Tuesday 13 December 2011

Inspiration and Second Chap

Ma's work circa mid 1970s. Wool and net on linen.

My mum is a stitcher too - I just discovered this at her best friends house - never noticed it before. She said, 'oh, I only made it from a kit,' but isn't it amazing? Again, my phone's camera doesn't really capture it. The trees and sunset are made from layers of net - I love the effect and the colours.

My big sister, Elizabeth Ruth, 1978

My first chapbook is inspired by Elizabeth's story - Good Condolences. See earlier blog post

My latest stitching experiment. Cotton threads on canvas.

I tried to stitch the phone from Good Condolences' cover free-hand...turns out that with as few wobbles, I could. I am hoping to create a series of canvases to accompany my chapbooks. Watch this blog for more info.

Swallow - front
Swallow - back
And finally, my second chapbook is finally for sale on Etsy!

Thursday 24 November 2011


I wish I could do something cool like free-running, but I can't. I can do free-stitchin'.

Inspired by a college art exhibition in Mdina, Malta - I have had a go at stitching on canvas. My efforts are not any where near as good as those of the art student in Mdina, but whatev - she's probably got younger fingers. I wondered about drawing the design on first, but I thought it would probably show outside the thread lines. So, instead, I went for it free-style and stuck to shapes I was already familiar with drawing. Here are the results:


SWALLOW Hirundo rustica

All three...

Looking at these on the screen, I am pretty appalled at the quality of my photography. Part of the problem is that it's dark a lot of the time and daylight is the only good light for photographing things, but partly it's because I am rubbish at it. These do look a bit better in real life - and will be for sale at No10 in Bath on Saturday. 

It was only when I came to doing the third canvas that I thought I could link to my chapbooks - I might try to improve my stitchery and make some more linked pictures. Hope you like them!

Monday 7 November 2011

Cover and Coloured Card

Da-da! Below is Chapbook Two, SWALLOW Hirundo rustica

After another holiday, I finally got around to finishing the 'difficult second chapbook.' I don't think it's really appropriate for me to allude to writing a novel - I have never done it - and the idea gives me the shivers. But, I have struggled to get this second one finished, it seems like forever since I sat up late writing the actual story - all the other stuff takes the time. I think at present, though, I wouldn't have it any other way - I like making things start to finish. 

I am currently printing out a final draft with page numbers - the 'dress rehearsal copy' for my sister/copy editor to have a look at tomorrow. I had a lot of hassle trying to source recycled coloured card (that will fit through my printer - kindly given by my boss, Dan). I have found some lovely companies making lovely recycled paper and card - but so far none of it has fitted the bill. I'm really sad about this, because I would love to use recycled paper and card. I will keep looking...

I spent ages on the pictures in this book - I never realised I was a perfectionist until I started writing and I never knew that I was a special kind of perfectionist until I started making chapbooks.  

Still, SWALLOW will be on sale by the end of the week on etsy (I hope) and you can judge for yourselves if it is as good as the last one (if you thought that one was good). I am also sending a few copies down to No10 in Bath. There will be heaps of gorgeous things for sale with tea and cake. I can't make it, sadly, but my little books will be winging their way there shortly. 

Alongside the books, some of my embroidery will be for sale (photos coming soon). I was inspired at an exhibition in Malta to sew on a pre-stretched canvas - so I've been having a go at that. 

Tuesday 18 October 2011

Sylvanian Families and a week in the Lakes

Early story-making - I had this very model of Sylvanian Families caravan - now a museum-piece! The beaver family lived in it - Mum, Dad and the little girl beaver, Lily. Beavers in a caravan - why not? It got a bit broken when we lived in Texas, but our neighbour fixed it with match sticks and glue.

Having bought lots of baby Sylvanians with my pocket money - and no parents to go with them - I had to build an orphanage for them. A lady rabbit was in charge - she was a very nice lady and not a harridan like the ones in the Anne of Green Gables books.

I saw this at a cafe in the Lakes. Something to think about when you're making art and trying to one day sell it, or not sell it, or give it away...or...

A very bleak but very exciting spot - Hardknott Pass in Cumbria. I couldn't help thinking of the lost 9th legion and how *cold* it must've been for those Romans used to the continental sun. Thank you Rosemary Sutcliff.

Monday 3 October 2011

An exciting week!

When I started out at this writing lark, I wasn't sure what I wanted in the long run but I came to realise that I wanted my work to appeal to lots of people, not just a niche group. That sounds very worthy, doesn't it? I phoned my mum from a pavement in Norwich, walking back from a shopping trip, I imagine, and I said I didn't want to write something that only academics would want to read. I said I want people to understand it. My mum laughed and said 'well, you're not exactly well-versed in the classics.' This comment - along with the one about my being not stupid but lazy - has stuck with me, because it made me relieved and a bit cross at the same time. So I sat down to write with an eye on my rather small bookcase of half-read books and a smile on my face...

So this is an exciting week because I know a handful of academics liked my little book, but I also know that Lauren Laverne (of BBC 6 music and TV fame) loves it too! She mentioned it as part of  her column in Grazia Magazine, so I had a happy morning driving into town to pick up a copy and treating myself to a little gloat (I was sharing a page with Bridget Riley!!)

From Grazia 27th Sept 2011

Back to my project or 'blogject' - I have almost completed the images for SWALLOW, and I have started thinking about the third chap. 'Chap Three' will be a re-writing of a story I started at university - there will be clematis leaves and a bicycle.  

Couldn't wait till daylight to take a proper photo - but it's just a pastel sketch - I love a clematis!

Wednesday 21 September 2011

The 'fragility of life' and a bit of embroidery...

I have been out of the 'information superhighway's blogosphere' a little bit lately and haven't felt like there's much to write about. But if I lose momentum with writing this blog it will be like all the skincare regimes I've ever tried - it will come to an end. 

I haven't managed to get much done on my illustrations, but have played a lot with my new camera... And have started thinking about chapbook number three. Since working in this medium I have noticed something quite interesting (to me) - I have been working on images sometimes before text and I have taken a lot longer over those images. I don't mean images of scenarios or stories, but cover images for the little books. An image for the cover of number three is forming in my head at the moment - it's a tingly feeling!

I promised myself that I would address another comment that came up after my reading at Greenbelt. Someone mentioned that both the extracts I read dealt with the idea of the 'fragility of life.' I'm sure this is right, and I fear that all my work is like that. One of my big worries is that I am writing the same thing over and over again, but I hope that someone will tell me if this is the case. Over the last few years, I have become increasingly excited by the seasons and the natural world. Not wishing to sound too much like Henry David Thoreau, I spent some time one summer repeatedly drawing the clematis leaves outside my window. There is, of course, a long, long tradition of 'writing about nature' (I'm sure there's an expression for this), but I have only recently begun writing with the natural world in mind. With the seasons in the back of my mind, then, the fragility of life comes to the fore whether I like it or not. And life is fragile, isn't it?

Below is a rather primitive embroidery project I started last year, my mum is a great one for cross-stitch, but I thought I'd have a go without a pattern and with just the threads an old lady gave me. It's drawing on fabric, with a needle. Some of the shapes are a bit dodgy, but I am rather pleased with the result (however unfinished)... I realised whilst doing this embroidery that I can do what I like with plants and flowers when I draw them. You can see here clematis leaves, rose hips and holly leaves - why not? They are all pretty shapes and I like pretty shapes!

Should have ironed this...

A bit of a close-up!

Sunday 4 September 2011

An Online Identity?

Top of the village - a telegraph pole and a dramatic August sky
Just over the village bypass there is a small hill where you can see several farms. There are big skies, winds, silences and telegraph poles. Work has halted on the Swallow illustrations this week, since I've been working on another little project, but I hope to get back on it soon.


Continuing from my last post - Greenbelt 2011:

Last week at the festival I read passages from both my chapbooks. I always enjoy reading my work and I love hearing what people have to say about it. The questions afterwards were very interesting - not least one about my 'online identity.' I hadn't before consciously considered this blog or my website as my online identity - but of course, that's what they are. I associate myself with other writers by using quotations and making references. I don't know exactly why I bristled at the idea of my having an 'online identity,' perhaps I was thinking of online avatars or the Great Oz hiding behind a curtain. Perhaps I need to re-think my opinion of the Great Oz. I never meant to associate myself with other writers in order to suggest I'm as good as them or belong in their company (I'm only a beginner) - but I have always thought it a waste of time to re-write things that other people have written well to begin with. I'm not sure if I explained myself every well and perhaps I misunderstood the question - I'm still puzzling it out. The idea of being 'challenged' is overused, I think, but in the absence of a better expression, I will say that I was challenged and I like a challenge! I will try to explain and understand this identity I've created - I hope it's not a monster.

I got into the habit of beginning essays with quotations at university and I have begun sticking quotations onto the beginning of stories too - it makes them seem whole to me and also shows some of my workings - like in an algebra exam. I love other peoples words and I stick them all over the place, so I can keep them for later if I need them. I think my friends and family are bored of me putting them in cards and letters, so I'm going to share some on here instead. Perhaps the quotations work as prompts too - or reminders - like essay titles. Reference points to work back to while I'm writing. 

My two chapbooks include epigraphs. My mum always says (and my mum's mum) that once you've put on all your jewellery for the evening, take one thing off. So for example, if you've got your earrings, bracelets and necklace on, you probably don't need your tiara. So I had a huge collection of what I thought were appropriate quotations and whittled them down to three for each book. Three might sound like a lot, but I am greedy (you'll have to get the books to see what they are)! 

More ramblings soon - I'm going to put down my loud hailer and get back behind the curtain. 


If you'd like to hear my reading from Greenbelt 2011: Letterboxes and Lighthouses, it costs £3.50 to download (proceeds go to making Greenbelt Festival). Last year's reading is up there too for download. I read from Two Lights, my collection of stories inspired by the paintings of Edward Hopper.

Monday 22 August 2011

A title!

I've been frantically trying to finish my chapbook and have finally decided on the title - 

SWALLOW Hirundo rustica:
nests singly and in small, loose colonies

I might even be ready to unveil the cover soon <ta-daa> But I am just sending PDF copies off to friends for a bit of proof-reading. It is useful to have clever friends! Here is a sneaky peek at one of the images from inside - 

I have been rushing around with fine-liners and coloured paper (for possible covers), popping things in and out of the scanner and sizing and re-sizing on photoshop, because I am speaking at 21:30 on Sunday night at the Greenbelt Arts and Music Festival in Cheltenham. Back in March or sometime, I submitted the title of my slot as 'Lighthouses and Letterboxes,' suitably and inevitably vague. Since then I have thought a bit more about what I'll say and so I'll be reading from Good Condolences and SWALLOW Hirundo rustica (the new one), and will probably say a bit about chapbooks in general.I have still got much to do and am about to print out a hard copy to give out for friends to mark-up. I don't think the hard copy will be ready for the festival *sigh,* but I will certainly be reading from it if there is time!

I will also be helping out, Andy Tate, by reading some poetry and prose extracts as part of his talk 'All families are psychotic' on Monday at 16:00. Things I'm most looking forward to are Show of Hands, Billy Bragg, The Unthanks, and the occasional appearance by Bob Harris. It's going to be a great festival...perhaps when I get back I'll be able to finish the little chap! I've got dried fruit soaking for a festival fruit cake and need to get organised with my new plastic cups and my folding toaster!

P.S. The observant may notice a new title for my blog too - the other one was vague to say the least, this one is a bit better, I think.

Wednesday 10 August 2011

Dreams of Home: Tobias Wolff, Elbow and G. K. Chesterton

Arch stopped and looked down the garden to where the headmaster stood by the drinks table with another master. The headmaster said, Late for his own funeral! and everyone laughed, and then he put his glass down and came toward Arch with both hands outstretched. Though the headmaster was the younger man, and much shorter, and though Arch was lame and had white hairs coming out of his ears and white stubble all over his face, he felt no more than a boy again--but a very well-versed boy who couldn't help thinking of the scene described by these old words, surely the most beautiful words ever written or said: His father, when he saw him coming, ran to meet him.  
Tobias Wolff, Old School

When I was a student, my essays were effectively lists of quotations taped together with one or two sentences of reiteration.  The quotation above is one of my favourite passages of all time and happens to be from one of my favourite books. Wanting to copy this passage out for you, I opened the book to find, along with some underlining in pencil, the word 'home' scrawled in the margin.

You're a law unto yourself and we don't suffer dreamers
But neither should you walk the earth alone
So with finger rolls and folding chairs and a volley of streamers
We can be there for tweaks and repairs should you come back home

We got open arms for broken hearts
Like yours my boy
come home again
Elbow, Open Arms
Elbow are the new chocolate for me - here is an example of succinct and succulent lyrics suitable for any occasion. I would copy all the lyrics , but I want you to go and buy their albums (I still eat chocolate, by the way).

The home is not the one tame place in a world of adventure; it is the one wild place in a world of rules and set tasks.
G. K. Chesterton
This is the second time I've referenced Chesterton in my blog, but I wanted to share this quotation because it addresses the idea of home with a sidways glance. I know very little about G. K. - but this line builds an image in my mind of a child sitting in a large windowseat with a book clamped in their fists.

Having been away for a week in fragrant Cornwall and Devon (the West Country is a kind of home for me), I am easing myself into work again. Sketches and ideas gradually emptied themselves into my notebook while I sat on the train to and from and I hope to translate them soon into something you can share.

If you haven't taken a train journey in a while - do it. There are views to view and fascinating people to meet - favourites this trip were the coastal track around Dawlish and the man who taught me a magic trick!

Sunday 31 July 2011

'"Hope" is the thing with feathers'

'"Hope" is the thing with feathers'

'Hope' is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I've heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of Me.

- Emily Dickinson
I'm going to lay something out right now - I'm a bit frightened of poetry. I am afraid, always, that I won't understand it. So I only read it on my own and I don't usually talk about it in case I get out of my depth. I feel the same way about poetry as I do about wine - I like a good red, but I don't know which is which and I wouldn't know what to choose on a list.

However, if I am at home alone secretly reading poetry to myself, I love to feel it wash over me like warm water.  I recently purchased a very geeky book called The Poetry of Birds - and dipping into it, I found the above poem by Emily Dickinson. It's like a painting in my head - and I want to keep it there, so I have been reading it over and over again. Like beloved songs, I like to hammer in poems if I like them - nuggets to save for later, like the taste of a good meal. So more poems may appear - but not of my own making - I'd like to have a go, but would not make any efforts public!

To the matter in hand - my second chapbook is well on its way. I have finished a working draft, but it is sitting to 'proof' like a loaf of bread. I have been working on the images to go inside - no previews available yet - since everything is all still on old-school paper at present - but I might post something soon. 

N.B. I'm writing this as if someone is reading it, which makes me laugh a bit, since I'm pretty sure nobody is... But it's easier to write for an audience than just for myself, so I'll keep going.

Friday 22 July 2011


I aim to write a short post this week because sitting in front of the laptop is uncomfortable. I have just emerged from a lovely hot bath (with make-shift jacuzzi jets) and will now probably undo all my good work, sitting here, typing this.

This week I have had a bad back. Badass Back. I have had a Bad Neck lots of times - it hurts a lot, but it doesn't stop you doing things. A Bad Back does. So, not one to waste physical pain, I have been thinking more about my next chapbook. I am interested in ageing. I am a person of only just thirty, but I am appalled by the cruelty of ageing - you learn how to do all kinds of things and then you do them for a bit and then you gradually can't do them anymore. I get cross about this as I see friends unable to do things they once could. But I am also consistently astonished by peoples' ability to cope and to get on with things.

This week I read a beautifully written book by Mal Peet called Life: an exploded diagram - a tantalising book in many ways and one that does not deny hope in extraordinary circumstances.

Finally I read Issue 28 of Ker Bloom!, a gorgeous letterpressed zine from Pittsburgh. Well worth a look, if only for the production. The zine has been running bi-monthly since 1996 - quite an achievement!

Thursday 14 July 2011

Late nights and being grown-up

I have got a solar-powered spot light that I use on my desk for late-night writing sessions. These sessions are few and far between, but seem to work quite well - perhaps I like the idea that everyone else is asleep while I cook up stories and imagine possible covers. 

For my next chapbook a cover image came to mind long before a story. I've managed to sketch out the cover, but now I'm working on the story - not so easy! When I write I usually start with a remark, or a question and the rest builds from there. But recently I've been trying to focus a bit more and be more 'grown up' about structuring my stories. This being grown up is not as boring as it sounds - it's really about thinking of a story and then telling that story rather than trying to be clever and stumbling around in the dark. I found an old notebook recently from my time at UEA. Patricia Duncker told us that its 'grown up' to have a beginning, middle and end to our stories. The point is to finish - so it's important to think through the whole structure. 

I am also trying not to be lazy. I have never subscribed to the idea of having to wear my pajamas to write, or only sitting in one kind of chair or using one kind of pencil, or writing at a specific time of day. I write when I can think of something to write and when I have time. But I have been pushing myself a bit lately - "get to 2000 words tonight," or 3000 words or whatever, so that by 3500, I might have the bones of a story. I am a ruthless cutter - I cut out a lot of the story so only the vital bits are showing. Sometimes just the eyes, or only the heart.

Saturday 9 July 2011

A few pictures and a story of a story...

Front cover of Good Condolences the chapbook I've already written and produced
...and printed.

These pictures are here because I want to provide a bit of context about chapbooks and what I've done so far.

Good Condolences is a story that I've known all my life and one that I have wanted to write for years. I tried it as a novel when I was at university in leafy Norwich, but it wouldn't stick and I wasn't convinced it was what I wanted to do with it. I had some good feedback on the start I made, but that wasn't enough to persuade me to finish it (well, start it). I don't like to waste words or time and really it was just an experiment. I would like to *emphasise* here that I don't like to waste words or time when I am writing fiction - when I am doing anything else, I frequently waste words and time. 

So four or five years later, this novel idea has become a single-story chapbook. It is thirty-two pages long and contains only the story (and some pictures). The pictures and design and editing took far longer than the writing - but that makes sense, since the story was sitting there waiting to be written. 

All at once several things happend to get me started in January. After looking around at several websites about writing, I can't remember exactly how, I stmbled upon the idea of the chapbook, and was particularly inspired by a blog post entitled The Art of the Chapbook. Around the same time, I went to London and at the V&A I saw an exhibition of Beatrix Potter's illustrations and first editions.

Beatrix Potter, ‘Privately printed edition (1901)’ © Frederick Warne &amp; Co. 2006

Potter self-published The Tale of Peter Rabbit (image above) after writing the story for a 'real live child.' I have always said that I wouldn't self-publish anything, but I have also said that I want to be in creative control of what I produce. This idea then is a compromise but hopefully is not me 'giving in.' I'm not self-publishing something that publishers and agents have rejected, but producing something in a medium that is separate from the world of big agencies and ur...Waterstones. Perhaps I'm copping out, but I hope not. I hope I'm making something along the lines of an EP by a new band or a small print by a young visual artist. The book has been professionally edited and so I feel confident that I can share it with the world. I'd love for an agency or publisher to pick me up one day (I'm not completely anti-establishment!), but at the moment this is what I do - or part of what I do - and I am really enjoying it!

Tuesday 5 July 2011

"Put it before them briefly..."

Put it before them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it, and above all accurately so they will be guided by its light. - Joseph Pulitzer

I have got this quotation pinned up beside my desk in an attempt to pay attention to it. Perhaps not the best way to start a blog - quite a tall order, but tall orders are good for us, I think. G.K. Chesterton said he liked getting into hot water because he thought it kept him clean. Enough of the quotations. I don't much like hot water, that's why I'm sitting at my desk and not on a street corner - but I like his sentiment. 

Last month, I applied for some arts funding from a local body, and after much outlining, chatting with friends and writings of 'supporting statements,' I didn't get short-listed. One of the things I said I would do as part of my 'project' would be to start a blog, describing my progress. My project was going to be a series of chapbooks* concerned with the theme of 'light' (yeah, I thought I'd keep it nice and vague - perhaps to my detriment). So I will aim to work on this series (sans new Mac, printer or camera, which perhaps I didn't 'need' anyway), and share some of my workings with you. I do a bit of sketching and sewing, which may come into things here and there. 

So a 'chapbook' is about brevity - it's a small pamphlet of not much more than forty pages with amongst other things, a pretty cover. 

In my chapbooks then,  and my theme of 'light,' I'd like to be clear**, picturesque, and accurate. The proof will be in the pudding.

* Chapbook: an ancient form of publishing that is enjoying a renaissance 500 years on with a surge of interest in modern chapbooks.

The 16th century merriments that became the chapman's stock in trade were historically cheap, crudely made and illustrated using recycled woodcuts.

Today's chapbooks, which are enjoying a revival along with independent regional publishing, bear little resemblance to the roughly produced books of the past. They are objects of beauty in their own right, with emphasis on original design as well as being a showcase for original writing. Pamphlet-sized but glossy, and more book than leaflet, they are highly covetable, which partly explains their appeal."   Posted on 4th March 2011 by Helen Carter on The Guardian's The Northerner Blog. 

** Clarity is a particular weak point of mine.