Hunter Gatherer

Now that the new year has well and truly settled in I thought it was more than time I stopped making excuses and got back to posting my blogs!

Since my last posting I have been doing lots of reading, been on holiday and even started to focus on improving and promoting some of the stories I have written but never returned to – it’s always much easier to think about going back at a future date to rewrite a piece of work than actually doing it – but such is life!

I admit it’s not been easy and that I’ve felt rather more like a naughty school girl who hasn’t done her homework than a writer polishing her work because I haven’t been producing new work. That said, the process has had its moments of enlightenment. There have been times, for example, in which I clearly see where a certain piece or paragraph lacks consistency or depth. The process has also helped me to appreciate how much growth there is still to gain. When I look at my work I feel a mixture of frustration at just how much further I have to go to reach that intangible “thing” I’m striving for, while at the same time recognizing that my skill at “colouring” in detail is improving.

On a positive, as far as actually promoting my work goes, I’ve got another short story titled Hunter Gatherer published with the talented folks at Wilderness House Literary Review here:

http://www.whlreview.com/

I’m sure many readers can relate to the subject I’ve written about here. I’ve seen different versions of this scenario played out so many times it was natural to give it a go and see if I could capture the essence of it. The characters were a mix of at least three different people each who I have known in my life both as a child and as an adult. This method helped me to build the right tone. The fun thing about fiction instead of fact is that we can build characters and situations to suit a story rather than being pinned down by fact! It was fun to write – capturing people behaving badly in public has always appealed to my sense of humour, and I think this helps.

I’d encourage anyone struggling for a topic to write about to go and do a “chore” either at home or out in public like going to the chemist, washing the car, cleaning – whatever “thing” you’d rather put off for some-time-never and pay close attention to your mind chatter (if alone) or to those around you. To take a step out of ourselves and see as the observer is always fascinating and will surely highlight a situation or thing in such an unexpected way that your creative self will feel that spark of creativity or indeed challenge to capture that in the form of a short story, poem – whatever it may be – just give it a go!

Good luck and keep going. As I said to a friend the other day, there is no such thing as a bad story. Look at it more like a starting point!

 

Mischief In Polly-Cotton Nickers

To follow on from my last post on the theme of “happy” writing, I’m going to post a 100 word story I wrote along with a short explanation of what I was seeking to achieve.

The restrictions of this particular piece were that the story had to be 100 words exactly (excluding title) to be written on any theme. While it doesn’t sound a lot, it’s constantly surprising how much can indeed be said with so few words – a great exercise in learning the value of a word and its potential in a story.

I approached the process with the idea that I wanted to capture a mood rather than tell a story. With my eyes closed I imagined golden sunshine and the warmth of it on my characters head bringing “mood/mischief” to the character and fire to her hair. The mood was light and slightly naughty. I took the decision to keep things light, clean and wanted her to have a little fun that maybe was a little “naughty” in an innocent way. This brought me to the flying-fox and her indulging in a little child-like fun with a sense of joy. It was very much a colour pallet of golden summer, warmth, fun and a sense of letting inhibition go to play.

I hope that when you read it you are warmed by the sheer joy of the piece and that it inspires you to write a “happy” story of your own – try 100 words – how hard can it be?!

MISCHIEF IN POLLY-COTTON NICKERS

Sun shone like fire in her copper hair as she climbed the wooden steps. It wasn’t high, but the effort made her puff. At the top she stopped and looked around. With a nod she reached up and grabbed the metal bar and leapt into the air whooping. Her skirts and hair flew. The sensation of flying, running, being naughty, made her heart sing. Before the tyre wall she let go, landing on her back. She lay there thinking how big the sky looked. Laughter bubbled from her belly, shaking her whole body. She wondered what her children would say.

ON A HAPPY NOTE

With most if not all forms of writing, whether it be long or short, tension is used to capture the reader’s attention. This is a basic rule that helps turn something potentially dull, like doing the grocery shopping, into something far more interesting – if there is a dispute over what kind of yoghurt to buy for instance. The challenge I’ve set myself lately is to not fall into the trap of only using “negative” tension to create interest in a story. It’s of course not so easy in practice… But, it can be done!

I admit I’ve been having a blast immersing myself in pools of positivity by using language evoking colour, warmth joy in my stories. Just think of a moment in time when you last felt true joy and how brightly coloured everything was, how positive the future, how surprisingly friendly people seemed – capture this energy, these sensations and weave them into your character, into the setting by highlighting something so simple like the pattern on the wallpaper, texture of the sky – you get the idea!

And so now you have a “positive” flow, movement and that feeling of joy translated into the “ordinary” that the reader can relate to in their own life. My idea is to continue with these short stories and flashes and compile another collection of short stories and will post the link just as soon as it’s up and running.

In the meantime, enjoy the process, tell your brain it can do it, and spread the joy!

Happy reading and writing.

Clear Sky Morning

In this posting I’m going to explore the process I went through when writing the flash Clear Sky Morning which is published in the April 2015 edition (international) of Flash Frontier. The theme was iron and I was (as usual) quite lost as how to start – that’s always the trick… It’s only once I find a trailing string of thought or emotion that things start to shape up. Anyway, this one started with gazing at an indifferent pale sky and I was feeling like rubbish because I had my period. And there it was – a flash of inspiration. All-of-a-sudden the word “iron” was translated into blood and the sky was suggestive of “nothing”, an emptiness or absence. In my mind I could see an old-fashioned bath in a bare bathroom. So now, with the “feel” of setting then I sought the “narrative” voice. It was like I could hear the character speaking her truth in the form of an internal dialogue – a form of writing that helped to create an air of intimacy or even the feel of eavesdropping on someone’s thoughts. From this point it was a matter of paying attention to the “feel” of the piece and making sure the dialogue was authentic.

As usual I enjoyed the process of making each word “work” for its place. I find that to play with all the connotations of a word often brings far more depth than long explanations because it doesn’t take you away from the story and your connection to it. Then it was a matter of building the story sentence by sentence. Interestingly when I had the basic out-line of the story down I saw I had only written around 140 words. This made me read through what I had to look for the gaps – what had I not said, what needed filling in…? By the time I had brought it up closer to the word limit of 250 words I found I had a story with far more depth and also more of a back-story.

You can find this story along with an incredible collection of other stories written to the same theme of Iron below:

http://flash-frontier.com/

The Belle Of Ireland

This week I’m writing about the story The Belle Of Ireland that I wrote for Writers Block on Plains FM. The competition theme was Ireland and this took me straight back to my brief visit to Dublin some years ago. Even now I remember the city as being hard and grey – an impression that was only softened when it rained. I remembered walking past Saint Patrick’s Cathedral that was locked and following a trail of blood that if not suggesting fatality something very close and how people just walked all over it as if it weren’t there. I heard later that night on the news that a Ukrainian had indeed been stabbed and died in that area. Another day found a large group of Spanish students gesticulating loudly at the legs of a man protruding from the front wheels of a large truck. Then while scouring this city full of people and products from anywhere that wasn’t Ireland (I make a habit of buying locally made: or at least try!) the final image I stumbled across that stuck was of a couple meeting outside the bus-depot and how close they pressed their bodies together – and I was half way there to capturing the “feel” at least. From there I thought about all those jokes about “knee tremblers” – a term referring to a couple having sex standing up and how Ireland herself has suffered economically over recent years. The rest came sentence by sentence as I explored the hopes, dreams and fears of my young lady who tries in her own way to find some way out of her misery.

You can find the link to this story along with a selection of other Flash Fiction on the Writers Block podcast here:

The Girl With No Name

A couple of years ago I wrote 6 stories that were inter-related. The idea was to create a small collection. After letting these stories sit for a year I sent them to Michelle Elvy of Flash Frontier fame and asked her professional opinion if they were worth getting edited. She said yes and did this for me. Afterwards I worked to reduce the total word count below 5 thousand words and submitted it to a local writing competition – nothing happened. While I was happy with my work, I had little confidence it’d succeed and so did nothing further. Michelle was more optimistic and encouraged me to try again. The result is that this selection of short stories is currently published on Wilderness House Literary Review’s Spring Edition 2015 – thank you, Michelle!

I think the lesson here is to keep going, even when we can’t see any end to the vacuum we appear to be operating in as writers. The flip side is that now I feel the pressure of doing it again!

The stories in The Girl With No Name came from the idea of a young woman who wasn’t really “present” in her own life. I put her through a series of events to see what would wake her up. I did this by creating other characters around her, exploring their relationships and their backgrounds – to see why they were the way they were and let things take their course. For me it’s always interesting to understand a character’s actions. Nothing happens by chance – there is always a reason for why someone reacts the way they do. Ultimately, the characters appear brutal in their actions, but this is done without judgement. I felt a certain amount of sympathy for them, because to my mind they were just as much victims of circumstance as perpetrators of crime.

If anyone would like me to go through each segment of this collection and explore how I came to write them in greater detail just post a request and I’ll do my best to oblige.

You’ll find the link to this collection at Wilderness House Literary Review here:

http://www.whlreview.com/

And in case you’re wondering how many stories I got written this week? 1! Happy reading and writing.

Mind Games

I can’t say how many times I’ve heard or read that writing should be treated like any job where one turns up at 9 o’clock every morning to turn out a consistent body of work. The thing I find frustrating about the very notion is they don’t say “how”. It’s like being told diet and exercise is the only way to lose weight. For starters – I already know that – tell me “how” – spell it out, please! Another thing is that we all operate differently and somehow we need to figure out our own way to arrive at the same goal.

For me the first and most consistent hurdle has been figuring out how to get past the mind chatter that tells me “I’m tired”, “I don’t have anything to say”, “I can’t do it” and unclench the brain enough to let a notion pass through. What I did about it was I started to argue. Each time the voice in my head said “I can’t” I would respond “of course I can’” and on it went. One day something simply clicked in my head and I realised I didn’t have to fight anymore and that in fact writing could be a joy. I simply told myself I could do it – and I did!

Taking away the self-imposed pressure of “I have to” and replacing it with “I can” has allowed the creative process the oxygen it needs to breathe. Combining this with a starting point such as something your eye was drawn to during the previous day, an overheard conversation or an object in your room to take as your theme will give you that toe-hold you need to get started. It doesn’t matter if your story goes in a completely different direction – these things tend to have a life of their own. What does matter is that we write. Think of it another way – what do writers do if it isn’t write? Not every day is equal, nor will our work shine as we would like every time we sit down to work. The thing we get out of the “allowing” ourselves to write is practice, a sense of purpose and occasionally a story that rewards us for our efforts.

I haven’t got to the writing everyday stage yet and I’m not in a hurry. I believe it’s important to work at our own natural pace and build up to things. If I write two short stories a week I’m satisfied and any more just makes life fantastic – keeping in mind this is my goal and reality doesn’t always match expectation! What I don’t want is to turn writing into a chore – there’s nothing more surely to stifle the creative process (for me at least). I want to enjoy writing – there’s something deeply personal about breathing life into characters – it’s a bit like meeting a new best-friend – these things take time and should be a pleasure.

In short, all I can say is take it easy on yourself and remember to play – we’re all slightly wonky at the end of the day, it’s just some of us are more obvious than others!