The unexpected year

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As a new calendar year approaches, we wonder what to expect in the months to come.  For me, this year has been an intense brew of the predictable and the unexpected.  But then, when I look back, isn’t this always the case?  Yes, some years seem to plod on, with nothing much of note happening, so that we wonder where the months went.  Some years meander, as we drift, out of focus, along different paths.  And then there are those years that we look back on as our turning points, when the unexpected happens and turns the year on its head.

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The crew of the Donald Duckling weren’t expecting to spend Christmas moored in the north east of England.  And as we approached the port on our Boxing Day walk, we weren’t prepared for this hulking, rusting cargo ship to be docked there.  The ship has been detained at the port since late November, not permitted to leave until urgent repairs are carried out.  It’s crew, who are mainly Romanian and Filipino, had to resort to fishing from the side of the ship when their food ran out on the last voyage, and to cooking the fish on the deck as the galley wasn’t working.  The crew are far from home but have been supported by the local fishermen’s mission, who have given them phone cards, access to the internet and to their kitchen.

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And yet on this calm day, when the low sun bounced off the side of the ship, life asserted itself as though there was nothing unusual about the scene.  The gulls took advantage of the mooring ropes to claim a safe river vantage point.  Families and dog-walkers enjoyed the tranquil pause between the rain and gales.  And this is the point.  Life goes on, good or bad, as we prepare to celebrate a new year and wonder what it will bring.

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This year I’ve been amazed by the way my creativity has burgeoned, the way I’ve found inspiration in unexpected places.  I’ve revelled in the seasons as never before and in the every day enjoyment of cherishing time with my family.  I’ve found succour in the woods, the sea and a small terrier called Winston.  I have connected with a multitude of fascinating people across the world.  Yet I’ve also been saddened by the loss of a loved one much too soon.  This year hasn’t plodded, or meandered.  It may well have been a turning point.

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And so, as I write this, surrounded by the roar of the renewed gales around the house, I want to leave you with some of my favourite posts of the year.  I hope you’ll take some time to follow the links and read them and explore the blogs that go with them.  These are only a very small selection of posts I’ve read that have made me laugh, cry, think or just enjoy.

The season of the floor sun by Laurie at Travel Lightly is a moving account of the loss of a summer ritual after the death of her dog Juno.  Laurie also writes beautifully about nature, landscape and spirituality.

Britt Skrabanek at A Physical Perspective, recently started an inspiring series called The Life Enthusiast Chronicles, which is all about people who, using the example of their own lives, inspire us to live ours.  I’d also recommend Britt’s book ‘Beneath the Satin Gloves.’

The word is create by Marylin Warner at Things I want to tell My Mother, describes the objects created with love through generations and how they become legacies for those who come after.  Marylin’s blog is in the form of letters to her mother, a writer herself, who suffers from dementia, and her posts are warm, touching and insightful.

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Sherri, at A View From My Summer House shared a powerful post about her journey as a writer, in The power – how has writing changed you.  In her blog, Sherri shares warm, funny and touching stories of her life in the UK and the US that have been a pleasure to read.

One of the first posts I read on WordPress was by Zen Doe at The Wind Horse Blog.  Captain, My Captain is the touching story of being chosen by a horse while grieving for another, that had me in tears.  She hasn’t posted for a while as life was getting in the way of writing in a good way, but you won’t be sorry if you spend a little time in her world.

I’ve greatly enjoyed sharing the ups and downs of the writer’s journey with archaeologist and writer JM McDowell over the past year.  As well as posting on writing in general, JM has shared some wonderful fiction with us.  Meghan Bode’s Wintry Tale part one (there’s a link on the page to part two) is just a taster of some of her writing, that I hope you enjoy.

Gemma Hawdon is another fellow writer that I have loved sharing the journey with this year at Top of the Slush Pile.  Gemma has shared many great tips and observations about the writing life.  The imagery in Writing the dark and twisted has particularly stayed with me.

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Ron Scubadiver shares wonderful photos of landscapes, people, street life, the arts scene, abstracts and more at The Wild Life of Ron Scubadiver. Volcanos National Park has some of my favourites.

Karin Vandenbergh at Ruby Slippers and the Yellow Brick Road often seems to look into my mind and I find we often write on similar themes.  Into the darkness is a beautiful exploration of the power of the dark.

Gabriela Blandy, at The Sense of a Journey, has also been missing from WordPress for a while.  I miss her rich, thought-provoking pieces, with some wonderful titles. What happens when a character’s skirt gets hitched in her knickers is an exploration of characterisation.

Unpeeled, by Helen White at Scattering the Light, is about limitation, self-judgement and the tensions that can appear around the autumn equinox.  Helen is an artist and writer who writes beautifully of her spiritual and creative journey.

I’m constantly amazed at the ability of Scott, at Kindred Spirit, to produce so many pieces of enjoyable short fiction each week, as well as more general posts.  He’s recently started posting longer pieces featuring Carolyn and her struggles in a zombie-infested world, which I’m really enjoying.  Keeping Watch is the first of these.

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Jenny Pellet at Characters from the Kitchen shares some wonderful and amusing thoughts on life.   The imperfection of memory is about how we remember things, sometimes not in the way they happened.

Sarah Potter shares wonderful haikus, inspirational photos and more.  Sun Haiku #2 is an example of one of my favourites.

Kourtney Heinz has generously shared her journey with us as a new author on the promotional trail.  This post is a trailer for her book, which I would highly recommend you read: The Six Train to Wisconsin book trailer.

Jack Flacco writes about zombies, strong women and a miscellany of other things.  So if you’ve ever wondered how you’d survive a zombie apocalypse, try one of Jack’s ‘what-if’ posts to see how you’d do: Zombie what-ifs.  Also check out his new book ‘Ranger Martin and the Zombie Apocalypse’.

I only read The necessity of beauty by Valerie Davies today and it is such a beautiful story that it makes a perfect end to my selection of favourite posts of the year.  Valerie writes beautiful posts that also always include fascinating information and insights.

Thank you to all of these bloggers and all of those I regularly follow but haven’t mentioned here, for making my world a richer place this year.

The idea of a journey

In the movie ‘It’s a wonderful life’, George Bailey says that the three most exciting sounds in the world are ‘anchor chains, plane motors and train whistles’. I agree completely with George’s sentiments and, although ultimately it’s an uplifting movie about being grateful for the life you have, I’m always struck by the tragedy that George is destined never to leave Bedford Falls.

George spent years growing the idea of a journey in his imagination: he read leaflets about interesting jobs in exotic locations and had picked out in his mind just the type of suitcase he’d want to take with him. But it was only the idea of a journey, without all the detail that would bring it to life. And in the end, the journey that George took was of a very different kind: into what life would have been like without him.

Close to my home, there’s a working river and international port. Every evening at the same time, I can walk to the end of my street and watch an enormous passenger ferry sailing by, as though levitating across the end of the road. Often, the air is filled with the hoot and buzz of ship’s horns, sounds that always make me long to be on the sea. Often, we visit the port to watch the ships berthed there. I never imagined that the world was filled with so many unique designs of ship: the sleek passenger ferries and cruise ships; the sturdy pilot and tugboats; the flat cargo ships piled with rusting containers; and the futuristic sub-sea construction vessels. I’ve taken to researching those that are particularly strange in appearance, to discover their purpose. Sometimes, I’ll look up lists of expected shipping: Sapphire Ace, Star Comet, Havla Phoenix, Pleiades Spirit, Ice Crystal – these are just some of the evocative names of ships shortly to arrive.

All journeys begin with an idea, but all journeys are a trip into the unknown. Even the short trips we take every day can become filled with unexpected events. I didn’t travel abroad until I was 21. Before I ever left the country, I yearned for travel, devouring travel programmes, collecting travel books and studying brochures. I planned trips and developed many ideas of journeys, just as George did. But they are only ever ideas of a journey – often seen from someone else’s perspective.

On the first trip I took, to Italy, I could never have imagined the reality of the journey, both good and bad. I couldn’t have predicted the coach breaking down in the Swiss Alps and the motion sickness I was stuck with long after the journey. Nor could I have anticipated the emotional reaction I had to the wonders of Rome, when I’d always imagined it was too familiar from TV and movies to inspire me with any kind of awe. But then that’s the wonder of a journey – you look forward to it because you think you know where you’re going, but the real excitement is that you don’t know at all.

For me, the idea of a journey is glamorous, exciting, full of anticipation and wonder; but there is also a touch of fear and the sense that I don’t want to leave the familiar environment of home. Often, once the trip is booked, I have a reluctance to discuss it and make any kind of preparations. This, I think, is because of the ambiguity I sometimes feel about the journey: longing to go, yet not wanting to go at all. The idea of the journey is much more comfortable than the journey itself.

Starting a story is similar to starting a journey. It’s still the idea of something, but you can’t imagine the ways it will develop on the way. There’s the same sense of excitement, of thinking that anything is possible. And there is also the trepidation – the fear that the words won’t come, that you won’t be able create the vision you’ve shaped in your mind. You may have a plot or characters, or both, but there’s always some part of the story that’s out of your control.

I never believed those authors who said that their characters did unexpected things, as though they were alive and decided to do the opposite of what their creator had planned. How could it be possible that something you’d created yourself was outside of your control? But then my own characters began to do things that were unexpected. My plots meandered off in surprising ways. And most startling of all, was that these unforeseen changes seemed to make the stories come together, as though they’d always been meant to be that way.

So you begin to write as you begin a journey: starting with an idea, which is an idea of how the story might go. But part of the frustration and part of the excitement of writing, is where the journey eventually takes you and what happens along the way.

Does the idea of starting a journey inspire you? Have your characters taken on a life of their own to change the direction of your story?