Keep Calm and Carry on Writing!

This is not only a scary time for all of us, but also a very constricting one, with so many of the things we love to do suddenly off the agenda: holidays, going out to eat, drink or be entertained; even meeting our friends.

But there is at least one thing that I love to do that I can keep doing no matter how stringent the restrictions get – writing! Not just in isolation either. As readers of this blog may know, I’m a member of several writers’ groups, and it was a great blow when one by one they had to stop meeting because of coronavirus. However, there is life after lockdown! Three of those groups have found ways to carry on, writing at more or less the same time each week as before, and then sharing what they have written, either by e-mail or in one case using Zoom to hold a virtual meeting in cyberspace. And everyone is furiously keeping in touch by e-mail and WhatsApp. It lends a comforting air of positivity and normality to such a negative and abnormal time, and reminds me that we are going to get through this. How lucky we are to have the internet. If the pandemic had happened thirty years ago, none of this would have been possible.

It’s occurred to me that this is also a time of opportunity for those who have always fancied creative writing but never got round to it. You have no excuse now not to have a go! Join a virtual writing group – it doesn’t matter where you live, as you won’t be going anywhere. Indeed, if anyone would like to get in touch (comment on this post or email me at tim.e.taylor@talk21.com), I’d be happy to point them at one or more of the writing groups I’m in myself. And perhaps this is a good time to remind people of the invitation I posted last year for people to share some of their work on this blog – it’s still open! Scroll down to ‘Come on Over or click on this link: https://timwordsblog.wordpress.com/2019/08/30/come-on-over/

So – one reason to be cheerful, at least. Happy writing!

The Dragon Slayers

I feel in the need of a bit of light relief – like a lot of people right now, I suspect. So here is a bit of fun I wrote at Holmfirth Writers a while back …

The group of horsemen could be seen approaching the town from some distance away. They attracted a lot of attention from the locals, for several reasons. For a start, you didn’t often see horses around here, or indeed anything on four legs much larger than a ferret. Also, from time to time the morning sun glinted off the riders, which meant they were wearing metal, probably armour. That thought prompted alarm in some quarters, as the last group of armoured horsemen who had come this way had rampaged through the town seizing everything of value – which wasn’t very much – and ravishing the local maidens. Wiser souls, however, observed that this lot were going at a very leisurely pace for people intent on seizing and ravishing, though that did not prevent half a dozen of the town’s more adventurous maidens from hanging about speculatively at the side of the road. 

 As the party drew closer, some details became apparent.  The column consisted of about a dozen men, and was led by two contrasting figures, both clad in shiny, expensive-looking armour and carrying long spears with flags on them. The figure on the left was tall and well-proportioned, and mounted on a noble black steed. The man on the right was slightly shorter, but in all other dimensions he was vast, and his huge horse appeared to have been cross-bred with a hippo. As they entered the town, a man wearing a sack that was marginally less threadbare and filthy than those of the other townspeople stepped out to greet them.

“All right, mate?”

“Good morrow, kind sir,” replied the tall rider. Is this the town of Dung?”

“Yeah, that’s right.  I am the mayor of Dung. What can I do yer for, guv?”

“Good mayor, I am Prince Valiant. This is my brother, Prince Gluttonous, and these are our noble knights. We have heard that there is a dragon in this vicinity. Is that correct?

The mayor sucked his teeth. “We-ell, strictly speaking, yes, but she’s kind of retired. We ain’t had no trouble from her since she signed the agreement, fourteen years ago.”

Prince Valiant sneered. “An agreement? With a dragon? Dragons are for slaying, not negotiating with. Now tell me, good sir, where will we find this dragon?”

“Through the town, left at the enchanted well, then third right through the Forest of Impenetrable Darkness. Second cave on the left. It’ll take you about half an hour. But I warn you, she won’t welcome visitors. She likes to do her knitting at this time of day.”

“We do not expect a welcome from a dragon,” said Prince Gluttonous haughtily. We are come to rid your land of the scourge of dragon kind for ever.”

“Actually, we get on with her all right,” said the mayor. “She keeps the wolves down, brings in a few tourists. Now fifty miles down the valley, in Mud, I hear they have real problems with their dragons down there.”

“Enough of this nonsense,” snorted Valiant, “we shall go forthwith to vanquish the dragon.”

“Suit yourself. Give her my regards when you get there, will you.”

______

Angela the dragon had finished her knitting for the day and was settling down to a nice tea of roast wolf. The wolves around here were quite tasty, though she had to admit that she still missed human flesh, even after fourteen years. It was so nutritious too, much better for you than that scrawny dog meat, which was so bad for her skin – it had gone all dry and flaky. She was hoping to knit a dragon-sized cardigan to cover it up, make her a bit more presentable.                 

Suddenly she heard noises in the entrance to the cave. Some little figures ran up to her and started to prick her with spikes. She was really cross. This was so tiresome, and where some of her dry scales had fallen off the spikes were really quite uncomfortable. Wearily, she took a deep breath and poured out a ten second blast of fire over the annoying creatures. Mostly they just curled up and went black, but one of them, larger than the rest, was still trying to stick spikes in her.  “Dammit,” she thought, “he just won’t die.” However, another couple of blasts seemed to do the trick, although they did make rather a mess of her knitting. Still, she had an unexpected feast – the large one in particular was exceptionally succulent. And besides, she wouldn’t be needing the cardigan anyway. All those lovely natural oils you get from humans would do wonders for her skin. She felt she would have no trouble with her scales for quite some time.  

pic: (c) David Revoy / Blender Foundation https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/deed.en

Welcome, Amanda!

Today I am delighted to welcome fellow Maytree poet – and award-winning short story writer – Amanda Huggins, whose first poetry collection is published this month.

Welcome Amanda, tell us about your forthcoming poetry collection, The Collective Nouns For Birds.

Thank you for inviting me, Tim!

All the poems in The Collective Nouns for Birds were written over the last two years. I didn’t plan to write a collection when I started – I was just feeling my way, as I haven’t written poetry since my late teens. I wrote fifty or so poems in the two year period, and it soon became apparent that they were taking me on a nostalgic journey through life: glimpses of teenage dreams, lost loves, chance encounters and what-might-have-beens. My poetry is a mixture of fiction and memoir, and although there is a certain melancholy longing throughout the collection, there is also hope, and the beauty of the natural world.   

One of the pre-publication reviews by Amanda McLeod sums it up well:  “Huggins explores . . . all the ways in which we lose things, the clarity and sometimes sadness that retrospection can bring. There is the transition from childhood to adulthood, the parting of lovers and friends, loss of life, of special places.”

You’ve previously won awards for your short stories. What is the essence of a good short story?

A short story should plunge straight in with no preamble, should have a killer ending, a limited cast of characters, and every single word should count. (If only I’d stick to these rules myself!) Something bad or sad needs to happen – if everyone’s happy then there’s no story to tell. And there does need to be a beginning, a middle and an end – though not necessarily in that order. The forgettable stories are the ones which read like anecdotes and fizzle out. A short story should demand our attention, stir our emotions, strike a chord, show us something new – or something old in a new way. The really good stories stay in your head for a long time.

How do you find writing poetry different from writing stories?

I don’t think poetry and short fiction are always that different from each other. My prose style leans towards the lyrical/poetical, and I tend to write narrative poetry – so for me there is a real crossover between the two forms.

What else should the readers know about you?

As well as writing poetry and short stories, I’m also a keen travel writer. I’ve won a number of awards for my travel pieces, including the Telegraph’s Just Back competition and the Skyscanner Award. I won the British Guild of Travel Writers New Writer of the Year Award in 2014, and I’ve twice been a finalist in the Bradt Guides Travel Writer Award.

And I’ve just completed two novellas – hopefully there’ll be more news about them soon!

Finally, would you like to share a poem with us?

THE NEW KNOWING

We sit side by side on the playground swings
and talk of the shine in a distant city.
Two homespun girls turned restless moths,
dancing around these northern lights,
cleaved by hope to this one-trick town      
that keeps hearts and wings from heading south. 
 
Yet there’s a softness to the air tonight,
as though we’ve made it somewhere else—
a place more gentle, where boys whisper in Italian,
and the put-put of scooters can be heard
on a distant coastal road.
 
Then everything falls silent, and we know,
know for one brief moment of teenage clarity,
that life will be good and worth the wait.
We each hold the new knowing close to our ribs
and don’t speak of it, just in case it isn’t true.

Forthcoming Readings

The Collective Nouns for Birds is out on 28th February, and my first poetry guest spot is at The Red Shed, Wakefield at 7.30pm on March 5th, followed by Later at the Library at Denby Dale Library on 27th March, where I’ll be talking about my work and reading both short fiction and poetry.

I also have my third short story collection, Scratched Enamel Heart, coming out in May from Retreat West Books – and I’ll be reading from that at Northern Writers Reading, Marsden Library on June 10th, alongside novelist Sarah Linley.

Links to advance reviews for The Collective Nouns for Birds:

https://amandamcleodwrites.com/2020/02/09/book-review-the-collective-nouns-for-birds-by-amanda-huggins/  AMANDA MCLEOD

https://alithurm.com/2020/02/06/the-collective-nouns-for-birds-a-review/ ALI THURM

Twitter:         @troutiemcfish

Blog:             https://troutiemcfishtales.blogspot.com/

In Memoriam

Writing has been on hold for a while since the passing of my mother, Edna Taylor (nee Hambleton) on 13 January, aged 92. I take comfort from the fact that she didn’t suffer, but Mum leaves behind her a hole that I don’t think will ever be filled.

I thought I would share a poem that I read at her funeral. I wrote it a while ago, at the time not about anyone in particular, but it sums up my feelings now better than anything else I could come up with. 

Light Years
                                                                    
What trace of you is left on this blue earth?
You went from us in fire,
your carbon food for roses
long since plucked and thrown away.
 
I kept safe pictures, objects
and revered them, in the hope
they might retain some distillate of you.
In time I came to realise,
that what they hold is part of me.
 
What’s left, it seems, is space.
The gaps within this life,
this time, these places
that somehow keep the shape of you.
 
And space itself must hold you still:
on clear nights I scan the sky
and wish myself upon some distant world
where I might yet receive a dot of light
that found its way from you.

Where to next?

Happy new year, everyone!

As 2020 begins, I thought now would be a good time to review the future direction of this blog for the coming year and beyond. I’d very much welcome any views from readers regarding which way it should go.

At the moment, I tend to post about three times a month on average, a mix of:

news of recent or forthcoming events, publications, etc (sometimes including a poem, if poetry-related).

poems or short prose pieces (sometimes humorous) of my own.

guest posts from other authors, usually including a poem or short prose piece.

miscellaneous others, such as invitations for guest posts, reblogs of other people’s posts, etc .

I am wondering whether to continue the mix as before, or change it, and I’d particularly welcome readers’ views on this. Is there anything in this mix that you think I should drop? Anything I don’t do now that I should consider doing in the future?

Another point on which I’d welcome views is frequency. Is three or so posts a month about right? Too many? Not enough? I’m somewhat leaning towards reducing it to one or two posts a month, but I’m not sure. What do you think?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of this. You can comment on this post, or e-mail me on tim.e.taylor@talk21.com

Dementia Choir

A poignant guest poem today from (soon to be) fellow Maytree poet Aziz Dixon.

Dementia choir
  
 Who you are
 I cannot say
 nor why we came
 to sing today
  
 but I was ten
 when I joined the choir.
 I felt the music breathe
 through me.
  
 Today I cannot find
 my words
 but still
 the music sings in me.
  
 I know we came
 to sing today
 because you care
 for me.

Aziz Dixon draws on local Pennine and Welsh landscapes and his sufi experience. He has been published locally and online in the north of England, Wales and internationally. His work featured in Best of Bolton, November 2017 and Burnley Creative, September 2019. His first pamphlet is forthcoming with Maytree Press.

Walking with Wolves

A winter’s tale today from my good friend Anne Veron (a.k.a.) Steward, fellow member of Holmfirth and Meltham writers’ groups (and with whom I also share a publisher: Maytree Press). A surprise encounter in the forest ….

******


The sky faded from ice blue to silver with fine brush strokes of grey vapour
echoed by the body-warmed billows of breath from the sturdy ex-bus driver, Steve and his eight year old granddaughter, Emma. They were rustling through the crisp carpet of leaves under giant beech
trees on their familiar Sunday walk in between a mighty lunch and a teatime spread.

“Can we take some of those holly leaves home, Grandad?” asked Emma. “We made some like these dipping them in glitter at school,” she added.

Steve laughed. The glossy leaves were edged by frost, “Those wouldn’t be frosted for long in Grandma’s house,” he said.

“Shall we take some magic cobwebs, too? They would be lovely on the
Christmas tree.” said Emma, pointing at the great filigree cobwebs stretching among the bushes. She knew really, but they did like to pretend.

“And bottle some dragon’s breath?” she said, breathing out a massive cloud into the so-still air.

“There’s no dragons here,” Steve said, “but it is one of those days… The air smells of wolves.”

“Wolves, Grandad?” asked Emma. She couldn’t help peering into the misty edges of their path to the fragile outlines of the silver birch standing knee deep in crisped bracken. She thought she saw a swift shape threading its way into nothingness. She pointed but Grandad was lost in memories.

“Oh yes, Laurie Lee wrote that. Cider with Rosie. ‘The air smells of
wolves’…You’ll read it one day. That was about 100 years ago when people
still had memories of wolves. Just this sort of day, I think. We don’t get them
often these days, but …yes, sniff hard.” He made a deep inbreathing and then a noisy outletting … “Ahhhh. Yes, definitely the air smells of wolves today.”

Emma played the game. Her breath drew in and noisily out, her eyes shut. Her eyes opened to huge, “It does, it does. I can smell… something… grey… and a bit hairy.”

“Yes, that’s it! You got it first time,” he said, “I got a trace of deep cave.
That’s where they live, of course.”

There was a high keening that drifted into the woods. There was no way that anyone could tell how far the sound had travelled in that thin-air day. Steve looked at his granddaughter’s startled face and reached for her redmittened hand, “The dogs in the boarding kennels are a bit noisy tonight,” he said, a little too forcefully.

“I thought I saw… a something …back there,” Emma said, pointing the way they had come.

“Someone walking their dog, I expect,” said Steve, but they started to stride out a little bit faster. There was a rustle and deep throaty coughing call that made them stop in their tracks. An elegant bracken-coloured deer picked its way through the trees ahead, followed by another and then another, their ears turning and flicking, their nostrils wide, tasting the air.

They were gone in an instant. Steve and Emma just looked at each other. Beyond speech.

“Guess what was in the woods, Grandma?” said Emma as she unwound her fluffy scarf in the toasty warm kitchen.

“Don’t tell me,” she said staring an accusation at her husband, “that wolf story again. He gave your mum bad dreams with that one.”

“No…well…yes,” said Emma, “but we saw deer in the woods. Really!”

“Well, I bet the wolves had chased them there. A winter treat for you, Emma,” said Steve.

Grandma threw a dishcloth at him.