There Will Now Be a Short Pause…

This will most likely be my last post for a few weeks. I have a lot on in my professional, personal and writing lives at the moment – and something has to give. However, it’s my intention to post something early in January reflecting the classic picture of two-headed Janus looking both back and forward at 2012 and 2013.

My writing priorities for the time being are the two novels that I’m currently redrafting – a children’s one and an adult one. My aim is to have them ready for professional editing by the spring of 2013. There are also a few writing competitions coming up that I want to enter. Therefore my writing diary is now pretty full.

But I do have plans for the blog in 2013. During 2012 I’ve had an overall structure for my weekly posts – following a recurring monthly rhythm. This has worked well for me – and it has helped reduce the scariness of the blank post form to have, at least, a heading to work to. However, next year I’m going to try a new theme.

I’m going to have a go at essay writing. Whether that’s a brave or foolish aim remains to be seen. I recently reviewed here Chris Arthur’s essay collection called ‘On the Shoreline of Knowledge’ and I’ve also mentioned Kathleen Jamie’s two excellent collections – ‘Findings’ and ‘Sightlines’. Reading the work of these two amazing authors has inspired me to give essays a try. I’ve no idea if I’ll be competent at this literary form – but there’s only one way to find out…

Irrespective of how the content turns out, I think the essay form will lend itself well to weekly blog posts. And using the essay in its broadest sense will still allow me to continue to post literature reviews, writing news and general reflections on life – personal, local and universal.

But, until then, I’d like to say farewell – for now. Thanks to everyone who has stopped by here this year and especially to those who’ve taken the time and trouble to leave comments. I wish everyone a fabulous festive season and a Happy New Year when it comes.

See you on the other side 🙂


Essay the essay

For many of us an essay is something we wrote at school and, perhaps, at university. Sometimes these were imaginative, fictional pieces of writing, set by our English teacher and at others they would be discussion pieces where we would try to show what we understood about a particular subject and attempt to offer a reasoned opinion on any issues raised.

However, the true essay is a respectable, challenging and fascinating genre of professional writing. And while it’s true that over the last century or so, it has fallen out of favour with both readers and publishers, it has never gone away completely. In the UK there is a modern genre of writing called ‘creative non-fiction’ a somewhat clumsy and rather ugly name in my opinion. Presumably the marketers prefer this horribly trendy label  to the much older term of ‘essay’. There is a squeamishness and reluctance about simply calling an essay an essay.

But whatever you call it, it’s an underrated art form and one that will repay any reader who seeks it out. The true essay isn’t an article -it doesn’t need to make an argument or set out proof or try to educate. Neither is it a feature – it’s not required to showcase or persuade. It may do any or all of these things but these will be incidental and not vital. Essays are spontaneous. They are not required to follow a formula. The essay author is a free-ranging explorer who writes observational pieces about anything and everything.

I mentioned  Kathleen Jamie‘s ‘Sightlines’, her superb second collection of nature essays, here in May this year. Indeed, it was reading her first collection ‘Findings’ which first introduced me to this neglected genre.

And now I’ve discovered another wonderful essay writer – namely – Chris Arthur. I read his new collection entitled ‘On the Shoreline of Knowledge’ whilst on holiday a couple of weeks ago. It was captivating, stimulating and challenging read – at times comforting, at times unsettling. Arthur is a master essay writer. On his website  Arthur quotes Alexander Smith who describes essays as being concerned with ‘the infinite suggestiveness of common things’ and he states ‘I am drawn to the everyday epiphanies such suggestiveness sparks and like the freedom essays offer for exploring them.’

In the book he writes about Zen Buddhism, his father’s briefcase, mementoes, lists and photos – to name just a few subjects. And through his subjects –  which are often objects – he examines all of life. He addresses the nature of time, the universe and human mortality. He shines a ray of light into the meaning of life’s almost impenetrable darkness. It is deeply moving and thought-provoking writing.

Chris Arthur has a scribes accuracy, an artist’s eye and a poet’s soul. This is mindful, wonderful and transcendent writing. It’s proof that the unexamined life is an unforgiveable waste.

So, readers, be brave – go forth and essay the essay!

‘On the Shoreline of Knowledge’ by Chris Arthur is published by University of Iowa Press.