Warrington, England, the United Kingdom
Sometimes I think creativity is like gastroenteritis for the brain. Give me a prompt and the possibilities pour forth. With the Trans-Oceanic Ink! Project from Literary Orphans, my creativity ran wild. This may not sound like such a big deal – writer considers ideas for a story, wow, what a shocker – but for me, it is.
I hadn’t realized how much I’d stifled my natural urges until I did this. Usually, it’s no problem, words and ideas flow and I just have to type fast enough to keep up with them. But for the past few months, I’ve been on a writing diet, and like any fad diet, it’s been bad for me. I have a deadline at the end of this month for a full length book for Pen & Sword, a passion project (as US writer Laura Bogart refers to it) called “The Sinking of RMS Tayleur: the true story of the Victorian Titanic” which, as the title suggests, is nonfiction. I take the term ‘nonfiction’ very seriously. Nothing is going into this book unless I can find some kind of verification or support for it. I’m on a tight deadline, and have barely written a word of fiction for months because of it. I hadn’t realized until I started thinking about the TOINK! Project just how my creativity had withered because of this.
TOINK! is a project exploring the relationship between a handful of writers around the world and how they physically write. Two journals are flying from writer to writer, city to city, pen to pen, filling up with stories inspired by places those writers feel strongly about. Mine’s set in Warrington in the north of England. It’s not where I was born, nor where I grew up, but it’s a place I love and feel loved in and hope to stay in till I die. Pete Postlethwaite and Tim Curry come from here, as does Vimto and an awful lot of wire (one of the main exports), and it’s a place full of history and takeaways – just perfect.
The stories will all be handwritten, a rarity in this day and age of texts and tweets and mobiles, and this gave me the freedom to really explore the page in a way print journals don’t usually allow. I wanted to acknowledge this in the story somehow. A surge of ideas suggested ransom notes, autographs, calligraphy, graphology, dyslexia, spirit writing, graffiti, forgery … and I couldn’t resist exploring spirit writing in the end. I knew I definitely wanted to have different people ‘speaking’ in different styles of writing, and this seemed the perfect way to do it.
For research, I checked out images of ‘authentic’ spirit writing online, observing what was asked and said and how it looked on the page; re-read Oliver Jeffers’ “Book Eating Boy” to my five year old – a wonderful children’s book made using old flyleaves and pages from discarded library books; talked to Stacey Graham (of “Zombie Tarot” fame – her surname makes a guest appearance as thanks); read a collection of old nursery rhymes, some of which made me shudder, plus old newspapers and new websites about the real baby farmers; and spent three chilly evenings grave-rubbing (yes, that’s a ‘u’ not an ‘o’!) using crayons, pencils, and eventually grave dirt.
I revelled in it, dreamt about it – but struggled to ‘tune into’ the story. I tried burning candles I’d smelled previously when the words flowed, reading ghost stories I’d loved as a child, listening to Echo & the Bunnymen’s “Killing Moon” and Lana Del Rey’s “Born to Die”, watching “The Woman In Black” and lastly, most effectively, re-watching “The Orphanage”, a film I’d promised myself I’d never see again. The tears worked. I wrote.
From Warrington England,
Note from editor: Gill Hoffs was the first writer we ever accepted for the first issue of Literary Orphans. No one could possibly have been a better choice to launch this project! We’re delighted with what she’s been able to do, setting a very high-bar for all those who follow. An amazing writer, and an amazing human in general–be sure to check out her large body of work!
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The journal is now with Emma Briant, who will be writing Worcester to life.