How travel feeds creativity – the sea that swims around us

How travel feeds creativity – the sea that swims around us

Today I have the honour of hosting a post by Roz Morris, whose latest book  “Not Quite Lost” came out a week ago today. I very much enjoyed this tale of travels (mostly around Britain) and recommend it as a light-hearted but thoughtful type of memoir; beautifully written and full of humour and pathos, it’s just the kind of book to enjoy this autumn.

Over to you, Roz!

 

How travel feeds creativity – the sea that swims around us

I’ve always kept a notebook. I can’t go anywhere without wanting to doodle a thought about what I’m noticing, or an unsuspected angle on the book I’m writing. Creative people – not just writers – always have bursting minds.

But they don’t always burst to order. We all know that sitting at our desk can sometimes be paralysing, like being locked under an interrogator’s spotlight.

Which is where the environment comes in. A moving environment, particularly. Travel – as defined by the period of making a journey. I love driving a familiar route in my car. While muscle memory handles the motoring and motor functions, a brain is free to unspool. The train is particularly intoxicating. It is a lullaby. An instruction to just sit and be. There can’t be anyone who doesn’t know that JK Rowling dreamed up Harry Potter as she idled on an intercity.

Travelling under your own power is good too. I’ve always liked running. Correction: it’s not the running that I like, as in getting tired while going somewhere. I admit I enjoy the occasional burn to a blasting piece of music, but more usually I get bored once I realise that strenuous movement is also uncomfortable. But I really like what running does to my mind.

Fatigue, the need for determination and the knowledge that I’ll have to endure it for an hour seem to squeeze my thoughts into a concentrated channel. While my inner exercise mistress says we must do the allotted time, the writer mistress grabs a random piece from a storyline or character and frets it to death.

A run inevitably turns into an aggressive problem-solving session, with a focus that I simply don’t get at other times. Sometimes these are problems I never even saw until my trainers started trotting. I do exercise classes too, and get infuriated with the repetitive exercises to brainless music. But I seem to split into two halves. Exercise mistress pumps out the reps with a resentful eye on the clock. Writing mistress brings up an urgent flaw and storms it until the final cooldown. When I flail out of a 45-minute Body Pump, I’m usually gasping for a notebook.

These are my go-tos for grappling with the routine work on WIPs. But we also need to add new stuff.

And this is the great thing. Go away and the brain drinks in new things. Not just the big, obvious features like a famous mountain or an ancient palace. Away from home or familiar environments, everything is reinvented. The texture of chairs in the waiting room of a station. The distinctive regional accent that flavours every word you hear. The smell of a country as you step off a plane. (Singapore: mangoes. Mexico: diesel and drains.)

That last point makes it sound as though I travel abroad a lot. Actually I don’t. I’m not that well organised. Anyway, I’m so easily entertained by any differences that I’m just as happy to sling a suitcase in the car and head for the motorway. Even staying in a friend’s house makes you renotice the things you tune out of everyday living. No two places have the same night sounds – jumbo jets in one place, a trickling stream in another. Your host’s coffee mugs might invite you to draw conclusions about them. What writer doesn’t always make sure a trip to a friend’s house includes a visit to the bathroom, regardless of whether it’s physically necessary? Be honest now.

A notebook is essential travel gear, of course. I have a special one I use when I’m off home turf. It’s an old leatherbound book embossed with the name ‘visitors’ – because it is the book I write in when I’m a visitor. (And now it’s just been published in its own right, Not Quite Lost: Travels Without A Sense of Direction. But that’s another story.)

Ideas are all around. An invisible current of them, like the phone signals, wifi and remote control instructions that swim around us all the time, all the minutes of the day. If we’re not the intended recipient, we don’t see them, but still they are there. Travel – whether a deliberate trip or a simple state of being in motion – might let us turn the receiver on.

 

Roz Morris is an award-nominated novelist (My Memories of a Future Life; Lifeform Three), book doctor to award-winning writers (Roald Dahl Funny Prize 2012), has sold 4 million books as a ghostwriter and teaches writing masterclasses for The Guardian. Not Quite Lost: Travels Without A Sense of Direction is her first collection of essays. Find her at her website https://rozmorris.wordpress.com/ and on her blog https://nailyournovel.wordpress.com/ , contact her on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/RozMorrisWriter/ and tweet her as @Roz_Morris http://www.twitter.com/roz_morris

Links

My Memories of a Future Life https://rozmorris.wordpress.com/my-books/my-fiction-me-as-me/my-memories-of-a-future-life/

Lifeform Three https://rozmorris.wordpress.com/my-books/my-fiction-me-as-me/lifeform-three/

Not Quite Lost https://rozmorris.wordpress.com/my-books/not-quite-lost-travels-without-a-sense-of-direction/

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Ozymandias in the City

Ozymandias in the City

Great blind eyes stare out

From centuries, no, millennia past,

Smooth blank orbs that show

Little or nothing of the man

But everything of the god-king

Who ruled like no-one else.

Full lips that have never opened

And never will, now, nor

Speak the secrets of the ages

Lost now in the sands of time.

A fragment this is, though vast

Enough to crush us all with ease

If toppled from its plinth.

Cracks show, crevices where time

Has not been kind, or, more likely,

Workmen have been careless

And have dropped this colossal thing

That gazes now, implacable,

Over not the shimmering temples

Nor the changeable Nile,

But merely an army of tourists,

The curious and the idle,

Here to get out of the rain.

Rameses 2

British Museum September 15th 2017

Seasons and Polarities

Seasons and Polarities

As human beings we reflect the tides and seasons of the places we live in; the rhythm of the seasons is our rhythm, even though we often try to ignore this. When you can get apples shipped from the other side of the world for sale on our supermarket shelves, it’s easy to forget that produce is almost always a seasonal thing. Even eggs, that staple of the pantry, were not available all year round and needed to be preserved somehow for winter usage.

In literature as well as life, the time of year is as important a factor as the weather. Whether for plot devices or for deeper reasons, what seasons a story travels through can have great bearing on the power of that story. The Bet begins a few weeks before Christmas, a time when for most of us there is a period of festivity and joy as we celebrate the mid point of winter; in the novel, the season is in stark contrast to the experience of the main character Antony Ashurst. At a time when he should be happy, his life has become desperately sad, as tragedy hits. The heavy and early snow fall reflects this unexpected change in life.

Strangers and Pilgrims takes place during the Halloween period, covering the run up to All Souls’ Day, and the introspection and remembrances that this time of year encourages is a central part of the novel. The dead are close by, but not in the superficial way encouraged by popular culture, rather in a deeper, more integrated way that supports the development of the characters. The Hedgeway too takes place during the Samhain season, and ends with new hope at spring time.

My most recently released novel, Little Gidding Girl begins at the autumn equinox, that time when the year is poised precisely between light and dark, and this reflects the mid-point in Verity’s life. It accentuates the contrasts and polarities in her life; the power of a lost past and the power of the present vie for supremacy, and for a while she is tossed between them like a shuttlecock in a storm.

To mark this season in the year, as we come to the equinox, I have made Little Gidding Girl a mere 99p (or local equivalent worldwide) for today and tomorrow, and will set the price after that to £1.99 for a few weeks as we settle into the seasons of mist and mellow fruitfulness. If you haven’t already grabbed a copy, now might be the time.

The book can be found here: UK

 US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07315QQ5N

Any other country, either search using the title and my name or change the dot whatever in the URL and then hit enter.

Have a splendid autumn.

(I’d be very grateful for any shares of this post and of any promotional tweets etc. Thank you)

The Undercover Soundtrack – Vivienne Tuffnell

My second go on the Undercover Soundtrack… enjoy!

My Memories of a Future Life

The Undercover Soundtrack is a series where I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative environment – perhaps to connect with a character, populate a mysterious place, or hold  a moment still to explore its depths. This week I’m proud to welcome back an author who last posted here in 2012 – Vivenne Tuffnell @guineapig66

Soundtrack by Debussy, Carolyn Hillyer, Medwyn Goodall

It’s been something of a blast from the past, trying to remember the music behind Little Gidding Girl. The novel was written during a period of unprecedented (and sadly, so far unrepeated) creativity probably triggered by hypergraphia (a beneficial by-product of my then-undiagnosed bipolar disorder – I wrote seven in a little less than three years).

Little Gidding Girl was the product of a series of intense, mystical dreams, an obsession with TS Eliot’s Four Quartets and a variety of music that teased…

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No-one Should Be Left Behind

No-one Should Be Left Behind

August is now behind us and with it, my summer holiday. We managed to get away for a while (a big achievement, actually) and one of our destinations was Glastonbury. I’ve always loved the place, with its mix of spirituality, history, woo-woo and the best selection of metaphysical and alternative shops almost anywhere. We stayed in a tiny, quirky and rather fabulous B&B with the tiniest upstairs bathroom I’ve ever seen. Converted (I think) from a linen cupboard, I felt there was a danger of me getting jammed between sink and door if I had second helpings at dinner. The place had very comfy beds, superb breakfasts and interesting hosts, one of whom runs tours of various Avalonian locations. They also had a wonderful dog who reminded me of our long-gone Holly.

I digress a little, but it’s important you know (for context) that it was very much a place of alternative everything and despite being tiny (only two bedrooms for guests) it drew those guests from a self-selecting set of customers. When we got there, there was another guest who was staying, and she was there for two of the four mornings we were there for. It’s the conversations at breakfast that I’ve been thinking about since we got back.

You see, Morag (not her real name) was firmly of the opinion that as the cosmic energies (not sure how those are defined) forge ahead and the world changes and spirituality changes, those not willing to change and move on and leave behind “out-moded” beliefs, will be left behind or swept away, and forgotten. It got under my skin. I’m not someone who is able to hold an in-depth conversation before my second mug of coffee, and I’m also not someone who likes to argue or even fight, any time, let alone at breakfast. So at the time, I merely made some anodyne comments and continued to munch my very excellent breakfast. But I’ve stewed on it since then.

The human population is broadly divided into two camps: the risk-takers and the consolidators. In early human history, the need for both types is much more obvious. The risk-takers were the explorers, the people who leapt in and tried new things (sometimes with fatal consequences), found new places and so on. The consolidators kept the home-fires burning, kept the tribal histories and lore and taught the children. Both types are essential for a healthy society; various aspects of neuro-diversity also mirror this divide. Just as introversion and extroversion are hard-wired neurological aspects of self, this risk-averse/risk-taking tendency is also innate, though almost everyone becomes more risk-averse as they get older. It is possible and sometimes desirable to challenge one’s self to step beyond one’s comfort zone, but in essence, it is beyond the control of 99.9% of us to change that polarity.

So, in the eyes of people like Morag, those who do not gladly meet the changes are to be swept away and lost. Yeah, ta very much, Morag. How kind of you.

Sarcasm aside, it disturbed me massively. You see, in many ways, I’m risk-averse. I’ve explored a great deal into the metaphysical world for sure, but with a foot firmly in the camp of common sense and critical thinking and I’ve avoided swallowing whole the bovine excrement that’s on sale in the New Age market place. I’ve found myself returning to old truths and ancient, well-tried wisdoms from faith systems that are unfashionable now. You may or may not know that for the last 20 or so years I’ve been a Quaker Attender and the Quaker faith is one that very much believes in the idea of no one left behind. All Meetings for Business work on the model that unless there is complete consensus, then nothing is done. If just one person disagrees with the direction being proposed, no decision will be made. Surprisingly, this does not result in total stagnation; because Quakers are the people they are, it’s not unusual for someone to decide to agree to the will of the meeting, withdrawing their objection on the basis that the greater majority may be right and they themselves may be wrong.

There is a strange kind of snobbery about embracing new things; those who rush to grab the latest gadgets, systems, clothes, can be very disparaging about those who do not. Among the spirituality and alternative health movements, Morag’s attitudes seem ubiquitous; I’ve read tweets from advocates of “Juicing” that would not be out-of-place in a tract for certain brands of evangelical Christianity!

Life is not a race. Nor is our inner journey of spiritual discovery. We’re all on our own unique path; it’s not a snakes and ladders board and we’re not competing with others. It’s also impossible to gauge how far one person has already come on that journey because what might be a tiny step for one is a mighty leap for another. Those of us who are risk-averse should not be discarded as useless by those who are risk-takers, nor regarded as holding everyone back by our cautious natures. We are doing our best to follow our path, at our own pace. And that’s how it needs to be: no one left behind.

Cover Story (the art of book covers from an author without much of a clue)

Cover Story

(the art of book covers from an author without much of a clue)

A recent review of Little Gidding Girl mentioned the image on the cover, querying why the figure is fairly slender when the statue mentioned in the book is of a goddess figurine with generous curves. I confess that when I was trying to find a concept for the cover art of this book I was all at sea. I don’t understand cover design, or why it’s quite so important, because for me, the vast majority of the covers I see are a big turn off. They make me feel manipulated, the way almost all advertisements do. That might well be just me, though. I am told that because most people are highly visual, the cover art is vital to grabbing the attention of potential readers and getting them to take notice, read the blurb and buy. Many authors redo covers, finding a new theme or concept to tie together books in a series or to standardise a brand. I have no idea whether it works, or whether it would work for mine or not, and don’t have enough energy to give thought to it. Finding the right ideas for a cover has been the bane of my existence.

For Little Gidding Girl, I combined two ideas from the story and from my vague blatherings and a photo of my own, Annette composed the art. The background shows a rustic door or gate in a wall, behind which you can see what may be roses or may be apples and may be both; the door we never opened into a rose garden is drawn from the poetry that runs through the book, but apple trees fill the garden of the main character Verity. The goddess figurine unites two strands within the story: Verity’s grandfather had been an archaeologist of some note, and the figurine was acquired by Nick’s aunt, who was a buyer of antiques and antiquities. Yet finding the correct image wasn’t easy. There are pitfalls and prat-falls abounding when it comes to acquiring and using photographs of actual antiquities and art. The image is actually from a pendant I bought last year, rummaged from a bargain bucket in a shop in Glastonbury and digitally altered somewhat (the thing itself is a bit over an inch long). I would have preferred a more fecund set of curves, but since fat is OUT in terms of the way our culture seems to lean, I settled for this relatively slender and youthful form. Together the image is striking and intriguing and also, unlike anything else I’ve seen.

When it comes down to it, I find myself baffled by the fashions in book covers in the time I have been self-publishing. Not just independent books but traditionally published ones all seem to follow trends until you can almost always guess the nature of a book by its cover; in the wake of (cough) Fifty Shades (cough) every volume of erotic fiction sported certain instantly recognisable clues to its contents. Often highly symbolic in theme (fruit, masks, whips, dark colours etc) the covers gave a sense of what lay within in a codified manner. I sometimes toy with the idea of producing a cover with that type of symbolic images for, let’s say, The Bet, and see what happens. Probably a swathe of disappointed readers for though that novel contains a lot of sex, pretty much all of it is off-camera.

Each genre has a well-established set of codes for cover art, because it’s a way of subliminally attracting readers in the same way the Also Bought suggestions online also do. Books that straddle genres (like mine) or defy classification (again, like mine) can’t easily take advantage of this visual shorthand. I’ve thought occasionally about new covers for some books. The Bet is my own favourite book (yeah, I am that vain) but I don’t think its cover is right. The current cover suggests a gothic horror and while in a strange way it does trespass into that territory, it doesn’t fit at all. The folks who have read it have generally raved about it, but when it comes to finding it a well-fitting niche, there doesn’t seem to be one and I am reluctant to proceed any further with the sequel (written but needing a good proofread and a cover) until I have cracked that conundrum. What I’d like is to find the right themes for the covers of both The Bet and the first sequel (currently entitled One Immortal Diamond) and when OID is ready to roll, relaunch The Bet with a new cover that prefigures the cover for OID.

The other problem with going back and redoing covers is that it takes away energy from writing and releasing new books. I’m working on very restricted energy anyway, so the chances are very small of coming up with new covers for all that need them. I think I’d rather use what creative forces I can muster to actually get on with writing and while my health remains impaired, I apologise for my lack of alacrity in getting new books out there. People say the best way to sell more books is to write more but I am far from sure that’s true. But having managed to write (longhand) some short stories recently, and observed that I felt mentally and spiritually a LOT better for doing so, I am starting to think that if writing is my way through the inner horrors, then I must just write and stop worrying whether the current covers of my books are “good enough”.

“There’s gold in them there hills…oh, no, now wait a minute…!”

There’s gold in them there hills…oh, no, now wait a minute…!”

A couple of years ago now we worked our way through a dvd box set of the hit series Deadwood. Set in the town of Deadwood (a real place) and following the fortunes of various people (many of whom have the names if not the actual characters of real, historical and sometimes famous people), during the Gold Rush period.

At the time, it rang a lot of bells about the way the self-publishing world was going and since then, I’ve thought about it a lot.

I first began publishing my own books in 2011 (though Strangers and Pilgrims was first published by someone else for me, it was a false start about eighteen months before I finally took it back and began again). It was a time somewhat akin to the early years of the Gold Rush. A new, exciting and potentially extremely lucrative adventure awaited those who were willing to just get their work out there, battling the new tech and avenues the way the prospectors battled weather and mountains and so on.

But gold is buried deep, is hard to find and seams run out unexpectedly and anyone who made plans based on a first lucrative lucky strike were fools if they thought the gold would just keep on coming. I’ve seen it said that the entire amount of gold in the world would fill an Olympic sized swimming pool and no more than that. Gold is finite but hope is eternal. The cannier inhabitants of Deadwood became the suppliers instead of prospectors. They opened saloon bars, shops and brothels; they sold food and drink, shovels and pans, flesh and promises and treasure maps to the folks who flocked there believing they’d make their fortune.

You really can’t blame them. They’d been lured there themselves by the dangling carrot of unlimited wealth if you just dug long enough in the right places, and when they’d got enough to start a business of some sort, the wise ones quit prospecting. As long as people continued to flock or even trickle there, hope in their hearts and enough dollars to buy equipment and whisky, the legends would keep being retold. It only took the occasional lucky strike to keep hope fresh and new legends to be forged.

It’s the same with self publishing and probably publishing generally. We all hear tales of people whose work suddenly went viral and they sold millions; we all probably secretly still believe it could be us, if we just stay out there. But few of us are making any money any more. There’s a whole other debate about whether writing for money is a fool’s game anyway, and another about whether ethically and faith-motivated folks are allowed to ever admit that some of their motivation for writing is in the hopes of making a living or even a decent paying hobby or second job. I’m not going there today.

The people who have a chance of making a living are those who now run businesses selling to the writers. Whether it’s editing services, formatting, cover design or one of a plethora of services deemed needful for authors, aspiring or otherwise, there’s a LOT of canny people out there, offering it. Organisations like Book Bub offer dreams of success through their advertising services (which cost, and dearly and they’re choosy who they will take on for a campaign) bringing your book in front of an audience that matches the demographic your book is aimed at.

For me, I’ve realised that I’m a gold panner. I’m someone who goes out weekends and evenings, with makeshift equipment and warmly-padded waders, and stands bent over a fast-flowing mountain stream, sifting gravel and occasionally finding grains of gold. Once in a while, a nugget comes my way. Sometimes, the dynamite someone has used higher up the mountain has loosened more rocks that bear gold, and I find that the tiny specks come to me more often. But it’s the process of being out there, looking at the fish and the sparkling water and the occasional gleams of precious metal, and knowing that while I could have boxed smarter and found another way to garner my gold, at least I am still doing what I set out to do, and still have a tiny bit of hope in my heart.