The cowboy style expression is a variation of the old English greeting 'How d'ye do?' I've often wondered ' How do I do what?' in reply. It's an endlessly fascinating topic ...
Get any group with a shared interest together, and they will debate the pros and cons of different tools or approaches for hours. It can get lively. Look at any 'tricks of the trade' thread on a message board.
Every form of craft, skill or artistry has its own terminology and equipment. These can date back to the Middle Ages or earlier - like masonry, boat-building or calligraphy. But far more recent trades and interests still breed specific registers of words and techniques: gaming, motorbike mechanics, or cosplay. It's part of the culture, part of the sense of belonging and can create a mystique around, say, ikebana flower-arranging, or customising cars.
|Detail from Agony in the Car Park by Grayson Perry|
It can bring people together from differing backgrounds. I've never forgotten a Radio 4 article about The Rat Fancy where rat-catchers and aristocracy spoke as equals on their passion. Or it can be deliberately exclusive: hiding secrets from the initiated, like the glass-blowers of Murano.
People can get pre-occupied with the outside show, having the right stuff - we've probably all met the 'All the gear, no idea' type. Poor old Magrat Garlick in Terry Pratchett's Wyrd Sisters springs to mind. All the bells and whistles won't make you a better witch, cricketer or sculptor. You have to do the time, serve your apprenticeship. And even then, technical ability is enough on its own. It needs soul.
It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing... lyrics by Irving Mills, music by Duke Ellington
Yet there is something always engaging about anyone developing a skill: I think of the possibly apocryphal tale of Alan Bennett clutching a How-To writing manual in a bookshop and saying 'You're never told to learn.'.
|There's plastering - and there's pargeting - and there's artexing...|
So for us writers and illustrators, there's a double significance. We know what it is to learn new ways of working, new expressions and to wrestle with success and failure. Those feelings can inform the characters we create. We're all children again when we start anew.
And we can plunder the worlds of arts and crafts, hobbies and trades to enrich our work, to give our characters something to do. What riches!
Here's an idea or two
- research an occupation or interest new to you: salsa dance, embroidery, drag-racing...
- what are the tools, the names, the skills employed?
- could they be used literally - by a character in your own work? What about a rock-climbing grandma, a dress-designing king, a woodpecker who can carve?
- or figuratively as metaphor?
- could you convey the concentration, the attention to detail, the absorbing passion some practitioners have?
- could that be a driver for your character - to be the best archer, collect the rarest stamps, create the biggest sandcastle?
Be brave, have a go at something you've never tried - and at the very least, you'll have something to talk about and put on your bio!by K.M Lockwood @lockwoodwriter sometime belly-dancer and scuba-diver