Pangolin Issue 43

This Pangolin has scuttled out of its burrow a bit late in the day, but at least I have not missed the date completely. It was waiting in a queue behind a splurge of writing for Tamsin Hopkins, my mentor for the second novel. The last ten days included a long weekend in the Conwy valley. You may wonder why this month’s picture is so stark, if I have been out enjoying Snowdonia. I will explain later.

One of the books Tamsin recommended was Into the Woods by John Yorke with the sub-title: how stories work and why we tell them. This is another goldmine for writers. I am sure that I will keep returning to it, but this month’s nugget is that, in dialogue, most characters aim to conceal what they are really thinking, not to reveal.

A highlight of last month was attending a workshop run by Stephanie Hutton about Inside Fictional Minds. I already know a thing or two about psychology. I studied it at university for a year, worked with child mental health professionals for most of my life and like to think I have some insight into the way minds work. Stephanie is both a practicing clinical psychologist and a fiction writer and brings her professional knowledge and skills to her craft. Outlining attachment relationships, cognitive behavioural therapy and psychodynamic theory, she picked out those elements of particular relevance to writers.

The main ‘light-bulb moment’ for me was when I realised that writers can show a lot about characters’ internal state, not only by their behaviour, which we all know, but also by the things they pay attention to and the way they interpret them. Stephanie used the example of a lift door closing. Before then, I had not twigged that the description of a place, through a character’s point of view, can be so powerful a window of the mind.

So, what about that photo, which I took this morning at the Tetley in Leeds. Why was my attention caught by that particular view of a stark white symmetrical space containing what I thought could almost be two mortuary tables? Why did my consciousness play with such a grisly interpretation? It is because my mindful soulmate and I were viewing an exhibition of work by Rasheed Araeen about the life, and death, of David Oluwale. Two of the panels of the artist’s work, mainly newspaper cuttings and other archives, are contained within those white display cases.

This year’s Holy Week in Leeds coincided with the fiftieth anniversary of David Oluwale’s death. The most poignant event I attended that week was at Killingbeck cemetery where there was an inspired remembering of a story that had once been in danger of being dismembered. You can watch some of it here. I was not able to go to the poetry the previous evening, but here is Jackie Kay, one of its stars, saying what David’s story means to her.

I wonder if David Oluwale ever found solace in the parks and green spaces of our great city? I hope he did. Beneath its exciting narrative arcs, Novel 2 will also show a little about how the natural world is a balm to many, and a spiritual experience for some. Gledhow Valley Woods, so well looked-after by its Friends, is my local patch of green. I need to disentangle myself from my laptop now and go to see the bluebells. I hope, dear reader, that you have a good month and, if in this hemisphere, you take time to enjoy the Spring.

P.S. Don’t forget the real pangolins and their plight.

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