For creative writers and music lovers: Two intriguing day schools in Canterbury

Tango from Mirabai (Barry Seaman)

Award winning Kent composer Barry Seaman offers an innovative day school series that will appeal to writers, dramatists, music and film lovers, and across the creative spectrum.

Music for Writers 1, on the 25 October, is called Love, War and Trains, and explores the connections and relationships between poetry, verse drama and music. This Day School will be of interest to creative writers and music enthusiasts, and anyone intrigued by the way that words and music can be combined to create drama and emotion. The vivid and imaginative use of language is discussed using a variety of dramatic works that include Samuel Beckett’s Words and Music, and atmospheric verse dramas for radio that include Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas and the extraordinary Love, War and Trains by celebrated author Ian McMillan. Ways that writers, poets and composers work together will be studied and celebrated.

On November 22, Music for Writers 2: Emotion, Music and Moving Image looks at the ways music can be used to express and convey emotion and atmosphere when combined with the medium of film. What is the relationship between sound and image? Using case studies that include films such as The Go-Between (Joseph Losey), Last Year in Marienbad (Alain Resnais) and Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca and Psycho, these issues will be explored and examined.

Both Day Schools, which run from 10am, – 4pm, cost just £29.50.

To book please contact April Doyle via email to education.communityarts@canterbury.ac.uk or phone 01227 863451.

For more info go to http://www.canterbury.ac.uk/community-arts-education/day-schools/autumn-2014.asp

Cybermen and Clay: objects and emotions by Jane Ayres

three
Three: photo by Jane Ayres

 

We invest objects with emotional significance.  Although they are simply things, they can represent something that connects us to a person or a time in the past.  I have used objects as the starting point for creative writing exercises, and they can be useful for brainstorming ideas.

I try not to accumulate too much clutter (!) and only keep the few items that are precious, always mindful of the day when I’m no longer here and whoever is left behind will have the unenviable job of sorting out my stuff!  But on a windowsill, I keep a few “ornaments”.

My cyberman model/toy – with moving parts!  I’m a Dr Who fan and my favourite (and scariest) monsters were always the cyber men.  When I was a child, I would hide behind the sofa when they came on TV.  Something about the clanging metal, the unforgiving nature of a machine, the hollow empty space for eyes sockets – no emotion or humanity –  gave me the creeps.  The stuff of nightmares.  However my more recent developing interest in cyber technology, sci fi, robotics, and neuroscience gives me a different viewpoint. How many of us who grew up in the 70s wanted the special abilities of the Six Million Dollar Man or the Bionic Woman? (Without the pain and injuries, of course!).  Machines and technology have limitless power to transform lives for good.  I sometimes wonder, when experiencing heartache and loss, how it would be to feel absent of emotion.  A concept that is hard to imagine.

The Golem – My brother brought this back from a trip to Prague.  According to good old Wiki, “in Jewish folklore, a golem is an animated anthropomorphic being, created entirely from inanimate matter.”  The most famous golem narrative involves Judah Loew ben Bezalel, the late 16th century rabbi of Prague, who reportedly created a golem out of clay from the banks of the Vltava river, and brought it to life through rituals and Hebrew incantations to defend and protect the Prague ghetto from anti-Semitic attacks and pogroms. There are a whole host of legends and literature around the golem.  My first ever encounter with the concept was a 1966 British/American film entitled It!, starring Roddy McDowall, who was at that time one of my favourite actors. I was about seven years old when I saw it.

This model is a symbol of my fascination with creation.  I’m also intrigued the golem was associated with fighting oppression, which in turn connects to my loathing of bullying in any form. (See my post http://janeayres.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/which-fictional-character-would-you.html)

My clay horse.  And, strangely, in writing this I see there is a link between my clay horse, Ernie, and my golem – that they were both born from clay, an amazing substance which resonates with spiritual significance. I made Ernie at school in art class when I was a child.  I enjoyed shaping the clay and using my hands to create the shape.  I couldn’t do the legs however – they kept snapping off – so decided to make a horse lying down to obviate that problem! His tail also fell off, so he became a cob.  Ernie reflects my love of horses since childhood, and because I couldn’t have a real horse, I kept creating them – in my stories, my drawings and in plasticine and clay. When I left home at sixteen, Ernie was still living on my mum’s windowsill, where he stayed for many years.  After she passed away, I brought him home with me and he took up residence on my windowsill.  Ernie evokes a range of childhood memories and happy thoughts of mum.

I love the way that, unknowingly, all three of these objects are linked by common threads and themes; connections which I had never noticed before.

Creation.  New life.  Changed reality.  Words we could also use to describe what we produce when we write.  Wonderfully strange.

Related posts:

https://creatabot.co.uk/2013/09/28/we-are-stories-by-jane-ayres/

https://creatabot.co.uk/2012/11/05/the-art-of-wish-fulfilment-by-jane-ayres/

http://www.janeayres.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/my-bookshelf-and-precious-memories.html

To find out more about Jane’s creative story, visit her blog www.janeayres.blogspot.co.uk

Her recent e-book, Joyrider, is available from Amazon

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Joyrider-ebook/dp/B00F7V247Y

We are stories by Jane Ayres

photo by Roger Hyland

The concept of stories, storytelling and narrative fascinates me and is a constant source of discovery.  I’ve also explored the idea of writing as therapy for depression and grief.  In the search to understand my personal grieving process I have explored fiction and non-fiction, and recently read How we Grieve: Relearning the world by Thomas Attig (OUP, 1996) which suggests a way of thinking that I had not previously considered and which makes perfect sense – especially if you are a writer. In discussing how we relearn our relationships with the loved ones we have lost, the author suggests:

“As we come to know and love others, we come to know and cherish the stories of the lives they live…..if we have known and loved well, the stories become interwoven with the fabric of the stories of our lives.  As we relearn our relationship with the deceased, we continue the interweaving process.  In all of our relationships we have unique and privileged access to parts of the full stories of others’ lives. Our knowledge and love of the stories remain after the loss of the presence of the deceased………as with any good stories, but especially with the intricate stories of human biography, if we read them but once we fail to captures the richness and fullness of the tales. As we review and retell stories repeatedly, they return ever new and unexpected rewards each time……we can return to the stories deliberately for specific purposes (to refresh our memory or understanding or to seek new understanding) or as events in our lives remind us of them and of their continuing importance to us.”

I found this deeply moving.

We are all stories.  Living, breathing, works in progress. Whether tragically short or on a more epic scale, our lives are uniquely individual stories.  They may encompass adventure, romance, horror, joy, loss, humour and fantasy.  But however they differ, they all have in common one aspect: mystery. The unknown.  We don’t know how the story will end.  But would we want to?

Related posts:

https://creatabot.co.uk/2012/07/19/stories-we-tell-ourselves-by-jane-ayres/

https://creatabot.co.uk/2012/12/21/play-dream-write-by-jane-ayres/

To find out more about Jane’s creative story, visit her blog www.janeayres.blogspot.co.uk

Her recent e-book, Joyrider, is available from Amazon

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Joyrider-ebook/dp/B00F7V247Y

The Vision and the Voice: Part 2 by Jane Ayres

greentreesPhoto by Roger Hyland

How do you see the world? Is it ugly, beautiful, evil, good, exciting, depressing? A mixture?  None of these?  The mind’s eye is a strange expression. According to wiki (the fount of all knowledge!) it refers to the human ability for visualization using the imagination.

When you look at an object, or a place, do you see what is there – or beyond this? Can you see what it means, or meant; its place in history?  Does it evoke the past?

Recently, I spent an absorbing few hours catching up on programmes I recorded on Sky Arts (a brilliant source of material) which began with a film about my favourite artist Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) the Dutch pioneer of abstract art. Mondrian is my favourite artist. He sought through his work to find essence and truth using horizontal and vertical lines, to create a new kind of beauty through geometry. His art is about structure, distillation, order and emotional connection and he wanted his art to be part of a greater whole. Not surprisingly he saw architecture as living art.  On arrival in New York in 1940 he commented, “They told me New York was a hellish place, where you grew old before your time and gangsters made the law. That may well be true. But that is not the New York I saw, the one I loved and thought of as my own.”  He saw beauty in the lights, the sounds, the skyscrapers and the vibrancy. The film, called Dans L’Atelier de Mondrian (in the studio of Mondrian) shows the artist’s studio as a working art installation and moves me to tears every time I see it. Mondrian lived in poverty most of his austere life and did not receive critical recognition until he was in seventies. (A familiar story for so many creatives, regrettably).

The next film was a documentary called Hitchcock on Grierson, which offered further insights into the ways other creatives have seen the world. It’s always interesting to see what one film director thinks of another and how he was influenced. I admire much of Hitchcock’s work but knew little about Dr John Grierson, who I discovered was a prolific, influential and pioneering Scottish film director and producer (1898-1972) who used documentary to express his distinctive way of seeing the world, utilising stunning shots to find patterns in objects not usually considered art, such as scaffolding and cranes, and seeing beauty and meaning in geometric shapes and structures and feats of engineering. It reminded me of Mondrian, and also the French composer (and one of my favourites) Edgard Varese (1883-1965) a visionary who had been dreaming of new sounds and electronic music a generation before it was technically possible, and whose astonishing blocks of dissonant sound are incredibly beautiful. Listening to his music, it is not surprising to learn of his fascination with architectural structures.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E8FcxVKIAwo  extract from Octandre by Edgard Varese

Reflecting on the way that these contrasting but connected artists saw the world, I was also reminded of doing art classes at school, and learning about seeing the light and shade in an object like a pot or a piece of cutlery. For a long time, I just didn’t get this. I couldn’t see it.  Then, one day, I did and it was like a revelation which has never left me.  Like being let in on a wonderful secret.

Finally, I watched a deeply moving and hauntingly beautiful film called The Way of the Morrishttp://www.wayofthemorris.com/

Written and presented by Tim Plester (who was also co-producer and co-director) it is a personal, heartfelt journey, both physical and spiritual. Every shot was like a painting or photograph, with amazing lighting and stunning landscapes. Subtlely observed, like Grierson, this film used documentary to convey something profound about community, ritual, and the human soul, and what tradition and shared history can mean to us.

To see beauty is a gift. I’m a natural pessimist.  I get angry about injustice and passionate about causes I believe in. But I can get emotional about beautiful landscapes and wild birds; about music, art, film, and literature.

In the 1940s, Mondrian wrote: “Art today is condemned to a separate existence, for present day life is essentially tragic.  But in some distant future, art and life will be one.”

How do you see the world? Consonant or dissonant? Can you find beauty easily? And has your view changed over the years?

Links:

https://creatabot.co.uk/2013/08/13/the-vision-and-the-voice-part-1-by-jane-ayres/

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Piet-Mondrian-Mondrians-Studio-DVD/dp/B004754TF6/ref=sr_1_1?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1374505365&sr=1-1&keywords=mondrian

http://go.sky.com/vod/content/SKYENTERTAINMENT/content/videoId/718a084b7c0ea310VgnVCM1000000b43150a________/content/default/videoDetailsPage.do

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind’s_eye

http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/198800.html

http://www.pietmondrian.com/

http://www.discogs.com/artist/Edgard+Var%C3%A8se

To find out more about Jane’s writing and publishing experiences, visit her blog www.janeayres.blogspot.co.uk

Her recent e-book, Beware of the Horse, is available from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Beware-of-the-Horse-ebook/dp/B00BEJTDUE/

The Vision and the Voice: Part 1 by Jane Ayres

Photo by Roger Hyland
Photo by Roger Hyland

If I admire a writer, it will be for two reasons.  Firstly, their vision and the ideas expressed and explored.  I came to sci-fi late in life but I am astonished by, and drawn to, visionaries such as Asimov and Philip K. Dick and their prophecies.  Secondly, I am attracted to elements of style, structure and craft.  Sarah Waters, Lydia Davis, Mark Haddon, Frank Cottrell Boyce are wonderful examples.  You don’t always find vision and execution in the same piece of work but when you do, it is sheer joy.

Most writing courses and manuals will talk about the way a writer has to find their “voice”, and for some writers, I imagine this might be a natural process; instinctive and deeply embedded.

I’ve been writing for nearly 40 years, been regularly published – even had a bestseller – but still don’t feel like I’ve found my voice.  Maybe I never will.  Maybe I don’t have one.  Or maybe I’m afraid to let it loose.

Reading through some of my older work, I can see that my writing style has changed and, hopefully, improved.  But I don’t think I have a style that is distinctly “me.”

When I was in my twenties, I trained for 8 years to be a classical singer, and I enjoyed singing, but never had the dedication to pursue it as a career – nor the talent.  And crippling nerves made performing a struggle.  So I gave up.

Recently, after a twenty year gap, I had a singing lesson again.  I loved it.  Maybe, all these years of different life experiences – pain and joy – will help me to find my voice.

Singers express their art through a physical means, drawn from their breath, their essence, their life force.   They create their own sound, externalised from nothing, from within.  The way a writer creates something from nothing, by plundering the imagination.

A writer has to find that inner voice, that essence, and make it tangible through the choice of words and the patterns they create.  But more than that, a writer must reveal what makes she or he unique as a human being and give it form.

It is a mysterious process, this fusion of vision and voice.  A fluid, reactive journey of discovery – and it requires honesty and guts.

And how we see the world plays a major role, which I will explore in Part 2.

Have you found your voice?

To find out more about Jane’s writing and publishing experiences, visit her blog www.janeayres.blogspot.co.uk

Her recent e-book, Beware of the Horse, is available from Amazon.

The Value Triangle and measuring the value of culture by Jane Ayres

P1030561The Big Cheese  (Photo by Jane Ayres)

Earlier in the month I attended a conference about using the arts to regenerate East Kent coastal towns, a topic dear to my heart, after spending 4 years as Marketing and Outreach Co-ordinator for University Centre Folkestone (which, sadly, is no more).  Listening to the speakers made me realise that I was still angry and upset about the loss of UCF (and I did make my feelings public, and then had a bit of a rant in the ladies loos afterwards!).  However, I learned a lot from the conference, and one of the speakers, when discussing the way that the arts and culture are measured and valued, referred to a concept called The Value Triangle, which I had not heard of before.

The phrase, it appears, originates from John Holden, an associate at the independent think tank Demos and a visiting professor at City University, London, who has been involved in numerous major projects with the cultural sector ranging across heritage, libraries, music, museums, the performing arts and the moving image.  We were shown a You Tube clip taken from the PARTicipate Conference in Belfast, which questioned and explored how the value of culture and arts impacts on the regeneration of Belfast. John Holden describes models of cultural value, and the value triangle of intrinsic, instrumental and institutional value. He then went on to discuss social return on investment and measuring change.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2QPHapOlSI

Having previously written a post for Creatabot on valuing art https://creatabot.co.uk/2013/05/12/twenty-dollars-worth-of-art-please-by-jane-ayres/ I found this quite fascinating.

The topic is one I will doubtless continue to explore.  The relationship between artists, and how they value themselves and are valued by others, is an important issue, especially when arts council budgets continue to be cut and so many are struggling to survive.

I had my first short story published in a UK magazine at the age of 14. I got £10 and will never forget how it felt to have earned what seemed a lot of dosh for something I had enjoyed producing.  This was 1974 and normally I would have needed to work for 9 hours washing up and waiting on tables in my cousin’s café to earn that much (My Saturday job). No wonder the life of a writer seemed a glamorous option!  Oh, how naïve I was….

Other links:

http://www.belfastcity.gov.uk/culture/participate.asp

To find out more about Jane’s writing and publishing experiences, go to her blog www.janeayres.blogspot.co.uk

Her recent e-book, Beware of the Horse, is available from Amazon.

“Twenty dollars worth of art, please.” By Jane Ayres

photo credit Jane Ayres
photo credit Jane Ayres

Growing up in the 60s and 70s it was a treat after school to stop by the corner shop and buy a penny’s worth of sweets.  Lemon bonbons were my favourite.  They were scooped out of the huge jar and carefully weighed out, measured to the value of a penny and then placed in a paper bag.

Fast forward around 40 years.  I’m a big fan of the US TV series Parks and Recreation, a wonderfully observed, funny, warm character comedy  which centres around the employees of the parks and recreation department in the fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana.   Season 2, currently on BBC 4, featured an episode in which office staff were invited to produce a design for a mural contest. Declaring he has no interest or talent in art, the seemingly shallow character called Tom decides to cheat and approaches a professional designer to do the work for him. Believing art to be simply another commodity, he requests “20 dollars worth of art”. I laughed out loud at this. (The irony is that he later falls in love with the abstract work produced, forming a deep emotional connection with his piece of art).

It got me thinking about how we measure the creative process in monetary terms.  How do we /can we value art?  And our time as creative producers?  I wonder how many artists have had clients asking how much art they can get for £10? £100? £1000?  Interestingly, commission guidelines for composers are often based on cost per minute of music, and writers can be paid per word for articles and features.

My e-books are priced between £1.95 – £3.98. Many e-books cost just 99p.  They could have taken 6 months or several years of work to produce.  What else can you get for £1.95?  Not even a cappuccino.  Is my latest book worth less than that?

Pricing and charging is a tricky arena.  Especially since creatives often do a lot of work gratis (and are often expected to do stuff for free).  I’ve done plenty for free – sometimes willingly and happily if I know that funding was a problem, other times not so much.  What is my time worth?  If no-one pays me is my time worthless? Would you ever assume that a plumber or mechanic or solicitor will work for free?

The arts make money. A recent report in the Guardian highlighted the fact that, “Analysis by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) shows that the arts budget accounts for less than 0.1% of public spending, yet it makes up 0.4% of the nation’s GDP.

The report is published amid fears that the arts will take another big hit when George Osborne announces his spending review in June.”  (Click link below to read the article).

We are all consumers.  But, as a creative, how do you value your time?  And that of other creative producers?

Links: http://www.guardian.co.uk/tv-and-radio/tvandradioblog/2012/nov/22/parks-and-recreation-bbc4

http://www.impulse-music.co.uk/commission_fees.htm

http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2013/may/07/arts-worth-millions-uk-economy?goback=%2Egde_4148866_member_238627525

Related posts:

http://janeayres.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/is-book-simply-commodity-should-you-be.html

Every picture tells a story and every story paints a picture – by Jane Ayres

Beware of the Horse 4 (1)
Klaus Hartleben

We are drawn to images (excuse the pun!). People respond more readily to images than words.  They have a more immediate impact on the emotions.  They transcend language and literacy.

As writers, we are using words to create the images we want to evoke, the internal cinematic experience.

A bookshop (or Amazon page) provides a rich gallery of myriad images from which we can make a selection.  If we are attracted to the book cover, we pick up (or click on) the book.  Then we read some words – the book blurb – before making a decision on whether to sample more words.

The importance of the cover image cannot be overestimated.  Somehow, it has to capture the flavour, the essence, of the story within a relatively small space frame.  I wonder if designers realise the major factor they play in the initial success of a new book.

I love working with a designer and am thrilled with the images Medway-based Klaus Hartleben has produced for my book covers.  The internet has also brought me into contact with some wonderful artists and illustrators I would never otherwise have met, and in 2013 I hope to commission some original illustrations as part of the design, which is really exciting.

The Book Designer invites entries for its monthly e-book cover design awards and I would urge any indie authors and designers to submit work for feedback.  You get to see a range of diverse designs which is inspiring and stimulating.

http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2012/12/e-book-cover-design-awards-november-2012/

Interesting how much I favour clean lines, bold powerful images, and neat uncluttered designs, yet in real life I’m messy and untidy.  Or maybe that’s why I appreciate clarity in art!  The psychology of what attracts us and the reasoning behind it is endlessly fascinating.

To find out more about Jane’s publishing experiences, go to her blog www.janeayres.blogspot.co.uk

Her recent e-book, Beware of the Horse, is available from Amazon.

Writing, therapy and positive outcomes by Jane Ayres

photo by Jane Ayres
photo by Jane Ayres

When I was younger, writing poetry which described and explored my state of mind during major depression may have saved me from a nervous breakdown.  Artists and writers can, and do,  use their art as a form of self-therapy. Reflective writing with a purpose, intentional or otherwise.

Writing is how I express myself.  I can struggle with words when I speak.  Writing everything down first provides the chance to ensure clarity.  I’ve been doing it all my life.  Fiction, non-fiction, copy-writing, blogging, emails, to do lists……So why am denying myself this proven therapeutic tool now? When I am still coming to terms with losing both my parents to pancreatic cancer in the space of 6 months. Burying the grief, the profound, deep sadness. The anger.  Why do I feel uncomfortable writing about it?

I don’t have children of my own.  Years ago, my maternal instincts found an outlet through caring for a special, adored young cat and when I lost him, I channelled my grief and helplessness into volunteering and fundraising for the Cats Protection League.  Eventually I was able to write about it. Over the past year, I’ve raised funds and tried to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer.  When I lose loved ones, I have a desperate need to find a positive outcome from all the tragedy.  It’s a useful way of focussing creative energy.

There is currently a high profile media campaign running which promotes the importance of cancer research.  What it doesn’t say is that not all cancers are equal.  To quote from the Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund:

“Pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate of all cancers – just 3% of those diagnosed survive for five years. It is also the only cancer that has seen no improvement in this figure over the last 40 years.

Overall, half of all those diagnosed with a cancer now survive for five years or more. For many cancers, five year survival rates have increased hugely since the 1970s. For breast cancer – where large amounts have been spent on research – five year survival rates have increased from 50% to 80%.

Yet despite its high death rate and lack of improvement in chances of survival, pancreatic cancer attracts little research funding in comparison with many other cancers.”

Although I’m not yet ready to write about my feelings,   I’m glad that I can use what I write as a tool to raise awareness of issues that concern me which relate to my bereavement.  So if this results in even one reader making a donation to, or getting involved with, these charities, then the words have done their job.

Links:  http://pancreaticcanceraction.org/    http://www.pcrf.org.uk/

On therapeutic writing:  http://www.lapidus.org.uk/about.php

Jane’s recent e-book, Coming Home, is available from Amazon, with all author royalties going to the charity Cats Protection.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00AGZV9WM

www.janeayres.blogspot.co.uk

Play, dream, write by Jane Ayres

IMG00249-20121028-1209
photo by Jane Ayres

On the bus to Tunbridge Wells today I became aware of a dad with his toddler sitting at the front of the upper deck, both father and son playing at being bus drivers, with their pretend steering wheels and pretend brakes, laughing and shrieking.  It made me smile and reminded me of my own childhood and the way that we create our own stories and roles through play.

We can become anyone. We can do anything.  Our imagination enables us to explore new worlds.

One of my favourite toys when I was a child comprised of a host of plastic farm animals. My model farm provided me with hours of fun. I made up stories and adventures for the world I had created, and my imagination enabled me to become the tiny plastic figure with pigtails and jodhpurs with the cute Shetland pony. I made choices about what happened to my characters and landscapes, controlling their destinies in a way that isn’t possible in reality.  Like being a storyteller.  And I thought of what playing had in common with writing and my reasons for writing, for creating stories.  I sometimes wonder where this need comes from, why engaging our imaginations is so important.

I used to daydream a great deal as a child. It was all practice for writing my stories. I’m still practising.

This is my last post of 2012 for Creatabot – here’s to a creative 2013!

To find out more about Jane’s publishing experiences, go to her blog www.janeayres.blogspot.co.uk

Her trilogy of Matty Horse and Pony Adventures books for pre-teens and teens (and nostalgic older readers) are available for kindle on Amazon.co.uk. All profits from these stories are going to Redwings Horse Sanctuary. 

For the journey by Jane Ayres

design Klaus Harteben
design Klaus Hartleben

So many great stories are about literal or spiritual journeys, in which the protagonist is changed by the process, whether she has experienced incredible dramatic adventures or pursued more reflective contemplation.  Journeys seem to be a recurrent theme in my writing.  More than 20 years ago, the first novel I had published, Wild Horse Island, was about a horse taken from his familiar environment, his subsequent quest to make his way home, against the odds, and the people whose lives he changes in the process.  Always in my Heart, which comes out next year, revisits this idea, but in a different setting and on a deeper level. I was dealing with a major bereavement at the time and, inevitably, this affected how I told the story.

After a life-changing few years, the theme of journeys is very much on my mind at present, and my recent book, Coming Home, explores familiar territory for me, although this time it’s about two Norwegian Forest cats who are accidentally separated from, and seek to be reunited with, their grieving owner, encountering a host of creatures on the way.

As a human being, we each undertake our own personal journeys, whether or not we decide to analyse the process.  Where do I want to end up on mine?  I don’t know the answer yet, although we all arrive at the same place ultimately.  What matters more, the journey or the destination?  For now, I find the act of motion, whether that is walking, running, or being transported in a machine, triggers off my imagination in a way that rarely happens if I am staring at my computer screen.

Travelling by train or car provides great creative space, if I am a driver or passenger, and ideas fire off unprompted as I eat up the miles. I recently re-read Rumblestrip by Woodrow Phoenix, a monochrome graphic book all about what happens when we get behind a steering wheel.  The layout cleverly simulates a car journey and as you read, you feel like you are on a virtual car journey. I sometimes dream that I’m driving a car, and, strangely, when I drive at night, I sometimes wonder if I am dreaming.  Woodrow Phoenix describes it perfectly:

“There is a dreamlike quality built into the experience of driving.  A car windshield is a big window.  And also a screen….locations unwind on the other side of this rectangular glass almost as they do on a movie screen….you sit cocooned in your cabin….everything outside your windows is contained, the rest of the world an arm’s length away…..you glide through location after location as if they were erected just for you to drive past.  Every journey is a narrative with you at the centre.”

As writers, each time we imagine, create and produce a story, we are embarking on a journey of discovery, which our readers continue and reinterpret, each word illuminating the path and teaching us, deliberately or unconsciously, about the human condition.

To find out more about Jane’s creative journey, check out www.janeayres.blogspot.co.uk

Her recent e-book, Coming Home, about cats, people and journeys, is available from Amazon, with all author royalties going to the charity Cats Protection. https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00AGZV9WM

 

Rewriting, Editing and Patchwork Quilts by Jane Ayres

Quilt cushion cover made by Mrs Brenda White. Photo by her niece Jane Ayres

Writing is hard.  Creating something from nothing, from the recesses of your imagination, can sometimes feel a bit like pulling teeth.  Your own.  But when you’ve overcome that painful first stage of the process and you have pages of words in some kind of structure, you can sit back and reflect.  Then start editing.

I love editing.  It’s fun.  It’s all about refining and sculpting the words until you have the perfect combination.

Rewriting, on the other hand, is different.  And for me this often comes after work has been submitted to a third party, such as an agent or publisher.  This is when you get feedback that indicates that some substantial work is required to improve the piece and make it acceptable for publication.  I always groan when this happens.  Rewriting can be like unpicking knitting.   And a bit like doing a cut and paste in your head.   A mental jigsaw puzzle.

It is especially tough when you might have to sacrifice that special sentence that you felt so pleased about because it no longer works, or rewrite – or even delete – the character you were so fond of.   Or restructure the first section of the book.   The thing is, each change has a knock-on effect for everything else in the story.  You might solve one problem, but create another.

But then, writing is all about problem solving, especially in fiction. You invent the characters and then set them into an imaginary landscape with a host of issues and situations that will change them and their lives.  But you do it with love.

I often think of writing a novel as a bit like creating a patchwork quilt.  You have the pattern and you have selected the fabric of your story, and now you have to patiently connect everything together, piece by piece, blocking and layering the colours and textures of your characters and their journeys, until you have created a beautiful, unique work of art.

To find out more about Jane’s publishing experiences, go to her blog www.janeayres.blogspot.co.uk

Her trilogy of Matty Horse and Pony Adventures books for pre-teens and teens (and nostalgic older readers) are available as ebooks on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. All profits from these stories are going to Redwings Horse Sanctuary. 

Matty and the Racehorse Rescue is FREE TO DOWNLOAD from 23rd-27th November!

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Matty-Problem-Ponies-Adventures-ebook/dp/B0094KJEVI/

The Art of Wish Fulfilment by Jane Ayres

ceramic horse by Jane Ayres
ceramic horse by Jane Ayres
ceramic horse by Jane Ayres

When I was a child, I longed to have my own horse.  This was destined never to happen, because apart from living in an urban area, my parents couldn’t afford it.  So I created my own private horse world.

I drew horses in pencil and ink, mostly copied from photographs.  I collected pictures of horses from magazines and stuck them into a series of scrap books, often thinking up stories to go with the pictures.  In my art class at school, we were given a lump of clay to create a ceramic piece.  Obviously, mine became a horse of sorts.  I struggled with the legs, so the solution was to have the horse lying down.  His tail kept falling off, so he became a cob with a stubby tail.  He was glazed and taken home proudly to my mum.  He occupied my windowsill for years and I still have him, 40 years later.  Maybe he wasn’t exactly a work of art but he had been born from my imagination, moulded into shape and was mine.

Drawing horses, collecting pictures of them and making them from clay was not enough.  It was natural that as I developed my passion for creative writing, I would write stories about them.  I created the horses, characters and the experiences I desired through my fiction.  The ultimate wish fulfilment.

I would love to know how many other writers or artists create the fantasy world they would love to inhabit through their art.

To find out more about Jane’s publishing experiences, go to her blog www.janeayres.blogspot.co.uk

Her trilogy of Matty Horse and Pony Adventures books for pre-teens and teen (and nostalgic older readers) are available for Kindle on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. All profits from these stories are going to Redwings Horse Sanctuary.

Matty and the Problem Ponies is FREE TO DOWNLOAD from 7th-11th November!

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Matty-Problem-Ponies-Adventures-ebook/dp/B0094KJEVI/

Mare and Foal by Jane Ayres – still having trouble with the feet!

Garrets and Gatekeepers by Jane Ayres

Photograph by Chris Ayres
http://scubabeer.uk.to/jalbum

More than 30 years ago I wrote an article for the now defunct Composer magazine called Starving in Garrets.  It was all about how painfully difficult it was for composers to get their work performed and heard, and even harder to make a living from writing music.  In many ways, I don’t believe things have really changed that much for artists and creatives. There is still that struggle for discoverability.

I’m a writer, primarily.  But I’m also a musician and have worked with contemporary composers.   I recently read some sobering statistics for writers.  For example, in 2011 there were 211,269 self-published titles and out of at least 1.2 million titles published by the entire industry over the course of a year, almost 80% sell fewer than 100 copies. (source: http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2012/09/7-book-marketing-mistakes/)

So how on earth do you get people’s attention? If you are a writer, it’s pretty tough.  If you are a composer, it’s even harder. We measure success by fame and celebrity status, regardless of quality.  So if you aren’t yet a “name” you are largely invisible.   How do you get the “gatekeepers” to listen to your music, or read your work? For anyone to take you seriously? If you are lucky, maybe 1 in 30 people you contact might reply and follow up your work. Many years ago, I decided to speculatively contact film production companies about one of my books.  I sent 35 emails with a pitch, had 2 replies, and this resulted in one meeting with a producer.  I was told this was a pretty good result!

The more successful you are, the busier you become.  Famous people have a whole raft of assistants (gatekeepers) which make it even harder to be heard.  Even a negative reply is a response, which acknowledges your existence.  You have been read, listened to.  Your creation is personal and precious and being ignored is far worse than rejection, though you may not agree.

But negotiating huge organisations like the BBC, for example, can be like scaling an impenetrable fortress.  If anyone knows how you manage to get a Proms commission I would love to hear from you.

Of course, the internet provides a global shop window on an unprecedented level.  Writers can publish without publishers, artists can create online galleries, composers and musicians can put their work on platforms like You Tube.  We can let the public judge.  As Natasha said in a previous post, artists don’t generally follow their calling for the money.  But they do need to be acknowledged, and better still, enjoyed.  They want to share their work.  That’s the whole point.

And so, with Xmas looming on the horizon, I’m including a recently discovered You Tube link to a moving performance of a haunting  Carol which a Canadian choir have used for their candlelit procession over the past 5 years.  The music was written by a UK composer who should be far better known.  Simply beautiful!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SIyhg8e04cI

To find out more about Jane’s publishing experiences, go to her blogwww.janeayres.blogspot.co.uk

Her trilogy of Matty Horse and Pony Adventures books for pre-teens and teens (and nostalgic older readers!) are available for Kindle on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. All profits from these stories are going to Redwings Horse Sanctuary.

Writing in a Cupboard – by Jane Ayres

Photo by Jane Ayres

A dear friend recently reminded me that I once wrote in a cupboard.

In a previous home I rented, space was very limited but the bedroom had a large walk-in wardrobe. Since my clothes only took up a fraction of the space, I realised my computer desk would fit in perfectly, with a stool tucked underneath and I could close the doors on it. This became my writing space, and very successful it was too. I was both prolific and productive during that time.

When I got a new pc with a small flat screen, I decided that maybe I would be even more productive if I relocated to the downstairs living space, wedging the desk between my piano keyboard and the TV. If I wanted to write, I only had to move from the sofa to the chair. One stride! Had to be even less effort than going up stairs? Big mistake, but it was months before I realised this. It was much harder to focus in this environment and too easy to leave the TV on and get distracted. My output dropped.

Yet, in the snug and encompassing cupboard I felt safe enough to write. When I feel protected, there is no need to worry about what is happening in the world around me – I can then safely enter the creative space. I realised that in order to write, I need to feel secure in the outer world before I can enter the inner.

To find out more about Jane’s publishing experiences, go to her blog http://www.janeayres.blogspot.co.uk

Her trilogy of Matty Horse and Pony Adventures books for pre-teens and teens (and nostalgic older readers!) are available for Kindle on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. All profits from these stories are going to Redwings Horse Sanctuary.

Matty and the Moonlight Horse is FREE to download until 23rd October 2012.

Writing for Charity – by Jane Ayres

cover design by Klaus Hartleben

“As a creative I can speak for most of us and say that often our motive is not money, it is to make a difference in the world.” Natasha Steer

This statement, from Natasha’s post on Networking Vs Making Friends, really struck a chord with me about why creatives create.

When I hear about best-selling authors making a fortune I envy the fact they can then give lots of money to charity.  Writing can be a powerful force for change.  But could it also offer a pathway to giving? I thought about how I could contribute more.   I could publish my work and donate any royalties to a charity I cared about. And, rashly, because of my motives, I disregarded a lot of practical advice, believing it didn’t apply.  Of course, whatever your reasons for publishing, if you want to raise money from it, then it is always a business decision, as I have since learned.

Having been traditionally published for over 30 years, and with 20 years plus experience in marketing, you would think I would have an awareness of what is involved.  That’s what I thought.  Funny how you can become blinkered…

I had decided to publish three of my backlist titles for the kindle to raise funds for Redwings Horse Sanctuary, who rescue and care for neglected, abandoned and abused horses and ponies.

I commissioned a professional Medway-based designer, Klaus Hartleben, to create my cover designs as this is the first thing that potential buyers will see.  For a digital book, Amazon is your shop window. Because I was donating all profits from my books to charity, I decided that using the Amazon “free” days to promote the books would defeat the object of the fundraising. ButI have been advised by several professionals that if Book 1 is free for a while (and readers enjoy it) they are more likely to buy the next two books in the series.  So later this month, I will be offering Book 1, Matty and the Moonlight Horse, free for 5 days.

Similarly, I ignored all the advice I read on pricing strategy as part of the marketing plan because the money was going to charity and I wanted to raise the maximum amount from each sale.  But comparing the prices I am charging to other similar titles, my books cost a lot more.  So now I am tweaking the prices and testing the market to see what works best.

No sales = no funds for the horse sanctuary.  So whether your motives are to do something good or to make money to live, I now understand the rules are the same.  Be businesslike.

By Jane Ayres

To find out more about Jane’s publishing experiences, go to her blog www.janeayres.blogspot.co.uk

Her trilogy of Matty Horse and Pony Adventures books for pre-teens and teens (and nostalgic older readers!) are available for Kindle on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. All profits from these stories are going to Redwings Horse Sanctuary.

Page Fright – by Jane Ayres

Empty space. Empty place.

A blank page on a blank screen.

Fear of the unknown.  Is that what is so daunting about writing those first few words?  Why is that blank space so intimidating?

Page fright.  A writer’s nightmare.  The evil twin of procrastination.  You’ve done battle with the big P and now you are poised to dazzle with your wordcraft skills, your pearls of insight.  But wait – you hold back.  Will you censor your thoughts and strangle your darlings before they get the chance to draw breath?  What are we afraid of?  Being judged, criticised? Not being good enough?

Creation is a mysterious process.

As a younger writer, I would spend ages staring at that white page (we used pen and paper or typewriters in the 70s!), digging deep for inspiration, wanting the words to be perfect immediately.   I would get everything straight in my head before committing it to paper.

I’ve often read advice for writers that suggests writing anything to fill that space, to overcome the self-censoring instinct.  Later, you can edit what you have written and mould it into something that satisfies you.  This works for me.  The advent of technology has changed the way I compose and I can write my novels in whatever order I wish.  If I am in the mood to work on that action sequence in Chapter 9, I will.  If I feel more reflective, I will write the complex emotional exchange between the main characters in Chapter 3.  Oh, the joys of the cut and paste tool on a word processor!

The way in which we work, the medium used, does affect what we produce.  I love the freedom and flexibility that my laptop offers me.  If I want to change the middle section of my story, I can do so without having to type the whole lot out again from the beginning.  Bliss!  I approach the writing like constructing a patchwork quilt.

But when I use pen and paper, my thought processes are different.  I work inside my head more, and will cover the white space with scribbling, diagrams, lines and arrows, visually setting out the connections.  I probably dream the story more in advance.  And I love using white space to create poetry, which for me is both visual and musical.

When I teach writing workshops, I generally get participants to use paper and pen, which for many students is a bit of a novelty, especially the IT generation, because it offers possibilities that may not have been previously considered.  The results are always exciting. Especially when students have no more than five minutes to complete the first workshop exercise.  Pressure, whether real or imagined, can be a useful motivator.

So, after we have slain the fiery dragons of Procrastination and Page Fright, what other obstacles await us as we continue our journeys on the path of creation?

An ebook is for life…..by Jane Ayres

(CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) By alienratt

In a previous post I quoted author Jonathan Franzen, and do so again as his views are thought provoking. Regarded as one of America’s greatest living novelists, he is not a fan of the ebook.

“The technology I like is the American paperback edition of Freedom. I can spill water on it and it would still work! So it’s pretty good technology. And what’s more, it will work great 10 years from now. I think, for serious readers, a sense of permanence has always been part of the experience. Everything else in your life is fluid, but here is this text that doesn’t change.”

When I first read this quote I immediately thought, what a strange thing to say.  An ebook is forever.  Once it’s out there, it’s there until the writer takes it down.  A printed book only exists while it is in print.  And paper and ink can rot, burn, fade and be physically destroyed. Therefore lost in that way.

Then I thought some more about permanence/impermanence.  When it comes to matters digital, different formats need different hardware to read.  We have a choice of formats  –  kindle, kobo, nook  – to name a few, that all vary.  But if you can read, you can read a print book without needing some special device.

And of course, some digital formats become obsolete. We only have to think about  Amstrad (my first proper computer!), cassette tapes, video now replaced by dvd (which will undoubtedly disappear in time). Content on these formats has been lost.

When I started writing, my work was stored on big floppy disks, then smaller versions for the Amstrad (not compatible with any other format!), then pc floppies, and memory sticks.  Now we can store data on wafer thin cards and out there in the cloud.  All these changes in the space of a relatively few years.  So now I can get a handle on what Franzen is saying.   And it is so easy and cheap to alter digital content compared to amending a printed copy of a book.

Personally, I am a fan of both formats.  I love printed books and I love my kindle.   I’ve also read extended pieces on my blackberry. I can’t help wondering what the future will hold…….

By Jane Ayres

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Stories we tell ourselves – by Jane Ayres

Writers think instinctively in terms of narrative, of story.  It’s how we make sense of the world.  The brain, our computer, processes what we see, feel, hear and looks for meaning in this input, based on our internal database of past experiences, of what has already been recorded and stored.

“Our brain casts us as ‘the protagonist’ and then edits our experience with cinema-like precision, creating logical interrelations, mapping connections between memories, ideas, and events for future reference.  Story is the language of experience.”

(Quote from Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence by Lisa Cron, Ten Speed Press.)

A story isn’t just about an event, a drama, a character.  It’s about how what happens affects that character and changes them, however subtle or enormous that change.  At the end of the story, things will never be the same.  A story is life.  Life is a story.

We learn from stories and engaging with characters, real or imagined, teaches us about ourselves.

Many people have a profound need to seek solutions and resolutions, to solve the puzzle that is our life, and I wonder if this need is enhanced in those driven to create.  We can explore this desire and feed this compulsion through our work, our stories.  Our therapy and remedy. Imagination is both a blessing and a curse. Reading other people’s stories, whether through fiction, painting, photography, film, music, is just as vital in helping us understand our own stories.

Maybe it explains the human instinct to document, record and collect.  By compiling evidence of your existence, you are assembling your story, or stories, proving that these things happened.  It is saying to yourself and the world; I am, I was.

The phenomenal success of Facebook testifies the depth of this need.  Author Jonathan Franzen is quoted as saying,

“We star in our own movies, we photograph ourselves incessantly, we click the mouse and a machine confirms our sense of mastery….. It’s all one big endless loop. We like the mirror and the mirror likes us.”

The revolution that is the internet has changed the world, presenting us with a dazzling array of creative tools and distribution channels.  We all have a story to tell, to share with the world.  And now all of us can.

By Jane Ayres

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Introducing A New Creatabot Contributor – Jane Ayres

Jane Ayres is a writer from Maidstone, Kent, who has just joined us as a valuable contributor. We thought you would like to know some more about Jane so asked some questions about her background and what inspires her…

So what is your creative background?

I’ve always enjoyed writing stories and had my first piece published in a national magazine when I was just fourteen.  I played piano from age seven, later trained to be a professional singer, and did my BA (Hons) in Music with Cultural and Community Studies at Sussex University in the 1980s. But the writing has been the one constant for me, and over the past 37 years my thirty novels have been translated into 7 languages and I’ve had hundreds of short stories, poems and articles in print.  In January this year, I finally started a blog http://www.janeayres.blogspot.co.uk/

What other career paths have you taken?

Several!  I have a marketing diploma and a teaching certificate and after working in the sales department of a major publisher after graduating, I spent the last 25 years working in further and higher education, in marketing, outreach and also some teaching (music, dance, media and creative writing). I also set up and ran a mentoring programme for people wanting to work in the creative industries.

Who inspires you both locally and universally?

People who combine compassion and tenacity to change the world for the better.

What would you like to achieve in the future?

To use my writing as a tool to raise funds for a number of charities.

Can you recommend a creative website you love?  

I’m a fan of http://www.ifbook.co.uk/ which is at the forefront of the debate about the future of reading and writing, as well as Joel Friedlander’s brilliant http://www.thebookdesigner.com/ which generously shares his wealth of knowledge and experience to help writers publish their work using the amazing opportunities that the digital future offers.

To find out more about Jane please visit http://www.janeayres.blogspot.co.uk/

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