Find Your Inner Creative
Free Friendly Creative Writers Group
Huge congratulations to long-standing City Voices member and ex-Chair Debbi Voisey for the publication of her Novella in Flash 'Only About Love'. The novel-/novella-in-flash is a curious form. ... Broadly speaking, the novel-/novella-in-flash consists of a sequence of individual but related short-short stories that somehow build momentum towards a bigger whole. For a more detailed explanation see this link. bathflashfictionaward.com/2018/03/michael-loveday-novella-in-flash-2019-judge/ Debbi works four days a week but still finds time for her writing which she is truly passionate about. Somehow she also makes lots of time for her family and has been a great force at City Voices. Here is what Fairlight's page says about Debbi's book.
There’s no such thing as a perfect family. A perfect life. A perfect man.
Frank is proof of this. He’s everyman and yet as unique as a fingerprint. With a wonderful wife and children who are the loves of his life, he couldn’t ask for anything more. But time and time again he keeps risking it all.
In snapshots through time, Only About Love takes a sweeping loop around Frank’s life as he navigates courtship, marriage, fatherhood and illness. Told through the perspectives of Frank and his family, this story is one of intense honesty about the things we do to those closest to us.
You can pre-order Debbi's book from this link. Publication date is 5th August 2021. Debbi has received plaudits from authors Michael Loveday, Tracy Fells and Lisa Blower. I've pre-ordered mine and I'm looking forward to reading it. Details of the launch will follow.
Our published fiction writer Debbi will be popping into the meeting this morning at 11am before spending the weekend with her 'bubble'. This passionate and industrious writer has good news!
How times have changed with Covid-19. With few exceptions, the last meeting of the year at City Voices would have meant a Festive Meal at lunchtime for the group, lots of laughs and maybe a speech or two nicely fuelled with alcohol. Determined not to spoil the holiday spirit, we had a Zoom get together with silly hats and antlers, a little drink (once the sun was over the yard-arm) and some festive nibbles. We managed some readings and critiques, and then I led a workshop with the prompt ‘Fear’. Imagine your character going about their morning routine, but in a state of abject fear. The catch is that you don’t say what they are scared of, and don’t actually state that they are afraid. The ultimate ‘show not tell’. It worked very well and most people absolutely met the brief, but the odd slip up doesn’t matter! That is what critique is for, to iron out glitches and think of better ways to express the same emotions e.g. body language, physical turmoil, reactions. The meeting over-ran by 30 minutes because we were all enjoying the moment.
We welcomed Mary, a newbie to the group but not to writing; she is currently working on a novel and enthusiastically joined in the critique and workshop. We assured her that alcohol, party hats and mince pies were not part of the usual City Voices set-up!
We are now having a bit of a sabbatical from City Voices (although not from writing, I’m sure) but we will be back 30th January 2021 on Zoom.
Thanks to everyone who have where possible supported City Voices Creative Writers in these unprecedented times; the stress, the heartbreak, the pressures of work, study and family. Thank you everyone for your patience and perseverance with technology. It’s been a learning curve like no other. Here’s to vacations and vaccines!
The last meeting in November 2020 saw an old face (metaphorically that is) return to City Voices after an absence of some years due to other commitments. It was great to welcome Josie Kinnersley back to our gallery of writers. It is worth noting here that there is no official collective noun for a group of writers. I have seen an ‘alliteration’ of writers as one suggestion. Also a ‘murder’, as in crows. Perhaps a parliament of writers would be good, as in rooks. In fact parliament seems very apt; a gathering of people with intelligence – yes I did say that - but some a bit flaky, or at times living in a bubble, and not good with practical detail (as a poet I own up to all three) certainly everyone having their own opinion and secretly thinking that’s the right one! Oh and re-writing everything constantly. Of course I jest, and this is NOT a political platform. My experience of writers is one of people who work very hard, not just at writing but their day-jobs, family and friendships, and helping other writers to develop. Some (not me) are also incredibly talented in other branches of the arts; I know writers who can even use both sides of their brains. (Definitely not me).
As ever at the meeting we had readings and critiques. We were all very struck with Bev’s poem about someone ‘coming down’ from a drug high. Bev assured us that this followed research, not experience. Debbi set us an exercise called ‘Hermit Crab’. Take something like a shopping list, or a paint colour chart, that is something everyday and make it into a story (or a poem). ‘Hermit Crab’ I believe originated in Flash Fiction, the name being a reference to the idea of ‘Fresh Stories from Borrowed Forms’© medium.com/the-book-mechanic/hermit-crab-fictions-fresh-stories-from-borrowed-forms-21f1048f163a
I chose the titles of chapters in a book. Everyone wrote for 20 minutes and I thought it was great fun but also very challenging. I managed 6 chapters with quick thoughts, some more original than others. Here is how I wrote at great speed about a chapter called ‘Dark Lamp’
More Harold Shipman than Florence Nightingale,
more Fred West than Kanye West,
although both like to be in control.
More darkness than any illumination of words;
the pixie grin, the hidden creature, the coward.
The Twitter troll.
Thanks Debbi and everyone who came along.
Say ‘Hello’ to Beverley, one of the touchstones of our creative writers group. Given that Bev has a full time career - I won’t say what but I might describe as a ‘creative accountant’ :) - she almost always finds time for CV Zoom, in between looking after horses, rescuing racing pigeons during a storm and her own writing. We were a small but energetic group on 7th November, and I was glad to see Bev there, as she is such an excellent and eloquent critique-er (is that even a word?) of both poetry and prose. I read one of my recent poems and everyone agreed – change or drop the last line! Which has turned out to be an excellent thing, and I’m now seriously working on that piece. Sandy tried an experimental type of ‘shaped’ poetry – the words are shaped to fit the poem. This is a very simple example here – Sandy’s was much more complex, a hunched figure and a poem about a weighted heart.
People brought their stuff to read then it was on with the real business of writing, mics and cameras off. I gave the group several prompts to choose from, and there were some excellent interpretations in particular of ‘Fire’. At our next meeting on 21st November 2020, Debbi will be running a writing workshop called ‘Hermit Crab’. Nope, me neither! So come along to find out.
(Image by kind consent of The Poetry Pharmacy, Bishops Castle)
Yes, this does have a City Voices connection, I promise you. Just before the latest Covid lockdown, and when my town and Bishops Castle (BC) were both in Tier One, I managed a weekend away in a lovely hotel in BC. Sadly most of our outdoor plans were scuppered by the weather, so with the agreement of my husband (who had to stay silent for 2 hours) I thought I might as well join the City Voices Zoom meeting. So with laptop and portable Wi-Fi at the ready – internet signal being a bit dodgy in BC – it was business as usual, readings and critiques, and a writing workshop on the theme ‘The End’.
After the meeting, I abandoned my husband and trotted off to the High Street to the fabulous and original Poetry Pharmacy. www.poetrypharmacy.co.uk
The business is owned and run by two published poets, James Sheard and Deborah Alma, and is one of the loveliest, most eccentric places I know, in a good way! To quote their website
‘We (the Poetry Pharmacy) have been dispensing poetry for over 7 years as Emergency Poet from the back of our vintage ambulance at festivals, conferences, hospitals and care settings, libraries and schools, with a poetry pharmacy of poems-in-pills under the attached awning.’
Now the same thing happens at the shop, and in normal times there is also a tea-room (highly recommended) plus live poetry events. The latter currently operates via Zoom. Prior to lockdown v.2 the shop was open for sales of poetry books, poetry ‘pills’ and lots of other little treasures to make life feel happier. All are for sale on-line too so please have a look.
It was great to see James and Deb again, albeit very socially distanced and from behind masks, have a giggle and a chat and come away with a bulging (re-usable) tote bag of books and goodies. The Poetry Pharmacy is a warm and generous space. I urge you to visit, it will make you feel good inside.
Oh, and BC is a great place, with lots to see and great walks, good pubs and yummy food. Despite the rain, it was a very welcome break.
After much tech-stuff muddling about, I am finally able to access my blogs again! Apologies for several weeks without updates, but I have tried to keep everyone posted on the Facebook page and by email. Our Zoom meetings continue as ever, and 26th September was a great success. It was lovely to welcome back Heath - looking cool with his new beard. So sorry to miss those who could not make it, but we had a productive time, did some writing and also chatted about this and that. Very interesting as always with a mix of views etc. Some shared one-syllable pieces, I shared a poem, and Paul shared a couple of pieces of poetry inspired by photos.
Heath set an interesting exercise where we had to think of a famous villain (from TV, Film, Literature etc) and bring them into a different setting completely and write about how they would act or exist in that. We came up with some diverse stuff.
At our last meeting on 11th October we followed a prompt from Debbi Voisey to write about someone (maybe ourselves) being involved in some activity or event that we were fairly sure would never actually happen. In my case wing-suit flying! (Google it – fascinating) We also managed 20 minutes writing time.
I received some sad news today in a phone call from one of our longest-standing members, Anita Oxford, to say an older member of City Voices Pauline Dallas, who has been ill for some years, has passed away. Those who remember Pauline will remember her humour, often springing from some verbal faux pas she or one of the other members had made. I clearly remember her saying she had Googled something for one of our writing prompts about being imprisoned, and had been taken to an internet site for bondage enthusiasts!
RIP Pauline, and bless you.
Today’s Zoom meeting (29th August) was extraordinary. Seven writers came together, some with last week’s brief of writing about family, one regular to listen in and critique, and newbie Harold. It turned into a very emotional gathering.
One of our fiction writers, let’s call him X, read his short story set in the trenches of WWI. It was about brotherly love and family tragedy and in reading it aloud, possibly for the first time, the author had tears in his eyes. It was incredibly moving.
One of our budding poets, let’s call him Y, was working on two poems, one for each of his teenage daughters and part of a legacy project. Towards the last line of the second poem he too was overcome with emotion and left the room for a short time.
Another writer, let’s call her Z, was in tears listening to those two poems and recalling her wonderful relationship with her late father.
There was a poem about a much-loved nephew, and a prose-poem for a super-hero mum. There was also a poem about never met half-siblings and cross-siblings, due to the secrecy of emotionally dysfunctional parents. Or maybe they were just ‘of their time’.
So why can we write about emotional issues, and read them in our head, then end up in tears when we read them aloud? Of course there are scientific explanations as to why we cry, but saying something aloud perhaps makes it more ‘real’. Being moved emotionally has been described ‘as the sudden feeling of oneness with a person or other entity’. Being empathetic towards fictional characters, memory triggers, or simply writing and speaking about someone we have loved can have this effect.
Today as ever, there was lots of positive but honest critique, but for those who feel that artistic creativity is surplus to human requirements (look at certain politicians as examples) I would say that creativity is one of the things that make us human; able to mine our own emotions and relate to others. It is cathartic, an outlet, a journey and a gift we give to others.
At our previous meeting on 1st August, which I missed due to messing around with bees, Debbi, Bev, Adam, David, Paul and new guy Antony had a great discussion and in depth look at pieces of work in progress and gave and received some great advice.
Today (15th) Debbi was otherwise engaged but happily we could still all use her Zoom link (so sorry that Jo Wright had techie problems) to read those edited pieces, and also some new work. There was an in-depth discussion and critique – poems from Chris, Bev, and Sandy, Paul’s manuscript, plus Christian’s excerpt from his latest novel. I then ran a mini-workshop, with the brief to write about a particular member of our family - living or passed, liked or hated who make us happy or exasperate us, or both! Maybe a family member never met for whatever reason, or a fantasy sibling. In lockdown there has been a lot of focus and rethinking on this subject. We wrote for just 15 minutes and everyone (except me!) came up with something. I think we all admired Sandy’s poem about her grandfather, which started on a sweet note and ended bittersweet with Sandy’s knowledge that her grandfather’s smoking habit would eventually kill him. Adam, who is now blind, wrote movingly about his father taking him on walks and talking to him about nature. Adam said it was hard to talk about his dad, who is happily still with us, and the line about words ‘swelling and clogging my mouth’ were poignant indeed. Bev wrote about her never-met great-grandmother Mabel who played piano and toured cinemas and music halls, and who had the best parties in the street. I read an older poem of mine, but vowed to have one by next time about my cross-sibling whose name I may never know.
Today we had an intimate and revealing meeting at City Voices via Zoom, organised and run by Debbi Voisey. Asking someone to bring along a piece of their favourite writing, be it poetry, fiction or non-fiction is asking people to reveal a little about themselves; as an extreme example Karadžić, the Butcher of Bosnia, wrote what was apparently well-crafted poetry (see https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/ppx7zk/dictator-poetry) but one can imagine what most of it is about i.e. war, vengeance and bloodshed.
Participants today Adam and Christian, brought along their favourite classical poems, ‘The Cloths of Heaven’ by W.B. Yeats and ‘The Tyger’ by William Blake. Neither poets nor poems need any introduction from me. Christian had written his own tribute to the latter entitled ‘Panther’
‘Was it Lady Night that draped you/in a cloak of her anti-light?’ asks Christian.
We then had a discussion about sensitivity to light, and concluded that Adam and Chris were secret vampires. They didn’t look too upset about this, TBH!
Beverley chose ‘I Am!’ a poem by the tragic 19th Century labourer-poet John Clare, who ended his days locked away in a lunatic asylum, where Clare obviously felt like he had been written out of his wife and family’s lives. He suffered from severe depression and alcohol problems. Bev wrote a poem using the analogy of a discarded Teddy Bear to convey the grief of being left behind and forgotten. This provoked a good deal of discussion about parents, family and guilt.
Debbi bucked the poetry trend and entered the world of ‘Breathless Flash Fiction’ Wow! What does that look like? Well a bit like brilliance really. Debbi read the closing paragraph of a novel ‘Watt’ by Irishman Samuel Beckett (1906 -1989) the paragraph being constructed as one long sentence which dashes through the four seasons of the year – visual and quietly humorous. Not as easy as it perhaps sounds; it's much more than writing sentences and then pulling out the punctuation like so many bad teeth, and it's NOT stream of consciousness either. Debbi then read her own Breathless FF (the prologue to her Novella in Flash) called ‘Reversing Sensor’ about a man’s life and his decline into Alzheimer’s disease.
Sandy chose the Polish poet and 1966 Nobel prize-winner Wislawa Szymborska, whose poem ‘Flagrance’ made Sandy realise that ‘Yes, poetry is for me’. Flagrance is about two lovers and the objects around them – the tea cooling in the cup, shadows on chairs, the cooking stove … when she talks of a moth fluttering over her and her lover, "I didn't see, you didn't guess, / our hearts were glowing in the night." Szymborska has been accused of sentimentalism…… https://freebeacon.com/culture/hatred-knows-how-to-make-beauty/Sandy does not agree with this argument and neither do I, because love can feel like that.
I naturally chose poetry – firstly ‘Donal Og’ or ‘Young Donal’ translated from an anonymous 8th Century Irish Poem. All I can say is that the poem is about unrequited love and lies, and what we want to believe rather than the truth. Totally 21st Century in fact. My modern take on this poem is called ‘Girl Undone’. I also looked at the rather beautifully unhinged ‘Snow’ by Louis MacNeice, another Irishman, and a poem which has been analysed many, many times. Ultimately I believe it is about the oddness of life, the exuberance of the ordinary, and maybe getting a little drunk! My own poem in this style is called ‘Banana Tree’ and was part of my portfolio ‘We Are Water’.
Another two hours that went too quickly, and a great way to spend Saturday mornings. Please join us on Zoom on 1st August 11am to 1pm.