From Hook to Book

Archive for the category “Creativity”

Inspiration, Imagination and an Operation

I’ve been thinking a lot about inspiration and imagination of late. This has been an unusual year for me, as it’s mostly been taken up with editing and rewriting and not a lot of new writing. After a spinal surgery last December, I gave myself time out to rest and recuperate, but back then I had no idea how long it would be before I’d get back to my WIP, or started on my new adult novel project or even how neglected my blog would be since then.

Then, while researching the new novel, Hugo turned up. In truth, the name of the young man pictured above is not Hugo. I will share his real name and shattering story another day, but for now this image (blu-tacked to my Mac screen) represents my protagonist in my new adult work. His deeply expressive eyes drew me in and in short time the character has become real to me. The voluminous research has sparked so many ideas and every day I add more to my story map. The excitement and pull to begin writing is electric. It’s like an adrenaline shot that I’m sure all creators experience. It’s made me think a lot about inspiration, imagination and what helps us create place and people when we’re not out in the world physically scouting settings or spying on Joe or Jillian Public.

Sitting at my desk, I’m sure, like other creators, I’m surrounded by ephemera deeply connected to my writing life. The bits and bobs, I’ve collected over time that resonate with my stories and ideas, but may look like an assortment of oddities to anyone else.

My fascination for the Great War and post-war years continues and is probably the reason my inspirational touchstones have not changed much over recent years. Though I was almost sorry to roll away my rabid gang of 1830s convicts that served as evil inspiration while writing (my war-based exception) a YA historical convict era novel. The sometimes defeated, sad, ugly, vicious, devastated faces of these men filled my dreams some nights and I’m sure gave rise to traits in one or more of the vile characters that I’ve been told I write very well. Not sure what writing them says or reveals about me.

I’ve now returned to a large wall map of the Somme that I bought during a trip to France in 2012. My research at the time was not as in depth, as the novel I was writing was set largely in Australia. I couldn’t have imagined then the significance of that battlefields’ visit or the excitement of the story idea that has emerged since.

The shrapnel and rusty wire pictured were retrieved from the edge of a field on the roadside by our guide. I debated whether it was somehow wrong to remove them, but accepted after I was assured that farmers are digging up shrapnel, bits of barbed wire and WW1 relics all the time and that the soil of the Somme will probably never be rid of it. Just as it still gives up a body, or rather skeleton, on occasions.

The small pebble (at left) comes from the banks of the Strathclyde Loch in Strathclyde Country Park, Motherwell, Scotland. Undoubtedly, it was brought in for the construction of the park, long after the pit village of Bothwellhaugh was removed and the paths my great-parents trod, or stones they skipped in the River Clyde, had long gone. But it connects me to them and to my story, the day I stood on the water’s edge writing a scene that refused to wait for me to get out of the lightly, misting rain.

The silver miniature of the coal miner with pick axe came from a shop in a museum in Scotland. It reminds me daily of my great-grandfather and the life he and my characters, Liam, Joe and Da led.

The little steam engine came out of a Kinder Surprise™ many, many years ago. Somehow I still have it, and it has become a touchstone to my great-grandparents journey from Scotland down to catch the steamship at Tilbury Dock, along with my character’s journey, and my own steam train ride through the Yorkshire Dales where I crossed the same spans of the Ribble Head Bridge in 2015.  (My blog banner at the top of the page features my photo as we’re about to cross that amazing bridge.)

I bought the decorative horse brass (at right) from a small, cluttered craft shop at Land’s End in Cornwall. The pit pony and miner on the cart practically jumped off a pile of dusty similar brasses as I passed, which items tend to do when I’m travelling and/or in story mode. They seem to find me as often as I find them.

I wonder, what’s your inspiration?

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My New Favourite Thing

Move over notebooks. I think I’ve just found my new favourite thing – for a writer.

Apple pencil:pro I feel a bit odd gushing about a gadget in this terribly material age, but my new favourite thing is a fantastic tool of trade – a shiny new iPad Pro (the small 9.7 inch version). It’s a big step up from my poor, struggling, constantly crashing, five-year-old iPad 2. Though I remember being as excited as a kid with a new toy at Christmas the year I got it too. But the new one has features I didn’t even dream of back then, but have been longing for now for quite awhile. Top of my list – an actual pen-like stylus. So for me the best part of my new iPad is actually the optional extra – and most brilliant tool – the Apple pencil. (Is it wrong to gush over a pencil?!)

Now I know how illustrators must feel with a brand new tablet to add to their toolbox.

I’ve long edited manuscripts on-the-go, on trains, in cafes, waiting in waiting-rooms, using an ordinary stylus in the Goodnotes app. I’m still using Goodnotes (though I’m sure there are heaps of other equally great editing/note software apps out there too). The difference now is that using the Apple pencil with the iPad Pro is that I can rest my palm on the screen without making unwanted marks or erasing edits accidentally.

Apple pencilAll I have to do is PDF the manuscript on the desktop first and email it to myself on the iPad. When I receive the email, I just transfer the doc to Goodnotes and away I go. Of course, I can still type edits into the document too, or use an alternative stylus or even my fingertip. But I love that Apple pencil replicates a pen with the same feel and the same fine point that, so far, other styli don’t provide. Now I end up with a far more legible document that I don’t have to waste time trying to decipher. The program highlighter is great for marking up words, paras to rejig later too.

Sadly, neither the pencil nor the new technology improves my scrawly handwriting at all, but at least it’s more readable. And I seem to have room on the page now to write heaps more.

IMG_5305I love too how, in the ordinary Apple Notes app, I can handwrite, draw, highlight, use colour for emphasis (or fun). It even has a ruler. (See the elegant straight line in my pic.) I can also print, copy, text, email, save images etc from Notes. (Could you do that before?)

And in the middle of the night, when I think of an idea, brilliant new title or must-do tomorrow, I love how I can now write it down using the backlight and even my fingertip to write if I don’t want to bother with the pencil. It doesn’t improve the quality of those ‘gems’ of the wee hours, but it’s much easier to capture them at least – just in case.

Even though noone will ever see them, I’m also having a lot of fun playing with the pencil in ‘Paint’ too, creating images and playing with shapes and colours. More disappear than are saved, but it’s lots of fun and non-threatening for a non-drawer like me.

I do think the pencil is the real joy and new favourite thing for me, as much as the iPad, because it’s not only great for print-free editing, but it’s inspiring my creativity in other ways too.

Story Sparks!

A first kiss in a park, so many years ago…

Memories are infinite and some we don’t share. Others may be transient or we think gone. Until a prompt restores them and they return vividly – kindly, harshly, surprisingly, horrifyingly, romantically. Not necessarily for real or true – after all they were so long ago.

P1020554 Simmone Howell Workshop Chris BellCreativity of thought can come spasmodically or constantly to creatives. Often a whiff, a sniff, a song, a colour, a hint of weather and we’re off – into imagination. Other times we fear the launchpad of those smells, sounds, vivid recalls will never return.

P1020564 Simmone HowellUnless… inspired by a gathering of like minds at SCBWI Vic’s Creativity Workshop and author/facilitator Simmone Howell. Simmone opened a floodgate of memories for me. Particularly in our final session on childhood memory. Not an illustrator, by any stretch, I created a visual map of my childhood – the Saturday afternoon Mr Whippy treats, the make-believe of two sisters creating older personas and the long forgotten Jenny Bigger. An epic James Bond drive-in fest accompanying a dad who had no son as yet to share such masculine movies. (Loved them!) An illicit ciggie in the park, playing truant from Sunday Mass. Sandy sandwiches and a back sticking to the sweaty seat of a station wagon, counting the colours of cars on the way to Chelsea beach. There seemed more colours back then.

P1020558 Simmone Howell ParticipantsMost importantly I found a way into an upcoming scene and tricky turning point in my new YA novel, as well as an enjoyable and inspiring gathering of like-minds and creators in SCBWI. Who said writing/illustrating is a solitary occupation? It can be positively inspirational in a room crowded with like-minds and scintillating story sparks.

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