Monthly Archives: December 2015

52 Artist Dates – one for every week of the year!

52 Artist Dates – one for every week of the year!

The Artist Date is a concept named by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way, and she describes it as:

“a once-weekly, festive, solo expedition to explore something that interests you. The Artist Date need not be overtly “artistic” — think mischief more than mastery. Artist Dates fire up the imagination. They spark whimsy. They encourage play. Since art is about the play of ideas, they feed our creative work by replenishing our inner well of images and inspiration. When choosing an Artist Date, it is good to ask yourself, “what sounds fun?” — and then allow yourself to try it.”

What’s not to like about that?

However, for some reason, actually enjoying ourselves seems to be a very difficult thing to do. The answer, it seems, is to do a bit of planning ahead. When I interviewed the wonderful (and wonderfully playful) writer, Angela Readman, for an article on playing and writing in Mslexia magazine, this is what she said:

‘I did my playtimes initially like a dentists appointment. Every Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. I’d turn up to play, to be bad at something and forgive myself for doing so.’

Angela’s playtimes include: rag rugging; oil painting; embroidering her favourite swear word onto a bookmark; using a scalpel for graffiti art; and making felt monsters. ‘I’m in no way an artist and don’t have many craft skills,’ she says. ‘But all this was huge fun and playful because I didn’t aim for perfection.’

I think that’s the clue – fun and not aiming for perfection!

The perfect any kind of date, in fact. We’re looking to enjoy ourselves with our ‘artist’ rather than have a worthy and improving time, working to deadlines, wordcounts etc etc. Let’s never forget how to flirt!

lovely old person

So here is my suggested list of 52 Artist Dates – one for every week of 2016. I’m going to aim to do one a week, and put up a post about how it goes. Wish me happy playtimes, and if you’d like to join me too, add a link to how it goes for you!

Or feel free to suggest your favourite ‘Artist Dates’ too. I do realise that ‘storage solutions’ may not make everyone else’s hearts flutter as much as they do mine!

  1. Get a book on knots from the library. Practice two. (Thanks Ellen!)
  2. Walk round your house at night wearing a head torch (or with a candle). Obviously turn off all the lights first!
  3. Write words on plant pots and arrange into a poem in the garden.
  4. Take a selfie dressed as a fictional character.
  5. Go on a wabi-sabi walk – take photographs of the imperfect, incomplete and impermanent nature of all things.
  6. Make a poem from street names.
  7. Go to a matinee on your own. Treat yourself to something good to eat during it.
  8. Buy a piece of beautiful china from a charity shop. Use it, even if it’s not what it was originally intended for.
  9. Take a different photograph today for each of three friends. Send it to each of them with a note.
  10. Find a classical concert on the radio. Do nothing else while listening.
  11. Write a rap song.
  12. Buy a glass from a charity shop. Drink from it.
  13. Make a CD ‘mixed tape’ to walk to. Play it on shuffle.
  14. Choose five poems and read them out loud. With drama.
  15. Buy some flowers and arrange them properly. Not just plonk in a vase.
  16. Learn six new ways to tie a scarf.
  17. Take a long candlelit bath.
  18. Declutter ten things from your house that give you a negative feeling.
  19. Write a list entitled ‘I am not the kind of person who…’ Then do one thing on that list.
  20. Go to a museum with a sketchbook. And use it.
  21. Go to a market or fruit and veg shop – choose interesting looking items, make a still life. Photograph it. Then eat it.
  22. Put your timer on, and spend an hour exactly looking for inspiring websites and blogs. Allow yourself to follow a trail.
  23. Drink a cocktail or a glass of champagne alone in a hotel bar. Don’t read a book or look at your phone once.
  24. Make a corner of your bookshelf for favourite/comfort books and DVDs. Secrete a bar of chocolate there.
  25. Clear a kitchen cupboard, and fill it with new storage jars.
  26. Swim in a river.
  27. Plant a herb garden.
  28. Get a book on foraging from library. Then take it out ‘hunting’.
  29. Learn a new card game. Invite friends to play.
  30. Go to a tarot reader.
  31. Write a letter to a national newspaper/radio station about something in the news that grieves you.
  32. Take photographs of five corners of your house, and make a collage of them.
  33. Go to a children’s museum, or to the toy section of a museum.
  34. Make a list of local outdoor swimming pools. Visit one, with a picnic to eat on grass after.
  35. Paint a picture with proper paints.
  36. Have a massage.
  37. Sit on a bench with an interesting memorial plaque. Write a letter to the person who is remembered.
  38. Write and send a letter about the town you live in to someone who has never visited.
  39. Find a free lecture, and attend.
  40. Sit in a café and write a list of 100 ways to change your life. Large and small.
  41. Take a tree identification book out of the library, and identify three trees you pass regularly.
  42. Go to a charity shop with £5. Make a little parcel for something with your purchases.
  43. Go to a PYO farm.
  44. Visit a local graveyard, and make notes of names.
  45. Write five anonymous love letters and leave them for others to find.
  46. Sit in the public section of a law court for a day.
  47. Take note of, and research, the statues you walk past every day.
  48. Go on an alphabet walk. Look for something beginning with A, then B, then C… and so on.
  49. Write five fan letters to writers/artists/musicians who have made you think recently. Send them, but without expectation of a reply.
  50. Book  and join a guided walk.
  51. Write a list of 100 things you loved to do as a child. Do one!
  52. Research and make a list of different libraries – including universities, galleries, professional organisations, museums. Visit one.


Writing Dark

Writing Dark

When the Bristol Short Story Prize asked me to choose my favourite short story collections for 2015, there were so many contemporary collections I’ve enjoyed this year to choose from. Perhaps particularly Diane Cook’s stunning Man V Nature.


But instead, of the two collections I picked one dated back from 1963 (with the oldest story in the book written in 1910), and the other from 1952. There’s a reason for picking these two – Daphne du Maurier’s The Birds and Other Stories and Junichiro Tanizaki’s Seven Japanese Tales – and it’s very current for me.  In fact,  it was one of the questions under discussion at the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival just earlier this month: Are modern poets (and I think we can substitute short story writers there) writing to show off the ‘decency of the writer’ at the expense of actually showing the reality around us?


It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. I have students who get worried about the ‘dark stuff’ they write about, and only want to share the happy bunny tales. But what if the proliferation of writing workshops, immediate reviews, closer links between the writer and his or her work due to social media, are actually meaning we are all becoming more careful about what we write about in case somebody thinks we are not ‘decent’? Because who doesn’t want to seem to be a nice person?



I do, certainly. I cried my eyes out the first time someone on Goodreads had read one of my novels and suggested I might be a psychopath. Now I just laugh – oh wait, does that mean I really might be a psychopath???


But all this isn’t to say that there aren’t a number of short story writers out there taking risks with their subject matter, saying the unsayable and making us squirm from behind the sofa because they are revealing hidden sides of society. And it definitely isn’t to say there isn’t a place for happy bunny stories. But these two collections have been the ones that have given me the most permission as a writer this year.



I picked up Daphne du Maurier’s collection largely because I read Rebecca again recently and am now on a mission to ensure this amazing writer never gets forgotten. Shame on me. I’ve watched Hitchcock’s The Birds so often that it was a shock to realise I had never actually read the short story. So much scarier, so much colder than the film. The continuing desperate trusting sense that the humans will be rescued:

 ‘He paused, his work on the bedroom chimney finished, and looked out to sea. Something was moving out there. Something grey and white amongst the breakers.

  ‘Good old navy,’ he said, ‘they never let us down. They’re coming down channel, they’re turning in the bay.’

   He waited, straining his eyes, watering in the wind, towards the sea. He was wrong though. It was not ships. The Navy was not there. The gulls were rising from the sea. The massed flocks in the fields, with ruffled feathers, rose in formation from the ground, and wing to wing soared upwards to the sky.’




Forget the content, just read that sentence structure above aloud. She’s just written the background music to a horror film, and as a reader you can’t help breathing – or not breathing – along as she plays with you so brilliantly! Admittedly not all the stories here are as good, but I did love ‘Kiss Me Again, Stranger’ too – not just a brilliant title.






Seven Japanese Tales was a revelation, written by the same author of the classic, The Makioka Sisters. These were stories on the edge – of cruelty, society, love, reason. But written with such complete dispassion and no judgement that I had to sometimes look back to check what I had just read.


It wouldn’t be too much to imagine the oldest story, ‘The Tattooer’, to be written now, when tattoos are so popular that ‘Exhibitions were held from time to time; and the participants, stripped to show off their filigreed bodies, would pat themselves proudly, boast of their own novel designs, and criticize each other’s merits.’ In the story, the ‘hero’, a secret masochist, longs to create a masterpiece on the skin of a beautiful woman. Fate introduces him to a young fearful geisha and she allows him to tattoo his soul onto her back, with surprising results.




Culture is at the heart of these stories – music, art, poetry – which explore what happens when civilisation is stripped away. Characters are blind, or just blind to what they don’t want to see. No one seems to be telling the truth, and in the stories that are created, often at the expense of reality, someone is always going to be hurt.

Like ‘The Birds’, darkness is just a word away. And isn’t the element of risk exactly what we want with writing?