Sunday, 15 July 2012

Why is a creative writing course like a seesaw?

Tomorrow, at seven o’clock in the morning, I shall be setting off for Luton airport from where I shall fly to Inverness and then take a taxi to a remote farmhouse near Loch Ness. The purpose of this lengthy journey will be to immerse myself in a truly creative environment and spend time with people who, like me, wish to improve their creative writing skills. For a week, I will be tutored by three published writers (Meaghan Delahunt, Linda Cracknell and Kirsty Gunn), and attempt to produce some work worthy of the title ‘fiction’.

I’m quite nervous about this little escapade I shall be embarking on. This will be the first time I’ve been away from home for longer than one night with literally no one I know, and what’s more, this is a proper grown-up course: I’m pretty sure I’ll be the youngest person there by quite a way. I’m really throwing myself outside of my comfort zone – but of course everyone will be perfectly friendly, and even if I have a terrible time it’s only for five days, so really there’s nothing to be worried about.

My dad has a nice metaphor for doing things one doesn’t initially feel comfortable with. He says to see it as a seesaw, and you are walking from one end to the other with no one at the other side. As you walk from the low end upwards, you’re probably fine until you get to the middle, where you’ll probably freak out from the tipping and want to turn around and go back. However, if you stay and manage to keep your balance, once the seesaw has tipped all the way it’s not so scary anymore, and in fact running down the other side might actually be fun. The trick is to just push yourself that little bit further over the scary bit and after that you’re laughing.

I’ve found that a useful metaphor from time to time when faced with something I don’t really want to see through. Right now, I’d rather spend the next week at home chilling out rather than in the Scottish highlands with a bunch of strangers – but I’ll throw myself into it and it’ll be one more inner challenge that I’ve conquered.

For details of the course I'm going on go to

Thursday, 12 July 2012

“Achievement brings its own anticlimax” ~ Maya Angelou

I’m not going to pick apart the quote like I intended to do, but I thought I’d post it anyway because it’s sort of how I’ve been feeling for the last few days, in terms of the massive school show that I waited for six years to be my turn to do and now it’s done. Maya Angelou has comforted me. It’s true – after any big event that you build up in your mind, an anticlimax is inevitable. But I think the word to focus on is ‘achievement’; look at what you did and celebrate that, and look forward to more achievements to come, rather than regretting the passing of those that have already been enjoyed. I have a fantastic summer ahead of me (I’m going to Scotland and Singapore), and I refuse to sit and mope and wish I still had other things to look forward to. What I do have is more than enough, and I’ll enjoy the memories of things that are in the past. It would be a shame to waste the summer living in the past.

Saturday, 7 July 2012


I thought I would write about university open days today as that’s basically all I’ve been doing recently, but that’s boring and seeing as I tortured you with my own writing a few days ago I thought I’d make up for it with someone else’s excellent poetry.

If you know me, then you probably know that I’m a Classics student and am just as obsessed with ancient literature as I am with modern. This poem itself was only written in 1911 by the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy who lived between 1863 and 1933 and spent much of his working life in Alexandria. However, it was inspired by Homer’s epic poem, the Odyssey (if you haven’t read it I really recommend it – it’s fabulously exciting and the Penguin translation isn’t tricky to get through), and the theme of return and voyaging that reoccurs throughout. I love this poem because of the morals it represents: living to enjoy life, living to learn and discover, and defeating one’s inner monsters to become a better person. This is my favourite translation from the original Greek, and it is by one of my most beloved childhood authors, Caroline Lawrence, the genius who taught me that Classics is brilliant through her seventeen hilarious and gripping novels called The Roman Mysteries.

When you set sail for Ithaca
Pray that the journey will be long
Full of adventure, full of discovery.
Don’t be afraid of Scylla and Charybdis.
The sirens and the harpies
And even the Cyclops hold no danger for you.
You won’t find such creatures on your journey
If your thoughts are high and you have a noble motive.
You won’t find such creatures
Unless you erect altars to them in your heart.
Pray that the voyage will be a long one
With many a summer’s evening when,
With such pleasure, such joy,
You enter harbours you have never seen before.
May you visit Phoenician markets and Egyptian ports
To buy pearls, coral, amber, ebony and gems of wisdom.
As you sip heady wines from the west
And inhale sensual perfumes from the east
Always keep Ithaca in mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
Better if the journey lasts for years
So that you are old by the time you drop anchor there,
Wealthy with all that you have learned on the way.
Ithaca will not make you rich.
She gave you your marvellous journey.
She has nothing more to give you.
Without her you would not have set out.
So if you find her poor, it’s not because she fooled you.
You will be so rich with experience
That you will finally understand
What Ithaca really means.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

The Beetle in the Rain

I’m not going to search for an excuse for my silence, but to be fair I have had exams. Although they did end over a month ago now.

I haven’t thought of anything to say but I wanted to break the awkward silence, so I’m going to post a dreadfully depressing short story that I wrote a while ago, for your perusal. I don’t know whether or not I like it but it’s short and (not particularly) sweet, so it is well-suited for a quick, unplanned blog post. When writing it I attempted to emulate the style of Ernest Hemingway (I also may have stolen the idea and the title from him too, although this is based on a real experience) – I’d just finished reading For Whom the Bell Tolls, which by the way is EPIC. However, I did find the ending a bit of a letdown. Anyone else read it? Anyone else find it a pretty rubbish way to round off a fantastically told story? Let me know. Anyways, without further ado:

The Beetle in the Rain

The three girls sat in the pavilion, bedraggled hair framing tired faces, crooked cigarettes dying slowly between tired, crooked fingers. The rain fell from the grey sky upon the grey patio and the grey path, and upon the waterlogged lawn. The trees dripped. Their leaves were as heavy and as limp as numb limbs. The rain beat a steady drum upon the stone and soil, and upon the roof of the pavilion. The girls huddled beneath denim jackets. Their cigarettes burned, dry and smoky. The smoke danced through the pavilion and out into the rain where it sank into the grey sky. Ash fell upon the stone.

A beetle dragged its dying form from the rain into the pavilion. Its wings hung useless from its abdomen. Its legs trembled under the weight of its waterlogged, swollen body, and from the effort of searching for dry ground. The rain fell upon the patio and the grass outside, the steady finger-tapping, narrow fingers tapping on the roof, on the grass. The beetle dragged itself in and out of puddles, and the three girls watched.

Eventually the beetle curled up on the floor, twitching. The girls watched the beetle, and looked out at the rain, and watched the beetle again. They watched as it died slowly, soaked by the rain. One of them stood up and took a long drag of her cigarette. Slowly she lifted her foot and looked away as it fell once, twice, three times upon the dying creature. It crunched and she winced. As she lifted her foot again and saw what she had made, she felt a lump in her throat. She threw down her cigarette beside the beetle and stamped it out.

Gosh, that is gloomy. Not really fitting for a blog on reasons to be cheerful. I promise next time I’ll devise a happier theme. Until then, adios amigos.