‘I really enjoyed my time with Donna Morris. Not only does A Wake of Crows focus on solving the case of the death of a homeless man, but it delves into both Donna’s backstory and her position as a woman of a certain age in what is a changing yet still male dominated environment. She’s a likeable character and her feelings of being torn between being a wife, a mother and her career created a well rounded woman. Strong and determined, yet also vulnerable, she’s very relatable. I especially enjoyed Donna’s backstory which takes the reader to Berlin, prior to the Berlin Wall coming down. A time and place I’ve not read much about in fiction.’ Emma Rowson, The Rabbit Hole Independent Bookshop, Brigg.
Event: Saturday, 18th March, 2023, 3pm Crime panel with Philippa East, Kate Evans, Tom Mead & Nell Pattison, organised by the Rabbit Hole Independent Bookshop, Brigg, Lincolnshire. Tickets are free, but need to be reserved: The Rabbit Hole Brigg
A Dose of Reality I was naïve. I thought getting a traditional publisher would be enough. Trained as a psychotherapeutic counsellor, I know to ask: ‘Enough for whom?’ Enough for me? Enough to prove I am a writer? Enough to prove my writing is good enough to be accepted by the mainstream?
And having my three Donna Morris novels bought by Constable/Little Brown, with the first two published, has been ‘enough’ for all the above.
However, recently I have got stuck in the sticky web of promotion. Why? Because publicity drives sales and sales drive contracts for further books. I have also discovered – in a bizarre Catch 22 way – sales drives publicity. The manager of the local branch of a high street bookshop chain told me I couldn’t have a table display because my sales were too poor (and my book wasn’t humorous). She appeared nonplussed when I pointed out a table display would boost my sales.
Being in touch with other authors, I know I am not alone in the lack of promotion offered my books and the focus on sales. Even the great Val McDermid has said she would not have survived in today’s publishing world, as her first three novels did not sell well.
Number 8 on Damyanti’s list rings particularly true for me at the moment: ‘comparison can be the thief of joy’. Comparison keeps me looped back into questions like: how did they manage that? What am I doing wrong? And it is beginning to drain the joy out of the writing.
So here is something which is completely disconnected from scrabbling for publicity and is wholly to do with joy.
Thetis is drawn to the shadows liking the dark the atrament
how does she look…
opalesque skin reflecting light
streaming slate hair liquid shadow
iridescent shimmering bright
Thetis is lustrous
don’t do her justice
think peacock shimmer kingfisher wing
This beautiful poem is from Thetis by Sue Watling. She is a writer and poet from Hull where she has an allotment and keeps honey bees. Sue has poems published in a range of journals including: ‘The Adriatic’, ‘Amethyst Review’, ‘DawnTreader’, ‘Dream Catcher’, ‘Ekphrastic Review’, ‘Green Ink Poetry’, ‘Poetry Shed’ and ‘Saravasti’. Sue’s first poetry collection, Heaving with the Dreams of Strangers, was published by Driech in 2022 https://hybriddreich.co.uk/product/heaving-with-the-dreams-of-strangers-sue-watling/
Below she explores the inspiration and writing of her collection Thetis.
I first encountered Thetis in the Hollywood film Troy (2004) with Brad Pitt as Achilles and Julie Christie playing his mother. I remember seeing it at the cinema shortly after release in the UK and then looking up Homer’s epic poem The Iliad, on which it was based, albeit with some major deviations. The Iliad is about the final weeks of the Trojan war. There I was struck by the tragedy of Thetis, an immortal goddess who gave birth to a child destined to die young while her own life was eternal.
Thetis was forced into marriage and motherhood with the mortal king Peleus, but she adored their son Achilles, doing all she could to protect him. This included dipping him in the River Styx to make him invulnerable. Prophecy had decreed the Greeks could not win the Trojan war without Achilles fighting on their side, but that he was destined to die young. The fate of mortal lives could never be avoided and Achilles died from an arrow shot through his heel, the fateful spot where Thetis had held him in the river between her finger and thumb, giving rise to the appellation of an Achilles Heel.
Tragedy is defined as great suffering and this story is tragic by anyone’s standards, yet my research suggested Thetis had never been a central topic of attention. The duality fascinated me and Thetis: a poetic narrative emerged out of this dissonance. My retelling of her story is based on each of her appearances in the Iliad, alongside supplementary resources about the Trojan war where her name appeared. I felt the tragedy was full of poetic potential while the gaps in our knowledge about her life were a gift for the creative imagination.
I took a part-time degree in creative writing at the University of Hull and decided to use Thetis as the subject for my dissertation. My poetry tutor was Felix Hodcroft, who encouraged and supported me in the venture, and I was delighted when Felix offered to publish Thetis through Esplanade Press.
I’ve always enjoyed writing but most of my publications came about through my career in higher education teaching and learning. Following a restructure in 2019, I left work and realised it was an opportunity to reframe what felt, at the time, like an unwelcome change. Really it was a gift in disguise because I had time to write. Poetry has always interested me so I began to study a different way to express thoughts and feelings.
Myth and legend have always fascinated me. I’ve also rewritten the tale of Kalypso and Odysseus, while many poems in my first collection, Heaving with the dreams of strangers (Driech, 2022) have a mythological basis. These include Icarus, the Willendorf Venus and the biblical story of Samson and Delilah. Many mythological stories are set in worlds where mortals and immortals live side-by-side. God and goddesses had great powers but were unable to change individual fates, as these were decided at birth and were immutable. The possibilities for reinterpretation of myth are endless and it feels like the various cultural pantheons of gods and goddesses offer a lifetime of potential story telling.
Today I am delighted to welcome fellow crime writer Jane Jesmond to my blog.
Jane Jesmond writes crime, thriller and mysteries. Her debut novel, On The Edge*, the first in a series featuring dynamic, daredevil protagonist Jen Shaw was a Sunday Times Crime Fiction best book. The second in the series, Cut Adrift, will be published in Feb 2023, and A Quiet Contagion, a standalone thriller, in Nov 2023. 2023 will also see the publication, in May, of a very twisty psychological thriller – as yet untitled.
Although born and brought up in the UK, Jane has spent the last thirty years living and working in France – initially down on the Cote d’Azur around Nice, Cannes and Monte Carlo where she and her husband ran an event management company and more recently at the opposite end of the country in Finistère (the end of the earth).
She loves writing (and reading) thrillers and mysteries, but her real life is very quiet and unexciting. Dead bodies and dangerous exploits are not a feature! She lives by the sea with a husband and a cat and enjoys coastal walks and village life. Unlike her daredevil protagonist, she is terrified of heights!
Jane, what are you currently working on? 2023 is a very busy year for me. I’ve just finished the structural edit for A Quiet Contagion, the standalone thriller, which will be published in November. It features a sixty-year-old tragedy that took place at a pharmaceutical factory on the outskirts of Coventry, kept secret by those involved but now refusing to stay buried.
Next I’m about to start the structural edit of the very twisty psychological thriller that will be published in May. I’m hoping to have an agreed title for it soon!
After that I will dive into the first draft of the third book in my Jen Shaw series. They’re always huge fun to write so I’m very much looking forward to it.
What inspired On The Edge? The initial idea came to me when I was driving home one night past the iconic St Mathieu lighthouse. The coast where I live is very dangerous – the Amoco Cadiz went aground nearby causing untold damage to the local wildlife – so there are lighthouses and buoys everywhere but St Mathieu is a particularly majestic example and stunning at night because its beam rotates through 360 degrees. Anyway I got out of the car to take a closer look and it was at that point that the opening scene of On The Edge, with Jen Shaw’s unconscious and dreaming figure hanging from the top of lighthouse, sprang into my mind.
How much do you think fiction intertwines with real life? What a great question! And I could probably write a thesis on the subject but my short answer is – not at all and a lot. A lot because the characters, the plot and the settings, and all the other wonderful elements which a book has to have to create authenticity and a sense of lived experience. In other words to come to life. Not at all because the particular series of events that make up a plot, the different traits that create a character and the aspects of the setting the writer chooses to use all combine in the writer’s brain to produce something that is completely invented. For me, as a reader, the books I most enjoy are the ones where the world and the characters of the book feel most real but that authenticity comes from the craft of the writer.
Jen, the protagonist in your debut novel, On the Edge, and your upcoming novel, Cut Adrift, is a climber. You say you are afraid of heights, what drew you to making your character a climber? I’ve been asked this a lot and the framing of the question (not in your case) often suggests that writing about someone very different to myself is surprising. However I think that is the reason why I was drawn to Jen. I like to write about people with whom I have very little in common. Being so frightened myself, I am fascinated by people who appear to have no fear of heights and, as in Jen’s case, who seem to love danger and seek it out. I don’t think I’m alone either. Fearless people often have a certain charisma that is very attractive. However making her a climber was not a conscious decision on my part. I’ve described above my encounter with St Mathieu lighthouse that gave me the idea for the opening scene of On The Edge and Jen arrived as the daredevil but troubled climbing protagonist very quickly afterwards. At the time it felt as though she sprang to life fully formed although I suspect she had been lurking in my sub conscious for quite a while.
On the Edge, is written in the first person, why did you choose this pov? Did you experiment with any other pov? I think first person pov is the right choice for On The Edge and for all the Jen Shaw series although, once again, it wasn’t a decision I took, it just happened that way. I was very sure about Jen’s voice from the moment she arrived in my head as the protagonist in On The Edge. I could hear it and I found writing her very liberating.
But writing first person pov comes very naturally to me. It’s my default. Although I write crime fiction, which is typically very plot driven, the characters are key and I enjoy immersing myself into one character’s psyche and seeing the world from their perspective. I think there can be an intensity about first person pov that engages the reader in a different way to third person pov.
That said, I can and do use third person narrative. In A Quiet Contagion the central narrative thread is first person from the pov of my protagonist, Phiney, but the story needed to be told from other characters’ perspectives as well and for these sections it felt more natural to use third person. It was decision based on instinct and one I would have changed if I hadn’t thought it worked well on rereading. For me, it’s all about what serves the story and the character best.
Cornwall is beautifully and evocatively described in On the Edge. What is your approach to creating landscape in your writing? Thank you! My family come from Cornwall and I spent a great deal of time there as a child and love the place very much.
Landscape is as much part of narrative for me as plot and character. The three intertwine to create the story, so the choice of where to set my book is very important but I’m swayed as much by the feel of a place, its history and its culture as its appearance – although that is important! The sea, the little coves of the Cornish coast, the wild moors and the abandoned mines play a key part in On The Edge. It would have been a completely different book if it had been set in Paris or Dagenham. So I suppose you could say my approach is to let the landscape play its role in and influence the narrative rather than imposing the narrative on the landscape. That’s not to say that I didn’t play with the landscape. The geography isn’t accurate in On The Edge and Jen’s childhood home and village are woven from a mixture of different places but I tried to stay true to the essence of Cornwall and how it is in winter when the summer visitors have left. Weather is very important to me. It adds mood and emotion to the landscape (as well as a lot of inconvenience!) so the setting almost becomes a separate character whose relationship with the other characters can be very revealing.
How would you describe your writing process? A little chaotic and very reliant on my sub conscious. When I started writing, I used to write without a plan and see where the story and the characters took me. It was often very interesting but equally often it took me down a rabbit hole. I had to write a huge number of drafts to iron out the problems created. These days I try my best to outline in advance and it definitely saves me writing a lot of drafts before I finally work out what I’m doing with an idea. I am fascinated, though, by the interplay between the conscious and subconscious (probably not the correct terms) in writing. I think both are necessary.
Do you have any crafting tips, eg to do with writing dialogue, for scene setting, plot or pacing? I think my top tip is listen to or read other writers’ tips but remember not everything will work for everbody! There’s a host of advice out there and it can be a bit overwhelming. Nevertheless I will share one thing I’ve found very helpful.
If I’m writing a scene where the narrative is being carried by a conversation between two (or more) people, I will generally write only the words they speak first – as though it was a screen play – and rewrite until it rings clear and then add private thoughts, scene setting, reactions later. The end result is usually much sharper and cleaner – for me anyway.
Could you say something of your publishing journey and your experience? My publishing journey was long with a great number of ups and downs. There were moments when I came very close to getting one of my books published and then didn’t. It was very tough at times as it is for many writers. The point of success came when I was feeling very low. The indie press who I’d thought was going to publish one of my books had suddenly folded and I’d parted company with the agent who I’d been thrilled to sign with a couple of years previously. Although I’d picked myself up, rewritten On The Edge yet again and submitted it, I had very few expectations. I believed in my writing, and an agent and a publisher had too but the final prize still eluded me.
And then an email arrived from Verve (my publisher). It dropped into my inbox just as I was sitting down to lunch. A lovely mail saying they’d loved On The Edge and wanted to know if it was still available. A year later, it was published.
Looking back now, I am very happy that it took so long. I love working with Verve and I feel like we are a great fit. I am actually very grateful for the years I spent learning the craft. Writing a second and then a third book to contract is a very different experience to pre-publication when the only deadlines were of my own making. I drew on all the knowledge and skills I’d learnt during those years to help me.
The question you wished I’d asked you. The question I wish everyone would ask me is Where can I buy your books? And the answer to that is they are and will be available in many bookshops, libraries and, of course, all the on-line retailers. If you prefer audiobooks, Emma Powell did a fantastic job narrating On The Edge and she’s also narrated Cut Adrift. At this moment, as part of the promotional activities for the launch of Cut Adrift in February, On The Edge is free as an ebook to any new subscribers to my newsletter – here. https://jane-jesmond.com/contact/
And please, if you like my books – in fact if you like any book by any author – leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads or Waterstones or anywhere. You don’t have to have bought it from the retailer to do this and it makes a huge difference to those of us who don’t have an already huge profile like Richard Osman – nothing against him by the way!
A big thank you to all my blog readers for sticking with me and my ramblings. I wish you all a creative year, finding joy in the precious little things of life.
I am now officially out of contract as I have delivered my third book in the Donna Morris Mysteries series. No Justice will be out in June. A Wake of Crows is currently available in all formats including audio. Drowning Not Waving is already in hardback and ebook and will come out in paperback in May.
I have various proposals with my agent – including further Donna Morris novels – meanwhile I have been writing short stories. The one I am working on at the moment is for the Crime Writers Association Margery Alingham competition. After much prevaricating I have decided to set it in 1930s Scarborough.
I do find novels easier to write than short stories. In my opinion, they are both attempting to seduce a reader into a world created by the writer. Only the short story has a lot less words to do it in. I have said in the past, a short story is like when you are on a bus and you catch a glimpse of people through a lighted window. You are totally absorbed by them for an instant and then you are gone. It is up to you to work out what happened before and after that fleeting engagement.
In her article ‘Story Writer’ (www.theshortstory.org.uk 11.08.06) Jackie Kay writes: ‘What doesn’t happen in a short story is as important as what does. Like pauses in music; it is impossible to think about the short story without also thinking of its mysterious silences.’
She says: ‘A short story is a small moment of belief. Hard, uncompromising, often bleak, the story does not make things easy for the reader. It is a tough form for tough times. If the novel sometimes spoon feeds the reader, the short story asks her to feed herself. A story asks the reader to continue it after it has finished or to begin it before it began. There is space for the reader to come in and imagine and create.’
Writing a fairly traditional crime based short story has the added challenge that I do want to seed clues, misdirect and come to a resolution. The spaces need to be there, but in quite a restricted fashion.
The other project for January is to come up with a marketing plan which I feel I can implement. For the moment this is mostly about talking to other people (mainly other authors) which I am enjoying.
Have you any thoughts on short stories or any writing projects for 2023 you would like to share?
Today I am delighted to welcome crime writer Philippa East to my blog.
Philippa grew up in Scotland and originally studied Psychology and Philosophy at the University of Oxford. After graduating, she moved to London to train as a Clinical Psychologist and worked in NHS mental health services for over ten years. Philippa now lives in the Lincolnshire countryside with her spouse and cat, and alongside her writing she continues to work as a psychologist and therapist. Her debut novel Little White Lies was long-listed for the Guardian’s “Not-The-Booker” prize and shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger. She has since published two further psychological suspense novels, Safe and Sound and I’ll Never Tell, and is currently working on her fourth. See more at: Amazon/Philippa East
What are you currently working on? I am currently working on my fourth psychological suspense novel, currently titled The Hoax… It features a remote Scottish boarding school, a group of troubled teens, the untimely death of a therapist, and two ex-spouses thrown together to investigate. I’m coming towards the end of the first draft right now, which means the hard work of “making it good” starts soon!
What has inspired the novel you have most recently published? My most recent novel, I’ll Never Tell, had lots of iterations before it fell into its ultimate shape! I think ultimately, it was a combination of two idea kernels. The first was of a couple arriving in a foreign country and having to confront their own marital crises in the process of searching for their missing daughter. I also was fascinated by the question of how a family might function with a child “star” at its centre. And then I thought: what if the child star was the one who had gone missing?
How much do you think fiction intertwines with real life? As a crime/thriller writer, I definitely draw a lot of my story ideas from true crime TV shows and podcasts. I think I write to try and understand people and what makes them “tick”, so although I write fiction, I am definitely always trying to make sense of real life, and the people we encounter in it. Sadly, my novel Safe and Sound was inspired by the real-life story of Joyce Vincent, a charismatic, sociable woman in her thirties whose death went unnoticed for nearly three years. Since I wrote and published Safe and Sound, tragically there have been further similar stories in the news.
You are a working clinical psychologist, how does this help or hinder your writing? I think mostly, it helps it. As therapists, we hear many, many narratives about people’s lives and struggles, and I think this has given me insight into some of the universal themes of the human condition: love, acceptance, belonging, self-esteem and truth. I think it also helps me understand how people generally “tick” – what affects us and how, what motivates or frightens us, and how we relate to other people.
For me, writing is a way to try and understand the world, other people, and myself. I think this drive originally led me into the field of psychology – and now story-telling has become my means to ask and explore those questions. Therapy is so much about empathising with other people – putting yourself in their shoes, with compassion. This is the way I try to relate to my characters too.
How would you describe your writing process? Um… messy! (Despite being a very organised person generally in life.) I generally will spend a number of months exploring an idea and working it into a rough outline, before I start writing. These days, I steer clear of formal outlines (which tend to lead me down the wrong track) and I just make loose notes in a notebook to steer me along the right story track. I will then do a VERY messy first draft of about 80k words, writing about 2,000 words a day. I don’t edit as I go, and I write in a VERY undisciplined way. I will then usually spend another 2-3 months working through a number of further drafts to sort everything out before showing it to my editor. After which, I’m likely to go through at least another three drafts.
What helps you to write/what gets in the way? Since becoming a professional author (wow, that’s weird to say!), I’ve learnt to keep a clear separation between my creative processes as a writer, and the business of publishing, promotion, etc. Too much focus on sales, reviews, the market, etc can really create a lot of instability and self-doubt which is fatal to creativity! On a more practical level, I treat writing as a job (which, um, it now is!), meaning I prioritise it and carve out time for it every week. Having author friends to chat to and share ideas with is also essential. As you’ll see from the dedication and acknowledgements for I’ll Never Tell, my fellow authors have been an invaluable source of support along the way.
What kind of research do you do & how do you go about it? Mainly using Google! With the sorts of books I write, there isn’t usually too much research required, and most things I need to know I can find on the Internet. Occasionally, I will put a shout-out on Twitter for someone who knows about something more niche that I need help with. I generally focus on telling my story first, in the way that works for me, and do my fact-checking later, otherwise I think I would get too restricted by the facts and feel unable to keep the plot going. I have to give a shout-out here to my friend Stuart Gibbon, a retired Police Detective who has helped me hugely to get any police-procedural parts right in my books.
Do you have any crafting tips, eg to do with writing dialogue, for scene setting, plot or pacing?
There are five key craft elements that I would say all writers should aim to grasp, practise and master. These are: # show vs tell # point of view (POV) # psychic distance # the “five commandments of story telling” (the art of structure) # story genre (NB: this is different to marketing / publishing genres!)
You write crime novels which are stand alones. Have you ever thought about writing a series? What do you think are the pros/cons of writing stand alones rather than a series? I tend to think of my books as standing “one step to the side of a crime”, rather than traditional crime novels. As a result, I’ve tended to write stand-alone books that often focus on interpersonal relationships and the emotional fall-out of extreme events as much as solving a mystery. For me, story-telling is about a character’s journey though challenge, conflict, “death” and “rebirth” (the classic “Hero’s Journey”). For me, the story naturally concludes once the protagonist has completed this cycle of growth. I can imagine that in some ways it is “easier” to write a series, in that you generally have your setting, characters, etc. ready and waiting for you at the start of each book. However, I think I’d feel too “hemmed in”, since I do like the flexibility of being able to explore brand-new characters, themes and set-ups each time – even if it means starting from scratch with each book!
Could you say something of your publishing journey and your experience? I began writing ‘seriously’ about 12 years ago, with a terrible novel that I never finished or showed anyone, but which made me fall in love with writing. I then wrote short stories for many years, which was a great way to practise my craft and learn what it takes to get published. In 2015, I left my full-time NHS job to work part time as a private psychologist, and began another novel. After slogging through 12 drafts (yes, 12), an agent at the York Festival of Writing showed some interest. She read the full MS and then suggested I re-write the whole thing. The thing is, she was totally right. So I re-wrote it – cue another 12+ drafts! – and (thankfully!) the agent took me. This ultimately became Little White Lies, which subsequently sold at auction to HQ/HarperCollins. Somehow, I have since completed two further novels, and have a fourth in the pipeline!
The question you wished I’d asked you. Oo, I’m not sure! I’ll take this opportunity to say do come and say hi to me on Twitter (@philippa_east), which is where I’m regularly hanging out. I love chatting to readers, writers and all book-ish people, so I’ll be happy to hear from you. Obviously you can keep updated on my book news there, and I also post about upcoming author events I am doing (online and in person), in case you’d ever like to join in on that. You’ll also get to know my cat Mimi who regularly appears in my posts!
Attending events – especially those where a certain amount of networking and putting myself out there is required – is not without its anxieties. Then Covid added its own peculiar menace to being around people. I have to admit, therefore, it was with some trepidation that I set off for Harrogate and Theakston’s Crime Writing Festival on Saturday.
Luckily this year the sessions were in a large airy marquee and eating and drinking could be done outdoors, which allayed some of the fears. And I was able to meet with a couple of authors who I already knew, so that also helped.
I enjoyed the sessions I attended. ‘Experts Chortling’ brought together some of my favourites: (Baroness) Sue Black and Carla Valentine with psychologist Emma Kavanagh. They were joined by former police detective Graham Bartlett. As well as being a wellspring of interesting information, they were all very funny too.
By the time I got to the book shop Sue Black’s books had sold out. I am not surprised. She manages to make the business of death and the dead fascinating and entertaining without ever losing respect for those who have died. Plus, if you are a newbie crime writer, along with Unnatural Causes by Dr Richard Shepherd, Black’s books, interviews and documentaries are gold dust.
During the panel, Emma Kavanagh said crime writers were too often drawn to featuring characters traumatised by their pasts. What is more remarkable in reality, Kavanagh suggests, are the number of people who fall apart after trauma, and then show resilience, recovery and growth. It got me wondering where this might fit into a crime story.
The other afternoon session I went to was a discussion of the ‘future of the police procedural’. The panel was: AA Dhand; Jane Casey; Parker Bilal and Adam Lebor. All were clear on the duty of the crime writer to tackle difficult issues in a responsible way. Casey suggested crime authors are the ‘Rapid reaction squad of the literary world’ developing stories around current debates quicker than other writers.
Lebor said (as I have done in the past) that there are far too many young women who end up dead in the crime fiction genre. His series is set in Hungary and has a detective from the gypsy community (apparently ‘gypsy’ is the term used by the peoples themselves in this country). It has plenty of scope for exploring the lives of refugees, as well as the prejudices against the Roma.
They all characterised their protagonists as ‘lone wolfs’, especially AA Dhand’s Harry Virdee who the author likened to a gothic comic book hero (not my taste at all and I realised why I had never taken to his books). With my Donna Morris mysteries, I have gone in the other direction. Donna is definitely not a maverick and she needs the team, just as they need her (though she struggles to properly comprehend this). The relationships between the police officers are something which has been praised by some readers. I hoping the future of the police procedural includes space for a team player.
After paying £4.35 for a cup of tea (yes!!) and spending more than I would care to mention on books, I wended my way home. A shout out to Northern and Transpennine Express whose staff were friendly and whose trains were on time, comfortable, clean and not too busy.
Have any of you some good memories of literary festivals you would like to share?
I am exceptionally pleased to be offering this workshop in February 2022 for NESTT. All details below.
Nourishing the Creative Self: Sustenance for the Journey
A creative writing for wellbeing workshop Saturday, 12th February 2022. Arrive from 9.30 for 10am start. Finish at 3pm Venue: NESTT CIC, Pocklington, East Riding of Yorkshire. Covid arrangements: This will be a small in-person workshop with 6 participants and 2 facilitators. We intend to include a short walk. If government regulations do not permit us to meet in-person, this workshop will move online. On this occasion, we will not be offering a blended experience. Fee: £50 Tutor: Kate Evans Booking through Lydia Noor firstname.lastname@example.org
For those of us who choose to take on a caring role either professionally or within a private capacity, there is often an emotional toll which we are sometimes not fully aware of. To be available for others, we need to develop a certain psychological robustness. We need to take care of ourselves. If we are shredded, then we are no use to our clients or those we support.
Exploring and nourishing our creative spirit can be part of our self care and creative writing for wellbeing one route into being more attentive to our needs and providing for them.
Through some gentle facilitated writing prompts, this workshop offers the opportunity to discover what creative writing for wellbeing might bring us. It is suitable for those who are new to this approach, as well as those who have some experience and want to go further. We all have a creative self, all it needs to flourish is time, space and permission. This workshop will offer ways of encouraging it to breathe. The focus of our time together will be on the process rather than the product, therefore, participants won’t be asked to share their work.
Nourishing the Creative Self: Sustenance for the Journey is a creative workshop organised by NESTT. It is aimed at therapists, those who work in the caring professionals and also those who have chosen to take on a caring role for a member of the family.
The tutor Kate Evans is a writer. She trained as a psychotherapeutic counsellor. She has facilitated creative writing courses in academic settings, as well as within the community and for health professionals. She is a firm believer that creativity is good for our wellbeing. This belief stems from both her own personal experiences, in addition to her training and academic study.
She writes poetry, fiction and creative non-fiction. She has a MA in Creative Writing, Education and the Arts from Sussex University and she trained to be a psychotherapeutic counsellor at Scarborough Counselling & Psychotherapy Training Institute. She is involved in organising events within the spoken words community in Scarborough. Her non-fiction Pathways Through Writing Blocks in the Academic Environment was published in 2013. She is currently writing a crime series for Constable/Little Brown. The first novel, A Wake of Crows, came out in June 2021
I am not the first person to say that one of the most essential things for becoming/being a writer is to turn up. Of course, there are other factors like: reading; cultivating the creative process; finding support; getting feedback. But in the end, unless we are there with pen in hand or fingertip to keyboard, we won’t be writing. It is not something which can be done in theory.
In general, I would suggest what gets in the way of ‘turning up’ can be separated into two categories:
(1) External pressures. (2) Internal scripts.
I have been lucky not to fall prey to (1) too often. When I did paid work full-time, I wrote in the evening and at the weekend. I have (selfishly, some might say) never felt responsible for feeding/clothing/entertaining another nor for cleaning the house/tidying the garden. I have never had to negotiate a ‘room of my own’ and time and space to write. However, if you want to write, then this negotiation – with self or others – has to take place.
On the other hand, my internal scripts can pull me up short. They are often along the lines of ‘I am not good enough’ and ‘this is a waste of time’. Ten years of therapy has helped and the support of writing friends. Plus writing around these internal scripts, playing with them, having a dialogue with them can also be beneficial. I would be amazed if there was a writer alive who did not have to wrestle with some internal scripts, so acceptance that it is part of the process can also be useful.
Stepping Away As well as turning up, I have found stepping away valuable. My creative process works best with bursts of writing (60 to 90 minutes) followed by some kind of exercise. I walk, swim (pool or sea), do yoga or cycle. And then come back to the writing with renewed vigour and fresh ideas.
I think, perhaps, some writers find themselves blocked because they haven’t worked out when they need to step away. However, it is also important to recognise when the ‘stepping away’ is an avoidance or a distraction rather than a refuelling. The clue will be that you are not getting any writing done at all.
What is it about movement and the creative process? Over centuries, a division has occurred between what has been designated ‘the mind’ and ‘the body’. This wrong step is slowly being re-examined with research around holistic medical approaches, and around thoughts/feelings originating in the body to be interpreted by the mind.
It becomes complex exploring this without falling into the dualistic trap. But basically, we are one organism. When we are writing, it might feel as if the creativity is coming from our head and our body is merely the mechanism by which the words reach paper or screen. However, I (and others) do not believe this to be true.
Our head and body work as one system – complementing and informing each other. The creativity swishes around like blood circulating. If we become too static, sat at a desk or scrunched in a chair, only our hands shifting, then the dissemination gets blocked. It is only in getting up and moving that we can release it again.
Creative Process We all have our own creative rhythms. Be sensitive to them. Notice them. Encourage them. Working out what they might be and working with them will aid us to be the writer we want to be.
A Wake of Crows has a back story which dips into the history of the former GDR (East Germany). I have wanted to write about the GDR for some time because of a long term friendship I have with a woman from Dresden and because of visits to that city and Berlin in the 1980s and after. One thing I noticed soon after the Berlin Wall came down was that the years of communism were being glazed over. Especially in Dresden where it was like the history of the city jumped from Baroque glory to the present day. This is changing somewhat particularly in Berlin. When I was last there, a park was being built up around remnants of the wall and oral histories of the communist period.
However, I do think as humans we are good at forgetting.
Recently I have been reading various books exploring racism to help me examine my part in it. The one I am currently on with is Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch. She brings into sharp focus how racism is experienced by Black people in the UK and how white people in the UK have not even attempted to understand our history of slavery, prejudice and denigrating those who have been ‘othered’ and exploited because of the colour of their skin. We white people want to forget, because it is easier to do so. As Hirsch writes: ‘We want to be post-racial, without having ever admitted how racial a society we have been.’ (P125.)
Non-remembering is easier, but it means nothing changes.
There is a danger that the true visceral horror of the pandemic is being lost in the sprint to ‘get back to normal’. Plus, that the trauma and mistakes are not going to be springboards for a better way of doing things. We lurch, it seems to me, from one crises to another without any real vision. And we fall into the trap of silo-ing issues. An item on the news about climate change is quickly followed by another on ‘growth’ or holiday flights or problems with fuel deliveries. No link is made. No pause is taken to say, well maybe, because of climate change, we should be looking at things differently.
I certainly do not have any answers. But as a writer, I do think I have a role in keeping the collective memory alive. I have a role in pointing and saying, ‘There look’, even when it’s uncomfortable and upsetting. This is what I attempt to do, in a very small way, in my writing in general as well as in my novels.
Today I am delighted to welcome Adrienne Silcock to my blog https://www.adriennesilcock.co.uk/poetry/ She has recently published a collection of herbal poems with The High Window Press called Of Gardens and Witches. Below is one of the poems from her book, plus her thoughts on what inspired it and the whole collection. Enjoy!
Dill Anethum Graveolens
give seeds for luck to the bride to place in a shoe to the groom for the pocket
give seeds to protect the baby – a small bag in the crib – or to children during church to hush and stay their hunger
give leaves to the person who believes themselves bewitched
give tea for hiccups, swelling, insomnia and pain
infused by Neolithic chef and Pharaoh across Russia and Rome
consider the smallness of seeds
Adrienne writes about her collection:
Even before the Covid pandemic, many of us were beginning to turn towards the natural world for answers and for healing. Some had done so a long time ago. I think I’ve probably been one of the latter, but somehow societal issues seemed to be coming to a head. Climate change, continuing international conflict, people’s mental health issues (I was keenly aware of these, having worked in mental health for a large chunk of my working life)… I started to consider how people over the centuries have turned towards herbs for help.
I began to do the research. Society has had a very long relationship with Dill for instance. Ever since Neolithic times in fact. People used seeds to support superstition, to suppress hunger in times of starvation, to treat mental health issues (give leaves / to the person who believes / themselves bewitched), to treat insomnia or simple physical discomfort, such as hiccups! In a way we have learned to take herbs for granted. On the other hand we’ve forgotten about their magic, their taste, how they can be part of a healthy diet. Suddenly I found myself writing a herbal!
There are so many ways to talk about different herbs. Some of the poems in the collection engage with history and/or mythology, others reflect their usage in modern life, or in the case of Hyacinth (who knew that is considered a herb?) a symbolism for the brevity of life itself. Some are edible, others poisonous. Some have disappeared. I found man’s imprint on the planet and the world’s fragility appearing in my writing again and again. Some poems are light, others wistful and sad, some poems are written with form, others are free. And there are even notes for the curious at the back. I hope that there is something here for everyone.
Adrienne’s most recent publication is Of Gardens and Witches, a collection of herbal poems is from The High Window Press (September 2021). She has also published a poetry pamphlet Taking Responsibility for the Moon with the Mudfog Press (2014), has appeared in the independent press and various anthologies, including Chaos (Patrician Press, 2020), Geography is Irrelevant (Stairwell Books, 2020) and is a featured poet in Vindication (Arachne Press, 2018). She has published two novels, Vermin (Flambard, 2000) and The Kiss (on Kindle) and was shortlisted for the Virginia Prize 2009 for an unpublished novel Controlling Aphrodite.