Friday 17 February 2012

Words fail me

Words fail me so often.  It's why I often turn to music. But then, also to image.

There’s a theory that people filter the world through a dominant sense. That, while most of us use all our senses, there tends to be one which comes more naturally, which elbows the others for first place. So we are generally visual, auditory or kinaesthetic in the way we relate to the world.  I first came across this concept when I was taking some post-grad linguistics courses and looking at how our primary sense mode affects learning language. And, on that score I’m highly visual.  I need to see words, as well as hear them.  When I was at junior school we learned French purely by listening to it. I was rubbish.  When we went up to senior school we shifted to learning the old-fashioned way, with books. I flew. Schools could do well by finding out how their pupils perceive the world and adapting learning programmes for them – it would save a lot of heartache.
Anyhow. It’s probably why I dislike the phone so much. I can’t rely on visual clues.  And I hate audio-books with a passion. 
Adrian, on the other hand, is purely auditory. He often barely notices how things and people look. The visual is totally unimportant to him.  He’ll happily listen to spoken word for hours.

Sight is sensual to me. When I write (fiction) I see the scenes playing out as if I were at the cinema. A beautiful image will stop me clean in my tracks, take my breath away – as much as a piece of music, or a single chord, or a note (with all its over and undertones). As much as a a touch, a sensation (affecting not just the place touched but vibrating through body and space); as much as a taste (with all its various subtleties and innuendos). Yeah, I guess I feel all the senses pretty acutely.

But images. I grab them, I hoard them, I sink into them. I have journal upon journal brimming with images, all carefully cut out and pasted.  And every time I write a book I have a mood board, a treasure map of images on the wall in front of me. It’s not so much about how the actual people and places look (because I know that, clear as day, in my mind - I don't need other representations) but about the mood, the feel, the atmosphere of the book.  One of the comments from the editor at HarperCollins who looked at Walker struck home. She talked about a novel having a ‘palette’ and that some of the colours of Walker’s palette didn’t ring true.  And she was right.  I had taken on board early advice from Philip Hensher about the book and included garish day-glo colours into what was always a book of moss and slate, green and grey.  I hadn’t followed my visual eye.  Needless to say, I took out the imposters.

A short while ago I discovered Pinterest. Thanks to Zoe. And oh my! This was what I had been craving. A place to squirrel away all the stunning images I find as I wander the web.  So, if you want to see some of the visual inspiration for my book Walker, take a look here.  If you want to see what was playing in my mind when I wrote my beloved Samael, look here.  Right now I’m back to working on Tanit, the sequel to Samael. It’s proving a tough one to write – but then true love never runs smooth, eh?  And the third one is coming together in images, even if the words are a long way away.

It's a place of dreams. Of beauty and pain. Of other worlds. 

So, yes, I like Pinterest, I really do. Sure, you can follow and be followed, but there isn’t the whole ‘in your face’ thing of other social media. And it seems like their policies are sound and they are (for now, at least) pretty human.  There’s no advertising.  And the Pin button grabs the URL of the place where you find the image, so the artist or photographer gets credit.  As an image resource it’s incredible. Because so far it has tended to appeal to those of a visual bent (the place is crammed with artists, photographers, fashion bods, architects, designers and so on), you don’t get anywhere near the tacky crap you get from the usual Google image search. In fact, sometimes, it’s almost sweetly naïve – for example, tap in ‘lust’ and you get a whole pile of images of shoes and sofas!  

But is it useful? Said a friend. 'Do we really need another form of social media?'  Well. I suppose it depends what you want to do with it. Could you use it as another of marketing for your 'product', she asked. Sure. I see people selling stuff there - jewellery, design, art. But really, use your imagination. If you're, say, a holiday letting business, you could entice with images, not just of the property but of the lifestyle surrounding it.  It's a god's gift if you want to seduce, entrance, attract those with a strong visual sense. Hence all the 'lust' - people make wishlists on Pinterest. And I bet they buy. 

Yeah, I put up a board for my books but I have to say that wasn't really my main reason for joining.  I'm just head over heels in love...with images.  
But then again, I wonder. It's so personal. It's like revealing your soul. Far more than words. I dunno. This might be a short-lived love affair. But for now... it's rather beautiful. 

Anyhow.  How do you perceive the world? If you write, do you use image?  As well as words.  And what are the images that stop you in your tracks?  


Nicola Vincent-Abnett said...

When I'm writing I have only the images in my head, and no sounds to distract me, either. And yet, in another incarnation, I'm an artist and an art collector. I sit in front of a window, to work, looking out on a yard. The room I sit in has more than a dozen pictures hanging on the walls, as well as bookshelves and objects, and a pretty decent hi-fi, but my back is firmly turned on them.

I dislike being distracted from the experiences in my head as I'm writing through them, and my mind is full of sights and sounds, smells, tastes and sensations as I work.

Potty Mummy said...

I've only just picked up on pinterest - I'm hoping that sometime soon I'll work out how to use it properly...

Alison Cross said...

I'm desperate to keep away from Pinterest. It seems to be addictive and I'm bad enough with FB and Twitter as it is lol!

*sticks fingers in ears and whistles* :-)

Ali x

Sue Ransom said...

Like Alison I don't dare look at Pintrest - I already lose great chunks of my few precious writing hours each day to Twitter.
When I write I see the whole thing in my head too, and I can have no distractions. I write on commuter trains where conversation is frowned upon and the world slips by in the dark outside.

Milla said...

I'd joined and then never really bothered investigating, fearing a sea of kittens and naffo cute crap. Big-eyed homemade bears sprawled on a friends forever blanket etc. But, on your say so, I'll toddle off.

Andrew. said...

I often use music. In fact, music can be the inspiration alone for me. But, well, it can be anything, a sight, a sound, a smell, a memory, one thing sparks off another. To be honest, I rarely sit down to write with a idea to write, say, a story about a man on a bus, or a crime story, or about the nature of time/space. What I do is see/hear/smell/touch/taste something and this starts a chain reaction... off I go.

Andrew. said...

I often use music. In fact, music can be the inspiration alone for me. But, well, it can be anything, a sight, a sound, a smell, a memory, one thing sparks off another. To be honest, I rarely sit down to write with a idea to write, say, a story about a man on a bus, or a crime story, or about the nature of time/space. What I do is see/hear/smell/touch/taste something and this starts a chain reaction... off I go.

Ashen said...

Hmm,I've always been attentive to my dreams. Of late they have become more fragmented. I often wake with a surreal image, a word, a smell, a sound, a gesture. Lately even website pages. Now that's freaky and makes me wonder what I'm allowing to imprint itself in my mind.

Fennie said...

Yes, I have to see words written down - and you've described exactly the way I write too. I see scenes as though in the cinema. Strangely enough I've been reading the play by Eileen Atkins based on the correspondence between Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf. Virginia Woolf describes a situation not a thousand miles from what you have described here. Having a novel written 'but for the words' and then drawing out the words as though they were some kind of thread and she were spinning the book rather than writing it. A lovely analogy! Like Mozart, I suppose, (or like Peter Schaffer's idea of him) with the music all composed in his mind and everything else just being scribbling.

Ashen said...

... spinning the book rather than writing it ... love this, Fenny.

Jane, I'm impressed by your pinboard. Must look into pinterest. My son recently joined. Wonder about copyright. The pics on my website, for example, are usually my own.

D.J. Kirkby said...

Hi Jane
When I write I use music much in the same way you use visuals. I wrote most of novel number two to two tracks by Birdy! My poor husband nearly had to resort to wearing earplugs.

Anonymous said...

Rarely have I met anyone with such facility with the written word. They may fail you verbally, but when it comes to committing them to paper, you are a master :)

Your Pal, Wispy