Beginnings


by Jo Hemmant

An unfocused thought, a memory, an imagining, the mind closing in on fragments, shards, teasing them out so you can start to arrange them, word by note like a musical score, like stained glass.

 

Writing came about because of the move from a hunter-gatherer to an agrarian society. Farmers needed to keep records of land, animals, grain and so the first scratchings emerged. It has evolved very far from these origins but is essentially still an accounting, of the writer, of their vision of the world.

 

Language surrounds us, defines us, is how we express our selves, how we try to decode the universe. When I visualise it, it is as water flowing, meaning always and endlessly deferred, passing through the connections, the spaces between words and moving on, understanding contextual. And this deferral means that there can be no endings as such. Yet still the records are made, and they come out of two very different beginnings -- origin and starting point.

 

The origins of the pieces we write are tied up with our own origins, histories, tribes. I am of Irish descent, born and brought up in the North of England in a redbrick milltown, working class, Catholic, flat vowels and colourful language, skenns like a bag of whelks, you know what thought thought. My family is noisy, forthright, funny, language is used to communicate everything from love to political diatribes. And not only do they talk, they read, voraciously and this passion for books was passed on: I have always preferred fictions to realities, the storyscapes, the dramas, the myths, outside flat grey skies and acid rain, inside Austen, Fitzgerald, Eliot; no contest.

 

Later I moved out into the world beyond, down South, Europe, the Far East, back to London; inflection. Reflection: memory is often the catalyst in writing, a looking back at these origins perhaps for an understanding of who we are, perhaps to manufacture a new identity. And if we are spinning fictions, myth and metaphor are as telling as the truths we 'create', though harder to fathom.

 

But what of starting points? Before I begin writing, I read, poetry usually, finishing up with something of mine that I like so the voice is my own. Occasionally pieces come out whole,

c-section newborns, little struggle involved, and when this happens I am bemused but grateful. Mostly though it is process, practise, craft. The search for the idea, the sift, and then the spark, that feeling of flying, your mind moving intuitively, the right words fired at you from a vast, whirring database, alchemy on rare days.

 

So the piece is finished and then? If our origins as writers are rooted in reading, it is not hard to see that the reader brings their own understanding to our work and this dynamic is ultimately more significant than what the writer intends. The full stop that closes poem, short story, novel is the real beginning, not the blank page marked by the first stroke of the pen.