Friday 20 May 2011

Every Picture Tells a Story

Everything comes together.

In the last year the writing has been  going well but I tend to take on too much and have got into the PAINTING 001dangerous habit of catching up with my own shadow and forgetting how to relax.

Then I read a book* about the Haida Mythtellers of North America, which has made me think a lot about the ultimate  storytellers whom he compares with composers and artists rather than poets. He contemplates Valazquez’s painting Kitchen Maid With the Supper at Emmaus.

Bathhurst says, ‘Even for non-Christians (I am one) the young Valazquez’s painting opens a door; it confirms what every mythteller, physicist, biologist and hunter gatherer knows: that man is not the measure of all things.

In my workshops I often compare the writing of a novel with the process of painting a picture  – conceiving the idea, choosing your media, blocking in a large canvas, telling the story, trusting the hand and eye and the paint/pen, looking and looking until you think you’ve got it right…

In this month’s Writing Game I talk about this book and how stories emerge and are handed down through generations. How families and communities reflect the permanence of their identity with their myths. I also read an extract from The Romancer (see sidebar – one definition of Romancer is ‘mythteller’) about how stories have been handed down in my family and are integral to my novels which are – in the end -  ‘pure fiction’.

All this made me reflect on just how long it’s been since I painted. So I got out my paints and thought about the joy I had walking last week in the spring woodland among the bluebells.

Trees in sunlight

And I set up on the big desk by the window, turned on Radio 4 Listen Again to the Desert Island Disc interview with consummate novelist Howard Jacobson, and began to paint. Then something else. Then music.

Three hours went by in a flash, and when I emerged with the half-finished picture I knew I had been relaxing, not working. I felt refreshed, stimulated. endorsed.

So now I’ve been rehearsing saying ‘No!’ to people and have put painting on my permanent ‘to do’ list.

For me relaxation means emotional survival.


* Recommended to me by Kathleen Jones – A Story as Sharp as a Knife  by Robert Bringhurst

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