Writing

Creative Writing Degree Prep

It seems like such a long time since I registered for my Open University degree (and it was – January 2014) and so far all I’ve done is an introduction to Humanities module …

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… and my beginners French module …

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… but this October – finally – I am starting the Creative Writing element of my degree with  – and if that wasn’t reason enough to get all excited, I received an email with a link to some “bridging materials”. These consist of a couple of podcasts and three exercises to try out before it all kicks off…

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I say that anything that starts to get my creative juices flowing for whatever reason can only be a good thing!

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The Voice In An Old Man’s Ear

I’ve not done a lot of writing lately. NaNo came and went without so much as a twitch from me in November. Winter has so far left me somewhat dyspeptic when it’s come to writing. But in the back of my head has lain the knowledge that next year my OU course stops focussing on the French element of my degree and shifts to the Creative Writing. And I’ll be expected to produce works in a variety of formats at prescribed times. Terrifying.

So when, rather out of the blue, my friend Jamie decided to throw down the gauntlet (yet again, it has to be said!) and have us a little challenge (possibly too strong a word …) whereby we share a picture that acts as inspiration for a piece of flash fiction (under 1000 words) for us both, it seemed like something that would a) pass the time, b) get some sort of juices flowing, and c) be a bit of fun!

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NaNo Approacheth – Well, Sort Of

This time next week it’ll be Day Two of this year’s National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo or just NaNo) – and I still have a curious ambivalence about it …

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Not about the concept of NaNo, nor about the good that comes out of it, but about my journey through it this year. (On the off-chance that you have no clue what the point of NaNo is – participants agree to write a 50,000 word manuscript in the 30 days of November – James Snaith has a nice round up and makes some valid points that are kind of outside of this post.)

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Loss: Part 2

I had a crappy day at work on Friday. Actually, I should clarify that a little. Thursday ended crappily and with me in a bad mood that only got worse as the evening wore on. Friday morning, purely due to work reasons, began crappily. Friday morning extended the crappiness for a time, but then it got better. A lot better. Mostly due to the people I work with. Then it got crappy again, but then it ended on a high note with the crappiness evaporating completely. Again due to the people I work with.

However, during the early morning crappiness a colleague asked me something – a very reasonable request that wasn’t in any way connected to the crappiness – and I gave somewhat of an incoherent and rambling response, for which I apologised for later on. The lady in question asked if I was okay, and I gave her a précis of the crappiness and then wondered why I was so crappy about it as I wasn’t a crappy kind of person – with which she agreed. But she said something to me … “At least you care enough to be bothered.”

Which is a good point.

And it reminded me of two things. Firstly, of a particular song (and the film its connected with) and, secondly, of the emotions associated with the song and the film – and a particular evening I spent dissolving myself from the inside out listening to the soundtrack.

Anyway, this is the song – More Than This by Shane Mack.

I played a fool, yeah I played a losing game
And let go of my innocence
And I don’t know, I’ll never be the same
Can I just be more than this, more than this?

If this is all, if this is all we ever were
At least I loved enough to hurt
Enough to hurt

And that’s the thing, isn’t it? The thing with loss. Why it hurts.

And why its necessary.

Here’s Part 1 … in case you missed it.

Writing 101: Character Building

Who’s the most interesting person (or people) you’ve met this year?

Today’s twist: Turn your post into a character study.

Thankfully the subject of yesterday’s assignment can be fictional in nature.

I’ve ‘met’ several new people (i.e. bloggers) since taking part in Blogging U this year. However, I don’t feel that I know them well enough to turn them into a character study – and I don’t have that much of a life that I regularly meet new and interesting people. In fact, most of the people I do meet are more likely to be faintly irritating if not down right annoying than interesting or beguiling. (Which may say more about me than about them, but there we are.)

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Writing 101: Brevity

You stumble upon a random letter on the path. You read it. It affects you deeply, and you wish it could be returned to the person to which it’s addressed. Write a story about this encounter.

Today’s twist: Approach this post in as few words as possible.

 

I know.

Writing 101: Three Songs

Write about the three most important songs in your life — what do they mean to you?

Twist: Commit to a writing practice. The frequency and the amount of time you choose to spend today — and moving forward — are up to you, but we recommend a minimum of fifteen uninterrupted minutes per day.

Important songs aren’t quite the same as favourite songs, are they? After all, the list of my favourite songs probably changes on a daily basis, depending on what I’ve listened to recently. But important songs are they ones that stay with you and resonate inside of you, that make your heart giddy and your mind swoop and soar.

I don’t remember the song that played when I had my first kiss – or any of my first kisses – or when I first had sex, or when I first made love (very different things), or when somebody died, or … just about anything. There are songs that are associated with me reading a particular book. There are songs that remind me of particular people, or times in my life that seemed to change me – possibly for the better. There are songs that I remember playing in the background when I was a child, or that I’d listen to with my mum, or that I’d sing along to (and with my voice … wow …), or that seemed to be soundtracks to a summer or a drunken night out … A song can be important for all sorts of reasons, I suppose.

It doesn’t particularly help when you have a memory that’s suspect at best and has a habit of dropping out on you with no notice.

One of my all time favourite (yes, yes, I know what I said about favourite vs. important) musical artists is Darren Hayes. Oddly, its his solo work – following the disbanding of Savage Garden – that has had the most impact on me. Perhaps its because as a fellow gay man I feel his music has something to say to me that isn’t about endless rutting or getting off your face or being a bitch or being faaaaaabulous. I should point out that not all gay artists sing about these things – I happen to think that Will Young’s album Echoes is amazing for all the same reasons that I rate Darren Hayes. Bright Light Bright Light’s Make Me Believe In Hope is also right up there on my eternal playlist.

Its not just the music. Its not just the lyrics. Its not just his voice. Its not just the emotion. Its all of it, I think, that conjoins to make one powerful whole.

There’s a certain lyric in the song Perfect taken from the 2012 album Secret Codes and Battleships that just floors me every time.

Cause I felt it; it cut deep.
It left a scar in my memory.
But your love was burned into me.

Second song … This is actually a song that I only heard a few months ago, despite it being a little older. I was chatting online to a friend and got talking about films and he recommended one from 2007 called Shelter. As its available on YouTube in its entirety, I checked it out and was sucked in, completely. Part of that was down to the soundtrack, featuring several songs by Shane Mack. One of these, More Than This, is fantastic in its simplicity.

If this is all, if this is all we ever were,
At least I loved enough to hurt,
Enough to hurt.

Final song … This is one that can make me smile or make my guts turn in on themselves. I guess that makes it important, right? Alanis Morissette’s It’s A Bitch To Grow Up appeared on her 2008 album Flavors of Entanglement. 

I feel done, I feel raked over coals
and all that remains is the case
That it’s a bitch to grow up

I’m not entirely sure how the twist actually fits in with today’s assignmet … But, yes, I commit to writing for at least 15 minutes every day outside of blog posts.

Writing 101: (A Room With) A View

If you could zoom through space in the speed of light, what place would you go to right now?

Twist: organize your post around the description of a setting.

You walk out into the field – quite a normal, every day pasture with short grass and grasshoppers that cloud into the air as you move your feet – and ahead you can see that the earth just drops away, you can see trees and the other side of a small valley.

Turning to the left, you come to the edge of this cliff and see that once there must have been a path or a stream leading down the side of the ridge and your eye follows the long depression in the ground before it gets lost in the heat-browned vegetation. Sat on top of this part of the ridge is a square stone structure – for you could no longer call it a dwelling. The brambles and scrub have claimed what must have once been a shepherd’s croft. Walls have tumbled and any woodworking has long since rotted away. The lintel stone still stands over the doorway, but even this portal is choked with bramble.

You can slide down the ridge at this point; the sheep and cattle have made a sloping pathway. There are large boulders, like icebergs you are sure, peeking out of the side of the cliff as you descend the short distance. It soon becomes obvious that this is not a site that was visited only by shepherds. In front of you, several concrete pillars mark the site of what can only have been some kind of ancient temple. Roman perhaps. Gallo-roman would be an educated guess, as a very few kilometres to the northeast there lies a site which includes a Gallo-roman bathhouse and villas.

There are no notices to tell you what these pillars make, but the lines and rows spell temple. The temple site itself is set in a kind of natural amphitheatre. The cliff edge and old path or streambed delineate one side, and at the other side of the temple the bank curves around the rest of the semi-circle. At the open end of the depression lies some kind of rocky stream – the sound of falling water seeps out between the oak trees that line the bank.

You walk towards it, wondering if this amphitheatre was once the beach of part of this stream when the climate was wetter and the river ran higher. That must have been a pre-Roman beach, as the temple site was built on the beach itself, albeit high up at the back, so flooding was a problem?

You reach the tree-lined stream, and you are glad that you chose this spot for viewing. Looking up and down the banks, all you can see are trees and shrubs crowded tight against the margins.

Near to your feet lies an old root system, blackened and gnarled with age, slippery and moss-encrusted by the damp conditions. Your eyes take in the other roots that twist into the water from the ancient oaks. But those are not what arrest the eye.

The riverbed itself is the commanding view here, not any bankside vegetation. The mid-summer drop in flow accentuates the fact that the rock here is hard. To say the streambed is strewn with rocks would be wrong. For all intents and purposes, the boulders are the streambed. Giant boulders, some flattened, some characteristically tear-dropped by the water, all huge. The water cascades through them, under them, around them. Slightly to your right there is a pool. You are in no doubt that the dark colour is not caused merely by the lack of direct sunlight. Something tells the primitive part of you that that pool is deep. Perhaps primordially deep, perhaps only hip-deep. But there are depths there that maybe ought not be plumbed.

The higher boulders that escape all but the worst ravages of the winter floods are covered in green moss, growing like baize across the stone. On the lower ones, the moss has turned into black slime, now dry and crinkly in the August heat.

Across the bank, you can see what looks far too regular to be a natural outcropping of stone. You take a second look, perhaps hopping onto a stone or two to garner a closer look. Under the moss and branches of trees – for across the river the woods are still holding strong – there are walls. A hole that can only be a window. Another shepherd’s croft? Unlikely situated so close to the riverbank and in woods. A hunting lodge? Perhaps. Something to do with the ancient castle that once stood at the nearby lake, of which only a tower and part of the moat remain? More than likely. It is said that Le Coeur de Lion stayed at that castle, and held property close by. Is it possible that the famed Lionheart himself spent time here, when this ruin was in its hey-day? It is pleasing to your mind to muse on these possibilities.

You cross the river, using the giant boulders as stepping-stones. You cannot help but feel that, as you near the other shore and the wild and moss-dripping trees, in some way you are leaving behind a world of security and all that is homely and all that you have come to know as ‘real’. Here, on the other shore, perhaps an alternative reality exists alongside, yet separate from, your own.

You scan the surrounding countryside quickly. What is behind that tree? Is there anything behind the walls, waiting to stare out of the window? You are but a visitor in this other realm, the realm of fairies and elves, where fairy tales are not fables but truths, where changelings and goblins cavort freely.

You jump back across the boulders and reach the open shore with ease. You turn back and stare at the walls and at the woods. You feel slightly foolish for turning tail like you did. You know that those creatures don’t exist. You know that. Don’t you?

You turn away and step out from underneath the cover of the trees and back into the sunshine. The temple is in front of you. The path back up to the top of the ridge and the croft to the left of that. You turn sharp left, the path that takes you immediately below the ridge. You can see from here that you chose the right path in coming down. If you had tried to go down the front of the cliff, it would have been near impossible.

You continue along the path. You wonder where it leads. Perhaps another beach? Another dead building? To your right and left tall ferns grow wild, shading out all other weeds and grass. The ferns grow up the side of the ridge and over the top, encroaching onto the pasture.

Ahead of you, the path narrows, the ferns now caressing your bare arms and legs. You thank the deity of your choice that they are not sporing at the moment, as the slightest touch would have sent clouds of carcinogenic microbes into the air. As it is the air is hot and dry, but at least it is not dusty.

The trees that have followed the stream along its course cut sharply in a few hundred feet in front of you. You spy a path through the fern to your right that will lead you back up to the top of the ridge. You decide to take it. Again you are struck by how primeval the landscape looks – boulders, ferns, sharp drops, streams and rivers. As you plough through the fern and up the steep incline, your eyes constantly scan the ground in front of you for snakes. Now is not the time to get bitten by an adder or an asp. DOA are not your three favourite letters when placed together.

Puffing and slightly out of breath you reach the clifftop. You know that, as you heave yourself up the last metre, you have left another world behind you. A world that you entered as soon as you walked around the shepherd’s croft, a world that invited you as you touched the concrete temple marker, a world that welcomed you as you stood at the stream side, a world that scared you as you closed in on the dead building, a world apart from your own.

You make your way back across the high pasture land and back out of the gateway onto the trackway that you came in on. Still, as you glimpse around, that world is not as distinct and separate as you once would have believed. That world is everywhere, existing within, around and through our own.

You were scared, but not rejected. You know that that world would welcome you any time that you entered it again. Some part of your brain asks you if you would ever leave it.

TAC: Plots and Timelines

The last assignment for the challenge came from my own head (following discussion) and consisted of three parts. (You can read the full assignment details here – and Jamie’s take on this one on his blog.)

  1. Finish plot outlines.
  2. Create combined timelines.
  3. Continue story with 5 pages.

During – or perhaps it was right at the beginning – of this assignment Jamie and I agreed that our stories, already existing in the same universe and featuring a character from the other story, would become part of one whole. Not too much of a stretch. But then … oh, then … that idea combined with the ‘Scene Unseen‘ assignment and something more was born …

My original story was that of the relationship between the two men – but told from the POV of just one of them. The other – the ‘straight’ colleague who finds himself in a relationship with another guy – was only going to be seen in the form of his reactions. You’ll have noticed the past tense in that sentence: was.

Aaaaand that’s all the hint I’m giving you.

Which is quite a big hint, to be fair.

Luckily, I did complete the second part, and the third part made it to four pages. The first part? Not so much. I think I know where the two of them are heading. I have something I want to throw into the mix … which I’m not even talking about … but I need to sit down and scribble it all out.

On paper.

With a pencil.

Whilst I’m not quite at the slash your wrists and bleed onto the page part quite yet, but this is turning out to be something bigger than either of us imagined …

At least there isn’t a map involved.

In a creative slump? Take a walk.

I’d certainly agree that this works for me whenever I’m in a particularly tricky situation when I’m writing.

What do you think?

FIGHT BOREDOM, SPREAD HAPPINESS

Walking “Walkers had more thoughts, but they also had a higher density of creative thoughts than sitters,” said one researcher. Above, hikers in the Antelope Valley Poppy Preserve near Lancaster. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times / April 23, 2014)

Want to get creative? Get up and go for a walk.

People generate more creative ideas when they walk than when they sit, according to a new study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition.

“Everyone always says going on a walk gives you new ideas, but nobody had ever proved it before,” said Marily Oppezzo, a psychology professor at Santa Clara University and the lead author of the study.

To test for creativity, Oppezzo asked volunteers (mostly college students) to come up with alternative uses for a common item like a tire or a tweezer. Creative suggestions for a button, for example, might include tiny…

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