The writing discussion group I led went well.



The exercise was to write Haiku, which I deliberately simplified. The only requirement was to create a scene in three lines, 5,7,5 syllables. I started by quoting some, and discussing how the same idea could be expressed in different words. The aim is to express as much as possible, and make each syllable count.

So why them? An unpleasant person, with unpleasant views, nevertheless wins sympathy. She shows discomfort then outright disgust. How much of Nige and Di can you put into three lines?

Or- a man got chatting with a woman, much younger than he, and they were quite friendly. Then she stops answering his texts and phone messages. Then he finds out where she works- should he visit?

Or- it was very hot, so I went outside and looked up at Cassiopeia. I had crafted this a bit for a facebook share: Too hot to sleep, I lay outside on a recliner, eating grapes and looking at the stars.

Would anyone like to give these a try?

Advice to writers

My friend is working on her latest book. She has published several. Advising others on their writing, she found that they assumed the reader knew too much. You need to guide the reader from the beginning. Writing, she finds that she needs to check herself: she lives with certain ideas, and moves on from them; so she might lose her readers. Don’t tell your conclusions without your premises.

That’s one of the advantages of the internet. We can go into our hugboxes, where we agree, generally, and one word can allude to many complex ideas we have thrashed out together. Like “hugbox”, an internet forum where all agree, where conformity is rewarded with agreement and extremism may fester. WordPress is not quite like that, but readers may return to my blog when they share my understanding.

And, she says, the life is in the writing when she is developing ideas as she writes; she has provided a synopsis for the publisher, but finds her ideas firming and changing, her arguments strengthening, new words and modes of expression coming to her. She balances writing that with what was promised.

(I did not take notes at the time. I had had two glasses of wine. Her ideas are filtered through my understanding and expression.)

I was low on Wednesday. On Thursday I was energised with a task: I had an article to write. It is a response to one in a magazine far above my league. I have emailed it to that magazine. They don’t bother with rejection letters:

We welcome submissions from journalists and others and will get in touch if we are able to use your piece. Unfortunately, due to the high amount of correspondence we receive, we are not able to respond to all submissions individually.

They might glance at a sentence or two of it. Unless it immediately grabs the attention of probably a fairly lowly employee, it has little chance of proper consideration. There is a great deal of luck in this. There are no submission guidelines on their website, so I did a brief cover saying “I write for The Friend, the Quaker magazine”. It is my best boast, writing so far.

After I emailed it- I wanted a quick response- I read it again and found I had not sufficiently explained the links to the article I was responding to. It is not a free-standing article on the matter, but a response.

It is gone. There are other things I can write, which may mean I have to make less effort here.

A man who had succeeded in angling competitions said he sometimes walked around the lake and showed the anglers their mistakes. He would tell them how to hold the rod, etc, and their technique would improve; then he would see them a week later, all their previous mistakes restored. I read wonderful articles on maintaining a relationship- communication is important, apparently- from men several times divorced and currently single. Seeing you are not taking the Good Advice is a first step.

My generous published writer friend had a look at my piece, and said I should use more interesting verbs and less careful, lawyerly exactitude. Oh dear, could I be seen as pedantic? I have to sit with that for a time if I am to learn from it.

Renoir, the two sisters

Big data

File:Google’s First Production Server.jpgWhether I should opt out from the NHS health data sharing scheme is an emotional not a rational decision. I opted out.

I see the point of it. GP and hospital records go to the Health and Social Care Information Centre in Leeds, where they may be analysed to see what health provision works best. “Free text”- what the GP notes about symptoms- would not be sent to HSCIC. Diagnoses, test results and prescriptions would be.

I thought the data would be used for research, but the “Clinical Practice Research Datalink” already gives information to researchers.

My email archive gives a complete record of me, in my real name. Someone has a record of all I have bought at the supermarket in the last three years, and is able to sell that information. My data is out there already. Then again, my GP said she wished they could opt out all their patients, rather than have us opt out individually. She has concerns about the data protection. I have concerns about large Government computer systems, which have made a mess of every new benefit for the last twenty years. But, mainly, I don’t trust them, so I opt out.

Mmm. Do Buzzfeed quizzes record your responses for advertising? What about personality tests?


I am lying in bed feeling powerlessness and terror, after two things on facebook which remind me of two separate-

I went to the GP to ask about counselling, as recommended by the psychiatrist, and my “while I’m here” was about breathlessness cycling. I have no crushing pain in the centre of my chest, I just get out of breath cycling where I had cycled quite happily last year. She said, well, exercise more, you have exercised less in the winter weather.

File:Charles De Wolf Brownell - Tree and Sailboat, Lyme, Connecticut.jpgSo, yesterday, this started a thought in me: my way is to withdraw. Cycling up that hill, get a bit breathless: stop cycling and moan about it. Then I thought, no, my way is to get the bit between my teeth and battle on despite multiple discouragements, to the end. Like then.
-But that was last century.
(Thoughts of reverting go through my mind. Don’t go there.)

One friend is dying of cancer, palliative care only, one will stay in hospital tonight for tests and fears cancer. Life is a slow tragedy with one end. So-

More exercise could do me good, spiritually: that moment minute or hour when I push on though I want to stop.


-Too low for a racer, too high for a tourer, not much use to anyone really, said the man looking at my bicycle gears. In about 1988. I remembered it, and thought, I am the kind of person who remembers small slights for decades, and tortures herself with them. Then I thought, character revealed in one comment- why was he cycling Lands End to John O’Groats alone, again? Perfect memory for a writer. Being positive takes effort.

Am I the only one who sees others posting things like “stay away from drama and negativity” and worries it is all about me?

I have acquired a meditation stool. So I will still be uncomfortable, bored, distracted or confronted by bits of myself I don’t like in meditation, but my feet won’t go to sleep.

The geese form pairs and fly low, circling over the river, honking constantly, for the joys of Spring.


George OrwellIt is the cliché that most makes me grind my teeth. Seventy years after George Orwell attempted to eradicate cheap litotes with the sentence “a not unsmall dog chased a not unfrightened rabbit across a not ungreen field”, “It is…. that” makes me fall to my knees, sobbing Oh God!! NOOOO! WHY!!!!

From Prospect magazine: “It is Joanna Scanlan, as Catherine Dickens, who almost wordlessly conveys the true cruelties of Love”. “It is…who” adds nothing here. I first noticed it in my own writing. It is a way of providing emphasis to the subject of the sentence by making it the object of the verb to be. The trouble is that (pause- no, I have narrowly avoided it) this is a cheap way of emphasising, requiring no thought or creativity, and so it becomes addictive then omnipresent.

Just like Orwell’s cheap litotes. St Paul was a citizen of “no mean city”- the greatest in the World at the time- which carries a hint of menace, something to savour when you work it out. “Not un-” can be stuck in before any adjective.

File:Tolstoy, from Gallica.jpgI have hated the word “almost” since an adjudicator called my teenage performance of the Chopin C minor prelude “almost breathtaking”, offering me praise then snatching it away from under my nose. Either it is breathtaking or it is not. Prospect narrowly avoids that: one can indeed be almost wordless.

Listening in my mind to the rhythms of my sentences, I think of where to put the full stop, and where I can carry on the melody with a colon: for a colon inflects up, and a full stop irrevocably down. Too many colons: eg, here, ruin the effect. Psalms say the same thing twice, separated in English by a colon: saying it the second time, as lawyers often do, gets the idea over to more limited minds. One author I used to like made sentences longer than a page by making lists of clauses separated by semicolons. One Michael Moorcock novel had only one-clause sentences. They illustrated the closed-mindedness of the first-person narrator. It is tedious after a time.

“It is that,” agrees the Yorkshireman.

What clichés in writing set your teeth on edge?

Looking for an illustration- should I really use Orwell?- I started reading Clive James. He writes, Any successful style is a spell whose first victim is the wizard. Perhaps writers are better with our infelicities jerking you out of your mindless absorbing, so that readers question rather than idolise. But I could hardly wish that for myself.