My first typewriter was a portable Smith Corona, acquired second hand in 1968.
I had to thump the keys to make an impression, and insert Tippex paper to correct any mistakes. That was no easy task if I was also producing carbon copies. My most challenging project was to type up three copies of my husband’s MSc thesis on this primitive machine. By the end of it I knew all about glass ionomer cement and had a stinking headache and repetitive strain injury to boot.
I now find that such a machine is a period piece and has a certain monetary value! Maybe I should have kept it.
In the late 1980s I graduated to an electronic model. Still a typewriter with inked ribbon, but this time requiring a lighter touch and with the benefit of a single line display. A chance to review the last few words before they were printed. A real step forward.
It’s a recurring theme in Mirren’s house. Should we listen to our bodies and effectively hibernate in the winter? Or should we push through, toughen up and get out there? We know what we’d prefer. And then along comes a hint of Spring and the lengthening of the days. We wake up with the light, start sorting out the garden implements, and look forward to walking home from work once the threat of being run over in the ‘gloaming’ has passed.
We’re listening to our bodies and doing what comes naturally.
When it comes to writing, the muse was hiding during the depths of winter. Banished by any reasonable excuse or pressing other engagement, or preferably an early night.
Diane, one of the main characters in our first novel, Eight of Cups, suffered badly from the ‘Winter Blues’, withdrawing from herself and her family and getting deeper into depression as the months wore on. Here she is in October 1999, entering a particularly difficult phase of her life.
When people ask me (Mirren) what I do, I tend to say ‘I’m a Medical Practice Manager’ and sometimes I might add, ‘Oh, and I do a bit of writing too.’
As I begin to think about retiring from my day job, and concentrating more of my time and energies on writing, I wonder whether one day I’ll answer simply, ‘I’m a writer.’
The doubt resides in the question – What does being a writer actually mean?
That I am a published author? That I write books? That I spend the majority of my waking hours creating written pieces of work? Or that other people think my writing is good?
The facts are that with my co-author Elaine (Jones), I have had two non-fiction books published by a mainstream medical publisher, have independently published a debut novel and have another with a complete first draft. And still I wonder if I am a writer . . .!
Having recently attended Fiona Thackeray’s workshop at Bookmark Blair on ‘Place’, I am now thinking about universal themes and specific contexts. If we look at Eight of Cups, then the grand theme might be ‘attachment’ or ‘mid life’ and the specific context is the lives of six girls who meet at University in Edinburgh in the 1970s.
Our current work-in-progress, Never Do Harm, will then be about betrayal, and the setting – the relationship between two doctors in the modern medical world in Scotland.
Talking of Place, we were delighted to be invited by Nancy Christie who had read and enjoyed our blog, to provide a stop off for her on her digital world tour. She hopes to travel through the ether to England, Scotland, Europe and the World during October!
The theme of her collection of Short Stories Travelling Left of Centre(or to be more exact ‘Traveling Left of Center!) is Fate and the context is people who are unable or unwilling to seize control over their lives, such that they allow fate to dictate the path they take—often with disastrous results.
You know creative genius when you see it. The authors whose words transport you so easily to other previously unknown worlds with their descriptive powers. The artist whose painting captures your eyes as you pass and keeps calling you back as you try to move on. The dancer who can hypnotise and thrill through a seemingly effortless display of balletic grace and energy. Oh to have their gifts.
On my annual trip to the Edinburgh Fringe I was fortunate enough to experience two awesome performances from singularly talented writers and performers. Justin Butcher in Scaramouche Jones unveiled his creation’s fascinating character during a fast paced and richly coloured journey through his 100 year life. I hung on to every single word so as not to miss a single twist or delight.
Bob Kingdomwas Dylan Thomas for the 90 minutes of Dylan Thomas, Return Journey – amazing physical resemblance secondary to the mellifluous voice and his skilful weaving of the poet’s wonderful writing into an enactment of scenes from his latter years. I came out of the little makeshift theatre in awe of both Thomas and Kingdom.
So when Angela Jeffs asked me just recently ‘why do you write?’ I might have answered – ‘Yes, why do I? When I could never aspire to the literary heights.’
‘You’ll know her by her brown wavy hair, healthy tanned face and of course she’ll be wearing lipstick.’
Those were the instructions my Western Isles friend Jean gave to her neighbour who was collecting me from the ferry in Stornoway last week. I’d met the girl once before two years ago and she was supposed to recognise me by that description (and she did!).
It made me think about how we describe characters and what we might consider important. Jean might well have said, ‘She’s middle aged, a bit overweight and has ten-to-two feet.’
When Jones and I were serving our creative writing apprenticeship working together and apart on our debut novel ‘Eight of Cups,’ we had not only to create characters in our respective heads but also communicate with each other so that we shared a common perception and sense of who each of these people were.
As a result of that process we developed a very useful ‘Character Descriptor Sheet’ which I’ll be sharing at the Mirren Jones workshop, ‘Is There a Novel in You’ in Blairgowrie, Perthshire on 12th October, as part of the Bookmark Blair book festival. It’s a light hearted interactive event designed to generate ideas for stories, work up characters and share tips and tricks. For example, we always select and allocate an astrological sign to each of our characters. Research around typical characteristics of each star sign can help us to enrich character descriptions and their actions.
The theme for this year’s Blairgowrie Book Festival, Bookmark Blair, is PLACE.
‘A strong sense of place is important for transporting your readers to the world of your story. A well-crafted sense of place is often said to be like another character in the story, adding depth and a unique atmosphere’. Fiona Thackeray.
I’m looking forward to attending Fiona Thackeray’s writing workshop on the Saturday morning 11th October, as I am well aware that my powers of description nowhere near match my ability to write dialogue. In her writing, my co-author Jones is far more accomplished and focused on the external world than I am and we have had to learn to shift our natural writing styles to become more similar, and allow the story to become more internally coherent.
Having recently returned from The Isle of Lewis where Eight of Cups was conceived and progressed, I am reminded of how important place can be to mood, action and intention. In the Outer Hebrides, the weather and the landscape reduce man’s presence to something far less significant than is normally experienced. It is a place of big skies, racing clouds, beautiful rainbows, swirling and powerful winds, stunning beaches, bleak and silent moors and an ever-changing environment in which any action must take place.