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October 2011

The job of a storyteller

Apple tree in autumn

"I write at eighty-five for the same reasons that impelled me to write at forty-five; I was born with a passionate desire to communicate, to organize experience, to tell tales that dramatize the adventures which readers might have had. I have been that ancient man who sat by the campfire at night and regaled the hunters with imaginative recitations about their prowess. The job of an apple tree is to bear apples. The job of a storyteller is to tell stories, and I have concentrated on that obligation."   - James Michener

Three Recommendations:

9781931520300_big* Delia Sherman talks about her new YA novel The Freedom Maze in a podcast over on the Small Beer Press website, chatting about "her southern roots and the nature of dreams." It's a terrific little podcast -- and the book in question, a time-travel fantasy set in Louisiana, is quite simply one of the best YA novels I've read in years. (For more information on the book, including a download of the first chapter, go here.)

* Stephen Fry discusses the subject of storytelling in Episode 5 of Fry's Planet Word over on BBC Two. Fry asks "what makes a good story and why some writers just do it better. He reveals what stories make him shiver with joy or, conversely, shudder with horror. From Homer's epic to Joyce's modern-day reinvention with Ulysses, from taking in Shakespeare, PG Wodehouse, Tolkien, Orwell, Auden, Bob Dylan and the even the mangled web of words that became known as Birtspeak, Stephen uncovers why certain words can make us laugh, cry or tear our hair out." Watch this soon, as it will be online only until November 1.

* Christina Cairns continues the discussion on "creative burn-out" in her excellent new post "Decending into the underworld, the labyrinth, the abyss" on A Mermaid in the Attic.

Tunes for a Monday Morning

Since the subject of shamanic journeys came up last in last week's discussion of artists' blocks and burn-out, today's music comes from the shamanic yoik tradition of the Sámi people of northern Europe. Above, "Mun ja Mun" by Adjágas, a young band from Norway who are part of the contemporary yoik revival there. (Adjágas is a Sámi word for the period of time, and mental state, that occurs between waking and sleeping.)

Below, one of the masters of contemporary yoik, Mari Boine (also from Norway), talks about her creative journey.

More information on yoik can be found here, and links to other yoik musicians here. More information abut Sami history and culture can be found on the Galdu website (The Resource Centre for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples).

Recommended Reading:

Dartmoor stone

I'm staying close to home today, with a series of recommended links that all have a Dartmoor connection:

* First, to put you in a Dartmoor mood, have a listen to "On a Dartmoor Day," a beautiful new song by my friend Chris Back (of the Levi Moretons). It never fails to make me a little teary eyed, for it so perfectly captures what I love about this land and the community of people in it. I particularly love the last verse, about musicians and friends sitting 'round an old oak table, because Howard and I have been around that same old oak table with Chris, and such nights shine in my memory too.

* And speaking of sitting around the table with friends, today you can do so with Dartmoor artist Alan Lee (the award-winning book illustrator and Oscar-winning film designer) over at John Barleycorn. It's the first of a two-part "Around the Table" chat with Alan, discusing his creative process and influences.

* For a virtual visit to Dartmoor (for those of you far away), have a look at the gorgeous work of two of the moor's most accomplished photographers, James Ravilious (1939-1999) and Chris Chapman. I also recommend Anna Walls' distinctive pictures (have a look at her photograph of swaling on Dartmoor, the burn-off process I referred to in a previous post), the dramatic landscape photographs of Alex Nail, and the lovely black-and-white work of Jen Bryant. Also, please visit my friend Susan Derges' website, featuring her stunning and very magical "camera-less" photography. (You'll find her pictures in the Gallery section of the site, at the bottom of the navagation menu on the left of her homepage.)

* Last, but not least: the Autumn 2012 issue of Goblin Fruit is now on line. As usual, editors Amal El-Mohtar and Jessica Wick provide a delicious feast of all-new poems based on fairy tales, folklore, and world a Feature on Canadian poet Neile Graham. The Dartmoor connection? Amal was living here in our village this summer while putting this issue of the webzine together.

* Oops,  one more: For those of you who live on or near Dartmoor, the good folks at Chagfood (who you may remember from this previous post) are hosting an early Halloween Festival tomorrow (Saturday, Oct. 22) from 3 pm till late in the field. There will be kids' activities in the afternoon and a bonfire in the evening, with cider & pumpkin soup, music, and storytelling around the fire -- some of the later provided by Rima Staines and Tom Hirons. All are welcome (directions here), just be sure to bundle up warm.

Have a good weekend everyone.

Standing stones on Dartmoor by Helen MasonStanding stones on Dartmoor (photograph by Helen Mason)

On Creative Burn-out: a final post

Autumn hills out the studio windowFrom the studio window: Meldon Hill in autumn, beneath a Maxfield Parrish sky

A few more thoughts on creative burn-out and blocks from writers who have walked this path before us:

May Sarton: "When one’s not writing poems -- and I’m not at the moment -- you wonder how you ever did it. It’s like another country you can’t reach."

Toni Morrison: "When I sit down in order to write, sometimes it's there; sometimes it's not. But that doesn't bother me anymore. I tell my students that there is such a thing as 'writers block,' and they should respect it. You shouldn't write through it. It's blocked because it ought to be blocked, because you haven't got it right now." 

Agatha Christie gives the opposite advice: "Write even when you don't want to, don't much like what you are writing, and aren't writing particularly well."

Maya Angelou concurs: "What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, 'Okay. Okay. I’ll come.'"

And William Faulkner: "I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately I am inspired at 9 o'clock every morning."

Clouds over Meldon Hill

Of course, there's no right way and wrong of getting through writer's block or creative burn-out. Like everything about the creative process, we each need to find our own natural rhythms and then to shape our lives in order to work with those rhythms and not against them. One last quote, which addresses precisely this subject, from Bernard Malamud:

"If the stories come, you get them written, you're on the right track. Eventually everyone learns his or her own best way. The real mystery to crack is you."