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Showing posts from May, 2017

a conversation about books in the winter's dark

I sit in a cold, quiet night, writing. The computer screen is like a moon for me, and I'm making shadows across its surface - words, wishes, darkness on the clean white light. Now and again I cross over to twitter, where a conversation about Patricia McKillip's books is taking place. My heart delights to be talking with kindred spirits across the cold, the oceans, into the great elsewhere, knowing I am elsewhere for them too. All of us inside the mystery that, by day, is just the world.

A lot of the conversation involves just naming her books. That is enough for understanding. And you know, I come here to write a post on what I love most about Patricia McKillip's stories, but as I begin typing I realise that's not the important thing from this evening. It's how I pause now and again while writing my own little story to talk to faraway people about a love we all share. It's about the light their voices make in this dark, like pieces of moons themselves - not th…

a freckling of the young winter quiet

i am no ocean waves, tides, i am a woman who aches
it is enough

some music ...

I hear the voices from the singing land
Ceridwen and Taliesin

The Great Selkie of Sule Skerrie

My review of the book Tatterdemalion.

I am currently reading Rose In Bloom by Louisa May Alcott. I didn't like Little Women (reading it aloud was particularly a trial, as she presents long speeches and only announces at the very end who said them) but am giving her another chance. Rose In Bloom is a bit saccharine in the old-fashioned way, but I like Rose very much, and then there's Mac. I never appreciated Gilbert Blythe as I ought to have, so hope I have found here a worthwhile alternative. With his hair-in-his-eyes and the way he unceremoniously carries Rose over the dirty ground, not to mention his bookishness, he has already captured my heart.

the tears you weep were wept before by women or forests mountains or heroes and have risen from sorrows fallen from storms
you weep with the world

how to write a sentence

I was blessed to have been taught Shakespeare's works by a world renowned expert (at least so he described himself). I've never forgotten how he and a colleague determined once and for all that a piece of writing had not been written by Shakespeare: the same word had been used twice in one sentence. Shakespeare, apparently, would never be so shoddy.

I took that information with me into my own writing. I can't say I've adhered to the rule every time, because a more important rule is that writing should breathe naturally, and if you are always ticking off rules you won't necessarily manage that. But it's a good idea to keep at the back of your mind, or to implement during the edit.

I was also taught that writing should balance between being beautiful and invisible. This is my constant struggle! In particular, how to create a gorgeous description without making it clog the senses of the reader? Careful, cool-minded, technical choice of words can help.

Here is an …

taking the gentle woman seriously

My twitter feed is mostly politics and poetry. My dream house would be something big and almost entirely empty, with faded wallpaper and windows open to every wild wind, and outside, a garden luxuriating in roses. I almost never write a story without it containing some kind of love and also, inevitably, a saturating mist of melancholy.

I worry that pretty backgrounds on my weblog will mean people won't take me seriously.

But then, isn't that the universal female condition? Worrying that we won't be regarded for our words and actions, but for the clothes we wear and how we style our hair? And it's not just in our business dealings. The woman poet, the woman reader, the woman blogger, the woman philosopher ... Each is judged by the appearance she offers. We may assume a woman who reads Young Adult books isn't that deep a thinker (perhaps until we read some ofthose books ourselves and are forced to reconsider.) We do not expect cutting political insight from a woman …

love in the dark hour

It's love I see today. It's courage and compassion, which are after all the promises we are given when we enter the trials of this life. I know there is evil, but it does not own today.

In all the anguish and fear that burns through communities in this war, for it is a war, we must never lose sight of just how much goodness we live amongst. How many doors open to take us in, or bring us food and tea, how many hands are there to hold us when we bleed or weep. Even those people our society has turned against, leaving them to sleep in doorways and eat rubbish when really there are enough resources for all - these discarded people, they run into the fire to save our children. Next time you see an article headed, "what you need to know about the terrorist," look instead for the one headed, "what you need to know about the heroes" - for they are who we truly do need to know about.

Perhaps if we started to see our community as it actually is, never mind political…

a wild feminine baptism

We are born of the dark and the mud. The waters are grimy - full of nutrients, full of mica like broken stars, full of the memories of our grandmothers and all the roots, bird hearts, sorrows, they ate.The waters slid through forests where women journeyed and men dug. We are one-third muck, one-third myth, and one-third wonderment.

And through skin light shines, opening our eyes. And when we are born air flows into us, changing everything.

I remember when I was younger, and walking alone through a city far from home, far from my mother, I thought perhaps now I can call myself a woman. But I wasn't certain. Even after I too became a mother, I wasn't certain. I supposed it was a culture scar across my heart. But now I wonder if infact it was instinctive acknowledgement that I had not fulfilled the maiden spirit in me. Perhaps a woman can not feel herself a woman until she has been enough of a girl. A poet or a dancer, a nonsense-speaker, a leap of flame, a flower-scented gust, …

the small things in life

Inspired by Jacqueline Honeybee, I have been keeping a diary of everyday beauty. It isn't an exercise in gratitude, but simply encouraging myself to become more aware of how lovely this world can be. As we slip into the solemnity of winter, I appreciate the reminder that loveliness can still easily be found if you look for it, even amongst the bare trees and sleeping meadows.

Here are some entries drawn from my diary ...

roses in the church garden
a swan flying overhead in the gentle frosted dawn
reading by candlelight
peaceful rain
a gauzy half-moon in the late afternoon sky
a plump bumble bee in my garden
shadows like lace on the footpath
a luminous grey evening sky
sea breezes
lavender and honey cake eaten in the rose garden
visiting the library's collection of vintage books
the sky looking like a Van Gogh painting
waking to the sound of rain
sewing lace onto a new dress
chimney smoke scenting the evening
walking in the wind
new kitchen curtains
cosmos, lavender, lemon a…


It came with the rains.

I went out early this morning, before dawn. I went to rescue a river. Going home over crimson soaked into the black roads - traffic lights reflected in fallen rain - I thought the world was so magical I could hardly bear it. Some people find their home behind a white picket fence or on a moorland or beside the sea; for me, it is in the rain. And we have had a very long dry summer.

When I got home, I found the book waiting in my inbox. I hadn't been able to buy the hard copy - books are luxuries here, at this time, which is difficult when you are acquainted with so many writers online and want to support them all. But I had to have this particular story in some form, and so I got the ebook.

I read the first pages as my curtains seemed to swell with the lightening, burgeoning world outside. I read words as birds sang rain-glint and earthworms. To be honest, I'd feared beforehand that I would ache from it, as probably every writer does when faced with som…

when you can't be brave

There are those moments, I'm sure you have them too, when courage flies away from the heart and leaves the mind groping for how on earth to cope. Maybe it's okay though. Maybe we don't always have to be brave. There are other things which might see us through and help us to move forward. Hope. Determination. Audaciousness. Support from others. Faith. Gentleness with ourselves. Comfort. Rest.

And maybe it's even better, sometimes, not to be brave. Instead, to allow other people the opportunity to help and comfort us. Or to give ourselves some rest. Or to acknowledge and experience our sincere pain. If a woman was forever courageous, how would the soft parts of her heart get the care they need? And how would she receive the gifts that come from wishing into the dark, having faith, surrendering, trusting someone else?

Have you ever felt your courage faltering, and instead of hoisting it back up again you've simply curled up on the couch with a warm cup of tea and pie…

a story for our times

I've said it many times before: if I want to have charming conversations with strangers, I take my copy of Anne of Green Gables out with me. It never fails to elicit warm and happy comments from people. How revered that book is! It seems to give people permission to love life, and to love loving.

I don't understand why a bleak and cynical vision of the story is needed. It's bad enough that our entertainment is full of darkness and misery, to the degree that even our comedies are gritty, and anything soft is sneered at. Why take a source of joy and turn it into solemnity? Why twist optimism into grim courage?

We are told that these days are hard and dark ones. Certainly that's true in many places, and for too many people - although it's also true that there is much to celebrate about living in this time (not that you would know it if you watched television or, dare I say it, read contemporary fiction.) Really, if things are so hard and dark, surely the medicine is …

the wild songs of women

- John Berger

It is my goal to write stories that have the character of a poem. I think it can be done; I think the reason Mr Berger thinks it can't is because we have all decided what a story should be - a procession of angles, a journey, a certain number of acts. What if we listened instead to the way the women tell their private stories about life? The digging in and drawing out and coming about. It is poetry, it is a wild song with all the voices of light and shadow, dirt and dreaming, intertwined.

For that matter, what if we listened to the stories of the sparrow, the willow tree, the river? Each have their own cadence and understanding about how life and change happen. When I have trouble writing, I remember (sometimes very late) to go sit awhile with the woods and the small birds, and hear all the ways they have for saying. It's not that I want to write with their voices, but that they teach me in all their honesty to write with my own. Not a man's voice. Not a bat…

all the worlds within us

It used to be that I loved imaginary maps in story books. With my finger, I would trace their coastlines, their borders between kingdoms; I would dream myself away.

These days, I find worlds in the dust from old volumes of forgotten poetry. In the rush of the wind, the solemnity of hills. With the song of a swallow, the broken word of a woman at the end of her life, the emptiness of what once was a college classroom. People say fantasy and fairytales are escapism, but I wonder why they believe we're in one place to begin with. This world is full of worlds.

(And perhaps our selves are infact a whole raft of selves, bound together by our soul.)

art by the incomparable mirjana appelhof

why fantasy matters

This morning the sky burned with a magnificent sunrise of the kind I have not seen for a while - the heavy, solemn, fierce-hearted kind that we get as autumn deepens into winter. It seemed to speak of swords and blood and love. As I looked at it, my thoughts went to the great old stories of poet-kings in the kingdoms of stone and roses, and I wondered if those stories were gleaned not from half-remembered historic events but from the wild sky.

As the crimson eased away, leaving grey threaded with gold like a broken kintsugi heaven, I heard wind rushing through the morning. I felt it too, although I was indoors - the cold thin sense of a windswept sky, the echoing of far away. I was not the only one. But infact there was not the slightest breeze out there. The morning only dreamed of storms.

I believe all times are mythic times. Even the most private threshold is profound for the person standing alone and uncertain on it. But these times now are a global story. We urgently need tales …

writing silence

I have been learning how to let in the light. For all that I'm a night-spirited woman, a winter woman, I love quiet and simplicity - the spaces of poetry - the calm - which I most easily find in light-loved imagery (and empty rooms, but don't get me started on that). Sometimes I can photograph it, but seldom do I manage to write it, which makes me sigh. How to achieve words that slip away into a look, a half-smile, a longing for the untouched distance? It has been my struggle for many years, put aside all too often simply so I could write.

But never write quietly enough.

I want white language. I want the stillness at the heart of the long winter night.

the bear that carries the moon

Outside, the sky is slowly turning the colour of the old dreaming sea. I have come to love early mornings, for they hold stars too, and remembrances of the wild god's drumbeats that go deep beneath the soil, through the intimacies of the Mother, the roots and tunnels of the earth. I saw one houselight in the fading darkness - then realised it was my own houselight, reflecting off my neighbour's roof. It ought to serve as a lesson, but I already knew I could be my own light for myself in the world.

Frosty quiet mornings like this, I can sense the stretch of the old night, as if it is a great black bear that has been padding about the houses and streets, carrying the moon on its shoulders, and now is easing out the cold from its muscles, the stars from its pelt, and hunkering down to sleep. Now come the teeming people, the day tribe. They drive all over pawprints and over tiny pebbles thrown up by the sacred drumbeat and the pulse of the lush and heavy earth. They think they ar…

alone amongst the stars

If you are planting, I beg you never plant only one tree. They are social beings, they love to have friends and community. Infact, solitary trees do not thrive as well as those in a glade, and tend to live shorter lives. No wonder, for they have no one to hear their song, and no one to sing to them or to share with them sustenance and encouragement. They are utterly alone in the world and bereft of any conversation.

I must admit, I do not understand the search for extra-terrestrial life. Not when we could right here at home explore how to speak, as once we did, with trees and flowers, beasts and birds. That great question - are we alone amongst all the stars? - can be answered so easily by taking your hand and leading you into the garden.

art by eleanor fortiscue bricksdale

living in a fairytale

I have been reading the fairytales of Hermann Hesse, who wanted to make his own life a fairytale and wrote from his difficulty in doing that. But perhaps it is a thing for the dishwashers and dreaming poets of the world, this making wild-scented story from everyday life. Perhaps it is something that is best achieved in living small and quiet. The woman who sweeps carpets and folds laundry knows about Mother Hulda's scrutiny, and how our hands make the words our hearts let out. The man who studies small churchyard flowers so as to write small pagan poems of them understands about hidden treasures and their feral protectors. Fairytales do also happen in offices and universities, for scientists and kings. But we have to go so very quietly to hear their rhythm.

She taught me how to count time like a bird. Steady, slow, days looping into months into a year which looped in upon itself. Then she taught me rabbit time, with its back and forth. And all the ways of marking time out there in…

in the wild church

The ocean's sky every morning seems like a hallelujah to me. 

It is cold enough here these days for a blanket and a hot water bottle as I write in the long quiet of the morning. Sunrise slips over my milk-white walls, hallowing the hour. My curtains become luminous. Only a week or two ago, I was squinting against the fervid brightness. Now it is gentle, mellow - the love of an older man, with his hard-earned wisdom, rather than the passion of the young summer king. It has the steady, calm certainty which no longer sees tenderness as a risk but a strength; it has too the promise of the storm.

But I know most of you are in spring now, and so for you I will share a poem by the incomparable Jacqueline Durban, whose heart is as golden and generous as the dreaming of a honeybee. Please do visit her beautiful online place.

I find Her in the psalm of sun on skin, in turning my face towards the light in early spring, in the honeybees who worship at the altar of our cherry tree, in crow&#…

the courtship of a story

Her heart was a secret garden and the walls were very high. - William Goldman

Everywhere they talk of writers working to compose stories. But I have a different perspective. I will tell you about the writer behind stone and brambles, rose and remembrances - the writer in their heart's castle. I can not say why they remain there, for the reasons are as many as the writers themselves. Too much self-criticism. Not enough time in the day. Shyness, doubt, wrong thinking, overconfidence, distraction. The walls may be a defence or a prison. The roses may be beautiful or barbed. Whatever a writer's reason, in their castle they sit, in their silence.

And story comes to find them. It makes a way through the brambles, with sword or by singing, to court the writer and fill them with words.

Sometimes it will storm their castle, taking them by surprising, bringing them at once to their knees with a wild love at first sight. Other times it must slog for long months until discovering finally …

stars in the belly of winter

There is something so old about a winter's morning. Rather than rising, the sunlight seems to have always been there, and only revealed by night's parting. And there is such a blessing in the cold. It holds us with sharp fingers, but not cruelly, more like a reminder to wrap ourselves in softness, comfort, warmth. I love to watch my breath go like candlesmoke through the dimness. I love to feel the wild mother's bare presence so close.

The silence before a story comes is like a winter to me. Everywhere I look, the world seems barren and ragged. I find no ease. But deep within, a tiny seed like a white star will be growing, word upon image upon trust. I try to remember that the reading and pin browsing I do in this silent time is about nourishing that seed with aesthetics and ideas. Not every one will go into its making - most will supply the environment in which it grows. If I try to avoid this wintering, I only create something rootless.

As polar winds bring star-coloure…

at the end, a beginning

It is Samhain in my part of the world, the festival of death and descent, and also the beginning of the new year in ancient traditions. I always found this strange, for it seemed to me the year began again in spring with new leaves, refreshed skies. And yet, it is in early winter that seeds begin their growth, deep in the warm fertile dark, the womb and tomb of the world. And it is in the ruins of her old choices that the heroine begins a new path into story, drawn forth by the call of the wild, loving god into transformation.

I love the promise this gives us - that our winters hold the seeds for our beautiful flowering. That death is just the beginning.

art by katrina sesum