Oh, the irony. Where is Lisa? Has it really been five months since I last wrote?
The tumbleweed has been rolling on this dusty corner of t’interweb, but behind-the-scenes, life has been a little busier. I’ve bought a house and decorated half of it (with as much paint on the carpets as on the walls – oops). I’ve completed my MA in Creative Writing, earning myself a nice little Distinction for my efforts. And I’ve started planning a wedding – my wedding – after Rob got down on one knee at a picnic on Ilkley Moor over the summer.
All in all, it’s been a rather exciting five months.
The MA in Creative Writing and me
Major life events aside, my proudest achievement this year has definitely been the completion of my MA. It’s been nearly two months since I handed in my dissertation, calling time on two of the most challenging, but enjoyable years of my life.
Now, I know what you may be thinking. An MA in Creative Writing? Writing’s not really something you can learn, is it? You can either write, or you can’t – right?
That may be true, but I have learned so much about writing over the past two years. So much. My friend and coursemate, Lynn, wrote a beautiful blog post this week describing what she’d learnt throughout the MA, and I found myself nodding like the Churchill dog, agreeing with every single sentence.
To cut a very long story short, the MA has been life-changing. It’s reignited my love for writing, equipping me with the tools and techniques to take me in a direction I’d never even dreamed of. I’ve always loved writing, but never quite known where to take it. But now, despite not having written fiction since I was a daydreaming eight-year-old, I’ve now written half a novel, which has so far received surprisingly good feedback from my talented coursemates and respected lecturers – many of whom are published authors. Say WHAT?
There’s still half a novel to be finished, but as I let that simmer, I’m returning my thoughts to writing this blog. Where’s Lisa? Well, where am I?
I’ve been trying to answer this for a while, even before I took a hiatus to knuckle down and finish my MA. Why am I writing this blog? Who for? And what’s next?
The internet is awash with ideas of what a blog should be; of how I should be monetising my words and how much ‘content’ I should be farming out each week. And there are so many food and travel blogs, so where do I fit in? What do I want to add the noise?
The answer was in my MA. The MA at Leeds Trinity puts the emphasis on the ‘creative’, tasking us with creating over 20,000 words of creative writing for assessment in addition to essays, projects and reflective commentaries. It was recommended that we focus on a continuous creative writing project, which was when I made the rather bold decision (well, bold for me) to write a novel.
‘Writing a novel’ is one of those worthy items that shoehorns itself into any discerning bucket list, and I, like many, have long harboured half-baked aspirations of writing my own. But to write a novel, you need more than good words. You need an idea. And until the MA, I’d been distinctly idea-less.
Then I had my first meeting with my tutor (and award-winning writer, no less) Martyn Bedford. He asked me a simple question: what will you be working on during the MA? He wanted a project, or at least some reassurance that I’d given the question some thought. And I had, but rather inconclusively. At the time, the embers of my round-the-world trip were still sizzling, half-formed ideas and sentences just waiting to be turned into something. What, though? Another book about a mid-20s girl gallivanting across the world? Who’d want to read that?
But Martyn had an idea, and it was so simple. He suggested fictionalising my experiences by looking at them in a different way, through someone else’s eyes.
So I did.
I rummaged through the raw material; experiences lodged in blog posts, diary entries and memories. I plucked myself out, replacing the void with the silhouette of a character I’d began to sketch. And as I ploughed through the Ws – what would she notice? Where would she go? Why was she there? – I was forced to focus on details I’d previously disregarded. Sounds. Smells. Tastes. Appearances. Feelings.
Word by word, I was transported. I was typing away in my spare room to the soundtrack of a pneumatic drill gouging a hole in our garden, but all I could hear was the growl of tuk tuks. The beeps of motorbikes. The bellows of traders. I could smell chilli and garlic, sizzling on an outdoor skillet. I could feel Bangkok’s signature smog; a clammy, charcoal blanket coating my skin.
I was back.
Reflect. Relive. Reveal.
Writing is deeply personal, motivating everyone in different ways. And for me, it’s simple. I want to reflect on my experiences. Relive them. And in doing so, reveal new ways of looking at them – to myself, and to my readers (if there’s any of you left).
That’s why I write.
So what does this mean for Where’s Lisa?
It means less reviews and more experiences. Sounds like a really naff strapline, doesn’t it? But basically, it means what’s the rush? There are plenty of bloggers that do a brilliant job of publishing well-written reviews of the latest restaurants, cafés and bars on a regular basis. And I don’t want to compete with them. There’s slow food. Slow travel. Why not slow blogging? I want to write when I feel moved to write, producing more reflective pieces about the experiences that mean the most to me, even if months have passed since they happened.
If you’re wanting hot-off-the-press reviews of the latest restaurants or hour-by-hour travel guides, you’re best looking elsewhere. But if you want sensory reflections on special food and travel experiences, then you might want to stick around.
One thing that the MA failed to teach me was focus; that is, focusing on one piece of writing at a time. Old dog, new tricks and all that. There are several half-written posts waiting to be finished, which I hope to bring you in the coming months. Seville surprises. An ode to Fremantle. Falling in love with the Outer Hebrides. A summer of Dales adventures. A very special trip to The Black Swan at Oldstead; the scene of our engagement celebrations and the most amazing meal of my life.
I promise no timescales; posts will happen when they happen. And when they do, I hope they’ll be worth the wait.
On the off-chance that I’m not talking into a vacuum and there are still some of you left, thanks for sticking with me. I hope you enjoy this new direction for Where’s Lisa?