THE DARK SIDE

‘I pass, like night, from land to land; I have strange power of speech’ – illustration to The Ancient Mariner by Gustave Doré.

 Like one, that on a lonesome road/Doth walk in fear and dread,/And having once turned round walks on,/And turns no more his head;/Because he knows, a frightful fiend/Doth close behind him tread – Coleridge.

I’ve always been afraid of the dark. As a child I’d creep across the landing with my back to the wall so I could fight off ghosts. In the bathroom I was menaced by mini-devils who jumped out of sight whichever way I turned. I remember lying awake listening to The Quatermass Experiment on TV. I was four at the time and I’d glimpsed the shots of the crashed spaceship before being sent to bed. Imagining the story and hearing weird music rising from below was almost worse than seeing the programme itself. Continue reading THE DARK SIDE

FOR THE LOSERS

William Holman Hunt: The Scapegoat, 1854.
William Holman Hunt: The Scapegoat, 1854.

Accepting failure makes success of life – Alan Ginsberg.

For many boys, sport is vitally important. For them it’s a great outlet and a laugh. It’s also a measure of strength and skill and daring and timing. So the top tennis players use a complex mental map of where a ball might go and make split-second adjustments for spin, speed and bounce. Based on experience, the player’s coordination between barely-conscious calculation and muscle-reaction is a wonderful dance. And watching or playing sport can be a knife-edge experience where a hair’s breadth separates success and failure.

I went to boys’ schools where status depended very much on how good or bad you were on the field. It was great for some, but I couldn’t run fast or change direction at will. If a ball was in the air I’d drop it, if it was on the ground I’d trip over it and when the team advanced I was the figure lurking at the back trying to avoid contact. So I belonged to the losers. Continue reading FOR THE LOSERS

NEIL BEARDMORE – THE FULL PLAYWRIGHT’S VISION

Neil Beardmore

Neil Beardmore is a multi-talented dramatist, poet, musician, photographer and artist. He is a winner of The Sussex Playwrights Prize, the Richard Burton Poetry Prize and his play, Pristine in Blue, recently ran at the Milton Keynes Festival. Neil works with two drama companies, Pepper’s Ghost and The Play’s The Thing and helps run a play reading service with BBC director Rosemary Hill. I asked him about the sources of his creativity.

Leslie: Who are your creative influences and why?

Neil: All my creative work flows from one event: when I was four I discovered my great aunt’s piano. I just had to play. My parents bought me a little toy one from Woolworths to see if I was serious. I persevered, so they bought me an upright that cost £4 from a family migrating to Australia. In my teens I ended up sharing a classical piano teacher with BAFTA winning actress Cheryl Campbell who was in my class at school. I think I must have thought I could play without much practice until one day Miss J said gently: “Neil, rather than do two hours on a Sunday the day before you see me, try doing just ten minutes a day.” How did she know, I puzzled.  Now I see how right she was.  However, it was the devil’s music that really got to me. Continue reading NEIL BEARDMORE – THE FULL PLAYWRIGHT’S VISION

MY SECRET LIFE

The ego endeavours in all kinds of ways to defend itself against the objective unpleasure and dangers which menace it – Anna Freud.

Personal Fable by imzoeniloveyou

My childhood was characterised by solitary play. At an early stage, I crouched by the house with a stick and scraped out the mortar between bricks. Using my thumbs, I filled the holes with a sand-and-water paste. It was my idea of a physical experiment. I’d understood the need for secrecy so I did it on the quiet, when my parents weren’t looking. Later I imagined tunnelling out from my bedroom to explore the street as an undercover agent. Continue reading MY SECRET LIFE

HEARING VOICES

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Artist Sheelagh Frew Crane

I first met painter and sculptor Sheelagh Frew Crane at the LP Café in Watford where she was playing a ‘voices-off’ part in a modernist play. When we talked later I realised that the idea of people hearing invisible voices was central to Sheelagh’s own artistic concerns.

When I asked her about the first signs of hearing voices in life, she described an incident that happened to someone she knew who had been leaving a room when a voice spoke, “Don’t go through that door.” The big shock for that person, Sheelagh said, was the real and absolutely external nature of the voice with no one else in the room. What usually followed, Sheelagh said, was a struggle against a rising tide of voices, often becoming menacing, then a ‘diagnosis’ followed by a long period of heavy medication, until finally the person came to accept the voices as a dialogue, establishing a working relationship.

Leslie: How did this subject for your art begin? Continue reading HEARING VOICES

A MUSICIAN’S TALE

Minnie Birch
Minnie playing at Berkhamsted Live

Minnie Birch is a highly original folk-indie singer who writes her own material and has appeared three times with Joan Armatrading.  I began my interview with Minnie by asking where her unusual stage name came from. She explained, “Minnie is my aunt’s middle name and Birch is my grandma’s maiden name.”

Leslie: You’ve recorded two albums Settled and Floundering. What’s the story behind these two titles?

Minnie: Settled is one of my favourite words. In one way it conjures up this idea of being at peace and secure, and on the other hand it has these connotations of giving up, settling for second best or ‘settling the score’. The title track from this EP is all about how an unconventional love can still be ‘settled’. At the time I was surrounded by people who were ‘settled’ and it seemed like my love wasn’t… and yet it was. It’s a song about how the magic bits of early love fade away but you still want to be with that person. That’s my idea of ‘settling’. Floundering is, to me, the exact opposite of being settled. Continue reading A MUSICIAN’S TALE

THE WAY OF IMAGINATION

All of us have a primitive prompter or commentator within, who from earliest years has been advising us, telling us what the real world is – Saul Bellow.

Picture a room with a boy in bed. The room is small and, though it has a child’s wallpaper with rockets and stars and a chest full of toys, it feels quite empty. Bare and untouched, as if it was a cell. It’s summer and the glow from the street spreads across the walls. The light is soft and grey, filtered through curtains. Outside, the boys are playing football, shouting; inside, the boy is talking to himself. He’s imitating voices – cartoon characters and the woman next door. He speaks with an accent, all la-di-dah. Next he tries cockney. When he imitates children his voice goes squeaky and when he mimics adults he talks into his boots. His impressions are funny.

On the landing, listening by the door, are his parents. They’re keeping quiet, enjoying the show. He doesn’t know they’re there. Continue reading THE WAY OF IMAGINATION

IT’S THE JOURNEY THAT COUNTS

‘Without contraries is no progression’ – William Blake.

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The Traveller hasteth in the Evening by William Blake
My childhood was full of journeys. Some of them were moves and some were visits. It meant that I travelled a lot for a child in the 1950s.

The first big trip was the annual Christmas drive from London to the NE. It took twelve hours through hail and snow with my dad white-knuckling the car around corners like Ahab in a storm. I sat in the back being good. At the end of that drive there was Christmas with family and lights and parties where everyone loved me. It was the kind of journey into darkness where the battle against the elements had a bright-and-shiny ending. Continue reading IT’S THE JOURNEY THAT COUNTS

Author and Poet