Tag Archives: life choices

As the  berries on  my Olympic Flame rowan tree signal that autumn is approaching, I find myself looking back on what has been a wonderfully creative summer.

As an adult education tutor - I teach creative writing for adults for Norfolk County Council - I'm lucky enough to have a full two months off to do as I like. In the past, when my son was younger, summer days were filled with trips to the park, the beach and the many tourist attractions of Norfolk, where we live. But now he's sixteen and although he is happy to be seen with me in public - yay! - naturally he doesn't want to do all those things any longer. It's a first step towards him moving on his life and I admit that does give me a pang! But it also gives me lots of time to use as I want to, and this summer I've really made the most of it. Apart from one family holiday in Anglesey, Wales - during the mercifully one really warm week of the UK summer - I have been creating.

Two thirds of the way up Mount Snowden, Wales

So, what have I been up to? Well, I've been writing about Christmas! Yes, Christmas trees, Christmas crackers, lights, snowmen, food, family rows - the lot! And much to my surprise - since I'm a bit of a bah humbug Christmas phobic - I've really enjoyed it! Maybe it was good therapy to put my characters through all that stuff? Although it wasn't all doom and gloom. I did find plenty of magic to include. Maybe it'll rub off on me and I'll find my Christmas mojo all over again?

Actually, it's been the writing process that has been magical, because this book almost wrote itself. Obviously I have some changes to make, but it came out so easily. That could be because I've used quite a lot on my own personal experience and memories, drawing on material I've stored away for years - a patchwork of different events that have somehow found a way to transform and click together. There's nothing like being in that place where everything comes easily and your characters speak to you inside your head. When you're doing something mundane and pieces of the puzzle of your novel are handed to you from nowhere.

But writing hasn't been my only creative pursuit this year. I've been painting and creating collages too - using the studio I had built after my mum died three years or so ago. I have used it before this summer, but not as much as I'd expected to. I felt kind of...stuck with my art. For those of you who don't know, I first started writing after I finished my painting degree in Brighton and was left wondering what next? I thought, I know, I'll write a best-selling romance to earn the money to carry on painting. Hmm...well, I was young, so I was allowed to be naive! What I basically did was swap one unpredictable way of making a living for another. Ha ha. But anyway, I got the writing bug, and I haven't looked back since. My art went on the back burner, but I always knew I'd want to go back to it. And this summer I have. As a result, I've felt really close to my mum too, thinking about how pleased she would be about it.

I've always been a fan of still life - I love to collect vases and jugs and have many from my grandmother. So, when I was looking around for a course to get me back into my art, it was an easy decision to choose Brave in Paint, Experimental Still Life run by Gabriella Buckingham. What a great course it was! Filled with Gabriella's enthusiasm and lively definitions and challenges. It was exactly what I wanted, and my creativity thrived. It's so easy to be held back by that nagging voice that asks you things like, Why are you doing this? What's it going to lead to? You really ought to be...(insert what here). What makes you think you'll do anything good anyway? Aaargh!

These are some of the voices my creative writing students have to contend with, and I empathize with them, I really do. It's taken a long time, but I mainly manage to be able to ignore the voices now when it comes to writing. I love writing far too much to be bullied out of doing it. Hopefully, I'll be able to be the same whenever I get the urge to paint or make a collage from now on.

Here's an example of one of the paintings - an oil sketch inspired by the above arrangement - I completed this summer. If you're interested, there are more to be found on the Margaret's Art work tab.

Still Life With Green Coffee Pot

Happy autumn, everyone!

 

In any Writing From Your Life Experience class of ten people, there may be ten different reasons why students want to use their life experience to inspire writing. One thing's for certain, it's going to be a lot easier to know HOW to write about your life if you know WHY you want to do it, and WHO you want to write for.

Some are writing as a legacy, because their want their children or grandchildren to know them better. Often this can be inspired by the death or illness of a family member. Loss makes them wish they had known more about their loved one before it was too late - because they know that if their mother/father/ grandparents/spouse had written anything down about their life, they would have devoured their words.

Others are writing to teach, or to be helpful. They have a strong feeling that the hard-won lessons of their life would benefit others, if only they could share them.

There are those who are writing as a means of understand situations or coming to terms with events of their lives. This type of writing can be immensely freeing.

Some students think that their lives would make an entertaining or exciting story that could become a best-seller.

Others just want to learn about writing and are taking on board the advice to 'write about what you know' because it seems a good place to start.

Students may be writing just for themselves.

For close family members.

For a clamouring public.

It depends entirely on what their BIG WHY is.

There are no right or wrong answers, but it is certainly very helpful to have this knowledge fixed in your mind as you start to write about your life, and this is the reason it's one of the first things I ask my students to consider before we dive into creative writing exercises designed to get those memories flooding back.

I have two Writing From Your Life Experience courses starting from January 2019:

Creative Writing - From Life Experience - Ten weeks on Thursday afternoons from 24th January at Wensum Lodge, Norwich.

Developing Life Writing Skills - Ten weeks on Tuesday afternoons from Tuesday 15th January at Merchant's Place, Cromer.

I hope to see you on one of them![click_to_tweet tweet="Reasons to write about your life. Your Big Why and Your Big Who. Life Writing classes in Norfolk from January 2019. #memoir #norfolk #creativewriting #autobiography" quote="Your Big Why and Your Big Who. Reasons to write about your life."]

A Nightingale in Winter

Letter of Love and Fear is a story that compliments my novel A Nightingale in Winter.

Dear Mamma

I thought of you in the middle of the night as I crept down the stairs, avoiding the creaking step, silently counting until I reached the hallway without the aid of a candle. The grandfather clock was like a sentry as I squeezed myself into the kitchen. The kitchen smelled of beef stew and cakes, but since Mrs Crookes had left it all as shiny as a new pin, ready for the morning, I knew this was supplied by my imagination, reminding me of the small moments of comfort I have received in that room over the years. The kitchen is the most human room of the house. I shall miss it, Mamma. I shall miss the servants. I have been as close to them as I have been to any human being so far in this life, and it is bewildering to be striking out on my own. But it must be done.

Can you picture me, hiding in the scullery until the first embers of day break? As the sun came up over the hedge I knew I must leave, or risk an encounter with a kitchen maid, or Grooms with the firewood. So I fetched my valise from its hiding place in the wood shed and crept out into the chilly darkness to start my adventure. The train would not be at the station for another hour, so I concealed myself in a laurel hedge and settled down to wait. It was very dark and damp in there, and I fancied spiders were running from the glossy leaves and right down my neck. It was not in the least bit pleasant, but it was as nothing compared to my terror of being apprehended by Father before the train arrived. 

And so I stood still and allowed the spiders - be they real or imagined - to go where they willed until it was time to depart my hiding place to purchase my train ticket. This I did at the very last moment, leaving it until something of a queue had built up and there was less opportunity for conversation. "Going to London are you, Miss Martin?" "Yes, I'm going to France, to nurse the wounded."

Sometimes, Mamma, I ask myself if I would ever have escaped if the War had not come, but you and I both know the answer to that question, I think. I would not.

Your loving daughter,

Eleanor. 

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Sometimes in life, you just fall onto a path without even really thinking about it.

There are no crossroads, no signpost; barely even any discussion on the subject. Your parents, your school, even YOU think, "You are this way, you are good at this subject, therefore you should do this." And that's it. Decision made, future path in life determined, without any maps or charts ever having been taken out of a drawer, let alone consulted.

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And obviously, this way of things can work. There are plenty of people out there who were good at maths at school and who are now happily working as accountants. Sporty types who went into sporting careers. Kids who loved science who work in laboratories or in the Health Service.

But sometimes it's a different story. Sometimes the path you fall into isn't the right one for you, and then it takes a little longer, and a lot of blundering along rutted tracks in the dark before you find your true way.

For me, my dark, rutted track was Art College. My school had a strong art department, a charismatic Head of Art, and I had some talent for painting. So that was that; decision made. I would go to Art College in Brighton, and I would become an artist.

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Readers, I was bewildered for almost my entire four years of training. Not about how to paint, because for the most part, I could do that, and it came relatively easily to me. No, the thing I couldn't work out, even by the end of my degree, was what the purpose of it all was.

We were given barely any formal training - my parents would have been shocked if they'd ever found out what their money was paying for. Just a space in a shared studio, cut-priced art materials, and periodic visits from a tutor to discuss our work when he could drag himself out of the pub next door.

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The College of Art in Brighton, and the pub next door.

I loved colour, and my bright interpretations of flowers in the vases I collected from Brighton second-hand shops showed nothing of my intense loneliness and lack of purpose. I felt lost and overlooked, not least by myself. It was only when I finished my degree and started to write a novel with the highly dubious goal of financing my career as an artist, that everything clicked into place and I finally found myself.

"Ah," I thought. "This is who I am."

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Even though I had some talent for art, stringing words together to create a book, with the potential to transport people to a whole new world, resonated with me far more than laying oil paints down on canvas ever had. I'd found my map, my natural habitat, and my path through it. I was a writer.

But now it was the turn of those around me to feel bewildered - my friends, my boyfriend, none of them could take my writing seriously, even when I began to get published. They viewed me as an artist who also wrote, when I wanted them to think of me as a writer who sometimes painted.

I don't know why it bothered me so much, although I suppose in those pre-Internet days, I just longed to be part of a tribe of like-minded people, and I couldn't find them. So, I moved away, to make a new start. A different city. A clean sheet.

"Hello, I'm Margaret. I'm a writer. Oh, and I also paint sometimes."

There have been many different maps since then, but even though the terrain has been varied, the maps have all belonged to the same series; a series made for writers.

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And my artist friends? I still see them every few years, and inevitably, at some point, they will ask me, "Have you done any painting recently?"

It's a fair enough question. I did meet them at Art College! I really shouldn't let those old feelings of being judged slip over my shoulders like an itchy cloak. And I have been creative occasionally, although these days I'm drawn more to collage rather than to paint.

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Urban Jungle - collage, 2014
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Trowse Dyptich, 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I suppose it's similar to when your family is gathered together, and you find yourselves slipping into your old patterns of behaviour. But if you can avoid slamming your way upstairs to your bedroom in a parody of a teenage strop, you get yourself back again pretty quickly as you drive home.

I have this long-held dream of painting the red rock formations in New Mexico like Georgia O'Keefe did in the 1930s and 1940s.

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One day, I'll definitely go there. Whether I'll reach for my palette or my notebook when I do, remains to be seen.

Perhaps both? Yes, both sounds good to me.

Margaret