Monthly Archives: January 2015

If Your Memory Serves You Well…

Poetry By Heart

MC Kevan Manwaring and Joy-Amy Wigman, poet and workshop leader at Poetry by Heart Gloucestershire Finals, 29 Jan 2015

MC Kevan Manwaring and Joy-Amy Wigman, poet and workshop leader at Poetry by Heart Gloucestershire Finals, 29 Jan 2015

Last night I had the pleasure and privilege of MCing the Gloucestershire finals of the Poetry by Heart competition. This is a national initiative set up by former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion. It is a poetry recital competition for 14-18 year olds. The contestants must choose 2 poems from the fat anthology containing a timeline of verse from Beowulf to 21st Century poetry: a pre-1914 and post-1914. And this year they were asked to select a third poem, from a First World War anthology. With these three poems committed to memory they must first compete within their schools, in front of class mates; and then the school winners must compete with their county. The winners of these heats get to go to Cambridge in March to perform in the regional and national finals.

The learning of poetry by heart is a great way to build confidence and self-esteem, improve public speaking skills, and foster a deeper understanding of language – transferable skills that can help in many ways; and the poems can become wise friends for the reciter – guiding through life. And you’re never short of a party-piece!

The essence of the contest is very bardic and similar to the Eisteddfod system of which I am very familiar – having entered, won and judged several Bardic Chair contests (the latest being the Bard of Hawkwood which I set up last year). Any initiative that encourages the Bardic Tradition is good by me and this is a particularly well thought out one.

To warm the audience up I offered my comic poem, ‘Phone Tree’, and later on, a couple of my favourite poems, ‘A Musical Instrument’ by Elizabeth Barrett-Browning, and ‘The Song of Wandering Aengus’ by WB Yeats.

I was relieved not to be judging last night – always a tricky thing to undertake, especially when the quality is so high. And it certainly was in the Gloucester Guildhall. The five contestants (all girls, sadly, as the only boy dropped out at the last minute – but well done to the girls for being so brave!) were all of a very high standard. I was deeply impressed by all of them – bringing alive some of my favourite poetry (Kubla Khan; Dover Beach; Lights Out; Journey of the Magi).

There were three judges – all experienced in poetry and drama. We had a guest poem from artist-scientist, the Purple Poet; and a set from Joy-Amy Wigman, the ‘red haired pixie of doom’, who entertained the audience whilst the judges deliberated.

The Guildhall is a great venue – a classy old building which is now an arts centre, with cinema, bar, hall and workshop rooms. It looked like alot was going on.

The judges returned and the winner was announced – Sophia Smout – who will go onto Cambridge. Prizes were handed out – and all those who took part achieved alot by just stepping up the mark. They deserve our respect. As do their parents and teachers for supporting them.

Tim Shortis, from Poetry by Heart, said after that I ‘…did a great job as MC, soothing and encouraging and generally wafting people towards the light.’

I’m a good wafter!

Whatever age you are – it is always worth learning a poem: a friend for life.

A Night at Heorot

In the middle of the night Grendel arrived in bloody fashion, slaughtering sleeping warriors slumbering after the feast. Beowulf confronts the night-lurker and grapples with him hand-to-hand. The Geat rips off one of Grendel’s arms, who flees into the night.

There comes a time when you finally have to knuckle down to it – the Great Task. You have summoned the Hero (within) and now you must step up to the mark (or to the desk, unless you are of the Hemingway persuasion, in which case you can stand). This will be your defining moment as a fledgling writer – as you really one, or was all that talk just hot air?

Virginia Woolf talked of the importance of a ‘room of one’s own’. Wherever or whatever it is – be it a boatshed like Dylan Thomas’; a garden office frequented by Philip Pullman; a cork-lined Parisian apartment resided in by Proust; or pottering in an Edinburgh café like JK Rowling, for the time you spend writing there, it is your Heorot. See Hrothgar’s hall as a metaphor for your imagination – vast and majestic. This is your special place – the place you go inside yourself when you write – utterly unique to you: ‘the famous mead-hall was finished and done./ To distant nations its name was known,/The Hall of the Hart…’174 This ‘hall of the heart’ is a precious place and deserves protecting – like Beowulf, Hrothgar’s retainer, guard it jealously.

And yet, be prepared to go through Hell while you’re there. You will face your demons. You will gnash your teeth and tear out your hair. You will sweat, bleed, and weep.

Writing is a lonely business. No one else will write that masterpiece for you (unless you pay a ghost writer, in which case – get out of here, you’re a celebrity). Doris Lessing wisely said: ‘Literature comes from a man or woman sitting alone in a room with a phone off the hook, probably a cup of coffee, and in the good old days, a cigarette.’ Don’t make excuses, make it happen. Steinbeck wrote: ‘This is the writing job, the loneliest work in the world. If I fail there is only one person in the world to blame…’

Although we should be wary of ‘spontaneous house-work’ (the compulsive sharpening of pencils, obsessive desk tidying, and other random displacement activities) there is something to be said for an orderly writing space. I love the description of Blake’s room, from a letter of Samuel Palmer’s (1860): ‘his rooms, were clean and orderly; everything was in its place. His delightful working corner had its implements ready – tempting to the hand. The millionaire’s upholsterer can furnish no enrichments like those of Blake’s enchanted rooms.’ Your study, if you are lucky enough to have one, is your Heorot. Yet imagination is the ultimate upholsterer – with it we can re-enchant the mundane. And so, we do not need a fancy ‘garden office’ with perfect views, however enticing that would be. All we need is a knee and a notepad. With our imagination, we are free – wherever we are, as Shakespeare so eloquently put: ‘O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space …’175 The chilling caveat here is ‘…were it not that I have bad dreams…’ but as writer’s we can turn those ‘bad dreams’ into prose, poetry, and plays.

Like Beowulf, you are going to give Grendel – a bad dream incarnate – a run for his money. Hero and antagonist finally clash in a spectacular melee, and in that conflict (between Higher and Lower Self; between our dreams and our nightmares; our fears and desires) the most exciting, muscular writing is created – sentences with frisson fly off the page. However difficult circumstances can be (and writers over the centuries have endured the worst) from such creative tension the best work can be produced. A place of safety, of comfortable happiness, of artistic complacency, can produce bland results. Writing from our comfort zones, we have artistically ‘snoozed off on the couch’. We have regurgitated TV dinners and soap operas. But if you are prepared to take risks and make yourself vulnerable – as Beowulf does, stripped down, armour-less and weaponless – then something good might result. Writing with an edge. It is terrifying, grappling with our demons in the night – but if you can hold your nerve you can produce something of true worth.

This is what I call the ‘unflinching gaze’. If you can stay with that which you find most challenging, most unbearable – you will produce writing of real authenticity and power. You will find the voice in the shadows. It takes a warrior’s heart to endure this:

A terror fell on the Danish folk

As they heard through the wall the horrible wailing,

The groans of Grendel, the foe of God

Howling his hideous hymn of pain,

The hell-thane shrieking in sore defeat.’176

Withstand this and you will be a true hero. Burn the midnight oil – metaphorically, or literally. Stay with it. Wrestle this beast into submission – and when you finally come up for air, perhaps returning to it the next day with a cup of coffee, a bit wiped out, you’ll be unspeakably satisfied, as was Beowulf: ‘he was happy with his nightwork/ and the courage he had shown.’ Somehow, against all odds, you have managed to wrench this ‘dirty first draft’ – like Beowulf ripping off Grendel’s arm. It’s not the whole beast, but it’s one helluva start:

This bloody stump is your first draft, plucked from the abyss. It is raw and dripping – ugly to all except its creator – but you have rendered it with your own hands. Your night in Heorot has produced results. You have showed what you are made of. Perhaps you are a writer after all (many fail this first test of courage). As Hrothgar had said in his parting saw:

Be mindful of glory, show forth your strength,

Keep watch against foe! No wish of your heart

Shall go unfulfilled if you live through the fight.’177

Writing can redeem the worst experiences and celebrate the best. It is essential we face our demons in the dark, share our hard-won wisdoms, and sing our journey’s song. The personal is powerful. Go where the pain is – that’s where the power is. In the next installment we’ll examine this bloody stump in more detail.

Extract from Desiring Dragons: creativity, imagination and the writer’s quest
by Kevan Manwaring, Compass Books, 2014

Better to Light a Candle than Curse the Darkness

047 (2)

First of all, beyond any intellectual ball-kicking, my heartfelt sympathies go to the families and friends of this week’s outrage in Paris where 11 people were shot dead for publishing cartoons, or in the case of the caretaker and visitors, being in the wrong place at the wrong time. As the chaos spread, the fatalities rose to 17, with many others wounded and traumatized. Indeed the whole nation is in shock and mourning, and the ripples of this latest terrorist atrocity is being felt around the world. Today’s inspiring mass rally (a heartening show of solidarity amongst many world leaders and many, many citizens) in Paris is the culmination of a tumultuous week which has left France reeling, yet defiant, and a corresponding outpouring of sympathy and camaraderie from across the globe, with even the President of the US stating: ‘Vive La France!’

Charlie Hebdo is a long-running satirical magazine with a tendency towards the more extreme spectrum of topical caricature – Private Eye meets Viz perhaps. Certainly more Gerald Scarfe than the witty captions of Private Eye. The editor, Stephane Charbonnier, (aka ‘Charb’) and many of the magazine’s top cartoonists were ruthlessly targeted and gunned down for publishing images deemed offensive to some who call themselves followers of Islam (though many Muslims have spoken out against the attacks, and indeed two of the victims were Muslims – a police officer and a staff member). Further casualties and fatalities resulted from the tense fallout leading to a double hostage situation – a crisis which the French police force dealt with bravely and impressively. Who would have wanted to have been a French gendarme this week? The two brothers who executed the Hebdo attack did so with military precision and ruthlessness. In the name of Al Quaeda Yemen they did their best to start a war – let’s hope they do not succeed.

Yes, the attack on Hebdo was an attack on free speech. France is a Western democracy, not an Islamic State – people are still allowed to speak their mind. We might not agree with what they staff of Charlie say but we defend their right to say it. In a civilized society if someone causes offence then those offended can engage in a debate at best, at worst, file a law-suit. Only barbarians resort to violence. Let it be said: Violence is the recourse of the stupid. It is very rarely a solution. This goes for all parties concerned. Violence begets violence, and he who lives by the sword die by the sword. There is always another way, and those with intelligence will find it.

Those who are using the attacks to fuel hateful Islamophobia are just as bad as the thugs with guns.

Yet the attack was against writers and artists – and as a writer and artist myself I feel an affinity with the Hebdo staff in that regard at least. I hold my creative freedom as a writer sacrosanct. I encourage my creative writing students to feel the same. When we start self-policing then the Fuckers have won. I am against censorship, but at the same time I believe with creative freedom comes responsibility. The bigger the canvas, the greater the responsibility. We should mindful about what we cast out into the world with our efforts. As a Muslim cartoonist interviewed on Al-Jazeera said this week (a breath of fresh air amidst the xenophobic soundbites), it is easy to create a crude cartoon that causes offence, it is harder to create one that makes people think – that balances the message with an awareness of the impact it might cause. As a moderate Muslim, he finds a middle-ground – negotiating a tricky position with skill – so why can’t the rest of us? We live in a complicated, joined up world. Nothing is in isolation. We have to be aware of the consequences of our actions, of our art. Take some moral responsibility.

However, I do not wish to defend the reprehensible actions of terrorists, or any driven to violence in the name of whatever justification they choose for their thuggery. So, here are a few final points I wish to make:

  • Creative freedom is sacrosanct.

  • With creative freedom comes responsibility.

  • Nothing is beyond criticism.

  • Any organisation or institution lacking a sense of humour (about itself) is extremely dubious.

  • A sense of humour is essential equipment for living on planet Earth.

  • Planet Earth is big enough for everyone’s paradigms but not everyone’s prejudices. Learn to get along. Negotiate the complexity.

  • There are those who are instantly ready to be offended, and those all too ready to resort to violence. Both are mindless kneejerk positions. Those who like to nurture a grievance narrative would do better at channelling their energies into loving life, not hating at the drop of a hat. Do something positive instead. Plant a garden, or go to therapy.

  • Violence is the recourse of barbarians. Get civilized. Use your brain. Prove you’re a human being with intelligence.

  • The causes of radicalization need to be addressed. There needs to be greater equality. The disenfranchised and voiceless will always be a source of extremism until they are given a fairer deal.  Mocking them will only rub salts in the wounds of their sense of anger and injustice. When we deprive people of respect and a voice, they often turn to extremes to be heard.

  • Tolerance and celebration of diversity leads to a more stable society. Inclusiveness begins within your own community. Ostracizing the ‘other’ feeds the cycle of misery and terror. Start a dialogue. Share your stories.
  • Happiness is a warm pen.

What I found heartening about Saturday’s march of sympathy in Paris were the placards which read not simply ‘Je Suis Charlie’, but ‘Je Suis Contre Le Racisme’: I am against Racism. This I think is a more mindful message. Yes, our sympathies are with the family and friends of those killed; but that does not automatically mean we hate all Muslims, only the hateful few who resort to such desperate extremism. They, and those that support them, deserve nothing but our contempt. I hope one day they choose to rejoin the human race; and that we can learn to work out this whole mess together in a civilized manner.

The human spirit is dauntless, and the human imagination limitless, so I believe it is possible:

A blank page is an invitation to change the world.

The Art of Bragging

In the age of mass-vanity projects like Facebook, the art of bragging has never been more rife. Social media risks making of us all self-obsessed narcissists, locked into an endless game of brinkmanship. Looking enviously at our friends’ latest updates, we are forever keeping up with the Jones. The consequence of leading such goldfish bowl lives is continual status anxiety. And yet, once bragging was a bardic art – and perhaps something can be salvaged from it for practical use, as we continue…

The Writer’s Quest

Part 3:

Ego the Giant and the Art of Bragging

The arriving band of warriors are challenged on the shore by Hrothgar’s thane. They bandy words in ritual exchange. The coast-guard accepts Beowulf at his word, and agrees to escort them to Heorot. He arranges for their ship to be guarded. Off to Hrothgar’s hall they set, the sight of which impresses the Geats. Here, they are challenged a second time, by the royal herald. When the King is convinced of their honourable intent they are allowed in. Hrothgar fondly remembers how in his youth he had taken service with King Hrethel of Geatland. He has heard of Beowulf, who now declares his intent – to banish the curse of Grendel from the hall once and for all, without arms or armour to boot. Beowulf boasts of his prowess, but at the welcoming feast is challenged a third time – by Unferth, the King’s advisor, who mocks the validity of his account of a swimming match against Breca. Beowulf soundly rebuffs this attack on his honour. He wins mead from the hand of Wealtheow the Queen. As the banquet ends and the company departs, Beowulf prepares for the intruder.

Reputation is everything in this Age of Heroes. As our hero Beowulf makes landfall on Danish shores he is confronted by no less than three threshold guardians: the watchman on the wall (who first challenges him on landing); Hrothgar’s herald (who makes him follow the etiquette of the court); and Unferth (who mocks him at the feast). At each of these junctures Beowulf steps up to the mark, as we must – no matter how fierce the guardians we encounter.

Remember, they are there to test our tenacity. That is their very purpose.

Although these ‘threshold guardians’ could manifest in a myriad of ways (they are the ‘Ten Thousand Things’ the Buddhists talk of – Maya – which we can be easily enamoured/distracted by). In the context of Beowulf if we wanted to get symbolic about things, we could say these three guardians are the Inner Critic, the Outer Critic, and the Envious Friend – each of these can sabotage us.

The most insidious is perhaps the first – the Inner Critic – the voice inside our head that tells us that

we’re not good enough, that it’s not worth it, that it’s all been done before. Some of these messages may actually be hand-me-downs from family, from school: a schoolteacher who ripped up your English essay in front of the class; the sneering sibling; the discouraging parent. We need to exorcise them. Prove them wrong. As with any of these guardian figures – see their challenge as a gauntlet thrown down before you. Pick it up, face them, defeat them.

The Outer Critic can be harder – it seems apparently objective. The bad review; the poor grade; the heckler; the low turnout; the lack of sales. Many artists make a point of not reading their reviews. Some feel, whatever their sales, gongs (or lack of them) they will do it anyway: create, because they must. Why should anyone deny you of your raison d’etre? The Outer Critics are like the mountain ranges, deserts, or wide oceans the hero must cross to achieve their goal. The tempests of fate, misfortune and the marketplace. Lash yourself to the mast, stop your ears with wax to ignore those maddening voices, and weather the storm. Do whatever you have to, and don’t let the bastards grind you down. Your dream is more important than their hot air. It is oh-so easy to criticise, so much harder to create. The cynic never achieved anything. Let them polish the chip on their shoulder while you get on with forging art (that being said, it has to be acknowledged that there is a place for criticism at later stages of the creative process – indeed it is essential; and an insightful review can provide a good introduction, and sometimes enhance one’s appreciation of the end product, placing it within a wider cultural context).

The final one, the Envious Friend, is the so-called buddy piqued by your tenacity, your achievement – the very fact you made it happen, or intend to – who sabotages you with a passing comment, a snide remark (their own shadow speaking). CS Lewis said to JRR Tolkien, upon hearing him read out an extract from The Lord of the Rings ‘not another fucking elf!’ There are those who, through their own insecurity, might want to shoot us down – although sometimes their ham-fisted asides might be healthy ballast, to stop us getting too inflated, we shouldn’t let them stop our creative flow. Rather than think – ‘that person’s success overshadows my own’; instead try ‘when a friend follows their star, it empowers me to do the same’. I like Julia Cameron’s dictum: ‘Success occurs in clusters and is born in generosity.’165

And yet, we need to be mindful of Ego the Giant. He can easily get out of hand. The way Beowulf is ‘bigged up’, first by the poet, then by the watchman, the herald, and then himself, it is no wonder it all seems to go to his head. He is depicted as some kind of super-hero, ‘with the strength of thirty in the grip of each hand.’ The sections dealing with Beowulf’s arrival in Denmark, at Heorot, are full of boasting. There is a cultural reason for this – the art of bragging (from the Norse god of poetry, Bragi) was an intrinsic part of the warrior culture of the times. A man was as good as his word. The verbal contract was sacrosanct. To go back on your word was to lose honour. And honour was everything. Also, ‘beautiful speech’ (that is, ornate speechifying) was as much a part of a man’s ornament as his torcs, armour and sword. Verbal bling to establish status. Finally, in battle, the hurling of insults and swaggering boastfulness was part of the ritual combat that acted as a kind of foreplay to the real thing – like fighting cocks brindling their feathers, raising their heads, puffing out their chests and making a lot of to-do before going in. This bardic posturing is simply the preening of wattles. In the poem, this takes on a formal quality when Beowulf states his intention to the hall, like a personal mission statement:

I shall either perform deeds fitting an earl

Or meet in this mead-hall the coming of death!166

Beowulf’s boast has the gravitas and finality of a vow about it. The clock of destiny has been set ticking, as the poet lugubriously reminds us: ‘Fate goes ever as fate must.’167

A writer can choose to do something similar – writing down their intention, and committing to it. Mature artists practise the art of containment, carefully incubating their project until it is ready to hatch. What one should avoid doing at all costs is telling an acquaintance (or passing stranger in a bar) about it. Whenever someone says: ‘I am going to write a novel’, the chances are they won’t even start it, let alone finish it. If they were serious, they would be doing it, not talking about it. And two other things: you can tempt fate by doing so (if you want to make the gods laugh, tell them your plans); and you risk talking the life out of a project. Some ‘writers’ love talking about the book they are going to write and sharing the intricacies of the plot, the wonderfully quirky characters, the thrilling scenes – and you can hear the steam escaping from the boiler. It is all hot air and bluster – and their engine is left depleted. They are getting off on the idea of doing it, rather than the act of doing it. It can be buzz, when you feel fired up – but channel that into the actual writing. Write while the fire is in the head, and keep writing – you might find you manage to write half the first draft in one sitting, or even the whole thing (as Kerouac famously did with On the Road in a six-day amphetamine haze). This is when the ego can be your ally – it can give you the strength, the self-belief to keep going. You need to believe in yourself – if you don’t, who will?

The ego is a vehicle you can use to deliver your message; as long as it doesn’t get out of hand. Don’t let your ego become a boy-racer. Let it be the ‘Parker’ to your ‘Penelope’, and your FAB1 will cruise to its destination, not end up a burnt-out shell in a ditch.

Beowulf is challenged in the mead-hall by the malcontent Unferth – about a particularly swimming-match undertaken against a childhood friend, Breca, who apparently won. For Unferth:

His bold sea-voyaging, irked him sore;

He bore it ill that any man other

In all the earth should ever achieve

More fame under heaven than he himself.168

Rather than being derailed by this (which would have disastrous consequences for Heorot) the hero rises to the challenge – dispatching Unferth’s ungracious attacks on his reputation like so many monsters of the deep (‘To slay with the sword-edge nine of the nicors’ 169). Beowulf’s riposte casts himself in an even better light – he was delayed in completing the swimming-match because he was attacked by sea-monsters (‘The grisly sea-beasts again and again/Beset me sore.’ 170). He wrestled with them to the sea-bed and slaughtered them all, making the shipping lanes safe for all. Swimming for five days in a freezing sea, wielding a sword and wearing chain-mail, fighting sea monsters single-handedly … it all sounds rather far-fetched, and yet we are expected to swallow it. The inhabitants of Heorot clearly do, responding to the bragging match in good spirits – this is the equivalent of an Anglo-Saxon rap battle. Beowulf’s boasts become outlandish:

Bloody from battle; five foes I bound

Of the giant kindred, and crushed their clan.

Hard-driven in danger and darkness of night

I slew the nicors that swam the sea…’ 171

It would appear that a warrior’s boastfulness is linked to his power – that strong words give a keener edge to his sword (akin to shamanic power; a medicine man singing his wares; a doctor in a mummers play stating his proficiency; a New Orleans Mardi Gras ‘Indian’ chief strutting his stuff):

In the shades of darkness we’ll spurn the sword.’ 172

What might appear to us as simply swagger and braggadocio is a way of preparing for the task ahead. Talking ourselves up (e.g. imagining ourselves as the writer we can be) might be a way of helping to make it happen – we enlarge our sense of self, and then step into that space. The opposite – being self-deprecating – can be self-defeating. Talking ourselves down can just be a cowardly ‘get out clause’, a petulant cop out (like saying: ‘I didn’t want to do it anyway’). Cynicism can be a mask for fear of our own failure. If we put everything ‘down’ (including ourselves) then nothing will be a disappointment. We don’t have to try. We have let ourselves off the hook.

Attempting the ‘impossible’ – creating a work of originality and stunning skill – takes courage and a certain barnstorming attitude. The odds are stacked against you. But everyone loves an underdog. We love to root for Samson. It looks like Goliath is going to give him a pounding. Prove them wrong!

Beowulf sees off his competition – wiping the floor with Unferth, the epitome of sour grapes. What the Geatish champion says is almost irrelevant – it is the way he says it, with such conviction. Nothing can shake him; a quality that the King appreciates. Hrothgar values: ‘the warrior’s steadfastness and his word’, and allows him to join the feast to ‘relish the triumph of heroes to your heart’s content.’ He has earned a taste of the hero’s portion – by stepping up to the mark (unlike the niggardly Unferth).

By not hiding his light under a bushel he wins the favour of the Lady of the Hall, Hrothgar’s comely wife – who, in the role of mead-giver, is a variant of the Goddess of Sovereignty figure:

Then the woman was pleased with the words he uttered,

The Geat-lord’s boast; the gold-decked queen

went in state to sit by her lord.’173

In her sun-like imagery she is worth more than gold itself – for Beowulf has won the Muse. By being in his power, (potently fulfilling his potential) he has attracted her. The awen has descended and the Goddess graces him with Her presence. For a deeper exploration of ‘Courting the Muses’ see The Dragon’s Hoard. But, for now, let us end this testosterone-driven section with a footnote to the god of bragging.

We get the word and notion of ‘bragging’ from the Norse god of poet, Bragi, who drunk of the skaldic mead stolen by Odin from a giant’s daughter – thus, the ‘gift of the gab’ is seen as a gift of the Gods. An important caveat – as Odin flew back to Valhalla, godly stomach bloated with the mead he had guzzled down, some of it ‘leaked’ out and fell to Earth… Those who received this divine micturation (Odin’s urine), instead of the good stuff direct from the source, have a tainted gift (politicians come to mind…). Their lips are lubricated by the bladder, not the vat (perhaps that is why the fool’s symbol is the ‘bladder-stick’ – to flag up their seemingly foolish talk and acknowledge their mandate for ‘taking the piss’). Yet Bragi’s gift is a double-edged sword. Bragging can easily become ‘full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’ – as in the classic pub bore; a drunken tongue-lashing; a talk-show host; or Prime Minister’s question time: rival primates either side of a territory-bounding stream, banging their chests and raising a din. We need to follow Beowulf’s example – he decides to face his foe in single-combat, unarmed. When all the noisy revellers have gone to bed, he will be left to face his enemy alone. Stripped of the showy trappings of his personality – his ego – he is ready to confront the painful truth.

Ego the Giant and the Art of Bragging questings:

  1. List your best qualities.
  2. List your worst.
  3. Consider both lists. What would help you in your Writer’s Quest? What would hinder?
  4. What messages does your Inner Critic give you?
  5. What messages does your Outer Critic give you?
  6. What messages does your Envious Friend give you?
  7. What messages would you like to give to them? Write them out, read them out, shout them out!
  8. Create a caricature of yourself, exaggerating your qualities. If you can draw, do this on a balloon. Then pop it. Or make a piñata of yourself and take a baseball bat to it. Learn to laugh at yourself at regular intervals. You are fallible and sometimes foolish. That’s okay.
  9. Create a scrapbook or album of your achievements. Reflect on what you can do, have done, and will do. Write a series of affirmations reminding yourself of these.
  10. Find a ‘believing mirror’ – someone who wants to support you in your creative journey. Book your tired old ego in for a massage now and then.