2021 – Updating my intentions

Halfway through the calendar year, I thought it was time I reviewed my writing plans for 2021. I took three posts to get round to stating my intentions.

January 2021 – Look back mostly skimmed over a year tainted with COVID-19. In a moment of hope, which currently seems somewhat over-optimistic, I said:

We expect to remain shielding until everyone is vaccinated and the virus has gone… We realise this may be some time.

Well, bugger. Just when it looked like things were going well, and a visit to friends for the first time in aaages was on the horizon, the Delta variant arrived and scuppered those plans. Back into household lockdown we go. And thankful for the ability to do so, while furious at the mismanagement that failed to mitigate the risks.

I did warn myself:

“there’s also a risk that, as ever, being bogged down in the stories that fill the news… will be detrimental to creativity”

This. So much this.

Like picking at a scab and wondering why it won’t heal, scrolling social media for an echo of the same tale minute by minute just leads to wasted hours with nothing to show for ’em. No creative writing, no tasty meals prepared, no grass mown.

In the same post I wrote:

“…part of my new writing year’s resolutions is to write with more focus on work which can be published, to finish that work, and submit more poetry to online journals.”

Yeah, nice idea. Still, I have half a year left to work on it.

On top of that, I also suggested:

“There’s scope, room, for learning more skills. For reading widely, online and on paper, to research and build the worlds my stories will occupy.”

Illustration by Waltrich - a human figure reading a book

At least I’ve been able to make a start on some of this. Books, fiction and nonfiction, feed the imagination, and I have a stack of ’em to work through. Haven’t kept my Goodreads up to date though.

A trip to a museum is right out at the moment, sadly – I’d love to revisit the magnificent Kelvingrove, for example, and I’ve mothballed a proposed visit to Calke Abbey – but I’ve enjoyed the scenery of far-flung places through the writings of others.

All grist to the mill.

Here’s a reminder of my writing goals for 2021:

  1. One non-fiction project.
  2. Write more, including fiction and poetry.
  3. Submit poetry to online journals.

How have I done so far?

Hmm…

  1. I have more than one non-fiction project on my to-do list. Prioritise!
  2. Yes, I have written more this year than last, including a quarter of a new novel (Project NEVADA, somewhat stalled) and some new poetry.
  3. Umm, I submitted a couple of poems and had them returned.

Ooh, I mustn’t forget the twelve posts I wrote for The Last Rhinemaiden! And the regular posts on here.

Overall, still at “hmm…” though.

Six months to go. Time to get on it (again).


And here’s this week’s links (I think we could do with some cheering up):

A throwback to the 1970s, and a staple of my childhood: The Goodies (YouTube link, surreal humour involved). Also the official fan club, going strong at The Goodies Rule – OK. OMG I feel like I’m ten years old again… Their newsletter is superb!

Take a scroll through the collections at Calke Abbey on the National Trust’s website – I promise, there is so much junk in there that once you’ve stopped going “you what?”, your fingers will be itching to do a Marie Kondo (“The family were avid collectors but also they tended not to throw anything away”). There’s some really nice stuff, and then there’s the cr@p… small fragments of stained glass; rusted iron wotsits; illuminated manuscripts; buttons; and much more, like this:

Paper label "cut out of pheasants throat 1887"
Paper label “cut out of pheasants throat 1887”

Fab biographical article on the multi-talented Robert “Bob” Calvert at Thanet Writers Spotlight. And for those of you anticipating a return to the office once coronavirus has receded, his poem The Clerk.

Published in: on July 11, 2021 at 12:00 am  Comments (2)  
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One Year On: The First Ten Thousand Dead

Little did I realise, when I wrote this poem and posted it here twelve months ago, that we’d still be in the same position in 2021.

A second summer of COVID and a third – fourth? – wave rolling towards us over the sea of our school-age children. Not the best look, UK, not the best look at all.

Friends visited, all of us double vaccinated, and while it was a little weird to start with – (“will we still like them?”) – all went well in the end. Over thirty years of friendship will do that.

The world of climate emergencies has the potential to brick us up in pandemic isolation more frequently. Best we get prepared, by accepting that for now this world is what we have, and its rules have changed.

Generation X have already adapted – when I first went to university in the mid-80s, the sparse “Welcome Pack” had one of those tombstone AIDS leaflets (“don’t have sex or you’ll die”). By the early 1990s the welcome pack had expanded with freebies to include a Pot Noodle and a packet of condoms.

More so than last summer, I do wonder at the people who insist that The Youth of Today are somehow missing out. Yes, they are not going to enjoy the same experiences of those of us who matured before COVID arrived. But they are going to make their own experiences.

They are building a new world, and good luck to ’em. I hope to live in it for some years yet.


Last year I posted this as an image. This year, I’m posting it as text, to make it more accessible. I suppose the time is ripe to compose a follow-up although I’m risking this becoming an annual occurrence.

THE FIRST TEN THOUSAND DEAD

The first ten thousand dead
Did not impress our leaders, did not sway
Them from their path.
Intent on what?
You ask.
Ten thousand dead –
Mere weeks ago,
Statistics that seemed fanciful
– Outrageous and obscene –
Now look like panacea.
Yet no contrition, nor humility,
For any of the first ten thousand dead.
What makes us think the numbers matter now?

Half-hearted lockdown lifted.
Go out! Go out! And make yourselves resist!
The crowds, the happy crowds,
Crammed onto beaches or in public parks
Breathe deep the summer air,
And with it, life.
Small life, a virus; almost without trace
And yet we notice, with a gasp
Where once was song and laughter.
Indoors, survivors seizing hard-won air,
And months of pain
Endure.
What goodness, now, will come of this?

The longest day – Midsummer – fast upon us
And the nights start drawing in.
All through the summer months
Those dwindling daylight hours will mask
So many sacrifices,
The goodwill of our healthcare workers, spent
As is their strength; resilience
Does not last for ever
Without rest. Applause is not enough.

The first ten thousand dead now seem like martyrs;
The next ten thousand dead, unjust mistakes.
Now forty thousand – forty thousand! – missing, stolen, lost.
A second wave is coming
Closer, every indrawn breath
Daring admission.
Have a heart, and pity us.
How many hundred thousand will it take?


(c) Lee McAulay, June 2020


And now, this week’s links:

One of the many variants of influenza appears to have become extinct – StatNews

“I’m not scared to re-enter society, I’m just not sure I want to” – The Atlantic

And a short piece of electronic music – Nils by Bouvetøya (on SoundCloud)

Published in: on June 6, 2021 at 12:00 am  Comments (1)  
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Poem: Such Love As This

A little love letter to NHS workers everywhere, especially those in ICU. Their professionalism, skills and knowledge enable marvellous recovery, and dignified passing, in greater numbers than many of us often recognise.


poem - such love as this

(click to expand, opens in a new tab)


Writing update: I’ve sorted a bundle of poems and short pieces into groups, to see whether I have enough for a couple of chapbooks.

Poets – how many poems and snippets and suchlike would go into such a thing? As a novelist, I always aim for 80K words, which equals (rushes off to the nearest bookcase to check a handful of books) anywhere between 260-340 pages.

What’s a reasonable page count for a poetry collection? I see some on Hedgespoken Press at 32 pages. On my writing desk I have a small booklet from Penguin – Poems of the Great War 1914-1918 – which isn’t as pretty, and runs to 160 pages (including endpapers, introduction, index, acknowledgements and title/copyrights).

Any hints would be helpful. I suppose it makes a difference if there’s illustrations and fancy fonts, which sounds like a fabulous excuse for not writing

Not much else to report on the writing front – my week has been filled with the joy of fresh snowfall, gratitude for a warm dry home, and the first COVID jab in my household.

For the latter: thank you, NHS.💙


Almost forgot this week’s Three Happy Links:

Art: Tim Godden illustrations and linocuts

Utter silliness: The UniPiper on YouTube. Flaming bagpipes on a unicycle. Just what you need at this stage in lockdown.

Watch: These Are The Hands, a free film on the BFI Player

Published in: on February 14, 2021 at 12:00 am  Comments Off on Poem: Such Love As This  
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January 2021 – Look Ahead

Last week I looked back at 2020. This week, it’s time to look ahead – a daring suggestion at the moment. But let’s try…

My writing goals for 2021:

  1. One non-fiction project.
  2. Write more, including fiction and poetry.
  3. Submit poetry to online journals. For a long time – many, many years – I’ve avoided submitting my work to any sort of scrutiny. It’s time I did so.

So far I’ve made a start on all three goals, and have become bogged down in prioritising.

Running around in the background like a headless chicken, of course, is the coronavirus chaos in the UK.

It’s been a year, with no sign of stopping. When I wrote “The First Ten Thousand Dead” back in June 2020, I was angry.

I should be enraged now.


However, here’s three positive items I found online this week:

Sea shanties (try @TheLongestJohns, @MyriahBrynn, or @NathanEvans)

Wildlife in Venice canals

A new Labyrinth in Cornwall

Published in: on January 17, 2021 at 1:00 am  Comments (1)  
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Meditation at the Turning of the Year

The Last of 2020 (Meditation at the Turning of the Year)

The Old Year is over.
Let that sink in.

We can’t see the future;
what lies ahead
we only imagine, usually fear.

Leave it be, for now.
Let the Old Year enjoy its last moments.

Cup your hands round the hours
or the final few minutes;
take a moment to pause
on the brink.
This is the time to be still,
to breathe
and nothing more;
this day this hour this moment
all you have, for now.
Wait,
hands together,
on tiptoe or crouched in a huddle.
Give yourself the gift of silence.
Shhh.

There’s time and space enough to hold you, briefly, as we all spin round the sun.

Whatever the last year held for you
– harsh words or happiness –
– downfall or triumph –
let go.

Whatever the New Year holds,
let it wait.

Just a moment, just this hour,
take a breath of the planet you’re born for;
feel the world you belong to under your feet.
This is all; this is all that we have.
You belong here.
Take a breath, and relax.
We’ve made it to Now.

Make the last of the old year be: peace.


green hops against a clear blue sky

Hop(e)

Published in: on December 31, 2020 at 12:00 am  Comments Off on Meditation at the Turning of the Year  
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Peace, and blessed be.

As the year draws to a close – not yet! cry the frantic shoppers – and the impending festive season thunders towards us, filled with joy and dread, I have a small fragment of someone else’s poetry on my mind.

… But here I pray that none whom once I loved
Is dying tonight or lying still awake
Solitary, listening to the rain,
Either in pain or thus in sympathy
Helpless among the living and the dead…

– Rain, by Edward Thomas

Artwork by Bertha Lum; Pines by the Sea; 1912. a row of pine trees by a coast road

Bertha Lum, 1869 – 1954; Pines by the Sea; 1912; Minneapolis Institute of Art

Peace, and Blessed Be.

Published in: on December 20, 2020 at 12:00 am  Comments (1)  
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Birdsong

At night, where I live now, I can hear church bells from town a mile away. In another direction, over a wooded hill – another church, still a mile distant. I hear my neighbours through the walls, and over garden fences, sitting on their back step smoking.

During the day, however: lots and lots of traffic noise. School run traffic, delivery vehicles from the freight distribution yards dotted around town, large lorries into and out of the supermarkets and factories and railyards.

Birdsong has to compete with this traffic noise, so birds sing extra loud to make themselves heard.

Under lockdown, with that traffic gone, that extra-loud birdsong soared over the gardens and woodlands, all the way down to the river. Birds who were used to challenging their near neighbours to a duel, or inviting the bird-next-door for a bit of hankypanky, yelling over now-vanished traffic noise.

Our local birds can hear birds from the other side of the valley now. More threats, more challenges, more invitations.

Those first two weeks of lockdown were more silent than I’ve heard this town since we moved here.

Late at night, even the distance was silent – the distance where the major A-road hums at all hours. Just a hiss, a breeze in the trees, and a gentle rumble of a taxi taking key workers to their shift. A zip-shriek of motorbike taking the chance to ride faster than light, maybe two miles off; heavy thunderous whine of aircraft engines dwindling to a whisper as it drops to land at the airport, fifteen miles north.

This is what life sounds like on the Scottish islands. This quiet – not silence – of the natural world, of which we are a part. On the mainland of the UK, in the heart of our cities and towns, we often don’t hear the world this quiet. Even behind woodland walks which seem peaceful I’ve noticed the hum of distant traffic, like a constant threat of rain.

This is the sound of modern urban life, the constant disturbance. A time-traveller from a hundred years ago would find our lives unbearably noisy.

Now the traffic’s back and it seems louder than ever. We kept track of how much was moving on the road outside the house, and noticed as it crept up week by week, and pedestrians fewer now than during that first month.

The birds are mostly quiet too, the songs and sounds to feed fledglings in summer much less intense than the proud boasts of early spring.

But at dusk the blackbirds call across the hedges. Near midnight, two types of owl pass by, muted by the woodland on the hill behind the house. At sunrise, and all day, sparrows chatter in the ivy on the wall between our house and its neighbour.

The birds are still singing. How many of us have stopped listening?

Everyone suddenly burst out singing; And I was filled with such delight As prisoned birds must find in freedom, Winging wildly across the white Orchards and dark-green fields; on - on - and out of sight. Everyone’s voice was suddenly lifted; And beauty came like the setting sun: My heart was shaken like tears; and horror Drifted away… O, but Everyone Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done. (Everyone Sang, by Siegfried Sassoon)


I’m not an expert on birds, so what I say should be tempered with the understanding that I’m just pontificating here. The notion that under lockdown the birds were singing louder – was it just that we could hear them, for once?

Published in: on June 30, 2020 at 12:01 am  Comments Off on Birdsong  
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Poem: The First Ten Thousand Dead

Sometimes I can only express myself in poetry.

There’s more to come on COVID-19. As the pandemic progresses, the stories we need to tell cannot be eclipsed by a desire to remain upbeat, or to turn away from reality. I’ve had a few months to think on this, and write, and shape my thoughts.

Sometimes I can’t let the words out.

Sometimes, I can’t hold them in.


Text of the poem, The First Ten Thousand Dead


The influence of First World War poetry, specifically Charles Hamilton Sorley’s “When You See Millions of the Mouthless Dead”, is intentional. Isaac Rosenberg is a favourite, and Edward Thomas.

Published in: on June 9, 2020 at 11:22 am  Comments (4)  
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Earth Day 2020

A spot of doom and gloom for Earth Day 2020. I wrote this poem in 1989, when the most pressing global emergency was the hole in the ozone layer…

 

Poem - The Oldest - copyright Lee McAulay 2020

Delighted to be able to post this, so many years in the future from when it was written. It’s like having my own personal time machine (only goes forward, thank the gods).

Published in: on April 22, 2020 at 12:00 am  Comments Off on Earth Day 2020  
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December 2019

Poem: December 2019, white text on artwork showing a river in flood

Poem: December 2019 (c) Lee McAulay. Artwork adapted from “Marsh Creek” by the British-born artist and teacher Arthur Wesley Dow, whose pupils included Georgia O’Keefe and Max Weber.


I’ve been busy offline for the last year or two. This is in lieu of what now seems to be an annual update on this site.

Let me know in the comments if you’d like more poetry from me, because I haven’t published any for a long time. Novels are still available. Maybe next year I’ll get round to finishing the latest in my silly steampunk series, but I can’t promise anything.

In the meantime, especially if you’re in need of lifting up, please check out the delightful “Deeply Meaningful Poetry for Very Serious People“, by Dawn Abigail (author) and Gwyneth Hibbett (illustrator). You’ll enjoy it.


 

Published in: on December 15, 2019 at 12:00 am  Comments Off on December 2019  
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