How to write nature, from nature writers

Having got back into reading following my stays in hospital, I’m back to collecting titbits about nature writing including hints about what makes for successful pieces.  By this I mean writers and readers sharing their ideas rather than what I am gleaming from my own reading and writing.

Robert MacFarlane as always have excellent things to say on the topic.  In An Antidote to Indifference, he writes about the resplendent array of reading we have available to us today.  That “a twenty-first-century culture of nature has sprung up, born of anxiety and anger, but passionate and progressive in its temperament.”  He quotes Ali Smith as saying “the place where the natural world meets the arts is a fruitful, fertile place for both” and goes on to tell us how powerful writing can change the reader, and through the reader, the community.  It can help shape our relationship with the natural world, and with place, instilling in us a consciousness and conscience about both.

“The best of this recent writing is ethically alert, theoretically literate and hyper-wary of the seductions and corruptions of the pastoral. It is sensitive to the dark histories of landscape, and to the structures of ownership and capital that organise – though do not wholly produce – our relations with the natural world.”
– Robert MacFarlane

This leaves the potential nature writer facing a challenge of Everest proportions, seemingly as difficult as plunging to the floor of the Mariana Trench.  But he also cites Alice Oswald as saying that poetry can save the planet by “putting our inner worlds in contact with the outer world”.  A much more handle-able task, one we can turn in our palms and caress with our fingers.  More like a beautifully cut, lovingly polished gem than a conquered mountain.  No less difficult but not quite so overwhelming, keeping Oswald’s words in mind we can make the first move, rather than standing paralysed by the trial, or trail, ahead of us.

When I was reading about the Canal Laureate, I came across some advice from Jo Bell:

“The most important thing is to look at it with your own eyes, not those of previous poets. Sit or walk by the canal and really pay attention. Use the five senses – what can you hear, smell, see, touch and even taste? What are the nearby buildings or trees like? Be specific – if you can see a bird, tell us what sort of bird it is. If you can see a building, is it concrete, brick or stone? Details help your reader to share in what you are seeing.”

This is excellent advice, known by most writers, but not always followed.  I have an exercise where I split the page into five and in each bit I make notes about different senses; what I hear, smell, taste, touch, and see.  Whilst I will never have much under smell (I have a terrible sense of smell), I will at least remember to think about it when I’m taking notes.  Similarly with taste, on the whole we don’t literally taste nature, but it brings in different metaphors and helps you see things in a more holistic way.

She also has a great youtube video about permission, not at all related to nature but great for writing and writers:

In writing Nature’s Architect, a book about the return of Beavers to Scotland, Jim Crumley gives us a glimpse into how he writes.  Towards the start of the book, he quotes Margiad Evans:

“If you want to write with absolute truth and with the ease pf a natural function, write from your eyes and ears, and your touch, in the very now where you find yourself alive, wherever it may be.  Carry your paper and book with your and conceal yourself in the fields.  Watch and be in what you see or in what you feel in your brain. There is no substitute even in divine inspiration for the touch of the moment, the touch of the daylight on the dream.”

In his search for beavers, Crumley finds himself in less familiar territories, telling the reader that when this occurs it takes time for him to become accustomed to a place, that he walks slower, listens and looks harder, being still more often and through this he begins to build a familiarity, an intimacy, with the landscape.  It is this relationship that allows writers to convey a habitat with such precision, with such knowledge, as though the land or nature herself were a friend they know well.

“The simple way in was to listen.  Thirty years of writing about nature for a living have taught me how to put my ear to the ground, especially where there is something quite new afoot… [by experiencing an animal for oneself it] becomes more alive, more vivid, more captivating in the eye of the beholder and in his imagination, and the insights are deeper and truer, when they are gathered in silence and solitude.”

It can be frustrating to read nature writing in which the author has been able to go to far flung, inaccessible places.  Places where my bank balance and wheelchair cannot take me.  The same is true when I turn to photographers.  But the best nature writers and the best photographers can see what is right on their doorstep.  It just requires time and effort to built the relationship with your immediate environment, time and effort that most of us forgo as we head out the door, get in the car and travel off to somewhere more traditionally considered nature.  I am just as guilty of ignoring the road as I head off to the park.  And this is something that I want to work on over the next few months.

Writing about nature from your bed is something that Elisabeth Tova Bailey has done incredibly well and I will be posting about her book, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, very soon.

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100 ways to write a book: The Helen method

Mslexia has a regular feature called 100 ways to write a book.  They interview a particular female writer and in addition to that, we get an insight into how the author writes.  For example, in the Dec/Jan/Feb 17/18 issue, Sarah Perry who wrote The Essex Serpent is interviewed and The Perry Method includes advice such as “If an idea occurs to you that makes your scalp tighten, it’s a sign that it will make a good story”.

In a similar vein, the creative nature writing guide I’ve mentioned also has a section about method.  It discusses use of journals, seasonal diaries, jotting down ideas on scraps of paper, dictating notes to a voice recorder, starting at the end, working on multiple projects and so on.

DSC_0610 levels

There are so many different ways to write and the important thing is that you find the one that works for you.  If you look online or in a bookshop, you’ll see pages and pages dedicated to teaching you how to write.  These generally aren’t about technique or style, more often than not they are about getting you to actually put words on paper.  And this is what the 100 ways to write a book column tends to be about.

I could not even entertain the idea of telling anyone how to write.  I am a retired, disabled, 31 year old woman with no children and no housework.  I am in an unusual situation.  I have all the time in the world to write but I also have limits imposed by pain and fatigue and brain fog.  But over the last year or so I have honed my way of writing.

I know I ebb and flow through the day and I know mornings tend to be the most reliably productive time so I try to make use of this.  Your own rhythms will be different to mine but I wanted to share my approach in case any of it is of help.  It has also been a helpful exercise in self reflection and I think a good reminder for when writers block strikes!

So, here is The Helen Method:

  • Write in a personal way, you chat to your reader, you befriend them and in doing so you build a relationship.
  • Even though you desperately want to write a beautiful novel, you can’t right now. The time may come but today you are a poet and a creative non fiction writer.
  • Always have word open on your laptop. You have significant hand pain and so you need to type, despite longing to be able to sit with an elegant fountain pen and inspiring notebook.
  • Write little and often. This helps with pain management but also creativity begets creativity.  Writing little and often makes it habit and means you don’t try and hold ideas in your head…
  • Which is important because your memory is not what it used to be. Keep a notebook at hand and a pen in sight and scribble down words and phrases before they are lost to brain fog.  But do not write any more than that by hand, see previous point.
  • Read lots.  Read often.  Read variety.  Non fiction and fiction.  Kindle and audiobooks.  Poetry and prose.  Magazines and articles.
  • And once you have devoured the contents of other people’s writings, ruminate. Go quiet.  Switch off Netflix and let the information swish around inside you. Feel into it and find the angle, find the hook.
  • Don’t try and tell the reader everything you know about a subject. Unused facts and details are not wasted.  They will be used elsewhere.  They helped you to understand.  The reader doesn’t need to know everything you know.
  • Similarly, stay focused. In your excitement about a topic, you are likely to head off on too many tangents and lose the narrative and the reader.
  • Go back to all those words and phrases and half started poems that you always mean to finish.
  • Most importantly, write because you enjoy writing. Write for no other reason than it brings you pleasure.

What tips would you include in your writing method?

The spirit of the sea

There are many plants and creatures that live under the sea and I’ll be unpicking them and our relationship with them as this month goes by.  In the meantime, if a particular creature is of interest to you then you might find my spirit card posts interesting:

Fairytale Forests

As we saw in the history of forests, woodland has been influenced by humans for many a year.  Indeed, whilst many refer to the great time of a forested England, in reality, by 1086 only 15% remained wooded.  This decimation of our forests would have an important psychological impact on our cultures.

When forests were much more widespread, there was a familiarity with them that started to disappear.  People were living in villages, towns and cities and the way of life was no longer connected with the trees for most people.  This detachment would have a profound impact on our literature.

2017-04-22_07-16-07.jpg

Enter the enchanted forest, the fairy tale wood.  A non specific place but one which we are all familiar with.

“The mysterious secrets and silences, gifts and perils of the forest are both the background to and the source of these tales”
– Sara Maitland

Crossing into the forest

From a practical perspective, travelling, back in the day of fairy tales, often involved going into a forest.  When you enter a forest, you are traversing a barrier, crossing a line, moving from civilisation to wilderness.  You are entering a different realm.  Whilst individual trees in fairy tales tend to be positive characters (in the grimm’s version, cinderalla has a tree which grants her wishes) a wood full of trees may not be…

A forest is darker and colder; this is a different place, a more sinister place.  You step from the wide open fields with many choices about how you pass through them into the wood with its designated paths and a sense of something ominous that keeps you to them.  You cannot see ahead of you, there are twists and turns and crooked paths and unexpected surprises, be they good or bad.

Dangers

And dangers there are.  There is the danger of getting lost in this dense environment where you cannot see the sky and you cannot see the horizon.  They are chaotic places with twists and turns and none of the orderliness of civilisation.  If it’s that easy to get lost, then it’s also easy for danger to hide.  There are wild and violent creatures – wolves, bears, werewolves, witches, felons and outlaws – all just waiting for you to come along and, in most cases, you will be eaten!  Think Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood.

The ease with which these beings can hide also suggests elements of secrecy, disguise and distortion.  The forest can hide things from you and show you things which are not there.  It conceals and deceives.

The forest of the fairy tale is often a reflection of the character’s inner self, but even if it’s not, forests are places which remind us that we too are animals.  We are closer to beast in the midst of the woods.

Retreat

“Of course you can get lost in the forest, but you can also hide in the forest… Forests are good places to hide.  Slip away between the trees, lurk in the greenwood, vanish into the thickets of wild wood: step outside the laws that bind you to the present and you become the out law”
– Sara Maitland

Why would you retreat into the forest?  Well you might step in on an errand as with little red riding hood, but you might also be running away from something much worse.  Often in fairy tales, this is an abusive family or situation…

For some characters, this retreat into the forest is the start of a reclamation of their power.  Or for younger heroes and heroines, a journey which sees them stepping into their personal power.

This place outside of adults creates an opportunity for children to step up to responsibility and to test themselves and their skills.  This is also seen in more recent literature such as the adventure stories of swallows and amazons and other tales of self-sufficient children.

“Forests became the pure place of primal innocence where children could escape from their adults, get away from the order and discipline of straight roads and good governance, and revert to their animal origins”
– Sara Maitland

Abandonment

Of course, not all characters enter the woods willingly.  We have Snow White who is abandoned by the huntsman who is supposed to kill her, we have Rapunzel who is locked in a tower in a forest as well as Hansel and Gretel and Sleeping Beauty who is hidden away in the forest.  Here the forest as savage and uncivilised is more prominent.  These children have literally been left in the wild by people who are supposed to love them, how much further can you get from civilisation?

Even in those stories where abandonment isn’t a feature, there is a sense of the character feeling abandoned when they get lost or lose their sense of self.  There is nothing that can be relied on in the dark, wild forests.  Civilisation itself has abandoned you.

Transformation

Within the forest, magic happens.  Whilst this might involve a witch or an enchanted tree, it can also be that marvellously mortal type of magic that transforms who you are and what you think.

With the forest as a metaphor for feeling lost, for depression and anxiety, characters can use their time to find their way, to find ways of seeing the future and ways back to who they truly are.  In the dark, tangled woods, where you can’t see the sky or the edges, you can be sure to see your authentic self.  So long as you keep going and face the challenges which come your way.  They will be hard, but they are not insurmountable.  The hero or heroine never die in the forest.  It is not a destination, it is a part of your journey.

In the forest, you may find you have to veer from the path, or discover you have lost the path, in order to find your own, unique way through.  You will face tests and trials as well as the horrors and dangers of the woods.  But this is a liminal state.  This is the space you need to grow, to become wiser and stronger and to build yourself back up to all the wonder of your true self.

“Coming to terms with the forest, surviving its terrors, utilising its gifts and gaining its help is the way to ‘happy ever after’
– Sarah Maitland

The type of challenges you face in a forest, tend not to be life threatening ones.  Instead they are the sort which stretches you and shapes you and requires you to put in work to get through them.  In England where we have no wild animals to kill you, the real threats of a forest are few.  But instead, you face horrible things which help to teach you how to cope and that you can cope.  That you will get through tough situations and you will come out a better person for it.  They build resilience.  And our stories of these forests remind us all that “intelligence and knowledge and love allow a person to overcome the worst disasters and be better off for it” (Sara Maitland).

“It is where you travel to find yourself, often, paradoxically, by getting lost.”
– Roger Deakin

Often, characters get lost in fairy tale forests and this aides the narrative by reflecting their internal state.  The heroines or heroes are untangling their own secret selves whilst also untangling the secrets of the forest.  And they leave the forest with a strong sense of self and truth and a sense of a path forward.

Within the framework of looking at universal archetypes, Jungian scholars have posed the fairy tale forest as both a place of trials, as we’ve discussed, but also a place for retreat, reflection and healing.  When discussing the tale of the handless maiden, Jungian scholar Marie Louise von Franz says:

“She has to go into deep introversion…. The forest [is] the place of unconventional inner life, in the deepest sense of the word.”

Sharon Blackie echoes this duality when she says:

“to enter into any wood is to enter into a realm in which transformation seems inevitable; the particular brand of transformation you’re heading for depends heavily on the nature of the wood.” 

She goes onto explain how the woods of northern Europe, often shadowy, dark, dangerous places represent a world outside of human experience, the world where there are witches and monsters and wolves.  Whereas the lighter, broad leaf forests allow more light in and tend to be settings for fairies and enchantment instead.

Perhaps the forest is also a reminder that there is space for reflection and enchantment even in the darker places.  That there, in the forest filled with fear, the light of your own magic shines brighter and stronger.

Another common theme of transformation is that of coming of age, the forest as part of an initiation into adulthood but I think I’ve already written more than enough for now… Perhaps I shall revisit this topic again one day…

Further reading

There is so much more reading that you can do but I’m going to include a few links to different forest based fairytales which come with interesting commentary and I highly recommend Sara Maitland’s Gossip from the Forest.

October – my writing

Just in case you were going to comment unconstructively, I’m not in the mood… I shared a poem in an online context recently, with the note it was unfinished, to illustrate an idea I was discussing.  Instead of engaging with the idea or adding something constructive I got a fairly unhelpful comment about my assonance… Had this person given examples of what was meant and where in my work this was I would have found it very helpful but as they didn’t, it just felt rubbish…

Virtually nothing I post on here is a final version and if I tried to do that you’d not get October inspired poems in October.  Given the current structure of this project, I feel like it is more helpful for me to share unedited work that is relevant to the month’s topic as they will share ideas about approaches and exercises.

I also, inevitably, have some words about autumn but I’m going to look at that in a different post.

Prompted by the structure of Larkin’s ‘The little lives of earth and form’, I wrote a sextilla:

Granite strong and chalky soft
To this land, my hat I doff.
Jagged peaks and silky sands;
                A contradiction
                This composition.
A feat unmatched by human hands.

Whilst line two has issues, I like the contradiction in the poem and in nature and it fits with the idea of nature not being less than us.

One night this month, I lay awake.  Well actually, many nights this month I’ve lain awake.  But this particular night was raining and surprisingly my neighbours were quiet so I listened to it from my bed at 3am, thinking of rain words.

The crackle of rain
On the window pane

Tip tip tap
Tip tip tap

Each drip drop crashes
Into sleeplessness
Pittering
Pattering

Tip tip tap
Tip tip tap

Clock ticking, tocking
Droplets plip, plopping

Tip tip tap
Tip tip tap

Trashing in the night
Insomniac’s fight
Tossing and turning
Running from morning

Tip tip tap
Tip tip tap

Tip tip tap…

And we have to have one poem about humans and animals, after all, it is the theme of the month!!  Whilst I declared at the start these are all drafts, this one very very much is a draft.  I like the idea and I know it needs work so constructive criticism welcomed!

Roll up!  Roll up!
For The Greatest Zoo On Earth!©
Roll up!  Roll up!
For your last chance to see…

Our antelopes and badgers,
Crustaceans and dancing deer!
Elephants and flying fish
You may even see a reindeer*!

*Seasonal attraction only, no guaranteed sightings, no refunds available.

Goats and hippopotamuses
Iguanas and jaguars!
Kackling Kookaburras™
And lots of leaping leopards!

Meerkats standing guard, new newts,
Orangutans and peacocks.
And don’t forget to see all
The happy, smiling quokkas!

Roll up!  Roll up!
For rats, raccoons and Rudolph™
See the seals, snails, snakes and skunks
Turtles and terrapins too!

Umbrella birds, vampire bats
Weasels and X-Scape Monkeys™.
You can see it all right here
At The Greatest Zoo On Earth©

Closing soon.

William Wordsworth: Poetry, People and Place (week 4)

Week one, week two, week three

Week four

This is the final week and I’ve been looking forward to it in particular, as Dorothy gets a bit more of a look in here.  We have seen snippets of her work and her writings have been used to support the learning about William but she was a writer in her own right and I think this often gets overlooked.

Letter writing

Both of the Wordsworth’s placed importance on letter writing.  At the time it was a way of maintaining relationships with people who didn’t leave nearby and it also allowed them to share works and news with friends such as Coleridge.

Are there particular letters that you remember vividly? What role did letter writing have in your life and has this role been taken over now by email and social media? Is there something different about the experience of writing and receiving a letter to these forms of communication?

– Questions posed in the course

Anyone who has the pleasure or misfortune of having given me their postal address will know that I love sending post.  I love seeing a card, a magazine article or a little something as I’m out and about and thinking of friends and then sending this token on.  My health means that I cannot see my friends as much as I’d like and I can’t always be there for them when things are hard.  So post is one way I show them that I love them and I’m thinking of them.  Sometimes it’ll be a little care package of chocolates and magazines.  Sometimes I send my sister some DVDs I think she’ll like.  Sometimes I’ll just send a postcard to say I’m by the sea and wish you were here.  An overused phrase for postcards but I mean it when I say it.  I don’t toss away words.

I will often communicate with these friends through social media whilst the post is on it’s way.  It’s not an alternative form of communication, it’s one that I use alongside, to say different things.  I love twitter, it is my social media platform of choice, and it limits you to 140 characters so interactions on there are inevitably different to those in letters or emails.  And for many users, their tweets are public which again shape what gets said.  I wonder if the Wordsworth’s would have changed their letters had they known they’d be read and analysed many years later?

Dorothy’s diaries

Next we looked at the writing within Dorothy’s diaries.  Her journals covered the day to day aspects of their lives, the natural world around them, the people they knew and William’s poetry.

Dorothy, as a person and as a writer, often falls into her brother’s shadow but she is an important woman in her own right. She was younger than William, born at the end of 1771, and she outlived him by five years.  Following the death of their parents, the two were separated, with Dortohy being bought up by a series of relatives across the country.  Despite being part of 5 siblings, Dorothy and William were closest to each other and on the occasion they were together, they would plan their futures.  Futures filled with dreams of writing and walking and reading and each other’s company.

William left Dorothy to visit Yorkshire in 1800 and this is when her journal began.  She writes: ‘I resolved to write a journal of the time till W. and J. return, and set about keeping my resolve, because I will not quarrel with myself, and because I shall give Wm. pleasure by it when he comes home again’.

William would marry Mary Hutchinson two years later and Dorothy would continue to live with her brother and his new wife, helping out with the household.  Towards the end of her life, illness confined her to her home and the local area for two decades.  For someone who had spent so much of her life independently exploring and walking and observing, this can’t have been an easy time.

Daffodils

One of the really interesting journal entries talks about an encounter with some daffodils.  Dorothy and William were returning home one day when they came across “a long belt of them along the shore”.  She writes:

I never saw daffodils so beautiful they grew among the mossy stones about & about them,
Some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness & the rest tossed &
reeled & danced & seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over
the Lake, they looked so gay ever glancing ever changing. This wind blew directly over the
Lake to them. There was here & there a little knot & a few stragglers a few yards higher up
but they were so few as not to disturb the simplicity & unity & life of that one busy
highway—

This was written on 15th April 1802, two years before William wrote his famous poem, “I wandered lonely as a cloud…”.  There are two published versions of this poem, one from 1807 and one from 1815.

Graffiti in the Lake District

Reading Dorothy’s version of the event, we can see how much poetic license William used in his poem.  In the journal entry, there is a furious wind which seized their breath.  The lake along which the daffodils danced was rough.  This is not the gentle breeze from William’s poem.  He omits the bad weather and suggests a gentle day, mostly free of cloud.  He also depicts the scene as if he had stumbled onto it alone, finding himself with only the company of the flowers, a choice which changes the tone of the experience.

His poem contains one of his “spots of time”.  He says that when he sees the daffodils he enjoyed the experience but didn’t think much about “what wealth the show to me had brought”.  But later, when “in vacant or in pensive mood, They flash upon that inward eye, Which is the bliss of solitude, And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the Daffodils.”  Poetry seemed to live within the home as we know that Mary, William’s wife, contributed two of those lines.

Naturally their differing purposes plays an important part in how their writings were shaped. Dorothy’s is more truthful, as it is a diary, and it’s more concretely descriptive instead of William’s looser, more poetic description. I think it also makes a difference that Dorothy writes within context of the rest of the day whereas for William it is a entire moment itself. He zooms in on the daffodils where she conveys a more panoramic picture.  Writing several years after the event also allows William to include reflections and to show the impact that moment had on him.

I wanted to respin the famous “I wandered lonely as a cloud…” to make it more reflective of the entry in Dorothy’s diary.  I’m sure this has been done before but I enjoyed the exercise.  And this is a version which does need editing!  I did try another attempt first using Dorothy’s words and phrases but it feels jilted and forced at the moment.

Daffodils, a retelling

We strolled together side by side
Bound for home past windswept fields.
We rested in the lane, to hide
A moment from the storm. Then peeled
Church bells and drew our eyes shoreward
And Oh! What sight was our reward!

There lay, beside the violent loch*
A host of golden daffodils
Some rested heads on mossy rocks
Whilst others danced and never stilled
Yet more trumpeted our delight
Smiling, laughing, t’was such a sight!

*I know we’re not in scotland but I’m taking poetic license until a better line comes to me!

William Wordsworth: Poetry, People and Place (week 3)

Week 1 and week 2

Week three

Michael

This week we have been looking at a poem called Michael and the sense of place within it.  The poem is about a shepherd who has a strong connection to the land he lives and works in.  It contains a strong sense of place, using specific and detailed images to help anchor it in the land.

Wordsworth seems to admire Michael’s combination of strength of body and strength of mind. More specifically, it is Michael’s awareness and attention to the nature and landscape around him which Wordsworth values. I feel that Wordsworth holds Michael’s relationship with the landscape in high regard, and perhaps enviously as it is possible that a shepherd has a different relationship with the land to the poet.

Whilst Wordsworth holds Michael’s attention to nature above that of ordinary men, I think the extract (the second section of the full poem) suggests that it is possible to have this experience. That is, the depth of relationship to place could be there for anyone, but at the same time, the way of life for Michael means he has put in more days, more literal legwork than most of us ever would. Because of this, the land holds memories and this deepens his relationship to it. That said, the land has special meaning to Michael because it belonged to his family before him and this is something that most of us can’t weave into our relationship with place.

Place

Questions: How do we, as individuals, connect to the place we live in and the place where we were brought up?  How does this shape our identity?

Exercise

We were given some instructions to help us write about place.  I wanted to go outside to do this but it’s been a horrific week for my health and I’ve mostly been stuck in bed…  This writing is entirely unedited:

The longed for noisy peace of nature
Broken by the hum of traffic,
The shouts and screams of strangers.
An unseen plane whirrs
And a northwesterly wind
Carries a distant train horn.
A familiar woodpigeon, one of a pair
Calls out, cooing through the urban music;
A heart warming sound.

The sun bleeds through white mesh
Slowly brightening and darkening,
Nuances missed by most.

And if I lean slightly right
– not too far
A triangle of sky reveals herself
Clear and blue, for now.

The longed for joyful wonder of nature
Is found in unlikely places.

This is my bed, my nest, my nursemaid.
This is my bed, my prison, my shackles.

The Sheepfold

We also looked at the importance of the sheepfold in this poem.  We know from Dorothy Wordsworth’s diaries that William often wrote outside which may well have shaped his writing.  The course asks us then to think about setting and writing context within our own practices.  I think the importance of setting and context depend on the nature of the writing involved. If you’re writing about a specific place then the language and images used need to reflect that accurately and it is often best to jot notes when you are there and are tuned into the setting.  This touches on some of the arguments around language in my post about nature writing.

For writing which is less place specific I think the setting for writing is less important from the perspective of what you actually write. However we all work well in different places. I can’t write in libraries, I want to but just can’t, because they are too quiet and I get distracted by the quietness. Equally, I can’t write in busy places because I find the noise overwhelming and end up people watching… At different times in my life I’ve had different set ups for my writing. When I was a teenager I carried a notebook everywhere and could be found jotting things down on my maths homework if that was what was at hand… For a while I stopped writing and to get back into it I found I needed more structure and ritual around it. Now I have to write at a computer (due to a disability) which changes things again.