Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Mind the gap

This morning I’m going to share some comforting and inspiring advice from Ira Glass.  Mr Glass hosts a much-loved storytelling and storysharing podcast called This American Life.  If you like, you can have a listen to the advice by clicking here. 

Basically, he talks about starting to do creative work, and how there’s a gap between what you want your creation to be - whether it’s a story, a stand-up act, a cake, a drawing - and what it actually is.
It’s the gap between ‘this story sucks’ and ‘it’s working’.

Ira says that a lot of people give up as soon as they see the gap.  Like when I write something, read it over, am disappointed with its clunky emptiness, and lower my head in despair.  How could it ever get better?
But according to Ira if we keep at it, it will.  If we make enough stories, jokes, cakes, and refine what we do and learn and persist, it will get better. 

For me, a big part of stepping over the gap is gradually learning to be more discerning when it comes to the voices in my head.  Which voices are encouraging me, which have story potential, which are worth playing around with, seeing where they take me, who a character might be.
There are some thoughts - negative, sabotaging ones - that I need to politely shut the door on.  They’re the doorknockers, burglars and religion peddlers of the-voices-in-your-head world.  Because, honestly, I’ve found them about as helpful as a cat who likes to pee all around my house. 

Those thoughts make me start to think about writing the way I think about childbirth (I don’t mean to offend women who’ve actually gone through childbirth, writing is obviously never that painful ... unless you're writing during childbirth), but sometimes it can feel like an overwhelming, impossible notion that I’ll be able to push any of my baby ideas and characters out of the tip of a pen.
So now when I start down that track, I’m going to think to myself: WWID (What Would Ira Do)?  And I'll pick up a pen and, hopefully, start to close the gap.   


Friday, 7 June 2013

I love them because...

This list isn't a definitive top 10. It's not in order of how much I'd wish I'd written them, or how hard I laughed, or how many tears were shed, or how unable I was to put them down while's just a list of 10 books that came to mind when I pondered on novelly awesomeness. 

1.       To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Because it was so good that even having to read it at school didn’t ruin it.  
2.       Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
What’s going on with YA novels? Some of them are so awesome! Case in point. A completely fresh, engrossing fantasy world.  (And book 3's out later this year!)

3.       The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Because almost every page blew me away with her delicious sense of magic.

4.       A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
Because the main character talked in capitals. And it was brilliant. And then it made me cry.

5.       The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger 
Because the story seemed almost too ambitious ... and then she nailed it, bigtime. 

6.       Boy by Roald Dahl
Because he was a master ... and kind of like the 'Santa of books' of my childhood.
7.       Sum by David Eagleman
Because I love books that make me think of things I’ve never, ever thought before.

8.       A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
Because it made me laugh out loud, a lot.

9.       When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris
As above.

10.   Harry Potter (any of the 7) by J.K. Rowling
I think this one’s obvious ... fine storytelling and an author well-paid. 
How about you ... what are some of your favourites?

Saturday, 5 January 2013


I don’t remember much about my early years. Just bits and pieces, blurry-edged fragments of memory and me myopically squinting into the past saying, ‘Eh? What was that? Where was I??’ Even if I don’t have vivid memories, what I can recall is a lighter feeling, a less furrowed brow. I remember being around six years old, at my school desk, my neighbour having pulled her tidybox out onto her lap, searching under swollen scrapbooks and Cuisenaire counting blocks for a rogue crayon. We pressed freshly-printed handouts to our noses, savouring the purple-inked paper’s smell and warmth. We giggled and talked as we made our pictures.  I glued crepe paper squares where I felt to, sprinkled glitter, chose colours from a shared bucket of crayons and felt pens, and filled the white spaces on my sheet with sunny yellows and oranges, deep blues…but not pink, never pink, not unless a dictatorial colour-by-numbers handout demanded it. My biggest exasperation was having to wait for someone else to finish using the lone cherry red crayon.
Today I hung out with my gorgeous artist friend Janine Whitling in her studio. I remembered what it was like to play as we painted, collaged, stamped and pow-wowed our way through the morning.
Here’s some of what I got up to…


mixing paints

painting over an old canvas...with crazy-bright orange :-)

stamping and more collaging

No goals. No rules about how we should create or what looked best. And it was so much fun.
Sometimes grown-up life can feel a bit 'colour-by-numbers' - a bit rigid and unimaginative, with pressure to meet certain expectations. There’s something awesome about making time to paint or write, doing something creative. Not because I need to become a painter or writer, or because I need to produce something, but just to nurture that part of me that doesn’t have a furrowed brow, the kid inside that’s waiting to play - to remember that grown-up life can still be so very simple and lovely.
J xx

Thursday, 16 August 2012


Two months ago I joined a writers' group that meets fortnightly.  Such a great move – for the first time I’m sharing my writing, hanging out with people who are willing to tell me what they think and make suggestions.  It feels so freeing, and long overdue, to be letting go of all those nasty voices (in my head) that tell me what I have to say is rubbish and leave me sitting in a puddle of weary misery, staring at a blank word document.  Is it possible for a blank page to heckle you? I think so.  

P.S. Thank you Dr Seuss for the image - 'Self Portrait of an Artist Worrying About his Next Book' 
(for more Dr Seuss artwork check out

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Once upon a scary time...

The delicious terror of the big bad wolf under the covers, of the evil queen in disguise as a hook-nosed witch offering Snow White a poisoned apple, of a freakish little bundle of malevolence known as Rumpelstiltskin, or the recurring nightmare of Maleficent (thank you Disney) hovering threateningly around a spinning wheel.  When I think about fairytale characters, I wonder if these stories might be children’s first foray into the ambiguous thrill of the horror genre, a kind of ‘Friday the 13th’ for toddlers?  Locking a girl with beautiful long hair in a tower and then shearing off said hair upon the arrival of a boyfriend always did seem excessive.  Not to mention the mass drowning of children by a cheated flautist-exterminator. Hmmm, might want to rethink that bedtime story…

Monday, 26 December 2011

to Wilbur with love...

Since Wilbur graced the pages of  Charlotte’s Web, and (spoiler alert!) E.B. White broke my heart when he killed off everyone’s favourite spider, I’ve been fond of pigs.  However, mine is a conditional love and, unlike Wilbur’s open-hearted variety, is based on cuteness.  I’m uncertain about the enormous, sagging pot-bellied types, but enamoured with the storybook miniature pig – during a few hours of inspired enthusiasm (aka ‘madness’) I considered buying a miniature pig.   My heartstrings had been tugged by the online photo of a chocolate piglette named Wisdom.  Surely she could use kitty litter?  Surely she could wallow in mud in the bathtub or an outdoor kiddies’ pool?  Surely my hubby didn’t expect a highly intelligent baby animal to be forced to sleep outside when she could easily be trained to sleep at the end of our bed?  Car keys and credit cards were hidden until the clucky (oinky?) pink haze receded. 
So my adoration for these snuffling, rough-skinned, pleasure-seeking creatures has remained confined to the pages of the books in which they star.  My love remains shallow and dependent on a rosy portrayal.  The dark view of pigs’ ‘human’ potential portrayed in Animal Farm wasn’t my cup of tea or, should I say, trough of leftovers (sorry, I’ll try to stop), but there are some books about pigs that make me giggle, cry and smile in appreciation of their specialness… such as:
The Good Good Pig:  The Extraordinary Life of Christopher Hogwood by Sy Montgomery.
All Pigs are Beautiful by Dick King-Smith, with gorgeous illustrations by Anita Jeram.