A Year of First Lines

The idea is you take the first line of the first post of each month and use it to sum up the past year. I remember doing this a few years back and being amazed at how accurate it was in describing my year. However, nowadays my first line of any blog post tends to be more practical. So I am forced to be more creative and use an erasure poetry approach, jiggle them all round and hey presto:

An oasis of beautiful greenery stuck in limbo: you know you love it. Yet not all balconies are strong enough to take large container plants (like me). My merry bookish dissolute ways! My head felt very ‘ouch’ but the sheer glee of folie à plusieurs… It’s the end of the summer, so I take you indoors.

Britain is far less open to revolution. That moral flat-iron called common-sense. It is a pity that they have to behave like that. ‘Balkanisation’ is a frame of mind that is easily accessible to anyone, regardless of geography. Some were baffled, some were outraged, a few thoroughly enjoyed it…

Perhaps I don’t believe in happy ends?

A Year in First Lines

I’ve done one version of it in previous years (listing the first line of each month on my blog), but I’ve seen a number of bloggers like Annabel Gaskell and Eleanor Franzen do a different version of it: first lines of books that they read each month. So I will attempt a combination of the two, with the aim of recreating something akin to found poetry and giving a snapshot of my year.

By this year, the year ’45, the Germans had already lost command of the air-space over our little town. Scorching heat of a midsummer Sunday in Obor market…
The young woman runs burning along the side of the marketplace… I’ve stupidly invited the outside world in. Repeat after me: summertime, and the living is easy… And, if it is not, we like to pretend it is.

Jim closed the blinds, unplugged the telephone and put the tape in. Today’s programme is all about stomach ulcers… Aardvark primogeniture, he exudes all the confidence, but I avoid his eyes. My whole life seems to consist of being really happy in some wonderful places – and then having to tear myself away from them. GPS tells me it’s eleven minutes. I don’t think that’s right, it’s too short.

Last night I dreamt that I met up with an old friend of mine at her new house on the lake. Doorways into secret gardens bring the promise of forbidden delights. This had been a happy home once. The radiant afternoon sunlight of early September was so brilliant that it still seemed like summer. There’s no swell to speak of, just little lapping waves. The voice was quiet, smiling, ‘Is that Miss Clarvoe?’

Tomorrow I will sit demurely. Tomorrow is absolutely fine.

From The Secret Garden of Heligan

For a year which started with a lot of pain, anxiety and rejection, it has ended very well. I really like my full-time job and am doing the things I love in my spare time (reading, writing – in drabbles, reviewing for Crime Fiction Lover, promoting literature in translation for Asymptote Journal). My boys are becoming more independent, kinder and wiser every day, while my cat is ever more gentle and cuddly. And I am laughing, joking, feeling younger and freer every single day!

While the money worries have not been resolved, we still have a roof over our heads and can afford to heat the house. (I have been taking Christmas packages to those less fortunate in the area, and believe me, it’s not a small thing at all to be sheltered and warm). My income may be less than during my freelance life, but at least it’s regular (plus, the novelty of paid holidays has not worn off yet!)

Camus by Cecil Beaton

Au milieu de l’hiver, j’ai découvert en moi un invincible été. (Camus)

In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.

My 2016 in First Posts

After a disastrous previous year’s attempt to use the first sentence of the first post of every month to give me an overview of the year that had gone by, and a marginally more successful version in 2015 , my attempt for 2016 simply did not do justice to what has been a tumultuous year. Very different from what I  (or anyone else) expected. So I ‘cheated’ a bit and went on to second or third posts of the month, picking out more relevant sentences. A sort of ‘found poetry’ attempt, accompanied by ‘found photos’.

What struck me was how much I am obsessed by my failure to write this year. Once again.  I’m probably not the only one who felt overwhelmed and overtaken by worldwide and personal events, temporarily forgetting about the soothing power of writing. I’m certainly not the only one who turned to poetry rather than prose for solace and trying to understand myself and the people around me. But I feel guilty about that novel that still languishes unfinished in my notebooks and on my desktop. I know I need to be kind to myself when all the world around me is being smashed with a wrecking-ball, but… tick-tock! tick-tock! How much longer can I afford to not write?

wp_20160809_12_23_02_pro_li2016 is going to be a good year for you, for me, for the world more generally – 6 is my lucky number and I am willing it to be so. (Besides, the world and I are due a good one after the last few grim ones.)

Why did no one warn me that writing a synopsis is so difficult?

I ‘accidentally’ attended a poetry workshop run by the wonderful Naomi Shihab Nye and suddenly the words were gushing out of me, after a twenty-year absence from poetry, and nearly as many years of not really taking writing of any kind seriously enough.

I will risk boring you this week with no less than three posts about Quais du Polar in Lyon.

wp_20160816_11_28_23_proA little twitter conversation with the delightful Janet Emson (if you haven’t discovered her blog yet, it’s highly recommended, not just by me) had me uttering the words: ‘Dammit, Janet, I love you!’

I’m already suffering from homesickness before I’ve even left this region.

wp_20161027_12_09_08_proWhy would you ever not have a spiral staircase or a ladder if you have a large home library?

‘You do have a lot of books…’ sighed the removal men (and I don’t think it was wistfulness I detected in their voices).

It’s not the move (or, to use corporate terminology, the international relocation). It’s not the scrabbling around trying to find the financial paperwork…  It’s not even the lack of internet or … when your devices conspire to let you down all at once.

wp_20161020_08_02_22_proHenley Literary Festival is virtually on my doorstep, and it was the first literary event I attended, back in 2009. I met the dynamic and very accessible, friendly duo Nicci Gerrard and Sean French (better known as Nicci French) there, we discussed the Moomins and the Martin Beck series, and the rest is history. In other words, my passion for reading and writing was rekindled.

I was going to finish my novel and send it to my mentor for structural edits. But that was based on the flawed assumption I made back in early June that I would have spent a total of 5 weeks on the novel by now. Needless to say, that did not happen between July and October. I wrote precisely zero words since mid-June.


P. S. I know it’s a bit early to wrap up the year, but I anticipate an early end to this year’s blogging. From 17th December onwards, it will be all about off-line wrangling of thoughts, feelings and activities.

P.P.S. Word of warning: 7 is my unlucky number, so goodness knows what 2017 will be like…

The Poetry of Blog Posts – 2nd Attempt

Last year I tried to take the first sentence of the first blog post of each month to give me a snapshot of the year – and realised, to my dismay, that the truly meaningful parts of the year had been left unsaid. So I thought I would give it another go this year, to see if 2015 has been any different. Here is the result (with a bit of creative boosting). Not quite sure what it says about the kind of year I’ve had, but it’s understated yet bubbling…


I start the year as I mean
to go on:
planning my move into a chateau
complete with delectable grounds.
Ah, the songs of my life…
Each poem only as good as its last incarnation.

No, it’s not
April Fools’ Day joke!
My TBR pile has augmented:
another 12 books.
Is there any writer out there who doesn’t

As a poet wedded
to social media, I
could not resist the premise of this
crime novel Blinde Vögel (Blind Birds)
for I’ve been blind, blind, blind.
No longer!

I don’t know how, I don’t know why
but one day
on the sly
and on the fly
my poems turned into surly teenagers.

The apparition of these faces in the crowd :
Petals on a wet, black bough.
The bare legs of English girls in winter minis
bring mottled blue bumps out on my flesh.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that
a beautiful house must be in need
of a perfect water feature,
so that
post-holidays, post-weekend,
when the party’s over, the curtains drawn,
the water gurgles on.

How First Liners Led to Deeper Analysis of 2014

This is my 500th blog post and came out much more self-absorbed and personal than I intended. But it’s perhaps an important marker and reminder for me in years to come. For those of a squeamish disposition, look away now. Normal service will resume shortly.

The delightful Annabel introduced me to a really fun and easy meme: a year’s worth of blog posts condensed in first lines.The “rules” are simple: Take the first line of each month’s first post over the past year and see what it tells you about your blogging year. Links go back to the original posts. So I started off with great enthusiasm:


So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
(from a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye) – the quotation-filled post was entitled Poems to Celebrate New Beginnings

But after that it was downhill all the way. My first liners were pedestrian, prosaic, just plain boring – summarising lots of reading or introducing other people’s reading habits. There was little sparkle or insight there. Which got me thinking that, really, that’s what 2014 has been like for me. This blog is nearly three years old and the first year 2012 was all about rediscovering writing, 2013 was all about balancing the brain-numbing professional success with my love of reading and writing. But what of 2014?

It’s been a knotty year of ‘nots’. Not travelling or working quite so much. Not buying into the dreaded corporate speak or business targets. But also not writing, not finishing the final edits of Novel No. 1, not starting on Novel No. 2, not writing as many poems as I would have liked, not feeling inspired. A year of not making any new friends, not joining the parents’ associations at the new schools, not getting involved in fundraising and cake-baking.

It’s been a year of ‘overs’ – over-worrying, over-explaining, over-analysing, over-imagining and over-reading. Those 180 or so books I’ve swallowed – don’t you think they are some displacement activity? A way to bury yourself into someone else’s words instead of having to find your own? A subtle way to keep the most fearsome thoughts at bay? What was I hoping to find in them, answers, solutions, or mere temporary distraction? Dispersed attention, dissed author, discombobulated, distorted pictures, yet kept on moving.

Finally, it’s also been a year of ‘burning’. Burning bridges – or thinking about it – or dreaming about it and waking up with a matchbox in my hands. Burning deep, ugly brand marks into the palms of my hands – just because I could, just to remind myself that I was alive. Burning hurtful words into my memory, so that, someday, when the emotions are less raw, I could turn them into searing fiction others can relate to. Burning up inside. With all that I cannot express or must suppress. Burning with righteousness and sense of injury. Burning with anger. Turning into an ugly monster spouting lava slurs and watching my own children turn equally ugly and full of invectives. Burning to cinders all that I have, all that I am. Hoping to renew. Having lost hope in phoenix-like rebirths or reinventions.

It’s been a fallow field of a year. But I tell myself that fields need to be allowed to breathe and regenerate, to mitigate the build-up of pathogens and pests, to rebuild its nutrients for the more fertile periods to follow. Yet farming annals tell us that a field can also be at its most vulnerable to erosion when it lies fallow.

For a writer, however, even erosion is good. Nothing is lost… except time.

Tick tock!