Monday 6 May 2013

Where I Talk About Childhood and Writing

Sunday was the last time I stepped into my great-grandmother’s house. Don’t worry she’s not dead. She’s just moving into town where her family is. But that meant cleaning out more than twenty years and four generations worth of junk.

As I walked through this house that I spent so much time in, I tried to recreate some of the rooms in my head. Everything was so open and empty now; there were no more secrets for a child to discover.

The garden that grew with lush, vibrant colours in the little corner of the backyard was meant to be explored, paths created, flowers trampled. The small garden was where the fairies lived and they loved the sound of children’s laughter after they were scolded for exploring where they oughtn’t. Now it was dug up, left for the weeds to grow through where there was once so much life; mowed over in a rush to please the new comers.

Inside was a treasure trove of unexplored land and imagination. The broken clock in the corner bedroom that only worked once as it struck midnight when I was twelve years old.

The picture hanging on the living room wall was always my favourite because it reminded me of the ‘The Witches” by Raul Dahl. Erika was a young Norwegian girl who went to buy milk except she never came home. Her parents searched and searched but could never find a trace of her until one day while mother was pouring tea, a young girl appeared in the painting that hung in the living room. It was a painting of a farm with a duck pond and a house in the distance. It was always empty until suddenly the little girl appeared who looked exactly like Erika. After that she was always there, but she never stayed still. One day she would be looking out the window longingly, the next she would be out feeding the ducks. As the years went on Erika continued to age normally in the painting until she was an old woman. And then one day she just wasn’t there. It’s an image that always stayed with me and to see that painting in the living room without Erika sitting there always brought chills to my spine. Every day for a month I would wake up and rush out to see if Erika had come back to the painting but she never appeared. And now the painting sits in storage where it’s safe for her to appear because no one will ever know.

And then there was the cupboard under the stairs. It was white and ordinary, covered in dust and blocked off like it was forbidden, smelling of dried onions, laundry detergent and the 1970s. I often had dreams and nightmares of what would be in that cupboard. Would it be a magical realm or a deep dark hole, containing the evils of the world like Pandora’s Jar? It was so much like so many other cupboards that it couldn’t be anything but extraordinary. Of course being a curious child I never opened the door knowing that nothing in there would live up to my imagination until the day we moved out. The door was left open like it was never closed, like it was no big deal that all the secrets a little girl told the walls of this old house were suddenly tossed into the air to be carried away and forgotten. Like all the summers were nothing but time.

See, I told you I would write a childhood memory. Did you?

There was a purpose if you were interested. The idea came again from 90 Days To Your Novel. Lessons One in the entire book is to brainstorm and dictate some fond – or not so fond – childhood memories. It serves a few purposes. One is to learn to use all your sensory details (the one above was crudely written so it’s not as sensory-strong), it’s a lot easier to do that when it’s your own story rather than trying to pull a scene out of thin air like you’re going to be doing in your fictional novel. Another purpose is that it’ll give inspiration to those who are still looking for a plot. Look back at your memories and think of the ones that stuck with you. Why did they stick with you, what was it about them? You’ll often find something in there to build upon.

So have any of you or will any of you try this memory technique to develop your novel?

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