Saturday, 16 August 2014

Cannibals and Cherries

Plotting is hard. All the ideas in the world can come at you quickly and in flashes of inspiration, but when it comes to actually putting them all in some sort of order, and connecting the pieces of the puzzle to create a full and complete story, that’s where it can sometimes unravel.

Yesterday I led a workshop at Sheerness Library. It was me, 13 children between the ages of six and 10, and some of their parents too. I was terrified because, to be honest, I had never taken a class before. Not like that. I’d spoken in front of people, I’d given presentations, but speaking to a room full of children and asking them to do some work for me, that was new. And it’s the summer holidays – would they really want to do the work in the first place?

I handed out the sheets of paper that I had designed and felt the first spark of something. Something that made me think the class would go okay. The children (and the parents) seemed interested.  And it was at that moment that I began to lose my fear and gain my confidence. I explained what the sheet was all about, and we got started.

The worksheet was a series of four sections that, added together, would form the basis of a plot. We only had an hour, so the children could piece their story together at home if they wanted to (and email it to me if they were really keen), but at least they could get the idea of how to begin when it came to a short story. Or a novel, come to that.

Section one was about setting, location, and time period. Section two moved onto characters. Section three was about getting conflict into the story. Section four was about the final twist, and the resolution.
In all of my writing, I find that by sticking to those four ideas I can usually come up with a story, vague though it may be. Once those ideas are in place, it’s time to connect them together.

So the workshop went well, and everyone went away with the plot to a story that they could finish up at home. Some of them were certainly impressive (one that sticks in my mind was about mermaids on the moon) and I hope that I get to read them at some point.

This morning I wanted to start a new short story. I’ve been freelancing and writing blog posts and articles about this and that for a while, and my fiction has been neglected. I thought it was time to get started again.

But instead of starting, I got stuck. I had a vague idea about roadside cherry stands and how no one ever seems to stop there, but that was all. And then I remembered my worksheet. I think I’ll fill it in and see what happens… hopefully a story will emerge! 

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Ruined Castles

I visited a castle. I found it quite by accident on a bracing (read absolutely icy and face freezingly windy) countryside walk, and I wasn’t particularly expecting to find anything much at all. All around me, as I walked away from the generous car park (there were only two cars in it, and one of them was mine), through the kissing gate, and on into no man’s land, there was stillness.

It didn’t matter that I could hear the noise from the dual carriageway that I had just taken a detour off to explore this place. It didn’t even matter than I could see a motorway across the wide expanse of field in front of me. At that moment, in that second, it was peaceful, tranquil, and my heart suddenly felt light with the joy of being alive.

Have you ever felt that? I don’t think it’s a feeling that can last too long – it’s not exactly happiness, but rather a completely ‘other’ feeling of infinity combined with the absolutely knowledge of mortality. It happens every now and then, unexpectedly, and for various reasons and this, standing in the middle of a field, surrounded by far off movement and other people’s busy lives, was one of those times for me.

It fades after a time, but it’s wonderful while it lasts. 

Once I began moving again, I followed a little path that ran across a couple of fields, through some more gates, and down a winding track that crossed a one lane road. On the other side was a more substantial gate, and some goats that stared at me, unblinking, completely still. I hesitated at that point. Yes, the sign on the gate told me that this was a public footpath and that I was welcome to continue my journey (as long as I remembered to shut the gate), but it also warned me about the possibility of coming face to face with wildlife, namely sheep and goats.
And there were two of the creatures, looking at me as though daring me to carry on.

I might have turned back then, unsure of the temperament of goats, but something caught my eye. An old stone wall looped around the top of a small mound, and I could see holes that might have once been windows, perhaps a door. So I ventured onward, desperately to satiate my curiosity, no longer caring about the goats.

They ignored me anyway.

I reached the wall and discovered, remarkably, that this was a ruined castle. There was an information board to tell me that fact, the name of the place, and how long it had been there.
I spent a long time wandering the beautiful ruins, just touching the stones, just imagining what could have happened where I was standing all those centuries ago.

When I finally left, walked away, I felt different.

I felt better.