Monday, 23 July 2018

Age and the Escape into Creativity.

These days there is a generational dread of fading into senility of one kind or another. We have so much information about the distress and Alzheimer’s disease and so little real hope of any cure. What to do about it? Of course there is this cliché about the brain; the mantra swirls around us:  You have got to use it or lose it,’ they say.

My own way of using it is to keep on with the writing that has dominated my life, despite the change of focus in publishing from literary story-telling to the more profitable embrace of fantasy, proto-pornography, and violent sadistic proto-heroism. Interestingly these latter qualities are designed  to ensure escape from the pressure and mundane nature of ordinary lives,  rather than - like good literary stories  - revealing some deep truths about those ordinary lives: a very creative escape.

So any way my strategy to fend off mental deterioration is to continue to write and publish good literary stories which reveal some deep truths about ordinary lives. To do this I developed this idea for Damselfly Books. And unlike my early publishing days where I had keen editors and three book contracts to motivate me, I have to fly free and generate my own motivation.

All this has made me think about writers out there who continue to write and write well despite the odds. The thought has occurred to me that in order   to write creatively one needs a clear - even an empty - space in one’s head for the story, poem or essay to me into, to make itself comfortable, to allow it to grow.

However, depending on what happens on the planet of ordinary life, such essential space may not be there. It can be crushed into nothingness by routines, obligations, and those myriad inescapable tasks to keep life for oneself and others on an even keel. As well as this, I understand that this lack of mental space can dominate the lives of those who care for others, whether those others are spouses, children, parents, or beloved friends.  (Often - but certainly not exclusively – these domestic imperatives fall on women.)

And this lack of space to embark on creative, regenerative action can also dominate the lives of those individuals whose inner life is full of ghosts, fears and mental chaos of one kind or another. This prevents them from manufacturing the ladder with which they can climb out of their tumbled life and escape into creativity.

In my view this lack of brain space is the fundamental cause of the much vaunted ‘writers block’. Of course you can’t write the next poem or the next chapter or the next paragraph when there is no space in which it can grow!

On the other hand, some people live lives where there are just too many empty spaces. One thinks of people who are recently retired and miss the busy involvement of their jobs. Also one thinks of people who are bereaved, where the person they have no longer fills all the empty spaces in corners of their lives.

There are recommendations out there, of course the ways in which people may fill the spaces – and the brain turning over -  with things like crosswords, Sudoku, doing good community work; watching intelligent TV, listening to BBC Radio Four, reading new books, even tackling half remembered skills like pottery, painting and of to reduce their handicap.

My choice of brain-gymnastics is to keep researching, writing and producing my stories and sharing them with readers who still recognise the invigorating magic of the adventures and life journeys of heroic people not unlike themselves.

In my new novel Becoming Alice Ruth Kelman gives birth to her daughter Alice in a Tyneside cellar. A thousand miles away, Louis Roxby, a young English soldier adjusts to the severe strictures and strange opportunities of prison camp life. Between 1941 and 1951 Alice Kelman becomes a northern grammar school girl; Ruth becomes a skilled photographer and Louis Roxby becomes, in turn, a forger, an artist, and a teacher, finally to enjoying the freedom of post-war bohemian London. Then in 1951, their paths cross as they are drawn like iron filings to a magnet to the celebratory Festival of Britain in London’s South Bank.

And now this week Damselfly Books have published Scenes from a Life by new and talented writer Hugh Cross – who began writing  when he was 80. No Sudoku for him!

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