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Archive for the ‘British coastline’ Category

What the Tide at Lindisfarne Has To Teach a Creative Writer

During my visit to The Holy Island of Lindisfarne last year, I sat on the shore by the Lindisfarne Causeway and watched the tide come in and cover the road.20160821_150524

Here are my insights – and a few images – from that experience.

Sitting at the end of the causeway and watching the tide come in is one of the activities suggested for you here Give Yourself a Retreat on Holy Island by Ray Simpson.  It has many benefits and can be quite amusing as you watch cars driving along the road well outside the safe crossing time, and wonder whether they’ll soon be floating away. This too can be a good prompt to reflect upon the quality of patience.20160821_151028

It’s also a challenge to your ability to sit quietly for an extended length of time and meditate; to some it can become boring. We sat with several other people, some of who left early, but we stayed till the water was surging across the road.

I found myself thinking of the High Tide of God; sometimes it comes flooding in over the road and then you may not pass. At other times, it is out, and your way along the road is free.20160821_165105

Of course, you can interpret the tide differently, reversing the meaning.It all depends upon the viewpoint you take; whether you see yourself sitting on the shore, or whether you see yourself as a boat, or as a bird skimming the waves.  Instead of equating the tide with a signal that you must patiently wait, you can equate it with a time for fruitful action. That is how Shakespeare interpreted it when he wrote:  There is a tide in the affairs of men which taken at the flood leads on to fortune. 20160821_165650

So even non religious people can sit here at the end of the causeway and take from this their own reflections on life.

Whichever way you view it, the whole experience is full of symbolic meaning, which you can also explore in this book: Sacred Spaces by Margaret Silf.20160821_170245

My personal reflections for my own life, work equally well when applied to the current world scene.

I believe, with Tolstoy (see my previous blog post here) that “the times produce the man”; and currently, those who voted Trump in as President hold the moral responsibility for elevating him into a major role in their society. The tide in the affairs of men, that Shakespeare referred to, has thrown up this situation… and though many hold different views, perhaps we must just wait for the tide to recede, taking with it all the flotsam and jetsam.20160821_172909.jpg

Curiously, you can apply this principle to the writing of novels too. Sometimes you find you have a major character in a minor role, and vice versa.  This can underlie problems with story-writing when you get stuck, and perhaps you can’t initially work out what you’re doing wrong.

And also you can equate creativity with the tide; the high tide of ideas. As the tide surges in, so can our ideas – but only if we get to work.

And lastly we, as writers, can see the tide as Shakespeare did: a tide of fortune. Are we boats, or birds, or perhaps merely foam on the crest of the waves? We may be a beautiful beached fish, just waiting for the tide to sweep us up again.  However we see it, we can learn many things from sitting patiently at the end of the causeway, and waiting and gazing.

 

What does Eadfrith, artist-scribe of the Lindisfarne Gospels, have to teach creative writers and artists today?

Nothing much, you may think – because Eadfrith was a seventh century monk in a monastery on an island, and we live in the fast, materialistic, time-pressured world of 2016.

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sunset on Lindisfarne

I’ve just spent three days on Lindisfarne (otherwise known as Holy Island), just off the Northumberland coast, where Eadfrith sat in the monastery scriptorium and scribed and decorated the Lindisfarne Gospels every day for two years between  696 and 698 AD, in order to commemorate the elevation of St Cuthbert’s relics. 

So why is it that the book he created is so revered and has such a hold on our imagination now? – apart  from its age and the wonderful fact of its survival?

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Display in the Lindisfarne Heritage Centre, Holy Island

I believe it’s because of the dedication, the patient concentration and the painstaking artistry that breathes out from the pages, and because of what inspired its creation: love and devotion.

Eadfrith created it “for the glory of God and St Cuthbert”.

St Cuthbert himself inspired so much reverence because he was a holy man, at one time bishop of Lindisfarne, who died as a hermit in 687 on Inner Farne (which I recently visited), and around whose body many miracles occurred.

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Sculpture in St Mary’s Church Holy Island, showing the monks who carried Cuthbert’s body to escape from Viking raiders

The astonishing story of his body, which failed to decay for many years, records how he was carried for several decades by faithful monks around Northumberland, to escape Viking attack, before finally it was laid to rest in the spot over which Durham Cathedral was built. You can visit St Cuthbert’s Tomb in Durham Cathedral, a place which has a strong spiritual resonance and atmosphere of holiness.

The glorious book which is the Lindisfarne Gospels is a testament to patience, concentration, love and devotion. preface to St Mark's Gospel, Lindisfarne Gospels

For us now, to gaze at, or to work with, the patterns Eadfrith painted is a pathway to peace and joy – hence the popularity of Celtic colouring-in books for adults, partly because the act of colouring-in forces you to pay close attention and eliminate all distractions. Celtic designs based on the Lindisfarne gospels pop up everywhere20160829_112732 – here’s an image of my lovely metal bookmark displaying Eadfrith’s designs – notice particularly his ornamental birds (Lindisfarne has long been a paradise for birds, so Eadfrith had plenty of them to model his designs on).

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Detail from the Lindisfarne Gospels, in St Mary’s Church Holy Island

In creating the ornamental designs, Eadfrith needed to pay minute attention to the geometrical foundations and symmetry of the overall design – very little was left to chance or the “inspiration of the moment.”

The book he created is now revered not just for the beauty and skill within its pages, I believe, but because that beauty is a physical representation on this earth of a spiritual reality – goodness, peace, patience, holiness and love.

Eadfrith had to source, prepare, or make from scratch everything he used – the parchments of vellum; the pen from a thick reed or quill feather; the ink, from animal, vegetable and mineral raw materials, ground to a fine powder and then mixed with egg white. I have personal experience of something of this latter part of the process at least, because I did an icon-painting course a few years ago and we mixed artists’ pigment with egg-white to paint our own icons on pieces of wood we had ourselves prepared – see the photo here of my own icon of the Archangel Gabriel.20160829_123557

After Eadfrith had created the Gospels, he left the scriptorium and as far as we know he never painted or wrote anything else – not that I’m suggesting this is a model for creative writers of today!

I find his story awe-inspiring and uplifting because it gives me an image of a patient, devoted person sitting alone in a quiet place concentrating absolutely on a work of art, to the exclusion of all else. It makes me think of many others who have created great works in similar circumstances – those who have been perhaps in prison, like St Paul, or Cervantes who wrote Don Quixote, two amongst several examples: or those who have deliberately chosen to go apart into an isolated place like Eadfrith in the scriptorium, free of distractions.

To be free of distractions and able to fully concentrate and devote yourself to the task in hand is such a luxury now, such an ideal for writers and artists to aspire to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Love of the Sea and the East Sussex Coastline

Living in the Midlands, one of the things I most miss is being near the sea. Brought up in Kent, as a child I often went on family trips to Rye and Camber Sands in east Sussex.

To experience the beauty and vastness of the sea is  a magical thing in childhood. I have continued to love the sea all my life.

child on beach at Birling Gap 16 Feb 2016

This half term has been a wonderful opportunity to go to the sea! And I went to east Sussex again – Eastbourne, and the National Trust coastline at Birling Gap.

And I couldn’t resist taking photos – especially of one of my own personal images of paradise, an image that has the power to haunt your dreams and inspire the imagination – a silver sea, radiant in sunlight.

 

 

A Fresh Sense of Perspective From the Sea

Eastbourne view

Eastbourne view

Here are a few views from our recent visit to Eastbourne.

Eastbourne Pier

Eastbourne Pier

Living as I do in the Midlands, I cannot help missing the seaside!  There’s nothing like water – be it river, lake or sea – to make us feel open and free and to give us a fresh sense of perspective.

Now I’m back in Warwick I’m continuing to edit my new novel ‘A Passionate Spirit’ before it goes to be typeset. I have some sharp and perceptive comments from beta readers; their own perspective is invaluable, and I’m just about to go through the ms making changes according to their guidelines.

This editing work will be finished by the time we go to the Lake District at the beginning of August – and then there’ll be more opportunity for reflection among lakes and mountains.

view across to Beachy Head

view across to Beachy Head

view above Holywell Retreat, Eastbourne

view above Holywell Retreat, Eastbourne

Holywell Retreat, A Place of Spiritual Inspiration on the Sussex Coast

I’ve written before in this blog about those sacred spaces which are known in Ancient Celtic terms as thin places.

View of Beachy Head from Holywell Retreat - photo credit Abigail Robinson

View of Beachy Head from Holywell Retreat – photo credit Abigail Robinson

These are places where you are led to believe that the veil between the visible and the invisible worlds is thin. They don’t have to be obviously religious places. In fact once I read of someone who had a religious experience whilst crossing London Bridge in the rush hour. For that person, London Bridge became a thin place.

A thin place may be any place where you have new or happy or inspirational thoughts. And one of my most popular topics on this blog is places I love.

But quite often, probably because our ability to tune into spiritual inspiration is hindered by stress, anxiety, tension and so on, our thin places are literally places of tranquillity where we can move apart from the preoccupations of our daily life.

the beach at Holywell Retreat - photo credit Abigail Robinson

the beach at Holywell Retreat – photo credit Abigail Robinson

Such a place for me, recently, was Holywell Retreat between Eastbourne and Beachy Head. I was there with a friend and my two teenage children just a few days ago.

The weather was mild and warm, the atmosphere still and hushed. A few people were around, but it wasn’t crowded. This was the end of the Easter holiday, and not yet the high season for tourism in Eastbourne. The sea washed over the stony beach. The white cliffs of Beachy Head were directly ahead of us.

A few people sat on benches watching the sea. It occurred to me that, had I not been planning to drive back to Warwick in a couple of hours, I could happily have stayed there all day in this dreamlike state, feeling the warmth on my skin, listening to the murmur of the sea against the pebbles on the beach, gazing at the white cliffs stretching out to the horizon.

Everything that might cause me anxiety melted away. And above all, I was present in the moment. So were my two children, as they wandered around the beach, and so too was my friend. I dare to believe that each one of us was living fully in the present, as you do in the space between sleeping and waking, when your dreams still linger with you.

Do you have a thin place? Or perhaps it is so special to you that you don’t want to reveal its location! Please share in the comments.

 

 

Gazing Out to Sea: The Beauty of the English Coastline

I recently visited Beachy Head, East Sussex, with a friend and  my two teenage children.

Shining cliff (photo  credit: Abigail Robinson)

Shining cliff (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

As we walked along the cliftop, we all agreed: Where in the world could we go that’s more beautiful than this?

Beachy Head, together with the Seven Sisters Country Park and Birling Gap are all protected by The National Trust and they are  a short drive  out of Eastbourne on the south coast.

on Birling Gap Beach (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

on Birling Gap Beach (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

 

Bright path (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

Bright path (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

I was born and brought up in Kent, and it was only thirty five minutes drive from where we lived to the south coast. Camber Sands was a particular favourite, and we regularly visited and ran over the open dunes, usually going on afterwards to the lovely old fishing town Rye, with its evocative fifteenth century Mermaid Inn.

On every trip, I felt the excitement of that first view of the sea.

And now, I say to my own children, just as my father said to us: “who’ll be the first to catch a glimpse of the sea?”

Everything depends upon our own inner state, as we contemplate such landscapes, which can then become sacred spaces.

gazing out to sea (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

gazing out to sea (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

For me, standing on a cliff gazing out to sea is a thing of beauty, a joy for ever. 

Sheila & Abigail on Birling  Gap Beach (photo credit; Jamie Robinson)

Sheila & Abigail on Birling Gap Beach (photo credit; Jamie Robinson)

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