Seize The Day ~ A Lesson In Flowers

IMG_5287

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.

IMG_5450

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

The Writer’s Season: A Pursuit Of Active Dormancy

P1000347

NOTE TO SELF:

There is a time when it is all right for writers not to write. I’ll say this again so I’ll remember. There is a time when it is all right for writers not to write. It is time of preparation, and very much like putting over-cropped ground down to grass so the soil can regenerate. A time of fallowness then, but not of time wasting.

Before the real work can begin, there must be input, a drawing down of resources (like a tree in winter) – reading, researching and general planning.  And when I say ‘not writing’ I don’t mean give up on the writing practice – the brainstorming-stream-of-consciousness splurge, the morning pages, verbal doodling, keeping diaries. In fact do more. These are the equivalent of a musician practicing scales, or a dancer taking the exercise classes before working on a performance. This kind of practice strengthens fluency and, if you’re lucky, opens pathways to your subconscious thinking. It is all part of making ready for creating new work. None of this is for public consumption.

Yet doing sufficient groundwork is probably what most of us balk at. We have been fed with the notion that the best creation only comes in a white-hot blast of inspirational outpouring. We wait for it to happen. And it may never happen. More likely as not, such an approach will become a self-fulfilling blockage prophecy.

Then we may we tell ourselves the lie that if we are not busy producing words for the work in progress, then we cannot call ourselves writers. This may prompt us to start a work too soon simply to convince ourselves that we are being productive. Too often this will also end in confusion, blockage and despondency.

Only when we know our subject in our hidden depths, down in our roots and under the bark, can we best deploy our conveyances (our words) to bring it to the outer world. And I don’t mean ‘know’ in every last detail. Or not exactly. I have in mind Michael Morpurgo’s way. This well known English children’s writer is also a farmer. When he is thinking about a new book, he tells himself the story over and over until he dreams about it. Then he goes out in the early morning among his sheep and tells them the story. Only when he feels it is going down well with the ovine audience does he begin the act of serious writing. In this way he has proposed, explored, processed and internalized a narrative before he has written a word.

What emerges is more likely to be a  work that has intrinsic authenticity and consistency, as opposed to a narrative that has been imposed by the writer from outside, and often feels weak and poorly rooted.

So what do we need? Preparation, preparation, preparation.

But not too much either. I’m suddenly thinking of Edward Casaubon in George Eliot’s Middlemarch, he who ended up so obsessed with his researches that he left no time to write the book.  So a balance in all things. The knack, of course, is to recognize tipping point.

copyright 2016 Tish Farrell

Seasons

 

On reflection: can there be too much of it?

P1030051

Writers are past masters of diversionary tactics. This particular writer spends a considerable amount of avoiding the work in progress. She is not sure why. But staring out of the window is definitely a popular pastime. On the other hand, who wouldn’t want to stare at a sky like this, the sun going down behind Wenlock Edge.

Then I discovered something really neat as I was trying to snap it. My office has a cabin bed in the corner under the roof light. So I clambered on the bed, and opened the window to the horizontal to give myself a makeshift ‘tripod’. I then set the Lumix to sunset mode and rested it on the back of the window. And this is what happened.

Who’d’ve thought avoiding writing could be this much fun. But there’s a lesson here too. Sometimes we overthink the pieces we are working on. Sometimes we need to loosen up and play. And ask questions. Definitely ask questions. E.g. What would happen if I let my characters think for themselves, and stopped trying to control them? What if I let them go play? What might they not come with? Something magical, diverting, extraordinary? Do I have the nerve to let them go?

copyright 2016 Tish Farrell

How I write: telling the truth in fiction

P1000151 - Copy - Copy

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”   Lewis Carroll  Alice in Wonderland

*

I sometimes feel I know too much about the process of fiction writing; I’d like to unknow it, and begin again from scratch. Sometimes I think I don’t know enough, and will never make it over that learning-curve hump. In between these two positions, there is also the problem of having taken in too much ‘how to’; the ensuing overburden of advice that can make for self-consciousness, and lead to an unappealing tendency to manipulate characters and events in ways that lack integrity.

The narrative content becomes inauthentic. Untruthful. You see it a lot in book-packaged series for children, the kinds of titles that are written by a host of poorly paid writers under the name of a pretend author whose persona has been created by the packager. (I worked on one of those deals once, but you won’t see my name on the Harper Collins title).

But then isn’t that the point of fiction, that it’s fictional; not real; make believe; just a story.

Well yes and no. Mostly no, I find.

Perhaps this photograph might help to unravel the paradox. I will do as the King of Hearts commands, and begin at the beginning: the laying of a story’s foundations.

In any good opening you are quickly introduced to the protagonist(s). In the photo let’s suppose the main characters are the marsh grasses in the foreground. The eye is drawn to them; they are the most obviously defined; they stand out from the crowd. There is also something particular about their disposition, their relationship to/place within their setting which adds to their interest. At this stage we do not yet know them, but they have attracted our attention and we want to know  more.

P1000151

Along with meeting the story’s protagonists, and in accordance with the usual conventions of storytelling, the reader will, either  immediately, or very soon, become aware of some conflict affecting them. Trouble is brewing, or has just descended. 

The ‘trouble’ can  come in many forms and moods from gritty realism to high comedy. In the photo it might be represented by the soft focus rock in the foreground. We can see it is a rock, but only the top of it is looming. In other words, we sense the imminent drama, but we don’t altogether know what form it will take, or the full implications for the protagonist. Now we’re hooked: we want to know what is going to happen, and in particular how the characters we have glimpsed will confront and resolve their difficulties.

P1000151 - Copy

To use another kind of image, then, these elements are the storyteller’s warp and weft. They are key to the construction process, but they are not the actual story. What is needed is substance and texture, the interweaving of details that will give life to the story’s characters and their situations.

This all about creating an internally convincing context, a believable world, a setting within which its inhabitants and their preoccupations articulate authentically. Everything must ring true.

And when a storyteller succeeds on all these fronts, then the fiction does indeed become a kind of truth. This is what Stephen King means when he says a story is a ‘found thing’. The storytelling process is about discovering something that already exists. In this sense, it is not ‘made up’. I think the analogy King gives is the retrieving of a fossil from its rocky matrix; how good a specimen you end up with depends on the quality of your excavation techniques and your understanding of the materials involved. You also need a steady hand, and a sharp eye.

P1000151 - Copy (3)

Looking again at the photo, the stream, the marsh, the distant wood and the sky are all part of the context for the foreground grasses and rock. They are the setting. The wood adds depth of field and also a  sense of mystery. It contrasts coldly with the pale sky. Perhaps, after all, the trouble is coming from that direction; the rock in clear sight is just a distraction, or only a foretaste of worse to come. Storytelling requires cycles of tension, building in intensity. The triple helix is a useful image to think of.

While we’re here, we might also imagine the stream as the narrative thread. No matter how the storyteller chooses to reveal the series of events that make up the story (and of course they need not be consecutive or chronological in the way that the King of Hearts demands of the White Rabbit) there must always be onward momentum, pressing the reader along, piquing their interest, not losing them on the journey.

This means creating a balance between revealing and withholding information – adding suspense or a new twist. And it’s at this point the storyteller needs to look out, and  stay true to context and characters – no rampant extraneous invention and manipulation to create gratuitous excitement.

“A good story cannot be devised; it has to be distilled. ”

Raymond Chandler

This does not mean flat writing. Far from it. There must be light and shade, surprise, variety, and glorious detail (though not too much), yet all must arise naturally from within the story, have believable existence within the created story world. It is a form of alchemy. Or conjuring. Or mediumship, and the makings have their source deep within the storyteller’s subconscious.

The narrative that emerges is the result of dialogue between the subconscious and conscious mind. Although, just sometimes, the subconscious will do all the work. And it is then that the writer will say the story simply downloaded/was dictated to their inner ear, and all they did was type.

Of course all I have told you here is the ‘how’ of story, and not the ‘what’. And so where does the ‘what’ come from? All I can say is that any writer must find and stake out their ‘territory’, explore every inch, and command it the best they can, only then will the full story emerge.

Hilary Mantel’s muscular recreation of the Tudor world of Thomas Cromwell (Wolf Hall, Bring up the Bodies) is an excellent example. She has done her homework, and then she has conjured. Most of my own published short fiction has grown from years of living in, and reading about East Africa. A host of characters without stories lives in my head. The gathering process, the interrogation of data never stops. One day I will excavate the perfect fossil.

P1000151 - Copy - Copy

But before I leave this photo, I have to say that of course the actual story is not about the upfront grasses or the rock. There is someone in the foreground who does not appear in the shot. A dark-haired girl. I think her name is Eirwen and she has come to the seashore to gather the marsh grasses for thatching. As she cuts the sheaves, she is thinking of Ifor, the seer’s son, and if he will come as promised. She is sad because he won’t, and thrilled because he will. Then a cry of a heron makes her look towards the sea. A fleet of dark ships is heading ashore. She sees the glint of iron – shields, spears, men on horseback leaping into the shallows. The cry of the heron becomes her cry…

 © 2015 Tish Farrell

Related: Also see my post about creating setting/world building at Knowing Your Place

This post was inspired by Paula’s Black and White Sunday: Inspiration

 

*

image

Secrets, conspiracies, tragedy,

dark comedy – a fast-paced

novella of interwoven tales set

somewhere in East Africa

Available on ePub Bud

5* Amazon Kindle Review

Shades FINAL COVERS Set 3_Layout 1

When war comes it can rip your

family apart. Then you have to

decide whose side you are on.

Ransom Books Teen Quick Read

Errant Muse? But there’s still life at the allotment

100_4927

I’ve posted this photo of my last summer’s allotment produce to prove something. I thought it might be a good antidote to my dreary state of writing stuckness. (And may be yours too). For one thing it shows conclusively that if I can’t get to grips with the several novels now backed up in brain and filing cabinets, then I can at least produce beautiful vegetation. (In season of course). Most of it is edible too, although I would not recommend the zinnias. Marigolds are fine however – in salads and as herbal tea. Excellent for the immune system, or so a herbalist friend tells me.

100_4943

I sometimes think my allotment life is a metaphor for my writer’s life. Sometimes I think  it’s the other way around. This reminds me of the great Welsh poet, R S Thomas. In my post about him the film link shows him, in his elder years, out bird watching on the Welsh coast. Speaking to camera, and with a wry smile, the Nobel nominee says he is supposed to be a poet, but that when the poem is going badly, then he is a birdwatcher. Likewise for me, when the writing stalls, then I am a gardener. I am mostly a gardener.

100_4941

The common ground between growing and creating is obvious: seasons of  productivity followed by dead times when the creative flow seems to be, well, DEAD. This is the natural order of things. I know it. And so I am forgiving when it comes to the garden. I do not expect it to grow things in December and February (or at least not much). But when it comes to writing, I fret, fume and grow ever more despondent with myself because the ideas in my head cannot be rendered, as I would like them, to word, to screen, to finished work.  And I do not forgive this. I consider it a grave fault.

100_4945

Yet I know, too, that good growing and writing, require a fertile medium, one that is well turned and appropriately nourished. You need plans and timetables, while remaining open to alternative courses of action. You also need the right medium for the job in hand. All this takes time: years of learning, of preparation, and the application of improving strategies. You have to understand your ground from the inside out. And that brings me to another essential condition – good drainage. And  in my home town poor drainage is a problem; both brain and allotment, then, are equally afflicted. They are not free-draining. But at least I know how to improve the soil. Grit is good.

100_4954

In the absence of creative flow, ungoverned gathering of new material can start filling the gap. This in hopes of finding a  spark, some fresh inspiration to jump start the writing. The activity can of course have its good points. You may indeed find the very thing you need. Besides which, well rotted down and aerated compost improves content and structure for any future cultivation. On the other hand, ever growing stagnant piles of poorly decomposing matter simply overwhelm and add to the stalled flow problem. In other words, there comes a time when you simply have to give your brain a rest, leave the compost heap to rot down, and allow the period of dormancy to run its course. The hard thing is to keep faith during this process of seeming inactivity; to believe that you WILL recover and complete the works you began.

That wonderful woman, poet and Jungian psychoanalyst, Clarissa Pinkola Estés has some very heartening things to say about this. In her autobiographical exploration of the nature of story, The Faithful Gardener, she says that new seed is faithful, and that it roots most deeply where the ground is the most empty. In The Creative Fire she also says that everyone is an artist even if they have not lifted a brush to the canvass or opened a new Word file (I paraphrase). Finally she tells us that the only thing you need to create is to get out of the way.

And so in a bid to get out of the way, I leave you with some summer marigolds. Before your eyes they are passing through their natural cycle from bud, to falling flower to newly forming seed head. Perhaps if we stare at them long enough, absorbing all that very creative orangeness, we stalled creators will ‘hear’ what they are telling us.

100_4935

© 2014 Tish Farrell

*

Frizz’s Tagged E  Go here for more ‘E’ stories

*

Related:

Bright Fields on Llyn: windows in time, mind and space and other stories from Cymru

Onwards and upwards…the big New Year ‘do-over’

Onwards and upwards…the big New Year ‘do-over’

IMG_0453 - Copy

“Encompassed by a world of tangible, visible things – animals, plants, and stars –  mankind has from time immemorial perceived that deep within these beings and things dwells something powerful, yet indescribable, that gives them life.”

Cosmic view of the Fulani people of West Africa

*

I took this photo last spring, in March when we were plunged into a sudden and unexpected winter. In seemed  that the tulips were burning their way through the snow – biological imperative incarnate: come hell or high water, these tulips will BECOME.

In some ways, though, I find the image  disturbing, especially the bud just breaking through the snow, and the dark little shadow at the centre top where another seems to be welling just beneath the surface like a bruise. Is the earth bleeding?

Of course, in no time my mind flies to that wintery scene with the good queen, Snow White’s mother. There she sits with her embroidery at the castle window. There she pricks her finger as she sews, the blood drops falling on the snowy whiteness. And there she makes the pledge that calls into being a beautiful child, but in the process brings about her own end.

The queen pricks her finger. Snow White illustrated by Charles Santore 1997

*

And so by degrees I start thinking of the creative process, that is to say, my creative process or seeming lack of same. And while I am sure that many creative people (which is all of us) will be facing the New Year with renewed vigour and hopefulness at the journey ahead, there are others of us who remain intent on endlessly hunting round the same old  circles that take us nowhere. We are of course woozle hunting and A.A. Milne sums up the entire predicament perfectly.

*

  ‘One fine winter’s day when Piglet was brushing away the snow in front of his house, he happened to look up, and there was Winnie-the-Pooh. Pooh was walking round and round in a circle, thinking of something else, and when Piglet called to him, he just went on walking.


      “Hallo!” said Piglet, “what are you doing?”
“Hunting,” said Pooh.
“Hunting what?”
“Tracking something,” said Winnie-the-Pooh very mysteriously.
“Tracking what?” said Piglet, coming closer
“That’s just what I ask myself. I ask myself, What?”
“What do you think you’ll answer?”
“I shall have to wait until I catch up with it,” said Winnie-the-Pooh.”

 Winnie-the-Pooh 1926, A A Milne, illustrated by E H Shepard

*

Next then comes the question of how, creatively speaking, does one get off the treadmill of woozle hunting (which can of course become perversely absorbing despite the fruitlessness of the quest) and lift off into the stratosphere with the high-octane thrust of tulips breaking bounds?

Perhaps to begin to answer this, it is first important to know that human creativity has its cycles in much the same way as the natural world, or indeed tulips. In her audio compilation The Creative Fire, poet, storyteller and Jungian psycho-analyst, Clarissa Pinkola Estés puts it this way:

“Creativity goes through many different cycles: of birth, rising energy, reaching a zenith, declining, further entropy, death, incubation, quickening, rebirth…”

She then elaborates on this process by retelling two versions of the Persephone story , the Greek myth that, among other things, explains the origins of winter and spring.

In other words, a period of dying down, gathering in resources, dormancy, are all essential before strong new growth can occur. The tulips, after all, had some nine months of dying down and re-growing their bulbs.

CPE  has other words of wisdom too:

“The main struggle that people have with creativity is that they stop themselves from doing what comes naturally.”

And:

“We all cover miles and miles of territory looking for the starting line when it’s inside of our minds the entire time.”

She also deals with the deep-rooted fear that most of us have: that our creative impulse/spirit/inspiration has died or deserted us. She likens it to la chispa, the hearth ember that seems quite dead until you breathe upon it, fanning the flames so that once more it bursts into a blazing fire. If we feel stifled and blocked she suggests that the causes are probably fear, the lies  that people have told us about our creativity, and the fact that we have paid way too much attention to our internal critic.

“The creative function,” she concludes, “ is the centre of the soul and the psyche; it can never be destroyed.”

So there we have it. Less woozle hunting, and more blowing on dead wood. Also listen to your internal wisdom, then make like a tulip. Who knows what it will lead it.

Or as the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe said:

 “Art is man’s constant effort to create for himself a different order of reality from that which is given to him.”

There are no rules and regulations on the number of times that we must re-do a piece of work before we have made it to our liking. The only rule is to give yourself a break, then go to it.

*

Wishing you all a happy and floriferous 2014

*

Weekly photo challenge: beginning: go here for more Daily Post beginnings

© 2014 Tish Farrell