Tag Archives | 26 characters

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.

0

Wordstruck 2017 – goals and plans

I believe you can set goals and make plans at any time, and shouldn’t wait until a specific date to set them down. But the start of the year is often a time when people and businesses take stock, and look ahead.

I’ve been doing that myself over the Christmas break, and I thought I’d share some of my goals and plans for my writing and training business with you. Writing down plans and sharing them with other people is one technique for making them stick.

1. Help more businesses tell their story

We all have a story to tell whether we whisper or yellAt Wordstruck, my purpose is to help businesses tell their story through words that attract attention and engage customers.

To help more businesses do that, I need to connect with more of them. At the moment, I’m focusing on raising awareness of who I am and what I do – building the Wordstruck brand.

That means being active as a business on social media platforms including twitter and facebook, joining networking groups, taking part in #northeasthour and attending events like the Mussel Club.

I’m also making use of my personal and professional connections through LinkedIn, contacting people who I’ve worked with in the past and letting them know about my new venture as a freelance writer.

This isn’t about chasing likes and followers, but encouraging real life engagement and conversations. By making connections, I aim to find people and businesses that I can work with, learn from and help in 2017.

2. Expand my writing training and workshops

Writing training workshop table

I love creating and delivering writing workshops. They take a lot of time, and always challenge me, but I learn so much from doing them and get great feedback from people that attend them.

When I was thinking about what to do with my business, I knew that I really wanted to continue doing training and workshops because I know people really get a lot out of them; because I’ve benefited from some amazing writing training and want to give something back.

In my career as a corporate copywriter, I had a captive audience and easy way to publicise sessions that I ran on a monthly basis. As a freelancer, I have a lot more to think about from venues to participants, content and costs. But I find that exciting.

So, rather than retreating behind my keyboard and writing all the time (which I also love doing), I intend to maintain the thrill and the skill of writing training this year.

3. Be a better writer

This is always a given. I have been writing for business for more than 10 years, but there is always something new to learn, or to be inspired by.

This year I aim to be a better writer by making writing my business. That means finding new clients to work with, getting my services and pricing right and seeking feedback that helps me develop what I offer to businesses.

Like many people in marketing, I understand a lot of the theory, but putting it into practice is where I really test my skills. Running my own business is the best way I know to connect with other people who do the same and I’ll be reflecting my personal experience on my blog, and on my business facebook page.

4 Maintain a healthy outlook

Photo of a path through some sand dunesOver the past few years I’ve kept pretty active, enjoying running, cycling, swimming and taking part in triathlons. So I have a good habit for physical health, although there are areas I could improve.

Maintaining a healthy outlook means continuing to make time for those activities as part of my day – making sure that I get up and move around and get out in the fresh air. Walking to my local shops and talking to local business people.

It also means looking after my mental wellbeing too. Accepting that it will take some time to find work and clients; that it’s okay to take a break sometimes. Learning from, but not getting too hung up on analytics about followers and impressions or engagement.

5 Keep my creative jar stocked up

I can find inspiration in almost anything. I once wrote a poem about the cardboard inner of a toilet roll.

Glass jar etched with the words 'Creative juices'I am naturally curious, interested and engaged with the world. I watch and listen to the news, music, read books, see films and theatre, visit art exhibitions, take part in singing workshops!

I generally carry a notebook with me, and use my phone to snap photos or take notes when I don’t.

It is hugely enjoyable to pick up a book I wouldn’t otherwise read; go and see a challenging film at an independent cinema (Oh Tyneside Cinema – how do I love thee!) or take myself off for the day to the Edinburgh Festival.

I’m not going to feel guilty about any of those pursuits. They are part of nurturing my creativity. And we all deserve a little artist’s treat sometime.

I’ll also be encouraging others to make use of their creative muscles, through my work with 26 Characters. Together with my creative collaborator, Sandy Wilkie, we have pitched an idea for a new writing project, which we hope will get the go-ahead very soon. Following on from the success of previous projects including 26 Steps and 26 Under A Northern Sky, I look forward to writing, reading and championing more creative output in 2017.

0

Brief encounters

The brief. The starting point of the conversation between client, creative and customer.

“I don’t understand it”
“It contradicts itself”
“There’s too much information”
“There’s not enough to work with.”
These are all things I’ve heard, said or thought myself about the briefs I’ve encountered on creative and writing projects.

Hardly the start of a great relationship – one that promises a meeting of minds, sparks imaginations, encourages creativity, and collaboration.

Group of people sitting round a table and writing on flipcharts

Writing the perfect brief.

And it seems I’m not alone. I was in London today for the first in a series of workshops being offered by writer’s organisation 26, under the title 26 Trade Secrets. Today’s session at the Free Word Centre in Farringdon was “Setting up Projects for success.”  A chance to look closely at briefs, learn how to turn bad ones into good ones and what to do with them when you get them.

We started exposing the nightmares. The poor briefs. The confused. The sketchy. The ‘says one thing but really means something completely different.’ Around the room we all had similar stories.

A poor brief can become a source of conflict, a sort of battle map, drawing up the lines between them and us. Hardly the best start for a constructive relationship. And yet no client deliberately sets out to write a poor brief.

I go back to my clients, ask questions, challenge preconceptions. I worry that sometimes, to a client, it must seem like I’m asking so many questions, I don’t actually want the work. But really it’s about finding the truth of what I’m being asked to write about.

As a writer, it’s always good to be able to step into someone else’s shoes. So recently I’ve been trying on the role of client as I work to improve the briefs that we ask them to complete.

And it’s really hard to write a good brief. I used an example for a product campaign I’m very familiar with, and still found it tricky to identify what should go in each section, how much or how little information to include and how best to explain it, without lazily copying and pasting from some commercial document. And that’s my job – to simplify, condense an explain things in simple terms.

As I also learned, those who write the briefs may not always have training or advice on how to complete them. Or the necessary background information to complete them. No wonder it can be a fraught process.

Today, as we broke down and built our perfect brief, there was much discussion about what it should include. But the one thing that stood out for me was clarity. Clear purpose and clear communication.

And that requires clear thinking. How much time do you allow to create, interrogate and confirm a brief? Is it something delegated to a junior team member, a form to be filled in and passed to the creative team to decipher?

Or is it not so much a battle plan, as a campaign objective? Something you think about, consider and discuss with the people who need to sign it off?

Rather than complaining about bad briefs, I’m going to continue questioning, considering and looking for ways to help my clients to help me by writing better ones in the spirit of producing more effective and clearer communications. I hope to return to this subject in future blogs

What are your tips for writing a great brief?

0

A sense of community

Writing is often perceived as a solitary occupation, and there are times when all I need is my notebook and a pen. Having worked as a journalist in radio and TV newsrooms, writing copy for the next bulletin against the background of on air broadcasts, telephones ringing and a dozen conversations going on at once, for me, even peace and quiet is optional. Although I do prefer it if I have thinking to do.

But recently I’ve been reflecting on communities and how the different ones I belong to all inspire my writing.

Running

I’m part of the running and triathlon community in the North East of England and beyond. Through doing parkrun, races and by being a member of a very friendly online running site, I can pretty much guarantee that if I turn up at a local race, I’ll see someone I know.

I started to write about local races as a way of recording my own progress, or to remember a particular feature of a race, such as leg-sapping sand or a steep hill, for the next time. So it’s lovely when I get comments from other runners who read my race reports and say they’ve helped them.

Running also brought me back to personal writing after a long break away from it.  I believe my professional writing is richer for it.

Fiona Thompson reading on a train at the luanch of 26 Under A Northern Sky

Fiona Thompson reading on a train at the luanch of 26 Under A Northern Sky

Writing

I’ve felt more part of a writing community since joining 26. The regular newsletters, articles and suggestions for books to read or things to see are a great source of inspiration. As too are the opportunities to get involved in 26 creative writing projects.

I jumped in first as a writer, contributing a piece for 26 Characters as part of a magical exhibition at the Story Museum in Oxford. Then more recently, I co-edited 26 Under A Northern Sky with Sandy Wilkie and got the opportunity to work with other amazing writers to launch a collection of creative writing inspired by a train journey from Newcastle to Glasgow and the music of Nick Drake.

I’m delighted that this project is currently taking on a life of its own, beyond my editorial influence, as writers are recording their pieces and adding them to an online soundscape.

Reading

cover of Leaves by John Simmons

Leaves by John Simmons – my current read

Community is also a theme in John Simmons’ beautiful debut novel, ‘Leaves’ – my current reading material. It’s set on one street in London in the 1970s. The characters observed and imagined by the narrator looking back at events in his life.

I have only just started reading, and admit, I’m trying to ration my time among the pages, as I have a flight and airport time coming up and I know the inhabitants of Ophelia Street will be welcome company.

John has been posting a daily extract from the book on Twitter, which is a delightful tease. Each sentence seems to offer a short story in itself, but has left me wanting to read more. It merits a slow, careful reading to savour every word.

Here’s a taster from the first chapter:

“In January, we used to say, you saw Ophelia Street in its natural colours. Wintergrey hung like a fog; window boxes lay dormant.”

If you want to read on, you can follow John on Twitter @JNSim #Leaves

Living

Finally there’s my real community. The place where I live. Within five minutes walk from my front door, I can be among a range of small businesses, from coffee and gift shops, to restaurants, guest houses, food outlets, and an art gallery.

I enjoy a browse and a chance to talk to the people behind these largely independent and local businesses. They provide great resources, for me, not just in the goods that I buy and the contribution they make to the local economy, but also as inspiration for my business writing.

In seeking to de-bunk the jargon of business software, I often think to myself, ‘How would I explain this to the lady that runs the deli?’  Or ‘How would this help in the chocolate shop?’

I may not know the detailed ins and outs of their businesses, but keeping the people of my local business community in mind grounds what I write in reality. And that helps what I write about business sound authentic and human.

0