Benefits of a Writing Workshop

VALMNZ - WIN_20140317_103121

I have become distracted. Somewhere along the way my original purpose for writing this blog lost its way and, instead of writing about writing, I’ve used this space for sharing some of my writing projects, such as memoir writing and social history. But hopefully I’ve remained faithful to the whole idea of writing stories – my stories, your stories, the stories so many of us like to read because we can relate to them.

This morning I attended a two hour creative non-fiction writing workshop, the writing I spend about half of my writing life doing. This was the first writing workshop I’ve attended for a few years. I came away with more than I expected.

A writing workshop ideally offers us opportunities to write, to put into practice what we’re focused on. Yes, I came home with a piece of new writing developed at this morning’s workshop. But I came home with even more.

Perhaps even more stimulating was the contact with other writers, all writing different stories, all having something valid to say, most of whom I’d never met before. I enjoyed being exposed to different styles of writing and discussing them. I also listened to how each writer faced challenges in their writing lives.

Writing tends to be an isolated task. A writing workshop brings us into contact with other writers. For me this was more powerful than the piece of writing I produced.

If you have the opportunity to be part of such a session, grab it. There’s something quite powerful about thinking about and talking about writing, while producing the start of a new piece of work and receiving feedback.

Have you had similar experiences?

Listening Through Closed Doors

door-1587023_1920

Image courtesy of https://pixabay.com/

I’m sure many of your parents, like mine, told you that no good comes of listening to conversations not meant for your ears. But when you’re a bored teenager sometimes listening to an adult conversation can be quite revealing. How else were we to learn about life?

On one occasion my parents’ saying proved to be wrong and what I heard became a turning point in my life. The conversation unfolded between my father and a woman who often visited us, the very woman written about yesterday with the silver grey hair and the pink volkswagen car.

Said woman disapproved of the freedom I was given since I had started competitive swimming. She’d apparently seen me biking home from training with some boys.

‘You give that girl too much freedom,’ she said. ‘She’ll end up getting herself into trouble.’

Now I was at an age where girls getting into trouble meant only one thing, they found themselves pregnant. I was about to burst through the door in protest, but my father’s reply stopped me. His answer was simple.

‘We trust her,’ he said.

They were such powerful words and even though he never said as much to me personally he didn’t need to. His trust always came to mind when I found myself getting involved in teenage shenanigans.

So, conversations listened on through closed doors are not always a bad thing.

Painting My Writing With Colour

bug-1962813_960_720

Image courtesy of  https://pixabay.com/

Falling into familiar patterns is easy. They creep up on us without our noticing and we find the excitement in our writing slowly goes into hiding. That’s what it’s like for me anyway.

I’ve done more factual than creative writing over the past three years, but now I’m trying to kick start my creativity. I have a few go-to books I enjoy when this happens and I pulled out one this morning. I randomly opened at a chapter about including the detail of colour in writing.

This was exactly what I needed. I’m currently writing a piece about ‘That Woman’ for my memoir group. My writing was drab, even though I was describing a woman vibrant in both the colours she chose and in her personality. Just being reminded of colour enabled me to revitalise my writing, bring more life to it.

The woman’s grey hair became silver grey hair, so silver the light bounced off it like sparks. Her pink volkswagen car became a car so pink it shocked the drab neighbourhood around it.

Sometimes it is easy to fall into lazy habits, but they are not impossible to turn around. Today I’m looking forward to painting the piece I’m writing with colour.

Even Non-Fiction Books Have Sequels

driftwood 018

The book launch is over, the books are continuing to sell and although I’m still my own promoter and marketer I’m ready to start writing again.

I knew the right next step would present itself and yesterday, as I was working on an article for the local history journal, I realised what my next project will be. In fact, I’d already started on it without realising.

At the book launch and during the period prior to it many local swimming stories were emerging that were not connected to the baths I wrote about, but were local social history stories that deserve to be told. Just like the driftwood above, stories can find a second life, continuing their journey on a different course.

Consequently, I am about to embark on a continuing story, a sequel to Down at the Baths. The story is not yet named, but will be about children and swimming places in our city prior to about 1970.

Have you ever noticed that once you set your focus things start happening? Within a couple of hours of making the decision to write a sequel to my book I was given two independent stories of an old swimming hole I’d previously known nothing about. That was definitely a sign this next book is meant to be.

So, my way forward is now clear and I’m rather excited. It seems the next couple of years of my life have now been taken care of.

 

Making a Start on Writing Your Stories

So many people tell me there life is not worth recording, they’ve never done anything interesting that others may want to read. Of course, I tell them that is absolute nonsense. No one else knows our life as we do. What seems ordinary to us seems fascinating to others. That is why it is important to get your stories written down.

As I go about my research for my latest writing project I’m grateful that people in the past have recorded their everyday stories, so that every day details are not lost. In the future someone may be grateful to you for writing your stories down. Even the smallest details may prove to be informative or interesting to someone in the years to come.

Why not start writing down your stories today?Image

Captured by the Fairies at Midnight

Image

I’m sure you’ve heard the term, away with the fairies. Well, that’s me right now! I was writing a few words at midnight elsewhere last night, when my mind wandered back to childhood and what midnight meant to me then. For some reason, fairies leaped into my mind, and they’ve stayed there ever since.

All sorts of notions have been running through my brain, as if the fairies have captured me and transported me back into another world. My childhood visions of fairies were deeply embedded in my imagination, fuelled by the books I read. I even went fairy hunting in the backyard by moonlight.

Today my preoccupation continues and I’ve decided to delve into these mythical little creatures further. Just for fun of course. I don’t want them to think I’m spying on them!

Red Faced Embarrassment for a Swimmer at the Bank

Why is it we tend to remember the embarrassing moments of our lives more easily than the more rewarding times? Well, I do anyway. And I don’t know about you, but I’ve had plenty of embarrassing moments, not that I’m prepared to reveal all here.

Some of you already know I’m a swimmer, a lapsed one at the moment, but still a swimmer. I have chlorine in my veins and so does my husband.

So, when I heard a quite common line on TV the other night, ‘I didn’t recognise you with your clothes on,’ I had to laugh. Oh yes, I’ve definitely heard that line before.

It was when I was in my thirties. My husband was manager of the local outdoor swimming pool and worked seven days a week during the summer, so I spent many of my waking summer hours there. My usual attire was either my swim suit of course, or shorts, top and bare feet. That was how people knew me and how I knew many of the people in my life.

So when a well dressed young man spoke to me in the bank queue one day, at first I didn’t recognise him. Then he smiled and the penny dropped.

‘Oh, I didn’t recognise you with your clothes on,’ I blurted out.

I can smile now, but at the time I blushed more red than any sunburn I’d ever experienced.

Isn’t is funny how a simple throw-away line on TV can bring forth old memories in a rush. It certainly did for me and now my mind is racing with other stories that may one day get told.

We all have so many stories to tell. How about you?

Do you find some things just unhatch the lid on your mind, like opening Pandora’s box, letting out more than you keep up with?

Life in the 1950s – Will You Come to My Birthday Party?

By the age of nine a very important social reality hit me with a wham – if you wanted an invitation to birthday parties you had to throw one yourself. These social events were reciprocal and the urge to be a party goer called loud and strong.

I managed to persuade my parents I’d be a social outcast if I didn’t have a party for my ninth birthday and was allowed to offer four invitations, with the assumption my little sister would be allowed to attend. You can see the size of the smile on my little sister’s face in the photo below. You can also guess we’re sisters by the unshapely haircuts and the fact we’re the only ones without a stiffened petticoat beneath our party dresses. Yes, we’re both the middle of three in the front and back rows.

Image

Fifty one years later the only person in the photo to attend my 60th birthday party was my sister. The others had long disappeared from my life. However, I’ve had contact with all but one of the other four in the last twelve years.

First there was Jillian. Against all odds we ended up standing side by side amongst thousands on Wellington’s crowded waterfront on the Millennium’s  New Year’s Eve. After staring at what I thought seemed a familiar face, I uttered her name, to find I wasn’t mistaken. What a fantastic reunion that made. Next came April, in recent months, discovered quite by chance after an online transaction. This re-connection was closely followed by Susan, connected with again at our primary school Centenary reunion.

The only girl in the photo not yet connected with in adult years is Helen. She moved away from our town not long after this birthday photo. Helen and I kept in touch for many years, writing letters and meeting up whenever I went to Wellington, where she lived. But as is often the case, our lives went in different directions and we lost contact.

Today birthday parties, both the giving and the attending, are huge events in many kids lives. My friends and I played games such as Pass the Parcel and Blind Man’s Bluff, while kids today enjoy sleep overs, pool parties and gatherings at fast food outlets.

Times may have changed, but birthdays are still times to be celebrated. I wonder how many of today’s kids will look back on their ninth birthday and smile.

What about you? What memories do you have of childhood birthdays?

Writing Memoir – How Do You Remember So Much?

Image

For the past few years my major focus has been writing memoir, recording aspects of my life in the 1950s and 1960s. By capturing small snippets of my everyday life, I’ve been able to preserve memories from the past. The above photo certainly is my first recalled memory of going swimming, something that became a major focus of my teenage years.

After the publication of my 1950s school memoir, ‘West End the Best End – School Memories from the 1950s’ many people asked me, “How do you remember so much?  I’d forgotten all those things”. I don’t think my memory is any better than other people, but I’ve trained myself to recall incidents hiding somewhere in my brain. I also discovered the more I write my memories down, the more I remember.

I think one of the most important things is to keep your memoir writer’s brain switched on at all times. Almost anything you do in everyday life can be a trigger to memories from a previous time in your life. You need only to be receptive to the triggers around you. A supermarket queue can prompt memories of grocery shopping in earlier times. The doctor’s waiting room can prompt memories of childhood sickness.

One powerful trigger of my own memories is talking to other people. As I wrote my school memoir I engaged similar aged people in conversation about their own school days. Often they’d remember something I’d forgotten and so yet another memory surfaced. Other people love to share their past and once they’re aware you’re working on a memoir project they’re usually happy to compare notes of similar experiences. This adds depth to your own memories. I’ll certainly be talking to many of the people in the swim team below as I work on my latest project, the story of our local swimming baths in the 1960s.

Image

Old photos also enable memories to be recalled.  When you look at an old photo try and recall as much about the occasion as you can and write your memories down. Ask other people who may remember the photographed event about  their memories of the occasion.

Image

Reading other material, both fiction and non-fiction from the period being written about is another way of bringing memories back, reminding you how people behaved at the time, giving authenticity to your writing.

Always think of yourself as a memoir writer and keep your mind open. You never know when a little detail will present itself to you. Write remembered incidents down as soon as you can. It doesn’t matter if anecdotal stories are written out of order. There’s plenty of time to organize them and improve your writing later. The important thing is to start writing. You’ll be surprised how easily memories start flowing in.

Do you use other ideas that act as memory triggers? Be sure to share them with us here.

Remembering a 1970s Dessert – Gingernut Log

One of my favourite cooking programmes is ‘Sweet Genius’ with Chef Ron Ben-Israel. The programme features late on a Saturday afternoon here, at a time when I’m winding down and pouring myself a glass of wine as a reward for the day.

As I watched today, I remembered a basic dessert fashionable here in New Zealand in the 1970s during my early years of marriage. In those days couples got together at each others homes, the host providing the food and venue for a night of eating, drinking and friendship. With three, sometimes four courses having to be prepared, we looked for ways of simplifying the process.

One of the favourite desserts of the day involved taking a packet of gingernut biscuits – these are no doubt known by another name elsewhere – and dunking them in sherry until fully absorbed by the alcohol. The biscuits were placed on a plate, separated by and smothered all over with whipped cream, often containing a little more of the alcoholic sherry. The gingernut log was then covered with chocolate sprinkles. The sherry softened the crunchy gingernuts and blended well with the ginger flavour.

This dessert was popular with young couples entertaining their friends – economical and quick to make, it had a feel of decadence back in times when we had new mortgages, new families and little money. Now, I’m more likely to resort to supermarket desserts if I’m short of money and time.

Thinking of gingernut logs has definitely been a trip down memory lane. Do you have desserts from the past you no longer make, but ones that seemed economical, but impressive, at the time? Why not share them with us all.