Feed Your Writing – Making & Doing

Cat window 2There are so many reasons why we reach for books.  Whether we’re looking for new worlds – or for reasurrances about our own world when things get rough – we readers love to learn  about places, people & what they do.  Reading brings us closer to things we might never do ourselves, but gives us the vicarious thrill of having lived them through characters.  We might never go on a 1000 mile hike, because Cheryl Strayed lets us feel her journey.  We might long to take a taxidermy course, only to be talked in – or out of it – stuffing birds with Kate Mosse’s Taxidermist’s Daughter.  Through Griet’s eyes in The Girl with the Pearl Earring we learn to see colours in new ways, while in AS Byatt’s The Children’s Book we feel the perils of creating and making. To learn how Prime Writers Fanny Blake & Alison Layland find writing inspiration in wool and glass, read on…  

IMG_3435For Fanny Blake, whose newest novel, The House of Dreams, is a heart-warming tale of family secrets, knitting is a lot like plotting.  She learned to knit as a child – and while she could imagine the finished article, as well as the joy (and pocket money) the piece would bring, she felt she never had the staying power to finish.  “Sound at all familiar?  When I first set out as a novelist, I dreamed of the beautiful finished copy, the queue round the signing table, the happy publisher. But the writing – just like the knitting – got in the way of achieving the dream as immediately as I’d like.”  For Blake, both knitting and writing require self-discipline and staying power to finish.  First, she has to find a pattern, “just as I need the shape of a plot before I start. When I start a new project, I’m full of enthusiasm then, the more I knit, I realize how much more there is to do and how long it’s going to take me. My heart sinks a little. I wonder if I should have attempted something less ambitious. I wonder whether I can keep going. But I do. Then I start making mistakes. When I was a kid, I’d just let them go, pretend it was all part of the personal touch. Now everything has to be as good as I can make it. I unravel as much as I need to – to the beginning of the piece if necessary – and begin reworking again. I do that again and again if necessary. When I finally have the separate pieces completed, I have to shape each one, block them to fit. Finally I sew them together, as careful as I can so that the seams don’t show. Then the garment’s ready to be worn.”  And, of course, to be read.
Four seasons candle lampFor Alison Layland, translator & author of the thriller Someone Else’s Conflict, it all began with a night-class brochure.  “Stained glass. I loved the idea of learning this ancient craft, and over several terms of evening classes learned both the traditional lead technique, used for windows and panels, and copper-foil, used for more intricate pieces such as lamp shades. I got to grips with cutting glass, piecing together a design, and soldering. Immersing myself in a practical creation process is a wonderful counterpoint to my mind-and-desk based writing and translation.”  Layland says there are many parallels to writing. “Either the initial design is inspired by a particularly beautiful piece of coloured glass I find at the supplier and my desire to use it, or I search out pieces to suit a design I have in mind – like in a novel, when either a particular character or atmosphere drives the story, or at other times you deliberately bring in characters or scenes to serve a purpose in your plot. Putting the cut pieces together, refining them to fit – sometimes painstakingly repeating and starting over if a piece breaks in the wrong place while cutting – demands patience, and is like plotting and editing. And like a novel or story, the finished piece is never quite as you’d envisaged it in your head when you started – but just as satisfying and rewarding.”  Whatever your passions are make time to indulge them – and use them to feed your writing while you do.


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