Writing/painting: pollination

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baldwin.mykansaslibrary.org

Some writers complain of writers’ block. Perhaps they are due for pollination from other sources.

I’ve written before about how cross-fertilization within the arts is something to seek out and to treasure. A writer, performing artist, teacher, does him/herself no good by constantly giving out and never feeding the self. Exposure to other art forms stimulates unexpected associations that would not otherwise occur.  Learning the techniques involved in these arts achieves even more than just appreciating the painting, dance, acting or exposition. You can imagine the reception of new stimuli neurologically: neural pathways highlighted and speeding like electric sparks across the cortex. For a writer, new associations, especially unexpected ones, enrich the language that later emerges under the pen.

This post results from participation in a wonderful watercolour workshop arranged by Pelisande courses near Stroud.

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A small section of the participants at work

An original idea for a botanical painting workshop, Bugs and Botanical provided two outstanding tutors with complementary skills to tutor on the topical subject of pollination. 15 participants learned from RHS gold medal-winning botanical artist Julia Trickey (plants) and Cath Hodsman, ASB, Natural History Museum wildlife artist (insects).

The two artists chose aquilegia as the flower to examine and paint because of its unique method of pollination. The nectar lies in the tip of the curled spurs, coyly tucked away at the furthest point from the seductively displayed pollen on the pistils. labelled aquilegia

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Julia Trickey painted in session

Aquilegia, a beast to paint, is like an unfaithful wife. It can be approached for its nectar from the front (by humming hawkmoth) and from the rear (by bumble bee). The hawkmoth zooms into the front entrance legitimately, showing off its tremendously long proboscis (as long as its body). The aquilegia meanly keeps its nectar as far away from its front entrance as can be, but the hawkmoth can reach it, hovering humming-bird style at the flower’s mouth.

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Cath Hodsman

Here is Cath’s painting, showing the hovering wings and proboscis’ tell-tale golden cache, post-visit, held away from its body.

Under the microscope the fluffy body is more like a loofah, quite rough in texture. The wing has minute overlapping segments like the  tessellation of a Roman mosaic.

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Cath Hodsman

Not to be outdone by the moth’s super-long proboscis, the bumblebee, displaying no shame about its lesser member, flies straight to the back of the flower and drills through the tube, filling its sac with nectar. This means it gathers no pollen on its furry body, a job carried out unwittingly by the moth. For its efficient pollination work on most other flowers, the bee is the ultimate in hairiness, even its eyes have hairs.

Under the powerful microscopes, the worthy bee, post nectar-gathering, is weighed down by its enormous load, carried like panniers either side of its thorax. Its complex eye has a surface like a fine metal grille. Not enough to say ‘I have eyes in the back of my head’ it has enormous eyes, comparable to the cheeks on a pig, plus three simple eyes, in the middle and either side of the top of its head. It must never stop looking.

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Cath demonstrated her technique for painting every detail in the microscopic accuracy for which she is acclaimed, and is used by Kew Gardens as scientific illustrator. Her painting is a matter of many painstaking layers, very fine brushes, a steady hand and tiny movements: dots for the bee and dashes for the moth. Her drawings are the amazing result of reproducing what is seen when enlarged very many times. When a writer can portray a character or setting in that detail, readers can feel they are truly entering the lives of those in the narrative.

It was a privilege to listen to Cath’s extensive knowledge of wildlife, and equally to watch the exquisite painting of flowers by Julia. Under her hand the complex form of the aquilegia came to life, petal by petal and not just with great attention to accuracy but with incomparable interpretation. Before painting, Julia examines the plant in detail so that its structure is as clear as the light and shade on its form.

JuliaTPainting wet on wet, Julia’s not so small brush delivers a touch of colour that slithers into place, The brush comes away leaving a perfect petal behind it, immaculate edges, veins, light, shade and shape. Note the plate beside her. It indicates how little paint she uses; she uses the cloth in front of her as often. Julia has videos of her techniques, as well as her beautifully illustrated books so that those who attend her courses can follow her techniques at home.  http://tiny.cc/76n1yx

During the 2 1/2 day course, participants worked intensively on their own attempts at both flower and insect, straining their eyes to capture the details that make the difference between a cursory and an informed detailed illustration. Fortunately, Pelisande courses include delicious food. Participants went home enriched in mind and body, if cross-eyed.

The humming hawkmoth pollinates jasmine, honeysuckle, gardenia, pittosporum, plumeria, oleander, star-jasmine and flowering tobacco amongst others. Writers would love to think that their words were that widely imbibed.

Among most species that breed in water, the males and females each shed their sex cells into the water and external fertilization takes place.  Ideas and images in our environment are cast out in different artistic forms. They are absorbed, then mentally reworked into the receiver’s mental system. In the case of fiction writers, a story emerges mostly many years later.

Among terrestrial breeders, fertilization is internal, and the parallel for the writer might be the unconscious adoption of behavioural tendencies that can come from early relationships. These then enrich the development of characters in the writer’s stories.

In reproduction, by recombining genetic material from two parents, a greater range of variability for natural selection to act upon, increases a species’ capacity to adapt to environmental change. So in writing, by reworking imageries from different art forms, something new can emerge that has greater meaning to readers than the unpollinated material that went before.

 

 

© Copyright 2015 Rosalind Minett

 

Short Story Winners

Review of the Bath Short Story Award Anthology 2014

Ken Elkes

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I suppose that once a long list of good stories becomes a short list of the best, the final ranking is always personal rather than definitive. However, choosing from this short list must have been pure pleasure. From the winner to the brave and successful one-page story writer, there are no duds in the anthology. I review seven.

The artist for the excellent and imaginative cover of this anthology, Elinor Nash, also gained first prize with The Ghost Boy. A young accident victim retains an understanding of emotions and a strange insightful sensitivity although few other functions, Nash uses the 3rd person narrative voice to display Jake’s thoughts. He hears surrounding domestic sounds in colour (synaesthesia) “lemon yellow whooshes” and “the indigo velvet spiral of the drill”. He is painfully aware of the effect of his changed life upon his family. The imagination involved in perceiving this tragedy from the victim’s point of view probably nailed this story as the winner.

I really enjoyed Roisin O’Donnell’s, Under the Jasmine Tree, commended, because of the several levels of meaning. This story presented the reader with an original topic although the theme of reunion between mother and adult child, long separated is not entirely new. Requited but fated love is signalled by the description of the loved-one’s voice “clear as water and rocked with the rhythms of the sea” that contrasts later with it “rough as sea-spray” because he’s choked by what he’s done, what he’s caused and by his vocation. The sad acceptance of her situation is portrayed with due weight, her final decision symbolised by the permeating perfume of Jasmine.

Another commended story was ‘It’s a Girl’ by Lisa Harding. This was an even heavier theme, the trapped immigrant finding that begging is more successful with a puppy than a baby. This woman without adequate means of communication has a life of misery doled out by her keeper. Well written but a doleful tale.

Two stories used the well-worn theme of the holocaust. Cleverly written, but again very depressing, was Anne Corlett, the local prize winner’s story, The Language of Birds. The main character, beleaguered by her past, maintains her heavy lie and turns her painful thoughts to the sound of bird song. Each song represents another aspect of the story and leads to a conclusion that seems only fit.

The Crust, by Mona Porte, has a Jewish painter irritated at his father for allowing the Nazis to steal his paintings. The family meet the awful fate of Jews and the painter is reduced to starvation in a camp. For me, this was the weakest story because too much was told through dialogue as if readers had not come across this topic before. However, the use of the crust as an irritant, on several levels, was clever as was the twist at the end.

The third prize winner, Alex Hammond, had a more direct approach with No Man’s Land. A boy in Spain is making his own replica of the bunkers and dugouts, but needs help in making mud given the dryness in Spain. He appears to be more in tune with the dreadfulness of the battlefield until the end of the story makes the situation clear. I thought this fresh, competent writing with no wasting of words.

Lastly, the second prize winner,

with A Beautiful Thing, Kit de Waal, Unknown

gained my admiration for writing something uplifting. It’s my belief that this is harder than writing tragedy. The story twists the reader’s expectation in a new direction. I loved the detail of the expensive spats leading to a brave foray into new territory, with unexpected and heart-warming results. The style of writing reminded me of Marquez. I’d read this author’s work again.

Authors’ stimuli: preparing for that blank moment

PERFUME                                 SMELL                            STINK

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In a previous post I suggested that, at the point of urgently scribbling down that new idea, it may be worth exploring what actually prompted it.

The power of olfactory stimuli in activating memory is well known. I believe it is much harder to ‘dream up’ an olfactory experience than a visual or auditory memory that might affect the character in your story. For  a visual stimulus we have Art to display ideas, perspectives, narratives, symbols.  We have Theatre and Radio to present ideas and emotions through sound patterns, speech or music.  snuff_opt

There is no equivalent for smells. The writer may sit, pen raised, summoning up exactly the right sound or sight to cause his hero to pale with emotion, and the reader to imagine this accordingly. Far more difficult to write more than ‘the smell/scent/perfume/stink of’ (whatever) caused the emotional impact. How much of a struggle to work out what might have been recorded in long term memory.

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It might be a good idea to be prepared for that blank moment. Perhaps the answer is to note down your own strong reactions to any smell, pleasant or unpleasant, listing the source for each but avoid the obvious like dog poo. For instance, the whiff of musty clothes in a charity shop reminds Kara of a down-at-heel great aunt; the scent of aloe vera takes Anna back to the birth of her baby but reminds Dan of a little lane in Almeria where he was set on by teenage thugs.

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With such a list of smells, you can google them to add any interesting facts to their source and the memories they evoke for you. Easier then to strengthen your writing with that detail that enthralls readers and brings them right into your story.

A Rich Read: writers’ ideas.

fountainpenpaperWhat prompts a writer suddenly write down an idea? Authors of any genre – there’s a lot going on when you write.When you think you have an out-of-the-blue idea and must just get it down, more likely the germ of the idea, even if it’s caused by something just noticed, has an appeal that lies in some unconscious association. That is, past experience will affect the particular event observed, aurally or visually. Why notice this (length of someone’s thumb), rather than that (choice of tie)? Did you know that subliminal exposure can influence preferences? Even patients with amnesia can demonstrate affective preferences without remembering any encounters with the objects of their affection (Johnson & Multhaup, 1992). But the experience of preferring one stimulus rather than another is conscious. As a writer, you are aware of ‘the good idea’ or the urge to write down something noticed or experienced, (conscious preference) without recognising that some original strong, possibly emotional, experience sparked your attention to or your ‘preference’ for a particular stimulus. What one person sees and immediately focuses upon may be ignored by another. kaleidoscopeEvery scene, even the familiar surrounds of the working or home environment, holds a kaleidoscope of auditory and visual stimuli. At a party, Jane’s attention may be drawn to a particular blue-grey dress. She says, when asked afterwards, ‘I don’t know why I remember that dress. I didn’t even particularly like it.’  But in fact it’s the same colour and texture as a dress worn by a shouting aunt in a long-ago quarrel. Her focus of attention means that she fails to absorb the content of conversation in the nearby group. Derek, beside her, has his eyes on one speaker whose gestures irritate him. He can’t say why. If he’s a writer, he may think about why, worry away at the conundrum. Sometimes it is possible to dredge up the original stimulus. A writer may go back over and again over his/her thoughts about an experience such as those above. Occasionally, the origin emerges and it is usually a very satisfying feeling even when the original stimulus was upsetting. It’s a feeling of getting things into place. Why is this unconscious layer of memory part of the human experience? It has a social, a survival function. To know the minds of others, (are they dangerous, are they to be trusted?) from our very early days we must attend to and perceive the available cues, whether in their verbal or nonverbal behavior.  In unconsciously absorbing tiny details that contain information about a person’s inner qualities, there is a kind of template against which new experiences can be tested over time. Moreover, when a writer includes such detail it is recognised as significant by the reader. The reader may not know why s/he has focussed on that detail in the chapter, but s/he also has this layer of awareness built up from infancy that alerts him or her to such clues. Kulikov_Writer_E.N.Chirikov_1904 A character may be softly rubbing the edge of a desk as some significant news is given him. The reader enjoys noticing this detail and absorbing it as a guide to that character’s reaction, and ultimately, personality. It is this kind of detail that moves a piece of writing to another level, (and is often missing from plot-driven fiction). Whether it is the writer writing it, or the reader reading it, such detail makes for what we often call a ‘rich’ read. I have written about auditory and visual stimuli here. Olfactory stimuli is another matter. It is commonly known how certain smells activate long-forgotten memories in the most vivid way. I will write about this in another post. This is the first of several pieces relating to the cognitive process in writing.

Emerging short story

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                                                    Wild cactus, dangerous to touch

I finished a short story yesterday.  Each time this happens I get a tremendous sense of self completion. That sense usually dissipates on a re-reading. I think I edit more than I write. However, this was a third sitting and a long one.  (I can always edit again.)

I submitted it for StoryFriday, a superb event that happens one Friday evening on alternate months. It’s held in Burdalls Yard, Bath, an atmospheric and quite historic building with a mediterreanean courtyard and a cave-like theatre. It’s owned by the Performing Arts department of Bath Spa University but used by others in the evenings. A Word in Your Ear, of which StoryFriday is a section, gains from this availability.

There is a theme set, authors submit stories and the best are selected, either performed by the authors themselves or by one of the two talented actors. There is interesting live music as the evening starts, with candle lit tables and a bar.  At the appointed hour we all take our seats in the small theatre, and the story performances begin. The standard is very high so I don’t count on my story being accepted.  However, I thought beginner writers might be interested in the process of writing this story.

I think that once an idea comes for a story the writer can become too involved in one aspect to pay due attention to other important elements that go towards making a good story. In my case, I was totally immersed in developing the voice of a not too reliable narrator. (Readers of my previous post of this title will realise that this appeals to me.)

StoryFriday for March has the theme, FERAL. When set a theme, I like to stick to it closely. So I have a feral narrator. He’s not like this wonderful creature, but the illustration demonstrates that a theme can be interpreted in unusual and unexpected ways.

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panzi – deviantart.com

The writing process

Deep into my narrator’s account, at about 2,000 words I realised that I had too many characters appearing. Even without assigning them names, they would crowd my story. I doubt if a story of under 3000 words can work with more than three characters, and I was working to a maximum word count of 2,200. Even that is too long for a spoken performance.

I sat back and re-thought the story. Where was my character at the beginning? How many places and situations could he refer to? Like characters, not too many, otherwise the reader/listener would become confused. How could I best lead up to the climax? Had I laid down a hint near the beginning so that the end had validity? Had I described sufficient of the scenes for them to be visualised?

After thinking this all out, I reworked rather than rewrote the story, but all the time the above considerations had to be written as seen through the eyes of the narrator.

I hope I’ve succeeded, but if I haven’t, I’ll come back and edit again. I think this feral narrator is refusing to let me go.

Towards a super-blog?

Eye-catching and complex. This is the kind of illustration that attracts my attention. I’ll scroll down if I see something like this. Ideally, a blog post needs a visual with immediate appeal.

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Let me start by emphasizing that this post is a personal view. I don’t have the blogging qualifications to give the answer to my title, but I am a reader of blogs, so my reactions to blogs won’t be unique.

In this post I am highlighting four blogs I have come across and followed with delight – delight because I cherish mastery. Each of these blogs, despite being so different from each other, displays a mastery of the chosen field: blogging. It’s become apparent to me that blogging is a new art form, and one that can make use of existing art forms as well as new technology.

This is my personal criteria for a blog to be excellent: it has to attract the eye, serve an immediate need for specific information, be clever in its use of the web-site technology, to entertain and be memorable.

I am sure there are thousands of wonderful blogs, but I’ve been too wrapped up in managing my own blog struggles to surf a lot. I was handicapped by not having been a blog visitor before having to create one. It was like being told to trampoline before I’d learned to jump. Nevertheless, it didn’t stop me noting quality as soon as my blogging trawls began.

The following blogs each offer something special, and they’ve each paid due attention to the appearance and ease of use of their blog. Furthermore, each demonstrates commitment to the work of blogging and the responsibility of delivering quality content.

The Inky Fool. My prize for erudition. http://inkyfool.com   Mark Forsyth generously presents information on words, where they might be found or used, their derivation or intricate, fascinating details about them. Example posts:  an examination of the origin, role and place of Sherlock Holmes in literature; the Anglo-Saxon version of Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Wordiness can be great fun. It’s a wonderful site, and incidentally makes you want to rush off and buy these unique books. The blog is impressively elegant and is easy to negotiate.Inky Fool

The Bloggess.  http://thebloggess.com   My prize for hilarity. Jenny has a huge following and a book that developed by demand as result of her entertaining blog. (Enviable position!) She appeals to all our rebellious and unworthy urges, provides a fun outlet for all the cringeworthy mistakes anyone might have made and states outrageous things with a jokey corollary so that no-one could reasonably complain. (Unreasonable ones do). Example posts are shown, but these can’t do justice to the fun of Jenny’s discourse.

AnneRAllen. http://annerallen.blogspot.co.uk. My prize for quality writing – as it happens, about writing. There are many writing blogs, often with advice that is very ‘samey’.  This blog convinces with sensible, knowledgeable advice, well written articles and links to useful information. Example article =        12 Signs Your Novel isn’t Ready to Publish    The presentation is clean and spare. The opinions do not appear to be derivative, as is true of many writers’ blogs. I’m a Brit, so in British terms, AnneRAllen is a Liberty’s as opposed to a British Home Stores writers’ blog.

Morgen Bailey.   http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/ My prize for multi-tasking, and a separate prize for responsiveness. The presentation is of layers upon layers of related sections. The multitude of key words to click and explore fairly represents the true multi-tasker. Look at how comprehensive this is:

I’ve admired, enjoyed and explored these blogs. I know there will be many others of excellence, but these provide good examples of successful blogging. They provide a real service.

Regarding my own two blogs, I’ve been told my other one is (not Rolls Royce, lol, but) unique. It provides no service! It developed out of a mischevious attempt to retain some privacy while still giving exposure to my book. The Me-Time Tales blog has the characters do the writing. I let them take charge and dominate me. Now the blog has taken on a life and narrative of its own and has received to date 5,500 visits in its five months of life. Since it doesn’t have articles, guests and so on, I guess it will stay in its weird form until it dies. Everything has a natural life and I am prepared for this. http://fictionalcharacterswriting.blogspot.com

And this blog? It will be some time before I have learned all the skills necessary to develop it into the superblog I would like – a resource for character-based writing, and to discuss writing in process.  Meanwhile, I continue to search for blog masters and to learn from them.

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Do leave a comment if you have learned something useful about blogging. 

Novel Writers’ ten think points

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1. Write your target quota before entering any social media site

2.  Write from your instinct before reading writing advice

3.  Only seek feedback from other writers

4.  Only seek feedback when you have planned and written a substantial section

5.  Stop and decide where the plot is going one third of the way through

6.  Lie in bed and hear your characters’ voices clearly

7.   Highlight the sections you’re unhappy with in blue

8.   Beyond halfway read the first and last lines of every chapter

9.    Read a highly rated novel while you take a break

10.   Care about your characters and write their future…NOW

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