Saturday, 21 March 2009

Journals, plots and sailing to Byzantium

My blog is coming up to two years old now - which seems incredible. And, as I've said before, during the (non)publishing vicissitudes of those two years, it's been such a comfort to me, an outlet for my thoughts and a way of communicating with some great people. A little while ago the editor of the newsletter of the Writers in Oxford society asked if any of us had thoughts about the usefulness of diary-writing, so I forwarded one of my blog posts (17 April 2008), where I'd discussed what it meant to me. I'm delighted that he's included the whole thing in the current edition of the newsletter, which arrived today. In print again! Yay!

Tomorrow I'm teaching on the University's Diploma in Creative Writing course. After this blog I have to boil down a course which usually takes a whole day to under two hours - and why is this difficult? Because it's about plot, that's why! It's a challenging but exciting topic which many a new novelist feels daunted by.

I've also been doing some writing coaching/mentoring, so the techniques of plotting are very much on my mind, as the writer I'm working with is brimful of promising ideas but needs to knock them into some sort of shape. In these cases, you often have to take a deep breath and write your way into the structure of the book - if you wait for it all to be architecturally polished, you'll never get the thing done. Certain scenes - the opening, the ending, the showdown, the betrayal - these may be present in your mind in utter clarity: it's the bits in between the showboating scenes, the areas where vision can fail and pace can flag - that's where you need to trust the process. You need to grind on, keep writing, be prepared to dispense with what doesn't work, believe that it will all bed down in the end. It will. Honestly! One of the joys of writing is that, as you write, you find yourself writing what you never expected to write: serendipitous connections are made, exciting developments come to you - and you could never, at the start, have foreseen they would come along. If you keep turning up and putting pen to paper, the Muse thinks - hey, I think I might join in. It's that old chestnut: inspiration plus perspiration. The yin and yang of the creative process.

On Thursday I went up to London to meet my friend Anna and visit the Byzantium exhibition at the Royal Academy. There were certainly some very gorgeous items there, as you'd expect. Jewellery to die for, sweetie. A Fayum-style coffin-lid portrait of a young girl with lustrous dark eyes. Beautiful embroidered textiles, taffeta and silk and gold thread. Silver chalices, ivory reliquaries. A chest full of the bones of saints (or are they?), all wrapped and labelled in little bundles. A child's linen tunic (this was very touching): a little seventh century hoodie. Finally a gorgeous golden painting on wood of holy aspirants climbing a long ladder to heaven - some of them being pulled off it by spiky, black, malicious devils.

However, the exhibition was very crowded (it closes tomorrow) and one had to shuffle past glass cases at a snail's pace, often stopping, in the human traffic-jam, in front of the items of least interest. The exhibits were described in black script on small silver plaques in each of the cases - and in the dim lighting you had to be right in front of the plaque in order to read it. This was intensely frustrating, expecially when the thing wasn't all that informative. I suspect this was because they wanted you to hire an audio guide which would give you more of a spiel. Well, I balked at this, true Scot that I am. Having paid £12 to go round the show, and with a pair of eyes in my head in reasonable functioning order, I'm quite happy to read information if it's there for me and refuse to hand over another three quid to know more. Anna had no such qualms, so learnt a lot more than I did - there you go.

Sated with drooping saints and painted vellum, we emerged out onto Piccadilly and treated ourselves to afternoon tea, dahling. And Anna treated me to a sharp talk about my current lack of productivity. Thanks, Anna ...


Muvva said...

Congrats on reaching two years. And even more congratulations on making every post interesting, informative, and a joy to read

E x

Lorna F said...

Thank you so much for that! I really appreciate it - it means such a lot to me. x

KAREN said...

I second Muvva's comment, and you're spot on about writing things you never expected to write as you go along. That happens to me quite often and it's usually a lovely surprise!

The exhibition sounds like the sort of thing my daughter would enjoy, so I might have to drag her along.

I hope the course went well and congrats on being in print again :o)

Lorna F said...

Karen - thanks so much. Sadly, I think the Byzantium exhibition closed at the weekend, which is probably why it was so crowded last Thursday.