I have a terrible habit of waiting for inspiration to strike before I sit down to write, even though I know, I should just sit down and do some work! Thriller writer Helen Hanson, is quoted as saying, “Inspiration is the windfall from hard work and focus. Muses are too unreliable to keep on the payroll.”
When I started writing, it was so much easier. Or it felt easier. I couldn’t wait to write. I had stories bursting out of me. These days, they are often dragged out of me. As I’ve mentioned before, lockdown has not been as productive for me as it has for others, but I’m not hitting myself over the head about it 😀
As tomorrow is a new school term, I’m going to use it to get back into a more structured week. So I’m going to complete the next quarter on my 2021 writing plan and I’m going to turn up at my desk regularly to see what happens! I love this quote from Peter Prange. “Instead of discussing with myself every morning whether I feel inspired or not, I step into my office every day at nine sharp, open the window and politely ask the muse to enter and kiss me. Sometimes she comes in, more often she does not. But she can never claim that she hasn’t found me waiting in the right place.”
Not sure I will be there every day, and I doubt I’ll make 9am but I intend to go in search of inspiration rather than wait for it to find me. Have you any tips for me? Where do you get your inpspiration from???
I’m a bit out of it today. I had my first Covid vaccine on Wednesday and I have all the expected symptoms. I am very grateful for it tho, and impressed at the efficient organisation at the local vaccine centre.
Today I’m thinking about my dad (in between snoozes). He would have been 91 today. Lockdown would not have suited him AT ALL. He loved company and would have wanted to celebrate his birthday with as many as possible. I wish I had the brain power to tell a story. Instead I’m going to share a letter I wrote to him, a couple of years after he died.
I don’t think I’ve shared this before. Sorry if you’ve read it already.
I want to ask you something. Don’t worry, I don’t need money (this time).
It feels a bit weird to be writing to you, but of course I’ve left it too late to talk you about this. You’re not surprised though, are you? I know, I’m usually late. You must have come to expect it by now.
The last time I wrote you a letter (a proper one, not a post card or a note), do you remember Da? It was when I went to New Zealand for three months. We’d said goodbye with a silent tight hug. Tight lipped, nodding quickly and blinking. I wrote a letter to you before the plane landed in Auckland. You replied telling me that you’d waited until I left the house before you cried.
So, I have finally gotten around to writing to you again—because I have to write to you. I can’t talk to you now, but to be honest it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to really talk to you.
Awh Da, your poor head. For almost 30 years you struggled to reach past the dent in your skull and make sense of the world. Sometimes you managed to do it. Every so often you’d start to talk or start to sing and there you’d be. Our Da. You’d be back—just for a few minutes. But by the time we’d acknowledged you were back, you’d be gone again.
I know you don’t remember that day. But I remember it well. I was thirteen and headed off on the bus to go stay with Aunty May. I just missed seeing you being flung into the air by a car. Next day I was told you had a broken leg. Did I know it was worse? How could I have known? Maybe it’s hindsight that makes me think I felt it was more serious. Either way—life was never the same and neither were you.
Sorry Da, I’m waffling and have gone off the point. What I wanted to ask was…do you know what you did for us?
There are so many things. The lesson in covering books stands out. You sat with us, showing how to measure the amount of paper needed. Using the least amount of sellotape. The difference between a stapled book and a book with a thick solid spine. Da! I’m an expert now. I could do it with my eyes closed.
And Christmas—your love and enthusiasm for Christmas was matchless. And of course, the covering books lesson was closely aligned to the wrapping presents lesson. Using paper to the most efficient level and again—less is more with the sellotape.
Music…Da, do you realise what you gave us in music? The love of singing a song. The delight in singing together. You loved nothing more than a room full of people who just wanted to hear each other sing, so we would sing and clap along. We still have it. The love of being a family. You did that. You gave us that.
I hope you know what you left us. I hope you loved how we said goodbye to you. We did it in the best way we knew how. With singing and laughing and crying and just being together.
Based on childhood memories, this piece of flash fiction is inspired by my mother and her sisters. It’s based on a writing group prompt, Gang for Four
Gang of Four
They sat around the table every week, with strong opinions, loud voices, strict rules, and plenty of money. Purses bursted with coins. But no brown money. There would be no coppers in this game. On the table was a deck of cards and a bottle of brandy. In the fridge were salad sandwiches, and some fizzy orange for Aunty Teetotal.
They had grown up together in the same house. Shared a bed, clothes, pencils. Then work and family life stretched their bond, sometimes almost to breaking point. It was never severed though; the tie of sisters rarely is. They were all married when they stared to meet on a Saturday night. Kids old enough to fend for themselves, husbands happy to watch the football or go to the pub. Over the years they became widows in turn and their connection deepened, returning to its childhood level.
Saturday nights were for playing The Queen, Trumps and On the Bus. The games were not to be taken lightly, though they laughed throughout. They broke for sandwiches half-way through the evening, and it was time to sort the money out.
“I owe you a fiver.”
“Well I owe you seven, so you give that to her and I’ll only owe two.”
“But don’t you owe me ten?”
“I did, but then I paid for the raffle tickets, so you owe me six. Actually, you all owe me six.”
“I paid you for mine, didn’t I? I got you the round mince.”
“Right so, you give that fiver back and I’ll give you…”
The fiver would be passed around the room, more often than not, ending up back in the purse if came out of. When all was totted up, often only a pound or two was ever actually owed, but it had to be put right.
Watching and listening from the stairs, or if we were quiet, on a small stool near the table, we learned fairness, responsibility, the importance of fun and family, and the bond that four sisters can have throughout a lifetime.
This gang of four did not change the world. But they made our world and we are grateful for it.
As I mentioned in my first post of this year’s April AtoZ Blogging Challenge I haven’t got a theme this year and I have not prescheduled, or pre-thought about any of my posts. Each day I’m just going to write something different.
I’ve just asked my husband to give me a few words beginning with ‘E.’ He gave me – Evergreen, Event, and Enter. So I’m going to free-write for a few minutes and the only rule, is that I have to get each of those words in. It’ll be nonsense and rubbish, but the piece will be raw material for something to be worked on later. Freewriting is not usually something to be shared, but here we go anyway…
The queue was moving too slowly. Cath was freezing, dressed for the better weather that had been promised. If that wasn’t bad enough, the event organiser made her wear a filthy hi-vis jacket with a sign sellotaped on the back of it, reading ‘STAFF,’ covering the fact that the jacket was for a First Aider. It had sounded like a great deal, do a couple of hours work at the entrance gate and get into the festival for free. She’d been there four hours already and still people were arriving. Two artists she loved had already played, her absolute favourite band, Enter At Your Peril, would be on the main stage soon, and she was bursting for the loo. Then inspiration struck.
“Bob,” she shouted across the turnstiles to her fellow ticketmaster. “Can you radio base to say I need someone to take over please?” She then mouthed, “I need to go.”
“Go where?” he shouted back.
“I need to GO.”
“Awh right yeah, hang on.” Bob got on the radio and Cath continued to stamp tickets ignoring shouts of “can she have a pee, please Bob?”
Eventually Cath was rescued. She ran past the Portaloos and straight to the main stage. She got there just as it was being announced that Enter At Your Peril were not coming on until later. There was some booing and some shouting as a terrified looking kid with an acoustic guitar came on stage. Once he got going, the crowd sang along with his cover of an Oasis classic. Cath was singing along when she felt someone pull her arm out of the crowd. “We’ve got a fainter.” her captor shouted. “We need someone back stage.” Cath was pulled through the crowd and past security by the side of the stage, through the curtain to the back stage area where she saw a crowd standing around some someone lying on the ground.
“What do want me to do?” said Cath.
“I don’t know,” he said. “You’re the first aider.”
The ‘STAFF’ sign was being trampled on by Oasis fans.
“You’ve got to help him, love. We need to get Evergreen on that stage.”
Cath recognised the members of Enter at Your Peril standing around the lead singer, who was lying on the ground.
“What happened?” Cath asked, kneeling on the floor beside him. “Did he bang his head? Drink too much? Take something he shouldn’t?”
“Worse! A huge spider fell on his head just before we were due to go on.”
“And it bit him?!
“Nah, he’s afraid of them. He fainted.”
Evergreen groaned and opened his eyes. “Where is it? Is it still on me?” He jumped up, shaking his head and jumping up and down.
Cath stamped her foot. “There! He’s dead,” she lied. “Squished under my boot.”
Evergreen turned to her. He held her face for a moment. “You are my hero,” he kissed her and the band ran on to the stage.
“Yeah,” she said, as the crowds roared. “And you used to be mine.”
It’s been a while since I gave the April AtoZ Blogging Challenge a go. The last couple of times I took part, I didn’t finish it. I’m hoping to use the challenge to commit to writing every day for the month of April. My daily writing habit has not just gone by the wayside, it has fallen off a cliff!
This year I don’t have a theme. so I’ll be rambling about whatever is on my heart and mind each day. A bit of free writing. I’ll add some flash fiction as I go, as I’ve written quite a few pieces during lockdown – thanks to my local writing group, Afon Llwyd Writers’ Zoom meetings with some great prompts. I’ll share about a project I am praying about as lockdown and depression both are starting to ease. There’ll be some spiritual ponderings too. Today, however, I’ll start by sharing a little about my current fiction project. My second novel – working title is ‘Ash’
I wrote the first draft of ‘Ash’ during NaNoWriMo 2020. It is inspired by the story of Silas Marner (SM). I adored the story when we read it in school.
I love that Marner saved Eppie, and she saved him. He was betrayed by his best friend, lost the love of his life, was shunned by his faith community and robbed of his treasure; yet he ended up with more than he could ever have wanted. He was blessed to come to understand what truly matters in life. You know me – I’m a sucker for a happy ending. 🙂
I wanted to write something where an abandoned child is rescued, but in my story it is the child who has a percieved strangeness about them (as opposed to the adult character – Marner suffered with what reads as a form of epilepsy or catalepsy). Ash’s problem is, he is a genius. He has an eidetic/photographic memory. He can read anything and understand it. He does not have to be taught or shown anything twice. Set in a similar time to SM, Ash’s intelligence is seen as of the devil and as the community get to know him and his adoptive family, they are more cynical. There is one scene where some of the women in the village discuss how unholy it is for a child to be able to recite a Psalm! There are characters who are afraid of Ash for different reasons and they use the fears of the locals to try to get rid of him. Especially as the local landowner has taken an interest in the boy and his family.
I’m hoping to self-publish Ash before the end of the year. In the meantime, if you’re interested in checking out my other fiction, you can find out about it on my writer website www.annmariemiles.co.uk
Thank you so much to those who commented and messaged me about my last post. It’s great to know you’re still happy to read my witterings 🙂 Having completed the plan I mentioned in that post, I was quite daunted by a year’s worth of empty spaces. But already I have most of January filled, either done or preparing to do. It feels good, after a year of sitting around not doing much at all.
My experience of anxiety and depression doesn’t feel like any I’ve read or heard about. Maybe each journey is unique. I’ve come a long way, there are some days when I feel totally normal but others when I get a wave of anxiety every time the house phone rings or my mobile buzzes. Though why I’m worried about calls on the landline, I can’t tell you. My Amazon account is fine thank you very much.
I felt I’d levelled off in my recovery, the two main problems being headaches and not sleeping very well. So I arranged a chat with the doctor, and we tweaked my medication a bit. Already I can feel the benefits. If we weren’t in lockdown, the doc said she’d be advising me to get out and about. I’m sure it would aid my recovery to visit nice places. Meet with friends, have coffee and laughs. Maybe a couple of nights away with himself. None of that is possible at the moment.
But I have to do something. I was on the treadmill this morning for half an hour. After falling and really hurting myself last year AND the year before, I’m still very nervous about being outside. Especially in this snowy weather.
I need to move forward. I want to move forward. but I’m going to take my time and go at my own pace. I’m so grateful to God for the time and space that lockdown brought, but I feel ready to start making my way back in to regular face to face contact, that is NOT on a computer screen.
I have emerged from my biannual “why do I bother writing? what’s the point? yada yada” phase, set for another year of scribbling. I’m in the process of making a plan for the year. Dividing the year in to four quarters with a the intention *coughs* of working on one major project each quarter, with some flash fiction, research and social media malarkey as I go. During my “woe is me, I am unpublished” season, I did wonder about shutting this blog down. The thought stayed with me during the planning. Who reads blogs any more? Anything longer than a tweet and people scroll on don’t they?
You still there?
I have deliberately not written much about Covid or Lockdown. What is there to say? I ate too much, moved to little but did use the restricted time to aid my recovery from anxiety and depression which I wrote about back in October last year. I’m doing so much better. The depression has lifted for the most part, thank God, but anxiety is still an issue for me. Increasing Covid numbers do not help.
I’m finding that having a plan for the year is helpful. Not just a writing plan – a life plan. I pray it will give me something to focus on when I’m feeling a bit wobbly and uncertain. It includes getting rid of the weight I put on during lockdown. And getting back into running. I got to the stage of doing 3 x 5k runs each week. The I fell. My confidence has not repaired to the degree my injured knee has. I had been praying for a treadmill for a couple of years. So I could walk regularly in the winter weather. God miraculously provided one – from the people who I was on my way to visit when I fell. (Bit of a Matrix moment there. You know the bit where the oracle says, “don’t worry about the vase,” and Neo says, “what vase?” he turns around and knocks a vase over. ) Anyway, I’m ready for writing, running, counting my carbs, and watching my mental health; doing all of those things with God’s help and guidance.
God has been with me all the way and I pray for his blessing on all those areas of my life. He underpins it all. The only time there’ll be no point in writing, is if He ever decides I should go and do something else 🙂 So if you’re still here and still reading, thank you so much for sticking with me.
God bless each and every one of you in 2021!
p.s. if you read Gorse Lodge, thank you! Do leave a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads. It really means a lot to a writer. In the meantime, this quarter I’ll be working on edits to publish my second novel.
It’s November! So as well as premature Christmas ads and dark evenings, it’s also time for 50,000 words in 30 days. I haven’t always ‘won’ NaNoWriMo (by winning I mean hit the word count), but it has given me some great raw material. Two of the books I’ve self published, my novel Gorse Lodge, and my second collection of short stories, A Sense of the Sea and other stories came from work done during NaNoWriMo. My non fic WIP, Have Mercy, is also a NaNo project.
As if I had nothing to do, I am starting a brand new novel idea. I just love starting stories and I get such a buzz out of finding out what happens next as I write. This time last year I barely wrote 2000 words and it shows how low and exhausted I was. I will return to that WIP, but I feel I need to move on this year.
One of my favourite stories from school is Silas Marner and my new novel is inspired by that story. How an abandoned child changed someone’s life forever. On NaNoWriMo, my username is auntyamo, if you’re doing the challenge and you’d like to buddy up. You can keep an eye on my progress on the bar at the top right.
It’s great to have Liz Carter back today. If you didn’t read yesterday’s post, you really should. Liz’s honesty and openness is such a blessing. Here she is with the second part of her post on Light and Dark.
It’s good to be back 🙂 I finished yesterday, by saying, the more I dig into Scripture, the more I find the most starkly honest writings there poured out for all to see, overflowings of emotion and anger and sorrow spilling onto the pages – most of the prophetic writings are like this and the Psalms are full of songs of lament as much as songs of praise.
It seems to me that we are on dangerous ground if we insist that we must keep our own darkness hidden in the darkness, because that is not the biblical model.
Biblical writers craft their words with honesty and authenticity. They tell it how it is. They do not tell us that there will be no suffering in the Christian life, nor do they tell us that the Christian life will be blessed with health and wealth and no pain. In fact, if anything, they tell us the opposite. Paul tells us that he lived in hardship and persecution, suffering for Christ and with Christ – and his words are full of the profound mystery of the intersection of brokenness and the peace of God that passes all understanding. The Psalmists wrote of isolation and imprisonment, of sickness and danger. And in the centre of it all we have Jesus, a man of sorrows who knew the great depths of suffering like no other.
I always think it would be so hard to follow a faith where the deity remains outside of our understanding and experience. Christianity is unprecedented among faiths in that God became one of us and sunk into our pain and mess with us. The incarnation points to the beautiful and complex intricacies of the fingerprints of God amongst us; a God willing to lay aside all his majesty and fall into the dust, to suffer and die, to take all our pain and sin and mess upon his body. It is a mystery that cannot be contained in words, but a mystery bursting at the seams with hope and life, and one that speaks loud into our own agonies like nothing else.
And this, ultimately, is what lights our path ahead; the knowledge that God is not far away, but is with us by his Spirit and in his experience of broken humanity. On days I have nothing left I can only look back to God, as the Psalmists so often did in their wretched poems of sadness and yearning. I can still choose to ‘yet praise’ within the days of trouble.
This winter will be long and bleak, and bleaker still for some of us, for many reasons. But winter ends in a glorious awakening, and God reminds us of that in a love song:
‘See, the winter is past, the rains are over and gone.’ (Song of Songs 2:10)
One of my poems from my new book incorporates this theme, and so I would like to share a few words from this poem with you today, with the prayer that God will speak to the deep places in you and flood you with a hope wider, deeper, longer and higher than you could ever imagine:
Oh hasten the day when death flees away when the winter of mourning melts to joy in the morning, when bleak shadows are drenched in the glory of your dazzling light, when darkest places and worn-down wastes are crushed in the power of outrageous grace The winter is past; the rains are over and gone, find love that is deep and love that is long find immersive light and ageless depths find crazy love in inexorable breadth Oh hasten the day when night flees away.
Treasure in Dark Places is a collection of poetry and short stories which are re-imaginings of biblical accounts and encounters with Jesus that take the reader into the heart of the stories, where you yourself can experience and encounter the God who loves you, and where you will find resonance and comfort in your own struggle.
Continuing the theme of Light and Dark, I am delighted to welcome Liz Carter to the blog. She will be sharing today and tomorrow, and we’ll hear about her new book, Treasure in Dark Places: Stories and poems of hope in the hurting.
So, over to Liz…
With the clocks going back and the winter drawing in, many of us are living with a creeping sense of dread that coils around us like the fog on a chilly winter day. As the days grow colder and the nights darker, we often feel enveloped in gloom, and now more than ever, as we wonder when all this will come to an end. Winter seems to stretch ahead with no promise of hope, with no sparkles of joy to look towards and wait for with anticipation. Winter 2020 seems like a pit of nothingness, a black hole of rubbishness and sadness.
Perhaps, for some of you, it’s not just 2020 that feels that way to you. Perhaps you’ve lived through years where the nights are too dark and the air too frozen around you. Maybe you’ve been living with sickness, physically or mentally, or living with grief, or other burdens which have left you bruised and battered, unsure where to look for any signs of hope.
For me, this year has been tough, but my whole life has been lived in pain, to some degree, with a chronic lung condition from infancy. This year I went into shielding in March after receiving the letter that punched me in the gut with its words instilling more fear in me: I’d been identified, it told me, as someone with risk of severe illness if I caught Covid-19. I separated out from my family and lived in my room for almost five months, caged into a life without touch or the usual family interaction. It was tough. It sent me spiralling mentally, into restless, tearful nights and days that seemed to stretch too long at times.
But God kept sending me little reminders of his presence and his love. As I began to let go of some of my fear and pour out some of my restlessness into poetry and other forms of writing, God spoke peace into my heart, and even sparks of joy at times.
God reminded me that it is sometimes in the darkest places where we find unexpected treasure, where light is able to break through in even more splendour, puncturing the blackness and calling us on towards the hope we find in Jesus.
I wonder if you have ever felt that you should be happy at all times as a Christian. Perhaps you’ve even heard teaching encouraging you to claim prosperity and health in all areas of your life, that because God is a generous God he will give you these – you only need to ask. Perhaps you’ve felt unable to share honestly about tough times, because you have been led to feel that you are, in some way, failing God because of your struggle. You hear the great triumphant stories of healing and wholeness, of God coming through for people when they are suffering, of God’s great and miraculous provision. But when it doesn’t seem to happen like that in your life, you can be left sad and alone, hugging your suffering to yourself in the mistaken idea that you cannot share it with others, because it might put them off the idea of faith.
Yet the more I dig into Scripture, the more I find the most starkly honest writings there poured out for all to see, overflowings of emotion and anger and sorrow spilling onto the pages – most of the prophetic writings are like this and the Psalms are full of songs of lament as much as songs of praise. Tomorrow I will write more about that and share one of the poems from my book
Thank you Liz. It’s a blessing to read such refreshing honesty in difficult times.
I look forward to hearing more. In the mean time, Liz’s book Treasure in Dark Places: Stories and poems of hope in the hurting can be found here. Until tomorrow… A x