Thursday, 27 August 2009

Despite the sunshine, the gently lapping waves and the glorious golden sands stretching as far as the eye could see, I felt anxious. Uncertainty tugged at the corners of my wellbeing and my beach smile became shaky. I shaded my eyes with my hand, scanning the farthest rockpools. 'Where are they?' My voice was drenched with worry.
My husband looked up from the barbecue with a mocking smile.
'Over there you twit,' he said. 'For Christ's sake get some specs.'
The subjects of my angst strode merrily up the beach towards us, laughing and comparing seashells. Two middleaged women, relaxed and happy in the early evening sun.
Four writers and us - at the beach, for a barbie supper. Lovely, of course, and enjoyed by all. But I can't help feeling like a cross between a Jewish mother and a sheepdog. I must know where everyone is at all times. What if a big wave comes and carries one of them off? What if they tumble into a huge rockpool and get munched on by crabs? I worried about all this when my children were small, and while I may not love my retreaters in quite the same way, I feel the same responsibility to them. I even absent mindedly asked one of them if she'd been to the loo before we left. Luckily she thought it was quite funny.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

I believe that good writing is like good acting. It comes across as completely natural. When you're watching a good film or play, you're not constantly aware that the people on screen or stage are actors. And in the same way, a good piece of writing draws you in, to the point where you become unaware that someone has crafted this prose for your reading pleasure. It's simply there, permeating your consciousness and illuminating your thoughts.
Therefore, writing in a readable way, should flow. And, for those of you who are familiar with the dreaded writer's block, here's a great way to beat it. Simply write. And before you turn away from this blog in disgust, crying 'shame on you for leading me up the literary garden path', it really is that simple. For example, we had a guest staying recently whose ambition it was to write about her extremely traumatic family history, which was intertwined with a recent and serious health problem. The problem, she explained to me, was that she was so emotionally involved, she found it difficult to take even the smallest step back from the story - and formulate any kind of coherent and readable text. Every time she came to a difficult memory, her emotions would overwhelm her, and she'd become unable to write
Accordingly, I watched as she scribbled up to the point where she felt unable to continue, and then, as she became anxious and tearful, I asked her to tell me what she was feeling. That was easy for her. In fact it was quite cathartic. And, when, after a few moments, I asked her to write down what she was saying, she found that easy too. Within ten minutes she'd written a page - and now the words were pouring out. Line by line, paragraph by paragraph, her emotions gave way to more factual descriptions, which, after being edited later on, when she was calmer, made great copy. Now, any time she gets blocked, she says what she's feeling - out loud. Then she writes it, and the block is cleared.
You see? If you're blocked, don't stare at your screen or notebook. Write. The rest will follow.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

There's something very satisfying about the phrase 'I don't know how you do it.' Someone said this to me yesterday, as they munched on my homemade bread and accepted my comments on their (very good) piece of writing. The implication, obviously, is that I am superwoman. I clean cook, entertain guests, turn out acceptable pieces of journalism, and exercise regularly. In short, I am female.
Of course the temptation is very much to blush prettily and say 'oh, goodness, it's nothing really...' But oh modesty, thy name surely is woman - and anyway on this occasion, I grinned and took the praise. Because I thought it might be quite good for my psyche to agree with her.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

weather watch

If the English are preoccupied with the weather, the inhabitants of small villages are nothing short of obsessed. It is barely 11am, and already I have had at least fifteen conversations on the subject. Comments range from a rather apathetic 'not very nice again' to an impassioned 'When will this rain ever stop?' But of course although the rain will - eventually stop, the weather conversations won't. And the amount of potential for comment is truly astonishing. Okay, our village does tend to get cut off by floodwater when the nearby river gives up the battle to contain the deluge. And that, I suppose is a viable topic of conversation - but there are so many others. There's the garden, obviously - which plants are flourishing and which drowning, and what kind of insects are thriving or not. There's the drains blocked, flooding -or not, as the case may be. Roofs are another big cause for concern - and the ones that allow rain to permeate them a particularly fascinating subject for lengthy discussion. Driving in the driving rain - that's another biggie, and of course our health. Rainy weather can cause every ailment known to man, apparently, from cough that inevitably goes onto one's chest, earache, and conjuctivitis, to aching bones, skin rashes and - most bizarrely, haemorrhoids.
But the most interesting part about this predisposition for discussing the weather is how infectious it is. I find myself greeting guests in the morning with the words 'Not a very nice one,' or, more positively, 'you've brought the weather with you!' As soon as the words are out of my mouth, I wish fervently that I could have thought of a more original greeting, but strangely people do seem to respond with alacrity to weather laden comments. 'No,' they agree, 'but the forecast is promising', or 'Yes indeed, and it looks set for the day.' Having commenced our discourse in such a lively manner we can then progress to more indepth conversation such as what they want for breakfast.
But the truth, I suspect, is that we all secretly enjoy it. Because the weather is a great leveller. It's something we all have in common, we all care about it, and it's something we can all share, whatever our age and backgrounds. Talking of which, looks like its brightening up..