Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Only Time

So, I posted a few months ago about how hard it is to find time to write these days and that I was trying to just put aside 5 minutes to write. Ha! How hard 5 minutes can be to come by when you have a toddler. How those child-free years seem so indulgent now. What did I do with all that time? All those endless minutes and hours in a day with nobody to please but myself, no considerations except how much of my life I wanted to spend watching West Wing... if I had really understood maybe I would have treasured them more. Paused the DVD to look around at the toy free living room and the cups of tea I had managed to drink and really think this is the pinnacle of freedom. Still, that is the past and for the forseeable future it is snatched moments between nursings at night that I manage to fire up the lap top. And yes I have tried pen and paper - you try using a pen and paper with a curious toddler around and see how much productive writing you achieve as opposed to delighted toddler scribbles.
And Yes, I know it's my choice to let her continue to nurse to sleep and sleep in my bed or on me, and Yes I know there are many many people out there who roll their eyes and tell me to let her cry it out, that she is never going to be able to get herself to sleep. I would like to blow a raspberry at you, but it might get in the way of valuable writing time. So instead I am just grabbing at moments and doing my best. Because that's parenting in its essence. You Do Your Best. Even at your worst you are trying your best.
So, 5 minutes a day has not been possible to physically write. But I write in my head while she sleeps on my breast. I write in my head while she curls into me, her hand laying gently on my arm. I write in my head as she gives contented sighs and rolls away from me. And if I am very very lucky I write on a scrap of paper or even on the laptop while she sleeps for an hour without my body heat to soothe her, and then she murmurs and the laptop is switched off and the paper is hidden away and I am hers again, except the writing continues, on and on in my head. Beautiful stories opening up, keeping the heart of me blazing until I can let them free once more.
I type this drinking hot chocolate in a cafe. I have never in my life taken a laptop to a cafe before. It is really quite lovely. My husband is with the little one and they will be joining me soon and so at the moment, I hammer this out. It bears no resemblance to a structured witty post. But it is me writing and that is, outside of my family, the best thing I can do. I miss those heady days of writing at home from morning to night. But change is necessary and maybe this new way of working will help me to focus. Maybe my writing will be sharper, maybe it will be tighter and maybe it will be good for me. Time will tell.
Time. How I miss you. Nothing makes time fly more than having children. Time changes from a predictable reassuring tamed beast to something altogether harder to catch, flying past with a cheeky grin and yoghurt in its hair and caring not a jot for moments you want to savour, for cuddles that should last longer, for sleep that used to be abundant but now is like a myth you heard about once. Time. I never knew how cruel you were until I saw you changing every day in my daughter. How I love and loathe you and wish I knew before what I know now. But that is the way time works. It just rolls on and on and leaves you scrabbling to keep up.
Anyway, my alloted 20 minute blogging time is coming to an end. Maybe the next post will have some kind of coherence to it. Maybe it will be one of the posts I planned. Who knows? Only Time,

Sunday, 15 May 2016

This is not a book...it's a blog post challenge idea thing

I started using Keri Smith's This is Not a Book during early morning and late evening train journeys to work, and, also during long boring moments during work.

 If you're not familiar with it, it's basically a book that encourages you to use it in ways that you don't usually use a book... so, for example. a page may be entitled This is a disguise and on that page will be a moustache and glasses for you to cut out and use to disguise your This is Not a Book. I consider it a set of challenges to behave in ways of varying unusualness or un-ordinariness. I love it. Since leaving the previous job and starting one much more fulfilling, interesting and with no train journey to while away I have not used it as much as I had done. But as a way to try and keep me blogging more regularly I hope to fulfil some of the more outlandish challenges and record these happenings on this virtual page. The previous blog post was a small step into this idea pond. Hopefully others will be following it in the coming weeks and months.

Monday, 4 April 2016

This is not a blog post...

it's a recorded overheard conversation.  I wonder if you can guess the age and gender?!

- There's an ant in my shoe!
- Uh-oh, be careful it will climb up your leg and into your pants.
- An ant in my pants? Ants in my pants. Hey, that rhymes.
- Ants in your pants, ants in your pants. Ants, Pants, Ants. Ants, Pants, Ants, Ants, Pants, Ants.
 Is it in your pants yet?
- Er, No... wait it is now!
- Ants in your pants!

*  * *

- Here's your invisible picture.
- Thanks.
- Invisible prictures are great because they can do anything.
- Can they turn into a human?
- Yes
- A Rescue-bot?
- Yes
- A Dog?
-Yes. But do you know the best thing about invisible pictures?
- Errr...
- It's that they can play videos.

*  *  *

- Look, a fox!
- I think it's a wolf.
- No, it's a fox.
- Yeah, ok.

This blog post is part of a series of blog posts linked to challenges in This is NOT a book by Keri Smith. A separate explanatory blog post to follow at some point... 

(These conversations belonged to two 5 year old boys).

Monday, 7 March 2016

Just 5 minutes

Since having my baby I have found it increasingly hard to find time to write. I had naive expectations that I would write when she napped and in the evenings when she slept. Oh how innocent and unknowing I was. Because my little SJ would only sleep ON me and for most of her 11 and a bit months she has woken hourly for breastfeeds. This isn't a blog about babies or breastfeeding and parenting, there are plenty out there who can do it with more wit and panache than me, so I don't want to get bogged down in the you should have, and you could haves. I chose a style of parenting that felt right to me, I am proud to parent this way, I love it. But. But, it is exhausting and it feels like putting myself on hold. In a life driven by an impulse to write I am suddenly not writing, I am Mummying. The self I am is not the self I was before SJ was in my arms. I am now SJ's mum and during these intense first years that is who I will be. I don't regret it, it just takes getting used to.

So anyway. I've been desperate to write. Just because I haven't been able to get the words out doesn't mean they're not in there filling me up, pressing at my eyelids and lips and skin trying to get out. I tried dictating into my tablet but that was SOOO hard to get the sentences out as they were in my head. So I sat back and I took a breath and I let it go. My mantra became: patience, patience, patience. This does not last forever, do not miss the little moments because you are straining to see past the now into a WHEN.

So SJ's habits are settling down a bit. She'll sleep in the stroller now during the day, sometimes she doesn't wake up every hour and I have an hour between putting her to bed and turning in myself (what do people do who stay up past 9pm? For the life of me I can't remember ever being awake enough to find out, though I'm sure I used to...) and I've been finding some time to write.

But it's baby steps. There's no more sitting in front of the computer for hours and hours merrily typing away or rereading or editing. I don't have the energy for that. It has to be bitesize pieces.

I've been reading The Library Book, an anthology about how important libraries are. It's a great read, though I doubt the people who SHOULD read it ever will (yes Tory Government I'm looking at you).
Aside from all the wonderful points it makes about how amazing libraries are and how we should be forever thinking it wonderful that we have them instead of closing them down, I came across a chapter that spoke about writing and it was called The Five Minute Rule written by Julie Myerson.

This line caught my attention:

'Tell yourself you're going to set aside five minutes a day. If you can't do more don't worry. But never let a day go by without doing your five minutes.'

Fittingly, the advice was given to her during her own maternity leave. She continues:

'Of course you almost always end up writing longer, but...it is gloriously undaunting. It somehow helps you scale that initial terrifying cliff-face of 'where will I ever find the time?''

So this is my goal. To write for five minutes every day. I've only started applying this for the last couple of days, but so far so good. I've written some notes for a story I need to research, I've written a letter to a friend (which I'm counting as writing) and I'm writing this blog post. At some point I will reopen the file containing the first chapter of the book I want to write, but I'm building up to that because I know that the second chapter has to be rewritten because I forgot to save it. Still, it feels good to be writing. it feels good to have the goal. Just five minutes. Five minutes of word following word. Five minutes of being me. Five minutes of feeling like a somebody instead of somebody's mummy. And if I do longer than five minutes, great, but if not that's OK because I still did five minutes.

Monday, 29 February 2016

A Child's Eye View

When I found out I was pregnant in July 2014 my world shifted. And not just because of the hugeness of the tiny little spark starting to grow in me was overwhelming, but my perception of the physical world regressed.

I suffered from 'morning' sickness constantly in the first few months of pregnancy and in the early weeks I spent a lot of time in the burgeoning summer weather walking in the fresh air to soothe my churning stomach. As I walked my eyes began to look at the world as they once had when I was small. My thoughts were constantly with the tiny being who was slowly taking shape inside me and I imagined future days together walking the same paths my feet trod now. And as my feet and thoughts took me forward I also travelled backwards and memories of walks with my own mother flooded over me.

The thing is children see differently from us. They are closer to the earth than we are and they see the details that adults often take for granted. I remembered how vivid life had been for me growing up and my perceptions shifted and once again took on that incredible detail and vividness that children are so lucky to enjoy.  Children move at a slower pace, you only have to take one for a walk to know that. Everything can be, and is, fascinating. Grass is vibrant and thick and tough and calling out to be stroked and plucked and chewed and blown and screwed up and scattered. Bugs are accessible aliens traversing an otherworldy wilderness of boulderstrewn dirt and warm earth. Mud is dense, or crumbly or slippery or slick. It sticks to fingers or squleches under foot, it is strangely appealing to taste. Children are closer to the earth and so they experience it with a closeness we lose as we get older.

I can't help but wonder if I remember this enough when I try and write for them. As writers for children we should get down to their height, among the grass and the bugs. We should see just how far away the sky really is and how blue and deep it can be. We should notice the small details, the patterns in twigs, the smell of the pavement in the sun or rain, the weeds and flowers breaking into urban landscapes. We should slow down and loiter and dawdle and forget we have things that need to get done. We should bring back the vividness of our childhood worlds.

And this doesn't just apply to younger readers but right up to teenage and young adults. These age groups are fresh, the world is still new and revealing new ideas to them. They feel deeper, they are passionate, they are scared and they are still small in a big world. They are more vivid. 

Roald Dahl does this beautifully in the way he zeroes in on the details of characters - such as lingering on the food in Mr Twits beard or the agonising slowness and detail of the Grand High Witch removing her mask... children relish detail and they love to read and re-read and will devour the words that they love.

I can't find the exact quote now, but I remember Neil Gaiman saying something like 'children read every word, every detail while adults skim.'.

Inkproductions.org helped me out with this one from him though:

'When I’m writing for kids, I’m always assuming that a story, if it is loved, is going to be re-read. So I try and be much more conscious of it than I am with adults, just in terms of word choices. I once said that while I could not justify every word in American Gods, I can justify every single word in Coraline'.  (http://lnkproductions.org/tag/neil-gaiman/)

So I set myself some challenges and if you'd like to join in, do let me know.

1) Go for a walk, just a local walk from your house. Head down the road into town or the bus stop or a river or lake. Have no set destination. Dawdle, look around see if you notice things that you never have before. See if you are compelled to go different ways than usual because something catches your eye. Take your time. Get down to the height of your readership to see what they see in front of them. What is too high? What feels too far? What is different? Can you smell scents clearer from the road or path? Does the wind feel stronger, does the sun beat harder? Is the world stranger, scarier or more wonderful? When you get home, take a few minutes to jot down or sketch moments from your walk which you found inspiring or surprising.

2) Lay in the grass - backgarden, frontgarden, park... wherever. Use all of your senses to really see where you are and what is going on around you. Stare into the sky, stroke the grass, feel the mud beneath you. Take in everything, slowly, without hurry and with eyes and mind open wide.

3) Write an short passage from the point of view of a child/teenager going for a walk somewhere they have never been before. Maybe they meet people, maybe they are alone. Try to capture the vividness and details that they come across. Write in first person present tense, and then try past tense and then try third person and explore how to get across the excitement of a world revealing itself.

4) Write a short, six line poem about one thing you saw on your walk and make sure every word you use is justified and making your poem flow and move and create that thing you are writing about so that it is almost there on the page as you read.

Now think about your current story or poem and consider if you have used a child's eye view to heighten and bring your story to vivid life, even if it is a dark, bleak story. Remember the details and make them count.

And now I must go because my tiny orange seed from 2014 is now an almost one year old and has awoken from a short nap and is demanding to be shown the world in all its strange glory once more.