Where do you find your joy?

Hello friend!

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

When I put my novel on pause to clear my head in May I didn’t think I’d be away for so long, and sometimes life takes us down the road less travelled and we fall down a rabbit hole of delight.

But I’m back.

I hope you’ve had a good summer. Mine was a voyage of discovering joy. Yes, I was finding my joy with Louise Fletcher on her art course, ‘Find your joy’, an intense 10-week programme that helps you find your thing in art making. It’s not about following her techniques but finding out what draws you, how you like to work and what you don’t like. You learn about composition and the massive part contrasts play in creating a piece of art that feels finished. And in the last module, you start to create a new series of work using what you’ve discovered about yourself over the course.

I had a fantastic time. Spent most of it letting my intuition guide me, which is sometimes tough when you resist to the surrender because you’re worrying that you’re not doing it right, but Louise and her course coaches emphasise that you’re to only please yourself. Because that’s where the magic, or joy, really happens. If you’re only pleasing yourself you can do what you like because it’s your rules. No one needs to see them ever if you don’t want to share them.

I discovered a lot about what I like in art making and what I don’t like, and I found some great artists as inspiration. I made art I didn’t like and slowly but surely made art I did like. I haven’t finished my series of paintings yet for the last module so I can’t share those, but I have found my own direction of exploration which I’m so excited about: imaginary landscapes.

Here are a few of the pieces I made over the course so you can get a taste of the kinds of work I produced (and I liked producing):

So, what now?

Well, I’m still working on my series of paintings but I’m back on my novel project.

After two whole months off, at the end of last month, I got back to it. In May I’d printed out the draft I had, to draw a line under that work, and once I’d finished my art course it just started looking at me from where I’d stowed it. I finally picked it up and read the whole thing.

I was pleasantly surprised with all the work I’d done and because of the break and some fiction reading I’ve done for fun I could see it in a whole new light.

And now the work begins again.

I have a writing retreat booked in October and am working towards getting my thoughts and reflections collated together to make that a whole week of just rewriting. I want to reduce the word count by about 20-30,000 words and tighten it up. It feels like it’s at the point I get to with my plays where out of the mass of story and scenes I have, I find that central thread it all points towards, and I go back into that thread and craft the story around that. I’m so excited but wish me luck! It’s going to take a while. More than my week of retreat I expect but it will give me a good start.

What’s inspiring me?

Landscape and seascape artists

Emil Nolde The Sea

During my course I discovered: Emil Nolde who was a new one for me and Barbara Rae. Take a look at their breath-taking work. They are a constant inspiration.

YA fiction series

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Oh my goodness. If you’re in to young adult dystopian fiction, have you read the Divergent series? I binged it in a week and felt, I think, actual grief by the end, especially when I finished book three. It’s told in first person present tense, something I didn’t think would work but gosh it totally worked on me!!

The Virgin’s Promise

The Virgin’s Promise, writing stories of feminine creative, spiritual and sexual awakening by Kim Hudson

I’ve heard reference to this book a few times and finally wanted to see what all the fuss was about. It’s actually really helped me to see my novel in a different way, and has helped me find that central thread that will bring the story together. If you’re thinking about structure and the emotional beats of your writing check it out.

Where do you find joy?

One thing I learnt about myself through doing this art course is that I find joy in doing different creative things. I was once told that if I did too many different creative pursuits, e.g., writing, directing and designing I wouldn’t learn as much as I would if I just concentrated on one. Over the years this suggestion got louder in my head, and, I realise now, that I was rushing for results, got too focussed on just one craft and I lost the joy. Moving from writing to visual art over the last two years has really brought me a lot of joy, and I’m finding that each pursuit is feeding the other. I would never have been brave enough to take 2 months off the novel, at this point in the writing process, if I hadn’t had another creative pursuit to immerse myself in. And although it means it may take longer to finish one thing, it’s keeping me fresh in the work and I’m loving being in the middle of so many projects.

Until next time!

Lucy

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“The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it…” George R R Martin

“The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is… But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don’t know how many branches it’s going to have, they find out as it grows.”

George R R Martin

This is exactly how I’ve been finding my writing recently. Since December last year my novel has taken most of my headspace. It was going really well until I had a massive wobble early April where it was growing to such an extent, I wondered whether I was writing one novel or two!

I’m pleased to report that I’ve got it under control and, with some help, I’m back on the right track. I’ve made my first pass of my second draft and now have a cohesive story, I just need to do another pass to shape it properly before I’ll have a full story with everything in the right place.

In those weeks where it felt like the story was swallowing me up and eating me whole, I searched the internet and chatted with friends for help. There’s a lot of talk about the different approaches to writing, some asking are you a plotter (someone who plans the story out before they start) or a pantser (someone who just sits down and writes ‘by the seat if their pants’). But it was the George R R Martin quote above and his experience of being a ‘gardener’ that really helped.

When I first started writing I wanted to be a plotter but it just didn’t work out. I’d spend so much time thinking and planning it through that I’d over plot and over plan, killing the story. I’ve learnt over the last 10+ years of seriously concentrating on my writing that I write to find the story, not flesh out a predetermined plan -well not for my plays or my fiction work anyway. I enjoy the mental conundrum of following where the characters are going, their wants and needs, and how they’ll get passed the obstacles in their way. I enjoy learning through doing and writing is no different. If I plot it all out beforehand, I know what the story is so I don’t need to write it. Where would the fun be in writing a story you already knew?

But unlike a pantser I have to have an idea of where it’s going. I need to have a sense of an ending to write towards or a situation or problem to find the character’s way out of. I think and ‘brew’ a lot on an idea or a character or an image before I start. I find it quite painful when I sit down to write, and I haven’t done enough ‘brewing’ and nothing comes. Sometimes I can just take an idea or a thought for a walk (in the same way that visual artist Paul Klee talked about taking a line for a walk) and something may appear. When I used to do morning pages (a method of clearing your mind before you start your day in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way) I’d often end up writing a story of some kind. And over a period of time that can stack up into something bigger, if the characters are ones you want to see again, but that’s very rare for me (and not the point at all of morning pages!).

I remember going to a talk by playwright Debbie Tucker Green where she said that most of her writing, at the time, ended up in the bin. I don’t know anything about her writing process but I wonder whether she may be a gardener too, planting seeds, seeing how they grow and having to except that sometimes conditions just aren’t right and it shrinks up and dies, and other times you plant a tree where you thought a tiny marigold would bloom.

That’s definitely where I feel I am with the novel at the moment (and I have a tree smiling down at me). I was hoping to have the second draft finished by June, but I need to get my topiary shears out and get the branches and leaves under control. I’m now hoping I can finish this draft by the end of the year.

What’s been inspiring me lately?

I’ve been reading more fantasy books to help with the novel which has been really fun. My recommendations are:

All Soul’s Trilogy by Deborah Harkness
Ok so I’m a bit late to the party with this. If you haven’t heard of this book, you may have heard of the Sky series The Discovery if Witches? Well, it started life as a trilogy, which I was totally sucked into over the last few months. It made me think a lot about what experience I want the reader to have whilst reading my story, and pacing and how to use exposition. Once I got into it I couldn’t put the books down. I needed to know what happened next and it delivered.

Night Circus and Starless Sea, both by Erin Morgenstern
Again, perhaps a little late to the party, but I loved both of these beautiful imaginative magical adventures presenting new worlds I really wanted to discover. They made me think more about world building and theme, and how you tie that into your central story.

I am not your Eve by Devika Ponnambalam
This is just out this year, and it’s not a fantasy one. However, it’s a beautifully told tale of Gauguin’s time in Tahiti and his muse (and child-bride). Retellings of Tahitian creation myths are interwoven with many different points of view, told in different ways. This really got me thinking about point of view and how much prose you need to tell a powerful story.


My bullet journal is a constant source of inspiration
I think I’ve mentioned this before and I’ve nearly gone through a whole bullet journal for the novel project already, but using it to track how much I’m writing, my reflections on those session, bits of back story I want to remember and lists of turning points, for example, has really helped me keep all my thoughts together. It’s kept me loving the writing even when it isn’t working, and is a constant place of comfort.

Louise Bourgeois
I hadn’t done any art for months because I’ve been concentrating on the novel, but I visited the Louise Bourgeois exhibition Woven Child at the Hayward Gallery at the Southbank Centre last weekend. She is such an inspiration, turning her life and her obsessions into art. Focused on her textile work, her simplicity of image was super inspiring.

I immediately came home and spent the next day playing around with my inks, watercolours and sewing machine and created these small pieces:

I’ll be taking a break from the novel now to clear my head, so more art to come in the next month I think. Keep up with my Instagram @lucyaveryart to see what I’m up to. I’m really looking forward to getting back to my art, partly because it gives me a different perspective on my writing.

I used to think that everything I did had to be starkly different from each other, though my friends could always tell what a ‘Lucy Avery play’ was… However, I often found myself fighting my instincts to work with a particular motif or images again because I was worried I’d be copying myself or that just wasn’t what writers did. Now, with the confidence art making has given me, I think of all my artistic work (written and visual) as a series of pieces where one is inspired by or in response to the last.

Working in a series is common in visual art, and I’ve found it so freeing. I’m finding some of the images I’ve used in my plays coming back again, and the novel is giving me the opportunity to go deeper. For example, at the moment the novel begins and end in a pool of water like Godless Monsters does; birds are a big part if the story, as they were in The Birdcatcher; and animals are key to transformation in the world I’m creating, as they are in my play in development, which I do hope to get back to, Ursa.

When I shared this with one of my writing friends she said “it sounds like some of these motifs/symbols haven’t finished with you yet. Let them have their way.”

So I am. I’m letting the novel take its time, letting it be what it wants to be, and I’m letting my art making happen when it wants to. I really am flowing the artistic flow. And if you are feeling artistic, I encourage you to do the same. As you just never know where the flow will take you or what that seed you plant will grow into! The journey is such a joy.

Until next time.

Lucy

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“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently?” – Lewis Carroll

Close crop from ‘Tomorrow is coming to tea’, original artwork by Lucy Avery

It’s been another tough year hasn’t it? Covid has now entered the circle of people I know. My family and my home are still safe, but it’s threat feels louder at the door. My heart goes out to all those it’s touched.

I find myself at the end of the year with disbelief at how quickly I got here. Lately I’ve been concentrating on getting through rather than being present in the moment, and now its winter and I’m looking back. Where has the year gone?

If you’re looking to review your year I can recommend some resources:

  • Soul Smile with artists Alice Sheridan and Megan Woodward Johnson, which I have completed, for the more arty.

Both are about looking back and thinking forward and are helping me see how I may be able to approach next year more present in the moment. Alice and Megan’s approach to WIN: What’s Important Now? is great.

This year, as you will have read, has been one of expansion for me as I’ve continued with my art and novel. Since I generated my first series of paintings in the summer, I printed four as cards which have all sold out and I’ve also sold my first original work! Whether it’s beginners luck or the universe showing me I’m on the right path I don’t know, but I will be following my art making into new mediums in the new year as well as the writing. The art is here to stay because it gives and something nothing else can.

If you’ve been developing your creativity too I recommend a new podcast from Art2Life. You may already know I’m a fan of Nicholas Wilton’s but the podcast especially has been helping me understand more about my own creativity. Particularly the most recent episode on Wayfinding. This is something no one ever taught me at school and he shares an understanding of creativity I’ve lacked for too long. Enjoy, if you do give it a go.

My plan for the holidays is to rest and then brew on my novel so I can get back to the second draft. Current inspirations over the last two months have been The Starless Sea and The Hunger Games. And then I will spend the first week of the new year as I hope to spend more of 2022: writing.

Thank you for following my journey. I hope some of my words may have helped you on your own path, or if not that they have reached out across the ether and brought distraction or interest.

I wish you a calm and restful holiday, and a happy new year.

Lucy x

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“October is a symphony of permanence and change.” –Bonaro W. Overstreet

Winter is coming by Lucy Avery

It’s been a while since I’ve posted because I’ve been taking my own advice: in April I wrote about how important improvisation is to my theatre practice and after dwelling on that it’s opened a door to a whole lot of joy. I’ve been following where my creative flow has taken me, improvising and playing around, learning new techniques along the way. It’s been a liberating and enlightening six months.

“The things I did because I was excited, and wanted to see them exist in reality, have never let me down, and I’ve never regretted the time I spent on any of them.”

Neil Gaiman

Art making

Over the last six months I’ve thrown myself into art making, learning more about various techniques and practices, and I’m learning something about myself and art with every piece I make.

I’m pleased to share with you my final sketchbook from my course with Karen Stamper, which was the first time I’d really worked with intuitive mark making and let images emerge on the page rather than drawing from life:

This work encouraged me over the summer to keep my own sketchbook when I went back to visit the New Forest (where I’m originally from)*:

I’d had the longest break from going back to the New Forest over the pandemic I’d ever had: 8 months. When I returned I was fuelled with the nature I’d seen and got playing around with my monoprinting (with the help of Carla Sonheim’s course) and my first series of art work emerged. I’m calling it ‘Dreams of Nature’:

Dreams of Nature by Lucy Avery

Writing

But what about your writing Lucy? You brought us here to talk about playwriting, what of that?

Well, I still haven’t made it back to my play Ursa which I was working on when covid hit last year, but the novel is progressing. As part of a course I took with Emma Darwin and Blue Pencil Agency I received a report on my synopsis and first few thousand words. This was the first time I’d opened up the whole story for someone to review, and it was a great relief to be able to discuss it with someone in the industry. The story is shaping up to be a coming of age fantasy novel, and the chat and the report I received was incredibly positive and full of constructive feedback. Over the summer I delved further into the story, developing the world, and that’s where I am right now with it. Going deeper, and really getting to grips with the world I’m setting up and how the story I’m telling, feels like a trip down the rabbit hole. I’m just hoping I make it back!

For any writers out there I’d like to share a couple of tools I’ve discovered that are helping me:

  • Plottr which is a plotting programme for your computer which has really helped me develop what was just post it notes on a small noticeboard. I received a discount for it when I completed my writing goal during Camp NaNoWriMo in April which helped with the cost.
  • Bullet journaling, which is helping me track my writing goals and is becoming a bible on the story in its own right.

I’m currently reading fantasy stories to help me think through structure and pacing, looking at how other people do it, before I get back to a stretch of writing over Christmas and the New Year. I’m not going to make my goal of completing my second draft this year, but I’ve made peace with that. I’m always over ambitious for what I think I can accomplish, and this time of reflection and research will make the novel that much better.

Inspiration and Improvisation

All in all, approaching my creativity intuitively, improvising and following the creative flow have served me well, and is something I want to keep on doing. I knew I approached my writing from the inside out rather than the outside in, but this exploration has given me a confidence which I haven’t had before in this approach.

Art making is making me a better writer too, as I’m touching my creative well in a different, more immediate way, and some of the images I’m making are serving as ideas for the novel. Each form of creating is feeding the other. I’d like to recommend two books for anyone interested in exploring art making intuitively Louise Fletcher’s Life Force and David Mankin’s Remembering in Paint.

If reading this blog has inspired you in any way, I’d encourage you to think, what’s changed for you over the last year? What’s stayed the same? Is there a way you can keep yourself open to new things whilst at the same time developing a practice that you can rely on? I loved this quote I found about October from Bonaro W. Overstreet, “October is a symphony of permanence and change.” This new approach I now have I hope will become permanent, yet within improvisation and play, change is inherent.

Until next time.

Lucy

*So you may’ve spotted I now have two Instagram accounts, one for writing and one for art making. Please follow me if you are interested in seeing how my work is progressing.

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“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” – George Orwell, 1984

This month I’ve been getting more and more interested in understanding the process of writing and making art, in the hope of understanding myself and being more comfortable with how I work.

When I moved from directing to playwriting I had to learn a whole new way of working, and it’s been the same with novel writing and the visual art making I’ve been enjoying. Something I’ve battled with, like most creatives I think, is the need to ‘get it right’ or at least to ‘get to a sense of completion’ with the work, and for it to resonate as deeply as it does with me, with others. But that can be easier said than done when you’re exploring a new art form, looking for touchstones to signal you’re on a path that will get to where you want to be.

Earlier this month I watched a talk with Kazuo Ishiguro and his daughter and fellow writer Natalie Ishiguro both discussing their new books, Klara and the Sun (which I’m currently reading and highly recommend) and Common Ground (which I have yet to read) respectively. Towards the end, Kazuo, or ‘Ish’, as the interviewer affectionately referred to him, referenced a podcast he’d listened to where a writer had state that novel writing was the convergence of experience and craft. Kazuo agreed but suggested that perhaps it’s actually a convergence of experience, craft and improvisation. He went on to talk about how little improvisation is discussed within writing and recounted a memory of watching Natalie when she was younger improvising on their piano for 45 minutes. She looked so free in her playing, making discoveries and enjoying herself. Did she use any improvisation in her writing now? He asked.

Natalie became incredibly embarrassed as she had no memory of this occasion, and confessed that improv doesn’t really come into her writing process at all. For Common Ground she spent a long time researching her subject matter and building on that rather than improvising around it. It struck a chord with me though, and the more and more I thought about it, the more I began to realise that this might actually be the thread that’s run through all my work to date.

Improv is part of all drama training and Natalie mentioned the ‘yes and’* game that she remembered from her own youth theatre experience. It can be very wide ranging and there are many different kinds of improv games you learn, and it was particularly essential to the work we did at Apocryphal Theatre. Any creative endeavour is about finding the process that works for you, but I hadn’t realised how neatly theatre and novel writing and visual art go together. Improvisation had become essential to my understanding of theatre making. It totally made sense that this is something I may instinctively carry on to other art forms without realising it.

As a director developing your own process is everything: Do you block the play from the outset or let the actors find for themselves where the character needs to be? Do you spend a lot of of time analysing the script or do you put it on it’s feet and explore the characters in the space?

During my BA I was lucky enough to be taught by Katie Mitchell who was in the process of directing Ivanov at the National Theatre. At the time she was very into Stanislavski’s Method of Physical Action, and as a part of our training we would create improvisations based on experiences from our own life, play that out and then analyse and breakdown the sequence of actions we’d performed. This approach of building drama around physical ‘events’ then led our approach to breaking down the script.

At Apocryphal, everything came from improvisation. For example, in the weekly lab performers would improvise around a piece of text or a gesture and translate that through a framework called ‘levels of address’ (to themselves, to each other, to the audience, to the grid). Even in rehearsals for the first show I was part of written by our director Julia Lee Barclay The Jesus Guy, instead of analysing what Julia had meant by each word in the text she’d written, whilst reading through the script we all talked about our own associations to the text and then the performers developed a set of improvised gestures around those associations. These became their instruments, so to speak, that they would play during performance (with the text being the notes). We would talk a lot about jazz musicians, John Coltrane being a favourite, and each performance would be a different rendition, within the frameworks we’d set of the notes (text) and instruments (the gestures). Being part of this company was revolutionary for me personally, as theatre making became a far more collaborative process from its inception, and I saw how meaning can become layered.

What of a process for writing and art making then? How does improvisation come into that?

The more and more I’ve been exploring novel writing and artmaking, I’m finding I’m happiest when purely improvising around a framework already set. On and off since January I’ve been taking part in Karen Stamper’s course called ‘Free up your sketchbook and grow’ (it’s on again next month, if you’re interested I’d definitely recommend it). That’s been filled with all kinds of ways into making, predominantly by making marks first, exploring different media and then letting those marks inform what you come up with (so like the ‘yes and’ game in drama)

Earlier this month during the course I had a break through session where out of purely making marks with different materials (the theme was flowers) I produced this image (below) of flowers in a vase, which is freer and stronger than most things I’ve created to date. The balance of improvisation with different materials, layering and then editing felt really good.

Another artist I’ve found inspiration from is abstract painter Louise Fletcher who hosts a great podcast along with fellow painter Alice Sheridan. For anyone interested in thinking more about the process of creating and the challenges that come with that I’d recommend looking it up. She’s covered topics like are you guilty of people pleasing in your art?, is making art selfish? and does your personality contribute to your art? Which was something I’d never thought about before. Listening to Louise and Alice talk openly about the challenges and joys of art making is both inspiring and comforting, and funny.

And what of my writing?

When I found the five act structure for writing plays, it really helped me to understand what each act needed to do to get the overall result of the story I wanted to tell. It’s now the framework I use to improvise within (I’m not a planner, I like to just write/improv with the characters in my head, until I hit on something that I feel I can grow). Novel writing is becoming similar, and I’ve just started on my second draft of my novel, starting by filling the rather large hole in the story I discovered when I read the first draft. Then it’ll be ironing out the plot points I have in the story I now have before I go in and redraft heavily.

In all forms of art making, people talk about it being about the journey not the destination, even though you start with the destination in mind. When I decided at 16 that I wanted to be a theatre director I had no idea how my life would look over 20 years later. I didn’t realise that dedicating myself to a creative path, would bring such change and personal growth, and challenge. Part of me is disappointed I don’t have my own theatre company regularly creating and producing work. The other part of me is realising, that I have more to offer, creatively, and there’s more I want to explore.

I guess all art making involves imagining another version of the world, another future. I just hadn’t realised how much the path would change me too. 

Lucy

*For those unfamiliar with the yes and game, it’s a game where two or more actors are in the playing space and one actor sets the scene and the other actor builds on that scene through the improvisation. The rule is you have to go with the suggestion of the other player, you can’t say no, you have to say ‘yes and’ and this builds something together that can be very expansive. It’s also a lot of fun!

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“March on, and fear not the thorns, or the sharp stones on life’s path.” – Khalil Gibran

As the UK starts to open up after what feels like an awfully long period of lockdown, it’s left me thinking what, from the changes lockdown has brought to my life, do I want to keep?

This month has been shadowed for me, as I’m sure it has for you, with the memory of that first lockdown. I distinctly remember turning to my boss that day we closed the office, the person I sat next to at my day job every day, with no knowledge of when I’d see him in person again. I hardly ever worked from home. Not coming into the office was going to be a major change for us all. “See you… online I guess?” I said as we parted ways.

That last trip home was fretful, a lot of people were on the train, no one wanted to get too close but everyone wanted to get home as soon as possible; a man sat with a massive computer monitor on his lap, presumably so he could begin working from home as all of us office workers have done since. No one imagined a year from that day. I couldn’t imagine what the rest of the week would look like.

A year on, my day was filled with just as much anxiety, this time about how I might get back out into the world. But before I do I’m keen to really think about the positives that have arisen for me personally from this experience: with theatres closed I’ve given another writing form a go and am enjoying it; with no galleries to attend my visual art skills have grown, becoming part of my weekly activities; with no commute I’ve been able to write in the morning before work which is how my novel got written, something I could never fit in before.

I’m currently reading Emma Gannon’s ‘The Multi-Hyphen Method’ recommended by artist Sharon Walters via a podcast I was listening to one rainy day. It’s about dismantling traditional ideas of success, replacing them with something more personal, working less and creating more. When you’re young, dreaming of creative success, you never think of the practicalities or the industry around the work you want to make -or at least I didn’t- and this year of opening up my own creativity as the world closed down around us, has me thinking differently. If you’ve had similar thoughts and have books or podcast or video recommendations please share them in the comments below. The world as we all knew it won’t be back for a while, and I for one want to go forward keeping what good has come out of this experience just as I want to leave behind the bad.

My novel project
I’ve spent this month developing the history of the society at the centre of my story so I can start to redraft next month. I’ve been attending brilliant workshops with Emma Darwin, author of The Itch of Writing blog. If you’re into or getting into writing I would suggest checking out her blog. She’s created a whole host of tools for a newbie novelist. The workshops I’m doing are via Blue Pencil Agency. She’s doing more later this year.

Paris in spring
I’ve also spent March ‘in Paris’ with The Art Beat Club which has been such a delight. Paris is possibly my favourite city in the world and to be set drawing activities, as if I was on a tour of interesting places across the city, has really given me a lift. Here are some of my favourite creations:

All being well, April will see me back at the novel. I’ve set myself a goal of 10,000 words to write over the month. I started writing it last April so am hopeful last year’s achievement will spur me on.

Good luck for your own re entry into the world.

Take care. Until next month!

xxx

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“In February there is everything to hope for and nothing to regret.” – Patience Strong

February’s been quite an active month for me.

It started with attending Devoted & Disgruntled which I try to do every year. For those of you unfamiliar with it, it’s a two-and-a-half-day conference that asks the question ‘What are we going to do about theatre and the performing arts?’ Attendees bring with them questions they want to explore and discuss, debate, or ask for help with. In a previous year I asked for help with how to talk about my work, and out of that discussion this website was born.

This year it was delivered fully online for the first time (as you’d expect) and was a splendid opportunity to come together with colleagues in the sector and hear how life’s been since the last one. Needless to say it’s been really tough, especially as a high proportion of attendees are freelancers (which I would be if I didn’t have my day job). But there was the most amazing feeling that we’re all in this together, and we will get through this, somehow. Theatre is an ancient art form you can’t kill off however hard you try. How you make a living from it and keep the home fires burning is another question.

I joined discussions around all manner of topics, from how to get arts council funding for projects to how can we make theatre more inclusive? One of the topics I’m still mulling over is, do you need to add references to COVID-19 in plays you’re writing that are not about COVID-19? There was a lot of discussion in this group about projects that have been put on hold because of the pandemic and are waiting to go on, booked for touring in 2022; and then projects created during the pandemic, responding to the world as we’re finding it now, which will want to be produced once theatres are open again. And of course there are questions like: how will the world be when we are in theatres again? Will an audience member be wearing a mask when actors on stage won’t be? If it’s a naturalistic play does that make it absurd, as the goal of the play is to represent the world as it is? Or actually will we have had enough of COVID-19 by then and we’ll be wanting to see plays without any reference to it, as we suspend our disbelief and dream of a time before or in the future where COVID-19 isn’t a feature?

There’s no real answer. However, as my plays have a more mythic and fantastical bent it was felt that maybe those kinds of stories transcend time, and you don’t need to reference COVID-19 in that kind of work. As long as the play you’re writing feels emotionally true to the times we live in -even if the actors aren’t commenting on the new rule of 6, for example- it will still feel true to an audience. If you have a strong view either way I’d be interested to hear it. Please add your comment at the bottom of the blog. However quickly we get out of lockdown, COVID-19 is with us and as all theatre holds some kind of mirror to society, questions around this will be with us for a while.

One light in the dark however was when writer-director-producer Jennifer Lunn, who I’ve worked with previously, shared a quote from a writer friend of hers Aliki Chapple. We were discussing whether you can really plan a production in 2022 for a play that felt urgent to get on in 2020? Will that play still feel relevant for an audience? Her response was this quote below. I loved it so much I just had to illustrate it:

This quote has given me comfort ever since I heard it, and the afternoon after D&D finished, I was inspired to go back and write the full synopsis of my new play that’s been on ice since the pandemic. It felt good to be looking at that story again, and I think I might have sorted out the ending. So watch this space as I may have more news on that project soon! If you’re interested in reading more about the discussions at D&D see the website.

My novel project

As far as my novel goes, after a month of not looking at it, I read the whole first draft through. I’ve been following NaNoWriMo’s workbook on redrafting and the recommended next step is to ‘read it like a reader’ (so for the pleasure of the story rather than to correct/change anything). I wasn’t convinced it was going to help, but it ended up being very similar to having a play table read by actors: the moment you hear it aloud, you can tell what’s not landing; the moment I read the draft as a reader, I could feel what was and wasn’t working. Something that I was reminded of when reading the draft was a tip writer Philip Ridley said in a workshop I attended with him once. This is not exact, but he said something along the lines of:

“An audience only remember how you make them feel, little else.”

Philip Ridley

He went on to qualify it with something like, “they might remember how this bit was clever and that bit made them think, but a sure fire way to leave a mark is to make them feel something.” We are all the sum of stories we’ve heard over our lives, we know instinctively how they work. Reading the first draft as a reader -to enjoy the story and get wrapped up in the emotional journey of the characters- illuminated a lot. Not least that I have a lot of work to do! I love the process of writing, of crafting a story and am looking forward to getting stuck in.

Lucy recommends

I just wanted to share a couple of online events I’ve come across happening next month which might be of interest:

The girl on the altar by Marina Carr

I first read a play by Marina Carr during my ’12 new playwrights in 12 months’ blogging a few years ago. I absolutely loved her writing but haven’t seen any performed so I was very excited when the Kiln’s latest email hit my inbox announcing a stream of a rehearsed reading of her new play. Check it out here.

Imagining the city

Another email hit my inbox, this time from the National Writing Centre. During February they’ve been running virtual residencies with five writers from UNESCO cities of literature, exploring their connections between their own city and Norwich. Some virtually visiting it for the first time. I thought this was a really interesting idea and recommend checking out the articles on the website. They have a couple of free events too. Find out more here.

Well, that’s it from me for this month. Stay safe and take care. Catch you in March!

xxx

Posted in Culture, Development, Novel, Script, Theatre, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“January brings the snow, makes our feet and fingers glow.” – Sara Coleridge

I can’t remember why I stopped writing this blog. The Future is Mine was shortlisted for the Introduce Yourself Festival at Finborough Theatre in 2018, which was really exciting, but other projects seemed to fall away. Nothing really stuck. I don’t feel like myself if I haven’t got a project on the go or something in the production works, but I guess that’s how it goes. That’s the ups and downs of being a writer.

After attending an awesome Arvon course with writer Chris Thorpe (do check him out if you’re not familiar with him), in late 2019 I finally started writing a new play. I was also branching out, exploring other forms of writing, and then lockdown hit.

I don’t need to tell you how hard it’s been. I hope you and your family are safe. I’ve felt incredibly lucky that I haven’t been sick, despite commuting up until the week before the official lockdown in the UK. I’ve been working from home ever since.

Words for plays have been hard to come by so instead I’ve been getting into visual art. It’s always been an interest of mine, and amongst other things, 2020 became a year of art courses for me. I explored drawing, painting, collaging, creative embroidery and art journaling primarily as a way to relax. I surprised myself by my energy for it, and it’s something I’m continuing this year too. Here are some examples of my work.

I follow art teacher Nicholas Wilton at Art2Life (if you’re into art do look him up) and early into lockdown he vlogged posing this question:

What does this time make possible for you?

Nicholas Wilton

It really picked me up and turned my thinking around from focusing on what I’d lost with the lockdown to what I could gain from it.

It didn’t take long for my mind to turn onto an idea for a novel I’d had for about the last ten years. I’d actually finished a course in Feb 2020 with writer Zoe Gilbert on fantastical fiction which helped me think about the story. It was when I was in my ‘exploring other forms of writing to help my plays’ phase and I actually finished the course discovering a way into this novel story, but decided to put it on the backburner and get back to my play. Where was I going to find the time to write a novel? I thought.

Now words for plays were hard to come by, but on the flip side I had all the time in the world to write a novel, and perhaps it could be the focus I needed.

I spent just 30 minutes every week day morning before work, just writing what came next in the story. I had a brief overview of generally what happened, and I already knew the end (which is essential for me to be able to get into any writing project). Long story short I finished the novel in three months (with the help of Camp Nanowrimo and another course with Zoe Gilbert) and then after a rest I finished typing it all up just before Christmas.

Broadly speaking it’s a fantastical novel set in a world not dissimilar to our own, but one where society believes magical people can’t be trusted. That’s all I’ll say for now, but hopefully that’s whetted your appetite. My work has always had a fantastical bent, but right now, I need fantasy more than ever and working on this project has been the tonic I needed.

Ursa, the play project I was working on before lockdown is still floating around in my mind, but as I just don’t feel like going back to it yet, completing a second draft of the novel by the end of 2021 is my next goal.

Something I’ve learnt about myself over the last year is that my creativity has many forms and great things happen when I just follow the flow. As Nick Wilton says, experiencing difference and doing different things makes us feel alive, and as my writing hero Julia Lee Barclay-Morton says “If you know where you’re going it can’t be anywhere new.”

My original purpose for writing this blog was to share the ups and downs of my life as a writer in the hope other people will be interested enough to come see or read my work.

In the times we’re living in now, some days my creativity is the only light I can find. I can only hope that these words are and will be of interest to you, and might add a lightness or distraction to your day. I’m aiming to blog once a month so I’ll see you in February and let you know how I’ve been getting on!

In the meantime, take care, stay safe,

and if you can, create xx

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The journey of a play

Each play I write takes me somewhere new. It takes me somewhere I hadn’t imagined I was going initially, and I usually end up with something that looks at the world in a way I hadn’t realised.

I remembered this just as I sat down to hear the read through of the new play I’ve been working on all year. I’d got as far as I could with the voices in my head. I needed to hear how the speeches hit the air before I could figure out the next steps in development. I was excited to discover where hearing it would take me. Like I was a child in the back of the car and my parents were taking me on a surprise trip somewhere.

Maybe if you write full time it’s different. Your capacity for creation is larger so you inhabit the world of the play more intensely and over a shorter period. Even if you’re more of a ‘see where this takes me’ kind of writer like I am rather than a ‘plan it and it will come’, you may have a better grasp of the whole as you’re moving through it at a quicker pace. I have a day job and between that and my life, writing is a humble third of my time these days. So each project is very stop start, and even if I write on the tube on my way to or from work, or carve time out after work, my main chunks of writing happen during holidays and weekends. As the gaps in my quality creative time are longer my plays in development can become the tension between my thoughts three months ago and where the world has moved to today.

You may think that having long gaps between writing sessions would bring more objectivity to the work. Not for me. I end up mulling over characters and possible stories for so long plots can get confused, as I get preoccupied with following characters through new puzzles their stories bring up.

My latest play is no different. In January I was on retreat at Cove Park writing a new draft of an idea tough to pin down the year before. In April a scene was read by the Actors’ Temple at their Playwright/Playread event which made me feel the topic had legs. I rewrote a little and then in May I had a session with David Lane (master dramaturg) to explore the idea further, and this November after I finished a new draft, the Actor’s Temple read the full script aloud for the first time.

After hearing the play read I now find myself at a crossroads. It feels that there are perhaps two plays warring for dominance within the one piece, and I’m not sure which road to take: do I follow the woman who needs to make peace with herself and let her secret out before she can live a full life? Or do I follow the girl searching for her father desperate to make sense of who she is? Both narratives are inside my play The Future is Mine at the moment but which one do I choose? 

One of my wise director friends suggested I think about what the core idea is that I’m trying to communicate to the audience with this piece, and figure out if the characters are explaining it clearly. 

This has really got me thinking and is becoming a great way to think about all the stories in the play and bring coherency to the story. I’m sure I did work on this when I was writing it initially, but hearing it, the core question of the play has definitely got lost. It may be that one of the stories is actually for a different play completely. 

So what is the core idea I’m trying to communicate? That’s my question to ponder over Christmas. It’s been a year of hard work and I can see another mountain looming before I get to the summit of this play. Hopefully I can find a helpful rope bridge or even a lift so I can see things more clearly and piece it all together.

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