Ghosts!

Of all the things I expected to take with me from the Scottish castle, a new passion for ghost and horror stories wasn’t one of them. But a big thanks to writer, V H Leslie for opening me to the possibilities. I’m ashamed to say that this was how scary my Halloween costumes ever got before…

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Anyway, as a result, I can now announce I’m writing my first ghost story..

But is it the first? Because my contributor copy of Witness magazine arrived today and apart from happy dancing at how beautiful it looks, let me draw your attention to the theme.

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My memoir piece, The Algiatrist’s Cloak, looks at different views of pain, and is based on the reassurance it can give to hear that someone has died without pain. The piece started at the other end of life, and my research into an operation I had as a baby. I wanted to know whether I would have been given pain relief. The answer seems to be NO. In fact, even as late as 1987 it seems that not all newborn babies were receiving anaesthetic during surgery.

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Here’s an extract:

Every time I enter the Wellcome Library doors, I put on the invisible superhero cloak of the algiatrist.
It is a garment that is starting to fit me. I am not sure if it is it wearing me down, or me it, but there’s a strange comfort in the way pain, and surgery, and even death, are distanced through medical language.
Sometimes though a real voice breaks in. A report of University College Hospital in the 1950s talks about how there was no baby unit then, only a ‘linen cupboard kept by a sister with green fingers.’ I write this phrase out to keep. It’s not the first time I’ve noticed the beautiful – almost poetic – metaphors in medical writing. The bloom of the bruise, the journey of blood, a brain storm. But ‘green fingers’ is my favourite. Especially for babies, like me, who have been gardened back to health.
And when I look up a photograph of one of the incubators I would have been kept in, it reminds me of a little greenhouse. The Smith-Clarke ‘Baby’ cabinet respirator has a window at the top for easy viewing, and the hole at the side is just big enough for a hand to fit through. But in another – less lovely – metaphor, its nickname is the ‘alligator’ because the way it opens mimics the jaws of that creature.
I would rather have been kept in the linen cupboard to be honest. Even the greenest of green fingers would have found it difficult to comfort a baby through all that snapping metal.

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Library writing…

I’ve just been lucky enough to spend a month writing in Scotland and was reminded all over again that libraries work for me as writing spaces. This one was particularly joyful though because it was attached to a conservatory where I could make the most of every drop of sun we got.

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There’s something magical about browsing library shelves and pulling off JUST the book you need to read – most probably the one you weren’t looking for. Writers I discovered include Shelley A Leedahl, Ivy Alvarez, Leslie Adrienne Miller, Colette Inex, Carmen Bugan, Sarah Hymas, and those I rediscovered and won’t let go again include Lavinia Greenlaw, Isobel Dixon, John Burnside and Robert Hass. ANd that was just a selection. I’ve a notebook full of quotes, facts and books to search out for myself at home.

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But probably one of the most useful exercises over the month involved repetition. Even in the rain (and there was lots) and the cold (I learnt I COULD write in gloves), I’d go and sit on this simple stone bench…

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… and write just one page about what I could see and what I noticed. Obviously the view didn’t change but the notes I made were tremendously different each day. Part of that involved noticing how the weather impacted on the landscape physically in terms of the wind blowing grass and trees, shadows lengthening, light focusing on different parts of the garden, but also emotionally. It was like that old yoga exercise where you turn your head over one shoulder and back to the front. Turn to look behind again and back to the front. And then again. Each time you see a little more of what’s behind you. Every day I noticed a little more of what was around me. It’s something I’ve carried on doing since I’ve been home, although sadly not with this view.

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As much fresh air as you can…

I was delighted to have my short story, Looking for Angels on Radio 4 on Sunday night. If you haven’t heard it, you can listen again by clicking on the title above.

And as well as finding out about George, the shepherd (and having the absolute pleasure of being contacted by a relative of his afterwards), it was fascinating to get the chance to read about the Open Air School movement.

It was this photograph of school children having an outdoor nap which started the whole story off in my mind…

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But I had a personal reason for wanting to find out more too. I knew that when she was a little girl, my father’s sister had been a patient in an open-air hospital in Oswestry. It wasn’t always comfortable, as the records show: “In a severe winter, as much as half the ward floor could be covered in snow overnight, and a patient’s only protection would be to pull up the sheet over his face.”

And there I am worried about spending a month in Scotland …

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In my dream…

I was lucky enough to be at the South Bank on Sunday night for the readings of all ten shortlisted poets for the T S Eliot prize. As the prize wasn’t being awarded until the next day, there were no clues as to who might have won and as each poet stood up to speak, it became clear that if there was a unifying feeling in the room, it was that everyone was glad not to have to judge this prize. How could you have picked just one from such a fine group?

So poetry is the real winner for 2013/2014.

And also Sinead Morrissey, whose collection ‘Parallex’ was awarded the prize on Monday. Here she is reading one of the poems from the collection:

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Self Help For The New Year…

Or otherwise…

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To celebrate the week so many of us will break our New Year resolutions to be kinder, more patient, thinner, teetotal, runners, yoga bunnies, more organised…

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… you might just like a signed copy of my poetry collection, You Do Not Need Another Self-Help Book. Email me at sarahsalway @ gmail.com, or leave a comment and I’ll get back to you. But in the meantime, here’s a poem…

You Do Not Need Another Self Help Book

Just get up from your desk
and open the window,
keep silent until you hear three
sounds you’ve never heard before,
run your tongue around your mouth
to remember good food, smell the air.
I tell you what: put down this poem,
and do it now.
Let your hands drift and touch,
then drift again;
run your fingers
over rough wood, then let them fall
into soft wool. I once met a woman
who told me to feel her jumper,
for quality she said. It bobbled
under my hand, so she told me
I wasn’t doing it right,
and for too long I believed her
when she told me how ‘quality’ spoke.
No, open your eyes
to see how beautiful
the world is,
how you belong,
how your touch,
your smell, hearing, sight,
so different from mine,
is the only one that matters.

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Bespoke(n) FOR YOU!

Winter is a time for coats, and writing, and inspiration, and starting something new….

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One of my projects for 2014 is Bespoke(n), which takes the craft of women’s tailoring to inspire writing and art. It’s the brainchild of Newcastle writer, Helen Limon, and there are eight of us involved – poets, performers, novelists, dramatists and essayists – who will be inspired by the work of master tailor, Nathalie Limon. Our words will be made into artists books and there will be videos, readings and exhibitions. We’ll be looking at craft, the handmade concept, women’s clothes, the fashion world, the body, feminine beauty and probably much else.

We are part Arts Council funded, and part from crowd-sourcing project. We would LOVE if you would join us in the this project/a> too…

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So we are opening the project up with a number of exciting offers in return for funding, from a simple single writing prompt to the chance to have a tailored coat made for you to your own design…

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You can sign up here. Please do, we’d love to have you along on this adventure with us.

In the meantime, I wrote about our first meeting here, and will keep you posted as the project develops.

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Not too late for an advent calendar…

Forget chocolate ones – besides you’ve probably eaten all the chocolate from yours now, even the Christmas eve one. Don’t try and pretend that’s just me…

Nope, the calendar with the mostest this year is the one organised by the amazing 26 Writers’ Collective, with 26 stories/poems/thoughts of 62 words posted daily until 26th December. So even if you’re coming to it now, you can go back and read them all with a sense of wonder and joy.

See. More for your money.

And much more given that the site is collecting for two charities, the Teenage Cancer Trust and It’s Good 2 Give. So you get to read great stories, see the wonderful pictures drawn by those who will benefit from your donations and not have to go on a diet in the New Year from all that chocolate.

What’s not to like?

Here’s where you click.

My little story, The Wobbly Tree, will be up on Christmas Eve.

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