A Writer's Process: Gabrielle Mullarkey



I’ve been thinking more about the creative process in writing since I finished my MSc in creative writing for therapeutic purposes, and started volunteering in the day centre of a local hospice.


Here I meet lively, diverse men and women who share details of their lives, and then kindly allow me to recreate their stories on paper.


Stories shared with me have included looking after a pet parrot, travelling overland to Kathmandu, a first kiss in wartime Glasgow, and winning a ballroom dancing championship.


Each life and story is brimming with richness, sometimes lying untapped inside the tellers themselves, who might listen politely to my little spiel about ‘writing in the hospice’ and then say, with natural modesty rather than dismissiveness, ‘I don’t think you’ll find anything that interesting about me.’


It has been a steep learning curve, as well as a privilege and responsibility, to recast these riches and return them to their keepers, (hopefully) true to the originals.


Talking to people who may never thought of writing down their stories, I have found that the creative process, a dynamic, fluid, living thing – a slippery rabbit – is informed not only by this collaborative interaction, but also by the environment (radio playing in the background; drinks trolley coming round; storytellers with an eye on the door or an ear cocked for the reflexologist or beauty therapist’s arrival) and my own sense of commitment and discipline to respecting and rendering.


Alongside this process, I have maintained other strands of writing – my own commercial fiction and my self-therapeutic ‘mental doodling’. I dip into as many forms as possible: short stories, articles, poems, interior dialoguing and the maintenance (a garden metaphor is appropriate) of my website.


In the hospice, it’s a challenge and a risk for people who tire easily or are living with overwhelming life changes to gift me their precious moments and stories, and a challenge for me to do justice to their words. We are mutually alert to signs of their fatigue and my RSI!


I think we’re also mutual gift-givers, so it’s important that I don’t treat encounters in this context as a resource or a repository of multi-layered anecdotes to plunder fictionally at a later date.


Equally, because so much of my commercial fiction writing is a private, solitary endeavour, each encounter with another storyteller has made me feel part of a larger creative continuum. I have slipped in and out of moments, edged between cracks to celebrate hidden blooms and tried to – as a workshop leader put it recently – let myself be carried by the current without losing sight of the shore.