I was working at The Old Mill in Killin today. The community is doing a school uniform swap in conjunction with a kids clothing sale . I was there to collect the uniforms. I had a bit of paperwork to do for the shop (I run the wee Reuse shop in the village), but I had time to spare. So, seeing as I had my laptop with me, I decided to pass the remainder of my time editing my novel in progress. I couldn’t think of a better location to edit. The Old Mill is a three storey mill, once used for Tweed making and grain. It is no longer a working mill, but an important part of the village. It sits by the Falls of Dochart, a picturesque spot in the Scottish Highlands. How lucky am I to be able to work on my novel while the water rushes by outside, just me and wee Margaret, the mill ghost.
An inversion of fog has sunk below the mountains tops and settled on our tiny village. All around us the world has alerted into an underdeveloped sepia photograph with blurred edges and featureless faces.
With such an abundance of thick fog, the village has felt cold and eerily dark. Its no surprise then that the the arrival of winter solstice yesterday was heartily welcomed.
My wife and I did our first solstice ritual which, amongst other things, involved the lighting of candles and thinking of what the coming light means to us.
The first warmth of the sun on my skin
The transformation of nature
Clean washing hung on the washing line
The sound of birds in the trees
New growth in the garden
I am going to start recording my journey from winter to summer solstice, starting today, with the hopes of becoming more aware of the changing light. I feel this gives me an opportunity to take a moment at sunset to gather my thoughts, be still, and record what I see. A mindful moment.
Day 1 Sunset 15.41 UK
I was in B&M, so certainly not a mindful moment, but an awareness of the time lingered in the periphery of my mind. We came in for wool, because Helen wanted to start a new crochet project, and I needed dry stuffing mix for the Christmas dinner. Helen wheeled off in her wheelchair while I headed to the vegan section to see what bargains I could pick up. Five minutes later, and with a basket half filled with groceries that I didn’t need, Helen wheeled up behind me with a bewildered look on her face.
‘They’ve started selling Cherry Ripe, it’s my absolute favourite chocolate bar. I audibly gasped when I saw it. But it isn’t vegan.’
There was a look of disappointment on her face, but a glint of a memory pulled her lips into a soft smile and she was temporality transported to Australia, to a different time, to a time before us, before Scottish mountains, cold inversions and wheelchairs, to a time that shaped my wife into the woman she is today. I never saw her taste her first Cherry Ripe bar, but maybe one day, perhaps on a cold winters afternoon, when a cloud inversion has transformed the world into a blurred photograph, we will share our first vegan Cherry Ripe bar together. Until then, I will sit for a moment, after this post is sent out into the world, and listen to her tell me of that first taste, and learn something new on the first day of the coming light.
I took this photo on my phone. My phone camera isn’t the best but I like how this turned out. There are so many colours, much more that my eyes could capture.
Incidentally, one of my friends dyes her own wool and asked me if she could use the colours from my photograph. What a strange and fantastic privelage. The wool will be named and sold as Zoom Moon.
Anyhoo, how is everyone? I’ve been a little bit quiet in the last week. I have begun editing my novel and that is taking up a lot of my free time. I have also been struggling with anxiety, (it comes and goes). This particular spell was bad and I think a lot of it comes from over consuming news (and public opinions). I find it difficult to identify with a lot of people politically, and in current affairs. I’m a lefty of course, and one of them damn woke people. But I have taken a Facebook and Twitter holiday. It’s only been a day and I feel better.
That’s all for now. Just thought I would check in.
I began writing a novel on 1st April 2020, and tonight, at 11pm, I typed the last two words – The End.
What a journey it has been. What started as a love story, turned into something quite different.
I competed the novel in 77,234 words, 34 chapters and a possible sequel on the cards.
I guess the most important thing for me whilst writing this novel was a loose plan, and a refusal to follow a process. I’m not one for forcing myself to write when I’m not feeling it, or building the writing muscle as I’ve heard it called. I don’t have a method, I’m prone to procrastinating, and I only write when it brings me pleasure.
I feel a sense of not quite knowing how to feel right now. Maybe tomorrow that’ll become clearer, but for now, I’m satisfied.
It has been another dreich and drab day here in Killin, Scotland and, a cold one too. It’s a lack of colour day, a blanket day, a cannae find the motivation to even write day. So what do you do when the washed out world is painting your soul grey? You paint it back to life. This is how I filled my evening. How about you?
We had so much snow yesterday but most of it melted as it hit the ground. It did lie on the grass through. When I went out with the dogs, on a not very adventurous walk around the park, the snow was blowing sideways, big thick snow that made visibility difficult. I kept my face to the ground, hurrying my wee legs as quick as I could with the vision of a steaming mug of tea waiting for me at home, and of course my jammies.
It’s easy to take the surrounding beauty for granted when the weather isn’t to your liking, and to be honest, the above picture was taken on another day when the wind was just a wee whistle and, the snow just a wee crust on the periphery of my walk. It wasn’t until I was on my last lap of the park when a flake of snow, a giant flake of snow, landed on my lip. It was only a second before it melted, but the wee snow kiss ripped me out of my daydream and I found myself in the middle of a snow globe. There wasn’t another in sight, just me and my snow patterned dog, who looked at me wondering why I had stopped. It was a moment of absolute beauty, from the cold fizz of the melting snow on my lip, to my tongue reaching for a taste. I was utterly alive. For the remainder of my walk I kept my head up, letting the snow land on my face, my hat, but it only took.a single kiss to bring me into the present moment.
Happy Burns night everyone. We didn’t have a traditional supper but we has a wee veggie haggis T.V dinner for lunch.
Burns night seems to be more alive this year than ever. I’ve seen children reciting poetry, various poems shared online and we have just finished watching Janey Godley’s Big Burns Supper. Ye Canne beat it. The highlights for me were Brina and Skerryvore, check them out.
We never celebrated Burns night growing up because it’s the night we lost my Grannie. 40 years today.
Do you celebrate Burns? Is tradition important to you? And how do we weave the thread of our past into our present and our future?
I wanted to write a blog about the many ways that writers identify themselves as writers, but alas, I have toothache. It started through the night last night, swollen gums and an ache that won’t go away. I’m almost 49 years old and I can’t recall ever having toothache before, and I would have remembered this pain. So, I sulked quietly today. I even cracked open a can of lager in the hopes of dulling the ache, but it’s given me a sore tummy instead. So I’m miserable.
On the plus side, I have managed to read a chapter of my book and write 1100 words of my novel. I’ve now written 64,947 words. That’s 29 chapters. I can almost see the finish line and I reckon I’ll have a first draft by mid February, (providing my head hasn’t exploded with the toothache first). But I wanted to check in and say hello, and thank everyone who stops by my blog and gives me a wee like or interacts with a comment. It means a lot.
Where does a poem come from? Where does it begin? When does a thought become a creation?
The same applies to prose. Where does that unplanned story strand come from? How, in a split second, can a character fall in love without first consulting it’s creator?
Is it inspiration?
I was walking the dogs yesterday. We went to our usual haunt which is generally the big field down by the river. The weather was average for Scotland in January, dreich, windy with a wee bit mizzle in the air, and damn cold. I was trying (and failing) to stop the dogs eating rabbit shit, while being careful not to step awkwardly on the uneven ground. I wasn’t thinking about anything in particular, in fact, I was just looking. I was looking at my feet, at the dogs, at the snowy mountains, and the people on the old railway in the distance. Suddenly, a sentence popped into my head.
I miss the sea.
This was followed by:
I miss the sea fi when a wis wee
Fair enough, I hear you say. Don’t we all miss what we can’t have at the moment in time, the pandemic has taken so much. And besides this, I’ve seen and heard references to the sea over he past few days through various mediums, so perhaps this subconsciously inspired me. The thing is, I haven’t written any poetry or prose since the start of December 2020. There is a number of reasons for this, (as discussed in previous posts, and I’m not going to bore you with them now), but I wasn’t looking for inspiration, or magic for that matter. And perhaps you don’t think the above lines could be classed as poetry, I mean, the two lines are statements aren’t they? Perhaps. But then the next line came to me in a rhythm so perfect, that I pulled my phone from my pocket and recorded it. This is written in Midlothian vernacular.
I miss sand stickin to ma broon sauce piece
Is it sounding as epic to you as it is to me? Try saying it out loud, with a pause after sand, and the second line rolling of your tongue.
Or if you understand measuring meter in poetry:
I miss sand (strong, weak, strong)
Sti-ckin to ma broon sauce piece (strong-strong, weak. weak, strong, weak, strong).
Okay, you might not be as excited about the birth of my new poem as I am, but watch this space.
Back to my question though…
Did the poem arrive because of inspiration, or was it magic? My opinion is that it’s a bit of both.
Let me give you another example. Whilst working on my current novel in progress, Little Red Rowing Boat, I have become more and more aware of how often a new thread/strand appears during the writing process. This thread is unplanned, it might be an unexpected character appearing, a childhood flashback, and often a key plot line that materialises from no-where. I often find myself in a trance like state when I’m writing, or deep writing. This is when the magic begins. I generally do plan my writing before I sit down; I pretty much know the direction the story will flow, but regardless of my intention, there’s a genie in my head that sprinkles star dust on my fingers while I write and weird shit happens. Is it just me?
I would like to know your thoughts on this matter. Please leave a comment.
I didn’t need to read the spectacular reviews for Luckenbooth before I ordered it. I didn’t need to. I bought it based on the fantastic writing in Jenni Fagan’s last two novels, The Panopticon and, Sunlight Pilgrims. My plans tonight are to have finish the 65 pages of Duck Feet, (review to follow), and then dive in head first.
Do you ever read a book based on an author’s previous work?
Do you have a favourite author, who is it and why?
Do you ever pre-order a book and wait for the delivery to arrive for the whole day? As I said to my partner last night, I haven’t been this excited since Wham brought out a new single.
Can you remember the first time your work was published in print? I don’t, but I have the proof. This is a photograph of a story poem that I wrote in 1984. At the time I appear to be a compassionate twelve year old, it’s good to see that the issues that bothered me then, still concern me today. But, current affairs aside, I wonder how excited I was at seeing my words in print. I wonder if I showed the publication to all of my friends and family. I wonder if I called myself a writer?
I doubt it
I knew when I was twelve year old that I wanted to become a writer. I knew it when I left school and began working in a frozen food shop for £24.50 a week on a YTS, I even knew it when I fell into the role of retail manager and somehow survived the role for twenty years. And throughout that time, even though I spent my happiest hours writing, I was never a writer, not a real one that is. I wrote. I wrote and wrote and wrote and began to see pieces of my writing appeared in magazines and newspapers. Yet when ever I introduced myself to someone, I was Eilidh, the retail manager, writing was just a hobby.
When is a writer a writer?
I began calling myself a writer half way through my undergraduate degree at Stirling University. That’s not to say I was comfortable with it. In fact, I would say it under my breath, quickly, and would try to hide my scarlet face. It felt uncomfortable, I felt like a fraud. By this time though, I had managed my way around an essay or two, I was getting decent grades and my reading had increased ten-fold. And as my confidence grew, I began to publish more. The writing itself was mediocre, the publications were small, but I was being published and more importantly – read.
I published a 42,000 word novella in 2014, (under a different name). It was a piece of work I had written many years before, and that was reflected in the writing style. Never the less, I sold over 1000 copies and made a small, very small amount of money. But I was still embarrassed to tell people that I was a writer, and even more so, published. Online was easier though, I marketed my book like hell. I went full on hard sell, talking to strangers, engaging with people who I couldn’t see, and hiding the fact that deep down inside I was terrified of the person I was becoming, the person I always wanted to be, I just wasn’t sure exactly who she was though.
In 2016, I began a Masters in Creative Writing. The course was okay, but it was the legitimacy I felt while doing the course that finally gave the confidence to say, ‘I am a writer,’ still, however, very quietly.
It was probably the year after graduating from university that I began to discover the answer to my question –When is a writer a writer? I was still working part time in the retail sector, but for a charity, and actually using my managerial skills to do some good. When I wasn’t at work, I was reading or writing, or at least thinking about writing. I began to send more and more of my work off to magazines, zines and competitions. I got plenty of rejections, but a small proportion was published and my confidence grew. I began to really enjoy my craft, I enjoyed putting new skills into practice and writing at my own pace. I felt connected to the work I was producing, passionate and I looked forward to it. I had read so many writing tips about when to write, how long I should spend writing, do I need to write daily, how do I find inspiration? I read articles on how to combat writers block, I was even told writers block doesn’t exist. And although all opinions are legitimate, they are only legitimate to the person writing them. In the end, I decided that the only advice I should listen to, is my own.
When I stopped putting pressure on myself to write a particular way, or at a particular time, or for that matter, act in a way that I thought a writer might act, I found I could just write. For me, and this is my opinion, a writer is a writer when they connect to their work, when they allow the writing to be part of them and them a part of the writing.
When I look back at the The Tramp, I see Eilidh the twelve year old writer, she is the writer I have been striving to become for all these years, connected, compassionate, self determined and confident, it just took me a while to find her again.
I was delighted to wake up to an email this morning telling me that Capsule Stories has nominated my short story, ‘Mother of Pearl,’ for the Pushcart prize. It is a wonderful feeling to have your hard work recognised by editors, it certainly takes the edge of those feelings of doubt.
Thank you to those who continue to support me in my journey.
Alistair stands in a doorway on the corner of Admiralty Lane. The streets are quiet today. A cold air has swept up from the Forth keeping the locals indoors. He shivers and pulls his scarf up over his nose and his woollen hat over his ears. It’s four o’clock and there’s Claire sneaking out of the office again, that’ll be the third time this week. She walks briskly on the opposite side of the road. Alistair follows, keeping close to the old sandstone buildings. He ducks behind parked cars and stops briefly behind a white Winnebago when she slows. The wind whips her coat tails and they splay out behind her, allowing him the briefest moment to catch the slender silhouette of her body. She continues past the Ship Inn. He imagines, just for a second, that she’ll go in, sit by the log fire, order a glass of red, then call him to join her. But the thought passes as quickly as she does, and she doesn’t give the place where they first met a second glance. He falls back, watching her hurry along the coastal path then up toward the cliffs that overlook Ruby Bay. She crests the hill and disappears. He runs to the beach. The boat is still banked in the sand where he left it. Untying the rope from the cleat, he steps in. The sea is calm, and his oars cut through the water leaving a trail of ripples. Bowing his head, he rows beyond the bay. He sees a fisherman cast his line, but it’s unlikely that anyone will know him out here. He sees her standing on the cliff high above the sea. Her face, though partly shadowed, looks void of emotion. He feels a sickness in his stomach. There she is, one hundred feet above him, tall and solid, and morbidly unashamed. He hates her, hates what she’s trying to do to them. Just then, she pulls a bottle from the inside pocket of her coat and throws it over the cliff. His eyes follow the bottle until it hits the water with a short splash. He waits until she’s gone, then rows towards it.
She stands in the shadow of an old oak tree. Over the cliff the grey sky has melted and spread like oil over the sea, with no end and no beginning. She watches his boat glide quickly through the water and feels pleased, she’s played him well. He’s a fast rower though. She’d only found out recently that he could row. He’d spun her a yarn one day about almost drowning in a river when he was a boy, right after her best friend Craig and his husband Terry suggested they all go on a weekend cruise together. ‘But you’ll be safe on a cruise ship.’ She’d told him. ‘I don’t like boats.’ He snapped. ‘No, you mean you don’t like Craig.’ She’d always known it, but they’d never actually spoken about it. ‘You’re right. I don’t like the way he touches your arm when you’re having a conversation,’ Alistair told her, ‘and all the “in” jokes that you have with him. He should have married you.’ She tried to reason with her husband. ‘Craig’s gay,’ she laughed, ‘and we’ve been best friends since we were five.’ But Alistair shook his head. ‘I don’t like him, and I don’t like how close you are to him.’ So, she’d declined Craig’s offer, telling him that she’d catch up with him soon. She hasn’t seen Craig since, he won’t come to the house when Alistair is there, and Alistair is always there. That was eight months ago.
She steps closer to the edge of the cliff to watch. Alistair reaches the bottle quickly. He pulls it from the water, holds it under his arm and pulls out the cork. The sky is darkening. He’ll struggle to read the gibberish she’d written anyway, besides, he isn’t wearing his glasses. He hadn’t worn them in over a year. ‘I can’t see a thing when I wear them, so what’s the point.’ He’d said and thrown them across the floor. It was a month after he’d been sacked from the gas board following an accusation of an affair between himself and a customer’s wife. Of course, he denied it. ‘I can’t afford a new pair, so I’ll do without.’ He folded his arms like a child. She offered to save to get him a new prescription, but he shook his head. ‘Keep your money,’ he said, ‘Besides, you’ll need it to pay the bills. Personally, with the lack of money coming in, I’d make cut backs. But seeing as you can’t live without your beloved Facebook, you’ll have to pay for the internet too.’ She ignored his snide comments for as long as she could. Then one day after work, she’d come home to find Alistair on her laptop looking through her online messages. ‘How dare you.’ She pulled the laptop from him. ‘Those are private messages between me and my friends.’ Alistair stood up and walked out of the room, not uttering a word. She’d spent the rest of the evening looking through all her messages to see if there was anything that he might misconstrue. About a week later, he called the phoneline provider and had the line cut off. ‘Because it’s a luxury we can’t afford.’
She sees him strike a match, can almost hear the hiss of the flame. He lights the corner of the paper and lets it float into the air. She winces at the sight of it burning and looks down at the scar on her right hand. She’d been out for a drink with Kelly and Omar from work one Saturday afternoon. It was Omar’s fortieth birthday. Alistair had been invited along but he said he’d rather watch paint dry than go out with a bunch of accountants. An hour after she’d left, the texting began. ‘Is Omar your new best friend?’ and worse, ‘Will you be giving him a ‘SPECIAL’ present for his birthday.’ She tried to ignore the messages, but they kept coming. Embarrassed, she excused herself and went home. Music was blaring from the stereo when she arrived, and she could smell burning. Panicked, she ran into the living-room. The rug under her desk was on fire. An ashtray had fallen from the arm of the sofa and scattered on the floor. ‘Alistair. Fire!’ She screamed then ran into the kitchen and filled a basin of water. When she returned, her desk was on fire. Flames ripped through the wood, catching books and paper and all sorts. She threw the water. It barely touched the flames. She reached out to grab her precious memory box, but it was so hot it burned her hand and she dropped it. Suddenly, Alistair ran into the living-room. ‘Give me your phone,’ he yelled and grabbed it from her coat pocket. He dialled 999. The fire brigade saved most of the house, but she never saw her phone again. ‘Lost in the fire,’ Alistair said. ‘But you’ll have a note of your contacts anyway.’ Yes, in her diary, on her desk! She watches him throw the empty bottle into the sea, then slips back into the shadows. She takes the quick route home. She’d discovered it about a month ago. That was the first time she’d realised that Alistair was following her. In her panic, she’d ran down the cliff and climbed a fence that lead into someone’s back garden. Luckily, when she reached the other side, she realised she was just a street away from her own. Since then she’d purposefully let him follow her to the cliff, just long enough to be one-hundred percent sure that it took him twelve minutes to get home. It only took her three. And with that certainty, she planned her escape. She hadn’t realised how bad things had gotten at home, until one morning about three months ago. Alistair had begun insisting that she went home for lunch, and that morning was no exception. But he was in a particularly foul mood and she did something out of character, she lied. ‘The secretary is sick, so I’ll have to cover the phones.’ She needed space. So, that afternoon, she left the office, picked up a sandwich, and walked toward Ruby Bay. She used to come here with Alistair when they first started dating, when life was happy, when life wasn’t suffocating. She climbed the gravel slope to the cliff and sat. In the distance, the beach was busy with dog walkers and joggers. Seagulls swooped to the sand hoping for scraps. She sat on the grass, unwrapped her sandwich and opened her mouth to take a bite when she realised that she was crying. She put the sandwich back in its wrapper and went into her bag for a tissue. She pulled out a notebook too. That’s when she saw the empty bottle lying in the grass. I’m lonely. She wrote.
She pulls the backpack from the corner of her wardrobe, it was tucked under some winter clothes.
It was two weeks after she’d written the first note, rolled it into a tube and stuffed it into a bottle that she received her first letter at work. She really hadn’t expected it, and at first, she felt panicked. The sender, however, turned out to be a six-year-old girl who had found the bottle on the beach in Burnt Island. She’d drawn a picture of the beach with a big yellow sun in the sky and a red boat on the water. Attached to the picture was a note. You’re not alone, keep reaching, scrawled in adult handwriting. So, she did. She wrote note after note, rolled them up and tied pretty ribbon around them and popped each one into a glass bottle and sealed it with a cork. Then at lunch time, or if she could slip away early from work, she’d head to Ruby Bay to throw the bottles from the cliff. She felt free in those moments.
She checks her watch, Sheila should be here in fifty-nine, fifty-eight, fifty-seven. Shelia was the fifth person to reply to her message in a bottle. Up until then, she’d received some encouraging words, not to mention a fridge magnet, a leaflet for the Samaritans, and a postcard, but there was never a return address. Still, it was wonderful to feel connected. But with Sheila, it was different. I can help. She wrote in a letter. Please write back. It turned out Sheila was an elderly widow who ran a small B&B in Broughty Ferry. Her dog Millie had found the bottle on the beach one morning and dropped it at Sheila’s feet. They began writing to each other regularly and soon became friends. Then one day, during work hours, they met face to face. That’s when they began to make plans.
She pulls back the blinds. Two car headlights flash. From her rucksack, she takes out a glass bottle and places it on the coffee table. Then she pulls on her backpack and walks out the door. She only looks back once at the house that was once her home.
‘She’s slipped away again.’ Alistair moans. The last three times he’d rowed the boat as fast as he could, then ran all the way home, but he never caught up with her. By the time he’d reached home, she’d be in a change of clothes and with a mug of tea in her hand. ‘Were you at the library again?’ She’d ask. He would nod then go into the bathroom to calm down. But tonight, the sofa’s empty, the kettle’s cold and although the lights are on, she isn’t home. Then he notices it. He pulls the cork out and tips the bottle. A thin roll of paper, held together by a gold wedding band, drops onto his lap. He unrolls the note. ‘Disconnected.’
It’s been a few days since I was awarded 2nd place at the SMHAF writing awards and I’ve received so many kind words since. I promised you a link to my prize winning story, but I have something better, a link to all of the short listed pieces here.
I think you will agree that the judges must have had a difficult time deciding the three winning pieces because all twelve entries were excellent. I feel proud to have my work showcased with such talent and diversity.
There has been some excellent write up’s about the event, as well as photographs and even live streaming. If you are interested in any of the above, please visit SMHAF and BipolarScotland and like their pages, both organisations do fantastic work.
Thank you if you were able to come along and hear us read from our work, and thank you for your lovely comments about my story.
Finally, thank you to SMHAF and Bipolar Scotland for an amazing event, to Emma Pollock for performing on the night, to Ian Rankin for hosting the event and being an inspiration to us all, to the judges whose job it was to read through hundreds of pieces of work, to those brave enough to submit their work, to the short listed writers who were brave enough to have their work heard by an audience -regardless of who was reading -and finally to the readers who make the job of writing worthwhile.
My short story ‘Message in a Bottle’ was awarded second place in the SMHAF writing awards tonight. Congratulations to Shirley Gillian for coming first with her short story ‘Outside In’, and Benny Allen for winning third prize with his short story ‘Twenty-Five, Vanilla Milkshake.’ The evening was hosted by Ian Rankin and there was music by Emma Pollock and overall it was great. All the the twelve short-listed writers were fantastic and I’m sure will go on to do some brilliant things.
Some of you will know that I struggle with anxiety, especially social anxiety so getting up and reading at a sold out event was tough. I am lucky to have help and support from my partner Helen, my rock.
I mentioned some time ago (2017), that one of my poems was selected to appear at two railway stations as part of the Renfrewshire metal health festival Scotland. A few days ago, I got along to see it displayed. I hope it moved some people, or just passed a minute while they waited at the station. A fresh batch of poems will go up in May.
I have been toying with the idea of a social media down day ever since a tutor at university spoke of his own positive experience. Sunday past seemed like the perfect day to give it a go, not only because I already associate Sunday as a kind of down day, but also because I have just completed my first week studying mindfulness. I began the online mindfulness course because I often struggle with anxiety. Anxiety, for those who have experienced it, can be debilitating; exhausting on the mind and the body. For myself, I experience social anxiety, dread and an inability to rest; my thoughts go into overdrive and I feel them crashing together. My usual “go to” is social media where I can loose myself amongst everyone else’s lives – in other words I detach myself from myself. I knew something had to change; there had to be another way of dealing with my anxiety. Then right on time, along came an e-mail telling me about a free course with Future Learn – Mindfulness.
Mindfulness (and remember I am still learning) is learning how to be present in our experiences, an, in our lives. Even on my non anxious days I am constantly distracted by social media, not because it is a riveting alternative to real life, but because it is a filler. For me, Facebook more so than any other social media platform, fills the time between breakfast and walking the dogs or when the dinner is cooking, or basically whenever I have a spare moment. E-mail is another source of distraction, as a writer, I find myself falling into the trap of checking my e-mail whenever I have a spare minute; I send between five and fifteen pieces of writing to magazines and competitions every quarter so am always waiting on reply. So, when I sat down and really thought about it, it seemed that I had forgotten how to just sit and do nothing. Thus, the idea to go ahead with the social media down day was decided.
Sunday 11th February
It is amazing how your hand automatically reaches for your phone in the morning. I decided to turn my internet off so that I wouldn’t receive any notifications tempting me to pick it up. Once that was done, I put my phone on my writing bureau (it usually sits on the arm of the sofa) and got on with my day. I found myself enjoying really quite mundane things such as putting the clean washing away – not only did I tidy my wardrobe; I re-arranged it. Then I decided on a few items that were ready for the charity shop. It was nice to take time to look at my clothes properly, to see the nice items that I have purchased over the winter (mostly from charity shops or from sales), and appreciate what I have..
Lunchtime was interesting; I found myself looking at my lunch rather that looking at my phone while eating lunch – it is amazing how much better food tastes when you look at it and pay attention to what you are eating.
By mid afternoon I had forgotten about my phone and about E-mails and Facebook and all of the other internet distractions that usually filled my time and I sat and looked out the window. We have recently moved into a new house and the living-room window faces onto a private garden with lots of trees and sky and birds. The sun was shining and the sky was clear and blue and I just sat, and looked. It reminded me of my teenage self, eighteen years old, no internet, and looking out the bedroom window of our family home. There was fields and hills, trees – and a castle nestled behind some Scots pine’s. I was taken to a place where I felt like my old self again, (although I am sure if you asked my eighteen year old self how I felt, I would have declared my utter boredom) but at forty-five, letting myself be still, just looking and experiencing how that felt, I’ve never felt less bored in my life.
My phone vibrated mid afternoon and I got my other half to take a look. Somehow, without any internet, a notification had got through. I ignored it although I am still baffled by how that could happened.
All in all, my day trotted along at a much slower pace. I had the odd moment when I wondered about what was happening in the land of Facebook or if some magazine had sent me an e-mail, but apart from the weird sensation of not picking my phone up every twenty minutes, it was a pleasant experience. Now I know that it isn’t for everyone, and I am certainly not trying to encourage anyone to follow my example, but for me – someone who grew up in the days before internet – it was like opening my eyes after a long daydream. I do enjoy social media and I would be lost today without the wonder of internet, but I will continue to have my Sunday down days, where I can see the week through wider eyes.
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As a poet, I feel I have to invest parts of my own identity into my work in order to build a relationship with the poem – I need to feel it tug on my sleeve. This means that prior to writing about a particular subject I have to take an emotional journey. This might mean simply touching parts of my mind that are easy to reach, however, it often means scouring through dark and lonely emotions that I have tucked away. I find this process is an essential part of my preparation. The emotional link, for me, is the most honest way to bring the subject to life.
The uniqueness of any poem comes from the link between the poet and the poem. The truth is the soul of the poem. The truth is etched into the poems conventions. Without an emotional link, language is flat, motionless, and stale. If I were to write about a tree, any tree, the tree is lifeless unless I can create an emotional link. A link could arise if it was planted as a remembrance for someone I love, or if the tree provided shelter during my first kiss. If a leaf falls from the tree and brushes my face, it may spark a memory of a loving touch. The tree might have a knot that resembles the face of an old school teacher or smell like the time I smoked my first cigarette in the woods. The swish-swish of the branches might bring to mind a road sweeper cleaning up litter, and my anger at people’s disregard for the environment. Without an emotional connection, the tree is just an object, an image, a flat word on a page. Poetry, ‘opens a corridor between the head and heart,’ (Andrew Motion, 2012) a statement I fully agree with.
In my own work, I use truth and personal experience in addition to the poetic conventions as an art form. In discussing the making of poetry, Jamie said that ‘just as much as sound and rhythm, what makes a poem is its relationship with truth’. (Kathleen Jamie, 2012). I believe that truth allows the poet to work more closely with form, imagery and most certainly tone.
I am greatly influenced by poets such as Carol Ann Duffy, Chris Powici, Raymond Carver and Kathleen Jamie an. Duffy’s relationship with truth is evident in ‘Stealing’:
Part of the thrill was knowing
That children would cry in the morning. Life’s tough. (Carol Ann Duffy).
The blunt words and lack of emotion from the speaker actually give the poem an emotional feel. The tone is sombre, almost desperate.
Truth for me is found in reality, my own reality, and in experience, emotions, and a connection with the natural world. Finding the truth in the everyday, and exploring language, form the basis of my work. Therefore, the need that I have to invest parts of my own identity in poetry means building a relationship with the poem – I need to feel it tug on my sleeve.