Monday, 28 November 2016

November Reflections

November is the quiet before the storm that is the Christmas season. There’s nothing better than a crisp walk past the bare trees, trampling leaves underfoot or sitting inside with a cosy, hot drink. Pour yourself an enormous hot chocolate as you read through my November reflections…


‘If I knew where the good songs came from, I’d go there more often. It’s a mysterious condition. It’s much like the life of a Catholic nun. You’re married to a mystery’ – Leonard Cohen

This eloquent quote from the late, great Leonard Cohen highlights the strange relationship between artists and the creative energy they tap into. Cohen’s Tower of Song is a great exploration of this and the lyrics seem more poignant than ever now he’s gone.


I Capture the Castle was one of my favourite books growing up, so I was eager to read another Dodie Smith – The Town in Bloom. It tells the story of the endearing protagonist, Mouse, a young girl who comes to post war London to pursue a career in theatre. Whilst there, she encounters heartache, disappointment and testing friendships. I found it to be a beautiful exploration of the impact our youthful decisions have on us in later life. I loved being immersed in that theatrical world too.


This month I’ve been thinking about titles – mainly because I’ve been trying to come up with one for a new book. It’s quite odd to be working on a novel without a title, especially when names are so significant. Coming up with a good title is difficult because it should capture the essence of what your work is. I’m going to try free associating, writing words that come to mind when I think about the book, and see what happens.

Focus on…. Time

I was intrigued this month by an article in the December issue of Psychologies called ‘Get Time On Your Side’ by Eleanor Tucker. Tucker examined how our perception of time affects our lives. She emphasises that time is a Western concept and that we have a habit of talking of time like it’s a currency – time is running out, short on time, waste of my time etc. I liked the description of the Madagascan concept of time: ‘the future is seen as flowing into the back of the head, or passing from behind, then becoming the past as it stretches out in front…the future is behind the head because it is as yet unknown and invisible.’ Assess your relationship with time by thinking about when time goes slowly versus when time flies. How can you stretch time to fit in more of what you love?

Three things to look forward to in December:

1. Christmas and all the trimmings, of course!
2. The inexplicable excitement of waking up to a tiny piece of advent chocolate each day.
3. Family and friends, festivities and frivolities.

Posts to Catch up on:

How was your November?! Leave a comment below! 

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Early Birds vs Night Owls

As much as we’d all like to write from nine to five during the day, sometimes that’s impossible. Work and family (and not to mention that inspiration doesn’t always strike when we want it to) might lead us to squeeze in writing time before and after hours. There is a long tradition of early birds and night owls making use of those magical hours at daybreak and nightfall, here’s my guide to how you can too…

Early Bird

Some prefer to cut their slumbers short and hit the keys as the sun rises. Early birds find that rising early allows them to launch straight into their writing with a workman like attitude. Earnest Hemingway, Barbara Kingsolver and Toni Morrison all awoke to the early chimes of their alarm clocks. Early morning writing can give a certain clarity, probably because the harsh inner critic hasn’t woken up yet. As someone who loves lie-ins, early morning writing can be a challenge. But making writing your first priority of the day, working while the world sleeps, lends an exciting impetus to your craft. Sometimes, early birds may find that their brains don’t kick into gear as quickly as they need them to, which can lead to a frustrating start to the day.

Try it out: Set your alarm clock for ten minutes earlier than usual. Grab a notebook and just write for ten minutes about anything or a specific project. Test out how this effects your creativity during the rest of the day.

Night Owl

When the moon comes up, the stars are out and the world falls silent, some writers hear the muse asking them to start working. In the silence, night owls can hear more clearly the words they scramble to find during light hours. Famous night owls include Charles Dickens, George Orwell and Robert Frost. Dickens’ nocturnal writing routine extended to him walking the streets of Victorian London after dark searching for a story. As well as tapping into a late-night wisdom, I’ve found that writing late at night becomes a time to test out daring ideas. There is almost a sense of writing outside of a curfew where new, unusual, playful ideas occur to you and its fine to test them out because it’s not ‘official’ writing time. The biggest negative of being a night owl is, of course, tiredness. Some can’t fathom the idea of doing anything creative after midnight, or if they do may find themselves paying for it in the morning. But I do believe that nocturnal inspiration should be tapped into on an occasional basis.

Try it out: After your usual bedtime hour, go to the window and look out into the darkness of the night. Listen to the silence of your surroundings. Set a timer for ten to fifteen minutes and write like no one’s watching.

Are you an early bird or a night owl? When is your favourite time to write and how does this impact on your output? Let me know in the comments below… 

Monday, 21 November 2016

F is for...Faux Pas, Felonies and Fails

Reading is usually a solitary activity. The advantage of this is that we can set our own rules about how we want to read. But when other people get involved with our literary lives it’s a different matter. From graffiti on the cover jacket to unsolicited spoilers, there seems no end to the faux pas our fellow humans can commit against our bookshelves. Here, are my top five literary sins…

1. Defacement

This is a broad category that refers to any kind of biblio-abuse. I’m talking folding down corners, using the book as a coaster, dropping a book into the bath, bending the spine to its full capacity. Of course, its fine if we want to write in the margin of our own books but that’s our prerogative.

2. Spoilers

Endings are important to readers (be reminded why in this post here). They are the bucket of gold at the end of the rainbow. To have it snatched out of our hands half way through is a literary betrayal that deprives us of reaching our finish line.

3. Distractions

This is the most indulgent on the list but one that must be included. However much we might want to hide in the fantasy worlds we find on the page, life does go on. But sometimes we readers might wonder why it must go on so loudly. High volume conversations on trains, unexpected visitors, pets demanding attention – all cut into essential reading time. Possible solution: take a ‘business trip’, wink wink.

4. Unreturned Books

‘Neither a borrower nor a lender be.’ No true literary lover can stand by these words. After all, if we all lived by this ethos there would be no libraries, and our level of debt would be as far reaching as our bookshelves. But what is unforgivable is misplacing a book. I would advise keeping books of sentimental values under lock and key. And if you do ever lose a book that isn’t yours, prepare to grovel with a book voucher.

5. Insults

Literary lovers expect and welcome debate. Some of us even go as far as to dedicate years of our lives studying to develop our own critical literary voices in university. What no bookish fan likes, though, is throwaway insults aimed at our most beloved books and authors – ‘Virginia Woolf isn’t all that’, ‘Harry Potter is just a kid’s book’, ‘The classics are so boring’. And don’t get me started on conspiracy theorists – Bramwell Bronte did not write Jane Eyre. End of.

What literary faux pas, felonies and fails most anger you? Let me know in the comment section below! 

Friday, 18 November 2016

Clutter and Treasure

‘…man's sentimental attachment to objects is one of life's greatest consolations.”
― Orhan Pamuk

If you were to choose a memento to remind you of today what would it be? A train ticket from the weekend trip you took? A conker that your little one handed you on a woodland walk? In a world where we increasingly record our beings online, why do we still return to the collecting of objects to remind ourselves who we are?

Objects, things and possessions all give a tangibility to the moments that slip by so easily. Our lives are full of fragments of our existence; from flowers pressed between the pages of a book, to the chipped Christmas angel decoration you took pity on and decided to grant a reprieve. Like magpies we pick out pieces of treasure to feather our nests.

With memory being so fragile, maybe it’s a wise thing to help little talismans to the past. I like to find items that I can easily match to a happy memory. An achievement, a feeling of joy, or simply a good day can be commemorated with something as small as a seashell. Living like this means you quickly amass little piles of treasure, or clutter as some people might call it. It’s important to clear out and donate out occasionally, but there’s something special about those little bits and bobs with a story to tell. These little pieces of clutter and junk are priceless little pieces of us. Take pride and display the treasures of your past for your future self to marvel upon. 
What little bits of treasure have you been collecting? Leave a comment below...

Monday, 14 November 2016

A Literary Alphabet: E is for Endings

Endings are sacred. They are our prize for venturing so far out. It is a literary sin to reveal an ending to someone who hasn’t reached it yet. An ending is our last contact with a book, the final clasp, the last clinch before we are left to slip back into our own world. An enduring ending stays with us.

Endings are a lot like fireworks. There are those that bang, fizz and shimmer across the sky. Endings that make a little squeak but then fizzle out to nothingness. There are endings that take you by surprise, making your heart leap momentarily or changing colour at the very last dazzling moment.

For me, a good ending is one that gets you ‘home’. Home being a place of return after a journey of enlightenment and experience. An ending should deliver you back to where you belong– maybe weary, maybe relieved – to the place you started. But that starting point should be different because you’re a different person since you were at the beginning.

Five Memorable Endings:

1. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. The trademark summing up by Poirot with a twist of the knife.
2. Vilette by Charlotte Bronte. A chord of doubt and ambiguity at the last moment.
3. The Black Prince by Iris Murdoch. An epilogue of letters from other characters in the book throws doubt upon the narrator’s credibility. 
4. 1984 by George Orwell. Status quo continues in a world that will never be the same again. 
5. The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles. The author enters the novel to give the reader three different endings with different outcomes for the lovers in the story.

What is your favourite ending? What makes a good ending? 

Thursday, 3 November 2016

17 Questions for Creative Growth

Tapping into our creative minds is crucial to our creative journey. Understanding our beliefs, values and aspirations in relation to creativity can help nurture the relationship between you and your creative self. The following questions are best answered with pen on paper in unedited responses. The questions may raise a hidden issue blocking you from your work or simply re-affirm your passion to make things.

1. What does creativity mean to you?

2. Which artists inspire you?

3. How do you create in both big and small ways?

4. What was a creative project you abandoned and why?

5. What topics are too big and important for you to explore?

6. What feels too petty or mediocre to explore?

7. Who would you like to adopt as a creative mentor?

8. What can you create in the next five minutes?

9. How does creativity scare you?

10. How does creativity make you feel expansive?

11. In what ways do you procrastinate?

12. In what ways do you collaborate with others to create?

13. How could you experiment with other mediums?

14. How would you advise someone suffering with self-doubt?

15. When was a time you felt someone put down your creative output?

16. When was a time you felt your creative talents were celebrated?

17. Which part of the creative process do you enjoy most – the initial idea, the planning, the implementation or the finished process?
Did you find these questions helpful? Which ones resonated with you? Leave a comment below!

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