October: tea-towel raves and woodland walks

At the start of October, my working life was getting busier. At the beginning of the month, the Oxfam stewards gathered for the post-season briefing in the Forest of Dean. It was also time to say goodbye to John Picken, one of the Oxfam Stewarding managers. He’s starting a new, freelance career, and to celebrate, one of the volunteers had made him a very rude, but beautifully decorated cake. The attention to detail was quite astounding. Look away if you’re easily offended (by cake!)

A very rude cake for a man with a very dirty mind!

A very rude cake for a man with a very dirty mind!

After our top secret debriefing, we tried out the bouncy castle, played silly card games, such as Cards Against Humanity, and the evening culminated in a rave to Music from the Jilted Generation by the Prodigy played on an i-pod, with everyone waving fluorescent dusters around. I think you had to be there, but it was definitely fun!

A tea-towel rave!

A tea-towel rave!

In mid-October, I made a very brave move, and got a tattoo! I’ve already got a small one, but I decided it was time to make a personal “statement of intent”. I booked an appointment at Q Tattoo, one of the best tattoo studios in Sheffield. I felt a bit nervous, but it was something I’d wanted to do for years. Surprisingly, it didn’t hurt too much, and I enjoyed watching it take shape. Over my right shoulder is the line “Libraries Gave Us Power“: the opening line from the Manic Street Preachers’ song ‘A Design for Life’, and a statement about my belief in knowledge and education. The peacock design is the logo of Peacock books, the former Young Adult imprint of Penguin Books, special to me because of some of my favourite books, such as ‘I Capture the Castle‘ by Dodie Smith, published by Peacock.

Anyway, here it is!

Me with my tattoo!

Me with my tattoo!

On the 18th October, I led a really exciting event as part of the Off the Shelf festival of words in Sheffield. I organised the Rivelin Story Walk, a walk with families through the Rivelin Valley. The Rivelin is now a haven for wildlife, but in the nineteenth century, it was full of forges and mills using the fast-flowing water.

Luckily the weather stayed dry and very warm for the time of year, and the autumn colours were glowing. This was a walk designed to stimulate children’s imaginations, so the ruined mills became goblin palaces, and the remains of mill ponds were deadly enchanted swamps. We found fairy caves, magical trees, and the children loved exploring. A couple of children got a bit wet at the stepping stones, but everyone enjoyed the walk, and returning to the cafe for huge chocolate buns and writing about and drawing the things they had seen and imagined. It was great fun, and I’d love to do something like that again!

The children were very sensible when it came to wildlife – one little boy squealed a bit when a bulbous garden spider abseiled down from a tall tree and stopped right in front of his face, but then we all stood around and watched the spider at it climbed back up its web again. At the end of our walk, we found an amazing Pale Tussock Moth caterpillar on a bench, and everyone just looked at it in awe!

In half term, I and a group of friends had a great night on the folk train to Edale. It was a bit of a crush to get onto the train, as the folk train seems really popular these days, but we had a great time.

On Halloween, we didn’t have a particularly spooky time! I went to Clumber Park with my friends Kirsty and Katy, and Katy’s two dogs. It was a wonderfully warm autumn day – we were in t-shirts once we’d started walking, and there was lots of wonderful colour on the turning leaves. The only downside was getting slightly lost – hey, it was an adventure! And also, we started our walk later than planned because I was waiting for what seemed like forever for my chip butty in the National Trust cafe! I also found out that a beagle doesn’t make a particularly effective guidedog when I shut my eyes and let little Agatha lead me along when we were in sight of the car. I thought she knew where she was going, but it turned out that she didn’t! I don’t know where she was going, but both dogs had a great time.

I got back in time to hollow out my pumpkin, make some soup and settle in to watch ParaNorman, a great spooky animated film!

 

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Wet, wonderful and downright weird!

My writing workshop at Off the Shelf!

My writing workshop at Off the Shelf!

On Saturday, I ran a writing workshop as part of Sheffield’s Off the Shelf Festival of Words – a literary festival which has now been running for 22 years. I had been worried about attracting enough people to my course, as it was on the launch day of the festival, and I was competing with lots of other events, including a writers’ group fair and humorous poet and ‘Just a Minute’ panellist Pam Ayres.

My workshop was listed in the Off the Shelf programme and I’d advertised it on Facebook, but I needed to reach the right people. So at the end of September, I decided to put in some serious graft. I didn’t think there was much point spending a lot of money on printing flyers and posters, so I ran black and white ones off myself and put them up in cafes and venues where literary-minded people might congregate. I wrote a press release and sent it to every media organisation I could think of in South Yorkshire.

My master stroke was to email every writing group I could find locally! Luckily, my local writers’ development organisation, Signposts (now Writing Yorkshire – more on that later!) has a list of writing groups to suit everyone. Within a few hours of sending my press releases to them, the bookings were rolling in. I’d made the workshop day really affordable at £10 including lunch – it helped that Sheffield City Council had contributed towards the cost of running the course too!

I’d already planned the writing exercises we’d be doing in the workshop. I called it “Open Your Memory Box”. It was designed to follow on from memoir-writing workshops I ran in May this year. Saturday’s workshop was designed to take biographical details and turn them into poetry, stories and drama. All I needed to do now was check the venue at Bank Street Arts – an arts centre and cafe dedicated to the craft of writing, and finalise the details for lunch. Everything was fine, although I was a little nervous.

Saturday dawned grey and rainy. The perfect weather for a day spent indoors, writing. Unfortunately, the participants had to travel through the rain, but everyone arrived safely, and after grabbing a coffee, we settled down for a creative day.

I had such lovely, interesting participants that the day was a dream. I’d asked everyone to bring along an object that held a memory, and I was soon sucked into fascinating stories of hair slides, old photographs, charm bracelets, money boxes, a twig naturally shaped like a wood spirit, a treasured sweet packet, a gold sovereign and gold watches lost under the ocean.

As the day progressed, we tried various writing exercises, and I was so impressed by the standard of the poems and stories that I’m going to be putting some of them on my Wild Rosemary Writing Services website.

We even had time to watch a miniature theatre performance also taking place at Bank Street Arts on Saturday, The Ice Book, a wonderful story created from projections and paper shapes on the pages of a magical book. The fairy tale theme tied in perfectly with the exercises we were doing on folk tales and archetypes.

Straight after my workshop in the cafe was the launch of Writing Yorkshire, the new name for writers’ development agency Signposts. The team are now dedicated to helping writers throughout Yorkshire. They’ve certainly helped me so far, giving me advice on setting up my courses and my editing business. Some of my workshop participants came to mingle with me. Amongst the long queue of people waiting for free coffee and cake were lots of people I know: writers from the novelists group I run, people from the Writing MA at Sheffield Hallam University, and my managers from my very first post university job, working for the theatre company which has now evolved into Point Blank Theatre who run the Riverside pub venue in Sheffield. It felt really good to talk to my old boss about my new projects.

After cake, there was a really interesting panel debate with local writers, on the theme of making a living as a writer (a subject very dear to my heart!) The panellists were Joe Kriss, who runs Wordlife performance events in Sheffield and Beverley Ward, Writing Development Manager at Writing Yorkshire, and a fellow novelist, who has given me a lot of support and guidance so far in my freelance career. There was also Daniel Blythe, a Young Adult novelist and writer of Dr Who novels, and Stephen May, the writing development officer from the Arts Council. I was really pleased that they were advocating a “portfolio” career – building up a creative career with lots of different aspects – in my case teaching, editing and at the moment, building up as much experience as possible. It certainly makes life more interesting than sitting alone all the time, trying to create a masterpiece! It would drive me mad, even though it’s worked for some people. I am spending more time on my own writing though – getting up in the dark to snatch a bit of time every morning to write my second novel.

Colm Gray at the Crookes Folk Club - sorry about the red eyes!

Colm Gray at the Crookes Folk Club – sorry about the red eyes!

Feeling tired but elated, it was on with my marathon day. I caught a bus to my old stamping ground Crookes for a gig at the Crookes Folk Club at the Princess Royal pub. The main artist was Colm Gray, a young folk singer and guitarist I’d seen at Bearded Theory in May this year. He’d managed to blag his way into busking backstage, and impressed the organisers – and the singer from the Levellers so much that he’s booked to play the main stage at Bearded Theory, and also to play the Levellers’ own festival Beautiful Days next year.

The Princess Royal is an unassuming back street pub. It’s weekly folk club has been running for several years now, with talented artists performing in the intimate upstairs room. The place was packed for Colm Gray, who was fresh from supporting Levellers singer Mark Chadwick in Derby the night before. Colm is a striking-looking young man with razor-sharp cheekbones, with an almost ethereal presence and singing voice. He played a mixture of traditional tunes and his own songs, such as Collie Dog Blues to a spell-bound audience, Originally from Kilkenny, Colm is now touring the UK, breaking into the conscience of the nation the traditional way, travelling up and down the country in a Transit van, playing folk festivals and charming his way onto festival bills. He’s well worth catching on his wanders – hopefully he’ll play Sheffield again soon.

Monday was another Off the Shelf day. The rain was heavier and the skies. At the start of the evening, I braved the wet to meet novelist Gavin Extence, author of ‘The Universe Versus Alex Woods’, a quirky yet moving book about an unlikely friendship between Alex, an isolated teenage boy and Mr Peterson, a lonely old man. Gavin was really interesting to chat to – and we had a really interesting discussion with him about the themes in his novel and his writing career so far. That’s a great story in itself – after gaining a degree in English Literature (from the University of Sheffield, just like me!), and then a PHD, he was struggling to get a job (this sounds familiar too!) Gavin’s wife suggested that he put all of his energy into writing (and presumably the household chores too!) The hard work and dedication paid off, as ‘The Universe Versus Alex Woods’ is now a best-selling novel, and certainly one of the best books I’ve read this year, funny and thought-provoking.

I had the pleasure of Gavin’s company for a bit longer as I was giving him a lift to Bank Street Arts for “Sheffield’s Got Fiction Talent”, a “fiction slam” event, where local writers competed against each other, each having a minute to pitch their novel in the first round. Gavin Extence was a judge, and I was a competitor. I was disappointed not to make it past the first round, where audience members voted for their six favourite pitchers, but the place was packed, with over twenty writers competing for six places in the second round. I put a brave face on it. The night was a great success – partly because two people from the novelists group that I run came joint second, and some very talented writers were showcased – and were critiqued by the fearsome panel (not so fearsome, it was all great constructive criticism)!

I went to bed feeling alright – pleased that I’d met some interesting writers, and only mildly disappointed. However, my mental vultures were already circling. Sometimes I can feel devastated even when I’ve got things to be happy about. it doesn’t happen often, but when the wrong circumstances combine, I feel really depressed. Minor setbacks, combined with fluctuating hormones, the way people treat me, for example, a small, easily mended tiff with the other half, leave me tearful and hopeless. A turning point came a few years ago, when I consulted a doctor and she suggested a prescription of antidepressants. I realised that this wasn’t the way to help myself. I’ve been determined to know myself; to get to the root of my problems and do something about it. I’ve been on a mission to get rid of those mental vultures, otherwise known as the “top dog” or the “shitty committee”, who tell me that I’m worthless and talented, and that everyone who sees me can look right through me and see that I’m hideous, stupid, insane and deluded. It’s pure craziness to think like this.

But every time I feel like this, the positive voices get stronger. I realise I’m no longer alone in thinking negatively about myself. My wonderful “free range” colleague Lotte Lane has written (and filmed herself) about exactly what I’m talking about. This struck such a chord with me that it brought tears to my eyes – not tears of self-pity this time, but tears of recognition and hope. http://www.lottelane.com/meet-shitty-committee/

Some people would shy away from mentioning the downs in life as well as the ups. But I want to be honest. By talking about things like this, it means that we’re no longer suffering alone. I’ve recognised my feelings and now I’m on my way to bouncing back, with new ideas and a refreshed perspective. We have to work hard to maintain and create the positive, creative things in our life, but they’re worth fighting for.

Things this blog is about…