Friday, 24 July 2009

The Path to A Simpler Life...

This week guest blogger Lucy McCarraher, co-author of 'A Simpler Life,' talks about the childhood dreams that led her to a simpler life.
When in “A Simpler Life” we were writing about the value of revisiting childhood dreams, I thought I’d better go back and check my own. There they were, three of them: the earliest and most enduring was to be A Writer; a later one was to be A Psychologist (aged 11, I had Lucy from “Peanuts” with the caption, “The Psychiatrist Is In” on my bedroom door); and in my teens I was definitely going to be An Actress.

I’ve never been a psychologist or acted professionally, but every job I’ve had has involved writing: journalist, editor, reviewer, script writer… even when I moved out of the media and into researching parenting, children and families, it was still about presenting the material in compelling and comprehensible ways. As a consultant in work-life balance, working with blue chip and public sector organisations, I battled with the deficiencies of business jargon – but enjoyed learning to blur the boundaries between corporate-speak and campaigning rhetoric in the interests of both productivity and people.

For me, language is thought; the medium and the message. A restricted vocabulary diminishes the ability to think broadly, to process rich and subtle emotions; poor grammar undermines clarity and creates confusion; cliché kills creative conversation.

When Macmillan signed up my first novel I found myself in a whole new linguistic arena – one where there were no obvious restrictions, and I had to develop a writing style that would stand as my own “voice”. What I also found was that in fiction I could combine the roles of all my youthful dreams. Not only did I finally feel like a “real” writer, but I also had the chance to develop psychologically authentic characters with realistic dialogue that I acted out in my head as the plot progressed.

Three novels later, I felt I’d become reasonably proficient as a fiction writer and was starting a fourth about several women addicted to different self help manuals in their quest for a wonderful life. I’ve always enjoyed self help books and had even written one, so reading more for research purposes was a pleasure. But as I read, I began to feel that none of them quite hit the spot – not only in terms of content but in the way they were written. The authors were specialists in their fields, but not professional writers. My plans changed to writing not a novel about self help, but a novel self help book.

Neurolinguistic Programming tells us that using enriched language which appeals to all the senses is the most powerful form of communication. I brought the experience of plot and structure, depictions of thought and feeling, engagement through imagery and metaphor to My Wonderful Life, along with my background of social research and report writing.

Luckily, though, Annabel Shaw, a real psychologist, agreed to collaborate. We have a brilliantly complementary working relationship, in which she is in charge of evidence and research while I get to rewrite and edit our manuscripts. But whenever I’m tempted to stray into the realms of fiction or hyperbole, she hauls me back to the scientific straight and narrow. And I am never, ever allowed to compare the brain to a machine or computer! -LM

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