The Four Stages of Creativity

My copy of Mslexia magazine arrived today, another issue in which I have unaccountably failed to appear. I haven’t been entirely unsuccessful with them; a couple of years ago they published a poem of mine and a year before that I was their guest blogger on the theme of gender issues, so I thought I had a good chance with this issue as the theme was ‘Clothes’ and I had a short story and two poems on exactly that theme all raring to go out into the world and seek their fortune. Sadly in their infinite wisdom Mslexia declined to publish. Hey ho.

But it set me thinking about the different stages of writing, particularly writing short stories. These stages are analogous to growing veg: the first, the seed stage, is the idea. It may be a wild one, blown on the winds and self-seeded in rough soil, or it may be deliberately planted from a packet. At this stage you have an image of how it may turn out but whether or not it does what it says on the tin remains to be seen. Out of this idea comes a rough draft like a pair of leaves poking through the soil and at this stage it’s very hard to see what the story will become. But when it grows a little more, when the leaves assume distinctive shapes and the stem grows tall or winds in spirals or becomes short and stout, you begin to discern the shape. Aha! You think, I know just what to do with you! This leads on to the lengthiest stage of all, the editing, the rewriting, the pruning and weeding and feeding, until the plant reaches its full height after which, eventually, it will begin to bear fruit. At this stage the work is sent out into the big wide world with a hanky on a stick to seek its fortune.

Just as with gardening, the goal is to have pieces of work at each stage; ideas, drafts, stories in progress and work ready to send off. Writing’s just gardening really, when you think about it. Makes me feel like Peter Sellers in Being There.

Kirk out

An Earful of Tearful

Now as you all know I like to have a grammar rant now and again about words and expressions that bug me; and the latest in a long line of these is ‘teary’.  Why is this word ubiquitous these days (and please note that I did NOT say ‘so ubiquitous’ because ubiquitous means absolutely everywhere and cannot be qualified!!!  Deep, calming breaths, deep calming breaths…)  Why is it that when we have a perfectly good word ‘tearful’ which means exactly the same, does everyone suddenly start saying ‘teary’?  I don’t like it: not only because it’s unnecessary but because it’s – well, a little bit wimpish somehow.  It puts me in mind of Victorian ladies with the vapours.  What’s wrong with tearful?  I insist on using it and I will not be cowed into saying the other thing.  And besides, it’s often ambiguous in print: what prompted this post was my reading the letters page in Mslexia magazine –

– and seeing this: 

‘I often can’t make it to the end (of a poem) without tearing up a little.’  At this point I was wondering – what was she tearing up?  The page?  The book?  Her hair?  And then I realised that this was yet another example of this horrid and superfluous word.  Just stop it!

Anyway, the reason I was reading the letters page was that my copy of the latest issue has just arrived and lo! they have printed my letter in full.  I had written to them in response to an article on poetry; and in the letter I said that one of my bugbears (yes, another one) is poets who kill their own work when they read it aloud.  I’m all for poets reading aloud; I think it’s an essential dimension of poetry – but for god’s sake!  Why, when you’ve spent such a long time and so much dedication to crafting the perfect poem, why would you then stand up and kill it?  As I’ve mentioned before

I went to see Ted Hughes in the 1980’s; indisputably one of the greatest poets of the 20th century – and he killed his own work when he read it.  He uttered the words in a monotone, almost with a sigh as if to say well, if I must, I must – and I came away thoroughly disappointed.  And Hughes is far from being the only offender in this regard – I have heard poets, novelists, short story writers read from their work as though it did not need any more than the sound of their voice to animate it.  It feels like a bone thrown to a dog, and it offends me.  It’s as if they’re saying that the oral tradition doesn’t matter, that it comes a very poor second to words on the page.

Now I take strong exception to this.  I feel a very strong connection to our oral traditions; to the bards and storytellers who existed before print was invented – and if I have an aim in poetry it’s to marry the oral and the printed.  I want each of my poems to stand up on the page and on the stage.  So here’s my plea to writers everywhere: if asked to read your work, practise reading until you can convey the spirit of the work orally as well as you have done on the page – and if you can’t, for god’s sake just get someone else to read it.

(And yes, I am available for a very reasonable fee…)

Kirk out


Let’s Reify

I have blogged before about the thinginess of things: ie the tendency to make everything into an object.  This, I suspect, is at the heart of the ever-increasing number of compound verbs.

For example, this morning I heard someone on the radio say, ‘I admire anyone who daily-blogs.’

Now, in an old-fashioned context this might seem perfectly normal, since daily, being an adverb as well as an adjective, was often used before a verb, viz: ‘He daily walked across Hampstead Heath.’  However I suspect that this recent utterance was coming from an altogether different place; from the land of the dreaded Compound Verb.

Mark reckons that reification, or thinginess, is the reason I didn’t get the ESOL job.  The irony is patent: Ofsted exists, supposedly, to promote and monitor good teaching.  I was told that my teaching skills were good.  Ergo, no problem with Ofsted.  But no – as any fule kno, Ofsted is its own little (not so little now) empire, generating its own work, its own ways of doing things.  Which means that passing an Ofsted inspection is effectively a job in itself.  Whereas it ought just to be about whether you are doing a good job in the first place.  If you are, where’s the problem?

Reification, guys!

Incidentally, the word comes from the same root as Rebus.

Bong!  In other news, I am happy to report that my poem is now in Mslexia magazine.  I got my copy in the post yesterday!


Kirk out

A Shadow through the Heart

That’s going to be the title of my memoir, I think: I’m doing a piece for Mslexia magazine and although I have a couple of short stories written in the first person, I think they read too much like fiction to be submitted for a memoir edition.  Since I don’t want to alter them I may start from scratch.  Or rather, not from scratch, since I’ve written most of these early memories down in some form or other: the vicarage garden, the planes going overhead, the air-raid shelter at the bottom and the iconic image of the spire’s shadow sweeping across the lawn like the finger of doom.

‘Its finger pointing at our hearts, we move

our deckchairs and decamp

into the light.  Out of the sun

jets scream of foreign fields, brown bodies

on the beaches.

All clear now.  Flats planted.’

That’s from my poem, ‘Vicarage Garden,’ which will appear in the collection I am about to send off: however, I now think it has too many sonnets in it so I shall replace them with a couple of others.  It’s being judged by Simon Armitage and I have no idea what sort of thing he likes.  You can’t always assume that the stuff judges will like is similar to their ownwork: in any case I always have a dilemma about how far to go in pleasing a judge or a publisher.  Obviously it makes no sense not to try to do something they’ll like – you want them to publish you, after all – but then again, if you go too far down that road, you can end up being derivative and losing your own voice.  So it’s always a balancing act – like most things in my life.

Is that because I’m a Gemini?

My star sign has probably little to do with how I shall vote today in the police elections.  I shall be voting for  Sarah Russell, a dedicated local councillor with a good record and someone who Gets Things Done.  All candidates have expressed qualified opposition to further privatisation of the police force (sorry, ‘service’) – in my view, the last outrage of a mad ‘Mc-State’ agenda and should be resisted to the hilt.  ‘I arrest  you in the name of Group 4?’  Over my dead body.  Wait – perhaps I should rephrase that…


Kirk out

PS I was looking for a picture of the Vicarage Garden as it is now: can’t find one but did find this video about people who are now reopening the church: