Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Press On

By John Charlton, National Trust
Press on — I'm not sure of the origins of that saying, but it feels British in sentiment. You know, stiff upper lip, Charge of the Light Brigade, and all that.

Well, pressing on is what I'm doing today. 

"Press on" is what you must do when you hit a road block in your writing.

When you feel like you’ve really and truly written the worst drivel anyone could have ever possibly composed in the entire history of humanity, and yet you sit down and get on with it the next day, adding more words to yesterday’s crapola, that’s when you know you love writing. 

That’s when you know you love writing more than you love what you’ve written. 

That’s something. That’s really something. That's something you can hold on to the next time you write 1000 words that might very well end up on the cutting room floor (as they say in TV & film land).

It comes back to Neil Gaiman’s advice to just keep going. Get that first draft down. Don’t stop.

Press on!

“If I waited for perfection, 
I would never write a word” 
– Margaret Atwood

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Podcast Thursday: Neil Gaiman

Who has read Neil Gaiman's Stardust? Raise your hands. The Graveyard Book? Hands, please. Coraline? Yes, excellent. I thought so. Me too. What about American Gods and Sand Man? Sheepishly, I slunk down in my seat. Not me. Put them on that proverbial list.

Still, although there are big gaps in my reading of his work, I consider myself a Gaiman fan. I love this recording of his Blueberry Girl. I can't believe there are less than 140,000 views of the Youtube video.  (Here is the link, because I see the imbedded youtube link does not show up when I view this post on my iphone.)

I remember discussing Coraline in a Children's Literature course I took a few years ago where most of the other students were studying to become teachers. I was so sad that so many of them thought the book inappropriate or too scary for children. They didn't like it themselves, so it would never be something they'd recommend in their classrooms. They didn't get it. So sad.

It's not that I don't believe in age appropriateness. That book was creepy. But this group seemed a little too Pollyanna for me. I love Anne of Green Gables and I love Coraline. Both. There are different books for different times, moods, maturity levels, tastes. I guess my point is, sometimes we assume children are more delicate than they are.

As usual, I digress...So, in today's podcast, Gaiman offers very pragmatic writing advice. It's not some magical process.
The work of a magic maker? 
What you've got to do is this: Put one word down after another. Don't wait for inspiration. Not if you're writing a book. Maybe if you're a poet, you can wait for inspiration. But not if you are a novelist (or an aspiring one).

I love that advice. I get that. There might be magical moments in the process, where everything is flowing and beautiful, but most times you have to just finish scenes that are boring you to get to the next part, he says. I find it encouraging to hear that. He says, for the first draft, just get it down!

The other bit Gaiman says is, Great, you're writing already, good. Now finish something. Finish it, because that's how you learn.

Yes, Mr. Gaiman. (Read in whiny voice.)

So, those are a few valuable tidbits from this short podcast of Neil Gaiman on the writing process, but have a listen because there are plenty more gems to hear, and delivered in a super sexy English accent, too.

Hope you enjoy.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Podcast Thursday: Kenneth White

This week's podcast was chosen at random and, even after I had listened to it, I posted it here with some feelings of ambiguity.

First, I had no idea who Kenneth White was (I am sorry, Scotland). I'd never heard of the "Read Me Something You Love" podcast series, or of Steve, its creator. And what I really wanted to do was find a podcast of Ursula Le Guin because I'm currently deeply, passionately in love (no ambiguity there) with her Earthsea series. But I haven't found anything I want to share yet, and I need time to process my thoughts about the books.

So, since I am doing such a brilliant job of selling you on having a listen to this week's podcast (not!), I thought I'd post a few pretty pictures (also randomly chosen) to distract you from my dismal PR job.

Are they working?
 I hope so, because I'm going to tell you another reason I almost didn't post this week's podcast.

I wasn't sure I LOVED it. I definitely loved the host's guest, Sarah Salway, who reads two poems by Kenneth White to us. And I definitely love being read to, an activity that simply doesn't happen for grownups enough, not for this grownup anyway. But I didn't LOVE the host. I think I feel cranky lately though, so I'm going to blame myself for these ambiguous feelings about "Steve" until I've listened to many more of his podcasts, which I think are a really smart idea.

But what attracted me to the podcast (besides the idea of being read to) was the title of one of the poems that would be read: Winter Wood. Oh yes. And when I heard it I was not disappointed. I do not feel ambiguous about this poem. Mmm, mmm, mmm. Delicious. Word after word, line after line. Lapping it up one at time. (There's my own poem - Kenneth's are a bit better!)  
I don't want to spoil it - you should have Winter Wood read to you. I wish I could read it to you. But Sarah Salway does it beautifully. 

It is about nature, about how words and poems and books pale beside the experience of nature. Oh, listen to it. Do! It is so true in so few words. Find a bit of truth right here. Then go get some nature of your own to touch and sniff and sigh about.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Podcast Thursday (On Wednesday evening): Philip Pullman

On Philip Pullman’s website he says that he’s not in the message business, he’s in the “‘Once upon a time’ business.” Lucky for us that he is. Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy is often preceded by adjectives like best-selling and award-winning, and the books are frequently touted as modern-day classics—deservedly so.

I loved them. I loved Lyra and Pantalaimon; the Gyptians and Serafina Pekkala. When I settled into them, again came that feeling of familiarity, of coming home to the essential story that lies in the heart (not at the heart) of the great myths, folk tales, fairy tales, classics. 

A very Lyra-esque hair style.

Noble Iorek Byrnison?
So this week’s podcast is BBC’s World Book Club’s interview of Pullman.

When I listen to the podcasts I’ve been blogging about, it’s with the ears of an aspiring writer, eager for my favourite authors’ words on craft. I think I’m looking for reassurance, too—I was relieved to hear that even for Pullman, “some names come to you and some names you need to find.” Character naming is going to DRIVE ME CRAZY.

My daemon helping me at work.
Pullman also discusses being a fan of the omniscient narrator and laments that this 19th-century style of storytelling has gone out of fashion.
“I feel the narrator is a sort of sprite, actually, a sort of disembodied spirit that can go from place to place, and this has the advantage of not limiting the storytelling consciousness, the narrating consciousness, to one sex, one age, one anything. The narrator can be simultaneously the old and young, male and female, wise and foolish, innocent and experienced, all these things at once, credulous and skeptical, and so on. I love this freedom, this looseness, this untied-down quality that embodying this narrative voice allows me to have. It gives you such an extraordinary freedom that I’m astonished that more writers don’t do it, but now we have writers limiting themselves to one character and sometimes even to one tense, as if they knew nothing of what was happening beyond right now. This seems to me like building a prison around yourself.”
I’m not sure I know how, as a narrator, one switches between male and female—I have to think about that. If anyone out there can add insight to this idea I’d love to hear it. I do have the three books on the “must-read-again” list, which, I guess, is another adjective for them, and I’ll read with Pullman’s quote in mind.

Have a listen to the podcast. It’s a short interview, but good fun if you’re a Pullman fan.
Completely unrelated to post, but very pretty tulips at dusk.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Snow White

In a land where the people had not seen the sun for months nor felt its warmth, but only shivered behind windows filigreed with frost, spring finally arrived. In one house in one town in this winter-weary land there was a neglected garden where, every springtime, there bloomed a small bunch of pure white tulips. 

Each year they came up, pushing through the hard-packed dirt among common weeds like dandelion and tender shoots of periwinkle and coral bells and bugleweed. 

No one noticed the flowers. Even the squirrels ignored the bulbs, for the old maple that hung over the semi-wild space dropped so many maple keys that, come autumn, the little animals had no trouble growing fat on seeds. Why bother digging, they reasoned, for a few bulbous roots when food lay everywhere all around? 

After a few years, the squirrels forgot about the tulips entirely. As for the villagers, for many generations they never noticed the white blooms. There were so many flowers blooming in bright, exotic colours in the spring - why go into a messy old garden for some dusty white tulips that only reminded them of snow-covered fields and the white ice of frozen cisterns that must be broken every morning for fresh water? If they did notice the tulips, they trembled as if cold and turned away.

On this year, after the especially bitter winter, the dependable tulips bloomed white once again, but with one difference, and this changed everything. 

Exactly one half of one petal of one flower was streaked in bold, blood-red scarlet.****

So. The Nature Muse is busy here this morning. And though the above (and more) was dashed off by me (can I copy right the above? I hereby copy right the above beginning of my short story!! : )) as soon as I uploaded these images, a quick web search for "Snow White" images (not Disney inspired) led me to the art of Marianne Stokes (1855-1927).

What a homecoming.

It is so strange to stumble upon something entirely new and for it to feel so familiar that inside you a voice wells up and says, "Yes, I recognize this. I know this!"

 When I saw this image I knew that the Muse was leading me on an especially fortuitous path this morning - not only did the combination of the red-streaked tulip and this woman's art spark a sweet and simple story that's one part Snow White and one part The Ugly Duckling, but the religious iconography ties into the more challenging, longer piece I'm currently...wrestling with/working on.

How beautiful this woman's paintings are!  

How lush the reds. And the expressions on these women's faces. I could lose myself, which is always a good thing when creating.

But for now, best to keep writing and finish up the short story at least.

Thank you again, Marianne Stokes and Mother Nature!

**** copy right Kathleen Dore.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Podcast Thursday: Kim Rosen

Poetry as sacred medicine. What a concept. Of course it is, but it took Kim Rosen to say so.

Learning a poem by heart is something I first had to do in Grade 7. The class learned Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening, Out, Out—,  Sea Fever, The Charge of the Light Brigade, and another about a deer, which I completely forget.

I no longer know them to recite "by heart" anymore, but somehow I took them into me, the rhythm of the words, the up and down of them.

It's very soothing to recite from memory. I think it allows you to ride the words with more fluidity when you recite them aloud from your heart than when you follow along the lines in a book. It's like the difference between a calm sea voyage and riding a camel, bump bump bump (neither of which I've done, just taking poetic license here!)

But can you be SAVED by a poem? Sure, why not? Of course, I say.

So does Kim Rosen. Because she has been saved by a poem. She takes very literally the term "learn by heart," interpreting it as something much different than memorizing.

And now she travels the world, talking about her experience of living with depression and how poetry heals her heart in those difficult times. Her book, Saved By a Poem, is on my wish-list. A visit to her website and a listen to this podcast of an interview with Rosen by CBC's Michael Enright will have to do for now.

Hope you enjoy.