New Podcast at last – ‘Daring to Write’

Yes, the summer is over, but you won’t find me complaining. As the nights draw in and it’s time to fire up the heating, it’s the perfect start to a new ‘term’of creativity. With that in mind, the Squatting Toad podcast is firmly back on the cultural and creative map.

In this inspiring episode, I meet author Angela Thirlwell, who give us some insight into her writing career and plenty of helpful advice for aspiring writers.

Listening to the episode again, I realise that I thanked Angela for her time, but not for her wisdom. I’ll correct that right now. Thank you, Angela, for wise words and inspiration.

Enjoy the episode and do take a look at Angela’s website here.

Soon available on iTunes, but for your delight and delectation on Podomatic, first of all, you can find it here.

And not forgetting our old friend, Soundcloud:

Happy listening and Happy Creating.

Mel

 

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Making Virtual Music, but Really

I massively enjoyed tonight’s Last Night of the Proms. Some have accused it of jingoism  in the past with all that flag-waving, but, let’s be honest, it’s all about the music, of course it is. With fine tunes from Borodin, Donizetti and Rossini, to name but three, and tenor, Juan Diego Flores, dressed as Manco Capac, founder of the Inca civilisation, it’s hardly a rousing celebration of Britishness. Even Padington Bear, who made a surprise appearance, is from Peru.

Yet I do feel that this kind of life-affirming, ‘let’s-all-join-in-the-songs-even-if-we-don’t-know-the-words’ kind of event is something we Brits do so well. We’ve always loved a good party and a good sing song, and the Last Night is just one of the most public.  Even the the daily concerts that lead up to this grand finale have a warmth and informality about them that I can’t imagine being replicated elsewhere. Heavens, when a symphony is played, people applaud BETWEEN the movements! Simply not done under normal circumstances, dear boy.

The Proms are sponsored by the BBC which has done a brilliant job of drawing in the viewing and listening public. This year’s ‘Virtual Orchestra’ is a great initiative to encourage people, who may well have hidden the instruments they once loved at the back of the attic, to dust them off and play a tune. Any instrument will do, almost. Have a look a  the list.

Bravo to all of you who take part.It’s so easy to bundle our creative talents away at the back of the attic of our mind, and sometimes all we need is a little encouragement to rip back the dustsheets and get cracking again. We all mean to, when we have the time. One day, we say, we’ll get our metaphorical ladder out and have a good rummage and maybe take up playing, painting, writing again. When we have the time. Come on, if we wait for ‘enough’ time, it will never come. We need to make time and not be scared of that. Maybe just ten minutes to start with. And, this is the important bit -it doesn’t need to be great, or even good, what you do then create. We’ll have no truck with ‘I’m no good at this any more.’. Who said you weren’t, apart from you? Who made you Ruler of the Kingdom of Good?

But, seriously, I say this because I go through it too. I have to tell myself, ‘Just a little bit of writing, every day’. No judgements, no critiques. Just doing. I want to and because, to be my best self, I need to. Can’t say fairer than that.

Now, hand me my air banjo.

Happy creating to you all.

Mel

 

Bless me someone…

  1.  I don’t have the right notebook.
  2. I don’t have the right pen.
  3. What am I doing, using paper and pen?
  4. I’m not in the right mood.
  5. The sun is not in alignment with Sagittarius.
  6. My desk needs dusting.
  7. Great film on BBC2.
  8. I have run out of lipgloss.
  9. My kitchen needs painting.
  10. I hate painting.
  11. Olympics.
  12. I am way too busy sharing my annoying first world problems with the blogosphere.
  13. It’s raining.
  14. It’s windy.
  15. The phone’s ringing.
  16. The phone hasn’t rung for days, I must check it’s working.
  17. It’s time to write my Christmas cards.
  18. I have to unfriend some people on Facebook.
  19. Just joking about that last one, I love you all!
  20. Is it on my To Do list?
  21. My postillion has been struck by lightning.

And these, oh gods of creativity, are but 21 of the reasons I was unable to create much of value this weekend. Tomorrow is Monday. Let the juices flow again.

And no excuses!

Hope you all ‘got stuff done’.

Mel X

New podcast – North London Dramaphilia

Welcome, friends, to my latest podcast. Angharad Ellis Jones of the Crouch End Players and I discuss the joys, and the ups and downs, of the amateur/ community theatre world. It’s such fun, but not as much fun as inventing news words, as we were convinced we had. Turns out that ‘dramaphile’ already exists, but, according to some definitions, is more likely to mean someone who enjoys a bit of a crisis (cf: drama queen) than someone who spends their Wednesday nights in a church hall rehearsing Oscar Wilde. No matter, I am sticking with it, hence the title.

It’s been a while since my last broadcast, so I’ll try to keep the gap smaller next time. In the meantime, enjoy this one and maybe think about treading the boards come autumn.

 

And it’s also here on Podomatic. It’ll pull through to my iTunes channel soon.

Happy listening.

Mel

 

Perfection is the Enemy

Or to be more accurate, perfectionism is our foe. If you’ve been listening to the podcast, you’ll know that I have some misgivings about Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic, but when it comes to creative perfectionism she is bang on the button. She described it as just a fancy name for  a fear of failure. How right she is. As long we have a work that’s ‘in progress’ , something that we are getting into a state of just right-ness, we can never say we’ve failed. How can we fail, if we don’t get something out there into the world at large? And so we carry on, honing and perfecting until the moment has gone, until sometimes we just don’t love what we’re working on any more. Then we kill off the project, give it a half-decent burial, courtesy of the shredder, and declare it as having been unworthy of us all the time. Who are we kidding?

Am I reading your thoughts right now? Well, it’s not any kind of mystical jiggery-pokery on my part, it’s just that I’ve been through exactly that process many times myself. In fact if there’s anything I’m an expert in, it’s in giving up, because I just can’t get a writing project finished to the high standard I expect of myself. Who am I kidding?

I haven’t posted a blog for over a week, because I was worrying that any chosen topic might not be quite the right one,and I wouldn’t have enough to say, or at least enough that was devastatingly insightful and witty. So I just didn’t write – at all. And in not writing, I think I have actually misunderstood this whole blogging thing. Some people post every day and I am flipping sure they’re not tearing themselves to pieces over wit and insight. They just say what they want to say and I applaud them. And, yes, some of them are very witty and insightful indeed.

So, my notes to self for this week are as follows:

  1. Don’t get it perfect, get it done.
  2. Find time to post more often. There’s always something to say, even if it won’t get me a Nobel Prize.
  3. Stop kidding yourself…about everything.
  4. Well, that’s enough for one week.

Who knows, you may even hear from me before the week is out. Let’s all keep writing.

Happy creating.

Your non-prize winning friend, Mel

 

 

Thwarted?

Hello again

You know I am working hard at being about ‘making it happen’, balancing time spent at work and domestic life with time spent on creativity.  My principal contribution in this last sphere has been my wee podcasts. Yes, the technical side has been a challenge and my last effort has dodgy sound to boot, but I keep on going, and |I keep on learning.

But then, my upload to the platform that feeds to iTunes fails, several times. I email the Helpdesk and a very nice Young Person in San Francisco uploads for me, and we are back in business. Buoyed by success, I attempt a next upload myself last night. Nothing. Try again. Still nothing.

I reflect that in earlier times I might have taken this as a sign and given up on the whole endeavour. As I write this now, I have a slightly heavy heart and worry that it will never be fixed. But, you know what, if you find something, creatively or otherwise, that makes you feel like you’re achieving, and that the end result is somehow meaningful, you’ve just got to press on. That’s no great revelation, right?  But for many of us, it’s a learnt behaviour. Not achieving, not creating, not doing something we feel is meaningful makes us dissatisfied, but that dissatisfaction is almost comforting. ‘See, I failed at that, too. It’s just not for me.’ That’s destructive and a waste of time. There’s something else I have learnt, it wasn’t innate knowledge.

What’s the lesson?

  1. Please don’t give up. I will promise not to.
  2. People can help. Sometimes what’s blocking you is not your fault, so find someone to help you out. In my case, I await more news from the Young Person in San Francisco.
  3. Being defeatist is a waste of energy.

Well, that’s three lessons. All basic stuff, but sometimes it just needs to be said, or heard, or read in someone’s short Monday morning blog. After all, that’s what Mondays are for, surely, starting a new week with optimism and cheer.

I’ll let you know how I get on. The podcasts are coming, people, make no mistake.

Happy Creative Week to all.

Mel

 

Can we take a Holiday?

It’s Easter Monday. It’s about 8pm, so the holiday weekend is all but over. But is it a holiday from creating stuff? Well, I just can’t get my mind out of ‘holiday fun and lazing around mode’. Am I wrong?

Of course, I can put it down to recharging the batteries all the better to free up my creative flow. Some people will have used the four day weekend as an opportunity for some uninterrupted creative activity, even if it’s only painting the kitchen. Not me. I was looking forward to sightseeing and walking the countryside of south west England. The weather prognosis wasn’t looking so great, but I’m certainly not put off by a bit of rain. A bit of rain? It poured down in buckets, accompanied by the horrific winds that preceded Storm Katie, so walking was pretty much off the agenda. Even a short walk yesterday to Durdle Door was the most stressful mile I’ve ever taken on, walking straight into a headwind.

Yes, it was just a mile, and I was almost defeated. That’s what’s wrong. The sense of defeat and of something unachieved. The very activities intended to recharge said batteries didn’t get ticked off the ‘to-do list’. So there’s a feeling of deflation and, yes, of something missing. Damn you, English weather. A weekend lost and I’ve got to focus on the ‘to-do’ list for the rest of this week. I actually need to read a work-related book, but I’m using this blog as a displacement activity – there’s a first!

Happily, I have lots of interviews coming up for the podcast, so watch out for those. I am genuinely thrilled to have so much great stuff in the pipeline. It’s been a while. Another writing project is making slow progress, too.

So, what have I learned this weekend? Well, I’m not sure. Maybe it’s to let myself off if I don’t create anything, even though that could be a slippery slope, the start of me always forgiving my own inactivity.  Maybe it’s that I need to press on, whatever happens. A little a day, I’m really not good at that. I have learnt that even out of adverse weather, you can occasionally get a good photo. Well, I think it’s good. It’s Lyme Regis just before sunset. Wait a minute, that was creative, right? Go me!

20160326_182721

 

I hope your Easter break, if you had one, was productive -or not, if that is what you chose. I hope also that you’re ready to tackle the challenges of the week ahead. I hope I am too.

Happy creating.

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

 

Creativity? Of course, you can!

Honestly, I could scream. Here I am with a Great Idea and all ready to rock and roll. What’s stopping me? Simply, my own technophobia. Yes, a podcast is all about the content and I’m feeling confident about that, but ask me to edit it in recording software….well, you’ve come to the wrong address.

Now, in my last post I was very cagey about my theme and content, except to say that it’s about creativity. And although neither the podcast nor this blog were supposed to be about my own creative travails, this does seem germane to the topic.

What I am interested in is people’s ‘spare time’ creativity. Do you write, sing, play, craft when you’re not at the day job? Do you do it in order to escape, or is it linked with what how you earn your living? Perhaps you want to turn professional? So many musicians and comedians work the circuit in their evenings whilst holding down a full-time job. That’s real commitment.

There are estimated to be over 2,500 amateur and community theatre groups in the UK.  What’s special about these to many people must surely be the sense of community. I’m interested in finding out more.

But I don’t want the project to sound too serious or worthy. I do think it will be fun. I’ll meet some interesting people and share what they’re doing and I hope some of you reading now will get in touch and join the project and share your work. Great talent isn’t the exclusive preserve of the trained professional or the famous. If you’ve ever seen a barnstorming pub gig, you’ll know that.

I also want to share gig information, so you can see these great people for yourself, or, if they are writers, crafters or visual artists, share links to their work.

So, there you have it, my Idea.

Now I want to turn it into a reality, but that’s when I realise that I can’t just come home after a hard day at the office and get straight down to it. I need to learn some new skills. I’m using some highly recommended recording and editing software called Audacity. I think it is probably quite intuitive, but, over the weekend, it seemed to be defeating me.

With more than a whiff of anger and desperation about me, I set off for a bank holiday lunch with my friend, Maria. She’s the younger friend I mentioned in my last post. Without her social media insight, I probably wouldn’t be writing this now. So I unburdened.

Maria, thanks so much for your clarity of thought. She showed me that I needed to look at my project differently. So, the podcast might take longer, but I can still reach out to my audience and get the conversation flowing here. I see now the sense in that, but I was so down in the dumps at the thought of chucking the Great Idea. It’s still an idea that will come to fruition, and, anyway, who’s on a timetable?

SO – Question time. Would you like to share your creative endeavours and your motivation for them with Squatting Toad? We’ll highlight you on the blog and, hopefully (!), the podcast.

If so, please email me at imasquattingtoad@gmail.com. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can with a short questionnaire, unless you’re happy just to write something. Or just leave a comment.

Of course, as soon as I started to think about how to overcome my lack of skills, I quickly found another young friend to help with that. So, watch out, I may be coming to you over the airwaves  sooner than I thought.

In the meantime, happy creating and let me know about it.

Mel

Better than the day job?

If you’re new to Squatting Toad, we have a lot in common. So am I. I’m on a serious learning curve. But, don’t worry, you don’t have to be. I just hope you enjoy this.

You know when you have a Great Idea, but don’t feel you have the skill to execute it, so you just don’t bother. Well, I have nearly given up a few times and I am nowhere near my goal, but I’ve started. Here I am, writing my first ever blog. What’s my Great Idea? A podcast. Simple enough, right, you just talk. Anyone who knows me would think I’d find that a breeze. So, I talk, but to whom, and how do I record it, and how do I cut out the ‘hmms’ and the silly giggles? When I’ve made a progamme, how do people find it?  And how do I promote it? I knew I needed help, so I turned to a younger friend. I’m nearer to 50 than I want to admit (I can see you navigating away now… but stick with me), so youth trumped experience here. But what a can of worms I opened. Turns out I need a blog and a Twitter Feed and a Facebook Page. When younger, tech-savvy, talented friend mentioned YouTube videos, I thought it was time to walk just a little  before I could run.

So now I have a blog.

As you’ll see from the homepage, I have a logo and everything. So, I’ve got to do it now, haven’t I?

And, yes,it has got to be at least a welcome distraction from the day job, which is what Squatting Toad is all about. Actually, I don’t want to tell you what it’s ALL about right now, but if I had to choose one word to describe my theme it’s ‘creativity’.  What do you do in your down time? Do you write? Do you paint? Or sing? If so, this will be of interest to you.

Keeping my powder a little dry at this stage, but I hope to have the first podcasts ready for you by the end of May. And if, like me, you have an urge to create something, I think you’ll enjoy them and the inspiring people I’ve been talking to.

Hang on in there and happy creating.

Now, anyone know anything about editing?

Mel

X