Let Life Do It…

I’m reading May Sarton’s Plant Dreaming Deep at the moment, an account of her renovation of a New Hampshire farmhouse, but with lots of reflections about writing too. This one hit home:

“It became more necessary than ever to eliminate waste. ‘I wasted time and now doth time waste me.’ was no longer a beautiful phrase but a probing reality. During the snow-bright days and the long evenings sitting by the fire or pacing the floor, I began to understand that for me ‘waste’ had not come from idleness, but perhaps from pushing myself too hard, from not being idle enough, from listening to the demon who says ‘make haste’. I had allowed the wrong kind of pressure to build up, that kind which brings frustration in its wake. I was helped by Louise Bogan’s phrase. ‘Let life do it.’ But what kind of life?”


Getting out the diary…

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Some dates coming up for the diary…

Saturday 13th September 2014 – Poetry in the Park Workshop at Westgate Gardens, Canterbury for the Wise Words Festival, 11-1pm. Find out more and bring a poem to hang up on a tree here

Monday 13th October 2014 - a four week inspiration for writing course run through the University of Kent at Tonbridge, Kent, 10-12.30. More details here.

Saturday 25th October 2014 - A workshop on journal writing for the Kent Writing and Wellbeing Network at the Beaney Library, Canterbury. Contact me for more details.

Wednesday 29th October 2014 - The Canterbury Laureates – 8pm. Reading at the Canterbury Festival with Patience Agbabi, Patricia Debney and Dan Simpson. More details and tickets here

Saturday 22nd November 2014 – Memoir writing course run through the University of Kent at Tonbridge, Kent, 10-12.30. More details here.

And most Monday afternoons you can find me volunteering at Oxfam Bookshop in Tunbridge Wells. If you are happening to be passing, please do pop in and say hello, and let me help you find the perfect book!

Please note: I do also run a series of popular writing classes and masterclasses from my home in Tunbridge Wells. These are full at present, but I do run a waiting list so let me know if you would like to be put on it.

And to book me for a reading or workshop, get in contact with me at sarahsalway @ gmail.com.

A walk with the angels…

I’ve never hidden my love of the connection between walking and creativity so I’m very happy to point you in the direction of a walk with a difference coming up in Tunbridge Wells.

The writer and photographer, Caroline Auckland is running a photography walk as part of the 2014 Heritage Open Days.

Here are the details:

Walking with Angels Sunday 14th September 2014 Tunbridge Wells Cemetery at Hawkenbury

Bring your camera and walk around this peaceful memorial space in search of Angelic monuments to loved ones lost.
This is an opportunity to appreciate the beauty of Victorian Angels in the Cemetery Landscape.
Suitable for anyone with a camera, an interest in memory and a love of Angels as guardians.
Angels are not always easy to find so expect to walk a little distance in sensible shoes and at the same time experience the peace and tranquillity of this beautiful garden for the bereaved.

Time 2.30 from the Chapel.
Numbers: 15 people
Weather permitting.

Booking Caroline Auckland : Carolineauckland@btinternet.com
Please provide telephone number in application.
To last 1 hour approx.
Some walking involved on uneven terrain.
Start and finish at the Chapel and afterwards enjoy the varied exhibition .

Who am I speaking to?

There’s something so moving about this documentary of the last woman alive to be speaking wukchumni. It makes me want to gather up all my favourite words and just treasure them today.

Fifth Draft

… and still a work in progress.


This is why I can never quite believe writers who say they write perfectly the very first time. And where’s the fun in that? This revision (above) has helped me work out what my story is actually about. Roll on the sixth draft.


Remember this?


Old fashioned Basildon Bond notepaper with a lined sheet to put under your letter so you could write in nice straight lines, and blotting paper so that you didn’t smudge. Because of course it’s expected that you will still write with an ink pen.


I must have been a spoilt kid. I can remember thinking it wasn’t worth getting presents when you had to write those endless thank you letters after. Although there would always be the gems – the detective book which had a jigsaw you had to complete in order to find out ‘who did it’. That got a heartfelt letter. But the present I love most now – a china tea-set – came cup and saucer by cup and saucer for years. One at a time. I wish its giver was still alive now so I could write and tell her how much I treasure it. Difficult when you are seven though, and long for a trampoline. Or a white horse to be waiting in the garden when you wake up.

Dear xxx, Thank you for your present. I will have fun using it. I had a lovely birthday. Love Sarah.

When I went to boarding school, we were only allowed to ring up home before eight every morning, and there would be a queue of people waiting to use the one public phone in the hall so no conversation would be private. We would all write letters home but were told not to complain. Because it would upset our parents.

Dear Mum and Dad, Everything is fine. I hope it is for you too. Sarah.

I don’t remember what my actual letters contained but I imagine them something like that. I was a bolshy kid at the best of times.


I expect my parents didn’t keep my letters, although I’m surprised I don’t have any of theirs from this time because I know I treasured them. I can smell exactly as if I was standing there now the line of pigeon holes in the hall of the boarding house, next to the phone, and how we’d rush there every day after morning lessons to see if we’d got post. We’d pretend though that we didn’t care either way. We became expert at not-caring.


One Valentine’s Day, I must have been about fifteen, I was worried about not getting a card and so my father sent me nine. All with different handwriting on the front and even with different postmarks, and all signed with a question mark. Of course the minute I saw my bulging pigeon hole, I knew they were from him, and there was no way I could have pretended that I had nine admirers – I don’t think I had ONE – but it was the funniest Valentines Day ever. One was addressed to ‘Sarah Bless Her Cotton Socks’. It still makes me laugh.

And then there were the penfriends. Do people have penfriends any more? I had a French girl and a German boy. The german boy, Klaus, came to stay one summer. We’d been writing stilted letters to each other for a year. I have two pets. I have a sister. I like to play football… I didn’t understand why my father – who wasn’t much older than we were then when he fought in WW2 – was so upset about the idea of having a German staying in our home – who was his father? – but they became great friends. I can still picture them deep in conversation as they walked the dog every day. What did they talk about? After Klaus had gone home, he wrote to my father once, but I was never allowed to read it. Here we are… (I have no idea why it’s B&W, I think we were both arty. It was one of the few things we had in common)


I spent the summer between school and Fashion College writing letters to try to persuade a travelling boyfriend I was the one. They were long and rambly and I thought it might be interesting for him to know every single detail about my childhood. It didn’t work. My first week at college and I received a letter from him saying he wanted to go to University without commitments. But he wished me well. I didn’t keep that letter.


Then there are letters that have come at just the right moment for me. The one congratulating me on the birth of my first child and promising that after six weeks, things would get better. I read that one day after day for six weeks, and she was right. Work ones: the letter offering a month’s writing residency, the contract with an agency, a stranger telling me she’s just read my book and it’s as if we’ve had a conversation. And the personal ones: chatty details from a brother too far away so I can imagine his day, a friend enclosing a photograph of us together at fourteen. Remember this, she wrote.

And then there are the ones containing news I wish I didn’t have to read. Deaths, illness, bad luck. Official ones, and personal ones. I thought you would want to know… Too many of those these days, but at least a letter lets me take the news in on my own before I have to do anything.


And in all of these, I can see the handwriting, feel how the hand moved across the page I’m now reading. Keep them in a file to read after I can’t write back. My battered old address book is criss-crossed with old addresses, people who only exist on paper now. But I can still listen to them speak to me.


I went out yesterday to buy some writing paper and envelopes, and had to try five shops before I found the ones in these photographs. Two of those shops were card shops stuffed full with messages written out for me so all I had to do was sign them. ‘People aren’t writing letters any more,’ I was told again and again.

Tell that to these people.


Sometimes it’s good to go back to the beginning, and that’s what I’ve been doing over the last few weeks. Reminding myself why I like writing, trying out new characters, freewriting with no real end in sight, trying out new things, reading authors I haven’t heard of before, playing.

And thanks to Vanessa Gebbie for this video of a real fresh start…

Walking the Dog – a poem for Critical Voices

So many interesting voices, so many notes and so many ideas floating around Tunbridge Wells today after the Critical Voices conference organised by Graham Shaw for the Royal Society of Arts. It’ll take some time to process them, but for now, because I was asked, here is one of the poems I read. It’s from my new book, Digging Up Paradise.

Walking the Dog
by Sarah Salway

Today he is in charge, lead
looped at his side as he walks

the dog, smiling and keeping
in step as they bound over

the horizon. Only he knows
how yesterday the dog took over,

how he didn’t dare open his eyes
in case it still sat there,

teeth bared, paws on his shoulders,
the bulk of it blocking out the sun;

they stayed like that, prey and preyed,
and it didn’t matter how many times

he told the child inside not to be afraid,
that the dog just wanted to be friends.