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November 2013

Tunes for a Monday Morning

Today, three informal accoustic sets recorded for the Holy Moly Sessions. (I'm setting up this post for automated publishing because I'll be away from home on Monday.)

Above: Lau, with their very beautiful song "Torsa." The trio consists of Kris Drever (from Orkney, Scotland), Martin Green (from East Anglia, England), and Aidan O'Rourke (from Oban, Scotland).

Below: Jonny Kearney and Lucy Farrell (from Newcastle, England), with "Down in Adairsville."

And last:

Sarah Jarosz (from Austin, Texas), with "Anabelle Lee." Enjoy!

Fairy Tale Symposium with Maria Nikolajeva, Terri Windling, and Jack Zipes

If you're anywhere close to Sussex, England, don't miss the fairy tale art exhibition Grimm Girls: Picturing the Princess. It opens today at the Otter Gallery in Chichester, running through January 26, 2014. Here's the description:

"Although the Grimm Brothers' Children's and Household Tales was published over 200 years ago, the potency of their fairy tales has not waned. This exhibition takes six much-loved tales to explore the changing persona of the 'princess' as seen in book illustrations and ephemera: Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast and Rapunzel. Illustrations by George Cruickshank, Gustave Dore, Arthur Rackham, Walter Crane, Harry Clark, Mabel Lucie Attwell and Wanda Gag will be featured."

Beauty and the Beast by Walter Crane

The exhibition is curated by Dr Anne Anderson, a Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Chichester, in association with the University's English and Creative Writing Department and the Sussex Centre for Folklore, Fairy Tales and Fantasy. Visit the Otter Gallery website for more information.

Once upon a time there was a fairy tale symposium....

Beauty and the Beast by Ann AndersonThis  Monday (November 25), the Sussex Centre for Folklore, Fairy Tales and Fantasy (at the University of Chichester) is hosting a one-day fairy tale symposium in connection with the Grimm Girls exhibition. I'll be speaking there, along with Children's Literature scholar Maria Nikolajeva (Cambridge University) and Jack Zipes (who surely needs no introduction to fairy tale fans).

The whole thing kicks off at 4 pm and is open to all, so please come! You'll find general information about the exhibition & symposium here, and ticket information here.

For more information on the wonderful Sussex Centre for Folklore, Fairy Tales and Fantasy, and to join their mailing list, go here. To subscribe to their excellent journal, Gramarye, go here.

Little Red Riding Hood by Gustave Doré

Gramarye Summmer 2013The illustrations in this post are by Walter Crane (1845-1915),  Anne Anderson (1874-1930), and Gustave Doré (1832-1888). The Gramarye cover art is by Arthur Rackham (1867-1939).

Rooms of Our Own

The Lew River valley

Lewtrenchard in the trees

 In Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasure of a Creative Life, novelist and memoirist Dani Shapiro discusses the importance of having (as Virginia Woolf instructed so wisely) a "room of one's own" for nurturing our best creative work:

"It doesn't matter what or where it is, as long as it is yours," Shapiro advises. "I don't necessarily mean that it has to belong to you. Only that, for the time you're working, you have what you need. Learning what you need to do your best work is a big step forward in the life of any writer. We all have different requirements, different ways of working. I have a friend who likes to write on the subway. She will board the F-train just to get work done. The jostle and cacophany -- she finds it clears her mind. Me? You'd have to shoot me first. For one, I'm a wee bit claustrophobic. Also, I need solitude and silence. I have friends who work best in coffee shops, others who like to work in the same rooms as their partners. Friends who have written multiple books at their kitchen tables. Marcel Proust famously wrote in bed, and so did Wendy Wasserstein. Gay Talese, the son of an Italian tailor, dresses in custom-made suits each morning  and descends the stairs to his basement study. Hemingway wrote standing up. One writer I know works best late at night, a habit left over from the years when she had young children under her roof and those were the only hours that were hers alone."


Our window

Front door

"We writers spend our days making something out of nothing," notes Shapiro. "There is the blank page (or screen) and then there is the fraught and magical process of putting words down on the page. There is no shape, no blueprint, until one emerges from the page, as if through a mist. Is it a mirage? Is it real? We can't know. And so we need a sense of structure around us. These four walls. This cup. The wheels of the train beneath us. This borrowed room. The weight of this particular pen. Whatever it is that makes us feel secure in our physical space allows us to make the leap, hoping that the page will catch us. Writing, after all, is an act of faith. We must believe, without the slightest evidence that believing will get us anywhere."

Window seat at Lewtrenchard

I agree with Shapiro that it's important to discover how, and where, we do our best work -- for with this knowledge we can align our habits with our creative temperament instead of handicapping ourselves by working against our natural rhythms. But these rhythms, I find, also change through time; what has worked during an earlier phase of life might be entirely unhelpful to us today. Over the course of my life, I have been all of the writers Shapiro describes above (except that unimaginable subway scribbler): I was a big-city cafe writer in my twenties; I shared an office with a fellow writer throughout my thirties; I've worked in communal Art Studio buildings in New York, Boston, Tucson and Devon over the years...and yet today I find myself wedded to the silence and solitude of a small cabin by the woods.

Stained glass window 1

Stained glass window 2

Stained glass window 3

And then, of course, when we think we've finally got it sussed -- our work place set, our habits established, our schedule steady, productive, and predictable -- life throws a curveball at us, things change, we change, and we start all over again. We have to hone our working methods not once but several times over, as our art and our lives unfold.

Hornsea, Lewtrenchard

What what about you? Where do you do your best work? Do you have a "room of your own"...are you searching for one...or are you one of those people who can plunk down and work from anywhere? What's your ideal space; has it changed over the years? What was the best space that you've worked in, or the worst, and how much does your physical environment matter?

Do you ever retreat from the world to write or paint? What would the retreat space of your dreams be like? The room pictured here, in a 16th century Devon manor house, is one of mine....

Lord of the Manor

Lewtrenchard ManorThe pictures above are from Lewtrenchard, a Jacobean manor house in Lewdown, Devon -- home to the Victorian author and folklorist Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould, and the setting of Laurie R. King's novel The Moor, in her "Mary Russell" series.  You can read more about Lewtrenchard (and the story of how Howard and I came to be there) in the picture captions, which you'll find by running your cursor over each photograph. Dani Shapiro's Still Writing was published by Atlantic Monthly Press last month, and I highly recommend it -- as well as the author's lovely blog about her writing life, Moments of Being.

Still Writing

Gate 2

From "Beginning Again," in Dani Shapiro's luminous book, Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of the Creative Live (which I highly recommend):

"We maybe halfway through a novel, an essay, a story, or a memoir or we may be near the finish line on a piece that has taken us years. But wherever we are in our work, we have never been exactly here, today. Today, we need to relearn what it is we do. We have to remind ourselves to be patient, gentle with our foibles, ruthless with our time, withstanding of our frustrations. We remember what it is we need. The solitude of an empty home, a walk through the woods, a bath, or a half hour with a good book -- the echo of well-formed sentences in our ears. Whatever it takes to begin again....

"Writing is hard. We resist, we procrastinate, we veer off course. But we have this tool, this ability to begin again. Every sentence is new. Every paragraph, every chapter, every book is a country we have never been to before. We're clearing the brush. We don't know what's on the other side of that tree. We are visitors in a foreign land. And so we take a step. Up the stairs after the morning coffee. Back to the desk after the doorbell has rung. Return to the manuscript.


"It never gets easier. It shouldn't get easier. Word after word, sentence after sentence, we build our writing lives. We hope not to repeat ourselves. We hope to evolve as interpreters and witnesses of the world around us. We feel our way through darkness, pause, consider, breathe in, breathe out, begin again. And again, and again."

That's what I am doing this morning. Beginning again. Strolling through the hills and then returning to my desk, papers and books spread around me, a mug of coffee in hand, Tilly at my side.

Sheep barn in autumn

What we need is here

Nattadon Hill

"Oh, what a catastrophe for man when he cut himself off from the rhythm of the year, from his union with the sun and the earth. Oh, what a catastrophe, what a maiming of love when it was a personal, merely personal feeling, taken away from the rising and setting of the sun, and cut off from the magic connection of the solstice and the equinox! This is what is the matter with us. We are bleeding at the roots..."

  - D.H. Lawrence

Nattadon Hill 2

 "I feel both the joy of wilderness and the absolute pain in terms of what we are losing. And I think we're afraid of inhabiting, of staying in this landscape of grief, yet if we don't acknowledge the grief, if we don't acknowledge the losses, then I feel we won't be able to step forward with compassionate intelligence to make the changes necessary to maintain wildness on the planet." 

"I believe there is unspeakable joy in being fully present and responding totally to the moment. For me, that's where joy dwells and feeling lies; in fact, I think that's the well of all strength and wisdow -- knowing that all we have, all we will ever have, is right now; that's the gift." 

- Terry Tempest Williams

Nattadon Hill 3

Geese appear high over us,
Geese in flightpass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.

- Wendell Berry

Nattadon Hill 4(Click on the photographs for larger versions.) I'm away today, and prepared this post in advance, for automated posting. I'll be back in the studio on Thursday, and will respond to comments then.