Tuesday, April 23, 2024

New House Vibe

 A few years ago, we bought an old house. I started a poem about it - it was old and unloved, the wires needed stripping, it had 'efflorescence' on the walls (look it up, it's nowhere near as gorgeous as it sounds). Generally speaking we've made slow progress, although I have a kind of vision for the house - white-walled art gallery meets book-nook library with a smattering of natural history curios thrown in.

The garden is more of a challenge. How to develop a botanical jungle that resists slugs and snails, is fragrant with herbs and feels like an oasis when I only have about 4ft square to play in....



the Overlord presides 

over the detritus of the living room

where I have badly stacked the incoming boxes

such that the bottom one

is compressed and extrudes its contents.

Arms ache from van trips and stair treks.

In the echoey dining room, rows of vertically-filed vinyl records 

are causing the IKEA cupboard to sag in the middle, 

temporarily shored with two garden bricks

yanked from stacks behind the weather-beaten shed.

The exterior brickwork has a white efflorescence 

that suggests water seepage.

Electrical wires hang from door jambs like stripped veins.

She’s old and weary, like us.

The front door mat is curled to catch unwary feet.

Things move in my peripheral vision

and move back again when I stare 

like scenes from a scary movie

where the new owners have disturbed the lives

of those who came before.

That first night

I sleep like a cat with fleas

hearing sounds of the street all night

through the meniscus of my dreaming.

The house has a broad back of centuries,

wrapped around me, dusty, impregnated 

with other handprints.

Years pass.

She is still weary but her rooms

are lit with light, filled with echoes

of our noise-making. You painstakingly

revealed her wooden window sills, smoothed walls

and ceilings. We infuse her with splashes of passata,

garlic hummus, chilli oil from the garden vines.


is what you become when you live

in the same nest. Cats morph on the retaining wall.

Vinyl crackles as the needle drops. This year

we’ll give you a new roof and stem the damp

although you don’t seem to mind it.

You’ve seen worse.

Factchecking and the Forest World

It is reassuring when even the most exciting new science is questioned and fact checked by peer scientists. We need this, in a world of disinformation, AI-written articles and deep fakes. Even those who witness and catalogue signs of climate change encourage peer review that may contradict their findings based on longer-term evidence or differing analysis models.

So I dug into a Guardian article about discrediting the concept of the 'wood-wide web' with avid interest, having aborbed The Overstory by Richard Powers and followed the explosion of interest in Suzanne Simard's 1997 study that inspired it.

I was not expecting to find Daniel Immerwahr's article so richly rewarding with its nuggets of peripheral but related information. His fascination with trees goes beyong merely critiqueing Simard's stance, and providing the context for the outpouring of enthusiasm that her research engendered, and instead takes us on related pine-strewn paths of his own interests from the explosion of new plant writing, to what botanists bring to the table of ethology (plant and animal psychology). Full of intriguing diversion (trees can smell themselves, can a rat's spinal cord act like a brain, do some plants have a form of sight?) it's well worth a read, and nature writers may find inspiration in it for worthwhile exploration for their own writing.


Thursday, October 12, 2023

How Many Years Does It Take to Write a Novel?

I don’t appeal to everyone. Or even try to.

My writing is about the things that fascinate me - things that make my brain go “Ooo, OoO!” and wave my hand to talk over you because I’m so excited. And that changes weekly, daily, oh, alright, hourly. (I may have ADHD.) 

Crafting a novel is therefore a wholly absorbing series of wanders down side streets and blind alleys, stopping to exclaim at certain points, followed by tangents through ferny foliage into impenetrable forest, being rebuffed and finding my way via pine needle-carpeted trails that take me over scrubby ranges and down into gullies, and short detours along a riverbank, and discovering that I have ended up on a promontory, overlooking where I started but with a whole different point of view. Pause, reflect. 

And then I might jump character. Or time zone.

So, I get that it wouldn’t make sense to most people that this novel has taken six years to write.

For context, I started it the summer before my dad died, when I was working at a secondary school, spending hot days in exam invigilation, watching kids with additional needs struggle in the rigid environment. A year later, with some funds that Dad left me, I took a writing retreat at the Arvon Foundation’s Lumb Bank and got some feedback, resulting in a major rewrite. Buoyed by my experience with Arvon, I asked the tutor for a recommendation which ultimately secured me a place on the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Exeter, and that blew apart the whole structure of the novel until I had a three-person perspective, a much better understanding of suspense and dialogue, and only half the word count. Cue more late-night writing binges.

It took me two years part-time to complete the MA (while working full-time) but it was a springboard to a job in publishing and a sense of self-confidence. (Thinking about an MA? Do it !!! And tell me how it goes). Patrick Rothfuss has been working (or not-working) on his novel The Doors of Stone for over 12 years. Plenty of authors have taken longer - with varying excuses - but I guess it takes as long as it takes.

Last month I was made redundant from a job I loved. Three weeks have passed, where I've been applying for insane numbers of job applications for every sort of creative role imaginable, and still not one interview. Yet. The university has been supportive. They said with my CV they’d be lucky to have me on their temporary admin team  - and I’ll be glad to get some work (and money) under my belt in a week or so. 

But this week, I’ve written the final chapter of Outlandish: a novel about a boy with maladaptive daydreaming. 🙂

(Thanks to Farley Lapenna for the illustration - https://www.instagram.com/lapastaillustrations/ https://www.linkedin.com/in/farley-lapenna-19b938180/)

Wednesday, September 06, 2023

 When I first started this blog in 2006, I felt like a lone voice. Funny how movements galvanise groups and grow, and now SO MANY more people on the planet are following the 'Singular Cake' path - even if they don't call it such.

The idea was simple. Only take one slice of cake. 

If that is all you need, take it, share it, and enjoy it. Don't take more than you need. So YES - that means no billionaires. It means no dictators. It means no multi-national conglomerates building oil pipelines or companies strip-mining natural areas.

It's a simple philosophy and can be applied to all areas of your life. 

I actually just looked back at some of my early blog posts and re-read my God's Bet story, and still feel it's right on the nose. Do take a look; back in sweet 2006....

So, how do we persuade everyone to adopt this mantra? One person at a time? That may take too long and the planet is kinda in crisis and can't really wait ten or twenty more years.

We've gotta be more proactive. Tell a friend, who tells their friend, sure. But also tell groups, and communities and people making TV programmes and radio shows. Tell your old cranky neighbour and your 4-year old niece. Tell famous people (they get about a bit.) Tell someone you know in authority, and get them to put pressure on someone higher up.

Feels like we're ready for this change, and I have spent the last 17 years espousing it in one form or another - from the colleagues I work with to the poems and novels I write. If you want to be part of the solution (and if that means your descendants get to survive, who wouldn't?) please take the time to explain it, far and wide.

Just one slice of cake. Only take what you need. 💗

Tuesday, July 04, 2023

When is a First Draft not a First Draft?

     When it's been edited along the way, over the past four years, locked down in a third floor flat during a pandemic with a view of treetops, and subsequently workshopped and torn apart and reconstructed during MA seminars and a week long Arvon course, and with writer-ly friends, and shared with my target audience ie other Maladaptive Daydreamers for feedback, and then scoured for themes and foreshadowing and nitpicky errors during hot sweaty nights after work.

I mean, it is STILL technically a First Draft.

But boy, she's almost watertight.

If I were giving advice to anyone but myself, I'd be saying this is STILL a First Draft. 


1. You don't have the distance from the text that you need for rigorous copy-editing.

2. If you had it published tomorrow, are you SURE you wouldn't want to change a thing?

3. It isn't a Final Draft until cold hard professionals have had their hands on it, and she still sails.


Okay, so maybe I can call it a First Draft (Revised with buoyancy aids). 

It's painful, and I am impatient, but I'm off for another tack around the bay....