The blog is back!

After more than three years I slowly return to blogging. Perhaps this time I will be able to sustain it a bit better.

Part of my problem was that my email changed and I foolishly forgot to update my details on the blog site. So when I thought about going back online I couldn’t remember my password, and couldn’t get it resent to me. There is a reason I am a writer not a computer fundi.

I was tempted to abandon this blog completely and start a new one. But, as often happens when you start to think about writing, as I journalled about the possibilities I got good ideas, including remembering the password. I often say that I think better with a pen in my hand. This week has given me concrete proof of this.

So, logged on, email updated, design refreshed and now I am ready to go. Now all I need is something to say. And the motivation to keep saying it. Which sort of sums up the writing life doesn’t it.

Small stones about small people

One of the many joys of spending my holiday with my family is the presence of my niece and nephews, who have inspired two of the small stone poems so far


Small stones 3 – Elevation

take three children
add a trampoline
expect exuberance

apply daily doses
for the duration of holiday
see spirits soar as bodies bounce


Small stone 6 – Epiphany

The tree is dismantled
The decorations packed away
The children help, reluctantly
Little left of the joy
Of the reverse operation.

Two small stones

1 The West Coast Wind

it whistles and howls
prowling around the house
it rattles windows and slams doors
it blows the washing off the line
it blows the holiday-makers off the beach
clouds race across the sky
plants cling to their pots
trees sway, struggling to maintain their dignity
hands thrown up in disgust and despair
and the sand dances
over the dunes

2 – Incandescent

I lie in a white room:

white roof, nearly white walls

covered with black and white photographs.

The bedding is white,

as is the door, and the blinds,

closed to keep out the light.

If I looked in the mirror

my face would be white.

But I do not look.

I close my eyes,

seeking refuge in darkness

which is seared by white lightning.

Mindful Writing Challenge 2013

It is a new year. A time to reflect on the year that has passed and to think about the year ahead. Many of us will make resolutions. Many of us will break those resolutions. But regardless of how well we succeed, setting new goals and thinking about what is important is a useful exercise.


One of my resolutions for 2013 is to write more. Another is to resurrect this long-neglected blog.  As I was thinking about how this could best be achieved (knowing that I am full of good ideas but not so good with the discipline of maintaining them) I came across a really interesting writing challenge for January.


The challenge is to notice something every day, really paying attention to it, and then to write about it. I like the idea of paying attention, of being more mindful, of being aware of the world around me, and my inner landscape. My hope is that if I can do this every day in January the habit will stick and I can keep on with one of my hopes, which was to write a poem each day, a sort of poetic diary.


But that is for later. For January all I have to do is to commit to paying attention and to writing something every day. The organisers of the challenge refer to these as “small stones” which is a lovely image. For more information on the challenge see


Perhaps some of you will join in this challenge. My aim is to post the small stones that I write here, and hopefully a few other entries as well. Watch this space…

Freezing, but feeling festive

Grahamstown is cold. Very cold. Which makes going out to shows quite a challenge. It is tempting to stay inside, next to the heater. So far I have managed to drag myself out for all my shows, although scheduled trips to the craft markets and art exhibitions were abandoned.

Fortunately all the shows have been worth it.  The festival diary so far:

Thursday – Mouche : based on a story by Paul Gallico, this play features Tim Redpath playing six different characters. One of them is a puppeteer, which adds another six characters to the mix.  It was an amazing play, with puppets, dolls, a moving story and a very strong performance from Redpath. This really did get the festival off to a good start for me.

Friday:  I had not booked for anything, knowing I would be busy at work and not sure what I felt like seeing. Sadly the show I picked was sold out. Disappointing for me, but nice for Guy Buttery. So I bought his cd at the door and went home and listened to it in comfort.

Saturday: Abnormal Loads by Neil Coppen was breathtaking. That Standard Bank Young Artist Award was well deserved.  The show got rave reviews and everyone I know who saw it absolutely loved it. The script, the stage set, the performances – everything worked well.

A quick supper and then up to the monument for the ballet. We watched Swan Lake, which was lovely. Although it was so cold I felt the swans should have been issued with ice skates.

Sunday: Gala concert with the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra = two hours of glorious music.  What was amusing was how many Grahamstown people were in the audience.  Supper at Red Cafe followed (I had the Moroccan lamb tagine which was very good). As a bonus we were given comp tickets to see Gary Thomas. A pleasant hour of guitar and singing, and good to be going to see someone whose work I did not know.

And that was the first weekend done.  So far, it has been amaz!ng, as the posters promise. Now if only someone could get the heating turned on.  Last night, in a venue with a fire going, I thought the singer was smoking, and then realised that it was condensation in the air. Brr. And on Saturday night at the monument it was starting to sleet. Big brr.

On the plus side, all the people selling jerseys, jackets, socks, gloves, hot food etc must be smiling.

Feel it, it is here!

The calm before the storm

Now that I finally have a phone that takes decent photographs, and have figured out how to get the photographs off the phone, I thought it might be fun to keep a sort of festival photo diary, with at least one photo from every day.

It feels as though the festival is starting off slowly. This week there have been posters going up, but not as many as I would have expected.  Yesterday (Wednesday 29 June) I walked through Church Square which was strangely quiet.  A few traders were busy setting up their stalls, and the food vans seemed to be well set up. 
Today the square will look very different. I walked past on my way to work to see it full of people fighting the fierce wind as they set up tables and tents. I was tempted to take a photograph but feared that my camera would blow away. Yes, the wind was that strong.
Waiting waiting for the bus

Wednesday night, walking home from work I saw a strange object on the path ahead. Why, I wondered, would someone leave a wooden bench on the side of the road? Had some play lost its prop?

The mystery was solved when I got to the bench. There is now a proper, well-marked bus stop for the Hopper, the festival transport. It is good that they are clearly marked, people have often complained of not being able to find the bus stop. And a bench is a good idea. But I am not so sure of the wisdom of putting a dark brown wooden bench on the bicycle path, with no lights nearby. Any cyclists in town had best beware. Hopefully someone in charge will see the problem and move the bench on to the pedestrian path before there is an accident.  Or should we call that spontaneous street theatre?

Remember me?

The Crystal Calligrapher is a bad blogger.

The Crystal Calligrapher is a bad blogger.

The Crystal Calligrapher is a bad blogger.


Ok, I will now stop writing out lines. Which probably loses some of the impact when you are typing them anyway. But the truth is, I have been a very bad blogger.  I keep thinking I will get back to writing,  but that just has not happened. The same could be said for a lot of other areas in my life as well,  but we won’t go there right now.

So what prompted me to finally log in and say something. Simply – it is festival time. Regular readers of this blog will know that I live in Grahamstown, home to the National Arts Festival. Every year the town is transformed as hundreds of artists and thousands of audience members settle in to brace the cold and embrace the culture.

This week I have been watching the posters going up, seeing strange people on the streets, feeling the excitement growing. Surrounded by so much creativity and energy it is hard not to feel inspired.

I am also aware of friends far away who are hoping for news of the festivities.  I will be busy busy busy the next two weeks, but am aiming to blog each day – even if only to comment on what show I saw, or what I noticed on the streets of Grahamstown.

Watch this space…

Life According to Literature 2010

I have seen this on a few blogs or in emails and it seemed a fun way to reflect on the year. A year where I did not write enough blog posts, but at least read lots of books.

Answer the following questions using titles of books you have read during 2010:

Describe yourself: Mostly Harmless (Douglas Adams)

How do you feel: Dying for Chocolate (Dianne Mott Davis)

Describe where you currently live: A Patchwork Planet (Anne Tyler)

If you could go anywhere, where would you go: The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (Douglas Adams) , or, if I have to pick an actual place When we were Romans (Matthew Kneale)

Your favorite form of transportation: Prince on a White Horse (Tanith Lee) ha ha, yes I know, that is not likely. So perhaps I had better go with: The Cloister Walk (Kathleen Norris)

Your best friend is: The Slayer of Shadows (Elana Bregin)

You and your friends are: Unseen Academicals (Terry Pratchett), or, Comeback : Poems in Conversation (Peter Esterhuysen and Paul Mason)

What’s the weather like: The Summer of Toffie and Grummer (Edyth Bulbring) -theoretically, but more accurately – Living with Contradiction (Esther de Waal)

You fear: Housekeeping (Marilynne Robinson)

What is the best advice you have to give: This Year you Write your Novel (William Mosley)

Thought for the day: Interesting Times (Terry Pratchett)

How I would like to die: One Magic Moment (Jenny Robson)

My soul’s present condition: Darkness Visible (William Styron)

A novel approach to writing

I am very good at good intentions. Not so great at follow-through. Part of the problem is that I am too easily distracted. If I was only interested in a few things I am sure it would be simpler. But instead my plans to write more, to write more regularly, are often scuppered by a desire to do something else. Perhaps a bit of patchwork. Can I do some cross-stitch, or a crossword puzzle? Maybe I need to listen to some music, or go to the movies. And then there is that interesting talk on in town, or that good friend I have not seen in a while. We won’t even talk about the distraction of the books all calling to be read.

I suspect I am not alone in this. Sometimes I wonder how anyone actually gets any writing done.  I struggle particularly with writing fiction. Poetry seems easier to slip in, to snatch a few spare moments and scribble a short poem. Or to tinker with the lines on the page, until I have something to show for it. But a novel, now that takes time. And committment. And discipline. All things in short supply in my life.

Thankfully there is an ideal means for procrastinating people like myself, the ones who are going to write a novel, one day. That day has arrived. Or rather, that month.

Yes, November is the month to finally write that novel. Each year thousands of people around the world sign up for nanowrimo, or National Novel Writing Month. Yes, it should really say International, but inanowrimo sounds rather inane.

The challenge is to write a 50 000 word novel during November. That sounds hectic, but is actually quite doable, working out at less than 2000 words a day. There is no reason why I could not do that every day. But I don’t. Except in November. Somehow having a deadline, and knowing I only have to do this for 30 days, means I stop talking about writing, and write.

At the end of the month there will be a draft manuscript. It might be really awful, beyond salvage by even the most inspired editing. But at least I have only wasted one month on the piece. Imagine how much worse it would be to spend seven years on a novel and then discover that it was dreadful. Most years I am pleasantly surprised at what I have to show for the month’s work. Oh yes, there is a lot of dreadful writing. There are vast sections needing to be cut or rewritten, and some that make me wonder who actually wrote that rubbish – surely not me! But, and this is a big but, I have a manuscript to work with. Even if I don’t reach the target of 50 000 I will have more words written than I had a month ago.

So now, I will stop procrastinating by blogging, and get back to my brand new novel which is slowly growing, word by word, day by day. I can’t wait to see what it looks like by the end of November.

These are a few of my favourite things (to read)

8 September is International Literacy Day. As a reader and a writer I am deeply grateful for the ability to read.  I am even more grateful for my love of reading; people who can read but choose not to are hard for me to understand. 

I will be celebrating literacy day by going home and spending the evening with a good book; while sitting in a lounge surrounded by book shelves, filled and overflowing with books.  I wanted to share something about the books and author’s that I love, but lists of favourite books or best books worry me. How can I pick just one, or five or ten? And what about all the books I haven’t read? 

So I decided to share a list of some of the books which I have read repeatedly. I took more than twice as the cut-off, and only noted books read as an adult. So this does not include the many wonderful children’s books which I read and reread when I was very young.  I should add that this is a fairly random list. I am sure I have left off several books, and if I wrote this next week it might look slightly different. But it does give some idea of the books and authors I love, and might suggest a book that you want to read next. 

My little list 

Douglas Adams – The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy (and sequels) 

Margaret Atwood – The Handmaid’s Tale 

Jane Austen – Pride and Prejudice 

Charlotte Bronte – Jane Eyre 

Angela Carter – The Magic Toyshop 

Barry Hughart – Bridge of Birds 

Esther Friesner – Yesterday We Saw Mermaids 

Rosemary Kirstein – The Steerswoman series 

Ursula K LeGuin – The Earthsea series 

Alison Lurie – The Portrait of Lorin Jones 

Ellis Peters – Brother Cadfael books 

Marge Piercy – He, She and It (also published as Body of Glass

Terry Pratchett – I can happily reread any of his books, and frequently do 

J K Rowling – Harry Potter books 

J R R Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings 

And now I am going home. I think I can hear a book calling me. Happy Literacy Day to all you happy readers.