By: Emily Maybanks
Have you ever wondered how your favourite authors can make characters come to life in your mind? Or, maybe you’ve always felt curious as to how writers can conjure up emotions?
I caught up with some writing professionals who talked to me about where they find inspiration as well as imparted some advice for budding writers.
Do you think there’s a connection between music and poetry/creative writing?
There definitely can be. I’ve always loved writing poetry and singing, and they used to be separate passions until I decided to fuse metaphor and melody in a kind of ‘poetic-folk’. They’re written as poems, then performed as folk songs, which is why there are usually no choruses.
What was the inspiration behind A Receipt for our Romance?
This poem was written for Popshot’s Romance issue, and I decided to experiment with form to make my submission stand out. At the time, I was doing a brief stint as a litter-picker and found that scraping debris from the floor gave a unique “vantage point” to my poetic eye. It inspired me to play with the idea of picking till receipts up from the floor and rewriting them as love poems, so I spent a lot of time studying the language of receipts – often when I was supposed to be working! The litter-picking also yielded some exciting analytic ponderings on puddles after hours spent fishing out cigarette butt ends, one by one, unfolding out into reflections on the litter that gathers in our heart and souls.
What advice would you give to writers struggling to get published?
It’s easy to get downhearted, at which point I’d say to study the wonders of the natural world, or at least, to take a leaf out of its book, and remember why you’re so enthralled in the first place. Personally, I’ve always drawn motivation from the humble-hearted wisdom and resilience of trees, marvelling awe-struck at their stoic strength that still reaches for the brightest of skies even in the harshest of winters. They always fill me with hope. It’s good to embrace positivity in the faces of these challenges, as there will always be hope, and we need struggles and stumbling blocks in order to grow.
What does creative writing mean to you?
Imagination; as well as unravelling the possibility of a poetic, parallel universe. I’m particularly inspired by the natural environment, especially trees, and have put this perspective into practice using stethoscopes on trees, engaging hands-on in the synthesis of symbolic poetic moments. If you stethoscope a tree and linger by its bark for a sufficient number of hours, for example, you can hear the hum of its heartbeat shivering down each sinewy spine; the tangle and turn of its watery threads, you can hear each snap and snarl. For me, poetry is all about exploring these poetic parallel worlds. I‘m also interested in exploding the limits of language by showing its limitless potential when embraced creatively, so I enjoy experimenting with poetic form. As well as writing poetry using the language of receipts, I’ve also written mathematical poems such as The Binomial Test, calculating the real probability of getting one’s heartbroken, and am currently working on a boundary dispute between trees written in legalese.
What advice would you give to new writers?
I’d really encourage writers to check out Young Poets Network, I’ve found it to be such a supportive, helpful platform and every professional opportunity, commission or project I’ve been involved with so far is thanks to staying up to date with their writing opportunities. YPN is The Poetry Society’s online platform for young poets up to the age of 25. You’ll find a range of inspiring challenges and competitions that particularly welcome young writers, advice and guidance from the rising and established stars of the poetry scene. The people who run it are also incredibly friendly and supportive – I did an internship once, it was amazing.
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Next up, we have Shaun Levin – the creator of Writing Maps; Writing Maps are literally illustrated maps with creative writing prompts (the only way I personally can recommend seeing what they’re about is to buy one, or more). He is also the author of Seven Sweet Things, A Year of Two Summers, and Snapshots of The Boy.
What is your creative writing journey so far?
I published my first short story in 1990 when I was about 27, and I’ve kept going ever since! That first publication gave me the confidence to write the kinds of stories I enjoy writing. I gradually wrote longer stories and published a novella, Seven Sweet Things, in 2004, then a collection of stories, then some shorter works. Teaching creative writing has been an integral part of my creative writing journey for over 20 years, and it’s out of that side of my practice, that I created the Writing Maps.
What does creative writing mean to you?
For me, creative writing means a daily practice of writing, of observing and dreaming, and following the thread of your imagination and your wild mind! Creative writing is an inward journey, an attempt to go as close to that place inside that has no words, and yet, to struggle to find the words to tell those deep, almost hidden, stories, whether they’re autobiographical or fiction.
Where are you most inspired to write?
Seeing other art forms inspires me the most; painting and photography, in particular. I love writing in art galleries and in public spaces. Writing in parks inspires me, and sitting in cafés. Parks, people – they’re kind of artistic creations, too.
What inspired Writing Maps? What is the story behind them?
Writing Maps evolved out of my own teaching practice and out of my love of writing in outdoor and public spaces. The writing prompts on the maps are tried and tested by many of the hundreds of writers I’ve worked with over the years! I’ve always loved writing prompts that set you off in unexpected directions, and that’s what I hope I’ve brought to the Writing Maps.
What advice would you give to new aspiring writers?
Write whatever you want. If you do, there will always be someone who’ll publish your work, and if you don’t find that publisher, publish it yourself. Keep making work. Write what excites you. Write to discover things about yourself. Write what you know and keep going deeper than what you know, or thought you knew, about yourself and the world.
If you’re interested in finding out more about Writing Maps, visit writingmaps.com and enter the discount code: WATERFRONTWRITER at the checkout for 20% off purchases.
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Finally, Professor David Britton – a lecturer in Creative Writing here at Swansea University – imparts some advice about Creative Writing, and shares his own writing background.
What is your own creative writing background?
Like all the Creative Writing staff at Swansea University, I am a practicing writer as well as an academic. Our staff — there are 11 of us — includes prize-winning novelists, short-story writers, poets, script-writers, and non-fiction writers. I am a dramatist, that is to say, I write plays. I am also a director and dramaturg, and as well as my University post, I am Artistic Director of the Welsh new writing theatre company Theatr Cadair. I began my Creative Writing career in Australia, where my stage plays won the Swan Gold Award (for Cargo) and the Equity Award for Production of the Year (for Plainsong). Before my breakthrough as a playwright I was a journalist for newspapers and broadcasters, for the ABC in Australia and for the BBC in Britain. I came to Wales from Australia in 1998, after a time as National Executive Producer for the ABC. As well as television work, I have written over 40 radio plays (including last year’s BBC adaptation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters), and since settling in Wales have written for leading stage companies such as National Theatre Wales and Sherman Cymru. Perhaps my most successful recent play is The Wizard, the Goat and the Man Who Won the War, about the Welsh Prime Minister, David Lloyd George. It has played throughout the country, as well touring to France and Singapore. It returns to Swansea’s Taliesin Arts Centre in October as part of a new season.
What advice would you give to either new, or more anxious creative writers about writing or getting published, for example?
Share your work as much as possible. Swansea’s approach to Creative Writing teaching is very much based on group reading. Writing for publication or performance is a two-way act of communication. It involves an audience or a readership, and it requires the writer to predict whether her or his reader or audience member will be engaged, interested, entertained, shocked, provoked, intrigued. A good way to learn how to do this is to present your work to a small, trusted group, and to learn for their reactions and comments. And read your work aloud. If it is hard to say aloud, there is almost certainly something awkward in your sentence construction. In our formal Creative Writing teaching, the teacher tends to be the moderator of such discussions, but if you are not taking formal Creative Writing classes you can still do this by forming informal groups of friends with a mutual interest in writing. In this way, you are more likely to shape your work so that when you do offer it to an agent, a publisher or a production company it will be “road-tested”.
In your opinion, what is the best thing about creative writing?
Writing is part talent and inspiration, part craft and skill. When the two sides of the equation come together in a beautiful synthesis, the product is art. Any original art, whether be it painting, writing, or musical composition, has three stages: observation, imagination/interpretation, and presentation. The creative writer looks at the world, sees the world, interprets that world through the filter of personal imagination, and then presents that vision back to the world through writing. What could be better? It is important to say that Creative Writing is not the exclusive preserve of those who have studied English. My own undergraduate degree was in Biology and the History of Science. This year we have a promising MA student in Creative Writing whose Undergraduate degree was in Geography. My own favourite playwright, Chekhov, was a Doctor. But whatever your background, you do have to love language. You have to be passionate about wanting to transmit your view of the world through words and you have to be prepared to work hard to develop the craft skills to enable you to do that. (This is where formal teaching is useful). I enjoy nothing better than losing myself in a scene I am writing, falling in love with my own characters, and, yes, laughing at my own jokes. The prospect of sharing all that with others still excites me enormously, even though I have been doing it for many years.