PC 102 Writing Creatively

They were probably sitting up in bed, my daughter Jade and son-in-law Sam, their sons asleep, peace having descended and racking their brains as to what to buy me for my big decade birthday last year. “Why don’t we pay for your Dad to do a Creative Writing course?” Sam might have said. Funny how I get sensitive to being called ‘Dad’, preferring Pa or Papa! If I had been a fly on the wall I might have heard ‘he needs to improve’ or ‘it might help him’ or ‘he obviously enjoys writing his PCs so this might make them better’. Time moved on and they saw something they liked more; but it had been mentioned to me and the seed sown, so I investigated the course at the City College/MET in Brighton and signed up.

Not really much idea what to expect apart from the sales pitch, which mentioned ‘writing autobiography, poetry and fiction’, and ‘exploring techniques for sparking imagination and tapping into inner creativity’. It sounded interesting I thought. The course started towards the end of April and as instructed I had collected my security pass a couple of days earlier; strange to go and study and have to have a pass but times have changed.

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By the time we were ten minutes into the first class the last person had turned up. It’s in my DNA to be punctual, to be there at least 5 minutes before the start, but obviously my DNA is not shared by others!! We were a disparate bunch, genuinely reflecting the diversity of this City, three men, eleven women; I am not good at guessing ages but most 25-45 with one or two older than that. I wondered at some point during those first few minutes whether this class was for me and as the weeks progressed others must have thought the same.

Three dropped out: then there were 11

We filled out a form, indicating what we wanted from the course. Then we started, two hours with quite a lot of student participation, a little whiteboard guidance. We talked about characterisation, writing dialogue, believable plots and connecting people and events; we wrote a child’s simple bedtime story and we practised in class and with our homework. In the warm glow of the satisfaction at having completed each and every class, and having gained a great deal from them all, some things stand out:

One evening we were divided into groups of three and asked to tell the other two of a moment in your past you feared for your life. Then the group would choose one, and in class each member of that group would recount that experience as if it was their own, the others trying to guess whose actual tale it was. Got it? Well, I was grouped with Sophie and Steve; both had more tattoos than the owner of my local tattoo parlour, not to mention enough piercing for them both to leak if they stood on their heads and for Steve some green dye in his hair. We compared our experiences in the corridor, away from flapping ears. Steve told of his drunken stepfather throwing a supper plate at him as a child, shattering across his forehead; I told of being on a yacht in a race across the North Sea when we were hit by a 60 knot line squall which knocked the boat horizontal and the sea poured in: Sophie told of being at a Tattoo Convention in Kathmandu, Nepal at the time of the earthquake in 2015. We choose hers, but left out the bit about it being a Tattoo convention as it would have been visually obvious I have no interest in body art! Fun to recount someone else’s stories as if they are your own.

And then there were 8!

One topic was poetry, a form of expression I don’t enjoy either reading or listening to. The homework was to write a 40 line poem. “Forty lines!” the voice inside my head yelled at me as I reached for a clean sheet of paper and made my first half-hearted attempt; seemed like an impossible task. I eventually produced a basic effort on sailing; the fifth verse for example went like this:

Sail’s flapping, pull in the sheet,

Yank the winch, clear the cleat.”

Childish huh!

This challenge, of having to do something then, there, in class, in 10 minutes, in 100 words, that was fun! There was nowhere to hide; I wanted to produce something and not respond that I simply found this really too hard and “No, I don’t have anything!” which we occasionally heard.

For homework one week, I had to get someone to give me the names of two famous people and a newspaper headline; from these I was to concoct a story. Thanks Jon for suggesting David Beckham, Nelson Mandela and ‘Freddie Starr ate my hamster”

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With a bit of research I produced something which worked; email me if you want to read it.

One of the tasks I found most enjoyable was to rewrite a fairy-tale “with a twist”! Such fun …….. and maybe, just maybe, I’ll work it up into a short story and send it off somewhere.

And then there were 5! Life interrupts; Claudia was unwell, James’ partner had a baby, Francesca was often seduced by an offer from chums of a picnic on the beach in the warmth of the evening, with a glass of bubbly. Difficult huh?

We were given a colour reproduction of an Impressionist painting. Mine was Édouard Manet’s ‘A Bar at the Folies-Bergère’. In class, for this was the last one, we had to write about the picture. Then write about the picture from the point to view of someone in the picture; then from artist’s point of view. And finally create a story connected somehow with the picture. An interesting and challenging exercise.

At the end there were 4; Rachel, who had a delightfully creative and imaginative mind but hated the sound of her own voice, her friend Lydia who contributed lots although was very self-conscious about her efforts, Melanie who was very focused and who clearly will publish sometime ….. and me.

And what of Heather, our teacher? I spent some time on the teaching staff of the Royal School of Artillery and know that preparation beats chaos, confidence wins hands down but then I was simply imparting facts. Encouraging people to write creatively requires a completely different set of skills, trying to tease out ideas, challenging people to think laterally. Although Heather always seemed to have lost her password so she couldn’t log on and register our presence, I actually warmed to her over the weeks – people who write or try to teach writing must have a certain Je ne sais quoi huh?

Richard 29th July 2017

PC 101 Two separate but connected events

You get those magazine articles about how so-and-so knew so-and-so and how amazing it was that they had discovered that one of their great grandmothers had had tea with the queen and that the other had had a relative who just happened to be pouring that very tea ……. or some such!! Makes you smile ……. and then life moves on; really too inconsequential to think more about. Or is it?

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Planet Earth

Do you know how many babies are born in a single hour on Planet Earth? In round terms 15,000! An average of fifteen thousand an hour, 360,000 in a single day. Seems a lot huh! If you’re interested in such things you might start to wonder whether there is any predictability about when babies are born. There was a large statistical evaluation carried out concerning 6 million French babies born between January 1968 and December 1974. What it found was that there are two different rhythms at play in frequencies; a weekly one and an annual one. The lowest number of births occurred on a Sunday and the largest number on a Tuesday, whilst the month of May was the most popular with the lowest number of births in the months of September and October. This latest figure surprised me as I had always thought lots of sexual activity took place in the Northern Hemisphere winter months of January and February, so there should have been a peak in the autumn. Mind you I have no idea whether the converse is true in the Southern Hemisphere. You can of course prove anything by statistics!

Did you know that a statistical analysis of birth distribution in lunar months shows that more babies are born between the last quarter and the new moon, and fewer in the first quarter of new moon. All those concerned with birthing, midwives, nurses in labour wards, busy doulas and experienced childbirth educators, all believe in the power of the full moon plus changes to barometric pressure from cold-warm fronts to move things along. And why not? Our bodies are, after all, some 65% fluid and we are aware of how the earth’s waters are affected by the lunar pull. If you have every stood on Portland Bill on the English Channel or on the deck of a yacht between the Channel Islands of Guernsey and Alderney ……… and watched the sea being forced by some unseen hand in one direction, in the latter case possible causing the yacht to go backwards relative to the seabed …… ……..  so why should we be immune to this lunar pull?

Back in February this year, the full moon was on Saturday 11th and the start of the last quarter the following Friday, the 17th. If you were born around this time, your ‘Star’ sign would be Aquarius and this year you would be a Rooster, according to the Chinese Zodiac which started on 28th January. Aquarians have “a desire to deal with the problems and hopes of all mankind; they are very concerned with the life of the community rather than any particular individual. They need to be in the spotlight and will do anything to attract public attention no matter how freaky or perverse.”  As a Rooster you would be the epitome of fidelity and punctuality, and the human representative of confidence and intelligence! And if you want to buy some jewellery for an Aquarian, choose an Amethyst.

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You might think by now that I have completely lost the plot, more than usual some might even think, but all this has been leading up to the main event, a simple record of connections. On 17th February in London, sometime in the afternoon, Douglas Henry William Yates was born. Douglas is the first son of my nephew Hugh and his wife Hannah (see PC 41); Douglas was one of some 3800 babies born in the UK that day but no doubt to Hugh & Hannah the only one!!

All family babies are a celebration and his birth was exactly that. However, my clock was ticking. My mother-in-law had a bet that her second grandson would also be born on the same day. Celina’s brother and sister-in-law met Hugh & Hannah at our wedding in August last year but had just moved from Rio de Janeiro to Estoril in Portugal; both women were pregnant! Now in Portugal about 520 babies are born each day and completely coincidentally Camila went into labour earlier in the day. That evening, on the 17th February 2017, on the first day of the last lunar quarter, at around 2325 Joaquim Vasconcellos Rocha Miranda, Camila’s second son was born.

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I have known Hannah for many many years but Camila only since 2012, when she was pregnant with her first son. That they met in August last year was not so remarkable but both being pregnant was, surely? I can’t honestly remember when the mythical ‘due date’ was in either case but to have them racing towards the finish line together, living in two different countries but connected loosely by my marriage, was worth a bet huh?

This is a nice story, isn’t it? (and we need nice stories!)

Richard 15th July 2017

PC 100 A Milestone

Milestone – “A stone set up on a road to indicate the miles to and from a given place; an event, a stage in life.” (A Roman mile being 1000 paces by one of its soldiers)  (Not sure there are ‘kilometre stones’?)

I never ever imagined I would reach this personal milestone, because actually there wasn’t one, a goal that is! What there was, way back in 2013, was a need to scribble something about what I was doing and to communicate that to those close to me, having given up on the traditional postcard with the ‘Wish you were here!’ message.* So my postcard (PC) series was born, emailed occasionally to a growing address list. Most people probably read the first few as they were mainly about Brazil, a country few in the UK knew much about. My first trip had been with Celina, who became my wife last year, in April 2012. Coincidentally my maternal great grandfather Richard Corbett had been born in Recife in north east Brazil in 1850.

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Lagoa with Sugar Loaf in the distance, Rio de Janeiro

These musings developed as I found that I enjoyed trying, not always successfully, to describe where I was, what was going on in my head, or simply to make some observations about my life. In 2016 they morphed into a blog available on WordPress at postcardscribbles.co.uk, thanks to the suggestion and assistance of my son-in-law Sam. And here we are, PC 100, a hundred PCs of about a thousand words each, so in total about 10,000 words. Although that’s a definition of a novel, I have not written one, because that has a beginning, a plot, and an end. And who wants to read a novel of 100 chapters?

For those of you who have been with me since the start, you will have read about marriages (PCs 41 & 77) and deaths (PCs 22 & 60) and you will read about births in PC 101; ‘Hatches, Matches and Dispatches’ my parents’ generation would have called them. You will have travelled with me to the USA, Canada, France, Portugal, Australia, New Zealand, Chile and of course to Brazil. Since I started my PCs this country has gone into a serious recession, had its president charged with impeachment, hosted both the football World Cup and the Olympic Games and suffered both too little and too much rain. Given that it’s some 2400 miles both north to south and east to west, visiting parts of Brazil is quite a project. I sense we have seen more of this wonderful Latin American country than many of the inhabitants, going north to Recife, south to Paraty, Cananéia and Santa Catarina, west to the Pantanal, Foz de Iguaçu and São Paulo, whilst based in Rio de Janeiro.

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The view from the Top of the World Highway, Alaska

My maternal ancestors, the Nation family, moved from Somerset in the late 1700s to India, on to New Zealand in 1860, and to the UK via San Francisco and Nevada in 1898. Great grandfather George’s trips to Alaska and Canada in the early part of the last century gave us a focus for a trip that we might not otherwise have made, following in his footsteps right up to Eagle City, some 130 miles south of the Arctic Circle (PCs 43, 44 &45).

Whilst I don’t write to get feedback, some people comment. It’s a little like throwing food onto the surface of a limpid pond. Some fish always bite, but others, living in the murky depths, you won’t see until a particular morsel tempts them to the surface. They feed, and then sink back for a year or so!!  One or two topics have created more comments than others; the most have been made about PCs on Loo Paper (PC 47) and The Loo (PC 54) and on Alcohol (PCs 15 & 16). I am really not sure what a sociologist would make of this? At other times it’s as if I have posted something into a black hole, silence is the only thing that comes back.

I’ve scribbled about Christmas and about Easter and about Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, about Cutlery & Etiquette, about speaking and seeing, eating and talking, and I’m fascinated by the coincidences that are all around us.

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 The remains of the fire and sea ravaged West Pier here in Brighton

And I’ve made quite a few faux pas – such as using current when it should have been currant, and being told by Colin it must have been a shocking experience! Very droll! When proof reading you can get word-blind and words like bare and bear get misplaced contextually and I readily admit to being uncertain initially whether it’s perserverance or perseverance?! And of course someone said they weren’t going to read any more as they were too boring, introspective and personal ….. and after 6 months self-imposed purdah came back.

I hope that my scribbles are at least vaguely interesting and occasionally informative? People call it my ‘blog’: “A regularly updated website or webpage, typically run by an individual or small group, that is written in an informal or conversational style.” Well, sort of, huh? Updated only because the thoughts are current and not that they are dependent on the previous ones. I am trying to collate the first 100 with the intention of publishing them in a magazine format. I hope that some of my regular readers will want a copy.

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So have a cup of coffee, and enjoy

And now I had better get on with PC 101 about these new births.

Richard 2nd July 2017

Note: * Technology moves quickly! Four days ago I got a postcard from my daughter and family, enjoying a week in sun-drenched Italy. The postcard was made up of photographs they had taken around the pool, the manuscript message personal and apt, the ‘stamp’ a picture of one of my grandsons enjoying an ice-cream – all courtesy of ‘TouchNote’. So clever!