Travel log: scenes and stories

Usually, taking holidays in September we strike lucky with the weather.  This year however, we arrived at Gower in a gale.  The blast coming in off the sea buffeted our stone cottage fiercely.  Upstairs, as I drifted into sleep, I felt as if I was on the top of a bunk-bed with a restless sleeper below.

It was cosy though.  The under-floor heating was generated by a ground-source-heat-pump, so I felt a little virtuous about the luxurious warmth.

wind on rhossiliLike all the best storms, it had pretty much blown out by morning.  Though as Ray, Rusty and I made our way down the cliff path the sky was still overcast, and there was a gusty wind.  It was cool enough that when we reached the sand I didn’t consider taking my wellies off.

shipwreck 7I suspect we did the thing that everyone arriving on Rhossili beach for the first time does, when we headed for the main shipwreck. Yes, I did say shipwreck, and no, not recent.  The Helvetia grounded in November 1887, and is now a partial skeleton deeply embedded in the sand.

No diving necessary to look at this wreck, no pieces of eight either: the vessel’s cargo was timber.  There’s treasure here though.  It’s in the worn oak posts, and the large twisted iron nails and bolts that are slowly being eaten by the weather, the sand and the sea.  shipwreck closeup

The Helvetia was lucky: other ships lost lives as well as cargo, on the long shallow beach or against the rocks below Worms Head.  Don’t be misled by the earthy nature of that ‘worm’, this name derives from Wurm, the Viking word for Dragon.

It makes sense as a visual descriptive, and as a warning.  Imagine the stories to go with that naming.  It’s figurative language. It’s the imagination examining, explaining and dramatizing.  Even when the sun came out I could see how it had earned such a name.

 

rhossili beach.and the worm 2. jpg

 

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Is Writer’s Block A Real Thing?

I found this ‘writer’s block’ post, last week, and thought, could I better it? The answer being no, I’m offering you a useful anecdote that covers how it happened, the steps Allison Maruska took to overcome it, and the conclusion she drew from her experience.

Even if you’ve never been blocked, I think it’s a useful reflection on some of the ways story-writing can work. Hope you find it useful too.

Allison Maruska

I saw an interesting image on Facebook this morning.

writers block

I’ve been chewing on it all day and decided maybe “The Block” is reserved for creative pursuits – creating something from nothing can go off the rails sometimes. Are Painter’s Block and Quilter’s Block a thing?

Allow me to offer my answer with a little story.

I was “blocked” for more than a year with my upcoming novel, The Seventh Seed. Or at least I thought I was…

What really happened was I wrote about a third of it and put chapters in my critique group as I went. One chapter needed significant rewrites, which happens. It doesn’t usually happen while still writing new material, however. I couldn’t decide if I should fix the broken chapter or keep on keeping on with the new stuff.

So I did neither. Instead, I stopped writing Seed and focused on Drake and the…

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Trust me.

fairies 2You’ve got to see this.  I had such a surprise as I glanced through the blinds of my office window on Saturday evening that I grabbed my camera.  Of course, like every other photographer of fairies, I’ve not managed to capture any clear image.  Look carefully, though, and you can see three of them on the left hand side of the picture, glowing against the ivy.

What do you mean, no one believes in them any more?  These pictures are incontrovertible proof that I saw them.  Okay, so I only got three dancers in any shot, and there were about fifteen, but they moved surprisingly fast. Several of my pictures missed them entirely, and their colours have come out as closer to pink than gold…

No, I hadn’t been drinking, though I was still buzzing after a lovely day leading a memoir-writing workshop.  I wasn’t looking for fairies either.  I haven’t thought about them for years.

I was unpacking my class notes and reflecting on the activities I’d set. I scribbled a few reminders about the adaptations I’d made onto the session-plan, then slotted it back into the folder.  It was as I lifted the folder into its space on the shelf that I noticed the glimmer of movement outside the window.

Coincidentally, over the course of the day we’d had some discussions about writing truthful life experiences.  There had been questions concerning the reliability of memory, interpretation and partiality.

Perhaps all of the recent furores around ‘false news’ has made us more conscious of the difficulties in providing an account of events that is true.  Maybe you’ll need to look closely at these two pictures, but once you do, I think you’ll agree that you can trust me…

fairies 3fairies 4

 

Autumn thoughts turn to classes

blackberrying Angus Racy HelpsI’ve never understood why I was taught to think of Autumn as a metaphor for closing down.  Okay, so my early school was rural.  In this season tractors hauling crops regularly passed our gates, and after 3.30pm many of us roamed amongst the workers gathering things in.  We even helped, occasionally, especially if fruit was involved.  Yes, days were getting shorter and winter was approaching.

But, and it’s such a big but I was tempted to set it in capitals, at the same time as harvests were happening, soil was ploughed, harrowed and sowed with crops for the next year.  In the UK, it’s one of the busy times of the agricultural year.

The same rule applies to learning.  Autumn is the beginning of the new academic year.  Remember the noise and excitement of that first day at school, the energy: the excitement?

Working in the FE sector on short courses, I’ve learned that September and October are still the main time when people think about signing up to learn something.  Are we wired to look for classes in autumn, or just following a pattern established in childhood?

Either way, now’s the time when I begin to check in with the office to see how the pre-enrolment numbers are going.  What will be popular?  How busy will the next few months be?

Busy, busy, busy, that’s my view of autumn.  Okay, so the days are shortening, but far from life slowing, in the classroom, the energies and excitements of the summer are being re-focused.  What better way to keep spirits up, as the light levels drop, than to learn or practice something?

It’s easy to feel that once we reach adult-hood we can, or maybe even should, put ‘school’ away.  Not so.  While it may be tricky to fit learning into the busy modern lifestyle, once tried, many stick with it.  They discover that joining a group of focused and enquiring adults can be stimulating, fun and stretching.

Aside from the chance to make new social connections, there are long-term health benefits to returning to classes as an adult.  In a Radio Times article from April 2016, Ellie Walker-Arnott reported that:

A Scottish study has tested over 600,000 factors in a group of 79-year-olds regularly since they were 11. It found that a quarter of brain ageing is down to genes while three quarters (75%) is dependent on our lifestyle choices.

One of the lifestyle choice the studies advocate is on-going education.

Learning something new changes the micro-structure of your brain and sees its size increase in certain areas, rather than shrink.

If you do similar sudoko challenges every day for 10 years it won’t work different parts of your brain, it’s got to be something new. Life drawing is a good option, as each picture is a fresh new challenge. As is learning a new language. Whatever you choose, continuing to learn as we age can have a “dramatically positive effect.”

Autumn thoughts, it seems, should be active.

 

*    Illustration at top of page, ‘Blackberrying’ by Angus Racy Helps.