Informed by ideas gathered in workshops with young people and children, Red: A Dystopian Fairy Tale is a spoken word piece about an imagined futuristic world ruled by a totalitarian regime known as Mother.
A world building workshop is available to book exploring Dystopian fiction. You can read more about workshops here.
I am sat reflecting on how many times I have talked about codes over the last year. Appealing to my inner child to write in that invisible ink that only shows up under UV light. Or writing letters backwards to create a secret language or drawing shapes to replace the alphabet.
This last year when I have designed workshops for children, I have looked at code breaking and code generating over and over again. At first I thought that this was something I was doing because it was easy to move it online. Teaching children over zoom is a challenge. I wanted an activity to hold their focus. Something that felt small and intimate as an act but would have their imaginations reeling at the possibilities. The more I thought about 8 year old me and 8 year old them, the more that I knew it was the right way to go. Some of them had already done it before. It did not matter. It was a chance to find a common tongue. If I write a secret message in numbers can you crack it? If I mix up the words in a sentence can you unscramble it? What code would you write in? And then we jumped to symbols and talked about hieroglyphics. And even though we are all sat in our homes, gazing into another screen, we find the thing that we couldn’t have in real life. We find an escape. Amongst the cats or dogs or snacks or piles of toys, paper, washing. The debris of our life surrounds us and yet we are somewhere else. Together. Writing codes and discovering a new way to communicate.
But this time fades, the world unfurls and unfolds. The toys go back in their box, the washing away in the draws, the paper into the recycling bin. We go out, back into reality and school and work. Grateful for the demand of onscreen time to drop, grateful for our children.
There was something powerful though. Something to be understood about the possibility of languages and communication. And I stared at the different codes explored and invented over the last year, I felt a pull back to something fundamental – Our human desire to communicate and understand.
So in a time when we are constantly and maybe desperately looking forward, let’s go back to when that great wave of migration sweeps through Europe. Let’s go back to wood and stone and ancient inscriptions carved into plates, jewellery and those giant rune stones. Portals to another place.
One of the earliest written text, Elder Futhark – a series of different symbols that represent something close to our own alphabet. These sharp and angular shapes, known also as Runes, are loaded with meaning. They represented Gods and Goddesses, elements and nature, daily life and the human condition. They could be read as an alphabet or they could be placed together to create some other meaning. They could be cast in a manner that would allow you to predict the future if in the hands of a Rune Reader or Sage. They were very open to interpretation.
They come with some gate keeping. For some, they are relics from history and for others they hold weight, magic and other worldly powers. Some see them as just strange marks. For me, an opportunity to play.
I have been playing with them for the last two weeks, exploring their shapes and their meaning. Layering them up and flipping them round. When reversed they have different meanings. At the same time I have been reflecting on my practice and pulling all my ideas together and there are some common connections betweens the Runes that I kept coming back to and the sketches and poems that are up on the studio wall.
The first was change. I can see that my work follows the shifts, some for the better and some for the worse. Some changes are linear, others are cyclical. The waxing and waning on the moon, the mushrooms emerging and disappearing, our bodies – heart beating, blood pumping, ageing towards dust. The chance to jump off or step furtively forwards. The changes we want and we don’t. The changes that confine and challenge us and the changes that open us up.
In the Runes, Dagaz represents breakthrough. An awakening and awareness. A transformation. There is certainty to it – hope and happiness, growth and release, day break, a balance point where two opposites meet. Working creatively gives us space to shift and change the way we see the world.
The next was Home with all of its complexities. That home will define us and to make healthy changes we need to feel that we belong somewhere. Our home could be bricks and mortar, twigs and feathers, the town where we live, or the country we come from. Our sense of home defines how we move forward.
The Rune that covers this for me was Othala. Its first meaning is ancestral home. Further inspection reveals a meaning of our fundamental values, our source of support and safety, what really matters to us. When I work creatively I want to feel safe. In workshops, the safer people feel, the more secure they are in the room, the more they will take those creative risks. Creativity can flourish if we feel safe, ideas can flow if we feel like we belong.
I saw in my writing and sketches the grasping for courage and in fact creating something in the first place is an act of courage. No lions may be encountered along the way, but who hasn’t heard the negative impostor voice telling you that the whole creative act is pointless and who really cares anyway? I certainly have. A quality I greatly admire in others is the courage to share the story in whatever form suits them.
In the Runes, Uruz represents strength and untamed potential. It can represent a time of great energy, health and freedom. It can mean tenacity and wisdom and the formulation of self. Watching rooms of all shapes and sizes, ages and stages over the last few years, I see that I am lucky to witness those acts of strength and bravery. As individuals change their attitudes from apologising to acceptance, as they take those creative steps into getting know themselves, the world unravels the messy knots we can tie ourselves in and reveals the threads of possibility.
So after a bit of play, I settled into this new discovery of myself and my values. I settled on a new logo.
The Othala and Dagaz combined to create a house where change is possible. The Uruz a small doorway, because everyone know it takes a little bit of courage to step through and build bridges to belonging.
Watching Peggy Seeger’s singing, I hear the voice of the many older women who I am lucky to have in my life. I have been running creative writing workshops for Davenham Theatre and through Stitch. It really strikes me that the majority of participants are women who are over the age of 55. These workshops are open to anyone to come and yet we see these women loyally attend. They are grateful and positive and tell me that they get so much from the sessions.
But here is something that I think these women would struggle to accept from me. They have amazing insight, they care so deeply about the world they inhabit and their stories are beautifully compelling. It is a gift to spend a couple of hours with these women and listen to their thoughts. I have this amazing tribe that are now my friends.
One of the challenges that many writers face is the fear that anyone will find their work interesting or relevant, it is certainly something I feel at times. However this feeling is rife in this community of women and I think when you listen to Peggy Seeger singing, you can understand why.
My own mum told me that as she has got older, her visibility has dropped. That people pass her by without even seeing her. During the Covid Pandemic, we have all been locked away from each other, unable to meet up in public spaces. Those shielding even more so. We have collectively lost sight of many who are not in our immediate circles. The Invisible turned into memory.
As we emerge from this lockdown and Britain reopens its doors, let’s make sure we have room for everyone at the table. If you are an older woman who is feeling invisible, please tell your story. We need the grandmother’s wisdom now more than ever. If you are not an older woman, pull up a seat and look at ways to ask and listen. Let their stories inspire your story. You’ll feel richer as a result.
I am walking through a hall. A large hall, with high ceilings, pillars and archways. Everything is made of glass. The hall is full of glass statues. Some are of people I don’t know. Most are of people I do. Some I know really well, like my two friends from drama school. They’re sat next to each other on a bench. They are wrapped up in hats and gloves and scarfs. They are holding a takeaway coffee cup in their hands. Their heads are thrown back in laughter. There is a gap in the middle where I should sit, if I was made of glass, but I keep moving around the room.
Amongst these glass figures are people I have worked with. There is the little boy, who told me all about his pet dog in the last workshop I ran in February. Max, the dog was called. I remember how the boy’s eyes had sparkled as he talked about looking after Max. The statue’s eyes seem to sparkle too.
In the middle of the hall, is my brother and his wife. They are stood next to each other. They look like they are watching something in the distance. Maybe it’s their own dog, Biscuit. I pat my brother on the shoulder. He’s cold. Freezing. My fingers burn from the cold. That’s when I realise they aren’t made of glass. They are made of ice.
I stare at the frozen figures around the hall and realise they have the glisten of frost. I see that they are my relationships that are frozen. The relationships that don’t develop because of the time that I don’t have, the spaces that we cannot share. I become Demeter, waiting for my daughter to return, in a long, hard winter.
Spring will come and with it vaccinations. Those relationships will bloom with the crocus and daffodils. By the time we start planting out our seedlings, we can maybe hold space for one and other. I will be there. Waiting amongst the spring blossoms.
The term collective curiosity has been swilling around my brain for the last week. I think as we are for the most part currently sat in our homes, it can be hard to connect with what other people are wondering about.
One of the things I love about running creative workshops is hearing that amongst the different views and voices and experiences that make up a room, we can normally find a sense of collective curiosity. Collective curiosity is the notion that we have shared ideas that we all wonder about. The power of this collective curiosity is not to be sniffed at. The room could have different opinions, unique takes and understanding, but the feeling that you are all explorers, learners, creators unites the room.
“Curiosity is the engine of Achievement.”
Sir Ken Robinson
I have been delivering online workshops for the past 6 months. Yes, there have been things that are not as easy. Yes, it has been difficult not connecting and being in the room altogether. As a lover of people, I have found this enormously hard. However, there is still the sanctuary of coming together, creating and engaging a shared curiosity.
So if you have been sat at the edge of the pool, looking at that refreshing water and wondering whether it is worth dipping your toe, dive in. The water is just the right temperature and lifeguards are on hand.
There are many artists and organisations offering ways to engage. I promise that it is worth coming and stretching those creative muscles and finding a collective curiosity.