Tag Archives: Desiring Dragons

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/

Dragon Words

philomena - chalofrd screen on the hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DETAILS

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

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