Tag Archives: Creative writing

Fiction for the Fearful

“If we had to say what writing is, we would define it
essentially as an act of courage.”
Cynthia Ozick, American-Jewish short story writer,
novelist, and essayist. 1928 –

Many years ago when I was completing a creative writing course one of the exercises set for us was to write a letter to ourselves, either our older selves or our younger selves.  The letter would be mostly fiction but of course, interspersed with necessary facts.  I haven’t thought about that course or the task for some years.

ChateauBut today, when I had time to ‘noodle’ ( my sister’s word) around the internet I found some interesting courses being run in France and thought how lovely it would be to attend a creative writing course in a château in France.  Patrick Gale is not a writer whose work I know but I think I would be very pleased to get to know him and his writing by attending a course held in the Chateau Ventenac on the banks of the Canal du Midi in the Languedoc Region.

Note the title of this blog is copied from the title of Patrick Gale’s course in October.

Hunter Building, Vic University Wellington

Victoria University, Wellington

But now back to the creative writing course held in Wellington, New Zealand.

Imagine a dark Tuesday evening in the middle of winter.  The course was run at the local University in one of its older buildings.  I seem to remember that it was always cold in the study room; perhaps they turned the heating off once the main body of students had left for the day.  Most of the building was deserted and the cafeteria was closed for the day so no cups of hot coffee for us.

Fifteen of us started the course that was run by well-known NZ writer Bill Manhire, but in memory only about 11 of us completed it.  This was no holiday course.  It was hard work.  The fact that such a large percentage of people dropped out was disheartening.  Bill was rather a hard taskmaster but he was inspirational.  Praise wasn’t lightly given and so was all the more welcome when it came one’s way.

Anyway, back to the task.  I chose to write as a 70-year-old to my younger self.  Little did I know then how quickly the years would pass until I became a 70-year-old.  I wrote as a fond (maiden) aunt might; praising my young self and encouraging her/me on my life journey.  I don’t remember quite what I said – we didn’t all have laptops then – but I do know that having completed the task I thought how nice it would be to receive such a letter from an aunt or a caring relative.

That then made me think of other letters I might write.  In fact, it encouraged me to write to my parents thanking them for the childhood my sisters and I had experienced and for the love and caring they showered upon us.  I knew, from talking to others, that not everybody had been so lucky and I thought it important to let them know that I appreciated them.  And now that they are no longer here I am so very glad that I did write that letter.

And now I ask you “Is there somebody to whom you would like to write a letter before it is too late?”  I think there is nothing more cheering than receiving a handwritten letter from a friend or relative.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Writing a Novel

“There are three rules for writing a novel.
Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.
 W. Somerset Maugham

Like many others I have always wanted to write a novel.  I have written and had published several short fiction pieces but not a novel.

I used to say that when the time was right; when I no longer went to the office every day; when I had the perfect place blah blah blah.  Well I did have all these things together at one time.

When he was about 56 my late husband decided to retire.  We bought a fabulous property in a small bay in the Marlborough Sounds at the top of the South Island here in New Zealand.  The Sounds are rather like fjords; they are  network of sea-drowned valleys (or rias) created by a combination of land subsidence and rising sea levels.

Willow Bay

Willow Bay

So, we bought our little bit of paradise and settled in.  Paradise was short-lived though as my husband became very ill and spent a long time in the local hospital.  Local being used here in a general manner – it was 60 kms away from us much of it on an unsealed road.  You can read more of this if you are interested in an earlier post – Paradise, Phones and Phrustration.

Anyway, once he came out of hospital (and even before then) the time was right;I no longer worked; I had the perfect spot (the study looked out down the Sound) so all was in place.  But where was my muse?  I had always had several plots running around my brain but now there were none.  How could that be one might ask.  Well my answer is that I think I was too busy just rejoicing in the fact that he had recovered, relaxing and thinking there was always another day, another time to write the novel.  Saying today we will just explore our new surroundings, take out the boat or go for a drive.  And of course, after Robert was so very ill, doing things together became more important and the Great New Zealand Novel never got written (not by me at any rate).

New Novelist cover

This was the first version. Version 3 is now available

After he died, once again I thought about my novel.  I went as far as to buy software to help me to write it.  Its preamble stated “Let’s face it – writing a book takes time. LOTS of it. Until now, aspiring writers and novelists faced – and let’s be honest – a gut-wrenching, slow and grueling writing process.” and it claimed to break ” down the process of writing into manageable chunks, to help experienced and novice writers complete a novel.”  All well and good.  But in all honesty, this only confused me more.  I went back to the old way,  notebooks, cards and the computer while the  software in its box languishes on the shelf.   But still the novel eludes me.  I think that I shall have to be content with writing my blogs and the occasional piece for a magazine.

But watch this space – I may surprise us all yet.

“Writing is the hardest way of earning a living, with the possible exception of wrestling alligators.”
Olin Miller

It’s a good job I am not reliant on writing my novel.  If I were I would probably starve.

Dancing With Skeletons

“One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–”
Mary Oliver, The Journey.

When I decided that I did want to write I took a Creative Writing Course at the university here in Wellington.  Looking back all those years, I wonder how it was that I didn’t recognise that I had always been writing.  My many notebooks attested to this fact but yet, I didn’t think of myself as being a writer.

So to the Creative Writing Course.  One task we were given early in the course was to “Write about your skeletons”.  We were told we all had them and if we could put them onto paper it would be a good place to start.  We were required to write them down, not type them into the computer.  The tutor reiterated the “known fact”  (well accepted fact) that transferring the words from your mind, through your hand to the page gave them power.

Note – Research has shown that hand-writing stimulates a bunch of cells at the base of the brain called the reticular activating system (RAS). The RAS acts as a filter for everything your brain needs to process, giving more importance to the stuff that you’re actively focusing on at the moment—the physical act of writing brings it to the forefront.  Author Henriette Anne Klauser who wrote Write It Down, Make It Happen, says that “Writing triggers the RAS, which in turn sends a signal to the cerebral cortex: ‘Wake up! Pay attention! Don’t miss this detail!’

Skeleton

Free Clipart

For me at least, this skeleton thing was something that I didn’t want to write about.  And then the thought of reading my words  out loud to others in the group  (and yes this was a requisite that we read our pieces to the others) made my skin cringe and my fingers curl.  But guess what, in putting this down on paper it lost a lot of its power over me.  It wasn’t a huge skeleton just something that I omitted to do when I was much younger, but it had ‘haunted’ me ever since.

In writing this  I was required to analyse what the problem was, how I felt about it and also what I could have done differently in that situation.  Written down I saw it for what it was,  simply a blip in the long road I have travelled.

This task has stood me in good stead over the years when I have been honing my ‘skill’ as a writer.  I now write every day as we all know that we must practice and practice whatever we want to be good at.  Remember Beethoven, Einstein, Edison, Colonel Sanders, Clint Eastwood and the Wright Brothers all worked at their craft regularly to perfect it.

So I shall continue to write.  Whether for my eyes only or in the hope that others may appreciate what I have written.  And when the words flow freely as they sometimes do I shall recall these lines but I don’t know where they came from.  Can anybody help please. **

And now
As the water cascades and tumbles
over the rocks in it’s rush
down to join the river
so my thoughts tumble around my brain
looking for an outlet
or a safe place to stop.

** Since writing this blog I have discovered these lines written in amongst my attempts at writing poetry and so unless anyone can tell me otherwise, I shall recognise this as my own words.

Waterfall

Finding Her Here

Book cover

“I am becoming the woman I’ve wanted, grey at the temples, soft body, delighted, cracked up by life, with a laugh that’s known bitter but, past it, got better, knows she’s a survivor – that whatever comes, she can outlast it.  I am becoming a deep weathered basket.

” I am becoming the woman I’ve longed for,  the motherly lover with arms strong and tender, the growing up daughter who blushes surprises.  I am becoming full moons and  sunrises.

“I find her becoming, this woman I’ve wanted, who knows she’ll encompass, who knows she’s sufficient, knows where she is going and travels with passion.  Who remembers she’s precious, but knows she’s not scarce – who knows she is plenty, plenty to share.”

I have quoted from this poem by Jayne Relaford Brown before .  And it really speaks to me and says it all for me.  It is published in “I am Becoming the Woman I’ve Wanted” a book that was bought for me by my late husband.  He certainly knew how to choose the right books (or push the right buttons perhaps, or even knew me better than I knew myself).

Anyway, I know very little about this woman who has written about me as if she knows me.

I have found out that she received an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) in Creative Writing from San Diego State  University and teaches writing at Penn State University Berks-Lehigh Valley College where she is also a Senior lecturer in English.   In addition, she teaches composition, creative writing and advanced non fiction courses.

Her poem, “Finding Her Here,” is  distributed as a poster by Syracuse Cultural Workers.  It has been translated into Mandarin, Russian and Spanish.

I really would like to know more about her.  Can anybody help please.