The journeys writers take

April 19, 2022

One of this month’s NaPoWriMo prompts was write about something big. I had no problem choosing my subject.

The Eiffel Tower from below.
The Eiffel Tower

Yes, I made it to Paris for the first time. It was the day of the French elections and people were queuing outside churches and municipal buildings, their expressions pensive or relaxed. We’d been considering an inter-railing trip in April 2020 before it was derailed (sorry) by the pandemic. Then our planned trip over Christmas 2021was cancelled due to France closing its borders – thank goodness as, the day after we were due to arrive, I came down with Covid. But last week we managed to land on French soil, first spending a few days in Brussels with family where we attended a huge manga festival with six children and an awe-inspiring immersive Frida Kahlo exhibition with our niece and nephew and my brother-in-law.

We spent two days in Paris, taking part in a pay-as-you-feel tour of Montmartre, and a trip to the Centre de Pompidou to see Kadinsky, Severini, Kupka and other artists, and a fascinating contemporary exhibition about networks. There was free entry for EU citizens in most museums and galleries including Pompidou, but not, sadly, for Brits. Still, the weather was a magnificent 23 degrees so, instead of taking the Metro, we decided that we would explore the city à pied. We stumbled over too many beautiful buildings to count, a Rodin, a copy of Helen Mort’s latest book in a book shop and some temporary political graffiti.  

Temporary graffiti stating 'Le Pen c'est tourjours la haine'.
Graffiti on a Paris wall, spotted the day after the first round of the elections

On reaching the mainland, travelling was smooth with no passport or ticket checks before boarding the Eurostar between Brussels and Paris. What a difference it made to be able to step onto the train rather than arrive at least 90 minutes in advance as at St Pancras. But even with that the experience of the Eurostar is so much better and 12 x greener than travelling by plane, especially currently (more news on this below).

The wait before the journey home (this time an hour) necessitated by French and UK passport checks was eased by a story machine in the waiting area. At the press of a button, the machine released a free piece of literature on receipt paper – mine was a Bronte poem I’d drawn on in a workshop at Ripon House Hostel a few years ago.  

I came away from the trip with a few poem drafts and am sure the experience will influence my writing in unpredictable ways over time as travels and world events tend to. I know I’m not the only writer who can’t yet write meaningfully about the war in Ukraine. I just do not have the words, at least not yet.

Travel Writing

Reverting to the subject of travelling, I’ve been mentoring Marg Greenwood on her fascinating travel memoir about two decades of solo trips to Scottish islands. She is releasing her book with Troubadour soon and last week set off to visit three of the islands with a suitcase full of books. Further details of where and how to buy the book will follow.        

Speaking to the Shelves

Another thing I’m excited about is the next set of Speaking to the Shelves workshops at The Leeds Library. This series takes one of the writer’s favourite ‘classic’ texts as a starting point and explores and subverts them to help workshop participants create new pieces of writing. I’ve attended many of these workshops and am always amazed at how versatile and fresh the responses are from those attending, guided as they are by such experienced writers and workshop leaders. Writers in all forms and of all experience levels are welcome. It is not essential to have read the texts as extracts will be provided in the workshops.

The next sessions will be run by one of Yorkshire’s busiest artists – poet, educator and activist Matt Abbott on Sunday May 1st. Attendees will draw on Shelagh Delaney’s social-realist play A Taste of Honey to write pieces in any form. Book here for the online workshop.

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/speaking-to-the-shelves-online-creative-writing-workshop-with-matt-abbott-tickets-315246840787

and here for the in-person workshop

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/speaking-to-the-shelves-in-person-creative-writing-workshop-w-matt-abbott-tickets-315258184717

For those of you who missed novelist Yvonne Battle Felton’s workshop in March, there is another opportunity for writers of any form to write with her in this online session on Saturday 28th May. The workshop will ‘tilt’ American science-fiction novel A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeline L’Engle.

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/speaking-to-the-shelvescreative-writing-workshop-with-yvonne-battle-felton-tickets-315218004537

You can hear Yvonne’s lyrical voice on her series of podcasts about novel writing, which was recorded for New Writing North. They offer in-depth insight into the writing process of the literary greats she speaks to such as Pat Barker and Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, and I can recommend them to all fiction writers.

Poems in Indivisible

With regards to my own writing, I thought I’d share this audio-visual piece with you. This bears a trigger warning as it touches on mental health issues.

It is a taster for the anthology INDIVISIBLE by Commonword which is due to be published soon. The anthology will feature this poem of mine and another by me along with other pieces written by writers with invisible disabilities. I’ll let you know when it is available.

What’s next for me?

Looking to the next few months, I’ll be continuing with my university post three days a week but, other than a few one-off freelance events and some launches in the summer, I’ve decided not take on anything else for the next few months. Although I’ve (mostly) kept up with my daily hour of writing, I haven’t had any sustained time to work on my own material and very little capacity to put my work into the world over the last few years. I plan to prioritise editing, creating new material and submitting my work in this period. I hope this will help me to develop the manuscripts I’ve been working on, reach more readers and find a bigger stage for my writing. I don’t care if I have to go back to living off beans on toast to do so (I’m not quite there yet).

Leeds Bradford Airport Expansion – some great news

I wanted to finish by sharing an update on the activism I’ve been part of with regards to trying to stop Leeds Bradford Airport from massively increasing the number of flights they operate. The owners of the airport have now decided not to go ahead with building the new terminal. They cite the government inquiry which we at GALBA, and others, fought so hard for. Although the owners won’t necessarily give up, they are not legally allowed to increase the numbers of flights without this new building, which is magnificent news for the environment and for local people. Thanks to all of you who signed a petition, wrote to an MP or councillor, donated some money, protested or posted on social media and helped to make this happen.  

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