Archive for the ‘beginnings’ Category


For a long time I promised myself that, some day, I’d bake my own bread.  It made so much sense: it would be tastier, healthier, there’d be no packaging.  The issue was finding the time.  Then, through a friend, I discovered an adapted recipe for the Grant loaf.  It took me a while to get round to trying, but now I’m hooked.  I love the making of it: the feel of the dough in my fingers, the alchemy of the yeast causing the mixture to rise and how, when I bake it, the bread fills the house with its smell.  And I love that I can do it so fast, by heart now.  Seriously, the time it takes to mix it is the time it takes to walk to the village shop.

The recipe has only four ingredients.  You can’t get much simpler than that.  There are no preservatives or additives – just flour, yeast, water and salt (I’m afraid I do need the salt).  It struck me when I made the last batch that my new ritual of bread-baking chimes with one of my aims for this year.  At the start of January, inspired by Chris Brogan, I chose three words to guide my direction for 2010.  One of these is: ‘Simplify.’   For me, simplifying means trying to focus on one task at a time – something I hope will make me less stressed and irritable.  Simplifying means, in fact, doing less (or, being absolutely clear about why I’m doing it in the first place).  It means having the conviction to say no to yet another enticing project or idea that would clutter up my already too-full head. 

Simplify.  It also works with writing.  To simplify is to be clear about the ‘through lines’ of story and character which, in turn, influences the purpose of a particular scene, or section, or chapter of the novel.  With simplicity in mind, I consciously ask myself at the end of each writing session ‘so what?’ and ‘what next?’  Writing more simply is to ‘say it once’ – cutting out extraneous passages or sentences which, however well written I think they might be, obscure the real point of things.  I find it fascinating how the act of creating a product with fewer, good quality, ingredients allows us to focus more on the process.  It allows things to breathe: dough expanding, the characters on the page; and the rise and fall of the writer’s breath in time with the words on the page.


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 When I was at school, September meant a new pencil case.  It sent me rooting in the cupboard under the stairs for whatever scraps of wallpaper my Dad could spare to back my exercise books.  Clean pages, white space; new possibilities.  For years, working in higher education, I retained that feeling of September newness, of things starting up and the excitement of what might be.  Autumn is still like that, even now (though my notebooks, these days, come from Paperchase or Moleskine).  For me, it’s the new year; a time of taking stock and reviewing priorities – both in life and in my creative projects.   It has to be said, I feel happier starting September with a list. 

So it’s appropriate that I should start this blog in September.  The ‘white space’ is different – less physical and more ether-eal (if you’ll excuse the pun).  But there’s still the excitement, the what-might-be, the ‘where will I go next?’  The best way to start something, I’ve realised, is to try and let go of that left brained, list-focused way of thinking and let the story breathe.   Let the characters emerge from what I observe around me and whatever half formed images or voices make themselves seen or heard.  And, interestingly, that’s where I am at the moment: at the very start of a new project with a cast of characters who don’t exist as characters quite yet but are glimpses or fragments of something that is still part of me – events, memories, desires. 

Thing is, I also need the lists.  They prepare me.  In the end, they create space: the time I allot myself to write, the mental freedom from the minutiae of life, which are important but can be distracting.  With a schedule in place I know the time for all that is taken care of, elsewhere.  And that means, hopefully, that the white space in the exercise begins to be filled up.  With possibility and potential; with the ‘what if?’ that makes writing (and reading) stories so exciting and full of magic.

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