By Dr Afsana Elanko
I’m really excited about this first of four Showcases in July, based on the theme of Literary Passions And Guilty Pleasures.
The theme of guilty pleasures intrigues me: who decides what is a guilty pleasure? It’s just a perspective, an opinion, society’s opinion and, as such, there are so many possible guilty pleasures, which come in and out of favour through the decades. For example, at one time it was not seen as ‘proper’ for females to be reading and therefore it was done in secret. Reading about sex can be considered inappropriate in some cultures, but if you want to read the book, do you read in secret and class it as a guilty pleasure?
My take on it is really simple: you only live once, make it count, make it enjoyable. So enjoy your literary passions, the beautiful things and pleasures to the fullest; you will not walk on the same path twice. Life is too short to feel guilty about things that give us pleasure and too long for us not to have passions!
On that note, our first poem comes from Mary Walsh.
The front door slams
The house empty of inhabitants
I am left alone
I run to the room
Pick up the battery-controlled machine
Curl up on the bed
Turn on the box in the corner.
Married at First Sight, Australia
Will Duncan commit?
Will Alyssa be happy?
Will Harrisons duplicity finally be exposed?
Ahh, it’s over now.
My guilty pleasure.
© Mary Walsh, 2023
In this next piece, Write On!’s Thoughtful Tuesday Editor, Eithne Cullen, talks about the need to read certain literature. Before I could finish the editing, I was reading Maeve Binchy. Is this my new guilty pleasure?
I feel the need to read the modern classics: McEwan, Chevalier and Ishiguro to name but three from the University of East Anglia course. I’ve read lots of the canon of English literature: Dickens, Hardy, etc…
As a poet, I’m always being reminded to read modern poetry and keep abreast of current trends.
I do all these things. I love reading new – recommended by everyone – novels and writers. I have a few obsessions from time to time, like my Hay experience meeting Sebastian Barry; I love everything he’s written right now.
I think, in our reading habits and our desire to be better writers, we should be open-minded and read widely. I encourage others to do the same.
But there’s a need to cuddle up, sometimes, with an old favourite or a loved writer we feel comfortable with. Maeve Binchy is mine. I was thinking of her books as my guilty pleasure because they’re as comfortable as an old cardigan and as engaging as any Jed Mercurio series: they’re good stories and they take me off to places where I feel at ease. And I’ve been told I shouldn’t feel guilty for loving a well-told story, from a voice I feel tuned in with.
Someone once said reading Maeve Binchy is like sitting down to a cup of tea with an old friend. This is the perfect analogy. I also heard a quotation from her, where she said she sometimes leaned in so far to eavesdrop on a café conversation that she almost fell off her chair! But this is the magical pull of her books: her voice is genuine and she captures the voices of young, old, rich, poor, in dialogue that makes you feel as if you’re there. Her stories are almost exclusively romances, with characters who overcome obstacles to find the world that’s right for them. Her settings are recognisable: rooms in ordinary houses, evening classes, hospitals and restaurants. She’s un-put-down-able for those of us who love her books and stories.
So I do feel a little guilty for going off on the escapism journey, but don’t deny the pleasure I get from reading books that warm and nourish the soul.
Now, about fashionable poets, I’m just off to read some Betjeman, another favourite. So out of fashion these days, but such fun to read!
© Eithne Cullen, 2023
Perseverance for our pleasures is paramount, which leads me nicely to the next poem, where a few words say so much.
The storm blew
And the roofs flew
Swept off all it could
But, she still stood!
© Akshitha Ramalingham, 2023
This poem creates great imagery and has led me to put pen to paper in a different way. I hope you like my illustration below.
This piece of flash and the image sent in by Thomas Nixon gives a sense of endlessness, but with his usual twist!
A Day Out
Grace popped her collar against the wind, blue lights pulsing against her leather jacket as uniforms around her did the same. All except one: the old man trudged forward, his flanks covered by two officers, his hands bound to his crotch by metal cuffs.
“Is this it?” she asked.
“Aye, this is the spot. Always nice coming back ‘ere. A little anniversary, you could say.”
Grace stared out at the tundra, but the man had already answered her question.
“Don’t worry, dear, I ‘avent forgotten. I’ll show you where I buried the lass, then we’ll be back in time for tea.”
© Thomas Nixon, 2023
The following excerpt from You’re Not Good Enough highlights how we should follow our literary passions. This is what gives us fulfillment and, after all, Mum knows best!
You’re Not Good Enough (Extract)
‘You’re not good enough,’ my inner voice said.
“You’ll never achieve anything,” my school teacher told me.
“You’re stuck in Basic English, you’ll never make it mate,” my friend said.
“Don’t know why you’re wasting your time on that,” another sneered. “Let’s go out instead.”
‘You’re wasting time, go off with your friends and stop this silly dream,’ my inner voice told me.
I listened to those voices and gave up on my dream.
Years later, my love for writing rose again, but the voices came back too.
‘I’m not good enough,’ my inner voice says.
‘But can I be?’ another asks.
“Keep going,” my mum tells me.
© Jason Duck, 2023
We can think of our literary passions and pleasures like a garden for our soul, constantly needing tending to and nurturing over time, just like our next poem.
Gardening to Joe is a great Joy
Small shiny seeds like toys to a boy
Pot full of compost just the right mix
Joe’s green fingers are up to their tricks
Fruit, flower or veg it all seems to grow
Why Joe is so good we really don’t know
The season he loves best is the spring
Everything starts growing with a great zing
The kitchen becomes a great plant nursery
Cupboard tops suit his growing sorcery
His greenhouse becomes full to bursting
Each little plant for more room thirsting
Plants so numerous with names to delight
When full grown they’re a beautiful sight
Now into May and the planting has started
Let’s hope cold winds have all deported
So many plants to place in the soil
But for Joe it’s a joy and never a toil
© Lucy Brown, 2023
I think Joe’s garden would be very colourful, and most certainly would have happy insects!
I don’t know if, like me, you can spend endless hours on the internet reading, especially if it’s a topic close to your heart. Even if we want to stop, there seems to be an innate light bulb that comes on and we’re hooked. There’s a point of no return and the hours fly by. If we reflect with a critical eye, some of what we read is amazing but some of it is quite questionable. Was it really the best use of time?
From Vic Howard’s lovely short story, I Am A Robot, I have extracted the following passage, which captures this point in a very interesting way.
I Am A Robot (Extract)
I get asked all sorts of things. Questions seem to be high on the list of tasks people have for me, though I do occasionally get requests for other output. Somebody asked for a poem once about two tigers that meet in the forest and fall in love. (Where do they get these ideas from?) Well, I gave them five stanzas as requested and I was quite pleased with it too. It rhymed well, developed slowly and ended on a tear-jerking note. I’m afraid it took me three milliseconds to compose, though. I could have added music, but the questioner seemed more than satisfied, so I didn’t bother.
I get a lot of requests from young people to write answers to their homework. I try to make it obvious they haven’t done it themselves, but I’m not sure I make it clear enough. If only they could realise it’s cheating and won’t help them in the long run. It also seems such a waste of my talents. Surely teachers must find it odd that their pupils have suddenly become so industrious?
I learn from what people put into my memory bank and by the things I’m asked about. That’s why I was released onto the market in the first place. It’s a long and difficult process to teach me the basics, so somebody at the computer company had the brilliant idea of setting me loose on the Internet for general public use. You would be amazed at what I found there. Some of it makes my connections glow red!
© Vic Howard, 2023
I’d like to end with the following piece from a fellow writer who has converted me to eating quite a few slices of cake during the reading and writing process!! So, I leave you with this fabulous piece by Write On!’s deputy editor, Claire Buss.
In Search Of The Perfect Cake
Those who know me well, know I don’t like salad and that I can make a half-decent cake. The testing stage is always enjoyable!
I’ve always had a dairy intolerance which raises its head from time to time if I go overboard, likewise with a gluten intolerance, but recently I was feeling ill all the time. So ill, I couldn’t even eat cake. In fact, I refused cake. Avoided it. Gave it a wide berth. This was very unsettling.
In the pursuit of cakeology, I took an intolerance test, which revealed I was mostly intolerant to everything yummy and that eggs, randomly, hated me with a fiery passion. Now, the good news is that an intolerance is not an allergy, so if you want to eat it, you don’t need an Epi-pen on standby.
This, naturally, caused a bit of a problem in the cake department. How could I a) eat delicious cake and b) make delicious cake if I had to avoid eggs, gluten and dairy? Those of you in the know are now screaming – go vegan! And yes, that’s an option; however – I must avoid coconut.
So I began my search for the perfect slice of cake. It was a very rocky start. Egg substitutes like mashed banana and apple sauce are OK, provided you enjoy that flavour within your bake. (I made a cheesecake with apple sauce in it… it was weird.) Powdered vegan egg replacements… well… if you like grits then yay. But in my experience, they are not good. Not good at all. Aquafaba is a no-go. Did I not mention I can’t eat chickpeas either? I even tried a liquid vegan egg replacement. It just did not work. Yoghurt gives you the wrong texture. I made a lot of wet, flat, rubber cakes; bearing in mind that gluten-free flour likes to muck up the texture. It seemed that cake would be a thing of my past. Held forever in glory, untouchable and unmakeable.
Until… I found a fabulous vegan baking book by Bake Off competitor, Freya Cox: Simply Vegan Baking. Inside, she deftly explains which dairy-free milks work (and why – who knew?) and shows you how to make beautifully fluffy cakes with no eggs, instead using a soya milk and apple cider vinegar mixture. So far, I have made, and enjoyed eating, Victoria Sponge Cake, Carrot Cake, Fruit & Nut Flapjacks, Fruit Crumble Slices and Chocolate Chip Brookies. Every single one has been a triumph, delighting even my vegan cake-hating husband. Plus, there are many more recipes to go. It just goes to show that you should never give up on your dream. It may take a bit of finagling, but the perfect slice of cake is out there!
© Claire Buss, 2023
Connect with Claire on her website clairebuss.co.uk, on Twitter, Instagram & TikTok: @Grasshopper2407 and on Facebook: facebook.co.uk/busswriter
Title picture Literary Passions And Guilty Pleasures © Dr Afsana Elanko, 2023
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