After the death of my father some years ago I became the curator of the family photographs. Dad and Mum had collected them throughout their lives, stuffed individually and often anonymously into boxes and biscuit tins or mounted and labelled carefully in old leather-covered albums. There’s my older brother’s baby book, framed wedding photographs, wallets of holiday snaps from unknown destinations and hundreds of single images of who knows who. Sometimes there’s a scrawled name on the back, but often there are no clues about the identities of the individual or group of people caught in fading sepia. Continue reading
We’ve all got our special writing places in our homes, rented office space, local cafés and libraries, but how often do we take ourselves completely out of our comfort zones and spend time in different places with no one but ourselves for company? How far are we willing to go, and for how long? And does it work?
My first experience of a writing retreat, though that wasn’t the original idea, happened many years ago, after a difficult and painful split with my then husband. A good friend offered me her family’s apartment in Puerto del Carmen on Lanzarote and I took off for a week by myself, intending to do nothing but eat, sleep and sunbath. Actually, I’m not much of a sun worshipper, and I’d sort of lost my appetite, so that left sleeping…. and I did an awful lot of that. Mental exhaustion or something.
During the long, solitary days, I started jotting down my thoughts, initially as a means of clearing my head. It didn’t take long to exorcise my demons and I was soon onto different subject matter. Stuff that was in my head, waiting impatiently to be released. Who knew? Anyway, I sat under a parasol for five days and wrote. And wrote. It just poured out of me. I didn’t even read much, which was most unlike me.
I was totally unprepared, and when I ran out of notebooks I had to search for writing paper, scouring local shops and supermarkets until I found some pads of cheap, lined paper. This enterprise took a long afternoon, on foot, in blazing heat, but I was not to be deterred. I had caught the bug; I was hooked.
I still have those desperate scribbles; it was painful and embarrassing to re-read them when I got home. They’re so bad, full of all the mistakes a novice writer makes. Let’s just say they are better left at the bottom of the cupboard. But I could see a story developing. Even better, it wasn’t my story; it was the product of my imagination. Fiction. Much easier to deal with than real life, and I can change the outcome to suit.
Since that holiday, I have taken myself off on occasional retreats and residential writing courses and would definitely say I’d benefitted from these periods away from the daily routine. It’s like looking at life from a different angle; you see things you hadn’t noticed before. The enforced absence from the daily grind gives me a new perspective on lots of things and I find I’m much more productive as a result.
I hadn’t realised there was so much junk in my head that needed to get out and without that week away with nothing but my own company, who knows if it might still be in there?
I’ve just had my passport photograph updated – who is that woman? She looks like she’s had an interesting life – it’s certainly left its mark. Which ties in nicely with this week’s theme – creating characters.
People-watching can be very fertile ground and there are plenty of opportunities for observing personality traits and characteristics in colleagues, friends and total strangers in the course of your working life and leisure activities.
I’ve been lucky to work in some colourful and exciting environments, full of large than life personalities, who transfer easily onto the page, albeit with a little tweaking. Here are some possibilities for you to consider: Continue reading
I know where I’ve gone wrong – the starter wasn’t active enough (I know just how it feels). Bear with me, though; this does have a correlation of sorts with the writing process. I’m attempting to make sourdough bread and this mini disaster has got me thinking about the similarities between baking and writing. I’m not an experienced or intuitive bread maker and I’ve never made sourdough before.The first thing I need is some ‘starter’. And this is where the comparison with writing comes in. As with sourdough, writing can also benefit from the addition of a starter that we’ve already got on the shelf – in the form of ready-made plot ideas. As I kneaded the dough I mentally listed a selection of plot devices and strategies to kick-start my imagination and help my creative writing. Some are quite specific, others more general, but all these scenarios can be played out in various ways – how you do it is up to you. Continue reading
I know this old chestnut comes up time and again, but I’m revisiting it again because it still causes problems, particularly for those new to the writing game.
Every writer will have come across the expression, ‘Show, don’t tell’, whether it’s in a creative writing how-to book, during a writing tutorial or in an on-line forum or blog. It has become a cliché in itself, but what does it actually mean to the fledgling writer? It’s a surprisingly tricky concept to get the hang of, so let’s pick it apart and examine it.
You may have guessed that progress with my second novel is rather slow at the moment – hence all these displacement activities. I could write a book about writer’s block – 100 ways to beat the block. But would it be just another diversionary tactic? Watch this space.
Other things that are intruding on my time include trying to build up a supply of 400 word stories for the parish magazine and longer ones to read on the radio. If I can do that I’ll be free to concentrate on the novel for a while.