1st Place: Rabbits by Jane Downs
2nd Place: Flower Pepper by Britt Tisdale
3rd Place: Strangers on a Bridge by Holly Woodward
1st Place: Rabbits by Jane Downs
2nd Place: Flower Pepper by Britt Tisdale
3rd Place: Strangers on a Bridge by Holly Woodward
As the train slowly moves south through France from its mountainous centre to its arid plains the colours of the vegetation subtly shift. We pass gardens with neat rows of tomatoes and haricots verts, tables with oilcloths and plastic chairs invitingly waiting under shady trees. Lavender bushes which were still in tight pale green bud in the mountains are in full purple bloom as we approach Nimes. Roses are full, open. The sky is deep blue.
I am met at the station by Nancy Gerbault who has organized a literary event which I am to attend for the weekend en route back to London, lured out of my writing retreat by the promise of spending time in the company of Michael Ondaatje, Andrew Motion and others, with the fantasy luxury of a bed in a chateau with breakfast on a pale stone terrace, with my only duties a screening or two and a session answering questions about screenwriting.
What I did not know about was the garden.
The Alchemists Garden
Next to the hotel (not a chateau, in fact, but a Ferme or farm) is a garden built relatively recently, based on alchemical principles. The next morning, in a soft warm breeze, the sun already slanting, hot, onto the immaculate lawns, I enter the garden through its labyrinth and become absorbed and entranced by what I find there. Lavender beds surrounding olive trees, enclosed by willow trees planted in criss-cross lattice form; herbs, vines, flowers; each bush, plant or tree with an adjacent discreet notice describing its properties, many of them traditionally seen as protective against the evil eye, bad influence, or sickness.
After this gentle tour through the powers of plants, comes the alchemical voyage through three inner gardens. First the alchemy garden, the ground covered in slate, everything laid out in straight lines, the borders metallic, the presence of still water, the mood somber. The alchemy garden has paths covered with white gravel, inset with circles of pale stone, a central stone pond surrounded by beds of white roses. A circular entrance through a hedge leads to the alchemy garden with rust-coloured gravel paths, beds of red roses and orange flowers, a central fountain in a six pointed star.
You can leave the black garden by using your mind, says a notice, but to transit the white garden, governed by the moon, you must open your heart. The journey through the red garden, governed by the sun, leads you to a state of transformation. You leave it ready to begin your life again.
I walk through the gardens three times during the weekend. In between I listen to readings (Michael on the craft of writing, Alan Lightman reading from his book Einstein’s Dreams and talking about his dual life as a writer and astrophysicist, Andrew Motion reading his poems, movingly) gaze at the golden light falling on bleached grasses, relax in the heat, talk, eat.
The screening of YES, in the Papal Palace in Avignon, leads to a long Q and A in which, in response to a question and to my observations of the preoccupations of some of the paying participants, I address the question of doubt, self-doubt in particular, as an important part of the writers’ process. My Self-esteem being an overvalued attribute in my view (you feel ashamed if you don’t have enough of it, adding to the sense of lack) I put forward a case for the celebration of both self-doubt and self-criticism. I have noticed that many students feel bad and anxious about the fact that they don’t feel happy with what they have achieved. They assume that those bearers of more conspicuous success must feel good about themselves.
I hope it is reassuring and energising to hear that feelings of confidence are a bonus and not a necessity in writing a screenplay (or perhaps anything else). The point, really, is to get on with it whatever you feel; to learn to coexist with emotional discomfort or anxiety, not to think there’s something wrong with you because it feels hard or you make mistakes.
(My repeated contacts with people struggling with these and other obstacles on the road of screenwriting and directing, some of them students, some practitioners, and the pleasure I get from being able to be of some assistances perhaps simply by saying out loud the things |I wish someone would say to me when I am struggling and it has led me to decide to offer an open workshop or two some time later this year.
As we emerge from the Papal Palace to a soft pink early evening light, Michael Ondaatje suggests a ride on a carousel. Rebecca Swift and Rebecca Abrams, Michael and I sit on our painted wooden horses, laughing, laughing, and singing, as we slowly turn and turn on our horses as they rise and fall. Later, around midnight, after a feast, driving back into Egaylieres, Michael and I are consumed with the need to find a house we had each stayed in (at different times) some years back. Laughing, again, we stumble about in the dark. This is it. No, here! A light on in the house, a figure moving behind the shutters. Michael shouting up a name into the darkness.
The next morning I visit the alchemist garden one last time and take some photographs with my mobile phone. For the last month I have been gardening in southern central France: a view of mountains in the distance, but my eyes mostly scanning what is close. I have had my hands in the earth, day after day, calloused from digging, torn and bleeding from brambles, thistles and nettles.
I have planted three varieties of potato, two of carrot, four of French bean; tomatoes, leeks, beetroot (red and golden), three types of basil plus thyme, rosemary, mint, dill, tarragon, borage and coriander. The strawberries, when I left, were red and heavy; the roses were starting to bloom. A year ago it was a wilderness, full of choking weeds. Now it looks empty, too clean, but cared for.
Tomorrow, in London, I will be in a meeting about an opera; two scripts now sit in my suitcase, surrounded by uncertainty, budding but not yet blooming.
The next Abroad Writers’ Conference is scheduled for 21 to 28 November 2012 at Hever Castle. Authors teaching workshops are: Robert Olen Butler, Paul Harding, Edward Humes and Alex Shoumatoff along with three lecturing British historians: Sarah Gristwood, Eric Ives and Alison Weir.
Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII, lived in France from 1514 to 1521. During her teenage years in France, Anne was at the center of the French Reformist Movement.
She lived in the court of Queen Claude of France, where religious emphasis was on reform.
This is historian Eric Ives’s view of those early years: “In the court of Queen Claude of France where Anne served between 1514 and 1521, as [Louis] de Brun has told us, Anne’s taste was for religious literature in French.
Claude’s household was much influenced by reform (as also the entourage of her sister-in-law Marguerite of Navarre).
The leading figure in the reform was Jacques Lefevre d’Etaples. His Commentary on the epistles of St Paul, published in 1512, abandoned the established way of interpreting scripture through allegory, tropology and analogy in favor of the literal sense understood through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In successive works he moved steadily to the conviction that for a Christian the Bible was the only authority, not scripture as interpreted by the faith of the Church……..Lefevre taught justification by faith long before Luther. His 1512 commentary on St Paul’s Epistle to the Romans explicitly stated that it is impossible for men ‘to be saved of themselves and their good works’. Human effort has no part in justification”.
‘A deeper understanding’
Eric believes that Anne embraced the reformist spirit and transformed herself and possibly even had a conversion experience. She had a faith that was Bible-centered and made a special study of the Epistles of St Paul and was familiar with the doctrine of justification by faith.
Jacques Lefevre (1455-1536), was an ordained priest who studied at the University of Paris and later taught philosophy and mathematics.
After spending many years traveling in Italy, he began editing and commenting on works of Aristotle.
In 1509, Jacques published The Fivefold Psalter (Quincuplex Psalterium). He printed four translations of the Psalms side by side with a fifth column that was his own interpretation of the Latin version that was referenced to a Hebrew text – the first Bible translation in more than a 1,000 years.
In 1512, he produced A Commentary on the Epistles of St Paul, a version Lefevre based on the original Greek text and editorial material.
Lefevre’s comments in both the Fivefold Psalter and Commentary were a radical interpretation of the Bible and Rome.
He had a passion for the classics like other 16th Century humanists, who did not want to accept interpretations that were handed down to them by medieval scholars. They wanted to read and interpret the originals.
Instead of interpreting scripture in the established way through allegory, metaphor and mystical means, Lefevre searched for the literal meaning, taking a new realistic approach that was based on a deeper understanding through spiritual guidance versus surface interpretations.
Protected from hostility
According to Eric Ives: “Lefevre moved steadily to the conviction that for a Christian the Bible was the only authority, a position which reformers would call sola scripture [scripture alone].”
In 1524, Lefevre published the Psalms in French “so that men and women who speak and understand this language might be able to pray to God with greater devotion and feeling”.
However, in 1525/6 Bible translations became illegal in France.
Afterwards, he moved his publications to Antwerp to publish the entire Old Testament in 1528.
In England, there was a prohibition on vernacular scriptures in English. Men and women were not allowed free access to the Bible, but only the interpretations of the Bible given by the Church. Books were not readily available in the market place until 1530.
In France, Lefevre incurred much hostility but was protected by Francis I the king of France and his sister Marguerite d’Angouleme.
Lefevre manuscripts illegal
Eric Ives says, “It can hardly be accidental that among her [Anne’s] surviving books is a personal manuscript text of Lefevre’s Epitres et evangiles pour les cinquante et demux sepmaines de I’an, each passage accompanied by an explanatory homily.
The homilies were reformed, through and through: ‘not a father of the Church, not a holy exegete, not a doctor [of the Church] is mentioned. [Lefevre] makes an absolute distinction between the Bible and tradition.
“The Paris theologians claimed to find 48 errors in the book, most of them damnable heresies, including justification by faith alone and a denial that good works are necessary for salvation.
“Anne’s own manuscript retains the Bible readings in French but the commentary is in English. Professionally copied and illuminated, it had been translated by her brother George, Lord Rochford, and was presented to Anne in the autumn or winter of 1532-3.
“George was a keen reformer – Chapuys hated being escorted by him because he insisted on discussing religion – and the dedication specifically says that he was responding to a ‘commandment’ from Anne. What is more, the actual copy of the 1530-2 Alencon edition, which George used for the translation, is known to have been already available at court.
Thus for Anne to call for an additional copy and a personal one at that, must mean that the Epistres et evangiles had a special significance for her.
Even more lavish was her manuscript copy of a French reformist commentary on the Old Testament book of Eccleistes. It was again a French/English hybrid attributable to Rochford, and justification by faith comes through loud and clear.”
In 1521, Anne Boleyn returned to England, after her time as a lady-in-waiting for Claude, Queen of France. What a change it must have been for her, after being in the center of the reformist movement in France.
In England, reformist manuscripts were blocked and burned by the church and the only way to purchased them was through smugglers. Suddenly, Anne was faced with the realization that her beloved Lefevre manuscripts were illegal and that she could be arrested and killed because of her beliefs.
Hear Eric talk about his research by joining Abroad Writers’ Conference at Hever this autumn. See our booking information for ticket details.
The lecture starts at 18:00 GMT and 20% of our profits will go to local Kent charity, Hospice in the Weald.
Mary Boleyn has gone down in history as the “great and infamous whore”. She was the mistress of two kings, Francis I of France and Henry VIII of England, and sister to Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife.
But in her book, Alison Weir explodes much of the mythology that surrounds Mary Boleyn by carrying out extensive, forensic research to facilitate a new portrayal.
‘Forced to be mistress’
She has concluded that the paternity of Mary’s two children can now be established, thanks to new and overlooked evidence and one was almost certainly fathered by Henry VIII.
Her research has also focused on the relationship between the two sisters, showing how Mary, as the elder of the Boleyn sisters, was soon overshadowed by the more accomplished Anne, and how Mary was more beautiful than Anne, although there is no authentic portrait.
Alison has discovered that contrary to popular belief, Mary did not gain a notorious reputation at the French court, and she probably spent ten years of her life living abroad. But at some stage in her life, Henry VIII forced Mary to become his mistress. However, there is evidence to suggest when their affair began.
Her astonishing and riveting book argues that Mary was entirely undeserving of her reputation as a great and infamous whore, or the calumny that was later heaped upon her, and also shows that Mary’s story had a happy ending and that she was by far the luckiest of the Boleyns.
Hear Alison talk about her research by joining us at Hever this autumn. See our booking information for ticket details.
There is no substitute for travelling to a place of history and seeing it with your own eyes if you want to understand the past, historian Sarah Gristwood says.
Writers will walk in the footsteps of the Tudors at Hever Castle this autumn and hear a series of talks about the castle’s famous residents – Anne and Mary Boleyn – and Anne’s daughter, Queen Elizabeth I.
But what people get from the experience of standing where they stood has nothing to do with “vibes” or “atmosphere”, Sarah says.
“We’re not talking about anything as abstruse as vibrations and even atmosphere may well have changed over the centuries. But some things don’t change – like the very lie of the land. You can see how history worked itself out much more clearly.”
Hever Castle is famous for being the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, and Sarah’s lecture, given with fellow historian Alison Weir, will offer an insight into the lives of both Anne and Elizabeth I.
Anne was the second wife of King Henry VIII. Their marriage in 1533 led him to break with the Roman Catholic church and bring about the English Reformation. But Henry’s ultimate aim was to father a legitimate male heir to the throne.
In the year she married, Anne gave birth to Queen Elizabeth I. But a year later, she had a miscarriage, and two years after that she gave birth to a stillborn male child. In 1536, she was committed to the Tower of London on a charge of adultery and even incest and was beheaded 17 days later.
Sarah says: “The whore and the virgin are two popular perceptions of Anne and her daughter.
“Alison and I will be asking how much truth there is in the legends, and how much these two very famous women really had in common – what legacy Anne bequeathed to her daughter.”
Both Anne and Elizabeth captured people’s fascination at the time they lived and in the present day and Sarah explains their enduring fascination.
“I think part of Anne’s fascination is that she was a great self-inventor; a not particularly beautiful girl who managed to make herself one of the great romantic prizes – something that was also true of Elizabeth in a way,” Sarah says.
“That, and the fact that opinions about her – even during her own lifetime – varied so wildly.”
Sarah’s view is that while Anne Boleyn suffered a horrendous early death, she only made a trade-off that many men have been prepared to make right through the centuries.
If she could say one thing to the young Anne, it would not necessarily be “don’t do it – don’t marry Henry”.
“Anne suffered a horrendous early death but she had won the highest rank and changed the future of her country,” says the best-selling Tudor biographer, journalist and royal commentator
“And, had she known it, she had given birth to a monarch who would be perhaps the greatest in Britain’s history.”
The Abroad Writers’ Conference lecture series at Hever will begin on 21 November, when Alison Weir will give a talk about Mary Boleyn, based on her best-selling book, Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings.
The author and historian will look at the tangled web of relationships that developed between Henry VIII and the two Boleyn sisters – one his wife and the other his mistress.
Alison’s work has led to her exploding much of the mythology surrounding Mary Boleyn.
She has also presented compelling new evidence that almost conclusively determines the paternity of Mary’s two eldest children.
The lecture by both Sarah and Alison will take place on 22 November and will be followed by a special Thanksgiving dinner.
A while ago, we wrote our Hever Castle writing conference would be a first for us on many levels – our first conference in a castle, our first conference in autumn, and the first time we have combined history with literature.
But there’s another first for us. We are opening our doors to the public.
In the past, we met dozens of fellow writing types at our workshop events. But this time we hope to meet hundreds, because we are also staging a series of lectures.
Dress up, come and have dinner with us and a glass of wine, hear our speakers, get your book signed, meet like-minded writers and have a chat with our experts.
They will be talking about the Tudors – particularly Anne Boleyn who lived at Hever Castle – the state of publishing today, literature and journalism for our time, along with the art of simply putting words together and crafting your stories. If you’ve been following our blog, you’ll already know some of our speakers.
Here are the details of our lecture evenings. Each dinner will raise money for a locally-based charity. Those organisations will receive 20% of our profits.
26 November – Historian Eric Ives in aid of the YMCA
Tickets are £115 or $184.00 for one lecture and dinner with wine.
In the digital world, journalists are faced with a choice. They can write in ever-shorter forms for websites so readers need not scroll down, they can come up with short-form text designed for phones and tablets, and they can send their work in 140 characters to Twitter.
Or they can try the Alex Shoumatoff method: Write nearly 10,000 words and see it go viral – which was the result of his investigation into the ivory trade across Africa.
Alex believes a writer needs at least 10,000 words to do justice to the complexities and ambiguities of their subject.
“There is still a market for the long fact piece, as I’ve learned from the huge response to my last two outings,” he says.
Alex’s 9,720-word piece on the ivory trade, Agony and Ivory, was published in Vanity Fair last year, and was later nominated for a National Magazine Award. His 11,050-word excavation of the history of a vanishing New York civilisation, Positively 44th Street, came out in the magazine this summer. And his latest non-fiction book, Legends of the American Desert, a cultural and natural history of the Southwest which met with rave reviews, spans 500 pages.
Write a ‘vomit draft’
The question is what is the secret of producing top-class writing at speed?
“The guy who could really write fast, knocking off a whiskey-fuelled single draft that was print-ready, was Christopher Hitchens,” Alex says. “I am not a fast writer. It is always a tortuous process.”
Alex starts with a “vomit draft”, a process that he describes as letting your mind run free. He achieves this by putting down any association and anything that comes to mind.
Later, he prunes and shapes his work. And even Alex, who has been described by one of his Vanity Fair editors as “one of the great prose stylists of this or any century”, can struggle to find the right word. Sometimes, at that stage in the process, the right word can come to mind while he walks or sleeps, Alex says.
“But this said, when I am in the zone, on a roll, I do write fast,” Alex says. “The best writing is the most straightforward. Often, as I am explaining something to somebody, it comes out the most naturally and clearly – more so than when I am straining for how to put it while sitting at my computer.”
‘Battle for our planet’
According to Alex, a good writer is made by work, tremendous intellectual curiosity, and knowing how to write by reading the great. A good piece of writing is “like good music,” he says. But when asked which writers today will become the great writers of the future, he answers: “Not many that I can think of.”
Alex has put himself on the frontline of the battle for our planet, with his writing about the fast-disappearing natural world. In 2001, he founded DispatchesfromTheVanishing World.com to raise awareness of the current unprecedented extinction rate of species and traditional cultures and man’s dramatic impact on his habitat.
His writing has already saved ancient redwoods in California and halted a project to install a hydroelectric transmission line in Manotiba. And his investigation into the ivory trade is changing opinions of the nouveau riche on ivory carvings and jewellery in China.
When Alex gives lectures and workshops, he covers his own huge range of writing styles. His list includes literary journalism, writing to effect positive change, writing for the world, investigative journalism, advocacy journalism, literary travelogue, “far-flung” reportage, nature writing, writing about the natural sciences, popular science writing, ethnography, poetry, song-writing, family history and memoir.
However, while his writing styles may be numerous, Alex’s aim is simple and in line with his overriding concern. “To make audiences aware of the seriousness of our ongoing deepening planetary emergency and the thousands of things each of us can do to be part of the solution and not the problem.”
The experience of having your novel rejected repeatedly can be liberating, says Paul Harding, because it leaves you free to write whatever you want.
And Paul has proved that writing for writing’s sake pays off, because his journey from rejection slips to Pulitzer recognition is now known throughout the publishing and literary world.
He wrote Tinkers, a novel about a dying clock repairer who is released from the constraints of time and memory to return to the life he had with his father, but the manuscript remained unpublished for years and was repeatedly rejected.
Eventually, Tinkers found its way into print through a small publisher. It has since won the Pulitzer Prize.
The important thing to remember is not to confuse publishing with writing, Paul says.
“I felt that I was having my fair share of rejection, along with everyone else. But in the meantime it helped to think ‘hey, if I don’t get published, at least that means I can write whatever I want’. Art for art’s sake.”
‘It’s worth the trouble’
This is the advice Paul now offers to first-time novelists in the light of his experience.
“Be dogged. First, it can take a lot of time and effort for your manuscript to find the editor or agent who is going to love it and be its best advocate.
“Second, keep in mind that you’re working on something that might have profound meaning for other people someday – so it’s worth the trouble.”
And it’s that connection between the writing and reader that is key to producing exceptional writing, Paul says.
“I think that all good writing activates a sense of recognition in the reader.
“It’s the sense of ‘I’ve seen that before; I’ve felt that way before’.
“My favourite moments as a reader are when I realise that I’ve just read something that is true, and I’ve always known it to be true, and I’ve never seen anyone put it into words before.”
‘Read the best’
One of the most important jobs for a writer is to expose themselves to the best writing they can lay their hands on, Paul says.
“If you’re serious, you need to know what your art can do at its very best.
“You need to know the high-water marks of your chosen art, humbling as it is to compare your own stuff to it.”
The books that have inspired Paul are the classics. “I read and re-read older books – and tons of theology,” he says.
He freely admits to having barely made it past 1950 in terms of who he has and has not read. His favourites include Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, and The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James.
Paul’s view is simple. “Time sorts art out, in some ways.”
Cultivating artistic vision
When he thinks back to his education in creative writing, he remembers his tutors showing him how they modelled the life of the mind that was necessary for making art.
He says: “I was privileged to watch people conducting their lives at the highest levels of intellectual and aesthetic sophistication.”
Paul explains: “I want to help them on their way to their own artistic visions, whatever they are, in whatever idiom.”
As for Paul’s own Cinderella story, he says he is now just “carrying all of the good fortune forward”.
Paul has already drafted his second novel, Enon, which is set in the same fictional world as Tinkers. He expects his next book to be out by summer next year.
In the years before life as a literary impresario, Nancy Gerbault travelled the world as a flight attendant, produced internationally-recognised work as a painter, and for a while pursued her passion for food – working as a restaurant chef in California.
Her love of art and letters and creativity may lead one to believe she is “arty”, but Nancy, owner and founder of Abroad Writers’ Conference, finds her inspiration in nature and science.
During her career, she has studied Art, History of Art and Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, she has exhibited her paintings in exhibitions around the world – with one project receiving recognition from the then Minister of Culture for France, Jack Lang and the archaeologist Richard Leakey – and she has studied prehistoric rock art, hunter-gatherer societies and Food History at California State University, Sacramento in where she received her MA in Anthropology/Archaeology.
Nancy’s love of Food, History and Literature was the foundation of what drove her to create Abroad Writers’ Conference. She loves to create modern day Salons in historic settings where guest enjoy the company of others who love Literature, History and wonderful food.
But how did a love of science lead her to set up Abroad Writers Conference, and more recently the Nancy Gerbault Literary Agency?
Nancy explains. “I have had to adapt in numerous situations, and after you do, several times, you realise that you just don’t have control in life.
“You have to roll, adapt or die. Just like in evolution. Anyone who stays rigid is not able to survive. Evolution teaches you that, and it applies to life.”
So this is how it all came about.
‘An idea in mind’
In 2003, Nancy wanted a new direction and she found a simple equation.
She had already worked in the travel industry as a Trans World Airlines (TWA) flight attendant and she had completed both her degrees. So she put travel and academia together and came up with Abroad Writers Conference where writers of any discipline get together.
She also took aspiring authors and put them together with international authors. Many of the participants, she noted, would never have had access to the tutors she worked with, were it not for the events that Abroad staged around the world. So she took talented new writers and helped to shape their careers.
Literature became the primary focus, although history and science had been the original driving force. Writers such as Dame Margaret Drabble, Alan Lightman, Michael Ondaatje, Andrew Motion, Robert Olen Butler and director Sally Potter took part in some of Abroad’s first events. Later events: Rae Armantrout, Sarah Gristwood, Paul Harding, Edward Humes, Michele Roberts, Jane Smiley, Rebecca Walker, Alison Weir.
This improvisational, evolutionary approach was deliberate. Painterly, even in how she looked at her conference events.
As Nancy puts it: “To me, it is like painting. I go to a canvas with an idea in mind, but the painting directs me. I know when it’s becoming alive. That’s when I no longer control it.”
And for anyone who remains unconvinced, this is how the Hever Castle conference or Lismore Castle came about, because it’s no secret that renting a castle steeped in history, and one that is in need of loving maintenance and conservation all year round, could be a pricey endeavour.
‘Life is uncertain’
“We went with our dreams,” says Nancy. “Hever or Lismore Castle was more expensive than anything else we were looking at. But we were drawn to it.
“If we had gone by the book we never would have selected it as our first choice. We just allowed ourselves to experiment and it allowed us to feel free.”
“Remember that humans only want to control all aspects of life because they hate uncertainty, but life is uncertain.
“Everything around us can change in a second. So, we cling to what we know, and we believe that it makes us feel more secure.”
Often, when we want to make something right – or correct – it becomes too heavy and it no longer breathes. It’s our problems we stack on top, layer by layer, until we kill the magic inside.”
“Certainty creates so many problems, because life just doesn’t go according to plan.”
So how best to proceed?
“One thing I’ve never understood is why anyone would want tomorrow to be the same as today,” says Nancy.
“Adapt. Be flexible. Evolve. Embrace change.”