Claire King

Author

Archive for December, 2017

A Solstice Story

Posted on: December 19th, 2017 by Claire - 14 Comments

A Solstice Story

Under the indigo light, the twilight roads glistened with rain, but the clouds were clearing now, and the sky of the winter solstice was luminous and streaked with pink. In the windows of the houses, yellow lights snapped on one by one, and as their curtains were drawn, the girl caught sparkling glimpses of tinsel and fairy lights.

Up in the woodlands that were silhouetted on the soft curve of the hills to the south, a roe deer raised her lovely face to the silver sliver of rising moon. A hare hopped from her form and twitched her black tipped ears at the sounds of faraway cars taking people home to their families for the night. Or home to their cats. Or to the television. Or for some people, home to nothing but loneliness.

In the skies over the commons, wisps of jackdaws rose and fell noisily as they settled into their roosts for the night.

The girl, Asha, walked past the well-lit houses. She walked past the houses where Christmas music could be heard behind the closed doors. She stopped, instead, at a quiet house, dark but for a single candle burning on the window ledge.

Asha stood before the window, and waited to be seen. It was getting dark, but she knew that there were children in the house. Children often seemed to sense the way the light changed as it bent around her, and would look up from whatever they were doing. It wasn’t always the way with adults. Sometimes adults would not see her for days, and often they were so busy they did not see her at all.

Sure enough, in only a few minutes the surprised face of a girl appeared at the window. Asha smiled, and the girl raised a shy hand. Asha could not wave back, so instead she nodded and smiled again. After a moment, the girl disappeared from the window. When she reappeared again it was in the widening crack of the front door, with her mother and her two sisters besides her.

“I told you,“ the girl said, looking up at her mother, and her mother rested her hand on her daughter’s head and said, “yes, Sweetheart, you did.”

Asha moved into the shaft of light that fell out from within the house onto the path, so they could see her better. Her eyes were kind and wise, and so familiar to the mother that when she looked into them she caught her breath and raised a hand to her lips in surprise.

The smallest girl approached her cautiously, as you might approach a wild creature. “Hello?” she said. It was said like that, like a question.

“Hello.”

“What’s your name?”

“I’m Asha.”

“And I’m –“

“It’s OK, “said Asha, “I know you.”

The mother stepped forwards then. “Asha, why are you out here alone in the cold? Are you lost? Why did you not knock at the door?”

“I couldn’t knock because of this.” Asha raised the box she was holding by way of explanation. The little family looked at the box in her hands. It was almost as big as the girl herself. How had they not noticed it before?

“Come in, you can put it on the table,” the mother said.

“I will come inside for a moment, thank you,” Asha said, following them into the house, “but I can’t put it down.”

“Why not?”

“I have to carry it forever.”

“Who says you have to?” asked one of the children. “It’s not fair to make a child carry something so heavy.”

“That’s just how it is,” said Asha. “Don’t worry, it is not always so big. It’s true, some days it weighs so much all I can think about is how heavy it is. But I’ve carried it for a long time now, and sometimes it is so small I hardly notice it at all.”

“What do you have in such a strange box,” the tallest girl asked, “that could grow and shrink like that?”

Asha took a deep breath then, as though readying herself to hold more weight. “In my box,” she said, “is the smell of his skin. There is a lost future I had imagined. There is the first time we played chess and he let me win. There is the space where answers should be. Sometimes even an empty space can feel heavy.” And as she spoke, the box in her hands grew larger, but not large enough to hide from them the tears that rolled down her cheeks.

“I’m so sorry,” said the mother.

“How can we help you?” said one of her daughters. And the other girls wrapped their arms around Asha, and as they did so her box indeed became smaller again. None of it made sense.

“Thank you,” Asha said, “but it’s not the time for you to help me.”

“Then why did you come here to us?” the mother asked.

“I came to tell you that your box will not always be so heavy.”

And just as they were all about to tell her that she was mistaken, and that none of them carried a box, they each felt the weight of it in their hands, a weight so heavy that they fell together on to their knees. And one of the children cried out in anger because she did not want the box, but she could not let it go. And one of the children wept because holding the box made her feel terribly sad. And the third child looked at her mother in fear, because the box was so heavy she did not think that she could bear it. And the mother looked at her daughters with her eyes full of love, and she took a little more of the weight in her own hands, and said to them, “we are stronger than you think.”

Up in the woodlands to the south, now blanketed in dark for the longest night of the year, the jackdaws moved closer together against the whistle of the wind, the brown hare ate her modest supper in silence, and the roe deer lowered her lovely head and allowed herself to rest a while.

Tactics for writing

Posted on: December 16th, 2017 by Claire - 4 Comments

pantone-color-of-the-year-2018-ultra-violet-lee-eiseman-quote I like finding out which colour Pantone has picked as the one that best represents our collective mood for the year ahead. For 2018 they’ve gone with Ultra Violet, chosen as a colour of reflection and innovation. It makes sense – after the political events of 2016 and their fallout in 2017 we all need a bit of mental space to regroup and find new ways to take positive action.

On a more personal level, the last year has amplified and consolidated a lot of things I’ve learned about myself as a writer that will affect how I do things next year. Something clicked for me earlier this month when my daughter was given a short solo in her school play. She loves to sing but worried that she wouldn’t be able to control her voice and it would ‘come out wrong’. And then people would judge her. I don’t know about singing but I know about public speaking, so I gave her some advice about posture and practice and mental attitude, but beyond that all I felt I could do was reassure her that everything would be fine. Then I thought, perhaps there was some more practical advice to be had.

I’ve been lucky enough to make contact on twitter this year with Alison Moyet, who is just a joy, and if you haven’t read them I really do recommend her Other tour blogs which are not only well written, but bursting with honesty and good humour and resolute no-shit-taking. So, I asked Alison if she had any advice for Bea. Alison suggested warming up thoroughly and some ways to do that, because, she said, “Fear closes the throat”. Long story short, Bea took her advice and it all went well, but this idea that fear can stop our bodies doing what we’d like them to do resonated with me.

Of course there are clear parallels with writing. Writers are also sometimes afraid – I am sometimes afraid – afraid that the words won’t come out right, or that they will not be judged to be good enough, or that even if they are good enough they will still be rejected. Fear that the time I give to this would have been better spent giving more time to the people in my life. Fear that some idiot might have started a nuclear war before I even finish the next chapter. And fear can also shut down our writing ‘muscle’, so what can we do to make our writing respond to our will?

Here are a few things I’ve learned that help me:

Avoiding reading or discussing the news in the morning. Starting the day by thinking about the state of the world is the best way to muddle my mood and my mind, and a constant drip feed of outrage and incredulity cripples my productivity. Half an hour of news in the evening is enough. So if this means asking my husband to keep our discussion on news to a certain time of day, or not logging onto Twitter, that’s what it takes.

Not wringing the pleasure out of writing. Many articles on writing say you should write every day without fail, rain or shine. While it’s true that forming a habit is helpful, if you’ve got a miserable cold and all you want to do is snuggle under a blanket and read a book, not write 1000 words, then I think that’s what you should do. Don’t let writing become something you begrudge doing.

Writing exercises or prompts. If I can’t get started on the thing I’m trying to write, coming at it sideways as a warm up often helps. Sarah Salway posts some great prompts, or you could try writing small stones – tiny vignettes of something everyday that you observe closely.

Switching from screen to paper and pencil. It changes the dynamic and wakes up a different part of the brain.

Dedicated writing time. This is about knowing for how long I can go undisturbed and having strategies to manage that. 30 minutes of uninterrupted writing is usually possible (unless you have a baby, when sometimes it just isn’t). If someone is in the house (kids, partners, builders) it means explaining that I can’t be disturbed for the next half an hour unless someone or something is on fire. If no one else is home then I  have to make a deal with myself that I won’t answer the phone or the door. It’s doable.

Accepting that routine is not important to me. I’ve tried writing at the same time and in the same place every day. It doesn’t work for me, but when I’ve tried to make it work and failed it felt like the writing had failed. By accepting that having no chance of routine does not mean having no chance to write, I’m already winning.

Being a writer not an author. This means keeping my head clear of publishing stuff when I’m trying to create. Publishing stuff is not writing. Thinking about reviews, sales, rejections, prizes, lists, the dismal state of the market for literary fiction…all of that is author stuff and needs to be dealt with separately.

Gathering people around me who nourish and support my writing, both professionally and personally. This is vital for my energy and enthusiasm and I’ve felt the effects of not doing it enough this year… and then putting that right. I am VERY grateful for all my writing friends and non-writing sympathisers who have given me such a boost this year, and also for my lovely new agent 🙂

Going for a walk. It’s a classic. But walking really does replenish my good and creative thoughts. The bits of the mind that marvel at the shape of a tree, the coldness of the air or the smell of the seasons. 2017 has been the first year we haven’t had a dog since 2002, so going out for a walk has had to be a much more conscious decision.

Tree Reflection

Of course the things that work for me might not work for you – I’d love to hear what does!

Wishing you all a very positive and creative 2018 xxx

Archives

Feeds