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.
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 http://www.chrisarthur.org 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!
May has been a month of contrasts in many aspects.
Not least with the weather. The beginning of the month was so cold that we still had the central heating on – and I had to fetch my winter coat back out of the spare room where I’d thought it would be safe to pack it away for a few months. But then last week it was warmer on our island than it was in Minorca and, although a bit cooler now, it is still very pleasant and no jacket is required when out and about.
And here at Write Enough Manor, life in general has been veering from low to high.
Health wise, the low white cell count that’s been making me feel a bit washed out, fell again this month. This was disappointing after it had begun to rally in April. But I must be a patient patient while the count is monitored over six months. My GP is fairly certain that nothing sinister is going on and I have to trust her on that. But I’m afraid since having cancer I’m a pathetic hypochondriac. I do know I’m not imagining the horrible little cystie thing that I have growing on the cornea of my left eye. It’s been developing for a while now and when it became uncomfortable I decided I’d better go bothering the doctor again. And now I await an ophthalmology appointment.
However, the good news is that I’m off the medication I was on for anxiety and I’m flying solo. So far I’m coping well – even at work which is very stressful at times. So the health score this month is – mentally strong, physically – a bit feeble. But I’m fighting back and getting more exercise and eating (even more) healthily. My exercise of choice is walking – daily. I’ve just treated myself to a pair of Shape-Ups, these special fitness trainers that feel a bit like having rockers on the soles of your shoes. I’ll report back on how effective they are. Prepare for a super-fit, lithe and toned grandma…
And in my grandma role – I’m most excited. Our daughter, son-in-law, granddaughter and Oli, the cat, are moving to Skye. I’m just ever so slightly excited! How wonderful it will be to have them so close instead of hundreds of miles away. They’ll be lodging with us to begin with so I’ve been busy having a clear out and making space for them and their stuff. As for the granddaughter – she’s five-and-a-half months now and just gets cuter and cuter.
Our son and his lovely lass will also be here in June for a week’s holiday – so it’s going to be just fab to have the whole clan together.
In other nice sociable news – I’ve been to a housewarming party and to a lovely dinner at a friend’s house this month. And last night was the Bill Bailey show at the village hall. It was superb. What a talented chap. He’s a skilled musician as well as a very funny guy. One song with the phrase ‘when they took the porn away in Stornoway’ nearly brought the house down – you would have to understand the Skye/ Lewis rivalry and the religious/moral ambience of the Western Isles to really get why that was so funny. And it was just great that he had taken the trouble to have some very local references in amongst his gags and stories.
The lovely weather has helped us to focus on our ideas for the garden at our new house. It’s a blank canvas – just as it was when handed over by the builders – and we now have a firm plan for developing it. It will be great to have some trees and bird-friendly planting as well as a proper patio area on which to sit and enjoy it all. I miss having the birds visit so much. At our last place our garden was a real sanctuary for all sorts of wildlife. We even had a hen harrier visit one afternoon. Last weekend I succumbed to buying a couple of interim birdfeeders and already we’ve been adopted by an extended family of sparrows. The fat little fledglings are hilarious, sitting on the fence, beaks agape, while their hardworking parents flit from feeder to their offsprings’ ever open mouths.
And I was just hearing today that the sea eagles are back nesting near our old house and that a whale was spotted in ‘our’ loch at the weekend. There has also been a group of dolphins in the Sound of Raasay this week, close to where we live now.
Moving indoors, I’ve been enjoying two very different drama series on television. I felt bereft when ‘The Bridge’ on BBC4 finished a week ago. It was an incredibly good Swedish/Danish crime series – in the mould of ‘Wallender’ and ‘Borgen’. Even the subtitles didn’t detract from the sheer quality of the storyline and the acting. And I’m quite taken by ‘Starlings’ on Sky1. This is a warm and gentle, family drama and is also beautifully written and well acted.
My most recent reading has included ‘The Most Beautiful Thing’ by Fiona Robyn, a touching, coming-of-age novel that I’ve reviewed on Amazon and will be critting on her in a couple of weeks. Currently I’m reading ‘Sightlines’ by the mistress of the essay, Kathleen Jamie – wonderful writing as always.
Any ounce of spare energy that I have goes on my writing, of course. The second novel is progressing – slow but steady. And I’ve also completed my regular ‘column’ for the bi-monthly writers’ magazine, ‘Words with Jam’.
A wee P.S. to last week’s post on my motorcycle pillion riding, I have now ordered my own pair of biker gloves and biker boots. This is a start to having my own complete kit. Once I’ve saved a bit more cash, I’ll be getting my own ‘bespoke’ helmet. It’s an expensive hobby, but what the heck.
Right, I think I’ve probably banged on for long enough. So I’ll leave you with best wishes to all for June and happy Jubilee weekend to UK readers of the blog. Have a good one!