Tag Archives: story writing

Exploring Creative Non-fiction

For various reasons, these several weeks I am not focusing on my novels. So I have been playing around with ideas which lie more in the ‘creative non-fiction’ category. I’ve always written (and had published) non-fiction pieces and have even strayed into academic non-fiction with various research articles and my book Pathways through writing blocks in the academic environment (https://bit.ly/2HC5xvd).

This time I’ve been doing a lot of meandering around topics such as: walking, nature and writing; the body and writing; and women’s biography. The result is many notes, but nothing entirely nailed down.

‘Walking is not the action by which one arrives at knowledge, it is itself the means of knowing.’ Thus wrote Robert MacFarlane in his book The Old Ways (Penguin Books, 2012, p.27). I feel the same about writing. If I write freely enough, allowing the pen to scrawl (and usually I do need to handwrite for this type of writing) I will discover what I did not know I knew. But sometimes in the writing I become stuck and then I will walk. Walking attentively, walking mindfully (open to myself, the nature around me, and myself in the world) will shake free the words and notions which have become snared.

This was written during one of my explorations:

Biography, body, map, walking, writing

My biography is written into my body, a map of past delights, of past misdemeanours, of past wrongs, of forgotten memories. I forgive my body for its inconveniences. I am journeying each day along my life’s path – partly unmapped, the end uncertain. Walking is putting one foot in front of another. Writing is putting one word in front of another. Neither can be done in theory. Both bring understanding in the doing.

Are you interested in creative non-fiction? What would be your writing tips?

 

Author Interview: Christopher Lloyd King

Good morning this rainy Easter Monday. Around this time last year, I completed the Curtis Brown Creative novel writing course. One of my colleagues on that course was Christopher Lloyd King. He has just published his first novel, Black Sun (available from Amazon: goo.gl/ApwVn9). I am delighted to have an interview with him on my blog.

Christopher Lloyd King came to writing fiction after a career in television. He directed single plays and series over a thirty-five period. Credits include BBC’s ‘Forgive our Foolish Ways’ for which Kate Nelligan received a BAFTA nomination as best actress, ITV’s ‘The Thing About Vince’ starring Timothy Spall, which won a Silver Rose at the Montreux TV festival. He directed two series of Channel 4’s ‘The Manageress’, starring Cherie Lunghi, and many popular series, including ‘The Professionals’, ‘Minder’, ‘Soldier, Soldier’, ‘The Bill’, ‘Casualty’, ‘Holby City’.

He was educated at St. Peter’s College Oxford and L’Université d’Aix/Marseille, with an M.A. in film directing at The National Film and Television School.

Please say something about your writing journey to the present day.
During my directing career, I wrote screenplays (with a view to directing them myself), so have always been interested in telling stories, placing characters in a landscape. My scripts have tended towards historical settings, ranging from post-World War 1 rural Ireland to the Welsh mountains of the interwar years. Subjects have included sexual intrigue within a ménage à trois, the social ostracism faced by a gay pacifist during the build-up to war. A common thread in these scripts is an interest in the ways political events on the global scale affect the everyday life of ordinary people.

It was this preoccupation that led me to the story of Black Sun. I read Ian Knight’s Zulu Rising, an account of the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879-83, and was struck by the similarities between those events and the Blair/Bush invasion of Iraq in 2003. There was the same slender pretext for declaring war, the same impulse from British politicians to control the natural resources of a ‘third world’ country, the same demonisation of a tyrant. and the same outcome: huge loss of life and the creation of a power vacuum leading to devastating civil war.

Zulu Rising led to my reading more widely. I became fascinated with the story of Mehlokazulu, whose impetuous action to punish his adulterous mother became the justification used by the British. I wondered how this young warrior could bring himself to garrotte his own mother. Without any ambition to start writing a book, I set out to examine his motives. It was like unravelling a mystery; one thing led to another and eventually the architecture of a novel was revealed.

How did you do the research for Black Sun, and  how you feel about writing about another country/culture?
I was, and am, sensitive about describing historical characters from another culture. In the case of Black Sun, cultural appropriation is far from my purpose. Black Sun is written objectively in third person, which I hope helps maintain a detachment and avoids any blurring between author’s attitude and the value system of the characters described.

One difficulty I had to overcome is that most histories of the period are Euro-centric, written from a European perspective by British or South African writers. Zulu history is essentially oral, word-of-mouth stories passed down from father to son, mother to daughter. Two exceptions are Bertram Milford’s Through the Zulu Country and Paulina Dlamini’s Servant of Two Kings. Milford travelled through Zululand soon after the Zulu defeat, interviewing the Zulu participants – including Mehlokazulu and his father Sihayo. He took down verbatim their testimony, thus presenting Zulu eye-witness accounts of the battles.

My most important source was Paulina Dlamini’s book. A short, eighty page, monograph, this is a direct account of the war through the eyes of a thirteen-year old Swazi princess sent to work in the Zulu King Cetshwayo’s household. Nomguqo (her pre-baptismal name) was therefore witness to conversations at the highest level in the royal court and remembered them in detail. After the fall of the kingdom and ensuing civil war, she converted to Christianity and became an evangelist. Her fellow missionary, the German Lutheran Heinrich Filter, transcribed her stories and published them in 1911 (the English edition wasn’t published until 1986). Paulina’s memories are fresh and in exquisite detail. Consequently, she became the second principal character in the book.

Available on Amazon: https://goo.gl/ApwVn9

As a boy growing up in the North-East of England, I was aware of the history of the Zulus from reading Henry Rider Haggard’s romances set in Zululand, specifically Nada the Lily. The writing was so vivid I wanted to visit Zululand and see for myself where the story was set. The opportunity came after leaving school. Before starting university, I spent nine months in newly independent Zambia, as a volunteer teacher. During the Easter break I travelled down to Durban and went inland to kwaZulu, where I spent some time in the Valley of a Thousand Hills. It was exactly as I imagined it, a vast landscape with traditional ‘kraals’ (which I know now are called iMizi in isiZulu) dotted over it.

Then in 2016, my eldest son and I made a trip to kwaZulu on a trek through the uKhahlamba mountains. We made a trip to iSandlwana and had the good fortune to meet Lindizwe Ngobese, a local historian. Lindizwe is the great great grandson of Meholokazulu, the hero of Black Sun. We have kept in touch ever since and I am waiting, with my heart in my mouth, for his reaction to my evocation of and tribute to his ancestor.

What is your ‘writing process’?
The research and writing of the book went hand in hand. I discovered the characters, and therefore the story, as I read about the history. I wrote narrative ‘sign-post’, scenes which I knew I had to describe, like the ‘battle of the first fruits’ in Book 1. These provided guides to direct the story, but at no time did I follow a prescribed plan. It’s fair to say that the novel wrote itself – serendipitously. There was a good deal of back-tracking and re-writing. In retrospect, it would have been more economical and practical to have written a story plan, but since I had no idea of what I wanted to write, I allowed myself to be guided by the characters.

Five years in the writing, the manuscript ended up at an unwieldy one hundred and fifty thousand words. I had no immediate plan to seek a publisher, content with the reaction of my wife, who cried at the ending. Job done, I thought.

However, pure chance led to the manuscript being read by Simon Clegg, MD of PiqWiq, a small independent publishing house. He showed it first to Rob Dinsdale, an agent with A.P. Watt. Rob’s notes were invaluable and produced a quantum shift in how I considered the book. He reminded me that I was writing character based fiction and not history. He made me realise that characters are not aware they’re living through ‘history’; they’re living each day as it comes. ‘History’ is how we interpret events from the perspective of time having passed, where we have the advantage of seeing patterns and knowing the ‘ending’. I wrote a whole new draft with this injunction in mind.

Simon Clegg then showed this draft to Sadie Mayne, a freelance editor, who deemed it worthy of publication. Then came the time-consuming task of turning the clumsy manuscript into a book. Sadie was very helpful in shaping the narrative, cutting sections that were overwritten and redundant and encouraging me to expand areas that were underdeveloped. There was considerable to-ing and fro-ing.

The title Black Sun suggested itself very early on. One of the most dramatic features of the battle of iSandlwana, the first encounter between the British invasion force and the Zulu army, was the partial solar eclipse. According to contemporary Zulu accounts, the ‘sun went black’. The image provides a particularly apt metaphor for the eclipse in fortunes of the Zulu nation.

PiqWiq suggested that the novel might provide material for two books. Various dividing points were offered, and eventually it was decided that the themes of Book One, dealing with the build-up of hostilities, would be neatly rounded off with the Zulu armies marching to confront the British invaders, with Book 2 starting at the battle of iSandlwana and ending with the annihilation of the Zulus as a fighting force.

Have you any writing tips?
It would be invidious of me, as a beginner, to suggest writing tips to other novelists, but I myself have been helped by my previous experience of directing for television.

I know, for instance, that characterisation is all. Story is the consequence of the interaction of characters, what they say and do to each other. I am interested in the ambiguities in behaviour, inconsistencies which lead to misunderstanding and misinterpretation. This is the essence of conflict. So, finding those ambivalences is key to plotting, determining what the key objectives are for each character and deciding how these intersect or contradict each other.

Also from editing television programmes, I’m aware of the unwritten rule to start a scene/chapter late and leave it early. Rely on the audience/reader to fill in the missing information. As readers, we all construct in our mind’s eye the rest of the narrative as we make our way through each stage in a novel. This is the key to understanding how to maintain suspense, keep the reader’s attention.

Brevity and concision are also lessons learned from TV. This applies to description and scene setting. It’s important that the reader has a sense of where and when an action is set, but this works most effectively when it is integrated into the action. It should not appear as imposed, or arbitrary

What motivates you to write?
I write as I read, to be taken into another world, the imagination of the author. I’m always surprised by what my imagination throws up. There’s a strange alchemy that transmutes half-buried ideas and half-remembered thoughts into concrete images, and from there into a coherent narrative.

Future plans?
I have another historical novel on the stocks, set in the same period of history. The 1870s threw up conflict across the world, where indigenous people fought to protect their lands against the incursion of greedy, land grabbing settlers of European origin. For some years, I’ve been reading histories of the American Wild West (childhood fascination with ‘Cowboys and Indians’, I suppose). I chanced upon Empire of the Summer Sun by S.G. Gwynne, winner of a Pulitzer prize. This tells the story of Quanah Parker, the last of the Comanche war-chiefs. Quanah’s understanding of his people’s need to adapt to new circumstances is poignant. The friendship that developed between him, leader of a nomadic nation, fighting to preserve an unsustainable way of life and R.S.Mackenzie, colonel of the 4th Cavalry, who defeated him in battle, is the basis of the new book Blue Norther.

‘Which question did I wish you’d asked?’: which book would I like to have written? Sebastian Barry’s Days without End. The first-person narrative of the seventeen-year old Irish volunteer, in love with his brother-in-arms through the horrors of the American Civil War, is a masterpiece of characterisation.

Talks, Ideas, Inspirations

Vanessa Bell’s cover for Virginia Woolf’s novel ‘To the Lighthouse’ British Library collection.

A Book By Its Cover

Do we make judgements about what book we want to read from what’s on its cover? I love books. I love reading them. I love writing them. I love the feel of them. I love the smell of them. I love book covers. I became more interested in book covers when I volunteered in the library here in Scarborough and picked for clients of the home library. I became more aware of how the book cover influenced my decision over whether a certain book would be suitable for a certain reader. My interest was further developed when I became involved in designing covers for my own novels.

the idea of having an illustrated cover came slowly. Right through the 19th century books were sold with ‘dust jackets’ but these were merely to keep the book clean, were usually made of stiff brown paper and were thrown away once the book was taken home. It would be into the 20th century before this dust jacket would be routinely illustrated. By 1911 a writer was complaining of a new commercial turn, publishers being “convinced that a book, like a woman, is none the worse, but rather the better, for having a good dressmaker”

What to learn more? Come to my talk on Book Cover Art which I will be presenting at various venues in April:

Saturday, 7th April, Scarborough Library, Vernon Road, 1045-midday for Friends of the Library (all welcome).
Tuesday, 17th April, Woodend Creative, The Crescent, Scarborough, 1-2pm. Ticketed event. Please call: 01723 384500.
Monday, 23rd April, Filey Library, part of World Book Night. 6pm-715pm. Please call: 01609 53 6608

The Human History of Walking

Women walked in protest to get the vote.

People have walked because they had to, to get from one place to another, to explore, to go on pilgrimage. And they have walked as protest. If we look back at a revolutionary time in the UK’s history, the 17th century, when we beheaded a king and, for a brief time, had a republic, pilgrimage and protest became intertwined. 

It’s 1655, two women are walking the muddy bye-ways towards Salisbury. They are wearing plain dresses and bonnets, stout boots, a warm cloak. They are the itinerant Quaker preachers Katharine Evans (my namesake) and Sarah Chevers. They believe – as preached by George Fox – that God’s light is within them, as it is within everyone. It is a type of pilgrimage, but it is also a protest. A protest against a church where the power rested in the hands of a few rich men. A protest against a religion which said God’s words had to be mediated through a male priest. A protest against a church which gives divine authority to unjust wars and injustice in society.

….

Some 18 years ago, I was in the grip of a severe depression. I had always enjoyed walking, but during that time, it became a necessity, it became a way for me to untangle some of the mess that was in my head. Since then, I have become more interested in how walking is essential to wellbeing and to creativity – which is, in itself, nourishing of wellbeing. 

I am a writer and walking has become an intrinsic part of my writing process. In September 2015 I walked St Cuthbert’s Way with my sister, a 100km route from Melrose in the borders of Scotland, to Lindisfarne in Northumberland. This long-distance walk also gave me an opportunity to experience the intertwining of walking and writing.

Want to learn more? Come to my talk on Tuesday 24th April, Woodend Creative, The Crescent, Scarborough, 1-2pm. Ticketed event. Please call: 01723 384500.

 

 

The Joy of Re-writing

For this New Year, my project is to re-write my crime novel Drowning Not Waving. Re-writing is often a real struggle, especially for novice writers. Where to start? What to do? Here are some pointers.

Firstly take some distance. I finished the first draft of this novel over six months ago. That’s a good length of time to leave before attempting a re-write. It should mean that when you re-read your work you can do so more as a disinterested reader than as the involved writer. Six months ago I thought I had done a pretty good job on my novel. However, when I re-engaged with it in January, I could immediately see problems with the pacing, with when and how clues are revealed and with keeping the tension going. Being a crime novel, these aspects are important. What’s paramount in making your novel work will depend a bit on what genre it is. Though issues around pacing, reveals and tension are probably worth considering whatever the type of story it is.

Secondly get some feedback. I got some following a writing course I did with Curtis Brown Creatives and this has helped me to focus. I started by tightening up the character profiles. I usually discover a character by writing about it, but at some point I pin down a profile with everything I now know. I had done this last year. I re-visited them and ironed out inconsistencies, worked on back-story and refined motivations.

I then pulled apart the time-line, creating more space for characterisation and creating jeopardy. This has also meant moving chapters around which does get a bit hairy, as I then find things happening in an earlier section which can’t until something in a later one occurs.

When I am writing my first draft, I generally find I am carrying all my characters around in my head. At this stage, I have them and my narrative arc which – as a friend helpfully put it – is currently a partly unravelled piece of knitting. It feels like a delicate balancing act, so excuse me if I appear distracted….

Thirdly ensure your feedback is from someone who understands the concept of re-writing. This is not the moment to show your writing to someone who is pernickety about grammar or spelling. What you want is a fellow writer or a reader who is able to take in the narrative as a whole and see where the kinks are or the patches where it limps along. Who is able to meet the characters as real people and suggest where they become too thin to be believed. Who can hear your dialogue and root out where it clangs or where it is unnecessary. It is not an easy task, nor one for the faint-hearted.

I am about two-thirds through this re-write, with all the unpicking and re-stitching I have done, I have no idea whether it will work as a whole. But for the moment I feel confident and energised, so I hope this will carry me through.

What are your tips for re-writing?

Keeping Motivated

For most people, the festive season is a break with routine, which will probably mean a break from writing. Then January dawns dark and cold, possibly accompanied by a hangover caused by too much indulgence, too little sleep, or too little peace and quiet (or all three). How to get writing again?

I love to write. I love the act of creating something which will communicate to another, crafting an idea in a way so that it can be shared and understood. I like to tease over words and sentence construction until I have that well-turned phrase or that evocative description. I love to create and enter into imaginary worlds. I also feel better when I’m writing. The act of expression – even if it is only between me and the page – can bring pleasure and relief.

Even so, it is sometimes hard to get going again. Making space and giving permission to myself to write are key. This year, I made some physical space. I spent two days re-organising shelves and filing drawers along with sorting and shredding documents. There’s space there now for new works and that is exciting.

As those of you who have read this blog over some time will know, I have indie published three crime novels based in Scarborough. I still have a couple of boxes of these books and I have decided to run down my stock. The best way I have found of selling books is to get out there and give talks. I now have five set up – see my events page. And I have been enjoying developing a new talk about book cover art. It is a fascinating subject which I will bring more of to these blog pages in due course.

I am also re-writing a fourth crime novel based in Scarborough which is tentatively entitled Drowning Not Waving. Where to start with re-writing? Here are some suggestions: (1) Get feedback from trusted sources. (2) Leave several months before going back to it. (3) Re-visit character outlines and time lines to ensure they are coherent and characters are well-rounded with a decent back-story. (4) Re-read with a reader’s head on, with as much distance from your work as you can muster. (5) Make guidance notes for yourself. (6) Use your notes to start re-writing from page 1 and keep going, one word, one sentence, one paragraph at a time….

I feel energised with these projects on the go. I hope whatever creative projects you have this year, they prove to be satisfying and full-filling for you.

Any tips for keeping motivated when writing?

My Year in Books

I got the idea for this post from one of the books I read this year, Samantha Ellis How to be a Heroine. Or what I’ve learned from reading too much. She goes back through the books she read throughout her life, I’m merely proposing to explore the books I read in 2017, and only some of them.

I want to concentrate on the books I feel the most positive about. Last year I read fifty-four books (full list below). Two I didn’t finish. Some were indie published, some traditionally published. What I have discovered is that there is good, bad and mediocre published by both camps. What do I mean by bad writing? (1) Use of cliché. There’s lots of them out there, sometimes they are difficult to avoid, but as with (2), careful copyediting can weed them out. (2) Lazy use of vocabulary. As writers we all have words or phrases we over-use. And sometimes a word suddenly begins to appear suddenly in every sentence suddenly. By being aware of this, we can work on it when we edit. But having a good copy editor also helps a lot. (3) Plots which don’t add up. Readers are required to suspend their belief to a certain extent in order to enjoy fiction, after-all they are being asked to enter a 3-D world created by flat symbols on a page. However, I don’t want my belief to have to take a vacation. (4) One dimensional characters. Give me complex and tortured any day. (5) I know this is controversial, but over-use of direct speech doesn’t work for me. Good use of reported speech can lift a piece and be used to change pace.

I write crime so a read a lot of crime. I think it is important for a writer to read what they are writing. One thing I really appreciate in novels, including crime ones, is a good use of landscape: rich descriptions and metaphorical layers. Dobyns drew on the landscape to good effect. Two things I do not like in crime novels are when perpetrators confess what they’ve done for no reason. Nor do I want it to be the ‘crazy one what dunnit’. However, (spoiler alert) Dobyns managed to have a seriously unhinged perpetrator who I could believe in. As did Kate Ellis in High Mortality of Doves, though having a similar resolution in Plague Maiden took the shine off. In spite not strictly being a crime novel, Sheers had an excellent twist – where two characters knew something about the other stopping them from telling the truth – for a mystery narrative. In November, I went to Hull Noir, the crime festival which was part of the City of Culture programme. I had a great day and saw some very interesting panels, Rachel Rhys was on one of these and I am very glad I shelled out for her Dangerous Crossings.

I picked up Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna in a second hand bookshop. I’ve enjoyed Kingsolver since I read Pigs in Heaven and Bean Trees in the 1990s. The Lacuna was a satisfyingly wide sweeping story with true life characters and events mixed in with the made-up. Re-discovering Helen Dunmore was also a real pleasure, though A Spell of Winter was a truly twisted tale. Liane Moriarty Truly, Madly, Guilty was a surprise finding, kept me guessing with entertaining and rounded characters.

I like to be taken to other worlds in my reading, so thank you to Tan Twan Eng The Gift of Rain and Abir Mukherjee A Rising Man. One of my characters in my crime novels has Nigerian heritage and in 2016 I read Nigeria by Richard Bourne. This year I turned to fiction: Sefi Atta A Bit of Difference and Abubakar Adam Ibrahim Season of Crimson Blossoms (thanks to Anne Goodwin for alerting me to them: http://annegoodwin.weebly.com/). I was particularly taken by Crimson Blossoms, set in the Islamic region of Nigeria, the main character is a widow who starts an affair with a younger man, a leader of a gang of street criminals. The woman, Hajiya, is not desperately likeable and something of a hypocrite when it comes down to it, but boy did she come off the page and feel like a real person.

Of the fiction I’ve not already spoken about, the following should have an honourable mention for keeping me hooked with interesting characters and plot lines: Messud; Billingham; Doughty.

I am very fond of a bit of creative non-fiction & biography. Hence Samantha Ellis, Stempel, Downing, Kelly, Solnit, Kassabova and Whitaker are on the list and were captivating in their own way. But it was Horatio Clare Down to the Sea in Ships which gripped me. Clare spent time as a writer in residence on container ships and his book charts the madness of capitalism which sees cargo loads of useless items going across oceans. Plus he explores the desperate inequalities between the officers and the crew on the ships, the former being mainly European, the latter from Asian countries. I didn’t immediately take to Helen Macdonald H is for Hawk, however, I was struck by her honesty, particularly in her phrase: ‘The narcissism of the bereaved is great.’

Tara Bergin’s The Tragic Death of Eleanor Marx was the only poetry collection I read this year. On the other hand, I heard more at a regular local Open Mic and poetry salon and I had a feast of verse at the Bridlington Poetry Festival. I am beginning to wonder whether I prefer to listen to poetry than to read it, or I’d prefer to do both at the same time.

What were your favourite books in 2017? What would you say are the features of bad or good writing?

January
Arnaldur Indridason Arctic Chill
Barbara Kingsolver The Lacuna
Orhan Pamuk My Name is Red

February
Nadine Matheson The Sisters
Ann Cleeves Cold Earth
Janet Ellis The Butcher’s Hook

March
Claire Messud The Last Life
Daphne Glazer By the Tide of the Humber
Margaret Drabble The Pure Gold Baby
Samantha Ellis How to be a Heroine. Or what I’ve learned from reading too much
Arnaldur Indridason Outrage
Abir Mukherjee A Rising Man
Orhan Pamuk Snow (unfinished)

April
Peter Robinson Friend of the Devil
Owen Sheers I Saw a Man
Helen Macdonald H is for Hawk
Colm Tóbín Nora Webster
Val McDermid Out of Bounds

May
PD James Talking about Detective Fiction
Patrick Gale A Perfectly Good Man
Mark Billingham Die of Shame
Helen Dunmore A Spell of Winter
Louise Doughty Black Water

June
John Lewis Stempel The Running Hare. And Secret Life of Farmland (unfinished)
Sefi Atta A Bit of Difference
Taylor Downing Breakdown, the crisis of shell shock on the Somme 1916
Abubakar Adam Ibrahim Season of Crimson Blossoms

July
Ann Cleeves The Seagull (advance copy)
Kate Summerscale The Wicked Boy
Helena Kelly Jane Austin, the secret radical

August
Stef Penney Under a Pole Star
Helen Dunmore Exposure
Elly Griffiths The Woman in Blue
Kate Ellis A High Mortality of Doves

September
Sarah Waters The Little Stranger
Kate Ellis The Plague Maiden
Horatio Clare Down to the Sea in Ships
Leila Aboulela The Kindness of Enemies
Rebecca Solnit Wanderlust. A history of walking

October
Samantha Ellis Take Courage. Anne Bronte and the Art of Life
Tara Bergin The Tragic Death of Eleanor Marx
Sophie Hannah Did You See Melody? And A Game for All the Family
Tan Twan Eng The Gift of Rain
Liane Moriarty Truly, Madly, Guilty

November
Robert Whitaker The Mapmaker’s Wife
Donna Leon By Its Cover
David Young Stasi Child

December
Stephen Dobyns Boy in the Water
Alison Baillie Sewing the Shadows Together
Kapka Kassabova Border, a journey to the edge of Europe
Rachel Rhys Dangerous Crossings
Helen Dunmore The Lie

Writing the therapeutic journey #8: the yoga of writing

The Nab from the veranda at Barmoor

I have just returned from facilitating some writing sessions during a yoga retreat. I have been very fortunate to be a part of three of these retreats run by the Little Yoga Company (http://www.littleyogacompany.co.uk/) and held at the wonderful Barmoor centre on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors (http://www.barmoor.org.uk/).

During my sessions, I invite participants to explore: free writing and whole body writing. I have written a lot about free writing (most recently: https://goo.gl/5exuRx) so I thought I would focus on my ideas around whole body writing.

We often think about writing as a very cerebral activity, but I think if we ignore the part our body has in the process, then we miss out on a lot. The word yoga comes from the Sanscrit word for ‘union’. And what I want to encourage is a union of mind and body in writing, along with a union of self with the universe through the natural world.

I wrote this following the retreat in the Spring: ‘The body has knowledge which the mind has not accepted or is unaware of, bringing that knowledge to the writing hand and onto the paper allows the mind to consider it. This knowledge stored in our body can bring us closer to a more authentic and enriched sense of self.’

The idea that the body stores information is not new, look, for instance, at the work of Babette Rothschild and Kim Etherington. There is some research evidence which suggests emotional response begins in the body and then is given a name by the brain. Whether we are writing for our own well-being or for an audience, tapping into the font of knowing which resides in our body can be useful.

Participants on a yoga retreat are already primed to being aware of what is going on in their bodies. To enhance this, I often start my writing session with a simple body scan. It’s easier to do this standing up with eyes closed, so the focus goes inwards. Take some breaths, then draw your attention to your feet and make sure you are safely rooted to the ground and balanced, perhaps imagining yourself as a tree, your toes delving into soil. Begin to bring your focus up your body, slowly, while still maintaining a steady breath, letting your mind’s eye explore your body internally, perhaps particularly areas where there is tension or pain. Once you have reached the crown of your head, rest for a moment before descending your attention gently and slowly back down to your rooted feet again. Open your eyes. Focus on the first thing you see (if you can do this outside or in front of a window looking out onto some nature, all the better). Sit down and free write for five minutes.

Tree in Autumn colours at Barmoor

It is also interesting to write noticing what is happening in your body. Again do some free writing, perhaps using the prompt of, for example, a pebble or the view of a tree (something in nature). As you write, have a part of your attention on how your body is. Do you grip the pen? Do you draw tension in at certain times? What’s going on in your shoulders? In your back? Are parts of your body askew or wound round each other as you sit?

You might like to reflect back on the results of this focus while writing. See post: https://goo.gl/sucyDu 

I do not know where this exploration of whole body writing will take you. However, it may open up some memories or give some meaning or understanding to a particular health issue. It may help you to define some needs or desires which are not currently being attended to. If you are writing for an audience, it may make your descriptions of emotions and your characterisation more rounded. It may encourage something else entirely to surface. The main thing is to remain open and curious, noticing and kind. See https://goo.gl/a6Wp7e

This is what I wrote following the retreat in May:
Unloosen
the potentials and ‘also’s
in every season of life.

I would like to thank and acknowledge my friend Lesley Glover for the discussions we have had which have helped me formulate these ideas. See her website at: https://lesley-glover.co.uk/

Have you experience of yoga and writing you would like to share?