Lucky Seven Meme: I got tagged …

manuscript
Photo credit: El Chupacabrito

So I got tagged by Gillian of skybluepinkish …

She’s posted 7 sentences from her current manuscript, “The Dorothy Summer” (check it out), and now it’s my turn:

  • Go to page 7 or 77 in your current manuscript
  • Go to line 7
  • Post on your blog the next 7 lines, or sentences, as they are – no cheating!
  • Tag 7 other authors to do the same

Most of my stuff is less than seven pages (I put up a fresh short story nearly every week at “Stories from the Borders of Sleep“). However, with minimal preamble, here are the seven sentences beginning from the seventh line from the seventh page of my most advanced work-in-progress, a phantasy novelette entitled, “The Coat and Ring”.

Like a man who has been in the sun all day and who through the night gives off the radiance of what he has absorbed, I felt a strong glow from him. It was impossible to tell his age for his skin was well weathered by the elements rather than age, and he gave off an air of rude health. As he looked at me, I also had the impression that he was about to pounce on me and overpower me in a playful attack, like a young cub intent on tussling one of his brothers into submission.

I introduced myself and asked how he came to be there at Terence’s table on this particular night. I wished to discover if Terence had a continuous traffic of guests to whom the same attentive hospitality was shown or if I had stumbled into some sort of occasional celebration.

Selwyn looked at me with slight amusement under his moustache once again and took a few moments to answer me, as if he was weighing whether to play a joke on me or not.

Delightfully random …

So I’m handing the baton on to a few of my favourite writer bloggers (who may or may not appreciate being tagged), but I recommend you check them out anyway:

Valerie Storey at http://valeriestorey.blogspot.co.uk

James Tallet at http://thefourpartland.com

Rolando Garcia at http://phantomimic.weebly.com

Mandy Eve Barnett at http://mandyevebarnett.wordpress.com

Curtiss Ann Matlock at http://curtissannmatlock.com

Marly Youmans at http://thepalaceat2.blogspot.co.uk

Lisa Wright at http://wrightales.com

Amberr Meadows at http://www.amberrisme.com

The Wisdom of Things Found 1: The Pageless Book

May 2010, Alnmouth beach, UK

The Word Is ... Flat
The word is ...

The emptied cover of a book has been brought in on the tide and left on the beach. This is all that is left after the ocean has digested it, page by page.

As I look at this, I realise that there is really only one right way to read a book and that is to devour it as thoroughly as the sea has done this one – to assimilate the ink and paper into the salt of experience and the spume of memory … until I own its words, dispersed in every corner of myself, and it is no longer possible to say, “this is ‘I’ and that is ‘Book'”.

If only we could take each book we read, and leave it like this when we are done with it, then we’d be wiser than the magi. What if we were to tear out each page as we read, confident that the words on it had done all they needed to do and had become part of us? There would be no need to hoard it on the shelf. I don’t say we have to agree with everything we read or to adopt it as truth; but every line can be digested, questioned, and allowed to work. It is too easy to hold ideas in the abstract, to “like” the thoughts of an author without being changed by them. Books on shelves are like un-lived ideas. Empty covers on a beach are the dried pod of a seed that has been planted inside the reader.

It also has not escaped me that this looks suspiciously like the cover of a Gideon’s edition of The New Testament and Psalms, very much like the one I was given at school when I was 11 years old. On the first page, it said something like “this is yours to keep, we only ask that you read a portion of it every day”. Well … I did, and I have done (nearly) every day for the last 24 years; but that’s another story …

The Wisdom of Things Found

Jetsam - Terschelling Beach.
Jetsam

Blame three things for this post and all that follow it in a similar vein.

Firstly, I have been following a series of posts on this | liminality where Barbara has been meditating on 26 seashells given to her by a friend and posting on each of them in turn; weaving something of her present state of mind and sense of place with the thoughts suggested to her by each seashell. The idea behind this project has not only intrigued but haunted me in an unexpected way. The sense that objects can prompt insights and fire the imagination resonates with my own quest to find the supernatural dimension in the everyday and commonplace.

The ability to anchor our inner self to the outer world through the power of symbolism is a huge part of what it means to be human.

Secondly, several months ago I went to a local bead shop to purchase an array of beads for our youth group to use in making their own “prayer bracelets”. I wanted them to explore the things they had learned on a weekend away, to find beads to symbolise those things and literally bind them on their wrists. When I told the sales-person of this she became very interested and very helpful in choosing beads. But, she also showed me a bracelet that she was wearing that was made purely from items that she had found. It is amazing what gets left lying around. Every component of the bracelet, therefore, had a mysterious history and was also associated with a time and a place and a moment in her life.

It was not long after this that I developed my own string of beads as a visual reminder of my values and priorities.

Thirdly and finally, David from “My Seed of Truth” contacted me recently about writing a piece of short fiction to string together some of the themes from his life that have lead to the “My Seed of Truth” project. It was while turning over a few ideas for a story last night that I hit upon an idea for another sequence of blog posts … the wisdom of Things Found.

I’m not alone in being a hoarder of Objets Trouves, from curiously shaped or coloured pebbles and bits of glass to twigs and pine cones and broken jewelry. My plan is to bring some of these found things to light and to see what they might have to say. Sometimes God speaks unexpectedly through the things we see, sometimes they prove to be the key that unlocks an insight that has waited for the right moment … who knows what might be discovered through the Wisdom of Things Found?

Links:

Verbatim – a blog of found poetry

this | liminality – Seashells, poetry and other good stuff

My Seed of Truth

Thoughts on Creativity: Lessons from the Journey

Reflecting on the last year of creativity after having quit my full time job in order to pursue some creative stuff that had become too lively to be confined to evenings and weekends, I have learned a few lessons:

1. It Takes Longer Than You Think

Waiting
Wait for it!

Firstly, until I tried to give myself over to creative paths on more than just an “ad-hoc” basis, I never realised what a long time the act of creating actually takes. Previously, I had worked when compelled and inspired and with not much expectation that what I was doing needed to be really all that amazing. As a result, things got done easily and quickly and there was not even an expectation that I needed to finish anything if I lost the muse during the process. Now it is different, I need to write when I feel less like it, when the words come slowly, or when my imagination takes a vacation.

However, this has not been the most time consuming thing.The real time-sink has been the slow process of facing down the chatter of the demons we encounter on the creative path:

  • Motivation – Why am I doing this? Am I just being selfish? Is this really contributing to society? Does it matter what other people think? Who am I doing this for? These kind of questions can put a dampner or things for weeks. And just because we have answered them once, it doesn’t mean we won’t have to answer them every day.
  • Vulnerability – Putting creative work out there, sharing it, publishing it, is all very exposing.We make a deep personal investment in our work and then others get to see into us through it in ways that we might not be ready for. Am I ready to go public with this?Am I ready for criticism, or indifference, or misinterpretation?
  • Doubts – Does anyone really care about what I create? Does that matter? Am I good enough? Look at what other people are doing, they have been doing it for years and they are brilliant. I’m not a natural like them. I should get a proper job. I’ll never be world class. Should I care if I’m not?
  • Discipline – I’m so badly disciplined. I’m supposed to love what I do and it’s a privilege but I can’t settle to it sometimes. Most people who have jobs with bosses breathing down their necks and set work hours have that extra incentive to stay on task. I have none of that. It is hard, every day I have to start by re-discovering my reasons for doing this.

2. Persistence

From my observations and from the received wisdom of others, the difference between great writers and the rest of us is not necessarily innate gifting but pure graft. This goes for all the arts. Some talent helps but there are more talented people out there who have fallen on the first hurdle of of applying themselves to their craft. Working on your creativity daily brings two rewards:

  • Upping the Average – If 2% of what you write is pure gold then you just have to write enough for that 2% to be significant.The analogy is often cited of a photographer. Again, the difference between a pro photographer and the rest of us is that while I take hundreds of pictures, they take thousands. Even if one in every thousand pictures is an iconic masterpiece, you have more chance of hitting it if you take more pictures.
  • Practice – Honing and improving your work comes through practice, repetition, iteration. The more you create the more practice you get creating. I once spoke to a silversmith who had his own business and he told me how when he first came out of art college and went for his first job, he was walking around the workshops and the boss picked up a ring off a workbench. “How long would it take you to polish this?” he asked. “About an hour, maybe two,” he replied. “That’s a four minute job,” said the boss. Sure enough, after several months at the workshops, doing not much more than polishing,this guy could do a two hour job in four minutes. Practice!

The basic skills of our work need to become second nature whether that is mixing oils, playing scales, or writing dialogue, so that we are not hindered by technique.

3. Finding the Right Motivation

Whatever our initial reasons are for embarking on a creative career, sooner or later it has to become about more than wanting to be noticed.

Creativity
"Creativity"

Most people I know, who are trying to get traction or considering putting significantly more energy into their creativity, are actually not after fame or recognition. In fact it is slowly dawning on them that what they have been doing as a hobby might be something that others will enjoy, and it is time to “come out”.

I think a lot of writers, however, have a desperation to see “their name in print” as if there is something magical about that. We have to find better motivation than that, otherwise (among other things) we will be in danger of feeling bitter about the “success” of others who get there before we do with what is often quite lousy manuscript.

We have to joy over the intrinsic rewards of our process and product, and hold the adoration of fans lightly. I’ll admit that on weeks when my Borders of Sleep podcast is getting 50-100 downloads a day, I feel great. The problem is that when it drops to 20, that affects my mood, too. I forget that I’m not doing this for the hits but because I love creating stories.

Do what you do, well and lovingly, and if it turns out that you are the prophet of the zeitgeist then let that be what it is.

4. Community

In spite of the “cult of the artist” and this idea that the creative’s lot is to slave away in a windy garret, that’s all bunkum. Yes it is lonely at times, but that is why we need others. Really one of the most enjoyable aspects of pursuing creativity, for me, has been the community that forms around it. I think the community gives us two things:

  • Accountability – I know that if I talk to people about my plans and dreams, they are more likely to happen. As long as they stay in my head as a vague nice idea, they are safe; and if I never tell anyone then I’ll never need to try them and risk failure. Even better, I know that if I can rope people in collaboratively then a project is even more likely to fly. I cannot overemphasise the value of this. For example, with my podcast, if it was not for the producer (Tim) and illustrator (Robyn), I doubt if it would have been sustainable. Having other people involved and interacting with ideas keeps me working on it week after week.
  • Synergy – Actually working with others often means that, together you are more than the sum of your parts. That extra element of “synergy” comes into play. It is great to have friends who say, “that sounds like a great idea, why don’t you go ahead” but it is even better to have allies who say, “that sounds like a great idea, let’s do it together.” In order to open yourself up to synergy, you have to let go a little of the control but I think it is a small price to pay for having a creative ally.

So …

What are the core lessons you learned along the way that it would have been helpful to have known before you got started?

The Best of Borders of Sleep

Borders of Sleep Artwork is by Robyn Trainer

Since the beginning of March this year I have been podcasting my short stories/fables/fairytales as “Stories from the Borders of Sleep“. It has been pretty exciting to see the listnership grow as we (that’s me and my producer, Tim, and Illustrator, Robyn)  have started to put new episodes out on a fortnightly basis.

There are a variety of stories to be found on the Borders of sleep, from autobiographical sketches to fantasy and reworked fables and fairytales. There is a loose underlying theme of dreaming and the blurring between real and imagined or dreamed realities in all the stories.

Looking at the stats, it appears that our listnership has recently been doubling every week. This morning we just crossed the 3000 downloads threshold. We have plans for the future …

The next step is to move from fortnightly to weekly podcasts. This will be a great challenge to creatively sustain. In the future, I would also like to look at showcasing the work of other authors whose work would compliment the “Borders of Sleep” style. I’m also hoping to look at other ways of publishing the stories.

In the meantime, here are the top three all-time favourite stories (by number of downloads) so far:

The Prince and the Bird – this was the first episode ever but it remains one of my personal favourites. In a dreamlike garden that is an external mirror to a prince’s internal world, an unexpected shadow is discovered.

Tree and Stream – easily one of the very shortest episodes but also the most popular by far; a resting traveller eavesdrops on a conversation between two different types of water.

One Stormy Night – also very popular, although it is the longest episode so far, this story spans a couple of generations and switches between the waking and sleeping worlds as a father and son share a similar mystical experience at key moments in their life.

If you enjoy these stories, please subscribe to the podcast at iTunes or using the feed and please feel free to feed-back by commenting on the website at www.bordersofsleep.com

Thank you for reading (and listening)!

Creative Entrepreneur of the Month: Robyn Trainer of Floral Footsteps

Confucius say, “Make a living from what you love and you’ll never work another day in your life” and although this sounds lovely and has become something of a mantra for our times, anyone who has succeeded in making a living from something they love will be able to tell you there is a lot of hard work involved.

One of the effects of the instability of our economic system seems to have been to loosen the concept of career and employment as many people seek to meet their circumstances creatively, develop alternative streams of income, and question why they do what they do and how much it matters anyway. There is a new breed of creative entrepreneurs who have stopped waiting for someone to employ them and given themselves a job instead. They have said, “The future is so uncertain I might as well take things into my own hands and do something I love instead of waiting for the next round of redundancies.”

These are really exciting times and, once a month, over the next year, I will be profiling some of the creative entrepreneurs who have inspired me and continue to offer the companionable reassurance that we are not alone on the hard road to doing what we love for a living.

I have had the pleasure of working with Robyn Trainer of Floral Footsteps (she provides the artwork for Stories from the Borders of Sleep) and being part of her journey over the last year. She kindly agreed to be my first interviewee for the Creative Entrepreneur of the Month series.

Robyn is a mathematics graduate from Durham who got in the habit of sidestepping the geek label by telling people that she wanted to be a florist one day. She is married to Phil and exercised by a mischievous but adorable spaniel called Samuel. In April 2011, Robyn left her full time job at the Ethical Superstore to give herself fully to her floristry, illustration and photography business, Floral Footsteps. To fully understand how these three strands link together into her unique brand, you really need to see examples of her work and style as displayed on the Floral Footsteps Website.

Robyn says that the combination of three creative practices bounce off one another and although she has a distinctive style that is somehow recognizable in all her work she gets special satisfaction out of creating exactly what a customer wants.

“My work is entirely personal in that each order I create, either a floral arrangement or a bespoke illustration, is unique and designed according to the individual.”

Of course, there is a fourth strand to Robyn’s work, the all-essential business side of things. As anyone who has watched “Dragon’s Den” will know, being outstandingly creative and having business acumen is a very rare combination. Robyn certainly has both, and I dare say the maths comes in handy here, too.

I asked Robyn to give us an insight into her business and offer some thoughts and advice on creative entrepreneurship.

What are you working on at the moment? What’s on the “to do list” this week?

There are plenty of things going on! I’m hoping that my brand new website will be launched either today or tomorrow, which is rather exciting. Samuel the Spaniel (my naughty/adventurous dog) has his very own blog, which started this week. I’m working on a “Celebrations!” Greetings Cards range and a Christmas card range and I’ve wedding flowers to do next week, amongst other things!

So you are thinking about Christmas already! And you have involved the dog in the enterprise!

Samuel the Spaniel is too inspiring to not involve him in the business, and yes, sadly I’m thinking about Christmas already. Where I used to work, Christmas tunes began playing in the beginning of July… I’m not kidding!

How does a typical day look for you as a self-employed person? Do you have any routines you depend on?

I think the only routine I have is: start early, finish late! As I haven’t been trading for long, my work really varies, from building websites, through planning financial forecasts, to actually doing the work of illustrating, designing, working with flowers and meeting with clients. In a year’s time, I’m sure my answer will be different, but for now, each day is very varied.

How many hours a week would you say you are working at the moment?

Probably about 40 – 45?

Do you ever wish for a steady office job?

Not at the moment. Having had one of those, it’s great for stability and regular income, but I found myself longing to do something else. That longing has gone now because I’m actually doing it.

Do you think that you’ll need to have another strand of income while the business grows or is it a case of succeed or bust?

I initially thought that I would, but decided to do the summer season full time. I’m really glad I made this decision. I am considering taking on another strand of income in the autumn, but I’m seeing how that goes. Setting up business is quite hard; it does take quite a lot of investment to begin with.

What made you decide to start Floral Footsteps? Was it a slow burning idea or did you have a moment of epiphany?

I studied Maths at University, but always said “I’m going to become a Florist”. When I finished University, I thought I should really study it and become qualified, to see if I like it and want to take it further. I loved it, and was asked to do a friend’s wedding at the end of the year, which I also thoroughly enjoyed. So from there, working as a florist became something I definitely wanted to do. With regards to the other strands, illustration and photography – these are things I’ve always done and have slowly improved over the years, so it seemed natural to me to incorporate them into a business as a florist. So I’d say it was a slow burning idea.

How did friends and family respond to your decision to go for it?

My parents have been very supportive, but not without their “warnings” about “financial safety”. My husband has been really encouraging along every step of the way and helps me in making some of the bigger decisions and logistics (although he keeps well clear of any actual floristry or illustration! the wiring scares him…) and my friends have been wonderfully supportive by finding ways to involve me, and being my advertisers, giving me cause to start Floral Footsteps officially.

Some people would say you are crazy to try a venture like this in today’s economic climate. What would you say to them?

I’d say that I think one of the main ways in which we can improve our economy is through local business, by supporting one another in their employment. Yes, it is a difficult time to start a business, but I do believe that working with local trades instead of outsourcing to larger companies is the way forward.

So would you say that Floral Footsteps has a socially conscious edge to it?

Yes I would. I’m keen to work more closely with local growers of flowers, foliage and herbs (although that’s not easy in the North East!) and to recycle, reuse and reduce my waste as a business. I’m also keen to support other businesses that are local and eco-friendly in what I do and what stock I buy. I was shocked when I did my floristry course that some florists throw away leftover cellophane, ribbon and non-compostable rubbish with organic waste (loads of it!) in the same bin bag and put it out for collection. Some don’t recycle or compost anything! It’s madness!

How important is blogging to your business?

Very important for me personally, and I think for those closest to me, and for those just dipping their toe in. It provides a pretty unique insight into the person behind the business, as well as the business itself. It also shows you are interested in more than just “making money”…

I guess in these days of social media, people are not so comfortable dealing with “faceless corporations”; they want to know the people they are dealing with and what the story is.

I agree. It’s funny how just communicating over a computer can change the way we feel about someone and give a sense of ownership in what they’re up to and your relationship with them (however virtual or real that may be!)

What is your most important source of referrals?

I think most referrals come from word of mouth. From people telling one another about Floral Footsteps and what I do, and passing on that information. If someone chooses to contact me, I will reply as soon as I can to find out how I can help and be of service

Are there any websites that have been useful to you in your work either for networking or information, or support or anything else?

Well, I keep an eye on lots of different blogs and websites to see what others are up to and support them. I have a profile on lots of different networking platforms and websites including Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Blogger, Pinterest, Google+ and more to build up an online profile and I also have a shop on Etsy, which I link people to. In terms of specific websites, there are a few wedding blogs which are good to read to check out trends, and twitter is always fantastic for keeping up with the latest news in your business sector.

What are your thoughts about using online markets, like Etsy, versus setting up your own website?

Hmm I’m not sure yet. I have my own website and I have a shop on Etsy, but have chosen to sell goods through Etsy because of the community already established there. It’s easier for people to find you through Etsy than it is through a standalone website.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to strike out as a creative entrepreneur?

I think they need to assess 1) Is there a need for your business? I.e. – is there a market for it? Will people buy your service or product? And try to think objectively. Will your business make money or is it better as a hobby? 2) Is now the right time for you to financially go for a creative business? It takes time to earn money in setting up a business and the business takes investment, do you need to wait a while until you can afford to set up? 3) Ask your family and friends for advice and support. They know you best. Ask them to be truthful and guiding, as I can say this has been one of the most influential things for me.

Three quite hard things, but you have to ask yourself the difficult questions!

So now another hard question for you: What was the lowest point in the last few months?

Oh, that is a hard question! So often my lowest points are to do with my own confidence, rather than specific events. If I lose confidence in my ability to run a business or in my work, I can fall quite low. It’s then that the support of others really lifts me – in having people who I am accountable to with the business.

On a happier note: Can you put your finger on your favourite project or your highest moment so far?

There have been lots of great moments! Every time I make a bridal bouquet I get a little quiver of excitement and say to myself, “this is actually a bouquet for the bride!” (Yep, geek!) When you see your completed work being appreciated by others, that’s a fantastic moment. I can’t name one in particular really, as each event feels very different! Perhaps handing in my resignation at my old job was a highlight…

Could you describe to me where you hope to be in a year’s time?

In a year’s time, I hope to have full weeks of hands-on floral designs, illustrations and more, keeping busy with clients, fulfilling regular and special orders. Perhaps I’ll be in a slightly more comfortable workspace, too!

That sounds achievable.

I hope so!

And so do I. To find out more about Robyn’s work, check out her website: http://www.floralfootsteps.com or her Etsy shop at: http://www.etsy.com/shop/FloralFootsteps
I am sure she would be happy to answer any more questions. All images in this post are the property of Robyn Trainer.