I had a really interesting time this weekend, attending arts events locally for two nights running (I know – such decadence!), both of which, coincidentally, took place in the Big Outdoors. Thank goodness the weather behaved, then, and that overcast and a bit chilly as it was at times, it didn’t really rain. This despite the preceding days spent worry it’d hammer it down and wondering how many layers I should wear in case it did. (The answer was, on Saturday, not enough. Thank goodness the venue provide a hire-a-blanket service!)
Saturday night saw me on a farm watching an open-air production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream staged by the Festival Players. The Players are an amateur company of more than 60 years standing, and I was very impressed with their production indeed. There were parts of the story I hadn’t fully understood until seeing their down-to-earth version of it. The staging was simple but effective and several members of the company should consider giving up the day job and running off for a life on stage.
On Sunday I sat in the grounds of the historic ruins at Bradgate Park, listening to music at the second Bradgate Folk Picnic. There was an eclectic mix of music over the day, some of it more to my taste than others, but the quality of the performers was excellent, their between-song banter entertaining and the atmosphere of the family-friendly event relaxed and fun. As with Saturday’s play, this was an event organised largely by volunteers and staged for the benefit of charity (the Park is run by a charitable trust), but we wouldn’t have known that in either case if they hadn’t mentioned it themselves.
The point of me posting about all this is that as well as anxiety about the weather, I was more than a little worried last week about taking a whole weekend away from creative endeavours of my own. I have projects that need moving forward and stories that I promised myself I’d finish off by the end of the summer. And as the weather has hinted at very strongly this past few days, summer is packing its suitcases as we speak and autumn readying itself to creep in.
But just as the weather didn’t floor me, taking the weekend off from writing didn’t do me any harm, either. In fact, it actually fed my creativity. So much so that on Sunday, I took a sketch book with me ‘just in case’. There were lots of things I wanted to scribble in response to the music, though I didn’t actually write anything, too busy engaging with the lyrics of the songs.
But I did draw as I listened. Nothing fancy or particularly effective, but it was creative all the same, and at the end of the day it’s all grist for the mill. As author and teacher Julia Cameron says in The Artist’s Way, we need to spend time filling our inner well – our creative reservoir – if we don’t want to run dry of material.
There are lots of different ways you can fill the well, and enjoying theatre and music with friends in the chill of the hills of Charnwood worked beautifully for me.
The person in my drawing is the wonderful Grace Petrie – who has a cracking voice, writes thought-provoking, intelligent lyrics and gives a very amusing commentary on her songs.
I was possibly the only person at the festival taking photos of trees. I was trying to get the ‘hands uplifted to the sky’ effect of this tree’s canopy (but gave up eventually in favour of a nice warm cup of tea!)
‘Hi, how’re you today?’ a friend texted this morning.
‘I’m okayish, thanks. Woke up in a ‘fug’ from a deep early morning sleep, weird dream on the edge of my consciousness, half-remembered insights from it. Been chatting since with the child within – you know, usual Alison stuff.’
‘Your usual Alison stuff makes me chuckle. In a good way,’ she replied. I’m so lucky with my friends!
‘Ta. I’ve offloaded onto my morning pages now, so I’m good for the day ahead!’ I said.
‘What’s morning pages?’
What indeed are morning pages?
Something I’ve used pretty regularly since hearing about Julia Cameron’s bestselling ‘The Artist’s Way’ at a NAWE coaching course back in 2012. ‘You should give it a go,’ said fellow trainee Beverley Ward. ‘Yes, definitely,’ added another writer, overhearing our conversation, followed by the agreement of three or four others as they joined in the chat. So when I got home, I ordered the book and gave the idea a go.
Basically, morning pages are the practice of sitting down first thing in the morning and writing 3 pages of stream of consciousness in long hand. Every day. Forever. Then you park the pages somewhere, never to be looked at again. You can forget them, they’ve done their job.
It sounds like a waste of energy to spend time writing about ‘nothing in particular’ – time that, your rational brain might tell you, would be better spent on your work in progress. But it’s actually very useful. Very useful indeed.
Morning pages have helped me navigate redundancy-related anxiety, my marriage ending, empty-nest syndrome and, more recently, the death of my father. But they’ve also helped me work out my life purpose and my current career, what I’m good at and what I’m not, and to find out who I am and what I believe in. To become my authentic self on all levels. The latter is an an ongoing process, of course, and one I expect to continue with until my dying day, but I’m much, much further along with it than I would’ve been without morning pages.
Julia’s not the only one to recommend the practice: Natalie Goldberg talks about it, too, in ‘Writing Down the Bones,’ though she uses different terminology and isn’t as prescriptive about how much you should actually write. For her, the important thing is to establish a regular habit of writing the personal, of tapping into your own well, not least because doing so feeds into your creative stuff.
And I agree with her: I’ve found that writing morning pages flexes my writing muscles so well that they want to carry on ‘crafting’. Indeed, my having done them this morning is directly responsible for me having written a blog post today, because having already begun to ‘talk’ with my inner voice, I haven’t wanted to shut it up. Today it’s a blog that it wanted to put onto the page, but it so easily could’ve been work on my children’s book or memoir, or the beginnings of a poem that it was prompting me to write.
I sent a Huffington Post article to my friend to explain about morning pages and you can read about them in a blog by Julia Cameron herself here. But you don’t need to buy the book or course to be able to do it – it’s not rocket science. Just sit yourself down somewhere – anywhere – first thing in the morning with an A4 lined pad and write 3 pages in longhand of anything that comes into your head. Even if at first you’re just writing ‘I hate writing and I’ve no idea what to write’ over and over and over. Trust me, the good stuff will come, and if you do them for a long enough period of time, you’ll notice a shift in your perspective about many aspects of your life.
But even if you don’t, it’ll clear your head of the ‘fug’ for the day. As it has mine today. So I’m off to enjoy my day, now, in a much better mood than I would’ve if I hadn’t ‘done my pages.’
In July 2014 I was commissioned by Leicestershire Promotions – the company behind Go Leicestershire – to gather information for a new trail they were developing to support tourism in the area.
The idea of the trail was to build upon interest in Stoneywell Cottage, a property in the Charnwood Hills designed by Leicester-born architect Ernest Gimson and newly acquired at that time by the National Trust.
My work on the trail included researching sites which would interest visitors to the area and at the same time support local businesses. I provided historical information on the Arts & Craft movement in relation to the county and on Ernest Gimson himself, sourcing a number of images for Leicestershire Promotions to use. The company edited the copy-writing I provided into a leaflet which is available at museums, tourist information outlets and hotels across the county.
You can read about the leaftlet here.
In February 2018 I took part in a series of Digital Storytelling Training Workshops led by Dr Antonia Liguori, a researcher in Applied Digital Storytelling at Loughborough University.
Part of the ‘Europe of Our Lives’ project, the workshops aimed to teach digital storytelling skills to 30 or so adults from across Europe, many working in adult education, so that they in turn can pass those skills on to others.
We were each asked to bring along an object of importance to us which connected us to our history and heritage. I chose the key to the Old Rectory, a local museum I’ve volunteered at for many years. Through a series of storytelling activities and tutorials, we were shown how to craft a script about our objects, how to record this script as a voice over and how to add images and other media to create a film we could share with others.
The majority of us had never made a film before, but the finished results, viewed in a dedicated screening afternoon, were stunning. The act of watching them together also created a connection between us – a group of diverse people separated, in some cases, by language – in ways I would never have imagined. The screening was a truly magical afternoon and I came away from it with increased confidence in myself as a storyteller and a deeper understanding of how people are fundamentally the same, with the same needs and desires.
The possibilities for applying digital storytelling to community work are endless and I look forward to passing the skills I learned on to the children and adults I work with. I have no doubt at all that they’ll benefit from the experience as much as I did.
You can watch my film – ‘Discovering the Past’ – here.
I’ve just heard about a short film that’s been released by The Hero Project about their brilliant Famous Fifty Exhibition special event held in Coalville Market one cold night last November.
I visited the event with my friend Liz Waddell and we were blown away by the whole thing: the creativity each organisation showed in decorating their soldier; the effort Deana and her team put into transforming Coalville Market into trenches, a cinema, a thinking booth, and then turning the whole thing into a darkened tunnel, visible only with head torches; and the fantastically creative mind that came up with the idea for the whole shebang in the first place. She really does think outside the box, does Deana, but the most inspiring thing is the way she manages to bring her ideas to reality, no matter how unlikely that might initially seem.
I felt very privileged to be involved with the Famous Fifty project, commissioned to run a couple of writing activities for local residents and, later, to dash in a single day between 3 schools and their youth base in the Market Place, prompting young people to imagine themselves in other people’s shoes and share their thoughts in poetry or prose. Later, I created a ‘found’ poem from snatches of their work, and their writing and mine became part of the exhibition.
The Famous Fifty soldiers are currently on display at the Coalville Co-op in Bridge Road, but plans are afoot for them to move to Yorkshire Sculpture Park very soon. In the meantime, The Heroes are working on their next project – Fifty Famous Females, a celebration of women past, present and future – to mark the centenary of the Representation of the People Act of 1918 which first allowed women to vote.
Here’s a link to the film about the exhibition (and if you look carefully behind the soldiers on display, you’ll see occasional glimpses of a film of me reading my poem.)
I say lucky, but in truth it happened because I did that thing creatives often find hard to do: I opened my mouth and asked if I could join in. In other words, I emailed the project’s producer and let her know that I was available, have relevant knowledge and skills, and was keen to do something for the project.
Self-doubt is no stranger to the writer: we already live with that mocking voice asking why we’d think anyone wants to hear our stories. If you add to that a reluctance to push ourselves ahead of others – to queue jump, in effect – and to ask for something that we want, then we’re stuffed.
But several years as a freelance have shown me that simply having a good set of skills and being in the market place isn’t enough to get you picked for things. Sometimes there’s no turn-taking. Sometimes when you spot an opportunity, you’ve got to be brave and just go for it before somebody else thinks to do it instead. To send off what Creative Coach Pete Mosley calls a ‘cheeky letter’ and suggest yourself for a piece of work.
What’s the worse that can happen? They might say no – and your ego will be bruised for a bit (and, for a while at least, you’ll probably hate every artist who does get taken on for the project!) Even then, they may well remember you for next time, when your skills and experience are a better fit for what they need someone to do.
But they might also say ‘wow, that’s a fab idea – let’s talk!’ and you’ll be one step closer to running that workshop, or book reading, or the contract with the new agent.
It’s then that luck comes into it – luck that they’re running workshops at all, that they haven’t already got someone who can do what you do, that your style and experience fits with what they’re looking for.
That’s what happened to me. I was lucky, but I wouldn’t have achieved that luck – and the freelance fee – if I hadn’t first been brave and let LU Arts know that I was out there.
And that means that I wouldn’t have run the writing workshop at Charnwood Museum which introduced me to new members of the local writing community nor heard the fantastic things that they wrote.
I wouldn’t have read my children’s story to an appreciative audience in Queen’s Park (thus achieving my New Years’ Resolution 7 months early!)
I wouldn’t have flagged my ‘writer’ status to 45 pupils at a local primary school nor worked with artist Chiara Dellerba on the workshops we delivered there.
I very nearly didn’t hit ‘send’ on my email to LU Arts because it felt a bit ‘spammy’ sending it. But I’m so glad that I did. Because they clearly didn’t mind and the project ended up being a wonderful opportunity for me – to my standing as a writer in the community and for my creative output, too.
What ‘cheeky letter’ could you send to move yourself forward with what you want to do?
Yes, I definitely do! And we need more people to love Loughborough’s Old Rectory Museum, too, so it can be preserved and made use of for generations to come!