I took some time out from marketing, studying from my MA and of course writing in its various different forms to do something purely for pleasure, yesterday. I went to a workshop organised by York Writers at Howsham Mill (regular readers will know this is not my first trip to the Mill, I’ve been there before for another writing workshop and to do a school visit!) and delivered by Carrot Smash about writing from experience.
I rarely write directly from experience; experience is usually something that informs my writing rather than providing the plot. I might draw on personal experience to know what it’s like on an icy planet, or to get the dialogue right when Alfie Slider is talking to friends at school, but I don’t usually write stories that are directly drawn from personal experience.
Ali Cargill, our facilitator for the day, took us back in time to our teenage years and asked us to write about a particular memory. She challenged us to choose something shocking, if we were up to it, but as I’ve had quite a challenging time on a personal level lately I chose to think about something positive instead. I chose to talk about a crystal clear memory I have of an encounter with the boy who went on to be my first love. Rather than a story, I forced myself to slow down from my usual break-neck pace and to really relish the moment. 350 words for just a few seconds of time; a rare thing for me. Here it is:
It was her first experience of time slowing down. She was walking alongside Abi, pinky fingers linked around matching pale pink scars: blood sisters. Emerging from biology, she had met Abi coming out of Chem, strides effortlessly synchronising as they walked down the cinder path that curved its way to the language block. Homogeneous faces in uniform blue (dark for boys, pale for girls) offset with a garish orange tie, blurred past and then – there he was.
A shaft of winter sunlight caught him, gilding his skin, illuminating eyes that shone the exact same shade of green as his fur-trimmed parka. A sharp inhale of chill air, and time slowed to detail.
Oh, but he was beautiful. Flawless skin, hair the colour of gold; not harsh blonde, no peroxide streaks or over-gelled spikes, just the warm curve of wind-bowed wheat stalks. A boy, still, but with the burgeoning promise of the man he would become. He smiled, and it was a thing of power; rousing sleeping butterflies in her belly and softening her knees.
Time beat at her, insistent like the stuck second hand of a broken clock. First one foot and then another hit the floor, flashing fluorescent pink socks; a glimpse of a rebellion from the invisible girl.
Be cool, her mental voice whispered, but still she turned her head to capture every last glimpse of him as they drew alongside and then passed. The curl to his lips was unmistakable, and shame flushed pink to her cheeks. Their eyes had met: he had seen her, and in that glance an invisible transfer of power had occurred. Something precious, that she hadn’t really known she had, had been taken and she sensed she would never reclaim it.
‘He likes you,’ Abi whispered.
The moment evaporated. She turned to her friend, disbelieving.
‘Does he?’ Turning back, she caught him doing the same. His chest puffed out, friends clapping him on the back, his mouth wide with laughter at catching her looking again.
He liked her, perhaps, but in the way a cat likes a mouse.
One thing that I haven’t done so much in 2017 is take myself out of my writerly comfort zone. I’ve been writing Sci Fi for adults in my MA, for kids with Alfie 2 and Fantasy in my collaboration with Danny; all very much home ground. Today’s workshop made me realise that I should challenge myself more. I’ll try and find time for Hour of Writes again, and generally try different things. It’s never a bad thing to have more tools than you use in your writers toolkit.