Manifesto

I am not interested in making your dreams come true. Only you can do that. I’ll be over here working on mine.

I don’t read minds. Be clear about what’s wanted.

Integrity is vital. I won’t do bullshit. I’m not prepared to bullshit to get the job and I’m not going to write bullshit when I get the job. So I don’t want to work with anyone who’s going to bullshit me.

I don’t do mediocre. I’m not interested in turning out half-assed work that merely ticks someone’s boxes. If we’re going to work together then let’s make something fucking brilliant.

I will write from my guts, from my heart and from the depths of my soul. If words like soul scare you, then we’re probably not a good match.

Equality, fairness, kindness, honesty, respect. Vital.

No bullying, no intimidation, no nastiness, no exploitation. Seems self-explanatory. Kindness is a ruling principle, but it doesn’t make me a doormat.

No hierarchies. Everyone has a voice.

Equal exchange of energy. What any of us is putting in has to match up to what we’re getting out of it. Payment needs to be fair and realistic, and the process transparent.

Words have power. Let’s use them carefully.

I want to write about things I’m passionate about. I want my work to examine our lives, our relationships to each other and to the planet. I want to scrutinize our values, question our ethics and priorities. I want to write about the things I don’t comprehend, like why we’re allowing a few individuals to screw the rest of us, why we allow certain people/corporations to profit from destroying our habitat. I want to write about wildness, about passion, honesty, intimacy, desire, conflict. I want to create new possibilities for how we can relate to each other and our planet. I don’t want to regurgitate cliches and stereotypes or be pushed into writing about an issue because it’s trendy.

We need stories. We need better stories. Our way of life is unsustainable and based on exploitation. We need to start imagining alternatives. Good stories change us from the inside out.

Too many artists get sucked into the trap of the dark mirror, creating work that reflects and magnifies the brutalities and ugliness of our society. Such work is generally deemed aesthetically superior to work that strives to create beauty, just as news editors deem good news to be less newsworthy than bad news. Judgements about  aesthetic/artistic quality are merely opinions, not fact. More and more of us are becoming aware that creating work that doesn’t seek to rise above the brutal is in itself an act of brutality. Ugliness is generally far easier to achieve than beauty, but it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t strive to rise above it. As artists we need to ask ourselves whether we’re part of the problem, or part of the solution. It doesn’t mean that we need to be preachy or Pollyanna-ish, just that we’re not falling into the trap of shock-value violence and degradation for the sake of it.

There should always be room for hope.

It is my hope that I can write stories that inspire, that move, that heal, that create new possibilities, that create questions, that highlight injustice. It is my hope that I can work with people who share my passion and beliefs. It’s my hope that I can do all this without getting up myself or turning into a pretentious wanker.

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Creative Friday; what does your manifesto look like? Hit the comments, or post it on your site and leave a link. Let’s get thinking about what we want to make and how we want to go about making it.
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How much is an idea worth?

Maybe when you start out, your vision is unrealistic. You figure you’ll write these brilliant ideas of yours, the characters and stories that are bubbling up inside you. And you start out that way, writing that big ole Heart and Soul piece, the one that becomes your calling card script – good enough to get you some attention, but no one ever produces it.

The vision doesn’t stay that way for long.

If you start getting anywhere, you soon get to a point where you’re being asked to put ideas forward. There’s a commission at stake, a bunch of writers applying for it and they want a one-page outline/pitch. Or you meet a producer for a chat over coffee and are invited to send them some ideas, probably on how you’d tackle a particular theme. Perhaps you’ve got the opportunity to work as a dramaturg on a devised piece, and they want to know how you might approach their idea. And you soon learn that if you’re dealing with radio or TV producers, it’s best to have several ideas ready in your back pocket to whip out on demand.

Here’s the problem; nobody is paying you. You could spend your entire working life as a writer in this way and never make a penny.

I’m going to put forward a theory here; that most producers have no realisation of just how much work goes into an idea. It’s as if we writers have them already typed up and ready to go, freshly plucked from the Ideas Tree on a neatly formatted sheet of A4. Oh how I wish that was the case.

The problem is that there’s no real commitment from the producer to working with you. You’re one of a number of writers who’ve been invited to apply. You’ll do the work anyway, because it’s interesting or exciting, or there’s the hope of getting paid at the end of it. Trouble is, there’s no guarantee that it’ll lead anywhere.

Recently I’ve been approached by a producer, wanting a few ideas about the collapse of the NHS. While it’s something I might have a personal opinion on, it wasn’t on my current list of Things I’m Writing About. So it means downing tools on the projects I’m working on, and starting to research the NHS. And quickly getting frustrated that none of the articles I’m finding online are really speaking to the idea. To fulfill the brief, I need to come up with story ideas, characters, consider an approach to the subject.

To be honest, that’s a shitload of work. And I don’t mind work, I enjoy work, but it’s only really work if I’m getting paid for it. Otherwise, it’s a waste of my time. Of course, I might be able to do something with my idea later on, write it on spec and see what happens – but then, that’s what I was doing before I downed tools; writing something on spec. And when I keep having to down tools, then nothing gets finished, nothing’s ready to send off, and deadlines that I’d hoped to meet for competitions fall by the wayside.

That’s how my writing life has been looking of late – a series of interruptions, unexpected potential opportunities that I’ve thrown myself into because of the off-chance of getting paid. And every time, I’ve been shortlisted, but the job has gone to someone else. I don’t resent anyone else getting the job – for the most part, they’re friends of mine anyway – but I resent spending all that time and energy preparing ideas for other people when I would have been better off just doing my own thing.  Ach, it sounds like I’m whining. The truth is that my time, energy and finances are limited. I need to be careful of how I’m spending them. And there’s a weariness that comes with wasted ideas, with investing time in things that never come to fruition. The more you care about the potential projects, the harder the heartbreak. Until you get to a point where your brain doesn’t want to play ball any more. it’s not the same as writer’s block – it’s more like creative refusal. your creative mind doesn’t want to join in, not unless it’s got some assurances that it’s actually going to happen this time. Right now my creative mind very much wants to just get on with what it was doing, without potentially useless interruptions.

So for the first time ever, I’ve questioned the process. I spent two days (no, really) composing an email to ask the producer the difficult questions; exactly what were they after, what the fee was likely to be, and whether they were committed to working with me or was I competing for the opportunity? I know it’s a good opportunity, but I’m tired of throwing myself into the required R&D only to get nowhere. And while they’ve answered my questions, there was one omission – the question of their commitment to me. Is it too much to ask? It seems fair for writers to know what they’re up against in these cases, because how else can we make an informed decision? Because doing all that work, only to discover that I’m on a longlist of fifteen others, only 3 of whom will get commissioned for a final fee of £800 – that’s not so great. Knowing that there’s five of us, of whom 3 will be commissioned at full ITC rates – well, that’s looking a lot better. Informed decision.

Nobody wants to be seen as difficult, and we’re all so very eager to get the work. but I’m thinking that maybe we need to take a step back and start questioning the terms. Rates need to be stated upfront. Commitment needs to be stated upfront. The likely final outcome needs to be made clear. Because ideas don’t grow on trees, they require effort and time.

***

I wrote the a while back and chickened out from posting it in case the producer in question got wind of it and questioned my commitment, professionalism, enthusiasm etc etc. I am committed, professional and enthusiastic, but I’ve also got bills to pay and kids to feed. Then an open letter appeared in the Writers’ Guild newsletter and reminded me that it’s a critical issue that writers are facing. I’m going to reproduce it here, with the best of intentions as I think it’s worth saying. It seemed to be posted anonymously, but if anyone needs to be credited then please let me know. It’s about screenwriting rather than theatre, but much of it is transferable. However I’d add in the proviso, particularly for emerging writers, that we don’t dare to say no or ask for a development fee, as there are fifty other writers waiting in the wings to take our place. Worth remembering too that if people were willing to pay us for creating and developing ideas for them then the quality of those ideas would improve, as we’d be able to spend longer on them. When you’re working for free, you can’t work for long.

Free is not an option

A letter from one writer to another  

The recent Writers’ Guild Survey about the extent to which writers are being asked to give away their work for free, or work on others’ ideas for free, produced a howl of anger as a response. Though aimed at all writers – authors, poets and dramatists for the theatre – it was particularly tailored for those who work in film and TV. A whopping 87% of writers had been asked to work for free, with everyone experiencing an upturn.

It’s clear that there one culprit to blame. Us. We writers are simply colluding in our own downfall, by agreeing to work for free. The worse the story of abuse – endless treatments, being sacked from your own projects, promise of cash that never materialises – the more you wonder, why? The answer is simple. We’re all passionate about our work and understand there’s a lot of give and take in the industry (well we mostly give). Now, however, it’s time to stand together and say no. This is exploitation.

Let me clarify what “free” actually means. All writers accept that there’s a certain amount of spec work – you have to write a spec script to prove you’ve got the chops. That’s fine. When you pitch your idea, you have to put it on a page or two to sell it. But that should probably be it.

As one writer in the survey wrote:  “I’d distinguish between two kinds of pitches – the one I write to showcase my idea and the one they need to sell it. I expect to present my wares for no reward. The tipping point comes when they start giving me notes.” Another writer says: “Just a ‘one-pager’. Enough to get a feel for the idea. But of course what they want is an entire series condensed into a couple of pages and to do this you need to have worked out the entire series, how it works, how the characters interact etc. There’s a fundamental difference between a ‘pitch’ and a treatment. A lot of TV ideas can’t be pitched in the same way as high-concept movies can. It’s a lot of work to ‘create’ a TV series.”

Time and again, development producers seem to be set up with a salary and an assistant, but no budget to pay for anything. Can this really be true? When it comes to a Top 10 writer or a special book, the funding will suddenly be there. Surely, saying they don’t have any money, actually means they don’t have any money for you.

The survey asked writers to name and shame the biggest culprits and it turned out to be nearly every indie around. If we’re willing to fund a company’s development (and often these are huge indies turning over millions, never mind in-house BBC), then they’re only too happy to let us. How many times have we been in meetings with producers and commissioners to discuss our idea and we’re the only one around the table who isn’t being paid? What’s more, if a producer is in a commissioner meeting with several ideas, which one will they really push – the freebie or the one they’ve paid for?

If we don’t put a value on our work – why would anyone else? Aren’t we just devaluing our own market by flooding it with free ones?   Giving a producer a free option is a really bad idea, then you’ve really lost control of it and they have de factor ownership. Try asking the producer if you can send it out to other people during this period and see the response. They believe it’s theirs, with no money changing hands.   All we have is our ideas. They are our currency. Writing isn’t about typing, it’s about thinking. That’s what we’re paid for.

So what’s to be done?   Say no to unpaid work. If you have an agent, make sure they know this and that they ask producers when they approach you, if they have money to pay for development. The Guild is going to suggest that a tick box is included on BBC editorial specification forms, which asks if a producer has paid the writer for the work.

Join the Writers Guild – there is safety in numbers and who else is going to care about us?

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Writer in Residence

I’m going to tell you a secret; I’d like to be a Writer in Residence somewhere. Wouldn’t that be nice? Writer in Residence. I think I’d get a sign made, possibly even laminated. While we’re at it, could I have an identity pass on a lanyard and the security code for the door? These things are of great importance. Well they make me feel important, anyway.

As well as a secret, a truth; I’m struggling to write this. It’s gone 11pm and I should probably give up and go to bed. Everything that I’m putting down feels so searingly negative that I can’t face hitting publish. Having received two major knockbacks on the same day, things which would really have made a difference to my career, it’s hard to feel positive. And when I look around, I see so many writers in the same boat, clutching at straws, desperate to finally break through. Now even this paragraph feels too depressing; I should delete it and start over. I’m not going to though. Because this is where it gets real.

How do we keep going?

There are at least three questions inherent in that. One, how to stay motivated when it feels like nothing is coming our way and giving up feels like the only sensible option? Two, how do we manage financially to keep going when the money just isn’t there? Three, as a community of writers, how can we challenge the status quo – a government starving the arts, an Arts Council that is still disproportionately supporting the traditional large institutions and London rather than anything grass roots, regional or not based in a big old building, and theatres who have convinced themselves that new writing is too risky and doesn’t make money and are therefore not prepared to invest in it? These three things are of course linked – if we had a government prepared to invest in the arts, and an Arts Council that was a bit more radically minded, then theatres would be able to take more risks.

I’ve said it before, but I keep forgetting that theatre isn’t a democracy. The Artistic Director is In Charge and what he says (because he usually is a he) goes. If your local producing theatre has an artistic director who doesn’t want to invest in new writing or local artists, then what the hell can you do about it? You have absolutely no agency within the building. Even the people working in the building don’t necessarily have a say – they don’t get to choose what projects the theatre will support, other than a small amount of development on a limited budget. No one can say Actually let’s not invest that massive amount in doing yet another devised show based on a classic Victorian novel, let’s spend some of that on commissioning something entirely original for the studio thereby giving a chance to some of the local artists we’re interested in. Well, they can say it but they’ll probably find their job disappears shortly afterwards. Even theatres which have built up a reputation for a particular type of work, over decades, can find their remit thrown out of the window the moment a new artistic director comes on board. Should that be allowed? I mean – should that be allowed without first asking what the audience, the artists, the staff working in the building think about the plan?

There’s been a massive surge of Open Space meetings, mainly due to the popularity and influence of the Devoted and Disgruntled movement. I’m not entirely persuaded by Open Space, it can feel a bit like a popularity contest at times – but at least it’s entirely democratic. So as I’m musing, I’m wondering what theatre would look like if it were run along the same kind of lines as Open Space. Or what theatre would look like if it were run by the artists – you know, the people that theatre absolutely depends on, but somehow can’t afford to pay. Even though everyone else in the building is drawing a fucking salary.

I’m getting dangerously close to Bryony Kimmings’ territory and feeling like I should back off. The last thing anybody needs is another nobody can afford to make a living at this post, even though it’s depressingly true. Another pertinent post; Richard Aslan’s How long can we go on? The same song is being sung over and over – nobody can afford to do this any more. And if that’s true for established, award-winning artists like Kimmings, then anyone still trying to emerge is seriously fucked.

I don’t know if I even count as being an emerging writer yet, despite being told this week that I was “too experienced” for a prestigious development scheme. A scheme which required applicants to prove their commitment and ambition to theatre, so that really threw me. It felt like I was being punished for working too hard. And I’ve got to say, this is the closest I’ve ever come to giving up. What was the definition for insanity? Doing the same thing over and over while hoping for different results? Isn’t that what we’re all doing, basically? Like Gatsby with the green light, running ever faster, reaching even further… and yet ultimately getting nowhere.

Like a glass of water in the desert, this post by Kate O’Reilly drops into my inbox, a cool draught of inspiration.

we need to take risks creatively, trying the new, the unknown, with no guarantee (or safety net)

There really is no safety net now.

What are we going to do about it?

Can we demand that the decision-makers are more accountable, the processes more transparent? Can we tell the Arts Council that we’d like a little less money spent on the Royal Opera House and more on our grass roots artists? Can we tell artistic directors that we’d like them to spend less on the Main House and find more ways of investing in emerging artists? Can we tell the government to invest in the arts and maybe start taxing the rich who evidently aren’t in it as much as the rest of us are on this together-wise thing.

People have been trying to tell them. It doesn’t seem like they’re listening.

Can we keep going?

Why would we want to, under these conditions – other than because this is the thing that we love, the thing that drives and inspires us. It’s like an addiction and most of us couldn’t give it up if we tried.

I don’t know how we challenge the status quo, how we wring more investment from the government, the Arts Council, the literary departments and artistic directors. I don’t know how we manage financially, other than trying to juggle shelf-stacking, bar-tending and whatever else we can find to pay the bills while the money fails to come in otherwise. But how to not lose hope? How to keep going when all seems to be doom around us?

We have to somehow take the lack of safety net as the motivation to fly free. We have to be ridiculously stubborn and refuse to give in, because if we stop then the only people who get to be artists, who get to be writers and actors and directors and designers are those with trust funds and an Eton education. So make that bloody Writer in Residence sign – print it out and stick it up above your desk. Take it as a sign that you’re not giving up and take pride in it. You can be Writer in Residence of your own damn house if you want, and no one can do a thing about it. No funding application, no interview, no being told you’re too experienced, or not experienced enough. Just you, a dream and a whole lot of passion.

Keep going.

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Pitching*

Shall we do it? Shall we talk about pitching?

*Disclaimer: I have never knowingly pitched.

Which doesn’t mean to say that I’ve never pitched. It just means I haven’t done it knowingly. I’ve been in plenty of situations where a pitch might normally required, but I wasn’t sitting there thinking  Right then, get my pitching hat on. I’ve also done plenty of written pitches, some of which were even successful. I didn’t really think of those as pitches either. I seem to remember deciding early on that I was never going to pitch, never ever ever – partly on a political level because a good pitch didn’t necessarily mean a good script, and also because I just didn’t fancy having to do it. I’m not a salesperson, I’m a writer, and all that jazz. Pitching was some nasty Hollywood invention, designed to make producers’ lives easier while humiliating the fuck out of desperate writers. No thanks. Among theatre-writers, pitching is a bit of a dirty word and not something we want to encourage. Imagine having to pitch your play to a theatre. Ewww.

Except we do pitch. Obviously. We just don’t call it that. We tend to call it Having a chat about a few ideas. Or Just give me a brief outline. Or Have you got any thoughts about such-and-such? Or even Put forward a one-page proposal of your ideas, if you want to get formal about it. Yep – it’s pitching alright.

At workshops, I’ve met writers who are terrified at the thought of pitching. Just the word itself can reduce them to a sweaty panic, their bodies suddenly tense and hard, hands clenched. Forget about pitching, I’ll tell them. Just tell me the story. And relax.

You see, we put pitching outside ourselves. We reckon it’s a skill, a sales skill, something that you’re either born with or not, all bluster and confidence. Well yes, it’s a skill and it’s something you can work on and improve – but most writers don’t score very highly in the realms of bluster and confidence. In fact, we’d go as far as saying that writers that are good at those sorts of things aren’t real writers, they’re not true artists, they’re hacks. And we don’t want to be hacks, we don’t want to be one of those wankers who talks the talk but can’t walk it. So we push it even further from ourselves; it’s a skill we don’t have and don’t want, frankly, because we are artists, dammit.

And then we find ourselves having to pitch.

Ouch.

I recently read a post by Chela Davison, Fuck the Elevator Speech, aimed at people trying to promote their own business, but I reckon the principles still apply. It’s not necessarily about making sure you’ve got down the precise 30 words to sell your project, or that you’ve rehearsed the spiel enough times in your head. It’s about relationships and stories. Knowing who we are, what our strengths are, knowing what story we want to tell. Getting to know who the other person is, what they want, what you can give to them. A successful project depends on three things: the right idea, the right people, the right time. If one of those is out of alignment, it’s not going to work. That big idea you have? It’s not going to be right for everybody. That producer you just met? Turns out she’s already done a play about bats and the economy, who’d have thought? A good pitch is as much about listening as it is about talking. You have passions, so does the other person. Find out where they intersect. The idea that you went in with might not be the idea you come out with.

Get used to talking about your ideas. Practise while you’re stuck in traffic, or washing up. Not just the story, but the inspiration behind it. What’s driving you forward? What’s getting you excited or angry, what’s leaving you speechless? Create a manifesto before you create a pitch. Your story isn’t just about a girl who meets a boy who happens to be a werewolf. It’s about that feeling you get when you wake up suddenly at 4 am and the world feels so massive. It’s about seeing your son’s shoulder blade and the sheer disbelief that anything could be so perfect. It’s about seeing David Cameron on TV and wanting to shake him, wanting to punch him in the face because he doesn’t know what it’s like to be Ed, who just killed himself because he couldn’t deal with the stress of having no money any more. The magic phrase, as ever; What I really want to say is…

Personal connection to the work is good. Passion is excellent. Why does this story matter, and why should you be the one to tell it? You need belief to drive a pitch. Belief in yourself and belief in the story. It’s going to be a lot harder to pitch with conviction about something you don’t care about, something you’re taking on to pay the bills or because you think it’ll lead to something better in the long run. Rather than rehearsing a mediocre pitch of a lacklustre idea, go back and find the gold. Re-think the idea until it shines for you. Because you’re not a shyster. You’re not a confidence trickster. You’re not trying to scam anyone, get someone to buy into a shitty idea. You’ve got something you believe in.

There’s a new wave of female entrepeneurs creating products and services that they’re passionate about, a lot of which revolves around forms of personal coaching. They’ll talk about creating the right business, finding the right clients, getting their message out into the world, financial and spiritual abundance. Some of it is inspiring, some of it comes across as shiny bullshit, or at times a virtual pyramid sales scheme. It might not seem to have much relevance to writers, but I’ve managed to learn from a few of them. The basic message is this: if you have something to say that will make a difference to other people, then they will want to hear it. If you can demonstrate your ability to make a difference to their lives, they will be willing to pay for it. Your work will not be for everybody, and so you need to connect with the right people. As a writer, you’re also a business – I know that feels dirty, but go with it – if you want people to give you money for what you do, then you have to sell your work and yourself. Find your audience. Find your people. They’re waiting to hear from you.

Why do you want to write? If that’s some kind of self-satisfying ego-thing, then you and I are pretty much done at this point. But if it’s because you seem to have some kind of ability and your writing seems to speak to people in some way, then we’ve got a starting point. If you believe that there are stories which need to be told, important stories, if you believe that make people laugh or cry or feel alive, dammit, then we’re getting somewhere. If you believe that you can tell stories in a way that helps us all to understand what it means to be alive, that can teach us, inspire us and move us, stories that ask big questions while entertaining us at the same time – then why wouldn’t you want to share that with the world?

Pitching is merely the act of finding the right people to help get your ideas out into the world. It’s your job to make the actual writing as good as it could possibly be, and it’s your job to find ways of getting that writing out there. It doesn’t mean that you should cling too tightly to your ideas, either; not all of them will come to fruition. Right idea, right people, right time, remember? Otherwise you’re all going to be wasting a lot of time and energy, as well as the heartbreak of another completed script that doesn’t go anywhere. The reality is that it’s never going to be you and Sonia Friedman or Stephen Spielberg stuck between floors in a lift together, doing the elevator pitch. The reality is a lot more mundane: you’re gradually getting to know more people in the business, you’re gradually raising your game, you’re gradually getting a shot at bigger opportunities, you’re gradually getting better at pitching. Ultimately pitching is asking a question; is this the right story for the right people at the right time? It’s just telling that story, with belief and enthusiasm. You’re a writer. You’re a storyteller. Tell your story.

 

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How Autism made me a better writer

Online I talk a lot about writing. In the real world I also talk a fair deal about autism, given that I have a child on the spectrum. Recently I found myself talking to someone about coping with having a high-functioning autistic child, how the problem is amplified; you’re not only having to deal with your child’s behavioural issues but with other people’s reactions to your child’s behavioural issues. I let on that while trying to calm a highly-strung, overwhelmed, tantrumming child, I’ve been told by complete strangers that I’m not fit to be a mother.

“How do you deal with that?” she asked me. I shrugged.

“I guess I’ve grown thicker skin.”

Thicker skin. It’s one of the qualities you need as a writer too. Until that point I’d seen having an autistic child as a major drawback for anyone considering a writing career, but for some reason saying it loud made me question the ways in which learning to cope with autism has actually helped me as a writer.

1. Thicker skin. Repeating myself here, but then having to cope with repetitive behaviours is another major autism trait. You have to deal with a lot, both from your child and from a wider world whose population still seems to believe that autism looks like Dustin Hoffman in Rainman. Or who just don’t care, I’m not sure. Whether it’s dealing with the ninth screaming tantrum of the day (and it ain’t even breakfast yet) or the fact that the screaming tantrum is taking place in Sainsburys and the crowd you’ve drawn around you look a lot like a lynch mob; you will inevitably reach a point where it’s water off a duck’s back. It has to be. Hiding in the corner, crying, is no longer an option. This comes in very handy when someone is taking a red pen to your script, or telling you it’s weak, on-the-nose or they read something very similar last week. It’s not a catastrophe. It’s not even about you. Pick yourself up, brush yourself down and carry on. Deal with it.

2. Cracking open. In direct contradiction to growing a thicker skin, you’ll also need to crack open, reveal your deepest vulnerabilities, your failings, your weaknesses. The discovery that your child is imperfect, is deemed flawed and undesirable by the so-called perfect world in which we live – it can hurt. A lot. Watching your child getting rejected over and over, even by people you thought you were close to – it hurts. Being tired of getting yelled at, waking and dreading what the day will bring – it hurts too. There’s a lot of hurt involved. There’s a lot that you have to acknowledge, to yourself and to others; you get honest, fast. You become more aware of vulnerability in yourself and in others. You get used to having your heart broken, not only by harshness and pain but also by beauty; the small moments of contentment that might otherwise be overlooked. I have curled into a ball on the kitchen floor and howled, and I have gently squeezed a small hand placed in mine as we sat watching television together. This openness, this ability to put yourself into pain, into joy, into quietness or chaos, this habit of putting yourself into the path of the storm emotionally again and again – it’s going to help you write.

3. Imperfection. You can’t believe you’re perfect. Not for a second. You have no doubt about your constant failings, whether that’s your child blaming you for buying the wrong type of cheese, or a total stranger berating you on the train. Both of which have actually happened. If I hadn’t had an ASD child, I might have been able to believe I was a good mother. I might even have been a bit smug about baking fairy cakes with my offspring and going for healthy walks together. Fat chance. I’m rubbish, evidently. So when somebody likes a script I’ve written, that’s a really big deal. And when somebody points out that it could be improved, I’m already on it. If you are a script editor or dramaturg, director or actor, I will listen to you, make careful notes and then go away and make it better. I’m constantly looking to see how I can make it better, because I know all too well that I’m not perfect and so neither is my writing. If you want to make your writing better - don’t believe it’s perfect to start with.

4. Juggling fussy. Kids are damn fussy. Autistic kids take fussy and run with it. Control freak doesn’t come close. Likes and dislikes change on an hourly basis, and that’s before we mention the number of allergies, intolerances, special diets and peculiar addictions. If you think it’s hard trying to juggle ten different opinions on how to write your script while handling ten different personality clashes, divas and dictators, then just try a week’s worth of planning, shopping and cooking for autistic kid + sibling. You will develop the negotiation skills of the leader of the UN. You probably should become the next leader of the UN. You rock.

5. Editing. Diagnosis and the ensuing merry-go-round of endless appointments and professionals in the ultimately futile quest of gaining some kind of support for your child will lead to you telling your story over and over, filling in the forms, answering their questions. Telling other people, answering their questions, hearing their stories. You start to learn to edit it down, focus on the key moments, work out what the other person needs to hear. While we’re at it, you learn to deal with the frustration of having to fill out  and return a 20 page form (I’m not joking) in advance of an appointment, then realising the Professional hasn’t actually read any of it. If there’s anything to be read in advance of a workshop or meeting, I will have read it, trust me. I’m not going to do that to you.

6. Sanity. Questioning of. There will be times when you question your sanity. Undoubtedly. Whether as the parent of an autistic child, or as a writer. There will be times when it gets so hard you’ll ask yourself Why the hell am I doing this? Because you really thought that parenting would be more fun than this, and you thought writing would be more fun than this too. And if you had a choice at that point, you might give up. As a writer, you could give up – but giving up probably won’t make you any happier. Once you’ve been bitten by the writing bug, it’s hard to lay it to rest. You might decide to keep writing as a hobby rather than a profession, but truth be told most writers want to make it in the big wide world. As a parent, you don’t get to give up. Ever. So you learn to just stick at it. No matter how hard, how crazy, you keep going, sane or not. Take a look at the odds; it’s insane to think you can make it as a writer. Are you going to let that put you off?

7. Different points of view. One of the things that autism does really well is to provide you with an alternative lens with which to see the world. Other things include memorizing every obscure fact about dinosaurs and Doctor Who, and remembering everything that was ever said to you ever, but I digress. Autism sees the world differently, sometimes frustratingly, sometimes mind-blowingly. Being the parent of an autistic child is like being ushered in through the door to a different world. It looks mostly the same as our world, but it’s different. Odd things happen there. Time moves differently. There’s a lot of velcro and acronyms and laminating and waiting rooms and lining things up. You’re on a steep learning curve to get to know the rules of this odd new world, rules at once regimented but also constantly shifting, its constitution determinedly refusing to be set down in stone. Yet simultaneously you’re still walking through the old world, the same planet that everyone else is on. And you can’t help but look at it with different eyes. You suddenly question things, and wonder why no one else does. You realize that normal is just a point of view and that there are plenty of others.

8. Getting brave. Boy do you get brave. You’re now an advocate, and you didn’t volunteer for this. Hell no. But if you want to get any kind of support for your child, if you want your child to be treated fairly, even, you’re going to have to fight for it. You’ll find yourself speaking up when everyone else in the room would rather you stayed quiet. You’ll find yourself getting dogged in the face of a brush-off. You’ll find yourself getting patronized, getting turned away, getting the shitty end of the stick over and over and having to find ways of dealing with it and working around it. As the mother* of an autistic kid, you’re going to get written off as being neurotic and over-protective whenever you try and advocate for their rights; you will find yourself having to stand up for yourself and for your child. You will get used to being in circumstances you would once have found intimidating, humiliating or downright unbearable. In other words, your fear muscle gets a good workout. Writing is scary. You’re exposing your soft and tender underbelly to the entire world, and there’s always the risk that people will laugh you out of the building. There’s always a risk of it going horribly wrong, of getting your work slammed, ripped apart by the critics. You need to get used to fear; acknowledging it, working through it, working with it, working despite it. Fear will block you every step of the way – don’t let it sabotage your hopes. You need to get your brave on.

*Interestingly, this only seems to occur to the mothers. Fathers generally aren’t seen as being neurotic or over-protective/over-involved and are much less likely to be patronized. Such is life.

9. You get a bit political. The status quo starts to look a bit shit when your child is different. Schools that blather on about tolerance and diversity suddenly start to look all Resistance is Futile! when faced with an Asperger’s kid. You realise how much our society is built on conformity, it runs through us like a stick of rock. You start to question why difference is seen as some kind of threat. You start to worry about your child’s future and concerned that so many vulnerable people are basically left to rot by an uncaring government. You begin to think that most people go about their lives like sheep, never stopping to question any of it. You start wanting to wake people up. You start writing about it.

10. Weird shit happens. Weird shit that you can use in your stories. You can’t make this stuff up. You meet an entirely different circle of people, with weird-shit stories of their own. Real life heroes and villains; the devoted volunteers at Saturday club, the vindictive yummy mummies at softplay. Other people’s three year olds say Mummy, but your kid insists on calling you Jeremy Clarkson. In public. Loudly. There’s a hell of a lot of inappropriate backchat, and once it’s stopped being mortifying, it’s hysterically funny. There’s bad stuff too, like the time you drove to Tesco’s to do the weekly shop and didn’t get any further than the car park because your kid was going batshit crazy and you hadn’t even got out of the car yet, sitting there crying helpless tears of frustration. And how that happened three weeks in a row, which is why you ended up pretending to be shopping-ninjas on a mission because that was the only way to get the job done. You get used to spinning stories off the top of your head while powering along the M5 because it turns out that the tale of the Cheesepuff who wanted to be a ballerina is the only thing that’s going to stop the all-out war in the backseat. And the only way you can get your child to wash their face, or brush their hair is by inventing characters and silly voices for the flannel, the towel, the brush, and woe betide you if you get them mixed up. Even though your child is nearly at secondary school, rather than toddler age and part of you is screaming I shouldn’t have to be doing this by now. Your life is now full of weird shit, and weird shit rocks when it comes to writing.

What challenges are you facing in life? Your Creative Friday mission is this; take a good look at how those challenges might actually help you be a better writer. What have your challenges taught you about life, people and the world that ultimately is going to make you a better artist?

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Get the Job You Really Want

Of late I’ve been carrying around a book in my bag. Not unusual in of itself, given that I never go anywhere without something to read and something to write in. But the book itself has caused a few raised eyebrows when friends have spotted me reading it. James Caan’s Get the Job You Really Want. The Dragon’s Den guru has poured his wisdom into a book so that you too can, well, get the job you really want. It’s not the kind of book I’d normally pick out to read, but I’m determined to get my head around this professional mindset malarkey, and that’s what they had sitting on the library shelf.

So then, what can we as artists take away from Mr Caan’s advice?

The main lesson for me was that I really really don’t want the kind of job he’s talking about. Just in reading about that type of corporate environment I could feel the will to live ebbing out of my body. The thought of having to jump through endless corporate hoops to impress someone so that they might hire me to sit in their office all day to do boring stuff with the aim of making them richer… that weird sound you can hear is my intestines leaping out of my guts to strangle me and end the misery.  Reading this book was a challenge, I’m telling ya.

Caan walks us through the basics – how to hunt for a job, CV skills, how to present yourself, how to land an interview, interview skills and then how to negotiate a contract and prepare for your first week in your new job. And if you want the type of job he’s talking about, it’s well worth a read. He makes clear the kind of preparation he would expect from a candidate, and that most people are woefully under-prepared when it comes to being interviewed.

Anything you do in a rushed, unplanned, disorganized, haphazard way – lack of preparation, lack of planning, lack of presentation – chances are it will result in nothing.

Lesson one: preparation. Whether that’s planning your writing project, preparing a funding application or getting ready for one of the informal chats that our industry is keen on (and for informal chat read JOB INTERVIEW) then spend a decent amount of time on it. If you’re applying to work with a theatre or company then research their previous work, get a good sense of who they are and what they do before talking to them. They are likely to ask if you’re familiar with their work and you’ll look like a prat if you haven’t done your research. Similarly, think through the kinds of questions that they are likely to ask you, even ask someone else to give you a mock interview if you need the practice. I’m shit at interviews, so feel free to learn from my mistakes.

If a job interview doesn’t go your way, don’t dwell on it. Immediately look for what you can learn from the experience. Come away stronger.

My mistakes would include completely misjudging the questions I’m likely to be asked. Recently I completely threw an interview informal chat when the first question was So, tell us about your idea. The most freaking obvious question they could possibly ask, but I wasn’t expecting it. I figured they’d read the pitch sheet and know what my idea was, and we’d probe into the themes more in depth rather than having to give them an overview. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Lesson two: practice talking about your ideas, get used to summing them up and presenting them to others.

How do you become better, if you don’t learn from the mistakes you make?

Inevitably, every single one of us is going to screw up at some point. And even if we don’t actually screw up, the competition is fierce and the odds are against us. So, don’t dwell. Learn from it and move on. Lesson three: evaluate your performance. Learn from your mistakes.

Check that, like a good grocer, your CV puts the best apples right at the front of the stall.

Lesson four: be prepared to re-write your CV for every application, making sure it’s relevant to the opportunity you’re applying to, and put the most relevant experience right up at the top. Same with a covering letter, spell it out to them why you’re perfect. Don’t make them hunt for information, but place it gift-wrapped right into their hands. Same in an interview, make sure you highlight your skills and ask leading questions if you need to, in order to point out your experience.

As an employer what I am really interested in is, “Who are you? What do you stand for? What do you bring to the table?”

When friends ask me to look over a pitch or application, inevitably my main feedback is always the same; it just needs a bit more you in it. The strength, passion, wit, and quirky world view that makes you you, that makes you exactly the right person to land the gig. Lesson five: make sure you inject a sense of yourself in everything you do. Don’t hide your personality behind a wall of formality and etiquette. You might think it sounds intellectual and professional, but too often it lacks passion.

I am always looking for a glimpse, a glint of real passion for a job. It’s a clue for me that you have the mix of enthusiasm and conviction that leads to success.

Lesson six: be passionate. Let your enthusiasm shine. Write a list of reasons why you really want the gig, why it should be yours. Own it. Feel it in your bones. Call it home to you. And sometimes that can be hard, because we’ve all been disappointed before, but you have to go on believing that it’s possible. Because if you lose your passion, the game’s over.

So there you are. If you want to hunt down a big fat corporate job then definitely go ahead and read the book. If you’re more interested in making a living as an artist, then keep a tight hold on your passion and let it enthuse everything you do.

 

 

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Creative Fridays; getting down to write

Let’s make this official; Business Mondays and Creative Fridays. So on Mondays I’ll tackle the business angle of writing/theatre, and on Fridays it’s a more creative aspect. Starting with this question, which I’m 99.9% sure was merely spam, but which I liked anyway;

I had a quick question in which I’d like to ask if you don’t mind. I was curious to find out how you center yourself and clear your head prior to writing. I have had trouble clearing my thoughts in getting my ideas out. I do take pleasure in writing but it just
seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes tend to be wasted simply just trying to figure out how to begin. Any recommendations or hints?

Let’s face it, we’ve all managed to lose hours when we were supposed to be writing, but somehow found ourselves staring into space/checking Facebook/updating Twitter etc. It’s all too easy to start the day on the wrong track and then never really manage to pull it back together. Here’s what works for me;

I like to get up when the house is still quiet, generally about 5.50 am. I make myself a herbal tea, perform a few yoga stretches while meditating and then sit down and write for 90 minutes before waking my children with a smile and a full English breakfast.

Yeah, right.

Reality; I drag myself out of bed at 7.30, spend the next half hour nagging the children into getting out of bed, getting dressed and putting some cereal inside their bodies while simultaneously feeding kittens, chickens, putting a wash on, getting packed lunches together, somehow getting breakfast into me, teeth-cleaning for all involved (except the kittens and chickens,), hair-brushing, potentially putting on make-up (on a very good day,) supervising last minute homework before yelling that we’re already late, let’s go go go, all units go. Down the hill to school, let’s move it people, then the rather more sedate, puffing ascent, hopefully with the discovery that my abandoned cup of tea is still warm. Hanging out laundry, checking emails, cleaning out chicken poop, watering the polytunnel, cleaning up the kitchen, questioning whether the bathroom can go another day before I have to don my marigolds, sorting out various admin tasks like bills… by the time  I get to sit down and write it can feel like half the day has passed and my head clearly isn’t in the right place. Similar stories abound for most of us – there are relatively few writers who get to wander into their study and bolt the door on the world outside.

Life tends to be cluttered and messy, our heads cluttered and messy with it. And no, I don’t have a foolproof system for keeping track of your paperwork. Or even my paperwork. Here’s the mantra; your inbox is never empty. There will always be stuff. The trick is learning how to deal with it, learning how to create despite the clutter, learning how to carve out enough space and time to be able to write without being distracted by overdue library books and must remember to buy milk. There are no absolute rules – what works for me ain’t necessarily going to work for anybody else. It’s about knowing what works for you, and trying to kick yourself hard enough in the pants to stick to it.

Stuff that tends to work:

  • The earlier you can start writing, the better. The more stuff that happens in between you waking up and you writing, the more distracted you’re going to be.
  • For this reason, avoid switching on the TV with your breakfast and be careful about radio. You’re trying to create a little protective creative bubble around yourself until you’ve actually managed to do some writing today. Breakfast TV or politicians being grilled on the Today show are merely sharp pins that are going to burst your bubble.
  • Getting as much stuff done as you can the night before. In terms of housework, admin, shirts to iron and packed lunches to make, try and get on top of it before you go to bed so it’s not all sitting there waiting to grab your attention when you should be writing.
  • Being really fucking disciplined about it. Sorry, but there it is. I recently read someone urging that the first hour of every work day should be dedicated to creating.  Excellent advice. Try and stick to it. You get far more done if you write first, then tackle the other stuff later.
  • Don’t check emails before you write. Or Facebook, or Twitter, or anything else. You will be sucked into a social media vortex, or will set aside your creative brain in order to respond to your inbox. Don’t do it. Tackle emails after your first burst of intensive writing.
  • Mint tea rather than any other hot caffeinated beverages. Let’s assume you’ve already had your emergency morning cuppa, I’m not going to ask you to give that up. But when it comes to sitting down to write, pour some boiling water over 5 or 6 mint leaves and let it infuse. It really helps to wake up the brain and has a clarifying effect.
  • The brain-dump. Similar to Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages, but less prosaic. And frankly, who has the time to write 3 pages long-hand first thing in the morning? However, when we come to write, our heads are usually full of stuff. Stuff which gets in the way. You need to clear the decks so that you can get on with writing something far more interesting than must remember to take chicken out of freezer. So – take a writing implement (this really is best done long-hand) and paper, preferably a journal and get it all out of your head before you start. It will look like this; Jesus why am I so tired this morning? I really need more sleep. Can’t believe I forgot to post that sodding letter again. Kids were playing up last minute. Must remember to cancel that direct debit…  None of it is exciting, or even interesting, but it’s cluttering up your head and you need to make space, so shove it all down on paper instead. If you don’t, your panicked little neurons will insist on trying to remember it all, right when you’re supposed to be in the middle of Scene 2.
  • Environment and rituals. What works for you works for you. Do you need music, or silence? Would it help to light a candle to focus your mind? Where do you work best, sprawled on your bed, sitting upright at the kitchen table, under a tree in the garden?
  • Know thyself. You know your good habits and your bad ones. Do not tell yourself I’ll just do five minutes on Plants V Zombies as a warm-up before I start. You are, in essence, lying to yourself, even if you really really mean it. Do more of what works and less of what doesn’t, it’s that simple. And if you know you can’t be trusted not to get distracted online first thing, then write longhand.
  • Get enough sleep. Ultimately you need to build sustainable writing habits. Being someone who tells yourself that your best writing time is between 2 and 4 am, just isn’t going to help you in the long run. Stop writing for at least an hour before you go to bed or your brain will be too busy to sleep. Turn the laptop off for that last hour and unwind. Tired and fuzzy are not the best states of mind for good writing.
  • Just do it. Don’t sit there waiting for the perfect sentence, just get something down. You can always change it later. Even if your brain is cringing with how terrible it sounds, a page with words on is far easier to edit and improve than a blank screen. So just get going, write something, anything to get the ball rolling and you might just surprise yourself. This might sound trite, but it’s stunningly important. Put. Words. Down. On. The. Page.
  • Keep an ideas book/file. Whether an actual journal that you scribble in, or a Word doc, Scrivener or Evernote, if you think you have the seed of a good idea then make a note of it. Often in the middle of one project we’ll get the sudden flash of inspiration about the next one – just jot down a few keywords so that you don’t forget it, then come back to it later. Don’t get distracted from your original project by the next bright shiny idea, but don’t have half of your brain caught up with trying not to forget it either. Make a note and carry on. Then the next time you’re stuck for what to write, you can read through your ideas book for inspiration.

 

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Getting down to business

So then, the business of show. Let’s get down to it.

I’m going to assume that, like me, you know nothing. Your head is full of characters and stories and maybe even costume designs, but business? Nada.

Where to start?

For me, the wealth of information available online has been life-changing. There’s a hell of a lot out there, but I’m only going to point you towards stuff that I’ve personally been helped by. So while a  lot of people swear by Seth Godin and Chris Guillebeau, I’ve not really spent much time on their websites. I’m throwing their names in at this point as I’m aware that the sites I’ve used might not be to everyone’s taste. The point is – the information is out there, so find a business guru who works for you.

I’m also going to throw in a disclaimer at this point. While there is plenty of info out there, there are also countless people doing their utmost to part you from your hard-earned. Coaching is a huge industry – some of the coaches available are indeed excellent, but there’s a drive towards continually increasing your prices and pushing for more. It can feel a bit like a pyramid sales scheme – you pay me lots of money and I’ll teach you how to coach people online, then you set yourself up as a coach and teach other people, who then coach other people and so on ad infinitum. Except that my coaching rates are going to double by this Friday so SIGN UP NOW and THIS IS THE ONLY TIME THAT THIS LEVEL OF TRAINING WILL BE AVAILABLE AT THESE PRICES!!! etc etc. There’s also a mythical beast called pricing, and another called value, and many great claims are made as to how much their training is worth. Book before this date and get this amazing bonus, worth $4999 thrown in for free. That kind of thing. It’s worth remembering that the value here is entirely self-defined.

So we’re going into this with our eyes wide open, and we’re aware that we’re approaching this as artists wanting to grow our business savvy rather than would-be coaches intent on world domination. Good. Because some of the training on offer is seriously expensive, and while I’ve paid to access some of the courses on offer, most of them have now increased their prices to a level that I just couldn’t afford if I wanted to do it now. This is the aspect of online training that I question – because in essence, you’re paying twice as much money for exactly the same content, or for the claim that there’s now so much additional content that the prices have had to go up – but let’s not forget that the pricing and value are entirely arbitrary and self-defined and seems to depend mainly on the coach in question deciding that they’re worth it. My advice is to figure out the areas in which you need to develop your skills, eg marketing yourself and your work, and seek out as much free training as possible. Generally when you subscribe to someone’s site, you’ll receive emails with a heads-up about free webinars, podcasts etc, many of which are well worth checking out. Just do your best to ignore the sales pitch, unless you have plenty of money to spare.

Got that? Okay. Disclaimer over. Let’s get down to it.

One of the first business gurus I discovered was Leonie Dawson, or Goddess Leonie as she was known back then. She herself will cheerfully admit that she’s not for everyone, and I’m thinking that if you have testicles you’re probably going to want to skip this one. What I found most helpful was the discovery that you can be a total rainbow-unicorn-sparkly hippy and yet still build a highly profitable business. That you can talk about concepts like money and marketing and still have integrity and authenticity. And that it’s okay to want to make money, there’s no piety in being poor. If like me you grew up in a strongly religious household, that’s a biggie. Check out this article to try her out, her blog or freebies here.

Denise Duffield-Thomas rocked my little world when I first discovered her site, LuckyBitch.com. She’s very strong about facing and beating your money blocks – identifying the emotional obstacles that are preventing us from moving forward. There are several free resources on her site, including one of her books and audio recordings. She also talks about the Law of Attraction, but in a sensible and grounded way, showing that how you think and talk about money and success has a huge impact on the level of money and success you can achieve. If, for example, you’re constantly saying that it’s impossible to make a living as a playwright, then it will be impossible for you to make a living as a playwright. You just can’t do it if that’s your basic belief.

Danielle Laporte. I would marry this woman. Her writing is achingly cool yet chock-full of passion and depth. Advice on writing, creating and living. Her Firestarter sessions (audio book here) and Desire Map are well worth diving into. She’s all about motivating the inner fire and letting money and work spill out from that place. Identifying how you want to feel, how you want to live and then starting from there.

Marie Forleo. One of the internet’s big hitters in terms of entrepeneurship. Her annual B-school is often mentioned in glowing terms as the best grounding in how to build an online business. It’s a massive investment though. However she has a lot of free content and training available, and releases a video on YouTube/MarieTV every Tuesday; subscribe to have it delivered to your inbox. Try this one for size.

These are the main sites that I’ve used. While on the surface it might seem that there isn’t much relevance, the truth is that if you want to write as a career then you’re going to have to approach it with an entrepeneurial spirit. You are your own product, and you’re going to have to learn how to create work that you can sell – and to sell the idea of yourself as an artist. One of the key things I’ve learned from the above sites is to reconsider my approach to marketing – while initially I cringed at the thought of having to write copy or having to promote my own show, now it’s something that I can face with a modicum of integrity and without the mortifying embarrassment about sounding like I’m blowing my own trumpet. I’m still working on my attitudes to money (and a lot of the time it’s possible to interchange creativity or success whenever money is mentioned) but I’m getting over the belief that it’s morally superior to be poor. Let’s call that a myth put about by the rich. In truth, money in the right hands can do a lot of good, and one of the things that inspires me about a lot of the new breed of online entrepeneurs is the notion of enlightened entrepeneurship and of using your money as a force for good. So dip your toe in the water, or dive right in and see what you can learn – if you find any gems then hit the comments.

 

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Re-awakening the Ecological Imagination

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Um… not my title as you can probably tell, but the name of a course I signed up for at Schumacher College, back when money was still an option. The first weekend was spent with Martin Shaw, storyteller and wilderness facilitator, and John Gouldthorpe, who describes himself as archetypal psychology student and teacher, romantic, and recovering Hillmaniac, so that’s what I’ll go with too. To hear Gouldthorpe talking about Hillman, try this podcast.

Schumacher college is part of the Dartington Hall estate in Devon – if you’ve not been to that part of the world then leave your home right now and head down there.

2014-05-17 20.10.38Before the course began I’ll admit I was a little anxious. I knew nothing about Hillman. What if it all went over my head? What if everyone else was bearded and macho and happy to sit out in the rain all day, while I sat there freezing, confused and utterly miserable? Yes, these were actual thoughts. Also – where am I going to get my lunch? And will I be struggling to cope with a compost loo while trying to empty my Mooncup? Which inevitably led into a mental discourse on the patriarchy and how the hell can women ever achieve equality if the toilet facilities aren’t up to scratch? And that wilderness initiation rites are all very well if you’re a man and can pee standing up in the woods and don’t have to worry about stuff like you know – actually bleeding for four days a month, but don’t ask me to do it because hey – I’ve given birth, twice, and having your vagina ripped open, twice, is enough of an initiation rite for one lifetime, let me tell you. Yeah, my mind could really do with an off-switch at times.

2014-05-17 17.34.51But then I got there and discovered I was staying in a gorgeous Arts & Crafts style house, with the magnificent Sybil, and the weather was beautiful, and the place was stunning…

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So I relaxed a bit and went with loving it rather than worrying. Which tends to work a lot better as a life strategy.

2014-05-16 18.06.11We covered a lot of ground in a day and a half. Insights from Hillman’s work combining with the telling of the Grimm’s tale of The Two Brothers, a long, twisting story involving gold-crappers, lions, dragons and bears and an exhausted little hare.

2014-05-17 17.13.29It was a weekend that fed both the brain and the soul, insights and images filling the room and spilling out into the woods outside.

2014-05-17 17.10.23There’s no hope of doing the course justice in the space of a blog, and some of it I might try to unpick in a later post, but for now some of the highlights and lingering thoughts include Joyce’s notion of aesthetic arrest and the importance of feeding the soul.

2014-05-16 18.44.37The notion of stories as wild horses just over the hill (Bukowski?) – to be trailed, rather than hunted or tracked.

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Myth is the power of a place to speak. If you spend long enough in a place, it will speak to you.2014-05-17 17.15.24Dartington definitely spoke to me. Such a beautiful, inspiring place. I’m looking forward to returning for the second part of the course in the Autumn, even though I’m not looking forward to paying off the remaining balance.

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Three things to take away for now; one – the importance of continuing to take workshops and courses to develop your craft but equally to inspire you and reinvigorate your practice. Two – the necessity of feeding the soul/creative well/Muse with places that uplift and inspire. Three – if you’ve ever dreamed of having your own little writing hut then I’ve found some definite contenders…

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Bryony Lavery

Just had word from the Literary team at Manchester’s Royal Exchange theatre that playwright Bryony Lavery will be taking part in a live Q&A tomorrow lunchtime (Wed 2nd July) 12.30 – 1.30. Bryony is one of my favourite playwrights so I’m already running a zillion questions through my head and trying to pick just one. It’s part of the run-up to 2015′s Bruntwood prize – already?! – so in their words;

whether you have a finished play or have yet put pen to paper, Bryony will be here to offer advice and help you get ready for the 2015 Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting

For more info and to leave a question in advance click here.

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