"Ideas are fragile," says computer giant Apple's design guru, Jony Ive, interviewed on the BBC's Stephen Fry in America. Jony Ive moved to the US because he felt that his notions would be less likely to be carelessly trampled on out there. I don't feel the need to do that, but his words resonate with me. Ideas are indeed fragile, require nurturing, time to blossom. Another BBC programme, a drama, Eddington and Einstein, reminded me how long, and how much effort, it took for even this great scientist's ideas to be taken seriously.

It is wonderful, therefore, to meet someone who treats your ideas with care and respect. Sometime ago I was contacted by a fellow Lapidus member (Literary Arts for Personal Development, She is a clinical psychologist and jointly runs a support group for women suffering from chronic pelvic pain. She suggested we put in a funding bid for me to run some creative writing workshops with the group and for her to evaluate them. This week we heard we'd been granted the funding and we met face to face for the first time.

It was invigorating to be with someone who shared a similar world view to me in terms of attitudes to mental well being, gender and writing - our discussions wandered off the matters in hand. And exciting to be collaborating on having the work that I do clinically evaluated. For me it was an important validation. I can already feel my ideas germinating with greater vigour and colour.


What inspires me:

"Peace to look, life to listen and confess,
Freedom to find to find to find
That nakedness."
Mariel Rukeyeser 'Song', Map of Hope, Penguin (1999).

The desire to unclutter my life of irritating, destructive and un-nourishing relationships. I was going to say nonsense, but no, I want nonsense in my life, the kind of nonsense that makes me laugh. The nonsense that reminds me not to take myself too seriously and allows me to see the ridiculous side of me. What I don't want is other people's nonsense, the "should"s and "have to"s, the guilt laden manipulations which are silently injected before I've even noticed. I want the courage to go for the nakedness and for that I need closeness with those who encourage me in that and distance from those who don't.

But my courage evaporates when I read about Constance Briscoe being sued by her mother over the accuracy of Constance's memoir Ugly. And her mother's lawyer is taking the fact that Constance never told anyone when she was a child as proof that she is "spinning a yarn". I hope the judge has had some training on the realities of child abuse.

This story must send a shiver down the spine of anyone embarking on their memoirs. I am no lover of so-called misery memoirs, but if this case is found in favour of the mother, it will be a warning to anyone in search of that nakedness.


What We Make of It

Each time we love, we die a little,
each time we die, we love a little
more, but too late.

The first time
I careered through
with the naivety of a clam,
hardly noticed
the breath as it was given to me
and then withdrawn,
all in a rush.
I took and was taken
with something like desire,
but we had to hunt then,
even songsters like me
had blood and raw flesh under our nails
and between our teeth.

The second and third
were short,
poisoned by diseased milk,
by bad water.

But I remember, ah I remember
the fourth time,
for then I learnt to love.
To give that part of myself that matters,
to be warmed, consoled
in arms that only cared.
I would have stayed there for ever,
but eternity lasts neither in love nor hate,
and you passed from me.
So I learnt to live without life,
perishing before dying.

The fifth and sixth were ended
by something like fear.
I was sacrificed
on a stake,
to the sword.
Yet despite this, there have been epochs
when I myself have been misguided
by anger or self-adoration
into breaking another
in two
for no more than the pleasure.
For it is easy to forget
the circumstances of one's own death
when the birth pangs come anew.
Life seems whole, untarnished
and many an era I bit it
with a salivating jaw.

Love never came again as it had once.
The ardour that had given me youth
had left me older
than glacier scarred rock.
Still on occasion love would blossom
like some Alpine sedge
and melt through my aching bones.

And yet, and yet
the breath comes back
and though I am ancient,
mouldered to my marrow,
there is a chance that I might recall
some instance of wisdom
and I will not hold it in my muffler,
as a goitre in my throat,
but speak it, yes speak it out.
In that moment
I am uplifted.

So it was this morning,
as I stood ironing.
Which means I know how good it feels.

And that is also something like



"Each of us writers, I have found, is obsessed with the personal equation and, however successfully he or she camouflages it, is surreptitiously pushing a world view." 'The Writer's Commitment', Claribel Alegria, Map of Hope, Penguin.

I don't think I am particularly surreptitious about it, I believe a life without joy and hope is a bleak one, a life without sorrow and despair is an unexplored one. It amazes me how many people wish to avoid the shadows and think that by pretending to do so, the shadows will disappear - even those who seek counselling or those who say they wish to be writers.

Light and shade, light and shade runs through all good writing. From the shade we see the light with greater clarity and after the coolness we feel the warmth all the more. The trick is not to get stuck in either for too long, but find fluidity in moving from one to the other. And to a certain extent it is a trick which we can learn. I find writing can sometimes help me to step from one to the other with greater ease and at my choosing.

At Wednesday's workshop we listened to Benjamin Zephaniah's Rong Radio Station and then did some free writing around the subject of lists. I found myself being taken into a playful place:

A litany of ls in a list. Franz Liszt was a composer. He wrote love letters, unlocking a liquid lust in alarming lamé, which overflowed Lent, that period of abstinence lost in today's culture of consumption.

Even here my world view sneaked in.


Barak Obama has run the race, and not only do we have the first black president in the White House, we also have a writer. I read his Dreams From My Father when I was in the States in 1994 and I was absolutely blown away by it, both by the story and the quality of the writing. When I returned to Europe, I had to ditch some of my books to keep my luggage weight down, I wish I had held onto that one.

Of course, what really struck accord at that time was Obama's descriptions of community organising in Chicago, since I was also working in the voluntary sector. I felt a kindred spirit in this person with high ideals of harmony between peoples and justice getting buffeted by the realities of communities which don't want to be organised and individuals who are too scared or angry or worn out to take any opportunity offered to them. I remember particularly his portrait of a sparsely attended meeting in a big old community hall being completely dominated by one old lady chewing over the American equivalent of how dreadful it is that some people leave their wheelie bins out.

I have pondered whether writers write because they see the world in a different way or whether they experience the world differently because they write. I now ask myself what will be the effect of having a writer in the White House?


I did a rough calculation of how many words I have written for my book on training to be a counsellor, it comes to around 35,000, with my target being 60,000. It is a moment to stop and be pleased with myself, otherwise I will just flog myself for not having written more.

My ruse of pretending I'm not writing a book, and writing about what comes on a particular day, instead of getting too bogged down with the sequence of what I am doing, has worked, it seems. Usually I am much more ordered. Though I take comfort from Patrick Gale who said in an interview that he did not know what order the chapters from his novel Notes from an Exhibition would go in until he went to see his editor. He said that between them they literally "hung" the chapters in a pattern, as if the texts were themselves pictures being collected together to be shown.

I have not sorted the issue of how/whether to reveal some of the most personal aspects of my training. I am writing about them, but, for the moment, only as veiled portraits.