Following my recent post, Puzzled? You Will Be!, in which Wentworth Wooden Puzzles kindly offered this beautiful traditional wooden jigsaw puzzle of a bookshelf as a prize, I’m please do announce that we drew the winner this morning and it is……
Congratulations, Shana! Wentworth will be sending you your prize soon. (I’ll send you a private message to get your address details.)
We chose the winner by putting the names of all the commenters on cards, shuffled and cut them, and Shana’s was the name that was revealed.
I only wish I could give a prize to all of you! So sorry to disappoint you. Don’t forget you can also order puzzles directly from Wentworth Wooden Puzzles and they will ship to any part of the world. There are lots of designs to choose from, and you can even submit your own photograph or graphic to have made into a puzzle – a great idea for a special occasion such as a birthday present or wedding gift.
Thank you to everyone who entered the draw – and keep puzzling!
If you missed my two previous posts on the subject of jigsaw puzzles and creativity, you can still read them here:
On the power of lateral thinking, the joy of jigsaw puzzles, chance meetings and the fun to be had in museum shops
While musing in my last post about the similarities between writing stories and assembling jigsaw puzzles, I mentioned the fabulous Wentworth Wooden Puzzles, a near neighbour, whose jigsaws include fancy shapes called “whimsies”.
Clearly the whole experience of rediscovering the joy of jigsaws jump-started my brain, because as soon as I’d finished the post, I had the bright idea of sending its link to Wentworth Wooden Puzzles, on the principle that everyone likes to see themselves mentioned in a blog post.
I was pleased to receive a lovely message back, saying they’d enjoyed my post and had given it an honorable mention on their own website. When I asked if they’d like to offer a puzzle as a prize for my readers, they kindly said yes and invited me to choose a design.
Your Chance to Win This Jigsaw
This is the one I chose. I hope you like it! It’s clearly the bookshelf of someone teetering on the idea of filing all their books in colour order – something I’d love to do myself, but lack the stamina. (Have you seen how many books there are in my house?!)
The books have entertaining titles, such as War and Peas and Lord of the Pies, plus other witty details. Better still, it includes whimsies on a library theme, i.e. there are pieces shaped like things you might find in a library – a magnifying glass, a pair of glasses, a book, etc. Great fun.
For a chance to win this puzzle, just leave a comment at the bottom of this post. On Valentine’s Day, I’ll put all entrants’ names in a hat and ask my daughter (who started this whole jigsaw craze off for me) to pick one out without looking. I’ll contact the winner to arrange despatch direct from Wentworth Wooden Puzzles. They’re kindly stumping up the postage too!
Puzzles on the Brain
Suddenly I seem to see jigsaw puzzles wherever I go – a phenomenon known as the Papua New Guinea syndrome. Not because they’re keen on jigsaws in Papua New Guinea (though they may be, for all I know) but because Papua New Guinea is one of those things you’ve never heard of or heard much about, but then, like buses, several mentions of it all come along at once.
Accordingly, I spotted lots Wentworth Wooden Puzzles on Sunday in the National Gallery in London, where I had gone to meet my two old schoolfriends, Jane and Susanne. We wanted to visit the new Van Gogh Sunflowers exhibition, much hyped but actually a very simple proposition: two of the seven Van Gogh sunflowers paintings hung next to each other in a darkened room. The display looked startlingly like a child’s spot-the-difference competition. I wasn’t surprised to see both pictures were covered in glass, just in case someone was tempted to circle the differences with a marker pen.
We didn’t take long to complete our viewing (we spotted the differences quite quickly!) so then we sauntered, chatting, through a few more rooms, enjoying our favourite pictures and fondly remembering a trip up here with our RE teacher, Miss Hocking, a frighteningly large number of years ago. Our class went to see the Leonardo cartoon of the Virgin and Child and the Michelangelo Madonna of the Rocks, and had to say which we liked best, and why. I was on Team Leonardo.
As with school outings, Jane, Susanne and I didn’t consider our trip complete without a visit to the museum shop, where I spotted the ubiquitous Wentworth souvenir puzzles. You’ll find them at many tourist attractions, featuring relevant pictures, because they make great souvenirs – I’ve a little collection of them in our camper van.
An Artful Coincidence
A less expected sighting occurred just outside the National Gallery. Seeing a cute little toddler stomping along through the rain, I thought “Ah, she looks just like that little girl who lives down the road from me!” Exchanging indulgent smiles with her mum, I realised that her mum’s face also looked familiar. It took a second or to for the pieces to fall into place (to continue on the jigsaw theme), by which time we were out of each other’s sight. Only next day on Facebook did I have confirmation that they were the originals, not doppelgangers – the mum had posted a photo of the little girl inside the National Gallery, which is 100 miles from our village. What are the chances of that happening, as comedian Harry Hill likes to say?
My Artfull Computer
Confronted by this reminder on Facebook of my lovely trip to the National Gallery, on a whim I thought I’d make a return visit across the ether. I needed to check the exact name of my favourite Rousseau picture, the gorgeous, huge portrait of a bewildered tiger caught in a tropical storm. I wanted to tweet it to a new Twitter friend, exchanging our favourite paintings. In my head I’d always thought of it as “Tropical Storm with Tiger”, but its actual title turned out to be a very Twitter-friendly nine characters long: “Surprised!” (I was.)
I also discovered that not only could I view my favourite painting on the Natoinal Gallery website, I could also summon up any picture in its vast colletcion, to admire at my own leisure at my desk. Use this link to fill your idle moments with wonder: http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/artists/. What a gift to any writer in search of a story idea!
Even without this prompt, I’d already started writing a short story, set in one of the Gallery’s many rooms. It was inspired by that close encounter with my neighbour. This story is destined for my forthcoming flash fiction collection, Quick Change, to be published a little later this year. For free story samples and advance notice of new publications, sign up for my free e-newsletter by sending a request via this contact form.
(How the gift of a jigsaw puzzle made me recognise interesting truths about writing and the subconscious mind)
When my 10 year old daughter presented me with a jigsaw puzzle on Christmas Day, I knew it was just what I needed to take me out of myself and away from my keyboard for a much-needed mental rest.
She was surprised that I hadn’t guessed what her gift was after her not-so-subtle question on Christmas Eve:
“What’s your favourite number of pieces for there to be in a jigsaw puzzle?”
Fortunately my answer matched the puzzle that she’d bought: 1,000 pieces. What’s more, the picture was the kind I like best in a jigsaw puzzle: an array of small pictures combined together.
I couldn’t wait to get started on it. I seldom take time out to piece a jigsaw together, but every time I do, I get a frisson of pleasure from the reminder offered by jigsaw puzzles of the workings of the subconscious mind.
Subconscious Solutions for Jigsaw Puzzles
I love the way that you can pick up a piece and slot it immediately into place without thinking. You find your hand has already placed the piece in its correct position before you’ve made a logical appraisal of where it might fit. Only afterwards does your conscious mind catch up, realising, for example, that the slender grass stalk down one side of the piece lines up perfectly with its tip on the piece above. It’s as if some jigsaw-loving higher power is using your hand as its vehicle.
As I was slowly piecing my new puzzle together, it occurred to me that assembling a jigsaw is a lot like writing a book.
No matter how carefully you prepare the component parts – the corners, the edges, all the pieces with blue sky or Persian carpet or Delft tiles or pink flowers – the assembly of the puzzle never goes entirely according to plan.
When daunted by what seems like an insurmountably difficult section, you realise that if you only apply yourself, one piece at a time, you really can conquer the challenge.
Sometimes it works best if you switch your conscious mind off for a bit and let the subconscious take over.
So it is with writing a book.
Different Approaches to the Jigsaw Puzzle
Not everyone tackles a jigsaw puzzle the same way, any more than authors follow the same formula for writing books:
When I do a puzzle, I like to keep the box in view, so that I can study the picture and monitor my progress. Every time I look at it, I spot new and helpful details.
My husband prefers the “mystery tour” approach, turning the box face down to create a harder challenge. He’d be the sort or writer who prefers not to start with an outline, letting the characters lead the way.
Our daughter goes for her favourite parts first, e.g. the big pig in my Christmas present puzzle. She’s named him Steve and put a note in the box so we remember to greet him by the right name in future.
But it may be only writers (or crazy people) who like to anthropomorphise the pieces. As I’m assembling the puzzle, I like to classify the different shapes into characters (clockwise, from top left):
the chubby, confident man, with outstretched arms extended for a hug
the synchronised swimmers looking up
the ballroom dancer
the tractor driver
the ballet dancer, leaping across the stage
the air-traffic controller, waving a big lollipop to guide pilots around the runway
Although my more sensible scientifically-minded husband may not make making friends with puzzle’s component parts, he does enjoy as much as I do any jigsaw containing “whimsies”. Whimsies are the fancy-shaped pieces dreamed up by the Victorians to resemble specific shapes.
Our near neighbour, the Wentworth Wooden Puzzles company, is famous for its modern whimsies. It riddles its puzzles with pieces in the fancy shapes on specific themes. After completing my Christmas puzzle, we did a Wentworth one with an Alice in Wonderland theme. Camouflaged within the puzzle were an Alice, a Cheshire cat, a white rabbit, and all kinds of other characters from the classic children’s story. The need to accommodate these fancy shapes ensures the rest of the puzzle pieces also take unusual forms. Sometimes there are straight edges in the middle of a puzzle – how anarchic is that?!
The Joy of Completion
Whatever one’s approach to puzzle-making, who can fail to experience a creative joy as each small scene falls into placec? I find it odd that so sedentary an occupation has such power to quicken the heartbeat. And, oh, the heady satistfaction at the puzzle’s final completion, even though the end result is not exactly a surprise.
Where The Similarity With Writing Ends
Of course, the similarity with writing a book only goes so far:
The writer never has the problem of finding the cat has chased your words around the table, sending a few of them skittering under the dresser, from whence you have to extract them with a broom handle.
Nor does the writer return to her desk from a break to find her husband has, annoyingly, put into place the last few pieces of a finished story, leaving the writer redundant.
No writer embarks on the act of creating a story knowing that all of the component parts are right in front of her, neatly laid out and only needing to be mechanically selected and assembled in the right order to produce the required result.
But neither does she find herself at the end of a story with the final word apparently missing from the face of the earth, never to be seen again, the trick with the broom handle having failed.
When you start a jigsaw puzzle, there is only one right solution. There are no absolute rights or wrongs about a book.
But what a good thing the similarity only goes so far. Otherwise all stories would be soulless, no matter how neat and tidy.
When writing a book, even with a clear outline from the start, all kinds of mysterious processes happen along the way to morph it into something bigger, better and more interesting than the plan made it at first appear.
Unlike jigsaw puzzle pieces, the component parts of a story often materialise as if from nowhere, sent spinning out of the subconscious or unconscious mind by the mysterious powers that govern the human brain. Sometimes the act of putting a whole story down on paper can feel like an unconscious act, especially if it’s one you’ve had simmering at the back of your mind for a long time, or if you’ve woken up, as happens often, with a complete story fully formed in your head. That’s when the act of writing becomes more like taking dictation (though any writer who works that way is best advised to spend time consciously refining and editing the piece).
No author wants to write books with the predictability of a jigsaw puzzle. But some days the notion sounds appealing: if the task of writing a book were as formulaic and straightforward as a jigsaw puzzle, we writers would have a lot more time on our hands and a lot more books in our back catalogue.
And I wouldn’t have to wait till next Christmas for my next fix of the jigsaw puzzle experience.
In the meantime, I’d better get back to my manuscript…
If you liked this post, you might enjoy other posts about writing and creativity: