The far side of panic

December 2018

This blog is really for all those of you who have those moments of despair: where is my work going.. what am I doing… can’t think, can’t write… why am I doing this……

Earlier this year I was sitting in on a workshop run by Andrew Miller and Karin Altenberg. Andrew opened it by talking about the ‘process’ of writing. I found myself prickling.. what an odd, unsympathetic word to describe the creative work of writing. And then he explained, and I tell you, the sense of relief that writers as brilliant as he, experienced the same struggles as those of us on the margins, was a wonderful encouragement. A liberation! In note form, this is what he said.

The ‘process’ of writing

At the beginning of your work you can think of nothing that gives it order.

Any ambitious piece of work involves a powerful sense of being lost, not knowing how to continue, or how to explain it. Being blocked is part o the process, being lost, not knowing – it’s all within the process. These are not indicators that you have lost your way.

There is always a far side to not knowing. Panicking is part of the process!

Writing can be a messy process, partly because we can’t see what’s going on, that’s because a lot of what goes on is outside of our ability to consciously know it. “When we write” says Andrew Miller, “we enter mystery”.

Indulge in “diligent indolence” – we need time when we are not overly engaged. Sometimes our writing seems to be working, but it’s often the rest, mulling away just below the surface, that is the most important. So take time off to read, to wander.  That’s all part of it.

It takes time.  Most work is done slowly, much like a gardener. You don’t plant a seed and expect it to be a full grown plant the next day. It takes 2 to 3 yrs minimum to write a book. It can be hard to justify that much time. Keep your nerve. Things get written through life, not round the side of it.

The difficulty is having faith in the process. When you loose faith in it you feel you’re floundering. The key is to keep faith with it. You will eventually see how it will carry you through.  And be faithful.  Sit at your desk each day.

Later I asked Andrew if he had days when he sat down and realised he had nothing whatsoever to say.
“Often.”
“So what do you do?”
“After 10 minutes or so I give up and go and hoover the floor.”

Morphing into science fiction

2 August 2018

In my bleakest moments I envisage human society morphing into a sci-fi movie as human beings cease to become fully human, reaching out to workmates and friends only through plasma screens across an immensity of darkness. Friends birthday? Just click “Happy Birthday” on FB – job done. Want to talk? Send a text. Who needs a voice. I watched three girls walking along a London shopping street the other day. Each one was on their phone. No word passed between them. Hello? Same planet? Ok, so maybe I’m just old.

But what a joy one hot and lethargic day this week to have a phone call from a community project based in a seaside town near my home. Would I consider creating a book for them for a Heritage project they were trying to secure? Sounded good, and when I looked at their site I was bowled over.

“Community Stuff” is inspirational. The breadth and vision of their work in the community – so imaginative, fun based, creative, all inclusive – was breathtaking. For anyone mourning the loss of community, or wanting to think of ways to stimulate community projects to involve absolutely everyone, including those who are normally on the edge of our lives – then visit their website. You’ll be knocked out by it. This is human communication at it’s most lively, joyful and empowering.  Have a look – https://communitystuff.org.uk

Would I consider working with them? You bet I would….. feel more human already…..

Naked? What me?

I thought over the next few weeks it might be useful to pass on a few mots justs from other writers that have given me food for thought as I struggle with my latest manuscript.

I found this, from Charles Dickens, particularly pertinent when it comes to writing memoirs.

“People don’t change – they only stand more nakedly revealed.”

Now you may balk at the thought of having your friends and family “nakedly revealed” ! but nevertheless this illustrates an important point, that the characters in our personal stories have to unfold, and be revealed to the reader, bit by bit – just as they are in good fiction.

How we relate to, and understand, our parents and siblings, for example, changes and matures as we grow older, and the challenge is to reveal that growing understanding in our text. So when writing about our childhood, we must think like the child we were, we must see the world through the eyes of the teenager that we were, and so on, until the present day.  This careful and steady unveiling of ourselves and of those around us will be what gives our narratives tension and interest and make our grandchildren and great-grandchildren keep turning the pages.

Of course, the question to be considered is how much of ourselves do we ‘unveil’. How much do we reveal about others?  And if we want to write ‘truthfully’ about our lives, whose truth do we tell?

No easy answers there, but I see the yard arm has finally gone down, so turning gratefully to the corner cabinet, I can leave those challenges for another day. Happy writing!

Personalised Memoir Writing Workshop on Line

There are all sorts of creative writing workshops on line, but ours is a little different. For one thing, we want to make it personal to you, so that we work on those areas of writing that  interest you most, or which you find most problematical.  We have no fixed schedule, so you can do the course at your own pace, and you will also have the opportunity to have the first 5,000 words of your finished memoir critiqued at a later date.  You can find more details about the course here, but do feel free to email us if you just want to chat it through.

The book that made everything worthwhile

Just finished one of the books that has given me more pleasure than any other.  This was the reason I started LifeLines Press.  For this book alone it has been worth the years of  VAT returns, production nightmares, cantankerous clients (not that I’ve had many, of course), and sleepless nights.  I will let the client speak.

LifeLines Press, and its publisher Rebecca de Saintonge, have given me and my family a gift beyond price: the publication of ‘The Memorial Book’, my accounting of the Hirschhorn and Fischer families’ ordeals through the Holocaust – the stories of those who survived, and those who didn’t survive.  Throughout the many months of the book’s preparation Rebecca showed exemplary good taste in the design; she gave expert advice gently and  unhurriedly; and was immensely patient to deal with all the changes, additions, backtrackings and my own anxieties that I imposed on her.  The result is beautiful. I hope she can continue to serve others in the same manner.           Norbert Hirschhorn MD.

A woman with an Interesting Past

Another fun workshop with The Oldie Magazine.  The day was devoted to aspects of journalism – travel writing, blogging and writing reviews. My session was on the techniques of interviewing – how to ask questions (and how not to ask questions) and, most importantly, the art of listening.  Not always as obvious at it may seem.

These Oldie courses are always great fun. If you haven’t been on one yet, and can get to London, give it go. The punters are always fascinating, and yesterday we had a particularly interesting crew – among them a circuit judge, a farmer, a couple of physicians, a probation officer, a Woman with an Interesting Past (which she was delightfully unrestrained in telling us about), a couple of secretaries, a former woman priest, and a whole handful of others whose common denominator was not just a desire to write better, but a wonderful sense of humour.  But what else would you expect from Oldie Readers?  These events are usually rounded off by Jeremy Lewes, the deputy editor, whose gift as a raconteur is second to none.

If you’re interested in writing, and want your confidence and spirits lifted – join us.  I guarantee you’ll leave with your feet dancing on the pavements, and your imagination fired up and ready to go!