Work in Progress

During the autumn when life was taken up with launches I had an idea that I’d have much more time to blog in the new year. Well, February has dawned and I’ve managed one post so clearly that didn’t work out. What I have done a lot of is editing – seven new collections (well, one is an enormous anthology) are all in progress and hurtling towards publication in the first half of this year whilst another batch of books, including a fantastic short story collection from Matthew Francis, are in the process of being printed.

In he midst of this quiet period I decided to grab a week to catch up with my own work in progress. I planned to write at least two books in a week, but, probably for the best, pinned myself down to work on one project instead and have been immersed for the last few days in the poetry sequence about Cwmorthin, the abandoned slate village above the village where I live.

It’s a strange fascination. The disappeared lives in this now extraordinarily wild and tranquil valley, were male, victorian, Welsh-speaking. In short a long way from the life of a Cambridge educated feminist theologian, poet and editor who has been struggling to progress beyond toddler Welsh for years. Yet something, many things, in the place simply won’t leave me alone. I’m enthralled by the contradictions of a place that has gone from Dantean hell to rural idyll, but also from a cauldron of debate, philosophy, religion and culture to emptiness. I’m intrigued by the parallels between the decline of the slate industry and depopulation and the decline of the chemical industry on Teesside, where I grew up. And I’m simply mesmerised by the landscape and the psychogeographical possibilities of it.

So this week I’m not editing or launching or doing anything but the most scant keeping an eye on Cinnamon emails. Instead I am writing. On Saturday I decided that I could no longer write. I’ve had a break since taking on Cinnamon alone just over eighteen months ago and last year was not only my first full year of doing everything, but also taken up with the process of divorce. In that time I’ve done lots of research and scraps of writing, but nothing sustained and I had a sudden epiphany that it was all over. I took a long time over some research, wrote one line which was no good, watched two films and took two hot baths. On Sunday I set about journalling on why I could no longer write and had another epiphany. After I left the church, after a succession of violent assaults in the parish and an avalanche of events that ensued from that I needed to write a lot of rubbish for a long time to work it out of my system. Eventually I wrote Stale Bread & Miracles, a novelised sequence of prose poems on my journey through the church. I e just been through another major life event and I probably need to write a lot of rubbish that never needs to see the light of day – its my way of processing.

Once I’d acknowledged this rather obvious fact I suddenly had ideas for two new sections in the Cwmorthin sequence, completely unrelated to writing rubbish about my life, And over Sunday and today I’ve written first drafts of both sections and feel excited about the writing. What my work in progress needed was for me to give myself some breathing room as another work in progress.


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6 responses to “Work in Progress

  1. Splendid that you are writing again and I’m looking forward to reading about Cwmorthin. I’ve only managed one blog post during January too.

  2. Hurrah, and all power to your pen, Jan. Self-doubt is the writer’s affliction, but we lose it at our peril.

  3. Mavis Gulliver

    Good to hear you’re back on Cwmorthin – I’ve been having a similar block with my slate islands but think I’m now back on track too. I’m looking forward to hearing more.

    • Strange how it goes in these cycles – I think I tend to dredge up so much more than the immediate subject when I’m writing and on this occasion trying not to let it surface was bunging up the works 🙂

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