Category Archives: Bardic

Things I am up to

This week I finished colouring volume 3 of Hopeless Maine. It’s the second graphic novel I’ve coloured, and the first time on my own project. For those of you less familiar with the mechanics of comics making – this is normal. Making a comic involves writing a script, drawing it, colouring, inking (or over-lining in our case) and lettering the pages. These can all be done by different people, and in the more famous comics there is more of a production line approach to creation.

I started working on pages back when Tom did a project called The Raven’s Child. I took on some of the shading work to try and get him some breaks and time off. It’s not unusual in the comics industry for people to work ten and twelve hour days, and seven day weeks, and for a while we did that. We’ve since decided that the artist-killing industry model is not for us and that we’d like to spend the rest of our lives with functioning spines.

The first graphic novel I coloured was mediaeval set and a take on King Arthur. Bold mediaeval colours were called for, and anyone used to Tom’s work will know that he’s not really that into bold colours. So, I offered to do it. I worked in oil pastel because it’s my medium of preference. Good for the strong colours. An arse for scanning and impossible to pencil over.

Here’s an admittedly less colourful piece from that project…

For Hopeless Maine, we don’t want serious colour intensity, and we do have a lot of delicacy, so I moved over to pencils. Easier to scan, easy to pencil over, but not, I confess, quite as much fun. I had to figure out a whole new set of approaches for seas and landscapes – previously dealt with by smooshing the oils around. Unable to smoosh, I have to spend a lot more time physically getting the colour onto the pages (A3 for a standard comics page, if you were wondering!) It’s taken a toll on my hands, so music and crafting and been much less of an option for me over the last six months. I’m looking forward to a rebalance.

I’ve enjoyed being more involved in the process – by the time previous comics have come out, my involvement as the writer has felt distant. It’s been more fun being in on the whole thing. We’re evolving ways of working together and I like that process. What we do together is a long way from what we would do separately, and that’s rather cool.

Here’s a chapter cover from the next Hopeless Maine volume…

My crowning achievement for this book has been to learn how to do glows. Candle glows and eye glows, are very much part of Tom’s look, and were something he did when the scanned, hand drawn pages went into photoshop. I have found ways of getting something plausible onto the page, and this cheers me greatly. It was something I didn’t even attempt in the previous comic.

There’s finishing up to do, but the next volume of Hopeless Maine will be entirely uploaded to the publisher over the next few weeks. Copies are already on pre-order and we’re expecting it to be released in the summer. And before then, on to the next one, with an eye to a gentler pace, and me being able to do comics alongside crafting and playing music, without hurting my hands too much.

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Folk process or cultural appropriation

Last week I wrote about the right to be creative within your own folk tradition. Morgan Daimler flagged up to me that I need to tackle the other side, too – what happens when we mess about with other people’s traditions. Taking other people’s traditions, writing into them, or over them and presenting that as genuine material can have the effect of wiping out the tradition, not keeping it alive. How do you tell the difference?

Your relationship with the tradition is key here. If we’re talking about your culture, your family background, or the place you’ve lived your whole life as a participant not a coloniser, then you are someone who is inside the traditions around you. They are your traditions.

There are plenty of non-white British people engaging with British folk traditions, and that’s also fine. It’s important not to let this idea of who owns the tradition exclude people who want to be involved. Time spent working in the tradition, learning it, knowing it – that’s the key thing here. If you’ve put in the years, then you can enter a tradition that belongs to the place you live, or to people you are interested in, without that being a problem. The key thing is that what you’re doing is entering the tradition and participating in it. If people are willing to teach you and share their traditional things with you, then you can enter into it without issue.

The problems arise when people have brief and superficial contact with a tradition and then think they can own it. Going to one folk festival doesn’t qualify you to write folk songs. In the context of British folk, if you go to one festival, and write some songs that are wide of the mark, the odds are you won’t go far, and it won’t matter – there’s enough people who have been doing this over a long enough time to just shake off the pretenders with no impact.

If you have some superficial contact with someone else’s traditions where there are fewer people involved, and/or it’s not part of the dominant culture, and then start making your own in what you think is in the same style, there are massive problems. You may be presenting material to people who don’t know that you’re misrepresenting a culture. If you have more power – if you are a white western person messing about with the traditions of an indigenous culture, for example – you may have more scope to present the tradition to others than the people living in it do. You may have the power to inform and define a tradition that you know little or nothing about, with no one to rein you in.

This is also true if you are someone studying or recording a culture – as a folklorist or academic. Trying to pin a tradition down can be a process of limiting and damaging what you study, and shaping how it will be seen by others. Colonial misrepresentation of other people’s cultures is a longstanding problem. The determination of westerners to present non-western tradition as primitive, superstitious and irrational is a longstanding problem.

If you’re working from inside a tradition, steeped in it and invested in it, then the ways you want to keep it alive and updated are likely to serve the tradition, not harm it. But, why would you want to appropriate a tradition you know nothing about in order to play with it? What does that achieve? You aren’t keeping a tradition alive by doing this, unless what you’re working with is a people who have disappeared. Then you’re guessing and reviving, and there’s a case to make for that if it’s done honestly.

Wanting to learn from someone else’s tradition also makes a lot of sense – there’s a lot of wisdom and inspiration out there, it is reasonable to find that attractive. But surely, if you’re interested in another culture, what you want is immersion and absorption, and to get to a place of having internalised it. Running in to make up our own things in the same style is a sure fire way of learning very little. It’s a deeply questionable activity on so many levels.

There are no short-cuts to being part of a tradition. You can’t pick it up over a weekend course or by reading a book. If you aren’t prepared to invest years in building a relationship with a tradition, you aren’t interested in tradition and should probably leave it alone.


Mark Lindsey Earley on Bardic Chairs

Today I have a guest vlog rather than a blog!

I met Mark Earley Lindsey online some years ago through our shared interest in the bard path. He’s been developing a youtube channel and I asked if he wanted to share anything via this blog. Amazingly, he’s started recording a series, which I’m rather excited about. Here’s the first one which is as much an introduction to Mark as to bardic chairs.

 

 

Mark’s Youtube channel is here – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJDe9uAqfePlcc0s8iEB82g – where you can find a wealth of videos on bardic and other issues.

 

While I tend to be writing orientated, I’m always open to guest content in any form.


A poem about love

I wrote this one to read at a local poetry event. I mention this because ‘you’ in a poem changes depending on how you present the poem. On a blog post it would seem impersonal, and the poem would read differently if I sent it to you personally via email. Saying ‘you’ in a roomful of people creates interesting ambiguity.

There’s a fighting chance that a few of the people who read this will be people I was thinking about when writing it – which is enough to indicate that this is not a conventional sort of love poem.

 

I may or may not be melting

 

I would love you unreasonably.

 

Unreasonably because it is in my nature

To love, but our culture treats emotion

As the opposite of reason.

 

So, I will present as an ice queen

Wearing my mask, cold to the touch

Expressionless. I will be clinical and calculating

And when I speak of feelings

Perhaps you will mistrust me, hearing

Cynical manipulation because we all know

That women who are glaciers do not feel,

We just grind our machinations slowly.

Crush things.

Do not ask where we melt

Violently into rivers, you won’t like

How that metaphor plays out.

 

I would love you unreasonably

Cast myself into your arms with a force

You could not ignore.

Hold for too long. Hold too tight.

Later perhaps you will call me creepy

Or unreasonable. Better not to melt

Into untrustworthy arms, better to hold

Cold still aloof in my glacial form.

Allow no heat to pass from my skin.

Better if we do not have the conversation

About what it means to love,

So there is never a chance for you

To tell me how horrified you are.

How I should not feel what I feel.

 

Should I take off the ice mask,

Show the scars from the many times

I’ve been cast out in the monster’s role

Because I dared to say that I care

And I dared to hug like it meant something

And my kisses do not taste of

Casual disinterest.

 

I would love you unreasonably

But most of the time I am too fearful

Of offending to be anything other

That cautious, cold

And a bit awkward.

Melting is a dangerous business.

 


Poetry for healing

Many people turn to poetry for catharsis. While that doesn’t always lead to poems that are meaningful to anyone else, it definitely does work as a cathartic process. Part of this is simply being able to vent. Part of it, however, has everything to do with how you can use language when writing poetry.

The English language doesn’t have a lot of words for describing emotions. To talk about emotions in any detail, we are obliged to say what they are like, or to demonstrate how they play out by using metaphors. If I tell you I am suffering from depression, that will give you a limited idea of what I’m going through. If I tell you that my body is full of lead, and my heart has become a stone, that I am walking through a blasted wasteland where nothing lives or grows and desperately trying to find a way to leave, and afraid there is no way to leave – then you might have some idea.

Poetry gives us permission to put down grammar norms, give up on regular sentence structure, and put words together in ways that work for this specific instance. Poetry structures are very different from normal writing structures, so even if you do decide not to cough up your heart in free verse, it is still different from writing prose. Poetry structures focus on the rhythms and sounds words make, not the logic of how the content is expressed. That in turn allows a person to think different, which can be helpful when you’re struggling to process something.

Afterwards, when you have bled onto the page, there is time to reflect on whether the catharsis poem also functions as a regular poem. Sometimes there’s enough in it that someone else might find it helpful. Often a cathartic poem reads back like a hearty wallow in the deeply personal. To share it, may require editing. One of the most effective ways of taking a catharsis poem and turning it into something shareable, is to make it funny. Going that bit further, and playing misery for laughs can be effective when taking your work to an audience. When we can collectively laugh at pain, it can become collectively cathartic.

Some poems are better used in other ways. Perhaps a ritual burning to help you release those feelings. Physically tearing up paper can be productive as well. Letting them go, and letting what was in them go can be a good thing. Sometimes the answer is to vent and move on. Sometimes, the process of healing with poetry requires us to dig in and go deeper – it’s a very personal choice. However you handle it, bear in mind that a good cathartic healing poem is not necessarily a good poem in any other sense, and that equally, a good poem that people will enjoy is not necessarily going to help you much as a healing process.


Wisdom from a White Hare

A guest blog from Jacqui Lovesey

 

 

So,  some things you need to know about Ursula Brifthavfen Stoltz:

  • She is a white hare.
  • She is a witch.
  • She appears in the Matlock the Hare books I create with my husband, Phil.
  • I have been painting her for 7 years now, in various guises, and on various adventures in the Matlock the Hare trilogy and our other books.
  • She ‘talks’ to me.

 

Probably all good until point 5, I’m guessing – the ‘talking’ one.  Here, surely, is the rambling of a hard-working illustrator who doesn’t get out that often.  But please bear with me. As other artists and writers will tell you, the longer you’re focussed on creating and bringing ‘life’ to a character, the more they begin to surprise you with unexpected mannerisms, gestures, opinions – and yes, even ‘advice’.  And Ursula, a white hare-witch from across the Icy Seas, certainly has a lot of that.

Gradually, the idea to create an oracle deck of Ursula’s  ‘witchy wisdom’ grew in my mind.   Here could be the perfect platform to allow her thoughts on all sorts of matters to be aired.  As someone who both owns and uses oracle decks, I couldn’t think of a better vehicle to express the insight that has bought me both comfort and whimsy in the past.

So I set to work painting 44 brand new watercolours for the deck, alongside Phil writing a 108 page booklet that details all the meanings of each card. The deck itself will be split into 7 sections: Air, Fire, Water, Earth, Spirit, Celtic Festivals & Witch – and using it to connect with your own inner wisdom couldn’t be simpler!  Just let yourself be drawn to the card that ‘speaks’ to you, then discover how its meaning relates to your situation.

 

 

I’m currently funding the deck on Kickstarter – and if you’d like to join the project and let a little of Ursula’s ‘White Hare Wisdom’ into your life, please take a look at the project to discover more about, me, Ursula and the deck.  And, of course, besides the deck itself, there’s a saztaculous plethora of other goodies and rewards for backers, too! Hopefully, you’ll decide to become a backer, and allow Ursula to begin ‘speaking’ to you, too…

 

 

 

(I’ve supported this Kickstarter, Matlock the hare stuff is reliably gorgeous and soulful. You can get involved here – https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/934318055/white-hare-wisdom-oracle-card-deck )


Co-writing with my younger self

I’ve done a fair bit of co-writing with other people over the years. At the moment, I am in the slightly surreal position of co-writing with myself.

Tom and I are working on the 4th book of Hopeless Maine right now. I wrote the original script more than eight years ago, when I knew far less about comics. Younger me had a rather different voice to current me. Younger me did not really know how to lay out a comics page or tell stories visually. Younger me used to just hand scripts to Tom and leave him to figure out how to make it work on the page. Since then, I have become someone who can think pretty well about visual storytelling and how to get the words onto the page. Having a better grasp of the visual side also means I can see which words to take out.

A few years ago, when contemplating how best to handle an old prose piece in the Hopeless setting, I was given some advice from a fellow writer. Don’t you want it to be your best work? They asked. They were clear that I should revise and update it. In the end, I didn’t do that much. I may have more craft skills than I used to, but there are also things I used to do that I couldn’t do now. How I think about people and situations has changed. I no longer tell the same stories. I am wary of assuming that my current writing self is my best possible writing self. I think previous me had some things going for them.

I find myself working with my old scripts, trying to edit them for best effect, and feeling as though I am working with another author. Usually when I edit for people, the other author is there to talk to. This one is dead, or disappeared, or trapped in another time. I have to edit their work without being able to discuss it with them. I try to honour their vision while applying the things I know that they don’t know. It’s a very odd process. It’s shown me there are things my younger self knew and felt that I need to re-find and re-feel.

We don’t always improve with time. Sometimes our first, unpolished attempts can be the best we do because they have the most passion and energy and are least self-conscious. Sometimes the tools we collect freeze us up and have us second guessing ourselves. Younger me frankly had no idea how to write a comic, but was brazen enough to do it anyway. I am at the moment failing to write a script for something because I’m so bogged down in what I know that I can’t get started. The only way to do it will be to emulate younger me, and write the way I used to write, and then come in for a second stage with all the useful, technical things I know.


Video poetry and the open road

This is a video I made recently. On the whole, Stroud isn’t too bad for traffic, compared to cities. However, the tailbacks in rush hour are long – certainly no rushing occurs! Walking past crawling cars is a frequent feature of my life. I think I get the better deal. How many people in these cars could have walked, or cycled to their destination?

 

This video first went out a few weeks ago on Patreon. Supporters there regularly see work from me before anyone else, and get things that are otherwise unavailable. Being on Patreon has made a huge difference to me – it keeps me writing, and filming, and has stopped me giving up on creative work. If you like this blog and want to support me, please consider wandering over – https://www.patreon.com/NimueB

Or, if you’d like to make a one off donation rather than signing up to anything, I also have a kofi account – Ko-fi.com/O4O3AI4T 

I want to keep making a lot of what I do freely available to people. I am aware that many people are struggling at the moment, and if that’s you, please know that I am deeply invested in giving you stuff at no cost.

If you are someone who can afford to support creators (me, or anyone else) please know that it always makes a difference to moral and viability. A small monthly sum on a site like Patreon can mean the difference between paying bills, and not paying bills. You are also helping supply people who cannot afford to pay for content, with things to read, study and be inspired by. That’s pretty awesome. Thank you.


A poem about friendship

Outside my Orbit

 

He wanted the cool relationship of planets

Held at predictable distances from each other

Moving in and out of proximity on pre-ordained arcs.

The friendship of planets; gas giants Jupiter and Saturn,

Of cratered moonscapes and lifeless, dry seas.

The friendship of rock enduring ages

Comets passing but never touching each other.

Influencing with gravity alone.

 

I want the relationships of woodland

Where we live and grow and die together

With our roots and branches intertwining as we

Exchange dreams, ideas, moments of life

Like birds, bugs and squirrels moving freely

Through the verdant home of our community

I want the relationship of woodland

Where we lay down layers in leafmould

For those who come after, where we

Make beauty, shelter and fresh air

Out of ourselves. Messy, overlapping, co-existing

Soil sharing, rain bathing and sun kissed

Together in disorderly involvement, in vibrant

Leaf rich lushness, co-created, co-living.

 

He is lost in space with his Uranus jokes.

I have earthy companions with thickets full of bird song,

And I know where I stand

 

(I didn’t make up this scenario, someone I once considered a friend has written a piece describing friendship in terms of planets, and I admit to not being impressed by the idea or their Uranus joke. When things annoy me in this way I try to emulate an oyster and grow something more attractive around the initial grit.)


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.