Thursday, December 3, 2015

Learning the genius of tasting a place

The Soul of Place : A Creative Writing Workbook: Ideas and Exercises for Conjuring the Genius Loci
Linda Lappin
June 22, 2015
9781609521035, 160952103X
Publisher: Travelers’ Tales/Solas House
$16.95 USD, $20.99 CAD, £11.99 GBP, €12.99 EUR
256 pages

Visiting a place and posting a pic online is one of the first orders of travel.  The next is writing a blog and the more adventurous write travel books.  How many of us actually capture what is called the genius loci, the soul of the place?
The Soul of Place - A Creative Writing Workbook: Ideas and Exercises for Conjuring the Genius Loci is the long title of Linda Lapin’s book.
Essentially, it is a guidebook designed for writers and other creatives as to how to go about capturing the power of a place.  How do you capture the spirit of your hometown or a destination?
That she has boiled down the essence of this challenge, and how to fix it, into 256 pages is remarkable.  Material gathered over many years’ of research into “place consciousness” is used as the basis for the work based on observation and writing exercises.
Lappin asks: If the soul of place had a voice, how would it sound, what stories would it tell? 
She notes how D.H. Lawrence remarked that a view of a place was not only beautiful but it also had meaning.  One of the themes of Lawrence’s fiction was the sacred link between identity and place and the devastation that follows when that link is broken, contaminated or exploited for economic gain.
“Are there places that give you a sense of wholeness and empowerment, or where you feel really you?  Others where you feel depleted, sad, or anonymous?” Lappin asks as part of one of the exercises. 
This is an ambitious book – taking in everything from food writing to writing and the unconscious.  It is also practical, as illustrated in the section headed “A final thought about your writing space”. 
I have been trying to make lemon marmalade, a seemingly simple task but one with hidden nuances that only come known through practice.  The recipe is fine but the art is in the practice.
Anybody reading The Soul of Place in search of a simple recipe for recreating a place will by tested.  The challenge is to be more sensitive. 
Lappin opens the way for writers and other creatives trying to find their way in.  This does require more than merely flicking a switch and boiling up the ingredients.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Creativity as Sacrifice - a vision for artistic life

Creativity as Sacrifice: Toward a Theological Model for Creativity in the Arts by James M. Watkins
January 1, 2015
9781451472189, 1451472188
$59.00 USD, $66.00 CAD, £38.99, €47.99
Fortress Press
Series: Emerging Scholars
208 pages

I have recently purchased a hard copy of the newly published book of the correspondence of Vincent van Gogh.  The purchase was. you will understand, purely as a birthday present to myself.  The book offers readers a “highly accessible book [that] includes a broad selection of 265 letters, from a total of 820 in existence that focus on van Gogh’s relentless quest to find his destiny, a search that led him to become an artist …”  (Ever Yours: The Essential Letters by Vincent van Gogh, edited by Leo Jansen, Hans Luijten and Nienke Bakker. Yale, 777 pp, £30.00, December 2014, ISBN 978 0 300 20947 1)

An article in the London Review of Books stimulated my interest in the van Gogh book.  The review talked about how van Gogh’s paintings have been able to maintain their startling presence when we see them today as when we first saw them.  The paintings retained their creative force even as our view of works by painters of around the same era may have become more refined.  Van Gogh may have reacted against the strictures of the Dutch Reformed Church in his youth but chose its opposite, evangelism, rather than atheism.  As the reviewer suggested: That he eventually became an evangelist for colour is our gain.

The discussion around van Gogh was, for me, at the pointy end of what is important and interesting about Creativity as Sacrifice: Toward a Theological Model for Creativity in the Arts by James M. Watkins.  Watkins teaches humane letters and Bible at Veritas School in Richmond, Virginia in the United States. He also holds an MCS in Christianity and the arts from Regent College and a BA in studio art from Wheaton College. This volume is based on a thesis completed at St. Mary's College, University of St. Andrews under the supervision of David Brown.

Watkins remarks how “creativity” is usually viewed as being an expression of one’s individuality but is often “an exciting discovery” of one’s relations at all levels.  He also notes how it is surprising how few theologians have seriously engaged with the topic of creativity.

“Creativity as Sacrifice seeks to fill this [unfilled space] by developing a theological model for human creativity in the arts.”  He notes how the study of human creativity is a “remarkably interdisciplinary affair.  Christian theology should have a place at this table…”  The focus is primarily on developing a theological model for human creativity “in the arts” without ignoring the role human creativity in general plays.  As such, he focuses on the “plastic arts” such as painting and sculpture, without entirely ignoring other art forms.

A model is described as a systematic metaphor that “mediates” some area of our experience by organising and valuing it.  A theological model draws on resources of a Christian theology and can make a unique contribution.

Watkins suggests that a theological model for human creativity is “like an invitation to join in the creative vision God has for the world, and to embody this vision in one’s own creative work.”  It is an ambitious goal in a world where it seems everything, even creativity, is dominated by algorithms.  The goal of human creativity, he says, is not simply the transformation of the world to suit our own preferences but should also include “a dimension of respect for our materials, traditions and communities”. 

However, he suggests that a theological model “is like a two-way street because it speaks about both God and the world” in that such models bi-directional.

Watkins asks the reader to think about God as one who engages in the creative process.  As a result, he suggests that the Christian life is essentially creative.  At the same time, he notes how theological metaphors exist in sayings such as “God is my rock” or “The Lord is my shepherd”.

A theological model for human creativity in the arts, he argues, is like a vision that God invites the artist to embody so that “it shapes the way the artist thinks about and engages in artistic creativity.”  Far from being a solitary artistic genius, as we might view van Gogh, “one who patterns his creative work after the redemptive love of God in the incarnation may find one’s self involved in a risk and vulnerable endeavour.”

On the other hand, a creative church will be “a church open to the possibility of mistakes and failures as it humbly seeks to add value to this world” by bringing forward and making real love and justice.  Watkins concludes that his theological model proposes that human creativity is a “respectful discovery of God’s gracious gift of creation” as well as “an imaginative transformation of that same gift”.

I encourage writers to “breathe deeply” to bring them closer to an understanding of what they are trying to say, or the truth of their stories.  Watkins’ thought-provoking and reflective book may be the work of a theology academic, but it reaches into the heart and soul of our deepest creative processes. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Three new books offer distinctive New Zealand narrative on universal topics

Independent publisher BMS Books Ltd is pleased to offer three distinctive New Zealand books of interest to teachers, children and parents. 

Although from different genres, each book provides readers with a telling and heart-felt narrative on universal topics that could only be from this country, says publisher and director Michael Smith. 

“Under the current internationalisation of our publishing industry, it is unlikely that any of these books would have been made available to readers.  Each of the books is important in its own right and, combined, they provide important insights into our country, its people and its culture.”

Oku Moe Moea - The dream which is bigger than I am is a novel written by Shona Hammond Boys, the founder and director of the New Zealand Children’s Art Houses Foundation, is based in the small town of Opotiki.  The story focuses on Victory, a boy growing up in a beautiful location, surrounded by generations of his people.  Victory must, however, deal with personal, family and community anguish in the face of change.  In doing so, he finds his way to a future through art.  This book is suitable for young readers but will hold the attention of and provide greater understanding for adults on the challenges facing creative youngsters today.

Leaving for the Front is a children’s book by Michelle O’Connell, a Masterton author and illustrator.  When Michelle jointed the march to commemorate soldiers who went off to fight on World War I, she was moved by how the event had a profound influence on her and her son.  Through the eyes of her son, Christopher, she has written and illustrated a story that has captured the flavours of the times, the mixed emotions of these families left behind, and a child’s perspective on a world event.  This picture book has been classified as being suitable for children with an interest level of 6-13, and that it would also be suitable for pre-school and primary.

Featherson author Mike Ledingham’s Always a Grunt is a sequel to his popular first book Once a Grunt.  Like the first book, Always a Grunt is packed with short stories based around the author’s time as an SAS and NZ infantry soldier and the difficulties of integrating back into civilian life. The new book includes two stories delving deeper into sensitive areas of emotional turmoil, marking a new stage in this writer’s career.

The books have been published by BMS Books Limited, an independent publishing company and an imprint of the publishing services company Business Media Services Limited.  Should you have any queries about the books or the authors, please feel free to contact me.

Michael R. Smith
Publisher and Director

Monday, March 2, 2015

Timely and thought provoking novel highlights current publishing concerns

The Last Bookaneer: A Novel
Matthew Pearl
Penguin Press, New York, 2015
28 April, 2015
9781594204920, 1594204926
400 pages

The current debate on issues surrounding publishing, social media and global trade make The Last Bookaneer: A Novel timely and thought provoking.

Although a participant in social media – Facebook, Twitter etc – I have for some time wondered about the impact this free flow of information is having on the concept of copyright.

It seems to me that social media, undermines what I believe to be the key element of copyright – the ownership of ideas.  At the same time, global trade agreements currently being formulated in secret are changing the way rights to the ownership of ideas are governed.

Matthew Pearl has used an intriguing story set in the late 19th Century and based around author Robert Louis Stevenson to examine the fundamental nature of the meaning of the ownership of ideas and the conflict with trade.

The bookaneers are said to have traded in literary works of all kinds – from the latest manuscript stolen from printers to filched covers and maps.  Through the novel, it emerges that bookaneers have their origins in the first American laws to govern copyright, said to have been “passed in 1790 by high-minded and arrogant legislators (the usual politicians, in other words), which caused other countries to retaliate by withdrawing protection for American works.”

This opened the doors to “various kinds of pirates and black markets” in spite of publishers’ best efforts to shut the doors.  As noted by one of the protagonists, “…you will find in life that greed for profits is too strong for even good men to resist.”

The artistry of this book is how it reads as though written in the Stevenson era.  The competing bookaneers’ global search for Stevenson’s final manuscript takes them to Tahiti, where their thirst for glory turns dark and deadly.  The language of the colonial era underscores what would today be seen as the jarringly inappropriate descriptions of the people encountered in the Pacific. 

Text books will be written in future about the changes to copyright and the book trade in the current era.  It is to be hoped an ingenious writer such as Pearl is also able to tell the story.  He has delved into the minds of the creative and the grasping in an inventive and thoughtful manner.