Putting out the bunting for Digging Up Paradise…


This week, my new book, Digging Up Paradise, is published – and there have been reports of sightings in gardens around the country.


I’m proud of this little baby – a mixture of reflection, stories, and poetry, with photographs and writing prompts too.


And so I thought I’d run a little competition. If you have got a copy of Digging Up Paradise, send me a photograph of it in your garden, or any garden, and I’ll pick out a winner for a very special prize. In fact, unique! I’ll make the winner of my favourite photograph a book of writing prompts and seeds tailored to your needs.


You can even take a picture of it with a postcard from the hedge…

postcards from the hedge

Closing date is 30th June 2014, and you can send your photographs to me at sarahsalway@gmail.com. I look forward to them!

And here’s a blurb from gardening writer, Lia Leendertz about the book:

On this poet’s garden tour, Sarah Salway writes of the gardens’ physical selves, of course, but also of the sensations they conjure, the memories they stir up and the glimpses of history that colour her perception. Each description is rich, layered, personal and moving. It is more like the way we all experience gardens than any garden writing I have come across.

Sarah has a unique combination of a garden lover’s eye and a poet’s imagination, and it is a delicious treat to watch her exercise them on this group of gardens. She makes a fascinating and unpredictable virtual garden companion, always drawing your attention to some unexpected detail, or taking some half-told story, exploring it and breaking your heart with it. At the end I desperately wanted to set her onto my own favourite gardens and see what happens.

I read this book sometimes with a silly smile on my face, sometimes gripped and anxious, often with a tingle running down my spine. Sarah’s poetry has always moved me, and now she writes about my favourite subject, gardens. How lucky we gardeners are to have her in our midst. This could not be a lovelier book.

You can read more at the publisher’s website here but before you do, here’s the favourite part of MY garden at the moment, a red rose that is trying to climb out over the wall so it can throw petals in the path of everybody who passes!


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Arts and Wellbeing – RSA Tunbridge Wells and Poetry Exchange

This week, I’ve been lucky enough to be part of two fascinating meetings that have made me think about arts and wellbeing.

The first was one I chaired, for the RSA in Tunbridge Wells, with Carol Lynch, Chief Executive of Kent Community Foundation, William Benson, Chief Executive of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, the artist Tony Crosse, and poet and writer, Steve Walter.


With a panel comprised of funders, politicians and artists, it’s perhaps not surprising that we came so quickly to a consensus about how much we needed the arts. I jotted down a few of the words used to demonstrate the benefits – to connect, to surprise, to heal, to challenge, to explore, to bring together, to regenerate, to educate, to enjoy.

I was very pleased that last one came up so strongly. Perhaps helped by a demonstration from Tony Crosse of how paints and paper beat powerpoint any day…


But as part of my research, I carried out an internet search on ‘arts and wellbeing’ and found pages and pages of projects for vulnerable people, for deprived communities, for young mothers, for addicts, for … you name it.

Brilliant. But it did make me wonder whether, given that we are all agreed that we need the arts to help increase self esteem, empathy, confidence, self-awareness, sense of community, we shouldn’t be getting politicians to take part in arts projects too? How about surgeons joining patients in the same artistic endeavour to explore medical attitudes so that a new space and relationship can be formed?

Are we saying it’s more important for certain groups to engage with arts? If it’s important, surely it’s worthwhile for everybody. And the figures I found from the Office of Statistics suggested that in England only 6% of us participated in painting, drawing, printmaking, and sculpture, and only 8% played a musical instrument for their own pleasure. Interestingly the figures in Scotland were higher with 17% engaged in arts and crafts for example, and 26% playing a musical instrument.

So I offered an invitation to the group to go home and remember what they used to like doing at school – painting, poetry, theatre – and to actually sit down and make something. It was half a joke, but I was delighted to have two poems in my inbox the next morning.

And also apt because last night, I took part in a workshop for the Poetry Exchange which is looking at encouraging us – in many different ways – to think of poetry as a friend. This is the poem I took along with me… a friend I’m probably curious about rather than truly comfortable with, but with lot of potential for exploration.

by Louise Glück

You want to know how I spend my time?
I walk the front lawn, pretending
to be weeding. You ought to know
I’m never weeding, on my knees, pulling
clumps of clover from the flower beds: in fact
I’m looking for courage, for some evidence
my life will change, though
it takes forever, checking
each clump for the symbolic
leaf, and soon the summer is ending, already
the leaves turning, always the sick trees
going first, the dying turning
brilliant yellow, while a few dark birds perform
their curfew of music. You want to see my hands?
As empty now as at the first note.
Or was the point always
to continue without a sign?

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News, news…

postcards from the hedge

I’m so proud to have my work and love of the landscape featured in the Independent on Sunday yesterday. A double page spread, no less.

And to be on author, Pam Johnson’s website, Words Unlimited this week too.

If you click on both these links above, you’ll get the full articles.

And I’m just as delighted that people are pre-ordering Digging Up Paradise. THANK YOU PRE-ORDERERS! And I’m going to be signing books at Cultured Llama’s headquarters on Friday, so if you have ordered a book and would like a personal dedication, do let me know what you’d like me to sign!



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A Poem for Half-Term Parents…

The Interruption
For Lia

When I tell my daughter I’m working
she nods, pulls her chair right up
to mine, elbows out, breath hot
with cheese and onion crisps.

She chooses a red pencil, starts
chewing, sighs over her blank paper,
tells me to shush. She draws us, stick
mother holding stick daughter’s hand.

Look, she says. I try to concentrate
on my work but she’s learnt
from me too well. Really look.
Clumsy fingers twist my hair

until we fight. I say she has to go now,
to let me get on with Mummy’s work.
Outside she sits so close to the door,
I hear every rustle, every sigh so loud

that the note pushed under my door
comes like a white flag. Dear Mummy,
my daughter writes. This is me.

It’s a funny thing when your children are no longer at school. Your calendar shifts. All the dates that were SO IMPORTANT – half terms, inset days, holidays – suddenly get lost and you can slowly arrange your own year. Also your day. It still feels odd to work past 3.30pm. There are even those moments of panic I get around 3pm until – aha – I realise I don’t have to do the school pick-up, or prepare an after-school snack.

Even odder – particularly after all those years of feeling guilty that I would sometimes rather be doing my own work than playing yet another game of snap – that I miss it. This week I’ve been watching local parents playing with their children in our little park, choosing books in the library, queuing up for the swimming pool, and I’m trying hard to resist rushing up to them and telling them what an amazing job they’re doing.

So the poem above – written for Lia Leendertz, a friend and brilliant mother although not my daughter as some have asked! – goes out to all parents this half term. Perhaps it’s a useful reminder that WE’VE ALL BEEN THERE…!!!

And the poem comes from my collection, You Do Not Need Another Self-Help Book.

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A Natural Navigation Murder in Hyde Park

Tristan Gooley, aka The Natural Navigator, Shaun Levin, and I are doing a Landscape Writing course together for the Arvon Foundation in August – a Field Guide to Writing, so when Tristan invited me to join him and other keen natural navigators in Hyde Park, I thought it might be good research. A park guide to writing, maybe.


The walk was to celebrate the launch of Tristan’s new book, The Walker’s Guide to Outdoor Clues and Signs, but of course we had Tristan with us, so I didn’t bring his book along. (Although that wouldn’t have been the first time I would have had my nose in a book and missed the actual thing going on around me.)


We started at the Albert Memorial, and the target was to find 100 clues within 100 minutes. I lost count almost immediately though because with Tristan’s first ‘clue’, and as he carried on walking us round, I began writing a murder mystery in my mind. A Natural Navigation Murder…


The body is surrounded by piles of seeds, this means it was left on the side sheltered from the wind… also cobwebs…


The witness spotted it on a well-mowed lawn, and it was lying on the dark stripe… but hang on. Another witness saw it on a light stripe. Had it been moved! No, the stripes move from light to dark in our perception depending on which side we are viewing it from. (Tristan showed us this with his hat… when I am a Natural Navigator detective, I will wear a hat too.)



And see this holly above – this clue actually made me laugh with happiness. Holly is only prickly when it feels under attack – the leaves at the top, out of human contact, are smooth and round. So I know which way my murderer is running through the wood. S/he is following the normal route with the prickly attacked holly.


And see these trees… the bobbly roots at the bottom are on the south westerly side because that’s where the tree is giving itself protection from the wind. Not quite sure how this is fitting in my murder mystery yet. BUT IT WILL!


Ah, classic clue this. My murderer and victim obviously had their picnic here because they preferred dappled light from the trees above, as opposed to the more solid shade nearby.. Look at the flattened bits under particular trees if you don’t believe me.

But hang on a minute… what’s that in the background? Could this be the next ‘incident’ for Natural Navigator Detective Salway? No, as you were. Just children boxing. A clear sign, Detective Salway says, that it is spring.


What else did I learn? Well, this is a beautiful fact – trees have sun leaves and shade leaves… the leaves on the north side of the tree will be heavier and darker than the south side. The Natural Navigator Detective can stop sometimes to write a poem, I think.


And then when I got home, I remembered something. When I was researching shepherds in London for my short story, Looking for Angels I came across this photograph of sheep at the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens (where we all met for the walk)…

sheep at albert memorial

I can’t wait to write another shepherd story now. And I think it might just involve a murder… Thank goodness I have my book of clues to work with.


Posted in A Field Guide to Writing, Arvon course, Kensington Gardens, Natural Navigation, Shaun Levin, Shepherd in London, Tristan Gooley, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Tidiness and sparks of joy….

Now tidiness and joy are probably two things that don’t go naturally together, but this time last week, I was admiring how my house looked after frantically tidying it up for the arrival of three other writers to come and stay the weekend for a writing retreat. It’s a bit like the times I’ve got houses ready for sale. They always look so lovely I have a moment of uncertainty whether I really want to go.


So after the weekend, I thought I’d write a poem about how good it felt to tidy up, and, while internet searching researching, I kept coming across this book by Marie Kondo. So I got it.. YES! Books are the main thing I have to keep tidying up, I have piles of them everywhere, but everytime I see this row of green covers for example, I get a little jolt of joy…


And that’s what Marie Kondo’s method is all about. We should hold up each item and ask ourselves ‘does it bring us joy.’ If not, out it goes. (All the things in these photos by the way, are definitely staying!)


BUT… more than tidying, what I wanted this post to be about was the fact that I don’t think I have read a book this year with such a charming character in it as Marie Kondo. Obviously she’s real, but she could be straight out of a novel, and I realised I was reading the book as such. (In between reminding myself how ordinary things I have in the house bring me joy – THEY ARE NOT CLUTTER!)


Marie admits she wasn’t an ordinary child. While other kids were out playing and getting muddy, she was happiest tidying her room.


I was totally charmed. Particularly with how seriously she takes the idea of thanking all the objects that are on their way out of the house – even those bad buys which have never been used because they have taught us never to buy something similar again. Apparently.


And she is big on blessing our houses for keeping us safe. She says she does a little ceremony before entering a new client’s house even, she says, when they are standing there looking at her oddly. I LOVE her!


But it was the socks that broke my heart. Apparently we should NEVER knot our socks or tights to keep them together because they are tired from working so hard for us, so should relax in a loose roll instead. Oh yes, how I LOVE her.


She is exactly the sort of fictional character I want to write about. Except she’s real. But it was delightful – in the true meaning of that word – to enter her world so completely, and feel again how objects really can tell whole stories – emotional ones too. Even the smallest thing is rarely neutral.


And joyful too to have just spent five minutes going round the house and capturing the strange, odd, often small things that make my heart jump a little. I’d love to see yours if you feel like sharing.


But now it’s the rest I’ve got to worry about. So to give me strength, here’s Marie teaching how to fold a t-shirt…

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Sensing in the Safe House

We’ve been doing the senses in my writing group, so far smells and sounds (or more accurately silence) – fresh herbs, the sound of birdsong. What is the smell you remember from your childhood? Mine is the Bromley Lemon soaps my mother would treasure, the ones that came wrapped with crinkly tissue paper. Joy! A writer came the following week with one she’d found for me. It smelt exactly the same as in my memory.


So when I was having a coffee in the Young Vic cafe yesterday, I was intrigued by the idea of their exhibition, Safe Houses, which has four purpose built rooms, all offering a different sensory experience. It’s the concept of Jeremy Herbert and Gabriella Sonabend and I’d read quite a bit about it so I presumed I’d have to book. Especially as only three people can go in at any one time. I asked the guy on the door though, just off on the off-chance, and there was one of the wooden ‘keys’ left. Lucky. I took it and followed the yellow line down the corridor, round the corner, round another corridor, through two sets of double doors… and was starting to panic when I reached the Safe Houses building that now takes up one of the theatres. By this time I was so conditioned to following the line, that I even tried to get through the solid wall because that’s where the line took me. Hopefully no one saw.

There’s a huge wind machine in the first part of the exhibition, the sound and the way you can stand in front of it to let your hair rise adds to the magic. I have always wanted to do that. The building is blank from the outside, like a huge DIY experiment a teenage boy might build to keep parents out of his room. There are four doors though, one up a stairway, and if there is no key hanging outside you can go in. One at a time, for as long as you want. This is something you do on your own.

The first room is painted white, the floor is half concrete, half sand, but there’s nothing else to look out. Just the voice of an actor telling a story that you’ve come in on the middle of. Little details become important, the crunch of sand on your sole as you step back on the concrete, the marks of trainer soles left in the sand. There’s a lovely contrast between this lack of visual interest with the colour images in the story, about deep velvet sofas, rich tapestries in shades of rose pink, duck egg blue and beige. And sounds too, the voices of Great Men and how the narrator carried these words beneath her breath.

If there was at least a milky window in the first room, the second – accessible up the wooden stairs – was completely dark. After a while I sat gingerly down on the bed, and then lay down. The voice was at my ear level, as if I was being told a story in bed. It was full of images to offset the darkness – how after a couple have made love, he sees his unfinished wooden parquet floor, while she hears the words of Friends, Romans, countryman. The swimming pool he built was now stagnant, filled only with the yellow plastic ducks she’s started to collect. How she practices her leaving speech in different outfits. The sound of water accompanying this almost feels as if it is inside the room.

Having walked into the first two rooms, I had to wait outside for the next. I could hear the noise of the wind machine, the changing reflection of the lights. It was like waiting outside a classroom knowing I shouldn’t go in, but still nervous instead I should knock. The noise increased and suddenly I was writing up notes in a spotlight as if I was in a prison, alert. It was like being held in the story still, a 3d immersive soap opera.

The third room was like a sauna, another opaque window like in a health club. Again the story was rich – gold painted perrier bottles stuffed with silk tulips. I began to listen to the words about light and shadow. Suddenly the light in the room went off as if I had been caught writing again. My writing was a scribble, I probably wouldn’t be able to decipher it. The letters would just be random marks.

In the fourth room, I had to crawl through a tiny door, the only light was a grid at floor level but there was the softest carpet. I put my hand flat out, and rubbed it back and forth on the carpet as if it was grass, but then I realised that the story was talking about grass. Someone was trying to write their name, the ‘peculiar markings that make up his name’… I began to feel nicely uncomfortable as if the story was taking me over. I wasn’t going to be able to make it out. I wasn’t sure I wanted to.

I wanted to go back to the second room and lie on the bed and be told stories all day. But I left.

And back in the cafe, everyone was carrying on just as normal. There was still one key left on the hook.

Safe Houses is on until 17 May 2014 at the Young Vic, Mon-Sat 10am to 7pm. It is free and you can’t book, but only three people can go in at one time so you’re restricted to twenty mins max.

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What Shape IS Time?

The times we measure are not future nor past nor present nor those in process of passing away. Yet we measure periods of time. Saint Augustine, Confessions


It was a privilege to go to Edinburgh last night for the launch of Alison Grant’s new exhibition, The Shape of Time. Because I got there early, I stood where I could see how everyone who entered the building stood frozen for a moment taking in the hundreds of little bits of time – individual clock pieces Alison’s been collecting for years – and which have been strung on invisible wire, and hanging down three floors, so they seem to suspended in the air.


(This is just some of them in Alison’s studio before the exhibition, I’m afraid I’m a rubbish arts correspondent because I didn’t bring my camera on the night but I hope that someone will post pictures soon.) It was extraordinary, and drew us all back to stare again and again, happily losing minutes of our lives. Can you imagine what it was like to see so many time pieces, but also the beauty of them when separated out from the rest of the ‘machine’? Every one was different. I will never look at a clock the same way again.



There was also a frieze of 150 small paintings circling the room, captured moments of the four equinoxes in 2011 when Alison had spent days – in rain, snow, and sunshine, sometimes on the same day – sitting in exactly the same spot at Loch Fyne and painting the same view every twenty minutes. Beautifully, the weather wasn’t just the subject but became part of the painting sometimes as drops of rain fell on to the canvas as she was painting.


There’s a film of these images woven together at the gallery too, The Shore of Uncounted Time, which gives a strange, almost surreal, linear narrative to the paintings.


My favourite other works are those using dandelion seeds at the moment they fell on the surface. I can’t stop thinking about the immediacy here – a gust of wind, or child’s breath, caught. For some reason it reminds me of Peter Pan and all those lost boys – the things we believe as children that we never quite want to let go of.


Now I’m biased because I’ve loved Alison and her work for years now, but this exhibition sparked something in me. I wrote about it for the whole four hour train journey home from Edinburgh – Harry Potter eat your heart out. How can writers, indeed all artists, not have time as a central focus for their work? As Thomas Hardy said: Time changes everything except something within us which is always surprised by change.

(Although of course, Alison and I have not changed one little bit over the years…)


But moving swiftly on, the other star of the show is the building itself, the former Registry Office at the top of Victoria Street that is now also used as a festival venue.


It’s been transformed into the most beautiful, inspiring gallery by Peter Warburton, who, as an artist, is committed to putting the artist first.


This is what the website says:

Warburton Arts acts as a not-for-profit organization founded with the aim of fostering the creative imagination and facilitating groundbreaking new art of the highest quality, free from the constraints of the commercial gallery. We also aim to provide opportunities for art lovers and patrons, whether private or commercial, to become involved in the realisation of artistic potential and the enrichment of the cultural environment.

Being itself headed by an artist, Warburton Arts places the practice of working artists above all other considerations. Aware of the difficulties that exist regarding access to support for cultural activities, particularly against a background of budgetary cutbacks, we aim to provide long term assistance to artists to develop their ideas, and to act as an effective conduit between artists, art lovers, patrons and galleries.


The Shape of Time” is on until May 24th. I’ve been resisting this all post, but do make the time to see it

Righto. I’ll get my coat.


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Do you want to write creatively about gardens and the landscape? Plus walks and weeks away…

I’m delighted to tell you that my latest book, Digging Up Paradise is now available for pre-order. It will come out ‘properly’ at the beginning of June, but in the meantime here are some courses and events which may be of interest:

3rd and 8th JuneExplore the lost gardens of the Strand with the ‘Old Map Man’, Ken Titmuss and me as part of the Chelsea Fringe. This is a two hour walk, starting at Charing Cross Station and ending at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Ken will provide knowledge, maps and expertise, and I will provide poems, extracts of letters and bits of novels which will add another flavour to the imagination. We have been finding out lots of things ourselves and promise some surprises along the way! You can book here, and we’re asking for a donation of £15 per ticket (payable on the day) with £5 of that going towards a gardening charity.

July 2, 9, 16 and 23rd July, 10-12.30pm – A four-week writing workshop in Tonbridge run through the University of Kent called Step Outside and Write. Participants will use a mixture of practical writing exercises as well as looking at published pieces and outdoor writing projects. This workshop is suitable for all levels of writers, and is designed to allow you to concentrate on your individual project. You can find out more and book for the course here

Aug 18th – Aug 23rd – An Arvon course: Landscape Writing, A Field Guide to Writing. Together with Shaun Levin, brilliant creator of Writing Maps, and with special guest, Tristan Gooley, The Natural Navigator, we will be running a week of walking, reading and getting lost with some excellent writers at the Hurst in Shropshire. This week will be an exploration of landscape writing and how it can work for you, whether you have a project in mind or just want to get some new ideas. Both walkers and non-walkers are welcome!

September 13th – A free writing workshop at Canterbury’s Westgate Gardens to help turn the gardens into a poetry park! We will write garden-inspired poetry, share our favourites and hang them from the trees in the park for everybody to enjoy! More details to come.

There will be more… watch this space … but I do hope to get the chance to write with you this summer, even if it’s virtually through this website!

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Have your words turned into a new Canterbury landmark!

I’m delighted to be judging the competition to find three poems to display in the underpass in the Westgate gardens in Canterbury. You have until MAY 15TH to send in your poems - there are two categories for under 18, and over 18, and poems should capture the spirit of Canterbury past and present; its history, people, architecture and ecology. Find out more here.


AN IMPORTANT NOTE: Don’t send your poems to me, or let me know the titles or anything about the poems you enter.

This is part of a project to reinvigorate Westgate Gardens, and it’s lovely to see poetry used as part of this.

Now it’s a long way ahead, but I will also be running a free workshop in the gardens on Saturday, 13th September, 11-1pm, in an attempt to turn Westgate into a poetry park. Do put it in your diary, but enter the competition first!

I’m particularly pleased to be involved in this, because one of the projects I’m proudest of is Homegrown, part of the Wise Words Festival in Canterbury when I was allowed to play with poetry and words in four of the public parks in Canterbury, in collaboration with the ReAuthoring Project and artist, Wendy Daws.


It was amazing to have people come up to us and say that it had made them look at the whole park again, even – especially – when they were regular visitors.

I look forward to – anonymously – reading your poems!!

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