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Getting through

Who’d have known, as we watched the New Year’s fireworks bringing in 2020 and thought to the year ahead, that we’d soon be living in such a different world, where phrases like “self-isolation” and “lockdown” dominate our newsfeeds and conversations?

I very much hope that you are keeping safe and well. My husband and I have been self-isolating for four weeks now (we started a week before lockdown officially began due to health conditions). The first week was undoubtably the hardest so far, filled with so much anxiety and fear and heartbreak and hopelessness at what was happening. While I’m still – as so many are – struggling with these feelings, I am at least a bit more settled now. I’m finding my coping mechanisms, from Skyping family, to not constantly checking the news, to reading every day, and these are making things more manageable.

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One thing I’ve not done a great deal of is writing. It’s not that I don’t have projects to work on, or ideas to develop, but my focus and energy hasn’t been there. When we started self-isolating, I thought, “Well, at least I’ll get to be really productive…”. But, bar the work I’ve done for my part-time copywriting job (that I’m very fortunate to have been able to do from home), that hasn’t happened.

I’m not the only one. Scrolling through Twitter, where I follow lots of other writers, it seems a common theme. I spoke to my agent on the phone a couple of weeks ago about my novel edits, and she told me how so many of her writers are struggling to focus on their work right now – and that there was no pressure to rush, that it was okay to not be feeling it right now, which was reassuring to hear. Usually, if I have writing to work on, I love to get started as soon as I can, and yet I haven’t touched my manuscript since that conversation.

I have found, though, over the past few days that I’m feeling calmer and less drained. My thoughts are starting to turn towards writing again, with more clarity and enthusiasm. I’m feeling – hoping – that getting stuck into my own writing might give me the positive distraction I need.

In ordinary times, I regularly make myself lists of writing aims for the coming week or so, but I haven’t done that for a month now. So that’s where I’m going to start. Not setting myself deadlines, not telling myself I’m going to produce a great body of work, but ideas of what to focus on. And, for the first time in weeks, I’m excited about starting to tackle my novel edits. I’m looking forward to planning some new article ideas too.

I’m also planning to add more content to this blog. A few months ago I posted a piece about finding inspiration for articles. Over the next few days or so I’m going to work on a follow up post with tips on how to research and analyse magazines, then later another about how to pitch articles to editors. The world of writing can be confusing to navigate, and I hope this series will help demystify the process of getting an article published. I’m also thinking ahead to what other advice and resources I can share on here – let me know if you have any thoughts on topics to cover, I love to talk writing!

While I’m glad to be feeling some level of creative energy again, I’m not going to push myself. I’ve seen a few posts on social media encouraging people to use this strange time to learn a new skill or to dedicate to a creative interest. If you have the energy and the focus, then by all means go for it. But remember that now is not the time to unfairly pressure yourself and feel guilty about not researching your business plan, writing a poetry collection, or learning to play the guitar.

Yes, I’m now hoping to get back into my writing over the coming weeks. I’m feeling in the right headspace for it. But that initial, “Well, at least lockdown will give me time to fully plot out and write my next novel” thought I had a few weeks ago is definitely not my approach now. It’s not about word counts or the number of pitches I send – it’s about enjoying it, about the little bit of hope I feel when I write, about getting, however briefly, lost in something I love.

Take care, and stay safe.

Uncategorized

A wonderful few days

I’ve had a very wonderful few days. On Saturday, after over a year of planning, I married Gary at a magical ceremony and reception at Drayton Manor. Beforehand Gary had been adamant he wasn’t going to cry, but as soon as I came down the aisle he was wiping his eyes – as was I. We’ve been together for nearly nine years and to have a day dedicated to us, shared with so many friends and family, was just perfect.

Wedding group

We had photos in the beautiful hotel grounds and then the two of us were whisked on a buggy into the theme park to pose on the carousel and by the lake as day trippers gave us bemused and friendly waves. After a lot of smiling for the camera and trying not to trip on my dress, we were back to the hotel and a delicious vegetarian three course meal, followed by speeches. I was impressed that our best man, Dan, managed to squeeze two Simpsons references into his speech – Gary and I are both big fans.

For the evening do, Gary’s band Skybald played a set that went down well with our guests, followed by a disco (that one of our guests declared had ‘the best set list ever’) and karaoke. We were fuelled by a pizza buffet and slices of our vegan wedding cake. The day went by so quick, and I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

It feels weird to think that the wedding is done, after such a long build up. Still, we have our honeymoon to Italy to look forward to, and I’m also very excited about receiving the images from our photographer in a few weeks’ time.

Caroline and Gary

Just four days after the best day of my life came another big event: my graduation. It has taken five years part time to get here, but I now have my MA in the Teaching and Practice of Creative Writing, graduating with a Distinction. Staffordshire University hold their graduation ceremonies in the beautiful Trentham Gardens in Stoke-on-Trent. As it (mostly!) did for the wedding day, the rain held off and I was able to enjoy posing in the gardens in my cap and gown.

So that’s two major life events in less than a week! I’m now thinking ahead to my future – my future with my husband, my future as a writer, and my future academically. I have some ideas as to where I want to be, and I’m excited as I look ahead.

My Writing, Travel, Uncategorized

DadaFest Artist Development Programme and a day in Liverpool

Today I had a wonderful time exploring the city of Liverpool. I was there for a meeting with the disability arts organisation DaDaFest about being supported by their Artist Development Programme.

Blue Coat LiverpoolDadaFest are based at the Bluecoat creative hub in the city centre, in a characterful historic building. It was a really positive chat and I left feeling excited about what’s on offer, in particular setting up mentoring for me with an established writer to further develop my creative practice. I’ve now got some thinking to do around what support in particular I’d like from the programme to help with my writing career. This year I’m making a real push with my writing, and being part of DaDaFest’s Artist Development Programme looks set to be a big help.

My fiancé Gary and I then had a few hours to ourselves in Liverpool. I’ve only been once before, even though it’s not that far from Stoke, so it was good to have an excuse to explore. At Sam from DaDaFest’s recommendation, Gary and I headed to The British Music Experience on the Liverpool Waterfront.

The museum traces the history of British rock and pop from the mid-twentieth century through to the present day and has a whole lot of costumes, instruments and memorabilia, from the inevitable Beatles members’ guitars through to Geri Halliwell’s (in)famous union flag dress. Gary and I both love music and enjoyed exploring its history.

Caroline GuitarThe museum has selection of instruments for visitors to play, so Gary and I had a bit of time trying out various guitars. Gary showed off his shredding and serenaded me with songs from his band, Skybald (who have a gig coming up in Stoke, local music fans!), while I tried to remember the bit of Smashing Pumpkins and Green Day songs I learnt years ago (it’s a while since I picked up a guitar). We’d definitely recommend The British Music Experience if you’re ever in Liverpool.

There were several museums and art galleries that we didn’t get a chance to visit today, but we will definitely be returning to this vibrant city.

 

 

My Writing, Travel, Uncategorized, Workshop

A week at an Arvon course

Recently, I was lucky to spend a week away at Arvon’s The Hurst writers’ centre in the beautiful Shropshire hills.

As I sat in the bright book-filled lounge with eleven other writers who’d travelled from all over, including one from the US, I wondered whether I’d made the right decision coming here. A week dedicated to writing was a lovely idea, but would I find it too exhausting? Would I be able to make the most of my time, or would I run low on ideas? What would the people I’d be sharing this grand old house with be like?

The course was on writing young adult fiction, tutored by the wonderful authors Anthony McGowen and Sheena Wilkinson, and I knew it was going to be an intense week of workshops, tutorials and time dedicated to writing.

20190413_095338Of course, I needn’t have worried. Everyone – my fellow participants, the tutors, and the Arvon staff – were warm and welcoming.

Each morning we took part in workshops, led by Anthony and Sheena, from 9.30am-1pm. It sounded like a dauntingly long amount of time, but each session, covering topics as diverse as characterisation, dialogue and editing, was so engaging and enjoyable that they passed so quick. I filled my Moleskin notebook with notes and ideas generated from the writing exercises set by the tutors.

Our afternoons were less structured, with time to work on our writing, one-to-one tutorials with Anthony and Sheena, or walking in the grounds. The Hurst is set in beautiful woodland, and I took many opportunities to go exploring, both on my own and with fellow writers.

20190410_155428After a delicious dinner (cooked on a rota by participants), each evening held something different – readings from the tutors, a guest author, and a free evening on Thursday. All accompanied by copious amounts of wine and writerly conversation. The Friday evening was a celebration of our work, where we each read a five minute piece of our own writing. It was wonderful to hear everyone’s pieces, ranging from the humorous to emotional.

As I was waiting for my fiancé to pick me up on the Saturday morning (we did a trip to the historic town of Shrewsbury on the way back to Stoke), I couldn’t resist looking on the Arvon website to see what other upcoming courses they have. I know I will definitely be returning – whether to The Hurst or one of Arvon’s other centres in Yorkshire or Devon. I left Arvon with a renewed confidence in and love for my writing, and the promise to myself to dedicate more time to this passion.

My Writing, Uncategorized, Workshop

Writing and wellbeing feature in Mslexia

MslexiaI’m really thrilled to have a feature, “Writing in the World: Mental Health”, published in the current issue of Mslexia magazine. I’ve been a Mslexia subscriber for years and it’s a publication that is well regarded in the writing community, so seeing my work in its pages is pretty exciting.

The article shares my experiences of running community creative writing workshops and how writers can work within a wellbeing context to support participants in a way that is inclusive and encourages creativity.

As I wrote the feature, it was useful to reflect on my practice as both a writer and workshop facilitator. Mental health and wellbeing is a topic very close to me, and I’m passionate about the benefits of art and creative group work – I’ve experienced these benefits myself through periods of ill health when I have been one of the people around the table who’s apprehensively taking part in an artistic activity, rather than being the one delivering it.

It made sense to write an article that combined these passions of mine, and they are areas that I’m hoping to explore further in my writing.

 

Travel, Uncategorized

Coffee, books and zines

Last Saturday I took the train down to London to spend the day with my good friend, Anahita. We met at uni but even though we now live far away from each other, we still make the effort to meet up as often as we can.

I love London. Every time I visit I find it such an invigorating place, with so much going on. After meeting at Euston (and stopping off at Boots to buy an emergency bottle of sunscreen), we headed to VX shop and café near Kings Cross for a chat over vegan junk food, before a quick wander by the canal and then heading to the British Library.

The British Library is an impressive modern building, which is free to enter. You need to apply for a pass to access the reading rooms, which we weren’t there for, but we had a look around one of the exhibition rooms. It featured old manuscripts – I was particularly interested in the display of Marx’s old letters and documents, including one of his tickets for the reading room at the British Museum.

We managed to nab the last available table in one of the library’s cafes so we could sit and have a good catch up over a soy latte. It’s useful for me know now where the British Library is and what it’s like in case I ever need to access the reading room for research.

somerset houseOur next stop was Somerset House, located right by the Thames. When we arrived late afternoon there were dozens of children in swimwear jumping around in the fountains in the cobbled courtyard while their parents sunbathed nearby. Who says you need the coast for summer fun?

We were there specifically to see the free entry Print! Tearing it up exhibition. Exploring the history of independent magazines, with a focus on their modern relevance in a digital age, the exhibition featured hundreds of indie mags from the past century, with accompanying information about some of the publications. It was interesting to see old copies of magazines – like Time Out and Private Eye – that have gone on to become mainstream, as well as lower-circulation ones. I have been interested in zines for a while (I wrote in a previous post about making a zine for my MA), particularly as a medium for marginalised voices, so I really enjoyed Somerset House’s exhibition, especially the political zines.

I know that London is a great place for independent restaurants, but with not long before my train home, we headed for Pizza Express. Which was good. Even if they did put non-vegan salad dressing on their vegan pizza.

I’d love to return to London again soon to explore more cultural sites. We only visited the one exhibition at the vast Somerset House – I’d like to have a look round the rest sometime. But, of course, sunny Stoke has its own cultural gems, some of which I still need to visit. Lots more day trips are on the cards!

 

My Writing, Uncategorized

Article on theme park access in Enable magazine

Disability is something I am passionate about. As a disabled person and having worked in the sector, I find that it’s an area I’m drawn to again and again as a writer.

Alton TowersI am also a bit of a theme park geek, the sort who can debate about their favourite rollercoaster manufacture (B&M all the way), why Alton Towers needs more flat rides, and who uses terms like flat rides and assumes everyone knows what she’s talking about.

My latest feature article combines my passion for disability with my love for theme parks. Published in Enable magazine, it explores the issue of accessibility at UK theme parks. While I feel there are many issues and ways access could be improved at attractions, the article focuses on advice on making the most of your day as a disabled visitor.

It covers areas including entry prices, queue lines, getting to, from and around the park, and physical ride access.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about theme park access – I had a feature in Disability Now a couple of years ago based on a trip I took with friends to Alton Towers. There were two disabled people in our group – me (visually impaired) and Anahita (wheelchair user). As Disability Now sadly no longer exists (it was such a great platform for disabled writers), I’m planning to upload the article to this blog soon.

My Writing, Uncategorized

Article in SEN magazine

Wow, it’s nearly a year since I posted on here! Since then I’ve started a new job, which I’m enjoying, have begun working on some new writing projects, and have nearly finished my MA in the Teaching and Practice of Creative Writing – just my final year project left to go.

My article, Transitioning to Higher Education, was published in the March/April issue of SEN magazine, and is available to read on their website. It was inspired by my experience from nearly eight years ago when I started at university as a disabled student, and also my roles working in disability support in HE. So much has changed in my life since I started my undergraduate degree in September 2010, and university was definitely a positive, transformative place for me.

I’m planning to update my website more regularly (promise!).

 

Uncategorized, Workshop

Festival Stoke Writing Workshop

caroline_workshop1Yesterday evening I ran a creative writing workshop as part of Festival Stoke’s Art Street line up. There was a really good turnout, around fifteen of us in the Art Stop workshop space.

The workshop focused on characterisation and using our day to day experience, such as the journey to the session, as a springboard for creative writing ideas. As is typical in creative writing workshops, I set a few writing exercises to complete during the session and then everyone took it in turns to read back their writing to the rest of the group. I always find it really interesting how much variety one exercise creates in the work that’s fed back.

I’m running another creative writing workshop as part of Festival Stoke, focusing on the show, not tell technique. It’s next Wednesday 5th July, 7pm at the Art Stop Stoke, 108 Church Street, Stoke-on-Trent, ST4 1BU. It’d be great to see you there.

Uncategorized, Workshop

Creative Writing Workshops

I’m running two creative writing workshops over the next few weeks as part of Festival Stoke, celebrating the arts in Stoke-on-Trent.

On Wednesday 28th June, 7-9pm, Workshop One will explore characterisation, with ideas for choosing and developing a character, using every day experience for inspiration.

On Wednesday 5th July, 7-9pm, Workshop Two will focus on the famous show, not tell technique, looking at how we can make our writing more interesting and engaging.

Both workshops are free to attend and are open to all, whether you’re an experienced writer or just want to give it a go.

As mentioned in my last blog, I’m also running a free zine making workshop as part of the festival, on Saturday 5th August, 11am-3pm.

I’ve got lots of preparations to do for the workshops, and I’m really looking forward to meeting other writers and helping them develop their work. I love running workshops – I love talking about writing, so it’s a joy to get the opportunity to do this.