Imagine you’re writing to a reader in the future! To a new soul, yet to unravel the magic of books! What would you say to them? Would you share stories from your own life? Or inspire them with passionate prose or perhaps offer up playful poetic musings?
Just such a request was sent out to writers, scientists, artists, and other cultural trendsetters across the globe by Maria Popova. One hundred and twenty-one letters were received including ones from Mary Oliver, Jane Goodall, Neil Gaiman, from composers, philosophers to a 98-year-old Holocaust survivor.
Over eight years, together with her publisher friend Claudia Bedrick, they collated the letters, matching each of them with an illustrator, artist or graphic designer … bringing each letter individually and vividly to life!
I read about the creation ‘A Velocity of Being’ last year and ever since couldn’t wait to hold this treasure of a book in my hands. Although released in January, they had underestimated the demand and my book finally arrived last week.
With deep reverence I opened the box, with surgical skill (or so I liked to think) I cut gently through the tightly wrapped cellophane. I’m sure I heard a drum-roll as I opened the pages and started to read … my heart singing in harmony with the emotions and thoughts of the letters.
Here a just a few snippets:
“No matter where life takes you, you’re never alone with a book, which becomes a tutor, a wit, a mind-sharpener, a soul-mate, a performer, a sage, a verbal bouquet for a loved one.” Diana Ackerman
“Yesterday I swallowed a book. Opened it, read it voraciously, then gulped it down in a single sitting. … A book, and the universe within, is the touchstone for today, yesterday, and — wow, I can’t wait to find out what I read tomorrow.” Anthony Horowitz
“A writer can fit a whole world inside a book. … . Somewhere, is a book written just for you. It will fit your mind like a glove fits your hand. And it’s waiting. Go and look for it.” Neil Gaiman
Music is an integral part of our lives, winding its way into our souls even before our birth. The array of sounds touch us to the core, reflecting our emotions, creating unique feelings, supporting us through crises, lifting us to new heights of joy. The variety of music is infinite and the range of reactions it creates within us is never-ending.
Lately I’ve been lucky enough to come across three pieces that sparked absolute awe within me, carrying me beyond the realm of the conscious to purity of just being.
The first one is a favourite for buskers around the globe, with the haunting refrain echoing around shopping precincts, tumbling down cobbled alleyways. For some reason many see this as a ‘simple’ tune to sing. Nothing could be further from the truth; it demands deep soul-searching from the singer, one so raw that the unadulterated passion is etched on the singer’s face, until the searing intensity of the song is felt by all. Jeff Buckley brought this Leonard Cohen song to millions around the world, and it was my favourite version until I saw this one below.
Many thanks to Laurie Buchanan at Tuesday with Laurie for introducing me to this breathtaking and heart-stopping ‘Hallelujah’ by K D Lang, which had me in tears in the end as the singer greets Leonard Cohen who is seated in the front row.
To lighten the mood my next tune is from on of my all time favourite songs; one that saw me through university and beyond. The first time I heard it was on a sunny day in Scotland (a rarity in itself as many of you will know) and it was one of those perfect days. Sitting on a window ledge with my legs dangling out I listened to this song for the first time as I watched the golfers at the 18th hole in St. Andrew’s. As I heard ‘Africa’ by Toto my spirits soared, life was technicoloured glorious!
Recently, I came across a new piano version of the song. The energy and vitality of Peter Bence, the pianist, is contagious, his enjoyment totally absorbing and fervent. Who knew the inventive sounds of a grand piano? For many musicians the piano lid bangs and the pulling of the piano strings might be cringe-inducing … but wow! The ultimate sound is spellbinding and unforgettable!
The final offering is one of the most original and eye-catching lyric videos I’ve come across. It is particularly apt for all writers out there and has a marvellous retro feel to it. The message of the song is both stirring and heartfelt, the tenderness and beauty of both the music and lyrics merging to the sublime. I hope you enjoy ‘Taste’ by Sleeping at Last as much as I do and many thanks to Sue Dreamwalker who introduced me to this song on her post Fixing From The Inside ~ To fix the Outside.
Before the video, here is just a taste of the chorus:
‘To fists unraveling, to glass unshattering. To breaking all the rules, to breaking bread again. We’re swallowing light, we’re swallowing our pride. We’re raising our glass, ’til we’re fixed from the inside.’
Thank you so much for listening to this musical interlude, and as always I look forward to your comments and discussions!
For many years I have been an avid reader of Maria Popova’s learned articles. She is a gifted writer and created Brain Pickings in 2006 to cover such diverse topics as literature, philosophy, science and art. Since 2012 Brain Pickings has had the honour of being included in the Library of Congress permanent web archive.
In one recent article readers were introduced to the wonderful poet Marie Howe and her poem ‘Singularity’. Inspired by Stephen Hawking’s work, the poem was written to a short deadline; a daunting undertaking for someone whose creations are often years in the making.
The incredible and striking poem would not leave me and I hope you find it equally as thought-provoking. Below the poem is a video with an explanation and reading of ‘Singularity’.
by Marie Howe
(after Stephen Hawking)
Do you sometimes want to wake up to the singularity we once were?
so compact nobody needed a bed, or food or money —
nobody hiding in the school bathroom or home alone
pulling open the drawer where the pills are kept. For every atom belonging to me as good Belongs to you. Remember?
There was no Nature. No them. No tests
to determine if the elephant grieves her calf or if
the coral reef feels pain. Trashed oceans don’t speak English or Farsi or French;
would that we could wake up to what we were — when we were ocean and before that
to when sky was earth, and animal was energy, and rock was liquid and stars were space and space was not
at all — nothing
before we came to believe humans were so important before this awful loneliness.
Can molecules recall it? what once was? before anything happened?
No I, no We, no one. No was No verb no noun only a tiny tiny dot brimming with
is is is is is
All everything home
Finally, I want to thank everyone for the beautiful and thoughtful comments on my previous post. Owing to a viral infection morphing into a nasty and debilitating chest infection I, along with the whole family, are unfortunately ill. I will reply when possible and return fully to blogging when better.
This time of year is a struggle for many gardens, and particularly in the UK as it endures an unusually long heatwave. For most of us, watering is not so tricky, but I wonder how this oasis of peace is faring on the ‘open’ seas?!
Who’d ever imagined a garden on a boat? Not I! On a tour of this most unusual ship moored in Harwich I was wonderfully surprised to be greeted by this most unexpected addition on the deck of the ship.
Thinking about my own passion for gardening, I realise it is a wonderful source of solace. The peace and tranquility brought by the tending to the plants, seeing their growth, caring for them is incredibly soothing. So it has been throughout time. Viewing the garden on the ship I felt an immediate sense of serenity, a hint of magic, the flowers sparkling, the details in every nook and cranny a delight to discover. The garden oozed with tranquility … it was hard to tear myself away and continue the tour.
“Don’t underestimate the therapeutic value of gardening. It’s the one area where we can all use our nascent creative talents to make a truly satisfying work of art. Every individual, with thought, patience and a large portion of help from nature, has it in them to create their own private paradise: truly a thing of beauty and a joy for ever.” Geoff Hamilton
“It goes back to the garden telling a story. You make up bits and play with them to see if they ring true. Sometimes this works out first time and all is well and good, but as often as not you have to fiddle and reshape until it is right.
In the garden or allotment we are king or queen. It is our piece of outdoors that lays a real stake to the planet.” Monty Don
I will write much more about this fascinating ship in a later post this month but wanted to share snippets of this tenderly loved and cared for garden today.
PS. Thank you to everyone for your wonderful support and comment on my last post ‘Loyalty & Trust’. For anyone who didn’t see my addition to the post during late Tuesday afternoon I found to my utter surprise that my reviews had been restored! A fantastic result and I was appreciative of their email apology later in the week, albeit without any explanation.
Ever since I started blogging, I’ve never failed to be astounded and inspired by the superb and moving posts here on WordPress. Some posts have become part of my regular weekly reading, and Feminist Friday by Bernadette at Haddon Musings is a post I never miss.
Her post celebrating the life of a woman or women mark the start of my Fridays and I always sit down to read in the knowledge of a rewarding, interesting and uplifting article.
Last week’s article on Anna Quindlen’s graduation speech moved me to tears. It is a wonderful and brave speech, extolling life and love, celebrating the actual art of living! I felt heartened and warmed by the strength and power of her message and I hope it touches your heart as it did mine. I reread it. What a wonderful life-affirming message for these young people.
Here are just a few snippets to start with. The rest of the article can be read by clicking the link below:
“But you will be the only person alive who has sole custody of your life. Your particular life. Your entire life. Not just your life at a desk, or your life on a bus, or in a car, or at the computer. Not just the life of your minds, but the life of your heart. Not just your bank account, but your soul.
“Get a life in which you are not alone. Find people you love, and who love you. And remember that love is not leisure, it is work
“Pick up the phone. Send an e-mail. Write a letter. Kiss your Mom. Hug your Dad. Get a life in which you are generous.
“And realize that life is the best thing ever, and that you have no business taking it for granted.”
Sometimes a challenge arrives at the perfect time and this one – The 3 Day Quote Challenge – caught me when I find myself surrounded by quotes, absorbed in collecting them, reading through old ones, finding new ones.
For the next three days, I will be posting a quote and explaining why it’s made an impression on me.
Rules and I don’t always mix well; so my quotes may be a bit longer and my first foray into the challenge begins with a ‘Blessing of Solitude’.
The above is an authentic Celtic blessing found in a book written by John O’Donohue called ‘anam cara’ (soul-friend) and sub-titled ‘Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World’.
This book resides on my bedside table and one I dip into now and again. Its pearls of wisdom, gems of inner-understanding ensures it’s a book that not only has meant a lot to me but continues to do so. In recent weeks some of my friends are going through hardships and I found myself seeking solace and clarity within the pages.
I’m stunned and very honoured to have been nominated in the Best Pal category of the Bloggers Bash Awards! There are only a few more days to vote until the virtual box closes at midnight on April 30th (BST) so head over to the ballot – there will be lots of familiar names there in a whole host of categories … and towards the end is the Best Pal nominations. PressHEREto vote.
BEST PAL: Which blogger do you want to go to the pub with? Or maybe have dinner with? Who never fails to reply to comments, and has thoughtful things to say? Maybe they encourage the community through weekly challenges or blog parties. A blogger who makes the blog-o-sphere a better place is what makes the Best Pal. (This description courtesy of Bloggers Bash Awards)
Two weeks ago only the daffodils braved the grey chill that clung all around. Trees barely seemed to be in bud and the occasional bulb peeked above the sodden ground, seeming to retreat as soon as they appeared.
What a difference a week makes with the welcome arrival of glorious Spring weather! As we basked under exceptional warm temperatures, the flowers in the garden woke with a blaze of colour. I cannot help but study them in awe and wonder, often whilst swinging on the wooden seat with hushed joy.
Some of you I know still have a little (or a lot) of the ‘white stuff’, some are in Autumn, so I want to share just a few photos of the Spring flowers in my garden. As it is National Poetry Month, I’ve included part of a Spring poem to accompany the images.
‘A sensitive plant in a garden grew, And the young winds fed it with silver dew, And it opened its fan-like leaves to the light, And closed them beneath the kisses of night.
‘And the spring arose on the garden fair, Like the spirit of love felt everywhere; And each flower and herb on earth’s dark breast Rose from the dreams of its wintry rest.
‘The snowdrop, and then the violet, Arose from the ground with warm rain wet, And their breath was mixed with fresh odor, sent From the turf, like the voice and the instrument.’
The above are a few stanzas from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem entitled ‘The Sensitive Plant’ (published 1820).
Wow! I felt like a movie star as I left the school, a large bouquet of flowers nestled in the crook of my arm. My mind was spinning, my heart was light with joy. I’d just had a most wonderful afternoon with a group of creative writers at a local school. Aged from eleven to fifteen, the eighteen students were brimming with questions, ideas and originality. Their enthusiasm knows no bounds (a soaring and liberating sensation). From my talk below the top tip that remained with the students afterwards was to ‘Write from your Heart’ – one couldn’t ask or hope for more.
Here is my talk to them in full for your perusal and if new (or not so new) to writing I hope it can inspire you and your work.
A heartfelt thank you for the invitation to meet you all today. I’m thrilled to be here and can’t wait to learn more about all of you and listen to some of your work.
First of all, how did I become an author?
Writing has been my lifelong passion. Just as I cannot imagine a life without books, nor can I imagine a day without writing. An inspirational teacher at primary school instilled in me the joy of creative writing and I haven’t stopped since. Writing became a way for me to paint with words, layering them for texture, using bold dramatic language on occasions, other times capturing the gentle nuances of a moment with subtle word play. It is an art form, that can be crafted, shaped, moulded to an endless variety of formats.
Three years ago I had the opportunity to start writing seriously and a well-established writing course gave me guidance on developing my writing as well as advising me on how to become published.
There are countless short story competitions available and entering some of these was my first port of call. I bought the magazines, studied their stories, and also, this is critical, read the rules to competitions. It baffles me how many fail to do this!
Very soon I won first prize in a Writing Magazine short story competition and the success of ‘Biding Her Time’ proved to be the confidence booster I needed.
I quickly developed a love for short stories and I delight in crafting them. They require clarity, conciseness whilst not being abrupt or missing out on the artistry of language and they can often be a form of character study. Every word has to count!
I draw inspiration from all around me — conversations, everyday experiences, and even news items. If an idea strikes me I make a note of it as soon as possible; after all it’s proven that ideas can float in and out of our consciousness within three seconds. If a notebook is to hand, I’ll scribble in that, otherwise I’ll tap away on the ‘note’ app on my mobile.
I’ve kept journals since young and they are a quiet meeting place for me to jot down my thoughts, ideas, concerns and story possibilities in private; never to be shared or scrutinised. I return to some of these at a later date and sometimes find a gem of an idea for a story, poem or even article.
The first line of a story is critical to me. Once that is in place the rest of the writing flows. It is as if someone is ‘dictating’ the story, it becomes organic and takes on a life form of its own. Subconsciously I will be writing away, the first draft always on paper, and many times I will be wonderfully surprised by a twist in a story or the strength of a minor character forcing their way to centre stage. It is a magical surreal experience and one that can last for hours.
The voice of the piece is a major factor in writing. I feel there are always two voices.
Your voice as the writer must be just that — YOURS. Be true to yourself when you write; this is what makes your writing original and enables it to shine out.
The voice or point of view of a story can vary. Will the point of view be first person, which is often more immediate and direct? Or will it be in the third person, which allows you more scope to examine events beyond just one person? There is also the option of the second person – you – format which I experimented with in one of my short stories. Of course, many books feature multiple points of views and it is important to make each distinct and at all times clear whose head you’re in!
Although I have printed a one-off edition of my earlier childhood work and also been featured as part of my writing group’s anthology, ‘The Storyteller Speaks’, is my first published book. I was encouraged to publish some of my short stories in a book by the readers of my blog.
My blog was set up following the recommendation by my tutor for the need of an online presence! As a result, I have made wonderful friends across the globe and also connected with people within all aspects of the publishing industry. Through this networking, I ‘met’ the cover artist for my book who lives in Australia and a company in Ireland provided extensive formatting support.
Furthermore, I increasingly use Twitter to interact with readers, writers and publishers.
Planning a novel is not something I’d considered before I started writing mine a couple of years ago. ‘Island Girl’ is now in its final editing stages and I recollect its early days with fondness. Then, as with much of my writing, I set out to write it with just the backbones of a few ideas, themes and setting.
However, my time-line was slightly array, details of my characters and places were forgotten from one chapter to the next. It was a lot tougher keeping control of all the elements of a full-length novel. Quickly I developed various techniques to avoid future faults.
One way to spot both grammatical errors and glaring mistakes is always to read your work aloud! Since it is a lot to expect to read a whole novel aloud I started using ‘Natural Reader’ app.
Various writing programs are a huge benefit.The free online thesaurus is always open on my tab as I’m working. Similarly, a grammar program such as ‘Grammarly’ helps me to fine tune work, but I never automatically adopt its suggestions. I write on a software program called ‘Scrivener’. This acts as a virtual binder and allows me to plan chapters, look at my ideas on a virtual corkboard, include research documents, as well as writing the novel chapter by chapter.
Not content with writing short stories and a novel, I have also completed two children’s books.
What other advice can I give?
Throw yourself into writing and relish the experience! Find the magic within you and share it! Write from your heart! This may be easier said than done, if like me, your head tends to rule. Don’t disregard your mind but just don’t overthink.
Once you’ve finished a piece, and this can be tough, put it aside for a while. Returning to it with fresh eyes will be key to the next stage; editing. Here engage that brain, tap into your creativity, look out for ways to improve your writing. Perhaps you’re ‘telling’ too much instead of ‘showing’? Not only is it more enjoyable for the writer to show through their writing, it will lift your story.
Never underestimate the effectiveness of dialogue to carry a story forward, to show emotions, even description. It’s striking when you can have a sequence of speech without the ‘he said’/‘she said’. Try to avoid always using adverbs with these; the anger etc should come out in the language where possible.
Never be afraid of feedback of your work; after all we learn through constructive criticism. Also start to read your own written work with a critical eye when necessary.
Play around with your writing. Writing outside one’s comfort zone is a great way to bring new life into your work. Try another unusual genre. Shift your work around — explore new vocabulary and if writing fantasy, maybe even make up a few new words of your own! Use different tenses, viewpoints. I felt a sense of liberation writing from a male viewpoint in some of my stories and using the present tense brought a welcome sense of rush and urgency to them.
When not writing, read lots! Not just in one genre but across the board. It’s a wonderful way to learn. See what works well, and also look out for writing that falters, flatlines … learn from other’s mistakes.
When you start a new piece of writing, remember that this is your first and rough draft. If you wait to write down the most I and absolute best version of your work you may never start at all as you will feel inhibited before even writing a word.
Write with your Ideal Reader in mind — recall your own emotions and feelings when you are swept away by a story. There is nothing quite like escaping into another world; when the present real-world fades to that of the fiction. My dream has been to recreate that experience for all my readers — and hopefully I have. Make your characters three-dimensional, so real that neither you nor the reader wants to leave them!
Through the nitty-gritty of writing, the joy and power of creating worlds, characters, stories should never be underestimated.
As one famous writer said of short stories: ‘(they) are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams. They are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner.’