Archive for the ‘My Writing’ Category

Just wrote a 600-word homework assignment about one of my passions – Lundy. And it made me cry. I haven’t been there since 2008, which is far too long ago. Still and all, I thought I might share the assignment with you, along with some of my lovely Lundy photos.

The west coast in all its wildness

The west coast in all its wildness

On the edge of the ocean, where the Atlantic meets the Bristol Channel, sits a 400ft high peat-topped lump of granite. Just three miles long and half a mile wide, it was known to the Viking raiders as ‘Isle of Puffins’. Michael Drayton called it ‘A lustie black-brow’d Girle’ in his Poly-Olbion of 1612, and described how England and Wales argued over who owned this desirable nymph. Even today, Lundy has a wild charm that enchants everyone who visits.

A Sika deer above Brazen Ward

A Sika deer above Brazen Ward (on the east coast)

The west coast is constantly battered by the wind and the waves. Its outcrops of exposed granite are home to countless birds, and the precariously clinging turf is riddled with rabbit warrens. The east coast is more sheltered. There are ponds where ducks and giant carp live. Sika deer live here, hiding in the shoulder-high bracken during the day and roaming the plateau at night.

The Battery from Dead Cow Point

The Battery from Dead Cow Point (on the west coast)

On my first morning there, in a blustery October at the end of the last century, I woke as the sun was rising, left my warm bed and ran the two-and-a-half miles to North End. I didn’t yet know the names of the landmarks I passed – the Battery, Dead Cow Point, Pondsbury, the Pyramid, Devil’s Slide, the Widow’s Tenement, John O’Groat’s House, the Constables – but I knew I was home. Even the black-backed gulls screeching overhead and the shaggy white billy-goat with his huge twisted horns seemed to be welcoming me.

Grey seals in Three-quarter Wall Bay

Grey seals in Three-quarter Wall Bay (on the east coast)

I’ve been back many times since then, with friends, with my sons, and alone. I love my solitary times there, staying in the one-room cottage that was the lighthouse-keeper’s pigsty. It’s possible to speak to no-one for days at a time, apart from the oystercatchers, the rabbits, the Soay sheep, the grey seals, the Sika deer, the peregrines and kestrels, the Lundy ponies… and if you’re very lucky, they talk back. One summer I scrambled down through the bracken to the edge of Gannet’s Combe and was serenaded by over fifty seals, basking in the sun and singing to their mates.

North Light from below

North Light from below

In April the seabirds come in to land from the middle of the Atlantic to mate and raise their families. Jenny’s Cove, Long Roost, and Kittiwake Gully become home to thousands of razorbills, guillemots and puffins. Sitting at the base of the Pyramid in Jenny’s Cove on a sunny day, you can close your eyes and imagine you’re wheeling and circling with the auks and gulls all around you. And if you listen long enough, you start to understand what they’re calling to each other.

Quarry Cottages at sunset

Quarry Cottage ruins at sunset

Lundy has a gripping history. It was a Royal Warren, supplying William the Conqueror with rabbits for his dinner table. A later owner, William de Marisco, attempted to assassinate Henry III, who laid seige to the island and invented the punishment of hanging, drawing and quartering for the traitor. In the 1700s, Sir Thomas Benson was contracted to transport convicts to Virginia, but instead he imprisoned them in a cave on Lundy and forced them to work on the land. In the nineteenth century a quarry company ran for seven years, producing granite blocks used to build the Thames Embankment. There are signs of all these and more still visible on the island.

Sunrise over the Marisco Castle

Sunrise over the Marisco Castle

When the nights are clear, the Milky Way lights you home from the tavern. There are no streetlights – there are no streets, no cars. The single shop sells only basic supplies, TVs and video games are nowhere to be seen, and the electricity is switched off overnight. The facilities are sturdy and sufficient, but certainly not luxurious. Despite all that, Lundy has everything you need.

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Feeling Old

Simon, Mower of Lawns

#1 son: Simon, Mower of Lawns

#1 son turned 18 yesterday. This is a very scary thing to deal with – almost as bad as my little brother’s 30th birthday. My own age doesn’t bother me, I’m 44 in body and 21ish in spirit, but for some reason significant anniversaries of those younger than me make me stop and think.

18 years ago yesterday Norman Lamont pulled the UK out of the ERM, and the country almost went into financial meltdown. To me it was the day an anonymous doctor pulled a new life out of me into the world, which was mostly a horrible experience, but nothing will ever beat the overwhelming joy I felt when they put a squealing wriggling baby on my stomach. I tease him that he was born on Black Wednesday… #2 son was born on the day of the Oklahoma bombing – it’s probably a good thing I stopped having children after that.

So much has changed in my life since then. On September 16th 1992 I was married, working as a researcher for a small university spin-off company which had just employed a CEO who didn’t understand the value of research and development. I was 26 years old, but didn’t have much idea about the real world or what my place was in it. I’d only been out of university for a couple of years, and the work I was doing was pretty much the same as the stuff I’d been researching for my PhD in Computer Science.

And I had absolutely no idea what to do with a baby. They don’t have power-off switches or helpful error messages, and the instruction manuals seem to have been translated through several different languages on their way to English.

Blake, Destroyer of Trees

#2 son: Blake, Destroyer of Trees

Now… I’m divorced, a full-time student of Creative and Professional Writing at Nottingham University, a part-time marketing assistant for Five Leaves Publications, I know what I want my place in the world to be and I’m busily carving it out (more on that in my next post).

More importantly (most importantly), I’m the mother of two of the most incredible human beings on this planet. I wrote this poem for them… needless to say, when I read it to them they looked slightly confused, and very quickly started talking about something else after mumbling vague compliments.

Something of Nothing
for Simon and Blake

How can you make something of nothing?
Nothing is not
                       sugar, butter, eggs and flour.
It’s not bricks, not mortar,
not blocks of marble or iron chisels.
Not words. Especially
                                 not words.

How can you bake, build or sculpt?
How do you make thoughts
of nothing?

You and I are nothing, without substance.
We pass through each other
like ghosts, you cannot rest a comforting hand
on my shoulder, I cannot demand passion
from your lips.

Yet somehow
we made our sons of nothing
and oh,

they are something.

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Post-natal depression is terrifying. What should be one of the best times of your life becomes worse than a nightmare, because you don’t wake up. You can’t get to sleep in the first place. Despair and guilt smother you, creating a cell-blanket barrier between you and your baby. All you see of this little person who is completely dependent on you is small glimpses through the holes. And that’s not enough to love him or her.

I wrote a short memoir in class the other week – an exercise in dangerous writing, and when I read it out I could see the shock on my classmates’ faces. It struck me that not enough women talk about their experiences of post-natal depression. How can anyone who hasn’t been through it have any hope of understanding what it’s like?

I survived post-natal depression twice. I was lucky.

my story

Simon was a lovely baby, gorgeous to look at and so easy to look after. If none of the standard list of “things to do when a baby cries” worked, I just put him in the pushchair and took him for a walk. He’d fall asleep as soon as the outside air hit the lining of his lungs.

The birth wasn’t easy, lots of machines and doctors and pain and confusion. The single moment of joy when they laid him on my stomach made up for that, but it wasn’t enough to carry me through all the complications that set in afterwards.

By his fourteenth day, it was obvious that something was wrong. I couldn’t stop crying. I didn’t want to pick Simon up, I really didn’t want to feed him, I had mastitis and cracked nipples and it was agony. I couldn’t sleep but I was exhausted all the time. Sleep when the baby sleeps, they said. But that was the only time I could be me again.

I went out and bought bottles and formula, then cried as I sterilised the clear plastic unnatural teats, and cried as I counted out the scoops of pale yellow powder, and cried as I shook the bottles. I cried when Alan got up in the night and took Simon into the other room to feed him.

Alan didn’t understand. He was giving me what I needed, time away from our baby. What he really didn’t understand was that I didn’t want the baby at all. I did love Simon, but more than that I resented him for stealing my life away from me. And I wished he wasn’t there.

Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t have harmed him. I had those new-mother nightmares about some stranger coming along and doing awful things. I even worked out exactly what I’d do if a nutter threw Simon and his pushchair into the Trent as I walked along the Victoria Embankment.

But I wished he wasn’t there.

I knew I would kill for him.

I was terrified I’d die for him.

Six months, countless prescriptions, and many hours of counselling later, I still wished he wasn’t there. Until one day, in a tiny room at Queen’s Medical Centre, when the psychiatric nurse said, “You could always give him up for adoption, you know.”

She might has well have punched me in the stomach. Pain radiated from behind my belly button, I couldn’t breathe.

No-one, no-one was going to take my son away from me.

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I made a discovery today. I predict it will be responsible for the frittering away of more hours than Mahjongg Dimensions on Facebook (how do they score more than 14 million on that? I thought I was doing well to get 5 million). It is the natural successor to Wordle – Tagxedo.

And I think it’s kind of enabled me to create something that almost meets two of this month’s daily poetry challenges on Eireann’s blogthe one where you have to use the geography of somewhere special, and the one where you have to create a lexicon… ok, so I haven’t actually got a poem, but I do think this image is very poetic.

Lundy Lexicon

Pip's Lundy Lexicon

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The Fourth Rule

OK chaps, I find myself still up at 1am, still haven’t done my daily poetry, and haven’t written a blog for three days. Not Good Enough. Must Do Better.

So, here’s a story I’ve been working on recently. It’s at slightly-less-shitty-second-draft stage, but I quite like the way it’s shaping up. And I read it out at my writing group this evening and was told it’s poetic, so it’s not totally inappropriate for National Poetry Month.
The Fourth Rule

The path I am walking on slashes between the birch trees. They reach for each other, delicate branches trying to find the strength to defy gravity. Failing, but pulling the papered trunks behind them so that eventually, close to the sky, the heart-shaped leaves can dance together in the early morning sea breeze. My leaf-shaped heart thuds in its predictable rhythm, a dour counterpoint.

Sunlight skitters across the waves and penetrates deep into the wood, scattering jewels among the dewdrops so that I am a shadow walking through a chandelier. Worker bees buzz off to their daily tasks and blackbirds sing to their brown mates. The headland across the bay calls dive from the cliff, swim to me, climb my chalk-white slopes and dry yourself on my grassy belly. It knows I cannot swim that far, but the thought of crushing fresh grass under my salty rolling body twines with the longing already in my mind.

I am drawn to a riot of roses, brash pink against the subdued shades the trees have clothed themselves in for this sombre spring. Admiration for their daring briefly flickers inside my chest, is extinguished by the cold heart that reluctantly beats there. Why should they be permitted to challenge the decaying rules that bind me?
And what are those rules, Anna? the doctor asked me, yesterday. His thin red lips twitched underneath that ragged blond moustache and black half-rimmed spectacles slid slowly down his sunburnt nose. His pen ready to write down the rules, he waited for my answer.

I didn’t think he really wanted to know, but then he asked again. So I told him, and he wrote them in a list, like this:

  1. I will always fail.
  2. Hope is the king of betrayal.
  3. I must become my surroundings.

After the third rule, the doctor stopped writing, so I stopped telling. I was relieved, because the fourth rule doesn’t have any words. It is the city wall dividing lovers, the kidnapper who takes a baby girl from her parents, an old dog lying beside the dead body of his master. It is the strongest rule of all, the rule that cannot rot and crumble away, through which no chink will ever allow light.

I left the doctor’s office. The nurse smiled at me, a fiery smile to match her tightly bound auburn hair. How was it today, Anna love? she said. I couldn’t answer without breaking the rules, so I poured all my hope and longing into the wells of her deep brown eyes. Rule 2 was already broken. I could only think of tracing the line of her jaw with the tip of my forefinger and taking the smile from her lips to mine with a kiss.

Sleep did not come last night. The fourth rule stood over my bed and kept it from me. The nurse entered my room in the darkness and I could hear the whispering of her clothes falling from her body until she stood in silence like a naked tree in the winter, her cotton shirt like leaves around her roots.
That did not happen. The fourth rule put it into my head. Then it sent me out to the birch wood on the cliff top.
The roses are speaking with the nurse’s voice. No, not speaking. Gasping as the sun’s rays touch their velvet buds. Groaning as they open their soft petals to receive the wind’s caress. Yes, they whisper. Yes, yes, they scream.

And then the doctor’s voice, yes yes yes, from the sharp hard thorns hidden by the blushing petals, ripping through flesh and blunting their points on the fist-sized rock inside my chest.

The fourth rule welled up inside me and burst out of my mouth in rhythm with the pulsing of ice through my arteries. No – no – no – no – no. This is against the rules.

Her body, naked as she hadn’t been for me last night. Her face, framed by roses. Her lips, smiling. Saying Anna, what are you doing out here, sweetheart?

I run. Away from her, away from the rules. I cannot live by the rules any longer.

The path carries me through the birch trees, through the candles that hang from their illicit dance. Dew and tears soak my skin. I will dry my salty body on the green pelt covering the headland’s belly.

The sea calls me with the voice of the first rule, You can’t swim all the way across the bay. But if at first you don’t succeed…

The cliff calls me with the voice of the second rule, If you leap from my summit I will propel you, you will fly over the waves.

The blackbirds call me with the voice of the third rule, Join with us and we will show you how to become one with the sky.

The fourth rule is silent. It knows it has broken me.

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Reading the News

Today has been less than maximally productive. I have, however, finished reading The City and the City by China Mieville, which is a storming good read. It’s based on the premise of two cities that coexist within the same physical space. The inhabitants are forbidden from interacting with each other, where the cities are ‘crosshatched’ people must ‘unsense’ anything that belongs in the foreign city, while at the same time avoiding any sort of contact. I have to admit the exploration of this premise grabbed me much more than the basic plot, which was a murder mystery, but Mieville’s beautiful and often startling use of language along with the complete weirdness of the setting carried me along quite nicely.

So. Poetry. Today’s exercise from Eireann was to write a poem inspired by a newspaper story. So off I went to search the Guardian website, like a good little bleeding-heart liberal, and could I find anything the least bit inspirational? No, of course I couldn’t. Camilla breaks her leg? Politicians are t***s? People prefer to drink bottled water? hmmm….

Off I went to The Sun website, and found this gem.

US mum sends adopted son back to Russia with note saying: I don’t want him anymore

It’s a desperately sad story, and I’ve no idea who’s to blame. The Sun, of course, vilifies the mother. Yes, she’s a single parent, so she’s obviously in the wrong. QED.

I hope someone is looking after the poor kid.


She gave me paper. One piece.
Here it is. It says something loud.
The jet engines are noisy too,
working so hard they have to scream.
I can’t hear the paper shouting.

New granny’s words hit me in the face
when they came out of her prune lips.
Like old mum’s words, just as strong
smelling of vodka. But new granny
and new mum didn’t hug anyone ever.

If speaking hurts, I shan’t speak.
They call me stubborn. But I am saving
my weapons. One day I may need them.

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Scissors, Paper, Poetry

I have made a poem! I never knew I could do that. I always wondered what poets meant when they talked about making poems… now I know.

Today’s exercise on Eireann’s website was to break and reconstruct one of Emily Dickinson’s poems. I took her at her word…

here’s the original:


I dwell in Possibility–
A fairer House than Prose–
More numerous of Windows–
Superior–for Doors–

Of Chambers as the Cedars–
Impregnable of Eye–
And for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky–

Of Visitors–the fairest–
For Occupation–This–
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise–
and here’s mine:

I wasn’t quite sure what to do with all the dashes, but I think they make a pretty border at the bottom.

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