Five Strange Things

J. L. Harland • October 24th, 2021

Rows of bikes locked up by a grey building

Trying to lead a normal writing life in an abnormal world.  Five ways of looking at how life feeds into your writing.

As we tentatively try to lead ‘normal’ lives again there have been a few things that have happened in the last week or so that have prompted thoughts about the relationship between our daily lives and writing.

We’ve been to the first live event where an author, Alun Wyn Jones, talked about his book, an autobiography, and his passion for rugby. In Wales, rugby is part of the culture and several people there were players themselves – judging from the size of some of the shoulders! The room was filled, about 300 people, most wearing masks but seated close together. Reaction – a little unease. It made us think about various things we used to take for granted and how these changes affect us. How can that feed into writing?

1. Before attending this event there was the debate – how do we get there? Pre-pandemic it would have been public transport. Just thinking about that prompts stories about journeys. Everyone has a journey they remember. How did you feel? Excitement, dread, sick, tired? Why not take your protagonist on that journey with you. How would they feel? How would their experience be different? What would be different through their eyes as a stranger perhaps to the world you live in?

2. The town centres are changing. What we found was plenty of parking, shops closed down, the homeless back on the streets, masks and hand sanitizers at the ready, perhaps even a requirement to scan the NHS app before entering. Think about one aspect of that change. What will town centres be like in the future? For example, in five or fifty years post-pandemic. Set a story in the future.

3. Talk to someone in a queue or while shopping. Or, if you feel comfortable doing so, exchange words with one of the homeless people who seem to be back on the streets. Some people just want friendly human contact after many months in isolation and they have stories to tell. Perhaps you could write their story for them? Or you can use your imagination and become that lonely person. Tell your tale.

4. A visit to the library was a different experience too. A one-way system, labels on doors and chairs indicating where people could sit, a check in system and a building that seemed, somehow, a little forlorn. How can a building seem sad? If you have been somewhere that made you feel uneasy or alternatively a place which seemed restful and homely then you are alert to the ethos of buildings. So, think about what that building has seen and heard. What stories could it hold? Is there somewhere near you that you find fascinating – a beautifully designed house, an abandoned shed, a shuttered up old building? What stories dwell in the depths of those buildings?

5. Another thing we noticed was that a lot of our favourite haunts had closed. You know what we mean – the restaurants or coffee shops where you could sit for hours over a coffee and do your planning without any hassle? So, a thought. If you were going to open a café for writers and readers, what would you have in there? Books naturally but what else? Who would be there? What would be happening or not? Would you want quiet areas or chatter areas where you could get together and exchange ideas? Animals? It seems lots of writers have cats. Why not design and write about your dream writing café? And how are your plans influenced by the experiences of the last months?

We hope these ideas help you to think about the reality and the difficulties in getting back to normal. We have both suffered from socialising malaise. Being with other people is lovely and necessary but our bodies and minds have been so attuned to something different over the last couple of years that we’ve lost the plot, to use a cliché. We need to get back to whatever normal is likely to be but in the meantime think about each experience and how that could feed into your writing.

Our debut novel, What Lies Between Them, will be published by Dixi Books next February. We have finished an intense period of edits on the novel and feel depleted, in need of a battery charge. How do you deal with that almost anti-climatic feeling when you have been concentrating so hard for months that your head feels like a marshmallow?

Do you have any good ideas about returning to normal? Drop us a line. We’d love to hear from you.

Keep writing.