Wednesday, November 08, 2006

6 words

Cabbage Soup is still off the boil, I'm afraid. It has stirred slightly though, just enough to set a challenge, to the workplace in general, to write a six word story, like these in Wired magazine.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A blatant breach of the Versifiers Descriptions Act

'New Poets?' I'm feeling more old and prosaic today.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Not so new writing: The Alchemy of Haiku by Alison Williams

The Alchemy of Haiku
[Originally published in Blithe Spirit Vol.13 No.4 Dec 2003.]

Alchemy is much misunderstood and, it must be admitted, much of the reason for this lies with alchemists themselves. There is a long tradition amongst them of obscurity and indirectness, of anything but plain speaking. Some might say of deliberate obfuscation. They claim that their work is derived from basic truths and that it is a practical art rather than a theoretical philosophy, and yet they seem unable to state plainly what the truths are, or what the practice consists of in such a way that others can emulate their skill.

This is the first point of similarity between alchemists and writers of haiku. I would like to suggest that there are two further aspects of these subjects that bear comparison. A particular kind of symbolism and, perhaps, the goal of the practitioner.

Alchemical symbolism is dependent on a world view which was taken for granted in medieval times, but which has been widely discredited by the modern materialist and scientific orthodoxy. There are three interrelated aspects of this world view. One is that the world of matter is transient, and that there is an eternal reality beyond the natural world. The second is that symbolism is not of a merely metaphorical nature but is concerned with discerning real correspondences or equivalence, in the light of which seemingly very different things can be recognised as sharing essential qualities. The third is that these essential qualities are graduated from the lowest to the highest and are capable of transmutation.

The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistos [1], the nearest thing to a straight¬forward statement of alchemical principles that exists, begins, ‘In truth, certainly and without doubt, whatever is below is like that which is above, and whatever is above is like that which is below.’

dawn -
the rising mist
turns to gold

To the medieval world view it is obvious that the sun and gold share qualities and that these qualities also have their counterpart in the human body and soul. Today these correspondences, if they are noted at all, are seen as either archaic poetic fancy or as coincidental. Thus a BBC science web site [2] recently noted: ‘Mars, the Roman god of war, has always had a special fascination for us. Indeed, there is even a slight connection as both blood and Mars owe their red colour to iron and oxygen.’

R. H. Blyth [3] denied that haiku was symbolic: ‘… it is necessary to state with some vehemence that haiku is not symbolic, that is, not a portrayal of natural phenomena with some meaning behind them... There is no separation between the thing and its meaning... One thing is not used to imply another thing. ‘I would suggest that what he is denying here is that haiku is symbolic in the limited, metaphorical sense. If there is a symbolism in haiku, and surely there is, it is of the kind that seeks to discern the shared essential qualities in natural phenomena and in the human being’s inward experience.

a chained bike
up to its hubs
in yellow leaves

Perhaps the most common misapprehension about alchemists is that they are concerned with the transmutation of lead into gold as a means to wealth. It is true that, throughout the history of alchemy, there have been those ‘charcoal burners’ who wanted only to discover a formula to get rich quick. This was not the concern of the alchemist who was inclined to devote a lifetime to his work and to have more in common with a hermit or monk than with seekers after worldly riches.

The true goal of the alchemist depends upon an understanding of the concept of correspondence discussed above. In this context the physical transformation of lead into gold can only be achieved in parallel with a corresponding transformation of the alchemist himself

Is our goal to discover the formula for writing the golden haiku? Or is there some other goal which, if diligently sought, will transmute our leaden efforts into something of a higher grade?

[1] Titus Burckhardt. Alchemy: Science of the Cosmos, Science of the Soul. Fons Vitae, 1997. Translated from the German by William Stoddart. (First published by Walter-Verlag Olten und Freiburg im Breisgau, 1960) p196


[3] RH Blyth. A History of Haiku. Volume 1. The Hokuseido Press, 1963. ppl3-14

Haiku article online

The Australian poetry journal Yellow Moon have now put online the article called Haiku Lessons that I originally had published in Summer 2005. It's partly a 'how to' guide for new haiku writers, but it's also a guide to the lessons haiku can provide for writers generally.

Seeing it again reminds me that it goes rather well with an article I had published in the UK journal Blithe Spirit back in 2003. I think I'll put the text of that up here as the next entry so I have one place to go to find them both.

Friday, September 08, 2006


Carrying on the Cabbage Soup occasional summer break theme. Perhaps, as what I'm writing at the moment is, shall we say, of a certain quality, I ought to be writing on this?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Loose leaves

Sharon Bakar (Bibliobibuli) says that
"“The Old Farmer’s Almanac,” whose pages were often ripped out by people in outhouses and put to practical use, has always come with a hole in its upper left-hand corner for easy hanging."
That explains why loose-leaf updating comes with those little holes in it...

[BTW I'm on holiday, and Cabbage Soup is also on its summer break. Normal soup will resumed as soon as possible.]

Monday, July 03, 2006

work/life life/work

I wasn't sure where to put this blog entry. It's about writing so maybe it should go on my writing group blog, but it's about work, so perhaps it should go on my work blog. Sometimes life is not so neatly compartmentalised!

I've found that creative writing and ordinary, everyday writing are more closely related than you might think. Since I've been doing writing exercises (fiction and non-fiction) I've found it easier to write anything. I'm not so daunted by word counts. I have an idea how much I can convey in 500 or 1000 words and what kind of structures work. I've some experience of how to write differently when the words are to be spoken aloud, which helped in writing the same paper for delivery at a conference and for subsequent submission for publication.

Having to read out my writing group exercises - something I hated doing at first - has helped to get me used to the idea of public speaking to a wider audience.

I'm pretty sure that blogging contributes to this as well. It's a form of regular writing exercise that helps me focus on how to express thoughts and record events in a reasonably concise format.

Saturday, June 17, 2006


I wonder if this would do as my next writing group exercise? I'm a bit worried about this one...


You worry too much,
he said, I know how
to prove it.

I'll suggest something
that's nothing to worry about,
and see how you react.

Imagine -
he smiled at me - imagine
you're a statue.

I stared at him,
not quite able
to believe it.

That isn't worrying,
I replied, it's simply

Imagine this, I said,
you're fully conscious
but can't move.

Can't see or hear,
or feel a pulse, or heartbeat,
can't ever touch.

All you can do,
all you can ever do,
is think.

He thinks
I'm a worrier, but I know
he's turning to stone.

Monday, June 12, 2006

The motivation to write

With an imminent (as in tomorrow morning) deadline for a three act play (who'd join a writing group?) hanging over me I've been reading a biography of Spike Milligan. At one stage he was writing a new episode of The Goon Show every week for broadcast on the BBC. Now there's pressure, and what it can do for productivity! Mind you, it didn't do much for his mental health, so perhaps I don't want quite that much motivation!

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Happy Birthday to us!

Cabbage Soup is a year old sometime around now. It came into being in May 2005 and this blog started in July 2005. It's taken us almost exactly a year to work through all the exercises in Teach Yourself Creative Writing. We've just got the last one to do.

[Muffled scrabbling noises in background.]

I just tried to lay hands on my copy of the book to check what it is, but I seem to have misplaced it at the moment. Anyway it's something about coming up with alternative titles for books, I think. Nothing too strenuous as a final exercise. Just as well after the last one - the play writing. That was a tough one, but it was fun taking parts and reading them out loud.

What will we do now?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Blogs and writing

I'm going to so many writing group meetings I don't have time to write! No, that's not really true, it's just an excuse. Going to writing group meetings gets me writing things I never would have done off my own bat, and dredges up all sorts of ideas that would never see the light of day otherwise. Maybe just as well in some cases, but there's the odd good one amongst them. Occasionally.

I think what has caused the slow down in blog entries is the sheer number of blogs I've been trying to keep up with writing or contributing to lately. (Not all visible through my Blogger profile.) It reminds me of my phase of subscribing to poetry journals. At first I signed up for all sorts, partly to get an idea what was about and what I liked, partly as a general learning experience. Then I slowly cut it back to managable proportions.

I'm thinking about which blogs I want to keep going and which I might retire, or retire from. I haven't made any decisions yet.

Monday, May 08, 2006


Cabbage Soup had fun today. Having just done an exercise which involved writing a childrens story we went to the childrens section of a local bookshop and looked at the books to see how our efforts matched up. (There were no children there, just us!) My favourite was Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers. A wonderful book, even though I thought it really should have ended a couple of pages before the not-quite-believably-happy ending.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

New writing - Shoozle by Alison Williams

Shoozle was not a dragon. He looked a bit like a dragon, but his dark red wings were feathery, rather than leathery, and his paws were big and soft and he didn’t have claws. He got a more dragonish look about him if you annoyed him though. Then he'd turn his bright eyes on you, narrow them to slits, and stare and stare until you went away, or at least changed the subject. It was rather rude, but dragons aren't expected to have good manners.

One day Shoozle was snoozing in his cave. He almost always snoozed with one eye half open, just in case anyone tried to creep up on him and steal his hoard of gold. He didn’t actually have a hoard of gold, but it seemed like the sort of thing that a dragon should do. So when the man in the grey suit with the small suitcase started up the path leading to his cave he noticed at once, and growled quietly to himself.

When the man got to the top of the path he stopped to catch his breath and cool off before he approached the cave. He knew that dragons are quick to spot signs of weakness, and he thought they might even eat you if you irritated them, especially if you looked particularly hot and tasty.

“Good morning Sir Dragon!” he said to Shoozle politely, bowing.

Shoozle opened his eyes and slowly raised his head.

“Tell me, Sir Dragon, are you ever embarrassed by your fire breathing? Ashamed of your scales? Mortified by…”

He dodged quickly to one side. A patch of grass shrivelled and smoked.

“Ah, well yes, I see that fire breathing is not a problem for you, but…” the man looked more closely at Shoozle, “perhaps the scales?”

Shoozle’s body was covered from chin to neatly pointed tail with velvety red triangles. The man set his suitcase down on the grass, opened it, took out a small green bottle and held it up.

“Just a few drops of this potion every day, and in no time at all you’ll have the shiniest, toughest scales of all the dragons in the world!”

Shoozle eyed the little bottle, then he yawned. When he’d finished yawning he spoke.

“Go away.” he said and gave the man one of his narrow-eyed looks.

The man looked surprised and a bit worried.

“But, with those velvety soft scales of yours, whatever will you do when George comes along?” he asked. “He’s got a sharp sword you know, and he doesn’t like dragons much at all. I really think you should… consider…”

Shoozle kept staring, and staring, and it’s not easy to keep on talking to a dragon, or even something very much like a dragon, when it’s staring at you like that.

“Well… perhaps… if you should… change your mind… just… let me know…”

With that the man put the little bottle away in his suitcase, and hurried off down the path.

Shoozle settled down for another snooze, careful to keep one eye half open. Which was just as well, as it meant that he spotted George’s sword glinting in the mid-day sun while he was still quite a long way away. It did look like a very long, very sharp sword, and George was heading straight for the path that led up to the cave.

When he saw this Shoozle opened both eyes, got up, and padded on his big, soft paws to the very back of the cave where he gazed down at the king’s daughter who was curled up there, fast asleep. Then he padded back out of the cave and started down the path that George was coming up.

George, seeing Shoozle, gave a loud cry of “Dragon!”, and started to run up the path towards him waving his sword. Shoozle opened his mouth and shot a blast of fire that made George duck, but he recovered quickly and began swinging his sword wildly again. At this Shoozle reared up, spreading his feathery wings, and flew into the air, circling just beyond reach. Then, suddenly, he swooped down, grabbed the sword out of George’s hand, and carried it off between his great paws, disappearing into the distance as George stared after him, empty handed and with his mouth open.

Shoozle took the sword far, far away, dropped it down a deep, deep pit and then, as the sun was setting, he returned to the cave and padded right to the back to find that the king’s daughter had woken up.

Shoozle was tired out after fighting George and flying such a long way, so he curled up next to the king’s daughter and she stroked his feathery wings, his velvety scales and his big soft paws until he fell fast asleep.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Fun, but a little scary

Next tuesday I start my WEA Creative Writing course. Will I be able to keep up with Cabbage Soup exercises and the demands of this new group? We shall see! It will also be fun, if a little scary, to meet new writers.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Bedtime story?

I seem to have written a childrens story. Or at least, it's the closest thing I've ever written to a childrens story. I have no idea what a child would make of it. I might post it here once Cabbage Soup have seen it. I want them to see it first so I know whether it needs a PG rating for violence!

Words and music

Listening to what Daniel Barenboim is saying about music and wondering what it might mean for verbal performances as opposed to the printed page.

"I will therefore attempt the impossible and maybe try and draw some connection between the inexpressible content of music and, maybe, the inexpressible content of life."

Friday, April 07, 2006

Borrowing an ebook

Now this is interesting. An author who has got the idea that making your book available for free makes sense. Commercial sense. I'm enjoying reading Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town as each chapter arrives via RSS, its like borrowing it from a library. Authors got used to libraries a long time ago, some of them even realise that people who borrow also tend to buy. How long will it take for more to catch on to this type of thing I wonder?

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The novel - almost finished - (the meetings that is!)

Our last Cabbage Soup meeting on 'the novel' is set for this Monday. It seems that we're all in the fairly early stages of writing these, even if some have more definite plans than others, we've all got a lot of writing to do before we've finished! Talking to one of the group the other day we thought that it might be good to have regular checks on progress in future, so at least we know that someone else knows and cares about that file full of notes, plans and half-formed novel we've got lurking around somewhere. It might be a motivator to actually write a bit more of it now and again if someone might ask after it. It might. I'm not promising...

After that we get back to writing exercises. I've missed doing them while we've been concentrating on each other's book plans, but it's also been a relief to have a break from deadlines. It might be fun to have to produce something again. Unfortunately it's a childrens story we're supposed to be writing, which I have no clue how to do!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Word cloud

You've read the blog? Then get the t-shirt! I think it might suit me to go about clothed in my own word cloud...

Thursday, March 09, 2006


It's funny how you come across other blog entries by accident sometimes, or by an unlikely series of links, that are just what you would have been looking for, if you'd known it existed. If you see what I mean. Today it was this one.

Cabbage Soup off the menu yet again

We've had to delay the Cabbage Soup meeting yet again - that's about three times now. This time due to a ridiculously busy day (see my work blog if you're at all curious about the details.) It's now scheduled for Monday lunchtime. It's amazing how difficult it can be for a handful of people to find one free hour a fortnight to meet. I don't know how people manage to find convenient times for larger groups.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Of librarians and books

One of my favourite library bloggers has blogged about one of my favourite books and it's given me an idea. I could claim to have finished my novel but lost it. Tragically, only fragments are left...

(There's an in-joke here that only about two people in the world will get.)

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Australia misses out

I found this today, serendipitously. If any Australian library would like a copy I'd be delighted to supply, just let me know.

Record Id: 22693391 (Australian Library Collections: Titles)
Title: Fragments / edited by Alison Williams with help from Timothy Collinson and co-operation and inspiration from all the members of Ukku.
Published: Spalding : Hub Editions, c2001.
Description: [48] p. ; 11 cm.
ISBN: 1903746043 (pbk.) :
Dewey Number: 821.04108092
Series: Hub Haiku series
Subjects: Haiku, English.
Other Authors: Williams, Alison BA. Collinson, Timothy.
Language: English
Libraries that have this item: Not yet held in an Australian library

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Never mind the person from Porlock

Why haven't I prepared for the Cabbage Soup meeting tomorrow? I blame ASDA: the people who put the hassle into online shopping. I can't single out any one person to give the credit for this, it was a team effort at truly appalling customer non-service. I did get (most of) my delivery - eventually - but a trudge down the hill and back up again, heavily loaded with shopping, in the rain, would have been a more pleasant experience. So that's my excuse. Otherwise I would have finished writing my book by now.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Friday, February 10, 2006

The next meeting

We've had a bit of trouble finding a convenient time for the next Cabbage Soup meeting. It's probably going to be next Thursday lunchtime, and we're going to be discussing my novel. Oh dear...

Monday, January 09, 2006

Not estate agents this time

Estate agents writing style must rub off on those involved with housing. I saw a house share ad today asking for a 'professional non-smoker'. I've given it up, but I wouldn't say I've gone so far as to make a career of it.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


Even the best books can be rejected by publishers. We've all heard the stories of books that got rejected many times before becoming best sellers. I suspect that most publishers have no clue what is going to appeal to the general public and are amazed when they actually manage to pick a winner. But you'd think they might recognise a prize winning book that had already been published! According to this article in the Times, they wouldn't.