Tag Archives: creativity

Bardfest ’22 – a review

Bardfest ’22 – a spoken word benefit concert organised by Kevan Manwaring

Bardfest ’22 was as an evening of creativity in celebration of community across borders. Initially due to be held at the Bridport Arts Centre, but due to the management changing their mind at the last minute (concerns about the Bridport Carnival turned out to be ill-founded), it eventually found a home at the Women’s Institute Hall on North Street. Despite this unfortunate disruption after months of planning, the evening went ahead and flowed smoothly thanks to the good will of all involved and all who came.

After the signage, soundchecks, seating, and altar setting up (in front of the stage by Susan Paramour, who performed later with her band) Bardfest was ready to go. The evening kicked off with the local Wyld Morris, who raised the spirits and blessed the hall with their lovely music, singing and dancing. After a short intermission for folk to mingle and check out the book stall, the main part of the programme got under way.

The organiser and MC, 3rd Bard of Bath and Bridport newbie Kevan Manwaring, introduced the evening with a short meditation on ‘home’ and an original poem written in the early Spring shortly after moving to the town (just as the war in Ukraine was starting in earnest): ‘The Blackbird’s Shadow is Brightness.’ Next, Estelle Phillips was welcomed to the stage who performed a couple of poems from her debut collection published by Jawbone, including ‘Reaper’, which has been translated into Ukrainian. You can watch the powerful video here. This was followed by Estelle’s publisher, Peter Roe – a poet in his own right. His poem about the Cold War was especially resonant. Continuing the run of local talent, we next had Ged Duncan, Rob Casey, Tom Rogers who entertained us with their brilliant monologues (Arthur Thwartle; Wayland the Puppet) and poems. We finished off the first half with a fantastic tale of the Crow King from the Ukraine, by Martin Maudsley. What wordsmiths of West Dorset!

After the break we had talent from further afield – starting with Stroud-based storyteller, Anthony Nanson who regaled us with another Ukrainian tale – that of ‘The Baal Shem Tov and the Flaming Tree’. Next, Tick Rowley, 22nd Bard of Bath, performed her lovely poems; followed by a great story from Kirsty Hartsiotis (also of Stroud and Fire Springs along with Anthony, her husband). Then we returned briefly to Bridport for a muscular performance from poet Dylan Ross. We finished off the evening with two musical acts: Car Dia – a pagan ‘supergroup’ from Glastonbury, Avebury, Salisbury, and the edges who enchanted us with their mighty magical songs; and then Dr Space Toad -all the way from the 7th (or possibly 77th) Dimension, whose Spanish guitar and soulful songs eased us back down to earth.

The evening raised over £200 for the UN Refugee Agency, and was a heartwarming affirmation of creative, inclusive community.

The spoken word & music scene is thriving in the West Country.

May the awen continue to flow!

Singing into the Storm

Image from Natural World Photography

I had postponed the inevitable for as long as possible – seeking refuge in a pub in Ullapool to escape the high winds that were pounding Ardmaire Point, site of a popular Caravan and Camping Park, that stuck its beak out into Loch Carnaird towards Isle Martin, and the Summer Isles beyond. Although it was tempting to stay for a dram, I was on the bike, and fatigued from a long, epic ride 170 mile ride along the North Coast 500 from John o’ Groats. I had nursed my single pint of Black Sheep as long as possible, but the light was going and so I zipped up and headed into the damp dusk.

Back on site I accepted my lot – to spend the night in my 2-man tent in the middle of a gale. It was like being inside a paper bag continually being flicked by a bored school-boy. As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods, as Shakespeare put it. They kill us for their sport. Here though I felt (yet again) at the mercy of the Cailleach, the Mountain Mother. This wasn’t the first time I’ve had to survive a night in a small tent in a storm. When walking the Coast-to-Coast last year I experienced ‘tempest camping’ on the exposed Blakey Ridge in my tiny ‘coffin’ tent. Knowing I had weathered that storm gave me some ballast. I recalled my strategy: you have to surrender to it. There is no point fighting a storm – it is stronger than you. It is in charge. You just have to yield yourself to its elemental might.  Laughing at the craziness of trying to camp in such conditions, I cracked open a bottle of Dark Island (a delicious Orkney ale), and entertained myself with singing, digging into my repertoire of walking songs, which I’ve accumulated over my annual long-distance walks. I found this to be a fine way to keep my spirits up. On long slogs it keeps you going, and in this instance, it felt like a way of not only surrendering to the storm, but celebrating it. Getting a little merry and singing my heart out into the dark felt slightly bosky – but exhilarating. I picked songs that seemed appropriate: David Dodds ‘Magpie Song’; Chantelle Smith’s version of ‘Mist-Covered Mountains of Home’; Dougie MacLean’s ‘Caledonia’; John Martyn’s version of ‘Spencer the Rover’; Dave Goulder’s ‘The January Man’; Swarbrick and Thompson’s ‘Crazy Man Michael’. I bellowed them out above the howling wind and they probably sounded awful to my neighbours (sorry!), but it felt great to do. I didn’t have any comments or complaints in the morning, so I suspect the din of the gale mercifully drowned out my drunken warblings.

Apart from recommending this as an unorthodox bardic survival technique (!), and because it feels life-affirming and fun, I would like to extend the metaphor of this – singing into the storm – to life in general, especially during these dark times. We are face with a ‘perfect storm’ of multiple threats (in the United Kingdom: the triple wave of Covid-19; Brexit; and Climate Chaos), and although we must not deny them, indeed we must do everything we can to prevent them, prepare for them or ameliorate them, I think to give up our creativity is to snuff our the flame of if not civilisation, then our humanity. For we are more than just survival machines. The songs, stories, and poems of our ancestors flow through us, and we can create new art, new life, every day – celebrating the miracle of our sheer existence and the beauty of the manifest world. The darkness encroaches and the storms of the world gather strength. Let us keep our frail flames alive, and sing, sing into the howling night. While even one of us refuses to fall silent – with our creative outpourings in the face of the overwhelming forces – the stultifying forces of philistine Neoliberalism will not have won.

Creative Resistance

 

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Be more than a Selfie. Revellers awaiting the summer solstice sunrise at Stonehenge, 21 June 2018. K. Manwaring

 

In these challenging times it is easy to lose hope, to feel powerless against the dark forces active in the world – racism, sexism, child imprisonment, jingoism, xenophobia, animal cruelty, destruction of the environment, and institutionalised inequality.

But we are many, and they are few. Our time to step up is now. History is our witness.

Creative Resistance encourages

  • Acts of solidarity
  • Community
  • Resilience
  • Art
  • Writing
  • Music
  • Dance
  • Fashion
  • Film
  • Comix
  • New media

It’s easy as 1, 2, 3 …

  1. Create – paint, draw, dance, sculpt, write, cook, tailor, garden, code…
  2. Connect – face-to-face, online, cafes, conferences, pubs, symposia, festivals, parks
  3. Communicate – by any means necessary, get your work and your message out there.

Organise Creative Resistance:

Meet ups (face-to-face); Sharings (online); Happenings; Publications (print/digital); Recordings; Exhibitions…

The effectiveness of such a movement will be in a grassroots, non-hierarchical approach. Organise your own gatherings, create your own messages of resistance. A wikimanifesto is better than one person or a small group defining things. All can add their voice.

It is important to fight Fascism (let us call it by its name) on all levels. Let us fight using our skills, our talents, in ways which are empowering and nurturing. If you are a political campaigner, let that be your poetry. If you prefer direct action, then make that your art. But those of us who are creative may prefer to use our abilities to resist, critique, and create positive alternatives.

Be a local Creative Resistance organiser. Bring folk together. Start the conversation, get creating, and get organised, while we still have the liberty to do so. Fight for your Human Rights before they are taken away. Defend the vulnerable. Do not be a passive witness. Defy and challenge with glorious acts of creativity celebrating the diversity of humanity.

Kevan Manwaring 20 June 2018

Summoning the Hero

The Writer’s Quest, part 2

Enter the Hero - Beowulf steps up to the role

Enter the Hero – Beowulf steps up to the role

At this time, Beowulf, nephew of the Geatish king Hygelac, is the greatest hero in the world. He lives in Geatland, a realm not far from Denmark, in what is now southern Sweden. When Beowulf hears tales of the destruction wrought by Grendel, he decides to travel to the land of the Danes and help Hrothgar defeat the demon. He voyages across the sea with fourteen of his bravest warriors until he reaches Hrothgar’s kingdom.

Every creative act is an act of courage – it is ‘yah-boo-sucks!’ to death, to oblivion, to mediocrity, to being a passive consumer of life. We have everything against us – common sense; the pressure of earning a living; unhelpful peers; inner critics; crazymakers; noisy neighbours; that household chore that really needs your attention; that cold call; Climate Chaos; global financial meltdown; random asteroids and super volcanoes threatening to Destroy The World in an instant! See these as threshold guardians – they are the equivalent of the three-headed dog Cerberus that guarded the entrance to the realm of Hades. They are there to test your mettle, your tenacity. How much do you want to follow your dreams? Is your Push bigger than your Pull? Hollywood screenwriters use the useful idea of the ‘Fear/Desire Axis’ – which, despite its name is not some terrorist cell, or Bond-like super-baddy organisation. Basically, the actions of every character (and, possibly, every human being) is governed by the principle. Imagine it like a see-saw, with Fear at one end, Desire at the other. When a character’s desire outweighs their fear, they move forward. When that mean old bully fear tips the balance, they freeze or retreat. The locus of optimum dramatic tension is the tipping point between the two – the trick is to sustain this as long as possible. Shakespeare kept Hamlet stewing in his own juices for five acts, prevaricating, unable to act. This was the Prince of Denmark’s fatal flaw – he oscillated between ‘to be or not to be’, like some dodgy alternator. If he had killed Claudius in Act One, Scene One – end of story. Instead, Shakespeare wisely spun it out and elicited powerful drama from the psychological anguish experienced by the Dane at his tipping point, creating early Nordic noir.

`Yet, finally, the Hero must act – whatever the consequences. In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo and Sam reach the uninviting entrance to Shelob’s Lair, reeking of carrion, plot snags and foul things. Neither of them are keen to enter – but they have a mission, to take the One Ring to Mount Doom and destroy it. This ‘desire’ outweighs their ‘fear’ and, steeling themselves (Frodo, with Sting) they step into the dark. This makes them heroes. Of course, if they had thought – ‘sod this for a game of soldiers’, and gone back to the Shire, they wouldn’t have been (and they wouldn’t have found much of a Shire to go back to). Novelist John Cowper Powys talked about how a character’s behaviour is governed by a ‘concatenation of imperatives’161 – incrementally, things build up (like ounce weights on the scales) until the protagonists simply have no choice (or so it would seem to them), or if they do, it’s a Hobson’s Choice – a choice which is really no choice at all.

And so into the darkness the plucky hobbits step – with their magic sword in one hand, and the Light of Elendil in the other. And so must we, as writers – armed with only a pen (or keyboard) and the frail light of our inspiration. In the Welsh legend of the bard Taliesin, Gwion Bach is reborn shining with awen (inspiration), stolen from Ceridwen’s cauldron – ‘Behold the radiant brow!’ cries the weir-ward when he is rediscovered, a helpless babe in a coracle. Consumed by our ‘illumination’ we venture into the Perilous Realm, like Wandering Aengus in WB Yeats’ classic poem: ‘I went for a walk in a hazel wood because a fire was in my head…’

Setting off on the Writer’s Quest of the creative process is perhaps akin to being a knight in a medieval romance, venturing into the forest (although we are probably more like Parsifal at this stage – the Holy Fool – more than the accomplished Paladin). Be prepared to make a fool of yourself, turning up at Court on a donkey in a patchwork costume. Let yourself make mistakes – give yourself permission – because so much success comes from creative ‘failure’, from trial and error and happy accidents. Embark in the spirit of creative play – and you will be more likely to create something original. Start thinking that you ‘know it all’, that you have the answers, and you will have nothing to learn (and readers will probably be less inclined to listen). Start your quest with questions – and your journey will be a journey of discovery, fuelled by curiosity and delight, some of the essentials for a writer.

10 Essentials for a Writer

  • Pen. Paper. A lack of excuses.
  • Curiosity & Delight.
  • A willingness to say ‘yes’ to life/a rebuttal of the ‘no’s’.
  • Ability to rewrite and listen to feedback.
  • Staying power (an internal composition engine).
  • An appetite for adventure.
  • Risk-taking.
  • Boldness.
  • Humour.
  • A healthy book habit.

Gawain had a pentagram on his shield to remind him of the ‘five Christian virtues’. In Scotland, at the Castle of the Muses, I met a South-African ‘knight’ called David told me of the essential chivalrous qualities as he sees them. A knight has:

  • the wisdom to do what is right
  • the will to make it happen
  • and the strength to make it endure.

And he suggested the three traits of a warrior are: impeccability, unpredictability, and responsibility. These latter qualities could certainly apply to a writer: impeccability in terms of being conscientious of one’s craft, attending to the details, keeping one’s house in order; unpredictability, in terms of originality of thought, ideas and execution; and responsibility, in terms of what you write, what you choose to bring into the world. These are the qualities we need to summon in ourself as we heed the call to adventure and set off to face our foe. In essence, the Hero is our Higher Self – and writing can help us connect to it (as well as to our Lower Self, our Shadow).

I call these the Avatarian and Atavistic Impulses.

Basically, writing can bring out the best and the worst in us – both in its execution and on the page. Writers can be beasts and saints, charismatic or tedious bores. Good to be around, or the partner/friend from Hell. Selfless, or selfish. Certainly there is an element of selfishness in writing – in indulging in one’s fantasies, as well as in the single-mindedness needed to see a project through to completion; and yet one could argue that in spending precious years slaving away at a manuscript that might have an altruistic element (the edification of humanity!) we are being selfless to a certain extent (although in reality the act of writing is probably a blending of the -less and the -ish!). On the page, the Avatarian and Atavistic Impulses can manifest in the form of characters – we can personify them.

It could be argued that all characters are aspects of the author’s personality (for where else do they come from? who else is writing it?). The Hero and Villain of a tale could be seen as the Higher and Lower Self of the author, although this is perhaps a crude analysis and things are often more nuanced than that. Villains often ‘act out’ our Super-Egos (over-confident, slick, successful, sexually magnetic, etc); and Heroes can often be dysfunctional and even amoral. Martin Amis said that ‘novels come from the base of the spine’ – echoing Nabokov’s ‘tell-tale tingle down the spine’162 – in the way that they explore powerful primal issues around security and identity. They can be an instinctual response to the world, almost beyond cognition – hence the mystery around the creative process, and where authors get their ideas from. Often, we can’t say for certain – until afterwards. The first draft is often written ‘in the dark’ – in the process of unknowing, of seeking, or being ‘driven’ – and the second with the ‘lights on’. The ‘scary thing in the shadows’ disturbs our status quo and forces us to give it voice, and then we ‘wake up and smell the coffee’ (or the stench of blood) and go in all guns blazing. First, Grendel; then Beowulf.

Of Beowulf, the bards sang:

And many men stated that south or north,

Over all the world, or between the seas,

Or under the heaven, no hero was greater.’163

When we summon the Hero we are, in a way, evoking our better qualities – our unrealised potential – and giving them a form. There is often an element of wish-fulfilment, of power-fantasy (think of James Bond; Sherlock Holmes; Jason Bourne, etc). The Hero can carry for us all the things we wish we could do or be if only… By writing, we literally tap into these and give them dramatic form; and in the process, we inhabit these qualities. By channelling the archetype, for a while we become it. And this is part of the visceral (as well as intellectual) thrill of writing which is rarely discussed. The adrenalin rush of writing can be intoxicating and … addictive. ‘I feel gripped by something stronger than my will,’ is how Alice W. Flaherty describes it.164

That is why, I believe, writing is the ‘best of me’ (as I tap into my Higher Self) and also when I often feel most fully alive (it can be exhilarating). When I am firing on all cylinders, the writer is a turbo-charged version of myself – I feel like I am stepping into my power and being most fully myself. I am living up to my own potential.

And so by becoming writers, we become in effect, the Hero of our own story. We are no longer the passive recipient of another’s narrative. We have seized control of our own and writing our destiny into being.

Whether we accomplish it is another matter.

The way is littered with perils and pitfalls – not least that of Ego the Giant, who lumbers onto our path and threatens to overshadow the whole proceedings unless he is handled with care.

Next we will look at the Art of Bragging and how that feckless lunk, Ego, can be put to good use.

DESIRING DRAGONS - COMPASS BOOKS FRONT COVER

Extract from ‘The Writer’s Quest’ Copyright Kevan Manwaring 2014

Desiring Dragons: creativity, imagination and the writer’s quest, Compass Books, 2014

 

The Birth of Dragons

Tonight sees the launch of my latest book, Desiring Dragons: creativity, imagination and the writer’s quest, published by Compass Books. I’m hosting a Story Supper Special – with a dragon-flavoured theme (‘scaly tales, serpentines poems and wyrm songs’). It should be fun!

The book is based upon my 13 years of teaching creative writing (10 with the Open University); and arose out of a course I ran on ‘Writing for the Imagination’ at the University of Bath back in 2005. Since I wrote the first draft in 2006, it has taken a while to see the light of day – but I believe in ‘staying the distance’, and the book explores strategies for what I call long-distance writing. As in the fable of the tortoise and the hare, it’s the tortoise who wins in the end!

Here’s a recent review from poet Lorna Smither’s Peneverdant blog

Book Review: Desiring Dragons by Kevan Manwaring

desiring-dragons-compass-books-front-cover Kevan Manwaring is a writer, teacher and storyteller living in Stroud. His publications include seminal works on Bardism, a series of mythic realist novels and collections of Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire folk tales. Desiring Dragons: Fantasy and the Writer’s Quest is unique because in contrast to the plethora of ‘how to’ guides it forms a study of the creative process, examining why we write, the act of writing and its benefits to writer and reader.

The first part, ‘Desiring Dragons’ focuses on the theory of writing fantasy. Kevan says the mistake most beginner writers make is copying other writers without understanding the nature of fantasy or the act of creation. He defines fantasy as ‘the means by which we imagine and enter other worlds,’ and discloses its roots in storytelling as a shamanic tradition. The other worlds of fantasy are presented as sources of imaginative possibilities which can provide alternative perspectives on this world. By seeing this world in a different way we perceive new choices and ways of bringing about change.

I found this to be a powerful argument as all too often fantasy and imagination are equated with unreality and seen as lacking in value. By showing that fantasy fulfils the needs of individuals and society Kevan demonstrates its worth. I think this will be a great source of encouragement to other writers, particularly those doubting the value of their work because they have been told fantasy is a form of escapism or disengagement from society.

The second part, ‘The Writer’s Quest’ covers the practicalities of writing fantasy. In a striking display of originality Kevan uses Beowulf as a ‘mythic template’ for exploring the processes of creativity. Grendel’s assailment of Heorot is seen as a metaphor for the writer being haunted by the demons that drive them to write. The lake symbolizes potential and plunging into its waters the point of no return. The message of the dragon’s lair is that a writer shouldn’t sit on the gold of their word hoard because it contains the life force itself, which demands to be passed on.

What I liked most about this part is that it is enthused with Kevan’s personal experience of the exhilarating yet often nightmarish process of writing a novel. I think any writer would recognise these processes and find relief and encouragement in not being alone.

Each chapter is followed by a series of ‘questings’ prompting the writer to examine their creative processes from a different angle. ‘Summoning the Hero’ explores ways of seeing oneself as a writer. ‘The Bloody Limb’ suggests ways of looking at a first draft. ‘Needful Digressions’ calls the writer to consider whether they are harping on like the scolds do about Finnsburgh. I think these exercises will be effective as rather than telling writers what to do they call for reflection on work, creative processes and motivations.

The final part, ‘The Dragon’s Hoard’ is a collection of essays covering an eclectic range of topics ranging from mythic literacy to cultivating a daily writing practice, which is easy to dip in and out of. An essay which currently resonates with me is ‘Writing Magical Fiction.’ Here Kevan suggests good writing in this genre is rooted in experience of real magic- in the Awen (inspiration), forming living relationships with one’s muses, practicing an existing magical system and connecting with the landscape and changing seasons.

As a poet I found this book immensely valuable because rather than just examining the ‘how’ of writing it examines the ‘why’. Any form of writing is a gruelling task. Whilst the ‘how’ provides the tools, ultimately it’s the ‘why’ – our innermost desires and motivations that see us through to the end. Desiring Dragons provides ways of accessing and understanding them. Therefore I would recommend it highly to writers of all genres.

Writing Between the Worlds

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Guest blog by Lancashire poet Lorna Smithers, first posted on http://uclanpagsoc.weebly.com/1/post/2014/04/writing-between-the-worlds.html

Creative Fellowship

This post was written as an article for Literature Works; but I’ve added it here as it relates directly to the Cotswold Word Centre project.

Soul of the Earth book launch, Waterstones, Earth Day 2009 - organised by Kevan Manwaring, including the much-missed Mary Palmer (in blue)

Soul of the Earth book launch, Waterstones, Bath, Earth Day 2009 – organised by Kevan Manwaring, including the much-missed Mary Palmer (3rd from left), plus bards from Bath, Stroud and Frome

In the summer of 1914 a group of friends gathered in a village in Gloucestershire to share poetry, ideas and support each others’ creative journeys – they were Lascelles Abercrombie, Wilfrid Gibson, John Drinkwater, Edward Thomas, Robert Frost, and Rupert Brooke and they became known as the Dymock Poets. The imminent First World War was to have a devastating effect on their coterie, but for a brief while the poets and their families enjoyed the fruits of creative fellowship. On their famous ‘walks-talking’, Frost and Thomas would range far over the fields and hills, discussing the intricacies of poetry and their lives. Around campfires and country cottage feasts the poets shared their poetry – washed down with plenty of cider – inspiring each other to write some of the best loved poetry in the English language: ‘Adlestrop’; ‘The Road Not Taken’; ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’; ‘The Soldier’ – many of which first saw print in their own self-published journal, New Numbers, produced in their homes, a literal cottage industry. The shadow of war reached to even this sleepily idyllic corner of England, and tore apart the Dymocks. Thomas and Brooke went to war and did not return; Drinkwater, Abercrombie and Gibson did their bit on the homefront; and Frost returned to America, where, with his reputation as a poet made by his friend and renowned critic, Thomas, went on to win the Pulitzer Prize no less than four times, reading at JFK’s inauguration and becoming known as ‘America’s beloved poet’ – and yet he never forget his time with the Dymocks and maintained his friendship with Thomas was the ‘the closest friend I ever had and I was the closest friend he ever had.’

I find the story of the Dymock Poets deeply moving and inspiring – enjoying some of that fellowship in the co-writing of a feature-length screenplay about them (with Terence James, former ITV news editor) over the last 4 years. I have been inspired by other similar creative fellowships – notably the Inklings (JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, Charles Williams, Owen Barfield, and others) who met every Tuesday lunchtime in a pub in Oxford to share their work-in-progress – including drafts of The Lord of the Rings and the Narnia books. I wrote a radio drama about their story – ‘The Rabbit Room’ – and that has resulted in a collaboration with a Stroud-based theatre company, Spaniel in the Works, who have performed it script-in-hand at their scratch theatre nights and recorded it for an audio CD.

Of course, there are other famous creative fellowships – the Bloomsberries (Virginia Woolf, TS Eliot, Ezra Pound, Brooke, et al), William Blake and the young Samuel Palmer; Rimbaud and Verlaine; George Sand, Chopin and Alfred de Musset; and in popular music, the perfect storm of Lennon and McCartney, Jagger and Richards, Page and Plant, and others.

Whatever the intricacies of these often volatile (but productive) liasons, what is the benefit to the modern writer?

Creative fellowships can offer mutual support; camaraderie; the creative buzz of sharing ideas and generating new ones; discussing theories and trends; experiencing and critiquing other creative works; a group identity and shared vision; a collective marketing presence which enables a bigger ‘pull’ and impact; and dear friends to share the highs and lows of one’s craft.

For ten years I ran a small press, Awen Publications, and I organised several successful book launch events and showcases – great evenings made more special because they are the culmination of a shared creative journey. By the time I handed over the reins Awen represented over thirty international authors on its lists – and I saw this as an artistic eco-system interpenetrating the wider communities in which the authors existed – cross-fertilising within the group, but also with the outer world, sharing out and drawing in inspiration (soil, water, and sunlight into oxygen). Such organic grassroots structures creates resilience in their communities – mutually empowered and sharing the load, we feel stronger. Our roots are deep – embedded in where we live, our love for our particular patch of Earth, our neighbourhood and local ‘scene’ – and our branches reach far, making creative connections.

Writers’ Cafes, writers’ networks (such as Literature Works, or the Gloucestershire Writers’ Network, co-ordinated by Rona Laycock), e-bulletins (e.g. Spoken/Written Newsletter, produced my Shane Wolfland), open mics, small press anthologies, lit-fest showcases, group book launches, and so forth, can help to facilitate these fellowships. If you lack one, and want one, then the best way is to start one – put the word out and see who comes out of the woodwork.

Here, in my neck of the woods I have recently created the Cotswold Word Centre, in collaboration with Hawkwood College, as an umbrella for all the wonderful word-based activity in the area – writing groups, book clubs, small presses, live lit performances, commissions, walks, etc.

And this summer I am co-organising a centenary symposium on the Dymock Poets, along with my friend and fellow poet, Jay Ramsay, celebrating Gloucestershire writers past and present. We wish to encourage creative responses to the works of the Dymocks, (who were writing in the shadow of the First World War); but more than just commemorate that vast tragedy, I wanted to focus on the creative response to conflict, and to the voices of those living in the area now – so we are not strangled by heritage, but have a conversation with it across time. It is respectful to honour the great writers of the past as long as it doesn’t turn the present into a museum, e.g. ‘Jane Austen’s Bath’. We can be inspired by the creative fellowships of the past in the stimulating connections we seek and make – helping us to survive and thrive in the modern world.

Copyright © Kevan Manwaring April 2014

Cotswold Word Centre: a platform for language, literacy and literature (based at Hawkwood College, Best Venue in the South-West, Spark Awards 2013) http://cotswoldwordcentre.wordpress.com/

The Golden Room: a celebration of writers of Gloucestershire past and present, takes place at the Subscription Rooms, Stroud, Saturday, 26th July. www.subscriptionrooms.org.uk

The Fascination of the Worm

Dracophilia...  My latest book - due from Compass Books soon!

Dracophilia…
My latest book – due from Compass Books soon!

Even today (despite the critics) you may find men not ignorant of tragic legend and history, who have heard of heroes and indeed seen them, who yet have been caught by the fascination of the worm.’ JRR Tolkien6

 

Twentieth Century Professor of English and novelist J.R.R. Tolkien, who perhaps more than any other single author has brought alive worlds of Fantasy in his vast Middle Earth sequence of stories, as a child ‘desired dragons with a profound desire’:

 

Of course, I in my timid body did not wish to have them in my neighbourhood. But the world that contained even the imagination of Fafnir was richer and more beautiful, at whatever the cost of peril.’7

 

If we read this as a yearning for Fantasy, (that is, the experience of such, as opposed to the genre – although we will dignify both with the capital in the hope that one will encourage the other) then I do not think he is alone in this, as the huge popularity of Fantasy in books, films and computer games prove. There seems to be an endless appetite for it: The Lord of the Rings, Dr Who, Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, TheTwilight Saga, Avengers Assemble, and no doubt more ‘franchises’ await to hit the big or little screen. Despite a distinctive post-9/11 trend for ‘real life stories’, gritty realism, and tales of hard luck and ‘winning through adversity’ (spawning shelves of ‘misery lit’; or ‘trauma memoir’) the world, it seems, is hungry for Story, especially of the fantastical kind.

Why is it so many seem to ‘desire dragons’, as Tolkien did? What purpose, if any, is there to Fantasy? Is it just make-believe for grown ups, or does it serve a more profound function? This brief excursion into Fantasyland endeavours to explore, if not answer, these questions, and perhaps the very act of asking questions – curiosity, or the quest for knowledge – is at the root of all this ultimately. The desire to know has led humankind from the cave to the moon. Wishing to know what lay over the next hill, and the next, beyond the borders of the familiar, over the sea, over the horizon – following the journey of the sun, our constant companion of consciousness, throughout the day, into the unconscious of night – this has driven humanity on, and fuelled most of its fantasies. The unknown provides a vacuum for the subconscious, for the Shadow, the Id, the other. We populate the night with our own.

And we probe the shadows with a thrill of fear and a desire to know.

Tolkien, in a witty reply to a letter in The Observer (16 January, 1938) signed by someone calling themselves ‘Habit’, requesting more background about ‘the name and inception of the intriguing hero of his book’, (The Hobbit, published 21 September1937) responded thus:

 

Sir, – I need no persuasion: I am as susceptible as a dragon to flattery, and would gladly show off my diamond waistcoat, and even discuss its sources, since the Habit (more inquisitive than the Hobbit) has not only professed to admire it, but has also asked where I got it from. But would not that be unfair to the research students? To save them trouble is to rob them of any excuse for existing.’8

 

Despite Tolkien’s claiming not to ‘remember anything about the name and inception of the hero’, he gave a typically conscientious and erudite reply. His letters show the fathomless quality of his learning (his scholar’s mind akin to the Mines of Moria) and provide a plethora of portals to explore – enough for a lifetime, and thus he has not robbed research students of their existence, but thrown a gauntlet down to ‘curious Hobbits’, who are intrigued by the mysterious origins of such wonders, in what smithies were they forged, and whether the alchemical secrets of the wordsmiths trade can be gleaned, used, and passed on.

I must disclose my own interest in this realm of the imagination – with my five-volume epic, The Windsmith Elegy9, I could be categorised as an author of Fantasy, although I prefer the term ‘Mythic Reality’ (for that is how it feels to me – more of which we will discuss later). As a writer of ‘Fantastical Fiction’ (as it once used to called) the genre, as a whole, holds an obvious appeal to me, but more so the mysterious impulse that drives us to write and read it, and beyond that, the act of creation itself.

The central thesis I would like to forward here is that the roots of Fantasy go deeper than sometimes the genre suggest – that there is more to it than mere ‘Sword and Sorcery’, and the endless rehashing of Tolkienesque tropes. What if Fantasy is not merely a form of escapism (although that in itself is not ‘wrong’), but a way of exploring imaginative possibilities?

In the purest expression of Fantasy, something more fundamental is at work. Could Imagination serve as a gateway to other realms, other possibilities – a kind of ‘Quantum TV’ – with different bandwidths showing glimpses of ‘that which does not exist, but could’, and sometimes does, in our imagination?

Many beginner writers who attempt to write Fantasy do not seem to understand the genre. They copy the shadows on the cave wall; without having a full gnosis of what drives their creation (as someone who has taught and assessed creative writing since 2003 I can wearily attest to this – although I am occasionally astounded by what my students produce). There is often a gulf between idea and execution, which is frustrating. It feels as though I am receiving a poor signal from a distant land.

The craft provides the Transatlantic cable, but I do not wish to lay it down here – many others have done that. Rather than simply provide a list of techniques, I believe it would be more useful (and better for the writer) to explore the ‘biology’ of Fantasy, and our motives for writing it.

  • Where does the impulse to write Fantasy come from?
  • What takes place in the act of writing, i.e. the creative process – specifically in the creation of works of Fantasy?
  • What benefits are there, if any, for the writer, as well as the reader?

And so I begin this essay with these questions in mind – and a sense of unknowing.

A quester, armed with his question, is a good place to start.

 

Copyright (c) Kevan Manwaring, 2013

[Extract from Desiring Dragons: Fantasy and the Writer’s Quest, published by Compass Books – contact them and order an advance copy now]

The Power of the Word

12-16 October

Kevan performs at the Bristol Story Cafe

It’s been a particularly rich ‘bardic week’.Wednesday night my friend Ola and I performed our show ‘Tales of the Desert, Desire and the Red Thread’ at the Bristol Story Cafe, held above the funky wholefood shop, La Ruca, in Bristol. I started things off with a bit of Rumi, then my Garden of Irem story, finishing with Phaethon and the Chariot of the Sun’, a Greek myth which explains how the deserts of the world were created. Ola then stepped up to the plate to regale us with the tale of the Woman who gave birth to the Moon – a story from her collection, ‘The Firekeeper’s Daughter’. Mine were inspired by my novel, The Burning Path. Escaping Bristol, we wended our way back to the genteel suburbs of Bath.

On Thursday I caught up with my friend and co-writer, Terry James. We listened back to the recording of the Dymock Poets Story read-thru – a week on. It was magical, hearing our words brought alive by the ‘company’. Lots of exciting emails have been whizzing back and forth recently about famous directors and actors who might become involved. Can’t say any more than that at present!

Friday night I treated my partner to a mystery night out – taking her to see the master storyteller Abbi Patrix and his talented percussionist partner Linda Edsjö at the Playhouse in Cheltenham – part of the mega Litfest on at the moment. A small entourage of us went over from Stroud, in Fiona’s ‘bardmobile’ – following the moon along the scenic Birdlip route. While climbing to our seats in the stalls I commented to an elderly lady heading in the same direction: ‘This literature lark keeps you fit!’ She replied ‘Nothing can keep me fit!’ It was AS Byatt. We got chatting about her new book Ragnarok – which she was talking about the following day. She was a charming lady – unpretentious and approachable; as was her fellow Booker Prize winner, Ben Okri, who also happened to be sitting in the same row as AS, two rows down from us. Afterwards, enjoying a post-show drink and discussion in the bar, I bumped into him on the way out. We shook hands and had a brief discussion about the wonderful show, which I called ‘Shamanic’. ‘The perfect word for it,’ he said. He asked my name, and what I did. He had a lovely graceful presence. Meeting two writers I admire in one night – I went home happy!

The next day I popped into town and enjoyed the atmosphere of market day – bumping into friends old and new on the High Street – feeling I am lucky to live in such a lovely, friendly place with a vibrant, creative community, stunning countryside and great pubs! Later, I paid a visit to my local, the Crown and Sceptre, joining the Saturday afternoon crowd watching the match. I supped my Budding in its mug and perused the papers – it’s one of those pubs where you can have a quiet read in the corner and no-one thinks you’re an alien with two heads. Along with their weekly nights of ‘stitch ‘n’ bitch’; Up the Workers Wednesdays; bikers & poker night, they also have the occasional arts event – eg a film show with live soundtrack or the up-and-coming book launch. I talked to the landlord Rodda about holding one their for my imminent book, Turning the Wheel.

That evening I went to the Lorca in England finale at Whiteway Colony Hall – which had links with the Spanish poet and his Civil War comrades in the Thirties. It took some finding along the dark backroads – the weird no man’s land that is the ‘Cheltenham triangle’. Eventually we pulled into the carpark in time to hear the jazz – Lorca’s poems set to music, against the backdrop of an impressionistic ‘Lorca-mentary’ made by a local film-maker. In the summer, a competition for the best Lorca poem in translation was held. Tonight the shortlisted poems were read out – by the entrants who could attend (one had come from Paris), or by local Rimbaud, Jeff Cloves, and the judges – two American poets, flown over especially for the event. The suitably international winner was announced (an Italian living in France). Another well known local poet, Philip Rush MCed the whole event in a witty and informative way – a cool school-teacher daddy-o. The rioja flowed as we hobnobbed with the crowd of poetry-lovers afterwards. It’s not often one goes to a bilingual poetry reading – and has a good night. The whole thing wasn’t so ‘worthy’ as to be dull – it had a slightly anarchic air to it. The archive footage of the Wall Street Crash and soup kitchen queues, the spectre of Fascism and the fopdoodle of the media made the whole thing eerily resonant. One could imagine Lorca being at home with the protesters around the world who took part in a global anti-austerity/corporate greed demos today. Power to the People!

And today – Sunday – there is the Stroud Short Story night at the SVA. Words galore! What a place to live!

Solstice Shenanigans

15-19 June

It’s been a busy few days, as everything seems to reach a crescendo towards the summer solstice on Tuesday.

Wednesday I did an interview with Kate Clark on BBC Radio Gloucestershire, promoting my novel, The Burning Path. Later, I participated in the Stroud Prose Group, workshopping a chapter from a brand new novel project (after 9 years of following Isambard in the Underworld, a refreshing change). Friday I took part in Stroud’s Story Cabaret at the Hall, Five Valleys Project. Special guests were musician Matt Sage, and Armenian storyteller Vergine Gulbenkian. I performed my new locally-inspired story, The Heavens. There were fine contributions from the floor, including my friend Ola, up from Bath.

Saturday I did my stint in the Spoken Word Assembly Rooms, recording folk who dropped by with poems for Stroud Out Loud! (SOL) the podcast I’m compiling with poet Adam Horovitz. In the afternoon I took part in a multi-media poetry workshop with members of Flash – a group of mainly Bristol-based performance poets performing later that evening in what used to be called The Space (in Stroud, things seemed to be named in such a way, eg The Field, The Hedge, The Shed :0). It was good to see something that was trying to push the envelope a little (between poetry, theatre, spoken word, 4-D art, etc) rather than playing it safe. A refreshing alternative to the Slam Slum.

Sunday morning I blatted over to picturesque Burford for my friend’s private view – William Balthazar Rose is exhibiting in the Brian Sinfield Gallery there for a couple of weeks. It was nice to catch up with him and his family and friends – a contingent of Bath folk rocked up in a pretty Cotswold town. It was a flying visit, as I had to get back for a gig that afternoon – as part of Salam, an exhibition of photographs from Fez taken by local artist Marion Fawlk. Marion had invited me to perform some stories on a Sufi-theme. It was a very stylish event with a Moroccan oud player creating a magical ambience. A good crowd turned out for a Sunday afternoon – alot has been on over the last few days in the SITE festival, and its easy to get festival fatigue. I was starting to flag by Monday, but I had to host the Garden of Awen’s solstice extravaganza at the Star Anise Cafe. I summoned some sunshine from somewhere and made my way there in the pouring rain. We did intend to hold it in the courtyard but in the end we were crammed into the backroom. We certainly had a full house, with standing room only. We had a fabulous line of local and regional spoken word artists, including Helen Moore, Jay Ramsay, Rick Vick, Dawn Gorman, Karola Renard, Kirsty Hartsiotis and floor spots from the audience. Jehanne, Rob and Will got us all to sing along to some heartfelt songs with their band Earthwards – I offered quotations about light in the links – and the awen really flowed, like ‘liquid sunshine’ as Helen suggested. We certainly saluted the sun – and if it wasn’t up there in the sky, it certainly was in our hearts.