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Saturday, 10 March 2012

Saffron Strands and Stories

Only once has a story come to me fully formed. I was driving along a stretch of road which had endured road works for about 3 years and suddenly there it was – a gift from the Gods. That story was Witch Wendy Cats and Hats. I sent it to Macmillan as an unsolicited manuscript and they liked it. I was asked to write two more stories about Witch Wendy and went on to write two more books for Macmillan, Pirate Polly and Princess Posy.

Apart from Witch Wendy, the rest of my stories have come to me in strands of ideas. If I’m not vigilant and allow myself to be too distracted by everyday events, those ideas can float away like gossamer or be too easily dismissed.  Recently,  I made a paella. As I dropped the delicate strands of saffron into some hot stock I thought about the way my stories evolve. I am not a planner. I wish I was but I’m not.  Instead I have a basic idea or a character and I have to let it marinate like those saffron strands. I try not to push or pull the idea, just to allow it to sit comfortably at a point in my brain where I am aware of it but not obsessed. This tests my patience. I want to hurry up the process  but I have learned from experience that doesn’t produce the best results.  

It takes four thousand crocus stigmas to produce one ounce of saffron and I wonder how many ideas it takes to make a story. I’m glad I don’t know. It would be too daunting if you measured the amount of time and energy spent just thinking about your story  before you’ve even begun to  add on all the time spent getting it down on paper, editing and re-writing.

 I can’t imagine a time when I won’t write as it is such a valuable part of my life. The saffron crocus has always been valuable too. At certain points in history, measured ounce for ounce they have been more valuable than gold and in the Middle Ages saffron was sometimes used instead of gold leaf to illuminate missals. The stigmas are the most stunning and intense orangey red.  Orange is the colour of joy, confidence and sociability. Despite occasional frustrations my writing does give me great joy and over the years I have grown in confidence. As for sociability – well some of the nicest people I know are writers. Red too is a strong and symbolic colour. It is the colour of passion and one legend states that Zeus and Hera made love so passionately that the ground upon which they lay burst open with crocus. I love that image.

Passion, joy, confidence, sociability, illumination – these are mouth-watering words and they are ones which I believe should play a large part in a writing life.

At the moment the park is full of crocus and although they are not the saffron crocus (which is Crocus sativus, the Autumn crocus) they are stunningly beautiful. The flowers remind me that whether your stories come to you in strands or blocks, whether you plan or whether you don’t the most important thing is that it works for you.