X marked the spot in the hall behind
the Burnett Arms, where our class danced
on Thursdays over crossed swords
to bagpipes skirling Ghillie Callum,
a seventy-eight on the Dansette.
The turntable turned, and so did we,
twenty kilts fanning out like accordions
swung up like tartan wings behind us
and our black laced pumps
pranced plump pas de basque
up and down, round and round,
Whirling high with bonny smiles
we had no thought of edges
sharp as Sheffield knives
under our feet.
Later I learned
that to touch
in flat, black shoes
and sky-blue suits
dispense clear liquids that drip, drip
from innocent plastic bags, incinerated after use.
Do not talk to me of battles.
Let me dance through the door with nothing
but numbness of neuropathy
in my toes,
Where did that blog go? Things have been looking a bit quiet on Harping On, as I’ve been busy with the OU’s new MA in Creative Writing. Writing about writing has therefore taken a back seat. Along with that has come a little bit of a desire to do less in the way of social media – it’s good to create a bit of space sometimes.
In the meantime, the German version of my story ‘Ships that Pass’ has been published in the anthology ‘Vierertreffen’, which means a Meeting of Four. I haven’t met the other three authors in real life, but perhaps I will some day. Two of us are from Scotland, two of us are from Ireland – hello to Brian McNeill, Rita Kelly and Micheál Ó Conghaile – and many thanks to Karin Braun and Gabriele Haefs for compiling this volume of four ‘long short stories’.
I’m half way through the first year of the MA course, where I’m studying Poetry as my primary genre and Fiction as my secondary. This is the opposite way round from what I originally intended – I just thought it would be more interesting to develop the poetry side, as I felt I had a lot to learn about doing it better. So far, the course material has been stimulating and people are contributing some interesting stuff in the online tutor group. I’ve been challenged, pushed in a few new directions and received some home truths about improving my focus. The downside is that it is all online – you don’t meet the tutor or participants, and there is an awful lot of screen work and clicking, which has given me some RSI problems … another reason for being a bit quiet on the blog.
In the pursuit of more poetry-sharing with real people in the real world, I’ll be co-leading a poetry workshop with local poet Geraldine Green on 25th February. This workshop is one in Geraldine’s ‘Write on the Farm’ series which I’ve been attending for a year or two. When someone discovered I had a harp they wanted me to bring it to the party, and this workshop is the result! We’ll be looking at the origins of the instrument, talking about lyric poetry and writing in response to harp music. Time in the outdoors is always a part of Geraldine’s workshop, as is some quiet writing time in the afternoon. It is already fully booked!
I’ve needed a summer break – a chance to reflect on the ups and down of the last year since my cancer diagnosis, and to consider new projects. I feel very well and apparently look great on my treatment, but I’m constantly monitored and checked, which inevitably makes me edgy. However, I’ve worked out the best way forward is to Keep Calm and Be Normal. Going out and doing stuff with others and having a project or two helps me forget for increasingly long periods what happened. Onwards!
Sometimes a special time comes along and all your interests and ideas converge, and this past weekend has been just like that. Geraldine Green, Writer in Residence at Brantwood, Coniston, who also runs writers’ workshops at a local Cumbrian farmhouse, says it is ‘full moon magic’. On the day after the full moon, the sun shone for us for the above the Lune valley, lighting up this year’s particularly prolific rowan berries and plump blackberries in the hedgerows.
Among other things, we wrote to prompts on memories and fruit using Marsha de la O’s ‘UnderThe Lemon Tree’. In the afternoon we wandered out with ‘The Earth is a Living thing’ by Lucille Clifton; the path took us on to the hills overlooking the Lune Valley to pause, contemplate and write.
There were more riches for me the following day at a Harps North West workshop. Over the past year our composer in residence, Karen Marshalsay, has been working with us on a suite of music specially written for Harps North West – all ability levels will be able to join in, and the idea is that the music will reflect who we are and the landscape in which we live. We have had two workshops in February and June where Karen has tried out her ideas for melodies and taught us some interesting techniques such as bee’s plaits, finger plaits, shoogly finger and gurgly two handed variations. We now have the finished piece.
It has been fascinating to share in the creative process over a long period and to see that it is very much like writing a poem – the ideas and themes, the refrains, the motifs. And then there’s the putting away of a work and letting it bubble and marinate, the taking it out and reshaping until it finds its final form. Karen’s finished suite is entitled ‘The lay of the land’ and her opening section ‘Approaching Lune Gorge’ is about that landscape in which the poets walked on Saturday.
Karen said that getting to know the landscape over the year and in different seasons helped her round the finished piece.
The lay of the land for me is somewhat different from what it was a year ago. During the year of my illness and recovery, copies of ‘Shifting Sands’, my book of short stories, have sold well, and I’d like to thank everyone for all the positive comments I’ve received. I’m delighted to say you can now even buy it on the shops on CalMac Ferries, so check it out over a CalMac cooked breakfast the next time you are sailing to the Hebrides.
But now it’s time for a new challenge. I’ve been offered a place on the Open University’s new MA in Creative Writing, and I’m excited to be starting soon. Initially I thought I would major in fiction, but lately I’ve been pulled in more by poetry and its connection with music, and this past weekend has underlined that choosing poetry as my main genre will be my way forward. I have some new ideas, and among other things I will be doing a workshop with Geraldine in February on connections between harp and poetry.
Thanks go to Geraldine and all who contributed to the poetry day, particularly Jane Moss-Luffrum for letting me use her wonderful photographs on the blog. Thanks also go to Karen and all at Harps North West for all the fine music we make together.
Following on from our teamwork on the great NaPoWriMo challenge in April, Divyam and I were invited to write a blog for Bec Evans at Write Track on Targets and Teamwork. Follow the links and enjoy Divyam’s wonderful cartoons!
I am THRILLED to be featured on the Write-Track blog, together with my writing buddy, the fabulous Christine Cochrane! Join us for a conversation about taking part in this year’s NaPoWriMo, including the challenges we faced and how we supported each other along the way. Plus: CARTOONS!
What keeps us going as writers? Staring alone at the blank page doesn’t always work; sometimes it’s about targets and teamwork. Christine Cochrane and Divyam Chaya Bernstein are two writers who recently completed the daily writing challenge NaPoWriMo. They tell us how they supported each other along the way.
Read the full article here: Targets and teamwork: how to complete a daily writing challenge
It’s been five months since I published ‘Shifting Sands’ and I’m delighted to say sales have gone well, both for the book (available online from Lumphanan Press (http://lumphananpress.co.uk/product/shifting-sands/) and for the ebook (available on Amazon Kindle http://www.amazon.co.uk/Shifting-Sands-Tales-Transience-Transformation-ebook/dp/B0187MJUL2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1449398674&sr=8-1&keywords=shifting+sands+christine+cochrane). There are some great, informative reviews up there on Amazon, so thanks to all who have read and commented! If you’re travelling in the Scottish Highlands and Islands, the book is also available at
Aros Centre, Portree, Skye
Carmina Gadelica, Portree, Skye
MacGillivray’s, Balivanich, Benbecula
Kildonan Museum, South Uist
and more to come!
It’s been a turbulent five months for me as I have been going through cancer treatment, but I’m coming out the other side now and enjoying the spring sunshine as well as the daily prompts for NaPoWriMo 2016 which I’ve been posting on my blog throughout April. Thanks go to my husband Iain for dealing with a lot of the book administration when I wasn’t up to it!
Thanks also go to all the people who have kept me cheered with cards, flowers and chocolates. The parcels are still coming! Yesterday brought this delightful selection from Gabriele Haefs in Germany.
And here’s the text of the review and an English translation:
Schottisches Buch: Von Christine Cochrane gibt es bisher eine Geschichte auf Deutsch (in dem Buch ‘Weibsbilder’ der Edition Narrenflug). Es ist eine Geschichte wie eine schottische Ballade, von einer Frau, die auch Seehundsgestalt hat und die an Land kommt, um Unheil anzurichten. Diese Erzählung ist auch in Christines neuer Sammlung enthalten, die gerade auf Englisch erschienen ist. Man koennte ja denken, sie schriebe nur solche märchenhafte Dinge, aber einige Erzählungen sind auch im Hier und Jetzt verwurzelt. Die Personen halten sich nicht nur auf den Hebriden oder in Glasgow auf. Auch nach Spanien und sogar nach Schwerin führt sie ihr Weg. Und immer ist Musik im Spiel – eine alte verwirrte Dame im Altersheim erinnert sich ploetzlich an ein Lied, mit dem sie immer großen Erfolg hatte, eine junge Witwe versucht trotz allen Widerstandes ihrer Familie ein neues Leben als Sängerin anzufangen, ein älteres Ehepaar, das sich vor vielen Jahren in einem Folkclub kennengelernt hat, will den Lebensabend in Spanen verbringen – der Mann packt seine alte Gitarre aus und statt ‘Streets of London’ spielt er nun Flamenco. Sch schoen und variert sind die Geschichten, und so lange es das Buch noch nicht in deutscher Uebersetzung gibt, empfehlen wir den massenhaften Erwerb der englischen Ausgabe über http://www.lumphananpress.co.uk
Scottish Book: One of Christine Cochrane’s short stories has appeared in German (in the anthology ‘Weibsbilder’ from Edition Narrenflug). It’s a story a bit like a Scottish ballad about a ‘selkie’, a seal who takes the form of a woman and who comes on land to create misfortune. This story appears in Christine’s new collection of short stories which has just come out in English. You might imagine that she only writes fairy-tales like this one, but the other stories are firmly rooted in the here and now. The characters are not just in the Hebrides or Glasgow. She takes us to Spain and even to Schwerin in Germany. And music is always there in the background; a confused old lady in a care home suddenly remembers a song that she once sang with great success, a young widow wants a new life as a singer despite the resistance of her family. And there’s a middle aged couple who retire to Spain; the husband unpacks his old guitar and instead of playing ‘Streets of London’ learns flamenco. That gives an impression of the nice variety of the stories! It’s not yet available in German, so we recommend getting the English edition through http://www.lumphananpress.co.uk.
In January 2015 I could see the year stretching ahead of me. I thought of the trips we’d planned to France and the Scottish Islands and the Llangollen Canal, I thought of all my musical activities and my writing, and I wondered if I’d finally get my collection of short stories published. The good news about the stories is that I did get my act together, and that ‘Shifting Sands: Tales of Transience and Transformation’ is now available to order from http://lumphananpress.co.uk/product/shifting-sands/ And the ebook is available from Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/Shifting-Sands-Tales-Transience-Transformation-ebook/dp/B0187MJUL2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1449399217&sr=8-1&keywords=christine+cochrane+shifting+sands
And then something unexpected happened. Something that wasn’t good. Something that disrupted everything I took for granted. ‘You can’t have cancer!’ a friend said. ‘You’re too young, too healthy, too active!’ But I did. In October I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. This is a cancer that can remain silent for a long time before the symptoms of bloating, tiredness and digestive problems make themselves felt. I urge any woman to make herself aware of the symptoms, because these are not symptoms that immediately make you think the cells in your ovary might be misbehaving. I thought that I couldn’t finish my meals because restaurants were serving bigger portions, and that I was slow going uphill just because I was a little bit older – but no, these are symptoms of the illness. You can read all about it on http://www.targetovariancancer.com
So I faced my three biggest fears – hospitals, cancer and chemotherapy. As with most things, the reality has not been as bad as the anticipation. I have a fantastic medical team supporting me and the care I have received in hospital has been first class. I’ve had some dark moments, but I’ve also learned the power of positive thinking, and sometimes the nurses have said just the right thing at the right time to keep me going. There’s been a bit of humour and a bit of banter, and it’s all helped. A week ago I had my first round of chemotherapy, and after a few days of tiredness and other symptoms I am finally feeling just a little bit better than I have done for the past two months. So the magic potions must be working. After three rounds I will be reviewed for surgery, which could take place at the end of January if all goes well. And after the surgery there will be three more rounds of chemotherapy.
I now feel surprisingly content, even with Storm Desmond rattling the windows and the rain hammering on the roof. I am ill, but I have had two months of cherishing my relationships with others, of enjoying people’s visits, emails and Facebook messages, of experiencing great kindness and many offers of help. I’d like to thank everyone who has been there for me through this difficult time, as well as all those of you who have supported me on the long journey to the publication of the book.
We’re nearly there! The final few weeks leading up to the publication of my short story collection have been difficult to say the least. I have had to grapple with a surprise cancer diagnosis and the knowledge that I will be having treatment that will last quite a long time. But I will keep positive and keep writing! My illness has slightly held me up on the publication date, but I’m still hoping that it will be out by the end of this month. Shifting Sands: Tales of Transience and Transformation will be available on Amazon and on the publisher’s website, http://www.lumphananpress.co.uk.
It’s two years since I started my writer’s blog – huge thanks to all of you who have stayed with me, followed me and encouraged me over the past two years. It has been much appreciated!
A lot has happened. My first post in September 2013 was about a visit to VW in Wolfsburg, a sparkling, perfect world of pristine production lines and workers dressed in white. Hmm. Things have certainly changed there. They’ve changed and developed for me too – but in a good way! I’ve learned a lot, completed quite a few stories and poems on a variety of themes, and met and shared ideas with some great people along the way. I’m probably a bit nearer to realising I prefer short pieces, but I haven’t ruled out The Novel at some stage in the future.
The good news is that I’ll be celebrating two years of the blog by (finally!) publishing some of my stories in English. There were a few catalysts. Mslexia rejigged their website, withdrawing competition winners’ stories, including my ‘Shifting Sands’. This meant the German version of ‘Shifting Sands’, published by Edition Narrenflug in Kiel, was out there to read, but not the English one. Not logical. Then Edition Narrenflug asked me for a ‘long short story’ for a future German anthology. This finally gave me the impetus to complete the story version of ‘Ships That Pass’, a radio play I had done for my OU course, over the summer. It had been ‘resting’ for a while, so I seized the opportunity to be re-inspired, added a few new angles and produced a long short story or a short novella in English and German. This gave me a substantial story to add to a few others from my OU course.
My work will be coming off the production line in November. And they’re all good, honest stories!
I’ve been working with Lumphanan Press, Scotland on the collection entitled ‘Shifting Sands’ about life’s surprises and gear shifts. We’ve done the cover design and discussed the layout, and I’ll be letting you know a little more about the stories in the next few weeks. It will be out before the end of the year in book and Kindle format.
I’m very pleased to announce that my short story ‘Treibsand’ has completed its long journey from my computer to the German anthology ‘Weibsbilder’, published this week by Edition Narrenflug. The anthology has been compiled by Karin Braun and Gabriele Haefs.
When I began to write ‘Shifting Sands’ as an Open University assignment, I never imagined that it would win a prize and that I would subsequently be invited to translate it into German. As the Germans say, ‘das Leben schreibt die besten Geschichten’ – life writes the best stories. I’ve had many special connections with Germany since my first trip there at the age of 17, and this latest chapter has been an exciting development. What I also like about the ‘Weibsbilder’ project is the mix of writers old and new, from Germany and from other countries.
Karin Braun of Edition Narrenflug describes the story behind the ‘Weibsbilder’ anthology on this German website:
Here’s an English translation:
‘In March 2014, Gabriele Haefs, Gudrun Völk and I gave a reading in Kiel Central Library. The theme of the talk was different perspectives of women, and the images and stereotypes that people hold.
After the audience were suitably delighted by our reading, the three of us headed for the legendary Club68 to celebrate. As I was heading there, I was already thinking. My colleagues’ stories had touched me deeply and I wanted to stick with this topic. In our subsequent exchange of emails, it was clear that Gabriele was thinking the same way as I was – that it would be a great theme for an anthology!
As neither of us likes to put off a good idea, we set about sketching out a plan. It would be stories by women about women. We wanted to include some classics, as we’d done with our previous anthology ‘Narrenflieger’ (Edition Narrenflug, compiled by Gabriele Haefs). We chose Franziska zu Reventlow, Marie zu Ebner-Eschenbach and the Norwegian writer Dikken Zwilgmeyer as our voices from the past. But we also wanted to have writers who had never been published in Germany. The Internet proved helpful. Gabriele found Joanna Sterling’s website ‘The casket of fictional delight’. Joanna’s contribution was ‘Lady Elfleda’. The second new writer was Christine Cochrane, a Scot living in England, whose story ‘Shifting Sands’ had won third prize in the 2014 Short Story Competition of Mslexia, an English magazine for women who write. As luck had it, Christine Cochrane was also a German teacher and translated her story into German herself. And so ‘Treibsand’ joined the ‘Weibsbilder’ anthology.
There were new voices among the translators, too, alongside established names like Gabriele Haefs and Dagmar Mißfeldt. Maike Barth translated ‘Häutung’ from Norwegian. Hannah Kleber translated Laila Stein’s ‘Leerraum’, also from Norwegian.
An anthology is always exciting. Usually, after you’ve got a theme, authors hear about the project and contact you. Then it can be a bit stop and start, because people lose track of the theme and you have to chase things up and send reminders. This was a completely different experience. The stories came flooding in, even while we were already working on the project. Some didn’t make it into the book; this wasn’t because of the quality of the writing, but because it would have made the anthology less focused. But that doesn’t mean they’ve been rejected; they will appear in our next collection.’
‘Weibsbilder’ is available as a book or e-book from Edition Narrenflug. It will be available on Kindle from 1st March 2015.
Finally, I’d like to thank Karin and Gabriele for their support and for the interesting ‘workshopping’ we did on some of the untranslatable words!