Launch day of the 30 Day challenge

On the 1st March I joined the Screw Work Let’s Play programme. Over 30 days I challenged myself to write about creativity, my process as a writer, to create new stories or poems, and, most importantly, to share my writing and launch it into the world.

 DAY 30: This blog is the result.


I’ve been writing a novel The Wish Bone for three years and have a lot of work hidden in files as they’re ‘not good enough’ – the files in the pictures show work which has been written and abandoned from the last 30 years. Now I’m broadcasting my work via this blog.  My secret weapon has been 20 minute writing practice in my journal ‘playbook’.

I’m not a great completer finisher usually having a great idea then moving on the next big thing but one of the most helpful things from the programme is the lesson that sending stuff out into the world will bring results, and that doing what you love is its own reward.

Playbook 
Over 30 days I’ve  created loads of new content – short stories and poetry for this blog and have found a new technique for editing my book. I’ve learned that I love making videos, and reading in public. I’m enjoying blogging and I’m thrilled to have a poem accepted for publication on an arts trail in Bristol – it may even be turned into a postcard. 

I’m buzzing with ideas, pretty exhausted, but for once I’ve achieved something to be really proud of, and, I’ve put a smile on some of my writer friends’ faces by posting their work here too. It’s not all about me – but about the work of being a writer and feeding that creative need inside ourselves. 
I’ve climbed the path 

Next steps: Coming soon – my first writing website – www.wordpoppy.com and I intend to build something great on there soon. Thanks for being my audience – but don’t go away – there’s more to come. 

If you like what you see let me know either in the comments box or in the survey below. 

Happy writing, Grace 

Short story: Collection Day


Jetlag kicked in with sheets of exhaustion sapping his energy. The plane still thrummed in his ears. From the long coach ride to Bristol he first impressions of England were miniature green fields, like a printed circuit board.

He was so glad to arrive though the coach station was unremarkable. He expected red buses and black cabs. Despite his tiredness he preferred to walk, rather than catch a cab. He followed the signs to the university, glad to soak up the atmosphere of the stone buildings rimmed with a dirty bloom.

His lodgings must be around here somewhere – the buildings were ancient with old windows and shrubby gardens and crumbling stonework.  The knocker was a curved hand which pounded on the door. There was no answer even though the sound echoed deep within the house. He peered through the letterbox – a small landscape of cold hallway greeted him, lit by a soft light. A row of shoes. Goddamn it, he’d have to find somewhere else.  They knew he was coming didn’t they? He made himself calm down. Tomorrow he’s meet Prof Nick and the  other PhD researchers, and explore this place properly.

He found a motel but the charges were hellish steep, so he wandered on, then spotted something. Well, why not? He liked camping, and after all he was broke. He lifted the large lid of the industrial sized bin, delighted to see it contained paper and cardboard. Sleep and dreams of flying claimed him quickly.

The bin men’s early breath and exhaust fumes hang heavy in the air. Piper was having a good morning – he worked fast, efficiently, and today the smell of the restaurant bins was subdued with the frost. He had a good system – you had to pull the bins out and position them behind the yellow jaws of the refuse lorry to be picked up, then run ahead to fetch the next bins. That way they lorry could move quickly along the road with minimum disruption to the traffic.   When the round was finished Piper and the gang headed off to the Avonmouth Depot where the lorry disgorged it’s compacted load. 

Guest blogpost: David Peak, novelist

I met Dave Peak over twenty years ago, when I attended his evening classes in creative writing. He was always hugely encouraging to fledging writers including me. Graduates of his classes have set up writing groups and gone on to work in magazines such as The Spark.

Dave encouraged me to celebrate my ‘unique voice’. As he put it recently if there’s 100 people in a room 50% will like you and 50% won’t, but there will be no-one else who can write in your voice, in your style. He also encouraged me to believe in my writing, something I’m still struggling with, but which makes an enormous difference to my ability to be creative, and get to the nub of things.

I left his class when I had my first child and lost touch with him until recently when he read at a spoken word event – Word of Mouth, at the Thunderbolt in Bristol, last month.

Dave has had three novels published: No 4 Pickle St, The Cotoneaster Factor and Go Gentle.

This is an extract from his unpublished novel, Miss Woo Country.


Once the storm passed a hypnotic wind came through the french windows carrying with it the smell of the hedgerow. I doubt Colquahoon noticed. He’s more a numbers man. Most times he crosses the dayroom
without sound like a butterfly on a summer day. Is it summer? Or summer’s? Jugg used to explain that sort of thing and then he’d make transgressors – of which I was one – write it out oh a hundred times.
I shall not in italics do whatever it is again. Such severity had its good points. For example I’ve never since spelt different wrongly. I used to miss out the first e. Jugg wore linen jackets whose pockets
were dappled with chalk dust. I don’t think he ever married though he did have a number of whitened cats. They were in the paper when he died. Homes Wanted. Ten to one they drifted back. Cats don’t settle
easily elsewhere. The word’s territorial. Like me. I was never one for roaming or for following in the footsteps of whoever. I was afraid something might happen while I was out of range of home. A certain oh
no leapt to mind if ever anyone suggested a night away.

If only I could make it out to the patio under my own steam. It’s an ache. Not an unpleasant one necessarily. I’m perturbed by Colquahoon’s fixation on his Times when he can – in fact – get up and go out there
if he wishes. Perhaps he’ll occasionally cross his slippers or clear his throat. Any number of things. I heard Harry invite him earlier – Harry’s good like that though not with me evidently – for what he
called a turn round the grounds. Old Colquahoon dug his heels in. I’m fine where I am, he said gruffly. I enjoy the occasional adverb even though Jugg said too many are a sign of laziness. I’m not even sure it
was gruffly. I used it because it made the sentence scan in my head.


Dave – thanks so much for sharing your latest work – Grace.

The power of sharing my writing

The power of sharing my writing: Day 28 of the 30 Day Challenge. 

The sunshine effect 

I’m nearly at the end of  my 30 Day Challenge with screwworkletsplay.com. I set myself the challenge during 30 days in March of reconnecting with my creativity, getting in the writing flow. 

It started off with a big whinge – I was a writer without an audience, someone whose work was buried treasure or possibly buried rubbish, but it was certainly buried away. 


Over the last 28 days I’ve been writing every day in timed sessions which is giving me confidence and excitment, and this blog has given me a platform to share my work and thoughts about writing. Some of the work on here is rough and ready stage, and some, like my novel, has been honed for a long time. The point is I’ve been sharing it, and getting positive responses (responses below have been left on my personal email) such as this about the video of me reading from my novel :

  1. Comment by Katherine: “Brilliant writing and I love the title!”
  2. Comment by Frank on my video Ivy: “Wow… this is GREAT Grace and you are brilliant for sharing on vid – I loved the way you read your work……bringing it to life…….wonderful  !” 

I’m not sharing this to brag – just to say that being encouraged has had a great positive effect on me and how I think of myself. 

By writing more and sharing more I’ve kicked away some of the long term writing blocks and I can hold my head high and say I am a writer. 

But what have I achieved? This blog for a start, and although I’m obsessed with the amount of page views I’m getting – 471 to date, I’m also finding an audience – these are the countries from where people are viewing my blog: 

 UK, US, Germany, Australia, Spain, Canada, India, Venezuela, Netherlands, South Africa. 

I have friends in 4/10 of those countries, that’s all! If you’re reading from Venezuela please say hello!

What’s made me happiest  is that I’ve recaptured that breathless joy that I had as a kid when the pen was running away with me as I tried to capture the world by using words and language.

Finally, I’ve been making videos and have entered two competitions and written the following new stories and poems during the 30 days: Conceive, Waterley Cross, Collection Day, Easton, George and Fran, Ivy, Donor, Cornish Inspiration, Cornish Quarry and House.  I also read out a couple of pieces at acoustic night at Halo Cafe Bar Open Mic. I came back on such a high – I love reading in public – I want to go on with this and see where it leads. Writing is what I was born to do.  

STOP PRESS: Just heard that I’ve had my micro-poem (a tweet’s worth)  accepted for publication on the Easton Arts Trail ! The poem will be displayed and laminated on location in Easton. 
Here’s the winning poem about Easton in 140 characters

Find ackee, aniseed, cardamom, chrysanthemum
halloumi, halva, honeyed pearls


Find ghee, graffiti, mosques and midwives

yam, zithers and zatar.

Here’s a quote to end with: 

“I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. In each, it is the performance of a dedicated precise set of acts, physical or intellectual, from which comes shape of achievement, a sense of one’s being, a satisfaction of spirit. One becomes, in some area, an athlete of God. Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired.” 
― Martha Graham

Guest blogpost: Poem by Simon Tonkin


As part of my blog I want to inspire others to write. What better way than to showcase excellent writing? The classic advice given to writers is to show, not tell. Simon and I have been part of a writers’ group for over four years.  His poem is about the process of critiquing writing. 

Today’s guest writer is Simon Tonkin

Simon Tonkin is a writer and illustrator from Bristol. His poems first began littering the Small Press scene in the early Seventies and he won the Dylan Down the Ups short story competition in 2009. Since then he has become a full time artist and writer.

His first novel, The Writing Shed – as the title suggests – has the ghost of Dylan Thomas at its heart. He’s working on a second, Other Tongues and hopes to complete that shortly.

 DIRTY LAUNDRY

I warned her,
I told her how it would be,
An autopsy
Performed on something
Unsuspecting; something
That still paused occasionally
For breath.
And yet she seemed surprised
When its first elastic artery was cut
And we were covered, head to foot,
In blood and these awful screams
For its mother.
You get used to it, I said.
So did it squirm
Beneath our divinely guided hands.
What a fine pair of Abrahams we were,
All this done
For Love or Must,
Those obsessive and compulsive Gods.
Wear a Butcher’s apron, I’d said.
She’d thought upon it but declined.
So when her dress was wrecked,
Take it off, I said,
It’s easier to wash your flesh,
I spoke not as pathologist then.
Let’s go looking for the cause of life.

All the classic signs of fear,
Psychic tears, rapid breathing.
Now see for yourself.

The trick is… I added,
Keeping it alive…

While trimming away
The thick fat of mortality
And only leaving
Something that can never die.



Guest blogpost: Bernice Wicks

As part of this blog I asked some writer friends of mine to share their work on my blog. 

Today’s Guest Writer is  Bernice Wicks 

Bernice is currently writing a historical novel, Gwenni. 



A Walk in the Park by Bernice Wicks

I was plodding, in a pitiful sort of way, back across the field. It was another damp, cold Monday morning and I was tugging the old dog behind me on her lead like a reluctant kid to school.  A few brave birds tried to start a sing song in the bushes but there’s so few of them nowadays it faded away and they sat hunched up, sad amongst the branches. I was due at work in 20 minutes and if the drizzle got more business-like there would be another 5 minutes dog drying time, another 5 to feed them, or maybe they could wait, the journey took at least 15 minutes. No matter how I played it, I was late. All this and more buzzing through my head, and still half a field and a cemetery to plod through. A voice drifted over from behind and I turned ready with a ‘Good Morning.’


‘Your dog,’ she pointed to the more sprightly younger dog trotting towards me.


‘Your dog,’ she continued airily and waving a hand, ‘Did a poo, back there.’


I narrowed my eyes and gave her the thousand yard stare, as she was only about 200 yards away she should’ve shrivelled on the spot but the effect was spoilt by my ridiculously darkened reactolights. So I did my best truculent teenager impression and said, ‘Well I’m not going to find it now, am I?

What I should’ve said was, ‘Cripes, how remiss, come let us go and find the poo, show it to me that I might gladly scoop it up as I always do!’


She was only momentarily dazzled by my repartee before replying with,

‘You do have to keep an eye on them.’


Now if I hadn’t been late, damp, downright grumpy-as-hell I might have been amused. Keep an eye on him; he was much more likely to keep an eye on me! He was a very nervous sort of a dog and liked to keep his nose as close as possible to the back of my legs, in a constant panic that another dog is going to appear. We live in a city, dogs do appear and then he whimpers and puts his hackles up in a vain attempt to appear heroic. He’s a big dog, looks a bit like a half starved wolf, the look of a dog that swaggers through  the park picking off Staffies and Jack Russsells alike, that cocks his leg against the swings and rolls in the sandpit, a dog that has a lot of deals going down with the local Rottweilers. In fact he acts like a rabbit, a rabbit that’s had some hard knocks but is pathetically willing to come back for more. I welcomed him back with a reassuring pat and drew myself back up to full height and flung back in a shout that had the nearby crows rise from their perches in a cacophony of sound.


‘I think I’ve picked up enough shit over the years!’


Yeah, I’ve picked up enough shit.


Copyright: Bernice Wicks

Competitions to enter – go

I have an aversion to entering competitions. It seems like a good idea but I don’t do enjoy the waiting around – I tend to forget what I’ve entered, forget deadlines, forget when the results are announced, and sending off my entrance money into such a void seems a gamble when the certainties of the weekly shop are pressing.

Maybe there’s a competition app for that – if so let me know!

So, I don’t want to end up as a writer whose work was discovered after she died, tucked away in a forgotten place – such as this one at the wonderful Arnos Vale Cemetery. It’s lovely to linger there and look at the statuary, but I’d rather make an impact here and now.

So I am entering the following competitions – small scale, local and hopefully winnable. They are:
Southville Flash Fiction and a poetry competition for the Easton Arts Trail.  The challenge for that is to write a poem within 140 characters.

I’d advise writers to join local writers’ groups or writers’ groups on Facebook to find out what’s going on locally in your area. In the UK Mslexia is a great resource for women who write. Rather than re-invent the wheel I will point to a fabulous blog and blogger, Tania Writes, who has collated a fantastic collection of small magazines to try. Then of course there’s the Writers and Artists Yearbook – and I’ve just realised the deadline for a flash fiction piece or writing was yesterday. Doh…

Do you enter competitions? What works for you?

Story: Cornwall inspiration

At the weekend I visited Cornwall. Here’s a little something that emerged from the trip.

Cornish Water

Water, rock, survivor, water, rock, survivor. The sea boomed and called whilst the moon continued to shine over the jagged coastline and the container ship anchored far out to sea.

In Watch Tower Cottage Peg picked up her thread and continued with her cross-stitch tapestry of rhubarb and shears. She’d found it lying in a charity shop.  Someone had lost their thread and failed to complete the pattern. Peg was naturally a completer finisher and took on the challenge gladly. You could discover a great deal about people’s lives from charity shops.

She wondered about the scent of death – if the person who donated the mac or the pair of trousers had thrown things out or whether someone’s entire wardrobe had been donated after they died. On principle she did not buy clothes which looked as if they were worn by anyone under 60. An arbitrary figure but one she felt comfortable with. Her mobile began its irritating trill. The screen flashed a message from Anthony.

‘Sorry Peg, but it’s over. No hard feelings eh?’

 She laughed; her feelings weren’t hard they were raging explosions. She swam in the heat of them – a hot flush slicked her body with an instant sweat. It was true then, he had been sleeping with her. She looked down at her hands, her thighs, thought of what she’d given and got. No hard feelings eh?

She texted back: ‘Of course. Come round to say goodbye.’

Then she began to plot: Water, rock survivor, rock, needle, spine.

Short story: counting

Maize 

John paced.  Four strides each way. You’ll wear a hole in the carpet is mother had said. But in here there was no carpet. 

59, 60, 61, 65. He tried to remember why he’d ended up in this place.  The heavy curved marble of the lamp by his mother’s bed, the looped white tassels of the shade. That was all his memory could give.  He looked up. Was it night or day? Hard to tell with no natural light to guide him. He had to wait. The time was punctuated three times a day by a metal grille opening in the steel door of the cell. A large eyeball would stare at him then a steel flap would open out of the door like a shelf and a plate of food would be pushed towards him by a hand.
The hand was  fleshy with liver spots and silvery hairs. It was a married hand with a thick gold ring claiming the finger. John quickly grasped the plate with his bony, ring-less  fingers.  For a split second he was close to another person, as the hands held the same plate of food.  There was a giver and a receiver.   
‘Hello?’ He tried.
But the grille had already answered, shutting out any light, any clue of what the man’s hand could be connected to the other side of the grille. What he wore, what time of day it was, what was happening outside.
97, 98, 99, 46.  He’d played that game so often as a kid. Counting up to one hundred to pass the time. Where was he ? Ah yes, the 1960’s doctors, and there was Ken behind the pharmacy counter  measuring out tablets in small white boxes to add to those stacked high on shelves behind him. The smell of disinfectant and floor polish. He could never wait to get out of the place.  He stared at  Ken’s  white medical tunic  with a high collar, like a Star Trek uniform. It had short sleeves so Ken’s pale arms were on show. Ken was not a proper man like his Dad who wore a shirt, tie and jacket for work,  or the man in the hardware shop with his long teeth and saggy work overalls. Ken was exotic. He wrote their names down then waved John and his mother through to the waiting room.
Women were seated in rows. They looked them up and down,  nodded hello to Mum, then continued watching the big clock with the black hands. Boxy handbags were clutched on their laps and nylon head scarves firmly knotted.
Mum wore her beige mac. She gave him a Janet and John book from a table in the corner. He’d read it at school, which wasn’t hard because there was only one box of books for all forty kids.  He wanted more stories but there was never enough, and no books at home.
       The chairs were too big, the plastic bit the flesh behind his knees.  Plastic seemed an odd thing to make a chair out of. Wood was better, warmer. These new plastics had hard edges and they bent and cut into you if you lent backwards, and the thin metal legs scraped the floor if you jiggled to get comfortable.    
                                ‘Don’t kibble,’ hissed his mum. He carried on, leaning even further back. ‘Stop it John stop it,’ and she smacked his bare legs above his grey socks and below his shorts. He drummed his feet on the black and white tiled lino and counted, counted. 62, 63, 64, 65 Any pattern would do. The cracks in the ceiling, the cobwebs, the amount of people in the room, the chairs.  
That time in the car, trying to stop that green feeling in his stomach as they cornered their fat old Maxi, all four kids shoved in the back, sliding into each other.  He pushed the chrome  tulip-like lock up and down to hear the clunk as it locked the door.  Telegraph poles were good to count, they  were regular, rose above the hedges, their lines swayed in the wind.  Sometimes rooks would be sitting on them  and this would be a sub-set.  94, 93, 92. He liked starlings more than rooks, they  pecked  over the lawns of his grandmother’s house, their emerald green feathers dashed with spots. If he was at Gran’s at teatime he watched the flock swoop and swarm and regroup in the skies.  That was too hard to count. He began again with the telegraph poles, counting to stop the porridge and Ribena churning in his guts.  70, 71 72, 73.
How had he got here? He turned again in his cell and tried to remember what his mother had said. 89, 96, 92.  Spots on the floor. Mouse droppings ? Scrappets of food he’d rolled into pellets.
Next to the marble lamp, her teeth were in the glass, the U shaped dentures swimming in a fizz. She clasped his wrist, her hand cold. Leathery where the skin had shrunk. She smelt of face powder and daffodils. He could see her beige mac with the cool horn buttons. Her voice was clear in his head as she bought her hand down, sharp on his legs, ‘Stop it John, stop it.’
But he hadn’t. Stopped it.
45, 78, 94…………