My Writing Life: Week 7

You know those weeks where you think you’ll take it easy and focus on one thing, then by the end of it, you’ve created two new arts projects, drafted three new poems, written 25% of a play, read four books, kept up to date with all your admin, and somehow managed to find time for a bit of a social life as well?

No?

Well this week has been one of those.

The ‘one thing’ I was planning to focus on was the play, so actually 25% is slightly (though only slighlty) under what I wanted to write of it this week.

But, as seems to be my new norm, I’ve been slightly distracted by the poems clamouring for space in my head. I tried (not entirely successfully) to save up the poetic energy till yesterday – when I took part in Kim Moore‘s Barrow Poetry Workshop. As always, I came away from the workshop with something that I want to work on. Poetic energies = successfully channelled.

As for my other artistic energies?

As I was driving home from a busy day at Eden Arts on Tuesday, I started thinking how it was over 2 years since I’d done any guerrilla poetry style projects (the last one being Beneath The Boughs at Lowther Castle in 2013), and how I should probably think about doing another one in the next year or so. By the time I pulled into my drive, I had fully planned not one, but two, new arts projects. By the time I’d made and drunk a cup of tea, I’d ordered all the materials for one of them.

Project 2 is still under wraps for now (though if you have an unloved teddy bear you want to donate to it, drop me a line), but I launched the first project today:

Poetry Plaster Packs aim to spread a little poetry, joy and healing. Each one contains:

  • a plaster (for the literal cuts and scrapes)
  • a cheerful little poem (for the figurative ones)
  • a little gift – because let’s face it, who doesn’t love a present?

Today, I left 40 little Valentine’s Poetry Plaster Packs around Penrith: under car window wipers, stuck to ATMs and inside phone boxes, on dryers in public toilets, and stuck to parking meters.

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I’ve already had a couple of lovely comment from people. One recipient tweeted this:

While someone else emailed me via my website: ‘With my 3 year old daughter and locked my keys in the car.. your little plaster pack brightened up my day.. and the sweets kept my daughter entertained until the spare set got to me about 40 minutes later. So thank you.’

So far a success! Definitely more Poetry Plaster Packs to follow…

In other news, the Cumbrian weather finally feels like it’s turned (though I’ll say that cautiously, because I don’t want to jinx it). At least, it’s currently snowing, which makes a change from rain, and we’ve had a couple of sunny days, which have meant I’ve been able to go for little strolls along the lanes whenever I’m struggling with a piece of writing: something that never fails to help me find a solution.

The week in books:

  •  Duncan MacMillan, Lungs
  • Nick Payne, Constellations
  • Zinne Harris, How to Hold Your Breath
  • Ariel Dorfman, Death and the Maiden

A week of theatre this week, in an attempt to keep myself in the playwriting zone. Death and the Maiden has been sitting on my bookshelf for sometime, just waiting to be read, so I figured it was probably about time to give it a whirl. Definitely a good decision to read it.

The other three are more recent plays, and are the three that I (perhaps rather extravagantly) bought last week at the National Theatre bookshop. But money spent on books is never a bad thing, and these three were all such great plays that I’m not sorry at all. How to Hold Your Breath is particularly one that stayed with me; after I read it on Tuesday night, I had a really unproductive morning on Wednesday, as I just couldn’t stop thinking about it! Definitely the mark of a good play.

The week in pictures:

My Writing Life: Week 6

It only feels like a day ago that I was writing last weekend’s blog post, and yet, it also feels like months ago… One of the sure signs of a busy week.

Busy, yes, but also satisfying, hugely enjoyable, and out of the ordinary. In fact, I’m beginning to think that this new life doesn’t have an ‘ordinary’ at all…

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It’s been quite exciting admin-wise. During my day a week at Eden Arts, we set up and organised a monthly wordy open mic night, Word Mess, which will start in March. I’ve also been handing out leaflets and posters for the Three Inch Fools’ Easter Shakespeare workshops.

Aside from that, it’s been almost a direct split between writing and relaxation.

I spent a couple of days in London, staying with the lovely Supal for a much-needed catch-up and a wander round the capital. We spent a good deal of time in independent book and coffee shops – including the delightful Primrose Hill Books, where I impulse bought a book called The Penguin Lessons (about a teacher at an Argentinian boarding school who rescues a penguin from an oil spill and takes it to live on his terrace at the school). Because let’s face it: who can resist a book about a penguin…? Certainly not me!

I also finally made it to the Attendant Cafe. Attendant is an underground cafe, created in an old public toilet. I’d heard about it ages ago on a couple of travel blogs, and couldn’t wait to visit for myself. (I have a bit of an obsession with toilets; when I was travel blogging I used to publish a ‘Loo witha View’ series, of unusually beautiful views from toilets from my travels). Fittingly, then, this trip to Attendant also doubled up as a chance to chat about blogging and travelling with Supal, who runs chevrons & eclairs.

But London wasn’t all coffee and sightseeing. I also spent some time sitting in one of the work spaces in the National Theatre, via spending a little more money than intended at the National Theatre Bookshop. As you may guess from this week’s reading list (below), I’m currently in playwriting mode. I couldn’t think of a better place to work on a play than in a quiet corner of the National Theatre itself.

Back up north, I spent a day at a poetry workshop at Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery. Tullie House are currently hosting the National Portrait Gallery’s Picture the Poet exhibition. As part of the exhibition’s outreach programme, they’re working with Apples & Snakes to run poetry workshops (leading to a showcase) for groups around Cumbria. One of these groups consists of Tullie House Youth Panel, along with one of my young writers from New Writing Cumbria’s Rabbit Rabbit (rabbit) group. They’re working with poet Jenny Lindsay, who ran a fantastic worksop, as part of a series that will eventually lead to all of the young people writing an individual poem and a group piece.

Needless to say, I took advantage of the workshop and drafted a poem of my own. I may be attempting to focus on playwriting, but somehow poems just keep popping up in my head – and who am I to deny them their existence?

The week in books:

The week in books

  • Sarah Corbett, And She Was
  • Mark Ravenhill, Shopping and F***ing
  • Sarah Kane, Blasted
  • Tom Michell, The Penguin Lessons
  • April de Angelis, Plays: 1 [Ironmistress; Hush; Playhouse Creatures; The Positive Hour]

This week has been largely about drama. It’s been a mixture of re-reads (Blasted, Shopping and F***ing and Hush) and new reads (Ironmistress, Playhouse Creatures and The Positive Hour), which has been both fun and refreshing.

I also read Sarah Corbett’s And She Was, which has been sitting in my car for the past few months, begging to be taken inside / into a coffee shop and read. I saw Sarah perform at Ilkley Literature Festival, and got her book (along with Mona Arshi’s Small Hands, also published by Pavillion Poetry) shortly afterwards.

There was also, of course, the book about a penguin that I picked up in Primrose Hill. Because, once I’d bought it, I could hardly resist reading it, now, could I?

The week in pictures:

A little bit of everyday life this week, from insightful passages in books, to cafes, to birthday cake:

 

My Writing Life: Week 4

I’ve always been a bit contrary. Even when I was at school, I never wanted to do the thing I was supposed to be doing – but in my own special geeky little way. I still worked hard, but I did French homework when I should have been concentrating on maths revision, and then maths homework when I should have been learning French vocabulary.

This week has been a little bit like that.

Recently, I’ve been thinking in plays. I firmly believe that different ideas come in different shapes: some are poem-shaped, some feel like pieces of drama, and some are undoubtedly novels. Recently, I’ve been having a lot of play-shaped thoughts, so at the start of the week, I decided to focus on playwriting and start drafting a piece of theatre that’s been gestating in the recesses of my brain for the past few months.

But, in typical me fashion, no sooner had I started getting words on the page, than my brain started firing off poems with all the frequency and urgency of a machine gun. Which is wonderful! But also slightly irritates the planner in me.

But the plus side of all this is that this has been my most productive week for poetry in over a year, which is wonderful.

It’s also been a week of meetings, starting with a very positive meeting at Shap School, about the prospect of running some workshops there, followed by the lovely weekly informal over-lunch meeting at Eden Arts (the first I’ve been able to make in a long time), and rounded off with a great meeting with James of Three Inch Fools (touring Shakespeare) to talk about marketing for their Easter workshops and performances.

It’s also been a week of flooding and books…

The week in books:

  • Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber
  • A S Byatt, The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye: Five Fairy Stories

This week has been a week of modern fairy tales. (I was tempted to add Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted to the list, but I figured I should probably spend the time writing instead.) On Tuesday, I’d planned to pop into Prism Arts in Carlisle for a catch-up, but the wind and rain were so wild that I decided it was safer staying at home. As the river crept further and further back up the road, I snuggled up in front of the fire and read a book that’s been on my to-read list (and on my bookshelf) for years: Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. After that, I was on such a roll with fairy tales, that I decided to also read A S Byatt’s The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye: Five Fairy Stories. Not only were these great reads, but I think they maybe had a slight influence on my wrting this week, too:

 

 

Not really any pictures from this week, but I did make a little for-fun video of last week’s trip to Morocco. The main outcome of this was my realising that I need to take much more video footage when I travel somewhere:

 

72 hours in Marrakesh from Katie Hale on Vimeo.

My Writing Life: Week 3

Three weeks into my new writing life, and I finally feel like I’m getting into some sort of rhythm. Which is strange, when you think that I haven’t yet had a ‘normal’ week. Take this week, for instance, where I spent the first two days of it in Marrakesh, bartering, discovering and soaking up the sun instead of writing. (Don’t worry, though – I’ve had a few very productive days to make up for it.)

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But it hasn’t just been poetry I’ve been writing this week, though I have written and edited a good deal of that. I’ve written a little bit of drama. I’ve also been writing tweets.

Yes, this is the week that I created a trending hashtag on twitter.

For those of you who saw it, I’m talking about the #derangedpoetess controversy. For those of you who didn’t see it, let me give you a brief bit of background:

In last week’s Sunday Times, journalist Oliver Thring published an article about recent T S Eliot Award-winner Sarah Howe. On Friday, sparked by a tweet from Amy Key, a number of poets accused the article of being sexist.

I saw Amy’s initial tweet, followed her link to the article, and watched the responses begin to unfold. To be honest, my opinion was that the article probably wasn’t intentionally sexist; it was just bad writing. But you can read the original article here and decide for yourself.

If you ask me, the really unforgivable sexism set in when Oliver Thring, rather than holding his hands up and apologising for any accidental offence, tweeted this:

Well, it isn’t every day you get to respond to a term like ‘deranged poetess’! I tweeted a photo of myself writing, looking very calm and serious, and captioned it as a ‘definitely deranged’ poetess. Then I made it a hashtag.

The hashtag then began trending, and was even written about in a Guardian article! The rest, as they say, is history.

It hasn’t all been social media controversy this week, though. Aside from writing in my now Moroccan-goods-filled house, I’ve also been getting over a cold – aided by some medicine I picked up in a Berber pharmacy in Marrakesh. It’s a black powder, which you wrap in a hankie and inhale the scent, a bit like an olbas inhaler. It instantly clears the sinuses – like a miracle cure! Though I would quite like to know what it is that I’m inhaling… Anyone have any ideas…?

It’s also been a week of reading (though not quite as much as I’d have liked), arranging meetings and organising some volunteering work. And socialising! I know – very unlike me… Apparently writing and having a social life actually can go together!

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The week in books:

  • Sebastian Faulks, Birdsong
  • Ella Hickson, Eight
  • Mona Arshi, Small Hands

A novel, a play and a collection of poetry: feeling pretty well-rounded in my reading this week. I actually bought Small Hands way back in October at Ilkley Literature Festival, and it’s been sitting in my car ever since, waiting for me to take it into a cafe and start reading it. Unfortunately, my cafe time has been a bit limited since then. But I must say, the little book has waited very patiently, and was well worth it. Some beautiful poems, and also a couple that I could use for teaching, which is always a bonus.

The week in pictures:

As promised last week, this week I’m sharing my photos from Marrakesh. Not necessarily very writer-ly, but full of beautiful bright colours and gorgeous blue skies.

My writing life: week 2

Writing poetry with a cup of tea. Katie Hale, Cumbrian poet / writer etc
Poetry & a cuppa

Confession: at the time of writing, the week is not yet over. I wrote and scheduled this post on Friday. Why? I’m currently in Marrakesh.

Bearing that in mind, it’s been a much shorter-than-usual week for writing, truncated even further by the fact that I’ve spent two days at the New Writing Cumbria office, rather than the usual one. I’ve also been delving into the joys of my tax return.

But even despite all that, I’ve been loving the writing time.

I wrote a poem about a whale, which I think is already very close to the final draft stage. I also discovered a very old draft of a very old poem (well, 3 years old), which I had completely forgotten about, and was able to rework into a completed piece. To make matters even better, it became a gogyoshi-ku. Thanks, BAR poets and Jacob Sam-La Rose, for introducing me to that particular poet form. Oh, in case you were wondering, a gogyoshi-ku consist of a gogyoshi (5-line poem that otherwise has no formal structure) followed by a haiku.

I also did something faintly amazing, and organised my computer filing system for my poetry. Whereas before I had one folder called ‘Poetry’, full of everything from finished pieces to brief jottings that should probably never be revisited, I now have a beautifully streamlined system of folders that gives me a geeky little tingle every time I think about it.

For the organisation geeks among you, my ‘Poetry’ folder is now organised like this:

  • Finished Poems
    • Published poems
    • Waiting for news [submitted to magazines]
    • Other poems
  • Poems to work on
  • Misc. documents
    • [archived drafts and jottings, filed by year]

And, inspired by the wonderful Kim Moore, I’ve now also created an Excel poetry submission spreadsheet, with a list of poems down the side, a list of magazines & journals to submit to across the top, and colour-coded boxes according to whether the poems have been accepted or rejected, or are waiting a response.

Now it’s just a case of making those systems work!


The week in books:

  • [still reading] Sebastian Faulks, Birdsong

(Though in fairness, it is a long book. And with the train ride to the airport and the long-ish flight to Marrakesh, I may have finished it and be onto something else by the time this post goes live.)

The week in pictures:

Photos of Marrakesh to follow next week!

 

 

 

My writing life: week 1

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One week into my new life as a real life writer (!) and it’s time to take stock and see how it’s treating me. Admittedly, it hasn’t exactly been an average week…

I spent most of it in Portugal, thanks to my lovely parents, who decided that after the stress of leaving a job, I needed to relax before really knuckling down to any hard-core writing. So it’s been a week of sun (in small quantities), sand and seafood.

Not working and relaxing abroad means plenty of time for reading, and some time for writing thrown in. Having half-heartedly resolved to write a limerick a day in 2016, this week I’ve managed to write five. (5/7 is pretty good, right?) It’s a great way of practising rhyme without embarking on anything too serious, and a fun way to start the writing day. Here’s my favourite from the week:

There once was a high-handed billy goat
who purchased an outmoded frilly coat.
He thought it looked neat
as he flounced down the street,
but really he looked quite the silly goat!

Naturally, I’m not expecting quite so many late lunches and walks along the beach next week – especially with two days away from the writing desk and in the New Writing Cumria office, and a tax return to complete (joy of joys…)

But I’m definitely aiming for another 5 or so limericks, and plenty other writing besides.

The game, as Mr Holmes would say, is afoot!

The week in books:

  • E. Nesbit, The Enchanted Castle
  • H. G. Wells, The Island of Doctor Moreau
  • William Carlos Williams, Selected Poems
  • Claire Gaskin, a bud
  • [currently reading] Sebastian Faulks, Birdsong

This week has mostly been about novels and imagist poetry.

I started off with The Enchanted Castle, which is a classic Nesbit story about a princess (sort of) and a magic ring, and four children who have a magical adventure – and just what I needed to carry the Christmas childhood feeling forward into the new year. Then, shattering that childhood magic into a thousand sharp-edged pieces, I read The Island of Doctor Moreau, which I can only describe as Animal Farm meets Frankenstein meets Lord of the Flies.

William Carlos Williams is an interesting one – largely because he’s really not my cup of tea. Other than the two poems I knew before reading the collection (think: red wheelbarrow and plums in the icebox), there were only two poems in the whole book that I really, really liked – and they came within the last 5 pages. I’m chalking it up to 230 pages of perseverance.

Currently reading: Birdsong, by Sebastian Faulks

The week in pictures:

Here we are again: teetering on the brink of the old year, about to dive headlong into the new one. 

We’ve spent the past 365 days scaling the ladder, and let’s be honest, by the end, we were probably all in need of a bit of a rest. But now here we are, wobbling at the end of the diving board, sort of wishing we could just inch away from it and come back the way we came, but also excited by what’s to come. The adrenaline’s pumping with anticipation of the unknown, with the possibilities of the future. 

Take a deep breath. Get ready. Jump. 

Normally, I see New Year as something of a let-down, especially after all the glitz and excitement of Christmas. Really, it’s just a passing from one day to the next, where nothing actually changes apart from the fact that we all feel a little more hungover the next morning – a bit like birthdays. 

This year is different. This year, for once, I am actually enacting a momentous change in my life. 2016 will have a very different flavour to 2015. 

Why. I’ve quit my job. 

Ok, I’ve quit one of my jobs. 

For the first time in my life, my time being ‘a writer’ outweighs my time spent on other employment. (Being a student doesn’t count.) And, to allow myself to spend even more time on my writing, I’ve also waved a fond farewell to my travel blog, Second-Hand Hedgehog. I may return to this in the future, but for now I’m planning to concentrate all my creative energies on my poetry and theatre. 

It’s more than a little bit daunting. Remember that diving board analogy? It’s not a coincidence that I don’t really like heights…

But it’s also incredibly exciting. It’s a new beginning, a new chapter, or (to get suitably poetical about it) a new stanza in my life. 

Like with all new beginnings, I’ve made myself a couple of resolutions. 

  1. I’m going to blog about it, every week. Since I’ve given up the travel blog, it’s only fair to give myself some kind of blogging outlet. And if I can be literary at the same time, well, so much the better. 
  2. I’m going to write a limerick a day. About a year ago, I started making up limericks when I was bored: in queues, in the car, in the shower. They’re very much not serious affairs, and are really just a bit of fun – though I suppose they do also practise essential skills like rhyming. I don’t actually expect to stick to this resolution and come out of the year with 366 limericks, but if I aim for one a day, I should at least manage a couple of hundred before next January. 
  3. I’m going to read more. Last year, I didn’t read anything like as much as I would have liked, so this year I’m aiming to remedy that. And as an extra incentive, I’m going to share my reading library on my weekly blog post. 

So there you have it: a new plan for a new year. 

Happy 2016!

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