Next to reveal her writing secrets: – Shirley Wright


Shirley WrightAfter her guest slot on BBC Radio Bristol last Saturday (two days left to catch up here),  Shirley is fast becoming a local celebrity, but she has found time to tell us some of her writing secrets in today’s post.


What are you working on now?

Poetry, almost exclusively. I’ve become fascinated with form, and I’m enjoying exploring its restrictions and its challenges. My current obsession is with the sonnet. I suspect that’s the most well known of all the poetic forms and probably the most used, both by modern and not so modern writers. Surely everyone had to learn one of Wordsworth’s or Shakespeare’s at school? And today’s kids have examples like the fabulous “Prayer” by Carol Ann Duffy.

How does your work differ from others in the same genre?

Well, there’s a limit to how different you can actually be when you’re writing in strict form! But what I like about today’s poets is the way they push the boundaries and bend the rules in an attempt to move things on. Like a modern take on an old classic – paying homage while at the same time acknowledging that things change (and have to, or else they’ll ossify and die). Some people are very resistant to this! I was at a poetry workshop recently where I read a few of my sonnets and explained what I was trying to do and why, and met with violent opposition: a sonnet is fourteen lines, with strict metre and rhyming patterns, and that’s that. No argument. Now, Don Paterson (Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, university lecturer, published poet and author of many tomes specifically about the sonnet, and therefore someone who probably knows his onions) reckons the only thing you can definitely say nowadays about a sonnet is that it usually has fourteen lines, but often doesn’t! When I quoted this at the said workshop, there were gasps of horror.

Why do you write what you do?

I write poetry because I love words. Frankly, I’m obsessed with them. Their meanings, sound, feel, taste, ambiguities, etymology, grammatical interplay … I’m one of those geeky people who can spend all day worrying about a semi-colon or choosing between two words that basically mean exactly the same thing! I like writing in form because, in a weird way, its restrictions are  somehow liberating. When you’re searching for a particular rhyme, it makes your imagination go to places you wouldn’t otherwise have considered. It makes you more inventive.

 What is your writing process?

 I try to write every day. But it’s different from the discipline of bashing out a thousand words of prose before lunch. I can’t be that regular or that methodical. Sometimes a poem starts to take shape while I’m shopping or ironing or cooking. I scribble odd words down, then carry on with what I’m doing and wait till a bit more comes along. Eventually the poem demands attention and then I go straight to the computer. I know lots of poets still swear by pencil and paper, but seeing lines clearly on the screen, and being able to move them about so easily, helps me envisage the future poem, even before it exists. My handwriting’s illegible, anyway. But there are also days when nothing new happens and I spend my time fiddling and editing and reworking old poems, often just playing with the odd word. Poets are inveterate fiddlers. We never know when to leave a poem alone and say “It’s finished”. Because it never is. If I’m really stuck, I read someone else’s poetry and this can help a lot.

lastgreenfieldThank you Shirley. You can view The Last Green Field and Shirley’s other publications on our bookshop page.

Meanwhile – as you can guess from this picture we’re in tea-party mode. Catch us if you can at one of our meetings tonight from 7 to 9 on Twitter @eteaparty












Writing groups – who needs them?

Our first blog post is from poet and novelist  Shirley Wright. As Shirley says, ‘It’s all about the words.’

Cautiously I placed a hand either side of the skull, reaching along the threads of memory. Dry beneath my touch, it began to pulse and murmur.
But the words had no meaning. They spoke a language of lost time,
singing of dreams beyond imagination…”
Shirley Wright, ‘How Old Dreams Are Read’, Unchained, Tangent Books 2013

Shirley WrightWhen I left teaching after more than thirty years, I knew that writing was what I wanted to do next, though I had absolutely no idea how or where to begin. But as a teacher, I had no doubts about the best route to follow, because I do believe in collaborative learning. I believe almost anyone can be taught, guided or encouraged towards almost anything if they want it badly enough. So I signed up for evening classes at my local uni, which led to my being recommended day- or week-long courses all over the country. As a result I met lots more enthusiastic individuals who pointed me towards writing groups of various kinds, and to competitions, magazines and events where I could submit my work. Yes, there were huge numbers of rejections and failures, but eventually a few tiny successes came along, then a few bigger ones. The end result? A first novel published last year and now a  poetry collection on its way.

For us scribblers, there’s been an explosion of writing groups, evening classes and weekend workshops in recent years. Certain members of the literati still look down their noses at such things, asserting in their rather snooty way that writers are ‘born’ and can’t be taught, though I suspect Ian McEwan might disagree. He got an MA in Creative Writing from UEA on a course founded by writing luminaries Malcolm Bradbury and Angus Wilson. Clearly, not everyone scoffs.

I’m a great believer in help, as well as self-help. I’m not an ivory-tower writer who battles away in splendid isolation, never daring to breathe a word about my current WIP for fear the muse might desert me or the idea waft onto the ether to be grabbed by someone else who’ll do it better. And ‘help’ isn’t exactly what I mean either. It’s more about interacting with like-minded people who offer suggestions and criticism (yes, that is actually a good word, not a scary or a negative one), provide a sounding-board to bounce ideas off, bring enthusiasm, a different perspective, reassurance when needed, a kick up the backside (ditto) and excellent coffee and cakes. Creative geniuses like Leonardo and Mozart probably were born that way – the rest of us have to work at it and can benefit hugely from support.

I’m quite certain I wouldn’t have achieved any of what I have done so far without the various groups I’ve joined and the amazing individuals I’ve  met who were willing to share with me their passion for words. I’m never going to be famous or make a fortune; but I’ve achieved what I set out to achieve nine years ago, I’ve learnt huge amounts along the way and I’ve formed inspirational new friendships. Like most things, it’s horses for courses, and you need to experiment a bit, dip in and out until you find what suits. But I promise you, writing groups do work.

Who needs them? We do!

lastgreenfieldShirley’s first poetry collection The Last Green Field  is published this autumn by Indigo Dreams .

Time out of Mind

Her Cornish mystery novel, Time Out of Mind is available in paperback and e-book from Amazon,