How to write a book

Steven King famously answers this question with “one word after another” . It’s something that’s both simple and hideously complicated, joyful and soul wrenching. This time last week I was glum. Bereft, full of regret at trying, at sending my heart out to the world to be read and responded to.

A wise friend then responded, with simple physiology – perhaps I was in an adrenaline dip, after the push of publication, the rivers of courage it had taken to reach this point. And of course she was right. It meant a lot to read such an intelligent, caring message, and meant a lot to feel heard.

Dust is on another part of its journey today – I’m taken copies to two fabulous bookshops – The Poetry Pharmacy in Bishop’s Castle, and Ironbridge Bookshop down the road in Ironbridge. It’s very exciting and I’m thrilled at the prospect of seeing my books on a real life bookshelf. The good news is that booksellers are kind, friendly people who understand those of us who aren’t quite so peopley. I came away from my visits feeling valued. And I even signed my first book.

As these things so often go, this week has been more positive. So many people have got in touch to describe what my words, and Saffron’s images, have meant to them. I write to connect with others and goodness, this book has connected. I feel less afraid, and less foolish this week. Turns out for me the thing I need to write is a little encouragement, a little positivity sent my way.

I am dipping my toes back in to the world of submissions and gathering my work together in earnest. I was of a mind that I’d written nothing this year (never let it be said I’m over dramatic). I’ve sat this morning with my notebook. So many poems. Some decent. One about a seagull covered in turmeric. One about a macaw in a hat. And that’s just from one course taken at the very start of the year. There have been poems this year. I have just forgotten them.

And of course, this is the reality. The work of poetry takes time. Writing is the easy (!) bit. Redrafting, researching publishers, understanding threads and themes – that’s the tough bit. I have about four hours a week to spend on poetry things, and for the last six months those four hours have been devoted to all things Dust. Which may be why I feel I’ve “done nothing” this year.

As another voice of wisdom said, Dust has been a side quest (and a very worthwhile one), now I’m ready to get back to the main adventure, with a clutch of amulets to strengthen me.

Wish me luck , and thank you

Kathryn

What’s good about 2021?

It’s hard to know how to pitch these posts at the moment. There is so much that is grim, and so many people dealing with truly awful things that my tiny life, in a tiny corner of Coalbrookdale hardly seems relevant. It’s not – but then of course it is. These tiny things are what keep me going, and what give me hope. As you read, know I’m not ignorant of the wider issues, I’m just guessing if you wanted to read about them you’d go to an expert. There is enough talk and bluster scattered across social media without my adding to it.

Early morning in Coalbrookdale

Caveat laid, I’m going to confess that my year has started well. I have lots of copywriting work, a calm Christmas means January is free from its usual stuttered start, and despite everything I feel ok. Sometimes even happy. Part of this is the years of training in loving the small things – seeing thrushes and finches from my window, squealing with delight at a swoop of long-tailed tits or relishing friends’ wonderful photos of frosty mornings are enough to brighten a moment and a day. I’m writing again, after a small hiatus driven by the shock and upset of the potential build opposite, and as you may have seen on my social media pages, I’ve had some great news about a submission.

Winter light at Wenlock Edge

What’s the news?

At the end of last summer a small publishing house put out a call for pamphlet submissions, with a special call for newer writers – ones with a smattering of publication but not much more. Whilst Yes to Tigers was an interesting project, and I learnt a lot, it didn’t quite feel like my work. This opportunity presents something different – a chance for publication by an actual poetry press. I’m on the longlist, which means there is a way to go before I know if my work will be published, but getting this far is a great feeling, especially with a set of poems that means so much to me.

Why is having a poetry pamphlet published such a big deal?

Essentially it’s the next step – it means I have a collection of work that I feel confident enough to send to a publisher, who will decide if they think enough people will buy it to make it worth printing, marketing and all the other elements that go towards making poetry publication. It means I understand how to put together a set of poems that link and flow, and that I can see how the order might be, and understand a reader’s point of view. I may not get any further than being longlisted (which will make me sad, of course) but that just means I have a bit more to learn. If I compare with how I felt about my writing this time last year, this is a great place to be.

What am I working on at the moment?

This time of year is a good study time for me – no gardening means more time and energy. As well as various courses, including one on women writers, which I’m ridiculously excited about, I’m delving into How to Grow Your Own Poem by Kate Clanchy – it’s a collection of exercises, poems and prompts and is just what I need to coax my poets brain out of December. In terms of submissions and the like I’m holding back a little – my poetry brain needs a bit of time to just enjoy writing, although I’m hoping to reopen my for comissions at the end of the month.

Right now though, it’s time to just enjoy writing.

Thanks for reading, and I hope bright things happen for your day, however tiny.

Kathryn xx

Trees and unknown normality

I’ve found myself complaining a lot over the last few weeks. It’s not sitting well. Whilst I have bouts of gloom, I’m not generally a complainer. I’m a keeper of gratitude diaries, a giver of personal pep talks, a reluctant Pollyanna. Counting my blessings is second nature – I’m aware it’s not hard – I have food, warmth, safe home. Still these last few weeks I hear myself moaning about things that shouldn’t bother me – trees blocking a bit more light in my yard than I’d like (SAD begins to creep around at this time of year) envy of those with big skies and wide views, moaning about a misplaced sock or overlooked watering. I don’t like what I’m hearing.

Alongside this is an utter lack of creativity. Not a note, a scrap and scribble.  I can barely read let alone write. I’m not sure if my brain is just overwhelmed by the awfulness in the news (although that’s usually fuel not foe) or I’m having to readjust to being in social situations after several months of solitude. It feels like the good creative part of my brain has twisted shut, and all that seeps out are petty grumbles.

Perhaps I just need a change of scene – like many people I’ve only left my home county once since the beginning of March. It’s not a terrible place to be by any means, but think the fact that many of my anchors, the things that make me feel like me, have been removed has left me a little rudderless. I miss the rush and collectivism of live music; I miss travelling to different places and seeing the similarities in human nature as well as the vast differences in culture.  I miss the way the light falls differently, the new scents that characterise a country. I miss living.

Missing these things is a privilege in itself of course. It means I’ve travelled, been able to afford both money and time to enjoy music. It means I have a partner who genuinely loves the things I love. My normal doesn’t suit everyone, and the world’s normal certainly didn’t suit me. At the beginning of lockdown, I was of the mind that it was quite nice, having all these gigs streamed, and joining various zoom quizzes, being able to go to museums and galleries online – things that M.E. has curtailed in real life. Six months in I’ve realised that these things are only a sticking plaster. I need that feeling of being with people I feel myself with, that feeling of community, of a common love and it doesn’t happen through a screen. I know that the future is bound to be different, but I’m scared we are going to lose the things that make being human a rich and vivid thing. The curated perfection of a screen is no match for a flawed, emotionally charged performance, or that moment when I stand back from a painting in a gallery and feel my synapses fizz with excitement. It’s no match for sitting around laughing a daft tv program with friends you’ve not seen for years, sitting down to share food you’ve cooked together, no match for the excitement of walking into a dingy nightclub an hearing the music you love, knowing it’s going to be a good night.

I feel curiously better now I’ve written this – I’m not a complainer. I’m just struggling a bit with being in one place for six months and so everything from overgrown trees to misplaced socks is starting to feel too much too Pollyanna my way out of. Reading back, this seems like a normal enough response to a six month lockdown.

Hopefully creativity will spring back soon. Until then, wear your mask, wash your hands, read widely and critically.

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.

Pots and porcelain paper clay – Mike and Suki White

My last visit before the trail was to Mike and Suki White. They’re multi-talented, working with print, clay, and porcelain as well as being part of Wrekin Writers group. Their studio is tucked behind the Belfrey Theatre in Wellington, and it’s shared with several other ceramicists on the art trail.

On the day I visited, Mike was throwing pots, and Suki was working with porcelain paper clay. Mike explained the type of clay he was using, and about “grog”, ground up fired clay that’s used to give extra strength to pots.

As all good artists do, he made throwing the pots look effortless. Having taken up the invitation to have a go, I can confirm it’s not effortless. My attempts were hilarious, but I can see there’s something addictive about the feeling of creating something that manages to be useful and beautiful from a simple piece of clay.

There’s no fancy equipment, the finished shape and look of each piece depends entirely on the skill of the potter, and I think there’s something pleasing about this. Rather than something uniform and a little soulless, each piece that comes off the wheel has the imprint of the maker and is inherently unique.

One of Mike’s finished pieces

Suki’s work porcelain paper clay enchanted me. Porcelain is white, delicate and fragile – Suki takes all of these qualities and creates pieces that have movement, and a sense of rebellion. They’re alive with texture, and the oxides she uses mean they have depth and tone. She prefers to leave her pieces unglazed, and the matt finish increases the sense of fragility.

I loved this piece
One of Suki’s finished pieces

We chatted about the Japanese practice of Kintsugi, the art of seeing beauty in imperfection. Suki showed me some pieces she’s applied this to, where cracks from the kiln have been repaired with gold, creating a piece with a unique beauty.

Suki’s Kintsugi

I’ve a good collection of material from this visit. I made good notes about the sounds and physical sensations of throwing a pot, as well as spending time looking at the contrasting beauty of the porcelain paper clay.

Over the next week I’ll be going to several workshops as well as spending time in the galleries. This is the next phase of my inspiration gathering and research, where I’m going to capture the responses of viewers to the art they’re seeing. I’m looking forward to this phase, and to seeing the exhibition as a whole.

You can see Suki and Mike’s work at Footprint gallery as part of the Secret Severn art trail, and find out more about their work on their Facebook pages https://p.facebook.com/sukitelford/ and https://www.facebook.com/MikeWhitePots

For details about the Footprint gallery, and the rest of the trail which includes workshops and open studios visit https://secretsevern.co.uk/

Thank you for your kind support and encouragement during this project. It’s great to get such positive feedback. I’m looking forward to the next week, but I’m especially looking forward to being able to hide away with my notes and write.

Please share, comment on the Facebook post, and give me all the likes you can. Thank you x

Kathryn xEDIT

Feeling like a tortoise

As well as my Secret Severn research, I’ve been polishing my competition submissions. I’ve had to pare back my entries this year, partly because of cost, and partly because I’ve tried to adopt a more intelligent approach.

When I first started entering and submitting, I was so nervous I just pinged poems to every publication that came up. I had some success, but this year I’ve tried a more measured approach. I suppose I’m seeking quality over quantity. I’ve also got over that first rush of excitement about having work published, and moved back to being focused on creating work that I feel proud of, and that I need to write.

I’ve been struggling to write anything new, partly because I’ve been busy, and partly because my brain is having one of its tired phases. I recognise the signs now and know that it’s just the M.E. rather than anything else. Now I’ve got my submissions off, I’m taking a week or so away from it all, before refocusing on Secret Severn for the rest of September and into October. It’s time to read my favourite chilled out writers, maybe dip in and out of some new poetry I’ve got on my bedside table, and spend a bit of time in fields listening to new music.

As ever, getting people to engage with what I write means a lot – if you’ve read this far thank you!

I’d love it if you’d like the post on my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/KathrynAnnaWrites/
and if you’ve a moment to comment on any of my social media posts, it increases visibility.

Thank you!

Con

-fidence. A curious thing. Mine hasn’t completely gone, but it has burrowed down. Hibernating perhaps. The idea of confidence as a darting squirrel fits for me. Flitting around, sparkling briefly, then dashing off, spooked by a noise or image that even it isn’t sure exists.

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This month brings an odd state of transition. Summer has definitely departed, and I am delighted to return to soup and enormous jumpers but uneasy about the dark days and cold gloom. More and more I find comfort is hollow in the face of the stream of distress and disquiet that grows stronger with each scroll of the page. This raises questions about purpose and value and the need for tiny poems. Is there something else I should be doing ?  Then of course I think of the words I have read and listened to and the comfort and power they bring, and the possibility of creating something similar has to become my goal.At the moment though,  I feel at an utter loss as to how make a valid change in the face of horror that unfolds daily.

I am uneasy around work that seeks to be overtly empathetic. I cannot know how it feels to be in the situations that flood my news feeds and media. I do not want to patronise, or offer emotional tourism. All I know is how watching injustice and feeling powerless grinds at my brain, raising questions of validity. So perhaps that is the thing to write about.  I am not so bold as to say that anything I write will be of influence or value, but the resurgence in spoken word and accessible poetry has to be a positive thing. Taking poetry away from being the preserve of those who know their villanelle from their sestina means confident voices and experimental strength. The more people who begin to consider writing and speaking out then the more people begin thinking about how they actually feel about what’s going on.  And if we all keep thinking and writing and speaking out, then things might just change.

 

Fear

Fear passes from man to man
Unknowing,
As one leaf passes its shudder
To another.

All at once the whole tree is trembling,
And there is no sign of the wind.

Charles Simic

 

 

Tiny specks of joy

This has been a decent week. I’ve spent a bit of time with friends, and found myself feeling safe and happy with them. This is an unusual occurrence. It’s quite simply about being able to be honest and say how things are (without fear it’ll come back to bite me). People I can do this with are rare and cherished.

Now, what has this to do with writing  ? Or indeed M.E. ? Quite simply it’s about energy levels. Being on guard in case I say the wrong thing takes a great deal of my resources. Working hard to say the right thing takes a few more, and dealing with the fallout of rigorous assessment finishes them up.  It’s not a happy outcome and leaves little room for anything else. By contrast, being with people who gently care and listen rather than judge , is an uplifting and affirming experience. I spend less time ruminating, which means more time for other things, like writing.

I’ve moved on to my second assignment for the Poetry School. I’m enjoying the course a great deal. It’s a challenging theme, but the process of writing and feeding back works well,and helps me develop courage as well as writerly skills. Go to Poems (work in progress) to read more. 
 Your feedback and comments are very welcome.

 

A quiet week in many ways. But a positive one. The sun is shining, and my dear cat is still impossibly fluffy. img_20170329_112323216