Bluebells are a motif both in my life and on my blog. The reason for their recurring appearances in photos is easy to explain – they are glorious and intriguing. They illuminate any image caught during their month’s blooming, but they are also frail, their stalks curving in the evening light; single bells suspended, but silent. They are a symbol of the twisted natural world where trees’ branches bend, shells are spiraling cones and bluebells have hunched backs. All subtly remind me of my previously kinked spine. My vertebrae resembled a bowed trunk or an ivy trail – my torso an example of nature’s unpredictable grasp. Perhaps this is why I return to these structures. They are proof that beauty doesn't have to be symmetrical or perfect.
These forms pop up regularly in my posts, exemplifying some of the persistent themes I return to. Something written in one article is expanded in another, perhaps inspiring a new thread or idea. The writing aspect of each post is my favourite part. It is also the trickiest - a process of taking the real, solid, observable world and translating parts of it into words and paragraphs. Thoughts snatched, plucked or painstakingly dredged become definite on the page and screen. Some are easier to articulate than others. I often feel like I'm grasping at something slightly out of the frame, fighting with letters and punctuation to make them sound and mean as intended.
I am, however, occasionally asked for tips on how to write. I find this hard to answer for several reasons. Although I want to devote my career to working with words, I regularly feel my own age limitations when it comes to what I write – sometimes only being able to outline things in my head rather than pin them down. I have a huge amount to learn and refine, which can only be achieved by continuing to practise, practise and practise some more. I am a novice, or perhaps an apprentice to writing. Also, the process is different for everyone. Some find their ‘voices’ relatively easily, while others struggle for years. I am still stretching out to explore the different possibilities and directions of mine.
But, there are several things that may help generally to improve writing, and they're tips that I try to stick to. The first is to read. Read the great authors and personal favourites to develop critical awareness of different approaches and voices, and then analyse the books you didn’t find brilliant for a lesson in what not to do. Then write. Write and revise, redraft at least twice, re-edit, polish several times, and then again after that. Check whether there any hidden words that snag like a thread caught on a thorn. Remove them. And if necessary, take apart and start again. Half the work is in removing sentences that don’t fit, letting the text become supple rather than slack or overly tense and loaded down. Read out loud and request an honest opinion from someone else. Be prepared to accept criticism, however much it hurts.
Constructive criticism is invaluable. This is not the irrelevant kind found in the one star reviews on Amazon – revelling in extensive moaning or offence – but the type integral to the process of learning to write, or work in any other creative area. Feedback may be painful, but it gives the rigour and technical grounding needed to improve. My mum tells me off for splitting infinitives or for adding in unnecessary adjectives, and slowly this has, I hope, filtered through so that I can pick up on the errors myself. To be able to criticize your own work and see its strengths and weaknesses means that then it can be improved and bettered. Each new piece is built on the foundations of what was written before.
For me, the compulsion to write is driven by wanting to express my thoughts, feelings and observations about the world around me. I know my work is usually flowery – I am fond of similes and metaphors to conjure vivid images. I also have a never-ending fascination with the countryside, with clothes, with photography, with the past, and these themes seam themselves through my posts – as cyclical as the appearance of bluebells each year.
My friend Flo, who is a sweet and beautiful person as well as a very talented photographer, took these photos as part of an extended two-way shoot during the recent flash of sun. We concluded the day with afternoon tea, a local play and then wine under the stars. I like the very naturalistic feel to these images, with a vintage dress and second hand jewellery. It's a pleasure to work with Flo wielding the camera, and I can always rely on the results to be fantastic.
A final point on the subject of portrayals. Below are two portraits of me done by two wonderful artists. The first is by Lisa Jiang, a student with an incredible eye for faces, and the second by Andrea Barja, a South American illustrator whose drawings are often inspired by past decades. The two artworks arrived in quick succession in my inbox, and I was truly astounded that two such creative individuals had taken the time to draw me! Thank you so much to both.