I am of an age when it is remarkably easy to get stuck in a mental rut: new story ideas have the unmistakable flavour of other books.
Photo: Jeanne Girard: Sutton Hoo July 2018
You find yourself reaching for a familiar phrase, a particular sentence rhythm, hell, even a character name you have used before. If this has never happened to you, then move along, look away, you are probably youthful, mentally flexible and I have nothing interesting to say to you (though I am open to any tip you can offer me.) To everyone else, this has been my attempted solution: over the last few months, I have been experimenting with different forms of writing to force my lazy brain into forging new neural pathways, stave off early mental decline and re-energise my work. At least that has been the plan.
I have been sticking to it too. I have written a few more short stories since my last post on the subject. One of them may form the basis of a novel. Or not. I am still writing the odd poem (they are very odd) since my last blog and I think the time I’ve spent word wrangling may yet do my prose some good. I have also tried storytelling just to push myself even further out of my comfort zone.
At the end of July, I was lucky enough to be involved in an Anglo Saxon event at Sutton Hoo with the living history experts Wulfheodonas. For anyone interested in the period, the quality of the kit and the depth of knowledge in this group is phenomenal and at this event, they were joined by various groups from across Europe who share their ethos of reproducing the technologies, costumes and weaponry from well documented archaeological finds. Much of the material is of museum quality. Inspired by my desire for self-improvement and my usual compulsive need to be helpful, I volunteered to tell some of the myths and stories from the period. Of course, I conveniently forgot that I didn’t know any Anglo Saxon myths and stories and had never actually done any story telling…
As the event neared, I found myself increasingly concerned. What if people turned up expecting one of those all-round genius performers who could play a period instrument, recite poetry, sing dance and do (suitably historical) magical tricks? What if they were expecting an Anglo Saxon expert and all they got was me?
Full of trepidation and that sinking feeling you have when you fear you have been an idiot, I learned the bones of some stories - more or less with a little bit of vagueness around the names - and decided to focus on what I could do rather than what I couldn’t. I used a few story-tellerish tricks and jumped around in dramatic fashion, but actually what worked best was just telling the story with conviction. When I trusted the story and stopped jumping around, you could hear a pin drop.
So what has been the result of all this adventuring? I don’t think I’ve made any new pathways, I am still meandering down the same overgrown ill-kempt, byways of the mind as usual. But though my mental housekeeping and road building has been a failure, I think the short stories have helped my story structures, the poetry has helped me be more adventurous with words and the storytelling has reminded me of the thing I must be going senile to have forgotten: always trust the story.
Wulfheodonas facebook page is here for those interested