Monday 25 September 2017

The Writer's Busman's Holiday : Natascha Biebow

In his recent blog post about how many illustrators like to sketch when they're out and about and on holiday, Garry Parsons asked: "Now I’m left wondering if authors do this too? Do they sit on the beach on holiday in Minehead conjuring poetry, psalms or haiku just for pleasure? I’m curious!"

Intrinsic to our craft is the fact that authors, like illustrators, never really take time off - our minds are constantly finding ideas and fine-tuning characters, plots and story arcs. On holiday, we sit on airplanes, trains, diners, caf├ęs and at the in-law's dinner table listening to dialogue, experiencing situations and new scenery that will very likely, one day re-emerge in our books.

A few of the bloggers in the Den have commented that they carry around a notebook and jot down ideas and snippets that will perhaps later become books. Others, said they have a go at drawing too. I do both those things, but find that the notebook musings come second to a whole bunch of other activities (see below).

Being freelance comes with all kinds of challenges to do with when you are actually on a designated holiday and when you're supposed to be working. But I do try to take time off. Because it's important to just 'be' and let new vistas come and refresh the page. I love being close to nature and walking.
I took this snap on a holiday in RSA to celebrate my mum and my birthdays
I am not yet lucky enough to count myself as a full-time writer, and so I find myself actively having to carve out time to write. Having recently embarked on picture book non-fiction– and then actually having sold something in this genre – I discovered that I can suddenly spend my holiday time researching all kinds of seemingly useless information in the name of being a writer.  This is actually really quite fun.

So, this summer, whilst on holiday in Pennsylvania, I:

The mini-golf course was filled with unexpected hurdles . . .
- played mini-golf with my family in a place called Bird-in-Hand (boy, this shows up personalities that make for good characters!)

- went to the library and checked out a dog-eared young fiction biography of Elizabeth Blackwell,  first woman doctor so I could see if it had any nuggets in it (and because she's a lady Judy Moody admires and I knew nothing about)

- read the fascinating story of William Kamkwamba, who changed his people's world by inventing and building a simple windmill with scraps, despite the famine and because of the village library (and that his story is now a bestselling sensation because of a blogger)

- studied a whole bunch of non-fiction picture books and studied how other people who get paid to do this stuff do it well

- watched a few episodes of Frasier on TV (to research humour of course)

Staring contest from 'Frasier' -Eddie wins
- spent several hours in the hammock reading Judy Moody, Hank Zipzer and several other American young fiction series (again, for research of course)

- visited the Crayola factory to see how they make crayons in real life (I know, how cool is that!)

- spent copious hours the floor of the children's section of Barnes & Noble and any other bookshop my family would let me near . . .

I also:

- hiked in beautiful Valley Forge National Park with the dogs (and worked out plot problems and suchlike)

- bought a vivid set of Crayola pastels and swirled some backgrounds for my new author website

- was lucky enough to be invited by my lovely new agent to a weekend retreat in Vermont to hang out with fellow clients. Sitting by the peaceful riverside, we each shared a work in progress with the eight other retreaters. Though I found this daunting because I'd never met any of them before, it was a very useful experience and the feedback invaluable. We ate, laughed and hiked, plus discovered that Victoria Wells Arms is a master chef.

- oh and sometimes, I wrote. Yes, when I'm on holiday, I can do that. 

What did you do on your summer holiday?


Natascha Biebow
Author, Editor and Mentor

Blue Elephant Storyshaping is an editing, coaching and mentoring service aimed at empowering writers and illustrators to fine-tune their work pre-submission. Check out my small-group coaching Cook Up a Picture Book coursesNatascha is also the author of The Crayon Man (coming in 2019), Elephants Never Forget and Is This My Nose?, editor of numerous award-winning children’s books, and Co-Regional Advisor (Co-Chair) of SCBWI British Isles. 



Garry Parsons said...

Sounds like a great holiday Natascha. I agree, the creative mind never really switches off and is always on the lookout for fuel for inspiration. What interests me about your blog is the way the urge to make things, wether that is through illustration or writing or any other media, has a natural, unpredictable, intuitive process all it's own and can lead you to all sorts of creative possibilities.
As a joke I once mentioned to a book shop owner that what I needed was a log cabin in Vermont and remarkably she replied " I have one, you can stay there!" So that autumn I went.
I spent the whole week searching for Moose and wrote and drew nothing!

Lucy Rowland said...

Thanks for this post, Natascha. I find I dont usually do much writing while I'm on holiday but I do loads of thinking, taking things in and observing and then suddenly, once I'm home again, that's when the ideas come!

Lucy Rowland said...

Ooh I would love to stay in a log cabin in the mountains!

Natascha Biebow said...

That made me laugh - how lucky to spend a whole week in a log cabin finding the muse. Thanks for sharing!

Yes, you're right, I can never stop making stuff.

Natascha Biebow said...

Yes, we're constantly storing up for later. Funny to see how it all comes out in the mix.

Jane Clarke said...

Yes, I agree, it all stores up for later. I didn't start writing until I was 40. Prior to that holidays were just holidays - but all the remembered experiences creep into my stories. Now I'm more conscious that everything has the potential to spark an idea.

Paeony Lewis said...

For me, I find holidays inspire poetry. I'll see something and try to think of a new way to describe it or express an emotion. My phone is full of snippets of poetry and when my daughter was young we'd play games that revolved around thinking up interesting ways to describe what we saw (I wasn't a pushy mum - sometimes I just wanted to daydream but she insisted we play the game!).

Shelterd Life said...

This is one of the most astonishing venues that I've attended for my numerous experiences. These LA event venues are spot on with the decorations. The overall experience was amazing! Had a fun and comfortable time here.