Monday, March 25, 2013

Writing prompts

On writing prompts and wine

I attend a poetry group in the town where I live; a group made up of people from diverse backgrounds and skills who share a love of poetry and a desire to improve their knowledge and writing. A most talented mix that every month, without fail, produce beautifully crafted and insightful poems on a pre-set subject – the writing prompt.

At each meeting, members are given a word or theme prompt to write to before the next meeting. I’ve never been too fond of themed writing, actively shying away from it in groups I’ve been associated with in the past, although I’m not sure why I adopted this attitude in the past – perhaps it’s related to those early school essay writing prompts when my brain refused to think outside the square – who knows?

What is more important is that I can certainly see the value in it now. I have become an ardent devotee of writing to prompts and the creative challenge this offers. As a procrastinator of the highest order, I can while away the day/s with writing-related tasks, but doing little to no writing, so the first benefit to me is the discipline of the monthly writing prompt. I have the ‘word’, therefore I must write to it. Some prompts are easier than others are, yet all require deep thought and reflection before I even begin to put words down. This is the planning stage, when ideas are floated, lines tried on for size and the theme determined.  

We can all suffer from writer’s block from time to time and, while I have developed strategies to move beyond the empty screen in front of me, this is so much easier when I have a word to begin with as this tends to stir and inactive brain to action.

Prompts are the inspiration for an absent muse, the wide angle lens of vision, and the key to releasing the teacher within. They give us freedom to write beyond what we know, to explore genres beyond our comfort zones and wander in to unfamiliar territory.

I have found writing to prompts encourages free writing, squashing the inner editor that sometimes smothers the best ideas, metaphors and creativity.

The prompt for this month is wine. Easy, I hear some of you saying, with Bacchanalian visions already running to couplets, however, what is easy for some may prove more difficult for others. 

And, digressing again and thinking of wine, I was reminded of a vignette I wrote a few years ago for Spectrum Magazine and later reprinted in On the Tide.

Perpetual Endurance

The Tamar River winds its way from Bass Strait to Launceston, through a valley of scenic pastures, forests, diminishing orchards and high-yielding vineyards. It flows past small villages nestled on the riverbank; brings life force to picnic areas and water bird and wildlife sanctuaries; and meanders inquisitively into coves and inlets on its twice daily tidal journey.
          Fifty years ago our parents packed us into the back seat of the family car and embarked on a Sunday drive down the Tamar Valley in search of fresh fruit. Suntanned children with sandaled feet, we fought in silence for the privilege of sitting in the window seat, standing back from the door to allow our siblings to enter first, fearful of becoming trapped in the middle of the rear bench seat.  Our parents allocated window seats using a rotation system, in which each child took turns in occupying these valued spaces, but all too often the equity in allotment was at the mercy of easily distracted parental memory and manipulated by an older sibling who could state with veracity that it was their turn. Protests from a displaced child were ignored and, smarting from the victorious smirks of their victors, they would cross their arms in disgust and slump in feigned defeat. From this vantage point, below the range of the rear vision mirror the conquered became the conqueror, using sharp elbows for shoe horn effect, spearing them into the ribs of their siblings while moving rapidly from side to side to mark their middle seat territory. The seating arrangements settled, the family would venture forth, the obligatory car sickness strap bouncing optimistically off the sun-softened tar of the highway.
          The West Tamar valley was a Mecca for apple and pear connoisseurs in those far-off days, with orchards abounding from Legana to Rosevears to Beauty Point. Our parents would chat idly about the merits of Jonathons and Granny Smiths, Ladies in the Snow and Red and Golden Delicious; mentally window shopping at passing orchards. We passed the time playing 'I spy' or some other similar game, until someone cheated, and we were told to keep quiet in the back. Then we would slump into our seats, arms akimbo, and resume the rib poking until the next diversion. Thirty miles in the back of a stuffy car is a long way, particularly when each breath is accompanied by a jab from a brother’s elbow, so it was fortunate that our family had a child who suffered from carsickness, as this brought forced a break in the journey. We would stop at Beaconsfield to visit our grandparents and to clean up the bilious child while the car aired out, before we carried on to our destination; an orchard between Beaconsfield and Beauty Point.
          Although it was only a short drive from Beaconsfield to the orchard of choice, our excitement would rise when we turned off the highway to drive up the long dusty lane, pitted and rutted from tractors and trailers; past rows of apple and pear trees and brown grass thick with windfalls, to the grey walled packing shed beyond. A last warning from our mother to behave ourselves and not to act like hillbillies, dissolved in the cidery air as we fell over ourselves to be the first out of the car.
          Our father always asked how much half a case of apples would be, in a voice that hinted he would buy a full case if the price was right. The orchardist would give us an apple to taste, and we would polish them vigorously against our clothes, competing for the highest gloss, until our mother noticed and gave us the look. She had this knack of being able to frown with one side of her face, the side we could see, while she smiled at the rest of the world from the other side. It was a look that meant ‘stop what you’re doing right now and I’ll deal with you later’, and we were immediately subdued.
          Of course no drive down the Tamar was complete without a visit to the Beauty Point and Inspection Head wharves to see what ships were in and what they were loading. There was an exotic appeal to the towering steel hulls, words on their bows written in a language foreign to us, and we would watch in mesmerised fascination as men and cranes worked in unison to load immense wooden crates onto the ships.
          There was less gusto in the fight for the window seat for the return trip and the drive home was a more sombre affair. We nodded off to the drone of the engine and our parent’s quiet conversation, our elbows rested in an unspoken truce, put aside for another Sunday.
The passing years have brought changes to the valley, the orchards have been replaced by vineyards and wineries, centres for local produce and wine excellence. Families on Sunday drives now seek the best cellar door sales instead of orchards. They visit galleries and studios, to admire the work of local artists and artisans, and woodworkers, potters and artists have replaced fruit packers and packing case makers of days gone by.
          I visited a winery recently and as I watched the enduring travel of the Tamar from the fashionable deck of the restaurant, I pondered the changes half a century had wrought. I had almost reached the conclusion that the only thing that hadn’t changed was the river, when I was distracted by the chatter of children spilling from the back seat of a car parked nearby. Their mother alighted in perfectly groomed poise and looked towards her children and, although the profile presented to me showed a pleasant smile, I could tell by the children’s sudden silence that there were some things that would never change.


  1. Are you doing the A to Z Challenge today -April 1st?

  2. Hi good to be here,
    I have noticed your name at the registration list but i could not find any post here, hey why?
    Hope to meet you at the next challenge
    Keep Blogging
    Good Wishes
    Keep inform
    I am
    Phil @ Philipscom
    An ambassador to A to Z Challenge @ Tina's Life is Good
    And My Bio-blog


For some reason I'm yet to fathom I'm unable to reply to comments left by others so thank you for dropping by and taking the time to read and comment. Merlene