NaNoWriMo: 1. Getting Started

As I watch my cat start to prowl around his bowl for his bedtime snack, I’m pleased with what I have achieved for my first day of National Novel Writing Month. It’s not quite as much as I wanted (there were a few character ends I wanted to tie up), but it is enough for day one.

I’ve attempted this challenge a couple of times back in university, and reached the halfway point, but no further. This year I have an (almost) fully outlined novel idea and I feel determined to make some headway with a project for 2020.

Limitations are my key focus this month as we enter Lockdown number two. Some days I will not hit my target, and as long as I write one line, I will be pleased. By accepting that I have limitations, and pinpointing what they are, I’m hoping that I won’t throw myself any curve balls. I’ve set staggered word counts which change depending on the day. I know days I work from home are harder to wind down from, so the word count is lower than say the weekends.

I’d like to say that the Lockdown is handy because I wont be distracted with an evening in the pub’s beer garden, but instead I’m sure I’ll find something else to side track me. Sometimes we need distractions and a little air from creativity and life admin. Again – accepting the limitations of my attention span is helping me to be kinder to myself, and ultimately being able to move on from times when you feel you have let yourself down, gives you the mental space and time to just crack on with it!

That’s the theory at least ….



Israeli Salad with Halloumi

A quick, refreshing salad inspired by A Line In the Sand.

Halloumi and Israeli Salad (serves 2 – 3)

1/2 red onion, finely diced
1/3 cucumber, finely diced
1 yellow pepper, finely diced
3 salad tomatoes, finely diced
1 lemon zest, + 2 tsp juice
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp dried parsley
1 pack of Halloumi
Brown rice

  1. Rinse the brown rice and add to boiling water. Cook for 20 minutes, in the meantime …
  2. Thickly slice the Halloumi and heat a griddle or frying pan with a splash of oil. Hold the back of your hand a comfortable and safe distance in the air above your pan to check the temperature. Once you can strongly feel the heat on the back of your hand (but not to the point where it is uncomfortable) add the cheese slices. Carefully turn over after 5 minutes or a crispy golden brown and cook the other side and remove from the pan.
  3. In a large mixing bowl combine all the other ingredients including the 4 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice. Stir well and add plenty of ground pepper.
  4. Spoon the rice onto one half of a smaller plate. Fill the other side with your salad and carefully balance the halloumi in the middle of the pile.

Black Lives Matter: What can White readers do?

I am hoping that, like me, you are currently in the process of finding some informative reading about the Black Lives Matter movement. Whether it is to find a copy of a book recommended to you or if you are finally getting round to reading that book you’ve always intended to read, now is a great time to get reading, reflecting, and promoting. 

Right now there is a lot of focus on listening: Read. Research. Reflect. The Black Community is telling us that they are under attack, and we need to look to, and raise up these voices to learn what we, White people, can do to help change the world. These are not ‘new voices,’ Black people have always been talking about this. These are new ears and new platforms.

Having said all that, the next step is action, and that feels scary and undefined. It isn’t enough to Hear, we need to do something and change attitudes and conversations around race. So lets get into some actions that the bookish folks out there can do to support the movement:

  1. Buy books by Black Authors. Tell the publishers and the booksellers that this is what we want. Unfortunately, the loudest noise is made by opening wallets. Show publishers that they will make money if they invest in Black Writers. (Don’t use Amazon, search around for price matches, or go local in Birmingham!)

Can’t afford books right now (cause the economic world is on fire, as well as everything else)? Here are some ideas at low cost/free: 

  1. Borrow from friends (safely, it’s thought that Coronavirus can live on paper for up to 4 days, so leave an incubation period and wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling) 
  2. E-copies. sell E-copies which are cheaper than a hard copy.
  3. Libraries. Your Library may not be open, but it may be possible to check their inventory. Find out if they have the books you want. If they don’t you can request them and they will look in the budget to see if they may be able to afford them. 
  4. Reviews! This is such an important part of the reading world that I know I am terrible at. Writing reviews that are specific and informative can result in moving other readers to pick up that book. So do it do it do it. If you have read something you enjoyed by a black author, jump on Good Reads and shout about it!
  5. And chat about it. If you care about someone’s work and their message then be part of their megaphone! Tell your family, tell your friends. Ask people about what they are reading, and share what you are reading. Post on social media and start getting the conversation moving. Champion black voices in your reading groups. Ask for threads signposting to the work or shops of Black creators in your networks. 

If you have any other suggestions, please add them in the comments.

Wild Thing

The organisation I work for are running a Summer School for young people this week. The week is jam packed with writing exercises, feedback oportunities, and will close with a showcase from the kids for their parents. I wish I had had something like this when I was younger – I pained my way through drama club clinging to the other shy kids who were also there because it was the closest thing to a writing group!

After the first day I sat with my coffee and reflected on the session. Mainly, I let sink in how quickly a group of 20 strangers gelled in one day. Jordan, fellow assistant writer and comic book writer, turned to me and said “when did we loose this? The ability to just make friends?”

Of course, props must be given where they are due – the humble Ice Breaker Exercise used in the safe hands of Paul McDonald and Liz Berry. The image of walking into The Whiskey Club in JQ and being handed a human bingo card jumped into my mind. A bunch of adults staring blankly at the card, then the host, then the card. “You want me to what?”

At the end of the day we had a reading from those running the week and talked a little about our particular type of writing. Liz Berry read her beautiful poem, When I Was A Boy. Liz closed her talk with inspiring words that I can’t get out of my head – “If you can’t be wild when you write, when can you be?”

After a day of writing exercises and ice breaking games where the young writers turned normal objects into the extraordinary, I realised just how much we say no to ourselves as writers.

So, my inspiration for this week is be a Wild Thing. Do the unexpected, the unconventional in my writing …. because I can. Make friends out of strangers (although I will leave the Bingo at home) and let the magic back into my life – in RL and in words.

Birmingham the City of Festivals

Glastonbury proves the British public loves a festival. Whether it is the chance to break out of the ususal routine, the unique atmosphere, or just the over priced beer, there is something about a festival that we love. I mainly stick to my own lane with festivals – Literature festivals – but of course over the years I’ve been to all sorts. They have popped up across the UK in high numbers. Whether a week of music streamed onto our TV sets, or a volunteer led day event in the local pub, there is something for someone anywhere!

It can be hard to keep on top of what is going on in Birmingham. The amount of times I will tell someone about a festival in the city that they knew nothing about is too many to count. Having said that, it does end in some happy accidents of walking in on a festival taking place right in the middle of the city.

Birmingham has over 80 festivals, most of which are listed in the festival goer’s life line: The Birmingham Festivals Guide 2019. You can check the website for the most up to date info, or pick up their little pink booklets that you can find around the city. This list only covers the biggest, Birmingham based festivals. There are even more in the surrounding area, but if you want to be right in the city, there’s plenty to choose from. And just to really show that there is something for everything:

Number of festivals by type

Film: 7 | Theatre&Performance: 8 | Literature & Spoken Word: 3 | Science & tech: 2 | Dance: 3 | Food & Drink: 13 | Art, Craft & Design: 9 | Outdoor: 12 | Community: 13 | Music: 19 | Heritage: 2 and LGBTQIA+: 3

My Personal Favourites

The Birmingham Literature Festival : Okay, lets get it out the way. I am completely biased as I work on this festival but I feel that the time the team puts into curating events really pays off. We have a mix of everything lit based, from walks to afternoon tea, from shows to panel discussions we have quite the range! (3rd October – 13th October 2019)

Verve Poetry Festival : Obviously, the city’s innovative poetry festival is going to be next in my list. The team behind the festival is passionate, caring and just out right excited about the current state of poetry! It also has a sister poetry press – but that is a whole other post…. (Feb. 2020)

Bournville Book Fest: in the idyllic setting of Bournville (the chocolate factory town!) this family friendly festival is all about the joy of reading and imagination! (March 2020)

Festival of Audacity : Brought to you by the Beatfreeks collective, this festival is all about Birmingham and the city’s voice. Tour the unique arts spaces of Brum while seeing new multi disciplinary art pieces … you never know quite what you are going to get, but you know it will be eye opening and inspiring. The festival takes place next weekend, so get your tickets! (18th July – 21st July 2019)

Birmingham International Dance Festival : This month long festival runs every two years and when you go to their events you understand why! The level of skill, artistry, and dedication from the artists and organisers is amazing. I love this festival, especially as it is focused around something we all do every day but never give much thought – movement. Keep your eyes and ears open for next June. (June 2020)

I hope you can see that you don’t need to jump a train and invest in a tent to get your ultimate festival experience. Birmingham is a wonderfully diverse and big city, and this is pretty evident in the festivals on offer.

Side note, this year Glastonbury’s clean up was done in record time. One week later, 90% of the clean up was completed with only 500 of 55,000 tents left on site. This unprecedented result just shows how the attitudes of festival goers and the population as a whole is changing. Festivals don’t have to be big and messy if we respect them and our environment. More and more is being done by these organisations to be accountable for their affects on our public spaces. We need to take ownership of our impact on the spaces we inhabit and city festivals are finding new ways to look at everyday, practical places and make them something special!

Birmingham, Poets, and being Brave

It’s the classic story: I liked writing stories when I was little. English was my favourite class at school. I carried it through to University. Now I write whenever I can.

That’s pretty much it. At University I discovered that I actually liked poetry (who knew) – reading and writing it. During my first (and rather intense) job, I found poetry was something I could consume in my short evenings – wind down and feel complete. If I had nothing to do all night, I could read a collection, if I only had a few moments, I could just take one poem. Being able to read something that was whole gave me closure and grounded me.

When I landed my current job my life changed. I work for a charity that supports creative writing. My job role is pretty flexible: from running events, to updating databases and ordering the toner, no two days are the same. Working in the Arts has been a gift and the support from my family to go down a very different (and unpredictable) route was amazing. They were some much needed back up that let me be Brave!

Birmingham being it’s usual bad self.

I have been living in Birmingham City for over a year now. Okay, I’m still not used to the noise of this many people living this close to me and when the neighbours have a party at 4am it can get a bit annoying, but ultimately I love it. As someone who is happy to sit in my room reading, being in a place where there is always someone walking past makes me feel connected and stops me ever getting too still – too stagnant.

Birmingham gets a bad rep. As the second city, the town is bustling, but there are also places to be quiet and chill. Personally, I think of Brum as a green place. I over look a park and you only need to look out from the Library’s Secret Garden to see how many trees and parks there are. The rich and eclectic history of Birmingham also lends itself to the distinctive quarters and communities within the city. Last weekend was the Jewellery Quarter’s Festival, a perfect example of the many personalities of Brum! Of course there is always something to do – it’s a city! There aren’t enough evenings in the week to do it all, but my favourite way to spend a week day night is at one of the many poetry nights.

The poetry community in Birmingham is wonderful: inclusive and inviting, I have never felt like an outsider for long at a new event. People celebrate each other, praise each other, and push you to be brave here in a way I haven’t seen before. The audience is always warm and enthusiastic. They want to talk after, and vice versa – the readers and featured poets want to talk to you too.

I don’t think I will ever be able to enjoy everything this mega city has to offer poets and writers, but I will do my best and bring the blog along for the ride. The only take away I can give you in return for the time you have spent reading is that it’s okay to be brave. The worst that happens is you learn a lesson, the best is you succeed. Coming from a coward who’s spent a year being brave – it’s scary and stressful, and sometimes we focus to much on the rejections, but I learnt so much that I am a different poet. Put yourself out there and you might like what comes back.

A Wild Heddwen in her natural habitat.