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  1. My writing desk sits under the window in our front bedroom, though we have rarely used the room as such, and it gives me a clear view of the strip of grass on the opposite side of the road. It is that writers’ activity, doing anything else but write, and mine is staring out of that window and watching life pass by on that strip of grass. Whenever I do it, I stop myself, tell myself I should be writing, and turn away from the window, but so often some fascinating tableau out there will catch my attention. We live in a Victorian back-to-back terraced house in East London. It was the type of house originally built for factory and dock workers. Its layout is simple, almost identical to all the other ones that once filled this area. It was built with two rooms downstairs, two rooms upstairs and a tiny courtyard at the back, which backs directly onto the courtyard of the house behind us. It’s small but we love it, it’s our home. Our bedroom is the bedroom at the back of the house while the front bedroom has become our spare room/store room/laundry room/my home office; it’s rather cramped but it is amazing to have a place where I can go and write. There isn’t a matching row of terraced houses on the opposite side of the street to our house, instead there is a long and narrow strip of green grass, a public green space, where the opposite row of houses once stood. Our area of London was heavily bombed during the Second World War, and the opposite row of houses was a casualty of that bombing. After the war, this strip of bombed houses was turned into a green space, rather than just building on it again. It is so pleasant having this green space right on our doorstep, even though there was a tragedy behind its creation. This grass was always the territory of two crows, which I named Ronnie and Reggie because they always strutted across the grass as if this was their very manor and would chase away any other birds who dared to land there. They would happily chase away the starlings and pigeons who tried to encroach on their territory, though they were always wary of the seagulls. That was before the Covid lockdown. During the first lockdown, the number of crows multiplied by almost tenfold. There is now a murder of crows that can number twenty or even thirty some mornings, marching across the strip of grass, and they show such little fear of us human residents. One day, returning home from the supermarket, I found two crows sitting on the roof of our car, parked outside our house. They were angrily ripping apart a piece of bread. As I approached the car, one of them hopped away, but the other one remained standing in the centre of the car’s roof, staring angrily at me. It didn’t move as I passed within feet of it. Maybe our street has become their manor. Many joggers run around the strip of grass as part of their exercise. Some are dressed in the latest running clothes with the latest technology to aid them, their smartphones attached to their forearms by a dedicated strap-on pocket, their fit-bit or smartwatch on their wrist measuring every step they take. Or else they are dressed in old T-shirts and mismatched jogging bottoms. There are joggers who start their run with elaborate stretches and twists and joggers who just go straight into their slow and purposeful runs. The most memorable jogger is the jogger who has been there as long as we have been living here. She is now a woman in her late sixties or early seventies and every Monday to Friday, at seven o’clock in the morning, she runs around that strip of grass. She always wears the same tracksuit of black leggings and a DayGlo top, which is currently bright yellow. She always runs in the same way, short and fast-paced steps with her arms raised up against her chest. She will run around the grass three or four times before running off to the newsagents for her daily newspaper. She then walks home, with a long and flowing stride, the opposite of the way she runs. She’s a very lithe and sprightly woman, so her jogging has served her well. The dog walkers also exercise their pets on the strip of grass. Some energetically exercise their dogs there, running with the excited dog, throwing a ball for it, chasing it around. Some dog walkers bring their children too, leaving them to do the running around with the dog while they stand on the side and wait for all that energy to be spent. Other dog walkers have their dogs on a retractable lead, where they can stand and let the dog run off by itself until it needs to be pulled back. There is one dog walker who has always grabbed my attention; he and his dog look so alike. He is a portly middle-aged man and his dog is an equally portly Jack Russell terrier. Almost religiously, they walk around the edge of the strip of grass several times a day. I don’t know whether it was his doctor or the dog’s vet that recommended they get more exercise to lose weight. He always walks right around the grass with no shortcuts; his dog always follows behind him, but it always cuts off the corners, taking a diagonal shortcut across them. On a weekday morning there is the rush of mothers taking their children to school. Those mothers hurriedly rush their reluctant children along, their children trying to stretch out to the maximum the time they aren’t in school. Those mothers are much more interested in talking to their friends as their children hurry on ahead of them. At three-thirty the flow is in reverse, but this time it is teenage boys in their black blazers and matching school ties from the boys’ school on the opposite side of the main road that cuts this area in two. Though they may all be dressed in their neat and dark school uniforms, they still behave like teenage boys. They walk in groups, physically jostling one another, that one-upmanship between boys. They kick a football between them, shout excitedly at one another when they are walking next to each other, eating chips from the cheap fried chicken shop on the corner of the next street. Both of these different rushes of school children are over in barely half an hour each time, over and gone in a quick rush. Throughout the day, people walk past this strip of grass. People walking to work, people returning home with their bags of shopping, people talking on their phones as they walk, children playing haphazard games on the grass. In the summer, people actually sit on the grass having picnic lunches, though these lunches are far more often chicken and chips from the chicken shop than picnic lunches bought from the local supermarket, though some people do this. And one day there was a young woman recording a video. I noticed her walking around the grass, holding her phone in front of her face and talking in an animated style into it, her right arm gesturing to illustrate what she was saying. At first, I assumed she was making a video call, face-timing someone, but then she walked past for the third time and I realised she was performing the same hand gestures. She was recording herself. Somewhere on the internet is her video, with our street as her background. On overcast, winter mornings fog can cling to the grass. Some mornings it can be so thick I cannot see the blocks of flats behind the grass. Some mornings it can be just a fine layer, a foot or so deep, just clinging to the grass like a haunted fog from a gothic horror film from the nineteen sixties. And this fog will disappear with the full rays of the sun. And then other mornings the grass will be frozen white by the early morning frost. So many of the images and people I see out of that window bleed into my writing. They are not so much inspiration for me, but some things I use to add colour to my writing. If I want to describe a minor character or a passing tableau then often I will use something I have seen out of this window. So much of my life bleeds into my writing. In this coming year I’ll be sitting in front of that window a lot, I have so much I want to write about. Happy reading. Drew
  2. “I gave you good script,” Ma to Alan Cocktail Sticks, a play by Alan Bennett The writer Alan Bennett has been very open about how much he is inspired by real-life events. He has written plays and film scripts all inspired by real-life events; he has written several volumes of autobiographical essays, and every year or so he publishes extracts from his diary. I’ve seen and read all of them and enjoyed them so much. In his autobiographical play Cocktail Sticks, about his relationship with his parents, the character of Ma (based on his mother) says, “I gave you good script,” meaning he has used so many of the actual things she said in his writing. I cannot class myself in the same writing league as Alan Bennett, but I take so much inspiration from real-life events. That inspiration seems to fall into three different types. The first is when I want to write about events or attitudes that have made me angry or upset. This is when I use fiction to explore how I feel about a subject or when I want to write about attitudes in order to expose the negative/destructive nature of them. My short story I Always Knew is an example of this. It was the height of the Jimmy Savile scandal and I heard an elderly journalist on the radio saying that he’d always known about Savile’s crimes. My anger led me to explore that attitude, those people who are always “wise” after a tragedy, in this story. Secondly, I can find inspiration in news headlines and real events. Sometimes it a headline and a short news item that inspires my imagination. I don’t do anymore research, instead I let my imagination dwell on those sparse descriptions or even single event and then I fill out the events and with characters I’ve created. Without researching the events any further I can make sure I am not using the people and their tragedy for my own fiction, that my story is a complete work of fiction. A Family Christmas is an example of me using this type of inspiration. There was a mass shooting in America, on Christmas Eve, the year before I wrote this story. I learnt no more about that tragedy but my imagination filled in the blanks and I created a story that explored a theme that leapt out at me from this tragedy. I don’t always search out stories of death and tragedy, all kinds of things in the media can set my imagination off running. I read an interview with the actor Russell Tovey where he said a throwaway comment, but that comment set my imagination off. The result was the story That One Big Role. I have also been researching historical events for a series of stories. These take a lot more research and less of my imagination filling in the blanks, though some of that is still needed. With these stories I want to examine a historical event from a fictional character’s point of view, find the human story inside the facts. These stories do take a lot of work, but I don’t want to stop writing them, the research is fascinating. The Trial of the Century is the first one in this style I wrote. Thirdly, I find inspiration from my own life. It can either be just one small factor that I then spin off into a whole story, or else it can form a larger part of a story, or else I fictionalise something that happened to me as a way to explore what and why that thing happened. Boxing Day 1975 is a short story of mine that was inspired by one event from my life. When I was a young child, on Boxing Day, together with my family I watched the big film on television that evening, One Million Years BC. That was the only part I took into the story, it is certainly not based on my own family but I do vividly remember how my family all sat down together to watch the same television film. I met my first boyfriend in 1987 but our relationship did not last. Our break-up was different, difficult and not that conventional. I used that break-up scene, almost word-for-word from real life, as the opening scene of my story Out of the Valley. I used this story to explore obsessive love and not being able to let go of an ex-lover, none of which was my reaction to the end of that relationship, though this story did go through many rewrites over the years with the wish-fulfilment ending being quickly dropped. Then there are those real-life encounters that play on my mind and imagination and form the bases of some of my stories. Jonathan Roven Is Lost (a story in my collection Case Studies in Modern Life) is a story that started off in that way. Through my job, I saw the effect dementia has on the partners of those people with it. My blog here gives a much fuller picture of how that story was created. For me, there isn’t just one way that I find inspiration, but I guess that is the same for so for many writers, but using inspiration and facts from real life is very important to me, I want my stories to have that taste of authenticity. I don’t use overheard dialog in my writing, like many writers do, because the few times I’ve heard anything decent I’ve forgotten the actual words by the time I get home. But I do use real people in my writing or people’s attitudes and beliefs. I don’t use direct copies of people; I don’t feel comfortable if readers can easily identify the person who was the inspiration for a character. So often I combine different things from different people—the attitude from one person, the clothes style from another and the physical appearance from another. But what really fascinates me are people’s attitudes and beliefs and how they affect their lives and how people’s personalities react in different situations. For me, I find inspiration in so many different ways, so many different things can spark and inspire my imagination, but in the end it is my imagination that forms the story from whatever the inspiration is, though I always work to create authenticity in my fiction. I hope my stories bear that out. I do remember one of the classic things my mother said, though I have never found the right story to use it in. I was in my early teens and had just come home from school one afternoon and my mother was unpacking her shopping. “I won’t buy anymore lemonade, all you lot ever do is drink it,” my mother said. “What should we do with it, wash in it?” I said. “You know what I mean,” she told me. And I did. Happy reading Drew
  3. Tomorrow I'm off on a week's writing course. I'm really excited about it. There's nothing like immersing yourself in a writing environment and talking with other people who are on the same wavelength. Getting out of the usual routine is also inspiring and visiting a new place always gives me lots of ideas. For anyone who is following my stories 'To the Weyr' and 'Hidden Secrets' don't worry - they will be updated on Monday and Thursday as usual, although I may be slower replying to comments as apparently the wifi isn't great there. Over the next five days, I'm hoping to learn some new techniques there and maybe share some in this blog.
  4. So, there was an anthology contest in the year 2012 I tried to enter, but my story never made it very far. I let it rest until yesterday, when I trolled my ideas-folder and stumbled over it. I read it, and as I tried not to be too ashamed of what I had written back then, I thought about the things I'd like to find in a sci-fi/alien "romance" story. Instead of answering this myself, I thought I'd throw that question at you people. What would you like to read, what do you not want to read, what do you like in alien stories?
  5. Sometimes, I get stuck part way into a story. I often have the entire story complete in my head, but the typing can become a chore. I must have 6 or 7 stories part way along. I still like the stories, the characters and the plots, but the effort to finish is too much bother. Since writer's block is legendary - though usually more about getting an idea - what do other writers here do for motivation?
  6. For Ben & Timmy: Good poems frolic in the sun. They bring Arctic Lights to the barren tundra. They also manage to inundate the soils of Egypt and blow khamsins over the salt flats of Kutch in the very same day. Good poems deserve a kiss and a wink. 23/09/2016 ©asamvav111
  7. Ok so just a general question for you, when it comes down to writing/reading do you do it listening to anything, or do you need complete silence to get the mental juices flowing? And if you do choose something to listen to while your imagination puts words on paper, what is it that works best for you? To kick off, I'll let you into what I do. If I am researching I like to have silence as I find it easier to store the information I'm taking in. If I am writing, I love to have quiet chill out music, something cool like Enya or similar quietly on in the background. When I'm reading I've always got some kind of music on, tend to love the more chilled out 70's and 80's stuff, the likes of Air Supply, Duran Duran, The Carpenters, Joni Mitchell and other similar kinds of mellow music. So what do you listen to if anything at all?
  8. So my friends and I were debating the other night on how long should you stay in a coffee shop. I am not sure with the people here but I find coffee shops as one of the best places to write down a chapter whenever you are having an awful dose of a writer's block. For some reason, the aroma really activates and unhinges my mental block. Of course, you would have to buy at least one of their products to stay there. So aside from you continuously chugging down mug after mug of coffee and slice after slice of your favorite cheesecake, up to how long should you really stay? Example: I could consider staying for 4 hours and you only bought a small cup of coffee would be a little too much. That's me being considerate of other customers and the shop that could profit from them. Thoughts, anyone?
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