Do something that scares you every day

This phrase attributed to the remarkable Eleanor Roosevelt is perhaps a little overused. It’s has become the preserve of a particular type of leadership conference, and a particular type of motivational sign – both of which are rather irritating. What of the phrase itself though? Is this useful practice? Does scaring myself benefit me?

I think it does. One of the bonuses of living with anxiety, and being the queen of catastrophising means that pretty much everything scares me – some days it takes all my courage to take out the bins. I’m also a big believer that fear exists to protect us, and that there are some things that are do not need to be done (bungee jumpers I’m looking at you). I’ve done scary things that I will never do again, like being on the back of a moped in Saigon, and others that have given me courage to repeat the experience, like being brave enough to read my column at the launch of issue two of Spelt magazine, or simply to submit my work for publication.

Camera complete with emotional support Pukeko

With this in mind, I’m about to embark on a new venture – I’m hoping to record a collection of poetry readings. It’s something that feels essential if I want to help my work reach a wider audience. It also scares the living daylights out of me. Nonetheless, I have a little camera, I’ve figured out the software and I’m almost ready to roll . My first recording will be on Sunday morning, and I hope to upload shortly afterwards so watch this space!


A few English haiku about faking bravery on the back of a vespa in Saigon

Exactly what the title says. Hope you enjoy them. If you get to the end there’s a short poem about a journey on an ox cart too.

Haiku after faking bravery on the back of a Vespa in Saigon

My helmet alerts
I am tourist, in letters
and mew fear of death.

A thousand thousand
drawn to this neon white noise
cloud promise of life.

I almost hear air.
Knuckles tighten, grip safety bar
metal slick with fear.

Street lights beckon you
hey, why not cross? Scooter horn
says hi. Heels are silent.

From an ox-cart in Cambodia

Wood on wood on earth
rings bells of then.
Hear “hello”
we forget
to respond
in Khmer.

How to wait

I have no idea. I am terrible at waiting. I pace and clock watch, tap and huff. I loathe being at the mercy of someone else. I am very much in limbo at the moment. The shortlist for Primers has not emerged, I’m waiting for my first assignment from The Poetry School, and the flow of work from my favourite copy-writing agency has stemmed a little.

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I’m terrible at waiting, but I can make decent Yorkshire Puddings.

The only one of these things I’ve been able to anything about is the paid work, and I’ve found a few straightforward online spots that post plenty of jobs to tide me over. It isn’t as satisfying as working on the more in-depth articles,but at least I get that feeling of value that “working” gives.

Regarding the creative side, well, I’ve just got to wait. I seem to have got my brain in to a loop, where it won’t start any new work until I know how I’ve done with my submission. I think I’m looking for either reassurance that I’m on the right track, or some indication that I need to do things differently. Of course, if I’m not selected, it doesn’t necessarily mean that, it just means my work isn’t quite right for this publisher. I’d still like to know though.

Health is creeping back up. It’s been hard getting over all the fun of August, and as ever I’ve made the mistake of pushing too hard. I’m not sure I’ll ever learn or allow myself not to.  Winter gloom has threatened, but has been chased off by doing that age old thing of telling people who know and care. I have learnt that at least.

Not a great deal of news. I may go and make some soup to take my mind off all the pending possibilities.


How a Bathtub Can Change Your Life (with thanks to Rishi Dastidar)


One of my favourite books about learning to be a good writer is the marvellous How to be a Poet. It’s utterly nonsense free, useful and down to earth. I love it. Chapter twenty-three has the wonderful title “How a Bathtub Can Change Your Life”. I cried a bit when I read this chapter, not because it’s sad, but because it captures how I feel so beautifully. I also laughed, especially at the description of what happens when any poet starts to talk about their work. Then cried a bit again because it’s true.

Rishi also talks about copywriting as being a great job for a poet, which is handy.  I genuinely love doing the work I do. A dear friend said recently “I know it’s not your dream writing, but it’s good to be doing it” and I understand what she meant, but doing this kind of  is my dream. Writing anything is a joy to me. Getting paid to write things is incredibly useful. Having it as a main job, that works around M.E., rather than shoehorning it into a career that never really suited me is fantastic. I love words whether reading, hearing or singing them. I’m one of those people who’ll read the back of a ketchup bottle or cornflake packet just because it’s there ( cornflakes contain 5mg Niacin if you’re interested).

A big part of learning to be a better writer has been getting over the snobbery I had. I thought the only good books were the classics, or serious literary tomes, and that a good piece of writing was characterised by how many times the reader had to pick up a dictionary because I knew such terribly clever words. Long words are delicious, but if they’re just used to show off  they’re like a plate of nouvelle cuisine when all you want is a decent pie. Writing can be challenging and need a little exploration but it doesn’t have to be so oblique that understanding it is near impossible. I said in an earlier blog that the feeling when something I’ve written captures a thread that resonates with someone else is wonderful. I don’t need to use extravagantly clever words to do that.

On that note, it’s time to get to work.

How to be a Poet  and Ticker Tape by Rishi Dastidar can be found at Nine Arches Press


I’ve been wondering about this since I took this photograph. Other than the obvious barriers such as my health, or a massive fluffy cat what stops me writing? Why is it that I will happily knuckle down to paid work but flit about finding things to tidy when I want to tackle something creative?

It’s fear. Fear of failure. Judgment. The unknown. With my work for blogs and the like I know what’s expected (mostly) and I know I can do it. Creative work is a different beast. I know what’s expected, but I also know that the most joyful moment as a reader is finding something I don’t expect. I have to find out what that is and quite frankly it’s a puzzle.

When I’m stuck I read. Read and read and read. Then I get it. I just need to tell the story. I’m learning how I work. It takes a while for my story to germinate and grow and that those first seed leaves will fade and be forgotten once the story has bloomed. I need to know what story I’m truly telling before I know how to tell it.

I’ll tackle the other barriers another day. Once the cat’s moved.

As ever, please like share and subscribe. My progress is slow and I’m very impatient! The ongoing support I receive really does make a difference.


“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

It may be a shock to discover I’m not a massive fan of martial arts films so this quote is new to me. It worked so well for me today I thought I’d share it with you.

I’m trudging through the last part of my OCA module. Attitude is everything of course and I was aware I needed to approach my work in a positive way but I didn’t know what to do. When I found myself cleaning behind radiators, I figured I needed to stop avoidance tactics and face up to this last section. I flicked through Short Circuit and fell upon an essay by Claire Wigfall who talks in detail about how she creates her characters. I tried her technique and what do you know it’s worked. I’ve got a story rumbling around and characters that I want to find out about.

Character is what I am good at, what I enjoy reading and what I enjoy writing. People fascinate and terrify and I have an eye and ear for the details and oddities that make a person unique.

I realised what’s happened. I’ve been guided to try so many different styles (magical realism or sci-fi for example) and as a result I’ve lost sight of my characters. My initial thought was that I’d wasted the last few months. Perhaps not. Perhaps I’ve realised that an interesting story can only ever be built on an interesting, rounded character. No amount of quirky imaginative details will make up for a character that is laden with stereotypes. I knew this but I had become distracted by trying out new techniques and styles. I’m frustrated that I have wasted a bit of time but I’m happy that I’ve come back to such a basic truth.

Which brings me back to the wise words at the beginning of this post.

A change……

is as good as a rest.


As it happens I’ve had both. It is wonderful how a break from the microscope of daily life has shown me a way to feel a little less trapped. Being awed by extraordinary natural beauty, has left me hungry for the world away from this corner of Shropshire, and shown me that perhaps I can escape. After a week I was able to feel myself breathing more confidently, moving assuredly away from worrying whether Mrs Miggins down the road thought I was a bit of a lazy madam and moving away from trying to squish and squash myself to make myself more palatable to others. The need to be liked is a powerful one but I have been at my most miserable when I have allowed it to dominate my behaviour. It doesn’t seem to matter quite so much when I have other things to look at.  What to do with this new found sense of freedom ? Not a lot. Just try to turn the mirror outwards, consider my behaviour in terms of how it makes others feel instead of being tied up in how I think they make me feel.



What I write has improved too. I have enjoyed seeing new things and seeing different people, from so many countries and cultures. Perspective is a curious thing that shifts and shimmers and I’m never sure my view is quite true. Being jolted from the norm has been a good thing.

I’m still obsessed with poetry and have countless scribblings on napkins and receipts and there are some that I think may bloom. I’ve given myself a week to recombobulate and trawl through my eight-hundred and ninety-seven photographs before starting a more structured writing schedule next week. I have the last part of writing short fiction to finish, and a raft of material to fashion into submission worthy poems. Conveniently my next chapter in How to be a Poet  bears the title On Submitting to Magazines and Journals:The Patented Jo Bell Method. It has tables and whatnot, plus SEND THE BLIGHTERS OFF written on the first page.

Watch this space.


Today is world poetry day. This can only be a good thing.

I am reading How to be a Poet by Jo Bell and Jane Commane. It is a wonderful handbook and a collection of some of the most useful thoughts about thinking, writing and being……crikey I’m stumbling to write this…….being a poet, that I have read. If you’ve read any of my previous posts you’ll know I’ve been I’ve been having a tricky time lately with my health and a general sense of disquiet. I’m finding a great deal of solace in writing but I am struggling to still the voice that tells me I am a charlatan, a fanciful middle aged woman. The voice that says I am wasting my time. is helping me to get over the drama, and get on with the writing. It’s the book equivalent of a stern talking to, with a great deal of wisdom. A trusted friend, if you like.

Here is a quote I read today , in a chapter contributed by by Robert Peake.

“in the end,success over the long term for me comes down to:staying alive, staying in the game, and staying in love with poetry. ”

If I can remember this I can maintain a sense of perspective. The world feels quite spiky and unsafe at the moment, globally and personally. Writing, specifically writing poetry, helps me unpack and make order for all the feelings that trample all over each other in their rush to escape my mind. I need to work and work and work to create a good poem but before I do any of that, I need to write. To do that I need to stay in love with writing. And to do that I need to stay in love with reading.

Here is one of my favourite poems from The Book of Tides, by Angela Readman.

The Woman Who Could Not Say Goodbye

He’ll come to hear it soon enough, by the door

where a woman can simply put herself out with the milk.

The air there is ivory, cool as a piano key worn

by notions of leaving that didn’t play out. It is not a sole

act, farewell, but a language slow as wood smoke

doving the wall over the hearth. He’ll come to learn

the so longs she laid all around the house. Carved

into couches, an embrace of absence, sags where he can sit

and observe her slow bow, stowed in the snowdrops

she placed in a vase. So suddenly, the clothes lines

look like unwritten confessions in diaries. The horizon is

a closed ballroom where days of the week refuse to dance.

How to be a Poet and The Book of Tides are both available from Nine Arches Press

Looking up

I’ve learnt a lot from my feedback for assignment three of Writing Short Fiction. It wasn’t as glowing as previous feedback, and looking back through what I had submitted I can see why. You may remember from previous posts that I’ve been struggling with everything lately. In hindsight I should have taken a break earlier, rather than pushing myself to beat a deadline that exists for no one but myself.

The main things I’ve learnt are

  • Don’t get distracted by form. The story has to be king.
  • Write what you know. Yes, I’m still trying to write in a way that I think is perhaps a little more clever, or literary. I need to stop it.
  • Be authentic.
  • Stop when I know I should stop.

I think I’ve read so many things saying there is no such thing as writers block and I should just write through it ( which I agree with), that I have tried to apply the same to M.E.. Foolish. As a wise woman said to me, “you rest your body, so you need to rest your mind”. Those who know me know my mind is full of four hundred and eighty-seven things at once, so this is a challenge. I have taken the challenge up, and now spend ten minutes each morning watching the birds from my window. Just watching the birds. Not thinking about things I wish I’d said, or what I need to put on the shopping list. Just watching the birds eat and flutter and fight and generally be wonderful. Pulling my mind back every time it wanders is hard, but I hope it will help me to learn to focus on one thing. Ridiculously, the only time I truly focus is when I write. Not resting stops me doing the one thing that means my mind is less fragmented.

I am seeing benefits already my brain seems to be coming back to itself. I’ve given myself a less punishing schedule for the rest of my course, and I hope that I will be writing well again soon. The nagging pressure of trying to succeed is still here ( as it should be), but I feel I have cleared a pathway that was getting overgrown.

Please comment, feedback, share and like at will.

Does your brain hurt ?

I can feel mine scrunching up, almost twitching with over-use.  The vast quantities of snow that covered Shropshire and the Gorge in particular have given me so  much time to write that I’ve managed to get myself in a bit of a pickle. I’ve always been one to push and pressurise (whilst maintaining an demeanour of not caring a jot), and I seem to have decided that the best way to tackle my degree is to race through the course in a bid to finish this module and get on to the next.

And then I had to stop. Nothing was making sense, all the reading was getting harder and I finally realised I was wasting my time. I had to give myself a talking to, and remind myself that the reason I am studying is not to get yet another piece of paper, but to be a better writer. The carrot of qualification is a powerful one, but ultimately meaningless. This is even more ridiculous when I consider that this section is on a subject I adore, is introducing me to a range of writers and leading me to revisit some of the work that has most influenced me. Racing through is making me feel rotten, dissatisfied and frustrated. It’s time to breathe, and to allow myself to enjoy what I am studying, to make the most of the opportunity. When I’ve decompressed a little, I shall write a few more posts about the stories I’ve read this week. They are stunning, and have shown me the art and beauty of short fiction.

In other news, I managed to get out to take some snow pictures, which was a wonderful thing. Being out, wearing the  unworn snow boots I bought in the excitement of the last snowy winter (2013), seeing my breath, being immersed in the bright chill of the wooded landscape, it was wonderful. I feel at home in winter.

Coalbrookdale Pools ©kam



All in all, a time of learning, both from books and from the wise, interspersed with throwing snowballs for the cat.

Unimpressed. ©kam