Inside the mind of a writer www.scskillman.co.uk

Archive for July, 2013

Passion, Obsession and Curiosity at the Alternative Guide to the Universe, Hayward Gallery, London

What makes art?

Alternative Guide to the Universe (photo credit: www.southbankcentre.co.uk)

Alternative Guide to the Universe (photo credit: http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk)

A listener posed this  question to our tour guide as we stood looking at two art gallery walls covered with self-portraits of a bag lady, taken in various public photo booths.

And this  was the question I pondered as I , with my two teenage children, looked round an exhibition of wonders at the Hayward Gallery on London’s South Bank last Saturday.

There, displayed for us in The Alternative Guide to the Universe, were the outpourings of unlicensed architects, off-beam physicists, self-taught  artists, arcane code creators, numerologists and  mystical theorizers; untrained farmer-inventors of automata and robots, constructors of imaginary buildings and cities from discarded packaging, and proponents of new theories to replace gravity and relativity.

We gazed at elaborate designs for a robot to roam the universe, and crack the mystery of life after death, with a complex scheme for a new language with which this  robot would communicate these truths to the future inhabitants of planet earth.

We viewed images of exquisite dolls of children and young people which had been created by one man over 20 years, dressed in clothes  he designed and made himself, then posed in numerous positions and photographed; and finally, packed away carefully, not to be seen again by anyone until after his death.

What makes art? I asked myself.

And answers immediately flooded in:

Passion.

Obsession.

Devotion.

Dedication.

A long obedience  in the same  direction.

The creators of the works we saw were a direct inspiration and encouragement to me as a writer.

Some are long-term residents in psychiatric institutions, others are on the fringes of society, just inside the cusp of (apparent) normality.

And they are all remarkable, exceptional people.

And they all have this in common:

They are focussed, committed, and  they direct all their energy into one project consistently, over a number of years  which can range from one to three decades.

If you have this kind of commitment you too could in theory create exquisite things.

Your ideas might not ‘work’, but if you are creative in this life, and you leave a body of work behind you that is intriguing and beguiling and fills people with wonder and amazement and awe, you have added something of lasting value to this world. You may even have fulfilled your God-given purpose.

Flowers for John Clare, Poet of Rural England: ‘The Peasant Poet’

This weekend my daughter and I visited family members in Northborough and attended the John Clare Festival in Helpston, Northamptonshire.

The children of John Clare School bring their flower cushions to lay on the poet's grave at Helpston Church (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

The children of John Clare School bring their flower cushions to lay on the poet’s grave at Helpston Church (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

We thoroughly enjoyed sharing in the community celebrations of John Clare (1793-1864), their local poet.

JOHN CLARE was born in Helpston in 1793 and deeply loved the natural world. During his life he wrote both poetry and autobiographical prose celebrating rural life and scenery, yet he suffered a series of severe breakdowns in later life, and spent his last 20 years in an asylum in Northampton.

He is now  recognized to be as great as his contemporaries Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Keats, Shelley and Blake.

Yet in his time, despite an early ‘false dawn’ when he enjoyed a brief fame and his  first volume of poems outsold Wordsworth and Keats, Clare was marketed as ‘the peasant poet’ meaning ‘ill-educated and poor’, hinting that it was remarkable he could write poetry at all, let alone great poetry.

Now in his own community, The John Clare Society ensures he is celebrated, and I highly recommend John Clare Cottage in Helpston. A visit here to learn about the poet, his work and his life  is fascinating.

As you enter the Dovehouse in the beautiful cottage garden, you listen to recordings of some Clare poems, recited by adults and by children. Many must be deeply touched by these words of Clare’s:

I am – yet what I am, none cares or knows,

Local schoolchildren bring flowers to John Clare's grave in Helpston Churchyard (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

Local schoolchildren bring flowers to John Clare’s grave in Helpston Churchyard (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

My friends forsake me like a memory lost;

I am the self-consumer of my woes

They rise and vanish in oblivion’s host…

How comforted and reassured John Clare may have been if he could have looked into the future and seen not only his greatness as a poet fully recognized, but also his memory honoured in such a beautiful way today in his own community.

We listened as a choir of children from John Clare School sang to us, and watched as prizes were awarded to the winners of a poetry competition for a poem about the natural world,  in the tradition of John Clare.

This event, together with others held during the John Clare Festival  in Helpston,  made an inspirational weekend; local bards and poets laureate competed in a poetry slapdown with poems that were not only very funny but also thought-provoking.

The children's flower cushions on John Clare's grave (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

The children’s flower cushions on John Clare’s grave (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

And I reflected, that in this life, sometimes people who live by their imagination, in order to inspire others, suffer  as John Clare did, with lack of recognition, with social and class prejudice, with mental ill health; often the creative life can bring suffering. Yet creative people ultimately are  driven forward by a deep love of their subject; so it was in the case of John Clare.

I for one cannot read his exquisite poetry about flowers,woodlands, open fields, birds, animals and insect, and then  observe the very things he wrote about, without feeling this.

Book Trailer Fun for Mystical Circles

I’ve been out and about in Warwick and the Cotswold hills with my film-maker daughter Abigail, having great fun as Abigail puts together a book trailer for my romantic suspense  novel Mystical Circles.

Mystical Circles cover image

Mystical Circles cover image

As I’ve watched our actors follow Abigail’s directions and play my characters, my story has come alive in a new way. I’ve been reminded of the reason why I wrote the novel in the first place; the events in my own life  that provided  inspiration.

We’ve been filming in a setting that could be Craig’s sixteenth century farmhouse in that Cotswolds valley – HQ of the New Age spiritual group Wheel of Love.  So much so, that when you see it, you’ll believe you are there.

As I watch our actress, I feel what it’s like to be 22-year-old Zoe, who’s not long out of university, and believes she’s found paradise. What more could she want in this life than a vocation, a loving partner, a spiritual philosophy,  and on top of that, a beautiful place to live in?

Zoe determines to stay there for ever; and sends an excited email to her sensible older sister Juliet. No sooner has freelance journalist Juliet received the email than she drops everything, jumps into her car in London, and drives up to Gloucestershire to investigate, thus setting the whole story in motion.

This is the perfect time of year to be shooting the book trailer. The story takes place in the month of June.

Cotswolds landscape 6 June 2013 (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

Cotswolds landscape 6 June 2013 (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

We’ve just filmed Craig and Zoe together, and we still need to film Juliet and Zoe arguing with each other.

The actors are having fun with this, and so are we!

And I’m delighted with the positive response from so many people involved in our project, some have made locations available to us, others have volunteered their acting skills, and one has even provided a high resolution video camera. It is their good will which is making this book trailer possible.

Here are a couple of shots  to whet your appetite for the book trailer.

I hope it will appears on my You Tube channel in the next couple of weeks.

actors playing Zoe & Craig  (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

actors playing Zoe & Craig (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

Watch out for  the link to it on this blog!

In Search of Authenticity: Our True Selves and Our Essential Need for Community

How can we be true to ourselves?

And how can we live in ways  that are true to what  we believe?

And how can we mix up our inner and outer worlds, so we are not compartmentalised like a waffle, but rather, more like a bowl of spaghetti?

These were just three of the questions posed to us at a weekend conference I’ve just attended, as one of 80 from my church, St Mark’s in Leamington Spa, at the Hayes Conference  Centre in Swanwick, Derbyshire.

our group from St Mark's in the main conference hall at Hayes Conference Centre Swanwick 29 June 2013 (photo credit: PaulMileham www.st-marks.net)

our group from St Mark’s in the main conference hall at Hayes Conference Centre Swanwick 29 June 2013 (photo credit: Paul Mileham http://www.st-marks.net)

And in between enjoying the beautiful gardens in the sunshine, drinking in the bar, wandering by the lakes, going kayaking, cycling or walking, we listened to an excellent speaker, Annie Naish from the Lee Abbey Community.

The theme was Authenticity.

Annie invited us to consider how as members of a Christian community we can be “real” with each other,  our authentic selves, sharing our sorrows and troubles, recognizing we are all wounded people, and that we all need each other.

To illustrate our need for community, she played a video clip from the BBC TV documentary narrated by David Tennant, showing the solitary Emperor Penguin in the icy wilderness of Antarctica, who became separated from his community, but struggled on alone until he reached them again – and the life-saving comfort of their body warmth.

Annie Naish (photo credit Paul Mileham www.st-mark.net)

Annie Naish (photo credit Paul Mileham http://www.st-mark.net)

And just so, said Annie, should we live this out, through our relationships with each other in our community: by showing sincere and practical love; looking for the good in people; putting others first; being willing to be vulnerable; listening; and showing humility and practising forgiveness.

Anybody who ever seeks to understand this life and our place in it, will have to engage with this search for our true authentic selves.

This is the work of a lifetime, and it runs through many religions and faiths, through psychology and philosophy, through psychotherapy, psychoanalysis and counselling.

Annie herself lives as part of the Lee Abbey Community, and every member has to work through their relationship with each other within the community. Churches, said Annie, should be full of wounded people, places where people can weep, and share the tough times they’re going through. The authentic Christian life is  “systematically unsafe”. It’s a risky business, and sometimes it’s like a bungee jump over white water rapids. And she showed us a breathtaking video clip to demonstrate this.

Annie suggested we should be intentional. An authentic Christian faith is a long obedience in the same direction.

And if we are to be authentic in relationships, we have to bring what is hidden into the light. It’s costly, because  we’re vulnerable.

The young people having fun at Swanwick (photo credit: Jamie Robinson)

The young people having fun at Swanwick (photo credit: Jamie Robinson)

Annie gave us practical guidance. We have to listen and reflect before leaping to self-defence. This applies in many situations in life.

Annie called for us to think of everything we do as a task done through relationship.

And the goal for each of us, as Elrond said to Aragorn in “The Lord of the Rings” , is to “Become all that you were born to be.”

the lake at Hayes Conference Centre 29 June 2013 (photo credit: Paul Mileham www.st-marks.net)

the lake at Hayes Conference Centre 29 June 2013 (photo credit: Paul Mileham http://www.st-marks.net)

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