Category Archives: Events

Good news, bad news – Writing for Wellbeing Workshop

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


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.

tilton yoga and writing

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….




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!


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! 



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

visual verse

  1. Write a piece NO MORE than 300 words using as many of these seven words as you can… (

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. (

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… (
  2. Use ‘contagion’ as your theme…. (

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.

52 Artists Dates for 2018

52 Artists Dates for 2018

You are probably aware of the concept of the Artist Date. It was named and made famous by Julia Cameron in her book The Artists Way as a way creative people can fill up their well once a week.

The Artist Date is 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.

The Artist is, of course, YOU and as it’s you and your artist self going out on a date, it’s a rather joyous way of spending time on your own. I do this regularly now, and have got over completely the indecision of what I should do. I’m completely selfish in not allowing anyone to come along with me – this is just for me and artist-me!

Here are my list of 52 possible weekly dates for this year ahead (plus a couple more for good luck). I’d love to know what has worked for you, and what you might add to my list.

1. Write a list of 100 things that would terrify me to do (eg do a stand up comedy act)
2. Have a fancy cocktail in a bar on my own. This one is good!
3. Pick a letter – any letter – and go for a walk to take photographs of things beginning with that letter.
4. Bake bread
5. Swim in a river
6. Swim in a lido – this one?
7. Make a herb garden
8. Take my yoga mat to a park and practise under a tree
9. Buy five books from a charity shop, write a note in each and leave them for others to find
10. Go to a new café and enjoy an excellent breakfast
11. Pack a yummy picnic and a good book to go to a new park, roll out a rug and enjoy
12. Visit the RFL poetry library and choose five books at random to read
13. Make a list of London libraries – go to one I’ve never visited
14. Join in on a life-drawing class
15. Make the kind of dressing up box I wanted as a child
16. Take a selfie dressed as the main character of a book I’m reading
17. Make biscuits and give to friends
18. Go to a public lecture about a subject I know nothing about (not hard!)
19. Visit a cemetery I haven’t been to before and make notes
20. Write a fan letter. Send
21. Enjoy an afternoon watching TED talks
22. Go to a concert of a completely new music to me
23. Take a boat trip
24. Paint or draw a self portrait
25. Write a letter to someone I haven’t seen for ten years
26. Make a playlist of music I haven’t listened to for ten years
27. Plan a road trip round childhood haunts
28. Make a list of 100 things that make me happy
29. Make a miniature garden
30. Go to a candlelit concert at St Martins
31. Learn a poem by heart
32. Record myself reading poetry
33. Go on a guided walk
34. Go to a café and plot out a novel I’ll never write
35. Dance
36. Go foraging
37. Make a list of at least five strangers I speak to today
38. Plant seeds
39. Buy seeds (or visit a seed swap) and make beautiful seed packets to send to friends
40. Got to a chocolate shop and spend a long time choosing just five chocolates to buy
41. Have my own indoor fireworks show
42. Make a photo book of the photographs that make me happy
43. Get a tattoo
44. Go to a matinee
45. Create a vision board on Pinterest for me when I’m 80
46. Create a playlist to give to a friend
47. Buy a second hand book and create a Blackout poem
48. Go to 5 Rhythms dance
49. Go to a park and identify five trees – make a zine
50. Try on an outfit I’d never be able to afford
51. Sit in on a jury trial
52. Go to the opera – research fully beforehand
53. Go to a lunchtime talk at the National Gallery
54. Go to the Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities
55. Find the perfect red lipstick
56. Go to Strawberry Hill
57. Take note of, and research, the statues I walk past every day
58. Go to a market – choose interesting looking items, make a still life. Photograph it.

Creative writing course – 25th July

Creative writing course – 25th July

Just a quick note to confirm this is now sold out. Thanks for all the interest. Do let me know – – if you would like to be on my mailing list for future courses though. 


There are just a few places left for my one day creative writing course on Tuesday 25th July, 11-4pm in Tunbridge Wells.


Come and write with me in my home, with supportive like-minded people – both beginners and published writers. You may have come to one of my courses before, or just looking to try something different, but this is a day of brand new inspiration for both poetry and prose writers using journal techniques and external prompts. We’ll write together, reading out only if you want, and you’ll leave with new ideas in your notebook, some new writers to find out more about and some new exercises to try out on your own.

The cost is £60 including lunch. Do let me know if you’d like a place by emailing me at

Once I hear from you, I’ll send you venue details etc – we are a five minute walk from the train station in Tunbridge Wells, and close to all the shops, cafes etc if you need before or after inspiration!

If you can’t make it, don’t despair! I made a star chart (definitely not just for children) together with daily writing prompts for my regular writing group which finished last week. Email me to be put on my mailing list ( and I’ll send you a copy to get some at-home inspiration!


Get your reading recommendations here…. more books added to the #100women100books library

Get your reading recommendations here…. more books added to the #100women100books library

Following yesterday’s post about our #100women100books library, I’m very pleased to list here some of the recommendations we’ve been getting via our website… ENJOY! And remember, we’ll be giving daily updates of our library on our Facebook page before revealing our whole library on 20th July when I’m off to the Compton Verney‘s Womens Library for our second writing residency there. Below’s a detail from one of the Compton Verney paintings!

Thank you so much to everyone who has contributed.

Book title: Geek Love

Author: Katherine Dunn

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): When I first read this book as a teenager I felt like I had discovered another planet. The Binewski family were so vivid, so fascinating and so real even when I read it again 20 years later. Just incredible.
Chosen by: Cait Morgan


Book title: Good Behaviour

Author: Molly Keane

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): A novel from 1981 by the sharp and witty Irish writer Molly Keane – very funny, and also utterly agonising on family life, as well as wild socialising, and all its ‘glamour and malice’. A keenly intuitive and observant lover of people, food, creatures, mischief and life.
Chosen by: Katherine Pierpoint


Book title: Life After Life

Author: Kate Atkinson

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): Everyone’s life is the result of chance happenings and ‘roads not taken’ (after Robert Frost). This book brilliantly explores these many possibilities in the life of a woman called Ursula whose life spans much of the twentieth century.
Chosen by: Clare Dudman



Book title: Olive Kitteridge

Author: Elizabeth Strout

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): It’s a beautifully written, wonderfully insightful book that follows the life of central character Olive Kitteridge from adulthood through to old age. Olive is a woman as women are, not as she ought to be: she is flawed and fascinating and magnificently human.
Chosen by: A J Ashworth



Book title: To Kill a Mockinbird

Author: Harper Lee

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): I first read the book at 12 years of age when I was at my most ‘priggish’ about what was right or wrong. My moral compass has matured but still consider it most famous quote to ‘walk in another man’s shoes’ as a good guide. I wanted to be Scout

Chosen by: Cas Holmes


Book title: The Road Home

Author: Rose Tremain

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): I loved the way she turns predudice on its head, gifting us a wonderful character and illuminating his situation from the off.

Chosen by Zoe King



Book title: Devil’s Cub

Author: Georgette Heyer

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): Any of he comedies are beautifully crafted and represent the Regency era and the English upper class at its worst and best. She started the regency genre -underrated -writing for her money for her ungrateful family ( I think) she churned them out and surely she is worth a mention somewhere on the list.

Chosen by: Hazel Stewart



Book title: Himself

Author: Jess Kidd

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): This is a rollicking read, with rich language and amazing characterisation of both the living and the dead. It made me laugh and sometimes cry and I loved it.

Chosen by: Cath Barton



Book title: Voyage in the Dark

Author: Jean Rhys

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): Because Jean Rhys wrote about difficult subjects in a time that didn’t want to hear about it, including sexism, discrimination, and that one harrowing illegal abortion scene in Voyage in the Dark. She was incredibly intelligent and she used her own harrowing and bleak experiences as inspiration for her passionate, stylistic and hugely under-appreciated novels.

Chosen by: Holly Anderson



Book title: The Key (And The Name Of The Key Is Willingness)

Author: Cheri Huber

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): It is quite simply the best book on spiritual practice I’ve ever read; brief, clear, down-to-earth (if that doesn’t sound too incongruous for a spiritual book) – and requires no faith in anything unseen, only willingness face what is.

Chosen by: Tim Pieraccini


Book title: The Weather in the Streets

Author: Rosamond Lehmann

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): I read this book (published in 1936) many years ago but it still resonates. It’s about double standards, women’s vulnerability in general and the suffering of a woman after a backstreet abortion.

Chosen by: Patricia Borlenghi


Book title: The Left Hand of Darkness

Author: Ursula K. Le Guin

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): It’s science fiction, it’s queer and it’s about friendship … and such good storytelling. And it is journey … so many topics I dearly love.


Chosen by: Alice Puck


Book title: God of Small Things

Author: Arundhati Roy

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): Because it helped me understand the power and magic of words


Chosen by: Vipasha



Book title: The Red Tent

Author: Anita Diamant

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): No other book has stayed with me like this book. The strong sense of sisterhood mixed with the horror of what happens to the main character, Dinah, is both beautiful and haunting. It made me really appreciate the female friendships I have and realise how I couldn’t survive without the strong, intelligent and courageous women in my life.

Chosen by: Hester Mackay



Book title: Joan Makes History

Author: Kate Grenville

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): This writes women into history, eg when Captain Cook discovers Australia, the woman in the McCubbin painting, The Pioneers, and many more. Intertwined with the story of an ordinary family, with our own moments of history eg moving out of home for the first time,first day of school etc.
Beautifully constructed as usual Kate Grenville.


Chosen by: Joan Ryan

Voting for equality…

Voting for equality…

That’s what I’ll be doing on Thursday. I’m very proud to support our local WEP candidate in Tunbridge Wells, Celine Thomas, – and not just because she’s a lawyer, a parent and volunteers as a support worker for a local charity supporting women affected by domestic violence and has also been involved with supporting local refugee groups. Obviously I’m not telling you how to vote but let me invite you – whatever gender you are – to take a look at how the Women’s Equality Party are doing politics joyfully differently – for BOTH MEN AND WOMEN!

Even if Siobhan Sharpe doesn’t think we look the way a PR thinks we should….

Here’s the manifesto in brief…

1. A caring economy

WE offer a fresh approach that will build a sustainable caring economy that works for everyone.

2. Shared parental leave

WE will implement a fully equal system of nine months shared parental leave on 90% of pay, with a 3-month use-it-or-lose-it provision for each parent.

3. Free universal childcare

WE will implement full-time, high quality, free childcare for all children from the end of shared parental leave.

4. An end to violence against women

WE will repair the broken funding model for specialist services, including services that are for and led by BAME women. WE will put prevention, protection and provision at the heart of all our policies and WE will not rest until all women and girls are free from violence and harassment.

5. Unleashing women’s talent

By reforming our education system and tackling the reductive and often hypersexualised depiction of women in the media, WE will unleash the talent of all.

6. Equality in health and social care

WE will make sure our healthcare system works for women and men  alike, putting the furthest from equality first, and ensure that social care is recognised not as an adjunct to economic activity but as its underpinning.

7. Brexit

WE will build an immigration system with gender equality and social justice at its heart. WE will design trade deals that work for everybody. WE will make sure Brexit does not turn back the clock on gender equality through secondary legislation.

8. Invest in what matters

WE will invest in what matters and make sure our social infrastructure works as well as our physical infrastructure. WE will invest in homes, not houses, and restore our education, health care and social care systems. All our policies are costed and will not increase the burden on low and average income households.

And you can read more on the website here.

Some new writing workshop dates….

Some new writing workshop dates….

It’s spring! So do you want to get a spring  in your writing life? Well, here are some dates for you…

Put some movement in your writing – Saturday 22nd April, Tunbridge Wells

There are still a few places left for the yoga and journal writing workshop this Saturday at the Freestyle Yoga  Project in the High Street, Tunbridge Wells. You can come and join Anna’s wonderful Mellow Yellow class at 1pm and then write with us from 2.15-4.15, or just come for the writing part at 2.15. More details are here, but it’s important to note that this workshop is ideal EVEN if you’ve never done either yoga or writing (or both) before – it’s about opening up your creativity, trying something new and playing both on the page and the mat!


Share a poem – Saturday 29th April and Sunday 30th April, Canterbury

I’m lucky enough to work with the amazing Poetry Exchange who have found a completely new way of introducing and talking about poetry. Book a FREE 45 minute spot with us (I’m with John Prebble on the Saturday, and Victoria Field will be there on the Sunday) at the Wise Words Festival in Canterbury and bring a poem that has been a friend to you to talk about.I promise it’ll be an enriching experience, and you get a special recording of your poem afterwards as a gift.

HURRY THOUGH because these spots do get booked up – click here for the booking info. If you’re not quite in time to catch your spot, you can listen to the podcast here. 


Retreat from the world and nourish your love of words, 10-5pm, Friday 5th May, Canterbury

Last year we were sold out for this workshop in the yurt, and this year places have been going fast. COME AND JOIN Fiona Bennett and I as we encourage you to play with words, write in completely new ways, get tons of new ideas, and just generally spoil your writing self.

The details are here, and all you need to bring is a pen and journal. A CPD certificate is available for this workshop.

Some comments from last year’s participants..

I’ve discovered a new voice that I didn’t even know I could write in. Inspirational.

 I’m coming away with so much potential new work.

 I feel like it’s been much longer than a day, I’ve travelled a long way inside myself and with words.

New dates for Writing for Wellbeing Workshops

New dates for Writing for Wellbeing Workshops

Using writing for self-discovery and wellbeing has always been a cornerstone of my teaching practice. Over the last decade, I’ve been part of the tutor team on the MA in Creative Writing and Personal Development at Sussex University, trained in journal writing with American experts, run writing workshops with different groups ranging from teenage mothers, school disaffected adolescents, gardeners older people, yogis, business people, and PhD candidates in economics, statistics, biochemistry. I’ve worked with people who are confident that they are destined to become bestselling authors and others who come into the room declaring that they feel physically sick just looking at an empty page.

And, through all that, my belief that the act and practice of writing – particularly when guided – can make us more alive, increase our empathy, our self-awareness and even our contentment has grown. Largely because I’d never tell anyone to do anything or write to any prompt that I hadn’t done myself. Many times! My journals have been my very best friends over the years. 


So I’m really happy to tell you about some new dates for workshops and courses coming up. Join me! Let’s write together…


Mat and Page – a yoga and writing workshop 

Saturday February 11th 2.15-4pm

 Freestyle Yoga Project, High Street, Tunbridge Wells

what is it?

After our really successful retreat at Tilton House last year (that’s us writing in the yurt above), Anna, the founder of Freestyle Yoga Project and I have been working together to look more at how we can combine yoga and writing as a way of opening up and writing a new story for ourselves! The session will involve guided journal writing – both for exploration and creativity – and movement. You will be exercising and writing on the mat, with visualisations, breathing, and writing exercises.

do I have to be an expert yogi or writer?

No! We have designed this for both beginners and experts because Anna and I believe that every time you go to the mat and the page, the only person who directs your practice is you. Sometimes we want to challenge ourselves, other times we just want to go back to basics. We always want to be beginners in our practice – both yoga and writing – because that way we can surprise ourselves. It’s a chance to experiment in a friendly safe environment, and also to enjoy it.

where is it?

The Freestyle Yoga Project is in the High Street in central Tunbridge Wells. It is a dedicated yoga studio, with plenty of drop in classes. The best news is that it is only a five minute walk from the train station – with regular services from London. You don’t have to live in Kent to join us!

how do I book?

There are two ways of joining us – either come at 1pm for the one hour Mellow Yellow yoga session, and then stay on for the two hour writing and movement session. OR come at 2.15pm for the second session alone. The writing session is £20, on top of your yoga class. We are limiting the numbers, and have already been taking bookings so do contact us as soon as possible if you would like a place –

  Writing for Wellbeing

March 1, 8, 15, 22 – 1-3pm at University of Kent, Tonbridge Centre.

This is a four week course, based on the acclaimed Journal to the Self © workshop, created by Kathleen Adams. The sessions will support personal growth, creativity and life management skills through different journal writing techniques. These will include character studies, letters, expressive writing, lists, visualisations, stepping stones and springboards.

It is suitable for all standards of writing. For more information and to book, click here or visit the University of Kent, Tonbridge Centre website. Full details of the course are here. 



Here are some lovely things writers have said about past workshops:

“Lovely time writing with Sarah Salway today. It was just like a spa. I came in bombarded by the world and finally felt as if I had two hours where I could think”. TG

A Saturday afternoon in a yoga studio. 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. ND

You are such a generous teacher, it’s a total pleasure to be stretched by you. JW

I am not sure what I imagined but this was beyond my expectations. I think I had expected just to sit writing notes but your talking and exercises certainly made me think. I really hadn’t realised there was so much out there. I didn’t have the tools… but now I do. KB

“This retreat really helped to shake me out of myself and re-gather some perspective. Anna and Sarah were the perfect guides.” Amy

How to get a writing group buzzing

How to get a writing group buzzing

I’m so lucky with my writing groups – and the mix of people who come. One term, I did an exercise on getting them to share what they knew: we had talks on the different kinds of silence (from a psychotherapist), on volcanoes (geography teacher), photo journalism (a photo editor), mughal architecture (journalist), continuity in TV shows (ex-BBC producer) and much more. I suspect that only in a writing group would you get this variety of expertise, and complete equality round the table (I’m including me in that) – when we face the blank page , everyone is forced to go back to the beginning.


And last night, one of our group – step up graphic novelist and beekeeper, Ellen Montelius – was doing a talk about Bees in Winter as part of the artist based Cross Pollination project, so given that it was a Wednesday night and that’s writing night, we held the writing session directly after her lecture. That’s Ellen above, organising a ‘Great British Bake Off’ demonstration on how to make a sugar and water solution to bring exhausted bumblebees back to life. There was a magic moment after this when a woman in the audience demonstrated how she often picked up bees she found on the ground and held them in her hand – her hand was cupped in the air as she showed us, her finger gently stroking an imaginary bee – until the warmth and the sugar she fed them revived what she described as little ‘flying motors’ she could feel whirring against her skin and – she opened her hand then, palm upwards – she could let it fly away.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one hoping to find an exhausted bee on the ground after this, just so I could help bring it back to flight.

So what did we do in the writing session? There was certainly enough material in the talk to generate a hundred stories, but we began by making a word pool. Writing down as many words as we could remember from the talk. Then we went round and shared one of our words, until we had a list of twelve – CLUSTER, WINTER, COTONEASTER, NECTAR, HIBERNATE, SURPLUS, SOLUTION, CHAMBER, TERRACOTTA, STINGING, SOLITARY, DRONE. Good words, eh?

From this we freewrote for six minutes using all the words above but with one rule – we weren’t allowed to write about bees. As a penalty, at the end of the time, I made everyone use all the words they had left from the list in one line of dialogue they had to insert into their piece.

It’s interesting what  happens when we change our own dictionaries. Too often we get stuck on using the same words in our writing, and it can feel stale to us. An exercise like this helps to shake it up, particularly if you take words from one discipline or interest and use them in a new way.

Our final exercise was to take Virginia Woolf’s short story, Kew Gardens, and write from the perspective of the bee – using the words and material we had all gained from Ellen’s talk. One of the things we discussed was how, in Woolf’s story, it is the momentum of the snail throughout the story that allows the reader to keep grounded in what is happening.

We also enjoyed a honey cake Ellen made for us… it’s important to remember all senses when writing…



Lavender Maze, two toddlers run in circles….

Lavender Maze, two toddlers run in circles….


I ran a workshop at the Physic Garden at Westgate Gardens in Canterbury today. That’s the garden above. And the sun shone, and the cake came. Look!


But more importantly poets came too to write with me, some new poets, some already established, some drawn by the plants, others by the words. It’s the joy of the mix always, you can do the same exercise daily with different groups of people and get new results. First off, we mixed body parts with emotions with surprising and beautiful results – Blood is care for others -Fear is red, the moving life force of the body – A heart is a feeling that something good is going to happen… 


Then inspired by Basho, Jack Kerouac and winners of the Iafor Vladimir Devide Haiku Award, we wrote haikus. ‘Walk round the garden now and write ten!’ I demanded. And they did. Sometimes it’s better to write like that, rather than trying to craft something perfect. We concentrated not on the 5-7-5 rule, but catching a moment, conveying an emotion:

on toadstools
read Basho… 


Then after reading them to each other, we wrote our favourites out, turned them into Haiku bunting, which we left behind for others to enjoy and for the wind to blow our words this way and that…


Next we talked about list poems, and hey, we made a group list poem:

We’d like to be kind,
to counteract disunity,
cure the common cold.
We’d like to find a way
to stop people being so angry,
make a remedy for greed,
and living with uncertainty,
in fact we’d want to stop all disease
and then please, to have a peaceful sleep.

Talking of curing things, round the garden, I’d put buckets of poems as remedies. Please pick one, I wrote…


and lots of different people did as the workshop was going on… often stopping to unwind one, read it to each other and then take another. That was beautiful to watch.



For the last exercise, I’d copied Geoffrey Grigson’s descriptions of plants, with their common names. Oh the joy – a poem in the words here alone…


And what we did was to turn the plants into characters – wondering if they wanted to stay where they were planted – examining whether they might want another life – what their secrets might be. What if … what if…

And did I mention we had cake?