The Chiddingstone Literary Festival has been called ‘one of the best literary festivals in Britain’, according to the Tatler magazine, and it’s certainly one of the most beautiful settings for it. SO, lucky me, I got to give two workshops in the historic library there over the weekend.

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It wasn’t hard to find inspiration, especially when you enter through this door, and then come across this Egyptian mummy on the way up the stairs.

And then there’s the library itself which looks like a collection belonging to someone extremely privileged. In fact, as I pointed out, some of the books there were probably bound by the previous owner of the castle, Denys Eyre Bower himself, and he had learnt bookbinding when he was in prison. But that’s a whole different story. Look again, look harder, look in a different way! That was the message of the workshop.

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We looked at quick-fire ways of getting inspiration in the morning with a series of short exercises that led into one another. Here’s one – taking the work of Joe Brainard who wrote the now iconic book,  I Remember:

I remember ‘no ankles’ on some old ladies.

I remember trying to imagine my grandfather naked. (Eck!)

I remember having a crush on a cousin and mother telling me that you can’t marry a cousin and, ‘But why can’t you marry a cousin?’ and, ‘Because it’s against the law,’ and ‘But why is it against the law?’ etc.

I remember white marshmallow powder on lips.

I remember a very big boy named Teddy and what hairy legs his mother had. (Long black ones squashed flat under nylons.)

I remember Dagwood and Blondie shorts before the feature started.

I remember not allowing myself to start on the candy until the feature started.

I remember big battle scenes and not understanding how they could be done without a lot of people getting hurt.

I remember crossing your fingers behind your back when you tell a lie.

I remember thinking that comic books that weren’t funny shouldn’t be called ‘comic books’.

We wrote our own ‘I remembers’ around books, and libraries, and castles… and then just as quickly wrote a second list. This time, starting again with I remember, we wrote lies. As wild as you liked. It was interesting to see how the mind had to work harder with the fictional memories, but we agreed that both lists took us to surprising places.

This was one of several themed poems we read, And Yet the Books by Czeslaw Milosz:

And Yet the Books
Czeslaw Milosz

And yet the books will be there on the shelves, separate beings,
That appeared once, still wet
As shining chestnuts under a tree in autumn,
And, touched, coddled, began to live
In spite of fires on the horizon, castles blown up,
Tribes on the march, planets in motion.
“We are,” they said, even as their pages
Were being torn out, or a buzzing flame
Licked away their letters. So much more durable
Than we are, whose frail warmth
Cools down with memory, disperses, perishes.
I imagine the earth when I am no more:
Nothing happens, no loss, it’s still a strange pageant,
Women’s dresses, dewy lilacs, a song in the valley.
Yet the books will still be there on the shelves, well born,
Derived from people, but also from radiance, heights.

For our last exercise, YES WE WORKED HARD!, we looked at haiku – as in the capturing of a moment. This was part of thinking about how we noticed things – not just the sight of something, but also the questions we might have, the other senses we feel, the insights that come to us. I suggested that they might leave their poems and lines around the castle and during the rest of the day, I kept coming across them like mini treasures. They had indeed become part of the Chiddingstone collection. Here are some that I found, and I know there are others I hope to stumble across next time I’m there:

In the afternoon, I ran another workshop in Getting Published – focusing particularly on short stories, essays and poetry. It’s one of my favourite workshops to give because it’s always an eye-opener in how much there is out there. If anyone would like a copy of my handouts for this, including where to find magazines, examples of how to write your biography, etc etc, do email me on sarah@sarahsalway.co.uk, and I’d be happy to share.

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It was the end of a perfect weekend really. I’d been at the castle on the Saturday too, with Michael and John from the Poetry Exchange, recording people talking about the poems that had been a friend for them for the podcast. None of the festival’s recordings are up just yet, but you can listen to many others prepared earlier here. The Poetry Exchange is always a magical, surprising experience for everyone involved. This time round, we had Wilfred Owen, David Whyte, Mary Oliver, H W Longfellow, C P Cavafy, and Kathleen Raine all come and take tea with us in the castle Housekeeper’s Room. I’m pleased to report they got on very well indeed.

 

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.

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

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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?”

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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.”

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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!