The magic ink is out-of-stock


Sometimes our dreams offer a lot more than mere rehashing of a day’s events, and give us valuable clues to what is going on deep in our unconscious. The following dream may well be of interest:

I dreamed I had gone to an expensive and swish sort of hotel for some sort of conference. One of the first things I managed to do was lose the key to my room; one of those, “I’m sure I put it in my handbag” moments of frantic rummaging around, until it seemed unimportant so I went through to the main conference room. It was like the vast dining rooms you see in Oxford and Cambridge colleges and it was filled with tables laid out with all sorts of wares for writing, from marvellous machines, exquisite journals and notebooks, pens of a thousand thousand kinds from the usual Bic biros to fabulously expensive Mont Blancs, and quills and dipping pens of many types. I knew I had come to find the most exclusive inks in the world, also the most expensive, but as I searched table after table, it became clear I was too late and they’d sold out. I found a sheet of creamy white paper, the kind that is made by pulping cloth, and looks rather like parchment, and a quill pen, and started trying to write, but no matter how many times I dipped my pen in the ink, the page remained resolutely blank because the ink was not the magic ink I’d come to find.

Regular readers of this blog will know (and perhaps share) my obsession and love for stationery, and may well be familiar with my long struggle to overcome something that is generally referred to as Writer’s Block (but before anyone starts kindly suggesting exercises or websites or, God forbid, apps, the term is used very loosely and it’s something deeper and darker than what the term is usually applied to).

The dream speaks of my fear that I have somehow arrived too late at the table, despite the fact that as I went round table after table looking for the ink, I was almost the only person present. In terms of the writing/publishing industry, I wasn’t first at the feast but I jumped in reasonably early in the day, with the first (paperback only) edition of Strangers and Pilgrims being published early in 2010, and the first (and flawed) Kindle edition about a year or so later. But the magic of those early days is gone, heaven only knows where, if it ever truly existed at all. With it has gone my confidence of creating anything worthy of the fine paper I tried to write upon in my dream.

Anyway, I’m going to keep on trying. Confidence is a thing easy enough to fake; I’ve been doing it my entire life. I’ve always said that in certain ways the I that is conscious is not the writer of the stories, but the unconscious I is the real creatrix. When I draw upon the deep, dark, hidden levels, that’s when the stories start to flow, dipping into my own veins to use the inner ink.

Helping Refugees: A Leap of Faith

Marion is an amazing lady, someone I am proud to call my friend. Please read, and consider contributing.


Marion Interview

I always put together a post on a Saturday looking forward the the coming Sunday. Today I’m out most of the day so this isn’t going to happen at least not until late tonight. But I can share some great things that are happening that are partly to blame for my lack of a normal post. I have just come back from supporting one of my congregation in Harleston, Marion Courtney during an interview first thing this morning. Marion is 90 years old and is having her head shaved to raise money for the refugees fleeing countries like Syria (pic above). They wouldn’t let her do a parachute jump – her first choice! This action is a direct response to the Spirit speaking to Marion and she is acting in obedience to his will. The least I can do is support her.

Thank you to Julian at Christian Aid for…

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Autumn Equinox ~ beauty from the Cave

Equinox ~ beauty from the Cave

There is a soft, damp quality to the air as I emerge from the cave, and wisps of mist obscure the whole area in front of my home. Closer to the edge of the wide, shallow bowl that is this mountain ledge, I see that the forests below are almost invisible because of the mist that lies more thickly further down the mountain. Only the tips of the tallest pines are visible. Lower down, I know that the broad leaf trees are changing their coats but I cannot see them.

The fire has been set ready the night before, and I use flint and steel to make sparks to kindle a handful of dry leaves and resinous pine needles and twigs I have brought from the store deep in the cave. Long practice means it takes only half a dozen strikes before a cascade of white-hot sparkling dots falls into the mass of kindling. Flowers of fire spring up and before long, the bonfire is crackling.

Along with the smell of the smoke, the air is filled with the rich, spicy scents of autumn. Dying leaves, ripe fruit, the peppery aroma of edible fungi, and the comforting smell of resin from my woodpile, all the fragrances I love and associate with the time of preparation.

I sit down, on one of the low benches I have fashioned from logs, and warm my hands at the rising flames. I eat an apple, slowly and thoughtfully. Its perfect skin is unblemished and the flesh is tart yet sweet. Birdsong fills the air, and the sound also of the mountain spring that supplies my water, bubbling up and falling away into a streamlet that rushes down the mountainside, gathering momentum and rainfall as it goes. Somewhere deep in the forest it becomes a river, swelling and growing and wearing a path through rock and earth alike.

The sun has risen and is hanging like a golden globe above the white mass of fog, its face veiled still as if the finest of silks had been draped over its radiant visage. The mist will burn off soon; indeed, I can see the forms of the taller broad-leaves emerging now from the swirling whiteness. Their colours are poised between the green of summer and the buffs, golds and crimsons of autumn. Before too long even those brilliant colours will be swept away by the winds of winter. For winter is coming, make no mistake. This day is a day of inventory, of assessing my stores and perhaps deciding I have more time to gather in more food for thought as well as food for my body. Fuel of varying kinds have been stacked up, from the elaborately constructed pyramids of fire wood to the rendered fats for lamps and tapers, and the precious beeswax, scented with honey and propolis, and the pages of a hundred books, stored close to the fire for dryness, to fuel my mind during the days and nights of raging blizzards. Winter is a time to nurture the deep thought that comes with the immobility that ice and cold and snow and wildness bring me.

The sun has revealed the forest now, so I stand and go to the edge of my little domain, and look down upon it. A thousand shades of green are giving way to other shades now, but for the moment they are about equal, as are day and night. Soon night will overcome and long dark days will follow.

Yet I know that however long the winter may be, spring always comes, sooner or later, and I throw my apple core as far as I can, with a silent prayer that its pips may become more apple trees to feed and beautify the denizens of this forest I love so much.

Starting with full storehouses ~ harvest and new year blessings

Starting with full storehouses ~ harvest and new year blessings

If I said to you today Happy New Year, you’d think me mad, perhaps. But at rise of the new moon today, a new year begins: and I can’t help thinking that starting a new year at harvest time with full storehouses makes much better sense that doing as our calender does, and starting it in the bleakest of deep mid winter when the worst of the weather is still to come and the joys of Christmas are past and forgotten as you pack away the tinsel, and in the not-too-distant-past people would worry whether the stores would last them out till the following year. Starting at harvest time means starting with optimism and a sense of achievement.

Autumn is a beautiful season in this country, filled with colour and changing scenes as the various harvests are brought home. Wheat and barley are gathered in, and the many other crops are either in or on their way. Wild harvests of nuts and berries will go in as the days shorten, and the apples on our trees are ripe and ready to bring in. There aren’t as many this year as the trees got a much-needed pruning and a lot of manure was spread about their roots. But I’m thinking now of other sorts of harvest, the kind you don’t stack in stooks or boil to make jam.

I have terrible tendency to think little of my achievements. I often forget that with less-than-perfect health, I’ve got a lot done in the nine months that have already gone by of this year. There’s not a lot to show for it, though, because most is unfinished works-in-progress. I’ve done around 30k words since April, long-hand, of a sequel to Square Peg, and I’ve added lots of words to other books. I’ve written some poetry, and I’ve done a LOT of journal work. I’ve also been working with dreams, so my dream journal and my active imagination journal have been busy. I’ve done a fair bit of painting for my Jungian exploration. I’ve put out the new book. And so it goes on. I must fight with myself to accept these things as powerful, valuable matter to go into my personal metaphysical harvest, as achievements to build upon during the coming winter, the coming year and onwards. Just as my apple trees need feeding and pruning, so too does my inner life if it is to see continuing harvests in the future.

My blessings to you on this special day.

apples and chalice

apples and chalice

Colour me bandwaggoned ~ the rise and rise of adult colouring books

Colour me bandwaggoned ~ the rise and rise of adult colouring books

You’d have to have been living under a rock or in a cave (mmmm…caves…) to have missed the latest phenomenon in stress relief: colouring books for adults. At the risk of sounding like a hipster, I was into it a few years before it started becoming big. During the last proper summer school when I was TEFL’ing, I inherited a class of mixed nationality teenagers from another teacher. The class has already had three weeks of teaching and travel and activities and were all tired, jaded and probably about ready to go home. I struggled on for the first four days of the week, forcing them to work, and on the last day, I knew I was on a hiding to nothing. I prepared a lesson, but as I was doing that, I spotted a book lying in the resources room. It contained geometrical designs for colouring in. I photocopied some of the ones that appealed to me, nabbed the coloured pens and pencils and left them on my desk. The morning was dire; students were yawning, detached and uncooperative. To be honest, I empathised with them; they had all taken in more English grammar than a person ever should in a short space of time. So I made a decision and declared it was a conversation class from now on, and handed out the boxes of pens and pencils and the colouring designs. They fell on them like puzzled but starving lions and the rest of the morning was spent in happy discussions and colouring. At the end, they declared it had been their best lesson and I got a lot of hugs for taking pity on them.

After this, I went in search of more colouring books, but in 2011, all you could find were ones for children so I stuck with the ones I’d photocopied and pined for something better. It struck me as such a good idea, having seen how tired, stressed, grumpy teenagers (average age in that class was 15 or 16) had become smiling, happy, cooperative human beings. Fast forward to late 2013 when I spotted an article in one of the newspapers, about how colouring in had become a big thing among high-powered French women. There was a Facebook group for it (which I joined) where those French ladies compared notes, admired each other’s colouring and swapped tips for books and pens/pencils.


The first book I bought was The Secret Garden by Joanna Basford. It’s a classic now, and she has another one out and yet another one due for release in October. The first ones to be sold in the UK had poor quality paper that allows bleed through if you use felt tip pens, but the French ones had MUCH better paper. One of my old friends I made when I was teaching, came to visit this May and brought me a whole pile of colouring books, including the French versions of Joanna Basford’s books. After The Secret Garden I bought myself a Mandala one by Lisa Tenzin-Dolma; these ones take it to a very different level, as the process is very meditative and the end result is intended to be meditated upon. I use this one when I am in need of deep calmness, but as the drawings are so fine and detailed, you need to be quite focused and centred to start with. While going over the lines isn’t a problem, for this type of colouring, the precision is important to the experience.



Since I bought my first few books, the range available has expanded to such a degree that I think it’s actually hard to find one that suits. Some of the major bookshops now have a large section devoted to them, and it’s worth going and having a flick through to check the interior because there are some disappointments out there. Poor paper quality is just one factor. Many have a kind of built-in expectation, usually using the words meditation, mindfulness or mandala or some spiritual phrase. I’ve seen some magazines (oh yes, there are now magazines!) that say the designs are mandalas, and yet, they are not mandalas at all but simply designs that are circular and geometrical. There is a big but hard to define difference. Some books also have large expanses of white which personally I find unsatisfactory; it’s difficult to colour large blank areas smoothly. It’s the intricate details that interest me. Most books use themes of nature, but there’s everything from cupcakes and shoes to cityscapes and even one that uses the art work of Heath Robinson (Weird Inventions). Medical students have long had anatomy colouring books as part of their studies; weird, but it really works to learn the names and locations and tiny details of the human anatomy. These are available too if that’s your bag.



What you use to colour is also tricky. After some experimentation, I found that the best value and best quality coloured pencils are the Ergo-soft ones by Staedtler. They give good, clear coverage that doesn’t rub off as a powder, and the colours are bright without being garish and they’re quite affordable. Cheaper ones are available but I’ve found most to be a disappointment. Pens are equally variable. The finer the nib the better, in my experience; one range has two ends, one broader for covering larger areas and one fine for details.

So what does colouring do for a person? Well, for me, it’s a way of doing something creative and enjoyable without the pressure of being original, of creating from scratch. It slows the mind from frantic scurrying to a smooth pace; it blocks out all other distractions. The colours themselves have beneficial effects; blues are calming, greens soothing and reds energising.

It may be a short-lived craze but I’m glad it has happened. There are many artists leaping to take advantage of the phenomenon, and also a lot of opportunists offering shoddy, sub-standard work but at least we have a vast range now to choose from. Just as story time still appeals (lots of us use audio books, which is pretty much the same thing) it’s nice to have our colouring in back, too.

Depression and the Art of Tightrope Walking: first the book, one day the movie?

The movie bit was intended as a joke.

Finally, the project to publish some of the posts from this blog on the theme of depression has come to fruition. The bitterest of ironies is that it was delayed because I was fighting depression; yet, perhaps that in itself speaks volumes about the need for such a  book.

It’s not a self help book in the classic, “Follow these instructions and be free of whatever ailed you,” tradition. If I marketed it as such, I would be lying. It’s very tempting, though, as such books usually sell incredibly well, but that’s because there are vast numbers of people seeking help for their pain.

If anything, this is a book that asks more questions than it answers. All the posts are from this blog, but since they span a considerable space of time and are dotted in among over eight hundred other posts, finding them isn’t an easy matter. The fact that they are freely available on this blog, if you look hard enough, is why I can’t enroll the book into the Select programme, and why therefore it won’t be available to borrow via the Kindle Unlimited scheme.

This is the blurb:

“I’m a writer and poet and a long-term sufferer of depressive illness. I try to keep smiling but sometimes I fail. I love the natural world, and am a great fan of the vagaries of the English weather.” These words were the first attempts to define what my blog was about when I began it in February 2009. From these first tentative steps into blogging, Zen and the Art of Tightrope Walking has expanded into a wide-ranging and eclectic exploratory journey into what it means to live with depression. There are many posts on the subject now, and I decided to collect together the ones I felt were potentially most helpful to others affected by mental and emotional distress. They’re not intended as classic self-help or as a replacement for treatment but rather as a commentary from one person’s experience. Sometimes it can help simply knowing we are not alone in a journey, even when it feels that way. I’ve enjoyed the whole concept of the Zen koan, a short question that usually has no answer but is intended to provoke more questions and more thinking. Think of the classic one: What is the sound of one hand clapping? Most of my posts are written with this aim in mind; I just lack the compactness of a koan. I try to look at the world from another angle. I like (like? not sure I like it but I am inwardly compelled to do it) to ask questions, sometimes awkward ones. There is no final answer about anything. That’s the joy and the sorrow of it. Depression and the Art of Tightrope Walking contains twenty essays from the original blog and includes a foreword from Suzie Grogan, author of Shell Shocked Britain-The First World War’s Legacy for Britain’s Mental Health and editor of Dandelions and Bad Hair Days (Untangling lives affected by depression and anxiety)

It’s available here as a paperback: 

and here as a Kindle version:

In a week or two, the two ought to be joined onto one page.

There’s a launch party on Facebook here:

It’s available across all Amazon stores. You can either enter the title in the search facility of your Amazon store, or (neat little trick this) you copy the URL, then change the bit where it says dot co dot uk to dot com or whichever *suffix* your country uses, and that should take you to the correct page.

As I said in my previous post, reviews very gratefully received. The visibility of books on Amazon is a very tricky issue but it’s known that a certain number of reviews increases visibility. 25 reviews triggers certain extra promotion from Amazon (or so it is believed) and 50 initiates more. The mystery surrounding how the great ‘Zon works is dense and impossible to fathom but the consensus is that more reviews (especially good ones), more visibility.