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)
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.
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.
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…
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 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.
Writing is not life, but I think that sometimes it can be a way back to life.
― Stephen King, On Writing
This morning I took a walk down to Low Barns Nature Reserve, which is on my doorstep and to my delight I met a sleek young fox. It stopped and eyed me from across the river. We said hello. I smiled. I met a photographer too, in the West Hide, hoping to catch a glimpse of the kingfishers. We waited together in silence for some while but no luck.
Autumn is waiting in the wings, the time of grasses and seedheads, of rowan berries and the first falling leaves. But under the rare Alder a carpet of water forget-me-nots flourish; it is still summer in the Alderwood.
I’ve been thinking so much this week about the refugees that I’ve found it hard to write. I am so thankful today that at least transport out of Hungary has been provided for them. I am angry and saddened by the UKs response but glad the rhetoric has finally changed.
Being outside today was a good antidote to my helplessness and anger
One touch of nature makes the whole world kin. William Shakespeare
Small taxidermies and two house wrens, a trumpet made of brass, the wax anatomical heart, red. Leafless tree of birds, rabbit’s head, sparrow, shell and moth. A clutch of men’s collars, a wayward glove. The leaning tower of Pisa, the Coliseum, a cardboard British museum in a blue egg nest. Skeletal seahorse spines, curled foetus, paper, ink and quill, songs for a hoopoe, twenty seven cotton reels and a corset unravelled. Threads of rain, condensation’s ash, your finger’s touch. Fir cones and dandelion clocks. The two-headed calf from the freak show. Hooks, keys and mould. Plants that survive the dark, curiosities and Sylvia Plath. Fraying ballet shoes, a trapped bee, coral fans and the Cottingley fairy. Cloud, a slaughterhouse made of glass. Closed mouth and floating head, the child’s pose, parasols, prayers for the dead, a family of dolls like those that lined my bed, with shell and seaweed surround. The glassblower’s breath on last year’s hyacinth bulb.
We arrived in Weston-Super-Mare on Tuesday afternoon – myself and partner, my brother and his partner – we were bringing my father back to visit his former home and friends. That evening the four of us took a stroll along the seafront. It was dark, 10.30 ish, the pier closed, donkeys put to bed and the evening tide retreating.
As we approached the site of the Tropicana, once an exotic outdoor lido where our children had swum, now derelict, laser beams appeared in the sky and the skeleton frame of a fairy castle with turrets rose above high fences and barriers, its ragged flags fluttering in the wind off the sea. As we got closer we could just make out a scaffold horse and the upturned wheels of a truck. Everything else remained hidden.
So if like me you love to see where and learn how other writers write – take a peek HERE.
If you would like to feature in Writers’ Rooms drop me an email firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll book you a place – ALL are welcome here – I am simply interested in writers published or not.
I’m off to Somerset, land of my birth, to take my father back for a visit to old friends. I wonder if there is still more I have to write about this beautiful county?* I’m feeling encouraged by the response to my White River, Arkansas stories – a longlisting for my story How the River Breaks Your Heart, in the international Raymond Carver Short Story competition and what I can only class as a stunning rejection, possibly the best ever, for my novel – perhaps (for once) I really do believe they won’t have the room for it. Of course common sense tells me that in the end you find room for the irresistible – so nearly, but not quite, yet!
* My first novel The Sweet Track is set on the Somerset Levels