Tag Archives: stories

3/52

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“A portrait of my child, once a week, every week, in 2016.”

The box started out as a robot costume, and soon became a spaceship.

Arthur loves all things space at the moment: he dreams of flying to the moon and floating amongst the stars.

And on his way he loves to listen to his stories.

Linking up with Jodi at Practising Simplicity for The 52 Project. 

Where memories go when they’re forgotten

December is never a good writing month for me. I find the excessive amounts of darkness pretty wearing, and what surplus creative energy I do have seems nowadays to get sucked into preparing for the the double whammy of Christmas and Arthur’s birthday three days later.

It really stressed me out last year, but this year I’ve accepted my limitations and (other than external demands on my time which I have less control over), I’m finding things all a lot easier to handle.

The timing of my self-imposed deadline for getting the latest draft of my WIP to my agent was not accidental. Having submitted that before the end of November I don’t feel too guilty about being a non-writing writer for a bit. That’s not to say all thoughts of novels have been banished completely: as I’ve let myself get caught up once more in the day to day, I have felt my next project tapping away at the corners of my mind, just waiting for its turn in the spotlight.

I find it very curious how a story develops.

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The flash of inspiration that comes first – a person, an event, a conceit that needs exploring. Those can seem to come from almost nowhere: they may have their origins somewhere in real life, but the way that concrete experience gets twisted and turned into the beginnings of a work of fiction renders it almost unrecognisable.

But it’s what comes next that really blows my mind. The way the characters start talking to you, offering up little titbits when you least expect it. The way that reading or hearing something completely unrelated seems to jog your memory and fill in an aspect of the plot that hitherto had not quite made sense. The way that you can lay an idea to rest for a while, and when you return you find it is embellished with so many more details that it is hard to believe weren’t always there.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that I’m making a story up at all, that the events that are unfolding didn’t really happen. Sometimes it feels like the story is there, waiting to be discovered, and I’m just a conduit for a tale that needs to be told.

There was something Capaldi’s Doctor said that provided an explanation for it all that’s pretty hard to argue with:

“Every story ever told really happened. Stories are where memories go when they’re forgotten”

There are so many stories after all. So many things that happen to people, that people think or do, that get lost in that moment. But what if they’re not lost? What if our job as writers – as storytellers – is to seek them out, to share them? We may not get every detail quite right, but perhaps our goal – through the planning, the drafting and the editing – is to get as close to the truth as possible.

And once all of that falls into place, perhaps that’s when we’ve got our story.

 

Writing Bubble

Word of the Week: mouse

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More specifically, the Big Bad Mouse who, along with the Gruffalo himself has captured Arthur’s imagination big time this week.

He’s loved the books since he was tiny, but only in as much as he generally loves books. Then for his first birthday back in December he was given a copy of ‘The Gruffalo’s Child’ on DVD. He enjoyed it, but was not all that interested in sitting still to watch anything for very long.

But now that’s all changed. I put the film on one day last week when I was trying to get things done, and he was absolutely entranced. Since then he’s asked for it every day – “big bad mouse” and “gruffalo”. Up until recently I’ve not been super keen on lots of screen time. We’ve not watched any kids TV – though Arthur does love watching music performances which we definitely haven’t discouraged. But watching him watching these stories come to life I feel like there’s a whole new world opening up to him.

His concentration is definitely getting a workout – he’ll happily sit for half an hour, fully engaged and calling out when he sees the characters he’s come to love. His vocabulary’s developing too – there are lots of things that are influencing that at the moment of course, but we were all pretty impressed when he came out with “he’s down by the lake, eating gruffalo cake”.

I’m still wary of Arthur spending too much of his day in front of the TV, but I think I may need to relax my guard a little. Filmmaking is storytelling after all, and the more I look the more I realise there are so many stories and films out there for us to explore!

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The Reading Residence

The magic of storytelling: part two

So as well as thinking about how magical storytelling is for the reader as I watch Arthur discover how much he loves stories, it’s also been on my mind how incredibly magical it is for the writer.

Stories have always been a hugely important part of my life. From those early days devouring them as they were read to me and soon after, as a reader, staying up long into the night, hiding under the duvet with a torch and a pile of Enid Blyton. Later as a teacher I watched astounded as a class of challenging teenagers was silenced by the simple pleasure of listening to someone read aloud; I relished in the power of stories as entertainment and as vehicles for so much more. And now as a writer I feel enormously privileged to be consumed by stories and (almost) be able to call it work.

The magic of stories and of storytelling is something I explored thematically in Lili Badger. The folk tales Lili was told by her grandmother as a child return with renewed vigour in her teenage years, their metaphors seeping into her burgeoning understanding of what’s happening around her, helping her make sense of an otherwise opaque and unfriendly world.

What I didn’t realise then, though, what’s only really beginning to dawn on me now as I move deeper into my second novel, is that as a writer I’m not really here to tell stories. I mean, that’s part of it of course. Relaying a story in a form and a style that captures peoples’ imagination and makes them want to read on. But ultimately I’m beginning to see myself a bit more as a vehicle for a story that wants to be told.

When it comes to writing anything I’m definitely a planner. I’m not very good at just sitting down with a blank piece of paper and waiting for inspiration to strike, though I know that’s the way lots of novelists work. Before I started writing this novel, as with the first, I’d basically mapped out each chapter with a little summary to work from – something to inspire me, and something to keep me on track through the brain melt of motherhood. That bit of the process really isn’t very magical – it can feel like a bit of a slog just mapping everything out, and what seemed like great ideas in theory start to feel insubstantial and incoherent. But once I’ve worked through that, once the overall story arc is there and it’s time to actually get on with the writing – that’s where the real magic comes in.

Moving from those little summaries to the actual written chapters has been an amazing process this time round. I don’t know if with the first novel I was just too tired or too excited to notice it, but as I write the second I’m struck by it almost every day.

How I think I know what’s going to happen, and then as the words flow from my mind to the page events subtly change. How I think I know a character, and then they do or say something that surprises me but ultimately fits much better overall.

There have been some very specific incidences of this recently. Like my main character opening a drawer to get something out, but finding something else entirely different. She’d forgotten it was there, and I had no idea at all. But actually it explained a lot, and suddenly made the plot a lot less clunky.

Then yesterday lunch time I was sat describing a scene I was about to write to my husband, explaining how in control Grace was and how she absolutely definitely wasn’t going to cry. And then I sat down to write, and as the scene unfolded she felt tears pricking behind her eyes and ended up sobbing. Again it actually made a lot more sense than what I’d thought was going to happen – and I suspect the writing rang truer for me being taken aback by it as much as she was.

It’s taken me a while to write this post as I wasn’t quite sure how to put it without seeming entirely bonkers. Even reading it back now it all seems a bit improbable. Those ideas are coming from somewhere, and I guess that somewhere must be hiding in my subconscious. But it’s strange and exhilarating how they won’t reveal themselves to me when I think but only when I write. It makes the mantra I began this project with even more important, and it makes me really very excited about the story I might discover over the weeks to come.

The magic of storytelling: part one

Arthur with books

Storytelling is magic. No really, it is.

I’m being reminded of this on a daily basis at the moment as Arthur’s understanding of language progresses in leaps and bounds. He increasingly comes crawling or knee-walking over to me with a picture book in his hands, sitting expectantly in my lap as I prepare to read the story to him. I’m not sure how much of the detail he picks up, but he responds to the rhythm and rhyme of the text, the intonation in my voice, points at pictures with me as I name the things they show, turns the pages with anticipation as the tale progresses.

As a child I loved being read to – my mum recounts how dad would come home after a long days work and disappear for hours as I demanded book after book before I would eventually fall asleep. Now that it’s my turn I’m reveling in the chance to sit and read books out loud to my son, so it’s very handy that he enjoys it too.

What with it being National Storytelling Week, and what with the weather being so shocking that curling up with a good book is really the only thing to do, I thought it might be the perfect time for a round-up of mine and Arthur’s favourite books to read together.

Now there are plenty of popular classics that he loves – The Gruffalo, The Snail and the Whale, Peepo, Guess How Much I Love You and Goodnight Moon would top that list. But the stories I want to explore here are the ones which maybe aren’t quite so popular but in our opinion definitely should be. And so, in no particular order, here are Arthur’s five favourite stories to read aloud.

Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers, illustrated by Marla Frazee

We picked up this book in Toronto last summer, and what I love about it most is its global outlook on the very important business of being a baby. It celebrates difference – of background, race and experience – through its cute illustrations of babies and families of all shapes and sizes.

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It is one of the only books I’ve found that includes breastfeeding and babywearing as part of the normal range of choices parents make, and I think it’s important for Arthur to see his experience reflected back at him.

The language is simple but lyrical with great use of repetition, and there is so much going on in the images on each page that there’s plenty to pause over and discuss.

All in all a heartwarming book that reminds me just how much our baby, like babies all over the world, is learning and growing every day.

Barnyard Dance by Sandra Boynton

This is a riot of a book, the energy of the words and the illustrations never failing to infect us when we read it aloud together.

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The simple illustrations of farm animals are brilliantly expressive and there is endless potential for sound effects and actions as they strut and promenade and skitter around the yard.

This book accidentally found its way into the bedroom for a while, and it was invariably the one Arthur would go for just as we were trying to wind him down for the night. Needless to say that whilst those evenings were lots of fun this is not the most calming of books. But it was just so hard for either of us to resist!

Barnyard Dance was a gift from Arthur’s Canadian Oddmother, and she has since added to his collection with several more wonderful books by Sandra Boynton. Irreverent and quirky and full of fun they’re definitely worth checking out.

Wow said the Owl by Tim Hopgood

I was initially drawn to this book by my general owl obsession and it has come to be a firm favourite for both of us. It was the first book that Arthur recognised by name, and it’s often the one he’ll independently pick up and bring to me to read.

Reading it aloud, the assonance is really powerful – the word ‘wow’ is so much fun to say and is at the heart of the story here. The book captures the wonder of a little owl at the everyday world that we take for granted, and as such perfectly mirrors the experience of a baby seeing everything through fresh eyes.

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Its a beautiful book for learning colours, and whilst Arthur might not quite be there yet he certainly appreciates the vibrant illustrations which are also satisfyingly unique so I can enjoy them time and time again.

A Bit Lost by Chris Haughton

Another find born of my owl obsession, this is the sweet and touching story of a little owl who falls out of his tree and his ensuing search for his mummy.

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The language is simple but engaging, focusing in on physical characteristics that Arthur is just beginning to be able to understand. It’s easy to empathise with the little owl and his growing frustration at the well-intentioned but misguided helper who leads him through the forest.

The illustrations are gorgeously stylish and retro, the subtle palate a refreshing change from some of the more garish offerings for babies. Though simple they communicate the story and emotions in the text perfectly giving lots of opportunity to explore the interplay between words and image.

This is a book for reading and re-reading: though we both know what happens in the end it’s impossible not to get sucked into the little owl’s journey.

It’s Time to Sleep, My Love by Eric Metaxas, illustrated by Nancy Tillman

Arthur was given another Nancy Tillman book by my parents, Wherever You Are, My Love Will Find You, and we enjoyed the sumptuous illustrations and heartfelt emotion so much we had to go in search of more of her work.

It’s Time to Sleep, My Love has become our go-to bedtime book, the perfect book for snuggling with and calmly packaging up the day before drifting into sleep. It’s never an easy transition for Arthur – like me he’s a bit of a night owl – but he’s come to love the gentle alliteration and hypnotic repetition of this simple story of a world preparing to rest.

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Whilst the words of this book work together to form a potent lullaby, it’s the images that are particularly striking. They are drawn in such exquisite detail, are so rich and textured, that oftentimes I find Arthur prompting me to turn the page as I have got lost inside the illustrations again.

It is this that makes this book so special, and so lovely to share before bed: it calms us both, and no doubt enriches our dreams.

So there you have it! Our top five magical stories for sharing and reading aloud. Please feel free to add your favourites in the comments – we’re always on the look out for new ideas! But in the meantime I think we might just go and have a read…

Actually Mummy