Special places = Special writing

Last week on Wednesday I needed some serious distraction (more on that later) and after dropping my daughter off at swimming I could tell it was going to be a nice sunset so I decided to head to one of the most iconic places in Huddersfield, Castle Hill that stands tall and overlooks the whole town.

I haven’t actually been up close for years, it used to be a place I’d drive to in times of trouble when I was in my twenties. There’s something about going to somewhere, still and solid, and just taking a breathe whilst taking in the view.

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I drove up there, just at the point when the sun was starting to dip and walked around Victoria Tower taking in the silhouetted tower along with a few dog walkers and couples, the wind whipping my face.

I walked passed the steep grassy banks where as kids, we once lined up at the top and ran down on a school trip, replicating battle charges and then along the edges of the path that looked out to where the sun was setting to the far left of the town, over Saddleworth Moor in the distance.

After returning home, I posted the main image above on my @soothedbynature Instagram account and one of my regular followers commented that I’d broken her heart with the picture! I was mortified! But basically, it’s because this area used to be her home and she lives elsewhere due to her marriage ending and so sometimes my pictures are such a source of nostalgia for her they bring back some deep personal memories.

I immediately replied to her and she reassured me that it was just a reminder of the past, times changing and the years rolling by but that didn’t mean to say the here and now is not wonderful and that she still loves my posts, PHEW!

However, this got me thinking, in particular as this is an area I’m also covering in my new course that starts this week; ‘Writing from Personal Experience’ about how places can have such a strong pull for us and have a huge place in our heart.

For example, being from this town we have 3 local iconic landmarks, Castle Hill being the main one but also Emley Moor Mast standing at 330 metres can be seen for miles and also the Holme Moss Mast, reigns high above Holmfirth.

I have fond memories of all of these places, Emley Moor mast is always the beacon of home when travelling home from the South.

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My son ‘holding up’ the mast on Yorkshire Day last year!

A BBC news article here, describes it as one of England’s iconic sites that show’s you are nearly home.

In the article, Vikki Brown comments: “I suppose it is a bit of a constant in a mad world, and, crazy as it might sound, it feels as though there’s an invisible string that tethers me to it.”

I know exactly how she feels, when there is so much uncertainty around us, and particularly in my own life at the moment.

I’m also one of the few people that have been up the 7-minute lift journey to the very top as I used to work for NTL Telecommunications who used to own the tower, and what a great view it is from the top!

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Holme Moss at sunset 

In 2014 the Tour De France came to Yorkshire and the highlight of Stage 2 of the Yorkshire Grand Depart was reaching the top of Holme Moss. It was a highly anticipated event for locals and we camped near the night before in order to get a good position to watch on the road. Thousands of people queued for hours to watch the cyclists speed through in just a few minutes but the atmosphere was electric and well worth all the waiting!

It made me wonder as a ‘wannabe published author one day’ whether Authors tend to put familiar places known to them within their stories, whether they just naturally creep in because you can see in your mind these places and describe them accurately and authentically.

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I asked Clare Mackintosh (one of my favourite authors above who I luckily met at one of her events 3 years ago) whether this is true of her books. I knew in her first novel, ‘I let you go’ the famous beach in the book was one she knew well but was unsure on other locations in her subsequent novels.

She told me, ‘I Let You Go’ is partly set in a location based on Three Cliffs Bay, and I did lots of location research on the London Underground for ‘I See You’. ‘Let Me Lie’ is Beachy Head based, but I’ve never been there. After the End has the richest setting I think, not just because of the Chicago research trip I did, but because the memory of being in intensive care is so incredibly strong, so I could write it with authenticity.’

I think this is the key really, for me it would almost be a waste not to use that bank of memories we associate with place in a story or a novel because whatever the emotion connected to the place; whether that could be a fondness for your home town, a regular place of work, or even the intense experience of Intensive Care the  colours, sounds, smells and atmosphere naturally gets ingrained into our subconscious without even having to think about it. The richness of these places then shows through in our writing, making it all the more special and hopefully brings the reader along with us.

This has happened with my own writing recently, writing short stories from personal experience, such as an exercise I did for homework for one of my writing groups a few weeks back. I chose to write about how it felt as a girl aged 9 going to The Working Men’s Club, every Saturday night with my parents, back in the early 1980s – it took no time at all to pen the piece and recall all those tiny details such as the smoke-filled rooms, the yellowing wallpaper, the style of clothes, the banter, the drink I’d choose, the ‘turn’ on the stage….you get the idea.

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Yes this is me, at The Club, being forced into a picture by my parents looking cute but with a pint and a cigarette – I don’t know why they did this, but it became some weird tradition, lol!

Likewise with the novel I’m writing, ‘The Key to Everything’, there are various locations in there that are amalgamations of where I live and surrounding villages, in particular the protagonist joins a local art therapy group, the experience of which is largely based on the local group I attend.

Also, when writing about a counselling session in the story, outside where the therapist’s office is set, I’d described a village High-street that I knew, without even realising it!

So, I guess my message is to not shy away from this, don’t be afraid to tap into these places and experiences because your heart and soul will go into your writing and the reader will hopefully vividly see the environment and feel he emotion you want them to feel, it’s just another way of writing from our own personal experience, even within a fictional story.

If you need some extra inspiration to think about this, try these following small tasks to get you going:

  • Pull out some old photos, those faded ones from albums and think about where they were taken. Write a paragraph about them, how old were you, where were you, what were you doing there, can you remember how you felt, what could you see, smell, touch?
  • Think about some ‘Firsts’, such as can you remember the first time you went to a swimming pool, the cinema, a nice restaurant, a birthday party, a fun fair, camping, to school, had your bedroom decorated, had your ears pierced, visited A&E, your new home as an adult etc.
  • Think about the jobs you’ve done over your lifetime, describe the environment they were set in, for example an office, a building site, a chefs kitchen, a hospital, a library, a school, a laboratory, a car showroom, and describe them in detail without necessarily saying what they are so that the reader can work it out for themselves. What kind of characters could you place in these situations?
  • Visualise some places that make you uncomfortable or scared, perfect for a Halloween story, where have you felt fear before? E.g. a late night walk home, a church grave yard, an old elevator, a hospital operating theatre, a derelict building, a turbulent plane journey, on the edge of a cliff…now create a scary story around this place.
  • Finally list places that bring you joy to visit, that could be holiday destinations, events such as concerts or wedding venues, your favourite coffee shop or bar, a restaurant you had a first date at, a place of worship, describe the emotion behind why it’s your favourite place, what happened there?

These are just a few simple, fun ideas that will soon get your memories associated with place, flowing and you can then use in your writing.

Speaking of Writing from Personal Experience, my workshop on this subject starts tomorrow and I can’t wait!

I’ve had a few reasons to jot down and process some personal experiences myself of late and it has helped, even if it’s just to empty your head of lots of thoughts!

Next week there may not be a Blog post, although I’m hoping to get one out early on Sunday, but I’m having various health tests done next week so I’ll just have to see how it goes but hopefully definitely back the week after….

If you try any of the ideas above then please let me know and I hope it brings back some fond memories of places that you love.

Until next time…

Juliet, The Curious Creative x

P.S It’s another WOW Wednesday session this week (23rd Oct), 9.30-11.30ish at Miriam’s Kitchen Table in Kirkburton, for more information, click on the link, remember it’s FREE and newcomers are ALWAYS welcome!

 

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