Tag Archives | 26 children’s winters

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.

0

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.

0