The writer and the writing. Jo Carroll

In a former life (well, that's what it feels like now) I worked in Child Mental Health, specialising in play therapy with traumatised children. I did all the training, read all the books - but all that learning came down to one thing: it was the relationship between the child and the therapist that did the work. And so the most effective thing I could bring to the work was myself.

I don't need to go into the soul-searching and supervision that went into all that. But it meant that I had to be acutely aware of events and feelings in my own life that I might bring into a session, in order to understand whatever the child might bring.

I was pondering on this last week - as we geared ourselves up for the election and then dealt with the aftermath. Every day I sat down at my laptop and forced myself to write a word or two - having deleted that twaddle that I'd forced myself to write the day before.  I knew the drama of the election was in the way - and normally I'd be able to utilise old skills to put that to one side. But this time it was impossible.

I took a week after the result before I could make any sense of myself. But feelings settle in time. I am appalled by what has happened, but failing to function is not a solution. I am, now, able to accept that decisions will be taken elsewhere and the best I can do for now is to care for those I love and extend a passing hand of kindness to those who might need it.

And I can bring that understanding to my writing. For what do with bring to our writing but ourselves? We may or may not have studied grammar, have read every Creative Writing book in Waterstones, taken every course offered - but still, when we sit at our laptops, it is just us and the words. Just as, years ago, it was me and a child.

For that kindness I can extend to others I must also show to myself. If my thoughts and feeling are in total disarray - how can I expect myself to write? Dredging the unconscious in those circumstances can only produce twaddle, and my cognitions are so awry that editing twaddle would only make it worse. And so I must give myself time.

And then, as the dust settles, I can use the memory of those feelings in my writing. I can pass them on to a character, give them expression on the page, and make more sense of them that I ever did when they swam around in my head. Characters can carry some of our luggage for us.

None of which means I am happy with the election result, nor that I shall walk away from my convictions that things can - and should - be different. But it does make it all easier to live with.

If you want to read of a character that is carrying some of my luggage, try reading The Planter's Daughter.

I wish you all a peaceful Christmas. This season means different things to different people - but it is also a time to be with those we love, and who love us. And a time to remind ourselves that we have more in common than the chasms that sometimes divide us.


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