Saturday, 30 January 2010

Time With Hawk-Eye and Easington Writers.

Easington Book Civer

What at couple of days!

One day I sat side by side for four hours with the hawk-eyed John Maughan - Design Manager of HPM Printers - entering the what seem to be thousands of final amends on the first printer’s proof of Shrugging Off The Wind our Easington Book. The next day the final penultimate proof is checked yet again by Avril and Gillian and myself. We still still find more amends. And yesterday back sitting beside John to enter these final-final changes. John has the eyes of a hawk and spots minuscule further improvements.

This is the sign off day, when we have to say that it is all OK and the print run can start. One holds one’s breath at this point. Gillian has told the writers that if anyone now finds a typo or any mistake they can take us out for a slap up lunch as a penalty.

Next Monday will be a big day for the group. That’s when the whole group will visit HMP Printers to witness a thousand copies of their book begin roll off the machines. More about that event on my next blog.

I have to say the book is looking brilliant. Amazing! This is how it came about.

Nearly a year ago I agreed , alongside my friend and colleague Avril Joy, to mentor the Easington writer’s group through their Tall Tales Lottery Project. We were in for lots of surprises. First there was Easington itself. I knew this village had a strong association with the history of mining, especially its crucial involvement in the 1984 Miners’ Strike. We also knew that – in common with most mining districts – it had lost its mines and with that its central livelihood and its working energy.

But only when we went to Easington to work with Mary, Susan, Mavis, Ann, Agnes, David,1 Page 8 Terry and Joan, did we realise the sheer beauty of this place, with its long beaches and inlets, its wooded denes and everywhere the sea rising up before you, demanding your attention. Of course nowadays there are no pit gantries and great black pit wheels but – as at least one poem in the book shows – these icons of a bygone age are missed and are still seen to have had their own unique beauty.

This beauty is reflected in specially commissioned art work by Fiona Naughton and superb black and white photographs by Fiona and Mavis Farrell - one of the writers who turns out to be a very fine photographer,

The other special delight has been the sheer character, energy and originality of the writing. As these unique writers worked through the year with open minds, the quality of their writing grew enormously. They have embraced the difficult challenge of transforming fact into fiction and have written pieces which contain gold nuggets of truth for all of us, whether or not we come from Easington.

The stories ranged widely from well-researched historical tales , to tales of Easington before even the railways arrived, to heart-felt narratives based on Easington’s mining heritage alongside contemporary tales of the disaffection of the young and the social consequences of the lost industrial base. Here also are well-wrought ghost stories and poems of lyrical quality that reflect the poignant beauty of the landscape and its meaning for Easington people. Humour and occasional roguish insight lace many of the stories a visceral sense of lives really lived.

The book will get a great send-off at its launch at Easington Welfare Centre on Saturday 6th March. More about that anon.

In the meantime here’s a sample. Perhaps you’ll read it over your coffee…

The Jackdaw

Susan Robinson

Beacon Hill draws Joe to it like a lodestone. He lies as still as a sunbathing hare in the short tough grass on the hill’s brow. The thin earth on this bony skull of land has a bitter-sweet sap smell. This is his place. He’s on top of his world here. The sea guards it from the east, stretching north beyond Seaham and then south where the land drops and the flights that tip waste from the three pits of Easington, Horden and Blackhall stretch like blackened skeletal fingers No33 p179across the shore. He puts his ear to the ground and listens to the pulse of the limestone rock beneath him, and hears the pull and push of the sea, which sounds like womb sounds, and it makes him feel safe.

Joe has the ‘sight’. He sees things that aren’t there to others, ancient memories that echo through the bones of this hill. He knows it better than a history book at school. It gives him a sense of belonging to this land. He knows these things while he waits for his friend Tom.

Tom is wise in a different way from him. He shows Joe fox tracks and bird nests warm with eggs. He points out the up-and-down flight of the green woodpecker and spewed up owl pellets they find near fence posts. These two teach each other the things they know, but Tom finds it hard to be like Joe. It doesn’t come natural, he says.

‘Let’s go get a Jackdaw instead,’ says Tom.

‘Me mam won’t let us have a wild bird in the house. It’s unlucky.’

‘Aw! That’s nowt. Keep it in the shed, man. Come on, I know where there’s a Jackdaw’s nest – the young’uns’ll not have their full feathers on yet. They’ll be just right to take.’

They ride imaginary horses, as boys do, away down the slope of the hill, to clop down the wooden steps that lead to the railway line, then over and up the other side. They stop with a ‘Whoah there’ and dismount on the cliff top above Boaty’s Bay. Then they slither down the narrow path cut into the side of the cliff to the beach below. Joe grabs onto clumps of grass to slow down and to save himself from falling head first.

They stand on brown sand struck with sun-bleached rocks and stare at a jut of land that probes amoeba-like to the sea. This is where the jackdaw’s nest is: right at the top of a two-hand-span crack that splits the limestone cliff-face to the height of ten men. The fractured rock-front is sheared off while the top narrows and threatens like the spine of a dragon’s back as it snakes to the land. From where the boys stand the monster’s curves covered by cruel brambles seem like sleeping green velvet.

‘Don’t do it, Tom! It’s too high.’ Joe can’t bear to look at how far above the ground it is. He turns and skims flat pebbles across a smooth sea, counting five, no, six leaps with his best one.

‘It’ll be all right man. I’ve done it before.’ Tom starts to climb the cliff. He seems to know what he’s doing. He reaches, his hands grasp rock and feet jam into cracks. He hoists himself higher and higher. He’s almost there when a jackdaw screeches out of the split limestone and starts to attack him. It swoops and swerves, mobbing Tom who curls himself to the rock face trying to hide. ‘Help. Help. Joe! Do something.’

Joe throws stones. They miss. He waves his hands and screams. ‘Get away, get away.’

The jackdaw flies at Tom. It claws at his head, wings flapping, shrieking.

This time Joe’s stone finds its target. The bird retreats to a rocky ledge, to caw-caw its anger. Its evil black tongue sticks out of a gaping beak. And outstretched wings menace the air like Dracula’s cloak.

‘I can’t move, Joe. I’m frightened. I want me dad. Help.’ Tom wails.

Joe looks around, hoping to see someone, anyone who could help. He yells at the top of his voice. ‘HELP…. HELP…’ His voice bounces back to him from the cliffs; the thin echo of his words mock him. The only other sound is the sea that whispers a quiet in-tide to where the boy stands.No 20 112

Then he’s startled by a movement where the Jackdaw sits. He sees a withered woman sitting on the ledge. She smokes a clay pipe, taking long sucks on the stem. It’s covered with froth like the cuckoo spit that hides the froghopper’s spawn. She has a spiteful look in her eye. She spurts a vicious stream of tarry spittle towards Tom. She waits.

Joe’s heart pounds, threatening to split open his chest. There’s not much time. He knows that the witch-woman wants Tom to fall. He can’t let that happen.

Trying to remember Tom’s movements, he reaches upwards. His hands grasp rock and his feet jam into cracks. He drags himself bit by terrible bit higher up the cliff-face. He daren’t look down. He daren’t even look up. He asks God to help and promises he’ll go to church on Sunday. He tries to match his ragged breath to the ebb and flow sea - sounds that usually make him feel safe.

His fingers feel again for security in the rock. ‘I’m coming Tom! Hold on.’ He says the words almost to himself.

At last his hand touches Tom’s foot. ‘I’m here. I’m here Tom. You’ll have to move up again. Go on, I’m right behind you. We can’t go down, the tide’s in.’ He doesn’t say there’s a witch-woman who waits for one or both of them to fall.

He hears Tom crying. ‘I can’t Joe. I’m scared. That bloody bird. It was going for me eyes.’

‘The bird’s gone. Honest’. He hopes Tom can’t see the Jackdaw from where he is. ‘You can do it. Come on. Move! ’ He pushes his friend’s foot. ‘We can’t stay here all day, Tom. I want me dinner, I’m famished.’

Tom releases a sobbed breath that’s almost a snort. It is this that gets him moving.

Now they crab-crawl, upward then sideward, making a tortuous way to the top. Finally they slide on their bellies over the cliff’s dragon- spine down a grass slope until they are back on the beach, just above the high tide mark. They look at each other and each recognises the terror in the other’s eyes. Joe’s freckles stand out stark against his white face.

Then they start to laugh and their laughter sounds crazy. They rush home, their imaginary steeds left forgotten to graze in the field at the top of the cliff at Boaty’s Bay.

The jackdaw circles its nest as it caws its victory. Of the witch-woman there is no sign.


Sunday, 24 January 2010

Madame Claire, Menton and the Story of a Book


Kim Herring – see last post, ‘Found Treasures’  - has sent me an image of  this 1923 book, its illustration and its inscription which reads:

Madame Claire Imnage Susan Erstz

For Miss Park  Who, in the opinion of  the authoress must shoulder the blame and some of the credit for this first effort   .Affectionately      Susan Ertz                      Menton April1923

The picture  and the inscription tells us yet more about the story.  Here we have a gracious upright, Edwardian figure, complete with lace cap and collar,  set against a frieze of bright young nineteen twenties creatures posing in the brand new fashions of the day and trying to forget the ravages of World War One. Music, fashion, a very twentieth century elegance - what can Miss Claire have to do with this? This is an image of change.

Digging around, I find that Susan Ertz  was born in 1894, so when she inscribed this book she would be just twenty nine years old. She went on to write many novels which centre  around female characters who enter a challenging world at first timidly and then coming to terms with what is often a hostile environment. So Madame Claire is Susan Ertz’s  first novel of many.  Apparently one admired novel was  The Proselyte a story of a London woman who marries a Mormon Missionary and moves with him to Utah. That sounds interesting.

Digging further,  I find that Susan Ertz was born in Walton on Thames, SurreyMadame Claire Pengine Image Susan Erstz. However her parents parents, Charles and Mary Ertz, were American.  As a child she moved between England and America but chose to live in England when she was 18.     So - as this was  1912! - eighteen year old Susan was doing what her heroines were to do – moving into an unknown , possible scary world.  In 1932, aged 38 ,  she married Major John Ronald McCrindle a barrister, formerly an army officer. (Is there a story there, I wonder?)

Information is sketchy. Susan Ertz died in 1985. And it seems that one of her later works, In the Cool of the Day, was the source of  a film of the same name which came out in  1963, starring  Jane Fonda, Peter Finch and Angela Lansbury.Penguin back Madame Claire

Digging around my own bookshelves I find I actually have a copy of  Madame Claire in a Penguin edition!  It was  reissued in 1985 as part of a boxed set of facsimiles of the first ten Penguin books published as part of Penguin’s fiftieth anniversary. Susan Ertz  sits  there alongside Andre Maurois, Ernest Hemingway, Eric Linklater, Dorothy L Sayers, Agatha Christie, Beverly Nichols. Mary Webb and Compton McKenzie.  To my shame I have not yet read Madame Claire. But I will.

Madame Claire was first published by Penguin in 1935. Before that this novel was first published by Ernest Benn in 1923 and and went on up be published in fourteen impressions before becoming part of the Penguin revolution in 1935. And here I am, writing about it in 2010.  Bookprint Adelphi

The 1923  edition has the publishers wonderfully romantic publisher’s imprint. I suppose it would be called a logo nowadays. Isn’t it evocative?


So there you have it. The story of a book and its wanderings through time. For me, though, the real story in in the inscription. Here you have the twenty nine year old aspiring American novelist meeting a Miss Park in the South of France, in  beautiful, fashiFile:Menton BW 0.JPGonable Menton in 1923. I feel the young novelist could not have modelled the guru-esque Madame Claire on herself. So perhaps Miss Park was the model for this woman who gives others such wise advice. Perhaps that’s why she should have both the blame and the credit for this first novel. And she signs off affectionately. The inscription is a significant gesture.

As a novelist myself I know how important that first novel is. I also know there is another novel of time, place and character buried in here somewhere.



Thursday, 21 January 2010

Found Treasures!


I am often asked where all the ideas for stories come from and my regular answer is that they come from everywhere and anywhere,  if you choose to look and choose to see.

.  This was brought to my mind when I received the following  great email from Kim Herring  Reader Development Librarian in Northumberland, where I will be giving some master-classes next month. I could not resist sharing this with you in full:

Dear Wendy

…. Having read the pieces in your blog again over the past few weeks, I thought I'd tell you about a rather odd experience which ties in with much that you've been talking about recently, and which I wouldn't have 'noticed' in quite the same way without having read the blog …

We'd been called into a meeting here, which wasn't directly of relevance to me, and I was perched on a table at the back of the office, feeling rather bored and looking around for distraction … next to me on the table was an old book, which had obviously come to be kept as part of our commitment to JFR (Joint Fiction Reserve - Northumberland retains authors with names beginning with El - Ez on behalf of the whole country) 

The book was a chunky faded red, and looked really out of place among most of the more modern books also on the table, which was why I noticed it in the first place.  I opened it, and there on the first page was the title 'Madame Claire' and name of author - but what attracted my attention was the dedication, in faded black ink, under the title details - 'For Miss Park, Who in the opinion of the Authoress, must shoulder some of the blame and take some of the credit for this first effort.  Affectionately, Susan Ertz.  Menton, April 1923'  

Needless to say I was immediately transported many miles away from a mundane library office in Cramlington!   Who was Miss Park, and how did she help Susan Ertz?  And what were they doing in Menton?

I don't think I would have noticed this in the same way, without having read the various things you've mentioned in the blog Wendy, so thanks for expanding my awareness in this way.  I'll now be keeping antennae out for more - it certainly makes life more interesting! 

Best  Kim

I am so excited to read Kim’s words, which are inspiring in themselves.  As she says  - Who was Miss Park, and how did she help Susan Ertz?  And what were they doing in Menton?

There certainly is a novel there. Perhaps I will persuade Kim to write it….

Do you  treasures around you that pulse with story? The book illustrating this piece – published 1912 - reminds me of Kim’s red book. The inscription inside is not so romantic as hers - Elizabeth Mary Wardle. 1938. - but it is s life lived,, a life to imagine.


Friday, 15 January 2010

Singing the Savageness Out of The Bear

Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life."
Berthold Auerbach

I’d just been reading an account  of  how students study more efficiently books Etc 027 when  they’re exposed to Mozart and classical music,  another account of  how grunge rock evoked hostility and greatly reduced mental clarity and motivation in a group of students and yet another about how music actually rewires the brain to create new patterns of activity in different areas - when I came across a post by the writer I call  Boots. On her blog she talks about concentrating on her writing and editing, and turning from voice radio  to  a music station on her radio.  She then segues very neatly to a time and a place and a story which will evoke many memories in many of her readers.

While never claiming to be  a musician or a music expert I have long used great music as a kind of cosmic baffle around me while I write. Mozart, Brahms, Beethoven, Scarlatti, Bach, Stravinsky, Mahler, Strauss, Rachmaninoff. Classical guitar performed by John Williams and Julian Bream…. No songs, no opera, no human voice as that would draw and distract me into a life other than the invented lives unfolding before me on the page in my notebook or the screen.

I have to come clean here and say I make rather mundane use of these sublime sounds recruiting them as a baffle against the world outside the door, using them as  a tranquilliser of the soul. My listening  is much less about musical appreciation than about the nurturing of the still small space in the soul freed in these moments from ‘the dust of everyday life’. It is from this still small space that new ideas, metaphors, phrases, paragraphs, monologues and dialogues are likely to emerge.

I speculate that the exquisite metronome, the shapes and the loops  at the core of all great music must make my heart beat slowly and regularly, send pulsing blood to my brain to clear it of all the current emotional junk so that new notions, words, and structures become available to my mind, to my pen.

Paradoxically, for me,  this flow of the music has to be an involuntary part of the process. Otherwise the still, small space, the pure creative focus is blighted by an intellectual apprehension of the technical brilliance of  these musicians so that  the story, the poem is lost, not written.

I know that conjuring this still, small space in order to meditate, to write, or to create is no easy thing in the modern world.  All creative people  have their own tale on how  to achieve this state.  It could be a long walk on the beach or in wild country. It could be an isolated cottage in the high mountains. It could be the judicious or injudicious use of drugs or alcohol.

But ‘Boots’ and I know that this small space can be generated by the flick of a switch on a music player or a radio. As long as it’s not a song loaded with life-enhancing layers of memory…


As I was thinking about the potency of music I sifted up, and came across a few goodies that you might enjoy,

  • You can get some free, intelligence-enhancing Mozart on this site:  Free Download Mozart
  • Ferdinand, enticed by Ariel’s sweet song onto Prospero’s Island refers to . ‘This music crept by me upon the waters, allaying both their fury, and my passion, with its sweet air. - William Shakespeare The Tempest.
  • From the King James Bible : They ministered with music before the tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting, until Solomon built the temple. 
  • As long as you're in the music, the bad things stay away’ - Jonathan Carroll: The Marriage of Sticks                                                                                                                                       

       & The Best:

  • "An admirable musician! O, she will sing the savageness out of a bear."   - William Shakespeare, Othello


Saturday, 9 January 2010

Lines In The Snow

 One red plastic sledge

One child in green boots

Sunshine. I see the shadow of snow on the wall as it flops down from steep roofs. The wall is pockmarked with black silhouettes as birds skitter off into the blue. A man and woman walk by in matching woollen hats, knitted in the Arran style. Their words are smoke in the air.

One green plastic sledge

Two children in fur hoods

Then, I walked to school waist high in snow. Later, stripped by the teacher whose face I don’t remember, I sat by the school stove watching my clothes steam and drinking orange juice, government issue. My teacher rubbed my cold feet between her warm hands. And still I don’t remember her face.

A woman pushes a wheelchair in the snow -

it has bright yellow wheels

customised for long-term use.105


I dream of a broad river

And sunset at  the end

Of a bright, warm day.




Thursday, 7 January 2010

Confessions of a Defacer and The Paris Review

<<See my inspiration note above on the left! the woman who drew buildings[1] the woman who drew buildings[1]



I have confession to make about this bad habit of mine.

I have friends who believe this is a terrible, destructive habit. After all, look at playwright Joe Orton who in the late 1950s (with his partner Kenneth Halliwell borrowed books from Islington Library only to returned some of them altered in bizarre ways. Before returning others these two extracted prints to decorate their small flat. Discovered, they were charged and sentenced to six month in prison, which - even from this distance - seems perversely, astonishingly harsh.

Prison changed Orton. ‘It affected my attitude towards society. Before I had been vaguely conscious of something rotten somewhere, prison crystallised this. The old whore society really lifted up her skirts and the stench was pretty foul... Being in the nick brought detachment to my writing. I wasn’t involved anymore. And suddenly it worked.’ ’[3]

Joe Orton went on to write iconoclastic black comedies which still find an appreciative audience. His own life - and death - with Kenneth Halliwell in itself was a tragi-comedy of quite Shakespearean proportions.

No, I’m not aiming for prison (been there – would never take the risk). And the books I deface are not from any library. They are my own property and it is my choice to do this terrible thing. In academic life and in my original writing life my joy has always been researching any topic or concept by reading in depth. When I was writing Long Journey Home I read what seemed like hundreds of sources about the fall of Singapore in 1942. These included the autobiography of a Japanese General who was a figurehead of this worst defeat in the history of the British army.of the British. (- I hasten to say I read it in translation – French I can do, but not Japanese...) But this book. like all my working books, is scored across and argued with by me and my Scan1 trusty pen .

You would think that the advent of post-it notes would save me from my disgraceful habit But all they mean is that my books are densely ticker-taped with markers that then draw attention to my underlining and comments.

Paradoxically I (almost never) deface novels like this. They might get the post-it ticker-tape treatment, but I'm much less likely to scrawl all over them.

The reason why I've been thinking about all this is, shut in by the beautiful/horrible snow in the post- Christmas hiatus, I've taken to prowling around my bookshelves looking for respite, for amusement, for stimulation.

In my wanderings I came upon this lovely fat bright yellow volume – first of a series of four - of author interviews from the Paris Review * These cleverly written, long , elaborated interviews stretch from Dorothy Parker (1956) to Joan Didion (2006) , by way of Ernest Hemingway, Kurt Vonnegut, James L Cain, the fabulous Rebecca West and the erudite Elizabeth Bishop. And more.

This book still has my usual confetti of post-it notes and underlinings, margin comments and scratchings, from a year or so ago. But I plucked it off the shelf and raced through it again, reading it afresh occasionally saying Yes! and punching the air. I remembered how inspirational it was when I first read it and just what giants these people were even though at the same time they can be closely and reassuringly vain, self conscious, and human.

And now I'm inspired yet again by these varied, contradictory, insightful and self-knowing views on the writing process, handed to me as they are, across time and space by the agency this fat yellow book, complete with all my underlinings and its scratchings.

For some reason this time I was most transfixed Scan4 by the long interview with the legendary editor Robert Gottlieb: how I relish again his distinctively authoritative take on the editor’s task : an interesting view from the other side of the fence.

Believe me it was a delicious escape for this writer on an imprisoning, snowy afternoon - into that much defaced, Fat Yellow Book.


* The Paris Review says on its excellent website that since 1952 it has been at the vanguard of great literature, bringing superlative work by acclaimed and emerging writers to an international audience.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

The Royal Society, Tommy H, and the Matter of the Hinternal Combustion Engine

LEGSSo, Wendy,’ said A, arranging his six feet of lean muscle on my very inadequate chaise longue, ‘How do you teach someone to read?’
We had been listening to the first of five of Melvyn Bragg’s magnificent round table discussions on the foundation of the Royal Society.* A, among other things an embryonic scientist, listened with interest as the narrative unfolded of the foundation of systematic scientific enquiry in Britain.
Somehow our discussion leapt on to my own early days as a very young teacher (twenty going on twelve…) when – trained to teach art and history – I was faced with a class of eleven year olds in a sink secondary school. There were two streams, A and B. I was given the B stream, only fifty percent of whom could read or write at all adequately. The A stream – not much better - was taken my new friend Anne, an accomplished musician, who came at the same time and thought she was here just to teach music.
I loved these kids, They were funny, anarchic, bubbly, hard to contain. In a year I learned so much from them. They were very helpful. One day, when I showed my exasperation at the noise, ‘June ‘– round white face, black bobbed hair - told me, ‘You should do what our last teacher did, miss. Put Cellotape on their mouths.’
Young as I was, I learned very quickly that I could survive by dint of hard work, a sense of humour, and by seeing these eleven year olds as individuals needing good feedback to make any progress. Liking them was half the battle. (In my teaching career i met quite a few of teachers who didn’t like children…)
Despite ‘June’s’ kind advice I managed without the Cellotape and gradually they got used to me. They listened, talked, and worked with stunned interest at the odd things I asked of them. One of these things was to sit quietly and listen as I read to them a whole range of stories. The other was what I called my Friday Lecture.
On Friday afternoons, when we were all exhausted, each week a member of the class took a turn to give us a lecture on anything they chose: it might be keeping rabbits or their favourite football team, a pop star they admired or the people who lived in their street. I often supplied them with visual aids and helped them of they stumbled a bit in their delivery .
Now in this class was a charismatic boy called Tommy H. He had this large white elliptical face topped by hair sticking up like a yard brush. He was quite chunky and - this being a non-uniform school - he wore a tweed jacket that was a bit too small. He couldn’t read but he wrote very swiftly - pages of writing that would have been more at home on an Egyptian tomb than in an English schoolbook. I would call him over and ask him to read the pages to me. He read them fluently and they had syntax and meaning. Dyslexia had not been indentified in those days but he was prime example of this condition – often intelligent but non-reading. Then, he was just labelled as illiterate and of low ability.
When his turn came to give the lecture I asked him what his subject would be he said, ‘Well, miss, I’d like to talk about the Hinternal Combustion Engine.’ Tommy put aitches in front of most vowels.
‘Do you want any help, Tommy? With pictures or anything?’
‘No. Miss. I’ll manage.’
That lunchtime he came in early and drew on the blackboard, in coloured chalks, a picture of a car engine in perfect detail. In his lecture he patiently explained to all of us how an internal combustion engine worked. It was the first and only time anyone has ever explained to me , with any clarity, that arcane process . The class enjoyed Tommy’s informative lecture and he was treated to a loud and long round of the applause. The head teacher popped his head around the door and asked, ‘Is everything all right, Miss Wetherill?’
It was. After the year most of those children left my class being able to read and write. Tommy made all kinds of progress and went on, I am sure, to be a successful adult. I survived.
P1150891I was still thinking about Tommy when A asked me this question about reading. ‘So,’ he said ‘How do you teach someone to read?
I took a deep breath and launched into the familiar mantra
‘You need to know they can hear words in all their distinction – this needs lots of story and conversation. Lots of speaking and listening. They need to know how books work and what they are for. Some children arrive at school having experienced all this at home. Some children with this background almost teach themselves to read. But if this hasn’t happened at home then it needs to happen at school.
Most children recognise the shape of some words and know their meaning. Most children can read McDonalds. They recognise the word and its meaning almost from their first hamburger. They recognised that it as a shape – like a chair has a shape. They collect lots – even hundreds - of words like this, through the shape. These shapes have sounds and meaning. They know that. Then you show them the magic! You help them begin to learn that they can build up any word in writing, de-code any word in reading, by understanding the range of sounds offered by each letter and blending them.
Magic! One day you can’t do it on your own. The next day you can.’
‘You’re right,’ says A. ‘It’s a kind of magic really.’
*The Royal Society started as an "invisible college" of natural philosophers who began meeting in the mid-1640s to discuss the ideas of Francis Bacon. Its official foundation date is 28 November 1660, when 12 of them met at Gresham College after a lecture by Christopher Wren, the Gresham Professor of Astronomy, and decided to found 'a Colledge for the Promoting of Physico-Mathematicall Experimentall Learning'.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

The Blue Taffeta Dress

I’ve blah’d on here and in other places about the illusory nature of so-called ‘writer’s block’. Now it seems I’m just emerging from one of these things. Susan, Wendy and Ian (15, 13, 11)

I have lectured myself about winter blues; about being physically and mentally tired after finishing the French Novel, not to mention the challenges of the Easington project; about using up my usually overflowing Ideas Basket; about the need for fallow time to give my mind a chance to spring back into place.

I acknowledged all that but it was painful to be in the middle of it. It struck me that writing is my one steady and true life-companion and I’m lonely without her. I am addicted to her deadlines and there is the possibility that the rolling deadlines - the organising feature of my life - are one way in which I feed that need.

I have my reasons for feeling used up. At the centre is the unique nature of the French Novel, where I explored the depths of my odd perceptions of time, space and life after death. These things are there at the core of my story of needy and funny Starr, of wise Modeste, and the miraculous boy Tib.

Perhaps I needed more recovery time after completing this novel than any other.

I tried to leave the write-stop (my new name for w.b…) alone. After all, there was Christmas and New Year with its baubles, presents and presentiments. There were my delightful and absorbing visitors. And there was the beautiful snow – although that was (and continues to be) an unwelcome and disabling visitor.

Then there was the afternoon by the fire with Debora sorting out old family photographs – particularly of her grandmother Barbara - so she could have copies. (You will note that the pictures of Barbara, inspired my previous, heartfelt post here.)

Apart from the photos of Barbara, images the whole of my life started to trickle before me – frowning baby , Wendy and barbara curly headed, earnest little girl, Wendy 5

wendy aged 5-6Wendy 16

and the only one out of uniform in sixth form groups,

and the astonishingly young and slender bride in a hired wedding gown Wedding Cake and Us,

Grahame and Debora and Wendyand the young and the older mother …

Wendy and Deb

Close Up Wendy signing and the writer.

One very special snap emerged from the higgledy piggeldy pile - of myself at 11 with my older sister and younger brother in front of the door of the house we lived in then. My sister is wearing a flowered dress. I am wearing a dress in violet blue taffeta with a broderie anglaise trim on the collar and a ruched cummerbund. On my feet are inappropriate white, canvas plimsolls. I am thin. My arms and legs are stick-like.

I turned the snap over and there in a schoolgirl’s round hand is written. ‘I am in the flowered dress. The other girl is my sister.’

The Other Girl Is My Sister! Now there is a good title for a short story. Or a novel…

… and Bang! The the writer’s block /write-stop is gone.

I have gone from stop to GO. Debora and Barbara have done the trick.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...