Remember your inner child

I wanted to share part of a letter from the poet Ted Hughes (August 17, 1930–October 28, 1998) to his 24-year-old son, Nicholas.  This letter speaks to my heart. It is a long extract but worth reading. The final lines are a lesson for us all and a statement to live by.

 

“Nicholas, don’t you know about people this first and most crucial fact: every single one is, and is painfully every moment aware of it, still a child…It’s something people don’t discuss, because it’s something most people are aware of only as a general crisis of sense of inadequacy, or helpless dependence, or pointless loneliness, or a sense of not having a strong enough ego to meet and master inner storms that come from an unexpected angle. But not many people realise that it is, in fact, the suffering of the child inside them. Everybody tries to protect this vulnerable two three four five six seven eight year old inside, and to acquire skills and aptitudes for dealing with the situations that threaten to overwhelm it. So everybody develops a whole armour of secondary self, the artificially constructed being that deals with the outer world, and the crush of circumstances. And when we meet people this is what we usually meet. And if this is the only part of them we meet we’re likely to get a rough time, and to end up making ‘no contact’. But when you develop a strong divining sense for the child behind that armour, and you make your dealings and negotiations only with that child, you find that everybody becomes, in a way, like your own child. It’s an intangible thing. But they too sense when that is what you are appealing to, and they respond with an impulse of real life, you get a little flash of the essential person, which is the child. Usually, that child is a wretchedly isolated undeveloped little being. It’s been protected by the efficient armour, it’s never participated in life, it’s never been exposed to living and to managing the person’s affairs, it’s never been given responsibility for taking the brunt. And it’s never properly lived. That’s how it is in almost everybody. And that little creature is sitting there, behind the armour, peering through the slits. And in its own self, it is still unprotected, incapable, inexperienced. Every single person is vulnerable to unexpected defeat in this inmost emotional self. At every moment, behind the most efficient seeming adult exterior, the whole world of the person’s childhood is being carefully held like a glass of water bulging above the brim. And in fact, that child is the only real thing in them. It’s their humanity, their real individuality, the one that can’t understand why it was born and that knows it will have to die, in no matter how crowded a place, quite on its own. That’s the carrier of all the living qualities. It’s the centre of all the possible magic and revelation. What doesn’t come out of that creature isn’t worth having, or it’s worth having only as a tool — for that creature to use and turn to account and make meaningful. So there it is. And the sense of itself, in that little being, at its core, is what it always was. But since that artificial secondary self took over the control of life around the age of eight, and relegated the real, vulnerable, supersensitive, suffering self back into its nursery, it has lacked training, this inner prisoner. And so, wherever life takes it by surprise, and suddenly the artificial self of adaptations proves inadequate, and fails to ward off the invasion of raw experience, that inner self is thrown into the front line — unprepared, with all its childhood terrors round its ears. And yet that’s the moment it wants. That’s where it comes alive — even if only to be overwhelmed and bewildered and hurt. And that’s where it calls up its own resources — not artificial aids, picked up outside, but real inner resources, real biological ability to cope, and to turn to account, and to enjoy. That’s the paradox: the only time most people feel alive is when they’re suffering, when something overwhelms their ordinary, careful armour, and the naked child is flung out onto the world. That’s why the things that are worst to undergo are best to remember. But when that child gets buried away under their adaptive and protective shells—he becomes one of the walking dead, a monster. So when you realise you’ve gone a few weeks and haven’t felt that awful struggle of your childish self — struggling to lift itself out of its inadequacy and incompetence — you’ll know you’ve gone some weeks without meeting new challenge, and without growing, and that you’ve gone some weeks towards losing touch with yourself. The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all.”

Going down Cardiff for the rugby

Train journeys always provide inspiration for writers as we get to spend time with a bunch of colourful, interesting characters. We can be observers and eavesdroppers; imagining where and why the other passengers are travelling and creating stories for them. I love sitting with my notebook, listening, watching and scribbling. It helps the journey pass quickly too. I am thankful to my fellow travellers for sharing with me such gems.

Here is a poem based on a conversation overheard on a recent train journey (it would have been impossible not to hear it!). It brightened up my trip and made me giggle. Ideally, it needs to be read in a Swansea accent. Warning: it’s a little bit naughty!

 

Goin’ down Cardiff for the rugby and Linda’s 40th.

Got the T-shirts printed,

lookin’ good girls!

C’mon girls, find a seat, find a seat!

One ‘ere, one ’ere,

one by ’ere, next to me!

Open up them jelly shots, girls.

Get ‘em down yoo!

Have a drink.

Have a jelly shot.

Have a drink, girls!

Oh my God…we got a celeb ‘ere.

Gethin, he is.

We got a celeb ‘ere, girls!

Eastenders!

Quick girls, get down there…

Selfie, selfie.

Get a good’un

for Facebook like.

Don’t mind, do yoo?

He don’t mind.

Gethin he is.

Eastenders!

The teacher, he is…

Do your nails, girls.

Stick ‘em on,

stick ‘em on.

Did mine last night, mind.

Bet they’ll fall off.

‘Ow much make-up yoo got in there?

Good God!

Where yoo sleepin’ tonight?

Top ‘n tailin’ in the

same room.

Share with me,

share with me.

Mind, yoo don’t know what I got in

this ‘ere bag!

Vvvvrrrmmm –

yoo know what I mean!

No, not really like…

left it at home, didn’t I?

Don’t use one, do I?

Don’t need one.

Lucky yoo!

I got a couple of

cucumbers though.

A big one for yoo,

this long!

Come and sit up by us, Gethin.

Oh, c’mon, have a drink.

Have a jelly shot!

Have yoo put that

selfie on Facebook?

With Gethin, selfie with Gethin.

Send it me, send it me!

Gethin, sit by me ‘ere.

Sit by me.

Squish up girls,

gettin’ crowded in ‘ere.

The rugby, see.

Ooh! Squish up!

There’s nice.

Gethin, c’mon, squish up by ’ere love!

Have another jelly shot, girls!

We’ll be fallin’ asleep in the rugby.

God, I need a fag.

Not long now,

not long now, girls.

Them shots it is.

Soon as I have a drink,

I need a fag.

Gettin’ warm in ‘ere, mind.

I’ll be strippin’ off next.

Gethin, I’ll be strippin’ off love.

C’mon girls, have a jelly shot.

Cool us down, like.

Have a cocktail.

I got ‘em, in a tin, like.

Cocktail in a tin.

What in a tin?

No, not a cock in a tin!

Cocktail in a tin.

Better than tinned cock!

Gethin, come by ‘ere.

Have a cocktail, Gethin.

Want a pringle?

Want a pringle, love?

No, a pringle!

I’m starvin’! Should have

made sarnies…

We’ll fill up on cocktails, girls!

My fortieth, right, I’m

doin’ a party.

Butlins.

Brilliant.

That’s class.

I’m havin’ karaoke,

limousine, bubble disco.

That’s a date, that is.

Class.

Date that is, girls!

Gethin, come by ‘ere…

You’ll come to my fortieth, won’t you love?

Butlins, Gethin.

Class.

He’s from Eastenders, he is.

Got a selfie on Facebook.

A celeb.

Are we ‘ere?

Oh my God, I need a wee.

Desperate I am, girls.

Lookin’ forward to this, I am!

I’m free!

No kids.

I don’t get out much, see.

The wait is worth it

Being a parent to teenagers seems to be a process of waiting. Certainly I spend hours every week waiting for my son. With coat and shoes on, keys in hand, I wait for him to be ready to leave the house. In the car, windows fogged, radio on, or scribbling in a notebook, I wait while he has a piano or guitar lesson, or for him to finish work, or for his college bus to arrive. Breath bated, I wait for him to make a decision (about anything – he likes to think things over).

Whenever I begin to feel impatient or frustrated about the time I spend waiting, I stop and remind myself that this won’t last forever. Each stage of parenthood is a fleeting moment on a whirlwind train journey; each station passed in a blur. We have our children with us for such a short time before they head off and make their own way. Once, I waited for nine months, nervous and excited, for my babies to arrive. Today, I can barely remember what it felt like to hold their warm bodies in my arms; tiny, vulnerable and needing only me. As I paced the bedroom floor every sleepless night, humming lullabies and rocking my restless little ones, I would never have believed I could forget; then it was all-consuming, now I miss it sometimes.

So, I am thankful for these moments of waiting for my son. I am happy he is still here for me to enjoy his company. I make the most of the time we have together before he is off, like his sister before him. Waiting provides me with an opportunity to think, to listen, to observe and to create. The radio is an intelligent companion and suggests many ideas for writing. Looking out of the window, I observe interesting characters passing by. I watch the changing sky and the swooping birds. The pages of my notebook fill up. Great chunks of my novel have been jotted down as I sit waiting.

Waiting is worth it.

 

 

 

 

Talking to yourself is a sign you’re a writer

I am never alone. I have multiple personalities inhabiting my head. A throng of people, of varying genders, sizes and ages. Sometimes these people talk; they whisper, shout, argue, cry and laugh inside my mind. Sometimes they burst out into the real world. They escape on to paper; become stories and poems others can read. Sometimes they break out as words; fragments of conversations spoken into the air where others can hear. My husband and children are used to my odd behaviour. ‘What did you say?’ they ask and I reply, ‘Just talking to myself’, or ‘Just thinking about a bit of my novel.’ With a shrug of the shoulders, they carry on. When it happens around other people, it can be embarrassing.

The first time I remember, was as a small girl, in a supermarket which was rather dull. I was making up a story to relieve my boredom. I’ve forgotten what it was about. In the middle of an involved exchange with some imagined character, I looked up and noticed two shelf-fillers had stopped what they were doing and were listening to me. They had broad, entertained grins on their faces. Reddening, I turned and hurried back down the aisle.

Since then, I have had many experiences of being overheard. My mind gets carried away, the characters come to life and out the words come, normally hushed under my breath. It can happen anywhere; on buses, trains, walking the dogs, shopping. I have had people ask if I am all right or if I am speaking to them. I have had people laugh or sneer. I have had people edge away awkwardly, concern on their faces. Mostly, I am met with bemused amusement. I feel a little foolish but it does no harm. In fact, it even does some good. The listener gets a good chuckle and something to talk about, while I develop my story lines.

It is acting with me taking every role. Playing out different scenes and characters helps me work out the plot. I become that person for a while; think, feel and respond as them. I decide how they would behave in each situation. It is part of who I am; I cannot imagine my life without the company of these others. Once, it worried me. I thought perhaps I was too caught up in a fantasy world; I was a bit kooky. After all, they say talking to yourself is a sign of madness. I am no longer bothered by it; I am aware where reality ends and the stories begin. It turns out that talking to yourself is a sign you’re a writer.

 

What do you think, fellow writers? Do you talk to yourselves too?

 

 

 

Novel ideas

Where do ideas for novels come from?

Having decided to take this novel writing thing seriously, I then panicked. What would my novel be about? Would my idea be ‘good enough’? Could I make it fill out a whole book? My mind went blank, as it typically does when put under stress. Then I took a deep breath and relaxed a little.

Writers use their experiences, so ideas for novels can come from many places. It might be a passion, or an interest, or a hobby. It might be something that happened to the writer, or to a relative, or to a friend or to somebody vaguely known. It might be a news story from the TV or radio. It might be a book, or a film or a picture. It might be a word, or some music or a sound. It might be that interesting old man who walks his dog along the street every day.

The truth was, I knew what my novel was going to be about. It was a story I had been developing in my mind for many years. I’d even once started to write it down. The seed of my novel had begun with a sense of place. My place was the last home I lived in. An old, damp stone house nestled in the woods with a stream running past. This house and its surroundings inspired in me a feeling of poignancy. I wanted to write a story which reflected that feeling.  I began to create scenes and characters in my mind during my daily walks in the woods along the stream.

When you are a writer, your mind is constantly searching for and thinking about stories. We are story collectors. We find inspiration anywhere and everywhere.

Where do you get your novel ideas?