:National Poetry Day - Cafe Writers Comp and Bugs creative workshop is booking (see post below). Who said autumn is dull?
It's National Poetry Day and here is a link to the wonderful Cafe Writers competition
The frustrations of the Covid pandemic conditions have necessitated a change in my working practice, particularly teaching. As the lock-down began I sent out an invitation to my database, a call to creativity. We are social beings and isolation is difficult; although, as a writer, I am used to being alone and anyway, when you write you are in the company of your characters, which is a good place to be. For those living alone, solitary confinement and fear of this frightening virus was hard to deal with, the financial toll was also a massive aftershock. For the creative industries this has been a tumultuous time, in many cases income ceased overnight and around 3 million creatives fell through the cracks of government support.
My course, Online Corona Creative, filled a gap in those first ten weeks of lock-down and it forced me to embrace Zoom and learn on the job about the technical issues related to running courses online with participants in their homes. I learnt when the students are not in the same room I no longer had the teacherly authority that I do when teaching face to face. I also learnt that body language cannot be read on screen and methods to make sure everyone has an equal speaking opportunities had to be instituted. I found that eleven participants is too many (smaller groups are the answer) and that some people struggle with this way of working, while others have by necessity embraced it and found it a social and educational lifeline. I have also been a student myself on Zoom with the Society of Authors. In October I will be again, by taking part in an online writing retreat hosted by the author Jill Dawson. As one would expect, creatives have been remarkably adept at find new and inventive ways of adapting to this 'new normal' and presenting their work in new ways and seeking out new audiences.
As a teacher, this time of year always gives me that back to school sensation, it is the beginning of the academic year and, like New Year, it is a time for reflection and renewal. I have long wanted to make some video content about my artistic and literary practice and Covid has given me the push I needed, and with an Arts Council grant to buy technical equipment I am taking that leap, scary? yes a bit, but positive too; it’s exciting to find a new method of reaching out to fellow practitioners and students. Creative Progression, my online course for creatives of any discipline has begun, but there will be another opportunity for a face to face course at Anteros, Norwich, when Covid restrictions lift hopefully next spring. More online courses are in the pipeline, one to one mentoring continues on Zoom if you would like to book please get in touch www.mullinpatricia.com and if you would like to combine a writing retreat with a relaxing holiday take a look at The Artist's Studio on www.meadowcottagenorfolk.com
Have a safe, happy and creative autumn.
It is with immense sadness that I have to inform you that Graham passed away on Friday 17th April at Priscilla Bacon Lodge, Norwich. Graham was one of the first Cathedral writing students who went on to lead Ex-Cathedra writing group for many years. He headed the student committee in charge of the anthology Voicing Visions and was the M,C. at its launch. Apart from his many talents and attributes Graham was all round lovely man and I know that many of the student cohort will greatly mourn his passing as I do. Patricia 20.04.2020
Please read this free short story after you have purchased your copy of Gene Genie from https://www.amazon.co.uk/Gene-Genie-Patricia-Mullin-ebook/dp/B00AK9NWT2?fbclid=IwAR0lonqWpkVueOnnoZpsL6hLvSy5qes8iBdtZXmIbNm1HrL5Baq4kT6M090
Thank you, your support for Patricia as a writer in these difficult times is very much appreciated.
I used to sit by the fire, below the family portrait. I liked to watch the little strips of fabric as they spun around the orange light bulbs, creating the theatrical, heatless flames. Now, looking up at the painting I see it is as artificial as the fire. My brother, Stephen, who had been sorting through the books, asked what we should do with the portrait. Burn it, I replied. He made no protest. Then he asked me if I remembered going to the studio. I did.
I had picked out a green dress; it had a little fish blowing a bubble on the front. Mother’s cotton frock was nipped in at the waist with a very wide skirt. It was a picture dress. The blocks of colour contained images of Spanish design; castanets, a flamenco dancer and a Toreador. Julie wore a dirndl skirt with an off the shoulder gypsy-style blouse, a choice that exaggerated every roll of puppy fat and pasty limb. There were six sittings at the artist’s studio; we all went to the first, but after that it was just mummy and me.
At that first sitting the artist, Lucas Mirren, spent a lot of time composing the family group and then taking photographs. I was ticked off for fidgeting by Stephen who caught somewhere between boyhood and manhood, was going through an unpleasant bossy phase. My father, who was used to having his picture taken, seemed to know what to do, how to sit, where to look. My mother spent a long time re-arranging her skirt; finally the artist stepped forward and helped adjust the wayward fabric. His hands were tanned, large and square, with a scattering of freckles, as if he spent a lot of time somewhere sunny. When I looked down at his shoes, they were covered with multi-coloured flecks of paint and his corduroy trousers had smudges of colour on them. I remembered the pungent smells; turpentine and linseed oil.
Subtle adjustments were made to the lighting and pose. Shoulders were gently manipulated, chins were held between his thumb and forefinger and tipped up or down. Lucas Mirren plucked mother’s gloves from her lap and then he made a joke of not knowing where to put them down, everywhere being so dirty covered in paint, canvases or brushes. He made great play of leaving the room with the gloves and then returning in a clownish manner. I remember him as a tall sandy-haired man, craggy, charming and urbane. I remember him as different.
His studio can’t have been far from our own house, because my mother and I walked if it was fine and only took a bus if it were raining. Although it was far enough for my legs to ache. The banisters were rich mahogany and when we got to the third floor the carpet and brass rods were replaced by thick red linoleum, with tough rubber strips bent over the edge of each step. Small dabs of paint, like a paper trail, showed the way to the studio door. I don’t recall being let into the house; no one came to the door or greeted us. Perhaps the front door was left on the latch, or did my mother have a key? Once I heard music floating up from downstairs, it was turned off abruptly when a telephone rang. I slipped out of the studio and lent over the balustrade straining to hear the distant muffled voice, then a door closed. That autumn I started school.
When I saw the finished portrait I was confused and upset. Where were my little fish and mummy’s pictures on her skirt? I thought it was a dreadful mistake; I thought daddy would be cross. In the finished painting we were all in muted shades, except for our father in his dark suit. At first I thought my parents were too polite to mention the missing textile patterns, they seemed so genuinely delighted with the painting. Years later, when I asked, daddy explained artistic license to me. Artistic license had also shrunk Julie to a slender and attractive form.
I was visiting Julie in Islington; she had agreed to look after my demanding toddler, Chloe. Julie was childless and a generous aunt. Seldom free to roam, I relished my freedom and spent the day in Covent Garden popping in an out of shops and watching street entertainers. I bought a frivolous skirt that matched my skittish mood. By three o’clock, I was hot and I was tired. I settled at a pavement café for an iced coffee, on the opposite side of the street canvases where being carried into a gallery. The gallery owner was fussing and waving his arms. A young woman with spiky red hair was pasting the letters that formed the name of the artist on the window. I looked on as the letter L unfurled, then the U. By the time the name Lucas was complete I felt an odd foreboding. She came outside to check the alignment and returned to complete the surname. The next letter was an M.
I watched the pair inside the gallery deliberating over the hanging of the pictures, then went over. The owner glanced at me and flicked his foppish hair back. Immaculately dressed, he rested somewhere between suave and camp. He glanced over at me expressing mild disinterest, no doubt evaluating the size of my wallet and quickly dismissing me as a potential buyer. I thought I might be asked to leave; the exhibition was clearly not ready, so I asked if Lucas Mirren was still alive and was told he had died a year ago. The gallery owner unwrapped another painting, it was a reclining nude. It was my mother.
I stepped backwards; my shoulder caught the edge of the door. I took an urgent breath, recovered and continued my walk around the edge of the gallery. From the canvases my mother stared back at me, holding my gaze, blatant and cool, with an undeniable sexual frisson. A fleeting memory followed; the tender removal of her coat, Lucas burying his face in my mother’s silk scarf. The gallery lights glared white and hot, I became lightheaded and weak. That they were lovers was clear to me. When did that start, before the family portrait or later? Was the portrait just a ruse, a way of spending time together? As I progressed around the gallery so too did the images of my mother. I stared at her aging flesh, the inky rope of her veins, the translucent soft tissue and historical tan marks; a relic of our family holidays in Brittany.
I wondered when she could have posed. I guessed it was during the school day when daddy was abroad. Her nakedness was unsettling. Our mother was sensuous, elegant and self-contained. Our mother, who made Victoria sponge and fish paste sandwiches and met me from school everyday. Who asked about what I had been doing in Miss Eliot’s class, and when I was old enough and polite enough to enquire about her day, would reply, nothing much, housework…baking. Sometimes she would sing or hum a tune, while I skipped home beside her. I always thought she was happy.
My scrutiny of the paintings aroused the curiosity of the gallery owner, who asked if I was an admirer of Lucas Mirren? I found myself telling him that Mirren had painted a group portrait of my family, I told him it was mawkish, he flinched at the word. He went on to explain that artists have to eat, he was trying to be charming, but underneath I sensed his contempt. He asked if I knew the model. I lied and said I did not. I knew he had detected this lie. He explained that Mirren had not presented a canvas of Rachel for years, that Mirren devotees wondered what had happened to her. I guessed that such speculation would include her death. But our mother wasn’t dead; she was very much alive, about now she would be asking my father what he wanted for supper. Father had retired, that surely ended her career as model, muse and lover. The owner was talking at me, he mentioned the private view and he dropped the catalogue and an invitation into my bag. I kept looking at his mouth, the rapid movement of his tongue and the saliva connecting in viscous threads; the heat was overpowering…the lights…his words…my mother. I made for the door and fled.
I missed my stop; the bus had already reached the far end of Essex Road so I struggled past the standing passengers and walked back to Islington Green where I dropped onto a bench.
My parents had a model marriage, or so I believed. They had their disagreements and irritations, but amongst their peers their relationship was held up as an example. A marriage to aspire too, an aunt stated, as I prepared for my wedding day. My late, failed marriage made me feel that I had let the side down. It was growing dark and the homeless were beginning to select their benches for the night, I gathered up my bags.
Julie had cooked pasta and opened wine; I went to have a shower. When I returned to the living room Chloe had upturned the shopping bags, and found the toy giraffe I had bought for her. The skirt lay in a heap; the catalogue lay next to it. Julie swooped down and plucked it from the floor, she turned the pages. I tried lamely to pacify her. Reasoning with my sister always was impossible. Julie, drama queen and snitch, who ran to our parents and blurted out everything, from illicit smoking, to dire exam results; I could always rely on Julie to expose my flaws and misdemeanors with relish and at the most inopportune moment. Ours was an uneasy alliance.
Returning from the gallery the following day she said that they were far worse than she could have imagined, sighting the painstaking level of detail. She said that they made Lucien Freud look myopic. I laughed at that, replying that I thought that they were tender and refreshing; celebrating the form of an aging woman. But Julie called it a twilight age; she said the paintings were repugnant and disgusting. Then more thoughtfully she said; daddy’s face still lights up when she enters the room. For how much longer I wondered.
The Sunday papers carried reviews and a feature article with full colour photographs. Mirren was enjoying a revival. A week later my father’s car left the road. His injuries were slight, although he was never quite the same after the accident. Mother descended into a small interior space, she no longer sang or baked. Her memory failed her, a stroke heralded the end.
The air in the house was heavy and stale and all its little faults; broken window catches, dripping taps and leaky guttering, took on a significance previously disguised by activity and harmony. Sadness was present in every lifted corner of wallpaper and each inadequately wiped stain. Stephen threw the painting onto the pyre and together we watched as the flames lapped the edge of mother’s skirt. The paint seared, peeled and lifted. A palette of vivid sparks flew off into the night sky, as if the Spanish pictures hidden in the under-painting celebrated mother’s vivacity and gave flight to her spirit.
Creative Progression 2020 - two part workshop for writers, artists and creatives
'This is the course I needed when my ambitions faltered and my self-confidence dipped; it draws on my own experience as a writer, artist and entrepreneur when tackling the vicissitudes inherent in creative practice and the creative industries.' Patricia Mullin
Creative Progression is ideal for any, writer, artist or creative entrepreneur with faltering creative direction. If you are blocked, thwarted, unfocused, time-poor or overwhelmed but determined to make 2020 a decisive year for your creativity. These two workshops separated by eleven weeks (time to take action and make progress) will drive you and your creative practice forward. Designed to re-energise you giving the tools and the momentum to formulate a clear vision and crystallise your ambitions and turning them into a realistic, timely and achievable plan.
Part 1 Thursday March 26th
Part 2 Thursday June 4th
Venue - Anteros, 11-15 Fye Bridge Street Norwich NR3 1LJ
Time - 10am-4pm
To eradicate:- Blocks; Procrastination; Mis-direction; Distractions.
To instigate:- Momentum; Solutions; Ambitions and a future focused plan.
Fee: £55 per session = £110 for both sessions
(early bird discount booked and paid for by February 29th) £50 per session = £100 for both sessions. Places are secured by payment for both sessions. Strictly limited to 10 participants.
This course helped me develop the confidence to get organised, and provided the skills and strategies to do so. It was validating to feel part of a community of writers, artists and creatives, who shared a great deal of experience and insight. It has boosted my confidence and also the skills I need to take my work seriously. The small group size meant that we formed warm connections that lasted beyond the course. Since the last course I have taken part in an interview about my work, for the Norwich 20 Group and Pomegranate (of which I am a member) showed at Anteros. Mandy Rogers
To book, or for further information email: email@example.com
I am about to launch Creative Progression 2020, if you would like to contact me with queries before the launch please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Thoughts about the coming year begin for me around September, related perhaps to the change of the season and the nights drawing in. I enjoy that quiet time, just after New Year’s Eve, it’s the only time of the year when no one bothers me although, along with most of my freelance friends, I am attempting to complete my tax return.
I have a folder, which since September has The Plan 2020 written on the cover. It’s about setting my intentions for the future, it’s broad and it’s directional, because 2018/19 hasn’t been easy. In fact, it’s been impossible. I spent many months caring for a dying relative and then arranging his funeral, clearing his home and winding up his estate and this all took place hundreds of miles away from my home. When finally I drew a breath I had anaemia and was good for nothing. Since November I have got back into my stride and now I’m emerging. I have done a lot of work on the grounds at Meadow Cottage and renovated (with help) the summerhouse and the shed. There is a backlog, paperwork and numerous people to catch up with, but some kind of routine is establishing itself. I am working through my lists. Teaching, workshops, mentoring, running my Airbnb and, most importantly, my writing.
This year for the second time I was shortlisted in the prestigious Bridport Prize and that was a timely boost. When chaos reigns my anchor is my creativity, be it writing or art and design. I’ve observed that creatives who stop creating frequently fall into a malaise, even depression. Creativity is essential to my well-being. For all of us who attempt to live by our work there is a constant tension between working to pay the bills and working for our creative souls. So in the run up to 2020 all manner of projects are being given the final push they need in order to better support my creative writing. My Airbnb makes the perfect writing retreat and the entire site is a magical location. So I’m branching into photo/magazine shoots and product placement, along with creative writing retreats and short courses, there will be more information in the New Year.
Wishing you all a happy and creative 2020.
When I pick up a short story collection the first page I turn to is the authors writing history, this might be publications or competition successes and then there is the author biography. I not only glean background information I can also find out about their successes, triumphs and near misses, or near wins, as I prefer to think of them. I’ve just had another near miss/win of my own; for the second time (the first in Bridport 2016) I have been shortlisted for The Bridport Prize 2019, out of 3772 entries my short story made it into the top 100.
Some competitions print an anthology and inclusion in an anthology is really good news, I have been included in 4. Not only does it get your writing out there to the general reader and perhaps to a small press talent spotting, but it also gives you as a writer beavering away alone, an opportunity to read winners and runners up in the competition you entered and gage what is topical in the world of short fiction. Sometimes, either on the competition website or in a foreword, there is a judge’s report. This is useful, the judge will tell you what they were looking for in a short story and also, and this is important, the predominant themes in the entries. I advise my students to take note and take care when selecting themes, because I often read that competitions have been awash with stories on, for example; Alzheimer’s, refugees, domestic abuse, eccentric villagers, unrequited love etc. While there is nothing wrong with hitting on the topic of the moment, there is in if this theme has been done to death and you are setting yourself the difficult task of delivering your story in an exceptional and unusual manner coupled with standout prose. Try to think of a topic/theme that is not everywhere in the press, stretch yourself and remember to take risks with your writing.
I am also often asked where to find competitions; Google short story competitions and loads will come up. If you want someone to filter them down get hold of a copy of Mslexia magazine. Above all, you need to write stories regularly and re-write them too. You will get better at the craft of writing and through reading short story collections (I recommend the publisher SALT for their short story collections and books) read widely you will learn a great deal about the technical aspects of delivering an exceptional story.
I have recently been told of the death of Millie Comerford, a member of the 2013 SCVA group..
Millie was a warm, talented and generous member of our group who, in collaboration with Jan Crombie, went on to publish ‘Stories from the Fruit Bowl,’ a copy of which resides in the Poetry Archive; they were just concluding another publication together. I am sure you will join me in sending condolences to all Millie’s family and friends.
My blog will be updated monthly and will look at issues that are of interest to writers and readers. Do add your comments and I will do my best to respond. Please keep them legal, decent and honest.