Blog, creative writing

The Pits/Shanti: An exercise in setting

Today I went to an absolutely amazing event at the University of Birmingham called Writing YA Fiction, organised by my friends and coursemates Maddie and Bee. It featured panels and workshops from Alice Oseman, Lauren James, Katharine and Elizabeth Corr and Rhian Ivory, all of whom were fantastic, full of great advice and honest opinions. Among other things, we discussed how to define YA, diversity in publishing, finding an authentic voice for your character, finding inspiration and researching as well as the nitty-gritty of getting an agent, a publishing deal and some semblance of a steady income. I loved it, and I’m so proud of Maddie and Bee for organising it, hosting panels, and generally being impressive human beings.

It was also superbly inspiring. Since finishing uni, I’ve been reacquainting myself with reading (with the help of the aforementioned authors) but I’ve been reluctant to go back to writing. I recently came to the realisation I’d have to start one of my projects from scratch, and it was a daunting prospect to be faced with. Not so anymore! I’m not naively going to claim this event has cured my writer’s block, but safe to say, it’s knocked down a little bit of the wall. Enough for me to squeeze past it, at least for now.

That said, I’d like to share a piece I wrote today after being inspired by a workshop with Lauren James, where we talked about the importance of setting, and where I started to feel excited about my From Scratch project again for the first time in a long time. I hope that you can enjoy reading it half as much as I enjoyed writing it! (Critiques welcome.)

Lee paused, leaning against the roughhewn outer wall of his Hollow. He’d only stepped out a moment ago, but a thin film of sweat had already formed on his forehead, and he took a second to wipe it away, squinting against the sun to scan the sight before him. The Pits.

Its stepped edges rose up on all sides, alternating horizontal planes battered by the high sun and vertical ones cast in a harshly contrasting shadow, so looking at them left dark stripes in Lee’s vision. Once a diamond mine, The Pits spiralled down from the base of the mountain, geometric craters whose regular outer shape belied the strangeness of the city they served as the foundation for.

‘City’ itself was probably a generous term. That suggested planning, infrastructure. At least a proper name. The collection of makeshift homes, walkways and water pipes that made up The Pits looked more like it had happened by accident. A long accident, in fairness, occurring in slow motion as the clusters of shelters filled out the Hollows one by one, but an accident all the same. At times like this, when Lee had to narrow his eyes to look at it, the city seemed like something organic, growing like clinging moss to the harsh edges of the caverns, softening and warping them into a living, breathing thing. This impression was probably helped by the few patches of green that he could see soaking up the sunlight over on the east side of The Pits, cultivated long before he was even born to provide the scarce crops that kept their community sustained. Community. City. Shantytown.

Lee had theorised that was where the name had come from, but there was no way to know for sure. Shanti. It sounded too pretty to refer to their cramped clinging community but like the city, it seemed to have grown spontaneously from The Pits themselves. Children were born knowing it, never mind that they rarely had a cause to speak it aloud. It was The Pits most of the time. A nice, suitably ugly name. Or home. Although there was always something ridiculous in that too. Anyone could see how precarious Shanti was, little more than a randomly arranged stack of scrap metal and twisted cord. It was a house of cards. Even whispering the word home anywhere near it felt like a jinx, an invitation for one strong breeze to send it all collapsing inwards.

It’s not perfect, but it felt good to write, and I desperately hope I can stay excited about this project long enough to make some real progress on it. Here’s to inspiration.

Today’s song is Walk The Moon – Anna Sun













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