If you write , you can call yourself a writer. #poetry #metime #optimism #Arvon

I think I am a writer. If you have to earn a living at writing, then probably I’m not entitled to call myself that, I suppose.  I write every day, and have done all my life. When I started writing seriously, I thought of it as a very private pursuit, the results not to be shared with anyone. Despite my many years as a teacher , the day that I stood up in front of a group of other writers on my first Arvon course at Moniack Mhor was the most terrifying experience. It changed me. It made me believe that I had something to say that others might want to hear. It made me trust myself. 

Over a year later, I’m still writing, and sharing. Today I finished two drafts of poems for my writing group meeting tomorrow and I am looking forward to sharing them. A while back I got stuck at  a purple door and shared that idea with you. I hope you got somewhere with it. I thought about the colour purple in the end and what it suggested. Here’s a bit of the draft I wrote, just to show you that I took my own advice to just write, and see where it takes you…


Purple Door

On Aegean shores,
slaves grub up
flower bud shells,
their milky blood
rainbows green to Tyrian purple.

Clytemnestra spreads its glory
beneath Agamemnon’s foot.
Born to the purple,
Caligula claims its hue,
Too rich for common man.

Feathered wisteria clusters droop
faintly about hidden doorways,
Plums swell
burst in
Pan’s grape-stained mouth,
where jewelled pomegranates,
bitter blood oranges
bruised passion.


It’s the World Cup – and I don’t care if I don’t see one minute of it!

Wimbledon Fortnight, Ascot, Cricket, Tour de France- I have been known to watch minutes of them at a time. But the World Cup remains one of those events that will require no effort on my part to miss. I  was brought up in a family where the only football worth speaking of was oval and covered in Welsh mud, and any other football remains a kind of weird mystery to me. Over the years, people have tried to convince me of its beauty; one boyfriend tried to get me interested in Norwich City, by telling me their nickname, the Canaries, as if that was cute enough.  It wasn’t.

The thing is, I don’t want to know. Normally that doesn’t matter, is quite acceptable, but at the moment even friends who I know have no clue what is going on, become pundits, informed by the tsunami of football based programmes and newspaper articles. I went to buy some bread, and had to wait while the shop assistants preferred to put up bunting around the shelves. That wasn’t endearing either.

I have stocked up on videos , books , jigsaws, notebooks, pens and pencils. I will use the time when everyone else is holed up in the living room, yelling at the tv to finish reading the stack of books by the side of the bed. I will watch box sets, lie in the garden listening to BBC 4 extra and be able to get some peace to write. 

So Wayne Rooney and co- have a great tournament. Enjoy Brazil and that silly round ball. Hope you do well – let me know.



Further adventures in Purple Prose #inspirationatlast #nevergiveup

I’ve really set myself a challenge for the next few weeks: not only have I signed up to an online course, I’m now going to two separate writing groups, both with different writing challenges each week. In addition, I am venturing into the ( for me) new world of entering writing competitions. The thing is that if I tell you I’m doing it, I will have to follow it up with actual entries and poetry or short stories. I’m that sad sort of person who absolutely has to hand in work! 

Last week I struggled with my ‘Purple Door’ assignment but it taught me that even the most unpromising start can lead you to places you never thought of. I started thinking about the colour purple and why it seems to have such appeal. I found out all sorts of fascinating facts during my research, including that Imperial purple came from thousands of tiny molluscs, whose liquid turned from green to deep purple. That made me start to think about metamorphosis and mourning, Welsh valleys with indigo slate, and Sevillian pomegranates. 

Now I am going to write a short story about a Welsh mining village, and a poem about Calke Abbey State Bed. Wish me luck! 

 Details of Calke Abbey State Bed Hangings:



‘The Purple Door’, or ‘The Poem/Story I have yet to write’ #procrastination #reasonsnottowrite #DebTylerBennett

For two weeks now I have been staring at purple doors. Don’t believe me? See my Pinterest board. This is because my wonderful reading group leader, Deb Tyler-Bennett kindly set this as a stimulus two weeks ago, for a poem or story. Her only stipulation was that the door must be purple. That was the problem. I cannot get past that purple door. It has become a looming bruise of a barrier. I cannot open it to see what could possibly be beyond. The thing is that I am one of those sad people who cannot go to a group meeting and say, ‘ Sorry…’  And the meeting is the day after tomorrow .

I’ve looked at sites to do with writer’s block and nothing is working. Therefore I am just going to do the pen to paper thing and see where it takes me. It occurs to me that I am just over-thinking it as usual. If anyone out there would like to have a go, and post their results, that would be amazing. Meanwhile here’s a bit of inspiration for us all…


Procrastination, the fine art of. #workavoidance #sunnysunday

Good morning! As you can see, it is a particularly fine morning, and probably the last one before the rain returns.  I had planned to get up at 7 to write the short story I am due to have finished by Thursday. It’s now 10 am; I’ve been out in the garden to speak to the newt, said good morning to the bumblebees that have invaded our birdbox (thank you, bees) and eaten porridge. Yesterday’s paper was very stimulating reading; even the Giles Coren article with all its name dropping and faux cool references was appealing. I’ve sorted my pens into colour order, found a new notebook (good, shiny paper)  and made a pot of tea.

Now I have started thinking about garden chairs, and whether buying a seat for under our cherry tree would be a way of motivating me to write. I have soft focus images in my head of me with floaty clothes- some lace, some indian cotton, a large sun hat , Birkenstocks, jugs of iced lemonade… Given that nothing I own floats, this is dream territory. As is my story, at this rate.

Morning haiku

Fat bees busy by,

blossom bursts from apple trees,

shadowed blackbird sings.


Journeying to Wales on a train with amusing guards and singing ticket collectors.





I love going back to Wales, no matter how I get there. I may have lived elsewhere for many more years than I ever did in Wales, but that seems irrelevant. If I drive, I still get thrilled when we pass the ‘Welcome to Wales’ sign on the Ross Spur and turn on the radio to BBC Wales, even though I cannot understand a word. My voice flexes and limbers up to become like the valleys and mountains of my home town- soaring and dipping, wild and green, deep and dark. Within minutes of speaking to anyone, all traces of the North has disappeared and I am back with the clan. On the train, I listen for the first Welsh voices and tune in to the patterns and music.

Nevertheless, I cannot say that I relish the journey by train. Sadly, the line  wearies its way to Cardiff, stopping at every minor halt along the way , and usually I strap on the headphones , and resign myself to three hours of cramped chugging along. This time, however, the experience was very different, entirely due to the humour of the guards and ticket collector. On the way down , the guard began by announcing ‘Hi everyone! I’ve got some good news for you happy travellers. The driver has found Derby station.’ In Birmingham he reminded passengers to take all their belongings with them, especially children, as , due to cut-backs, the company would no longer feed them if left behind. He followed up by congratulating the driver on making up lost time but felt it was due in no small part to him being ‘starved and longing for his dinner’.

I assumed this was a one off, but on the way back today, I was serenaded by one ticket collector with ‘It’s a Lovely Day Today’, and on the final leg, the next collector rapped spontaneously from the text of the ticket, in rhyming couplets! ‘ Your ticket is a single, It makes my heart leap and tingle’ . Please, Cross Country trains, reward your wonderful people. Your velour seats may be hard and shabby, but the conductor made me feel a lot less crabby. ( Sorry- I’m very, very tired…)


In Celebration of Dylan Thomas – with thanks to Ian McMillan

Today is Dylan Thomas Day on Radio Three with the sublime Ian McMillan hosting. It was such a joy to wake up to hear Richard Burton’s reading the opening of ‘Under Milk Wood’ . I felt as if I had woken up in the valleys again, not in the Nottingham suburbs of reality. Through the joys of cable, I will be watching ‘Under Milk Wood’ tonight because  a new version starring Michael Sheen and Sir Tom Jones among a stellar cast is being broadcast on BBC 1 Wales and will be on iplayer.

Surrounded by metaphor at the start of the day- what could be more inspiring than Thomas? One of my favourite quotes from Thomas on poetry:

“You can tear a poem apart to see what makes it tick… You’re back with the mystery of having been moved by words. The best craftsmanship always leaves holes and gaps… so that something that is not in the poem can creep, crawl, flash or thunder in.”

I remember reading Under Milk Wood for the first time in my first year at Ebbw Vale Grammar School; of course, I could not truly understand it, but its cadences and musicality, the reality of its Welshness made me shiver with joy. i still get goosebumps when I read Thomas , or any good poem, come to that. Poetry for me is visceral, as well as intellectual, and I have come to love above all this poem- In My Craft or Sullen Art  , which you can find here :  http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/178640.  ‘ He says that he writes

‘for the common wages
Of their most secret heart.’
I should have no excuse then, not to go and write- perhaps sitting in a pub with a beer and a pen , in good company. Seems appropriate.



Write a little everyday.

This advice has been given to me so frequently recently, that I am beginning to think there might be something in it… As a time-served procrastinator, I need some push to actually sit down and get that poem drafted, or finally finish the story I’ve been messing about with for weeks. A recent week at Moniack Mhor with Arvon convinced me that only devoting a time every day will result in my writing ever improving.

So today I have washed a set of clothes and dried them, helped a friend for six hours with her marking, eaten three meals, watched a programme on strange animals, sent three texts, consulted Facebook on five occasions, and Twitter even more, played Scrabble against myself, thought about having a little nap, had a little nap and wrote down the title for a poem I am thinking about. Going well, then.

In the meantime, here’s something I made earlier :



your thin-lipped smile

                                      his unlocked mouth

your barren heart

                                     his fertile heat

your winter hands

                                     his greedy arms

your reek of distance

                                     his musky skin

your sour fast

                                     his luscious feast

your fading echo

                                       his voice,

his lips,

his tongue.


Copyright Jan Norton 2014