Sunday 27 September 2020

Jam Season by Claire Fayers

 I'm back. After a few months break, during which time I have written a book of Welsh folktales, stumbled to the end of a draft of a new middle grade novel, made the decision to move house, and the world has become a very strange place. (Does anyone know if there's a collective noun for 'Apocalypse'?)

Anyway, we have somehow made it to September, which is the traditional month of harvest and jam and chutney making. The jam cupboard is groaning again.

I like jam-making. It can be a lengthy process with all the chopping, boiling and stirring and so it gives plenty of time to think. The various smells - vinegar, sugar, the sweet-sour note of caramelising onions - conjure up memories and evoke whole scenes. And the final satisfaction of closing the lid on a still-warm pot, and then finding it unlabelled six months later and trying to work out what's in it. You're not just making jam, you're creating adventure. 

One of the best things about jam-making is that you rarely make just a single pot, so you always have some to give away. Sadly, this year, the opportunities for sharing have all but disappeared, but we've made the jam anyway. It feel a bit like an act of hope, that we will meet our friends in person again. 

Continuing to write feels a bit like an act of hope, too. Like a lot of people, I've found it hard to concentrate on writing during lockdown. But I can manage short bursts of concentration to make lists, which are my writing equivalent of pots of jam. They sit in a cupboard in the dark and every so often when I'm in need of a new ingredient I'll pull them out and see if any of them are ready to be used. 

Something I've discovered during lockdown is that, somewhat counter-intuitively, it's easier to come up with many ideas than just one. What shall I call the villain in my new book? No idea. Write down twenty villainous-sounding names? No problem. Can't think of what happens next in a story? Write a list of twenty things that might happen, from the sensible to the ridiculous. 

So, a quick writing exercise: 

Set a timer for 5 minutes and write down as many character names as you can think of.

Repeat with locations.

Repeat with items of food.

Repeat with story titles.

Five minutes is a good length of time, I find, because it's not too long, but it's long enough that you'll go through all the obvious choices and have to think outside the box a bit.

Some of the ideas may prove useful one day. Some may not. If nothing else, it's a good way to give your brain a quick jolt at the start of a writing session. 

Claire Fayers writes fantasy adventures for children. 


Nick Garlick said...

I once made a list of titles and two of them sparked stories. Never tried it with your suggestions though, but I shall. (That jam looks good, by the way.)

Joan Lennon said...

'Continuing to write feels a bit like an act of hope' - I like that - thanks, Claire!