Writing in Solitary

Necklace of Stars


Necklace of Stars writer Tony Shelton on writing and healing:

When my wife died after 50 years of marriage and five years of terminal decline, I resolved to rebuild my life. I moved, I joined, I volunteered, I explored, and I made new friends. I also made an effort to keep in touch with old ones and with distant family members. Then a news report emerged about a virus outbreak in an obscure city in China and the world changed. Looking back, I have always written, from student days onward and over the years I have tried short stories, even a novel, and poetry. For some years, I even wrote (amateur) music reviews and a few articles (some satirical) for professional journals. I enrolled for creative writing courses. I have researched and written about local history. In total, I have been paid about £150 for my efforts.


But now, in the eleventh month of being locked down and isolated and with almost all my other activities suspended, I have almost become a full- time writer. I sometimes used to imagine how I would cope with being imprisoned: I would ask for pen and paper and write, write, write. Now I am shut up, shut off, I am doing just that. Almost as soon as I have had breakfast, I open up the laptop and write. I scribble in a notebook, sometimes in the early hours of the morning, and ideas go in and around my head. On some days I write for 4-5 hours or more.


My writing is varied. I keep a diary of my experience under the Covid regime (now nearly 200,000 words long). I write emails, texts and WhatsApp messages to friends, new and old, both nearby and distant. I keep in touch with distant family members in the same way. And, to one old friend in the West Country, who doesn’t use email, I write and post letters. I have contributed to a University dream survey. I sometimes send in pieces to a creative writing group in Cumbria which I used to belong to. I have entered one or two competitions with no success. I also write very practical stuff as secretary and ‘scribe’ of a local charity, drafting policies and compiling an archive.


And thanks to the guidance of arthur+martha’s Necklace of Stars project, I have compiled a series of pieces on my childhood memories, some of the most rewarding writing of all.


I’ll not turn anything down if it gives me a chance to write. But I can’t write if no one is going to read it – that would be like a stand-up comic performing to an empty hall. But if a piece of writing is useful or that people might get something out of it, that is rewarding. I
like the idea of being a journeyman writer – able to turn my hand to almost anything. Writing is about communicating and is some compensation for not being able to meet and talking in a café or pub, visit people at home or entertain visitors. Writing gives me
challenges, it keeps my brain working, keeps me focussed, stops me thinking and brooding too much and passes the time like nothing else. At the moment, I have no idea what I would do without it…


Tony Shelton
February, 2021

A Necklace of Stars, working with older people in Derbyshire, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts DerbyshireDCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service. This project is particularly aimed at countering isolation; during the pandemic we’ve been working using distance methods – post and phone conversations.

Plague dreams

Necklace of Stars, poetry

As part of our Necklace of Stars project, we’ve invited participants to reflect on the world around them during the pandemic, sharing experiences of the “new normal”, including the subtle echoes in the parallel world of dreams. Here, writer Lorna Dexter discusses writing her dreams during the pandemic. Below is her prose poem (The Reconnaissance Airship), followed by digging up thistles. The poems “confront my old childhood fears of the all-seeing, all-knowing, judgmental, punishing God of my Fundamentalist Christian upbringing – fears triggered again by the Coronavirus ‘plague’.”

Lorna:

Over the years I have tried to turn some of my night-time dreams into poems, and Philip had suggested that I make a small collection of these. Maybe as a result of this encouragement, I found myself actually dreaming of writing and remembering what I had written when I woke up, crossing the boundary between waking and dreaming, between conscious and unconscious writing. Both these poems, which came within two days of each other at the start of this year, emerged in this way.

(The Reconnaissance Airship)

She was standing in the forest when the long – very long – grey, very dark grey
 airship floated silently overhead. She stood stock-still, in case there were
 movement sensors behind those mean little windows and portholes, glad she
 was wearing green. It took a long time to pass overhead, only just above the tree
 tops, and when it was gone she still didn’t move. She was thinking what she had
 in the house to drink, if this was the start of an occupation: a carton of soya
 milk, some fruit juices … Later, down in town to stock up, she found herself
 taking a photo of herself at a crossroads, looking up at the signpost with its
 street name boards – a selfie, with the identifying evidence of where she lived
 normally, where she was ‘last seen’ – just in case she ‘disappeared’ and her
 phone was the only evidence of where she lived before – before what? – before
 whatever that huge reconnaissance vehicle signified...

digging up thistles

 I walked past a familiar field today –
 a rough piece, a wedge of grass
 at the valley’s rim, fit only for grazing
 half a dozen sheep, a horse or two –

 in it, a group of men, all ages, dotted about,
 bent double, digging holes, some very deep.
 The farmer and his sons stand and wave,
 acknowledge me – and all look up,

 some long-bearded, long-gowned,
 from the local monastery, used to hard work,
 some local lads in run-down fashion gear,
 old codger neighbours in rough working clothes

 all eradicating thistles by the root, organically –
 a communal act of friendship, a joint effort
 to rid this plot, protect the whole valley
 from this pernicious weed. I walk on –

 at the field’s edge a sycamore sapling
 is opening out its new bronze leaves.

digging up thistles came ready-written, as it were. I dreamt I was writing it, pen in hand, laid out exactly like this, line for line, word for word. When I woke I thought I might not remember the words, but they came back as soon as I actually started to write them down, despite an interruption to go to the loo! Similarly with a third poem Starting the Novel, though in this case it was in prose, and I knew I was ‘starting a novel’ – not something I have ever planned to do. Both dreams seem to refer, in their different ways, to the struggle I have had in the last couple of years to confront my old childhood fears of the all-seeing, all-knowing, judgmental, punishing God of my Fundamentalist Christian upbringing – fears triggered again by the Coronavirus ‘plague’, part of the biblical prophecy of the ‘end-times’ for a wicked world – stories which I now believe to be ‘pernicious myths’, rather as thistles are pernicious weeds.

Lorna Dexter

A Necklace of Stars, working with older people in Derbyshire, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts DerbyshireDCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service. This project is particularly aimed at countering isolation; during the pandemic we’ve been working using distance methods – post and phone conversations. Alongside writing and embroidery themed around childhood lullabies, we invite written responses to the pandemic, so that people can share their experiences as an antidote to lockdown loneliness. Lorna Dexter’s dreamed poems chime with the unsettling, haunted times. The photo is by Booth Centre volunteer Sue Dean.

A winter prescription: two poems by Jaye

Necklace of Stars, poetry
Dreaming the Dream

I felt the sun beating down
As I lay on the Bondi Beach
Felt the breeze caressing me 
As I basked in the sultry heat.

I adjusted my bikini and
Pinned up my golden hair
I heard the chink of glasses
A Campari perhaps for me?

Then my carer gently said,
"Here's a cup of tea."
And I awoke to a wintery day
In the reality of the UK.


A Medical Consultation

"A gammy leg, a gooey eye
Your hair is falling out?
So what's the best that can be done
For someone just like you?
I know, I'll send you to the hardware shop
To buy some Superglue."


Jaye

These two poems by Jaye are designed to put a smile on the face, during a hard winter.

A Necklace of Stars, working with older people in Derbyshire, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts DerbyshireDCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service. This project is particularly aimed at countering isolation; during the pandemic we’ve been working using distance methods – post and phone conversations.

So this is Christmas

Necklace of Stars


Father Christmas sat at the table in his kitchen at his home in the North Pole.  He was despondent, worrying he would not be able to make Christmas the magical event it always is.

He turned to Mother Christmas, “Everybody thinks Christmas happens by magic.  No one realises the effort needed to make each one special.” He continued: “The Virus has severely reduced the production of toys , not helped by some elves having to self-isolate from their journeys.  I hated furloughing the elves, you saw how depressed they became without work.”

Mother Christmas nodded: “Yes dear, furloughing the elves was the hardest decision we ever made. With Elf School forced to close and students learning virtually from home, it made this year difficult to cope with. Although the elves were still able to look after the reindeers and baking of candy canes continued without interruption.”

“Then there is Rudolph,” Father Christmas exclaimed. “His red nose helps light the way when we are travelling the world, but if he is seen by others they may think he is suffering from the virus then Rudolph and the other
reindeers will be required to quarantine and the travel corridors will be closed to us. Christmas will be ruined if that happens.”


Mother Christmas quietly said: “The whole world has been suffering. There may not be as many toys but the little ones will know the struggle everyone has gone through. They will appreciate their presents even more and know the true value of Christmas. I am sure you will be allowed to travel across the sky. And no leader would want to cancel Christmas…”

Story by Jo

A Necklace of Stars, working with older people in Derbyshire, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts DerbyshireDCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service. This project is particularly aimed at countering isolation; during the pandemic we’ve been working using distance methods – post and phone conversations.

The Magic in Blueberry Wood

Necklace of Stars
A midnight walk in Blueberry Wood, when I perchance did hear
The sound of playful laughter, a ringing in my ear.
While glow worms twinkled in the trees, and spiders webs were spun
I held my breath and hid myself, to watch the evenings fun.  
The fire burned so brightly in a perfect fairy ring
Whilst sitting on a fallen log three tiny mice did sing.

Moths and bats and fireflies joined forces in the air 
Whilst far below a feast, fit for a King was being prepared.
Wild flowers scattered on the ground, true love this night was surely found
A marriage witnessed silently, from where I hid behind my tree.
This wondrous sight should not be seen.. The marriage of a Fairy Queen.

All the woodland creatures came out to join the fun.
Ants and woodlice scurried about, no tiny soul had been left out.
Foxes, Badgers, Hedgehogs, in their time to hunt, not play
joined in the celebration, before the moonlight stole away.

Mystical worlds we only dream of, but this secret I shall save 
and with me when my life is done, shall be taken to my grave.

Jenny P

A Necklace of Stars, working with older people in Derbyshire, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts DerbyshireDCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service. This project is particularly aimed at countering isolation; during the pandemic we’ve been working using distance methods – post and phone conversations.

Star-sent Lullaby

Necklace of Stars, poetry
 The star exploded in a distant galaxy
 Expanding in a sphere of radiant power,
 Propelling waves of light through space and time
 And turning their momentum into song.
 They saw the evolution of our Earth,
 And cast their light on our dark history;
 They led a strange procession into Bethlehem
 And soothed a saviour child to smiling slumber.

 And still their star-song shields our sleeping children
 From our history, which enslaves us from our birth.
 It leads us through the myriad stars of heaven
 To the birth pangs of the light that brought us life;
 Leading all things to their beginning,
 Transforming nightmares into future dreams.

Richard

Author’s note:

The starting point for this sonnet is the science linking time and distance. The stars are so distant that we see them not as they are now but as they were when their light first began to travel to us billions of years ago.
The song of the travelling light is their radio waves, the reference to Bethlehem imagines the star’s light arriving at the time of the Nativity. As a Church of England Reader, I had the privilege of preaching at the Midnight
Mass one Christmas Eve. John’s Gospel tells us that when we see the infant Jesus, we are looking at the Word of God at beginning of Creation. In the second part of the poem we return to the beginning by looking back into the night sky.

As a teacher of Music and English I have been strongly influenced by rhythm and sound. Theology and Philosophy are key influences. Poetry is important to me.  My own poetry follows free forms, or uses the Sonnet, which forces me to be concise. Being a shielded lockdown person has given me time to explore my interests. When I retired from teaching – because of Parkinson’s disease – I joined a creative writing course in North East Derbyshire adult education service.  I am grateful for the opportunity the Necklace of Stars project offers to explore my work more deeply.

A Necklace of Stars, working with older people in Derbyshire, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts DerbyshireDCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service. This project is particularly aimed at countering isolation; during the pandemic we’ve been working using distance methods – post and phone conversations.

Skyward

Necklace of Stars

The story of a dream, by Jenny Pederson:

Some dreams stay forever; this one keeps hunting me. Tonight it has returned once more.

Cobbled streets, dimly lit by gaslight, empty of people save for me and the Pride. Magnificent animals, but terrifying. Houses with doors locked against me. Alleyways twisting, turning, each one leads me to a dead end. The Pride closing in, softly padding toward me. I scream nothing but silence. Then with no warning I’m lifted by unseen hands, that lift me gently skyward.

Below me the Pride are roaring, angry. Tonight they will have to go hungry. Laughing at their dismay I fly high over the rooftops to the sky above where there is light, beautiful starlight.  I fly without a care, for no one can hurt me here.

Faceless shadows appear around me, delicate, weblike, and take my hands. Ethereal ladders appear for me to climb, and as my feet take their first steps upon them, I follow where shadows take me.  

Excitement builds, then great sadness bringing tears on and on I go, ladder to ladder, each one revealing a familiar face long passed from my world, and greatly missed. When will this end? 

Now stars are becoming brighter, shadows are breaking away. “ Wait don’t leave me.” The sound of laughter lingers, as each one darts away, and I’m left alone. It’s too much! Take me back. But then in the distance I see her, her arms outstretched as she draws nearer,  then she’s in my arms and the moment we have waited for is finally here.  “Mama?” 

We cling together. Cheated of the life we should have shared together. Finally I see her face! Reaching out to touch her cheek. I cherish the feel of her skin: warm, young,  and beautiful. She is my Sara, I pray we will be able to speak, there is so much I need to know.

Far below, the Pride are stalking me again.    

Jenny P

Further added thoughts on self doubts

I have always been scared of doing things wrong. (Good old school.) So to be part of the Necklace of Stars, is wonderful but at the same time terrifying. Someone once said (in fun) — “You are small and insignificant.” I laughed it off at the time, but it’s not how it really felt when you have anxiety, depression etc.  I started to write down how that had made me feel – and opened a floodgate of thoughts and words,  I found a different part of me, one I didn’t know was there at all. Now after many years of self doubt,  I actually like the person I have become. I still make mistakes and dwell too much on the past, but my writing helps. I really hope you give it a try, there’s nothing to be scared of. You may surprise yourself, just like I did…”  

JP

A Necklace of Stars, working with older people in Derbyshire, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts DerbyshireDCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service. This project is particularly aimed at countering isolation; during the pandemic we’ve been working using distance methods – post and phone conversations.

Hope, a reflection

Necklace of Stars, poetry
Hope to see your face again in the mirror
On reflection, let's hope sadness is gone
From the dark shadows where hope is fading
Replaced by radiant rainbow beams of hope

Tricia Clough

This poem by Tricia Clough has been posted once before, but today we want to draw attention to it again and send our kindest thoughts to Tricia – from all the necklace-makers.

A Necklace of Stars, working with older people in Derbyshire, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts DerbyshireDCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service. This project is particularly aimed at countering isolation; during the pandemic we’ve been working using distance methods – post and phone conversations.

The image used is an artwork from our Here Comes the Sun quilt, the “daytime sister” quilt to A Necklace of Stars, which has been created by Lois with a widely-diverse group of makers, including homeless and vulnerable people and international contributors.

A Poetry Bubble, Pt 2

Necklace of Stars, poetry

Necklace of Stars participant Gill Ormond writes (below) about the experience of making visual poems, themed on the night sky. Gill has combined her art skills with poems that are part-image. In part 1 of her blog account, last week, she described writing her own poem and translating it into images. Here, she has remade two poems by the Scottish poet/artist Ian Hamilton Finlay in her own style, using loose hand-drawn letters and celebrating the fuzzy precision of pencils. Gill has moved Finlay’s crisp, clear graphics into a mystery space of haze and cobwebby lettering…

Gill Ormond homage to Sea Poppy by Ian Hamilton Finlay

Gill’s Project timeline

Week1 – Challenge – Go look at the stars and write, without looking at the paper, what they evoke in me.
Result – panic. That week no stars showed. Think creatively. Use their non-show to get my thoughts on paper. A poem emerged!
Week 2 –  Challenge – Fold and cut the written words in two. Move the lines up and down and see what emerges. 
Result –  as if by magic , a poem which distilled down with clarity to the heart of the experience.
Week3 – Move away from the typed words and draw them.
Result – illustrated poem with shooting stars and galaxies. With thanks to my Sister who coincidentally sent me her handmade star that I used as the basis for one of my illustrations.
Week 4 – Task Part 1 “Is it possible to imply starry sky without illustrating by stars?” / Task Part 2 – “Put your own take on visual poems by Ian Hamilton Finlay.” 
Result – here are my offerings…

Gill Ormond homage to Star/Steer by Ian Hamilton Finlay

A Necklace of Stars, working with older people in Derbyshire, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts DerbyshireDCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service. This project is particularly aimed at countering isolation; during the pandemic we’ve been working using distance methods – post and phone conversations.

A Poetry Bubble, Pt 1

Necklace of Stars, poetry

Necklace of Stars participant Gill Ormond writes about the experience of making her visual poem Starsperience:

The air is light
 Bright on my skin
 The starsperience won't show
 The air is frisky
 My life shines
 Yet I stay huddled and small.

“This “Poetry Bubble” (appropriate for the times) of 1:1 phone tuition has allowed me to overcome fears that I would not meet the standard of other people’s work, of failure, of embarassing myself, of always striving to achieve rather than succeeding. I have been able to try my hand in a private way which I hadn’t realised the importance of until writing this piece. I am glad I hadn’t read anyone’s work on the blog til now. I may have run away! It is so moving and beautiful and I can begin to feel my way into its membership.

“I have amazed myself that I have been able to create these offerings. They have been developed following Phil’s suggestions. Another take I have on this statement is that I have been able to develop them using the creative framework Phil has offered. The latter feels empowering and I feel proud I have done so. The words are mine, the eventual designs are mine. However I would never have thought of presenting them in this creative way without skilled tuition…”

A Necklace of Stars, working with older people in Derbyshire, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts DerbyshireDCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service. This project is particularly aimed at countering isolation; during the pandemic we’ve been working using distance methods – post and phone conversations.