Coming Back to Our Story

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A strange thing, this life, this writing business; this process of picking ourselves open along the scars.

I’ve been somewhat stressed of late and started not sleeping well again and, oh, generally feeling a bit overwhelmed by the workload. I often talk about the workload because it’s a constant. I’m at a point in my career where I still can’t turn things down, and I have to constantly have a plan for the next thing. At the minute I am simultaneously working on four projects, two of which are big future projects which are terrifically important to me as a creative practitioner and the other two projects are terrifically important to me because I need to pay my mortgage. I seem to just chip one thing off, and I have to add another on. This isn’t a moan post, by the way, I am incredibly lucky to have found a way to make a living helping people with their creative endeavours and I would not swap that for anything, I love it. I love all the things I do – the theatre reviewing, the article writing, mentoring, editing, course running. But I’m also a writer. I need to write.

I was meant to have finished the final edits on my new collection way back in April. My incredible, patient publisher hasn’t bugged me about it, they are giving me the freedom to come to this collection in the way that I need to. This is by far the most important collection of poems I’ve written. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think they’ll be earth shattering, award winning, life changing poems for anyone other than me, but they are my truth and my story, and my daughter’s story. Because of that, they are the most important poems I have ever written.  The subject matter is so full of emotional moorings. They feel sticky with pregnancy and birth and when I look at them they feel full of my daughter, swelled with her importance. But more than that, they are full of recognition by me, of me. It’s difficult to define why that’s important. They are a recognition of myself as strong, as an individual: as a woman, as a child as a person, as a bereaved mum, as an infertile woman, as a childless woman. These are big, painful poems. They are so close to me and I am so frightened of touching them again that I have effectively procrastinated the months away, prioritising other things instead of tackling the MS, and getting more and more worn out by the amount of work I’m doing. I am still packing the wound that her death left with work, making sure I feel bone tired. I’d started to post sad little ‘I’m tired’ posts on social media, which I was deleting because, God, who isn’t tired?! Who isn’t struggling, who isn’t suffering in one way or another. I have no complaints, I have a good life, I just need to embrace the difficulties and celebrate the good stuff, and there is good stuff a plenty.

Yesterday was one of the ‘I’m so tired, poor me’ post/delete days. Heightened because Chris was going away and I worry so much about him dying in a car crash or being stabbed in street brawl or any number of horrible things that could happen but probably won’t but could but probably won’t but could….on and on and on in my head like that, that the anxiety will keep me static for hours until I know he’s safe. Such is the legacy of trauma I’m afraid. To cut a long story short I happened to check into Facebook memories. Mostly these memories tend to be selfies and pictures of my cat, but sometimes a worm hole opens to the year my daughter died. Yesterday’s was from 2010 ‘another bottle of gin drunk, another bottle of gin bought’ and I remembered suddenly so clearly that time three months after she’d died when I was spiralling, out of control, sinking into her death and drinking a bottle of gin a day to deal with the unbearable pain of it. It was one of those ‘bloody hell, that was a bad time’ things where you recognise how bad things have been. I made a comment about it on twitter and said it sort of put things into perspective, because yeah, I’m tired, but I’m no longer trying to survive an alternate universe of grief in which every single thing, thought and feeling is hell. 120 people liked that post, I was completely taken aback by the support. And I got a shed load of comments of support, some from people who have only recently had babies, too. I think my experiences are often difficult for people who have just had babies or are pregnant to deal with. They don’t know what to say to me, so that sort of recognition rather than avoidance is always appreciated.

It was like a touchstone to that time, and I thought about it all day, all night, and suddenly I realised I’m ready. Christ, look at me, I’m Titanium, I’m bomb proof and I have a voice and I have a story, our story to tell. This book, it’s a goodbye to my daughter, and it’s an acceptance of self and of future. I think I’ve said something along these lines before, about this book and what it means. I’ve been working on it since, I think, 2014. And now it’s nearly done and I am nearly done. Losing my baby, especially in the way we did, it took everything from me, but having her, having the experience of a love that big and knowing exactly how much you can love someone, it gave me everything, it gave me everything I am today, here. This is where I am now.

I have only written two poems this year. I would have been worried about that before, but I’ve come to recognise that for me poetry is a specific process that comes when it comes, and I can feel it now, it’s coming back. I think when I finished the MS I was just exhausted by it, poetically exhausted. I couldn’t write another thing, it was a giant purge of extreme emotion and I haven’t, if I’m honest, really read a great deal of poetry either. I’ve put the edits on the MS off because I didn’t want to go back down into the underworld, back to hell and back into yet another deep depression, which is what happened when I was working on the MS last time. But now, I don’t know. I feel like I am preparing myself. I can feel it coming, I’ve started reading poetry again, I’ve started writing poetry again, and it’s good, it’s right. I tentatively opened the MS and I can see what needs to be done with it. I’ve been testing the poems on audiences at readings and they go down well.

There are poems to be written and they are prickling around my bones like new red blood cells. It feels like being in touch with the intensity of emotion that the experience, my love is and was,  it feels like I am about to meet my daughter again, and I feel just a little bit mad, on the cusp of some great wave of creativity that is going to take me somewhere else, and it feels good. It feels clean and sharp, I feel clean and sharp and strong and fast, like a hare, ready to do this.

That’s all. I need to tell this story. That’s all.

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New Online Course Starting August 1st – Telling Your Story

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I had considered taking a break from running the online courses, just while I get the final edits done on my own manuscript, but actually, I get so much out of these month long workshops that I think I’d really miss it if I wasn’t running one. Also I’m expecting/hoping to have a couple of big funded projects coming up from September which will likely take most of my time up, so this might all be the last one for a few months anyway. Incidentally, if you were considering taking a mentoring or editing slot with me, August would be the time to book in as I don’t know when I’ll have spaces available again.

The new course will start  August 1st. It’s called Telling Your Story.

What the Course Covers

The course is designed to encourage you to tell your own story, to look at your life as a journey and use creativity to record the things that are important to you. The course is designed to be a safe space in which you can gently explore your own self and sense of self in a supportive and encouraging environment, using creativity to create a frame work on which you can describe your journey.

How the Course Works

The course will last the full month of August, with a daily prompt, weekly notes and poems, videos, talks, links and other relevant material included as examples of the themes we’ll be covering, all of which is delivered directly to your email inbox. There’s also a closed facebook page where course attendees can share their work, and a weekly chat group where everyone gets together and…chats. The whole thing is moderated by myself and I interact with the group on a daily basis.

Who the Course is Aimed at

The course is aimed at beginners through to established writers, there’s something for everyone. We’ll be working in poetry and creative non fiction and whilst you are encouraged to push out of your comfort zone, you don’t have to write in both forms if you don’t want to.

The No Pressure Style

Thesis a no pressure course in which you do not have to produce anything, nor do you have to comment or even join the FB page. It is much more important to me that you relax and enjoy the course, enjoy the prompts and enjoy engaging with your own story.

Sounds good doesn’t it! I’m really looking forward to having you on board.

To Sign Up

  1. Go to PayPal and make a payment of £20 to wendycatpratt@yahoo.co.uk  Please add a note containing the email address you wish the course prompts to come to. Please do let me know if paypal isn’t an option for you and we’ll sort something out.
  2. I will send a brief welcome letter to that address to make sure the address works, this will also contain a link to the closed Facebook group, so don’t panic if you can’t find it on facebook.
  3. Request to join the Facebook group. If you can’t find it, or there are any problems, drop me a line at wendyprattfreelancewriter@gmail.com and we’ll get it all sorted out before August starts.
  4. That’s it. It should be quite straight forward, but again, let me know if you have any questions or are experiencing any problems and I’ll endeavour to get it all sorted.
  5. Everything will arrive via email.

Have fun!

Spaces are limited so please book as early as possible.

***You are also welcome to sponsor a place for a disadvantaged or low income person. If you’d like to chat about taking one of the sponsored places up, drop me a line at wendyprattfreelancewriter@gmail.com***

What I Read in 2019: Lowborn by Kerry Hudson

Lowborn

 

Sometimes you come across a book that comes close to being journey changing or life altering. This is one of them. I’ve talked about Kerry before in a blog piece I wrote ages ago. I wrote about how good she is at walking the walk as well as talking the talk when it comes to helping other less advantaged writers. You can read the blog piece here. So it’s no real surprise that I thought I was going to enjoy her new book. ‘Enjoy’ feels like the wrong word to use in this instance as the book is actually quite harrowing in places and certainly sad. It charts Kerry’s journey from a life of poverty to a place of self worth, of acceptance and achievement. I’m making it sound like one of those tear jerkers that are always in bargain buckets, but it really isn’t. This is a story of acknowledgement of pain, of suffering, but it’s not a story of defeat, it’s a story of strength. And true to form Kerry uses her own story to highlight the utter injustice of the society, the way we are conditioned away from a compassionate approach towards those living in poverty, and instead pushed towards judging them, blaming them for the circumstances that continued cycles of pain and poverty create.

When I say I enjoyed the book, I mean I related to it, and it made me angry. But also what makes it enjoyable is the absolute quality of the writing. Kerry has a measured, observational tone which holds a great deal of emotion, quietly. She is witty, sometimes blunt, sometimes angry, but never anything less than meticulous in the nuts and bolts of the writing: the language choice, pace and deliverance, the ordering of the memoir, the decisions on what should stay and what should go. It’s a beautifully crafted book which was genuinely a pleasure to read. I gobbled it up over three days and whilst I would love to join in with the wave of folk who are kindly giving their copies to other readers who might not be able to afford to buy it, I can’t do that because I want to return to it. More than that, I want it on my bookshelf as an emblem of what can be achieved.

I am working class, but I’m not from a background of poverty. We were a poor-ish family; we  had second hand toys, hand me down clothes, we rode in cars that came from scrap heaps and we ate own brand stuff. My dad taught us the value of what other people threw away in skips. We went without stuff. And if we wanted stuff we made it. My parents made things for us. But we owned our own house, we had a mum and a dad, we ate three meals a day of home cooked food and my parents both worked. They had no drug or alcohol issues, we attended school and we lived in the same place until we all left home. We were not taken in to care, though we knew of people that were. We were clean and fed and we made it into adulthood, all three of us. But still, there was so much that I related to in this book. A lot of what I related to was the working class stuff; a lot of feeling like a sore thumb in a school in which most pupils were very middle class, the way a lot of the teachers looked down on us, the way that aspirations were not for the likes of us, which has always made higher learning something of a test of nerves for me, in fact I think it certainly influenced the imposer syndrome which ruined so much of my last PhD attempt. But also there were small things I could relate to, the things that have been carried into adulthood;  like the act that I put on when I am in professional mode, the humour which I use as a defence, the sting of having accent picked on and more, much more personal stuff around alcohol and sexual experiences, the need to belong, the constant search for acceptance.

I hope this book makes its way into prisons and schools, I hope that it makes it into domestic abuse refuges, but more than that I hope it makes it into Westminster and into the hands of the politicians who are running the country who are supposed to represent us, but simply cannot imagine the circumstances in which we are grown. These people who make such flippant remarks about historic child sex abuse cases, disability, austerity, social housing, the NHS etc etc etc these people who can’t possibly comprehend  the knife edge of the poverty line that a good proportion of the country live on, or the utter life f**k that trauma is, that parental neglect is.

I should say, because I don’t want to end on a note of anger, that this book is uplifting. I want to keep it on my bookshelf to inspire me, and to remind me that there are people out there that are putting their money where their mouth is and doing the sort of things to help others that make a huge difference. One of those things is being visible, telling the truth, being honest and opening their hearts for the public to pick over. I am so grateful that Kerry Hudson has done this.

 

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Giving Yourself Permission to Write Badly

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We’ve passed the halfway point of June. How? HOW? The year is sliding away. I’m trying to shift a massive workload, and my moods have been a bit up and down of late, but I think I am finally reaching the end of it. I’m hoping that working all these hours is going to free me a full week of research for the novel/la I’m trying to write. It will be worth it to be able to just sink into my own work, and I’m nearly there now, but goodness, I am tired. The image of me just sitting with my coffee, surrounded by books and disappearing into my current obsession is keeping me going. Though, knowing me, I will likely procrastinate for the whole week I’ve worked so hard for.

Something I’ve noticed over the last few weeks while I’ve been running the Approaching your Writing with a Beginner’s Mind course, and while I have been mentoring; something that is a recurring theme in workshops and courses and mentoring and something I see in myself, is the way we tend to prioritise, procrastinate and generally faff about when we actually do have time to write. It’s hard enough to make the time to write in the first place, so why are writers (all creatives?) so inclined to avoid the creative bit when they get anywhere near it? My experience is this: all writer’s block, all procrastination, all the avoidance techniques we create over our writing, whether subconscious or not, comes from a fear of failure. We put so much pressure on ourselves in the designated time that we do allow ourselves to write, that when we get there we flounder, fearing confirmation of the niggling thought that talks us into believing that actually, we aren’t talented and we are wasting time which could be better employed doing the washing up or we are too old, too isolated, simply not good enough to get where we want to be, so why bother. And then there is the blank page, the curser winking, the pencil lying still, the blank page stubbornly remaining blank. We prophesied it, it came true, we are rubbish after all.

How do we get round that? We accept that not all writing is brilliant, and we give ourselves permission to be crap at something. We don’t wallow in the crappiness, we don’t humble brag (“I won the pulitzer, but honestly, I don’t know what they were thinking because everything I write is crap” ) but we do allow ourselves the wiggle room needed to create something good. You can’t create well if you are bound up worrying that you’re going to create badly. Those milky, glossy opals of good writing need to be dug out, and sometimes you have to shovel a lot of dirt to get to them, but every spadeful of soil you turn builds muscles, hones hand eye coordination, makes you stronger, better, sharper. I think I’ve exhausted that metaphor now. I’ve talked about the rule of three, my firm belief that in every three pieces of writing created, one will be appalling, one will be decently crafted but a bit meh, and one will have the potential to be really good. But you’ve got to write all three, so you might as well accept that one of those pieces will be crap.

Go to your desk, set the washing up aside, it will still be there when you get back, and don’t worry about how long it’s going to take to write a short story or a poem or a novel or…whatever,  because the time will pass anyway, and don’t worry about getting it right, just get out written.

 

Don’t forget that my new course: What the Trees Talk About starts on July 1st. It’s a popular one, people love trees, and there are limited places. I’m loving doing the research around it. I have been out in my village identifying and guessing the ages of some of the trees in the lane and it has been lovely. I hope you’ll join us, it’s shaping up to be a lovely friendly group again.

 

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What the Trees Talk About: A New Online, Month Long Workshop Starting July 1st

creek in a forest
Photo by Mike Tanase on Pexels.com

What the Trees Talk About

We are finding out more and more about the secret lives of trees: how they communicate by mycelium fibres below the ground, how they care for their children, how they warn each other of danger, how they continue to feed the stumps of other,  cut down trees by passing nutrients to them through their roots. Trees are an important part of our human culture. After all, once upon a time we lived in the trees, we relied on trees for fuel, for building materials. We grow trees that bear fruit, we sit under trees, we walk for pleasure amongst trees. Have you ever placed your ear against that trunk of a tree to hear the sap rise? have you ever climbed a tree? Do you love autumn; walking through the fallen leaves, crunching over beech nut cases and searching for conkers? And what about our folktales – the green man blooming life from his very features, the protective qualities of the Rowan tree, Druidism and the oak tree, tales of talking trees and trees in which the fairy folk lived.

Join me for this four week, online poetry workshop: What the Trees Talk About, starting on 1st July 2019. The course includes a daily prompt delivered directly to your inbox every day, weekly course notes with online resources, interesting facts, creative writing examples and a weekly tree challenge, and access to the closed facebook group where you can chat, make friends, share your work and comment on other people’s. Also included as a new feature is a weekly online chat group where we will discuss the weeks topics, moderated by myself. The course is suitable to all levels and genres of writing with particular focus on poetry, creative non fiction and short fiction writing. You do not need to have any experience of creative writing to sign up, beginners are very much welcomed, along with more experienced writers. This is a pressure free arena, so you don’t have to join the FB group to enjoy the course and you are not pressured into producing work, and there is no requirement to post work in the Facebook group. It’s much more important to me that you have an enjoyable experience in a warm and welcoming environment.

Ready? Follow these simple steps. Once you’ve paid I will send your welcome letter and link to the online Facebook group, ready to get started on July 1st. I’m looking forward to having you onboard!

Instructions.

  1. Go to PayPal and make a payment of £20 to wendycatpratt@yahoo.co.uk  Please add a note containing the email address you wish the course prompts to come to. Please do let me know if paypal isn’t an option for you and we’ll sort something out.
  2. I will send a brief welcome letter to that address to make sure the address works, this will also contain a link to the closed Facebook group, so don’t panic if you can’t find it on facebook.
  3. Request to join the Facebook group. If you can’t find it, or there are any problems, drop me a line at wendyprattfreelancewriter@gmail.com and we’ll get it all sorted out before the July starts.
  4. That’s it. It should be quite straight forward, but again, let me know if you have any questions or are experiencing any problems and I’ll endeavour to get it all sorted.
  5. Everything will arrive via email.

Have fun!

Spaces are limited so please book as early as possible.

 

 

What I Read in 2019: Ill Will -The Untold Story of Heathcliff- by Michael Stewart – a Mini Review

Ill Will

 

I’ve been working on a big Brontë related project for what seems like ages, and I’ve just lined up another Brontë project for later in the year. I thought I was a bit Brontë’d out, but turns out I’m not. One of the things I love about the Brontë legacy is the way that it lives on, not just in the love of the books, in the brilliant film and television adaptations of the books and the documentaries about the family, but in the way that artists and writers find their own way to invest and expand on that legacy through their own work. In Ill Will we have just this, Michael Sewart has immersed himself in  Wuthering Heights and followed Heathcliff out onto the moors, tracking him throughout the time he disappeared.

Of all the Brontë characters, Heathcliff is probably the most complex in terms of reader relationship and in terms of characterisation. He is a rough, nasty, violent, aggressive, overbearing character; a cruel character, but we also know he is vulnerable, has vulnerabilities and loves deeply and passionately. We feel his pain when he is hurt, but hate him too, for his actions. So it’s a brave decision for any writer to take that on and create a story around him.

To step back a little, I wanted to firstly comment on the quality of the book itself; the design is beautiful, it is tactile, beautifully weighted with good, thick paper and there is great attention to detail, including a beautifully illustrated map in the front. I do love a map in a book. I think the look of a book is important, or it is to me. If I buy a book I want it to feel good in my hands, I want it to feel robust and long lasting, I want it to look good on my bookcase shelf. The important bit is still the words inside, but all the same, I do tend to judge books by their covers.

Now, to the story, which flows well, smoothly, the characters are witty, well fleshed and there are parts of the story that are genuinely moving. It is gory, proper gory in places, and in my opinion, that’s what the book needs in order to reanimate and possess the anti-hero of Heathcliff and bring him to an audience who are less aghast at poor moral values, and yet still shocked by violence and yes, gore. Michael’s Heathcliff is more childlike than I remember him, tough it’s been a while since I read WH, and he is more vulnerable too. It’s fascinating to see the character reinterpreted through the eyes of another writer, I’m interested in the process, how he was built. There must have been a massive amount of research done in order to pull together the factual and the fictional.

Michael brings another character into Ill Will, to work alongside Heathcliff. It works well, engendering that vulnerable, emotional seam of Heathcliff, and allowing him to expand outside of the confines of evil, jealous and angry. This paring up of two quite different characters  gives the story a great deal of momentum. It can’t all be gothic, dark, Brontë indulgence, sometimes there’s got to be a bit of humour, and a bit of texture.

I’m not giving anything about the plot away, you need to read it yourself, and you should, if only for the meticulous attention to the experience of long distance walking, something that I know Michael is familiar with. I believe he walked from Haworth to Liverpool as research. The other thing I love about this story is the use of language, the exploration of the the vernacular, the old slang words and the way the accents change from place to place. Thesis particularly well done.

It’s a good story, one for a rainy evening in front of a fire, or even better, a stormy night in bed with a guttering candle and a tap tap tapping of a branch (or was it a small white hand?) at the window. Go read it.

 

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Upcoming Reading: Sock it to Eating Disorders Spoken Word Charity Event

BEAT

I’m going to be at this event at the Black Swann Inn Peasholme Green in York this Saturday (8th June) and it’s going to be a powerful, brilliant event with some cracking poets and poetry. Entry is only £3. Amber is one of those people who inspires other people to help out, and it would be absolutely wonderful to see a good big crowd there. I’ll be reading poetry from my upcoming collection with Valley Press and they’ll be poems about body ownership, and some on disordered eating and being friends with your body too. I am personally really looking forward to seeing the other poets on the bill, they are all so good and it’s such a wonderful range of styles.

Get yourself down there, you know you want to. Plus, it’s for charidee.

 

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