Sunday, 18 September 2011


Get a notebook - That's the first thing I was told to do when I started to study creative writing. I got a nice one - purple, with coloured pages - so nice in fact that I didn't want to spoil it with my half-baked scrawl. Eventually, I got over myself and scribbled all over the thing.

I've been thinking about notebooks while I've been organising ideas for the fiction module I will be teaching this semester. Books run two rows deep on most of the bookcases in my house. A couple of days ago I rediscovered my first notebook behind a stack of short story collections. I spent an enjoyable hour reading through pages and pages of story fragments and ideas. I was surprised to realise just how many of my stories began (and continue to begin) with tiny ideas/impressions/snatches of dialogue from that notebook.

These pages of disorganised scrawl eventually morphed into this story.

Writing is a bit like going to the gym - frequent exercise can improve performance. Virginia Woolf kept a diary and found that spontaneous and casual writing often led her to discover 'diamonds of the dustheap':
'It has a slapdash and vigour and sometimes hits an unexpected bull's eye. But what is more to the point is my belief that the habit of writing thus for my own eye is only good practice. It loosens the ligaments. Never mind the misses and the stumbles. Going at such a pace as I do I must make the most direct and instant shots at my object, and thus have to lay hands on words, choose them and shoot them with no more pause than is needed to put my pen in the ink. I believe that during the past year I can trace some increase of ease in my professional writing which I attribute to my casual half hours after tea.' (Woolf, 1953, p.13)

Earlier this month, I went to see my brother in Exeter. While I was visiting, I bought a new notebook because the one I took to America is falling to pieces. I made a couple of contrasting entries in my new notebook while I was in Exeter. One is a very inadequate record of an image of my brother, sitting in an armchair with his back to me, surrounded by a cloud of smoke, crying softly to himself. Another is something my sister said as we drove from my brother's house to hers: 'There's nowhere sadder than a garden centre on Christmas Eve, full of trees that will never fulfill their Christmas destiny.' And later that evening as we unwound, she also gave me a list of rules for the humane consumption of jelly babies. I don't know whether any of these images/words will make it into my fiction, but it's reassuring to have them waiting, like an investment, ready to be withdrawn if I need them.


  1. I feel naked without my creative journal!

  2. And you can bet that something interesting will happen when you don't have a piece of paper with you!

  3. I can never bring myself to write in beautiful notebooks. I wish I could. All mine are right scratty-looking things. I'd love to know that list of rules for the humane consumption of jelly babies!

  4. My sister has a huge problem with personification - I'm going to have to write a short story about some time. Apparently, you MUST eat the head first to kill the jelly baby quickly. All other body parts are strictly forbidden until after the head has been pulverized and even after the employment of this strategy, eating jelly babies is problematic and ultimately cruel!

  5. Haha, that's brilliant! I will never be able to eat a jelly baby in any other order again!