Friday, 17 August 2012

Landscape Orientation

Ainscough Flour Mill, Lancs
I am totally thrilled and delighted to have had a proposal I put forward commissioned. I am one of three writers commissioned by Litfest to write a piece on 'Landscape' to be published in the next Flax ebook as part of Litfest 2012.

When I saw the request for proposals a few weeks ago, I knew immediately what I wanted to write about. There is an abandoned, derelict Flour Mill in my village that has always held a fascination for me. Its distinctive silhouette rises out of the otherwise flat landscape. It has been slowly crumbling into itself for years. Like a beacon, you can navigate by its high rising chimney and zigzag roofline. It has been bought by a development company who keep making noises about turning it into luxury apartments. And this moment, just before that change, seems important to capture.

It is a monstrously beautiful place that has formed a backdrop to so much of my life. It is the marker that shows when you are about to arrive at the village train station. It hunches beside the canal my husband and I walk along when we want to get fresh air or need to chew over stuff. When I was little it was the site for epic water fights, using the walls and crevices as defences as we ran around it in sodden teeshirt and shorts. I've wanted to write about it for AGES and this is a perfect opportunity to do that.

I have started to piece together some ideas for my short story. It is tempting to go down the predictable routes, haunted old building, faces appearing high up at windows where the levels have no floors, squatters and break ins... but I want to try a different angle. Initial thoughts were around getting someone into the building legitimately and so I was thinking about bat surveyors - every building up for development has to have a bat survey for the planning permission. This is still a possible area for the story (and definitely one I will write one day) but I want to ensure I stick to the landscape brief. I fear if I go too far down the bat hunting route, I will get myself lost inside the building and not give enough to the way the building as a whole affects the village landscape.

I'm excited to get started on this and also to see where the other two commissioned writers go with the brief on their chosen landscapes, celebrating the areas that are sometimes overlooked.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Are we all a tiny bit self centred... or is it just me?

Although sport is probably one of my Least Favourite Things I really enjoyed watching the Olympics. I found myself irretrievably hooked. Even the dancing horses, erm... dressage, and the diving. I want Jess Ennis to be my bff and I keep doing the Mo Farah Mo-Bot at strangers.

The Olympics, sports in general, have never held much appeal for me. It was taught appallingly at my school by some of the PE staff. I was given a really negative report once because I wasn't very good at running. Constructive? Not very. Actually, when I returned to deliver an assembly at the same school years later and spoke about completing the Great North Run, the same teacher audibly scoffed. Nice.

So why were the Olympics so enticing this time? Why did I find myself crying with uncontrollable and embarrassing frequency? Hard to admit, but I think it's self centredness. Maybe we are all a tiny bit like this? When we hear a song on the radio or see friends getting married, or watch some crappy story line unfolding on a TV programme and feel that lump growing in the throat, probably part of it is empathy, but the greater part is because somewhere in our minds it has tapped into our own feelings, morphed into our own experiences and turned us inward to understand the emotions around our own life experiences, struggles and joys.

So the Olympics this time, the race, the striving for something significant, something that feels vitally important, tapped directly into why I write. And like the sports men and women, the fact that writing is something I enjoy completely, feel lucky to be able to do, even when I'm smarting after another failure or rejection letter, I want to keep trying. I find writing really very difficult. I don't think I'm particularly good at it a lot of the time. But I know that if I try really really hard, and keep trying, I will get better. Half the battle is just keeping going when other people have given up; keep going because it matters too much to stop. And to watch, listen and learn from the people around who are doing it too. Lessons learnt - keep going, try harder, and develop some sort of Mo-Bot style victory move for when things are going to plan.