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More poetry, more shops….

More poetry, more shops….
More poetry, more shops….

The virtual Tunbridge Wells Poetry Trail continues now that the shops are… slowly… taking the poems down!

Here’s a poem for Le Petit Jardin, who sell these beautiful glass drops still made in Syria.


 Bright Lights
Julia Wheeler

Old Town Damascus –
cardamom, shisha, tooth grins,
a cave of a shop;
kitsch bubble clusters,
glass icicles dangling low.

Our turning rucksacks
threaten to shatter the peace,
‘No matter,’ he smiles.
We choose what we can carry,
wrapped, with care, in last week’s news.

Home; clear drops hang on
fragrant spruce, ribboned gifts beneath.
Logs glow, twinkling children gaze
as fairy lights create sparks
for Syrian memories.

Now each December
I re-read last decade’s news;
the smudged type tattered
as print predicts future hurt.
With care, rewrapped in darkness





One for Oak and Interiors (above), who sell wooden and interesting objects, including tables.

Grandmother’s Table
Anne White

Standing central in the kitchen,
taking your space,
solid legs
now a bit wobbly.
Smooth still though your gnarled
and wrinkled grain
is comforting to the touch.

Once a young tree
held in a cupule, fed from forest soil
to become strong, elegant, tall.
Green branches reaching
across the forest
caressing other branches,
your heartwood honed, captured, carved
to a fine shape,
admired and coveted.

Marks of children, grandchildren
tales of endless meals prepared,
the chopping of the axe replaced by knife.
Tired now
sleepy meals for one.


And Darling & Wild, the florist, a poem by Jackie Heath




And then there is the Cake Shed, with a poem by Catherine Douglas, the beautiful background is painted by the artist Sophie Douglas




Here’s one for Peter Speaight the Butchers…

A bicycle, a basket and four bowler hats
Sue Hatt

‘You can’t miss it.’ I did.
I was looking for what I expected.
What I found was magic:
a white mouse on a mission.

Every day he travels round the circuit
in his railway carriage, looks out the window,
makes notes, draws pictures, smiles. He holds
lifetimes of experience in his hands:
there’s no restricted zone. No parked ideas.

At night he tries out new recipes – tastes
spices and herbs: cinnamon, oregano,
rosemary and thyme. He polishes the links
in the chains, listening to his inheritance tracks.

The customers all watch him, he draws them in.
His window startles – his bicycle and basket
set the theme; the golden pastries are
pat-a-cake prizes for mother and me.

Inside the shop the young man makes welcome,
gives good will and sells nourishment.
Behind him the four bowler hats and the portrait
of the chicken view the scene, hatch plans,
converse with the mouse, shape the future.


And last but not least on this bit of the virtual tour, one for Mirror Beauty. Anyone from Tunbridge Wells recognise themselves…!


Poetry, shops and Tunbridge Wells….

Poetry, shops and Tunbridge Wells….
Poetry, shops and Tunbridge Wells….

Over the weekend, it’s been such a pleasure to see more poetry in Tunbridge Wells, and lovely that the first Tunbridge Wells Poetry Festival was such a success. Thank you Sarah and Paper Swans!

A joy too to see our Poetry Trail in action, and actually catch REAL people reading them…

If you missed the trail, then here are four of the poems, and I’ll be posting more over the rest of this week…

For Chegworth’s Farm shop...

This is how I got out of the woods
Clare Law

These woods are strange and I think I might be lost.
There was a path behind me. Now there’s not.
I stand. I listen. Hear the ants at work.
A breeze scampers through the top branches.
Wait, don’t go. Help me– It’s gone.
I smell nothing but sun on dark, damp places.
Then the forest floor breaks open before me, just a little.
Pine needles roll to left and right.
A few oyster mushrooms push through the mulch,
shaking the soil off their wedding suit grey sleeves.
Pied-de-mouton steps up and now come chanterelles,
their apricot scent trailing a little behind.
Girolles follow at a discreet distance.
Bumbling porcini shove gently between mushrooms chestnut and white.
And here’s wide capped portobello calling on me to follow.
Polite, insistent, they roll over snatching briars so that I can pass.
Insistent, polite, they wait while I start to clamber over a vast fallen trunk,
change my mind and go around.
And when I stop, perplexed, they crowd around my feet,
kind and curious as sheep.
And when I go on, they tumble onward like a guiding stream
until at last there is no more forest.
They see me safe to the edge of the wood,
then vanish before I can thank them.

For Arte Bianca…

My Mediterranean Diet
Angela McPherson

My soul can find no staircase to Heaven unless it be through Earth’s loveliness
– Michelangelo

I wander Tuscan hills to find Heaven
in fields where poppies bloom
butterflies quiver
and bees contentedly pollinate
In hilltop towns populated by church spires
I fulfil dreams and make memories
evoked by red petals frolicking in sunshine
that twinkle and scintillate in my glass of Chianti

I sail the Calabrian Coast
and gaze on majestic mountains
from where church bells call me
to explore monasteries and mediaeval castles
that nestle on crags where time has little meaning
but life is nourished in noisy Piazzas
where I store up fun filled memories
to be evoked by bergamot flavoured tea
the taste of porcini mushrooms
and ambrosial sensual gelato

I explore Florence
where Renaissance masters sculpted treasures
embodied in David’s statue
carved from marble deemed damaged and worthless
he now stands gazing into the distance
a symbol of strength, beauty and virility
that evokes what it is to be human
and entices me to celebrate with King Barolo
the quintessence of full–bodied wine

And so it is in Italy I find my staircase to Heaven

For Hall’s Bookshop

Halls of Books
Caroline Auckland

Between Church, Chapel and Gin shop lies heaven
where the bibliophile comes to pray
using an exercise regime of a forward bend until only the torso is visible
extending head to the right, eyes are lost in the world of books.
Library steps, directionless orphans until manoeuvred
a bag rest
a book rest
a stairway to bookshelves of discovery
readers perform pliés to access lower shelves.

Books stand to attention, spines shouting,
making connections as section headings issue instructions:
Slaughter the Sibling in Fiction
Edible and Poisonous Fungi, not eat me, drink me, but read me.
Plucked with outreached fingers they open themselves up
offering therapy for the reader
spilling all contents, their frontispiece an invitation to name names
tissue guards illustrations of detail
endpapers indicate the quality of their creation.

Go downstairs on stairways that twist and turn to posters from films
where Ian Fleming decries ‘You only live twice !’
But here you can live again and travel through books of your life
with Morocco bindings. Instead of falling down a rabbit hole
climb a wooden staircase to find Alice in Wonderland
while Arabian Nights twinkle with gold foiled blocking
along pine corridors lined with Harry Potter, Dickens and Mein Kampf.
The Cadaver of Gideon Wyck and Mesmerism in India
lull readers to browse to the music of words, Bowie, Bolan and the Sex Pistols.

Here, dear reader, your dreams are the stuff of magic, history and nightmare.
And hunger for the smell of books drives the addict to possessive desire.
Architectural glass cases, with their own locked front door,
store the bricks and mortar of Kent’s millionaire rows of local history
where the great and good are labelled valuable,
slightly decreased by the graffiti of marginalia.
This is where books come to mature,
rare or peculiar with
top notes, chipping, scuffing, browning
base notes, flaking, faded, foxing
develop, valuable descriptions for collectors as they scan virtual folios online.
And an affectionate father’s cursive script to his Charlotte, 1845, reminds
how to Gift a book – even by Edgar Allan Poe-
is merely to borrow from the chaotic library of life.

For the Fairfax Gallery:

Rennie Halstead

The gallery beckons, calls me.
I dive into colours,
drawn into avenues of trees,
misty beaches, crowded streets,
lose myself in skies and seascapes,
flowers and breeze.

I am a child again,
walking in enormous woods,
shades of blue within the green,
bluebells at our feet.
Cool observant owls watch from the trees,
blackbirds scold until we leave.

By the harbour the seagulls mew
fighting for scraps, watching for boats
or picnickers with soft white bread,
a squabbling squall.

A beach stretches into the mist
out of sight.
A girl sits abandoned, forgotten, waiting
Waiting for a careless lover.

The bell rings, calling me back, the magic fled.

The Tunbridge Poetry Trail

The Tunbridge Poetry Trail
The Tunbridge Poetry Trail

So twenty poets met up with twenty shops, and from 14th – 17th June, there will be twenty poems in shop windows up Chapel Place and down the Pantiles. Can you find them all? Here are the shops and here are the poets…

poetry trail poster

And twenty isn’t  a trick, we have a late addition to the trail – Poem No 20 is 29 The Pantiles, with a poem written by … me! And in the meantime, here are some of the poems already spotted in the ‘wild’:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We’ll be using #TWPoetryTrail to catch everyone’s posts on social media, so do tell us which ones you’ve spotted.

Of course, hopefully it will inspire you to write your own poems – there’s still time to book on to some of the fab workshops being run during the Tunbridge Wells Poetry Festival.

And lastly, a big thank you to the Times of Tunbridge Wells for this lovely coverage today.


A poetry trail round Tunbridge Wells

A poetry trail round Tunbridge Wells

From 14th – 17th June, there’s a poetry festival in Tunbridge Wells – hurrah! So to celebrate, the writers in my two writing groups are running a poetry trail.


Nineteen shops running down Chapel Place and on The Pantiles will feature a poem in their windows, all written specially for them by a member of the group. We have a butcher, bookshops (x2), gin bar, garden shop, boutique, bed shop, art gallery, jeweller, camera shop and many more. Here’s the full list of shops, with the poets below.

poetry trail poster

And here’s one of the poems – Framptons is based in a building which used to be a bank, and you can still see the safe…

Framptons Café Bar & Kitchen
Dagmar Seeland

Money doesn’t talk here
Now it quietly walks in,
suit crumpled from the train,
loosens its tie
orders some wine
sits down
by the window.

This isn’t a statement
sort of place:
all exposed brick
and reclaimed wood,
where interest is shown
not accrued
and hugs are still
legal tender.

They don’t provide loans
(please don’t ask)
and banter is all
they exchange.
That gun by the bar
is there not by chance:
they use it for shooting
the breeze.

Money doesn’t really talk here
though some say they can hear
a soft murmur
from the safe over there
late at night;
perhaps it’s the spirits

Do come along and read more, and tell us what you think!


Hey Hay!

Hey Hay!
Hey Hay!



I’ve stolen that title from our family Hay Festival WhatsApp group (that’s us above). Looking through the messages now back at home, they read like some kind of frenetic found poem…

Where is everybody?
We are just listening to a cool 103 year old woman.
Same place
We have a table
We are in the queue
We are too
We have seats by us
Love Laura Bates
We are in and have seats by us
Enough for 8?
It’s now at the Wales stage
We can see you
That’s what I just walked out of
Armed police for ours
Where is everybody?
I’m sampling cheese near the tata tent
I’m hiding from the crowds


And so on…. It was my first time at the Hay Festival. I think it was always something I’ve thought about often a bit like the moon shining, ‘oh, look at that’, and suddenly I’m there, walking on…


… the muddiest field you can imagine!

But bad weather at Hay seems to be a bit like a badge of honour, and besides it was the talks we had come for. So here are just four of my highlights…

Sarah Corbett and Craftivism: Shouty protests can be easy to ignore, but to ask questions and listen to the answers is more effective. She works with psychology – what will be the best way to get this particular person to change their mind. And I loved how with a protest involving embroidered handkerchiefs given to each of the M&S board in an effort to get them to introduce the living wage, she asked the craftivists (the people embroidering) questions to mull over as they worked. Book brought.


Laura Bates with Owen Sheers: To be honest, my husband had come for Owen Sheers and Welsh poetry. ‘Who’s she?’ he whispered, but by the end he’d become a fervent fan of the woman who started #everydaysexism too. Again, she works not exactly with gentleness, but certainly with understanding and humour. The first question was from a father (please don’t say you’re here only because of your daughter, we all silently whispered) but he had two sons. What could he do? LB suggested pointing out things like the odd fact that celebrity magazines are signposted for women, political and economic magazines for men, and making a joke of it. Making the noticing the norm. Book brought.

Diana Coyle: For one glorious moment, the whole audience understood everything about the GDP, it’s failings and what might take its place. The fact that takings from illegal drug dealing and prostitution are included in our GDP, but not informal care or work in the home is something I came away wanting to find out more about. And also why our politicians aren’t braver, but just tinker round the edges.  That’s the power of a good teacher. Book brought.

Elif Shafak: Pure joy to listen to her talk about culture, poetry and religions. To see her listen so intently to the questions and actually answer what people had asked. Two books brought.

I was also lucky enough to sit in on two Writers at Work sessions, a scheme at the Hay Festival run by the amazing Tiffany Murray. Ian McEwan and Roddy Doyle spent an hour answering questions from the 15 or so writers, about anything and everything. It was so generous and inspiring. Among the points to take away from these sessions – Roddy Doyle saying he doesn’t write about issues but about characters who may or may not be confronting these issues, and Ian McEwan saying how Atonement started as a science fiction short story, set 200 years in the future. Then when that wasn’t working, he thought that the ‘girl in the library’ may have a sister…


Then there was Benjamin Zephanah (soft focus photo partly from the fact he didn’t stop moving and also some cider may have been involved)… Many books already bought.

And that’s of course the heart of it – books. It was seeing everyone reading – sharing lines they loved, pressing books on one another, small children shaking because they were in a queue to see their favourite author (heck, adults same), learning new things, possibilities and ideas from books, or just sitting in some corner, completely on their own as the crowds whirled round them, transported into a new different world.


I can’t wait for next year!


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