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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I’m just back from two weeks writing in the Sahara Desert.

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I KNOW!!!

The experience was every bit as extraordinary, memorable and above all, productive as I could have hoped.

 

We slept out under stars, ate amazingly well, rode camels and wrote wrote wrote. I’ve come back with a full notebook, and can’t wait to untangle my words. There was something magical about the silence, the space and also … the lack of internet….

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I was staying at Cafe Tissardmine, with the wonderful Karen, a writer and artist herself, who was featured on Ben Fogle’s New Lives in the Wild. She hosts artists and writers throughout the year. In fact, my friend, Linda Cracknell, who invited me this time, will be running a writing workshop there next year (2021). All I can say is GO!

 

For the third week in my short story course, we looked at fairy stories and folk tales. We discussed how they can be updated, and how they can be used to ‘hold up a mirror’ to the world nowadays. I read this quote from the introduction by Alison Lurie to The Oxford Book of Modern Fairy Tales:

The fairy tale survives because it presents experience in vivid symbolic form. Sometimes we need to have the truth exaggerated and made more dramatic, even fantastic, in order to comprehend it….

‘Hansel and Gretel’, for instance, may dramatize the fact that some parents underfeed and abandon their children physically and/or emotionally, while others, like the witch, overfeed and try to possess and devour them.

Of course, the question is whether we actually need to have the truth exaggerated right now but that’s another story! We all came up with a list of issues – small and large – we could use the fairy tale format to cover, using variants of the ‘Once upon a time…’ first line. And then…

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Our last exercise of the session was me bringing in one of my favourite brown crackly paper bags… what was in it?

 

Ha! Everybody took a pinecone to look at, feel, smell while I read out these beliefs/facts about them that I had gathered from all over the internet…

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Maybe you have a cone handy, or if not you can just imagine! Here… take one…

And here is what I read out…

  • For native Americans, pine cones represent wisdom and longevity…
  • they are also known to represent, fertility and life
  • in northern Europe, fir trees were decorated at the end of the year to celebrate the birth of Frey, the Norse god of the sun and fertility
  • the tops of the trees were lit because in winter as the days were getting shorter, northern people thought that the light would attract the sun.
  • they are seen as a symbol of human enlightenment, the third eye. this is because they are the same shape as the pineal gland in your brain, from which the gland takes its name
  • your pineal gland is responsible for melatonin and therefore sleep patterns
  • it sits in the centre of your brain, linked to your body’s perception of light
  • the pinecone is the evolutionary precursor to the flower –
  • the tree is one of the most ancient species on the planet – has existed three times longer than all flowering plant species.
  • the pine cones spines spiral in a perfect Fibonacci sequence in either direction, much like sacred geometry of a rose or a sunflower.
  • Dionysus, or Bacchus, carried a fennel staff topped with a pinecone – this dripped with honey and used in religious rituals.
  • Romans built an enormous bronze sculpture, the Pigna, in the shape of a huge pine cone four metres high.
  • It used to be a fountain overflowing with water next to the Temple of Isis
  • This now sits directly in front of the Catholic Vatican in the Court of the Pinecone
  • The sacred staff the pope carries is topped with a pinecone
  • the fir tree is also the symbol of peace.
  • It can withstand many temperature ranges, such as cold climates, snow, rocky soil, and drought.
  • The soothing scent has been shown by research to make people ‘feel at home’…
  • in the United states, often found growing beside graves because they represent eternal life, and pine cones represent the continuity and renewal of life.
  • If you dream of a pine tree, this refers to a new place, an environment or new persons
  • to see a pine cone in your dream, that indicates there will be a job chance and you will quickly adapt.
  • If you dream of climbing a pine tree, you will have problems – and get exhausted because you are preoccupied with these
  • If you sleep under one, it signifies your achievements and success.

So much in just one little overlooked thing I’d picked off from the ground. And then there were more. One writer told me you could tell the weather using them, another remembered making necklaces from them at Christmas. I’m sure you have more of your own too, I’d love to hear them.

The writing prompt was to listen to all the different points above while listening also to the cone. What was it telling you? And then write.

It was an exercise in finding out more about things we think we know about already. Perhaps it was more of finding the magic, and slowing down enough to let the magic find us.