Earth Magic ~ We Only Have To Look


Posting this photo has set me off on a little train of thought, creative writing-wise. For one thing I’m reminded how my artist friend Sheilagh Jevons once expressed surprise at how predominantly visual my blog often is. ‘But you’re a writer,’ she said. ‘I didn’t expect to see so many images.’

I didn’t really have a good answer at the time, but I have often pondered on her remark since. It’s an interesting paradox: a writer who struggles to translate into words the fictional worlds she summons as if she were watching them; as if she were there, taking part in the narrative.

This is not to say that the envisioned people, places and events arrive in-brain in sharp focus. Far from it: the circumstances are often very blurry, slippery even; all that is viewed is presently in the foreground; the overall context hazy, unformed. But something in an imagined scene will have caught my mind’s eye; triggered the story alert.  It is usually a person, never anyone I know, but always a particular someone who belongs to particular place and thus could be from nowhere else; although this is not to say that they might not be, in some sense, displaced  when I first notice them. Otherwise, I probably don’t know much about them, only their general looks plus a certain something that snags my attention.

I know at once I should follow them. I may already know their name, and even if that name should later change, the ‘fact’ of their existence will not change. Once fixed on, these people subsist forever in conscious memory (as real to me as my relatives or neighbours), lingering there and waiting for their story to be told. Some have been waiting a good long time.

So what happens next? Fantasy and Science Fiction writers call the process world building. But then I feel that all story telling involves world building: the subtle articulation between physical circumstances (setting in time and space) and the events in a character’s life; their reactions, the ‘what happens next?’. This construction must be seamless; appear authentic; have ‘the ring of truth’; integrity; whatever you wish to call it. It is a bit like conjuring, but with much substance. And, to pursue the magician image, it is also a grand performance, the sustainedly active ‘suspension of disbelief’ wherein the audience/reader/viewer should be so engaged as to not start wondering: How did that rabbit come out of the hat.

And here is where the looking comes in; or perhaps a better way of putting it is schooling oneself to see (and by ‘seeing’ I mean engaging all the senses); honing the skill of it in the real world as a piece of daily practice; learning how to express the experience in another medium (in my case the written word, but it could be any of the arts). Such exercise develops world-building muscles, refines powers of discretion; helps you know what to look for in the fictional environment; where to shine the spotlight, how to manipulate light and shade, enhance texture, condense or expand detail in order to give a scene (in some sense) reality.

It is a lot to think about. And for those of you struggling with your own powers of creativity, no matter the medium, here is some wonderfully creative play to spur you on. It is a New Year’s gift this morning from blogging chum and artist, Janet Weight Reed. Please pop over there and have some fun. Who knows where it might lead you next, or what blocks it may release.

The  ‘Apple Exercise’ is a positive way  to begin the new year for anyone wishing to express themselves and explore their creativity.


copyright 2019 Tish Farrell


52 thoughts on “Earth Magic ~ We Only Have To Look

    1. Likewise. I faff about, but rarely ‘play’. And yet we know it can work wonders. If we stop resisting it. It gives the psyche a darn good spring cleaning for one thing. And you might find a cupboard you’ve never looked inside before…or even a hidden room.

  1. Nice piece, Tish. When I decided to write, I bought a neat piece of software called Scrivener. This is a word processor with lots of add-ons where I can have photos, articles, references, character sketches, research etc

  2. How perceptive of Sheilagh. I think as any creative person our senses begin the creative process and visual stimulation, particularly in nature is very strong. I love your photos and am drawn into reading your blogs by that first visual input. I also relate to the creative journey unfolding, for you in words for me in metal or paint.
    I’m just teaching about colour in design with my carers group and we basically did a day of your apple play, doodling with paints, colours, mediums to go ‘who knows where’ at this point. All part of the evolving creative process. What a treat !

  3. This is great, apart from your own writing Tish. Followed the link and was really inspired by Janet’s exercise, sometimes so hard to find 15 minutes a day to just have fun 🙂

  4. Happy new year, Tish! What you have described here is so true. My mind goes through the same, sometimes a mere word inspiring a story. I haven’t written fiction in a long time and I think I am going mad. So many people inside my head, too many voices. They just won’t shut up. I should write.

    1. Hello, Peter. How nice to hear from you. So yes, it looks as if we both have heads full of people. The problem is, letting them out in manageable numbers. Although it goes against my grain, I’m thinking some forward story planning and structure is the best step; stop the characters from running amok. All the best to you, my friend 🙂

  5. I don’t even pretend to be a writer but would love to advance my creative side. Somewhere along the path I forgot that leaves don’t have to be green and ‘apples’ don’t have to be red. Multi medium art still haunts me but I have ventured into it.(maybe some day successfully)
    You do wonderful work with both your words and your photos. Keep it coming.

  6. I love the photo, Tish, and you gave me food for thought in your writing. My blog started 7? years ago with writing, then a mix of writing and photography, now has tilted much more to the photography–which also tells stories. I want to get back to more writing, whether on the blog or elsewhere this year. I also bought a journal and am setting goals (from “resolutions” in my mind), goals that will eventually get much more specific. I really want to try to accomplish more creatively this year and hopefully that will help. It also helps me see that I’m actually accomplishing things, even though it often feels that I’m not. There’s a part of me that would like to put it online, as I can type SO much faster than write. But there’s something about a physical journal and the writing process that I find very valuable and more concrete than online. Just have to now take time to do that slower process. 🙂


    1. There’s a huge amount to be said for keeping a journal, Janet, and I agree that the physical process of writing by hand may turn out to be more productive than typing; different kind of connections with the conscious-subconscious perhaps; more meditative. Good luck with the goal setting too. Another sound strategy that invites progress.

  7. I’m so not good at this kind of thing, Tish. I could just about hold a pen and make my blotchy mark in school days. Great to see what others can make of it, and thanks for taking me there. I dissapoint myself constantly.

    1. Oh don’t say that. Not a disappointment but a triumph. The thing about playing is you don’t need to judge it – just DO IT. You could be very surprised. Just doodling is a a good activity too 🙂

  8. I read and re-read this several times Tish as there is much to digest. I know I could never be a writer as do not have the tools to build worlds or characters (listening for example at the mo to the Cadfael chronicles by Edith Pargeter / Ellis Peters – dense in every detail). I doodle a few poetic lines but you write what you see/saw clearly and in your own cool, clear voice (by that I mean you are never trying too hard – you don’t just talk the talk).
    I agree that seeing is as much to do with writing as words have to do with photography – encapsulating in a capture! So thank you for the link up to the apple exercise – I have some never used pastel crayons and a mouldering quince which might like to sit for 15 mins.

    1. Oh I’m so glad Janet’s apple chimed with you, and even better that it’s become a wrinkly quince and that you have some pastels to play with. I love pastels, though presently have none. But they’re ace for free-range doodling. And please don’t underestimate your poetry. You conjure magnificently, not to say alchemically. And I don’t think I could manage to world build on Ellis Peters’ scale. On the other hand, if you broke it down, starting with the visual and mapped the physical territory of her settings for the period, it might start taking off. Often we can just assume things are impossible/difficult, when it’s all a-bit-at-a-time stuff.

  9. I shared (via phone) your words with my daughter who loves to write. As I read, she said, yes, and exactly and oh yes and world building is so hard. Recently she has used the video game the Sims to help build her understanding of the characters and scenes she sees in her head, so she is using images to assist her writing. The image for this post is lovely. The sort of scene which would catch your mind’s eye! What is the story behind it or to come from it?

    1. That’s lovely of you to share this post with your daughter, Ann. One knack with world building I’ve found is to actually ask fairly specific questions out loud – what does the ground under my feet feel like? What can I see at the end of the street? What is in my character’s pocket? That sort of thing. And as for the hesperanthus, it doesn’t quite have a story for itself, but is perhaps an ‘icon’ for a story I’m thinking about.

  10. Very interesting and well-expressed, Tish. I wonder, does it ever seem to you that writing (fiction) feels more like struggling to remember something than it feels like creating something? (It has felt that way to me.)

    1. That’s a very interesting way of putting it, Carol – remembering rather than creating. Makes you wonder if the subconscious has already done the creation bit, and the conscious mind then has to access it. This could explain how sometimes writers have whole works ‘download’ as if being dictated by someone else.

  11. Loved this post, and the Apple Play, Tish! I have noticed that by doing quite a bit of photography nowadays, I can SEE much more than I used to. But what does one do when one also loves writing ? Some days I feel I’m a writer, albeit a beginner, and other days I identify more as a photographer. I guess that’s the mess creative souls often find themselves in 🙂

    1. That is indeed a conundrum. I suppose the knack is to get them to work together somehow. Welsh poet R S Thomas said on days when the writing wasn’t working he called himself a bird watcher and on bad bird spotting days he called himself a writer 🙂

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