Explore Animation

Just started a fun course with FutureLearn — ‘Explore Animation’ — a free online course created by The National Film & Television School (NFTS). I calculate that there are about 1000 of us on the course — students of all ages from all over the world meeting up online for four weeks to discuss and experiment with simple animation techniques. Looks as if it’s going to be great fun, and I will probably be uploading some of my attempts in here so when that happens, feel free to take a look and keep up with my progress.

Read more about the course >>>

Venice hosts the 4 Maritime Republics’ Regatta

venice-wins2015There is no substitute for being in a boat for these events. I’m sorry — but that’s just the way it is. Maybe you have seen or heard about the Palio in Siena — the famous horse race run in a square in the town centre every year. There is a tremendous build up of tension and suspense before the race proper begins. More often than not they have false start after false start until at long last, the horses are teased to breaking point and the tension in the crowded square is almost tangible. It’s exactly the same with this boat race, but only if you are right up there at the starting line with them.

But let’s leave the horses, (but hang on to the tension) and get back in the boat and on track to today’s special event. I don’t intend to give you a lecture in history — suffice to say that since 1955 each year in a four year cycle, a regatta takes place to decide the modern-day supremacy between the four ancient maritime republics (that were) of Pisa, Genoa, Amalfi and Venice.

Each of the four ‘republics’ takes it in turn to host the event, and this year it was the turn of Venice. The location has changed since the last time I saw it here — and luckily the weather was glorious this year as opposed to the torrential rain for the race last time, four years ago. This year the whole caboodle was moved from the Giudecca Canal over to St.Mark’s Basin and the very wide canal leading over to the Venice Lido in front of the island of Sant’Elena. Not popular with everyone, but the new route allowed for small boats to follow the race at close quarters — so certainly a popular move with hard core ‘water borne’ fans of the event.

Thanks to a good dose of confusion, and a smidgen of misinformation, we reached the starting buoys far too early . We were told to move on by the Carabinieri, the local police and the Coast Guard, who all kept up the same gesticulating, whistling, shouting performance with every boat (and there were lots of them) that came within yelling distance. A boat isn’t like a car — you can’t slam on the brakes, and the water doesn’t help. It was churning and making it nigh on impossible to stay put — and so the Carabinieri, the local police and the Coast Guard started all over again, and we all got a cyclical earful.

Meanwhile, the four eight-oared galleons, Venice with its green livery — Pisa in red — Genoa white and Amalfi in blue — sneaked out from somewhere and began to warm up in front of Sant’Elena in the midst of the protective forces who continued their arm flailing and shouting whilst the tension built up amongst the players, all champing at the bit to get the race under way. We spectators in our light boats kept going around in circles in an effort to maintain our position, ready for the starting gun and the ensuing rush to keep pace with the galleons as they launched themselves into battle.

And at last it happened — they were off and a roar of support went up from all quarters — the police continued to shout their curt orders at all the ‘floating’ supporters until the regatta had pushed ahead of our position and we were free to race behind them ourselves. Together we created a ‘tidal’ wave of gigantic proportions and risked life and limb riding the lip of the wave in order to keep abreast of our green heroes. They heaved and pushed and pulled their oars, their galleon skimming the water in a surge towards the finishing line in front of St.Mark’s Square. And their efforts paid off — our green Venetian men won!

I can’t begin to describe the euphoric reception they were given — immediately surrounded by all the police forces — and by an ambulance to take care of one of our team who had collapsed at the end of the race (from the heat and probably too much tension and emotion) — and by some one hundred small boats which rushed in to voice their congratulations (well, their pilots did), waving the distinctive Venetian flag of San Marco (bright red and yellow) in sign of approval.

I assume there was some kind of prize giving once the team set foot on dry land, but for me, all the best had happened there on the water amidst the affection and enthusiasm of the locals. It was time to go home and leave the rest of the party to the ‘landlubbers’

Busting the Myth

I thought I would be able to concentrate sitting outside the bar, but that would perhaps have pushed my new found ‘writing freedom’ beyond the realms of reality. Kids running all over the place, slaloming between the tables with bubble blowing guns was a bit much . Whilst it was just the squeals and giggles I had to deal with, I was coping reasonably well — it was definitely the bubbles that did it, that hastened me back indoors – soapy spheres in my eyes, my mouth and floating across the page proved just too much of a distraction.

So here I am indoors again with MTV blaring out from the screen above my head – the chattering kids and their mums wandering in and out to fish around for their favourite ice-cream in the freezer just behind me, and the industrial strength dishwasher just the other side of the bar chugging, rattling and whirring away. Now I think about it – in this heat it’s probably not a brilliant idea to sit with my back to the upright freezer – a blast of cold air hits me every time the door is opened. A sure cause of backache if I’m not careful.

But let’s get back to the reasoning behind subjecting myself to all this noise and distraction.

Surely I’m not the only wannabe writer to have read book after book, ‘how-to-do-it’ manual after ‘how-to-do-it’ manual, and even spent hours absorbing advice, tutorials, courses, workshops – and why not – writing groups too? Well assuming the answer is yes, you, like me, cannot fail to have noticed that one of the first rules they all give you is to set up the ‘ideal’ writing space surrounded by the right tools, music and even lighting. Now if my memory serves me well, with very few exceptions one of the most important ingredients for this idyllic spot has to be tranquillity – peace, quiet – you know the kind of thing.

Well, quite by accident, I think I have managed to bust a myth, though I’m still going to have to keep working on it. It’s the disclaimer I found in most of those aforementioned workshops, blogs and so on that probably clinched it – the bit where they say, ‘You must do what works best for you’, which I guess amounts to the small print at the end really. The stuff they hide from you just in case you decide to think too much about the official jargon – just in case you allow yourself to consider that there might be a valid alternative to the carefully laid out ‘dogma’ that you’ve been fed in the main content. In simple terms – just in case you might think of doing it differently – and doing it differently at your own risk to boot!

I’ve tried ‘the quiet’ – difficult in my home where generally I can just about grab an hour – sometimes miraculously even two – in a span of time between when my husband goes out to work and when my daughter returns from hers. There are no corners in our tiny home to create the essential ‘space of my own’ so I just have to make do with the family dining table with all the usual disadvantages of the case. The most obvious of which is having to ‘shut down’ every meal time. Add to that the fact that our lounge and dining area are open-plan where most family activity takes place – from watching TV to discussions to playing with the dog to yoga, plus the most unlikely (and unpopular) of all – to my writing – and you have the recipe for chaos, which is hardly conducive to undisturbed and uninterrupted creativity.

I honestly tried to check off all the recommendations on the ‘how-to-get-it-all-together’ lists proffered by all those blogs and tutorials, but so far seem to have failed miserably. I’ve surprised myself at getting any writing at all done under the circumstances.

So yesterday, at about the time my daughter returned from work, just when I could suss from her expression that she was building up a mental list of what she was going to ask me to do/to cook/to read/to watch/to help with – all things which she is perfectly capable of doing alone at her age – I took myself off to my favourite bar for an after lunch coffee and stress-free five minutes alone. Noticing a local paper lying on one of the window side tables, I sat down a minute to read a front page article which had caught my attention. Just as I settled to read, my mobile rang from the depths of my shoulder bag and I had to rummage amongst the usual debris, pulling out odds and ends, left, right and centre until I found it – but too late to respond.

On top of the pile of stuff I had extracted from the bag – almost challenging me – lay ‘the notebook’ – the one that was another mandatory item (number 2 I think) on the wannabe writer’s ‘make-sure-you’ve-got-it-before-you-start’ list. Having very little inclination to go home, I rose to the bait and opened it up. I found myself a pencil and started to scribble – and I scribbled and scribbled. And somehow the aimless scribbling began to take shape. And from just beginning to take shape I started to pay more attention to the structure and the direction my scribbles were taking. And before I knew it, more than an hour had gone by when I was interrupted by yet another phone call – my daughter wanting to know where on earth I was – and I had been writing non-stop page after page of pencilled words.

Perhaps I have at last found ‘what works best for me’? No computer – no fancy pens – nothing more than a pencil and some simple lined paper? And what’s more – no silence or tranquillity but a noisy, busy bar with a constant flow of people going about their daily pleasure and business. My mind no longer rent with pangs of guilt for the pile of ironing or the dishes and a continual compromise between the exigences of daily family life and my own simple desire to be able to write without distraction.

So now — in the hope that I’ve found the right place, let’s see if I can find the right words.

Hang on a tick

Janys Hyde ScribblerIsn’t it strange how you can write all your life — and in my case that covers quite a few good years — and then suddenly, when you decide you want to make it all official and ‘come out’ — make it known publicly that you consider yourself a writer, you find that words fail you or no longer seem to make any sense. They seem to lose their worth and can no longer render your ideas in quite the same way as they have done for goodness knows how long. For years you have been perfectly capable of getting your meaning across to those you have had to address, be it friends, family or colleagues and even strangers — there has never been a breakdown in communication as a result of your incapacity. Instructions have been followed — copious exchanges have been made — words have been spent on the myriad subjects of quotidian exchanges — you have been given exactly the sort of response you had hoped your words would arouse. So what happened — what burst your writing balloon?

Well I suppose the problems really began when you took that decision to crawl out of the woodwork with the aim of writing meaningful stories. For some inexplicable reason you decided that the tools you had for writing were no longer sufficient. We’re not talking about those fundamental tools such as grammar, punctuation and spelling — they don’t count really because under normal circumstances, even a basic education will probably have ensured that they are an instinctive part of your writing process. And if they are not, perhaps it would have been wiser to concentrate on those to begin with rather than take on the burden of a fancy creative writing course.

We’ll take for granted your ability to write ‘correct’ English, so you started to look around to see what the market had to offer for so-called ‘creative’ writing — courses, books, workshops, master classes, private tuition, blogs, web sites — it’s all out there, not so much for the taking, but certainly for all tastes and pockets. And if you were not very careful, you could even have foolishly overlooked with what authority on the subject many of those who offer aforesaid facilities are doing so. Everyone seems to be hopping on the ‘Creative Writing Bandwagon’, though I do wonder how much ‘copying and pasting’ is going on to a greater or lesser degree!

Ok — so you chose something which seemed to fit the bill – you followed the introductory lessons, foundation module or opening pages, and suddenly you fell to pieces. And as if not knowing which end of your pen to use or how to type was not enough, you found yourself having to expose your puerile efforts to peer critique. And as we all know now, mainly in hindsight having suffered at the hands of at least one of these assholes, peer critique always involves at least one know-all who has ‘been there, done that’ and has all the answers. They are particularly vitriolic if there is a tutor to impress, gleefully lashing into you efforts and highlighting your ‘lacunae’ using highfalutin terms that even the tutor is hard-pressed to understand — (you can see that I picked up a few of them myself in that last sentence). What I have always found very curious however, is how these superior peers (the assholes I mean) rarely present any of their own work for ‘positive critique’ — how is that, I wonder?

So where does all this leave your confidence? Rock bottom is an understatement. And here is where your real problems begin, because not only do you have to deal with peer critique, you religiously wade through the whole course, or the whole book, or sign up to one or more of the online workshops, and ‘like’ all the blogs and social media pages — and in most cases, you will have done all of those things and a lot more. You start to take notice of all the suggestions for publishers and how to get your book out there — stuff normally found in the last chapter of the book, or final module in the course — only to discover that many publishers will be looking for letters after your name — for writers with fancy degrees — and/or they will be wanting a copy of your list of published works. You start to carefully read all the profiles existing ‘writers’ have created for themselves to see how they got away with it — what ‘qualifications’ they have to have been published — forgetting that in spite of them being written in third person (what’s that???) in most cases it will have been the writer him/herself who will have written all that personal blurb about how brilliant they are and how many awards they have won and stuff. They call it marketing — but your creative writing education hasn’t got to that part yet, and if things continue as they are, you will probably never have to worry your pretty little head about marketing anyway.

This is deflating, big time. And everywhere you turn you see writers publishing and talking books, and signing books, and having a knees-up at book fairs and literature festivals and you feel totally out of it all. So just to be sure that you have got it all right in your head, you buy more books — as if the official book list at uni hadn’t been long enough, you can’t help feeling that you have missed a vital point somewhere — that secret key to open the flow of words which is taking so long to surge from your head to the page. It’s in there somewhere, so just a few more angles on ‘how-to-do-it’ and you will be sure to get it right.

I don’t know though — sometimes it all seems so wrong. I can’t help asking myself if Shakespeare or Milton had these problems. How many writers of the Classics read books on ‘how-to-do-it’ I wonder. They will very likely have had their off-days, or even weeks, months or years — but I can’t somehow believe that there was the sense of one-upmanship or competition that seems to hover above the writers’ world of today like a heavy black cloud. A continual ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ attitude — who is fastest on the draw to get out a new publication. And I have read some of these publications, and frankly, even though many are blessed with an intriguing storyline, quite a few of them leave a lot to be desired when it comes to tying up the loose ends. I would like to say that typos are the worst of the proofreading hiccoughs that I’ve come across, but no, much to my dismay I have found that there are much greater sins that cannot simply be explained away as the slip of a finger on the keyboard. Do these people own a dictionary? Are they all so presumptuous as to believe that they know how every word is spelt just by hearing it? I mean, the English language is notorious for similar sounding words with completely different spellings isn’t it?

But I’m ranting. Let me set aside my basket of sour grapes. My vision is blurred — becoming a little distorted. Too many writing manuals and blog articles on how to get it right.I think it’s time to clear the shelves and open up a breach in the clutter, although in reality probably most of the clutter exists in my own head. And maybe it’s about time I just got down to writing without worrying too much about how it all comes out and what everyone else is up to. Others have been there before me with their doubts and uncertainties and deep down, even some of the published authors (yes – you can call yourself an author once you’re published!) still have their off-days. Nothing new about that. Should I face up to the fact that I am trying to camouflage a flaw in my ability to write? Maybe I should just give up and get back to learning how to crochet or play bridge?

Hang on a tick — let me just finish my latest purchase. So many people (writers??) have recommended Stephen King’s ‘On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft’ so I must give it a go. It could prove to be exactly the push I need.

Cyber Trap

Janys Hyde ScribblerI’ve never been a great fan of Facebook. It has always disturbed me that something I might say in ‘private’ to a Facebook ‘friend’ — or even a member of my Facebook family come to think of it — might end up in Timbuktu without my ever having given permission for it to go there. The privacy settings are often convoluted and obscure and seem to change with such a mind-boggling frequency that — unless you happen to live on Facebook, you can overlook an important change at the bat of an eyelid and end up with your most intimate revelations at the mercy of all. I suppose the first note I should make to myself here is that ‘intimate’ revelations should probably remain within the four walls of home.

In spite of a list as long as my arm of good reasons to avoid Facebook — and following on from a couple of feeble attempts to abandon ‘social’ networking altogether, I recently allowed myself to be convinced that I might somehow get Facebook to work for me and my specific goals in life, but first of all, I needed to seriously think about what those goals might be. I subsequently opened up a couple of Facebook pages to cover two of my interests, namely Venice and writing – in the hope that they would remind me to channel my energy more accurately.

They do say that ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’ but they also say ‘a little knowledge that acts is worth infinitely more than much knowledge that is idle’ which is perhaps more suited to my relationship with internet and all that surfs in her. I had the dubious good fortune to study various aspects of the internet and how to build web sites and upload information for the world to see, and as one would assume, I was also taught a lot relating to the good, the bad and the very ugly idiosyncrasies of the net with which lesser mortals don’t normally bother themselves. All this has left me with a hefty distrust of the cyber world and most of what it stands for. My ‘little knowledge’ acted accordingly.

So let’s take a step back and give some thought to those ‘goals in life’ which I was looking for a couple of paragraphs back. If nothing else internet has been encouraging on this point – only a recent discovery, but it seems that there are an awful lot of other women out there, very much like myself, who continue to try to find their ‘niche’ in life – who have spent the greater portion of their existence having/bringing up/weaning off children/partners without ever having given serious thought to what they themselves wanted to do or be when they grew up/got old. Sad though the situation would seem when exposed so harshly, it’s strangely comforting to know that I’m not alone. It so happens that many of the women I have met through the net (if only virtually in most cases) are writers/wannabe writers like myself, which has made my discovery all the more interesting and relevant.

Now I can admit that I – like many it seems – am just beginning to find the time and context to come out of my sacrificial shell and tug my own strings instead of having to wait to see what everyone else around me wants before I make a move – I’m finding it difficult to organise my thoughts and actions as an individual person. My brain is rusty, not to mention my limbs and emotions. For too many years I have functioned only as a complement to the needs of those around me. The freedom is overwhelming.

And that is where the similarity with other women would seem to fall short. If I am to believe even if only in part, the kind of personal image many of these cyber women are promoting, it would seem that they are all super-women – they manage to spend considerable time in every conceivable corner of social networking available online, hopping from Twitter to Facebook to LinkedIn to Pinterest to Goodreads and to a series of ‘virtual clubs’ that I have never even heard of, let alone considered signing up for. They blog and Twitter and somehow even find time to write books – and I do mean books in the plural. So what the heck am I doing wrong?

But I really must finish talking about my goals mustn’t I? Well I think I’ve found what I don’t want to be. I still don’t trust internet and will not be signing up as slave to a whole bunch of social networking. Really, I am not doing anything wrong, but maybe just a little differently. Perhaps I am being more pragmatic than some about my approach in recognising at the outset that I am no super-woman before I even attempt to throw myself into the scrum. Rumours are already coming through that it isn’t all that some would like to cook it up to be anyway. It takes an awful lot of dedicated effort to really make social networking work as a marketing or promotional tool, and even then you have to be absolutely certain that you have a good product to market, be it yourself or, in this case, a book.

Meanwhile life passes you by, children grow up loved ones get older, and at 60 plus years of age, I hope still to have time to give some thought to where I want to go with my life. I might even find the time and inclination to create that good product. No rush and most definitely, no hassle …

For those into word counts, this piece is 966 words long, without the title

Writing spaces

I just launched a couple of new writing blog/page/community spaces. One is ‘Venice from the Inside’ which is, as its name suggests, aimed at all things Venice. A number of people have made contributions to the writing on the site, and I have now added submission guidelines for those who might like to join in. The site address is

The other site is for the occasional book review and short pieces of written work. More specifically I wanted to have a place to gather together all the useful resources I have found on the net for creative writing.

There are two Facebook pages to complement the web sites.

As is often the case with personal sites, they are continually a ‘work in progress’ left at the bottom of the ‘drawer’ and remembered just every now and again! Luckily the Facebook pages get much more attention and are updated on a regular basis.

Translations for contemporary art

I may have mentioned elsewhere that one of the things I do in life is translate press releases and catalogues for galleries, artists and curators of contemporary art. There is no question of doubt that the work is fascinating, but for those of you who have not had much to do with contemporary art (or any art for that matter), you might not be aware that the field has a language all of its own. I like to call it ‘curator speak’.

So how does ‘curator speak’ differ from the language used by us lesser mortals? Well you don’t have to go far to find examples since many magazines and newspapers run a series of articles describing the latest trends in contemporary art. You will know you have landed in the right place when you find yourself in front of a piece of writing which reads like gobbledygook! Curators and ‘art-speak’ people live in another world — they see things through eyes that somehow manage to transform the sight of a heap of scrap metal into a vision of ethereal beauty. A pile of bricks becomes a monument to the Gods of Olympus — I won’t even begin to tell you what they managed to see in a heap of elephant dung at a recent Venice Biennale.

Now this is all very well, and under normal circumstances it wouldn’t affect my daily life in the least — if it weren’t for the fact that I am the one who has to translate their highfalutin Italian ramblings into English. Now wait for it because you have to laugh at this bit — that’s without ever getting to see the work of art they are spouting about!!! I’m sure you can imagine that it takes a superhuman effort to achieve something even vaguely convincing.

In spite of this rather unusual drawback to the normal execution of my work, I have to concede that many of the artists have done an incredible amount of research before producing their works of art. A case in hand is the work I am doing right now where the works of the artist represent strife and struggles in the Middle East. I have been forced to follow a learning curve of my own to be able to accurately translate much of the terminology used, and to understand where the artist is coming from with his interpretation of the difficult situations described.

So yet again, I must thank the protagonists of a contemporary art exhibition for allowing me to delve more deeply into their ‘art-speak’ and to gain new knowledge thanks to their artistic diversity.

Creative writing exam

I find myself at that critical moment when I have written my couple of pieces of prose and have laid them before my peers for their considered critique. We are all more or less in the same boat, and probably at about the same level of writing ability. My prose has already been drafted, redrafted, edited and redrafted until it has begun to satisfy my own personal view of improvement. I am feeling all written out. Then along comes someone with a comment on the structure of one of my pieces — and if I may add — a very valid criticism — and I can feel myself falling to pieces. I still have the report/commentary to write and all of a sudden the steam has run out …

And the deadline is May 31st, and it no longer seems an age away …

Words of a Feather

Our new site is up and running. A fair amount of groundwork has been done and a fairly clear plan of operation is emerging.
Take a peek […]

There are areas of the site which will be open to the public in general, and then other areas which will be accessible according to the registered user level. Generally speaking registered users will need an invitation to take part. If they are registered as contributors this will mean that they can ‘hide’ areas of their written content on a temporary or permanent basis so that the public/registered users can read/comment/critique etc. or not. Registered users will be able to add their own events to the events’ calendar and have access to various resources which we will post on the site from time to time.

Most sites for writers offer competitions and other events occasionally so we will be looking further into the development of similar ideas.

Cardo & Friends

Thrilled to get a message from Mark this morning telling me how the launch of Cardo’s new cd had gone off. Sounds as if there was a real big party and everyone has come through feeling very satisfied with the results. I know this has taken a long while to develop and produce, so the team certainly deserves a big pat on the back.

Here is a link to Cardo’s site where for a short while it will be possible to listen to some of the tracks off the cd. Cardo’s style is very reminiscent of artistes such as Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Leonard Cohen and Johnny Cash.

Some of the lyrics are downright tough and in strong contrast with the musical arrangements. Many of them highlight the ongoing crisis in the border towns of Cardo’s hometown, El Paso, Texas.

Good news for me too as Mark is looking into our combined words and pictures project which we are hoping to work on later this year. Check out some of Mark’s amazing photography here …