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The Land of Blank Pages

I've reached a place many authors dread - I've got no major projects on, I'm not writing a book, or a short story, or an article, or planning any teaching...

I'm in the land of blank pages.

But! It's not bothering me in the way it used to.

Years ago, when I first fell in love with writing, I used to get terribly uptight and anxious if I didn't have something to actually write. That's what the life is supposed to be about, after all.

These days, however, I feel more relaxed about it, because I've realised that a pause can be good for you. It's a chance to recharge a little, sit back, take stock, and most importantly of all...

... to think.

On the subject of which, time for a quick visual interlude. When I'm teaching, I always say a writer needs a place to think, and here's one of my finest -

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So Much Writing, So Little Time

One of the delights of writing is that there's so much of it to explore - it's like a great big playground. 

On the subject of which, I always think the lawn at the Swanwick Writers' Summer School is a fine metaphor for the point. It's the heart of the gathering, where writers stop to exchange thoughts and feelings, or just to think and write.

Green Swa.JPG

I've been fortunate in my career to start off as a journalist, then move into writing crime novels, then teaching. But even that combination only feels like taking a few small steps into the playground.

A particular pleasure of teaching this summer - and there were many - is trying out other writers preferred styles of the craft. It gives you new ideas and fresh energy. I popped into workshops on short story writing, young adult fiction, and even romance -

(Don't worry, I won't be attempting that genre - given I never got the hang of it in real life, I accept my chances of writing successfully about it are... )

But I did love the idea of trying a short story and have been outlining some ideas, just to see if I can do it. What a challenge; setting up the characters, a plot, the setting, and an ending in just a few thousand words or less.

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The Sum of the Writing Parts

I've been lucky enough to teach at the major writing schools this year - Swanwick, Fishguard and Winchester - and I've noticed something fascinating...

... the power of a group of writers is considerably greater than the sum of its parts (isn't the the term Gestalt?)

Get a whole bunch of writers together, and how the creativity and ideas flow - much more readily than when you're doing the sitting on your own, gazing into space, fretting that the muse won't come calling. (And how we all know that feeling.)

So, I was wondering why that might be. And here I'll use a few examples at the wonderful Swanwick Writers' Summer School, which I've just returned from.

garden party swanny.jpg

This is the end of the week, the party on the lawn, and just look at the faces - such joy. Anything that brings writers together to share the love lifts us up, which just has to help.

There's an extraordinary sense of togetherness too, with no one allowed to be be left out. A fancy dress party was on the night I arrived. I wasn't prepared, but was still adorned with something of a costume..

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The Limits of Words

A pop lyric has been rolling around in my mind this past week -

"What do you say when words are not enough?"

I looked it up and won't be going any further with what song it is; it's not exactly the kind you'd readily confess to thinking about!

The reason it's been echoing in the halls of my thoughts is that I was honoured to be asked to open an exhibition commemorating the outbreak of the First World War in the Devon village of Woodbury on Monday - 

WW1 exhibition.JPG

Two unusual occurences in one picture - I can look just about passably smart somedays, and it was the first time I can recall wearing a poppy outside of the Remembrance weeks. I'm not quite sure why I put it on, it just felt right.

But back to the point of this blog, which was how hopelessly inadequate words can be, even for those of us who are lucky enough to work with them every day.

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The Pressures of Performance

I've got a couple of talks to do in the next few days, I've been spending some time sketching them out, and I've realised they're weighing on me in very different ways.

Next week, I'm at the wonderful Swanwick Writers' Summer School, where I'll be talking to an after dinner audience of around three hundred about books and writing.

That's a pressure enough, has seen me rewrite the speech several times already, and there are many more drafts to come, I suspect.

A quick visual interlude here and a confession; when I have doubts about my ability to perform and communicate, I fall back on remembering I can do passably ok with that most critical audience of all, and it helps...

Simon at Meavy school.jpg

(Not too many falling asleep there, happily.)

But back to the point of this blog, which is - I've been asked to open an exhibition to commemorate the outbreak of the First World War in the Devon village of Woodbury.

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