It was common to see people stopping their cars to pet the goats, or feed them grass.
Sadly the goats had a tendency to get out which was not good for the neighbour’s gardens. Neighbours complained and the goats were subsequently removed to other land.
The goats made me remember a friend years ago who bought a goat. The idea was that the goat would keep the grass down so that he didn’t have to spend time mowing. Unfortunately for him, no-one told him goats were not discriminating. The plan was the goat was supposed to eat the grass. Perhaps the goat didn’t know that piece of information and no-one told our friend that most goats will eat just about anything that comes into their vicinity. This means not only grass got munched, but small shrubs and some not so small disappeared. The end to the goat experiment came when the goat ate all the washing off the line. The goat was quickly moved on to a new home on a farm.
Writers tend to be a bit like goats. Now before you take offence at being compared to a goat, let me clarify. Just as goats will eat anything they can clamp their mouths around, writers tend to collect ideas from all different sources. They might come from conversations overheard. I’ve heard some really interesting conversations while waiting in line at the supermarket checkout or while waiting in the doctor's surgery. Stop and listen one time you will pick up a lot about relationships.
Other ideas may come from people you see, or it may come from reading a poem or book by someone else that sparks ideas. Recently while reading a novel about a woman in a coma, it sparked an idea for a poem about memory. I quickly wrote down a rough first draft which I will return to as more stimulus arrives. The seed for a poem or story may come from places visited or even closer to home. A poem I wrote years ago for School magazine was written looking out my study window onto the weeping mulberry tree outside and imagining a child using it as a hiding place. Obviously editors have liked it too as over several years it has been printed once and reprinted twice more by School Magazine. Many a poem of mine has had its inception while walking along the beach near where we live.
I’m currently working on a poem that owes its inception to a grey heron that comes into or backyard from time to time.
Part of being a writer is also reading widely. I’ve been mazed over the years at people who claim they want to write but are not readers. How can we learn what works or what doesn’t unless we read? I’m a great believer in reading not only the type of genre you want to write but reading outside your area of interest. Whenever I go to the library, which is one of my favourite places, I try and include a book that is outside my area of interest or my preferred reading. It might be nonfiction or it might be a different genre of fiction. It might be too do with a topic we know little about.
For example I have just recently started Gawain and the Four Daughters of God by Anne Hamilton. This is a book about mathematics and medieval poetry. Now I admit I am nobody’s idea of a mathematician although I used to love algebra years ago at school, so I anticipate it will take me a while to work my way through this book. Quite simply I don’t have anything near the breadth and extent of knowledge Anne has. But I am willing to learn. I may not know a lot about mathematics and medieval poetry now, but I fully expect to learn a lot as I go along. The information I glean may not be anything I will use in a piece of writing myself. But I believe no knowledge is ever wasted. So it may well be the key that will open up a piece of writing or spark other ideas in a fresh , new way.
I’d love to hear about the impetus for one of your poems or stories. Or maybe you'd like to share how you were able to incorporate some research on a topic you knew little or nothing about into a piece of your writing.
Dale writes fiction and poetry. She has had poems published in literary magazines and newspapers as well as in several anthologies in Australia and overseas. She has a collection of poetry, Kaleidoscope which was published by Ginninderra Press. She is working towards another poetry collection as well as writing another novel. Her latest novel Streets on a Map was published in December 2010.