Tag Archives: Creative Writing

The Mystery of the Missing Marshal

Note: Any similarity to individuals, locations or events is entirely coincidental.  See last month’s blog (In All Our Dreams) at the bottom of the page for cast of characters. Enjoy your visit to Woollyton.

7am

Vince has just finished setting out the course for Woollyton’s Midsummer Run.  He sits on a bench, unscrews the cup from his battered Thermos flask and pours his coffee.  Mrs Vince – long-suffering and saintly – provides him with refreshments for all of his volunteering obligations.  On the occasions when duties coincide with cold or wet weather she diligently tops up the sweet, black coffee with a generous tot of rum but today, with the sun shining and a warm June morning ahead, Vince’s coffee is just coffee.  She has, however, thoughtfully packed a biscuit for him to munch on.

Vince dunks the digestive rather than munches it and thinks about the success of the Saturday morning runs.  Getting Olga the Opera Singer to give the pre-race briefings meant there was no need to buy a megaphone, although recently Dr Lizzy (the First Aider) has complained that the way Olga rolls a cigar up and down her thigh as she sings instructions to the music from Carmen means some of the runners are breathless before the race starts.

The only Saturday which wasn’t a success was the one when Mike the Marshal went missing.  Vince frowns as he recalls talking to the police, being interviewed by a reporter from The Woollyton Bugle and even – Vince nearly chokes as he gulps his coffee too quickly – having to answer an email from HQ asking for an explanation.  And why?  Because Roger had forgotten the three notes that Mike had given him to deliver.  The first had been to Vince saying that Mike had to leave his marshal post early as his flight to Amsterdam left at 1pm; the second was to Mrs Mike telling her that he’d been called away on urgent business. (Mike never explained to his wife why his business trips involved him being away for weeks at a time before he returned, suntanned and with a wallet full of cash, but to be fair, she’d never asked for details either.  She just thought he was more attractive bronzed than pale and was very happy to deal with the excess money); the third letter, addressed to his boss, said that his grandmother was seriously ill again and he’d been called to her bedside.  Apart from briefly marvelling at the recuperative powers of Mike’s grandmother who, for years now had suffered bouts of sickness around the time Tom Jones was in concert somewhere in the world, Mike’s boss did nothing more than tweak the staff rota for the following month and thank God for the existence of zero hours contracts.

Vince’s frown disappears as he remembers it all worked out in the end because Roger eventually found the letters and posted them.  Since then Mike had sent several postcards to Betty for her to display in The Sticky Bun and some exotic spices for her to try out in her cake recipes.  He’d even enclosed a packet of seeds for Upstairs Annie to plant on the allotments so she could grow her own hay.  And now that Nellie the Knitter and Brian Behind the Paper had won the lottery and gone on a world cruise, there’d be no more complaints to deal with.  Vince finishes his coffee and smiles contentedly.

8am

Sticky Betty sets up a table near the start line with complimentary buns for all of the runners.  She has finally used the spices Mike sent her from Amsterdam and because today is a celebration, she made an even stickier than usual topping.  Sticky Betty is sure they’ll be very popular with everyone.

9am

Most of the runners have eaten Sticky Betty’s spiced buns even though common sense told them to wait until they’d finished the race.  Rod has produced a red satin cape and led a riotous arm-waving, foot-stamping warm up session alongside Olga’s rendition of the pre-race briefing to The March of The Toreadors.  As Vince blows the start whistle, over on the allotments a curl of smoke rises up from a bonfire and wafts across the course.  Upstairs Annie has scythed the hay she was growing with the Amsterdam seeds and set the stubble alight to clear the ground.  As the runners pass by on the first loop the smoke has dissipated into a pungent, greyish haze and by the time they approach on the second loop, Vince wonders if he needs to remind the clubs about taking the race seriously because the runners seem to be doing a Conga into Woollyton Woods.

10am

Vince checks his watch.  He sent Roger into the woods more than 15 minutes ago to look for the runners and there’s been no sign of him since.  Vince shudders as he anticipates having to deal with another HQ email but then sighs with relief as a lone figure walks out of the trees and heads for the finish.  Rosie strolls over the line and raises her arms in triumph, claiming victory for walkers the world over and dismissing the disappearance of all the other competitors as irrelevant.

11am

Vince decides that he will have to send a search party into Woollyton Woods.  He looks around and realises he is alone in the playing field except for Rod and Olga who are doing an Argentine Tango near the still smoky allotments.  Vince puts on his Run Director vest, his brave face and follows the taped course into the trees.  It’s not long before he hears a man’s voice singing.  Soon he reaches a clearing full of runners who are swaying back and forth to the music.  Upstairs Annie is carrying a smouldering pile of hay and a misty cloud hangs in the air.  Standing on top of makeshift stage is the gyrating figure of a black-shirted man.

“Mike? Mike? Mike?” calls Vince.

“Delilah,” chant the runners.

“Why? Why? Why?” Vince takes a deep breath and starts to feel a little bit dizzy.

“Delilah,” the runners chorus.

“So before – I sent Roger a note saying I’d be back today – they come to break down the door.” Mike’s voice booms out and his hips swing from side to side.

Vince’s hips feel an urge to do the same.  He briefly wonders whether his replacement will cope and then decides there’s only one way to find out. He pushes his way through the crowd to stand next to Mike on the stage, puts his NHS orthopaedic surgery under stress it was never designed for and along with everyone else, goes for it.

“FOR-GIVE ME, DE-LI-LAH, I JUST COULDN’T TAKE ANY MOOOOOOOOOORE!”

Email from Run HQ to Vince

Hi Vince, We heard you had a special Run last Saturday.  Would you like to tell us more about it?

Email from Vince to Run HQ

No.

 

The End.  My next blog should (fingers crossed) appear in mid-July.  Until then #staysafe #bekind #keepsmiling

In all our dreams

 “We should show life neither as it is nor as it ought to be, but as we see it in our dreams.”

Anton Chekhov

I’m going to write a whodunit.  Not a gritty, gory crime novel – they’re too much like real life and for the moment, I’ve had enough of reality.  And not one of those brooding melodramas set in a beautiful landscape where everyone is gorgeous looking, under 40 and affluent but with no obvious source of income.  No, I’m going to write an old-fashioned mystery with a collection of eccentric characters – all with dodgy alibis and skeletons in the cupboard – who lurk about suspiciously and generally undermine the efforts of the police to bring the guilty party to book.   Back in 2007 when I was concocting a detective story for my Creative Writing degree, Rob Middlehurst (my tutor at the University of Glamorgan) advised me to sketch little life stories for my protagonists to make their part in the plot believable.  If he’s reading this, he’ll be pleased I sort of paid attention.  Even though I am still without a detailed plan of how the tale will unfold – it involves blackmail, jealousy and a compost heap on the village allotments – I think my characters’ backgrounds are very realistic.  It’s just that there was no sketching involved – only some scraps of wool and too much time on my hands.

 

Vince the Volunteer

Every village needs a Vince.  In Woollyton, Vince organises the parkrun that starts off with two laps of the playing field before following a footpath into a glade of trees.  Local legend tells of lost treasure buried in a cave somewhere in the Woollyton Woods and says that those who stumble upon it either go completely mad or are never seen again.  Vince seems as sane as any other Run Director, muttering to himself about things he’s forgotten to do as he pegs out the course at the crack of dawn each Saturday.  He never goes into the woods though, preferring to send a marshal who will stand alone beneath creaking branches until the last runner passes and then collect the tape which marks the route before heading back to the playing field.  Last month Mike the Marshal didn’t return at the end of the run.  Not to the finish line, not to his house where Mrs Mike had lunch on the table and not to his job the following week.  “Just as well,” said Vince to the policeman who came enquiring for information, “I’ve got a spare hi-viz jacket and plenty of tape so I can send someone else into the woods next week.”

Sue the Stretch

What Sue really wants is for everyone in Woollyton to take up Yoga, thus making her business plan for a naturist retreat called Yogi Bare irresistible to the bank manager who needs to agree her loan application.  In the meantime, she has to be content with daily classes for the clothed and faithful few at the Community Centre.  Except, of course, on a Saturday morning when the parkrun takes place and Sue has to yield all of the car parking spaces, the changing rooms and the little cafeteria (The Sticky Bun – tea/coffee and, you’ve guessed it, a sticky bun  for £2.50) to Vince and the runners.  This she does with all the magnanimity of someone who can adopt the position of Downward Dog and stay in it for 47 minutes without her digestive system announcing its existence to the world.

Olga the Opera Singer

Half of the residents of Woollyton are sceptical of Olga’s claim that she once sang in Milan and the other half say that anyone who hangs around the bars in Milan on a Saturday night will end up singing so her lack of modesty doesn’t necessarily imply talent.  Olga proves her case (one way or the other) by taking up position at her bedroom window each evening  after the Channel 4 news bulletin and letting rip with an aria.  This cultural largess has been raised at council meetings in the Community Centre where compensation for broken glass in the cold frames and greenhouses on the allotments nearest her house is consistently refused.

Upstairs Annie

Annie is one of those people who is rarely seen without a bale of hay in her arms.  Quite why this is has never been established as she doesn’t keep animals and lives in a tiny flat above Woollyton’s only shop, with not even a flower box to call outside space.  Those who have taken up Annie’s invitation to drop by for a nice hot cup of tea (that is, virtually everyone Annie meets on her hourly quad bike rounds of the village) are quick to say that Annie isn’t a gossip but she does know about most things that go on in Woollyton.  And when they’ve said that, they wonder where she gets the money to pay for the hay, the quad bike and the petrol she has to buy to make hourly rounds of the village.

Rosie Right to Ramble

Until the parkrun was launched, Rosie was the only person who wandered the paths through Woollyton Woods.  Now each Saturday people come from miles around, double parking their cars on verges and blocking driveways.  For a while Rosie tried to rally opposition to Vince and his marshals but to no avail.  Then she signed up on the parkrun website, got a barcode of her own and began joining in every week.  She is very fond of rambling in the rain and on days when the weather is particularly inclement, Rosie enjoys walking the route – very slowly – and waving to the cold, sodden hi-viz heroes who grin back at her through gritted teeth and send silent messages of a speedy finish followed by  cramp in both calves.

Betty the Sticky Bun Baker

When Betty took over the Community Centre café, it was on the understanding it would be developed into a healthy eating outlet, a hub for home cooked meat free, gluten free, dairy free but money expensive meals.  However in response to public opinion, Betty reneged on the terms of this unwritten agreement and announced that the entire menu would consist of sticky buns but with some exceptions.  Thus, on Bank Holidays and other auspicious occasions (many of which occur on Saturdays), Betty expands her repertoire – and the waistlines of her customers – by offering fried bacon and sausages layered in doorstep thick slabs of squidgy white bread served with great steaming mugs of hot milky chocolate at a cost all of her customers are more than happy to pay.

Nellie the Knitter and Brian Behind the Paper

Nellie and Brian celebrated their retirement by building a little bungalow in a peaceful spot near a grassy meadow and calling it “Paradise”.  Then the owner of the grassy meadow had the nerve to die and leave it to the residents of Woollyton as a playing field.  To add insult to injury he also left a strip of land to become allotments for the villagers and enough money for them to build a community centre.  Soon “Paradise” was anything but peaceful and one Saturday Brian took a felt pen and scrawled the word “Lost” on the house plaque.  That was the day Nellie abandoned crocheting granny squares and began knitting fair isle socks on 5 needles with a provisional cast on to the double rib cuff and Kitchener cast off at the arrow point toe line.  It was also the last day that Brian was seen as he’s been behind a paper ever since.

Rod the Runner

Every morning Rod squeezes himself into a pair of lycra shorts that were tight fitting when he bought them 3 years and 4 kilos ago.  He’s convinced that those 4 kilos are upper body muscles but many people who view his jogging form from behind would disagree.  Rod, being the Chairman of the Community Centre Committee, had to pretend to welcome the arrival of Woollyton’s parkrun but in truth, he always felt that running was too serious a business to share with the general public.  He even had to give up on his ambition to develop a wholefood restaurant at the Community Centre when one by one the rest of the committee, thanks to Betty’s persuasive skills, voted for the Sticky Bun alternative.  All of these things he writes about over and over again, in long, poetic letters to the only person in the village he had ever loved.  Letters which he seals with a smudgy kiss and never intends to post. Although once, a carelessly left open window and an afternoon breeze saw one of them waft from Rod’s desk and land, like litter, on Woollyton’s playing field.

I started knitting the little people just for a bit of fun but as so often happens, one thing has led to another.  Let me assure you – and particularly the people who I know personally – that whilst there may be a knitted resemblance to some of my friends and family, any links to dodgy alibis and skeletons in the cupboard exist only in my imagination.  Admittedly I haven’t worked out who among them is going to be the amateur detective, the culprit or the unreliable witnesses but I think I have populated Woollyton with more than enough eccentricity.  I wouldn’t be surprised to start getting messages from those within my social circle fairly soon suggesting the roles their character could play and which Hollywood star should take their part when the film rights of my whodunit are sold.   To them I would say –

“In all our dreams!”

Now, are there any publishers out there reading this?

Meeting Gandalf

“Confusing real matters with the machinery of the tale is a serious mistake.”     J.R.R.Tolkein.

My default method of coping with life has always been to retreat into an imagined reality, a made-up world of myth, magic and heroic deeds.  Eventually I read and loved The Hollow Hills (Mary Stewart), The Dark is Rising (Susan Cooper) and Earthsea (Ursula K LeGuin) but it all started with The Lord of the Rings.  In the autumn of 1976 I was at university in a city I hated, studying a subject I didn’t like which was going to lead me into a career I didn’t want.   What to do?  I could have transferred to a different campus, changed course or left and found a job that interested me.  Instead I chose to become engrossed in the fate of Middle Earth.  When the Fellowship of the Ring was formed, I was forced to decide where my loyalties lay.  I drifted aimlessly about in Further Education, squandering opportunities and wasting taxpayers’ money, all the time wondering whether I was more suited to becoming an elf, a dwarf or a hobbit.

In the end, I decided to develop a Gandalf-ian approach to life in general and dress sense in particular.  I binned my student uniform of jeans, sweatshirt and trainers and took to wearing long raggedy skirts, a cape and baggy boots.   These days, even though I am older and should be much wiser, I still channel my inner Gandalf when faced with a challenge.  Why?  Well, it’s not because I’m surrounded by short people with hairy feet who have a tendency to become invisible at awkward moments (although some of my friends tick at least two of those boxes), it’s because Gandalf is pragmatic, decisive and a strategist; and he knows the wisdom that comes from wandering ancient tracks and trails.  Also, I still have the cape and as there’s nothing wrong with it, no moth holes or rips, it needs to come out every so often and get worn.

 

I had heard a tale that the narrow lane at the side of the High Corner pub in Llanharan led to an almost forgotten landscape that could only be reached by foot.  A high claim in these days of off-roaders, quads and mountain bikes, and one which could only be proved by a boots on the ground exploration.  I had packed my creased and out of date OS map along with a picnic and my sketch book but then, at the last minute, had decided to switch bags.  The picnic and the sketch book made it into my rucksack but the map got mislaid in the transition.  Luckily all of those years when I orienteered (badly) has left me with something called ‘map memory’ so I knew roughly where I was going.  In short, this translates as uphill.  Really steeply uphill.  Eventually the tarmac lane petered out and a kissing gate marked the way into a field.  I stopped long enough to do a field sketch and tie some wool around my shoes so that when I came to knit a wallhanging of the route, I’d have yarn which had picked up some debris and would be coloured with what I call indigenous dyes but other people label mud.

 

The path turned west and was easy to follow across the sloping field.  A few sheep kept an eye on my progress as I moved past them but, surrounded by lush green grass that is the inevitable result of rainfall totals on the slopes of the Blaenau Ridge, they weren’t really interested in me.  The track was less steep now but still relentlessly uphill.  To the south the vista suddenly opened up and the flat lands of the Vale of Glamorgan, the cold waters of the Bristol Channel and even the North Devon coast came into focus.  Little white clouds scudded across the sky and the breeze felt fresh and clean.

 

Field Sketch

For me there is a peculiar joy to solitary walking in remote places.  On this particular day though, I wasn’t alone.  On the wooded slopes of Mynydd Coed Bychain (The Hill of Small Trees), a couple of riders on dark horses were making their way through the shadows.  Every so often they stopped and the rider in front stood up in his stirrups, scanning the horizon as if looking for something.  I watched them for a bit but it started to rain and I thought it wise to concentrate on my footing as the path rounded the curve of the hill and then wound upwards.  Ahead a rocky outcrop crowned the bluff and below, the valley widened as it ran down to the little settlement of Llwyn y Brain (Grove of Ravens) at its mouth.    A man stood on one of the boulders atop the cliff face, his form silhouetted against a greying sky.  Sitting next to him, alert, ears pointed forward, was a sheepdog.  I looked away for a moment to navigate a stony bit of track and when I looked back, both had disappeared and I was back to being in a lonely landscape.

The moors of Mynydd Portref are covered with windmills and the Ridgeway path doesn’t skirt them at any great distance.  They are quite hypnotic to watch and listen to and I was doing both when I met Gandalf.

“It’s good weather for them,” he said.

I was annoyed because I hadn’t noticed him approach.  If you walk alone in the countryside, you become quite alert to movement and sound but on this occasion, transfixed by the turbines’ sweeping blades, my alarm system had failed.  I turned to face the speaker.  Even though he had swapped his cloak for a red Berghaus jacket and the blue hat wasn’t as pointy as I remembered it, he looked like the Gandalf of my imagination, with a softly curling, greyish beard, tired looking eyes and a long walking stick grasped in his right hand.  He leaned his head back and for a moment or two we both watched the wind being turned into electricity then he turned and yelled over his shoulder, in a most un-wizardlike way:

“Margaret!  Get a move on.  We’ll be late for lunch!”

A bobble hatted woman with one limpy leg staggered into sight.

“Don’t feel sorry for her.”  He had seen the expression on my face.  “She’s not wearing proper walking boots.  Got some daft designer things on she bought yesterday and thought she could wear today without getting blisters.  All she’s doing is spoiling my day out. It’s not the first time.  I’ve had enough.  I really have.  I think we’ve reached the stage where as soon as I can, I’m going to leave her.”

“Oh,” I said, feeling awkward especially as Margaret arrived just as he had come to this conclusion.  I didn’t want to get involved.  I was busy planning the wallhanging map I wanted to make of my trek.

“Hello,” she said holding out her hand.  “Has he been telling you I’m holding him up? ”

“Not at all,” I lied.  Gandalf had wandered down the path and out of earshot.  “Trouble with your shoes?”

“No!” she exclaimed.  “Not at all.  I’m just pretending I’m useless so that he’ll dump me.  We met on a dating site a few weeks back.  He’s supposed to be kind and attentive with a good sense of humour.  Actually he’s a grumpy old sod and I can’t wait to be rid of him.  I think today could be the day he’ll finish it.  Must go,” she said.  “The more he sees me limping, the more annoyed he’ll be.”

As she disappeared into the distance and his shouts of “Margaret! Keep up!” faded away, I thought how probably it was best that Gandalf stayed where he belonged.  In my imagination.

 

Unlost Places – Moffat to Mull

“There is a silent eloquence in every wild bluebell that fills my softened heart with bliss that words could never tell.”           Anne Brontë

Our journey from Wales to Scotland tracked the flowering of bluebells; they had the appearance of waterfalls on the harsh hillsides of Snowdonia, nestled in the meadows of Lancashire and were cushioned in the leaf litter of Scottish woods.  As we travelled north their hue changed from an almost ephemeral delicacy to the most intense hyacinth blue.  Whilst the sight of them is arresting enough, they also drown the air with a heady perfume – reason enough for anyone to want to walk amongst them.  Scotland in May is a pretty good where and when to do so.

MOFFAT

In front of moss-fringed stones ramsons,violets,campions dance; Jack waits his turn by the hedge.

I love walking and now that I’ve given up painting in favour of field sketching and poetic tercets, I find more and more textures that I want to try and capture.  Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t.

The area around Moffat is ideal for the Unlost Places project: twisting lanes enfolded by steep sided hills and the sense that everywhere is a landscape that belongs to a moment in history.   I marked my passage through place and time by building a small sculpture on the walls of an ancient bridge.

I use what are euphemistically called ‘indigenous dyes’ to colour material for stitchery.  This is done by rubbing fabric against wood, metal or stone surfaces to stain the background surface.  It’s an example of how an art map becomes much more the visual representation of a place that I spoke about in last month’s blog.

THE ISLE OF MULL

A visit to the Isle of Mull (http://www.isle-of-mull.net/) had long been on my to-do list.  We crossed from Oban to Craignure then headed to the beautiful and isolated bay of Lochbuie.  Apart from a couple of houses, an honesty shop (a well-stocked general store where you chose what goods you wanted and were trusted to leave the appropriate amount of money behind – how refreshing is that as a concept?) and the ubiquitous ruined castle, Lochbuie is also home to the tiny St Kilda’s church.

Unlost Places is all about using art and poetry to reflect features which are in some way transcendent.  In the porch of St Kilda’s is an engraved Celtic Cross, tentatively dated to the 8th Century.  This is a project that finds creativity in unexpected places.

It’s also a project that leaves creativity in unexpected places.  An hour spent beach-combing yielded driftwood, shells and old fishing line – enough raw materials for some weaving to be left hanging from a tree.  Hopefully proving that it’s not just bluebells which are silently eloquent.

Never Ending or Beginning

“Like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel, never ending or beginning, on an ever spinning reel,” Alan and Marilyn Bergman

I don’t usually plan ahead what I’m going to write in my blogs – you’ve probably guessed that if you read them regularly – but when Michel Legrand died recently, I started thinking about one of his most famous compositions, “Windmills of your mind” and was wondering how I could fit in a reference to it.  I’ve loved this song since I first heard it, mostly because it was sung by Noel Harrison.  (I had a crush on him when he starred in The Girl from Uncle with Stephanie Powers.  In my defence, I was 8 and not very discriminating about the sort of television programmes I watched.)  Anyway poor M. Legrand’s demise got me humming the tune and thinking about beginnings and how difficult it is to spot the point at which you stop being a student of something and start putting what you’ve learnt into  practice.

I know from my own experience learning to speak Welsh, going from dweud eich dweud in the classroom to sgwrsio yn y byd go iawn is as terrifying as going from pedalling a tricycle with stabilisers on to riding a racing bike with razor blade thin wheels down a steep hill.   You can read more about how I got on with the Welsh language here incidentally.  If you are dysgu Cymraeg fel oedolion it might make you realise that having a sense of humour is as necessary as a command of grammar.

Trying to work out the point when I got to grips with creativity is less easy.  When it comes to Textile Art, I disagree with John Galsworthy when he said “beginnings are always messy.”  This  is my attempt at portraying the brooding atmosphere of Kenfig Pool in the year 2000.  Local legend has it that a wizard cursed the inhabitants of the prosperous borough of Kenfig for not offering him shelter.  A fierce storm arose and as the sea broke through the defences and flooded the village, drowning it for ever, a ghostly cry of Dial a ddaw! (Vengeance is coming!) was heard on the wind.  If ever a piece of my work failed to capture a sense of place, this is it.

This is a picture of Kenfig Pool worked in Needlepoint
Kenfig Pool Needlepoint 2000

Shortly after I began a course in Creative Textiles with the Open College of Arts and had to come to terms with using a sketchbook to record the way in which pieces of work were developing.  I have never enjoyed working this way.  I see a piece of white paper and am convinced that any mark I make on it will spoil it forever.  In spite of repeated attempts to convince my tutors that I was useless at drawing and worse at painting, they refused to give me dispensation for that part of the course.  Grumbling and resentful, I set about a project on responding to place.  I chose the entrance to an old mine close to where I live as the subject partly because it was easy to get to but also because I’d read something about it being haunted.

This is a drawing of an entrance to an old mine
Old Mine Entrance Watercolour Pencil
This is a picture of an old mine entrance worked in pastels
Old Mine Entrance Pastels
This is a stitched sketch of an old mine entrance
Old Mine Entrance Stitched Sketch

Bit by bit I came to realise that learning to be creative was much the same as studying Welsh.  I didn’t need to be good at drawing or skilled at painting – these were simply the nouns and verbs of a visual language; my sketchbook was not a collection of images which were nice to look at – it was a record that only I needed to understand.

Just recently (January 2019) I attended a course at Kenfig Nature Reserve and had half an hour to spare before it started.  I decided to walk across the sand dunes and pay a visit to  Kenfig Pool.  Having a mobile phone means that these days, there’s always a camera to hand so I started off taking a couple of photographs.

This is a picture of Kenfig Pool
Kenfig Pool January 2019
This is a picture of Kenfig Pool looking towards the steelworks at Margam
Kenfig Pool January 2019

I’ve gone from thinking of sketchbooks as a necessary evil to a useful bit of kit.  My change of opinion is down to finally finding a technique which works for me;  I use a felt pen to draw on a still wet watercolour wash and because I’ve come to terms with the fact that the sketchbook is a resource for me and me alone, I don’t worry about whether it is good by anyone else’s standards.

This is a watercolour sketch
Kenfig Pool Field Sketch January 2019

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks doing a small art map of Kenfig Pool.  It’s still a work in progress but you’ll be able to see how it’s going to turn out.  It makes an interesting comparison to that needlepoint work I did nearly 20 years ago.

This is picture of a stitched map
Kenfig Pool Stitched Map Work in Progress January 2019

In amongst all of these Kenfig Pool shenanigans, I was invited to contribute work to an exhibition called ‘Interior Monologues’ which is opening on the 11th February 2019 at Oriel y Bont .  I’ve produced a piece of poetic prose as a response to the work of artist Mererid Velios .  It’s been a new and exciting method of  collaboration for me and I’ve really enjoyed it.  Interestingly enough, I probably would never have got involved except for the fact that Barrie and Maria, my Creative Writing lecturers from 2004 and 2005, remembered that I always wanted to write about visual art.  Are there such things as beginnings and endings?  I don’t think so.

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes.  Art is knowing which ones to keep.”                      Scott Adams

Hunting Words

“I and Pangur Bán, my cat,

‘Tis a like task we are at;

Hunting mice is his delight,

Hunting words I sit all night …”

9th Century Irish rhyme ‘The Monk and his Cat.’ In an attempt to make you think that I have actually got a plan for this blog, Lily (my cat) will appear in most of the images metaphorically representing the logical part of your brain.

With no excuses for prevarication left I have finally started work on my book.  As usual I found the hardest part was finding the words to begin the first chapter.  I have overcome this difficulty with a neat little trick that I learnt when I was doing my degree in Creative Writing, namely don’t begin at the beginning.  Start writing half way through the book and in the middle of a chapter, page, paragraph or even sentence.  This will irritate the logical part of your brain so much that it will go and lie down in a darkened room thereby leaving your creativity unsupervised and ready to rock and roll.

The black cat of creativity waits for an opening.

So whereas my book (as yet untitled but when you consider it’s about integrating an ethos bound approach and multiple strands of creative practice, is that a surprise?) is going to start with an overview of what it means to have a)an ethos bound approach and b) multiple strands of creative practice before going on to explore how they can be integrated, I have not begun at this point for fear the excitement level would be too much for readers to bear.  Instead I have started writing the chapter which is all about working in isolation (and if you’ve been reading my blogs from their start in 2014, you’ll know that this is something which exercises my mind on a regular basis).

and the metaphorical cat of logic retreats to the rafters.

I approach writing with the same degree of preparation that I use for any other craft i.e. none at all: I don’t plan things out, develop a structure or even list key words and concepts.  I sit in front of the computer and as my lovely, talented Creative Writing lecturer Barrie Llewelyn (https://twitter.com/Arleta1?lang=en) used to describe it, ‘projectile vomit words onto the screen’.  This way of working, it turns out, is another irritant for the logical side of the brain and is likely to cause it to not only  lie down in a darkened room but possibly pull the blankets up over its head too so it can’t witness what’s going to happen next.

Let’s just pretend it’s not happening.

I’d got in touch with Barrie recently because a friend of mine had decided she wanted to start doing some creative writing but wasn’t sure about whether enrol on a course or join a writers’ group.  Now that she’s four sessions into her studying, writing about anything and everything and even worrying about whether you spell the term for a temporary table as ‘tressle’, ‘tressel’ or ‘trestle’ (it’s the last one if you’re a pedant), Carole is having to face up to the fact that being creative – particularly in an ethos bound approach – comes with its own set of challenges, one of which is – what’s the point  of it?  Like many of us, Carole is unlikely to be able to measure her literary success in monetary terms; no matter how much work she puts in or what she writes about her creative efforts may never be appreciated in the wider world.  So when Carole said to me “why do it if it’s not going to be published or sell?” I had to do a bit of thinking about the answer because I knew  it was going to fit in with one of the chapters of my book – although I haven’t decided which one yet.

There’s a point to everything but sometimes it’s difficult to know what it is.

This brings me to my niece Alexandra.  Back in 2005, at the start of the school holidays, Alexandra came to stay for a weekend thereby reducing the complexities of her mother’s childcare arrangements.  None of us expected that a 10 year old sophisticate from the city would adapt well to country living in a cottage with no central heating, no computer and not much television allowed.  Alexandra however proved us all wrong and finally had to be forced home after 5 weeks so that she could spend a couple of days with her parents and sisters before going back to school.  What, I can hear you all asking, has this got to do with creativity?  Well, two things actually.  The first is that without the distractions of technology, Alexandra indulged in what Einstein called ‘combinatory play’ and that led to her starting writing wonderful stories which entertained her and us all summer long.  I’ll be honest and say that I hadn’t heard of ‘combinatory play’ until I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s excellent book Big Magic but I find that I have been indulging in it all of my life.  Einstein considered that by doing unrelated things, the human brain has the capacity to think thoughts which would not otherwise jump the synaptic gap. We many not all get the results that he did when it comes to “the act of opening up one mental channel by dabbling in another”, but the next time that you’re struggling for an idea, it might be worth walking the dog, painting some shelves or doing some knitting to see what happens.  There could be a Nobel prize waiting for you.

The second thing that Alexandra did was play a game called ‘the government is banning…’  and it went along the lines of that if the government banned, say, films and you were allowed to watch just one more, which one would it be?  We spent the summer happily considering our final choices of books, music, food, holiday destinations and many more things.  A couple of days ago I was sitting in Carole’s kitchen listening to her wondering aloud whether she should continue her embryonic writing career.  Yes, she enjoyed it but was that enough?  How could she justify the time, the effort and the satisfaction if there was to be no quantifiable measure of success?  The seeds of this sort of angst about needing external validation are sown in childhood when moving from crawl to wobbly walk, clasping your bottom and shouting ‘wee!’ or showing Mum the scrawled drawings made on your first day at school  are held up as successes of such magnitude that without them, we think that the world may stop turning.  This angst lingers with ethos bound (i.e. not in it for the money) artists and writers longer than is reasonable or appropriate but luckily for Carole, for you and for the readers of my book when it finally makes it onto Amazon, I have the answer.

Also in Carole’s kitchen at the time was our other friend Annie.  Annie has the craft skills of a gnat (and won’t mind me saying so).

“Annie,” I said, “Answer this truthfully.  If the government banned creativity; hobbies like knitting, sewing, writing, painting, woodwork, gardening or cake decorating, would it bother you?”

“Nope,” replied Annie, hardly looking up from her magazine.

“Carole,” I said, “Answer this truthfully.  If the government banned creativity; hobbies like knitting, sewing, writing, painting, woodwork, gardening or cake decorating, would it bother you?”

“Yes,” said Carole, going pale and twitching slightly at the prospect, however unlikely.

It may have been a very small and unscientific experiment but it confirmed my belief that for people who are naturally creative, the creative process itself is worth as much as – if not more than – the outcome.  Presented with this Catch 22, the logical part of your brain may well wake up and think that the world is not such a random place after all.   This could prove very useful because things like time management, administration and organising your finances can very easily get in the way of all of the exciting stuff that creativity trawls along in its wake.

Give me a moment to think about it.

Having realised that this is as good a place as anywhere to try out the ideas for my book, in next month’s blog I’m going to consider other aspects of working in isolation like how you come up with ideas, motivate yourself to get started and then keep going.  Textile artists like Lisa Porch and Lydia Needle find inspiration for their work in unexpected places.  I dare say that if you print everything out month by month and staple the sheets together you’ll have the untitled book without having to part with a penny!

In the meantime, I leave the last words of this hunt to the monk and Pangur Bán:

“Practice every day has made

Pangur perfect in his trade;

I get wisdom day and night

Turning darkness into light.”

Whatever…