Monday, 23 March 2015

The Dark Tower by Louis MacNeice

I have just discovered that Louis MacNeice's verse drama for the BBC is available on the BBC's website - here:  The play is inspired by a few lines in Robert Browning's poem Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came

Listening to it brings back happy memories of my teenage years and  the Arts Centre I belonged to. It reminds me of Garibaldi biscuits and tea drunk out of chipped mugs. It reminds me of  sitting on sagging armchairs in the EOS room arguing about poetry and life. But we didn't just talk and argue, we also performed. And we performed this play - not as a theatrical production but as a play for voices. It is hard to see how the subject matter could be performed for anything else but the radio. The play is play of the imagination and where better for Roland to journey to the Dark Tower than through the dark shadows of our minds? The actors' accents may sound a bit dated, but this is an extraordinary poetic play. 

There certainly was a golden age in postwar British radio, when the BBC embraced experiment and welcomed poets, using composers like Benjamin Britten to provide the music and world-class actors, such as Richard Burton, to do the poets justice. What has become of that patronage? Maybe the internet will come to the rescue. Maybe the future of ebooks will include performance. Let us hope so. 

As I have said in a previous post we also performed at the Young Arts Centre verse plays by Dylan Thomas (Under Milk Wood), Lorca (Blood Wedding) and Christopher Fry (Boy with a Cart and The Firstborn), to say nothing of verse plays by Euripides and Shakespeare. What a grounding! Is it any wonder that I have written two verse plays or poems for voices? 

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Sonnet from the Portuguese Number 14 by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Another favourite love poem. This time it is by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, a poet whose star has been eclipsed by that of her husband Robert (wrongly in my opinion).

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Favourite Poem - John Donne's The Good-Morrow

When I was a teenager I received the LAMDA Gold Medal in verse-speaking. I was also very active doing poetry readings of my own and other poets' works. My husband and I met as teenagers in a group which wrote and read poetry.

On New Year's Eve my husband and I were having dinner at the house of two dear friends - Neil Philip and Emma Bradford. Neil had picked up on my post about my New Year's resolution to do something about promoting my poetry and over dinner suggested I consider podcasting. My lovely husband bought me a seriously nice microphone, so I would have no excuse not to produce some podcasts. I have now signed up with Podomatic where I have my own channel, but I can also embed the poems here on my blog.

The first poems I recorded were some love poems, which I put together on a CD for my parents' wedding anniversary. Among them is this poem, which has a very special place in my heart, in that this poem was read at my wedding. I hope you like it.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Adventures in the Czech Republic: Fairy Reserve

Adventures in the Czech Republic: Fairy Reserve: I stumbled across the fairy reserve near my home last Autumn. I wanted a short walk and decided I would go into the hills above Horice ...

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Adventures in the Czech Republic: The Alchemists' Laboratory

 Here's the latest post on my Czech blog.

I am currently writing an Insider's Guide to the Czech Republic.

Adventures in the Czech Republic: The Alchemists' Laboratory: Unlike the rest of Prague's Jewish quarter number 1 Hastalska survived the demolition and the redevelopment of the 19th century. ...

Monday, 19 January 2015

Shadows in Story Structure

I was fortunate to have as a mentor a story editor who was a Jungian. We had a number of discussions about the Jungian concept of the shadow and its importance to writers, which I hope to capture here. But first let me just point out the Shadows that feature in my Healer's Shadow trilogy are not Jungian shadows.

Are you sometimes surprised and ashamed by your own behaviour? Do you say "I don't know what came over me. It was so unlike me..."? Do you sometimes take an immediate dislike to a complete stranger? Now don't lie - of course you do, we all do.

So what's happening? And how is this relevant to the storyteller's art?

What is happening is that your shadow is showing itself. According to Carl Jung, who coined the phrase: Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. As children we learn (and are taught by our parents and society) that certain behaviours are unacceptable and these we repress - jealousy, prejudice, anger, greed, certain sexual fantasies. They haven't gone away, they have been thrust into the subconscious and form our shadows. They stay in the dark waiting to burst forth. They do this in our dreams, at times of stress and as projections on to others. So when we say, "It was so unlike me," alas that isn't true, it is like us, because our shadow is part of us, but we are blind to it.

How is this relevant to us as writers? Well for several reasons:

Firstly the tension between the subconscious shadow and our conscious projected selves is at the heart of drama. The shadow could be said to be the hero's fatal flaw. Remember that the shadow emerges at times of stress and inevitably that means that it will appear when our protagonists are under pressure. These outbursts will often put the protagonist in danger, as it does for example, with a heroine who keeps falling for dangerous men. Or at the very least they will result in the protagonist hurting those who love her. An understanding of the shadow helps us to create fully formed characters and to place them in danger. In some books the conflict between the shadow and the conscious self is externalized - most obviously in Jekyll and Hyde and The Wizard of Earthsea.

Secondly the encounter with the shadow is part of the story structure. Jung's analysis of myths and fairytales, which informed his development of the shadow, was further developed by Joseph Campbell in his seminal book The Hero With A Thousand Faces and this in turn was popularized in Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey. The hero's journey is divided into a series of key stages, in which the encounter with the hero's shadow is core. The reasons for this are various. Maturity requires an acknowledgement of the shadow within us, so facing the shadow is part of the hero's maturation. The shadow can contain not only negative aspects but also one's true potential and so the hero gains the treasure that he seeks. Furthermore our antagonist and our protagonist are linked psychologically. As one can project on to others elements of one's own shadow, so an antagonist is likely to display elements of the protagonist's shadow, and when the hero confronts the antagonist he is confronting his own shadow at least in part.

Thirdly I have spoken so far only about the individual's shadow, but civilizations also have shadows. These collective shadows express themselve through wars and persecutions of minorities. We carry within us a mix of our personal shadow and the collective darkness. It is the reason why we can behave so out of character when in a group. If your novel is concerned with such matters, it helps to understand this.

The shadow then is central to conflict in any story. I was hugely excited when I discovered this truth and I hope this post helps you understand the shadow better.

A version of this article first appeared on the now defunct Indie Exchange website.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Adventures in the Czech Republic: Christmas Celebrations in the Czech Republic

For several years I have been writing a blog about my experiences in the Czech Republic. Here is a recent post:

Adventures in the Czech Republic: Christmas Celebrations in the Czech Republic: I am in Britain and it feels very strange. Normally I am able to have two Christmases - the Czech and the British. That is because the ...