Season’s change

I detect a change in my outlook this autumn. For many years, this time of year has been a source of dread, a time to gather strength and hope I emerge on the other side of winter. Not this year. Many things I think contribute, but the overwhelming difference is that I feel more connected to the rhythm of the natural world. For many years I worked for a high street optician, squirreled away in a shopping mall or in an office in one of the less appealing parts of Birmingham. This meant that for half the year, my only time outside was a chilly sandwich on a bench in a carpark, or a glimpse of a starling murmuration as I waited for the bus home, and because retail means weekend working the opportunity to spend time absorbing and simply being in the outside world just didn’t happen.

Since contracting M.E., and having to switch careers, I’ve felt an increased awareness of the subtle shift of the  seasons, the way that on some days in spring plants seem to grow by the second. My senses have become heightened, scent is sought, the unique texture of a leaf is treasured, each bird is greeted with a friendly hello. My neighbours are used to me.

This shift in attitude has grown even more this year, for two reasons. The first is my work as columnist for Spelt magazine. My concept Micro Spelt, was to harness and describe the subtle changes I see each day, and to explore and express how these make me feel, how they help me connect. There is some frustration in there too of course, but on the whole, Micro Spelt is a place of positivity and solace in the simplest of things. Research for the column has led me down paths rich with myth and folklore, and I’ve discovered an aspect to the rural, to the natural world that chimes loud and long.

Alongside this forced focus on what’s in my backyard, I’ve developed a more disciplined routine. I realise my useful hours are in the morning, and that by getting up a little earlier I gain more scope to use my energy wisely. I begin the day by journaling, some days a few pages, some days a line or two saying that I don’t want to journal. I always look out at the trees, and I always notice the change in hue, or density of leaf. They’ve  become a companion to my morning, and a way to wind down at the end of the day.

Taking this time to focus, before the business of writing web content or just the day to day of trying to live with M.E. begins has made for better writing too. I’m more confident in the work I produce, and feel that that elusive, and slightly snigger worthy concept, of finding my voice is becoming more real. I understand why I write and understand what I want to achieve by writing. I also understand that this will change and shift as my interests and worries alter. I’m happy to have had several pieces of work selected  for publication recently, for various small presses including Dreich, Broken Sleep Books and Lighthouse. These are publications I have enormous respect for, and genuinely considered beyond my reach.

My progress as a poet has always been slow and steady, but where before I felt bewildered and baffled by the whole business of publication, I’ve reached a point where I am writing what I believe needs to be heard, and publication is secondary. I’m spending huge amounts of time honing my skills, learning my craft if you like, and gaining courage to work with others, read aloud and take steps in  to the poetry community proper. I feel just a little more confident, and a little more like my work is good enough to share. My pamphlet is out for submission, and whilst I desperately want it to be accepted, I have steeled myself against the inevitability of disappointment. I’ve realised that often just a small change to a piece of work will elevate it to being something that many will want to read, and the combination of a little more confidence in what I write, and a lot more ability to make changes as needed means that work not being selected is just a sign that it wasn’t quite ready. Of course, it doesn’t always feel like this – there are many hand-wringing days of frustration too, but I feel much more measured about the whole business than I did a couple of years ago.

The next few of months will be spent completing my Crafting and Redrafting course with the university of York centre for lifelong learning, working on bespoke poetry commissions, as well as a couple of projects around creating poetry postcards in collaboration with local artists and artisans. Then, next year, I may, just may begin to distil ideas for a full collection. Maybe.

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

Three great things that have happened this week

Having an illness like M.E. creates many unexpected twists* and forces change. Losing social life, the security of regular work, the simple convenience of popping to the supermarket to get a few bits for tea creates a sense of disorientation and a whisper of fear.

These are things I’ve spent the last seven years adjusting to and things that are now “normal”, and perhaps not unexpected.

What I didn’t expect was that having an illness like M.E. would create opportunities. I certainly didn’t expect those opportunities to be quite so close to being what I’ve always dreamt of.

Columnist for Spelt Magazine

Opportunity number one is being part of Spelt Magazine.This morning I had my first meeting with editor Wendy Pratt and I’m just fizzing with excitement.

Spelt sets out to do something different – it seeks to capture  the brilliance of the natural world, but also the reality of living in a rural environment. From our chat this morning it’s clear this is going to be a magazine that amplifies the voice of those who don’t feel part of the edgy urban scene, but certainly don’t identify with the cosy lifestyle version of the countryside presented by other magazines. It’s something that excites me, something that I think is valuable, and somewhere that I think I fit – which is a wonderful thing to be able to say.

I’m not going to say too much about the column, other than I’m hoping to create something uplifting that brings a smile on gloomy days and gives a window into tiny joys.  

I’m so excited about this new role – I’m even using my beloved Ciak notebook. Makes a change from recycling envelopes.

Bursary from Raven Studios

My second opportunity comes in the form of a bursary courtesy of Raven Studios in Shrewsbury. Raven Studios is an incredible organisation that offers creative space and support to all manner of artists. My bursary is essentially buying me time to write – as you know M.E. means my physical and mental resources are limited and often writing to pay the bills takes precedent over creative work. My goal is to give around the 5 hours a week to developing poetry for a pamphlet that explores mental and physical health – it’s still in an embryonic stage, but I’m excited to have a new project to work on, and to have support from such a vibrant group of artists.

Learning how to be a better poet

You may remember I had to curtail my formal study with OCA – for many reasons it just wasn’t working, plus the fees proved to be overwhelming. What I have discovered is the wealth of courses available to help me develop as a writer. These range from simple prompt-a-day courses (I say simple – they’ve been the single best thing I’ve done), to more involved courses like those run by the York Centre for Life Long Learning or Poetry School. Thanks to a gift from Santa, I’ve been able to enrol on three courses this year, one looking at women writers, exploring body and illness and one looking at how to put together a themed collection. The last two are particularly exciting given my new project with Raven Studios.

So, here ends the post. It’s a grim month after a grim year, and the day to day is hard. I miss all the things! Despite the many lacks, I’m so excited about what the next few months will bring. More than anything I realise how much I’ve learnt since my diagnosis in 2013.

As ever, thanks for reading

Kathryn

xx

*my less than accurate tying created the phrase “M.E. creates many unexpected twits.” I’m not entirely sure that was a typo.