The first snow drops appeared in our garden at the weekend and it’s always something to celebrate. More are pushing their way through the earth and soon there will be a shock of white on the bank. Other good news this morning came in an email from Nina Killham. She offered to provide feedback on a synopsis and the first fifty pages of a novel as part of the Authors for Refugees fundraising scheme. I was lucky enough to place the winning bid and now have some positive ways forward to hone the opening pages of my latest manuscript The String Games. (It’s worth looking out for the Authors for Refugees scheme next autumn as there are some fabulous writers, agents and publishers who offer their services to raise money to support refugees.) Nina has three published novels and another one in draft. Due to my interest in children’s voices in adult fiction, I read Nina’s novel Believe Me which is narrated by thirteen-year-old Nic, who is brought up in an atheist household but turns to Christianity. It’s an assured study of the relationship between a boy and his mother and is well worth reading.
David has had a cold for well over two weeks. I thought he’d long since stopped being infectious but just before the holidays, the first signs of my cold appeared. Drowning myself with Echinacea didn’t help nor using oregano oil purchased to kill off germs. By Christmas Eve it was clear I’d end up in a ditch if I attempted driving my mum over to Bude to visit my sister. In spite of collecting his mum the previous day from Taunton, my wonderful husband stepped in. While we had a pub lunch, David found a pasty shop, had a look at the sea and then completed the five-hour round trip. Plans for my 8km run on Christmas Day were abandoned in favour of a trudge through some muddy fields. My only contribution to Christmas lunch was some red cabbage that I’d prepared earlier in the slow cooker so David laid on the full spread. While I joined the Christmas toast with a slurp of hot lemon, he popped champagne corks and organised the family, even managing to win three games of Scrabble. He’s off again at the minute, driving Grandma home (only a 3-4 hour drive today, depending on whether the M5 has reopened after an icy start). I stay at home, steaming my head over a bowl of Olbas oil. In spite of all this, he stills says it’s been a lovely Christmas!
Come the first of October 2017, the legs in the background of this shot may be mine. Yes, I’m training to enter the Salisbury half marathon. I have done the 5km Race for Life a couple of times but that involved a month’s practise and then feet up until the next time. It’s quite different having a long term goal… and of course the distance is considerably further. Thus far, I’ve been able to run 7km in about 40 minutes and I swim three times a week usually completing 1.1km in forty minutes. This afternoon, I had a huge success as I managed to swim front crawl for 7 x 25m lengths. Sadly, this wasn’t all in one go, but that’s my next target. (I knew the purchase of a pair of goggles would pay off.) I’ve also joined the gym so I’m hoping to get some proper instruction on improving my swimming technique. All the exercise has made me realise how hopelessly target driven I am. Welcome to my new obsession!
Travelling home from the NAWE conference in Stratford-upon-Avon, Dave and I stopped for a night in Oxford. We had a wonderful day visiting one of my favourite places, the Pitt Rivers Museum. The entrance is situated inside this fabulous building: the Oxford University Museum Natural History (OUMNH) on Parks Road.
The door leading to the Pitt Rivers Museum is on the far side of the building and there are plenty of exhibits to distract along the way. I love the way visitors are encouraged to touch some of the items on display.
(If you’re interested, the American Black Bear has quite a coarse coat.)
I love the Pitt Rivers Museum – it must be one of the few to offer the loan of a torch to assist in reading the many tiny, handwritten labels. I like to head of the displays of artefacts from Papua New Guinea. (I lived in the Highlands for two years from 1982-84 and have written about some of the things I brought home here and there’s a fictional story here.)
This is a photo of a display of lime spatulas from Papua New Guinea. (Lime powder is used in the process of chewing betel nut which stains the teeth red and gives a mild euphoric high.)
If you’re ever in Oxford, do go along to the museum – you’ll find some very surprising items on display.
In a new bid to lead a less sedentary life, I’ve started visiting the local swimming baths three times a week. Currently, I can swim 1km in forty minutes but I’m fast improving on that time. Also, as I spend far too much time sitting at my desk, I decided to clear a workspace on a filing cabinet to create a new standing desk. Here I am at my new work station.
It took me a whole day to clear a relatively small space (I didn’t realise quite how much stuff I had stashed in boxes and bags). Most of it relates to previous employment working in schools and as many of the resources are now available online, I was able to ditch quite a few folders. However, I want to be able to apply for a post in educational management with Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) one day, so I’m not ready to relinquish everything. After a serious tidy up, my shelves now look like this:
There remain one or two boxes I haven’t looked in and the top shelf is still a dumping ground but what an improvement. I’m so pleased with the result I just had to blog about it!
What does your working space look like?
Here is the short fiction story that came highly commended in the National Poetry Day Bournemouth flash fiction competition. It’s titled In the Highlands.
Droplets fall in parallel lines and the rain plinks against the earth. Banana leaves fan the mist, and beneath the covered balcony of the lodge, there’s activity in the kitchen. I’m startled by shouts in Tok Pisin then I concentrate, trying to make sense of the words. Elias appears barefoot in the doorway and watches the downpour; his springy hair shows a scattering of flour. He lights a cigarette rolled in newsprint and takes a long drag. ‘Im bagarap.’
‘Bugger up, indeed.’ I assume he’s referring to the weather, but it could be a disaster in the kitchen, judging from the smell of burning that wafts. He disappears inside before I have a chance to practice my conversational skills, not that he really wants to talk to me. It’s easier being with the women in Papua New Guinea. They chatter and stroke my hair with fingers thin as vanilla pods.
When the sun splits the clouds, I walk to the edge of the gully. The land is covered in a lemon light and the river is a piece of twisted foil. In a clearing, little children emerge from kunai houses, squat wooden buildings with smoke seeping through the thatch. One boy is naked but for a belt of twine strung around his middle and his head’s been shaved. The hair is used to make ceremonial wigs which the tribesmen decorate with bird of paradise feathers. I have at least learnt something during my study tour.
‘An-i-ta’ The three syllables of my name bounce over the distance from the lodge. I return to find Elias with his hands cupped. Whatever he’s holding, I hope it isn’t alive. Last night a moth the size of a dinner plate had me cowering under the covers.
‘Lukim yu.’ He hands me a clump of moss and the roots of an orchid show. The flower hangs delicate between the leaves. I lean close to breathe the scent of honey.
Elias’s smile is broad and his brown eyes dance. ‘Nais.’
‘Very nice.’ The flower nods as I examine the structure and the dotted markings on the waxy petals. I find words of thanks in Tok Pisin, ‘Tenkyu.’
Elias shows me how to strap the orchid to a tree and each day I walk the garden to admire the plant. The gift is an entry into his world.
National Poetry Day was founded by the Forward Arts Foundation to promote a love of reading and sharing poetry. Each year there is a different theme and in 2016 the focus is ‘messages’. A poetry and flash fiction competition was organised by Bournemouth Poet Laureate, Myriam San Marco, to celebrate this national event. I am delighted that my poem Starlings was awarded first prize in the poetry competition and my short fiction In the Highlands came runner-up in the flash fiction section.
Myriam is doing a great job in promoting the work of local poets and I’m indebted to her for providing this opportunity. I’d also like to thank poetry judge Louisa Adjoa Parker for selecting my poem and the feedback she provided. Thank you also to James Cole who acted as a judge for the flash fiction competition. Congratulations to Sally Lewis for taking first prize for her flash fiction piece about texting. At a celebration on 5 October in The Winchester, there was a chance to hear the winning and highly commended entries. I especially liked the superb performance by Kech Wo.
This success has given a huge boost to my confidence and I’m keen to develop further poetry. My aim is to create a series of connected poems and I’m looking forward to making progress towards this goal.
Here is the winning poem:
Side-by-side we sit, watching the wipers swipe
You gnaw tags of skin beside your nails,
I grip the steering wheel like a life buoy.
Staring ahead, I pose the questions
you don’t want to answer.
Talking from the side of your mouth,
you dismiss the concerns that fill my head
like murmurating starlings.
I’m spending this week at Scotland’s Creative Writing Centre. The house is a thirty-minute drive from Inverness and yesterday, there was a huge blue sky and enough sunshine to make me want to put on sunscreen. Today, as I sit in my single room, at a tiny square desk I look onto a blurry grey scene. It’s just the weather for settling down to the tasks in hand. Another rewrite of my novel, a bit of poetry and a three-minute film script for starters.
This is the second visit I’ve made to Moniack Mhor. I’m still in touch with a tutor from the first course I attended in 2010 and have to thank Ronald Frame for his continued support of my writing. This time the tutors are Elizabeth Reeder and Ian Stephen.
I was lucky enough to win a bursary to attend the course which you can read about here and here. The internet connection isn’t great so there are few distractions and as getting this post on-line is proving a bit of a challenge, I better end here.
Enjoy your week.