Testimony – An Exhibition Of Haunted Art?

Bill Rich was haunted by terrifying demons. Some that manifested in his isolated home, as I detailed in my non-fiction book Testimony. And some that were firmly embedded in his psyche, as he always admitted.

All of it contributed to the art that he laboured over all his life, all of it, in some way, haunted.  In the book I wrote about the works he completed during the frightening events that swirled around him in his home, Heol Fanog, and which were influenced by the horrors there.  But Bill, who died two years ago, also left a body of work from the years before and after that troubled time.  One of his surreal paintings heads this piece.

Now his widow Liz is keen to stage an exhibition of Bill’s work.

She says, “Bill’s paintings have never been exhibited, which I feel is sad, as he was an unusually talented artist. During his life he dedicated his time to painting what he described as primitive surreal art. Most of his ideas came from dreams or interpretations of what was happening around him. Each painting holds immense emotion and visual stories.

“Bill’s dream would have been that his work could at last be appreciated and understood. I know he would have been overjoyed to see his art work reaching a wider audience.”

I’ve seen some of the art and it definitely deserves a public viewing.  I’m sure Liz would be keen to hear from anyone with gallery space or the wherewithal to make it happen.

If you can help, leave a comment here or send me a message through the contacts page.

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The Stories We Need To Tell Ourselves

There is a shiny red apple filled with poison and a crone with eyes like steel. There is a virginal girl as pure as snow, a sleep like death, and a kiss that wakes her into a new life of Happy Ever After.

This tale has survived from ancient times because it was always more than just entertainment. It was an instruction for living.

We’re moving into a new age now, one of unparalleled and accelerating technological change. Every aspect of our existence is being transformed. Hang around in the coffee shops and bars and you will catch murmurs of unease. Old friends are vanishing by the day. Familiar, comforting ways of doing things lost. Nowhere seems safe.

Never has there been a more important time for stories that instruct and guide and explain. A new narrative for a new age.

Read it all here, by me, on Medium.

A Guide To The Pubs Of Britain

I like pubs,and not just for the amber stuff.  Map out any history of writing in Britain and you’ll find pubs woven into the heart of it.  Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese in London has entertained the likes of Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, G K Chesterton, Samuel Johnson, Alfred Lord Tennyson and P G Wodehouse since the first iteration appeared on the site in 1538.  The Cheese is not alone.  Any pub tour of London is a tour of creativity.

Although writers have always looked for ways to bypass the conscious mind to get to the unconscious where all the creative heavy lifting is done – drink, drugs, shamanic drumming and dervish dancing – it’s not really about the booze.  It’s the space itself that’s important.

In the 1970s, Japanese architects turned away from the concept of a house as a machine for living.  Their new abstraction was that it could be a space of alternate reality, protected from the harshness of the outside world.  Kazuyo Sejima, for example, has designed living spaces that she sees as both introverted and extroverted, virtual and physical.

And this has always been the value of pubs to the creative.  They are liminal zones, dream-spaces, both a part of the world and set aside from it.  The unconscious adjacent to the conscious.  Stepping across the threshold, you accept a new set of liberating rules.  Hedonism is acceptable.  Quiet reflection.  Volubility, free of constraints.  A place of both solitude, where thoughts can arise and take form, and connection with other human beings from all walks of life, free of social rules.

The sensory aspects are important – the gloom, sometimes, or the points of light, the ale-smells and rumble of voices.  Drift in this circumscribed ritual space detached from the mundane world and the shackles reality imposes fall away.

There’s a reason why George Orwell felt driven to write a long essay about his imagined ideal pub, the Moon Under Water. Why Charles Dickens and Samuel Pepys before him hung out at The Grapes in Limehouse.  Why Dylan Thomas left his manuscript for Under Milk Wood in The French House in Soho and why Martin Amis, Ian McEwan and Julian Barnes all socialise in the Pillars of Hercules, also in Soho, where Dickens also used to drink.

I went to my first pub with friends from school when I was 16.  A pint of fizzy lager, a rite of passage, the feeling of transgression that all creators need.  Since then I’ve drank in pubs all over Britain, created stories, written novels, dreamed up TV shows and film scripts.  They’re vital places – not just for us creatives, but also for the communities they serve.  These days they’re under threat.  In the UK, twenty-nine pubs close every week, driven out of business by shockingly poor management by the industrial pub chains, and by social changes.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  The flagship Wandsworth Council has brought in new planning rules to protect important pubs.  All councils could do that if they were so minded.

But in the meantime we need to celebrate what we have.  I plan to write a regular guide here to the pubs that matter, to me, to us all.  Ones that have a weight of history and tradition, that are doing something different, haunted pubs, unique pubs, but most of all those Dionysian pagan temples to creativity.

Some of the early ones I’ll be writing about will be in London, but I’m always travelling so the aim is to cover pubs in all parts of the country.  If you have any ones you think are worth checking out, mention them in the comments and why you think they’re special.  I don’t need much arm twisting to have a pint in somewhere new.

The first entry in the Guide to British Pubs really has to be my local.  It’s the place where I wrote a big chunk of Pendragon (available now for pre-order, drinking buddies).  Watch for it here soon, and then others at an irregular pace in the weeks and months to come.  These will be the best of the best, ones worth visiting, somewhere you can conjure up your own stories.

Ideas And How To Get Them – A Hack

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Good ideas are a writer’s currency.  But they can be hard to come by in a torrent of deadlines and life stresses.  Here I’ll tell you a simple hack that will get them when you need them.

I say ‘writer’s currency’ but good ideas are key to anybody who makes a living out of what’s inside their head – that can be music, art, games design, running a business, science and tech development, and more.  These people are the future.

Why?  Because within five to ten years nearly 50% of jobs are going to disappear as a result of the widespread disruption caused by technological advances.  Most of those will be jobs where you turn up, get told what to do, and get paid.

The ones that will survive and thrive are the ones where ideation is at their core – the creation of new ideas, because, for the near-future, tech just isn’t very good at coming up with new ideas.  So if you want to future-proof your life, as much as possible, or the lives of your kids, start finding a way to put your ideas at the heart of your earning.  You’ll probably be significantly happier too.

As an aside, I wanted to share an observation from talking to TV producers and book editors.  When anyone has an idea for a new work, they think it’s great, unique, because it’s surfaced for the first time in their head, often in a roundabout fashion, and no one else could possibly have had it.  Then they get annoyed when outsiders aren’t impressed.  Some get very angry indeed, and start raging about ‘gatekeepers’, and a conspiracy to keep them out of the marketplace.  Don’t know why this conspiracy would ever exist.  It’s often not best to start delving into other people’s psychology.

The truth is, your idea is probably not unique, no matter how it *feels*.  It may not even be any good.

And usually, despite the no doubt excellent quality of the writing, it is nearly always about the idea.

The people who commission books and TV shows and films stand under a torrent of submitted works, sometimes hundreds a week, all of which are presumed to be unique by their creators.  They’ve probably seen your great, novel idea five times that week alone, because – simply – we’re all swimming in the same cultural ocean and we soak up the same influences that cause ideas to grow.

Here’s the thing.  If you’re ‘thinking’ about an idea, it’s probably not going to be unique.  That’s because any idea of any value comes from the unconscious mind, that dark, shadowy place at the back of your head that you’re never allowed into.  It filters, makes connections, shapes, develops, and produces something that is unique to you – the sum total of everything you are.

This is why you often have your best ideas when you’re in the shower, or exercising, or immersed in a film, when the conscious mind has slipped into low-level mode and the unconscious gets to shout just loud enough to be heard.

All the successful creative/business/scientific/techie people you see have found some way to access that fantastic store of ideas.  I have a few myself.

But here’s that one particular hack.  Before you go to sleep, perhaps for a few hours before, get your mind running on whatever you want to work on.  Set your alarm to wake you in your deep sleep cycle, say around four hours later.  You’ll have your solution, and probably four or five other workable ideas too, all bubbling up out of the unconscious stew.

Some you can quite happily toss out.  But others may well be life-changing.