Workshop – Find your creativity!

Do you have a novel that you’ve been meaning to write for longer than you remember? Would you like to draw or paint but you’ve never quite got round to it?

Make it your new year’s resolution to start creating! We can help you find the inspiration and motivation to begin.

Learn the tools and  techniques that will allow you to rediscover your creativity and have fun using it!

Sunday 14 January 2018 10am-3pm

Stannington Scout Hut, 107 Uppergate Road , Sheffield S6 6BZ

The workshop, co-delivered with Estelle Keribin-Connolly is based on the popular book, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and is suitable as a follow up for previous participants as well as anyone new.

I am a published writer, writing coach and facilitator and Estelle is a life coach and mindfulness instructor.

£50 for the whole day. Contact Estelle to book your place.

 

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Smoke on the water, fire in the sky…

No matter what we get out of this

I know, I know we’ll never forget

Smoke on the water, a fire in the sky

Deep Purple – Songwriters: Ian Gillian, Jon Lord, Ritchie Blackmore, Roger Glover.

I was listening to this song the other day. Actually I was trying to learn the bass line – a bit tricky – and no, the bass doesn’t play the riff at the start. But that’s another story. What this song made me think about is that writing, or indeed any creative pursuit, isn’t always about the end product. It’s about the process of creating.

Some writers like editing. Some like taking a messy structure – a confused mess with a troubled middle or dodgy beginning and hacking away at it until it resembles something smooth and polished. Others relish line editing. Taking each paragraph of prose and getting every apostrophe, comma and word to work perfectly, efficiently.

I don’t.

Don’t get me wrong. I do get some kind of perverse pleasure out of putting commas in the right place and making sure all my inverted commas are curly enough but nothing ever beats the flow and magic of that first draft.

Many faiths find something special in creativity. Druids call it ‘Awen’. Its symbol is three divine rays of light pouring down. That’s how that first rush of creating feels to me. Inspiration seems to come out of somewhere bigger than ourselves.

Sometimes, as I have found recently, as writers or creative people, we can get bogged down with the ‘job’. We actually say ‘the magic has gone out of it’ and that’s what it certainly feels like. Another story to edit for someone else. Another chapter that needs to get rewritten by the end of the month. Another synopsis that must be just right for the agent.

Somewhere along the way we lose sight of what it is we enjoyed in the first place. The simple flow of words, bringing characters to life that suddenly take on a life of their own, losing ourselves in places that only exist in our imagination.

This is the magic. The smoke on the water and fire in the sky. This is what it’s all about.

So, next time, before you fire up your laptop, open up a notebook and free your creativity for a while. Write whatever comes into your head. Find that joyful, playful place. Enjoy.

That’s what I intend to do before starting work on my next longer piece of work.

I think you’ll find that as a result, when you come back to the work you have on your to do list, it’ll feel looser, more inspired, more creative.

Still stuck? Here’s some ideas that me and Estelle Kerabin-Connolly use in our workshops with people to help them reconnect with their creativity:

  • Take yourself on an ‘Artist’s date’ (based on Julia Cameron’s book ‘The Artist’s Way’). This is a lone venture. It might feel indulgent and a bit silly but trust us, it works. It might be a visit to an art gallery, an afternoon rummaging in a second hand bookshop for treasures, listening to some new music with headphones on, a visit to a stately home, a walk by the beach – whatever floats your boat.
  • Do what Julia Cameron calls ‘morning pages’. I’m not a morning person and luckily they don’t have to be done in the morning. Three longhand A4 pages a day. Steam of consciousness. If you don’t know what to write, write ‘I don’t know what to write.’ Keep it up for at least two weeks without fail. Don’t read back what you’ve written. Turn off your inner editor.
  • If you had five imaginary lives to lead, what would they be? Go – write them down now without thinking. Turn off the internal editor. Nothing is too crazy. Circus trapeze poet? Tree-house dwelling song writer? No problem. When you’ve got your list, look for what ways you can live just a little of that life. I can’t join the circus and run away right now but I could do a circus skills workshop (yes -such things exist!) You could use these as a basis for your artist dates.

Happy Creating x

By the way – me and Estelle will be doing more workshops in January. Watch this space!

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What can writers learn from art?

I’ve recently begun a course in ceramic at the Art House in Sheffield. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time and I’m really enjoying it. I loved art at school and it’s great to finally let that part of myself stretch its wings again. It’s had a knock on effect on my writing – a good one.

It has freed me up, made me take more risks. Before, I had become blinkered, entrenched in the form and expected manner of my writing. Novels are supposed to be written in a certain way, short stories usually take form x. y and z etc. However, by exposing myself to the risk of something new, to create in a looser way with clay, I have found that I’m more willing to take risks with my writing, to dig deeper and be a little looser.

This has led me to consider further, what can we as writers learn from art and artists. Yes, I know that the art world can be cut-throat, nepotistic and snobbish. But that’s just the same with the so-called upper echelons of the literature world. I believe that if we look more broadly at art, there’s a lot we can learn.

One of the main things we can emulate is the playfulness of some artists. Creativity is essentially play. This makes me think of a quote by Ray Bradbury, the Science Fiction writer and author of ‘Fahrenheit 451’

‘I don’t understand writers who have to work at it. I like to play. I’m interested in having fun with ideas, throwing them up in the air like confetti and then running under them.’

Writing should be playful. Yes, I know it sometimes feels like a hard slog and the words just don’t come and redrafting and editing can be a chore, but the actual act of creating a story or poem out of nowhere is magical and fun and playful. There really is nothing quite like it. Perhaps, if it’s not playful and enjoyable, then we aren’t truly speaking with our proper creative voice, we’re just putting words on a page that we think other people expect to see.

But just because art and writing should be, and can be playful, it doesn’t mean it isn’t important. I think Grayson Perry says it so so well in ‘Playing to the Gallery’:

‘Art is not some fun add-on to life. Go back to the Ice Age and the artists were still making art even when living constantly under threat..The need to express oneself runs very very deep. The problem is often accessing this need..without the self-consciousness that so curses teenagers and the world alike.’

Being playful, breaking free of the constraints of expectation of form, medium or technicality can set us free from that self-consciousness and lead us to be better writers.

 

 

 

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Winner of Sheffield Off The Shelf Short Story Competition 2016!

I am thrilled to have come first place in this years Off The Shelf Short Story Competition. The competition, run by Sheffield Authors held an evening to hear some of the stories and present the awards at the Mugen Tea House on 17th October.

I attended, pleased to have made the final twelve with my story ‘After The Fire’ but was not expecting to make the top six, let alone be first prize!

It was a lovely event and I met some really lovely creative people, including Berlie Doherty, author of Street Child and Dear Nobody. Berlie, a double Carnegie medal winner was one of the judges. I also got chatting to Steven Kay, another writer of historical fiction and author of The Evergreen in Red and White and Beverley Ward who won a Northern Writers Award in 2012 for her yong adult novel Straight on Till Morning. It was a lovely event and everybody was so supportive and friendly.

The story is set in Birley Spa woods in the nineteenth century is centered around the burial of Lucretia, the Queen of Gypsies at Beighton. It will be published in the next issue of Now Then magazine.

It was fantastic finding out that I had won and it has really spurred me on in my writing and creative endeavors.

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Prejudices, old and new

Here is a link to the first few chapters of a new novel I’m working on. It’s called ‘The Witch Bottle’ and it’s a novel for young adults.

The Witch Bottle

It’s set in Derbyshire, in the Peak District, and it follows a teenager, Jane and her friend Lilith, the daughter of Polish immigrants, as they get caught up in a centuries old feud sparked by the murder of a suspected witch in the village in 1760.

It’s very much about prejudice and bigotry as well as identity, and how fear and hatred can get passed down the generations.

I’m struggling a bit with the tone as this is a move from writing for women, as well as trying to work out the best way to convey some of the historical content and how the prejudices affect families down the generations without confusing the audience. I think it’ll be a case of trial and error. Luckily I have my daughter aged 11 to test it on.

If you have the time to read it, I’d be really happy to have any thoughts you have about it.

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This Garden

So we’ve passed the longest day now and it feels like everything’s preparing for fruit bearing and harvest time. In the woods, the bees are busy collecting pollen from the blackberry flowers. I’ve only started to notice how many different types of bees there are recently.

Today I spotted a Tree Bumblebee queen and a Buff-Tailed queen on the blackberries and gorse in the woods. I used the website of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust to identify them. Apparently there are over 250 species so I was thankful for the help!

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The Tree Bumblebee only arrived here in 2001 from mainland Europe and it’s a great pollinator, moving with incredible speed from flower to flower. I had a bit of trouble photographing it, it was moving so fast and it was enormous!

 

 

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By comparison, the Buff-Tailed Bumblebee was quite easy to capture on film. You can see her pollen baskets which she uses to collect pollen and take it back to her young.

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The Oak trees are starting to produce acorns, as is the Horse Chestnut that me and Ollie pass every day. Indeed, there are hundreds of tiny conkers, still in their protective shells all over the pavement.

 

 

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A few blackberries are starting to show, as are the elderberries – although still green – just like the strawberries in my garden. Just a little more sun needed to ripen them.

 

 

 

 

Lastly, bizzarely, there was an abandoned shopping basket in the woods. Must be a mystery shopper gone wild.

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A Wood in England

Thought I’d add a new short story to the site. It’s one I did on a Saturday afternoon for an online writing community called Scribblers. They’re a friendly bunch and they do a piece of flash fiction each week. It’s fun and it keeps you on your writerly toes.

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It’s a story that owes a lot to Amy Jump / Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England. Set in the civil war it’s about a deserter meeting a strange old man in the woods.

When I’ve got time I’ll build on it – want to make more of the folk/fairy tale themes of blood, death, the soldier/poor man trying to make good and the trickster.

Earth by Sarah Peacock.

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Out and About

Well, I didn’t quite manage to do the whole nature writing thing every two weeks as I thought I would, but I do have a good excuse. I’ve been squirreling away on the novel and am now near the end. About 84,000 words done and twenty chapters or so.

I have been walking in the woods most days as we go to school and back that way. We’ve also been walking along the Cleveland Way on the North Coast, as well as visiting more local wilds in Derbyshire. We’ve even been engaging in a little wild swimming!

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The changes in the woods now are quite amazing. Even though some parts of my little scrub-wood are simply that; scrubby and if I’m honest, full of litter and vandalism (that is until you get further into the woods, where most people can’t be bothered to venture) – they have flourished with the warmer days we’ve had.

 

 

 

 

The bluebells are wilting now but we’ve got cow parsley in abundance as well as forget-me-nots and cranesbill.

The field maples have pushed forth their buds, the new leaves striking out and the hawthorn is heavily in flower, complete with it’s own heady fragrance.

 

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Out on our walk along the coastal path of the Cleveland Way we encountered hundreds of frogs in a makeshift pond right next to the North Sea and also came across a magnificent and rather large toad dominating the steps along the path.

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I’ve seen a few frogs in the garden as I’ve been gardening and hopefully I’ll be able to give them a home soon as my plan is to dig a wildlife pond once draft one of the novel is complete.

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Lost in a Forest

It’s a cold March. The sky is set to TV interference grey and there’s snow falling, enough to lightly cover the newly emerged bulbs of crocus and daffodil. As I slip and slide down the path towards Birley Spa Woods I can hardly feel my fingers, clutching the camera in case I lose it in the quagmire.

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These woods lie at the south-eastern tip of Sheffield. They would have been part of Derbyshire in the 1960s before the boundaries were redefined. They remind me of the forests of fairy tales, the way the brambles and branches, as well as the strange urban geography has kept them hidden from most people, lost and a little forgotten. I think that’s why I love them so much. They are neglected and abused (children and teens regularly set fire to rubbish here or ride off road bikes and butcher the trees) and there’s something a little melancholic about them. They don’t have the attention lavished on them as say, Ecclesall Woods, but they have a charm all of their own.

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Behind the primary school is the disused Victorian Spa. It’s fenced off and chained, sitting in beautifully haunting grounds. I used to think there was something menacing about the place but I think that I just misunderstood the place. It’s sad, neglected, and the ghosts of the Victorian and Pre-War day trippers are almost tangible around the old boating lake and spring. Nearby is the strange fossilised tree where they used to leave tokens and the ruins of the children’s paddling pool, graced by the splash of feet over eighty years ago.

The story of the Spa, a Grade II listed building is a fascinating one. Purportedly there was a stone, part of the lake wall, now gone, that had the date 1701 inscribed on it meaning that the spa and grounds might date back to the beginning of the 1700s but the first documentation of the site is in 1734 in a book about the mineral waters of England where it is called ‘Burleigh Spa’. There are records showing that people came from Sheffield in the Eighteenth Century to bathe and drink the waters for therapeutic purposes.

The current building on the site dates from 1842. There were two bridges over the stream in the grounds along with walks through the wooded valley and seven grottoes. The building contained two pools; one marble and one stone. Only the stone one remains. The bath house and hotel was eventually sold along with the cottages known as Rose Cottages and turned into pleasure grounds.

A boating lake, sandpits, rocking boats, see-saws and swimming in the ‘Roman’ bath were all advertised as part of ‘The Children’s Paradise – Birley Spa’. The pleasure grounds were closed to the public at the outbreak of war in 1939 and when the council housing was built in Hackenthorpe in the late 1940s and 1950s and the Sheffield Corporation became the owners.

(Shire Brook – The Forgotten Valley 2007)

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As I move around the wrought iron fence of the Spa, I disturb the huge guard dogs that reside behind the security fencing of a modern house, now built upon the site of the old Rose cottage. For a moment, I am a little scared but then I marvel what it must be like for a modern family, surrounded by flat screen TVs and shiny granite worktops with all the mod cons, to be isolated and submerged in the woods like this. It reminds me of George Huxley’s house set in Ryhope Wood in Robert Holdstock’s ‘Mythago Wood’.

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Just a few days later, I am back in the woods with friends and it’s discernibly warmer. We stand and watch a frog emerging from hibernation in the shallow waters of the old boating lake. There are stickleback darting and nibbling at a crumb of bread. Above us, in the trees we hear the sounds of woodpeckers at work. Spring is definitely arriving.

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