Sunday, June 26, 2005

Shortage of Creativity

Word count: 134,916

For a variety of reasons - not least, finishing the latest draft of Brown Owl (how many times do I use the word 'even' - arrrgghhh. But have emailed it to my editor tonight, hoorah) and writing a treatment for Book 4 - I've been feeling a bit lacking inspiration today, so not really in the mood for the next part of my long post on the nature of creativity... but I promise I will carry it on soon...

In the meantime:

Lovely Link of the Day:
The inimitable and frankly fantastic Serena Mackesy has the best FAQ about being an author I have ever seen.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Creative Urge

Word Count: 132,743 (have I really done no work this week?)

It's occurred to me that while other bloggers are debating BIG STUFF, I generally witter on about diets and house sales. So today I am going to talk about more worthy things...

Creativity. It's been giving me pause for thought lately, partly because it's a word that's bandied around all the time (at the BBC where I work, one of our long term stated aims is to become 'the most creative organisation in the world: see here for the kind of document that's being written to try to achieve it. Hmmm.) and mainly because it's the broad theme of the workshop I've offered to run at the Romantic Novelists' Association conference in two weeks' time.

It's also something that's been cropping up a lot in conversation and blogs - the writer Jacqui Lofthouse, whose website I chose as my Lovely Link the other day, has posted a fascinating account of where she has found her ideas and why she thinks art might be the inspiration for her in future…

Apart from making me feel incredibly uncultured (visual art, with the exception of photography, mainly leaves me cold, and though I love books, I generally prefer to be entertained rather than challenged) I was interested by the idea of 'Artist's Dates', which I gather is a Julia Cameron way of getting you to seek inspiration in new locations. On another messageboard I visit, there's been discussion about trying to avoid feeling guilty if you can't write all day long - and the fact that going to the café or the pub or even shopping can provoke new ideas. It is absolutely true - though banishing that guilt is tricky. A brand new statue, The Writer, a 22ft high table with chair, quite empty of paper or laptop, has just been erected in Hampstead Heath and the writer Deborah Moggach put it very well in her review in the Guardian:

Because that's its problem for us writers. I walk the dog on the heath every
day. It's one of my many avoidance routines, along with cleaning out the hens,
deleting Nigerian spam and downloading dream properties in the Cotswolds.
Escaping into the greenery, the last thing I want to see is six tonnes of steel
and wood, 30-foot high, rebuking me for not working. Maybe it's a cunning plan
by the Corporation of London, which runs the heath, to rid the place of writers
which, like ragwort, pop up everywhere when the sun comes out. As one of its
officials observes, "it'll remind lazy authors to get back to their garden sheds
and finish the year's greatest novel before someone else beats them to it."

So where am I going with this? Beyond a little random musing on inspiration, I'm thinking about whether creativity can be taught, or stimulated, or increased - or whether it is pretty much a 'have or have not', like having good spatial awareness or being able to sing in tune (I don't have the former, but can do the latter).

My nurturing, encouraging side says that creativity is not a 'holy grail' that is the sole preserve of artsy types; that anyone can have great ideas; that even the most straight-jacketed thinkers can be encouraged to (stand by for some jargon): think outside the box, push the envelope, do blue sky thinking. Certainly it's true that people on the full spectrum of 'creativity' from madcap 'let's do the show right here' types, through to 'that won't work, it's against the rules' individuals, can work together to come up with great ideas: I've seen it at work, where we run endless brainstorms for new programmes. There is nothing like the buzz when a roomful of invidivuals, with very different approaches and often a profound scepticism about brainstorming, somehow create the energy to build a new idea or to improve someone else's...

BUT that collective brainstorm approach doesn't work for everyone, and sometimes it doesn't work at all: the ideas can be derivative and they may frustrate the person who had that initial 'spark' because it moves so far away from what they had in mind.

It's also, arguably, a more relevant process for ideas that are based on a collective creation process - eg TV programmes, which involve big teams - than for novels, say, that are predominantly written alone.

So what about individual creativity? Can that be improved? Again, I would say that most people have a fundamental 'creativity' in their make-up but it may be expressed very differently. The numerous different personality/working style theories tend to be restrictive but Belbin's theories (that we all tend to take different roles in a team depending on our own personal preferences: Completer Finisher, Coordinator, Implementer, Monitor Evaluator, Plant, Resource Instigator, Shaper, Team Worker) may be useful here. His idea is that some people naturally prefer throwing out ideas - the Plant is the most extreme here and probably the role I take most often:

The Plant is creative and innovative. They are responsible for the production of ingenious new ideas and novel strategies. They are very bright; their ideas may often be radical and practical constraints may sometimes be overlooked.
The Plant's preferred approach is to work independently, thinking intensively, and following up his own schemes. Plants tend to be introverted and is easily offended, but responds well to discerning praise. The Plant's behaviour towards other team
members can be off-hand and critical. However, if the Plant is handled well, the
benefits are great. 'Handling well' involves recognising the Plant's potential
and giving them the space to realise this potential whilst also controlling
their direction so as to avoid the pursuit of fruitless schemes.

Apart from the 'very bright' bit I recognise most of this in myself - the good and bad bits. Compare that to the Monitor Evaluator:

Though not creative themselves, the Monitor-Evaluator is very good at
weighing up the facts, carefully considering the pros and cons of each option,
and finally coming to a well considered decision. This will be an objective
process free from influence of emotional factors. The Monitor-Evaluator shows
little enthusiasm or personal commitment; they are no achiever but their
judgement is sound. In many ways the lack of commitment to team goals
facilitates the task of the Monitor-Evaluator because this enables them to be
impartial in decision-making. Though rather dry and critical, the
Monitor-Evaluator fits comfortably into the team,- especially if their role is
recognised for what it is, both by themselves and by the other team members.

(for more on this, and to see which category you recognise, look at this great explanation - it seems to be a Christian website, but is suitable whatever your beliefs)

Now, I'd argue that the Monitor Evaluator is 'creative' in the broadest sense, but they may not feel comfortable with the kind of uncertainty that most traditionally creative endeavour (fiction writing, sculpture, composing music) involves. It is scary and uncertain and at the beginning of a project you're starting, no-one knows the answer but you - and often you don't know it yet...

At which point, I'll leave it for today. Bit of a cop-out I know, but I am a bear of little brain and therefore I will come back soon with some thoughts about how to make the most of your creativity...

In the mean time, normal service (ie talking about fake tans and diets) will be resumed.

Lovely Link of the Day:
Try Creativity for Life if you want some tips (though the site itself is rather visually limited) or this site, Enchanted Mind, is a bit prettier though possibly too new agey for some...

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Sunny side of the street

Word Count: 132,743

I've noticed that, in typically British fashion, the weather is frequently a topic on my blog. And in London it's been GORGEOUS. Sunny, balmy, Mediterranean. Just great. But in Yorkshire, there've been flash floods due to the gulf stream or something. Very weird...

Friday was lots and lots of writing. Had a barbie on Saturday - well, my boyf did, as it's his birthday. On Sunday I did go shopping for new clothes but couldn't find anything I really liked. I ended up with one pair of jeans. And of course, it's too hot to wear them! But they do look good and it's a motivator to keep on the healthy eating plan (um, well apart from the Dairy Milk Fruit and Nut ice cream I had yesterday. Oh and the white wine.).

As well as trying to finish Brown Owl - this is the book that just keeps going - I am working on the radio play, which is going quite well. It's a real change to try to convey EVERYTHING through dialogue. I tried a TV script once before and found I was desperate to put in novel-length stage directions, but that was before I wrote a novel - now I am really enjoying the spareness of a script. And I got the members of my writing group to read it out the other day which was so useful.

Might be going to Wimbledon at the weekend, and as a first-timer, that could be very exciting!

Lovely Link of the Day:
Friend and author Jacqui Lofthouse has launched her website, which details her novels and her life/creativity coaching. Her article about how we value our creative works is also required reading for any writer who has ever suffered rejection, ie ALL of us.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Centrefold... sort of.

Word count: 132,059

Today I was nearly a centrefold in the Daily Express. Actually, it was the two pages just after the centre pages: those were occupied by three women in swimsuits. NOTHING would entice me to appear in my swimsuit in a national paper, but the pic of me is still slightly embarrassing, as I am lying on my bed in a Uma Thurman style pose looking smiley but bonkers. It's to do with my Boot Camp for the Broken Hearted series of exercises for getting over your ex. I don't think I will ever be happy with a photo of me so I am just hoping it doesn't actually put people off buying my book! But I do look quite slim as well as mad...

The success of the Low Fat Veggie diet I've been following (courtesy of Rose Elliot) means I have to go clothes shopping this weekend - my trousers and skirts are all flying low, because my waist has reappeared. I've actually been avoiding buying new clothes because it feels like tempting fate - what if I put it all back on again? But I am beginning to look indecent so it's time to get that credit card out.

This afternoon I had coffee with a woman at the BBC who wants to be an author or magazine journalist... I'm a bit worried I was rather manic - I got very vocal about what she could do or should do. So B, if I was OTT, I apologise, there is such a thing as too passionate.

Lovely Link of the Day:
Take a look at Great Writing, a high-quality new writers' site, and a phoenix from the ashes of the BBC Get Writing site. Definitely worth looking at.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005


Word count: 133,177

I am a bit bored tonight. I'm getting there with the book revisions, but wish I had finished it. Bored with people viewing my flat and not making offers (it's only been on the market a few months but I have a very low patience level)... might take it off the market if no offers within the next month. Bit bored being back at work...

It's partly because I haven't had a proper day off in ages. Even on holiday, I was working on the book. The same all weekend, really. And I feel like I always have more things on my 'to do' list and never quite shift it all.

So, with a totally skewed logic, I've decided to enter a competition at work for new radio/TV writers. OK, I'm not a new writer overall but I am very new to drama and I have no idea if it'll be any good. I have an interesting idea, but I wonder if it might be a bit mawkish. And although it feels like extra pressure I am imposing on myself, it's nice to think of something that ISN'T a novel. We'll see.

Lovely Link of the Day:

You can't beat Rate My Kitten when you're feeling glum. I couldn't bear to put my cat up there though. Imagine the hurt if people thought she was minging.

Friday, June 10, 2005

The ideas game

Word count: 132,635

Another really busy week. Back at the beeb and the atmosphere is quite strained. Instead of graffiti on the loo doors, we have signs listing the reasons why we should join the union. I am just relieved that the management haven't countered that with a picture of our uber-boss Mark Thompson pointing, Kitchener style, with a slogan Your BBC Needs You. That could put you right off, mid-stream.

It's weird being back. Nice, in some ways, bumping into friends and being able to make a contribution to the new set of ideas that are going forward. But I also have a 'last term at school' feeling, as though we're all drinking in the last chance saloon. Odd atmosphere. And it's been really busy.

I missed Kate Allan's launch party this week because of working late, which is shame as it looks tremendous fun. I really admire what Kate's done to promote her book, The Lady Soldier, and she deserves to do well.

Today I had an ideas meeting with my new agent. This is the Big Writing Decision I was so mysterious about the other week. It was very useful to go through my thoughts for my fourth and maybe also fifth book (though it's weird to be planning ahead for a novel which, fingers crossed, would hit the bookshelves in 2008!), and I felt I made lots of progress after New Agent pinpointed the strengths, but more usefully, the weaknesses, of my ideas. I am someone who has LOTS of ideas but finds it hard to see the wood for the trees, so it's good to be clear on ideas from the start.

I'm actually giving a talk on ideas generation at the Romantic Novelists' Association conference in a few weeks' time - really ought to get round to planning the talk properly. I am such a last minute merchant.

So tonight I have been doing more revisions on Brown Owl (about 2/5ths of the way through the changes I want to make) and also planting out gorgeous shrubs that FINALLY arrived from They arrived, mind you, after I'd put the order on hold, so not sure what happened there. But although the customer service is mixed, the plants are good quality and reasonably priced, so I will use them again.

Lovely Link of the Day:

Music is a brilliant way of remembering a time in 'history' - I am working on various scenes set in 1979 in my new book and it helps so much to remember what was Number One - so try this site to get your nostalgia muscles moving...

Sunday, June 05, 2005

On show

Word count: 132,262

Saturday was a day of flat viewings. I could have gone for a walk (six times) but instead I sat in my living room like a live exhibit, trying to make Brown Owl better, while answering random questions about management charges, security bars and sun direction. I don't really know if any of the 'applicants' as estate agents call them, liked the flat, but it gave me a good excuse not to move very far in my work. So far, the book's getting longer, which is not the idea: I ought to be cutting out flabby writing, rather than putting new stuff in. Oh well... it still feels like the home straight.

Today we went to a birthday party for a friend of boyf's, which was good fun, except I was driving so watched everyone else getting drunk while I drank mineral water. Nice do, though I had to eat carbs (yet, was FORCE FED cream and strawberry birthday cake) so my waistline will be huge tomorrow.

And tonight, more reworking and not much else. I am behind on emails and all sorts, so will try to catch up soon. Can't even find a lovely link. Back soon, I promise. But I have to prepare myself mentally for heading back to the Beeb as well... wish me luck!

Friday, June 03, 2005

Back to reality

Word count: Ask me later

I'm back after a week in Paradise. OK, so Paradise smelled of Ralgex, but Madeira is the hot (well, mild) new destination, apparently. Forget serious Germans with walking boots, forget little old ladies having tea at Reid's Palace (keep your volume up for this link to get the atmosphere); it's The Place for the cool, the stylish and the stressed.

Me and boyf barely qualify as cool or stylish, but we can lay claim to stressed so off we went. Actually, after 20 minutes in the departure lounge for the TAP flight to Funchal, we were feeling pretty young and glam actually, so if you're a thirtysomething feeling like the first flush of youth is past, it's worth the trip to Madeira simply to be thirty years younger than the average holidaymaker. That isn't a criticism of the other passengers (though we witnessed some hair-raising queue-jumping) who, I am sure, could all out-party the two of us any night of the week.

We were going for relaxation and that's what we got, after the slightly scary landing on the airport's rather short runway. We stayed in two hotels: the Quinta da Casa Branca, which is a few minutes walk from the sea at Funchal, and then the Choupana Hills Resort and Spa which, as the name suggests, is 600m above sea level in the hills.

The first has buildings that remind me of upmarket 'terrapins' we used to get at school (I seem to remember the other name for them as 'demountables', not nearly as fun): squat buildings placed at different points in stunning gardens. Actually, they're very upmarket terrapins, full of hardwood and glass and marble. I liked this hotel: we had our own little patio and sunloungers, and the room, though not enormous, was light and airy. The breakfasts were good, too: Spanish omelette, eggs with asparagus, little yoghurt drink pots with passion fruit or berries.

There was no nightlife that we could find: by the time we wanted to eat, maybe 9pm, most of the tourists seemed to be in bed. We enjoyed eating out at a rooftop cafe and also at the Cipriani Italian restaurant, attached to Reid's. But I had to abandon my veggie low-carb diet (always a pain to manage, I'll be honest, even in veggie-friendly London) and load the carbs, to avoid starving. I even allowed myself puddings.

But then we moved 'up the hill' (including a windy, hairpin journey in a taxi) and it was something else entirely... it's a GORGEOUS resort, a destination in itself. From the moment you arrive - two zen-looking receptionists welcoming you with a gingery drink - you can't fail to feel soothed and cocooned...

Right, I am so relaxed thinking of that, that I must sign off for now. Part two follows later...

Lovely link of the day:

This guide to creating the perfect movie heroine made me giggle a lot. So that's where I've been going wrong in not selling my books to Hollywood. Ditsier characters needed. (thanks to Karen Gillespie for the link)