Posted in Blog, Competitions, Creative Non-Fiction, Inspiration, Poetry, Submissions, Writing Stuff

A Smart Writer Uses Their Own Experiences

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I wrote a new poem called The Last Summer for the Writing Magazine Holiday Poetry competition.

The poem is narrated by a woman reflecting on the last summer of her childhood. The summer ends on a dark note when her father has her dog put down for biting someone. The poem tackles childhood, growing up and loss of innocence.

The poem is autobiographical. When I was a kid my parents took me to a fishing village in Fife called Anstruther every summer. We stayed in an old army barrack that had been converted to a basic holiday cottage. It was cheap but it was all we could afford. I loved those summers so much. Even now, we regularly return to the village at least once a year. It shocks me how different it is. When I was a kid I thought the village was magical and would never change.

A lot of my writing, especially my poetry is inspired by my own experiences. I don’t write non-fiction so the trick is turning your own experiences into fiction and making it interesting for someone else.

My first, unpublished novel, The Other Side Of Me has a large section which deals with two teenage girls who fall in love. This is based on my relationship with a girl who was my best friend when I was 13. In real life we never did much more than kiss until circumstances forced us apart. In the book the girls are lovers and a lot more happens. The book would be boring if the girls just kissed and nothing else happened. The trick is to elaborate the truth to make it a great story.

There is a well known phrase among writers that you should write what you know. This is often misinterpreted as writing only about your own experiences and own knowledge. That’s bullshit for a start. If writers only wrote about their own lives and own general knowledge the world would be full of boring books. George R R Martin’s amazing series A Song of Ice and Fire wouldn’t exist and neither would the hugely successful TV series Game of Thrones. Nobody would have heard of Harry Potter. Imagine being part of such a dull, fucked up world?

I always interpret write what you know as writing what you can learn such as researching Victorian London if you want to write a historical novel set in the era. I also think of it as writing within the limits of your own imagination.

A smart writer should us their own experiences as source material. We’ve all come across interesting people or people who have hurt us in some way. There’s nothing sweeter than getting your revenge through writing. Our experiences are unique and can spark off really good ideas.

Posted in Blog, Creative Non-Fiction, Fiction, Inspiration, Poetry

So where do I get my ideas?

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Like all writers I get my ideas from somewhere. Right? This is also one of the most common things writers get asked. Apparently.

I could say something obscure like I dip my nib in the divine pool of ideas and see what flows into my mind but I won’t. That sounds like writing is a hit and a miss and you need to sit in a quiet room and meditate until ideas come forth. You’re likely to be sitting there for a while. Better take a snack with you and a book to read, maybe a TV with Netflix or a pet to talk to. If you have not pet you can talk to yourself and see if you answer back.

I get my ideas from everywhere. I mean literally everywhere. A writer is really a big sponge absorbing snippets from the wealth of stimulus around them. They then take these snippets and twist and shape them into something completely new. It’s a lot of fun. You basically need to be an antenna picking up signals from the world around you.

First and foremost, I’m an avid reader. Check out my book review blog if you don’t believe me.

In my option being an avid reader is a prerequisite for being a writer. How can you write books or poems or non-fiction if you’ve never read any? That’s like declaring yourself a brain surgeon without having a degree or any training. You’re basically just walking around with a scalpel looking for volunteers who don’t mind you cutting into their brain. Good luck with that.

As you will be able to tell from a quick glance at my book review blog, I read widely across fiction, poetry and non-fiction. My writing can be inspired by what I’ve read. Sometimes I know exactly what sparked my writing.

For example, my favourite poetry anthology is Verses That Hurt: Pleasure and Pain from the Poemfone Poets. I cannot recommend this enough. I bought my copy about nine years ago. I’ve read it at least fifteen times and my copy is falling to pieces. This anthology inspired 20 or thirty poems the first time I read it and continues to influence me still.

I go through periods when I read the same sort of thing over and over and this starts to crop up in my writing. I write a bunch of love poems or stories about break-up’s or a bunch of crime fiction. I can see little droplets of what I’ve read recently scattered through my writing like little drops of chocolate.

One of my stories, Strawberry Girl was inspired by the story The World With Love by Ali Smith from her collection Free Love and Other StoriesThe story is about a woman who bumps into an old school friend who triggers memories of her intense crush on another girl. I cried my eyes out as I read this story then sat up until 2am writing Strawberry Girl which is about my intense friendship / love affair with a girl when I was a teenager. This story has subsequently been embedded into my novel, The Other Side of Me.

There are also times when I know what I’m writing was inspired by something I’ve read but I’ve got no idea what. As I’m writing, something niggles me. The little voice in my head tells me this is based on something you read, I’m sure of it. I don’t answer the little voice back of course because that would be crazy. Sometimes I work out where the inspiration came from and sometimes I don’t.

I usually just think that the idea has been sitting on my back burner. Let me explain. The back burner is basically the filing cabinet in my brain where I store all of my ideas and little snippets for recycling and use at a later date. Now and again I had a rummage through the back burner to see if there’s anything I fancy. The front burner is where my brain stores stuff I’m currently concerned with. This is a much bigger filing cabinet. Drawers include The Sinner’s Song (seven volumes of fragments), NaPoWriMo (which is pretty empty at the moment and Publishing Stuff (which contains all my information for self-publishing in May or June).

I also watch TV and movies and listen to music. From time to time this influences my writing. I’ve written some poems influenced by episodes of Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer which have had nothing to do with vampires, demons or other creatures of the night.

It can take a long time for ideas to develop. I wrote the first draft of my crime novel, The Ballad of Sarah Rose when I was still in high school. It was called Crush and was 89 pages long double spaced. It’s gone through about fifty million versions including a script for a screenplay and a six part TV series and has finally settled into a trilogy of crime novels. I have no idea where the initial gem of an idea came from. I don’t have any of the original drafts so can’t trace its development. I will never forget being 16 years old and feeling like a queen because I finished a novel.

My first novel, The Other Side of Me is partly based on my own experiences of coming out. It originally started as two books. The first was a novel, Strawberry Girl was about two teenage girls who fall in love. The second was a memoir about coming out called There’s A Word for this. Strawberry Girl was only 60,000 words long. I loved it but felt it was too short and didn’t know what to do with it. There’s A Word for this was very personal and I felt uncomfortable about sharing so much about myself. They were both filed away in the back burner under ‘Unfinished’. Four years later elements of both combined with new material and became something completely new.

I like it when I know what’s triggered a piece of writing. It means if I get stuck I’ve something to fall back on. I can read whatever triggered the story or poem or novel and hope it sparks my imagination and gets me over the hurdle.

It’s also great when stuff pops into my head and I’ve got no idea where it came from. This can be wonderful. I sit at my laptop and the words flow from my head onto the screen. Almost like a tap has been turned on somewhere. The Divine Pool of Ideas perhaps? I get some of the best surprises this way.

It can also be scary as well. If you reach a brick wall there’s nothing to help you, no source material to fire your imagination. You’re stuck behind that wall, desperately trying to dig through it with your bleeding fingernails or find a way to climb over the wall even though it’s like 300 FEET tall.

One of the things I love about writing is the weird and wonderful places my imagination takes me. I like being surprised but I also like being able to see what I’m stepping on sometimes.

Posted in Creative Non-Fiction, Magazines & Ezines, Samples Of Published Work, Short Story

On Cellardyke Beach

This story was published in an ezine, Toasted Cheese Literary Magazine in June 2014.

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ON CELLARDYKE BEACH
PAMELA SCOTT

Every summer when I was a kid my parents took me to a little fishing village in Fife called Anstruther for two weeks. We stayed in a chalet at Anstruther Holiday Village.

My parents never had money for a holiday so the first year we went it was a treat. I was nine. Dad drove us there in the old red Volvo he was driving at the time.

The village was twelve miles outside St Andrew’s. We drove past hundreds of acres of corn and poppy fields when a massive road sign materialised out of nowhere. Welcome to the East Neuk of Fife. I thought the words ‘East Neuk’ were exciting and magical.

We almost missed the turn off for the village. The road sign was tiny. Faded white paint on a tiny pillar of stone. WELCOME TO ANSTRUTHER and a sign pointing to the right. Mum saw it at the last minute and yelled so hard Dad slammed on the breaks, thinking something was wrong. Dad reversed back along the road, turned right and followed the street.

The Holiday Village took ages to find. It was tucked behind several rows of houses. We drove along the same street dozens of times before Dad finally asked for directions. He weaved the car between the houses and drove through large wooden gates bearing a sign with the words ‘Anstruther Holiday Village’. He parked the car in front of a small building marked OFFICE. It didn’t take him long to get the keys and a map to our chalet.

It took ages to find the chalet. We drove around the place in frantic circles while Mum scrutinised the map and Dad yelled at her. He finally stopped next to a building we’d passed dozens of times, got out of the car and carried our luggage inside.

The chalet was a converted old one-storey, two bedroom Army barrack. The amenities were basic. Electricity. Calor Gas fire instead of heating. A bath and toilet. A colour TV with four basic channels. Basic furniture including a couch, a couple of chairs and a large table. Self catering of course.

As the years passed my friends went on holiday to Spain, Greece, the French Riveria and Italy and we returned to Anstruther. It never occurred to me to be jealous of them. The weather was always scorching. Every year I got a tan. I was with my favourite people on earth. I got to take pets with me. Foreign climates held no interest for me.

————-

Our first year in Anstruther was a year of discovery.

I took my budgie with me. Billy Boy. Dad had taught him to sing rude songs, swear creatively and make rude body noises. I couldn’t help laugh when Billy Boy whistled the sash, made belch or farting noises and sang Billy boy’s a protestant boy fuck the pope while Mum threatened to cook him for dinner and gave Dad one of her famous ‘looks’ designed to wither him.

On our first day in Anstruther I discovered the greatest second hand bookshop in the world. It was at the end of a street that looked directly onto the harbour. We were walking to the village to have a look around when I noticed a sign on a  lamp-post that read ‘2ND HAND BOOKS’ with an arrow pointing along the street. I dragged my parents with me. The book-shop was in a building painted bright blue.

I was in heaven. There were two large fold down tables in front of the shop covered in books. Inside the shop was my version of Aladdin’s Cave – every wall covered in floor to ceiling bookshelves breaking under the strain of books they carried. There were even shelves in the middle of the room that you had to squeeze past.

We hadn’t been in the shop five minutes when I started weighing Mum and Dad down with books. There was sappy expression on my face. My eyes were wide as saucers. I’m sure I drooled a little. They almost had to drag me screaming from the shop in the end carrying eleven carrier bags filled with books. The whole lost cost lest than ƒ£30.

I visited the book shop every year. I always bought dozens of books. As I got older my tastes changed and I discovered the joys of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Sean Hutson and Richard Laymon.

I have so many memories of summer days sitting on a blanket on the beach huddled over one book or another completely lost in the world between the pages.

On our second day we discovered the neighbouring village of Cellardyke. It was a tiny village a mile and a half away. We decided to check out the beach at Anstruther and were sorely disappointed. A few inches of sand and lots of rock. Dad clambered across the rocks to see where they led. Mum and I followed. I stumbled and fell a couple of times.

The rocks led to a proper beach and another harbour. Golden sand stretched  for miles. The beach had donkey rides, stalls selling gifts and a Mr Whippy ice cream van. Dad bought us a cone and found out the place was called Cellardyke, the smallest village in the East Neuk. There were a couple of rows of shops, a post office and a caf„e.

When we finished our cones we took the road way back. The road was called Coast Road. We walked past rows of caravans that stretched most of the way between the two villages. We found out later they were part of Cellardyke Holiday Park.

Over the years we spent a lot of time in Cellardyke. The walk was pleasant along the Coast Road. The breeze from the sea was lovely. We always bought a cone. Dad I walked along the narrow harbour wall and watched fish in the sea and looked at all the fishing boats. Mum always sat at a small bench on a hill overlooking the harbour. The idea of walking the harbour wall made her feel queasy. We spent a lot of time on the beach. Dad would drag Mum into the water and wind her up by splashing her. I sunbathed and read.

On our third day we discovered the little shop at the bottom of the hill behind the holiday village. There was a very steep hill that led from the back gate right down to the beach. The hill was too steep for a car and you had to walk very carefully. My legs were killing me by the time we reached the bottom.

We were behind a lot of houses. There was a sandy path that led down to the only sandy area of the beach. Right next to the opening that led to the sandy path there was a little shop. It sold the usual newspapers and magazines as well as hand crafted gifts and home made sweets.

Dad started to go down to the shop every morning to get a paper, bread and milk. We bought all of our gifts there. We started our daily walk to Cellardyke from there. As the years passed the hill seemed to get steeper and steeper. Dad’s legs got bad with arthritis and we had to stop using the hill.

On our fourth day we discovered the Anstruther Fish Bar. It was one of many businesses that overlooked the harbour. We’d been shopping one day when Dad noticed a huge queue leading from the building down the street. Curious, we went over to investigate. The windows of the place were covered in signs proclaiming the fish bar to be award winning, the best in the East Neuk and world famous.

We had to queue for almost two hours before we finally got a table. We sat at a table at the back of the restaurant. The place was mobbed and cramped. There wasn’t a lot of room for people to move about.

The fish and chips were amazing. They were served on plates inside cardboard boxes that looked like rolled up newspaper. You had to eat with a wooden fork.

We ate there at least once every year.

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I have so many memories of Anstruther than have never faded.

The smell of the sea. I’d never smelt it before and grew to love it. Even now I can’t smell the sea without thinking of those summers.

The sound of seagulls screaming as they flew overhead.

Hot sand squelching between my bare toes.

Rummaging inside various gift shops.

Sitting on the harbour wall and eating a Mr Whippy.

The hot sun in my face, making my skin sweat and my eyes water.

Walking along the pebbled streets that wound all over the village.

After we stopped going on holiday to Anstruther we returned for a day trip every year. We revisited all our haunts. We carefully made our way down the steep hill behind the holiday village. We walked across the rocks. We walked to Cellardyke and had a cone on the harbour. We paid a visit to the 2nd hand book-store. We ate at the fish bar. We walked the pebbled streets.

——–

It was during the first week of our second year in Anstruther that Dad has his accident.

It had been raining and miserable all day but it finally stopped. Dad wanted to explore the rocks with me and my dog Sheba. He wanted to show me how to fish in the shallow pools that sometimes formed in the rocks. Mum didn’t want to come.

The rocks were okay at first. A couple were damp buy nothing major. Dad walked carefully, stopping to wait for me to catch up. He lifted me over some parts I couldn’t manage myself. I had a net with me and Sheba was running around. He helped me catch tiny little fish. Sheba got bit on the nose by a crab and stayed much closer to us.

After a while we reached several large flat rocks that had green moss on them. They sloped upwards. At the bottom were a series of sharp rocks piled on top of each other. Dad tested the first moss covered rock. It was fine. We crossed it. He was testing the second one when his legs went from under him. He gave a scream and he lost his footing and slid down the flat rocks towards the steep ones. He smashed both knees off the sharp rocks. There was blood everywhere.  Sheba lay down at his feet and howled in pain.

He couldn’t stand up and told me to get Mum. I ran back towards the holiday village screaming my head off. I yelled and cried all the way to our chalet while everyone stared at me. Mum phoned an ambulance.

Dad had to get over thirty stitches in each knee. At the hospital they found out he had arthritis in both knees. The stitches didn’t come out for month and his knees were left badly scarred.

——–

Sheba came to Anstruther with us every year. She was my dog. My voice was the only authority she recognised. She never paid any attention to Mum and Dad. At home she used to escape from the back garden and run to the grass verge across from the house. She ran circles round Mum and Dad as they chased her. As soon as I appeared she ran to my side. I didn’t even need to say anything.

Summers in Anstruther were even better with Sheba. I’d play with her on the beach and in the water. I’d bury her in the sand. I built sandcastles that she took delight in demolishing. She had this big rubber bone that we used to play with. I would take a hold of both sides. She’d grab the middle and drag me around the water.

I came home from school one day and Dad told me Sheba was gone. I was thirteen. She’d bitten a kid at the end of the street on the hand and his parents made such a fuss she had to be put down. I went into hysterics. I locked myself in my room and trashed the place. I didn’t speak to my Dad for weeks and called him a murderer.

The summer after Sheba was put down we returned to Anstruther for the last time. It wasn’t the same without Sheba. I sat around the chalet moping with my head stuck in a book. I didn’t want the beach or the water or anything. Dad offered to get me a new dog that was trained but I only wanted Sheba. My best friend I’d shared so many happy memories with on Cellardyke beach.

THE END

Copyright … 2014 by Pamela Scott

(2,100 words)