Category Archives: Reading
Whenever I have serious doubts about my work or am bogged down with feelings of inadequacy, of not being a good enough writer, I ask myself the question, why write. This is my spontaneous answer, it’s what grounds me, brings 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 spontaneously as I did, then make it 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
Good Morning – Happy New Week – what better way to start it off than Five Good Things for Monday….
1. Nina Simone singing Feeling Good - Ray Mears chose it as one of his Desert Island Discs recently – good choice Ray!
2. I’ve just discovered ~ Keep This Bag Away From Children – an art and literature magazine and press. The website is updated 2-4 times/week. New print issues are released every 6 months Here is a link to two poems by Claire Phelan
3. I’m currently reading a gobsmackingly good book - The Spinning Heart – Donal Ryan there are a lot of voices to get your head round but each one is rich and true, an amazing achievement…
4. Viburnum Bodnantense – there’s one growing at the top of the bank on the riverside path up into Durham Cathedral, it smells like honey, such a thing of beauty when all the flowers are hiding
5. Am putting a day aside to read - Drysalter - Michael Symmons Roberts latest poetry collection takes its name from the ancient trade in powders, chemicals, salts and dyes, paints and cures – I’ve just downloaded it onto my Kindle but I know I’ll have to buy a copy too, that’s the way with poetry.
If being here and now is nothing more
than memory on the fly, then love
is just a trace of having loved
I always like to keep my writing in mind over Christmas so that even if I’m not really able to get any writing done I stay close to it. Why? Because it’s my writing that, apart from family, most fully expresses who I am. Because in the still heart of writing I often find the greatest peace, because somehow writing keeps me feeling right if not sane…
People write for many different reasons. I’m currently reading Why We Write – 20 Acclaimed Authors on How and Why They Do What They Do by Meredith Maran. The book features American authors. I’m not familiar with them all, there are giants like Isabelle Allende and Armistead Maupin, others are less well known to me but everything they say about why they write, the highs and lows of the writing life, the doubts, the lack of confidence etc is familiar. Here’s a taster:
Isabelle Allende – ‘…the best time for me was in 1981, when I was writing my first novel. There was no ambition to it, no hope that it would be published, no pressure of any kind.’
‘Excessive adjectives, excessive description – skip it, it’s unnecessary.’
Rick Moody ‘Whenever I am writing…or more accurately whenever I have written, I feel better and more at peace as a human being…. It’s a peaceful cloistered space, the page, where I don’t feel pressured the way I do in the world.’
Walter Mosley – ‘Writing is a long term investment. If you stick with it, you’ll reach the level of success that you need to.’
Sue Grafton – ‘Eudora Welty once said “Every book teaches you the lessons necessary to write that book.” To which I add, the problem is that lessons learned from writing one book seldom apply to the next.’
‘ Terry McMillan never, ever reads her reviews. “You have a baby; do you really care if other people think it’s cute?”’
I could go on, it’s a hugely quotable book, almost every page has something you want to copy out in large letters and stick on the board above your desk – a great book to keep you in touch with writing over the Yuletide.
And now to reading – a fat pile of shortlisted stories for The London Magazine Competition has arrived this morning. I’m looking forward to getting stuck in.
Happy Christmas Everyone and a Great Writing Year ahead in 2014!
Travelling can be hard work. In the past ten days I’ve travelled to London, then on to Agde in the south of France, back to London – out to Hertfordshire - to London again and finally home to County Durham. But although as the taxi driver said to me, ‘blimey you get about a bit don’t you,’ the rewards have made it all worthwhile: spending quality time with my daughter, soaking up the light and heat and writing up a storm in Agde, enjoying the serene beauty of the Festival of Garden Literature.
My travelling companions curtesy of Kindle and i-pod have been the best, my highlights being: James Salter reading Lydia Davis’s Break It Down – heartbreakingly good (Guardian book podcast), Natalie Goldberg (she comes everywhere with me) The True Secret of Writing and The Paris Wife - Paula McLain.
In Agde I stayed in a lovely apartment in the Place de la Glaciere. It’s owned by Keith who is a kind and generous host; even meeting me at the airport. It was very special: sweet, original, spotlessly clean, full of character, the perfect place to write in and the best roof terrace in Agde! I loved it, felt totally at home and wrote lots there – 14,000 + words, as well as spending time with my friends talking and drinking wine.
At the Festival of Garden Literature I read my memoir piece in the potting shed along with the winner Lorna Gibb – great story! – and the other finalist Mrugesh Chauhan whose atmospheric piece made me long to go back to India. In the prarie garden I shared a to-die-for hamper with my daughter – which included exquisite savoury tartlets, salads, strawberries, brownies and clotted cream. In the tent we listened to Adam Nicolson and later Penelope Hobhouse…in between we wandered the gardens and the mown paths feeling rather as if we were in a film.
The festival was like the apartment in Agde, small, intimate and dreamlike, and lingering in the mind long after the leaving…
For me reading at B.A.T.H. – Bishop Auckland Town Hall - is like coming home. It’s where my serious writing began one inspirational weekend, in a workshop led by Wendy Roberston and the late Julia Darling. It’s where my first book, The Sweet Track was launched and, long before any of this, it was the place I gravitated to in Bishop Auckland when I first came to live in the North. It was stylish; full of art, music, writing and books – it was not just a library. It was an arts centre conceived and manged by leading light Gillian Wales, who I’m delighted to say is now a great friend.
If you come along I really hope you enjoy the evening and I’d like to thank you in advance as I won’t be posting here for a while. On Thursday I’m having an operation on my right eye – not too serious I hope – I expect to be writing again soon but maybe not on the screen. It’s sooner than expected, but the sooner the better – then on to the left!
I had a great time on Wednesday evening in Corbridge (see previous post). For one thing it’s just so good to meet readers and for another the enthusiastic response they gave to the extract from my story Tough Love took me quite by surprise and was very gratifying. Mostly they wanted to know what happened to Dennis! Had he been buried in a hole along with the birds? What about his wife? Did I have a husband? And if you get to read the story you’ll see why they asked after my spouse!
The venue was perfect -Tea & Tipple cafe – and I was full of admiration for Helen of Forum Books who organised this packed event. I’ll definitely be back to browse the Forum bookshelves.
Meeting other writers like Beda who was also reading from the Root antholgy, was a huge part of the enjoyment- also via Twitter – writers : Mari Hannah, Hazel Osmond, Chris Marples - it was great to meet, have your support and share stories and a glass of wine – such a bonus. Also great to see Ian from my prison days
Of course Peter Mortimer and Kitty Fitzgerald from Iron Press - were behind the whole event – without them the book would not exist – they are just amazing at what they do – if you don’t believe me take a look at the programme for their forthcoming festival in May.
If you didn’t make it to Corbridge but you can make it to Bishop Auckland Town Hall this Wednesday 10th – 7pm – we’ll be doing it again. This time John Price and myself will be reading HOPE TO SEE YOU THERE !
- Wednesday 3rd April, 7.00 pm
Forum Books at Tea & Tipple cafe, Market Place, Corbridge
- Writers, Avril Joy and Beda Higgins
Wine & nibbles | Free Entry | Books available to buy
New from Iron Press, Root is a collection of short stories which re-affirm the North-East’s status as a vibrant area for new writing. The subjects of the 15 stories on show here range from the domestic – family relationships, gardening, bullying, adoption and loss – to the plain bizarre: a circus bearded lady, a woman who morphs into Elvis, and an insight into what God wears to work.
Read an interview in The Journal with the editor Kitty Fitzgerald HERE