Transformative Power of Witness, August 2019
There are 65,000,000 displaced people in the world. We can never know them all, their faces, their fears, their ultimate fate. Beyond acknowledging that they exist, what can we do for or about these millions of strangers?
On 26th July, I was at Oxford’s Common Ground café and social workspace. We were launching Testimony of Flight
by Jane Spiro. As Jane and chosen guests read poems and prose from this haunting book, they brought to life people who were caught up in the Holocaust. I found myself bearing witness and grieving for her characters and, irresistibly,
for their many contemporaries whose lives ran in parallel but whose stories remain largely untold. Together with the whole audience I rededicated myself to helping refugees. At Christmas, Palewell Press will publish
The World is for Everyone, an anthology of work by the PAMOJA Refugee Women Writers Group in Nottingham. These women are survivors, inspired by the wish to make their children safe and see them grow up as full happy
members of our society. Their writing also bears witness – to what it’s like fleeing a dangerous but much-loved birthplace and having to endure the UK's asylum process. Like all of us, they need to feel their dreams and
concerns are being recognised. Let us listen to them as attentively and honestly as we do to the long-dead voices from Testimony of Flight.
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Green Healing Energies, July 2019
We all have our ups and downs. A couple of weeks ago it was my turn to feel low. The news seemed fuller than ever of desperate situations, injustice, climate catastrophe. Fortunately, my diary held appointments at Greenpeace and
Freedom from Torture that, even tired and dispirited, I didn’t want to miss. The Greenpeace briefing at their centre in Islington was about projects that involved BP,
single-use plastics and the law of the High Seas. Afterwards we had a vegetarian lunch in the tiny garden between the offices and the warehouse in which they store climbing equipment. Occupying a corner of the garden was a
beautiful wildlife pond with waterlilies, rushes and a bevy of blue dragonflies - there’s a photo at the end of the July newsletter. The pond seemed a microcosm of what Greenpeace supporters want for the whole planet:
a complete ecosystem in harmonious balance. As well as its symbolic role, however, the pond will be working its healing magic on busy Greenpeace activists who carry responsibility for many difficult challenges;
recharging their batteries so they can return to their desks better able to function. We all need that kind of recharge. Being in contact with a natural system that’s working well can rebalance our mental and physical health.
I left feeling more a litle more hopeful about halting the slide into climate disaster that's putting so many people and creatures at risk.
Later that week, I went to Faces and Spaces – a photo exhibition at the London centre of Freedom from Torture. The photos were part of a project run
by Accumulate, a youth homelessness charity, to offer young torture survivors a chance to develop photography skills. Simultaneously, the charity was screening a couple of excellent
animations also made by torture survivors. After visiting the exhibition, I was fortunate to be given a tour of the gardens which Freedom from Torture uses as a safe setting for its talking therapies and practical gardening
therapy. Around a thousand torture survivors benefit from these calm spaces every year. Bees buzzed through lavender bushes, vegetables grew vigorously in raised beds and water rippled along the rill that curves through the
meditation courtyard. Spending an hour there and hearing about the marvellous work done by Freedom from Torture left me calmer, as if I too needed healing and had found it. With organisations like these, and all their
supporters, experts and activists working for the common good, it no longer felt futile to strive for a safer, fairer, greener world.
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UNESCO and a perilous hope, June 2019
UNESCO is the part of the United Nations that supports Education, Science and Culture. Its constitution, adopted in 1945, claims that “the wide diffusion of culture, and the education of humanity for justice and liberty and
peace are indispensable to the dignity of man.” For people living in the immediately post-war Europe of 1945, bruised and saddened by a Second World War, the one their parents had been told would never happen, UNESCO
and the fledgling United Nations offered a perilous hope. Perilous because so many dreams had been dashed, by the greed and ambition of certain world leaders like those who carved up Europe after the First World War,
by the awful spectre of global conflict and the terrible events and choices that all sides to that conflict had found themselves caught up in. To hope that life-chances might become better and fairer and that education
and creativity could be made accessible to all individuals could have seemed naive - after so much had failed why should people risk being disappointed again? In spite of that, it was what many yearned to believe.
Otherwise, how could they live with what had happened, bring more babies into the muddle and grief around them or persuade their existing children to grow up as decent caring individuals?
At the Changing Wor(l)ds Festival in Nottingham I attended an event called On the Frontline: Muslim and Jewish Poets Speak Out. Hosted by Exiled Writers Ink, the poetry of Jennifer Langer, Amir Darwish, Jill Abrams and
Mohamed Mohamed was a brilliant testament to the way creative work can bridge what sometimes seem massive gulfs between those of different religion, ethnicity or political beliefs. The wide diffusion of culture, with justice,
liberty and peace continue to motivate most people I've met, wherever they live in the world and however easy or challenging their lives have turned out. We share a belief in
education being available to all regardless of gender and other differences; and in our right to create stories, books, films, artworks and newspaper articles without suffering oppressive interference in our creative
endeavours. Regimes that imprison writers simply for publishing the peaceful written word are seen as pariah. As I write these words I can sense my parents standing with me, shoulder to shoulder - my father, a barrister
who was an Amnesty observer at several Human Rights trials, and my mother, a compassionate and tireless worker for the rights of refugees and other marginalised people. They attended the first meeting of the United Nations
in London. Following in their footsteps, the books published by Palewell Press, and by its sister presses in the Changing Wor(l)ds Network of cultural activist organisations, contribute to those values. By reading this
newsletter and buying those books, you do too. As Victor Hugo wrote: "There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come." Greetings to all our unseen friends.
Together, we can make things better for everyone.
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Inheriting Social Exclusion, May 2019
Three of our most recent books share a focus on alienation – how easily a person can find themselves feeling excluded, being left behind with no way to join the mainstream. Some individuals carry inner beliefs,
manage to hold onto their culture or create new beliefs to help them weather this experience.
Arthur Talks looks at this challenge from the viewpoint of homeless people in the UK. Inside the Blue House (about displaced Ukrainians)
and Testimony of Flight (about Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe) were both written by the daughters of refugees. All three books capture the extraordinary
difficulties faced when losing touch with your origins and becoming excluded.
Sadly, the children of people marginalised by war, famine, homelessness, racial prejudice, mental health issues or other causes can also suffer, especially if they don't know why members of their family are grief-stricken,
depressed or absent. Even as young as toddlers, children can be painfully aware of their parents or grandparents being troubled. If they don’t understand what’s causing the trouble, they often feel it’s their fault.
This can lead them to repress their own needs in order to meet the behaviour they imagine their families require or, going in the other direction, to become disruptive or apathetic at school. It's a short step from these
feelings to the children themselves becoming socially excluded.
Where the scope for peaceful family life is impaired, UK schools, playgroups and youth projects can help to encourage the children's hope, effort and self-worth – as demonstrated recently by Oxford Spires Academy.
Creative writing by their, mostly refugee, pupils, in “England – Poems from a School” (editor Kate Clanchy, pb: Picador) show what can be done to inspire and reintegrate children whose families have experienced trauma.
But in the current economic climate, organisations will struggle to provide resources for such work.
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2019-2030 Years of Climate Decision, April 2019
The UN Intergovernmental Panel (IPCC) latest report on Climate Change says urgent and unprecedented action is required to keep global temperatures between 1.5C and 2C - only 12 years remain to achieve this.
Beyond that point, even half a degree warmer will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. Avoiding this additional half-degree could also
prevent corals from extinction and ease pressure on the Arctic. As the report was approved by a plenary of all 195 countries in Incheon in South Korea, delegates hugged one another, some of them in tears.
Despite the stark warning, the USA and Brazil are expected to withdraw from the accord.
It can seem as if all these decisions will be made by governments but individuals play an important part too. One of our climate heroes is
Jadav Payeng in India. Through planting one tree every day for 37 years
on the barren sandbar island in the Brahmaputra river, he has recreated a 1360 acre forest that today is home to wildlife.
Adaptation to climate change will vary depending on each country’s geography but mitigating its effects on the most vulnerable people requires a common global goal. Each community needs to discuss its values
and what it might be prepared to lose to achieve them. This process isn’t just "about building stronger bridges. It is about communities. Successful adaptation will require strategic thinking, resourcefulness,
creativity, collaboration and effective communication.” Ariana Jordão was part of the campaign in Machynlleth, Wales, that got the local council to be one of the first in the UK
to declare a Climate Emergency.
Across the world, people are calling on their councils to follow suit. Now Ariana has started a petition asking MPs in Westminster to
- Declare a nationwide Climate Emergency:
- Halt fossil fuel expansion and fossil fuel subsidies by 2020 and begin to support the roll-out of clean renewable energy technologies immediately.
- Ensure current and future policies are consistent with averting climate change and preventing ecological collapse.
- Support the rapidly emerging climate action plans and resilience initiatives throughout the country.
- Reduce carbon emissions to net zero no later than 2030.
No Pasaran - emotive performances by Dodo Modern Poets
Last month's No Pasaran conference "Confronting the rise of the far-right" concluded with a beautiful evening of arts supporting social justice.
Anders Lustgarten's play "Lampedusa" took the audience into the thoughts of two people facing moments of personal crisis and change: a fisherman trying to rescue shipwrecked refugees off the island of Lampedusa
and a young British-Chinese woman paid to chase UK citizens defaulting on loans.
The play was followed by moving performances from three members of Dodo Modern Poets: PR Murry sharing poems on animal rights and refugees, Jenny Mitchell performing tragic works on slavery,
and Patric Cunnane, reading new poems as well as some from his recent collection The Ghost of Franz Kafka.
The evening ended with a brilliant performance by internationally famous Kurdish musician Resho Zelal. One of the founders of Zelal Band, Resho's music focuses on the Kurdish cause,
human rights and women’s freedom. As a Kurdish artist he has been subjected to political pressures and he cannot return to his homeland. His playing echoed through my soul reminding me of the
Kurdish poetry read at Ledbury in 2017 by Bejan Matur.
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Malala and hearing from refugees, March 2019
Malala Yousafzai says she wrote her latest book "We are Displaced" because "we hear about refugees in the newspapers, on TV, and it is just numbers...but we do not hear from them."
Like Malala, Palewell Press wants the world to hear from those who have become refugees, displaced, in exile; and also from their families, friends and lovers who are inescapably affected
by these tragic circumstances. This month we're featuring the books we've published so far around this troubled subject and looking ahead to Inside the Blue House,
poems by Sonia Jarema, whose family was caught up in Ukraine's diaspora.
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Sow the wind and reap the whirlwind, February 2019
This quotation from The Book of Hosea in the Old Testament shows an awareness of environmental challenges similar to those we face today. Hosea was speaking metaphorically but also as someone
familiar with over-tilled land washing away in storm or blowing up into dust spirals. Adam Horovitz’s poetry collection The Soil Never Sleeps contains this warning: “…if we whisk up soups in chemical
vats to tame the weeds, we strip the landscape of its language. Make a bowl in which to harvest storms.” (The Abattoir).
But Climate Change isn’t the only perfect storm facing us. Later this year we'll be publishing Inside the Blue House by Sonia Jarema and Testimony of Flight by Jane Spiro in which each writer
reflects on her family’s experiences as strangers in a strange land. Every day, the world’s 65 million displaced people face grief, exclusion and danger. Will those be the impressions that dominate
the rest of their lives or can we all do more to make refugees welcome?
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Sharing our 3rd birthday, January 2019
Palewell Press is three years old this month. We've had an amazing time publishing twenty-two books so far and made lots of new friends. It's a great pleasure to acknowledge the help we've received
from family, friends, authors and volunteers, and the publishing advice we've come to rely on from Valley Press, The Emma Press and Cinnamon Press. The anniversary has also given us an unanticipated sense of
connection with three-year-olds around the world. Are they at peace, well fed and playing happily, or troubled by famine, homelessness, war or exile? What kind of future lies ahead for each child; and how
can our actions and those of government make that future brighter for everyone?
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Wishing you all a slow, deep Christmas, December 2018
The Climate Change crisis has given rise to some remarkable messages about consumerism. In November, Martin Lewis spoke on The Money Show about stress in the run-up to Christmas, how it causes some people
unhappiness, debt and worry because all of us have “disconnected from the reason we give gifts.” He suggested it was time to stop giving each other unnecessary Christmas presents and, if we want to be generous,
give to charity instead. In Annie Leonard’s original documentary, The Story of Stuff, she explained that all the things we use have hidden environmental and social impacts, that consumer society is organised as
take-make-waste: taking vast resources, making consumer products, then throwing them in the waste before buying more stuff. This echoes the tragedy covered in Iceland’s Christmas video - that 25 orangutans die
every day because we keep buying products that use palm oil. Annie went on to say that, in the midst of all this crazy consumerism, we’re losing touch with what we really need to make us happy – contact with
people and nature. She described herself as “living in community” – sharing things with her neighbours so they don’t each need a lawn-mower or fax machine. Maybe, as Martin and Annie recommend, we could all slow
down a little: reduce waste by no longer giving unwanted gifts, appreciate the things we have, using them for longer and sharing them with each other? As we did so, there'd be time to reach deeper into those areas
of life that bring us real happiness—friendship and harmony with the natural world.
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Child victims without a voice, November 2018
The wider world is sadly full of victims who aren't able to make their voices heard and respected, including refugees, homeless people and trafficked women. Palewell Press exists to
publish writers from suppressed groups and those writing about them. But nearer to home is another group who also need to be listened to respectfully - UK children exposed to domestic violence.
During October, the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee issued their report on Domestic Abuse in which they recommend that the yet-to-be-appointed ‘Domestic Abuse Commissioner’ should review
the impact on children of their experience of the family courts, children’s services, CAFCASS and the police, with particular reference to contact arrangements in domestic violence cases.
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Independent Publishing and Freedom, October 2018
Palewell Press is strongly committed to the UN Declaration of Human Rights. One of its key principles is that “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions
without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” This month we start work on two very different book projects, each of which exemplifies this right.
The Evil Wheels of our War is a memoir by Zaina Erhaim, an award-winning Syrian woman journalist, of her time in Syria during the Syrian War – the truth behind the headlines. Our other book is The Architect –
a social treatise like those by America’s Founding Fathers rather than a memoir. It was written by Steve Champion and Craig Anthony Ross who are long-term prisoners on Death Row in California. There are elements in society,
in the UK and elsewhere, that might object to our publishing Zaina, Steve and Craig’s thoughts. Challenging those elements is part of what independent publishing is for.
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Low Tech projects and sustainability, September 2018
We're really impressed by charities whose work dovetails into the existing life of the recipients. A recent example is Practical Action's project for Bangladeshi communities in the districts of Jessore, Khulna
and Satkhira where 70% live in poverty. Across the farming year, people's fields are either too dry or waterlogged or at risk from the monsoon. The charity plans to combine floating gardens and fish farming.
The fish swim in a bamboo cage on top of which is a platform for growing squash and other vegetables. The fish create waste used by the plants as fertiliser and the plants filter the water so the fish can thrive.
Practical Action was founded by radical economist and philosopher E.F. Schumacher fifty years ago. Typical of their projects, the fish farm-floating garden idea brings together local building materials and a
'light-bulb' idea that people benefit from but also feel empowered by.
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Our world is heating up, August 2018
It's been a scorching month where we work in South-West London; but worse in Northern England and Wales where Fire Crews worked desperately hard to contain moorland fires. Astonishingly, it appears some of
these fires were arson. Over the coming decade, UK infrastructure and services will need major investment to adapt to shifting climate realities. Elsewhere in the world, though, the situation feels more urgent.
The Japanese heatwave causing multiple deaths was declared a natural disaster. News from Japan was swiftly followed by wildfires that destroyed Mati and Rafina in Greece's north-eastern Attica region,
leaving scores dead while others fled to beaches for safety. What makes the worsening climate even more worrying is how global warming impacts refugees and the world's poorest citizens. For thousands of years,
environmental issues have been inextricably linked to human migration. In our own century, as large parts of the planet become uninhabitable due to heat or rising sea-levels, families seek to move to safer areas.
But they're met by fear and anger from populations already worried about food, housing and employment. These are global challenges whose solution requires planet-wide consensus rather than unilateral acts such as
building massive walls along national borders. Time is short to establish this consensus.
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Refugee Week but continuing injustice, July 2018
It has been a month of extremes - not just because of the strong drying winds and London temperatures higher than Rio, though these feel like climate change
is accelerating. On June 19th, with Lena Amir Baurak of Qisetna and Dr Anna Ball, we co-hosted a Refugee Week event at the wonderful Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham,
just named as British Book Awards Independent Bookshop of the Year. It was a serene, joyous evening with readings from Rana Abdul Fattah's
Tiger and Clay - Syria Fragments and Syrian music on the Oud and Daf - thanks so much to Manal and Majed.
For a few hours, peaceful words and music reached out to the world through the warm, flower-scented air. Back in London, though, we were confronted by the continuing human disaster in the United States.
Although President Trump has signed an executive order proclaiming the end of family separations at the Mexican border, immigrants' rights organisations are now struggling to locate more than 2000 children already
placed in HHS's care. Research by the Women's Refugee Commission confirms the views of Courts, child welfare experts and medical professionals - children as young as
three when placed in family detention have become suicidal, lost weight, regressed developmentally, and developed severe depression.
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Helping suppressed voices be heard, June 2018
Last month we wrote about Kalyani Thakur, a feminist Dalit poet from West Bengal and her translator, Sipra Mukherjee. Dalit, meaning "broken/scattered"
in Sanskrit and Hindi, is a term mostly used about themselves by those Indian castes subjected to untouchability. Kalyani has used her poetry and the magazines
she edits to help Dalit people find a voice. As Amal Clooney urged students at Vanderbilt University recently, we need to stand up for refugees, LGBTQ+ people,
women, and all other groups that have been traditionally marginalized by society. This week I read an amazing challenge to those who abuse women.
"Girls are coming out of the woods" is the title poem in a new collection by Tishani Doshi, an award-winning poet and dancer of Welsh-Gujarati descent based in Tamil Nadu.
Our latest collection is Metamorphosis by Gillian Petrie. In "Under the thorn tree", she writes:
Muslin-wrapped against the heat,
the women talked of pain that should not be endured;
in ones and twos, sought out the city men
who made decisions
while the women waded, knee deep,
through the trickle-lanes
of orange river-mud
Amal, Tishani and Gillian remind me of one of Palewell Press's values - to help suppressed voices be heard.
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Working together for change, May 2018
The words "Be the change you wish to see" have always inspired me but world news is full of people's suffering. Sometimes, I feel too tired and disheartened to make
a difference. That's when collaborating with others is so powerful. On April 13th, I was at Nottingham Trent University's Post-Colonial Studies Centre for the founding
event of "Changing Wor(l)ds" - a network of groups and organisations that, like Palewell Press, aim to use words to change the world for the better. Each of my fellow-attendees
by themselves will make a positive difference to society, justice, literacy and the welfare of others. But, by collaborating, helping to leverage, contribute to and
publicise each others' efforts, we can achieve so much more. A special part of the "Changing Wor(l)ds" event was the performance by Kalyani Thakur, a feminist Dalit
poet from West Bengal and her translator, Sipra Mukherjee. Dalit, meaning "broken/scattered" in Sanskrit and Hindi, is a term mostly
used about themselves by those Indian castes that were subjected to untouchability. Through her poetry and by editing two magazines - Neer Writupatra and Chathurtha Dunia
- Kalyani has drawn attention to the life experiences and history of her disadvantaged community and given them renewed purpose. Listening to her and Sipra, I felt part of a
positive wave of people-powered change across the world. Spoken together, our words can move mountains.
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Happy Easter and Thank You, April 2018
It's more than a week since Palewell Press was nominated for the Saboteur Awards category of most innovative publisher. But I'm still smiling broadly with
delight and surprise. How lovely to have made that kind of impression on people. Everyone associated with Palewell Press sends a big thank you to the generous
person who nominated us and all those who enthusiastically followed suit. We're rapidly approaching the Easter break. Whether you regard Easter as a religious
holiday, or a reason to prepare special meals and treats for your family, or just a reminder that Spring flowers and sunshine can't be far away, I wish you a
happy and extra-long weekend. While celebrating Easter, let's not forget refugees who rarely get the chance to enjoy the company of family and friends in peaceful
surroundings. Since the Calais Jungle closed, those who'd found a temporary refuge there are adrift again, with even greater feelings of vulnerability.
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Sharing ideas or selling books? March 2018
Sometimes, while trudging to a book event with a suitcase of books or a box of wine, occasionally both, I wonder what I'm doing there.
To give the question a wider context - what do independent publishers really do? First of all, we need to do what it says on the tin - work with authors
to build the best possible book and, by publishing it, help them share their ideas. For a publisher like Palewell Press,
communicating each author's ideas is central. They tend to be passionate about particular causes and want their book to help change the world.
That's why we want to publish them - because we share their passion. It all sounds beautiful and creative but there are lots of practical,
difficult tasks to be done in the process - one of the most challenging being how to sell books. Over the last two years, we've found ourselves selling books
in many different ways and locations. Today we had a pop-up bookstore at the bank with whom we have a business account. We knew we might not sell many books
but it offered a chance to talk to potential customers - some of whom had never bought poetry, or discussed either human rights or sustainable agriculture.
It felt good to talk about the thinking behind Adam Horovitz's The Soil Never Sleeps
and the emotional journeys charted in David Russell's An Ever River
and Irma Upex-Huggins' Red Winds. All in all, a fascinating morning, well worth the minor effort of setting up the stall.
So many great people visited the bank today, and they're just a fraction of those on every high street and shopping mall. Hopefully pop-up bookstores can encourage more of them to give authors'
books and ideas a closer look.
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Love is what makes... February 2018
Happy February, one month closer to Spring, nearly Valentine's Day. Sometimes the lines of popular songs can trigger a thought.
"Love is what makes the world go round." But more than that, love makes things rather than destroying them. It is the creative impulse.
The Scots have a word - makar - meaning poet or bard, with Jackie Kay being the current Scottish Makar or Poet Laureate.
All authors writing books for Palewell Press, and other authors too, are making poems and stories about subjects very close to their hearts.
Our editors take those stories and poems and make them into books. It's a lovely, creative process that supports our belief in a sustainable
world in which, to quote the UN Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community,
to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
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Sharing the Earth's Bounty, January 2018
A Happy New Year to all our customers and newsletter recipients. Thank you so much for staying with us on this journey.
Over the last two years, Palewell Press has gone from being simply an idea to having a real impact in publishing books and sharing news about our three key interests -
Justice, Equality and Sustainability. We believe in building a sustainable world that can support itself and all its peoples, in which they share equally and are
protected from abuse and injustice. This week sees the culmination of a major book publishing project around those themes. Our first book launch in 2018 will be
The Soil Never Sleeps, a new poetry collection by Adam Horovitz, in which he writes passionately about
Britain's landscape and especially its farms. If we are to solve the world's food and energy needs there will be difficult decisions to make. But we mustn't let that lead to reckless
environment destruction by powerful companies. A big oil company has applied to start drilling for oil in Leith Hill in the North Downs - right in the heart of Southern England.
It would set a dangerous precedent for other landscapes at risk from dirty energy exploration. The Environment Agency is considering whether to allow the oil company
to carry out exploratory drilling, with all the risks of water and soil pollution to this officially designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Please check out
and sign the 38 Degrees petition against this plan.
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Sustainable Peace on Earth, December 2017
I don't know about you but I sometimes find it hard to watch the news - every day brings more disturbing stories from around our world,
whether it's West African people trying to travel through Libya being sold at auction as slaves or, nearer home, the delays in sorting out Grenfell.
But that makes it even more important to hang onto our dreams. Mine is for peace on Earth, a genuine sustainable peace where every group of people has access to
sufficient food and living space, where each individual's human rights are respected. However unrealistic such dreams may seem, they are the emotional rocket fuel
that propels us to work for a better world. A vital element of peaceful coexistence is care for the environment. Our first book in 2018 will be
The Soil Never Sleeps,
a new poetry collection by Adam Horovitz in which he writes passionately about Britain's landscape and especially its farms (see In the Coming Months). As my Christmas
wish for all of us, I'm sharing these lines from Adam's book:
If you've listened, you'll know we're balanced on the edge
between oblivion and life and that the only charm
for our salvation comes in the moments when we pledge
to do no lasting damage, cause as little harm
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When a dream comes together, November 2017
Last month this column asked "What can one person do to help refugees?" Our Homeland and Exile event at the Poetry Café on Monday provided one answer.
With my co-host, Latefa Guemar Narriman, an Algerian-born academic, I share a dream of creating a twice-yearly discussion forum on the themes of homeland and exile
that would showcase the work of refugee authors and encourage audience participation. Our first event looked at Tiger and Clay
by Syrian exile, Rana Abdul Fattah, and State of Emergency by Algerian-born poet, Soleiman Adel Guemar (published by Arc). Rana read over Skype from Istanbul, Adel's poems were read by his friends
and family, Agnes Meadows performed her haunting poem "Refugee" and the evening ended with a beautiful protest song in Berber. Stories were shared, people felt
strengthened by hearing each others experiences and how they coped. An amazing evening. Back to Top
Refugees, Ghosts and Rainbows, October 2017
What can one person do to help refugees? It sometimes feels impossible but, when lots of individuals cooperate, we are able to move mountains.
As I write I can see out of my window. It's a beautiful October day - just chilly enough to give me energy; sky clear except for a few fluffy clouds.
This view is familiar to me even though the trees change with the seasons. But what if I had to leave my home, maybe never to return, as refugees have to?
No view through a window would feel familiar. There'd be little time to appreciate the beauty of nature. Instead I'd be slogging across country through a land of
strangers, permanently worried about my family's current needs and uncertain what the future held. I wonder how well I would cope. This is the challenge facing
65 million refugees, people just like me. Sometimes I feel powerless to help them. But every thing that each of us does changes the world, more so when we group together.
Last Sunday, Enfield Refugees Welcome hosted the Enfield Poem-a-thon at the Dugdale Centre. 60 poets including Tim Waller and other poetry friends each read for 8 minutes
and were sponsored to do so. They planned to raise £4,500 to help a refugee settle in Enfield. But the event was such a success they raised over £11,000 -
a whole family of refugees can be made welcome. Well done to all involved. You have also renewed my belief in the power of individuals to make a positive difference.
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The right to speak your mother tongue, September 2017
What would it feel like to lose your mother tongue, not just from your mother marrying someone in another country but because the state forces your
minority language group to be educated in the majority language? What if speaking your mother tongue in public led to reprisals, and the only time language came alive
was when your mother told your fairy-tales and sang songs in the language of her youth? It could create a rift in a person’s creative life that only time and certain
experiences might heal. Bejan Matur comes from a Kurdish family but was educated in Turkish. Her nine published volumes of poetry are all written in Turkish.
But running under the surface, silent yet insistent as an aquifer, the Kurdish language survived. As an adult, she remembers going home to her mother and speaking
in Kurdish for almost the first time. After that, she worked with her mother to gain a stronger grasp of the language. At this year’s Ledbury Poetry Festival,
she performed in Turkish, alongside her translator, Jen Hadfield, who is from the Shetlands. Both women poets are preoccupied with landscape and inheritance.
I thought nothing could exceed the sadness and musical integrity of Bejan’s poems, recreated in English by Jen. Then Bejan read us two new poems in Kurdish.
The sound was so different from Turkish – like water tumbling over the stony bed of a mountain stream. It echoed in her vocal cavity as if spoken at the mouth of a
vast limestone cavern. The whole hour in the company of these poets was mesmerizing, tragic, unforgettable.
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Grenfell - Where do we go from here? August 2017
The repercussions of Grenfell Tower continue to reverberate, not just across London but the whole of the UK. How fairly do we treat those living in poverty?
Are they visible to us, to the politicians who decide where to spend the money raised from taxes we pay, to journalists on the newspapers and TV programmes that
so often promote a "good life" based on spending and the search for perpetual youth?
A lot of criticism has been directed at the choice of cladding which made the tower so inflammable - what the builders used and why it was approved.
But in his powerful poem about Grenfell Tower, Ben Okri takes "cladding" further, as a metaphor - that too much of what organisations do these days is cosmetic,
hiding the injustices and alienation underneath. Okri's poem appeared first in the Financial Times and you can hear all of it on Channel 4's YouTube channel.
But don't miss what he has to say on why he wrote the poem about
Grenfell Tower. Like many of us, he sees it as a landmark event. We can't just provide support to the survivors and remove similar cladding from other towers.
We must tackle the way our society's housing is managed in 2017 and how it discriminates against the poor and the young.
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Tragedy and Social Justice, July 2017
It seems only last month I wrote in this newsletter about the Syrian civil volunteer group known as the White Helmets, and then in another Issue
about the murdered MP, Jo Cox. In November last year, Jo Cox received a posthumous peace prize jointly with the White Helmets. The prize was awarded by
Archbishop Desmond Tutu at the Rising Global Peace Forum launched in Coventry last year. Jo's husband Brendan says she valued the White Helmets because,
"These are the people who run towards danger when others run away. They’ve saved over 70,000 lives and helped many more and, for Jo, they were a
symbol of how, even in the depth of inhumanity, humanity can still respond and individuals can still find that compassion, that commitment and that service in their hearts."
In the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster, we saw the same selfless courage displayed by the London Fire Service. This has been a sobering summer.
One tragic event after another has claimed victims, reminding Londoners of the Blitz. There is a strong thread of injustice behind the Grenfell Tower incident.
It seems that building construction choices were made on the housing of poorer families that one suspects would have been made differently if the block's residents
were better off. That suspicion is being investigated but one thing is clear, the people in our emergency services take amazing risks in our defence. We owe them a
vast debt of thanks. The trauma and injury they suffered while working on Grenfell Tower has left many in distress. The
Fire Fighters' Charity is helping them but it's almost entirely funded through donations from the fire community and public.
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Climate Change and Politics, June 2017
Last month, shivering in unseasonably chill Spring weather, we celebrated two pieces of good news from environmental campaigners.
But overall the picture is more worrying - our political bodies appear blind to the threats facing Earth and its inhabitants. I saw in an Oxfam film that,
across Somalia, around 3,000 people a day are being displaced by the drought. With tragic statistics like these being reported daily, Donald Trump has still
decided to pull out of the Paris Accords. Many world leaders have already condemned his action - with the disturbing exception of Theresa May. Nearer to home,
the latest newsletter from Culture and Climate Change notes that the government's green paper on future industrial strategy seems to lack any reference to climate change.
And here we are, in the middle of an election, yet very few candidates are talking about the five days in May when London breached the annual air pollution limit.
Thank goodness for independent organisations like Oxfam, Greenpeace, and Culture and Climate Change who keep these issues in the public eye.
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Let's love our local libraries, May 2017
Recently, The Big Issue looked at lending libraries and what they mean to people's literacy levels, feelings of empowerment and access to literature.
It featured local groups keeping their libraries alive in innovative ways. I was reminded of them this week when, in
Jo Bell's Blog, I read the marvellous poem "Why We Need Libraries" by Ian McMillan. Do read it, then think how you can support your local library.
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Homelessness Reduction Bill passed, April 2017
March did yield one excellent piece of news - the day after the horrific attack on Westminster Bridge, MPs were back in Westminster to carry on with their planned work.
And part of that work was the Homelessness Reduction Bill finally being passed by Parliament. This is largely due to a powerful campaign run by Crisis and supported by
The Big Issue. No One Turned Away calls for every homeless person who approaches their council to get the help they need. The Bill, tabled by Conservative MP Bob Blackman
and supported by MPs all parties, still has to be signed by the Queen to become an Act. It should come into force in early 2018 at which point Councils will have £61 million
over two years to start delivering their new duties. Government has committed to review within two years how the duties are working in practice and whether the funding is enough.
The Bill provides new support to people who aren’t entitled to help under the current system like single homeless men. And it also requires councils to try and prevent people
from becoming homeless in the first place.
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Women Asylum Seekers - a way forward, March 2017
Every year, around 2,000 women seeking asylum in the UK are locked up in centres like Yarl's Wood - described in the Telegraph as 'a place of national concern.'
Many of these women refugees experienced rape or other gender-based violence in their country of origin. But when they came here, they were locked up in, what is effectively,
a prison without a clear release date. For women with traumatic memories, detention is especially distressing, and the uncertainty of the duration makes it even worse.
The UK is one of the few European countries with no time limit on such detention. The Way Ahead
- a new report from Women for Refugee Women - was launched this week. It proposes a different approach that supports and engages with people seeking asylum, and works to resolve
their cases in the community, without using detention. The charity's eventual aim is to end the detention of women who seek asylum and the report documents the growing support
their proposals are receiving from MPs and members of the House of Lords. But the Home Office is being slow to implement the new regulations. This is a big dream that will depend
for success on all of us. Please download the report and start sharing it and tweeting about it.
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Will 2017 be the hottest year on record? February 2017
A cold and, at times, scary January is behind us. I'm looking forward to Spring and Summer. But will this year be the hottest year on record? Already, wildfires have
devastated the Maule region of Chile, wiping out the town of Santa Olga and threatening the nearby city of Constitucion. Most of Santa Olga's 6000 inhabitants managed to escape
in time but they have no homes, schools or churches to go back to. Our role as citizens concerned about climate change is not just to say "we told you so" to Presidents and
big business but to welcome refugees or send aid to those affected by climate change; and to support Greenpeace and others working to limit the risk to Earth and all our futures. These are challenging times. It can be tempting to avoid thinking about the
future because it feels threatening. Sometimes art can help us face up to our fears and be more positive.
Culture and Climate Change is a collaboration of artists and scientists using stories and other artworks in order to communicate more effectively about the challenges
facing humanity Back to Top
Exiled and imprisoned writers, January 2017
English PEN is the founding centre of a worldwide writers’ association with 145 centres in more than 100 countries. Operating out of the Free Word Centre in Farringdon,
English PEN campaigns to defend writers and readers in the UK and around the world whose human right to freedom of expression is at risk.
One way they do this is by people in the UK writing cards and letters to exiled or imprisoned writers. I would recommend taking part in one of these letter campaigns to anyone concerned about people being persecuted
for engaging in free speech. Sending letters warns the authorities that people elsewhere in the world know about the writers, and it comforts the writers and their families to
be remembered. The organisation also runs a lot of interesting events like their February 2017 evening of comedy about censorship called "You Can't Say That".
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Yonas Kinde, refugee, gets into the Olympic Marathon Final
Yonas Kinde is a refugee marathon runner from Ethiopia and was part of the Olympic Refugee Team competing in Rio. In his relatively short running career in Europe
he's gained titles in Luxembourg, France and Germany but couldn't enter major competitions because of his lack of citizenship. So the opportunity to be part of the
Olympic Refugee Team was welcome. Like many refugees, he finds it hard to talk about why he had to leave Ethiopia. Even in Luxembourg he's had to live under international
protection since 2013. Adjusting to life as a refugee has been a challenge but it's clear that running always makes him happy. Kinde did well, reaching the Olympics Marathon
Final and finishing in 2:24:08. The photo at the top of the page is of a new mural in Rio, painted by artists Rodrigo Sini and Cety Soledade and celebrating the
first Olympic Refugee Team.
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Refugee Olympics Team, July 2016
At Palewell Press one of our key values is inclusivity, that everyone should have the same chance to learn to read and find freely available books in a library, to access PCs
and the Internet, have their ideas published, find work, join sports clubs and try out other skills. I was thrilled during London’s Paralympics, very impressed by Big Issue
coverage of the Homeless World Cup that brings together street football programmes from around the world. And now I can’t wait to cheer on the Refugee Olympics Team.
At the Olympics Opening Ceremony, ten people will be walking round together – six men and four women whose original homes were in South Sudan, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic
of the Congo and Syria but who’ve been forced to become refugees. These ten were chosen from a shortlist of 43 refugee athletes and they represent many millions who have lost
their homes and countries due to war, persecution or natural disaster. Their banner shows the five Olympic rings, they received additional training to prepare for competition at
world level and they’ll be staying in the athletes’ village. Hats off to the IOC for inclusivity and to the refugee athletes – Yolande, Popole, Yusra, Yonas, James, Yiech, Rose, Anjelina, Paulo and Rami –
for having the courage and discipline to step forward unvanquished by previous tragedy. Back to Top
Lovely Ledbury - 24/07/2016
Ledbury, a Poetry Festival with all the programmed events you’d expect, free sessions to participate in and exhibitions of beautiful weaving and other artwork.
But Ledbury is so much more than the sum of its events. Wordshare Poets performed in the Ledbury Fringe this year at the Muse Café in Homend Mews where Claire and Jan
made the three of us – Jane Sherwin, Jenny Messer and me, Camilla Reeve - very welcome. Then we performed as individuals reading our herbally inspired poems at Poetica
Botanica under a tree in the walled garden. But what makes Ledbury really special comes from this small Cotswold town filling up with poets and poetry-lovers. You hear
someone perform at an event, maybe get them to sign their collection afterwards, then you run into them in the street and suddenly see them attending your event as well.
The feeling of community grows as a series of warm interactions. For a short time, poetry’s in heaven and all’s right with the world. I came home wishing that feeling could
sweep across the UK bringing everyone pleasure and a sense of belonging.
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Derek Summers – In the Alyscamps - 22/07/2016
It feels especially good and relevant post-Brexit to be preparing In the Alyscamps, the second poetry collection from Derek Summers,
for publication by Palewell Press. A committed European, Derek’s poems reflect his extensive, enthusiastic travels from St Petersburg to Van Gogh's Haarlem, from Hornchurch to St Honorat’s chapel in the Alyscamps
at Arles. In this, his second collection, he also pursues his fascination with the contrasts between English and French language and culture.
The Alyscamps in the title is a Roman necropolis or city of the dead. Used as a burial ground for 1500 years and shaded by avenues of stately trees, the place has a wonderful
atmosphere. People love going for walks there and Van Gogh and Gauguin chose to paint it together, working side by side. Like The Alyscamps, his poetry both celebrates and
commemorates times past. He writes of places and people, some of them centuries old and others utterly modern and glimpsed only days before the poem was written.
Derek believes poetry provides redress to some of life’s wounding experiences and that it can speak truth about power, if not to it. Reviewer George Beddow says the poetry
“is marked by sincerity, honesty and compassion... There is an unashamed social and political commitment that is rare...Finding consolations amid conflict – whether
internal or external, is difficult at the best of times. Sharing them eloquently is even more so."Back to Top
Mental Health Awareness and Poetry - 01/07/2016
Getting increasingly excited at Palewell Press in the run-up to publishing Nick Alldridge’s beautiful poetry collection
Playing with the Pieces about how he dealt with depression. Publication is expected in early July. Catch Nick on the Poets Anonymous radio programme on Radio Croydon, Sun 03 July at 14:00,
talking about the new book. Sue Johns calls “Playing with the Pieces” a brave and moving collection – Nick Alldridge’s poems explore everything from the raw emotions of losing control "crawling ...
like moths through lighter fuel" to the simple honesty of "I am depressed." But Alldridge also has the gift of black humour. In a sonnet addressing a friend who has committed
suicide, he asks "can we talk about that?" Much of this collection explores, positive and negative, aspects of the poet’s life. Debating how these memories may help or hinder his
wellbeing in the future. In a series of poems Alldridge links his, younger and older, self by the sharing of fingerprints. This is a perfect analogy for not being able to,
totally, let go of the past. In the final poem it is also a passionate advocate for self-acceptance. As the poem Labels deduces, being different doesn’t mean being inferior.
In her review of Nick’s collection, Jane Grell wrote that he puts you surprisingly at your ease...and allows you like a confidant into his musings: "Short utterances speak
of loss/and hold us locked in shared experiences,/orbiting each other, poet and listener." He doesn't shy away from dark subjects such as lost love and friendship, even depression
at its worst. Referring to an old voicemail, he writes: "I left the message there,/too bitter-sweet to play again/too important to delete." His language, like his topics,
is both complex and accessible and there, to counter dark thoughts, is a wry humour which, along with hope, and life, triumph in the end. "This present time is such a gift."
And so say all of us! A collection well worth reading.Back to Top
Love to Europe - 24/06/2016
Today started with sadness hanging over me like a cloud. My mother’s family came from Poland, Austria
and Hungary and my father’s from Ireland, Wales and Scotland. Legend has it we’re partly Basque as well. No matter how few or many generations you look back, the UK is a real
melting pot. I remember Mum and Dad maintaining friendships and family links around the world – keeping them alive by letters, phone-calls and occasional journeys since email
hadn’t been invented.
For a few hours this morning it felt as if the united peaceful Europe they dreamed of after WW2, the Europe of visits to French friends, German cousins, Spanish colleagues,
of sporting competitions, international choral events and sunny holidays had been moved a little further away from where I live. But has it – do we need to sit back and let
our foreign connections be distanced? No way - however difficult the new rules make it, let’s take great delight in staying in touch and let’s show some love to Europe!
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Jo Cox and standing up for others - 17/06/2016
I was deeply saddened by the murder of Jo Cox as I suspect were many people. Struck down in the street. A hate crime? Was it because of her strong support of Syrian
refugees? Parliament and her constituency have both lost someone special. Tim Farron’s letter to Liberal supporters linked his feelings about Jo’s death with shock and sorrow
about the massacre at the LGBT club in Orlando. And I second that thought. Our sympathy goes out to those most closely bereaved by these terrible events.
But the rest us have lost something too – our confidence in public order perhaps, in civil society, a world where Good Samaritans come forward when travellers need help,
where everyone’s instinct is to aid the afflicted rather than taunting them or capturing their sufferings on mobile phones.
People of all political and religious persuasions, and as a humanist I include myself in that number, need to come together in a renewed search for these virtues.
Publishers, journalists, newspaper editors, authors, poets and teachers - we all have an important part to play in providing a platform for the publication of peaceful,
inclusive ideas.To paraphrase the old adage about challenging censorship, it isn’t “Publish and be damned” we need now but “Publish to ensure others are blessed.”
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Speaking up about our Mental Health - 07/06/2016
A poetry collection, a committee of MPs and a wellbeing centre - what do they have in common? You know how it goes – you hear the name of a favourite artist and
suddenly you’re seeing their paintings everywhere? I’m experiencing that in relation to the need to talk openly about Mental Health.
Like many of my friends I’ve had episodes of depression but didn’t say anything at work in case it damaged my career. These days we’re encouraged to speak up and share our feelings.
But as Rachel Diamond of 38 Degrees emailed recently – when you do need help it can be hard to get it. Local mental health services are closing down, and waits for appointments
can be months. A committee of MPs is looking for a way forward and asking whether mental health services should be free under the NHS. On the plus side, my amazing daughter
Sasha Wallace is pressing on with the People’s Choice phase of her bid to create “Bloom - the Health Spa for the Mind” where local people in Croydon, or another urban centre,
can learn how to manage and improve their own mental wellbeing. Do look at her pitch and vote for her on https://www.vmbvoom.com/p…/bloom-the-health-spa-for-the-mind.
And to crown the simultaneity of these connections, Palewell Press is about to publish Nick Alldridge’s beautiful poetry collection “Playing with the Pieces” about how he dealt
with depression. So my initial sense of deja vu is rapidly morphing into a celebration of what can be achieved when we all work together on something important.
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What is Independent Publishing for? 06/05/2016
As followers of this page may know, I recently relaunched Palewell Press. Since it started in 2006, my little press had been a very personal resource, allowing me
and poet friends get their words into print and in front of a wider audience. Within that limited brief, it achieved success.
Having independently published Travels of a Spider in 2006 gave me confidence to approach the editors at
Flipped Eye Publishing about them producing my second collection Travelling East by Road and Soul. Between 2006 and 2015,
I also brought out several poetry pamphlets and my first novel. Then in 2015 I published The Letterpress Poets Anthology
which sold a lot of copies (ISBN 978-1-326-38531-6 at £6.00 plus postage from firstname.lastname@example.org). The book helped Letterpress Poets be invited to perform
at the also-relaunched Aldeburgh Poetry Festival this November. It was at this point I realised I wanted more. Publishing poetry was aesthetically satisfying. But it didn’t engage the other
sides of my personality – the passion for Human Rights and universal access to literacy, concerns about the suffering of refugees, people isolated by circumstances or disability, and the damage
we’re doing to the planet. Mainstream publishing is a difficult nut to crack for writers whose challenge the status quo. But couldn’t Palewell Press play a part by publishing writers
with something important to say about our troubled world? This was clearly going to need a lot of time and energy. I gave up the day job, relaunched Palewell Press and went out to poetry events
with a fresh sense of purpose and excitement. Throughout the Spring those feelings grew as I met writers whose work isn’t just marvellous poetry or prose. It champions the oppressed and gives a voice to
others less able to speak for themselves. Right now, I’m getting ready to share that excitement, to shout it from the rooftops. Watch this space!
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My Writing Journey and The Artist's Way - 01/03/2016
I started writing poetry about thirty years ago. My first marriage had just ended in divorce and I was keen to meet new people but still feeling raw. A friend
suggested I leave dating for a while and join a writers’ group instead. So I tried attending the Room on the Roof group at Riverside Studios. They made me welcome and
kick-started me writing poetry. For ages I poured everything onto the page – all my angst and my tentative hopes for happier times in the future. Goodness knows how many
fairly dreadful poems I wrote in that first couple of years.
That kept going till, just as an experiment, I tried writing a short story. To my horror the poetry instantly dried up. Where had it gone? And when, two years later, I tackled
writing – or trying to write – a novel, my ability to write short stories disappeared as well. It seemed like my brain was wired so I could only work on one sort of creative
expression at a time – so frustrating. Poetry had become such a valuable outlet. The blank page had been like a totally accepting friend I could communicate with, but now I
felt completely blocked.
Then, during an evening class on novel-writing, I heard about Julia Cameron’s book “The Artist’s Way”. Julia had seen lots of creative people who either couldn’t start writing
or for some reason had stopped and wanted to get past whatever stopped them. She swears by two techniques both of which I’ve found invaluable: Morning Pages and The Artist’s Date.
The Morning Pages technique requires you to write about 3 x A4 sheets of diary every morning, just brain-dumping anything and everything that drifts through your consciousness
– such as whether you like the new type of cereal you tried at breakfast or you’re overdue for a dental appointment. You can include more creative thoughts if they come to you
and my Morning Pages very occasionally leads to a poem. But their real purpose is to help you clear away the log-jam of uncreative, often gloomy or cross, thoughts clogging up
your mind. That makes room for creative ideas to come to the surface of your inner “well”.
The Artist’s Date technique is to go out alone, every so often, to have some fun – maybe visiting a food market and trying different types of cheese or sitting in the park
watching the clouds drifting across the sky. If you’ve been working hard on a manuscript or some other creative project and are feeling exhausted and demotivated, that’s a good
moment to go on an Artist’s Date. The idea is to play rather than work. Julia advises against treating it as a day to write. Instead you are filling up the creative “well” inside
you that I mentioned earlier. Do check out Julia's website and watch the free videos she offers about both these techniques.
Or borrow her book “The Artist’s Way” from the library. And I hope you find her ideas as liberating as I have.
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