Summer-autumn spell

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Summer-autumn transitions are always a mix of flavours for me: I enjoy getting back into work routines and feel the return to the more internal writing-generating space…but I also feel the sadness of saying a temporary goodbye to campfires, green earth and sun, and the complete freedom of letting go of structure and embracing travel. Summer for me is always a time of relaxing my productivity and enjoying more ‘being’…somewhat enforced by the round-the-clock childcare aspects of school holidays, which I can surrender into and enjoy.

But being a person who thrives on getting stuff done and being creative, I was starting to chomp at the bit a little after 4 weeks of the holidays. I was being a little hard on myself for not attending to my Wild Motherhood Book for some weeks, having promised I’d get it out for feedback a couple of months ago. What little time I had child-free was spent mostly working on a freelance copywriting project, writing about mind-body practices. But today I have cracked the membrane, as a good friend says, and got my manuscript to a feedback-suitable state, emailing it to a friend who offered to give me feedback; sent off some poetry turned into lyrics, to a musician friend for possible melody matching; and sent my illustrator the suggested revisions for our children’s book collaboration. All stuff I was convinced would take hours and days and for which I felt far too exhausted the last few weeks, but really only required a little space as my son went off to his dad’s for the weekend and I for once had a weekend at home on my hands. Re-connecting with my dreams feels good! 

Blog Tour: Writing Process

Louise Halvardsson, a poet and award-winning novelist I admire very much and with whom I used to work and perform in the Writing Sisters Collective, asked me to join a blog tour, answering a few questions about my writing, so here you go!
1) What am I working on?
I’m on the third draft of my book, ‘Wild Motherhood: Keeping the Creative and Spirit Fires Burning’, an exploration of – well, motherhood, creativity and spirituality, and the dilemmas, difficulties and triumphs of combining the three. A ‘back burner’ project is editing a poetry collection to submit to some pamphlet publishers – a combination of old and newer poems. I’m also working with an illustrator to bring my children’s book, ‘The Lonely Oak’, to life as an e-book. And I also have a novel that I occasionally have time to work on, following the lives of four women who meet at a yoga retreat in their early twenties and follow very different paths.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
In terms of my motherhood book, I believe I’m the first to tackle creativity and spirituality in relation to motherhood, in one book, and to weave together personal experience – in the form of diary extracts and memoir-type writing – with qualitative research in the area. It’s a little scary, exposing  but always exciting.

3) Why do I write what I do?
I write non-fiction about motherhood because being a mother is such a huge part of my life and has been for six years. To not write and explore my experience and that of other mothers just wouldn’t make sense. At first I found myself writing a book of short stories about motherhood, but then I realised the real juice for me was in exploring women’s real life stories and in returning a little to my academic roots in research and gender/sociology. The experience of mothers is still neglected as a serious subject of study and I felt a strong desire to validate and honour the struggles of creative and spiritual mothers, who so often are just expected to ‘get on with it’. As for my children’s book, that was birthed years ago when I was at university, and has followed a winding path since then through many drafts – it essentially weaves together two loves of mine: magic and nature. And my poetry – well I write far less of it these days, being immersed more in non-fiction, but when I do it’s because a compelling scene, narrative or feeling pulls me to the page.
4) How does your writing process work?
For novels and poems, I write first in a notebook, then type up as I go along. I love this because I can write anywhere. With my non-fiction, I go straight onto the computer but I am always entering in realisations and ideas when out and about on my smartphone. I brainstorm a lot – on characters, on ideas/themes – and do a lot of background research. I write when I’m inspired and also when I’m not. It takes me ages to finish stuff.
The next writer of the blog tour will hopefully be novelist Victoria Bantock.

Supportive Writing Workshops for Mothers in Need

ImageOver the last few months I’ve continued to run my monthly Mothers’ Writing Workshops, now called ‘Your Story Matters’, in Lewes. I’m very excited to share my latest project, which is aimed at bringing this valuable work to mothers who are dealing with mental health and socio-economic challenges, through charities in Brighton & Hove. These charities are not in a position to fund the project, so I am asking for support from the wider community for the funding. Here’s the direct link to the fund-raising page: http://www.gofundme.com/79av2s. I’d be hugely grateful for any contributions!

These workshops give mothers the opportunity to:
• (re)Discover their creative voices – often lost underneath the demands of day-to-day mothering. We explore different writing techniques and learn how to bring writing alive.
• Reflect on their experiences of being a mother – both positive and negative, including birth stories
• Record their precious memories of motherhood
• Deepen their connection to themselves and to other mothers by sharing their experiences through writing
• Create an essential support network

Most mom and baby/toddler groups are focused on the child, and there is little room given to the needs and feelings of the mother, who has been going through the biggest change of her life and needs listening and holding. With mothers more isolated in today’s society than ever before, and postnatal depression affecting one out of seven mothers, we ignore these issues at the peril of mothers’ mental well-being – and by extension, the well-being of their children. Studies have shown journalling and writing to have a positive effect on people’s ability to cope with challenges, improving self-esteem and access to inner resources. Combined with the peer support of a group of other mothers, writing is very powerful indeed. I believe that every mother’s story matters, and deserves to be heard.
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Here’s what past participants have said:

“Inspiring, gentle, thought provoking, moving. I felt interesting and interested” – Gemma.

“It flowed so well – and got me thinking and exploring things that have been nagging at me for months. I even managed to reframe some negative ideas. I thought it was a great workshop and really well put together. It was so uplifting. I’d been finding my relationship with my eldest and the bickering between the kids so grueling. However a few of the writing exercises helped me to really focus on how well I know my kids and allowed me to see the beauty in them and the strength of our bond. Very healing stuff, in a very subtle, gentle way. Go!” – Crimson, Brighton.

“Morgan’s writing workshops are a huge inspiration to me as a mother wanting to find creative ways to capture and remember precious moments of life with my daughter. As well as offering an array of writing techniques to explore, Morgan creates a uniquely warm, wonderful, accepting space for reflecting on and sharing experiences of motherhood that is quite precious in itself.” – Marianne Sawford.

“Morgan created a welcoming and supportive space to reflect on our journey as mothers in a unique way. For me, it was a chance to capture some of those precious moments with my baby on the page and explore some of the more difficult changes taking place.” – Layla

“The mothers’ writing workshop was a friendly and supportive space to explore and reflect on both the joy and difficulties of motherhood.” – L, from Brighton.

At the workshops, I guide participants through simple ‘free writing’ exercises to help them investigate and share what being a mother means to you. Pre-walking babies welcome, tea & biscuits provided, and some creche facilities available. 

Mother of a 6 year old boy, I am a freelance writer and poet currently working on a non-fiction book about topics related to motherhood. Writing has literally been my saving grace during the early years of motherhood, giving me a tool to support myself through the enormous changes and keep my creative spirit alive. I first ran a mothers’ writing workshop when my son was 8 months old, then created a weekly mothers’ writing group. In January 2013 I started a monthly drop-in mothers’ writing workshop in Lewes, East Sussex. I have worked with women, and mothers in particular, over several years in roles including peer supporter and Breastfeeding Counsellor. I have a qualification in Psychology and counselling training and experience.

Small Stones and New Years Resolutions

ImageAs a mindfulness discipline and a way of keeping my fiction and poetry-writing muscles flexed as I work on my non-fiction ‘Wild Motherhood’ book, I am writing ‘small stones’ everyday, ‘Small Stones‘ is an idea developed by author and Buddhist Satya Robyn, formerly Fiona Robyn, whose books I discovered earlier this year. It involves noticing one thing each day, giving your whole awareness to it, and then writing about it. I have joined the January Mindful Writing Challenge as a daily discipline and so am writing and posting ‘small stones’ each day on the ‘Writing our Way Home’ blog and sometimes on my Facebook page. It’s a wonderful way to unite two of my ‘worlds': meditation and writing.

Here is one of my small stones from yesterday – I have yet to get to today’s challenge, though I’ve stored up a few ideas!

100 Teddy Bears:

She is about 70, nearly bald, with wisps of white hair belied by shoulder-length elaborate black earrings, as if on her way to a cocktail party. She holds up her huge handbag, covered with teddy bears. ‘I have 100 teddy bears,’ she announces proudly to my son on the bus. ‘How many do you have?’ The other passengers look away, wincing into their laps. My son smiles and starts to tell her the plot of the last movie he saw. She’s got more than she bargained for.

To see my more detailed blog about whether to make New Year’s Resolutions happen or let them happen – or indeed whether to bother making resolutions at all – click here.

‘Women’s Writing’

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Last week I read Tessa Hadley’s ‘Everything will be all right’, an exploration of mother/daughter relationships over three generations, as well as a reflection on the enormous changes for women and society over those decades. I found myself living inside the characters’ heads, always a sign of a good book for me. So I was surprised to find out that Tessa’s novels have sometimes been underrated, because they aren’t so much ‘literary’ novels as ‘women’s’ novels. In an interview with the Guardian, she remarks: ‘It’s such a hornet’s nest, but absolutely fascinating to me as well: the whole thing that, if you’re a woman, and you write about families and relationships, you have to do a bit of work to make sure people don’t dismiss you. You have to place yourself, to say: ‘These are thinking books.’*.

ImageIt reminded me of Merrill Joan Gerber, the novelist who featured in Mary Trunk’s stunning documentary, ‘Lost in Living’, which I viewed at a private Brighton screening last month. The film itself was heartrending viewing: following the lives of four mother artists – a film-maker, two visual artists, and a writer – over seven years and chronicling their ambivalence, balancing acts, decisions, passions and despairs. Gerber talks with sadness of the lack of interest in her books after initial successes, because, it seems, they are about family life, which has become unpopular. She describes the way in which her short stories have been stereotyped because they were published in women’s magazines.

This is one of the reasons I am writing ‘Wild Motherhood: Keeping the Creative and Spirit Fires Alive': to open a space for discussion around the de-valuation of women’s, and in particular mothers’, work, values and priorities. Literature, provided it’s well-written and observed, is no less thought-provoking and intelligent because it concerns women’s daily lives and preoccupations, than ponderous ‘literary’ tomes that are divorced from what forms reality for most people: family life, or ‘domestic ephemera‘ as my friend Kat Soutar calls it in her illuminating photo/writing blog. However, I have often longed for more meaning in women’s fiction –  less reliance on old repetitive plot-lines that usually feature a man as a ‘saviour’ or rescuer. This is why I was so excited to discover Tessa Hadley, with her finely-nuanced characters and lyrical language, who fortunately has written several books – I’m now on ‘The London Train’ which I’ve hardly been able to put down for two days. 

*Ref: Alex Clark, The Guardian Books, 26 Feb 2011

Literature Infusions and a New Poem

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Particularly at this stage of writing my book, it’s essential for me to ‘fill the well’ with more writerly inspiration, to avoid getting locked down into an uninspiring purely ‘editing’ mode. Yesterday I went to the ‘Wolf at the Door‘ writing workshop at the Brighton Buddhist Centre. It’s been a long time since I attended a purely writing workshop – although I went to an amazing writing and five rhythms workshop in June with Lori Saltzman in London – and I wanted to treat myself to a day of plumbing those creative depths, making time and space for the stream-of-consciousness timed writing that can lead to developing new work.

At the workshop we discussed the concept of ‘tipping gravel and finding pebbles’ – letting out all the ‘gravel” of our conscious and unconscious mind on the page and then mining for valuable ‘pebbles’ of poem-worthy material. We looked at Jane Hirshfield’s short haiku-like poems, as well as the poetic form of ‘haibun’, in which words describing images are used as signposts along a mental and emotional journey. I wrote a piece about ‘my favourite kind of morning’ which led onto surprising territory, ending up in my childhood experience of being woken on school mornings by the click of the door down the passage – which was very much not a favourite kind of morning!

We were set an assignment to note down images that occur during the lunch break, then work them into a form on our return to the workshop. One of my favourite parts of the workshop was studying a fantastic poem called ‘Inventory/Itinerary’ by Ken Smith, a powerful exploration of isolation while travelling. I wrote a poem about my experiences in Mexico as a result – untitled as yet:

A nearly-missed plane

A late night Mexican airport,

a British shaman and his Mexican wife,

their two year old son,

a pang, grief,

tears and drunken Spanish

outside the hotel,

fear of cockroaches.

Iridescent heat,

Mexico City, looking for the

Zocalo. Middle-aged couples

kissing on park benches,

one lone tank-topped woman

drawing eyes in a Catholic country.

Night, cold starry, desert quiet,

one accidental peyote cactus,

a ritual burning on a hilltop,

shame.

7 late night ceremonies in the

temple, the baby’s cries,

a freezing cold sweat lodge.

the German guy who didn’t get it.

And the shaman’s wife telling me,

there is a lie, deep

inside you.

It was great to hear the other participants’ work, diving into their worlds for a few moments, as well as to take some time to go beneath my own discursive monkey-mind and find what lies beneath. I’ve been inspired by the workshop leader to start a daily practice of timed writing again, even if only for five minutes.

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The Creative Future Literary Awards, part of the ‘The Small Wonder’ Short Story Festival at Charleston in Sussex, was on Friday night and I went along to hear some prose and poetry performed by those selected to be in the ‘The Spark’ anthology of pieces from marginalised writers. It was lovely to hear Ros Barber, one of my favourite poets, read again – her poem was about her experience of being a single mother on a low income, so was something I could very much relate to. One of her other poems is called ‘How to Leave the World that Worships ‘Should” – I love that title. Again, it’s been a while since I had the opportunity to attend a live literature event, and it inspired me to submit more work.

Creative Writing Workshops for Mothers

your story mattersMonthly workshops to help you (re)discover your creative voice, 2nd Friday morning of every month. Whether you think of yourself as a writer or not, this is a safe, nonjudgmental space to:
• Reflect on your experience of being a mother
• Deepen your connection to yourself and to other mothers by sharing your experiences (sharing your writing is optional)
• Explore different writing techniques and learn how to bring your writing alive.
If you’ve ever wanted to delve a bit deeper than the average mom and baby/toddler group, this group may be for you!

Here’s what past participants have said:

“Morgan’s writing workshops are a huge inspiration to me as a mother wanting to find creative ways to capture and remember precious moments of life with my daughter. As well as offering an array of writing techniques to explore, Morgan creates a uniquely warm, wonderful, accepting space for reflecting on and sharing experiences of motherhood that is quite precious in itself.” – Marianne Sawford.

“Morgan created a welcoming and supportive space to reflect on our journey as mothers in a unique way. For me, it was a chance to capture some of those precious moments with my baby on the page and explore some of the more difficult changes taking place.” – Layla

“The mothers’ writing workshop was a friendly and supportive space to explore and reflect on both the joy and difficulties of motherhood.” – L, from Brighton.

We will do simple ‘free writing’ exercises to help you investigate and share what being a mother means to you. As well as being a chance to express your creativity, this is a safe space to bring gentle loving attention to your inner world, which may feel a little submerged beneath the many actions of caring for another being. Pre-walking babies welcome,tea & biscuits provided!

Friendly, fun & relaxed atmosphere in the beautiful nurturing space of MumaBaby Sanctuary, 32 Cliffe High St, Lewes BN7 2AN (walking distance from train station). Exchange: £20.

A page a day..

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I love these tips from ‘Mindworks Coaching‘ – many a poem and a chapter in my ‘Wild Motherhood’ book has come about through number one. I have also taken to carrying index cards around with me – wish I would remember to write on them though! Number nine is also a gem.

Writing Tips:

1) Jot notes about dozens of small moments; “quilt” them together to make a whole essay or chapter.

2) Twenty chapters = one book

3) a page a day = a novel in a year

4) Take down observations in the moment they happen.

5) Write a postcard – or spend 5 minutes to write a post card sized reflection about something you’ve already observed. (Keep some 3×5 index cards handy).

6) Write a letter in which you tell a story to someone else. Write what this piece of information meant to you.

7) Mine your journals for fragments and moments that seem to go together. Gather other details that relate. Give this list a title.

8) Write a 10 minute first draft.

9) Simply talk on paper: ask questions, tell stories, tell secrets.

I recently finished reading the stunning collection of short stories by Anthony Doerr, ‘Memory Wall.’ The title story is set in my home town of Cape Town, South Africa, and it was a moving and evocative exploration of the power of memory in our lives – how intangible and yet essential it is. Reading a story set in Cape Town brought back many memories, some not so comfortable – of the inequalities and conflicts that simmered in the background while I grew up, blissfully unaware of most of it until my teens. Anthony Doerr is a compassionate and amazingly skilled writer – his story ‘Afterworld’, which flits between the present day and a Holocaust Germany, had me in tears.

Work on my book, now called ‘Wild Motherhood: Keeping the Fire of Creativity and Spirit Alive’, is progressing well, with the different threads and fragments starting, slowly, to cohere into a meaningful whole. A page or so a day, I’m keeping on keeping on… I was excited to discover a project called Balancing the Tide which features interviews with mother artists about the balance and inspiration in their lives- definitely something to plug into on a regular basis. 

Inky Needles publication

My poem, ‘Invincible’,  appears today in Inky Needles. Established by a group of multi-disciplinary graduates and postgraduates from London, Inky Needles are ‘an independent online publishing group specializing in Philosophy, Poetry, and Politics…seeking to publish writers, thinkers and inquisitors of whom can learn and engage with a diverse range of artistic material at Inky Needles, all of which have been afforded due merit as both an informant and a commentary on modern life.’ http://inkyneedles.com/2013/07/18/invincible-by-morgan-nichols/

Hypnotising

‘Writing is about hypnotising yourself into believing in yourself, getting some work done, then unhypnotising yourself and going over the material coldly.’ – Anne Lamott, ‘Bird by Bird’.

‘Bird by Bird’ has been recommended to me for years, and I’ve finally been reading it. As well as teeming with nuggets of wisdom about writing, it’s laugh-out-loud funny in many parts.

I finally got back to working on ‘Stirring the Cauldron’ (my book on motherhood, spirituality and creativity) this week after a break of a few weeks following (yet another) house move. It was supremely satisfying to be back at my laptop engaging with this project, hearing the voices of the mothers I’ve interviewed, finding their common strands and their unique take on things. I did have to ‘hypnotise’ myself into getting there though, to ignore temporarily all the myriad admin tasks clamouring for my attention, to allow myself to be in the chaos of a halfway finished first draft, to ignore the voices of self-criticism and ‘what’s the point’, to simply clear the space to do it.

But it feels good.

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