Anna Tizard’s literary fantasies are born of questions about the nature of mind, and the realms of thought, psyche and spirit.
The surrealist word game of Exquisite Corpse is the perfect playground for her imagination, which she plays “live” on her podcast, Brainstoryum. The results have so far inspired two novellas and more than twenty short stories.
Originally, Anna was influenced by literary writers such as Jeanette Winterson and Margaret Atwood; a Christian upbringing and a crisis in faith during her early twenties became the underlying driving force for her deep, exploratory themes.
Discovering Carl Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious felt like a revelation and began to emerge in new, metaphorical forms in her writing, as if of their own accord. But these ideas were difficult to rein in and clearly formulate in the early days of her career: she was isolated in both her writing and her struggles with faith. Writing became a way to explore her internal world and search for answers, but this meant she was more led by unconscious impulses than by any learned ability to structure a plot. Her first novel became a kind of psychological labyrinth and went through countless rewrites. In the same way that she couldn’t find an answer to her own life’s questions, she was unable to resolve her novel.
She set aside her first project to experiment with other novels, using a professional editor to develop her craft. However, after many rewrites of the same books, a staleness began to set in.
It was the chance discovery of the surrealist word game of Exquisite Corpse that gave Anna the fresh material and sense of playfulness needed to spark her imagination.
Anna first came across the game while working in a call centre, where she and her colleagues had already been playing the parlour game, Consequences, from which Exquisite Corpse was originally developed. Passing slips of paper to each other and reading the results caused more giggling than they could risk while operating a customer helpline, so they continued the game in the pub after work – and laughed for two hours straight!
Exquisite Corpse was invented in 1925 by the French Surrealists. Each player writes a particular type of word or phrase without seeing what the other players have written, to form a sentence with the structure:
Describing word – noun – action – describing word – noun.
It’s called Exquisite Corpse because the first round resulted in: “The exquisite corpse shall drink the new wine.”
The results are often hilarious at first (and game play on Brainstoryum involves a lot of laughing), but these bizarre sentences are also suggestive of unusual characters and situations.
“The empty danger” was a phrase that turned up in one of her early, in-person games. The question of what dangerous thing could possibly be “empty” or intangible lingered in Anna’s mind.
Along came the pandemic and she had her answer: fear itself.
The Empty Danger explores the concept of fear as a universal, collective force and imagines what fear might actually look like as, in real life, people around the world were all feeling the same thing in early 2020. It was first written and released in episodes on Anna’s website for sharing through Twitter, until the story turned into a book.
Volume 2 in her emerging series, The Book of Exquisite Corpse, was inspired by a complete game result:
“The lofty portrait of my grandmother rapidly salivated at the estranged stairwell.”
Instigated by the image of a portrait coming alive, the initial idea was quite ghoulish, but the story delves into metaphysical themes about a dying artist who yearns for a kind of immortality, and an ex-lover who tries to claim that power as his own.
Anna began her podcast, Brainstoryum, to share reflections on inspiration, tips on the psychology and methodology of creative writing, and remote game play. Listeners are encouraged to send words and phrases to her “Play” page, which she then pulls at random from the Socks of Destiny!
As an experiment, Anna shared a first draft of a story based on a result: “The perfumed elf swapped boots with the midnight ship”, asking listeners for feedback on what should happen next. She discussed their feedback on the next show and used some of the ideas to develop the story further. The final draft having been shaped by this collaborative process, she decided to publish The Midnight Ship as a stand-alone e-book, free to download from her website.
Brainstoryum and the scrambled words of friends and strangers continue to be Anna’s primary source of inspiration. Since her fiction reaches into the depths of the unconscious and seeks to express the ways in which our minds connect, there’s a synchronistic rightness to this, as her creative journey is led by forces or patterns beyond her control.