New Book, New Writing

Two years can disappear as fast as water rushing down a plug hole when you’re immersed in a writing project. That is an excuse, not an explanation, for my absence here. Now that my writing project is finished and my transition to full-time writer is complete I’m excited about renewing my presence here.

The social history project mentioned in my previous post back in 2015 has come to an end and the book, Down at the Baths is about to be launched next week. I’ll post a sneak preview of the cover here and more details about it will follow shortly.

cover

New projects are lined up and my writing life is looking exciting – to me anyway. I’m looking forward to sharing it with you

Writing the Book is Only Part of the Story

I’ve allowed myself three years to write the story of the local swimming pool I frequented as a teenager. I didn’t realize how many new skills I’d need along the way. I’m a writer and this is a story I want to tell. I thought I’d research and write and produce a book. Wrong! The reality is this book is taking me on an amazing learning journey.

My book is a local history one, a social history, the story of the local Municipal Baths from 1917 until closure in 1966.That sounds easy, gathering up information and writing. But there’s more to a book than that, as many of you wiser than me already know. I feel as if I’m undertaking a personal three year on-going education course – and I’m enjoying every minute of it.

Of course, there’s the research. This is new for me and I’m already learning rapidly. The people at my local library are amazing, showing me where to locate information and how to access it. The old newspapers are giving me an insight into community reaction to the building of the baths in their town. The Archives contain lots of valuable data. I’ve been recording my own anecdotal stories and will soon be delving into stories from people who experienced the baths long before I did.

The research will continue for a long time yet. I hadn’t ventured too far into the project when I realized I needed to put this story into context. What was the local community like at the time, especially in the 1920s and 1930s? I’m off to the library and onto the internet, gathering stories of the local community and the swimming world of the time.

All this sounds fine, but the book needs to written in a style appealing to a wide readership. I hope to blend facts with my personal stories. This will involve a different style from  my writing so far. I enrolled in an online Creative Non- fiction writing course and this is proving a wise investment of time and money. I’ve been reading a book about undertaking research. I’m also reading books, both novels and factual, which weave backwards and forwards in time, rather than tell a chronological story. I’m getting a feel for how my book will be written.

I’m now six months into my project. My writing skills are improving, I’m getting more skilled at research and I’m becoming e of a social and local historian. Who said writing a book was easy? But I can tell you from personal experience, learning as you go is lots of fun.

Rainy Day Pleasures of Childhood

The rain falls gently outside and I allow myself to drift back to my 1950s childhood, when even rainy days held lots of fun. We had no television back then, but I never had problems finding something to do, but more a problem of choosing from my favourite wet day indoor activities.

Who remembers pressing their face against the inside of the window on a rainy day, nose all squashed against the glass, watching the raindrops trickle, trickle, trickle at first, then racing each other down the pane? I watched their trail as they slithered downward, never straight, veering slightly this way or that until they merged with another or hit the ledge below.

Colouring books and crayons were essential on a rainy day and even more enjoyable when Mum sat down with me. “Colour a page, Mum,” I’d plead and she’d quietly choose a picture, pick up a crayon and start by neatly outlining the edges, before filling the space evenly as only Mums could.

The box of paper dolls, stored carefully in old cardboard chocolate boxes, often came out on rainy days, whole families of them ready to live their lives as I directed. Then there were jigsaw puzzles, especially good for extended periods of rain. I spread all the pieces out on the floor, turning them over, sorting them into colours and locating the straight pieces of the edges. “Always assemble the edges first,” Dad said, “it makes the rest easier when you’ve got something to work from.”

Another rainy days treat was to get out Dad’s book, ‘The Jolly Boys Book of Boxcraft.’ In it I learned how to make everything from dolls houses to train stations, using a few small boxes and plenty of glue.

Knitting also occupied my time as I grew out of some of the younger activities. I loved watching wool turn into rows, transforming into something recognisable, row by row.

And of course there were books, always books. I’d lose myself in a story and not notice the rain outside had stopped.

I think back now and say, thank heavens we didn’t have TV or electronic game equipment back in the 1950s. I’d have been deprived of so much fun had I been stuck in front of moving images that I couldn’t interact with. Rainy days were never boring, but always fun.

Keeping Warm in the 1950s

Many of you are currently sweltering in the Northern heat, while I look for ways of keeping warm down here in New Zealand. Yesterday, while dressed in three layers and wearing thick socks, I thought about my childhood. Were the winters really as cold then as they appear now? The aging process has possibly increased my awareness  of the cold.

I grew up in an old wooden house with its share of places for the drafts to creep in, but  I don’t remember being cold at home. Maybe during the day we kept warm busy playing vigorously outside. The evenings inside seemed to radiate warmth, unless I’ve forgotten the cold times.

Our home had a large room we called the kitchen, a bit like a modern house with kitchen, dining room and lounge sharing an open space. The cooking happened in the kitchen on a gas stove and oven. Wedged between the stove and the hot water cupboard, a small fire place, a chip heater, burned all day, heating both the water in the adjacent cupboard and the whole room.

I loved chopping the kindling for the kitchen fire once old enough to be trusted to not chop off too many fingers. The tiny fireplace churned its way through firewood, coal and carbonettes and food scraps after meals.

Not only the warmth from the fire that filled those winter evenings. The whole family gathered, talking, reading, playing cards and board games and listening to the big old radio in the corner, creating a room of family warmth. At bedtime we kids trundled off to bed with a hot water bottle, taking the evening’s warmth with us.

The fire died down over night, but by the time we got up in the morning either Mum or Dad had re-lit it, enabling us to eat our breakfast at the big table in warmth.

Snow rarely falls in the part of New Zealand I live in, but we did experience heavy white frosts during winter months, so the nights were cold. Electricity was never used to heat our home in the 50s, so we maintained a good supply of wood and coal.

Your childhood winters no doubt differed from mine, depending on the part of the world you live in and the era of your childhood.

I sit here in the warmth of my home this morning, heated by gas, thinking about the sunshine that will arrive back here in a few months from now.

Invite Shoes into Your Stories

Shoes make a statement about the wearer, as well as serving a practical purpose. Shoes add drama to the stories they appear in.  Imagine Cinderella’s thoughts as she raced from the ball at midnight, losing a shoe on the way.

My childhood shoes said more about my mother than myself. Black lace-up shoes handed down from boy cousins covered my feet throughout my early school days. Brown roman sandals couldn’t compare with the pretty red or white sandals other girls wore. My mother had a disinterested relationship with shoes.

Shoes take you places, enabling things to happen. Remember the shoes you wore as you danced the night away at your first ball, the boots you kicked your first goal with on the sporting field, or the horror of discovering the odd coloured shoes you wore to your job interview.

Shoes put up with loving care or abuse, with under use or over use, but they remain loyal friends. They suffer the indignity of smelly, misshapen feet or delight in the pretty manicured toenails peeping out from them.

Next life story you write, remember your shoes. Consider the colour and emotions connected to the event you’re writing about. Reward the shoes from your past with a second life. Make them another character in your story.

Remembering Childhood Shoes