Saturday, January 25, 2014

Art Review: David Lynch, William Burroughs and Andy Warhol at the Photographers' Gallery

Empty Factories, Poisonous Cheesecake and American Celebrities: Lynch, Burroughs and Warhol at The Photographers’ Gallery

Lynch, Burroughs and Warhol at the Photographers' Gallery
From left to right, the photography of Andy Warhol, David Lynch and William S. Burroughs. Photos courtesy of The Photographers’ Gallery.
David Lynch, William S. Burroughs and Andy Warhol have all used images and language to encapsulate massive cultural moments in American art and literature. They have all fertilized and fed on American life and culture: Lynch with his films of dystopian suburbia, replete with severed ears embedded in perfectly manicured Day-Glo lawns; Burroughs for his altered states which enabled a new way of writing in which meaning flowed as much from the process as the content; and Warhol for his death-of-the-artist approach to making art that embraced mass production and reproduction. In a coup for the small venue, London’s Photographers’ Gallery is displaying the work of each cultural icon in separate but parallel exhibitions.
On the fifth floor is the work of the only living photographer of the three: David Lynch. In tandem with his career as a filmmaker, Lynch has always taken photographs, often as part of his location scouting. His subject matter consists of abandoned factories and post-industrial landscapes. His palette is made up of shades of grey which is at odds with his more recent films in which colour is an important formal component. Who can forget the saturated hues of Blue Velvetor Mulholland Drive? The landscapes here are more akin to those of the earlierEraserhead and The Elephant Man.
The smudgy charcoal textures in the silver gelatin prints embody a sense of nostalgia by recalling classical photography of the pre-digital era — these are the same silvery tones as W. Eugene Smith’s miners, Bruce Davidson’s Lower East Side and Walker Evans’s shop signs. There is also something of Bernd and Hilla Becher in these imposing structures, though I sense Lynch is more interested in atmosphere than he is in any kind of systematic documentation. Although there is a formal beauty and elegance in these photos, they feel anachronistic and backward-looking: I have wandered these barren landscapes before.
This body of eighty photos taken in Poland, Germany, the UK and the US span the decades from 1980 to 2000. When Lynch photographed these empty cathedrals, mines in the UK were closing and in the US car plants were shutting down. Maybe Lynch is lamenting — for there is melancholia attached to these decaying spaces — the end of a certain kind of production, when we stopped making actual physical things and replaced reality with a virtual one of noughts and ones. I was trying to peer beyond the empty shapes and textures, and the eerie atmospheres of these images, and yet ultimately what I came up with was more emptiness and not much else.
Down one flight from Lynch are dozens of photos by the Beat novelist, essayist and spoken-word performer William S. Burroughs. Abstract shots from his window in Tangier are the size of calling cards, printed on thick, creamy photo paper with decaled edges. They are romantic, fetishistic objects that conjure an era long gone. There is a range of subject matter here: flowers stuck unceremoniously in Coke bottles (made in honour of his flower-arranger mother); fellow writers and collaborators Jack Kerouac and Brion Gysin; self-portraits where he appears more shadow or fragment than whole person.
Beyond the creation of these objects themselves, lies an approach to image-making that is based on cutting up, arranging, assembling and collaging. You can see the fragmented and yet focused mind of the artist working perhaps in the same way it would have in his cut-up novels which approached narrative and story as something circular and random. Images are collaged and sometimes rephotographed creating echoes through form and time as he grapples with the time-space continuum. In his search for altered realities, he created work at the edges of logic and narrative.
The scope and variety of Burroughs’s subject matter is striking. The abstract shots from windows and through ripped fences have a dream-like surrealist feel to them, whereas his documenting of a car accident in New York City seems to foreshadow the Instagram generation.  There is an almost forensic quality at work here as the form drains the images of any drama. And there is humour, as seen in his series of photos of the Moka Bar on Frith Street in London. He wrote to the owners of this café complaining of rudeness and a “poisonous cheesecake”. He then photo-bombed the place by turning up every day for weeks with his camera and audio equipment, driving the customers away. The final photo in this series shows the same café but with a sign that reads “Queens Snack Bar”.  Burroughs saw photography as something that could enact change. His camera was like a gun at times, and we all know what happened when he played William Tell with his second wife: she died.
A softer side of Burroughs can be seen in his What Was, What Isn’t series from 1972 in which he photographed the bed he sometimes shared with his on-off lover John Brady. The only proof of their relationship — or love or neediness — consists of a few stains on the messed up sheets. Like words, Burroughs used photographs as part of a larger project and not as ends in themselves. They are components to be rearranged and reassembled as a means to examine time and space, subject and form. In this Burroughs was and remains a true modern.
The revelation for me of these three distinct yet overlapping shows was Andy Warhol: Photographs 1976-1987. I felt I was seeing afresh an artist I thought I knew. The works in this show are black and white, and most of them are small, lending them a rare intimacy . There is some shared language between Warhol and Burroughs: abstract views from windows, humour (a school bus captured by Warhol reads “Gay Head”), a need to document the mundane and a shared back-and-forth trajectory between celebrity and the gutter. But the scale and the power of Warhol’s work hit me with a force - not the force of a LichtensteinianWHAAM! but the force of a soft, insistent whisper.
There are no larger-than-life Marilyns, Elizabeth Taylors or Elvises here. The curator at the Photographers’ Gallery, Karen McQuaid, has instead decided to show us his much less well-known work, and in doing so she has shown us Warhol the artist rather than Warhol the celebrity-obsessed icon we thought we knew.
His People on the Street series, in which he documented his life obsessively with a point-and-shoot Minox, shows us a 1970s and ‘80s in which the American dream has gone sour: filthy manhole covers, decaying suburban houses, gleaming chrome bathrooms in empty show homes, bin bags, newspaper boxes telling us what to do if there are problems with our subscriptions, hospital signs exhorting us not to stand and a slightly straggly looking gay pride march. One senses a crack in the usual Warholian façade in these photos: a black man lies face down on a bench. He may be sleeping or he may be passed out. His tiny shorts and sneakers show off a pair of long, shapely legs, which appear fragile and vulnerable. He has the body and the beauty of a Roman or Renaissance sculpture, which Warhol depicts with a strange almost elegiac beauty.
The three celebrity pieces shown here are not the usual graphic, colourized silk-screens; they are black and white. Liza Minnelli is doing a manic back bend à la Studio 54 while next to her Jean-Michel Basquiat crams what appears to be a very expensive meal into his mouth and Jerry Hall reclines vacantly on a sofa, glass of champagne in hand. This is not really the good life; it is more of a sneaky glance at the good life during a moment when the subjects have let their guard down. There is something oddly mortal about Liza, Jerry and Jean-Michel. It is as if Warhol is trying to tell us that they — like us — will also turn to dust one day. Perhaps it is the fact the images are stitched together with very fine thread, that hints at the human hand, and heart, at work here.
Warhol’s photos of his cupboards with their Hellman’s mayonnaise and packages of fig cookies have a satisfyingly banal quality. He perversely worships the faceless packaging in these photos the way he did with his Brillo Boxes and Campbell’s soup cans, and inherent in this worship is a conflating or flattening of aesthetics, meaning and class. He famously loved the fact that when the president drank a bottle of Coca Cola, he was drinking the same beverage as the junkie on the street. By examining the superficial, he shines a light into the depths of everyday objects and rarefied glamour. I could hear Warhol speaking Karl Kraus’s words: “There are women who are not beautiful but only look that way.” Warhol saw it as his job to get inside this ugly beauty and throw it back at us.
Warhol’s usual ironic distance has been broached and breached here. In this group of photos we are seeing Warhol as an American original. There is more here than his desire to be “plastic”, to be “famous for 15 minutes” or to be a “machine”. In these photos we see him doing something rare: being human. To allow us access to this version of Andy Warhol is an achievement indeed.
The Lynch, Burroughs and Warhol exhibitions continue at the Photographers’ Gallery until March 30. Tickets are £4 (£2.50 concessions). See here for more information.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Essay: Speaking of Grief

Speaking of Grief

I   Fear
‘No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.’
C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed[1]

This sentence still strikes me as the most honest attempt to encapsulate grief of any I have read. Not so much for its sentiment, but for its tone, for its insistence that the speaker is being let down, has not being prepared for this thing called death. This is something one learns when one mourns: no one prepares you for it. There is also, inherent in this quote, the idea that whatever we thought we knew about death and grieving is wholly inadequate. Lewis adds that grief feels, ‘perhaps, more strictly like suspense. Or like waiting; just hanging about waiting for something to happen. It gives life a permanently provisional feeling.’[2]
         Almost nine years ago, my sister Mary died in Toronto, at the age of fifty-two. For many days after the news of her death reached me in London, I lay in bed unable to do anything apart from cry. This ‘provisional’ quality is not technically ‘permanent’, it merely feels like it is. In fact one of the most terrible things about grief is that it does fade with time no matter how hard we hold onto it. And we do hold onto it. Letting go of this fear, letting go of our grief is like saying ‘yes’ to the death of the person we are mourning. By holding onto it, we think we are holding onto the person we love. But how wrong we are.

II   ‘Getting over it’
When Mary died, I remember thinking that I would never be happy again. To my ears now, this idea sounds melodramatic, self-absorbed and slightly mad. But to anyone who has experienced profound loss, this is one of the most vivid thoughts to surface: I will never ‘get over’ this. I don’t even want to ‘get over’ this. This is swiftly followed by: I will never be the same again.
         The awful truth is that one does, for want of a better word, ‘get over’ it. One does begin to enact the rituals of everyday life: one showers, goes to work, makes love to one’s partner, kisses one’s children, has a drink in the pub with friends. This learned socialising does come back, although so slowly and in patches that it is barely recognisable. But the second thought remains true: we are never the same again. This is partly because when one loses an object of love, the world itself is not the same again. The death of someone close to you feels as if the solar system has just lost a major constellation. Gravity and the order of the universe have been permanently altered. Days and nights are no longer the same. Nothing is.
         When the waves of grief do begin to subside and we are faced with navigating through a sea that seems almost manageable, this is exactly the moment when the object of our grieving seems to appear to us at its most real. When the boat stops pitching we can see the shoreline we left behind. It is as if somehow a state of extreme grief cuts us off from any true memory of or love for the object of our loss. When we are in an extreme state of grieving, we are unable to love. This paradox is partly why grief feels so unreasonable, so insane and so difficult to navigate.

III   Acceptance and Confusion
I hadn’t heard of the C.S. Lewis essay when I was grieving. It was simply another thing no one told me. Towards the end of his essay, Lewis does come to a sort of acceptance of the loss of his wife, when he says, ‘I will turn to her as often as possible in gladness. I will even salute her with a laugh. The less I mourn her the nearer I seem to her.’[3] Over the years, I have come to a similar place. I can smile when I think of my sister and I can talk about her without crying. And strangely I feel as close to her as I did in the early stages of mourning. I am reassured by this strange trick of perspective, or is it time passing. Maybe it is simply a version of the madness inherent in grief that enables us to the see so clearly the absences in the world.
         The paradigm shift towards acceptance happens despite ourselves. I remember when I no longer felt guilty for having fun, when I could go for a few hours without that crushing sense of loss, when I could perform a normal task such as buying food at the supermarket without feeling I needed to get home and hide from all the people whose lives I imagined to be perfect and devoid of loss. That is when another kind of guilt hit. And this I was not expecting. The constant surprises that fall onto one’s path on the landscape of grief remind you that grieving is a process. It is not a ‘state’ that remains solid and fixed. As C.S. Lewis puts it, ‘in grief nothing stays put’.[4]
         It came as a surprise to me that the forces of life were so much stronger than the pull of the loss. And this is actually what ‘getting over it’ means: the grief eventually loses out. Life does eventually break through the glacial, hardened terror of grief and begin to thrive. When C.S. Lewis starts to ‘feel better’ (his quotation marks) he experiences a ‘sort of shame, and a feeling that one is under a sort of obligation to cherish and foment and prolong one’s unhappiness.’ And then he asks himself what is behind this shame. His answer: vanity and confusion. ‘We confuse the symptom with the thing itself.’[5]

IV   Guilt
I don’t remember how I coped with my guilt. I remember the intense feelings of shame when I was able to laugh or go to a film or read a book for pleasure. But I do remember telling myself that Mary would not have approved of this guilt. She was not a person to dwell on sadness. She was someone who jumped into situations headfirst. She was impulsive, beautiful, fun, intensely intelligent, complex, and at times self-absorbed and infuriating. She was a photographer, artist and teacher and had been the person I ran to when I left home at the age of seventeen, lost and confused. She helped me navigate my way from an aborted start at university to art school and through first love and pretty much all the milestones of teenagerhood and early adulthood. We shared various apartments all over Toronto and we shared pretty much everything else, too, until at the age of twenty-four I upped and moved to Europe, settling in London. It was on her front lawn that I sold all my earthly possessions in order to buy my plane ticket to London.

V   Bringing Back the Dead
At Mary’s funeral the thought I couldn’t shake was: ‘I don’t know how to do this. I need Mary to tell me how.’ She had always been there to advise me about every aspect of life. Once she was gone, I had to do what people in films or in Nancy Drew stories do, I had to think, ‘what would Mary do?’ And, oddly, it sort of worked. I would be faced with an invitation to a party and, rather than stay home and cry on the sofa, I would think, ‘would Mary want me to go?’ Invariably she would. So life slowly began to creep back, but it was not the same. And almost nine years on, it is still not the same. My version of her is not her.

VI   Connections
I don’t remember the first book I read after the death of my sister. My grief did a very good job of wiping my memory clean. I was in shock and unable to make choices or decisions. Eating was too much trouble and I remember finding that breathing was labourious. When Didion’s memoir The Year of Magical Thinking came out six months after my sister’s funeral, I pounced. Oddly enough Didion started writing her book exactly one month to the day after my sister died — a welcome connection. When you are lost, you are grateful for even the most trivial coincidence or piece of synchronicity that just might lead you towards a sense that life has meaning afterall. That not everything is random, which is how the death of someone you love feels.
         I was short of cash, as always, but forked out for the hardcover edition so I could read Didion’s Magical Thinking immediately. It was the first decision I remember making after losing my sister. It was the first thing I knew I needed to do. It was the first positive act to come out of my grief.

VII   The Grief of Others
I remember vividly my excitement: At last, here was someone who could tell me how to do this. Mary wasn’t around, but Joan Didion was! I had always loved Didion’s prose, her subject matter, the way she could pull you in with a sentence and then land a cerebral blow with the next. She was a writer who had altered the way I read and the way I looked at life. In fact it was my sister Mary’s copy of Slouching Towards Bethlehem that got me into her in the first place. I could not imagine Didion taking on grief and doing anything other than examining it in forensic detail laying bare exactly what was really going on, just as she had done in her books about the sixties and seventies. 
         As soon as I finished Magical Thinking, I opened it at the first page and read it through again. I felt it didn’t have the same rigour of her earlier non-fiction, but how could it? How could she write her grief in the same way she examined San Francisco’s counterculture or the Black Panthers or Charles Manson. What she was doing here, mining her grief, had seemed impossible to me. What Didion did was give me some kind of vocabulary for grief. I saw it was possible to write about it and put it into the form of words without lessening its elusiveness. But I worried that it was only someone of her calibre, of her skill and of her experience who could do it without descending into sentimentality or New Age babble or straightforward incoherence. I still had no idea what my grief looked like, sounded like or what it was doing to me, except I knew it was raw and alive. And I could not pin it down with words.
         In Magical Thinking, Didion tracks the grief she suffered after her husband, John Gregory Dunne, dies suddenly at the supper table on 30 December 2003. And in true Didion form she stalks her grief like a cat stalking a sly, intrepid mouse. She is almost chilling in her examination of her loss. She goes at it with a scalpel and lets us watch as the skin of her grief is meticulously peeled away.
         A matter of days after her husband’s death, a social worker assigned to Didion calls her a ‘cool customer’. She makes a note of that, and so do we, her loyal readership. She has always been a cool customer. She is not one for self-help tropes and ‘getting over’ the grief. Instead, she becomes a sort of cipher for her grief, and watches, clear-eyed as it devours her, disfigures her and makes her literally ‘deranged’. 
     To help her understand this derangement — for Didion is not one to blithely accept anything on face value — she turns to Freud who reassures her that the act of grieving ‘involves grave departures from the normal attitude to life’.[6] She notes that both Freud and Melanie Klein do not see grief as a pathological condition, and therefore cannot rationally advise medical treatment to cure or alleviate it. If only there were a pill, the griever thinks. But there isn’t. There is suicide, although Didion doesn’t talk about this. To me the idea surfaced, but it felt all wrong. To heap more sadness upon an already existing body of sadness seemed pointless.

VIII   Overcoming Grief
Freud makes it clear that grief is simply something to be overcome ‘after a certain lapse of time.’[7] Melanie Klein however, seems to acknowledge what Didion is after. She admits that ‘the mourner is in fact ill,’ but then goes on to echo Freud, ‘but because this state of mind is common and seems so natural to us, we do not call mourning an illness … in mourning the subject goes through a modified and transitory manic-depressive state and overcomes it.’[8] Didion then writes: ‘notice the stress on “overcoming” it.’[9] I can almost hear the sneer in her voice as she writes the word ‘overcoming’. I loved her for this. It is not what you want to hear when you are grieving. The grieving is you, it is not something to ‘overcome’. No one tells you this either. No one says that you actually don’t want to get over it. Like a bath gone cold, you still prefer soaking in the tepid water to stepping into the chilly air of your bathroom.

IX   Dreaming the Unreal
The first diary entry I made after my sister died is dated ‘London, 10 September, 2004’ and it describes my dreams on the three consecutive nights after her death. In the first dream, I ring Mary’s apartment in Toronto and she answers telling me there are so many things she wants to say. She tells me she loves me. In this dream, I relate the news to her husband Marcus that she is still alive, that she answered their phone. I am overjoyed. He doesn’t believe me, which infuriates me.
         When I woke from this dream, I sleepily dialled their number in Toronto. Her voice was still on the answering machine and I felt vindicated. She was still alive. She must be if her voice could still be heard on their phone. I never told her husband this.
         This is one example of how I was blindly stumbling around after what I call my first ‘Big Death’. In the early days of grief nothing seems real. What memories I can retrieve of those first murky, grief-strewn months have the texture of a piece of driftwood hammered with rusty nails. There is a worn smoothness, a timeless universality to my grief punctuated by a spiky, monstrous, metallic anger.
         Didion talks of how she was convinced her husband would return. For this reason she left his shoes by the door and said ‘no’ to his organs being donated: ‘how could he come back if they took his organs, how could he come back if he had no shoes.’[10] There is fear and madness in grief along with a complete and utter loss of anything resembling an understanding of the material world one has previously taken for granted. And there is simply no language with which to make sense of this loss until one is distanced from one’s grief by the passing of time.

X   Learning to Speak of Grief
I so remember after my sister’s death the sense that the world as I knew it was no longer recognisable. Words I had been using all my life felt empty and meaningless. The diary entries after the ones of my vivid Mary dreams are all notes for the PhD I was working on. Looking back I can see how I was trying to process my grief intellectually. My sister was still appearing to me at night and giving me instructions. She was so like herself in my dreams that when I woke I could barely believe she was no longer alive. I could not understand her presence in my life, the fact that she was so much there and yet absolutely not there.
         So I did what I do when I am confused I tried to take control and make order of life using my work. I ploughed on with my PhD which was about Anna Jameson, an Englishwoman who had reluctantly travelled to Canada in 1836 to obtain a divorce from her alcoholic husband. Jameson’s only enjoyment of the fledgling colony came from a brief stay with a tribe of Chippewas who took her white-water rafting. They called her Wah,sah,ge,wah,no,qua, which means Woman of the Bright Foam. In these foaming rapids Jameson saw the face of the person she truly loved: Goethe’s niece, Ottilie von Goethe. In her grief at ending her marriage and letting her husband drink himself to death in Upper Canada, and being unable to consummate her one true love, Jameson took on a new identity. She managed, although not permanently, to escape her stifling and miserable existence. And the more I read, the more I knew I wanted the same. I delved deeper into Jameson’s life and absorbed her diaries and letters in which she wrote about her terrible suffering at the hands of her alcoholic husband and her unrequited love, and her worries over not having any money. Jameson took me away from my own grief, and allowed me to mourn hers at a safe distance.
         I spent my days in the British Library making sense of this woman’s life for my thesis, while also writing a novel about her. And during this process I realised that I still could not find words with which to express my own grief. I could not talk about it intelligently even to myself. I kept coming up with descriptions like ‘lost’, ‘on shaky ground’, ‘confused’, ‘numb’. Every one of them a cliché. A friend at the time reassured me that clichés existed for a reason: because they encapsulate what most people feel and think. But I knew deep down that my grief was not a cliché. How could it be? I was a writer. Yet the clichés kept coming like mosquitoes on a warm Toronto night, buzzing around my head.
         As a writer I needed to see my grief as something unique. Grief is universal and yet painfully specific to the mourner. Again there is a paradox at its heart that makes it so tricky to pin down. The words did not come until now. All these years later, I have come to accept my sister’s absence but not her death which was cruel and painful. She suffered a lot in the final months as the cancer took over her lungs. Breathing was increasingly difficult. And of course I wanted her suffering to cease. With her death came a sort of relief for her.
         It has taken me these nine years to process my loss and to see it as something worth writing about. I have realised that grief is both universal and terribly specific. In that sense it is very much like childbirth. So many women experience it and yet each time it is utterly different. No two births are alike just like no two deaths are alike and yet our birth and our death are experienced by every person on the planet.
         Talking about death and loss should be part of life. I want to be able to pass on a vocabulary of grief to my daughter. Some day she will no doubt find herself mourning the death of someone close. Some day she may find solace in CS Lewis or Joan Didion or perhaps something as yet unwritten. I hope she can find the words, and use them to navigate her way through the terror, the confusion, the sense of utter loss and desperation that comes from losing something that has in essence become part of oneself. I don’t want her to say, ‘no one ever told me grief felt so like fear.’ I want her to know it feels like fear and so many other things, unnamed things, unwritten things. Things that will be specific to her and yet linked to every person who has loved someone and watched them die.

XI   Words
The language of grief used in American self-help books is empty and insulting. It assumes we are all the same in our grief. Which is why there is such consolation in Lewis’s and Didion’s accounts of their grief. In these books, we are getting reports from the front line of loss from people whose business is words. It takes a master or mistress to shape something so evasive into a form that has meaning and depth. And yet for all its slipperiness there is great consolation to be had in pinning one’s own grief down in one’s own words. No one ever told me you could survive grief and shape it into something that almost makes sense of it. No one ever told me anything about grief because it is not something we talk about. No one ever told me about grief because the shape of our words is inadequate for the monstrous form of grief. I have battered my grief into some sort of submission and lived with it for enough years now to be able to look at it face on and not be afraid of it. I have attempted to make sense of loss and yet somehow I feel I have won the battle but lost the war. Perhaps this is the final thing no one ever tells you about grief: despite our attempts to verbalise it, to tame it into something we can understand, it has a way of hanging onto us. Grief is a shape-shifter, a creature that goes deeper than we like most things to go. It mines our subconscious and uses whatever weaknesses we have. Perhaps accepting this about it is what mourning really means. Perhaps only when the hurricane of grief has passed and we are righting the furniture and putting the pictures back on the wall, can we see that the fabric of grief does not come undone easily. Yet we carry on and our lives, changed forever, still contain hope and love. No one ever tells you about grief because it is too big to be simply told. It must be lived.
A bone scan photomontage 
by Mary Pocock

[1] C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, London: Faber & Faber, 1961.
[2] Ibid., p. 29.
[3] Ibid., p.48.
[4] Ibid., p.49.
[5] Ibid., p.46.
[6] Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking, London: Fourth Estate, 2005, p. 34.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid., p. 35
[10] Ibid., p. 41.

An edited version of this essay is about to be published in an anthology of writing about loss published by Hope Paige. A link to it will come....

Friday, January 03, 2014

Time of Year for Writing

This has just appeared on the Spread the Word website.... 
I am Miss September...

What time of year do you write?

We recently ran a competition, tasking writers to share their favourite time of year to write. Take a look at the excellent shortlist and winners and we hope it inspires you through your 2014 writing...

Throughout the year

Is underwater a season? For me, that’s where writing strikes. Maybe it’s the repetition of left, right, turn, left, right, turn - I’ve solved plots, developed characters, even come up with new story ideas that seem so brilliant I can’t believe I haven’t already written them. 
It’s not the same with other exercise – running I have to look out for mud and corners; cycling there’s cars to mind, and I'm yelled at in power pump. Even yoga doesn’t help because I’m concentrating on trying not to think. 
But when I have an idea swimming I repeat it over and over in my head. I jot it in my notebook in the change room. I take it down the street for coffee and expand it while it’s still fresh. We walk home together, have something hearty to eat, and sit down to see how far we can go. 
So the time of year influences whether the sun’s on my back or there’s darkness or rain on the roof above me. But as long as I keep stroking laps then I’ll never run out of ways to arrange words.
Jen Squire | winner | | @jen_Squire

The best time of year to write is here
The today, not tomorrow, not sometime, it's clear
365 days could never be enough
For writers, love writing
Not to write would be tough
Imagine a Winter without any words
A silent Summer would be absurd
Spring must bud story lines to interweave
What is Autumn without any turning leaves
Your wish for the best time of year to write?
Anytime at all that the page is white.
Helen Turnbull |


My favourite time of the year to write is in April. I like writing in April because I am beginning to see things afresh with new eyes as Spring unfolds. I can look back over the last four seasons especially significant happenings culminating in an Autumn harvest before hibernation in the Winter. I can then think and feel from an outpouring emanating deep within my soul.
Elsa Pascal


My favourite time for writing is in the summer. Even if I am stuck in the suburbs of my parent's home, I can write myself into another place. I don't think I can live without knowing that the summer holidays are stretching out before me... so it's a good thing I work at a school! I enjoy the feel of the hot sun on my skin and the way that paper seems to shine in its light.


Like most women who write and work and have a child, my time to write is based around practicalities rather than around inspiration. The best time for me to get fingers to keyboard is in September, when my daughter goes back to school. The two months previous to that, in which I am a full-time mum and part-time wage earner, allow my ideas and creativity to build up like water in a dam. That first day of school is like opening the floodgates ... everything just flows out, and I can barely keep up with myself. September and October, with the trees turning their autumn colours and the days darkening and my ideas taking shape, are truly glorious.
Joanna Pocock


My favourite time of the year to write is winter; from the staleness that October yields and before the cold rolling stones that December brings. The air stiffens and like looking through an empty vase, the mind can melt into clarity, forgetting about the wilted flowers that succumbed to the winters frozen exterior. The frivolity of summer does not beckon you and instead the bare trees and crisp gatherings speak to you like an individual thought; yes we do talk to yourselves amongst the darkness. Perhaps there is a sense of retreating that we are all subordinate to during this time of the year. We all go into our hovels, shells and boxes to etch away at the person we have been all year. The engine of creativity beings to purr with activity, and soon we are disturbed by the embedded roar of our thoughts. The doom of cold that thickens upon us acts as a vessel of emotion. It is almost as if winter wants us to remember, because staring coldness in the face is like looking back into yourself. The air thins to white, the acute sound of birds, the nude trees and the people more scarce. The charm of summer is behind me and I feel less lithe. My freedom is dictated by the sky that quickly draws blackness. I am required to write! For what good is it to count the glimmer of black birds against white sky? They will continue to fly as you continue to look. The sun now hides and the moon boasts its white eye. The moon itself is like a white ball of condensed thought. It has dips and crevices that like human nature, symbolise fault. How is it so far and yet I see it’s tired eye and dimpled cheek. The moon looks back at you in the winter night as frozen breath of definiteness, although full it appears hollow. It is a plate for your thoughts to feed off of one another. What becomes bare must be re- nourished and so my mind is filled with how I can create a river of richness to stream along my consciousness. Winters promise is quietness, it is a constant and perhaps one of its most alluring aspects. Quietness is the essential ingredient to the romancing of thoughts.
Emma Jacobs | winner
The time when acorns litter the brow of the hill. Hundreds of acorns scattered on the mossy grass, hundreds of possibilities, cracking under my heavy tread. When leaf smoke tendrils softly in the afternoon cold and the sun sits masked by the clouds. When the leaves are falling, and I fall with them, tumbling, twirling through space, through the spaces where nothingness was, but now something, something fleeting, paper thin, like the thoughts in my head. This is when I write, as the world tips into darkness, as I take the fading sunlight and ink it into prose, etching it on paper, for my winter hibernation.


My Favourite time of year to write is December when I am mitten-clad and wrapped up warm, enjoying the festive spirit of Christmas and looking forward to the New Year, when anything seems possible. I find December inspiring as it's also my birthday month and I like to set new personal and writing goals around this time too. I wrap up odd writing projects and write more poetry and begin to plan for the year ahead - whether it's completing my novel draft (Finally) or putting together a comprehensive collection of poetry.I also submit work to magazines such as MSLEXIA in the hopes that I will be rewarded with good news post Christmas when everything suddenly seems gloomy!
Dina Begum
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