Category Archives: Bardic

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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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.


Mapping the Contours, a reading

This is me reading Mapping the Contours, a poem from a poetry collection of the same name.

This is a collection I’ve written over a number of years – and not in an especially deliberate way. The poems are the consequence, most usually, of walks I’ve been on. Landscape dominates, but there’s also some politics (in the broader sense) and some Goddess material. Those of you who follow my work will know I’m not much good at belief, so I must add that this is me exploring ideas around Goddess, rather than having had some kind of dramatic perspective shift.

Hard copies of the book are available on etsy – https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/641871660/mapping-the-contours-poetry

PDFs can be sourced by supporting me on Patreon. If you dive in you can be there for a month and access everything I’ve done at the virtual levels. If you stay more than a month as a glass heron, I’ll also post you something. If you sign up and keep staying, I’ll keep making you stuff. I’ve found Patreon really motivating, and I’m at the kind of level financially where a few extra pounds in the month makes a real difference.

Mapping the Contours is the kind of project that has become more feasible for me because of Patreon. If you were thinking about supporting a creator this way, I can promise you, it makes a really big difference.


Piranha Poetry

On Monday night of this week I was guest poet at Piranha Poetry in Stroud. It’s a monthly event run in the large room of a pub, and has a lot of space for open mic poetry, and a guest poet each month. It kicked off in January of 2018 with Adam Horovitz as guest. Since then, the guests have been people who run poetry festivals and poetry nights, winners of slams and performers who are well established in Gloucestershire. And now, me.

I don’t get out much to perform. Going to the Piranha nights every month is pretty much all the poetry performance I do. I was surprised to be asked, and really touched. I performed to a room that had quite a few previous guest poets in it – a little intimidating, but nerves did not get the better of me. It’s the calmest I’ve felt performing in a long time. I used to be very easy about being on my feet in front of an audience, but had lost that in recent years and had been finding performing a lot harder. It’s good to know I can stand up in front of people in a relaxed way again.

I know a lot of people feel that adrenaline helps with performance, but this has never been true for me. I’m better when I’m at ease. Adrenaline just makes bits of my body shake, and that’s really distracting and annoying.

The Piranha Poetry nights are open and inclusive. We get all kinds of poetry and all kinds of poets, with a range of ages and backgrounds. Some people come here to have their first try at reading in public, at the other end, we get professionals who come along when they aren’t the guest for the pleasure of joining in. It’s been a really good space for me and I’ve felt safe going along to explore and experiment.

I do better with my writing when I have someone to write for.  I’ve written more poetry this year because I’ve been writing for this audience. I’ve had the opportunity to explore working with my voice, and writing material that allows me to work with my voice. I’ve grown, doing this. I’m really grateful that I have this space.


Bill Caddick

I first heard Bill Caddick live when I was 22, in a folk club in the Midlands. I had by that point already heard some of his songs. Later, when I was running said folk club, I went on to book him several times, and kicking around the Midlands, I’ve seen him at a fair few festivals. I never got through a set of his without crying.

It was of course the songs that had most reliably made me cry that were playing on continuous loop in my head after finding out that he’s died. Bill had been ill for a while, and it had seemed likely that he would not survive this. Still, no matter how forewarned or prepared you think you are, you’re never really prepared, and dealing with the loss of people who matter to you does not get easier with practice.

I hesitate to claim him as a friend – I was very fond of the man and I greatly admired his song writing. I haven’t the faintest idea what, if anything, he thought of me, and I’m untroubled by that. He was a remarkable person, the world was a better place for having him in it, and we are all that bit poorer for his passing. The reason I’ve never got through a set dry-eyed is that there’s something in his words that always pulls at my heart. An understanding of what it means to feel too keenly and love more than might be deemed reasonable, to be able to weep over dreams of unicorns.

I do consider his wife, Katherine Soutar to be a very good friend. I reviewed her collection of folk tale art here on the blog a while ago – https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2018/06/24/painting-the-tales-a-review/ while Tam Caddick – also a friend – has contributed to The Hopeless Vendetta https://hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com/2017/09/29/the-burn/ I’ve been thinking of both of them a great deal.

At times like this, there’s not much to be said that can help. Grief is something that does not always respond well to comfort.

So, here are the two songs of Bill’s that I used to sing. It will be a while before I can sing them again, because it won’t be easy to get through them without crying. I did manage to tell him once about how his work affected me, and he responded as though it was a put-down, but he had an odd sense of humour, and I think it was deflection, and I think he knew what I meant. I hope he did.

Here’s Bill singing John O’ Dreams

 

And here’s June Tabor singing Cloud Factory

 

 

You can support Katherine Soutar on Patreon – https://www.patreon.com/KatherineSoutar 

 


Animist Collaboration

When do we attribute intention, and when do we not? I was jolted into thinking about creative intention some years ago when I found a leaf that had been cut to be perfectly symmetrical. I didn’t manage to get it home in one piece to photograph it. I did however manage to get this leaf home, with its balance of color and cutting. So, for purposes of pondering, I am framing this piece as an animistic collaboration.

Composition – me.

Photograph – Tom Brown

Leaf- created by a local wych elm

Leaf cutting by a leaf cutter bee.


Things I am up to

The last few months have been a little bit crazy for me, with numerous changes to my day jobs. I am at present publicist for two authors, two publishing houses and a community venue. I’m doing newsletter and press work for a local group focused on sustainability. I’m doing evening work at events as well. Alongside this, I’m the colourist for the graphic novel series Hopeless Maine and we’re working on the next book. Here’s some art from that:

I’ve had a Patreon page for more than a year now, and it’s helped me keep moving with my own creativity, and it helps as an income stream as well. Thanks to Patreon support, I spent what spare time I had in September putting together a collection of poetry – Mapping the Contours. I also coloured the cover. This is a collection about relationship with landscape. I had it printed locally in the end so the only way to get copies is via Etsy – https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/641871660/mapping-the-contours-poetry

I have two cunning plans following on from this. Firstly, I’m going to serialise a Hopeless Maine novella on my Patreon page for people at the Dustcat level. This is a story set before the graphic novel series and mostly following the exploits of Annamarie Nightshade; resident witch on the island. I shall be putting up a chapter a month. It seemed a good way to share the story, and I will be publishing it by other means, eventually. If you’d like to be able to read that, saunter over to https://www.patreon.com/NimueB

I setup Patreon with the idea that I’d write new things every month by way of content. Serialising an otherwise unavailable book of course isn’t a ‘new thing’ but, it will help me find the time and energy to work on another small book. What I plan to do next is a small book of elemental meditations. As with Mapping the Contours, Patreon supporters will get an e-copy. If you sign up at this point for Patreon, you can of course wander through the old posts and pick up your own e-version. You can sign up for a month, read everything that’s up there already and then leave, should you want, but you won’t get the novella that way!

For the really dedicated, there’s a Glass Heron level with quarterly physical postings. I’ve just sent hard copies of Mapping the Contours to my Glass Herons.  When I get the little meditations book together, I’ll send that out, too, and then that too will go to Etsy so anyone else who wants one can get copies.

I try to give away as much as I can (this blog, what I do on youtube, informal mentoring, volunteer work). But, I’m not independently wealthy, and the practical reality is that if I have to use most of my time and energy on bill paying jobs, I don’t create as much. This last year, Patreon support has really helped me keep going creatively. It is both an incentive and a vote of confidence. If you love someone and they have a Patreon page, just giving them a dollar a month can mean a great deal. When lots of people do that, creators can pay their bills – and many do depend on this income stream to keep afloat. It’s also a gesture of belief and valuing, and that makes a lot of odds too.

Subscribing to this blog is also a gesture of support and valuing that I really appreciate, and knowing there are lots of people who want to read my ramblings has kept me blogging steadfastly for years. Thank you for taking an interest in what I do.


Debunking the creative life

Mostly when I’m online, I talk about my creative life and my Druidry – those are the bits of what I do that I find most interesting. However, it may give the impression that I’m living the dream – full time Druid and author. I’m not.

There was a point in my life where I spent most of my time writing, teaching, leading meditation groups, running rituals and so forth. I didn’t feel able to ask for payment for the Druid work, because I was hearing a lot at the time about how it was supposed to be service. I didn’t make a vast amount from the writing. Sometimes I wrote pub quizzes for money. I had financial support from the person I was then living with, but little money of my own and no economic freedom.

Most creative people, and most professional Pagans are in a similar situation. Either the money comes from somewhere else – an inheritance, a partner or a pension, or there is a second job, or there is abject poverty. Sometimes there’s a second job and abject poverty. The lack of money and/or the not being full time is not a measure of failure. It is nigh on impossible at the moment to make a living as a creative person.

For example, it takes Tom a day to draw a page of Hopeless Maine. It takes me some hours to colour it. Then it has to be scanned, tidied up, and the lettering done. It is a full time job plus a bit. To get a graphic novel out once a year, that’s six months of solid work for Tom and part time work for me. Advances are rare, and you’re more likely to get them on handing in finished work ahead of publication than when you start drawing or writing. That’s six months with no income, please note.

Now, work out how much money you need to live on. The cover price of the book is not the money the creator gets for a book, even if they’ve self published. Half of the cover price likely goes to whoever was selling it. From the remaining half, the print costs have to be paid, plus the publisher wants to make some money. Perhaps the creator gets £1 a copy. That’s optimistic. So, you can do the maths and work out how many books you’d have to sell in a year to have what you consider a decent standard of living. Note at this point that the average book sells about 3000 copies in its entire life.

Most of us work other jobs, because that’s the only way it’s possible to create. And if we don’t, we aren’t sat in our nice libraries pondering the world – I have friends who write at a rate of about a novel a month, and believe me, that’s intense. I have friends who spend their weekends taking their work to events and markets – while doing the creative work in the week. That’s a way of making ends meet that allows you no time off. That’s no kind of easy option. To sell anything, you have to spend time promoting it. That also takes time and energy. It’s pretty full on.

Creative people and professional Pagans alike won’t necessarily tell you what their private financial situation is. For some reason, many people assume that the default answer is full time and well off. The reality is much more likely to be part time and considering it a win if they can make ends meet.

I work other jobs. I have always worked other jobs, and I expect I always will. At the moment I’m working six small part time jobs. And because of that, we can afford to have Tom full time on Hopeless Maine, and we can keep making comics. This is normal.


The painter’s daughter

This is a short story from Penny Blake’s beautiful collection Mahrime.

Once upon a time, when you and I were naught but pips in the core of the great cosmic apple, there lived a painter. You might chance to meet him still, wandering the shore line as the sun rises over the blushing surf, counting the grains of sand or shuffling the streets at dusk, studying the cracks in the paving stones, calling down and listening for a voice.

Back in his studio, his tumbledown beach hut, he paints each grain, each echo. He paints the light and the shadow, the rising and the setting, the dance and sparkle and the soaking up and the deep. His eyes are full of dreams and his dreams are full of shades and glamour.

One day, the painter’s daughter bare-foot tip-toed into that secret space.

And gazed at all the many muchness of towers of tins of tangy turp-scented rainbows.

And wondered what it would be – to touch, to taste, to take in and become such wonders.

One drip.

One lick.

In goes a flinger, smooth and slick.

Gloopy and gorgeful.

Smick  smuck  smack.

Blue, yellow, indigo,

Purple,

black.

She tasted blue – A taste of salt sea and pillow cases, stained glass and new slippers, skinned knees and berryjams and Monday mornings and shaggy hillsides damp in November fog.

She tasted yellow – A taste of custard of course. And a taste of bathrooms and tiled floors and a caravan holiday in 1975, old stiff newspapers and curled up cats, the dust that gathers on lampshades and dims the whole room and a taste of skin and bone and the streets of Rome in July.

She tasted green – A taste of coal and iron, old sandals and ploughed up earth, toadstools and pine woods and rain low down in the valley of the Dove.

Every colour in the universe she drank it down. She gorged on glamour and shade, on dances and sparkles, on things soaked up and deep. She swallowed down the soul of every colour until her limbs felt clogged and cloyed with the weight of them.

One small pot of black she saved for last, – a taste of burning and drowning, of being squeezed out and sucked up and exploded into stars, a taste of being held for eternity and the aching emptiness of an eggshell cracked too soon.

 

This black, she smuggled it away in her pocket, off to her little box bed beside the woodstove. There, when she was feeling dizzy with the reel of the rainbows spinning through her veins, she would sip

Sip

Sip

At the comforting black.

From that day on, every time the painter’s daughter opened her mouth, out spilled thick , oily paint in puddles and spewks that stained the folks and the things all around her in violent assaults of crimson,  viridian, amaranth and egg yolk.

She stopped opening her mouth.

Her limbs dragged heavy as a rag doll and every breath, every step, every heart beat was a drudge and a drain. So much colour inside. So much sparkle and depth. So much echo and shade.

Walking, talking, even breathing seemed mountains too steep to climb with all this weight inside.

She sat on her bed, day in day out, and sip

Sip

Sipped

At the comforting black

Until it spilled out of her eyes in puddles that pooled upon the patchwork quilt and cast back mocking rainbows.

That is how the little bird found her one day. He hopped upon her window sill and cocked his shining eye – the way the bird folk do – and then he fluttered down onto the eiderdown and whistled.

“Go away,” the painter’s daughter hissed, “do you think I care to see your coloured plumes? Do you think I am impressed? What if I told you that I am so full with the light and dark of every colour in the universe that I ache with it and to look at you does not fill me with joy or wonder, only regret and fatigue until I am sick of it.”

The little bird cocked his eye again – infuriating it is when they do that, y’know? – and he reached his yellow bill in deep amongst his tail feathers and plucked out a needle sharp quill the colour of every blue-green under the sea.

The painter’s daughter shrugged in scorn of him and made to turn away when

Ouvchsh!

The little demon jabbed the quill spike hard into the soft, pale flesh of her arm.

Out leapt a tiny spurt of paint.

Then slowly, and with the girl in thrall,

He dragged the rainbow colours out

In swirls and spirals, tree cassyn pathways to guide the flow of all that weary weight into traces of beauty and scope.

Here was a dream in flesh.

Here was pointillized pain.

Here was inside out for all to see and staining no one but herself; surely, no words would be needed now . The world would smile and nod its head at her, as they knocked shoulders in the street, and whisper

‘ah, so, that is how it is with her, mm, we understand now why she walks so slow and dares not speak. How could a child do otherwise, with so much colour inside?’

So she stepped out.

Stained.

With the bird quill tucked behind one ear

And bold, without fear,

Into a forest of fingers who pointed and blamed and waggled and shamed and prodded and poked and jostled and joked and fat cold palms that pushed her far away.

The painter’s daughter ran.

She ran on and on.

She began to feel very proud of her running.

One dark night, she came to a cave, above a river, above a pool, beside a village and into that cave she crept and lay down to sleep.

When she woke up the smell of sweet meat cooking down in the green valley filled her with hunger and the longing for all the things that human company ought to bring but seldom does.

So she spent the morning gathering leaves,  the afternoon stitching them together and by evening she had made for herself a fine long cloak that hid the patterns on her arms, and a hat with a broad brim to cover her face.

Under the stars, she took out the bird quill from behind her ear and dug it deep into her skin until it was slathed in colour, then she found a broad, flat stone and she began to paint

In swirls and spirals, tree cassyn pathways to guide the flow of all that weary weight into illuminated forms both wild and wonderful.

Here was a dream on stone.

Here was pain projected, disembodied, disowned.

Here was inside out for all to see and staining nothing but this unfeeling earth. And the world would smile and nod and never know where all the colours came from.

As the sun rose over the valley, the painter’s daughter stepped down from her cave, down and down and into the village and by that afternoon the tongues were wagging like wild fire flames; who was the stranger in the cloak of leaves who traded her marvellous paintings for table scraps? Some had seen her return to the cave – a hermit then? An anchorite? A holy one, certainly, a wise healer, a cleric, a teacher, a goddess in the flesh… ?

Every day, more and more villagers made the trek up to the painter’s cave. They wondered at her work – colours and patterns that seemed to describe the deepest parts of themselves. The parts they never let show. How? They asked, with tears in their eyes, how can she know?

They bought canvases. They paid in gold.

Inside her cave, hidden from sight, the painter took her feather quill and emptied herself out for them.

Day after day.

Night after night.

Slowly, as time went by, she began to grow old and paper thin. She had to coax out the paint in crusted oozes from her gummed up veins. Sometimes finding the strength and the will would take hours. Often there was not enough. Not enough colour, not enough energy and too much pain of the flesh and the bone to finish the work. ‘One day,’ thought the painter, ‘one day I will dry up. There will be no way of getting these crusted up colours out of my dried up body any longer. And what will happen then? Will the world understand when I can no longer paint their pain for them?’

The painter smiled and shook her head. She stuck the feather quill behind her ear and pulled off her cloak and hat of leaves. Clotheless under the silver moon, she walked down to the lake pool and stepped right into the comforting black.

The next morning, when the people came up to the cave the painter was gone, but the waters of the lake below, as they looked down into the valley, were snaked with rainbows.


Together we can escape into other worlds

Role play games are seeing a real renaissance at the moment, which I think is really interesting. Computer games are amazingly complex, high tech and visually stunning (not that I play) but they don’t answer every gaming need. You can’t get that far off script. With a role play game, imagination rules and a determined party can take a game anywhere they want to go. I think it’s interesting that more people are choosing a way of playing that prioritises their own imagination, not the shiny graphics.

I played a lot of roleplay games as a kid, and I’m old enough that there was an expectation you’d grow out of it. Adults do not get to play many games – sure the odd board game with granny at Christmas, and we’re allowed to get excited about sports, but computer games and roleplay games like other forms of childish make believe, we’re not things we were not supposed to keep. Only we did, and it#’s become ever more normal to keep playing. I firmly believe that adults need imaginative play just as much as children do, and for much the same reasons.

Playing allows you to safely test and explore all kinds of ideas. For teenage me, it was a safe way of exploring my own identity. I experimented with ways of being and doing and thinking to see what felt comfortable. No real people were killed, seduced, robbed, rescued, or taken on unreasonably long walks through the woods while I did this. I played two different druid characters along the way, and it helped me decide that the resonance I found in that word mattered to me in some way. We all grow and change, many of us benefit from the chance to try on other identities now and then.

There is a magic that happens when people share their creativity. For much of my adult life, that’s had a workish angle as I’ve co-created books with people. My experience is that co-creating also creates a depth and breadth of relationship that you can’t get other ways. A role play game is a process of co-creation and it does interesting things to relationships. It also means that all my best stories from my teenage years are about the things we collectively imagined.

Hopeless, Maine has always been a collaborative project – Tom worked with several other authors before me, and we’ve tended to draw other people in. We’ve had an online project for some time – www.hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com – where people come and play with us. However, we can only include people at the rate of one or two a week. That’s all about to change.

For some time now, a very nice chap called Keith Healing has been working to develop a Hopeless Maine RPG. The mechanics are unique because the island setting with all its strangeness really demanded that. It’s already the best magic system I’ve ever seen and he’s not finished yet. It means that anyone who wants to come to the island and play with it, can.

I’m really excited about this. I know people who are planning to play this weekend. I know that something I helped create is about to take up residence in other heads and that there will be room in those other heads for creative responses. At some point I’ll jump in to write a scenario as well.

You can find the game here – https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/HopelessGames