Everyone who is trying to juggle a number of competing responsibilities, one of which is writing, will know how important it is to prioritise. Ruthlessly, at times. Hence, my prolonged absence from this blog while I have been working on my novel. This sometimes means saying no to wonderful invitations, including opportunities to enjoy the other arts. However, the joy of a week’s holiday (from the day job) is that it is a chance to catch up on some of the exciting creative things that are happening out there, without having to sacrifice writing time. So, as well as putting in some decent hours each day on the novel, this week I have also had the opportunity to get up to Oxford to hang out with some amazingly talented writers and artists. I have managed to get in to see the Martin Creed show at the Hayward. I have caught up with some reading and listening, and I have had the chance to read at the culmination of Magdalen Road Studios Residency. It was inspiring to listen to the ‘writer residents’, Daisy Johnson, Sarvat Hasin and Kiran Millward Hargrave, to hear guest poet Mary Jean Chan, and to see the work of artist Tom De Freston. I was also able to join the talented Tideway Poets for a workshop earlier in the week.
But where do the pants come in?
I have been struggling a little, in my novel-in-progress, to land the voice and subjectivity of my main character, not least because she is a late Victorian widow whose life experience is far from my own. The creative conversations of this week, however, reminded me that, in the past as a performer trying to create character, it has often helped to start with their movement – and sometimes even their costume. I thought I would give this a try and found that trying to sit, walk and bend wearing a corset (I just happened to have one lying around!) began to make the physical constraints – and therefore also the vocal and expressive constraints – of my character much more real. But I still didn’t know what it would have been like to view the world from behind the long weeping veil that was required outdoor garb for a widow at that period, at least in the first year or two of her bereavement? How could I simulate that? I looked in all my drawers and cupboards. What did I have that was black lace? Yes, you’ve guessed it!
It was painful to laugh while laced into a tight corset, but I became hysterical as I experimented with a pair of black lace knickers on my head, trying to peer out through them to see how much I could see. The neighbours are used to it but I am not sure about the postman! This may not have taught me much about the authentic experience of being a widow at the turn of the century but it certainly freed up my imagination. My main character has now truly arrived and she has even dictated a new beginning for my book. Not one, I may add, that involves underwear.