Some of you will know that I’ve been ill with cancer. I’ve had an excellent response to my tablets (Anastrozole – which stops my body making oestrogen), and I am now looking at a life that should go on into middle age (no, of course I haven’t hit that yet! :D) … and old age. I am apparently in the best 5% of responses to the tablets, and – as long as I keep taking them, I should live for decades yet. (Even after decades, if the tablets stop working I’m told there will be other things to throw at it.)
I’ve been writing all through the illness… I ought to come clean and say that I am a shaman. The gift developed before I even knew what a shaman was. The book I’ve been working on is about my shamanic experiences, as related to the cancer. I’m slightly worried people might start saying I healed myself. No… I followed the conventional route, but I do know that what is done on the spirit plane affects the physical plane, so it is possible that my results were as good as they were because of the work I’d done. I also have friends who may have helped – and people prayed for me in a multitude of religions. 😀
On a practical level I avoided foods with oestrogen in (ie. soya – but it was incredibly hard, as it is in just about everything) – and I bought organic milk, butter, cheese and meat. (A friend in the science world told me that many dairies give injections of oestrogen to cows, and that it is safer to drink organic milk if you have an oestrogen dependent cancer (which I have). The official justification is that it’s bovine oestrogen, but I wasn’t taking any chances. When it came to soya I had no doubt as to the effect it can have on hormones. I used it years ago to stop my periods altogether. (How I regret that now!)
So – that’s it for this week. I’m finishing a long children’s story, which may become a book, and I’m going to be working on a play (the one I meant to do this month). I must admit that my book about the cancer took over completely, but I’m glad it did, as it’s now near to completion. I thought it would almost certainly end with my death, but now it will end with this excellent news. I am so grateful to the people who developed these medicines, and to the doctors who know how to use them. Also to the GPs I have seen, – and a big thank you to Macmillan, who have provided advice and information all the way along.
It’s ironical when you’re told you’re massively better and you still feel a bit rubbish. Just off for another nap…
I am working on a book about the experience of single parents. I have a fair number of people to interview, but if anybody reads this and would be interested in contributing their experience please do contact me.
Otherwise the book about my recent experiences is growing fast, and I am writing a children’s story, which – like all of them – is threatening to turn into a book… 😀 Next month I will be putting the final touches to my play, Chips, before getting feedback…
I’m finding it really hard to keep a good work/life balance at present. I finish the work and then, at the weekend, look round for something fun to do, and find there is nothing. I’m a social animal, and must find myself something to do when I’m not working.
Perhaps that’s the next job…
Sorry it’s taken me so long to update my blog. I am still doing a huge number of readings, talks and writing workshops, and travelling and studying a lot. I am now teaching two writing courses, in my home town of Cheltenham, so that will enable me to slow down slightly. 🙂
So? What else have I been doing? I’ve had a couple of pieces in ‘The Guardian’, in the family section – one of them today… I’ll post links to them.
The first was about my grandparents, Charles and Effie Roberts. Effie was Effie M. Roberts, the Second World War poet who wrote about life on the Home Front… particularly for women. The link is here:
Today’s piece is in the ‘Playlist’ section, and is about my sister, Miriam, who I called Minty, and the song: ‘I’m going to Barbados’.
I’ve just taught the first lesson in my writing course, and am delighted that it seems to have gone very well. I wasn’t sure who would come, but they were a lovely bunch of people, and all very gifted. I’m really going to enjoy teaching it.
See you all again soon!
OK, I’m calming down. Why I should get so het up about standards in poetry I don’t know. Maybe it’s because poetry is, to me, one of the most important things in the world. I don’t care if nobody much sees mine. (Most of it sits on my hard drive, and in notebooks). I’ll only read things if they are at least a decade old. I just love it, because it is beautiful, and I want to see that beauty going on.
I’m all for playing around with forms that have become outdated. I even had a go at writing a few pages of modernised Anglo-Saxon poetry. But iambic pentameter still works in the English language because it is a form that is natural to it. (Anglo-Saxon English must have been very different, with a huge number of unstressed syllables, which are needed by the form.) It is so different that it is like a different language, and that is why – with the best will in the world – it will never work very well with modern English.
We have borrowed a great deal from Welsh poetry now, and I’m all for it. I just don’t think that you have to throw away the baby with the bath water. We have beautiful, serviceable forms, that you can use to write about anything. (One of my first published sonnets was about morning sickness, and it was written in a completely traditional way. It’s in an anthology somewhere, where they were prepared to take a bit of a risk.)
That’s what it’s about. Taking risks. Daring to use old forms in modern ways… Not putting together a lot of slipshod lines that don’t scan at all. It makes you wonder how many excellent poets have been lost. Do let me know if you happen to know any of them….
In Response to Will Shakespeare’s Sonnet No.CXLVII, And Many Others, Written about Me
Indeed… my skin is black, or “coloured ill”,
And nothing in myself can ever please
A jealous soul, like yours. You hold me still –
And yet you see me as a dread disease!
Your reason once did lead you to approve
My every gesture, every word. You kept
Me safe within a web of gentle love
Which I, rebellious soul, was moved to accept.
But now that you, for “reason’s” sake can’t care,
And think I am the cause of your unrest;
You – lost to love – as all good white men are
Will warp with “reason” what I have expressed.
It seems to me that your white skin holds night
And my black skin still keeps the gentle light.
I don’t usually post my poems here, as I wait to publish them, but this was written specifically for a competition which required ‘a sonnet in response to Shakespeare’, and I don’t know where else to send it. There is a response to all his thoughts, in every line, and the form is a classical Shakespearean sonnet. It was disqualified, like many others, because it was traditional, even though it was a perfectly valid interpretation of what they were asking for.
Where does this come from? I know Hopkins wrote a curtal sonnet (invented by him), but it didn’t say ‘curtal sonnet’ in the competition guidelines. Don Paterson writes sonnets, but thoroughly understands the form and uses it well.
Interestingly a friend has just told me she had the same experience when she entered a haiku into a competition. Again the judge poured scorn on people who had written ‘traditional haikus’.
Please – you devisers of competitions… do give us a better idea of what you want, and what will be disqualified. Otherwise it becomes just a matter of who is ‘in the know’.
I might be quiet, but there is a lot happening at this end. I’m in the process of arranging cards for schools, so that they have some up to date information about what I’m doing. This is a link to the wonderful illustration that Annaliese Stoney has done to illustrate my children’s poem, ‘Louisa, the Boxer’:
Louisa, the Boxer
That will be on the front of the card. How cool is that?!
I’ve also allowed myself be persuaded into leading a course on ‘Writing as Therapy’. I’ve done a lot of writing in cafes over the last few years; weeping copiously as I did it. (I used to have a rule that I’d write till I felt tears welling up, and then I’d leave. Usually I managed about five minutes, but it was easier than coping with grief alone, at home. )
In one particular cafe I fell for the man who ran it, but I was often in such deep grief that I couldn’t speak. It didn’t make for the easiest relationship. I’m sure he remembers me as a very peculiar woman. However my notebooks are full of fragments of poetry, and prose, which I will edit in tranquility, along with all the other things that are sitting here, waiting for a quiet moment…
I’m revising a short story at present, but more of that next time. There is still the same relentless pressure to keep earning, and writing – although it pays well – pays months, or even years, later. I’ve finally realised that even successful writers can apply for grants to help them, so I’m going to be doing that… More about that next time! 🙂
I thought I’d stop writing about my readings and workshops today, and tell you about one of the things I am working on at present. I decided to try my hand at picture books. I have two that are nearing completion, but I have been on a very steep learning curve. Did you know, for instance, that you should never have a red pillar box in an illustration, because anything that is typically English will make it difficult for a publisher to sell foreign rights? On the same principle you shouldn’t use names that won’t be recognised in a wide variety of countries. (You’re advised to use search engines to find the most popular names around the world.)
And people? Well, don’t put in anyone that looks too English, or too anything. In fact, animals are really better because they tend to look more alike in different countries.
I can well believe all this, but I find it rather sad. It’s the same reason that poetry publishers started preferring poetry that was – well – really far more like prose. It’s much easier to translate. You don’t have to worry about all those pesky consonance rhymes, etc…
I had more or less written my picture books when a book I’d ordered turned up in the post. I can’t recommend it highly enough. It is Andrea Shavick’s ‘How to Write a Children’s Picture Book’ – and it is packed with good advice, which all comes from her hard won experience. I’d recommend it highly. But – oops! – those people still look too human. Better change them into cats! 😀
This is going to be brief, as I need to get an early night. I’m off to Plymouth tomorrow, to read Effie’s poems again. I have been doing so many readings lately that I hardly know what town I’m in, but I write on trains, and it is all working out rather well.
A big event that I did recently was at the Guildhall in Gloucester. It was a U3A Archaeology Group, and I was quite surprised to see so many people. I think we all enjoyed it, and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting them.
People keep asking for more about me, but it is much more productive for me to talk about other poets. I don’t want to focus on myself, as that is damaging to my writing. I come away from reading Shakespeare, or Tennyson, and my head is full of music and poetry, but if I talk about myself my poetry deserts me.
On the writing front I do have some very exciting things bubbling, but I don’t want to write more now, in case I jinx them. Just watch this space.