So I found my first subject

So I’m currently down in Cambridge, working on the #a14stories project, and I spent much of yesterday outside. The grounds at Madingley Hall are free to enter to the public, and the gardens are beautiful. There’s influence here from Capability Brown, but also from something rather distinctly English; topiary hedges, and striped lawns.

I wanted to spend some time outside in paticular because true writing, for me, doesn’t always come from staying inside and being locked up in a room. That’s where the words come from, don’t get me wrong, but the story, that comes from experience. From watching, waiting, listening and talking to people. It’s about finding that headspace where stories can happen and then, later, remembering that and punching out the words when it’s just you and the computer, that’s the work.

One of the things that I’m starting to come across in this project is the impact of the road upon the immediate, local landscape. It’s one of the first things that people tell me when I mention the project. They tell me that the redevelopment and works have gone on for so long that, in a way, they don’t ever think that it’s going to be finished. I’m not here to promote the redevelopments nor to take a side, so it’s important for me to listen and try to understand these perspectives.

And so I went to the trees.

I started to map the treeline.

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And after a while, I found my first subject to write about…

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Listening to the wind

I’m writing this with the windows open; a rare thing in England, even during the Summer, but it’s one of those nights where you can’t not do such a thing. It’s cold, don’t get me wrong, but in a way that’s perfect. I don’t want to be warm. I don’t really want to be inside, and in a second I won’t be. But for now, I have to tell you this : it’s my first night at Madingley Hall, as the A14 Writer in Residence

Birds! A shadowy wheel of them, one of those huge dark swarms that black out the sky, swallowing the blue with their wings –

(Oh, I wish I could write quicker to catch this, I wish words could fall from me quick as breath, because the birds have already gone, they’re distant, and the world has stilled again.)

Madingley has air like glass, clean and clear and sharp. It breaks, sometimes, and refracts, letting something through before sealing up again.

I am going to write here. I am going to hear stories from people.

My favourite one today has been from a gentleman who drives 400m along the A14 every day before turning off. I rather love the idea of being so familiar with one, tiny, precise piece of landscape.

My own story has been fifteen minutes of mild panic when the junction my satnav wanted to take me down was a junction no more. A friend has told me about a murder mystery game she had which was set at Madingley Hall (trust me, I’m going to find out more about this). And as I sit here, staring out of the window. I know I’m going to go for a walk in the grounds tomorrow and figure out the connections between this place and the villages behind it and the shifting, sinuous line of the A14 that lurks beyond the line of the trees.

Tell me your A14 stories? Memories? (Murder Mystery Games?)

I’m going to be a Writer In Residence at the University of Cambridge

I’m trying to be coy but I rather think that title has given it away a tad. So without further ado, I have some rather exciting news to share.

I’m going to be working with the University of Cambridge for six weeks this Autumn, as the A14 Writer In Residence. 

I’m going to be based for three days a week at Madingley Hall, near Cambridge, where I’ll get the fantastic opportunity to work with users of the A14 and help them develop their creative writing, alongside developing my own writing in response to the area. During the residency, the wonderful team at the University of Cambridge Institute of Continuing Education will also be leading several creative writing courses and pop up events. We will also be launching an anthology of all of the best work written during the residency, including a special piece by me.

What all of this means is that if you’ve ever driven the A14, or connected with the landscape around it, we want to hear your story. 

(We really, really do.)

I’m going to share as much as I can with you throughout this process, whether that’s writing, interviews, or behind the scenes information,  because that’s incredibly important to me and also, because, one day you, or your kids, are going to see an advert for a wonderful opportunity and wonder if you can or even should apply. (Here’s the thing. You should. The world needs your voice. I want to hear what you’ve got to say.)

I’m also going to talk a lot about children’s books. 😉

So now’s the time to let me know if you’re in the area, or have connections to the area? Are you a business owner? Do you fancy getting you and your employees on board? Are you a parent? Would you like to get your children involved? Do you commute – work – live anywhere near the A14? Do you work with children in the area? Have you always wanted to write but never known where to begin?

Are you none of the above but know somebody who is?

Please let us know! You can make contact with ICE and myself on Twitter, leave a comment on this post (please let me know if you’d like it to stay private and I won’t publish it), and we’d love to hear from you!

Now, let’s get going .. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing outdoors

Sunshine makes me want to write outside. 17498869_10158391832070371_2801967951944888519_n.jpg

I remember the first time I figured out that writing did not have to be bound to the page, hunched over in ink and pen. I was at university, at a course I did not quite understand, and we were asked to write.

We were asked to write in anything other than pen and paper.

The liberation of it! The terror, too, because when pen and paper are nearly all that you know, to step away from them is hard. Illegitimate. Writing  – important writing – consists of paper and rules. Ink. Capital letters and full stops and precise nuance thought.

Writing is craft. Precision.

Writing is about knowing the rules – and knowing that you have the right to break them.

Maybe that’s it; really, that’s it right there.

Learning to write is about learning how to gain legitimacy for your practice.

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A lyrical emptiness

(Something slightly different today. Normal service resumed shortly!)

The words are too much to bear.

He turns and runs out of the house and begins the climb up the hill towards the castle. Once he hits the woods, he slows down to a walk. He is breathless. Raw. There is an unfinished edge to everything he does. He has walked here for years; a path trod by his feet as a child, as a teenager, and now he walks on the edge of that time with every step. But then he thinks that maybe edges are for jumping from and maybe this is his jumping point. Maybe this is his moment to stand and hold his arms aloft and to take that step forward into whatever may come. Whatever may be. Whatever he may be. Wherever he may be.

He cannot leave this, he thinks. He cannot leave.

The boy climbs. He lets his foot slide on the mud and drag one of his legs back, even as he pulls the rest of himself over it. He remembers how to walk; he has done it forever here. And he has bought others, briefly, painfully, and he has tried to share this space with them. They came here once. Together. They told each other of their fears and dreams, and he pledged to the moon that he would keep her safe but now none of that matters for he is leaving and nothing matters, but nothing at all.

Silence now in the world; a silence split by the tears of twigs and trees at the boy’s clothing as he pulls himself out of the edge of the wood. There are no trees in this castle space. They stop at the edge, a breath of green between them and the stones, and they come no further. They dare not.

But he does. He keeps walking and leaves the trees and he pulls himself up onto the wall, pausing only briefly to dash the tears away from his eyes. He is not crying. He just needs to see. He tells himself this, even though he knows that he would be able to climb the wall in the dark. In his sleep. On the coldest of Winter days with one arm tied behind his back.

No matter. Still the chattering voices inside his head for he is here and it is deserted and it is perfect. He takes a moment to stand, to watch, to just stand, so still, so silent.

He could stay, he thinks. It is Summer now and he is used to camping and nobody comes here. He could stay. He could live in the nook of the wall and in the shadows, and he could fall from the world and be forgotten. He could stand on the wall at the keep and he could watch them leave and he could stay, he could stay, he could stay. He could stay.

He does not know how long he stands there, but he knows that it is not long enough. It will never be long enough.

He lets the sun start to set around him. He lets it. This is quite clear to him. The sun would not set if he did not let it, the trees would come closer if he was not here, and the world would come and raze the castle to the ground. He was the guardian of this space. A king, really, the king of all and everything and he could not leave this how could he how could he?

A bird wings in his throat and he cries out; his words clatter against the walls and echo back at him. “I won’t – I won’t!”

The light, red and thick and fat and heavy, overwhelms him. When night comes, when it rises around him, he stands up once more and holds his arms up to his kingdom,  The sky seems to shift around him; looking, watching. Waiting. Everything is so very still for everything is centred on this boy.

He nods, understanding everything even though he does not want to. “I’ll come back,” he says softly. He says it to the wind and to the grass and to the pigeons asleep in the tower. He says it to the stars and moon and world. “I’ll come back, you mark my words, I will come back to you. I will always come back here.”

He bites his lip. He turns, he walks away.

He does not look back.

Interactive storytelling – two resources of interest

Just a quick one today to share with you two resources I’ve found recently which may be of interest to anybody having a think about interactive / alternative models of storytelling. Both of them are free (well, they do offer paid versions but the free is more than adequate).

1. Pixton is an online comics maker that allows a *lot* of flexibility with the medium and is rather great. The big issue is that you can’t download your comics without paying, and there’s a weird little option to be careful of in the settings which grants Pixton the right to use your comic for paid merchandise (when you click publish – check settings and uncheck this box if that’s not your thing, it’s certainly not mine). Despite those fairly substantial caveats, it is still a lovely thing – I made this and spent way too much time on it, etc, etc 😉

2. The second was pointed out to me by the estimable Dr Matt Finch, and is called ‘Inklewriter’. It’s a programme which allows you to write interactive fiction – you know, those choose your own adventure type stories? Them. I’ve not had as much time to play on this one, but what I have discovered has been excellent.

I love anything that helps people realise that stories and narrative are flexible, bendable beasts and can be shaped to tell the story that you want. Mastery over and the confidence to engage with a medium is a great gift to give yourself and the kids you work with. Break the rules. Write a story in the mud with a stick. Chalk words onto bricks. Arrange fallen leaves into haikus. Make the stories your own and make stories. That’s pretty much all I’d ever tell somebody. Be brave. Find your voice. Use whatever you can to help you find your voice. And once you’ve found it, own it. Hold onto it tight and stubbornly and don’t let anybody take it from you.

“Language is a skin : I rub my language against the other”

“Language is a skin: I rub my language against the other. It is as if I had words instead of fingers, or fingers at the tip of my words. My language trembles with desire.” – Roland Barthes

Barthes was one of the first people I found who said what I wanted to say about language and who said it how it needed to be said. And this quote, oh how I am stuck on it, how how I am always stuck on it, how I do not look away from it with heart nor eyes.

It makes me think about viewing. It makes me think about relationships, about sight and about point of view. We engage with everything we read on a personal nature, we push ourselves up to it and frame ourselves against it, in opposition to it and in conjunction with it.

We are not what we read, we are anti-what we read, we are and always will be what we read.

Reading is about viewing, about a relationship so specific, so tight, so focused and yet, it is a relationship that we do not control. We are controlled by An Other, an unknowable, un-quantifiable other who has pulled our focus, who has turned our head and made us see what we want to see.

Books lie. Books tell the truth that you want to see. Books tell you the truth that you need at that point in time, for who and what you are. Come back to them later, come back to them never, and they will change and they will meet you for what you are at that point in time.

I love writing. I love the shifting, feckless nature of it and the way it can lift its hands up to the hills and stand silhouetted in the setting of the sun. I love the way that it is, the way that it exists and then does not exist, the moment that I change a sentence or edit a word. Language is art and art is language and I love it , I love it, I love that it is. 

And I touch it. I rub my hand against it and I bathe in it and I look at things and I remember and I want to do it all over again.

I finished a draft of the book this week. It’s a book that I have ached for ever since it began inside my head. Finishing it has left me drunken and content and so, so pleased. It’s almost there. I hope you get to read it some day soon.