Could you complete the following: I write because…
The urge has always been strong. As a child, I would staple pieces of paper together to form a book and fill it with childish scrawls. I couldn’t write yet but I sensed a kind of magic when pen met paper and felt fulfilled in doing so as my mind was always buzzing with stories. Not long after, those pages began to be filled with actual words in the guise of fairy tales. They were usually stories of witches laying curses upon villages; I don’t remember what was being read to me at the time but such dark imagery stayed with me.
How did you land upon writing as a natural way to express yourself? Do you make other things?
I grew up in a house filled with books and my father’s library was only a room away. Before I could read I enjoyed pulling books out of the shelves and “rearranging them”. He always said to my sister and I “these will all be yours one day,” so I knew immediately they must be of great importance like precious treasure. Which they are.
My thirst for the written word grew organically and my nose was always in a book! My pace fastened from school to home every day so that I could get that book out of my book bag, settle on the couch and enter another world until my mother called out “diner!” I always knew I wanted to be one of those people that created such magic.
As I grew up, I enjoyed painting just as my father had done and my sister followed, but she had the talent for art and took it more seriously, she attended Art College. We also did tapestry as kids with my mother’s encouragement. I remember sitting on her bed in matching pajamas with my sister working on our tapestries whilst watching pride and prejudice! (Colin Firth). Later, I took up knitting. I find it hard to sit still without doing something with my hands in the evening. I’m into weaving at the moment. There is the garden of course; I’m very much into gardening. The manual labour balances a writer’s life I think. It’s something to do with the heavy digging, sifting, creating a rich nutrient soil, sowing then growing. Does this not all apply to writing too?
Can you describe your current circumstances – where do you live and how do you spend a typical day/ week?
I currently live in a typically small London flat with my husband and two children. We all dream of living by the sea one day, owning land, goats, chickens and an edible garden, a homestead if you will. But we are not there yet therefore my days are taken up by performing my motherly duties which I wouldn’t have any other way.
Those motherly duties include the nursery run which is an actual run most of the time as we can be pretty tardy. Well, not so much tardy as we believe in trying to do things as slow and mindful as possible which is not in fact easily achieved as that would involve us waking up much earlier than we are capable of. It is usually on the nursery run that I lust after my desk. So the days are filled with parks, museum visits, baking, pottering in the garden, painting, role playing and play dates. It is also filled with tears, laughter, negotiations, sickness and butter/snot smeared clothes. My favourite kind of day is one where we are outdoors the whole day, there is nothing more liberating ad nourishing for the soul than that.
I try to keep life as simple as possible so as not to over stimulate and besides, life is complex enough as it is.
What stumbling blocks do you encounter in finding time to write or be creative every day?
The first one is the two T’s ; tiredness and time. It takes a lot of energy fully engaging with children; any parent will tell you that. I am easily susceptible to that thing called “mum guilt”. If I’m not with my children or obsessively fantasizing about being alone with my work, I find myself weighed down with guilt which is absolutely ridiculous.
I can get quite dramatic sometimes if I haven’t managed to write. About once a fortnight I complain to the husband about how I will never write again. I become resentful, moody and even poorly so my husband rolls his eyes at the drama and whisks the kids away for half a day in order for me to satisfy my writer’s lust.
Before I had children I wasted my precious time. It took having children and mastering the art of multi tasking to fully comprehend the waste of time on facebook and twitter. But I heard something utterly eye opening recently on the first episode of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons which is “all procrastination is fear “and that hit me right in the gut. I wasted time so much because of fear.
When I left university, I spent one month working in an estate agent (horrific) and the fear of being stuck in that job led me to quit and write a novel (it’s in the draw) but the second novel was/ is not so easy. So, fear is the second stumbling block which means you have to enter writing with a Hemingway kind of mentality. Pull on those boxing gloves and enter the ring.
If I was to share a quote that depicts writing and motherhood, it has to be the A S Byatt quote. Do you know it? It goes like this:
“I think of writing simply in terms of pleasure. It’s the most important thing in my life, making things. Much as I love my husband and my children, I love them only because I am the person who makes these things.”
There are a few tricks I use to hold onto my ideas and words, one is to keep a notepad by the kettle so I can jot a few cheeky words, sentences whilst brewing my Earl Grey. The other is writing in notepad on my phone. Many of my thoughts, conversations I’ve heard and ideas are hastily typed up there.
How do you find the physical space to write? Describe your writing area / essentials.
Before my daughter was born, our second tiny bedroom was turned into my study. I closed the door and got on with writing. It was then converted into my husband’s office when he started working from home so it was his by day and mine by night. Then when we had our second child we converted it once more into bedroom for my daughter, even though we all sleep together we wanted her to have her own space to go to. That was the end of my own physical space.
I couldn’t be without a desk and I wasn’t a kitchen table kind of writer so we rearranged the living room, brought in my father’s bureau ad split the bureau in half, the left contains my paraphernalia and the right, my daughter’s.
My essentials are ; my fountain pen, jar of ink, laptop, notepad a photo of my father in the seventies, a photo of my sister and I together sipping tea on my parent’s garden stoop and an ever growing collection of pictures of my children. And a plant, always a plant!
How do you find the mental space to write? Describe your strategies, e.g. diving in, creating the right mood, avoiding distractions, alone or out and about…
All of the above, maybe a little less of the diving in because I have a number of constraints that do not permit me to dive right in. Because my work space is in a communal area, I am not alone and I am very funny/precious about having someone behind my back as I flinch a lot and become distracted with what they are up to which is not ideal.
I have a few rituals before I start work. I like a fresh cup of tea and I light my patchouli candle. The fragrance transports me to another place, I don’t know where that place is but it’s somewhere else. Before I plunge into my work, I like to do a bit of free writing to flex my writing muscles. This is usually in the guise of journaling. I also find reading a paragraph, page or poem helps, usually an extract from Virginia Woolf’s diaries, there is so much inspiration to be found within them.
What or who do you turn to when you need inspiration? Why?
Gardening, walking and the outdoors. Even the simplest pleasure of taking pride in the toil of my efforts in the garden zaps me and invigorates my creative spirit. My mind is buzzing all the time, not always with creative work but hard manual labour in the garden switches my mind off when all of a sudden even though I hadn’t been thinking about anything in particular a plot untangles itself or a new project arises. It doesn’t always work but there is no limit on what magic fresh air can create.
I do a lot of staring out of the window, watching clouds shift and move, trees sway, figures walking on the pavement. One door in the mind closes whilst another opens.
How does your everyday life (and the people who occupy it) make its way into the words you write?
Other than the power of nature, my everyday interactions. Conversations I have / hear. Blogs I follow. Another strangely inspiring place is instagram. I draw inspiration from the images before me. How easy it is now to see into the world of people from all walks of life! What an amazing piece of technology. No longer do we writers have to solely eavesdrop on your conversations, we can now see what you ate for breakfast, what makes you angry, happy, sad, everything. It’s a large archive from which one can withdraw from and satisfy our naturally inquisitive nature. I tend to ask people a lot of questions, it’s always a way of getting to the heart of everything. What makes us human, what makes good subject matter.
What role do the ideas of Place, Home and Community play in your creativity?
That’s an interesting question because they mean everything, in the real and the imagined. The novel I am currently working on relies heavily on place (the sea) and what home and community mean. It’s the individual versus the conscious collective.
Describe your creative process, how ideas arrive and are nourished and your writing/ editing process.
Ideas arrive from a number of sources; reading other work, looking at paintings, reading about other people’s lives, particularly people who were around a long time ago. I find walking around homes of well known people to be inspiring such as Vita Sackville-West’s Sissinghurst home, Virginia Woolf’s Monk House, Vanessa Bell’s Charleston Farmhouse, Churchill’s Chartwell and even Darwin’s House. You get a sense of home and the person that lived there which stirs up the well of emotion and ignites the imagination as you walk their grounds or nosey around their work space.
What is your fundamental reason for writing or being creative in daily life? To document / to resolve / to communicate/ to share…
For me, as I’ve said before, I don’t feel t is my job to resolve. I think the artist does have a duty to be socially conscious and maybe offer a resolution or at least a partnership in a resolution. I’m not saying I can accomplish this but it is a way of communicating. Maybe opening another person’s eyes to a new perspective or share a perceptive in a bid for solidarity. An example of this is what I attempted in my first novel which raised mental health issues and the tangled emotions between a mother and daughter. I don’t resolve any issues but maybe make someone experiencing the same issues feel less alone.
There is also the importance of escapism. We need / crave to be transported out of our lives daily for a little while. I’ve always relied on this; I think most readers would agree.
If you could put any 3 writers on speed-dial for an impromtu pep talk , who would they be and why?
This is a hard one as I have a few but from the top of my head; Virginia Woolf, Virginia Woolf and Patti Smith.
Virginia Woolf because of her wit, humor and vision. X-ray vision that is! I am sure the queen of stream of conscious writing would set me on the right path.
Didion because of her analytic mind. She is clear, calm and collected, unafraid of speaking her mind and sharp. She is a fantastic reporter, a wife, a mother and fellow migraine sufferer. If I needed a major nudge to get on with it, I think she would be the one.
My third would have to be Patti Smith. She is a dreamer, a kindred spirit who reaches to the other side of consciousness. She embraces life’s signs, seeking the magic of the perceived mundane which in turn fuels her art. In many of my creatively dark moments, I’ve sought her guidance via her music, art, writings and musings. Dreaming is important. I think if I had to choose a mentor, she would be the one. She would be the one to give me confidence and facilitate the expansion of my sight and mind.
Are there any key words or themes that find their way time and again into the work you do?
Nature( human & earthly)
Locked feelings and release.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given?
JUST WRITE and write every day but of course I’m not always able to follow this advice.
Which books do you return to for inspiration?
Virginia Woolf’s diaries, Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, Iris Murdoch’s The Sea The Sea.
Which books are you looking forward to reading this year?
I have a mountain of books to read, on top is Ann Patchett’s Truth & Beauty, Sally Mann’s Hold Still, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and at some point I’d like to finish Atwood’s MaddAddam Trilogy!
What are you working on at the moment? How do you decide what to share with the world?
I’m currently working on and off on a novel and hoping to get back into the swing of blogging and reviewing again whilst gardening, dreaming of homesteading and parenting.
Where can we find more of your work?
You can find me on my blog at www.zehracranmer.co.uk on twitter as @zehracranmer and on instagram as Zehra Cranmer, I’m a private user but usually accept requests, I’ve kept it private because I have pictures of my babies there so like to know who’s viewing them – that’s a whole other debate!