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!

x

[I originally posted this list on my travel blog, Second-Hand Hedgehog, back when I was travel blogging, back in July 2015. I’m still aiming to complete this list, so I thought I’d shift it over here to my website.]
32 things to do before I'm 30 - list of travel and life goals, ideas and ambitions

This started out as a list of 30 things to do before I’m 30 – but since I’m the sort of person who always seems to take on a bit too much and ends up with a ridiculous workload, I’ve ended up with a list of 32.

Most people create these lists when they reach a particular milestone (25th and 29th birthdays are understandably the most common), and while I’m still reeling from the slight shock of turning 25, I’m not near a special birthday, or at a particular turning point in my life. At least, not as far as I’m aware.

But I think that now was the perfect time for me to make this list. As I started to write it, I quickly struggled to think of items to add. Why? I’m floating. Beyond a couple of big ideas, I wasn’t sure exactly where I wanted my life to take me. At the moment I’m working week by week, busy Monday to Friday, and then either collapsing at the weekend, or working right back through to Monday again.

I need to force myself to break that up – that’s why I started this blog, after all. I need short-term goals.

A number of these (the travel ones in particular) are on my Bucket List as well – but not all. Some are features of my lifestyle that I would like to change. Some are simply too small to go on my Bucket List, but are things I would like to achieve all the same. Some are specific to me, but many are goals that anyone could aspire to.

I hope my 32 things inspire you to create a list of your own.

32 Things To Do Before I’m 30:

  1. Publish a poetry pamphlet
  2. Write and publish a novel
  3. Travel to Antarctica
  4. Travel to at least 5 new countries
  5. Visit Lizzie in Barcelona
  6. Visit Jessi in Portland, Oregon
  7. Drive around Iceland’s Route 1
  8. Island hopping in the Pacific
  9. Take a solo trip that lasts at least a month
  10. Spend at least a week at the Edinburgh Fringe
  11. Visit Ireland
  12. Road trip the coast of California
  13. Drive a convertible (roof down)
  14. Take a road trip in a camper van
  15. Go on a writing retreat by the sea
  16. Go to a music festival
  17. Order room service
  18. Hold a conversation in Spanish
  19. Climb a mountain
  20. Undertake (and complete) a multi-day walk
  21. Be able to run a mile without collapsing / seizing up / giving up and walking
  22. Do 30 sit-ups in a row
  23. Take a photography course
  24. Bake at least one cake
  25. Knit or crochet something (anything will do)
  26. Make an item of clothing, which is acceptable to wear in public and doesn’t fall apart
  27. Own (and have reason to wear) a full length ball gown
  28. Give cards / chocolates / flowers to a stranger / strangers on Valentines Day
  29. Buy a piece of original artwork
  30. Finish reading The Well of Loneliness
  31. Achieve 1000 twitter followers (you can help with this one here)
  32. Glamping

A late summer evening: a glass of Pimms in your hand and an open picnic hamper at your feet. Enter the Three Inch Fools.

The Three Inch Fools: outdoor touring Shakespeare (outdoor theatre) performing 'The Tempest'On the surface, director James Hyde’s production of The Tempest appears simple: touring Shakespeare returning to its roots, performed by a small company in the open air, with minimal set and few elaborate props or costumes.

As Shakespeare’s most temporally and geographically contained play, The Tempest suits this pared down treatment, and it takes very little for the Three Inch Fools to transform the performance space into Prospero’s magical island, with clever use of parts of a tepee to create the storm-tossed ship.

In fact, the whole performance is filled with similarly clever use of space, and a complex weaving together of actors, music and song, to give an overall illusion of simplicity.

Composer Stephen Hyde’s music certainly added to this illusion. His beautiful melodies haunt the play, infusing the drama with a pagan, ethereal feel. This is Shakespeare meets The Wicker Man, as Ariel’s unsettling lullabies draw the characters further into Prospero’s net. The lingering and evocative score is one of the strongest elements of this memorable production.

The production is also not without a very talented cast. Joe Skelton’s Prospero holds both characters and audience alike under his spell, commanding his scenes with palpable stage presence. With the help of Nat Spence, a powerful and yet beautifully vulnerable Ariel, his control over the other characters becomes utterly believable – particularly when he stands in the wings, confidently observing the blossoming tender relationship between Miranda (Emma Hewitt) and Ferdinand (Josh Maddison).

However, as in any good production of Shakespeare, plenty is made of the play’s rogue elements, too: the drunken sailors and their adoption of the island’s only native, Caliban (Wilson Smith). Smith adopts a fantastic physicality that utterly transforms him, into a piteous and occasionally disturbing Caliban.

This is one of a number of well-executed physical aspects in the play, including Ferdinand’s rescue from the shipwreck, and, of course, the antics of the two drunks: Stephano (Richard Leeming) and Trinculo (Stephen Hyde). Hyde’s more sombre drunken behaviour superbly complemented Leeming’s wild and elaborate gestures, spreading hilarity throughout the audience. In fact, both actors were so convincing that is was as though they and Smith had been swigging from a real bottle backstage.

Throughout the production, light summer comedy (as well as the play’s darker comedy) was perfectly pitched against the play’s more sinister back story. Under Hyde’s direction, both elements earned their place entirely, to create an entertaining and moving piece of theatre.

This is definitely a company to watch – and then to keep watching, again and again.

*

More about the Three Inch Fools on their website.

The Three Inch Fools: outdoor touring theatre performing Shakespeare's The Tempest

Shelagh Stephenson’s Enlightenment is an unsettling play – one which works on the fears of our imaginations, and the terror of our own smallness in an increasingly global world.

~ Cate Hamer (Lia): photo by Keith Pattison ~
~ Cate Hamer (Lia): photo by Keith Pattison ~

It is this sense of individual insignificance that gives Zoë Waterman’s production such a powerful and contemporary feel – this could be anyone’s house, anyone’s family. In a world where solutions are always just a phone call or the touch of a button away, the sense of these characters’ helplessness pervades the play like a bad dream.

Cate Hamer is a strong central figure as Lia, the mother desperately trying to hold onto herself in her search for answers about her missing son. Through her powerful portrayal of a woman on the edge, we see the struggle for control that plagues all of the play’s characters, from the belligerent Gordon (Peter MacQueen) to Joanna, the ambitious media woman, played by Charlotte Mulliner. Mulliner perhaps best represents the precariously balanced nature of control; she is the character who has most of it at the start of the play, and the only one to bow out as soon as she feels it slipping. Her smart heels and slick performance throw Hamer’s portrayal of a frayed and despairing Lia into sharp relief.

Meanwhile, Patrick Bridgman excels in the role of Lia’s partner, Nick, whose cynical retorts provide much of the play’s humour – a humour that teeters on the edge of hopelessness; Bridgman perfectly balances the two, a master at straddling the line between the emotions he exposes and those he withholds.

However, it is Richard Keightley’s Adam who makes the play a truly disturbing piece. His entrance at the end of the first half is a wave of uncertainty in an already turbulent drama – a wave which becomes a tsunami by the end of the play, as his Machiavellian power games seek to twist the characters against one another with a ferocity that would make Pinter proud. Keightley creates a character with so many layers of manipulation and vulnerability that it becomes impossible to know when (or even if) he ever lays bare this complex character’s troubled core.

Even in such an exceptionally strong season comprising outstanding productions like The 39 Steps and Suddenly Last Summer, Theatre by the Lake’s Enlightenment shines out: a gripping piece of contemporary theatre that seeks to unhinge our sense of control and safety in our own fragile lives.

~ Enlightenment runs at Theatre by the Lake, Keswick, until 7th November 2015 ~

~ Richard Keightley (Adam): photo by Keith Pattison ~
~ Richard Keightley (Adam): photo by Keith Pattison ~

Noël Coward’s Fallen Angels is a play about two spirited women, who, while their more pedestrian husbands are away playing golf, drink themselves into a comical hysteria in anticipation of a visit from their former lover.

Theatre by the Lake production of FALLEN ANGELS by Noel Coward directed by Ian Forrest
~ Polly Lister (Julia), Emily Tucker (Saunders) & Frances Marshall (Jane): photo by Keith Pattison ~

Ian Forrest’s production at Theatre by the Lake delivers both of those things: hysteria on-stage, and comedy off-stage. Despite a slightly slower start, the production picked up in pace and energy with every glass of wine that Jane (Frances Marshall) and Julia (Polly Lister) drank, leading to some all-too-recognisable moments of inebriation and alcohol-induced feuding.

With such comical portrayal of female drunkenness, it is easy to see how Fallen Angels was such a scandalous success when first performed in the 1920s. However, the play’s dramatic impact is perhaps weakened in a society which has (thankfully) moved beyond finding perverse and mildly horrified entertainment in the idea that women, as well as men, might get drunk or have sexual urges. Despite its light entertainment value, it has perhaps become a play with little cultural relevance in our post-sexual revolution, post-Lady Chatterley, post-TOWIE world.

Despite the dated feel of the script, the play was produced and performed to the high standard that one should expect from Theatre by the Lake.

This was a play in which the women (perhaps quite deliberately) outshone the men – though a special mention has to be made of Ben Ingles’ exaggerated suave accent. Emily Tucker gave a strong performance as the self-important maid, Saunders, while Lister and Marshall carried the show brilliantly as the quarrelling best friends, Julia and Jane.

In both Fallen Angels and Abigail’s Party (also part of Theatre by the Lake Summer 2015 season), Lister’s ability to carry a scene and to hold an audience for long periods while alone on stage stood out as impressive, with excellent comic timing and a stage presence that absorbs an audience’s attention. Marshall provided the perfect foil to Lister’s Julia, with an almost immature gaiety that made her a delight to watch.

As with the Theatre by the Lake’s production of Abigail’s Party this season (to which it is quite similar in a number of respects), Fallen Angels may not be an example of thought-provoking contemporary theatre, but it does provide an entertaining evening out.

Theatre by the Lake production of FALLEN ANGELS by Noel Coward directed by Ian Forrest
~ Frances Marshall (Jane) & Polly Lister (Julia): photo by Keith Pattison ~

 ~

Fallen Angels runs in the main house at Theatre by the Lake until 7th November 2015.