The Scribbler

27 April 2015

Making connections

Filed under: words — The Scribbler @ 10:45
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Connections. That’s what a group of writers were making as we travelled north this weekend.

rail tickets

Tickets for 26 Under A Northern Sky journey

The reason for our journey was to launch the latest 26 project, 26 Under A Northern Sky – a collection of creative writing inspired by the music of Nick Drake and a railway journey between Newcastle upon Tyne and Glasgow.

We were making real connections with trains and timetables, to get where we needed to be at the appointed time and make our way back again. But through the creative writing process and the journey itself, many more connections were revealed.

Each writer was given a brief. Take the name of one of the 26 stations along the line and the title of a Nick Drake track, chosen at random and write something in response. The final constraint was that the piece should be able to be read aloud comfortably in 3 mins 44 seconds or less – the duration of Nick Drake’s Northern Sky, which provides the title for the whole collection.

The resulting pieces were wide ranging in style and tone. We had poems and short stories, a sonnet, folk tales, histories and ghost stories. Each one was read along the journey. And each writer had found a different way to connect to their brief.

Some responded to the place, its location, history or a claim to fame. Others took the songs, their lyrics, form and rhythm as inspiration. And many combined the two, to come up with something that touched on both, but that was made new and different by being reflected through the prism of each writer’s own experience.

It’s the same in business writing. There is a brief from a client, that often comes with rules and constraints. As a writer I have to find a way to connect to that brief and interpret it in a way that will connect with a customer. That may mean digging deeper to discover how a customer thinks and feels and finding the words that make that connection. And the final creative piece is always a collaboration between writer, designer  and client.

Woman reading on a train

Faye Sharpe reading her contribution to 26 Under a Northern Sky

The 26 Under a Northern Sky project similarly came with deadlines and timetables, with writers asked to submit first and then final drafts after feedback from a small team of editors.

As Editor in Chief, I had the privilege of being the first to read the entire collection. And it was a joy.

In this project I acted as both client and creative; contributing my own piece, while making sure the whole collaboration remained on track. It’s taught me a lot about setting a brief and then allowing creative people the freedom to explore it in their own way.

Each piece in 26 Under a Northern Sky is unique, but each writer has found a way to connect to the brief and through that created a piece of work that connects with a wider audience.

I’m very proud to have been part of something very special.

26 Under A Northern Sky will be published on www.26.org.uk later this week. But you can enjoy the beautiful introduction to the collection, written by Anna Jauncey right now.

About 26

26 is a diverse group of people who share a love of words. Many of us work with words for a living, as writers, language specialists, editors, designers or publishers, but anyone who cares about words is welcome to join. Together, we hope to raise the profile and value of words not only in business, but also in everyday life.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to all the writers, editors and readers of 26 Under A Northern Sky:
Anna Jauncey, Sue Evans, Fiona Thompson, June Mong, Sharon Jones, Joan Lennon, Tony Balazs, Laura Waddell, Faye Sharpe, Simon Parsons, John Simmons, Kenneth Stirling, Justina Hart, Stephen Potts, Alastair Creamer, Colette Davis, Jo Matthews, Stuart Delves, Aidan Baker, Irene Lofthouse, Mike Benson, Marianne Powell, Elaine Gibb, Sophie Gordon, Martin Lee, Tom Collins and especially to my co-editor, Sandy Wilkie. Thanks also to Rachel Marshall and Elen Lewis for promoting the project through the 26 website and newsletter.

Special thanks to Michael Burdett of The Strange Face Project for introducing me to the music of Nick Drake and providing the initial spark that lead to this crazy writing project.

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20 April 2015

A smile in the mind

Filed under: copy writing,words — The Scribbler @ 10:45
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Celandine. The word pops into my head as I cycle past a clutch of small yellow flowers in the undergrowth beside a familiar track.

A small yellow flower with 9 petals

Lesser celandine

My brain has plucked a rarely used word from the depths of my memory. A word from I know from Flower Fairy books and trips to the park with my Nanna, who seemed to know the name of every plant and tree there was. I roll it round in my mouth and say it out loud. It sounds like springtime.

When I look it up later, I discover that celandines are associated with the return of the swallows and that the lesser version with its heart shaped leaves was much loved by Wordsworth.

It’s an uncommon word. In my business writing I’m on the watch out for these. Usually they are pieces of  jargon or commercial terms that just don’t sound like something our customers would use in their everyday conversation. So I have to find an alternative, a different way of explaining the idea I want to convey using clear and natural terms.

But, as I was reminded recently, clear doesn’t mean the same as mundane. I believe that sometimes, even in business writing, it’s good to have a word that surprises you.

In my writing workshops, I often ask people for their favourite word. Some choose a word like ‘holiday’, which is popular by association; others choose words which sound great or feel nice in your mouth when you say them, like ‘murmur’ or ‘hullaballoo’. One thing they all have in common is that they naturally smile as they say them.

An unexpected word can be a delight. While I think it unlikely I’ll find a place for ‘celandine’ in the next marketing email that I write, I’ll continue to look for opportunities to use words like it that put a smile in your mind.

14 April 2015

Dark Angels, Merton

Filed under: words — The Scribbler @ 22:00
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I’m just back from the latest Dark Angels course at Merton College, Oxford. It’s been an intense and inspiring few days of writing, listening, exploring and working with a group of wonderful writers.

Merton College, Oxford

Merton College, Oxford

Our archangel tutors, John Simmons, Jamie Jauncey and Stuart Delves did what they do so well, feeding us prompts, giving us briefs and deadlines and then setting us free.

Our voices ranged wide. Even when we were given the same starting points, the writing that came back was very different in its tone, content and imagery. Over the course of a few days we heard tales that inspired laughter, sent chills down our spines, brought tears to our eyes, and made us think about the world around us.

Spending time in my rather blank, spartan, but perfectly adequate room, it was easy to see how Merton was designed for study. A tour of its ancient library, accompanied by an enthusiastic Classics student reinforced its long forged links with learning.

Separated from the rest of the busy, commercial world of modern Oxford by the college gates and portals, it would be easy to imagine a rather monastic, or closed off existence. But for me, it was the opposite. The shared experience of living, eating and working together with my fellow writers gave me a great feeling of opening up.

Writing and reading is important to me. Not just because it’s my job, but because its part of how I define myself. In choosing an identity for this blog, I sought out words associated with writing. So there’s an uncomfortable irony in the fact that writing and reading barely get a look in amidst my tales of racing and training.

I want to change that. The running, training and triathlon side of things will remain. But I want to reflect something more of my writing self. So, I’m going to commit to posting once a week on a writing theme. In this, I’m following in the footsteps of the great archangels, John Simmons and Jamie Jauncey whose weekly blogs I always enjoy.

Those are huge steps to follow in, but just as consistent training has helped me improve as a runner, I hope the discipline of a weekly blog will help me unlock more of my writing self.

5 April 2015

North Tyneside 10k – first race of the season

Filed under: run — The Scribbler @ 15:22
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It’s always good to be back at this race, the first one I ever did in 2009. Traditionally one of the first events on the calendar, it has a celebratory atmosphere, with a chance to catch up with friends and runners, and no pressure, because it’s the first race.

It felt good to be fastening on a number and preparing to race. The sun was shining and the coast had put on its most welcoming face. My aim was just to run and see where I was at.

The last four weeks I’ve focused on run and speed training. I’ve been pushing myself to go that bit faster over shorter distances, running intervals, to try and break my habit of always running at a comfortable pace. I think it’s been working as the faster paces always feel uncomfortable, but I’ve been doing some decent parkrun times and could feel myself becoming used to pushing on a bit harder.

I bumped into lots of running pals at the start, did a bit of a warm up and felt quite nice and relaxed as I waited for the start. As i crossed the timing mat, I told myself to ‘go hard and hang on’ and bounded away to find some clear space.

I managed to negotiate the crowded start really well, without having to dodge and weave about too much. My feet felt light and I was enjoying running in the crowd, but very much in my own space.

Running up Priory Hill on the North Tyneside 10k

Running up Priory Hill – picture by Flip Owen

As I came down the bank onto the fish quay, I got a bit of a stab of a stitch in my right upper rib, so I focused on taking some deeper breaths and eased back on the pace a little. I had the feeling I may have gone off a bit too fast. As a couple of speedy runners I recognised cruised along from behind me to pass, I knew I’d most likely over cooked that first mile.

Along the quayside, I tried to find a better pace, one that was sustainable, but still hard. It took a while for my stitch to disappear, but I’d shaken it off before the steep incline up towards the priory.

For once, I didn’t try to power up the climb, but just kept the pace consistent, and tried to keep my breathing easy. It worked. I was very happily powering up the second incline and feeling strong when I was spotted by running pal Flip, taking photos of us toiling up the hill.

Definitely one of my better runs up that hill. Last week’s hill reps on the same route gave me a real psychological boost, and at the top, I just kept going, with no real need to recover, taking advantage of the slight drop down towards Longsands.

Almost half race distance as I passed the water stop and I was feeling good. Now I started to pull myself along by targeting runners in front,  to catch and overtake. My usual run route was passing in a blur and I was barely paying any attention to the scenery.

Some people watching made a comment about it being easy, along the lines of, “You could beat most of them..”. Hmm, I thought, I’d like to see you try. Sure we weren’t going as fast as the really speedy runners who would be approaching the finish by now, but we were by no means slow.

All along the course I kept getting shout outs. I wasn’t always able to spot who they came from, but they always helped put a smile on my face and an extra bound in my step. I also took the chance to high five a few kids standing watching. I don’t think it slowed me down very much, and it did boost my attitude and enjoyment.

I was avoiding my watch, just running to feel, but I started to feel the strain on my legs somewhere around 4 miles. I think I stopped focusing on runners to pass, and became conscious that my legs and hips were starting to feel the strain. It was costing me more effort to keep the pace.

Still I pushed on, reminding myself to keep my feet light. Sometimes it felt really serene, like I was floating, and I tried to hold onto that, but I was definitely feeling the strain.

I passed a couple of runners who had stopped to stretch or slowed to a walk. I knew that even though I was working hard, I wouldn’t have to stop, so I used that to push on again, hoping to make the most of the closing stages.

There’s a bit of a incline again around 5 miles. Not really noticeable, but a pull on your legs as you pass by the links and the crowds start gathering close to the path. Here I was watching out for my trainer Ian and his wife Kelda and was pleased to spot them and give them a wave. Ian shouted ‘Dig in’ – which is just what I was doing and just what I needed.

Despite my best efforts, I could feel I was slowing down a bit. There was a runner in a long sleeved pink top who had been near me at the start of the race, and who I’d clocked as I passed a little way before. She came through on my right hand side and try as I might, I couldn’t keep pace with her and lost her in the distance.

North Tyneside 10k T-shirt

Nice race T-shirt in the goodie bag

Still, run your own race, I told myself, knowing there was less than a mile to go, and preparing to push for a sprint finish. At the 6 mile mark, it gets a bit crowded with people watching the run and faster runners making their way back to cars and buses. I tried to push on and found another gear, but was still keeping something back until I could see the line and power down for the finish. A good shout from the Elvet Striders finish line posse and I was over the line!

My time on my watch was 56:05 and I don’t think I could have asked for much more than that today. I don’t like to set too many time targets for races, because I think they become self limiting. But I had hoped to run at around 9 min mile pace for as long as possible. With my first mile being well below that, I averaged out at 9:02/mile. So I am very happy with that, and the nice race T-shirt we all got in our goody bags.

It was great to see some of my running friends at the finish and hear of their good races and to hear of some terrific PBs. It’s not the fastest that I’ve run that route, but it’s more than 30 secs faster than last year. I’m feeling strong and confident in my training at the moment, so it’s a really promising start to my run and tri season.

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