Today’s Pangolin emerges at dusk on the longest day of 2020, which also happens to be Father’s Day. I have received some lovely cards and presents from the offspring, including this notebook with a lino-cut of the Pacific Ocean off Mexico as its front cover. Our children are an artistic lot, thanks to my wife’s genes, encouragement and example. My phone camera hasn’t done justice to the clean lines of this original, but it’s here as an illustration of creating within constraints.
My memories of lino-cuts when I was a boy was that they took a lot of time and the end result never resulted in anything as fine as today’s present from my daughter. There were also lots of injuries to fingers. I am glad that I didn’t attempt to become a surgeon. One of the many advantages of writing as a craft is that injuries are less frequent – better a paper cut than impaling a hand on one of those lino gougers.
Shortly after my last Pangolin emerged, I attended an online flash fiction workshop with Dr Tania Hershman, hosted by Arvon. Perhaps the best exercise she gave us was to spend 5 minutes writing down all the words that we associate with a BIG theme – like climate change, death or love. Once we had written a long list, she invited us to write a short piece on that subject without mentioning any of the words we had written down. This was a great challenge – in my case it led almost immediately to a short scene full of dialogue.
Another less extreme example was during a short story course led by SJ Bradley and run by Comma Press. The first prompt that SJ gave us was to imagine that we were looking at a scene through a small aperture, so only part of what was on the other side was visible to us. I imagined a character peering through the letter-flap in the door of an old person’s bungalow and a story started to appear. In the end this became After Farsley which won the Leeds Writers Circle short story competition and was later published in the Comma Press e-anthology from the course.
Countless articles and many books have been written about the creative energies that appear when a writer is constrained by using a particular form. Poets know all about this. I wrote in Pangolin 55 about attempting a micro-fiction within the harsh limits of five stories each of which cannot exceed 29 words. I’m itching to know whether my attempt will be placed – the shortlist will be up on the Hastings Writers Room‘s website soon.
The biggest constraint for me is nothing to do with form or length, it is all to do with the availability of hours in the day. If I had a bit more self-discipline and stopped scrolling through Twitter or checking news websites, I am sure that the time would appear. It’s about time I got a grip.
I have started to read Jan Fortune’s Writing Down Deep, which is not short on ambition. In her introduction she writes: this book is for those who see writing as an act of radical spirituality. Is there a better moment than now, in the middle of a deadly pandemic, for me to carve out the time to write down deep? I hate to get my head wet when swimming, but perhaps this is the year to plunge beneath the crashing waves and let the tides of the subconscious take me and my writing where they want to go.