Episodes from the City

The city sprawls along and out from the coast, up and over hills, swallowing the surrounding villages: Ovingdean, Hove, Portslade and Patcham, all absorbed. Soon Shoreham, Worthing, Newhaven, Lewes and Mid Sussex will become part of ‘Greater Brighton’. One day most of the world will be cityscape, like William Gibson’s Sprawl, or Margaret Atwood’s pleeblands.

***

Down on the beach, the pebbles, greasy and flecked with powdery salt, shift beneath one’s feet and sound like rain as they’re dragged into the sea by the waves. From the Palace Pier come carousel songs and fairground sounds and the rich, sweet smell of freshly fried doughnuts – but below the Pier, beneath the tourist attractions and flashing lights, the stench of piss is so strong it stings the eyes and burns the nose.

***

In the dark, crisp, clear early-evening, the air fresh after rainfall, the lights reflecting blurred and bright on the slick brick street; empty but for us and a lone busker (a strange time to busk, he must’ve done it for the joy) singing in spanish and smiling and strumming his guitar under an awning, Kensington Gardens felt like a film set. Unlike in the day when it’s too thick full of people with stuttering gaits whom I have to stop and swerve to avoid, walking in the wake of cigarette smoke.

***

I remember walking past the Scientific Support Branch van parked outside a house on Elm Grove, around the corner from my parents’ house, seeing police officers in white boiler suits and knowing something serious had happened. A man had been stabbed to death.

On the bus going up St. James’s Street, past Rock Place and a police blockade. An armed robber shot dead by police.

***

The anti-fascists are ferocious in the defence of our city. When the March for England used to come to Brighton, they were outnumbered, out-shouted and outmanoeuvred. A small group of the MfE bunch managed to break away from the main body and slip behind the police line. They poured round the corner, eager for a fight, and found one. Surrounded by anti-fascists, they were peppered with projectiles (one taking a beer can to his bald dome), until saved by the police they had evaded. This was in 2013. Their last march here was 2014, and they haven’t come back since.

***

When I come home now I barely recognise the city, until muscle memory carries me down the same old streets and I forget I ever left. But the new builds and changes jar all the more for it. It’s uncanny. Navigating the city consciously and unconsciously both at once. Like driving a new car – just as I forget about the process and let my body do the driving, I reach for the gearstick and it’s an inch out of place.

***


It’s late and I’m tired and my daughter’s sleeping so I should be too. I’m cutting this post short, and will add more episodes tomorrow.

Apologies for any spelling/grammatical mistakes – I’m not proof-reading this now no way José.

In response to today’s (technically yesterday’s) Daily Prompt: City

Internal(Pen/sive)External

I sat there, searching my mind for something to say, stroking, against the grain, the stubble above my upper lip. Weighing words against one another, touching them to determine their texture, turning them over, examining them, poring over their subtitles and suggestions, I began to lose track of the sentence, the bigger picture, so to speak.

I tried to pull the focus, step back and see it all, only to find I’d lost sight of it all together. The clock was literally ticking, each swipe of the second hand like a little windscreen wiper, sweeping my thoughts to the side as they tried to trickle down into view, leaving my mind blank. I had to get up, take the wooden clock from the wall and put it in the kitchen. Still, the incessant tick tick tick, as though it wasn’t coming from the clock at all but from somewhere inside my own head.

***

Earlier this academic year, I told my lecturer for the module ‘Writing a Novel’ that I was struggling with an idea. She, perspicacious as ever, gave an instant and accurate diagnosis: ‘Sometimes we get so caught up in here,’ she said, tapping her temple with a finger, ‘that we forget to look out there. If you just look out the window, there’s six million things you could write a novel about.’

It was true: I’d been mind-mining myself, digging deeper and deeper as the tunnels grew darker and darker, until I could no longer see to find my way out of that empty, cavernous place. Of course, reflection is important, but reflection requires something to reflect upon.

Ultimately, we are all reflectors. And what’s the use of a mirror in a dark, empty room?

***

I haven’t gotten up to much recently. Well, except handing in my dissertation and preparing for baby Birnie. But other than that, not much.

The internal is dependent on the external, and sometimes when I sit to write, or close my eyes to daydream, or rummage around in my head (or old computer folders) for ideas for pieces, everything seems to have dried up. I see something, I reach out for it, it crumbles to dust. It’s like trying to write with a pen that’s run out of ink, hopelessly scratching at the paper.

My partner and I went for a walk today, following the stream up through Glasney Valley and under the viaduct. We moved here in October so I’ve never seen it so verdant. Robins flittered across the path and the delicate, leafy, tangy scent of wild garlic mingled with the smell of rain and the heady fragrance of flowers. I saw a few good saplings that I might try to make into bows, and decided on tomorrow’s lunch: wild garlic pesto and pasta. And I got excited about taking my family along the same walk, to show them the burbling brook and the old stone walls, and more excited still to show my baby some of the beauty left in the world.

I came back to find the inkwell refilled.


 

Response to today’s Daily Prompt: Pensive

Some Tips on Writing Voices

Voice – that elusive element of writing that can make or break a piece. Good voice authenticates the character, gives them a personality, an identity. It makes the text a character in itself. It carries your reader through your writing. If the character voice is clear and well-crafted, your reader will hear it as they read and they will become immersed in the world of the text.

Here are a few tips on how to write clear, consistent and creative voices that I’ve found useful.

1. Go with the flow.
I find most of my character voices come about naturally. As you begin writing, often the characters will form themselves in your mind. You can hear how they speak, their accents and rhythms and tones. Go with it. Listen to how they sound and let their voice flow out through your fingers. I know that’s a very abstract tip, but give it a try. Even if it’s not the voice you originally intended for that character, just let it happen. I find it’s better to let things develop naturally rather than limit yourself to a rigid pre-writing plan. Sometimes with this natural method the voice will magically translate from your mind to the page, other times it will completely miss the mark, but you can iron all this out later (see tip #9).

If you do hear the character’s voice then let it speak through you. But if you can’t, that’s fine, there are a few things you can do to craft it from scratch, which I’ll go over now. These are also general tips that will help even if you do find a natural voice.

2. Language.
People use different words. Their vocabularies depend upon a lot of different things: region, vocation, age, cultural identity, nationality, and the list goes on. It’s unlikely a sixty year old Eton-educated man would say ‘Wicked, bruv,’ except, perhaps, ironically. Think about the kind of vocabulary your character would have. If he’s an intellectual, he might use academic language frequently, or recite quotes; if she works on the docks, she might use vocational language and industrial metaphors. Where the first would say ‘Security, escort this man off the premises immediately,’ the second would say, ‘Haul his arse out of here.’ One example I particularly like is in Margaret Atwood’s novel Maddaddam, third book in the trilogy of the same name. The character Zeb says, ‘Once they got a hammerlock on power, they didn’t have to bother so much.’ ‘Hammerlock’ is kind of armlock, a submission move in wrestling. Zeb is familiar with martial arts, and so that aspect of his character comes through in the language he uses. Not only does Zeb have a clear, distinct voice, but this voice also characterises him. Use words and phrases your character would be familiar with.

3. Research.
So, you decide one of characters is a dockworker, as in the example above. How do dockworkers speak? Do your research. If you live near a dock, go mill about (try not to look suspicious) and listen out for specific words and the general rhythm, tone and cadence of their voices. Obviously, not all dockworkers speak the same, but you’ll pick up on certain ways of speaking that people have in common. If you don’t live near a dock, watch a video or doc(k)umentary and look out for the same things. One of my lecturers said that when she’s writing a character from a specific nation or region she’ll find audio clips of conversations of people from that region and listen to them for a while to get the feel for the voice. Accent, rhythm, tone and slang can then be plucked from the ‘real’ audio clips and planted on the page.

4. Phonetic spelling.
Once you have an accent in mind, you can use phonetic spelling to allow it to speak through your writing. For example, the black Mississippi preacher in Faulkner’s 1929 novel The Sound and the Fury announces: ‘I sees de light en I sees de word, po sinner!’ Much of the dialogue in Faulkner’s novel is spelt phonetically drawing attention to cultural and historical ways of speaking. However, though phonetic spelling can be used to illustrate a character’s accent and pronunciation, it can sometimes be difficult for the reader. So I’d advise to use this technique carefully. If it doesn’t feel right, throw it out.

5. Particular phrases.
Some people have certain phrases that they like to repeat, like the crooked Chief of Police, John Noonan, in Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest always saying, ‘Well, that certainly is fine.’ The repetition gets the phrase stuck in the reader’s mind and they associate it with that character. It creates consistency and helps the reader to attach a voice in their head to the words on the page. Another example would be Syrio Forel in A Game of Thrones always saying ‘Just so.’ Again, the reader attaches the phrase to the character and they begin to hear a distinct voice when that phrase is repeated. In the latter case, ‘Just so’ is not unique to Syrio Forel, it is a common phrase among the Braavosi – a city with its own culture – so in this example the phrase is not only used to define character voice but also to enrich the world of the text with a region-specific vernacular, which in turn helps to define other characters in relation to one another.

6. Gruff/glib.
I recently revisited a chapter I wrote a while ago and came across a passage in which a character who is usually quiet, reserved and not great with words suddenly pipes up with an eloquent and poetic speech. Though I was happy with the writing, it was completely out of character. To craft a convincing voice, there has to be consistency. If a character is a blabbermouth, keep them blabbering; if they have a kind of brief and brutal poetry to the way they think and speak, maintain it throughout; if they struggle to say what they mean, make sure they don’t slip into a profound clarity of speech. In other words, keep in character. Give your characters different ways of speaking and try not to let all the voices bleed into one. If you find yourself writing something and thinking perhaps it sounds more like another character then either have the other character say it or rewrite it. Part of this will be the language they use, part will be how that character might react to an event or speech act, and part will be in the rhythm. For example, my aforementioned character usually speaks in short, terse bursts. Straight to the point. Simple sentences without undue ornamentation. Brevity, not levity.  Whereas another character, say a poet-politician (?), might speak in long, meandering sentences, fluttering, like a butterfly swaying and dipping drunkenly through the air, now here, now there, frivolously floating in over-description and flittering its coloured wings, from clause to clause, keeping the reader guessing as to where they will finally land.

7. Voice not adverbs.
Allow the voice to come through in the speech itself. Adverbs should be avoided wherever possible (though sometimes they are necessary). Over-description can often break the binding spell of reading by clouding the connection between reader and text with too many words (like the poet-politician’s excessive and frankly painful rambling). If a character’s tone can’t be guessed through what they’re actually saying, maybe it needs rewriting.

8. Read aloud.
You should read back all your writing aloud, it helps you to hear the rhythm. You can then tidy up the clunky bits of prose that you will most probably find. Reading aloud is also very important for voice, whether it’s speech or narrative voice. Sometimes, especially when you’ve been writing for a while, it’s hard to get that connection with the words that allows you to see and hear and taste whatever’s happening in the world of the text. You look at the page and you just see words. Reading aloud helps turn those words back into sensations. So go somewhere you feel comfortable where you can read aloud confidently and get into character. I find it helps to approach it as an actor playing a role: get into your character’s head and try to talk in the accent that you imagine them speaking in. You’ll probably find yourself ad-libbing a little, as certain words and phrases may come more naturally to that character. This is good, go with it. Also, writing and speaking are different acts, so sometimes written speech can feel unnatural. By reading it aloud you can hear whether it sounds natural or not, and those ad-libbed bits will come across as more natural speech.

9. Rewrite.
Equally as important as the initial writing, rewriting is where you iron everything out. In terms of voice, after a little break all those inconsistencies will become blaringly obvious and you can begin to pick them out and add bits in and unite your character’s voice. As I wrote in point 1: if you follow the natural voice, sometimes that voice will slip. The rewrite is where you can go back, often with a much stronger sense of character voice as you’re more familiar with your character, and fix it all up to be clear and consistent.

I hope these tips have helped you or that you’ve found this post interesting. I find voice to be a very difficult thing to write right, and these are tips and tricks that I’ve heard or read from tutors, lecturers and fellow writers.

If you’ve got anything to add, any tips or techniques that I’ve missed, I’d love to hear them so please comment below and impart some wisdom on me!


Response to Daily Prompt: Voice

 

Review: Sun Kil Moon, St. George’s Church

The Soliloquies He Sings

sun kil moonMark Kozelek muttered and mumbled about how bright it was in St. George’s Church, looking out at five hundred fully visible faces. The sun had not yet set and soft evening light poured in through the round-headed windows suffusing the church with feathery shadows and illuminating the audience.

When Kozelek asked us how we were doing, our response was silence, closely followed by a breath of shy laughter. Without the cover of darkness, we were unsettlingly self-conscious.

‘Fuck, now you know how I feel,’ said Kozelek.

The laughter grew confident. After that, we all felt a little more at ease.

He sat himself down at the church organ and began playing a droning three-note bass line, and just like that the gig kicked off with ‘Hey You Bastards I’m Still Here’.

The intimate and informal atmosphere continued throughout the concert. Between songs, he spoke to the audience, offering unscripted observations full of understated wit and self-depreciating comments about his own weight and age. Underneath it all was a melancholy tiredness that mirrored his music and lyrics, particularly those on his most recent albums, Benji and Universal Themes.

Kozelek’s musical career has been one of constant growth and movement ever since his slowcore band Red House Painters were signed to 4AD in 1992, through his solo experimentation with genres, sounds and styles – both under his Sun Kil Moon moniker and as Mark Kozelek – and collaborative efforts, most notably the electro-melancholic Perils from the Sea with Jimmy LaValle of the band The Album Leaf.

His lyrical style has changed over the years as well, from the poetic and metaphorical lyrics of his early work towards the gracefully frank soliloquies he sings on Benji. It is as though the youthful romanticism of his earlier song-writing has grown into something else: something older and wiser but no less beautiful. With a keen eye for detail, he finds beauty and meaning in the mundane and everyday. His lyrics unrestrainedly recount his thoughts and feelings, and this is precisely how he performs, both during and between songs. Always moving forward, Kozelek is developing his confessionalism further and beginning to experiment with spoken-word poetry, and he brought this new style to old songs that night in St. George’s Church.

Despite the development and variation in Sun Kil Moon material, Kozelek and the band managed to pull together a set from across previous LPs, along with a handful of covers, and play them as if they were all from the same album, forming one contingent whole, punctuated by the off-beat, strangely-paced spoken-word techniques and occasional punk shouts that characterise Sun Kil Moon’s most recent album, Universal Themes. At times, it was as though Kozelek was covering himself – the songs were so different from the studio versions. Instrumentally minimalist, softer and slower and sombre. Six string bass, guitar and gently-brushed drums set the background while tinkling piano lines complimented Kozelek’s Midwest American drawl.

It was a performance full of variation and improvisation, something separate from the recorded albums, just as live music should be. The downside was that he rarely picked up his guitar and chose rather to wander the stage or sit down behind the organ. When he did play guitar, as he did for ‘I Watched the Film the Song Remains the Same’, which for me was the best song in the set, his playing was impeccable. I closed my eyes and rocked back and forth, drowning in that dreamy guitar.

After the fourth song of the set, he requested a moment of silence for Arthur Cave, the son of singer Nick Cave, who fell to his death from a cliff here in Brighton, aged fifteen, less than three weeks before. The sun had set by this point and the church was dark and the band and crowd all bowed their heads in the dusty silence as if each of us was deep in prayer.

‘This next song is dedicated to Nick Cave, in memory of his son,’ said Kozelek. They played a cover of ‘The Weeping Song’ by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and Kozelek displayed the mastery of his voice, which cracked and faltered and moaned, haunting and elegiac, in what has to be one of my favourite covers of all time.

Since then, a new Sun Kil Moon album has been announced: a collaboration with the experimental post-metal band Jesu, simply titled Jesu / Sun Kil Moon. The album is set for release on Caldo Verde Records, Kozelek’s own label, and Rough Trade on the 21st of January this year.

It seems that the Nick Cave cover was a prelude to ‘Exodus’, the first single from the new album, which is available to listen to online. In the track he speaks of Cave and his son and sends his love to all parents who have gone through the unimaginable pain of losing a child. The instrumentation sounds like that of Perils from the Sea. For most of the ten-minute track there is only a gentle electro drum loop and a simple piano line that floats in dark reverb. Kozelek’s loosely melodious monologue is another step towards spoken-word poetry: a simple, straight-forward stream of consciousness, listing events, thoughts and feelings with little rhyme. Towards the end, a vocal chorus comes in, against which Kozelek sings slightly out of sync, reminiscent of the songs of Nick Cave to whom he is paying tribute.

Mark Kozelek is moving ever further from the old poetic lyricism of albums such as April, my personal favourite Sun Kil Moon LP, towards long spoken-word performance pieces. From the sound of ‘Exodus’, Jesu / Sun Kil Moon certainly won’t be as listenable as his earlier work, and won’t get near as many plays on my mp3 player, but I will be getting tickets to see him when he comes to London this summer. He is a performance artist, and the pleasure of his new music comes from the sense of in-the-moment open honesty, a feeling as though you’re getting a glimpse into his mind, that can only be fully experienced when he is there in front of you, muttering and mumbling and wandering the stage, pouring his thoughts out into the microphone.

#140charactersketch

Screen shot 2015-12-17 at 20.36.57

Hello fellow bloggers!

I have an idea for a new twitter project – #140charactersketch.

I plan to begin writing character sketches in 140 characters or less and posting them to twitter (perhaps weekly or so).

The primary aim is to practice succinct and creative character description, avoiding over-description, mundane details etc.

This idea came to me as I was pondering what to post on my twitter account and I remembered something I’d read in Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. King writes:

I can’t remember many cases where I felt I had to describe what the people in a story of mine looked like – I’d rather let the reader supply the faces, the builds, and the clothing as well. If I tell you that Carrie White is a high school outcast with a bad complexion and a fashion-victim wardrobe, I think you can do the rest, can’t you?… Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.*

Over-description can distance the reader. Reading is an active experience: you read the words and create the images and meaning yourself. Ever see a film adaptation of a book you’ve read and think of a character “That’s not how I pictured them…”? You pictured them. That’s why you felt an affinity for them, it was you who created them. The magic of reading happens inside your head and, as a writer, if you try to impose your image into a reader’s mind then that magic will be lost, they’ll resist, and it’ll make for clunky writing – over-description is dull.** We don’t want to be boring or overbearing.

The task is to be succinct and to produce a sense of recognition or understanding that is purely the reader’s. King’s #140charactersketch ‘Carrie White is a high school outcast with a bad complexion and a fashion-victim wardrobe’ gives a complete sense of character. We, as readers, recognise this character, understand this character. We picture her: she is ours.

I hope to improve my character description by beginning and participating in this twitter project and I hope that some of you will participate too.

Check the #140charactersketch twitter feed and follow me at @samuelhbirnie.

I look forward to seeing some concisely and creatively constructed characters.


 

*Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2012) pp. 202-3.

**This is a generalisation, of course. Like everything ever, there are exceptions to the rule. Over-description may be used because it fits the narrative voice (e.g. a private eye who always reports events/characters and notes every minuscule detail) or perhaps reveals something about the character (e.g. a character who has just killed her abusive husband in self-defence might over-describe the pattern, colours, texture, history of the carpet beneath her husband’s corpse as a way of repressing the trauma or of making sense of the violence). There are no rules in writing. In fact, you (& I) should be as diverse in your techniques as possible to be able to achieve diverse and numerous effects.

A Little Light Reading 


My Christmas is going to be at the mercy of this big pile of words.

January is the end of the first semester, and these books are the readings for one of four assessment pieces (not including my dissertation proposal) all due within the first three weeks of the new year.

So, fellow bloggers, I may be cybersilent for quite some time.

These books are for an essay on Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room examining the relation between experimental form and content.

I’ve been wondering for a while now whether or not I should post my essays on this blog. Perhaps once my degree is done I will redraft all of my critical writing and upload it here. Something academic to do once my education is over, I guess.

Anywhoo, merry Christmas and peace out ✌🏼

Sweaty Palms

‘Your palms are sweaty,’ she says.

‘I don’t like flying.’ I don’t like palm readers either, they give me the heebie-jeebies, but this little lady seems sweet, and she’s very insistent. Perhaps it will take my mind off of the fact that I’m 30,000 feet above ground in a 200 tonne metal object that could just fall out of the sky at any moment and plummet down, down…

The lady is frowning. ‘They’re getting even sweatier.’ She mutters something inaudible and produces a hanky. ‘I can’t read sweaty palms, they have to be clean and dry.’

There’s something uncanny about her. I can’t place her accent, but that’s not it. It’s something familiar and unfamiliar at once, like the people you encounter in a dream, drawn from experience and memories but pieced together in such a way as to appear new, unknown. Elephants playing ice hockey.

She dries my palm with her handkerchief and traces her fingertip over the creases there. It tickles; tingles. I become aroused.

My palm gets sweaty again and she jerks her hand away from mine. God, she knows I liked it. This is awkward. Shit, I have to sit here for the next five hours in unbearable embarrassment. I feel like a perv. But it’s not like I was coming onto her, she touched me and my body reacted, it’s out of my control.

I muster up the courage to face my shame and apologise. When I turn to her I’m met with a face filled with terror, mouth wide, aghast, eyes brimming with tears.

‘What? What is it?’ Sick dread swells in my stomach. I look down at my sweaty palm. ‘What did you see?’

‘Death,’ says the lady.

The plane lurches violently and we’re falling, falling.


 

Daily Prompt: Life Line

Teleportal

Time Machine, Anywhere Door or Invisibility Helmet?

Anywhere door hands down.

In the prompt it is written that they’re selling these things at an electrical store, so I’ve decided to give each item a brand name and slogan: the PastMaster 3000 – ‘Time is on your side!’; the Teleportal – ‘Anywhere in an instant’; and the Evanesce Headdress – ‘Hide and go sneak’.

Sure, the PastMaster 3000 would be cool. I’ve seen a few bloggers saying they’d use it to conduct research which is a great idea, and tempting. But time machines are far too dangerous. The past is pretty darn gnarly: Wars. Brigands. Dinosaurs. Not to mention that you’d be messing with the fabric of spacetime, man – the butterfly effect and all that jazz. Time travel is fraught with peril, paradoxes and Proceratosauri. I ain’t going anywhen. No way José. No thanks Tom Hanks. I’ll stick to now.

Unlike the PastMaster, the Evanesce Headdress doesn’t have any deadly downfalls. But it pails in comparison to the Teleportal.

Boy oh boy, the possibilities! I can go ‘anywhere in an instant’, as the slogan says. How practical. No more travel times or costs: just open the door and viola! I’m at my seminar on campus (that extra twenty minutes was just enough time to do the reading). Skip the seven hour, sixty-squid train journey back to Brighton, just one step and one second and I’m back home for Xmas. I don’t need to pack, I simply go back through the door to grab clean clothes. Holidays? Easy peasy lemon squeezy. I don’t even need to book accommodation. I can travel the whole wide world for free. I can take my ninety-year old nan to Penzance to see St. Michael’s Mount one more time without worrying about the long, long journey down here.

Anyone can see the appeal of this, but as a writer it is even more exciting. I mentioned early the great idea some fellow bloggers had of time travel research. Well, if I want to write about any place anywhere on earth I can experience it firsthand. I want to write a scene set in a diner on Route 66, a Bavarian castle nestled in a mountain forest, the crumbling ruins of a lost civilisation in the Libyan sahara? I can just go there ‘… in an instant’.

‘Hello, I’d like to purchase one Teleportal, please.’

Man I want an Anywhere Door.


 

Daily Prompt: Pick Your Gadget

Four Things

The thunderstorms in Falmouth are awesome. I remember the one in my first year here when the lightning woke me at 4AM, and then came the booming thunder that violently shook the building and rattled the windowpanes.

Another flash of white filled the room leaving an imprint of light on my vision and I threw the covers aside and went to the window. The sky spat hail down so thick and fast it could only sustain it for a few seconds, but that was long enough to cover Station Road in a sheet of icy pellets that dully reflected the ghostly orange glow of the street light.

Then the thunder again. All the lights in Penryn town went out and I looked down at the blackness.

*

Snow makes a village of a city.

I grew up in London and Brighton where there are too many people and everyone’s absorbed in their own little worlds.

But on those rare occasions when it snowed in Brighton, strangers would smile at strangers and greet one another in the street.

*

After a day of fierce heat: late evening, late summer; the sea; the water warm and unusually clear for Brighton beach; just before sunset, the western sky blushing.

The skeleton of the West Pier adrift.

*

Abandon yourself to the rain and the inevitability of getting wet.

I’m not being pompous, I mean it literally.


 

Daily Prompt: Climate Control

 

Writer: Jack of All Trades

What did I want to be when I was older? It changed weekly. Power ranger, footballer, boy-bander (embarrassingly), wrestler, paramedic, pro skater, and on and on and on.

It seems this chopping and changing was to be the blueprint of my life. Jack of all trades, dabbling in this and that, never pursuing anything very far at all. I moved on from one thing to the next, getting at best a basic understanding of whatever it was before abandoning it.

So, roads not taken. Or rather roads taken, departed from, new paths found and likewise left. I didn’t get very far. Always backtracking and deviating. I never followed things through.

What did that get me? A smattering of this, a smidgen of that. I never excelled at anything.

But it turns out that a Jack of all trades is a good thing for a writer to be. Having a small amount of (mostly superficial) knowledge of a wide range of subjects is a broad and rich well of ‘inspiration’ to draw from. Anything I need to know deeper I can bolster up with research – research and reading being important writerly traits.

I think a writer has to, in some way, hold a mirror up to the world, and that means reflecting all the complexity that therein lies. Whether a novelist, journalist or poet, the writer has to be adaptable. She/he must morph into myriad forms.

My horse-changing youth led me to being a writer. Jack of all trades, hopefully, some day, master of one.*


 

*Well, if I can get the funding to do the Professional Writing MA then I will, technically, be a Master (on paper if not in practice) which sounds pretty cool.

Daily Prompt: Ballerina Fireman Astronaut Movie Star