‘Tis The Season …

I absolutely love the energy at this time of the year. It is always intense. It’s an energy of clearance, of paring down, of anticipation, of opening up to something new and unknown – yet, possibly, very familiar. It’s an energy which sears away the irrelevant and unnecessary, and which reveals what is real and essential.

Many people in our bright and shiny Western culture hate winter. They complain about the cold, the dark, the wet. They winge about Christmas and how they’re not ready for it, fret about all the presents they haven’t bought yet, worry that their cards won’t catch the last post, buy into the commercialism of the season and then proclaim how much they despise it. They seem to forget they have a choice.

This season relentlessly saturates us with its strange and magical energy, regardless of our particular perspective. Whether we attempt to disguise, sentimentalise or ignore it, the sharp poignancy of the approaching Solstice refuses to go away. It always feels to me as if it has a message to deliver and it will complete that mission whatever.

In the ancient Chinese calendar, the turning of the year was always understood in terms of energies. Each season has its own ‘flavour’, an energy resonating with one of the five elements – or, more accurately, the five rhythms. Rather than interpreting the elements of fire, earth, water, wood and metal as static components, the Chinese interpretation emphasises the essential movement of the natural world. The seasons roll on, one following another, as well as roll through, each exploring a journey from start to finish.

What often speaks to me about this very different way of experiencing the world is that the original map of the year included the four seasons we recognise in our own culture along with a transitional one, to which the natural world returned as each of the other four finished and the next began. This fifth season, then, occurs four times a year – hovering for a week or thereabouts, either side of an equinox or solstice.

What I find so beautiful about this scheme is the way it elevates the apparently chaotic state of change into a time of real value – a period when we can safely let go of where we’ve been for a while, and welcome the next place we are to inhabit. Each visit to this season opens the door to personal reflection but each time it happens, the focus of that reflection will be subtly different.

The joy of the Winter Solstice for me – within the Chinese pattern of things – is the invitation it offers to honour the need to let go, clear out and dispose of what’s no longer pertinent (the energy of Autumn) before embracing the still, quietness of embryonic possibility (the energy of Winter).

I can sense new things urging themselves to come in. (I’ve already seen bulbs pushing their way up through the earth.) But they won’t make it successfully to fruition next year if I don’t release what is currently filling their space. And that will mean, for a short while, sitting with an emptiness.

And emptiness is something which scares the bejeebers out of our culture.

That, I think, might be the real reason why people find winter so difficult – because it means acknowledging the nothingness left by things passing and the vital importance of holding a sacred space into which an unbelievable miracle can incarnate.

The stunningly beautiful weather of the last few days – the deep, biting frosts, the soft, enclothing snowfalls, the pristine blue and golden skies, the blinding, all-illuminating light – is surely reminding us of the essential message of this transitional season:

Love is what is left when you let go of everything you don’t need


Making My Own Discovery

A few weeks ago, I mentioned I’d been watching the new Star Trek series: Discovery. Since then, I have made a wonderful discovery of my own. There exists on Netflix, a companion programme entitled After Trek. It airs directly after each Discovery episode, and as well as providing a space for fans’ tweets and opinions, it hosts invited personnel from the show – including the writers!

It is absolutely fabulous to hear the creators, directors and actors associated with the show, talking about their beloved creation, with such passion and such detail. The care and respect shown for the Star Trek universe is humbling. I was fascinated to hear, for example, Matt Mira asking Aaron Harberts how he coped with inheriting fifty years of ‘canon’!

I have to say how much I respected the writers’ expressed desire to discover, since they are writing about a Federation that pre-dates peace with the Klingons, exactly how that peace was brokered, Harberts even suggesting this is knowledge we could do with in our present time. I love that they intend to discover the answer as they write.

In fact, I have become so enthusiastic about the creating of the show through watching and listening to them all talk about it that I’ve been inspired to have a go myself at creating a Discovery story. I’m including the beginning of this below, and if there are any Discovery fans out there – indeed, any fans of any description – perhaps you’ll let me know what you think of my attempt to play with someone else’s characters.

A Christmas Discovery

‘What is that white stuff?’                                                                                                      Michael heard First Officer Saru’s astonished enquiry in her earpiece.                ‘I believe it is snow.’                                                                                                                ‘Ah.’                                                                                                                                            There was a pause as Michael placed her boot on the crystalline surface before her.                                                                                                                                  ‘Yes, Sir. Initial observations would confirm that it is, indeed, snow.’        Michael had never actually seen snow before, but she had read about it in the ship’s records, and the unfamiliar substance which crunched, then compacted under her foot, matched the textbook knowledge she had acquired.                                                                                                                              ‘Cool.’ A girlish laugh behind her indicated that Lt. Tilly had followed her through the hatch. The young woman jumped down from the space-shuttle with apparent glee, landing on both feet and sinking a few inches into the white covering.                                                                                                                        ‘Can you give me a 360?’ Saru requested, and Michael obligingly turned at a steady pace, allowing her video feed to scan the surroundings. The flat, featureless plain stretched to the horizon in all directions, a complete blanket of snow.                                                                                                                            ‘There’s … a lot of it,’ he commented. ‘As far as the eye can see, it would appear.’                                                                                                                                ‘Yes, Sir.’ Michael agreed. ‘There is, indeed, a substantial quantity.’                    ‘It’s awesome.’                                                                                                                        She heard Tilly’s comment over her shoulder and turned to face her colleague, raising one eyebrow in a characteristic Vulcan request for clarification.                                                                                                                              ‘Oh, you can never have too much snow,’ Tilly responded. ‘Don’t you agree, Sir?’                                                                                                                                              The cadet turned towards her ‘boss’, Stammets, as he paused in the shuttle hatchway. He replied with a grin, and with one deft move, landed a few feet from where his companions stood, reached down to collect a handful of the subject under discussion and hurled it in Tilly’s direction. It hit her precisely on the side of her head, causing her to scream in evident delight before she suddenly twisted and bent double. With another scream, she produced her own snowball and aimed it neatly at Stammets’ chest, where it left a white imprint.                                                                                                                                      ‘What are they doing?’ Saru’s voice resounded coldly.                                                  ‘I have no idea,’ Michael said, ducking swiftly to avoid a passing missile. She watched her landing-party members for a moment. ‘They appear to be engaged in some sort of game.’                                                                                          ‘Ah.’                                                                                                                                              Michael took advantage of the momentary silence in communications to monitor the bleak landscape for any indication of life-forms – either visitors or indigenous. There was none.                                                                                          ‘Lt. Burnham.’ Saru’s voice cut into her private thoughts.                                        ‘Yes, Sir.’                                                                                                                                    ‘The Captain wishes me to remind you of your mission. Is there any sign of the Klingon warship?’                                                                                                            ‘No, Sir. There’s absolutely nothing here at all.’                                                              ‘And how near are you to our last sighting of it?’                                                      ‘We landed almost directly below where they cloaked. They must have travelled on past this point. There’s definitely been no-one else here in the last few hours. It would be impossible for anything that big to land here – or even to fly low over the ground – without leaving a trace in this snow.’          Michael anticipated the next instruction over her intercom.                                  ‘Then you must begin a search.’                                                                                    She sighed. ‘Saru, that’s not going to be possible.’                                                          ‘And why not?’                                                                                                                  ‘Because we also cannot move without being seen. If we use the shuttle, it will be visible for miles. And if we go on foot, we’ll leave a permanent trail behind us – at least until the next snowfall. It’s far too dangerous. Even if we found the warship, the chances of us living long enough to report back to you are extremely remote.’                                                                                                                  An icy voice brought the conversation to an abrupt end.                                  ‘Find a way.’ Captain Lorca closed communications.                                    Michael turned to face her companions. ‘We must kit ourselves in anything we can find inside the shuttle which is white. We will have to leave the shuttle here and proceed on foot in the direction the Klingon ship was following when it dipped towards the planet.’                                                          Her colleagues looked at her aghast. ‘That’s crazy, Michael. We’ll have to walk miles,’ Tilly said. ‘And they’ll easily see us coming. Most probably before we can see them. Can they stay cloaked once they’ve landed?                                      ‘I don’t know,’ Michael replied. ‘Perhaps we’ll find out.’




Written In The Stars

A few days ago, I engaged in the delightful enterprise of purchasing new notebooks. I’m not in the market for anything ‘hi-fallutin’, but as I write nearly everything by hand first, a quality A4 notebook is important to me.

The anticipation of a pristine blank page, the smooth flowing of my now-quite-ancient blue pen, the manifestation of unexpected ideas, the satisfaction of a full sheet of words and sentences, the enjoyment of picking up and re-reading from a physical copy the next morning, the gentle reminder from the stack of already-filled notebooks sitting under my desk …

These are all, for me, a part of the process of immersing myself in the magical world of writing. Take this morning, for example. An inviting notebook will make me want to write – even when I don’t really have the time or the energy. (I have to say, I rarely lack the motivation.) Today, however, just as last night – my ‘traditional’ day for writing the blog – I’m conscious of the once-a-year imposed deadlines of material needed for an AGM.

Reports to be written, samples prepared, items finished for a Show & Tell, cakes to be made (or bought), items scavenged for the raffle … All of these are essential ingredients of our annual event at the Weavers’ Guild. (Shorthand for Weavers, Spinners and Dyers.) And that’s after I’ve done all the publicity for the day and created the On-Line Colour Brochure for next year’s programme, since I’m currently part of the Programme Organising Team.

So trying to find the space – physically and mentally – to put pen to real-live paper this week, is difficult.

But my eye is caught by the beautiful notebook I found by surprise in my local supermarket. A seductive, sensuous, dark blue/purple cover, sprinkled with a coppery constellation and embossed with the invitation: Written In The Stars. How can I resist? The book is simply sitting there, begging to be written in. If I just pick it up … take a little look inside …

And I’m away. Plonking myself in my old wooden rocking chair, with my blue and gold star-spangled throw and my blue and gold star-spangled cushion providing the perfect backdrop, leaning onto my ageing pine kitchen table with its puppy-chewed, cat-scratched legs, surrounded by crayons, diaries and a pile of sparkly Christmas cards which I’m slowly working through – I’m suddenly in heaven.

The only thing I need now, apparently – besides my morning cuppa – is a squeaky tennis-ball, placed just beyond my reach and which appears to be barking at me ferociously in an urgent need to be thrown. Oh yes, there’s Rosie, impatiently waiting for the end of the paragraph …

I am – I’m sure I’ve said this before – a great fan of the Slow Movement. Slow food, slow knitting, slow reading. Whatever it happens to be that floats your boat, I’m very sure it is best done ‘slow’. It’s important to understand, however, that ‘slow’ in this context has little to do with speed or quantity.

All of the ‘slow’ movements have at their core an appreciation, a celebration, of quality of experience. Performing things slowly is essentially both the means of accessing the depth of an enterprise and a description of the timelessness encountered when one is truly immersed in, and intimately connected with, one’s own being and the beingness of the Universe.

I remember Nigel Mansell once being asked what it was like to drive at nearly 200 mph. He said it was as if the whole world around him slowed down so that he could see and feel everything in minute detail. They call it ‘being in the zone’.

The experience is one of stepping outside time. You are no longer separated, alone, frustrated, struggling. All of that falls away. You remain an individual but you are, sublimely, a part of a greater whole. An exquisite, holographic moment.

I will continue to revel in buying my enticing, empty notebooks and to honour the process they invite me to participate in. I will continue to be diligent with my ritual of sitting in my chair and picking up my pen. I will also continue to engage my whole body and my whole mind in the writing I do every day, and to say ‘yes, please’ to whatever surfaces.

That way, I can be sure I will continue to be open to every possible avenue which might connect my writing with the stars.

What Colour Is Tuesday?

When I was a child, Tuesday was definitely orange. Orange was my favourite colour, and Tuesday, my favourite day. Therefore, Tuesday must be orange.

But, as I became a teenager, we passed through a psychedelic fashion phase that rather ruined orange for me. Designers and wearers alike, insisted on pairing it with day-glo pink, bright lime green and vibrant yellow – none of which combinations, in my opinion, did the colour any justice at all. Gradually, I relinquished my hold on orange.

It was my mother who first introduced me to the concept of days having colours. My recollection is that this idea came to her naturally, but that – once the ‘important’ people in the family found out – her notion was seriously frowned on and squashed out of existence.

I wonder now how much more of her imaginative approach to life was sat upon, ignored or ridiculed, because in later life, she tried to do the same to me. Apparently, there’s a certain age at which the display of imagination becomes an embarrassment.

Unless, of course, it is dressed in academic colours, and made to look respectable. And that is an acquired art. Sophistication not being something I major in, my imaginative offerings have always caused problems – either for me or for someone else.

I am constantly instructed to ‘live in the real world’ – or to be ‘realistic’. Like there is some great tome somewhere that defines what is ‘real’, and whatever falls outside its remit, doesn’t count – in some strange way that eludes me.

I wouldn’t mind, but the people who have urged me to move in this direction over the years have usually been very miserable. Miserable about their lot in life, miserable about the state of the world, and miserable about  – well, everything.

Such people often present the impression that they expect there to be some kind of reward for their miserable ‘real-ness’. It’s almost as if – in their world –  being realistic is more virtuous that being imaginative, coupled with an apparent belief that such a stance makes life more manageable. Yet they remain miserable.

I bought into this view of the world for a while. I guess it was a necessary journey to the ‘dark side’. It was important for me to discover that the ‘realistic’ approach to life had such serious limitations as a way of living as to make it untenable. Being ‘realistic’, I decided, allowed nothing to change.

Nothing new could be conceived within this world view. No positive future could be envisioned, and then worked towards. Once you had committed a sin, or a crime, that wickedness haunted you forever, dragging you constantly backwards into a sad place, and defining who you were into a constant, impermeable state.

And by ‘sin’, I’m including here such awfulness as disagreeing with someone else’s worldview, as much as I am referring to lying, cheating and running in the corridor.

(Sorry, that last one might need explaining. It came from a survey, conducted many years ago, into the ten worst things a pupil could do within school. If I remember rightly, it came a close second to ‘fighting’ and ‘swearing’! If the interviewed youngsters had stuck to being realistic, I’m sure such an entertaining perception would never have materialised.)

My point is that, just as ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’, the same is true of the unimaginative life. If one leaves out a whole collection of ways to experience being alive, ignores a vital and life-giving segment of one’s brain, relegates the as-yet-undreamed-of to babies and children, then surely, one is living only a partial life. And who would want to do that?

As writers, I think we have a responsibility to encourage and enable this exploration of things outside the ‘real’ and the ‘realistic’. And not just because we write fiction that, by definition, is not true. For me, the best fiction is always that which goes beyond the ‘realistic’ and envisions new ways , and therefore presents what is actually true, at a much deeper level than whether something can be declared to be ‘real’.

When I renounced orange, all those years ago, I gravitated slowly to blue, which then held a special place in my imagination for years. It still does, but the blue that is conjured up for me now on a Tuesday morning, is much nearer to an aqua/turquoise/duck egg – if there is such a thing. It is very beautiful.

What colour is your Tuesday?



I Write To …

After an extremely busy  – and very stressful – few weeks, I sat down yesterday to pick up my pen, and reconnect with my characters. It felt like coming home. Almost instantly, I was able to let go of everything that had been causing me ‘grief’ and to be in a different world. Bliss!

Rosie and I walked up through the allotments this morning, on our way to the park, watching the grey mist swirling off the sea and encroaching the top of the hill, before it gently – oh, so gently – turned itself into a cascade of drizzle-cum-shower-cum-deluge.As we walked and listened to the drips and plops around us, I spent a little time, as I do most weeks, dipping into the ideas that were waiting in my head about what I might use as a jumping-off point for this week’s blog.

For some reason, Buffy came to mind – Buffy as in Vampire Slayer. I haven’t thought about that show in years, but it was always one of my favourites. Coming at a time when I was struggling with the world I seemed to have created around me, it constantly gave me hope and inspiration, and quickly became one of my weekly highlights.

This morning, I found I was sad that nothing of quite that calibre seems to be around any more, and I wondered what Joss Whedon was up to these days. Bless Google! I discovered a whole world of brilliant quotes from the series, as well as from the creator. One in particular struck me, or more accurately, several of them did, but I’ve chosen one for this blog reflection.

This is Joss talking about why he writes:

I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters I am not. I write to explore all the things I am afraid of.

These are powerful and moving reasons to write. I can certainly identify with at least two of them. I decided to try a list of my own. This is what I came up with.

I write to feel well. I have become increasingly conscious that on the days when I don’t write – and there are a few, usually due to other commitments – I rarely feel as well as I do when I start the day by writing. It’s almost as though it allows me to clear out everything that’s got clogged up inside, desperate to be expressed and ‘get out there’. I’m invariably better for that release.

I write to reflect the things that are beautiful about this world. I hear too many people complaining about life, being miserable about what they don’t have or critical of what they do, missing out on opportunities because they cannot see past the rain or the fog or the cold, regretting things that happened so long ago they can barely remember them, wishing that life was different yet remaining reluctant to change anything. So I like to write about the love, the joy and the grace that permeates the world, and is simply there for the taking.

I write to inspire. I really enjoy reflecting on the ‘big’ ideas – about ‘life, the universe and everything’ – because that reflection always takes me to positive and unexpected places where I discover things I didn’t know before, or maybe things I didn’t know I knew before. And writing my way into these ponderings invariably inspires me, and maybe, I hope, inspires others in its wake.

I write to have fun. I’ve spent too much of my life not having fun – for all sorts of reasons, some legitimate, some not. So now it’s time to find out how to live well and enjoy myself. Writing does that. I love constructing sentences, finding new or alternate words, discovering unusual ways to say things, creating new scenarios, meeting unexpected challenges.

But mostly, I write to tell stories. Stories that do all of the above. And all at once, if that’s possible. I am nothing if not a story-teller. Ask anyone who’s ever tried to ring me for a brief conversation. I can take the smallest, most insignificant event, and turn it into a full-blown story, worthy of anyone’s attention, with special effects and excessive exclamation marks – and I take the greatest delight in doing so.

Stories are the backbone of a cohesive culture. They shape our thoughts, express our feelings. They teach us truths and reveal falsehoods. They show us what’s possible and challenge us with what’s not – until we go there. It is stories that tell us about s/heros and inspire us to become one ourselves. It is stories that help us to recognise who we are and who we want to be. It is stories that remind us where we’ve been.

What a privilege to be part of that heritage.

Genre-ally Speaking

The topic of genre is one which interests me greatly. Its automatic assumption that a piece of writing (I’m only considering genre in the context of writing here – and I understand that this in itself invites contemplation) can be contained in a way which predetermines its audience – and presumably, therefore, its sales potential – is such a crass distinction to be paired with creativity.

Okay, now I’ve nailed my nailed my colours to the mast, I’ll share with you, as promised, the thoughts I took to my writing group regarding the story I posted last week. They are slightly edited so as to make sense in this new context but are essentially the same as when I wrote them, a little while back.

This was a story I wrote for a flash-fiction competition. To me, it is not a story that fits neatly into a specific genre, but it makes for a great piece of flash-fiction. I am tempted to argue that flash-fiction could be considered a genre in its own right – albeit with other, more specific, genres giving a distinct flavour where appropriate.

            Flash-fiction, being such a truncated form of writing, forces a writer continually to consider what they can do without – a good discipline to develop anyway. The result can end up as incomprehensible nonsense, but it stands a chance of becoming a neat piece of writing with some very delightful use of language which the author might not have explored in a longer piece.

            That’s what happened to me when I was writing this story. I had only two hundred and fifty words, which quickly got used up in my first draft, and Mary had barely left the field. By finding shorter, sharper ways to say what I wanted to say, I feel I have created a much better piece of writing than I started with.

            It is, however, very different from the same story done in – say – three thousand words. And for me, that’s what’s so fascinating about the flash genre. It’s like a tiny glimpse, an instant snapshot, of a much bigger picture, and it is what is not said that assumes the bigger importance. The characters of the people mentioned; their expectations, preferences, fears and dislikes; the circumstances that have brought them to this one place; the way their actions are shaped; all these must be inferred, leaving the reader with much to ponder over after the piece is done.

            It could be argued that this story must be a children’s story or a piece of fantasy, since the described event could not possibly happen. Even, a futuristic or sci-fi/alternate universe tale. But I got the story – in a few, brief sentences – from Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk on You-Tube. A talk about where inspiration comes from. She was quoting the American poet Ruth Stone, telling Elizabeth how she got poems when she was growing up.

            So this story could equally well be classified as biography, or paranormal, or – how does it go? – ‘true stories you just won’t believe!’

            From my point of view, I don’t really care. A good story is a good story is a good story. I find classification and categorising, stifling, restrictive and unhelpful. For me, it is much more important to aim for authenticity than to write in order to fit someone else’s pre-determined expectations.

            I am with Jodi Taylor on this – an author I fell over on my Kindle – who is, first and foremost, a historian but who wanted to write a book about time-travel. She ‘went ahead and slung in elements of history, adventure, comedy, romance, tragedy and anything else she could think of. Her advice to booksellers is to buy huge numbers of her books and just put one on every shelf.’

I still hold to what I wrote – probably even more so, now I’m more experienced. And maybe I’ll write some fresh thoughts on genre in coming weeks. In the meantime, you might like to consider what is in the picture placed at the top of this blog. If I tell you the genre it fits, I have a feeling it might spoil the surprise!

Back Story

I thought I would share something a bit different this week. This is a story I wrote a while ago for a flash-fiction competition. It’s in my mind because I was talking about it recently. In a conversation about experimental writing.

I took the story along to my writing group, some time after I’d written it, for an evening about writing for specific genres. We were invited to share our thoughts about how our piece fitted the genre we’d chosen.

In both cases, the word limit was extremely short. The original piece was to have a maximum of five hundred words. The thoughts to accompany it were also restricted to this length.

Since this is a blog – best served by shorter writings – I’ll share the story with you this week, and my thoughts, next time. I’m sure you’ll have come up with your own by then, anyway.

The story is in two parts..Because of its unusual nature, the first part is likely to make little sense until you have read Part 2. Be patient.

Back Story Part 1


,came it as each writing

,word by word

,her towards back story the pulled she ,second a for go letting not .hold grasped and ,head her passed it as just ,word final the caught she

            .else place some to way its on busy ,fade to began soundtrack the as arm an up stretching ,chair and table to herself flung she

            .eaves her through gorgeousness their dripping ,overhead pass to began sentences as ,pen and notebook for searching fingers frantic her ,open jerked drawer sideboard the

            .chase giving ,field cotton the left cloud the as ,kitchen her to door inner the open banging ,way her of out frame mesh the flinging ,path the down pounded she and approached yard front own her .left-overs of alleys the cleaning dogs bright-eared ,youngsters hop-scotching ,shacks wooden between raced she

            .of hold catch to else someone for – gone be would it ,time in home get didn’t she if .words occasional ,vowels ,consonants – now strands distinct out make could she

            .progress her with air the marked which trail dust a up kicking ,speed at dirt-track the crossed she .side far the hit it as field the of edge the reached she ,rasping breaths ,pumping legs

            .sounds of whoosh oncoming an as clarifying ,momentum gathered ,closer travelling fury the

            .first house the reach must .ran and fists tight two into skirts her hoisted she ,fellow-workers and balls cotton leaving ,instantly .horizon the on rumble the heard Mary ,fingers picking ,bent head

Back Story Part 2

Head bent, picking fingers, Mary heard the rumble on the horizon. Instantly, leaving cotton balls and fellow-workers, she hoisted her skirts into two tight fists and ran. Must reach the house first.

The fury travelling closer, gathered momentum, clarifying as an oncoming whoosh of sounds.

Legs pumping, breaths rasping, she reached the edge of the field as it hit the far side. She crossed the dirt-track at speed, kicking up a dust trail which marked the air with her progress.

She could make out distinct strands now – consonants, vowels, occasional words. If she didn’t get home in time, it would be gone – for someone else to catch hold of.

She raced between wooden shacks, hop-scotching youngsters, bright-eared dogs cleaning the alleys of left-overs. Her own front yard approached and she pounded down the path, flinging the mesh frame out of her way, banging open the inner door to her kitchen, as the cloud left the cotton field, giving chase.

The sideboard drawer jerked open, her frantic fingers searching for notebook and pen, as sentences began to pass overhead, dripping their gorgeousness through her eaves.

She flung herself to table and chair, stretching up an arm as the soundtrack began to fade, busy on its way to some place else.

She caught the final word, just as it passed her head, and grasped hold. Not letting go for a second, she pulled the story back towards her, word by word, writing each as it came, backwards.