Saturday 18 February 2012

Three Elements of Place For the Artisan Writer

I woke up with the thought that there are three aspects of place that are significant in the writing life.
Editing in My Garden

Element One is the place where we write. A good artisan writer should be able to write anywhere – on planes and trains, in the garden, bedroom, bathroom or kitchen, inside, outside, in bars and hospital waiting rooms. And of course, (if you find one open) libraries. I suppose now we must add cyberspace to our writing locations.

The instinct and the ideal, though, is to make a special interior space in which to write: a temple dedicated to your vocation.

I did this even when I was very young, I lived then in a tiny two up and two down house with my my mother, sister and two brothers. In the bedroom which I shared with my sister and mother I set up a long collapsible pasting table by the window. This was was my private space. Here I did my homework and here I began to write seriously; I wrote at this table even when ice was etching snowflakes on the inside of the window.

After I married, in our second house there was a spare downstairs bedroom which I commandeered as a writing room. I got someone to build shelves all along one wall for my growing collection of books and bought a huge, battered office desk at an auction for £2. And there I did another kind of homework for my teaching job. And on that desk I wrote the first novels which were published.

Write Anywhere and Everywhere
 Occupying another house for many years now, I have a big study with a real fire mentioned by Avril in her post about our conversation with Richard Hardwick for The Writing Game. This is a generous space dominated by the same £2 desk which started it all and has shelves on all four walls, full of books. Lots of writing and talking stuff goes on in this space but the serious writing - the current novel, for instance - happens upstairs in the little writing room which I’ve written about before. This is where the real work happens. Here there is only room for one person – the writer. This is my place, My temple.

Stairway to Story
 Element Two the need to locate the characters and action in a place that adds to, that underpins, that shows rather than tells of the main themes of the novel. Think of the psychopathology of cities such as Dickens’ London and de Balzac’s Paris, of Martin Amis’s London and Ian Rankin’s Edinburgh.  Think of the drawing rooms of Jane Austen, the muddy nightmarish battle trenches of Pat Barker, the Gothic moorland of the Brontes!

These writers know how to use place as a substructure for the themes of the novel and to illuminate depth of the drama and the emotional pathology of the characters. The best of writers have always done this instinctively: the significance of place underpinning the pace and the active drama of their narrative.

I don’t know if there is some magic formula for this, except to read widely and deeply  the work of writers who do this well, until it is part of your own intuition of writing. And observe, observe, observe your own experience in life as you move around. Make lists of what you see and the feelings and wisdom it inspired. These days of course we can note place with a camera, of course, transforme it in our imagination and incorporate what we see into our fiction. But nothing in this process beats a sharp eye, a good ear, and a fat notebook.

Element three is doing it!

 Here's me...

Read and Write
AOR Work in progress

'… The courtyard is dominated on one side by a wall which is more like a black stone cliff. Lolette’s granddaughter Marie France. Aurelie’s cousin, tells us this wall is part of the medieval wall of the old village of St Thibery. Before we reached our destination - this tall house on the edge of the village - Aurelie had driven us through its narrow streets which seem to have no corners; they it coil around a mediaeval abbey whose ornate arched gateway is out of kilter with the dusty ordinariness of the village…

…  ‘Grand-mère is in the courtyard,’ announces Lola in her clear young voice. She leads us through a large kitchen lined with cupboards painted blue, set around a vast table covered with a gleaming green oilcloth. Then we are hustled  through double doors into the shady courtyard built into the wall of the old village. On the left is a long black stone trench filled with geraniums. In the middle a white umbrella offers shade a green plastic table and four chairs.  
Imagine and Transpose

At the far end, under a very old whiskery palm tree ,sits a very old lady with her leg up on a cushioned stool. Her hair ,  thin and whispy is pulled to the top of her head in a knot. She is wearing a yellow flowered crimpeline frock and slippers on her bare feet. I have to remind myself that she is the same age as Francine…'

1 comment:

  1. Had som trouble with the macnanism for responses. Just checking here ...w



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