A few weeks ago, back in the world where we were allowed to go to the cinema, Ian and I went to see Lowry and Son starring Timothy Spall as the painter and Vanessa Redgrave as his bedridden, stifling, mother. Laurence Lowry was a rent collector, like his father before him, and lived in an industrial town in Lancashire, called Pendlebury. Often accused of being a Sunday painter, Lowry retaliated with the words, “I am a Sunday painter who paints every day of the week.” And paint he did, in the candlelit attic of their bay-fronted, redbrick Victorian terraced house. Few appreciated his talent, least of all his mother, and he saw little success until after she passed away.
“I paint what I see,” he said and he did, repeatedly churning out painting after painting of the urban landscape in which he lived and worked. He was famous for his meticulous renditions of swathes of brickwork and hundreds of drab mill-workers, scurrying home, bent by wind or drizzle, their eyes fixed to the pavement. These became known as matchstick men, somewhat derisively but, you know, that was exactly what he saw.
Read the way he once described the Acme Company and notice how his words paint a clear picture:
“I saw the Acme Company’s spinning mill: the huge, black framework of rows of yellow-lit windows standing up against the sad, damp-charged, afternoon sky. The mill was turning out hundreds of little, pinched figures, heads bent down... I watched this scene – which I’d looked at many times without seeing – with rapture.”
These are the words, not just of a painter, but of a writer.
For many years my students have heard me ask them to ‘paint a picture with your pen’. I also share the inspiration of the British actor and painter, Antony Sher, who wrote in his memoir, Beside Myself, that "a drawing is just a piece of writing that has been tied up and a drawing is just words that have been untied." Lowry endorses this theory.
As I write this, much of the world is being forced to stay home and self-isolate because of the devastation COVID-19 is wreaking on us all. If, like me, you find yourself gazing longingly out of your window, pick up your pen and describe what you see in such detail that you create a vivid word-painting. Write so that someone else, totally unfamiliar with where you live, might picture it too. Lowry usually put people in his work. When you write your piece please endeavour to add a person, a bird or other living thing, to your writing too. People interact with the landscape, adding an extra layer of meaning.
“I wanted to paint myself into what absorbed me,” wrote Lowry.
Your challenge is to write yourself into what absorbs you, whether your view be of fields, factories or the street outside. Let us see it and then, if you would like, I invite you to add your writing to the comments section of my blog at www.joparfitt.com/inspirer-blog.html and I’ll be glad to give you my opinion.
It forced me to do it.
I've been resisting running an online writers' circle for, like, forever.
But now that social contact is an impossibility and bearing in mind that my live, monthly writers' circle has been my lifeline for several decades, there was nothing for it. I had no more excuses.
In addition, my diary had always been crazy busy with trips away that meant it was impossible to find a regular day of the week or time of day to hold one. But now we're all working from home and now my diary is free as a bird. It was inevitable.
My writers' circle has gone virtual.
I'm well known for racing headlong into things. I'm a starter, an initiator, an organiser. So, it's no surprise to me that I went from precisely zero online events to three a week in something like three minutes.
There's now a Virtual Writers' Circle on a Monday from 1400-1600 Central European Time and on a Wednesday from 1000-1200 CET AND a Speedwrite Live open event every Friday from 1700-1800 CET. I'm afraid the Wednesday one is full already (I can only take 10 people) but there are some spaces free on the Monday. Friday is open to all, so no restrictions there.
Live Interviews on Facebook Live
I've also taken the bull by the horns and decided to start programming some ad hoc interviews that I'll broadcast live. The first one is with my writing friend, Tom Evans, about beating writers' block. Tom wrote a great book, called Blocks, and so he should know his onions here.
The interview will take place between 1400 and 1500 CET on Thursday 2nd April and will be recorded if you miss it. Join us live on Facebook if you can, via my Jo Parfitt profile page.
To find out more about all my virtual writing events and to sign up please head over to my Jo Parfitt website.
I had an article published in Among Worlds magazine the other day and thought you might be interested to know that the whole issue is dedicated to the art form that inspired the Life Story Jar – the Japanese art of kintsugi. I am adding my article, here, but if you fancy taking a look at the whole magazine (it's a goodie) then the link is here.
It's not what you know
That it's not what you know but who you know is a saying often used in a business context. As an entrepreneur who finds most of my clients through word-of-mouth and referrals, it is vital that I am an active networker.
But did you know that writers need to be networkers too?
Good writers, I believe, do not work in isolation, never showing their work to anyone and rarely leaving their desks. I believe that good writers ‘get out there’ too. They get out there, they meet people and stay in touch with them, recognising that they are an incredibly rich resource.
Inspired by the people I meet
As a blogger and a features writer, I have found some of my best inspiration for the pieces I write by making new friends, attending workshops, joining clubs and going to conferences. Sometimes these people become the focus of an article – sometimes I call upon them, as experts, to comment on a topic I’m writing about. If I hear they have written a book, a play or are performing in some way, then this is an opportunity to review their work and write about that too. For many years, I wrote regular pieces for The Weekly Telegraph, the career section of The Independent on Sunday and a range of local expat publications. I can safely say that the majority of these articles were about people I had met along the way. However, I didn’t meet them randomly. I was pretty strategic about it.
Why do I network?
Let me be clear. I don’t much like the term ‘network’ either. I always think that really it’s just about making friends. It’s about meeting people and remembering them, while helping them to remember you.
The people I meet are a rich resource for my writing for a number of reasons, including:
Staying in touch
Over the years I have collected business cards and contact details of thousands of people who have crossed my path and I've worked hard to try and stay in touch with many of them. Sometimes I may send them the odd email, occasionally I will meet them for a coffee, or have a video chat. Sometimes I will make a point of seeking them out at an event but often I just invite them to sign up to my blog, one of my Facebook pages or social media accounts or this Monthly Inspirer, just so I can stay in touch.
And I always, always, have some to give to the people I meet, however small. A business card, a bookmark with my details on it, a sticker with my address on it. Anything!
Where writers network
Here is a short list of some of the places I’ve met people who have been vital to my work as a writer:
In other words, as a writer, you can meet important people everywhere. A good writer is only as good as their networks so be aware and grateful for the folk that you meet and start taking the next step by staying in touch.
You do have a business card, or something to hand out, don't you?
Jo Parfitt's Monthly Inspirer