Thursday, 26 February 2015

Writing letters...

This week in the mail, I received this wonderful book AND my membership to the Letter Writers Alliance (button on the sidebar takes you to their website). Yes, that really is a sew-on badge taped on the card - reminds me of the Girl Guides :-)

As my left-handed writing improves, I'm keen to return to a favourite pastime - writing letters! 

I've had pen-pals since childhood (I wrote to a French girl called Genevieve for several years), and in college I wrote to prisoners through a church scheme. During my year in Kenya (1987-88), receiving mail was the highlight of everyone's week, students and teachers alike.

In our increasingly virtual world, I believe REAL mail has a vital part to play... to really connect people, in a way instant messaging just can't. 

As I wrote in my journal recently, I played for hours as a child running a Post Office (do you remember those sets with the little alphabet stamps??), then at being a secretary writing very important memos on my trusty Petite typewriter.

(mine was very similar to this)

But nothing can beat a handwritten letter or card, especially if it's come from overseas with its interesting stamp... 

Of course, Virginia was a fine Woman of Letters, but even she scrawled notes and dashed-off missives. Do you ever wonder how biographers in the future will do their work as our generation leaves so little hard evidence behind? A friend is writing a book on her grandparents based on letters found in an attic - will that be only a romantic notion in the future?

I ponder these things as I journal, read Virginia's diary entries and her letters...

And should you want to exchange cards/letters, do get in touch via the Contact Form in the sidebar. Together we can create small treasures for those who come after us to discover and wonder about our lives...

Friday, 20 February 2015

Keeping a diary...

As I revisit Mrs Woolf's A Writer's Diary in the beautiful Persephone Books edition, I am reminded why I've always kept a diary, a journal...

... in which to spill thoughts, to rant, to relive life's experiences...

Clearly, my writing is not as remotely significant as VW's, not to anyone but me at least, but it IS important!!

After my stroke (almost 8 years ago), I couldn't read for almost a year, and I am still learning to write left-handed (I was right-handed, but my right side is now paralyzed). I now have a deep appreciation of why reading and writing are so difficult/demanding for children - so many parts of the brain are required to fire simultaneously!!

The first two years after the stroke were THE hardest! While I couldn't read or write, I was lost... me, Claire, was nowhere... (I was writing in my journal as the stroke happened - the pen falling from my hand was the first clue!)

But slowly, my coordination has improved, and with it my handwriting...

I'm still not up to writing much, or every day, but for the past few months I've been in a group of women, led by Angel Sullivan, and over a year and a day (from 23 October 2014 to 24 October 2015) we are creating a journal, a Book of Me.

Here are some of my pages...

I seriously doubt anyone in the future will look at this as a literary masterpiece(!), but that isn't the point. I doubt VW expected others to read - and critique(!) - her diaries as she wrote them. Here's her entry from almost 90 years ago to the day:

Monday, February 21st [1927]

Why not invent a new kind of play; as for instance:

Woman thinks...
He does.
Organ plays.
She writes,
They say:
She sings.
Night speaks
They miss

I think it must be something on this line - though I can't now see what. Away from facts; free; yet concentrated; prose yet poetry; a novel and a play.

Was this little entry in her diary the very first glimmerings of an idea that over a decade later became Between the Acts, her final novel, published after her death in 1941? 
I like to think so :)
And who knows, in among my diary ramblings there may be a kernel of an idea that grows into a sustained thought, a developed plan, even a final published piece one day...
I can dream!

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

TV treasure

Last September, I came upon this series, and lo and behold, one of my all-time favourite books was being featured...

Presented by Alexandra Harris (a favourite author herself - check out her debut book), I was treated to a half-hour delve into the background of this novel. I saw Virginia's writing shed at Monk's House, saw her handbound original manuscripts, with her crossings-out and notes in the margins, catching glimpses of a writer's mind at work.

It was fascinating, and reminded me why I so adore this novel, written and set in the early 1920s. I immediately grabbed my adored Folio Society copy, and began to read... 

Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself...

One of my favourite descriptions of this amazing book is by Michael Cunningham in the Introduction to this particular edition:

In Mrs Dalloway, Woolf is riffing... She's testing not only her powers but the limits of the novel itself. We can almost hear her thinking on the page... Mrs Dalloway is like an improvisatory jazz solo, played by a relatively new musician, possessed of astonishing powers.

It ravels and unravels. It has loose ends. It coheres, but in the disorderly way that life itself coheres. Like life itself, it has patterns and themes, but is not exactly about anything singular or easily identifiable. It is about itself. (p. ix)

Those who like novels to be action-packed page-turners may not enjoy this book, but those who like a more pensive, leisurely approach may... I find it gripping, for it tackles the BIG questions of life and death obliquely, rather than head-on. Within the hours of a single day, in the lives of individuals who never meet each other, we encounter the disparate thoughts, feelings, memories and fears of Clarissa Dalloway and Septimus Warren Smith, and they become real to us, a part of us.

As Michael Cunningham perceptively says in the Introduction, 

With Mrs Dalloway, Woolf argues that there are no insignificant lives, only insufficient ways of looking at them (p. xii)

I say, Amen to that!

[This was originally posted on my previous blog]

Tuesday, 17 February 2015


I've loved Virginia Woolf ever since I read To the Lighthouse and Mrs Dalloway as a teenager. Even then I realized her writing was unusual, with its focus on thoughts, feelings and inner-worlds. I so wished she was on my A level syllabus instead of the usual Dickens and Austen *sigh*

And now 35 years later, I've decided to start this blog dedicated to this extraordinary woman, her writing and the people in her life. Just today, I joined the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain (there's a button the sidebar). 

Part of me is thinking, 'Surely, there's more than enough on the internet about Virginia already. Who wants to read your two penneth?' And the answer is, 'Maybe no one.' And the truth is, they don't need to...

I am writing this purely for myself, my own interest, to work out why I'm fascinated by this woman and her life... If others do read it, and pitch in, I'll be thrilled - I do so enjoy good conversation!