Ashley: Hey everyone, welcome back to Dear Writer. I hope everyone had a really great Christmas, and a really great new year as well. I certainly did. This is actually our first miniseries episode, so this is episode 9 of Dear Writer but it’s our first episode in our creative life miniseries which is exciting.
Ashley: So very excited to be going to jump into it. We’re going to be talking about how we culture creativity by getting out into nature.
Sarah: Yes, yep.
Ashley: The most obvious place to start is probably about talking about what each of us do to get out into the outdoors, and how we find that helps our creativity. I’ll go over to you first, Sarah.
Sarah: OK. So, I am not very good at getting out into nature, I am someone who is a total hermit and I love to stay inside, where it is warm and dry, and not windy. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy it when I get out there and it’s especially kind of weird considering that I grew up on a farm and even though I’ve always felt very hermit-like, very introverted, very hermit-like, I… my mother pushed me out the door on a frequent basis to ride horses, and help out with the sheep, help out with the cows, help out on the farm, and she was always the type of person who would throw open the curtains if we were watching TV midday and get out there, which I did not appreciate at the time, but I do appreciate that now, because now I am the person who has to boot myself out the door.
Ashley: You’re rebelling as an adult you’re like I’m not going outside, I don’t have to, you can’t make me!
Sarah: Yes. Precisely and my husband Dan he is not very good either at getting outside. We are both the same in that regard, so we are quite a bad influence on each other. But then I do find when I do go out I usually go to parks or even just sit on the steps outside when I can, I guess. And, I do, I would like to hike more but since moving to Canada I am a bit nervous of the wildlife after being spoiled growing up in New Zealand, so if you don’t know in New Zealand, probably the scariest animals that you would encounter would be like a wild boar, like a wild pig.
Ashley: Yeah that’s probably the scariest thing.
Sarah: That’s pretty much it, like.
Ashley: Although possums at night in the dark are pretty terrifying. I’m just going to put it out there.
Sarah: Oh they can make some weird noises, but they’re not like … I remember camping once and we just heard this noise, we went too far from… we used to have a horse-riding arena, and me and my younger brother were camping, and we just heard this noise and it kind of went [weird splat noise].
Sarah: And we were just like, it kind of sounded… it almost sounded like someone was in the arena going through the sand, except it was like almost like a wet kind of sounding sand noise. But we were like, what the heck is it? And we went outside and Matt shone his torch in the tree and sure enough, you see these two round reflective eyes staring back at you, and we’re like, it’s a possum. It’s a possum. But yeah anyways, so I do find when I go outside, when I actually make it out there, that actually helps me focus more and, because you may have noticed that I go off on tangents all the time, my brain is constantly working, and going out into nature helps it to calm down and kind of ground for myself more. So yes. How does it help you Ashley and what sort of things do you do?
Ashley: So I always have to be doing things, I can’t really sit still which is part of the reason I sometimes struggle with writing, because I always have so many other things that I need to be doing, I’m always like moving around because I feel bad for just sitting there. Which possibly explains why I work in a lab where I’m on my feet all day, walking around, barely have time to sit which kind of fits I guess sort of well with the sort of person that I am. But because of that I do get outdoors quite a bit, and my family is very, very outdoorsy, so is my husband James. James and my father are like two peas in a pod. They go out hunting and fishing, and doing all sorts together. Whenever they’re around I barely see them because they’re off on some other adventure. But because of that it does… has rubbed off on me quite a bit, I go for quite a lot of walks… especially with having our puppy we walk him a lot, and we’ve got a couple like inner city nature reserve bush walk things nearby. Which, which are nice. But I also try and do hikes, when I can. Obviously I am in Auckland so it’s a bit harder to do hikes especially when the local… I don’t know if it’s a mountain range, we’ll go with large… really, really large hills—the Waitakari ranges. At the moment we can’t really hike there because of kauri dieback disease, so most of the tracks there are closed. So if we want to hike we have to go we have to travel quite far afield. But I’ve done some recently, and I’m also a big fan of the beach, I always have been. I grew up in a place called Mount Maunganui which is literally on the beach. So, I’m very used to being able to toddle off down there, go for a swim, go for a surf, or even just sit there and read a book. That’s one of my favorite things just sitting on the beach and reading a book.
Sarah: I miss the beach now living in Calgary.
Ashley: Ah it’s the smell of the sea …
Sarah: I never even used it that much, but I miss it. The weird things that you miss when you move overseas.
Ashley: Uh huh. The smell of the sea, the sound of the waves, just being able to relax except for the ever-present threat of sunburn.
Ashley: Which is often a deterrent.
Sarah: That’s another thing in New Zealand that is quite bad, because there is a hole in the ozone layer over top of New Zealand. So you if you ever go there bring sunblock because you can get burnt very easily, especially if you’re not from New Zealand. We seem to have a bit hardier skins…
Sarah: But yeah, skin cancers high in New Zealand because of that.
Ashley: Speaking of that, James hilariously—I don’t know why we’re on a sunblock topic—but he got sunburnt actually the same day, no the day before my Christmas party, and he’s very pasty. I always mock him for being reflective. Anyways …
Sarah: The British/UK skin tone.
Ashley: He was like a photograph, he was slowly developing as the evening went on. So I was like ooh, you’ve burnt your back, and then half an hour later I was like oh, oh no, there’s a little patch on his stomach where he obviously turned over. And then a couple hours later I was like oh, I think you’ve burnt the back of your knees, James.
Sarah: Ooh. Ow, that’s a sore spot.
Ashley: But anyways back to the point, I do find that when I go outside, when I do anything really, outdoors, it definitely clears my mind. And I find that I’m able to forget about a lot of the intricacies of the plot or the characters I’m finding particularly challenging. And I’m able to, once I return inside, get on and write usually. So it’s definitely a trick for me if I’m struggling, go for a walk, go outside, see how that goes. Although I think it is probably a little bit easier for me being here, and it being summer, than it would be for other people who are stuck in winter, where it’s definitely colder. Or are restricted because of covid which is another thing at the moment that can happen. Do you have any suggestions because you are stuck in the winter and probably find it more challenging to get outside, any advice for people who are in that situation?
Sarah: So again, even sitting outside when you can, having your cup of coffee on the steps of your house in the sunshine can be quite refreshing. But sometimes even that can be impossible.
Ashley: Sitting in a snowbank …
Ashley: I am just imagining your little hat poking out of the snow.
Sarah: Exactly. So here in Calgary the snow season is basically eight months of the year, so like from October all the way through to May, and particularly in those shoulder seasons, like October and May we have quite heavy snowfall and then in between it kind of settles down, but there’s still snow around. Because in between in the depths of winter it can get as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius.
Ashley: I don’t miss those temperatures.
Sarah: Yeah on those days you do not want to be outside at all. So I have a couple of tips, for me bringing the outdoors inside is a great solution, like as we are speaking I have a couple of low maintenance indoor plants that are sitting on my desk. I would tell you what they are but honestly I cannot remember. One’s like AKA the snake plant. I want to say the sansevera. Sansevieria something like that. And it’s like a cylindrical one.
Ashley: My knowledge of indoor plants is not high.
Sarah: But then the other one I have, I really cannot remember I think it starts with P.
Sarah: But anyways, basically they need very little sunlight because our house doesn’t get very much sunlight inside at all, and they also need very little watering, so like sometimes I don’t water them for like a month or two months and they are still fine, they are still living and growing. So that is helpful if you’re like me and not very good at watering plants. Which is kind of funny considering I’m not so bad at looking after people, but plants no. the other thing that I do is that I have a playlist of… like not songs but sounds. So you know the type of thing that you might put on to help yourself go to sleep …
Ashley: Yep the sound of the waves crashing.
Sarah: Yeah I themed mine to New Zealand scenes, so it’ll be like New Zealand bush in the morning, or …
Ashley: Here’s some Tuis chirping away.
Sarah: I’m just seeing if I can bring up the playlist now so I can read out some of the names. The estuary and seashore. Ocean waves—I don’t think that one’s themed NZ but it reminded me of a beach that we use to holiday on so I put that one in there. New Zealand daytime forest. Anyways you get the point.
Sarah: So I did that because I mean, one, being in Canada I do have homesickness from time to time, and though sometimes I think I find too much and will make me more miserable to think about, but I find this sounds of the Bush and that kind of thing just really makes me quite calm, and I think that’s quite helpful with creative writing as well especially if you’re trying to recreate a setting. If you some of this music like the beach or the bush or even… I’m sure you could find like…
Ashley: Summer storm…
Sarah: …I’m sure you could find city sounds like traffic or something if you wanted to. But yeah if you just close your eyes and play this playlist it can really put you in that setting, so it can help inspire creativity that way is one of the tips that I have. But yeah it’s also really good for connecting you with places like I do to help me feel more at home.
Ashley: It sounds like a good idea, making like a sounds of nature playlist.
Sarah: It took me a bit of searching to find an appropriate track but…
Ashley: I was going to say you probably came across some weird ones.
Ashley: And you’re like oh dear no.
Sarah: And then sometimes you’re like oh that one’s got singing, that’s got singing. Where’s the ones that are like just sounds? But you can find them you just have to, have to have a bit of a search session.
Ashley: Might have to have a bit of a go.
Sarah: It can be very helpful in writing for sure. Do you have any tips?
Ashley: So I obviously don’t have the problem of snow, or really cold temperatures, but sometimes it is a challenge because I’m in the middle of the city to get away to places where I really feel… because I quite like isolated… the feeling of isolation when you’re out there. So it’s a bit hard to find that. But I do go to a lot of parks and I do have a garden. I have an indoor garden and an outdoor garden which I find very soothing. For some reason the act of growing things, I don’t know why but it really helps, so in my outdoor garden I’ve got quite a number of plants at the moment. I’ve got some silverbeet, and some spinach, and some tomatoes, courgettes and a bunch of herbs.
Sarah: We should say that courgettes …
Ashley: Ah, Zucchini.
Sarah: Courgettes … yeah. Zucchini for North Americans, so they’re not totally confused.
Ashley: Sorry yes, courgettes slash zucchinis. But I’ve just started a hydroponic garden in my garage because… so I had some old fish tanks and I was going to sell them or get rid of them. And I was kind of like er… I like being able to re purpose stuff. So I was trying to think of something that I could do with it and then I stumbled across hydroponics and how you can use fish tanks to grow plants and things in sustainable ways. So, I immediately decided that was what my fish tanks were going to be. So I’m growing lettuce and I’m growing Bok Choy. And it was very handy because it was a tropical fish tank, so I had the water aeration stuff which you need for hydroponics. And I also had the UV lamps as well, because we had… I don’t know James was growing some seaweed things… aqua plants. There we go. But at the moment I don’t need to use the UV lamps because the sunlight it turns out is in New Zealand is by far sufficient when it’s next to a window. But I think in the winter I will need to use the lamps. But otherwise I agree with sitting in your garden or on your steps. It actually worked for me recently. As I mentioned I think in the previous podcast, I was stuck on one of my chapters and for a while I’d been going right 100 words, delete 100 words somewhere else. Write 100 words delete 100 words. It was getting very frustrating. So I did take my laptop outside into the gun and sat in the sun after work one day. And it worked a treat because I did manage to write like over 1000 words in that sitting which was very good for me, I usually have to… I don’t struggle to get words down but I’m more of a 500 words. Especially during the week because obviously I work and so I get home and I force out a couple 100 words out. So 1000 words was really good, was a really good effort on my part. But the music thing is well I do use occasionally, but for me instead of using sounds to remind me of places I do use actual songs. Mostly because they remind me of specific atmospheres, or places, and usually those because my family is very outdoorsy, they involve … a lot of those memories have elements of the outdoors in them. For example, I was born in Canada Anne I grew up in a place called Emsdale, which is a few hours north of Toronto. And there are hardly any people there. Very isolated, we grew up on 100 acres of forest. And a lot of songs, especially country songs for some reason, remind me heavily of that. Songs like [The] House that Built Me by Miranda Lambert, or most of the music from the Zac Brown Band. For some reason always takes me back to that.
Sarah: That feels very grounded their music I do find.
Ashley: Mmm. So sometimes I listen to music like that if I’m wanting to feel a bit nostalgic. Otherwise as I mentioned before, my family is very into hunting and fishing, so my dad used to take us fishing all the time. And by fishing I mean like large game fishing, so like marlin, tuna, which always require very long days out on the water, often 12 hours where you can hardly see land. Especially if it’s a bit hazy. But he… his soundtrack to… for our boat was always Jack Johnson. So now whenever I listen to Jack Johnson I’m immediately transported to literally just being a little bobbing boat in the middle of the ocean. So that helps me a lot if I’m wanting to escape the sound of the city for a little bit.
Sarah: Yeah. So just for a little bit of context as well, just to stop people getting too confused, Ashley was born in Canada and moved to NZ when she was young. I was born in NZ we went to school in New Zealand, and then I went off around the world met my husband. And ended up in Canada. So… it’s kind of a bit strange but …
Sarah: We both have connections to Canada and New Zealand.
Ashley: I like it, I like it.
Sarah: Yeah it’s kind of cool. Anyways …
Ashley: Getting back to our topic.
Ashley: Do you have any specific moments that you can remember where you were inspired while being outdoors?
Sarah: I’ve kind of mentioned this that I have ideas springing to my mind constantly. So when I go outdoors, I almost find that my mind quietens down a little bit and I don’t really get ideas outdoors so much, but I do think that while I’m outdoors, you know, I’m taking in all this information and my mind quietly kind of mulls over the things that I’ve seen, and then I use it in my writing later.
Sarah: You know, you might have heard a bit in the last podcast about how I used experiences with shearing sheep, for example. And yeah, I’ve mentioned in a blog post before how my granddad was really a huge inspiration to me and our teen series for describing native New Zealand wildlife, like the birds, because he was a devoted bird watcher and a brilliant photographer. And I remember many bush walks with him. So every time I write about New Zealand birds, I think of those walks. And I often will just to even recreate in sounds, because it’s not every day that you come across some of these native birds as well, I’ll research them on the internet so I can describe them as well. But certainly sort of walking through the bush and stuff like helps, helps you kind of understand the types of sounds and how different forests and different places can feel different from, like, one another. Like here in Canada, for example, people ask me, you know, is Canada like New Zealand? And in some ways, like, some things are. Like when I went to Vancouver I remember the smell of rain, like in the smell… like the wet damp smell. That kind of made me think of New Zealand a bit more because we come from the, the Bay of Plenty. That area in New Zealand. Which it gets its name that because it gets a lot of rainfall and the Bay of Plenty unsurprisingly.
Ashley: Yes. It does.
Sarah: So that kind of reminded me but then the woods feel quite different, like, and I think that’s why in New Zealand we kind of refer to it as the bush, because there’s a lot of layers to it, where there’s like tall trees, and smaller trees, and then like really bushy shrubs, as you’re like fighting through. Whereas my experience in Canada has been more like woods, where they’re tall trees and less ground cover. Although I’m not saying that there doesn’t exist shrubby and small like bush-type areas in Canada by any means, but that’s just been my experience, especially here in Calgary.
Ashley: Yeah. Yeah. Well I guess the snow probably, doesn’t help the young growth. Right?
Sarah: No, yeah.
Ashley: In New Zealand we have lots of ferns and things like that because they get to grow all year round.
Sarah: Yes, exactly. So I think like recognizing that different places have different feels, kind of helps when you go outside and you’re trying to describe places.
Ashley: I would definitely agree because I find often if I go, especially in the New Zealand bush, if I go for a walk in there, it really helps me get a much clearer vision of the setting, and the characters. Especially for our teen fiction book where a lot of the time they’re in the bush. So often when I’m walking, it feels like… well you are basically immersed in the setting that they are in. So it does help sort of imagine our characters better, you can kind of see them, you know, wandering around camp or doing whatever. And also helps bring more specific events that happen in our book into a sharper focus as well because you can really like, I guess transfer the forest that you’re seeing, and then transpose them into it. So I definitely agree with that. And I’m kind of like you, I don’t I don’t usually get specific ideas, but it is always a good time to mull things over Especially when you’re walking with a friend, because you can chat about all of those annoying problems that you’re having with your writing. Plot problems and whatnot, and often manage to get unstuck by walking, I think. It’s probably one of the biggest benefits. I often chat to James about problems in our book when we’re hiking. Weirdly.
Sarah: That’s funny.
Ashley: Or I’ll be like, the other day, we were driving and James was like, oh, yes, this is the mountain. Where grace, blah, blah, blah. I was like, what is it?
Sarah: That’s funny.
Ashley: I was like, oh, you’re right. He’s like, I can see them now climbing it. So that was pretty funny. Was pretty funny.
Sarah: That’s great. Iconic moments.
Ashley: Yes. Do you have any other sort of ways people can connect with nature, that you can think of?
Sarah: I really feel like it’s less about where you are, and more about how you open yourself up to experience things. And I think nature helps us to do that, which is why it does help to inspire creativity. I once did a general education courses at Auckland University, when I sort of did a random year of study. But it was on a creative dance.
Ashley: Oh my goodness. That’s amazing!
Sarah: I know, it was amazing. It was very, ah, really got in touch with like yourself and it had some very interesting moments, one of which was going outside, we had to a hug or touch a tree and try to feel the tree. Which I know that sounds a little bit hippie like, but hey.
Ashley: I’m just imagining a class of people in Albert Park, which is the park by the university just hugging and feeling trees. Other people being like, what’s going on?
Sarah: Where the dance building was, it was just kind of as you go down the hill and into the city, if anyone’s ever been to Auckland. And it’s like this small green patch with like a few trees and then like a park bench on the side of a hill, and so we all just like out there like…
Ashley: Feeling the trees. Okay.
Sarah: And then we had to go inside, and then we had to interpret how we felt with the trees into a dance and turn it into a dance.
Ashley: That’s amazing
Ashley: I know it sounds… like, it seems funny but also helpful at the same time, like I can
Sarah: Yeah yeah.
Ashley: I can see how it could help.
Sarah: It was a very spiritual kind of course, and the exam was very interesting, because of that. like, it felt very airy-fairy kind of…
Sarah: I got an A on it because, you know, it was one of those ones where you could kind of bullshit your way through a little bit. We had to write a letter, in this exam. Like a pretend letter to someone. So, that was amazing. About… and convince them about like a specific type of dance and why they should include it in a program, but I don’t know.
Ashley: Get to do a bit of creative writing as well as creative dance!
Sarah: Exactly! And we also did a bit of freefall writing in it as well, which I think we’ll have a chat about in one of our other podcasts in this culturing creativity series. But just going back to the sort of feeling the nature and then trying to interpret it, I think you can kind of do the same thing with writing and it’s about the experience of how you feel when you’re in nature and how can that improve your writing? How can you echo nature through the pen? And sort of bring it more into your work and you know I like characters in never… it’s very rare that you’d have a character like stuck indoors for like an entire chapter, doing nothing. So, going out and into nature and experiencing these things to give your characters more sort of authenticity, and a better feel to them can kind of help develop things, I think. What would you have to say on that Ashley?
Ashley: I would agree. I’ve never done a creative tree dance, but I can definitely understand or see the benefit in taking an outdoor experience and then trying to channel that experience through some other medium, whether it be dance or even music like writing songs. I can see that or listening to music. Playing music, even. I know we both like to play guitar. Yeah, so I can, I can definitely see the benefit in something like that.
Sarah: So I think we are almost out of time.
Sarah: We do have one more thing that we wanted to talk about. So a lot of people are excited about being finally able to travel again after covid, and are beginning to think about trips they can do, and how do you think travel has added to your writing? And what sort of tips would you give around that?
Ashley: I can actually give a very specific example for this. So um, pre… pre-covid James and I went to Europe for our honeymoon. So we went to Italy and Greece, because Greece is somewhere I had always wanted to go. And you can probably see where I’m going with us since our new historical fiction novel we’re writing is set in ancient Greece. And so that has helped me a lot, and specifically helps me with the setting. Because having been there, there are a few things… I did bring my notebook. Actually, you’re not going to be able to see this, but I think Sarah will appreciate it. I took notes while I was over there, just like a few things about, you know, elements of the setting that I had noticed and needed to, you know, be sure that we included in our books or when we were describing things. So one of them, I remember noting down that it was that it was dusty. You can see. I literally wrote notes.
Sarah: Very dusty. It’s… win—windy?
Ashley: Yeah. Very dusty. Mostly a pale dust, not quite white, but close to it. Windy, but not… ah, but a hot wind. Trees are scrubby and short, only about shoulder height. Covers most of the landscape. And I was like, also around Athens, very hilly. Heat equals hot. Heavy heat, kind of humid. No rain all summer. Many lizards.
Sarah: Many lizards!
Ashley: But the best part, oh. They possibly had panthers, question mark. And then the best part is I drew a picture of a stick man next to a shrub to illustrate the height.
Sarah: It’s about, um I’d say like, arm… just, just under arm height. Like I want to say nipple high but that sounds a bit dodge.
Ashley: Yeah. And then I…
Sarah: It’s a brilliant drawing.
Ashley: I drew it then covering a hill.
Sarah: That’s great.
Ashley: So, yeah. It can help.
Sarah: Take notes and draw pictures, even if you’re not an artist. They are brilliant to look back on.
Ashley: Yes! That would be um, that would be my advice. Take notes while you’re overseas. You never know what will inspire you in your writing. Or what will be helpful to you.
Sarah: Like a picture of a speckled hill. Yeah, so I love to travel as well, which is hilarious since we’ve explained the rest of the time I’m an absolute hermit. But I have really missed it since covid. And it certainly makes me appreciate other cultures and, not just that but cultures of the past. Because I’ve been to quite a number of places. I was trying to count up the countries that have been without wanting to brag, I was just trying to give everyone an idea of like how traveled I’ve been. So I’ve been, like not usually hugely well traveled, but probably about like 15 to 20 different countries. So probably more than the average person I would guess but…
Ashley: I think New Zealanders are generally quite well traveled.
Sarah: Yeah, we’re quite intrepid.
Ashley: Because otherwise we’re very isolated from everywhere else. So we need to…
Ashley: And when you… cause we are so far away, when you go somewhere, you like want to make the most of it and see as many places as you can because you’ve traveled such a long way.
Sarah: Yeah, I’ve also like… this is… Canada is the third country that I’ve lived in for any period of time. And I think living in other countries really helps you recognize your own culture as well. But yeah, like going back to the recognizing like cultures of the past, so I’ve… me and Dan had our honeymoon in China. And so, you know, like we went to things like the Great Wall, the Terracotta Warriors. Like all those kind of really amazing historical sites. And when you see these things, you just realize how far advanced the cultures of the past were. Like, we like to believe in the modern day that we’re very advanced technologically, but I think it’s equally important to recognize that actually they were more advanced in the past than what you might think, and they had very interesting ways of solving like different problems and things. So I think that helps sort of gain a perspective of that which has certainly been helpful for our ancient Greece books. Yeah.
Ashley: Definitely, definitely. I think any sort of travel and exposure to overseas cultures and especially in particular context to Ancient Greece book, and ancient civilizations. It’s very eye opening.
Sarah: I would suggest it. But yeah, I think we should probably round up this talk, did you have anything that you wanted to say?
Ashley: No, I think we pretty much covered everything. But maybe before we do end, we should tell everyone what our next episodes are going to be, or next episode is going to be about, because we have another miniseries to announce to everyone.
Sarah: Yes. So next week, exciting, we’re in weekly podcast episodes, this feels really cool to say. Next week on Dear Writer, we are going to be having the first of our Author Spotlight interviews. So, we’re doing like a new series, which is the new author or aspiring author spotlight. And interviewing a bunch of people around that, so check it out for next week, should be exciting.
Ashley: I’m very excited about this. We kind of felt that there’s so many other people out there who are in the same position as we are, and we really like to be able to, you know, talk about their experiences. And they can tell us what they’re going through, they can tell us about the projects that are on the go.
Ashley: So it will be really great to hear people’s stories too.
Sarah: Yeah, and when… we’re looking for, like, a range of people’s experiences. So not just like, you know, you hear a lot of success stories about, oh, I was knee deep in my work and then I decided to become a writer and bam to, well, you know, a couple years later. Look at me now kind of things. Which is quite good and inspiring for, like, hopefully, you know, everyone who is planning on becoming a writer and going that road, will hopefully get there. But we also wanted to document people’s trips on the way and everyone from like different backgrounds and things. So it should be interesting.
Ashley: I think so. I’m really looking forward to it.
Sarah: So I guess we will see you next week.
Sarah: Happy writing everyone. Please feel free to subscribe to us and rate it if you’re on Apple podcasts, and write a review, all those types of things. And talk to us on Instagram, Facebook, www.lindersoncreations.com. Yeah. Happy writing everyone.