Resting Place


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I can’t be the only person who actually enjoys spending time in cemeteries and graveyards. Often they’re portrayed as frightening or gloomy places, but I have found them to be places of peace and rest even for the living.

During a recent choral festival at St Oswald’s in Ashbourne, I spent some time in the graveyard there taking pictures. Rather than being a place for the dead, it was more like a meadow. With the grass and the flowers left to grow wild, it opened out onto glebe land and a herd of quietly grazing cattle.

Graveyard, St Oswald's, Ashbourne


I regularly play the organ at the small and very old church of All Saints in Turnditch in the Derbyshire countryside. This has to win the prize for most picturesque place for one’s mortal remains to rest, looking out as it does across the fields and hills. Sadly it wasn’t quite such a sunny day when I took these photos and I couldn’t quite manage to include the whole sweeping vista, but it is so beautiful.Graveyard, All Saints, Turnditch


Last week I took a trip to Belper cemetery. Created in the 1850s to deal with the huge increase in population following the growth of industry in the town, it is full of the most beautiful Victorian memorials and exotic trees. It has a gatehouse now in private ownership, public toilets and a pair of Gothic style chapels designed by Edward Holmes and built back to back. The North chapel was originally for use by Nonconformists and the South chapel was Church of England.

Belper Cemetery in June


The whole site is a real credit to Amber Valley Borough Council (and I don’t normally say things like that!) who treat the area as parkland and they have done some great work in securing the site for the future. They have extended the cemetery to include further burial plots and also restored one of the chapels which had been damaged by rabbits so that it is now once again in use, and take good care of the Commonwealth War Graves which can be found there – including the one of Gunner Edwin Stone who received the VC.

Belper and the Amber Valley have much to offer the visitor – the mills and beautiful stone cottages and the surrounding countryside – but I really do recommend a trip to the cemetery for some of the best views of the valley and the most ‘Beautiful Retreat’ of the entire town.


Not About Heroes & Whispers of War Poetry Competition Win


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Last October I went to Derby Guildhall Theatre to see Feelgood Theatre’s touring production of Not About Heroes. Stephen MacDonald’s play is set during the time Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon were both at Craiglockhart hospital during World War One, and is a touching and intelligent piece of theatre. There are so many things I could say about the production, not least about the performances of Simon Jenkins as Owen and Alasdair Craig as Sassoon. Perhaps the highest praise I can offer though is that I went to see it a second time at The Strand Theatre in London where the tour ended. The emotional intensity is something that has continued to haunt me.

Thnotaboutheroese play had travelled to Craiglockhart itself, Ors in France where Wilfred died, and stopped off at Shrewsbury, Ripon, Scarborough and other places significant in the life of our most well known war poet. Feelgood are an ambitious and adventurous production company and from what I have come to know of its founder and Artistic Director, Caroline Clegg, it is unsurprising that they should have taken on the challenges that come with an international tour. Including a poetry competition and a series of workshops to run alongside this production in order to provide a ‘lasting legacy’ is only more testament to their commitment to artistic, cultural and community values which guide their creative output.

In between my theatre trips to Derby and London, I decided that I would have a go at entering the competition myself. Sadly the workshop in Derby had been cancelled and so I was left to my own devices to create something worthy of entering the competition which was an attempt to ‘bring together the military and civilian community to talk about the ramifications of conflict and build bridges of understanding.’ Given that I rarely write poetry these days any poem I wrote was not, I felt, not likely to be placed. I couldn’t have been more wrong!

Sometime after Christmas I received an email inviting me as a finalist in the competition to a party to celebrate twenty years of Feelgood’s work and take part in the Whispers of War Poetry Competition final. I was utterly delighted to have come so far and tripped off to Manchester to a star-studded event with a light heart, happy to take part in something so glamorous. Writing is such a private occupation much of the time that to be able to join with other writers for a celebration was a joy in itself.

The evening included music, drama and an inspiring history of Feelgood as well as the award ceremony itself.  I was stunned to have won my category award. With a beautiful crystal trophy and a cash prize it would be hard not to be pleased, but having my poem read aloud by actor Peter Clifford was probably the crowning moment of the evening for me. Suddenly my words came away from the page and became something that wasn’t about me anymore. The poem existed in its own right. That may be a thought to be explored in another blog post though.

The ceremony was concluded with the Lord Mayor of Manchester and the Mayor of Ors presenting the overall winner with another trophy. I wasn’t quite sure what to do when I heard the name of my poem read out again and found out that the overall winner was me. There were a lot of entrants with a huge amount to say about war and its legacy and I am delighted to say that all the finalists’ poems can be read at the Not About Heroes website in an online anthology.

A writing update


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I have been writing for a very long time now – about fourteen or fifteen years, I think, and in all that time I have been on something of an apprenticeship. I dread to think how many words I’ve actually written in that time, but most of them are hidden between the pages of the notebooks which take up an entire bookshelf in my study, fill an old fashioned leather suitcase with no handle which is tucked beneath my desk, and yet more that are posted about the house. There is not much in the way of literary merit in those books. Rather they are filled with my musings on everything under the sun and more often than not they contain my own fears and worries about the writing process itself. In all the years I’ve been keeping these notebooks I have often fretted on the page about finishing projects. It is something I have found difficult to do, but now I am delighted to say that I have actually finished Jude!

I have pushed for the last year to complete a first draft and that draft has been through two or three revisions and I am now in a place where I can say I’m happy with what I’ve written. It is not the novel I first thought I’d write when it came to me on a sunny day out to a local town, but it’s surprisingly not far off. What came to me in a beautiful burst of inspiration and seemed so very clear, took many years of crafting to rediscover.

I am now in a position where I have a manuscript that I can approach the gatekeepers of publication with. To many it might seem a very daunting process, but actually it feels a very natural one to me now, and I am allowing it to unfold at a gentle pace. After the many years of learning to write, of crafting Jude (the title of which will undoubtedly change at some point), there is no hurry. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a delightful sense of anticipation and of course the natural fear that everyone will hate my work, but I am happy enough to let it take its natural course. What I am finding more difficult now is knowing what direction to take next. I do have at least one other very challenging project I want to get my teeth into, but I’m not sure if that’s the right thing for now. We shall have to see!

As it is, I’ve got lots of other things to get on with and perhaps now this blog might get a look in too! Watch this space for the news that I’ve got an agent!!



Writing Marathon! The Great Catch Up


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Having an unexpected morning away from work has left me with the unavoidable conclusion that I must take part in today’s NaNoWriMo 2013 Writing Marathon. I’m extremely behind. I always forget just how difficult I find this competition. It’s never about the writing of words, it’s about allowing the doubt to creep in. Today then, I shall be writing in several short stints in an attempt to catch up. Whether I manage over 8000 words today is another matter, but here’s hoping!Writing_Marathon_851x315_1



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Right now, I hate my book. I hate the way it’s so out of kilter with itself. I hate the way that it’s like wading through treacle just to get to the other side. NaNo will do this to you though – in other, less terrifying months, I would have taken a long break from this and not pushed through. Writing to this kind of deadline – and indeed using the Pomodoro Technique which I’ll talk about elsewhere – has a way of forcing you not to stop just because the going is tough. But it really is tough today, yesterday…in fact for quite a bit of the month so far. And yet, the graphs and the progress bar really does help me press on. 

Tomorrow perhaps I won’t hate it as much. Perhaps I shall have navigated the haunted wood and find myself in the daylight once again.

In other news, totally unsurprised to be unsuccessful with the competition. It did its job though with great skill. It got me writing again. I must have done about 40k since July and that is an enormous feat in itself and one of which I am very proud. 


Santes Gwenfrewi – Saint Winifred, pray for us.


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It has been a difficult twenty four hours. The start of NaNoWriMo didn’t go to plan and I have precisely zero words to my name. It is hard to say exactly what went wrong, but my dear friend Clare suggested that sometimes the build up to these things can result in this sort of false start. Something similar happened during Camp NaNoWriMo earlier in the year. Last night and this morning I found myself staring out at the world and wondering just what I was supposed to be doing with a whole set of overwhelming emotions that seemed to have blown in in the wake of St Jude’s storm.

This afternoon then, with writing not possible, I embarked upon housework. I managed by the mundane acts of baking something for supper and setting out the ingredients for a cake, to bring myself back to some sort of sanity. I had been praying all day for peace again and so logging on to see that a candle had been lit for me at St Winifred‘s Well in Flintshire, North Wales, felt like a blessing in so many ways.

Candle at at Shrine of St WinifredMy friend Callum is visiting Holywell to commemorate the death of Frederick Rolfe, also known as Baron Corvo, whose centenary is at this time. A frankly peculiar character, Rolfe was a writer and artist who spent part of his life living at Holywell where he produced banners for the church there. Some weeks ago Callum was kind enough to send me a copy of a biography of Rolfe along with one of his books, Hadrian the Seventh, after a little contest he held on his blog . In return I have been asked to write a review – good or bad! – of Rolfe’s writing. Seeing as I have yet to read the somewhat daunting tome of a book, I felt that mentioning it here might appease Callum for a little while! He is well known as the authority on Rolfe and can answer your every question on him and many other niche literary topics so do pop on by his page.

It was doubly lovely to have prayers said for me at St Winifride’s Well, as tomorrow it is her feast day. I have been looking for a patron saint for this blog and feel that she is more than appropriate. I am glad then to add a page for St Winifred – Santes Gwenfrewi – which you can check out on the left or here – and to ask for her prayers in keeping me at peace and always sticking to my principals. Sancte Winefrida, Ora Pro Nobis.

Colcannon with the curate, filofax, and another writing challenge.


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It’s been a very busy first half to the autumn term and I’m relishing a quiet afternoon at home by myself. There has been precious little time alone lately and the more I struggle to find it, the more important it becomes. My schedule seems to get busier with each passing week and though I thrive on having plenty to do, I have landed myself in hot water more than once before by not making sure there is ample quiet time.

And so, with our computer having taken a nose dive into oblivion (now returned six weeks later resurrected) I decided earlier this month that it was time to revert to my ever faithful pen and paper to establish clear routines and keep track of work and free time. Yes, I’ve got a filofax. Well, four to be precise but we’ll get to that later. I hadn’t realised in the time that I’d been away from the world of planners that there had developed such a fabulous cult around the things. One only has to look on youtube or search for blogs on the topic to see how the simple leather binder has been turned into an outlet for creativity for many people.

I have started then to use the A5 Domino that my ma bought me as an early Christmas present to keep track of my many teaching appointments and church schedule. I also use it to track personal goals, finances, to work on planning projects and keeping contact lists. Having stepped away from using a computer to produce lots of different documents in different places I am now in a position where I feel more in control as everything is in the same place. If I have an idea about a project that involves me making a phone call, I have the number for the person involved at my fingertips. In meetings I am able to make appointments immediately knowing my timetable in advance, rather than having to say I will schedule something later and then forget it.

At the moment, the most revolutionary thing for me is using my planner to keep track of my writing. So often I find myself getting frustrated because I’m ‘not writing enough.’ I had seen in other people’s beautifully decorated planners that they had made use of tapes, stickers and pens to enhance things. I remembered that I use reward stickers with my students to help them keep on track with practice. I also remembered that I have a huge sticker collection that if I were to admit it, is far more about my slight obsession with the things than it is about my students. So, I have started to give myself reward stickers on my planner pages when I complete certain actions. I have a sticker for completing what are essentially Morning Pages as seen in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, but are my own version of them. I have a sticker for working on my current project, another for completing a thousand words of new writing, another for completing the revision of a chapter. I anticipate different stickers as I go through each project.

What this does is help me realise that even though my days are squashed at times, I am getting far more done than I had thought. Things are going ok. I have written at least my morning pages every day this week and a not too shoddy three days out of six I have managed 1k on my book.

I managed to enter the Mslexia competition which is good, though I am fairly philosophical about Jude’s chances of being placed. Part of being a writer though is about completing projects and working to goals and deadlines and I should remind myself that entering this competition was all about that for me, not about winning. I shall try to remember that as I eat Consolation Cake when the winners are announced.

And what about the curate and that lovely colcannon? Well, I found out this week that it is very difficult for me to talk about spiritual or emotional truths face to face with priests. I find it hard to ask questions and hear the answers. It makes me feel out of control or stupid or just too emotional. And so we have come up with a solution. I will email my questions (often long and difficult ones on the nature of God or about the Mass) and she will answer in person over a brew. I hope it works. I have a lot to ask lately. Perhaps I need to find some way of giving myself a reward sticker …

And last but not least, it is NaNoWriMo in less than a week. I am, it has to be said, still in the thick of it with Jude and so I’m not sure that a new project (or even work on The Darkling Wood) is going to be possible. More on that next week as I assess the situation.



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Fighting against the inertia of three weeks without writing has been hard this last week or so but finally I have picked up with Jude where I set him down at the end of Camp Nano. There’s a lesson there, I think, about keeping going being easier than starting up, but after the real effort required to do as much writing as I did last month following a very very long fallow period, I don’t think I ought to be too hard on myself. 

The competition I want to enter has a deadline approaching in September and I’ve still a good way to go before I’m ready to enter. Despite that I’m feeling very positive that I will make it. After that it’s only a hop, skip and a jump to Nano proper in November. That is going to be fun!

Time for a breather


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I worked until gone one this morning to reach my chosen goal of 30k for this month’s camp nanowrimo and I’m thrilled to have made it. It’s the first time I’ve ever won a nanowrimo so it feels particularly special.

I’m not finished with the story though and with hopes to enter it into the Mslexia women’s fiction competition at the end of September there isn’t much time for a let up. I’m probably well over half way by now, but I can’t quite tell.

Winners’ badges and associated goodies aren’t available until August 5th but you can be sure that when they are I shall be emblazoning this blog with them. If you’d have told me a couple of months ago that I’d be able to get this far and do so much I really wouldn’t have believed you. Child birth and rearing is, as I have discovered, uniquely exhausting and it can feel sometimes that there’s simply no space for anything creative ever again. But I’m living proof that it can be done. My baby is still just about asleep and while he dozes I’ll try and push out another few hundred words.

Or perhaps I’ll take a breather and a well deserved cup of coffee.

Off to the museum on Friday to make butterflies and meadow pictures with my godson, his sister and my nieces and nephew and with my wee boy also in tow. Should be a lark.