Here is an exercise I’ve been refining for a while, and which I shared in my creative writing group last week. It’s silly and liberating and, perhaps because of that, gets fantastic results every time. The reason – it takes you through some difficult writing transitions (eg from memory to detail), but also the set stages means it becomes impossible not to use concrete details. Go epic, enjoy (and feel free to share your writing in the comments)!

How to Write a Love Letter to a Kitchen Utensil
by Sarah Salway

IMG_6303

Writing love letters to spatulas or coffee machines may come easily to you, in which case, ignore these instructions and just sit down with pen and paper and let the magic commence. Otherwise, let’s look at a tried and trusted formula…

  1. Begin by saying what it is you want as a result of your beloved reading this particular letter. He/she/it/them should know from the start that this is a love letter and not a note to ask if they could be a bit quicker when boiling water, or to stop needing to be cleaned so often. A start may be something like, “I was thinking today about how very much I love you, and how I really don’t tell you that enough.” CHEESY IS GOOD, especially if talking to a cheese knife!
  2. Think of a shared memory. The special thing about the two of you is your shared history. What’s different between you two and, say, you and the oven or the fridge? For example, begin by saying, “I still remember clearly the moment I saw you in the shop. You were in a box of other spoons but somehow you stood out. I knew immediately that I had to have you. I left briefly to try to summon up my courage and to question whether I had enough money. But it was no use; I was totally tongue tied when I pulled you away from the others. Could you really be mine this easily?”

IMG_6302

3. Now for the meat of this piece. What exactly are the things you love about him/her/it? This is a seamless shift from the memory above to right now. You can say something such as: “And here we are ten years later, I’ve got rid of three wives in the meantime but you have always been steady and there for me.”

4. Tell him/her/it all the concrete things you love. I would make a list first, or freewrite. Some suggestions would be physical characteristics, character, all the things he/she/it does for you. Why you love him/her/it? Then simply turn your list into sentences. “I love the whiteness of your exterior. I love the way you light up when I open your door. I love how you are full of treats that never fail to cheer me up. I love the shivers you give me when I stand too close to you. I’m so grateful for everything you do for me, from keeping me well-nourished but also never moaning if I have another beer.”

5.  Explain how your life has changed since meeting him/her/it. “These last few years have been the happiest of my life. I feel that with you I always have my best friend by my side.”

6. And now end with a line that really sings out your love. “I can’t wait to grow old with you.” “My love for you will never end.” “You are my best friend and soul mate and I will love you until the end of our lives.”

IMG_6304

You can of course use exactly the same stages above for a real person. In fact, do and I dare you to send it.

 

Open a castle door, and you never know what you might find inside! I’ve just had a wonderful afternoon planning my creative writing workshops during the Chiddingstone Castle  Literary Festival on Sunday 5th May.

Part of the joy is that we’ll be in the castle library –  where else? – and I’m already planning inspiration around all the beautiful books we’ll be surrounded by..

and the views surrounding us, both inside and out…

and, of course, personal obsessions…

and did I mention the tactile glorious books lining every wall…

There are two workshops in the library, and they are £25 each:

10.30-12.30 – Getting inspiration for your writing, and

2.30-4.30 – A practical workshop on how to get your short stories and poetry published

You will need to book tickets – numbers are limited and places are already going because this is a very special venue. Click here to get book your place, and I’ll see you in the castle!

I’ve been honoured to be asked by so many people for a copy of the poem I read out at the Tunbridge Wells TEDx day, so I’m happy to share it here. It was made of the Oxford English Dictionary‘s words of the year from the last nine months – Vape, post-truth, selfie, squeezed middles, omnishambles, toxic, youthquake, Big Society and … well, look at the end of the poem for the ‘word’ for 2015… a little challenge for a writer.

I hope you enjoy it. And if you fancy doing a TEDx talk yourself, I’ve given some tips here. It’s not compulsory to write a poem.

f55e5305-3dce-46e7-8aed-f8803e55138b.jpg

Icarus vapes over a dictionary (2014)
by Sarah Salway

The weather was post-truth that summer, (2016)
we lounged in our gardens,
took selfies in lycra. (2013)

Those sunny Sundays,
even us squeezed middles (2011)
could imagine ourselves gods –

with music breaking through walls
and us dancing,

a rest from the omnishambles (2012)
of so many toxic headlines, (2018)

and if sometimes we looked up
in the hope
that it might never end,

perhaps we were waiting
for the promised youthquake (2017)
who would build us a Big Society, (2010)

a term many of us still liked the sound of
but few had ever understood –
if we were completely honest …

face-with-tears-of-joy_1f602 (2015)

And yes that last one was the Word of the Year in 2015!!

It was also a joy to see alternative words put up by the people who attended the day of talks, including more positive words that we WOULD LIKE to remember 2019 with. Here they are. I’m going to have to make a new poem, I can tell.

0vtdl6a1tbaufunil1voaq

wv0nwnlnsjc+njk+at+naw

 

NB, Thank you to Simon Pearsall, the wonderful cartoonist who drew that cartoon at the top during my talk. It was a reference to how I use words in the same way as a builder uses bricks.

I’m so proud to be part of the Blackthorn Trust family as a trustee. This charity, situated in Barming near Maidstone, has been called an ‘oasis’ or ‘sanctuary’ for people at points of crisis in their life, whether that is mental or physical.

And as it’s based on Steiner principles, celebrating the change of seasons is important to us. This morning we celebrated Candlemas, that time halfway to spring, by gently lighting up the soil to wake the garden. The gardeners had dug a hole…

IMG_5306

Which we – staff, trustees, volunteers, co-workers, friends – all then filled by going round in a circle ladling in hot wax…

Our ‘earth candle’ will be lit this afternoon and will burn for several nights. It was a beautiful way to celebrate the light returning and acknowledge stirrings in the soil, and as always the importance of rituals.

IMG_5313

It’s also exciting to see the stirrings in the garden as our beautiful physic garden, designed by Marian Boswall, is coming into fruition. It will be officially opened on June 8th, and you are all invited. Come and celebrate with us!

 

 

c39abe40-bf2d-49c2-bec4-76f537ad0d7d

It was a real privilege to be allowed to stand on that famed circle of red carpet last weekend as part of TedX Royal Tunbridge Wells. ‘One for the bucket list’, a friend commented and indeed it was. Friends who know me well will know that this was a BIG THING for me, getting up on a stage and talking (let alone to over 1,000 people). But if I did it, then so can you. So if you’re ever tempted to do something like this here are some of the things I learnt and that helped me prepare, and which might help you too …

1. Do have an idea that you really do want to share. I don’t think anyone should want just to do a public presentation, they should need to share something, and it can be anything – we heard about flesh eating parasites, the power of climbing trees, and the importance of bearing witness to grief. However each of the talks had a point to them, they weren’t just a meditation on a subject.  Thinking hard about the one thing I wanted people to do as a result of hearing me speak – to realise that the words we use everyday can have an impact – really helped me prepare. To be honest, my first draft was just a lecture about dictionaries.

2. Read a book. YAY! Who even needs an excuse?  The two how-to books I found particularly helpful were Viv Groskop’s book How to Own the Room and Caroline Goyder’s Gravitas. There’s also the ‘bible’ – Chris Anderson’s TED talks.

3. Do voice exercises as part of early preparation.  I’m used to reading my work on stage but even so, I always find that my breath goes higher and higher up my body when I get nervous so I end up squeaking even more than usual. What worked for me most was when my actor friend, Michael Shaeffer, suggested I concentrated on the consonants rather than the whole words. Amazingly something as simple as this helped stop my words running into each other AND made me feel more purposeful. It’s so strange how it works, almost as if Michael knows what he’s talking about. We also practiced reading in different accents, the more ridiculous the better. Laughing took away some (not all) of the panic because it felt playful, and this playfulness helped to give me back my voice.

4. Edit, edit, edit so your script is easy to understand. One of the useful points made in Gravitas is to make sure you know exactly how your points link to each other. I’m used to writing for the page so I found I twisted and turned all over the place in my first draft, coming back to certain points again, digressing into others. That’s OK on the page because people can refer back to the paragraph before, but not when it’s being spoken. And when I found myself freezing, it was always when there wasn’t that clear link between one point and the next. I also took away several of the million points I felt I absolutely had to make and guess what – I didn’t miss them.

5. Make the language fluid, and fluent. Reading it out aloud (not just in my head) was the best editor I could have had. I kept asking myself, could I make this easier for myself to read? And every time, I could. I wasn’t quite at ‘unaccustomed as I am to…’ levels but my early drafts did get perilously close to a sermon written by the most pompous vicar you’ve ever heard.

6. Use all the resources available. I was so lucky because the whole team behind Tedx RTW are AMAZING. Just knowing I could call on them was such a comfort, so if you’re doing a talk, then make the most of what the organisers of the event are offering. They are the professionals, they know exactly what they’re doing – and when to do it!

4de43b03-01ec-4ffa-ab73-2d22637634f0

7. Respect your audience. Imagining the audience naked or on the loo doesn’t work for me BUT thinking that every seat was occupied by someone who wanted me to do well was a great help. I think there’s a temptation, especially when you’re nervous, to imagine you are about to enter a gladiator ring with the audience baying for blood (!) so instead I concentrated on how I might explain it to my mum instead, knowing she’d be interested and on my side but still needed to know what it was I was actually on about. She wouldn’t have let me get away with just mumbling, and  besides I wanted her to know what I was saying.

8. Rehearsals are for failing. During the proper technical rehearsals on Friday, I froze, couldn’t remember my words on my first attempt, and actually walked off stage during my second. Reassuringly we were all the same. However, on the actual day everyone was fluent and got through without stumbling – I’m sure there was some magic involved.

9. Practise, practise, practise. I’ve never learnt a script like this before, and for weeks I have been walking around mumbling to myself. I’ve woken up reciting it, recorded myself as I’ve run, performed it to friends via Skype. Only to find that half an hour before I went on stage I COULDN’T REMEMBER ONE WORD. Not one. I thought I might actually die. But muscle memory is a marvellous thing – as soon as I was on stage and I’d said my first sentence, the next came. And the next. I don’t know exactly how it works, but I do know it was as a result of all that mumbling. No amount of practising is ever too much.

10. Remember it’s you speaking, and that you’re enough. As I said, my first draft was a rather turgid lecture albeit filled with hundreds of ‘interesting’ facts other people had found out, and with very little of me in it. Thinking how I would say this to a friend I’d just met up with was helpful – did I really need to go through the whole history of every word ever spoken in order for her to believe me? So once I had my ‘bones’, I went back through and added as much of ‘me’ in it as I could, even if it meant giving up the ‘expert’ role. There is a terrific vulnerability in that. I went through hours of sweating over all that unhelpful ‘who am I to say this’ stuff that the inner critic loves so much. But, going back to point 1 here, ‘Do have an idea that you really do want to share’ made me see that just getting across why I loved and cared about words was enough.

And because of all this, to have people share their own words later made me cry because yes, let’s really make a better word for 2019 than last year’s toxic. We really do deserve better. And on that note, welcome to my TED talk…

0vtdl6a1tbaufunil1voaq