Novelists, have you “dreamcast the film adaptation of your book? Many do! If you do it early enough in the process of writing your novel, it can be very helpful. Though I understand that the reality of having your book turned into a film can sometimes not be a very pleasant experience. I was amused by this quote from the blog My Book, the Movie:
They would ask me what actors I saw in the roles. I would tell them, and they’d say, ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’ And that would be the end of it. (Elmore Leonard, in 2000, on the extent of his input for Hollywood’s adaptation of his novels).
Last week I visited HRH the Prince of Wales’ garden at Highgrove for the third time.
Each time I’ve visited – the first time in pouring rain in August 2015, the second time near the end of the wildflower season in June 2016, and now in October 2016, we’ve been led by a different guide and each has chosen a different slant. On this occasion our guide (a gentleman in his eighties) told us that HRH the Prince of Wales takes his guides round the garden and tells them all the stories and points out the things he wants them to mention to the visitors. Inevitably, however, each individual will have his or her own angle onto the garden.
So this time I was able to notice not only those aspects of the garden this particular guide was focusing on, but those which carried stories told on my previous two visits. One of the tales told by today’s guide (tongue-in-cheek) portrayed the Prince as an unexpected visitor to Highgrove whose favourite occupation, having turned up without prior warning, is to hide behind the hedge and listen in on what visitors say about his garden. In fact most of the time the visitors are silent with either admiration, delight, puzzlement, bemusement or even, dare I suggest, indignation, when they realise that they are not in the Land of the Immaculate, and that weeds are not treated like public enemy number one in this garden, moss is allowed to multiply to its fullest extent on stone, and different principles apply, other than those we might expect, perhaps from National Trust gardens, or those associated with Capability Brown.
This time I felt able to say which are most definitely my favourite aspects of the gardens at Highgrove. For those who have visited, this list will be meaningful, but for those who haven’t, then I suggest either reading this book on the subject, or just letting your imagination play with the images the list suggests:
I love the stumpery, and the little gnome that is to be found inside one of the stumps there; the temple garden, with its two statues to ward off evil spirits, and the network of dry sticks and twigs in the temple pediments, that manage to look like intricate wood carvings; the goddess of the wood; the wall of gifts; the four daughters of Odessa; the pond with redundant stonework and limestone topped by gunnera, the topiary frog and snail.
To me, this is a garden that is playful, quirky, eccentric; a fantasy made real by someone who has the means, the time, patience and heart to achieve it. As I wander through the garden, I can’t help expecting trick fountains – such as those which King Ludwig of Bavaria incorporated into his own garden, in the gardens of his dreamlike palace.
This weekend I joined a cast in a drama – at St Mark’s Church in Leamington Spa – which I think Shakespeare would have loved. Why? because we were rather like the little band of local workmen in that Athenian wood in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
But we were not playing “Pyramus and Thisbe”. Instead, without rehearsal, and with hastily gathered together props, we were ambitiously – and creatively – portraying the entire story of Joseph, (but not with Lloyd Webber music and lyrics).
I must admit I’d been wondering how I’d pan out as the Butler/Servant, with my son Jamie as the older Joseph. I was a little concerned beforehand about the large number of props, and the extent to which I’d need to rely on several other actors simultaneously doing the right thing – not to mention a question about whether there was going to be any kind of stage management i.e. people in charge of making sure microphones and props were in the right hands at the right times.
And it was more fun and more memorable than a slick performance by professionals would have been.
For anything that could possibly go wrong in such a set-up, did.
The two narrators doubled up as stage manager and director.
Some of the performers behaved as if they’d only been cast that morning and had never seen the script before.
I was convinced others were working to different scripts than the one I had, and I wondered whether it had been revised since I was given my copy.
The narrators forgot some of their lines thus depriving actors of cues they’d been relying on.
The one hand-held mic was being passed frantically from actor to actor.
A prop (whistle) was given to me as the Servant/Butler, which I was to blow every time Joseph gave the instruction for someone to be arrested or released from jail, to alert the jailer. But then the director whipped it away unexpectedly from me and gave it to Potiphar – who didn’t even know he had to use it and spoke his lines without using it. The director intervened and grabbed the whistle and gave it to him. Having used it, Potiphar then put it down somewhere where I, the Servant, couldn’t see it. So in the end I was unable to use it. And since my whistle had disappeared, Joseph’s brother Simeon was never let out of jail.
The actor who played the aforesaid jailer wore shorts and a helmet which was too small for him and he looked like an English policeman on holiday in Egypt.
The whole drama was like a test case for what happens when a troop of unrehearsed amateur actors get together – exactly as Shakespeare envisaged it with his Rude Mechanicals, with Wall and Moonshine and the chink and Bottom deciding he was going to get up after his character had died and tell the audience it was all right, he was alive really.
And all this fired up my imagination as I thought how it was going to feed into my new novel – my follow-up to A Passionate Spirit – which features a cast of actors filming A Midsummer Night’s Dream in some south east London woods….
I bought this book recently in a National Trust gift shop, and found it captivating. Rosalind Kerven explores the raw material from which many of our great fantasy novelists have derived their archetypes. She includes “mystical tales of faery royalty, mischievous goblins, helpful house-elves, changelings and enchantments across the British isles”, with spotlight features on “faery folklore, faery morals, the various faery tribes, and spells and dealings between faeries and mortals”. As a paranormal thriller writer I loved this wonderful survey of centuries of folklore and faery mythology in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
The book reminded me too of why I was so fascinated by the idea of supernatural malevolence hidden beneath mystical beauty (a common theme in faery lore and in Arthurian legends) which was part of my inspiration for “A Passionate Spirit.”
Rosalind Kerven covers all the major themes in traditional tales of the faery realm, including what she describes as “typical Faery perversity”, spells that are both mischievous and malevolent, and the toxic nature of any deals struck by a faery with a mortal. Reading these tales reminds us that any mortal who ultimately comes out well from dealing with a faery, is extremely lucky!
Shakespeare had it exactly right with his fairies in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, showing them having fun with and mocking the folly of the human beings, then putting things to rights once they have tired of their sport, wryfully signing off with the words, “If we shadows have offended…” In widespread stories down through the centuries, faeries are shown behaving towards mortals rather like a supernatural gang of brigands running a protection racket. These tales made me reflect upon how much they say of the life experience of their creators; an explanation for the changing fortunes we all encounter in this world.
There is so much here that we can identify with on the level of our own unconscious: “The transformation of a familiar path into an endlessly looping labyrinth” – for which a well-known antidote is to “remove one’s coat, turn it inside out and put it on again”; the experience of being “pixy-led”; the idea of obtaining “faery sight” which reveals a parallel world. I can see from this book how deeply influenced JK Rowling was by British folklore, in the Harry Potter novels: Dobby is set free when his master gives him an item of clothing; Harry is deposited as a baby on the Dursleys’ doorstep, by magical agency; and the idea of veritaserum, to name just three examples among countless others.
Highly recommended for adults interested in a survey of archetypal themes in folklore and mythology, though not suitable as a storybook for young children; they are best introduced to fairy tales and folklore through the many other books aimed specifically at their age-groups.
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.
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.
And today at 8.20am I heard an item about the party for former RADA students that the Queen will be holding in Buckingham Palace this evening (Monday 17 February 2014)
I’m very interested in the life of an actor, partly because the acting world does come into my new novel A Passionate Spirit (in its final revision stages).
But also the life of an actor has strong comparisons with that of a writer.
And one interviewee on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme put it perfectly. She said she entered RADA on her first day and saw actress Joanna Page, “so attractive and so talented”, and she thought of how great that actress was, and then she started making comparisons…
“I thought that 2 weeks later I’d be asked to pack my bags and get back up north,” she said.
This sums up what we writers may think a thousand times… when we go into Waterstones and see the huge volume of novels on the shelves, with brilliant, stunning covers, and hugely successful names. And this is how we feel when we see another famous novelist win the Man Booker, or see them interviewed on the TV show we can only dream of being on.
What are we doing? Comparing ourselves with “the great and the good.”
If we do that, we will always fall short.
We will always be tempted to pack our bags and go back north.
This particular actress fought that negative temptation, and stuck it out at RADA. She said she had to be thick-skinned, and “take it on the chin”; it was pretty tough, but by the time her course ended, and she came out, she could handle rejection. “Rejection: that was nothing. After 3 years of RADA I was ready for it.”
She had experienced it so many times, it held no fears for her. Nothing could hold her back.
My dream, wrote the designer William Morris, is a dreamof what has never been… and therefore, since, the world is alive, and moving yet, my hope is the greater that it one day will be… dreams have before now come about of things so good… we scarcely think of them more than the daylight, though once people had to live without them, without even the hope of them.
Among all things most romantic to me is a high place.
I go to high places for calmness and peace.
There are a number of high places I love to visit, from where I live in Warwickshire.
And just such a place, 35 minutes drive from my home, is Broadway Tower in the heart of the Cotswolds, which I have visited many times, most recently the day before writing this post.
From the top of the tower one may see, on a fine day, thirteen counties.
No wonder idealists and romantics went there in the nineteenth century after their friend took a lease on the Tower, following the death of the Tower’s creator and original owner, the Earl of Coventry. For the Tower, a picturesque folly on the summit of Broadway Hill, emerged from the romantic movement. So, too, flambuoyant, theatrical and sensual, did Painswick Rococo Garden emerge from this tradition, as I wrote in a recent review on Trip Adviser.
William Morris was just one of the many idealists and romantics who came here. His rich, complex and exquisite designs now adorn soft furnishings, and a selection of them may be seen on the second floor of the Tower.
He is a beacon of romantic idealism, combining a love of medieval craftsmanship and Gothic design elements.
And his association with Broadway Tower – together with that of his contemporaries of like mind – is appropriate.
It’s certainly true that I, too, feel an affinity with the Romantics, the Pre-Raphaelites, the members of the Arts & Craft movement, and their dreams and visions.
For where would we be in this life if none among us aspired to, or dreamed of impossible ideals?
Read the full text of The Dream of William Morris here.
What could be more poignant than a formerly grand mansion, standing on a cliff, now partially demolished, abandoned and desolate?
Gaping staircases you cannot climb; stone balconies you long to stand on to gaze at the view; empty windows you feel sure a shadowy figure should flit past.
Just such a gaunt mansion is Guy’s Cliffe House, our local romantic ruin, perched atop a cliff above the River Avon, catching the imagination of all who pass by on the other side of the river.
Gothic stone tracery, an ornate balcony, evidence of a flambuoyant builder, remain to tantalize you.
For one of those who occupied the house embellished it with Roman, classical, mediaeval and Gothic elements.
Guy’s Cliffe House so caught my own imagination during the past few years that I occasionally wished that, if I was hugely wealthy, I could pay for it to be restored to its former glory.
In reality, I’d like it to be made safe for people to enter and explore, and for new timber staircases and walkways to be constructed, so we could climb to those balconies and gaze at the view.
And I’d like all the original formal gardens to be restored so people can wander around in them and enjoy the romantic setting.
I feel that Guy’s Cliffe is a poignant illustration of what happens when wealthy property owners do not successfully pass on their property to an equally rich and prudent and competent heir.
One developer/house-breaker deliberately demolished part of the Guy’s Cliffe House, then all the contents were auctioned off, and and accidental fire and neglect did the rest.
We all find it difficult to understand how such a grand property gets damaged, ransacked and neglected like that.
8 foot tall bamboo now crowds close to the cave in the cliff, where Guy of Warwick, in the tenth century, returned from the Holy Land and mysteriously chose to live for two years, rather than reuniting with his wife and child in the house above.
In Australia I found a unique Centre – located in Brisbane, and run by an Englishman.
35 years ago, LIONEL FIFIELD, formerly an accountant, set up an organisation called The Relaxation Centre of Queensland, using premises in Brisbane.
I spent nearly five years living in Brisbane, and during that time I must have tasted every kind of course, workshop and seminar that the Relaxation Centre had to offer.
There was only one problem. Attending courses at the Relaxation Centre was addictive.
And I have not found any similar organisation in England – though I believe that it would meet a great need.
Lionel Fifield was an engaging inspirational speaker. He had an entertaining, at times Monty Pythonesque style. And the Australians loved him – and I have every reason to believe they still do.
Here is what Lionel says of himself: “For over 35 years now he has been co-ordinating and developing a programme at the Relaxation Centre of Queensland focusing on managing stress, facing fears, building confidence, improving communication and exploring potential. Lionel likes to talk about his own “funny ways” and how quickly we can separate ourselves from each other and from our own sense of knowing.”
The Relaxation Centre maintains that it advances no one particular religious or spiritual system, and many who teach there have different spiritual outlooks. Spiritual healing, however, has long been on the agenda. I explore spiritual healing in my current work-in-progress, a romantic suspense novel called “A Passionate Spirit”.
BERT WEIR, leader of The Centre Within courseat the Relaxation Centre, was another inspirational figure. Formerly a salesman, Bert was a man full of humour and practical hints. “I’m a very practical man,” he would begin his course, “and I will only talk about things that work.” There was much psychological wisdom, too, in the Centre Within Course, and many practical strategies to combat stress and anxiety and false attitude. Again, The Centre Within Course was addictive. I must have taken the complete course at least four times. And therein lies the danger of inspirational speakers – do we attend purely to delight in the entertaining style of the speaker? Maybe – but we can always hope we are learning something along the way that is permanent!
A third individual stands out in my memories of the Relaxation Centre, and this was a character I shall name only as GREG, teacher of a Dream Interpretation course. Greg again was a very down-to-earth character full of wisdom and humour. Nobody would have guessed he was a spiritual adept in the art of dream yoga – an art he had learned from an old Tibetan lama he’d met in Sydney. Later he was to provide inspiration for my novel “Mystical Circles”.
When I took Greg’s course in dream interpretation there grew upon me this feeling. “There’s something light and bright and fluid and flexible about him… something Puckish, childlike, teasing and infinitely wise and spiritually attuned… he’s like a children’s storyteller, a street corner entertainer.. . he’s mobile, passionately involved and sincere, yet also detached, low-key, non-judgemental.”
It was from Greg that I first heard of the concept of having “a fluid and flexible ego” (mentioned in my novel “Mystical Circles“).
An adept in Tibetan Dream Yoga, Greg possessed the gift of “shapeshifting”. I witnessed his face changing during the course of one of the dream yoga sessions. I later put this experience into my novel “Mystical Circles” when Juliet sees Craig’s face changing. I had by that stage learned that this is one of the arts of a shaman, and part of the skills of shapeshifting. I make no value-judgement at this point; I simply tell you what I have observed, and what has arisen from my own experience.
All these people were way-markers for me. It’s no accident that for me, my spiritual journey began with a mountain and that journey took me to another mountain, in Australia again.
As T.S. Eliot says in his poem “Little Gidding”:
For the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time (tweet this)
If you live in the UK, have you ever found a centre which runs courses like The Relaxation Centre of Queensland? Whatever you believe, does the work of this centre ring any bells for you? Do you identify with this journey? Share your thoughts and feelings with me about this journey of the spirit. I’d love to have your comments!
Does an experience of joy and spiritual upliftment only count as a mystical experience if it changes your life?
I believe these experiences gather significance cumulatively, over the course of a lifetime, through the repetition of events grouped around a similar theme – just as in a recurring dream.
And for me the recurring theme is mountains.
When I was about seven years old our family went on holiday to Wales. Early one morning, a few of us got up and set out from our guesthouse for a walk before breakfast. To me, the world was fresh and new, everything was full of potential and wonder, the air held a miraculous clarity, the sky was a pure translucent blue… and at the end of the road was a mountain.
All I could think was “At the end of the road there’s a mountain – and we’re going to climb it.”
And that “start of the holidays” experience of mine was to inform all subsequent “glimpses of eternity” throughout my life.
Several years later I joined the Yoga for Health Foundation which was then led by Howard Kent (1919-2005). I wouldn’t describe Howard Kent as charismatic – probably one of the things I appreciated about him – but I liked and respected his character – wisdom, spirituality & a dry sense of humour.
I went on a Yoga Tour of North India and Nepal with Howard Kent and a group of yoga enthusiasts.
We flew to Delhi and our trip included Agra (the Taj Mahal), Varanasi (the Burning Ghats by the Ganges), the erotic temple carvings of Khajuraho, as well as the Red City of Jaipur, and finally Khathmandu in Nepal.
I have a vivid memory of time spent at twilight on the roof of a derelict maharajah’s palace in the jungle near Khajuraho, with Howard Kent and another member of our party, during which we talked about whether it was a good idea or not to renounce the world. (We concluded it wasn’t). Out in the jungle we heard a tiger growl. Otherwise there was an overwhelming silence and tranquility. And I even remember the cloud formation in the sky, which presented itself to me in the shape of a giant fish.
But this post is about one other aspect of that Indian tour – our journey through the Gharhwal Himalayas, (known as “the land of the gods” ), a journey which took us from Rishikesh to Badrinath, centre of Hindu pilgrimage.
And there, in Badrinath, one peak – Mount Neel Kanth – encapsulated all my recurring experiences around mountains.
I quote here from a passage in my journal, written on the night of our arrival in Badrinath.
“this town and the mountains around it have an awesome quality… an almost palpable presence filled the valley… the source of this power was Neel Kanth, a mountain of white crystal whose peak appeared between the two dark slopes of Naryan… luminous in the full moon.. it shone out like a mystical vision.” The next day, I wrote,”the spiritual intensity of the night had vanished but a deeper serenity remained.”
Is there a recurring image in your life – in your dreams, or in the real world, which means a lot to you on your journey? Whatever you believe, does this ring any bells for you? Do you identify with this journey? Share your thoughts and feelings with me about this journey of the spirit. I’d love to have your comments!