What A Good Yarn! Knitting Bombs in Bishops Castle

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Well you can’t help but think it, can you: would that all bombing were so beautifully harmless and smile-inducing. In my last post I mentioned our ‘guerrilla garden’, but here we have a spot of guerrilla knitting found in and around our favourite small Shropshire town of Bishop’s Castle. The great knitting outbreak apparently began here a few years ago to coincide with the town’s arts festival, but I noticed some more recent additions on our last visit. It’s inspiring me to get my knitting needles out again for a little more creative procrastination, though yarn bombing Wenlock might be a step too far. Maybe the allotment…?!*&

Knitted peas and carrots anyone?

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Crocheted cupcakes at Poppies Tearoom?

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Much indulging of the imagination at the bookshop:

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And then some subtle, ‘environmentally sensitive’ yarning:

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Last but not least, in the entrance of the Town Hall you may also see a knitted version whose accompanying notice says it was created by Nigel. It’s there to serve a particular good cause, inviting donations for the care and renovation of this lovely building that sits so finely at the top of the town:

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July Squares #16

Atelier nani Iro Meets Indian Woodblock~ A Case Of Sewing Not Writing

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I started making my own clothes in my teens: it was the era of Pop Art and Mary Quant shifts. I made a bee-line for cheap remnants of furnishing fabrics with big prints and turned out some surprising garments. Much much later, when were living in Kenya and Zambia, I was inspired by the bright local fabrics and started sewing again. Graham still has some striking longish shorts – an all-over mango tree design – orange print on navy – the lovely glazed cotton bought in Lusaka back in ‘93 and initially used as curtains in our little house on Sable Road.

Back in England again, I did not sew so much, though I remember making a big winter coat which features in one of my earlier blog headers. Thereafter the sewing urge mostly faded away. It was easier to buy stuff.

And then recently I discovered nani IRO. Not only was it love at first sight, but the advent of a whole new sewing adventure: the hitherto unencountered territory of Japanese design. This was the book that started it:

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For those like me i.e. not-in-the-know, Nani IRO is the brand name for the fabrics created from designs by Japanese artist Naomi Ito. And Atelier nani IRO is the design studio that produces the sewing patterns. In the past they have catered only for petite Japanese sizes. But this current collection now includes sizes up to UK 14/US 12.

The book is beautiful – every page of it. But being captivated by the images and fabrics is one thing. I soon realised the challenge of using it to make an actual garment was probably bordering on the impossible. The patterns that come with the book comprise two fat folded wads of stiff white paper. They are inscribed with multiple pattern pieces that overlay one another, and at all angles. Furthermore, the instructions are in Japanese, although on the whole the book’s accompanying diagrams are more or less clear to anyone used to tackling European dress patterns.

So: this is what a small part of the pattern sheet looks like. Think exploded Venn diagram meets Heathrow air traffic control flight paths:

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Each garment does however have a letter code in English and the sizes are indicated S, ML, L+, 2L. After this, you are pretty much on your own.

Once you know the letter of your chosen project, you must then study the designated layout in the book to fix in visual brain the shapes of all the pattern pieces you’ll need. Then you have to search for those shapes within this bonkers mega-puzzle, and having located them, trace them off to the appropriate size on dressmaking tracing paper.

By this point, on my hands and knees amid clouds of tissue paper strewn across the bedroom floor, I realise I am pursuing, and with dogged intent, an extreme form of writer’s procrastination. I have actually chosen to unravel this devilish design of cross-purposes rather than sort out the pressing narrative plotting problems of the novel.

Found you out! I cry. This is not really about making a big blue frock out of a stash of Indian block print cotton that you just happened to have handy. This is about NOT WRITING.

But  then of course when it comes to prevarication, writers have all the excuses. I tell myself it’s good at my age to go in for new forms of mental and manual exercise, even if the initial processes are killing on the knees. Besides, there is also the great satisfaction of making and completing a project. And while I can see that my new blue Indo-Japanese gown is hardly the sort of thing I can wear at the allotment, it does have potential as a personal seaside ‘changing room’. I can even look fairly gracious when needing to treat with the postman before I’m quite up in the morning.

And then I’m actually rather in love with the thing itself. Scenes from Kurosawa epics (Seven Samurai, Ran, Yohimbo) come flitting through my mind. Perhaps a little of the master’s creative impulses might just rub off on me (though hopefully not adding confusing Japanese influences to a yarn set in the East African bush. Or there again…) So I may just hang the finished work on the wall. Perhaps it will tell me I’ve used up all present excuses to not write. Perhaps it will say: stop play-acting out in the field with the other half and get back to the keyboard!

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July Squares #7

Crown Prince Finally Gets The Chop

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He’s been sitting on the kitchen cupboard all winter, and I’d grown used to his being there; rather forgotten that he might be eaten. Then last week I did remember. Soup. We need more soup! It was quite a tussle breaking into him, and then I found a quarter of him was more than enough for a big pan of spicy squash and onion concoction with added tub of  tomato ‘stock’ from the freezer. The soup did us for two lunches, the first day topped with plain yogurt and rye bread croutons, the next with homemade walnut-parsley-garlic pesto and toast.

The rest of the squash has been consigned to the fridge, there awaiting more souping and roasting (perhaps with dates, soy sauce, lime juice and onions). All hearty winter food.

But then, the thing is, when I first broke into him after much battling with my largest knife, and the two halves finally fell apart on the counter top, out whooshed the scent of summer. And I was transported, and all without the need for white mice magicked into coach horses by passing fairy godmothers. I was back. Those weeks and weeks of long hot days (with all that hauling of water about the allotment and (not the least of it) tending to his highness). And then I thought, well now, it will soon be time to sow more Crown Princes, seeds kept and dried from a princeling eaten back in December. And finally I thought so this is the essence of things, the cycle of sowing, growing and harvesting, of being nourished and the pleasure of simply being. And that made me feel very happy. It’s amazing how much mileage there is in a pumpkin. Thank you, Crown Prince, for your great beneficence.

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copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

Six Word Saturday

Earth Magic ~ We Only Have To Look

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Posting this photo has set me off on a little train of thought, creative writing-wise. For one thing I’m reminded how my artist friend Sheilagh Jevons once expressed surprise at how predominantly visual my blog often is. ‘But you’re a writer,’ she said. ‘I didn’t expect to see so many images.’

I didn’t really have a good answer at the time, but I have often pondered on her remark since. It’s an interesting paradox: a writer who struggles to translate into words the fictional worlds she summons as if she were watching them; as if she were there, taking part in the narrative.

This is not to say that the envisioned people, places and events arrive in-brain in sharp focus. Far from it: the circumstances are often very blurry, slippery even; all that is viewed is presently in the foreground; the overall context hazy, unformed. But something in an imagined scene will have caught my mind’s eye; triggered the story alert.  It is usually a person, never anyone I know, but always a particular someone who belongs to particular place and thus could be from nowhere else; although this is not to say that they might not be, in some sense, displaced  when I first notice them. Otherwise, I probably don’t know much about them, only their general looks plus a certain something that snags my attention.

I know at once I should follow them. I may already know their name, and even if that name should later change, the ‘fact’ of their existence will not change. Once fixed on, these people subsist forever in conscious memory (as real to me as my relatives or neighbours), lingering there and waiting for their story to be told. Some have been waiting a good long time.

So what happens next? Fantasy and Science Fiction writers call the process world building. But then I feel that all story telling involves world building: the subtle articulation between physical circumstances (setting in time and space) and the events in a character’s life; their reactions, the ‘what happens next?’. This construction must be seamless; appear authentic; have ‘the ring of truth’; integrity; whatever you wish to call it. It is a bit like conjuring, but with much substance. And, to pursue the magician image, it is also a grand performance, the sustainedly active ‘suspension of disbelief’ wherein the audience/reader/viewer should be so engaged as to not start wondering: How did that rabbit come out of the hat.

And here is where the looking comes in; or perhaps a better way of putting it is schooling oneself to see (and by ‘seeing’ I mean engaging all the senses); honing the skill of it in the real world as a piece of daily practice; learning how to express the experience in another medium (in my case the written word, but it could be any of the arts). Such exercise develops world-building muscles, refines powers of discretion; helps you know what to look for in the fictional environment; where to shine the spotlight, how to manipulate light and shade, enhance texture, condense or expand detail in order to give a scene (in some sense) reality.

It is a lot to think about. And for those of you struggling with your own powers of creativity, no matter the medium, here is some wonderfully creative play to spur you on. It is a New Year’s gift this morning from blogging chum and artist, Janet Weight Reed. Please pop over there and have some fun. Who knows where it might lead you next, or what blocks it may release.


The  ‘Apple Exercise’ is a positive way  to begin the new year for anyone wishing to express themselves and explore their creativity.

 

copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

#HowIWrite

Starting As I Mean To Go On ~ The Big De-Clutter, Or This Writer’s Extra-Convoluted Displacement Activity?

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Well not so much de-cluttering as re-arranging, though somehow I’ve ended up with a whole BIG EMPTY drawer beneath the cabin bed in the office. I should of course see this as a great achievement on day one of 2018, but I’m afraid the whole process has made me very ratty. Not a good way to start the year.

One problem is I find myself at the end of the line for two branches of family memorabilia – in particular the material evidence of the lives of two deceased aunts – maternal and paternal. I was very fond of them, Miriam and Evelyn, and we three had much in common. Both were passionate gardeners, readers, writers, watchers, makers, generous authors of many small kindnesses. And both were keen on family history, gathering in whatever they could in the days before Ancestry and Find My Past.

I now have their gleanings – barely readable notes, diaries, photographs – all the makings of good stories if only someone could knock the stuff into a shape that would mean something to family others. That someone has to be me. And I think I should do it, because if I don’t, no one else will. And that’s when I start getting cross. Imposition looms like a heavy, wet fog. Hmph.

The moving of the auntly archive from the pine blanket chest in one bedroom to the pine chest of drawers in another bedroom (so facilitating the BIG emptying of the office drawer into the now empty pine blanket chest) leads to encounters with my own archive. The aunts kept most of the letters I wrote to them during our eight years in Africa. They are very detailed letters. I need to revisit them. Well I do, don’t I? Then there are all the Africa photos and negatives. I never did finish scanning them.

More long-winded tasks loom.

Not only that, when you start shunting stuff around the house, and arguing with yourself over what should be kept, and what should not, you then find all sorts of diversions.  And yet the whole point of the de-cluttering process was so I could free up the office, create clear spaces for laying out the notes relating to some of the several unfinished writing projects that have long lodged on my brain’s back boiler.

Which is where this photo comes in. As I was sorting through boxes and folders, I found a forgotten scan of it, taken by Graham many New Years ago at the Bronze Age stone circle, Mitchell’s Fold in the Shropshire borderland. You will notice that my blog header is cropped from another scanned version of it. That’s me all huddled up in many layers. But I love the huge wintry sky above me, and the blue hills of Wales stretching far, far away behind me. It’s reminding me that this is where my head needs to be. Never mind the clutter. It’s a piece of very elaborate self-sabotage. Off to the realm of imagination, that’s where writers need to be.

Thank you, Julie Riso, for reminding me of where the best paths are.

copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

Seize The Day ~ A Lesson In Flowers

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You  have to be out of bed rather earlier than I am to catch the Morning Glories unfurling.  That is probably lesson  number one: be up and doing earlier in the day; nurture the creative impulse before the world of dreaming totally recedes and mundane matters like doing the washing impose.

Then there is the lesson of making the most of opportunities as they arise, and at least here I came up to scratch. I dashed outside in my night attire to capture this scene. The hoverfly will feast. The Morning Glory will be pollinated. And I am watching, recording and posting. Everyone wins.

All the same, on the side lines my writer’s nerves are jangling. There are other lessons here. For one thing I have several works in stasis, projects that I dearly wish to complete. But for some reason I’m not attending to any of them. The danger is that procrastination may soon transmogrify into something toxic – a stultifying sense of failure that in turn becomes a downward spiral of non-doing and self-recrimination. The writer’s vicious circle.

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But wait! I’m hurrying back to see what has happened to the Morning Glory. By late afternoon the sky coloured canopy of the day’s high hopes has imploded – the colours deepening, bruise-like.  It is hard not to feel a pang of loss for such swiftly passing loveliness.

Yet there is a beauty here too in the subtle end-of-spectrum shades. Not failure, but process. Deep within the crumpled sheath things are happening. The hoverfly has done its work. There will be fruit in the making, new seeds to ripen and sow. Tomorrow is another day. Another chance to bloom. Time to get back to work then.

 

copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

 

P.S. For more beauty in decay, pop over to Sue Judd’s blog. It is a theme she explores in many arresting photo essays

In A Glass Darkly: Traces of the Past

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As a child I was fascinated by Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through The Looking Glass.  I would stare into my full length bedroom mirror for ages and ages and wonder if it really might be possible – somehow – to access that other world behind the glass. Unlike Alice, I wouldn’t even have to climb on to the drawing room mantelpiece, which to my mind looked distinctly hazardous and was likely to attract unwelcome attention from mother.

John Tenniel’s illustrations were anyway profoundly disturbing, yet ever drew me to plumb their bottomless depths. All of which is the excuse of the very much older me to spend Monday morning playing with my camera in Bridgnorth Antiques Centre.

See! Just like Alice, I’ve finally arrived in Looking Glass Land. All it took was my magic little Lumix digital. But sorry, folks, I can’t hang around. Must catch up with the White Knight  or I might never make it out again.

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Sir John Tenniel illustrator 1820-1914 ~ Alice Through The Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

 

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In A Glass Darkly  is a collection of strange tales featuring demons, dopplegangers and even a lesbian vampire published by Irish writer, Sheridan Le Fanu in 1872. The vampire story apparently greatly influenced Bram Stoker in his writing of Dracula. I haven’t read these works, but I think they might be worth tracking down.

 

Please visit Paula at Lost in Translation for more Traces of the Past.

Through A Web Darkly ~ Inside The Old Barn

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I took this photo yesterday. The footpath we were following winds through an old farmyard, everywhere rustic dereliction. Being nosy, I had to peer in through the barn window. This shot was taken through a spider’s web, and is admittedly rather weird. My first thought is some kind of time warp or threshold. So if it inspires any of you to create a piece of poetry or prose, please feel free to link back here so I can read what you’ve come up with. No rush.

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Many thanks to bloggers for their fun responses. So nice of you to play along:

T N Kerr   A Very Special Birthday

Sandra Conner Beyond the Web

Gerry  Sneak the Spider

Travelling Hopefully ~ The Writer’s Way

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The writing life is full of snags and snares, setbacks, tanglements, diversions and dead ends.  Written words demand so much mental application – from the writers who deal in them, and the readers who receive them. After all, before the writer’s meaning can be de-coded, willing victims readers must actively choose to engage.

Even then, nothing is certain. Reader engagement is always provisional. Only when the decision is made – that sticking with the decoding process will yield rewards, do writers have the chance to have their say.

Readers want a good pay-off from the writer’s words. But for their part, writers cannot read readers’ minds to know precisely what they expect. It’s all very precarious.

Interaction-wise, the applied and performing arts definitely have the edge. They communicate directly with an audience’s senses and emotions, often bypassing the need for intellectual effort input altogether. Reactions to such works may be superficial and fleeting, and the creators’ deepest intentions not fully grasped, but engagement at some level swiftly takes place. The experience is vivid in its fullest sense. Excitement can be instantaneous. Written texts simply cannot compete with this kind of immediacy.

Also words can be such tricky things. Lumpy. Clumsy. Rife with ambiguity. Achieving absolute clarity on the page involves hard labour, although this is only half the battle. In fiction writing plain speaking is not enough. The construction must be affecting. Fascinating. There must be mystery –at the very least the hook of: ‘how will this turn out?’ Then there is the matter of authenticity and the creation of a convincing, fully functioning reality. (Even fantasy worlds must have believable existence.)

In its crudest form, writing a story is like devising and setting a trap. How do you lure in the reader? What does it take to hold them until the final word is read?

So this means there’s a craft to be learned, and practised and practised. Then practised some more. And when you finally release your carefully worked contrivance onto the unsuspecting and uninterested world there will be rejection. (See Lynn Love’s post on this and how to murder it HERE). It is part of the learning process. It teaches you to target your work more carefully; to read more; to develop powers of objective self-appraisal; to learn from negative comments; to become better at what you do.

You also need to bear in mind that this apprenticeship may take a life-time; that success in material terms may never happen. The act of creating is a vocation; an act of faith too. But at the heart of it, you write because you must. Perhaps that should be enough. I seem to have hopes of it. It anyway keeps me going – one word at a time.

 

copyright 2016 Tish Farrell

 

Related:

Losing Kui ~ An Extract

Kui’s 5* Review on Kindle

Tish Farrell Books & Short Fiction

 

DP Weekly Photo Challenge: Optimistic

Go here for more hopeful responses.

 

Inspiration: striving to succeed

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It was in Africa that I became a professional writer. And it was writing for children like Zaina that spurred me to begin. It seemed to me, that unlike many British young people, Kenyan kids were desperate to go to school and, once there, strove to do their utmost to make something of their lives. I was cross, too, at the then lack of contemporary local fiction that showed young Kenyans as heroes, and in the kinds of situations they could identify with. Then I found that many of the stories I wrote for African children also worked for a European readership, or at least for those who were keen to find out what life was really like in the parts of African that I visited and lived in. And now, all these years later, and living back in England, these are still the things that drive me to write.

 

 

 

Inspiration