Our Creative Journey!

A magic moment in the highlands of Scotland.

So a month and a half ago, my fiancee Dave and I embarked on a voyage. Not exactly a holiday, not exactly a work trip–somewhere in the middle. It is a creative expedition. It was based on an idea that we never really go anywhere or have time for anything except when work is involved. Our best trips away together have mostly been short journeys within New Zealand to go and record sounds.

So we figured if we were ever going to go on any big overseas trips, then we should involve our work in the creative industries. Last year, we had two friends who had both offered us to come and stay at their artist residencies.

The first was from Peter Roberts, a picture editor who had a residency in Ibiza off the coast of Spain for writers. It was a house once used by famous New Zealand author, Janet Frame. This sounded like a perfect chance for me to focus on the second instalment of my children’s sci-fi adventure and Dave could work on his feature film scripts. 

The second residency was in Trélex in Switzerland. Our friend Nina Rodin runs an artist residency for all manner of creative artists and she has not had many sound artists stay at Trélex. Her husband David Rodin went to school with my Dave, so he had been talking for years about the idea of heading over to visit them, but the idea of doing art at the same time was doubly fantastic. Not only would we do plenty of sound art, Dave and I both love painting, photography, video-art and composition, so there was plenty of things for us to experiment with that we normally never have time for.

It would have been so easy to think; “Oh yes, that would be lovely to travel overseas and work on our art,” but never actually get around to it. For once Dave and I wanted to jump on such an opportunity and go for it.

Last year was a big year for Dave as he directed his first short film. And my book is in the final stages of preparing for publishing, but I wanted time to dive into the second book before the first one comes out. With a heavy work load planned for the back half of 2017, we decided that from the end of March to June would be the best chance we had to head to Europe for a couple of months. When we get back Dave has his short film screening in some festivals as well as a very exciting writer’s workshop to attend, so now is the perfect time to get things moving on the writing front.

Though we were only planning on spending two weeks at each of the residency locations, our process of creating art was one that we would  engaged with every day of the trip. We record sound every single day, no matter where we are.  I’ve been keeping a couple of creative journals with sketching and writing ideas. And of course Dave has his trusty camera  and I have the GoPro.

Sound recording in Switzerland.

We started out in the UK, spending a few days In London with some friends before driving up north to Scotland. We stopped in to see relatives I had in England, but for the most part we were travelling heavily every day and visiting as many attractions as we could all the way. All the while, we were gathering sounds, video footage and artistic photographs to inspire our art. Some highlights were Stonehenge and Avebury, the Roman baths and Lindisfarne and of course, the castles. Edinburgh and Stirling castles where stunning, but some of my favourites were the derelict ruins standing alone in the mists without tourists and gift shops. Places where you could sit and sketch and soak in the ancient landscape.

The longest we spent in one place was four days in Skye. Skye was breathtaking. Such wildness and isolation, I felt very much at home there. I guess in many ways it’s similar to New Zealand. Harsh weather and rugged landscape permeates the cultures of the Antipodes and the Hebrides with a similar fortitude. The first two weeks in the UK was so jam-packed full of excitement and adventure it felt like a lot longer than two weeks. I planned on doing more blogging on the journey and I also had hoped to start up a video blog, but we’ve been busier than I expected and quite often without very good Internet access. So I thought I should make a start somewhere. Better late than never.

Today I have more time on my hands because yesterday, I badly sprained my ankle.  There is nothing quite in injury to allow time for retrospective and slowing down to appreciate what you have. For example, I am incredibly glad that I only sprained my ankle and and didn’t break it. Today is 18th  of May and we have exactly one month left of our trip. We will arrive back in Wellington on the 18th June. The trip has been in some ways longer than I could have imagined and in other ways has flown by.

Our two weeks in Ibiza, was amazing. The warmth was a welcome change from Scotland and we made sure we explored the landscape there and went swimming in the crystal blue waters. I had a lot of trouble with asthma and sickness, and yet we still got a lot of writing done. It was so incredibly luxurious to be able to focus on writing, considering it a full-time job instead of having to cram it in around a normal workload.

Enjoying writing in my journal while sipping sangria at a cafe in Ibiza old town.

We were in Barcelona for only three days after that and though we didn’t get to see much of the city, we saw a lot of the Gothic Quarter where we were staying and had very splendid time enjoying the food and wine of that beautiful city.

Sitting by the window of our apartment in Barcelona.

Trélex has been magical. Staying with David and Nina Rodin and their family has been a privilege and a pleasure. Though our time he has been short, already we have achieved a lot. I have been painting and sketching more than I have in years, and I have gotten back into doing my audiovisual art which I’m very excited about. I’ve been continuing writing and Dave has too. He has made some great breakthroughs with his scripts and I’ve been able to help him with editing which I normally don’t have much time for. And of course we have been recording plenty of sound.

A day of sound recording adventure in the forests of Switzerland.

Switzerland is a wonderful place for recording soundscapes. There are lots of public parks and wide open spaces and lots of access to forests and mountains. There is so much more here that we could record but I’m very glad that we have some great recordings of cowbells and church bells and tranquil environments. The bells, the bells!

Our next door neighbour in Trelex and his lovely sounding bells.

 

Now we only have four days left in Switzerland, and I’m very aware of how difficult it will be moving on from here with my injury. With out recording gear, we have way too much luggage, so I hope I can lose the crutches soon. We are supposed to catch a train to France on Monday, but I have to go to the hospital for them to assess my ankle in the morning and then who knows what will happen. Though I hope it heals quickly, I also know that it will stop us from doing big and ambitious hikes which is sad, but like I said, I am very grateful for the things I do have and will make use of this time that I am less mobile by doing more art. As this is a creative journey, you have two create what you can using the tools is that you have available. Though this is my first blog entry on my journey I’m hoping that I will be more productive from now on. Until next time, get out there and create magic everyday!

Dave and I at Stonehenge.

 

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Hyperphantasia! The Joys of an overactive imagination

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I only discovered this recently, that some people can not see images when they read. They call this Aphantasia. I was so upset to learn that so many people miss out on the magic of mental images.
I think I fall at the opposite end of the spectrum. Hyperphantasia.
 
I see so much when I read that it distracts me. It’s not just images though. I hear, I smell, I taste. I get so wound up in exploring another world inside my head that sometimes it takes me months to finish a book. The more I love the book, sometimes, the harder it is to read.
 
No wonder everyone called me a daydreamer!
I was teased as a child for living too much in an imaginary world, but that never stopped me. I never stopped being creative. Now that I’m an adult, I have a career in the film industry, Im an author, a musician and a painter. I can never get enough of the fantastical realms within my own mind. There’s nothing better than getting out those ideas and expressing them through image and sound.
I love being a daydreamer.
The main character in my upcoming book, James, is also a chronic daydreamer. Though his dreams are more nightmarish. And of course, his nightmares also have the unfortunate tendency to come true.
It’s been a while since I gave an update on my plans to publish, but I swear there will be more news very soon!
In the meantime, I’m going to just grab a book and have myself a little daydream.
 
Is there anyone else out there who has Hyperphantasia?
 

The Magic of Sci-fi

Carrying on from my last post about working in film and how it helps me learn about the crafting of story through my experience with the editorial process, I thought I might take a moment to look at the film I worked on last year that has just come out, Elysium.

I mean, I’m not going to review it, since I worked on it, that would be a little self-serving. No, really, I just want to talk about how difficult and yet enticing it is to write sci-fi these days.

I have always loved science, but I feel that in the last few years so many changes and advances have been made in scientific fields of study that we are really in a very open and exploratory phase of human history. Fields of study that were at one time mocked or ridiculed are now openly accepted as legitimate research subjects or at least worthy of investigating.

I feel that a resurgence of interest in sci-fi films and novels somewhat reflects this shift. It’s an exciting time to be writing sci-fi and getting to work on one of this year’s biggest sci-fi films was a real honour. It was also an amazing opportunity to work with writer/director Neil Blomkamp, who is at the forefront of modern sci-fi story telling.

http://www.theguardian.com/film/2013/aug/17/elysium-neill-bloomkamp-interview

I loved working on this project and felt honoured to have been part of a team that was so talented and dedicated.

However, when it comes to writing my own sci-fi, I often I find myself daunted by the amount of research required to do the work justice. I find that I battle constantly with trying to…

  1. Create accurate and plausible technology and science for my universe without…
  2. Bogging down the text with too much jargon and at the same time…
  3. Keeping it fresh and exciting with ideas and concepts that perhaps haven’t been looked at before or at least are being dealt with in a new way. While…
  4. Being mindful of genre staples/ cliches/ paradigms .Knowing when to adhere to what is tradition and when to steer clear from what is old hat…and lastly
  5. Trying to figure out how a modern teen really would behave in the bizarre circumstances that they find themselves in.

 

All the while I’m conscious that sci-fi readers are among the most critical and scrutinizing of all genre fans. And they have every right to be! I know I’m critical of other sci-fi writers.

Sci-fi writers  suffer all the criticisms of ordinary fantasy. Both genres deal with forging something completely imaginary and trying to make it believable. Readers ask questions like…

  1. Is the world building seamless?
  2. Are the characters realistic for the world that they inhabit? and
  3. Is the social/economic/political structures within the world detailed and well balanced to convince the reader that its all real?

But unlike fantasty authors, sci-fi writers also have to deal with an audience who have a sophisticated understanding of modern science and technology. Every single reader/viewer has their own opinion on how they foresee humanity will fare in the future – for better or worse. This is the key to understanding the sci-fi genre…because sci-fi stories all have something in common. They deal with the concept of our use of science or technology getting out of hand. The classic Prometheus myth. Sci-fi tackles heavy issues dealing with the human thirst of conquering new horizons without taking heed of the consequences. It is a genre that is about looking to the possibilities of the future in order to take responsibility for the actions of the present.

In Blomkamp’s Elysium, for example, we see the dark side of that philosophy. Elysium offers a look at how our current world social and economic structure may lead to a future where social division between the rich and the poor are at extremes and the fate of humanity hangs in the balance. We see a scenario where sacrifices must be made on both sides of the social spectrum, in order for a balance to be re-established.

Without going into too much specific back-story about how the world ended up in this situation, Elysium makes the viewer think about the implications of our current world economic situation and do some hard evaluating.

The sci-fi author must always be looking to the horizon. I find that it is getting harder to keep up to date with the rapid advances in science. It is really difficult to stay ahead of the curb. You have to identify with modern science and project it forwards, to investigate how it may evolve and change in time and what implications it has for the future of humanity, both good and bad.

But if a book takes three years to write/publish then the modern sci-fi writer has to realise that in the time it takes to get the book out there, a whole gamut of scientific discoveries will emerge.

Two years ago when I began writing my book, the Higgs Boson particle had not been discovered…NASA’s Curiosity had not landed on Mars…numerous exo-planets hadn’t been discovered including one Earth-sized planet that orbits Alpha Centauri B. And that’s just scratching the surface of what’s been going on.

Now, having said all this, my story is heavily steeped in what can only be called magic. I worry about this at times, knowing that hard-core sci-fi readers might reject some of my more ethereal concepts. I try to reassure myself that magic is just as valid in sci-fi as physics, since at some point in our human history, they could be seen as one and the same thing.

I tend to think that only by incorporating things that seem utterly like magic to us, can I write sci-fi that is true to what I love about the mystery of science. Or perhaps, I’m just a dreamer who has my head too far up in the clouds? Sometimes I focus too hard on getting the facts right, (especially knowing that my nuclear chemist brother would not approve of my sloppy research). But sometimes, I find it particularly hard to be practical when it comes to some of the core scientific aspects of my work. I prefer to focus on a more philosophical and emotional side of things and sort of let the structural mechanics of the world fall into place around the characters. After all, it’s the character’s story that matters most to me.

So, yes, it’s a difficult and yet thrilling era to be working on sci-fi, I might even go so far as to say it’s magical.