Check This Out: In Brigantia

It’s raining authors around the blog! Today, the amazing Andrew Murray (or Andy as many of you who know him and follow his blogs, City Jackdaw and Coronets For Ghosts, call him) is here to talk about his latest poetry collection, In Brigantia. (His first was Heading North, which we talked about here.)

  

Stick around after the interview to learn about a giveaway of this collection. Now, let’s talk to Andy.

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Andy: Thank you! (1) I’m (at least) the fifth generation of Murray born in Manchester.
(2) My favourite place is Orkney.

 

Photos by Andy Murray © 2019

(3) A big Whovian, I once stumbled across a scene being filmed for the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary episode, and was totally unaware of it until it aired on TV.
(4) My dreams begin while I’m still awake.

El Space: Please tell us how you came to choose the theme you chose for In Brigantia.

12294646_10153732827966740_3177437019818522964_nAndy: The title of the collection takes its name from the opening long poem, ‘Brigantia’ being the territorial name of northern Celtic tribe the Brigantes. Being northern myself, the poems are either set in, or were written in, that same area, though set in the modern day. My writing is often rooted in place.


Romano-British Brigantes map

El Space: How long did it take to complete this collection?
Andy: I never started writing with a collection in mind. I continued to write individual poems following the publication of Heading North in late 2015 and eventually, when I had a considerable number, I began to go through them with an eye on bringing some together in a new book.

Along with the post-2015 poems, there are three older poems also included, one dating back to the September 11th attack, when I received a postcard from a close friend of mine, on that very day, telling me that she was in New York and going to go up one of those towers. It shook my complacency about our friendship. That friend is now my wife.

El Space: Wow! What a great story! What’s your process for writing a poem? How do you know when a poem is “done”?
Andy: I never sit to write a poem; words and lines tend to come to me when I’m out and about doing other things. I take a note of them and they grow from there; it’s quite organic really. Knowing when they are ‘done’ is an instinctive thing, just a feeling I get. As with all writing, I guess, it’s a subjective process. I was sat in a coffee shop watching a guy working the room, trying, unsuccessfully, to chat up the girls who were in there, and straight away I got every single line for ‘Romeo of Lever Street,’ written on the handy notes section of my phone. That also comes in useful for phrases that come to me when on the edge of sleep.

El Space: Amazon’s description of this collection mentions historical royalty like Queen Cartimandua and Hollywood “royalty” like Marilyn Monroe and Tom Cruise. How did these individuals come to be in this collection?

  

Andy: There’s a story to the Monroe one. I was on a train journey, listening to an audio drama over headphones as we approached the next station. As the train pulled in, the guard announced, “The next station, ladies and gentlemen, is Mytholmroyd.” I really thought, above the story that I was tuned into, that what had been said was “Ladies and gentlemen: Marilyn Monroe!” I pulled my headphones off, “What?!” Looking wildly through the window to see exactly where we were. In my defence, I was also due to have my ears syringed soon at the local surgery, but still-—Monroe! I thought to myself ‘Wouldn’t that have been a sight for a Thursday morning?’ And that’s how ‘Mytholmroyd’ came into being.

Photo by Andy Murray © 2019

As for Cartimandua, she was the queen of the Brigantes tribe. Her name translates as ‘sleek pony,’ and that’s how I came up with the cover image for the book.

El Space: Which poem(s) in the collection had the most difficult birth?
Andy: ‘Hanging On ‘Til Morning.’ With this one I went against my usual writing process, mentioned above, looking to write lyrics instead of waiting for the lyrics to come to me. I say lyrics, because this originally was for a friend who is in a band and had asked for help in coming up with words for a song. I got carried away, imagining all sorts of melodies and chord changes before I came to my senses and reigned myself in. Music is his talent, not mine, so I gave him what I’d written and told him to adapt it however he wanted to fit what he was doing.

El Space: Which poets or other artists inspire you?
Andy: There are many. Different poets speak to different people. I like Kenneth White—he writes about the things that inspire me. Now in his eighties, I mentioned him in the foreword to Heading North and received a letter from him wishing me well upon my own journey, which was wonderful. I also like Werner Aspenström, but need to brush up on my Swedish as there is only a limited amount of his work translated into English.

  

  

El Space: What will you work on next?
Andy: I will be turning to fiction next. A new publisher has expressed interest in a short story collection, tentatively called The Night Spills In. It’s the kind of stuff I read when growing up—folklore and the supernatural. I was that kind of kid! Beyond that I have the first draft of a contemporary novel, Seasons on the Hill, that I’ve left to breathe for a while, to pick up again. And I will still be writing poetry along the way.

Thank you, Andy, for being my guest!

Looking for Andy? You can find him at his blogs (City Jackdaw and Coronets For Ghosts).

Looking for In Brigantia? You can find it at Amazon. But one of you will get a copy of In Brigantia simply because you commented. Winner to be announced next week sometime!

Author photo and other photos courtesy of Andy Murray. In Brigantia cover came from Andy’s City Jackdaw blog. Kenneth White and Werner Aspenström poetry collection covers came from Goodreads and Amazon. Romano-British Brigantes map from Wikipedia. Marilyn Monroe photo from thefashiontag blog. Tom Cruise photo from vulture.com. Doctor Who image from fandomania.

Do Something Different

      

   

     

If you saw the 2018 Sony Pictures production, Searching, starring John Cho and directed by Aneesh Chaganty (who also co-wrote the film with Sev Ohanian), you know it had an innovative approach to telling a story: using the screens of smartphones and computers. Let’s face it—a movie about a man searching for his missing daughter sounds pretty common right? (CoughcoughTakencoughcough) But with this film, the filmmakers subverted convention by telling the story a different way.

While this format might not be everyone’s

it is a unique way of telling a story.

Sometimes, you have to


to breathe new life into a genre.

I can’t help thinking of novels in verse or even epistolary novels (where a story is told through letters, diary entries, newspaper clippings, emails, or even tweets). These formats are great ways to experience the beauty and variety of storytelling.

What is the most unusual format you’ve seen someone use to tell a story or to get a message across? What intrigued you about that format? How did it inspire you to try something different (if it did)? While you think about that, check this out. This is a wrapper from a Halls Breezers throat lozenge. I love that the company included a pep talk on each wrapper.

   

A great video on the production of Searching can be found here at the Lessons from the Screenplay YouTube channel. It has spoilers though.

Searching movie poster from flickeringmyth.com. Envelope gif from figuringitouted.blogspot.com. Cup of tea from worldartsme.com. Halls Breezers image from gethalls.com/breezers. Other photos and screenshots by L. Marie.

Armed and Dangerous

See this?

This is a sword. It might not look like it, but it is. I use it to slay the elements.

You hear that, Winter??? You’ve thrown what you got at me. Minus 11-degree temperatures with -20 windchill. Snow falling every day. Freezing rain on top of that some days. Days when I have to scrape snow and ice off the car sometimes two or three times a day. But you will not get me down! No, no, no! You. Will. Not. Break. Meeeeeeeeeeeee!

This is my fighter pack.

Yes, that is a cup from Starbucks. It is a hot mocha. Got my sword and my gloves. And my lemon loaf cake. And I’ve got books to keep me warm. (And soft blankets.)

   

See these? My babies! I call the one on the left Darth Vader. And the one on the right has a space helmet vibe. How apt that these are space heaters.

   

Don’t let this sunny day fool you. It got to ten above (-12 Celsius) that day and sixteen on Sunday. The forecast calls for more below zero weather with snow.

   

Ha ha, Winter! You think you’ll break me. Think again!

Life is like that sometimes, isn’t it? It hammers at you, crusts you over in disillusionment with its icy winds.

So I bought this the other day.

It may not look like much. But the title on the package says something to me. Not to the surface me, but to the bone-deep me that needs a good word every now and then. It reminds me to keep dreaming even through the crusty moments. Dream big dreams, girl. Not just dreams of warm, sunny days to avoid giving in to the winter blahs but dreams that say cold, dark days like this won’t last forever. That there’s something beyond those midnight blue-hued days where you’re kicking icicles off your car. Off your heart.

Yeah, I know. Sometimes the iceberg of life is way too much for your little boat. And my little pep talk, with its mixed metaphors, is only a tiny splotch of Sunshine Yellow paint on your Great Wall of Despair. I don’t want to make light of anyone else’s pain. This pep talk is really to remind me to keep going, even when I don’t want to.

So, Winter, you won’t have the last laugh! Not on my watch.

Oh yes, Winter. I’m armed and dangerous. Don’t mess with me.

Even Kitty has a found a friend during the cold days. Though I don’t think this poor cat knows what she’s gotten herself into.

Photos by L. Marie.

Perfectly Plated

I watch a lot of YouTube videos (like the Tasty and BuzzFeed Channels) and Netflix shows (The Great British Baking Show) on cooking. You’d think I would be a culinary expert by now. Naw. I’m still just an average cook.

        

When I was a kid, my parents had insisted that I learn to cook. I don’t mean throwing a frozen dinner into the microwave or oven. I mean baking a chicken, preparing rice, sautéing onions, baking biscuits—that sort of thing.

For my friends in Europe, I mean this type of biscuit.

Not this.

But I’ve never been very innovative in the kitchen. Not like my sister-in-law, who loves to experiment. (I’m going somewhere with this. Don’t worry.)

Anyway, as I mentioned, I watch a lot of videos featuring culinary artists—people who went to school to master the art of food preparation. Other than the taste of a dish, nothing showcases a chef’s artistry like a well-plated meal. What do I mean by that?

According to an article entitled, “A Basic Guide to Food Presentation” at Webstaurantstore.com (click here for it):

People eat with their eyes, and creative and thoughtful plating enhances both the look and taste of your food. Focusing on presentation also allows chefs to showcase their creations and demonstrate to guests that they’re getting their money’s worth.

The article from which that quote came from has great tips on color and contrast, choosing the right plate, etc. That’s why you’ll sometimes see chocolate drizzled on a dessert plate, or your entrée artfully presented with the vegetables tucked up nicely. (Unlike what you see in the photo below.)

My usual idea of plating. Get your grub on, y’all.

  

The real deal done by experts

I love that chefs go the extra mile to make a dining experience special and to make food preparation an art form. While I’m unlikely to drizzle chocolate on a plate anytime soon (I’d much rather drizzle it in my mouth), I am inspired to go the extra mile in what I write.

I’m not sure what the literary equivalent of plating might be. Perhaps it starts with a resolve to write the best piece you can.

Speaking of resolutions, onto the winner of Lyn Miller-Lachmann’s novel Dirt Cheap, which was discussed in this guest post.

        

The winner, according to the lovely random number generator, is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Laura Bruno Lilly!

Congratulations, Laura! Please comment below to confirm!

Henry’s idea of plating—just candy in a bag, baby! (I hear you, Henry!)

Pillsbury biscuits from betterbatter.org. Tea biscuits from clipartkid.com. Tasty YouTube logo from YouTube. BuzzFeed logo from siliconangle.com. Great British Baking Show logo found at thats-normal.com. Plated desserts found on Pinterest. Other photos by L. Marie.

It’s Puzzling

I can thank Jill Weatherholt for my new puzzle obsession.

Actually, it’s not a new obsession—more like an awakened obsession. I used to love putting jigsaw puzzles together when I was a kid. Back then, I gravitated to the 1000-piece puzzles, particularly if they had an image by artist Charles Wysocki. There was something comforting about his paintings—these visions of simpler times.

One of Charles Wysocki’s paintings turned puzzle

I breezed through Target the other day and happened upon some puzzles made with images of his paintings. They brought back memories of many autumn days of my childhood and the large piece of cardboard on which I would assemble my puzzles. But that day in Target, I selected a puzzle with a different image—one that reminded me of summer. (Yes, in the photo above and below, those are ice cream scoops.)

I’m an edge builder. I gather all of the pieces of the edge and put those together. With that framework, I work the rest of the puzzle. What is your strategy for putting jigsaw puzzles together?

I’m sort of the same way as a novel writer. By “sort of,” I mean that I only partially work on an outline—the framework of a story. I’m a hybrid writer—pantser and plotter. I usually work through some of the plot off the bat. But the rest comes as I write. Still, I find it helpful to know the boundaries of the story—what pieces need to be there and how they might fit. Like with my main character. I have to know who I am writing about.

I ask myself: Who are her

Friends?

Enemies?

Family and extended family?

Pets?

How will any relationship conflicts work thematically with my main character’s desires? How much of her back story will I include? How is the setting emphasized? These (character, setting, plot) are the puzzle pieces that I and other novelists sift through as we draft.

Yeah, I know. I didn’t coin the usage of the puzzle metaphor in regard to writing. But as I work on a puzzle and a novel (not at the same time of course), I can’t help being reminded of the connection between the two.

The puzzle metaphor sounds nice and neat, doesn’t it? But if you’ve worked on a book, you know that writing is often messy. So the puzzle metaphor is apt in another way: we’re puzzled about how we’re going to take our mess—all of those pieces we come up with—and make a cohesive whole out of it. As with many difficult puzzles, we often have to roll up our sleeves to solve them. But the satisfaction of seeing the whole puzzle put together is worth it! (And no, I didn’t finish the puzzle above. Look at the first photo. That is what the finished puzzle is supposed to look like. 😀 😁)

Charles Wysocki puzzle from puzzlewarehouse.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Shopkins Shoppie dolls and Apple Blossom by Moose Toys. Black Panther figure by Funko. Shuri action figure by Hasbro.

Many Moms

Hope all you moms out there had a happy Mother’s Day! I couldn’t be with my mom on the day. But I sent her something I crocheted to say, “I love you. Thank you for being my mom.”

Orchids come out to play on Mother’s Day.

While at the craft store last week (I’m at the craft store at least three times a week), a woman said to me, “Are you a mother? Hope you have a happy Mother’s Day.”

I told her I was not a mom. She looked stunned and said, “Oh I just thought you were since most women are mothers.” I didn’t explain to her that I couldn’t have children. But as I walked to my car, I felt as I had failed somehow, since I couldn’t do something “most women” could do.

Don’t worry. I mentally slapped myself the moment I opened my car door. The act of opening the door was a reminder of how easily I could open the door to depression simply because of what someone said. I’ve done that too many times before.

So instead, I gave thanks for my mother, grandmothers (now deceased), sisters-in-laws, mothers of my sisters-in-law, friends, and the women who have been like mothers to me. Like my mother’s best friend, who lived several houses away on the block I grew up on in Chicago. She was the kind of neighbor who cared enough to correct me when I did something wrong.

Or like my fifth-grade teacher, who worked me harder than any teacher I’d had up till then, because she saw potential in me.

I think of my aunt who emails to see how I’m doing every once in a while. She doesn’t have children either, by the way.

Moms come in so many types besides biological. I think of writer friends who are “manuscript moms.” They helped me raise good manuscripts by beta reading them, giving helpful suggestions for changing them, and by reminding me of what’s good about them. And I have non-writer friends who mother me by inviting me to their homes for dinner or who send tea or other goodies to me in the mail.

But I also can’t forget that holidays like this can be difficult sometimes. One of my grandmothers died right before Mother’s Day years ago. So, my family attended a funeral instead of celebrating Mother’s Day. I can’t approach a Mother’s Day without thinking of her. Maybe you can relate. Maybe you’ve lost a parent or a child or couldn’t have children at all. If so, perhaps Mother’s Day is a struggle for you too. Just know you’re not alone in that.

When you think of Mother’s Day, who are you thankful for? Maybe you don’t have a mom or a significant female in your life, but are thankful for your dad or some other surrogate parent. Feel free to comment below.

These friends (Olive, Barbie, and Babette) have made a pact to spend Mother’s Day together. Though single (and yes, happy in their singleness) and without children (except for those they babysit), they’re surrogate moms and mentors to others.

Photos by L. Marie.

How Do You Know You’re in the Flow?

Ever have a time when you were writing or doing something else creative, and you just couldn’t stop? Words or ideas poured out of you, and you had to implement them. We call this a state of flow. (And yes, I wrote a post about this five years ago. I’m taking a different angle on it this time.)

According to Wikipedia,

[F]low, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, formerly the head of psychology at the University of Chicago and currently the Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Management at Claremont Graduate University, is known for his study on flow. Flow, according to Dr. Csikszentmihalyi, is also known as ecstasy. And no, I’m not talking about drugs here, though in his 2004 TED Talk, Csikszentmihalyi explained that “ecstasy is essentially a stepping into an alternative reality.” You’re so in the zone, it’s like you’re watching yourself create. You don’t notice anything else—hunger, weariness, etc. Csikszentmihalyi added, “[T]his automatic, spontaneous process . . . can only happen to someone who is very well trained and who has developed technique.”

I asked several writers how they know they’re in a state of flow.

Steve Bramucci, author of The Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo! (look for his next book this October) and managing editor over at Uproxx, said,

I recognize flow when I start to think, “This is brilliant! Have I accidentally stolen it from someone else? It’s too good of an idea NOT to have been written already! I must’ve stolen it! I’m such a hack!” At which point I google the idea furiously and, when I find it’s not stolen, I get this excited/thrilled buzzy feeling. Something akin to double fisting caffeine and green juice after a 6 am surf. I get tingly and overly emotional and write and write and write—only taking breaks to text my wife things like, “I really think I was destined to be a writer! I believe in my stories! I promise you this project will bring us financial security!” etc. If that all sounds insufferable, I’m sure it is. But it’s my process. It’s not what ends up on the page; insufferable processes can often lead to positive results.

Lyn Miller-Lachmann, author of novels for young adults and adults, said,

It’s when I feel that I’m in the time and place along with my characters, hearing them speak, feeling the same things they do, following them as they move.

Laura Sibson, a young adult and middle grade author (look for her young adult novel debut in 2019), had this to say:

When drafting, I know that I’m in a state of flow when I’m not tempted to look at the clock or check email or social media. My environment drops away in the sense that I’m not super-aware of what’s happening around me. In those moments, I’m fully immersed in my story world and it feels like the real world. I can see it as clearly as I see the scenery outside my window.

S. K. Van Zandt, another middle grade and young adult author, said,

For me, it’s the unstuck feeling. It’s picturing a scene in my mind, the “what happens next,” and the words are just there, as opposed to seeing the scene and staring at the computer. I think the ability to get (and stay) “in the zone” has everything to do with knowing your characters and story well.

Jill Weatherholt, author of Second Chance Romance (look for her next book this July) and romance short stories, said this:

When I feel what’s happening to my characters so deeply that I’m moved emotionally and I become completely oblivious to my surroundings, I know I’m in a state of flow.

Charles Yallowitz, author of Warlord of the Forgotten Age and other books in the Legends of Windemere series, put it this way:

I never really thought about being in a state of flow. I’m usually just writing along until I stop. So it’s almost like a trance.

How do you know you’re going with the flow when you work?

If you want to check out Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s TED Talk:

Kirstea, frazzled as always lately, took flow to a whole different level when she allowed her teacup to overflow.

My Little Pony Pinkie Pie and chicken figures by Hasbro. Kirstea Shoppie doll by Moose Toys. Photos by L. Marie.