Archive | creative

Exercise your writing muscle – train to be a better writer

Use your writing muscle - writer wearing a hoodie, holding pen and note-book

Like physical training, your writing can benefit from exercise. Just like challenging your body, heart and lungs to take on new challenges, you can improve your writing by focusing on your writing practice and trying new things. Here’s how I exercise my writing muscle and keep myself in top writing shape.

Make time for writing

I swim, cycle and run so that I can take part in triathlons. I do weight training to keep me strong and in good shape for my sport too. Yes, it is sometimes hard to fit in physical training. But I know that if I don’t put the effort into consistent training, I’m unlikely to reach my potential, and I risk injury. Training challenges me, and I enjoy it. So I make time for it.

I make time for writing too. Not just as part of my daily routine, which involves creating content for my writing clients. I make time to explore writing outside of my work commitments too.

Time to try new writing challenges. Time to write with no expectations or judgement. Time to play around and enjoy it.

Time for writing can be a regular 20 minutes free-writing to warm up my writing muscles for the day. Or, it can be more intense and concentrated, in the form of a workshop or writing retreat with Dark Angels, or a training event from 26 Characters.

Become a better writer by reading

Most writers start out mimicking their heroes. I did. Somewhere in a box in the attic, there’s an exercise book filled with a story about a girl who runs off on horseback in the dead of night, in the style of C.S Lewis. Reading was how I first learnt the elements of stories, about heroes and conflicts, about character, place and action.

It may seem like a long path to go from writing fantasy tales to writing marketing materials for businesses. But business writing has its heroes with their obstacles to overcome too. It’s just a matter of seeking them out. Call that my daily quest.

Writing stories of my own taught me about structure – about the importance of beginnings, middles and endings. These are important elements in business writing too.

You need a strong headline to catch attention. You need to draw people in, take them on a journey. And then at the end, you need to persuade them to take action.

Become a better writer by analysing technique

While studying English Literature and Language at Leeds University, one of my tutors used to set us the task of writing essays in the style of the writers we were studying – Philip Sidney, John Milton, Alexander Pope.

This was very different from modern writing, but in mimicking the rhetoric, structure, and language of different writers, I learned to appreciate the craft of their writing even more. That meant I could write about it from a position of understanding.

Using metaphor, drawing on all the senses, writing from another person’s point of view, choosing a potent word – these are all techniques I have learned through studying language and literature. And they serve me well as a writer for business today.

Become a better writer by finding your voice

As a writer, the ability to adapt my writing to different styles is a very useful skill. It helps me sound like the brand or company I’m writing for. And I can still do a decent impression of Jane Austen or Charles Dickens, should you need that kind of thing.

But to be authentic, it’s not enough to mimic someone else’s style.  You have to develop your own.

While a brand and business may borrow and adopt words and language from its own industry and environment, as a tone of voice consultant, I advise them to look for the things that make them different.

Just as in speaking, we all have our own individual, distinct and recognisable voices, it’s important to find your own voice when you write – whether that’s writing for business or writing for yourself. It’s what makes you different, unique and memorable.

To exercise your writing muscle and improve your writing

  1. Make time for writing

  2. Make time for reading

  3. Try on different voices and see what fits

  4. Use what you’ve learned and make it your own

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Free writing – how to start writing anything

Just write.

It’s one piece of advice I always offer about writing of any kind. If the blank page fills you with fear, find a way to defeat it.

Free writing

person writing with a pen in a notebookJust write. Take your pen or pencil and move it on the paper. Write as quickly as you can, without thinking too much about what you want to write.

Don’t worry if it’s a scribbly mess. Pay no attention to grammar or spelling or any of the usual things that demand your attention when writing. Just take your mind for a walk and let the words follow as you write.

This is free writing and it’s a great technique to help you get over the hurdle of starting to write anything.

Writing as part of a creative routine

For creative writers, it’s a technique popularised by Julia Cameron in her book The Artists’ Way. She calls this practice ‘Morning Pages’ and encourages writers to start each day with 3 sides of long hand writing.

Much of what you write may be nonsense, or fairly dull practical stuff about what you need to do that day, but given time and focus, other elements start to appear if you can just let go and write.

I don’t stick strictly to the ‘Morning Pages’ routine, but do use variations of free writing in my own writing practice, whether I’m writing for business or just for my own amusement. I always start with something handwritten as I find thoughts flow more readily from brain to pen than they do from brain to keyboard.

Finding creative gifts

Use free writing to spark creative ideasFree writing is useful for any kind of writing, not just for self discovery. It gets you started and gives a structure.

I recommend setting a timer and writing for between 10 to 20 minutes. And importantly, doing nothing else in the meantime. Just focusing on writing, but trying not to think too much about what you’re writing.

Writing in this way allows you to tap into your subconscious, which is a great source of creative ideas. Once you get your conscious mind out of the way, you may find that your subconscious throws in something completely unexpected. That’s an absolute gift for generating original and creative ideas.

I remember using free writing to start a piece of fantasy writing about a monster. After a while, letting my thoughts flow, out of nowhere came an image of a reality TV show contestant singing into a microphone. The clash of the two images gave my creative piece an unexpected twist and the final story was shortlisted for a writing award.

Free writing for business

Girl breathing Free writing also helps me reflect. I turn off the screen, eliminate any distractions and just spend time with my pen and notebook. My handwriting becomes very untidy and often I don’t write in full sentences. But as I do it, I can feel a sense of calm, like I’m taking deeper breaths, or spending some time meditating.

For business focused writing I adapt the exercise by giving myself a starting point or a topic at the top of the page. For example, this blog post began as a free writing exercise around the theme of writing workshops.

Discover your writing inspiration

I’m putting together materials and exercises for a creative writing workshop next month and free writing is very likely to be one of the exercises I will use. I may start people off with a sentence or a phrase that they continue such as: “I’d write more if…”

If you’re interested in starting to write and developing your writing creatively for business, blogging or just for your own enjoyment, check out details of my Get Writing, Keep Writing workshop.

For more business writing tips, sign up to my mailing list.

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Dove Cottage – creative writing inspired by place and objects

Did you know that writer William Wordsworth born on this day in 1770? It’s a date that’s lodged in my mind as it links to a creative project that I was part of, linked to the poet and his Lake District home of Dove Cottage.

I was one of 26 writers who took part in in a creative writing project inspired by postcodes. The letter and number combinations identified a place that we used as inspiration to write a piece of 62 words exactly – a form known as a sestude.

Dove Cottage, Grasmere

Dove cottage

My postcode was for Dove Cottage in Grasmere – home to the famous poet William Wordsworth and his family from 1799 to 1808.

I immediately felt lucky to have such a place rich in writing history from which to draw inspiration, but also a little daunted. Although I knew of Wordworth’s work, and had studied some of his poetry, he wasn’t one of my favourites. I dismissed him as a bit safe and chocolate boxy.

But I was very wrong, as I learned when I visited the house and the exhibition space that now sits alongside it. Wordsworth was a great walker and adventurer. He visited France during the Revolution and had a relationship and a daughter there. His poetry reflects changing social and political landscapes, and together with his sister Dorothy and his family, they were a real part of the small community they lived in.

Taking inspiration from objects

I visited Dove Cottage on a bright, sunny day, perfect for the tourists that now flock there. In the museum and the house, I was fascinated by the objects that would have been familiar to Wordsworth and his family.

The page of Dorothy’s diary, open at the day they saw the daffodils, that inspired his most often quoted poem, shows how important her records are in shaping Wordsworth’s work.

Pens, a writing desk, a small suitcase – these told the story of a man who once travelled, but came to settle and write in this place.

And, displayed in a glass case, was the rich velvet coat he wore when he was presented to Queen Victoria as poet laureate. In all likelihood, the most expensive piece of clothing he ever wore. I imagined him feeling rather uncomfortable in it, being more at home in the tough boots that carried him miles in walks over the hills.

From scribbled words to published piece

I drank in so much information among the exhibits, and then went and sat, in the garden behind the house and wrote a  few words in my notebook.

Notebook and 26 Postcodes pamphletAfter many further scribblings and through many more pages of words,  I eventually condensed my thoughts down to the 62 that make up my sestude. It was  was published online and in a beautiful little pamplet along with other pieces that reflect places as diverse as Seamus Heaney’s football club to the Heinz factory.

Looking back, I can trace every thought and idea in those 62 words to my time at Dove Cottage.

“To introduce Wordsworth into one’s library is like letting a bear into a tulip garden,” said Thomas de Quincey. The quote illustrated on one of the displays made me smile, and painted a picture of a robust, and vigorous man, with a passion for books. It also gave me that key word ‘library’ – a good one to use in relation to a writer.

The coat appears, as does Dorothy’s diary, and the garden path that I took at the back of the house. And seeing the house in its context, I wanted to reflect a sense of the landscape that inspired the writer and me, with its distinctive fells and lakes. That gave me a structure for my poem.

I still have the notebook. The first words I wrote were: hill, lake, hearth, home. They remain in my finished sestude, as a tribute to the power of place to inspire. Here it is:

Your library, these rising hills

Your reflections, these sun-dappled lakes

Your muse, these dancing golden flowers

Your wistful words, whispers of valley voices

Your fine court coat, the mossy earth

Your eyes and ears, a sister’s diary

Your heart, the swaying sycamore green

Your wanderings stilled by slate paths

Your poetry etched by nature.

 

Hill, lake, earth, stone

Pen, ink, hearth, home.

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26 Steps part 5 – exploring through different eyes

black and white photo of Manchester canal and railway

Manchester canal and railway – photo by Stephen Barnaby

The 26 Steps project began as an idea inspired by the 100th anniversary of the publication of John Buchan’s famous novel ‘The 39 Steps’.

What would 26 modern day writers make of a walk in a landscape? How would they interpret the language of the land, its natural form and elements? What sights would they choose to photograph? What significant markers would they signpost on their maps? And what words would they choose for their writing, to fit the 62 word limit?

The constraints of geography, artistic talent and word count have opened up a rich seam of creativity, which finds its form in these virtual postcards. Each one sent by a writer, to you, to invite you to join them on their journey and explore a place through different eyes.

We are immensely grateful to the writers who took on the challenge of 26 Steps. We hope that their postcards encourage you to explore your own landscapes both well known and unfamiliar and to use them to inspire your own creativity and well being.

The final stage of our 26 journey starts in Somerset, taking us through Holyhead to the urban streets of Manchester then south again to Devon and Cornwall. We step through the alphabet from U to Z, and then like all good journeys find ourselves home again, ready for a new adventure, starting with the letter A.

Step 21: Urgashay to Vagg Copse, Somerset by David Mathews

Step 22: Valley to Williams Street, Holyhead by Sharon Jones

Step 23: Wythenshawe to Xaverian College by Sandy Wilkie

Step 24: Xaverian College to Y Club, Manchester by Stephen Barnaby

Step 25: Yeo Lane to Zeal Monachorum, Devon by David Manderson

Step 26: Zennor to Alverton, Cornwall by Fiona Egglestone

Follow the journey on twitter #26Steps.

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26 Steps part 4 – journeys through the physical and mental landscape

Black and white photo of a bay

Stoke Fleming to Torcross – photo by Caroline Lodge

One of the ideas of the 26 Steps project is to take you on a journey. It may not be same physical journey that our writers enjoyed (or endured) on the walks they undertook for this project, but I hope they will be an inspiration for your own wanderings and writing.

Using a combination of photographs, maps and writing in the form of a 62 word sestude, we created a series of virtual postcards. We invite you to read them, to see something of the places depicted and to trace the routes on the hand-drawn maps.

We hope you will be inspired to get out and explore your own landscapes, and to use them to create your own writing, art, photography or other creative opportunities.

Enjoy the photographs, maps and writing inspired by these walks which take us from Belfast to Northumberland and from Devon to a far off Scottish Isle. This section also includes the second of my two creative pieces.

Step 17: Pirrie Park to Queens University, Belfast by Therese Kieren

Step 18: Quaking Houses to Rowlands Gill, Tyne and Wear by Michelle Nicol

Step 19: Rock to Seahouses, Northumberland by Irene Lofthouse

Step 20: Stoke Fleming to Torcross, Devon by Caroline Lodge

Step 21: Tolmachan to Urgha, Isle of Harris by Clare Archibald

Follow the journey on twitter #26Steps.

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26 Steps part 3 – how constraints encourage creative thinking

Black and white photo of the sea and beach huts

Overstrand to Paston – photo by Merryn Henderson

The 26 walks that provide inspiration for 26 Steps start at a place name beginning with each letter of the alphabet and take the writer to a place starting with the next letter in the sequence.

Each writer took a black and white photograph and drew a map as a visual guide to their journey as well as recording their thoughts, feelings and observations in a sestude – a form that requires 62 words exactly.

26 Steps logoAs a writer, I enjoy a constraint. Despite their name, they actually open up creative processes and often give me a way of tackling the terror of a blank page. Having a reason to write and a framework to do it in helps me to focus in on ideas and encourages me to think in new ways as I seek to fit the brief.

Meeting the brief is what I do professionally for my copywriting clients too, meeting their requests for writing for different formats, audiences and purposes. Short copy, long copy, writing for video, writing for an advert, writing for a website – they all have their constraints.

For 26 Steps, the constraint of following the alphabet from place to place meant that writers took in a range of landscapes; rivers, woods, farmland, coastal fringes, urban areas and mountains. The writing has a similarly varied theme, from lyrical wanderings, to urban humour, from physical geography to the landscape of the mind via history and memory.

The third section of the journey takes us from Wales to the Scottish Borders, through the industrial history of North East England to a Norfolk pilgrim’s path, through the alphabet from K to P and includes the first of my contributions (more of that later).

Step 11: Knighton to Lower Harpton, Powys by Sandy Wilkie

Step 12: Llandegla to Moel Famau, Denbighshire by Ed Prichard

Step 13: Morebattle to Nisbet, Scottish Borders by Joan Lennon

Step 14: North Shields to Old Hartley, Tyne and Wear by Michelle Nicol

Step 16: Overstrand to Paston, Norfolk by Merryn Henderson

Follow the journey on twitter #26Steps.

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Going with the flow – how writing is like paddling down the Tyne

On Saturday, I went on an adventure, kayaking down the River Tyne with three of my friends. The spur was to be fearless, to do something we hadn’t done before. It was a brilliant afternoon.

Today it has me reflecting on watery phrases, and how they can be used as a metaphor for the writing process.

Kakaks paddling beneath the High Level Bridge on the TyneOur guides for the day were the Cullercoats Bike and Kayak crew, making sure we were safe, helping us navigate the river and coaching us on paddling the route. We began at Derwenthaugh, getting into the river opposite the Vickers Armstrong factory – a reminder of the long industrial heritage of this busy, working river.

We had waited for the tide to turn, so we would ride with the flow out towards the sea. But on first entering the water in our unfamiliar craft, the tide was slack. At first, getting the hang of paddling and steering had some of us going round in circles, and progress was slow.

Figuring out port and starboard

Slack water is where you have to put some effort in to move forwards. It’s like the start of a writing project, where I’m learning new things about a client and their business, about their customers and what they want and need. It’s about taking on board new information, trying things out, getting a feel for the project.

At this stage, I’m learning new terms and language. Like getting to grips with my paddle, this might feel clumsy or cumbersome at first, but soon it starts to feel more natural. I might try out a few phrases, and find I’m steering the tone of voice too far towards the informal, so I get feedback and correct my course.

As we got used to our craft and more confident in abilities to control our direction, we began to feel the river flow faster, and as we paddled it felt like we were cutting through the water, picking up pace.

Floating down river

Travelling with the tide, going with the flow is what it feels like when I’m writing in the zone, when the words come quickly and easily. It’s the first draft, when I don’t think, don’t judge, just write and let the ideas and thoughts take shape on paper. Progress is quicker and there’s a sense of excitement and exhilaration.

Kayakers approach the High Level Bridge on the TyneSoon we approached the Tyne’s iconic bridges. Always a sight to stir my heart, and never more so than on this adventure, seeing their familiar lines and arcs from a new perspective. Paddling beneath the seven bridges that span the great river as it travels through the heart of the city is something I will never forget.

New perspectives

From water level, the Tyne’s bridges take on a new dimension. Their scale is epic. The engineering impressive. Their stanchions deep in the river narrowing the navigable route.

Seeing things from a new angle is useful tool for writing too. Sometimes I have to get into the detail to discover the small clue that unlocks the heart of the story. At other times, it’s the broader sweep, the wider view of how a business fits in its landscape of customers and community that will give me the right perspective.

If I find myself stuck, taking a physical, or mental wander around, drinking in the experience of sights, sounds smells, tastes and feelings is a sure fire way of generating new ideas, phrases and insights. Looking at objects from a new and unfamiliar perspective gives me a new angle for writing about them too.

Smooth waters

Beneath the magnificent bridges, the river was glassy smooth. In the heart of the busy city, gulls flew overhead and there was silence apart from the odd rumble of a car or a train passing by overhead. This gave us time to slow down, admire the view and enjoy the sensation of having part of the river to ourselves.

In writing, that’s like the polishing and editing process. The time when I slow down and look at the words on the page carefully, weighing each one, considering its place. Like the river, sometimes this can be a choppy process and it can feel like I’m being buffeted to and fro. The goal is to navigate the chop, using my skills and experience to turn the finished piece into smooth prose that sounds naturally as though that’s the way it’s meant to be.

Thanks to Cullercoats Bike and Kayak for looking after us, supplying all the equipment and being excellent guides for our river tour. Special thanks to my friend Sue for saying she wanted to have a go in a kayak; to Roger and Tove for being the right kind of daft to go along with it; and to Penny for taking some excellent photos of us on the river.

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A gift behind door number six

As I mentioned last week, I’m very proud to have a piece of my creative writing featured as part of the 26 Children’s Winters exhibition at Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood. Today’s the day it appears in the online advent calendar.

Picture of a nativity scene and poem at the 26 Children's Winters exhibition

Open up door number 6 and you can read my sestude inspired by a nativity scene. A sestude is simply a piece of writing, poetry or prose that’s 62 words exactly. It’s a condensed form, but I really enjoy the challenge of putting thoughts and themes into such a short piece. Making every word count makes each one the richer.

I was also asked to write the story behind the piece, how I was inspired by the object and what directions my thoughts took as I was writing. Even here I was restricted to just 100 words.

But constraints offer a freedom. Often with writing, the possibilities can become overwhelming. Prose or poem? Reality or fantasy? Voiced by a character or first person? Historical or contemporary? What kind of genre? Science fiction, murder mystery, fairy tale, gothic horror… The choices are endless, and that in itself can become a barrier to writing anything at all.

So constraints become a way in, offering a framework to start the writing process. The constraint may be to write about an object, as I did in my winter sestude, or to adopt a point of view. A constraint can be a word count, or a format, or starting with a specific letter of the alphabet. The key is to give the writer a starting point.

In my professional life, the constraints are to write for a specific audience, usually with a clear brief to share information or encourage them to consider a particular product or service. But even there I’ll have fun, trying out different forms of language.

If I’m looking for a headline I might try a heap of alliteration, putting word after word that starts with same letter together to find a pleasing combination.

Or if I think something is dull and cliched, something I’ve heard before, I might try writing it in the form of a poem, or a haiku.

The daft and demented drafts and the potty, pretentious poems will rarely bear any resemblance to the final polished piece, but they will contribute a thought, a phrase, a connection that leads me there.

My 26 Winters piece began when I overheard part of a conversation when I was visiting the exhibition. That put the thought in my head that it should be a dialogue. A real challenge for me, as it’s something I don’t write very often. But the constraint of 62 words gave me the confidence to try it.

The dialogue form gave me characters – who was talking and what is their relationship? What are they doing here, looking at a nativity scene? Suddenly there’s a whole back story and just 62 words to give a sense of it.

My piece changed as I was writing. The characters began as a mother and unspecified child. But as I settled on a title, and thoughts of special occasions and limited time, they became a father and son. A couple of nudges and suggestions from my editor, Neil Baker, helped make this clearer.

I loved having an editor on this project. It’s a privilege to have constructive feedback from someone I trust and admire.

I don’t want to explain exactly what I was thinking when I wrote, or what it means to me. A published piece of writing always has an audience, and I believe you, the unseen readers, contribute just as much to the creative process as the writer.

You bring your thoughts, experiences, memories and imaginations to the words I chose, and you may read them very differently. But I hope you will read them and consider them my small Christmas gift to you.

The 26 Children’s Winters calendar will display a new object and sestude every day until 26 December (that’s at least one day more than you get from your typical advent calendar. With the exhibition and online calendar, all 26 writers and the museum are helping to support It’s Good 2 Give, a charity  that supports young people and their families affected by cancer.

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26 Children’s Winters

Seeking out scarves, gloves and boots to go and play in the snow. Writing cards under twinkling lights, and covering everything with glitter. Hunkering down indoors, lights against the dark shortening of the days, or heading out dressed as though for an arctic adventure. Winter brings new behaviours and old traditions together.

Christmas tree angels in the 26 Children's Winters exhibitionIt’s a season celebrated in 26 Children’s Winters, a new exhibition at Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood, which uses objects from the museum’s collection that reflect the experience of winter.

It includes a wide range of old and new – from jigsaws and board games, to crackers, chocolates, woollen jumpers to ice skates and a spectacular wooden sleigh.

Each object is accompanied by a sestude – a piece of writing that explores the emotions, memories and stories they’ve inspired in exactly 62 words. Exploring the exhibition, these invoke a rich depth of feelings, from wistful to laugh out loud funny and cover a range of themes drawn from personal family history to flights of fantasy.

As a member of the writer’s group 26 I was invited to contribute my own 62 words to accompany a traditional nativity scene. I was delighted to see them both together at the exhibition’s launch event this week and to hear three of the writers read their pieces. From marbles and spinning tops, Halloween decorations to a range of children’s medicines, their inspirations were as diverse as their responses.

Writers at 26 Winters ExhibitionMy eyes were drawn to the Christmas tree angels, so delicate yet beautifully preserved, their story brought to life by writer Sara Sheridan, who initiated the idea of the exhibition with the museum.

I also enjoyed the poem that accompanied the old leather skating boots, written in Scots vernacular, that captures the rush, the exhilaration, and the coming down to earth with a bump after gliding along a frozen surface.

The exhibition and the museum itself on the Royal Mile are well worth a visit if you’re in Edinburgh between now and January. And you can now see all the objects and sestudes in an online advent calendar.

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Memories of a visit to Hiroshima

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the first atomic bomb dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima.

Hiroshima. A place name that can stop you dead. As dead as the watch whose hands forever point to 8:15 – the precise moment when the atomic bomb shattered thousands of lives and changed history.

A-bomb dome, Hiroshima

I first visited Japan in the spring of 2007. On the train to Hiroshima, a young man smiled and approached with his hand held out. Nestled in his palm was an origami crane and over the course of our journey, he showed us how to make one.

Taking a pad of patterned paper from his back pack, he began to fold it into shape, slowly, deliberately, taking great care of the creases. He introduced himself as Tsetsuo and thanked us for allowing him to practice his English.

When we got off the train, he walked us over to a tram stop and made sure we reached our destination.

The A-Bomb dome, the building that marks the epicentre of the bomb blast remains a ruined shell. Damaged, but still standing. A marker that held its ground as everything else around it was atomised into dust. Its distinctive shape casts a shadow on the skyline.

It stands at the entrance to the Peace Park, gardens, memorial and the Peace Museum. The museum tells the history of the city and its people, describing the worldwide events that lead to the bomb through a series of panels depicting letters, documents and photographs from world leaders at the time.

The initial blast killed 700,000 people, but in the following weeks and years many more would die from the effects of radiation, from being crushed in damaged buildings, trapped by fire, or simply desperately, desperately thirsty, with only black irradiated water to drink.

A model shows the city before and after the blast. Figures show the desperate human suffering. Eyewitness statements speak of a blinding white flash and then searing pain like hot needles as the shock wave ripped through buildings and bodies.

Memorial in the Peace Park, Hiroshima

There were only five photographs taken in Hiroshima on 6 August 1945. They were taken by newspaper photographer Yoshito Matsushige, who was a couple of miles away from the centre of the blast. He later wrote: “I fought with myself for 30 minutes before I could take the first picture. After taking the first, I grew strangely calm and wanted to get closer. I took about ten steps forwards and tried to snap another, but the scenes I saw were so gruesome, my viewfinder clouded with tears.”

That phrase, “My viewfinder clouded with tears” has stuck with me. More powerful than any photograph.

The final section of the museum displays objects recovered from the debris. Beside them sit museum cards with details of who they belonged to, where they were at the time of the blast and what they were doing on that day.

A twisted metal lunch box, a tattered uniform, a child’s tricycle. I found these objects and their stories almost unbearably moving. They brought the unimaginable destruction of a thriving city back to a human scale.

There’s a special space for the story of Sadako Sasaki, a girl who died from leukaemia, caused by the radiation 10 years after the bomb. She folded thousands of paper cranes in the hope she would get well. The tradition continues with a monument in the park where children hang colourful paper cranes in a message of peace.

It’s not unusual for westerners in Japan to encounter great kindness. I have heard many travellers tell of being given directions, or even taken to where they wanted to go by local people. As a visitor, you are a most honoured guest, in a country which sets great cultural value on respect.

Japanese garden

But I think that Tsetsuo, who showed us how to make the paper cranes, was acknowledging more than the usual Japanese hospitality. When we told him we were visiting the Peace Museum, he said his grandfather was one of the many thousands killed in the atom bomb blast.

He knew his city was a hard place to visit. And that was why he took such care to welcome us. To honour our interest in his home town and help us see beyond its sad history.

As we learned in the museum, only a few days after the bomb obliterated the city, the trams began to run again. And despite all the fears that nothing would ever grow again in that irradiated earth, lilies bloomed between the tracks.

Hiroshima now offers a peaceful and friendly face, whilst paying respect to and remembering the past.

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