I’m a big fan of the Yew, and, if you’ve read this far, you*. Associated with churchyards – theories are many and varied – and renowned for their longevity, all but their red berries are toxic to humans. Steam and hide a few leaves under the spinach and boom! you have a Yew-related short story waiting to happen. It amuses me that the male tree rates highest on the plant allergy scale yet the female is considered allergy-fighting and produces no allergenic material. Is it mocking the Homo Sapiens male, do you think?
The religious connection stretches beyond Christianity’s penchant for adopting pagan sites; Romans, Celts and the Norse all incorporated the Yew into their worship cultures. They are seen by some as symbols of immortality, by others as harbingers of doom (and both explanations can be argued for their churchyard location). A shortage of Yew in the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries led English Kings to pass law stating that every ship docking along our shores had to bring Yew-wood for bowstaves, generating an industry across Europe that only died when guns replaced longbows. It’s a good looking tree, too, with abundant opportunity for descriptive flourish as they grow older, gnarlier; Entish.
Did you know that if you get lost, trees can help you find your way? North of the Equator, which I am, moss grows on the northern side of tree trunks, where there is more shade. Got an electric saw in your backpack? A tree’s rings grow slightly thicker on the southern side since it receives more sunlight. An arboreal compass. Nature, huh?
Anyway, I wanted to give a few people some credit. I don’t know them personally, though I’ve met some of them. There are links to their work at the bottom of this post. Intentionally or otherwise, they’ve got me writing again. On this blog, in a notebook, on a tablet. In my head. I cannot thank these people enough, but I can recommend them to you and place this electronic paper on the t’inter-web where, opportunity willing, it will be read by those with curious minds and accommodating wallets. These people are the moss on my tree.
*Aw, shucks – all fourteen words. And** for the experts out there, no, the tree in the picture is not a Yew.
**Yes, I have used ‘And’ at the beginning of a sentence. Can you see where this is going?***
***No, nor me.
Andy wrote The Year of Reading Dangerously. He’s a huge fan of The Lilac Time, so that’s two of us. He co-hosts the brilliant Backlisted podcast with Unbound editor John Mitchinson. He is magnificently grumpy on Twitter. For all those reasons and more he was at the Port Eliot Festival in 2017, where I not-very-successfully stalked him and he gave generously of his time. He is also, inadvertently, the reason why I was introduced to Julianne Pachico. If there’s an event horizon from which I failed to escape, it’s reading his book and realising I should have been writing for the last 30 years.
Julianne was interviewed by Andy at Port Eliot. They discussed short story writing with Adam O’Riordan. I spoke to Julianne afterwards. She was hugely encouraging and recommended I look at the online creative writing courses hosted by The National Centre for Writing in Norwich. Julianne wrote The Lucky Ones, a series of alternate dips and glimpses into Columbia that are at times brutal, sad, hilarious and surreal. It’s quite brilliant. She occasionally pops up on Twitter and I really hope she’s writing new material.
Andy gave me the blue touch paper. Julianne gave me the match. Eliza put the two together. She is the author of a short story collection, Wallflowers, and the superb Demi-Gods, a debut novel that returns to haunt me regularly – whole passages, dream-sequence imagery – despite having read it over a year ago. Eliza taught a short story course online for the National Centre for Writing in late 2017. My first introduction to creative writing as a discipline, a cliff you hack at with a plankton-sized pick-axe until tiny crumbs flake off into your notebook.
Jen is a poet and author. She’s written some excellent children’s books. She vlogs at a prodigious rate. I attended a talk at the Gower Street Waterstones where she read from her short story collection, The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night. I took an online course she runs on short stories, which helped me hone my understanding of structure and language. My head got fuller, my notebook got fatter.
Poet, author, comedian, Twitter-worrier. Tim wrote The Honours. A follow-up, The Ice House, is due in 2019. I wonder sometimes whether Mr. Clare has discovered the ability to bend time, because, and Jen Campbell is similar, he appears able to put more into every 24 hours than most do in a week. To continue the wheels within wheels, Tim was at Port Eliot in 2018, but I had already found his website and taken myself through his excellent Couch to 80K course. He blogs regularly on writing and his advice and guidance is never less than useful, more often revelatory. He has taught me to relax into my writing.
Finally, Kate. Kate wrote She Rises, a book I’ve yet to read. She teaches an introductory writing course courtesy of The Writer’s Company. I’ve been attending since the middle of 2018 and we are about to embark upon ‘The Plot Thickens’, where I may be brave enough to show her the notes for my novel, safe in the knowledge she will only laugh a little, and said laugh will be sympathetic rather than cruel. Kate has taught me to be brave, to write outside, under and through the lines.
- Andy Miller – The Year of Reading Dangerously
- Julianne Pachico – The Lucky Ones
- Eliza Robertson – Wallflowers and Demi-Gods
- Jen Campbell – The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night
- Tim Clare – The Honours
- Kate Worsley – She Rises
- The National Centre for Writing
- The Writer’s Company