A Pattern For Writers? (Safety note: No spiders included)


The web, then, or the pattern: a web at once sensuous and logical, an elegant and pregnant texture: that is style, that is for the foundation of the art of literature.

So wrote Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-94) in The Art of WritingYou can download the full text in various formats at this link.

Anyway I’ve taken the liberty of adding a visual aid to go with the quote so we writers can be absolutely clear about what we are supposed to be aiming for.

Actually for me this image says more about the snaggled webs that are my thought processes – all sorts of knotty, misshapen bits, unwanted intrusions, and many dropped stitches. Oh yes, and also fog-bound. And if you look at the photo with X-ray eyes you will just make out a more finely woven web overlapping the larger web – their centres more or less aligned in the upper third of the image.  I’m good at doing that too – getting two separate works mixed up with each other so they are impossible to pull apart. So today, you can tell, the writing has not been going well – all hitched up and back-to-front, and too many projects stitched in one.

But as I said – it’s something to aim for – this sensuous, logical web. And the ‘do-over’ is ever an option. Time to unravel the messy bits then, re-string the loom and get weaving. And to all fellow writers out there – may your threads remain untangled and the elegant and pregnant texture be with you.

P.S. I always find myself fascinated by the fact that Robert Louis Stevenson was a rebel writer, broken away (in the face of domineering paternal ambition) from a dynasty of obsessive compulsive, but oh so intrepid, and brilliant lighthouse builders. I feel this may tell us something important about his work.


This web is also for Jude at The Earth Laughs In Flowers because she says she likes webs. She is looking for macro and close-up garden photos this month.

Wenlock: “A Rip Van Winkle Kind Of Place”





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A Rip Van Winkle kind of place – that’s how Shropshire writer Mary Webb described Much Wenlock around a century ago. It was the home town of her teenage years, and the place where I now live and indeed have known for much of my life. Even when we lived in Africa we would visit Wenlock whenever we were on ‘home leave’. We had friends who drew us, and finally led us to settle here on our return to England.

And once we had arrived, we soon found that many of our neighbours, pitched up from far-flung places themselves, had also lived and worked all over Africa. I was therefore only briefly surprised to find that Henry Morton Stanley had once been in Wenlock, staying as a house guest of the Milnes Gaskells, the local gentry who once lived in the old Prior’s House and owned the ruins of Wenlock Priory from which the town had grown up throughout the Middle Ages.

Stanley is not a man I admire, although his brute tenacity is certainly impressive. We also have him to thank for selling the idea of the Congo to another brute of a man, King Leopold II of Belgium, a circumstance from which that Central African state has probably yet to recover.

Still, I won’t go into that now, but I do have a mind’s eye image of Stanley sitting up on Wenlock Edge (the Milnes Gaskells took all their guests there), and picture him scanning the Shropshire plains below as he contemplated the writing of In Darkest Africa.

The landscape that spread before him, with its distant ranges of Welsh hills, could well have reminded  him of that continent. I have seen such vistas in East Africa. But he was a man who ever took his darkness with him. And this makes me wonder. What might our grim legacy have been, in PR terms that is, if he had written of ‘darkest Shropshire’; would the tainted words still be sticking to us today?

It’s a rhetorical question obviously. And I mention all these dark tones and undercurrents only as counterpoint to the  quaint, quiet images above. Much Wenlock definitely has ‘chocolate box image’ tendencies in its now gentrified, ancient streets. I find it good to remember, once in a while, that all is not necessarily what it seems.


This post was inspired by Paula’s Black & White Sunday Challenge: ‘surreptitious photography’. It is a fascinating theme. The role of surreptitious photographer is something I rather relish, but rarely put into practice. I have a feeling that in this Rip Van Winkle place it risks becoming an obsessive pursuit and, as a writer, I already have enough of those.

But please visit Paula at the link above and be inspired by her photographs. There’s still time to take part. Also check in HERE to see her gallery of  slide shows of all participating photographers’ work. It’s a real treat.

copyright 2016 Tish Farrell

Lions before the storm



Before the storm we fall in with lion –

six scions out from the pride.

Unmaned, cub-spotted, they slump amongst thorns,

smug in their big-cat skins.

They know we’re here.

So now we’re adrift on the storm’s swell:

coming like lambs to lay down with lions?

Caught in their lure we listen to their breathing;

the rise and fall of soft flanks.

Our breath marks time.

Waiting – till a drift of rainfall stirs them.

Watching – till they they rise to make their kill.



copyright 2015 Tish Farrell


Jennifer Nichole Wells: OWPC Storm



Storm lashed

Wind wrought

Winter’s tracery


Inspired by Laura Bloomsbury at  Tell Tale Therapy who was in turn inspired by Linda G Hill’s Friday prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday. I love the way one blog leads to another. Go to both links for quick-fire creative responses to Linda’s prompt: the letter ‘T’. The rule is no forward planning. Just write.


Badge by: Doobster @ Mindful




Secrets, conspiracies, tragedy, dark comedy

– a fast-paced novella of interwoven tales

set somewhere in East Africa

Ode to a Drum by Yusef Komunyakaa

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Here is one of the finest poems I’ve read in a long time, Ode to a Drum written by American poet, Yusef Komunyakaa. Please accept it as a festive gift and pass it on.


Gazelle, I killed you
for your skin’s exquisite
touch, for how easy it is
to be nailed to a board
weathered raw as white
butcher paper. Last night
I heard my daughter praying
for the meat here at my feet.
You know it wasn’t anger
that made me stop my heart
till the hammer fell. Weeks
ago, I broke you as a woman
once shattered me into a song
beneath her weight, before
you slouched into that
grassy hush. But now
I’m tightening lashes,
shaping hide as if around
a ribcage, stretched
like five bowstrings.
Ghosts cannot slip back
inside the body’s drum.
You’ve been seasoned
by wind, dusk & sunlight.
Pressure can make everything
whole again, brass nails
tacked into the ebony wood
your face has been carved
five times. I have to drive
trouble from the valley.
Trouble in the hills.
Trouble on the river
too. There’s no kola nut,
palm wine, fish, salt,
or calabash. Kadoom.
Kadoom. Kadoom. Ka-
doooom. Kadoom. Now
I have beaten a song back into you,
rise & walk away like a panther.


Source: Internet Poetry Archive

For more works by award-winning American poet, Yusef Komunyakaa


Yusef Komunyakaa  Photo: David Shankbone, Creative Commons

Flickr Comments: Y words

Inside Autumn

Inside Autumn by Nomzi Kumalo. Please take joy in the work of this wonderful poet


Multicoloured leaves along the street in a hill
Wood soaked and sweetened by the rain falling
Merciful water dripping onto quiet pavements
Dribbling slippery down the tarred thirsty road

A neutral sky where the air harbours no pressure
The rooftops and local windows leaking domestic
An uninspired dog lays heavy by an entrance hall
When there is nothing to do is there nothing to do

Flattened tired carpets still pretend to be luxury
Inside wooden walls of the same old thing again
Sometimes the coffee steaming will hold comfort
One of those days without a name to label it by

Forgotten picture frames capture some yesterdays
Glossy managed smiles and gestures from parties
The trolls and magnets and broken love messages
Settled into grown up life and ways of escaping it

The stale kitchen mood meets a crisp autumn air
Spring long dead visits the city to play some tricks

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Stone-smitten ~ Saxons awestruck by ancient spa


It’s silly, I know, but I tend to think that valuing heritage is a rather modern concept, very British – probably kicking off in the eighteenth century with all those landowners filling their bosky domains and deer parks with Grecian grottoes and Roman temples, and Lord Elgin using diplomatic privilege to ‘save’/ make off with the Parthenon’s marbles. So years ago, when I first discovered this Saxon poem in Penguin Classics’ The Earliest English Poems,  I was both amazed and captivated.

Even in its fragmentary, fire-damaged state, and some thirteen hundred years after it was written, the words come powering through.  It has been well translated of course by Michael Alexander. In his introduction he says he believes it to be a description of  the ruined Roman spa city of  Bath – Aquae Sulis (Somerset, England), and written some 300 years after the Romans left Britain. I’m posting it as a source of inspiration for all poets writing in English. All those alliterative compound nouns – showershields and gravesgrasp – don’t they just hit the mark!


The Ruin

Well-wrought this wall: Wierds broke it.

The stronghold burst…

Snapped rooftrees, towers fallen, the work of Giants, the stonesmiths mouldereth.

Rime scoureth gatetowers

rime on mortar.

Shattered the showershields, roofs ruined,

age under-ate them.

And the wielders and wrights?

Earthgrip holds them – gone, long gone,

fast in gravesgrasp while fifty fathers

and sons have passed.

Wall stood,

grey lichen, red stone, kings fell often,

stood under storms, high arch crashed –

stands yet the wallstone, hacked by weapons,

by files grim-ground…

…shone the old skilled work

…sank to loam-crust.

Mood quickened mind, and a man of wit,

cunning in rings, bound bravely the wallbase

with iron, a wonder.

Bright were the buildings, halls where springs ran,

high, horngabled, much throng-noise;

these many meadhalls men filled

with loud cheerfulness: Wierd changed that.

Came days of pestilence, on all sides men fell dead,

death fetched off the flower of the people;

where they stood to fight, waste places

and on the acropolis, ruins.

Hosts who would build again

shrank to the earth. Therefore are these courts dreary

and that red arch twisteth tiles,

wryeth from roof-ridges, reacheth groundwards…

Broken blocks…

There once many a man

mood-glad, goldbright, of gleams garnished,

flushed with wine-pride, flashing war-gear,

gazed on wrought gemstones, on gold, on silver,

on wealth held and hoarded, on light-filled amber,

on this bright burg of broad dominion.

Stood stone houses; wide streams welled

hot from the source, and a wall all caught

in its bright bosom, that the baths were

hot at the hall’s hearth; that was fitting…


Thence hot streams, loosed, ran over hoar stone

unto the ring-tank…

….It is a kingly thing


Copyright Michael Alexander 1966


You can buy an e-pub copy at this link:

The Earliest English Poems Penguin Classics 

The Earliest English Poems

Anglo-Saxon poetry was produced between 700 and 1000 AD for an audience that delighted in technical accomplishment, and the durable works of Old English verse spring from the source of the English language.

Michael Alexander has translated the best of the Old English poetry into modern English and into a verse form that retains the qualities of Anglo-Saxon metre and alliteration. Included in this selection are the ‘heroic poems’ such as Widsith, Deor, Brunanburh and Maldon, and passages from Beowulf; some of the famous ‘riddles’ from The Exeter Book; all the ‘elegies’, including The Ruin, The Wanderer, The Seafarer, The Wife’s Complaint and The Husband’s Message, in which the virtu of Old English is found in its purest and most concentrated form; together with the great Christian poem The Dream of the Rood.


Frizz’s tagged ‘S’ for more bloggers’ stories

International Women’s Day 8 March


I posted a version of this last year, but here it is again…


Maasai women house builders. Photo: Creative Commons – Jerzy Strzelecki



I’m thinking of women whose life is immeasurably harder than mine. Could I, for instance, walk the Maasai woman’s barefoot daily trek across wild bush country, searching for firewood, fetching water, taking produce to market? Could I have reared children in the dung and wattle hut that I had built myself? Could I live obeying a husband’s commands even when I thought them wrong? What kind of bravery, tenacity and inner strength would I need to live this way, and to still live well? These days, things are slowly changing for Maasai women, not least because campaigners from their own communities are pressing for girls’ education, the end of genital mutilation and forced teen marriages. But for outsiders visiting the Mara it is all too easy to see only the grinding poverty and the reconstituted, fit-for-tourist shreds of former warrior glamour. But before jumping to too many conclusions about what is really going on, here is my version of a Maasai traditional story that sheds some light (literally) on their own views of the man-woman relationship.


And the moon still shines

Long ago Sun wanted a wife
so he married Moon and they made a pact,
to ply the sky in endless round,
Sun ahead, Moon behind.
And each month, tiring of the trek,
Sun carried Moon-Wife on his back.

But then one day they came to blows.
Moon crossed Sun and Sun lashed out,
beating his Moon-Wife black and blue.
Moon struck back. She slashed Sun’s brow.
He gouged her cheek, plucked out an eye.

Later Sun fumed: I’ll shine so hard
that none will ever see my scars.
While Moon tossed her head:
Why hide my wounds?
I still light up the night sky.


text© 2014 Tish Farrell



Photo: Creative Commons www.flickr.com/photos/javic


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Errant Muse? But there’s still life at the allotment


I’ve posted this photo of my last summer’s allotment produce to prove something. I thought it might be a good antidote to my dreary state of writing stuckness. (And may be yours too). For one thing it shows conclusively that if I can’t get to grips with the several novels now backed up in brain and filing cabinets, then I can at least produce beautiful vegetation. (In season of course). Most of it is edible too, although I would not recommend the zinnias. Marigolds are fine however – in salads and as herbal tea. Excellent for the immune system, or so a herbalist friend tells me.


I sometimes think my allotment life is a metaphor for my writer’s life. Sometimes I think  it’s the other way around. This reminds me of the great Welsh poet, R S Thomas. In my post about him the film link shows him, in his elder years, out bird watching on the Welsh coast. Speaking to camera, and with a wry smile, the Nobel nominee says he is supposed to be a poet, but that when the poem is going badly, then he is a birdwatcher. Likewise for me, when the writing stalls, then I am a gardener. I am mostly a gardener.


The common ground between growing and creating is obvious: seasons of  productivity followed by dead times when the creative flow seems to be, well, DEAD. This is the natural order of things. I know it. And so I am forgiving when it comes to the garden. I do not expect it to grow things in December and February (or at least not much). But when it comes to writing, I fret, fume and grow ever more despondent with myself because the ideas in my head cannot be rendered, as I would like them, to word, to screen, to finished work.  And I do not forgive this. I consider it a grave fault.


Yet I know, too, that good growing and writing, require a fertile medium, one that is well turned and appropriately nourished. You need plans and timetables, while remaining open to alternative courses of action. You also need the right medium for the job in hand. All this takes time: years of learning, of preparation, and the application of improving strategies. You have to understand your ground from the inside out. And that brings me to another essential condition – good drainage. And  in my home town poor drainage is a problem; both brain and allotment, then, are equally afflicted. They are not free-draining. But at least I know how to improve the soil. Grit is good.


In the absence of creative flow, ungoverned gathering of new material can start filling the gap. This in hopes of finding a  spark, some fresh inspiration to jump start the writing. The activity can of course have its good points. You may indeed find the very thing you need. Besides which, well rotted down and aerated compost improves content and structure for any future cultivation. On the other hand, ever growing stagnant piles of poorly decomposing matter simply overwhelm and add to the stalled flow problem. In other words, there comes a time when you simply have to give your brain a rest, leave the compost heap to rot down, and allow the period of dormancy to run its course. The hard thing is to keep faith during this process of seeming inactivity; to believe that you WILL recover and complete the works you began.

That wonderful woman, poet and Jungian psychoanalyst, Clarissa Pinkola Estés has some very heartening things to say about this. In her autobiographical exploration of the nature of story, The Faithful Gardener, she says that new seed is faithful, and that it roots most deeply where the ground is the most empty. In The Creative Fire she also says that everyone is an artist even if they have not lifted a brush to the canvass or opened a new Word file (I paraphrase). Finally she tells us that the only thing you need to create is to get out of the way.

And so in a bid to get out of the way, I leave you with some summer marigolds. Before your eyes they are passing through their natural cycle from bud, to falling flower to newly forming seed head. Perhaps if we stare at them long enough, absorbing all that very creative orangeness, we stalled creators will ‘hear’ what they are telling us.


© 2014 Tish Farrell


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Bright Fields on Llyn: windows in time, mind and space and other stories from Cymru

Onwards and upwards…the big New Year ‘do-over’

Weekly Photo Challenge: Colour

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Christmas Kitchen

It’s interesting, not to say cheering, when you find a way to see the familiar with fresh eyes, or by accident  tweak the mediocre effort and create something  new. This, after all, is meant to be the artist’s way, whatever medium they choose to work in. It’s how I spend my days when I’m not digging my allotment or fanning the slow flame of local civic activism. So here’s a snap of my kitchen where my last post’s tulips hang, but rendered in ‘poster effect’. I think it’s rather intriguing.

And since I mentioned my allotment, here’s the communal apple tree, which I call the Garden of Eden tree because of its very red apples, complete with rainbow – also in poster effect.

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