On a recent, fleeting trip to the US (to Idaho, no less, a place of which I had zero expectations, and left more than pleasantly surprised), I honoured what has now become a travelling-through-the-US-custom, and bought myself some twizzlers and a copy of New York magazine. During the 50-odd hour roundtrip journey from Barcelona to Boise, I devoured both, along with a book gifted to me by my friend Lo-Sal called Findings, by Kathleen Jamie.
Jamie is first and foremost a poet, who writes about observations in the natural world; in this case the collected essays published are all about Scotland. Her poetic prose is easy to read, loose-fitting, casual, comforting - but no less affecting for it. She said in an interview once that Findings was notoriously difficult to classify - both for her publisher to take it on, and for bookstores to try to decide which section to put it in, but that her readers don’t seem to mind. And I didn’t. It’s like someone pulling a big chunky cable-knit woollen blanket over you and while you’re starting to fall asleep, telling you stories about what they can see from the window. Whilst stroking your hair.
Her style is so natural - of course, for someone who chooses to write about the natural world, this is essential - but her ease with words also makes for comfortable reading.
“Fancy - day after day of summer sunshine, in April. The house grows dusty and neglected because we all spend so much time outdoors. It’s unseasonal, but all weather is unseasonal nowadays. The plum blossom is coming and next door’s old pear tree is a perfect triangle of greenish-white froth. They do this like a conjuring trick, the old trees. They’re brittle and cronish all winter, then blossom issues out of them and fills the tree slowly, like a dancehall filling on a Saturday night.” Peregrines, Ospreys, Cranes, [Jamie, K. Findings: (Penguin, 2005) p.32 ]
Findings is all about looking for things, and what I’ve been looking for is a way to focus my writing, and find the time and dedication needed to finish things. I think that’s why Lo-Sal chose this book to gift to me. He said that my writing reminded him of Jamie's, a huge compliment, but of course my style doesn’t hold a candle to hers, all unbalanced and gawky and newborn as it is. However, immersing myself in someone else’s writing style inevitably gets me thinking about my own, if indeed such a voice exists.
Happily for me, and my fledgling written voice, an article in New York magazine, my other long-haul reading material, introduced me to Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way. Cameron is a screenwriter, poet, playwright and general all-round creativity guru whose seminal aforementioned work has helped to “unblock” the creativity of countless artists around the world. (She was also briefly married to Martin Scorsese in the late 70s, a factoid which to this day seems to define the poor woman; not that in our fair, equal society a woman is the sum of whoever she happens to have been married to, but it does seem to captivate her audiences).
It’s billed as a self-help book, which does make me shudder a little, and the full title : The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity may support some of its detractors’ claims, which is namely that there is a little bit too much God in it. Having said all of that, two main ideas have caught my interest: Morning Pages (every morning without fail, upon waking, writing three pages of stream-of-consciousness-flow by hand) and the Artist’s Date: a once-per week time set aside, and guarded fiercely, to do something that gives you inspiration, not necessarily an artistic pursuit per se, but perhaps time in a food market, a library, a bookstore or the cinema, the idea being that it’s a safe space for creative thoughts to come to you with a relaxed brain.
Both of these ideas, I like. And with the next two months of relative freedom from work constraints rolling out ahead of me, and a close friend’s insistence that I really ought to try and finish some proper fiction, and set myself some solid writing goals (quite right, MF, you’ve always been a super editor), I’m very tempted to skip reading the book, take on these two main tenets as experiments in upping my creative output, and set the timer on myself (t-minus 2.5 months) to see what comes forth.