What is your launch pad?

By the time Christmas Day arrives, I will have listened to A Child’s Christmas in Wales, read by Dylan Thomas (accept no substitutes!), several times. Chances are that Patrick Stewart reading A Christmas Carol will also have played more than once, along with all of my favourite carols.

Word Count: 334                                              Reading time: 1-2 minutes

These stories and music are part of annual rituals that have been in my blood for as long as I can remember. As a child I unquestioningly accepted them as part of the greater Christian teaching, an obligatory part of the WASP culture in which I grew up. Better informed now, I know that many of my adored seasonal traditions predate Christ.

Irish Celts have marked the shortest day of the year at Newgrange for over 5,000 years. Likewise the Druids started observing winter solstice at Stonehenge and the Neolithic Scots at Maeshowe thousands of years before Christ was born. As nights lengthened, Ancient Romans honoured the god Saturn with twelve days of feasting and gift-giving in the festival of Saturnalia. Before the Christian church integrated local customs, Pagans welcomed the sun’s rebirth by decorating with evergreen and holly boughs and toasting spiced cider.

Cultures are grounded in tradition, to comfort people with something solid and certain when life is inherently chaotic and messy. That’s why I love this time of year: it beguiles me into thinking that life has a few mooring points, a place where I can pull in for safe harbour and predictable patterns. It’s there I find renewal, the chance to catch my breath if only for a few minutes, before launching again into the pandemonium of real life.

While I am comforted by the singing of familiar songs and the soft glow in the fireplace, I remind myself not to be lulled into complacency. As Jiddu Krishnamurti said, Tradition becomes our security, and when the mind is secure it is in decay.

Where do you go to restore your creative energy? How do you avoid letting your sanctuary become your prison?


Photo from iStock: Stonehenge Silhouetted by urbancow

When is it time?

From the moment the days start to shrink each September, I look forward to winter’s darkness. Like Andrew Wyeth, I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape. Something waits beneath it; the whole structure doesn’t show.

To me, winter is the season of mystery and wonder, ideal starting points for any story.

Maybe this is why NaNoWriMo is such a successful annual event: as days shorten and shadows lengthen, we are reminded of nature shutting down. Plants die. Birds disappear from the garden. Food becomes scarce for the animals that do stay around. Imminent death is always an excellent theme for fiction.

In February, when the days stretch again and the first flowers of the year start to struggle out of the ground, the increased sunlight will energize me with new ideas. I’ll decide that spring is my season and let the vigorous growth inspire me. When the darling buds of May have blossomed into summer’s beautiful flowers, I’ll probably be persuaded that summer is the very best season to write. By the time autumn creeps in on the morning air in September I’ll be reminded just how much I love the fall and I’ll take long walks in the forest to enjoy the rich smells of the trees shutting down for the year.

However now it’s winter and I’m convinced this is the best season of them all. I loved the snow this week and I’m enjoying the long nights. During the day I look out at the barren garden and imagine what is going on just beyond the limits of my hearing and sight. There is a story brewing out there, I can sense it.

Do you have a favourite season for writing? Or can you sit down any time and work the words?


Picture from Wikimedia Commons: High Park Toronto by paul (dex) bica