We’re joined today in our Place as Person series by one of the most intriguing writers I know, Kaaron Warren. She has an exercise for us! Except that if you do it her way, you won’t be able to help but transform everything you do into good writing…
Try this exercise; step outside your front door and walk around the block, treating as if it’s the first time you’ve done so. Notice everything; the colour of the house next door, the angle of the rubbish bin, did they take their bins in? The rubbish in the gutter, the depth of the bark of the dog around the corner, where the cat sits, how the sunlight falls, what sort of letterbox? Sounds, smells, open your mouth and taste the air, touch the wall and see if it’s warm.
This is the stuff I love; living place.
What I don’t like are stories so anchored in place they read like sat nav instructions. “She turned left on Sharpe Street, knowing as she did so she would be assailed by that street’s famous pigeon sellers, young boys with birds tied to filthy lengths of rope stolen from the alley at the back of the morgue…” except that’s not what I mean at all. Already Sharpe Street has taken on character, when I didn’t want it to. I can smell the birds, having recently smelled them up close in Sydney’s Hyde Park. The birds there are so tame they’ll take the crumbs from the corner of your mouth. Not that I allowed such a thing. But they did pick the crumbs from my hem. I can use the smell of those birds to make my Sharpe Street real, transport the reader so that their foot will slip on slime, what is it? Bird shit? Phlegm? Blood? And be tempted by the food stalls up the end, the smell of them drawing you away from the pigeon boys, away from the noisy, demanding person Sharpe Street has become.
What I meant to write was this: “He turned left on Sharpe Street, walked one block past Abbott Lane and Dill Alley, then turned right on Small Street. After walking for 22 minutes he came to a crossroad. Turn left, he hears his mother say. Always turn left at a crossroad.” Oi! Where’s she coming from. Idiot woman with her idiot prescriptions for life. Never moved from the town she was born, how can she….” And place intrudes again. I guess what I’m saying is this; if your ‘place’ lives, your stories will, too.
Kaaron Warren is an award-winning author with six works of fiction in print. Her three short story collections are The Grinding House, The Glass Woman and Dead Sea Fruit. Her novels are Slights, Walking the Tree and Mistification. She’s lived in Melbourne, Sydney and Fiji and now lives in Canberra, Australia, with her family.
Find out more about Kaaron on http://kaaronwarren.wordpress.com/