Friday, December 23, 2005

Thinking about the box

My contributions to the Cabbage Soup group have been a bit pathetic lately, so it's just as well I've got a couple of things published, in actual black and white, to show them next time. There's a review of Caroline Gourlay's poetry collection 'This Country' in Blithe Spirit 15/4 and an article called 'Haiku Lessons' in Yellow Moon 18.

We keep a box of things the Soup group members have had published and it's growing, slowly but surely. I find it's good to have evidence that I can sometimes produce actual finished product, for those times when I might be tempted to doubt it!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Estate agents again

It's good to find an estate agent you can trust. "Close to the city with two genuine double bedrooms" - there's a description that gives you confidence. It's clear that in some places at the end of the day* you could step into what you thought was a bedroom only to find it was a fake.

*I'm tired of seeing this phrase used when it means no such thing, so I thought I'd demonstrate how to use it properly.

Monday, December 19, 2005

I fail again and, pathetically, try to distract attention from it by going on about policemen and bicycles

So much for doing better this time. I failed again. I can't seem to concentrate on my exercises lately. When I sit down to do them I end up getting distracted and doing something else. Luckily other Cabbage Soupers are better organised and at least one of the interview plans may be put into action.

We're going to take a break from the book exercises over Christmas and the next meeting will be a 'favourite books' meeting. Mine will be Flann O'Brien's 'The Third Policeman.' The bit about the Atomic Theory (as applied to postmen and bicycles) bears any amount of re-reading. I've got through several copies of the book over the last 30 years or so, I just wear them out and they fall apart. I think my new favourites, the Harry Potter books, are going to suffer the same fate.

It might be fun to post a list of our favourite books here, once we've had that meeting.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The interview

After my poor attempt at the last exercise I feel shamed into trying harder for the next one. It's a tough one though: the interview. Given that most of the people I'd really like to interview are deceased, fictional or such miserable curmudgeons I'd be lucky to get a word out of them, let alone an interview, I think I'd better think of something more practical.

Thursday, December 01, 2005


Not only did I mess up the organisation of the latest Cabbage Soup meeting, I also left doing the exercise to the last minute, then circulated the wrong version of it!

Luckily the rest of the group are much more organised and came up with chapter headings and introductions to several non-fiction books that could all very well end up being written. One almost certainly will be, the authors of the others admitted to rather more doubts about finding the time, energy, and motivation to complete the job. One book had the potential to be written as a series of articles, which is an interesting approach, and maybe slightly less daunting.

More estate agents writing

There aren't many places on the market that can offer 'A bathroom with shower over bath and parking.' Just think of the convenience of it!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Disorganised and guilty

I'm feeling guilty. I'm supposed to be organising the Cabbage Soup group and I've totally failed to either circulate details of the next exercise or set a date for the next meeting! I ought to do these things immediately after each meeting, otherwise they have a tendency to get buried among all of life's 'to do's. I must do these things today.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

In which inspiration strikes

I've been avoiding thinking about the next Cabbage Soup exercise. We're supposed to be writing chapter headings and an introduction to the non-fiction book we feel most qualified to write. The trouble is I'm not sure I know any subject well enough to write a book about it. Given lack of outstanding expertise perhaps the thing to do is to go for a subject area where there are lots of worthy but boring books published, and write one that's just a bit weirder? Hmn, I think I've just had an idea...

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

I admit I know nothing about screenwriting or film-making, so it's entirely possible that I'm talking rubbish, but I think there are some basic bits of good advice that apply to all writing. One of these is not to switch genres in mid-plot without a very good reason.

In a film like Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire surely there's enough to contend with in weaving together the threads of the various genres Rowling so skilfully plays with in her text - fantasy, coming of age, mystery, school story etc - without turning what should clearly be an action-adventure sequence into vaguely psychological blundering. The only explanation I can think of is that the over-blown dragon sequence used up so much of the special effects budget that they had to cut back on the maze. I found this particularly annoying as one of Rowling's greatest strengths is in giving abstract concepts solid form: think Dementors and Boggarts for depression and fear.

There are a few minor wrong notes - sadly Michael Gambon provides several - but what does work works so well that they're forgivable. The Death (she says, evasively, as if there's anyone left on the planet who doesn't know who dies) is handled sensitively, the teenage relationships are as excruciating as an unforgivable curse, evil personified is effectively creepy, and the overall tone of juxtaposed light and dark is just right.

I think I might have to go and see it again.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Free poetry!

While I'm wittering on about poetry I ought to mention the Poetry Library's excellent site where they put the archives of poetry magazines. It's a good way of getting an idea which might actually be worth subscribing to and/or submitting work to.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Virtual poet

As Cabbage Soup is working on poetry at the moment I thought I'd mention this new bit of technological wizardry. It's very clever stuff, but the idea of a poet reading his work aloud 52 years after his death strikes me as a bit weird. Mind you, some that are still alive fit that description...

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Today's shock headline

The BBC says the Internet is being used for creative purposes! Well, you don't say. This is news?

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Terse verse

Shhh... Cabbage Soup is writing poetry. Actually that's not why I've been quiet this week - I've just been busy - but I've still been writing my usual seven poems a week over on miso soup so I'm feeling better prepared for this exercise than most of the others.

Note: The other exercises, I mean, not the other members of Cabbage Soup. They all seem to be having fun writing poetry, some have already been circulated - ahead of the deadline!

Sunday, October 30, 2005


Who inspires you, and why? For me there has been one consistent source of inspiration over several decades.

George Ivan (aka Van) Morrison: The Man himself. Why? I think it's the perfect balance he's achieved betwen practicality and mysticism, craftsmanship and creativity. The fact that he has a gift to look squarely at the mundane and see it clearly, but also to see the marvellous shining right through it, and to communicate that vision to those who can't see it for themselves. That, and the fact that he's the greatest alchemist since Albus Dumbledore. That's why. Oh, and because he wrote my favourite song - In the Garden from No Guru, No Method, No Teacher (which pretty much sums up my attitude to writing too, come to think of it.)

Why am I saying this now? I'm going to see him play live soon - a rare treat - and in preparation I've been playing my CDs and thinking about the nature of inspiration.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Lively, controversial and other adjectives

I think the next Cabbage Soup meeting - on Monday - could be lively. We've got a controversial subject coming up next.

What, exactly, is or is not an adjective? I thought I knew. But after reading these seven pages I'm no longer certain that I do! The assignment is to write 300 words of description without adjectives and then (and this is the fun bit) add just one.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

New Writing - The lost house by Jane Dudley

The lost house

Remnants of the old crofting communities are still to be found - nestled among the humps and hollows of these windswept glens. To pick your way over the rough ground here is to stumble upon old histories sinking slowly back into the earth.

One such ruin lies above the shores of a small loch where a whisky-brown burn chuckles past the remains of an old sheepstead, just to leeward. Abandoned long ago, only the crumbled outer walls of the croft remain – the bare bones of a home. A doorway gapes like a lost tooth, the fallen lintel long since buried in an angry carpet of briar and nettles. In the vestige of a chimney breast, tongues of bracken sprout where peat-fires once burned.

A carrion crow calls harshly, like a petulant ghost.

There was a living, of sorts, to be had here once. But that was before the horsemen came. The sour earth yielded oats, potatoes and turnips, while scattered sheep and shaggy cattle grazed around. This squat little house of thick stone walls and low thatched roof, had shielded generations. Then the glens were emptied and the final dwellers scattered to the margins of life: to a storm-wracked coast, the drumming of the Atlantic and the call of unknown continents.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

New Writing - Home by Alison Williams

It was a square house, with four windows and a door, like a child's crayon drawing. The upper windows were open and gauzy white curtains lifted and fell back with each breath of wind.

A man carrying a faded rucksack was passing the house when he noticed the door was ajar. He looked around and, seeing no-one, he walked up to it, knocked, hesitated, and then gave it a nudge. The door swung open to reveal a room full of light. On each of the four walls was a tall, wide mirror. Walking in he found himself surrounded by his own, surprisingly grimy, image at every turn. He bent his head and shuffled back towards the door. It must have been the wind that blew it shut.

That was when the colours began to swirl in the mirrors, flame colours, reds and ambers, with flashes of blue, streaming out into the room where the figure of a girl formed. She was dark-eyed and slight, and reminded the man of pictures of elves in a book he'd read as a child. He gazed at her, and she stared back at him.

He was a homeless man: no-one would miss him.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

We are what we do.

Don't just sit there reading this blog do something. Mind you, I'll be expecting you to let me know what you've done, once you've done it.

Friday, October 21, 2005


Oh dear. I'm resisting as hard as I can, but I just might get dragged into this madness. Protesting loudly all the while that it's an excellent excuse to write a load of utter rubbish. (Since when did I need an excuse? You may well ask.)

Sunday, October 16, 2005


The house exercise prompted me to go image googling for inspiration. This one has to be my favourite.It may not be handy for the town centre, but it definitiely benefits from wabi-sabi.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Estate agents writing at it's best

In the spirit of the current Cabbage Soup exercise (describe a house in 200 words) some gems from estate agents

...a stone's throw from the city centre... (Is it really? Oh dear!)

...within walking distance to most places... (What is this, a house or a tardis?)

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

miso soup - another item on the menu

I obviously need to get a life, because I've now started another blog!

miso soup is for haiku (and possibly tanka and haibun and suchlike related things)which tend to get lost among my more lengthy meanderings here amongst the cabbage leaves.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Diet of words

Hello to all the people who found this while searching for diet recipes. Your search engine is trying to tell you something. What's it's trying to tell you is this. Forget the diet! Join a writing group instead.

Poetry for lawyers

My last post prompted a query about the difference between haiku and senryu. David Giacalone has a good summary of the differences, with examples, and notes that senryu can be particularly enjoyable for lawyers!

Sunday, October 09, 2005

haiku - autumn

autumn sunshine -
an old fireplace
out on the street

Saturday, October 08, 2005


Since I started Cabbage Soup I've written a lot less haiku which, at one time, was all I ever wrote. Perhaps the brain, or my brain at least, can only focus on one kind of writing at a time? Or perhaps it's like juggling, and the skill to keep prose and poetry in the air at the same time is one that can be learned?

Anyway, having added a few more haiku links to this blog - Snapshots, Morden Haiku and with words along with the existing one to Presence - I feel like I ought to make more of an effort.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Creative writing exercise for estate agents

Our next exercise is to write about a house, real or imaginary, and bring it vividly to life in up to 200 words. Good timing, as mine is currently on the market. Somehow I don't think the first of my 200 words will be 'This property benefits from...'

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

New Writing - Wally and Sam by Alison Williams

Two old men, in purgatory, up to their waists in flames.

Wally: You have two choices. Two. That’s all.

Sam: What are you talking about now, you old fool?

Wally: You’ve been here long enough, haven’t you? Surely even you’ve worked it out by now? You fly up into the clouds or you sink down into the fire.

Sam: You! You never change, do you? Even now! You always did over-simplify everything.

Wally: Just look... look, go on. Can’t you see? Haven’t you got eyes? How hard can it be to choose? Why’s it taking you so long?

Sam: I can see more than you can see, obviously. I can see that we can stay right here and not go anywhere at all.

Wally: Some time you’ll have to choose. You’ll have to. You’re just putting it off. Hanging around like a bad smell. Everyone has to choose, and you know it!

Sam: I do not know any such thing. I know a lot of old fools like you have come and gone, a lot of them, that’s all I know.

Wally: We’ve all... got... to choose.

Sam: So why don’t you choose? Go on, go and leave me in peace!

Wally: Typical! That’s just typical! Always thinking of your own comfort!

Sam: Hah!

Wally: I know what it is.

Sam: Hmn?

Wally: I know, and you know that I know. Don’t you?

Sam: I have no idea what you’re talking about!

Wally: Oh yes, you do!

Sam: I do not have any idea!

Wally: Of course I noticed it first, being sharp, and I’ve been watching you ever since. And I saw it! I saw it in your eyes when you realised what was happening.

Sam: Sharp! Hah! You’d like to think so!

Wally: You’ve noticed where they’ve all gone, haven’t you? All of them.

Sam: That’s not true!

Wally: It is - I know it, and so do you! They’ve all gone down into the fire!

Sam: You weren’t watching the whole time! I’ve seen you nodding! A small army could have marched past and you wouldn’t have noticed, you dozy old fool!

Wally: Don’t be so daft! You don’t need to sleep here!

Sam: You’re still a dozy old fool. Even here!

Wally: I’m not such a fool as you are, you think you can stay here for ever?

Sam: I don’t see why not.

Wally: Well I’ve had enough, I’m off. Are you coming or aren't you?

Sam: Where are you going?

Wally: Where do you think?

Sam: Damn you, you old goat, you can’t go down there!

Wally: Well, I can’t sprout wings and fly up there. I’ve thought about it, and I’ve argued with you about it and I just can’t. But I suppose you think you can!

Sam: ...

Wally: Ok, so let’s face it and go.

Sam: ...

Wally grabs Sam by the neck, and drags him down into the flames. A moment later two sparks fly up.

Ambiguity, allusions and arguments

Our Cabbage Soup meeting today dealt with our 500 word violent quarrels. It was an interesting discussion, one person had in their quarrel a literary allusion that went completely over my head I'm afraid (some chap called Shakespeare I think it was). And I was surprised by the reaction to mine: I thought the outcome of it was clear, but it seems it wasn't.

So I thought I'd ask you blog readers for your opinion. I'll post it as New Writing - Wally and Sam by Alison Williams and any comments you make on what it's about and what the ending means would be very welcome. Those of you who prefer to exercise your right to remain silent are appreciated too, even though silence is ambiguous.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Dragon on the keyboard

origami dragon on my keyboardI haven't written anything for a couple of days - there's been a dragon on my keyboard. Ok, that's a feeble exuse (does he look frightening to you?) but it's an excellent metaphor! My 'dragon' at the moment is that I've realised that before I can write any more I've got to go back and revise my first three chapters, adding a vital element that I left out. Just a small thing, and hopefully it won't take long, but I'm resisting the idea of going back.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Bookner again

I'm always intrigued when I see something get an overly emotional reaction. The way the self-consciously literary react to Tolkien and Rowling's popular success for example. A lot of teddies have been thrown out of prams over that by people old enough to behave better.

Something similar seems to be happening around Bookner. I've had email asking me ask why I'm 'supporting' this unfeasible and dangerous idea and asking me to look at their self-styled 'anti-bookner' sites.

I'm not supporting the idea, I just said I thought it was interesting and linked to it. Make up your own mind. But I think it has to be either unfeasible or dangerous, surely it can't be both?

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

New words

Bored with using the same old words? Here are some new ones. Why not invent your own new word and use it? Who knows, it might even make it into a real dictionary one day.

Sunday, September 25, 2005


You wouldn't think the back end of a bus would be particularly conducive to creativity, but Message in a Bottle got written in one apparently. Don't go and start poking around that Songfacts site though, unless you've got a spare lifetime. Message in a bottle... blog posting... interesting juxtaposition of ideas there.

Lazy poets site

Is it too much trouble to write someone a poem, or even type it? The Poetry Library has the answer. Drag, drop and send poetry. Well, ok, there is a bit of typing involved in sending it to someone, but much less than typing out the whole poem. And yes, I know you can just email someone a poem any time you like but when did you last do that? I thought so.

Friday, September 23, 2005


My main protagonists name is Ryan. It seems that some teachers would consider that a child with that name could be 'hard work'! If you're about to name your hero Bobbi-Jo, Jayne, Liam, Charlie or Jordan perhaps you should check out this news item.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Retail therapy

A blank page
For most people, it seems, retail therapy means going out and buying clothes. The last thing I bought for the sheer fun of it was... (should I admit this in public..?) a set of 10 exercise books.

They're on my bookshelf by the window, I can see them from here, looking invitingly plain and blank...

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Who are these characters and what do they want?

I suspect creating a character is usually more of an organic process than a construction project. It's possible to 'build' a character from standard parts - as in the less sophisticated type of role playing game - and then put them in a setting and see what they do. But I suspect most strong fictional characters grow out of an idea of what the character wants, what their problem is, and the rest - their job, physical description, personal attributes etc - come after that. The want or problem being what makes them interesting enough to hold the reader's interest until it gets resolved.

Which would be why it's so much easier to start writing a story than it is to end it - it's easier to identify wants and problems (fictional or real!) than to resolve them.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

New Writing - Daisy by Jane Coomer

Daisy was sitting on the floor pretending not to notice what was going on around her. In reality she wasn’t missing a thing. She knew she would never be top of the class, but she knew also that she was more intelligent than people gave her credit for. Doing well at school meant putting some effort in though and that really would have been too much of an effort.

She watched while the others were setting up a game and pretended she didn’t know the rules so that someone would read them out to her. After all, there was no point in doing something yourself when someone else could do it for you, she thought.

Daisy was a girl who was used to getting her own way with just about everything. She loved Barbie and knew that one day she would be a princess, or else a vet. With her long, Nordic blonde hair, huge brown eyes and captivating smile, she could do whatever she wanted and if someone dared to tell her off, she could just look at them and smile. Her misdemeanours would get forgotten. This always seemed to work with her mum especially. Daisy knew exactly how to work her mum.

Apart from princesses, Daisy’s other love was food. Not boring things like fruit and vegetables. No. Biscuits, chocolate, crisps and especially ice cream. These had to be eaten in huge quantities and in a totally unprincess-like manner, with as much as possible left on her hands and around her mouth when she had finished. And it didn’t matter how messy she got. She knew she could just smile and open her eyes wide and no-one would ever tell her off.

Monday, September 19, 2005

New Writing - Michael

Jo sat drinking her coffee, listening to Michael as he described his walk and his attempts to capture the way the light had sparkled on the sea. As always, his attempt had been sabotaged, this time by a child chasing a dog across the sand and breaking his concentration. Jo smiled inwardly – it was always the same, always his work failed on account of other people, never ever him…

The only time he was punctual was with the promise (bribe?) of coffee – afternoon tea – supper, it didn’t matter which. These pleasurable interludes formed the backbone of Michael’s day, and punctuated his work.

He did try and he did have talent, but somehow the great future predicted for him, the peak of British water colourists, always eluded him. His style seemed just out of fashion: the smaller seaside galleries loved him; the “establishment” ignored him.

It hurt. Over the years the hurt showed more, in the receding hair, the tight lines around the mouth. Disillusionment was setting in. Ten more years and it would mean he could no longer lift a paintbrush, no longer look with far seeing eyes at a blank page and see the magical mix of colour and light that denoted success.

By then the coffee or afternoon tea would have given way to stronger substances, the lunchtime drink that would last into the afternoon, destroying will power and the last of his ability to get to work on time – ignoring Woody Allen’s words that 90% of success is turning up. His working day was starting later, having more interruptions and ending on the slightest pretext.

He was still a good looking man though despite the hurt, or maybe because of it. It added character to his face – and it was a face that Jo loved.

New Writing - Paul by Alison Williams

Paul is a black haired rather sharp-featured man of medium height and slim build. He appears to be around 30 years of age. He can look quite severe but his face loses its severity when he smiles. His characteristic expression is a slight frown. He has sensitive hands and fingers.

While he actively seeks to spend much of his time alone, he also feels the need for a role in the community. In general, he prefers one to one interaction to being part of a larger group. In a group he tends to avoid eye contact, often preferring to remain in the background of conversations. He thinks carefully before he speaks, and speaks less frequently than most people. He often takes up closed but balanced positions, for example, while sitting he may lean forward in his chair, rest his elbows on his knees, and clasp his hands.

In a situation where choices have to be made without clear information he tends to err on the side of caution. He takes life seriously but does have a sense of humour, which only occasionally shows itself. He is concerned for others, sensitive of their feelings, and respects other points of view, even if he thinks they’re wrong. He is not easily provoked, and does not enjoy arguments, but will defend his beliefs vigorously if challenged. He has a strong sense of responsibility, is patient and his outlook for the long term is hopeful. He tends to fall easily into the role of counsellor with people of all ages.

While generally truthful he may hold back information if unsure of its accuracy, or of the effect it might have on others. He has some very dark memories from certain episodes in his past life, but rarely discusses them with his present day companions.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Entirely out of character

Because it's the start of term, and we're going to be more than usually busy at work, we won't be meeting for three weeks rather than the usual two. Which means we've got a lot of time to complete our next exercise - a 500 word violent quarrel.

Uncharacteristically I've actually done the exercise already, rather than leaving it until the deadline looms. It was fun! Which is odd, because at the start I'd have said it was one of the exercises I was least looking forward too. Which confirms my suspicion that it's good to be made to attempt types of writing that would not normally appeal, to be pushed out of your comfort zone and made to do something uncharacteristic.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Help! Fiction police! Character assassination!

We introduced each other to our characters today. They were a varied bunch, a child; a woman of 'a certain age'; a couple of thirty something men and one slightly older man. They were also presented in a variety of ways, a career history; a third person narrative; a physical description and interview; a view of one character through the eyes of another and a psychological profile!

I'd like to post some of them, but need to seek permission first.

Who got assassinated? My character got compared to a real person and I don't see the likeness. Well, maybe I do - superficially - now I look at my character sketch again. It helps in that I now know which of his characteristics I need to bring out more to make sure things I know about him come over to other people.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


What business have I got starting a writing group? You may well ask. As an attempt at a justification for this rash act I thought I'd list some of the places I've had things published - where there is some kind of online link. (There doesn't seem much point listing 100% print on paper places here.)

Haiku, tanka and haibun have appeared on a fairly regular basis in Blithe Spirit and Presence. The same three forms also appeared in a special edition ofMuse Apprentice Guild. Haibun in Contemporary Haibun Online and in Zimmerzine. Tanka in Tanka Splendor 2000, 2002 and 2003. Haiku with translations in Tempslibres and haiku in Haiku Spirit.

Poetry in Fire and Borderlines (in both cases in issues not (yet) available online.)

Prose - Poetic - the odd article in Blithe Spirit. (The one on alchemy was particularly odd.) An article forthcoming in Yellow Moon later this year and HaikuOz even allowed me to pontificate on haiku 'rules' (even though we all know there are no such things!)
Prose - Academic - A co-authored article first published in Aslib Proceedings.

The main qualification though, is sheer stubborn obsession with the subject!

Monday, September 12, 2005

A Writing Man

While I enjoy the occasional random dip into the blogosphere, there aren't many I follow with any regularity. One of my favourites has as today's entry a glimpse into the mind of a writer at work. Or not, as the case may be. Go and read it, you'll see what I mean.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Raving mad - or just creative?

There's a fine line between the two, so it says in this article anyway. If you ask me what's going on here is that boring, rational, scientific types are just miffed. And, of course, they're out to get us. Before you know it they'll be suggesting it'd be a good idea to detain those caught writing poetry or fiction, just in case they go on to something worse.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Fishy characters

mosaic fishThese look like fish, swimming, to me. I wonder how few words you need to give the illusion of a person, living?

I suspect the important thing is getting the balance right between what you provide and the space you leave for the reader to fill in for themselves.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Changing heads

The best place for a good clear view of your self is probably not from inside your own head. I think the same thing applies to protagonists. While I know what's going on in my main character's head well enough, I don't know his appearance, his habits, or the impression he makes on other people as well as I might. I'm beginning to think that to get to know him better I'm going to have to get out of his head and write about him from another point of view. If only as an exercise.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

No villains please

I'm trying to arrange the next Cabbage Soup meeting. Even with a small group it isn't always easy finding a time that suits everyone. One person offered to send his character along to the next meeting by himself.

Now there's a creepy thought.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Queens Peace Fountain

I think I'm actually looking forward to writing 500 words of a violent quarrel. This can't be good, can it?

At least today's photo is peaceful.

Photos on this blog are taken with one of these remarkable little things. I think it's the digital camera equivalent of a haiku.

Saturday, September 03, 2005


After what I was saying about making an effort to get your book seen by a publisher it was interesting to find a new website called Bookner. It's aim is to bring writers together with agents and publishers. Sounds like a good idea. I'll keep an eye on it and see if it takes off.

Friday, September 02, 2005

First premises

I like this 'fill in the blanks' guide to writing a premise for a film - it works just as well for books. (Thanks Nelson in Toronto!)

It's helpful in making you concentrate on the main points and, maybe more importantly, the main selling points! Now I'm not being mercenary here, after all, once you've written a book you've got to sell it to a publisher before anyone else is going to get the chance to see it. Even if it goes against the grain, its only fair to posterity to make that effort.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Writing exercises

Our next few exercises are:
  • a character study (300 words)
  • an argument (500 words of dialogue)
  • a description of a house (200 words)
  • a descriptive piece with no adjectives (300 words)
Since I've thought about writing a book I'm finding this sort of exercise a bit easier to get started on. I can think of 'my' character and what he's like, the sort of arguments he might have, what kind of house he might live in (I might have a problem there!) and how I could describe something in his world without the use of adjectives. It puts the different exercises into a context, which I find helps.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The breathless grind

We met to discuss our 'revising and completing things' exercise today. We'd all struggled with it, especially with finding time to give it the attention it needs. The meeting itself was in the middle of a headless chicken kind of working day.

It made me think of a passage from 'Zen and the Beat Way' where Alan Watts quotes Robert Lawlor's book 'Voices of the First Day'.

"The materialistic industrial societies are increasingly caught in a round-the-clock whirl in which people are trapped, day after day, in a breathless grind of facing deadlines, racing the clock between several jobs, and trying to raise children and rush through the household chores at the same time. Agriculture and industrialism, in reality, have created a glut of material goods and a great poverty of time. Most people have a way of life devoid of everything except maintaining and servicing their material existence 12 to 14 hours a day. In contrast, the Aborigines [spent] 12 to 14 hours a day in cultural pursuit. "

Sunday, August 28, 2005

A puzzle

If it took me three days to choose these words and get them in the right order

morning calm
the sun has not yet reached
the sundial

how long would it take me to choose 80,000 words and get them in the right order? I really ought to stick to haiku but for some reason I've got it into my head that I want to write a book.

Friday, August 26, 2005

What I did on my holidays

Deckchairs on the Prom - Sandown, Isle of WightIf you're looking for a writing holiday in the UK you could keep an eye on this site to see what's on offer in future. It's an experience I can very highly recommend.

Technically B&B accomodation with a few hours seminars a day, in reality it was more like an open house with hot and cold running advice and encouragement.

Apart from the seminars I also got a lot out of having the chance to spend time talking to other people with an interest in writing and hearing about what they're working on. I'll be keeping an eye on bookshop shelves for the work of the course alumni!

As you can see, there was time for a stroll along the prom as well.

Now all I've got to do is put what I've learned into practice...

Sunday, August 21, 2005

The bad news

I go on holiday tomorrow, so I probably won't post again for a few days. Not that anyone is going to be distressed by that news, but someone might read this someday, and wonder why there is a gaping virtual void in the ongoing temporal meanderings. Hmm, not nearly bad enough yet...

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Character building

Once we've finished our 'finish something' exercise... (Oh, by the way, even if you're not a member of the group it would do no harm at all to consider what you've got lying around unfinished. Yes, you. If you've got time to read blogs you can't get away with that old 'no time' excuse!)

... anyway, then our next task is to write a 300 word character study. I'm not sure if this is supposed to be notes that an author would make for their own benefit, with all the backstory and detail that might never get into the actual story, or if it's intended as something a reader would see. I think I'll leave it up to people how they want to do it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Finding faults

I found a really useful checklist of fiction faults today. It doesn't just identify faults, it also offers suggested solutions, and they're pretty good suggestions.

We've got styles!

This is a fact. I have evidence. At the time of the last Cabbage Soup meeting one member was away on holiday. When this person came back I made sure that the print-outs they got of the short story openings we'd all read at the meeting did not have any clue as to the writers identity.

As I suspected, all authors were correctly identified within the first couple of paragraphs!

Tuesday, August 16, 2005


East Park, Southampton

I'm sure there's some around here somewhere...

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Famous first words

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times... "
"Midway in our life's journey, I went astray from the straight road and woke to find myself alone in a dark wood. "
"Not everybody knows how I killed old Phillip Mathers... "
"It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. "
"As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect. "

What makes a good opening? How do you convince people it's likely to be worth their while to keep on reading? Many of the great openings seem to be rather grim - or maybe that's just the books I read.

I've heard that you should 'start a bomb ticking' early on, or revise your opening to make sure you start 'as the kettle comes to the boil'. Personally I've always liked the idea of starting with the death of the main protagonist. (I just need to get the rest of the plot worked out... )

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Work in progress

Our next task is to finish something. A previous exercise, a letter to the editor, a short story, a trilogy, a PhD thesis. Anything. It just has to be complete, revised, typed up and in a fit state to go out into the world by 31st August.

It's a lot easier to start than to finish, I find, so I'm going to struggle with this one.

Luckily I have a holiday plotted planned for the week after next, so will have time to get something together. I'll also have no excuse for not coming up with the goods, as it's a writing holiday!

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

New Writing - Seen Through a Window by Jane Coomer

Harry gripped the wheel tightly as the ship plunged into another wave. Ahead, through the bridge window, he watched as the wall of water crashed over the bow, leaving its white spume on the open deck in its wake. It wasn’t much of a storm really, not like the ones he’d seen in the past. Now he was the bosun, in control of the steamer; then he was a hand on a fishing boat, like his father and grandfather before him. As the ship corkscrewed her way across the sea, lurching from one side to another, Harry felt calm and remembered his first trip as a ship’s boy, aged just 11. Not so much boy as cook and cleaner, he thought grimly, stuck below deck in the fumes and heat. Still, he was lucky, the sea was in his blood and he was a born sailor. His friend Tommy was tied to the mast of his boat until he got used to the pitching and tossing. They were tough days then.

While he was thinking about the boat owners who exploited the fishermen, the bar light appeared ahead. A dim light in the dark night sky, flashing every few seconds, disappearing behind the waves as the bow went down, reappearing as the ship hit the crest. As he changed course to head down the river, Harry could see the dark mass of the land, shelter from the storm, but the channel could be dangerous. Staring through the bridge window, he could make out the green and red lights of the buoys he had to guide the steamer through. The swirling waters showed the strength of the crosscurrents in the channel, but it was what he couldn’t see that tested all his skill. Hidden beneath the eddying waters were the remains of ships that never made it, lying on the seabed, jagged wrecks, ready to bring another ship down with them. Harry had done this trip hundreds of times before, but he was no less alert now than on his first trip as bosun all those years before.

As the rain abated, he could see the lights of the port and the berth. Another safe crossing. Harry thought of his wife and four children back home. Tomorrow he’d be back in the ship’s home port and they would come on board to see him. He could see the bow ropes were secured. Time to sleep for a couple of hours before facing the storm again.

-- COPYRIGHT! Copyright on all writing that appears on this blog belongs to the individual authors. If you want to do anything at all with writing that appears here please request permission first. This is the law but more importantly, it's good manners. Authors can be contacted by sending an email to me. Thanks! --

Monday, August 08, 2005

Awful poetry

Someone commented on my posting about why I thought a poetry writing exercise might make people cringe, "...there is so much really *awful* poetry that they're concerned about adding to the morass."

There is a lot of awful poetry about. It's true. And I'd say an awful lot of it is published by respectable publishing houses!

Ok, awful may be a bit strong, but let's face it, poetry has become distinctly unpopular through the simple strategy of being thoroughly unappealing. Poets have been known to moan that people don't buy poetry. No, they don't, for the simple reason that they don't like it. There are some wonderful exceptions, poems like Jenny Joseph's 'Warning', that have caught the popular imagination, but they're few and far between. Most people would sooner read an EU official publication than contemporary poetry.

If you are at all interested in this subject you might enjoy this much longer and more knowledgable rant by Neil Astley. I'd highly recommend his anthologies Staying Alive and *Being Alive as examples of poetry that isn't awful. (I'm hoping the next will be an anthology of elderly curmudgeon poets called Still Alive or possibly Alive and Kicking.)

* "Hopefully, books like this will put poetry back into the mainstream" - Van Morrison Now there's a recommendation!

This fiction thing

I've got to write 450 words of a radio story by Wednesday lunchtime. I've got a few words that look like they might be the start of a story. Plot? What plot? I don't think I've got the hang of this fiction thing yet.


I'd like to thank the members of Cabbage Soup for a) their enthusiastic participation in meetings and b) their permission to let me blog several examples of their work. (There is more to come, but I've just about caught up.)

Thanks too, to anyone else who might be reading this blog (she says, peering curiously into the murky blogosphere) for looking in.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

New Writing - Unfinished Business by Alison Williams

The man in the grey raincoat did his best to smile. He'd just caught sight of an unmistakable figure elbowing his way through the crowd on the platform.

“Max!” he said, as the beaming face drew closer. “Well, now, it must be, what? Two, three years?” He tucked his book under his arm and shook the hand that had been thrust toward him.

“Three years it is. I think I made the right move back then. Been promoted twice, you know! What are you doing these days, George?”

“Oh, you know me – the same old thing!” He felt his smile stiffen, annoyed to find himself almost apologising. After all, he liked his job, it was worthwhile. Worthy, Max would say.

The train arrived and Max led the way on board. George followed, hoping it would be too crowded for them to sit together, but Max had swiftly laid claim to the last free seats. George folded his raincoat and placed it in the overhead rack, preparing to endure a half hour's interrogation.

“Where are you off to today then?” Max asked, after a quick check of his phone messages.

He hesitated as he sat down, not really inclined to discuss his plans for the day, but feeling cornered. He put his book down on the table in front of him and began to explain.

“I’m going to see my...”

An urgent beeping sound cut across his words. Max smiled apologetically and picked up the phone. He was soon deep in conversation.

George flicked through the pages of his book, smiling at a few familiar passages, his mind wandering.

'I’m going to see my... therapist,' that’s what I should say, he thought, with a slight twist to his lips, 'Those pills he gave me just weren’t strong enough!' That should make him back off. But then, maybe it won’t? He’ll probably want to introduce me to his life coach. He gave Max a sidelong glance.

'I’m going to see my... lover, actually, Max.' That would give him a surprise. I reckon he doesn’t think I’d have the nerve. Well, he’s probably right about that. George gave a slight sigh, and gazed out of the window, watching the backs of houses, gardens and washing lines slip past. A white shirt, lifted by a gust of wind, flailed its sleeves wildly, then sagged back, empty.

“Sorry about this,” said Max, “must send a quick e-mail. Need to get some figures to a client.”

“Fine.” George nodded, “Fine.”

Max finished his e-mail just as the train pulled into the station. Outside, they said their goodbyes and turned in opposite directions.

Smiling to himself, George slipped his book into his raincoat pocket and set off towards his publisher’s office. He had made up his mind not to give up the day job just yet, even though he had been offered a substantial advance for the sequel.

-- COPYRIGHT! Copyright on all writing that appears on this blog belongs to the individual authors. If you want to do anything at all with writing that appears here please request permission first. This is the law but more importantly, it's good manners. Authors can be contacted by sending an email to me. Thanks! --

Saturday, August 06, 2005


After we've done the radio story, our next task is to consider revising something we've written with a view to sending it somewhere.

I find it encouraging to look at writers' first drafts to see how much gets changed. It's good to know it's not just me that doesn't get it right first time. At least what I write is usually on the short side though. Revising a whole novel must be a daunting task. According to this article in the Guardian it seems you can't even count on help from editors these days.

What I like about Cabbage Soup is the group pressure to keep writing and keep revising, I've done a lot more than I would have done left to my own devices.

New Writing - Symphony for the Faithfull by Jane Dudley

A review of Symphony under the Spire starring Marianne Faithfull, that took place on Saturday, June 11th at this year’s Salisbury Festival.

Some of you may remember her debut: the sweet-voiced, ex-convent schoolgirl with long blonde hair and doe-eyes singing about little birds. Or perhaps you recall her as the leather-clad star of Girl on a Motorcycle, or as Mick Jagger's one-time girlfriend, or even for allegedly performing a certain lewd act with a Mars Bar! In short: as a child of the ‘60s.

Many performers of that era disappeared into obscurity; some fell by the wayside in despair; some went on to join tribute bands. But others, instead of clinging to past glories, evolved and indeed have become household names [yet they tend to get referred to, somewhat erroneously, as rock 'dinosaurs' – mainly, I suspect, by jealous contemporaries who think it unseemly that persons of pensionable age are still strumming guitars!]

At the end of the sixties, Marianne did fall by the wayside into the grim nightmare of heroin addiction but, unlike many, she picked herself up and re-emerged in 1979 with the startling album Broken English as a raspy-voiced chantress of bleak lyrics. Further albums were to follow and she has since collaborated with the likes of P. J. Harvey and Damon Albarn and so become known to a new generation.

I came to Symphony under the Spire, at the end of the Salisbury Festival, with little idea what to expect; especially as the Sarum Orchestra and Festival Chorus were on the bill! I wasn't sure either what sort of a following Marianne attracted nowadays: festival junkies? Middle-age groupies? So I headed for the Cathedral Close, soon after evensong, and joined the throng of ticket-holders carrying their picnic hampers and folding chairs. [It was a bring-you-own chair affair.] Many had taken the precaution of adding umbrellas - mindful of the clouds that had by now sealed off a clear June sky.

I looked around and saw people of all ages, perhaps mainly 40s and 50s, and many family groups. Some elaborate picnics were laid out; champagne corks popped. No doubt many in the crowd would have come along whatever the event, just to savour the atmosphere in such a wonderful setting. And for those who hadn't already eaten, or who hadn't brought enough in with them, a barbeque and drinks were provided. The disadvantage of these bring-a-bottle type concerts, however, is that you do get people to-ing and fro-ing to the loos or to the drinks table. And young children become increasingly fidgety. The advantage is that you can move about [and many of us, as the evening progressed, had moved in closer to the stage.]

Shortly after 7.30, chorus and orchestra settled themselves onto the stage followed by Marianne's band and finally, dressed in black suit and cream silk shirt, came the lady herself. A slight hiatus as a forgotten script was hurriedly handed in to her, and then: a sudden loud bang. [This might possibly explain why the chorus of some three dozen voices at the back of the stage never really came over very clearly.] Marianne remained unfazed, smiled and shrugged 'Oh well. Nothing we can do about it now!'

The repertoire included both old and new works. The warmest reception was for that old favourite As Tears Go By - which the young Marianne used to sing with cherubic voice and which the mature Marianne sings as though a noose were tightening about her neck. Her voice may not be to everyone's taste but there is no denying its raw emotive power. Its a 'been there, done that and survived' sort of voice; one whose owner has, in the words of the Pink Floyd song, been 'sunk without hope in a haze of good dope and cheap wine'

This concert had been specially commissioned by the Festival and was the first time Marianne had worked with an orchestra. She wasn’t afraid to stop and restart when, on one occasion, band and orchestra were slightly out of synch. And, with a nod to Salisbury, Boulevard of Broken Dreams was amended to include mention of an 'old cathedral town' [yes, I know it should have been cathedral city but poetic licence demanded otherwise!]

By 10.00 o'clock, after a rousing rendition of Ruby Tuesday, the stage emptied. But we were not to be denied an encore. Eventually Marianne and her band returned and launched into one final number - her classic Broken English which, when you come to think about it, rather neatly describes her vocal style!

The threatening clouds couldn’t have dampened the evening if they'd tried and I'm sure the Festival organisers will be happy with what proved to be a great evening's entertainment.

-- COPYRIGHT! Copyright on all writing that appears on this blog belongs to the individual authors. If you want to do anything at all with writing that appears here please request permission first. This is the law but more importantly, it's good manners. Authors can be contacted by sending an email to me. Thanks! --

Friday, August 05, 2005

The Story So Far...

We're into the holiday season now so meetings might be at odd(er) intervals. I haven't yet set a date for the next one.

We're also slowly amassing a pile of half finished work that I think we ought to do our best to complete. Did you ever hear of anyone publishing an unfinished story? Well yes, actually Rene Daumal's Mount Analogue for one. Still, as a general principle it's better to finish what you've started. So even if we have a few gaps between meetings there are things we can be getting on with.

Our next exercise, once I get my act together and set a date for it, is to write the first few minutes of a radio story.

How short is a short story?

Cabbage Soup put this to the test. We were supposed to produce the first two pages of a short story. One of the contributions - mine - was two A5 pages and was complete! Brevity I can do. Others are still working on finishing theirs. It doesn't say in the book that the stories have to be completed, but when I've read the first two pages of a story I want to know how it ends!

New Writing - Seen Through a Window by Alison Williams

The sun doesn't shine through my window at this hour: it illuminates the houses on the opposite side of the street. Red bricks take on a warm glow in the evening light. My house casts a shadow that doesn't quite reach the other side.

Occasionally a car passes, but birds are more numerous. Blackbirds, one after the other, over the fence and away. A jackdaw preens and shifts its feet on a chimney-pot. Starlings sit in ones and twos on telephone wires. A purple leaved shrub, in the gravelled drive leading to number 6, is motionless. The tops of oaks, three roads distant, dark against the sky.

Sitting at my desk beside the window I’ve often been aware of a vague sense of dissatisfaction, or perhaps a lingering regret, without being able to pin down the reason for it. Then one day I realised.

There is no tree, no whole tree - roots and trunk and branches – within the world framed by my window, and I miss the tree that isn't there. I miss it every time I look up from my desk. I missed it even when I didn't know what I was missing. I miss it as much as if I'd seen it torn out, chopped up, loaded into a yellow skip and hauled away before my very eyes.

I don’t talk about it, of course. People would think it was odd to miss a tree that was never there.

Around the corner from the bus-stop comes a man of around 50, neatly dressed in shades of grey. He walks up the driveway of number 8. At the front door he puts down his briefcase, dips in his raincoat pocket for his key, unlocks the door, and disappears inside. I wonder what it is he misses that was never there.

-- COPYRIGHT! Copyright on all writing that appears on this blog belongs to the individual authors. If you want to do anything at all with writing that appears here please request permission first. This is the law but more importantly, it's good manners. Authors can be contacted by sending an email to me. Thanks! --

Thursday, August 04, 2005


At some point we're going to have to do a poetry exercise. I wonder how popular that will be?

Before starting this group most of what I wrote was poetry. Well, haiku mainly, and tanka, renku and haibun and lately some (for lack of a better word) 'normal' poetry. So it's my comfort zone, but I suspect most people are more comfortable with prose. They do say that most people try their hand at poetry at some time but most of them have the decency to keep it to themselves.

What is it, I wonder, that gives poetry, even more than most writing, associations of being a slightly shameful activity, best done in private? Are we afraid that it will be too personal - but isn't all good writing? Are we afraid that, even if we enjoy it, we're just not doing it right? But who makes the rules?

Music begins to atrophy when it departs too far from the dance... poetry begins to atrophy when it gets too far from music.
- Ezra Pound

New Writing - Isaac Asimov: 1920-1992 by Timothy Collinson

If there’s one person I can point to and say: ‘this is who encouraged me to write’, it would have to be Isaac Asimov. Not because he had a particular style that I wanted to learn and adopt; some would say he has very little in the way of ‘style’. Not because of the three-dimensional characters he created; some would say that his characterization was weak. And not because I particularly wanted to emulate a brash American author whose penniless parents emigrated with him from Russia when he was just 3 years old and who had no low opinion of his own brilliance.

But the one thing Asimov did do, was write. And write, and write. He was an immensely prolific author who turned out hundreds of books - something like 470 - and could turn his hand to nearly any subject you could name. Certainly any subject that interested him - and he was interested in so many! Indeed, the word polymath might almost have been coined to describe him.

Perhaps best known for his science fiction another great strength was his ‘popularization’ of science in essays that could explain complex topics in a simple yet interesting and inspiring way. But these two genres were just the tip of the iceberg. His output ranged from multi-volume guides to the Bible and Shakespeare to collections of slightly salacious limericks as an enthusiast of the verse form. On the way he took in detective stories, scientific papers, annotated works from Gilbert and Sullivan to Paradise Lost, compiled joke books, fact books, and quiz books, edited numerous anthologies and much, much more. A bibliographer’s nightmare, lists of his oeuvre commonly run to dozens of pages.

But this wasn’t just quantity over quality. Asimov won top awards for his writing. 7 Hugos (from the World Science Fiction Society) and 6 Nebulas (from the Science Fiction Writers of America). The SFWA also awarded him the title “Grand Master” in 1986. In polls of science fiction short stories, he’s commonly credited with the best of all time: ‘Nightfall’.

And ‘Nightfall’ exemplifies part of what it is that made Asimov great - the exploration of a simple idea or observation that stirs the imagination and takes a good stab at answering the question: ‘what if?’ In ‘Nightfall’s case, what if night came only once every 2,000 years? It’s hard not to finish reading the story without a sense of wonder spreading down the spine. Asimov could take an idea from the science he loved so much and spin a tale that drew you in and convinced the reader that this wasn’t merely possible, this is how it could be.

Other landmarks include the creation of a science fictional mainstay nowadays, the three laws of robotics. Asimov felt that if we were ever to build human like robots that were part of everyday life, we’d naturally ensure that they were as safe as any other tool we might use. Hence:

A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

His classic series of short stories in the ‘I, Robot’ collection then explored what might happen if such laws existed. The recent film of the same name just barely resembles something the Grand Master himself might have recognized! Though no doubt he himself would have felt it was only appropriate his name was lent to a blockbuster movie.

A third work that he is often particularly remembered for is his Foundation series. Originally a ‘trilogy’ - though in fact it was first presented as a series of short stories across several issues of Astounding Science Fiction in the 1940s (at the same time he was doing his PhD) - Asimov returned to it after a long hiatus and extended the series into not just a whole series of books, but connecting it up with his series of robot books, a massive future history that once again captured imaginations and showed the breadth of Asimov’s imagination and his brilliance at constructing not just imaginary worlds but an entire universe. Foundation posits the existence of a human empire that spans millions of worlds and fills the galaxy asking the question: what if such an empire should start to collapse as the Roman Empire did?

But this only begins to touch on one aspect of his writing and there was so much more. If nothing else Asimov made the whole business of writing look easy. In his asides to his “Gentle Reader” he would even talk about his writing and the process of putting words on paper. It helped to show that writing wasn’t an arcane skill of a superior elite inaccessible to ordinary mortals. He demonstrated above all that to be a writer, you must simply write.


Copyright on all writing that appears on this blog belongs to the individual authors. If you want to do anything at all with writing that appears here please request permission first. This is the law but more importantly, it's good manners. Authors can be contacted by sending an email to me. Thanks!


Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Radio Talks

I gave up watching tv years ago, but I do listen to the radio. Knowing your target market is supposed to help, and it certainly did with the articles exercise. Unfortunately being a listener didn't seem to do me much good when it came to writing a five minute radio talk! However, other members of the group were inspired, and I've got some contributions I'd like to post in the next few days.

New Writing - Seen Through a Window by Jane Dudley

I could hear their excited voices as soon as the front door opened. Childish laughter, mingled with parental commands, and then a petulant whine from the youngest child. The usual Sunday outing was suffering its usual delayed start. I had been waiting in the car since our return from church an hour ago.

The older child, David, emerged first clutching the travel rug and kicking a football. His father followed with the cool-bag. “Mind the delphiniums!” David’s mother cried out as, inevitably, the ball veered off-course. His father rejoined with “Look here, old chap, what have we told you about playing in the front garden?” But the boy was too fired with enthusiasm to be chastened by such admonishments. Meanwhile, his little sister Carrie, still sulking, had to be coaxed out with dire warnings of being left behind.

“Picnic-time - hooray!” yelled David, clutching his errant football and flinging himself heartily onto the back seat of the Mondeo. I nodded. Soon the car was backing cautiously out of the driveway [always an anxious moment] and out into the broad tree-lined avenue. These trees had once been a mix of stately limes and sycamores until pressure from residents, upset by the sticky deposits shed by aphids that lime trees attract, had caused most of those to be replaced with hornbeams and rowans – trees that were more respectful to parked cars! My gaze shifted gently from left to right as the familiar panorama of a suburban summer Sunday unfolded: cars washed and polished, shrubs pruned, lawns trimmed and watered, dogs and toddlers exercised.

Negotiating the local maze of urban roads and roundabouts, we eventually nosed into the usual queue of fellow excursionists waiting to join the endless M25. Oh how I hated that road! The daily workaday crawl to Croydon: mile upon miserable mile of motorway, with progress punctuated here and there by outbreaks of cones! Resignation etched into drivers’ faces. But, today there should be a relatively quick and merciful exit to speed us a few miles further to the family’s favourite country park.

The late start, however, had taken its toll and both children were irritable with hunger and unresponsive to diversionary tactics such as ‘I spy’ or promises of ice-creams later. By the time we reached the viewpoint car park everyone was on edge and anxious to head off to a choice patch of downland with, hopefully, an unoccupied picnic table. In the ensuing rush, I was knocked aside by David and found myself suddenly head down amongst a pile of spare sweaters.

“Oh” gasped Carrie. She gently restored me to my rightful place and patted my head. “Poor Winnie! Are you alright?” I nodded vigorously then settled to admire the view from the rear window. Now I would have the car to myself. It’s a nodding dog’s life!


Copyright on all writing that appears on this blog belongs to the individual authors. If you want to do anything at all with writing that appears here please request permission first. This is the law but more importantly, it's good manners. Authors can be contacted by sending an email to me. Thanks!


A time and a place

At one of our meetings we discussed where and when we write, and it seems that people are planning plots, conjuring up characters, and drafting dialogue all over the place. On buses and trains, in parks and libraries, walking to work, driving home, in the kitchen, under the covers in the middle of the night... almost anywhere except at a neatly prepared desk with a blank piece of paper on it.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Yes, but...

Our group has got some work published. Yes, but none of us are actually going to get paid.

You can play this game for years.

Yes, but I didn't get paid for it. Yes, but it was only a small press journal. Yes, but I didn't get paid much. Yes, but I haven't had my own book published. Yes, but my book didn't sell that well. Yes, but I'll never be able to write another bestseller. Yes, but I got a bad review. Yes, but the critics say it isn't great literature. Yes, but J.K.Rowling is still earning more than me.

A really skilful player of this game can deny that they've achieved anything worthwhile pretty much indefinitely.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Writing articles and getting them published

The task of writing a 1,000 word article, which looked a bit daunting at first, proved to be no problem at all for the group. Three of the articles have since been accepted for publication. Even better, one of them was mine! I'd say the others were of publishable quality, but as the authors have not yet sent them anywhere this assessment has not been rigorously tested.

How did we achieve this remarkable success rate? I think we did a couple of vital things right. We picked subjects we knew a fair bit about (haiku, hill-walking, librarianship, churches and the Manx diaspora. Yes, it's quite a diverse group!) We had a particular market in mind - in most cases a particular journal. This meant that the articles were targeted towards a very specific audience. If I'd sent my article on haiku to a librarianship or hill-walking journal it might not have been so well received. Ok, I have just enough sense not to do that.

New Writing - Seen Through a Window by M

All week I had waited for the postman - each morning looking impatiently for him as the minutes ticked away. Worried I would have to leave before I saw him, each day I was cutting it fine to catch the train for work, the normal seven minutes walk compressed to four and a half and a wish that British Rail would not run to time.

The interview at the time had seemed to go so well but each day since, my confidence had dwindled until by now I was convinced my dream job would not be mine.

And then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw him coming along the road, going to next door but two, next door but one, next door and then...

The envelope landed face down on the doormat, white, A4 and sealed. I came down the stairs in a rush and looked at it - who was it from? Could it be? Could this really be the letter I was waiting for? My heart skipped a beat as I moved towards it and tried to imagine what it might say: "I am pleased to inform you..." I smiled in anticipation and then reality struck. This was me. Surely it was much more likely to be "I regret to inform you that on this occasion..."

I dithered not knowing what to do. My cat purred round my legs in a figure of eight not used to being ignored at this time of day. Surely breakfast (his) was far more important than any piece of paper? He finally lost patience and elegantly posed on top of the white envelope, guaranteed my attention at last. I sighed, picked him up for a cuddle and with the other hand turned over the envelope.

Seen through the window was the name and address of my neighbour. It wasn't even for me. Our dyslexic postman had yet again read number 29 as number 92.

I fed the cat and ran to the station as the tannoy announced that British Rail regret that...


Copyright on all writing that appears on this blog belongs to the individual authors. If you want to do anything at all with writing that appears here please request permission first. This is the law but more importantly, it's good manners. Authors can be contacted by sending an email to me. Thanks!


New Writing - Seen Through a Window by Hanish Parmar

The sun is rising in the east. As the morning awakens, the hustle and bustle of Mumbai opens its sore sleepy eyes.

Looking down from this mountaintop I see the hazy movement of cars, trucks, and rickshaws all rushing toward their destined destinations, each on a mission, many oblivious to this abode above.

This mountaintop brings serenity and peace to all who manage to climb her rocky and slippery steps, even to those who arrive using the cliff lift.

The freshness of the mountain breeze, untainted by the smoke and pollution, gently guide the clouds through their journey - of course, their movements are also pre-destined.

In the distance the approaching footsteps of priests and the chanting of sacred mantras bring a wake up call, the doors are unlocked. Again this daily samsara has begun, another day of worshiping, sacrificing, giving, and forgiving.

My face lightens up as I see the fully effulgent sunlight beaming through those harsh doors; the window restricts its full splendour. Temples now have to be securely locked to prevent thieves and rogues from robbing them - a sad but true sign of the times.

The priests hurriedly dress me in the finest attire and jewellery, perform the customary aarti, and light incense sticks, it is opening time – and time is money.

In the distance I see the many pilgrims and devotees slowly making their way up through the rough and rugged mountainside, uttering my praises as they take each single step.

What will they ask for today? As if I need to ask myself this! I see through them, see in their minds eyes and read what is within their hearts.

The lady with her husband halfway up the mountain, just behind the naked sadhu, they are coming to ask me to grant them a son.

The naked sadhu on the other-hand is coming to ask for my blesssing, and nothing more - his gift will be salvation granted by the absolute, as this is the one and only true path of the wise.

The cliff lift to my right is slowly approaching the mountaintop. Seated at the front is a man, a very rich man and illustriously dressed bearing gifts of gold, silver and precious stones. He has come to offer these gifts to me, as he has on many occasions, so that I may bless him with even more gold and riches. He is fully aware of the murder, adultery, and a countless number of robberies he has commited...

… this time, I won't grant him riches, but something far superior, a knowledge so that he may realise his true self - he is good person by heart but has swerved off the path of righteousness.

Well, here we go again, time to impart my unconditional love to all that come, until those heavy steel doors are closed and the sun sets in the west … then back to just me, and the small window.


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Thursday, July 28, 2005


An anecdote of between 300 and 500 words. How hard can it be to write something like that?

Well, it depends. When we discussed our experience of doing this exercise we found that different members of the group had struggled with different aspects of it. Some found it hard to keep it below 500 words, others (including me) had to work hard to write more than 300.

Then there was the fact that we read our contributions out. With other people there. Listening. Making notes. Getting ready to comment when we'd finished.

Most, in fact almost all, of my writing workshop experience up to now has been online. I send an email, some people read it, they send an email with comments. It's all nice and remote. The face to face version is a bit more scary, but it's not as bad as I thought it might be. Not that they're scary people! (I have to say that - they're probably reading this...)

I'd like to post some examples of what was produced. I'm thinking of heading these New Writing - and the title, so they stand out from my ramblings.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Today's tip on getting published.

I've heard that a third article from our exercise 2 has now been accepted for publication.

Since this group was set up one thing has become clear to me. Your chances of getting work into print go up if you send it to publishers.

Why Cabbage Soup?

Well, why not? This story might have had something to do with it.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Cabbage Soup - a writing group. (Hey, that rhymes...!)

Cabbage Soup was formed in May 2005 for no better reason than that it seemed like a good idea at the time.

The original idea was to work through the exercises in the book 'Teach Yourself Creative Writing' by Diane Doubtfire. The two founder members agreed to attempt every exercise, and not to let each other wriggle out of those exercises which took them furthest from their respective comfort zones.

The group was advertised within the library where the founders work and attracted some interest. Membership began with 2, peaked at 8, and currently stands at 5.

This blog is likely to be mainly me rambling on, but I'd like to also include some samples of work, with the writers' permission of course. Let's see how it goes.

If you'd like to play along from a distance get yourself a copy of the book. Watch out for different editions by the way, the exercises vary. We're using the 1996 2nd edition rather than the latest one. Let us know how you get on.

So far we've done the following exercises. (Much more info in the book.)

1. Write a 300-500 word anecdote called "Seen through a window."
2. Write a 1000 word article.
3. Find a time and place to write for an hour a day.
4. Prepare your article for submission for publication.
5. Write a 5 minute radio talk.

Two of the articles from Ex. 2 have already been accepted for publication!

We're currently working on

6. Plan and write the first two pages of a short story.