This is my writing space now, though it used to be a cubby hole under a staircase. Every time someone walked up the stairs a little pile of dust appeared on my page.
What is your writing space like?
I have a large L- shaped desk with an Apple Mac computer at the centre. At one end is a lamp, a phone, an in-box and three tins of pens and coloured pencils, bowls of paper clips and a heart shaped paperweight; the first present my step children gave me. On the other end of my desk is a massive pet’s bed that is usually occupied by four dozing Siamese cats. All around this very small room are bookcases and on the shelves, in front and on top of the books, are various knick-knacks from my childhood, a 1960‘s Barbie doll, a set of wooden Indian stackable dolls, a jointed Pooh bear, some Peter Fagan cats and a soft toy parrot. Under my desk are plastic boxes of material for making patchwork quilts.
On the walls are a whiteboard, a giant cork board that is so full of paper it looks like a collage and a picture of a bookshop in France with ‘Livres’ written above the door. I never get tired of looking at it for some reason.
I have a window to the garden on one side of the room and a door to the garden on the other, which is not very conducive to hard work as they both look out onto my lovely garden. Behind my chair is a filing cabinet and on it are two index boxes full of poetry exercises and eight index boxes of recipes, even though I loathe cooking and avoid looking in the boxes more than I have to.
My dream location:
Where I am, right now; my own tiny study, in the middle of a wild garden, in a remote part of western Scotland. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
What gives me inspiration:
Memories, in that I often start from a remembered feeling, person or situation and invent around it. Sometimes it’s an article in a newspaper or magazine that moves me and sets me thinking. Also, I remember most of my dreams and find that they provide an especially useful starting point for poems.
What distracts me from writing:
– Four cats and an African grey parrot.
– The colours in the landscape around me.
– The hills in the distance. They appear to move as the weather changes.
– Untidy rooms.
One of my favourite stories:
Robin Hood, the old classic story written, I believe by Howard Pyle, the only book I read over and over when I was a child. It was the first time I realized that reading could excite me and make me cry. I discovered that in fiction I could follow someone through their whole life, to old age and death. The painful ending, when the dying Robin asks Little John to shoot an arrow into the forest and to bury him where it comes to rest has stayed with me my whole life.
My favourite authors (for the moment):
It is difficult to say, because my favourite authors alter as time goes by. My list would depend on who I had just discovered and what excites me about their writing. For example, several years ago I would have said Janet Frame, Janice Galloway, Julie Orringer. A little later, I would have said Tim Winton, Lorrie Moore, Junot Diaz. As I discovered more about the sorts of writing I like best it became Virginia Woof, Tobias Woolf and TC Boyle. But I have recently discovered Alistair MacLeod and Wayne Price….
The authors that have most influenced my own writing in some significant way, and will go on being favourites for this reason, have been Sandra Cisneros, Jayne Anne Phillips and Raymond Carver. I think it is important to say that although many of these writers have written novels as well as short stories, it is their short stories that I admire.
I like to use these because they are easy ways ways of capturing something that is important to you each day, fleeting observations or feelings that would otherwise be lost. They don’t have to be perfect, just useful, because you can work on them another time.
Here are a few:
Games in the Afternoon (Feb 6th 2012)
The wind says, ‘Look! Look at me,
How I turn the leaves like shoals
How I tip the tiles
And tease the corner of the poly-tunnel.’
Feathers flutter on the breasts of birds
Grasses finger the dry stone walls
While the beech hedge shivers
And draws in its coat
Of burnished leaves
They know this game
The wind bounds across the lawn
Hides behind the willow.
Then out again, it skims the heads of snowdrops,
And leaves the bird table rocking.
The wind says ‘Come with me,
See what’s in this corner,” it says,
In this and this.”
“I have blown dry the steps
Pushed open the porch door,
I am waiting…
I have strong arms to guide you.”
Winner’s Circle (Feb 8th 2012)
I made a horse, a patchwork horse
Of blue and white checked fabric
It stands in a field of tulips small as dots
From here they ‘read’ as cream.
The horse makes a field
The field makes a block
The block makes a row
And the row a quilt, maybe.
The scissors cut through the fabric
Around the paper template
With a satisfying crunch.
I fold the paper, begin to baste
In blue, with novice stitches
My first block is done. The legs sewn
on the body, then the head and mane,
The tail, the ear, each one complete
I feel affection for this horse, my horse.
This morning (May 9th, 2011)
I woke with the sun on my eyelids
And to a swallow’s chatter outside
I lay without opening my eyes
And for a moment
I was fifteen again
Listening to my mother
Moving around in the kitchen
My father’s feet on the stairs
When days were long and full of light
And we all sat together round the table.
I often use dreams as starting points for stories or poems. They work well for flash fiction and prose poems. Here are a few:
Richard (Dec 10th 2011)
I dreamt of Richard Gere –
Dropped into his office
And asked who was in charge
Was it him? Or someone else?
His shirt was so white
Against his neck and tie.
There was a half smile on his lips
As I sat at his desk
I made myself comfortable
I gazed at him for a while –
“Are you married?” I asked
My eyes wide in my face.
He smiled and shook his head
“Well that’s good,” I said.
Curtains (Jan 9th 2012)
You came and told me
I could have curtains
A friend would make them for me
Tall ones were out of the question
They had to be short
On strings across the window
So that I could look out
Over the top and into the garden
And they had to be yellow.