A dear friend of mine, Anna Schiff, died not long ago. I offered to draft an obituary for her and send it to The Guardian for them to consider for inclusion in their Other Lives.
This was a new writing challenge for me. Capturing the essence of a life within 400 words is not easy! I was lucky in that I didn’t have to do any research, having not only my memories from many years but also a copy of all the material read at her funeral, as well as a chronology of her working life. However, getting an appropriate combination of key facts and anecdotal details was tricky.
Another friend offered an editorial eye, and polished up my work without compromising it – a great skill for which I was very grateful. We asked if it could be published under both our names, but The Guardian insist on a single byline.
They also asked for several pieces of additional information, including Anna’s mother’s maiden name. I realised why – an obituary is about recording information about a person for posterity as well as being a pen portrait. Fortunately, the inclusion of the additional information in the final edit done by the paper was not at the expense of all the fun bits.
The piece is in The Guardian online and I have just heard that it will be in the print edition tomorrow – 16th September. I’m so pleased – Anna deserves that recognition. She was, as one of her other friends said to me, a one-off, and we will not see her like again.
Sometimes the process of writing is clear; other times less obvious. There is a period of collection, or collation, of material. Then a period of gestation before a way forward presents itself. It is good to be patient.
Travelling produces material, willy nilly.
I have been in Cornwall this weekend. What will come of it for my writing remains to be seen. I am sure that there will be something. Meantime, here is an inspirational image. Feel free to make use of it!
I’ve been experimenting with black and white photography over the past few days. Using a setting on my camera called ‘high-contrast mono’ I’ve achieved some unexpectedly pleasing results.
Wheelbarrows in the walled garden at Croft Castle
It’s also got me thinking about how working in monochrome can translate into writing. We often talk about introducing colour into our work, but what about stripping it away? What about, instead, concentrating on shape, pattern and contrast?
I’ve just got back from a week at Tŷ Newydd, the National Writing Centre of Wales. It’s close to the village of Criccieth in Gwynedd, North Wales, and overlooks Cardigan Bay. Dolphins swim in that bay, maybe mermaids too, for there’s more than a sprinkling of magic in the area. It’s been inspiring writers for many years.
I was one of a group of ten writers there this week. Under the guidance of tutors Francesca Rhydderch and Mavis Cheek,who complemented one another beautifully in their teaching, we ten all found that the words flowed freely in this beautiful setting. Helped not a little by the leaven of laughter – writing may be hard work, but it certainly doesn’t have to be solemn.
I came home with the drafts of two new short stories. As well as the makings of a new writing support network. And we’ve all promised to invite one another to our book launches, in the fullness of time!