How to write

Each of Us cr Ben MoorToday’s guest post comes from Ben Moor – author, actor and Edinburgh Fringe regular – and offers a unique, and sometimes bewildering, insight into his personal writing process.

To me, my process is the most obvious way of coming up with a story that has ever been invented. Obviously, this is just to me, because when I explain it to others I get “Huh?”s and “Really?”s and the slight twist of the head a dog does when it’s trying to work out why if you’ve got a ball in your hand, you’re not throwing the ball.

The atoms

I guess you could really start with the sub atomic stuff, but atoms are small enough for this explanation. I spend a ton of time just coming up with the bits that will make a piece. These might be stand-alone images or puns or moments in time. They might be lines of misheard conversations. They might simply be two words put together that don’t usually go together. They might just be simple twists on the everyday. I write these in notebooks while on trains or on pads while sitting around the flat; often they come in the middle of the night in that pre-dream state when your mind is trying to get through the real-world stuff you’ve put into it over the course of a day and, enough already, it wants to get crazy.

Writing tip 1 – always have a pad by your bedside. What you write on it may or may not make sense later, but it definitely made sense to you at one point and therefore is valid work.

The apparatus

So these ideas next go through a process of mulling and reproduction. Lists and lists of them get transcribed into a notebook, about 25 to a page. Once in here they can be re-examined and continue to baffle.

After a while they get typed into a computer, get printed out and re-read. This distillation is important as, over time, connections and mysteries reveal themselves. For my last solo show – Each of Us – I eventually had about 1250 ideas placed in a printed out document. They’re all numbered for a good reason I’ll get onto.

Some of them were:
200. Air spooning in bed alone
448. Freestyle Sudoku
1230. National Distrust

This list was 21 pages and it’s really from this that the show would emerge.

Sagrada Familia scaffolding cr Judy DarleyThe scaffolding

(I realise I’ve swapped metaphors from chemistry to construction. I get bored easily.)

So it’s now that the work on the narrative gets going. I always have a single image or a single question that forms the central part of a story. In Not Everything is Significant it was “What if you received next year’s diary already filled in in your handwriting – would you do those things on those days?”; in Each of Us it was seeing a woman on the tube flicking through photographs on a metal ring. It’s these that don’t necessarily begin my stories but are the things I always come back to. I always try and think what comes before such an image or moment; what leads a person to make such a thing matter to them.

It’s not a linear process – in A Supercollider for the Family, the big image was someone walking on a tightrope over a canyon, and in the final show that’s the very last moment.

But when I have that single driving central concept, that’s when the work of fitting a story and using all the images and ideas that have been coming to me really begins.

I’ll take a page of the notepad and start blocking things out – alongside me is the numbered list – and I’ll simply attach the numbers of the ideas that need to go in various places or at various times. You end up with a big sheet of paper with words and numbers, and good luck to someone who’s looking over your shoulder then – sense has not yet returned to the building.

Writing tip 2 – leave the house and do this. There’s a reason they invented coffee shops.

Brickwork cr Judy DarleyThe brickwork

So now you come back to the computer. Next to you is your writing by numbers page and on screen are all the numbered ideas and concepts. These now become sentences next to one another in these discrete sections and almost mini-stories in themselves. Paragraph writing is exquisitely satisfying now.

You might have a scene in a hotel lobby where you’ve put Number 1230 – maybe the character notices there’s a meeting of the National Distrust, an organisation devoted to destroying the country’s least historic buildings so the future can know nothing about them. Or a moment of loneliness for the character where Number 200 comes in – he sleeps alone but wraps his body around the empty bed-space she’s left behind – and something they don’t miss about their previous partner was that she filled in puzzles using any number she felt like – Number 448.

This is not yet a full story obviously. You just have semi-blocked out rooms and walls that only go up halfway. But print it all out again (I call this a Mess Draft) and re-read it and it will begin to show itself to you.

Part of writing is not writing. It’s letting the story tell itself to you, and I really believe that it does. Every time someone asks you what it is you’re working on, do tell them because certain things always happen: the story will tell itself through you in a new way or you’ll suddenly think of something new, and the other person will ask you a question about it you haven’t yet thought even needs an answer. Some people hate talking about their works in progress, but I think it’s a vital part of the process – a new eye (or ear) can show you what needs to be done.

The finishing off

So here’s the thing. This process of printing out what you’ve done, reading it and adding and editing, and seeing that bits need work or, actually, cutting, or that bit needs to go there, or that no makes no sense because of that, but now you can bring that other bit back you cut before even if it’s just for a throwaway line; this all takes quite a while. Of those 1250 original ideas, 125 made it into the final script of Each of Us, which over the course of an hour is more than two per minute; my stuff is dense. I’m not saying each idea is going to be a brilliant one, but they all should feel consistently part of the world of the piece – they should along help move the story on in some way, through character revelation, background detail and so on.

I have the luxury of knowing that a solo hour of performance for the Edinburgh Fringe has a word count of about 8,000 words and a submission deadline is an excellent focuser. I don’t usually change much of a show after a first performance (maybe an ad-lib here and there) so a preview reading is crucial. Again feedback and clarification questions come in super-handy.

Writing tip 3 – read your finished work out loud; dialogue is especially tricky until you hear it coming out of a human mouth.

Lizard Point cobweb cr Judy DarleyThe web

(“What? It’s been atoms and then bricks and now a web?” “Yes. Sorry.”)

Over time and experience I have developed a sense of mixing plot with world building, jokes and poetic images, pace and background, character and philosophy. And I only get that by going through this system of ideas and images first and then connecting them with a narrative and central question. It’s a web; everything (if it works) links up, and by losing jokes or scenes that don’t fit into the central structure and by fixing and strengthening the crucial parts, it becomes a strong and fulfilling way to catch flies.

Your audience are the flies.

Their imaginations, really are the flies, as those are what you’re aiming to catch with your work.

As I said, I don’t know if it will work for you, but it kind of does for me.

Good luck!

Ben MoorAbout the author

Ben Moor is an award-winning writer and actor. His TV and film appearances include The IT Crowd, Knowing Me, Knowing You and Casanova. As well as writing numerous works for the stage, he is the creator of the radio series Elastic Planet and Undone, and his journalism has appeared in The Guardian and The IdlerEach of Us (and other things) is on sale on Ben Moor’s website. Also available is More Trees to Climb, which collects three other solo stage pieces as short stories, and features an introduction by Stewart Lee.

Carol Peace – a quiet space

Block People1 &copy CarolPeaceThere’s an unexpected sense of lightness to Carol Peace’s work. Her figures float, soar, skim – sometimes suspended from giant fish, occasionally riding personal balloons, or just  gazing outwards – mind apparently occupied elsewhere.

Yet her materials are decidedly solid in nature – gleaming bronze or earthy clay – fixing her sculptures well and truly to the ground. It’s a juxtaposition I enjoy, and connects in a way to Carol’s thoughts about herself.

“I don’t remember much from early childhood,” she says. “I know I also liked cooking and horse riding so it could have been either of those instead of art. Sometimes I think I should have been a farmer, being out in nature all the time. My granddad and uncle were farmers and I did work on a farm after college and went from rougher (basically wedding in a massive field) to ploughing in one job… Perhaps I’ve missed my vocation!”

However, it was art that eventually stole her heart. “I remember copying drawings out of books a lot when I was little – I was always drawing,” she comments. “Later I spent a lot of time in the art room at school – it may have been because the teacher was good and very encouraging and the fact that is was a quiet space. I don’t remember feeling lonely or bored as a child so that’s probably a sign that I was quite self sufficient.”

Reading_Figure © Carol Peace

She continues to relish the psychological aspects of sculpting, painting and drawing,

“There is quietness and space,” she says. “It can be fairly tough on the emotions – I always work honestly so it’s brutally direct sometimes, but I don’t mind. People often think the work is very calm and peaceful – I think they see the feeling I experience when making, but not the difficult starting points.”

On a tactile level, it’s the clay that Carol loves, “together with the process of changing something so fluid and fragile into bronze, something that will last forever. I am quite practical so I like the physical nature of sculpture, but I have a growing lust for painting as well.”

Carol draws inspiration from a wide range of sources, including travel, which she says helps her see things far more clearly. “It’s like when you start looking, your receptors open up. You can’t expect to make art unless you are really looking all the time. You can’t make art in isolation. To live life as a tourist, even at home, enables you to see things. Through time, familiarity and repetition a new place can become home but it’s good to keep wide-eyed.”

Block People © Carol PeaceNature plays a distinct role in this, particularly trees and leaves. “There’s that moment when the first red is coming into the trees and the lime green is leaving. You can’t just be busy, busy, busy all the time. You need moments in normal days to appreciate things.”

LookingRight_withB__CarolPeace_CoworthPark

Carol continually seeks the stimulus beyond the habits of everyday life. “I’m not very good a routine,” she says. “I find no comfort in it at all, I like contrast. At the moment we (Carol and husband Graham) are experimenting by living half urban with the hub of traffic and distant train noises and the sound of screeching skips being dragged across yards and half in the middle of nowhere on a hill, in a field…it’s magic. Each time I go to the other place it is new and exciting, and I can see it afresh.”

Family Tree © Carol PeaceIncreasingly, Carol has been finding herself creating art with family at its core. “I see my ‘Family Tree’ painting (above) and realise its not a family tree at all its just about parents and me. The orange pair of leaves is them, as strong and intense in colour as the land. But I am a leaf. They are leaves.”

Family_morning_CarolPeace_at_CoworthPark

“I made Family (in full above, detail below) after seeing a cormorant diving in the river, he was gone for a long time but his ripples remained,” she says. “It’s part of a series of works in steel and bronze based on the family, for me it’s about support. Each circle represents an element of the family, some peoples circles are broken some a full circle. The ripples, while suggesting the smallness of ourselves within the world, are also about the hugeness of giving life. It is about how two people can influence an ever increasing circle that gets bigger and bigger, long after you’ve dived into the water.”

Family_detail5_CarolPeace_CoworthPark

When asked to define her style, Carol says:I work clay like I would a charcoal drawing, the texture is often defined by the pace of working, there are areas of focus and areas that fade or are less detailed. I put bits on and take them off all the time. I could never be a stone carver.”

She adds: “Sometimes there are marks over the work from the tools I use – they show direction of movement, and sometimes they are like deep scars. The way I work is a response to being alive, from the basics of the blood pumping round inside you. Like drawing form observation it is a direct and intuitive response so I don’t feel it’s a style its just how it comes out!”

Carol is opening up her artist’s studio (Unit 5.3 Paintworks, Bath Road, Bristol, BS4 3EH) to the public from 6-16th November 2014, with a Private View on Thursday 6th November 6-9pm. On Friday 7th November, her studio will be the setting of a special literary night, ‘Travel, Identity and Home’. Find out more here.

The writing workshop Writing From Art takes place in Carol’s studio on Wednesday 12 November. Find details here.

Midweek writing prompt – outside in

dandelions © Soraya Schofield

The above image has been supplied by Soraya Scholfield, who I featured last week in SkyLightRain’s Inspiration slot. The story about Soraya’s Mendips House series of images of her childhood home set my imagination whirring.

Imagine if somewhere dear to you was abandoned for several years, so that the cushions filled with field mice (think that may feature in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden), and dandelion-stippled lawns flourished in the floors. Picture wild flowers strewing the staircases, and trees sprouting through the walls. Then think about what might bring you home, and how you might respond to nature’s intrusions.

If you write something prompted by this, please let me know by sending an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com. With your permission, I’d love to share it on SkyLightRain.com.

Book review – The Language of Dying by Sarah Pinborough

The Language of Dying coverThis contemplative, dreamy book takes the sweet, sordid melancholy of a woman’s last days with her father, and grazes it with moonlight.

The unnamed narrator retreated to her childhood home some years before the story begins, making her the obvious choice among her siblings to take her father in when a wretched cancer (in there any other kind?) renders him unable to live alone. Together they engage in a kind of waiting game, finding reassurance and solace in each other’s company. But as her sister Penny and her brothers come home to say their goodbyes, it grows increasingly clear that each comes bearing their own wounds.

Not one of them seems entirely mentally well – Penny has her glow, but a dread of anything uneasy, in the most literal sense. Bold older brother Paul has done well for himself, between alarmingly frequent stints of bankruptcy, and the youngest two, twins Davey and Simon, battle schizophrenia and drug addiction respectively. As for our protagonist, well, she ‘drifts’, struggling to stay in the present, often haunted by a glimpse seen from her bedroom window as child. Continue reading

Writing from Art workshop

Girl with Wings cr Carol PeaceEver felt moved by the art you see around you, but not known quite how to capture it in words?

Spend an afternoon in a working sculptor’s studio with experienced creative writer and arts journalist Judy Darley, and find out how to turn what you see into fiction, poetry and journal entries.

The Writing From Art workshop takes place from 2-5pm on Wednesday 12th November 2014 at Studio 5.3, at Paintworks, Bristol. Book your place here.

Surrounded by the sculptures and drawings of internationally renowned artist Carol Peace, you’ll have the chance to engage with Carol’s work and with art in general, and use it as fuel for your own creative endeavors.

Come and write, learn, and feel inspired by art.

“I am very inspired and influenced by other creative forms, such as words and music, so it makes sense to me that it can work the other way round too.” Carol Peace.

Participating costs £12, which includes tea, coffee and biscuits. Please bring a pen and paper!

For more information on the workshop, feel free to contact me by sending an email to judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Are you planning to NaNoWriMo?

Glastonbury Tor cr Judy DarleyIn just a couple of weeks, NaNoWriMo 2014 begins. How are preparations going for you? I love the concept of this word-packed month, of wannabe writers across the world hunched over laptops desperately scrabbling for inspiration.

I know plenty of writers this enforced period of productivity really suits. For some folks it seems to be the ideal way to stoke up ideas and get them to catch alight on the page.

I do find myself wondering how many of the 30-day booklings end up becoming fully-fledged novels, though, and how many of those make it from Macbooks to bookshelves. I’m positive, however that making a few plans in advance will help keep things on track.

For me, the beginning stages of novel-writing are all about mulling – and as this doesn’t involve any writing as such, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t start before November 1st. Here are my top four preparation tips to ensure you’re posed and raring to go from the starting line.

1. Form a vision of the story you’ll be aiming to tell, with the beginning already shaped in your mind. If possible, do the same for the ending. Having an idea of the finale you’re working towards will mean you’re far less likely to veer off track!

2. Spend some time considering your characters – working out who and why they are, what their goals are, how they might help or hinder each other.

3. Know your setting. This is one of my favourites, particularly if it offers a valid excuse to meander in a much loved wilderness or similar.

4. Pick out a few dramatic moments your plot will cover and brainstorm them, then set them aside. Whenever your enthusiasm wanes over the intensive NaNoWriMo period, treat yourself by delving into one of those to reinvigorate your writing energy.

If you’re taking part, I’ll raise a glass (or rather, a mug of coffee) to you. Good luck!

Writing competition – win a place on a writing workshop

Carol Peace sculptures

Win a place on the Writing from Art workshop taking place at sculptor Carol Peace’s Bristol studio this November.

To enter, all you need to do is write and submit a piece inspired by one of SkyLightRain.com‘s  writing prompts. Entry is free of charge.

Your written piece can take the prompt in any direction, and either be prose up to 900 words long (shorter is fine) or poetry up to 40 lines in length.

The competition prize

The Writing From Art workshop takes place from 2-5pm on Wednesday 12th November 2014 at Studio 5.3, at Paintworks, Bristol.

Surrounded by the sculptures and drawings of renowned artist Carol Peace, you’ll have the chance to engage with Carol’s work and with art in general, and use it as fuel for your own creative endeavours.

The prize is worth £12, and includes tea, coffee and biscuits.

To enter, simply email your written piece to judy(at)socket creative.com. Include your full contact details, and let me know which writing prompt inspired you. The deadline for submissions is midnight on Thursday 6th November 2014.

The winning submission will be published on SkyLightRain.com. All entries will be considered for publication on the site.

Rules

Length should be up to 900 words for prose, and up to 40 lines for poetry – no minimum. The title is not included in the word count.  Lines between text/stanzas are not counted.

All entries submitted can be on any subject, and written in any style or form, but must draw inspiration from one of SkyLightRain’s Writing Prompts.

You may submit up to five entries.

The Prize is open to writers of any nationality writing in English,  aged 18 years old or over at the time of the closing date. The Prize covers participation in the Writing from Art workshop, but not travel to or from the workshop.

Entries must be entirely the work of the entrant. By submitting you are confirming that the work is your own.

Entries must not have been published previously.

The filename of entries must be the title of the entry and it must be either a .doc, .docx, .rtf, or .txt file.

Entries will not be returned.

Worldwide copyright of each entry remains with the author.

SUBMISSION OF ENTRY IMPLIES ACCEPTANCE OF ALL THE RULES.

For more information, feel free to contact me by sending an email to judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Glastonbury Festival seeks new theatrical shows

Harbour festival 2012 cr Judy DarleyFancy doing something really spectacular with your creative skills in 2015? Glastonbury Theatre and Circus Fields are looking to commission four new shows for next year’s Glastonbury Festival.

The deadline for proposals is Friday 7th November 2014.

They have four very different types of performance in mind, but all should provide “new experiences for our audiences that are spectacular and brave, and that work well with the creative atmosphere and scale of the festival.”

Do you have a show that fits one of the following criteria?

  • Outdoor Installation - An outdoor interactive installation to run throughout the four days of the festival. Budget: £7,000.
  • Large Scale Circus Show - A large scale circus show for the big top to be performed on three days of the festival. This show should have at least five performers, be at least 30 minutes long and contain a high skill level. Budget: £8,000.
  • Ground Based Circus Show - A ground based show for three days of the festival in the circus big top and then an appearance at the Bristol Circus Festival In October 2015. Budget: £3,500.
  • Street Theatre/ walkabout Show - A street theatre show to be performed for 3 days of the festival. Budget: £1,250.

Successful applicants will benefit from the massive infrastructure of the festival, working with and being mentored by Glastonbury Theatre and Circus Fields through planning and creation prior and during the festival. “We will also support them to bring the show to other audiences after the festival.”

It sounds like a fantastic opportunity!

To learn more, and to apply, please visit www.glastonburyfestivals.co.uk/areas/theatre-circus/glastonbury-tc-arts-commissions

Glastonbury Tor view cr Judy Darley

Soraya Schofield’s reclaimed home

come this way © Soraya SchofieldThere’s always something magical about encountering a ruin in the wilderness where nature is having its way with the walls and roof that once sheltered humans.

Soraya Schofield of The Drugstore Gallery took this idea to beautiful, fairytale-esque extremes with her project Mendip House – I looked back and you were gone. “This project came about after both my parents died within two years of one another,” she explains. “My childhood home was already very dilapidated by then, which is when I came up with the idea of the natural surrounding garden and woodlands creeping back to reclaim the house, which I tied in with mementos of my childhood and of my parents.”

Primrose wall © Soraya Schofield

She adds: “I wanted a strong sense of reality but with an aesthetic which alludes to dreams and memories. Although these images are personal to me I wanted the viewer to be drawn into the images and connect with them in their own personal way. It was a very cathartic experience.”

Rather than passively waiting to see what nature would do to the house, Soraya actively encouraged the plants to reclaim the rooms.

Peeping through © Soraya Schofield

“I filled an old wardrobe with soil and wild garlic, wild garlic being a distinctive smell from my youth. Also planting grass seed that ran out of the cupboard and over the floor of one of the bedrooms, these I tended to and encouraged them to grow inside for a time so they looked as if they had spread naturally into the rooms.”

It’s an immensely moving project, however much or little you know of the background story. I rather love that in a sense it brings Soraya’s artwork back home after several years of taking photographs in far distant lands.

“I had always like taking photos, but I spent four years out of England travelling through Asia and South America, and through this experience I really found a love of the photography,” she says. “When I returned I was milling around trying to find a creative direction and booked myself onto a City Guilds photography course.”

Golden doorway © Soraya SchofieldSoraya first started taking photos due to “a desire to capture people and places new to me.” She visited Cuba in 2002 with her artist boyfriend Barry Cawston with whom she runs The Drugstore Gallery. “This is where Golden Doorway (above) and End of the Passageway (below) were shot,” she says.

passageway © Soraya Schofield“My practice has developed over the last six years as I completed an Art foundation course and now am finishing a degree at UWE in Drawing and Applied Arts. I use the layering of photographs over an image to create landscapes in which nature meets manmade structures, and am now beginning to experiment in combining screen-print and lithography with this as well.”

Her current project, however, is something of an attempt at reversal, as she and Barry now live in the Mendips house she grew up in.

“We realised that we had to save the building!” she exclaims.

Work to evict the natural elements she’d invited in began in April 2013, and brought with it a series of curious adventures. “In June 2013 we moved into a tent in the garden for seven weeks – the weather was great but sleeping was a bit tricky, we would be woken at 4am by the resident hedgehog and our dog growling at it, at 5am the cockerel would call and at 6am the plasterer showed up for work. Decamping onto the top floor in August, while building work continued downstairs, was a huge relief! We are not totally done but very close and very happy to be here!”

Of all her photos, Soraya is most proud of the image I lost you (below).

I lost you © Soraya Schofield

“I took it after I’d completed the Mendip House series,” she says. “It referred to my parents and the grief I experienced, somehow the image holds a poetic quality that reflects the loss and turmoil I felt.”

Soraya’s photography is currently on show in an exhibition called Emergence which is in The Paperplane Gallery, Bristol. Find more of Soraya’s work at The Drugstore Gallery, Somerset, www.thedrugstoregallery.com.

Midweek writing prompt – street signs

Mardyke Ferry Road cr Judy DarleyHave you ever noticed how many street signs there are? All these indicators to inform us where we are, and in some cases, why. I took a stroll recently and snapped shots of a couple, the first because the place names are just so evocative – it’s almost like a found poem. The second caught my eye and made me smile because it prompted a vision of the poor disappointed person who’d mistakenly turned up with a tent and now had no idea what to do.

Sorry, no tents cr Judy Darley

I suggest that you pay attention to the signs you pass, and take note of any that provoke a response in you. Then imagine the place they lead to, and make that the setting for your tale. Alternatively, feel free to write something in response to either – or both – of the signs shown here.

Note: this definitely works best if you don’t know the street the sign leads to too well. A healthy quantity of ignorance can leave space for your imagination to unfurl!

If you write something prompted by this, please let me know by sending an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com. With your permission, I’d love to share it on SkyLightRain.com.