I finished reading this memoir by Emma Forrest in one sitting. A masterclass in memoir writing: raw, insightful, heartbreaking. I hope the movie will do it justice … but until then, we have the book. Congratulations Emma.
Archive for the 'Writer’s Resources' Category
At this time of year the papers publish their annual holiday book lists. Inspired by this idea, I collected the ones I’m adding to my Holiday/Santa Sack wish list! So if you are stuck for something to put into yours, take a peek at mine:
Nora Ephron: I Remember Nothing: and other reflections (tantalized by the extract “A Beverly Hills Legend” published in December’s US Vogue.)
Daphne Miller, M.D., in The Jungle Effect: Healthiest Diets from Around the World — Why They Work and How to Make Them Work for You – reveals how she is harvesting secrets from local farms about the therapeutic power of food.
Aron Ralston: Between a Rock and a Hard Place, a true story about how in April 2003, Ralston, an adrenaline junkie, got pinned under a falling boulder at the bottom of a narrow gorge in Utah’s Canyonlands national park, and sawed his arm off to get free. Reading the interview with filmmaker Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) who has turned this story into a film, 127 Hours, inspired this choice. I love a journey book, and this sounds similar to Touching the Void.
Writer and activist Nadine Gordimer: Life Times: Stories 1952-2007 and Telling Times: Writing and Living 1950-2008.
Jackie as Editor: The Literary Life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis by Greg Lawrence.
I’m calling her G.
G was a student in my writing circle. A confidence trickster, hiding her real voice underneath a lot of noise. This often happens. The person who is noisy and sounds confident is often the person who is hiding a vulnerability that is too scary to reveal. So they invent personas, cover ups, shields to protect them from being noticed and known.
This was G.
When she read her writing out loud, the voice underneath began to speak. And not so quietly! It started as a whisper (her words), and eventually became louder and stronger as she cleared the emotional debris away, and discovered the words that she had been holding back on. Words led her directly to the cave of her own despair, to the summons of her soul. This wasn’t just an outpouring, it was her aligning with her soul, and was apparent to everyone in that room. We all heard G speak the truth in her voice. Her authentic voice. The confidence trickster had left the room, and a wise woman had emerged.
And that’s what I was looking for, searching for, digging for in this group of extraordinary women.
We met in a ‘sound stage’, a local church hall, sat in a circle, and wrote stories, threads of biographical notes that allowed us to enter into the greater kingdom of our knowledge. Everyone listened to the readings, and was able to hear something, a note of caution, a note of remembrance, a wish, a dream not yet lived. Slowly the voices of caution were silenced as the ‘cry for freedom’ that is a person’s authentic voice spoke up.
Sitting in a spiritualist church, we were aware of our ancestral witnesses, and it was that historical legacy that we were drawing on that gave us permission to speak freely. This wasn’t prettified writing, all dolled up to impress, it was writing that allowed us to ‘bring out our dead’.*
Finally, the woman known as G told us the story of how when she was alone, and had eaten her meal, she sometimes enjoyed licking her plate clean. And why not? Now G was revelling in her spoils! She had aroused the appetite of the voice that she covered up, and was inviting us to sit at her Mad Hatter’s tea party, where we saw and heard what life in her camp was like, where appetite was indulged, and nothing was left out on the plate to rot.
G won’t die an unlived life, will you? Will you grab that plate and lick it clean?
*The phrase ‘bring out our dead’ refers to the work of the Renaissance humanists which is an invitation to see the past as a revelation. This comes to life in Anthony Grafton’s exploration of the primary sources and modern scholarship, classical and modern in his book, ‘Bring Out Your Dead: The Past As Revelation.’
Like Woody Allen, I’ve done some time on the couch.
Unlike Woody though, I didn’t stay supine. I came to the conclusion that I could either spend the next decade analysising my life or, I could get out there and live it!
Allen has always maintained that his own analysis has enabled him to be more creative, not less, which is kind of interesting, and maybe says something about the type of relationship he had with his analyst, a view that was confirmed yesterday at the ICA, who hosted a viewing of Allen’s film, Deconstructing Harry, followed by a Q&A panel in association with The Institute of Psychoanalysis.
To some extent, Allen’s prolific productivity – a film a year, speaks for itself. Either way, I don’t think it’s cut and dried. Working issues through in analysis does give you a deeper and clearer meaning, sometimes even a changed perspective, and occasionally, a revelation. At it’s best for me, analysis did just that.
But at some point, doesn’t the artist have to step out from behind the shadows of the analysis, and put pen to paper, rather than pouring it all out on the couch or, does the couch enable you to generate more ideas for the page, the canvas?
Allen’s body of work seems to suggest that it’s a mixture of the two, and that his deconstruction of ideas is working just fine!
A friend of my husband’s invited us to hear a band called The Plastic People of the Universe. Heard of them? No, I hadn’t either. But they were the Stones of the ’60s in what was then the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. Dissidents at heart and in their music, they came to London to perform a set at the South Bank. Tom Stoppard’s 2006 play Rock ‘n Roll was inspired by them. I was a bit sceptical about the music to start with, not being a huge fan of The Velvet Underground, which was a major influence on the band, BUT, what inspired me, was the pure poetry of the music!
I was particularly captivated by Vratislav Brabenec, the Saxophinist who has below shoulder length grey hair, and John Lennon style glasses, and a quiet soulful style. There was something wizard-like about his physicality – I wouldn’t have been surprised had he disappeared off into a grotto, or said, ‘hold on a sec while I just magic in a bit of faerie dust’.
So the following day when my husband gave me a copy of his book, The Center of the World is Everywhere, I opened it in awe. Here was a collection of stories written for children, a collection of stories that Vratislav told his daughter as a child.
Vratislav has shared his life with all sorts of animals – from intelligent horses and dogs to birds of all kinds. A musician, gardener, forester, farmer and poet. He doesn’t even underestimate chickens – as a child, he trained chickens to fly onto a stick as soon as he held it out. He loved to talk about animals with his daughter, Nikola, when she was small, and he has written these stories down for other children to enjoy. In his life, he says he has encountered two miracles: women and pine trees! What a man.
The book is stunningly illustrated by Matej Forman, son of the filmaker Milos Forman.
The stories introduce children to the wonders of living with animals and the lessons they impart to us:
“Woodpecker (I haven’t laughed like that in a long time)
Courtship, bait and spells
gold-plated charms, hocus pocus
knocks on your soul’s door
where a fire burns
from a spark
hidden deep inside
over a wandering root …”
Sadly only 100 copies of this book have been printed in English by Meander Publishing House. This is crying out to be picked up by a Publisher who has an eye on using social media to promote it ….
Contact me if you are interested.
She had me at India.
Not Italy, although Italy was OK, but I was too distracted by her pasta eating …
But in India her journey deepens and so does her writing. Maybe she planned it this way, or maybe it was happy coincidence. Nothing, I have learned recently, about this book’s arrival, was coincidental.
Writing like this:
“If we truly knew all the answers in advance as to the meaning of life and the nature of God and the destiny of our souls, our belief would not be a leap of faith and it would not be a courageous act of humanity; it would just be … a prudent insurance policy.
I’m not interested in the insurance industry. I’m tired of being a skeptic, I’m irritated by spiritual prudence and I feel bored and parched by empirical debate. I don’t want to hear it anymore. I couldn’t care less about evidence and proof and assurances. I just want God. I want God inside me. I want God to play in my bloodstream the way sunlight amuses itself on water.”
Yeah, she had me at India.
Yesterday I posted an article about how Edward Kennedy hadn’t quite healed his broken bridges, which left me wondering: how do you bridge your own gaps?
What resources might you need to begin closing the gaps in your healing?
As artists and writers we have access to huge inner and outer resources, either through the paint or the pen. We draw on our imagination and external stimulation to garner ideas, and yet sometimes, we need to pause and heal the biographical bridge which is broken, so that we understand what’s tripping us up.
There are several solutions I’d like to suggest:
1. Write Morning Pages, 3 pages of A4, by hand, each morning. Empty your mind onto the page, and use your writing to say the unsayable. For sure the gaps will show up here.
2. Learn from saying the unsayable. Over time (you decide how long), re-read your Morning Pages to discover where your gaps are. Julia Cameron, who created Morning Pages, does not recommend this, but I disagree with her on this point, because I believe the more we bring into our conscious mind, the more attuned our awareness is about our next steps. Some of my best ideas have come from realizations I’ve had after re-reading my Pages.
3. Join a MasterMind group, and brainstorm your ideas, get support and input from like-minded people, who will hold you accountable for bringing your projects to fruition. This is a great way of ensuring you don’t become isolated and ‘in your head’ – as artists it’s so easy to do this. I am starting a MasterMind Group soon, so be sure to check back here for details.
4. Hire a coach, someone who understands this territory, and who has walked and healed their own bridge. A really great coach is someone who will guide you and enable you to spot the difference between extreme self-indulgence, and producing results that thrill you.
5. Learn to meditate. Meditation is so mainstream now that it’s almost lost its meaning, but at its core, meditation quiets the mind so that through hearing your own silence, you also hear your intuition speaking up. THIS is where you begin to reeallllly reveal where the action needs to be coming from!
I’m interested to hear about other ways in which you discover your biographical hickups. Be sure to leave me a comment.
This is the music I heard today in my yoga class. Just put it on a loop and you will be transported on the mat, it’s fabulous.
El-Hadra is the rhythmic trance meditation of the Sufis. The pulse of the rhythm is of great importance here, because it corresponds with the breath and the heartbeat at the same time.
An added bonus on this are the hypnotic Mandalas.
What if you could create your own Mandala?
I read so much in the press about ‘the top 50 retreats’, ‘the best writing retreats worldwide’, we have become obssessed with the idea that in order to write we must retreat. Retreat from what exactly, and to what exactly is my question?
Retreating to The Hay Festival is the good kind of retreat to do in my view. It’s a chance to fill up the creative tank listening to my favourite authors, catch up with friends, and hear some publishing gossip, smell the whiff of new trends, and pick up ideas while slurping an ice-cream in the sun. Yum.
What if retreating to A N Other place isn’t an option? What if in these recessionary times, you decided to stay at home and create your own retreat indoors, or outdoors – even better?
One of the best retreats I went on cost me nothing in airfares or train costs, my accommodation was fully paid for, and my only cost was stocking my larder with tempting and decadent foods.
Here are my top tips for creating your own writing retreat:
Clear the shed or spare room, and lay a luxurious rug on the floor.
Stockpile it with really comfy cushions to sit on
Create retreat sounds on your iPod playlist
Collect a chocolate stash and other candy treats
Stock your fridge with voluptuous Sophie Dahl type foods to snack on
Switch the phones off and tell your family you are ‘on retreat’
Intersperse writing with a long soak in the bath while reading your favourite novel.
We don’t need fancy and expensive places to retreat to in order to write, nor do we need to get away from ourselves. Virginia Woolf was right, a woman needs a room of her own to write in, so your retreat can be anywhere that you are set up to write from, and the essential quality is a desire to retreat within, not without.
Live wildly. Write more wildly.