Category: Thoughts

Review of Bolton: The Positives, by Meredith Schumann

David Holding takes a wander through Victorian Bolton in his book ‘The Dark Figure: Crime in Victorian Bolton’ so I thought I’d stroll through the 21st Century version, for good and for bad.

Second, some goods.

  • Skaters yell to each other. Despite the heat and brightness of the day, they wear long sleeves and beanies and there isn’t a single t-shirt or pair of sunglasses to be seen. We watch as they zoom about, but we’re mainly looking at their facial expressions – pride, cool, nonchalance… The joys of being young.
  • We park in the multi storey where weekend parking is free, and we manage to find a spot on the first floor.  It’s never happened before.   
  • Thirsty, we flop into a café for a much-needed drink. I can’t place the accent of the man who takes our order, but he’s so friendly and recognises us from our previous visits. He asks about the family and gives us each a toasted teacake on the house.
  • We spend two hours rummaging round X-Records and emerge with music, DVDs and a pretty funky Led Zepp-inspired shirt. I absolutely love the friendly organised chaos of this place.
  • We decide to eat at the Cherry Moon café, just up the road. It is a place for gamers of all types, for comic book fans, and for diners who like good food. We certainly go mad for their halloumi fries, and my crushed avocado on sourdough toast is superb. Yep, this has to be the coolest and friendliest place ever. Oh, happy days.
  • A community police officer smiles at us and comments ‘Isn’t it a beautiful day?’ If he’d been wearing a bowler hat or flat cap I’m sure he would have raised it for me. ‘It’s certainly warm, I reply. ‘I think the lions are happy’. I gesture over to the distinctive town hall step statues, and note the affection for the town’s people in the officer’s eyes. †††† ‘Good job. We don’t want hungry lions rampaging round Bolton. We have enough problems.’
  • We do our fish and vegetable shopping in the covered market. The place is clean and bustling and the choice is fantastic. We purchase Caribbean curry to accompany the fish, and I suspect the man dishing out the chickpeas is the cheeriest person in the whole town. We leave, arms clutching food bags and faces glowing with anticipation of our evening meal. It feels like Christmas.
  • We take a trip round the museum and gallery and discuss the photographic exhibition and Egyptian displays. Another two hours happily spent. We don’t call in at the aquarium this time, as we need to get home.
  • The roads are busy, but I’m astonished when a pedestrian stranger leads us from the car park and onto the road. He holds up the traffic with a grin, and waves as we drive away.

#lesleyfridayreads

Review of Bolton: The Negatives, by Meredith Schumann

David Holding takes a wander through Victorian Bolton in his book ‘The Dark Figure: Crime in Victorian Bolton’ so I thought I’d stroll through the 21st Century version, for good and for bad. First, some bads.

  • The car park’s one we’ve been to hundreds of times, but they’ve changed the entry method. We assume it’s owing to the homeless people who regularly slept on the landings, and perhaps also the drug transactions we’ve seen occurring in this place which stinks of urine and is peppered with pigeon guano.
  • Three men sprawl on the ground, backs leaning up against a wall. One is more lying than sitting and the other two surround this incapacitated friend. ‘Spice’ a woman says, as we pass. Sugar and spice and things not nice.
  • A woman squats on the corner wearing a filthy, navy blue sleeping bag. We pass a little later when she’s being questioned by the community police officers who wander the town centre. She is insisting that she was innocent of a crime, while they are insistent on her guilt. A small crowd gather to listen. Meanwhile, a young near-toothless man, lies on a nearby bench and watches with open mouth.
  • Undeterred by cardboard policemen at the pound shop’s entrance, an elderly lady in an unseasonably heavy camel coat pockets a chocolate block.
  • In a large health and beauty shop, a dead-faced woman hovers by the make-up stands. She opens tubes, installing their contents on her face inexpertly and with speed. When two young staff members inform her that this is not acceptable, she immediately scurries away without a word.
  • A charity shop assistant discusses their recent spate of shoplifting, and the cheek and sense of entitlement of such people. Another customer comments: ‘They must be pretty desperate to steal from this place’. The two workers ignore her slight.
  • Three young boys scare an elderly woman with their play fighting. She stumbles, and the boys disperse.
  • Two teen girls mock a larger than average woman who is reclining in an arcade-salon chair to get her eyebrows done. Her body spills over, and the teens, with perfect skin and perfect bodies, point and laugh. The woman hears, and her smile freezes.

#lesleyfridayreads

Literary Inadequacy

Walking round an independent bookshop this morning, I experienced overwhelming feelings of anxiety and dread. I wasn’t being followed and I hadn’t forgotten my debit card. My problem was much worse.

I was experiencing artistic anxiety. Literary anxiety, to be precise.

Being an author and publisher, I’m in regular contact with other creative souls – writer who express themselves with a succinct brilliance, and others whose wordy exuberance inspires and challenges me constantly. I love to hear their work and their comments on mine.

But… and it is a big but… I have this very real sense of literary inadequacy. I can’t remember the last time I read a bestseller purchased from the Asda shelves, or from the Waterstones display tables. I can’t converse on the fashionable, the literary, or even on the archaic. In other words, I’m not what anyone would call well-read when it comes to the contemporary classics.

That doesn’t mean I don’t read – what it means is that I don’t read the correct, approved books – the ones that might be raved about on Radio 4, in the pages of a woman’s mag, or at a trendy book club. But should I? I’ve read plenty of classics and I happily select books at random. Unless the subject matter is one I dislike intensely (and there aren’t many – military history, heraldry and monarchic dynasties are three that come to mind!) I’ll give the book a go.

I’m also not afraid to enjoy the sometimes dubious pleasures of film novelisations, low key romances and unpublished, experimental works. Why not? Just because something isn’t out there and on every shelf, it doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable.

Perhaps this is down to stubbornness, but I don’t tend to read stuff till any furore has already died down, and I can read without reference to hype. But this means I’m always at least five years behind my more fashionable reading friends. Hence the anxiety.

I suppose I could read reviews, thus pretending that books have been read. I could even actually read the books I ‘should’ read, though I’d have no idea where to start, and which of the famous names to follow as priority.

But I’d rather watch random TV from eras long gone – and I have the same attitude to reading books. Take it at my own pace with no agenda and no ‘must read’ list. This way I come across some real stinkers as well as some perfect classics. I’m not sure I’m prepared to lose that spontaneity.

So, I guess I must live with this literary inadequacy and accept that there’s no way for anyone to read all the decent books that have been written – or all the bad books, for that matter.  

There’s more to life than being at the forefront of fashion. Life’s too short, anyway. I’d rather just read and be happy.

‘Self Doubt’ – Poem by Meredith Schumann

We all have it – especially writers.

I hope this poem helps anyone else who has to deal with it. I don’t claim to be a poet, but sometimes the words just happen, then happen to mean something.

Image: Pngtree

The Voice

There’s no way you can sing and dance
Said Voice with sneering, snarling stance.
Your playing’s crap. Your singing’s worse.
Makes fingers twitch, makes eardrums burst.
– Creative stuff’s just not your thing.
– The Voice said Girl just pack it in.

Your needles break, your knitting sags.
Failed projects lounge in patchwork bags.
Your hemming rips, your beading flops
Applique flakes, and stitches drop.
– Creative stuff’s just not your thing.
– The Voice said Girl just pack it in.

And writing? Girl, for goodness sake,
You’re barely literate. You’re fake!
You self-indulge. You scrawl your name
With fallow dreams of shallow fame.
– Creative stuff’s just not your thing.
– The Voice said Girl just pack it in.

I’ve read your awful stuff, Voice said
You’re destined never to be read.
Remove the stories from your head.
The only decent scribes are dead,
– Creative stuff’s just not your thing.
– The Voice said Girl just pack it in.

What makes you think you’ll ever scrawl
A story strong, a tale not tall?
And why would any person buy
Your ‘Camping Tales’ or ‘Baby’s Cry’?
– Creative stuff’s just not your thing.
– The Voice said Girl, just pack it in.

So, when I’m low, the Voice is loud.
And when I’m strong, the Voice is cowed.
I’ll do it even if it’s bad
Cos if I don’t I’ll just go mad.
Yes. When I’m low, the Voice is Loud.
But when I’m strong, the Voice is cowed.
– Creative stuff’s just not your thing.
– The Voice said Girl, just pack it in.

#poem #selfdoubt #thevoice #lesleyatherton

What’s the Cringiest Poem You’ve Ever Written?

“orator fits, poeta nascitor”
An orator is made, a poet is born.

Mine is less of a poem and more of a song. I am in my early 50s now, and wrote it back in those idealistic days when I was all of sixteen, thought I knew everything there was to know about the world, and when new age travellers were constantly in the news.

If you want to read something that will make you cringe even more than David Brent from ‘The Office’, you just need to take a look inside the songbook that’s been with me since the age of fifteen.

For those of you who can’t look in person, I’ve typed it up this particular corker here:

https://www.scottmartinproductions.com/pastpresenttense

Just scroll down to ‘Peace Convoy Partisans’. You won’t regret it, if only that you view your own writing more favourably.

And with that in mind, I challenge each and every one of you to fight back with an even more cringey contribution. Don’t be afraid. We’re all friends here!

Ten Tips to Rub Out Writers’ Block

http://www.scottmartinproductions.com

Do other professions have similar issues to writers’ block? Is there such a thing as Doctors’ Dread? Opticians’ Obstruction?  Grocers’ Groan?

And how should it be written? Is it a block applying potentially to all writers, therefore “Writers’ Block” or does this debilitating condition specifically refer to the struggles of solitary individual writers, therefore “Writer’s Block”?

Or should it even be “Bloc”? As in a collective, alliance or coalition? Doesn’t that put a different slant on the concept? It truly is a unifying condition because, whatever it means, and however it is written, I know one thing for certain. Pretty much all writers, often at unexpected points in their writing lives, will suffer from writers’ block.

Fundamentally though, it doesn’t matter as to the whys and wherefores of the name. What does matter is what it does to us. It can be truly paralysing. Time-wasting.  Annoying.  And frustrating enough to make you want to pack it all in and find yourself a far less demanding pastime or career.

It isn’t necessarily a short-term problem either – or something that happens when you’re sleepy or can’t concentrate because you’re attempting to write on a busy train. It can creep up in an environment of perfect calm. It can pounce when you’re well-rested and have set time to one side for the purpose of writing. It seems to relish planting buckets of self-doubt into your usually fertile and industrious mind.

It can hit before you’ve even set pen to paper, part way through a paragraph, or even when you’re speeding to a piece’s conclusion. One of my most frustrating moments involved my feeble attempts to name a character in a chapter’s final paragraph. It took more than three days to get it right. The silver lining to this particular cloud is that this particular occurrence of block forced me to change my writing technique and routines for the better.

(Incidentally, if you’re the type of writer who needs to complete sentence one to perfection before allowing yourself to move on to sentence two… and if you’re struggling to get something right, just try leaving a gap and moving on. I often make a note and highlight it, for example – ‘This is where they walk across the beach and end up at the Neolithic site’. I almost always come back the following day and shake my head in puzzlement at my previously frozen state.)

The great thing about the universality of this terrible condition is that almost every hobbyist or career writer can identify with how it makes us feel, and how crippling it can be. That means empathy, and it also means community.

So, here are a few bits of advice that all of us could potentially find useful. Some/all may be obvious, but there’s no harm in re-stating the obvious. We’re only human. We forget. And sometimes it is the block itself that loves to sabotage our creativity – by forcing that forgetfulness.

  1. If you always write on your laptop at the kitchen table, try moving the laptop to your bed, or to the sofa, or try attaching a keyboard and monitor and sitting at the desk. Or if you always write on the laptop, get yourself a little notebook, write in longhand and type up later.
  2. With whatever writing tool/s you prefer, get yourself comfortable. Put on the radio and just write down a few lyrics, or make notes of the DJ’s inane drivel. Or put the TV on and extract what you can from whatever you find. I also go through songs inside my head and write alternative lyrics. Often by the end of all this copying and daft wordplay, I’m ready for the more serious stuff.
  3. Take a break, even if you don’t think you need one. It’s a very obvious suggestion, but it does work. Twenty minutes is long enough to get yourself a drink, and to wander round your home giving your eyes and your body a change of scene.
  4. Eat something. Preferably something juicy – like an orange. There’s a good chance that as soon as you get those fingers mucky, your brain will suddenly rebel and switch itself back on again. Pesky things, these brains of ours.
  5. In preparation for potential bouts of block, keep notepads and pencils in every room and jot down abstract thoughts that jump into your head. That way, when you’re struggling for ideas in the future, you can just gather up your notepads and see what you can find. The chances are that if an idea connected with you in the past, it may also mean something in the future.
  6. I’ve had great results from opening a reference book at random and taking some words from that page. Perhaps pretend your character is speaking those words. Not so long ago I used this technique and had my character saying ‘Fear and Loathing in Birmingham? More like Lustful Loathing in Liverpool’. In the end, I didn’t use it in the piece, but it made me smile and was enough to get me going again.
  7. Do some physical exercise. Preferably something that gets the body and soul tingling, and out of breath.
  8. Spend some time with animals or children. I don’t know the proper term for this, but it certainly isn’t a form of ‘dumbing down’. To me it just encourages more of a non-intellectual response to life. It can help simplify what’s going on in your head and in your writing. Perhaps you could put yourself into the same position as the creature? How might two cats converse? What goes on in the mind of a toddler?
  9. Just write – even if it is complete rubbish. You will probably produce unreadable trash for the first few paragraphs or so because your mind isn’t yet in the right place. But it isn’t impossible that some of it may be useable, or even be pure gold. But the important thing is to write without demanding anything of yourself. No perfectionism and no preparation.
  10. Ask a fellow writer to read your work. Supportive writers are the best writers. This isn’t a competition. There’s room for us all, and the more we give, the more we get back. I’m not ashamed to say that some of my best ideas began their lives in the comments of my writing buddies.

I would love to hear your views. We’re all different and we all discover our own solutions to our own specific problems.

So, please comment. Who knows? Your comment may be exactly what a struggling writer-to-be is needing to hear.  And on day, you may be that struggling writer.

More on Wednesday. Please follow, and don’t miss any more writing-related revelry in the future!

“Every puffling is precious.”

http://www.scottmartinproductions.com

Rainhill Nursing Hospital Student Magazine from Spring 1968!!

This is amazing, and a true blast from the past. Take a look at magazine number 1 of a Rainhill Hospital nursing students’ magazine dated from spring 1968. Our featured author, Peter McGeehan was heavily involved in putting together this little piece of history. Click on the front cover to be taken to Peter’s featured page, and you’ll find a gallery of the entire magazine at the bottom of the page!

Click on the link to open on the Scott Martin Productions website – in a new tab. Scroll to the bottom of Peter’s page for the whole magazine. I LOVE IT!

Review of ‘Moving Times’ by Phoenix Writers

‘Moving Times’ is a book put together to celebrate the decade-long existence of the Phoenix Writers group, from Horwich Lancashire, and the contributors should be highly proud of what they’ve achieved.  

The first thing you notice is that it is a very attractive book with a simple but well-designed and effective cover. This really does the contents justice, which is something not achieved by all small press and writing group books.

As a member of three/four writing groups, I really do identify with the sentiments expressed in the book’s foreword – ‘What moves you, gets you out of bed in the morning, drives you to action? For us on a Thursday, it’s Phoenix Writers. We meet as friends, share ideas and get support and inspiration’. Yes, that’s what a strong and healthy writing group does for the usually lone creative. Such a group provides a stable and caring home for people who, by the nature of their pastime, can feel rootless and isolated. Phoenix is clearly a great base for many thoughtful and interesting writers.

This book contains just over 100 pages of stories, poetry and thoughts, and style/content-wise, there really is something for everyone. When reading a book of this type, I always begin with the poetry.

Ann Lawson’s ‘Iambic Tetrameter Rules, Okay?’ is a clever and amusing poem about the frustrations of forcing your creativity into a restrictive art form, and am sure the sentiments expressed will resonate with most poets.  With a completely different feel, ‘S is for Sharing’ is a short and life-affirming verse by Tony Nolan about all the positives in the world. This joy in living can be in short supply at times, so it’s pleasant to read regular reminders. In a similar vein, Joy Pope’s poem titled ‘Horwich Times’ made me proud to have connections with the town, and even more keen to produce my own book about Horwich – ‘a town of bustling resilience’. Kathleen Proctor’s poem, ‘Alexander, My Grandson’ is the most beautiful recollection of love for a grandchild who is ‘snuggling, nuzzling’ and ‘Chubby, chunky, comfortable’. Jeanne Waddington’s poem ‘The Contrariness of Young Love’ is about insurmountable contrasts between a young couple. It’s a regular enough subject, but the style lends it originality – ‘She’s a summer’s evening, he’s a cloudy day.’

The stories are also lovely to read and insightful. Bernie Jordan’s story ‘Time Moves’ begins this collection with a vivid recollection of a moment in the life of a crane and a railway bridge at Lostock station. 

‘Turning Left,’ Janet Lewison’s unpretentiously written tale, immediately drew me in with its endearing dialogue about a woman who ends up in a hired home that comes with its own snazzy car. She is changing her life, and the Cobra she now drives provides its own form of liberation.

‘Newfoundland’ by Elaine Hamilton is a short but lovely tale of boats, and it really conjured up a misty and weird atmosphere.

‘Going to Waste’ (by Dotty Snelson) is one of the longer pieces in the book, about recycling, hoarding, skip-diving and the make-do-and-mend ideology of a man, Gordon, his wife Sheila, and their personal tragedy. I really enjoyed this touching story.  

Barbara Oldham’s story ‘Stolen Bikes’ was about that very subject – or was it? Reading it, you really get a feel for the woman behind this very witty monologue.

Terence Park’s story ‘Wild Mouse’ tells the story of Mags and Rebecca on a day out at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. They take in all the pleasures and try to defer their ride on the ‘Wild Mouse’. The characters leapt from the page, especially their dialogue.

‘What the Spider Said’ by Phil Chrimes is an insightful tale of a conversation between Boris, a spider, and Humphrey. Their conversation is simple and so endearing. Pam Hunter provides another spider-related piece of writing as she relates the tale of ‘Little Miss Muffet’ and gives the reader the story behind it. There’s a lot to learn from how fairy tales and nursery rhymes come about.

Alan Gibbs’ piece ‘It Started Well and Just Got Better’ is about a campervan trip to Mull to view white-tailed eagles. This gorgeous personal recollection was good to read and really encourages the reader to visit this area of the world.

Lastly. Margaret Halliday’s piece, ‘My Home is in India’ did bring a tear to my eye. Margaret passed away in March 2019, and also attending ‘Write You Are’ – another Horwich-based writing group of which I am a member. I knew Margaret’s writings well, and this appreciation of her life in India was Margaret to the core, and a lovely, though unintentional tribute to her.

Thanks, Phoenix, for this book. Greatly enjoyed!

Transcript of brief interview between Grace Sachs and Meredith Schumann 13/02/2019

G: My first question for you is a very simple one, and you must get sick of answering it. Why would anyone want to write? It doesn’t pay well unless you’re very famous, and it’s a lot of hard work. Why not get a ‘real’ job?

L: Hahaha! Have you transmogrified into the school careers adviser? Well, I’m in my early fifties so have had plenty of ‘real’ jobs that paid the bills. Writing is something I wanted to do from an early age.

G: Yeah, sorry for being facetious. I think I’m envious that you’re out there and doing it, and I haven’t done it yet. Probably never well. Too bone idle.

L: I was like that for years. Every time I saw someone else actually writing I felt one step away from the reality I wanted. I’d assist others in living their dreams, but was too busy working in up to four jobs to follow my own dreams. But I always said I’d do it when I retired. I’m quite a few years from retirement but came into a little money which enabled me to resign from other paid work and use my previous writing and publishing experience to get started on my own. And that’s where Scott Martin Productions was born. Scott Martin was my mum’s maiden name, and I’m deeply grateful to her for teaching me to read before I began school, and also to read music. She was a primary school deputy head, and a very hard worker and great role model, and she was rather good at correcting my written work too. But writing and reading were things that meant a lot to me from an early age. I remember writing a poem mid-way through high school about ‘Blackberry Picking’. My English teacher, Mrs Nash (Emma, I think) was so supportive. My report for that school term praised my use of language and said she thought was going to bloom into being a fine writer. You remember things like that. I still also remember the first line of the poem ‘Blackberry picking, sweet and sticky…; then there was something about the stains on the hand being like an open wound. I wish I still had that poem.

G: But most people who like writing at school or later, don’t actually make a career of it. How did you know that writing and publishing were the way to go for you?

L: I don’t suppose that anyone really knows the difference between dreams that should be fulfilled and those which are best to remain as dreams. Not until they actually achieve them, anyway. So you might as well just try to live those dreams, if you can. Provided the personal risk involved isn’t too great. If it works out, brilliant, and if it doesn’t, well at least you can go to your grave knowing you’ve tried.

G: And on that cheerful note…

L: Yes. Sorry. I don’t mean it in a negative sense. It’s more that we’re here for such a short time so we might as well try to follow our hearts!