Monthly Archives: June 2014

Midsummer Glory

 

Kevan at Avebury stone circle, Solstice Eve, by Chantelle Smith

Kevan at Avebury stone circle, Solstice Eve, by Chantelle Smith

It was an epic solstice weekend which began with me riding on my Triumph Legend motorbike down to Avebury, picking up my partner on the way for a solstice eve picnic on the banks of the mighty henge. Avebury is the largest stone circle in Britain and for my money the most magnificent. Many folk gathered here for the solstice sunrise (but nowhere near the insane numbers of Stonehenge) but it was peaceful enough to enjoy a pleasant picnic in the early evening sunlight. In the distance the obligatory drumming circle had started; and behind us a cricket match was just finishing. You could almost hear the land hold its breath in anticipation of the longest day of the year. For once, it truly felt like summer, and what a glorious place England is to be at such times – the golden green of the rolling hills and trees, the white of the chalk downs and the cricketers, the trilithons of Stonehenge and the cricket stumps, the strawberries and cream, cheese and cider, summer frocks and druid robes.

After I bid farewell to my companion I jumped on a train to London where I was scheduled to pick up a coach-load of sun-worshippers – to take to Stonehenge for the summer solstice sunrise. This meant a 12.30am departure, arriving in the carpark at 3am. It was surreal experience – with me having to articulate about neolithic archaeology in the middle of the night. Still, we got ’em there and we all witnessed the most spectacular sunrise I’ve seen at a stone circle for many years – the full orb rising over the Heel Stone. Truly awesome. A moment that is bigger than all of us (even the 37,000 at Stonehenge) putting everything in perspective. Whatever our faith, or lack of it, we can all worship the sun.

The sun rises over the Heel Stone, Stonehenge, 21 June 2014

The sun rises over the Heel Stone, Stonehenge, 21 June 2014

Bumping into friends at Stonehenge, by the Heel Stone just before sunrise, 21 June 2014

Bumping into friends at Stonehenge, by the Heel Stone just before sunrise, 21 June 2014

The crowds at Stonehenge Summer Solstice sunrise 21 June 2014

The crowds at Stonehenge Summer Solstice sunrise 21 June 2014

After I had dropped off my neolithic pilgrims back in London I jumped on a train to Swindon, where I met my partner for a solstice coffee (the actual solstice was at 10.51am), before heading north to Northampton (my birth town), some 70 miles up the road. There, in the grounds of my beloved Delapre Abbey (where I used to walk my dog as a kid) I snoozed on the lawn until my sister and wee bairn turned up. We enjoyed a cuppa and a cake, while we caught up. I ran through my stories in the glade, fighting off the fatigue. I felt a 1000 years old and could have turned into a tree myself at that point! I reminded myself that the solstice means the ‘sun’s stillness’ and savoured this all too brief hiatus from the heat and dust of the road.

Glade to be alive. Kevan in Delapre Abbey, 21 June 2014

Chillin before the gig. Kevan in Delapre Abbey, 21 June 2014

Then it was off to Rockingham Village Hall, near Corby, for a one-hour storytelling gig. This was a fundraiser for the lovely village hall, and was organised by big-hearted Jim. I was made most welcome by him and his wife in their very picturesque thatched cottage. Jim is an old-school biker himself and showed me the awesome chopper he had built in his garden shed. It was a serious mean machine. I freshened up – somewhat flagging considering I hadn’t had any sleep for 36 hours! This seemed to do the trick as I performed my set without any gaffs. It seemed to go down well, going by the feedback (‘once again many thx for the great stories ,  you have made an impression up  here !!’).

Sadly I wasn’t able to stick around afterwards to enjoy the beer and ceilidh band – I had to get back, even though it meant a 3 hr slog late at night – for my final booking the next morning… And so I said a fond farewell to Jim and his Scottish crew – until next time!

Bard on a Bike and meinhost, Jim of Rockingham, 21 June 2014

Bard on a Bike and meinhost, Jim of Rockingham, 21 June 2014

Although I was exhausted and chilled by the time I made it back at 1am I was glad to be able to flop out in my own bed (41 hrs without proper sleep!). I had 7 blissful hours before I had to get up and get ready to lead a 3 hr literary ramble with 17 people from Hawkwood College – no rest for the bardic!  The weather was glorious as we set off for Slad – and the rest is related in my previous post (‘Walking with Laurie’). By the time I was able to slump down in the garden at Rosebank Cottage with a Pimms, to listen to the poetry and fiddle, I felt as old as the hills, but at one with the land.

The summer solstice is the most expansive, joyous time of year – the time of maximum daylight (and sunlight if we’re lucky) and energy in the northern hemisphere. It feels possible to have such (relatively) epic adventures – because the engine of the year is behind us, the vast CCs of the sun, the ultimate hot-rod, cruising through the cosmos – the Lord of Light in his leathers and shades, long -hair flowing and Hendrix on the headphones, blasting across our skies.

Stone Temple Biker - Kevan at Avebury, by Saravian

Stone Temple Biker – Kevan at Avebury, by Saravian

Walking with Laurie

John Lee reads out an extract of 'Cider with Rosie' by Rose Cottage, Slad, 22 June 2014

Anthea Lee reads out an extract of ‘Cider with Rosie’ by Rose Cottage, Slad, 22 June 2014

I rounded off a glorious solstice weekend (which began with watching the sunrise over Stonehenge with 37,000 people!) by taking a group of 17 walking in the footsteps of Laurie Lee – one of the series of ‘Walking with Words’ literary rambles I’ve organised for Hawkwood College.

The weather was glorious as we wended our way up the Slad valley to the start point, overlooking Rose Cottage (which Laurie Lee purchased with royalties from ‘Cider with Rosie’). We had a lovely group – including 3 cousins of the great man himself, which was very special. I encouraged them to chip in with any info, and to take turns (alongside the rest of the group) reading out extracts of the book.

Along the way we bumped into some of then newly-installed poetry posts, which we also recited from  – they’re beautifully-designed and a great initiative from the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, who have created a Wildlife Way around the poet’s beloved Slad Valley. You see the landscape through his words (literally, as they are printed on perspex) – and thus you gain an insight into his world and a deeper appreciation of the natural environment. Writing can change our perception of places – and it certainly does here, enriching it enormously. Psychogeography seems a fancy, urbanish word for such a bucolic idyll as we experienced that day – but there is an element of that in the way we interfaced with the many facets: ecology, local history, literature, social history, etc.

We paid our respects at the lovely gravestone ( the man himself said: ‘I want to be buried between the pub and the church, so that I can balance the secular and the spiritual’, from Valerie Grove’s biography, p510) and then I showed the group the memorial window inside. There is an art exhibition on – and invigilating it was James Witchall, who designed the windows, another moment of serendipity! He happily told us about the commission and design. The church was beautifully decorated with flowers – it was lovely to see it brimming with art and nature, and visitors. I finished the walk outside the Woolpack, with the final section of the book, and then some of us went back to Hawkwood for a delicious lunch.

A Slad Century - performed by Adam Horovitz and Becky Dellow outside Rosebank Cottage, Slad, 22 June 2014

A Slad Century – performed by Adam Horovitz and Becky Dellow outside Rosebank Cottage, Slad, 22 June 2014

That would have made a perfect day by itself, but then I went back to Slad to explore the exhibition a bit more, and then make my way to Rosebank Cottage (Laurie Lee’s childhood home) for a poetry and music perform – A Slad Century with Adam Horovitz and Becky Dallow. It was very special to be in the well-tended garden of this famous domicile, sitting on the lawn sipping Pimms in ‘poets corner’ along with other Stroud bards: Denis Gould, Rick Vick and Richard Austin. Listening to Adam and Becky I slipped into a blissful reverie. I felt I oozed into the soil and became one with the Slad Valley, curled up in its arms like an ammonite. After an epic weekend (overnight Stonehenge tour; one hour storytelling performance in Rockingham Village Hall; over 300 miles of travel – many on the motorbike) I was exhausted but content. Laurie Lee’s writing does (largely) evoke a nostalgic, bucolic idyll – but sitting in the sun in Rosebank Cottage, enjoying poetry, fiddle, a drink and good company, I do not think that is a bad thing. Such experiences feed the soul and make life on this beautiful, blighted world a lot more bearable.

Afterwards, we decamped to The Woolpack where we ensconced ourselves in Laurie Lee’s ‘corner’. Amongst the company of fellow poets, (who all carry the torch past on by Lee and other great Gloucestershire writers) I felt a warm sense of belonging to this precious corner of the Cotswolds.

To finish with the words of Cotswold Ballads poet, Frank Mansell, who was helped into print by his friend Laurie Lee. In thanking his fellow poet, Frank wrote:

‘What we are really doing is creating a legend, leaving a landmark, a sarsen stone to show we passed this way’.

 

The summer solstice sun rises over the Heel Stone, Stonehenge, 21 June 2014, by Kevan Manwaring

The summer solstice sun rises over the Heel Stone, Stonehenge, 21 June 2014, by Kevan Manwaring

(***on 22 July, I am running a 1-day writing workshop at Hawkwood College on Landscape, Memory and the Imagination***)

Many more events celebrating the Laurie Lee Centenary can be found here.

Inky Interview: Lesley Proctor interviews Kevan Manwaring

Kevan Manwaring is a writer, storyteller, and performance poet.  He has also taught on all three Open University creative writing modules.  Other projects include The Cotswold Word Centre.

Kevan Manwaring pic

To start off, please tell us a little about where you are based.

I live in Stroud, Gloucestershire, on the edge of the Cotswolds – I moved here end of 2010.  It is a small town with a great community feel – and a vibrant creative scene.  There are a lot of poets, storytellers, writers, musicians, freethinkers, etc.  The Green scene is big, and it’s surrounded by gorgeous countryside, where I love to walk.

Having taught A174, A215, and A363, what do you find most rewarding about teaching with the OU?

When I see a student have a breakthrough – when something sinks in, the penny drops (in terms of the theory), or comes together (in terms of their practice).  When I hear of a student’s success, eg publication or winning a competition (I’ve had students get book deals with major publishers and win national competitions).  With some students returning for A363 I’ve seen them develop over two academic years – so it’s satisfying to see this fuller arc and the development of their writing.

Many of the Ink Pantry staff and its readers are budding writers.  What would you say is the most common mistake new creative writers make?

Overwriting, in terms of density of style, purple prose, exposition, etc.

Under-writing, in terms of not writing every day and not writing the thousands and thousands of words you need to hone your practice.

In poetry: focusing on the meaning of the words, rather than the sounds.

In prose: poor structure, viewpoint slippage, and lack of telling detail.  Most good writing comes down to sufficient visualisation.  So many stories I read/assess seem out of focus – and it’s frustrating, as you know something interesting is happening there, but you’re cut off from it.  As someone who trained in art originally this has fed into my writing.  I have a very visual imagination – experiencing cinematic dreams most nights  – and I write what I see in my mind’s eye.  You need to make it vivid for the reader.

You were commissioned in 2010 by The History Press to work on a collection of folk tales.  Why do you think it is important to preserve folk tales?

Well, at the risk of being pedantic this project was more about reviving folk tales – rather than preserving them in an academic, set-in-amber, way (if it is possible to capture an authentic definitive telling, as each teller does it differently). The History Press commissioned professional storytellers like myself to gather together the best tale of our chosen county and, critically, retell them in our own words, with a sense of orality – ie for performance; not that these are verbatim transcripts, but they capture the flavour of a live telling and the style of a particular teller/author.  Many were cobbled together from fragments of local history, folklore, archaeology, fieldwork, and imagination – so they were very distinctive creations, rather than historically accurate versions.  Being a writer rather than an anthropologist, this creative freedom engaged me more.  I had the opportunity to write 80 short stories – and that’s how I approached them.

A couple of the Ink Pantry team members have been asked to perform their own poetry at special events.  We’d love some pointers on how to capture an audience when performing poetry.

From early on as a performance poet I quickly realised that if you made an effort to learn your poem off by heart then you’re going to gain the respect and attention of the audience more than just reading it.  Plus you can maintain eye contact, use both hands, and not have any barrier between you and your audience.  Other tips: cut the preamble, don’t apologise, project.  Connect to the core emotion of your poem and transmit that to the audience.  Enjoy yourself.

One of your recent projects led to a show called Tales of Lust, Infidelity and Bad Living.  This sounds like something we should hear more about.

This was a show based upon my life.  No, seriously, it was one of a series of performances based upon The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, edited by Steve Roud and Julia Bishop.  Bath Literature Festival wanted to create a series of storytelling performances of the ballads and that was the one that happened to still be available.  I performed it in the Guildhall in Bath – there were a lot of French language students in the audience, who seemed to like it.

There are a lot of sexual politics in those traditional ballads – something I’m exploring in my new show, The Snake and the Rose (based upon my two folk tales collections) in collaboration with my partner Chantelle Smith who is a folksinger.

You are behind the Cotswold Word Centre initiative.  Please tell us about the Centre and the philosophy behind it.

It is a platform for language, literacy, and literature based at Hawkwood College, near Stroud.  We launched on World Book Day this year and our patron is novelist Jamila Gavin.  The idea is to provide a focus for the plethora of spoken and written word-based activity in the area: poetry readings, book launches, storytelling cafes, writing workshops, literary rambles, showcases, competitions, small presses, and so on.  It is early days yet – but there’s some exciting stuff in the pipeline.  Folk can find out more by following the link below.

You have said your new book, Desiring Dragons: Creativity, Imagination & The Writer’s Quest, is the culmination of 13 years’ teaching creative writing.  What kind of things will readers learn from the book?

They will have to read it.  But it’s more about process rather than particular techniques. I didn’t want to write another how-to book, of which there are many (some better than others).  It explores the creative process; and strategies for what I call ‘long-distance’ writing.  Many writing courses focus on teaching skills that will lead (hopefully) to publication – but what happens after that?  How can you keep going through the long haul of writing a novel (or several – as someone who wrote a five-volume series, The Windsmith Elegy, over ten years)?  Through the ups and downs of a writing life – the setbacks and successes?  This is for the writer who wants to be a ‘marathon runner’ rather than a ‘sprinter’.

Finally, you are organising a symposium on the Dymock Poets this year.  Our readers would be interested in hearing more about this event.

The Dymock Poets, as they became known, were a group of friends who gathered in a small village in Gloucestershire just before the First World War: Lascelles Abercrombie, Wilfrid Gibson, John Drinkwater, Edward Thomas, Robert Frost, and Rupert Brooke.  For a while they enjoyed long walks, cider and poetry, publishing 4 editions of New Numbers (an anthology which included the first publication of The Soldier: ‘If I should die think only this of me…’).  Frost and Thomas mutually empowered each other to go on to become the great poets we see them as today.  When war was declared the Dymocks’ idyll was irrevocably shattered.  Frost and his family returned to America.  Thomas and Brooke went off to war and did not return.  I wanted to celebrate the centenary of their creative fellowship, on the eve of the First World War when they gathered in Dymock (June-July 1914).

I have co-organised (along with poet Jay Ramsay) a daylong symposium in Stroud on Saturday 26th July.  We have some great talks throughout the day and in the evening, a showcase of modern Gloucestershire writers responding to the themes of the Dymocks.  It is this creative response to conflict that interests me more than the whole glorification of war thing.  You can book through the Stroud Subscription Rooms website.  I find the Dymock Poets story touching and inspiring – to the point of co-writing a feature-length screenplay about them.  At the moment, it looks like a drama-documentary will be made.  Anyone interested in the Dymock Poets should check out the Friends of the Dymock Poets site: http://www.dymockpoets.org.uk/index.html

Many thanks to Kevan for taking the time to speak to Ink Pantry.  Links to Kevan’s books and some of the projects he is involved in can be found below.

www.kevanmanwaring.co.uk

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

http://www.literatureworks.org.uk/Book-Features/Special-Features/Creative-Fellowship
Cotswold Word Centre: a platform for language, literacy, and literature

Wetting the Worm’s Head

Kevan launches Desiring Dragons at the Story Supper, 30 May, 2014, Stroud

Kevan launches Desiring Dragons at the Story Supper, 30 May, 2014, Stroud

Friday saw an excellent evening at the Stroud Story Supper, here in Stroud. The Black Book Cafe was filled with a lovely attentive and supportive crowd. We had fine contributions from the floor – many on the dragon-theme of the evening, as this was the launch of my latest book, Desiring Dragons: creativity, imagination and the writer’s quest – published that very day. Chantelle started the proceedings with the ballad of the ‘Laidly Worm’, and then I introduced my book before plunging into the ‘Dragon of Llanrhaedr’. There followed excellent contributions from Kate Hibbert from the Cardiff Circle (who told a meaty version of Ashputtle and the Stoor Wurm), Fiona Eadie, fresh from her National Trust storywalks in Wiltshire, splendid poetry from Robin Collins and Jo Woolley, and others. Jehanne and Rob Mehta finished off the first half with a rousing song about King Arthur (Pendragon!) which got us all singing along.

Adam Horovitz performs his poem, 'The Long Earth' at the Desiring Dragons launch

Adam Horovitz performs his poem, ‘The Long Earth’ at the Desiring Dragons launch

 

Fiona Eadie - storyteller at the launch

Fiona Eadie – storyteller at the launch

Jim completes his epic saga - with a friend

Jim completes his epic saga – with a friend

After the break, I told ‘The Gurt Wurm of Shervage Wood’. We had a surprise special guest – Adam Horovitz – who stirringly recited his poem ‘The Long Earth’, which features in the new book. We had the final instalment of Jim’s epic tale of the ‘Thousand Year old Woman’ (his spin on an Icelandic saga, complete with puppet), a fantastic telling of the ‘Maid and the Maggot’ by Kirsty Hartsiotis, and a lovely song from Rob and Jehanne to end with. All in all, a successful evening. We well and truly wetted the worm’s head with our awen-filled words!

Fiona’s feedback afterwards sums it up beautifully:

Just wanted to thank you for an excellent Story Supper last night. You held it beautifully and it was very interesting to hear the background to Desiring Dragons.

I thought all the contributions were really engaging – especially your lusty dragon tale and Chantelle’s ballad of the Laidly Worm

Kevan and Chantelle - post launch, by Kate Hibbert

Kevan and Chantelle – post launch, by Kate Hibbert

The next morning Chantelle and I set off for the Sunrise Celebration near Chepstow where we tested out our new show, ‘The Snake and the Rose’, in the fabulous fairy glade. Splitting it over two days was a good idea for this first run-through. It seemed to go down well, going by our feedback… ‘A fantastic duo …’ ; ‘Made my festival’. Bodes well for our up and coming performances at the Rondo Theatre, Bath; the White Horse Camp in Wiltshire; the Green Gathering; and the Castle of the Muses in Scotland. Here’s to a successful tour!

Launching 'The Snake and the Rose' at the Sunrise Celebration 2014

Launching ‘The Snake and the Rose’ at the Sunrise Celebration 2014

 

Chantelle in the Fairy Glade!

Chantelle in the Fairy Glade!

Kevan the storyteller in the Fairy Glade

Kevan the storyteller in the Fairy Glade

Find out more about the show here: https://taleandsong.wordpress.com/