So last week, despite being lucky enough to have several upcoming pieces of flash and creative non-fiction ready to burst onto the internet, I felt myself sinking a little bit into something of a writing inertia.
I wouldn’t be so bold as to claim it was writer’s block, you understand, but just suffice to say I felt like I’d written lots and lots of pieces over the past few months, and have been really pleased at how they have been received. But I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write next.
I have a small plastic folder I shove any ideas that occur to me in – clippings from newspapers, snippets of conversation I overhear, etc. But nothing was attracting me. One of my favourite pastimes is sitting in coffee shops in my hometown, watching and listening, and scribbling long-hand in a notebook. But I was even becoming a bit limp with this.
So, I decided to take another tack. I decided to take myself out for the day, not far away, but driving rather than walking, so I could cover more space. Don’t ask me how, but somehow my car, seemingly having a life of its own, ended up quite nearby to where my first home was with my parents. Seeing the familiar street names from my early childhood, I made a quick decision to go and see if I could find our old house.
It’s funny how your memories are clouded, by stories you are told and ideas you cling on to. I realised this as I made my way to the top of the hill I lived on as a young child. The hill I’ve told my own daughter’s about when they complain about having to walk anywhere, saying how my Mum used to make me walk all the way into town to avoid paying bus fare when times were hard. About how the long road we lived on was a steep hill – something like a mountain, it was implied.
I couldn’t believe what a puny little slope it actually was! Admittedly, I was driving rather than walking, but still. I felt slightly let down, I admit it. The other thing was I have the distinct memory of losing several bouncy balls in the front garden, usually shortly after pestering for them from the corner shop. But the front yard was tiny, even allowing for the overgrown bushes.
What was even more amazing though, and what I hadn’t been prepared for, was the rush of memories and emotions this place brought out in me. As I sat in my car across the narrow street, I mentally made a list of the neighbours who lived in the terraced houses, back to back, nipping in and out of each other’s homes. I remembered the hippy teenagers (this was the 1970’s), who had a baby two doors up; the weird family who had seemingly dozens of kids (who I was forbidden to play with, but did anyway).
At the end of the road is an impossibly tall brick wall, blocking off whatever lies on the other side. I remembered me and the other neighbourhood kids making up stories of the strange things that went on behind the wall, and the private games I played, imagining it to be straight out of The Secret Garden. I saw the berry bushes that made me sick after a dare to eat some, my stomach cramping through the night, teaching me a lesson.
I sat in my car for around 20 minutes, notebook pulled from my bag, scribbling memories and details of the house, the road, the neighbours. How it was in my memory and how it looked now. The bumper sticker in my parent’s old bedroom window ‘Refugees Welcome’, a new addition that would have had little meaning back then. I could have sat and written all day, the ideas were pouring forth so much, had it not been for the twitching of the next door nets, somebody peering out suspiciously.
I realised I probably looked a little strange, maybe they thought I was snooping on benefit claimants or something. So I moved on, driving past my old primary school on the way, feeling a strange nostalgia.
That morning out really awakened something I’d forgotten about. That when I started writing, that was one of the main things I did to get ideas, especially if I was feeling ‘stuck’. I wrote what I knew about: experiences that had happened to me; things other people had told me about; memories and dreams and the real stuff that contributes to who you are and where you came from.
It was a timely reminder, as this weekend, a piece of creative non-fiction I wrote a while ago went live on The Real Story http://therealstory.org/2016/05/01/psychiatric-ward-december-24th-1985-by-kate-jones/ a Manchester based website which also hosts live events in the city. They have kindly invited me to read it at their event in June, here’s the link: https://www.facebook.com/events/1000398630029675/
So, I don’t know if this is what other writer’s do to get writing again, but I know for me, I have to step away from the computer screen every now and then and get out and get inspired. I’m off to plan this week’s excursion down memory lane…
Happy writing (and reading)!
Ps. In case you missed it – here’s a little bit of flash fiction I wrote for Café Aphra: http://cafeaphrapilot.blogspot.co.uk/