Category Archives: Inspirations for writers

Writer’s Toolkit: Plot

When I was teaching creative writing for Hull University’s BA degree, I would suggest visualising plots as a washing line to hang scenes on. This might work for some. However, several years later on and into my second novel for Constable/Little Brown, I am revising my ideas.

With my hysterectomy in 2019, and the restrictions of lockdown since March 2020, jigsaw puzzles have come back into my life. I have discovered my husband hates doing them, and I have a knack for them. I am able to see the shape and content of a piece and how it fits into the whole, in a way that he can’t. Only goes to show, all our brains work differently.

Every jigsaw puzzle-ist has their own method. Mine is to do the outside edge first. Then I choose something substantial in the picture and pick out the pieces which appear to belong there. I put them together and work outwards.

As I was doing this one day, it occurred to me that creating a plot has parallels. Rather than working linearly, I create the borders for the story, then I focus on the important incidents, before working out how they link. This concept is helping me wrangle my current plot into some sort of shape, so I thought I would share it, in case it is useful to others.

Just as I was happily working this blog post into being, my dear friend, Jane Poulton, artist and writer Home (janepoulton.co.uk) sent me an email. She knows I enjoy doing collage, she also knew I was wrestling with the plot of my novel. She recommended a free workshop on collage and then said, ‘Writing is a bit like collage, isn’t it? A moveable feast until things fall into place and the whole feels settled, complete and “just right”.’

I realised this is an even more valuable insight than my one about jigsaw puzzles. Jigsaws have only one way in which they can fit together, they have the image on the lid which must be copied. A collage, however, has the same idea of pieces coming together – some large, some small, some (apparently) insignificant – into a whole which is likely to be only moderately pre-destined.

We all find our own ways of writing and thinking about our writing. We will be challenged by some aspects more than others. Sometimes the guidance of others can be supportive. Maybe, if you are finding plotting a trial, these musings on jigsaw puzzles and collages might begin an opening up. Go for what feels like the most substantial aspect and worry about the rest later. With perseverance and a fair wind, we end with the sense of ‘just right’-ness Jane envisages.

Collage by Kate Evans, February 2021, created during an online workshop with Rosie Vohra Rosie Vohra (@rosievohra) • Instagram photos and videos

Janus Perspectives #5

This January I have been posting responses to an invitation I gave in my December post. I noted then that January is named after the Roman god Janus, a two facing god – backwards and forwards. I suggested people get in touch with short poems or art work which resonates with this in some way. I am delighted to complete the series with a poem from Adrienne Silcock (Adrienne Silcock | Writer & Poet). Thank you Adrienne.

Out Walking

We can’t stop long at the posts in the field
only pause and gaze back at
the old abbey on the hill
the wondrous trees and the viaduct
which brought us here.
Then inhale the beauty of the slope before us
the tall conifers, the oak and ash already
working towards green and the way
the light shivers on the lake ahead.

Brant Fell, July 2020, Kate Evans. From a series of photos of gateposts which do not fulfil their original function.

Janus Perspectives #4

The word January comes from the Roman god Janus who had two faces looking in different directions – behind and in front. In my December blog post I asked for responses to this. Today I am delighted to feature an image by artist Ruth Collett (Ruth Collett Artist), plus, below it, some of her reflections on her work. Thank you Ruth.

Comply 2. Ruth Collett. 2020.

Before the Covid 19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown I had a ceramics studio and was teaching practical arts and art history to adult learners, then suddenly I was alone in my flat 24/7 self-isolating.

Making daily ipad drawings came about as a way of exploring my reactions to the complete and sudden change of life patterns as I had been living them. This daily practise has been a major factor in maintaining my mental health, and feeling that I am still working, communicating & sharing ideas.

I have always created self-portraits as a means of understanding my evolving relationship with gender, sexuality, mental health and disability, so continuing this work on the ipad feels a natural progression.

What was surprising was my compulsion to create pattern, shape and colour to express my daily state, and to work mindfully but not critically. Using my finger rather than a stylus on the screen adds to the commitment and energy of the mark-making. I created images I would not have done in another medium – it freed me to be immediate and responsive to what was going on and how I felt about it.

Janus Perspectives #3

In my December blog, I posted this invitation: the word January comes from the Roman god Janus who had two faces looking in different directions – behind and in front. Do you have an image or a short piece of prose (up to 250 words) or a small stone (an ‘in the moment’ short poem (up to six lines), rough and ready) which either represents the year just gone or your hopes for the year to come? If you would like me to feature it on my blog in January 2020, then please send it to me.

I was delighted to receive a diverse bag of responses which I am happy to share with you over the next few weeks. Here is the offering from Suzie Millar. Thank you Suzie!

The time is NOW, not someday,
to work upon my dreams;
raise them up in real-time;
make them solid;
let them breathe.

Phot by Kate Evans. From a series of photos of gateposts which have lost their original function.

Janus Perspectives #2

In my December blog, I posted this invitation: the word January comes from the Roman god Janus who had two faces looking in different directions – behind and in front. Do you have an image or a short piece of prose (up to 250 words) or a small stone (an ‘in the moment’ short poem (up to six lines), rough and ready) which either represents the year just gone or your hopes for the year to come? If you would like me to feature it on my blog in January 2020, then please send it to me.

I was delighted to receive a diverse bag of responses which I am happy to share with you over the next few weeks. Here is the offering from writer and musician Bridget Cousins (Bennett/Cousins Music | Facebook). Thank you Bridget!

‘Yes, a year like no other’, she nodded sagely.
‘But we’re in good hands, aren’t we?
They know what they’re doing, don’t they?
And I’m glad we can go back to pounds, shillings and pence
And send all the darkies home.’
It wasn’t long before all her chickens came home to roost
And feasted on her bones.

Under the Arches by Phil Bennett.

Janus Perspectives

At the end of my December blog I sent out the following invitation: The word January comes from the Roman god Janus who had two faces looking in different directions – behind and in front. Do you have an image or a short piece of prose (up to 250 words) or a small stone (an ‘in the moment’ short poem (up to six lines), rough and ready) which either represents the year just gone or your hopes for the year to come? If you would like me to feature it on my blog in January 2020, then please send it to me.

I was delighted to receive a diverse bag of responses which I am happy to share with you over the next few weeks. The first is an offering from Karla Mcdonagh. Thank you Karla!

Looking back, what a year it has been.
An eye-opener: worry, panic, living in fear, so it seems.
A change of lifestyle, a new hobby to keep some normality, oh people were keen.
Parents struggling to keep their children’s faces a-gleam.
Isolating the vulnerable, the fight for human contact became extreme.
A needle of hope, the future seems promising and today will be of what has been.

Gateway in Farndale, March 2020. Photo by Kate Evans, from a series taken of stone gateposts which have lost their function.

There’s still time to let me have your Janus Perspectives. So get in touch if you wish.

Tips for Writers: writing through difficult times #2

I do find I am living in surreal times. Despite the very real misery and suffering which is surrounding us all, in this far flung corner of the North Yorkshire coast Spring continues to blossom with beauty and grace. Here is a wonderful photograph taken by my dear friend Jane Poulton (artist & writer extraordinaire, website). Why not use it as a prompt for some writing?

white blossom by Jane Poulton

Several of my writing friends have said that they are finding it difficult to put pen to paper in the current times and are seeking solace in other activities such as gardening or cooking or tidying up long neglected corners of their home. I believe that all writers – and artists and other creatives – will have a role in reflecting on, understanding and eventually effecting any healing possible for our current calamity. Some will find the words and the means later, once we are on the ‘other side’. On the other hand, I do think it is worth, if we can, recording some of this experience in the moment. However good our recall, ‘in the moment’ recording of a situation will always be different from writing done with perspective.

But how to get started? One way might be writing letters which will never be sent. Letters are usually very targeted on an audience, so choose yours first. Here are some suggestions.

The Anne Frank diaries are written in the form of letters to a ‘friend’ called Kitty. If you have not read them, see if you can find an extract on line to get a flavour (https://www.annefrank.org/en/). Writing to Kitty allows Ann to be intimate, to say things she would not say to those around her, to express emotions freely.

When I was a child, I was brought up to write thank you letters after every Christmas and birthday. My maternal grandmother had a talent for sending the most hideous and inappropriate gifts. Writing thank you to her stretched and honed my diplomatic skills. What kind of letter would you write to someone you did not want to worry or hurt? I am also thinking of some of the poignant letters sent from the front during the World Wars.

What if you imagined yourself on another planet? Sometimes it feels like I have slipped through to a parallel universe, where things are the same but not quite. What would it be like to write a letter to someone ‘back home’? I find Woman on the Moon by Jean Harrison (https://jeanharrisonpoetnovelist.weebly.com/sample-3.html) A very effective poem. When I have used this in workshops there have been many interpretations, including a person trying to communicate what depression is like to someone who has not experienced it. Have a read of it. Does it prompt you to write something about now?

If you are a sci-fi or Trekkie fan, how about you have just arrived here in a space ship. What kind of ‘log’ would you send back to base?

How about writing to a descendent or a historian in the future? What would you want them to know?

If a letter is too much of a stretch, how about a postcard? Just a few sentences. And a postcard has an image on the other side. What image would you choose? If you can’t draw it or photograph it or find it on the internet, describe it.

These are just some ideas. Try them out, they may be fruitful in themselves or they may lead onto something else. Remember you are not aiming for a finished product ready for sharing with others, just drafts/notes. However, if you do end up with something which you would like others to read, feel free to post it in the comments section here.

People have begun using online forums to discuss books, poetry and writing. I applaud all these efforts to reach out and make contact. On the other hand, I do wonder about those who do not have access to the internet. These may be the most in need of a friendly gesture. How about using the phone to have a conversation about a book or a poem? Or write a letter reviewing a book or a poem or short story and deliver it with the source material. With the latter there are some infection concerns and the receiver should not touch the envelope/package or what’s inside for at least 72 hours, preferably leaving it in the sunshine. If this is not possible, the receiver can move the envelope/package to where it can be safely left and then wash their hands thoroughly afterwards.

We do indeed live in strange times. Stay safe and stay well.

Tips for Writers: writing through difficult times

For those of you who read my blog regularly, you will know that I am interested in creative writing for wellbeing. How might creative writing be therapeutic? Yes, there are ways of gently writing through the troubling emotions and teasing out understanding. But, sometimes, creative writing for wellbeing is about diversion, it is about taking our thoughts away from the difficulties and for a short moment connecting with the uplifting. This is unlikely to solve any problems, but it might help in the way we feel in ourselves which could mean we approach worries in a different way.

Here are some suggestions. Give them a try, but don’t be down on yourself if you don’t connect with them. Perhaps they will spark off ideas of your own, in which case follow them.

daffsMarch16

#1. Find an uplifting word. My suggestions would be: love; friendship; joy; happiness; pleasure; sparkle; fun… But find a word which works for you. Write it at the top of the page and answer some or all of these questions:

  • what colour is it?
  • what shape is it?
  • what sound does it make?
  • how heavy is it?
  • what does it taste of?
  • what does it smell like?
  • what texture does it have?
  • what does it feed on?
  • if it were an animal, what animal would it be?
  • if it were weather, what weather would it be?
  • if it were a landscape, what landscape would it be?

You might want to add some questions of your own. Take about ten minutes to do this. If nothing comes, leave it. If you get inspired, follow your inspiration.

#2. Focus on a piece of nature. This might be something you have indoors – a stone, a feather, a leaf, a plant – or maybe you can look out the window or open your window and hear a birdsong or go for a walk. Find something from nature and focus on it for a couple of minutes. Then write for five minutes. To start with, write freely, whatever words present themselves. As you go on, start to think about the five senses – sight, hearing, taste, smell, texture – and make sure you are using all of them as far is possible.

Write for another five minutes about the journey this piece of nature has taken to come to your notice.

Overall, take about fifteen minutes to do all this. If nothing comes, leave it. If you get inspired, follow your inspiration.

#3 Framing it. You might now have something quite crafted or a jumble of words. It doesn’t really matter. Go off and have a break. Preferably, do some stretches, get a gulp of fresh air, have some water. Make it a longer break if you want and return the next day or the next, the words are likely to look different whenever you choose to re-engage with them.

When you come back, read through the words or sentences or whatever it is you have on your paper. Choose several, the number is up to you. Write them in the middle of a plain piece of paper. Then create a frame around them using colourful paints, paper torn from magazines, pens, crayons… whatever you have to hand.

Try not to judge what you create. The process has been the thing, the time spent with words and colour has, hopefully, helped your mood.

However, if you wish to share your experience and/or your creation, then please comment on this post or contact me. My email is on my website.

 

Tip for Writers #1: Read

We’re all probably trying to find our stride again after the festivities and the turning of 2019 into 2020. How do we support our writing projects for this year? One way is to read. Read widely, indiscriminately and a lot.

We might read to research, or for background to, what we are writing. We might read the same genre as we are writing or to study technique. But, I would contend, it is equally important to read things which seem to have little to do with what we are currently working on.

Graze the shelves of your local library. Borrow from friends (and lend to them). Have a hunt round your local charity shop.

I think it is important to read as a writer not as a reader. Yes, of course, enjoy the story or the emotional engagement, but also have a third eye, a critical eye, looking out for technique, for ideas, for flourishes which surprise.

I keep a note of all I read, stating briefly what I thought worked and what I thought was less successful. I may not re-visit these ‘reviews’ but just writing them concentrates the mind and allows ideas to seep into the creative brain.

It’s easy for reading to get hustled to the end of the day, when we’re too tired to absorb anything. And I love to read in bed, though I tend to go to bed early to read so I am not dropping off over the pages. But I also put time in during the day which is for reading. For many people reading is a recreational activity. For writers it is work.

I am intending on putting more time aside for reading poetry, though I am currently working on novels. Dear readers of this blog, what are your writing projects for 2020 and have you any reading intentions you would like to share?

 

Poetry Workshop – 23rd November, Scarborough

Very excited to have Nick Makoha come to Scarborough to run a poetry workshop and take part in Rotunda Night on the 23rd November. I was happy to host a post by Nick about his poetry on this blog in 2018: https://scarboroughmysteries.com/2018/04/16/reading-writing-poetry-nick-makoha/

Nick will be facilitating a workshop entitled ‘Writing as a stranger’. It will focus on the ‘metic’ experience and how it influences a writer’s work. The experience is most marked for black writers in the UK and the USA, but do we all have a unique metic experience and perspective that we can use to kickstart creativity and to forge original work? This will be an engaging and provoking poetry masterclass exploring issues of identity and race, migration, exile and ‘foreignness’.

Venue for the workshops is Woodend, Scarborough, North Yorkshire. It will take place on 23rd November, 2-4pm. Places on the workshop are strictly limited and cost £10 each. If you are interested, please contact Felix Hodcroft at feljen@feljen.plus.com.

Nick Makoha is a dynamic young poet and dramatist, born in Uganda, now living in London. His debut poetry collection ‘Kingdom of gravity’ was shortlisted for the 2017 Felix Dennis prize for best first collection and nominated in the Guardian as one of the best books of that year. His poetry has been published in the New York Times and the Poetry Review and he is a trustee for the Arvon Foundation. His poems explore themes of injustice, migration and ‘otherness’, peeling back the layers which constitute our humanity. His particular concerns as a poet include the experience of ‘metics’ – people born in one country, living in another and the challenges and opportunities that experience brings.

Nick will also be performing at Rotunda Night, that evening at the iconic Rotunda Museum in Scarborough. Information and tickets from Scarborough Museum Trust, https://www.scarboroughmuseumstrust.com/rotunda-museum/ 01723 353 665.