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