Saturday, 21 February 2009

'Everything is Useful to a Writer' - Lucy Coats

I had an email from an author friend today about my blog in which I have been talking about the links between creativity and depression. In it she said that 'everything is useful to a writer'. Is this true? For me, certainly it is. Yesterday I found an old guidebook to Venice, and within its pages was a faded and torn scrap of paper on which I had scribbled such things as 'bells--all out of synch with each other', 'broom floating down laguna--no bristles', 'herds of gondolas', 'intricate canary cages being hung out in late afternoon for light and air', 'woman in black lace billycock hat with fat orange lips'. Immediately, I have an idea for a story using these things, which suddenly reconjured the air and light of La Serenissima so vividly for me. The seeing of them, and the finding of those cursory scribblings of the notice I gave them so many years ago have thus been useful, quite unexpectedly. The same goes for conversations overheard on buses and trains (always a rich vein of comedy to mine here), or trips to the shops, or weather, or news--all the most ordinary things of life are ours to make useful as and when we need.

Once upon a time I set myself the task of keeping a poem diary for the year (I'm particularly bad at diaries and only got to March). But looking back, I see that I wrote about a hurricane in Selsey which removed tiles, my daughter's chickenpox, my aunt's funeral, a filming trip to the middle of a muddy wood, among more normal stuff. The events of everyday life provided me with fuel for my writing endeavour. So they were useful too.

But what of the inner life and emotions? Are they not the most useful thing of all to a writer? I was bullied as a child and I exorcised those memories by writing about them in my novel. Naming that demon (as Terry Pratchett so eloquently puts it) helped me to put the experience behind me, and, somewhat, to understand the other side--the bullies' side--so that I could write about that in a current project. Right now I have an ongoing problem with insomnia, which leaves me tired and wretched. But those dark and restless hours of the night provided me with material for a poem which chronicles those feelings, once again making use of something which should logically be of no use whatsoever. However mundane, boring, terrible, painful, wonderful, uplifting the feeling, emotion, experience, sight, action is, it can be crafted and wrestled with and made to dance to the writer's music. We only have one life to live and write in. I'm more than ever determined to make use of mine--whatever happens.


Anne Rooney said...

Glad you are feeling more resilient, Lucy. You're so right, everything is grist to the mill... and that it can be internal as well as external is clear from those people who have written magnificent work while in prison, with only their inner resources to draw on.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

hi Lucy... missed your post over the week-end. Great that you have this brewing... a jewel of a find in your Venice guide book. Perhaps that's why we don't sleep at night because we are so tuned in to fragmented detail... over-active brains that leave us totally depleted and jumbled the next day. But I suppose that's why we're writers. Your image alone started me off at a tangent. Do any other writers keep boxes of images? ... so its not just words we collect... its colours and textures and bits of cloth and smells and atmospheres and lighting and juxtopositions of things like in your image. Was she sleeping on rolls of material like the princess and the pea or was it a millefiori frame? I wanted it asa brooch. Its a wonder we are ever on an even keel with all this happening inside our heads. When I was talking to a man I didn't know well once about a story, he suddenly cupped my head... what goes on in there? he asked... maybe the question was... what doesn't go on in there!