Hemingway House, Key West by daintydora

It was such a gorgeous day, the light so perfect and the heat waning slightly by the time I arrived at the Hemingway Home & Museum in Key West. Visiting Florida as part of a family holiday, this adventure to the southern-most tip of America felt very special to me, having accidentally followed Hemingway around the world (Paris, Cuba, Italy, Spain...) He certainly had the right idea about how to enjoy life.

Hemingway House, Key West
Hemingway House, Key West

The house is open every day but shuts at 5pm and it took much longer to drive the US1 from Key Largo than I'd anticipated, having not taken into consideration the often 35/45 mph speed limits. (Are they strict about these things in the States? I don't know. I didn't want to find out.)

Hemingway House, Key West
Hemingway House, Key West

Luckily, it was well worth the wait. And the drive. The drive was actually beautiful, the ocean on each side and the roads very quiet. What more could you ask for?

Hemingway House, Key West
Hemingway House, Key West

The house sits back from the road on a picturesque corner (on Whitehead Street and Olivia Street), with palms surrounding it providing plenty of shade. A huge brick wall encircling the property guarantees privacy... or maybe not:

Hemingway built the wall to keep out the 'riff raff' of tourists after his home was referred to in a tourist guide of the day, not long after he moved in. Ironically, tourists began to flock in even higher numbers to get their photograph taken in front of the wall.

Key West has at least doubled in size since Hemingway's day, and the house originally boasted sea views. There's even a lighthouse next door.

Hemingway House, Key West
Hemingway House, Key West

But the first thing you notice - aside from the old colonial beauty and the deep hues of mustard and green amidst the palms - is the abundance of cats.

Hemingway House, Key West
Hemingway House, Key West

I think this tabby above is one of the six-toed tribe, likely to be a descendant of Hemingway's cat 'Snow White' who was gifted to him by a ship's captain. All the cats who live at the house apparently carry this 'polydactyl' gene, so even if they don't sport six toes themselves, their off-spring just might.

Hemingway House, Key West
Hemingway House, Key West
Hemingway House, Key West
Hemingway House, Key West

I thought it a nice touch they're all named after famous writers, artists, musicians and stars of the stage; a tradition started by Hemingway (now with a few wives in the mix!), and each name is then scribed into the cement/brick in a little area that is clearly the 'cat cemetery' when the inevitable day comes around ('Death in the Afternoon', perhaps?). Sorry!

Hemingway House, Key West
Hemingway House, Key West

I took a moment to worship at the grave of 'Zsa-Zsa Gabor':

Hemingway House, Key West
Hemingway House, Key West

Even the windows had net curtains featuring cats - would they have been Hemingway's personal choice I wonder?

Hemingway House, Key West
Hemingway House, Key West

Inside, the house was set out with much of the original furniture, artifacts and antiques collected by Hemingway, but the most fascinating to me were bookshelves laden with his personal collection - the books he had physically touched and read - as well as memorabilia from the film versions of many of his books.

Hemingway House, Key West
Hemingway House, Key West
Hemingway House, Key West
Hemingway House, Key West
The colours and shapes in details such as the tiles on the bathroom floor were worth much more than a passing glance, and it became clear that nowhere is off-limits to the cats.

The living room downstairs was dedicated to Pilar, Hemingway's Boat (also the title of a book by Paul Hendrickson that I took with me to read, but just didn't get around to), and a few more of his typewriters. I was pleased to note he wasn't particularly brand-loyal. Underwood, Remington, Corona...

"This boat is a marvel for fishing. Takes any sea comfortably and can turn on her tail to chase a fish."
Hemingway House, Key West
Hemingway House, Key West

Outside, second wife Pauline's highly controversial swimming pool replaced Hemingway's beloved boxing ring.

It was the first and only pool in Key West by years, and ran well over budget, relying on manual labour to dig out the concrete because the use of dynamite was ruled out by the city. It was originally a saltwater pool as there was no running water in Key West until 1944. But it is a beauty - over 8ft deep. How truly decadent!

Hemingway House, Key West
Hemingway House, Key West
Hemingway House, Key West
Hemingway House, Key West

I love the story about Hemingway's last pennywhich is embedded in the concrete in front of the pool. Or maybe that's just a gimmick for tourists? I snapped it anyway.

Hemingway House, Key West
Hemingway House, Key West

Not far away was Hemingway's other 'trough' - a urinal from his favourite bar Sloppy Joe's, which he brought home as a kind of revenge for the pool. Apparently he told Pauline:

'I'll get rid of mine when you get rid of yours'.

Oh the rage!

Hemingway House, Key West
Hemingway House, Key West

Instead she added decorative tiles and an urn. It all worked out OK. She made the best of it. And the cats are apparently too clever to consider drinking from the 'trough'.

Finally, stairs lead up to a separate building, a kind of loft which at one point was joined to the house by a little tree-top walkway.

It served as Hemingway's office/study/writing room and I'm not sure if it was set up just how he left it - especially given the history of the house being sold on before becoming a museum - but there was a lovely sense of solicitous solitude there that made me feel close to the great man himself.

Hemingway House, Key West
Hemingway House, Key West
Hemingway House, Key West
Hemingway House, Key West

It made me want to rush home and read more of his books as well as get more prolific with writing my own. And I say that having never really gelled with his writing style.

I struggled with A Moveable Feast. I couldn't wait to read A Farewell to Arms, then didn't.

I think there's just something special and charismatic about his life and the way he lived, battling many demons while traversing the world, like he was trying to escape himself in his pursuits. The sea, his boat. Living in remote outcrops: Cuba, Key West. Or maybe I'm just a sentimental writer trying to capture an ounce of inspiration from this big bold bear of a man?

But what a special place (and places) he chose to live.

I would definitely return to Florida, and to the Keys. Key West had a lot more going for it than simply the literary connections, but alas I had only scheduled one day in which to see it all.

Hemingway House, Key West
Hemingway House, Key West

Before traversing the slim road back towards Miami, I did manage a quick look at the Tennessee Williams exhibition. There was a lot to see/read and not much time, though I was able to view a collection of his first editions, albeit through display glass.

"There is no friend as loyal as a book"

Apart from maybe a cat - or is that just an oxymoron?

Hemingway House, Key West
Hemingway House, Key West

A life in Letterpress by daintydora

Letterpress, Alan Kitching exhibition
Letterpress, Alan Kitching exhibition

Last week I discovered Alan Kitching's 'A Life in Letterpress' at the Lighthouse, Glasgow.

He's built up an impressive catalogue, and is still going strong:

Alan Kitching was supposed to be obsolete.

The new world is one of microchips and screens. Anyone can write and typeset. The most basic word processing software will offer a hundred fonts at the swish of a mouse. Hand printing was for museums, wooden type for antique shops.

When others sold off their font collections, he bought them. And then bought more. He mixed colour and fonts to dramatic effect. He invested in the written word with visual power. Alan Kitching has become rather fashionable and in demand.

Alan Rusbridger

Well I love letters - they are the building blocks of words after all - and the individuality of letterpress-printing just feels so beautifully idiosyncratic and original in the modern world. I can see why "in a world of uniformity Alan Kitching's work stands out".

Letterpress, Alan Kitching exhibition
Letterpress, Alan Kitching exhibition

I think too that I need to 'up my game' when it comes to the header on my newsletter; Alan Kitching and I clearly share a love of the word 'word':

Letterpress, Alan Kitching exhibition
Letterpress, Alan Kitching exhibition
Letterpress, Alan Kitching exhibition
Letterpress, Alan Kitching exhibition

He also did the cover for a special issue of Dazed & Confused. The Word issue. (Of course.)

Here's a few more of the posters from the exhibition that stood out for me:

Letterpress, Alan Kitching exhibition
Letterpress, Alan Kitching exhibition
Letterpress, Alan Kitching exhibition
Letterpress, Alan Kitching exhibition
Letterpress, Alan Kitching exhibition
Letterpress, Alan Kitching exhibition
Letterpress, Alan Kitching exhibition
Letterpress, Alan Kitching exhibition
Letterpress, Alan Kitching exhibition
Letterpress, Alan Kitching exhibition
Letterpress, Alan Kitching exhibition
Letterpress, Alan Kitching exhibition
Letterpress, Alan Kitching exhibition
Letterpress, Alan Kitching exhibition
Letterpress, Alan Kitching exhibition
Letterpress, Alan Kitching exhibition

An impressive array of styles, colour and design. I'd love to try letterpress myself.

There were also some very nice letterpress books accompanying the exhibition and a free newspaper-style handout. 'A Life in Letterpress' is on until 5th March 2017 in Glasgow.

Letterpress, Alan Kitching exhibition
Letterpress, Alan Kitching exhibition

NB: The lighting and use of glass cases in the exhibition made it difficult to get better photographs. This is not a sponsored post.

Taking Stock: Cullen Bay Beach Walk by daintydora

It's always good to 'Take Stock' of where you are (in life; with yourself), and the start of a new year feels particularly apt. This is the first year I haven't written lengthy lists of plans, ideas, dare I say it - resolutions. I'm OK with that. Instead I've spent the first days of 2017 just thinking, being, breathing.

Taking Stock: Cullen Bay Beach, Scotland

Turning things over in my mind and taking my time before rushing into anything too deep and meaningful; catching up on reading and creative work with minimal digital distraction. It felt good. Hibernation could be my 'thing'.

A walk along the beach at Cullen Bay in the North of Scotland was a beautiful, wild way to welcome in the year, the sea restless with energy and alive with mystery.

Taking Stock: Cullen Bay Beach, ScotlandTaking Stock: Cullen Bay Beach, Scotland

For this 'Taking Stock' I've picked 12 verbs from the usual list (one for each month), to reflect on. This is me, right now:

Making: Cullen Skink. I had to really, having so recently visited Cullen and tasting the award-winning version, circa 2015. Drinking: Red Berry Suki Tea. It's a deep rich red jewel in a cup. Reading: The Outrun, by Amy Liptrot. It's wild and beautiful and it makes me want to visit Orkney (again), and some of the tiny islands off it, especially Papay. Looking: forward to our family holiday in Florida, starting next week. The Everglades. The Keys. Hemingway's house. Watching: The OA - highly unusual and gripping. GIRLS, Nashville... Smelling: peppermint and eucalyptus oils in my bath. The perfect (indulgent) winter-morning ritual.

Loving: that people are loving THE WORD, my fledgling fortnightly newsletter. Thank you to everyone who's contacted me to let me know how much they're enjoying it, and who've shared, tweeted and encouraged me - your support means everything.

Noticing: sunsets like never before. They creep up early in winter and feel like the most beautiful of the year. Listening: to Angel Olsen. Over and over. Especially this and this and this and this. (Which brings me to my new favourite thing to say when I forget what I'm trying to say: "the thing with the thing with the thing. You know the thing?" No, no-one else does either... Thinking: about rainbows and phrases and new words and word associations. Rainbow-physics. Never-night. Svengali. Leitmotif. Gesamtkunstwerk. Opening: new books and journals that I received over Christmas. Italian leather with lush, cream pages from my husband; a coveted Mucha scrapbook from my Mum. Feeling: optimistic and curious about 2017 and all it promises.

Taking Stock: Cullen Bay Beach, Scotland

I asked friends and family about their 'resolutions', and was surprised when mostly they told me of things they're not going to do, something they 'need' to stop or cut out of their life.

I know that's often the way, but instead I'd like to focus on the all the amazing things I am going to do, plan to do, will do, and perhaps some happy surprises that 2017 will have in store. It just feels better to think like that, doesn't it?

Taking Stock: Cullen Bay Beach, Scotland

Midweek Poetry: Snow on Mars by daintydora

Does it...could it ever...snow on Mars? Snow on Mars

I don't know but this is another poem from my week-long Arvon retreat at Lumb Bank.

We wrote 'stream of consciousness' style for 10 minutes, with the trigger 'I remember when...' which took me bounding back to childhood (of course it would). The twist was it also had to include 'an impossibility' - thanks Stevie!

Snow on Mars

Sometimes there's snow on Mars:
grey, red, navy blue.
It comes in slow shapes
like the colours inside a kaleidoscope,
each day a different intensity
(though Monday's have always been brown).
I didn't like gravy at school,
murky water creeping around the side of the plate
urging to escape, like the un-dry damp
in the kitchen, obvious; a slow
Concorde cruising the wall between the cooker and the fridge.
And I'm knitting a scarf for the cat
in layers of blue and not quite black -
thank god I'm wearing my winter tights.

Just like The Etymology of Azure, this is the kind of poem I would never have come up with on my own, though using this fun and clever technique I found all sorts of interesting words and phrases that have taken me somewhere new and different, exploring the wonders of our galaxy and the impossibilities of science.

I enjoyed exploring a childhood memory, including my first piece of knitting after the obligatory 'square' that came out like a tattered rectangle. And Monday's are still very brown when filtered through my synaesthesia-tinted mind. How many others experience this?

And with Mars a world away, it feels like the real question is: will it snow for Christmas?

Good Girls Revolt by daintydora

I've just finished watching the first series of Good Girls Revolt and I've fallen in love with it. Good Girls Revolt

Based on the book The Good Girls Revolt by Lynn Povich - which also spawned a TV series - the show is based around the newsroom politics of fictional magazine 'News of the Week' in late 1969 New York.

It tells the story of the real case involving 46 women working at Newsweek magazine, Lynn Povich among them, after they announced they'd filed an EEOC complaint charging their employer with "systematic discrimination" against them in hiring and promotion.

It feels so vibrant and so relevant, now, today, despite being set against the backdrop of the Vietnam war, the civil right's movement in America and second-wave Feminism. It's relevant because of those things.

I love the real stories - the history of our time - that cut through each episode, anchoring it to reality and forming the canvas for the stars of the show: Patty, Jane, and Cindy. I love Patty's spirit and boho fashion sense the best, but Cindy's personal transformation is my favourite as her eyes are opened to the world: what is possible, what she wants - and what she doesn't want.

Good Girls Revolt

Nora Ephron makes an appearance early on, quitting the magazine after she's told her story can't run because "that's just not how we do things around here...girls don't write".

A stand-off ensues as she challenges her boss and everyone stops to stare.

"If copy's good, it's good...you just said my rewrite hit the bullseye. That was your word."

Meanwhile, the fashion is fantastic: vintage prints and patent bags, suede boots and prim brooches pinned straight onto shift dresses and knitted cardigans - no waiting around for a jacket. And I loved the soundtrack.

But just as I sat down to write this, I'm heartbroken to discover that Good Girls Revolt has been officially cancelled by Amazon.

It feels ironic considering the final words of the season from researcher Jane as she asks for the 'opportunity' to write and be recognised for her writing, under her own name.

It should be a basic courtesy for work well done, words well-written. It should not be so difficult to achieve. It should not require a lawsuit.

Jane argues that without the extremely hard work and insight of the female researchers, the quality and therefore the success of the magazine would not be possible. And she's right. They know she's right. And that's where the story ends: I need to see more.

(And for what it's worth, I thought Good Girls Revolt was way better than Mad Men. Yes. I'm saying it. And I'm owning my words.)

Watching Good Girls Revolt gave me ideas.

Watching Good Girls Revolt made me want to write.

Watching Good Girls Revolt made me want to write on my typewriter.

Watching Good Girls Revolt made me want to write about the things I feel passionate about.

Watching Good Girls Revolt made me think of New York.

Watching Good Girls Revolt made me want to be in New York.

Watching Good Girls Revolt made me want to dress up.

Watching Good Girls Revolt made me want to go vintage clothes shopping.

Watching Good Girls Revolt made me want to play records. (And last night I did play records. LoneLady in fact. 'Silvering' to be exact.)

Watching Good Girls Revolt was a reminder of important historical events.

Watching Good Girls Revolt was a reminder that we all need to stand up and speak out about the things we believe in.

Lynn Povich was eventually appointed the first woman Senior Editor in Newsweek’s history - five years after the landmark sex discrimination suit was originally filed. But will there be a happy postscript for the show?

Since Amazon's decision to cancel it, the cast have tweeted in an attempt to save it, and there is a petition doing the rounds which I've already added my name to.

Suddenly it feels like more is at stake than just a TV show. It feels serious, political and about having a voice and being heard.

Good Girls Revolt

I'll end with an on-point quote from Vogue.com:

Here’s hoping all of this backlash results in a second life for Good Girls Revolt - not least because it would be such a twisted, ironic end to 2016 for a timely, feminist, women-led show to get snuffed out by, yep, one guy.

NaNo Winner 2016 by daintydora

Since Monday I've written around 10,000 words. Almost 9,000 of those were about completing my NaNoWriMo Novel Writing challenge yesterday (a day early!), then some new ideas I had as soon as I finished, and then my personal journal in recording my thoughts and feelings about my achievement.

NaNoWriMo Winner Certificate 2016

It's been tough some days to dedicate the time I needed to my words. I've neglected family and friends. I haven't been writing much else apart from my NaNo-Novel (working title: Control).

But that's OK because it's been an immersive and cathartic experience, reminding me every single day that it really is possible to write 1,667 every day for 30 days, or 2,000 words, or even 5,000 words, even when you don't know what you're going to write.

That's the dream. Not waiting for the muse; just doing it.

My NaNo word-count total for the 3 years I've taken part now sits at 151,180 words. That's amazing! I can't believe I did it, but I did.

I knew I could do it but it's great to prove it to myself again (read my NaNo tips to myself).

Now I have a whole new work-in-progress novel I can take forward and do amazing things with. It will need work - a lot of work obviously - but the framework is there and I'm excited about the story. That's half the battle.

And I do love the glory of a downloadable, editable, printable certificate!

Now I'm going to pay-it-forward and donate to this amazing challenge so that it may continue inspiring others as it has motivated and inspired me, because...

What makes a writer a writer? Writing.


NaNoWriMo #3 - 2016 by daintydora

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) has not been on my to-do list for the last 4 years. I first tried it in 2011 and 'won' (meaning I completed the target of 50,000 words written in the month of November), and then did the same in 2012. It was fun and exhilarating, but it's also a bit of a pressure, especially when you have other things on, Christmas on the way, a day-job...

In 2013 I wrote down all the reasons I wouldn't be taking part in NaNoWriMo - but now I can't find them. What I did find is this:

Words are my friends, they are my enemy. I need to write more, more, more and the backspace button is not my friend. Pruning is not allowed. Quantity over quality is my aim - I think.

It's not that I want to write crap and congratulate myself at the end when I (hopefully) have 50,000 words in a document. The idea is to break down the barriers to writing, to get SOMETHING down on the page that can be edited and re-drafted later.

Analysis is the enemy of the novelist; too much agonising over the correct word, crafting the most perfect sentence, or browsing the net in the name of crucial research. GET IT WRITTEN NOW and then you have a framework to play with.

This year NaNoWriMo feels right. It called to me back in September; a gentle whisper that gradually became an urgent: do it do it do it. Write. New. Things.

NaNoWriMo Tips - Rebecca Johnstone

I think it's because I've not been writing new work since the edits on my debut novel stalled over the summer (June to be exact), and ever since I've experienced the slow creep of crippling #writer-guilt manifesting in the following thoughts:

How can I call myself a writer when I'm not working on my book; not actually writing?

How can I ever hope to get published when I'm not doing anything to progress my work, my practice, my writing endeavours?

NaNoWriMo has become the perfect antidote to my #writer-guilt.

I'm a little over a day behind now - I was inspired back to my book edits (oh the irony!) - but I've started so I'll finish. I'm a 'pantser', what can I say?

Are you doing NaNoWriMo? How are you getting on? Have you done it before? 

Meanwhile, keep up to date with me, my writing - NaNo-related and otherwise - and learn a few new words along the way with THE WORD, my newsletter for writers and word-lovers.

Midweek Poetry: The Etymology of Azure by daintydora

I haven't written much (any?) poetry this year, so my experience recently at Lumb Bank was a jump-start to my poetic creativity. Stevie Ronnie was our tutor for the poetry element of the Book Art & Text course (check out the amazing paper books I made under Rachel Hazell's tutelage), and he immersed the group in language and words (my very favourite kind of lesson) through ingenious tasks and short games, even making up new poetic forms - the snake poem anyone? - encouraging us to inject a bit more freedom and fun into our approach to poetry.

For one of our lessons we had to write down our favourite word ahead of time, allowing Stevie to research the etymology of it and present us with the findings (though at the time we didn't know where the word was going to take us).

From there, we had to construct a poem using only the words that featured in the etymology.

My word was 'AZURE', chosen because of its colourful connotations and how it makes me feel - turquoise-y blue and free, like I'm swimming in the sea, the Med perhaps; the Côte d'Azur...

'Azure' in watercolour
'Azure' in watercolour

And the etymology was fascinating - more like a history lesson through language, culture and geology via the Mediterranean and Turkestan.

Azure is so much more than 'the blue colour of the clear sky'.

Some of the words that jumped out at me from the etymology were words I would never have thought to include in a poem, and I loved how they related back to the word (obviously) but could be jumbled up to create the story of the word, as well as a story through the poem.

These are some of my favourites:

  • Middle Latin lapis
  • false separation
  • molluscs which stick to rocks
  • Persian Lajward
  • cognates in Greek
  • the unclouded sky
  • French article
  • lapideous
  • heraldic colour blue
  • complex silicatea stone
  • a pebble
  • spangles of pyrites

They make it sound so much more complex and glamorous. I love that.

Words and phrases all with their roots in one word, but intensifying the meaning, shifting it, elevating it.

I've done very little work on the poem since I returned - it didn't feel right because I worked on it amidst the special magic of Lumb Bank (in snatches of time between meals!), presenting it on our final night by reading it out as though it was complete. And it is complete, for now. (Completely azure?)

The only thing I've allowed myself to change is the line structure - it's my area of weakness - and the title.

I thought it fitting to call it Lapis Lazuli at the time, because azure is literally 'a genitive of lazulum', but then I realised the title of this post says it best.

The Etymology of Azure

Pyrite mountains stand unclouded, proto-Italic and

essentially complex: dripping-rich

with limpets clinging to sticks.

A false sky beckons, blue, azure;

a genitive of lazulum

spangled pewter and gold.

Heraldic? Arabic?

It's the Persian Lajward

borrowed from before -

Marco Polo's short French mention:

semi-precious symbols

loaned from Latin

and archaic silicates

cognated in stone.

Visiting Sylvia by daintydora

This time last week I was deeply immersed in a poetry and book art retreat at the Ted Hughes Arvon Centre, Lumb Bank in West Yorkshire. It's a place I've longed to visit ever since I first heard about it, and now finally, I have.

On arrival, the house was steeped in autumn sunshine; the leaves and flowers in the garden offering up their secrets and magic. I couldn't stop taking photographs.

Sunset at Lumb Bank
Sunset at Lumb Bank

Even this simple pattern of leaves arranged on the grate speaks volumes about the collective creativity of the week. (See more 'foraged street art' by Sarah.)

Foraged and found 'art' = leaves, Lumb Bank, October 2016
Foraged and found 'art' = leaves, Lumb Bank, October 2016

What I didn't anticipate was the opportunity to visit Sylvia Plath's grave. I had no idea she was buried in the small village of Heptonstall, about 10 minutes walk from Lumb Bank.

On my first free afternoon I slipped away to find her.

Graveyard where Sylvia Plath is buried
Graveyard where Sylvia Plath is buried

I passed the house that belonged to Ted's parents, taking in the burnt-away colours of the trees and leaves. It was so quiet and peaceful, the narrow streets in the village quaintly cobbled.

There were so many gorgeous leaves and I wanted to collect then all, but I allowed myself only a few.

Autumn colours at Lumb Bank, Heptonstall, West Yorkshire
Autumn colours at Lumb Bank, Heptonstall, West Yorkshire

Sylvia didn't ever live in the house at Lumb Bank, the house that is now the Arvon Centre, but it feels like her fate was being metered out when she first lived up the hill with Ted's parents; visiting as a willing lamb, not knowing she would one day return and never leave.

I had been allocated a room in 'the barn', the solid lintel of the window framing my view of the garden, and Ted's image - his eyes, his ghost - seeming to follow me everywhere; heavy with history and the tragedy of Sylvia taking her own life. I couldn't stop thinking of them together: writing, talking, arguing. I also thought of Assia.

Feminists have been 'blamed' for defacing Sylvia's headstone on multiple occasions, scratching away the lead-lettering of 'Hughes' to avoid it tainting her name any further, but I don't think Ted can be held solely to blame for what happened. I don't blame the feminists either (and count myself a feminist).

Searching for Sylvia Plath, St Thomas Church graveyard, Heptonstall
Searching for Sylvia Plath, St Thomas Church graveyard, Heptonstall

While searching for Sylvia's grave, I first walked around the older part of the graveyard. It felt quietly alive with the shadows of afternoon and not for the first time I felt like I was being watched by unseen eyes.

The rustle of fallen leaves on the path did nothing to assuage that feeling.

I found Sylvia eventually, in the newer part of the graveyard.

Only two lines of poetry (written by Ted) decorate her small headstone:

"Even amidst fierce flames

The golden lotus can be planted."

Sylvia Plath's headstone, St Thomas Church, Heptonstall
Sylvia Plath's headstone, St Thomas Church, Heptonstall

"A little rosebush grows on it, and some modest wreaths and cut flowers lie about. Crows and magpies fly above."

I felt so close to her as I stood there, the memory of reading her journals and her poetry flooding my mind with the time in my life when I became obsessed with her work, her world, as though she was a dear friend I'd simply lost touch with over the years. Words can do that. Especially words written in a diary or journal.

Pens, pennies, flowers and letters left at Sylvia Plath's grave
Pens, pennies, flowers and letters left at Sylvia Plath's grave

I had imagined her grave being better kept with a big memorial, the grass neat and well-tended, though perhaps it's fitting this is not the case.

I liked that people had left notes and pens and coins, and wanted to leave a pen but it didn't seem entirely right - and the pen I had with me wasn't particularly special.

Instead I wrote a note, folding it tightly and burying it in the earth at the head of Sylvia's 'grave-garden'. I hope my words echo down to her, somehow.

Flowers at Sylvia Plath's grave, Heptonstall
Flowers at Sylvia Plath's grave, Heptonstall

The angel/cherub was a nice touch, and I recognised heather, lavender, primrose and rose amongst other offerings - a respite from the weeds - yet still I couldn't help but imagine Sylvia hiding under the floorboards that time, the desire that burnt more brightly than any other, finally, fatefully achieved in the winter of 1963.

What would she choose if she had her time again?

View through the gate to the graveyard where Sylvia Plath is buried
View through the gate to the graveyard where Sylvia Plath is buried

It makes me so sad to think that a woman so alive with thoughts and words and emotion can be so-long buried and alone, no family to visit her grave. I know so many people do and will end up this way, but that only compounds the sadness.

I hope she felt at least a moment of freedom.

Becoming Wise by daintydora

In a recent issue of THE WORD, my newsletter for writers and word-lovers, I linked to Krista Tippett's interview with Elizabeth Gilbert on her radio show On Being. And then I read an interview with her on The Great Discontent, discussing her new book Becoming Wise, and found I identified so much with the things she spoke of there too, especially this:

...to become wise, is the work of a lifetime

She's right of course, but it's pretty frustrating.

On one hand it's amazing to know that as time ticks on you'll inevitably learn and discover and conquer new things each day, week, month, year of your life, becoming wiser the older you get. Perhaps things like:

How to buy and sell a house, how to deal with awkward social situations, how to articulate how you feel, what you want, what makes you tick, and how to mix a martini (and whether you prefer it shaken not stirred)

And that's all fabulous.

But it's also sad in a way because it means that by the time you've finally nailed it, finally learnt everything you need to know in life, all the tips, tricks, short-cuts and truths - who you even are - that's when it's kind of over. Not to be maudlin, but it's true.

When asked what the recurring themes and qualities of lives full of 'beauty and wisdom', Krista response is:

The basic elements of our lives are the raw materials of wisdom

I like that; like life is about finding the things you will use to 'build your wisdom'. Except it all takes so damn long.

Words, words, words

She goes on to say: "spiritual life is as much about how we inhabit our bodies as it is about ideas... Our bodies are messy and they get us in trouble."

Yes. So true. I think our spirituality is very much about how we inhabit our bodies, how we present ourselves to the world and each other, how we interact.

"We need to tune into the truths of our bodies. There’s no such thing as an emotion that’s not physical or a physical symptom that doesn’t have emotional input—this is something we’re learning and science has proven it."

I like the link she makes between the emotional and physical, and it's something I want to learn more about.

Emotions play a big part in my life and I know that if my emotions are out of balance, then I can't be productive in my day-to-day. Even small tasks feel insurmountable because what's going on in my head disrupts the flow of communication in my body. I'm more clumsy, sluggish even. I feel the impact in my limbs.

Krista knows it. I know it. And we all feel it.

I also love that Krista's 'grand vision of chapters' eventually led her to what she describes as the 'five elements of living we all experience', and the first one she chose was 'words' (the others are: our bodies, faith, hope, and love).

If anyone has 'become wise', it's Krista, and I'm adding her book to my reading list.

Go and read/listen to Krista's wise words, and I'll end with this perfect quote:

I love words. They’re a huge piece of who I am. I think we can excavate the word love.

(And there's a big emotional/physical word right there!)

Do you feel you've 'become wise', or is there still a long way to go? I find the more I learn, the more I discover I need to learn. And so it goes on.

Sign up to THE WORD, a fortnightly newsletter for writers and word-lovers.

Alpine Flash Fiction by daintydora

'ALPINE' was the prompt for a 50-word flash fiction piece in my last mail-out of THE WORD - a *new* newsletter for writers and word-lovers. (View the 'Alpine' newsletter.) I love this image which I matched to the prompt, which (for me) evokes the beautiful serenity of a lake-side hideaway, whilst also hinting at the potential for mystery, intrigue, betrayal and danger.

Alpine Flash Fiction inspiration for THE WORD

All these elements are whispered under the breath of an autumnal (or winter?) sun, and echoed in the mountains. A picture speaks a thousand words.

I received some lovely responses on this theme, and also penned my own attempt:

Fresh air

At the checkout, seeing the five cans of pine-scented air freshener in her basket, he pictured her working in a care home, holding a frail hand in her own lovely fingers.

It was a pity the freezer had gone off, she thought. She’d have to move Peter to another location.

Isobel Horsburgh


Seeing Stars

Face damp, fingers numb, I lay back searching for stars. It was dark, cold and I could just make out Pegasus or was it The Bear, Ursa? I tried to move to get a better look and that’s when I realised: it wasn't stars, I was buried under the snow.




I felt their eyes bore into me; the silence of the forest pounding through my head. An involuntary twitch and I daren’t turn for fear of giving myself away.

When it finally came, the air shivered through my wings, the shot reverberating long after I could hear.

Rebecca Johnstone (me!)

Thank you to those who submitted - I was delighted to receive these responses to my 'creative inspiration task', and hope I can continue to inspire with my short, fun creative writing prompts.

Please spread THE WORD with like-minded writers and word-lovers - the next word is due out later today!

In other news, I read this article in the Guardian last week about a collection of F Scott Fitzgerald's previously unseen works which are to be published next year (2017) by US publisher Scribner. Apparently...

Rather than permit changes and sanitising by his contemporary editors, Fitzgerald preferred to let his work remain unpublished, even at a time when he was in great need of money and review attention.

I respect that, very much. And this statement from Scribner seemed so apt for the 'ALPINE' theme:

With the addition of a Hollywood star and film crew to the Smoky Mountain lakes and pines, Fitzgerald brings in the cinematic world in which he would soon be living.

Quite. Hollywood pizzazz at the Lakes. I can only imagine.

If you're inspired, share your own 'alpine' reverie below.

A magazine for The Gentlewoman by daintydora

Last week I was lucky enough to attend a preview event for local festival PaisleyMake. The idea was to highlight creativity and design in the area, with PaisleyMake one of many celebrations to come that will shape, enhance and inform Paisley's bid to become City of Culture UK in 2021. This is big. Really big.

I wrote about the design showcase in partnership with Scotland Re:Designed on my inspiration blog, but another key part of the day was a passionate talk by Penny Martin, Editor of The Gentlewoman magazine.

The Gentlewoman Magazine
The Gentlewoman Magazine

I must admit I hadn't heard of The Gentlewoman, despite magazines - particularly the more niche titles - being my abiding obsession (hello FLOW, Kinfolk, Oh Comely, Womankind, et al, and fabulous Nova when it returned briefly in the early noughties).

The Gentlewoman must now be added to that list as its premise promises something deeper and more rewarding than most other 'women's magazines' out there:

The Gentlewoman celebrates modern women of style and purpose. Featuring ambitious journalism and photography of the highest quality, it showcases inspirational women through its distinctive combination of glamour, personality and warmth.

The Gentlewoman Magazine
The Gentlewoman Magazine

Penny had me at 'Angela Lansbury was on the cover of Issue no. 6' and the idea of 'an arch, arcane approach; witty and slightly insincere, a Diana Vreeland-esque voice'. Yes.

There was talk of counterpoint, antidote, outsiders and 'being the cult'. Oh yes.

Of the 'interior furniture' of the magazine (which I imagined mapping to the interior furniture of my mind), 'the creative conversation' and a 'thoughtful pause' before relenting to the 'slavish consumer' mentality. Triple yes. Multiple yes's.

All this intrepid fabulousness; the reality over frippery (though there is some well-placed frippery, with tell of gorgeous photo-features on lazy breakfast-brunches, tight tights and an article on mushroom tea - which actually sounds quite sophisticated) will have me scouring my local newsagent and probably subscribing.

The Gentlewoman Magazine
The Gentlewoman Magazine

I loved hearing about how the magazine was brought to life, how people conflate the words and get the title wrong (understandably one of Penny's pet hates), and about how The Gentlewoman strives to differentiate itself from its ilk in every issue.

The strong, design-led covers above are from a totally different iteration of The Gentlewoman which went out of print in the 1930's.

They whisper of the mysteries of feminine things in an urgent, powerful (witchy) voice and were the perfect inspiration for the modern, intelligent biannual that champions black and white photography, long-form journalism and women of note.

I can well understand that 'editing a magazine is like curating an exhibition in a gallery', as Penny explained they print in double-black, don't use a grid, are fastidious about paper, and obsess over small design details that elevate the magazine into much more than 'just a magazine'. These are the kind of details I love.

It's consumable art for the modern world. The Gentlewoman has gone meta.

Their partner magazine is Fantastic Man, and of course we all know: behind every fantastic man is a gentlewoman. Or something like that.

The Gentlewoman Magazine
The Gentlewoman Magazine

The autumn/winter issue is out this week, and features Zadie Smith on the cover.

Midweek Poetry: The Thought Fox by daintydora

I used to post a poem every Wednesday here; either one of my own or a choice in celebration of another poet's work. I've not done that in a while, so it felt like time. This week I stumbled into Ted Hughes's 'The Thought Fox', and was overcome by the

"sudden sharp hot stink of fox".

Yes. Like that.

Even better, The Poetry Archive has an audio recording of Hughes reading this poem in his own distinctive timbre. *Listen here*.

That's all. I just had to share. I love foxes. The Thought Fox made me think.

Meanwhile, is it autumn yet? I always associate autumn with the season of the fox...

The Thought Fox


Reading challenge 2016 (+ book reviews) by daintydora

I love reading and sharing book-notes with like-minded friends, but I've found the summer to be a particularly fallow patch in my reading capacity. I live in Scotland so I can't blame the weather as a distraction...so if not the weather, then what?

I have been catching up on magazines, and of course, editing my own novel, so perhaps those things are to blame. And time speeds up with each passing year. Everyone knows that, right?

At the start of 2016 I set myself a reading challenge to imbibe *at least* 20 books over the course of the year, and I'm kind of on schedule but I'd like to have read more. Much more. These are on my 'to-read' list, along with a whole bookshelf of reading inspiration:

Reading Challenge 2016

Then of course, there's the library.

It's like I'm 'saving up' books for a special occasion, the perfect time, their perfect time for me and me for them?

I don't for a second pretend to be on-trend, current, following the 'Top 10', bestseller lists or aligned with any particular genre. I go with what's on my shelf, what piques my interest in the moment.

Here's my reading challenge progress so far (check out my list from the same time last year):

Harley Loco by Rayya Elias

Wow, this was a punch in the face of a book. I read this as a precursor to my first trip to NYC and it set me up for searching out 'the alphabets' and imagining the changes that have incrementally altered the fêted New York landscape that has spawned a thousand super-stars of music, fashion, design, photography, celebrity. Such a powerful story of identity, reinvention, success and addiction - to everything - but mainly to life.

The Siege, Helen Dunmore

The mountains of snow, the desperate cold, the short Russian winter days, the deprivation. I was gripped from the first page and even now, remembering it, I'm transported right back to the simple allotment that helped keep Anna and her family alive. And the honey. The precious jars of honey. There's a sequel on my list: The Betrayal.

The New York Trilogy, Paul Auster

This was disturbing and unsettling from the start, and in places infuriating. I wanted to give up half-way through the second part, but I carried on and was quietly impressed by the thread that ran through each of the three parts. Which led me on to...

Winter Journal, Paul Auster

I was intrigued from the start (still in the bookshop), by the descriptions of a life lived through various events, physically experienced through the sense of the body. It was an illuminating insight to Auster's career as a writer and I particularly loved the long stream-of-consciousness sentences filled with emotion and description. I loved the link with New York too, which I could appreciate from having by then visited myself. I've kept it on my shelf because I might just read it again. And I wrote down extracts I'd bookmarked along the way; always a good sign.

…the boredom of waiting for your flight to be announced in airports, the deadly tedium of standing around the luggage carousel as you wait for your bag to tumble down the chute, but nothing is more disconcerting to you than the ride in the plane itself, the strange sense of being nowhere that engulfs you each time you step into the cabin, the unreality of being propelled through space at five hundred miles an hour, so far off the ground that you begin to lose a sense of your own reality, as if the fact of your own existence were slowly being drained out of you, but such is the price you pay for leaving home, and as long as you continue to travel, the nowhere that lies between the here of home and the there of somewhere else will continue to be one of the places where you live.

White Oleander, Janet Fitch

This book was a birthday gift from my mother and I'd heard of it but never sought it out myself. The descriptions were so beautiful to be almost painful, and I had to read some passages twice, sometimes three times so I didn't miss the elegance of each word. I was helplessly captivated by the scent of the title, by the descriptions of each new setting Astrid inhabits, and as soon as I'd devoured the last page, I immediately watched the film and was utterly disappointed in the casting and the ending. How many times do I need to learn this lesson? The film will always spoil the book.

The Italian Girl, Iris Murdoch

This is the first book I've read by Iris Murdoch, despite frequent, fervent recommendations of 'The Sea, the Sea'. I bought it in a second-hand bookshop in Glasgow, Voltaire & Rousseau on Otago Lane, and the cover appealed to me, as did the title. I raced through it in two nights and can't wait to pass it on to a friend. (The same friend who recommended 'The Sea, the Sea'.)

Artful, Ali Smith

This was gifted to me and I found it intense, a bit awkward, but ultimately a literary education. I bookmarked a million pages to return to and note down the references or the phrases. The premise of the book was clever and haunting and I wish I was as clever as Ali Smith.

At one level reflection means we see ourselves. At another, it's another word for the thought process. We can choose to use it to look into the light of our own eyes , or we can be light sensitive, we can allow all things to move over and through us; we can hold them and release them, in thought. Broken things become patterns in reflection. The way a kaleidoscope works is to allow fragmentary or disconnected things to become their own harmony.

Mom & Me & Mom, Maya Angelou

An autobiographical work of her early family life, this again was the first book I've read by Angelou, a deeply interesting woman who I see and hear quoted all the time. The words were big on the page and big in meaning and I read this quickly (that appears to be the trick). I'm sure I took quotes from this too but I can't find any of them. I remember the fierce passion and love between Maya and her mother, Vivian; it leapt from the latter pages.

Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn

OMG don't get me started on this! I was so late to the party on this and it made me feel like I had to save it up for a rainy day. Then I dived in. I have to admit that I didn't like the style of writing at first, not the diary entry format - I loved that - but there was something about the prose that jarred somehow? I can't put my finger on it and I'm sure people will say that about my writing one day, but then, then (and I hope they say this too), I couldn't put it down.

I was obsessed and had to keep myself 'pepped up' with hits of more 'reveal', squeezing in intense drip-feeds when I was supposed to be doing other things. There was a lot of the 'c' word, and I don't mean Christmas. I couldn't stop saying it after reading this (thankfully, I'm over that now...).

I knew there was a film with Rosamund Pike and so I imagined her as 'Amy' right from the start, and again, as soon I finished reading I watched the film. And I wasn't half as disappointed as I was with the film of White Oleander. In fact I wasn't disappointed at all, #griplit.

Buddha Da, Anne Donovan

A change of pace and I felt I really wanted to read this as the setting is very similar to that of my own novel. I'm not a native Glaswegian so reading in dialect slowed me a little, but I loved this spiritual journey that led me down familiar streets in a new and delicate way. I loved the Buddhist connection as a sporadic meditator who would like to do more, and I loved the ending.

The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins

After Gone Girl, I felt I had to get on-board with TGOTT. It was compelling in a different way and gripping, yes, but less psychological (for me) than Gillian Flynn's masterpiece. I can't wait for the film starring Emily Blunt as Rachel. I won't be able to resist.

The Strange Library, Haruki Murakami

I got this out of the library in fact, and read it in a night. The illustrations were almost better than the story, which was indeed very strange. Murakami is one of my favourite authors though and I love his fearlessness for delving into his imagination and marrying fantastical concepts and plot lines with seemingly normal occurrences. What could really go awry at the library?

Read it and find out.

This is the bit where I add in another five or ten books because I'm sure I've read more this year but now can't remember and so I'm left with a blank. Why haven't I been writing it down? What is wrong with me? What kind of reader am I; a passive doe caught in the headlights of my own bookcase? Actually, my books were boxed up for a while as I spent five weeks doing DIY in May/June. Maybe that's why I haven't read much? The truth finally reveals itself.
Moving on...

Sane New World: Taming the Mind, Ruby Wax

I was interested in this one as it focuses on mindfulness to unlock the secret of a 'tame' mind. I've never thought of myself as 'normal' and often struggle with an over-excited and unfocused mind, so taming it somehow, by whatever means necessary, is always appealing. I enjoyed this book in that there was a lot of science about the brain and neuroplasticity and the different areas and how they link together. I didn't agree with everything that was said but finished reading with plans to redouble my efforts in the areas of mindfulness and meditation.

And I think the last choice says it all. I've bogged myself down with lots of things and often struggle to plough through non-fiction, even when I'm interested in the topic, as it's not exactly in the category of #griplit is it? Or maybe it is for some people, but sadly, not for me.

I shared a reading-round-up last year, A Blogger's Year in Books exactly a year to the day, today. There's loads of non-fiction in that so maybe I'm just making up excuses?

THE WORD email newsletter imageNewsletter Alert!

In other news, I've started a newsletter celebrating words. I've called it 'THE WORD'. Original aren't I?

Sign up in the side-bar or click here.

It's a fortnightly email and the second mail-out goes out this Thursday (because Thursday's words have far to go...)

Thanks for err, reading. Let me know what you're reading right now, and also: what's your favourite word?

Taking Stock: August 2016 by daintydora

It's a new month and lots is happening and it feels like a good time to 'Take Stock' in my very un-styled, rather floury kitchen. Weighing, measuring, pouring, peeling, counting. Taking Stock, August 2016Here goes:

Making: loads of things lately: Icelandic Kimchi, Carrot & Apple Breakfast muffins from Deliciously Ella and two batches of Brydie's Lemon & Olive Oil cake, as per the recipe posted on her amazing blog City Hippy Farm Girl. I keep burning it though because a) the difference in altitude (is that a thing?), b) my oven is a unpredictable and keeps switching off half-way through. (Yes I know it's a poor work(wo)man who blames her tools.)

Carrot & Apple Breakfast Muffins in the makingDrinking: Matcha or good old Yorkshire tea with almond milk. Reading: Ruby Wax's 'Sane New World: Taming the Mind'. Lots of insight; some things I already knew, technical facts about the brain that I didn't, and a few strong opinions I don't agree with. She's full-on and honest though which I admire.

Looking: back over all the words I celebrated in my version of this year's 100-day project #100daysofmyfavouritewords

Deciding: to start a newsletter linked to this blog (panic). I'm calling it 'THE WORD'. (Sign-up here or in the side-bar.) Wishing: I was closer to family faraway. It's a matter of geography. Waiting: for nothing and no-one. Just doing it. (I should get me some Nike.) Coveting: a Pashley bike, despite 'forgetting' how to ride. I think it's a confidence thing. Playing: with pattern design. Is it Christmas already?! Wondering: where the year has gone #timepanic

Loving: the sunshine right now, and the clouds. So many beautiful cloud formations. Do you know how the clouds got their names?

Pondering: the edits I need to make to my novel. Considering: the art of procrastination:

Buying: Julie Hewitt lipstick online. How frivolous! I've never bought lipstick online before, 'sight unseen'. It seems like a lot to spend, with postage and all. But then it feels like the slow creep of (ssshhh) autumn ushering in with the onset of August. And it's the kind of thing 'Christine' might do if only she had enough time...(see below). And she'd qualify for free shipping.

Watching: The Girlfriend Experience on Netflix. Chilling, raunchy, psychological, dark and compelling. Take that as a recommendation if you will. Hoping: the lipstick suits me. Marvelling: at our 24/7, ever-connected, soon to be drone-infested world. I don't think it's all so good for us but I can't help but interact with it. Needing: to make a fabulous fancy fascinator/hairband ensemble for a family wedding. I haven't started yet but I've got all the materials I need.

Smelling: the last few spritzes of 'The One' by Dolce & Gabbana. I've loved that perfume and the sturdy, rectangular bottle it comes in. Solid and sophisticated. A proper grown-up affair. It was time for it to be finished though; time to switch up my scents.

Questioning: my decision to start a newsletter. Will I have time? Is it too much work? What if no-one subscribes? Wearing: spots and stripes and lots of coral and what might be considered 'sport-core' or just 'norm-core' but what I consider to be 'comfy-core' for homeworking. Following: Gretchen Rubin's quest for happiness through her podcast 'Happier'. Noticing: a host of tips about creativity and productivity in my digital feeds. I like it. It's helping.

Enjoying: my little garden and all that grows there; the flowers, the herbs, the strawberries (saved from the slugs!), lavender, verbena, the Asiatic lilies my Mum got me, the heather, the Japanese Acer, the holly and of course the weeds. You've got to admire them though, the weeds - they just keep on doing their thing.

Home-grown StrawberriesKnowing: a lot more since I started listening to the TED radio hour podcast. Thinking: about all the things I don't know about, and all the things I do. This quote sums it up best:

“The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know.” Einstein

Admiring: the creative adventurers who know so much more about things than me. I bow to knowledge! Sorting: out (attempting to sort out) notes on the backs of envelopes, multiple notepads, digital bookmarks etc, as my ideas, inspirations and to-dos conspire to scatter like wildflowers around my person, landing in abstract, semi-sorted piles that may or may not be properly sifted and mined in the foreseeable future. Bookmarking: technical help videos as I attempt to learn the basics of Adobe InDesign. Baby steps.

Disliking: how soap goes all gooey in the dish, ruining what starts off as beautifully formed 'scented art'. I love soap but this can't go on #firstworldissues

Opening: newsletters and literally absorbing information through my eyeballs. It's actually a process involving many different parts of the brain, creating a 'reality' that is unique to me... (see 'Reading' and you'll understand my thoughts on this.) Giggling: over Celia Walden's column in The Telegraph Magazine. Feeling: excited about the future and the plans I'm putting in place. Watch this space! Snacking: surreptitiously on squares of Divine's 70% Dark Chocolate - with Raspberries. Wishing: sugar wasn't quite such an enemy, but it is.

Listening: to Father John Misty (aka John Tillman). I'm loving his sound right now, especially this song. And this one. I loved the Fleet Foxes too. This was my absolute favourite. 'White Winter Hymnal'. So haunting, so sad. Just gorgeous.

How about you? Is it time to 'Take Stock' in your life?

Find out who started this trend. (Thanks Pip!)

End-note: isn't it interesting how all my images this time have turned out to be food-related?

100 days of my favourite words by daintydora

“Words, like glass, darken whatever they do not help us to see.”

– Joubert, Pensees

Thank you to Gretchen Rubin's daily happiness email for that thoughtful quote. But it's true isn't it?

When I decided to use words as the focus of my 100-day project for 2016, I understood the inherent power they yield.

Today is 100/100 and the word I've chosen to celebrate my achievement is 'Firework', because it connotes celebration, success, happiness - and on this occasion perhaps even a whiff of relief. This day has (finally) arrived.

It also conjures the joy of bright colour on a dark night, childish excitement, danger, power, spontaneity, laughter and that smell of sulphur in the air. I think words can do all those things too.

Some days I've been playful, optimistic and creative with my word choice; other days I've been a bit darker in tone, bringing the etymological force of the English language to bear. Hopefully in both cases I've inspired others with my 'daily habit' linked so intrinsically to my life as a writer. (Hello 'Alphabet' - I couldn't have done it without you.)

In some cases, perhaps I've even introduced a new word to someone, taking them on a brief journey of exploration or an unexpected linguistic tangent? I'd like to think so. (I'm looking at you, 'Petrichor'.)

And isn't it funny how when you focus on a word - perhaps a word that doesn't crop up in every-day language, like 'ekphrastic' or 'chiaroscuro' or even 'synchronicity' itself - it suddenly appears everywhere as if to say 'here I am, look at me' (use me! play with me!)?

I do have a predilection for personification. I try to resist, but find the new depth - often world - of meaning a personifying verb or adjective brings to the intangible 'inanimates' of life...irresistible:

Thoughts that leap. Memories that stir. Happiness that soars. The 'demonic' inner critic. Grrr.

So here we are. 100 days deep in words. See the rest of the pack via my Instagram profile, or search under #100daysofmyfavouritewords (there's definitely 100 - I checked!)

A big shout-out to Elle Luna who started the 100-day project, and all the creative friends who shared the journey with me.

Finally, check out last year's '100 days of Haiku'. What will next year bring?

Mind the Gap: Perception, Taste & Reality by daintydora

Mind the GapIra Glass says it best:

THE GAP by Ira Glass from Daniel Sax on Vimeo.

There's a gap between what you want to achieve and what your first attempt produces. The difference between the two is taste. You know what you want to achieve and you know when you haven't quite done it. Yet. The trick is to keep going.

It's the sixth month of the year and the edits on my debut novel have taken longer than I thought. In fact, there's plenty more I want to do. More notes, more facts to check, and a whole document of 'take-outs' that I want to sift (again) in case there's a nugget of gold I can squeeze back in.

It's the journey of writing a novel and it can be frustrating, agonising, exhausting, but it's also amazing when I look back and see how far I've come. This time last year I had less than 30,000 words. Now I'm working on the second round of edits.

The premise of the story is brave (that's what people are telling me), and it makes me proud to think I've tackled a difficult topic head-on in my naive enthusiasm to just 'write the damn book'.

My protagonist, Amanda, is at the forefront of my thoughts. She has a mental health condition; her reality shifting and expanding as she navigates the landscape of her mind. I feel like I'm becoming her (maybe I've always been her - 'write what you know', etc?)

'Mental Health' defined: "a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being".

A gap between what is considered normal and what is not.
A gap between what you feel and how you think you should feel.
A gap between what you feel and what society thinks you should feel.
A gap between inner thoughts and outer thoughts (but no gatekeeper).
A gap between you and a faction of gatekeepers keeping you away from yourself: in limbo; reality and fantasy melding in a cold soup of confusion.

But what if that gap is just a case of taste and perception too? What if we redefined (realigned?) our societal guidelines for what is normal and acceptable; what it means to fully experience all that is life?

Mind the Gap

It's a thought for now, for our time, a time when we need the most creative and lucid minds to tackle the greatest problems of our age (immigration, terrorism, climate change, guns, crime, melting ice caps, beautiful animals locked - and shot - in cages).

Maybe there's a gap where the real, progressive conversations should be?

Just throwing it out there.

To quote the World Health Organisation on Mental Health:
"Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity."

I'll get back to my edits now.

Murderous, Murderess by daintydora

I'm a killer, a murderess. Things will never be the same again. It happened yesterday, no two days ago. Saturday. I woke at 5am, had set my alarm. It wasn't the usual thing for me to do at the weekend.

I got up, got dressed, slipped out of the house without turning on a light, without waking my husband.

Blistering Sunrise

I clicked the button to unlock my car, dumped some things in the boot. The sunrise was astounding, outstanding, unbelievable.

It was my first clue and I paused to take a photograph: evidence that I might reflect on later but in that moment all I saw was the orange and the pink and the yellow that beckoned behind the church steeple in the midpoint of my vision. I stared into it for a second, two, three, then turned, got in my car and drove away.

The motorway was surprisingly busy for that time. Where was everyone going? Why were they up so early?

I flicked between radio stations, my finger tracing prints on the touchscreen. I hate touchscreens. And radio adverts. When I'm driving I just want to drive and get lost in music.

But the journey wasn't long, maybe 20 minutes. I'd hoped it would have been even less.

Time. Time. Time. Time. It just ticks away and I can't keep up with it.

The sun came up and the day was fully birthed. There was a lot of work to be done.

I did the work I set out to do, interacting with people along the way. Conversations, explanations, deviations, and money changing hands. Notes, coins. New money, old money, shiny money, dirty money. I filled my pockets with it and shivered undercover while the sun shone its rays out there, outside.

I was inside, undercover, but I could see the bright light of the heat outside. I knew what I'd done and what I hadn't done, what the consequences of each action/inaction would be, but it was too late by then. There was nothing I could do.

That's what they all say isn't it? I didn't mean to. It was an accident. It just happened. It wasn't my fault.

But it was my fault. I'm to blame. And now I'm wearing that guilt like a brand.

Killer. Killer. Killer.

Still I took no action, and with hindsight a quote returns to me:

"All that’s necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing"

It's been variously attributed to Martin Luther King, Victor Frankl, Edmund Burke. It fits the bill for what happened.

When finally I stepped back into the light of day, the heat was raw on my head, my face. I felt it and I knew. If I had taken the appropriate action at this point then maybe it wouldn't have been too late. Maybe.

Now, now, now.

But I didn't. Of course I didn't.

I pondered, gazed, grazed, ignoring the burst of thought that hovered like a speech-bubble alert somewhere above my head.

The sun began to drop in the sky; heat dispersed by an undercurrent of cool late spring breeze. It was OK. It was going to be OK.

Then it was dark, totally dark, and late. When it's dark you can't acknowledge what cannot be seen, it makes it unreal. At the back of my mind I knew by then that the damage would be done.

It would be another few hours still until I saw it, the massacre.

Not just one death, but multiple. Crisp, crippled leaves turned in on themselves, deformed, shrivelled, boiled to death, burnt alive in their pots. Herbs and seedlings and cuttings I'd carefully planted, lovingly watered. But not on Saturday.

I'd forgotten to open a window, forgotten to open the door: no-one survives a day of 40-50 degree (Celsius) heat with no shade, no respite.

I'd watered them the night before, but it wasn't enough, would never have been enough for the full glare of that murderous fire.

I'm a killer, a murderess. Nothing (in the garden) will ever be the same again.


100 days of words by daintydora

Words. Words. Words. Words. We use them everyday, all the time.

In speech, in private, in public, in text messages, emails, stories, poems, chats, transactions, when talking with strangers and with loved ones. Sometimes we write them in the air with sparklers, or arrange to have them written in the sky.

I write every day (one of my 'mantras' I set for myself at the beginning of 2015); words are my currency, my love, my passion, the essential hard-working tools of my chosen career as a writer.

Last year I took part in the 100 day project pioneered by Elle Luna and publicised by The Great DiscontentInstagram the mechanism for accountability.

I chose to write 100 Haiku poems (#100daysofhaiku), although it wasn't a unique project to me or a unique hashtag. I didn't mind sharing.

Some days it was hard, some days it was easy. Some days I left it far too late to get a proper shot that looked 'nice', but the point was the act of creating each day in a big, unbroken, chronological chain of accomplishment.

I spent time breaking my words down into syllables, the root of their sounds and meanings, moulding them into 3 lines about what I was feeling that day or what was happening in my life.

Then I promised to make an eBook out of them.

No-one asked me to, it was just my own idea to 'complete' the project, come away with a tangible body of work comprising 100 days of creative output and effort. But I haven't done it yet. The guilt ebbs and flows. It will get done (I know it will - it's on my to-do list. Right after 'complete my novel'.)

I'm single-focusing you see. I have to get my novel completed. I'm three-quarters through the first re-write.

So this year when the murmurings about the 100 day project popped up, I decided I wasn't going to play along. I would eschew the tyranny of daily creativity (oh the misery of it!), for slow, steady, regular progress on my book. Nearly there, nearly there, I whisper to myself at night. Just another week, fortnight, month. Maybe.

But then on 100day eve, I was sitting in bed and I had the urge to write down a list of my favourite words. It was an act inspired by an art journal prompt, part of the Get Messy Art Journal 'Season of Lists'.

"Write a list, you could make it a hundred items long."

So I got to about 25 and realised it was a quarter of 100 (yeah, I'm simple like that). I carried on writing, squeezing words all over an A5 page instead of taking a new sheet, until I got to 100 and beyond.

100 days of my favourite words, The 100 day project 2016

All those lovely words crammed between lines and over lines; diagonal, horizontal, bleeding into each other.

I put my list away. I wrote in my journal. I read my book. It was just a list. 

Then the next day I saw everyone posting on social media about their 100 day project, about all the cool things that people were going to document and achieve between 19th April and 27th July. I felt like I would be missing out (the worst kind of creative FOMO?) and then I remembered my list. 100 of my favourite words, in complement to this starter for 10. It was a creative 'do or die' moment.

As the night ticked on I wrote down my first word, dated it, and uploaded it to Instagram under #100daysofmyfavouritewords. It's a bit unwieldy but it's unique to me. My words. My favourite words.

I'm doing it. I'm in.

Some people might think it's cheating to already have my list, but I think the creative commitment is choosing and focusing on a specific word each day, and part of the challenge is being experimental with capture, presentation and display. I want my words to shine.

Day 1: Oxymoron. White on black.

And so it begins...! Day 1: 'Oxymoron' @elleluna #100days #the100dayproject #100daysofmyfavouritewords #words #oxymoron

A photo posted by Rebecca Johnstone (@daintydora) on

Day 2: Gypsy. A fragrant herb-word.

Day 3: Yoyo. Coloured pins on a corkboard.

Day 3: 'Yoyo' #100daysofmyfavouritewords #the100dayproject #100days #100 #words #pins #pinboard #corkboard #yoyo #yoyos

A photo posted by Rebecca Johnstone (@daintydora) on

I'm giving myself these 100 days to get my Haiku eBook completed too, because sometimes you need a new challenge, a different deadline, the creative pressure to just get shit done.


There's over 800 here already...

The one where I turn down my first publishing contract... by daintydora

You read that correctly. I said 'no'. And I like saying 'yes' to opportunities, to doors being opened, to the magic of the universe making way for me.

But after a lot of deliberation and advice (thank you to everyone who answered my cry for help), my gut instinct on this was a slow-boat to 'no'.

The main reason for turning down the offer (after the initial thrill of excitement had worn off), was because it was for digital publication only (in the first instance) and my dream (however vain) is to see my work in print.

How could I have a book launch without a book?

So I said no, and now I sit back and wonder...was it the right decision? Will I live to regret it? What happens if I never get a publishing deal?

Slow boat to a publishing contract...the day I said 'no'
Slow boat to a publishing contract...the day I said 'no'

The truth is I haven't approached any other publishers, so as far as options go, the Writers & Artists Yearbook listings for UK publishers/agents is my proverbial oyster. Writing is indeed a waiting game.

Waiting for the idea. Tick.Waiting for the right time to start. (You should never do that. Don't do that. Just start!) Tick.Waiting for the words to flow and for the character to start chattering in your head. Tick.Waiting it out, biding your time until the story is written. Tick.Waiting to edit. (Words need time to relax and distill.) Tick.Waiting for the right opportunity. Saying 'no' to the wrong deals. Tick.Waiting to be noticed (never going to happen - you have to be proactive). Tick.And when the deal is finally done?Probably waiting for the day the book is available in the shops.Then waiting for the reaction.Then doing it all again.

But I love writing and I'm prepared to wait. Writing is my calling and my passion.

The characters and their voices want to flow through my fingers, their thoughts becoming my words.

It's the ordering of them that poses a problem. And the editing. The research and the finessing. No I like the research - it's where the book takes flight as the strands of the story begin weaving together.

The wildly scribbled notes and the nuggets of pure gold when you know you're onto something, a tangent, a twisting narrative path that could really lead somewhere, anywhere...

The whole act of it is like an illness, an addiction to the cause.

I'm waiting in the wings, but I won't give up.


The End. (For now.) Tick.