In two weeks time I shall be co-hosting the annual NAWE and Lapidus retreat at Ty Newydd with Anne Caldwell, so I’m really pleased that Anne has asked me to come on this blog tour. It’s perfect timing.
At the moment I’m dividing my time in roughly three ways. I’m working on my first novel, running training workshops for counselling teams based on my book Writing in Bereavement, A Creative Handbook, and running creative writing workshops in south Cornwall, where I live. The novel is my first and it feels like an act of faith. I had the kernel of an idea for it nearly ten years ago. Now that I am finally writing it, the story is unfolding before me in ways that I could not have predicted. I’m pleased (and relieved) to find that I am still excited by the characters and their situation; they seem to be telling me the story as they live it on the page, not the other way round.
How does my work differ from others of its genre? My book was a bit of a one off. When I first became interested in the therapeutic value of writing I decided to specialize in bereavement because it seemed to be falling between the lines of other therapeutic writing handbooks. I’m trained to provide bereavement support as a volunteer with Cruse Bereavement Care, so I bring an understanding of the theory behind the way we grieve, as well as a writer’s grasp of creative techniques. It sounds a tough area to work in, but it isn’t, at least not the way I choose to do it. Participants in my workshops often comment that they are pleasantly surprised to have written about positive memories and experiences, and that they have had fun in the process.
I write what I do because of experience and curiosity. As an only child whose parents were also onlies, I am fascinated by families in the way someone looking into an aquarium is fascinated by fish. I can only imagine a world of siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, and the difference they might make to my life and personality. As the last tree in the forest (apart from second and third cousins, of which I have many), I am the inheritor of a wealth of family stories and memorabilia. I feel responsible for the telling and retelling of histories that were passed down to me as a child; stories about coal miners, steelworkers, school dinner ladies, typists, rugby players, tennis coaches, actors, soldiers, butchers, teachers and – somewhere along the way – a travelling sewing machine salesman (there’s a lost trade if ever there was one). When I join in with other people’s family gatherings I love to hear their anecdotes. I feel a similar need to share mine, but in my case the audience is the wider world.
As for my writing process, it depends what I’m writing. When I wrote my book I approached it as a project from research through drafting and structuring to editing. I had a plan with every week of the year mapped out ahead of me so I met my deadlines. It might sound constricting, but it worked and I enjoyed the process. There were lots of lists and the satisfaction of ticking things off when I’d achieved them. If I’m in a poetry writing phase it’ll be jottings in a notebook, lots of reading, watching and listening, then a draft around an idea, then transferring it onto the laptop, where the craft and the look and shape of it takes over. If it’s an article or a piece of prose, I think about the reader. How can I entertain and inform them? A novel, as I’m finding now, is like wrestling an idea to the ground and finding it has shape-shifted in the process, then trusting it to lead me in the right direction.
Next week Nichola Charalambou will be in the blogging seat. Nichola is the founder of Creative Writes, which runs supportive Creative Writing Workshops across London. Based in North London. Nichola believes that free flow writing is the way in to every kind of writing. She is currently seeking out interesting and inspiring venues around London. Her blog is Diary of A Workshop Leader and can be found on the Creative Writes website: http://www.creativewrites.co.uk/