What am I like?

I started writing this post under the boring title of ‘what are my influences’ but I changed it to ‘What am I like?’ I love this quirky English turn of phrase.

The English idiom ‘What am I like?’ is a rhetorical question (one we don’t need anybody to answer) that we ask ourselves out loud when we do something a little bit silly – usually in a public place. It has the same sort of meaning as when Homer says ‘Doh!’ in The Simpsons. (Thanks – Purland Training)

So you would use this phrase for example when you pay for your groceries then forget to take them. The cashier calls you back. Red in the face and eyes rolling at our own silliness, an English person would say ‘What am I like?’ not at all expecting an answer but knowing in their head the response is ‘What am I like? I’m an idiot.’

I wish this was in common use in Australia but I fear it only works in a British accent.

I grew up watching British comedians and television shows like Love Thy Neighbour, The Good Life, Monty Python, Fawlty Towers. I also learned how to put myself down for comedic effect at my father’s knee and like me, he was copying his own father and so on and so forth. I’ve always been a fan of self deprecating humour although I’ve had to work on that over the years because it’s not great for the soul it turns out.

So what am I like? What are my influences? What made me like the things I do? What formed my wacky sense of humour? And what makes me write the things I want to write?

My son is a musician. He’s studying sound engineering and he had to write an essay on some of his favourite musicians or recording artists discussing their influences and their influence on him or on the greater industry.

As a creative have you ever stopped to consider who has influenced your work? Personally I fell in love with the Impressionists very early on in my studies but didn’t think my artwork was influenced by them at all. I was heavily influenced by the works of Edward Hopper though his work certainly has a much higher level of finish.

Morning Sun by Edward Hopper 1952
Oceanview Motel – by Christine Betts 2008

Our influences are not limited to those to whom we would love to be favourably compared. The Who? I think of painters like Frida Kahlo, Suzanne Valadon, Rosa Bonheur, and Georgia O’Keeffe who were passionate artists who ignored the role society would have liked them to play. While I wouldn’t say my artwork is influenced by theirs I am grateful for their trail-blazing ways. Visual artists aside, I am inspired by singer-songwriter Amanda Palmer, Aussie comic Judith Lucy, Bill Oddie from The Goodies who is largely responsible for my silly sense of humour, Elizabeth Gilbert for her activism and her wonderful book Big Magic. In my teens I loved Queen, Culture Club, Pet Shop Boys and George Michael and I realise now why my mother was always trying to encourage me to listen to ‘more appropriate’ music. But those guys really knew how to craft a pop song and I still love their music all these years later, including the new stuff from Boy George.

I am sure once I hit the publish button here I will think of dozens more artists, writers, singers etc who have left a mark on my soul but I’ve come to see that my Muse is more than the sum of the human parts. There is also The What? Like all of us, I have been greatly influenced by my childhood experiences, the toys I preferred, the books and movies I consumed, my schooling, my likes and dislikes. I was adopted and my parents had other children and fostered so I grew up in a huge family. This shaped me too – I’m an extrovert who loves great conversations but I’m also a huge fan of a quiet, calm house and please, please use your inside voice, especially in the morning!

And there is the Where. Growing up in Australia with the strong light has informed my artwork but has yet to really influence my writing. My current works in progress are set in England (and Neolithic era Gaul), Los Angeles, and Paris and while I was working on an Australian story for Nanowrimo last November it just didn’t grab hold of me. Perhaps wanting to be ‘grabbed’ by a story is amateur thinking but I really feel I need to be gripped by a passion for the story because if I’m not, how can I expect the reader to be?

Neil Gaiman in his marvellous Masterclass calls this the writers compost heap. Everything we read, watch, hear, see, etc goes into the compost heap in our psyche and hopefully down the track it transforms into rich fertile soil for the stories we want to tell.

Speaking of Nanowrimo, tomorrow April 1, 2021 is the beginning of the first Camp Nanowrimo for the year. I will continue working on the second draft of (working title) The Circle of Ashes. Mother and sister are reading the first few chapters now and as we’re about to go into a lock down for a few days we should all have plenty of time for reading and writing!

Have you ever done Nanowrimo or Camp Nanowrimo? I am a pretty disciplined writer anyway but Camp and Nano have helped me get tens of thousands of words on paper in very short periods of time. Although I should be working on the stories I have pitched to agents, I will no doubt spend most of April working on The Circle, procrastiwriting. However, on one of my very long walks this week, I did come to terms with a theme of sorts for the dystopian future tale of Mimi Gets away with Murder. Walking is wonderful for the butt, thighs and storytelling!