Tag Archives: writer

Poetry Bites #4: the Golden Shovel

 

I first came across a ‘golden shovel’ poem in Mslexia (https://mslexia.co.uk/). The form was created in 2010 by Terrance Hayes, a contemporary US poet, who used it to pay tribute to an underappreciated US poet Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000).

The process is as follows:

  • take a line (or lines) from a poem you admire;
  • use each word in the line (or lines) as the end word for the lines in your poem while maintaining the order. If the line in the original poem is six words long, then your poem will be six lines long. You should be able to read the primary source as an acrostic going down the right hand side of your poem.
  • Give credit to the original poem and poet (goes without saying).

I had a go at this with a couple of lines from Charlotte Mew.

Not for that City
‘It is for some remote and quiet stair.’

Péri en Mer
‘The crowded mast cut black against a sky
of fading rose.’

Between Species
April 2020

We were going some,
those days before we lost the remote.
We stashed it somewhere safe, behind the sofa perhaps. And
took to watching each other in the awful quiet,
only able to raise ourselves to a stunned and silent stare.

Once the places become too crowded,
people stand like masts
along the pavement, cut
off from each other. Wearing black
for the loss. One day you’ll lean against
me, we’ll watch a sky
in the last of fading
light, smell the perfumed rose.

I was surprised to find I had taken lines from poems written in the 19th century and turn of the 20th century and they became about now. Maybe that is inevitable.

Why not have a go yourself? If you like, you can share your experience or creations in the comments on this blog post.

 

Poetry Bites #2: Inspiration

The image is inspired by ‘The Wave’ a woodcut by Japanese artist Hokusai, created 1829/1833, the first of thirty-six views he did of Mount Fuji. I have obviously replaced Mount Fuji with Scarborough castle. It is a mix of collage and acrylic paint.

Once a writer puts their work into the public domain, it is for the reader to discover meaning and emotional connection if it is there for them find. So please read the poem and make what you will of it. On the other hand, I enjoy hearing from writers about their own take on their work, so that is below too.

 

The Day the Sea Froze Over at Scarborough

I walked to the shore as usual
and all was silent,
the scream of the seagull froze
above the un-pounding waves.

The crystal curve caught in mid-plunge,
surely the weight of it will crack
the prism, release what lies beneath:
the crab, the weed, the worm?

People stand and stare
at the roar-less sea, there’s ice enough
to burn a thousand tongues,
cold enough to ache.

The starlings fly and drop
and reform once more, our comma,
our full-stop, our question mark
punctuating the sky.

Even as I walk, the thaw begins.
Water droplets blindingly glitter,
slush edges the beach,
the dregs of souring ice cream Sundaes.

And we who have seen
turn to comfort one another
from the glare of others’
gleaming disbelief.

 

The Day the Sea Froze Over at Scarborough is a classic ‘what if?’ poem. The first time I saw snow on the beach, I was surprised. And I have always been interested by paintings of frost fairs on the River Thames. I began to ponder, what if the sea froze here? I enjoy watching nature and this has also gone into the poem. Lastly, but maybe most importantly, is the final verse. This covers a host of situations where a small group has seen or experienced something which others do not quite believe.

Poetry Bites #1: Be Bold

Currently, I am mainly focused on writing prose, having just secured a three-book deal with Constable/Little Brown for a new crime series set in Scarborough. And yes, I do have to keep repeating this to myself and others to make it real, as I find it difficult to believe that something I have worked towards for over thirty years has finally happened!

However, poetry is still an important part of my life. I am slowly re-reading the poetry collections and anthologies I have on my shelves and have recently supplemented them with two collections by Imtiaz Dharker. I first saw her read at Bridlington poetry festival several years ago and was smitten. I later accosted her on Bridlington station, stuttering in a deranged way how impressed I had been by her reading. I think she was relieved that she was getting the train South while I was going North. Links: http://imtiazdharker.com/poems and listen to her read: https://www.bloodaxebooks.com/ecs/product/luck-is-the-hook Unsurprisingly her voice matches her poems or perhaps it is the other way round.

Born in Pakistan, brought up in Glasgow, Dharker lived for a while in Wales and now divides her time between Bombay and London. She is a woman, a poet, who crosses borders. And she is brave, she is bold in what she has to say.

Be bold in poetry and innovate. Another poet who has found an original ‘voice’ is Janet Lees with her performances which combine words, music and images. Here is her latest Still Here. Evocative and arresting, the reader/viewer is obliged to stop and give the poem space, allow the poem its moment. In this frenetic world it is sometimes difficult to do this.

Which is why one of my intentions this year is to give myself permission to pause and read several poems. Then pause again and allow those poems to settle. I am always interested to find how this nourishes my creativity and my prose writing.

Try it. Take a poetry collection or anthology (if you don’t have any at home, go to a library to find one or borrow one). Let the book fall open at a poem. Read it. Pause. Read it again. Choose a word, several words or a line. Write this in your writing journal. At some point during the week, come back to this and add more words or sentences. Explore where this can take you.

 

 

Tip for Writers #1: Read

We’re all probably trying to find our stride again after the festivities and the turning of 2019 into 2020. How do we support our writing projects for this year? One way is to read. Read widely, indiscriminately and a lot.

We might read to research, or for background to, what we are writing. We might read the same genre as we are writing or to study technique. But, I would contend, it is equally important to read things which seem to have little to do with what we are currently working on.

Graze the shelves of your local library. Borrow from friends (and lend to them). Have a hunt round your local charity shop.

I think it is important to read as a writer not as a reader. Yes, of course, enjoy the story or the emotional engagement, but also have a third eye, a critical eye, looking out for technique, for ideas, for flourishes which surprise.

I keep a note of all I read, stating briefly what I thought worked and what I thought was less successful. I may not re-visit these ‘reviews’ but just writing them concentrates the mind and allows ideas to seep into the creative brain.

It’s easy for reading to get hustled to the end of the day, when we’re too tired to absorb anything. And I love to read in bed, though I tend to go to bed early to read so I am not dropping off over the pages. But I also put time in during the day which is for reading. For many people reading is a recreational activity. For writers it is work.

I am intending on putting more time aside for reading poetry, though I am currently working on novels. Dear readers of this blog, what are your writing projects for 2020 and have you any reading intentions you would like to share?

 

A Writer’s Survival Kit for the Midwinter Festivities

Here’s some thoughts:

  • Reduce, re-use before we recycle.
  • Plant a tree instead of giving gifts: https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/?gclsrc=aw.ds
  • Love, caring & time are more important than giving gifts.
  • Stay in touch with nature.
  • Nourish your creativity.
  • Take time out from the festivities and find some calm.

Wishing all my readers the festive time they desire and a creative 2020.

Three things I have learned about writing crime fiction

I wrote my first crime novel when I was 19, thirty-six years ago. I got a sniff of an interest from an agent who liked my writing but not what I had written and asked for something else. By the time I had produced another novel, she had lost interest.

I re-visited the crime genre with my Scarborough Mysteries series. The Art of the Imperfect was published in 2014. I have written four more crime novels since then; two (The Art of Survival and The Art of Breathing) have been published, the other two await next steps.

Writers learn to write through reading, through study, through supportive critical feedback, but most of all writers learn to write by writing. This blog details three things I have learned since re-dipping my toe into the crime genre.

(1) Jeopardy
An agent has recently told me my crime novels lack jeopardy. She said readers today want real page-turners, they want to be kept on the edge of their seats through the whole novel. Whether this is true or not (perhaps some readers, like me, want an intriguing puzzle or a social critique or complex characters) this idea has an effect on what crime books appear on shelves.

I ask myself, therefore, how to increase jeopardy? The main way is to put someone in danger. If a writer wants to stay close to reality, this causes a problem: most murderers kill once, for a very specific reason. A writer, therefore, has to work out a reason why a murderer might be thinking about acting again.

Then there’s the question of who is going to be in danger. It has to be someone who the reader cares about. A woman, especially a young one, or a child, generally automatically garners a reader’s concern. But if a writer is not going down that route, then there is another character the reader should be getting involved with: the detective. I have noticed that more and more, it is the detective who is being put in peril in order to increase the jeopardy of the story. Obviously this causes an issue in a series, just how many times is a detective stupid enough to risk their lives in the line of duty?

(2) The lone wolf detective
Gone are the days when novels with casts of thousands – à la Dickens or Tolstoy – are acceptable, especially in crime fiction. Once a writer has a victim, the victim’s entourage, a few suspects and a team of police officers, there’s not much room for any other characters. It seems to me this might be one reason why detectives with no friends or family are becoming more the norm.

(3) Naming
I often struggle to find names which stick for my characters. Names denote all sorts of things, including age, social class, nationality, culture, race, gender. The way a character feels about their name and whether they alter it can speak volumes about them. I have a habit of having characters change their names for various reasons and sometimes I have to curb the temptation to use this trope.

It’s not a good idea to have characters with names which start with the same letter or sound similar, unless there is a particular reason for doing so. This can cut down the choice. Dickens sometimes gave his characters names which reflected in some way something about them. I am drawn to this method, though it has to be done with a light hand.

 

What have you learnt about writing in a particular genre?

Poetry Workshop – 23rd November, Scarborough

Very excited to have Nick Makoha come to Scarborough to run a poetry workshop and take part in Rotunda Night on the 23rd November. I was happy to host a post by Nick about his poetry on this blog in 2018: https://scarboroughmysteries.com/2018/04/16/reading-writing-poetry-nick-makoha/

Nick will be facilitating a workshop entitled ‘Writing as a stranger’. It will focus on the ‘metic’ experience and how it influences a writer’s work. The experience is most marked for black writers in the UK and the USA, but do we all have a unique metic experience and perspective that we can use to kickstart creativity and to forge original work? This will be an engaging and provoking poetry masterclass exploring issues of identity and race, migration, exile and ‘foreignness’.

Venue for the workshops is Woodend, Scarborough, North Yorkshire. It will take place on 23rd November, 2-4pm. Places on the workshop are strictly limited and cost £10 each. If you are interested, please contact Felix Hodcroft at feljen@feljen.plus.com.

Nick Makoha is a dynamic young poet and dramatist, born in Uganda, now living in London. His debut poetry collection ‘Kingdom of gravity’ was shortlisted for the 2017 Felix Dennis prize for best first collection and nominated in the Guardian as one of the best books of that year. His poetry has been published in the New York Times and the Poetry Review and he is a trustee for the Arvon Foundation. His poems explore themes of injustice, migration and ‘otherness’, peeling back the layers which constitute our humanity. His particular concerns as a poet include the experience of ‘metics’ – people born in one country, living in another and the challenges and opportunities that experience brings.

Nick will also be performing at Rotunda Night, that evening at the iconic Rotunda Museum in Scarborough. Information and tickets from Scarborough Museum Trust, https://www.scarboroughmuseumstrust.com/rotunda-museum/ 01723 353 665.