Seize The Day ~ A Lesson In Flowers

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You  have to be out of bed rather earlier than I am to catch the Morning Glories unfurling.  That is probably lesson  number one: be up and doing earlier in the day; nurture the creative impulse before the world of dreaming totally recedes and mundane matters like doing the washing impose.

Then there is the lesson of making the most of opportunities as they arise, and at least here I came up to scratch. I dashed outside in my night attire to capture this scene. The hoverfly will feast. The Morning Glory will be pollinated. And I am watching, recording and posting. Everyone wins.

All the same, on the side lines my writer’s nerves are jangling. There are other lessons here. For one thing I have several works in stasis, projects that I dearly wish to complete. But for some reason I’m not attending to any of them. The danger is that procrastination may soon transmogrify into something toxic – a stultifying sense of failure that in turn becomes a downward spiral of non-doing and self-recrimination. The writer’s vicious circle.

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But wait! I’m hurrying back to see what has happened to the Morning Glory. By late afternoon the sky coloured canopy of the day’s high hopes has imploded – the colours deepening, bruise-like.  It is hard not to feel a pang of loss for such swiftly passing loveliness.

Yet there is a beauty here too in the subtle end-of-spectrum shades. Not failure, but process. Deep within the crumpled sheath things are happening. The hoverfly has done its work. There will be fruit in the making, new seeds to ripen and sow. Tomorrow is another day. Another chance to bloom. Time to get back to work then.

 

copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

 

P.S. For more beauty in decay, pop over to Sue Judd’s blog. It is a theme she explores in many arresting photo essays

In A Glass Darkly: Traces of the Past

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As a child I was fascinated by Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through The Looking Glass.  I would stare into my full length bedroom mirror for ages and ages and wonder if it really might be possible – somehow – to access that other world behind the glass. Unlike Alice, I wouldn’t even have to climb on to the drawing room mantelpiece, which to my mind looked distinctly hazardous and was likely to attract unwelcome attention from mother.

John Tenniel’s illustrations were anyway profoundly disturbing, yet ever drew me to plumb their bottomless depths. All of which is the excuse of the very much older me to spend Monday morning playing with my camera in Bridgnorth Antiques Centre.

See! Just like Alice, I’ve finally arrived in Looking Glass Land. All it took was my magic little Lumix digital. But sorry, folks, I can’t hang around. Must catch up with the White Knight  or I might never make it out again.

Alice through the looking glass

Sir John Tenniel illustrator 1820-1914 ~ Alice Through The Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

 

N.B.

In A Glass Darkly  is a collection of strange tales featuring demons, dopplegangers and even a lesbian vampire published by Irish writer, Sheridan Le Fanu in 1872. The vampire story apparently greatly influenced Bram Stoker in his writing of Dracula. I haven’t read these works, but I think they might be worth tracking down.

 

Please visit Paula at Lost in Translation for more Traces of the Past.

Through A Web Darkly ~ Inside The Old Barn

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I took this photo yesterday. The footpath we were following winds through an old farmyard, everywhere rustic dereliction. Being nosy, I had to peer in through the barn window. This shot was taken through a spider’s web, and is admittedly rather weird. My first thought is some kind of time warp or threshold. So if it inspires any of you to create a piece of poetry or prose, please feel free to link back here so I can read what you’ve come up with. No rush.

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Many thanks to bloggers for their fun responses. So nice of you to play along:

T N Kerr   A Very Special Birthday

Sandra Conner Beyond the Web

Gerry  Sneak the Spider

Travelling Hopefully ~ The Writer’s Way

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The writing life is full of snags and snares, setbacks, tanglements, diversions and dead ends.  Written words demand so much mental application – from the writers who deal in them, and the readers who receive them. After all, before the writer’s meaning can be de-coded, willing victims readers must actively choose to engage.

Even then, nothing is certain. Reader engagement is always provisional. Only when the decision is made – that sticking with the decoding process will yield rewards, do writers have the chance to have their say.

Readers want a good pay-off from the writer’s words. But for their part, writers cannot read readers’ minds to know precisely what they expect. It’s all very precarious.

Interaction-wise, the applied and performing arts definitely have the edge. They communicate directly with an audience’s senses and emotions, often bypassing the need for intellectual effort input altogether. Reactions to such works may be superficial and fleeting, and the creators’ deepest intentions not fully grasped, but engagement at some level swiftly takes place. The experience is vivid in its fullest sense. Excitement can be instantaneous. Written texts simply cannot compete with this kind of immediacy.

Also words can be such tricky things. Lumpy. Clumsy. Rife with ambiguity. Achieving absolute clarity on the page involves hard labour, although this is only half the battle. In fiction writing plain speaking is not enough. The construction must be affecting. Fascinating. There must be mystery –at the very least the hook of: ‘how will this turn out?’ Then there is the matter of authenticity and the creation of a convincing, fully functioning reality. (Even fantasy worlds must have believable existence.)

In its crudest form, writing a story is like devising and setting a trap. How do you lure in the reader? What does it take to hold them until the final word is read?

So this means there’s a craft to be learned, and practised and practised. Then practised some more. And when you finally release your carefully worked contrivance onto the unsuspecting and uninterested world there will be rejection. (See Lynn Love’s post on this and how to murder it HERE). It is part of the learning process. It teaches you to target your work more carefully; to read more; to develop powers of objective self-appraisal; to learn from negative comments; to become better at what you do.

You also need to bear in mind that this apprenticeship may take a life-time; that success in material terms may never happen. The act of creating is a vocation; an act of faith too. But at the heart of it, you write because you must. Perhaps that should be enough. I seem to have hopes of it. It anyway keeps me going – one word at a time.

 

copyright 2016 Tish Farrell

 

Related:

Losing Kui ~ An Extract

Kui’s 5* Review on Kindle

Tish Farrell Books & Short Fiction

 

DP Weekly Photo Challenge: Optimistic

Go here for more hopeful responses.

 

Inspiration: striving to succeed

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It was in Africa that I became a professional writer. And it was writing for children like Zaina that spurred me to begin. It seemed to me, that unlike many British young people, Kenyan kids were desperate to go to school and, once there, strove to do their utmost to make something of their lives. I was cross, too, at the then lack of contemporary local fiction that showed young Kenyans as heroes, and in the kinds of situations they could identify with. Then I found that many of the stories I wrote for African children also worked for a European readership, or at least for those who were keen to find out what life was really like in the parts of African that I visited and lived in. And now, all these years later, and living back in England, these are still the things that drive me to write.

 

 

 

Inspiration

Killing words ~ a case of verbal decomposing?

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It’s all my publisher’s fault that I haven’t been writing so much on my blog. He, the lovely Creative Director of Ransom Publishing published my quick teen read Mau Mau Brother  in their Shades 2.0 series last summer. As with most of my stories, there are many earlier versions. The Ransom Shades edition is aimed at teens with a reading age of around 10 years. Its 6,000 words have been arranged into 11 chapters spread over 64 pages. The purpose of this kind of presentation is to keep an unkeen reader reading, and so give them the satisfaction of finishing a book.  And so yes – maybe they will then want to read another. ( I do have other titles in the series).

The story, though undauntingly presented on the page, tells of challenging times during the 1950s Kenya Emergency.  The narrator is 15 year old Thuo, and his story is one of personal conflict. His hero elder brother, once a British Army sergeant who fought in Burma, has gone to the forest to join the Land and Freedom Army. These are the men and women fighters whom the Europeans dub Mau Mau; their sworn aim is to drive the British from their land.

As the terrifying events unfold, Thuo finds himself hating his own brother: surely it is Kungu who is the root cause of all his family’s terrible troubles. But at the heart of Thuo’s hatred is another fear – that he, Thuo, is a coward. Only when the forest comes for him, does he find out what kind of man he truly is.

In this excerpt Thuo tells how he helps the wounded Kungu out of the fortified village-camp where Thuo’s family have been forced to live under the British Emergency regime. The village is surrounded by barbed wire and a deep ditch set with bamboo spikes. Kungu is now a wanted man and must escape back to the forest.

I haul Kungu from the hut. He half-walks, half-leans as we creep past our neighbours’ huts, across the compound to the ditch.

Behind us comes Mugo with a broom, ready to back off fast and sweep away  our footprints. Kungu flinches as I help him slide into the ditch.

Watch out for the stakes! Mugo throws me his sheepskin. I’m carrying a gourd of gruel in a sling, holding a branch to wipe away our footprints on the other side. I slither into the ditch behind Kungu. We edge between the spikes.

It takes a lifetime.

At last I push him up the far side. Then he pulls me up. Then it’s through the wire, our sheepskins saving us from the worst barbs.

Beyond the wire, a zone of bare earth surrounds the whole village. It is swept before the night curfew and checked  for footprints at dawn. We shuffle backwards. I hold Kungu with one arm, while brushing away our tracks with the other.

The sweat runs down my face like tears. Any second I think the watchtower searchlight will find us. The brushing takes precious times, but if our tracks are found in the morning the whole village will be beaten, or worse.

When at last we reach some cover Kungu stops dead. I am stunned when he hugs me.

“Go back, Thuo. God go with you. You have proved your courage. I was wrong to taunt you.”

I stand in the darkness, the wire, the ditch, the village-camp all behind me. I think of my mother and the promise I am breaking. I think of my father, maybe dead in Manyani detention camp.

I think of my real home that the Home Guards set on fire. But mostly I smell my brother, the unwashed forest warrior who is fighting for my freedom.

Again I make my choice.

And now to the reason for the lack of writing in recent blog posts. A few weeks ago Ransom suggested I might write a new version of Mau Mau Brotherthis for their Sharp Shades series that caters for teens with a reading age of 8-9 years. The books will still have 64 pages, but half the number of words, plus some B & W illustrations.

Half the words – 3,000 instead of 6,000; 250-300 words per chapter. Heavens, that’s tight.

Yet the interesting thing is how much I’ve been enjoying killing off my words. I’ve done for about 1,200 so far, this in a story where I thought I’d already pared it right to the bone. And there’s a lesson here for all writers. Being pinned down to a tight word count can be good for your prose. Of course in this case, it’s not only about self-editing and the removal of all superfluous words. The original text had already been well edited. Now it’s more about re-composing the original into a shorter form.

At every point I must ask myself how I can convey meaning in the most vivid, yet briefest form, tackle the body with a forensic eye. Later, I will need to restore rhythm and check for any lost meaning.

And I’ve still a long way to go. There is also the lurking doubt that I won’t be able to do it without killing off the story completely. But then that’s a challenge too. Time, then, to get back to the bone-trimming and resuscitation department.

 

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

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Fiction Writers, Are You Reading Enough? Just Thought I’d Ask…

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…because there was a time in my adult life when I read no fiction at all. I went from avid child-teen reader (some favourites above) to wilful adult non-reader. The reason was not reasoned. As a child I decided I would be a writer ‘when I grew up’, and when I grew up I further decided that reading other people’s works would block the ethereal visitation that, any day soon, would deliver the lightning bolt of writerly inspiration, that in turn would drop into my mind the fully formed novel idea, and thus spur me to sit and write the thing.

It was not a good start – a case of locked-in block before I had written one word.

There was a further obstacle, one I did not even see until I had returned to reading. By then it had also occurred to me to buy a writing magazine, and that was a turning point. Instead of a lightning bolt of inspiration came a thunder blast of reality: I might be a whizz at writing dissertations and museum guide books, but I knew nothing of the mechanics and craft of writing fiction. I was astonished to discover that people had so much to say about it: story arcs, characterisation, foreshadowing, pace, mood and setting etc etc. Good heavens. Who knew!

Of course it might be said that you can become too knowing, that absorbing too much ‘how to’ can lead to self-consciousness and a lack spontaneity or originality.  I think my answer to this is you need to cover the ground, embed what you can through practice, then move on. It is rather like a painter learning how to prepare their canvas and mix their pigments before the real composition can begin. It is also about opening up mental pathways that clear the way for the story-making. This means reading other writers critically, and not simply reading with your discretion turned off. Two and three readings might be needed to see how and why a piece of fiction works. The best writers, after all, aim to be seamless, not to display their working methods.

So for some swift and pleasurable enlightenment on the fiction writing process I can suggest no better start than to visit the children’s section of your book store or library.  Some of the most impressive and imaginative fiction around is for young adults. Works for this age group are tightly written, multi-layered, have memorable characters, affecting themes and energetic plotting that is character-driven. The writing will be economical, but also resonant, and often very deep. The best and most telling words will be chosen. There may also be a repeating motif that is more suggestive of poetry than prose, and which may lift the tone of the book in unexpected and magical ways. There is also the overall impression of the story having been well distilled, and thus being refreshingly free of the kind of self-indulgence found in some adult literature. In other words, every word will count.

My own favourite writers for this age group include Geraldine McCaughrean (The Kite Rider), Sharon Creech (Walk Two Moons), Kate di Camillo (Because of Winn-Dixie), David Almond (Skellig and Kit’s Wilderness ), Philip Pullman ( Dark Materials Trilogy), Frances O’Roark Dowell (Dovey Coe) and Gillian Cross (The Great Elephant Chase). All these stories may be characterized by the fact that they have something worth saying, and that this ‘something’, framed in highly original ways, gives their stories stature and substance as well as making them darn good reads.

And aside from learning fiction’s nuts and bolts, there are other good reasons why writers must keep reading.  It is not so much about borrowing (stealing) ideas, but more about drawing on the creative energy of other works, and using it to fuel your own writing.  And I am not talking about plagiarism, but of tapping into the spirit of someone else’s creation. Reciprocating, if you like. Striking up an engaging conversation.

If you think about it, it is obvious. As children, we learn to speak our native tongue through exchanges with others. We learn not only vocabulary, but also rhythm, inflexion, idiom, innuendo, puns, riddles, jokes, and narrative skills – all the tools we need to communicate effectively.

With writing we thus have a paradox. Writers, as some of the world’s great communicators, generally struggle to wring out their words in isolation. It has to be done that way. There are no answering voices except the writer’s own. But if that is the only voice, how is the writer to learn, grow and and test the boundaries of their art? How will they keep their edge? And yes I do know that many writers, new ones especially, fear losing their own voice if they resort to reading other writers’ fiction.

I would argue that through continuous reading, writers replenish their imagination banks, hone their language skills, explore different modes of expression, learn new things, grow wise, develop insight and understanding, find new ways of telling a story. What they read in the external world, and their reactions to it, will all be stored in the subconscious for further processing and reworking.  And I believe that this is all part of learning how to make oneself heard, of building one’s true and distinctive voice.

Best of all, if  a project has stumbled into a dead end, then visiting another’s writer’s world may provide the very thing  to turn the work around. I personally find that I write best when I am reading a book that carries me away. My most recent writer’s refuelling came courtesy of Malaysian writer, Tan Twan Eng  and The Garden of Evening Mists.  This is an adult book, but I will also return to Geraldine McCaughrean’s The Kite Rider  whenever I need a fix of this writer’s airy prose.

So for those of you writers who have not been reading much lately, time to join the big fiction conversation. Read, read, read. You will be glad you did.

 

Related: Fun and Games at the Writer’s Block Party

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

Release Your Inner Artist

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We are each of us born brimming with potential, creators in the making. But then something happens – at least for most of us it does. Somewhere between the childhood dreaming, and the adolescent wake-up call we make a decision. For each of us this will be the result of particular, often very painful circumstances, but the outcome will be the same. From that point on we will tell ourselves we are not good enough, and what we do is not good enough and that even if we toil until the crack of doom, it never will be good enough. We give up. Surrender, often before we have given ourselves half a chance. Somehow – through repeated expressions of contempt, denigration, ridicule, bemusement from peers and elders – we learn that it is dangerous to be too extraordinary, and that if we persist in following our dream we will end up alone, and worse still, hated.

At the same time, reinforcing our sense of uselessness, the dominant culture peddles the notion that geniuses are born, and that true talent is ‘natural’. In other words Beethoven’s symphonies, Shakespeare’s plays and Picasso’s Blue Period simply manifested themselves via the gifted hands and minds of said geniuses.

This model of spontaneous creation, artist as divine conduit, somewhat like spontaneous combustion, does not take into account the actual years of preparation that preceded the creation of these works.

To compound this whole misunderstanding of the creative process, there is then the popular belief that ‘inspiration’ is the be all and end all, when in fact it is only the starting point for any work. Added to this are the ideas that you must ‘wait for it’ and thus be someone ‘special’ to receive it at all. Yet in reality ideas do not happen in a vacuum. They  need triggers, and you need to actively invite those triggers otherwise it is indeed a self-fulfilling prophecy; do not engage and sure enough, nothing will come.

I have no idea whether or not geniuses are born rather than nurtured, but my own feeling is that the nurturing has an awful lot to do with it. We all have capacity to create something. We are all artists. What we go on to create, should we be determined enough to follow our inclinations, will be influenced by our experiences, past, present, conscious and subconscious, and by the encouragement, assistance and wisdom we may receive from considerate others.

Sometimes we are lucky to have long-lasting mentors who are generous enough to stand by, ready to open our eyes to new ways of looking and making; sometimes we have to do much of this work for ourselves.  In this sense, then, it is a quest, an honourable labour. The learning process can take a huge amount of time and dedication. It might take a lifetime. There are craft skills to learn and hone, stimuli to absorb and decipher. Most of all, there are failed attempts and mistakes to learn from.  But nothing in this process is ever wasted: every part informs another part, even if you are the only person who knows it is there.

The final onslaught that the dominant culture visits on the creative process is the commoditisation of art, judging it by its selling power. I include in this the idea of competition, and the presumption that it is in some way useful to judge one piece of well-crafted work against another piece of well-crafted work.  Of course it creates publicity, and boosts sales, but this is a distraction from what really matters – the work itself, and how it ‘speaks’ to people.

Creating art is a mediumistic pursuit not a commercial production. Our gut reactions, whether as creators or observers tell us the difference. It is about integrity, craftsmanship and telling the truth at some level. It is about doing the best we can. And we can all choose to take this path, and make of the journey what we will. The things we create are worth creating. So I say again, we are all artists. And if you don’t believe me, imagine yourself at life’s end when you still have hidden, and unrealised in your heart that story you longed to tell, the picture you did not finish, the film script lying in a box in the attic. How does this make you feel – not to have seen them through?

So what are you waiting for then? Set free the captive. Who knows what wonderful things will happen next.

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

 

This post was inspired by Bill at Pinklightsabre and his poem Moon Song for Marz

Thank you, Bill Star

 

Related:

How I Write: telling the truth in fiction

“Tell my wife I am trolling Atlantis…

 

…and I still have my hands at the wheel.”

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My mind seems to be drawn to the sea just now, hence the posting of this video. But what a line this is – “Tell my wife I am trolling Atlantis…” As a writer and teller of tales, I have a huge admiration for the storytelling talents of songwriter, Billy Joel. He is a troubadour of our times (well of mine anyway); a poet, musician and social commentator. So I hope you enjoy this multi-stranded creation, musical flash-fiction if you like, and so well constructed. Please do look at the full lyrics too, at the link below.

The Downeaster Alexa by Billy Joel

Full lyrics HERE

The Man from Much Wenlock: Meet Ken Milner

It is a privilege to know Ken Milner, a gentle creative man with deep rooted sensibilities for the past in and around Much Wenlock. He is a treasure house of information on country lore, on the families who have lived for generations below Wenlock Edge, and on the novels of Shropshire writer Mary Webb which, incidentally, he only learned to read at the age of thirty five. He built the house you can see in the video, and he created this beautiful garden which brings joy to all who see it. Graham passes it twice a day, driving to and from work. It is a floral threshold between the town and Wenlock Edge.

Ken also paints, makes sculptures, and is a poet and storyteller. Here, though, is his living creation – his garden. The video content was created by Ken and Wenlock poet, Paul Francis, and the whole filmed by  Silva Productions, a Midlands production company. You are in for a treat.

 

 

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=23lgFSQzvTw

 

#WenlockEdge

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