Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Inspirations #3: Haiku

In the 6th Form of my school I chose to study lots of Maths and some Physics too. Why? I was good at them. I really had no idea what I would do with them, though I had known for 6 years that I liked programming computers, and that's what I wanted to do.

During my mock 'O' Level exams I had written my first novel, excitingly called Genesis. It was a strange synthesis of all the SF/F I had been absorbing for ten years, but mostly combined the Lord of the Rings with E.E. 'Doc' Smith's Lensman series with some "Space:1999" thrown in for good measure.

It was really really bad. I wish I still had a copy of it.

Useful tip: Always keep a copy of everything when you're a creative because sometimes it's important to see how far you've come. This tip was first given to me as a guitar player, when I felt I wasn't really progressing, the book I was following suddenly (very timely-ly) suggested turning the guitar over and trying to play left-handed. That was what I was like when I started.

Proof I had progressed.

The same goes for writing. Somewhere I do have my second novel which I wrote fairly soon afterwards. But already I had progressed, the first was utterly derivative. The second opened with a scene that I developed from my own experience of living in London "high-quality" slums. For the first five years of my life I lived in a two-room flat with the rest of my family (4 others) with no toilet, gas lighting and cold-running water down the hall. Barely half a mile from the Houses of Parliament in London.

This second book was still SF but it was purer, grounded in reality and the characters were real with emotions. It was still rubbish. I still had more nonsense to get out of my system.

But I digress.

Our headmaster in his wisdom decided that all the arty types should have one lesson of science per week and the science/maths lot should have one lesson of English, which actually was a good idea. But I think I was the only person who thought so at the time.

Our teacher for this lesson, bearing in mind this was an all-boys school which had never had a female teacher (I think), was a strikingly attractive young woman, probably only a couple of years older than us. For some reason I always thought of her with the name Shadowfax. (Particularly silly since Shadowfax was a stallion.) It's also possible she wasn't that beautiful, but we were adolescent males.

So she had us study poetry and then hit us with haiku, and our homework was to write a haiku.

I wrote 18 of them. I just couldn't stop. A structured poetry form that encapsulated a visual and emotional image, and they just poured out of me. As if a dam had broken.

I discovered I could write. Something 150,000 words in rubbish novels had not taught me.

So for the next few years poetry became my medium. It wasn't long after this that I went to a big art event and sold poems that I made up on the spot with the subject supplied by the customer. The process is simple: (a) Get the person to describe the subject of the poem from their viewpoint; (b) write the poem expressing the emotions given to you.

And payment? I said "Pay me what you think it's worth." I was very well rewarded.

But even more rewarding was when, 20 years later, a young man came up to me and asked me my name, he pulled out his wallet and extracted a crumpled piece of paper. The poem his father had asked me to write for him when he was a baby. (Time to hand out the Kleenex.)

Must admit I'm almost choking up over it even now. That's real life.

Other inspirations:
  1. The Art of Words
  2. "It's a tragedy!"
  3. Haiku (this one)
  4. Art of Words addendum
  5. Perspiration

What's on the turntable? "Carey" by Joni Mitchell from "Blue"

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