Leave, leave your well-loved nest,
Late swallow, and fly away.
Here is no rest
For hollowing heart and wearying wing.
Your comrades all have flown
To seek their southern paradise
Across the great earth’s downward sloping side,
And you are alone.
Why should you cling
Still to the swiftly ageing narrowing day?
Shake your pinions long untried
That now must bear you there where you would be
Through all the heavens of ice;
Till falling down the homing air
You light and perch upon the radiant tree. 

Edwin Muir

Photo by Philip Ackermann on Pexels.com


To Autumn

John Keats – 1795-1821

The beautiful images in this classic poem lift my spirits every autumn. 

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
  Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
  With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
  And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
    To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
  With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
    For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.


Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
  Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
  Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
  Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
    Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
  Steady thy laden head across a brook;
  Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
    Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.


Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
  Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,–
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
  And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
  Among the river sallows, borne aloft
    Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
  Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
  The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft,
    And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.


THE LUMINARIES: some thoughts

I have just finished the 832 pages of ‘The Luminaries’ by Eleanor Catton.  I watched the dramatisation on TV and was thoroughly confused, and hoped that by reading it I’d fathom it better.

Casting Announced for The Luminaries. Production to Commence in NZ in  November | New Zealand Film Commission

No, I couldn’t.  If anything, the story in the book is even more confusing.  And it doesn’t help that the dramatisation started in the middle of the book, and pulled out of the story aspects which are only hinted at in the narrative.

What I find fascinating is that Eleanor Catton has abandoned so many of the things which we writers are regularly told we ‘must’ do. This is particularly interesting in the light of the fact that this book won the Booker Prize in 2013.  For instance, we’re usually told by teachers of creative writing that it’s much better to ‘show’ rather than ‘tell’, ie to seek to draw the reader into the story by exposing what the characters are thinking and feeling.

However, Catton does the opposite.  She’s written her book in the style of a nineteenth century novel, which is – well – novel:   the story is almost entirely ‘tell’, and not ‘show’.  She stands back from her narrative and invites us to stand with her and observe what’s going on, rather than leading us to enter into it.  It made me wonder why today’s would-be writers are taught how not to do this.

The other thing that really strikes me is that modern writers are normally encouraged to make everything clearer than clear.  The other day I read out to my writing group the prologue from my Tristan memoir, and I was told that I should make it obvious from the start that ‘Mike’ is my brother and not ‘a servant’, although I consider I made it clear a few paragraphs further on.

Catton does the opposite.  She explains nothing.  Throughout the book are drawings of astrological tables, yet there is no explanation of this at all.  I have no idea what they mean, or why they are there.  I think there is one paragraph in the whole book which mentions the way that the stars and planets are understood to have influence.  By contrast, the TV dramatisation made quite a big thing of it.  In addition, she has two of her characters speak in Chinese and Maori, but no translation is offered, which I found annoying, as it was wasted on the reader when it might well be offering something valuable.

There’s also a complex cast of characters, and I never really got on top of them all, nor their attitudes and motivations, despite the detailed and deep observations that Catton gives us.  And she never explains why the book is called ‘The Luminaries’ – I had to look it up.

(The luminaries were what traditional astrologers called the two astrological “planets” which were the brightest and most important objects in the heavens, that is, the Sun and the Moon.)

What the film did make clear, which the book only hints at, is that Anna Wetherell and Emery Staines were born at the same time on the same day, and were therefore psychically connected, so that what happens to one is manifested in the body and mind of the other, even when they are not together and don’t know where each other is.  I think this could have been made a much more fruitful development of the story.

Altogether intriguing!  Now I’m off to look for a book which doesn’t make so many demands on me …

Easy read guide | Online Accessibility Toolkit

(image from Online Accessibility Toolkit)
(image of phases of moon from New Zealand Film Commission)

THE SEA CHILDREN: a fantasy story

Some time ago I had a couple of fantasy stories published in a book of science fiction called Cyber Pathways, published by AudioArcadia, which you can buy for a mere £1.99 as an ebook on Lulu, or as a paperback at various prices on Amazon.

It was fun doing this! – a new genre for me, and not one I ordinarily read.  If you’ve been busy, make yourself a cuppa, find a comfy chair and read this extract in case it should tempt you to read more!


The children of the sea are restless.  They climb up the walls of the nursery with their strange, prehensile feet and hands, and they push at the transparent ceiling where the sky sometimes filters through in winding columns of blue light.  They converse in chirrups, shushing to each other sibilantly, their pale bodies chubby and dimpled like putti.

Presently the white nursery door opens and closes again soundlessly.  The children hover from the roof, looking down at her, their prodding of the ceiling forgotten.  It is their nursemaid.  She pours into the room in a long, fluid train and stabs each one with her aquamarine eyes.  She hisses.  They slide down the walls and scamper to their white cots, lying down immediately, their eyelids drifting shut.  She glances sharply from one to the other until they are motionless, as if tacked to their golden blankets by the needles of her stare.  She catches up her long white tresses and sweeps them around the room, each tendril hovering momentarily over their cots. 

There is no sound.  The ceiling ripples, and is still.  The children are silent.  Satisfied, she leaves.   The nursery door opens for her without a push and swings back in one gliding motion.

High above them and unaware of their presence, the human children play on the beach wearing swimsuits of pink and yellow and turquoise.  They  build sandcastles with moats, paddling into the shallows and filling their purple and green buckets with sea water.  They bury each other in the red sand, squealing with delight and sitting on their siblings.  They get out bats and knock the balls to each other or into the sea.  Parents, half-clad, sun-blistered scarlet, throw orange Frisbees and shout.  Sandwiches are produced and half-eaten, while gulls dive-bomb the picnickers with aeronautical precision and snatch the food from sandy hands.  Little ones bawl, frightened.  Tiny ones sleep in prams under navy parasols.  Adults stretch out on beach towels patterned with tropical scenes.  Old ones settle into red striped deckchairs, dozing in the shade.

Julie undoes her long brown hair from its band, smooths it out , twists it and replaces the band quickly.  She fishes around in her beach bag and finds her sunglasses, but when she puts them on she discovers they are smeared.  She takes them off, licks her finger and rubs it over the lenses, then polishes them with a corner of her leopard-print kaftan.  She puts them on again and looks at the little girl kneeling nearby, upending her bucket on the sand.  Her mother’s eyes caress every part of her, from the blonde hair tied into a top-knot like her own, to the little feet that bustle to and fro.  She fills her yellow bucket methodically with sea water and returns to her chosen spot to add another sand pie to the ring she is creating.

Photo by Simon Clayton on Pexels.com


I’ve discovered something rather weird.

For a long time I thought I had lost the ability to imagine a story. I used to be able to do it at the drop of a hat, up to and including my thirties: but once I was ordained and started in ministry, all my creativity went into the job. I had no stories starting unbidden in my head, and that has been the situation for decades.

Then a few years ago, after we had retired, I took two online courses on writing memoir with Exeter university. Out of this, the rusty muscle in my imagination started to work again – painfully slowly, and needing lots of encouragement, but it produced two fantasy sea stories which were published by AudioArcadia in a book called Cyber Pathways.

The diocese then dumped in my retired lap a very time-consuming job which also siphons off a great deal of imagination. Whereas a long time ago I could start off half a dozen stories inside my head, once again I could discover nothing.

The opportunities created by lockdown brought about a rush of activity: I published three books, learning a great many new skills in the process. They were memoirs: imagination is needed, but the story does not depend on it.

Then recently I found I had an idea for a novel. Don’t hold me to this – I’m not promising anything, least of all to myself, especially as I found my imagination stalling once more at an apparently closed door. The lifting of lockdown has meant that once-quiet walks are now crowded with summer holidaymakers, and instead of a peaceful environment, my mind was busy dodging people on narrow paths, and adjusting my mask.

Except. In order to get away from the holidaymakers, and also to stay out of the sun as I have had surgery for melanoma, Hub and I decided we would go for green, leafy, shady walks to some Iron Age forts. As I climbed the narrow paths, listened to the birdsong and looked up at what Keats called the ‘green-robed senators’ of the woods, something odd began to happen. The door of my imagination creaked open. By the time we had reached the top of the hill, I’d seen my heroine, and what she had thought, and what had happened to her.

I think I should have a writer’s shed in the middle of a forest. In order to bypass the writer’s blocks I’ve collected over the years, it’s clearly the place I need to be.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com


Dead chuffed, not to say surprised, that my books are selling, that Amazon and other online retailers are out of copies of Deacon by Design, and more are needed! However, if you’ve missed out, I still have some copies:  please use the comments to let me know you’d like one. 
There’s one left here on Brown’s website:  just click the Deacon by Design link.  
Deacon by design: The ups and downs of an Anglican deacon
And also, there’s Between the Mountain and the Sea, the memoir of my childhood, spent on the world’s loneliest inhabited island, Tristan da Cunha. This is available both as an ebook and as a paperback.
BETWEEN THE MOUNTAIN AND THE SEA: Memories of a childhood on Tristan da Cunha, the world's loneliest inhabited island by [Gill Kimber, Mike Bell]
Then this, my new edition of my grandfather’s book on Christian healing, called Redemptive Healing, by Edgar Bell.

It’s all quite exciting!



Today I had a zoom coaching session with author Wendy H Jones, on the subject of publishing through Amazon.

It’s been really useful.  She was able to confirm things I was beginning to suspect through my limited experience.  For example, do not use Amazon templates for a book cover.  They are invariably awful!  This is something I’ve found, and so I must bite the bullet and get covers done professionally.

Then all the other things:  the ugly fonts, the wrong margin sizes, the inconsistent spacing between paragraphs, etc.  Wendy discovered that I had simply turned my ebook into a paperback, as Amazon invites you to do.  This is something else I should never ever do, apparently.  Any manuscript must be immaculate and in pdf before it is uploaded to the kindle site.  We had a good discussion about how to do this, without my paying through the nose.

Altogether, she was a very helpful, practical, down to earth and highly experienced coach.  When I’ve followed up on all I learned this morning, I shall be going to her again with my next batch of questions.

Thanks, Wendy!



My memoir about my childhood on Tristan da Cunha, the world’s loneliest inhabited island, is leading to all sorts of unexpected contacts.  I’ve just been sent some DVDs with ancient films on them.  One is of the island, just a couple of years before we arrived in the 1950s; and another, an eyewitness record of the volcano as it erupted, completely unexpectedly, at one side of the plateau where everyone lived.

Tristan da Cunha Volcanic Eruption - October 8, 1961 | Devastating ...

(image from Devastating Disasters)

The film, plainly taken on an expat’s cine camera, is jerky, but it captures the utter devastation of the islanders as they pack up a few belongings and are evacuated onto a ship. I recognise all those faces, and feel very moved.

They spent a couple of years in England, but on the whole they hated it, and most returned to the island as soon as it was deemed safe to do so.  As Basil says at the beginning of one film, living on Tristan is like a bird living wild in its native habitat.  Living in England was like cageing the bird.  As soon as that bird gets the chance, he says, it will fly back to its nest where it can be free again.




I was interested to read a post by a fellow writer on the way her neck, head and shoulders ache when she’s writing.  Recently she had a week away, and all these aches and pains disappeared.  It’s well-known that looking down at our screens so often is bad for our posture and our muscles.

Text Neck - A Writer's Pain? - Jacky Dahlhaus - Paranormal Fiction ...

Image from Jacky Dahlhaus

It got me thinking about the precautions I take.  As I’m prone to regular bouts of fibromyalgia which always settles in my head, neck and shoulders, I realised some time ago that I was going to have to take ‘desk health’ more seriously.

Consequently, I bought a proper office chair, with a high back and good support for my head and neck.  I also have a small, but proper desk so that I’m not trying to write on my lap, which exacerbates the problem with aches.  It’s not a  grand job with tooled leather … there isn’t room in the tiny bedroom which doubles as my den.  It’s shiny and red from IKEA with removable legs, which is very handy when the grandchildren arrive and need the room to sleep in!  Our small spaces have to work hard.

Then, more recently and on advice from my IT guru brother, I invested in a 48cm monitor which sets itself automatically to relieve eye strain.  This means that I’m looking straight ahead at my monitor, instead of down at my laptop screen, and makes a huge difference.

I also used to get aching in my wrist.  This disappeared when I bought a mouse mat with a wrist rest (say that quickly three times!)

And of course the other thing, which is common sense but which I don’t do enough, is to take regular breaks from your work and do some physical work, or some exercise, to give your body a break.

Hope it’s helpful!




I’ve just finished this book, about a slave boy who is semi-adopted by an abolitionist white man, who helps him escape and takes him to the Arctic.  And dumps him there.  Washington has to negotiate his own life from then on, learn independence, survive, always in fear of his life, build friendships and relationships, and wrestle with feelings of loss, abandonment, and identity.  It’s an interesting read.

I realise more and more that I need to like at least one of the characters in order to like a book.  I liked several of them in this book, luckily!  What I liked most, though, is Edugyan’s lovely, flowing prose and her vivid, crackling use of image.  This section stays in my mind:  Wash is deep-sea diving, to collect live specimens for the Ocean House exhibition that he and the Goff family are setting up.

The octopus arranged itself in a smatter of algae, its body hanging blackly before me.  When I came forward to touch it, it sent out a surge of dark ink.  We paused, watching each other, the grey rag of ink hanging between us.  Then it shot off through the water, stopping short to radiate like a cloth set afire, its arms unfurling and vibrating.  There was something playful in the pause, as if it expected me to ink it back.  I held my hands out towards it, gently;  the creature hovered in the dark waters, almost totally still.  Then, shyly, it began to pulse towards me, stopping just inches away, its small, gelatinous eyes taking me in.  Then it swam directly into my hands.

What an enchanting piece of writing.

Sea Animals: Octopus - YouTube




Well, I went and amended the manuscript for ‘Redemptive Healing‘, and worked my way through the process of filling in all the questions that Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) asks you when you’re about to publish a book with them.  This time I pressed ‘Publish’ with a sense of relief.

Only to have an email from them 24 hours later, telling me that I had two ISBNs and I had to delete one and use the other.

So I went back to the manuscript and obediently changed the ISBN.  But every time I uploaded it, it failed to register.

So I got in touch with them.  I must say, they are very good, I always get a response within about 24 hours.  They explained that I had to choose one of them.  So I did.  And uploaded again.

24 hours, the same generic email as before.  Again I got in touch, and this time had a rather complicated explanation.  However, I was also told exactly how to do it this time.  I went, I changed, I conquered.

And three cheers!  Grandpa’s book ‘Redemptive Healing’ is now available for purchase.  Especially interesting for those who want to know more about Christian healing, and for church people involved in the ministry of healing.






I’m learning new skills all the time, and currently I’m discovering how to publish a book through Amazon.

I’ve already brought out my childhood memoir, ‘Between the Mountain and the Sea:  memories of a childhood on the world’s loneliest inhabited island’ on this platform, both as an ebook and as a paperback. I’m not entirely satisfied with it, and decided to do better next time.  Thus armed with my mistakes, I turned my attention to the little booklet my grandfather had published in 1953.

I’d already uploaded this, and opted for a proof copy.  When it arrived I went through it with a fine toothcomb.  The problems were mainly of layout rather than the text, which was pretty well accurate, apart from the odd comma.

grandpa proof copy

So I went back to the Kindle platform to see if I could rectify these.  I found that I could edit quite easily, although what you see on the kindle platform is what it would look like on an ereader, not in a paperback.  But it’s a useful tool for uploading your text and licking it into shape, using all the templates provided.

Having made the changes, I went to ‘upload as paperback’ on the Amazon author site.  Although there were about three drafts there, I have no idea where they have come from as I have only uploaded it once previously, and I didn’t trust them, so I started the upload process all over again.  This involves deciding whether you will let Amazon give you a free ISBN (which you can’t use if you want to publish it elsewhere) or paying £80 for the privilege of having your own.  As I’d settled on going with Amazon, I might as well commit, so I went for their free one.

You can then choose the size of your book, the colour and style of the pages, where you want to put the page numbers etc.

Then you are urged to select a cover.  Again, these are templates:  there are about 9 options, where you decide what font you want, how you want the layout to be, and what colours you prefer.  I liked the pink and black until Hub turned up his nose at it and informed me loftily that, if he came across a book in  those colours he wouldn’t want to read it.  Sigh.  And this from a man who enjoys Georgette Heyer.  I ask you.

You can now go straight to ‘save and publish’ if you wish.  The temptation to just go ahead and do that was great, but I have opted for another proof copy, so that I can be sure.  So, more waiting.  *impatient tap of toe*

As I was wending my way through the labyrinth of details, I discovered that there was a different way of uploading a manuscript other than through Kindle.  I might try that next time, for my fictional African short stories…



What Your Inner Critic Doesn’t Want You To Know

I follow writer Emma Darwin’s wonderful blog, This Itch of Writing, full of encouragement and the most practical of practical help.

Most of us who aspire to write know too well that imp living in our heads, our Inner Critic, and how it conspires with other imps to shut down our efforts as not being ‘worthy’.  Emma picks it up, turns it over, dissects it, puts it back together again, and returns it to us as Helpful Imp instead.  Have a read!


I know so many aspiring writers who would say that their problem is not getting going: good ideas come along often, and for a while they find it easy and exciting to devote lots of their available time to the project. But “for a while” is the problem: their past is littered with brave beginnings that petered out, half-filled notebooks, unfinished drafts, and finished first drafts that they never revised “for their reader”. So I thought I’d pause the Write Your First Novel course, for a moment – I promise I’ll get back to it – and have a quick think about this.

The “Divine Spark” – or not

The first problem is the way our culture conceives of creative practice, from interviews and events to the self-help, feel-good rhetoric and movies sloshing around in public space. It’s so often a version of the “divine spark” stuff: the Romantics’ idea that you are visited by passion which demands to be fulfilled. To be fair, that is almost certainly what drove you to start writing, but the consequence is that when the passion fades, we assume it’s a message that this is the wrong project, or we are the wrong writer for it.

So it may simply be that you need to internalise what all professional authors know: that some days writing is boring, some days it’s difficult, some days it’s baffling, some days you do it incredibly badly and slowly and stupidly, some days you cut far more than you add, some days you are seized with terror or fury at your own inadequacy to the task – and almost all days you’d be earning more working in a supermarket. When Hilary Mantel was asked if with all her success and experience and prizes, she felt more confident starting a new project, she said no: that with every book you are right back at the foot of the mountain with absolutely no confidence that you will be able to climb it. That is just business as usual, so things being difficult is not a sign that you should give up.


If the reason you tend to abandon projects is that another, more promising one comes along then, like much adultery, it’s very likely that it’s chiefly about the problems back home with your original relationship. I blogged about the allure of The Other Novel a while back, so I won’t go on here.

The Thirty-Thousand Doldrums

This is a more practical form of running out of steam, which seems to be incredibly common in writers of all kinds. I think that many of us, starting on a project, have the story-fuel – the larder full of imagined, remembered and researched material – to last for 25-30,000 words of a story: the first third, say. After that you have to refuel, and I’ve blogged more about this, too.

The Inner Critic

But if the reason you give up is those voices whispering that this project’s no good, you’ll never do it, it’s a waste of your time, you’re stupid to persevere, it’ll never be published, then we’re on slightly different territory. These are Anne Lamott’s Chattering White Mice: the voices of what Jay Earley calls your Inner Critic. I like that link because it makes clear that these voices are trying to help you and keep you safe . They are just very out-of-date about what you need.

The thing is, writing makes you vulnerable. You may not have the least intention of baring your soul, but here you are, working hard, for a long time, at something difficult, with the intention of sending it out to discover if anyone likes it. You are risking exposure, disappointment, rejection, disapproval, scorn, and humiliation – and the more you’ve put into the project, the worse those will feel. So to keep you safe, the Inner Critic gets in first, by saying whatever comes to hand which will get you to give up. If “You’re bad at writing and you’ll never be any good” doesn’t work, it says all the other things it can think of that will get you to come back to safety.

Much out there on Inner Critics is quite shouty-fighty: shut them down, beat them, ignore them. It’s all very exhausting. The rather amazing Internal Family Systems  paradigm, which Earley is working with, is far more gentle. It begins by acknowledging that the Inner Critic is trying to protect you from all these horrible things: its intentions are good, it wants to help. But what if, instead, it knew that you could look after yourself? What if you could show it that they can trust you to cope, to be OK in the end? Then they could stand down, and finally have a rest – and wouldn’t that be nice!

A potentially gifted writer and I were talking about all this, yesterday, because they’d just felt the energy of several weeks’ blast at a new project suddenly sucked out by those inner voices. And I had a revelation.

The Stakes are Getting Higher

We all know from plotting that our stake in a game is made up of two things: what we stand to gain if we win, and how we stand to suffer if we lose. When what you might gain gets bigger and richer then the potential suffering of losing gets bigger, and therefore scarier.

So if the Anti-Writing Demon’s job is to protect you from the dangers of writing, then when it smells danger it will start to murmur, and as the stakes rise, the murmurs get louder and more insistent. There’s “danger” here, they believe: this project is turning into a Good Thing, you are more and more committed to it, you will finish it, you will it send out, people with power over it and your writing life will read it – and who knows what agonies will follow?

As my friend the thriller-writer R N Morris says, “The longer you go on, the more you have invested in it, so the more you stand to lose. Walk away from it early on and you haven’t lost so much.” Your Inner Critic and the Anti-Writing Demon therefore team up and work hard to make sure you do walk away.

But what they don’t realise is that by this very token, they’re showing you that this is a project you shouldn’t walk away from: that it has legs, mileage, potential, excitement, value – if you only keep going.

Inside and Outside the Writer’s Bubble

In the same conversation children’s writer Sarah J Dodd said: “I have realised that my inner critic often prevents me finishing a first draft or going on to do a second. BUT if I wait long enough (3 years in the case of current WIP), I find it has gone away, replaced with Inner Cheerleader who also happens to be sensibly critical but also wildly enthusiastic.”

I think this is fascinating, because we usually think of drawer-time giving us distance to be less wildly enthusiastic, less “in the bubble”, and more able to stand outside the story and see objectively how it’s (not) working. Inside the bubble, to keep what Rose Tremain calls the “anarchic, gift-conjuring, unknowing part of the writer’s mind” working freely, we have to shut of the “knowing” part, the premature “editor”, the judging-too-soon part of our minds.

But Sarah’s experience suggests that Inner Critic voices – which sound so like our teachers, twitterers, workshop mates and industry gurus – are not real, objective voices carried into the bubble, but produced inside it by our own subjective selves. Maybe it’s our more “knowing”, “editing”, “judging” parts which would know the Inner Critic’s judgement for the untrue or unhelpful thing it is – except that being in the bubble requires us to shut out those useful, knowing parts.

So what does this all mean?

  1. The fact that your Inner Critic is chattering is not a sign that you and/or your writing are pointless.
  2. The core creative process may, by definition, make it difficult to police inner, critical voices, and discern whether what they’re saying is good sense, or simply a protective spasm designed to stop all movement.
  3. It’s tiring and unhelpful to keep having to overcome or shout down your Inner Critic, and it’s certainly unhelpful to scorn yourself (i.e. let your Inner Critic scorn you) for failing to cope with it. It’s actually doing its best to protect you, as with a protective muscle spasm. Acknowledging its efforts and good intentions, while reassuring it that it can trust you to cope if anything bad happens, may be enough to get it to calm down.
  4. The shoutier your Inner Critic becomes, the stronger the sign that this project is not only not pointless, it’s all beginning to get very pointful: that it has legs, that it’s substantial, it has potential, the work is worth it: that it’s better, not worse, than you’ve done before.

So maybe you’d better get on with it.


My eldest daughter has just had a book published called Linguistics for TESOL:  Theory and Practice.  It might sound dull to those of us who are not engaged in ‘Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages’, but she writes in such a lively way, with so many examples and personal stories, that even someone with as little experience as myself can understand and enjoy it.  Although I do omit the references …

Her book has made me think again about language.  Yes, it is capable of bringing us into new worlds and leading us to enchantment, as my blog title claims.  But words are workhorses.  They are heavily freighted with meaning, sometimes several meanings for the same word.

My daughter takes the word ‘sorry’ as an example.  The uses of this word include

  • apologising for your mistake: Sorry, but I’ve dropped your phone
  • apologising for someone else’s mistake: Sorry, but you’re sitting on my bag
  • a pre-move in a conversation: Sorry, I couldn’t help overhearing …
  • interrupting:  Sorry, can I just say something?
  • empathising:  So sorry to hear your sad news
  • invading personal space:  Sorry, but can I just squeeze past?
  • sarcasm:  #sorrynotsorry

English is so complicated that I don’t blame speakers of other languages who throw up their hands in despair and ask ‘why?’, which is what they used to do when I was teaching English in Romania.  The fact that vast numbers of people master English all the time has made us as a nation lazy about learning other languages.

However, I can’t help but feel privileged that I was born into this language.  It’s not just a workhorse, a necessity for everyday interaction. It is also a sea in which we swim.  It’s a labyrinth which, as a writer, challenges me to search for the right thread of words which will lead me to my goal. It’s a garden where there are always new plants.  It’s a home where so much is familiar, but which is constantly adding rooms and annexes and attics.  It’s a magical mystery tour.  It’s a walk around the world, collecting new sights and sounds, colours and shapes.  It’s a deep dive into human character and personality.  It can be used for good or ill. It is who we are, how we explain ourselves to ourselves and to others, how we work through ideas in our heads.  Thoughts form into words, words collect other words, and we are thinking about something without ever opening our mouths.

When we do open our mouths – or reach for our keyboards – words will emerge.  As writers we use them to try and evoke certain responses in those who read:  this is especially true of poetry.

Words reach right into our souls, and help us make sense of the world.


(image from http://www.cardiffandvaleuhb.wales.nhs.uk/the-power-of-words)