Category Archives: Bardic

Anti-romantic poetry

All those heart metaphors

 

I wore my heart on my sleeve for you.

I spilled my guts.

 

I put my spleen on my shoulder

Was that helpful?

I draped my lungs over my ears,

Put my liver in the upturned cuff

Of my trousers,

Wore my pancreas on my wrist.

 

Do I make sense now?

Can you read my entrails?

Is the hollow place under my ribs

Understandable? Clearer?

Do you need to see all my bones?

 

Is honesty the exposed inner workings

Or was it the mysterious whole?

Where’s the true layer?

What should we dig down to?

 

I put my heart on my sleeve for you.

Just offal and mess, it turns out

And not much good at all.

 

(I may be going to do a run of these, exploring ideas around romance and dismantling them in whatever way occurs to me at the time. Especially what we’re supposed to do with hearts – which discernibly work better on the inside.)

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A little bit of gothic fiction

This is a recording of me reading the first chapter of New England Gothic. It’s a prose novella set on Hopeless Maine.

I come from Gloucestershire in the UK, and in terms of accents, I can sound more, or less like I come from Gloucestershire. I have thus made zero attempts to capture the speaking voices of people living off the coast of Maine at time unspecified, in a slightly uncertain reality. I have no idea what they should sound like!

We’ve been doing a kickstarter to publish this one, and two weeks in, are fully funded, which is wonderful. The support has been amazing – in terms of people pledging, pledging more than we asked for, and sharing the project to get more people onboard. It’s been a really affirming experience. I’ve not written much fiction in recent years because there didn’t seem to be much point – getting novels in front of people isn’t easy. I’m moving away from novels anyway, and clearly there are ways of getting books into people’s hands, so, forwards!

The kickstarter is over here, should you feel moved to check it out  – https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/countrostov/tales-of-hopeless-maine

 


Sharing a world

I like collaborating with people. Making stuff up is fun, but making stuff up when that process is shared, is a greater joy. I think this is a big part of what motivates people to engage with both fan fiction and folklore – that it puts you in a community with people who love what you love and who want to play with it. With folklore of course there’s no sense that any one person can own the material. With fan fiction, the tension between original creator and people who want to play can be a thing. Where does celebration end and exploitation begin?

Hopeless Maine has always been a kind of ‘open source’ project with room for people to get involved. How the money works is an interesting question, but there’s not so much money floating about around the project to make is worth ripping off, and the people who want to play with us tend to be inclined to play nicely. Which technically makes it some sort of unofficial anarchic co-operative.

Thus far, co-operation has included people making creatures and objects for the island, writing for the island’s newspaper, performing with us at events, composing music inspired by the island, creating a role play game, and now, prose books. I enjoy this process immensely. The island is a big enough place to really benefit from having more people exploring it. Hopeless Maine feels more like a world in its own right because it has so many real people involved with it.

I do my best work when I’m writing for someone, or because of someone. Left to my own devices I’m not reliably creative. Give me a co-creator who is expecting content, and content turns up in my head. Give me people asking questions and wanting to read stuff, and my output improves. I’ve never been the lone creator in the high tower, my work has always had everything to do with the people in my life. And I like it when some of those people are involved in making things with me.

At the moment, I’m doing a kickstarter to launch one illustrated prose book of mine, and a second by Keith Errington. Both are set on Hopeless, both are illustrated by Tom Brown. Keith’s story also owes something to fellow Hopeless Maine collaborator Meredith Debonnaire. We’re simply raising enough money to print books (in case anyone wonders about the financial implications of this sort of thing.) Get in for both books by the end of the week and you might get an obituary – at time of writing there are 38 slots left for obituaries. You can read the first obituary here – https://hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com/2019/08/26/bertram-fiddles-death-mystery/

And here’s the kickstarter link – https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/countrostov/tales-of-hopeless-maine


Creatively doing nothing

One of the trickier things around being creative is the issue of time spent apparently doing little or nothing. It can be awkward in terms of how you see yourself. It can be very awkward around how other people relate to you. Ideas require time and space – and this isn’t just a creative issue, either. This is an issue for living well.

Time to think gives us room to explore what we want and how we feel. We can digest experiences and reflect on them and decide what to do next. For anyone who wants to be creative, in any sense, there needs to be this process of input, assimilation and then making something new.

There are of course important balances to strike. Being creative doesn’t mean you are entitled to take time other people in your household don’t have. Make sure the time to productively do nothing is shared about. If one person gets to sit around contemplating only because another person is working themselves to the bone, that’s not acceptable. It is all too easy to use the need for creative non-productivity to justify doing very little.

How do you tell, from the outside, if someone is doing the needful inner work to keep their life and/or their art in order? How much space do you give someone to stare dreamily into the middle distance? The odds are it will depend a lot on what they do the rest of the time, and how much you value that. None of us are under any obligation to find anyone else’s processes acceptable – it’s all about negotiation in the end. How we make space for each other is an important question in all relationships.

Appearing to be busy is of course not a measure of worth, either. If you’ve just knuckled down to spending every spare hour on revision twenty four of the three hundred thousand word long novel you’ve been working on for the last ten years and still aren’t happy with… that business may not be any measure of the worth of the work.

It’s also important to remember that being productive and being economically viable aren’t the same issue, either. You can create the most beautiful, inspired and worthwhile things and not be able to make a living from it.

Even so, it is good to gather wool. It is good to sit and let your mind wander, considering anything and nothing that floats through. It is good to make time and space for your own reflections. Without this, it is difficult to sustain any kind of creativity. It’s in the quiet, unstructured spaces that we come to know ourselves and can figure out something about who we are and where we might be going.


Doing it from memory

We know that the ancient Druids had an oral tradition, and that the bards of old memorised vast amounts of material. However, when it comes to the modern bard path, I think it’s really important not to be dogmatic about doing things from memory.

Firstly, not everyone can. Not all brains are good at storing great swathes of text and music. Brain injuries, cognitive differences, and learning difficulties can all make memorising impossible, or excessively difficult. No one should be excluded from bardic performance for these reasons. If you’re holding a bardic space, it is important not to discriminate and not to demand that people perform from memory. Don’t challenge people who can’t and don’t ask why they can’t – it isn’t your business.

There can also be class, life stage and economic issues around performance from memory as well. Learning takes time. That time may not be available – work, illness, family, and other pressures may mean a person does not have the luxury of time to learn content by heart. It is kinder and more inclusive not to put people under pressure or to exclude them based on how overwhelming their lives are. And again, we do not need to know the details of why a person cannot commit to learning the words.

For someone who is anxious, or inexperienced, doing it without the words can simply be too daunting the first few times. People who could be great may never get started if the entry bar is set to high. None of us benefit from that.

The quality of a performance does not depend on whether you are holding a piece of paper. Certainly a piece of paper can be a barrier between performer and audience, but it doesn’t have to be. No one complains about classical musicians reading from the sheet music. Authors are allowed to read from their books at events, too. It is entirely possible to perform very badly from memory. The best thing to do is focus on quality of performance – in your own work and when you are making space for other people.

If you need the words, or notes, to make that possible, go with whatever allows you to do the best performance you can. Don’t penalise other people for needing to rely on paper or phones for content. You can encourage excellence without making specific demands on what people do. It takes time to develop as a performer and most people start out far less able than they will be with practice. Experience of performing is part of what takes a person towards being a really great performer – most of us don’t get up for the first time at anything like the level of performance we might be capable of.

(And thank you to Clive Oseman for the prompt)


Wisdom from the Ancestors – a poem

Wisdom from the Ancestors

 

If the ancient Druids spoke through me

They would say to you,

Now we are in crisis.

In drought and flood our crops will fail.

Our people are in conflict.

Many go hungry.

Our wild brothers and sisters

Even the sacred bee

Are in peril,

May leave us forever.

Faced with such disaster

We need a really potent sacrifice.

Not goats this time.

Not criminals or prisoners of war

No commoner we were finding a bit inconvenient

No!

In the face of dire circumstance

Only the brightest and best will do.

We need a sacrifice who combines

Wealth, power and influence. A leader!

A statesman, more valuable than any other.

Only the greatest and most noble of sacrifices

Can save us.

 

When they destroy the land and the people

For their power and pride

It is their own vanity that will lead them

All the way to the ritual space.

It’s not that we’re superstitious.

It’s that we know sometimes

The best way to protect democracy

Is to persuade the bastards at the top

To self congratulate themselves all the way

To a wicker man.

 

(I’m not advocating putting actual people in actual wickermen, but at times like this I can’t help but feel that there are other ways of looking at the idea of sacrifice kings…)


Out of love with novels

I read novels of course – usually one or more in any given week. I read widely in different genres, historical and contemporary. I’ve read disposable comfort fiction, although most of the time I prefer to be surprised. I’ve read the self-proclaimed literary stuff, although most of the time I prefer the work of thoughtful people who want to entertain their readers. One way and another, I have spent much of my adult life thinking about books, and novels most especially.

Child me wanted to be a novelist and wrote a lot of short stories. Teenage me wanted to be a novelist and started trying to write novels and novellas. Twenty something me got quite a lot of novels written and published as ebooks. Somewhere in my thirties I slowed down. I lost the drive, the passion and the love that had kept me writing and for a long time I wasn’t sure what was wrong. Yes, the industry sucks, and it is nigh on impossible to make enough money to live on. But, suffering for art, and putting your creativity ahead of profitability and doing it for love, and knowing there are at least a few people who appreciate what I write – that should have been enough, surely?

It’s taken me until the last few days to realise a few things. I have not ceased to love books and novels. I have not ceased to love storytelling. I am not out of ideas, and I am not out of creative impulses. I just don’t enjoy writing conventional novels anymore. The form itself no longer speaks to me as a creator. Looking back over my last few projects (stalled and languishing) I can now see what the common thread is. I can see my own resistance to the form, my trying to push for something else and not knowing what it was, much less how to do it.

There is a fledgling form, somewhat akin to the Japanese light novel – a form mixing prose, illustration and sequential art. It’s a young form, there are no hard rules about how it is supposed to work. I’m excited about it. I think it would free me up to find new ways of presenting and exploring stories, worlds and characters. It would allow me to work collaboratively with my husband, and it would mean if we shift to this form, that he isn’t spending 6 months a year full time on graphic novels. We’re going to do the two remaining books in the Hopeless Maine graphic novel arc, and then that may be it for us with big comics projects. We’d have more time, we could tell a story faster and with more depth and breadth than comics allow. We could tell stories with more visual interest and with all the artistic magic a regular novel does not permit. We can have fun with this.

It’s going to be an adventure!

 


I remind you of a car? A poem

I remind you of a car?

 

This machine goes from nought to five

Miles per hour only in emergencies

And never uphill.

Top speed of not much

Gets about five miles

To the pint of beer

Can do twenty miles in a day

But not if you want it to move afterwards.

May be long overdue for an MOT

Best not to dwell on the exhaust fumes.

Or the state of the upholstery.

Difficult to steer, but offroad handling superb.

Indicating things that have nothing

To do with direction of movement

May or may not have brain in gear

Has no idea what a clutch is

Much less how to use one as a metaphor

Handles wet surfaces

Well.

The built in satnav says

“I know exactly where we are”

And takes you to a wood

Full of creepy art instillations

And gets you lost, but not killed.

Has the freedom of the open road

In all weathers.

Does not require a paint job

Or rust removal

Or new tyres

But may need oiling now and then.

There are no brakes.

There are no safety belts

There is no cruise control.

But there is an ample boot

And finding a parking space is easy.

 

 

The title of course alludes to Professor Elemental’s You Remind Me of a Car – if you aren’t familiar with it, it goes a lot like this…


What makes some art sacred?

Fellow Moon Books author Imelda Almqvist has suggested using #SacredArt over on Twitter to talk about just that thing. So, what makes art sacred? In the bard tradition, it’s not just visual art that has spiritual significance. For bards the word, spoken or sung is primarily where its at. Modern bards tend to embrace all forms of creativity as potential bardic expressions, but that doesn’t mean all creativity is necessarily bardic.

Here are some thoughts about what separates sacred bardic creativity from regular creativity.

  • Where you get your inspiration from. If the work is inspired by spiritual experience then it’s fair to think of it as a spiritual activity.
  • If you are doing the work as an invitation for something to work through you, to receive messages and insights or otherwise open yourself to magic and inspiration, then there is a sacredness to it.
  • Who you create for – now, there may have to be a commercial aspect to this because everyone has to eat, but if your primary concern is with offering your creativity back to whatever you hold sacred, then there’s clearly a sacred art aspect to your work too. On the bard path, we also identify a spiritual aspect in using your creativity for the good of your land and tribe, so art for activism, inclusion and culture shift can also be seen as having a spiritual dimension.
  • If you create to bring spiritual ideas and feelings to people regardless of how spiritually inclined they are – there’s a sacred art aspect to your work.

Any piece of work could be driven by one of these factors, or combinations of factors. It may be the essence of the whole piece or project, or just a part of it.

In terms of that fourth point, it’s often work that isn’t overtly spiritual that has the most chance of connecting with people who are not currently feeling inspired or magical. Work that gets in under the radar can have powerful, transformative effects. It can impact on people who would actively turn away if they thought you were going to offer them something with a religious aspect. Sometimes, it’s by having that sacred aspect be one thread amongst many that you have the best chance of engaging people whose hearts might otherwise be closed to you.

To be recognised as a bard means persuading other humans that what you do is bardic. However, when it comes to the question of whether your art is sacred or not, no one else has any right to try and define that for you. If it feels sacred to you, then it is sacred.


Playing with Folklore

One of the things I like to do with the Hopeless Maine graphic novel series, is play with folklore. Here’s an example- the entirely traditional Mari Lwyds in a clearly non-traditional setting.

The Welsh Mari Lwyd tradition involves exactly the kit you see with horses skulls on poles and trailing costumes to cover the person holding the pole. You then go to houses and/or pubs for riddling fights.

When people migrate, they take their culture, folklore and beliefs with them. How that plays out can vary – it can mean that sometimes what the disaspora hold is an older form of the tradition than what develops elsewhere. People away from home can be more focused on keeping their traditions unchanged. Sometimes the opposite happens, and the tradition is influenced by what else is around, or evolves to suit the circumstances. Clearly, both trajectories are equally valid.

Playing with folklore in this way gives me scope to make things up – you can read what happens to Mari Lwyds on Hopeless Maine here – https://hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com/2019/05/03/the-hopeless-mari-lwyd/

And doing this in turn gives me a chance to talk about folklore as a process without getting too bogged down in the academic side of things, which is not my natural habitat.

More about the latest volume of Hopeless Maine here – http://www.slothcomics.co.uk/news/hopeless-maine-3-victims-is-released-in-june

Art in this blog mostly by Tom Brown and a bit by me.