Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Window of Insight #3: Maureen Crisp

Last week, I mentioned the FaBo collaborative storytelling project created by a collection of New Zealand authors. Today it goes live, and to celebrate, I have some insight into the creative process of one of the authors, Maureen Crisp. Maureen's book Bones, is a story about twins who must solve the mystery of the human bones their dog buries in their garden.

1. What got you interested in writing Bones? What other kinds of stories do you write?

I have always had a quirky mind. Short little scenes play themselves out in my mind. One day in my mind popped a dog carrying a large bone. He trotted through my mind and disappeared. I asked myself what kind of bone was that...and the answer Human popped in.

Well I had to write the story to find out all about it. Sometimes ideas can be shelved or forgotten, sometimes you know that if you don’t tease them out they will give you nightmares or nag at you. Bones was one of those. I didn’t want any nightmares. (lol)

I started writing 50 word readers to teach myself to write. They are the hardest to write because you have limited vocabulary and you need to make them funny. Then I started writing short plays so I could learn dialogue. Then I began to write longer pieces. Bones was originally 6000 words. It went to 10,000 for a competition then I had to rip 4000 words out before it was accepted for publication.

2. How does the creative process fit into your work?

Starter ideas pop in at any time. However when I’m in the middle of a project I find that if I can get a period of sustained quiet I can get back into the project and put myself into the scene and then I find out what happens next. The same thing happens in teaching, I need a period of quiet to plan what I am going to do...then into the craziness of teaching and learning with big bunches of children we go...

3. Where do you find sources of inspiration?

I am always imagining the next scene in my mind in anything I witness as I go through my daily life...sometimes they are cartoonish happenings...sometimes they are dialogue tags...I eves drop and file away ideas and situations in my mind. I find these come back to me when I am in the middle of a sustained period of writing.

4. What role do you feel that creativity plays in your life (teaching, parenting)?

I find it a release. It acts as a weather vein for my mental well being. I find that if I am feeling low I can’t get myself motivated to sit down and write. When I am working with children I borrow their creative energy using it in a theatrical way which then feeds back to them. This means that in our house occasionally there is silliness on the part of the mother...every day you must is good for the soul. So I do my part to make sure that there are opportunities for my children to laugh.

5. What is the most challenging part of the creative process for you?

Sitting down and concentrating. I have to force myself some days to block out distractions.
Some days there are just too many distractions...I have heard from writer friends that the letting yourself be distracted means that you aren’t ready to write the scene... Of course that is a great excuse for procrastination...My inner self just says lazy lazy lazy....

6. What is the most rewarding part of the creative process?

There are two answers I think to this question. Putting in the effort and knowing that you have done a good job on the project. This gives a personal feeling of satisfaction an ‘all’s right with world.’ The second answer is when someone else not connected with the project turns around and says “by the way you did a great job on xyz.’ That sets you up to walk on air; especially if they are children... it’s like winning a lottery.

7. At what point do you feel that you have succeeded with a creative endeavour?

When I am still happy with what I have written after three months of not working on it at all. If I find myself wanting to change things, after putting it aside to clear my head, I know that I need to work harder on what I am doing.

8. Anything else you would like to add?

At the moment a team of us are writing a fiction book, each of us taking a chapter each. We don’t know where the story will go, we don’t know what will happen next until we get to our own chapter, where we can do what we like in solitude, then add it to book. The collaboration has sparked amazing ideas and a feeling of flying high on the creativity scale. The group are laughing and joking and feeding lines backwards and forwards as we write the story. This is unlike our usual work habit but it is highly stimulating and we are all relishing the freedom of not worrying about the big picture...time will tell if the work we are doing is any is fun though, combining the best of both solitude and collaboration.

This questionnaire has had me thinking about my own process of creativity throughout the month. Thanks for the opportunity to participate.

My pleasure, Maureen. Thanks for taking the time to give us such wonderful insight. I can't wait to see how the FaBo Story unfolds.

If you are interested in following the story, check it out at


  1. Reading interviews like this renews my faith in my own crazy process. I've gone through years of not being ready or able to focus my creativity, and thinking it was lost. But reading how Maureen harnesses - or simply welcomes back - "starter ideas" makes me feel better about it, because it's true, they do come back. I've written collaboratively only once (with one other writer), but the project fell apart. It's great to hear about the energizing, freeing effect the FaBo project has on Maureen. I'll check out the link now.

    Thanks for sharing this, Alison!

  2. What an inspiring post. I loved that Maureen latched onto her fleeting image of the dog trotting along with a bone and how overtime it became a book, which, of course, I must take a peek at. I have found that images popping up on the page unexpectedly when I'm writing make the scene more powerful. From now on my popping up thoughts get written down.

    Thanks for sharing this author with us, Alison!

  3. Hi Alison,
    The Fabo story project has got off to a great start after only 24 hours...with schools around the country writing in that they are setting up teams of writers to give this a go.... We are all excited,overawed and what we have started.
    (hahahaha) What if the kids write a better chapter????

    Thanks again for the opportunity to study my own creativity process.It is always worthwhile knowing objectively how you operate you can pull yourself back up when you hit a dry patch.

  4. Toby: I'm glad you found the interview inspirational... that's what I had hoped for. I agree that it's great to connect with the creative processes of others, if only to help you realize that everyone works differently, but with some parallels.

    Clara: You are welcome. I'm glad you found this inspiring!

    Maureen: I can imagine the behind-the-scenes nerves, but I think it will be a fabulous adventure for everyone. (I want to know what's going on with Remy!) If the kids write well, it's only because they're developing authors. :) Congratulations on getting such a great response!