Tag Archives: settings

It’s publication day!

Today is publication day for my latest children’s book, The Binding. 

'A tense, compulsive exploration of the effects of secrets, authority, boredom and fear.'
‘A tense, compulsive exploration of the effects of secrets, authority, boredom and fear.’

I started thinking about the idea ten years ago, after witnessing an unsettling incident in a remote part of Scotland.

I was walking past a ruined crofter’s cottage when I heard a commotion inside and went to see what was going on. I found four children, out of breath and flushed with excitement, the biggest one grasping in his fist a baby bird.

They flashed each other a guilty look, before the big boy rallied, took the chick to the nearest window and opened his hand. It fell to the ground.

‘It was stuck in here,’ he said. ‘We were trying to catch it so we could help it to get out.’

We all knew that wasn’t what they were doing, but the bird was free now, and I stayed there watching it limp away to the nearest cover while the children ran back towards their houses.

I got to thinking, how would it be for a child to live in a place where there were few other children, and virtually no adult supervision?

Then, in the wonderful way that fiction works, that little nugget of an idea began to layer up with other ideas. It resonated with memories from my own childhood, particularly the secret club I had with my three siblings, which we called ‘the meeting.’

My big sister was in charge of the meeting. She it was who made the box which contained all the secret business of the meeting. She decided the tasks and set the penalties.

On the less serious side, we had the mischief club, where I was in charge, being the second oldest, but it burnt out long before the meeting because it didn’t have the same magic and I lacked the power to hold it together.

My own childhood memories, stories other people had told me and new fantasies were called into my mind by this seed idea, and transformed in imagination to fit into it.

I love this process. It makes me feel energised and happy. And when, as occasionally happens, it also grows into a publishable book, well that’s just the icing on the cake.

 

 

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The gifts of writing – 2

In this, the second of my pre-Christmas posts on the three gifts of writing, I’m thinking about the gift of awareness.

In ordinary life, a lot of what we experience is subliminal. We engage with the world through our senses, but barely notice what we are feeling. For example, sitting here at my computer I’m only really seeing the keyboard and screen, unless I take a moment to deliberately notice the four different colours of gel pen right in front of me, one of them a very vibrant green, the particular blue of the walls, the dark grain of the old table, the torn or crumpled bits of paper in the basket beside my chair.

pens

When we write, we picture the scene. We use all our senses to fully imagine it. We notice the detail of our protagonist’s clothing, the colour of their eyes, the quality of their voice. We notice the smell of the air, sharp and clear on a winter’s morning, close and musty in an old drawing-room, or wafting from a warm kitchen carrying cinnamon, or cabbage, or toast.

Our senses are the gateway to the world of our story, and describing what we can see, touch, hear, taste and smell there is how we bring our readers in too.

In writing, in imagination, we can experience life more fully and intensely, and that vibrancy spills over into our experience of real life.

Another thing that we do in writing, which is part of show-don’t-tell, is to notice and describe our characters’ emotions through their bodily sensations. When they are angry, we imagine where they might feel that in their body, and so experience it in our own. Again, this habit in imagination spills over into real life, and we become more aware of how emotion is expressed in the body.

 

Writing non-fiction also brings an increased awareness, not of what we experience through the body but of what we know, the life of the mind. When you write non-fiction, you become aware of knowledge you don’t normally notice or think about – it’s just there, part of the scenery, like the background details I never notice when I’m working in my study.

How to look after a rabbit; how to write a biography; how to grow plants from pips – these are some of the subjects I’ve written about. Others include the skills you learn just by being alive for a long time, such as cultivating happiness, building self-esteem and handling bullying. I’ve never done much research because I write the things I know about through my own experience, and in writing them, I notice what I know.

Shintie -sweet source of all the know-how in my little book, 'Rabbittalk - How to make friends with your Rabbit'
Shintie -sweet source of all the know-how in my little book, ‘Rabbittalk – How to make friends with your Rabbit’

This increased awareness of the knowledge and experience we normally take for granted and stop noticing is my second great gift of writing. Next week, I’ll close this little series with Gift Number Three.

Here’s a dream question for you

A few nights ago, I dreamt about a row of old shops which had been boarded up with huge sheets of brown cardboard. Along the top, there was a big bright Tesco banner.

In my dream, I realised that when my dreams are set in man-made environments, they are always up-to-date. I very rarely dream about my own personal past, let alone further back in history.

I reflected that I’m a person who isn’t drawn to the past – I don’t write on historical themes, and I’m not fired by antiques, or costume dramas, or classical novels or paintings. Only last week, I bought a limited edition print of the Lidl in Brixton. It felt fresh and different – mean, how much Lidl-related art do you see?

Lidl in Brixton

Even when I did a few past-life regressions, they didn’t go further back than wartime Europe, but that’s another story.

I wondered about other people – antiques collectors, historical novelists, family archivists. People my spiritualist friend used to call ‘old souls.’ Did they have more dreams set in the past?

At the end of the dream, I dreamt I was recording this as a blog-post rather than an entry in my dream diary – and that’s what I’ve just done!

So this is my dream question – if you love old things, if you read or write historical books, do you have dreams that are set in the past? Or if, like me, you love the new, is that reflected in your dreams and writing too?

What’s the explanation for ‘deja vu’?

‘Deja vu’ means ‘already seen’ or ‘seen before.’ It’s when we feel a strong sense of recognition in a new place, as if we’ve been there before but can’t remember when.

It can occur even in places we know for certain we have never visited in the past. We may actually find that we know the layout of the rooms, or what’s round the corner in the road.

Often, ‘deja vu’ is accompanied by a strong emotional reaction to the place we recognise – perhaps a warm sense of belonging, or a feeling of sadness, or a desire to get away.

A scientific explanation of this phenomenon is that it’s some kind of blip in the brain – a disturbance in the electrical activity which causes a momentary illusion that we’ve seen the place previously when in fact we’re seeing it for the first time.

A more metaphysical explanation is that ‘deja vu’ is connected with past lives – we recognise a place because we were there in a former life. But how could that account for feelings of ‘deja vu’ which arise in a modern environment?

Larking around outside the old Town Hall in Wimbledon – part of a shopping centre now

Years ago, I revisited the town I grew up in, Wimbledon, with an old friend from school. Before the visit, I dreamt I was walking from my childhood home into the town centre, and when I got there, I was surprised to find the old Town Hall was now a shopping centre.

When we arrived, I found the town centre was exactly as I had dreamt it. You may say I must have heard about the redevelopment in the media or something, and simply forgotten. But this sort of thing happens quite often, in relation to places which have never been in the media.

Five years ago, I wanted to move house, and I was looking at cul-de-sac bungalows within a certain area. I happened upon the house I eventually found quite by chance, on an evening out – it was in the wrong place, but I viewed it on a whim, and as soon as I walked in the door, it just felt like my house.

Recently, reading back through some old dream diaries, I discovered that I had dreamt I took a detour on a house-finding mission, to view a little miner’s cottage in the middle of a terrace on the edge of the moor – I had actually dreamt about this house.

I don’t know if there is a definitive explanation for ‘deja vu’, but my own experience suggests that when we feel we have been in a place before, we have – in our dreams.

Have you ever experienced ‘deja vu’? What do you think is the explanantion?

Do you have a dream house?

I’ve just got back from a wonderful weekend in Peterborough with the Scattered Authors Society where I got into conversation with several people on the topic of dreams.

The first thing two of them mentioned was that they sometimes dream about a house. This is a house they recognise from previous dreams, but have never seen in waking life.

Lots of people have a dream-house, and when they dream about it they are usually finding a new door or room, which they have never noticed before.

I’ve heard these house-dreams interpreted in a number of ways, but I prefer not to interpret. What is interesting to me is the house itself, and the experience of exploring it.

My dream house is big and old, on three storeys. It’s long rather than square, and grows longer as I discover more and more rooms. Once, to my surprise, I discovered a complete self-contained appartment with a squatter who had been living in it for ages!

I always enter my dream house with feelings of excitement and anticipation. ‘Here I am again! What will I discover?’ I always come away feeling as if I’ve been given something wonderful.

There are slight variations  in my dream house, but it’s always the same sort of style and age, and I don’t think I’ve ever been there in the dark.

Some people’s dream-houses may not be recognisably the same building but have a strong theme which alerts them to the fact that they are in their familiar dream house. One of the authors told me his dream house is often mixed up with other people’s houses, so he has to go through someone else’s living room to get to his bedroom, for example.

Do you have a dream house? Is it old and labyrinthine, like mine? Is it always the same, or variations on a theme?

Landscapes of the soul

Years ago, I had a dream I called ‘Landscapes of the soul.’ It was one of those dreams which doesn’t have a story, but just a voice.

Moorland
Cornish moorland

The voice of the dream said, ‘The scenery your soul feels at home in never changes. The empty huge spaces of the highlands, always at the mercy of the elements, that is my soul scenery and will not change, but all the less important things have changed…’

Shetland
Burra Isle in Shetland

It was after this dream that I started to notice the consistency of my dream landscapes, which are most often moors and mountains. In the workshops I do now, I find other people’s dream landscapes also have a surprising consistency.

North of Scotland
The mountains of the far North West

I grew up in leafy Wimbledon, but immediately after university I went to Shetland for a holiday and simply couldn’t leave. It was love at first sight, for me, that wild windbeaten landscape of empty hills and wide horizons. I lived in Shetland for nearly ten years before moving to Cornwall, but I still go to the far North most years in the summer.

This week, I read a fascinating post by Abi Burlingham about her relationship with trees and woodland http://abiburlingham.wordpress.com/2011/10/21/21st-october/ It reminded me of my long-ago dream, and made me wonder if everyone is drawn so strongly to one kind of scenery, for pleasure, solace or inspiration.

Guest spot: The dream that sparked the book

The dream behind ‘Buttercup Magic’ – by Abi Burlingham

Buttercup magic cover
‘A Mystery for Megan’ – the first book in the ‘Buttercup Magic’ series

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.

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