reading or watching a good film. Or a terrible film. Even Gone with the Wind has failed to distract.

I usually end these moany posts with a flash of perkiness, but in all honesty I haven’t got one. I am writing again. I just need to regrow my skin.

Thanks for reading, and any hints and tips are gratefully received x

Relapse perhaps

Relapse perhaps

I’ve been dreading this. I’ve had eighteen months of being less ill. Not well but being less ill. I’d figured out how much rest I need to allow before and after doing stuff (one day for having my mom over to lunch, two days for going to see some friends, four days for something huge like a festival) and I’ve got to admit I felt like I’d found a balance. A new normal, as I’m fond of saying. I still had the odd curve ball, like needing to take a chunk of time out if I’ve washed my hair, and I still have to make sure I don’t get over confident and think I can do all the things I used to do but overall things felt more manageable.

Enter a random viral infection. An innocuous, if unpleasant, stomach bug descends, and I’m back to square one. Everything is harder than it was last year, I’m cancelling a quiet lunch with some very old friends, and a trip to see a band I love (frustratingly this one was a free visit because of feedback I gave the venue on their accessibility facilities). I’m back to dreading the shopping delivery because I don’t know how I’m going to unpack it, back to getting out of breath folding socks and back to being scared that I’ve finally pushed too far. It’s like living on a really dull knife edge. I probably won’t get cut to shreds, but there’s still a chance of falling to certain doom.

The big issue of course is my writing. I’m so grateful to my editor at Big Star for understanding that I can’t take on heaps of work at a time, but it’s beyond frustrating to have to turn it down. I’m hopeful I can carry on with my Secret Severn work, but each visit takes more recovery, and the week of the trail will be a bigger challenge than expected. I get in a vicious circle when these patches happen – I can’t carry out basic care like making sure I’m taking in good nutrition, so I can’t get my body stronger to recover. It’s a pickle, and I’m hopeful it’ll be short lived.

As ever, your kind support makes a huge difference, and nothing is nicer than a random “how are you” in my in-box. Thank you for you continued care and for making me feel valuable. It’s quite lonely in this pretty place. Despite the wonder of owning the fluffiest cat in the world.