Women’s equality has been the subject of my posts as often as the rarity of posts on politics. It’s great to be able to combine the two now, linking a member of our writers’ club to a general election candidate in my constituency – respectively Becky Bond and Sophie Walker.

I haven’t admired a politician since Tony Benn but now, though I still cannot now vote Labour (I stopped with Tony Blair) I have another, Jeremy Corbyn. I’m far from ‘left wing’ but in general he seems to be honest and sticks to his guns. So, if he were our candidate I might have a problem, whether to vote Labour (for him, not the party) or for Sophie. As he is not it’s no contest.

Becky Bond

Becky Bond, one of the three best writers I've had the pleasure to 'work' with

Becky Bond, one of the three best writers I’ve had the pleasure to ‘work’ with

Becky, for me one of the three best writers I’ve ‘worked’ with (the other two being career journalists), recently took the brave decision to go freelance when her job as a BBC radio producer did not allow her to write for anywhere else. She’s romping away, as I knew she would. We’ve become used in our club (Writing on the Wharfe) to hearing her hilarious writing on her blog (beckybondwrites.com) – unfortunately not WordPress, a little difficult to comment on it, but I persevere to support her. If you’re having a bad day just go and read her posts; if she doesn’t make you laugh you really do have a problem.

Now she’s writing regularly for the Yorkshire Post and a local parents’ magazine. I reckon it’s only a matter of time before we see her regularly in the Guardian or Times/Sunday Times (she’s already been in the latter, a while ago). What’s really thrilling for me is she’s ‘seeing the story’ and recently adapted her style to do two brilliant pieces, one on a severely disabled pole dancer (really), the other on a schoolgirl power lifter (yesterday’s YP). Thrilling? When I was editing I had many times to remind my journalists “there is always a story”, so no excuses. Becky just sees ’em, naturally.

Sophie Walker

Sophie Walker, leader of the Women's Equality Party and one of the candidates in my General Election constituency

Sophie Walker, leader of the Women’s Equality Party and one of the candidates in my General Election constituency

I don’t agree with everything Sophie says but, after around six decades of battling in my small way for women’s equality it’s so good to have someone standing for Parliament on that platform alone as leader of the Women’s Equality Party. She has an uphill task in our Shipley (Bradford) constituency where she will have to overturn a majority of 9,624 in the previous election for the sitting MP, Philip Davies. But if she can fire up the women’s vote, including those who have previously voted Labour, Liberal Democrat or not voted at all, she could do it.

Maggie Philbin OBE

Maggie Philbin OBE, one of my heroes

Maggie Philbin OBE, one of my heroes

I cannot close this post without a mention of another remarkable woman, Maggie Philbin OBE. It was a tweet of hers which first brought Sophie Walker to my attention. I had the honour to work with Maggie in a very small way when I worked for an organisation promoting women in science and technology, after admiring her from afar for years as an avid follower of Tomorrow’s World. She now does amazing work promoting careers in science and technology to youth. I was delighted to see her recently promoting apprenticeships as an alternative to university, another hobby horse of mine. Mine, for five years in the central research laboratories of then one of the largest engineering companies in Britain, opened so many possibilities for me and without it I surely would not be writing this post as my life would have taken a different course, and Sophie would probably have one less vote!

How to illustrate this post? The ‘ Happy Bunnies’, a special needs class I taught in Romania in 1994 made my heart bleed yet gave me so much joy every lesson. Here with me on a picnic, at the famous citadel of Stephen the Great in Suceava

My soul rarely bleeds out on my blog, more often in short pieces I write for relating in our writers’ club. Recently, however, as a result of an unexpected increased passion for ‘creative writing’, I’ve been exploring more writers’ blogs and have been staggered just how many blogger writers lay their souls bare – beautifully.

Many do it through poetry and what is really surprising is that many of these are not from bloggers in English speaking countries but nevertheless they are writing in English. The only language other than my native English I know reasonably well is Romanian so I can say some of the Romanian writers manage to overlay their English writings with the extraordinary beauty of the Romanian language. I suspect the same is true of some of the writing in English from India, which often also has an extraordinary beauty of its own. In both cases the English is frequently near perfect – better than many native English speakers!

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.


PS. If the picture of my ‘Happy Bunnies’ used to illustrate this post intrigues you, perhaps you’ll find a long post I wrote four years ago , which has quite a bit of information about experiences teaching English in Romania 1993-94 (and using internet before we had Windows), when my heart was bleeding almost every day, though often with joy, interesting. Be warned, I ramble on about other things though. 

I was recently nominated for ‘The blogger recognition award‘; I have never ‘accepted’ such awards because I’ve seen they can get out of hand and usually require ‘inflicting’ them on a number of other bloggers. However, though I cannot accept this one because I cannot bring myself to meet the first condition, to nominate 15 others bloggers for it (think of chain letters – 15×15=225 x15=3,375) and thus cannot say something about each blog nominated, another ‘condition’. However, I am going to take the opportunity to fulfil some other conditions, the first of which is to thank the nominator and give a link to their blog.

Kristina Steiner

So, thank you sincerely to Kristina Steiner (click her name to go to her blog) who I came to know recently when she gave a ‘like’ on a post of mine, subsequently finding that she was Slovenian, a teacher of English (as I have been) and had recently (one year ago) published a book. One of the things I love about blogging, the most loved thing after providing an outlet for an urge to write, is discovering new ‘friends’ – often in other parts of the world and in completely different cultures – when they put a ‘like’ on a post. I like to think that Kristina has already become a friend.

I’m saying no more about the novel, entitled ‘Equinox‘, publicly other than to say it has many surprising similarities (yet some big differences) to the longest story I’ve ever written but nowhere near a novel (still in progress – see my post of 2 April). I bought Kristina’s book and finished reading it a day ago. I’ve already commented to Kristina privately and will do so more. You can buy it on Amazon – a Kindle version is very cheap. 

The second requirement is to write this post and show the award. I don’t mind doing that.

How I started blogging

Third is to say how my blog started. That’s easy but may seem a little odd (but I am, I’m told!). I created the blog in 2008, four years after returning to the UK after 11.1/2 years in Romania – most of the time as a volunteer – because although I was writing a lot in PR work positions at that time I wasn’t writing everything I really wanted to write about. However, I did not start blogging on it until four years later when my frustration with British politics, and what British society had become in my absence, boiled over. However, I foresaw that this alone wouldn’t keep my writing urges satisfied for long when I created the blog, so gave it a subtitle of ‘A view from Yorkshire, about anything’, so breaking a basic rule if you want to collect a lot of followers: have a single theme. I never did intend to post every day, another advice for collecting a lot of followers, only when I wanted to get something out of my system. There have also been long gaps due to some serious health problems.

Two pieces of advice

Another ‘condition’ is to give two pieces of advice to new bloggers. I wouldn’t usually be so presumptious but:

I would say always follow up a ‘like’ on your posts, even if only to go to have a look at the ‘liker’s’ blog; in my opinion it’s just polite, something that is sadly much missing from society today. It seems to me that the easier communication has become the less people communicate in any meaningful way (Facebook, which I dislike, being a prime example). You will not always find the blog interesting; I often put a ‘like’ on a blog that I would not want to ‘follow’ as the theme is not of general interest to me but that particular post is. On the other hand, you will find many new ‘friends’ in many different cultures.

My second piece of advice is do not get too hung up on posting frequently, or even regularly. This is against WordPress advice and will mean your followers will build up only slowly. Post when you want, or need, to say something. I find that if something is bugging me it helps to write it down and get it out there; whether anyone reads it, let alone ‘likes’ it, is often irrelevant.

Writing in a foreign language

So, thank you Kristina; I love you already and wish you success with your book and the second which you say you have in the pipeline. I have tremendous admiration for anyone who writes in a foreign language and already follow a number of Romanian bloggers for that reason, even though I read and speak Romanian pretty well. I have special admiration for someone who writes a novel in a foreign language. So, Kristina, I’m delighted that you have already prompted me to learn a little about your country and reading your novel suggested some solutions to difficulties I had encountered in my story. It is a privilege to have begun to know you. Thank you. (more…)

If you celebrate Easter then every good wish for that. If you do not, I just want to wish you a wonderful weekend. Here are some Romanian ‘Easter eggs’, from the Bucovina. They were made for this, 2017, Easter by my friend Violeta Macovei in the village of Paltin.

Drawing of a rose, with thornd

Drawing by blogger ‘mopana’, see below

Recently I began a story which currently stands at over 17,000 words. That’s a big jump from the maximum of around the 1,000, more usually a few hundred, I managed before. Even that number surprises me; I’m more likely to turn out a haiku or a 100 words, precisely. For some reason I like the discipline which those impose.

However, what I’ve found is that it is just the discipline which prevents me writing longer and for the first time I have understood why I’ve always been averse to attending any kind of creative writing course. Any kind of planning, or thinking too deeply about plot, characters or the like just makes me wrap up the whole thing quickly or abandon it. If nothing else, it just makes it boring, for me.

In our local writers’ club we are usually given a ‘theme’ on which to write for reading at the following meeting after two weeks. That has always resulted in something short from me, which is ideal as writing longer means there is time to read only an extract, which is never really satisfactory. However, one recent theme ‘What if …’ opened up so many possibilities that I found myself just writing and writing, with no plan, just waiting for the two characters (Miranda and Peter – M and P; where they came from I have no idea, or have I?) to ‘speak’ to me to tell me what was happening.

Blocked

I first became ‘blocked’ when they fell silent, at around 6,000 words. I’d written what I thought was the beginning and the end but felt the journey between the extremities was too short for my two characters. They had not enjoyed themselves, nor suffered enough, to satisfy me. They spoke to me no more but clearly wanted to carry on their journey. I decided to call on my fellow writers’ club members, though just a select few (I won’t say more other than that I’ve always had more empathy with women than men, as any regular reader of this blog may know), asking them to comment on a printed version. One responded almost immediately; with her suggestion in my head M and P began to speak to me again, telling me much more about themselves, so another 6,000 words was rapidly completed.

Stalled again at about 12,000. Then another club member gave me some notes handwritten on my script with some words of encouragement. Again, M and P began to speak, suggesting that they had a discussion about their star signs, so each would be able to see how the partner saw them and how they saw themselves. Another 5,500 words resulted, so now 17,500 in all.

Another suggestion was that an ‘observer’ who I’d introduced right at the end should have something to say earlier, now and then, to make the reader question whether they were in reality or fantasy. This fell into place quite readily and, I thought, much improved things.

No one has yet suggested the author/book from which I ‘nicked’ the idea of the outside observer but I know.

Anne Brontë

Throughout this process I did not know why I was compelled  to write the story or what the underlying theme was, though I had an idea that it was perhaps about the strength of women and the weakness of men. Throughout the writing, from the first idea, I had the feeling that the answer lay in a quotation which I could not recall though I spent long periods thinking about it. I had a vague feeling it was Emily Brontë but, having read her novel many times, could not think where it might be; in her poems perhaps? But no luck there either.

It came to me suddenly a couple of days ago. Not Emily, but Anne:

On all her breezes borne
Earth yields no scents like those;
But he, that dares not grasp the thorn
Should never crave the rose.

In a poem, The Narrow Way. I was rather annoyed that I had not been able to recall those last two lines earlier. They are the key, I think, to adding a few more thousand words, even perhaps finishing the story.

However, something even stranger, a remarkable coincidence (but I do not believe in coincidences!). A few hours later I was scrolling through the bloggers I follow and came across those same two lines in a post from a young Romanian woman, very young in comparison with me. What is more, she’d written a haiku to go with them (and her drawing of a rose, above). I find her blog refreshing, creative and entrepreneurial; you can go to it by clicking her user name: Mopana.

Music

Now, I cannot write in silence, so after hearing several authors interviewed on radio who felt the same, but many who did not, I was intrigued to find out what accompaniment my fellow club members used, if any, so tried to begin a discussion about it on the club Facebook (closed) page. So far only three have responded but of those two demand absolute silence, one is with me but the music, he says, is random. Mine is not.

Below is a picture of what has been keeping me company during my writing marathon. Some were there from the beginning. Some I added to jog my memory (one I even bought for this purpose) when I realised that I was writing about 1960s London. I have music mostly on LP, including many complete operas, but they are not really practical unless you just want to sit and listen.

It’s a motley collection you might think but it does reflect a part of my musical taste.

For the record, they are, left to right approx, Ella Fitzgerald with Count Basie; some operatic divas (as selected by Gok) – I posted about this recently; member of our writers’ club Emma Nabarro-Steel; Stephane Grappelli and Yehudi Menuhin; Schubert’s ‘Trout’ quintet; Sofia Vicoveanca (my favourite Romanian ‘popular music’ artiste, though she’s joined from time to time by a delightful young one I don’t yet have a CD of, so from internet, Andrea Chișăliță; the Brighouse and Rastrick brass band; one of several Beethoven string quartets, particularly the late ones, played by the Romanian quartet Voces; and Eric Clapton. There’s one missing in the photo as it’s on LP – Mozart’s clarinet concerto. If I had it I’d have Stephane Grappelli with Django Reinhardt in there too. What I select depends partly on mood, partly on what I’m writing about.

I’ve now realised I have a story in waiting behind every one of those music choices. Maybe I’ll write those stories sometime.

I’d be interested to hear about any other’s writing process, whether you like a music background or not and if so what and why or anything else about how you write. I am, of course, talking about writing fiction. Blogging is something quite different though, again, there’s no theme to mine; I just write about anything which takes my fancy as and when, the words spilling out like blood from a stuck pig rather than from a finger pierced by the thorn of a rose.

My second passion after music is writing, and a sudden urge to write longer fiction, rather than my usual 100 word stories and haiku, resulted in twelve and a half thousand words in an unfinished story. Attempts at fiction, or poetry, only began in earnest when, a couple of years ago, I was introduced to our then newly-formed local writers’ club. Set a theme at each fortnightly meeting I usually managed to come up with something.

Until that time my real passion had been to write journalistically, more recently mainly by blogging.

The English Patient book cover The detour into fiction may have been halted, hopefully temporarily, by recent events, including reading a novel; my previous experience of it had been only through the film based on it – The English Patient.

The last time I was stopped completely by a novel was when, at 17, I read The Grapes of Wrath for the first time. That time it was the final paragraph (above) which stopped me; I don’t think I spoke for a couple of days – literally.

The English Patient did not stop life in the same way, it just brought my attempts at fiction writing to a halt. I have not yet reached the end; I was towards the end of only the third chapter. Michael Ondaatje seeming to do so easily what I was really struggling with, that combined with another event – or rather non-event – I just lost the motivation to continue. One of the consequences has been a renewed urge to blog more frequently, hence inflicting this on you, my readers.

Cytotoxic

What has cytotoxic to do with this? Well it was just the single word which brought me to a halt when I first encountered it on newly prescribed medication. The word was followed by ‘handle carefully’ and entreaties not to handle at all if pregnant. Now, I don’t think I’m pregnant though nothing would surprise me, even a virgin birth! I knew vaguely that the word meant the contents could kill cells. Until now, far from killing me it seems to be giving me a new lease of life so in this case it’s a single word which brought about a change.

I could become a thoroughly bad girl.

I have my own little tradition for 8 MarchInternational Women’s Day (but first encountered as simply ‘women’s day’ in Romania). I try to do a post about women, remarkable (aren’t they all?), undervalued or oppressed, on this day.

Remarkable

I have several in this first category close to home in our local writers’ club (see below), all with outstanding talent, and at least one in Romania who I’ll mention though there are far too many to mention individually – just look at the bloggers I follow, some of them as young as in their teens!

I’ll try to mention some remarkable women below. As a start I’ll just mention two most influential for me: my grandmother, an unmarried mother in the early years of the 20th century who managed to regain ‘respect’ and was the most influential adult in my early years; my mother who, as a war widow raised three young boys, I being the eldest, with very little money, despite being seriously ill much of the time.

Of course I have to mention my wife if only because she’s stuck with me for almost 17 years. However, one notable achievement was, arriving in the UK with her English limited to “Hello, I’m Petronela. I don’t speak English”, she obtained the GCSE C grade English, necessary to have her Romanian degree and teaching diploma recognised and gain ‘Qualified Teacher Status’, within a year and has been teaching in UK high schools ever since. Highly valued by her pupils and their parents, getting results from children labelled as under-achievers as well as those in ‘more able’ streams, she’s still undervalued by her current so-called ‘senior management team’. Despite this, while many colleagues have long and frequent absences for ‘stress’, many leaving the profession altogether, she has days absent – for genuine physical maladies – counted on no more than two hands in a decade or more.

I mentioned my grandmother above but I’ll add my ‘honorary grandmother’ (there’s only a year between our ages) who kept some traditions of the Romanian Bucovina alive when oppressed by the ‘Securitate’, secret police, in communist times. She still makes some of the best traditional food I’ve tasted. I’ve blogged about her more than once. Her name – Lucreția Hariuc.

Undervalued

I’ll mention just one group this time – nurses (of course I know there are male nurses), not undervalued I think by most patients but certainly by successive Governments in the UK.

Oppressed

I’ve had a go at two dreadful sources of female oppression in the past: female circumcision and forced marriage, both still rife even in Britain either directly or indirectly, especially in my locality.

I’d add every female in the USA, whether they know it or not, now that Trump is in the White House.

For this year I’ll add another group, just giving you the link here:

https://www.facebook.com/SheDecidesGFI/?pnref=story

Some of my local female heroes

I say ‘female heroes’ because giving them a different title already discriminates in my view. Just to list all the amazing females only in my village would make my post impossibly long so I’m going to mention only the female members  of our local writers’ club, founded and run by, of course, a woman. I cannot do them justice here nor would I wish to choose among them so here they are in alphabetical order (there are a few others in the members’ list but they rarely come to meetings so I don’t know them well enough to comment). Where the members listed have an example of their writing on my village website the name is a link to this.

Becky Bond

Becky, writing with unique humour, even on tragedy, recently threw in her job at the BBC because she was told she could not write anywhere else and went freelance. At the moment she’s my ‘muse’, being instrumental in extending my story-writing from a maximum few hundred words to, currently, over 10,000!

Have a look at her (non WordPress) blog. Often hilarious, always unique.

Ruxandra Busoiu

Certainly a remarkable young (mid 20s) Romanian woman who not only founded and runs our local writers’ club (Writing on the Wharfe) but over the past year has pushed us into involvement in the Ilkley Literature Festival (Fringe) and performing in a local (Ilkley) library. She’s served on a local youth offending team for a while now and is currently seeking to become a magistrate; will the white haired male wrinklies dominating our magistrates’ courts allow it?

Marjorie Hanbidge

Marjorie, before retirement, founded and ran a nursery school in the Wharfe valley. She’s another who usually makes us smile or laugh when she reads her poetry at club meetings. I call her our own Pam Ayres. Despite being very seriously ill just before Christmas and still not fully recovered, she was at the first meeting after Christmas to entertain us.

Kelly McCarthy-Wright

Kelly is a wonderful illustrator. I’ve said that in the unlikely event that I have a book published which requires illustrations, I’ll insist on her being the illustrator. She’s no mean writer either and is another who has the ability to make me laugh with her writing.

Emma Nabarro-Steel

Emma is our singer songwriter. A talented musician on both guitar and piano, she once regarded herself as a jazz singer. Now she says she doesn’t know what she is; all I know is that her songs – music and lyrics – delivered in a wonderfully soothing, soft voice, frequently have my hairs rising and sometimes bring a tear. You can explore, or buy, an album released late last year. She also delivers some super-crafted short stories and poetry, being eg instrumental in my attempt at writing a sonnet.

Catherine Turnbull

Catherine, when she joined the club, was editor of a local newspaper but, victim of the now familiar reorganisations in news media, she crossed the fence and now works in ‘PR’ for a large national organisation. She’s been widely published in the mainstream media and is instrumental in keeping us in touch with writing and learning about writing opportunities, some of which I’ve taken advantage of myself.