Bad Seed

A new painting in progress. And while I juggle with a few writing projects, Nick (of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds notoriety) is giving me a bit of much needed meditation…

I’m going to try and leave this one partially undone, as it’s not a commission and I can just please myself (much like the one behind… being painted on an old internal door, my new favourite surface). 

Artwise I’d already made the decision to just paint for myself, as the fiction writing will invariably have to be tampered with by others, and that’s fine, I’m happy with that. It’s something that requires me to be at the mercy of outside forces. Beta readers, editors, publishers. The market. And I’m prepared for that, but only because I still have something that nobody can touch and I don’t have to care if anybody else likes it, or ‘gets’ it. No artist ‘statement’ required… Not for this kid 


So what is it that makes someone who writes paint?

Or someone who paints, make music? Or someone who makes film, write poetry? Or, for that matter, someone who designs buildings also write, compose, paint and take artistic photographs? Pretty obvious really, I suppose. For doesn’t it all come from the same source. Inspiration. That orgasmic, organic drive to create. It’s just, in some people, it works it’s way through to the solid world along many different channels.

And it takes a little navigating through the ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ way of thinking. Which can be true, but not always. Definitely not always. It’s maybe just a case of things taking a lot longer to establish when you’re one of those creatives, like me, who just can’t be tied down to a life of servitude to only one face of the muse. But if you’re trying to establish an income – trying to turn your creative endeavours into cash – it usually pays to stick to one area and carve your niche there. That’s life made a little easier. And, indeed, that sort of challenge can be very exciting. Putting your creativity into your strategic planning. Your brand. etc. etc.

I’ve thought about that. I’ve conversed with my business self many times and that part of me makes perfect, logical sense. (I have a very entrepreneurial spirit, after all). But, I get tired of logic, don’t you? And also the corporate-speak that is creeping into every facet of our lives, even creativity. (I shook my head in disbelief when I recently came across a corporate buzz-word ‘Kaizen’ used in an artistic setting. Homogenization horror!)

For deep down, and I mean really deep down – there is an urgency to create freely, no matter what. No matter if I’m not able to be successful. For that’s the thing. How do you judge your success. How do you measure it? For me, that’s easy. I judge my success by my own standards. I have my own agenda. My own philosophy. I’m happy to do what FEELS right. If that’s creating a short film – great. If that’s painting a series of large panels – great. If that’s writing story into play, or novel, or short story format- then so be it. If that’s exiling myself to a cave to express in reams of poetry… why not? It might not work for some, but for others, this sort of practice can cross germinate. One project or expression can inject a growth spurt into another. Or allow it time to evolve over a long period of time, while you turn your eyes away and rest them on another medium. It can keep you energised and moving. A creative fire, alive and burning rather than a growing heap of dust.

It can also keep you poor. For a potentially long time. Depends if you have that lucky touch of being in the right place at the right time. I’m not counting on luck though. I’ve tried the lottery a few times. Nothing doing. So I’m in for the long haul. I’m making a friend of time. A key component in all this, I have to admit.

So, that’s me! But how about you? Do you create ‘across the board’ or do you focus on one thing? Is there something you’d love to try in another art form other than the one you work in?

Characters in conflict

Conflict. It’s around us every single day in one form or another. Maybe it doesn’t seem that way, but scratch away at the shiniest of lives and beneath the veneer there’s sure to be conflict. Can’t do without it. It’s the stuff of life. Of interesting lives lived.

Of course, people don’t necessarily like or invite conflict. Would you? No? Me neither. In fact I’d say I’m severely allergic to it – probably based on too much early exposure… A theme touched on in my current manuscript. But it’s conflict that changes us. Moves us forward. Forces our hand at big decisions. It’s what we respond to in Story. And it can take on many guises, for example:

In Patrick Suskind’s novella, ‘The Pigeon’ – (and if you haven’t read it, you really should. But if you need more convincing, check out this in-depth review In short, the protagonist Jonathan Noel is living a quiet, orderly life in Paris. He’s found a level of contentment that he’s convinced himself he’s happy with. Then in the hallway of the apartment block he lives in, a Pigeon appears one day and throws our poor protagonist into an existential crisis and inner conflict, as he responds to an irrational fear of the trapped bird. He decides to pack and leave for work by means other than the front door and after a disastrous day at work, books into a hotel, thinking he will take his life that night. However, after a strange night of dreams he returns home to find the pigeon gone.

I love this book for it’s short but profound simplicity, which mainly focuses on the one level of conflict. But lets look at all three…

The extra-personal – conflict involving society at large, institutions or the physical environment for example.

The personal – conflict with co-workers, peers, friends, family or lovers.

The inner – obviously the closet level of conflict which see’s a mind in conflict with itself or it’s emotions.

Now, think of how sublime a story could be if you pitted your protagonist against all three of these levels of conflict. What would he/she do? How would they come out of that? Now, that kind of journey would rivet me to the spot, as indeed it has. I’m thinking of one of my all time favourite films, from the book by Hubert Selby, Jr – titled ‘Last Exit to Brooklyn‘.

Last Exit to Brooklyn dvd cover

Set in Brooklyn in the 1950’s against a backdrop of union corruption and violence, where we see Harry Black – only one of a host of characters – promoted from factory machinist to union official during a long strike (extra-personal conflict). He is a closet homosexual who is married with a child, and who regularly abuses his wife and gets into fights (personal conflict) to prove he is a man (fuelled by the inner conflict surrounding his sexuality).

Or another favourite ‘The Insider‘. A film based on an article written by Marie Brenner about the true events surrounding the life of Jeffrey Wigand – a tobacco industry whistle-blower in the early 1990’s, whose testimony leads to the industry paying out for tobacco related healthcare costs in 46 states.

Here we have a man pitted against a billion dollar corporation trying to ruin his reputation (extra-personal) to silence him. Who is faced with the breakdown of his marriage (personal) and in a state of turmoil over being forced into the spotlight by his conscience and anger (inner). Again, we see all 3 levels of conflict at work which make these stories and other stories like them stand out from the mundane.

And whilst I admit, these films don’t let you off the hook by giving you a nice, comfy cosy ending, they are about fellow human beings who are trying to navigate their lives through various degrees of suffering. Uncompromising at times, but true. So thank you to Uli Edel and Michael Mann for directing these two hugely satisfying films so well, and for the writers who inspired them to do so as well as the novelists of the past, present and future who place conflict at the heart of all the stories I have yet to discover. 

I’d love to recieve all your recommend films or novels that might fit the bill! Just leave me your suggestions – maybe your Top 3 – in the comments :0)