I Got an ‘Orse! #severalstoreys

Aylesbury Estate cross stitch 3

To celebrate my upcoming Writing the Aylesbury estate workshop this Saturday – and because Charlotte Benstead will be promoting the whole Several Storeys project on the Robert Elms show tomorrow, here’s a cross stitch portrait by Estate resident Sandy Stewart of 1930’s racing tipster and East Street legend, Ras Prince Monolulu. And if that’s not enough, here’s a link to the man himself – Ras Prince Monolulu speaks!


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Writing the City: New course starts Feb 16th!

CityMary Ward Centre information on Writing the City and book a place

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Only Connect: curating the streets

Autumn ’15 WTC#6

For our final foray of the course, you are invited to invent your own series of connections.

We shall be visiting three galleries ten minutes apart. Each exhibition has its own themes (what connects one work to the next) but will also trigger your own associations. Include both in your writing.

The first, Dominique Levy at 22 Old Bond Street – Gerhard Richter’s colour charts –

Next, Ordovas at 25 Savile Row, where you will find Big Blue, a series of fine art works that are thematically connected to each other and to the sea.


And finally the Frith Street gallery on Golden Square, currently showing Dorothy Cross’ recent work, where she has forged connections about relationships between the body and time, and the human and natural world, using sharks and bathtubs….

dorothy cross

Dorothy Cross: Eye of Shark , 2014

Create your own logic for how these three shows are connected – find ways of linking them, using what you notice in the galleries and also between them.

 The journey between the three galleries is as relevant as the content of each.

So, you are invited to create a treasure hunt of noticed things – both in the galleries and between them – including street names and window displays and buildings and lights and people and overheard conversations….

See if you can find a way of making one thing lead to the next, so that you create a logic all of your own that connects everything.


Pick a colour and seek it out as you go.

Try to include some of the following –

Elements from the periodic table

A memory

An animal

Something ancient

Something threatened

Something transient

Something transformative

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Lighted Window Sara Teasdale

He said:

“In the winter dusk
When the pavements were gleaming with rain,
I walked thru a dingy street
Hurried, harassed,
Thinking of all my problems that never are solved.
Suddenly out of the mist, a flaring gas-jet
Shone from a huddled shop.
I saw thru the bleary window
A mass of playthings:
False-faces hung on strings,
Valentines, paper and tinsel,
Tops of scarlet and green,
Candy, marbles, jacks—
A confusion of color
Pathetically gaudy and cheap.
All of my boyhood
Rushed back.
Once more these things were treasures
Wildly desired.
With covetous eyes I looked again at the marbles,
The precious agates, the pee-wees, the chinies—
Then I passed on.

In the winter dusk,
The pavements were gleaming with rain;
There in the lighted window
I left my boyhoodThere in the lighted window
I left my boyhood.”

Writing and pics from today’s prompt  will be on the page: Only Connect

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Mind, Body and the Euston Road

Autumn 15 WTC #5:

From Dr Finlay’s Casebook to Tibet’s Secret Temple

30 Euston Square was acquired by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP)in 2010 to become its new headquarters. The foyer is a public space, with exhibits in glass display cabinets, including Susie Freeman’s incredible wedding dress made of contraceptive pill ‘sequins’, and props and artefacts from the hugely successful television series, Dr Finlay’s Casebook.



Across the road, at the Wellcome Collection:

Ann Veronica Janssens: yellowbluepink


Ann Veronica Janssens’s sensory installation reminds us of the richness of our interaction with the world; a personal universe of experience constructed within the confines of our skulls.

Emily Sargent, Curator, Wellcome Collection

It is all too easy to go about our daily lives, having conscious experiences, without appreciating how remarkable it is that we have these experiences at all. Ann Veronica Janssens’s piece returns us to the sheer wonder of being conscious. By stripping away many of the features that permeate our normal conscious lives, the raw fact of experiencing is given renewed emphasis. Janssens’s piece reminds us of the important distinction in science between being conscious at all (conscious level: the difference between being awake and being in a dreamless sleep or under anaesthesia) and what we are conscious of (conscious content: the perceptions, thoughts and emotions that populate our conscious mind).

Anil Seth, Professor of Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience
Co-Director, Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science, University of Sussex


‘Tibet’s Secret Temple’ explores Tibetan Buddhist yogic and meditational practice and their connections to physical and mental wellbeing.The exhibition features over 120 objects including ritual artefacts, including the apron of bones…


One of the first exercises when learning the practice of Mindfulness is to eat a raisin incredibly slowly, savouring the texture before even thinking about chewing, and not drifting into associations, but trying to remain focused on the here and now. This is what the yellowbluepink installation is also encouraging us to experience. 

Thinking about how we use ritual in our own lives you are invited to –

1 Create your own mindful ritual – where might it take place

 2 Design your own ritual artefacts – what objects would help you to focus on the here and now?

You may write about these in whatever form works – as if you are the narrator on a self-help recording, or as a list, or in the third person…

Go to the page: ‘Mind, Body and the Euston Road’ for writing from today.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

An oasis in a world gone crazy

Autumn 15 WTC#4

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go

—from Extravagaria (translated by Alastair Reid, pp. 27-29, 1974)


Today we will be considering places that provide a pause for quiet contemplation in amidst the frenetic city life.

In order to reflect this in language, you are invited to explore writing your own HAIBUN.

The haibun form is a mixture of prose and poetry:

Matsuo Basho’s The Narrow Road draws on traditions of diary and travel writing.

So The Narrow Road opens with Basho feeling a strong desire to wander like the sailors and horsemen of old, even like Time itself, but first he has to mend his trousers and tie a new strap on his hat before he can set off. He is constantly slipping on dangerous rocks or complaining about lice. The little poems where these everyday concerns appear feel like moments of stillness and observation in the forward rush of the journey, places you can take a breath, like the happy/sad moment when he leaves his home by the river:

Spring is leaving too!
birds cry     even the wet eyes
of fish fill with tears

In your haibun, describe a short journey to a local landmark or a spot that means something to you. Like Basho’s pilgrimages, it might have some connection with a poem or poet you like.

Mix practical details (like putting on your shoes, whether you walk or take the bus, something about the weather…) with a description of your feelings and expectations, as if you were writing a diary.

Try to show one or two people you meet and one or two places along the way, perhaps connected with an historical event.

Have your narrator stop from time to time, sit down or lean against a wall to look at something, then include, interspersed with the prose, the short poem he or she writes.

(from Young Poets Network)

After visiting a rooftop oasis in the middle of the City, we’ll continue up Cheapside, past the very spot that inspired Wordsworth –


   At the corner of Wood Street, when daylight appears,
   Hangs a Thrush that sings loud, it has sung for three years:
   Poor Susan has passed by the spot, and has heard
   In the silence of morning the song of the Bird.

      Tis a note of enchantment; what ails her? She sees
      A mountain ascending, a vision of trees;
      Bright volumes of vapour through Lothbury glide,
      And a river flows on through the vale of Cheapside.

      Green pastures she views in the midst of the dale,
      Down which she so often has tripped with her pail;
      And a single small cottage, a nest like a dove's,
      The one only dwelling on earth that she loves.

      She looks, and her heart is in heaven: but they fade,
      The mist and the river, the hill and the shade:
      The stream will not flow, and the hill will not rise,
      And the colours have all passed away from her eyes!
                                       William Wordsworth, 1797

…and on to the exhibition in the Guildhall Library.

Talbot House picPROMPT

Make notes en route, including the small everyday details and thoughts. At Guildhall, write about how the exhibition makes you feel, and what details you are struck by. Try using the haibun form, if you like.

(If you care to stay, there is a lunchtime recital nearby at St Lawrence Jewry at 1pm)


For writing from today, please go to the page: An oasis in a world gone crazy

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Animal Magic

Autumn 15 WTC#1 Using animals in our writing

medieval rabbit text

From Aesop’s Fables to Ted Hughes’s Crow, the stories we tell about animals are often stories about us. This exhibition goes on the trail of animals on the page, asking why they have come to play such an important role in literature for adults and children alike.

Fortunately, our first meeting was on a beautiful Autumn day, as we were going to be out and about, visiting the British Library, and then on to Camley Street Nature Reserve tucked away behind Kings Cross, to check out the urban wildlife, and write about what we saw.

But first, some introductions – dog or cat people? first pets? earliest wildlife memories?

And a look at how various writers have used animals –

Virginia Woolf was known by those who loved her as Goat. Her sister, Vanessa Bell, was called Dolphin. Woolf gave animal aliases to all her friends, and grew up with a menagerie of creatures, including a squirrel, a marmoset and a mouse called Jacobi. Her first published essay was an obituary to the family’s dog.An exhibition exploring animals on the page



From the earliest marks made by humans in caves to the modern-day internet full of cute cats, animals have been enduring media stars. Symbols of the sacred or the profane, the domesticated or the ferocious, animals have always fed our imagination helping us to make sense of the world and ourselves. Inspiring writers, poets, scientists and artists through the ages, a library can become the largest zoo in the world when you begin to track down the creatures lurking among the pages on the shelves.

Animal Tales explores what wild – and tamed – creatures say about us when they take on literary or artistic form and displays richly illustrated editions of traditional tales, from Anansi to Little Red Riding Hood. And be closer to nature with a soundscape based on the Library’s collection of sound recordings, with illustrations and poems by Mark Doty and Darren Waterston.

(British Library)


Hares I have seen

The first crashed a fence in a field near Shrewsbury.
It was after lunch of lamb slow-roasted for a night
and a day, its grease still slick on my fingers when she broke
from the stubble.  I forgot her later when I sat on a swing
and cried.  That time it was for loneliness.

The second raced the train taking me to Edinburgh.
A break in the hedge revealed for a blink the reach
of her stride, the gathering of feet beneath belly before
the hedge snapped back.  I forgot her later when I cried
into moussaka.  That time it was for loneliness and drink.

The third hung from a hook in a butcher’s in Ludlow.
Her legs were primly crossed and bound, her head
shrouded in muslin but there was no mistaking
the checked spring, the white flag beneath her tail.
She was too big that close though her ears were shorn
because what good are ears when paying by weight?
I couldn’t forget her but by then I’d given up crying.

– Katherine Stansfield

(Check out the page ‘Animal Magic’ to see writing from the day)

Posted in kings cross, word on the street, word safari, writing the city | Leave a comment

Journeys of inanimate objects

Autumn 15 WTC #3: Journeys of inanimate objects

Cornelia Parker plays with transformation – steam rollering silver, blowing up sheds and reassembling the charred pieces, dropping meteorites into lakes, burying objects in places they have no reasonable right to be…


She finds objects that already have histories – multiple layers of history: the silver objects existed for a long time (some are 16th century) before she found the photos of them (in the 80s) taken for a catalogue in the 60s and recently rephotographed for her work in this current Cork Street exhibition. Cornelia Parker at alan christea



We shall be looking at objects in the Sotheby’s auctions, and you are invited to think about the stories of those objects – their histories.

You are then invited to consider your own way of transforming their futures.

To see the writing from this prompt, visit the page: Journeys of inanimate objectsIMG_2062


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment