Thursday 21 March 2013

Here comes the sun....PLEASE

This is what I want to be doing
I have had enough - that's it I've said it. I am so tired of the cold and the greyness. Yesterday was Spring Equinox yet the winter still seems be holding us in its tight grip. But I know I am not the only one. Everyone is feeling the same and it just reinforces the end of semester exhaustion.

A little bit of sunshine makes such a difference. A couple of weeks ago we had a glorious day (just the one) and I noticed everyone was smiling. They were all walking along with a bounce in their step and it made me realise how much weather can affect how you feel and how you treat others. Everyone was so happy. And words were written.

Don't get me wrong I am perfectly aware that come the summer (if it ever comes that is) we will be moaning that it is too hot. We are British after all and never satisfied.

This current greyness and cold seems to suck the life out of you and your creativity. Trying to write when you are so cold is difficult if not impossible. I end up writing fully clothed in my bed, with a hat on. Great image eh?

The picture above is entitled 'A man reading in the garden' by Daumier and a copy of which I was given for my birthday by a good friend. It is framed and waiting to be hung and it is my inspiration that the sunshine will come back. The trees will burst forth and the words will flow again, people will smile and there will be life giving light.

Even Rumi seemed to feel the same about winter...

My worst habit is I get so tired of winter 
I become a torture to those I’m with.
If you’re not here, nothing grows. 
I lack clarity. My words 
tangle and knot up.

Therefore, it had to be this song, it is an open prayer to the weather gods as far as I am concerned PLEASE LET US HAVE SOME SUNSHINE AND WARMTH:

Sunday 17 March 2013

It is all about the details

Three generations - happy days
This photo bears no relation to this post other than it is a follow on from last week's one. I had used the clip from Notting Hill because it reminded me of a time when my mother was very happy. This is actually a photo from that period - notice a theme? She still has a glass of champagne in her hand, things never change!

This post is actually all about the details. Those little words that can lift your writing off the page and make it come to life in the reader's mind. It is something that I often find my students overlook. They don't see it as important. However, the details can give so many clues to what a character is like or what is going to happen in a story. They can be teasers.

What am I talking about? Well look at these two sentences and think about what they say are actually saying:

'She took a sip of a delicious white wine.'

Perfectly good sentence, that says exactly what is going on. However, compare that with this:

'She took a sip of a cool, crisp Chablis.'

Immediately you can get some idea of the weather - why would she want a cool, crisp drink unless it was hot? Could this be taking place in the summer? What sort of person drinks Chablis?

Think about cars.

'He was driving a bright red Ferrari' - quite cliched but it says a lot in comparison with 'He was driving a rusty, old mini.'

But it needn't be about objects that belong to people. Think about settings. If you say the wood was full of bluebells it immediately tells the reader what time of year it is.

There is a fine balance though between info dumping and not giving any information at all. Look at it as giving the reader enough clues for them to create an image but still have to work at it a bit. They can all add to the sense of tension in a story too.

I am currently reading Lauren St John's The One Dollar Horse and she is very good at this. There is this constant sense of underlying tension of potential disaster as she carefully slips in the odd critical detail that gets the reader worrying. I am almost reluctant to keep reading at the moment because I am terrified something dreadful is going to happen to the wonderful Storm Warning and I won't be able to cope. However, I will keep reading as I have faith that the author will make it end happily despite all these hints...doesn't it? If these hints and details weren't in the book though it would lose so much. It would be such a flat story. Next time you pick up a book look out for them. See what sort of a difference they make to you as a reader then bring this to your own writing.

And how about a bit of James Mraz and James Morrison playing 'Details in the Fabric.' Just seemed appropriate

Sunday 10 March 2013

The Importance of Storytelling

Happy times!
It is Mother's Day in the UK and this photo is one of my fondest memories and epitomises her. Full of wine and laughter. But she was also a great story teller. I was her carer and after her lunch and a couple of glasses of wine she would regale me with stories of her childhood and her life as a WRN during the Second World War. She did some amazing things. I have used some of these memories in a short story I have written for adults and which I finally finished this week.I have entered it into a competition just because I felt I owed it to her to do something with it.

It made me think me think about storytelling and how important in our lives it is. There was a fascinating article, which was brought to my attention by JW, entitled 'The Science of Storytelling: Why telling a story is the powerful way to activate the brain' by Leo Wildrich. I for one know I learn so much more when the lecturer used anecdotes to illustrate their point. It brings the idea to life. I can look for things that relate to me - make the connections. Storytelling, in numerous forms, has been one of the most fundamental communication methods since the world began. Stories provide affirmation that our lives have meaning. It is all about making the connections between cause and effect. Perhaps this is why we, as writers, like to read or hear about authors and their experience of becoming published. We want to find bits of us that we can relate to in that story that means we will get a chance to be published.

By telling stories we can plant ideas, thoughts, coping strategies and emotion into the reader's brain. I have written about this previously in various posts about contentious issues in young adult fiction etc in my blog already. After all it was my PhD. When writing, regardless of whether it is YAF, children or writing for adults, I believe it is important that you are not aiming to write a lesson/lecture instead you need to be writing a good story. One that the reader can climb into and become so involved that they are living the story. They need to care about the characters and what is going to happen to them. With any good story it also gives them a chance to think how they would react in any given situation amidst the page turning safety of a book. However, readers don't want to be told how to react. They want to work it out for themselves. You, as the writer, just gives them the clues. As such stories should never be predictable. There should be an element of anticipation but also a good dose of uncertainty that means they are not convinced they know exactly what will happen.

Stories continue to be an important part of my life. I love writing them and I love telling them. I am trying to emulate those lecturers who inspired me the most by telling anecdotal lectures. Stories are the food of life after all.

This is for my Mummy. I still miss her every day. This was her favourite film for a very long time. It brings back some very happy memories of when she was really well and happy.I have many stories I could tell about that time. Is it wine time?

Saturday 2 March 2013

I don't have time to write...apparently yes you do!

Meg Rosoff's Eck 
It has been an interesting week. On Tuesday the truly wonderful, Meg Rosoff came down to the University to talk to our MA students. As always she gave a fascinating talk, open to all and to a packed room, which she finished by reading from There is No Dog. This was followed by a workshop just for the MA students that had us all digging into the depths of our feelings looking for our voice. It certainly gave me a lot to think about. It was a very useful session.

This week I have also been bemoaning my lack of time to write my new book. Blaming my work, blaming the fact I know I have some rewrites to do to Trafficking and therefore can't focus on new stuff. Blaming everything I could think of rather than facing the truth. Of course you can find time to write if you want/need to but I wasn't. Then I was sitting vacantly staring at my iPad yesterday in the Learning Cafe after a student had failed to turn up to a dissertation meeting (*sigh*). Next to me was another colleague also sitting and working more productively on his iPad. However, little did he know that I was in the middle of an epiphany (as opposed to wasting time on Facebook as I was accused). It suddenly came to me why I was struggling to write this book. It wasn't working. It wasn't right. I am a member of a great critique group who had given some very useful and positive feedback on the chapters I had written so far. But the writing had stalled and I still couldn't move forward with it. I kept walking around it, dancing with it every now and then rather than engaging with the narrative. Why? Well that was my epiphany - I needed to kill off another character. I had started off with four siblings, cut this down to three and now I knew I needed to cut it down to two. Bye, bye Rose, exit left stage from Persephone's Pegasus please.

I then had another epiphany - it was a busy day for them - that even when you don't think you are having time to write you are in fact sub-consciously thinking about your work in progress. It is there in the back of your mind being mulled over quietly. My panic that I wasn't writing, I felt, was unfounded. I was in fact writing but not necessarily on the page. I am hoping I can move forward now and take this story where I want to because I do believe it is quite a good one.

My epiphanies may well have been instigated by an  interview with Nick Cave, which was posted earlier this week by JW (thank you). At the end of the interview he talks about the brief light bulb moment when you get an idea. I thought, rather insightfully, he talked about the fact it is not just having the ideas, it is what you do with them. He pointed out that, inevitably, it takes a lot of hard work to make the light bulb moment into something really good. See being creative is not easy!

This is one of my favourite songs from a new album I have just got by Heidi Talbot. Happy Weekend everyone!