Monthly Archives: March 2014

Dragon Words

philomena - chalofrd screen on the hill

On Saturday went to see a fantastic version of Beowulf, performed by master storyteller Hugh Lupton and percussionist Rick Wilson, at France Lynch Church Rooms – just along the road from me.  I had originally seen an earlier version of this at Beyond the Border about a decade ago, but it was good to see it again – reminding me of the power of great storytelling, and the consummate skill of Mr Lupton, who is quite possibly Britain’s greatest living storyteller (and certainly one of the busiest).

The hall was full when we arrived, having negotiated the Grendels of traffic and the lonely fens of dark country lanes. Catching our breath, we found seats and settled down. My partner and I were soon enthralled by Lupton and Wilson, who took us effortlessly to Heorot.

Hugh’s style is very poetic – he’s a brilliant wordsmith – and in this show, he emphasized that approach, to echo the original (written) text by the anonymous Saxon poet. Yet his style is never inauthentic or overly ‘stagey’. The focus is on the story, not the storyteller. We see through him to the tale – while at the same time being aware that all this (meadhall, hero, monsters, treasure, warriors, longship, weather) is being conjured up by his voice (and the sensitive percussive skill of Wilson – who eerily evoked the spirit of Grendel with nothing more than breath and cymbal). In Lupton’s gramarye we see the craft of the Scop, rippling down the ages. The ancestors, the ghosts of tellers, stand in ranks behind him, and the audience before – and he mediates between the two. Time stands still and the seen and unseen worlds interlock.

After the break, when I had a chance to chat with the performers – who did not seem out-of-breath or in need of a reviving cuppa – Wilson drummed us back with an impressive djembe solo; before Lupton tried a few riddles out on us, in the Anglo-Saxon tradition. Then they delivered the final act of the story – set fifty years hence – when the ageing Beowulf encounters the wyrm, the fire-drake, the third and nastiest monster. This provided a rousing finale and a poignant reflection on mortality, and the transitory nature of wealth, fame, and power.

I was perhaps even more engaged – in experiencing this performance of Beowulf – than previously, having recently completed my book, Desiring Dragons: creativity, imagination and the writer’s quest (published by Compass Books) – in which I use the story of Beowulf as a metaphor for the creative process. It is due out on May 30th, when I’ll be launching it at the Stroud Story Supper, with an evening of ‘scaly tales, serpentine poems, and wyrm-songs’.  Having told the story of Beowulf myself (back in 2000) both ‘straight’ and as a cyber-punk poem, (Bio*Wolf, 1999) and then deconstructing it for pedagogical benefit in my new book, I know the tale warrants revisiting and yields more treasure each time. Truly, it is an immortal classic. The Seamus Heaney translation is perhaps the best on the page (and his Radio 4 broadcast of it was spine-tingling); but Lupton’s storytelling treatment of it is the finest one on the circuit – catch it if you can.

Desiring Dragons
Creativity, imagination and the Writer’s Quest
by Kevan Manwaring
Why is the Fantasy genre more popular than ever? Can it offer us something beyond mere make-believe? Imagination: a gateway…?
  • Author of The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien, talked of ‘desiring dragons’; that he would prefer ‘a wilderness of dragons’ to the bleak territory of the unimaginative critic. The genre of Fantasy (including Science Fiction and its various sub-genres in TV, film & computer games) has never been more popular. This book seeks to examine why this might be and why so many are tempted to write Fantasy fiction. Tolkien suggested how ‘consolation’ is an important criteria of the Fairy Tale: we look at how writing Fantasy can be consoling in itself, as well as a portal to Fantastic Realms for the reader. Along the way famous dragons of myth, legend and fiction will be encountered – from Grendel to Smaug. The riddles of dragons will be tackled and their hoard unlocked.

Because Kevan Manwaring is a writer who loves and has travelled widely in the realms of fantasy fiction, his book is a trustworthy guide to the challenges, opportunities and enchantments that an adventurous imagination can discover there. ~ Lindsay Clarke, Whitbread-prize winning novelist (The Chymical Wedding, The Water Theatre, and others)

DETAILS

  • eBook £6.99 || $9.99
  • May 30, 2014. 978-1-78279-582-7.
  • BUY
  • Paperback £14.99 || $24.95
  • May 30, 2014. 978-1-78279-583-4.
  • BUY | AMAZON US | AMAZON UK

http://www.compass-books.net/books/desiring-dragons

 

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Mad March Hare

Last week saw me jinking about like a Mad March Hare – clocking up around 900 miles on my Triumph Legend motorbike, as I whizzed from the end of the land to the Midlands.

After a pit-stop at my friends in Totnes to break the journey, on Saturday 8th I gave a paper on ‘Borderlands: fairy and liminality in the Scottish Borders’ at the Haunted Landcapes Symposium, Falmouth University. The paper relates to my current research project – I can say no more than that! The Symposium was very stimulating with some excellent papers – notably Prof. Ronald Hutton’s keynote speech on the ‘Greenwood’. After a late night, very early start and several hours of panels, my mind felt as though it had run the London Marathon, so it was a pleasant contrast to ride over to Plymouth afterwards and hang out with my old school buddy, Lee Auburn, who is now a manager of Waterstones and budding writer himself. The next morning we went for a greasy breakfast down at Cap’n Jaspers on the Hoe, before I hit the road. I caught some rays down at Wembury Point – the sun glinting off the bay – before heading over the lonely roads of Dartmoor, the wide open spaces reminding me of Scotland.

It was good to get back, but I had another big day to prepare for…

On Tuesday I set off early to get to Northampton – for I was booked to run a morning of storytelling workshops in my old Middle School, Delapre. I hadn’t been back since I left, in July 1982 – so it was incredibly special to return there as a visiting author and professional storyteller. The classrooms and corridors were as I remember them – there was even one of the teachers still there! My hostess was Yr 5 teacher Anna Letts, who is the daughter of Mr Letts, the Deputy Head during my time. Her pupils are working on a Robin Hood project at the moment, so she was keen for me to focus on relevant stories. It just so happened there was one in my Northamptonshire Folk Tales book (Robyne Hode of Rockingham). I performed a couple of tales in Assembly (held in my old art room – where my imagination was kindled) before the whole year group, before running my Climbing the Beanstalk workshop in the respective classes. I ran one of these in my actual old classroom – which was a poignant experience. The kids were attentive and enthusiastic – and it was so satisfying to see them stand up at the end of only one hour and perform the story back to me without a text.  The morning went all too quickly. I left on a high – what a precious opportunity. The next day I got this lovely message from Ms Letts:

Hi Kevan

Thanks so much for your visit last week, the children enjoyed it and I certainly learnt a lot, I”ll be using the beanstalking technique in future.

I’ve written a blog post, so have a few of the children:

http://year5l.delapreprimaryschool.org/

http://year5t.delapreprimaryschool.org/

 So, from doctorate research paper to a Primary School workshop (and teaching undergrads and evening classes inbetween) – I love the diversity of my life. Certainly keeps me on my toes!

On Thursday I was on the road again, riding through the morning mist up the Fosseway to Leicester, where I have been commissioned to write a piece of historical narrative non-fiction, having won an AHRC award. I met up with the core team – including Dr Corinne Fowler (Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester) and Gino at the Phoenix, who was co-ordinating the digital side of things (the 8 commissions will be turned into an App, website and projections). I spent the afternoon exploring the Cultural Quarter on foot, taking photographs and making notes. Then in the evening I caught up with my old friend Lesley, who kindly put me up. The next morning I met up with Simon, head of Special Collections, who took me to a ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ type warehouse where the Leicester Mercury archives were stored. We rifled through the stacks and found some relevant files, which I took back to look at in the David Wilson Library – a swish new resource on campus. Finally, I visited HQ on Charles St – a graffiti art store, to connect with the owner, making a useful contact. I left Leicester with plenty of material to kickstart my commission. The ride back down the Fosseway in the afternoon sun was a pleasure.

Yet – no rest for the bardic, I had to prepare for my creative writing dayschool in Devizes the following morning. I put together my workshop plan and handouts and tried to get some rest. The next morning I was up and off early – running my writing class from 10.30-4.30pm. By the end of the day I was running on empty, but fortunately I had a lovely meal waiting for me in Wroughton, and a great evening of entertainment – a charity benefit at the local working mens club (!) with Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull headlining, supported by my partner’s band, Talis Kimberley, and an R’n’B outfit. I kick-back and enjoyed a well-earned pint. What an amazing week! Spring is definitely springing!

Wetting the Baby’s Head

A Feast of Words - Josie Felce

A Feast of Words – Josie Felce

Last night we officially wetted the baby’s head with the launch of the Cotswold Word Centre  at Hawkwood College on World Book Day.

Cotswold Word Centre launch

Cotswold Word Centre launch

We gathered in the Studios to schmooze and toast with Bucks Fizz, vino and biodynamic cordial before things got under way in earnest. I introduced the evening, then we had a word from Alicia Carey, the Principal of Hawkwood, followed by Katie Lloyd-Nunn who read out the lovely message from Jamila Gavin, our sponsor (see below).

Anthony Nanson performs 'The Painswick Elders'

Anthony Nanson performs ‘The Painswick Elders’

20140306_202303

Jehanne and Rob Mehta round the evening off

We then had a scintillating line-up of local poets, storytellers, and singers: Jo Bousfield’s group, Playing with Words; Robin Collins; Angie Spencer; Josie Felce; Jo Woolley; Gabriel Millar; Anthony Nanson; and finishing off the proceedings with Jehanne and Rob Mehta. The atmosphere was lovely and warm-hearted, and there were lots of positive comments afterwards. Everybody seemed to have a good time, and many said how well-organised and held the event was. The performers were very professional, keeping it tight and on theme – with some pieces written especially for the event. We have such a wealth of talent in this area – we’re so blessed! It was satisfying to launch my ‘Writers of Gloucestershire’ map, after slaving away on it all winter – a signed limited edition of 100 was produced, and each contributor got to take one home. My hope is the Cotswold Word Centre will put Hawkwood and Stroud even more on the map – as the hub of wonderful word-based activity in the area. We have started a journey- and we hope you join us… A CWC ‘brain shower’ is planned for a month’s time – watch this space!

(from left) Alicia Carey, Principal of Hawkwood College; Kevan Manwaring (co-ordinator of the Cotswold Word Centre); Katie Lloyd-Nunn (education co-ordinator of Hawkwood College)

(from left) Alicia Carey, Principal of Hawkwood College; Kevan Manwaring (co-ordinator of the Cotswold Word Centre); Katie Lloyd-Nunn (education co-ordinator of Hawkwood College)

Message from Jamila Gavin

Jamila Gavin, author, patron of the Cotswold Word Centre

Jamila Gavin, author,
patron of the Cotswold Word Centre

As a somewhat hybrid creature: born in India, worked in London but having settled in Stroud in 1970, I feel very proud to have been asked by the Cotswold Word Centre to be a patron. It makes me feel I belong in a place where I want to belong. I think the first time I heard of the Cotswolds, was as a four year old, hearing my English mother’s somewhat dreamy hope, expressed in a Punjab village, that one day she would have a cottage in the Cotswolds – and indeed she did, albeit about thirty years later. And it’s what brought me to the Cotswolds.

It’s not just the beauty of the area, but something else which makes it such a hive of creativity. There are artists, poets, musicians, film-makers, craftspeople and writers up and down the valleys – and this is not recent. We know so much of the artistic expression that has come from the Cotswolds has embodied a very particular spirit: English, yet British, yet international. It strikes a chord of recognition with people who have never been here, and creates a kind of longing to experience a little bit of that spirit which expresses some kind of universal need.

So it is extremely appropriate that there should be a Cotswold Word Centre which, judging by what has already been achieved, will be, not just a haven, but also a hub, for vibrant creativity, exchange of ideas, safe criticism, and loads and loads of inspiration.  

I look forward to my association with you all.

Jamila Gavin, patron of the Cotswold Word Centre