About distractions

Found this marvellous description from the poet Mary Oliver of how easy it is to be distracted as a writer:

It is a silver morning like any other. I am at my desk. Then the phone rings, or someone raps at the unknowndoor. I am deep in the machinery of my wits. Reluctantly I rise, I answer the phone or I open the door. And the thought which I had in hand, or almost in hand, is gone. Creative work needs solitude. It needs concentration, without interruptions. It needs the whole sky to fly in, and no eye watching until it comes to that certainty which it aspires to, but does not necessarily have at once. Privacy, then. A place apart — to pace, to chew pencils, to scribble and erase and scribble again.

But just as often, if not more often, the interruption comes not from another but from the self itself, or some other self within the self, that whistles and pounds upon the door panels and tosses itself, splashing, into the pond of meditation. And what does it have to say? That you must phone the dentist, that you are out of mustard, that your uncle Stanley’s birthday is two weeks hence. You react, of course. Then you return to your work, only to find that the imps of idea have fled back into the mist.

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They’re reading my book in the UK

I have had the loveliest email from James Watson, a teacher in the UK:

Hello Tina, I am a Year 3 teacher in Newcastle Upon Tyne, England and my class is currently working on a writing project surrounding your book, The Cloud Rider. The children that I teach have been really inspired by your story and we have been able to use the theme of your book to develop some wonderful drama, speaking and listening and characterisation lessons. We enjoyed reading about your inspiration for the story, with the settings being intrinsically linked with your childhood and this gave us scope to use the structure of The Cloud Rider narrative to develop our own stories with the adaption of our own settings.

Once again, thank you for the inspiration for some wonderful developing writers.

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Writing about Life

I’ve just finished a great ‘memoir’ style book that reminds me that you don’t have to think of memoir as starting at the beginning and sketching in one’s whole life … H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald is about a young woman who trains a goshawk, and concerns only one section of her life, but it’s wide Hopen in terms of ideas. She is grieving the sudden death of her father, and weaves this into her journey with the hawk, so it’s not just a nature story, and it’s more than a grief memoir. I would highly recommend anybody who is interested in writing about their own life to read it, and see how Macdonald has used language and anecdote to tell her story.

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Old Brain stuff

Am reading Zizz! The life and art of Len Lye, in his own words and found this great quote:

“When I’m in the mood to draw, I cultivate a vacuous, seaweed-pod state of kelp in my skull. Attached to a pencil, I doodle in a bemused attitude. I try to create shapes that seem significant. One type seems to be about nature – rays, galaxies, primeval plants aZizzBooknd organic forms, viruses, birds and so on, usually benign – and the other type, such as triangles and diamonds, is geometrical and decorative … I don’t have to wonder what on earth I will use as the starting point for a painting I lay out my stored-up fund of doodles and select the one my Old Brain is in the mood to commune with.”

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Eileen Myles

images-1I’ve just discovered this wonderful American poet, Eileen Myles:


That whole part of the world
where I won’t go any-
that whole separation
that I won’t feel
high in this house
in this hemisphere
in this artificial light
that is artificial
in the earliest morning; dark
in pages and pens
in an unfamiliar bed
in the foot curl
each rumble
when morning comes
and it’s still morning
and it’s still night
I married a dead girl
we were born in her bloom
remember that fat bumblebee
landed on a lamp
I opened the doors
and I forgot and the house
got colder and colder
where is this house
the seam between boards
merely gains my attention
it’s dark and thin
I monitor each situation
my bladder growing full
climb down climb up
what tree am I waiting
my whole life in weather
waiting for my raft
I’ll fly to another island
I’ll take a train
already I know
it will hurt
this is the hurt country
I came here
to hold the hurt like a bird
like a tree
traffic has rings
we watch it whirl around
damaging our night
great continents hold
the feelings and the ages
what is mine
going blind
great masses of them
not going home
the country drew a line
because of memory
one said
I feel my heart race ahead
in eternity there is this ache
there is this wakefulness

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Wonderful ceramics

While in Wellington recently I visited an exhibition of Bronwynne Cornish’s work. It was brilliant to see these pieces ‘in the flesh’ – and even to take photographs. Pacific Sphinx Ceramic House Ceramic Woman

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Landfall review of TCP

A wonderful review of my novel The Children’s Pond has just gone onto Landfall Review Online http://www.landfallreview.com

David Herkt comments:

Shaw is always more than she seems as a novelist, going the extra distance. An attentive reader will find the novel filled with exactitude: real houses are identifiable, views precisely described, and trout pools those on river maps. Complex quandaries of individual lives are revealed with spare precision as they mesh with each other. The characters are individual without being caricatures and, while the novel feels complete, each of them has a personal story which will continue beyond the final words.

And the review finishes with this note:

The Children’s Pool seems perfectly tailored for both a New Zealand and international crime fiction market; it is easy to envisage it as a movie or a television drama, filled with the visual allure of its background scenery and the resonances of a landscape barely subjugated to human will.Berries

About which I can only comment: Watch this space.

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On creativity

Some pertinent comments from Kevin Ashton, author of How to Fly a Horse: The secret history of creation, invention, and discovery:

“The people who are truly passionate, truly engaged and incredibly persistent and take lots of small steps by showing up early and staying late, those are the people who succeed. I don’t know if you’d call that genius – it’s more likely to be passion and work ethic.”

And very relevant to writers: “… if you work on something every day, you’ll look back and be amazed how much you’ve done. There’s no drive-through for creative success. You really do have to do the time,potter-hands-creativity not just to do the creating, but to learn the craft.”


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Where ideas come from?

Writerly thoughts from Pulitzer Prize winning poet Mark Strand who died in November 2014:

 “One of the amazing things about what I do is you don’t know when you’re going to be hit with an idea, you don’t know where it comes from. I think it has to do with language. Writers are people who have greater receptivity to language, and I think that they will see something in a phrase, or even in a word, that allows them to change it or improve what was there before. I have no idea where things come from. It’s a great mystery to me, but then so many things are. I don’t knowunnamed why I’m me, I don’t know why I do the things I do. I don’t even know whether my writing is a way of figuring it out. I think that it’s inevitable, you learn more about yourself the more you write, but that’s not the purpose of writing. I don’t write to find out more about myself. I write because it amuses me.”

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Good writing

One of the many wonderful things Donna Tartt does in her writing (see The Goldfinch) is use descriptive ‘lists’ … this is a technique that really adds depth and interest to her writing:

“What I somehow hadn’t expected was a city prinked-up for Christmas: fir boughs and tinsel, starburst ornaments in the shop windows and a cold stiff wind coming off the canals and fires and festival stalls and people on bicycles, toys and color and candy, holiday confusion and gleam. Little dogs, little children, gossipers and watchers and package bearers, clowns in top hats and military greatcoats and a little dancing jester in Christmas clothes a la Avercamp.”

This is Amsterdam, by the way … and Tartt gets a lovely rhythm going in this description.images-1

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