Wednesday 22th February 2017
I was shocked recently to learn that there are quite a lot of children’s writers who – due to the aftershock of a Brexit and Trump year, are struggling to find anything to write.
I was possibly more shocked to learn this than I was shocked at the events themselves, both of which – shocking and potentially seismic shifts as they were – were hardly surprising when bearing in mind the overall signals being given out across the world. So now we are stuck with both of them and the choices whereby we deal with them. I have to say that none of my initial reactions would be that I was unable to write. Taking even just a head in the sand approach to the world’s problems, would at least mean writing it out of my system, something therapeutic in its own right. If I lose myself in plot and character and the difficult dilemmas of others, surely that has a knock on effect on the way in which I treat the world.
For reasons of health and perhaps winter, I have been very non-active of late and it’s not something I feel particularly good about, but the truth is that we each have our own way of coping and a lot of mine has been for quite some time, through writing. After all, if as children we can march off into the magical but often sad world of Harry Potter or the more challenging religious world of ‘His Dark Materials’ or into books which investigate death or the horrors of politics practiced the wrong way, why should we change as adults. Never forget that we have forever inside us the dull gleam of our inner child. He or she may have become lost within the labyrinth of emergence and our willingness to allow it, but they are there and sometimes they just simply want to have fun.
Maybe we should just let them and this seems to me a particularly good time to do so.
Tuesday 1st November 2016
The old festival of Samhuin, (or the much newer one of Halloween depending what rocks your boat) seems an appropriate time to give birth to something which is both old and new.
With the first copies of the wonderful ‘Raven’s Call’ in my hands, I am preparing for the first workshop inspired by the stories and ideas in the book and the idea of using the old seasonal cycle to help aid recovery in particular.
On Monday 28th November a group of us will be exploring ‘The Year in a Day’ at the Ponthafren Centre in Welshpool between 11.00-5.00. There, both users and staff of the mental health service in Powys are invited to meet and work together in order to see whether these ideas can be a new and different way of looking at recovery. As in the book itself, the seasonal journey will take participants from November right through until the following September, whereas the recovery cycle itself will encompass death, soul loss, vulnerability, staying hidden, the need for companionship, emergence, unexpected gifts and letting go. We will be working with a number of different activities both inside and – weather permitting – outside.
I have always believed that the best way of finding out whether an idea works in practice, is to get a group of people together to test it. Many years ago, when I used to teach confidence building, I found that many of the ideas and approaches we used were fluid. Some for example, became no longer relevant, or it would become obvious that they didn’t work with a particular group.
The one thing I have hung on to from that time is a particular phrase I used - ‘the confidence to fail.’ It seems almost inbred in us as a society that to fail is bad, or that mistakes always ‘cost’.
The opposite is of course true – that without trying things out and getting them wrong we cannot grow. So why can’t we learn to have fun trying and to laugh about it together if something doesn’t work first time.
Friday 23th September 2016
I wrote my monthly blog for abba, (you can find me on the 23rd if you follow the link) about the future learn course I’ve been studying on mental health in literature and its connection with my own situation. A big part of it was about how reading poetry out loud proves to be so therapeutic. I also talked about Jack Lankester and his finding solace in the sonnets of Sir Philip Sidney during his youthful depression and the curious and very sad phenomenon known as takotsubo cardiomyopathy.
I had some fabulous, warm and generous responses from fellow bloggers and especially from many of the History Girls who created the wonderful book about women in history called ‘Daughters of Time’ which so inspired both Rosie and I.
And her wonderful poem ‘I once had a heart’ seems to have been universally loved. That’s probably why it won the competition!
Friday 16th September 2016
Amongst other things which will come with the new website will be a new packaging of The Song of Taleisin CD. Hopefully this will give it a better chance at selling than it had before with is confusing cover and terrible timing of the launch. What we need is something brighter and making it clearer just who’s done the bloody thing.
I suggested to Sharon that we use Rosie’s wonderful Bard picture, (currently on our kitchen wall) with the harp lost in the forest. And what do we have but exactly that – needing only a bit of re-writing of the inside copy and a new biog from John! Jem has given his blessing to go ahead and I’m hoping we can also get some sound clips on there to capture the unique world he created.
It already looks quite wonderful and a perfect chance to finally get mine and Jem’s names on the outside.
Sunday 11th September 2016
Having got the go ahead for two major new projects, I’ve spent the last few days on a mad spurt to create one of them, Swallow Tales, which I suppose is a sort of junior/primary Raven’s Call.
Like its bigger darker brother, Swallow uses the same eight times of the year as reflected on both the modern pagan and old farming calendar, and our original eight animals – raven, swan, wren, hare, wolf, butterfly, seal and swallow. The themes I’ve chosen to introduce are the death of a pet, best friend moving away, a grieving older relative, new baby, best friends fall out, family illness, parents separate, and finally and most important the death of a close relative.
At present I’ve done six of the eight and also come up with a couple of others for a possible version for secondary. It’s lovely to be working again in this way. I’m thinking it might be a good idea to produce a druid friendly version where there none of the curricular restrictions and sound out a couple of people like Huw before diving into a more official version.
Tuesday 30th August 2016
For most of this year Rosie and I have been working with the wonderful Sharon Zak on our project The Raven’s Call. After so many shocking events in the last month it is so important to have something like this to hang on to and of course on the very subject of change which both Rosie and I are having to currently undergo.
The proofs show me how beautiful the book is and how lovingly it has been created by Sharon and myself, Rosie, Elin and our guest poets. There are so many things I can pick out about it, but Rosie and I agree that a large part of its magic comes from Sharon’s ability to place pictures and photos behind things and even to repeat them for further effect in places. It really is a thing of beauty and neither of us can wait to see it out there. And the stories aren’t bad either. For Rosie I think it will be an especially important therapy to see her own skill laid down there in front of her and this very special thing she has helped give to the world.
Tuesday 19th July 2016
I’ve gone back to Mr W – or to give my bigger novel for big grown-ups its longer title, ‘The Enchanting of Mr Williams’. The problem is that at over 120,000, I’m not actually sure how and where and even why it’s going to end.
At the moment I’ve got poor old VW under a much more savage enchantment from The Lady, and both of his women – poor Adeline and more fortunate by far Ursula – subject to the queen of faerie’s vicious reprisals without him having any idea which one of them it is.
I’m trying – (although you’d hardly believe it, the way I’m going about it!) to introduce the time where VW and Adeline got interested in the tales of Thomas the Rhymer and Tam Lyn. With it comes the idea of the seelie court of True Thomas, (or the good or at least goodish faeries) and the very unseelie court of Tam Lyn and his Janet. I suppose with the novel I’m trying to do what VW and Ursula intended to do with their opera if he’d lived long enough to complete it – turn Tam Lyn into True Thomas and give it all a happy ending.
Tuesday 28th June 2016
Two shows in only a few days, but at least this one is a far more familiar one – back with Huw, Stu and the kids from Year 5 at Guilsfield. For me it was a chance to try out both the Fragon Sion tale – and in doing so meet year 4 – and to try out Bess at the theatre on year 5, especially the boys.
Interesting reaction to Bess, which proved I should have stuck to just one section of the book, because Bess and Old Lizzie at the theatre went down so much better than the beginning bit. What was even more interesting was, how kids who hadn’t gone for the first bit at all, completely changed their minds with the second piece. Note to self for the future.
I should say that the session was supposed to offer them examples of inference, which through the whole plot and the questions I asked, I’m sure it did. Sion’s Tale also seemed to go down well and we ended up asking that question of how much of the tale of the Black Beastie is true.
The highlight for me though had to be Huw’s classroom assembly where he managed to beautifully illustrate the difference between the successful Wales football team, (they’re a team and they co-operate and look to each other) and the unsuccessful England, (they aren’t and don’t!) and make everyone understand it. He did this without making one team look any better than the other – just different.
Sunday 26th June 2016
Well on Friday night – proper Midsummer and post Brexit, (don’t!), I performed several of The Raven’s Call stories for the first time at Carrog Village Hall to an audience of mainly storytelling folk – two of whom, (one possibly a case of Tom o’ bedlam!) came all the way from Stoke. Fuelled by cups of tea and slices of chocolate and lemon cake courtesy of the redoubtable Fiona Collins, (not me – I had to wait until later!) they sat and watched and listened politely while I opened up the whole change and dying debate with my show ‘From Raven’s call to Swallows Flight.’
There were one or two teething problems with unlit areas and entrances and exits but I was pretty pleased on the whole. Of the tales I told, The Company of The Raven’, my M.R. Jamesian gothic horror tale, seemed to go down especially well, as did Rosie’s poetry. I think my own highlight would have to be getting my first chance to tell my friend Elinor Kapp’s beautiful and poignant story of ‘The Embroidered Question’, and following on from that, being able to encourage people to ask their own questions of death. What I still wonder, would be mine?
Friday 17th June 2016
Well this is the day that Bess my mad girl, who has so pushed herself into my life over the last year, has taken her first unsteady steps into the outside world and to the agent who I came so close with last time.
Of all my creations, I’m proudest of the Victorian girl Elizabeth Curzon, who moonlights as Bess the mad girl, first to earn something for the family supper and second, after her rather foolish father has been taken by the magician Septimus Dee.
Of course Bess herself, Septimus Dee and his mighty ancestor, poor Simon Curzon and of course Merlin, all had a previous life in ‘The Boy WithThe Universe For A Hat.’ Let’s wish them better luck – fish-belt, flower song and all, in this new incarnation.
Tuesday 31th May 2016
An important day for my new book Bess o’ Bedlam, for this is the day we finally get to meet Our Jen, the protégé of Old Lizzie we’ve heard so much about.
It’s really difficult to start writing a character knowing that they’re going to die. Being me I’ve very quickly got attached to brave little Jenny Wren and her life with her family and all the other outcasts in The Lanes. Although she meets Bess/Elizabeth on the last day of her, (Jen’s) life, I find myself concentrating more on our Jen’s story and my awen is positively flying. Not since I dreamed up the angel called Phanuel in Doctor Dee’s cellar have I felt like I’m on such a wonderful flight of fancy. Gawd bless you Our Jen!
Tuesday 26th April 2016
In the post this morning came our twin copies of the very first Fragon tale. Sion’s Tale is part of the six myths group and the first set to be published. According to Pat, who created the series, we have a choice between this and A 5 size. Can’t say it matters to me as they’ve done a wonderful job, and it really does look like something to treasure.
And so a journey which begun with our meeting at Ty Newydd in 2013 a bare couple of weeks before The Seven was published, has now reached fruition with the publication of our first Fragon child, (oh OK technically it’s a first Dragon Child).
Pat’s story of brave Sion and the fearsome Black Beastie is set out beautifully, - and best of all, there in the middle is Rosie’s haunting picture of the sinister back-lit beastie stalking its prey.
Still to come in Six Myths are my own tales of Iolo, Merlyn and Tudur, and Pat’s Yew Trees and Home. Not to mention Rosie’s map of the thirteen treasures of Britain where X very definitely does mark the spot.