Category Archives: Writing

Posts about writing – or any experiences related to my efforts to learn the basics of creative writing.


Painfully slowly we approach the English formations. We are forced on by the crushing weight of those behind, I hear only the sobs and crude curses of those around me. As the field narrows yet more are pressed in from the sides, and slowly we become a heavy, helpless mass of trapped and hopeless souls.

I am exhausted as my legs try to turn and push up under the weight of our armour. The mud is ever deeper. I am pushed against those in front of me, pinned by those on each side. Men climb against my back, as they in turn are driven forwards by the thousands behind. I am no longer an individual capable of any choice. Stay upright, stay standing, do not fall into the drowning slime, this is all that is left to me.

My sword, so obediently drawn under command just an hour ago, is uselessly pinned to me. I cannot breathe. I search the faces of those around me for any friends, for any humanity. There is no-one.

I look up into the grey soulless sky and for a moment everything is still. I see a bird, effortlessly circling. Just yesterday I would have looked on that bird as a simple  animal, a prisoner of its limited capabilities. Today it soars above me, and my mind reaches for it.

The moment is gone, I stumble and then desperately force myself upwards again. I can hear distant  screams from those ahead. I feel the tears on my face. I can hardly breathe, my throat burns and my legs are failing. I feel more solid ground. I look down, and see that I am walking on the strewn bodies that were once in front of me. Some are still alive. Some drowned in the mud. We are climbing now over these men, pushed on against those in front who are themselves slowly falling underneath us.

As part of the terrifying wave that we have become I am slowly forced towards the crest.

I look up into the sky, and feel the coolness. For a moment I am looking out over the falling and dead in front of me. All around me men panic, fighting to gain space, to stay upright as they are pushed forwards and downwards. I look into the sky and I see what others near me have not yet seen, the long cloud of English arrows hanging in the air. They have a single minded precision, launched with one foreign command, beautiful and full of grace.

So many thousands of arrows, hanging above so many hundreds of motionless men. I cannot move, I cannot even raise my arms. There is a long moment of transition as the hanging cloud reaches the apex of it’s measured flight, and then they are rushing  down towards us.

There is a sudden wall of pain as individual arrows tear into us. Again and again. I scream with those around me, and no-one but the fallen can hear us.

Notes from the Word Hoard

The way the exercise works is explained here.


arrows hanging in the air
Ancient killing rituals
Designed to kill
Shapes of death
A collective mind
Silent and beautiful
Forged for the purpose of killing
A death is a death

arrows hanging in the air * Selected


The picture is from the museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessaloniki. A world away from Agincourt


In a single moment I found out and I fell. As I fell all the truths I tried to hold onto turned out to be lies.

And so it began, a cold dark journey that stripped away so many layers of what I had thought of as myself. Layers that themselves turned out to be rotten, without any true meaning at all.

But there cannot be light without darkness, these year ends and rituals give us the chance to place markers in our paths. Turn away then to put this dark time behind you, and warmly laugh with me into the healing sunlight that comes with every new beginning.

Notes from the Word Hoard

The way the exercise works is explained here.


connect all the crosses
bounded by shade
symbols are everywhere
shadows of the symbols
they define each other
there cannot be light without darkness
define them by contrast
the shadow makes the meaning
ley like symbol

there cannot be light without darkness * Selected


The picture is from my trip to Thessaloniki. Written while alone on Christmas eve and early Christmas day.. From the ashes.

There for you

There for you.

Our shadows pass lightly over the landscape. We pause and look out over the future. Your soft unquestioning eyes search for  mine – you are always a part of my journey. You amaze me.

We  turn away and leave that path to be together for a while.

Rushing time will soon wash us both up onto an unimaginable landscape, a pure place that  even our shadows cannot touch.  When you turn and look back for me I will be there for you. How could I not be?

Notes from the Word Hoard

The way the exercise works is explained here.


the space beyond
a space in front of us
you are always there
always a part of my journey
space I have not touched
just near enough
the shadow in the landscape
we both look out over the same future
touched not even by our shadows
futures unimagined
not touched there
water and path

always a part of my journey* Selected


I have been learning about the spiritual values of landscape from a friend, and this moment with Charlie expressed that for me.



Over the child’s shoulder

Over the child’s shoulder

My music hurts him now, like me he remembers. Such a joyful, simple thing has been turned into pain by what you have done.

The chords I play cause him to sway and his lips to move as he copies your words, and then he catches himself. You are no longer here.

I think of you also, I look away from my friends and over the child’s shoulder I see you, laughing in your new world.

You are not really there, there is no-one. You are far from me now. But the child remembers as do I, he remembers your gentle song as I played these simple chords and I remember your arched back and the glint of the soft light on your teeth.

I cannot change the chords, I have only a few songs as my memory fades.

But the pain is an addiction, and so I play on.


Notes from the Word Hoard

The way the exercise works is explained here.


because of you

your presence

we drink and we talk

now it’s cold

I won’t be with you

I know must you

With laughing instead

Over the child’s shoulder * Selected


I love this picture from Thessaloniki and  expected the short story inspired by it to be much longer.

But after just a few words I stopped. I might expand this from this flash story into something longer.


We run the streets

We run the streets

Darkness. A physical silence. The noise of them had passed, the sudden throbbing and pulsating pain of it – all gone. A slow drip from a broken pipe. Dark puddles on the concrete floor. Broken glass everywhere. I lay still where I had fallen then slowly turned my head. Night reflections of the city. Yellow and orange, inky black.

I close my eyes, trying to feel my body. I can taste the blood in my mouth. I see one of them again, dark shadows, fist raised.

It wasn’t personal, it wasn’t me. I just happened to be there. I raised myself up, looking around. I knew they had gone. Swept on by each other, feeling the rush, railing against the world. But I looked anyway. Pale smoke in the dark distance, there was a faint smell of petrol.

I remember parking, going to the store, picking up groceries. I had talked with him, I always do. We have talked most nights for years, I still don’t know his name. I had often though of asking, but it never seemed right.

Did I sense anything? Like those machines that pick up changes in the atmosphere, tornado warnings?

There was the usual tensions, the constant backdrop of bad news. Bad TV – riot pictures. Bad radio – interviews with nervous politicians. Nothing special.

He had seemed uneasy, fidgety. Maybe he felt something.

“You OK?”
“Tired that’s all. Just tired of it all. No energy. No business. No point.”

He looked around, scanning the street.
So did I.

“It’s late – you shutting shop?”
“Yes – you’re the last for today.”
“Well, good luck.”

I had paid and crossed the dark and empty road. Behind me I could hear him pull down the heavy metal shutters. The rattle of the chains. I didn’t look back.

I remembered reaching the car, putting my bag down, looking for the key. Hearing them in the distance, my heart jumping. A car alarm. Glass breaking. Seeing them running the street, yelling. Sweeping towards me, like flood waters channeled by the road. Dark clothes, so fast. Swarming. Moulded into a single presence, mindless, uncontrollable, powerful and full of malice. No chance of appeal. There had been nothing, then in a blur they were on me, brutal shocks, blackness and it was over.

Now it feels so calm. The storm has spent itself. No tension.

I stood up, slowly, wiping blood off my hand. Just scratches from the broken glass. Twisted wrist from the fall. Nothing broken. Maybe a tooth. Groceries strewn all over the place. Mindlessly I started to pick them up, put them back in the bags. I felt cold, alone. Helpless. I started to shake.


Notes from the Word Hoard

The way the exercise works is explained here.


protest or just run
broken glass everywhere
caught up in everything
holding up the law
break in your hands
in the noise and darkness
swarming down the roads
writing on the walls
and everything breaking
to want just you
Broken glass everywhere * Selected


I chose ‘Broken glass everywhere’ and the short story turned out to be very close to the image. I first thought of running in the physical sense, and then in terms of ownership.

Leaving space for people

In the Arts

Another great evening last week discussing creative writing with Gary Mepsted. One of the main subjects that comes up consistently is that of leaving space for the reader.

This is extremely important in creative writing – if we provide all the answers and explanations the reader will become bored. Give them the space to work things out for themselves, and leave them with a sense of satisfaction – ideally the emotion would be ‘I didn’t expect that – but yes, I understand”. People are also absolutely prepared to have many minor things left unresolved, a beginner writer like myself is too often tempted to make everything too neat.

In photography I am also learning that without a story that allows the viewer to participate the photo is a meaningless snap. A friend often describes this as ‘context’ – she will ignore a pretty scene of a boat drifting by, because there is no story. She will be facing the other way – finding images and stories amongst the graffiti on the wall.

This is true in business and also in my life.

In business we have been designing and implementing a comprehensive dashboard this month. I have all of the financial information nailed, its just a question of presentation. But one of the metrics needs to be a measure of satisfaction and engagement of our staff. I passed around a simple graph that a friend who runs a search company had found very useful – a simple graph that asks you to plot where you are on two axes – one is how clear your role / tasks are – and the other is how much freedom you have within that role.


The idea of course is that without the freedom you simply won’t be engaged – people need space to contribute – they want to chose the best way to get things done, participate fully in the way they accomplish the tasks the company needs them to complete. They need space to express themselves.

In life I am learning now to make sure that I respect peoples space – i think I have always had a temptation to try to control too much. A friend I met recently is just a brilliant example of this – she wants to live life to the full – but expects to control nothing, to enjoy the weirdness and excitement with what happens if you pursue your passions and learn from those you meet on the way.



Getting over the line – the end in business and in writing

As I am currently finding in my creative writing course one of the hardest things in writing is ‘the end’ – and I know from many years of experience that one of the hardest things in the business I run is to completely finish a project – to ‘get it over the line’.

Why might this be?

When comparing creative writing and projects in business, it recently occurred to me that the nature of  ‘the end’ in these areas are diametric opposites. What certainly connects them is that in both spheres they are challenging – and critical.

In business we are so concerned that we need to be clear about the specifications, and so the end has to be totally known before we can start to work. It actually defines the product, from the customers viewpoint it is the whole rational for the investment they are making. To them – after their role in defining the prototype – the journey we go through with design, development and testing really is irrelevant – they just care that we produce what they requested. To us any lack of clarity about the end represents a risk – so we make every possible effort to tie up all loose ends, to be crystal clear about every aspect of the ultimate product. The end is where our customer’s experience starts.

In writing however – the product is the work that leads up to the end. The reader joins us at the beginning of the work and will care enormously about the journey – with literature this shared journey is what we are creating. The last thing any reader wants is to be able to predict the end – that would destroy the value. And the way that many successful writers seem to work is that while writing they themselves have little idea – in some cases none at all – about what will happen at the end. They can work like this because the product is not defined by it’s end.

In writing we don’t have to tie up every loose end at all – just the major ones. Some unanswered questions and unresolved minor things are perfectly acceptable. It is a positive experience for the reader to have to finish it themselves – that’s the power of unresolved endings. We need to leave a space for the reader, we don’t want to patronize them, to patiently explain every aspect, leaving them no room to imagine and to think.

The best endings in literature have an element of surprise – but then seem to be inevitable. “I didn’t expect that, but I understand now” – is the kind of response we are looking for. In business the last thing we want as we complete a project is any surprises at all.

So it seems to me that in writing the end is challenging because we cannot define it until we are nearly there – as it must be fitting – and in business we cannot start until we know it completely. But in both cases the consumers ultimate sense of satisfaction with ‘the end’ will define the project’s success – and for us both as authors and entrepreneurs this is what makes it all worth while


The lack of importance of ‘The Big Idea’ in Writing and in Business

We were discussing the importance of the ‘big idea’ as part of our creative writing course with Gary yesterday.

Once again I thought this was a great concept for exploring the implications between my separate areas of interest – what part does a ‘Big Idea’ really play across my major interests of travel, writing, photography and running a business?

Today I would like to explore the “Big Idea” both in writing and in running a business.


Gary – the creative writing teacher –  explained that many new writers are  discouraged from writing anything of significance because they feel that they do not have that ‘Big Idea ‘. They are not sure why anyone would read their work as they do not have a neat, original significant message that they can capture and present through plot. They are conscious that they lack any well packaged idea that will fundamentally change or illuminate the way their readers feel about life, and for this reason they are reluctant to write anything at all.

However as Gary pointed out a good story teller can put two interesting characters in a room and create a work that runs across the spectrum of human experience – great ideas are not a significant part of the output of professional writers.

 Running a Business

I see exactly the same concept in the whole field of starting and running SME businesses.

People are obsessed with a ‘great business idea’ when in fact the success of an enterprise is all about the people and execution. We are familiar  with exceptional role models, and indeed we enjoy reading about their lives. But the reality is for almost all people starting and growing a business is that there is simply no original big idea they can effectively exploit with their limited working capital. They should focus instead on the quality of the team and the processes and execution required to deliver the returns anticipated.

What a shame that in both of these endeavors – writing and entrepreneurship – the hunt for a ‘big idea’ can be so counter productive, and so often result in a paralysis that limits our ability to express ourselves and learn these crafts through practice and feedback. Both of these crafts are almost impossibly difficult to do well – but if you don’t start you will never learn.

 The business of the novelist is not to chronicle great events but to make small ones interesting – Schopenhauer


Writing a Screenplay

I am currently half way through a creative writing course and as a continuous task, as well as weekly assignments, we are to write a 30 minute screenplay. As I have never thought at all about writing screenplays this is a big ask.

It is proving a really great way to learn about some sides of writing. For me the most fascinating aspects are

  • Can’t get inside a characters head at all
  • Really have to stay to the point – just action / dialogue / action / dialogue
  • Allowing myself to leave some space for the viewer – so not repeating things just to make sure they didn’t miss it
  • Having 20% of what I write – at least – deleted by the teacher. And seeing that the piece is better for it.

Conveniently it transpires that a minute of screenplay is a page – so the target is clear – I need to write 30 pages. Currently I am on page 13, so a bit behind. And in true amateur writers procrastination fashion I have done just about everything today – including blogging about writing – rather than actually write.

When in doubt, make a fool of yourself. There is a microscopically thin line between being brilliantly creative and acting like the most gigantic idiot on earth. So what the hell, leap.

Cynthia Heimel.


I have been thinking about focus – something that keeps coming up across the main things I am interested in – Business, Writing and of course photography.

In business anyone can be a busy fool – and much of the challenge is to focus. Doing this consistently, for a long enough time to get results, is far from easy.

In writing it can be so easy to drift off and just write almost because I can, rather than to contribute anything to the plot or action. This is particularly tempting in novels – but less likely in screenplays – as I am finding out in an exercise on my current creative writing course. The constraint in screenplays of not being able to get into a characters head – as frustrating as this feels sometimes – helps us to stay on subject.

We are all surrounded by so much potential for distraction. In business we can work with the wrong kind of customers, or pursue products and services that are outside of our brand and our strategy. In photography we can just snap away with little plan or thought for the story we are portraying. In writing it is all too easy to let one’s thoughts move away, and fail to finish the piece we are working on.

Focus seems to be something I need to work on, it’s challenging and interesting in many areas of my life.