Category Archives: Poetry

Short Pieces and Classic Fiction

Happy Monday to you all. It’s still January, the loooongest month of the year (well, not technically, but you know what I mean). It’s dark outside, and it’s cold, and it keeps threatening to snow (yuck).

But on the bright side, the weather is a perfect reason to stay indoors with a good book, or working on a bit of writing. And, so…

What am I writing?

At the moment, mostly poetry. I’m on to Part 3 of my Open University course now, and it’s all about lines, stanzas and iambic pentameters. I have to admit to being quite nervous about starting this part of the course. It’s been a very long time since I crafted much poetry, and I’ve never felt as confident with it as I do with prose. However, so far, I have surprised myself, and I’m very much enjoying it. With my next assignment due in a few weeks I am knuckling down to a poetry project; something a little bit supernatural, and a little bit Byronic. Loving it.

I’ve spent some time recently having a look over my writing from the past few years. Aside from the novels I have written, I have realised that I have a wealth of short stories, flash fiction and poetry. In fact I have so much that I’m now giving serious consideration to polishing up some of these pieces into a collection of fiction. So, watch this space – there might be a publication from me in 2020, after all.

What am I reading?

Currently I’m reading Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell. Mrs Gaskell is one of my favourite nineteenth century novelists, and has been ever since I read North and South. One of my aims this year is to expand my repertoire of classic fiction, as well continuing to read widely across modern genres. As a result, the top of my TBR list is looking pretty eclectic right now, with everything from Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, to CJ Sansom’s Tombland, to The Dead Girl’s Stilettos by Quinn Avery. As they say, variety is the spice of life!

I’d love to hear what you’re all reading, and any recommendations of great books you’ve read over the winter. Please feel free to comment below!

Awesome Authors of the Womankind

Today is International Women’s Day, a day which commemorates the women’s rights movement around the globe. It is also known as the United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace – two very big and very pertinent topics in these turbulent, unpredictable and sadly occasionally regressive times. The 2018 International Women’s Day campaign theme is #PressforProgress, a timely reminder that there is still much to do in terms of achieving gender parity across the globe. It is important, I think, to celebrate our considerable successes, and 2018 marks one of the biggest achievements of women in 20th Century Britain with the centenary of some women gaining the right to vote. But it is equally important to be reminded that there is more work to be done – the recent #MeToo, #TimesUp and gender pay gap campaigns can attest to that.

While we are talking about reminders, it feels like a good time to mention that I’m still accepting submissions for the Women’s Suffrage Anthology I plan to put together this year. The deadline for submissions is April 30th, so don’t delay! Find out more here.

It also feels like an appropriate day to talk about influential, inspiring women! There has been a great deal of discussion about this in recent weeks, with media and news outlets running features and polls and creating lists of female greats from the arts, politics, history and other cultural icons. In keeping with this spirit I thought I’d put together my own list, specifically focused on some of the female writers, past and present, who have inspired me on my own journey:

Philippa Gregory

The Queen of Historical Fiction is one of my all-time favourite authors. Without a doubt Philippa Gregory was the writer who inspired me to embark on my own journey into writing historical fiction. Her keen eye for historical detail and deep understanding of the characters she portrays sets an extremely high standard for literature and, in my opinion, has helped to raise the reputation of a genre which was often dismissed as whimsical.

Virginia Woolf

I remember reading Woolf’s essay, A Room of One’s Own, and not being able to get her words out of my head. As a female writer in the 21st century context, this idea of the value and importance of literal and figurative space is one that I return to frequently as both a source of reflection and creative inspiration. So who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf? Not me.

Susie Orbach

I read Orbach’s Fat is a Feminist Issue at university as part of my first year undergraduate Women’s Studies course. It was a book which really resonated with me and got me thinking seriously for the first time about body image, about the way we see ourselves and the social moulding of women and girls which begins at such a young age. I remember being struck by the notion that losing weight could really be about losing space – in the literal sense women striving to diminish themselves and take up less room in the world. Powerful stuff which has stuck with me all these years later.

Naomi Wolf

Another favourite from my time as a Women’s Studies undergrad, Wolf’s sharp look at beauty and physical perfection as a means of social control is the sort of book which will change the way you look at beauty ads! I loved this book – it was a real eye-opener and the first time I had read anything which challenged me to look, REALLY look at the images that I, as a young woman, was being bombarded with on a daily basis.

Christina Rossetti

If I’m in the mood for reading classic poetry, it’ll probably be something by Christina Rossetti. Her work is beautiful and stunning, and In the Bleak Midwinter is still my favourite Christmas carol.

Charlotte Bronte

It’s quite hard to choose between the Bronte sisters but for me Charlotte is my favourite, largely because I absolutely adore Jane Eyre. Writing at a time when female writers were subject to considerable prejudice (a fact which Bronte herself observed when choosing her masculine-sounding nom de plume Currer Bell), Charlotte and her sisters’ works stood out and are celebrated as classics to this day.

Elizabeth Gaskell

Another celebrated writer of the Victorian era, Gaskell wrote novels, short stories and biographies during her career, including the first biography of Charlotte Bronte. My favourite of her books is without doubt North and South – for me this novel is the epitome of the Gaskell’s sharp and capable social commentary framed within a wonderful story of romance across the class divide.

Mary Wollstonecraft 

A writer and a woman who needs no introduction. I read Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman as a student of history. I am still in awe of that book.

Tracy Chevalier

Best known for The Girl with the Pearl Earring, for me Chevalier is one of the best historical writers of modern times. Like Philippa Gregory, her work has inspired me on a personal level. Her stories are captivating; literary and yet wholly accessible. Falling Angels is my favourite of her books; I found its exploration of the late Victorian cult of death utterly fascinating.

MJ Rose 

Rose is the author I credit with introducing me to historical fantasy. In recent years I have read a lot of her books but without doubt my favourites are her Daughters of La Lune series. The stories are (quite literally) magical while the settings, from Belle Epoque Paris to New York in the roaring twenties, are rich and evocative. As a writer her books have given me a new perspective on writing about magic and weaving a touch of the fantastical into stories.

So, that’s my list! Which female writers do you find influential or inspirational? Please feel free to comment below. 

If the days of the week were people…

Good morning everyone and hope you’re having a wonderful summer!

It’s been a busy time over the past few weeks with family holidays, birthdays, events and trying to enjoy the sunshine – well, when it appears. This is Scotland, after all…

Anyway – I digress. As well as being busy with family commitments, I have been writing lots of query letters to literary agents and independent publishers in an effort to secure a publisher for my forthcoming novel, Ethersay. Hopefully more about this soon, but for now, watch this space…

Some writers are able to move from one novel and straight onto the next with little difficulty. Unfortunately, I have found that I am not one of those novelists. Whenever I reach this stage with a book, where it is finished, the manuscript is edited, honed and being touted around the publishing world, I find it difficult to start my next project – I suppose you could call it a book hangover, of sorts.

I used to find this frustrating but, thankfully I’ve learned now to put this lull to good use. Big projects might be off the table (for now), but a time like this is a good opportunity to reflect and to explore, and to create smaller pieces. So, over the last few weeks I have focused on pulling together ideas for future books (and there are plenty of them; indeed, where do I begin?!) as well as working on some short stories, many of which I have submitted for competitions and anthologies.

I have also been writing some poetry which was a surprise even to me! Since so much of my focus over recent years has been on prose, I thought I had forgotten how to write a poem. Today I thought I would share with you a piece I wrote this week. It was inspired by a prompt provided at my writers’ group, which was to write about the day of the week as though they are people. Originally I had intended to write a prose piece for this but a poem just seemed to fit better, somehow. I am pretty pleased with it, and it is this sort of pleasant surprise which is one of the many reasons why I love going to a writers’ group. If you’re a writer too, please, please look up your local group and consider joining – a good writers’ group can provide so much support and inspiration, as well as friendship and fun. I really cannot recommend them enough.

Anyway, here is my piece – I hope you enjoy it.

If the Days of the Week were People…

Monday – he’s the guy who likes to grumble,
The reluctant one, likely to stumble
Over his own two feet
Like the drunk who’s ready to greet
At his own misfortune.
Well, it is the start of the week.

Tuesday – she’s feeling a bit better,
She’s found her rhythm now, and if you met her
In the street, you’d see a smile
That’s been hidden for a while
(For twenty-four hours at least).
Well, there are only four days left in the week.

Wednesday – he’s all about feng shui,
Balance, equilibrium, he knows it’s better that way;
Like the Zen-master filled with peace
This guy will never cease
To relish his happy medium.
Well, it is the middle of the week.

Thursday – she’s the lady who likes to hope,
The optimistic one, never likely to mope,
To grumble or to complain.
She knows there’s so much to gain
Because she’s almost there:
It is almost the end of the week.

Friday – he’s the one who’s giving it laldy,
Well, what else should he and his pals dae?
Beers, parties, having fun –
He looks back on his week and knows he’s won!
He’s made it this far and he’s going to enjoy it:
After all, it is the end of the week.

Saturday – yawn, she wishes she was tougher,
Friday went on too long and now she’ll suffer.
Snuggled down in her blankets she tries to sleep
But all her efforts at counting sheep
Are thwarted – damn week-day body clock, go away!
After all, it is a weekend day.

Sunday – he’s as wholesome as a roast beef dinner,
Naps, television, gentle strolls – he’s onto a winner.
Refreshed and recovered from the week’s traumas,
He’s the guy who will never bore us.
Although when evening comes we begin to fear:
We know that the start of another week is here.

The art of poetry, and the musings of a teenage goth

For some time now, my husband and I have been having a debate. Unlike most of the debates we have (of which there are many – we are naturally argumentative souls), we have not yet managed to find a middle ground on this one.

The debate concerns the discovery of a teeny, innocent-looking book around eighteen months ago. Let me give you the scene: I’m sorting through my considerable book collection when I stumble upon a notebook, hard cover and adorned with the artwork of Paul Cezanne. Instantly, I remember it and it is one of those moments where the heart leaps when you realise that, contrary to what you thought, this little memento of your youth has survived. I open it and peruse the contents. In amongst Cezanne’s fine paintings of fruit and trees are my words, written between 1999 and 2001. This little book contains some of my teenage poetry.

Immediately I show the book to my husband. Looking back on that action alone, I realise now how incredible it was, and how teenage me would have cringed at showing her words to ANYONE. Mind you, teenage me cringed at a lot of things. My husband reads with interest, and afterwards he says something which still astounds – and terrifies – me. “Sarah,” he says, “you should publish this.” Straight away, I protest. “No,” I say, “who would want to read the angst-ridden ramblings of a teenager?” He laughs. “You should do it anyway,” he says, “and you could call it ‘the musings of a teenage goth’.”

Hmm. That was a lot of months ago, and no such poetry collection has been forthcoming from me as yet. I will admit that I like the proposed title, but I still find the idea of putting my poetry out there a bit excruciating. It’s weird; after writing a couple of books I am reasonably comfortable with my stories being scrutinised. My poetry, however, is another matter, perhaps because it’s so personal, such a window on my soul. And my teenage soul at that.

Tonight I re-read some of the works in my little collection and an idea occurred to me. I don’t think I’m ready to put it all out there but I might test the water a little and put a few of my favourites on my blog, one per post for a series of posts, and see what my lovely readers think.

Now, I will admit that with this first offering I am cheating a little; the following poem is one of the few to ever make it into the public domain, as it was published in the schools’ poetry collection, ‘2001: A Poetry Odyssey.’ At the time I was sixteen and studying war poetry in English literature. I had also not long returned from a visit to Ypres in Belgium as part of my history studies and my poetry at the time was greatly influenced by what I saw there.  So, without any further ado, this is “Ypres”:

Ypres

The flat green landscape once scarred by shells,

Was the setting for where the last man fell.

Corrupted by war, by murder and hate,

His name is now on a wall of the Menin Gate.

 

The soldier’s body was never found,

And buried by war, it remained on the ground.

But his friend John, he would have like what he got,

“Known unto God” in the cemetery of Tyne Cot.

 

Those two young soldiers, they’d had some fun,

In the back trenches, away from the Hun.

But when the wood became the front line,

The boys couldn’t escape the enemy in time.

 

It was he who fell first, and John soon after,

In the face of despair, all tears and no laughter.

Their souls were devoured by the appetite of war,

Just like all the brave soldiers who had gone before.

 

You can visit the memorials to those who fell,

Unable to comprehend their time in hell.

Please remember today those who met their fate,

And understand their warning; no good comes of hate.