New Podcast (hurrah). Top Books for Creative People

Hello Friends

We all need some inspiration from time to time, either somebody to give us a motivating kick in the proverbial, or just  time out to read some wise words in a good book.

Well, embarrassment of riches time, because in today’s podcast, I bring you wise words from three good books. I’ve chosen these books because I found them inspiring, not because I was looking for some books to review. I hope you’ll invest in at least one of them (or find them in your library), and I hope you’ll agree.

Don’t worry if you don’t agree, just tell me which books have moved you and I can maybe feature them in a later episode.

Here goes on Soundcloud:

I will post iTunes and Podomatic links soonest.

Have a great, creative weekend.

Mel

Get it on the To-Do List.

I was congratulating a friend on the prolificness (is that a word?) of her recent blog posts. Secretly I was chastising myself for my own silence, both literally and figuratively, as I haven’t podcasted for a wee while either. She replied that she’d had a bit of a bad week at work and creating the posts was a real help. It’s not the first time I’ve heard this from a friend, that their creative endeavours actually help them out of a funk. My own heroine, dear Dorothy Parker, created her best work when miserable. I may have mentioned that before, partly to remind myself that being a bit down doesn’t mean you should stop the important and fun stuff, even if it is hard.

Ernest Hemingway said ‘If you want to be a writer, and you don’t, then you aren’t’. Or words to that effect. In other words, whatever else is going in your life, you should be writing (substitute ‘singing’, ‘crafting’ etc., as appropriate). How many times have I said, ‘Just go for it’?, yet here am I, the one so busy, I can’t find time to type a few words? And the more I don’t, the more I don’t. It’s like not phoning a friend you haven’t phoned for ages, because you haven’t phoned them for ages. The longer you leave it, the harder it gets.

So, here comes the advice bit – not from some kind of guru, but from someone who, like most of us, knows what they should be doing, but isn’t quite getting there.

Creating is fun, right, but it’s also work. You wouldn’t bunk off work just because you were a bit down, or a bit busy. Would you? Really? Well, I won’t tell your boss, this time. To get through the working day, you don’t just sit down and improvise your tasks from 9-5, you have a to-do list, or some recognised method of knowing how the day might pan out.

Apply this to your creative life. Get a to-do list. Mine says ‘ Write blog post’, followed by a list of people to contact about interviews for the podcast, followed by  some work on a writing project I’m doing with a friend.  As I cross one thing off, I’ll add another. If I don’t do this, I know I’m going to end up losing time again. Yes, creativity is a magical thing, but it also requires a measure of discipline, especially if you’re not in the mood, or tired, or Happy Valley is on the TV. (Heavens, wasn’t it marvellous?)

Maybe you’re more tech-savvy than me and prefer to set reminders on your phone. Also a good idea, in fact anything that works. This is our time, we mustn’t waste it. Set aside at least some every day to create, even if it’s only fifteen minutes. A friend of mine swears by the Morning Papers exercise, and it has a lot of supporters. I am going to try it…some day. For now, I’m at one with my to-do list and the satisfaction of crossing things off. A job, if not well done, at least done.

Happy creating, and I’ll put you guys on the list for …very soon!

Mel

 

 

 

 

The Infuriating ‘i’ Word

I’m at home today, with the worst head cold I’ve had in years, feeling sorry for myself. So, that might be why I’m also at ‘peak’ belligerence. Seriously, enough is enough. Yes, I like a nice cliche and a hackneyed expression as much as the next person (inserts notional smiley face), but it’s time to pick up the red pen and strip the word ‘iconic’ from the language. There’s a call to arms coming, so I do hope you’ll join me. Why must everything be ‘iconic’ and is something of less value if it isn’t? Here are just a few recent examples, some from people who ought to know better:

  1. http://wheelerdealers.discoveryuk.com/top-10-iconic-cars-of-all-time/

If you’ve ever had the misfortune to watch the Wheeler Dealers TV show, you’ll know it’s also liberally peppered with the offending word.

2) Hinduja Group Formally Acquires Iconic London Building

A headline from yesterday’s NDTV about the purchase of Churchill’s old war office at 57, Whitehall. Bear in mind, most people don’t even know this building  and couldn’t point to it on a map. But, according to Visit London, the city is home to some of the world’s most…you guessed it… iconic buildings in the world.

3) Here’s a photo I took at the National Theatre on Monday night:

20160229_175841

Disappointing, I felt, in a building full of some of the most brilliant, creative minds we have. Alice is Wonderland is so many things, unique, witty, entertaining, meaningful and, yes, important.

4) My God, there’s even an iconic estate agent. Thank you, Norwich.

I have no objection to the word itself, just to its overuse and the fact that it has been rendered so meaningless.

Here’s how the online Oxford Dictionary defines ‘iconic’

1)Relating to or of the nature of an icon:he became an iconic figure for directors around the world

2)Of a classical Greek statue) depicting a victorious athlete in a conventional style.

Interestingly, here’s the definition from the online Cambridge dictionary:
Very ​famous or ​popular, ​especially being ​considered to ​representparticularopinions or a ​particulartime:John Lennon ​gained iconic ​statusfollowing his ​death.
It seems the boffins at Cambridge are more up to date on usage, though it pains me to admit that they are nearer to the mark, as  their definition gives us all carte blanche to label anyone or anything famous as ‘iconic’. We have such a rich language, and so many words to choose from. This ‘iconic’ trend is fairly new, so what did we use before? Let’s go back to ‘seminal’, ‘ideal’, ‘representative’ and, yes, ‘important’.
So, are you with me? Will you join me in this campaign to expunge the ‘i’ word, or at least put it back where it belongs, as a very special word, only to be used to describe the most…um…’totemic’ of people, places and things?
Civil disobedience. Switch off Wheeler Dealers, deface posters, and write in the strongest words to the editor of The Times.
Together we can make this happen, people. I’ve even created a hashtag. #iconicballs. Use it with pride.
And why Bette Davis? Well, she is, isn’t she? A true icon, properly iconic, and I just love this image.
Back with you when my head is clearer.
Mel

 

Latest podcast available now.

Hello all

Time for my newest podcast. This time, I’m reviewing two recent books on creativity, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and Think Like an Artist by Will Gompertz.

Which book has inspired your creativity? I’d love to know, and I can compile a list to share with everyone.

Happy listening.

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/squatting-toad-episode-8-book/id1065341757?i=362426806&mt=2

If you don’t have iTunes, there’s Podomatic:

http://www.podomatic.com/media/details/11214505

 

Mel

‘Books Still Accomplish Miracles’

 

I know I shouldn’t be buying more books. My ‘to be read’ pile is getting high enough to rival a Middle Eastern skyscraper, in addition to which, you’ll remember, I am committed to supporting my local library. In truth, I hadn’t intended to buy any more books, but, on Friday, my wanderings took me by one of my favourite London bookshops, Judd Books. (www.juddbooks.com)

Tucked away in Bloomsbury, the two floors of Judd Books contain treasure after treasure, not to be found on any bestseller list. The shop specialises in secondhand and remaindered items, and you never know what you will find there. Such joy. It’s like entering a sweetshop and finding whole brands of chocolate you’ve never heard of, that are better than any you know, but cost half the price.

Most of the books are modern and you don’t find many truly old books, which is why the 1902 Dictionary of Quotations by the Revd. James Wood immediately caught my eye. And at only £3.95, it was a swift addition to my collection of books for the aspiring creative. After all, what could presage the creative flow more than wise words from artists and thinkers of times gone by? Plus, it’s a lovely old book, and I love to post a good quote on Twitter.

Immediately I turned to ‘C’ for ‘Creativity’. I found nothing. Perhaps the good reverend lived too austere a life to think of more artistic pursuits as anything but frivolous. Certainly he was kept busy by his linguistic studies,as there are quotes in English, French, German, Dutch and Latin. People say our educational level has not been ‘dumbed-down’, but when was the last time you quoted Cicero – in the original?

So, on I searched, Cicero appearing, as I far as I could see, to have nothing to add to my musings at this stage.

Success is the child of audacity – Benjamin Disraeli

That one really chimed with me. In my last podcast, I mention Wil Gompertz’s Masterclass that I attended earlier this month. He talked about artists being ‘disruptors’. A new word for it, maybe, but not a new concept. Disraeli was already wise to it.

Anxiety is the poison of life – Blair

This being 1902, I am ruling out former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, a man, who, anyway, showed little anxiety in wreaking some international havoc. The internet actually ascribes the quote to American theologian, Tryon Edwards, so we are none the wiser as to ‘who’ Blair. But, again, this rings so true for me and I’ve talked about it often, how we sabotage ourselves by fear. And calling that anxiety a ‘poison’ rightly sums it up. It can seep through every part of you, until you just give up, and what’s the point of that?

I’ll leave you with one more gem.

Genius is mainly an affair of energy – Matthew Arnold

In other words, it takes graft. We all have the capacity in us to create something great, we just need to work at it. That’s what I’m trying to do with my time right now. Create, enjoy and put aside the anxiety.

I wish the same for you, too.

If you are looking for inspiration, then tune in to the podcast:

 https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/squatting-toad/id1065341757?mt=2

Follow me on Twitter @squatting_toad

Leave a comment, or email me at imasquattingtoad@gmail.com

Oh, and by the way, the title is a quote from Thomas Carlyle, 19th century Scottish philosopher.

Good luck.

Mel

 

 

 

 

Anyone can tell a Story

My favourite singer, Dianne Reeves, sometimes ends her concerts by exhorting her audience to tell their stories, and ‘may all your stories have meaningful and happy endings’.

It’s a Monday night, and it’s cold, dark and dreary and Dianne Reeves is, alas, not playing London tonight. Monday’s a rubbish night anyway, so what’s a girl to do to cheer the evening along to a speedy close? Take in a story-telling evening in South London, that’s what. I know, SOUTH London. That means crossing the river,  and at this time of night!

In the spirit of understanding creative motivation, I was keen to visit the Spark London event in Brixton. Just to observe, of course. I would sit quietly at the back and bother nobody. I really didn’t know what to expect,or even if I knew what storytelling was.

(See Spark’s Website – http://stories.co.uk/london/)

The house lights dimmed (actually, they were already dimmed, but I’m trying to set the mood here) and the storytelling began. Joanna opened with a break-up tale, which involved the film, Desperately Seeking Susan. From the back of the room, a lightbulb quietly lit up over my head. That reminded me of seeing that self same (dreadful) film in 1985. Is that worth telling? I asked myself this question, via the discreet medium of Twitter, and almost immediately was Tweeted back by the organisers ‘Anyone can tell a story’. The gauntlet was thrown down, so up I went.

Having done stand-up in my youth in rooms packed with baying hounds, or stag parties, I forget which, I felt not a shred of nerves on that stage in front of this warm and willing audience. Their Monday night was also being enhanced, and partly because they wanted it to be. The trouble with the heckling stag parties is that they want you to fail. How does that make for great entertainment for anyone?

This audience was just lovely, and the stories, all compelling in different ways, were given the space they needed to flow. Martha from Scotland’s story of a death threat was a particular highlight, and she’d never performed before! She was just as funny on the tube going home, with her tale of buying a spiralizer. Some people are just born to storytelling. Some people confine their talents to anecdotes told over a pint of beer, but these are still stories that bear the telling and leave their listeners with a warm, fuzzy glow, even if, in the haze of the morning after, they can’t quite recall the tale. Others tell their stories through music or painting, but stories they remain.

It’s true, we can all tell stories. As we know, there is nothing worse than an untold story, especially for the teller.

To top the evening off, all the performers are entered into a draw for free cinema tickets and I only flipping won them, didn’t I? Not that that was my motivation. Oh no.

I chatted to a couple of fellow performers after the show, and hope to persuade at least one to talk about their experience, and their motivation, in a future podcast.

Thank you, Spark London, for a great night. I am still feeling the warm and fuzzy glow.

Mel

Utopia in the Cosmos, but I’ll keep my feet on the ground

Hello again

It seems to happen almost every time we go on holiday. The conversation goes something like this:

Me: What shall we do today?

Mr Toad: You know, the one thing I’d really like to see here  is (insert name of museum, attraction etc.).

Me: Great, let’s go.

Only to arrive and find that it’s closed. Poor husband. It never happens to me, it’s always his special place that’s unavailable. In Oslo, the Kon-Tiki museum, in Moscow the Cosmonaut Museum. Thankfully, the gap left by the latter was filled this weekend here in London. The Science Museum is hosting a fascinating exhibition on the history of the Soviet/ Russian space programme, called, unsurprisingly, Cosmonauts.

http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/visitmuseum/Plan_your_visit/exhibitions/cosmonauts.aspx

The exhibition is interesting from a scientific and political point of view, but also from a creative, visionary perspective. I discovered that the idea of space travel goes way back to the 19th Century and the Utopian ideals of Nikolai Fyodorov. He believed that mankind could achieve the highest possible state and even immortality, and colonising parts of space was an integral part of that. He even believed we should strive to one day be able to revive the dead. Something of a minefield that one, I mean, who would decide who is worthy of resurrection? Would it be a privilege of the wealthy?

Anyway, to space travel and colonisation. Of course, we will have to push back the boundaries of science by some distance before we can make it happen. If, and when, we do, who gets the call? We will have to populate distant planets with a range of people, you can’t just have scientists, essential though they be. So there has to be a place for creative people, and what will they bring to the party? Writers can, and will, write. Musicians are always needed. (See my previous blogpost about Ernest Shackleton and the banjo.)But, ultimately, where will inspiration come from? Our current – only – world, is a hive of interconnectivity. You say something that reminds me of something else, or gives me an idea. I jot it down, or I even tweet it straight away. Somebody likes my tweet, and they write a blog, or make a podcast on the subject. Or just write in a diary, kept only for their own amusement. Maybe space is enough of an inspiration, there’s enough of it! Perhaps it really will be like Star Trek, with a new alien encounter every week. That should keep us busy.

Whatever, if I get the call and I go, I shall keep creating. I shall organise an intergalactic amateur dramatic and storytelling group, with a bit of stand-up comedy on the side. If the aliens (Are we allowed to call them that?) want to join in and tell a few gags or read a few poems, they would be very welcome. Reduced ticket prices for travellers from far solar systems/ galaxies. Please check your phasers at the door.

As someone who doesn’t really even like aeroplanes, there’s not much chance that I’ll be selected to be thrust out there, but I can still dream, and that’s creativity enough for me, thank you. In the week that the first British astronaut made a space walk, I think we should all dream a little.

Whatever else, do get to the Science Museum if you can, and marvel that any man could comfortably sit in one of those pods for even a few minutes, let along be rocketed above the skies and into orbit. My poor back would never be the same!

Happy creating.

Mel

 

 

 

 

 

News | Official Website for Best Selling Author Elizabeth Gilbert

Interesting for those afraid of singing.

Terrified of singing in front of a crowd of strangers? So is Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert.But in preparation for her upcoming book, Big Magic, which encourages readers to face their fears, Gilbert decided to practice what she preaches. Which is how she ended up singing “Total Eclipse of the Heart” on a New York City karaoke stage.

Source: News | Official Website for Best Selling Author Elizabeth Gilbert

Love that Library, just love books.

20160110_150251.jpg

Hello again, Friends.

As promised in my last post, after writing I popped straight to my local library branch and borrowed a couple of books. (see picture)

It’s true that I hadn’t been there in some time, and there was no disguising the fact that the once packed lending area shelves were fewer in number, and that, of course, means fewer books. But I found two books to my liking and proudly carried them to the desk for stamping. At that point I was informed that my library card had expired. It needs to be renewed every three years, which shows just how long it was since my last visit. Thankfully the renewal process was quick and painless. Shame on me, though, for not using the library for so long.

I’m very happy with my chosen books. One of my promises to myself this year is to read more poetry and I am shamefully unfamiliar with the work of Roger McGough, Liverpool poet (and he who lends his mellifluous Scouse tones to the Waitrose TV adverts).

The Vienna guide also relates to a long-held promise to myself. I haven’t been to my favourite city for some years, and so, last week, I booked myself a few days there in February. Although I might yet buy a gudiebook, thus also supporting my local bookshop, I wanted to reacquaint myself with this fine city. I am really looking forward to my trip, of which more when it happens, and I am hoping this most musical place will inspire my own creativity.

Now all I have to do is remember that the books have to go back on 28th January. Having not borrowed books for years, my mind is not attuned to such deadlines. Somebody please remind me.

Let’s keep loving books, wherever we find them!

Happy reading (and writing)

Mel

 

 

Love your library in 2016

Hello, fellow creators.

And a Happy New Year to you all. May 2016 be a year of positive change, if change is what you want.

Last time, I mentioned, slightly more than en passant, that I was giving up my job at the end of last year. And so, I sit here, on a Thursday afternoon, at my desk at home, writing this. I do have some goals in mind, and will be working towards them. Chief among them is to expand and improve Squatting Toad, so watch out for that.

What was that about libraries? Well, I don’t want to work at home all the time, too many distractions, and I wondered where to find a distraction-free environment in the local area, that doesn’t cost anything at the point of use. In other words, not a coffee shop. Too much risk of buying cake and sitting next to someone making a life-changing business deal very loudly at the next table. (Both of those are true – sort of.) Turning the clock back to my student days, I donned my wee backpack and walked the half hour to my local main library branch. Yes, exercise too!

I walk through the sliding doors and the smell immediately transports me back twenty-five years. It’s not the aroma of books, I don’t know what it is, maybe just an old building smell, but I am suddenly in my final year of studies again. This turns on my ‘serious’ button and I head straight for the reading room. It’s here I feel an utter fraud. A good couple of decades older than everybody else, and I have neither a laptop nor a fat textbook on my desk. Just me and my notebook and pen. How very 1991.

Back in 1991, though, the shelves of the reading room were filled with reference books. Now there’s just a few ragged copies of Who’s Who an Encyclopaedia Britannica with a 1997 update volume, nothing later, and some music scores. Otherwise, it’s a sad sea of empty shelves. Downstairs in the lending area, there are still lots of books, but the age of many betrays the sad lack of budget to buy new titles. I find a handy sofa and sit and read some poetry for a while.

It remains a great, quiet place to get some thinking done, despite the odd phone going off, something we didn’t have back in ‘my day’. I do feel guilty for deserting the library, though, and have come home to ferret out my library card, so I can go and borrow a book. I feel that shows a level of loyalty and commitment.

So, here’s my plea to you all. Go to your local library. Borrow a book or DVD, ask the librarian a question, read the newspaper, just USE it. Or maybe risk losing it. I grew up in a town without a bookshop and, when I was a child, the library was a magical place of new and exciting worlds. There’s no reason a library can’t be the same today, even in this ‘just Google it’ age. Go consult the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Let it get dog-eared with use.

I know I said that the library is free to use, and it is, but we all pay for it through our council tax, so get your money’s worth, and maybe if we all do it, there’ll be more budget thrown the service’s way for books. That would be a positive change for 2016 and I would applaud it.

I’ll be back at the library soon, writing and reading. I can’t think of any place that is a greater testament to creativity, either by making available finished writings, or by being a place of safety in which to bring forth new work.

My next podcast, partly conceived in the library, will be with you soon. Meanwhile, I’m off back there to borrow an improving book.

Wishing you much inspiration.

Mel Byron