Winner of the Nigel Jenkins Literary Award 2022.
Writing. Why this compelling urge to write, why the need to share stories, experiences, feelings? And why the presumption that someone might want to read what you’ve written?
I came late to writing creatively. Years of writing about patients whilst working in the NHS doesn’t count, although many stories were shared, some stranger and more unbelievable than fiction. So why, in my mid-fifties, did I feel the urge to write? One of the questions asked on the MA application form was what I’d like to achieve by studying the art of writing creatively. My answer was that I wanted to write something that someone else would like to read. Being awarded the Nigel Jenkins Literary Award was, to me, a joyful acknowledgement of that wish.
One of the pleasures about studying for my MA – apart from not needing an excuse to read all day – was having a safe place to experiment with different forms of writing within the boundaries of poetry, fiction or non-fiction. So the following are examples of this – being able to be creative with creative writing…
‘The Old Woman who lived in the Forest’
There was once an old woman who lived deep in the forest, where the trees whispered to her during the day and where the owls called to her at night. She had lived there for years with her husband and daughters. He worked the land and looked after the animals, and she tried to help others and grew herbs and vegetables, making use of the bounty of nature. Their beautiful children grew up to be beautiful women and they went out into the world to make lives and families of their own, just as she’d told them it was how it should be. Then one dark day, a dreadful disease fell upon her husband, and all of her magik herbs and spells and knowledge couldn’t save him. Now the old woman was all alone in the forest and one by one the animals died, the grass grew long in the fields, the hedges grew tall and twisted and the brambles and wild roses grew so fast that they knitted and knotted the hazel and hawthorn together so thickly that no-one could pass through. And she remembered when she was young and travelled the land and the sea and when life was full of possibilities and different paths and it didn’t matter if you took the wrong one because there was always time to find another one. And this and her loss made her feel sad and she longed for something to do that would make her happy again as she felt her time was running out. The birds that visited her every day for food and water noticed she looked worn and tired and wondered what they could do to help her, as she’d always helped them when it was cold and wet, and fed them when there was no food on the land for them to eat. One day, Crow looked through the window to see what the old woman was doing. She was sat at the old table that her husband had made from a tree that had fallen in a winter storm, and it was laden with books, some piled so high they had fallen onto the floor, and papers lay scattered all around. For five days they watched to see what she was doing.
Wren crept under the window frame and stared.
Swallow flew in circles and swooped and dived to see what she could see.
Blackbird sang to try and make the old woman feel better.
Owl watched and looked wise, but didn’t say anything.
On the sixth day, the old woman gave a cry, which made all the birds jump and fly. She tore up all of the paper and threw it over the floor where it lay in drifts like snow-in-summer.
What is she doing? They asked themselves. Why is she so sad?
After the sun had set, Crow, being the bravest and most wise, crept into the house. See what the papers say, the others said to him, perhaps we can help.
So he hopped and he looked and rummaged through all the papers, twisting them this way and that with his long beak, but although he tried, he couldn’t understand the marks on them.
Shall we try to put the pieces together? suggested Jackdaw, who was good at working out
So they gathered up all of the pieces and although they couldn’t understand the words written on them, they could feel a jumble of images and colours and music and feelings and tried to put things where they felt they should be, then laid them on the table for the old woman to find. And when the she came into the room the next morning, the old woman saw writing that filled her with happiness and joy as she realised she had had the words inside her all of the time; she just hadn’t known when and how and where to put everything.