Captain’s (B)Log

So, it seems there’s this rule…. As chairman, (part-time some might say), if you miss three meetings on the bounce, then when you get to that point in the meeting where you ask for a volunteer to pen the month’s blog, everyone looks at you with the sort of expression that says, “You’ve been away three months, and you’re looking for someone else to volunteer?”.  Hey-ho – the price you pay when your daughter decides to opt for a Cyprus wedding, and thinks everything will happen, “just like that.” I’m still trying to work out where April May & June went to – did 2017 decide not to do those months?

But I must confess to experiencing a real feeling of Home Coming when, at the beginning of July, (seems so long ago now) I walked into the meeting room to see familiar faces already gathered, chatting to each other, foraging in bags for notebooks and pens, drinks on the table and new faces to say ‘hello and welcome’ to, (hope you enjoyed it Cody & Dad-David.) – three months really is too long away from the gathering that never fails to remind me why I love writing and why I do it, yet also keeps me grounded, and mindful of how lucky we are to be part of a group that counts within its members writers of real talent, wit and depth, yet still sees its raison de’etre as the encouragement and nurturing of talent – whether new, young, or.. a bit longer-in-the-tooth.

By way of contrast – and warning – I heard while I was away of the demise of a Cyprus-based writing group, not the one I attend when I am there, but a ‘break-away’ faction who, following some rather silly, intra-group politicking, decided that not every member of the original group was taking the business of Creative Writing as seriously as they should be. (!!) After some rather fractious meetings, these ‘serious writers’ decided – apparently – that the achievement of their writing goals would be best achieved if they confined themselves to sharing their scribblings only with those whose writing experience was, generally, on a par with their own – as opposed to newbies, novices, and others who are only just discovering that there may be a writer within them – (Hands up who can remember that feeling?? Yup, thought so!) The upshot has proved to be – surprise, surprise – that after a period of three years, during which, believe it or not, they enacted a policy by which they actually interviewed ‘applicants to the group’ to assess their writing ability before allowing them entry to their fold, the group has, finally folded – having seen their number dwindle to a mere handful. What a shame.

It strikes me that nothing is as self-evident as the need for any writing group (in fact probably any arts-based group), to continually seek to reach out to the new – young or old – and to not just embrace but rejoice in the fact that writing is, for most of us, a never ending journey, one where we must continually investigate the by-ways and shrouded footpaths that lead who knows where? And what better way to decide to explore those paths than by hearing a voice that is different from our own, one that makes us think, ‘that’s a bit different. I might like to have a go at that’ or ‘If I keep practising, I may be able to write like that one day.’ And that’s exactly what I like to think VRWG does! Long may it do so. See you all in August!


Stone Girl

The group exercise at the June meeting was based on a Stone Age flint scraper, a sort of Pre-Historic Swiss Army Knife, but more durable. The group were invited to handle it, and imagine themselves to be the original owner, possibly a young woman, earning her place in the family by contributing her skills to the common good. The tool maker has used the natural shape of the flint and chipped flakes of flint away to make a sharp cutting edge.

Stone Girl (Tom Ireland)

Out of nothing, darkness, darkness,

Jangle of sounds miss-understood, words

That are not words, sights unseen and undecoded,

Eternal strangeness of all things unknown.

Persons so unlike, unseeing, deaf to silence,

And into that unaware oddity I

Emerge, reborn, too many winters and no summers,

Into that angularity, Hades of

Straight lines, sharp sounds, cackling muttered voices

Meaningless, all meaning less than nothing.

And yet, observe, conceal, watch, hesitate, be still.

These too are human, elders of some clan,

Tribe unknown, speaking more words than they listen to.

And yet they pause to hear one voice,

Words spoken softly, almost sung, a tuneless chant

With no drum to guide. No one keeps watch, no fire

Is on the hearth. Sunlight steals silent into the cave,

A group of elders pass my knife between them,

Spilling no blood, smiling if it nestles

Comfortable in their hand.

The blade returns to one who brought it here.

Does he know to bury it deep in earth tonight?

So it may, bloodless, sleep, and I return to the silent dark?

Flint may strike light and see to kill.

Death of A Sandwich

On a beautiful hot and sunny night in the merry month of May, with the promise of a few hot days in the garden, fence painting and catching up on other essential work, after being in mourning, why oh why did I volunteer to write the May blog? I have more than enough on my plate to do in the next two weeks before we leave for a wedding in sunny Cyprus, besides I am not as good at being funny or as articulate as the seasoned blog writers in the group!! I think it was the double act look from the Chairperson Debbie and Marian that seemed to send a laser beam locking on to my direct eye contact that forced me to say feebly, yes me, I will do it!!

So here goes!!

I found my mind wandering through the evening as it was one of those nights when sunshine fills the outside air and inside all was merry and light too amongst the writers, after all it is May! Little did we know at the start of the meeting just what treats were in store!! We completed a brilliant exercise from Shona about death, or rather an eulogy about a sandwich and ended the meeting with a humorous poem from David about the forthcoming election. Not much different than death really!! It was an amazing funny poem; I so want to read it again and wondered for the millionth time, whenever I listen to work like this, why can’t I write something just as mind blowing, to hold the group in the palm of my hands with mirth and laughter too?

The exercise about death has made me think more since Monday about our lives and that of the sandwich whose eulogy we had to write about which produced work including recipes, philosophy and a frying pan full of ingredients surrounding death in its many forms.

I was reminded of the book and film called “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak narrated by death and I often think about our souls and how we go on long after our death, whether it be a sandwich or a living person or animal or plant death, feelings exist right to the very last second.   I know this to be true as we spent an entire week 24/7 with my father-in-law and said our sad final goodbyes to him with love and a sprinkling of humour too, during many tender and poignant moments in that week. It made all of us feel loved so much by him, he was strong and brave right to the end, likewise we were strong too for him!! To get the chance to say goodbye is so special. Remember this next time you bite into your sandwich!!

Talking of eulogies reminded me of a poem that I wrote for his 90th birthday 7 years ago. The poem captured my father-in-law during his life with us, how our children continue his sayings too in their lives, like “rack of the eye” and “see you on the wing” whenever we said goodbye to him. Everything is full circle don’t you think? Repeated over through centuries gone and those yet to come!! That’s why we write to keep history going forever and to be remembered for the legendary concepts we are!!

Throughout our meeting on Monday 8th May, I found myself trying to stall thoughts of death as I wrote, by drifting in and out of summer blue skies, warm golden sunshine on my face, the sea lapping at my feet. The musky perfume smell of the garden after rain has fallen, our writing group holiday with Liz as our outstanding host over in the Dordogne Valley, where the view from the window had a fairy tale castle looking back at us. The fresh bread that we went for every morning, the cakes and pastries from the Boulangeries, no one can make bread and cakes like the French do! The pleasure of walking down the lane in summer to choose and drool over the breakfast fare for the group, by those of us who were up early, wanting the chance of an early dawn stroll. The wine that tasted like nectar as we shared life together, watching the sun set and the hot air balloons drifting lazily across the view from the balcony.

My happier thought drifting did not last long; death surrounded us as we all wrote our pieces, thinking of a fitting eulogy for a humble sandwich. Just writing this blog, I am thinking more things, such as the death of the grapes that went into making our wine, the feet that trampled on them in the vats, is that person dead now that made the wine so long ago? Death is around all of us daily with his bag of souls and the need to have one more to fill his bag!!

We live our lives every day, never knowing the moment, day or hour that in a Nano second, life is over and ended!! So we learn to live our lives to the full, including the chance to write more each day. I learnt that once more on Monday night, in the very merry month of May, when I listened and applauded all of you for being such amazing talented writers and friends!!


Linda Leigh, May 2017

Writing Exercises

Some people seem reluctant to take their turn to write an entry in this most auspicious Vale Royal Writers’ Group blog thing.

But not I.

Last month I seized the nettle of fame with both grasping hands, unable to contain my enthusiasm, and then eager for the meeting to end so that I could get home and start penning my masterpiece!

And then I got distracted.

I now have about 30 minutes to come up with something, and I have made a mental note never to volunteer again.

Yes, I have become one of the reluctant ones.

Anyhow, here we are… and rather than just moan about how I have no inspiration and no capability and no time, I am going to use this blog entry to help anyone who reads it to become a better writer.

There are no end of writing exercises on the internet.  I have tried many of them and even if I did them all together simultaneously and backwards whilst standing on my head and singing my least favourite Abba song I can assure you that I would hardly break a sweat.

So this month I will share a few techniques of my own devising which you are welcome to use, but please note (a) that you should consult your medical practitioner before undertaking them, and (b) that I can accept no liability for any injuries (or worse) that might arise.

Writer’s Block

There is no such thing as writer’s block.  It is just laziness.  Use the following technique to unleash your stream of brilliance.

  1. Sit down with pen and pad or with computer.
  2. Set a timer for 15 minutes.
  3. Write continuously until the timer sounds.
  4. If you stop or if you score anything out before the timer sounds, then go to the nearest wall and bang your head against it 5 times… hard.
  5. When you recover consciousness and have cleaned the blood off the carpet, return to Step 1.

Writing/Typing Speed

There is nothing so frustrating as coming up with the best words you have ever thought of but then being unable to get them down on paper while you can still remember them.  This problem will eventually be resolved by neural transplants and reliable speech recognition, but in the meantime the only way to counter this problem is to train yourself to write fast.

At least 3 times a week you should choose a suitable word or phrase and then write or type it as many times as you can during a timed 5 minute session.  Graph your results and you will see improvement week on week until you reach the physical limits and your fingers go into spasm.  (See next exercise.)

A potential bonus of this exercise is that it will transport you back to punishment exercises during your schooldays…. supposedly the happiest time of your life.

Writing/Typing Stamina

In order to delay the onset of finger/hand cramps or spasms (see above) it is important that we regularly exercise the muscles involved.  The best way of doing this is to get a couple of old tennis balls and to squeeze and release in a rhythmic pattern.  It is recommended that this is practiced for 10 minutes three times per week.  Squeezing your balls can be done anywhere and at any time, so it is a good idea to carry them with you to allow you to make good use of what might otherwise be wasted time.


Writing exercises aren’t all about brainpower and inspiration.  To be a truly successful writer you must find the right blend of physical and intellectual exercises.

Bill Webster May 2017

Not a Blog Entry (by Mark Acton)

Aaahhhh! Blog!

I promised I’d do the blog this month. No, I volunteered to do the blog this month. It didn’t even seem like a good idea at the time but I did it anyway. The irony is that the only person stupid enough to volunteer to do the blog is in no way intelligent enough to do the blog.

I’ve got too much to do.

And I haven’t written in ages.

If you want to get good at something, you’ve got to do it a lot. It’s called practice. I haven’t practised. I have too much to do. Too much on my mind. There’s no way I’ll be able to sit here and write something creative. I just don’t have the time to sit at my laptop and type random creative stuff. There’s work to do, shopping to do, pots to wash. There are always pots to wash. How can I write a blog entry when I have pots to wash.

Must buy eggs.

But I promised that I would write this blog post and so I will. I will make an effort to write something cohesive and entertaining and logically structured and thought-provoking and I must remember to pick my daughter up from work.

So, the best way to write the blog about the writers’ group meeting is to write it straight after the meeting. That way everything’s fresh. Lemony fresh. Like Fairy Liquid. Must get some more Fairy Liquid if I’m going to wash the pots.

Obviously, I’ve not written it straight after the meeting. I’ve left it until the night before the next meeting to even start writing my blog entry. Not good.

It’s also a good idea to write notes at the meeting. Hmm, what denominations do I want the notes in when I get the Euros out for my daughter’s trip to France? It’s best then to decide early on in the meeting that you are going to volunteer. Then you can start writing the notes early.

I didn’t do that.

I started writing notes towards the end of the meeting. I hope they make sense. I’ll go and check them now. Well, in a bit. I’ll just check whether I’ve done all my marking first.

Member of CBA club; diversions; Sound of Silence playing in the background; wake up from hibernation; feelers out there; still hibernating; not much by way of news; didn’t finish anything; failed slightly this time; more in hope than expectation; one day they’ll be kicking themselves; nothing specific; my only companion; it is coming along; an assassination plot; you woke up too soon; a vacant space; can we wake up soon enough; out of sync; tip it out; someone came along with a tick list; next year; Luddites; I’m not a violent man; write the word dilemma; it was a shambles; the prowess of incompetence into an art form; an afternoon nap; vengeance is mine.

Good notes. Don’t make sense. Must trim the hedges. Mow the lawn while the sun’s out.

When you’re out of practice writing, you lose your sharpness. You can’t solve the writing problems so easily. And much of writing is problem solving.

You’re on your own in a box; a solid room with four walls and a flat ceiling. No doors, no windows. How do you get out?

Solve the problem.

Think outside the box.

Write your way out.

Or don’t. Sit there and wait until someone cleverer than you on the outside works out how to get in.

Deus ex machina.

Make people want to come in to your world.

Don’t come into my world. It’s full of spreadsheets and lacking in imagination. Invent your own world. Make it better than this one.

Better get tea on.

Does My Poetry Look Big in This

With the Vale Royal Writing Group Winter Wordfest behind us, and without a willing volunteer to write the February blog, I thought I’d squeeze some thoughts together to make a hasty piece on a relevant topic which has really been inspired by listening to you all read over the years.

I’m sure you’ve noticed how much difference there is between reading a piece off the paper in the quiet little reading room of your mind, and reading it aloud. There are those among us that can be quite content to commit something to the page and expect it to spend the rest of its life there, and there are those that consider the paper to be nothing more than a convenient resting place.

You will have been entertained by those among us that have a real talent for adding something in the performance to an already great piece of work, but I don’t think we all have that skill. Sure, we can all read (unless there are some among us that can write but haven’t learned to read yet?) but we can’t all perform and that’s what it needs if it’s going to be shared out loud for entertainment purposes.

For me, the voice coming out of my mouth should always match the voice in my head so accent plays a big part in this (for me at least). As long as I write in my own voice then I can perform what I write, but I should never stray outside of my language or it sounds wrong to me. In my very first creative writing class I had the good fortune of listening to somebody read their poem in what would conveniently be described as Estuary English. The most interesting observation of this was that his accent allowed him to rhyme some words that I wouldn’t have been able to pull off with my quick, Scouse, machine gun patter. I don’t remember what those words were but I was reminded of the occasion when listening to the radio somewhere on the M6 when a record by Sophie Ellis-Bextor came on, and in one of the lines she rhymes the word “First” with “Last” and there’s no way I could do that without changing my accent (they came out as “farst” and “larst” for those of you wondering). The same thought popped into my head again when David read his short story in this week’s meeting– I could easily have read it off the page and enjoyed it, but reading out loud David’s words in my voice would have given you all less than you deserve.

And there’s a difference in why we read out loud. Reading in the VRWG meeting is not expected to gain style points, it’s just a convenient way of getting the content to the group in order to get feedback. The members understand this and focus on the work. Winter Wordfest however is a different kettle of fish.

The thing you need for this is confidence. Sometimes all it takes is to stand up and start reading, but for some it’s a massive undertaking to even read in our close-knit group of writers in a private room on the first Monday of the month, never mind to stand before a group of strangers – which include professional performers – and all under the spotlight of expectation. I can well understand why people choose not to read but it’s a shame we don’t get to hear their work performed.

In 2015 when we performed at the Wirral Festival of Firsts I got my first real indicator of how good our readers are when I heard them in comparison to others reading at the event. I think our honest, creative feedback can sometimes help, but when the microphone is switched on it’s all down to them.

You might be lucky and have the beautiful reading voice of Richard Burton and the performance skills of Roger McGough or Fucking-John-Fucking-Cooper-Fucking-Clarke (sorry, but I always think of him as that – it’s done with affection honestly!), but if you don’t have the confidence in your piece then that’s the best reason for not reading it out.

I’ve seen how much effort other people put into their work – even committing the words to memory in some cases. I’ve found saying it out loud at home is a great editing tool for getting things to work in your own voice, but committing it to memory is too much for me – a step I currently don’t plan to make. For those that take the trouble though, the rewards are most obvious as these are often the most satisfying performances as they’ve learned the ebb and flow of the piece. They have the rhythm. They clip words in the right place and they inflect, suggest and tease with the changing cadence of their voice and the length of a line. This is also why poetry comes across better than prose in readings as poetry is closer to music in its structure and often lends itself better to performance.

On the other hand, my reading in the meeting of “The Rain in Wales” was off the cuff and I can’t even remember the tempo of it now, just that it needed to be read quickly with as few breaths at possible, without pausing during a stanza. I have no idea if it’ll sound the same the next time I do it. I guess we’ll have to wait and see. But between now and the next time, perhaps you could try reading you work out loud to see if you can get something else out of it, and maybe one day you’ll decide you want us to hear it too.

New You?

Not everyone is a fan of New Year’s resolutions. As many have pointed out, you don’t have to wait for the 1st of January to reinvent yourself as a better person. Plus, rather depressingly, statistics show that the vast majority of New Year’s resolutions are broken within the first month.

Regardless, as a friend on social media recently ranted (and I paraphrase), ‘people who complain about new-year-new-me-ers… Yeah forget* self-improvement, let’s all just carry on being awful. Let’s never reflect on our actions and carry on like the selfish pooh**-tanks we are.’ I believe she has a valid argument. Personally, I relish the opportunity to take a good hard look in the mirror and set some goals for how I might be a better person in the coming year.

The likelihood of achieving long term change doesn’t look good admittedly, but I definitely like the idea of a periodic life audit and the identification of areas for improvement. It’s a bit like a more brutal version of the work performance review (assuming that you’re more invested in yourself as a human being than you are in what your boss thinks about your ability to use a spreadsheet, for example).

The week of lazy nothingness that is sandwiched between Christmas and New Year is to me the perfect time, since it’s possibly the only opportunity that we actually get to think about things beyond the usual ‘what do we have in for tea’ and ‘have I paid the council tax’. This festive week of purgatory usually involves continued gorging on cheese and wine and bad telly, accompanied by a creeping sense of lethargy and self-loathing. Or is that just me?

So, as it usually goes, from this dark hedonism emerges a kernel of hope. It doesn’t have to be this way! I can work on these flaws and emerge in Spring happier, healthier, more productive, and generally a better human being than the sad sack I’ve become over the Christmas period.

It probably comes as no surprise that the top three New Year’s resolutions are to lose weight, get fitter, and eat more healthily. And by the 1st of January, healthy eating feels like a welcome hug after the fat, sugar, alcohol and excess of Christmas. Vegetables are my friend.

However, this year my quest for self-improvement is more about my mind and soul than my body, and I have decided that 2017 is the year to focus more on my writing. I have set the (rather manageable, I think) goal of completing two short stories, and perhaps entering a competition or two. This seems realistic since most of my time is spent either at work, keeping on top of the house and looking after my young daughter. However, I have grown fed up of having the desire to write more, but never really managing to. Often, the distractions of day-to-day life get in the way.

So, my initial task of the year was to attend the first Vale Royal Writers’ Group meeting of 2017. It felt good to tackle a new writing exercise, where we changed the vowels in names that we had chosen to create new characters. As I created a seedy bar scene for Jock and Bull, I wondered how many of the people I was sat with had also set themselves some writing-related goals for the New Year.

In order to maximise success, I have researched a little into what can be done to increase the likelihood of sticking to a new year’s resolution. The key message is that your goals have to be realistic. Strict diet regimes are difficult to sustain over long periods of time, and it makes sense that this also applies to other areas of your life. With lots of other commitments, it would be daft to expect myself to have a novel written by April. However it can’t be forgotten that virtually all writers say that in order to be successful (and to quote Stephen King), you need to ‘read a lot and write a lot’.

Psychologists say that the long term success of New Year’s resolutions relies on making new habits or changing existing ones. You need to pick a small action (for example, taking the stairs to your desk at work rather than the lift), and attach it to a previous habit (such as walking through the front door into the office). This new habit must be easy to do for the first week (achieved by leaving a note to yourself in the morning reminding yourself to take the stairs), and then the new habit will ‘stick’ after you’ve repeated this around seven times.

With this in mind, I’ve set myself the following new habits for 2017:

  1. Read in bed every night, rather than reaching straight for my iPad.
  2. Listen to an audiobook in the car on the way to work rather than Radio 2.
  3. Spend 15-30 minutes every lunchtime writing. Something. Anything.

So here goes. Post-it notes have been stuck all over the house, and calendar reminders have been created to make sure I remember to establish and keep up my new good habits. I am hopeful that these new habits are achievable, yet enough to ensure that this year is my most productive yet. I’m also hopeful that my partner doesn’t get too cross about all the post-it notes that will be inevitably floating and fluttering all over the house this month. But then again, he’s doing Dry January so he’ll probably be too busy staring at the bottles of wine in Sainsbury’s and wondering whether all this self-improvement business is really worth it.

*She didn’t really say forget.

**She didn’t really say wotnot either.


Helena Abblett, 25th January 2017