Author Archives: Nimue Brown

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things.

Daily Creativity

This blog was prompted by reading a recent post from Cat Treadwell about daily creativity, and how that might work. What roles does creativity play in our lives? What happens if we are creative every day, or more days than not?

Writers are often encouraged to write every day – and there are reasons for considering this, and also reasons for rejecting it. Writing every day will help you build a skills set if you are fairly new to the craft and need to develop. There are things you can only learn by doing them. You won’t know how to write a book length piece until you’ve done it a few times, for example. Most writers learn so much writing the first few books that they don’t want to share them with anyone else. Later in the process, turning up every day can be about refining and revising your work towards a suitable standard as well as putting down words in the first place.

As an occasional musician, someone who dances for fun, colours professionally, writes books, crafts and has even acted on occasion, I’m pretty alert to the mechanics of creativity. You have to practice to develop skills, and regular or at least reasonably frequent practice is best. Even if you’re looking at being creative just for personal pleasure and relaxation, it works better if you have skills to deploy and can feel rewarded by what you achieve. Invest ten thousand hours in anything and you’ll be something of an expert at it. All of this makes clear why daily creative work is a good idea.

However, practicing skills isn’t necessarily a creative-feeling process. Scales on a musical instrument, repetition of dance moves to get them right. Learning a craft technique, or a poetic form, or committing something to memory. These are not things where the fire of inspiration will burn brightly in your head. These are workish things that take you forward.

Often what’s attractive about creativity (especially to would-be bards) is that fire in the head experience. The rush of inspiration, the energy and drive of it, is exciting and powerful. Unhelpfully, when we’re shown creative people in films and media, we’re usually shown them working from that state, going from blank canvas to finished work of genius in the heat of creative passion. No study drawings, no sketching, no planning. This is not how real creativity normally happens. In a real process, there are moves back and forward between flashes of inspiration and working out how to deliver it.

Whether you need to show up every day and do something creative depends a lot on your inspiration rhythms and where you are in your process. If you are learning or refining, then turning up as often as you can is the best idea. If you are waiting for inspiration to strike, turning up can be counter-productive. Some people find it works to make the space for inspiration by sitting down to write something. I don’t find that works for me, and the work I force out when I don’t feel ready is never work I like. It is better for me to ferment ideas, and run with them when I feel ready. I also find it helps to take time off and give my brain space to come up with ideas.

Much of what I do isn’t heat-of-inspiration work. I don’t need to feel inspired to do comics colouring, it’s a process of applying what skills I have. Ideas may occur to me as I colour, but they aren’t big or dramatic ideas, just ways of delivering on the work I am doing. Crafting is similar – I need inspiration to start a project, but once I have that, the rest is just mostly about getting it done.

There’s no one right answer here that guarantees success and good quality creative output. You have to know where you are with your skills set – if you are learning and if practice is the most important thing. You need to know what the form you’re working in really requires. You have to know where inspiration fits in your process, and you need to know what you need to do to find the inspiration you need.

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Salamandra’s Key

An exciting development from Hopeless Maine.

For those of you not familiar with this side of my life, it started out as a graphic novel, and is rapidly becoming a world in it’s own right, with songs, artifacts, a roleplay game, puppets, cosplay….

The Hopeless Vendetta

Hello, again people! (and others)

It is the new year, and I hope it brings you many good things.

I have spoken before, I think about how, at the beginning, when we first imagined how things might go with Hopeless, Maine, that we thought one day we would work with artisans and craftspeople if there were to be any HM related artifacts. No factory made things or plastic tatt that would one day end up in a landfill. Well, it’s dream come true time. Matt Inkel (who I introduced to you, here) has begun working with us and the first fruit of this collaboration is Salamandra’s Key.

Here is my drawing of Sal’s Key and Matt’s finished prototype.

It’s difficult to describe the feeling I get seeing something from our story made real in the waking world. It’s a bit uncanny and utterly wonderful. For those of you who…

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Food choices and climate change

Food choices are always a really emotive subject and I try to stay out of that side of it as best I can. My starting point has the potential to offend everyone: I’m not ideologically opposed to meat eating, dairy, or eggs. I am deeply uncomfortable with how factory farming works and how we treat the living beings in our food chains. I am absolutely clear that whatever you eat, eliminating food waste should be your priority, because if we tackled that we would get to grips with reducing suffering, and reducing the climate impact of meat.

Animal products for human consumption, and the methods by which we ‘grow’ these are harming the planet. If we want to survive as a species, we have an obligation to cut back on what we consume and to support and encourage others in doing the same. If you eat meat, consider having some meat free days in a week. Vegetarians can consider having some vegan days in their weeks, and vegans, you still have to wrangle with food waste.

You can also look at reducing the food miles in your food if you have the means. If you can source from local producers with better cared for creatures, then do that. If you can’t afford to eat more kindly, cutting back is also a good choice. If you go vegan, depending on where you live, you may have a hard time cutting food miles – beans, nuts and soya products tend to come to the UK from overseas. There are no perfect solutions here, but make whatever moves you can to cut the carbon imprint of your diet.

I’ve pushed towards veganism before and found it difficult. Sourcing affordable protein is an issue, although I can manage it. What’s turned out to be a real problem, is fats. What dairy remains in my life is as much a fat source as anything else, and it is the need for fats in the diet that has thus far, thwarted me. It’s easy (especially if you have a penance aspect to your food choices) to view fats as bad and a diet light on them as good. In practice, neither my skin nor my brain work well without them.

To reduce the animal products in my diet I have to figure out an approach to food that sorts out the need for fats. Where in the food prep process the fats go, is a question I need to answer and I think it will take me away from the food approaches I am used to. My current project is to figure this out, and introduce the solutions gently so that I can change my relationship with food. I’ve replaced milk with substitutes with no trouble at all, and when there are vegan options I often take them.

I don’t think absolutism is the solution for all of us. Finding what works for you and how best to reduce your carbon footprint is a question to ask. Mine is pretty low as it is (carbon calculator over here – https://footprint.wwf.org.uk/ ) but I want to do better.


Pronouns for nature

Normally when we talk about trees, plants and landscapes, we use the language of inanimate objects. There is a world of difference between saying ‘this is the tree that grows near my house’ and ‘this is the tree who grows near my house’. My grammar check rejects the second option.

Equally, when it comes to living beings, we’re more likely to call them ‘it’ (which is the ‘proper’ grammar) than to use pronouns in a way that foregrounds their individuality. Compare ‘it is an otter, it is eating a fish’. With ‘she is eating a fish’.

Where I can, I prefer to use he/she pronouns for nature, because it makes other living beings sound less like objects, and I think that’s important. This is of course not without issue. Some creatures I can gender-identify at a glance because of size, plumage or behaviour. Some I can’t, and I have to guess. For many, gender doesn’t really apply. Mushrooms, most trees, snails, earthworms, fish – there’s all kinds of living things that don’t do gender the way mammals do, and are hermaphrodites, or change genders. Mammals don’t always do gender the way we use language to construct mammal gender. I’m conscious that if I use gender pronouns for creatures who don’t do genders, I am perpetrating the fiction that nature has only two sexes in it.

To call a person ‘it’ is to put them down. To call an animal ‘it’ is similarly to reduce its status. To call an animal he, or she, is to reinforce his or her status. Using ‘they’ or ‘their’ in this context has interesting effects. This is language we still aren’t sure about for humans, so in terms of lifting a living creature out of objectification, it doesn’t always work. We’d have to be more comfortable talking about humans as ‘they’ not to have a feeling of othering when it’s used to talk about an individual. Perhaps in time, this will change.

In the meantime, I invite you to think about who gets which pronouns. Pets tend to get pronouns, wild animals, and farmed animals less so. We only use pronouns when we identify an individual as unique and when we value them. Plants are alive, but we normally frame them with language as though they were simply objects.


The Pre-Programming – a review

I read and reviewed The Automation – part one of the Circo del Herrero series back in the summer. Volume 2 is now out and honestly it blows the first novel out of the water. I really enjoyed the first book, but volume 2 achieves whole new levels. It’s also nigh on impossible to talk about the plot without spoilers for the first book.

This is a modern set fantasy in which Vulcan (the God) has automata running around in the human world causing trouble and adventure. You do not need to know your Greek or Roman Gods to get in here and enjoy the tale. You can’t start with volume 2 though. You really have to begin and the beginning with this series or you will be utterly lost. This is a complicated reality with a lot of ideas in it, and you need to get in and appreciate some of those ideas before you have them taken apart for you.

Volume 2 picks up the plot threads from volume one, laughs at you, and runs off in a whole selection of new directions. Nothing makes me happier as a reader than a well crafted story that I cannot predict. This is one of those. Twisty doesn’t begin to describe it. I was entirely surprised, repeatedly. Plot shapes suggested by volume 1 crumbled. Characters died. Agendas were revealed to be other than expected. No one was quite who I thought they were. By the end of book 2 it looks like the real plot has emerged, and now we know what’s going on. I expect we’re being set up for even more massive rug pulls when volume 3 comes out.

There was one line in the FAQs at the start that stuck out for me “Because the author of this series grew up in the Bible Belt, is of indigenous descent and has a lot to say (sub-textually) in response to colonialism and literature like American Gods, for instance.” It struck me that this series (at the moment) is well worth considering as a response to American Gods and that looking back at American Gods with this in mind, I now feel quite uneasy. And also happy to feel uneasy in retrospect.

I heartily recommend this series, it is knowing, funny, provocative, full of surprises. I wait impatiently for the next instalment. Find out more at circodelherreroseries.com


Light, mist and intuition

Walking across the hills on Christmas day, the light was unusual. There was a thin mist or low cloud, with the sun coming up. The light was diffuse. Everything around me seemed quite colour intense while things further away had a washed out quality. There weren’t many shadows, and what there was served to emphasise what was nearest. This kind of lighting creates a strange, otherworldly feel.

What struck me, was this is how I’ve been colouring Hopeless Maine landscapes since the autumn. When I made the decision to approach colouring this way, it was about what I thought would work for the storytelling, and what I could consistently do. When it comes to conscious thinking, I have a really poor visual memory. Unless I concentrate on something, I won’t consciously remember what it looks like. However, I’ve clearly seen that misty light effect before. Some part of me probably knew and remembered.

For me this is an example of how apparently magical intuition often isn’t so inexplicable after all. We take in so much data, we can’t process all of it consciously. What comes in unconsciously will act upon us without our knowing it. This is part of how our environments shape us. When it happens this way, it is a blessing. We turn out to know more than we thought we did, we have inner reserves of wisdom and experience to draw on that come out as a feeling or an idea, not something we can immediately explain and evidence.

However, what else gets in, to inform our feelings and shape our responses? It depends a lot on what we expose ourselves to.


Rest and Happiness

There is nothing like being exhausted to bring on the depression and anxiety. There is also nothing like pushing yourself to work when exhausted to lower self esteem and make you feel awful. Rest is a basic human need, and if for some reason you can’t have it over long time frames, your mental health will suffer, as will the rest of your body.

We need rest to heal, to recover from illness. We need time to draw breath, reflect on life, make plans, regroup and digest what we’ve learned. Life without this is stressful and feels like constant fire fighting.

I’ve done seven day weeks and twelve hour days – when you’re self employed and not very well paid the pressure to try and do some extra thing for whatever extra pay you can get, is vast. Some years ago I ditched hard work in favour of smart work. I started taking better care of myself. If I’m not teetering on the edge of burnout all the time, I’m faster, more effective, and more efficient. I’m also happier and better able to enjoy what I’m doing.

I normally take weekends off. Sometimes I take afternoons off, or a day in the week. At the end of December I had the wonderful luxury of a whole week off. I plan rest and recovery into my week. As a consequence, I get more done and feel better while I’m doing it. I’ve also seen marked changes in my self esteem. I’ve spent most of my life with low self esteem, easily persuaded that my wants are irrelevant and that my needs aren’t proper needs anyway. Everything and everyone else has always seemed more important. In putting my own need for rest on the list I’ve challenged those beliefs head on. It’s been interesting.

Having made room for my own needs, I’ve become less open to people who want to run me until I break, or use me until I’m used up. I’ve chosen better, healthier and more supportive spaces to be in. This has also greatly improved my happiness and wellbeing.

When you suffer from low self esteem it’s hard to give any priority to your own happiness and wellbeing, or to get out of situations that aren’t doing you any good. Failure to meet basic needs makes you feel even less like a person. Something as simple as resting can have a massive restorative effect. Not only does it replenish the body, but you also affirm your sense of worth and personhood by doing it. You have the same needs as any other person and the same entitlement to meet them, and that can be a huge building block to better feelings about yourself and having better standards and boundaries that will serve you, not someone else.

Resting gives you the time to look at how your energy is used and to reflect on what’s working. The person who is run ragged all the time doesn’t get space to plan an escape route, or energy to question what’s happening. Rest enables reflection, and reflection helps us make much better choices. Not only does rest help with mental health issues, it opens the way to being actively healthier and happier. It’s not a quick fix – the more entrenched the problems, the deeper the exhaustion the longer it takes to get on top of this. To begin, you have to treat it like it matters, and that can be hard. If you can’t treat resting like it matters, there are some huge questions to ask about your life, and you’re going to need to make the time to ask them. No one can run flat out forever.


Creative trajectories, novel issues

Those of you who have followed my blog for some time will know that I’ve had a fair few meltdowns about creativity. Some of it is simply because publishing is highly problematic, and for a good 95% of us involved, doesn’t pay enough to live on. Some of it, I have recently realised, is about my attitude to novels. Now that I’m looking at it with a critical eye, I’m not sure why novels loom so large in my mind. It is usually my failure to write novels that gets me down. Or my failure to get them out there (I have a few lying around waiting for something to happen to them).

I feel very strongly that I want to write for other people, not simply for myself. I can’t really justify the many hours of work that going into a novel if that novel does nothing. I want to write for people in a way that readers of my work will get something from. It doesn’t have to be about numbers or economics – if one person finds a blog post useful, I feel I’ve achieved something important.

In terms of engaging with people, this blog is the biggest and most important thing I do. There are some four thousand of you subscribed to it now. This might be the most useful, relevant and valuable form I work in.

The poetry I write also has good scope for connecting with people. I post it on here, and over on patreon, sometimes I make films around it and much of it goes out to live poetry spaces for direct sharing. I like how all of this works.

The graphic novels engage people, and the colouring work I’m doing on those seems to be a good thing, but I take it less seriously, am less willing to own it. I see those as my husband’s project on which I help out with writing and colouring. He doesn’t see it that way. I need to rethink all of that.

Why do I treat novel writing as the pinnacle of writing? It’s been an unquestioned assumption for me, that novels are somehow best, and that writing them is the best sort of writing. It’s not a form of writing that enables me to quickly engage with anyone else. It’s not a form with which I can do anything economically productive for my household. It doesn’t have the scope for direct engagement like a poem or a mumming play. Certainly, novel reading is a big part of my life and has helped me in all kinds of ways, but it’s a form with all kinds of issues.

You can’t write a novel without conflict in the lives of its protagonists. Increasingly, I want to write about simple, good things that work. I want to write about landscape and seasons, the beauty of the wild world. Poetry lends itself far better to this than novels do. Non-fiction can carry it well.

I’m in a process of re-evaluating the forms I work in, and what of that does what I want it to do. My fixation on novels doesn’t make any sense to me at the moment. It’s not what’s needed, it’s not what I’m inspiredo t write. I want to write things for people. There will no doubt, be more novels, and I need to work out what to do with the ones I’ve already written, but I need to get over it as a form, and give myself more room to enjoy what I most often do, and what clearly has most impact.


New Year Resolutions

Yesterday I blogged about making radical green resolutions. So, you may well ask, what are mine? I already don’t own a car, a fridge, a freezer, a television or a microwave or washing machine. I’m already committed to not flying, and I’m already vegetarian. I can’t do much more to eco-fit my home because I live in a block of flats. I can’t grown my own food or compost my own waste for the same reason. My scope to make radical changes is not as big, as a consequence.

I am looking at strategies to reduce the amount of animal products in my diet. I’ll be blogging about this as I go.

I’m looking at how people drive because of me, as an extension of car use issues.

I’m going to invest more effort in persuading people to live more as I do, and I’m going to do that this year as part of a project to talk more about how to be happy. I get a lot out of my relatively low impact life and I think other people could, too.

Last year brought a lot of changes and challenges for me, but it’s made me think a lot about what I want in all aspects of my life. I’m rethinking where I am creatively – more on this to follow. I’m set on focusing more on how things work day to day, rather than being too long term about anything. I don’t have any long term goals at this stage in my life that don’t depend more on luck than my own efforts. How I live day to day has more impact on me than where I might be going.

This last year has taught me to rethink a lot of my relationships with people. Every time I’ve held my boundaries and said no, it has really paid off for me. I’ve asked for help – something I find difficult, but I’ve clearly asked the right people and have had help that has made a huge difference. I’m going to go forward more aware that help may be available, and more willing to ask for it.

My major intention for 2019 is to make more time for daydreaming. I’ve still got a lot to figure out. I feel like I’m in an in-between place, not really ready to set firm intentions for a calendar year, but needing to put in time on how I want to change and grow. Daydreaming has always been an important imaginative tool for me. I use it to test ideas, seed creative projects and figure out who and how I want to be. I need to dedicate more time to it.

I hope whatever you plan for yourself for this year, that you can do it in a way that serves you. I’ve tried resolutions as penitence and self-punishment and they don’t achieve much. I’ve done much better with them since I shifted to setting intentions and looking at my trajectory and needs. I can heartily recommend this as an approach.


Make radical green resolutions

This is the year to make radical green resolutions. Change your life, and help reduce the amount of harm we’re doing to the planet.

The most important areas to look at are energy use, transport, your home, your plastic use and your diet.

Where possible switch to a greener supplier or source.

However, many of these things can’t be dealt with by just buying a greener option. If for example we replaced all the single use plastic packaging with some other material, the scale of use means there would still be a massive environmental impact. We have to cut back, radically. All of us. Those of us who have most have to cut back most.

We have to question everything we do, everything we use, everything we buy. If you’ve been justifying to yourself something you know isn’t sustainable, now is a good time to re-think it. If you can’t give it up entirely, cut it back as much as you can. If it’s something you can’t solve personally, make a commitment to campaigning for change.

Make a New Year’s resolution that involves radical lifestyle change. Do it for the planet. Do it for yourself. Do it to start building a better and more sustainable life. Do it because it’s the right thing to do.