Namaste, बहुत समय से देखा नहीं (bahut samay se dekhā nahīṅ) Hello, long time no see!

I arrived back from India on Thursday and am still readjusting to the time difference and the marked difference in climate and hours of daylight!
I’d hoped to blog and post pictures while I was there but using the WordPress app on my I pad proved impossible, although mainly Wifi was good and getting e mails was not a problem. So apologies if you looked for my posts but you will at least have seen the post my son put up for me about my difficulties with connection – he used a photo from my Dropbox, a picture I’d taken in Delhi.

So I’ve come back to winter; it’s not so bad, in many ways it’s lovely to be home. Also I’ve come back to my desk and writing and the serious business of editing my novel and I’m looking forward to it and I’m looking forward to finally getting reconnected…so all this week on my blog, pictures from India – this is the market in Jodphur, below the view from Jodphur Fort



fort - jodphur

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India Update

Having a great time in India but blogging is proving impossible. See you all when I get back.

Just can’t seem to get connected….


Packing for India but Thinking of the Languedoc

indiaWhen its foggy and damp outside it’s difficult packing for India – almost impossible to imagine the heat and dust of it. But pack I must or at least I feel I must make a good start. Here’s my pile (well some of it). My customised notebook is on top, my hand gel, mini torch, my knickers in wonderfully vivid, bordering on neon colours, which are so not my scene but hey India beckons  (got them in Sainsbury’s if you’re looking for dayglo underwear), my sarong, water purifying tablets just in case, all are there.

My documents and toiletries are already inside my case and my small rucksack. I’m getting there. For one thing I know what clothes I’m taking, well at least I think I do. I’m feeling the mixture of  excitement and apprehension that such a journey inevitably brings. Next, reading matter, which I’m downloading onto my Kindle – not sure what yet but I have  A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth and that is a big book (or so I’m told, hard to tell on Kindle).

While all this is happening I’ve been thinking of the Languedoc, I suppose because I’m often packing to go there and as it happens I’m using the same case. The lovely food writer, food tester and brilliant cook, Lickedspoon, is out there now – with the lovely Sean, lucky them. If you want a taste of sunshine and market food, of pumpkins and quinces, of shoes that match vegetables, of the beautiful Etang du Thau in the evening light, then read her here. She’s a delight.

Sunny Cafe in Agde

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Renga for India


Recently,  trawling through some of my old story and poetry files I came across a file marked Renga. When I opened it up I was met by the two and three line verses I wrote every day in 2010 from July through to November. Reading them back, what struck me more than anything was the way they so often captured time, that time, the very kernel of it, so that even five years on I knew exactly what day the verse was written on.

There were also powerful images and emerging truths. At the time I wrote,  ‘After only eight days I find I am fascinated by the way in which renga has such ideas of its own, how out of a simple two or three line verse inspired by the particular: one’s own world or daily life, emerges a greater truth that at times may sound and behave like an ancient proverb, that may contain a simple but unexpected universality.’

Renga is a traditional form of collaborative verse dating from 10th century Japan where poets would gather and write verses together, whilst drinking tea or saki – subjects were the natural world, love, the moon. In renga each verse must have some connection with the preceding one but also depart from it, avoiding repeating a word or an idea. So the renga is carried forward and is always changing.

So how did it work? Traditionally poets worked in pairs or small groups, taking turns composing the alternating three-line and two-line stanzas – one poet writes the first stanza, which is three lines long with a total of seventeen syllables – the same structure as a haiku. The next poet adds the second stanza, a couplet with seven syllables per line. The third stanza repeats the structure of the first (another haiku) and the fourth repeats the second, alternating in this pattern until the poem is completed.

It is however possible to write Renga (or at least a form of it) alone – here are 5 of my Renga days from September 2010 – as you will see I took great liberties with my syllable count.

damp morning roads
September sun
on pale fawn

I polish and scrub
to liberate myself

swallows on the wire
tails flicker
smelling Africa

you stop me, look hard and say
that what I do is good

flip flops,
cold feet
summers gone

It seems to me this will be a great way to chart a journey – India here I come. I hope to post my Renga among other things, while I’m away.




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Notebooks for India

I’ve been thinking a lot about my trip to India. I leave on November 7th and so I’m busy writing lists, making sure I know what I’m taking and that I have everything I need.

We (that’s me and my life time friend Marney) plan to travel light even though we don’t anticipate lugging our bags far, as for the most part we will have a driver – what luxury! We will be taking two train journeys though, because it seemed to us we just couldn’t go to India without catching a train.

Perhaps most important of all on my list – is notebook. I have yet to buy the notebook I’ll take with me but I’m thinking it just might have to be a moleskin – beloved of travellers and ‘fashioned after Bruce Chatwin’s descriptions of the notebooks he used in his travels. The name itself, “Moleskine”, is a nickname that Chatwin uses in one of his most celebrated writings, The Songlines (1986).’ Wikki

We were hoping to go to Rohetgarh, the very spot in Rajasthan where Chatwin wrote, we are both fans, but it wasn’t possible. We won’t be far away though.

Back to the notebook – I’m thinking maybe two – One larger for longer pieces, one small and easy to carry, for lists, impressions and maybe some Renga. More of Renga next time…OR  How about your very own customised moleskine?  I  think I might just customise my own.








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Stories that Must be Written

Venice at high tide

Venice at High Tide

I know when a story I need to write arrives mainly because I find myself alive to my protagonist. I am with them in their struggle. I’m there, and when I stop writing I find I still hold, in this case, him in my mind. I see him stranded in the Piazalle Roma in Venice, drinking coffee in his local pasticceria, holed up in his attic apartment…I hold him there in my mind until I can get back to the writing.

The spark for my current story was a chance remark a friend of a friend made several years ago. As she spoke I knew there was a story I wanted to write. When it came to me again this week I hesitated. Here I was back with familiar themes – am I always writing about the same thing I asked myself?
Then I remembered Thoreau, ‘Pursue, keep up with, circle round and round your life….Know your own bone: gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw at it still.

We cannot write something that is not in some way a part of us

Continue reading

Writing Bad…

I want to tell you about ‘the short bad book.’ It’s the title of a chapter in Still Writing by Dani Shapiro, of which if you read my last newsletter and/or blog you will know I’m a huge fan .
I’m an even bigger fan now, since I tweeted my blog and had a lovely and totally unexpected reply from Dani Shapiro herself. She lives by her words which are generous and egalitarian.
But, back to this ‘short bad book.’ The idea is that anyone can write a short bad book, right? So telling ourselves this or some version of this, is a way of releasing ourselves from the pressure that comes with wanting to succeed and to find publication. Well, for starters, I definitely identify with ‘the short.’ Deciding to write a novella or allowing a book to be the length that suits is very appealing to me. It takes pressure off, even if in the end you write long, or as I did, longer than intended.
Of course I hope I won’t ever write, ‘bad,’ but I don’t think we’re meant to take this too seriously. Say it with panache, a smile or a hint of irony and it’s not difficult to see how it helps to let us off the hook. It’s a bit of a shop stopper too and I like that.
Shapiro says ‘The more we have at stake, the harder it is to make the leap into writing. The more we think about who’s going to read it, what they’re going to think, how many copies will be printed, whether this magazine or that magazine will accept it for publication, the further away we are from accomplishing anything on the page.’
We can’t help it of course, thinking about getting published, hoping for recognition, competition success, an audience for our work but there’s no doubt in my mind that this gets in the way. I’ll admit I’ve been there – only recently I saw a big competition I thought I’d like to enter. I don’t enter competitions much now but this was different. This was special. I wondered what kind of a story I could write, what kind of a story would win. It would have to be exceptionally good I felt, original, and very different, it would have to be…what? What could it be? Ideas failed me. Nothing seemed good enough. I was paralysed by the brief and then forced to remind myself (you’d think I might have learned by now!) that the best stories and the best writing come of their own accord. That all we can do is sit down and begin, endure, work hard, write every day that we can, and trust what comes. Writing to formulas or for prizes simply doesn’t work.
I think we all need our own version of the ‘short bad book’. I think I might write a ‘short, lousy book,’ or maybe a ‘short, insignificant, book,’ or perhaps just a ‘bad short story.’
I remember the lovely, late, Julia Darling running a workshop I attended where she instructed us to write the worst beginning for our story that we could think.
We did this and then read around. It was startling to see how many great beginnings there were. If you have a story in mind or have even started one, why not try this and see? It might change things, it might free you up, something unexpected might happen, because there’s something about writing bad that is is fun and liberating.
The above is an extract from my weekly newsletter for writers which you can subscribe to HERE
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At Least 5 Reasons to Read, Still Writing, by Dani Shapiro

still-writingOne of those rare books that is both beautiful and useful. Still Writing is an exploration of the writing life, lit up by Shapiro’s luminous voice. Susan Orlean

Every now and again it’s possible to unearth a treasure.

I thought I’d bought and read most of the good and important books on writing but I hadn’t reckoned with Still Writing, by Dani Schapiro.

Still Writing arrived in the post this week and I read it in a day, refusing to put it down, apart from to make coffee and grab a sandwich. It was published in 2013. How had I missed it?

From page I was captivated and inspired and couldn’t resist taking out my pencil and underlining almost everything (after a while I had to be more selective.)

So why is it so good and why should you own a copy? (And no, I’m not on commission) Here are 5 reasons – if pushed I could come up with 50.

• Because she writes with love and passion but with the understanding of what it is to be a writer and the difficulties that brings.
• Because she talks of courage, endurance, rejection, the inner critic, the blank page, the big idea (a myth?), envy, beginnings, middles, ends and so much more.
• Because she is honest and she puts herself on every page.
• Because she makes me smile – as in ‘The Short Bad Book,’ a great approach to the writer’s fear of failure and how having too much at stake can interfere with our writing.
• Because its full of her hard-earned wisdom, it is entirely human, because there’s much to learn here and much comfort to be found. (4 reasons in one)


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On the Tide – an Artistic Collaboration

This is the first step in a collaboration of words and painting (shown here in first draft) between myself and artist Jan Duyt. It begins as a response to a visit to Weston-Super Mare where I grew up. Jan’s beautiful and haunting sketch – she describes it as a sketch – made me think of times coming home from school alone, waiting for the bus, watching the sea and thinking – maybe even then making up poems in my head. Jan’s painting was a gift to me bringing words with it on its tide.

weston pier 1


On the Seafront, After School

sand and tide are as glass,
words on a mirror sea
glimpsed, not etched, only half-made
half-dared, never voiced.
like the glassblower’s breath
in the bubble; molten still,
as the sea-bird stilts of a pier in mud,
waiting for a moon as red as a bus
to scooch above the marine lake,
fired in the oven of the sea.


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Why Write? A Manifesto…

I first published this post in January 2014. People often seem to come back to it and that includes me, so no apologies for re-publishing it now…

A Manifesto

Whenever I have serious doubts about my work or am bogged down with feelings of inadequacy, of not being a good enough writer, when I’m between projects and wondering what to write next or where my writing is going, when I’m reluctant to get out my notebook or sit at the machine, when I ask myself what the point of all of this is, then it is inevitable that I ask the question why write at all? Below is my answer, it’s what grounds me, and time and time again it has brought me back to what’s important, to a place where I can start again…

  • I write because I discovered I could, because after years of looking for ways to express my creativity, without ever feeling whole, I finally found what it was I could best do. What it was I wanted to do.
  • I write to connect with the world, to reflect the lives of people who live on the margins, who others might think unimportant.
  • I write to make myself whole, to disappear in the act of writing, to lose myself completely, so that time passes unnoticed.
  • I write to spend time in other worlds that fascinate me.
  • I write because I get my own room with books and flowers.
  • I write because I love reading and words and I love polishing my words over and over.
  • I write because then I am never lonely.
  • I write to give purpose to my life.
  • I write because now I have to, I must, it has become an essential part of who I am.
  • I write because it brings me great joy and takes me to many places.

I note there is nothing here about writing for success or publication! Why do you write?Answer the question as spontaneously as you can then make your answer your manifesto. Copy it up, print it out and put it somewhere prominent. Don’t lose touch with what it is you love about writing.



I once spent two months writing here – The House with the Stone Door, Agde

Writing is not life, but I think that sometimes it can be a way back to life.

― Stephen King, On Writing