Tag Archives: writing

Language, Culture, Celts

Let me start by saying that this is a speculative blog post. I’m a dabbler, not a historian and I am not qualified to hold much of an opinion on this subject! So, I’m just sharing some things that occurred to me, that might, or might not be meaningful.

Nomadic hunter gatherer people tend not to go in for writing. Writing calls for kit, and storing writing clearly isn’t ideal if you’d have to heft it all about with you. People who need to travel lightly tend to have oral cultures and depend on memory. Nothing controversial there.

Writing seems to go with keeping records. I’m not aware of any instances where we think a culture started writing because it wanted to keep its poems for posterity! Written records become necessary when you want to keep track of ownership and/or debt. If wealth is held in common, you don’t need records. You might need records in a larger and more complex community that is sharing resources – you might want to track that to understand what happens. So at the very least, writing represents organised and self conscious social structures, probably.

It’s very difficult to have tax without written records. It’s difficult to keep track of debt, or tithing or any other system where ownership and contribution are related. These can of course be very good things in a culture, making systems to share out the goods. But at the same time you can’t have functioning hierarchies without some kind of paperwork. Arguably the difference between a barbarian horde and a colonial project is whether you can follow through with accountants and tax the people you just rampaged over.

This leaves me with some interesting thoughts about the Celts. What are the implications of the Celts not having a written language? What does it mean about their social structures? How much of our sense of them as a hierarchical community depends on them having been depicted that way by the Romans, and by those later writing down their stories? The stories we have are full of Kings and nobles. But is that a fair reflection of Celtic peoples in Europe, or of their systems of interacting with each other? Here I am speculating, but I think it’s worth wondering about what the absence of writing might suggest.


Fire in my head

The lack of fire in my head has been a problem for many years. I used to dream, plan and create from places of intense inspiration. I used to go there a lot. What happened to me is no great mystery – economic pressures, exhaustion, not being able to get anywhere much with my creative work, becoming demoralised and all that sort of thing. What I have kept going with to this point is largely discipline – that’s how I get this blog written. This is how I tackle Wherefore twice a week, how I’m writing Druidry and the Darkness.

I’ve spent most of my life writing. I have skills and experience and I know enough about putting words together that I can do a decent job without being on fire. A few weeks ago I was, for example, asked to write a poem about a gatehouse, for an event. It’s not a location I’ve ever visited, but, I know how to work, and it’s a decent piece.

I’ve missed the fire. I’ve missed writing from a state of passion and putting words down because I have to – for me, not for some economic goal or to do someone else a favour. I’ve missed being on fire. I’d got used to at best having the occasional tiny bursts that might make for a better than average poem. I’d got used to feeling like I am mostly ash and embers in the place where the energy of my inspiration used to burn brightly.

This year has been all about re-enchantment for me. I’ve been able to reclaim, and have been given back a great many lost parts of myself. It’s been intense and surprising, and there has been a single catalyst for all of this. None of it has taken the kind of shape I might have expected. It has been a strange, challenging time, and I’m certainly not through it yet. I’m in a process with massive implications for my sense of self, and that will, one way or another, very likely define much of my future.

This week, the overwhelming emotions of the last month or so coalesced into the need to write. It doesn’t matter if I write a whole book, or whether I fail. It doesn’t matter if anyone else much reads it (almost unheard of for me). It doesn’t matter if it’s any good (again, not a normal way to be feeling). It certainly doesn’t matter if it’s publishable (more usual). I have to write. I have to write this story. I have to sit down with it every day and put pen to paper. I haven’t written like this since I was a teenager.


Putting the heart back into my creative process

One of the things that trying to work as a creative professional can do to you, is knock the joy out of the creating. When being taken seriously as a creator depends on earning enough, there’s a lot of pressure. How people see you – friends, family, people your life brings you into contact with – often depends on your earning power. The underpaid creative is often taken to be a hobbiest, lazy, incompetent, selfish… it can be a very unhappy experience. So you try to make it pay, to prove that what you do is worth doing.

When did I stop creating for the joy of it? Hard to say as it was a process, not an event. I used to be someone who wrote a lot, but that’s not been true in a while. I’ve struggled to be creative. Starting a patreon account a few years ago helped a lot, in no small part because of that economic component – if I was writing for people who were willing to pay me to write, that made it ok. Not irresponsible self indulgence. Not a failure to take care of my family and household.

As lockdown started, I realised I needed something to work on that would help me stay functional. There’s little point trying to be seriously economically active at the moment and that’s been liberating. So I’m writing a series called Wherefore – it’s a bit like a soap opera in that there’s no grand plan or over-arching structure. It’s on my youtube channel – https://www.youtube.com/nimuebrown I’m just doing it because I want to. It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything on those terms.

I have a collaborator in this – Bob Fry, who is also in my mumming side, and has a truly unusual mind. He’s been giving me prompts and ideas, and I started writing primarily for him. As it has gone along and other people have responded, I’ve started writing with them in mind as well, and so it is made out of love and the desire to entertain people who like what I do – and this is going well. For the first time in many years, I want to write for the pleasure of creating and sharing. Working with other people and having other people to create for is key for me. I don’t do this well as a solitary process.

Much of my difficulty stems from wider issues in the creative industries as a whole. Most creative people cannot make a living from their work. The question has always been about how to respond to that. Should I dig in and try harder to be ‘professional’ and economically viable? Or should I try and muddle along economically and create what I feel moved to create? I’m moving towards the second position. As a household, we are viable financially, and that will do. I need to put the heart back into my work. I need to create for the love of it, and for the love of the people out there who enjoy what I make. The worth of creating is something I need to measure in the joy it brings, not what I’m paid for it.

If lockdown has taught us anything, it should be that the value of the work people do, and what they get paid for it, are wholly unrelated issues. It’s true of the frontline essential workers, and it’s just as true of the creative folk who are keeping everyone amused and comforted – often just by giving work away. What we pay for, and what we need are two separate issues in our strangely structured society. I don’t have to keep on measuring my worth as a creator in terms of what anyone is willing to pay me. I can measure it in terms of what it does, and if I can delight a few people, that’s time well spent.


Writing my best animism

I’ve made an interesting discovery this week – I write my best animism when I’m not being serious. If I try and write serious spiritual fiction, or for that matter, certain kinds of non-fiction I feel uneasy and don’t reliably do a very good job. There are always those risks around ego and self importance, the fear of accidentally writing in ways that exclude rather than draw in.

I have a particular unease around giving people the impression I’m more spiritually adept than I really am. I’m an animist, but I don’t hear the voices of spirit in all things animate and inanimate around me. I’m not having big, important conversations with anything much.

However, when I stop trying to be sensible and open up to what might be interesting and amusing, I can write my animism in ways that I like. I could get into a deep philosophical wrangle about what this means, but, that would seem to defeat the object, so instead, here is a little bit of happily preposterous, not taking myself too seriously animism from the current Wherefore project – which is mostly fiction.

“There are yeasts who want to teach you the meaning of civilization and culture. Fungi want to talk to you about interconnectedness. The dried garlic wants a conversation with you about how you are mistreating the bacteria on your skin, and it also wants to chat with the people who live in your lower intestines and who are frankly much more spiritually advanced than you are.

The jam in your kitchen is waging a war for your soul against the influence of an edible foodlike substance made by a chemical company. There is something in your fridge that is trying to make contact with the elder race down the back of the cupboard. All of the eggs are dreaming about their past lives and there are a whole selection of magical beans waiting their turn to influence your understanding of reality.

That’s just your kitchen.”

You can follow Wherefore, in all its silliness on my youtube channel – https://www.youtube.com/NimueBrown

 


The Enemy of Art?

“There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall” – Cyril Connolly.

“Ash is sitting on the potty doing a pencil drawing while reciting loudly and accurately from Fortunately the Milk. I have to go away and hide and write for two weeks. I am going to miss this little wood-elf more than I can say.” Neil Gaiman, twitter, this week.

As a writer who had a baby (I’m female-ish, non-binary) I had to figure out how the writing was going to fit around the child. As a relatively poor person I had to take care of the child, the needs of the child. I could not have ever afforded to take a couple of weeks off for writing while someone else took care of my small child. I regret nothing. I would not have done differently if I’d had the money.

What I hate, passionately, is this idea that to be a good creator you have to be cut off from life in this way. I hate it just as much as I hate it when Tory politicians speak with pride about having never changed a nappy. I hate the way we devalue parenthood, and I really hate the way we devalue fatherhood.

I hate the way in which Neil Gaiman has presented this like the only way he can possibly write is by going away for two weeks. It perpetuates the idea that serious work has to happen outside the domestic sphere and that for people (usually men) who are important, going away to do the important things is just what you have to do. This is bullshit.

It isn’t easy being a parent and anything else at the same time. Most of us who have children do that, though. We have jobs, and other responsibilities, and we figure it out as best we can and do what we can, and take pride in the work and the parenting. It isn’t easy finding the focus and energy to work on creative projects when raising a small child. Many of us manage, all the same. Many of us do not experience that managing as some kind of heroic sacrifice.

I have every sympathy with anyone whose economic situation impacts on their scope for parenting – that’s a very different thing. I have every sympathy for parents whose work involves travel, and for the challenges and juggling involved. I’m frankly tired of the affluent men who think that raising their small children is someone else’s job.


Notes on my killing rampage

I have to kill a hundred people. It’s an author issue, and one that is going to occupy a good deal of my time in the coming months.

I wrote a blog post about it for fellow steampunk author Mark Hayes. Which was good of him, as he’s also one of the people I killed… https://markhayesblog.com/2019/10/03/how-to-kill-a-hundred-people-a-indie-october-guest-post-by-nimue-brown/

I had meant to do a cunning reblog this morning, but the technology has thwarted me, so, here’s the opening as a teaser…

“Let me begin by explaining Hopeless Maine. It started life as a graphic novel series set on an imaginary island off the coast of Maine. There’s now a role play game, prose books in the offing and other things in planning! For people who want to get involved, there’s www.hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com which is currently full of dead people…

Back in August, when we were figuring out the details for Hopeless Maine kickstarter, I suggested I could do obituaries for people as though they had died in the setting. Those became early bird bonuses, and “yes,” I blithely said, of course I can write a hundred of them.

Of course I didn’t think for a moment that 100 people would get in fast enough that I’d have to do it.”

And for the rest, hop over to Mark’s blog.

 

 


New adventures in Druidry

I’ve got a new project on the move that I thought may be of interest to blog followers…

I’ve just started a new Patreon level at $5 a month specifically for Druid content. I’m going to be working on a book, and in the short term what this level gives you is access to the work in progress and the scope to make suggestions about where I go, should you feel so moved! Like most authors, I find my hourly rate (once books start selling) isn’t ever going to pay me enough to justify the time spent.

For those of you new to this, the average book sells 3000 copies, the typical author gets less than £1 per copy, you can be quite successful in terms of number of books sold and still make a pittance in relation to the work put in.

I started doing Patreon a couple of years ago because I was struggling so much with creative work. Having that space, and the confidence that there are at least a few people who like what I do has kept me creating. I was close to giving up.

At time of writing, this blog has some 4,600 subscribers. Now, I know many of you are strapped for cash, or already supporting other things. However, allow me imagine a moment that everyone who followed this blog thought that $1 a month was fair and feasible thing to give in response to daily content from me. What would happen?

I could give up the paid work that takes up so much time and energy. I would be able to go much deeper and further with the Druidry. I could take whole days for deep reflection and engagement and the quest for inspiration and I could bring you back the fruits of that. I’d have a lot more time and energy to create.

I could also afford better living and working arrangements. I’m in a small flat, without the space to do any physically large project. My computer is on the dining table, in the one room of living space we have. It’s not ideal. There’s no garden here. I can’t really afford time off. I can’t dig in economically and also be a volunteer, and spend hours of my week giving my work away – it’s not possible. I’ve chosen a path that makes it difficult to be anything other than poor. It’s tricky, because I’m aware of the good I could do if I was better off – who else I could take care of, scope to lower my carbon footprint further, room to take better care of my health.

My poor mental health makes conventional employment difficult and I can’t work all the hours and do all the creative and Druid things on top of it. It’s been a difficult juggling act for years. I can’t really afford the time off I need to improve my mental health. Like many other people, I’m stuck in cycles of things that it is difficult to break out of, making the best choices I can based on the options I have.

My situation is totally normal for a part time creative person. Most full time creative and professionally Pagan people have some other way of paying the bills. If you are able to support anyone, then please be aware that it makes a massive difference, and just a few dollars a month can swing it from defeated, to able to keep going. I know of creators who can keep going because Patreon support pays a few key bills each month or allows them to buy art supplies. This is an industry in which success still means poverty, so when people who work creatively talk about not having any money, it doesn’t mean they aren’t good at what they do. There is no money worth mentioning in being a full time professional Pagan, either.

I’ll keep giving my work away for free. But, if you are able to put something in the hat in return, it would be greatly appreciated and it will help me keep going.

https://www.patreon.com/NimueB


Of writing and magic

For various and somewhat complicated reasons, I stepped away from magic more than a decade ago. I found I could not afford any ‘woo-woo’ thinking in my relationship with reality. I had prior to that been a person who worked with all kinds of interesting stuff and for whom enchantment was a significant thing. I do not regret the choice to step back – it was absolutely necessary in the situation I was in. I have, however, missed it greatly. I’ve missed feeling that I could connect with anything.

Sorely beaten up by events, and obliged to be very consciously un-enchanted, I came to feel that this just wasn’t for me anyway. Of course no deity would want to deal with me. Of course there would be no fairies, or encounters with spirits of place, or ancestral magic, or anything else numinous. My shattered self esteem did not leave a lot of space for anyone, or anything to love me in return. I certainly wasn’t going to risk deluding myself with the imagined love of Gods when I’d become pretty convinced that I was too rubbish to do love of people.

It’s been a long, difficult road. There have been moments of surprise and wonder along the way, but I have never made anything of them.

And then this happened. I wrote an obituary for the Hopeless Maine kickstarter that was, quite accidentally, loaded with significance for the person I wrote it for.  There is a blog about it over here – https://scottishdruid.wordpress.com/2019/09/16/a-death-a-rebirth-a-claiming

Reading it made me realise how long it’s been since I’ve felt there was any magic in my writing. How long it’s been since I’ve had a sense of anything outside of me tugging on the threads of my life. How much it cost me for it to be absolutely necessary to step back from all of that. How much of myself I lost in the process.

I don’t know if I can have those parts of me back. I’m in a much safer situation now, the external pressures and threats are no longer there. But I don’t really know how to do it any more. What was once innate, seems dead. What was at one time integral to my sense of self and how I moved through the world is lost to me and I do not know how to seek it. But, for a moment there, in a state of some kind of grace, I put together the words someone else needed, and that seems significant for my journey as well.


Toni Morrison

I was 18, give or take, when I read Toni Morrison’s Beloved for the first time. Friends in the year below me at school were studying it for A Level and wanted my input. Having grown up in a very small town on the edge of the Cotswolds, race relations and the history of slavery were not things I had much awareness of. The book was a poetic and brutal wake up into a world of real-life horror that I had known nothing about.

I went on to buy every Toni Morrison book I could in the following years. I studied Beloved while doing a degree in English Literature, and filled in some of the gaps in my understanding, and became increasingly aware that, white and English as I am, some of those gaps are never going to go away. But, I do what I can. Recognising what we don’t know is a useful thing more of us could do.

Toni Morrison has always made me uncomfortable. I go back to her because she makes me uncomfortable, not in spite of it. The most recent books I’ve read were so very difficult in terms of subject matter that I haven’t even tried to review them here. I do not know what to say in face of her work – that’s part of the power of it. I don’t really know what to say in face of her death, either. None of what I could say seems adequate. I am aware that it isn’t really my job to say anything about her work, that shutting up and listening is important. Often it’s the most important thing we can do. But at the same time, she had a big impact on me, and I wanted to write something today.

Without a doubt, Toni Morrison changed me as a writer. It was a comment in an essay about writing – I must have read it at uni and the other details have long since fallen out of my brain. Google has been unable to help me, so I don’t have the exact quote. It was about how the most important thing you do when writing a story is shape the gaps into which the reader puts themselves. That idea transformed how I think about my own work. I became a writer who thinks a lot about the gaps, and what space to leave and what room to make for what people bring. It’s one of the core concepts informing the whole Hopeless Maine arc. It is, to a significant degree, intrinsic to everything fictional thing I have written as an adult.


The ritual of writing

There are a great many small joys and privileges that come from working at a Pagan publishing house. I get to read all sorts of books ahead of release. I get to help new authors break in, and more established authors reach further. I get to help. There’s an immense joy in seeing a writer winning – a first time author with a breakthrough title, an author whose been slogging away at it for years finally getting the attention they deserve. This is not always the work I am paid to do, this is sometimes stuff I do in my own time, because I can.

A few years ago, Andrew Anderson submitted a manuscript to Moon Books. It wasn’t something we could publish – it was simply too short. I liked his ideas and his writing style, so I dropped him an email with some pointers about what might work and get picked up – I’m not the person making those decisions, but I know how publishers operate. To my immense joy, he came back with a new book, and it clearly was one that we could put out. This month it is released.

The ritual of writing is a book for bards, and for anyone else using the written word as part of their creative spiritual life. Anyone inclined to write rituals, spells, prayers or meditations will find something they can use in this book. For anyone who wants to use writing as a focus for their spiritual journey, this book is resplendent with tools and ideas. It’s an ideal read for anyone on the Druid path and a natural companion book if you’re doing the OBOD Bardic grade. That Andrew is studying in the Ovate grade with OBOD should come as no surprise!

I’m personally delighted to see a book exploring creativity as ritual process in this way. I’m excited to see a new and innovative addition to contemporary Druid thinking. I’m looking forward to seeing what Andrew does next. I feel honoured to have had the chance to be part of his story.

The ritual of writing is available anywhere that sells books. here’s the Amazon link – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ritual-Writing-Spiritual-Practice/dp/1789041538