A Line A Day Story

This time last year, I was posting about my 'A Line A Day Poem'; since then the living room's been quiet. But as I promised then, I have spent the year drip-feeding individual lines of a story to Twitter, eventually creating a whole piece. Like the poem, it wasn't at all thought-out, and often lines were hurried; I didn't look back over what I'd written nearly often enough. Honestly, I haven't read the finished product back at all yet... I enjoyed the process more than I did with the poem - although I executed it badly, I enjoyed the process of developing characters and finding a narrative. Somewhere along the line, I'll try to edit it into a story I can be proud of - or perhaps I'll just explore the idea in a different way. But either way, I'm pleased to have finished the experiment. If you're interested in reading the story from beginning to end, you can find the thread here. Don't expect gold though: what this is is a healthy mound of straw waiting to be spun into something more valuable.

2016 also saw the completion of my photo project 'A Sense Of...' which explored the senses - sometimes literally and sometimes figuratively - through daily pictures. 2017's project is 'Moments of Light', which you'll be able to find on Instagram.

And I’m going to continue ‘A Line A Day’ this year too: I’m going to attempt ‘A Line A Day Play’. I don’t really write plays, so this will be a particularly interesting experiment! Follow me on Twitter if you’d like to see the next experiment unfold!



A Line A Day

At the beginning of the year, Kirsty Higginson (@KirstyHigginson) set up #ALineADayPoem on Twitter. ‘That sounds fun,’ thought, and so I joined her, posting a line for each day of the year, creating an odd first draft, 365 lines long. What I’ve created is probably going to stay a first draft; I don’t think I have any desire to mould this clumsy giant into anything more than what it is. But what it has been is a fascinating journey experimenting with what happens when you tack lines onto each other without any concept of what they’re building towards. There are lines in this that I’m proud of, and lines that I hate. The poem doesn’t really have anything particular to say and I had no plan when I started out. I quickly settled into rhythms and patterns to make the job easier, but they don’t really mean anything. It is what it is, and that, I like. Thank you, Kirsty for an interesting project. You’ve inspired me to start my own…

So for 2016, should you be interested in joining an experimental daily writing project, I’m going to start #ALineADayStory. I’m going to see if a year’s worth of daily tweets can create a story worth editing by this time next year… feel free to join me!

Over on Facebook, which I keep private, 2015 has seen me posting a daily photo of a ‘Tiny Treasure’, a nugget of gold from my everyday life. My photo project this year is going to be ‘A Sense of… 2016’: photos capturing a sense of something from each day. They won’t be great photos, just like my lines probably won’t be great lines, but Tiny Treasures proved so popular on Facebook that I thought it might be interesting to share 2016’s project on Twitter and Instagram too.

And should you be at all interested in seeing my attempt at #ALineADayPoem in all its glory, here it is:


The silhouettes of branches claw at a grey sky: desperate fingers

reaching out from a ground frozen solid with memory.

The boots of many men fell here, repeating sequences

of left-right-don’t-think, left-right-don’t-think.


They left no footprints, the dead men:                                    

the soil swallowed up every trace of them, every echo,

and licked its lips to taste the passing years.

The footprints of their souls tread now, awoken by this din.


It's cold out here, and dark, but over in the city

a new war rages, its heartbeat thudding across the world.

The ghosts of fallen feet are stirring:

left-right-don’t-think, left-right-don’t-think.


The silhouettes of branches scrape a sunset:

eyelashes of the earth fluttering gently before dark falls.

The hearts of lovers beat on tree trunks:

love-feel-don’t-think, love-feel-don’t-think.


Their breaths whisper through fallen leaves,

tracing the shadows of each other’s bodies under silver light.

Their feet dance to the rhythms of their passion,

rising out of memory, out of fantasy; rising into now.


It’s cold out here, and dark, but from the earth

a pulse flickers; warm light strobes beneath the trees.

The ghosts of broken hearts are stirring:

love-feel-don’t-think, love-feel-don’t-think.


The silhouettes of branches fall beneath angry winds,

snaggle-toothed figures escaped from nightmares.

A rising gale whistles through their bones:

feel-fear-don’t-think, feel-fear-don’t-think.


They rip through the sky like shrivelled witches,

cackling fear fuelled by fairy-tales, cracking their whips.

Memories of dread rumble beneath the earth,

climbing from history and thrashing between branches.


It’s cold out here, and dark, but from memory,

the horrors rise, stretching their tired limbs.

Every old fear is waking:

feel-fear-don’t-think, feel-fear-don’t-think.


The silhouettes of branches sweep the lake,

shadows of conversation lost to the trees.

Confessions and declarations have grown here, echoing calls of

Hear-me-don’t-think, hear-me-don’t-think.


They comb through the water with the bones of words,

whispering the secrets lost to the wind.

The skeletons of voices are baubles on the trees,

their ribcages rattling in the day’s new breeze.


It’s cold out here, and dark, but in the air,

old voices knit together to sing new songs.

The fairy tales are rising new:

Hear-me-don’t-think, hear-me-don’t-think.


The silhouettes of branches haunt the fields,

tracing the shape of the old forest before the farms.

There was another world here once, voiceless whispers of

just-live-don’t-think, just-live-don’t-think.


Wheat grows now where berries used to thrive,

waving from the straitjackets of ploughed lines,

and mocking the birds who hide on the ground.

The old forest stirs now, its heart dragged out of sleep.


It’s cold out here, and dark, but from the farms

roots are rising, crawling up from the sediment of years.

The ghosts of trees are waking, murmuring their message:

just-live-don’t-think, just-live-don’t-think.


The silhouettes of branches bounce on stars,

skimming light across the lake; rolling leaves into the night.

All the youth of history somersaults from the Earth:

have-fun-don’t-think, have-fun-don’t-think.


Spring leaves whirl in an imaginary breeze,

dancing and playing and chasing and falling.

They play the games of the unafraid, rising now

as they sing the songs of the Earth.


It’s cold out here, and dark, but from forgotten shells,

the seeds are waking, sprouting shoots into the world.

They laugh until their insides ache, spluttering giggles of

have-fun-don’t-think, have-fun-don’t-think.


The silhouettes of branches haunt our dreams,

setting the scene for the stories that displace us.

They paint pictures with fear we don’t understand:

sleep-feel-don’t-think, sleep-feel-don’t-think.


They spin the yarns of fairy-tale,

weaving our lives together with their narratives,

whispering metaphor into our sleep.

These are the tales that displace us.


It’s cold out here, and dark, but from the shadows,

villains are rising, dancing with the heroes,

cackling horrors into dreams:

sleep-feel-don’t-think, sleep-feel-don’t-think.


The silhouettes of branches chase our children,

crafting fears out of myths and whispers.

They make their games out of frightened pulses:

heart-beat-don’t-think, heart-beat-don’t-think.


They play kiss-chase across the sky,

calling taunts and pushing buttons;

they’ll build the memories we’ll never escape.

These are the stories that make us.


It’s cold out here, and dark, but in our minds

a storm is rising, dredging up adrenalin

from the playground, the fight-or-flight of

heart-beat-don’t-think, heart-beat-don’t-think.


The silhouettes of branches wipe our tears,

mimicking the handkerchiefs of our mothers,

the soft susurrus of their whispers:

hush-now-don’t-cry, hush-now-don’t-cry.


The worn bark of their fingers tell their stories,

gentle lullabies to send us into sleep.

The memories of leaves are ghosts on their fingertips;

our skin smoothed beneath tales of their past.


It’s cold out here, and dark, but in our blood

their voices warm us, calling us home to where we started,

bathing wounds and soothing scars:

hush-now-don’t-cry, hush-now-don’t-cry.


The silhouettes of branches shelter birds,

their strong arms cradling nests

while heads tuck beneath wings against the night:

sleep-safe-don’t-fall, sleep-safe-don’t-fall.


Generation after generation slept up here,

feathers raining down with spring blossom

while warmed eggs hatched and

fledglings learned to fly.


It’s cold out here, and dark, but from the nests,

the birdsong chatters, singing solidarity

back into the trees:

sleep-safe-don’t-fall, sleep-safe-don’t-fall.


The silhouettes of branches taunt the clouds,

scraping twigs across the greyness and daring rain to fall.

They jeer and point towards the heavens:

fall-now-don’t-wait, fall-now-don’t-wait.


Coaxing tears from puffs of grey,

they bruise the skyline’s fragile blue.

Beneath their boughs, umbrellas open;

hedgerows glisten with sorrows from above.


It’s cold out here, and dark, and from the clouds

a sadness pours, provoked by the torment

of branches sneering calls of

fall-now-don’t-wait, fall-now-don’t-wait.


The silhouettes of branches twine with more,

lacing their fingers together as the people

move in their shadows, silently willing them to

keep-on-don’t-stop, keep-on-don’t-stop.


The sound of chainsaws haunts their dreams,

blended with fears of firewood and paper and carpentry.

Teenagers with penknives and spray-paint

are harmless enemies in the light of the fires.


It’s cold out here, and dark, and from the ashes

ancestors step, warning them of their fate,

urging them to repel the humans:

keep-on-don’t-stop, keep-on-don’t-stop.


The silhouettes of branches long for leaves,

the sadness of their naked limbs

skimming shadows across the skyline:

dress-us-don’t-judge, dress-us-don’t-judge.


Promises of spring warm the soil,

telling stories of a future when it will rise up,

singing to the trees; decorating branches with

bright green and the impossible colours of blossom.


It’s cold out here, and dark, and from the future

new life beckons, reaching out fingers of colour

to branches lost in shadows, singing their song of

dress-us-don’t-judge, dress-us-don’t-judge.


The silhouettes of branches stack up tall,

the broken bones of trees piled up for fires

as we approach with frozen fingers, longing for warmth:

light-now-don’t-fail, light-now-don’t-fail.


We remember the fruit we picked here once,

the swings and treehouses of our childhoods.

But we’re cold and that was long ago.

These trees have other uses now.


It’s cold out here, and dark, and in the woods

our fingers tremble, shivering with the frost

and fumbling with icy matches:

light-now-don’t-fail, light-now-don’t-fail.


The silhouettes of branches catch the ink

leaked from the pens of the clouds,

all the words never written dripping on the forest:

fall-now-don’t-wait, fall-now-don’t-wait.


The clouds are poets bursting with words –

all they see from up there stirs storms in their bellies,

thunder rumbling through their hearts as

they shower reflections back to Earth.


It’s cold out here, and dark, and on the ground,

the trees absorb them, sucking similes

through their roots, thirsty for more:

fall-now-don’t-wait, fall-now-don’t-wait.


The silhouettes of branches envy pines,

naked limbs longing for protection from

the heavy boots of winter, whispering mantras of

just-dream-don’t-wish, just-dream-don’t-wish.


Frost sugars bark and snaps at twigs

as trees square themselves against the cold

and bare their souls to the sky, trying to ignore

the conifers, smug beneath their winter coats.


It’s cold out here, and dark, and from the canopy

a bitterness swells, immune to the positive energy,

the philosophical murmurings of

just-dream-don’t-wish, just-dream-don’t-wish.


The silhouettes of branches had no choice:

they hold the noose that hangs him,

mud-flecked feet swinging lifelessly:

just-know-don’t-look, just-know-don’t-look.


When he’s found, there are sirens, then tape,

and flowers placed against the trunks.

But the branches don’t need flowers to remember:

his weight still strains in their arms.


It’s cold out here, and dark, and from the darkness

the ghosts collect him, their noiseless voices

whispering comfort to the trees:

just-know-don’t-look, just-know-don’t-look.


The silhouettes of branches know the night,

long arms gesticulating to the stars,

leaves deep in conversation with the moon:

just-be-don’t-try, just-be-don’t-try.


The nocturnals are out hunting

while the rest of the world sleeps.

The trees are left to whisper to the darkness, secrets

 drifting to the stars on the boats of a breeze.


It’s cold out here, and dark, and from the moon

a comfort falls: she too has seen it all.

Between the trees and the night, a pact is made:

just-be-don’t-try, just-be-don’t-try.


The silhouettes of branches dance like waves,

splashing in a sunset sky, paddling in the breeze.

The trunks tether them wearily:

just-play-don’t-fret, just-play-don’t-fret.


The wisdom of the trees is old

but from the smallest twigs

a youthful joy spreads:

their secret to collecting years.


It’s cold out here, and dark, but from new shoots

a warmth flows, fresh wood channelling

the waltz of the sunrise:

just-play-don’t-fret, just-play-don’t-fret.


The silhouettes of branches take our lanterns,

quiet and uncomplaining as we weigh them down

and hold parties under candlelight:

just-dance-don’t-sleep, just-dance-don’t-sleep.


They’ve seen this countless times before:

the joy, the laughter, the drinking,

the slow wash of the morning’s tide

lapping uneasiness across our toes.


It’s cold out here, and dark, but in the light

old friendships burn, memories of the hours

before the mornings, the lifting beats of

just-dance-don’t-sleep, just-dance-don’t-sleep.


The silhouettes of branches cast lonely shadows,

forgotten as the cities weave webs around them,

traffic looping in endless taunts of

just-stand-don’t-play, just-stand-don’t-play.


They watch in silence, longing for company,

for heartbeats, for movement, for friendship,

while headlights flicker across their trunks,

drivers oblivious to their quiet longing.


It’s cold out here, and dark, but beneath the bark,

a yearning grows, decades of frustration burning

in bodies resigned to a future of

just-stand-don’t-play, just-stand-don’t-play.


The silhouettes of branches drink the lakes,

their thirst growing as the years spin the landscape

into unfamiliar maps and alien patterns.

Just-drink-don’t-think, just-drink-don’t-think.


They suck reflections of water up through moonlight,

desperation disguised by solid trunks while

a fear for their future creeps through the shadows

and settles deep into their roots.

It’s cold out here, and dark, but in the shadows,

thirsts are quenched, sorrows drowned

in the low thrum of the mantra:

just-drink-don’t-think, just-drink-don’t-think.


The silhouettes of branches knit with clouds,

needles of twigs click-clack-clicking

as they build blankets from white thread:

just-knit-don’t-stop, just-knit-don’t-stop.


Through the sky, a patchwork grows,

drifting puffs of white quilting through the blue

as twigs knit one, purl one, knit one, purl one,

soothing the trees to a comforted sleep.


It’s cold out here, and dark, but in the sky,

a blanket grows: soft white warmth

to muffle the coldness of a clear night:

just-knit-don’t-stop, just-knit-don’t-stop.


The silhouettes of branches watch the dogs:

bundles of bounding excitement

who steal their sticks and mark their trunks:

just-run-don’t-care, just-run-don’t-care.


In their limbs, a longing grows:

a thumping desire to race with puppies and

chase tails and sticks and balls and children,

running in endless circles of delight.


It’s cold out here, and dark, but inside sap,

a hunger forms, a powerful magic

longing to be free and join the dogs in

just-run-don’t-care, just-run-don’t-care.


The silhouettes of branches envy birds,

dreaming of lives filled with movement,

the smooth energy carried in their wings:

just-soar-don’t-stand, just-soar-don’t-stand.


In their leaves, hope flickers like flames,

the beginnings of a flutter as a breeze

tickles their bellies and stokes their wishes

just enough for them to taste the freedom.


It’s cold out here, and dark, but in their leaves,

that hope ignites, driving their dreams

of wings and feathers:

just-soar-don’t-stand, just-soar-don’t-stand.


The silhouettes of branches believe in dragons.

They’ve lived long enough to hear the tales,

to see the scars of flames across the land:

just-hear-don’t-judge, just-hear-don’t-judge.


In their roots, they hear the whispers,

rumours of the dragons’ return to Earth,

beating wings and roaring flames:

finally a beast more powerful than human.


It’s cold out here, and dark, but in their roots,

a warmth blossoms, a longing for fire and claw,

for the legends to soar to life:

just-hear-don’t-judge, just-hear-don’t-judge.


The silhouettes of branches wonder why.

While cars and people swarm beneath them,

they rest, serene and still, thankful for their role:

just-watch-don’t-join, just-watch-don’t-join.


Headlights climb their trunks like spiders:

constant streams of traffic funnel past,

barely stopping, never looking, growling

exhaust fumes into the stillness of the night.


It’s cold out here, and dark, but in their vigil,

the trees stay calm, the movement of their fantasies

worlds away from the roads.

Just-watch-don’t-join, just-watch-don’t-join.


The silhouettes of branches count their leaves,

each one dropped, a tiny death,

morsels of themselves rotting into mulch:

just-live-don’t-die, just-live-don’t-die.


Rain falls and shoes tread

and all the trees can do is watch,

feeling life pump through their trunks as

they remind themselves there’s work still to do.


It’s cold out here, and dark, but in their sap,

the trees feel life, remind themselves of

inner strength and hope:

just-live-don’t-die, just-live-don’t-die.


The silhouettes of branches long for baubles.

They’ve seen the firs adorned with glamour,

Their smugness under glitz and sparkle:

just-glow-don’t-hide, just-glow-don’t-hide.


As the evergreens are taken home for winter,

bare branches shiver and cast lonely shadows

over barren fields, longing for someone

to love them enough to share their tinsel.


It’s cold out here, and dark, and in their dreams

the branches glitter, dressed up in bells and lights,

singing proudly to the tune of

‘just-glow-don’t-hide, just-glow-don’t-hide’.


The silhouettes of branches shovel soil,

silently digging graves for everything they watch die

in their shadows, whispering a mantra of

just-see-don’t-feel, just-see-don’t-feel.


They’ve learned not to get attached to

the squirrels that steal their nuts or

to the birds that call them home.

They watch with static detachment.


It’s cold out here, and dark, and in their silence

creatures rest, comforted by their quietness,

unaware of the pain behind the policy of

just-see-don’t-feel, just-see-don’t-feel.


The silhouettes of branches are not here.

They’re distant memories of all the worlds

this world has been, lost now in the memory

of an Earth scorched and plundered.


Just­-was-no-is. Just-was-no-is. 



My Writing Process Blog Tour

Although the living room is still closed most of the time, I’ve been tagged by Jacki Donnellan (in a rather flattering write-up – thank you, Jacki!) in the My Writing Process blog tour, so I’m opening the door to write my post. The meme asks that I tag three other writers I admire to post about their processes, and it turned out to be tricky finding writers who haven’t already done it! For that reason, only one of these writers has been tagged afresh; one has already done her post, and one once did one but has since deleted it… but I’m linking to her anyway because she’s brilliant! I know I’m breaking the rules, but I do that with memes… I’ll tell you a little more about the writers at the end of the post, but in case you want to jump straight to them, the three writers I’m tagging are Emily Cleaver, Valerie O’Riordan and Shirley Golden.

So now to the questions…


What am I working on?

Mostly, I’m working on a novel, currently called ‘The Space She Filled’. I’ve been working on the bugger for about six years and it’s getting quite close. It’s a magical realist story about the relationship between a comic book artist and his central character, who disappears from the pages of his finished manuscript. I’m at the stage where you cut vast chunks of prose and start to panic that there’s going to be nothing left. Apart from that, I’m not working on anything too much at the moment. This year has been full of real life, and that’s meant that my normal short fiction and blogging work has been on hold for a while.


How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Now that’s a hard question! Memory is a recurring theme in my work, and that’s largely because I have a peculiar relationship with mine. My short term memory is very good, and aspects of my long term memory are pretty functional. But my memory for plots and characters, amongst other things, is dreadful, and this includes my own. This means I have to be creative with my process – more on that later – and it also means that memory is something I’m constantly exploring. If I take my general genre to be magical realism (although this isn’t the only genre I work in), I think it is this marrying of the slightly unreal with stories of memory that makes my work slightly different from other work in the field. That said, I wouldn’t say that my work does differ wildly from others in its genre, beyond the obvious stylistic differences. I hope my work has a unique voice, but I wouldn’t like to claim that it’s particularly unusual.


Why do I write what I write?

Neil Gaiman once said something along the lines of, ‘I write to work out what I think about things’. This is almost certainly a misquote – certainly I can’t find the real quote now – but it sums up my own relationship with writing. Even when I’m not consciously exploring my own position in the world, that’s what I’m doing when I write. I think probably most of us are. Memory, consciousness, reality and sleep are recurring themes in my work; these are all areas that interest me and that I enjoy exploring through fiction. I rarely set out to write about a specific topic: I write what’s in me. In short, I write what I write because I am who I am.


How does my writing process work?

My writing process is basically an elaborate way of dealing with my terrible memory. I take copious amounts of notes, lose them, rewrite them, and stick them all over the walls. Sometimes I refer to them, sometimes I never look at them again; often I look at them and have no idea what they mean. I plan everything meticulously and then I put my headphones on and disappear into an ocean of words and take very little notice of my plans. When I emerge, I go back to the plans and tweak either them or the writing until both look like they apply to the same piece of work. And then I rewrite and rewrite, find I’ve over-written, and cut back. It’s a long and not very efficient process, which I hope I’ll hone over the years. Certainly as it stands now, it’s not an approach I’d recommend!


The Writers I’m Tagging


Emily Cleaver

I met Emily when I joined my writing group about five years ago. She lives in Oxford so we don’t often see her at our meetings in London these days, but she’s still very much a part of the group. I admire Emily’s writing enormously. She has a wonderful voice, and writes with a precision and control I envy, painting vivid scenes and characters that stay with you long after you’ve finished reading her work. You can find her at her website or on Twitter (@EmilyCleaver). She’s the only writer I’m tagging in the way you’re meant to!


Valerie O’Riordan

I’m not quite sure where I first came across Valerie, but it was probably on Twitter, where I’ve met so many of the wonderful writers I’ve come into contact with. Over the last few years, I’ve been exploring flash fiction a lot, and as someone who has won the Bristol Short Story Prize with a piece of flash, Valerie has been an inspiration to me. She is brilliant at travelling to great depths with few words, and does so with warmth and flair. You can find her at her website or on Twitter (@valerieoriordan), and you can see her My Writing Process post here.


Shirley Golden

I definitely met Shirley on Twitter, though I’ve no idea when. She’s another writer who’s highly skilled at telling big stories in a small amount of space; I particularly admire her Twitter stories. It’s hard to tell a story in 140 characters, but Shirley manages to create characters and details that are much bigger than the words they’re told through, leaving just the right amount of room for the reader to infer the deeper story. You can find her at her website or on Twitter (@shirl1001), and we’ll have to imagine her writing process because she’s already done this thing once and we don’t want to make her do it again!




I’m juggling too many balls, and I’m not doing it well. From the Living Room has been seriously neglected recently, and I have a constant nagging in the back of my mind that I need to post. The nagging is uncomfortable and I don’t want blogging to be a stressful thing, so I’ve decided to close the living room door, at least for the time being.

My other blog, Four Wise Monkeys, has also been neglected recently, but it’s a much more manageable page and has a much clearer focus, so I’m hoping that concentrating on one blog for a while will help me to post more regularly.

From the Living Room will stay up but there won’t be any new posts for a while. If you’re a regular visitor to the living room, please come and visit me on Four Wise Monkeys instead. It’s a much more useful page to me at the moment but it’s rather short on readers.

I hope to wake the living room up again at some point in the future. Thanks for bearing with me.

Image by JamesAlan1986


The Retreat and Beyond

I’m someone who thrives on routine so long as I design it myself, and this I managed well during the week’s retreat with my writing group. I quickly fell into a habit of morning walks along the beach, stopping for some alfresco writing and editing along the way, followed by afternoons of computer-based work.

Our writing holiday provided me with the perfect combination of solitude and social time; of work and relaxation. Each day, I would set out on my own to walk by the sea, sometimes actively thinking about my novel, sometimes allowing my mind to wander – which is, I think, just as valuable. I’d stop somewhere to work for a couple of hours, and then I’d head back home to work some more.

At 6:30pm every day, we’d reconvene for dinner, each of us taking a day to shop and cook so that domestic necessity didn’t get in the way of any of us. Dinner would be sociable and fun, giving us the element of relaxation and holiday which was, I think, so useful to all of us productivity-wise. Then we’d settle in for a night of critiquing.

I’m someone who needs a lot of time to myself, and this arrangement suited me perfectly... because no matter how much I forget it, I also need conversation and outside input.

I’m ridiculously lucky to have found my writing group: serious and talented writers from very different walks of life, all tied together by a love of writing. Their feedback is immeasurably valuable to me and what I can get done during a week away with them is huge.

The trick now will be to transfer what I’ve learnt about myself and my work to my ordinary life. Around work, home and a social life, I need to remember what I can achieve when my head is in the right place, and do all that I can to make sure I’m in that state as much as possible.