Sunday, 25 June 2017

Playing with postcards - by Sue Purkiss

A couple of weeks ago, I read a blog somewhere - maybe even on here - about a new challenge a writer had set herself: she had decided to write a story on a postcard every day for a month. (At least, I think that was it; something along those lines, anyway.) Alongside this, for some time now I've been signed up to a delightful site called Postcards from Pembrokeshire. If you haven't seen this, do take a look. Artist Guy Manning (who I think is the partner of Eloise Williams, of this parish) has undertaken to do a postcard sized painting every day for a year of Pembrokeshire, where he lives. If you subscribe, you receive an email every day with his latest offering, and if you want, you can buy one. They're very lovely, especially, to my mind, the ones of the sea.

Now. I'm going to tell you a secret, which you must keep very, very quiet. All right? Not a word to a soul - not a word. It's this. Some writers - probably most writers - absolutely FIZZ with ideas. The only problem such writers have is deciding which idea to focus on. No sooner have they started one book than they're itching to start the next, and then the one after that.

But sadly, I'm not like that. When I have an idea, it sort of implants itself. It won't leave me alone. If I try to tell the story one way and it doesn't work, I'll prowl around like a bear with a sore head and eventually I'll try it another way. Sometimes I long to root it out and chuck it away, but no, there it is. I'm stuck with it. There's no other idea waiting to sprout - there's just the one.

My card box, with the cards I've 'done' so far.

Well, about a week ago I was, yet again, at the prowling-around-and-growling stage - when several things collided in the most useful way. First, along came the postcards - Guy's lovely pictures, and the idea of writing a story on a postcard. Next came flash fiction. I've never got into this before, but I had just been having a go at it with the writing class I teach. Next is my habit of buying a few postcards when I go somewhere. Sometimes they're landscapes, sometimes, from galleries and museums, they're reproductions of pictures or artefacts. I've amassed quite a lot.

And suddenly there it was - a brilliant way to challenge myself and get some ideas kick-started. Every day, I would aim to write something on the back of a postcard, inspired by the picture on the front. It might be a story, it might be a beginning, it might be a scene from the middle of a longer story - it might not even be a story at all!

And I'm absolutely loving it! Each postcard takes me somewhere utterly different. I've already learnt a lot more about shaping a story, and about knowing where to start it. Each day, I get to meet completely new characters - it's extraordinarily energising! I'm having ideas - lots of them! And it doesn't take very long, so there's still plenty of time to return to the work in progress. It's also rather nice to sit down at my desk and NOT open up my computer: I'm not distracted by Facebook and other goodies, and I'm not encumbered by the weight of my own expectations concerning ongoing work.

Here's one of them - I've typed it out below so that you can actually read it. I get about 250 words onto the back of each card. I allow myself to make one or two notes before I start, and if necessary to do a tiny bit of research, but not to let myself get bogged down.

It's such fun. You can write in a way you normally wouldn't; you can be a tad melodramatic, for instance. It's playing, it's allowed! What do you think?

This postcard came from a museum in Arromanches. It's a still from a film called Le Prix de la Liberte, and it shows a sky full of parachutes - the D-Day landings.

I imagined a woman, a collaborator. I've seen letters from such people, in Resistance museums: people who informed on their neighbours...

Simone Bachelot finished writing the letter and put it in an envelope. She didn't sign it, of course. It was anonymous, like all the others. So much for that silly girl who lived next door, with her noisy children and her constant men friends. She smiled to herself, and took a sip of mint tea. Oh, how she longed for some good coffee! This war had taken away so much.

But it had given a good deal, too. The chance to avenge herself on all those old classmates who had refused to be her friend, the young women who laughed at her shabby clothes, the baker who saved his best bread for others... oh yes, they'd be sorry! Were already, some of them, rotting in Gestapo cells no doubt - and serve them right.

She put on her coat ready to go to the post box. But when she opened the door, she saw an extraordinary sight. The sky was full of black shapes like mushrooms - parachutes! And how had she not heard that relentless drone - masses of Allied planes, like flocks of metal crows?

"No!" she whispered, as others danced and cheered in the street. "No! This wasn't meant to happen!"

An iron hand squeezed her cold heart. As she crumpled to the floor, her young neighbour rushed up to help. "Madame? Madame...?"


Sue Bursztynski said...

What a great idea! And a story starter on the postcard too! I must try it, and perhaps with my class even. I collect some commercial postcards, the kind you get for free in shops and cafes. Some of those would work as story starters.

CBCA Shortlist #1: Frankie by Shivaun Plozza

Sue Purkiss said...

Have fun! And do let me know how you get on!

tracy alexander said...

The marvellous Louise Green who taught in Bristol for many years was a fan of postcards for inspiration. Keep at it! (And thanks for the comment on my post. I liked it.)

Penny Dolan said...

Oh, what a lovely idea for the start of the day, Sue! Thanks!

Though I don't think I dare sully the back of my postcards, which is a comment on my writing, not yours! Perhaps I'll use a small notebook and allow one page or spread per card?

And I've also remembered an empty but too-good-to-throw-away posh candle box that would make an ideal home for my current scattered postcard collection. Double thanks!

(I have a couple of postcard packs stashed away in my writing workshops kit - one set is places, the other faces - so I could have a riffle through those again too.)

Heather Dyer said...

Lovely idea - and your enthusiasm is contagious! I only have one idea at a time too - if I'm lucky. But your experiment proves that ideas aren't a limited resource - perhaps the key is being loose and dipping in. Maybe then ideas start to multiply? They do say 'take care of the quantity and the quality will take care of itself'?

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Oh Sue you have done us all such a favour... and you could've kept it all a secret. What a marvellous idea for those hordes of cards I have that I'm always going to do something with and never do! What Fun! We could even post them anonymously to each other and they might even spark more of a story in the heart of another writer!

Sue Purkiss said...

Heather - I think that is exactly it: 'the key is being loose and dipping in'. Nothing hangs on the story you're writing; if it doesn't work, it doesn't matter, because you'll be starting afresh the next day. And the contract you have is such that it doesn't matter if you get details wrong (though I must admit, I still try not to) - and each picture starts you off in a different world. Tracy - thanks for your comment, too! And Penny - it's a fine thing to have a fine box!

Lynne Benton said...

Great idea, Sue - may well copy it! (Love the story too - you must go on with it!)

Sue Purkiss said...

Di - brilliant idea!

Eloise Williams said...

Brilliant idea Sue! And, I am, in fact, Mrs Manning! Guy will be thrilled that you like his Postcards from Pembrokeshire. 51 days to go until he has completed a year.
I am now going to do the same as everyone else and steal your idea! :)

Hilary Hawkes said...

What a wonderfully inspiring and enjoyable idea. I really want to try that. Could lead to all sorts of brilliant stories couldn't it? :)

Savita Kalhan said...

Brilliant idea, Sue! And I love the story!

Helen Larder said...

A lovely idea! Postcards are such a brilliant way of recording stories and messages. My daughter and I did a commission for a publisher called Pavilion last year to create empathy in autism training- a set of messages and thoughts on postcards, 'Postcards from Aspie world'. The short form works really well to create concise, poignant lines xxxx

Sue Purkiss said...

Thanks for all your comments, everybody - and enjoy!