Writing in Paradise: Day 2

a page from my scrapbook

I woke feeling emotional after many dramatic dreams with crowds of people in them, heads on wrong bodies, travel, bus, movement, black and white movie kind of feel followed by bursts of vivid colour. It had rained heavily during the night. The morning was warm and steamy. I’d written b4 bed the night before and was happy with it but was still feeling nervous about not knowing where the story was going.

The workshop started at 10am and focussed on descriptive detail. We talked about using scrapbooks to explore the worlds of story. MargoLanagan was a participant in the workshop and she showed us some of the scrapbooks she created during the writing of Sea Hearts – she used 5 all up and said she used them when she was still feeling her way through a story. They were all images, no writing - images of groups of girls with spooky overtones, dark imagery, watery pics, groups of boys and a fantastic leather glove like a snake on the front comer. (If you haven’t read Lanagan, then I recommend her novels Tender Morsels and Sea Hearts, as well as her collections of short fiction – technically she comes in under ‘literary fantasy’ but actually she’s just a bloody good read).

I’ve always used scrapbooks when writing plays and didn’t think about it when I began writing short stories. However, at the suggestion of Threasa Meads, a mentor I’ve employed for six months, I started creating a scrapbook last year for my collection of short fiction, Satisfied. I’m using it in a different way to ML – I’ve included project outlines, letters of support, images to inspire, quotes, poetry, there’s a page of Hugh Jackman pics because one of my stories has a teenager in it obsessed with the man (ahem, yes, that’s right, the character is obsessed, not me). It’s messy and sprawling, not very ordered at all. Scrapbooking is a lot of fun and should always be viewed as constructive procrastination!

Discussion group with M Lanagan & others
This was followed by a meditation exercise designed to banish blocks, and to get the inner critic out of the way. (All of themeditations Jan used are available as MP3 downloads); Then we drew a main character map and presented it to our group. The feedback from the group made me think of my main character in a completely different way and the writing I did that evening had me going to a much darker place in the story. It felt good! Also, surprisingly, the character’s name changed.

At 6pm every evening we gathered in the bar/dining area and read each other work for feedback. Mostly people read something they had written before they arrived (which is what I did) but as the week progressed people got brave and read out fresh material. This evening I read an excerpt from a story ‘All this Movement’ which, was almost done – I just had to finish the ending. Feedback was positive and I promised my fellow workshoppers that I would have it finished by week’s end. End of day two and I was starting to feel better.

This is going to be a slightly longer post because I’m going to transcribe the writing that came out of the day’s mediation exercise. (I took a laptop with me but, thankfully as it turns out, it wasn’t working so I rediscovered the beauty of writing only with paper and pen for a whole week). I must admit to being slightly cynical of meditations as a way to begin writing but I’m changing my mind on that, just as my mind was changed about a lot of things during the week. The meditations always began by opening our awareness of the senses, and every writer should be able to tap into this at any time. It’s essential practice for immersive, engaging writing. I was really surprised by what came out of this meditation and while it wasn’t emotional to write, it was emotional to read out loud. Remember, it’s about banishing the things that are stopping you from writing. There was a time limit for the exercise and I haven’t bothered to edit… much.

            The coffee was cold and bitter and the heat had gone out of the fire. The writer wrapped the blanket tighter around her legs. The cat curled up into a ball on her lap. A draught blew in under the door. The writer’s fingers were like little icicles that felt like they were going to snap. She blew on them, rubbed them together. An owl hooted outside. Branches scratched the window. The pen wouldn’t work. The page was blank, glaring. Accusing her of being weak willed, soulless, empty.
early morning overlooking the bay
            Then she heard a slurping sound. It began in the furthest corner of the room. She’d heard it before. Every time she sat down to write in this chair in this cabin, the slurping sound came. She tried to ignore it. Tried to focus on the page, the words, characters, meaning. But nothing came, except the slurping sound, which came closer and was soon joined by a dragging sound. Something heavy was being dragged across the floorboards, halting, squeaking, scraping, gouging grooves into the floorboards. The slurping sound had  a breath to it – a shivery breath, coming closer. And then a shadow loomed over her. A sticky substance oozed under her feet.  There was a smell like kerosene and boiled cabbage. It was a cauldron of boiled cabbage behind her and all the Irish peasants, her ancestors, were digging away, planting cabbages and spuds, tilling, digging. She heard the thud of steel and wood on clay.
            ‘Moylon,’ they shouted at her.
            She smelled their sour smell, cabbage and potato, their sweet rotten teeth and cow shit on their boots.
            It rained, a thundering rain and she knew it was her fault. She could feel them pointing their filthy fingers at her, shirker that she was, this woman, a princess with her pen whose biggest complaint was frozen fingers.
            ‘You, you, Moylon,’ they hissed.
            She couldn’t turn around even though the shadow was close, coming closer. She felt its cold breath against her back, a hand on her shoulder. The cat on her lap skedaddled. Cats, she thought, you can’t trust them. The writer knew then she had to take action. She sprung on top of her desk and turned around to face the shadow, the peasants, their cold accusing toothless stares and gnarly fingers. Crouched like a tiger on her desk, she was ready for battle.
            But what she saw was a thin scrap of a child holding out a bowl. A little girl with frizzy red hair and half moon dark circles under her eyes. The writer filled the bowl with milk and the girl drank greedily then fell asleep next to the fire. She put a blanket over the child, went to her writing desk, and the words poured forth.

That evening I began re-writing ‘Triangles’.

C x

ps You can visit Jan's website for more info on her courses


Unknown said…
Hey Caroline, I can still vividly recall hearing this piece but it seems somehow sharper back in this real world of distractions and my own cynicisms. Will give meditation another try - but with airconditioning this time. Cheers Dan xx
Caroline said…
Hey D,
Yes, I know what you mean. Context is everything. I wasn't going to include it in the post for that very reason, but then I thought, what the hell. It helps me recall a certain emotion and of course that amazing location we were writing in. Hope your writing is coming along. C x
Unknown said…
Hi Caroline, great to read your reflections on the fabulous days writing in paradise, they brought back some addtional memories for me, including the fact I was probably one of the causes of your frustration on Day One! Sorry 'bout that. I also had to work through some negative reactions to comments about my writing(self-generated and overblown reactions I might add, my internal drama queen at work). I had to conciously focus on the positive and just keep writing. I look forward to reading the rest of your blogs. Cheers, Deb
Caroline said…
Hi Deb, Thanks for leaving a comment. Hey, I think the process I went through on that first day was an important one. I too have an internal drama queen! The funny thing is I've come full circle on the story and am going back to my original impulse. I think the direction I ended up going in over the week is a detour to another story altogether. Win, win in the end. Cheers, C x
Anonymous said…
Hello Carololine, lovely to find you here! I was stunned by this piece when you read it out - so vivid, so dramatic, beautiful! It did nothing to quell my feelings of "what the hell have I done to myself, I am not a writer I am a family historian" after I had heard what you had all been writing and publishing! But the sharing and feedback was fabulous - I learned so much more than I might ever dream, not just from Jan but from all of you! I agree with you too about writing with pen and paper, all of my hand written work is so much closer to the real story than anything in my word processor! Liz Shadlow
Caroline said…
Thanks for dropping by, Liz! Yeah, I really enjoyed the week. Good people in a gorgeous location. I took away lots of learning too. Hope the writing continues to go well for you. Cheers, C x