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Box of Inspirations
Category: Writing
Tags: inspiration artefacts writing memoir aids

Box of inspirations



I’m in the process of decluttering. Sorting out a lifetime’s accumulated junk. Wondering why on earth I have held on to so much stuff for so long.


But it’s not hard to hang on to the implements with which you’ve written so many words through your life: notes, letters (many many letters), cheques, contracts, shopping lists, thoughts, story ideas - the stories themselves, poems, and reminders. 


Rifling through my box of pencils I can remember where I was and what was going on in my life just by holding each one.


Do you remember when I used my big bulging button tin as my inspiration for my 2014 nano novel? It wasn’t a personal memoir, but I used it to help my protagonist (with dementia) remember poignant moments in her life. 



And so it is with these pens and pencils. In just the first handful I see the gold Sheaffer fountain pen I had for signing contracts when I was an IT consultant.  There’s the ICL training pencil from fabulous programming courses at ICL Beaumont near Windsor many years ago (oh those wonderful work colleagues.) And a multitude from hotels across the globe (oh those trips.) So many memories are all buried here in this clutch of pens and pencils.



Then there is this - the pencil from the Public Record Office in Kew where, in the early 1990s, I researched my mysterious father. This was before access to wartime records via the internet. This was when you had an appointment at the Public Record Office in Kew, were given a pencil (and only a pencil) with which to make notes. When requests were sent to the archives. When you waited for old yellowing original hand written files to be ‘brought up’. This was when I found what happened to my father, Pilot Officer  FJ Roberts RCAF DFM (the medal of courage), when he and fellow crew members were shot down in their Lancaster JB400 (L for La Loupe) of RAF 103 Squadron. It was the 5th Berlin Raid. I was five days old. And he was just 22. 



And this is why I took up writing again.




Do you have an old pencil box filled with memories?  With inspirations??


The Ace of Clubs?


With their propensity to form groups, it might be tempting to think that book clubs are a purely British institution, but I’ll wager that they’re as popular in Liège or Livorno as Little Snoring.

Are such clubs purely about reading and critiquing books, or is it the camaraderie of the group? The chance for expats to chat freely in their own language rather than a foreign one? The wine served during the meeting? The lunch afterwards? All of those?

For retirees, they afford a vital degree of stimulation. Once we hang up our boots, it’s fitting that we slough off the pressures and diktats of a busy career, but it’s all too easy to switch off completely and let the world slide gently by. The brain is a muscle like any other, demanding stimulation and exercise to keep cognitive powers and memory in peak condition and escape atrophy.

The raison d’être of a club is to steer people into reading books that they might not otherwise have read, or indeed, books which were hitherto totally unknown. The meeting to critique the chosen volume is equally valuable, because the responses come from a plethora of angles. Members often admit to re-reading a book from a different perspective as a consequence of the critique.

For me as a writer, being channelled into reading a variety of styles is fuel to my creative boiler. According to Stephen King: 'If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.'

The first book I had to read was AS Byatt’s ‘Possession’. It was a heavy read, both literally and metaphorically, at 511 pages. The story is good and introduced me to metafiction, where the reader is constantly reminded that they’re viewing a fictional work. As to whether it merits Time magazine’s rating of being one of the 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005, well, the jury’s still out.

In stark contrast, next in line was ‘This Is Going to Hurt’, the diaries of a doctor who climbed the greasy pole to senior registrar, then quit. Not for the squeamish nor your maiden aunt, it’s sad, poignant and hilariously funny in equal proportions. It sounds a loud hurrah for those on the front line and an even louder raspberry for National Health Service management.  Above all, it’s eminently readable, a worthy Book of the Year.

Last but not least is the current novel, ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’. For the first few pages, I wasn’t sure, then it gripped me. The book chronicles the life of Count Alexander Rostov from after the Revolution until the 1960s. Hauled before the Emergency Committee in 1922, he’s placed under house arrest in Moscow’s exclusive Metropol hotel where he lives on pain of death, but condemned to a frowsty garret rather than his normal luxury suite. Despite covering one of the most savage and destructive periods in Soviet history, the book is utterly charming, the storylines enchanting. Author Amor Towles is extraordinarily well read, with effortless references to literature of every genre and every nation.

Take my tip. If you want to be a better writer, join a book club.

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Category: Site News
Tags: writers abroad newsletter

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