Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Words and Silence by Anne Booth

By the time this blog post is published I will be nearly at the end of a 7 day silent retreat at  St. Beuno’s retreat Centre  in North Wales. It is the 14th November and I have just arrived. The silence doesn’t officially start until after 8 pm, but I am already feeling challenged as I have been gently encouraged, not only not to talk, but not to go on social media. It isn’t that I am a particularly noisy person, but somehow I hadn’t realised how much I need to talk, to go on social media, to facebook my children and check up on my family. I don’t know what to do with myself. Right now, 7 days seems a long, long time to fill.

The thing is, the reason why I signed up voluntarily to do this retreat is that inside me is too noisy. There are too many competing voices and concerns - ideas for books, worries about the future, regrets about the past, insecurity about the present. I log on and read all about the whole world, I sign and share petitions, I send and receive emails, I watch TV and I talk to people in real life and I don’t stop to listen to the silence. But I am sure I should - I am sure that I have things to learn.

I hope I can post this tonight before the retreat, as there is nothing holy about letting people down and I have just remembered about my blog post (!) - but then I hope I have the nerve to hold to the silence and listen to the stories which may emerge.  I will meet with a director every day, but the rest of the time I will be on my own. In the silence there will be stories coming out of my own life - perhaps they may become changed in the future into published ones, or just acknowledged and honoured and left. I don’t know. I hope this time of silence will help me speak - verbally or in the written word in my children's  books - with more truth and honesty and compassion. I hope it will help me to have more integrity and truth in my life and writing - and also to uncover more of the hidden joy in life and pass it on in my books. I have just discovered that Gerald Manley Hopkins wrote a great deal of his poetry in this very house - so even though right now  I do feel full of trepidation, I will cling to that. I've already noticed lots of birds outside my window - blue tits and robins and blackbirds to name but three - and there are lovely grounds to wander in.  See you on the other side!

Monday, 20 November 2017

Eudaimonia - Joan Lennon

This is how it seems to me.  Writing is a job of work.  There are moments of inspiration and miracle, but they're the extra bits and can only be welcomed, not scheduled.  When I'm very, very sad, I can't write, I can't remember writing and I can't imagine ever writing again.  When I'm only very sad, I long to write again.  When I'm just sad, I can write and it's the thing that makes other things bearable.  So when someone put me on to this short video about eudaimonia, I thought, "Interesting." * 

Happiness is a pleasure to experience but not a prerequisite for this writing job.  That's how it seems to me, any way.

What do you think?  

I also thought, "Those are REALLY UGLY papier-mache figures!" 

Joan Lennon's website.
Joan Lennon's blog.
Walking Mountain.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Does Social Media Affect Your Creativity? - Lucy Coats

Does the use of social media affect my creativity? It's a question I've been asking myself a lot, especially this year, when all platforms are full of increasingly bad news from around the world, in a seemingly unremitting stream. As writers, we are often alone, and social media platforms can provide a way to reach out and connect with the world -- and more importantly with other writers. However, they can also be a time eater, a procrastination tool, and a mood depressor. I've put a little survey below for those who are interested in thinking about this question.

Create your own user feedback survey

How did you do? Did you tick mostly ones? If so, well done, your social media use is minimal. But I suspect the majority of us score somewhat higher. For me, I have found that I've had to take breaks this year, and when I have, my creativity has gone up, simply because my brain is not full of gloom and doom. Before the middle of last year, I didn't really have a problem. But now I think I do, and it's the all-pervasive gloom and doom that is directly responsible. I get sucked down a black hole, where article link leads to article link, and the more I click on, the more Facebook (in particular) shows me about that subject. So right now, I've deleted every social app on my phone, my tablet and my computer. Yes, I will miss some nice news from friends and fellow authors. But I've already feeling freer, and they can always phone or email or text, or (shock horror) even meet in person. I'd love to know if anyone wants to join me -- I'm going social media free till the New Year at least. Do let me know in the comments.

OUT NOW: Cleo 2: Chosen and Cleo (UKYA historical fantasy about the teenage Cleopatra VII) '[a] sparkling thriller packed with historical intrigue, humour, loyalty and poison.' Amanda Craig, New Statesman
Also out:  Beasts of Olympus series "rippingly funny" Publishers Weekly US starred review
Lucy blogs at An Awfully Big Blog Adventure (No. 1 UK Literature Blog) 
Lucy's Website Twitter - Facebook - Instagram
Lucy is represented by Sophie Hicks at The Sophie Hicks Agency

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Tied up in knots - the art of wind charming, by Lu Hersey

Here’s a true story. I wrote a weather charm into my debut novel, Deep Water. It consisted of three intricate knots, tied in a piece of rag. Each time my protagonist untied a knot, it unleashed stronger weather, until she undid the third, when all hell let loose. I got the idea from the sign at the Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle, where it’s said that ‘selling the wind’ to fishermen was once a common practice on the quayside. But I had no idea what their weather charms looked like. They could have been Cornish piskies for all I knew, so I made mine up – or at least I thought I did.

I later discovered that knot charms like mine are actually a thing. Some months after my book was published, I read a chapter on The Magical Control of the Wind in James Gordon Frazer’s The Golden Bough

The following extract sent a shiver down my spine:

‘Finnish wizards used to sell wind to storm-stayed mariners. The wind was enclosed in three knots; if they undid the first knot, a moderate wind sprang up; if the second, it blew half a gale; if the third, a hurricane.’

How had I managed to make up a weather charm that actually existed (or at least once existed) in the real world? Is it embedded somewhere in the human psyche that three is a powerful number, and that knots are used to tie magic? Possibly. The power of three comes into so many of our folk and fairy tales. Or maybe the idea of weather charms has been around so long, it’s part of our collective unconscious.

Wettersegen - wonderfully action packed folk weather charm from Austria

It turns out that our ability to control the weather by some form of magic is a widely held belief, spread across all continents and very different cultures. It also makes for some fascinating research. If you’re interested, The Golden Bough is a great place to start reading up about them, as thankfully Frazer was an anthropologist at time when many of these arts were still being practised, and he was a fantastic collector of information.

Rokeyok - Micronesian weather charm

From Frazer I learnt about the Yakuts (originally from Siberia, around Lake Baikal), who were able to conjure up a cool breeze on a hot day - simply by waving a wind charm around tied to stick, while uttering a particular spell. The charms were made of horse hair wound around a stone taken from the gut of an animal or a fish. Sadly, Frazer isn’t too specific about the wording of the spell – otherwise I might be tempted to try it out.

Yakut woman shaman (1902)

The Fuegians (the original three tribes of Tierra Del Fuego – later practically wiped out, and deliberately so, by European settlers) were known to be able to control the wind using a particular method of throwing shells against it. And in Greenland, a woman during the time of childbirth could calm a storm by going outdoors, filling her mouth with air, and coming back inside to blow it out again.

Selknam people from Tierra del Fuego - a culture sadly lost

A tribe in New Guinea controlled the wind with a ‘wind stone’, a special stone that you tapped lightly with a stick for breeze, and rapped hard for a hurricane. And in Scotland, ‘Scottish witches’ would raise the wind by dipping a rag in water and hit it against a stone, uttering the words

‘I knok this rag upone this stane,
To raise the wind in the divellis name,
It sall not lye till I please againe.’

Whether or not this was the spell the witches actually recited (which seems unlikely as they almost certainly spoke Gaelic), I don’t doubt they were able to conjure a wind, or at least that people believed they could.

Sorceress conjuring a hailstorm

Which brings me back to the three knot charm. Frazer tells us such wind charms are made by ‘wizards in Lappland, witches in Shetland, Lewis and the Isle of Man.' And that 'Shetland seamen still buy winds in the shape of knotted handkerchiefs or threads from old women who claim to rule the storms. There are said to be ancient crones in Lerwick now who live by selling the wind.’

If only that were still true. If you happen to know any such ancient crones are still around and could teach me the art, please let me know. I can think of worse fates than ending up making a living by selling weather charms. But though the magical art of conjuring the weather has been lost almost everywhere, it’s exactly the type of thing I try to revive in my writing. For surely that is the gift of writers – creating worlds where all things are possible.

by Lu Hersey
Book: Deep Water
Twitter: @LuWrites

Friday, 17 November 2017

Seven Habits of a Highly Distracted Writer

Life gets in the way of living. And it definitely gets in the way of writing, simply because the business of writing involves more than writing. Today’s writers are not just writers, they are publicists, video editors, trailer makers, website builders, social media junkies and sometimes even cashiers at the till when selling books at events. So it’s no surprise that writing time needs to be protected with a fierce loyalty to creativity.

But often when the writing isn’t going well – either because the work in progress is stuck in the middle, the protagonist is acting like a toddler throwing tantrums or new ideas keep edging the work in progress out of the way. When the writing doesn’t seem to happen, I follow what I call the SEVEN HABITS OF A HIGHLY DISTRACTED WRITER.

Habit 1: Do Housework
I hardly do housework when the writing is going well. This is why I have a dozen plates, three dozen spoons and innumerable number of outfits, because washing up and laundry needs to wait. I often step over piles of shoes and mounds of clothes to reach over to my laptop. So when the writing isn’t going well, I suddenly realise I’m living in a dangerous zone full of tripping hazards from shoes and smelly hazards from the green thing that’s growing in my coffee-mug. So I get down to housework and the routine (read boring) nature of the cleaning up rests my creative brain so it could recover its energy soon.

Habit 2: Go on a Photography Trail
Having done all the housework, if the writing still hasn’t returned to its full productive mode, I grab my camera and set off into the sunset to take random photos for my Instagram feed. I do B&W challenges (more than once), take photos of what I’m cooking to what came through the post and whatever else takes my fancy. Changing the medium of expression, looking at angles and colour and light, again inspires the brain and nudges into creative mode again.

Habit 3: Arrange my Bookshelf
If of course it is raining outside (I live in England, after all), then of course, I don’t wander in the cold with a camera on hand. I arrange and re-arrange the books into categories, topics, age-range and sometimes even by colour. Then I imagine a new bookshelf and wander into the Pinterest world of bookshelf design and I find myself getting lost in the maze.

Habit 4: Grab a drink with a friend
If you’ve read biographies of writers from the previous century, you would hear about wild parties, long lunches with agents and editors. Don’t believe that. Most modern writers hardly can afford to buy a pint on a good day – forget expensive whiskeys and fancy cocktails. But if the writing is not going well, it is tempting to find a kindred soul for coffee or gate-crash book launches. So that we can moan about the industry, the latest celebrity book published, the state of politics and of course the hottest topic of the season – Brexit. By then of course we need something much more stronger than coffee to keep back the tears.

Habit 5: Read a Book
If none of the four habits work, then I decide I’m finished as a writer. I have no business to write when I can’t even break through the current sluggish half day I’m having. So I find a book from the newly arranged bookshelf and settle down to read and marvel at how clever other writers are. Often reading a good book triggers a wanton response to write something comparable or even better. The pen wants to dance and the words tumble out except of course if I’ve just returned from the drink with a friend, in which case, my pen can’t walk a straight line.

Habit 6: Rummage Around for Snacks
When I’m not writing, I’m bored. When I’m bored, I eat. The less I write, the more I eat. The trouble is I don’t eat snacks. So I spend hours searching for something to eat – and that something has never been bought off the supermarket shelves and brought home. Then I get desperate and think of food I can cook. The food makes me sleepy and then I resort to the dreaded television and I've given up on the writing more or less at that point.

Habit 7: Think about the next book
And this is the final straw. This is the end of the world. This is when I know that I’ve exhausted all the habits that could help me get back to my book. When I start thinking about the next book after the one I’m writing. I do research, I draw storyboards and start writing opening sentences for the book I’m not meant to write, right then.

But once I flush the new book out of the system and get it on paper in an idea form, I can put it away and go back to the story I’m currently working on. Then the flow is smoother, the words are coming back and I feel like I’ve broken through to the other side.


The trouble with the Seven Habits is that they are so much fun. So sometimes even if the writing is going well, I’m tempted to put it away and practice one or more of these habits.
Do you have distractions when you write? How do you bring yourself back to the writing table when things are sluggish? Tell me about it.

Chitra Soundar divides her time between distractions and writing stories amidst school visits, festivals and book tours. Find out more at www.chitrasoundar.com and follow her on twitter at @csoundar.