Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Exciting News!

Hi Everyone

First of all, apologies for the long silence since my time overseas. After arriving back from the UK and USA, I became caught up in various projects, teaching work, family obligations and other commitments. Time, as it does when one is really busy, flew quickly and six months passed before I realised I hadn't updated you all on my novel and other work. So, here it is.

Now for my exciting news! My poetry collection manuscript, entitled Libation, has been accepted for publication by Ginninderra Press in South Australia. I found out a couple of weeks ago and I am now reviewing the manuscript before sending an electronic version to Ginninderra. Once it is received, it goes into their production queue and eight to ten months later I'll receive the proofs. I'll keep you in the loop about the likely publication date, which I expect will be in about a year's time.

As for my dark ages novel, I only finished about 75% of the third draft while overseas, with the rest of the draft taking a couple of months. I then sent it out to a few beta readers and a month or two later received their feedback. As is always the case when people who are not as close to a text as the writer is, my beta readers gave me valuable information about what was working in the manuscript and what didn't work or needed more clarification. I had hoped to have the manuscript ready for the ASA Literary Speed Reading event in June but, after receiving the feedback, I knew I had much more work to do. I did attend the 'Pitching for Publishing' session at the Emerging Writers' Festival, at which I garnered ideas for submission strategies and a list of likely publishers to approach for my verse novel.

In other news, I also have had some smaller pieces accepted/published:

  • An article, 'The Tension Between Authenticity and Validity', published in Into Another World, which can be read here.
  • Two haiku published on the Asahi Haikuist Network, which can be read here and here.
  • One of these two haiku, 'the birds and I', was selected and commented on by Simon Hanson for the Australian Haiku Society, which is available here.
  • A haiku has been accepted for publication in Windfall #6, which should be available in a couple of months.
That's about it on the news front. I'm slowly working my way through the issues on the novel brought up by my beta readers and willl let you know how things go when I start the fourth draft.

I hope you enjoyed this post. As always, I welcome your comments.

Best Wishes

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Gwaith 22: Adventures in Washington

Haia Pawb

A little over a week ago I landed in Seattle to visit my two sons who live in the wonderful evergreen state of Washington. After being dropped off at one son’s place in Bremerton and having a chat with his landlord, I went for a walk to Gorst Creek, a local waterway that fills with salmon during spawning season. Sadly, the salmon run is usually between late September and November, so I wasn’t able to see any. Still, the water and trees were a welcome place of nature-quiet after my long trip from Birmingham to Dubai and Dubai to Seattle, which took over 30 hours door to door.

Douglas fir and clouds
Gorst Creek, looking downstream
Looking upstream
Foliage and moss that reminds me of Wales
Part of the salmon run viewing area at Gorst Creek
I’m glad I pushed myself to go on the walk, because that night it snowed and the following two days it rained steadily. Then it snowed again, heavier than the first time, between four to five inches. For most of last week I was housebound, though my son did take me to see my other son a couple of times and on Thursday we had a great day having lunch at the Airport Diner in Bremerton (great fish ‘n’ chips), exploring the Theler Wetlands Nature Preserve in Belfair and playing pool in a local bar (one win each). We then returned home to watch episodes of from the three seasons of Black Mirror and season 20 of South Park, which we’ve been doing most nights. Both shows are frightening, but in different ways. Black Mirror is a great series that looks at the ramifications of technology, especially social media, on the emotional lives of its characters. And season 20 of South Park satirises the 2016 presidential campaign and is scarily prophetic.

Snow the day after my arrival
Light dusting of snow on cedar trees
Heavier snowfall a few days later
Snow-crusted branches and leaves
Snow and cherry tree
I will be in Washington for a few more days before heading home, which will take another 30+ hours of flight and layover. For those of you wondering why I seem to be going through Dubai when more direct flights would be easier, that’s just the way it is when you fly Emirates. There were other options, but this one was the cheapest when I booked early last year.

Anyway, I’ll soon be home, to rest, to catch up with Jo, family and friends, to process all that I experienced in Britain in relation to my book. I also will be on a tight schedule to finish the third draft and then polish it up, with the help of some beta readers, in time for the Australian Society of Authors’ Literary Speed Dating event in June. Wish me luck.

I hope you enjoyed this post. As always, I welcome your comments.

Cofion Cynnes

Gwaith 21: Recent Successes

Hi Everyone

As most of you know, the life of anyone engaged in the creative arts is filled with the despair of rejections and the occasional joy of an acceptance (however your art defines these things). That is, lots of hard work, with rewards few and far between, if at all. Even though I’ve been spending much of my creative energy on the novel the last six months, I still managed to submit a number of shorter pieces. The last month has seen some of these published and an earlier publication recognised in a Reader’s Award.

For those of you wanting to see how my poetry has been going lately, below are details of these welcome bright spots of success.

Dreams and Desires
My poem ‘Holy Communion’ was published in the anthology Dreams and Desires published by Kardia. It is available here.

The Heron’s Nest
My haiku ‘gleaming milky way’ was published in the online journal The Heron’s Nest in December 2016, but I only found out about this last month. It can be read here.

Eureka Street
Three poems were published in this week’s issue of Eureka Street. Their titles are ‘A Marvel’, ‘Class Photo’ and ‘The Dark Entrance’, which can be read here.

My haiku ‘sheep crop grass’ was published in hedgerow #105 this week. It can be read here.

Shamrock Haiku Journal
My haiku ‘that moment between’ was joint runner-up in the 2016 Shamrock Haiku Journal Reader’s Choice Awards. You can read the announcement and the poem itself here.

Being a writer can be a hard, lonely job, with no guarantee that what we write will be understood or appreciated. I’m grateful for these recent successes, as they tell me I’m doing something right. Generally, the work is its own joy and artists certainly don’t do it for external validation. Still, as I’m sure other artists can understand, I do welcome the occasional affirmation of my path.
photo courtesy of
My thanks to you all for your continued interest in and support of my endeavours. I hope you’re enjoying your own successes and rewards as you travel your own paths.

Warm wishes

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Gwaith 20: Leaving Stiwdio Maelor

Last week I finished my third residency at Stiwdio Maelor. My first was eight weeks in 2015 and my second was the five weeks I spent there in September and October last year before I went travelling for five weeks. The third residency was for 11 weeks, broken only by the six days spent in Germany catching up with Jo. So, I’ve spent almost 24 weeks at Stiwdio Maelor, to the point that, as a friend said at the Corris Institute café one Tuesday morning, Corris is my second home.

Clouds over Corris
I do feel I have set down some roots, however small, in the village and I was saddened to pack my bags, say goodbye to all the friends I made, many of whom came to The Slaters the night before for farewell drinks, and jump in a car to be taken to Machynlleth Station for my train to Birmingham International and the start of my trip home.

Now that I staying in the USA with one of my sons for two weeks, visiting another son, and enjoying the snow, which hasn’t fallen so heavily hereabouts for several years, I want to check my achievements during my residencies against the targets I set myself before I left.

The main target, naturally enough, related to my novel. I had hoped to complete the third draft before I left. This wasn’t the case. I only completed around 75% of the draft, around 150k words. However, as can be seen from below, I wasn’t exactly relaxing. I managed to write a number of other things.

New scene cards for the novel
 Novel:                      75% (150k)—approximately 7k words/wk, 18 hrs/wk
                                  (counting my five weeks of travelling)
Interdraft Work:        39,771 words
Short Story:               One (unexpected)
Poem drafts:              11
Haiku drafts:             36
Blogs:                       18

I also ran a poetry workshop at Canterbury Christ Church University, gave a reading at Stiwdio Maelor during the Christmas Open Day in November, and gave a talk to creative-practise PhD students at Aberystwyth University. Even though I didn’t reach my target, I’m happy with what I achieved.

Night photo of Aberystwyth, taken from Veronica's PhD studio at Aberystwyth University
Language Immersion
I have been learning Welsh on and off for a number of years on a Tuesday night at The Celtic Club in Melbourne. My level of skill wasn’t too great when I left for Wales, mainly because teaching and writing commitments had meant I hadn’t spent as much time as I would have liked on Welsh practice. During my first residency, I attended some classes and groups and I intended to do the same this time around. I knew I didn’t have a hope of achieving fluency, as I knew others had done by virtually devoting all their time when in Wales to finding opportunities to practice their Welsh, but I did hope to improve in some small way.

Mist and snow at Llyn Tegid (Lake Bala), during my two-day Welsh course nearby
Every Monday I attended a class in Dolgellau and every Tuesday morning I joined in Welsh discussion at the Corris Institute café. I also attended several one- and two-day courses, as well as three Noson Siarads, dinners where only Welsh was supposed to be spoken. Although I can’t claim fluency yet, I did find myself holding conversations longer than one or two exchanges and at times felt myself responding automatically in Welsh. I also was complimented on both my accent and my vocab, so I must be doing something right.

Sky and a dash of sun-stain on the trees
Landscape Immersion
As with my hope that learning the language will somehow help me with the writing of the book (and connect me with my ancestral roots), I also hoped that experiencing the landscape of Britain would help me create authentic settings for the novel. I visited a number of sites I am using, both in Wales and Scotland, and was in the country long enough to experience late autumn and winter. While in Corris itself, I went for numerous walks and right up to the last week I was discovering new tracks, one of which took me on a three and a half hour ramble. I have learnt about trees, seen red deer, red squirrels and badgers, seen and heard red kites and numerous other birds, climbed mountains, sat next to rivers, walked through snow, wandered around megalithic circles and sat in tombs. I have probably absorbed more than I realise and can only hope the experiences came out in my words at some point.

Mist over the war memorial of Corris, from the sun melting snow 
Photo of Llyn Mwngll or Llyn Myngul, more commonly known as Tal-y-llyn
Finally, there are the people I have met, from the people in the village of Corris to the residents at Maelor I have spent time with. I want to thank them all for being welcoming, friendly, inspirational, supportive, and encouraging. My thanks to the previous manager at The Slaters, Brian, and the current manager, Mike. To Andy and Adam at their café for the great food and coffee and their wifi. To Eleanor, Chris and the other volunteers at the Corris Institute café. To Jan at the post office for her help with my packages to be sent home. To Ellie, Diane, Inge, Beryl and others in the Welsh conversation group. To Bethan Gwanas, my Welsh teacher in the class at Dolgellau, and Mike H, Mike K, Dee, Sue, Laura, David and other fellow students. To Martin for discussions about Cadair Idris legends and Welsh language and poetry. To Hickey, Jane and Kevin, and the other regulars at The Slaters. To Eileen and Arthur, for their lifts into Aberystwyth and conversations about poetry and geology. To Simon and Andrew for conversations about landscape writing. To Lez, for his blacksmith course and his help with my many questions about the craft. To all those residents I met during my residencies—including Freya, Yuki, Chloe, Linda, Beth, Bronwen, Christina, Gwen and Chris, John, and Brett—for the discussions, the pints at the pub, the shared meals, the trips to various sites, and the inspiration and encouragement.

One night at The Slaters, with Gwen, Chris, Yuki and Bronwen
Most of all I want to thank Veronica Calarco, the founder and coordinator of Stiwdio Maelor, for her vision, her persistence (even in trying situations), and her hard work, in creating such a wonderful place for artists and writers to take time out from their normal lives and explore their ‘craft or sullen art’, as Dylan Thomas put it. Most of all, I want to thank her and her partner Mary for their friendship.

In my last days in Corris, many people asked if I’d be back, then said before I could answer, ‘I’m sure you will’. True. I will be back, for I have made many friendships and I find the village and the landscape around it inspirational. I also want Jo to meet everyone and see the sights I love.

Thanks again, Stiwdio Maelor and Corris.

Corris from near the summit of Mynydd Fron Felen (Mountain of the brown/yellow hillside)
I hope you enjoyed this post. As always, I welcome your comments.

Flying over the pole to Seattle
Cofion Cynnes

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Gwaith 19: Arrival in Scotland (Monday, 1 Oct 2016)

Whenever I drive to Scotland, my first stop in the country is Clochmabenstane, a megalith standing in a field of Old Graitney farm, near Gretna. Along with a smaller stone set into a nearby hedge, Clochmabenstane is all that is left of a stone circle dated back to around 3000 BC.

The main stone, which is also called the Lochmaben Stone, is weathered granite, weighs about ten tons and is seven feet high and about 18 feet around. As for the etymology of Clochmabenstane, 'cloch' seems to suggest the modern Gaelic 'clach', meaning stone; 'maben' is related to Mabon (also known as Maponus), the Celtic God Mabon map Modron, Son of the Mother ; and 'stane' is a Scottish word for 'stone'. One suggested meaning for the name is the 'stone or burial place of Mabon'.

I first found out about the stone in Nikolai Tolstoy's The Quest for Merlin, where he suggests that the stone was the site of ceremonies for the cult of Maponus/Mabon and that Merlin may have been the chief druid in charge of them. I have used some elements of his suggestion in my novel, which is why I like to visit the megalith and get a sense of the stone itself and the surrounding area.

The Clochmabenstane is reached from a carpark near the farm, on the Solway Firth, with a walk across the boggy shoreline of the estuary, a climb over a wire fence, and a stroll up the mild slope alongside a hawthorn hedge. As I walked along the shore, with bramble bushes next to the property line, a rabbit popped out of one gorse bush, looped down the path and dashed into the hollow at the bottom of another bush. When I got nearer to the stone, masses of geese rose from a nearby field, milled around, then headed west.

Below are some photos of my visit:

The tide was slowing retreating as I walked to the stone

Milling geese making a racket

The Clochmabenstane surrounded by round haylage bales, which my father once called dongels,
though I haven't found that usage mentioned anyway else.
The east weathered and yellow-lichened face of the stone
The south face/edge of the stone
The west face of the stone, with its suggestion of a nose
The north face of the stone
The smaller stone, which has been set into the hawthorn hedge
The shoreline with the tide moving out
Another of my dramatic cloud photos
View across the Solway Firth that, in ancient times, could be forded when the tide is fully out by crossing mudflats
and wading across a narrow stretch of water
Another view of the firth
Once I finished my survey of the stone and sat with it for a while, I headed back to my car and drive on to my destination in Moffat (more in another post).

I hope you enjoyed this post. I am slowly catching up with my travel reports during my time during the two residencies at Stiwdio Maelor and I appreciate your patience.

Cofion Cynnes

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Gwaith 18: More Discoveries (Saturday, 15 Oct 2016)

Helo Pawb

Another wonderful day visiting amazing places with my good friend Grevel Lindop. We started around midday and drove out through Macclesfield to The Cloud, an escarpment like Alderley Edge, but longer and higher. We had a long walk along the road at its base and up through woods of birch, beech, oaks and rowan, with ferns crowding around. Closer to the summit, the woods dropped off and we walked past bracken already starting to go brown, as was the heather near the escarpment edge where we had our lunch. The edge afforded us fantastic 360° views of the Cheshire countryside, with the Jodrell Bank dish, which we had visited the previous day, in the distance seemingly floating on the haze.

View from The Cloud
Jodrell Bank in the distance
Early autumn heather
After lunch, we went down another path to the bottom of The Cloud and walked around to The Bridestones, a strange arrangement of vertical stones off to the side of a double chamber open tomb, with other stones in the nearby underbrush. Apparently, the only other similar arrangement is in the Orkneys, though I was reminded of the forecourt at Cairn Holly II in Scotland (about which I will write about at another time).

Front view of The Bridestones
Side view
Grevel inspecting the stones
We then found a ‘right of way’ that looked like it could take us back to The Cloud. Along the path, we found some tall holly trees that looked splendid with their full boughs of berries. The turning of the season is becoming more and more pronounced now, with birch leaves going yellow, oak and beech turning yellow to orange and other trees (maples or sycamore) going green to purple. The countryside will be covered in speckled colours soon.

Berry-ladened holly tree
At one point, I noticed a crow sitting in the middle of a field and, a few yards away, a short, single standing stone, which was not marked on Grevel’s Ordnance map. Like the Allgreave Menhir, it had a flat vertical face, facing north, not south, and sinuous curves on the other side. The stone was streaked with white droppings, as if a bird had spent a lot of time sitting at its top. Grevel spotted an owl’s pellet made up of insect bodies and small white stones. Owls have these stones in their mouths to help grind down their food. So, we decided to call our discovery The Owl Stone.

Raven and standing stone
The Owl Stone, showing the west face
View of The Cloud when we walked back to the car
We then drove back home for dinner and to watch a DVD of Frenzy, which I hadn’t seen before, and a BBC program on Southern Rock.

That was my last outing during my stay in Manchester. Sunday was another rest day, during which I caught up on some writing and emails, and I left on Monday for Scotland. I am enormously grateful for the hospitality shown to me by Grevel and his lovely wife Amanda.

As always, I welcome your comments.

Cofion Cynnes

Monday, 23 January 2017

Gwaith 17: Snow in Corris

Haia Pawb (Hiya Everyone)

A couple of weeks ago, we had a little bit of snow, though the temperature wasn't cold enough for it to do more than settle in nooks and crannies on the tops of the hills surrounding the town. However, this morning I woke up to snow covering the ground and still falling.

View out my bedroom window
After taking some photos from the front door of Stiwdio Maelor, I threw on some clothes, including my waterproof overpants, and went for a walk.

From the Stiwdio Maelor doorway
When I first wandered up the road, the snow was falling so fast I thought I might not last too long. However, it slowed down after a few minutes and after I took some photos close to the village, I went up past The Italian House.

A field just down the road 
Birds dancing on the snow?
Today was not my first experience of snow. I have visited snow fields near Melbourne. However, this is the first time I've actually experienced walking through softly falling snow and walking on a thick covering of snow. One thing I noticed was the sound of my boots with every step on snow that no one else had traversed, a crunch-pop as the weight broke through the top layer of snow crust and burst through to the softer stuff below. Not quite the snap-crackle-pop of that old TV ad for Rice Bubbles, but close.

Below are more photos from my walk:

My footprints 
The Italian House
The trail to the lookout
Once I brushed away the snow from a flat slab of slate, my usual meditation spot at the lookout, I sat down to absorb the view of white crusted trees, swaths of snow on nearby rocks and smothering the bases of trees, and the distant slopes half hidden by mist, half bleached by snow.

Distant view from the lookout
Closer view of trees

Some ruins at the lookout
The Arthurian pool at the back of the lookout
From the pool
Whenever the traffic from the main road on the other side of the valley disappeared, all I could hear were the occasional creaks of pine trees as they bore the weight of snow, the constant tumble of water into a pool to my right, and the soft plops of snowdrops on my jacket. Every now and then a robin, a coal tit, a tree sparrow or some other hidden bird would trill, tweet, chirp or chit-chit-churr its appreciation or annoyance at the chilly whiteness around us.

An old slate miner's house
The trail down the other side of the hill
By a local kid
By the time I returned to Corris, the road was wet with snowmelt, and, as the day wore on, the snow disappeared, drawn up by the hidden sun’s heat into a mist that hung over the valley.

Corris in Snow
As always, I hope you enjoy this post and I welcome your comments.

Cofion Cynnes

What do you think? More tomorrow!
PS. I realise I have been quite lax in posting news of my travels. My excuse is that I have been busy with the Christmas trip to Germany to catch up with Jo and with tackling my 3000+ words a day of draft three work (which has not been entirely successful), plus Welsh language and landscape immersion. I’ll write another post soon to let you know the status of things. Thanks again for your ongoing support.