Writing memory through colour

Hello beautiful writers.

Today I thought it might be nice to share a new writing prompt. I used this recently when working with the young women writers on the HAY Youth programme. I feel it could be useful for both developing and established writers, especially as the bedrock of the exercise is memory – something we can all dive into and explore!

Icebreaker exercise:

(Normally done in groups, but the results on our own are interesting too).

I want us to think about ourselves as writers. For five minutes, assess yourself as a writer, using these questions as guidelines. Write freely, and watch for that nagging voice of perfection; just go with what comes:

  1. Do you like to write?
  2. What are your hang-ups about writing? What frustrates you/concerns you/puts you off?
  3. Do you have any distinct memories associated with writing as a child – were you encouraged, discouraged? Go into detail (for yourself)
  4. What inspires you as a writer – what do you truly enjoy exploring through language.
  5. Why do you write?

Next: For yourself, go through each answer, thought, or phrase you have written down and put a plus or minus sign next to each one, depending. The plus sign is to signify whether something is about a sense of pleasure or achievement, and the minus to signify something to do with failure or disappointment/pain. Just let this sink in. What does this say about your experiences as writers so far? How might this affect your perception of yourself as a writer too? – how you see yourself.

Main exercise

  • Take one outstanding memory that you have has a writer, positive or negative. Jot it down at the top of your page. Take time to decide. Choose something compelling, and yummy for you as a writer
  • Now write about this memory, in terms of colour only. Take yourself back to that event, recall the colours, the scents, the sounds: you can write about all of these in terms of colour. For example, my memory of writing about a cat. The colour of the cat (brown, black, white) golden sunlight, the blue snow, what it felt to be writing this – if you could give the feeling a colour, what would it be? (blood orange, the warmth but also the energy of that).
  • Think about place too: where were you? What colours were the walls, the floor, your clothes, the clothes of those around you. What as the light like? Build a picture of this memory through colour, also tapping into emotion and pinpointing this as a colour too.

This exercise is designed to place you vividly in the world of the memory, but as a writer, using your creative tools to help you explore it in a different way. Remember there’s no right or wrong, be free with and expressive.




Cover art ‘Enough’ by Katherine Sheers ©

Somehow shows us a voice and a spirit that insists – at times defiantly, other times tenderly, always fiercely – on the magnitude and gravities of desire’ – Sumita Chakraborty


A highly accomplished set of poems which consider the ways grief, guilt, and loss attached themselves to both the family and the natural world of restoration.  What Calcutt does within these pages is acknowledge our ability to be resilient…At times devastating, at other times buoyant, but always totally human.’ – Anthony Anaxagorou 

‘I’m still getting there’ Refugee Week, 2020

A poem by many voices on the theme of ‘home’, for Refugee Week, 2020.

Words and ideas donated by: Christina Thatcher, Cheryl Lockheart, Roz Goddard, Jasmine Gardosi, Mark Antony Owen, K.S. Moore, Sam Frankie Fox, John Hawkhead, Adam Ai,  Rick Dove, Sue Wood, Jhilmil Breckenridge, Casey Bailey, Djuna Barnes, Shaun Hill, Marvin Thompson, Efi Antoniou, Victoria Richards, Johnny Autin, Shelley Eva Haden, Hannah Storm, Katria Naomi, Jean Atkin, Jason Jackson, Sophie Herxheimer, Naaman Brown, Gill McEvoy, Laura McKee, Sarah Westcott, Rishi Dastidar, Shan Bansil, Andrew Morton, Kathy Gee, Lucy Jeynes, Gail Saul, Katie Whitmore (Katie Hook), Tara Skurtu, Bo Mandeville. Kathy Gee. Edited, by Helen Calcutt. 

A poem by many voices on the theme of ‘home’, for Refugee Week, 2020. Donated to the charity Refugee Rescue. 

I’m still getting there

I dream of open doors. 
Curled up cats. A blue 
china bowl. 
Perhaps I’ve 
what home really is?
A castle where unhappiness 
or happiness 
     a   bed        
where the heart might 
grow, and go,
beyond words
I long for it.   
The slow train west 
into honeyed light,
and I wonder,      
is home a moment 
in time?  Toast, 
ashes, earth 
– a kiss. Freshly baked 
bread, the valleys
and their flowers? 
Perhaps it's feeling
not a space. Safety or 
or something we’ve lost? 
Perhaps it’s a concept 
I have to work on?  
Where ideas 
on a good-natured 
floor; in a kitchen, or
on a table-top. 
A mantelpiece that gathers 
Where my daydreams 
shine, and there’s a key. 
And I can open and close
and come and go...
Last night 
I walked across the Indian Ocean.
I walked barefoot in the freezing 
cold  –
sleeping under the cries of 
Roller birds, 
dreaming of words 
such as ‘scarf’, and ‘coat.  
You might tell me 
home is a ‘nest’. Or a rubik's 
cube we're all trying 
to work out;
as I forever approach 
its finite distance, forever 
towards a finite smile.
What if home 
is simply 
wherever I stand? 
What if home, is 
wherever I stand, with love? 
Wherever others stand with me? 
You have asked me:
 ‘what is home?’
I don't know. I’m still getting there.

About Refugee Rescue

Refugee Rescue is the last remaining Search and Rescue Boat Working off the North Shore of Lesvos. We have a skilled crew on call 24/7 and ready to respond to any distress call at sea. They work directly one sea and land to attend to the immediate needs of those refugees making the crossing into Europe.

To support Refugee rescue:

Visit their website, and engage with their stories, artwork, and testimonials: https://www.refugeerescue.org/

Donate, and keep Mo Chara afloat: https://www.refugeerescue.org/donate

About the process

I couldn’t take every single sentence organically and fit it together. This isn’t how editing works! Although this is how the process began; even with our own, single-voiced poems, we re-align, mesh, swap, mould, take in, put back…it was the same process here, only, I was very aware that I was working with other people’s words and sentiments, and therefore had to stay true to them.

I did this, either by keeping the line intact, or, bringing two similar sentiments or images together into one place (perhaps using another word from another sentence that fitted to combine them) and moulding them together.

There were also some lines or words that simply didn’t fit, but, whose ideas are still reflected here, in a way that serves the sound and energy of the poem. Don’t be disheartened if your donated sentenced doesn’t appear exactly as written here: know that I deliberated carefully over each and every line, and that the texture of your words remains within the overall fabric of the poem.

Thank you once again to absolutely everyone who has donated their time and creativity to this project. It’s been a blessing.

Take care, and stay in touch. Hopefully we’ll all see each other soon.

Helen x

Three new poems

Helen’s poems are breath taking in their ability to both move and intrigue the reader. She writes with a seamless sensuality and fluency; creating a new and vital vocabulary for the emotional, sexual and physical nuances of life. Her poetry captures the beauty of intimacy, confronts the taboo and, although touching on the darker elements of human existence, beats with a beautiful, lyrical and hopeful heart. 

Thank you to the wonderful editors Mairead Warren and Caitlin Miller for selecting three new poems, ‘The Wound’, ‘Pink’ and ‘Hope’ to be featured in the March 2020 issue of Irisi Magazine.

You can read the poems here.