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Fill your colander – foraging for fresh ideas

The only way to write better, so I’m often told, is to write as much as I can, rewrite as much I can bear, and read the rest of the time. That’s almost true, but not quite.

I also need a colander full of delicious ideas that I just can’t wait to turn into stories. By colander, I mean my subconscious, the midnight feeder of my creative brain (who calls herself Gonzo).

The concept is Meg Rosoff’s, who encouraged last year’s Winchester Writers to fill our colanders and pay attention to what sticks.

Away from keyboard

Watching everyday life (head cocked to one side) has its place. But my favourite way to gather ideas is by going on an adventure, however small.

Right now, I’m on a medium-sized adventure, being in a new old city in an unfamiliar country. I’m excited, paying full attention, have holiday permission to ignore mundanities.

Writers, so I’m also often told, never take a holiday; they’re always looking for and working on ideas. To me, this is play. Man-oh-man, if I wasn’t entertained by this part of the process, I’d have no hope of enjoying the word-fettling, plot-wrestling bits.

Snacking for Gonzo

Here’s some of the stuff that has stuck in my colander in the first couple of days of this trip. Gonzo has sniffed at them, begun chewing, but might spit some or all of it out. She’s a fussy eater and not especially polite.

A man watches Eurostar pull into Brussels Midi, a couple of metres from and level to his balcony, aware of a hundred unseen passengers looking back at his sweaty vest and baggy shorts. He leans his belly on the railing and smokes disgustedly.

The beguinage is a community of women, likeminded (for the most part), who wish to live together, more peacefully than the rest of the world, but not retired from it. It aimed to be a practical arrangement, without the vows and restrictions of a religious sisterhood. There is, however, a leader, the mistress, to guide any beguine who might need it.

She suffers in silence as her son pushes her wheelchair across the cobbles. Every inch adds some new torment. She grimaces, so that passers-by can see what her son won’t. There’ll be nothing but cobbles for her all the way there and all the way back again. A mobility scooter judders past, the driver’s head jiggling as though life was all for fun.

Little is known about the life of Hieronymus Bosch, and nothing about how he came to paint such monsters into his work, depicting their awful forms precisely. Six hundred years after his unrecorded death, I intended to shine a little light on the matter.

Their introversion started as commonplace, something occasionally remarked upon by other peoples, but after the incident it became a point of cultural pride. Reflectiveness became more and more prized, until interaction was minimised, and, when it couldn’t be avoided, was highly formalised.

Nobody had ever succeeded in counting the number of different melodies the clock in the great tower could play. Only the chime-keeper knew, and only she knew what they were for.

You might know where I am, but it isn't the point, and perhaps you'd prefer to make somewhere up, which would be fine by me.

Just doing your writerly duty

‘Inspire your readers by becoming inspired. Hunt for inspiration, in well-loved grounds and unlikely places, hoard it.’ Jasper Fforde

There’s still weekend left, escapades await. Get out there, be fascinated, have a blast. Your imagination deserves it.

Thanks to Tony Gaitskell for many things, including this pic.

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