Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Dusters Visit

Brian and I went to Lewtrenchard Manor (amazing winter deals!) over night for my birthday last week. It was as enchanting as always and made my birthday extra special indeed. I knew that some of the house faeries would like to come with us and decided on the Dusters. I am currently writing about them and since they have taken up residence on my desk, they seemed like the perfect choice for an adventure in Lewtrenchard. We have no idea of what they got up to when we weren’t watching, but I did catch them exploring the amazingly carved fireplace in our room. It was quite a feat for them to find their way up to the mantle but they seemed to enjoy it and we all made it safely home to Stinhall in the morning. We took Elfie (the dog) with us, which was very exciting for him. He was on his best behavior. 

We had high hopes of getting away with no snow this winter, but alas, it was not to be. Don’t get me wrong - I love the beauty of snow but weighed against a week of being snowed in - well, I could live on memories of snow for a year or two instead of experiencing the real thing again. Having said that, I really DO love it and the beauty of it is always quite astounding. I took a photo at dusk with clear skies and a moon and then like magic, in the morning the world had transformed again. For those sticklers who notice things like that - the moon shot was taken last week (you can tell by the phase it’s in) but it illustrates what I mean! 

Brian and I are feeding the birds twice a day now since they can’t really find anything for themselves with so much snow (with a coating of ice underneath it) and while it is just enchanting to see them all flock to the feeders, it also is a full time job keeping Buster (the cat) from ambushing them and killing them. I know he thinks we are terribly unfair to him - we can tell by his expression of sheer disgust -but I refuse to provide a cafeteria style dinner of six or seven kinds of birds for him to choose from. He is very disgruntled now (I know this because he just tried to bite me as I walked past) and has taken up residence in a cardboard box in the hallway. We are all going to be cooped up in the house for the next few days, until the snow and ice melt, so I’m going to have to convince Buster to play nicely - not an easy task. Never mind. Spring will come eventually.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Faery Gifts Inspire

On the morning of January 2nd, I took our dog Elfie for a well -deserved walk. It had finally stopped raining (only temporarily, I’m afraid), so I took advantage of the watery sunshine to give Elfie a post New Year treat. I had spent all of New Year’s Day cleaning and tidying my studio; preparing it for the year ahead and a new project. I had been putting it off for weeks, telling myself that the holidays were taking up all of my time; telling myself that I could let it go for one more day, until finally, New Year’s day arrived and I was still wading through drifts of papers, scraps of fabrics, dropped beads and buttons and rolling balls of dust that seemed to frolic like small animals around my feet. I got to work. Needless to say, I was feeling quite proud of myself on January 2nd, when having finished that Herculean task, I could stand in a clean and tidy studio with an empty desk in front of me and a peaceful atmosphere in which to begin writing. There was only one problem. I had no idea of where to start, how to start or what I wanted to say. I knew that I wanted this new book to be about memory and association and that it needed to be about Faeries: I had four characters called the Dusters to use in some way and 100 plus pages to fill with text and images, Brian was already in his studio, happily working on new paintings that hopefully we could use, but me? - I had no ideas at all. I was going through a worryingly long, fallow period. 

So -to return to our delighted dog -Elfie and I set off down the lane. On past walks, and especially when we were working on the Trolls book, I would always ask the Faeries to give me a sign or an object or something meaningful to inspire me or just make my walk more interesting. I did this now, asking for something -(anything!) to help me figure out what in the world I was meant to write. As soon as I voiced this –and I admit that I spoke out loud -I looked down at the hedge and saw the black plastic handle of something sticking out of the earth. I pulled it out and found that it was a large and very rusty screwdriver. I held it for a few seconds and then replaced it, again saying out loud, “ I don’t think this is it, is it ?-well, not unless I’m writing a murder mystery.” and walked on. The hedgerows were full of rocks and small stones that had been washed clean and left sitting on tiny pillars of earth, exposed by the torrential rains of recent days. I observed them casually as I walked along, and spotted a shard of pottery half buried amongst the stones. I pulled it out to get a better look at it and found that it was a faded blue and white pattern, very common Victorian ware that we find often in the hedgerows and in the stream that runs through the garden and the hamlet. I was about to put it back when looking more closely, I saw that there was a perfect passionflower printed on this shard, and delicate leaves twining around the edge. It was beautiful and evocative. I put it in my pocket. 

We walked on, tramping through the mud and leaves, Elfie running ahead, tugging on the lead in his overwhelming desire to find and catch a squirrel. I kept my eyes on the road, trying not to trip and fall as he pulled. As I looked down, I saw something gleaming in the sun. It was very clean and lying completely exposed on a clear patch of the road. I stopped to pick it up. It was a beautiful piece of quartz crystal, faceted with pink and green running through the translucent white. This too was mine! I thanked the faeries and walked on. Shortly after I looked down again and found a copper penny in the mud. This was very unusual. We don’t often find money of any kind lying around on these country lanes and this particular coin was worn to almost nothing. This was my third gift from the faeries. 

Three objects -the magical number. I thought that the Faeries had given me everything they felt was important that morning. I turned around and we headed home, Elfie still desperate to flush out a squirrel (no luck there I’m afraid). We were just turning back onto our own lane, leading to the hamlet and our house, when I again looked down on the ground at the bottom of the hedge and saw what I thought was a ping pong ball half buried in the leaves. I touched it with my finger and found that it was actually and egg -a perfect blackbird’s egg. I picked it up since it wasn’t in a nest, and held it in my hand. It was very cold and very heavy. It had obviously been abandoned a long time ago. A last gift from the faeries. Holding it carefully, we returned home. 

So - three disparate objects, and a fourth; what did it mean? What were the Faeries telling me? This is what I think. 

We know that Faeries are nature spirits -part of the world beyond and the world within. We know that they touch our hearts and feed our imaginations -but -they also help us access and release our creativity. Brian and I have always known this, but perhaps it isn’t as obvious to everyone else. Let me tell you how that morning walk with the objects found along the way, led me to the beginnings of understanding what I wanted to put into words. 

Remembering and association are important keys to creative thought. Without experiences to recall and connections to make between seemingly random or unimportant things, creativity doesn’t flow in the magical way that it can and indeed wants to. 

The shard of crockery, when I picked it up, immediately reminded me of my grandmother’s house, the shelves of plates and dishes in the pantry and then looking at the exotic passionflower painted on it, I was reminded of the curio cabinet in her parlor, filled with objects that my long dead relatives had collected and brought home to display and remember. Then that made me thing of hot climates and distant countries -Greece, Turkey, India, Egypt, and countries even further away -magical countries not yet discovered or buried beneath sea or sand. I don’t know where passionflowers actually come from but that doesn’t matter -my mind had made associations and a journey was beginning to develop. 

Next -the piece of crystal -beautiful, shining, shaped rather like a broken Greek column. It might have been a magic crystal, a long lost talisman or a portal into another world - it might have been a tiny piece of a long lost civilization. Lastly -the penny. When I picked it up, I thought “wouldn’t it be interesting if the penny was old - maybe 1914 or so “ and that made me think of the first world war and young boys walking away from their homes down these lanes, full of a sense of adventure, to in all probability, never return again - or perhaps it was a magic coin that would grant the owner wishes. 

So there it was -the beginnings of a story -family, home, quest,adventure, travel, magic, war, returning or not. -creative thinking -inspired by my asking the Faeries to show me something. Of course you can find objects and make connections without asking the Faeries to guide you, but I choose to think that the help they give is always valuable and certainly interesting. Besides -asking magical beings for help when writing about magical things just makes sense. 

And the egg? -well it obviously symbolized new beginnings -at least that’s what I took it to mean. It was the best of all -the prize, the grail, the treasure. It sat in state in a small, silver eggcup on my desk, placed there for inspiration along with the crockery shard, crystal and penny. There was just one problem. As the egg warmed in the coziness of my studio, it began to smell -REALLY smell. It wasn’t cracked, it looked perfect, but it absolutely stank. There was no way I could leave it in my studio. A rotten egg does not inspire (unless one is writing about a charnel house). I took it (carefully!) out to the stream in the garden and watched it float away. So much for symbolism. 

But thinking about it, it DID help me to begin writing, and for all of one morning it was a symbol, a talisman and a gift from the Faeries. Here I will interject a note about Faery gifts -they are often not what they seem and they can sometimes inspire and leave a stink at the same time, so it is important to have a sense of humor as well as a sense of perspective when asking the faeries for help and inspiration. 

With that in mind, it is time to see where they will lead me and what stories they will inspire. Stinky or not, it’s time for a new year and new beginnings. May your New Year be full of creativity and not too many stinky things.