Tag Archives: Kevan Manwaring

A Wayfaring Stranger: Interview & Reading with Kevan Manwaring

Jack Ratcliff, mules and small covered wagon, bw photo Pritchett

Listen to a 30 minute interview and reading with Rona Laycock, on The Writers’ Room, Corinium Radio, about my new novel, The Knowing – A Fantasy. Meet Sideways Brannelly, a trader between worlds, and hear about the research that went into the novel, my other books, my teaching, and up-and-coming events…

https://www.dropbox.com/s/f1ho0haidu94e8p/044%20-%20The%20Writers%20Room%20Transmission%2027-03-17.mp3?dl=0

http://www.coriniumradio.co.uk/

 

 

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Walking the Talk: Practice-Based Research

Chantelle Smith and Kevan Manwaring - The Bonnie Road. Photograph by Simon Fairbourn, 2014

Chantelle Smith and Kevan Manwaring – The Bonnie Road. Photograph by Simon Fairbourn, 2014

As part of my Creative Writing PhD at the University of Leicester – a novel-based project dramatizing the diasporic translocation of folk traditions from the Scottish Lowlands to the Southern Appalachians – I have explored various forms of practice-based research. Chief among these is of course the writing of the novel itself. A recent QAA Benchmark Statement on Creative Writing[1] validates the notion of writing-as-research, when it states: ‘Original creative work is the essence of research in this practice-led subject’ (4.6). Of course, research may also explore the critical discourses around the subject, the reader experience, creative process, publishing, performance and multi-media platforms. In the first of a series of three seminars hosted by the Open University’s research group, ‘Contemporary Cultures of Writing’ at Senate House, London (which I attended on Tuesday, 3rd November) research students and staff explore issues around ‘Creative Writing Research’[2]  What constitutes research and how it can be validated within the rigours of a PhD continue to be explored and expanded by those working within academe. The pressure of having a thesis rubber-stamped and passing one’s viva means institutional validation of ‘proper’ research is all too critical, and maybe constraining the often instinctive, protean and multifarious methodologies of writers. Often we ‘do it anyway’, writing blind, in the white heat of the moment, following hunches, gut feelings, flashes of inspiration, synaptic tight-rope walks, and tangential cat-a-loops … then back-extrapolate the ‘whys’ and the ‘wherefores’ afterwards, trying to sound intelligent and conscious in our creative processes.

Nevertheless, some activity is informed and intentional. As part of my novel project, I decided that a spoken word performance dramatizing some of the Border Ballads would be an interesting way to bring alive my research, widen its accessibility, and get diverse audience responses. And it would also be great fun. And so with my partner Chantelle Smith, a folk-singer, we devised a show based upon our trips to the Scottish Borders – in the summer of 2014 we walked Hadrian’s Wall from coast to coast, then pushed beyond the current Border, visiting ballad sites. Drawing upon this shared experience we devised ‘The Bonnie Road: tales and ballads of the Borders’, a storytelling and acoustic music show bringing alive the ballads of Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer – whose thematic symmetry I find fascinating. Initially last forty minutes we premiered it at the SEED Festival, Hawkwood College, in July 2015; and have performed it at three other events since, expanding it to a full hour with extra songs and an additional folk tale. The response has been favourable. One audience member commented afterwards: ‘Loved the interplay of word, music, choreography, and the unexpected humorous asides – and also the landscape of folkloric detail.’[3] I have also performed a solo version of the show in the States, on a recent field trip. The show’s strength, however, is in the dynamic created between my partner and I on stage, and the alternation between modes of narrative: primarily storytelling (myself) and ballad (Chantelle). Harp, shruti box, bodhran and bells are also used to create ambience and weave the spell. The shift in register between my (spoken) voice and my partner’s (sung) voice modulates the aural experience and demands of the listener. We shift in and out of character, not fully acting, not fully ourselves, but inhabiting a third space, and breaking the fourth on occasion with the odd humorous aside, responding to the actuality of the performance space – noises off, a mobile phone, a passing siren, etc. The show inhabits a liminal space – in terms of its location/s (the Scottish Borders; Elfhame); its gender politics; the creative tension between the magical and the mundane; the cross-fertilisation of art-forms; the chancy terrain of national identity (Anglo-Scottish fault-lines); and in its rich symbolism. In many ways liminality is the key note of both ballads – both physical (hillside; tree; stream; crossroads; well) and temporal (twilight; midnight; Halloween) motifs crop up, often echoed in each ballad. In ‘Thomas the Rhymer’ it is the male protagonist who is our ‘Everyman’ – it is he who undergoes initiation, gaining the gift of prophecy (‘the Tongue that Cannot Lie’) and the appellation of ‘True Thomas’. In ‘Tam Lin’ it is Janet of Carterhaugh who facilitates listener identification – it is her Third Person Limited Omniscient perspective that we follow – as she undergoes her own rite-of-passage into woman-hood and self-actualisation. Both Thomas and Janet experience a change of status, brought about by what RJ Stewart has termed the ‘Underworld Initiation’. The Queen of Elfland is the catalyst behind both – more directly in ‘Thomas the Rhymer’ and in a ‘behind-the-scenes’ Morgana Le Fay-way in ‘Tam Lin’. She is ostensibly the same queen but seems very different in each ballad: in ‘Thomas the Rhymer’ she appears as the Muse figure, a Gravesian ‘white goddess’ on her white horse, with her bells and spells. In ‘Tam Lin’ she is a Kali-figure, goddess of vengeance, cursing Tam Lin for his ‘faithlessness’ – terrifying and implacable. As the male performer in the show, I naturally channel Thomas and Tam Lin; my partner similarly channels the light-and-dark queens and the feisty Janet. The experience is visceral and deepens our understanding – and compassion – for all aspects. They seem part of a spectrum. I have devised, based upon this practice-led insight, a workshop and accompanying diagram I call ‘The Wheel of Transformation’, which I field-tested at both a pagan camp in Britain and in America. In both cases I was impressed and surprised by the results. Participants role-played scenes from the ballads – and, without much prompting, took on characters of different genders, ages and backgrounds to their own. It seemed liberating to all involve – that we could move around the ‘wheel’ and inhabit any of the roles, fith-fathing like Tam Lin in Janet’s arms. All participants managed to find something to relate in the ballads – there are universal patterns being played out in them; akin to the Orphic (Orpheus and Eurydice ) or Eleusinian (Demeter and Persephone) Mysteries, in terms of their ritual and archetypal. It would seem the ‘Fair Maiden’ (the anima; or untainted soul seeking the grit of experience) is perennially being lured to the Underworld by some dark, charismatic Lord – where the chymical wedding occurs, and the nigredo of the soul’s dark night leads to the gold of transformational rebirth. For self-knowledge to be achieved, the Underworld journey must be taken and the Shadow embraced.

And so the journey begins. The wheel of transformation keeps turning and these pliant ballads are re-invented in new forms with each performer, each performance. The fith-fath does not threaten their integrity, only strengthens it. Their mutability is part of their resilience, their enduring appeal. This practice-based research has deepened my understanding of them – and consequently some of the core themes underlying my novel, underpinning its mythic resonance. It gives the creative/critical endeavour of my research a breadth and groundedness, making it feel less abstract, more embodied and owned. I walk my talk, and the material becomes a living reality.

Kevan Manwaring 7 November 2015

https://taleandsong.wordpress.com/

http://www.chantellesmith.co.uk/

[1] http://www.qaa.ac.uk/publications/information-and-guidance/publication/?PubID=2986#.Vj4rmbfhDnB

[2] http://www.open.ac.uk/arts/research/contemporary-cultures-of-writing/events/creative-writing-research-investigation

[3] Anthony Nanson, SEED Festival, 2015

The Road Not Taken

The Road Not Taken performed by Spaniel in the Works, Theatre at Mr Twitchetts, Stroud, 11 July 2014

The Road Not Taken performed by Spaniel in the Works, Theatre at Mr Twitchetts, Stroud, 11 July 2014

Friday night saw the premiere of a play about the Dymock Poets (‘The Road Not Taken’) I co-wrote with Terry James from Bath. It was designed as a feature-length screenplay, and so it was interesting to see how it was going to work on stage, in a script-in-hand performance by members of Spaniel in the Works. It was performed as part of their monthly scratch theatre nights at Mr Twitchetts, the Subscription Rooms, Stroud. Although it was (sadly) poorly attended their players were true professionals and soldiered on – delivering a moving ensemble effort. Due to low numbers, the cast had to double or even triple up in roles – but they did this with aplomb. John Bassett was a great Robert Frost, Swithin Fry a superbly dry Edward Thomas, and the rest of the cast brought to life Eleanor Farjeon, Helen Thomas, Bott the gamekeeper, Rupert Brookes, and others. It was rivetting to see my words come to life before my eyes.

I hope this production gets seen again – because it deserves it.

It was intended (in part) as a warm-up event for The Golden Room centenary symposium and celebration of modern Gloucestershire writers, planned for Saturday 26th July, in the same venue. That plans to be a very special gathering – with a superb programme – and we hope we get a decent turn out for it. The theme of the event is ‘creative fellowship’ and we hope it will be in that spirit that you all join us … in the Golden Room.

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/

A Feast of Bards

Stroud Story Supper – 28 April

Samuel Breton Troubadour entertains the audience at the Stroud Story Supper

Samuel Breton Troubadour entertains the audience at the Stroud Story Supper

Last Friday saw a packed Black Book Cafe for quite probably our best Story Supper yet. Local storyteller Fiona Eadie was on hosting duties and she did an excellent job. I had invited regional story clubs to come and have a ‘guest night’ – and as a result we had not only a couple from the Mendip Circle, but also three from the Malvern Storytellers, and one from the Cardiff Story Circle! So, a bardic cornucopia! And if that wasn’t enough (on top of our local coterie of excellent wordsmiths) we also had a Breton troubadour, Samuel Allo, passing through – he rocked up with his psaltry, antlers (!) and whistle just in time, having thumbed it from West Wales! He’d been hitchhiking around Britain and Ireland since early January – singing, or telling (or both) for his supper. When his turn came, he told a story from his grandfather about the Corrigans – the indigenous fairy folk of his homeland, who are just as mischievous as the British variety. Luckily he told us how to outwit them (with riddles). To make him feel at home Fiona performed a mermaid tale from Jersey. We had fine contributions from the Mendips, Malverns and Cardiff – and Wroughton (a song from Chantelle). The standard was high and the atmosphere was most congenial. Although I didn’t get to do a turn – as they ran out of time – I sat back and enjoyed the satisfaction of seeing the Supper really flourish. The next one is 25 April and we have special guests, the Newent Circle, coming along, so should be a great evening.

‘it was lovely coming to the storytelling supper last week. it’s a lovely venue and a lovely event.’ Kate

‘Good turnout, good stories and good atmosphere.’ Colin

 

Stroud Story Supper is a Cotswold Word Centre initiative