It’s the start of a new year, and the perfect time to take out a new writing magazine subscription. Writing magazines, which these days usually have online communities built around them, are an excellent resource for both building your skills and finding a public outlet for them.
Writing Magazine is the biggest one in the UK, with an active online network and blog (you can see one of my articles on having a creative Christmas here). As well as practical advice about the craft of writing you’ll find readers’ contributions and regular writing competitions. I advertise my workshops and courses in their annual guide.
Like Writing Magazine, Writers’ Forum provides a wealth of information and opportunities for writers at every stage of their writing journey, from complete beginners to published authors. Look out for my article in next month’s issue, called What kind of writer are you? Why it helps to understand your author brand.
As the name suggests, the target reader is women writers. Mslexia has a strong community-of-writers feel, with the articles in each edition being chosen by a guest editor, on a theme, rather than the same editorial team.
Mslexia is read by top authors and absolute beginners. A quarterly masterclass in the business and psychology of writing, it’s the essential magazine for women who write.
So there you have my great writing reads – now, what about the fantastic freebie?
I was going on tour with my three books for writers. I opened my well-travelled, old-fashioned suitcase and there they were, just the books, looking bright and colourful against the black satin lining. I felt very proud of them.
I had this deeply pleasurable dream a few weeks ago, when I was emailing publications to see if they would like a review copy of my upcoming book, Free-Range Writing: 75 Forays for the Wild Writer’s Soul, and pitching ideas for articles. (I’m happy to report that Mslexia has accepted a copy for review and I’ve placed an article on free-range writing in the Writers’ News Christmas edition).
Usually, I have to put my shoulder to the wheel and get on with it, when it comes to promoting new books, but promoting this one feels joyful. I want to shout about it, partly because it’s my first brand new book in two years, and partly because it gives me a sense of completion.
These three writing books are a set, although I only notice that now, looking back. They cover the whole writer’s process:
opening to inspiration (Writing in the House of Dreams)
keeping the writing flowing (Happy Writing)
extending yourself as a writer (Free-Range Writing)
They also reflect my own coming-to-writing. First, before I was a writer, I was a dream worker – I learnt to come and go across the borders of my unconscious and work with the stories and images I found in great abundance there. To use Ted Hughes’ analogy, I learnt to fish.
There is the inner life, which is the world of final reality, the world of memory, imagination, emotion, intelligence, and natural common sense, and which goes on all the time, consciously or unconsciously, like the heart beat. There is also the thinking process by which we break into that inner life and capture answers and evidence to support the answers out of it. That process of raid, or persuasion, or ambush, or dogged hunting, or surrender, is the kind of thinking we have to learn and if we do not somehow learn it, then our minds lie in us like the fish in the pond of a man who cannot fish.
Writing in the House of Dreamsit about tapping the mystery of inspiration, the ‘Where did that come from?’ It includes lots of practical writing exercises to help readers open to their own unconscious processes.
Next, at the age of 40, I started my writing career. As well as having to build my writing skills, I also had to develop the psychological toughness this business requires: a thick skin, a willingness to be seen, the ability to set clear goals and the flexibility to adapt them. Authors also have to cope with financial uncertainty, and develop other sources of income – many award-winning authors have to fit their writing in around a day job.
Happy Writingis about the psychology of writing, the ‘How can I keep going?’, whether in a longer piece like a novel, or over the course of a career. It includes lots of practical writing exercises to help readers build their writing skills, such as plotting and redrafting, identify when hidden fears might be holding them back and create writing goals they can pursue whole-heartedly because they come from their core values rather than other people’s assumptions.
In my early 50’s, I began to teach writing workshops, and I always mixed it up, just as I’ve done in my own writing career. I found people were surprised to be asked to write a poem in a plotting workshop, say, or a magazine article in a memoir workshop – they were surprised, also, by how enjoyable and fruitful a more holistic approach can be.
Free-Range Writingis about inhabiting more of your writer self and growing as a writer, the ‘Yes, I can do this! What else can I do?’ It includes 75 practical writing forays into different genres, with tips and advice to help readers feel confident about experimenting, and a chapter on how to use these exercises to set up a new writing group or pep up an existing one.
Every stage of the writer’s journey is different, and so these three books are all very different from each other. Until I had the dream and actually saw them in my dear old suitcase, all together, they had felt a bit random and disparate. I hadn’t realised that they were a series, each one a necessary part of the whole.
I’m not sure I realised, either, that I do feel very proud them, these beloved children of my other lives, in dreams and writing.
If you would like to help them make their way in the world, please share this post to your fb/twitter/personal blog.
Some years ago, I was working on my first poetry collection, Creatures of the Intertidal Zone. The book’s main section, inspired by my journey through Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland in the footsteps of an intrepid eleventh century female Viking, was complete, but I didn’t yet have a clear vision for the final part of the manuscript.
Until, over a period of several weeks, prompted perhaps by my reading numerous narratives of Polar exploration to both the Arctic and Antarctic, I had a sequence of dreams featuring that most iconic of polar creatures, the penguin. In one dream, I received a penguin delivery – he was shoved and squeezed through my letterbox until he landed with a slap on the tiled hall floor. In another, I was trying to hoist a poorly penguin into a cardboard box so that I could take him to the vet, while in the most surreal dream of all, I was metamorphosing, flipper by flipper, feather by feather, into a penguin myself.
I’d never written poems from dreams before, but the penguins were impossible to ignore. As I wrote, I pondered on all the images of penguins that exist in popular culture, as well as our persistent commodification and Disneyfication of animals, a theme that seemed to fit well with the environmental strands I’d introduced in the main section of the collection. Gradually, over the next six months, my dream penguins swam and waddled their way into a series of poems that enabled the final part of my manuscript to fall into place.
Creatures of the Intertidal Zone was published by Cinnamon Press in 2007. I was delighted by Helena Nelson’s mini-review of the collection in Mslexia and the fact that she singled the penguins out for a special mention – ‘Susan Richardson’s Creatures of the Intertidal Zone offers a marvellously different blend of passion, pathos, poetry – and penguins.’ I have continued to allow my dreams to feed my poetry ever since.
To begin with, nothing drastic.
the odd cold bath, air con on max,
the utter absence of shivers.
Then, the skin tingles, each pore forcing
the shaft of a feather forth, like a lid
with a push-through straw.
I go right off garlic, crisps, samosas,
bright red curtains, Gauguin prints.
If I must stay indoors, I want plain
white tiles, a single chilled white porcelain sink.
And oh, the fingers. Useless, as if mittened.
And stretched, the tips skimming the floor.
Scissors, chopsticks, forks – all binned.
Breasts blend with belly, waist, hips.
I’m lugging a two-fifty-litre rucksack
in an outsize black wetsuit and wellies.
My tears taste of fish.
Fresh fears keep me from sleeping.
The fleck throats of bull seals.
Ice melt. Oil slicks.
I make a nest from the last
strands in my hairbrush and what I once
knew as pencils, and string.
Soon I must push
this hard new truth between my legs
and hatch it.
The dream behind ‘Buttercup Magic’ – by Abi Burlingham
I have had vivid dreams for as long as I remember, varying from dreams of flying to the truly horrid stick witch who crept out of the plughole. Some of these have sparked off ideas for stories, but generally speaking I hadn’t used them in my writing and they were quite often forgotten.
That is, until a few months ago, following a fascinating article I read in the Spring Mslexia, ‘Dreamwriting’ by Clare Jay, where Clare describes the process of being conscious in your dreams, controlling them, and using them to help your writing.
Fascinated with this idea, I decided to try being more aware in my next dream. The dream that followed was incredibly vivid. I was in a big old house, or rather, my consciousness was. My dream almost told me what was there. It told me there were mice who could tell the time – I could see these in the dream – and there was a black cat.
When I woke, I had the strongest sense of place. The setting and feelings that accompanied it were so incredibly vivid. Luckily, I keep a notebook and pen by the bed, so I quickly wrote down these ideas.
Shortly after, I started to write the book ‘Buttercup Magic’ – under the working title ‘Buttercup House’, featuring mice who could tell the time (all called Whiskers) and black cat called Dorothy. But I knew that a dog should be in the book too, so I wrote in Buttercup, a big golden retriever.
‘Buttercup Magic’ is now to become a series, the first of which, ‘An adventure for Megan’, is due out in Spring 2012. Without the dream, and without that very important article, I have no doubt that this book wouldn’t have been written.