52and40/18 National Treasure

52and40-1IMG_1547.jpg

A treasure trail of research lead me to Jessie Kesson and now I can’t believe her name wasn’t always part of my frame of Scots reference.

Jessie was born in 1916 Inverness to a loving single mum who worked as a prostitute and knew challenge intimately.  At eight, Jessie was relocated to a children’s home in Aberdeenshire and denied further education because of her background.  By the end of her life in 1994, Jessie was a London novelist, playwright and producer of Woman’s Hour.

The bits in-between?  She told her stories.

IMG_1618.JPG

More on #52and40 here and on Twitter.

Advertisements

52and40/9 (Shop) Local Hero

I’m dreaming of a non-line Christmas

Just like the ones we used to know

Where purses jingle

And footsteps mingle

And we all go shopping in the snow.

I’m also dreaming of a socio-political re-org for Scotland which ejects a Daily Mail state of mind for the rest of time.  And a plan for my big writing project more cohesive than, ‘yes, I might need to change the whole thing again.  Hmmmm.’

Clarity will come.  Meantime, the thing to fill the void with is art, air, light and laughter. And non-line shopping.

52and40-1

More info on #52and40 here.

52and40/7 Revise, Run, Roll Again

00700500801101252and40-1

Dear Sixty Year Old Me,

Saturday was that day of sliding down a long snake after a clear climb on a few recent ladders.

You felt low afterwards. Low and relieved.  Relieved because I wasn’t chosen to read out.  Two hours after emailing the intro to my submission to the novel writing workshop I could see holes in it, after all.  Huge holes.

Leerdammer through a telescope holes.

Here, forty eight hours later, I dare say I’ll stand up for attempt 654 of trying to birth this goddamn story.

Say you’re laughing?

X

010

001

009

What am I on about with #52and40?  Find out here.

52and40/5 Foreground Focus

img_8544

I don’t rage against the dying of the light in a Scottish Autumn.  I like putting on lamps in the afternoon and seeing into people’s windows from the bus; stealing details for stories.  I relish the warmth of the house in contrast to the new chill outdoors.

img_8594

I’m letting the idea that, ‘what’s in the way is the way‘ guide my creativity since hearing it on a podcast.  It’s illuminated a lot for me about further tuning victim narratives into survivor stories; I’m enthralled with the empowerment born from simple cognitive adjustments.

img_847352and40-1img_8596

Read more about #52and40 here.

Runaway Stories

ma quote

This time last year I was all geared up for a new job that was going to include part time writing- HURRAH!  Life goals securely on track!  And then….  SPLAT.  The company’s plans to set up a base in Edinburgh folded and I was in receipt of yet another email telling me my details would be kept on file, thanks, sorry and best of luck.  Having spent the Christmas holidays mentally and domestically preparing for going out to work I found myself in a landscape with a job shaped hole in it which I knew I was going to fall into in no time at all.

The fear set in.  The fear that comes from needing to write and yet not writing consistently is a large and thundering thing.  You look fine on the outside but on the inside there’s a storm.  Stories build up inside of you and crash against each other like furious waves.  Endings wallop into beginnings, words are thrown in the air tumbling back down to land in the wrong places, with the wrong punctuation.  You grapple to hold onto ideas and drop life-raft notebooks faster than you can repeat golden starter sentences in your head that you need to write down and preserve.

A friend and I have been discussing how to deal with being a writer when life will not give you time or opportunity to be a writer.  The answer, I think, is that somehow you must and do find a way.

maslow quote.jpg

Had that email of January ’15 not arrived I mightn’t have found my way.   In a fit of post-rejection frustration I googled writing courses in Edinburgh, found one that started that day and signed up for the last place on the spot.  I hated that instead of earning money I was spending it but I knew my mental health needed the release rather than the analysis. Four hours later I walked into a classroom.  We were each asked to introduce ourselves.  I said, ‘Hi, I’m Heather.  I used to write, I’ve lost my ideas about what to write unless someone instructs me and I need to be taught how to discipline and develop my ability’.

Happily, I got exactly what I asked for from the course.  I went in there week after week and talked about what I found hard rather than showcasing what I found easy.  I dropped my guard and didn’t question whether I knew more than the teacher.  I ditched my ego.  I learned.  I worked like I should have worked at school.  I listened and made sure I didn’t hear my own voice dominating conversations.  I got my mojo to an extent I’ve never had it before.  I signed up for the next course and committed myself to the cause again as if it were a third child to fit into the family.  I was about to say I haven’t looked back since but the thing is I really have looked back on all of that. Every single rejection of 2015 lead to a decision to do something unexpected that worked out incredibly.  I look back all the time at the writing class and remember how amazing it felt to ask for help and then to receive it wholeheartedly and, let’s be honest, with desperation as a motivation.

logo1

 

 

 

 

All that said, I’ve found it’s important for sanity to accept that there are times when it’s difficult or impossible to write too.  It’s been really key for me to work out the circumstances in which I can’t write so I don’t waste any time  indulging a method that doesn’t serve me.  I can’t write much in the weekends or school holidays when the kids and husband are home – there’s so much distraction to fight that it begins to feel like tantrumming and martyrdom on my part.  So what I do in the times when I can’t write is I take in other people’s stories.  I do this by watching really well written films or TV programmes, reading books, visiting blogs, listening to podcasts, intelligent radio programmes or, if other people are about, by sticking on story telling music and letting it become part of me by osmosis while I ask folk for their stories.

Filling up with other people’s stories stops your own stories from escaping, you see.  

I think it works by a largely passive process of knitting experiences, memories and thoughts into a garment you wear on the inside.  I’ve found the garment can’t be removed until you pour it onto a page sometime in the future.  Knowing this means my internal panic about losing stories is forever over; I am my own filing cabinet.  Quite often I’ll send emails to myself if I’ve thought of a line I’ve really fallen for but mostly I just put my stories on pause and let other people’s creativity flow, knowing it’s enriching my own.

I think the bottom line is only you can tell your stories so it’s a matter of extreme importance that you keep them safely stored in engaging, colourful and expansive content at the times when they have to wait inside you.

There’s a dark side to be aware of though, I believe.  What I absolutely don’t do if I can’t write is handover my brain to trashy magazines and shit storytelling of the tabloid kind.  In my experience these types of stories are corrosive to a positive sense of self and pull thoughts away from the best self to a conscious coma in which I’m relieved of many of the useful and beautiful things I previously had to say.  Since it can take quite a while (several weeks, usually but sometimes months) to rid myself of the negative effects of just ten minutes of exposure to shit-lit I reckon it’s better to have a completely zero tolerance approach to it.  If I come across it in a waiting room I do myself (and the world) a favour by shoving it down the back of a chair or into the bin in the toilet. And yes, friends who are reading this who’ve noticed magazines go missing…  It was me.  I had to do it to stop internal bad weather.

#sorrynotsorry

 

52and39/30 What’s The Story?

I’ve been reading a book and listening to a podcast I wouldn’t normally choose.  Both stories are crime based; one’s real, the other fictitious.

52and39

IMG_8369

FullSizeRender (30)

Both stories are painstakingly, expertly told.

SubstandardFullSizeRender (4)

I’ve been intrigued by the acute effects of this different ‘entertainment’ material; I’ve been more alert and somehow quieter.  My dreams have gone mad with threats, high risk puzzles, gasping pursuits and hiding.

FullSizeRender (4)

Paranoia snuck into a dark corner of my mind like an oily gangster, lent on a lamppost and exhaled cigar smoke among my neurons.

Different input, different output.

FullSizeRender

Little Red Tap Shoes

I have a story in Product Magazine this month.

product logo

You can read the story here.  It’s about identity within the normal day and thoughts of a mother and child, a theme that’s a constant in my writing over the last few years.  The Mum in this story is a composite of my Mum and myself.  The daughter is a composite of myself and my daughter, as wee ones.

yellowbook138

When I was writing the story I was picturing the first house my parents bought in Aberdeen.  We moved up from East Kilbride in the first wave of the Scottish oil industry manning up with freshly pressed engineers for drilling out the liquid gold. Aberdeen was growing bigger suburbs every day.  Us kids in the new Barratt, Bett and Wimpey estates springing up on previous green belt knew to keep off grass that still looked more brown than green, or someone would shout at you.

Summers seemed hot and long back then, pavements and roads were fresh tarmac black with bright white highlight stones and clean grey kerbs.  When a new street was going up, dust from cement mixers travelled then rested; sometimes on the shiny dark green and burgundy leaves of newly planted rose bushes, other times on windows now proudly called double glazing. Trees were never taller than anyone’s Dad because they were all so young – the trees, that is.  It was harder to tell the Dad’s ages thanks to beards, interspersed with bald heads, suits, briefcases and randomness.

Skinny Rowans and Cherry Blossoms were sternly tethered with rubbery black straps to thick posts that would hold them upright in winter storms.  Then, suddenly, a building site we used to hurry past, turning our faces from the dust in the breeze emerged as a new thing.  A Supermarket.  We packed groceries into brown paper bags, marvelled at corridors of food, toilet rolls and milk in boxes and wondered if our accents would turn Aberdonian or American.

ylw066

I remember that time vividly and always fondly.  It’s impossible to speak for anyone else, of course, but memories and photos suggest strongly that we were all happy there, very much a family and part of a brand new community.

When I started to write the little girl for this story it was clear immediately that I couldn’t filter more recent memories of my daughter as a toddler out of the building imagery.  She and I are very alike in so many ways and memory fades and blooms depending on what the triggers are, I guess.  So, I took the story of some shoes I was given by my Mum’s new friend Mary and imagined how they’d be on my daughter’s busy feet, hanging the story off small events I remember from being my Mum’s totey, brown-eyed girl.  This is how I go down memory lane with someone who isn’t here anymore; I take my imagination and time travel a bit.  It’s good to take someone from the present on these trips, it anchors me in keeping moving forward and feeds the hope of being fondly recalled in my kid’s memories too.

100_2804

I hope you enjoy the story.  It was a treat to write it.  My incredible writing tutor – Helen Lamb – told our class a few months ago that shoe memories always hold stories.  She was right.  What pair do you remember, from when you were wee?