I don’t pray anymore
except for when I do—
and when I do, I pray for you.
Not on my knees
with head bowed and hands clasped,
no our fathers or false promises.
I pray for you
with two pence pieces
turned over and over
between thumb and forefinger
and flung into fountain wells;
with cracks in the pavement
and counted steps at bedtime;
with childish superstition
I refuse to outgrow for your sake.
I don’t pray anymore
except for when I do—
and when I do, I pray for you.
I pray you’ll grow up a diamond
so when the world
comes to your doorstep
with cutting tools in hand,
you’ll shine brighter
just to spite them.
she starts growing fur and fangs,
watches hair poke through skin
like new-grown grass;
lets her spine bend to breaking point
and hides herself under baggy jumpers.
she keeps jagged glass and sewing pins
in the back of her underwear drawer
and waits until she’s alone to shed her skin.
While nerve endings scream their protests,
it still feels like coming home.
she prides herself on hunger pangs,
rakes new-grown claws over a stomach
that’s always empty or overflowing,
teaches herself to love the taste of bile
behind her teeth.
she learns how to bite,
how to draw blood;
how to silence a scream.
She sees the world in shades of crimson
and counts her scars at the end of the day.
she forgets what it’s like to walk on two legs.
She carves out a home
in the small hours of morning,
licks her wounds behind back-garden fences
and digs claws into dewy earth.
she learns to love the animal under her skin.
She steps over the threshold,
lets tendons stretch, lungs expand,
and howls at street lamps
when she can’t see the moon.
[The original title of this poem was “I Was A Mentally Ill Teenage Werewolf But I’m All Right Noooooooooooooow”. Figured that wasn’t quite the vibe I was going for, though.]
[I have a tiny notebook that I take with me on all my train journeys– and since I’ve been on a lot of trains recently it’s starting to fill up, so…. here you go, internet.]
Time For Tea
Polka dot girl dresses
like a fifties tea party;
smiles the way mother taught her,
evenly spaced like cutlery.
She twists her hair
into tight little rolls round her finger,
twists her fingers round themselves,
knuckles turning white
under the table.
It takes a lot of work to look this happy.
[These three I did by putting my ipod on different random settings, skipping to the middle of a song and just writing down the first few words of each.]
#1 (Arctic Monkeys)
I’m an exception.
It seems as though I need a partner:
the thrill of the chase, the proof we’re onto a win.
It wasn’t real, just a memory,
but I don’t care.
I dreamed about you, darlin, pretending to dance
to all the smirking faces on the dancefloor
to shelter from reality;
I play it on repeat and then hit the road
when winter’s in full swing.
#2 (KT Tunstall)
Can you be hot and cold,
find yourself walking the world
in the middle of nowhere?
If you’re miles away,
can you let me go?
Just like the sea I was silent
until I turned around.
Let me tell the truth:
underneath this big old sky
we’re one and the same.
#3 (completely random)
Airborne brothers and sisters, welcome;
don’t wish this town’s past away,
bow down to the old country.
I’m not as shy as another wordsmith:
pen full of hymns,
a heart on my windowsill.
Can’t you see it’s madness,
a fever dream, death by custom–
I don’t make the plan.
Everyone will be a little beautiful in defeat–
that heart is somewhere darker,
in time, you’ll find your way in.
Teach your children
to sail the Indian Ocean in a thimble,
to turn bathtime
into a voyage to the depths.
Teach them to balance, tip-toed,
on the pinpoint of a new idea –
sometimes they’ll fall off, and when they do,
teach them to number their bruises
like notches in a door frame,
count them with their achievements
like trophies and medals
in the living room cabinet.
Teach them that while bodies can be temples,
they are the gods to whom they’re devoted
and only they decide who kneels at their altar.
Teach them not to say maybe when they mean to say no.
Teach them that, like bodies,
sexuality and gender
come in a myriad of shapes and sizes
each as valid as the next;
that they can be who they want to be,
love who they want to love,
be it male, female, both, in between, or none of the above.
Teach them that the concept of beauty and brains
is not a dichotomy, and that there are
a hundred thousand ways to have both;
that they don’t have to smile with their lips closed,
and that not even the girls in the magazines
look like the girls in the magazines.
Teach them to embrace the gaps that can’t be filled,
that it’s okay not to know everything,
because learning as we go is the whole point.
Teach them that nobody is always right.
Even you. Especially you.
Besides being true, it’ll keep you humble.
Teach them to make up their own constellations,
to hop zig-zag from star to star
like traversing cracks in a pavement;
and when the heavens start to bend
and come crashing around their ears,
teach them to wear their good days like armour
so they can stand their ground.
Above all, remind them that they are not Atlas:
that their shoulders, however broad,
don’t have to hold up the world alone.
This post is a counterpart to a video I did over on my YouTube channel, detailing some useful pieces of writing advice I’ve picked up over time. Here, I’m going to look at some of the best free websites and programs for helping with the writing and editing process– I know it says top five, but really they’re not in any particular order.
#5 – Oneword.com
Oneword.com is a brilliant exercise in flash fiction/microfiction. You’re given one word as a prompt, to be interpreted any which way you choose, and a single minute to write as much as you can in the text box provided. It’s great for writing short stories and poems in a very limited time frame – several of the In For A Penny entries came from this website – but you can also take what you’ve written and use it as the opening paragraph or stanza to a longer piece.
#4 – Hemingway App
The Hemingway App is one of the most useful editing tools I’ve come across. Using Hemingway’s writing style as a model, it highlights common mistakes and elements of the text that might hinder it like overuse of the passive voice, adverbs, and overly complex sentences. Not only that, but it also grades your writing on a scale of reading difficulty and suggests alternative word choices where necessary. It’s not one hundred percent foolproof– while often inadvisable, adverbs and complex sentences can have their uses– but it works under the principle that if a piece of writing can be simpler or more concise, it should be. You can paste in previous work or write from scratch, using the app to edit as you go. Hemingway app is available both online and in desktop form.
#3 – Writesparks!Lite/WriteThis2
Okay, so I’m cheating a bit by lumping two together but these two programs are very similar in design and function, and both equally good. Both of these programs are first line and prompt generators with their own built-in text box and timer. I think of these as more advanced versions of tools like oneword (above). Writesparks!Lite has a smaller range of prompts to generate than WriteThis2, being the free version of a purchasable program, but there are more options as to what kind of prompt you want. All in all the difference between them is negligible and they’re both useful for getting the creative cogs turning again.
#2 – WritePlus
It’s very easy, when you have work you’re procrastinating from, to spend ages fiddling about with the formatting or minor changes and feel like you’ve accomplished something. Write is completely simple and uncomplicated, with the bare minimum of options which does wonders for combating distraction and maximising the amount of time spent writing. It’s only available through Windows 8 (boo, hiss) but it’s still pretty decent.
#1 – Storybook 2.1.15
Holy wow do I love this program. This is built for far longer projects, and if I were to try to list the vast number of functions it has we’d be here all day. Put very simply, however, Storybook is a database designed to help you organise every single little facet of your story – characters and their relation to one another, locations, time frames, background details, the list goes on. It makes it so much easier, when piecing together a longer project, to keep track of what you’ve written and how it fits into the story; making it easier to write out of chronological order. It can be complicated to use at first, the user interface being rather crowded with a million and one options, but once you get the hang of it, it’s so so worth it.
Another short one from the Arvon course. For a bit of context, it was written about (and named for) the sculpture in the picture – which (aside from living in my childhood nightmares) is made entirely out of donated cutlery and scrap metal and can be found in the Sheffield Millennium Galleries.
The creature sits in pride of place
next to the gallery gift shop,
triple heads held high.
A twisted cutlery cousin of Cerberus,
I always imagined its birth
as a flurry of Frankensteinian madness
in a Sheffield scrapheap or some other such place
where odd bits and bobs,
the detritus of everyday life,
find themselves a new purpose.
There’re gonna be a lot of poetry posts for a bit because I did an Arvon city course this weekend just gone and it was possibly the most productive three days I’ve had since I finished the book.
A neighbourly back-garden bonfire,
fat white clouds hovering on sticks amidst the smoke
as my sister loaded her skewer with four at a time
and lowered them into the heart of the fire
yelling “FEEL THE FLAMES” at the top of her lungs
as they charred.
In the living room of our new house,
Dad freshly returned from America.
Everything was bigger there, he said,
and proved it with a bag of marshmallows
each as big as my fist.
On a summer camping trip
when I realised for the first time that I was in love –
a midnight feast turned to sticky kisses
and sugary fingers laced through the spaces between mine.