At the Museum

Yesterday after blue sky and sunshine I was caught in hail and a tropical downpour (weather!). I dashed for cover into Priest’s House Museum in the Square in Wimborne. What an interesting collection of second-hand books they now have for sale, in aid of the museum.

Sheltering there reminded me that I often find inspiration for writing in a museum or art gallery. It doesn’t have to be the British Museum or one of the Tate galleries though I love visiting these. It can be your local places. Take your notebook when you visit. Find one thing or one picture that interests you. Describe this in as much detail as you can in note form. Write everything that occurs to you including your own thoughts, feelings and the memories that this thing or picture stirs up. Then you could repeat this process with one more thing/picture. When you get home, see if you can start writing a fictional story or a piece of life-writing or a poem that somehow combines or includes both of the things or pictures that inspired you. For example, you might imagine the person who once used this pewter goblet, ancient sewing machine or wore those amber beads. Perhaps the painting you chose seems to tell a story which you could continue. I hope this exercise opens up some good ideas for your writing.

Themes

As I drove through the New Forest today everywhere looked particularly vivid – the brilliant heather and gorse, the sculptures of fallen trees and branches, the emerging pale green leaves. I was thinking about one of the subjects we discussed this morning in the small novel-writing group I’m part of. We all seem to be addressing the nature of ‘Identity’ in our fiction just now. It’s strange how themes emerge and I suppose that all sorts of themes potentially underlie what we write. But we only pick up on some of them. That’s one of the reasons that readers are so important for writers. Readers can see aspects of our writing that seem to be hidden from us, or perhaps it’s that these subjects are so close to our hearts, so part of our identity, that we don’t think they are remarkable. If you are lucky enough to have someone who will read your work and give thoughtful comments, ask them what they think the underlying themes are.

Moving on from this idea, I think that as writers we also need to read. As I say in the May edition of ‘Writers’ Forum’: ‘When beginning to write it can be helpful to copy the style or subject-matter of an established writer. To start with, we are learning our craft by copying.’ I was interviewed, along with three other writers, by Matthew Small for the Motivation section of this monthly magazine (see pp 48-49). ‘We can get ideas for plots, characters and settings from other writers. We can rework these and make something completely new.’

More on these topics soon.