Monday, 19 December 2016

2017 - COMING READY OR NOT!

Sunset, South Yorkshire (all words and images author's own)
We don't have to search very hard for reminders of why 2016 has more than its fair share of reasons to be lamented loudly and then forgotten. Nightmare politics and propaganda, media meltdowns, financial uncertainty, deaths of a golden host of celebrity friends we thought we knew like family, unfathomable tragedies, war and hatred we children of the sixties once dreamed the world would be too wise and too compassionate for by now.

Sometimes just checking in on social media, letting our eyes scan a newspaper or fix on current affairs on the screen, can trigger a tailspin into hopelessness, cynicism, bitterness, shrugged shoulders, hardened hearts.
Coral and apricot skies

Today I decided. Time to focus on things I might have missed if I hadn't lived through this rollercoaster year. Time to allow myself to be thankful. Thankfulness washes world-weary shredded nerves like a gentle spa of healing for the heart.

Thankfulness doesn't mean you're suddenly Pollyanna. Gratitude doesn't cocoon you from empathy with those suffering or excuse you from giving a damn. But it can help you find your footing on the slimiest slope. It can remind you of the motive that coaxes you to get up for another day.
Spot the pigeon

Here are my treasures gleaned and gathered from 2016:

-taking the plunge of going gluten-free, dairy-free, nightshade-free to try and give my body with its tortured neuroimmune system a chance to heal itself. Gradually glimpsing a life beyond the constant fog of exhaustion, pain and sickness. Doesn't mean I'm miraculously cured of a lifelong knot of autoimmune illnesses, but it seems to have allowed me the blessing, at long last, of better days. I've even had to reduce my blood pressure pills down to the very minimum and my insulin cartridge lasts me a week! A couple of dried dates can bring me back from a low blood sugars now instead of 30 years of severe hypos rescued by jelly babies and lucozade! Result!

-discovering water Kefir grains, brewing homemade probiotic ginger beer and soda and enjoying what a positive effect it seems to have on my digestion. Plus I'm so attached I think of my little jellified chums as pets now, giving back so much more than they get from a shot of sugar and mineral water! Still going strong after six months, they're currently having a little rest and recuperation in my fridge over the holidays! They so deserve it! 
Water kefir in spring water

-being well enough for my first longed-for holiday, five days in June in fabulous Flamborough to restore my soul and get inspired for my novel which is set along that stunning coast. 
North Landing, Flamborough, East Yorkshire 

-reconnecting with my bestie from schooldays after she resettled in the UK after decades living abroad. Our weekly Skype adventures, texting, laughter and far-ranging heart-to-hearts till the early hours are a joy to my spirit. The years fall away and we're in our teens again, but even closer with the richer perspective of the years apart.
My bestie and I conquering the Skype gremlins 

-teaching myself how to bake the most moist, rich, delicious chocolate cake I've ever tasted, using coconut oil, almond flour and ingredients that no longer make my blood sugars spike, with the joy of never needing to deprive myself of my ultimate salted caramel treat! That is, if I've ever got any left after sharing it with eager friends and family!
Gluten-free salted caramel chocolate cake

-dog-sitting a variety of furry friends of friends who fill up, temporarily, that dog-shaped hole in my heart since my own lad passed away.
Cocker Spaniel sisters discovering treat puzzle ball

-inching towards the publication of my second novel, “Cloudhover Solstice” with all the attendant pleasures of plotting, researching, dreaming, writing and editing, plus the privilege of knowing how much my characters have found their fond place in the imaginations of my readers. So thankful to the kind few who support me by leaving a review, sharing posts, tweets and spreading the word. You are worth more than gold to me, even if I never earn a penny from my passion!
Work-in-progress novel. Not the *actual* cover!

-adventuring on a fungus foray by day and a bat walk by night in local woodland and having the quiet thrill of being at one with the wonderful natural world that surrounds us in this lovely corner of Yorkshire.
Orange Birch Bolete on the Fungus Foray in October

-soap! After night after night of sciatic twinges and cramps, googling in sheer desperation for help with agonising, sleep-shrinking restless legs, I came across what sounds like some mad old wives' tale of putting soap in a sock in your bed. I bought a cheap tablet of soap from the Co-op the next day, stuck it in an old knee-high, shoved it sceptically between the sheets. I haven't had full-blown cramp since that first night! No more idea why this works than anybody else – maybe I'm a mad old girl, too, but who's counting? 
Soap in a sock

-acquainting myself with my new all-singing, all-beeping insulin pump, Humph Mk II and his handset, the rather feisty Rita the Second. Yes, I still scream at Rita when I'm hypo and she's nagging me to eat. I still roll my eyes at Humph when he decides he needs new batteries in the middle of something more interesting. But you've got to love technology and ingenuity. They're keeping me alive from one moment to the next. My great gran was dead at 42 for lack of such inventions being widely available in the 1920s.
Me and my portable pancreas


-the birds, the Moon, passing planes, the trees, the flora and fauna, the clouds, the sunsets, the faces, the patterns, the colours that have kept my camera clicking throughout this year and the privilege of reliving eternally these moments frozen in time and sharing them with friends the world over.
Full Grain Moon over the wood


-friends, old and new, online and with flesh on, who remind me how many truly wonderful and special people are on this planet, fighting to ensure that love will always win over prejudice, bigotry and hate.

2017, you're welcome! You might not be gentle. You might not be all we hope for. But I'm coming to make the best of you, ready or not!


Wednesday, 14 December 2016

WHERE I GREW UP

Bolton-on-Dearne in the old West Riding of Yorkshire's Dearne Valley, in the railway cottages in the 60s, just in case you were wondering! đŸ˜‚

Monday, 12 December 2016

WINTERING ON

A little something for you, whispered in my ear by the trees as the winter creeps shivering in.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

MANY UNHAPPY TAX RETURNS



MANY UNHAPPY TAX RETURNS

I'm finding little jobs to do
I'm fettling and dusting
I'm whirling like a whirly thing
OCD fluster and fussing

I can't just chill and meditate,
I simply can't relax
At least my bowels stay open
When it's time to do my tax.

Some put it off till deadline day
When January's through
But me, I start my whittling
Ages before it's due.

I could've should've done it then,
It only takes a minute.
But each year I procrastinate
Too anxious to begin it.

It's not like I have property,
A spouse or fancy car,
I've just a tiny pension
And that doesn't go so far.

I vow every time not to worry,
Mine's never that complicated.
Then here I am shivering with dread and doom,
Wondering why I waited!

But still I always put it off,
Daily it haunts my mind,
Like a gremlin, ghost or gargoyle
That I just can't leave behind.

Come on, why not just do it?
Be mistress of your fear,
For the day it's filed and over
Is the highlight of my year!

Shall I just iron those curtains, now?
Should I just polish that key?
Anything has to be preferable
To the ruddy HMRC.

Think of those multi-millionaires
Avoiding their tax for years!
Yet here am I, cowering with bitten nails,
Nightmares and jittery fears!

So I'll gather my dockets and chitties,
My P60 and statements and such.
They say that tax shouldn't be taxing,
But it taxes yours truly too much!


(Written while trying to file online and constantly getting “Sorry, there was a problem handling your request. Please try again shortly.”)


Monday, 5 December 2016

WATER GYPSY

"I've lost my great great grandmother!" Obsessed with knocking down this brick wall as she researches her family history, an old lady glimpses tragic secrets from the past while minding her young grandson.
A tale inspired by my own Yorkshire roots and the endless mysteries and magic tangled in the roots of our family trees.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Raindrops scatter into shimmer

Raindrops scatter into shimmer

Mint diamonds out of sunblaze

Dream of growing up as snowflakes

Giggling into the mirror

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Hush your mouth, inner critic monster!



Every day as I plot, plan, daydream, research and write, I find myself battling that pesky inner critic. 

You know it well. 

We all know it, because it talks to each one of us in our own distinctive voice. It trips us with our own artfully devised stumbling blocks. It gloats mockingly back at us, wearing ludicrous hats, from the mirror of our own mind. It knows our doubts and hang-ups.  It devises procrastinating distractions from our own delights. It plays on the weaknesses only we see in ourselves. It knows our secrets and harps on every fear. 

Every day I do battle with that inner critic monster, just to kick off its leaden boots so I can swim down into the joy of free-fall risky writing. Some days I go paws up, frozen, timid, poorer; those days are sad because I let it win. 

Love and thanks to all those in my life who have faith in me to be the best writer I was born to be. So, hush your mouth, inner critic monster. We are too strong for you and your smug blank page.

Strength and solidarity to all those who muffle and silence their inner doubts and dithering to bring us their beautiful words, craft, images and reflections from the precious depths of their creative souls.

We are writers when we write. We win.


Friday, 19 August 2016

TREE GONE SOLO

Here's a poem for all you lovely readers inspired by a recent walk around my local Wickersley Wood on the outskirts of Rotherham. There's a particular tree there that grows apart from the main body of woodland. Readers of my poems and stories will understand how deeply my imagination's affected by the natural world around me. Here's another fragment for you of my lifelong lovesong to the beautiful landscapes of my native Yorkshire. 


Monday, 1 August 2016

Hypoglycemic

Here's a humorous piece of flash fiction I wrote and which I'm sharing to mark 32 years of being a Type 1 insulin junkie diabetic.

Except that this isn't actually fiction. I inhabit this kind of parallel universe at least every month or so.

For all you diabetic Type 1s out there - enjoy the familiar feelings here.

For all you readers with a fully functioning pancreas - welcome to my crazy world!


Yes - the lack of paragraphs and punctuation below IS a reflection of the hypo state of mind.


This for me is what a hypo/low blood sugar REALLY feels like.





Friday, 29 July 2016

POOR RECEPTION

A poem born of an impossibly trying situation.
Nobody was hurt in the forging of this seething cauldron of feelings!
The last line made me laugh. A lot. As it will anyone who knows what an incorrigible peacemaker I am in real life!


Wednesday, 27 July 2016

LAMMAS

I've been weeding (should that read "wildflowering"?) in my beloved South Yorkshire garden. This captures exactly how I'll remember these sunny summer moments.


Sunday, 24 July 2016

NIGHT LIGHTS

Stargazers, Moon watchers, insomniacs and anyone living city or suburban life these days will relate to my tongue-in-cheek poet photographer's rant on modern light pollution! Hope this brings you a smile!




Wednesday, 20 July 2016

BUCK MOON DUSK





Arianrhod's silver wheel
Caught in nets of purpled cloud
Birch suffused with shiver of steel
Glass castle and ring of flame

Keening over the spinning souls
Locked to earth by a chain of tides,
Sunset bruised the horizon rolls,
Never static and never tame

Now the velvet has bound her eyes
Kissed her lids with its violet shade
Night's birth is the day that dies
Whispered colours her fabric's frame

Speeding on through the radiant dark
Starflake piercing insomnia's gloom
Kirtles herself in rainbow's arc
Free of border and without name

(Joyce Barrass 2016)



Photographs of the Full Buck Moon rising over Wickersley Wood, South Yorkshire, UK and sunset in the western sky on the hottest day of the year, taken by the author and viewable in full HD over on  Joyce's Flickr where you can always find her photos of the Moon, clouds, birds, wildlife, natural world, passing aircraft, Yorkshire scenery and lots more of her passions and peculiarities. Her historical novel "GOATSUCKER HARVEST" is part of her lifelong lyrical lovesong to her native Yorkshire roots and is available from Amazon in paperback and as a Kindle ebook.

Thanks so much for visiting!

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Sand castles and rock pools: first draft, second novel - taking the clifftop path towards "Cloudhover Solstice"

Scouting out "Cloudhover Solstice" locations: Flamborough Head 17th century Old Chalk Beacon Tower 
The first draft of "Cloudhover Solstice" feels to me a bit like a deliciously playful sand castle on the edge of a rockpool of rippling possibilities, hidden depths. The capricious tides of ideas and words are ebbing and flowing, filling things in, knocking bits down, smoothing jutting edges, revealing scary fissures beneath the surface, the story sculpted by sea frets as the wind veers around the compass of plot and pacing.

I'm back from my eagerly-anticipated research reconnaissance trip to fairest Flamborough, the setting for the novel, from the chalk cliffs and caves to the haunting hidden hollows of ancient Danes Dyke, cutting off the headland from the rest of these islands, leaving it pointing mysteriously out towards vanished Doggerland off the coast of Holderness.


Selwick Stack, Selwick's Bay, Flamborough Head
I took the opportunity of drinking in every detail, smelling the scents of the sea, tasting the bite of the onshore breezes, listening to the rhythms and colours of the seabirds' crying, so integral to my tale. I stood in Bram's shoes as he hears the unsettling call of the Kittiwakes over the water, stood with Thirza as she teeters, conflicted and determined on the edge of the crumbling cliff. I wandered along the beaches of North and South Landing, watching through the filter of imagination all the local sights and sounds that are the background to my evolving narrative.

Kittiwakes, High Stacks, Flamborough


Cave arch, North Landing, Flamborough












I took photographs and emotional mental snapshots, too, of those dominant sentinels of the headland, the 1806 Lighthouse and the Old Beacon Tower, built in chalk in the seventeen century. They must play their part, with their own tales interweaving into the lives of my characters and impacting on their fictional journey.

I took panorama sweeps to judge distances between landmarks, from Filey Brigg in the north, to Bridlington to the south. I explored Chatterthrow, formerly "Chattertrove" beyond Little Thornwick Bay, named for the racket made by the seabirds that thronged the cliffs as they nested, before humankind impacted their paradise, a central theme in my book.


Flamborough panorama from Chatterthrow back towards the Lighthouse

Flamborough did me good, as it always does, not only as a writer, but as a human being. Chronic illness has meant four years of not being able to manage a holiday, and Flamborough has haunted my dreams with glimpses of joy throughout those life-limiting days. Flamborough more than made up for it. Flamborough wouldn't know how to disappoint me if it tried!


Flamborough Head Lighthouse

So the chipping and carving at the sand castle goes on, as "Cloudhover Solstice" takes its own unique shape under my scribbling fingers, recreating and restoring me along the way. I hope when it's ready to reveal itself to the world, you will enjoy reading it and that you'll be enchanted too by this magical place!

Danes Dyke Beach, Flamborough

Friday, 17 June 2016

ALL HER FAULT





ALL HER FAULT

--a poem inspired by a glimpse of Thirza, heroine of my WIP "Cloudhover Solstice"--

Tries to stand
Soles rippling
Beneath the boil
Basso profundo boom
Inching purchase
On sea stamped sand

Plunge forgotten
Now razor balanced
Between sink and scull
Spray rainbow halo
Stinging eye and tongue
Frothing sodden

Tries to breathe
Less and lower
Lower to mute
Her eye discerns the heart
Between two swan necks
As breakers seethe

Molten gold
In the eye of the tide
Breaks her buoyancy
In the undetow
She grasps for his hand
The earthed root hold

Tries to rise
Wings wrung with salt
Drag to inertia
Anchor to halt
The cliffs' billed cries

Are all her fault


© 2016 Joyce Barrass

Thursday, 16 June 2016

"CLOUDHOVER SOLSTICE" - the tide is about to turn...


It's been four heart-yearning years since my health let me off the leash with enough energy to let me anywhere near fantabulous fair Flamborough, one of my favourite spots on the planet.

But this year, come gannets, guillemots, gust or gale, I'm going back to stay awhile.

This summer, armed with the first draft, plot outlines, character studies, orphaned scenes, midnight notes, scribbles, dreams and delirious delight, I'm heading back to the headland, the heartland of the East Yorkshire coast.

I'm off to reimagine those chalk cliffs, beloved from childhood, to plumb the landscape for its secret drama, its lighthouse and beacon, its hidden sea caves, stacks and scars, the Kittiwakes crying over the ocean ledges, the spray flinging itself against those craggy gorges and rockpools. I'm going to revisit it all through the eyes of my characters, Thirza, Bram and their friends and foes old and new.

Is that Piper I hear barking from South Landing?

"Cloudhover Solstice" is coming. The tide is slowly turning, dragging all that's familiar beneath the swilkering foam.

In the spirit of serendipity, my arrival on the East Coast coincides with this year's Summer Solstice, with the full Moon poised to shine down on the shimmering North Sea (if the forecast clouds, sea frets and mists deign to clear her a path over Holderness!)

Wishing calm seas and joyful summer voyages of imagination to all my lovely readers!

My first novel "Goatsucker Harvest" is available for Kindle and in Paperback here.
For news of my authorial shenanigans, and for updates on my progress with the sequel, "Cloudhover Solstice," you can always like my Author Page on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or Goodreads.

If you've enjoyed my writing, please would you take a moment to leave me a quick review on Amazon or Goodreads to let others know and spread the word? Thank you so much!


Friday, 5 February 2016

The tragedy of the "Amy Isabel," North Sea fishing smack, 6th Feb 1897

'STORM AT BRIDLINGTON QUAY, EAST RIDING OF YORKSHIRE, 10 FEBRUARY 1871' by John Taylor Allerston (1888) original painting now displayed in the Sewerby Hall Museum & Art Gallery


This week marks the anniversary of the natural disaster this dramatic image captures, the 'Great Gale' that struck the East Coast of Yorkshire in the stormy February of 1871. 

One of my own ancestors, George William Barrass (1864-6th February 1897) was also drowned in a February storm. He drowned when his boat was hit by a freak wave 70 miles NE by ENE of Spurn Point in the North Sea fishing grounds some call the "Silver Pits". He and his brother were aboard a small craft boarding fish onto the fishing smack "Amy Isabel."

His youngest brother Samuel Barrass was saved from the capsized boat and both made it almost as far as the rescue ship. But when young Sam looked back, his brother had gone under. The sea takes no prisoners and his body was never recovered.

The repercussions and ripples from the sad event went on, and Samuel was one of the witnesses at the subsequent inquiry. His testimony makes the event live again in all its vivid and tragic detail. Below are a couple of the documents that survive of the reporting at the time.

Here is an earlier blogpost I shared with more details of the event and the ancestry I share with the victims.




'Daily Mail 18th March 1897

Friday, 22 January 2016

Writer's Block Buster: 'Play-date' with my heroine brings fresh insights and inspiration



You know the classic cartoon meme of the hapless character who runs off the cliff, but only falls when he looks down, causing suspended gravity to kick in, splattering him on the canyon floor?

Do you ever get to a point in your first draft when, like that character, you're running along at breakneck speed, creating your fiction with blissful abandon? Then, two thirds of the way through, as the plot becomes ever more clear to you, you grind to a halt, over-analyzing and second guessing yourself ? You itch to edit edit edit, change course, look down, and suddenly you're stymied and blocked, lying splattered with bruised wings on the canyon floor?

That's what happened to me last week while scooting gleefully through the first draft of my second novel "Kittiwake and Cloudhover." My feisty heroine Thirza and my wildlife whispering hero Bram from "Goatsucker Harvest" find themselves hurtling towards the dizzying cliffs of Flamborough on the Holderness Coast, summer 1856. Suddenly, I found myself temporarily stuck in the wet sand, caught in a bind between my writing and editing brains.

So, I was inspired to try to find my own solution. Maybe you'll find this approach helpful, too. Maybe you have your own self-restart buttons to press? I'd love to hear about them!

I let myself skip off for a quick off-piste "play date" with my heroine, letting Thirza tell me, in her own inimitable voice, how she saw the plot, the other characters, from start to finish.

It gave my querulous inner critic the night off. 8000 words later, I had some useful fresh plot twists, insights and inspiration. I'd also been able to "kill" some of my floppier "darlings" plus some of Thirza's turns of phrase cried out for inclusion in future drafts.

So, with a clearer road map, a renewed purpose, rested and refreshed, it's a joy to put my hands back on the tiller and steer for the end of the first draft again.

I'm excited for the day in the future when I can share more of these crazy, cliffhanging emotional adventures with you!

Thanks for reading and for all your support, amazing reviews, laughs, and for sharing my writing journey!


Saturday, 9 January 2016

South Landing at Flamborough nominated for BBC Countryfile Magazine's Beach of the Year



Wonderful news that this beautiful hidden treasure of the Yorkshire Coast has been nominated as Best Beach of the Year!

If you want funfairs, sticks of rock, crowds, donkey rides and noise, this gorgeous spot isn't ever going to be your cup of sea.

For those of us who love the sound of the ocean, the cry of seabirds, chalk cliffs meeting the waves and sweet seaside solitude, for me at least, it just cannot be beaten.

Still time to vote in all categories here till 31st January 2016: BBC Countryfile Magazine Awards 2015/16

Here's some more views  of Flamborough's South Landing I took in June 2012: