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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.


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



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.

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


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

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.

Five things to do with freewrites…. or so you have done a ‘freewrite’, what next?

Five things to do with freewrites…. or so you have done a ‘freewrite’, what next?
Five things to do with freewrites…. or so you have done a ‘freewrite’, what next?


I always use freewrites in my writing classes. They help at the beginning of a class to get us in the mood, to move from the everyday to the writing journal, to help settle us as writers in the energy of the group. Often, to be honest, I find that those six minutes of giving yourself over to the page and not trying to pre-empt or control your writing is valuable enough in itself, but I can also understand the interest in doing something, anything, with this writing.

So here are some of the things we have been working with recently in my regular group. I’d love to know what you do with your freewrites too? There are some recent prompts at the bottom of this post too. I normally set the timer for six minutes, pick one and let my pen move!

Five things to do with freewrites:

1. Go through your writing and underline or circle any phrases or words that have energy for you. Now write one at the top of a new page, and start another six minutes of writing with this as your prompt. The advantage is that this will take you far away from what you normally write about.

2. As above, but this time you’ll use one of your underlined phrases as a title for a new piece. Every time we have done this in my group, we have come up with extraordinary, surprising and often moving titles that we would never have found otherwise. Often the piece they inspire will be surprising too.

3. Read back and reflect on what you have written. Be interested, not judgemental. Kathleen Adams calls this the ‘reflective write’, and suggests taking the phrase ‘When I read this, I am interested in…’ or ‘When I read this, I am surprised by…’ as your starting prompt. The reason for doing this is that you start to mentor your own writing self, noticing what works for you and what doesn’t. It often helps you to pull out the centre, or the heart, of the piece too.

4. For this one you need someone else, but put your freewrite to one side, and in pairs, just talk to one another in turn about what came up from the original prompt. Take it in turns to listen, just that, no interrupting or affirming, while the other one talks. Then you have two options. You can write from what they have told you – a kind of writing/speaking Chinese Whispers, or go back to the page and look at what you originally wrote. It’s fascinating to see a) what sticks from our writing, and b) the differences in how we ‘speak something’ and how we write it.

5. If you are in the middle of a large piece of fiction, a novel or a short story, then use the prompt to freewrite as if you were one of your own fictional characters. Get into their heads and use first person and follow the freewrite rules – don’t let your pen stop, don’t censor yourself, don’t read back as you’re writing. It may be that you won’t use anything you’ve written, but you’ll get to know your characters so much better. It’s particularly useful for minor characters who still need to be three-dimensional, and helps in getting their voice correct but also mining those small details that bring your writing to life.

Twenty-Five Freewrite Prompts

*          A collection of…
*          In a year’s time…
*          My first home…
*          My favourite smell is…
*          I want…
*          Liar liar, pants on fire
*          When I was twelve…
*          I want to explore…
*          These things I have loved (Rupert Brooke)
*          The first time I…
*          I read because
*          My life in numbers…
*          It’s been along time since…
*          If I had longer, I would write about…
*          Shut your eyes and think of shapes, now pick the one that keeps
coming to you – oblong, square, round, and freewrite from that…
*          The language of home…
*          I hate it when…
*          Ten things I will not think about in my last seconds of life…
*          You don’t know me but we could be friends…
*          If I could change anything in the world, I would…
*          The last time I danced…
*          Things to do today
*          The things I carry (physical or beliefs)
* My brush with fame
* Ten snapshots from yesterday

Books and cake in Tunbridge Wells

Books and cake in Tunbridge Wells

I’m so enormously proud when I hear stories of how writers who’ve attended my courses have gone on to do good things. It’s not about taking the credit, anyone who has even tried to write will know you really do it all by yourself at the end of the day! But – maybe because of that – it’s a long solitary journey and it’s nice to have been along for a little of the ride! So meet Tanya Van Hasselt, and her two novels:

All Desires Known jpeg front coverOf Human Telling jpeg front cover (2)

Now, for people in Tunbridge Wells, you have the chance to get signed copies of Tanya’s books this weekend (Saturday 1st July) with the money going to West Kent Mind. Here’s what Tanya says:

“In recent years I’ve been involved in raising money for various mental health charities, mostly through King Charles the Martyr church monthly charities scheme.

We’ve got our church fete this coming weekend Saturday July 1st 12 noon until 3pm. The fun and games are all in the church hall in Warwick Park but in the main church building we have got a few charity stalls and homemade cakes – and me at a table selling copies of my two novels All Desires Known and Of Human Telling at cut price and 100% in aid of West Kent Mind, the local mental health charity. West Kent Mind is trying to expand its work in the area to fill in the gaps left by the overstretched NHS  – much needed, especially given today’s news about this area having to send more people out of the area for treatment than any other…”

Things overheard

Things overheard

We all know what street photography is now, but what is the term for someone who overhears things? A street listener, maybe. I prefer that to a snoop anyhow!

Here are a few of the things people said in town today as  I passed with my evil little notebook…

  • Just stop crying and smile so I can take a photograph
  • It’s a name of a small river in Sheffield. I just don’t know why I remember it so well.
  • Look there’s the Easter bunny! Oh, too late.
  • Funny, Mum, how it used to be me who held your hand when we crossed the road. Now, it’s the other way.
  • Never again. Until tonight.
  • I hate her. She thinks I’m her best friend but I’m not.
  • Is it wrong of me to fancy Boris?

Each snippet is a little story in itself, apart from the last one to which the answer is emphatically YES! AND NEVER MENTION THIS AGAIN.

An invitation if you been on one of my courses, or worked with me…

An invitation if you been on one of my courses, or worked with me…

Last night, sitting round the Wednesday Writing Table, we decided to open a Facebook group to share writing information (submission calls, competitions, new magazines, readings etc), our good news, our sulks, writing prompts, and maybe even to ask for and give feedback advice on work in progress. If you have been to one of my courses, I’d like to invite you to join us in the ‘Salon’ too. It’s currently a closed group so if you are on Facebook and would like an invitation, do leave a comment here or message me on Facebook (probably best via Sarah Salway’s Writing).