After months of hearing, thinking and talking about only the one thing, it is completely wonderful to be able to share some good news with you.

Firstly, I’m delighted to be one of the winners of the Coast to Coast to Coast pamphlet competition with my manuscript Let’s Dance. This is the brainchild of poet and artist, Maria Isakova Bennett and her books are a little bit special, as they are all handstitched in silk covers.

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And also this feels even more of a celebration because some of the poems in Let’s Dance began last year as part of a writing residency at the Alde Valley Spring Festival, and this year I’m very proud to be part of the Summer Festival there too, working with the artist Perienne Christian. Her work is stunning so I’m already inspired, and hopefully we will be able to meet in person at the Festival in Suffolk later this year. The Alde Valley Spring and Summer Festival is a very special event, and this year it has gone online so do take a look. Here’s a memory of writing at that time…

A third thing to say is something that has been so important to me that I want to mention it now but come back to later as I’ve so much to say! It was a real honour to be asked to write a module for The Literary Consultancy’s Being a Writer programme. My module centred around Dealing with Self Doubt and Imposter Syndrome – something I wonder if writers ever get over. Perhaps not as this quote from John Steinbeck illustrates:

I am not a writer. I’ve been fooling myself and other people.

There are things we can do though to help us keep going, and it was so interesting to explore all these, and to work out which were the best ones to fit into the programme. It was fabulous to work with the team at the Literary Consultancy, and I quickly found out how much they cared about the whole project so I do hope it helps people. If you have done the course, do let me know how you got on with it, and if you haven’t, it’s here! 

And lastly, one of the ‘other’ things on my mind recently, as I’m sure it has with you, are the issues raised by Black Lives Matter. It really is a time for me to listen and read and learn more. Here are just some of the books I’ve been turning to, and would recommend:

However, as this great article shows, there is a danger that ‘When black people are in pain, white people just join book clubs” so I’m also happy that, through a favourite ex-student at the LSE, I’ll be mentoring two black students on their academic writing. I’m lucky that I have transferable skills, but also fully intend that any mentoring is two-way.

It’s a privilege to be able to write all of this post, but also it’s important for me to recognise that I’ve been working hard to get to this position. One of the things that being in hospital and yes, recovering, has shown me is that I need to do what’s important to me – poetry, words, art, nature, sustainability, learning and being part of helping everyone reach their potential. I’ll be learning to say NO more this year if things don’t feel right.

Oh, and I forgot cake. Here’s another reminder why I’m so happy to be part of Alde Valley again this year…

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If you’ve been walking round my town recently, you may have seen poems like bunting hanging outside a particular house. You may have been one of those I’ve overheard saying, ‘What are these?’, or even, ‘Only in Tunbridge Wells!’

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Well, I’ve been very proud to have been that ‘mad poetry lady’ in the ‘mad poetry house’ and thanks to all my other mad poetry friends for letting me put their poems up for everyone to enjoy. I lost count of the photographs taken, people stopping to enjoy them, and even an impromptu reading as one woman read them out via Facetime to friends in Spain. I was particularly touched by one couple who said they came by every day to read one poem a day.

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Funny how these things happen. I knew when I came out of hospital, I wanted to do something positive and as a writer, words are what I can use. And then one day, I wrote this poem (below) which was actually inspired by a yellow postcard I do have stuck rather inelegantly above my computer. It was only when I read the draft back that I realised I was telling myself what to do! It’s like the old saying has it, ‘I write to find out what I think’.

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The poems are coming down tonight so I wanted to write this post, not just to find out what I think but to remember it too! (Thank you to fellow poet, Jess Whyte, some of whose photographs I have stolen to use above.)

Truth
Sarah Salway

Today I wonder whether to hang
bunting on the railings outside my home,
each triangle a dot or a dash
for passers-by to read in any direction.
I’ll watch them through my window,
see how their faces change as they realise
it’s a code that only some will break.

Above my computer is a yellow postcard
of a letterpress Morse alphabet.
Sometimes I tap words out with my fingers,
and as my hands remember the dance
of when they’d waltz on my old typewriter,
even my sleek silent keyboard shudders along
with every swing and ding of the carriage return.

We don’t catch strangers’ eyes these days
and it’s this I miss, those snatches
of conversations that won’t even take place
until later, in my mind, I fill in the gaps,
I’ve never told anyone this before but—

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‘If  one day, you have no companion…’ That sounds such a sad phrase, but was probably one of the reasons why I loved this book, Something To Do, so much, I think. It never presumed you were going to be surrounded by friends. Most of the activities are quiet and creative. I wonder if this is why when I posted this morning on Facebook about it, so much of the love has come from fellow artists and writers? Personally I’m sure it helped to build my curiosity and ‘can-do’ muscles.

It’s based round the months of the year (think Lia Leendertz’s Almanac but with more games) and  has a special place on my desk bookshelf. I’ve been reading it again recently for a larger – secret – project I’m involved with. And you know what? It’s still brilliant. I’m not surprised that on my Facebook people have been been citing pages and activities they particularly liked and remembered. So here, for Frances and Hilary, is the fudge recipe (obviously I’d cooked it a bit messily several times) and ‘something to do with cotton reels’…

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What a lovely thought that you might just have a wooden kitten needle and two spare cotton reels just hanging around!

It’s part of what makes this a highly comforting book: even though the authors, Septimus, are anonymous, they give the impression that they all hang out in each other’s kitchens (probably drinking gin and bitching about the kids, but who cares?), and the illustrations are by Shirley Hughes – how young must she have been then?

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But it’s also full of facts about nature – I actually remember going out with this drawing and identifying buds…

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… and it’s got poems in it – not as a chore to learn but offered as a possible pleasure!

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In fact, I might just try to grow myself a pineapple plant this weekend…

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Who else had it? And what do you remember doing from it?

It’s been a long time since I’ve written flash.

Actually that’s a lie. I always write flash, even when I’m writing novels, especially my first Something Beginning With which was written as a form of alphabetical flash!

Better then to say that it’s been a long time since I sent my flashes out as possible little sparks rather than keeping them tucked up in my journal so it’s been lovely they have been finding homes. And to have the further good news that two of them have been chosen for both the forthcoming 2019 Best Microfiction and 2019 Best Shorts anthologies.

Here are those stories if you’d like to read them, thank you so much to all the editors for picking them:

I’m also really happy that another story, Safekeeping, will be in the National Flash Fiction Day Anthology, and will appear there for its first time.

A special thank you to the legendary Meg Pokrass for helping me get my Flash mojo back and being so encouraging.

In other news, I’m getting ready to be one of the writers in residence at the Alde Valley Spring Festival next month. If you’re in Suffolk and visiting the festival, do get in touch to say hello. It looks completely magic and I am counting the days.

But before that, there are still a few places left in my writing workshops on Sunday 5th May at Chiddingstone Literary Festival. The castle is another beautiful writing home, bursting with inspiration for us all. The books at the top are from the library, where the workshops will take place.

And of course, if you haven’t seen it, my TEDx talk is now up – In Praise of Every Day Words – it’s written especially for  all of us word geeks and dictionary nerds.

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…

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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.

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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!