Creative, imaginative Winter

For me, it is not Spring, but Autumn and Winter that form my season of creativity. I have no idea why this is. It seems as though the rest of the world is full of new life in the Spring. Is it because I’m an October baby, my life naturally cycles from Autumn onwards? Or because when we lived in Brisbane, October was in the Spring? But how can five years there undo the habits of the other fifty-two years I’ve lived in the Northern Hemisphere? So I don’t know why, but this is not the season for rest and consolidation, but of flights of imagination taking wings.

New ideas are taking shape, even before the old ideas have been put to bed. I’m thinking about what I want to say in a new story. And I’m clueless about a title, although I have a couple of alternatives to ponder. I’m drawn to old stuff, I’m drawn to the past. I’m thinking of all the Summer of Love protest songs, but no, they are all too recent, I want to go further back.

I’m thinking about rural things, villages, fields, water, trees. I’m thinking of sorrow and haunting, of deeds never talked of, of the guilty secrets of the past. I’m thinking of shame and sacrifice, I’m humming old pastoral songs and rhymes, of Scarborough Fair, of the occasional duplicitous nature of the minstrel, wandering, legitimately able to plant one foot in each camp, never on any side but his own.

I’m thinking of myths and legends, hills cloaked in mist, an unseen bird calling in the gloom, of the soft insinuating sound of the wind. I’m thinking about the returning home of the prodigal, about how we carry the past with us, inside, even when we are looking forward and moving on. I’m thinking too of that moment when you come home and you know someone else has been there. Someone who shouldn’t have been there. Your house feels guilty, complicit, hushed as if someone had been speaking and just this moment stopped when the door opened.

I’m thinking of The Waste Land by T S Eliot. I remember snatches of it: ‘Speak to me./Why do you never speak?’ And ‘What is that noise?/The wind under the door.’ Or, ‘I remember/Those are pearls that were his eyes.’

I am thinking, staring at the falling leaves, driven across the grass by a pushing wind, and I am thinking of long ago, of people who may not have existed, but who may come into being in my imagination. I am thinking of a man at a window staring out, his mind working on things he cannot put into words. I’m thinking of a woman, always waiting, wringing her hands in front of the window, her own shadow on the lamplit stones of the yard.

I’m thinking of a boy coming over the hill. Of grass, green, long, dewy. Of the sun, soft, golden, gentle as a mother’s hand, just touching his hair, his shoulder. How long has he been away? How much has changed? Will anything ever change?

‘Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,/And all the air a solemn stillness holds.’ Thomas Gray’s Elegy. Like our current season, in my story it always seems to be unchanging, endless night.

 

***

People watching

file0001711682994I don’t advocate, as a writing tutor in Brisbane once told me, that you should actually follow people to get ideas for your story or to experience what it’s like to ‘shadow’ someone. BUT I must admit I do covertly eavesdrop and watch people, especially in a coffee-shop situation.

I remember overhearing one yoof talking to another about his baseball cap. Yoof 2 was admiring the cap and trying it on. Yoof 1 said, rather anxiously, ‘Don’t you lose my cap, man. That cap is my identity.’

And what I see and hear often gives me ideas for a story. Here’s what happened one day. I must just add, as a disclaimer, that all I saw were two people in a coffee-shop—my imagination, tawdry and cynical, and my love of detective fiction did the rest!

So I was sitting there with my cappuccino and my triangle of ‘tiffin’, in a Coffeebucksta Emporium in the town where I live. And I saw this:

A smart young man, late twenties, in a very modern suit, latest hair-do etc., all smiles and full of conversation and with him a frail and bent old lady in a wheelchair. She was also smartly dressed and her white hair was also short and chic a la Dame Judi Dench. But she was way too old to be his mother. Grandmother? Great aunt?

I’m already plotting a story around them. He parked her at a table and went to join the queue. She was reading the paper. Maybe she’s not a relative but his Sugar Mommy?

The idea appeals to me. I can remember several detective novels where scandal ensues due to an inappropriate attachment between a favoured young man and an older, vulnerable woman. I like the idea that even in this day and age, a young man can still cash in on his good looks, and an old lady can still enjoy having someone to dance attendance on her.

I think she’d have someone at home to help with her personal care. And also the cooking and cleaning. I’m picturing a large sprawling mansion, empty of people but stuffed with suits of armour and gloomy, grimy portraits of people who have been dead for hundreds of years. Lots of wood panelling. Surrounded by vast expanses of grass and tall dark trees. Maybe some peacocks? An old uneconomical car, with her cosseted in the back under blankets, and him in front at the steering wheel.

And I don’t want to think there could be anything sexual involved (eww!) but that he acts as chauffeur, secretary, assistant, companion and entertainer. He flatters her, makes her laugh and she pays him for his smiles.

I think of the people that know her, local villagers? I imagine them talking to me. Or to a policeman sent down from Scotland Yard to investigate some awful crime. Perhaps she’s been murdered? Or him? Perhaps he’s the victim, not the perpetrator? Over our coffee, my informant tells me, “Well of course she gave out that he was her great-nephew, though I’ve never believed it. But she said it—you know—for appearance’s sake. He certainly is a charmer. And so patient. Well all I can say is, he’s worked damned hard for the money she’s left him. If there is any money. No one seems to be too sure about that.”

Was he a little too friendly with the nurse who looked after the old lady? Is that what they’ll say when her body is discovered? Did the old lady resent him giving those smiles to someone else?

Back in the real world, I’m picking up on tiny details. He returns with a coffee for her. Nothing for himself. Odd. He sits. She leans forward and says something to him, and he takes her cup and has a sip of the coffee, and shakes his head. He returns it to its saucer. Too much sugar? Not enough? Does this taste a little odd to you? I’m not sure what is going on, but she doesn’t drink it.

They don’t stay long. I think he was actually in the queue longer than they sat over the drink that went almost untouched. Why didn’t he have anything? Does she hold on a little too tightly to the purse-strings?

Even though he is smartly turned out, perhaps his shoes are showing signs of wear? Not quite as new or of such good quality as they first appeared? Perhaps she doesn’t pay him so well after all? Are there arguments over money? She thinks he spends too much, or asks for too much. He thinks it’s unfair that he has to beg and plead and justify what he needs, thinks she is too keen on having power over others. Perhaps it’s not worth it after all? Perhaps it’s time for this ‘arrangement’ to come to an end?

For one mad moment I think about taking her cup for analysis before the table is cleared. Then I remember. Only in my imagination am I a detective. Here in the real world, I’m just another person sitting in a cafe. But in my mind, and in my notebook, I have the bones of a story.

***

Top Tips To Kickstart Your Muse

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If, like me, you sometimes sit and stare at a blank page for an hour or more without writing a thing then give up and go off to do something else, you might want to give some of these tips a try. I’ve tried them all and found them useful at one time or another. Some are fairly conventional ideas for productivity, others are just things I came up with that helped me.

  1. Listen to music

You might listen to your usual favourites, or I sometimes like to try something new that I haven’t listened to before or even play something I’m not too keen on to get the creativity flowing. Or maybe go for something you haven’t listened to for a very long time – songs that were out when you were a kid!

  1. Go for a walk

I know this is a commonly prescribed antidote to lack of creativity, but it does work. Go out in the pouring rain and release your inner savage, or go out and enjoy the wonders of nature, or walk along the city streets and visualise your gumshoe on the trail of a bad guy. Physical activity wakes up the body and gets the blood flowing to the brain. Even if you don’t come back from your walk full of ideas, at least you got away from your desk for a while and got some fresh air.

  1. Eavesdrop on other peoples’ conversations

This is a great way to pick up ideas and hear dialogue in action. It’s also a great way to get punched on the nose if you’re too obvious. Snatches of conversation half-heard and half-remembered can provide great what-if moments.

  1. Visit a gallery or museum

I once attended a workshop at a museum and we were encouraged to write short pieces about some of the exhibits. These included Neolithic artefacts and a Victorian christening gown. It was not only a great idea but a memorable experience. Go to an art gallery or a museum or country house with your trusty notebook. Take a look at what lies behind the glass and imagine the person who touched, created, discovered, used or found a particular item. People those empty halls with characters – what do they say to one another? Make sketches. Write descriptions. Take photos, or if that’s not allowed, buy a post card from the gift shop.

  1. Look through the images on Morguefile or Shutterstock or other image sites

See if anything intrigues you or inspires you to write a short story, a poem, a simple description or analyse your own feelings when you look at a picture. What does it make you think of and why? How do you feel?

  1. Do you collect anything? If not you, does someone close to you have a collection?

Spend some time writing about the first item in the collection and how it was acquired or obtained. What was the last item to join the collection? What would happen if someone stole your collection? How would that make you feel? How would you get it back? What would you do?

  1. Sit somewhere different to your usual writing spot

I usually write at my desk, but sometimes I like to go out to a café or pub and write, or I could write in a library. I could write outside if the weather is fine. In the past I have even sat in my son’s bedroom at his desk and written for hours. A change is as good as a rest we are told, and a new ‘venue’ can help to get things flowing. You could also try using a different notebook or computer, a different pen or write at a different time of day.

  1. Pick a story from your local newspaper

Write it in your own words; be an investigative journalist and try to think of a new outcome or a way of finding out more, or imagine you are interviewing someone featured in the newspaper, whether a sports’ personality or a victim of a crime.

  1. Go to the library

And have a rummage through the reference section or any section that interests you; poke through the periodicals and nosy at the noticeboard.

  1. Visit a graveyard

Wander around and read a few headstones. Look at the style of the gravestones. Try to imagine the people buried there, the lives they lived and how they died, picture their families and their homes and workplaces. Sit in the church or graveyard for a while and try to imagine who might have sat there before you. How did they feel?

  1. Meditate

A little relaxing meditation could release some stress and pent-up anxiety and enable you to refresh yourself mentally. Sit comfortably on the floor, with a notepad and pen in front of you, turned to a fresh page. Close your eyes. Spend a few minutes breathing deeply and slowly until you feel you could almost doze off to sleep. Then without thinking about what you are doing, take up your pen and begin writing – something, anything, just don’t try to analyse or make sense of any thoughts, but let the words pour out of your pen as if there was nothing between your brain and your notebook. Music or candles and incense sometimes help with this process.

Most of us have times when we can’t seem to write the way we want to, or maybe not at all. Don’t worry about it too much and allow yourself the freedom to know when you need to rest and when you need to try to help things along.