Category Archives: writing

Writer’s block

I am not very sympathetic to the idea of emotions playing a part in writing.  I never had a muse, I never waited for inspiration. In writing, my hero was Anthony Trollope who rose early and wrote every morning before work whether he wanted to or not.  Then he went off and put in a full day at the Post Office and invented the postbox and whatnot.  He was somewhat helped by the fact that the Post Office started at ten am and he was often late for work, but there you go.

But this summer, everything I wrote turned to led in my hands.  Even stories.  Oh I could re-tell stories I had written earlier, but nothing creative would come, and a blessed nuisance it was, and made all the worse, because I had many requests to write small articles to publicise my recently-published book.  Each and every one of these turned to sawdust on my keyboard.  I knew it and could not change it. Oh I could do the work to the deadline all  right,  but I just could not make the article readable.

It was the same last weekend.  I was working on a talk on Bute’s later buildings,  and there was as much life in it as in a cardboard stew.  Then, yesterday, I began revising it and while it did not suddenly become delicious, I started to get the glimmerings of flavour.  Yesterday evening I wrote in a short time frame, the first piece which had any  life in it that I have written in months.  The relief was overwhelming. I am hopeful I am once again able to face writing in the evenings when tired and in the mornings when short of time
Gentle reader, this blog is back.


Not mere Christianity

There was an excellent blog recently from a man who went into a bookshop looking for a good introduction to Christianity which was not C. S Lewis’s ‘Mere Christianity’. He failed to find anything, and left depressed. As an answering blog pointed out there is in fact plenty of inspiring Christian writing around. I’m not sure I am capable of inspiring Christian writing, but I think I want to have a go at discussion some of the basic Christian ideas on here. Panic not, dear sceptical readers, I will not allow this project to take over the blog, just fill in some of the silences.

Lewis’s deliberately provocative title was intended to go to a basic Christianity. beyond party difference, as it were, and especially beyond Protestant/Catholic divide. These days going beyond Protestant/Catholic divide is a doddle unless you are talking football. Going beyond right-wing uber-Fundamentalist Christianity and liberal Christianity is not. The kind of beliefs one sees unattractively embodied in some of those who stood for the Republican Party Presidential candidate is not something I recognise as Christian, and I would not want in any way to be associated with it. Best to say straight out that they may be my brothers and sisters in Christ, but I am not interested in having my beliefs in any way confused with theirs. My readers are as well to assume that I detest pretty much everything they stand for unless I tell them otherwise.

So I can make no claim that this is ‘mere Christianty’ – Christianity beyond dispute. But what I present here will be,in the main, what moderate liberals would recognise, even if they disagreed in particulars.


I have now been in this house, still my ‘new house’, for three years and one week. Tonight, for the first time in weeks, I have a working oven – a happy reminder that despite occasional despair I am making progress with creating a home.

I have managed to get the property re-roofed, and the rising damp is dealt with either by tanking walls, or by an injection damp-course except in one tiny area where work is, as they say, ‘pending’. All the new floors downstairs are in, and insulated, again except for a small area at the two outside doors which need different treatment. The ‘new’, that is to say, re-cycled, kitchen is going in, hence the oven. The living room has a new door, as well as floor and walls, and its old wooden ceiling is exposed and restored. The upstairs bedrooms have Velux windows. That is the positive stuff.

The negative is that I still have nowhere to sit and to be other than in the bedroom, which is not decorated, or, well or anything. The new shower-room is not completed, the downstairs bathroom is not touched, and there are no lights in the living room, although the wiring is there.

And there have been losses – all three sheep who moved in with me have died, and all the chicken – the cheering thing with the chicken is that I have the descendants of the pioneers. And I have things like guineafowl which I did not have before.

My biggest regret? The time I spend on the wretched biography, which I enjoyed writing but which has brought nothing but grief since I began the process of getting it published, and which, after further serious glitches this last week, is something of which I would be happy never to hear or see ever again. If I had that time back, I would be living in a real home. In real terms, that book has cost time and money it will never repay.

But, tonight – I shall celebrate. Maybe, just maybe, in this house all the hard work will begin to pay off. Maybe, one day, I will sit in my living room, and round me will be those books I have not seen for three years, and my biscuit barrel (ditto unseen) will be full, and my television on (10 months and counting) and I will see the lights reflecting on the polished wood of the ceiling, as the fire burns in my new wood burning stove. And, unlike the process of publishing the book, at least there has been some fun along the way with the renovation of my house to balance the hard work and the disappointments.

Des. Res.

Yesterday I went to the place with a friend. Despite that I had no news at all of the royal wedding until the evening. We went to Falkland Palace because my friend has a camera and the ability to use it, which at the moment is a dangerous combination, because it means I am very likely to exploit you. She took some really stunning images for me. And you too, if only you really want it, can make over a ruin into a des. res. Would you like to be inspired to create a simple bathroom?

Would you perhaps prefer somebody to create a relief of your children to ornament a small cupboard?

And if you need some woodwork restored, it can be done very sympathetically and still allow you to see where the old ends and the new begins.

As usual with Bute buildings, despite having already seen Falkland several times, I spent the first hour going ‘Wow’ and the second recovered enough to start looking at what is actually there in some detail, causing me to become every more inspired to do some serious academic work on the property. But for now all I can say is that I owe my friends a huge debt, and I think the illustrations in the book with be both varied and stunning.

Jack in the box

It was eight days ago when the presence of a new Jack-in-the-box began to make itself felt. I was cleaning at the time – that is, I was at work in somebody else’s house. I could not stop off and do anything about it. For me, a Jack is the new idea for a story. Not just an idea, to be played with, but the pressing urgent presence of a story, pushing on the lid of the box, trying to get out.

I know from expereince that just how I release the lid will change the nature of the story. Not all of them come out cleanly, and although a good deal of polishing is possible, indeed usual, just how Jack launches himself matters.

Then the next day, an unprecedented thing happened. Another Jack turned up, equally insistent. Well, time and chance happens to us all, and due to an unfortunate series of events (to be recounted later, perhaps) the Jacks could not be released until today.

And today I am a bit tired for Jacks – but still, they are clamouring. So I think I will just have to take the chance. And here it goes… and I wonder what surprise will be inside. For I never know the real story until it erupts onto the screen.

On the pull

I would have made a terrible prostitute. For a number of reasons, you understand, conservative morality being high on the list. But among them being that every time a man drove past me, I would have taken the rejection personally.

Currently my nice agent is hawking my book around publishers. It is all happening terribly fast. Actually I would have quite liked a little time to digest events. What is actually happening is that rejections come in rather speedily. Each one I take to heart.

Idiotically, I feel most hurt by the suggestion the book has too many footnotes. Sigh. Well, what’s a girl to do? It is such a huge no-no to leave anything unattributed in the world of academe. Of course, I could very simply lose them. But footnotes did not stop the Duchess of Devonshire being a smash hit.

Oh dear, should I abandon my reputation in the gutter?

A good week

I have had my fair share of Jonah weeks – weeks when everything that could go wrong did. This week I got the opposite.

The sun shone. The new little keets were able to venture out and enjoy it. They are growing, although it does weigh on their minds that they are delicious. They are very cautious.

Bernadette too is putting on weight. When she arrived she condition scored one (out of five, where five is obese) and now she scored three (which is the ideal weight). It has taken good feeding to get her there. The least said about what it has done to Martha’s condition score the better. They too have been out in an electrified pen enjoying the sun.

I have also been able to see good progress with the plants. The tomato seed my son and son-in-law gave me has turned into nice little plants. So have the aubergines, who turned out to have enchanting purple flowers, and as you can see, the pepper my daughter gave me flowered and then set fruit.

Then the buddlia from last year and the lavender from this year, given by another daughter are both flowering.

And then an agent felt they would like to represent the big biography. A good week.


There is a long running Radio 4 comedy ‘After Henry’. Henry has died…. and the rest follows.

There is an extraordinary emptiness just now. My work on Bute is ended. He is away searching for a publisher, and in the current climate, dear knows if his posthumous search will succeed.

His going was not to much noticed at first. I had Christmas, and all the work and excitement of that. Then the ‘Reader’ to compile for the course for which I am responsible. And then the house in turmoil to do something to.

So now it is a little like the days after the funeral. An extraordinary blankness. I am trying to take a little rest, so that I can start on the work of restoring this house feeling energetic and confident. Or something. But what I actually feel is a great sense of loss. I think, the loss of hope over it all as much as anything. Work in progress might after all – well, might do or be anything. Like Saturday at coffee time. Work finished, unless it has a publisher or some other joyful end, is rather like the end of a long, hard, unsuccessful week day.


Just occasionally, writing or speaking, a miracle occurs. Something you know to be true, but don’t especially believe to be good, springs into life for others. I have jsut been writing for Thinking Anglicans for tomorrow. Oh dear. It strikes me as being true but not alive (like that famous parrot). I need a miracle.

Packing stones

I’m still pondering the role of discipline in writing. Currently I have set myself the task of posting twice a week on ‘Love Blooms Bright‘. I’m struggling. The gospel readings are OK and now I don’t have to write in a noisy environment with a time limit I think I may be able to do something with them (or the remaining two!). The OT readings started off sub prime – and I really have not been able to see a way into them. This leaves the epistle, of which the last two have been the most moving of Paul’s letters with most of the best bits left out, the lectionary not having my passion for narrative flow. This has emasculated the enterprise more than somewhat.

The question has been – post something which I do not feel is my best-ever shot, or just write anyhow, and let it be quieter, less profound, and hope it works like packing stones in a dyke. Holding up the general enterprise (in this case a better sense of what is really in the Bible) without much instant appeal. For a variety of reasons (including not having the sense of taking up valuable space which could be better used by others) I have gone for the latter.

This blog post, too, is another packing stone.