Tag Archives: storytelling

Christmas stories

The unschooling diaries: weeks forty-seven and forty-eight

The countdown to Christmas has been speeding along this last couple of weeks, accelerated by the party planning for the celebrations of Arthur’s fourth birthday three days later. I genuinely wouldn’t have him any other way, but a different birth month? I think I’d take it.

img_1772

That aside, the whole rapidly approaching festive season has brought with it all sorts of interesting discussion topics – for me and Leigh as well as for us and Arthur.

First off there’s the whole Santa thing. I love the magic of the Santa myth, and got totally sucked into it as a kid. I can see that, with his powerful imagination, it wouldn’t take much for Arthur to get completely swept away by it all too. But I don’t want to lie to him, and I don’t want his trust to be shattered when inevitably the truth is revealed.

So I am trying to find a middle ground – to get him to understand that imagination can be just as real as ‘truth’, and that what you choose to believe in the moment can totally shape your experience.

We have indulged in the ritual of writing to Santa, sending the letter off in the post and receiving a ‘reply’ a few weeks later.

img_1779

We’ve been to visit Father Christmas too – on the Santa Express on our local steam train line.

img_1784

But Arthur is aware that there is not just one Father Christmas, and we have taken to referring to his various incarnations as ‘agents of Santa’ – physical manifestations of the spirit of giving that is an important part of this time of year. I’m hoping that when the time comes it won’t be too much of a shift for Arthur to see us as agents of Santa too, and to accept that the truth behind the games we play is rather more abstract.

To be honest my main concern at the moment is that Arthur is a little bit too obsessed with the giving of gifts – or rather the receiving of them. For the last couple of years the whole festive period was a bit of a blur, with a seemingly never-ending flow of presents for Christmas and then his birthday. Now that Arthur’s a little bit older I’m trying to pre-empt this year’s bounty by engaging him in the process of gifting to others.

We started with cards, which we made together – heading to the woods to collect ferns which we brought back and used to print little Christmas trees, decorating them with glitter and gemstones.

Arthur helped me take these to the post office, along with parcels for family and friends – which hopefully in some way will give him a context for his excitement when yet another delivery arrives at home!

img_1781

I’ve tried to get him to think beyond our friends and family too, to the wider context of goodwill at Christmas time. This is something we’ve tied into the Santa myth: I am utterly uncomfortable with the manipulative rhetoric around the idea that Santa or his elves are watching his behaviour, that if he’s ‘naughty’ there won’t be any presents, but I am trying to engage him with the notion that this is generally a time of year for taking stock, realising how lucky we are, and being especially kind to the people around us.

This has of course brought us back to the original Christmas story, one which for me is as much of a metaphor as Santa given that Leigh and I are Humanist rather than Christian in our beliefs, but one which I think it is important for Arthur to know about.

He started asking questions when we were at a christening last weekend, curious to know who Jesus was. So we told him what we could about what Christians believe, and found a couple of books at the library to help bring the story to life a bit more.

We have even had a go at making our own nativity – something I have never done before, but which Arthur has really loved – and well and truly made his own.

IMG_1782.jpg

He was interested in the characters, in the angel and the shepherds and the wise men, but as soon as he started to understand that they had all come to see the Baby Jesus he wanted to give his favourite toys a chance to meet this special baby too. Soon the stable was inundated with lego superheroes and Star Wars characters, arriving in their spaceships to see what all the fuss was about.

I was wholly resistant to this at first, dismissing his hijacking of the Christmas story and wanting to make sure he understood the ‘real’ version. But then I realised that perhaps he’d actually found his own truth at the centre of it all – and that, ultimately, is what this is all about.

IMG_1783.jpg

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.

IMG_1234

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

Some thoughts on structure

IMG_0642

As the building blocks of my next project begin to take shape, I’ve been pondering on how I’m going to put them all together to form a coherent whole. If I’m going to stick to the plan of commencing a first draft in January, then I’ll need to have chapter outlines worked out in the next few weeks. Well I know I don’t have to, but that approach has worked for me so far so I’m kinda keen to keep it going.

How the novel’s going to be structured isn’t a decision I need to square away completely now, of course. I can still play with the structure right into the editing phase. But in my mind what I write – and particularly what I reveal – will be influenced a lot by the order in which the story is told.

If you’ve been following my thoughts on the story so far, you’ll know it takes place in two distinct time periods: the teenage summers of the 1970s, and the grown-up days of thirty-odd years down the line. There might be some moments in between that need exploring, but I’ll deal with that when I come to it. It definitely doesn’t feel like the story is going to be a linear progression between the past and the present. Things will swing back and forth, and not necessarily in any particular order.

It all oscillates around one particular event. I’m not going to tell you what that is, and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to reveal it in its entirety until the end of the novel. There will be hints and clues along the way, but I think the truth needs to stay hidden for as long as possible.

I know I could just work on alternating chapters, jumping back and forth between past and present, but I feel like I want something that flows a bit more organically than that. I was watching a film last night – Begin Again – and I really like the way it tells its story. Flashbacks are triggered by concrete things which shift the narrative to a different time and place from where it works its way up to a key event that is retold several times from slightly different perspectives. I liked the way that approach built up the story, like layers of paint on a canvas. I might try to do something similar, though it would take some quite complex mapping to get right.

Just writing all this down is helping. I’m starting to see how the pieces might fit, and that in turn is actually adding to my ideas about the plot and characters. I can see a very large piece of paper with numerous post-it notes in my near future… And yes I know I could do it on Scrivener, but it’s just not quite the same.

 

Writing Bubble
Mums' Days