Making the room better…

Natunika / Pixabay

fancycrave1 / Pixabay

Talking to a lady today, she explained how to tell if a person is good/right for you (useful stuff for writers). She had been married once before, for 10 years (though says she knew after 6 months it wasn’t good). Her second marriage has so far lasted for over 30 years. “They said it wouldn’t last”, she said. Her words were wise and are applicable to any life situation, involving relationships, be they familial, friendships or even at work.

Of her husband, she simply said: “He makes a room better when he is in it”.

It’s true that there are some people who light up your life (not always in a massive way) and others who drain. Some people’s company you look forward to, some you dread; many have no impact at all, positive or negative – they are just there.

Surround yourself with those who make your room better. Simple.

A Little Hartland History

As you know, local history is rather becoming my thing…

Having spent £14.95 some time ago on a slender pamphlet called “Farthest From Railways: An Unknown Corner of Devon”by R. Pearse Chope (originally written in 1934) I hoped to find out more about the isolated North Devon parish to which I moved from the more urbanised north. It did not disappoint.

For starters,  I discovered that Hartland Parish, despite being one of the largest in Devon, amounting to 17,000 acres in size, is too hilly for a cricket ground, is bounded by the Atlantic (already knew that bit) and is separated from other parishes by steep valleys. It is a place with its own very real characteristics. As someone once said to me: “you live in Hartland, do you? That’s God’s own country up there”. That said, it’s only just an hour and a half away from the M5, so civilisation is really not SO far away……which especially attracts visitors from the M4/M5 corridor.
Vis-a-vis railways, the place Chope is talking about is, of course, Hartland Point, site of the lighthouse which has become something of a symbol for the area:
 
“When you have sought all England round
Farthest from railways this will be found”.
Of course, in Chope’s pre-Beeching days, we had railways stations at the equidistant, but very different towns of Bude in Cornwall and Bideford in Devon, which were both closed when the unfortunate axe fell.
What a legacy Beeching left. I once interviewed the late Bryan Dudley Stamp in Bude. He told me with great relish of the wonderful journeys he used to have travelling by train from Bude to London, complete with fabulously civilised dining facilities. It may be considered progress but having no trains nearby strikes me as a backward move and one which should be reversed! To pop to Bude and catch a train to Paddington would be a delight. Driving to Tiverton Parkway is somewhat less enticing. Meanwhile, it’s car, bus or cycle to Hartland unless you walk it.
Yet, it is the geographical distance from the main conurbations that give the Hartland Peninsula its undoubted charm, a chance to step away from the stresses of everyday life, a sense of peace and tranquility securely nestled between those high North Devon hedges.
Whale at Hartland Point, 1908

Whale at Hartland Point, 1908

Chope perhaps waxed rather more lyrically than we would today, but the upshot of his pamphlet is that Hartland is off the beaten track, it “is still an almost unknown country, although its scenery is more beautiful and its history more interesting than any other place in North Devon”. Praise indeed, for Chope even claims that Hartland is superior to the very popular Clovelly and Lynmouth areas, because of the wonderful variety of its scenery, ranging from wooded cliffs and wild rocks to wind-swept moorland and secluded vales…

I must accede that Hartland is a small place which is largely cut off from other areas but it is that splendid isolation which provides its unique character. People visit the area for many reasons. Some come for a family holiday, others for total rest and relaxation, some because it is romantic, many for reasons of tranquility, and yet others recovering from illness, in need of peace and quiet, or escaping busy lives (the erratic mobile signal around these parts is a great help at such times.) Some even come here to work, to start that novel, learn a new skill, to have a family get-together or simply to see some spectacular sights and to reflect. And of course, Prince William came here for his stag party, a new tradition which many ‘hens’ and ‘stags’, especially those more mature in age/nature, have since followed.

Another whale!! 2017

The Genuki website, perhaps unfairly, describes Hartland as “a small, decayed market town” and writes of “this bleak parish….bounded on the south by some boggy heights”. A place is what you make of it, and how much you enjoy the area partly depends on whether you are a glass half full or half empty person. Yes, it gets muddy and yes, it struggles economically but it also has some wonderful vistas.
Chope also mentions Lundy, as he really must because of its omnipresence from the Peninsula. It is readily seen from Hartland’s coastline and higher ground, with its own famous weather forecast:
“Lundy high, sign of dry;
Lundy plain, sign of rain; 
Lundy low, sign of snow.”
Blackchurch Rock, Brownsham, Hartland

Blackchurch Rock, Brownsham, Hartland

The view towards Lundy from Bursdon Moor is one I found breathtakingly beautiful when I first moved here and, even now, seven years on, it still makes me stop and wonder. Every day Lundy looks different depending upon the weather. Sometimes, it disappears altogether. There’s something magical about the island, especially when shrouded in sea mist. It could almost be Arthurian Avalon. On other days, it looks close and clear enough to swim to, which, of course, it isn’t, unless you happen to be David Walliams or someone.

Hartland is separated from its neighbouring parishes of Clovelly and Welcombe and is thus, as Chope suggests “on the road to nowhere” which reminds me of an old Talking Heads song. In some ways, the A39 Atlantic Highway from the North Devon Link Road to Bude and beyond does Hartland a disservice by helping people to drive straight past it, despite the brown tourism signs highlighting the local attractions like Hartland Abbey, and the artisans’ activities.
Chope also complained that “on all sides, tourists are told that there is nothing to be seen there,” a comment I have heard made by tourists looking for something more along the lines of what Newquay has to offer. Certainly, it is not the place for clubbers!  This is why the volunteer-led Hartland Peninsula Association originated, to promote tourism in this little-known jewel, but in a sustainable way which would not detract from its astonishingly rare beauty. To those who say there is nothing to see here, I say: “try looking up” for Hartland has the most amazing sunsets and sunrises, plus regular blankets of stars to light the way, and that’s without even veering near to the stunning coast.
However, there are still people to whom the area is largely unknown, distant and a little mystical. For walkers, however, it embraces the at times strenuous South West Coast Path, in itself a magnificent attraction, and offers some beautiful sights, such as carpets of spring bluebells, snowdrops, and daffodils at Hartland Abbey. We used to visit Cornwall and Devon regularly, even before we had children; our first holiday with our eldest daughter was in fact in a cottage at nearby Eastcott, just over the Cornish border near Morwenstow, from where we visited Hartland Quay and Hartland Point  (when you could actually reach the lighthouse) among other places.
There is a dark side to such rugged beauty, of course, which is, historically, the number of wrecks  found in the area, the remains of the Johanna still haunting Hartland Point. It has not been called the ‘Wreckers Coast’ for nothing, for the coast here, lashing against the rocks, takes no prisoners. The lighthouse reduced the number of these (and satnav will presumably continue to do so) but the local proverb still rings true when you see the sea lashing against the rocks at the Quay during a storm:
“From Padstow Port to Lundy Light
Is a watery grave by day or night”.
MS Oldenburg ferry sailing to Lundy by Jo Stewart-Smith, used in previous Boat Stories reports.

MS Oldenburg ferry sailing to Lundy by Jo Stewart-Smith, used in Boat Stories reports.

There  were 35 wrecks off the coast here between 1862 and 1904, the largest of which was an Italian steamship, the Rosalia, totally wrecked in very thick fog at Hartland Quay on 27th May, 1904. Local people used to loot the wrecks, understandably, but the most notorious wrecker of legend has been claimed by both Devon and Cornwall, seemingly a Danish sailor known as Cruel Coppinger. In 1866, the Reverend Stephen Hawker of nearby Morwenstow wrote of him:

Will you hear of Cruel Coppinger
He came from a foreign land;
He was brought to us by the salt water,
He was carried away by the wind!
which refers to Coppinger’s disappearing act when chased by the Revenue men.
The coast is indeed spectacularly dangerous, but conversely, hauntingly beautiful, inspirational to writers, artists, and photographers alike. The coastal waterfall at Spekes (Spekes Mill is a series of coastal waterfalls, with the first fall nearly 54ft high) and the awesome rock formations framing the Quay were even mentioned by Charles Kingsley, writer of The Water Babies and Westward Ho!:
 
“There must have been strange work here, when all these strata were being pressed and squeezed together like a ream of wet paper between the rival granite pincers of Dartmoor and Lundy”.
They are absolutely breathtaking or, as Chope says, they “baffle description completely”. Sadly, the iconic Hartland Point lighthouse was put on the market and received offers over and above the asking price, so its future is uncertain. It was erected in 1874 as a remarkable piece of engineering (for, Chope tells us, the surveyor couldn’t get anywhere near the site and had to make observations and measurements from a ship at sea) and will hopefully be allowed to maintain its character, which is so vital to the Hartland Peninsula identity. My own favoured rumour was that Damien Hirst would open it as an art gallery, but I think it is but a dream.
Hartland, Middle of Nowhere?

Hartland, Middle of Nowhere

Hartland has existed for a long time if one accepts Chope’s interpretation of history. Apparently, the Hercules Promontory identified by Ptolemy has been identified as Hartland Point. The names around here are interesting, too. Heard is one such well-established local name. It is likely to have come from the Heort clan, derived from the Saxon settlement of Heortings, which led to the names Harton and later Hartland. You won’t go anywhere without encountering a Heard.

Chope writes at length about St Nectan and the church at Stoke hamlet, 2 miles from Hartland, itself a fascinating building with a huge history, but he also mentions the town of Hartland itself. Formerly a borough, it held weekly markets and two annual fairs, from about 1280 onwards. A granite cross was built as a war memorial in the square, as close as possible to the site of the old market cross. The old town clock was made into a pendulum clock by John Morcombe of Barnstaple in 1657- 8 at a cost of £1. The space beneath the hall was used as a market-house with shambles for butchers and stands for hatters, glovers, and tanners. Malting, cheesemaking, brewing, and cider-making were also locally produced. You can imagine a veritable hive of activity here in its heyday. Now, it is a sleepy village, still seasidey with its coloured houses, and a hive of activity in the workshops, though these are all behind the scenes.
The town also had stocks, plus a cucking-stool for punishing women with a dunking and the associated ritual humiliation. This was especially used for offences which were sexual in nature or involved scolding/gossiping. Not sure the men were ever treated equally badly.  Bull-baiting was also provided as a bit of entertainment once or twice a year, with cock-fighting more regularly and maypole games, all community-based activities even if some of them are to 21st-century eyes barbaric. A bit of den of iniquity was old Hartland, or Harton, and you can read more about the history as you try a historic walk.
Hartland also enjoys a military history, for it was assumed by many that the French would land at Blackpool Mill during the Napoleonic Wars, a place which has been used more recently for the filming of Sense and Sensibility. An effigy of the hated Napoleon was said to have been chained to one of the devil and set up on Hartland Point. It is said that “on the very day Napoleon escaped from Elba, a great storm arose and swept his effigy into the sea”. 
Well, Chope was a mine of information. Who knew?

Fact and fiction…

I’m undertaking a Future Learn course called Start Writing Fiction. It actually started in January, but I’ve only just found it. The course involves some exercises, so I thought it would be useful to try them out and share my attempts here.

Write a paragraph (50 to 100 words) containing one fact and three fictitious elements.

You can write about yourself, about your interests, about history – about anything you like. Then try the reverse – write a paragraph containing three facts and one fictitious element. Red denotes fiction, blue fact.

Anne always felt she was beguiling, bewitching and intensely beautiful. It seeped through to her being from her innermost soul, this alarmingly distracting self-belief in her own intelligence at playing this game. If she had faults, she hid them well beneath a veil of talents and skills, crafts learned methodically and with purpose. She was born to be a queen. Whether she would become one was anyone’s guess.

What’s interesting about the fiction elements is that they could be true. Using a historical character (Anne Boleyn) we cannot be sure. We do/can not know what she always felt, nor about any self-belief.

She was the daughter of a powerful and ambitious nobleman, with much of her fate probably sealed from birth. Her older sister was already in great favour, as the yielding, soft, beautiful, compliant mistress of her king, conventionally pretty, beautiful even, lovely though lacking style and wit. Mary was always deeply envious of Anne.

As you can see, I’ve already hit my first problem in creative writing. I’m wishing to write about fact, not fiction. Struggling on…first hurdle!

 

 

The importance of branding …

AnandKZ / Pixabay

As I research Pamela Colman-Smith, I’m made aware of the tough financial time that most creatives have.

Pamela struggled financially for much of her adult life, despite her prolific output of illustrations, and artwork. She wrote a fair few letters trying to sell her artwork, many heart wrenching and slightly embarrassing in her pointed comments about money and the financial struggle.

She put herself out there. She was also an ace Jamaican folk tale writer and storyteller, enjoying salons with eminent people who thoroughly enjoyed them; newspapers published articles about her, yet the money still wasn’t forthcoming.

Additionally, she poured a great deal of time and effort into the Rider Waite (RWS) Smith tarot cards, now the universal most popular deck, for which she still received very little actual hard cash.

Creating and selling…

ElisaRiva / Pixabay

Upshot: many writers and artists are not sales people. They are reticent about marketing their work, are self-effacing. When they do try it, they often get it wrong. It’s useful to use a professional if you can.  When Pamela tried it, it smacked of desperation, not sales. There is a knack to it.

So, when people say: “but you’re so good at it”, maybe it’s time to agree with them, so long as you have an answer to the follow-up which is usually asking you to do something for them, using your time and expertise, free of charge. There is a maxim that you don’t give away stuff for free when it has a value, one I am only slowly learning.

The other key issue is developing your brand. In Bude, my brand is Bude & Beyond. People actually call me that in supermarkets: “So YOU”RE Bude & Beyond…” My Bude & Beyond brand is: locally focused, loyal, trustworthy, forward thinking, generous, refreshing, driven, energetic, serious and reliable. It is also community-minded and free to the user.

Branding…

Would I want those same descriptors for my paid writing ‘brand’? No.  Now I am researching hard and working on a book which is detail-particular, organised, quality, creative and serious, which will have a cost.

Branding gives you a name and an image. When I first set up my website, it was called Aurora. Ditching that to use my name has led to greater readership and FB likes.  Why is that?  I read of something similar happening on this blog. In brief, it seems:

  1. People like dealing with a human (especially for a creative business).
  2. Even big brands use personalities to promote their pitch.
  3. Work can come (and has) via LinkedIn which is person-based.
  4. We like to see a person, rather than use an automated system. Why? It feels like we matter.

So, that’s a start. Writing, marketing, art, are all crafts anyone can learn.  I’m only at the start of marketing and have signed up for some (free) courses; also one for fiction writing which I am (currently) poor at. As the saying goes, if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re never going to get there.

 

Searching at Smallhythe

From my mother-in-law’s original book of Ellen Terry’s life…

The joy of writing books is that research is needed, though it is time consuming. I do inwardly smile when people say they want to write books but are not prepared to put in the time and effort. This is rather like me wanting to paint good pictures.

My current book research has taken me from Bude to Exeter, the Lizard in Cornwall, Smallhythe in Kent and soon, to London. I’ve also had a good deal of communication with interesting and knowledgeable people, and read immense a lot of other people’s words, trying to add together pieces of my ongoing jigsaw that is the mystery of Pamela Colman – Smith’s life. She is often said to have been under-appreciated in her lifetime, so maybe my book will go some way towards remedying that.

So, last week, I popped to Kent, after a quick break in Sweden. Although it was a two hour drive away, it was comparatively near!

Smallhythe is an absolute delight of a place now owned by the National Trust, but once home to Ellen Terry and her daughter, Edy Craig, about whom I have read so much. I always enjoy a sixteenth century house. Smallhythe is not only this, with all the utter charm this entails, but it also contains hundreds of Terry’s family and theatre artefacts. It is a feast upon which I need to dine more. The Kent countryside is a rare sight for me, but despite the grey sky, the substantial gardens on my visit were teeming with birdsong, and glowing with daffodils. Hyacinths lined the front of the house. Inside, it was even more enticing with an eclectic collection of items ranging from a gramophone to costumes.

Ellen Terry, from my reading, was an unusually talented and charismatic, (predominantly) Shakespearean actress, with the most stunning eyes, which an artist friend likened to a husky. The house contains her brilliant green Lady Macbeth dress made from luminescent beetle wings, which features in paintings by John Singer Sargent. She came from a theatrical family and it is sad to think that she, who could memorise huge amounts of Shakespeare’s lines, ended her life blind (unable to read scripts) and with dementia. She was quite a celebrity in her day, well-loved and admired by many. Her lifestyle was pretty unconventional, but then so was that of the whole Smallhythe crew.

The reason I was there was because of Pamela Colman-Smith, who was part of the Lyceum/Smallhythe crowd for a small part of her life. She is said to have looked upon Ellen Terry as a mother figure and saw Edy as a very close friend. Ellen Terry was well known for picking up waifs and strays. She had come from a poor background and had known what it was like to struggle.

Edy was, as Cockin says, a costumier, a director, a feminist and a suffrage activist, so a busy woman in her own right, and no doubt fascinating, though never terribly self-sufficient financially. She lived with two other women, Christabel Marshall (who changed her name to Christopher Marie St John) and Clare (Tony) Atwood in a so-called menage a trois.  Edy and her brother, among others, pretty much lived off the celebrity status of their mother, so they were privileged to have the freedom to play at drama and art, seemingly as much as they liked. Smallhythe was then something of a rural idyll where the women might don their smocks and live a bucolic existence, romping around the garden, though it was also only two hours by train from London. Transport was so much better then, as reaching Tenterden by train now would be a substantial task.

What is wonderful about my ongoing research (will it ever be finished?) is that one snippet of information leads to another, one contact to another. When trying to paint a rounded picture of someone about whom there is little information, it is important to also check out the circles in which they moved and lived, to get some idea of their life lived.

Smallhythe is but a tiny part of the Pamela Colman-Smith story, but indeed, a fascinating one.

Glorious Gothenburg

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Chilly was the word when we arrived at Landvetter airport to slip slidey snow, but our views of Gothenburg soon changed.

It is, like most places, much lovelier when the sky is blue, as it was for two of our three days, an added bonus. It’s a lively but largely safe-feeling city, with trams, an archipelago, and neoclassical architecture.  The Lonely Planet calls it ‘grassroots Gothenburg’ and the cap fits, for the people make the place. There are some very beautiful parts, but like all cities, there are the real places where people live, like the suburbs of Frolunde, with its flats, car parks and shopping centre, or the skatepark area near the Ullevi stadium (built in 1958) which is 1980 square metres of concrete and designed for skateboarding, inline skating and BMX, among others disciplines. A wander round there definitely felt like a trip back to the literal concretisation of the 1960s. It wasn’t pretty but nor was it scary. It was grey.

We stayed at the hotel Lorensberg in the cultural area of the city, handy for airport transfer buses, and the excellent tram system, handy for the Universeum (science centre, aquarium, rainforest, etc) with wonderfully friendly staff all smiley and speaking perfect English. It is something of an art hotel, which added to its charm, decorated with over 100 wall paintings by Lars Gillis.

There is plenty to see, with a variety of drinking places, and eateries, too, such as the opulent Dorsia (eye-watering prices in the luxury of the Belle Epoch atmosphere) to the very wonderful Seralj offering classic and modernised Turkish cuisine, which also has a spa. My vegetarian meze and baklava dessert were extremely tasty and beautifully presented.

What did I learn about Gothenburg? Well, on the downside, the air was pretty cold and dry, which played havoc with my (apparently sensitive) skin. I may look a little Nordic but I’m not tough enough to stand the pace of the cold and wind on my face and hands. That aside, Swedes seem very helpful. They smile a great deal, and seem chilled, even at their busiest. They say: “that’s perfect” a lot. They also seem much taller than me, but that’s not difficult. Perhaps all the walking also keeps them fit, because you can really clock up the steps in the city. They are keen to chat; wherever you go, people are happy to engage in conversation, and give out useful information. Generally, their customer service is good, and they seem pleased to have visitors, from hotel staff trained in hospitality to bus drivers. It seems Gothenburg is largely a cashless economy. My Krona were pretty much defunct, and I brought most home with me. Card is king, and cashless reigns, even in bars.

Places to see depends upon your preferences, obviously, but I loved the Konstmuseet, which holds works by Scandinavian artists but also Rembrandt, Picasso, Rubens, Van Gogh and the Impressionists. As our friend, Allen, told us, the statue outside of Poseidon, caused a stir, given his ‘over-endowment’, especially when viewed from the side. There are six floors of art to enjoy, which is a total treat.  The botanical gardens would be beautiful at another time of year. Lilla Bommen (the lipstick) also affords superb views. It’s like an 82m lego house (thanks Ed) and we enjoyed a chat with the lovely, heavily pregnant receptionist on her last day. Curious to know if her unborn child will be Alexander (her choice) or Vincent (her partner’s).

Gothenburg is very clean (some graffiti, like everywhere) and the churches (mainly Church of Sweden) tend to be open, welcoming and warm. Oscar Fredriks is one fine example, linking in well with a visit to the Skansen Krona (bit of a hill, be warned, or steps) and the charming old neighbourhood of Haga, with wooden houses, shops and cafes. The waterside yields more interesting sites, and the opera house is also impressive.

The highlight of our visit was probably a trip out in the dark to the Swedish castle, TJOLÖHOLMS SLOTT, dating from the Arts and Crafts movement. In a modernised Tudor style, I as suggested as an evening outing by our host and was amazing. It’s also but a short walk to the beach, which in moonlight, with stars, gently lapping water, and something of a sunset happening is utterly magical.

So, go to Gothenburg? Surely. Cheap flights, too.  Perfect.

 

Writing is the voice of absent people…

janeb13 / Pixabay

It’s a quote allegedly from Freud in Civilization and Its Discontents, and it’s true, isn’t it?

We don’t write to people we see regularly. We write to people we don’t see, people from whom we are absent.

That may be family, friends, the public, or our customers, through our business blogs or websites.

Therefore, we need to ensure it is an authentic voice, that says what we need and want it to say, in an appropriate way. I can help with that.

Is there truly such a thing as an ultimate guide to creative writing?

Unsplash / Pixabay

I was given a guide to creative writing some time ago, which was resurrected on the occasion of a cupboard clear out. It contains all I need to “develop and progress my writing”, which I felt sure must be useful, so I had a look.

Obviously, I write quite a lot, so this book is aimed at the beginner, I imagine.  I decided to write a short story with its help. A number of key irritations impeded my progress:

  • Do I need a definition of creative writing and whether it can be taught? No.
  • Did I feel an urge to write the three most important things I need to do as a writer? No, but I will anyway: think, read, write.
  • Intro completed, section 1 is all about organising myself.  Pages and pages on what sort of notebook I should get and what I should write in it. Reality is I have one desk for my iMac, I have another desk with my Macbook, and I also carry a notebook, and have a selection here. I write down anything I need to remember if I do not have instant access to a screen, or if interviewing. End of.
  • Section 2 – starting to write. I read about acrostics and switch off. How to write from nothing? There is never, ever nothing to write about.

I’m sure there is great stuff in the teach yourself kit but 30 or so pages in, I am already bored, feeling that my time is better spent elsewhere. Maybe this is why I am not a creative writer, I’m a factual one, but I started my short story (regardless) by making an observation and writing two sentences on the notebook of my phone.

To be honest, writing is like painting/drawing. If you have to think too hard for inspiration, it is not the right time to get going. The ideas should flow fairly easily because the real hard work comes later, in the crafting of words or pictures. If you struggle at the get-go, then switch off, try something else. For now. Come back to it.

That said, there’s only so much poverty of inspiration any one can sensibly manage. If ‘writer’s block’ is a constant, I’d say try something else. Not everyone can write brilliantly (including me) but all can learn to write passably (this does require time and effort, but it does not require a long discussion about the colour or standard of your notebook. I have written on a supermarket till receipt before now).

Brilliant or passable, if there’s no joy in it, why bother? Do something you prefer.

Lesson Learned – Ellen Terry Autobiography

The more I talk to people, the more I uncover. It was wonderful yesterday to talk to my 91 year old mother-in-law about my Pamela Colman-smith researches and her links with the actress, Ellen Terry, only to find that she has a copy of Ellen Terry’s autobiography, signed.

In life, I find the more I talk to people, the more I uncover. A lesson.

Art? No, it’s play time…

My art isn’t great but it fulfils a need

I know artists, I know writers, I know academics. I know some very talented people.

Which makes me wonder why I seem to spend so much of my own time writing voluntary community articles, and playing with paint, but also why I have no desire to be ‘brilliant’. I have no desire to be a great artist, nor, peculiarly, do I really want to write a novel.

Playing is the crucial word. In Psychologies Magazine, March, 2017, I happened upon a short article by Vanessa King, about a book entitled Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul, by Stuart Brown.

King mentions her growing urge to make something or draw, not to reach an aim or because she has great skill, but just for the simple pleasure of doing it.

That is something many of us have lost. We want to be happy through play but often treat play as work.

Play is something children do. We all know that children can lose themselves in the moment, in a world of make-believe. King writes: “When we play, we feel freedom, power absorption and joy”. Remember that? As we grow older, play is suppressed, so teenagers rarely do it, and adults become responsible and dutiful, so they don’t play any more either.  Brown’s book tells us how to re-engage with play. We need to consider:

  • What we loved to do as a child
  • Where we played and with whom
  • How we felt
  • Then, think about how that play can translate into adult play

As a child, I loved to read. I would lose myself in the fantasy world of books in my room. I did play with other (usually younger) children (generally, I was bossing them around) but I derived most pleasure from reading, or writing ‘magazines’. There was nothing quite like lying on my bedroom floor, bits of paper everywhere, planning the next edition as if I was a magazine editor. Note the control of the situation, the home base, and the solitary nature of the play.

The joy came from getting something together, planning something which would be absolutely spot on, over which I had absolute jurisdiction. Another imaginary game I enjoyed was owning a department store and thinking what I’d fill it with, for everything had to be purposeful. Working life was never so satisfactory, having to work with the (sometimes half-baked) notions of others. One of my less solitary games was to create cut out dolls and wardrobes of clothes. I gave these to the girls in my primary school class because it made me temporarily popular, for I could do something they could not.

So, my play was pretty basic in terms of equipment. Obviously, we didn’t have the Play Station 3 then, or an iPhone!  I once decided to read the dictionary, starting at Aachen. A word a day. Sad? Maybe, but a deep desire to learn from whatever material was available.

I enjoyed ‘teaching’ younger children (what we didn’t know about volcanoes, by the time I’d finished, wasn’t worth knowing) making up rules, and directing activity, but also writing/compiling/disseminating. Actually, that is still pretty much what I really enjoy, for that is when work feels like play.

So, if the adult version is to give in to the play urge and enjoy similar satisfactions, what comes next?