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.