After the post-publication whirlwind of June, July has slowed down a pace – which I’m hugely grateful for. It’s quite fitting that my only blog post July blog post was about writers’ productivity, and the need to take a break. True, I have been doing the odd bit of writing, but most of that has been in-situ descriptions of Cornish beaches, or jotting down thoughts, or just playing around with forms and ideas. The sort of stuff that will probably never be anything finished, but is just a sort of practice. I think of it like practising scales for a musical instrument: not a finished piece, but necessary for honing skill.
So if I haven’t been writing anything fixed, what have I been doing? What does the writing life involve when there’s no fixed writing project?
Port Eliot Festival
Although my crazy 3 weeks of post-publication book events finished at the end of June, I’m still promoting My Name is Monster, at an average of roughly one festival a month. July’s festival was the wonderful Port Eliot, in Cornwall.
As well as my own event (talking alongside Yara Rodrigues Fowler, author of Stubborn Archivist), I got to enjoy the whole weekend of fantastic literary, music & comedy events. Not to mention the most amazing mussels & chips from a stall by the river. Highlights included: Robin Ince’s impression of Brian Cox as Alan Bennett; Antosh Wojcik’s incredibly moving poetry/drum show, How To Keep Time; fellow WriteNow mentee Elizabeth Jane-Burnett talking about The Grassling; Charlotte Church’s Late Night Pop Dungeon; and hearing Patrick Gale talk about his writing process.
And then, as if that weren’t enough, I decided to stay in Cornwall for a few extra days. The idea was to soak up the sunshine and spend some time sitting on the beach reading books. In reality, there was a violent storm the first night and it poured it down the entire next day – which meant I got soaked on my walk into town, and spent most of the day eating Cornish pasties & looking round the shops & museum instead. Neither of which were bad ways to spend the day, obviously.
The second day was a bit more what I’d had in mind: a 5-mile walk along the coast, past Polridmouth Beach (the inspiration for the beach in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca) and along the cliff-tops; followed by an afternoon on Polkerris Beach (snoozing and people-watching as much as reading, really); and a bracing dip in the sea.
Tidelines workshops: ‘the moon’
Speaking of festivals – I’m appearing at Tidelines festival in Grange-over-Sands on 17th August, and in the run-up to this, I ran poetry workshops in two local primary schools: Grange and Cartmel. Tying in the Usborne poetry competition about the moon, and with the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, these workshops were moon-themed. As always when I run workshops, I was bowled over by some of the things that the children came up with.
One of the exercises I gave them was to create similes & metaphors for their poems (we did this through games, and through imaginative play). Some of my stand-out favourites were:
- ‘the moon cold as a frog’s skin’
- ‘earth spinning like a lazy Susan’
- Neil Armstrong’s footprint as ‘a maths lesson of parallel lines’
Some of the children will be reading their poems at Tidelines on the morning of the 17th – and I can’t wait to hear them again.
Actively not working
Last but not least, I’ve been actively not working. This goes back to what I was talking about in my previous post, about the need to take a break. Sometimes, the brain just needs a rest. The body, too – particularly after a period of non-stop busy-ness. And let’s be honest, the last time I actually stopped and spent long periods just sitting, and being, and doing very little, was probably sometime before Christmas.
August is still less hectic than previous months have been, but I’m shifting firmly back into productivity mode. For a start, I’ve got a whole heap of admin to get on top of. Not to mention a dangerously tall pile of books on my bedside table, waiting to be read. Then, of course, I could do with getting back into writing mode – even if it is just doing fragments / little bits of observation that never go anywhere.
And I’m appearing at two festivals in August.
The first I’ve already mentioned, which is Tidelines at Grange-over-Sands on 17th August, where I’ll be talking about My Name is Monster and doing a Q&A.
The second is Edinburgh Book Festival, where I’m doing two events:
AFTER THE APOCALYPSE: an author event, talking about My Name is Monster, on Sunday 18th August, and
OPEN BOOK WITH MARIELLA FROSTRUP: a special edition of BBC Radio 4’s Open Book, alongside Michelle Paver, William Sutcliffe & Patrice Lawrence.
You can also VOTE FOR ME for the Book Festival First Book Award!
The month in books:
As I’ve already mentioned, July has been a slow month in a number of ways – and this has included in terms of books. Only 5 of them this month: four (very) contemporary novels, alongside more of a classic from the 60s – Mary McCarthy’s The Group, which was recommended to me by Julia Armfield and which I thoroughly recommened in turn!
- Remembered, by Yvonne Battle-Felton
- Starve Acre, by Andrew Michael Hurley
- Tentacle, by Rita Indiana
- Stubborn Archivist, by Yara Rodrigues Fowler
- The Group, by Mary McCarthy
Here’s to a more productive reading month in August.