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~ Hazel Harps On

A Bit Of A Stretch

There’s a problem with writing. Just one, you say? Well, all right there are lots, but the one I’m thinking of is physical. It’s unhealthy - and I mean EXTREMELY unhealthy - to sit at your computer thumping out words all day. And yet, how else do you produce a book? Unless you are very good at thinking and dictating at the same time, there’s no other way. I’m all too conscious of this, and so are my poor muscles. They've made me recognise the importance of stretching.

And so it is with the muscles of the imagination. You can’t just work them and work them and work them. You need to stretch them gently in between or you’ll get repetitive strain injury.

The imagination is pretty elastic and can be stretched in lots of ways. One is research. For AWAY WITH THE PENGUINS (Or HOW THE PENGUINS SAVED VERONICA, as it’s titled in America) I not only tried to get into the mind-set of my two protagonists, an 86-year-old woman and a 27-year-old man; there were also the penguins. I pored over books about penguins, I watched videos of penguins on Youtube, I quizzed penguin experts and I went to meet real life penguins. I put myself into the shoes (or flippers) of penguins. I became a penguin. That was a very good stretch.

This August, while forging on with my writing, my imagination started to flag. So again, I tried stretching it with a bit of research. I:

-Wandered along the canal in Bath, taking notes

-Chatted with an artist about her experiences in Bolivia with ocelots

-Measured my smile with a tape measure (10cm!)

-Looked up Mountain Hares (and yes, I briefly became a mountain hare, which was fun… although maybe not quite so much fun as the penguin).

I also did some people-y things. Authors are good at hiding away and thinking, dreaming and processing, but we also need to be extrovert sometimes. Meeting up with other people has been difficult recently, as we all know. But this last month I’ve managed some socially distanced garden music practices and a couple of trips out to meet friends.

(You may be able to spot a certain theme going on here)

Friends sometimes ask if I might use them as characters in a book. The answer is no - but their company could be the starting point of an imaginative process. There are many details I don’t particularly notice when we meet, which later come back to me. I might take one tiny aspect from them and mix and match with foibles or mannerisms from other people. I might use an anecdote that comes up in conversation and shape it to fit my story. I might recognise an emotion but put it in an entirely different situation…

So writers, my advice is, don’t just sit there behind the computer. Get out while you can. Stretch those limbs! And stretch that imagination!

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