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New Years Resolutions: Sneaking Quietly Through the Back Door

182Well what do you know? Here it is the 4th of January already! 2014 is well and truly under way. The gym is overflowing with New Years Resolutioners; all around the world new diets have been begun as soon as the New Year hangover wears off; people stop drinking, stop smoking, begin learning Spanish or French, people promise to take better care of themselves, spend more time with good friends, waste less time in front of the telly, and the list goes on. On January 4th the universal urge to be ‘better’ in the New Year is nearly palpable in the soggy English air.

It happens every year, that urge to reflect on what has been and plan how the New Year will be better. 266Hope and excitement at new beginnings is so much a part of our human nature that the end of a year and the beginning of another one can’t help but be the time when we anticipate, plan change, and dare to dream of what wonderful things we can bring about in the next year. In fact there’s a heady sense of power in the New Year. I think it’s the time when we’re most confident that we can make changes, that we really do have power over our own lives. It’s the time when we’re most proactive toward those changes, those visions of the people we want to be.

Before I actually began to sell my writing, back when I dreamed of that first publication, back when there seemed to be a lot more time for navel gazing than is now, I was a consummate journaler. I filled pages and pages, notebooks and notebooks full of my reflections, ruminations and navel gazes. And nothing took more time and energy than the end of the year entry, in which I reflected on how I did on the year’s resolutions and planned my resolutions for the next. This was a process that often began in early December with me reading back through journals, taking notes, tracing down some of what I’d been reading during that year and reflecting on it. Yeah, I know. I needed to get a life!

By the time New Years Day rolled around, I had an extensive list of resolutions, each with a detailed 191outline of action as to how I was going to achieve it. I found that some of those resolutions simply fell by the wayside almost before the year began — those things that if I’m honest with myself, I know I’m never gonna do, no matter how much I wish I would. Others I achieved in varying degrees-ish. But sadly, for the most part, a month or maybe two into the year, that hard core maniacal urge to be a better me no matter what cooled to tepid indifference as every-day life took the shine off the New Year.

It was only when there stopped being time for such ginormous navel-gazes and micro-planning that I discovered I actually had achieved a lot of those goals that were my resolutions simply by just getting on 183with it. As I began to think more about how different my approach to all things new in the New Year had become the busier I became, I realised that I had, through no planning on my part, perfected the sneak-in-through-the-back-door method of dealing with the New Year. The big, bright New Year changes I used to spend days plotting and planning no longer got written down, no longer got planned out. Instead, they sort of implemented themselves in a totally unorganised way somewhere between the middle of January and the middle of February. They were easy on me, sort of whispering and smiling unobtrusively from the corners of my life. They came upon me, not in a sneak attack so much as a passing brush with someone who would somehow become my best friend.

I’m my own harsh task master. I’m driven, I’m tunnel-visioned, I’m a pit bull when I grab on to what I want to achieve with my writing. No one is harder on me than I am – no one is even close. And yet from somewhere there’s a gentler voice that sneaks in through the back door of the New Year and through the back doors of my life and reminds me to be kinder to me, to be easier on me, to find ways to rest and recreate and feed my creative self. I’ll never stop being driven. The time I’ve been given, the time we’ve all been given, is finite. And that gentler part of ourselves must somehow be a constant reminder of comfort and gentleness, of self-betterment that comes, not from brow-beating and berating ourselves, not from forced regimentation, but from easing into it, making ourselves comfortable with it. We, all of us, live inP1010083 a time when life is snatched away from us one sound-bite, one reality TV show, one advert at a time. Often our time, our precious time is bargained away from us by harsher forces, by ideals and scripts that aren’t our own, and the less time we have to dwell on the still small voice, the deeper the loss.

So my resolution, my only resolution every year is to listen more carefully to that gentler, quieter part of me, to forgive myself for not being able to be the super-human I think I should be, to settle into the arms of and be comfortable with the quieter me, the wiser me who knows how far I’ve really come, who knows that the shaping of a human being goes way deeper than what’s achieved in the outer world, and every heart that beats needs to find its own refuge in the value of just being who we are, of living in the present and coming quietly and gently and hopefully into the New Year.

 

Imagination in the Flesh

This past year has been insanely busy for me, and it’s not likely to let up much until the middle of next year. This is not a complaint. At the moment I have more to write than I have time for, and the deadlines that are already tight, I push and pare down to make even tighter so I can write even more. A friend of mine would have called this situation a golden monkey wrench. It’s an amazing place to be, but also quite terrifying. By the end of the year I will have written four full-length novels and a novella, and all of what I’ve written, I’m very proud of. What’s already published is doing well. All in all it’s been a banner year and, possibly, the hardest year of my life.

I live in my head most of the time, like most fiction writers do, and the writing schedule has kept me in my head more this year than ever before. Coming off the successful launch of Riding the Ether and Grace Marshall’s successful launch of An Executive Decision, and with the demand for the second novel in the Executive Decisions Trilogy ASAP, I’ve had to rethink my situation and find a way back into my body.

That probably sounds insane for someone who writes erotic romance, but I would bet I’m not the only one who has to fight the huge disconnect between the mental and the physical. Fiction doesn’t demand physicality. Whole worlds can be created and peopled without a writer ever leaving the comfort of her writing space. The place of the imagination is outrageously fertile and none of us will ever live long enough to explore it to its full depth. In essence, we can go there and never leave.

I’ve started going to the gym twice a week, even working with a personal trainer from time to time to force the issue. A big part of the reason for that is just to maintain my health. But it’s also to help prepare for the Wainwright Memorial walk, which will be the most challenging walk we’ve ever done. We planned to do it last May, but writing happened far more intensely than I had anticipated, so we postponed it for a year.

Every time I head off to the gym, my mind rebels with an endless list of reasons why I should stay home and work. There are deadlines, there are mountains of PR, there are readings, talks. How the hell can I waste my time sweating it out at the gym? But I go, and I sweat and I push myself for an hour. And strangely, the world changes.

I walked home along the canal a few days ago after a particularly hard work out (I think my personal trainer might be a bit of a sadistJ) The water of the canal was like glass. Only the wake of two mallards sliced through the mirror image of a clear sky with a double V that seemed to go on forever behind them. I was struck by how brilliant everything was, how clear everything seemed all of a sudden. I was struck by how much more physical, how much more real the world around me felt.

That day I managed seven thousand words on the novel, seven thousand good words. That day I thought a lot about that boundless place of imagination that stretches out in all directions inside every writer. I realise the less time I spend in my body, the more I confine myself to the tourist routes in my imagination. The less time I spend in my body, the less I’m able to head off track into the wild places, into the deep places where story take shapes and textures and tones I couldn’t have imagined if I hadn’t spent that time in the flesh, as it were. This is not something I didn’t know. This is something that’s always been central to my work and who I am, and yet, it’s amazingly easy to forget, to neglect, to overlook.

That same weekend we worked in the allotment, clearing weeds, digging, making things ready for spring planting. The smell of damp earth, the bronze and gold of the trees against the exhibitionist blue of the sky, the stoop and bend and press and shove of my body kept me in the moment, kept me in the flesh, kept me present from one breath to the next.

It isn’t always sex, thought it can be at times. It’s just being there, at home, in the flesh. It’s just knowing, even if I don’t understand why, that there is a connection between the blood and bone and flesh of me, between the way the physical me moves and breathes and interacts with the rest of what’s concrete, and with the vast realm of the imagination spread before me always new, always wild, always inviting. And never completely safe. The wildest places, the most dangerous places are off the beaten path of the imagination, and at least for me, those areas, those untouched, primordial areas are most accessable when I’m most in my body.

 

Shay Briscoe: Artist in Transition

Shay Briscoe and his powerful interpretation of the love spell threesome near the end of BTR

I’m very excited to welcome the talented Shay Briscoe to my site today. Shay is one of the three lovely artists who gave me a very special gift for the launch of my latest novel, Body Temperature and Rising. Shay, along with Fuschia Ayling (who was my guest recently) and Jess Pritchard (who will hopefully be my guest in the near future) volunteered to illustrate three scenes from my novel, three scenes that I planned to read at the launch party. At the time they were exhibiting some of their work at Sh! Portobello. I was elated with their offer, and my guests and I were totally enthralled with the end result! It is a total pleasure to have Shay on my site today to tell us a bit about himself and to share a little of his wonderful work with us. Welcome, Shay!

Body Book

KD: Have you always known you wanted to be an artist?

SB: I only really got into art around three years ago, upon meeting the lovely Fuschia Ayling and realising that I don’t have to be a good painter to be a good artist. I was a chef for a long time before I started making art, though I knew that cheffing was not the career I wanted. When I discovered my passion for art at the age of twenty-one, I finally knew what I wanted to do with my life!

KD: Tell us a little bit about yourself. Shay.

SB:I grew up in Gloucestershire in a large family. When I was eighteen I began coming

Tapestry Close-up

to terms with the fact that I was transgender and slowly took steps to become the boy I should have been born as. I currently study fine art at Kingston University, and I am engaged to fellow artist Fuschia Ayling. I have a very nice ferret called Floppy, and I have serious love for dinosaurs, Greek mythology, playing stupid games on my laptop, cats, trivia and deep sea creatures. It may not come as a surprise after reading this that I have Asperger Syndrome.

KD: Why did you choose to make sexuality the central theme in your artwork?

SB: I don’t think that it was really a choice – it seemed natural for my artwork to center upon something so significant in my life. Making work about my gender is very therapeutic for me. It lets me get out all the stresses of living in a body that doesn’t feel like my own. And also, it means I can hopefully educate others about people like me, against whom there is still a lot of prejudice. Sex is something that we all experience, so it is something that everybody can relate to in some way.

KD: Where do you get your inspiration?

SB:My inspiration comes from everything around me. Random images from the internet, new

Tapestry

stationary, lines from books, funny shaped leaves, television adverts, labels from clothes, children’s toys, song lyrics, going to exhibitions, gawping out of the window, packaging, smells, tastes, textures, so many things! The world in general is a very inspirational place.

KD: What’s the hardest thing about being an artist?

SB: The days where all your creativity seems to have disappeared and you feel like it’ll never come back. That, and the worry that I’ll never make enough money to live!

KD: Who inspires you as an artist?

Anderson and Tim

SB: My favourite artists are Egon Schiele and Yayoi Kusama, I take a lot of inspiration from both. Also, when I read the books of Neil Gaiman (Neverwhere, The Eternals, American Gods) and Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell (The Edge Chronicles), I get a massive urge to get into the studio!

KD: What is the best thing about being an artist?

SB: Being able to do whatever I want and it counting as work! I love that I am allowed to create literally anything, and discover new ways of doing things that I hadn’t thought of before. I like being able to express what I feel inside in ways that I couldn’t using just words.

KD: What are you working on now?

SB: I’m currently developing an idea which will involve a book and possibly a film. I don’t want to say too much yet, but hopefully it will be a success! I’m also making a couple of condom packet pillows, which I’m enjoying greatly.

KD: Future plans?

SB: I want to continue exploring the subjects of gender and sexuality and how they impact upon my life. Further on into the future, my ambition is to return to my love of street culture and open a shop that sells t shirts, designer toys and accessories that I make myself, along with pieces from other artists. Hopefully as well as the shop I’ll be able to exhibit my work in galleries… That’s the long term plan anyway!

Thank you, Shay, for sharing a little of yourself and your work with us, and very best of luck in all that you do!

 

Where you can find Shay:

http://shaybriscoe.blogspot.co.uk/?zx=961855511b547a2f

 

Artist Fuschia Ayling talks Sexuality and Creativity

Fuschia and me at the BTR launch

I’m sure you’ve already seen the pictures of the paintings and heard me rave about the fabulous artists who each volunteered to illustrate a different excerpt of my novel, Body Temperature and Rising, for my launch party a couple of weeks ago. As I’ve gotten to know these very talented young artists and seen a bit more of their work, I knew I had to have them on my site and give my readers the chance to get to know them a little better and have a look at a few images of their wonderful work.

Fuschia’s stunning scene depicting voyeuristic bliss on the fells from BTR

The very talented Fuschia Ayling is my guest today. Fuscia chose the opening scene of Body Temperature and Rising to paint, and on her blog, teased us all with sneak peeks of the work in progress. I’ve been following her blog ever since just to see what she gets up to. Welcome Fuschia! It’s a pleasure to have you on A Hopeful Romantic.

KD: Fuschia, have you always known you’ve wanted to be artists? What inspired the choice?

Fuschia:I have always been driven creatively, ever since I was a very small child – I suppose I was always happiest when I was up to my elbows in paint, mud or playdough. When I was small my father owned a gallery and studio in St. Ives, and his success and talent as an artist – along with my immersion in the Cornish art scene – meant that I was given all the encouragement I needed to continue exploring my interest. As I grew up I continued to enjoy expressing myself visually, but I

‘My Not So Secret Garden’

viewed it more as therapy – there were always things which I couldn’t explain to others, things that I could only really exorcise in my journals. I studied Art and Design at college and then took an extra couple of years to really develop my work and distance myself still further from what seems to be a very Cornish expectation – that as an artist one should paint landscapes and seascapes to order. I am thankful that being an artist is a viable career option – I can basically devote my life to healing what is, unfortunately, a slightly damaged brain.

KD: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

“Bang Bang” is to do with sexual experience and confusion, the way all the things that we experience leave traces, tangled and in some ways unable to be separated. It is also to do with my feelings for my own body, my femininity, my role as a woman – as explored through the use of embroidery.

Fuschia: I am 20 years old, currently studying at Kingston University for a BA in Fine Art. My work is always confessional, often sexual and sometimes a little shocking. My work deals with my own personal experiences and opinions, and in that way it is like an ever growing and expanding diary of my life. I often deal with issues that, although still current, are perhaps best described as scars from childhood. I have been called a feminist artist, although this isn’t a label I particularly identify with, I think my work deals with what could be deemed “Feminine Issues” merely because I am by gender a woman. I enjoy writing, drawing, sewing and painting – I like to mix and match materials and processes.

KD: Why did you choose to make sexuality the central theme in your artwork?

Fuschia:I suppose sexuality is a central theme in my work because it is a central theme in life – sex

‘Open Wide’

is, after all, the reason why we are all here. I am very interested by human nature, especially when it comes to sex, and I think that this interest fuels part of my obsession. Like many people I have issues with my own sexuality, I find that exploring these unspoken things in my work comes naturally to me. I have produced a lot of work in the past about being a rape victim, and I probably will continue to do so in the future, it is something which I kept secret and shamefully hidden for so long that having the freedom to express it, to work through it and to, hopefully, help other people in similar positions to myself is hugely healing to me. I think also that in my work I wanted to make a distinction between sex and rape, because rape is not sex but it is violence and sex is something beautiful – no matter how hard you’re fucking it is always consensual. Sex is wonderful – I want to celebrate that.

KD: Where to you get your inspiration?

Fuschia:I am inspired predominantly by my own history, but also materially – by patterns, colours, chance events. I am really interested in

surface decoration, the little details which make up the skin of an object. I also have a fascination with craft – embroidery, needlework, knitting, upholstery, beading – things which were traditionally a woman’s work, I enjoy bringing a new vitality to them when they are placed in an altogether different context – For me, a cross stitch of a pretty house is impressive, but a cross stitch of a vagina is sheer brilliance.

‘My Cunt is a Crime Scene’

KD: What’s the hardest thing about being an artist?

Fuschia: I think that, for me, the hardest thing about being an artist is also one of the best things – Being self led. On the one hand the freedom is wonderful, the ability to just get up one day and say “Today I shall make a wall-hanging entirely out of cotton wool…” – that is a fabulous feeling when you have total monopoly over your practice. On the other hand, however, is awful days of total creative block, despondency, failure… It is about having the ability to be your own critic, but also to know when to stop beating yourself up over your short-comings.

KD: Who inspires you, as an artist?

Fuschia: In the art world my greatest influence has to be Tracey Emin, I discovered her work aged 14 and have been in love ever since. I admire her ability to let the viewer in but still keep hold of the reigns. For me she is somebody who is very real, very human and also very good at what she does. I also admire Sarah Lucas, Elke Krystufek, Nan Goldin, Annette Messager, Ana Mendieta and Francesco Clemente among others. I have also been inspired greatly by the work of author Mervyn Peake. I would also like to take this oportunity to say a big thank you to Sarah Berry for her ongoing support!

KD: What are you working on now?

Fuschia: I am currently working on a project which is far more feminine in appearance, I have become really interested in floral prints and patterns. I have just completed part of this – a large square painting titled “My Not So Secret Garden”, which was inspired by my unease with the common pornographic pose which involves spreading ones pussy lips with ones fingers, I was interested in the dual meaning of the gesture – whether it was an invitation, a sign of vulnerability in exposing our softness – or whether it could be an aggressive gesture, a blatant display of sexuality as something threatening. By combining the image with soft floral shapes and pastel colours I am trying to play with the connotations the familiar pose has…It is work in progress!

KD: What are you working on now?

Fuschia: I am very excited at the moment about our (The Vagina Atelier) nomination for the Erotic Award’s Erotic Artist of the Year, and the possibilities for making new contacts. I am looking forward to seeing what the future brings…

Fuschia’s blog: http:/www.fuschiaayling.blogspot.com

Thank you, Fuschia for giving us a chance to get to know you a little better and to sample a little bit of you stunning art. It’s been a real pleasure you to have you! I wish you all the best in your creative pursuits.

 

Occupy Mind Street

The other day, I overheard someone say, ‘my mind is occupied.’ And I had one of those ‘Aha’ moments that happen when I suddenly see meaning in a word, meaning that’s always been there, but somehow I missed. Then Friday night, while channel surfing over a bottle of wine and some chocolate, Raymond and I happened upon the 1998 film, Fallen, starring Denzel Washington. Fallen is a film about a demon who occupies people for his malevolent agenda and passes himself on from person to person by touch. And there it was again, that amazing concept of occupation.  Okay, in the case of a nasty demon, the word used is usually possession, but the two words are synonymous in many ways.

I suppose with the occupation of Wall Street and all of the other occupations going on, and with high unemployment causing the loss of occupation, the word was already in my mind in an unconscious sort of way. But I’ve never really thought about what it means to have my mind occupied. What happens when my mind is occupied, and who’s doing the occupying? Surely the occupied mind implies that someone is there other than me, someone who has taken up residence and is now in the driver’s seat, focusing me, perhaps in a way that my unoccupied mind would not be able to focus.

Socrates spoke of the inner voice, what he called the daemon, the ‘inner oracle’ that guided him. For the Greeks, the daemon was an entity somewhere between mortal and god. In his Dark Materials Trilogy, Phillip Pullman manifests those inner oracles in the outer world and embodies his daemons in animal form.

Carl Jung believed each of us is two different entities, two different selves. He believed there was our public persona, the part of us we show to the world, and there was the mysterious, hidden realm of the second self, the self that was more at home with the mystical, more connected with the divine. For Jung, the life journey was one of integrating those two selves.

I can’t help thinking that Socrates’s daemon, Jung’s second self could be just other names for the writer’s muse.

That brings me back to ‘occupy.’ Even in the free online dictionary, all the definitions for ‘occupy’ gave me more food for thought about the occupied mind.

As I think about the unoccupied mind – if there even is such a thing, I think about the blank piece of paper or the blank monitor we writers face each time we settle in to write a story. There’s a passivity implied before occupation can happen, an emptiness. The dictionary defines ‘occupy’ as seizing possession of and maintaining control over. Our word ‘occupy’ comes from the Latin, occupare, to seize. There’s no denying that conquest is implied. A country must be ripe for the takeover, weak, unable to defend itself. There has to be a void to fill. To me, it make sense that a mind must also reach some point of passivity to be ripe for the takeover.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean the mind is blank before it’s occupied. More than likely the mind was already occupied, or preoccupied.  When we’re ripe for the takeover, does the occupier come in and sweep out the detritus, the tyrants of busy-ness and lethargy, the sludge of self-doubt and procrastination? Is it a peaceful coup or a violent uprising? And how does the way the occupation of the mind come about effect what we, as writers, create when the occupier comes in, does a proper housecleaning, and takes over the controls?

An occupied mind is a beautiful thing to behold, even more beautiful to experience. And at those times when I’m fully taken over, I’m truly beside myself, watching with amazement while the occupier guides me.

When that happens then word, ‘occupy,’ takes on a new, active meaning. I become engaged, employed, with my full concentration on a task, and that task involves the writing of a story. Since I can’t really skirt the spiritual implications while talking about daemons and muses and the Self with a capital ‘S’, it seems appropriate to bring in that lovely word, ‘vocation,’ because vocation and occupation are so beautifully linked. Vocation, according to the dictionary, is a regular occupation, especially one for which a person is particularly suited or qualified. It is an inclination, as if in response to a summons, to undertake a certain kind of work, a calling.

An inclination, as if in response to a summons definitely sounds like a close encounter with the Muse to me. And it’s that close encounter that brings me to the final definition of occupy; to dwell or reside in, to hold or fill. The world I create, the characters I populate it with and the conflict I thrust upon those characters now all come rushing in en mass to fill up, to dwell in, to reside in my occupied mind, along with the Muse/Daemon/Self, who is at the controls. That, I would say, is a fully occupied mind, and every writer’s wet dream.

I could go on and on about the implications of occupation and vocation and daemons and the Self and Muses in the driver’s seat, but my mind is really occupied with a novella at the moment. So if you’ll excuse me, I really need to get back there so I won’t miss anything because the occupation is just now getting really good and really messy.

 

 

 

 

 
© 2017 K D Grace
The Romance Reviews

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