Author Archives: Sarah

All that matters – a 50 word photostory

All that matters – a 50 word photostory

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We’re falling apart and there’s no-one left to put us back together. We just let things drop where they will. My finger on the stairs, your leg in the bathroom. We hold each other so gently, secretly measuring what’s left. Soon we’ll just be lips kissing our love to oblivion.

(I used to do 50 word photostories all the time. I’d take an interesting photograph and write a 50 word – no more no less – story to go with them, but somehow along the way I stopped. I was still taking the photos but forgetting to do anything with them. But recently I’ve been thinking about them again, and then I had a lovely coincidence when I went to a sparkly poetry tea where the guests included Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos who talked about his wonderful Picpoetry.

My old ones have disappeared now but I love how when I went looking for them today, I found traces on other writers websites… where they’d been left like small blurry footprints.

Which fits in nicely with the photograph above, really! )

 

The power of reading aloud together

The power of reading aloud together
The power of reading aloud together

Last Sunday, I got invited to something wonderful. I’d heard about the village here in Kent that had got together at Christmas and read Paradise Lost out loud to each other, and a friend and I were inspired – we would do the same! But somehow things got in the way and, er, we haven’t actually got round to it yet.

But luckily for Rolvenden, the same people who organised the Paradise Lost event organised another reading and luckily for me, I got an invitation. Because it seems you get the well-intentioned (me) and the actual do-ers (them). In this case it’s Rob Pursey, Amelia Fletcher and Colin Teevan – thank you thank you thank you! (I love the story about how when Rob and Colin first thought of the idea, they suspected it might be the two of them reading Milton to each other in a shed.)

Far from it. For this second event, they had invited Michael Longley and his wife, Edna, to visit them and to read his poems aloud with him, and about thirty of us crammed into Rob and Amelia’s wonderful sitting room and let the words wash over us. As Michael himself sat and listened! What a privilege. There was real magic in the communal experience, and a reminder that poetry should be read out loud – especially with all the different voices, accents and even the mangling of Irish place names, as we took one poem each to read in turn…

And I think Michael enjoyed it too…. here’s a gorgeous photo of him at the end of a full reading of his collection, The Stairwell that sums up the day….  (the photograph is by John Stanley, and Rob kindly said I could share it.)

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Poems on the railings….

Poems on the railings….
Poems on the railings….

Today is a day to celebrate women, our voices, thoughts and our poetry, so I’m so proud to have a banner of poems by my clever women poetry friends (and me) fluttering from my railings today. women's day 1Even more, given the reputation my town of Tunbridge Wells has, to have received my first ‘Bloody women’ comment. YAY.

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Here are some of the poems… have a good International Women’s Day!!

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Good news, bad news – Writing for Wellbeing Workshop

Good news, bad news – Writing for Wellbeing Workshop
Good news, bad news – Writing for Wellbeing Workshop

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Bad news… due to the snow, my sold-out Introduction to Writing for Wellbeing workshop this Saturday (3rd March) has been cancelled.

Good news… it is being held instead on Saturday 7th April.

Bad news… not all those booked on can make the new date.

Good news… this means there are some spaces now available. All the details and booking contacts will be on the University of Kent website on Monday – click here or email to reserve a place.

Here’s what students have said about previous Writing for Wellbeing courses:

‘Sarah is thoughtful and funny and kind. She allows everyone time and space to think and to be heard.’

‘I’ve loved this course! It’s been surprising, inspiring, emotional but above all enjoyable.’

‘The course was inspirational, joyful and practical. I feel physically and mentally better for having done it.’

‘Sarah is fantastic, she is able to bring out the best in the student and at the same time make them feel relaxed and at ease.’

‘Sarah creates exactly the right supportive environment in which people can express themselves and surprise themselves.’

‘When’s the next course?’

Not surprisingly I get a rosy glow when I read comments like those above but actually all the good work happen through the magic created between the writer and their journal. I’m passionate about the benefits of journal writing, and more and more the research backs up my instincts, but it’s much easier than anyone thinks at first.

However, this isn’t about just getting a journal and writing down random thoughts. It’s about learning new journal techniques and structuring them in such a way that you do surprise yourself. It’s about working out the best tools for reflection, seeing things from new perspectives, and trying new ways of expression. It’s about creating a sustainable journal writing practice. And, as you can hopefully see from above, it’s enjoyable!

If you can’t make the new workshop date, 7th April,  the on-going Monday Writing for Wellbeing short course is full BUT we will be running more at Tonbridge so do email the centre to be put on the mailing list.

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And I’ll be running some more writing and yoga workshops this summer with Anna Robertshaw so you can get a double dose of goodness! More on these soon or you can follow us at Mat and Page on Facebook to be the first to hear. Meanwhile, here’s a teaser of our beautiful venue….

 

 

 

Are Women People?

Are Women People?
Are Women People?

I had to post something about Alice Duer Miller today – this is republished from an article that first appeared in Vulpes Libris.

An appreciation of Alice Duer Miller

Article by Sarah Salway

Father, what is a legislature?
A representative body elected by the people of the state.
Are women people?
No, my son. Criminals, lunatics and women are not people.
(A.D.M, 1915)

My first novel, Something Beginning With, begins with the dedication: ‘To Alice, with respect’. It always makes me happy when people ask who Alice is because I get to talk about the inspiration of much of my writing, the American writer Alice Duer Miller.

She’s one of those writers whose words are so alive that it doesn’t matter that she died some twenty years before I was born. I still find myself picking up one of her poems or books and wanting to reply. The first book of hers I read was lying on a shelf in a holiday house we rented the summer of the eclipse. Forsaking all others is a novel in verse first published in 1930, and although the dusty cover did not look promising, inside was a different matter. It uses a playful, almost modern structure in its use of fragmentation and different forms for the different voices to tell the story of an illicit affair and the resulting heartbreak for all parties. When I finished it, I knew I had found the challenge I wanted for my MA project – a series of linked short stories that created a much bigger picture than the whole, just as Alice Duer Miller had achieved with her poems.

But one of my stories grew until it transformed itself into a novel, as I’m sure no story belonging to Alice Duer Miller would have dared to do. As one of the only two women (along with Dorothy Parker) who belonged to the Algonquin Round Table in the 1920s and 30s, she was known equally for both her sharp tongue and love of fun. ‘They’re not exactly ill bred, and they’re not exactly well bred,’ she apparently said about some acquaintances. ‘They are the sort of people who keep a parrot.’

This quirky humour seeps into her writing, and is particularly visible in her suffrage poems. From 1914-1917, she had a weekly column called ‘Are Women People?’ in the left wing New York Tribune. She took the arguments used against women’s suffrage and turned them round until they made no sense at all. Her poems and short pieces are extremely funny, and I like to imagine, completely infuriated the people she poked fun at.

Some were persona poems. ‘Representation’ begins with an epitaph quoting Vice-President Marshall’s comment: ‘My wife is against suffrage, and that settles me’, and continues:

My wife dislikes the income tax,
And so I cannot pay it;
She thinks that golf all interest lacks,
So now I never play it…

Bullet points, mimicking the official language of the anti-suffrage movement, were another form that worked well for her. Her list poems, which include ‘Why we oppose pockets for women’ and ‘Why children should not go to school’, are as biting as any modern satirical journalism. And in her reversals of gender stereotypes, she spoofed the male legislators with versions of their own arguments:

Why we Oppose Votes for Men

1. Because man’s place is in the armory.

2. Because no really manly man wants to settle any question otherwise than by fighting about it.

3. Because if men should adopt peaceable methods women will no longer look up to them.

4. Because men will lose their charm if they step out of their natural sphere and interest themselves in other matters than feats of arms, uniforms and drums.

5. Because men are too emotional to vote. Their conduct at baseball games and political conventions shows this, while their innate tendency to appeal to force renders them particularly unfit for the task of government.

Ouch for that last point. Every week, Alice proved that she could make her point cuttingly when she wanted, and she wasn’t afraid of anyone. When one man publicly stated that some teenage girls who had ‘gone astray’ enjoyed sex with the men who exploited them, she wrote a sonnet which led to even his family rebelling against him. Through the Tribune, Alice was reaching a weekly audience of over 100,000, and her poems became popular rallying calls. Their mixture of regular form, rhythm and humour must have made them enjoyable to have heard read at suffrage rallies. I can imagine this one, in particular, going down well – it’s a wonderful parody of Kipling’s ‘If’ (probably no one present then needed reminding of his last line – And — which is more — you’ll be a Man, my son!):

Many Men to Any Woman

If you have beauty, charm, refinement, and tact,
If you can prove that should I set you free,
You would not contemplate the smallest act
That might annoy or interfere with me.
If you can show that women will abide
by the best standards of their womanhood-
(And I must be the person to decide
What in a woman is the highest good);
If you display efficiency supreme
In philanthropic work devoid of pay;
If you can show a clearly thought- out scheme
For bringing the millennium in a day:
Why then, dear lady, at some time remote,
I might consider giving you the vote.

For Alice Duer Miller, the causes of feminism and the suffrage movement were always personal. Although she’d been born into a wealthy New York family and had a formal debut into society, her father lost all his money in a bank crisis. When she took up her place studying mathematics and astronomy at Barnard College in 1895, she had to overcome both a lack of funding and social disapproval. In fact, Mrs Astor visited her mother to disapprove the minute she heard the news, and exclaimed: ‘What a pity, that lovely girl going to college’.

She paid her way through college by writing short stories and poems, but the subject she was studying, mathematics, remained her true love. She writes about creeping out of parties to escape to Columbia University’s Observatory where she worked through the night still dressed in her ball gown. How painful it must have been then when she had to finally obey the rules of the time and give up her college research when she got married. Perhaps it’s not surprising that when she went back to address the students at Barnard many years later, she told them: ‘Never take your college education for granted. People whom you have never known broke their hearts that you might have it.’

After her marriage, she went with her husband to live in Costa Rica and started her full-time writing career, coming back to live in America in 1903 and rising to prominence in 1915 when her novel, Come out of the Kitchen, became a best-seller. She was always an active feminist; as well as writing her column, she was Chair of the Committee on resolutions of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, founder and first President of the Women’s City Club of New York (a vehicle for affecting public policy in NYC), lifetime member of Heterodoxy (a feminist group in Greenwich Village), and Trustee of Barnard College.

The second collection of her newspaper columns was called, more encouragingly, Women are People. But her writing career was much wider than journalism. She wrote more than twenty novels, while finding time to attend baseball matches regularly with Ethel Barrymore (who she said could shout beautifully). In the 1920’s she was wooed by Sam Goldwyn to move to Hollywood to write for first of all silent films and then ‘the talkies’. During this time, she worked with Jerome Kern, Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, and lived next door to Cecil Beaton.

She was ‘full of the devil’ and ‘a cross between Jane Austen and Henry James,’ according to her contemporary reviewers, but maybe she was just too funny, too interested in domestic relationships, to be taken seriously enough to have a place in the literary canon. Or maybe she was too successful. The White Cliffs (1940), her novel in verse about the love between an American woman and a British soldier, sold over 700,000 copies world wide, was made into a Hollywood film, and inspired one bookseller to hang up a large notice in his shop: ‘Do not be put off from buying this book by the fact it is in verse.’ However, despite having her name as Associate Editor of The New Yorker, one reviewer of the time admitted that it was ‘difficult for her contemporaries to believe that she is an important artist.’

What Alice Duer Miller’s reaction was to any of this isn’t recorded, but I doubt she spent much time worrying about what people thought of her. Because she wasn’t the type to whine or publicly complain, few people realised that at the time she was writing her pieces for the suffrage moment, she had been financially supporting her husband and their household through her writing for more than ten years, something he admits in his memoir of their marriage, All Our Lives.

She was a great believer in writing to find out what she thought. Her favourite fairytale, apparently, was Cinderella. She called it the ultimate success story, and re-writing it was one of the demands she insisted on when she moved to Hollywood, to the apparent surprise of Sam Goldwyn who had thought that, as a suffragist, she would want to write something more ‘worthy’. However Alice believed that Cinderella had all the elements – her beloved mathematical mix – of the perfect story, not least because at the end, the heroine had triumphed not just over adversity, but over convention.

Triumphing over both difficulties and convention was something she knew all about. ‘Everyone who’s worth anything begins life again somewhere between thirty-five and fifty,’ she wrote, ‘begins it destitute in some important respect.’

Alice Duer Miller died in New York in 1942.

Owning a bookshop? That sounds like a nice thing to do….

Owning a bookshop? That sounds like a nice thing to do….
Owning a bookshop? That sounds like a nice thing to do….

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Amazing the number of people who want to be writers. Or will be, anyway, once they have a bit of time. I imagine it’s almost the same number as want to run a pub or cafe. Although I could never understand that one. Perhaps it was too many waitress and barmaid jobs as a teenager.

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A bookshop though… now you are talking! Or at least that was my dream until I read Shaun Bythell’s diary of being a bookseller in Wigtown, Scotland’s book town.

Admittedly some days sounded idyllic…

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But then you’ve got the customers….

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Not to mention the staff..

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I loved this book – it was funny, interesting, more warm that I think the author was hoping for, but…. it didn’t make me want to be a bookseller. Ho hum. You can buy the book in all sorts of places, of course, but of course, I’d recommend you buy it from Shaun himself here. You don’t have to go there, they have modern things such as the internet in bookshops now, and once you get the book delivered,  you can read all about the Wigtown post office too. Gems all.

And if it doesn’t convince you that running a bookshop is harder than it looks, all that sitting round and reading, well you can always run a bookshop in Wigtown for a holiday thanks to the enterprising Open Book scheme.

As for me, it’s back to the drawing board…

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Using submission calls as a writing prompt – and an invitation

Using submission calls as a writing prompt – and an invitation
Using submission calls as a writing prompt – and an invitation

Here’s a little invitation to come to sit at my table and join my weekly writing group for a session – without leaving your computer.  I thought I might share what I do in the two hours I run the group and perhaps you’ll want to join in with us all…. you may be on a train, you may be at home, or a cafe. You’re welcome wherever, whenever!

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We have been looking at form this term. Last week, we explored Tanka with mixed enthusiasm. This week, I wanted to look at how we write in form naturally, with our own language and unique experience and ability to get our message across.

So the first exercise was to write a list of all the forms of writing each person uses without necessarily thinking about on a day to day basis. This could include thank you letters, health and safety reports, evaluations, tweets, advertising copy etc etc.

Then each writer picked up one of the photographs and postcards I collect and had scattered round the table – obviously you can’t do that, so I suggest you google ‘surreal images’ and pick one.  Don’t try to think too hard, the best results come when you think ‘oh my god, I can’t make this work. I really can’t, this is hopeless…’ until, click, something slips into place.

Because…. you are now going to use one of your written forms and link it to the image. We had some wonderful surprising results – an advert to win an afternoon of someone’s happy childhood, a thank you letter expressing what someone really thinks, a health and safety report for a cow with wings etc etc etc.

Set your timer for eight minutes and go….

Then we read out – with these first draft readings we just listen and admire, rather than comment. It’s always one of my favourite parts.

Following this we read and discussed this piece on actively getting 100 rejections by Deb Wain in Tulpa Magazine, and looked at what it meant – not just shifting the emphasis from product to process but also discipline. It’s part of the writing circle. Too often we can get stuck in freewriting, coming up with the ideas but not finishing them off which uses a different part of the writing brain.

Then we had coffee, filled up our drinks, caught up with other writers for five minutes. It’s not all hard work!

Coming back to the table, I handed out a sheet with these five current (as I’m writing this) submission calls. The writers had to pick one and come up with something then and there. Before they started writing, I discussed how some of my best work has come from commissions – because I often had to work hard to find out how I connected with the subject, where my heart was, why this often random subject could become mine.

So here you go…. good luck! If you need another way into these subjects, I offered that they might go back to the original list of writing forms they wrote at the beginning and use one of them to approach their chosen prompts…

Do let me know if you follow any of these, perhaps send a link if you get one published, and I hope you find this mini writing session helpful! 

 

PICK ONE OF THESE FIVE WRITING PROMPTS TO WORK WITH….

  1. Write inspired by this picture… anything, anyhow… (visualverse.org)

visual verse

  1. Write a piece NO MORE than 300 words using as many of these seven words as you can… (http://newflashfiction.com/)

On December 15th, 2017, we learned through reliable news sources such as the Washington Post that the Trump administration is prohibiting officials at the Center for Disease Control from using seven words in their official documents: The words are as follows: “evidence-based”, “science-based” “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” and “fetus.” This isn’t dystopian fiction. This is real.

  1. Write a non-fiction piece on something beautiful in your every day. It should be 250 words or less. (http://www.riverteethjournal.com/)

Glimpses, glimmers, meditations, moments, reflections, refractions, interrupted shadows, river shimmers, darkened mirrors, keyholes, kaleidoscopes, earring hoops, slabs of cracked granite, cracks where the light gets in. Beautiful things.

  1. Write a poem based on the theme of women’s suffrage – 100 years anniversary… (paperswans.co.uk)
  2. Use ‘contagion’ as your theme…. (http://abridgedonline.com/)

We are intimate with the end of things. Infection comes from close contact. Out of control, it makes us crazy. Suspicion plants its roots deep and spores. Trust nobody. This is the threat. It is enormous but made of tiny things that are everywhere. We speak for it with our words that aren’t ours. Nothing is ours. The threat is panic. What sneaks in will eat us up whole. It is getting too close, it is sticky on our fingertips. Are you afraid of other people? How they touch you, love you, need you, change you? How they look like you and can rearrange you? We come together in touch. This is contagion. Don’t be touched if you want to survive. And you want to survive. With plague comes suspicion, comes isolation, comes hysteria, comes total destruction.

Going out on a playdate….

Going out on a playdate….
Going out on a playdate….

Remember when you were six, and a friend would knock on your door to see if you wanted to play?

 

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That’s what Artists Dates should feel like! Although of course, it’s your own door you are knocking on. (And maybe sometimes slamming it shut? You are too busy, too important, too hard up, too scared, too….. Can you remember what that felt like? When you were told that little Jenny could NOT come out to play right now… Why on earth would you do that to yourself!)

Anyway, what’s exciting about this year’s artists dates is that my clever friend, Meg Sanders, has been joining me as part of a series she’s writing exploring creativity. You can find (and follow) it here. (and you can find Meg on twitter here, so you can be a real follower…)

Meg went right off the deep end, with a list of 100 things you fear (YAY, COME AND PLAY WITH ME, IT’S GOING TO BE FUN…) but I’ve been approaching it more gently. Well hell, it’s my list, I can do what I want.

So here’s the result of my first playdate – a vision board on Pinterest of the kind of 80 year old I want to be. It was a more surprising, more exciting and more inspiring exercise than I could ever have thought. I thoroughly recommend doing it yourself!

And do let me know if you decide to take your self on some playdates… the original list is here.

Below: for your amusement, please find a little snippet of my future self

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Some dates for your diary

Some dates for your diary

2nd February – Poetry Readling
I will be reading as part of a Cultured Llama gathering at the Camden and Lumen series, 7 – 9.30 at Trinity United Reform Church in London. Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Turn left out of the station and you’ll soon find us on the corner of Buck Street on your left)

I’m delighted to be reading alongside these amazing poets – David Cooke, Vanessa Gebbie, Mark Holihan, and Maria C. McCarthy and there will also be an open mic.

Entrance £5/£4

Wine and Soft Drinks Table

All proceeds go to support the homeless in the Cold Weather Shelters


3rd March – An introduction to Writing for Wellbeing

This is a day course looking at how journal writing can be helpful as part of your everyday life. There will be room for discussion and structured writing exercises in a safe group setting. It’s suitable for everyone who already keeps a journal and is looking for more inspiration, or those who are just curious!

Saturday: 10am – 4pm
Course code: 17TON340 – More information on the University of Kent website.
Course fee: £60

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And following demand and continuing the popular series, these on-going sessions are suitable for new and returning students.

More Writing for Wellbeing – Tonbridge
Using journal writing, research and examples, we will explore structured and free exercises that will help with all aspects of your life. Suitable for all levels of writers, from absolute beginners or those wanting a kick-start. There is no obligation to share your work. Warning – writing like this is addictive, life enhancing (and fun)!

What previous students have said:
* “I’ve loved this course! It’s been surprising, inspiring, emotional but above all enjoyable.”
* “I would attend another course by Sarah Salway in a blink of an eye.”
* “Sarah creates exactly the right supportive environment in which people can express themselves and surprise themselves. When’s the next course?”
* Sarah is fantastic. She is able to bring out the best in the student and at the same time make them feel relaxed and at ease!”

6 weeks: 19, 26 March; 9, 16, 23, 30 April
Mondays: 1-3pm
Course code: 17TON339 – more information and booking here.
Course fee:£120

An Inbetween Literary Quiz

An Inbetween Literary Quiz
An Inbetween Literary Quiz

It’s the inbetween week, I always think. Getting rid of most of the Christmas decorations but not quite ready for spring – where robins and tulips share mantlepieces.

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So if you have a few minutes spare, here are a few questions (book themed) from our New Year quiz… no prizes (the coveted bag of brussel sprout shaped chocolates has already been taken) but if you email me, I’ll send you the answers!

1.Top Ten Bestsellers for 2017??? PICK THE REAL FIVE….

  • The Miniaturist by Jesse Burton
  • How to Clean Up Your Life by Kirstie Allsop
  • 5 Ingredients – Quick & Easy Food by Jamie Oliver
  • Bad Dad by David Walliams
  • The Avocado Diet by Jane Kanes
  • The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena
  • Fashion Tips from the Handmaids Tale by Gloria Lines
  • Guinness World Records 2018
  • Urban Streetlight Bathing by Plum Lawrence
  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

 

2. Name the book that has this first line…

  1. “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.”
  1. You don’t know about me, without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that ain’t no matter.”
  1. “It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.”
  1. “It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.”
  1. “Call me Ishmael. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.”

3. Which author has had his/her name on franked envelopes this year?

4. What have these five books below got in common?

* “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” by Thomas Piketty
* “A Brief History of Time” by Stephen Hawking
* “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman
* “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg
* “Flash Boys” by Michael Lewis

5. According to PLR figures, which of these three authors was NOT in the top ten most borrowed in UK libraries. Was it a) Harper Lee b) Lee Child or c) Jeffrey Archer?

ENJOY!