Friday, 7 December 2012

My Song - A Memoir...

I felt compelled to buy My Song - A Memoir of Art, Race & Defiance by Harry Belafonte after watching him discussing the book on one of the Hay Festival sessions on SKY Arts in June this year.  In November, I made a note in my journal:

'I'm not giving up on this book, although it's tedious start did almost bring me to an all time halt as I took time - leaving it to 'brew.'  So far the story is full of interest re: the 60's - Civil Rights' Movement - his musical/film career and how he weaved politics into his world.

What is it I don't like?  When Belafonte brings in the future at random, which doesn't add, it distracts (me the reader!)  It's unnecessary detail, untimely, thrown in, a spanner in the works as it stops the narrative flow, causing much irritation.  I wish his Editor (Michael Schnayerson) had picked this up; I would've!'

Am I being harsh?  Maybe, but I'm being honest.

I'm not sure this book fits well as a memoir, more of an autobiography, since it is the story of Belafonte's life spanning from his birth to his seventies. It is an account of his life and his career as an international singer and actor.  It's also a story of his journey on the front lines of his political activism.

It took me sometime to read as I dipped in and out and I did find certain sections hard work, but on the whole I gained a behind-the-scenes portrait of Belafonte's life and the many fascinating cultural and political figures he befriended along the way.  The list is long and includes Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt, Robert Kennedy, Fidel Castro, James Baldwin, Bob Dylan, Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela.

My Song shows how powerful a determined human being can be.  And for that reason alone, it is worth the read.

BIO:

Harry Belafonte grew up in Harlem and Jamaica.  His 1956 album Calypso made him the first artist in history to sell more than one million LPs.  From the early days of his career, he broke down barriers wherever he encountered them.  His activism widened to a passionate involvement with the civil rights movement.

Links:
Follow@harrybelafonte on Twitter
www.singyoursongthemovie.com 
www.facebook.com/harrybelafonte

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Tribute to the Stars


Introducing Deanna Jackson, age 14, who has always written poetry since she was about eight years old. However, it wasn't until her first year at Secondary School aged 11, that she began to commit to it. Deanna wrote poetry to express her feelings, not just about starting a new school, but life as a whole, and how she felt about it. Writing poetry became a natural thing to do, particularly when she was upset. If Deanna felt that she couldn't speak to anyone, then she wrote poetry which gave her a voice. Now, she mostly writes poetry for the enjoyment. However, it will always be her support mechanism whenever needed.

I met Deanna on 11th August 2012, when she attended a Creative Writing Workshop that I led at Wellingborough African-Caribbean Association's Fun Activity Day. I was impressed by the way Deanna very quickly wrote and delivered a new poem, fresh off the press during the session. At the end of the workshop, Deanna handed me two of her poems. So it is with much pleasure that I post them here:

Tribute to the Stars
So many stars have died so young
There lives we’ll never forget
When they started taking drugs
they didn’t consider the effects
Whitney Houston topped the charts
but the drugs sent her singing downhill
she always looked so exhausted on stage
but she struggled on still
Amy Winehouse lived her life
through many ups and downs
she was so pale and weak
and in her sorrows she did drown
Michael Jackson, we will remember
as the legend of music he was
His painkillers made him feel so great
and his death was such a loss
So let this be a warning to you
before it is too late
for these stars thought that drugs would help
and they had a much worse fate
Realisation
When I was young, life was simple
Just like a roundabout
there never really was any change
so there were no reasons to have any doubt
When I was young, I had no priorities
I had no list of things I wanted to do
other people didn’t matter as much
I had a more self-centred view
When I was young, I could laugh at things
that I didn’t even understand
Things just seemed like so much fun
I didn’t think life needed to be planned
When I was young, things were different
I didn’t know what was yet to come
I never realised how bad you could feel
And how it felt when you wanted to run
When I was young, I didn’t want to grow up
And when I did, I wanted everything to rewind
But now, I’ve finally grown to realise
Age also gives you a stronger mind


Saturday, 27 October 2012

Mslexia Call for Submissions: Memoir (and other things...)

MEMOIR
Mslexia Magazine are currently seeking short (up to 2,200 words) narrative non-fiction submissions in the form of memoir for the New Writing section of the March 2013 issue of Mslexia.  Cast your mind years back to your childhood, or just a few hours back to last night - or to any destination in between - and send in a slice of your life.  Up to two submissions can be submitted.
Deadline: 10 December 2012.

There's no entry fee and Mslexia pay for all the pieces they publish.  Submissions are judged by a high-profile guest judge who introduces and comments on each piece in her selection - an invaluable addition to any author's CV.

MONOLOGUE: 'the hairdresser'
Especially for writers of script (but anyone is welcome to submit) send up to 200 words on any topic in a single character's voice. Mslexia are looking for monologues in the voice of a hairdresser.
Deadline: 14 January 2013

A WEEK OF TWEETS
If writing a full length memoir excerpt doesn't appeal, why not try your hand at something smaller but no less perfectly formed.  Fans of new media are invited to submit A Week of Tweets about their writing and/or life - or to apply for a three-month 'residency' on the Mslexia Blog.  
Deadline: 14 January 2013

For detailed submission guidelines, please visit: www.mslexia.co.uk/submit

Finally if you'd like to advertise your writing group or promote your latest book, writing class, or blog, Mslexia have just launched a new Noticeboard section in the magazine, which will allow you to reach 27,000+ readers.  Prices start from just £20.  Contact Victoria on 0191 233 3860 or email: listings@mslexia.co.uk

That's it for now - it's over to you!

Monday, 15 October 2012

Blog Action Day - Toni Morrison; A Writer's Influence


The theme for this year's Blog Action Day is The Power of We and because it embraces community, equality and freedom, I knew I wanted to focus on writing within a 'community' and this is something Shangwe is all about.  So it gives me great pleasure in celebrating and honouring Toni Morrison today.

Identify one writer whose work has been in some way influential to the development of my own creative writing process, it has to be Toni Morrison. Why? If there's one writer who I want to watch and learn from it's Toni Morrison. To start with I'm already hooked ever since I started reading her works some 17 years ago and I have collected all of her novels and have even delivered a Shangwe writing workshop in 2004 on Beloved her master-work thus far, published in 1987.

I need to state that Morrison was expected to excel, even though she had to contend with the racial prejudice that accompanied growing up in an educational system that ignored the contributions of non-whites. Morrison entered Howard University in Washington, D.C., changed her first name from Chloe to Toni, and began studying under strong African-American spokesmen, including poet Sterling Brown and philosopher and critic Alain Locke, a Rhodes scholar who edited The New Negro. She graduated with a B.A. in 1953 and completed a master's degree in English at Cornell two years later, with a concentration in the works of Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner.

The Bluest Eye is where I want to focus, it being her first published novel, and one that I've re-read over the last few weeks, with fresh eyes. The novel focuses on Pecola Breedlove, a lonely, young black girl living in Ohio in the late 1940s. Through Pecola, Morrison exposes the power and cruelty of white, middle-class American definitions of beauty. Pecola is driven mad by her consuming obsession for white skin and blonde hair – and not just blue eyes, but the bluest ones. A victim of popular white culture and its pervasive advertising, Pecola believes that people would value her more if she weren't black. If she were white, blonde, and very blue-eyed, she would be loved. Pecola is abused by almost everyone in the novel so I urge you to read the book for yourself as my focus here is with the way that Pecola, a little black girl in the 1940s, still resides in a few black girls and women around the globe now, in our modern 21st century.

Moving on now as this blog post is meant to be a celebratory one! I have to say that Toni Morrison's works have not only educated and enlightened me, they have made a difference to my own creative writing choices. It is a subtle writing process that I'm talking about and when I reflect back on the compiling of Brown Eyes, my first anthology of black and mixed-race women's writing, it is here where Toni Morrison's influence lies. Of course I cannot say that it was only Morrison's influences that led me to taking the plunge into what was then an unknown business, i.e. putting a book together, etc. There were many influences that come to mind, many black female writers from Africa, the US, the Caribbean and the UK, whose works impressed upon my writing choices.

However, what made Morrison particularly influential was that her writing choices of works made no apology for an all-black cast, for exploring and exposing those taboo subjects of racial and sexual tensions within a historical context and from an African-American female perspective. Not only did this provide me, a Black-British/mixed-race woman living in London, with a wonderful literary landscape in which to delve - for Morrison's works have such depth, even a re-read is a 'new' experience - it gave me the authority, the guts to write exactly what I wanted, from a black female perspective with confidence and a vision that this is the work I am meant to do!

My third anthology Hair Power Skin Revolution through the genre of poetry and personal essays, explores and captures where black and mixed-race women are with their perspectives on hair and skin – and again we see similarities to Pecola Breedlove in that women are still coming to terms with and battling those Euro-centric perceptions of 'white' beauty, of straightened versus 'natural' hair, of why over the last 10 years, skin lightening creams are selling more now than ever before! There is obviously a huge difference now to the 1940's in that we do have the freedom to reject those wider notions of what 'beauty' is. I've long ago stopped buying those glossy women's magazines, since they aren't talking to, let alone representative, of me and many women I know.

Much good writing is multi-layered and complex. It is precisely this diversity and complexity, which makes literature rewarding and exhilarating. What I love and admire most about Morrison is that she is a spellbinding weaver of stories, which mix both the historical real and the magical, supernatural and the imaginative in people's lives. More importantly, as a key African-American female writer, Morrison has rewritten and revitalised a history, which largely ignored African-Americans and women in particular.

A Nobel prize winner and major voice in Black writing, Morrison said she set out to write the novels which she wanted to read, but couldn't find – novels about the joys and pains of everyday life for African-American people, at different points in history. Morrison's work is energetic and lively; it is beautifully, lyrically and dramatically written, and engages the reader in compelling issues about equality, and racial and sexual politics. It is also immensely entertaining, tragic, ironic, amusing, and enriched with fascinating details of people's lives. Her stories are gripping, emotional, drawn from both a literary and an oral tradition; they appeal to a wide and international readership. Not an 'easy' read but Morrison always rewards the reader by way of her language devices and choices. It's well worth the 'work'.

That I get so much value as a writer/reader when I engage with Morrison's works is putting it mildly. Despite the thousands of miles that separate me from Morrison physically, I feel connected to her works on so many different and wider levels. I embrace the similarities and the differences and share my ideas and perspectives learned along the way.

So while I continue to keep an eye on Toni Morrison and her literature, I feel particularly safe, secure and free to continue exploring my own creative writing on issues of race, relationships, identity, gender and community, thereby airing my voice(s) and simultaneously discovering new insights into the art of creativity.

Links:
http://www.tonimorrisonsociety.org/
http://www.biography.com/people/toni-morrison-9415590
http://www.shangwe.com/index.htm

Friday, 21 September 2012

In Conversation with Paula David


Paula David has performed her poetry all over London, held rehearsed readings for three of her plays and is currently completing a teenage fantasy novel.  She loves to create and endeavours to continue.

I first met Paula David at one of my Shangwe Poetry events in the Poetry Cafe, Covent Garden, London, where Paula did an open mic spot. I soon realised how talented Paula was and so she was featured in a future Shange event. I particularly liked that Paula's creativity extended to singing and found out that Paula was far more comfortable singing lyrics than reciting poetry - that was then. Recently, Paula attended an Arvon Writing Retreat and so I was eager to find out more about how that went...

Nicole Moore (NM): How did your interest in singing and then writing start and what is your favourite writing genre?

Paula David (PD): I joined my first band at fifteen and sang in many bands for several years.

I’ve always written poetry and songs so when I began to gig less, because of motherhood, poetry naturally took over the song writing. Once my daughters were older I began to perform some of my poetry, it just seemed natural to me for there to be some singing included.

NM: Where do you see your artistic talents progressing, e.g. singing or performing poetry?

PD: I have written three plays, several short stories and I am now writing my second novel. I perform poetry and also gig as a singer. I enjoy it all and will continue to divide my time in this way until it no longer works/makes sense or is enjoyable.

NM: What influences your writing of songs and poems?

PD: Life, relationships, people I meet, my children, experiences.

NM: You studied an MA Creative & Professional Writing at Brunel, please share with us the academic and artistic experience.

PD: I found the research elements very enjoyable but putting essays together, I have to admit, was tedious. I learnt a huge amount about writing technique and my writing moved forward in leaps and bounds.

There was a module on writing in the community. I discovered wellbeing through creative writing, self discovery through writing, and the range of community projects possible. These types of creative writing were a revelation to me and I’m still exploring the possibilities and will be for some time.

NM: Paula, tell us about your experience as a Writer in Residence in Leytonstone East London?

PD: This was an amazing experience. I worked with a diverse group of local writers to produce an anthology of poems and stories on the theme of identity. There were three events attached to the project and the anthology was launched 9th Sept. The experience has taught me so much and I’m now looking for funding to repeat the project.

NM: Earlier this year, you organised a writers' retreat - a long weekend in a quiet cottage - how did that project materialise?

PD: I have experienced two Arvon retreats which were inspiring, informative and very enjoyable. Both retreats gave me direction within my writing and helped me set new goals. Arvon retreats are very expensive and I wanted to repeat parts of the experience on a smaller budget. I gathered a group of five writers and we spent three days, doing writing exercises in the mornings, working on our own pieces, in the afternoon, and sharing our work after dinner. It was a great experience and I’m planning to repeat it in November 2012.

NM: What has been your moment of the year?

PD: I have had a great writing year. I’ve been published in three anthologies, experienced being writer in residence and started a new novel. I think I have more than one moment this year. Can I choose all three?

NM: Paula, please share any writing/singing tips?

PD: 
  • Try to write something every day, no matter how short.
  • The editing and shaping of your writing is the crucial stage, take your time.
  • Try to occasionally approach your writing from different angles e.g use music to inspire, visit art exhibitions for ideas etc.
  • Read widely
Links:

Thursday, 30 August 2012

On Becoming an Editor

“There's no way a person becomes an editor. One simply decides that one is, and sets about doing it.” (courtesy of www.crazyindustry.blogspot.co.uk)

Umm, if I'd known this when I set about seeking contributions for my first anthology Brown Eyes, I may have been heard screaming, that can't be right – but there's some truth in those words.

I can't speak for other editors out there; my reality has to be different. Why? Because it wasn't until my publisher Jeremy Thompson (of Troubadour) sent me the Brown Eyes front cover proof, which stated my name in fairly large print followed by 'Editor'. At first, I was a bit taken aback having perceived myself as a writer first and foremost and an anthology creator at best (yeah, I was driving in fog!).

So I immediately got on the phone and called Jeremy for clarity – the conversation went something like this:

“Hi Jeremy, how are you?”
“Hi Nicole, I'm fine, you?”
“Yes, I'm good, look Jeremy, the book cover's great but it says I'm the Editor.”
“Well, you are the Editor, Nicole, as in you've commissioned the work and had overall responsibility along with the control of book design and so on and so forth.”

It didn't take longer than a few seconds for the penny to drop and for my somewhat slightly embarrassed self to say, “Of course Jeremy, I just hadn't quite seen it but, you’re right!”

Not wanting to continue driving in fog by this new revelatory discovery, I still needed more clarification (yeah I know!) so I browsed the Internet and lo and behold, I found this to be absolutely spot on. Jeremy was of course 100% correct and I felt reassured when I saw before me a list of an Editor's Role:
  • Developing a clear vision for the book
  • Appointing contributors and editing and approving their contributions
  • Liaising with Publishers re: publishing and/or marketing contracts
  • Deciding on book title, what text to use, book cover design, book size, number of copies printed and book leaflets, etc.
  • Checking the book proofs and preparing the index
  • Keeping the project on schedule and to length
  • Assisting in the marketing of the book

Yet behind the scenes of the Editor Role, I have to add it helps a lot if you also love (or at least like a lot) language, words in any form, i.e. books, magazines, newspapers, blogs, etc. I've definitely got a passion and that's why I've often got my head in a book – yeah it helps if you read extensively. Funnily enough, in the 80's I used to teach typing at an Adult Education Institute and would spot an error a mile away, much to the dismay of my students. This in-built word radar approach helps a lot when you're proofreading.

My route to Editor-hood was through the freelance writer one, although that's not essential of course, but I'm glad that's how I stumbled into editing. There is definitely an art to editing, except you're much more business-like about it, ensuring there's an acceptable structure and that the end product is worthy of a space on the book shelves. Adopting a schizophrenic-like approach that embraces creativity and business can help, as you really need to wear both these hats simultaneously, but it's a different artistic process this editing lark, especially when editing creative works like poems and personal writing as was the case for me. Guidelines need to be followed, criteria developed and strongly adhered to particularly as two of my books were funded by the Arts Council England, and so you learn on the job. By my third book though, I had enough experience to confidently enjoy the whole artistic and business-like process as I knew so much more this time around.

I'd really like to hear from any Editors or would be Editors out there, so please do feel free to make a comment or ask me a question. I'll do my best to answer your queries!

For more on becoming an editor – check out:

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

In Conversation with Adelaide Damoah


Adelaide Damoah is a British artist and writer of Ghanaian descent whose work combines African and Western influences while highlighting social issues. Adelaide's début exhibition entitled Black Brits, (2006) was featured on BBC News, Channel 5 News and other regional and local media outlets in the UK. Adelaide has had four solo shows to date in the UK including Supermodels, Black Lipstick, and a domestic violence exhibition for a registered charity, the National Centre for Domestic Violence. Adelaide is currently working on a series of Art Success interviews, which are published via a popular arts and culture magazine in the UK called Lime, her own blog and an art blog called Contemporary and Modern Art. Adelaide will be publishing 100 of her Art Success series interviews in a book in 2013.

Nicole Moore (NM): In your biography, at your website: http://www.damoaharts.com/ you state, 'I paint because I have always had an inherent need to express myself creatively.' Could you elaborate?

Adelaide (AD): I was always a dreamy child. I would sit in my room and stare out of the window wistfully. I fantasised about strange creatures and other worldly things and I would do my best to draw them. I drew all over my note books and even my bedroom wall, much to my parents chagrin. In secondary school, I took GCSE art. It was then that I learned about the artist Frida Kahlo and how she expressed herself, her life experiences, emotions, dreams and fantasies, through her work. I became fascinated with her after seeing an exhibition of her work in London. This was in the 90's. One of our projects was called “Myself.” We were told to look at the work of Frida Kahlo and absorb how she expressed “herself” through her work. How she documented “herstory.” I ended up producing a painting of myself, a self-portrait. The face was smiling slightly, but her forehead was opened up and there was a crying eye inside. From that point on I was hooked! Expressing my teen angst in that way soothed my soul. After that, every relationship became punctuated with some piece of artwork; physical pain was expressed through my work. Emotional pain, joy, pleasure...everything I could express, I expressed in strange fantasy like drawings, from childhood, all the way through university and into my working life as an adult. It is the way I have always been and the way I always will be. It is just who I am.

NM: When did you start painting?

AD: I used acrylics and water colours from secondary school onwards as a hobby. I started to use oils in around 2000. I bought an oil painting instruction book and taught myself out of boredom and sheer pain during a time when I was not very well.

NM: What influences your art?

AD: Everything and nothing. I am someone who believes that art is a visual representation of the spirit of the times. Zeitgeist. Social issues, current events, the goings on in my own little world, my emotional state, a pretty or handsome face, love, sex, relationships, nature, a colour, a song, beauty other artists or simply just the need to create. It is difficult to explain... Other artists influence me a lot. Especially since I have been doing the Art Success interview series.

NM: In your video Adelaide Damoah the Painter, you say that 'art came from a point of pain'. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

AD: I kind of eluded to it earlier. In the year 2000, I was diagnosed with a debilitating chronic illness called endometriosis. It has since progressed and I now also have adenomyosis. The short version is that it is a painful condition which affects the womb of some women. I have had lots of medical procedures and hormone treatments. After my initial diagnosis, I was off sick for roughly five months. I had gotten used to using art as a crutch for emotional issues anyway. This was like a continuation. The illness freed me to an extent. It gave me more time to express myself in the way that I wanted to. In a way which took me to another place in my head and made me feel so much better about the rest of the world. That is what I meant by that statement. Essentially, my work took on a new life and I was able to take it more seriously because of the pain of my condition. If it were not for endo, I would not have been an artist.

NM: Your first exhibition was called Black Brits, what inspired you to choose this theme?

AD: In 2005, I met a business man who convinced me that I was ready to have an exhibition. At the time, I only had quite small scale works which were very personal to me. I have always had an interest in social issues and race is a subject which is particularly close to my heart. I knew that I wanted to make large works and I knew that I wanted the work to be reflective of something real. One night, after a heavy night with some of my best friends, we sat and talked. I had made a number of paintings for them already, so they knew my work and I had known them since I was a teen, so they knew me. We got to discussing race and how we felt as black British young people. We moved on to how certain iconic people were elevated beyond their race while us ordinary folk sometimes felt that it was an impenetrable barrier to a lot of things,not that that stopped us of course. We mulled over what Princess Diana would look like if she were born black and if she would ever have been a princess in the UK if she were. It is obvious what the answer is to that one...anyway, that is how the idea was born. A deep conversation between intoxicated friends!

NM: What made you choose the theme of Supermodels in your next Exhibition?

AD: I was really very interested in social issues and capturing the spirit of the times. The issue in 2006 which caught the imaginations of so many people around the world for some reason was the size zero debate. The whole thing was sparked off because a model by the name of Anna Carolina Reston died from anorexia-related complications. Apparently, many people were telling her that she needed to lose weight in order to make it as a model in the fashion industry. I am sure it was more complicated than that, but ultimately, she developed anorexia nervosa and it killed her. Discussions about how the media and fashion models impacted the mental health and self-esteem of young people were raging via all media outlets. It was a subject which could not be ignored and that got my creative juices flowing and Supermodels was born. After much discussion with close friends, especially my best friend, I started making the work.

NM: How difficult has it been to establish yourself as an artist in such a tough and competitive market?

AD: Firstly, I am no where near being established. I have been in the game for just six years. I have a long way to go and a lot to learn and I relish the challenge. Yes, it has been challenging to say the least. Apart from one, I have organised and funded all of my solo shows myself with the help of close friends and family who really believe in me. To get to this point, I have had knockbacks and issues, but that is what it is all about; the journey, enjoying the journey and attacking the challenges because that is what these things that others call obstacles are. They are little challenges. I would not use the word difficult. I would say to date, I have faced a number of challenges and I am still facing different challenges all the time. I get nervous, I get doubts, but deep down, there is a will and a stubborn drive that will not let me quit. This is it for me. This is my life. Art is my husband.

NM: How did it feel to see your art work merged with the article I wrote, Exploring Black Sexuality, published in Trespass Magazine in 2008?

AD: I was deeply flattered! Flattered because the piece itself was insightful and intriguing and much of what was written expressed my own thoughts and feelings about my own sexuality as a black woman. Specifically, as a black woman who was born and bred in the UK where confusing messages regarding my looks and hence my sexuality were sometimes sent and painfully received. I felt that my Black Lipstick paintings which illustrated the piece went well with it. Also, much like the article itself, Black Lipstick was about much more than its title.

NM: Adelaide, please share any tips for those aspiring painters out there?

AD:
  • Learn. Every day, learn your craft. Practice every single day. Go to university if you can. Never ever stop learning.
  • Understand that it will take time and sacrifice. Patience, diligence, tenacity. You must have all of these qualities in order to progress as an artist or as any kind of freelance or self-employed person. Know that the formula for success is 10,000 hours of practice, or 10 years before you will start to see some “success.” Art stars rarely get launched overnight or straight out of university. For most people, it takes serious work. You must have the passion for your art if you are to last. It must be like food for you otherwise you may as well get a nine-to-five job.
  • Be prepared. There is no such thing as luck. 'Luck is where preparation meets opportunity'. That is one of my favourite sayings, alongside 'Procrastination is a thief of time!' So work all the time. Keep producing work and learning everything you can about the art world and the business of art.
  • Be social. Network. This can mean going to art events if you can afford to. Socialise online. Social media is your friend. I have sold work and had well-attended exhibitions all because of social media. If not for social media, I would not be able to afford to pay for publicists and advertising to promote my shows.
  • Be friends with other artists. No one understands what you are going through more than other artists! Having a support system of artist practitioners is so important for morale. In addition, hang around with artists who are better than you! Learn from them. Do not be threatened. Everyone has their own unique journey and you can always learn from the next person. By hanging around with those who are more skilled than you, unwittingly, you stretch yourself and challenge yourself to be better. Asking questions helps form relationships and most artists are happy to help or give advice when asked nicely. Aside from this, artists often recommend each other to their respective galleries and galleries listen to their artists.
Links:
Contemporary and Modern Art Blog: http://contemporaryandmodernart.blogspot.co.uk

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Discovering the Form of Writing You Were Meant For


On 11th August, I led a Workshop at Wellingborough African & Caribbean Association, with the theme: 

Discovering the Form of Writing You Were Meant For
 
Here are the workshop notes:

Finding the right form is important for any writer. Just like an athlete has to pick what kind of sport to dedicate themselves to, or a musician has to pick what kind of instrument to play, a writer needs to know what form fits them best.

Trial & error led me to a form that fit me:

  1. Poetry: Less is more; with poems I get to use personal & diverse themes, experiment with form, add images (photo poems) and they don't usually take as long as a short story or a whole novel!
  2. Personal Essay: Conversational, range of themes i.e. personal & political, not academic, and most important a free form usually of between 1,000 – 2,000 words.
    The above 1 & 2 were great forms to express myself creatively and yet I could get an opinion or perspective out there. They are why I produced 3 anthologies of this type of writing.
  3. Blogs: In form, blog writing is closest to a personal essay or an opinion piece; the basic short form of non-fiction. I find this type of writing liberating as it's immediate and interactive – and I can add images, You tube videos and broadcast rather than waiting for a book publisher!
  4. Children's Writing: Both non-fiction and fiction – a more recent discovery and one that I wasn't sure of (I found this a real challenge) but interested enough to sign up for a course at Academy of Children's Writing; I forced myself to write the assignments at the beginning; having completed 8 out of 10 assignments, this writing genre is definitely growing on me. I want to finish what I started.
To Be a Writer You Need 3 Important Things (i.e. Qualities)

  1. TALENT: Definition – a special natural ability or aptitude; a capacity for achievement or success. Anyone who has the inclination to write can do it. Writing is both an art and a craft – it can be learned and it must be practised. You do need some self-confidence tempered by self-criticism. You can only concentrate on the art of writing, when you've done the work in the craft of writing!
  2. DISCIPLINE: If you haven't got discipline – forget it! Seriously, it's not a game this writing lark. You make a commitment and you write everyday, or at least 5 days/week. You do this systematically, you don't let yourself stop. You make yourself write, even when you don't want to – there's no waiting for inspiration or the right vibe, or the right pen! (talking of writing tools – writing is one of the cheapest arts there is – just pen & paper!) And even, if you don't feel like it, you go against the grain and write! You need to break some barriers. This gives you a certain rhythm, like daily exercises that Olympic athletes do to achieve, so do writers need to keep the creative juices flowing daily.
    Example:
    For my recent assignment, a 1500 word mystery story for children, I gave myself a target/goal of 1 month (I'm not just writing this story, I'm doing other things). I wrote a plot outline, researched on the Internet, wrote the 1st draft by hand, at intervals of 300 words per day, (about 1 x A4 page), which meant I was connecting with the story, keeping in with the rhythm. I wrote some at home, some at a nice bar in Sywell and some in a café. Then I typed up the story, and finally, edited it down to 1500 words.
    TIPS:
    NB: Writing is always a work in progress until you submit the story i.e. let go of it.
    NB: Always finish what you've started!
    NB: You must give yourself targets/goals; no one else is going to do that, and even when you're writing for a competition or completing an assignment, no one will know/care if you don't meet the closing date/deadline!
  1. TEMPERAMENT: Mantra: 'If at first you don't succeed, try, try again!'
    It's so important that you don't give up and throw in the towel at the first hurdle. So you're going to need a particular temperament to keep going.
    Your writing may be good and you may have a best-seller in you, BUT, it is likely to be rejected, especially if you're an unknown, an unheard of writer.
    So you cannot be a shrinking violet, especially at the beginning.
    Example:
    JK Rowland is a BIG celebrity writer, she has sold millions of her Harry Potter books worldwide, and has become more than a millionaire, especially in the film industry as Warner Bros. had directed/produced her work.
    Initially her work was rejected by many publishers – about four – who must be kicking themselves right now. Eventually, she got her breakthrough with an agent/publisher – the rest is history.
    JK Rowland had a strategy; she planned/plotted all 7 Harry Potter novels and knew the story outcomes before she started. Discipline – she worked daily as a teacher and was a single parent. She wrote her books in cafés after school hours. She is a role model to follow. You have to do what it takes, go the extra mile, with your writing.

And finally some common tips:

Carry your tool-kit: This is a pen, portable notepad (or electronic substitute) Be ever ready to capture that thought, idea that may change the world! (Only joking...)

Read widely: Reading the work of others is a must and really can help boost your self-confidence as it is often inspiring and you absorb different expressions of language.

Write what you know: Write about what you know; what interests and inspires you. Start small – short stories can be a passport to or launch of your career as a writer. Study this though as the short story genre is vastly different to the novel. Your writing has to be tighter – less is more here!

Finish what you started: This gives you much-needed satisfaction and proves you have what it takes (discipline).

Seek constructive feedback: It's important that you air your writing, reading out-loud to yourself isn't quite enough. Be careful and choose people whose judgement you trust and respect and who you know appreciate your creativity.

Be patient: Writing requires a lot of patience because it’s generally a solitary affair in which you patiently sketch out your words until you’re happy they appropriately portray your sentiments. Because the space in between unpublished and acknowledged published can be broad and long. Because a body of great work is usually crafted and does not appear instantly

Don’t give up the day job – writing is not a profession if you value job security!

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

In Conversation with Nicola Greenwood


Nicola Greenwood has been writing poetry for as long as she can remember and her love of language is clearly evident in her poetic expressions. Since 2004, Nicola has been performing poetry at open-mic nights and book readings. She has been published in three Shangwe anthologies supporting monthly poetry nights as Resident Poet.  Nicola continues to explore poetry in new forms and in doing so is intent on providing a platform for other writers along the way.

It's seven years since I first met Nicola at the book launch of my first anthology Brown Eyes in September 2005. Nicola had thankfully contributed her poems to the book and was at the launch with family and friends.

To say we've been friends ever since is not quite accurate because Nicola has not only developed her writing in diverse and beautiful ways, she has supported Shangwe Creative Arts www.shangwe.com over the years by helping out with book readings along with more recently working in collaboration. So it is with great pleasure that I put the spotlight on Nicola:

Nicole Moore (NM): How did your interest in writing start?

Nicola: It was always there waiting to come out. I love words, I love language and I love to communicate through creativity. Poetry was a natural rhythm for me; it's my way to paint pictures in words.
NM: When did you start writing poetry?

Nicola: I've found bits and bobs of poetry scribbles from when I was 6 years old. I started in a very conscious way when I was 18 and have never looked back.
NM: How did it feel to see your work in print in my first anthology Brown Eyes?
Nicola: The silliest thing, I ended up on page 222 and with 2 being my lucky number I was ecstatic! I then shed a little tear of joy at the fact that my name was in print. Slowly it began to dawn on me that this was very special and I felt I had left a little bit of a legacy. Mostly I felt absolutely honoured to be part of such a wonderful collection with so many amazing writers.
NM: 'Writing for the page or the stage' – Does it matter?

Nicola: For me the rhythm of a poem is simply part of its expression; poetry is for consumption in whatever form this takes. What can be read in one's head can be voiced by one's lips. It's about an individual preference - it should only matter to that person.

NM: I know that you've been performing your poems over the years, did you find this hard at the beginning?

Nicola: I'm not sure I even remember how hard it was, there was a whole lot of gin and tonic involved for starters! I read my first poem as fast as I could, my legs wouldn't stop shaking and no matter how hard it was I knew this was the first of many readings. I had spent too long itching to get up. I was in a supportive environment and I tried not to guilt myself out about not being perfect first time; its about growth and development. You can only learn on the job with this and it really does get easier over time. I save the g&t's for the end of readings these days.

Nicole Moore & Nicola Greenwood
Poetry Cafe, Covent Garden - Book Reading Event
NM: Can you tell us something about the themes and the writing process of your poetry?

Nicola: Some people tell stories, some people take pictures, some people paint. I write for the same reasons that they create. It might be a situation that captures my attention, it might be an overwhelming emotion and sometimes its just a diary of my life. I start with a few words and then lose myself in getting everything I want to say down on paper, and its rhythm seems to finds its pace as I go but after that it might take 5 minutes to edit and more often it may take years. Sometimes I need to read aloud, sometimes I share with friends to get a bit of perspective. My themes range from love. pain, angst, farting and sometimes I just paint a picture of the place I’m in at that moment; the last poem I wrote was about being in London on a Sunday, because that was what I was doing!

NM: When you write, do you 'hear' your writing?

Nicola: Absolutely - I hear before I write, I sing and dance the words in my head before they hit the page. And then if I can read it the same way it sounded in my head (based on the words, grammar etc) then I know I've got it.

NM: Nicola, can you share any tips for those aspiring poets out there?
Nicola:

  • Write always - a line here or there.
  • Write even when you cannot write - I have many poems about not being able to think of anything  - shortly after things flow.
  • Go back, go back, go back, you never know when that finishing touch will hit.  If you like to read your work, then others surely will.
  • Think multi-dimensionally: words (double/triple meanings), rhythm as it sometimes evokes more than your words; you are stirring emotions and you have the power to take your readers there, so be aware of every dimension.
  • Share and trust your original intention.
To view Nicola's stories visit:http://cowbird.com/author/nicola-greenwood/

Monday, 23 July 2012

Half of a Yellow Sun


Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

On 22nd June I watched author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in one of the Hay Sessions 2012 on Sky Arts. In the session, the Nigerian author delivered her Commonwealth Lecture, which examined fiction as a catalyst for social and political change. There is no doubt about it, the author had an effect on me, which led me to selecting Half of a Yellow Sun to read.

In the video below, the novelist tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice - and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.


I am not usually attracted to historical novels and have to admit this is the first one I've read and thoroughly enjoyed; in fact it's one of the best books I've read this year and definitely one of my top five favourites.

Half of a Yellow Sun is the author's second novel, is extremely well written and captured my full attention, providing me with a sharp and realistic insight into the trials and tribulations faced by individuals dealing with trying to manage their lives during the Nigeria-Biafra war.

The novel is set in 1960's Nigeria. Three lives intersect. Ugwu, a boy from a poor village works as a houseboy for a university lecturer. Olanna, a young woman, has abandoned her life of privilege in Lagos to live with her charismatic new lover, the professor. The third is Richard, a shy Englishman in thrall to Olanna's enigmatic twin sister. When the shocking horror of the war engulfs them, their loyalties are severely tested as they are pulled apart and thrown together in ways that none of them imagined.

The story immerses you immediately into the multi-layered conflicts of the unfairness of love and war, of traditional versus tribal, of modern versus bureaucratic. You feel the effects of the pain, take relief in the joys and love that are weaved throughout the novel. You fall in love with the characters and all their uniqueness and flaws; human beings with their hopes and fears challenged on a daily, often hourly basis dealing with a time of war, of a rawness and harshness I hope I'll never have to endure in my life time.

Who was my favourite character? It has to be Ugwu, a key narrator, a 13 year old houseboy who reacts rather than acts, although as he grows and develops he does come into his own. I can still hear his voice, 'Yes, sah!' 'Good afternoon, sah!' maintained throughout. There are many scenes I could quote but this one shows his new self evolving:

'This is not a good house, mah,' Ugwu said.
Olanna laughed. 'Look at you. Don't you know many people are sharing houses now? The scarcity is serious. And here we are with two bedrooms and a kitchen and living room and dining room. We are lucky to know an indigene of Umuahia.'
Ugwu said nothing else. He wished she would not be so complacent about it.
'We have decided to have the wedding next month,' Olanna told him a few days later. 'It will be very small, and the reception will be here.'
Ugwu was aghast. For their wedding, he had imagined perfection, the house in Nsukka festively decorated, the crisp, white tablecloth laden with dishes. It was better they wait for the war to end, rather than have their wedding in this house with its sullen rooms and mouldy kitchen.

I liked that the book focused on the experiences of a small set of people who were experiencing the conflict of love and war from very different points of view. When we step into their individual worlds, we don't know their every thought – the narrator who follows them isn't omniscient, which is what gives the novel its heart and strength.

If you haven't had the privilege of reading Half of a Yellow Sun, then I urge you to grab a copy of this literary masterpiece. I know I'm biased being a fan and all, but trust me, you will enjoy the book. Of course I'll be watching Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie closely.

Half of a Yellow Sun was first published by Fourth Estate in 2006. It won the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction 2007.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born in Nigeria in 1977. She is from Abba, in Anambra State, but grew up in the university town of Nsukka, where she attended primary and secondary schools. Her short fiction has been published in literary journals including Granta, and won the International PEN/David Wong award in 2003. Purple Hibiscus, her first novel, was shortlisted for the Orange Prize and the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, longlisted for the Booker Prize and was winner of the Hurston/Wright award for début fiction. Her short story collection, The Thing Around Your Neck, was published to critical acclaim in 2009. She lives in Nigeria.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Invocation to the Spirit of Inspiration

Introducing: Jo Waterworth, a poet and ceramic artist who has lived in Glastonbury for over twenty-five years. She has had stories, poems and articles published over the years but keeps avoiding ‘success’ in case it changes her life. She also sings with an award-winning community choir.


INVOCATION TO THE SPIRIT OF INSPIRATION

Come to me gently, like a soft breeze caressing my neck.
Let me feel you as a lover
kissing my body on every sensitive skein of skin.
Run your fingers through my hair.
Fill my in-breath with scent – let me smell roses and dung,
river banks and hot dry sting of deserts.
Fill my out-breath with warmth, with moisture for weeping,
and for watering new growth.
Lift my soul like a thermal so I may soar,
circling far above the earth with clear vision.
Hold me on light wings, outstretched to sense
every nuance and shift in current.
Blow me to new places where I might settle like dust,
barely visible but covering everything.
Blow me through trees and mountains,
across lakes and oceans, into distant cities.
Blow me through time itself –
wreck my life if you must.
I will give myself to you, trust in you,
use you wisely, recognize you in others,
lead others into your ways.
I will experience you fully, all my senses wide open to you,
greatest of lovers.
I will give my mind to you,
every hidden crevice, every forgotten drawer,
every creaking floorboard.
I will invite you to inhabit the cathedral of my mind;
I will make effigies of you for others to worship;
I will sing hymns to you with harmonies divine;
I will sit in silent contemplation waiting for your presence.
I will marry myself in your sight, and keep faith with my vows.
I will name you a thousand-fold, heap praises upon you,
and breathe in your grace until my last expiration
when I hope to be joined with you in everything.                                            

JMW 06-12


Saturday, 23 June 2012

Hay Sessions 2012

The great minds of the literary and cultural world gather at the Hay Festival in May.  With the Hay Sessions you get to enjoy some of the excellent talks, events and musical treats held throughout the ten-day Hay Festival - available to view on Sky Arts.  Particularly entertaining and satisfying was Harry Belafonte, who discussed his new book My Song: A Memoir of Art, Race & Defiance.  So hooked was I that I just had to order the book immediately.

Next worth a mention was Julien Clary discussing his new book, Briefs Encountered - a witty and stylish ghost tale featuring Noel Coward.  Julian uses art (writing) to work out his own life issues.  I'm yet to order this book which is laid out like a play, and written in scenes.

My all time favourite (to-date) has to be Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian author of Purple Hibiscus and Half of the Yellow Sun who delivered her exquisite Commonwealth Lecture who discussed why she writes, the magic and craft of writing, and examined fiction as a catalyst for social and political change.  It is so true that our lives are effected by politics wherever we live and it must be a wonderful art to be able to write realistic fiction in this way.  Chimamanda's quotes were also worth noting here, my favourite being:
Writers go out of their way to secure their solitude and then having secured it, they go out of their way to squander it. (A US Writer)




Saturday, 7 April 2012

Writing for Personal & Spiritual Growth

Today I led a Creative Writing for Personal and Spiritual Growth workshop at Wisdom Moon Holistic Centre, located in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire. Wisdom Moon is devoted to individual spiritual development and healing through an enlightened education programme, presented in calm and peaceful surroundings allowing the heart to open, the mind to still and the body to relax.  Wisdom Moon provides a place where like-minded souls can meet and offers a warm welcome, help and advice on the path and a range of services, therapies, classes and resources to aid wellbeing, spiritual work and personal growth as well as a lovely shop and tearoom.

Attendees on the workshop learned how to tap into their personal and spiritual path using creative writing with a focus on poetry and keeping a journal. 

Workshop Content included:

Short Meditation "Be here now" (courtesy of Ram Dass, author and spiritual teacher)
What is a Spiritual Path?
The scope of writing for personal and spiritual growth
Writing Forms - Poetry
Keeping a Journal
How a Journal is Different from a Diary
Journalling Tools
Online Journalling

This was the first creative writing workshop that the attendees had participated in and judging by their feedback they all felt enthusiastic about attending follow up writing workshops so plans are underway to establish a poetry writing course/workshop.

To find out more about writing at Wisdom Moon, call: 01933 770494

Friday, 9 March 2012

Hair Power Skin Revolution - International Women's Day


On 8th March 2012, Shangwe Creative Arts and Nabru Enterprise held a Hair Power Skin Revolution Relaunch and Book Reading Event to celebrate International Women's Day.  The event took place at Bailey's Wine Bar in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire.

I shared the inspiration for the book, which was a hairstories blog http://www.hairjournal.blogspot.com/ that I did as part of Black History Month 2008; my role as Editor and the publishing process and the future of e-books.

Readings followed from Christine Collymore who read two of her contributions: a poem from the skin section called U HEAP of SKIN and a personal essay from the hair section called Unwritten Rules.  Leaya Collymore read her poem Black from the skin section and an updated version that she had written that day especially for the event.

Networking followed and discussions led to the possibility of establishing a Writer's Support Group and monthly Poetry Club night.  Watch this space...

Photos in ascending order:
Leaya Collymore
Christine Collymore