Sorry about the silence on here, but I’ve been busy visiting and writing in London gardens. You can read more and hopefully find some new gardens AND poets here…
It’s no secret that I love all of Michelle Lovric‘s books, but maybe I have a secret soft spot for her children’s books most. It’s partly because they are exactly the sort of books I wish were around when I was younger, spiky heroines, real adventures and enough history to make me want to learn more. After I’ve finished turning the pages of course.
Well lucky old me because I get to read them now!
Michelle’s latest book, The Fate in The Box, is a gem. Set – like the others – in Venice, it is just frightening enough, just funny enough and just perfect! This review from Bookwitch – here – sums it up exactly.
It’s 1783 and a child is about to be sacrificed. As prologues go, this was a good one. In only a few short pages you get to know and like – love, even – Amneris, and you can just feel that something momentous is going to happen. But you can’t guess what.
And I’m delighted that I have a copy to give away. Just send an email to me at sarahsalway @ gmail.com by 1st June, and I’ll pick a winner. Put GIVEAWAY in the subject line. I won’t even ask if it is for an adult or child!!
Apart from the story, Michelle’s notes at the back of the book are equally fascinating and generous. How about this for writers looking for names from their fictional characters? Michelle says about her heroine’s name:
Amneris D’Artania was a witness in a murder trial in Venice in the 1920s about which the historian Lucio Sponza has written a fascinating article. Amneris is also the name of the Pharoah’s daughter in Verdi’s opera Aida. Other names were taken from Venetian history books, telephone directories and doorbells.
I LOVE it!!! In fact, I’m going to go for a walk right now and look at doorbells to find names for my next short story.
Remember to send an email – that’s all you have to do to be entered.
I’m really pleased to let you know that there are still a few places left on the Writing Oasis weekend the poet Victoria Field and I are running at Ty Newydd in June.
If you don’t know Ty Newydd, it really is a magic place. It’s Lloyd George’s old home, tucked away in the beautiful Welsh countryside and with a garden running down to the sea. Vicky and I are planning a long weekend for participants to get away from ‘real life’ and to concentrate on what really matters to them in their writing. We hope to provide the tools to take these feelings of peace and wellbeing with you for the next year too!
As Vicky quotes Ted Hughes’s as saying on her website, “WHAT’S WRITING REALLY ABOUT? IT’S ABOUT TRYING TO TAKE FULLER POSSESSION OF THE REALITY OF YOUR LIFE.”
Do let me know if you’d like any more information and feel free to pass this information on to anyone who might be interested. The weekend is designed for all levels of writers – even complete beginners – and may be of particular interest to those in the caring professions.
For anyone using literature therapeutically or working towards accreditation, certificates of attendance for CPD purposes can be provided.
Here are the details below, and you can book here.
Friday 14 – Sunday 16 June
This course is designed for writers and people in the caring professions who want to spend time exploring their own writing and process in a non-judgemental and encouraging space. Using a mixture of carefully chosen readings and creative exercises, participants will draw on their own experience to produce new work – whether poetry, fiction or memoir – and look at ways in which to develop these drafts into more sustained pieces. The emphasis is on process and experimentation at your own pace, and all participants will be offered the chance to try at least one new way of writing for them during the weekend.
It was particularly exciting for me as I always feel I’m a ‘wannabe’ garden writer, and I got to meet people I’ve been admiring on twitter and in print previously. Just see how happy I look…. I LOVE gardeners, even if I’m long past the point where I might have been cool. These however are COOL women.
But stop gushing, Salway, the book, the book…. I’ve been loving it so far. Just as in the Beau Nash post previously, this makes me feel that there is a better world out there. I’ve fallen in love already with Brian Carter and his dahlia heaven in Birmingham, Rachel Baker’s fruit and herb allotment for her amazing sounding preserves – Gooseberry and Angelica Jam, Blackcurrant and Amaretto Jelly, and then there’s David Richards of the Reading International Solidarity Centre, who is using the rooftop garden there to teach global issues. This is what he says: “This garden is a living book and one we are using to teach the teachers” about sustainability, access to land and resources.
Having never been a fan of Margaret Thatcher, all I felt yesterday was annoyance that the kind of Daily Mail mentality she’s always invoked was coming into play once again. And it felt particularly corrosive because it was going off in so many different directions – fury at the cost of the funeral, fury at those who were complaining about it, arguments about her legacy, a line – ‘This lady is not for turning’ – that she said but didn’t write herself being played again and again, another line - ‘There is no society’ – that she apparently never said, the question about whether she was a feminist or not…
… but then again most of the people I care about were all saying the same thing. Which was that we shouldn’t be looking back, but using this chance to think about what kind of society we DO want.
So yesterday I had the luck to be at the Conway Hall in Red Lion Square during the time of her funeral. And as well as sitting in an empty lecture theatre writing in my journal and looking up at this sign..
…I managed to buy some books from the stalls in their entrance lobby.
Best of all was a book about Bath by one of my idols, Edith Sitwell, from which I found these few sentences about Beau Nash.
Apparently he was once a law student at the Temple, and overheard ‘a poor man with a wife and large family of children say that ‘£10 would make him happy’.
Beau Nash immediately gave him the money, charging it to the Masters of the Temple. The sum was questioned, but then when the committee found out the reason, they passed it immediately with this reference in the official accounts book:
‘For making a man happy —- £10′
Not only that, but ’the Masters, struck with such an uncommon instance of good nature, publicly thanked him for his benevolence, and desired that the sum might be doubled, as a proof of their satisfaction.’
That’s the kind of world I want to live in.
… and a library…
… you have everything you need. Cicero
I have been mulling over what to write about my recent trip to Florence, so much, too much… and then I realised I couldn’t do better than write the kind of post I wanted to read before I went. It was my first time, and I had the list of all the things I should do, but I was looking for personal suggestions too. So here are my very personal TOP TEN THINGS FOR WRITERS TO DO IN FLORENCE…
1. EAT SOMETHING NEW. And where better to try than Florence. Not just ice creams either, visit one of the food markets, such as the San Lorenzo Mercato Centrale, and browse the stalls. Or join an excellent food tour, I spent a lovely morning with Sam from Florence for Foodies and enjoyed new tastes, got told good stories, and met some really nice people. How else would I have learnt that Grappa comes in spray form ! Our best restaurant find though was the Trattoria Sabatino – inexpensive pasta, wine and lots of friendly locals.
2. PEOPLE WATCH. If you can drag your eyes away from the treasures at the Uffizi, it’s worth watching the tour groups too. We were gripped by the real battle going on between two different ones when we were there as they struggled to get prime position in front of the masterpieces. Almost as much of a victory for those who got to the front as this lunchtime tripe stall.
3. WALLOW IN THE SENSES. Smells first… There are some amazing farmacias in every street it seems, but we loved the choice of natural perfumes at the Farmacia Munstermann, I came away with Tabac, nice and earthy and just a bit addictive.
4. STATIONERY PARADISE. Again many many paper shops, but my favourite has to be Il Torchio … the perfect place to stock up on journals and happiness, both of which are hand made on the premises.
5. RING ALCHEMY. It’s not a word to be used lightly in Florence, but I’m convinced that the jeweller, Allesandro Dari is a genius. A visit to his workshop and showroom is a must for firing up the imagination.
6. VISIT A GARDEN. Well, of course! Boboli Gardens is a must and do make sure you are around for the scheduled opening of the grotto (normally on the hour).
But one of the highlights of our whole holiday was a visit to Villa Gamberaia, just a bus ride (No 10 from San Marcus square) away. A magic dreamy garden from which to view Florence from a different angle.
7. ROOM WITH A VIEW. There are plenty of chances to see Florence from up high. TAKE THEM ALL! Climb the Giotto’s Campanile and the Duomo. Walk up to the Piazzale Michelangelo. Stop on the bridges at dusk. Visit the Bardini Gardens. Have your picture taken with Florence behind. Try not to look nervous in case you fall backwards…
8. WRITE PICTURES. Everywhere we went, we came across art and architecture students drawing details in their notebooks, so I started to do the same. Too much, too much… until I took Anne Lamott’s advice and remembered her advice to use a two inch window frame to look at just a bit of the overall picture. Amazing how much more I noticed when I was writing the details. Just look at the expressions here – a whole novel surely?
9. STORIES, STORIES... And once you notice the details, you can’t stop seeing more and more stories you NEED to write. This is from the Boboli Gardens.
10. READ! A visit to the Biblioteca Laurenziana is a must, and not just for Michelangelo’s stairs. Just imagine working here, the books laid out for you…
But here’s our guilty secret. We also loved the Reading Room at the Gucci Museum, with shelves of art and design books to drool over while we had a necessary cup of pick-up tea.
It’s spring … or near enough!
Every weekday on Twitter, I put up writing prompts. I follow these myself, and am delighted and amazed that other people find them useful too! And now because it’s the time to plant seeds (it won’t snow again, will it?!!) here are some of the recent ones for you… If any come up with particularly interesting ‘plants’, I’d love to hear from you. I’m keeping a ‘happy list’ of the stories and publication results I’ve helped to sow, and it would be good to have you on it!
* Red Riding Hood’s Sister
* His life described through the books he’s read
* The unlit cigarette
* Be careful what you wish for…
* Rewriting the contents labels on your toiletries
* If only I had the hair to match
* On the final day of his life
* The card game turns nasty
* Good cop, bad cop
* An unexpected consequence of her bad behaviour
* Needle, mother, plant, cross, dish
* The long distance lorry driver’s dilemma
* Three things he has never eaten
* A life in leftovers
* An endless series of spiral suitcases
* Expensive words
And finally, a photographic prompt:
I’m not sure if this exactly music to write to because I find it too engrossing, but it certainly is music that creates images in my mind, and not knowing the opera, I wasn’t at all surprised to see a garden behind Door 4. You can watch it here…
This is what I’ve reading this month…
(My book at the moment: Pure by Andrew Miller, review to come)
A friend recommended this after hearing one of the British Olympic Cycling Team saying how much it had helped her. It feels patronizing at first – well, it IS patronizing, but I liked the simplicity. I can see how the idea of splitting my will into that of the chimp and the human will help me get some writing done. Or at least to help me talk coach-like to myself.
Useful for writers: getting into Olympic gold-medal winning writing mind.
I got an advance copy of this novel for blurbing, and I was happy to do so. I admire Caroline as a writer – she takes risks and in her last books, I’ve been interested to see how she’s developed her style. I think this is my favourite of hers. It’s very visual, which is interesting because a lot is written in dialogue, and it’s a sweet sweary magical story of first love and how much we need to belong.
Useful for writers: Retelling of myths. Contemporary language and themes.
This is the ‘it’ book at the moment, and I can see why. She said… he said… Like the Good Father (below) this book centres on a question – what would you do if your wife or husband turned out to be playing a role? The plot twists you along like being on a scary cliffside road, and the split narrative is a perfect example that you don’t always have to like the narrators in order to be interested as to what happens to them.
Useful for writers: Unreliable narrators. Split narrative.
What would you do if your child is accused of something bad, such as killing the next President of the United States? That’s the question behind this book, but I think it’s actually something else – do you ever get the chance to re-parent your children? It feels a little like We Need To Talk About Kevin told from a male perspective, but I liked the writing – it was empathetic and honest, and it really does feel as if the author stretched the question as far as he could. I was hooked.
Useful for writers: Remembering the central question. Telling an uncomfortable story.
Lucky me. When I told Neil that I couldn’t wait to read his book, he sent an advance copy via email. This book is a reminder that not only can magic happen, but it does every day. Often under our noses. It’s kind, and trustworthy, and beautifully written, and just the right side of scary (even for grown ups, maybe especially for grown ups). It reminds me in all the good ways of those times as a kid when you’d put yourself completely in the hands of your favourite storyteller and escape from the rest of the world. It’s also a lovely story of how – if we open our hearts – we will find the people we need.
Useful for writers: Storytelling. Pacing. Imagination.