A tale a day keeps the doldrums away – New Project!!

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As you may or may not know (or may or may not care), I often perform at spoken word events, which are a fantastic way to get work out there. Not only can you get feedback (if you want it) but also feel part of a truly special community. One of my favourites is a local night called Read Your Words at the delightful Java Bean Cafe. It’s cosy, comfortable and fabulously friendly. If you’re new to performing it’s a great place to test the waters without any fear of people making fun of you. Everyone is very supportive: there’s no criticism, only clapping; and, best of all, the alcohol is very reasonably priced.

The most recent open mic was last week and as usual, being a massive last-minute merchant, I only had one poem written several months previously and then nothing else to fill the slot. What could I do that was very quick to write?! I asked myself, with just a couple of hours to go.

I have always been fascinated by short stories and how just a small amount of text can convey a great deal of information. Ernest Hemingway famously wrote a short story with just 6 words, which manages to be both brief and poignant. This sounded like the way to go so I decided to write as many short stories as I could in my pre-performance bath.

In the end I managed to get quite a few done and before reading them explained to the audience the intention behind them. My aim was to create a series of stand-alone stories, each containing only six words. Some related events that took place over a few months; others were snapshots of a single moment in time. But I hoped that each individual tale would make the listeners just think for a few seconds, perhaps recall the stories later and maybe even  enjoy them. Some were funny, some were sad, but all were six words.

They actually went down better than I had hoped and people asked if there were more (something writers always love to hear!). And so I have made some. Having recently finished writing a book, a new project (especially one where brevity is the main feature) seems apposite. So if I can I will give you, dear readers, a brand spanking new story every day, starting on 1st February. Yes, I know new ventures should really be embarked on in January but hey, who wants to be like everyone else anyway?

So from Wednesday I will be releasing one story every day on Twitter – follow the action at @katadventuring

Remember – A tale a day keeps the doldrums away…

xx

Where’s my reset button? Or, the ideal Leap Year Day…

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Being in the midst of particularly frenetic time at both work and home, it has only just come to my attention that this is in fact a Leap Year. That special once-every-four-years day when we get 24 whole extra hours to play with.  Not being especially scientifically minded, I gather that broadly speaking said extra day is to make up for the fact that rather inconveniently our Earth years do not equate to a precise number of days but instead thoughtlessly feel the need to spread into part of an extra one too. Poor organisation aside, the extra day gives the world a chance to catch up with itself. Reset, if you will.

So it seems only logical to me that the same should also apply to human civilisation too. We are frantically busy trying to keep up with the pace of modern life but all too often we find that we have lost ground without even really noticing it. We stop making headway and find ourselves slipping further and further behind. Clearly what is needed is a reset day.

This extra day, I feel, should absolutely not be just another normal working day. It shouldn’t be just an extra shift at work, or another day in the mundane household routine. It should instead be a chance to spend the day doing something you love, be it writing, photography, yoga or just catching up with friends. A sort of mini-Christmas, without all the stress of present buying and organising family visits. A day to take stock, to rediscover the things that really bring you pleasure and to remind yourself what really brings you your happy.

For me the reset day would be a chance to think about all the writing projects that are constantly buzzing round my head, to possibly come up with some semi-realistic goals and put in place some plans of how to achieve them. Then just luxuriate in the time to write for pleasure, instead of for work. Sheer bliss. That would be my ideal Leap Year Day.

Unfortunately I have not had mental efficiency to plan myself a reset day this Leap Year and will instead be working. I hope that you might manage something a little more inspiring and a lot more fun. Even if it’s just an hour to yourself, please, try and find the space to indulge. And, I promise, next Leap Year Day I will be doing the same and pressing my reset button. After all, I’ve got four years to plan it.

The gift of the unspoken. Or, pass the C60, please…

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Last time I rambled about writing as a form of therapy, but another of my favourite methods of communication is music. I’m talking specifically here about that great institution and important stepping stone in any relationship – the mix tape. For those of you too young to remember these, the basic idea was that you went through your cassette collection to find a few songs that expressed your feelings whilst simultaneously making you sound cool and attractive, spent hours painstakingly pressing play and record to transfer them all onto one blank tape, then gave it to your intended in the hope they would find you irresistible. Sometimes it even worked.

I have received a few of these in my time and recently used one as the basis for a piece I performed at Word Up!, which is always a quite excellent night out at The Forum. The tape in question is very old* so some of the younger audience members didn’t quite get all the cultural (and I use the word loosely) references but it obviously struck a chord with a fair few. In this fast-paced download age the idea of spending hours on such a project is doubtless anathema too, but for those of a certain age, the mix tape will always hold a place in our hearts.

*It was much appreciated at the time but I can best repay the giver’s generosity by preserving his dignity and reputation and never speaking his name 😉

The mix tape, a crucial weapon in the war of love.
You can say all you want without opening your mouth – it’s genius.
The effort it takes to press play, record, pause
And spend hours finding songs to further your cause – it’s precious.
As a gift, it’s unique but you must get it right
As the recipient listens in the long lonely night
To the tracks you have so carefully chosen.
It’s a labour of love but one fraught with danger as
You, the architect and re-arranger
Want so much to make a good impression.

I bear this in mind as you hand it to me
That treasured gift of a little C60;
We both know this rite of passage is key.
We’ve chatted, held hands, snogged in the back row but now
It’s time to see if our love will grow.
So I’m all anticipation
As I pull out my Walkman, excitedly press Play
Then lie back to hear the words you wanted to say.

Amy Grant – Baby Baby, is the opening track,
And it’s clear from the off yours is a well-thought out attack.
It’s saccharine, sickly but ever so sweet
As she sings of forest walks and birds that tweet –
I’ll suppress my nausea and appreciate the sentiment.
But I’m not a huge fan of Christian pop
So onto the next song I briskly hop.

More Than Words, a great song by Extreme –
This is much better, far more my scene.
Although I can’t help feeling it’s cheating a bit.
They say they can’t find the words, so they write a song,
And you haven’t done the same, just pinched it from them
But it’s one that I love, so I guess we’ll move on.
Enigma next, with their sultry sounds
The Principles of Lust they address.
Via ethereal wailing and hypnotic beat
In an attempt, I assume, to turn up the heat.
And so far, this tape is a success
But then the next track throws a sudden curve ball.

Seriously. Ned’s Atomic Dustbin?
So-called NAD music is something that you really rate
And Happy is the track of theirs I least hate,
So that’s something. But really, what world do you live in?
I’m touched that you want me to like what you like but
As love songs go it can take a hike.

Side two is where things get a little more intense
I sense from the rather more directly overt tracks. 
SaltNPepa, Let’s Talk About Sex –
Because both of us know that that’s what’s next.
Neither of us have before so we’ll each be the first
And the beauty of this is you can bring it up in verse
And not actually have to say the embarrassing words at all.
Let’s talk about it, by not talking about it.
Yes, lets.

KLF next, 3am Eternal
And I have to say, I don’t really know what this one’s doing here.
The tune’s not great and there’s very few lyrics,
Barring the repetitious and infernal one line, of course.
I’m afraid the intended message is not clear.
The same cannot be said for the two that follow.
Cream, by Prince, then a paeon to self-pleasure from the Divinyls.
I like both tunes but it’s all getting quite rude
And whilst they say that music is love’s food
This somewhat mixed buffet is becoming quite hard to swallow.
And it’s something of a relief the next song’s the final.

So here it comes, the killer track; the one where you state your case so clear.
You know I love a good power ballad and too right, it’s Bonnie’s husky tones I hear.
Ms Tyler sings of the powder keg and spark
As she bewails the total eclipse of her heart
And it’s perfect. This song’s hitting the mark;
Aside from the rather gloomy undertones, of course.
But as an outpouring of emotions, it could be worse, and I’m loving it.

Until I remember the video.
Which to be honest, creeps me right out.
A woman of a certain age, in a school full of boys
Who, rather than turn and run from the noise
Crowd round as she calls them Bright Eyes.
Which sets my thoughts on a terrible train
About rabbits dying in that sad film, Watership Down.
Then all I can think of is mixamytosis
And frankly if that’s this relationship’s prognosis,
We are clearly doomed.

Writing gives us some place to go when we have to stay where we are…

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As aphorist Mason Cooley almost said.

There’s no doubt that reading is one of life’s greatest pleasures, especially when it comes to escapism. But what of writing? Stepping into an imaginary domain of your own creation, having the power to shape your own worlds and visit them any time you like? Surely there can be few better diversions when everyday life gets a bit grim. In your writing, at least, you can have some measure of control. A small chance of a happy ending.

Creative writing can indeed be welcome escapism but writing in other forms can also serve a useful purpose. Functional writing, be it spectacularly vitriolic poetry or angsty blogging, has the potential to make a hugely positive impact on the author. Let’s face it; there’s plenty of things we would all like to say that we don’t always have either the opportunity or the courage to do so.

The unsent letter is a popular therapeutic tool. There is no doubt that it can be incredibly cathartic to scribble down your innermost thoughts about something that is troubling you. Your reactions, responses, all those pithy one-liners you couldn’t quite think of in time when somebody said something upsetting or enraging. Putting it down on paper can be a good way to process an emotionally thorny issue. Not only can you get it all off your chest, metaphorically speaking, but writing allows you to take some time to marshal your thoughts. Less immediate than simple verbal expression, the enforced delay can assist when you need to attain clarity. Re-reading your words can help give perspective, suggest solutions or offer comfort you previously couldn’t see.

The key word is, of course, unsent. However, those of you who possess a similarly masochistic streak to myself know how hard that particular type of restraint is. Once your words are down, making sure the message is passed on to the person who has done wrong by you is very hard to resist, for all that you know it will just hurt you further. Getting your thoughts out into the ether is all very well but simply letting them float free, unfettered, without a target, does have an element of aimless resignation about it. As writers we want our words to have power. To mean something. To provoke a reaction, good or bad.

I would counsel you not to send such missives but that would be hypocritical of me. Does it work? And if you mean by work, heal me of my grievous wound? Hardly. But would I do it again? Absolutely. Having to say my piece, whatever the cost, is a lure I am always unable to resist.

I was once described as blunt yet healing. It was, I believe, supposed to be a compliment, although as I remarked at the time, I would prefer to be described as incredibly intelligent and sexy. As it later turned out, I am apparently too blunt and not sufficiently healing for this particular acquaintance. I think it, I say it. A lack of filter has always been one of my less appealing qualities. But then I am, as are we all, a work in progress.

So to that end, I say scribble away. Get it all out. Will you feel better? Possibly. Will you feel worse? Very likely. But at least you will feel.

New Year, new you?!

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Like many people, I occasionally make the odd New Year’s resolution, which I stick to with varying degrees of success. Some are perennial favourites, such as to be healthier and drink less coffee. Others might be a one-off aspiration, such as moving house, or getting a particular job. Updating this blog more frequently is certainly way up there this year!!

But many resolutions tend to centre around giving something up, which if it is something you love, are addicted to, or depend on, can be tricky. We all know that a good support network can be invaluable in these cases, and whilst this might seem like a bit of blatant shoe-horning, rather than a neat segue (okay, you got me, it totally is), I felt like sharing some poetry. This is a fairly old piece, and I am far too ashamed to admit who my inspiration was, as frankly it definitely feels like celeb-stalking, but here it is, none the less.

Sad About The Boy

He wears his grief on his face, the boy;
Each line a harsh reminder there’s no joy for him just now.
Bottled comfort for bottled pain –
He chokes it down.
She watches, and waits.

The boy gets by with witty words and a pretty face
While slavering hounds await his next fall from grace.
Licking their lips as his heartache
Swallows him whole.
He’s sinking, and fast.

The girl reaches out, offers her hand;
She’s been stood where he now stands
And knows the drill.
It feels like falling but really it’s flying
Out of sorrow and onto tomorrow –
So he jumps.
She won’t let him fall.

Where do unicorns keep their books? and other unanswerable questions…

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The above query was a recent topic of discussion among several three year olds of my acquaintance, along with additional questions regarding their favourite smell and preferred shape.* Early answers revealed substantial differences of opinion – variously:

A) In a bag, perfume and squares
B) In piles by the wall, strawberries and circles
C) Under the sofa, roast dinner and duck-shapes (who knew?)

It became clear that without a unicorn to consult in person, as it were, a consensus was unlikely to be reached.

I mention this not just because I would quite like a definite answer myself but to illustrate the frustratingly complex, frequently pointless, often incomprehensible and regularly unanswerable questions that children ask. When kids are small their parents are granted virtual super-hero status, able to do almost anything and come up with an answer for every query. Other recent interrogations from my children have included “How does rain get in the sky?” (Something to do with being soaked up by clouds, I think?), “How many dinosaurs did you have as pets when you were little?” – (Don’t be so bloody cheeky) and “Why are One Direction so famous?” (If anyone has an answer to this last conundrum, do please share).

As with most parenting issues, I find the soundest course is to fumble through as best I can and hope it turns out alright in the end. But what happens when the questions get harder? Children have an uncanny ability to probe for answers on even the most difficult subjects. Tackling queries such as “Why do people not like people who look different to them?” and “Why do people have wars and kill each other?” is a thorny path that is extremely tricky to navigate.

The most basic reply, that sometimes people are not very kind to each other, seems trite and glib, for all that it is essentially the truth. Answering such questions without scaring a child or causing undue anxiety isn’t easy. Preserving their innocence of the harsh realities of the world for as long as possible is surely much to be desired.

Perhaps I’m worrying unnecessarily – it may be that this basic answer is sufficient for now. By the time they are old enough to question it in detail, possibly they will have developed a tacit understanding that parents don’t have all the answers, however much they might want to. That parents aren’t omniscient, just doing the best that they can. That sometimes the answers you’re looking for just aren’t there. And maybe that’s enough.

But if you should happen to see a unicorn, do please ask about their book storage arrangements – enquiring minds are desperate to know.

*With thanks to Emma H, Rebecca H, Ez, Lola, Betsy and Lily for their insightful input.

 

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