Problems with creativity by Anne Booth – and a lovely creative video on Tenderness.(First published on ‘An Awfully Big Blog Adventure’ May 21st 2020)

Problems with creativity by Anne Booth – and a lovely creative video on Tenderness. 

I know that many creative people are finding it very hard to create these days. Like the idea of the romantic artist starving in a garret, the idea of artists creating in a crisis, when they are stressed and worried, and broke, and even ill, or worrying about others being ill, or even feeling guilty that they are OK when everyone else is not, does not often  work in reality. I have seen more than one comment by a writer about how they can’t see the point any more, and I do understand that.

Nobody, particularly anyone who is bereaved, or ill, or in financial or any other crisis, or worn out with child care, or on the frontline and worn out, should be put under pressure to be creative, and there are times we have to use up our creative energy just to get up and get through the day. Life can be so hard. We have to be kind to ourselves, and not beat ourselves up if we can’t operate normally. It is not life as normal. At the beginning of this crisis I felt sick with anxiety about everything. My family were all dispersed,  and I was frantic about the situation. I was juggling too many things, and my husband and I had both been ill (we think it was Covid-19 but we can’t be sure) , and I couldn’t write.

However, now I am not in direct crisis, and I feel fine, and we are going through a relatively calm time, and there has still been a problem.  I have been helped by a few things, and I thought I’d share them in case they help. It might be that you have not got yourself into as much of a twist as I have recently, and will not identify at all and think I am rather strange, in which case, please look away! This is rather embarrassing for me if so!  However, in the hope that this may help someone who gets in as much of a muddle as me, I will carry on!

These are the questions which I made myself miserable asking myself, and here are some answers other people have given me which have made me feel better.

1)  How on earth can I create when other people are suffering so much?

It is easy to feel that when bad things are happening to other people, and you are in a relatively privileged position, and not a politician or a health worker, creative work is an indulgence.

I told this to my friend Katy, who is a wonderful artist, and a very kind and good and ethical person, and she said : ‘Anne, there are always people somewhere else in the world  who are suffering.’

And as she said this, I realised that what she was saying  was so true. If I am OK myself, but feel too guilty to write now, because of  other people’s suffering, I will NEVER be able to write. By letting myself be blocked by guilt, I am saying there is no point in creative work , but I know deep down, I don’t believe that. There were bad things happening all over the world before Covid-19, and sadly, there will be bad things afterwards, and Art has always helped people in bad situations. When I have been going through difficult times  I have been greatly helped by the creative work of others, be it writers, artists, musicians, script and play writers, actors etc.   If I want to be a writer I will inevitably write in a world where there is suffering. That’s part of reality, and as a writer I can make the world better.  If I am not going through a difficult time personally, that’s precisely the best time to get on with creating things for people who are. It’s my turn to step up. Then, when I am having a bad time, I can be nourished and comforted by the creative work of others. It might not help people immediately – there is a creative gap which is painful – I write something but first I have to submit it to my agent, who will submit it to publishers, and even if it ends up being accepted it won’t be published for a year or so, and so that can add to the feeling of my individual work being no practical help in this crisis – but I think it’s better to think of myself as part of a community of creative people producing work, and that the point is to  keep the creativity going so that there is always something being produced, and to support the work of others as it comes out, rather than making it all about me.

2)  OK, but isn’t it wrong to have fun whilst doing it?

So, I accept the argument that there will always be suffering in the world, and I let myself try to create, but, out of guilt, I don’t let myself admit that I enjoy it, and I try to make ‘worthy work’ or I over work, or be a martyr, and it doesn’t go very well at all and the work is rather flat or generic and I feel more and more worn out and miserable.

I think the advice to count our blessings is a good thing. It’s so easy for me to worry about being smug or selfish, but I am realising that not appreciating what I have doesn’t help anyone. If I am honest, I am having some very happy times in lockdown.  I am loving listening to birds, I live near beautiful countryside, and after a worrying time,  I now have my husband and all my children and our two dogs with me and I love their company. I am so lucky.  I have been having fun, and that makes me feel a bit like Marie Antionette, and so I then feel guilty and rush off to write serious things and after a bit, I discover I have made myself more and more overwhelmed and unhappy and anxious and not written anything good.

What I need to do as a creative person is to let myself play and have fun. I need to remind myself that I am lucky that it cheers me up to be creative – that is nothing to be ashamed of. (I hope that lots of people reading this do NOT feel ashamed of being happy being creative – this is for those mixed up people, like me, who sometimes do!)

I have a very wise Spiritual Director, and a very kind and wise agent, and they have both advised me recently to let myself play.  It works. Yesterday I let myself write a picture book story I had wanted to do for ages, and had lots of fun writing it, and when I had finished I realised it did celebrate love and tenderness and all the things I think our society needs to value, BUT I didn’t set out to write a story about love and tenderness in order to make my work worthwhile  – I set out to play and have fun, to write a story about two little characters I was very fond of, and I really enjoyed writing it. It was my happiness in writing which made it come alive. I need to learn not to be ashamed of enjoying my work, just as I need not to be ashamed of being happy when others are suffering. Somehow I absorbed the message when I was a child that being happy when other people weren’t,  was selfish – but that really isn’t right, and I just have to look at other people to see the truth of this:

As a practical example, a lovely professional singer  in our village is videoing herself singing a different song at home every day, and sharing on it on our village  facebook page. She is having a great time doing something she loves and has spent years becoming very good at, and in doing so and sharing songs and taking requests, she is really cheering people up.

Grayson Perry has a wonderful weekly programme where he is actively encouraging people to play and make Art through lockdown. It is WONDERFUL.

https://www.channel4.com/programmes/graysons-art-club

The Great British Sewing Bee and The Repair Shop show examples of people who have let themselves spend hours having fun learning to be very good at things they love doing, and then their skill means they create lovely things , or repair lovely things, and this makes other people happy.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03myqj2 (The Great British Sewing Bee)

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08l581p  (The Repair Shop)

I have just signed up with a lovely online Illustration course, and their message to all the illustrators is to have fun too! It is surprisingly difficult to let myself do it – but when I do, I feel so happy!

https://www.thegoodshipillustration.com

Lastly – even though I am lucky, I do often still feel sad because it IS sad that so many people are suffering. I don’t think it is wrong to feel sad – just wrong to make myself feel sad out of misplaced guilt.

And this is something which made me cry and comforted me and inspired me the other day – it reminded me that everyone, in good times and bad, always needs tenderness. It was made by creative people – musicians – who allowed themselves years learning their craft and who obviously really enjoyed making this video – and it is gorgeous and I hope will inspire you all. You can watch it with English or French subtitles if you like.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rEjvRktXeis&feature=share&fbclid=IwAR1PMblOyacHLEH3bqKTMjpD5k0PPUvlF0LigcP1Afu45CLhPrwqoXkX8sw

Hope in a Scary World (first published for a blog post for An Awfully Big Blog Adventure April 21st 2020)

First published here: https://awfullybigblogadventure.blogspot.com

 

At the beginning of this crisis I felt so frightened for my family and friends and myself, and so worried about any of us getting ill and dying. I also felt  completely overwhelmed by how impotent and useless I was, and how I could do nothing to stop there being so much suffering.

But I remembered that I have thought this before. I have thought this before in life in general about how people get ill and die, and innocent people suffer. I have thought it about the ongoing refugee crisis, about all the wars going on. I have thought this before about climate change, and about poverty and inequality and homelessness and abuse of people and animals.  In some ways, heartbreakingly , all around the world and throughout history, it has been and is truly, a scary world.

But it ISN’T the whole story.

It’s a lovely world too.

Love and Goodness and Truth are everywhere. They are obvious every day in the work of doctors and nurses and care workers and hospital cleaners and physiotherapists and delivery drivers and teachers and shop assistants and priests and refuse collectors and police and social workers and paramedics and  frontline workers  at this time. They are also obvious  in simple kindness, like my little neighbour chalking a rainbow outside my door, or neighbours dropping round vegetables or the local pub delivering food to those in quarantine, or my vicar organising online services, or a lady in my village taking requests and  singing online to cheer people up, or volunteers like my husband’s brother and his wife who are involved in a community project where they cook nutritious meals from food donated by shops, which is then delivered throughout their community to people in need. They are obvious for me in my corner shop being open every day for our village, a life-line for us, especially  those who can’t drive . Love and Goodness and Truth are obvious in fundraisers for PPE, and in the work of investigative journalists and honest politicians and hard working  people right now campaigning for facts and honesty, for better conditions for workers at risk, for those in care homes.

They are also obvious in my friend looking after a traumatised rescue dog, or parents simply trying to look after children at home in difficult conditions, or people sharing recipes or funny or inspiring  stories or videos online, or in friends just having fun on a Zoom Quiz or chatting at a social distance!

My French teacher at our local Adult Education College has been working so hard, and we have been able to go to French conversation class by Zoom, and that has been so lovely. Last week we were able to welcome back one of our friends and classmates who had been very ill in hospital with Covid-19. Our tutor is helping us emotionally and socially in so many more ways than just teaching us French, and I know other teachers and tutors are working so hard to keep people connected.

Here is my dog Ben trying to revise French:

I am so grateful for my dogs.

Beauty is normal  too, obvious in bird song and clouds and trees and green grass and flowers , and hedgehogs and … in our writing! It’s so easy and normal to get overwhelmed, but we mustn’t forget (I am very much talking to myself here) that it is beautiful and  worthwhile, even in, and maybe especially in, a scary world,  to write  books which make people laugh, or move them, or tell them interesting facts. It IS beautiful and worthwhile to entertain, to help people de-stress, to help them escape. I am so grateful to the actors and scriptwriters and producers and directors of the TV dramas and films I have been watching. I am so grateful to the musicians I have been listening to. They are getting me through lockdown.

I have friends and family sharing Art on facebook, and that is beautiful and part of normality too.

As children’s writers in particular , it is so wonderful and such a privilege that we can write anything at all which makes any child’s day in any way a bit better, which brings them Hope.

There have been some lovely recent blog posts in An Awfully Big Blog Adventure which have reminded us of this, and we have been prompted to think of how, as children, our lives were made better by our favourite books, and how even as adults, re-reading them brings comfort.

I recently got contacted out of the blue, during lockdown, by a mother who wrote that her daughter did not normally like reading and had suddenly fallen in love with reading through my Lucy books with OUP, illustrated by Sophy Williams. I know that this is something we all love when it happens.  This certainly  made me so happy and proud, and was perfect timing to encourage me. Her daughter has now written to me and sent me a photo (which I have permission to share and boast about!), and now I am helping her with an at-home project and have to answer questions about being an author! It has given me hope that being a writer, even in this scary world, DOES still have a point!

And , although I am completely sure I will have more bad days when I can’t write and feel useless and overwhelmed, and I will always worry about friends and family, today, I  received something else which made me very happy and proud too.

Today I got my advance copies of my picture book ‘Bloom’ , part of  Tiny Owl’s ‘Hope in a Scary World’ Series, a book about the power of love, illustrated by Robyn Wilson-Owen.  I am so grateful to my agent Anne Clark and to Tiny Owl and  Robyn-Wilson Owen, that together we have made something which we hope will make children feel better and more hopeful. The series ‘Hope in a Scary world’ was devised by Tiny Owl to help children, and I am so honoured to have a book accepted for it. Writing ‘Bloom’ for it, has ended up giving me, the adult writer, hope in a scary world too. I am given hope and am so inspired by the work of Tiny Owl, and by Robyn’s beautiful illustrations, and I am given hope in a scary world that as writers we too have a contribution to make, and we too CAN also do something, however small,  to make things better, and that Love will always make things bloom.

 

https://tinyowl.co.uk/bloom/

A change is as good as a rest

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

 

(first posted on An Awfully Big Blog Adventure 21st August 2019)

A change is as good a rest by Anne Booth

I am just at the end of a lovely holiday, first in Northumberland, and then in Yorkshire, visiting relatives.

We took our very elderly dog, Timmy and our younger dog Ben with us. We were a bit worried about Timmy travelling and got some calming tablets and filled the back of our VW van with his carpet and a dog bed so he would feel at home.

What we didn’t expect was Timmy getting a new lease of life when we took him to Lindisfarne. This is a place we have been to often over the years – he was only 9 months when he first came on a family holiday there. We stayed in a rented house on the island for two weeks, and he had lots of long, happy walks by the sea and, famously, ate my husband’s cooked breakfast in one enthusiastic golden-retriever-gulp. Over the years we came back often to stay in the house, and then even when we were staying on the mainland, we would always have a day trip to Lindisfarne. Now he is nearly 14, and most of his eye sight has gone, and he has a tablet every day to help him walk, as his legs can get a bit wobbly, and he sleeps a lot and only has very short walks. I worried about how he would cope on holiday, but we couldn’t leave him in kennels, and we all needed a break. We were prepared to take turns to stay back in the cottage with him as he slept, and not go out much.

This year, we were staying on the mainland but booked a dog -friendly pub on Lindisfarne for a family birthday celebration meal and we took both dogs with us so nobody would be left behind. It felt as if as soon as Timmy got there, and sniffed the air, good memories came back. He wagged his tail and looked very happy. We took him back to Lindisfarne the next day, and he walked with a happy bounce, his gorgeous tail waving as he trotted along. We don’t know if he remembers his puppyhood, but it was so lovely to see his energy briefly return. We took Ben for a longer walk, but left my daughters with Timmy on the beach, and my daughter took this gorgeous picture of Timmy. I think he recognised the smells and just really enjoyed himself.

So what has this to do with writing?

I have to go to Lindsfarne/Holy Island whenever I go to Northumberland. I, like Timmy, love this place so much, and it played an important part in my latest novel ‘Across the Divide’. This ‘thin’ place gives me life too, and this time, even though we weren’t on the island, we ended up going to visit it at least 4 times in one week, at different times of the day. One of the times I met the lovely illustrator Helen Stephens and her daughter there, so that makes me love the place even more! I will never tire of beautiful Northumberland. It makes me so happy. We also went to Alnwick, which I love, and where I had lovely memories of family holidays.

I think I need, as a writer, to re-connect with things which made me happy when I was younger. I used to draw all the time as a child, and I just don’t do this any more. So I am going to try and do more illustration. Last year I loved doing some courses with Claire Alexander at The House of Illustration and have signed up for more this winter, and in February there I did a wonderful collage course with the illustrator James Mayhew . I  am very excited and lucky, as I am going to go an an Orange Beak Illustration retreat soon, and I hope that I can properly recover my childhood confidence and delight, just as Timmy re-discovered his bounce when back in Lindisfarne.

I also need to not be scared to try new things. I have signed up for a part-time Theology degree. My faith has always been very important to me,  and I have always also been so interested in Theology as an academic subject, and think it is very relevant today, and the place where I am going to study it is really beautiful. It will take 6 years if I do it part-time, 3 years if I do it full time. It might be that circumstances will mean that I can’t finish it, but I think, like Timmy, I need to breathe fresh air and remember old feelings, and I hope it will give me, and my writing, a spring in my step.

https://staugustinescollege.ac.uk/locations/malling-abbey-west-malling/

What gave you joy when you were younger which you need to re-connect with now? What would give you and your writing a new spring in your step?

Here is another picture of Timmy at Lindisfarne. He is living his life to the full, smelling every smell! I love him so much and am so lucky to live with him.

My lovely library Day.

Friday, 21 June 2019

 

First posted on ‘An Awfully Big Blog Adventure’.

My lovely library day. by Anne Booth

Sorry this is such a short post, but life is rather hectic at the moment.

I just thought I’d share one of the loveliest book-related things to have happened to me recently, which happened this month, on the 4th June, which was my dad’s birthday.  He died aged 90 in 2017, so he would have been 92.

I was feeling recently , as many authors do, rather disheartened and tired, stressed by deadlines and wondering how much energy I have to carry on, wondering when I will earn more money etc etc. It can be so easy to get discouraged and wonder if being an author makes a difference and if there is room  in such a crowded market. There are so many books out there…does the world really need more of mine? Maybe it is all just too difficult.

And then my local state primary school  asked if I would come and open their new school library. And I said ‘yes’. I have lots of lovely books by lots of other authors in my home, so I donated copies of my books and a box of other people’s, fiction and non-fiction, because I don’t expect the library to ONLY have books by me in it!

And I gave an assembly about how books are like people – we should respect them all and give them a chance, but  it is all right to want to spend more time with some, than others. And I told the children about  other people’s wonderful books and it made me feel more enthused about children’s books in general, and I realised I should take my own advice and remember there is room for all sorts of books and voices in children’s lives – and that included mine!

Later, they asked me wonderful questions about my books and writing and that was very encouraging too.

So, I did the assembly and then they asked me to open the library..

I cut a ribbon (I have NEVER done that before!) and I go in, and it has a beautiful wooden throne for a reading chair, and brightly coloured book shelves with lots of books the teacher librarian has worked so hard to classify and order, and cushions, and I  pose for photos with the children (I haven’t seen any yet) and I look over and I see, on the wall, this:

And it was such a surprise! And I love that it was on my dad’s birthday, because, born in 1927, he HATED school and never enjoyed reading, and what he needed as a child, was a school library just like this, full of a wide range of fiction and non-fiction books he could have chosen from. He would have been astonished to think that his daughter had opened a school library! And I am so happy and grateful to that lovely teacher librarian and school  for asking me to do something so wonderful and unique – and I would never had got to do it if I had not been an author!!

Looking after yourself as a writer (first posted on An Awfully Big Blog Adventure)

https://awfullybigblogadventure.blogspot.com/2018/10/looking-after-yourself-as-writer-by.html?spref=tw

Looking after yourself as a writer by Anne Booth

I didn’t know, when I started trying to write as a full-time job, that there were some health risks attached, and having encountered some of them, I thought I’d share what I am trying to do about them.

In order to stay afloat as a full-time writer, you have to work long hours, and I have found that sitting at my desk, involved in my story and forgetting to take breaks, has not been good for my posture or my weight. I know that I should get up and walk about more, but I am sure other writers will understand that it often doesn’t work that way – you don’t intend to sit writing non-stop for hours, but when you are deep into a particular scene the time rushes by and you end up being motionless for too long. Even walking my dogs doesn’t make up for those long stationary hours sitting down.

So, following the rule of 3, so beloved of those writing about story structure, here are three things I am trying to do about this:

1) I have got a standing desk.

I absolutely love it.  I read a proud tweet by the lovely writer Alice Broadway, (@alicecrumbs)    where she shared a picture of the standing writing desk her husband had made her. I’d been looking at standing writing desks for a while, and I was very impressed. So I contacted her and her husband, and Dave made one for  me, specially built to fit my laptop. All of the standing desks I saw online cost so much more than this one- and this one is so elegant and lovely and does the job. He is setting up a business doing bespoke woodwork projects, and he is available to make other writers standing desks. His twitter account is @daveyboydanger and I highly recommend him and his desks!

2. I have joined a community gym, but because I am feeling a bit shy about exposing my lack of fitness in front of others, I have invested some money for some one- to- one sessions with a very kind, young, fit, personal trainer called Poppy. I NEVER thought I would do anything like that, but I am so glad and I need it so much. My shoulders hold so much tension, and my weak core muscles would never get me a place on ‘Strictly Come Dancing’, and Poppy devises brilliant exercises to help. I can feel the good of it. Poppy is also very pleased about the standing desk. And, by an amazing coincidence, I have found that Poppy is the niece of the art director in a publisher who will be publishing a picture book of mine in 2020! It is definitely a small world!!

As a self-employed person I am definitely going to claim for the standing desk against tax, and I am going to ask about claiming for the personal training, as other people work in offices where they have free gym membership. If I hear back that you can, I will tell you.

3. I have gone away on a writing retreat. As most writers know, you can also claim the cost of going away to research and write, against tax. Not having an office to go to, and working alone at home, takes its toll on your mental and emotional health, and I have been struggling a bit with that. It can feel very isolating not having work colleagues and working on your own all day, and you never get away from your domestic environment. I am very lucky that my lovely husband built me a writing hut in our garden, but every so often I need to write intensely and be in a quiet environment with my meals made for me, but also with the company of other writers. I have just come back from writing (and copy and pasting!) tens of thousands of words at a writing retreat in France called Chez Castilllon I highly recommend it. It opens again next year with some wonderful tutored retreats, but you can also attend and just do your own  work.
I did worry about spending money – every writer will understand that – but if I can get a contract for the work I did then, which I am finishing now, it will more than pay for itself, and I also always feel so much better emotionally and mentally for spending time with the lovely people who run it, Janie and Mickey Wilson (Janie is the brilliant writer Janie Millman) When you go on retreat you also have the company of the other writers who happen to be writing there, and I was very lucky with the company I was in this past week and really enjoyed meeting everyone. I was particularly lucky that one of the people there for her own work was the very experienced and very very good  writer Jo Thomas, who in one sentence at one meal, told me not to worry about a particular issue and advised me to put back a whole section of work I had removed because of it. Suddenly I had copy and pasted back thousands of words,  the book I was writing made sense again, I was much MUCH nearer completing it, and I am very grateful. I also really enjoyed reading Jo’s books in bed at night – they are very relaxing, romantic and well written, so I have discovered a great new writer to read!

So – buying a standing desk, going to see a personal trainer to get bespoke exercises to sort out fitness issues, and going away on a writing retreat, have all been ways I have looked after my health and invested in my career as a writer. If I see this as a business investment so I can keep going in the long-run then I don’t feel guilty about spending money on myself, and I can already see the good of all three things.

 

Things there are no photos of (From a post from ‘An Awfully Big Blog Adventure’

https://awfullybigblogadventure.blogspot.com/2018/08/things-there-are-no-photos-of-by-anne.html?spref=fb

 

My post for this blog (I post on there on the 21st of every month)

Blog Tour (Review & Author Q&A): Across the Divide – Anne Booth (Illustrated by Serena Rocca)

I am very happy with this lovely review of ‘Across The Divide’

Screen Shot 2018-06-14 at 17.33.22

‘A book that broaches, binds, blends and bridges big issues…
This is more than historical fiction; this is a story movingly written in a one-of-a-kind way that ensures it will stay with you long after the last page is read.’

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Title:
 Across the Divide
Author: Anne Booth (@Bridgeanne)
Illustrator (Cover): Serena Rocca (@SerenaR_art)
Publisher: Catnip Books (@catnipbooks)
Page count: 320
Date of publication: 7th June 2018
Series status: N/A
ISBN: 978-1910611111

Perfect for Year 5, Year 6 & Year 7.

#3Words3Emojis:
1. Tolerance 😌
2. Lindisfarne 🏰
3. Divide ➗


Olivia is stuck in the middle of a horrible row that threatens to tear apart her family, her friendships and her community.

Visiting the island of Lindisfarne, she meets a strange young man, caught between war and peace, who may help her decide what to do.

A beautiful, thought-provoking novel about seeing both sides and having the…

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