Creativity


A screen shot of a preview screen showing the menu structure of my reorganised blog.

I still use the editor with which I began 11 years ago; in my opinion few, if any, of WordPress’s changes have been an improvement, rather the reverse. I disliked the ‘app’ from the start and I haven’t changed my mind.

Recently I decided to restructure this blog, in particular to highlight things which interest me more than when I began to post on it seven years ago (though it was created four years before that!). I didn’t want to change the overall look of it, with which I’ve always been happy; in particular, I now want it to be principally a ‘library’ of my fictional prose and ‘poetry’, grouped under menu headings. So I’ve changed the tag line in the header a little too to reflect that.

What has amazed me during this exercise is not only the number of short stories and ‘poems’ I have written but the different genres I have tackled. My first attempt at a short story was almost seven years ago; the ‘poems’ began about a month after that, prompted by a haiku from a blogger ‘five reflections‘, who I believe posts no more.

However, the greatest influence has been our local writers’ club, Writing of the Wharfe, formed by our lovely Romanian ‘leader’ Ruxandra Moore. I was a founder member.

A change of emphasis only

I continue to ignore the desperate attempts by WordPress to change my way of editing: “There’s an easier way to edit posts …”, it insists at the top of every editing screen. Not for me there’s not!.

Although I’m changing the emphasis, I do not want it to be a blog only as somewhere to publish my fictional writings, as many writers’ blogs are. I still want grumpytyke to feel free to have a grump about something from time to time and, when appropriate, give some background to the ‘creative writing’.

Until now all my so-called ‘creative writing’ appearing on this blog has been within a post giving some background, eg, this piece was what I wrote to read at a meeting of my local writers’ club, that piece was what I presented at the Ilkley Literature Festival, this work was inspired by something written (link) by this blogger, etc. So I wanted to separate the story or ‘poem’ from the post originally including it. Eventually there will be a link to the original post including it. I did this with my ‘haiku’ (I don’t now believe they are haiku – just 5-7-5  verses) and ‘tanka’ some time ago, collecting them together on a single page.

A work in progress

It’s a work in progress at the moment. It’s not too difficult to extract pieces from a post, put them on a page and put them under the appropriate menu or sub-menu heading, though I’m no IT expert so it’s far from perfect. Another problem is that I have quite a bit of writing which has never appeared on this blog.

’Poetry’ not Poetry

You may notice that I usually put inverted commas round the words ‘poem’ or ‘poetry’ when referring to my own creations. After reading and listening to poetry for more than seven decades I’m still not sure what poetry is so I am reluctant to call any little piece of mine a poem. Of course I have to tag them as such.

One of my favourite poets, David Machin, a member of our writers’ club, insists on calling his creations ‘verse’,  not poetry. Another, Matt Abbott told me during an hour spent with him on a barge on the Leeds-Liverpool canal, “If it makes the audience cry it is poetry” (see my ‘poem’ A Lesson in Restriction). The poetry of another, Iulia Halatz, which I ‘lost’, I’ve just unearthed hiding in an interesting writers’ collective, Sudden Denouement

An added difficulty is that for the past few months I’ve produced so-called ‘creative writing’ only with a fountain pen. So, unless I’ve typed it up to put in a post, it has now to be typed up to add to this archive.

A novella/novel in progress

Finally, I wanted this library to include pieces I’m working on so I have a sub-heading ‘Writing in Progress’. At the moment this is mainly chapters of a novella?/novel? I pick up from time to time (it began as a 5,000 word short story; now it’s reached about 30,000 words). Even this list gives something away: I don’t write by starting at the beginning and proceeding to the end. Nor do I ‘work’ at it; I write only when I feel the urge to write and may pick up a story, or ‘poem’, at any point. (Recently I read a blogging ‘guru’ saying that writing was hard work and there was no such thing as an innate ability to write. That may be so for him but in my view it is nonsense, even arrogant, to apply it to all writers.)

The work in progress is password protected.

For me, the only art form to compete with writing is music but as I do not create music I do not have a menu heading for that, any more than for my reading, though I may occasionally have posts about either. I’ll rely on the search facility to find those.

Food and Romania

I used to blog a lot about cooking/food and Romania so I decided to leave a menu heading for each of those categories, to display posts which fall into that category. At some point I’ll sort those out too.

As I said above, this reorganisation is a work in progress. If a particular story or ‘poem’ is clicked, you should be taken to that story or poem. If you click on a menu heading or sub-heading it should take you to all the posts in that category, as usual, but it doesn’t always do that. I’m working on it!

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Regular readers may notice that I’ve simplified my menu system, majoring on my writing which is now my main interest as far as blogging is concerned, at least as an archive. Although I do not now do much fancy cooking, food remains a major interest, mainly satisfied through following other foodie bloggers. In the future I’ll be gathering together posts about food and Romania under those headings.


In my previous post I wrote of the emotion evident in a poetry ‘collection’ launched by K M Herbert, a fellow member of our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe, and her collaborator, Sussi Louise, who illustrated each poem.

Two years ago I wrote of my surprise that so many bloggers “lay their souls bare” and maybe I should do it. I do not think that I ever did so. So …

A blogger’s lament

I miss you.
How can that be?
I’ve never crossed the miles which divide us,
Nor have you.

Boxed in

I push up on the lid,
Just a small crack, but
The light comes in.
Four directions, illuminated.
Where my feet are standing now I cannot see:
Dark.
Empty?

Again I push the lid
More strongly, more urgently.
A flood of light
Tells me
It’s a wonderful world
In which we live.

Useless vocabulary

Friend’,
Another word corrupted.
Like ‘fuck’
And ‘gay’
And ‘passion’,
Maybe even ‘love’.

Two years ago

Here’s an extract from that post I wrote way back in early May 2017.


“I was particularly struck very recently by the final paragraph in a post from a Romanian blogger, Iulia Halatz, a teacher of English in Bucharest (moreover, she runs her own business – check her out at https://blogdecompanie.wordpress.com). Here’s the final paragraph of her post ‘tyrannosaurus writing’:

To write with the truth of pain in your mouth is gruesome poetry…You’ll have to cut out your heart with every word and show it to the world, then hope it will heal. This is how the light gets in, also the dark. To acknowledge fear, defeat, despair and pretend serenity of a lesson learned while patching up the wounds is…Life.”

“As someone much influenced by Leonard Cohen in my younger days I found the bow (or curtsy) to him striking. It made me think maybe I should write posts now and then where I open a few cracks, to let the light in.”


Do my three little ‘poems’ do that, I wonder?

Photo of poet Poet KMHerbert - Kayla - at the launch

Poet KMHerbert – Kayla – at the launch

Writers and other artists talking about their works, graduates in English literature (even professors!), or critics, analysing novels and poetry, usually just irritate me; I long ago gave up going to ‘an evening with … ‘ at the Ilkley Literature Festival (or reading blog posts with a similar theme – though there are rare exceptions – just a couple of women blogging writers). Usually so much self-indulgent, pretentious claptrap from others!

This probably stems from my experience with Swift’s ‘Gulliver’s Travels’. I first read it at seven years old and loved it. Eight or nine years later it was the set book for my English Literature GCE ‘O’ level; the analysis over a year ruined it for me and I have not been able to read it since. Of course I failed the exam. Fortunately I didn’t need it but ‘O’ level English Language was no problem and that was handy to have when I changed career course from science to journalism.

A surprise

Photo of Sussi Louise at the launch

Sussi Louise Smith – Sussi – at the launch

It was a delightful surprise when I attended the launch of a ‘collection’ of poems and illustrations by two members of our writers’ clubWriting on the Wharfe – this week. Far from irritating me, the ‘presentations’ had me enthralled – K.M.Herbert (Kayla) explaining some of the motivation behind her poems and Sussi Louise Smith (Sussi) showing clearly the emotions aroused by the poems and carried through into her illustrations.

Kayla is Canadian, Sussi is Danish, but both have lived in Yorkshire for a while.

Here’s what I wrote on our writers’ club Facebook page the following morning:

So glad I made it to Kayla’s and Sussi’s launch last night. A fascinating evening to have a little of the creative process of two of our ‘collective’ of talented artists explained and such openness about the emotions driving the writing of Kayla’s poems over a five year period and Sussi’s reaction to them, inspiring her wonderful illustrations.

Anyone who knows me will know that I generally don’t react well to writers and other artists explaining their thought processes – usually so much pretentious b……. – but Kayla and Sussi took us on a wonderful journey through the ‘collection’ of 12 poems and illustrations ‘Between the Spaces’.

The chosen medium, a set of postcards, Kayla’s poem on one side, Sussi’s illustration on the other, was inspired.

You can order a set at:  www.kmherbert.com

The setting for the launch was perfect too: surrounded by books in the intimacy of  Ilkley’s The Grove Bookshop.

Just one poem and illustration

I cannot choose a favourite poem nor illustration now, possibly never, it’s been difficult enough to separate out just one, but here is one of Kayla’s shortest fills of the spaces in her life over five years and Sussi’s illustration for it.

PS. If you see an advertisement in the middle of this post it has nothing to do with me. I do not, of course, object to WordPress putting an ad at the end of a post as I’m not willing to pay to get rid of them. But messing up a bloggers’ carefully constructed posts with advertisements in the middle is unacceptable. Much as I like most aspects of WordPress after using it for about a decade I’ll have to look for an alternative.

Worse, the ads are usually completely inappropriate; the latest is for a military video game. I object strongly to such a game being associated with my blog. I do not play video games, I don’t believe many of my followers will play video games either. 

Photo of Paula’s letter and the envelope it came inYesterday was a real ‘red letter day‘ for me, though the letter was blue – blue paper, blue ink.

One of the highlights of my usual summer trip to Romania last year was meeting two of my former students, from around a quarter of a century ago. Since then I’ve kept in touch, a little via internet but, more importantly, by handwritten letters, in line with my rediscovered love of the fountain pen.

A letter in the post

Yesterday I received a 13 page letter from Paula, now a teacher of English in the beautiful Bistrița valley in Romania; she graciously tells all that her present career is due to my teaching in the 1990s.

Paula is a busy lady, a full-time teacher in high school, supplementing her income with private tuition as many Romanian teachers have to do. Her husband is now working abroad as many Romanians find necessary so with a young son, it’s not surprising that she began her letter to me in early December last year and finished it in early February this year.

A poet remembered – Labiș

I was delighted to see she’d remembered that I’d said it was good to receive something in Romanian so she’d written a paragraph in her own language (which I had no problem reading). However, she also remembered I had said that one of my favourite Romanian poets was Nicolae Labiș and had written out two of his poems for me: Moartea căprioarei (The death of the deer) and Meșterul (The master {craftsman}). They will take me rather longer to fully understand but I’ll enjoy the exercise. I read the first many years ago on a visit to the village of Mălini (in my beloved Bucovina) where Labiș was born, when my Romanian was much less good than now; I remember that even then it brought tears. It was probably what first created my love for the poetry of this poet, who died tragically young in strange, controversial, circumstances. Meșterul I do not know.

I’ve already begun a letter back to her which I’ll complete over a little time in the future; I’ve also begun one to my Latvian blogger friend Ilze, which I’ll complete in a rather shorter time.

The pen is mightier than the keyboard

I’ve said it before, I now write all my stories and poems on paper with a fountain pen, and am even trying to expand my single attempt at a novella into a novel using the pen not the computer; I find the creative juices flow more freely with the ink. But hand writing letters seems to be a powerful medicine when the stresses of daily life are trying to take over.

 

Photo of the book “Christmas books”, open in Chapter 1, with the two volumes of ‘Christmas Stories’Yesterday I retrieved my copy of the Christmas books of Charles Dickens, the five of them in a single volume, from the bookshelf where they usually reside with his complete works (the only books on view in our living room). It is a facsimile of the 1876 edition. It was a day late as I usually begin ‘A Christmas Carol‘ on St Nicholas’s Day.

I always finish ‘A Christmas Carol‘ but I have been known to finish all five books by Christmas Day but that was probably before I began blogging. Even further back I might have started on the other ‘Christmas stories’, 15 of them, in two volumes on my bookshelf, but I don’t think I ever finished them by 25th December.

My favourite author?

Christmas simply would not be Christmas for me without ‘A Christmas Carol‘. Dickens has been anyway one of my favourite authors since a very early age, perhaps even the favourite (though Emily Brontë is a strong contender). I am constantly astounded by his power of description, particularly of his characters, and I have him to thank first for my extensive vocabulary. I wish I could say the same about my powers of description in my stories.

I particularly like the preface to the Christmas books, a kind of apology that his characters are not drawn in the detail he usually expects of himself:

“The narrow space within which it was necessary to confine these Christmas Stories, when they were originally published, rendered their construction a matter of some difficulty, and almost necessitated what is peculiar in their machinery.

“I have never attempted great elaboration of detail in the working out of character within such limits, believing that it could not succeed. My purpose was, in a whimsical kind of masque which the good-humour of the season justified, to awaken some loving and forbearing thoughts, never out of season in a Christian land.”

It works for me.

I also particularly like the opening sentence:

“Marley was dead, to begin with.”

How could I not continue to read after that (“to begin with” is a masterstroke), even if I know very well what follows?

My draft of my entry for the Ilkley Literature Festival, handwritten with the ‘new’ blue and black fountain pen. It was only copytyped on the iPad when finished, a couple of hours before the ‘performance’. I’ll hopefully grt the two ‘attic gems’ working soon.

My draft of my entry for the Ilkley Literature Festival, handwritten with the ‘new’ blue and black fountain pen. It was only copytyped on the iPad when finished, a couple of hours before the ‘performance’.
I’ll hopefully get the two ‘attic gems’ working soon.

I just made a breakthrough in my writing. I picked up a fountain pen.

I had not handwritten anything other than short notes since writing to my mother when I was first in Romania in 1993 and had no access to a computer; even then it was with a ballpoint. I found it very difficult, having been used to a computer for the previous ten years, and a typewriter before that, since becoming a journalist in the early ‘60s.

How welcome a handwritten ‘letter’ was

What prompted me to move to handwritten was the reaction of my former student Paula, now a Romanian high school teacher of English, to a handwritten note included in a packet I sent to her (one of my ‘attic gems’ – a special English course I wrote when teaching in Romania). She said it was wonderful to receive a handwritten ‘letter’. I promised to ‘keep in touch’ with handwritten letters from time to time (among brief encounters on Messenger) and as two more of my ‘attic gems’ were fountain pens I decided to go the whole hog and go to fountain pen. The two old ones were not working (I intend to fix them) so I acquired a new one.

Transformation

Having begun the first letter to Paula during the time I had to write my contribution to our writers’ club ‘performance’ at the Ilkley Literature Festival, I began to scribble my ‘poem’ in a primary school exercise book with the fountain pen. What a transformation!

Ideas tumbling out of the fountain pen

Firstly, the ideas tumbled out like never before. Secondly, I began to do something I’ve said I almost never do – edit what I’ve written, neither during nor after writing (this comes from journalism where I almost always had no time to edit – often writing as many as 60 stories a week including one or more long features). With the fountain pen I found myself crossing out, writing alternative lines, jotting down ideas as they came, making lists of rhyming words as I was following Lewis Carroll’s ABAAB rhyming scheme. All very strange to me.

Even stronger urge to write

Now, the urge to write ‘creatively’ is far stronger with a fountain pen in my hand. I wonder if this will bring my ‘novella’ out of it’s long hibernation. Or even extend it to be a novel.

This writing by hand doesn’t extend to what you might call ‘non-creative’ writing, like writing blog posts. Those are still written on the the iPad (more rarely on the MacBook). So this post is written on the iPad, as will be most future posts, but if they include some ‘creative writing’ you can be pretty sure that will have been written first on paper, with a fountain pen. The only disadvantage of writing by hand is that to include hand written pieces  in something ‘digital’ they have to be typed up on a digital device.

PS. My first, 10 page, letter to Paula, composed over a couple of weeks, was posted on Saturday morning.

I’d  be really interested to hear from others whether the medium with which they write influences their writing, particularly use of a fountain pen (or not).

You can read my finished ‘poem’ on a previous post, or hear me read it on the post of 5 October.

The author, pointing to the window in the picture 'And interesting paragraph'Today was the second stage of the ‘Evocation’ project but this time I was one of the four writers, not the photographer. So unfortunately I don’t have a picture with all five performers as I did with the first stage – only of the four paintings and one of me with the painting which ‘evoked’ my story.

David, with a picture of a Norwegian ffiord gave us a wonderful mixture of myth and fact spanning from Viking times to the present day; Jo, with a drummer boy and his fife-playing companion on the battlefield, had us shedding a tear; James, given the unlikely subject of a couple of horses in a snow storm, had us in stitches. Sam (Samuel Moore) surpassed his usual brilliant self with astounding virtuoso performances of his flamenco compositions ‘evoked’ by a combination of the picture and the writer’s interpretation of it.

Unfortunately I cannot give you the three other stories as the authors may wish to enter in some competition and previous publication would prevent this. So, sadly, you have only my ‘Evocation’, as follows.

An interesting paragraph

Haynes King, who painted this picture called ‘An interesting paragraph’, was born in Barbados but came to England in his 20s. The two female figures are typical of many of his paintings but what has struck me more is the window, which also appears in several of his works. As I am a keen photographer it was his use of natural light, reflected from the newspaper to illuminate the reader’s face, which particularly appealed to me. I think the light and the newspaper are clues to the time of day: quite early in the morning.

The painting 'An interesting paragraph' by Haynes King.

Haynes King’s ‘An interesting paragraph’. Apologies for the reflections; it’s behind glass

When I first saw this picture I immediately thought of the Brontë sisters, though the environment is wrong – a quite humble cottage rather than a vicarage. Nevertheless, I chose to think of two young spinster sisters, relatively well educated so they can read and are quite well informed of world events. Research failed to uncover the date of the painting, only the date it came to this Gallery. So I chose to date the scene as 1865 and believed these sisters would have read Wuthering Heights and something from Charlotte and would have been aware that the male pen names of Currer Bell and Ellis Bell hid two talented women authors. Intelligent, well-read, they surely have dreams of meeting their own heroes and taking at least a small step up in society.

So, we might imagine the following conversation:

Here’s an interesting paragraph Emm. It says that slavery has been abolished in the United States of America. What do you think of that?” Sitting in the window reading a newspaper by the morning light, Lucy enjoyed scanning the paper and calling her sister’s attention to things she found interesting. Although she could read herself, Emily was happy with this usual arrangement.

Emily thought deeply before she replied: “It seems strange to me that a nation which fought so hard to win independence, freedom, from Britain, could retain slavery for so long. But of course there’s effectively been no slavery there for a while. How long ago was it abolished in the British Empire, thirty years or more?

Yes, something like that,” Lucy paused, then continued, “But I think we still have some kinds of slavery here, in particular for women. Because we can’t vote for members of parliament it’s very difficult to change that. It seems sad to me that the Brontë sisters felt it necessary to publish their wonderful stories with men’s names for the authors. Otherwise no one would have taken them seriously.”

Emily, always the more proactive of the two sisters, said thoughtfully, “Maybe we should try to do something about it. It’s all very well leaving it to a few ‘posh’ women in London but maybe we could push from the bottom of the pile. I kept the story about those women in London who set up a society; we could write to them. What did they call themselves? I can’t remember.”

Oh, I think it was something like ‘The Chelsea Society’, but that’s not right. It was ‘the something society’, a place in London but I can’t remember exactly,” Lucy replied.

After a minute’s silence, Emily shouted “I’ve got it, ‘The Kensington Society’, that was it! Please see if you can find that story I cut out.”

Yes that was it, and I cut another from the newspaper about some movement in Manchester. Maybe it would be better to write to the women in Manchester; we could ask about forming a group here, even go to one of their meetings. We could get a train from Leeds”. While speaking, Lucy jumped down from her window seat, shuffled through a drawer, then, “Here they are”, waving the cuttings.

What does it say about Manchester?” Emily asked.

Lucy quickly scanned the cutting: “Oh, only that some women were thinking of setting up a society, not that they’d done it. But there is a name of a woman who was interviewed about the idea – Lydia Becker. There’s no address, but we could write to the paper I suppose.”

Yes, let’s do that Lu. Meanwhile we can make a poster proposing setting up some kind of group locally and see what response we get. We might even get some more free-thinking men, our own Mr Rochesters!” Emily paused. “Even a Heathcliffe would be interesting,” she added, with a mischevious glint in her eye.

So, there we’ll leave our sisters, busy with paper and pen, with the hope that they did find their heroes though they would not get the vote in their lifetimes.

It was not until 1918 that women got the vote in the UK, and they had to wait another ten years before all women over 21 got the vote on the same terms as men. But the slavery continues even today, for example by women frequently being paid far less than men for the same job. Can you believe that, more than 150 years after my fictional conversation evoked by Haynes King’s painting?

You’ll find more information about our club, ‘Writing on the Wharfe’, on a recently created public Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/writingonthewharfe/

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