Friday, 1 November 2019

Why visit Seamus Heaney's HomePlace?

 Seamus Heaney, Man and Boy.  
Original photographer - unknown. 

On a recent trip to Ireland I visited the new arts and literary centre,  ‘HomePlace,’in Bellaghy, dedicated to the legacy of poet and playwright, Seamus Heaney. Although, his poetry was very much rooted in the land of his birth, it continues to speak to people all around the world. His literary talent was recognised and acknowledged via The Nobel Prize for literature in 1995.  He was hailed as the greatest poet since WB Yeats and awarded for “works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth”. Did you know that it took several days to track down Seamus Heaney to tell him he had won this prestigious award?  Those were the days before mobile phones and internet! Heaney and his wife were eventually tracked down holidaying in Greece. Meanwhile, in his attic study in Dublin, reams of paper spilled from his fax machine with messages of congratulations.

Heaney took much of his inspiration from the landscape around him.  He wrote earnestly of folk, family and friends.  Many of his poems captured the everyday-ness of events and people who influenced him.  Sometimes it was at the work they toiled, places he was drawn to and political events of the time. Heaney was not afraid to tackle the emotional landscape of pain, grief and loss in his writing. At ‘HomePlace’, there is the opportunity to listen to Heaney recite several of his beautiful poems as you wander through the exhibition.  You may recognise other voices reciting his poetry, people like Stephen Fry, Bono and Bill Clinton, to name a few.

There is much to see, hear and read at HomePlace.  There’s a chance to ‘release your inner artist’, work with words and should you require a little nourishment, I can highly recommend coffee with cake at the Café. 

It’s well worth the visit and a great place for an Artist’s date too.

Thursday, 17 October 2019

Where would you go on an Artist Date?

Photo by me. An unknown Creative Self?

As a writer, it’s always good to have something or somewhere to write about. And even if you haven’t, it’s helpful to think creatively about something or somewhere. 
Several years ago I was gifted a beautiful book, ‘The Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron.
I just love books … a girl can never have too many books … or chocolate, although books are definitely less fattening!

The Artist’s Way was recommended to encourage more writing and to help develop my creative self. If truth were told, I had never really considered part of me as ‘creative self’. I liked the idea of more writing. I was intrigued by the term and wondered what on earth would unfold with my new found creative part!

The book suggested writing several pages of journal every morning, at least three pages about whatever comes. Sometimes, I know it can be a challenge to do that. What will I write about today? I can’t think, brain dumb, inspiration won’t come. The Artist’s Way assists and encourages the creative write. It also encourages the concept of ‘Artist Dates’. Now, readers, before you go scurrying off and regress into the realms of, ‘Oh I haven’t written or drawn anything since my school days’, I request you to stop right there. Don’t panic. The way it works is like this – Set aside one morning, afternoon or day to make time for YOU and only you to experience something to develop your creative thinking. Examples may include walking in nature; going to the theatre, seeing a film, visiting an art gallery, checking out somewhere you’ve never been before. Ideally doing something or experiencing something different or for the first time. The brave step is doing it on your own!

This week, my Artist Date prompted me to attend a local Arts Centre to participate in a new initiative called ‘Talking Tables’. The idea behind the initiative;

1. To encourage people to watch new films 
2. To invite people to stay and review the film

Welcoming and friendly staff at the Talking Tables facilitated the discussion and noted our feedback about the event. There were some great discussions about the film ‘Bait’, set in Cornwall, the fishing industry and its community and how life there had changed over the years. I highly recommend seeing it…perhaps an Artist Date for you?

As a result of this particular date, I came away with lots of new ideas about writing and creativity. The subject matter provided abundant food for thought about life, changes in communities and the impact of such changes particularly in small coastal communities.

The Talking Tables provided a platform to listen to different viewpoints. In turn, the discussions generated further film recommendations and suggestions about other Arts venues worth a visit.

On this occasion, my solo trip provided opportunity, to see a new film, review it through my artistic lens, meet some lovely people and give me something to blog about this week! I wonder how my next Artist Date will unfold?

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

What does it take to be a published author?

Photo: Nicola May by Dominic Martin

My Monday evenings are dedicated to Slough Writers. It’s a local group that encourages, supports and inspires writers of all genres. Their eclectic programme of events offers many writing opportunities. Last week, we invited Nicola May, a local author, to share her writing journey with us.

After many years of diligent writing, resilience and perseverance, Nicola is now an established author, fulfilling a long held dream, to become a published author. We had many questions about how she achieved this. She explained how the writing started when she tasked herself (a few years back) to run a half marathon. She kept a diary to chart and track her progress. She confessed that at the time she hadn’t considered the diary would start her writing career, but it did! She enjoyed writing. It was her ‘first and only half marathon’ (completed in a reasonable time of just over 2 hours). What an achievement! I was impressed.

I was also impressed as she took us on her writing journey about who and what inspired her writing. She talked about her characters, the situations they found themselves in and how events unfolded, sometimes good and sometimes bad.

I had a real sense that Nicola’s heart was shared with many characters in her books. She spoke passionately about how she wrote and what she wrote. Nicola shared her writing experience and tips generously and with great honesty. Being an author was not only about writing, it was about marketing, promoting and networking too! She declared, ‘Writing the book was the easy part’.

So what did I learn from Nicola’s visit to our Writers’ Group?

1. The process of writing a book is much more than crafting the words to tell the story.
2. Getting a book published is not for the faint-hearted - persistence, resistance and resilience are needed in bucket loads!
3. Marketing, publishing and promotion opportunities are key on the road to success, especially for the new and unknown author.

Nicola admitted that her journey from writer to published author wasn’t without its challenges but in spite of never having attended a writing class – she made it!

In my opinion, Nicola is woman of substance, determined, persistent and a great role model for aspiring writers. My thanks to Nicola for an inspiring evening. I wish her every success for the future and in my book (yet to be published), she deserves it!

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

What if you meet a lion ... in Windsor?

Sabre's visit to Windsor 

It was a fine summer's evening.   Sabre was free, thanks to the new zoo keeper's incompetence at closing time.  He  made a dash for freedom setting off lights, alarms and sirens.  His old legs ran and ran and ran until he was well into the thick of the town centre stopping only to quench his thirst and feed on some discarded leftovers. He was tired now and hungry. He didn't have so much energy these days. His fierce, fast and ferocious days were dwindling.  As he wandered, he came upon a traveller asleep in a the shop doorway.   He tiptoed quietly and gazed upon the slumbering minstrel in her dreamlike world. Surely his good fortune could not last?  A veritable feast lay before him.  He raised his eyes heavenly in grateful thanks.  The old all-knowing moon shook her head with a definite, 'No!'

The minstrel stirred and woke to find Sabre towering above her.

'Oh, spare me sir, don't make me your supper.  I'm a weary traveller in need of some rest.  My guitar has magical powers and if you request,  I can charm cheeses, wine and food of the best'.

Sabre thought to himself, 'What a treat .. a travelling minstrel and one who can conjure up food with a tune'.  For a tired old lion without any teeth this was a wonderful find.  Perhaps the minstrel and he could become better acquainted?

Okay, okay ... just a little storytelling today.  Sabre, (not his real name), I met on a recent visit to Windsor town centre. I found him not far from Windsor Castle ..yes the Windsor Castle, the location of several royal weddings over the years.  Currently there are many beautifully painted lions in the area, each one standing colourful and proud.  The Lions Sculpture Trail is a public art initiative from The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead.  As well as a public art display for one and all to enjoy, the lions will be sold at the end of the viewing season to generate funds for three local charities.

What a great way to enjoy outdoor art and donate to a great cause at the same time.

Before I left, Sabre whispered quietly, 'Come back again and meet my colourful colleagues and bring your friends too!'

Not all lions are as talkative as Sabre, but a lion trail map is available (from the Information centre) for a nominal sum and a fun day out.  Enjoy! 

Friday, 6 September 2019

What prompts your writing?

Sometimes I sit down to write but inspiration avoids me.
Sometimes I sit and think, ‘What will I write today?’
Sometimes I sit and gaze out the window … waiting …

Like today, a beautiful autumnal morning, cold, with a little sunshine, white clouds gathering in a clear blue sky.  There’s a slight breeze, leaves dropping from the big eucalyptus tree at the bottom of the garden.  I watch them drifting slowly, gently, and softly to the ground … a flow of hypnotic and unhurried seconds from Mother Nature.

Just as I was drifting into a trance, a sudden movement caught my eye.  There he was, a huge spider weaving his web between the garden shed and an evergreen bush. I watched how he meticulously wove the shiny, silvery threads, slowly and with precision. He moved up and down, left to right, backwards and forwards creating and adapting as he went.  I wondered if he had planned the design before he started or whether or not he made it up as he went along? Every now and again the breeze blew at his work.  He stopped, secured himself safely in the centre of the web. When the breeze passed, he continued to weave, and didn’t allow himself to be distracted by the occasional butterfly who fluttered past checking progress from a safe distance.  I was transfixed by the intricate pattern he wove.  I sat.  I watched spellbound and in awe and admiration of his artwork.  I was impressed by his diligence, patience and perseverance.  I wondered if this spider had a message for me. What might that message be?  What might a spider share as he goes about his day-to-day business of web development? Maybe it’s about making something beautiful?  Maybe it’s about spending more time in the slower lane? Maybe it’s about how nature inspires us?

Sadly I was unable to capture a picture of his artwork. However, I have managed to locate something that may allow you to admire his handiwork courtesy of YouTube.

I’d like to thank a busy spider for my writing prompt today. Who would have guessed that he would be my inspiration? But wasn’t there someone else inspired by a spider … in Scotland … a long time ago?

Monday, 26 August 2019

Do you enjoy storytelling?

 ... storytellers of an earlier time!

Last week I had the opportunity to join fellow writers at a creative writing event.  The event was organised to showcase stories on a local radio station (Wycombe Sound).  I enjoy the radio and I particularly love listening to stories and plays.

It was fun to be part of the audience.  As well as enjoying the literary event, for me, it provided ideas, thinking space and feedback about what makes writing an enjoyable pastime. 

·      How good it is to listen to a story
·      How valuable to hear the rhythm of the words
·      How worthwhile to savour the vocabulary expressed
·      How alive a story becomes when read aloud
·      How the story sounds in different voices and accents
·      How deliberation and intonation can make a character come alive
·      How writing and sharing stories can push us out of our comfort zones
·      How we have preferences for particular types of writing
·      How we can be seduced by new and unusual styles
·      How we can write more creatively learning from others
·      How we tell a different story from the same picture prompt
·      How we fully appreciate the pain of several rewrites
·      How joyful we can be after the final edit!

Creative writing is a great way to capture and share stories – happy stories, sad stories, stories with a moral, stories with a twist and even stories of the tallest kind!  Stories have added benefits of sharing a message.  They amuse and entertain adults and children.  Many stories allow a person to travel for miles without leaving the comfy armchair. Writing and storytelling can be very therapeutic too, in my opinion.

A note of thanks to my new writing friends for an entertaining evening.  I look forward to tuning in to hear their short stories on the radio this week (Friday).  Feel free to join me from wherever you are … invite your writing muse. Who knows what stories may unfold?

Monday, 12 August 2019

Who needs to escape and relax?

Kentwell Hall, Long Melford

Last week The Man and I spent a few relaxing days on holiday.  We visited Suffolk, an East Anglian county in England, which is well worth the trip especially if there is a need to escape ‘far from the madding crowd’.  The air is cleaner, the pace is slower and generally a good tonic at this time of year, in my humble opinion.  We stayed at two beautiful locations, each providing good insights to Suffolk as a county.

Had the opportunity to visit Kentwell Hall,Long Melford, a beautiful red brick Tudor mansion surrounded by a moat and set in tranquil parklands. Lots of history attached to this magnificent building. Fascinating to learn that the mansion and grounds is currently owned and managed privately by Judith and Patrick Philips, who purchased the place in 1970 as a restoration project! It is evident that there have been hours of work spent on the building and grounds, reviving and restoring much of the grandeur of the place.  Certainly not a project for the faint hearted and I am full of admiration and in awe of the work carried out.  It is certainly a labour of love and one conducted with patience and care.  Each room has its own story to tell and is beautifully written about and shared with visitors. The ambience of the place captures the history of a bygone age very well.  Kentwell Hall organise special historic events too.  Historical Re-Creation days from medieval times to WWII are popular and the Hall is available for current day events like weddings and scary Halloween events! Rumour has it that there is a haunted room in the Hall too! But we didn’t stay late enough in the day to find out… although there was a room where I didn’t feel like staying too long … 

What I particularly enjoyed about Kentwell, there was so much to discover … the Hall, the restored rooms, the outbuildings, artwork and beautiful gardens.  We spent ages wandering and meandering which generated an appetite for lunch. The Man discovered some beautiful old Rolls Royce cars in a shed near the tearooms, which really excited him. Strangely, these 'works of arts' seemed to renew his interest in bygone days more so than wallhangings and house decor. Strange that.