Ash

Grandad taught him how to make a coal fire. He would wait to hear the outside coal bunker being rattled, then grab his blanket and run downstairs, taking pole position on the sofa overlooking the fireplace. Something hypnotic floated in a cold morning air. A soft hush from ash, shovelled from under the stool-grate and placed on yesterday’s headlines.  Miner’s hands turned and twisted; paper turned into perfect firelighters. Precision and experience constructed beds of coal and kindling. A strike of a match, the thud of a damper. Golden glows filled the room. He laid back and breathed in the magic.   

Is a Piece of Writing Ever Finished?

Over the past week, I have been going through the final preparations for the publishing of my first poetry collection, All Mine. The book has been over six years in the making.

Reading through several of the earliest written poems, there has been a temptation to change some of the content. All the relevant editing and formatting has been completed, but there is still this notion inside that none of the poems are finished.

Is this normal for a writer?

I had a conversation with an editor who suggested, pieces of writing are like photographs. They provide a snapshot of what a writer was thinking at a particular moment in time. As time progresses so do our skills. A constant reexamining of old work could lead to over editing, to the point where the writing loses some of the energy which created the initial spark.

Natalie Goldberg in her book, Writing Down the Bones, details how some of the chapters came out first time, whilst other parts of the book needed weeks even months of editing.

Sir John Betjeman was more precise in his approach. Each poem he wrote received a maximum of six edits and that was that, no further tampering. Philip Larkin could spend a year drafting and editing a poem, then leave the poem for up to six years before coming back to it.

Maybe the answer is personal to each writer and dependant on experience and personality. There has to be a point where we resist the urge to tinker?

Have you any tips or thoughts around finishing a piece of writing? I would love to hear them.

Before the Heatwave

He had never seen a sparrowhawk this close. Three metres at most, as he camouflaged himself behind Aloe Vera’s across his window. Blue silvered wings shrouded her prey. Powerful limbs and speckled chest absorbed dawn sunlight.

Peck by peck she dismantled. A carpet of young pigeon feathers laid to confirm her regal status. His slight twitch alerted her. Sparrowhawk and carcass gone. Upstairs, his 6 a.m. alarm, a lament for a grieving mother, floated through the Mede. 

The Zen of Seeing

‘We do a lot of looking: we look through lenses, telescopes, television tubes. Our looking is perfected every day – but we see less and less.’ – Frederick Franck

When I read the above quotation, the words felt quaint, almost warming, and hard to believe they were written only forty years ago. The extract is taken from the start of a book, The Zen of Seeing: Seeing / Drawing as a meditation, written by Frederick Franck in 1977.

I bought the book a couple of months ago from a car boot sale and the reading has brought home a realisation, as a writer, I was becoming blind. Not in a physical sense, more in a way that I was detaching myself from the world around me.

Where Franck mentions television tubes, change those words to iPhone, iPad, laptop, desktop, television screen. Technology appears to have made the world bigger. Has it become smaller?

There is an excellent exercise in the book where Franck asks the reader to concentrate their eyes on something in front of them, then close their eyes for five minutes and try to relax. When their eyes are reopened, he asks the reader to refocus on the object and record what they see. Although this book is predominantly aimed at artists the exercise can be adapted for most creative practices.

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