Category Archives: Guest posts

‘I stopped journalling – it was too dangerous…’

This new post in my guest series on personal writing, by Anne Phillips, vividly evokes the feeling of danger and edginess that writing can bring – something I’ve often felt myself, and that I see in other writers who come to workshops. It can hold you back, but overcoming it is part of the buzz of writing.

Anne lives and works in North Wales as a teacher; she’s widowed with four grown up children. Her entry spans 50 years of diary writing life.

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Some of Anne’s lovely notebooks

My writing life began at a young age. I was two. Blue pencil in hand, I scrawled my name backwards on the wall beneath the coats in the cupboard under the stairs. No one had any idea it was there, until twelve years later (seven after dad died), when my mother decided to paint the cupboard.

I filled exercise books with ‘double writing’ writing books for my doll and teddy. One of my earliest memories is sitting at my brother’s school desk and pretending to be a writer. No surprise that I kept diaries between then and the age of seventeen …. Young love, crushes. The superficial details and concerns of teen life. I vividly remember the day I stuffed them into the rubbish bin outside Swansea Market. I was seventeen, I had my job. I was an adult. It was time to grow up.

Writing then was a secretive occupation — not to be admitted to. This was compounded when someone close to me read a diary where I had been working out my thoughts and feelings about our relationship. In my memory I heard my mother’s voice, ‘You can’t write that. You can’t say that.’

I married, left the bank, had children. I stopped journalling — it was too dangerous and disturbed other people. Best keep thoughts inside. Writing was the stuff and dreams of childhood.

Unsurprisingly, as a full time privacy freak, full of censored thoughts, I was outraged in my thirties, when a therapist, casually — yes casually — asked me, ‘So, have you had any dreams this week?’

To begin with, I’d narrate them, then for speed I’d write them down. Stories would emerge, poems, thoughts — each in its designated notebook. For more speed I’d email my dreams. My husband was diagnosed with an incurable but treatable multiple myeloma. My dreams and journals became uglier, muddled, frightening. How would I cope? Widowhood brought with it a series of A4 journals too ranty to reread. In the middle of this I rediscovered my love of writing. Somewhere in this process – I remember where, not when – I said, ‘All I want is to be a writer.’

I kept an ideas notebook, a work notebook (by now I was teaching), a dream notebook and a notebook for my MA. I was awash with notebooks swapping one for another dependent on where I was. I down graded form A4 to A5 swapped utility blue for sparklier, more colourful diaries.

Now I am still negotiating widowhood, single parenting, a stressful job. My MA is complete and I write, occasionally with a small amount of success. I only keep one notebook and I nearly died of fright this week when I mislaid it. It’s got my whole life in there: stories, ideas, dreams, to do lists class lists resit lists, plans story arcs. I don’t want anyone to read it and realise that inside my head is a dangerous place to be.

My use of journals and journalling sums up my attitudes to a writing life. Keeping one integrated book feels ok. It’s ok to have thoughts and feeling written down. It’s ok to have dreams. It’s ok to disrupt other people. The note book covers enlivened my life as it become more enlivened. I had a sparkly phase, a butterfly phase, a blue phase, and these reflect my inner state too. There are still ‘no-go’ areas in my inner life. That too is ok. I’ll get to them when I need to or am moved to.

Only one notebook remains unwritten in. A gift from my sister who is as much a mother to me, it is the most beautifully jewelled clasped design. I simply cannot bring myself to write in it! This is a book not for drafting — not with my mucky handwriting! The inscription reads, Anne keep putting pen to paper, but most of all have joy in doing so. Love L & H

Can you relate to Anne’s conflicting feelings about writing? Leave a comment!

 

‘Writing, for me, is liberating…’

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Judy Dinnen in the House of Dreams to talk about her personal writing, as part of my occasional series of guest blogs on journaling. Judy has an MA in creative writing from Cardiff university and is ordained in the Church of England. Some of her poems have been published in magazines or resource books.

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Judy Dinnen

I write because I need to, because some story or story seed beckons. I think pen and paper is best and sometimes it’s in my book of skies, so I write around clouds or through sunsets. You can see this notebook on a stone on the north Wales coast.

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These clouds might seep into my words but not always. Now I have a book of walls and I wonder how this will constrain or inspire my writing. In the first year of Trump, I have reservations about the effects of walls. I need to become a graffiti writer out in the open air.

I write sporadically, often in holidays or trips to new or interesting places. For example I went to the Nazi parade ground in Nürnberg last year and was moved by the scattered names of prisoners on railway tracks. That’ s a bit like piggybacking on the artwork of others, but I’m glad to say I wasn’t on the trains to Auschwitz. It was the names that spoke to me, that shocked me, so many, yet each one recorded for eternity.

I often pick up on moving words or personal stories and turn an event into poem. I sometimes write freely and carelessly when faced by some problem or angst. I first wrote like this the night my mother died. I never turned that into a poem but it did serve to show how releasing writing can be. I felt also that she had given me this gift of poetry.

Writing for me is liberating; it helps me to think, to feel, to untangle conundrums. That’s why I belong to Lapidus and to The Creative Arts Retreat Movement, or CARM. I have led workshops with the homeless, bereaved and village groups and in this new phase of my life I lead poetry retreats with CARM.

In these retreats I offer Christian prayer, space, poems, writing prompts and plenty of time for punters to explore words. They might explore the joy and value of words, words placed alongside each other, words echoing or enhancing each other, crying together or arguing.

Sometimes I’m just a writer on these retreats and then I use lovely surroundings to inspire me. In that place in North Wales I like to sit on the sea-shore and listen to the waves. They tell me what to write. In that house of prayer there is an intriguing labyrinth and walking round and in and back is a metaphor for life. Scope for raising questions; scope for adventures too!

I love that Judy felt her mother had given her the gift of poetry. That is a wonderful gift indeed.

You can find out more about CARM retreats here

If you keep a diary, journal or notebook, we would love to hear your story. Please send a piece of about 500 words, some pics of you and your journals, plus any links you’d like to include to  author@jennyalexander.co.uk

Leave Judy a comment if you have enjoyed her contribution. 

When it Comes to Writing Journals, Why Stop at One?

Today, for the second in my occasional series of guest posts on journaling, I’m delighted to welcome Diane Woodrow in the House of Dreams. Diane is a writer, blogger, workshop facilitator wife, mother of twenty-somethings, dog walker and renter of rooms via Airbnb and word-of-mouth, who loves encouraging and talking to people. She moved to North Wales nearly a year ago.

What I love about her story is that she has so many notepads on the go, all at the same time! I’ve only met one other person who does that, in all my years of writing.

So, over to Diane…

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Diane Woodrow

I have been doing personal writings for as long as I can remember. I’m really disappointed now that I’m older that I do not have my teenager diaries and journals and other writing that I did. I am thinking I either threw them away at that stage of “growing up” when you think all your teenage writing is angsty rubbish or that they are hidden in a box in my mum’s attic and I’ll find them when I clear it out after she’s died.

I got back into regular personal writing twenty-five years ago when my son was born and I also became a Christian. I had so many questions about my new faith that I just had to write. The when and how I write has changed a lot over the last twenty-five years but I still have a need to write a journal every morning and a diary every night.

The start of my day is used to deal with something that has been bugging me on waking. As I write I often reach a conclusion or solution to the issues and it helps me then to plan my day. For the last couple of weeks I’ve been writing 2-5 pages in a horrid A5 notebook that I found in my daughter’s pile of things when we were packing to move. I’m using it because I was feeling broke at the time and that I was being self-indulgent regarding things I was buying because of the move. Even though I do see writing as vital to my life I also often see it as self-indulgent and do not spoil myself with lovely journals. But I am determined to fill this latest book so that then I can buy myself a nicer one for next time.

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The view from Diane’s study window

My evening diary is a page-a-day diary which I started the year my son was born and since he has been sixteen my son has bought for me every Christmas, which then makes them extra special. I really do find solace in putting down my thoughts and feelings at the end of the day. If I am travelling light so don’t have the space for that diary or camping where the lights are out once it’s dark I find it hard to sleep as though there are still things that need to be removed from my brain.

During the day I do have a nice notebook I carry with me for inspirational things, poems, thoughts and feelings. At the moment there is one that lives in my handbag and another that lives on the little table in my study. They take more than a year to fill but they are the ones that I take things from to write further with – whether poetry or stories. I would never take anything from either the morning or evening writings. Those are very much unloading places. In fact I rarely look back at either of them; though at times I might look back through the night time one if my husband has brought up something to continue and argument about. It is then interesting how I have written down my day.

You can find out more about Diane’s work and writing here and here

What do you think – could you keep a morning journal and an evening journal going at the same time? Are you tempted to give it a go?

 

Diaries, Notebooks, Journals… Let’s Talk About Personal Writing!

Every year, in early January, I run a workshop called ‘Writing the New Year In.’ It’s one of my favourites, and I look forward to it. My goal is to help people experience the deep pleasure of personal writing, which can help you find your writing confidence and voice, and may become a seedbed for ideas that will grow into finished writing projects.

So what better time to launch my new occasional series of guest blogs about private writing?

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Karen Laura Steel to the House of Dreams to talk about her writing journals. Karen is a funeral celebrant – she takes naming ceremonies and weddings as well – who has also worked for 20 years singing to elderly and brain damaged people in residential settings.

Here is the story of her personal writing.

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Karen Laura Steel

I remember the first diary that allowed me to write more than childhood entries: “Went to school. Ate jam sandwich…”. It charmed me with its ornamental lock and pretty little key. I was 10, and it was a 5-Year diary, so I was aware it was something of a commitment, but the closely drawn lines and the never-ending feeling gave me a kind of hope. There weren’t many days over those 5 years that I didn’t write at least a small entry on how I was coping at new schools; having begun Comprehensive Education, only to move after 18 months, having to start O Level courses again. My diary listened as I missed old friends, found that cliques, once made, were hard to break into, and that friends we’d moved to be closer to weren’t necessarily worth the effort!

My teen-diaries received emotions on unrequited love, the excitement of prospective love-interests and despair when things went hopelessly wrong.

By the time I was beginning my degree, a plain notebook accompanied me everywhere, especially invaluable during my semester in America as I recorded first impressions of places and people every few hours at least. It was my 1980s version of fb, but private and didn’t need the approbation of others.

Battling depression in my twenties my journal received all my heart’s outpourings when no one else seemed interested or capable of understanding where I was coming from. In my thirties when finally receiving help, dream journals, notes on counselling sessions or discussions with helpful friends gave way to writing about new avenues of spirituality as I explored Yoga, its philosophy, and anything which gave a different perspective on the world.

Over time my journals have also generated other creative outlets, germinating ideas for songs or other writing.

Too much work ate into journal time last year, until I decided that life was far more enjoyable when I could jot down my problems and see the solutions emerging spontaneously.

Part of me wishes the notebooks were all the same size or of similar design, but the array of covers which have held my confidences are a testimony in themselves to my changing life, tastes and experience and are precious for that. I am writing once a week at the moment – and the desire to do it more often is encouraging me that I’m back on track!

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Some of Karen’s notebooks

You can find out more about Karen’s work by visiting her website or reading her blog, Diary of a Funeral Celebrant.

Do you have a practice of personal writing? If so, we’d love to hear about it here in the House of Dreams. Please email your piece, up to 400 words, a sentence or two about yourself and any links you’d like to include, to author@jennyalexander.co.uk. A photo of yourself would also be good, and possibly one of your journals.

I’m planning to make this an occasional series throughout 2017, welcoming a wide range of guests. Let’s celebrate personal writing!

Art for Happiness!

I’m delighted to welcome the artist, author and creativity coach Val Andrews into the House of Dreams today to talk about her new book. I’ve followed her blog for ages, and feel absolutely in tune with the way she links creativity with wellbeing.

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Val Andrews

As a part-time visual artist and creative writer with 30 years of experience working in the healthcare sector, I have a keen interest in the impact that creative expression has on health and wellbeing, and on a person’s capacity to be innovative in their work.

For a number of years, I’ve been exploring this interest by delivering creativity workshops and offering coaching to people who are committed to moving through blockages in their creativity. I’ve also been interviewing professional artists and writers about their creative process and sharing those interviews on my blog in the hope this may inspire my readers: https://artforhappiness.wordpress.com

Over the years, I’ve found there are many reasons why people choose to learn more about their own creativity. Sometimes they’re driven by a desire to approach work tasks in a more creative way, sometimes they wish to ‘be more artistic’, or write a book, or invent something the world has not yet seen. Whatever the motivation, unleashing the creative process certainly seems to boost personal wellbeing, and enhance performance at work.

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It’s for this reason I chose to write the book “Art for Happiness: finding your creative process and using it”. Freshly published in March 2015, this book explores the some of the contemporary research on the creative process – what it is, how it works and what it does for a person’s sense of wellbeing. I’ve also included a number of exercises which I’ve found helpful in unlocking the creative process and developing ideas beyond their original naivety. Please feel free to look inside this book on my Amazon page: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Val-Andrews/e/B00HGG15A0

Have you tried NaNoWriMo?

My guest today is writer, Julie Newman. She did NaNoWriMo last year  and she’s come into the House of Dreams to tell us all about it. 

Julie Newman reading at the Vital Spark in Liskeard
Julie Newman reading at the Vital Spark in Liskeard

The NaNoWriMo experience, by Julie Newman

On a late October afternoon at The Writers and Illustrators group in Liskeard, we all decided to have a go at the National Novel Writing Month in November. We all signed up and became ‘writing buddies’ on the NaNoWriMo website, hoping that by watching one another’s progress and competing, it would make us write. And write we did! Even the members who are usually reluctant to write regularly achieved much more by joining in.

As for myself, I didn’t expect it to take over my life. To start with I only had a rough plot outline of a fragmented family. I didn’t have the time to do any research so I used the old adage – ‘write what you know’ – so some of the plot came from my family history. We had the whole of November to complete a novel of 50,000 words. This meant on average writing 1700 words a day. Some days I wrote more than this, sometimes less, but I completed it in 27 days and although I felt as if I was chained to the computer most of the time, what came out of it was amazing. My characters blossomed and told me what they wanted to happen. I lived and breathed the novel. Everywhere I went I took my note book; I even went to bed with it and wrote down the ideas as they came to me and the same when I woke up in the morning. Fortunately my husband was understanding and encouraged me to stick with it!

When I finished I had an amazing sense of achievement; even more so when I read the novel through from beginning to end. It was as though the story had written itself, somewhere in my subconscious, but I didn’t expect it to be so rounded. There seems to be something very honest about writing like this.

I think what I gained from NaNoWriMo is to know that I can write without editing as I go, and to leave my inner critic at the door. But in the process I lost most of November living in another world.

On the website, one of the perks for the ‘winners’ is a hard cover book of our novel, and even though it’s only a first draft in a plain blue cover, it’s wonderful to be able to hold it in my hand.

As for doing it again, I think I would try and plan it better prior to November 1st so I didn’t have to spend so much time at the computer!

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Julie Newman has had seven magazine articles published, the first of which, ‘A Day Trip to Ely’ was sparked by a non-fiction exercise in one of my workshops. You can read her article ‘Bodmin Moor’on the Cornwall Life website and her story, ‘Open all hours’ here.
Julie’s other published work includes short stories in The Caradon Writers’ anthologies – ‘Mining For Words’ and ‘Write To Remember.’ She’s currently working on a memoir called ‘No One Comes Close.’

Making art from a dream, by Susan Levin

Yesterday, I reviewed Susan Levin’s book, ‘Art from Dreams’ and I’m delighted to welcome  her into the House of Dreams to talk about the dream behind her artwork, ‘Home.’

HomeI am writing about the piece titled “Home” and the accompanying dream.

Dream: I am on a boat in the Detroit River headed for summer camp. I talk to someone about Detroit—how the city is out of money. We dock briefly along the city’s shore. I go for a walk, barefoot, through the muddy streets. I see little children in slum housing. I walk up the steps to the bank. I clean my feet with water so they will be less muddy.

Dream interpretation: I have to get down with uncovered feet to get close to the truth of my difficult childhood, growing up in a dysfunctional family in Detroit. The city of Detroit is bankrupt—it’s losing its libido for me. I walk barefoot, slogging through the mud of my past. With my uncovered feet, I get close to the truth. The slum of my childhood. Boats are a womb-like container that carry us on our life’s voyage. We all need a sense of security to help us navigate.

Being sent away to summer camp, where I don’t want to go, adds to my sense of being an outcast. By cleaning my feet as I go up to the bank, I am relinquishing my feeling of impoverishment. Something in me has money in the bank. I am coming to a part of myself that is substantial. I have my own resources—my own currency in the bank. I am approaching the SELF, going upstairs to a higher level of understanding.

Cleaning the feet has religious overtones, a rite of purification. I was destined to be barefoot in the mud, living in a slum, when I instead deserve to be in a bank with clean feet and access to money. My inner resources, which were never acknowledged or nurtured, are now accessible.

Have you ever been moved to create a visual image by memories, thoughts and feelings that have been stirred  up in a dream?