Posted in Family, Writing

The Power of the Shower

(New blog post about finding writing inspiration under a refreshing shower – an electric power shower, I mean, not English autumn rainfall!)

English: shower head Deutsch: Duschkopf mit st...
Finding creative power in the shower (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Grabbing a quick shower yesterday morning while my husband walked my daughter to school, my cares fell away.

My conscience was clear: my part of the early morning duties were complete:

  • breakfast prepared – check
  • school lunchbox packed – check
  • daughter’s hair brushed and plaited – check
  • her purse topped up with a pound coin for after-school Film Club – check

For a moment I could let my busy head empty as I got myself ready for work.

At least, I thought I was letting my mind just wander, but after a few moments basking with my eyes closed, I suddenly realised that flowing into my head as steadily as the water was pouring from the shower head was a whole stream (groan) of ideas for various articles I was  scheduled to write over the next few days:

  • two book reviews  (the first has since hit the ether here)
  • the theme for this month’s parish magazine column (now on paper)
  • the gist of my piece for the November issue of the Tetbury Advertiser (emailed to the editor this morning)

So quickly and easily were these ideas coming, from somewhere deep within my subconscious, that I was tempted to spend the rest of the day in the shower. At this rate, I could have written a three-inch thick novel by tea-time.

But I had to head for the office of reading charity Readathon, where I spend my weekday mornings, so I cut my shower short at 15 minutes.

Short? I hear you cry. My husband complains that even 15 minutes is far too long, though it’s nothing compared to my daughter’s record of 45 minutes. (I’d never seen anyone enjoy a shower lying down, until she did.)

Even so, considering my mind had felt drained when I stepped into the shower, I was pleased with the result – and I don’t mean just being squeaky-clean.

English: Black Bear mother and cubs in den,, h...
Hibernating black bear mother and cubs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It had been a bit like taking a restorative nap. Although I can never sleep during the day, I’m a great believer in sleeping on a problem. Rather than lie there fretting in the dark, I recommend going to bed with the unsolved challenge lodged firmly at the back of your mind, and leaving it to stew the night away. Very often, on waking, I find the problem’s been solved, as if someone’s whispered it in my ear while I was out for the count.

Which makes me wonder what miracles of creativity I could perform if I went into hibernation. If it gets much colder this weekend, I think I’ll give it a try.

If you liked this piece, you might be interested in these posts about different kinds of power:

The Power Behind the Blog: Battery Chargers

The Power of the Postage Stamp

Posted in Writing

The Importance of Lying Fallow

Ionic order 1 - entrablature 2 - column 3 - co...
It's Ionic, if you must know... (Image via Wikipedia)

Sometimes there’s an inverse relationship between how well you remember facts from school and how helpful they will be in your adult life. I have yet to find a use for my unerring ability to differentiate between Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns. My skill in drawing the cross-section of an oil derrick has sadly never helped me earn my keep.

Even in my geography class that particular talent was not appreciated once I’d added boys’ names to each of the structures on the page.  (Well, I didn’t want Derrick to get lonely.)  I can vividly picture those diagrams, and so can Elizabeth, the girl who became my best friend the day we started secondary school, sharing the bond of equally awful short haircuts and new school shoes, disdainfully referred to as our “Noddy boots”.

“Why are you and Eliz. being so slow?” wrote the geography teacher underneath Derrick and his chums, as if she didn’t know.

Another diagram lodged in my mind with photographic clarity is that of a mediaeval farmer’s field.  We had to illustrate the principle of crop rotation.  The concept of lying fallow made a big impression on my early teenage brain: at that age I’d have embraced anything that transformed sloth into a virtue.

As I’ve got older, I’ve often thought back to this picture, not because I’ve taken up farming – though my back garden is unusually lying fallow this year.  (I cheered when I heard a radio report that “the natural look” was in fashion for gardens this year: gardens don’t get much more natural than mine.) I’m comforting myself that I should get a much better harvest next year as a result.

When I most appreciate the concept of lying fallow is when I’m recovering from an illness. It’s extraordinary how a few days of sloth recharges the brain. It’s a given in any period of convalesence.  The first stage of my recovery is always when, in a lightbulb moment, I realise that the daytime television I’ve been watching is utter trash.  Then something deep within my subconscious starts to stir – and I  leap out of bed, grab a notebook and pen, and start to scribble.  Before I know it, there’s a surge of creativity and insight, and my brain feels positively reborn.

It’s not just illness that yields this regeneration: equally powerful is a trip away from home.  I’m rather hoping that the summer holidays, due to start any day now, will have a similar effect.  Watch this space to find out….

Posted in Personal life, Writing

Writing On The Run

somerset monument, hawkesbury upton, glouceste...
Image by Synwell via Flickr

Sending a text on my mobile as I jogged past Hawkesbury Monument the other day, it occurred to me that I was only a stone’s throw from writing my blog on the run. So many of my friends update their Facebook status from iPhones and Blackberries that I’d been thinking about investing in a smart phone myself, so that I could post to my online blog while away on holiday.

It’s not the first time I’ve hankered after equipment to help me write while travelling. Years ago, long before the rise of the internet or the miniatiurisation of the mobile phone, there was a clever little gadget on the market. A bit like a miniature version of the shorthand machines used by courtroom stenographers, it was like a tiny typewriter but with just four keys, one for each finger of one hand. You tapped the keys in a different combination for each letter of the alphabet. Even in a shaky commuter train, you’d be able to write legibly, because when you got home, the machine would spool out what you’d typed in normal letters. One of these devices would have made my daily commute across London suburbia more productive, but my salary as a lowly editorial assistant wouldn’t stretch to one.

Another reason I wanted it is that I’d never learned shorthand. Several times in my teens I had bought teach-yourself books, but even with daily practice, I knew that it would take a long time to master. With the short-termism of the typical teenager, I couldn’t make the commitment. Every year or two after, I would think to myself “If only I’d stuck at it, my shorthand would be fluent by now”.

So if I do write my column on the run, I’ll have to use an even more old-fashioned device to record it – my brain. I just wish my head had a USB port so that I could back it up with a memory stick.

(This article originally appeared in the Hawkesbury Parish Magazine, May 2011.)

Posted in Writing

The Power Behind the Blog: Battery Chargers

Protection Is Better Than Cure . Hyderabad_Sind
Image by Northampton Museum via Flickr

As I plug in the second four-way electric extension lead on my desk, I wonder how I can need so much electricity to  write my blog.  Despite the blazing sunshine outside, it’s always a bit shady in my small-windowed Cotswold cottage, so three of the eight sockets are for lamps, feeding my passion for task-focused lighting, rather than a bright ceiling lamp.  One desklamp spotlights my computer, the other two perch, uplighting, on the piano behind me. But what are the other five sockets for?

Well, there’s the handset for the landline – one of four dotted about the house.  Who’s prepared to put up with a single, wall-mounted phone these days?  They’re so last century.  There’s a computer charging lead, because (I hope) my netbook’s one-hour battery life will expire before my ideas do.  My mobile charger is in permanent residence on my desk. If I put my tiny phone anywhere else for it’s overnight recharge, I’ll have forgotten where I put it by the morning.  Those 1980s  brick cellphones did have one upside:  you’d never be able to mislay them. Ditto my iPod and camera rechargers.  Yes, I could zap them both via a USB port, but they’d get in the way when I’m typing.

So eight sockets it is, then.  But in this energy-conscious age, isn’t this rather a dissolute way to operate?  Having avoided battery-operated toys as far as possible for my small daughter, I appear not to practise what I preach.  So yes, I do feel guilty.

But at last redemption is in sight, for we’ve ordered solar panels for our roof. Embracing 21st century technology with a vengeance, we’ll soon be generating as much energy as we can use.  In fact, more – and the surplus will be fed into the National Grid.  So I’ll be able to beaver away at my netbook with a completely clear conscience.

And it’s not just the desktop gadgets that will be getting extra use. Washing machine, dishwasher, cooker, food processor – all of these will be buzzing away whenever the fancy takes us.  True, I’ll no longer have an environmentally-sound excuse for avoiding hoovering and ironing.  I might even buy a tumble drier – though it will take years to erode my conscientious objection to this alternative to garden wind-power.  And hot baths will no longer be a rare, guilty treat instead of power-saving showers.

So the only finite energy resource that I’ll be tapping in future will be my own.  I don’t think I can get an electrical hook-up from the solar panels to my brain, recharging the electrical impulses that zap round between the neurons.  So I’ll just have to look out for a suitably recharging hat.  Now, where did I put that solar topi?

(Dim lights, segue into Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun“.)

Posted in Personal life, Travel, Writing

Taking To My Bed

Marcel Proust, 44 rue Hamelin
Image by photopictus via Flickr

It’s a hangover from childhood that I find it so difficult to sleep in the daytime.  The youngest of three children, I had the earliest bedtime in the family.  Lying in bed on a summer’s evening with sunlight streaming in through the curtains, I felt about as likely to fly as to go to sleep.

Even now, I don’t like going to bed in the summer – though every time my soft memory-foam pillow yields beneath my head, I wonder why I still resist.     But as the evenings draw in, I change my tune.  As darkness falls earlier in the evening, I begin to feel a primeval urge to hibernate.  And as I light the woodburning stove in the sitting room this evening, it occurs to me that bed would be a much better alternative to winter heating.  We could just bundle up in the blankets and sleep till Spring.  The accompanying lengthy fast would also ensure that our summer clothes would fit the following year.  However, with a small daughter’s busy social calendar to accommodate, I’m hardly likely to pull this plan off.  It’s hard enough getting her to school on time on winter mornings as it is.

However, all is not lost: I’m now onto a new excuse for winter lethargy.  I’ve discovered that some of the world’s finest writers do (or did) their best work in bed.  Former Children’s Laureate Michael Morpurgo has even built a special bed specifically for his writing.  (Ink stains on the sheets led to his day-time eviction from the marital bed.)  His literary hero, Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island (as if anyone who’s ever been in the Beaufort needs to be told that), wrote books in his tropical bed in Samoa.  Marcel Proust never left his bedroom when writing one of the last century’s most celebrated (and longest) novels (though as his was a sick-bed, this is an example I’m less keen to emulate).  A cheerier role model can be found in Mark Twain.  No wonder he always seemed so chirpy.  Edith Wharton, Collette, James Joyce – the list goes on.

So this winter, I think I’ll be saving on my heating bills – and who knows, my new alternative approach might just fuel a masterpiece.

(This post was originally published in Hawkesbury Parish News, October 2010.)