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For Your Eyes Only
Category: Writing
Tags: morning pages stream-of-consciousness writing

For Your Eyes Only

Through my angst-ridden teen years and my idealistic early twenties, I kept a diary which I wrote almost every day. What I wrote was private. Purely for myself.

Some diaries were sold with locks on. Or zips. Not mine, but I’d shudder at the thought of anyone else seeing their contents. I drew in them. I wrote long sentences with no time for punctuation, except a clutter of exclamation marks. I made confessions. I poured out my soul. Every emotion was exaggerated and tears often smudged the pages. Those tears were as secret as the thoughts and dreams I’d laid bare. My diary was sacred, as important as my life.

From my earlier diaries I moved on to journals. They were much the same thing but sounded more grown-up and serious. The emotions were just as real but facts and descriptions were sometimes included as well. Then, one day I lit a bonfire in the garden and – in an act of high drama – burnt the lot.

After decades of keeping no private accounts of my life, a stressful period made me turn to this again and start a new journal. It helped on many levels, giving me the support I needed without seeking professional help.

It’s the same thing – in essence – for serious or professional writers. If you wake up and write down whatever comes into your head, aware that none of this is for other eyes, there is no need for pretensions. If you’re like me, it’s sometimes hard to share feelings in total honesty – without self-censorship – by word of mouth, or even by text or email or whatever digital medium I use. Nor do I wish to burden others with my negative moods. I can also be self-conscious or embarrassed about my flights of fancy. Writing in this stream-of-consciousness way is energising. Liberating. And fun!

I’m trying to get into this on a daily basis, which I think some WA members already do. My preference is to write longhand in a notebook (by choice, still in bed and only semi-conscious!) Once filled, the book may go in the bin, or if I’ve written on a PC, a tablet, or any other gizmo, I can delete it. I may flip or scroll through it first looking for anything interesting I can use in my fiction. The honesty of this material can have a way of connecting with the reader in a way perfectly planned material sometimes can’t.

I find this practice lubricates the creative juices and puts me in the mood to write. Sometimes I write about writing, sometimes about something completely different. Other times I try my luck at our Monday Muse prompts. All can lead to something further. In this case, it led to this blog – a positive start to my writing day. 

And here’s another writer’s take on it that you might want to check out: www.juliacameronlive.com/basic-tools/morning-pages/

Magical Objects Tags: Apotropaia talismans superstition writing research Foreign Encounters Writers Abroad anthology The Idalo Man Northampton Museum Hidden Shoes I



During a visit to Yorkshire Sculpture Park last year a print by illustrator, Alice Pattullo, caught my eye. The poster was entitled, 'Apotropaic Devices For the Home.' I wasn't sure what apotropaic meant, but the mirror-image china dogs triggered a childhood memory of dutiful visits with my mother to an elderly neighbour who had the same ornaments on her mantelpiece. We had few decorative objects in our farmhouse apart from photos of prize-winning sheep or horses displayed on a sideboard. Our main source of heat was a Rayburn (similar to an Aga) so we didn't even have a mantelpiece to put china dogs on but still, I coveted them. After googling the word I learned that apotropaic meant designed to avert evil, and discovered that china, or Staffordshire dogs were not merely ornamental, they also guarded against malign forces entering through the fireplace.



Even though we never had china dogs, my mum was quite superstitious; always buying J-cloths or scrubbing brushes to appease Gypsies who called at our house to prevent them from casting spells upon us, always turning a horseshoe right side up so the good luck didn't fall out and always closing umbrellas before entering the house. Naturally, I inherited some of these behaviours. As I sit here typing, I can see at least three protective talismans in my home. The Indalo man (dating from the Paleolithic period), which was a lovely gift from fellow WA member, Chris Nedahl; a nazar (stylized glass eye) which I bought in Istanbul; and a Mexican day of the dead skull which I bought in Leiden's Museum of Ethnography.

Story Inspiration

Since leaving the depths of the countryside and living amongst the more rational Dutch I have become less superstitious but for our second WA anthology, Foreign Encounters, I wrote a story, Blow Me a Kiss, about a curious object which fascinated me. Displayed in the tiny but entrancing Butcher Row House Museum, in Ledbury, Herefordshire, was a child's shoe which had been found bricked up in the chimney of a local cottage. The museum attendant told me it was common practice to place shoes in portals of the home, i.e. chimneys or above windows or door lintels. The shoes were meant to ward off malicious forces, luring evil entities to attack the shoe rather than the wearer. A child's shoe might also promote fertility according to local beliefs so my initial impression that a child had died in the house was unfounded. The Ledbury shoe had merely been outgrown and granted a second life protecting the home's inhabitants.


An Archive of Hidden Shoes

The custom was so widespread in the UK that in the 1950s a Hidden Shoe Index was set up by former curator June Swann, at Northampton Museum. The index lists just under 3,000 shoes found in properties from the Shetland Islands to the Isles of Scilly, with the greatest number being from the south-east of England. The museum also holds 250 found shoes, the oldest dating to the 1540s from St John's College, Oxford (pictured above). The practice was taken by immigrants to the New World where it continued into the 1920s and 1930s. The current curator still receives two or three messages per month about found shoes from as far afield as the US, Canada and Australia. The museum index has recently been digitized and should you want to research further there is also a user-generated, online catalogue of hidden shoes with their locations on Historypin.


Are Writers More Superstitious?

So in an age where science and technology rule our lives what makes some of us still superstitious? Are writers and creative folk generally more superstitious than others? Does a writer's need to attribute meaning to events or objects when creating a story make us more susceptible to magical beliefs? Do you (consciously) have apotropaic devices in your home, perhaps you are even wearing one? Would these objects be a good way of describing a character who owned them? Or perhaps even the catalyst for a short story like the shoe I saw in Ledbury. I'd love to hear your thoughts.


With thanks to Alyson who reawakened my interest in hidden shoes by sharing this BBC article. Images courtesy of Alice Pattullo and Dr Ceri Houlbrook

This Week on Writers Abroad 29th January
Category: Site News
Tags: Writers Abroad writing ex-pat writers

January is almost over, thank goodness. Here in SW France it's been one of the gloomiest I can remember in 20 years. At least the evenings are starting to draw out and I've had plenty of time for writing.

Yesterday’s Formal Chat was somewhat sparsely attended, and I am one of the culprits with a last-minute commitment. Lesley will be posting up the minutes soon, so take a moment to read them and to look through the Skype chat if you have time.

Bruce’s blog post bemoans the need to shovel snow, since he lives in Sweden where it’s abundant, but it has provided him with some inspiration for snow poems.

Nicola has posted this week’s Monday Muses, a great selection to choose from with something for everyone, including – quelle surprise! – a horse picture. The usual drill: 500 words-ish or a poem in 20 minutes or so. Just let it flow.

The Bragging Stool is, as ever, groaning beneath the combined weight (no offence intended!) of Bruce and Debbie, who both appear in the latest issue of ArtAscent (Portraits), Chris and Sue whose flash pieces were accepted by Ad Hoc last week (how many weeks is that, Sue?) and Angela, who has had a flash fiction piece accepted by Cake Magazine.

STOP PRESS: Ad Hoccer par excellence Sue's interview with Ad Hoc is now up on the Bath Flash Fiction Award website. You can read it here

The February Challenges and Opportunities will be posted up this week and there is still Jill’s piece for the Swanwick Comp in the January forum. I’m sure she would appreciate additional comments.

In addition, there are various pieces posted in the Works in Progress forum, including Bruce’s ongoing ‘Medium Rare’ novella, so critiquing comments would, I’m sure, be welcome.

That’s all this week. If I’ve missed anything or got anything wrong please let me know.

Have a creative week. I’m off to get on with novel no. 3.



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Big Book of New Short Horror
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