Monday, July 26, 2010

'The Write Tools' #23 - Andrea Eames

Welcome to another edition of ‘The Write Tools’: a blog series featuring authors, artists and their favourite tools.

Today's guest is author Andrea Eames. Andrea's debut novel, The Cry of the Go-away Bird will be released in the UK in March 2011 by Harvill Secker (a Random House imprint). Andrea blogs at A Cat of Impossible Colour, and is working on her second novel.

Let’s be honest – as writers, we are slow-moving, endlessly grazing land mammals. Our minds might be active (although on some days they feel pretty slow-moving as well), but, by necessity, we spend a lot of time sitting in one spot.

We don’t need special clothing for the job we do. We do not need to be water-resistant, stream-lined or breathable. We do not need specially-designed shoes or flame-retardant underwear. (Hopefully. Hey, who am I to judge your process?) Really, if we wanted to, we could spend all day in a flannel onesie with a handy bum-flap for toilet breaks.

So who wears 60-year-old floral dresses and high heels while writing? I do.

You can’t forget that you’re wearing them, vintage clothes. They are not built for comfort, as modern garments are. They are built to constrain, enhance and shape. The petticoats itch. The waistbands keep you sitting rigidly upright, back straight and stomach in. The fabric talks to you with rustles, susurrations, the crunch of satin, the scrape of tulle. I can’t work in my pyjamas, or in track pants and slippers. I need to be armoured and painted, ready to face the day. Too-comfortable, sloppy and fuzzy clothes lead to too-comfortable, sloppy and fuzzy thinking. I like to be a little on edge – a little weird. You write because something is niggling at you. Completely contented people do not create. Being slightly uncomfortable, for me, helps. And the more inspiration is lacking, the fancier my dress – which usually means the larger the skirt. If I’m wearing a full crinoline … well, watch out, world.

I buy everything that I wear second-hand, because I love clothes that tell a story. I like to imagine what these clothes did and whom they belonged to before they came to me. I am uncomfortable with things that are too new, too shiny. (I have cultivated a sort of denial when it comes to my Mac – although, having said that, I am much more comfortable with it now that a few of the keys are rubbed bare and the screen is dusty.) I like the worn patches, faint stains and loose threads. The clothes and I understand each other. I accept them for their aging selves and they accept my eccentricities. I hand-wash them and spread them carefully on drying racks in the shade. They put up with me tucking my legs under when I sit, and I put up with the occasional stuck zip and ripped seam. They help me to write, and I keep them alive – caring for them until it’s time for them to move on to a new owner.

A writer’s life is a recycled, passed-down, rumpled and second-hand thing. We are endlessly recycling material that we have absorbed, old pieces of fabric bonded with the slow, reasoned application of stitches. If I had to represent my writing as a garment, it would be something colourful, handmade (with dropped stitches and puckering in places) and rebuilt from scraps of old material.

And, like the 60-year-old clothes I wear, I hope that my writing will age beautifully and give someone else pleasure when it comes time to pass it on.


Christine Claire Reed said...

The man who brought Shambhala Buddhism to the West, Chogyam Trungpa, wrote in his classic text that the decline of the West was happening in proportion to the relaxation of the clothing.

Hyperbole? Maybe. But I agree that the clothing definitely makes the work ethic. :)

Damon Young said...

Definitely hyperbole, Christine!

But I do agree with Andrea. Like a good pen or desk, clothes are tools that can encourage and enrich writing. Of course we can write in a hessian sack if we need to - but quirky, stylish or extra-comfortable clothes can all add something...

genevieve said...

This post has STYLE in spades. Bring on that book!!

Aury said...

Absolutely amazing post Andrea. I love how this series has now got me thinking about my process. Being aware of it could only enhance my writing.

Damon Young said...

G: No one ever praises my style: geek chic.

A: Glad you liked it. Being aware of it doesn't always raise the writing standard. (I can vouch for this.) But it can, at the very least, make it more enjoyable or social - that is, it can enhance the pleasure, or help us to share the tricks/habits/skills with others.

Peter Fyfe said...

C'mon lads - lets show these posh shielas some seriously-revolting-but-v-comfy tracky dak pride! :)