for writers and readers….
There’s a big difference between thinking about a story concept or the way a character develops and thinking with a pen in your hand. Writing – even when you know there’s a good chance you will cross the whole page out, when you’re still at the stage of playing with ideas and are as likely to find yourself hurtling towards a cul de sac as along a high speed motorway – is still a creative act. Thinking about it is very often a delaying tactic. Not always, of course, sometimes reflection is exactly what you need, but that is usually when your project is underway, when you have a substantial body of work to consider.
Beginnings are scary and the more you think about what you want to achieve the scarier they become. You need to destroy the blank white page or the empty computer screen with words, even if they are the wrong words in the wrong place – to paraphrase Eric Morecambe.
There’s a problem though when you want to write about something drawn from your own personal experience – an account of your childhood perhaps – because before you put fingers to keyboard you do have to think yourself back to another world. And that’s hard because you want more than the memory of a series of events in the right order, you want to re-live them so that you can convey the vitality of that time, how it felt, what it was like to be there. After looking at this exhibit in Brighton Museum I’m convinced that a pen in the hand is the best way most of us will find of time travelling.
This is a drawing from memory by Conrad Volk of his childhood home in Dyke Road. It was made in the 1960s when preparing a biography of his father, the Brighton inventor Magnus Volk who died in 1937. I love the detail and the notes he made. I wonder if Conrad remembered the lucky cat ornament (number 4) when he began. I suspect it suddenly sprung to mind after he sketched the fireplace.
The great thing is that you don’t have to be very good at drawing for this exercise to work as my crude example illustrates. This is a picture of my grandparents’ farmhouse kitchen. It wasn’t difficult to put the table and my grandfather’s chair in position, but it was the turf cupboard behind his chair that took me back to 1960s south-west Ireland
There can surely be no better smelling fuel in the world than turf. It’s earthy and sweet, and clean. It smells of the rain and curling smoke. It smells brown. And inside this particular turf cupboard, high up on the left hand side, hung a leather pouch with a drawstring top (I’ve called it a bag in the picture, but pouch better describes its shape). Inside was a treasure of buttons, playthings for a child in a house without toys, a history of the family’s clothes, going back decades. And the bag itself was made of the softest leather I have ever known, worn smooth by the fingers of women mending and sewing and picking just the right button. I haven’t thought of it in half my lifetime and now I’ve drawn it, I don’t think I’ll ever forget it again.
So, there’s your task. Draw a picture of the past: the playground you ran around when you were seven, the office where you first worked, the bedroom you slept in when you left home or the house where your grandparents lived. Fill the picture with details and notes.
And then you can write about it.
1) Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay
2) Brighton Museum
3) B Whelan