Showing posts with label Lynda Waterhouse. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lynda Waterhouse. Show all posts

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Memory and Character, by Lynda Waterhouse

For complicated rota-wrangling reasons (all right, because of the rota-wrangler's inefficiency), there isn't a new post for today. So I thought I would take a look at the most popular posts from ABBA's history, and this, from 2012, is one of them. I've chosen it because it seems to me to get to the bedrock of what fiction writers do - making up characters. Enjoy, and thanks to Lynda Waterhouse. - Sue Purkiss


Last week I met up with an old friend. It had been at least fifteen years since we had last seen each other but soon we were talking endlessly about characters and writers that we loved such as Barbara Pym, Dorothy Whipple, Margery Sharp, Laurie Graham, Alexander Baron and David Mitchell. It was a real pleasure to talk about stories that I love and to give and to be given recommendations of what to read next. We talked about our own lives in between but fiction was the touchstone that set us alight. I left the café feeling elated by the conversation.  
I have always created imaginary characters. Night after night as a child I would take a battered tennis racket and ball out into the back alley under the pretext of playing out but really as I bounced the ball I was making up stories. Nowadays I stomp along the South Bank. Ideas come to me when I am moving about. My imagination likes to play games with me, letting me slog away fruitlessly for hours at a desk and then hurling an idea at me as I'm stepping on a train.

For my latest story, ‘Magic Moments and the Dull Bits in Between’, I found one of my characters reliving one of my childhood memories. I am a child of seven sitting in the empty room above my Aunty Lily’s baker’s shop. I am kneeling on the cold hard lino watching a group of sparrows eating breadcrumbs in the back yard. At the time I knew that I would never forget that moment. Virginia Woolf in ‘Moments of Being’ described it as follows:
‘We are the words; we are the music, we are the thing itself.’

The reality of being a writer trying to sell ideas and earn a living requires hard slog, a rhino hide and the crazy optimism that I always feel when I begin writing; the cockamamie belief that I can become an overnight sensation after years in the business.



Maybe the overnight success bit is a tad overoptimistic but my intention is always to create a bunch of characters and a story that will linger in a reader’s imagination long after they have finished the novel. I hope that my carefully chosen words and images will transfer to the reader’s imagination where they will settle into a satisfying memory. That by sharing my words I am sharing a bit of myself.

 I want my characters to be talked about between friends in a café. I want them to matter to people.

What do you want?

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Picking up the pieces of my writing life by Lynda Waterhouse


The doctors had given mum until Christmas to live following a serious stroke and various other complications including vascular dementia.
 That was nine years ago.
On hearing the news all the pieces of my life flew up in the air; writing projects on hold, teaching work reduced as I was consumed by fear and anxiety as I commuted between London and Oldham leaving my writing life behind.
My Mum was going to die. The person who had always loved me so fiercely and unconditionally, seen me in the best light and provided a safe haven was disappearing.  There was also a craven cowardly part of me that was afraid that she would die when I was staying over. At night in Oldham  I would lie awake listening to the central heating churning away (it was perpetually on) and  the toilet cistern dripping, whispering to myself, ‘please don’t let her die’, until the early hours when I would get up and creep down the stairs to see if she was still breathing.
Fear and anxiety had to ‘utch up in my psyche to make room for anger and fierceness as I became expert in fighting Mum’s corner and arranging social care packages. My brother, John, and I had promised her that we would not put her in a care home. The one time she was placed in respite care following a fall she was so unhappy that my brother and I kidnapped her and brought her back home. At the subsequent review meeting with social services Sooty, Mum’s fierce rescue cat, saved the day by entering the front room, meowing and placing himself on protective guard duty on the top of her chair. The stroke had effected Mum’s speech so badly that she could not speak but the words, ‘Sooty, my baby!’ rang out.  Mum was allowed to stay. Oldham Council provided more help towards her care package. This package was limited and the gaps were filled in by family and friends.
At times I was consumed by uncontrollable rage; at the window cleaner who robbed, the carer who never came to give Mum her pain relief but filled in the book later, or the physiotherapist with the twisted logic who stopped Mum’s therapy because she had not met her (over-ambitious) target and said we could always contact them again if Mum improved! The cutting of the community matron service was unfathomable.
More often though I was humbled by the kindness of people. The carers who did care. The family and friends who visited every week.  The acquaintance who volunteered to help me cut Mum’s nails (carers are not allowed to do this) and became a good friend. The chemist who would stay open to allow us to collect some emergency medication. Mum’s GP who would visit often or provide advice on the phone. The repair man who came out on Christmas morning when Mum’s hospital bed jammed. The friends who always came round to help feed Mum (feeding was not included in Mum’s care package). The staff at Pret in Manchester Piccadilly who would on several occasions give me a cup of tea on the house as I caught my train back to London. The hours spent sitting in an overheated room watching the same episode of Miss Marple over and over must have taken their toll. Frugal Husband bore the brunt of my sadness, anger and depression with patience and love.
As the years went on the anxiety, rage and fear settled into an uncomfortable numbness. I stopped making plans about my writing career. I was full of ideas and never stopped writing but my confidence ebbed away. My agent had semi-retired and dropped me. It was hard to commit fully to any project as I was always just a phone call away from a medical problem, a domestic crisis or my turn on the looking-after rota.
Mum was an inspiration to me. She endured pain with largely good grace and the occasional ‘bloody ‘ell.’  She never lost her sense of humour. As her life narrowed she learned to take enjoyment where she could – a cream cake, a bunch of flowers, watching TV, a new top and most of all hugs and kisses from family and friends. I will never regret the time spent with her.
She died in April with all her family and friends beside her.
And now it’s time to pick up the pieces if I can.
Aline Waterhouse 1933- 2018


Friday, 6 December 2013

Man with a skate fish on his head by Lynda waterhouse

 The question we were considering was ‘Does modern art tell a story?’ We were lucky we had been given access to the Queens Gallery and the gifts given to the Queen by The Royal Academy in 2012.

‘We’ were twenty nine children from a Lambeth primary school and me. We stared at this drawing by John Bellany.
 ‘What can you see?’ I asked
A man with a mountain on his head.
A pirate with a home made hat
A man with a dead eye
Is that a stingray on his head? No it’s a skate I replied
Had the skate been blown out of the water by an explosion?
Was the man wearing the fish on his head to cure some terrible disease?
I wonder what they are saying to each other… I mused and the children wrote down some wonderful conversations.
Later on in the session we encountered this image created by Basil Beattie. Again I asked, ‘What can you see?’
There were twenty nine different answers including three sail boats, a tent, a prison searchlight, a doorway to the land of dreams, three old fashioned hats, a shark, a planetarium, the inside of a robot, a magical road, three Japanese bowls with a chip in them, the entrance to a secret cave.
Shall I tell you? I said pausing and milking the moment for dramatic effect…You are all right. The gasp of delight made my day. I'm still smiling now. What can you see?

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Nosferatau - A Copyright Nightmare by Lynda Waterhouse

On Halloween Frugal Husband was to be found lurking in the grounds of Kirkstall Abbey in Leeds. He was there for the screening of the 1922 German classic silent film Nosferatau with live accompaniment from  Neil Brand and fellow musicians Gunter Buchwald and Jeff Davenport. It was by all accounts an amazing experience with the heavens opening up in an amazing rainstorm just as the film ended.

I find this film both terrifying and touching. It was directed by F.W Murnau who had fought in the First World War and whose lover had been killed in battle. Albin Grau, one of the producers of the film, claimed to have met a Serbian farmer in 1916 who had told him about his father who was one of the undead.
  Nosferatau has influenced vampire iconography and film directors such as Alfred Hitchcock and Francis Ford Coppola. Count Orlok is a vile creature completely devoid of the sexual allure of Count Dracula but at times, due to Murnau’s masterly direction, you feel for him. It can be a lonely existence bringing plague and death everywhere you go. He is a slave to his passion for Mina. She too nobly sacrifices herself in order to distract him. This is the first film, I believe, to suggest that Vampire’s can be destroyed by sunlight.
And yet in 1925 this film was ruled to be in breech of copyright and every copy was ordered to be destroyed.
The widow of Bram Stoker, Florence Anne Lemon Stoker with the support of The Society of Authors successfully took Prana Films to court and won. She was struggling financially at the time to support herself and her son and her only financial means was the copyright to Dracula. She was right to win as the plot was a shameless and deliberate steal from the novel. Yet in true vampire fashion the film did not die as it was supposed to. One copy remained. I'm glad it did.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Hair Again by Lynda Waterhouse

My previous post was about the effect a hair cut can have. This month I'm writing about hair again. This time its body hair.

 In the U.K around £25 million pounds a year is spent on hair removal products.  This ‘problem’ affects most women at some point in their lives. It can cause anxiety, depression and extreme self consciousness. And do we talk or write about it? Do we ‘eckers like! 
In the 1990’s I created a character called Lindsay Brown. She was the best friend of Bonnie Fitch and she was the girl with the moustache at school. She became Bonnie’s best friend. At first Bonnie says
‘I suppose I should be thankful that I don’t have a moustache to add to my problems like Lindsay Brown. Poor girl. She wanders around the school with her hand over her mouth, looking like she’s about to throw up. We sometimes bump into each other as we crawl along the edges of the corridors, apologising for ourselves.’
Bonnie and Lindsay become best friends and neither of them changes their physical appearance..
When I was a little girl my Mum would explain to me that my hairy legs were a good thing because it meant that I was an ‘outdoors person.’ As I loved animals and the countryside I happily accepted this explanation.
 As a teenager Patti Smith and Frida Kahlo became my role models. Deep down I was afraid that no boy could ever love a girl like me.  And so began the hair removal process that continues to this day. Even when I was going through my most radical feminist phase in the 1980’s I could not stop waxing or tweezing.
Dr Karin Lesnik-Oberstein is the editor of ‘The Last Taboo: Women and Body Hair’ is the first academic book to look at this subject. It took her a long time to find a publisher as the subject was considered too trivial or revolting.   
Kate Brook writing in the Royal Holloway student magazine sums up my feelings exactly when she says.
However illogical our obsession with hairlessness, it is so deeply embedded in the collective psyche that it goes unnoticed, unquestioned and unchallenged. But whether or not it will always be so remains to be seen, because what is perceived as beautiful or ugly has always been subject to change – perhaps shaving or waxing will seem as bizarre a practice to future generations as whitening the face or wearing corsets seem to us today. Before we can stop feeling ashamed of our body hair, however, we must first stop pretending it does not exist.’ 

Friday, 6 September 2013

A Hair’s Breadth by Lynda Waterhouse

As an author, do you care about your hair? Can you only get down to work once your barnet has been washed, blown dry, mushed with the mysteriously sounding ‘product’ or welded it into place with Elnette?
Or are you like me and only remember to comb it once a day.
I always hated going to the hairdressers. The noise of the salon disorientated me, the smells attacked my nose and I suffered under the hairdresser’s judgemental glare as they ask, “Who did your hair last time?” Edward Scissorhands!

I was traumatised by a nightmare bad perm experience in the 1970s. Instead of looking like Farrah Fawcett Majors I ended up looking like Hilda Ogden. The smell of perming lotion haunts me to this day.
One fateful Saturday afternoon in 1985 in a narrow alleyway in Chinatown I discovered hair heaven. A salon that was quiet, had no dryers and with its wooden floors was more like a Quaker meeting room. Inside I found Stuart. He has been cutting my hair ever since, creating styles that suit me but work for someone who only remembers to comb it once a day and who hates hairdryers.
At first it was asymmetrical 1980s cuts. The 90s saw me grow my hair long, back to short for the millennium, then a riff on the mid-length bob. And Stuart has been there throughout each decade gently shaping my hair and reflecting my character. And yet we only talk to each other’s reflections.
It is always a shock to arrive for my hair appointment and confront my own reflection in the large salon mirror. Then there is Stuart standing behind me. There is nowhere else where I engage in conversation with someone whilst staring at myself. It takes a few minutes to adjust. Then there is the unwritten rule of never making eye contact with the other clients especially if they are having layers of tin foil applied.
A hair cut is a frivolous thing and yet it can say so much about a character. Hair can be a potent symbol of power, sexuality, vanity and shame. It can demonstrate conformity or rebellion. It can age us or make us look ridiculous. The condition of your hair can reflect your inner health and well-being. It can tell your age. That is why hairdressers can be so powerful. There is no hiding from their fingers. They have the power to transform.
Last week, after a gruelling 10 days of non-stop 24 hour care of a sick parent, I stared at my reflection in the mirror. Stuart stared at my reflection and with very little discussion he began to cut most of my hair off. I smiled at the reflection of my restored old self in the mirror.
So when you are reviewing your writing consider your character’s hair. Do they need a new hair cut to bring out their true self?

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

The Barn Centre - Canolfan Yr Ysgubor 1984 by Lynda Waterhouse

I bought this postcard two days ago after a series of meetings which had left me feeling gloomy and depressed about the future of primary education and literacy. You can always count on Oscar Wilde to find le bon mot.  It made me smile. The older I become the less certain I am of anything. There are no easy answers anymore.
Then I thought about my own breathtaking arrogance when I was younger. The assumptions that I made that I knew better and that there were different ways of doing things. Shrinking violets do not change the world!
As if on cue and during a rare bout of dusting I uncovered this document created in 1984. (Those heady days before the advent of the computer)
In 1982, during the last Tory government and during a period of unemployment, recession and social unrest I was living in Aberystwyth. I had just finished a Drama and English degree and was considering my future. The old Drama and Education Department in the town centre had become empty and I became part of a group of local people to form The Aberystwyth Community Association. For a while in 1984 I think I became the Chair! I have a vague memory of making a speech.
The building was filled with artists, film makers, theatre groups, photographers. Thanks to a Manpower Services Grant I had a part time job with Theatre West. I helped run Aber Youth Theatre and started a group for local unemployed people called Supplementary Theatre. Nothing seemed impossible. 
We ran classes in photography, drawing, clay modelling, screen printing. Open studios were created and classes provided for people with mental heath problems. An art gallery was created. There was a mother and baby drop in room.
The experiment didn’t last. The buildings were returned to the council. I left for London. Some parts of the Community Association survived.
Perhaps there are some easy answers.




Saturday, 6 July 2013

A Year of Lemon Cakes by Lynda Waterhouse

When my life gets too hectic and writer’s block looms, I take a deep breath and bake.  Saturday is my baking day. I begin by sitting down and browsing my recipe books. Peyton and Byrne’s British Baking is a current favourite.
Then, after a quick check of the cupboards for ingredients I clean my tiny kitchen. Surfaces must be cleared. I carefully tie on my pinnie and sling a tea towel over my shoulder.  I light the oven and carefully organise each ingredient in a separate white china bowl in front of me. This attention to detail is important. When I am reassured that I have everything I need in front of me before I start, Frugal Husband helps me to weigh and measure. We put on ‘cooking music’. I assume the role of Frannie Craddock and boss husband.
Time expands. My heart rate slows down. Nothing else matters apart from the correct construction of the cake.
Unlike a messy plot line or a character that won’t behave, baking for me is an art that can be controlled and measured. It is not plain sailing. There is just the right amount of unpredictability to keep things interesting. The flat fills with a warm comfortable smell. I remove the beautiful glass cake stand that I ‘borrowed’ from my mother’s house to display the cake. Eating the cake is almost immaterial. I like to share it with friends or present it as a gift. Baking reassures me that I am creative and what I produce is worthy of consumption.
Last Saturday at West Square Summer Fair I bought A year of Lemon Cakes from the proud mother-in-law of the author.
Hilary, who bakes for the cake stall, came up with the idea of giving her friend a certificate for a different lemon cake every month throughout 2012. The names of the cakes sound wonderful. There is a Roasted Lemon Cake, Lemon and Cardamom, Lemon Roulade, Lemon and Thyme and even Lemon and Courgette.
Inspired by Hilary’s book I did spend a lot of time constructing an elaborate theory about the uses of lemons in different recipes and the creation of a character but decided to make Hilary’s Quick Lemon Curd instead.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Yellow Belly Custard by Lynda Waterhouse

My brother taught me this rhyme when I was about seven years old. My dad probably taught it to him when my Mum wasn’t around.

Yellow belly custard
Green snot pie
All mixed together with a dead dog’s eye
Slap it on a butty nice and thick
Swallow it down with a cold cup of sick

How we loved chanting it. It was our secret song. As incantations go it was up there with the Witches of Macbeth, ‘Eye of newt and toe of frog…’ It was a chance to celebrate those terrible yet wonderful bodily creations of snot and puke that preoccupy you when you’re seven years old.
As a child I suffered from bronchitis and head colds and can remember my terror at biting into a bar of chocolate and not being able to taste it. What if I could never taste anything again?
When you are experiencing things for the first time, how do you know what you are supposed to feel? How can you work out good pain from bad pain unless someone tells you? That is why you need stories, poems and rude chants.
I did disgrace myself once when I proudly recited a poem that my brother had taught me to my Aunty Annie and Aunty Lily when they came to visit. In all innocence I stood up in front of them decked out in my Sunday best and recited:

World Cup Willy
Had a ten foot dilly
And he showed it to the girl next door
She thought it was a snake
And hit it with a rake
And now it’s only five foot four!

I just loved the rhyme. I had no idea it was rude. My brother experienced some earache after that!




Monday, 6 May 2013

Peacocks by Lynda Waterhouse


Frugal Husband returned from a trip to Delhi, his first ever visit to India with a present for me. I had requested that he bring me back some quirky art. I wasn't expecting to receive these two Peacocks. He bought it because the seller told him it was a symbol of love. We then discovered that the peacock is the national symbol of India. My first thought was pride because I was pleased to have a received a lovely gift and proud because that is what I associate with peacocks.
I used to love ‘doing’ metaphors and similes at school and could spend hours filling in the cloze passages of similes. As proud as a peacock - as white as a sheet- as cool as a cucumber. I loved learning and collecting them. I enjoyed slipping them into my own writing. As a child I had no idea that later on they would be considered clichés. That overuse had rendered them as stale and meaningless to the imagination as a manicured lawn.
Fortunately I had good teachers who as well as teaching the textbooks similes encouraged us to have fun making up our own. To create similes that meant something to us and to experiment with words. I had been given some tools for my future trade as a writer.
All I needed to sharpen the tools was some life experience. Thirty years ago I was living in the wilds of Wales. My neighbour on the edge of the hill lived in a castle and kept peacocks in the grounds. I would creep down the hill and peep over the wall to catch a glimpse of them. Often I would just delight in hearing their loud complaining call or the creak of their feathers as they passed by.  Now I had some real experience to inform my writing!
Through my work at the Wallace Collection I encountered another peacock in a dark still life by Jan Weenix. Here this beautiful creature is pride personified.
There is also an ancient belief that the flesh of a peacock never decays and so it became a symbol of resurrection. This is why you will find peacocks depicted in nativity scenes. I had to do some research to find out different contexts, beliefs and historical background to peacocks in art.
James Hall’s Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art is a wonderful book and should be placed on the every writer’s bookshelf next to Roget’s Thesaurus (thanks to David Thorpe for reminding me of that).
In my own writing I am always struggling with the need for clarity versus the search for an original way of describing the world; of making the personal experience and imagery resonate.
And so now every morning I wake up to the sight of the two peacocks hanging on the wall opposite me. It is a daily reminder of the power of creativity and the gift of love.  And today on a visit to Hugh Walpole’s Gothic confection, Strawberry Hill House, I encountered this fine fellow.
 Happy Bank Holiday!


Saturday, 6 April 2013

Rousing Time - The Space Between Words by Lynda Waterhouse


I love the spaces between words. Those powerful silences when emotions run too deep to be expressed by mere words. A poem or a song might fill the void but most people in ‘real life’ sadly do not burst into song or have the perfect poem off pat. There is usually just silence. Portraying these moments in fiction can be a challenge.
For my own sanity I have to spend at least five minutes of every day inhabiting that space. When I am not speaking there is time to listen to the noisy jumble of thoughts and ideas that are bouncing around inside my head. If I’m not given enough time to think, I become melancholy and irritable.
Yesterday as I was walking along the South Bank I was accosted by a man who said, “London Bridge Hospital. Where is London Bridge Hospital?”
I was shocked and for a minute I was once again transported back to The London Hospital in the eighteenth century. I had just come for the Museum of London’s Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men exhibition. By the time I had pulled myself together, worked out that he probably meant Guy’s Hospital, he had moved off from me in disgust and was making his desperate appeal to someone else.
Thoughts like fine wine need time to breathe. They need rousing time!
Every morning as a child my mother would wake up my brother and I by calling our names from the bottom of the stairs. When we answered her call she would give us rousing time. Five minutes or so of precious time to gather one’s thoughts, banish bad dreams and prepare for the day ahead. I still wake up each day and give myself rousing time.
As a teacher I have learned the power of silence. If I wait long enough with the right attitude - judgemental or irritated waiting will not do - then the child will invariably find the right words or the courage to speak out. It is one piece of advice that I give to colleagues: “Give the child time.” In class rooms it can be horrifying how little time is given between asking a question and waiting for the answer.
Theatre and film are more obvious mediums for showing what happens in the space between words. In storytelling, there is interior monologue, or the narrator’s voice, or observations from another character’s point of view.
I often describe periods of time in companionable silence to show an emotional connection between characters. How do you write the space between words?

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Escaping from the Pigeon-Hole by Lynda Waterhouse



I’m feeling a bit breathless. The effort of squeezing myself out of a narrow pigeonhole has left me a little dizzy and light-headed. Fortunately my good friend, Robert Meyrick, is on his way round with a bottle or two of Prosecco to calm my nerves.
 He is town to give a talk at The Royal Academy of Arts about a show he has researched and curated entitled From the Shadows; The Prints of Sydney Lee RA (1866-1949).  Not since 1945 has there been an exhibition devoted to Lee’s art. It states in the guide book, ‘ This exhibition is entirely due to the vision of a tiny band of collectors who have kept faith with Sydney Lee’s work despite 60 years of neglect, and have quite literally snatched it from the shadows.’

 One New Year’s Eve many moons ago my friend Tracy Lee and I donned headscarves and sunglasses and posed drunkenly in front of his vast and beautiful painting The Roman Wall (1925). It made me smile to see it again hanging over a magnificent marble fireplace in Academy. But that is one of the possibilities of a creative life. The spotlight can shine on you at any moment.
 The theme of this exhibition chimes with my current mood as I too feel that I am emerging from out of a dark shadow. For the last year or so I have felt myself being squeezed into a narrow pigeon-hole labelled, middle aged mid-list author. I do not see myself in this way but cannot seem to shake off this feeling that somewhere along the line a young intern has placed me on an end of writing life pathway where I do not belong.

BUT I AM FIGHTING BACK.
Here’s how
Step One - Altering my own perception
I do not have to accept my place in the pigeon-hole. My head and heart are brimful of stories waiting to be told
Step two - Writing for me
I have taken three steps backwards in order to move forward and I am writing those stories that have been niggling away at my soul.
Step three - Finding fresh fields to conquer
I have been travelling in order to find myself. A visit to the creative writing department at Cornell University and the warm welcome I received was a boost. And many thanks to Megan for reading my latest novel and giving such smart feedback!
Step four - Old Friends
The support of SASSIES and Islington Writers’ For Children Group has kept me going.
Step five - Never Giving Up
No matter what I can’t stop creating characters and telling stories. It is woven onto my DNA. It is impossible for me to give up.
So I am on the move flying towards a more comfortable pigeon-hole. I can just make out the label. It says …?

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

The Triumph of Time over Fame by Lynda Waterhouse


I have been spending a lot of time lately starting at a tapestry in the Queen’s Gallery. I find it mesmerising. I have stood before it for hours on end moving in close to hone in on a small detail or standing back to appreciate the glimmers of the gold thread that remain to illuminate it. It is a vast 403cm x 823 cm in size. Its provenance fascinates me. It was made in 1523 and used to belong to Cardinal Wolsey before it was appropriated by Henry V111. I love that word appropriated! It rolls off the tongue and hides a multitude of sins.
 Most children in Year 4 ‘do’ the Tudors  at school and the wonderful ‘Horrible Histories’ fills in the rest of the details. I have been having some amazing conversations with primary school children about it. We imagine the effort and time required in making it. We gasp at the expense. Henry loved tapestries and they cost him the same amount as buying a warship (although this one was appropriated!)
Every inch of this tapestry is filled with sound from the rustling of a winged horse to the roar of a herd of elephants. We compose instant sound poems. We notice that only Fame is silent. I explain about her attribute- the golden trumpet which has fallen from her hands. We mime blowing our own trumpets. Then we think about what Fame means to us today. We giggle about ‘ I'm a celebrity get me out of here.’
Then we move on to consider the themes in the tapestry. I tell them about Petrach and his set of poems called The Triumphs.
We ponder on what Henry V111 thought he was going to be remembered for. Would he have been surprised that he was renowned today for having had six wives? How would he feel about Horrid Histories? 
The final stanza says,
And even though the errant crowd may hold 
That for long ages Fame may still endure,
What is it that so highly is esteemed?
   Time in his avarice steals so much away:
Men call it Fame; 'tis but a second death,
And both alike are strong beyond defense.
   Thus doth Time triumph over the world and Fame.
 
When I was 9 years old I wanted to be a writer and I wanted to be famous. I had this strong desire to leave something of me behind. That desire has not left me. It is what keeps me going. If only I can find the time…….

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Get my goat! by Lynda Waterhouse


As a teenager in the 1970s my friend Tracy Lee and I would take the bus to Manchester. Our destination would be the Manchester Art Gallery where we would look at the Pre-Raphaelite collection. Then we would go into a café and have the cheapest thing on the menu - tomato soup. I felt so sophisticated because the soup had a dash of cream in it and came with cream crackers and not bread. On one visit I bought this poster to put up on my newly painted purple bedroom wall. As a teenager with a tendency to melancholia the title, ‘Scapegoat’, by Holman Hunt appealed to me. Bingo! My mother hated it. Was I into devil worship or something? How I sneered and laughed.
Goats do get a bad press. In fiction it’s the sheep who are the good guys. They are the ones who help children to learn to count and to go to sleep whilst it’s the goats who are the giddy ones causing all the trouble. Big trouble. It’s the sheep who sit on God’s good side and take away the sins of the world   No guesses for who is on the wrong side.
The Rolling Stones didn’t make an album called Sheep’s Head Soup, did they?
 Since my adolescent rebellion I hadn’t given goats much thought. They didn’t impinge upon my urban existence or the landscape of my imagination. Until now..
Thanks to the work of Raymond Werner Parker, a colleague I have worked with in education for many years supporting children with Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome in mainstream settings. He is now very much involved in The Old Irish Goat Society which is trying to keep this breed from becoming extinct and to raise awareness about the illegal round ups of these beautiful creatures for slaughter.
According to the website, ‘The Society has worked to preserve the breed in the wild, bring it back into domestication as an ideal smallholder’s goat; study its benefits to land management; define its phenotype and characterize its genotype; work towards gaining it official rare breed status, and thus protection, and create a herd book to preserve its existing standard as an unimproved landrace breed rather than turn it into a “standard” breed.’
 Large numbers were once imported into England and Scotland annually, being called the ‘harbingers of spring’ as the drovers arrived in each town and village.
So I think its time to rewrite the bad press about goats.
Farmers used to keep them alongside their cattle to ‘bring luck’ to a herd. Goats are very good at nibbling away at herbs that could bring disease to cattle. Horses can’t get enough of the smell of a goat. It is very soothing apparently.
I feel a goat story coming on…….


Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Memory and Character by Lynda Waterhouse


Last week I met up with an old friend. It had been at least fifteen years since we had last seen each other but soon we were talking endlessly about characters and writers that we loved such as Barbara Pym, Dorothy Whipple, Margery Sharp, Laurie Graham, Alexander Baron and David Mitchell. It was a real pleasure to talk about stories that I love and to give and to be given recommendations of what to read next. We talked about our own lives in between but fiction was the touchstone that set us alight. I left the café feeling elated by the conversation.  
I have always created imaginary characters. Night after night as a child I would take a battered tennis racket and ball out into the back alley under the pretext of playing out but really as I bounced the ball I was making up stories. Nowadays I stomp along the South Bank. Ideas come to me when I am moving about. My imagination likes to play games with me, letting me slog away fruitlessly for hours at a desk and then hurling an idea at me as I'm stepping on a train.
For my latest story, ‘Magic Moments and the Dull Bits in Between’, I found one of my characters reliving one of my childhood memories. I am a child of seven sitting in the empty room above my Aunty Lily’s baker’s shop. I am kneeling on the cold hard lino watching a group of sparrows eating breadcrumbs in the back yard. At the time I knew that I would never forget that moment. Virginia Woolf in ‘Moments of Being’ described it as follows:
‘We are the words; we are the music, we are the thing itself.’
The reality of being a writer trying to sell ideas and earn a living requires hard slog, a rhino hide and the crazy optimism that I always feel when I begin writing; the cockamamie belief that I can become an overnight sensation after years in the business.


Maybe the overnight success bit is a tad overoptimistic but my intention is always to create a bunch of characters and a story that will linger in a reader’s imagination long after they have finished the novel. I hope that my carefully chosen words and images will transfer to the reader’s imagination where they will settle into a satisfying memory. That by sharing my words I am sharing a bit of myself.
 I want my characters to be talked about between friends in a café. I want them to matter to people.
What do you want?


Monday, 2 July 2012

Graffiti State of Mind by Lynda Waterhouse


Whenever I walk through the Graffiti Tunnel I get the feeling that the place is trying to communicate something to me about my own creative process.
At first the tunnel delighted me. In 2008 the artist Banksy and several other graffiti artists created the Cans Festival here and the space was filled with defiant, witty and thought provoking images.
They made the creative process look deceptively easy. Anyone can do this, it proclaims.
No they can’t the curmudgeon in me says. Sure, anyone can buy a spray can or a laptop but there has to be something else, a creative spark, to make it rise above the mundane.
The original art no longer exists. It has been painted over by, what seems to me, earnest young boys fresh off the train at Waterloo having a go at some urban grit in a place where they won’t get into trouble. As I walk through the dark tunnel looking for signs I am struck by how homogenous it has become. The space is filled with the same garish colours and the same swooping style. The walls are covered with name tags. Rows and rows of name badges like some depressing X factor audition. No-one now dares to be different.
Everyone has to start somewhere the educationalist in me says. It is hard finding your voice and honing your craft. Maybe it is not about art but a male outlet for creativity? 
There are a few women creating in this place.  Once I came upon a group of young women making their own music video. Or this knitted rat.
There are now also find groups of homeless men discarding their extra strong lager tins alongside the spray paint cans or media folk with flashy photography equipment doing ‘shoots.’
The world is changing. Difficult times call for different words.
As I walked through the Graffiti Tunnel worrying over the structure and purpose of my latest story my thoughts were tempered by the words
 Halfway through the tunnel a spray can alchemist had transformed a rusting metal stump of a street lamp  into a golden object.
Words and stories have the power to transform. 
As I reached the light at the end of the tunnel I spotted an object that I had never noticed before. Its very name a poem. A Belisha Beacon.


Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Heart of the Great Alone by Lynda Waterhouse








As writers how much attention should we pay to the emotional journey we taking our readers on? Do we have a moral obligation to care about our reader's feelings? Or is the telling of the story paramount and hang the consequences.

I was brought up knowing the story of Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his ill fated journey to the South Pole. He was one of the star turns in my Grandpa’s book of heroes and heroines. On TV I watched the 1948 black and white movie ‘Scott of the Antarctic’ starring John Mills.Years later it was the adventures of another explorer, Ernest Shackleton that stirred my imagination as I watched the silent film 'South' accompanied by Neil Brand’s haunting music.

At the moment at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, there is an exhibition of Scott, Shackleton and Antarctic photography. I find this collection of black and white photographs taken in the first part of the 20th century incredibly moving and inspiring but will 21st century children feel the same?

Fellow author Bridget Crowley and I are currently leading creative writing sessions in the gallery for children between the ages of 7-11years. The children respond to selected photographs and we set them a series of writing tasks.


Then we move on to Captain Scott and The British Antarctic Expedition 1910 -1913. Most of the children have not heard about him and there is an awful moment as they gaze at the final photograph and they realise that this group of weary men ‘were destined never to return from the heart of the great alone’

Some children are upset.We move back into the education room and ask them to express their feelings in a letter to Captain Scott. Some children go back in time and rewrite history rescuing him. Others tell him about what is happening in the Antarctic now and thank him for the scientific samples that he sent back. Some just tell him they feel sad.

It just doesn’t feel right to end the session at this point so we tell them about the fate of one of the dogs that was washed overboard and then immediately washed back again!

( Spoiler Alert – if you a bringing a school group PLEASE don’t give any of this away)

These sessions have been a stark reminder to me to pay attention to the emotional journey in my own writing and that strong emotions need to be handled with care and discharged appropriately before the story ends.

http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/default.asp?action=article&ID=56

http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/media/pdf/hotga-schools-for-web.pdf


Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Fridge Philosophy by Lynda Waterhouse

A lobster telephone fridge magnet needs no explanation…..does it??

Reading recent posts about Celia’s notebooks and Diane’s beautiful sketches got me thinking about where my writing day begins. It usually begins with my glazed eyes staring at my (none too clean) fridge as I wait for the kettle to boil and the bread to toast.
And so the Dance to the Music of Time begins.



This painting by Nicholas Poussin inspired Anthony Powell to write twelve novels after all. I often view the original when I’m working at The Wallace Collection so this fridge magnet is a memory shorthand for me for that wonderful place.

The map of St Anthony Head in Cornwall reminds me of a wonderful holiday but also of a childhood dream to be a lighthouse keeper because ‘you get two weeks on and two weeks off.’ It seemed like a perfect combination to me – two weeks of solitude and two weeks back at home. This formula is still important to me - 50% solitude and 50% society.

I used to have a gym timetable on the fridge but I replaced it with Oscar Wilde. Laughing burns up calories and smiling firms up sagging jowls. Steve Bell raises a more sardonic smile which helps me cope with the dire economic and political situation. Harry Venning’s Claire in the Community is hilarious too.


This quote reminds me that I should be getting on with some writing and if Frugal Husband isn’t in there (systematically) working on his book I should be heading for the shed. It may not be as romantic or warm as Ian Fleming’s Jamaican retreat but it’s mine.

Finally I have a newspaper clipping that quotes the top five regrets of the dying as compiled by Bronnie Ware and I promise that today I will try to have the courage to live a life true to myself and not the life others expect of me.
Which brings me back to the Dance to the Music of Time and my pot of tea is brewed. Let the dance begin!