Not your usual start to a blog post, right?
Well this is no ordinary blog post. This is the first in a series of three special posts in which I have the privilege of publishing the collective works of the merry band of writers, of which I was one, who attended a workshop by Leonora Rustamova at Wentworth in May. The Wentworth weekend is organised by The National Association of Writers' Groups and you can read my post on the entire weekend HERE.
The workshop took place on the Sunday morning of the retreat. There were around 15 of us in attendance and we engaged in two writing exercises. We each read out our pieces and there was some great work there. It’s amazing how words can just tumble onto a page one minute and then dry up the next. On this particular day, the words were tumbling, cascading and even pirouetting from our pens and onto the paper. As these little gems were being read out and we were laughing and clapping each other along, it struck me that so many such pieces are produced in workshops and then stuffed into a notebook or file, never to be seen again. When Leonora voiced what I was thinking, I knew what I had to do - I had to publish these literary saplings, together, as a consolidated piece of work by the Wentworth Writers. There are, though, too many words for one single post so I’m splitting it into three.
This is the first.
Leonora gave us a letter. A fat, buttery letter!
Actually it was a copy of a letter penned by Hollywood screenwriter, Robert Pirosh, in 1934. He ditched his job as a copywriter in New York and moved to Hollywood. But he needed to get his foot in the door in a city full of people all trying to get their extremities into the same aperture. So what did he do? He sent out his c.v. attached to one of the most effective cover letters ever written. I would dearly love to reproduce it here but I am uncertain of its copyright status, although it can be read on the Guardian’s website by clicking HERE.
If you have a spare few minutes and have any interest in writing, or indeed job application letters (!), I urge you to take a look. It will also make sense of the pieces which follow. The letter is unconventional and breaks many rules of etiquette but perfectly demonstrates the writer’s suitability for the screenwriting job in question.
Our task was to write an application letter in the same vein, although we sought only to emulate the style of writing; clearly we could not achieve the same thing as Pirosh given that none of us were seeking to use the medium of a letter to inherently demonstrate our suitability for a job involving words...
This is what we produced. Bear in mind that these pieces were written in 15 minutes and have not been reworked.
First up is Anne. Please take a deep breath, relax your shoulders and absorb her beautiful words.
I like art. I like to see through the eyes of others.
I like rough, elemental sketches, lush huge canvases of people and places, and every art form in between.
I like to be taken aback by a scene reduced to sparse lines and a view suggested by mere smears of colours juxtaposed to take me to a place I have seen, or one I would love to see.
I like the intricate building of a landscape or cityscape in such exquisite detail that makes it impossible to take in the the view in one viewing.
I like to be outraged by a picture that represents a person or a place in a way foreign to me, I like the conversation evoked.
I like to be taken aback by superb skills and to be blown over by the deceptively child-like simplicity of some work.
I like to return and return to a picture to learn more and yet more.
I love Hockney and Rembrandt and Van Gogh and Andy Goldsworthy and Dan Viola, and am unreasonably excited by a very small child’s first recognisable drawing.
I need to read so that I can live more lives than mine. I need to visit art works for the very same reason.
Please let me work in your wonderful gallery.
I called my collection of poetry and photographs ‘Casting for Words’ as that is what I seem to spend so much time doing. Finding the best word I can. Reading is an essential part of my life and a wonderful source of ideas and...words.
Photographs help capture the moment and can sometimes illustrate a poem.
My book should soon be available.
Holmfirth Writers’ Group and The National Association of Writers’ Groups are a wonderful support and I value both as great friendship groups.
At Wentworth Castle in May, I enjoyed the company of writers and inspiring workshops.
I doodle as I listen. It really does concentrate my mind.
Just whatever I have in my hand.
I once drew a jazz group on a Sunday paper. In biro. It drew me into the music.
Leonora shared some brilliant letters and asked us to write letters of application.
Above is my plea for a dream job.
I really want it now...
I like photographs.
I like grainy, vivid, high definition, monochrome photographs that are splashed across newspapers to show the dramas of the world.
I like glossy, ten-by-eight fashion photos. All soft filters and luxurious colours draping across magazines.
I like surreal abstractions of fantasy worlds - of fish driving cars and twenty-foot dragonflies - constructed lovingly in photographic enlargers and appearing in a dish full of developer, waiting to be fixed and hung out to dry.
Man Ray was the way to go, and we all followed. Today Photoshop will create his images in seconds, with the same impact but without the heart and soul.
I like pixel heavy super-images, filling walls of galleries, skin pores standing out in twenty-foot masterpieces. Photo realism as never before.
But I am a traditionalist. I like the tug of 35mm film as you wind it on to the next frame, huddling in darkened cupboards struggling to find the top of a developing tank, sitting in the soothing glow of a safety light 100% absorbed in the physicality of processing film.
Which probably means I don’t want your job and would rather lock myself away in the peace and quiet of a darkroom.
When I left school I got a job in a textile mill. I saved my wages so I could buy a Zenith SLR camera, an enlarger, developing tank and processing trays. Using blackout material to cover the windows (donated by the mill I worked at) I then spent many hours taking over the bathroom and developing black and white photographs. This became an obsessive hobby for many years, and I loved watching the images slowly appear in the developer - almost like magic.
Time moves on, teaching took up much of my time, and today I have a digital camera, downloading the images into a computer - but nothing matches the excitement of being shut away in a darkroom, sitting under a red safety lamp and being totally absorbed in the creative process.
I like travelling. I like travelling Europe. I like travelling the world. I like travelling to challenging countries.
I really like Arizona cacti. I like their round, plump, spiny, succulent parts, their delicate flowers that turn into edible fruits is some cases giving us cactus jelly and bonbons. I like the dear little elegant cactus wren who builds her home in a cactus void. I like the fact that the Saguaro blooms after midnight and closes mid-afternoon.
I like Africa and Africans especially the strong African women. I am fascinated by the dusty, curry smelling unkempt streets; loud African music bellowing out from doorways, street parties and buxom women clad and swathed in intoxicatingly vivid fabrics. I like the colour, shape, smells and textures of Africa. I like the fresh fruit and veg markets and constant chatter and battering.
I like United Arab Emirates for its indescribable heat, gold sculptured sand dunes and dune buggies, camel trains and Bedouin camps. I like the tailors, beauty parlours and the outrageous fun of visiting the grog shop. I like the smell of a shisha bar, pungent coffee houses and real hummus.
I like my travels to Europe for the rich fabric of culture. I like the beaches salty air, seaweed, beach combing and the sound ofebbing and waning of these beaches of paradise. I like watching the glorious sunsets and magnificent sunrises; clifftop walks and the flora and fauna. I like the city sights as well as remote country escapes.
I like all these destinations for their culture, diversity, life, people, food and of course a good glass of wine or a delicious cocktail.
I like travel writing and travel photography much better than social work.
Is there an amazing and exotic destination your delightful magazine would like me to visit and review?
My passport is current and ready to go.
Leonora Rustamova teaches Creative Writing at Swarthmore College, University of Huddersfield and is an editor at Blue Moose books. In fact, she edited a rather special book, The Gallows Pole, by Benjamin Myers, which has just won the prestigious Walter Scott prize for historical fiction, although she is so modest I have had to add this into her bio myself. Her workshop was so much fun - if you are looking for someone to run a writing workshop for any ability, then you can’t go far wrong with Leonora. The only problem is that you have to track her down first...
The Gang - this is us doing the exercise...
If you've read this far, thank you. I also want to thank those who have allowed me to publish their work. It takes courage to share your writing and we should applaud everyone who takes that step.
I've loved putting this post together and, happily for me, there's more to come. Watch this space (or, even better, sign up for email updates). This blog is small but these words deserve to be read so please help by sharing with your friends.
If you are starting to think about Christmas presents, I've a few new items added to my stock and I've also been experimenting with discount codes and Paypal buttons!
These mugs are available via the Candelabra Crafts page of this website. I've only 3 or 4 of each one but if they are popular I will get more in. I've also ideas for some new designs which I'll be working on over the next few weeks, including 'sewing & tea'. and 'sewing & coffee'.
I hope you like them! £8 each plus p&p.
These signs are newly available on the CandelabraCrafts (CandelabraCrafts.Etsy.com) Etsy shop. £8.95 plus p&p. Numbers are limited at the moment.
AND FINALLY - USE THE FOLLOWING CODE AT THE ETSY CHECKOUT OF CANDELABRACRAFTS TO SECURE 10% OFF ORDERS OF £10 AND OVER PLACED BEFORE THE END OF NOVEMBER.
On 24th August I finally took the plunge and opened two shops on Etsy.com, the site for sellers of handcrafted items. One shop, CandelabraCrafts.etsy.com (all one word for Etsy purposes), contains lots of little gifts for lovers of reading, writing and steampunk (and who doesn't love a bit of steampunk?). My mind really raced when coming up with the things that are up for sale: door signs, bookmarks, greeting cards, pin brooches; and I've loads more ideas waiting to be made and photographed. I'm thinking - new signs, handmade dice, magnets. Maybe even the odd tote bag or two...
If you get a chance do check out the store at CandelabraCrafts.etsy.com. There is also a page, Candelabra Crafts, on this website where you can view some of my stock. Driving traffic to the shop is hard and I'm currently working on becoming an e-commerce expert! (If anyone can explain to me how best to use Pinterest for Etsy, please do.) I will ultimately get around to a Facebook page and Instagram account. I am on Pinterest as Candelabra. Any follows would be greatly appreciated. (Click HERE.)
The other shop, CandelabraFamily.etsy.com, contains things to make parents, grandparents and carers, smile after that tough night or tough day that we all have when kids are involved! I love these items as they were inspired by my own little boys and I'd adore it if the signs made their way into the world, spreading a little cheer. They each come prettily boxed and would make great gifts for that stressed out parent. As most of my existing social media contacts are readers and writers, I am finding it more difficult to market this shop but hopefully hard work and perseverance will pay off. I do actually have a Facebook page (HERE) and an Instagram account (HERE) for CandelabraFamily, although it is early days for both. Any visits, shares and likes are hugely appreciated. There's a slideshow below showcasing my favourite products.
Thanks for reading. My next post will be about my latest self-publishing venture (non-fiction - humorous genealogy) and, after that, I have some really interesting things lined up with writers who have kindly agreed to participate in my little blog and share their stories.
We all have so much to do, don't we? And it can be hard deciding how to split your time. I'm certainly finding it difficult to decide. There are my two lovely boys who are growing up fast, my husband who is out at work a lot so time together is precious, the housework and shopping (and all the other 'little' things which need to be done to keep our lives ticking over but which seem to add up to days) and that's before I get to the stuff that is just mine, such as this little blog and my writing and crafting. Yet on a day like today, the garden is calling out to me. Oh, and exercise... that hugely important thing that gets shoved to the bottom of the list, mostly because I am always so damned tired there is nothing in my legs except jelly.
Hmm, tough decisions. As it stands I have spent three hours this morning on my laptop formatting non-fiction books but I think I will allow the garden to take me for half an hour soon.
Not that I am complaining. When I left work I didn't know how I was going to fill my days but, piece by piece, I've built up enough of a life that I could fill my sleeping hours and still not get everything done that I would like, and to the standard I would like. In a strange way, that pleases me. I need direction or I get confused.
I think it also makes me lucky and I have to remember that when I am stressing about when I am going to get everything done, particularly when someone is ill again. In the last few weeks, we've had colds, croup, hand foot and mouth and a sickness bug in the house. I have to say, it doesn't make getting that novel written any easier! But I'm learning to roll with it and do what I can when I can. The result is that I rarely take a break, and I'll have to keep an eye on that. If I get a spare moment, I'm logging on to do some quick editing or grabbing a camera to take pictures of my Etsy inventory. I do worry that I have taken on too much this Summer, as the books and the Etsy shops are all scheduled to go live in September, but it should calm down a little after that. Oh, but I nearly forgot, I'm also administering the open competitions for NAWG this year so if you've not yet sent in your entries, get writing!! Details can be found HERE.
Of course then there's all the marketing to do... There's no point spending all my free time holed-up inside on my own to put pretty and fun things out into the world but then not having the time or energy to tell anyone that they're there. So, watch this space, I'll be bending your ears soon...
In the meantime, there's also the small matter of the tiny office at the back of the garage which I have ear-marked for a workshop/writing room. I can write anywhere but my crafting bits and pieces are all over the house. They are getting underfoot and are at risk of damage. I really need somewhere safe and clean to store everything if I am going to start selling . (Note to any would-be burglars reading this - it is alarmed and will only have ribbons, paint and glue in it so don't go getting any ideas..!)
So do you think I can change this...
I think I might need some HELP!!
De-dah! I have finally updated the 'About Me' page of my website. There are a couple of books (non-fiction) almost ready to come out and a new crafting business in the pipeline and it was time to make some changes. I can't wait to get my little online shop up and running. Anyway, it read like a blog piece so I thought that I would post it here as well.
"Where to start?
Not at the beginning, that's for sure. It would take way too long. Besides, I spent many years in an office doing serious things and drinking a lot of tea and who wants to hear about that? (Actually I'm hoping a few people as I'm thinking of turning it into a radio comedy-watch this space...) So I'm going to take the advice of many writers who say you should begin at the furthest point possible, where the action really starts, and run with it from there.
I began writing several years ago, teaching myself from books, magazines and so forth. During that time I have met some amazing and supportive people and I am gradually finding a way forward which does not involve me returning to an office any time soon. I self-published a book two years ago - a collection of eight supernatural stories with the title 'Into Dust and Other Strange Tales'. It is available via Amazon and has been a valuable learning experience. Further information can be found here. I am currently working on two non-fiction books with a friend which we will also make available via CreateSpace. Details will be posted here shortly and I am very excited. Working with someone again has been great and I hope to find more opportunities for collaboration in the future. It's an excellent way to learn and having someone else to bounce ideas off is fun. This year I am also judging the NAWG ghost story competition and administering three of the organisation's other competitions. I am looking forward to it all.
Baby Sam joined the family in February 2016 so I've had much less time this past year to move forward with my novel and even my second collection of short stories has suffered but I intend to get on track with that and also revive my slightly tired blog. I've also discovered a new hobby - crafting! With the sleepless nights and demands of two small children it can be difficult to find decent slots of time to write but I do find the odd ten minutes to half an hour here and there. So instead of firing up the laptop only to find that one of the kids needs me before I have even logged on I have been setting up crafting projects on the kitchen island and dipping in and out of them over the course of the day. And I love it! I love it so much that I have decided to keep it going alongside my writing and hope to start selling a few things on this website and on Etsy later this year. I have been working up an inventory designed to appeal to readers, writers and parents and I can't wait to share it with you. Drawing and art was one of my first loves and it has been incredibly rewarding to return to it.
I need to decide whether to incorporate my new business venture into my blog . My current thinking is to continue to focus on books and writing but to drop in the occasional post about the new business. I'd also like to include more author interviews so I'll work on that and no doubt this second round of self-publishing will throw up some new material as I discover what has changed in the past two years and also deal with the challenges of including images within a book for the first time.
As I write this it strikes me how much my life has changed over the past few years. Whilst I have put a lot of hard work into it, I couldn't manage without the people who support me. Thank you.
Bernie x "
It’s been a while since my last blog post and it is largely due to the absence of any reading or writing in my daily life. Baby Sam still doesn’t like sleeping, day or night, and has picked up every bug going around. I am hoping that some warmer weather will help. Meanwhile Matthew is a pocket dynamo and doesn’t like it if I try and sit quietly for any length of time. Between them they have me on the go from 6 am to after 8 pm and often through the night as well. So you can see how this has happened.
But it’s ok. The boys are great, so much fun and totally adorable. Sam is gradually settling in to a couple of days at nursery which will free up some time (Matthew continues to enjoy his time there). And I am developing a new hobby... Crafting! Whilst I might not get reliable blocks of time during which I can write, I can sneak some shorter bursts here and there. Just before Christmas I attended a craft fair and marvelled at the lovely things people were making and selling. It moved quickly from there. Never one to hang around I joined Pinterest and discovered something amazing called ‘mixed media’. As the name suggests, this involves using many different techniques and materials to produce art. Many of the pieces I have seen have a luscious steampunky vibe to them. So, armed with some birthday money (and as it turns out, much of the grocery money as well) I have been on a spree – Hobbycraft, Amazon, Ebay, Wilko, charity shops – nowhere is safe. I’ve got inks, pastes, stamps, papers, stencils, wooden butterflies, mache books, lace, buttons and I just can’t stop.
Undoubtedly some of the time I could have spent writing and I’ve found that crafting has occupied my thoughts (coming up with designs together with solutions to technical issues like heatproofing coasters) when I would usually have been thinking about plotting. But I have fallen totally in love with it and am thinking about road-testing some of my pieces with a view to putting them up for sale later in the year. It won’t make me rich but I might make back some of the money I have spent on materials. In the meantime it has given me a greatly-needed creative release when I was struggling to find the time and the emotional energy required to write. Plus I think the pieces I have produced so far compliment my book which has a richly dark flavour. I can see a situation where I sell both books and crafts via my website. That’s the dream, anyway.
And today, well today I have had a writing day (note – for the purposes of this paragraph please pretend that it is still Saturday evening!). I am currently on my way back from a ‘Space to Write’ day run by the ever lovely Susan Elliot Wright and Russell Thomas (www.susanelliotwright.co.uk). It got me away from chores and has allowed me to assess where I am. Last week, on holiday with the troupe, I scribbled down a plan. Today I had time to think about it and began to move some of the elements forward. My aim (as Susan says, it helps to say it out loud and publicly if possible!) is to have self-published a second book of shorts by Christmas. It won’t be done in time for Christmas sales but I would like it done by the end of the year. As I am writing this I am thinking that January might not be a great time for a book launch so I might revisit the precise timing but I want it written and formatted by then. It will be a collection of fantasy short stories. Over the past 18 months I have written only two but after today I am a good way through a third. I probably need 8 or 9 in total, depending upon length. So a long way to go, but a plan at least. When I need a break from this project I have a couple of other books and scripts on the backburner greatly in need of attention and I’m working on a non-fiction project with a friend which will hopefully go live soon. It's never the ideas that are the problem... Time and execution - a different matter.
When the collection of shorts is out in the world I will force myself to move on. I love writing short stories but readers, it seems, are not in love with reading them.
Meanwhile 'Into Dust' remains 99p on Kindle - HERE.
That’s my update. I’d love to hear yours.
I love most types of fiction - crime, mystery, fantasy. Oh, and historical fiction of course and middle-grade books and, well, you get the picture.
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