Category Archives: Bardic

Professor Elemental and Hopeless Maine

Here’s an exciting development! Right now on Professor Elemental’s bandcamp page there is an EP called Nervous, which you can buy. Every penny of revenue from this release will be donated to the YPC Counselling service. This is a youth service based in Brighton and their counselling offers vital, low cost help for young people, giving them a chance to talk about their lives and their problems. So, an excellent cause, which you can support by buying music. https://professorelemental.bandcamp.com/album/nervous-ep

On that EP is a track called Hopeless Maine. This is a song that the Prof has written in response to www.hopelessmaine.com – the graphic novel series (and soon to be many other things) that I’m involved with. It’s a great song, and my son James has been performing it as part of the Hopeless Maine song set for a while now. It’s wonderful to see it released into the world.

I’ve known Professor Elemental for a long time. He was reading Hopeless when not many people at all had even heard of it. He’s always been very supportive of us. We’ve contributed to his comic, and a few years ago there was a co-written novella, illustrated by Tom, called ‘Letters Between Gentlemen’. It’s always been a very fertile sort of relationship.

One of the things that I’m really excited about with the whole Hopeless Maine project is the way it catches the imaginations of other people and causes them to want to jump in and do something. There’s all kinds of amazing things in the pipeline as a consequence of this. It’s awe inspiring, frequently humbling and I feel very fortunate indeed to be part of it.

 

Here’s the art Tom Brown did for the song – for those of you not familiar with anyone involved, that’s Hopeless Maine’s main character, Salamandra, rescuing Professor Elemental from a sea monster. He really does look like that, only usually without the monstery leg adornment…

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Mapping the contours

 

 

Human bodies are much like landscapes.

We have our contours and crevices,

Signs of weathering, history written

Into soil and skin alike.

 

Some of us are flat land formations

Others are complex, curving hillscapes

Verdant forested or marble smooth.

Clay and bone and watercourse.

 

The paces we are inhabiting

Inhabit us in turn, as we move

These bodies through localities, as the

Shape of them shapes or motions.

 

Human bodies are much like landscapes

Revealing to the patient lover

Taking time to know and to season.

Growing into new pleasures.

 

Do we scrabble hastily over

Each other’s surfaces in search of

Something we don’t even know to name

Or are we slow explorers, willing

Make our Journey a caress of feet,

Know line and lane, hair and tree.

 

Are we climbing hills to conquer them

Or taking leisurely routes, here and

There for the pleasure of knowing

Present and unpossessing.

 

Human bodies are much like landscapes.

We should enter knowingly, aware,

With tender hearts and no assumptions,

More inclined to give than take.

 

To honour and cherish what we find,

And let the landscapes of ourselves be

Changed, softened, even redeemed for us

Through our encounters.


Audio fiction at the centre of the world

I am delighted to announce that my speculative novel – Fast Food at the Centre of the Wold – is now entirely up at bandcamp and you can start listening to it here – https://nimuebrown.bandcamp.com/track/fast-food-at-the-centre-of-the-world-part-one

This is a novel recorded by me in 22 episodes – each episode is about twenty minutes long. If you listen on bandcamp you can hear the whole thing for free, so far as I know. I encourage you to do that! (If you want to throw money at me, that’s lovely, but you definitely don’t have to.)

This is a story with a lot of magic in it. While the magic is considerably more dramatic than the kinds of experiences Pagans tend to report, I’ve tried to root it in ways that make sense. The most obvious sorcerer in the mix – Dunsany – is very much a will worker and comes from the kind of tradition that draws complex sigils on things and reads a lot of books. He’s also touched by otherworldly influences.

Some of the magic is wild, chaotic and instinctual. There’s also a lot of bardic magic here and I think that’s the most realistic part of the mix. I firmly believe in the power of song, poetry and story to act on people and radically change them. There’s a lot of that sort of thing in this story. And it is a story that has managed to cast a spell on at least one person – resulting in her now writing poetry. This is something I’m enormously proud of.

I’m pondering what the next audio project might be. Poetry? Chants? Short stories? Songs? Another novel? Obviously some of these things I can do more quickly than others. If there’s anything you’d particularly like me to do, please say.

And in the meantime, if you want to help me get more stuff out there free at the point of delivery (this blog, youtube videos, informal mentoring, etc) consider supporting me on Patreon if you want to make a monthly commitment (and get more of my creative stuffs). Or, if you want to do a one off thing, throw money in the ko-fi hat below (everything helps). Thank you!

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com


Essential table manners – flash fiction

I don’t tend to plan flash fictions. They just turn up…

One begins by delicately eating the garnish of the first course. For the second course, one will find a small and amusing dip to the left of the plate. That dip is specifically for your garnish. The third course does not feature a garnish – that would be vulgar. No one who is anyone eats the garnish that accompanies the fourth course. It is traditional to leave a longer gap between courses four and five than at other points in the meal, to facilitate the quiet removal of the ill-bred. Those who have not been taught the finer points of etiquette, poisoned by their own pretensions. The fifth course invariably has a celebratory tone to it, and from here it can be said that the evening truly begins.

 


The writing of chants

I’ve been writing chants for a while now, with varying degrees of success. I started because the chants I was encountering didn’t do what I wanted them to do. I wanted seasonally specific material that connects directly to my landscape. I find chants difficult to write because my inclinations are to use more words than anyone else can easily pick up, and to write tunes that aren’t easy to sing when you’ve never heard them before, so I’ve had to push back against that.

For chants to be available to people who haven’t had weeks to learn them, they need to be simple. Not too many words and plenty of repetition. Tunes need to be simple enough that less confident singers won’t be put off by them. However, chants that are dull don’t inspire people, so there’s a balance to find here.

For ‘Turn with the year’ I used the repetition of the word ‘turn’ to give something easy to latch onto. There are some significant intervals between notes here, but I think they’re the kinds of gaps that make immediate sense to the ears of western, northern hemisphere folk. It’s also a tune that’s very forgiving of people singing something else alongside it – which is often where harmony lines come from.

For my recent Beltane chant, I relied on echoing a song I think a lot of Pagans will know from The Wicker Man – Summer is acomming in. So I think it feels familiar, and apart from one line, the tune is really simple. When I tested this one on friends, they picked it up in a couple of goes.

The folk tradition has a broad and deep history of songs designed for people to pick up quickly and join in on. These are often more complicated than the Pagan chant. They depend on one person knowing the words, and an obvious pattern – there might only be one or two new lines in any given verse. I was thinking about shanties when I wrote Three Drops. The line ‘Fire in my head’ repeats three times in every verse and every verse ends with ‘three drops of inspiration’. There’s one new line at the start of every verse – three drops, into the forest, salmon in the well and drink from the cauldron – people get the ‘fire in my head’ sometimes even in the first verse on first hearing.

So, the questions to ask when writing a chant are, I think – what do you need to say? How can you say it in the fewest possible words? How can you make it easy to pick up? How singable is it? How interesting is it? Will people enjoy joining in with it?

I don’t think the point of a chant should be to send people into a trance born of boredom and monotony. Chants should be about the power of raising our voices together, the feeling of involvement and togetherness this brings. A good chant uplifts and inspires people. If you can hum a tune and string a sentence together, you have the key skills to try writing your own.


Videos for May

I made these two videos for the Pagan Federation online disabilities festival in May.

This first one I started much earlier in the year, charting the growth of the garlic – I haven’t got the final part of the process where it dies back.

 

This second video is a chant. I wrote it specifically for the event after Debi asked whether anyone could do one.

 

 


Keeping creative

Over the years, I’ve tried all kinds of approaches to creativity, and the only thing I am sure of is that different people, at different times in their lives will find they have different needs. How best to serve those needs will be individual. There’s a big aspect of self knowledge in finding ways to be creatively effective.

Some people respond well to deadlines and are suddenly able to work like demons as the deadline looms. I am not one of those people. I meet deadlines, but I dislike them and they don’t really motivate me.

I benefit from feeling at least a bit accountable to someone else. Rather a lot of you show up to read this blog day after day, which gives me a reason to make sure that there’s a blog here for you to read, or in your inbox as you prefer. I’m finding the Patreon stuff works the same way – I put up a small piece of new writing (usually a poem), a longer piece of fiction (usually Hopeless Maine related), an excerpt or a video, and a newsletter week by week, cycling round that each month. This has proved sustainable and feasible and I deliver. I’m hoping that sending physical stuff to people is going to open up some new ways of working, too. (Patreon stuff is here – https://www.patreon.com/NimueB )

Other accountable things have worked less well – I once wrote a novel in about eight weeks, and when offered the chance to keep doing that for about a thousand pounds a go, I declined, because the first one left me so burned out, sleep deprived and jittery that there was clearly no way I could keep working at that pace. I know other people who can, and for whom it works – all power to them, but it’s not for me.

During the period when I went to a folk club every week, I learned new songs regularly and I practiced music more often. I’m not as motivated to do that if I don’t have somewhere to go. At the moment, I have access to a regular poetry gathering, which means I’m writing more poetry than I used to, because I have somewhere to share it. Yes, I’m a sucker for the applause. It gets me moving. I don’t create well in isolation.

Much of my best work happens when I have someone to create for. Often if I’m working on a wordy project, I’ll have specific readers in mind. People I want to impress, or amuse, or delight.

For me, creativity works best when it feels like part of a dialogue with others. When I’m responding, sharing, participating in something that is more than me and not just about me. This is no doubt part of why I love working collaboratively – when you work with someone, they are there to be created for, I can try to impress them, I get feedback from them and the inspiration that comes from seeing what they do.

I know for a lot of creators, the process is far more private, and exists between them and their muse. There are of course no right answers here, no correct ways of working, but it helps a lot to figure out what sort of person you are and what enables you.


Changeling, Changing

Three days after the birth, faeries emerged from the wood

To steal the baby, leaving in its stead a thing fashioned

Of mud and twigs and old, dead leaves.

 

At first, no one noticed. It was a quiet baby.

It slept a lot.

Years passed before they realised the truth,

Felt the texture of bark and leaflitter

Under the illusion of baby skin.

They meant well, and so raised the changeling,

The baby that never was. Raised the twig child,

Telling it gently of its nature.

 

The twig child watched the wood margins,

Waiting to be taken home, expecting one day

To fall apart into mud, and twigs, and old, dead leaves.

 

Years follow years and the twig child continues,

Cannot explain itself, feels its difference, grows

Looking human but feeling twigs, mud, dead leaves.

Meets its reflection in a woodland pool, surprised

To see lips and eyes, cheeks and soft hair.

Like some proper human.

Wonders long, and uneasy

At changeling tales, sees no twigs, no mud.

Crawls into human skin for the first time,

A lost child, coming home to itself.

Wondering if there ever was a stolen child or why

It had been told such stories, considers

It may no longer be an it.

It could have a name.

It could be a person.

 

It could be a me.


How to be a poet

Creativity starts long before you sit down with the tools to make a piece. For the sake of coherence, I’m going to focus in this post specifically on what needs to happen before a poem is written.

A poet needs a love for and skill with language – I would say more so than any other kind of writer. A poet needs to be alert to the sounds, shapes, and rhymes of words. They also need to be conscious of the implications and possibilities each word they use may hold. Sensitivity to language and to the way it can be used is something to be involved with every day.

Poems tend to be smaller than other forms of writing. They call for precision. To be precise, you have to know what you want to get across. To do that well, you need to understand what the most important features are, or what will most readily evoke it. That in turn requires paying attention.

I think I can tell the difference between a poet who had an idea and sat down to flesh it out, and a poet who starts from keen observation and then whittles it down into a piece. The second instance produces poems that are richer and more surprising, because there’s an alertness to detail that you can’t have unless you’ve been working on it all along.

Any experience has the potential for poetry in it. The person who lives in a state of awareness, noticing the details, the nuances, the processes, is well placed to draw on that wealth of experience.

The person who only looks at their own experience, and does so in a fairly superficial way, tends to write poetry charged only by the feeling of the moment. What they won’t necessarily know how to do is make that accessible to other people. If you work only at the surface, you get the hot anger and the cold resentment, soft feelings of love and hollow feelings of loss… but there are many, many poems out there that talk in superficial metaphors about common human experiences. To have something new to say, you need to know more than this.

Poets also need to be people who read poetry. Other reading certainly helps, but encountering – as text or performance – really good poetry makes a lot of difference. Poetry can take many forms, and exists in many cultures. The shape of the piece is often part of where it comes from and what it needs to say. What you’d try to express in a Japanese haiku is not what you’d be trying to express in Icelandic rap, which is not what you’d find in the rap styles of urban America. Slam poetry has its own rhythms and purposes, but has a different flavour to poetry inspired directly by beat poets. And so on, and so forth. Know the form you mean to write in, and get to know as many other forms as you can, because it all helps.

You should be able to read back your finished and edited poem and justify every word and comma in it. You should know why each is there and why it couldn’t possibly be replaced by some other word, or a colon. You should be confident that no word could be taken away without harming the whole and that equally, no word could be added, without it causing more harm than help. You should reach this point confident that your poem does what you intended it to do, and that a reader or listener will be affected in the right way by it.


How to create

There are silly numbers of blogs out there offering advice for writers. They say clever things like, if you want to be a writer, write! Write every day. Write a set number of words every day. Write what you know. No one would say the same thing to a musician. Want to be a guitarist? Just get a guitar and play it every day! Want to paint? Try to paint at least fifteen square inches of canvas every day! Want to make craft items? Make what you know… It doesn’t work, and why and how it doesn’t work is pretty self announcing when we talk about anything other than writing. No one thinks that everyone has a found objects sculpture in them.

To create, it helps to have a body of knowledge about the possibilities of your preferred medium and what people already do in it. If you’re excited about a form, then obviously you want to know about it. You want to read it, look at it, wear it, sniff it – as appropriate (or not!). You’ll need some of that insight before you start, and then you keep working on it as you go along. You also look for relevant content from other disciplines. A songwriter might decide there’s stuff to be learned from reading poetry and going to gigs in other musical genres. A violin player might decide to broaden their understanding of music by learning the piano as well.

Learning skills is essential. If you want to choreograph, you need to learn how to dance, and learn how people express dance to each other in written form. Whatever you’re making, there will be tools available to you and you need to know how best to use them.

You need feedback as you go along. Yes, the idea of vanishing into the creator cave and emerging, blinking into the light a year later with the perfect, finished thing is appealing, but it doesn’t work like that for most people. Trustworthy people to share with can save you from going off the rails. We all need peers, and mentors. Even if those people aren’t doing exactly the same thing, it is good to have them in the mix. Feedback can keep a person going when it all starts to get tricky – which it will, sooner or later. Sharing the challenges, lessons and insights can be a great advantage all round.

You need to know what your creativity is for and where it is going. You may be just doing it for yourself. That’s fine. Don’t, however, think that you can make it purely for yourself and then put it out into the world and magically find that everyone loves it. Building an audience takes time, and work, and if you don’t actively seek people to share your stuff with, they will not manifest out of the ether when you need them.

There is no point in this process where you get to stop studying, learning, experimenting and practicing. If you’ve finished with all of that, you’ve finished developing, finished being relevant. You might get some mileage repeating yourself – we can all think of authors who have essentially written the same book over and over. In the short term it can make commercial sense to stay in your niche, doing what people expect you to do, but for most creators, this will turn out to be the beginning of the end. If you aren’t excited about what you’re doing, why would anyone else be excited about it?