A day in the life of a writer: Richard Ayres

Today I’m posting the first of a series of guest blogs by fellow writers, inspired by the Guardian’s “My Working Day”.

 Richard Ayers

‘Writing a novel is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a bout of some painful illness. One would never willingly undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.’ (George Orwell, ‘Our Opportunity’ 1941)

I have been suffering from such bouts of painful illness for over ten years. Each time a novel is complete (but is a novel ever completed to one’s satisfaction?) I put it to bed with a sigh of relief, resolving never again to expose myself to such self-inflicted torture. But after a few weeks, the demon starts to drive me again. Ideas start to come, prompted by things I’ve read, conversations I’ve overheard, sights, sounds and smells encountered in everyday living. I know I have to commit them to paper.

The ghastly process begins again. On my early morning walk I resolve to go straight to my study as soon as I get home, to type ‘Chapter 1’ (I can’t use pen and paper, the resulting scrawl is illegible even to me), and start composing. I have no plan, just a few notes: I hope that the story and the characters will evolve as I write.

But once home, I need a coffee first, of course. Then there are emails to read, most of which need a reply. And it’s a beautiful day outside, isn’t it? Shame to waste it: I’ll do a spot of gardening. Two hours later, the need for more caffeine, and maybe a cigarette? Back to the PC: the first sentence is typed, then the first paragraph is complete. I start to get into the flow; more paragraphs follow. But then, doubts. Would this opening grab a reader? Maybe that sentence is a bit clumsy? And isn’t that a cliché? No, don’t edit yet, press on. But inspiration has deserted me. Well, it’s nearly time for lunch.

The afternoon follows the same pattern. By three o’clock I’ve had enough. Leave it until the evening; writing seems easier then. And indeed, I manage another few paragraphs. It would have been more, but I had to check something on Google. And once you get on to Google…

The next day, when I finally get to the computer, what I wrote yesterday confronts me. It needs editing, drastically. I enjoy editing, a more mechanical process that trying to be creative. But will the story ever progress? I am haunted by something else that Orwell wrote. He said that the creative life-span of a writer is about 15 years and that ‘many writers, if not all, ought simply to stop writing when they reach middle age’ (‘As I Please’, 1946). Not very comforting for someone in his mid 70s.

My Published Novels.

A Pennine Incident: Contemporary social realism, set on Ingleborough in the Yorkshire Pennines. The Further Education of Mike Carter: Contemporary social realism, set in a Further Education college in the south midlands. Letters and Secrets: Contemporary social realism set in Shropshire, Warwickshire and Milton Keynes, with flashbacks to the 1960s and 70s. Tired of London: More social realism, set in London in the present day and in Leeds in the 1960s.

Soon to be published

Friends Disunited: Set in north Staffordshire and south Buckinghamshire in 2002, the story of disfigured, isolated man and his attempts to make contact with his old school-friends through Britain’s first social media website, Friends Reunited.

 

 

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Family Arts Conference

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From young children, to grandparents and every age in between, how can people and their families be involved in the Arts? And indeed why should they be?

These were some of the questions tackled at the Family Arts Conference in Bristol this week. Delegates spoke about the need for inclusion, for family friendly performances, for access for people who are disabled. Among other topics there was mention of role models for various disadvantaged groups, among which older people can be included. Some are isolated through circumstances, or ill health, others are on very low incomes and all of us have been castigated by the media for robbing the next generation of any hope of owning a home of their own, taking their jobs and being a huge burden on the NHS.

Whatever our circumstances, being older is not currently valued in our society and however hard you try this attitude does inevitably affect the way you see yourself. Being an artist, in whatever discipline, however, allows you to value yourself and your work.

I took part in the Family Arts Conference as a delegate from Ages and Stages Theatre Company. ages-and-stages-5When Jill Rezzano our director, co-ordinator, leader, I’m not sure which title adequately describes all that she does, asked for volunteers, Jackie and I said we would be interested in taking part.

At our session on Intergenerational Work for Older Families, Jill gave a succinct run down of the inception of Ages and Stages and all the work the company has done since then. Jacky and I talked about how we joined the company and what being part of a theatre group has done for us.

My involvement came about by accident. I’d gone along to the Live Age Festival fully intending to take part in one of the writing workshops. When I got to the venue however it occurred to me that taking part, and/or leading workshops is something I’ve done numerous times and maybe opting for the drama workshop would be an opportunity to challenge myself.

I enjoyed the session so much that I came along to the next meeting of Ages and Stages at the New Vic and the rest as they say is history.

On a more serious note, being challenged is one of the reasons why taking part in the Arts is so important. It is so easy to stay safely ensconced in the comfort zone, but, once you dare to set foot outside it, life becomes infinitely richer and more exciting.

I found myself acting in public for the first time since my university days. I was challenged, not just by performing, but because I had to attain the same high standard as the rest of the group.

It is this striving for excellence, even though you know that you will never reach it, which is why the Arts matter so much. It is also the reason why, one day, in some glorious future, there will be no need to have conferences about inclusion because people will be valued for what they have contributed to their art, not for who, or how old or young they are.

In the meantime, I had a great day in Bristol. The sun shone, the sky was blue, Jill, Jacky and I ate our picnic lunch outside.240px-Stgeorgeschapel The venues were great and I learned so much  from the speakers in our session; Fergus Early and his inter-generational work with The Green Candle Dance Company, Susan Langford, the director of Magic Me and Emma Robinson of Age Cymru and Kate Organ whose talk on the Inclusion for Older Family Members was truly inspirational.

 

Wardrobe Malfunction: Part three of a Bulging Wardrobe

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I haven’t been keeping up to date recently with clearing out my clothes. Life got in the way and it didn’t seem that important, until I wanted to find my blue striped cardigan. I knew it was there somewhere, I’d seen it only a few days before, but at the crucial moment it was nowhere to be found.

Half the cupboard had to be emptied before it was located, scrumpled up in a sad heap on top of a pile of shoeboxes. Another casualty of my propensity to keep every garment I’ve ever owned, it did however re-start the life-laundering initiative.

Today’s selection is a top I’ve not worn for years. I bought it when I went shopping with my younger daughter, before her daughter was born, so that is at least five, if not six, years ago. In those dim distant, pre-grandchildren days, we could spend hours wandering around the shops, trying things on, stopping for coffee and cake and a long chat about life.

She might be looking for clothes for work, or a specific occasion. I’m not a great buyer, just a humongous hoarder, so I’d often come away with nothing, but I was instantly drawn to this particular blouse. Not only was it a perfect fit, but at first glance I thought the fabric was Tana Lawn.

This amazing material, which is light as silk, and even though it’s 100% cotton doesn’t crease, was named after Lake Tana in the Sudan, by one of the buyers from Liberty, William Haynes Dorrell in 1920.

When I was a student in London, a boyfriend who was studying architecture would take me round various buildings he considered important. Apart from watching the original Barbican being constructed and a tour of Art Deco toilets in the Black Friar Pub, I was taken to Liberty, the famous mock Tudor store in Regent Street.Liberty.

To my shame, I’d never even heard of the shop, let alone seen anything like this. It was a magical place of infinite wonder. Oriental rugs hung draped from the balconies that overlooked each and every floor. Amber jewellery, Art Deco furniture, leather bags and belts, silk ties and designer clothes, were on sale, the list was endless. Most was way beyond the reach of a seventeen year old on a grant. About the only thing I could afford was a lavender bag made from Liberty fabric and it wasn’t until much, much later that I made myself a skirt, which is still in my wardrobe, from their lovely Tana Lawn.

My top, however fine the cotton, isn’t of the same quality and while the skirt stays, the top goes. It has, however, sparked another slew of memories and with any luck will provide a little more space in my bulging wardrobe.

 

World of Bunch #2

Jan Edwards

gasmaskAnother oddity that arose in researching the home front aspects of WW2 for my crime  book Winter Downs concerns gas masks and whether they should be a part of the background information.

The fear of gas attack in 1939 was very real. This may possibly have from memories of gas warfare in the trenches of the Great War or reports of gas bombs being dropped on Gurnica in the Spanish civil war. Whatever the source the British government intended every person living in the Britain would be issued with a gas mask. This gargantuan task began in July 1939, and by December of that year over 38 million had been distributed.

pic-2The public were urged through nationwide adverts and leafleting to inform their local Air Raid Warden if they had not been issued with their gas mask, and it was the responsibility of those wardens to ensure that everybody had been…

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