The Thick of It

In the middle of last week, the UK was hit by an exceptionally strong gust of snow. My area was given a rare Red Warning, and that led to some cancellations and closures.

Julia Margaret Cameron [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Charles Darwin by Julia Margaret Cameron [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
On Thursday, for instance, my office was closed and I was excused from doing the ‘day job’. I instead used the time to send work to a publisher. On Friday, I was supposed to be exhibiting my Fun a Day pieces created during January, but that’s been postponed. In fact, the one event that went ahead as normal was partly outdoors.

So on Saturday, I visited the Botanic Gardens in Dundee, whose volunteers are compiling an anthology of written and visual work inspired by the grounds. To this end, they’ve organised Focus Days where writers, photographers and artists are given a tour of the trees and plants to generate ideas. In this instance, the tour was restricted to the heated glass houses, although the participants seemed willing to go out in the snow.

The tour was followed by a lively discussion about the work that should appear in the anthology and how it should be created. Some of us shared our existing work; I read a piece I’d already submitted for consideration and three of the other members inferred religious symbolism where there wasn’t intended to be any.

Frustratingly, no consensus was reached about the anthology as a whole, but we reconvene in three weeks and we’re looking to take it forward from there.

If any new work was generated by Saturday’s visit, it’ll probably be infused by the ambient conditions. Some writers use it almost as a character in its own right and, done well, it can enhance a scene without distracting the reader. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee invokes sticky summer heat; Kirsty Logan steeps The Gracekeepers with a cold sea chill.

Even when you’re trying to create a fictional universe, of course, nobody can escape the weather. Shooting began on the first Star Wars film 42 years ago this month in Tunisia, a location chosen for its desert landscape. On the second day, the country was hit by a rare winter rain that hadn’t been seen for 50 years, destroying sets and damaging equipment.


But I’m Not Creative

A couple of weeks ago, a friend posted her thoughts on LiveJournal about creativity and how she sometimes doesn’t feel as though her imaginative endeavours are noteworthy.

I found it oddly difficult to leave a comment under the entry. I do consider this friend to be creative, particularly in the way she bonds with people she knows well. Yet I’m surrounded by amazing writers, painters, dancers and so forth, and it’s rare to hear the word ‘creativity’ or variations thereof. I reckon that’s because we treat our chosen artistic fields as part of our daily lives, not something we make time for once our day-to-day work is complete.

Why books are always better than movies

The C-bomb does pop up from time to time, however.

For the first time, I attended an event on Tuesday called Make / Share, in which people from different disciplines talk on a specified theme; this month, it was ‘Creativity and self-care’. Had it not been for someone else raising my interest, I probably would have seen the event and dismissed it, believing it was solely for those who work in crafts. In fact, the event featured people who dance, perform music and make films.

I was chatting with people I knew and didn’t know, and I felt quite at home there. Yet equally, I felt I was talking to such great folks that I had to improve my writing game, much like my LiveJournal friend felt about her endeavours.

I also think the intent of any creative project is another important factor. It’s usually easy to tell through someone’s work whether the intent is to express a view or emotion, or whether it’s to make something that looks pretty or sounds pleasant. When I began writing, I was in the second camp, and only later did I begin to express myself far more through my pieces. There’s nothing wrong with either approach, but nobody likes a ‘wannabe’.

On Saturday evening, I was invited to be part of a podcast with a small group of people. One of the participants was pleasantly surprised at how seriously the recordings taken, as she’d been accustomed to people who would talk grandly about what they would do but never followed through. The official podcast hasn’t yet been released. However, we did produce a couple of impromptu ones that were streamed live online. I prefer the second, an NSFW show recorded at 2am yesterday morning.

I think creativity is something we all do, whether it’s writing something personal in a Christmas card or helping a niece with homework, even if we don’t always use that term. And if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’re probably not an aforementioned ‘wannabe’. Keep doing what you’re doing and try not to worry about whether it reaches someone else’s standards.

The Real Slim Shady.

Recently, an editor accidentally sent me some documents with my legal name in the byline. It was half my fault for not making it clear enough, but it brought home just how important it is to separate the two.

I started using my pseudonym before I took up writing. Until recently, I presented a show on hospital radio and promoted my middle to my last name, becoming Gavin Cameron. It sounds clearer through a microphone than my actual name Gavin Cruickshank, and more people know how to pronounce the written form correctly.

Let me point out that this was before David Cameron was elected. Despite the connections, it’s proved useful in writing because I work full-time and it helps keep a clear separation between the two.

I do think that if a writer uses a pen name, for whatever reason, he or she should inhabit the name and adopt the character. I occasionally read authors introducing themselves as, for instance, John Smith writing as Joe Public. Why craft a pen name if you’re going to break the illusion? I did it in this entry purely to demonstrate a point, but in a book or story, I would never explain Gavin Cruickshank writing as Gavin Cameron.

But I can think of one person who has done this successfully, and with a double pseudonym. Rapper Marshall Mathers goes by the stage name Eminem, but refers to himself as Slim Shady in his music. When you’re listening to his albums, he does it so naturally that you simply don’t question it.

I don’t think Mathers/Eminem/Shady reads this blog, but if he does, well done those men.

The N-Word.

I’ve a feeling you’re getting sick of me talking about National Novel Writing Month, so I’ll devote only one paragraph to it. To date, my total is 48,711 words, meaning less than 1,300 to go until I hit the target. I have until Saturday to complete it, leaving plenty of time.

I’ve been going to two other classes at the same time, and I seem to be going through a rather philosophical patch as I complete their respective homework.

Class one is Life Writing at the University of Dundee. Our homework is to write a short passage about our lives each week, all focussing on a particular aspect of writing, which might be the use of the child or adult voice, or employing the past or present tense. This week was a little different, where we were asked to choose an abstract noun and write a piece around that theme. Mine was On Solitude, arguing that this is not the same as loneliness.

Number two is my regular writing class with Zöe Venditozzi, held at a new, secret location. One of the prompts led me to write about a floating island and the ideological arguments its inhabitants had when setting up their community. The other is about twins with wildly different reactions: one is always brutally honest, while the other goes into denial when he hears bad news.

Also, my second published story is currently being launched in Australia as part of the FourW Twenty-Four anthology. The Wagga Wagga and Melbourne events have taken place, but the Sydney launch happens this Saturday 30 November. It’s impractical for me to attend as I’m halfway around the world, but if you live there, pop along and let me know what it’s like.