Negativity – The Power of Words

Recently I read four contrasting pieces of writing. A blog, a poem and two short stories. Three of the four had one thing in common – the message and comment were negative. And not in a good way. I mean, if you were waiting for some test results and wanted more than anything for those results to be negative, then that’s negative in a positive way, right? But just to be negative without finding a positive – or indeed even looking for a positive – doesn’t help anyone and can isolate your readers.

Let me elaborate. Item one, the poem. Written by an elderly gent who had a subtle rant about how awful the world had become and how dreadful that all the fields (one, probably) were being turned over to build houses. His poem was not just irritating but self-indulgent and – if I may invent another word for the sake of this blog – Blamey. Everyone else was responsible, in his mind, for his childhood haunts of field and copse being built upon. All I can say in response, really, is that this particular gent, who is father of two, both offspring having bred and created 7 more people between them who need somewhere to live, should, as a young man, have kept his trousers on. Would his poem have been so damning of the growth of humankind if someone pointed out to him that he was part of that growth? I think he was rather proud of his poem, read with much anger and negativity. Or may be it was fear I could see pencilled between the lines. Item two; short story. A strange story the seeds of which were sown during a brief conversation in a library. Too much time, the writer considered, was spent making the local library look like a children’s play centre with too many silly books. ‘The Penguin’s Poo’ and ‘My Sister Smells’ were two publications that caught this particular writer’s eye, and boy did she object. A condescending tirade on why children aren’t taught to read Alice Through The Looking Glass or How The Leopard Got It’s Spots these days highlights the ghastly state of contemporary parenting. Clearly this author didn’t have a dyslexic or vision-impaired child in her family, for whom reading Alice and her looking glass would have been an impossible mountain to climb, let alone go through. Penguin’s Poo however was full of colour and verve, was boundary-free and expressive. Just the thing to hook a child into the wonderful world of books and keep them there into adulthood. This author’s short story was no more than a negative comment on parenting seen through her own narrow lens and not a story anyone would want to share.

Item three. The blog. Oh dear, where to start. Put it this way, if you’re a blogger – whether full time, part time or once in a while time, please make it something people want to read! Humorous. Informative. Cheeky. Helpful. But not Negative. That doesn’t help anyone and neither does it achieve anything. Concerned about the habitat of the nine-legged ground-dwelling Purple Spider? Raise awareness, encourage the saving of the habitat by getting your readers on-board. Shouting at people from the page will just make some of them think Good. Too many spiders in the world anyway.

Item four. The other short story. What an inspiring breath of fresh air. May be it’s an age thing, because this short story was a short sharp message from a young man who had been bullied terribly at school and developed bulimia because of it. He found the only way to express himself, to give free rein to all his fears and worries and uncertainties was to write. He explained that he’d written a diary during his teenage years, cataloguing the abuse and bullying he endured, the solace and self-loathing he found in food, and the release he found in self-induced vomiting. The vortex he found himself being dragged further and further into having been pushed there by others was terrifying. But the light-bulb moment, the instant he found something deep inside himself to cling on to and pull himself away from that destructive behaviour was inspiring. His story over-flowed with positivity and not once did he accuse his abusers of anything. He just told it like it was. He was 19 when he wrote this short story and read it in public for the first time when he was 22. He put the other three authors to shame. He was young enough to be grandson to each of them and despite his terrible ordeal threaded positivity through his story. I could think of a few old dogs in serious need of learning some new tricks.

We can all write whatever we want (democracy is good for some things, right?) but if it’s just a negative rant about the good old days, please, keep it to yourself. Try spreading the love instead.

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Lit Fests & Stand Up- Why YOU should

Although a few days have passed, I wanted to write a blog following on from Debbie Young’s blog in which she mentions a writer who popped over the pond from Australia to attend this year’s Hawkesbury Upon Literature Festival (like you do). If you didn’t know, Debbie is the founder and organiser of this excellent authors’ festival which is based in Gloucestershire, in the beautiful Cotswold village of Hawkesbury Upton. All the excitement came spilling out on April 21st at 10am and continued throughout the day with readings and author panels and Q&A sessions. Short stories, poetry, historical fiction, crime (a VERY popular talk!) were just some of the highlights of the day. Debbie asked me to read in the poetry session and also take part in a Writing Your Passion (in my case – why do you write creepy weird stuff?) session in the afternoon, hosted by Caroline Sanderson, who is Associate Editor of The Bookseller. You can follow Caroline on Twitter here @CaroSanderson. There were some great questions from the audience, all of which I have forgotten, but I know the answers were good! Of great interest was a book written by Peter Lay in collaboration with Chinese author Zaiming Wang, which is part English, part Chinese. More information here. Such is the diversity at Hawkesbury Upton
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The next festival is already booked – April 27th 2019, so get it in your diaries now! And look – if you’re an invited author, you get a badge as well as books sales. What’s not to like!
A few days later, further inland at Stratford upon Avon, I was privileged to organise and run the first fringe event in connection with the Stratford Literary Festival. A host of amazingly talented independently published writers and performers entertained a packed house (standing room only) at The White Swan Hotel. The Warwickshire Young Poet Laureate Annabel Peet read some of her stunning work, and writer Mark Rutterford gave the best reading I have ever heard on love – from the point of view of an alien and which was the funniest thing I’ve heard this year. We had Spanish authors, Armenian authors, English authors, American authors, all reading the most incredible and moving stuff. I didn’t get a badge on this occasion, but did go to bed chuffed, knowing that there is so much writing talent of all ages out there.

So if you’re a writer who’s stalled a little bit recently, check out any open mics or small author events near you – you will discover a bottomless well of inspiration. Go for it!

Tonight’s The Night!

If you’re at a loose end tonight and anywhere near Stratford Upon Avon, please come along to The White Swan Hotel (it’s just the one swan actually) where you’ll find a plethora of mightily talented writers reading and performing their work FOR FREE (yes, For Free) from 7pm. We have prose and poetry, dance and plays, and it’s all part of the Stratford Literary Festival Fringe. Yeah Edinburgh – we got one too!!2a FREE EVENT SLFF copy.png 

Get Out and Network!

Work out or work shop? Depends what you intend to exercise – in the case of a recent visit to Delapre Abbey Northants, it was my brain. It all started with one of those websites I sign up to – ie all of them – this particular one being Literary Festivals UK. Well, LFUK popped into my inbox way back one snowy day in February and under the title ‘new festivals’ I found a note about a half-day spring poetry workshop being run at Delapré Abbey by author Kevan Manwaring. The session included a wander around the newly refurbished Abbey gardens where hopefully we would discover inspiration flourishing in its many forms.

And what an inspiring afternoon it turned out to be. 12 of us – including a real live poet – (he was very good) embraced the three hour session with gusto and we all, tentatively, wrote and read out some poetry. Now, I have never alluded to any ability to write a jaw-dropping poem, or even – let’s face it – A Poem – due to the poets’ part of my mind often redirecting itself to limerick-land for far longer than is healthy, but this time we were kept on track by Kevan’s light yet inspiring touch and his wonderful choice of Spring poems. If we didn’t find anything to kick-start our creative motors then we didn’t have the right to refer to ourselves as writers. 

Some of the writers at the workshop were too shy to share their work, others did but felt dissatisfied with their effort. The same could be said for a lot of people to whom writing poetry doesn’t come easily. But don’t be put off – imagine a poem as a cross between a winding stream and a work of art: unique to the artist (that’s you) but free, unhampered and creating its own path (the evolution of the work, just like a stream) and just go with it. The more you paint, the better the picture…

There once was a woman from Surrey
Who married a man up near Bury
But the cold northern weather
Couldn’t keep them together
And she moved back down south in a hurry

Pathetic.

An overweight old man from Dover
Dropped dead in a large field of clover
The farmer that found him
Had to harvest around him
Concerned about over-exposure

Think I’ll stick to short stories…

The first ever Festival of Books at Delapré Abbey will run over the second May Bank Holiday weekend. There’ll be Author talks in the Victorian library, Bookstagram talks, Book signings and meet the author, Workshops, Storytelling, Career talks, Magazine presentations and more. And most importantly, a Children’s writing competition… Here Here!!

…Lights

Frisbeegolf anyone? I didn’t get to play this as obviously everywhere was under ten foot of snow, and I never got to aFrisbeegolf.jpgsk what it actually is, so I guess I’ll never know, but Golf and Frisbee are not two sports you would naturally put together. A bit like skiing and snorkelling but hey, who am I to comment. I haven’t won too many gold medals in the sports arena although I did come first in the discus many years ago – y’know, when flexibility was still in the mainframe. We were lucky to see the Northern (or Polar) lights two nights running, but not clever enough to have taken a friend’s really posh camera so that I could capture the moment. But trust me, we did see them. Magical. All that stuff in the atmosphere wafting about – so cool.

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What I did manage to photograph though, was this-  yes yes, I know, it’s a rubbish photo, but trust me – wearing mittens the size of sleeping bags makes it hard to take a good picture. At least you get an idea of how dark it was. But not how cold. On our last night we went on a Reindeer Safari in search of the northern lights. What in essence the evening turned out to be was being towed around in a narrow sledge in an enormous field by a reindeer in the dark in minus 30 degrees. But wow! – the stars! and the lights! I don’t know why, but I was surprised when the tour finished and we clustered around a large bonfire which strangely wasn’t giving out any heat, and found we were covered in ice from top to toe. Balaclava an’ all. That would explain why the fire wasn’t that warm. The reindeer were lovely creatures – placid and calm, so it seemed incongruous to be offered a reindeer sausage to round off the evening.

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The adventure was drawing to a close. On the last evening – once thawed from our snow trek, we worked our way through the brightly coloured rainbow of alcoholic beverages in the hotel bar, a sip here, a gag there, settling eventually on the local beer – which, as it turned out, was very drinkable. Who’d have thought.

The following morning we took our Onesies back from whence they came and had a lovely long chat with the lady behind the counter. Much was made of the wonderful weather – ie the constant sunshine and lack of wind (which could have resulted in a bit of snow blindness for the unprepared). “We’ve just come out of the Dark Period,” she said, and I felt a shiver run down my spine. 
Sweden Finland.JPGAlthough Finland is said to be one of best places in the world to live, I think I might go slightly loopy if I didn’t see daylight for six months. Here is Muonio in summer – looks lush! Muonio in summer.png

So Hyvästi, Finland – until we meet again!Hometime.JPG

All details here – Harriniva

…the Northern…

So did we see them you’re thinking…Well, yes we did. In all their astronomical wonder and delight. But enough of that. Let me tell you about this beautiful sculpture.SAM_1379.JPG I don’t know who she is or what her name could possibly be – in Finnish or English – as it was carved by an unknown (to me) artist on the ceiling of an igloo. Or Ice House. Or Deep Freezer. Or whatever you would like to call it. Yes, I had the option of leaving my very warm and cosy Nordic wooden bed and spending a night on an ice bed in an ice house surrounded by ice. Wow did I jump at that chance! NO OF COURSE I DIDN’T. I am a total wimp when it comes to the cold – I even went into the sauna wearing a jumper and some thermal tights just to be on the safe side. But isn’t she beautiful?

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Each room in the ice house had some sort of art carved into the walls depicting nature and appropriately, as this ice house was on the edge of the frozen Muonio lake, Ice Bedroom.jpgfish and all things watery. Yes that is a double bed there,  all set up for a good night’s sleep.  The ice table in the reception room was also Ice Table.JPGimpressive, although I can’t imagine supper staying very warm for very long. And talking of the lake, there are other dangers than the mere cold, as this sign indicates. I’m guessing it means – apart from Danger – 
Danger!.JPGDon’t try crossing the frozen waters because there might be a bit that isn’t as thick as you need it to be. I think this is one of the best signs I’ve seen for a long time. What you can’t see is that the leg just out of shot is broken and not in the snow at all. So come the thaw I guess it’ll just fall in the river and disappear downstream. We didn’t try walking across to Sweden and neither did we try the Ice Dip, which is as chilling as it sounds. Apparently you heat up in the sauna (with or without a jumper) and then plunge yourself into the frozen lake through this little hole. An activity for some of our hardier Northern European cousins I feel. 
Ice Plunge.jpg Some German gents we got chatting to were goading – sorry, that should say Encouraging – each other to strip off and take a dip. When Klaus got out his Go-Pro and put on his sunglasses we decided to leave them to it.
At midday, it was our turn to meet these wondrous beasts.Hello Cheeky!.jpg Born to Run, these amazing creatures can pelt along at about 30 miles an hour, almost howling in delight at the moon, even during daylight. Such beautiful animals. Having been rendered useless the day before at Wild Dog Pass, being surrounded by 24 barking, shouting, howling huskies almost brought me to my knees. Our guide, however, was lovely:
“You don’t like the dogs?” he asked me gently. It was all I could to shake my head ever-so-slightly, having lost the ability to speak, move and breathe. However, I eventually managed to sit on the sledge and then that was it – we were off. There was no holding them back – all they wanted to do was run and run and run. I would have got some action shots but needed both mittened hands just to hold on. Invigorating if nothing else. Feeling too wimpy to steer the sledge (I could see the icy corners being troublesome, not least because I was aware of the second pack of huskies behind us pulling another sledge and with images of me trashing the corner and ending up face down in the snow being sniffed up the arse by a ferocious husky I opted for being passenger only) I left the ‘driving’ to my best beloved. There were a few iffy moments but I didn’t like to comment on his technique as obviously I hadn’t done it myself. On returning back to HuskBase however, it transpired his balaclava had worked its way across one half of his face leaving him with only one eye to see from, but also his sunglasses had been knocked a-skew and had steamed up, so the limited vision he did have was in fact foggy to say the least. Or blind, as he put it. It’s amazing we a) got back to base, and b) alive. But hey – look at that tongue!! (All the better to lick you with….)Husky Tongue.jpg

In the third and final part in our quest for the northern lights, we shall be going on a Reindeer Safari. In the dark. At minus 30.Resting.jpg So until then…..