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Posts Tagged ‘Characters’

Polytunnel one It was most definitely worth asking for help with my garden this year.

I can’t believe the difference it has made, having someone to clear away the endless weeds and brambles, and rescuing the wildlife pond so overgrowth with yellow iris there was no pond left. The thing I hadn’t expected, and which I’m appreciating most, is help with the organising and the planting, so now I can (with a bit of weeding and watering) watch as the new growth spreads in a way that nothing squashes out anything else, and soon (I’m hoping next year) will become low maintenance.

Garden 3Having the worst done for me gave me courage to tackle the rest, so although it’s still a bit wild, it’s on its way to being a fairly respectable cottage garden. So now, for the first time since I stepped through the gate and fell in love with the overgrowth wilderness that came with a cottage on a Welsh hillside, I can leave my computer for half an hour or so to tackle a few weeds, without getting stuck into a whole day clearing brambles. (Although half an hour does tend to creep into an hour or so. I’m saying it’s good for my eyes, and anyhow I’m thinking about the current book and plotting the next). Garden 1

Best of all, I’ve had my first official afternoon tea (which someone went on until midnight) where I could relax in the garden and enjoy the view. In fact, being relaxed about the garden made me relaxed about the tea, without my usual anxious rushing around to make sure I had wonderful things for my guests. Strawberries, meringue (to be home made next time, ahem) and cream are wonderful all by themselves, with sunshine and good company.

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As if in celebration, this year, for the first time ever, my grape vine in the polytunnel has tiny little grapes. A bit of Hampton Court has arrived in Snowdonia. That definitely calls for a party!

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Best of all, I can now sit by my pond, watching the wildlife, and the rescued waterlily come back to life, with a book, or my research, and relax about the state of my garden, and focus. In fact, get very excited about my work, which is the very best feeling of all. Even though the characters in the new book have just developed a mind of their own and are up to all sorts of disgraceful antics, including changing sex a number of times without so much as a moment’s warning, and the hero has decided to stop talking to me, despite being warned of the Dire Consequences of his actions.

In fact, I’d better go and give him an ultimatum (‘Remember Matthew from Downton?’) this very minute… 🙂

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Writing my recent post for Novelistas Ink on using storytelling as inspiration led me to think again about the time I earned my living from running storytelling and puppet-making workshops.

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As with my more recent work as a writing tutor, I found I learnt as much from the sessions as the children and adults taking part. One of my greatest lessons from the puppet storytelling was spontaneity. I love the fact that I studied English at University, but it also made me excruciatingly analytical and feeling that my own writing needed to be of Deep Significance to Future Generations. Something I rather suspect was the last thing on Mr Dickens’ mind as he beavered away to hit the next deadline for his magazine serial and pay the bills.

Working with children – some of whom had been through some horrendous experiences – brought back the playfulness and the delight in creating that had overwhelmed me as a child and sent me writing endless stories (and one or two novels) in a completely unselfconscious manner. If in doubt, throw on more sequins!

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Working with ancient myths, from King Arthur to Japanese folk tales, was also a reminder that even the simplest of tales can hold the deepest truths and touch the heart. It’s still there in ‘Shrek’ and ‘Despicable Me’ – simple tales that look like ‘children’s stories’ but still contain morality tales and poke fun at cultural assumptions. And children’s stories are never simple – the puppet plays revealed emotional conflicts beneath the surface that surprised us all. It didn’t have to be an extreme – one story was of two princesses working out where they were going to live when the kind and queen separated, as two sisters were absorbed for hours in this safe reflection of the intricacies of their own parents’ divorce.

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I suppose what I learnt most from the puppet storytelling was to let go and to have faith in my story. Simply write from the heart and the things that resonate deeply inside. It makes you vulnerable – like the two princesses, the deepest truths that you wouldn’t reveal in an ordinary conversation tend to slip out. But then we are all vulnerable. It’s our fears, our dreads, our strengths and our weaknesses – and yes, our vulnerability as human beings, both emotionally and physically – that storytelling is all about. And, looking back, it’s perhaps no surprise that my first novel for Honno Press, Eden’s Garden, was inspired by the ancient Welsh myth of Blodeuwedd, the woman made of flowers who didn’t remain the passive creature of sugar and spice she was supposed to be …

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You can read my post for the Novelistas HERE

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The Quarry Hospital in Llanberis

Okay; confession time. This blog post is just a teeny bit late. A month or two, in fact. Thanks to one of the nasty little lurgies doing the rounds, followed by Christmas, followed by the usual catching up of the New Year. Oh, and the small matter of a book to finish! So a very belated Happy New Year to you all. It’s great to be back.

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The remains of the huge Dinorwic slate quarry, opposite Dolbadarn Castle

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The stretcher to carry injured quarry workers

It was a strange experience, being in the Dinorwig slate quarry hospital museum , beneath the shadow of Snowdon. I walk past its front doors every few weeks, but usually with a dog in attendance, a box of vegetables to pick up from a nearby farm and a book to get back to. Last autumn I was there with my day job, celebrating the launch of a local heritage project, and so without dog or walking shoes or any pressing sense of guilt.

Standing in the museum I was struck by the atmosphere of calm. Of peace. It was the last thing I had expected in a hospital built in the 1860s to treat the illnesses and injuries – some truly horrific injuries – of the slate workers from the quarry. In a corridor there hung a stretcher woven into the shape of a man and designed to bring injured workers down from the heights of the nearby mountains. It was hard to look at it and not think of the pain and anguish experienced in such a beautiful object.

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Instruments …..

This was especially so with the surgeon’s instruments for amputations and the like hanging all around. Lives were changed in these rooms. I wondered about the families in nearby Llanberis who lost their breadwinner here – either to injuries too severe to survive, or of the life-changing kind that meant he would never be able to work in the same way again, if at all.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYet there were also men and women fighting to save the lives and limbs of the men brought in, with equipment that looks horribly primitive and barbaric to modern eyes. I hoped that the men in the beds on the wards, set out as they would have been, supported and cheered and drew comfort from each other in the way that human beings do when drawn together by the most dreadful of circumstances. And from the window there is the serene view of the foothills of Snowdon, where the train makes its slow journey upwards to the summit.

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The view from the hospital with Snowdon in the distance

For all its horror, I came away from the museum feeling unexpectedly positive. Like the modern Mountain Rescue service – whose helicopters come over my cottage almost on a daily basis – the men holding that stretcher were risking their own lives to save another’s.

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And the selfish part of me was very thankful that my recent dental work was undertaken with modern anesthetic and instruments, and that when the lurgy struck, I was able to take to my bed for a few days without losing my precious income.

Visiting the Quarry Hospital Museum made me feel closer to the characters I have been living with for the past months, both the Welsh gold miners in the mid 19th Century for a magazine serial and the heroine of my next novel, which begins in 1914. Standing amongst those surgical instruments and the lists of lives damaged forever, I could feel the fear underlying the everyday life of working men and women when even a minor injury could leave a family without money for food and a roof over their heads, let alone the expense of visiting a doctor and buying medicines to ease the suffering, for those who did not have the services of such a hospital. It added an extra edge to the families watching their menfolk march off into the horrors of the Great War, and deepened my admiration for the women and men –  the nurses, the doctors, the ambulance drivers and the many other volunteers – who followed to give what help they could both to the men fighting in the trenches and the civilians caught up amongst the shifting lines of battles.

I went to the meeting at the Quarry Hospital Museum vaguely muttering away inside (as you do) that I could be writing the next chapter instead of standing there like a lemon listening to speeches. But then an author is always on the alert …

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