City streets, hot smoke, fag ends in litter bins billowing around Big Issue vendors and chewing gum trodden hard into tarmac, the mint all chewed out. Mojitos sweating on unshaded tables laid in the middle of the street and a beautiful Japanese man wearing a scarf even though it's hot because it's not hot enough for him. Laughter in glasses, lipstick attracting flies and shop doors open; beckoning, but it's not enough to compete with the street. Alleys crowded with smokers the conversation sparkier than inside air-conned bars with bags on the table getting quietly raided by stray hands and curious dogs' noses. Exposed faces, vulnerable, low down in derelict doorways soiled sleeping bags homeless people no change to spare but there's a soup kitchen over there offering sandwiches scrutinised earlier in the day, unwanted by the popular paying public with coins to spare.
Following the idea that 'autumn is the new spring' - or even the 'new' New Year - I've been re-reading old magazines recently and finding that I hadn't actually read them all the way through the first time.
Through revisiting their gorgeous, thick, square pages I've now discovered: The Inklings.
An informal discussion group who met weekly in the local pub, 'The Inklings' were students/alumni - and their friends - of the University of Oxford in the 1930's and 40's, right up to the early sixties.
Here I've doctored the pages from the magazine to create my own memory of the Inklings; from the plaque on the wall honouring famous members: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and Charles Williams, to a cut-out 'found' poem using words and phrases from the original article, by Peter Holthusen.
The Rabbit Room:
a wealth of stories
old Oxford eccentrics,
have drunk your health.
The Eagle and Child
a framed hand-written
The Rabbit Room was a private room in the back of The Eagle and Child pub where the Inklings would meet. I love the connotation of it being akin to a secret, literary warren of discussion; the main purpose of the group being to read and critique their unfinished works in progress.
There were no rules, officers, agendas, or formal elections. And as was typical for university literary groups in their time and place, the Inklings were all male.
How many of our current 'literary salons', groups and meetings will be remembered in this way? How likely is it to get such a group of talent in the same place, in the same room, talking and sharing as friends, now? Is it all online and hidden away in private social media groups?
I'd like to think not...but I think that's just my nostalgic side hoping beyond hope...
The article also included a copy of a letter written by (Professor) J.R.R. Tolkien, discussing his reasons for writing 'The Lord of the Rings':
I wrote The Lord of the Rings because I wished to try my hand at a really long story that would hold the attention of readers, amuse them, delight them, and at times maybe excite them or deeply move them.
I think he achieved his goal, and then some.
Seeing that glorious, almost calligraphic handwriting reminds me just how important handwriting my own journal and letters to friends, is to me.
Fonts and type and electronic messages are essential in the modern world, but how nice to return to the nostalgia of that bygone time; all those now-famous budding authors under one roof as they toiled over books known now the world over.
Discovering new treasure in something old is also a nice surprise.
Apparently the old copies of Pretty Nostalgic are becoming quite collectible now too, but I prefer to pass them on for others to enjoy - especially now I really have finished reading them.
Since Monday I've written around 10,000 words. Almost 9,000 of those were about completing my NaNoWriMo Novel Writing challenge yesterday (a day early!), then some new ideas I had as soon as I finished, and then my personal journal in recording my thoughts and feelings about my achievement.
It's been tough some days to dedicate the time I needed to my words. I've neglected family and friends. I haven't been writing much else apart from my NaNo-Novel (working title: Control).
But that's OK because it's been an immersive and cathartic experience, reminding me every single day that it really is possible to write 1,667 every day for 30 days, or 2,000 words, or even 5,000 words, even when you don't know what you're going to write.
That's the dream. Not waiting for the muse; just doing it.
My NaNo word-count total for the 3 years I've taken part now sits at 151,180 words. That's amazing! I can't believe I did it, but I did.
I knew I could do it but it's great to prove it to myself again (read my NaNo tips to myself).
Now I have a whole new work-in-progress novel I can take forward and do amazing things with. It will need work - a lot of work obviously - but the framework is there and I'm excited about the story. That's half the battle.
And I do love the glory of a downloadable, editable, printable certificate!
Now I'm going to pay-it-forward and donate to this amazing challenge so that it may continue inspiring others as it has motivated and inspired me, because...
What makes a writer a writer? Writing.
NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) has not been on my to-do list for the last 4 years. I first tried it in 2011 and 'won' (meaning I completed the target of 50,000 words written in the month of November), and then did the same in 2012. It was fun and exhilarating, but it's also a bit of a pressure, especially when you have other things on, Christmas on the way, a day-job...
In 2013 I wrote down all the reasons I wouldn't be taking part in NaNoWriMo - but now I can't find them. What I did find is this:
Words are my friends, they are my enemy. I need to write more, more, more and the backspace button is not my friend. Pruning is not allowed. Quantity over quality is my aim - I think.
It's not that I want to write crap and congratulate myself at the end when I (hopefully) have 50,000 words in a document. The idea is to break down the barriers to writing, to get SOMETHING down on the page that can be edited and re-drafted later.
Analysis is the enemy of the novelist; too much agonising over the correct word, crafting the most perfect sentence, or browsing the net in the name of crucial research. GET IT WRITTEN NOW and then you have a framework to play with.
This year NaNoWriMo feels right. It called to me back in September; a gentle whisper that gradually became an urgent: do it do it do it. Write. New. Things.
I think it's because I've not been writing new work since the edits on my debut novel stalled over the summer (June to be exact), and ever since I've experienced the slow creep of crippling #writer-guilt manifesting in the following thoughts:
How can I call myself a writer when I'm not working on my book; not actually writing?
How can I ever hope to get published when I'm not doing anything to progress my work, my practice, my writing endeavours?
NaNoWriMo has become the perfect antidote to my #writer-guilt.
I'm a little over a day behind now - I was inspired back to my book edits (oh the irony!) - but I've started so I'll finish. I'm a 'pantser', what can I say?
Are you doing NaNoWriMo? How are you getting on? Have you done it before?
Meanwhile, keep up to date with me, my writing - NaNo-related and otherwise - and learn a few new words along the way with THE WORD, my newsletter for writers and word-lovers.
Out shopping one Saturday in Glasgow's west end, I spotted a little curiosity shop I'd never seen before. Intrigued, I entered the shop through thick purple curtains hanging on either side of the doorway, leading me through a dark vestibule before opening out into the shop proper. It put me in mind of Narnia as if I'd walked through the back of the wardrobe and into another world.
'Can I help you?'
I hadn’t heard a bell ring, and couldn’t see anyone. The shop was still and silent and smelt of old books.
'No. No thanks. I’m just…err.'
'Don’t worry dear, look around as long as you wish.'
The voice, a man’s voice, was little more than a croak.
My eyes struggled to adjust to the dingy gloom inside and instinctively I stayed close to the entrance. Goose bumps popped up along my arms.
I took in the shapes and colours of the old-fashioned items, the books stacked on the floor resting on the worn carpet, the dressing table piled high with decorative hat boxes trimmed with old velvet, a valise, long-handled hair brushes and jewellery draped over the mirror. It was the kind of shop my mother would have adored.
After a few minutes I turned to leave, vowing to return another time and bring my mother along. Then I saw it, nestled between a bird-cage and some handbags: the camera. Japanese. I wondered what its story was and how it had ended up here, in this shop in Glasgow.
'Still works, it does.'
The voice startled me for the second time. Where was this man?
I touched the chrome of the lenses, running my fingers over the different dials and screws. It still looked smart despite its age. I didn't know anything about photography but I knew I had to have this vintage camera. I was drawn to it.
The man appeared at the same moment I reached my decision. He was old, older than I'd thought, maybe in his mid-80's. He smiled at me but said nothing as he reached for the camera, put it neatly in its leather case, and began to wrap it in tissue paper.
I paid him in cash – the price tag said £20 - but I hadn't even said I wanted to buy it. It was as if he knew. The bag he gave me was the same purple as the curtains, with the word ‘Debonair’ in gold lettering across the middle. Thanking the man I turned away, feeling his eyes on me as I left.
Elated with my impromptu purchase and dazzled by the bright sunlight outside, I headed home through the Botanic Gardens. I couldn’t wait to examine the vintage camera properly.
I flicked on the hall light - there were no windows in my hall and it was always dark, even on a summer's day - and made to flip open the film hatch of the camera, expecting to find an empty void. Above me the light flickered and the bulb blew. Shit. That had given me a fright.
My fingers had already released the catch on the camera, and as I felt inside I realised a film was loaded. An actual film in the camera! It seemed like fate for the lightbulb to have blown just as I was opening the back. The film could have been ruined otherwise. Reluctantly I reminded myself that could already be the case.
With my imagination punching out all kinds of answers to what might be on the film my dreams that night were vivid and restless. A love affair? Naughty nudes? People I didn't know? Places? Scenery? Whatever it was I knew I had to get the film developed as soon as I could. Maybe they could do it in an hour? Maybe I was getting carried away.
Tingles of excitement rippled through me as I went to get the camera.
Only it wasn't there. I was sure I'd left it on the hall table, but it didn't seem to be there. The bag was still there though. Debonair in gold typeface. I glanced to the front door. It was ajar. I ran to it, heard the echo of someone's footsteps as they ran down the stairs.
This post is part of a link-up with my blog-buddy Karen Lynch of Leaf and Petal. She blogs about vintage, craft and nostalgia. Read Karen's post inspired by the same image.
Last week I had some deadlines. Creative deadlines for things I really wanted to do - like writing a story for a competition and completing my first collage for the newly formed #collageclub with my #BWP friends. Instead of being able to immerse myself in the creative realm and embrace the rich seam of ideas that came my way (ideas, always, all the time), I felt strangled by responsibilities - going to work, keeping appointments, keeping a semblance of order on the home front.
The more I tried to clear a path to the magical time of creation and freedom from the mundane tasks of every day, the more 'stuff' came at me and I felt exhausted and frustrated with the effort of trying to keep up.
In the midst of this I decided to just let it all go; not bother to enter the competition I had so wanted to enter; submit my collage another time, later, not now, forget it.
I felt disappointed - in myself - and like I had let myself down somehow. Real life had won out over the alchemy of creation and flow and self expression. Perhaps there was a sense of relief too, as I had given myself 'permission' to give up my self-imposed deadlines?
Deflated, I continued with my collage anyway. And I finished it in time. How did that happen?
By not worrying about whether I did it or not, I just did it.
And although I really didn't have time to write a decent 1000-word story for the competition, I re-read the entry guidelines and realised I could submit a poem instead. And once this realisation sunk in, a poem started forming in my mind.
I began to scribble it down and all of a sudden the magic just started to happen and I had something to work with and it wouldn't be perfect or polished, but it would be something, and I would be able to enter the competition after all and by doing so I wouldn't feel like I had completely failed. At the eleventh hour I would meet these goals despite myself.
And I did.
Here is my collage.
My favourite lines:
...My night, my sky -
the Glasgow Clyde...
It may not be a winner, it may not be perfect, but it was the best that I could do, at the time.
It exists, it's out there, and by submitting it I felt not only pleased that I had managed to take part after all, but truly that it is the taking part that counts.
See what you can do in the time you have when you don't have time.
And if you are in any way creative, this video says it all:
I enjoyed reading Jack Kerouac's 'lost novel' recently, but I admire and am drawn to the wild and passionate way he lived his life even more. His 'Rules of Spontaneous Prose' (or 'Belief and Technique for Modern Prose', as it was also known) could almost be 'The Rules' on how to live as a creative and as a vagabond, roaming the tide of modern life.
There are 30 'rules'. I have picked 15 favourites:
1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
4. Be in love with yr life
5. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest
12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time
15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
17. Write in recollection and amazement of yourself
20. Believe in the holy contour of life
21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
23. Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
29. You're a Genius all the time
In imagining all that life can be; the great expanse of dreams and joy and rich heart-fluttering happiness grasping at being alive and free, I am sharing my Pinterest board on 'Mantras for Life', which I turn to when I need some perspective:
Or if things are really bad, my 'Emotional Rescue' board:
I also try to consign perceived disappointments, set-backs and failures to a folder marked 'experience', attributing these thoughts to the messages we all receive around us every day that elevate the ideal of the 'American dream' (or the British dream) as the pinnacle of all achievement.
Success means different things to different people. And I choose a life of happiness and dreaming.
I love writing by hand, from the heart. Tapping into that brain/hand connection, and leaving my own unique imprint on paper or card.
Or the back of an envelope as I scribble down a to-do list (I have so many beautiful notepads of varying shapes and sizes, but time and again I return to the freshly-ripped-open envelope as these always seem to be available in abundance just when I need them.)
But as I touched on in a previous post, the digital world increasingly erodes the tangible, physical evidence of living and of life, and with it, the need to write anything by hand.
When I think of the kind of things I physically write on a daily basis:
to-do lists, plans, shopping lists, my diary/journal, a dream I have had, birthday cards, thank you cards, all types of cards, postcards...
I am lulled into a sense of safety on behalf of handwriting, because these things would not easily be replaced by electronic means. Who types up shopping lists? Really?
And what about the thrill of crossing something off the list - there is no better joy than scoring a line right through a task - and the accompanying sense of achievement and accomplishment. To get the same thrill electronically, you would have to highlight the word and use a strike through. Even typing that out is a bore. No thrill there.
Writers though - a term I loosely use to describe myself - often find it quicker and easier to write with the aid of computers and the latest technologies. Most people can type faster than they can physically write, so as the ideas are in full swing, it makes sense to capture them as fast as possible. That makes sense.
But are other people writing diaries and journals? little notes and cards? or does email and social media replace the need to, well, bother?
Writing a diary of course is more of a slow, meditative process, benefiting from the physical connection of thoughts from the brain, down through the arm and hand, into the physical words. And the best way to tap into your 'inner child' is to try writing something with your non-dominant hand, because this taps into the childlike memory of learning to write. I've tried it. It really does work. Scarily so.
Unless you can actually write well with both hands in the first place.
But as our lives get busier and our digital lives consume us further, will humans gradually (or perhaps quickly in evolutionary terms) one day lose the ability to write by hand? Will there be any need to write by hand? And if no need presents itself, will anyone be left who still wants to write by hand?
This is a concern that seems to be omnipresent, resonating with friends and colleagues alike.
And then I panic that I am part of the last generation who will ever use pen, paper and their own handwriting. In the future, perhaps handwritten notes, labels and diaries will become rare and unfamiliar; fragile reminders of times gone by, specimens of such preserved behind glass in the depths of a museum.
It's hard to imagine right now, because I don't think anyone is really keeping an eye out for handwriting. And writing by hand is still going on.
But let's see where we are in five years time...
This post was written as part of a Blog with Pip blogging challenge set by Kim from i heart tuesdays. The theme was 'Handwritten'. Read Kim's post, as well as the response on this theme from others in the group.
Pass the blog-tour-baton! As part of a blog chain aimed at promoting, inspiring and publicising writers, I am honoured to take the baton from Michelle Newell, a writer I 'met' as part of the super-supportive and creative Blog With Pip community.
Michelle blogs at Lost Story Found, and last week posted an audio clip revealing her inspirations and process as a writer, complete with beautiful bird-song in the background.
Now it's my turn...
What am I working on?
This is a difficult question at the moment, as I am not the kind of person who can focus on one thing at a time. My mind wanders, I'm a dreamer, and I have an abundance of ideas that take me off on an adventure of tangents. I've been told there is a name for this: MULTI-PASSIONATE. I'm Multi-Passionate.
At the moment however I am obsessed with birds, and am working on a poetry anthology inspired by all the birds that visit my garden and their distinct personalities and mannerisms. Don't be lulled into the idea that this is a cute little project though: a lot of the poems so far are rather dark.
My other project is a novel. Actually two novels, both set in Glasgow and with very different themes. I have had dreams about my two lead characters (both female), and feel the threads of their stories coming together in my mind. I'd like to keep the plot lines a secret for now. Is that allowed?
How does my work differ from others in its genre?
All I can say about this is that no matter what the story, no matter how many times a theme or plot line might have been written about in the past - seemingly mined for all its gold - each writer, each individual, has their own, unique, distinct voice.
There are 'tells' in the sentence structure; in the words that are used and how they are peppered throughout the text which is akin to handwriting - similar, but not the same - could never be the same as anyone elses. So I feel my work - my writing - stands out in its own way because it is mine, my voice, my observations, and my story.
I think this is reinforced by this Martha Graham quote:
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost."
Why do I write what I do?
See above quote!
All I can say to expand on this is that these ideas, these threads and ribbons of stories manifest in my mind and come to me in dreams, and I feel that these are the stories I need to write, must write, that only I can tell. It's a duty and a calling, and probably a curse too.
How does my writing process work?
It kind of doesn't - see all of the above!
I have the ideas and I scribble notes and I write things down and I make a start, but after that, a lot of the initial enthusiasm...dwindles.
More ideas come to me - plot twists, sentences, scenes - I imagine the characters and construct mood-boards to build up a better picture in my mind of the finer details. Although I love descriptions, I'm not the kind of writer who likes to launch into a description of a character first off - I'd rather leave that a bit anonymous and build in the detail over time.
Previously I have drawn out spider-diagrams for characters and story arcs, but ultimately it's about getting started, getting something on the page - be that paper or screen (I tend to type, as I type FAST) - and just diving in.
I always carry a notepad and pen with me, and keep these by my bed too for writing down ideas and dreams. Microsoft OneNote is useful for organising thoughts and ideas, but for writing, I just use basic Word.
I successfully completed NaNoWriMo (writing a 50,000 word novel in the month of November) two years running, in 2011 and 2012, and found it very freeing to just do it, just WRITE, rather than worrying - procrastinating - by planning the details and doing research. Interestingly however, the two 'novels' I wrote for NaNoWriMo are not either of the pieces that I am working on just now. It was an experiment, a challenge, and it helps to overcome the perceived barriers of starting to write.
As a general rule, I don't particularly enjoy research either. I like to write about feelings, sensations, thoughts, reactions, experiences, and leave the factual stuff to those who excel at it. That probably makes me sound really lazy - I do like to make sure I have got things correct - but research doesn't come naturally. It's why my second career plan of being a journalist never panned out. My first career plan was to be a writer.
And now I pass the baton to writer and blogger Vikki Gemmell who will continue the blog tour next Monday (31st March).
Vikki enjoys writing short stories, flash fiction, poetry and novels. She has work published in the anthology An Earthless Melting Pot, The Bohemyth Literary Journal, The Puffin Review, Postcard Shorts, Flash Flood Journal and Multi-story.com. She is currently working on a Young Adult novel.
Vikki blogs about observations of life at Through the Looking Glass.
A quote each from some of my favourite and well-known writers and diarists. Their thoughts toward keeping a diary and what to include in it mirror my own from my previous post on the topic. Joan Didion - "How much of it actually happened? Did any of it? Why do I keep a notebook at all?...The point of my keeping a notebook has never been, nor is it now, to have an accurate factual record of what I have been doing or thinking. That would be a different impulse entirely, an instinct for reality which I sometimes envy but do not possess."
Susan Sontag - "In the journal I do not just express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself. The journal is a vehicle for my sense of selfhood. It represents me as emotionally and spiritually independent. Therefore (alas) it does not simply record my actual, daily life but rather - in many cases - offers an alternative to it..."
Sylvia Plath - “I want to write because I have the urge to excel in one medium of translation and expression of life. I can't be satisfied with the colossal job of merely living. Oh, no, I must order life in sonnets and sestinas and provide a verbal reflector for my 60-watt lighted head.”
Anais Nin - “Ordinary life does not interest me. I seek only the high moments. I am in accord with the surrealists, searching for the marvelous.”
Doris Lessing - "A story is how we construct our experiences."
Anne Frank - “I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”
Virginia Woolf - “What sort of diary should I like mine to be? I should like it to resemble some deep old desk or capacious hold-all, in which one flings a mass of odds and ends without looking them through. I should like to come back, after a year or two, and find that the collection had sorted itself and refined itself and coalesced, as such deposits so mysteriously do, into a mould, transparent enough to reflect the light of our life, and yet steady, tranquil compounds with the aloofness of a work of art."
This was interesting: a writing analyser.
Each time I try it, I get a different result. What does that say about my writing style, apart from, perhaps, that I haven't settled on my writing style yet.
I'm still 'finding myself'.
Or that this test is just a bit of fun.
It's very sad to think that letter-writing is on the wane. I still buy letter-writing sets, notelets, cards, and adore all stationery. As part of International Women’s Day celebrations (Saturday 8th March), Glasgow Women's Library and the Gallery of Modern Art ran a series of letter-writing workshops to celebrate the lives of women from all walks of life:
"suffragettes, sportswomen, singers and scientists; philanthropists, parachutists, playwrights and pioneers; artists, anarchists, aviators and activists; environmentalists, entertainers, engineers and educators; witches, writers, workers and warriors..."
An exhibition to showcase all the letters written and received will run until 23rd March 2014.
Write a letter as part of Illuminated Letters, or to a friend or loved one. You'll make their day!
Reaching down to the depths of my bag, fingers grazing the raw underside of the leather, I delve deeper until I feel the rigid filigreed metal of my grandmother’s gun. I trace the cool ivory handle with my fingers and in my mind, taking in the sure smooth certainty of its existence, imagine the recoil jolt that will come when I fire.
It is a solid pistol, heavier than it looks with the dainty paste diamonds inset into the side. A jewel for each word: ‘I-love-you’. A strange gift, though things were different then. The gun was a relic from the war; but it worked. I knew it did. And Danny knew it too. Read on.
I am delighted to be featured as part of this exciting project:
TubeFlash is original flash fiction inspired by the London Underground and a collection of vintage and contemporary brooches. Each station is paired with a brooch, with writers responding to the history and provenance of both the station and the brooch to create a diverse collection of stories.
The brooches belong to Joanna Sterling, the mastermind behind the project.
I chose Gunnersby on the District Line, which was represented by this beautiful and unusual gun brooch.
Listen to the audio compilation that features The Pact (Part 6 - Keep Moving) available via iTunes.
I'm very excited, proud and delighted to announce that I WON the storytelling competition that I posted about last month #result!
It means so much to me to be chosen as a finalist, voted and picked as the 'Reader Favourite', and to be published alongside an illustrated picture in Pretty Nostalgic magazine.
View the double-page spread and read the full story:
Thank you to everyone who voted for my story!
*Big Road, Tall Tales* was published in Issue 10 of the magazine.