On a personal note: Why I Write

A collection of words, by my hand and others.

I was asked to join a writer's blog hop by a very special writer, Katrina Kenison, author of a book I love, Magical Journey. I have to answer four questions about my writing process, which seems easy enough until you get stuck into it. Once you do, a magical journey of another kind transpires. I have Katrina to thank for mine and a journey it has been. I encourage you to hop over to her blog here to read about her writing process. I am going to pass the pen and paper at the end of this post to three other writers I admire..but before I do, as is often the way at Collage of Life,  I would like to tell you a story.

This above all else: to thine own self be true..

At the age of 52, in 2009,  I sat in a cozy little office in Auckland, New Zealand with a tissue box on my lap, pulling one sheet after anther to dab away the tears. I was face to face with a therapist who I was hoping would give me the answers to life. We were moving..and I wasn't sure how I was going to do it..again. I loved our life, our home, our friends...after four years, I was attached to New Zealand and it was pulling on my heart strings to leave, much the same as it did when we left Australia and America. I was betwixt and between, sad to leave New Zealand, excited to move to England..the story of my expat life, betwixt and between one home/country and another.

We met several times, taking it thread by thread, one strand of complexities after another. Moving house, moving children, saying good-bye..it was intense. At our last meeting, with a clear path before me, she suggested I do something for me, something I had been enjoying for the past 30 years but took for granted. She suggested I write beyond the bedside journal. I had been finding solace in journals, writing about the ups and downs of life, from the age of 16. She suggested I start writing the next chapter of my life..outside the journal.

You know that feeling, when the light bulb flickers on and takes you out of a deep sleep? That is what it felt like when she made that suggestion and I could not get out the door fast enough.  I marched right over to the local stationary shop, bought a journal, one that was different from the rest and perched myself on the tip of a chair at a local cafe. I popped in my ear plugs to get the pen flowing and started to write, shaping the thoughts that stirred within.

Fast forward five years, from New Zealand to England to this morning in Saigon. I took that journal off my shelf and read the first statement I wrote...

Question: What will I write about? 
Answer: Life. 

Collage of Life
My first post, shaping the thoughts that stir within. here

And now to my blog hop questions...

"Write the kind of story you would like to read. 
People will give you all sorts of advice about writing, 
but if you are not writing something you like, 
no one else will like it either."
Meg Cabot

What am I working on?
I admit, I blinked when I looked at this question. Should I be honest or work my way around the words? I decided to be honest.  I write whatever inspires me at the moment. This past week it was about the renovations for Tahilla Farm, secrets tucked between the pages and channelling Mary Poppins. I never really know the who, what, where, when and how of it all..the words just come and often times at the most frustrating of times (like the shower).

I have blog posts in draft that I wander back to frequently and and hope to do in earnest one day... Our life under the Mango Tree, Discovering Madame Chiang in Taiwan, Time travelling through Myanmar, Whispering to Stone in Cambodia, Finding Winston Churchill in Morocco and A Country Gardener Travels to England. I have travelled to each place, taking photos, to bring the story to life. Travel writing takes time and deliberation, a skill I have not mastered yet.  It is as much a journey as the travels themselves. The photos are easy. I travel over and over again in my photos...I often wonder if once the words are out, will that mean the journey is over? Perhaps the therapist could help me with that one.

I have two blogs but once upon a time I had five (here, here, here and here). I have worked over the past months, collecting posts from each to transfer to an ebook of my personal favourites. It will be a collection of the posts I poured heart and soul into, the ones that resonate. I am also encouraging my husband, Mr. H. to write with me to create a family ebook of stories and photograph for our children. A lasting treasure for each of them.

"The mind I love must have wild places, 
A tangle orchard where dark 
damsons drops in the heavy grass, 
An overgrown little wood, 
The chance of a snake of two,
A pool that nobody's fathomed the depth of,
And paths threaded with flowers"
Katherine Mansfield 

How does my work/writing differ from others in its genre?
I make it personal and gravitate to others who do as well. I like to know what people are thinking, I look to them for inspiration. I hope to do the same in return. My blogs are a personal memoir, a collection of stories, photographs and thoughts on our life over the past 26 years. I call our life the Expat Express...never certain of where and when it will stop next.  I write about the nomadic Mr. H and my four children living between Australia and America. I write about our home in Vietnam, Chateau Mango and our home, Tahilla Farm, at the foot of the Monadnock mountain range in New Hampshire.  My life is like the words in Katherine Mansfield quote..it has wild places and often feels like a tangled orchard. I use my writing to work my way through the overgrown little wood and yes I pass a snake or two as I go and much more. Sometimes I feel like I am wading in a pool that no one has fathomed the depth of and then the words flow, the responses come, and I see a beautiful path threaded with flowers. That is my Collage of Life. I write to tell the tale.

" I have learned that if one advances confidently 
in the direction of his dreams, 
and endeavours to live the life he has imagined, 
he will meet with a success 
unexpected in common hours." 
Henry David Thoreau

Why do I write what I do?
I write to ease the conversations in my head, to let the director (me) take charge and say enough is enough, out you go. It is a gentle conversation that turns into blog posts and then onto directions I never thought possible. The best direction by far has been Tahilla Farm. It started with a conversation on my blog about dream houses. It turned into wonderful connections, the life changing kind. When I write, I write for the fellow expat, traveller, parent..someone in the throws of life, like me. I look for kindred spirits in words and I find them. Countless friends in pen and person have resulted from Collage of Life. They have woven themselves into my life in the most wonderful ways. It keeps me writing. 

 My music playlist here..a parting gift from
me the magical few who made my life 
in New Zealand so very special.

How does my writing process work?
I like quiet spaces and knowing that an interruption is not lurking outside my door. Most times, a few words come to mind and I am off. I grab the closest thing to me to remember the thought, my phone, journal, sales receipts, boarding tickets, books, magazines, postcards and often tape record my thoughts. Music is the soul of life and is everything to me when I write. It sparks the ideas and keeps them flowing.  My iTunes playlist, 'Create' , helps me to zone out and focus. If I have that, I can write anywhere. When I travel, I use my laptop. At home, I write on my iMac in my office and stay connected with Dropbox. 

Through the writing process, I sometimes stop and look for inspiration in my 'writing' library. If you enjoy writing and are looking for further inspiration, I highly recommend....

The Elements of Style by William Strunk
On Writing Well by William Zinsser
The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
Bird by Bird by Anni Lamott
Poemcrazy by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge
Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark
Old Friend From Far Away by Natalie Goldberg
Life is a Verb by Patti Digh
Your Life is a Book by Kevin Quirk
If You Want to Write by Brena Ueland

That's me...that's the why and how of my writing. You are in for something special next week, because Pamela, Heather and Michelle will respond in kind. These three ladies inspire me day in and day out. I mentioned kindred spirits earlier on and feel I have it in each of them. Pamela writes from the American South with a gentility and passion that I have long admired. Heather writes from Arles with a camera in hand as she explores her corner of Provence. She has wonderful taste in music, one of the many things I love about her blog. Michelle is an American living in England and there to stay. I found Michelle's blog when I first moved to England and have followed it ever since. She is attempting her first novel and shares the process on her blog. I love when she does. Lastly, Katrina who is the reason for this longer than usual post and I am thrilled that she asked me. The small world that it is, Katrina lives only a few miles from Tahilla Farm. I always feel there was magic at work with that connection..the magic in the written word. 

Pamela Terry began writing her blog, From the House of Edward, in 2008 as a break from her twenty year interior design business. She soon found that she enjoyed writing as much or more than design. Selections from her blog were published in book form in 2012. Pamela shares her life life with her husband, (known as The Songwriter on her blog), her big black sheepdog mix, Apple, and her big white sheepdog mix, Edward, for whom her blog is named. She is currently at work on both a novel and a children's book.

Heather Robinson is a travel writer, blogger and amateur photographer currently living in Arles with her companion and their two Golden Retrievers. She never dreamed of living in Provence, it just happened that way. Initially, she received an MFA in acting from the Yale School of Drama and was prepared to spend her life swooning dramatically for Mr. Shakespeare in the rough jungle of the Big Apple. But, then she met Remi, a handsome professional photographer and moved to Paris instead. Together, they formed a journalist-photographer team and started traveling far and wide for such French magazines as Grands ReportagesFigaro Magazine and Le Monde des Religions. Her travel articles have since been published in magazines in Europe, Africa and Asia. Drawn by a fascination for les vielles pierres (the old stones), the couple made the move south in 2005 and since October 2010, Heather has focused her efforts on writing and  photographing the blog Lost in Arles, where she has gathered a truly fantastic community of loyal readers and friends. And while she may have been somewhat of an accidental inhabitant of la belle Provence, the region has been a welcoming host and has quietly claimed Heather's nomadic heart. 

Michelle Garrett is an American writer making a home in Britain for over 20 years. She lives with her husband, daughter, three cats and four chickens in an old pub on a Roman Road at the top of a hill in Essex, with views of rolling fields and ancient hedgerows.
 As a freelance writer and professional blogger she has written about her expat life and about practical tips for enjoying a life overseas for magazines, websites and international company projects. She also writes about long-term expat life on her own site, The American Resident, and more recently has included articles on her learning curve as a novelist. Michelle is currently          working on a psychological suspense novel set Britain, with an American expat as a protagonist.

With thanks to Katrina for asking me join along, it has been a wonderful journey!

Katrina Kenison has traced the seasons of a woman’s life through three books: Mitten Strings for God: Reflections for Mothers in a Hurry (2000) now considered a classic for parents of young children, The Gift of an Ordinary Day: A Mother’s Memoir (2009), and Magical Journey: An Apprenticeship in Contentment (2013). In the process of writing a memoir, she says, “I’ve learned to celebrate the beauty of ordinary days and to savor the pleasure of small moments well lived.” Before becoming an author, Katrina spent many years working in publishing, first as an editor at Houghton Mifflin Company in New Haven, New York, and Boston, and then, from 1990 through 2006, as the series editor of the best-selling The Best American Short Stories anthologypublished annually by Houghton Mifflin-Harcourt. She co-edited, with John Updike, The Best American Short Stories of the Century. Katrina is also the author, with Rolf Gates, of Meditations from the Mat: Daily Reflections on the Path of Yoga. With Kathleen Hirsch she co-edited an anthology of short stories about motherhood, Mothers: Twenty Stories of Contemporary Motherhood. Her writing has appeared in O: The Oprah MagazineWoman’s DayReal Simple,Country LivingFamily CircleRedbook, and other publications. A Reiki practitioner, gardener, writing and yoga teacher, Katrina lives with her family in rural New Hampshire. Her YouTube video for The Gift of an Ordinary Day has had well over two million views.  She blogs weekly at http://www.katrinakenison.com.

I will leave you here and say farewell for now.
There is more packing to be done for my flight tomorrow. 
I took the easy escape today, by writing to you. It was fun!
I will write again later in the week from Tahilla Farm.

In the meantime...
Could you tell me if you write and what inspires you?
Would love to know!

Until then....
Enjoy your week!
Happy Reading and Writing!

Jeanne xx
You can write to me: jeannecollageoflife@gmail.com

From Chateau Mango in Vietnam to Tahilla Farm in New Hampshire
8,827 miles, 22 hours flying, 1.5 hours driving and worth every minute.

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