Who are these people? What are their stories?
A refugee clutching a photo album...a '50s New Yorker with a snarl and a gun...the horizontal collaborator, the screaming baby, the jigsaw lady...toothless French woman with the cat on her head...the beaming Paralympian and the surly drunkard at a christening. The slum boy sleeping in shopping bags, the Victorian awkward bride, the Japanese street stylists, and the Ku Klux Klan.
We don't know who they are, but we can play with who we want them to be. Using pictures as a springboard into character, place and plot is an important part of The Writing Space that I run twice a week in Lewes as part of Lewes Short Story Club. Each session presents a circuit of tables with different activities, prompts and resources to generate new ideas and take your writing in different directions.
For me, imagining into the stories of these strangers is an act of compassion. It is one of the greatest honours of writing: the opportunity to flesh out someone's existence, to create richly faceted and closely observed portraits of people whose voices need to be heard. Fiction as a mouthpiece for every human soul.
Speaking at a Word Factory Short Story Salon at Waterstones Piccadilly, David Almond once said that when you start writing a character you are on the outside of them; the art is getting closer and closer until you inhabit them and can present a compassionate portrait. Compassion in literature is really important to me, both as a reader and a writer. If all we've got are stories, we need to honour the stories of others and treat them as a precious commodity.
Would you like to come along to The Writing Space? It takes place in Lewes every Tuesday evening 6-8pm and every Thursday morning 10-11.30am. The Thursday group particularly welcomes parents/carers with young children, who can write while their little distractions are looked after. For more information, sign up to the Lewes Short Story Club newsletter.