A Pause….

February 4, 2010

The individual ladies of The Ladies Salon are fortunate to be engaged
in a variety of creative activities at present, and for the
foreseeable future. So it has been decided that The Ladies Salon will
be taking a sabbatical. The year of 2010 promises to be a very
productive one and the ladies look forward to keeping you informed of
their many exciting projects.

The Artists Studio: Day 7: Journeying & Collecting

February 3, 2010

The Postmistress observes that Jo is never happier, or more creative, than when she is journeying and collecting – people, objects, experiences – along her travels; and that by far her favourite studio is moving through the city of London.


February 1, 2010

The ladies would like to thank you for contacting us by email, text and telephone.  The postman has been rather busy of  late  which has meant that the ladies have not been able to respond to all of the mail arriving at their private residencies.

Thanks are due to Philip who said he has  enjoyed the quirkiness of the ladies’ various endeavours.

Thanks  also go to Elizabeth for her one worded  correspondence  ‘ What?!’  and  her coded illustration (which transformed into a bright smiling face)  😀

Thanks to all who said ‘Great’ , ‘ like it, ‘keep up the good work’ and ‘good stuff’.

Some readers have expressed a concern about Julie working in an office:

‘That’s not you!’

‘How are you going to manage?’

‘I’ll believe it when I see it!’

The Postmistress is happy to inform you that your concerns  that she may  soon be singing Dolly Parton’s, ‘Working nine to five’ are unfounded and that, as usual, Julie is often seen burning the midnight oil, wandering from room to room and over fields in order to find the most conducive place for each particular piece of writing.

Julie has also been kindly afforded the opportunity to use her office at any time of the day or night and so, it appears, that for those of you who thought it may inhibit her writing – your fears were unfounded. The postmistress can also report that her office is looking more homely by the day.  For those of you who feel the need to feast your eyes upon  evidence we have provided some thumbnail photographs and illustrations to show a few of the places Julie has been working this week.

Ness has been seen taking her constitutional walks with a certain canine friend and has continued to work diligently in her office in between  pressing engagements.  The postmistress is happy to report that her spies have just returned from observing Jo at work and you will soon, dear reader,  see evidence of her recent activities on this site.

Once again, thank you so much for your kind letters. Please do continue to contact us but please do  spare a thought for the poor postie as s/he sets off to each lady’s independent address.  The postmistress would like to urge you on the Ladies’ behalf  to address all future public correspondence to the comment boxes provided for this purpose on the postmistress site.

Kindest Felicitations

The Postmistress

The Artist’s Studio: Day 6: Writing

January 24, 2010

The Postmistress notes that the Ladies all depend on the use of telephone answering machines and/or the total absence of telephones from their various workspaces. Indeed it is well known that although Ness owns a mobile phone she never turns it on (except for the time before Christmas when the car broke down in Earlsdon and she turned it on only to realise that it wasn’t charged). This is key to her practice in that it allows her to concentrate on the task in hand – writing plays.

That is except for those times when Ness is visiting one of her favourite web sites e.g. West End Whingers http://westendwhingers.wordpress.com/

But then everyone needs some procrastination time don’t they? The Postmistress hopes that you all (3,605 of you as of today) remember to make space to procrastinate – why not procrastinate by posting a comment? Or indeed as Scarlet O’Hara said ‘After all, tomorrow is another day’.

The Artist’s Studio: Day 5: Research & Development

January 24, 2010

The Postmistress has observed  that all the Ladies spend a great deal of time doing what they call ‘R&D’. This seemingly involves a wide variety of activities and patterns of working. For Ness this process inevitably involves the purchase and reading of books (she rarely finds the books she needs in our public libraries) as if she needed an excuse.

It often requires the odd trip (recent research trips have taken her to Glasgow and Prague) to see places and meet people. She has been known to hide this fact from her nearest and dearest who is sometimes under the illusion that he is ‘going on holiday’.

Ness: ‘Oh, look that’s where he lived…’

Mark: ‘Is that why we’ve just walked right across town?!’.

Ness: ‘I’ll just take a photo for Davey and Suzanne’.

The Artist’s Studio: Day 4: Walking

January 24, 2010

The Postmistress has noted that walking plays an important role in the creative process of two of the Ladies.

Before Ness sits down at her desk each day she heads off with her dog for a breath of fresh air. She can usually be spotted tredding her desire lines out on Coundon Wedge – a spot close to her home/heart. If you would like to find out more about the Wedge visit http://www.acwcs.org.uk/ . Ness finds this ‘mulling’ time invaluable as it lets ideas settle and distill.  

Come rain or shine one particular mutt always makes sure that she gets her quota of regular thinking time.

The Artist’s Studio: Day 3: The Public and Private Life of an Artist

January 22, 2010

It has come to the attention of the postmistress that although Julie now has a space in which to be alone and to write,  she did not visit that space all day yesterday. Our spies have reported that instead of locking herself away in the office and focusing on her writing she visited Katrice Horsley (storyteller extraordinaire) at Long Lawford school and then, following a meeting all afternoon at Shustoke Church of England Primary school she spent the early evening on the telephone to Ashley Brown(digital artist and electronic musician) and in conversation with the sculptor Beatrice Hoffman before dashing to Warwick University to sing in the choir. Post choir conversations carried on until midnight in the bar before she made her way home where, having not eaten all day, she cooked a meal for everyone.

Even when home, the postmistress noted, Julie continued to talk until two o’clock in the morning with Charlotte, Ezra and Nat.   A generous flow of red wine and guinness encouraged a flow of animated conversation on the subjects of  mathematical concepts and varied tasty formulae; fluid dynamics; a quick reference to Chaos theory and the failures and gaps of Newtonian Physics.  The subjects of many dimensions of reality and psychic studies … extra-sensory perception… possibilities of knowledge before birth.. genetics.. consciousness… super-consciousness….danced their way into the night  and then, at last, to bed.

Following a reprimand from the postmistress for a day and evenings’ prevarication from the purpose of her writing Julie attempted to justify her day by explaining how days such as this enable the cross fertilisation of ideas, give succour to the spirit, are good for body (apart from the partaking of alcohol), mind and soul (or whatever term the reader feels appropriate to place in the position of ‘soul’ here).

In order to further justify her venture out of the quiet space of the writing room she petitioned the postmistress with the plea that this day had not been spent in mere prevarication but had proven productive to her writing in the following ways:

  • Watching Katrice in action is always an education and a pleasure. These storytelling skills have fed into some of her own work in the past – especially into the writing of longer narrative pieces for performance, verse drama and in using heightened language to enrich stories that are sometimes presented to her.  Katrice and Julie will be performing their joint version of ‘Pretty Maid Ibronka’ at the Festival at the Edge and at the West Country Festival this year.
  • The afternoon meeting at Shustoke school enabled her to exercise her project management skills. Julie spends a small proportion of her time enabling schools to develop their creative curriculum and in project managing the work of artists and creative practitioners in schools.  Although the time taken by this and the administration involved can eat into precious writing time she claims that her role as a Creative Agent for Cre8us (Creative Partnerships) has, like the many other project management and artistic advisory roles for other organisations and festivals in the past, enabled her to hone those skills of negotiation and collaboration that you need to fine tune when working in partnership with other artists on your own projects.  Julie often works in collaboration with musicians, composers, sculptors, fellow writers and visual artists. Her most recent collaborative project, ‘The Piano Room’ is with Steve Tromans (composer and pianist) and Vanessa Oakes (playwright and dramaturg)
  • Telephone conversations with other artists on one particular subject often lead off into other fertile areas.  Her telephone conversations yesterday led her into the lands of audio tours, digital comic stories, soundscapes, the theatre of the Greeks, African masks, moulding 3D heads from clay, myths of  the Malawi, tribal dances of Africa, identity, symbols of self, emotion,  the stars, music, myths of the stars…   a melting pot of ideas.  From these conversations connections were made and new and exciting ways of approaching and of writing about these subjects came to light.
  • ‘How can singing be a waste of time for a writer?’ Julie asked.  She then went on to enthuse about the ways in which singing manages to massage the body from the inside, to take you on an emotional rollercoaster ride,  to lift the spirits. When you sing in a chorus you are one of the tribe – singing back songs to the universe. A writer spends so much time alone and so it is good to do things that reconnect you with people – that make you feel part of a community you can often feel so distanced from as you sit behind your writer’s window – looking out at and observing the world.  Her justification of this particular activity went into much more detail on the nature of poetry: rhythm, rhyme, pace, pitch, resonance, the therapeutic power of the sounding of words, the emotional landscape of this particular form of literature.  ‘Poetry, in its purest form,  is perhaps,’ Julie mused, ‘closer to music and to maths than it is to other forms of literature’.  The postmistress is not able to include the whole argument here but Julie’s  justification for singing was a detailed and determined one.
  • Post-Chorus  conversations were deemed to be of significant interest to a writer too. Julie explained that, by chance, she had been sitting by a lady in the bar who had only joined the chorus that evening. As the conversation developed it transpired that this lady was the illustrator and storyteller/writer, Eleanor Allitt.   www.eleanorallitt.com

Julie explained how they had discussed many things to do with writing, the life of a writer  –  and indeed, they had discussed the topic of an artist needing space to create.  Eleanor felt that it was important for artists to have time and space on their own. Guilt? Why should an artists feel guilty for needing time and space that is essential to the production of their work?

As well as talking about lives as artist/writers, Julie and Eleanor also discovered that they were both working on something in common and this was of particular interest to them.  Julie has been researching Creation Myths with a view to  writing a new collection that will included poetry and/or heightened language.  Eleanor is currently working on the creation story of Gilgamesh (a creation tale of  Sumerian origin).  Julie told the postmistress that this was something they had both had in common and that this also  reminded her of a version of Gilgamesh, written by Derrek Hines and directed by her friend, Claudette Bryanston . This version was published by Chatto and Windus and staged by Classworks Theatre a few years ago  – Julie suggested these two ladies may like to get in touch with one another.

The postmistress could not possibly summarise the subject matter of the late night discussion and how Julie presented her case in this respect.  Suffice it to say,  she felt it a most worthwhile part of her day and, indeed, felt that this particular activity merited no justification whatsoever  –  as the food of life is the love and the company of family and friends.

Sometimes artists feel they ‘Vont’, as Garbo said in the lines of Grand Hotel, ‘to be alone’.  Art needs space in which to grow. And yet, Garbo herself said that she had never said this herself in relation to her own life – only that she wanted to be let alone. There is a great difference between the two. The postmistress has to report that she felt there was some truth in this statement. Don’t artists need to be part of the world – to watch and to wander in it? Yes, there is a need to build in distance too. There is a need to take time and space away from the madding throng.  To be alone is not the same as being lonely.  An artist can have – and some art forms may particularly need the artist to have  – a sociable side too.  Perhaps it is a matter of choice – a matter of balance.  The postmistress has observed that artists need to be able to choose for themselves when to be and when not to be fully in the business or busy mess of the world and when to take time to retreat from it.   This is a luxury not always and often afforded to many artists.  For most artists, everyday, there is a circus tent of juggling to do.

The Artist’s Studio: Day 2: A Clear Space to Write

January 20, 2010

The telephone is unplugged from the wall and tucked away inside the desk  drawer.

Anna, very kindly, connects the computer.

Julie brainstorms ideas. This process spotlights the need for a little spring cleaning of her mind – but amongst all the clutter she finds  many creative connections.

Salient ideas are given space to breathe

‘How to….’

‘How to…’

‘How to…’

and then the final list of things ‘To Do’

Action plans are typed.

Calendar is updated.

Emails relating to major projects are written.

Anna makes Julie a coffee, Mike pops in to say hello and Val checks she has everything she needs.  So much work has been done in so little time.  Moving from home to go out to work in an office is proving to be productive. The people in the building are lovely, the space is shut off and quiet – soon, Julie hopes, when all the admin and planning is sorted, writing this year’s new work will begin.

Soon Julie will be heading off to the ‘Piano Room’ to fine tune the final version of this piece with the composer Steve Tromans and with Ness (who is working as dramaturg on this project).  Soon she will be meeting with Michael Lyons to plan their journey, through sculpture and through poetry, to the stars.  Before the concert at Symphony Hall later this year she must write her own work in response to the love story of Tristan and Isolde.

The ladies noted that during an Open Salon conversation at Compton Verney Julie had said how selfish you can feel, even when you work full time as a writer, to take  that time out in order to write. The ladies and their guest at that time were quick to remind her that this is not selfishness but determination, passion and resolve.  Why do so many writers and other artists apologise or feel guilty when distancing themselves in order to create?

Answers in the comments box please!

The Artist’s Studio: Day 1: A view of the office

January 20, 2010

The postmistress has observed that no matter where they are in the world writers need a sanctuary in which to write.  Artists have needed ‘A Room of one’s Own’  long before the days of Virginia Woolf.  Some are lucky enough to have studios annexed to their homes or in places not too far from home.   The postmistress has been told how  many of today’s writers work in converted attics, sheds, goatsheds  and summerhouses.

Thanks to the kindness of sponsors, supporters and friends artists are sometimes offered a space in which they can work. Clare Morrall wrote ‘Astonishing Splashes of Colour’ in the upstairs room of a house in Edgbaston – a place offered to her by a friend –  a place of retreat to; a place to write.

After Christmas, Julie mentioned to a friend in an internet conversation that in the dog days after Christmas she was finding it difficult to cut herself off from the many distractions of home. Each New Year she resolves to find a space to write – a place close to home but far enough  from where she lives to be a world away.

When Lucy emailed back to say there was a space available in her building at the moment and that Julie would be welcome there  –  all excuses went out of the window.  2010, it seems, is  the year for Julie to follow through on her resolutions.

Individuals work differently and the posmistress has observed that different writers need different kinds of spaces to write particular styles of work at different times.  The postmistress, Ness and Jo have

observed that when Julie writes  she goes through different stages:

the wandering -wondering- hunting and gathering stage done kinaesthetically, paripatetically and sometimes, but more seldom, in front of a computer in a strange search engine wonderland.

The reclining on a bed stage  – making notes in a moleskin notebook… digging deeper and deeper..

The dreaming or meditative stage –  ideas arrive beneath the quilt of dreaming and half dreaming.

Then, the curling on a sofa stage where connections are made and work is honed, refined, accepted and rejected and then, when the poem is almost there, she takes it to the bath… relaxing in the water as the final stage of the birthing process begins.

The next stage marks a return to the computer – this time not for research  but in order to edit the work carefully.

The mulling and reflection stage comes next… staring out of the window perhaps or doing other things in order to build distance from the work.

Finally, often after some time, she  reads her work again and tries to see the  good and bad points, to look upon her work as a stranger would.

Can there be  more stages? Well, yes it seems the next stage is saying lines out loud… sensing words as they make their way out into the world. This often highlights small changes that need to be made to the finished piece.  ‘The voice is an instrument of truth’ – if the piece isn’t correct, if it doesn’t feel authentic then the throat constricts as you speak. The final test is to see if the words resonate.

Finally the piece is performed by Julie and escorted into the world before growing like a child into an independent being who goes out on their own and forgets to phone home.  The words in the books or on CDs have to make it on their own.

As you can see from the photographs there is a world to watch from the window, a quite space to research, to sit and think and – in the library room attached to Julie’s office – a sofa for those days when the body needs to be relaxed in order for thoughts to flow and dreams to weave in and out…

Research studies prove that many people’s reading and writing skills are enhanced when they can relax with their feet up – and yet how many schools and work places provide this?

Do you have favourite places where you like to write? Where do you get your best ideas? Have you analysed the stages of your own creative process?

The Artist’s Studio: Day 1

January 20, 2010

A day at the Office

New Years often begin with resolutions of new beginnings.  Those of you who followed the Ladies travels last year will be aware of how often the theme of the ‘Artist’s Studio’ came up.  Studio spaces were discussed on retreat in Spain where the studios for visual artists were excellent but writers,sadly, were not afforded designated spaces in which to work.

The Ladies, ever ready to adapt, created their own working spaces indoors and out. The communal room housed the only computer and so this space was seldom without distraction and rarely used for the purposes of writing.  Thanks to wonderful weather and the secret gardens  surrounding the house the ladies were able to adapt the sunken bar area into an outdoor writers studio and to set up studios in other outdoor spaces.  In the heat of the sun Vanessa and Julie would stretch themselves out on their beds in order to read and to write or would take refuge in the cafes of El Bruc and the monastary of Montserrat.  Jo went out on adventures in the hills and in the city of Barcelona and then came back to a wonderful studio space (with printing press).

The ladies often discussed the needs of the artist and the role of the artist’s studio while they were away on retreat.  They were privileged to meet many different artists from around the world and each of them had an opinion on this subject.  Upon returning to the UK they ran Open Salon events at Compton Verney linked to ‘The Artist’s Studio’ exhibition and so it was no surprise when this topic featured in so many of the Open Salon conversations. Finding a place to work seems to be something that many artists are struggling with.

Ness has a writing studio in her home and Jo has her own studio too but Julie had always tried to work amid the distractions of home. Sometimes the postmistress has observed her working on location for particular projects and – when the opportunity arose – she has secreted herself away on a number of retreats.  Thanks to the Arvon Foundation and to Hawthornden Castle and also to many self catering holiday cottages she has managed to tuck herself away at times in order to focus on particular bodies of work and commissions  – but usually she writes at home.  Trying to resist the call of the vacuum cleaner, duster and kitchen sink;  the background hum of family conversations; phone calls from real people and from robotic sale call voices and the taxi call for lifts. .. she has, as many people do… juggled a myriad of things in order to find the space and time to write.

Ness and Jo will give you a glimpse into the designated spaces where they work later on. For now we are going to follow Julie’s journey as she finally finds an office.  The Ladies would love to hear your opinions on the places you retire to in order to work  – be it a gypsy caravan, a narrowboat, a studio, an air raid shelter or a shed. Please do visit us and please do leave your calling card in the comment boxes.  If you have the time to write to us we would love to hear your stories.