24th February

A new way of writing

Writing has always been a solitary experience for me – part of my love for it in a way, even from being in my teens, sat gazing out of a window and scribbling down angst ridden words of unrequited love… that kind of nonsense… and until recently, I have continued to write in isolation, predominantly from my writing chair, or whichever room I happen to be in when an idea strikes, making handwritten notes before becoming insepearable from my laptop.

Bristol Temple Meads Station

However, my new WIP (work in progress) is asking for something else.  This manuscript involves a different way of writing, one that I find incredibly exciting and that impacts on the WIP at every turn and in the most amazing ways.  I hadn’t realised, initially, that this novel would need such a different approach, but it soon became clear just what the potential was for experimentation.  This novel won’t write itself from the confines of a house or the car when I’m waiting to pick the kids up.  This novel needs me to find my wings, and suddenly, and very surprisingly, I have gone from being a ‘stagnant’ solitary writer, to a ‘writer on the move’ with other people to bounce off.

Needless to say, I took a wee trip to Somerset a fortnight ago as part of this ‘adventure’. I

St Michael's Tower, Glastonbury Tor

wrote page after page on railway platforms, on the 6 trains I took in total for my journey there and back, which have now become the basis for one of the chapters.  I wrote a few lines in a wonderful cafe in Glastonbury, that I know will appear somewhere in the book, and I formulated a whole scene from a visit to Glastonbury Tor and the cathedral ruins.  It literally sprang up and blew across me like a cold north wind.  I took stacks of photos too, and used these later to weave other ideas into the scenes.  I’m going to put these in with the growing manuscript – it has its own folder now – along with other notes and bits and pieces I gather along the way.

On Saturday, I spent an hour and a half in a Morrisons’ cafe and filled 8 pages of my notebook while people-watching and listening to Lana Del Rey (wonderful cd by the way).  Strangely, a character from an early scene of the novel appeared, as if by magic, just as I’d visualised him, which was a tad disconcerting.

Very fishy!

Yesterday, I explored an area of Derbyshire, visited places I have never been, gathered fragments of history, imagined the past, moved my characters around it and put words into there mouths.  It was utterly inspiring.  There are many other scenes sparked by situations and settings… but I’m not going to spoil it by saying any more.

But I am finding, that for the first time of in my years of writing, this is a story which is really coming alive – filled with real people, real places, with photos as memory joggers – memories captured and held.  Already, 12,000 words in, it has become a living, breathing thing, more than anything else I’ve ever worked on.  To say I am exhilerated by this project – and it is a project – is an understatement.  I feel as if, after years of writing, I have discovered ‘the secret’, whispered to me quietly when I least expected it.  Whatever happens to this book, it is the biggest part of my journey yet, so liberating and so full of energy and wonderful memories that it’ll stay with me forever.

There will be more trips to more places, more trains… who knows where?  I may even find myself in another country.  I have found my wings!

What is your approach to writing? Do you prefer to write alone, from home, or spread your wings for inspiration?

About Abi Burlingham

I write children's books and paint pictures inspired by nature, animals, trees etc, mostly in acrylics. I am a crisp addict.
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22 Responses to 24th February

  1. Martin Day says:

    I’m fascinated by your sources of inspiration and the way you’ve been gleaning through an orchard of experiences, Abi. For me, in truth, I don’t like writing. I like the spark of inspiration and the satisfaction of having completed something, or part of something. Most of what lies in between feels like hard work and so where I write is more to do with attempts to isolate myself from distractions: In the car waiting for my son’s sports training to finish, In the conservatory of the empty house. or the garden or any room I can escape from the family and other demands, More recent taking myself off to a friend’s place near the sea on a specific personal writing retreat proved very successful – but still felt like hard work in a ‘holiday home’. I wonder if the ‘hard work’ feel is something to do with my whole dyslexia thing?

    In your current experience, Abi, it sounds like you are ghosting through different environments, observing without being observed, and watching your characters walk through the scenes in an otherwise parallel universe. But your writing still sounds like a solitary experience. I need to be solitary to write, but frequently inspirations spring out of conversations and interactions with others. Even if the voice that triggers a thought is mine I need others to bring that out; maybe that’s just the extrovert in me. And then there’s collaboration, but that’s a different subject completely…

    • That’s really interesting Martin. I think writing is and can be incredibly hard work and I can see how your dyslexia would add to that. I have to say though, this is so much fun at the moment, and I feel the characters so strongly, that it’s a case of reigning it in for me – I really could be working on this all the time – if I had the time. Also, it’s a lot less solitary than you think… but I’m keeping the reasons for this under wraps for the moment!

  2. Jo Carroll says:

    I couldn’t agree more – writing in public places is hugely inspiring. There’s so much going on, and nobody takes any notice of you scribbling in the corner (though, if they do, they are often great people with stories to tell).

    Wish I’d known you were in my neck of the woods – I know some great places for cake. And can recommend a country or two, should you go walkabout!

  3. Claire King says:

    I’m so delighted to read this, Abi! It’s such a wonderful feeling when you are swept up in the story you want to tell, when you can nourish it by visiting new places and observing things that would normally pass you by. I normally get that feeling about 25,000 words in. Before that it’s like wading through treacle. But when it does finally take off it’s an exhilarating ride. It sounds like you’re in love with your book – I look forward to reading it!

    • Ah, thanks Claire. It really is the most incredible feeling and I really am in love with this book. I think it’s the first time I’ve written anything, apart from the odd poem, that seems effortless and is pure pleasure to write. I hope you’ll be able to read it one day too 🙂

  4. It really is so inspiring isn’t it Jo? I didn’t realise this was your neck of the woods. If I come down again I’ll let you know and we can eat cake somewhere!

  5. The cafe in Glastonbury sounds lovely. And I’m imaginging windswept railway platforms in winter, which is a wonderful image. The cafe in Morrisons, though? Not so romantic.

    It’s great that you’re getting into the story and that the locations have given you inspiration. I’m one of those solitary writers – not sure I could do the ‘guerilla’ writing – but my stories are almost always inspired by places. For me, the setting is a character in its own right and is as important as the humans that inhabit it . . .

    • I completely agree with you Dan. The settings are like characters aren’t they? It’s the first time I’ve worked like this and it’s ace… although I have to admit, Morrisons provided a completely different sort of inspiration – feel very much more well-informed on Youf Breakfasts!!!

  6. Denise says:

    How exciting, Abi!!! It sounds like a fantastic journey. Look forward to reading the result one day.

  7. Kate says:

    I like writing on trains, as long as they’re not too busy.

    I think I still write best at home and on my own. It’s the only place I feel comfortable reading sentences aloud which I find help me clarify what I want to say. Also if I’m writing for an extended amount of time I like to have a chair I trust and to be using my monitor rather than my laptop screen.

    Good luck on finding new and exciting places!

  8. Yes, trains are great writing places aren’t they? I combat the business by listening to music so I can observe but still feel shut into my writers’ world. I get the chair thing too – my chair is very ‘Abi shaped’! Thanks Kate – yes, hopefully lots more journeying to do!

  9. It’s really amazing when one of your characters walk by…in complete oblivion!
    My WIP is fantasy, so it’s all in my head, but living in Wales with its eclectic scenery has been inspiring and certainly lends itself to my imagination.
    I write alone, anywhere…but I love reading it with my oldest daughter, she picks up the bits that don’t work and helps me see what I miss. You know when you read something so often, some of the bits that don’t work just hide from you? She helps me with those.
    I love reading about other peoples inspiration, hope you enjoy you’re continuing travels and writing Abi.

  10. Oh, Wales is such an inspiring place Lisa! I love it there – in fact, we normally go on hols there. The scenery is so dramatic and stunning. Yes, I do that thing with my daughter too – aren’t they fab to have around? Hope your WIP is going really well Lisa!

  11. Emma Pass says:

    I love to write on trains, although I usually do all my writing in my ‘office’ (AKA the sofa!). However, I always find getting out and about so inspiring – you never know what you might see or hear that’ll spark off an plot idea, or a character, or a setting. Getting out into the big wide world also helps hugely when I’m stuck with my writing.

    I’m glad you had such a good time in Glastonbury, Abi – it’s a wonderful place, isn’t it! And I’m really happy for you that the new novel is going so well. As for the fish, I’m intrigued… 🙂

  12. Yes, trains and platforms are magical places I think. Ahhh, the fish – well that’s actually for something completely different!!! Don’t want to give any spoilers! 😀

  13. Ann Wright says:

    I used to write a lot travelling on trains – especially letters – when I lived in Australia and needed to catch one every day for work. Now though, quite a bit of my writing is done at the pool when my sons are training. There’s something about the gentle splashing in the background…
    If I write when out and about in other places it’s mostly because inspiration has struck – which is a wonderful feeling.
    Either way, it’s a solitary expewrience as I block out everything around me.

    Gook luck with your WIP. Sounds exciting.

  14. Oh I love the idea of writing near a pool, or near the sea – sadly, I’m not near either, but I can imagine how inspiring that sound is. Thanks ever so Ann, and good luck with your writing too!

  15. MrsT says:

    Your excitement about your writing is infectious!! Makes me want to rush out anywhere and everywhere and write… I usually write at home, I am fortunate to have my own lovely room in which to do it but often tuck myself up on try bed – somehow feels less like work…
    I do write LOTS when I’m on holiday though, with that in mind in addition to your post, I’m going to try and ‘get out more’ to stimulate my creative juices!!
    Thank you for sharing your experience.

    • Oh that’s fantastic! I’m so pleased this has helped inspire you. I agree about the writing on the bed though – sometimes it just helps to be in a different place at home to normal doesn’t it? In the summer I sit in the shade at an outside table and chairs and write – that’s lovely! Thanks ever so much for your comment.

  16. I’m very inspired by going places — the beaches and water front areas near us — and for my current WIP I have a board of photos I’ve taken of places, characters, and houses. So I think I understand what you mean. For me, just hearing the names of places you go sounds so intriguing and fascinating, so different from what I’m used to! Very cool!

  17. That’s ace Julia – love the idea of your photo board. Water is something I don’t have near me, but there’s so much countryside and history in Derbyshire, so that makes up for it.

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