Looking through a wardrobe of clothes

Clothes as inspiration for creative writing

My first writing project on the MA in Creative Writing that I’m studying for at Brighton University is a creative collaboration.

I chose to work with an old friend of mine, Sarah Bell, who is a fashion stylist in New Zealand working with vintage clothes. She is in the process of setting up a vintage online store and has started an Instagram feed called Spoilt Victorian Child.

We’re exchanging words and photographs on Instagram private message. It’s been so much fun to be on the receiving end of visual writing prompts chosen by someone else.

Writing can be a lonely business and to have someone send me photos that I can write in response to takes one decision away – what to write about. I thought that choosing an area that I have limited knowledge of – fashion – to write about would open up new lines of thinking for me but what has surprised me most is that old themes have emerged. I’ve just got a new framework through which to express them.

I read somewhere that writers are mistaken in thinking they can choose what they write, that somehow our stories already exist, and our job is to give them a voice. I like that idea. The idea of simply showing up at the page and writing what comes. And vintage clothes have so many possibilities, evoking memories and the stories of people who’ve worn them. Imagining what a character is wearing is a great place to start to get to know them.

As part of the collaboration process, I’m experimenting with form, mixing poetry and prose, from very short so that it can be sent on Instagram message, to longer so that I can make sure what I want to say is clearer and the story that has emerged is given suitable space.

From Sarah’s work, I’m also getting plenty of ideas for my next workshop in the bookshop as the theme is clothes!

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