Writing – the (not so) lovely endeavour

by Anna Jones Buttimore

The lot of a writer is one of long hours hunched over a keyboard in a dimly lit room with nothing but a cat for company. Shut away from the real world we pull faces and make hand gestures as our characters do, mutter dialogue to ourselves, and live in a strange environment peopled entirely by creatures of our own imagination. Alone we face the frustrations of edit after edit, and the crushing disappointment of rejection after rejection of our precious offspring. It’s little wonder that many of us seem to be a little eccentric, if not downright mad.

As least, that’s how it used to be. These days writing is no longer the lonely and solitary profession.

  • Today Hellen is coming to my house to work on her novel. She’s coming partly because I have a spare desk and she won’t be tempted to do housework in my house (although I’ve told her she’d be welcome to), but also for the company. And once in a while she can ask me, “What’s that word that means..?” or “How would you describe the smell of..?” Hellen and I have written a book together, and writing in the company of others is a lot of fun.
  • Years ago when my first novel was printed my editor put me in touch with a fellow author I admired, Kerry Blair, and she in turn “virtually” introduced me to several other authors, most of whom I have now met in person. For many years we emailed each other frequently with messages of support and encouragement. We congratulated each other on books accepted and published and commiserated on rejections. We cooed over baby photos and offered support in times of illness and despair. Most of all, though, we shared the experience of writing, its rewards and its difficulties, and we were there for each other. We email less frequently than we once did, but we do now share a blog.
  • Hardly a day goes by without me receiving an invitation via Facebook to a book launch party; probably because around half my Facebook friends are writers. I also belong to many writers groups on Facebook where I find discussions on editing, naming characters and every and any aspect of this strange craft of ours.
  • I belong to two writers’ groups (Writebulb and Rayleigh WINOS) and thus two Saturdays a month are spent writing flash fiction, undertaking challenges and setting goals with other writers. It’s a really wonderful opportunity. One Writebulb member pointed out “We learn far more in two hours than we could at any creative writing class”.
  • Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month – November) sees groups of writers meeting together in libraries for “sprints” on their laptops, badges popping up all over Facebook, and a real sense of solidarity as thousands of writers struggle to write 50,000 words in just one month. I’ve only done it once, and I failed due to poor planning (got 20,000 words in and realised I had no idea where the book was going and needed to do some major research) but I’m going to try again in this year.

Writing may once have meant working in glorious solitude, but it doesn’t have to any more. We authors can support and encourage one another, get together and share our experiences and goals, either online or in person. Even if, at the end of the day, we like to retreat to our dimly-lit attic room with our laptops to immerse ourselves once more in the worlds we create.

 

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Reading Memories

by Natacha Dudley

‘There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island.’ Walt Disney.

I have always enjoyed books and I was fortunate to grow up with parents who loved reading and passed on that joy to me. Every week they would take me to the local library to choose new books. I can still remember the excitement of walking through the great entrance doors and then sprinting to the children’s section.

I briefly returned to that world when I heard about a recent survey of the most popular children’s books. The YouGov poll was carried out in association with the children’s charity Barnardo’s as part of a campaign to promote reading for vulnerable children in the UK. In the poll of more than 2,000 adults I was delighted to see Winnie the Pooh in first place, but the Top Ten also included other personal favourites such as Black Beauty, Treasure Island, and the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

As adults, reading gives us time to pause in our stressful lives and enjoy a moment of privacy and relaxation. When we read a story, we experience all of our favourite character’s emotions, and we escape into their world. Reading with young children not only stimulates their imagination but also gives them access to a wide vocabulary.  Literacy isn’t just a life skill it’s a passport to happiness. I wish the Barnardo’s Story Time initiative every success for the future.

 

 

The Birthplace of Inspiration

by Sofia Andrewski

It is a common experience for a writer—or even an enthusiastic reader—to stare with awe at the words and ideas imparted on paper by the great authors and storytellers. Sometimes it is hard to understand where their inspiration came from, whether it be the imaginative worlds of Tolkien or J.K. Rowling, or the complicated network of passageways in Mervyn Peake’s castle Gormenghast. There are a million and one other examples of course, a lot of them quite ordinary. For instance, little accents of character, or an intricate plot-line. Sometimes these little touches strike the reader as a brand of genius.

If you are dabbling with writing, these strokes of brilliance in other’s works can be quite depressing. Thoughts such as, I could never do this, or, my imagination isn’t good enough, may be overwhelming. Sometimes it seems better to close our books and ignore the existence of every decent writer while we are attempting to put pen to paper.

However, this could be a mistake. Whilst no one wants to plagiarise, humans learn best by imitation. Looking at how something is done is a surer way of picking it up than turning our backs and trying to figure out how to do it ourselves. When it comes to generating fresh ideas, or recharging inspiration levels, it is helpful to re-read authors we admire, and work out why their stories are so immersive.

There is another benefit of scouring for new concepts. Not only does the mere act loosen the mind enough to see things from a new perspective—which can actually alter our style of prose—but it puts the subconscious to work, encouraging it to come up with new connections. Countless writers confess to forming the first structures of their story from ideas they had during sleep.

This is something I have experienced many times, and even just a few nights ago is another example: in the dream I was quite impressed by the inventiveness of one of the dream characters, as he found a variety of uses for a magnetic shield. I remember thinking in the dream, wow, I never would have thought of using it like that, completely unaware that it was indeed my brain that had come up with all the ideas—let alone the fact it was constructing the whole environment I was so engaged in. I woke up convinced that if my brain does that every night, creating such an absorbing environment, then surely it is capable of creating enough concepts for a decent story!

There is a certain beauty in the way the mind works, and how the imagination can flex its muscles, mixing bits of information together and coming out with something new and personal. Sometimes it is easy to forget we all have this ability, even the novice writer. It doesn’t really matter if you can’t afford to travel the world, or can’t break out of a chain of mundane situations; as long as we have access to a library, a world full of stories and inspiration awaits.