Tag Archives: author

What Druids are supposed to do

Most of the things I’ve done as a Druid, I’ve done in part because someone asked me to. I’ve taught Druidry and meditation, I’ve run ritual groups and undertaken celebrant work. I’ve run workshops and done talks. I’ve written for magazines. There’s also this blog, and the book writing. I need to mention that I never set out to be a Druid author – my ambition was always to write fiction, this is a diversion that happened because the opportunity was there, but it was never part of a grand plan.

These are all the things that you do if you’re going to be a professional Pagan. And if it works, you can add media work, interviews, travelling around the world to events and suchlike to the list. In practice, of the many Pagans I know who are doing all the things, only a handful are jetting off internationally or getting on the telly. For most of us, the lure of The Very Important Druid work means an expense of time, money and energy far more than any kind of personal gain. And trust me, if you’re burned out, the ego trip just isn’t that much of a payoff.

This year has brought me a lot of challenges, and those challenges have caused me to think long and hard about what I’m doing. There is a real and growing tension between what I need for my personal path (solitude, introspection, presence, time, energy) and what I need to function as a ‘public’ Druid (time, energy, travel, ideas, networking). There is often a tension for me between writing about the path and walking it. It doesn’t help that I’m also a lousy self-publicist and would rather spend my time promoting other people than touting my own work about.

I’m in a process of re-thinking who and how I am. I’ve seen what happens to the people who start to believe their own PR, and I do not want to go there. I also don’t want to peddle authority or dogma. To this end, I have given up most of my teaching work. Talks and workshops are still a possibility. I’m not going to put myself forward for celebrant work – if things come up locally, then fine, but mostly this is not a path I want to follow. I’ve stepped away from things that could have given me a platform, in no small part because I don’t want the platform.

I intend to keep doing this blog, keep writing my Quiet Revolution column for Pagan Dawn, and to write other things as and when inspiration strikes. I’m committed to supporting the creativity of others, what form that will take depends on the opportunities that come along.

Beyond that, I don’t know. I may be giving up on writing non-fiction books. At least in the short term so that I can focus more on my own path and journey without getting caught up in how I’m going to turn that into something useful. And also to make more space for creative writing, and for supporting others. I am seriously considering a formal re-dedication to the bardic path. I’m asking what it is that I want, and how I want things to be and making time and space for those answers to resolve.

There are a lot of things I’ve done because I thought it was what you were supposed to do if you’re being a *serious Druid* and because people asked me. What I’ve not done for many years, is asked what I need to do for myself to seriously be a Druid, which is quite a hefty oversight. I’m greatly enjoying the re-thinking process.


Thomas Hocknell: On getting published

tom-hA guest blog from Thomas Hocknell

I’ve been not published for long enough to allow a kettle to boil, much less forget how articles on How I Got Published are inspiring and galling in equal measure. I have however finally made it to print, so sharing the experience of how it happened feels at least appropriate, even if it feels like fluke. Getting published feels like the glowing perfection of a film’s first act, before a Boeing 747 crashes into the house. And this is how it happened, getting published I mean, not the plane crash.

An actor friend told me two years ago how he was giving up his pursuit of acting, and I was struck by what a momentous adult moment this was; to surrender those dreams of his younger self. Well, I reached a similar moment. Over the past two years I had sent my novel to so many agents that I had reached Z in the literary agent lists, and given up even noting where I had sent it. Any advice of submitting to only 4 or 5 at a time long-since ignored.

Random House then showed an interest, which they probably regretted as I followed them home every night. Mind you, the meeting involving a free cup of tea and Kit Kat in the Random House cafeteria was the most exciting thing to have happened, which speaks volumes about my literary endeavours up to then.

Sadly, this was the peak of my involvement with Random. They had already recently signed a novel involving the Elizabethan alchemist and magician Dr. John Dee and feared it risked overkill. They also wisely declined to provide me with this writer’s home address, which might have risked another kind of overkill.

Over the years I also managed to gain and lose two literary agents. To misquote Oscar Wilde, “To lose one agent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”

At this point I put the manuscript to pasture, and started another novel, set in a small tenement block in London Bridge. Once I finished this, I glanced once again at the Life Assistance Agency. It was at this point, were it a movie, the audience would groan at magnitude of cliché. Yes, I decided to give it one more chance. I would give it another edit and tidy up, before sending it to every agent/publisher foolish enough to publicise their address in the country in a sort of mail-shot more associated with general elections.

There were no takers, but during this time I was building up a Twitter following, mainly by making friends with people in the hope they might return the interest. Once I had gained 2000, a newly found friend suggested Urbane Publishing, as publishers happy to consider manuscripts without agent representation. And it was while buying tickets to see Hotel Transylvania 2 with my son that I received the email I thought I would never get. It was celebrated by buying him the sort of ice cream he never thought he would get, and won’t have again, unless film rights are requested.

And it so happened. The first thing I did on returning home was to throw away the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook 2010 edition with a satisfying ‘fuck you.’  And spent the next 9 months endeavouring to not fantasise about selling enough copies to cover my expenses. Mind you, I’d prefer not to calculate the hourly rate. It feels surreal; all those dreams and aspirations now to be made public.

* * * * * * * * * *

Thomas Hocknell is a blogger at idle Blogs of an Idle Fellow – in the manner in which Jerome K Jerome might have, were he writing in 2016, and not 1886. You an find it here – https://tomhocknell.wordpress.com/ The Life Assistance Agency is his first novel and is the journey of a blogger, Ben Ferguson-Cripps, who sets aside his literary failures to join the newly established Life Assistance Agency in pursuit of a missing professor obsessed with the Elizabethan alchemist Dr. Dee. He’s @TomAngel1 on Twitter (which is where I first met him and started reading his blogs).

The Life Assistance Agency is available to buy from local bookshops and at Foyles:

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

Kindle is available here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Life-Assistance-Agency-want-forever-ebook/dp

 


Magical Realism: Contradiction in Terms?

A guest post from Laura Perry

I’m a writer, and a portion of what I write is fiction that qualifies as magical realism. My most recent novel, The Bed (http://www.lauraperryauthor.com/the-bed), definitely qualifies. I’ve had a few people question that term, suggesting that it’s a contradiction. After all, according to mainstream society and “common sense,” magic isn’t real.

I’ve written before about Pagans who practice magic but don’t actually believe in it, a habit that can lead to very unpleasant side effects (http://www.lauraperryauthor.com/single-post/2016/02/10/Pagans-who-dont-believe-in-magic-but-use-it-anyway). Mainstream society puts a great deal of pressure on us to conform to the materialist viewpoint that anything that can’t be experienced through our five physical senses or detected via scientific instruments simply doesn’t exist or is, at best, some sort of hallucination. So it’s an uphill battle against cultural pressure just to consider the possibility that magic is a real thing.

There’s a sizeable portion of the Pagan/alternative/New Age community that explains magic as some sort of psychological effect, which is fine as far as it goes. There’s plenty we don’t know about how the psyche works, so chalking magic up to psychological thingamawhatsies is tantamount to invoking a version of Clarke’s Third Law (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clarke%27s_three_laws) with the human brain in place of some sort of constructed technology. That, too, is just fine, since no one really knows why or how magic works.

The thing is, magic does work. It produces effects—sometimes unexpected or unpleasant ones—in the material world. Whether that’s through the forces of the human mind or the workings of Nature or the intervention of divine beings is up for discussion.

If magic works, then it’s reasonable to write stories about it and say that those stories are examples of magical realism. Bear in mind that fiction, even fiction that’s based on “true life” stories, is still a made-up thing. But good fiction is a believably made-up thing. I’ve seen the results of magic, both good and bad, enough times to be willing to slide it into the underpinnings of my stories. I don’t write about people flying through the air on broomsticks or shooting flames out of their hands. I write about the kinds of magic I’ve experienced myself: dreams and visions, rituals that go well or that get out of hand, customs that are designed to safeguard the practitioner and that can result in disaster if they’re ignored.

These things aren’t fantasy, though not everyone experiences them. And of course, even people who’ve experienced them may choose not to believe in them since mainstream society still says magic isn’t real (I’ve seen that happen—cognitive dissonance is a powerful and frightening thing). That’s another useful bit for my fiction: the conflict with friends and family members who think you’re crazy for even considering the idea that magic actually works. But in real life, it can be less than fun to deal with.

So no, I don’t consider “magical realism” to be a contradiction in terms. I enjoy writing it and I enjoy reading it. But more than that, I enjoy living it.


Cat Treadwell

I’ve known Cat Treadwell for long enough that I can’t remember when and where we first ran into each other. We have a lot of things in common in our history – The Druid Network, The Pagan Federation, Druid Camp, writing for Pagan Dawn and Moon Books, being a Druid blogger… Somewhere, many years ago, one of these things first brought us into contact with each other.

Cat is a very lovely person who I think is a great example of a Druid Priestess. She does a lot of celebrant work, and prison ministry, she teaches and writes, and lives her Druidry and shares that experience. I have met her in person and she’s someone I would very much like to spend more time with.

This is a video of Cat Treadwell talking for a recent PF Disabilities Team online conference. Here’s she’s talking about mental health and ritual.

This is her blog – https://druidcat.wordpress.com/

Cat is the author of two titles (at time of writing this.) A Druid’s Tale grew out of the above blog, and is all about her life and work. it’s a lovely expression of being a modern Druid and what that means in practice.

Facing the Darkness offers stories, tools and inspiration to help those suffering from depression – all from a Pagan perspective. My other half – Tom Brown – did the cover for this one.

If you’re not familiar with her work, do look her up, she’s out there in social media land, her books are all the places you can get books, she does talks at events sometimes as well.

 


Sheena Cundy

Sheena Cundy is another of the under-sung people of whom I have been a fan for some time. I’ve met her in person – she’s lovely. I’ve heard her band twice (at time of writing this) – Morrigans Path – overtly Pagan and great to dance to. I’ve read her novel – The Madness and The Magic, and greatly enjoyed it (there’s a review here – https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2015/11/27/friday-reads/ )

Here’s a track from Morrigans Path

 

Find out more about them on their facebook page or on artist trove

Here’s a little flavour from Sheena’s novel

Sheena quote

And you can find out more about the book here – http://www.moon-books.net/books/madness-magic

And this is Sheena’s website – http://www.sheenacundy.com/

 

 


Stage fright for authors

Me, only slightly awkward, talking at PF Wessex 2016.

This is a blog inspired by Myslexia – Www.mslexia.co.uk/author/elainajames – to take part in a wider blog project. Thank you for the inspiration!

Most authors are, by nature, shy and retiring creatures. It’s an introverted career path, calling for long periods of silence, deep though and not interacting with others. Writers like to hide from the world, emerging blinking into the light between chapters, or when the coffee calls. However, once the book is written, and the reality of trying to sell it kicks in, the author has to become someone who can talk in public.

Podcasts, interviews, talks, book readings, workshops, panels at events… to sell books an author has to connect with people, and for many this is a tricky process. Last weekend, I was involved in a short story competition. One author confessed to never having used a microphone before, no doubt there were others with limited stage experience. They all did brilliantly, but I’ve seen authors caught like rabbits in the headlights at other times. It doesn’t matter how good you are on paper, it won’t help you when you have to get your body and voice in front of people.

On this score I have been tremendously lucky, because I came to the stage through folk music. I started singing floor spots in a folk club, and went on to singing floor spots on nights when there were performers booked. Next stop, MCing nights, and doing the odd small gig, and busking. I was gigging with someone, so could hide behind them. Having a process of building confidence and stage skills really helps, and that’s available some places.

When you get on a stage as an author, reading your own work, or talking about something, it’s all you. It’s totally exposed. Getting on stage as a folk singer, I have mostly sung other people’s songs, safe in the knowledge that the songs are excellent, and that other people have already agreed these songs are excellent. It’s a considerable comfort. A tune can carry the words, and when you’re signing, the pacing, phrasing, even how you deploy your voice is already dealt with. People can sing along, and in a set of songs, they tend to clap after each one, so you get little doses of reassurance that they don’t hate you. It’s much easier this way.

If the first time you get on a stage you do it to read, with a microphone, or talk, this is intimidating. Authors on stages need stagecraft as much as musicians do. You have to be able to look at the audience, talk to them, not just read to them. You have to be able to answer questions, and if you seem confident and relaxed, it’s a far better experience for them.

Most authors do not get away with avoiding public appearances, and if you want to be successful, it’s a necessary part of the mix. If you want to be good at being on a stage and it doesn’t come naturally, think like a musician. Find safe places to join in, where you can build your skills and confidence. Go out and watch other people doing it, and learn from their mistakes.

The thing is, very few of us are naturally good at standing up in front of people. Those who do it well make it look effortless. What you’re actually seeing is a carefully honed set of skills. If you are a shy and nervous woodland creature by nature, it’s just a case of learning how to appear otherwise for short periods of time.

Then at the end, they clap, and after the long silence of the writer’s shed, being applauded is a truly wonderful thing.


Open Art Surgery

When we do events, Tom and I quite often find there are people who would like to talk to us – or to other already in-print people – about their own work. We’re happy to do this, and it’s something we anticipate doing formally at Asylum this year (massive Steampunk event, August bank holiday, Lincoln). Next week (13th February 2016) we’ll be at Museum in the Park, in Stroud from 11am – 3pm, feel free to seek us out and ask us questions.

In the meantime, here are some FAQs that, to be honest, I’d rather not be dealing with at Open Art Surgeries, not least because there’s very little I can do to help you if I’m faced with one of these…

  • I had an idea for a book. This is lovely, and best of luck to you, but an idea for a book is not a book, and if I take on helping you to move that book from the idea stage to the writing stage it’s going to use up more time than I can spare. Learn about characters, plots, world building, dialogue, etc etc, and then try and write the book. If you want to talk to me, or anyone else about publishing, there’s absolutely no point even asking until you’ve established that you can write. Many people start their first novel and don’t finish it and go no further. Let’s find out if this is you or not before we talk.
  • I started a novel and I can’t finish it and I don’t know what to do! Don’t worry, this happens a lot. Most published authors have some failed attempts along the way. It is ok to ditch the first attempt and try something else, or re-write it in a different way – this is a learning process. It’s ok to feel stuck for a while. If you can get through this patch, you could be the sort of person who writes books. If you can’t get past it, you are not cut out for authoring.
  • Will you read my book? Probably not. If you’re a friend, or I’m really taken with what you’re doing, I might offer, but if you have to ask me, it’ll probably be a no. It’s a time issue. If you are going to ask me to read, be clear about what you’re asking for and why you think this will help you. If you’re looking for reviews and endorsements, I may say yes, if it’s clearly my sort of thing.
  • Can Tom do me some art? If your book is unwritten, and there is no budget for art, this is not a question to be asking. If you want to do a comic and don’t have an artist, you need to find an artist at the same career point as you, i.e. someone who has never done a comic and wants and author to work with. Art takes a lot of time, think carefully before you ask someone if they are willing to give you hours of working time for nothing when they could be being paid. They would have to love you a lot to say yes. Tip – if you want to re-use a piece of art someone’s already done, the chances are they will license it to you for something more affordable, that one’s always worth enquiring about.
  • My child wants to be an author/artist. Then make sure they have some means of earning a living during the long stretch of a creative career when you can’t get paying work and everyone expects you to give your stuff away for ‘exposure’. Currently the industry is a mess and creative people are sorely underpaid. We have no idea what the score will be in ten year’s time.
  • I can’t draw a stick figure. We hear this a surprising amount, and we don’t know why people feel the need to come and tell us this, but we can’t do much to help you except say this. Art is not magic, nor is writing. Mostly it comes down to graft. If you are willing to put in about ten thousand hours (on this, or any other thing you might not have mastered) you will probably master it. That’s all you have to do. Spend ten thousand hours drawing or writing and you’ll be a whole other person.
  • Can you put me in touch with X? Again, we may offer to hook you up with people if we think you are just what they were looking for. If you have to ask, we’re probably going to say no. If you think about someone else’s contact network as something to access and exploit, you’re on shaky ground. What we have is relationships with people built up over time, nourished by care, effort and attention. We aren’t going to give you their phone number unless we have a really good reason to do so.

If you’ve established that you can write, or draw, if you’re trying to figure out how to take your work, or your project to the next level, do come and talk to us. We may be able to offer advice and insights, and if we like what you’re doing and we can think of a way to help you, then we will.


Things I have been doing

As it’s been a busy week or so in life beyond the blog, I thought I should do a quick roundup of other things to check out. In case anyone gets the urge!

I wrote at Sage Woman about seasons and mists, at Mystic Living today about the challenges of ancestry, and guest blogged with lovely witchy author Sheena Cundy about magic, madness and inspiration. Sheena has a really funny and touching Pagan novel coming out later in the month – The Madness and the Magic, hence the blog theme. She’s fab, do check her out.

Last week, John Holland of Stroud Short Stories prodded me into writing a ghost tale – long and complicated reasons but it is basically all his fault. A matter of hours after I’d written it, I got an email from another lovely author – Sheila North, asking if I happened to have a Halloween story because Sine FM were looking for something to read on Saturday. That was about perfect timing, so I sent Evelyn’s Pale Daughters over, and now they’re audio! If you come to this blog a long time after publishing date, they may have gone away again, but that’s uncanny things for you. I’ve never listened to someone else reading my stuff before. Quite an experience! It’s towards the end of the program, and my choice of tune follows…

Also last week, I attended Miserable Poets’s Cafe in Stroud. Here’s a video – audio quality is not great, but hopefully you can hear most of it. The things you need to know are that the chap running the event is Bill Jones, and that’s him on after me. His reaction is priceless! And no, he’s not sought a restraining order yet.


Good Pagan, bad author?

Uncertainty has always been a big part of my path. I don’t have fixed beliefs. Gods do not issue me with clear instructions. I have mixed feelings about many things and unsubstantiated personal confusion, rather than gnosis. It feels like the more time I spend as a consciously spiritual person, the less idea I have of what I’m doing, the less willing I am to invest in my own authority, the less sure I am of myself in some ways.

I become ever less willing to set myself up as some kind of expert, and ever more wary of any ideas about my own authority. But at the same time I have this compulsion to write, and the two do not go together very well at all from certain perspectives. There are reasons author and authority are related words.

Often what we want from authors – if sales of spiritual books, and books of personal growth are indicative – is confidence. Many of us like the people who can give us clear instructions about how to do all the things and get the results. ‘You can have all the things by doing it my way’ sells books. Why read a book by someone who doesn’t really know the answers? Why pick up an author who is not an authority?

There are subjects in which a person can become an expert and have a lot, if not all of the answers. It holds true in any theoretical subject. A few years ago, I tried to become a theoretical expert in the subject of prayer, and it was a very humbling sort of experience. Prayer is not something that makes sense looked at purely from the outside, attempting anthropology with self as non-participant (not that I’ve ever done any proper anthropology). Prayer is a living thing, that people do. Specific people, in specific contexts, and each is different. I could stand outside and make generalisations, but I couldn’t understand prayer in any way I found meaningful, by doing that.

I stopped approaching it as a theoretical subject and started doing it. That changed me. It also changed what I could say, but the specific cannot be safely generalised. I know what happened to me, but from that I also know that I cannot know what would happen to anyone else. The more I know, the less I can work out how to write about it. The more my experiences transcend what language can do, the more pressure I feel to try and find words for those things in the hopes of inspiring someone else.

Authority can get terribly competitive. In some fields, to be intent on being the best, the leading edge, the top of the pile, probably doesn’t get in the way of the subject itself, but in things spiritual, it really does. The more I obsess over sales figures, competing with my fellow authors and who is the most important Druid in the camp, the less able I become to function as a spiritual person. Work I do towards shaping or maintaining my own importance is a lot like tying my shoelaces together, because it stops me from running in other ways.

My spiritual practice calls for reflection, quiet, and not getting bogged down in what other people think of me. I suspect I’d be a more successful author (in terms of sales, not quality of writing) if I put more effort into crafting a public persona that set me apart as something special and worthy of attention. But I am no more or less than the next Druid, just a person doing things. I don’t want to write from a place of self celebration, I want to write usefully, in service, and I want to avoid creating and then buying into my own PR. I want to be able to do that alongside other people who are doing similar things and sharing, without authority, without hierarchy.

Happily, I know a lot of authors who are working in much the same way as me. There are many inspired folk in the blogsphere sharing experience but not setting up as a Very Important Druid. I am deeply inspired by the honesty of Cat Treadwell and Mark Townsend, who have shown me how being real, in all the flawed human messiness that entails, is a better spiritual path for me than trying to be shiny. I’d rather buy books from authors who don’t have all the answers, but whose questing might shed some light on my own journey. I’ve yet to find a book of everything solved neatly forever that came close to working for me, but in other people’s uncertainty I find hope, and inspiration.


I can cure your cancer, and other myths

The more successful MBS authors out there tend to be the ones who make the biggest claims. I’ve read books from people who reckon they can cure you of any ailment by getting you to think in more positive ways. If you can’t be cured by their wisdom, it’s lack of faith, or karmic debt, or you chose this path before you were born. If you were in trouble and do not magically fix, being told it’s karma is no great comfort.

When you’re absolutely desperate, when life seems to have dealt an unplayable hand, anyone offering a way out is persuasive. The greater the fear, the more willing we are to believe that someone can save us. The less we want to think logically about how much trouble we might really be in. And so the person who makes outlandish promises can be a lot more attractive than the person who says ‘this might help you a bit’ – even if it’s truly better advice.

It’s worth pausing for a moment to think about the pre-election promises of politicians. Sometimes those aren’t so very different in style from the worst excesses of MBS magical cures. The more afraid you are, the more willing you are to believe the politician who says they have simple answers. In politics it tends to be less about positive thinking, and more about blaming a minority. The more we back the people who tell us there are simple solutions to our complex problems, the more we are likely to hurt ourselves. In a political sense, Nazi Germany was the extreme example of what you get when you go this way, but plenty of other countries have succumbed to simple hate-based non-solutions to complex real world problems. At least if you decide to pray away your life threatening disease, only you are your loved ones are likely to struggle. Do this at the political level and a lot more people are going to die.

I’m not a wildly successful author in the MBS arena because I’m not prepared to tell people I have simple answers to all their problems, or that I have it figured out. I really, really don’t, and I think what usefulness I have comes from sharing the broken bits and the shuffling, lurching journey towards being… whatever it is I’m being. No grand terms, no how I saved my life with five minutes of meditation a day. No easy ways to cleanse your karma of negative vibrations and restore your afterlife to the right colour for your magical aura. I’m really bothered by the relationship between wealth, health and privilege, and this kind of teaching.

If we want easy, tidy solutions, probably the best one is: do everything you can as well as you possibly can, and pay attention to the small stuff. It won’t cure much, but taking the details seriously improves all manner of things. Be kind, be honest, look after your body but be willing to let it go when you are truly out of options. Accept that there are no magical cures for all suffering and that sometimes you will suffer, and then do the real things you can do to alleviate your own suffering and other people’s. Be willing to work at it. Expect to fall, fail, mess up, feel lost, be let down, as well as the moments of inspiration, wild hope, unreasonable success and pure delight that are also part of a life.

People who are offering to sell you simple solutions to make it all wonderful, are people who make a lot of money. What would happen, in our spiritual and material lives, if we became a lot more wary of people who promise to fix everything? Politicians and faith healers alike. Companies with wonderproducts. Advertisements. What if we put down the belief that a simple easy anything can save us from things we don’t like, and started to deal with the realities of what we’ve got, instead? It would be a whole other world.

(You could buy my books, but they won’t save you, they won’t cure you, they won’t transform your life into pure success and unmitigated bliss. You might find them useful – some people do – but then again you might not. Truth in advertising.)