Monthly Archives: March 2016

Emotional Hotspots

Emotional Hotspots

Memory has a strange way of often hitting you when you’re not expecting it.


I have a little theory about the memory muscle, and it makes me wonder how many writers might be either only children, or youngest. Or at least not the oldest child, because it’s the younger ones who watch, look out for danger, and need to take note. The oldest just forge ahead – doing things.

It’s like Sartre’s comment, live or write.


Maybe my feeling about place and memory is the same as music. It’s been well documented how often music takes us straight back to a heightened emotional state, so we will cry for a lost love (even after years of realising how we’ve escaped something rather awful) when we hear the record we listened to again and again every time we cried ourselves to sleep in our teenage bedrooms. And Proust of course has written beautifully about how the taste of a madeleine brings back so many memories.


Equally I’m always amazed at how I map places through the emotional moments they hold for me. Recently I walked round Ely, the town I spent six years at boarding school, with my daughter. She saw just a street but I was ‘seeing’ so many of the boys I had snogged in various corners that she had to beg me to stop telling her about it! But for a thirteen year old, forget the Cathedral, that was my real version of the city.


Not just the boys though. Spotting the butchers where my best friend Nicky and I used to go in to order ‘two hot sausage rolls’ when we couldn’t eat the school food made me stop and gasp.


And then there was the wall I was looking at when I ‘borrowed’ someone’s glasses and suddenly realised what it was like to see. Every brick. Every amazing brick. What had I been missing? How long had I been short sighted and not realised? And what if I wasn’t thick, but just couldn’t see the board or the books like everyone else? Look, just an ordinary wall to everyone else but, friends, this is the wall that changed my life…


The house where we’d go and eat breakfast sometimes with a cathedral verger and his wife, the organ loft where I once drank cider with the organist during evensong, the cherub whose cheek I used to rub for luck before exams, and then this spot, just coming out of Cherry Hill where I first realised how much my body responded to seasons. I stood in the exact spot where I had been so completely staggered by the joyfulness of spring coming that I’d wanted to sing – no, shout – out loud, the sun has got its hat on and is coming out to play. THIS SPOT (below)! Now decades later, I could still felt my heart lift at the memory…


And of course the beauty of these jumble of memories is that they come as they want, trivial next to life-changing. Happy next to sad. There’s no hierarchy in memories, and the joy of returning to a place I’ve known in the past is how well they had been held for me – just waiting until I returned to leap out and  hit me.

IMG_2465 IMG_2488 IMG_2487 IMG_2486


In my head I call them emotional hotspots, but I think they should really be hot emotional spots because they don’t need plaques or anything – they are more like those machines that can seek out heat hidden deep underground. And, sorry daughter, of course that includes my first ‘snogs’, but you’re right, they probably don’t need broadcasting!


What happens in a writing workshop?

What happens in a writing workshop?

An hour ago we were strangers; now we sit here, a new group of writers.

I ran a writing practice group at Freestyle Yoga Studio on Saturday – the first of hopefully many. It was one of those serendipitous mixes of people, prompts, and the beautiful space created by Anna and Mark above the magic carpet shop in the High Street that made its own little bit of magic. Here’s where we were – right up on the top floor!

Tanya called it “a bit like a spa,” I felt the same too.  And here’s a piece by another participant, Nicola Duffy, which sums up to me perfectly exactly what it feels like to be part of a writing workshop. Many thanks to her for letting me share it here:

A Saturday afternoon writing group in Tunbridge Wells

Some might say we’re a strange lot. Sitting in a circle on oblong-shaped purple cushions. With a pile of herbs next to us, tied together with a piece of multi-coloured string. Talking one minute about spring, swans, woodpeckers and mud. Then pausing to think about what it all means to us. A Saturday afternoon in a yoga studio, but not doing any yoga. Tucked away for a couple of hours to explore our creativity. To let the words flow, from our minds, our hearts, through pens and onto the page. Creating new poems and prose. An hour ago we were strangers; now we sit here, a new group of writers.

Soon we shall say goodbye. Leave the calm and and peaceful environment of this room and once more step out into the street to join the Saturday afternoon shoppers, and all the people rushing to the next place they are going. I bet no-one has stopped and looked up, and seen this circle of writers, with their herbs and their purple cushions. A world that only exists for us, blocked out by the frosted glass on the bottom window.


Getting it right

Getting it right

It still makes me smile when beginner writers beat themselves up for not writing a perfect draft first time round. So in the spirit of sharing, here’s a current work in progress…. there may be a word or two of the original left by the end, but I’m not entirely sure!


A very real war poet – Vanessa Gebbie’s Memorandum

A very real war poet – Vanessa Gebbie’s Memorandum

Admittedly, this is a strange photograph to start a review of a poetry book, but it is Vanessa Gebbie‘s book of ‘poems for the fallen’, Memorandum, and anyone who knows Vanessa as a writer (or person) will know to expect something beyond the normal!


I had a special interest in this book, to be honest, because I’ve been lucky enough to go twice with Vanessa to the war cemeteries and fields of the WW1, on writing trips led by the historian, Jeremy Banning (that’s us in the first photo above). I knew first hand therefore the wonderful knowledge, interest and empathy Vanessa has for ordinary soldier’s lives, as well as ‘great’ battles. As Jeremy himself says on the back of this book, ‘Vanessa Gebbie is that rare breed of poet who understands the trials and tribulations of the ordinary Tommy’.


But I still hadn’t expected to be so moved by the poems in this book. Every poem brings history to life in a way I haven’t often seen elsewhere. I really do think this is a book that should be studied in schools – every poem reminds us that these are real men (and women) finding themselves in an unreal situation, and I think Vanessa captures this best when she contrasts the reverential attitude sometimes felt necessary towards the dead soldiers with how they might have liked to be treated, such as in Unknowns:

They take no liberties,

make no moves. They just want

to remember what living was like, see


what meals you make for the kids,

what you read, what you dream.

And when you are troubled, they are there


at your shoulder, holding you strong.


Another poem, Lepidoptery, battlefield historian, made me smile because I could recognise, from our tours, the experience she describes so well, ‘He pins us, dazed, to this terrain,..’


And indeed, here we are, pinned, dazed, by Jeremy Banning, even in the rain!


Half of the book is taken from observations, research and her experience of numerous trips to the battlefields, while the other poems force us to look close at the war memorials around Britain that we now take for granted. Indeed there is even a poem ‘Mosses’ to the ‘Memorials in neglected corners of municipal parks’.

But it was the last poem, La Boisselle pastorale, diversionary tactic i.m my second father, David Rees MC., that made me cry. It is written half in the form of a direct address to Vanessa’s father, and so typical of Vanessa that she didn’t mention once on our trips that he had won the MC.


This is a beautiful book, accessible in all the best ways, giving ordinary soldiers their voices and hearts.


Creative writing courses in Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge (and one retreat)…

Creative writing courses in Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge (and one retreat)…

Dear Writing Friends,

I wanted to let you know about some upcoming writing classes, and one special retreat, coming up. Although they are based in Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge, all are very easily accessed by train – even from London!!

First up are three Saturday writing workshops I’m running at the Freestyle Yoga Retreat in the High Street in Tunbridge Wells. You DO not have to do yoga, or even wear lycra, although it’s a wonderful place. I bear no responsibility for what it might encourage you to do next!

The classes will be held on Saturday 19th March, Saturday 30th April, and Saturday 28th May from 1.30-3.30pm.

They cost £20 each, and can be booked separately or as a group (we will work to a different theme each time.) Suitable for beginners and/or experienced writers, and for anyone over the age of 16.  We will work to prompts, discover new writers and most of all surprise ourselves on the page. Contact me at to book or for more information.

There is also a day class at the University of Kent at Tonbridge on the 23rd April (the link is hereand you would need to book through them. The theme is on getting published, and it’s a useful chance to look at what publications and opportunities there are out there, even if you think you might just be getting started!


And finally, but by no means least, Anna from Freestyle Yoga Project and I are running a yoga and writing retreat at the beautiful Tilton House in Sussex in November (that’s the hammock above.) To be honest, we *probably* won’t be using the hammock in November but we will be in the heated and candelit yurt, writing by the log fire, and probably outside at least once by a huge bonfire. We have so many plans, and it will really be special. In fact, shut your eyes and think of hygge…

This one WILL contain yoga, and writing, but you do not have to be expert at both. It is more about inspiration than competition! You can see more by click click clicking on THIS LINK!

Please feel free to pass this information on to anyone or any writing lists that you think might be interested. However I also wanted to let you know that we have already been taking bookings for all of these classes above, and, as always, space is limited because it feels better to keep the groups small and perfectly formed!

sarah with pen


I really hope to write with you soon! Wouldn’t that be fun? Do contact me for any information on any of the above.