Introducing: GASP!

Added about 2 months ago by Hilary Jane Hughes

GUEST BLOG: Hilary Jane Hughes, author of GASP!, explores the what, when and how of her writing experience.

GASP! is my latest book, connecting the reader with some of my passions: faith, landscape, family, language, social justice, and travel.

I’m a teacher and author living in North Yorkshire with a great family and network of friends who encourage my work.

What do I write about? Engagement with various projects in southeast Asia, plus travel nearer to home, including the coast and the Yorkshire Dales, inspire me. I’m a “people-watcher”, I admit; my Christian faith gives me a longing for people to know how much they are loved by God; nevertheless I have unanswered questions and “wonderings”!

How and when do I write? Often by night, as sleep evades me, but not exclusively so. Sometimes writing pours out of me and I cannot get it down fast enough; other times, the words come slowly but surely, and sometimes, I set myself challenges to write on topics I know little about and therefore have to research carefully, such as aspects of the Holocaust in my piece ‘Silent Spaces of Berlin’. There is ALWAYS something to write about!

What themes do I write about?

  • Place: Each place I write about draws on natural perceptions: colours or weather or time of day, or activity observed, but each of these in turn reveals layers of meaning and connection which speak not only to me at the time, but to others. Both the well-travelled and those who have never been to the places I explore can understand the mood, or imagine or muse with me, the writer, as if looking at a picture.

    I aim to create descriptions of locations and scenes which have a beauty and rhythm that bring them to life: from a visit to Honfleur, France, on a rainy day, to the majesty and history conveyed by visits to Budapest, Hungary, as in this extract:

    From above the Danube, Pest and Buda complement each
    other: cathedral vies with palace, pillars gaze upon the sweep of
    parliament; by day, trams and buses weave, traverse and line the
    busy streets and cruise boats plough the river; at night, bridges’
    spans are studded with stars of lights as bars and restaurants
    send tempting smells and haunting songs into the air…

    I write of my arresting experience, walking within the Holocaust memorial and the Topography of Terror, on another rainy day in Berlin, Germany. Then there is the appeal of Bangkok, the southern coast of Thailand and the Thai people, as in this extract from ‘Bangkok Storm’:

    … lightning strikes and strikes again,
    illuminating shapes and heights of buildings,
    temples, station, graves and gardens.

    Seeping and weeping, saturating, all pervading,
    the drowning deluge soaks into the city skin;
    a sodden urban shaking.

    An enormous crack stuns, as if a thousand
    tonnes of rock had tumbled out across the
    streets and between the buildings.

    The twinkling traffic trails below stay motionless,
    then, very slowly, slide along the road as if
    released, and head towards the river bridge.

    Like stones, the heavy raindrops pelt the roof
    and windows, rattling the panes and disturbing
    our minds, emotions; we huddle, safe, warm, dry. …

    The intrigue and contrasts of everyday life in the suburbs of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; a very cold journey from Toronto in Canada; and the absorbing, inspiring British coast and countryside… These are all represented here.

  • People and Relationships: These are real people, such as in ‘Mandela’ and the girl in ‘Syrian Cry’, but also imaginary, such as the poem, ‘Rory’. Childhood hopes and fears are represented here, alongside the Bible character of Mary, a response to terrorism, to dementia, the Church’s debate about sexuality and personal reflections on our childless years, in the piece ‘Without’:

    … To have lost before I’d found, to have wept for an uncertainty,
    to grasp and pull around a cloak of respectability in order to
    go on, in a kind of daze, half-awake, half-buried in the search
    for forsaken dreams; but life could not be put on hold, so
    as each dawn dawned, it was only bringing heaviness.

    Along with all this, there is the anticipation and realisation of being a grandparent; muses on wisdom; imagined stories behind faces and a reminiscence of working with kids in inner city London. Everyone has value, feelings, hopes, and fears. All our perceptions, understanding and interaction with the natural world come because someone introduced us to them. And God—that’s a whole new and personal relationship too! So I try to say how things, events and behaviour strike me, or how I imagine they may might be for someone else. My poems also explore some of the hurts that life throws at us all from time to time, and the possibility of God being involved in the subsequent healing process.

  • Nature and Muse: Of course there is overlap between pieces, but in this part of the book, the writing is less rooted in place, but more timeless spaces and opportunities; questions, reflections; intimate, close-up observations, as in ‘Picking Blackberries’:

    … some, selected, break, dissolve; others, firm, ripe,
    perfect for eating in a moment, a subtle
    blend of sharp and sweetness; store the
    rest for secreting in a pie; leave some to
    mature, sustain their berry life, then ripen,
    others to die or be plucked by the birds
    (who must be full already!); there’s more
    to flourish, more to harvest; be patient,
    for this bumper crop each day has more
    to reveal, to yield to my grasp and stain
    my fingers in a rich red burgundy.

    Then there’s the intrigue of flying over unknown territory or musing on specific events: as in ‘Polar Vortex’ and ‘Eclipse’; or writing of the ‘intermediate’ experiences of the sea at night or a landscape in the grip of winter. I reflect on the opportunities we have and the often mixed motives that accompany them, the seeming mundaneness of ‘Making a Living’, the inevitable ‘Cold Call’ and the ongoing challenges of anxiety and insomnia in the pieces, ‘Crying’ and ‘Lights Off in the Mind’. Finally, in ‘Until Today’, there is the hope that is promised in a new day, with the ugliness of night behind and the space to begin again:

    … there is no need for familiarity, the
    page is blank and has no watermarks,
    no best sellers, no updating,
    welcome writes itself into the fingers …

I hope all this will inspire you to take a closer look at my work, to go to my website, to ask me questions, and to try my book! (Of course you might also be inspired to try creative writing yourself for the first time…)

Hilary Jane Hughes is the author of our latest release: GASP!: A collection of musings and reflections from the heart on the sometimes choppy voyage of life. The book is a fervent and arresting response to a fast-changing world, the joy of creation and connection, and the goodness found in people, with the poems asking pertinent and hard questions about life, relationships, suffering and inequality. Get your copy today.

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