Archive | writing

Dove Cottage – creative writing inspired by place and objects

Did you know that writer William Wordsworth born on this day in 1770? It’s a date that’s lodged in my mind as it links to a creative project that I was part of, linked to the poet and his Lake District home of Dove Cottage.

I was one of 26 writers who took part in in a creative writing project inspired by postcodes. The letter and number combinations identified a place that we used as inspiration to write a piece of 62 words exactly – a form known as a sestude.

Dove Cottage, Grasmere

Dove cottage

My postcode was for Dove Cottage in Grasmere – home to the famous poet William Wordsworth and his family from 1799 to 1808.

I immediately felt lucky to have such a place rich in writing history from which to draw inspiration, but also a little daunted. Although I knew of Wordworth’s work, and had studied some of his poetry, he wasn’t one of my favourites. I dismissed him as a bit safe and chocolate boxy.

But I was very wrong, as I learned when I visited the house and the exhibition space that now sits alongside it. Wordsworth was a great walker and adventurer. He visited France during the Revolution and had a relationship and a daughter there. His poetry reflects changing social and political landscapes, and together with his sister Dorothy and his family, they were a real part of the small community they lived in.

Taking inspiration from objects

I visited Dove Cottage on a bright, sunny day, perfect for the tourists that now flock there. In the museum and the house, I was fascinated by the objects that would have been familiar to Wordsworth and his family.

The page of Dorothy’s diary, open at the day they saw the daffodils, that inspired his most often quoted poem, shows how important her records are in shaping Wordsworth’s work.

Pens, a writing desk, a small suitcase – these told the story of a man who once travelled, but came to settle and write in this place.

And, displayed in a glass case, was the rich velvet coat he wore when he was presented to Queen Victoria as poet laureate. In all likelihood, the most expensive piece of clothing he ever wore. I imagined him feeling rather uncomfortable in it, being more at home in the tough boots that carried him miles in walks over the hills.

From scribbled words to published piece

I drank in so much information among the exhibits, and then went and sat, in the garden behind the house and wrote a  few words in my notebook.

Notebook and 26 Postcodes pamphletAfter many further scribblings and through many more pages of words,  I eventually condensed my thoughts down to the 62 that make up my sestude. It was  was published online and in a beautiful little pamplet along with other pieces that reflect places as diverse as Seamus Heaney’s football club to the Heinz factory.

Looking back, I can trace every thought and idea in those 62 words to my time at Dove Cottage.

“To introduce Wordsworth into one’s library is like letting a bear into a tulip garden,” said Thomas de Quincey. The quote illustrated on one of the displays made me smile, and painted a picture of a robust, and vigorous man, with a passion for books. It also gave me that key word ‘library’ – a good one to use in relation to a writer.

The coat appears, as does Dorothy’s diary, and the garden path that I took at the back of the house. And seeing the house in its context, I wanted to reflect a sense of the landscape that inspired the writer and me, with its distinctive fells and lakes. That gave me a structure for my poem.

I still have the notebook. The first words I wrote were: hill, lake, hearth, home. They remain in my finished sestude, as a tribute to the power of place to inspire. Here it is:

Your library, these rising hills

Your reflections, these sun-dappled lakes

Your muse, these dancing golden flowers

Your wistful words, whispers of valley voices

Your fine court coat, the mossy earth

Your eyes and ears, a sister’s diary

Your heart, the swaying sycamore green

Your wanderings stilled by slate paths

Your poetry etched by nature.

 

Hill, lake, earth, stone

Pen, ink, hearth, home.

How to find your business blogging confidence

There’s been a lot of chat about business blogging in my online networks this week, with several people expressing a lack of confidence about doing it.

I’m a writer. I blog and I have done for years. I’m not saying I always do it as well or as consistently as I could do, but I’m not afraid of writing blog posts for my own and other businesses. By addressing some of your worries and sharing what works for me, I’d like to help give you more confidence to blog for your business.

Why blog for your business?

There’s lots of advice about this, so I’ll give you the short version. Blogging is a relatively easy way to generate new content for your website. Search engines like new content, so your site appears higher in their rankings than static sites, and more customers find you.

Blogging is also a great way to establish your knowledge and expertise, to give your customers a chance to get to know more about you and your business and to build up a relationship with them.

I don’t like writing and I’m no good at it

photographerWho says you have to write a blog? Why not use video or photographs?

You don’t need fancy equipment and editing software for video or vlogs – a smartphone or the video mode on a digital camera will do. Film them selfie style, or fix your camera onto something. I’ve balanced mine on a pile of books before now.

Pictures also make great blog posts. A series of photos of an event, product or experience are an excellent way to show what your business does. You can add captions or let them tell their own story.

I am not great at using pictures in my blogs. I prefer to use my own to avoid rights issues. But I have found pixabay and Unsplash useful for sourcing rights free images and have created some of my own using Adobe Spark and Canva.

Or, best of all, hire a professional photographer to get some great pictures of you and your business that you can use time and time again. That’s on my to-do list in the next six months.

As for being confident or ‘good’ at writing blogs, all I can say is that if you don’t try, it won’t get any easier. Let your audience or customers decide how good you are. And if you need some help, then ask your friendly local writer for help with subjects, structure or writing style.

I don’t have any ideas for blog posts

This is quite difficult for me to understand, because I have ideas all the time. I watch the news, sign up for alerts to subjects I’m interested in, go for a walk, talk to people, look through photos on my phone. I read, I dream, I cook, I run – I mash things up from one area of my life and another. I have more ideas than I will ever get to write about.

Working in creative industries means I’ve always had to think of ideas. As a BBC Radio journalist I had to source at least two news stories a day, which meant generating a lot more than two ideas and working on them until I ‘found’ a story.

Wordstruck notebooksAs a creative copywriter, I had to generate lots of ideas for marketing campaigns. Here, working with other creative people really helped me to bounce ideas around, and spark new ones from others’ input. The trick was not to dismiss any idea straight away, to keep on generating them and only then start to apply filters about what would work well.

I take the same approach to blogging now. If I’m asked to write about a particular theme or subject, I’ll do a bit of research and then jot down as many ideas as I can.  I’ll leave them for a while before coming back to them to decide which ones to present to a client.

I write ideas down in OneNote, and in my notebooks. Nowadays, I normally have a phone or notebook with me, but I have scribbled things on the back of bus tickets in my time. Most of my ideas are a sentence, phrase or question that acts as a prompt, but sometimes they can be a quote or an observation.

I don’t think my ideas are any good

If you want to be strategic and smart about blogging for your business, then think about your audience or your customers and what they would be interested in. Here are a few themes to get you started:

  • What advice can you pass on?
  • Share  your view of what goes on ‘behind the scenes’ – what goes into your product or service?
  • Review an activity, event, place, product or service
  • What do you wish you’d known when you started in business?
  • Think about questions that your customers always ask you – can you answer some of these in a blog post?
  • How can you help your customers do business with you or a closely related business? For example this guest post for Whiteacres Design offers great tips for choosing a commercial photographer

If those aren’t enough then here are 50 ideas for your business blog.

And if you’re still struggling, then drop me a note in the comments below or contact me through the Wordstruck facebook page.

I don’t have time to blog

As a business writer, one of the services I offer is to write blogs for your business. So, it may seem a bit odd that I’m writing this blog post, as I could be doing myself out of business. But I recognise that not everyone has the budget or inclination to hire a writer. And I love writing so much that I want to share that with you.

Here are some of the things that helped me:

Set a time and place for blogging

Wordstruck writing deskMy brilliant writing mentor John Simmons has written a weekly blog post for years. He sets aside a specific day and time to write.

I wrote a weekly blog on a writing theme for over a year, following the same discipline and setting aside an hour a week to do it.

I didn’t always complete my blog post in that hour, but I made a start. Sometimes I could extend that time, sometimes I had to find it somewhere else. But I made it a goal to get it written and published.

Make yourself accountable

I set myself a weekly blogging goal because I wanted to generate content, and because I wanted to test my ability to come up with new ideas on a consistent basis. This was actually the start of convincing myself that I had the right attitude to set up in business for myself.

If it helps, tell someone what your business blogging goal is, or at least write it down e.g. I will post a blog about my business once a week for 6 weeks. I announced mine on my twitter profile.

Take on a bet, or promise yourself a reward for sticking to your blogging goals. Buddy up with your social or business network and challenge and support each other.

Just do it

Blogging is a great way to develop your confidence in writing and talking about your business. Remember, you’re in charge of what you publish and when. And, you can go back and edit things (even delete them) if you want to.

So, try not to get too hung up on writing the perfect blog post . Just write it and publish it. After you’ve taken a deep breath and calmed down, go back and look at the responses, comments, views and analytics and use them to help you decide what to post next.

Special business blogging offer

Writing this blog post has made me realise there’s a lot more I could say about business blogging. So I’d like to hear from you. What challenges and concerns do you have about blogging for your business? What more would you like to know?

Please add your comments below or get in touch with me via the Wordstruck facebook page. I promise to respond to every comment.

The beauty of calligraphy

Calligraphy in a wedding guest book from creative-calligraphy.com
Words are all around us. You and I see thousands of them everyday – on the products we use; in shops, on transport, on street signs, posters, and on the screens we increasingly carry around in our pockets and bags.

How much attention do you pay to them? Do they fade into the mass of background chatter? What does it take for a word, or phrase to stop and make you take notice?

The art of calligraphy

I have a natural affinity with people who share a love for and an appreciation of words, so it was delightful to get to know Angela Reed of Creative Calligraphy when we caught up over a coffee and a chat last week. We had a lot in common, so it was a long chat.

Examples of calligraphy from creative-calligraphy.comAngela makes words look beautiful, by writing them in elegant, sweeping calligraphy. She often works on commissions for weddings or special events, times when words take on special significance.

On her website, Angela tells us that Calligraphy comes from the Greek kallos (beauty) and graphe (writing) and has been used through the ages to herald and record important events.

Weddings, birthdays, celebrations of achievement – these are all times when we are likely to pay more attention to words.

Whether it’s choosing a poem or a reading for a service, or expressing our feelings in a card, there’s a heightened sense of the significance of the words we share. So these occasions offer a perfect setting for Angela’s beautiful writing craft.

Words that make you stop and stare

As a writer, words are my tools, so I do my best to use them with care and consideration. But how many of us go through life consciously thinking about the words we use and hear every day?

Calligraphy nibs and holders from creative-calligraphy.comI increasingly type on a screen or touch a keyboard, but my preference for writing is always to start with a notebook and pen, or pencil.

There’s something about making physical marks on a page that seems to connect with my brain and my heart far more deeply than tapping keys with my finger tips.

My handwriting is often fast and functional, desperately trying to keep up with my brain. But sometimes it’s nice to slow it down and linger over a word or a phrase. To enjoy the movement of ink on paper, trying to capture something as fleeting and ephemeral as a thought.

Angela gave me a lovely gift of some antique nibs and holders. I’m itching to try them out. I’ve signed up to one of her workshops, to learn how to write words that look as stunning as they sound.

Always learning

As a writer and trainer, I’m always keen on learning new things, that I can pass on to the people who come to my writing workshops or just to keep my own interests and knowledge up to date.

Here are a few things I’ve learned recently:

Simple visuals using Adobe Spark

A writer, I think, is someone who pays attention to the worldHypeStar provide training in digital and social media from their base in the North East, and are very generous in sharing some great hints and tips on their blog. That’s where I learned about Adobe Spark – a free tool to create graphics and simple video animations. Check out HypeStar’s simple guide to Adobe Spark and give it a try yourself:

https://www.hypestar.uk/make-stunning-visuals-videos-adobe-spark/

This has been a great way for me to add some visual appeal to some of my Twitter and facebook posts. A professional designer can create something more creative and stand out for your business, but for a quick post, I think this is a great tool.

How to avoid deleting shared files when using Dropbox

I picked up some more tips from technical writer John Espirian, including this reminder about the rules of dropbox sharing.

I’m starting to work with a client using Dropbox at the moment, so this was a very useful and timely reminder.

Contender for word of the year

I love a good discussion about words, so I always enjoy seeing what The Writer has to say in their email newsletter. They’re making an early prediction about the word of the year in 2017. 

I also enjoyed hearing how paying attention to language helped turn customer experience from bad to good for games company EA on their podcast. You can listen to it on iTunes and on everything else.

The black hole of Calcutta was a real place

Finally, Lucy Worsley always does a great job of engaging me with stories from history. I’ve really enjoyed the series of British History’s Biggest Fibs, and this week I learned about the origin of the phrase ‘the black hole of Calcutta’. Watch it again on BBC iPlayer.

I really appreciate it when people share their interests and knowledge and add to mine. Is there anything you’d like to know more about in the realms of copywriting and business writing?

Who are you and what do you care about?

Man driving an ox cart in Cambodia
I’ve recently returned from an amazing trip to Cambodia with Lendwithcare – a charity that supports people working their way out of poverty.

I learned many things from the experience of travelling through the country and meeting the local people – things that I’ll write about here in future. But one of the most striking has got me thinking about how we talk about who we are and what we do.

So I was very proud to be invited to write a guest post for The Table on the subject of purpose in business and in writing. I enjoy reading Rob Self Pierson’s blog and feel that it reflects many of my own values about writing for business and pleasure.

Take a look: http://welcometothetable.co.uk/who-are-you-and-what-do-you-…

Why we need spaces like The Word

Interior of The Word

At times it feels like all we ever hear about are cuts. Cuts to council budgets, cuts to healthcare spending, jobs cuts, arts cuts… So spending millions on a new library, arts and cultural space in South Shields not the richest or most affluent of places in the UK, feels like a bold move. Bold and optimistic, The Word, the National Centre for the written word takes its place in the landscape beside the mouth of the River Tyne, which has seen the changing tides of history from riches to poverty and back again, more times than anyone can count.

Library room with computers

At its heart is a library. But it’s so much more than that. It’s a space where old and new sit side by side; where you’ll find books and computers and table-sized interactive screens, large enough for a feast of information. Around the massive central spiral staircase, a light and airy space opens out, leading onto rooms for art, for design, for making things, for meetings, workshops, and of course, for reading.

The vision

At its opening, the council leader Iain Malcolm spoke with pride about a vision for a place where young people could keep pace with technological change, while appreciating the rich cultural history of South Tyneside. And the Chief Executive of The Arts Council England, Darren Henley spoke of creativity’s need for spaces for ideas, thought and debate.

That’s the justification for spending the money, I thought. Not that, as a writer, I need any convincing of the value of places like this. I feel it in a way that resonates more than the counting out of pounds and pence.

But should we have needed any proof of the possibilities, then local author Ann Cleves spoke personally about the importance of libraries in keeping her books being published, when she was a struggling writer. Now, the author of the Vera Stanhope and Shetland Island novels is at least partly responsible for a boost to the UK tourist industry as visitors come from China and the USA to see the locations where the popular television series, based on her books have been filmed.

Writer, Ann Cleves, speaking at the opening of The Word

Writer, Ann Cleves, speaking at the opening of The Word

The writer’s view

She told me: “It’s my ideal of a library. For years and years, I’ve been banging on about how libraries should be cultural spaces, in places where people don’t have access to the arts. Why not have a choir in a library? Why not have magnificent paintings and writer’s workshops? And in this place you have all that, besides the books as well.”

In stepping into The Word, on its official opening day, full of excited local schoolchildren chattering among the books, and being greeted by characters from Harry Potter, I was reminded of a story of aspiration told by a head teacher in a very different environment.

Life without aspirations

I was working as a journalist for BBC Radio Newcastle and had gone to a school in Benwell, a deprived area of Newcastle upon Tyne. Surrounded by an estate of brick and concrete, and flaked by tall spiked tailings, it was a bright spot of warmth and colour in an unexpected setting.

Pencil drawings of miners on easels

The head teacher spoke of the children there with great affection; about how a big part of the job of the school was to give them hopes and dreams and aspirations.

When you come from a family where no one works; when you live on a street where none of your neighbours work; where you don’t know anyone with a job, then coming to school and getting an education can seem a bit of a pointless task, she explained. Poverty, isn’t just about money, it’s about expectations, she said and described children arriving in the reception class, not knowing how to hold a book or turn the pages from right to left, because they’d never encountered one.

Like that school, The Word offers a vision of another future, one in which people can read, play, make things, and explore learning and creativity in many different forms. And yet, at the same time, this new space is firmly rooted in its past, in its history.

Stories are everywhere

As well as housing the impressive local history archives, around the walls of The Word you’ll find wooden story panels. Local writer, Michael Chaplin, well known for his television and theatre work, including Monarch of the Glen and several Live Theatre productions, has collected 20 true stories about epic voyages that begin or end in South Tyneside. The tales span 2,000 years, fro the Romans to the present day and touch on every continent on the globe. The idea is that you stumble upon them as they catch your eye, like pieces of flotsam and jetsam, washed up by the tide.

wooden letters Speaking to me about The Word taking its place alongside the river, he said: “It’s an expression of hope for the future. It’s an absolutely lovely building to be in and therefore it makes it the greater pleasure to come here and become acquainted with stories of all kinds and to broaden people’s experiences and to inspire them to write stories of their own. Hopefully some for publication, but I think it’s a great benefit just being an ‘ordinary citizen’ and creating stories of your own.”

We are all creatures of our environment, and I’m lucky enough that mine was full of libraries and creative spaces, trips to art galleries, museums and theatres. Today there is a new world of opportunities. The old industries of shipbuilding and coal mining have left the North East of England, but there are new jobs in a digital world, in the arts and creative industries, it just takes a bit of encouragement to see them as possibilities. The Word is a space that provides that encouragement.

26 Steps part 5 – exploring through different eyes

black and white photo of Manchester canal and railway

Manchester canal and railway – photo by Stephen Barnaby

The 26 Steps project began as an idea inspired by the 100th anniversary of the publication of John Buchan’s famous novel ‘The 39 Steps’.

What would 26 modern day writers make of a walk in a landscape? How would they interpret the language of the land, its natural form and elements? What sights would they choose to photograph? What significant markers would they signpost on their maps? And what words would they choose for their writing, to fit the 62 word limit?

The constraints of geography, artistic talent and word count have opened up a rich seam of creativity, which finds its form in these virtual postcards. Each one sent by a writer, to you, to invite you to join them on their journey and explore a place through different eyes.

We are immensely grateful to the writers who took on the challenge of 26 Steps. We hope that their postcards encourage you to explore your own landscapes both well known and unfamiliar and to use them to inspire your own creativity and well being.

The final stage of our 26 journey starts in Somerset, taking us through Holyhead to the urban streets of Manchester then south again to Devon and Cornwall. We step through the alphabet from U to Z, and then like all good journeys find ourselves home again, ready for a new adventure, starting with the letter A.

Step 21: Urgashay to Vagg Copse, Somerset by David Mathews

Step 22: Valley to Williams Street, Holyhead by Sharon Jones

Step 23: Wythenshawe to Xaverian College by Sandy Wilkie

Step 24: Xaverian College to Y Club, Manchester by Stephen Barnaby

Step 25: Yeo Lane to Zeal Monachorum, Devon by David Manderson

Step 26: Zennor to Alverton, Cornwall by Fiona Egglestone

Follow the journey on twitter #26Steps.

26 Steps part 4 – journeys through the physical and mental landscape

Black and white photo of a bay

Stoke Fleming to Torcross – photo by Caroline Lodge

One of the ideas of the 26 Steps project is to take you on a journey. It may not be same physical journey that our writers enjoyed (or endured) on the walks they undertook for this project, but I hope they will be an inspiration for your own wanderings and writing.

Using a combination of photographs, maps and writing in the form of a 62 word sestude, we created a series of virtual postcards. We invite you to read them, to see something of the places depicted and to trace the routes on the hand-drawn maps.

We hope you will be inspired to get out and explore your own landscapes, and to use them to create your own writing, art, photography or other creative opportunities.

Enjoy the photographs, maps and writing inspired by these walks which take us from Belfast to Northumberland and from Devon to a far off Scottish Isle. This section also includes the second of my two creative pieces.

Step 17: Pirrie Park to Queens University, Belfast by Therese Kieren

Step 18: Quaking Houses to Rowlands Gill, Tyne and Wear by Michelle Nicol

Step 19: Rock to Seahouses, Northumberland by Irene Lofthouse

Step 20: Stoke Fleming to Torcross, Devon by Caroline Lodge

Step 21: Tolmachan to Urgha, Isle of Harris by Clare Archibald

Follow the journey on twitter #26Steps.

26 Steps part 3 – how constraints encourage creative thinking

Black and white photo of the sea and beach huts

Overstrand to Paston – photo by Merryn Henderson

The 26 walks that provide inspiration for 26 Steps start at a place name beginning with each letter of the alphabet and take the writer to a place starting with the next letter in the sequence.

Each writer took a black and white photograph and drew a map as a visual guide to their journey as well as recording their thoughts, feelings and observations in a sestude – a form that requires 62 words exactly.

26 Steps logoAs a writer, I enjoy a constraint. Despite their name, they actually open up creative processes and often give me a way of tackling the terror of a blank page. Having a reason to write and a framework to do it in helps me to focus in on ideas and encourages me to think in new ways as I seek to fit the brief.

Meeting the brief is what I do professionally for my copywriting clients too, meeting their requests for writing for different formats, audiences and purposes. Short copy, long copy, writing for video, writing for an advert, writing for a website – they all have their constraints.

For 26 Steps, the constraint of following the alphabet from place to place meant that writers took in a range of landscapes; rivers, woods, farmland, coastal fringes, urban areas and mountains. The writing has a similarly varied theme, from lyrical wanderings, to urban humour, from physical geography to the landscape of the mind via history and memory.

The third section of the journey takes us from Wales to the Scottish Borders, through the industrial history of North East England to a Norfolk pilgrim’s path, through the alphabet from K to P and includes the first of my contributions (more of that later).

Step 11: Knighton to Lower Harpton, Powys by Sandy Wilkie

Step 12: Llandegla to Moel Famau, Denbighshire by Ed Prichard

Step 13: Morebattle to Nisbet, Scottish Borders by Joan Lennon

Step 14: North Shields to Old Hartley, Tyne and Wear by Michelle Nicol

Step 16: Overstrand to Paston, Norfolk by Merryn Henderson

Follow the journey on twitter #26Steps.

Going with the flow – how writing is like paddling down the Tyne

On Saturday, I went on an adventure, kayaking down the River Tyne with three of my friends. The spur was to be fearless, to do something we hadn’t done before. It was a brilliant afternoon.

Today it has me reflecting on watery phrases, and how they can be used as a metaphor for the writing process.

Kakaks paddling beneath the High Level Bridge on the TyneOur guides for the day were the Cullercoats Bike and Kayak crew, making sure we were safe, helping us navigate the river and coaching us on paddling the route. We began at Derwenthaugh, getting into the river opposite the Vickers Armstrong factory – a reminder of the long industrial heritage of this busy, working river.

We had waited for the tide to turn, so we would ride with the flow out towards the sea. But on first entering the water in our unfamiliar craft, the tide was slack. At first, getting the hang of paddling and steering had some of us going round in circles, and progress was slow.

Figuring out port and starboard

Slack water is where you have to put some effort in to move forwards. It’s like the start of a writing project, where I’m learning new things about a client and their business, about their customers and what they want and need. It’s about taking on board new information, trying things out, getting a feel for the project.

At this stage, I’m learning new terms and language. Like getting to grips with my paddle, this might feel clumsy or cumbersome at first, but soon it starts to feel more natural. I might try out a few phrases, and find I’m steering the tone of voice too far towards the informal, so I get feedback and correct my course.

As we got used to our craft and more confident in abilities to control our direction, we began to feel the river flow faster, and as we paddled it felt like we were cutting through the water, picking up pace.

Floating down river

Travelling with the tide, going with the flow is what it feels like when I’m writing in the zone, when the words come quickly and easily. It’s the first draft, when I don’t think, don’t judge, just write and let the ideas and thoughts take shape on paper. Progress is quicker and there’s a sense of excitement and exhilaration.

Kayakers approach the High Level Bridge on the TyneSoon we approached the Tyne’s iconic bridges. Always a sight to stir my heart, and never more so than on this adventure, seeing their familiar lines and arcs from a new perspective. Paddling beneath the seven bridges that span the great river as it travels through the heart of the city is something I will never forget.

New perspectives

From water level, the Tyne’s bridges take on a new dimension. Their scale is epic. The engineering impressive. Their stanchions deep in the river narrowing the navigable route.

Seeing things from a new angle is useful tool for writing too. Sometimes I have to get into the detail to discover the small clue that unlocks the heart of the story. At other times, it’s the broader sweep, the wider view of how a business fits in its landscape of customers and community that will give me the right perspective.

If I find myself stuck, taking a physical, or mental wander around, drinking in the experience of sights, sounds smells, tastes and feelings is a sure fire way of generating new ideas, phrases and insights. Looking at objects from a new and unfamiliar perspective gives me a new angle for writing about them too.

Smooth waters

Beneath the magnificent bridges, the river was glassy smooth. In the heart of the busy city, gulls flew overhead and there was silence apart from the odd rumble of a car or a train passing by overhead. This gave us time to slow down, admire the view and enjoy the sensation of having part of the river to ourselves.

In writing, that’s like the polishing and editing process. The time when I slow down and look at the words on the page carefully, weighing each one, considering its place. Like the river, sometimes this can be a choppy process and it can feel like I’m being buffeted to and fro. The goal is to navigate the chop, using my skills and experience to turn the finished piece into smooth prose that sounds naturally as though that’s the way it’s meant to be.

Thanks to Cullercoats Bike and Kayak for looking after us, supplying all the equipment and being excellent guides for our river tour. Special thanks to my friend Sue for saying she wanted to have a go in a kayak; to Roger and Tove for being the right kind of daft to go along with it; and to Penny for taking some excellent photos of us on the river.