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What with Obama and Clinton raging in Iowa and New Hampshire, I’ve found myself longing to be ‘in the fray’. Not that I’ve ever managed — despite best intentions, admittedly — to be in any particular fray…but this one does grab me.

I also feel homesick. The lack of any interesting precipitation (where’s the snow for heaven’s sake?) along with Sarah Salway’s picture of a cardinal — the bright red state bird of Virginia (where I grew up) — over on her blog, together make me want to be there.

It’s abstracted. It’s irrational. But this morning I sang The Star Bangled Banner to M in the car. Yes I did. She listened all the way through before quietly remarking that she didn’t think she’d ever heard it before. Shame on me.

In recompense, please accept this particularly belting version. If you didn’t know it before M, you’ll know it now!

Paper Doves

I like this photograph of paper doves — made by schoolchildren in Seattle, Washington, as part of the World Harmony Run earlier this year — because they look so hopeful, well made. Never mind that they’re lining concrete pavement: a little wind, and they might be off.

Several years ago I was ready to give up writing. No biggie, perhaps. Except to me of course. I’d been writing since I was eleven, and had never wanted to do anything else. Yet the frustration of not getting my work out had completely undone me. I was ready to stop, to tuck that bit away, rather than fail — as I saw it — again and again.

I think it was R who then said to me, probably with more than a hint of irritation: well, what do you want? And I couldn’t answer him. Not properly. I made grand statements, I whined.

That day or the next, self preservation kicked in. If I couldn’t articulate what I wanted, how could I possibly even come close to realising it?

I decided I would have to try — one last time. I made three sentences for myself that encapsulated how I wanted to approach my work (not achieve — those sentences came later!), how I wanted to think about things — in an ideal world.

I deliberately chose areas in which I was most insecure. It took me a long time to make sentences that were easy to remember, but concise, resonant, concrete, in the present tense — and not copping out. Once I’d made them though, I repeated them to myself whenever I could, several times a day. I was willing to try anything.

And almost immediately, something in me changed. I felt stronger. Things seemed possible. Over time, I’m sure the sentences led me to do what I wanted to do. They brought clarity and focus. And — no exagerration — within 18 months I’d published my first book. Scout’s honour.

So when I woke in the night a few nights ago, feeling a little waffly and out of focus, I knew what I had to do. I’ve done it lots the last few years: get the birds to fly.


From January 2010, my new blog is Waving and Drowning


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Who am I?

A writer born in Texas, who grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia (yes, like the song), and who's been living in the UK since 1988. I've published two books (see below), and teach creative writing at the University of Kent. I'm married to a composer, and we have two young children. See About for my full profile.