(#parenting #amwriting #noncovidpost October 2021)
How to play = how to write?
One of the joys of being a parent is I get to experience the pleasure of pure, unselfconscious, immersive play all over again. I get to witness the unburdened world of total fantasy and make believe. If I want to, I can join in, or I can bear witness, watching my children as they visit the most imaginative and exciting worlds.
Our evening walk on the edge of the village of Elterwater, the air is heavy with moisture, the clouds meet the tops of the peaks but it’s still autumn cool not yet winter cold. The children wear wellies, snoods and woollen winter hats. We love the Lake District. Although the kid’s memories of bi-annual visits have fallen deeper into their little subconsciousness (thank you Covid), yet the feelings of freedom, being close to nature and in awe of the foreverness of the fells has absolutely resurfaced. My son who is 6 follows the shallow running stream up hill. His wellies hit the stones hard, his physical strength and excitement ensuring even on the slippery smooth pebbles he remains upright and moving forward. I can hear his commentary. He is describing the new world around him. He is offering to his imaginary audience what he sees, he describes how to navigate the torrential waterfall he is climbing (in reality the water only just covers his wellies, with the occasional deeper crevice up-to his mid wellies). He is warning of the wild animals that may present at any moment. In his game, he is fighting the elements, he is racing to climb a mountain, he is an expert in the wilderness, he is sharing his advice like Bear Grylls or a narrator for Walking with Dinosaurs.
In the same running stream, my daughter 8, jumps and splashes. She’s only a few feet away from her brother yet 100 of miles away in imaginative distance. She holds her Sylvanian Rabbit, dressed in checked tweed high in the air. My daughter gives the rabbit a voice, the rabbit lives in these valleys, she burrows under the grass I stand on. According to my daughter’s narrative, 100s of burrows exist under our feet, tunnels and tunnels that we can not see. They contain small open fires, kitchen tables placed with tiny little mats, cups, saucers and homemade cakes – all smaller than her 8-year-old hand. She has created a whole village, a whole community, a whole world.
A murmuration of birds sways in the distance, too far away for me to identify their species. As I walk the autumn leaves crunch under my feet. A lorry carrying logs rolls high above our heads along the road on the edge of the hill. And I think of how playing is like writing.
As writers, we go off into our own worlds, we have conversations in our head, we question our characters, their motives. We walk along the real world, but within it we create our new worlds. When I was writing A Heron Watched Me Fall, I often imagined that my characters were with me, walking with me, talking to me. I questioned them, I questioned what they thought, how they felt – I basically played the same games my own children are playing now. Just as my own daughter has a vivid vison of a table set for the 5cm tall Sylvanian rabbit family, I too can see the kitchen table of my characters. I can smell the morning coffee they pour, hear the conversations they have. At times I have been at the kitchen table with them, I have witnessed their struggles, their laughter, I have witnessed their mundane mornings and their most explosive.
So, I ask myself, as writers, do we ever actually stop playing? Is that all writing is? a continuation of our childhood fantasies? A way to create a new world to exist within this reality? I’m not sure, but for now I’m off to explore the new species of dinosaur found behind a log. I’m off to visit the shop Rabbit is currently setting up on the stream side, and somewhere deep down in my own psyche, my own subconsciousness, I’m thinking about my new characters and the world I’m about to create for them. I’m thinking of the perfect title for a book still deep within me, but with slow snippets bubbling to my surface. Deer Can Not See Orange. I have a title; I now have a new game to play.