Bardsey Island Observational Research Project

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Housework 1890's Style

I’m really enjoying the BBC’s Snowdonia 1890 – two families living life in old stone cottages in Snowdonia 1890’s style. I really wish i’d had this list of daily chores when I was on Bardsey! Next year!


Dodging the Draft

The story now opens with Hen aka old 1939 girl in the nursing home where she lives packing to go on her holiday. Beth aka 2010 girl is fighting her Mum because she doesn’t want to leave London. She is a brat and her first word is fuck.

I hate my script now. I pulled back to see their ordinary world and now I hate them both. I hate her mother. I hate her brother. I hate the whole project. I long to write it as a story. When bratty Beth stamps her foot I want to see through her eyes her disgust at the sheep shit that has splattered up her jeans.

For the sake of this thing called a camera I have to change completely how I write. I can’t put the reader where I need them to be. It’s driving me mad. Every new way I try to work this out I end up with the same stale wordy mess.

I want to do this my way. That will mean voice over and other no-nos that we have been warned about. I don’t care if it would make a bad film – because it’s never going to be one anyway.

I don’t care if my story has the island ‘skewed’ to seem like it has a noble primitiveness that the audience won’t understand. I don’t care if I glorify the past. There are plenty of people who go to Bardsey that do glorify it, who do believe they are better cut off from the rest of the world on that island. That’s how it is. That’s the arena I went to.

I can’t extract Bardsey from Wales, the Welsh culture, its noble and mystical heritage. I can’t move it somewhere more accessible to the non-Welsh, town-dwelling audience. Bardsey is in Wales. To be on Enlli is to be cut off in many ways from the ‘real’ world. The world as it is today. That is the reason a lot of people go there. That is what it’s like when you get there.

And I have a debt – to Wales, to Bardsey and to the people that welcomed me to the island – to be truthful and gentle in my representation of such an important place. I also owe it to them to do a skilful job.

And right now I’m not in possession of those skills!


Not Like a Hug Can

OK just come off the phone after my first phone tutorial with the tutor. Not sure if I’m allowed to name him here, so I’ll just say he seems like a really cool guy.

I was really nervous before the phone rang. Luckily that feeling disappeared.

What did he say? Good question. We are supposed to record the outcome of the tutorial on Tutorial Record Sheets. Mine is blank. Oh dear.

Upshot, I think he liked the outline for the script. BUT he was concerned that the script represented too much hankering for the good old days of the past. I explained to him that perhaps my outline was a little too heavy on the memories and experiences of the great-grandmother and a little too light on what I want 2010 girl to be going through. But that’s the outline – not the script.

The script is about both 1930’s girl’s and 2010’s girl’s internal struggle to deal with/put up with where she is. It’s about their separate journeys to being able to handle it. It’s about learning to BE in the moment. And if being in the moment is about looking and seeing what’s around you, taking in the arena, experiencing it all, there’s plenty to see, plenty to hear, plenty to allude to in order to represent the other senses. It doesn’t have to be dialogue (or monologue or voiceover). You can show it. I don’t see that being a problem. One girl smashing through another girl’s memories. Quite violently, I hope. I want the pacing to change to match the emotion she is feeling. And I want it to gradually slow down as both girls settle in.

But even as 1930s girl settles in and starts appreciating her environment, it doesn’t mean 2010 girl is home free too. 2010 girls wants to share her experiences. And how does a 2010 girl share? It’s not enough to go to a rock concert and see your hero standing on the stage above you – not in 2010. You have to put it on YouTube, Facebook it, Tweet it. And if you’ve ever tried to do that you’ll know just how much of the show you miss because you were looking at it through that little viewfinder. In face it’s such a shitty little screen you’d have been better staying home and watching someone else’s video. 2010 girl will struggle with this too. Shaky cam. Narrow viewfinder shots. Hissy sound recording. Everything that she tries to do to bring her man close to her, will only make him feel further away. Because that’s the truth. He IS far away. Whether it’s a letter, an email, a photograph, a web cam – even if we had lifesize holograms like Star Trek – the other person is still physically not there. And that makes us hurt. No technology can solve that. Not like a hug can.

So what do we do, right now? We live in the moment – counting the moments until we can be together again perhaps – but living them nonetheless. What’s the point of taking a vacation if you’re miserable? You have to get on with it. Enjoy yourself. BE there. And that’s what ultimately both girls learn to do. Memories are all any of us have when we get home from a holiday. Keepsakes, souvenirs, just help us remember.

But if we’re not BEING THERE in the first place, we might as well never have gone at all.

Update: Interestingly another point my tutor made about my outline was the entry point. Now in screenwriting I thought you couldn’t arrive to late or leave too early. Who’d have thunk it?!  I need to pull back, show the wider scene of the family’s ordinary world, their journey to get there. Nice!

I realize it’s too easy to get caught up inside the arena we observe and forget how we got there. This is especially important with an environment like Bardsey, which is detached both in time and space, to show the ordinary world that it is detached from.

Thanks to my tutor for that (like I said, he’s a really cool guy!)


Watching it Happen

Right now I’m in Waitrose, writing this in my head. The brightly lit aisles are a wonder to me. There’s a spring in my step, a rhythm perhaps, as I push the trolley. The world, and the supermarket, is a revelation to me after being in administrative mode for so many days. As I leave the store the humid evening air hits me. it’s thrilling. I drive out of the car park, the smooth steering wheel spinning beneath my hands. As I close the garden gate I feel the rust bubbles in the paint beneath my fingers. I fumble to get the key in the door – it is taking too long. The page is calling me.

Right now i am standing on a narrow line, a precipice. I’m not sure I’ve ever caught myself right here before, not like this. Going from administrative mode into creative mode is certainly one of unconscious falling. And yet this time I am watching myself, observing myself fall. it is uncomfortable, like a myclonic jerk that wakes you from a sound sleep. The page is calling me. I long to let myself fall.

I am used to being in the creative mode more than the administrative mode. In truth I am lucky to come and go as I please. Barring press conferences and hack attacks I am rarely called on to haul myself out of my creative unconsciousness back into uncomfortable reality. As long as it is brief visit it is easy. The days when I lived in the tech world all the time with only brief bursts of creativity it was harder. Tech is a firehose of information. No one can drink from the flow. But different journalists can take bigger sips, or drink more often. These days I concentrate on using tech instead of writing about it, I can dip in when I want taste the flow. I can never truly get away from what is happening. Even on Bardsey I was getting the tech news from my husband. It’s what he talks about and it’s my job as his wife to listen. On Bardsey though, it felt especially bizarre, especially distant and meaningless.

When I write for the tech world these days I generally do it asynchronously. I refuse to dance along to the trending topics fiddle. Occasionally I find myself in the middle of a story that’s inviting, thrilling to be part of what’s happening. Generally though I am happy to let that be my husband’s world. I’m there to support him when he needs me, but I don’t play tech that way no more. I live in the creative place. But the last week (two weeks??) has been a blur of doing, accounting, enumerating, talking, organising, twitter in my ears if not my eyes, the course forum filling my screen, planning work projects and home projects, thinking my course script report. I’ve been in this admin place too long, like a fish flapping about on the shore. Falling is happening to me now in slow motion. I feel like I’m in the wrong place. Where is the beach, where are the pounding waves? It’s like that dream where you’re in the classroom but you’re still wearing your pyjamas. Separating out my life, like white and yolk, into two places, home and retreat has made the change from one mode – the fall – to the other more profound, more laboured, more noticeable. Like an awkward dream state where something goes wrong as I am falling fall asleep, I’m sure I’m still awake, but I’m conscious of slipping into another place where reality has blurred around the edges and things don’t quite make sense anymore.

It’s strange to catch myself falling. The desire to drink in life is an overwhelming feeling. Like a dimmer switch that’s gradually turning up the saturation on the world, the colours are returning, the sounds of silence are reaching my ears. I hadn’t realised before that the administrative phase for me was one that was cut-off, out of contact with people and with the world. Since my creative phase is spent more in nature in the absence of people, that is a riddle, a conundrum. How can admin (internet connectivity, tv, twitter, town streets, cctv and people walking past the window, two different styles of music playing in two different rooms, the cacophony of computers and games consoles) equate to being emotionally cut off? And yet sitting on a cliff with no phone signal, no tv, no internet, the sound of waves and no one else equates to tasting the flavours of the world like a snake sampling to air on the tip of its tongue, engaging with people, drinking it in, being enveloped by living? I had no inkling of this.

Standing on this edge, this precipice, I can see in both directions. The intensity of the admin phase. Don’t get me wrong. It may sound like drudgery but in truth I achieved so much, I whirled around the house, I made plans, I got them underway, I sorted this, I solved that, I created massive change. But right now I can also see the creative mode, beckoning me, taste this, experience that, yes that’s right, write it down, feel how good it feels to share this, to see the art in what you’re doing, how good it is to be making something.

What have I learned right now about creativity? To know thyself. For me it’s about recognising my own way of working. I want to explore so much more, but the ice cream needs to go in the freezer.


Just keep cutting

My tiny little short flashes of scenes are taking all my time/page count (and more!) and driving me nuts. Almost every scene is in different place or looking at some different element of the scenery, so not much gets reused from scene to scene. In total it comes to just under 10,000 words – which is at least nine pages too many.

I’ve got a little over two weeks to cut it down to a more reasonable number before I can submit the draft. (I don’t think the tutor would be too impressed if I upped his workload by thirty percent by sending it in as is!) Also I don’t want to be pinned down to the order the individual scenes go in just yet so everything is in separate files – which is an absolute nightmare to navigate through, but still better than a single document. It’s my descriptions of each location that are making the whole thing add up to too many pages. (Everyone assumes it’s my dialog that is heavy but I hardly have any so it can’t be that!) But do I cut down the description (bearing in mind that the exercise is one of evoking arena) or do I cut out the number of scenes – if so, which ones to cut? It feels if I just keep cutting … just keep cutting … just keep cutting … eventually there will be nothing left. Or at least nothing worth reading. And definitely not worth filming.

Perhaps I should just say well this is an exercise, it’s not real and just let it go. But I would like it to be a script worthy of filming, even if it’s never likely to be filmed.

(That said, my kids are keen for us to film it themselves, which is possible. The 1939 boat scenes would be a challenge, but I expect I could find an old boat. Then I’d have to find an old lady that would be happy to be transported to Bardsey to film it. That might be a bit harder – although my mother might do it. She’s a similar age. Although we wouldn’t take her there. As long as we keep the shots narrow for the close ups, you’d never know she’s not actually there. But, I digress!)

Cutting it down when it’s separate files is a horrible process because I can’t find the scenes that I’m looking for. So I’ve decided to go back a step and do this visually instead of in words – for now. I’m sticking the actions/dialog on the back of a photo of each scene. That way I can get the snippet scenes in the best order for the story before I am bogged down with any words to describe the arena.

So my entire script is now being reduced to a pile of photos. At least now I only need to take a photo out to cut the scene.

Stuff the page count …

For now …


Low

I feel low today. The BT engineer did not show up again. I am not able to work in my writer’s retreat because I need to be near a computer connected to the web. Too much admin and a script report due next week.

I just want to be working. I’m deep in my book at the moment and I have all kinds of ideas that I’m having to jot down quickly without giving them the attention they deserve.

This admin phase is taking too long.  I am angry at screenwriting. This one minute per page business seems absurd.  I am amazed films ever get made.

What am I doing on this course?

I want to disappear back into prose and never look back…

Or, at last submerge

myself, deep

into my creative

ocean, so that

I can forget

the barbed wire

and right

angles

of dry land.


Script Outline

It’s been a long day of finishing off my script outline with under an hour to spare to meet the submission deadline.  I’ve edited and uploaded what must be hundreds of photos from my Bardsey trip (out of over three thousand).   I tried where possible to stick to the chronological order of the days. I’d love to make a few posts just as souvenirs – the food we ate, the things we did, the little aid memoirs that have kept me in touch with the memories over the last month.  They will inevitably start to fade so I think perhaps a few pages as holiday reminders will not lower the tone here too much. I still need to edit and uploading the sound files I made as well as the video.

So much still to do.  My mind is a mess of pictures.  I almost feel like printing out the photos – or at least the images that are crucial to my script – and writing the scene on the back of them. It might make it easier to juggle the scenes than just plain text.  Storyboarding but with photos.  Perhaps I can find a digital way to do this?  Or just decide to expend the paper and inks to do it physically.

I have been listening to the soundtrack from the Lord of the Rings films while I worked today.  I suppose this was because I was wanted to create the island arena as a character – not sure if I did or not, that proof is in the pudding of the beholder! I wanted to create the island as a kind of Mordor – but in a good way!  My daughter informed me that Bardsey would be better likened to The Shire as it is round and bumpy.  But the music for hobbits is just too happy – I love it, but it always reminds me of Munchkinland.  

I wanted something in my ears that was more powerful for Bardsey.  Its magic is strong. Its call is loud.

Anyway what I am about to do goes against the grain: revealing a work in progress.  But since it  is kind of a requirement for the course, that we allow our work to be tempered in the heat of the public’s gaze (the fires of Mount Doom?) I hereby submit the script outline for my Bardsey short film. Please be kind!


Outline: Being on Bardsey

The story opens as a small yellow catamaran crosses the two mile stretch of rough sea between the mainland and Bardsey Island.

Bardsey is an ancient place, populated since Neolithic times and revered as a holy place, a retreat.  It is said by some to be the mystical Avalon where Merlin lies buried waiting for the return of King Arthur.  As the boat arrives on the beach on the other side we see its passengers disembark. The boatman and his father lift down an elderly woman who has her eyes closed. She is smiling broadly.  They place her on the back of a trailer and the tractor drives away with four generations of her family following up the track behind her. She is still smiling broadly as the tractor shakes its way up the bumpy track.

The island is dominated by Mynydd Enlli, a tall round mountain that blocks any view of the mainland unless you climb its steep slopes to the summit. The island is studded with ancient wells and sacred springs, the remains of the 13th century monastery and the graves of twenty thousand saints who came here to die and whose remains lie just below the surface, making its visitors’ footsteps tentative and reverent.

The small farming and fishing settlement with its proud history lives there cut off from the world with its back to the mountain, its face braving the harsh winds and roaring waves of the Irish Sea.  It can sometimes be months before the boat can return to take people off the island or bring supplies.

Bardsey Island, or Ynys Enlli as it is called in Welsh, is a mystical place that for millennia has been calling out to people across the miles, bringing them to it. In the 6th century saint Cadfan set up a monastery there.  It was considered such a holy place that Pope Callixtus II declared that three pilgrimages to Bardsey was equal to one pilgrimage to Rome. To die on Bardsey or on the route to it was said to be a guarantee of entry to heaven. The people of Bardsey lived to be very old. For centuries pilgrims went there, many to die or be buried. In the 13th century Augustinian monks built a monastery there.  Despite its remote location, in the late 1870s it was ‘a Paris of a place’ and famous people visited the island.

Today Bardsey continues to call out to people.  The faithful still make pilgrimages, but there are also many pilgrimages of other kinds.  Many visit for nature and birdwatching, others come for the remoteness and the simplistic way of life. Many families come to visit their heritage because their roots lie on Bardsey and so have been returning for generations. Today it is not uncommon for four generations of a family to stay together on the island in the summer.

This is the story of one such family on their annual pilgrimage back to the island and how one young girl, visiting for the first time, learns to really be where she is instead of wishing she was somewhere else.

We discover the delights of the island, its beauty and its magic through the memories of the great-grandmother who herself came there for the first time as a girl in the 1930s. Even though she is now blind and unable to walk far, she revels in every aspect of being there, despite not being able to see it. She sits with the sun on her face, bees buzzing all around her, clutching a bundle wrapped in distinctive scarf. She squeezes it tighter and it flashes up a memory. We see through her mind’s eye reliving her visions of the island through flashbacks of her first visit.  We see 1930s girl wearing this scarf as she steps off the boat and looks around. Elements of nature around her and scenery on the island continue to transport her back in time and we see her as a young girl in the same location.

Juxtaposed with this we see her great-granddaughter fighting tooth and nail against the separation from her world and her boyfriend, as she desperately – and comically – chases all over the island trying to find phone signal to contact him and trying to charge her mobile phone with hand-cranks and solar chargers.  We see her phone screen as she dials and a photo of her boyfriend’s face as she tries the number and repeatedly calls fail. She talks to his photo. She rushes through a montage of the idyllic scenes where 1930s girl is pausing and noticing everything.

Many aspects of life on the island are largely the same as they were when her great-grandmother first visited, only the farming methods and communication methods have really changed. Today there is no electricity or indoor plumbing. Fresh water still comes from the wells and is very precious and never wasted.  Both girls initially hate this lifestyle and lack of modern facilities and yet eventually they will share the same love of the place.

As they begin to settle in and enjoy the delights and magic of the island, they both still feel the pain of being cut off from their young men at home.  The 1930s girl solves her problem by drinking in her experiences as best she can and writing them down in a letter to her boyfriend (and these memories are so well formed that she still revels in them today).  We hear the contents of the 1930s girl’s letter as voiceover as we watch the antics of the 2010 girl as she desperately tries to ‘bring him’ to her by sharing her experiences using various methods of technology and social media.  Her experience is much harder because all of these methods get in the way of her fully experiencing where she is.  We see this as narrow shots through a viewfinder with hissy sound as compared to the 1930s girl’s rich experience as she drinks it all in and we hear her poignant and evocative words describing her experiences on the island and her feelings about the place.

The grandfather is taken ill and mother goes with him to the hospital on the mainland, leaving 2010 girl alone in the house with her great-grandmother.  News is slow in coming.  Things only grow worse for the 2010 girl as messages from her boyfriend give her the impression that he is losing interest in her and small snippets of news from the ‘real’ world start to reach her. The longer she is there the more involved in island life she is becoming and the more cut off she feels as the trivialities of everyday life back home seem more and more distant and strange in comparison to the more pressing realities of life that she is dealing with – and enjoying – on Bardsey.

2010’s girl’s story reaches its climax one dark late-summer night when she tells her great-grandmother of her fear of the dark and her fear that losing her boyfriend would be the end of the world.  The old woman takes her hand and they walk to the wooden back door and step out onto the cobbled path.

The voiceover of her 1930s girl’s letter continues. It is September 1939 and she has heard the news about the declaration of war and is worried that her boyfriend might be caught up in the expected air raids.  We hear of her fears of being apart if the war lasts long enough for him to be called up. We see her covering the windows of the cottage with thick black curtains.  She sits fearfully in the dark.

2010 We hear the elderly lady speak of the blackout and how she learned to face it, here on Bardsey. Together they walk out into the darkness. Blackness envelopes them. The milky way is a clear slash across the sky.  Meteorites blaze long golden arcs across the night.  We hear strange sounds that dart about in the air all around them.   The eerie and very unique sounds are birdcalls made by Manx Sheerwaters that arrive on the island on dark nights in August and make their calls to their mates as they fly together unseen in the dark. The elderly lady talks of the Saints who came here back in the mists of time and how they will have regarded these sounds as demons in the air to scare them and test their devotion.

Then she talks of how the birds represented her and her boyfriend calling out to one another across the miles in the darkness and how she came to feel safe, even when eventually he was called up and even when he was held in a prisoner of war camp, because she was still calling, no matter how long his reply took to come. She tells her great-granddaughter to trust the call.  To trust Bardsey’s call. It’s stronger than you my girl. Because the island’s call has magic in it.  But first you have to let yourself believe. And before you can believe it you have to answer the call. You have to come here.  Really come here. Be here. Drink it all in and store it up tight in your memory.  The elderly lady squeezes the distinctive bundle tightly in her hands.

A montage of 2010 girl transformed. She is looking around, taking it all in, touching things, watching seals sunning themselves on the shore, swimming in the dark with other kids, smiling, happy. We see her settling down under a tree with a pad of writing paper.

Ending

One fine late summer day the girl waits with her great-grandmother at the dock for the boat to greet her mother and grandfather back from the hospital. The young girl nervously grasps a letter in her hand.

Great-grandmother smiles and flashes back and we see 1930s girl beside the boat nervously handing her letter to the boatman. Her letter is in a distinctive envelope.

We cut back to see the great-grandmother giving the bundle wrapped in the distinctive scarf (that we have seen her wearing throughout the flashbacks) to 2010 girl. She has no idea what it is.

We flash back to 1939 to see the boat almost ready to depart when at the last moment the boatman reaches into his jacket with a grin and hands 1930s girl a letter.  It too has a distinctive envelope.

2010 unfolds the scarf to reveal these two letters inside.

The boat arrives. She smiles, seeing her mother and grandfather on board. A young man helps her grandfather down the ladder.

We hear the great-grandmother’s voiceover: “trust the island to work its magic”.

The young man turns around – it is the boyfriend that we have seen in the photos on the phone.

The elderly lady smiles on the back of the tractor as it rattles up the track with her family behind.


Hendy


Outline Deadline

Sep 12, 2010. I still have no phone line. So much for third time lucky. Yes the engineer has stood me up like an ugly prom date THREE times. I’m wondering whether it’s ever going to happen now.

On the plus side I’m getting quite a lot of writing done. And sketching. And photography. I am definitely in the creative phase.

But the creative phase must eventually be tempered by the administrative phase. This is when the artistic product gets edited, sent out, sold, accounted for. All the things that I’m not doing are administrative. Uploading photos, videos, sounds, sketches to this blog (oops sorry! I will get to it!!), making posts in the forum (which is now a requirement, tricky), keeping track of when things are due.

The block that I have right now is not creative. It is in facing reality. Getting on with the routine stuff of life. Normally I can follow my own flow of creativity vs administration, doing what I want when the mood strikes me. Right now I must move back to the administrative and fast. The script report looms and really I have not given it as much time and thought as I should have. (I don’t like the script and really I can’t see that it would ever have gotten as far as a company being sufficiently interested in it to get a reader to write a report on it. I want to pass on it straight off the bat so I can move on to something more interesting, more credible, more viable.)

But first this week the deadline for submitting the outline looms. This is the first official glimpse of the story that came out of the observational research on Bardsey. I have it written but I’d wanted to add so much more to it before submitting it. I knew I’d never be able to submit a full draft. That is going to take so much time and craft – that I may or may not possess. This is mainly because some of the scenes are so short – just flashes even – and yet they are needed for the story because the point is to be descriptive of the arena. They take time on the page to describe and yet last a second.

I keep thinking about the one minute per page rule that we are supposed to stick to. When I think about Kieslowski‘s insistence in Three Colours Blue that the sugarcube takes five seconds to soak up the sugar, not six not eight, I wonder if he hadn’t been a writer-director how he would have written that on the page. Could he have written it so that it took up one twelfth of a page of writing? This is the conundrum. We are told to watch certain films because they are good examples. But they are not good examples of screenwriting. They are mainly auteurs – writer/directors. Do they ever need to produce a script that follows the one minute per page rule? Or do they just say this is my vision, this is what I am going to do?

Frustrating!

And the vast majority of the scripts that you can download are the shooting scripts – the timings that come way later, after someone has bought the script and invested lots of time and money in it. It’s not the raw, descriptive, inspirational document that SELLS the script in the first place.

Questions, again. Only questions.


Pingback Test

This is a pingback for my MASW classmate Gerlind – let’s hope this works! Here’s the link:

Gerlind’s Blog

BTW it’s best to link to the individual post rather than the frontpage of a WordPress blog.

😀


In the moment

Sep 9, 2010. So I have my story. It is a story about being there. It came out of being on Bardsey Island as part of my Observational Research assignment for MASW. And yet it is a story about observing, being present, fronting up in the moment and drinking in life. Taking it deep into ourselves, savouring it, letting it make us full with experiences, sensations and our responses to them.

Gull

And the moral of the tale? Is that only then, when we have digested the time and the place fully, can we use it to create, to pass on to others our joys, our frustrations, our fears, to share our experiences. In this world where we are obsessed with instant sharing our thoughts on Twitter, our photos of where we are right now to Facebook and uploading videos to You Tube, even writing on blogs like this, the immediacy detracts from our experience. It stops us from being there. It is the filtered reality of the viewfinder. Just because I have a camera, doesn’t mean I have to look through it right now. I can either live the moment or I can record it. It is better to record it through the wide rich viewfinder of our senses, stored on the glorious Memorex of our memories.

Sure memories fade, but then so does Memorex. Those of us old enough to have entrusted our treasured memories to cinefilm, video tape, cassette tape, floppy disk and inkjet printers can attest to this. Everything fades and yet, while we can still remember them, our memories are rich and glorious. They can record things that no recording device can, like smell and taste. We have more senses than just the five that we are usually credited with. For example to mention just a few, we have a sense of time, a sense of temperature, a sense of balance, a sense of proximity and we have a sense of direction. No recording device other than the human can capture all that. Then there are the crossover of senses which many of us possess, a subtle cross-wiring which gives a taste to a rainbow or a color to the word Tuesday. Only an artist can portray that, whether it is with paint, or clay, sounds, or celluloid. Or words. Ultimately it’s words that the artist uses.

The screenwriter is no different. Many would argue that the screen is the richest experience that can be shared. But it is the writer behind it all that puts the words in the actor’s mouth, tells the director what flavour of light to point a camera at, what sweet sound in the cacophony to focus upon.

And this is all well and good. I am happy with that.

But then I come back to the task at hand – conveying all of that feeling into the meagre lines and pages of a thirty page screenplay. And I’m left wondering if it can be done. And whether I am the person to do it. Can I tell this particular story using this medium? I yearn to write it as a story. To use words in the way I know. Where the reader in mind is the end-reader. Not the viewer. A script seems like a B2B business memo. Do the pretty descriptions of the arena really need to BE there? Will people ever actually read them or will they gloss over to the next line of dialog? Does my observation, my distilling, my choice of words to convey a sense of it really do that at all? It almost feels like a document telling some other artist how to sing a particular note or how to carve the shape I want into a lump of ice. I am using every mental muscle I possess not to wrench the chisel from their hand. Ultimately I’m not sure it is a discipline, an unselfishness, that I possess. I only know how to do it myself.


No connection

Sep 2, 2010. Still no phone line. BT didn’t show up to the second appointment to install my line. I guess it wasn’t a problem caused by the universe taking my reticence at having a phone line at face value.

I am slowly adding photos to the various blog posts. This is slow and arduous using a single small screen and a track pad. I miss my office. I miss my multiple monitors. I need to spend more time back in civilisation!


Not home yet

Aug 20, 2010. I am sitting facing the sea. I am scrabbling for phone signal on a cliff. I am surrounded by swooping gulls, bobbing seed heads, waves pounding on rocks, rockpools bubbling with life. And yet it’s a different cliff, some seventy miles from Bardsey. I haven’t quite made it home yet. I’m still on my journey. Home seems like too much hustle and bustle. I want more of this creativity and I have found I can have it off the island.

I have rented a little cottage by the sea. It’s the house my late brother built and it was always too infused with his memory and sadness to stay here before. But now I feel like it is my only hope. Creativity is not as intense as on Bardsey because my sense of purpose is more diffuse, I am part of the real-world, I have work to attend to and children to raise. These things cannot be shut out like on Bardsey where my purpose constantly called out to me in the dark like the Sheerwaters. But I am able to sit and look and be and write. I am not tied to an office or a computer. I am free.

It is good.

Unfortunately it is also bad for my course. The phone line has not yet been installed, despite waiting three weeks. The engineer never showed. Apparently he can’t figure out where ‘here’ is – at least in terms of connecting it to the phone line and the exchange that lead to the world and the Internet. So I am not managing to log into the forum as much as I would like. But I’m getting lots of reading and writing and thinking done, which is great. I have no TV or at least I have a TV that is only connected to a DVD player. Thanks to my course nearly everything I watch has subtitles. This is new for me! Anyone listening from outside might think that I only speak Russian or French!

I have no phone signal – and hence no 3G and no Interwebs – unless again I stand on a cliff. Although I do on occasion steal wifi from next door. I have placed a very rickety chair and a very rickety table where the signal is. It is just above the beach so I can look down on the waves. At least when it is dry. I am cut off when it rains as getting it wet would invalidate my iPad’s warranty. But weather permitting I can connect a little, at least enough to sync my writing with the cloud server so I don’t risk losing my work.

In many ways I don’t want to have a connection to the outside world. I don’t want to be dragged away by urgent phone calls. I don’t want Lolcatz to intrude on my train of thought. I don’t want Facebook distracting my flow. I don’t want CNN encroaching on my creative bliss. Maybe this reticence about the phone line is why BT is having such a hard time at installing it. Maybe I should tell the universe that yes I really do want a phone line and that I will turn off the wifi at every opportunity. Perhaps that will work.

Here’s a little bit that I wrote earlier. I didn’t write it on Bardsey but it’s made me think more about my story.

Scene.
Two crows fly from mountain calling to each other left and right back and forth then they each turn outwards and fly Back toward the mountain. The sound of their wing beats is heard as they fly away. How did they both know to do that? Did they communicate it??

Bee flies left to right. Swallow swoops down. Finch chirps in tree ahead. Hen and cow in distance. Waves. Wind. Then jet clear and bright in miniature in sky. Two beats sound of jet is heard.

It’s all about place. My story is very simple. It’s about being there. In the moment. Experiencing it. Not recording it – that comes later. Just being there.

In short it’s the story of a family like so many I saw on the island four generations visiting Bardsey as they’ve always done. This time a teenage great granddaughter is with them. It is her first visit. She is angry and sad at leaving her boyfriend behind. She doesn’t want to be there. She spends every waking moment trying to contact him on her phone. Her great-grandmother is blind but vividly remembers her first visit to the island which she relives through flashbacks. Despite having felt the same way as her great-granddaughter when she arrives the memories she created were so strong so vivid that she is able to see and experience the island today. We see both girls going through the same surroundings, through very similar experiences (remember no electricity, no plumbing, earth toilets, no way off the island). 1930s girls is writing a letter, which we hear as a voiceover, 2010 girl is fighting with technology. As they both begin to stop fighting the island and start enjoying its magic, unlike 1930s girl, the frustration of the 2010 girl only grows as she tries to use technology to ‘bring’ her boyfriend with her so that she can share the experience with him. So much so that she realises that the technology is getting in the way. She isn’t really being in the moment.

I have no idea if this is possible. I think I have made a horrendous task for myself. We were warned against flashbacks during the residential and yet I can’t see any other way to do it. I have no idea how to write them. I know I can’t give directions because that steps on the director’s toes. I could set the past in black and white – but that would detract from the richness of the experience that the 1930s girl (the great-grandmother) is having/reliving. And I’m sure it would be pretentious to put the 2010 girl’s experiences in monochrome. Although I do like the idea of the view finder that she’s looking through, complete with flashing battery icon etc, narrowing down the view of what she can see. Also the hiss of the audio might work too. Or again would that be stepping on the director’s toes??

I don’t know. Gah! I have no answers. Only questions!!


Homeward Bound

Aug 15, 2010. Friday and Saturday were different, sadder. We knew we had to go home soon and yet before that we had visitors to prepare for. My husband and youngest daughter were coming across on the 7am boat from Porth Meudwy on Friday. This meant that there was lots to do both in preparation for them but also so that the cottage was clean for the next visitors. So we scrubbed, polished and baked. After having baked bread, cake and scones, and being half way through baking a blind pastry case to be a custard tart I remembered my husband doesn’t eat carbohydrates. How could I have forgotten that? And what other details of my normal life have I forgotten during this strange, immersive experience? Is this wonderful burst of creativity sapping my memory of vital information? Or is the burst of creativity BECAUSE I haven’t got this stuff clogging up my mind?

So when they finally arrived after a delay due to the weather and then a bumpy but exciting ride followed by the long walk up the path to our cottage I watched as they explored the house, opening the cupboards, noticing the lack of bathroom and lighting fixtures and yet somehow not actually taking it in so that later on my youngest daughter headed up the stairs to go to the bathroom, and my husband scrabbled around the wall for a light switch. These things are so ubiquitous in western life, so normal, taken for granted that we don’t remember when they are not there. I got to watch their reaction to the evening coming over us like a dark cloak, their surprise at the sudden darkness in the kitchen in the half hour before sunset that made it difficult to get things done and the sense of panic this inspires. They watched as we rushed around preparing candle holders and placing flashlights and matchboxes where they were most likely to be needed, boiling rainwater for doing the dishes, at lining up our shoes where we could find them ready to put on in the dark, and boiling yet more rainwater in preparedness for washing after visiting Ty Bach last thing at night. We had it down to a fine routine. They wondered how we had achieved this is in only a few days, truth be told though it had all fallen into place pretty quickly on the first night. Needs must.

The journey home on Saturday, closing up the cottage – neat and tidy for the next visitors – waiting patiently for the tractor to arrive to pick up our bags from the garden wall outside and the slow solemn trudge down the path to the Cafn where the boat sails from. All this was done in almost silence, with tear-streaked cheeks hidden behind dark glasses,. The journey back across the water was bumpy and wet, the salt spray mixing with my tears, stinging my lips. I held tight to my daughter, partly out of fear – it was fast and the sea was choppy – but also partly knowing that we had shared a special time there – our very first experience of Enlli. I know I will return to this place, but I do not know how it will feel to return to it. Will it be less scary? Will I be less fearful? And if so will that make it less of an experience? Will it be less magical because of it? Or will I take away my little niggling remaining fears and build them into something huge, that makes a return scarier, darker, more forbidding, and even less likely. The proof of the pudding after all is not whether people SAY they will return, but whether they DO. Will I return is still a question very much on my lips, despite my protestations that yes of course I will. I won’t really know until I am here again. And I find I am obsessed with wondering what that will be like. I realise this feeling is very strange and out of place when I am still only just speeding away from a place – a burning curiosity as to what my return will be like.

I also wonder if I will have left my creativity behind. I don’t think I hav

e managed to pinpoint what made it so credible, so tangible to be me, here on Bardsey. Perhaps the fact that everyone here accepts, because they are used to doing so, that I am a writer and that I am doing research for a project. They gets lots of writers and artists here, so one more is no great stretch. Whereas at home, sadly, there is always opposition. People who are uncomfortable with the idea of someone in their midst who is not bound to the nine to five or the salary cheque at the end of the month, don’t hold back from voicing their opinions. It’s not like it’s a proper job! Thankfully, I always say. I love what I do. And I love when I take a break from it, I love that I’m doing it right now while riding in a catamaran with two 135 horsepower engines plunging us across this slate blue sea. Most people can’t handle that thought – so much do they need that division between work and play, thinking and doing. So they criticise, comment and joke. You learn to ignore it, but sometimes this is hard. And there are a surprising number of people like this, and very often this kind of disbelief and jealousy can come from within the writing community itself. Because people can’t ever imagine in their own lives giving up the routine and rigidity of going out to work to become a full-time writer they can’t understand how I have already done this and have been making a good living at it for over ten years. (And what is more my husband does it too.) So people choose to reject, make snide remarks, disbelieve and undermine. Even while you’re trying to tell them, to inspire them, that they too could do the same thing if they wanted, they are busy dismantling what you are saying, reciting the reasons that they can’t do it. Really they are giving themselves reasons that they can’t write. As writers we spend a lot of time getting in our own way, and likewise getting in the way of fellow writers around us. And this is so sad. But it’s a constant battle and we mustn’t let it get in the way. Bonnie Friedman says “Successful writers are not the ones who write the best sentences. They are the ones who keep writing.” And whether it’s friends or family, enemies or colleagues they are all sent to try us, to test our resolve. And ultimately the test, whether it’s writing or Bardsey, is whether we come back to it.

And like writing, my gut is feeling about Bardsey is that I won’t be able to stay away.


God is in the details

Aug 12, 2010. After a day without words, this morning they are tumbling out faster than I can do anything about it. I have to just let them go in the hope that they will still be hovering somewhere ready to pop back into the queue for submission to the page. You see here there is a lot that one must do each day before beginning the indulgence, that release, of writing.

My chores began this morning by emptying the toilet bucket into the giant composting box. It’s a windy day so today I had the brainwave to open the composting box before going into the outhouse to collect the bucket. Hence no smell. Genius! I normally take a deep breath before opening the box and before lifting the seat in the outhouse. Individually this does just fine, but usually by the time I have thrown back the big heavy lid on the composting box, with the bucket warbling in my other hand, by the time I am have tipped the bucket, with its cleverly placed handle on the bottom which I admire for its ingenuity every morning, I am close to running out of air. That means I need to breathe and on one unfortunate morning I did it as I reached back over the top of the box to grab the lid. Bad mistake. I did that dry vomit thing, that really just makes you feel worse. Since then I’ve learned to take a step back at this point, take a – small – breath, and THEN close the lid. But this morning, the wind did all the work for me.

One of the things you start to appreciate when one is using the outhouse is its sanctity. My children yell to me through the bathroom door. There is no peace there. But here, one is left alone, in peace, your thoughts uninterrupted, your eyes lifted to the gap at the sky and the trees through the top of the outhouse door, and you can’t help but be struck that this somehow resembles prayer, We are so humble at this point, our thoughts are at their most appreciative. Of the little things in life that are perhaps most important.

Steaming bowl of water is a very welcome sight

That steaming bowl of rainwater that awaits at the end of the task. Sure we can be grateful when we turn on the tap at home, but this gratitude is cerebral, logical. We know that we should turn the tap off when we are brushing our teeth and try not to waste water in other ways. But when a little glass of precious water – that has been teased from the well’s limited supply, that you have boiled and then filtered – is all that you have to brush your teeth with the feeling is different. The thought, the feeling and the gratitude comes from somewhere deeper.

When we turn on the hot tap we don’t think about how the water reached that tap, the filtration process it went through and all the miles of pipework all needing constant maintenance or even the work our boiler or immersion heater has done to make it hot for us. We only really notice when these things go wrong. The sight of the steam rising off white bowl is so comforting. And the appreciation for the water, its heat and it’s decontaminating properties is profound. The sight of that dwindling white bar of soap on the wall next to it fills me with joy. My old battered toothbrush from the bottom of my backpack was taken out of retirement to be a nailbrush on the first time and I can’t help but be struck by how much comfort that silly thing brings. It has been used to scrub hands, scrubbing stains out when washing clothes, and getting the stubborn charcoal and oil acrylics off my fingers after drawing. (Never before had I realised how much water it must take at home to clean my hands after artwork!)



It’s the little things. Emptying the waste food bucket is a joy every day, as I swirl the bucket as I walk to compost heap at the end of the garden in anticipation of what I will find. Some days clouds of blue butterflies have lifted off the bushes as I walked through. Another day the path was crisscrossed with spider webs that were covered with hundred of little orbs of dew each bearing a little upside down picture of here and now with me in the middle. It was like nature had strung up fairy lights just for the occasion, just for me.

Then there are the contents of the compost heap. There are the remains of past meals from previous residents of Hendy. Someone ate crabs last week. Everyday the discarded crab shells are picked a little cleaner by the creatures. Today a big black crow cawed at me from on top of the slatted sides of the compost heap. We looked at each other in awe for a few seconds, then he flew off, but not too far. He was waiting to see what fresh delights were in my bucket.

Boiling water is a constant chore. Collecting rainwater from the water butt in a saucepan is an experience, resting the handle on the rust cage that contains the giant water butt, turning the handle, then listening to the rising metallic note as the water fills the pan. Several times I’ve been so intent on listening to the sound that I’ve let the pan run over without realising only to have this universe remind me not to waste water by soaking my shoes, which took the whole day to dry out. Yes, Kathie, enjoy the sound, but next time remember to value the water.

I think I am in love with the stove. The gas burners are so friendly and efficient. They are such comfort and strength. They burn so robustly to boil the rainwater to kill the germs so that I can wash the dishes. Yes last night we were so caught up on sketching in the gas light that neither of us got up to do the dishes. For the first few days it seemed important to get everything done before it got dark, then we could huddle in safety in the darkness of our rooms without needing to venture out to the kitchen or – god forbid – the outhouse after nightfall. But now we don’t care. My daughter who was initially very scared and overwhelmed by this strange place – so much so that she vomited in the night out of sheer fear on the first night – is now calm enough and secure enough here to venture out to the outhouse in the dark. In fact we are now staying out till long after midnight gazing up at the vast number of stars that are visible in this place, listening the sheewaters and watch the Perseids streaking over the mountain in long white-hot arcs. You don’t really want to tear yourself away to go to bed, despite your best efforts to keep your eyes wide open to the night to catch a meteorite, they start to close and you can fight it no longer. Even so, I retire to my room and sit on the window sill gazing out for another half hour, catching a few Perseids shooting out past the lighthouse to land somewhere in the dark sea beyond. The sheerwaters calls are like a lullaby to me now.

I slept badly. Lots of dreams, nightmares. Strange that ones days should be so peaceful, yet nights so tormented. I wonder if the ancient monks were troubled in this way.
We both start the day, groggy and slow. Plus we both have a killer cricks in our necks from looking up for so long. Now I know why Count Dracula had that high, stiff collar –

being nocturnal and with probably so little light pollution in Transylvania, that collar would have come in very handy for star gazing. Yes folks, these are what pass for the jokes around here and you realise life on Enlli has even changed our humour. The excitement and anticipation when yesterday I pulled a packet of Banana Angel Delight from my jacket fell a bit flat when we both had our first spoonful and realised it’s not quite the same delight when made with fresh unpasteurised goat’s milk. We pulled faces. We made noises. We made jokes about goat-noms. We laughed so hard. And we both cleaned our bowls. Angel Delight – that rare (plastic) indulgence – will never be the same again.

I’m not sure I will ever be the same again. Several of the island people have asked me if I have adjusted to island ways. And

when I reply that yes, I love it and that I am so very happy here and I notice a particular smile crosses people’s faces. A big grin of acceptance, of shared participation, of welcome. One lady said that people come, and if they don’t like it they don’t come back.

So to not come back then, would surely be the same as me saying I didn’t like it and truly nothing could be further from the truth. I love Enlli. I want more. And I love island ways. I loved it from the first moment. Somehow like all these people the island had called to me, and I know I will be back because that call stays for life. Some might say there are no real islanders now. From a population around ninety a hundred years ago, the only people who live here year round now were all born and raised off the island. A few people come back for the summer months. But what you come to realise is that today the islanders are many. A look at the guest book that resides on the alter of the chapel tells a story of people coming from far and wide around the world, as well as from not far too away like me. It tells of generations of families coming back

to live this life summer after summer, for as many days or weeks a year as they can possibly afford in money and time. These are the islanders now and they are many. And I think that makes me one of them. I will be back as often and for long as I possibly can. I found a sense of purpose here and freedom to write here, to paint, to draw, to photograph, to think, to create without hindrance, without technology or life getting in the way. In short I found ME here. And I think in many ways I will probably leave me here when I begrudgingly board the boat for the journey back to the mainland.

What is it about ‘real’ life that gets in the way each day? I sit down to write first thing before my unconscious has fully turned off its tap, and before my conscious – and its accompanying critic – has had a change to wake up. This what I have been taught to do in I don’t know how many writing classes and books. And yet it doesn’t feel as ‘real’. And somewhere other people are getting up and the sound of the toaster popping, a computer booting up, or – the worst – the tv going on. The latest news from Twitter, or Facebook or Sky news starts to reach my brain, via my ears, whether I want it to or not. The ‘Awww come see this’ for the latest Lolcatz starts to pull me out of myself, out of my writing space, to make me feel hey the world is happening here, you’re missing out, And inevitably I participate in family life, get pulled kicking and screaming back into the tech-world by my husband and business partner and postpone my writing, my creativity, for later. And later never qurie comes. At least not like here.

Yet here, as I go about the essential chores that must be done on this island before the day can begin, I must postpone – and hopefully hone – my thoughts until life’s necessities are dealt with. This delay only makes my hunger to write – not to mention my hunger to eat – all the more voracious. When I finally write, I do it at the same time as eating the fresh eggs and a big mug of explorer tea and fresh goat’s milk. I write happily, freely and creatively. It is a wonderful, contemplative, release.

Last night I watched the monk walk from the hermitage, where for seven days he lives as the guest chaplain for this week. He walks solemnly, devoutly, purposefully, contemplatively, to ring the bell for compline as the sun sets. I see him praying or meditation or possibly just sitting and enjoying the sun during the day and he looks purposeful. He is on a spiritual quest. And yet as I go about my day here, with times for buckets and sweeping, times for chopping wood, times for boiling water and cooling water and filtering water, times for washing, times for cooking, times for baking, times for meals, time for afternoon tea (which is a ritual in its own right here), times for writing, times for photography, times for going out drawing, times for putting boots on, times for taking them off, times for recharging batteries in the sun, times for charging things up, times for conserving power, times for hanging things out in the wind, time for trust (when you go out and leave your things inside when there is no lock on the door), time for faith (when you hear a noise in the night and there is no lock on the door) times for relaxing, times for contemplation and reverence, I feel my own kind of purpose, my own kind of devotion – and in some way this too feels holy.


Shape

Aug 11, 2010. It feels so good to be on this island exploring it. But as the days progress i realise I am mostly exploring me. It is truly a magical place. The journey is no longer just about the project for the course. I feel like a proper writer and artist here. My work is real. Back home saying ‘my work’ just feels pretentious. And who would I say it to that would understand?

My hands and face are brown as a berry and i haven’t moisturised my skin or used sunblock (oops!) in days. My hair is one giant tangle. I washed it outside the kitchen door with soap the other day just because I had a bowl of hot water to wash my hands in and it felt so pleasant I just didn’t want to stop! I felt like Dita Von Tease in her Martini glass. Boy I can understand why she looks like she’s having so much fun in there now!

I am writing this on a cliff with seabirds calling all around me. The sea is a deep blue green with white horses riding the top of the waves that are pummelling the rocks below me. It’s a beautiful sunny day, warm probably low 70s, but the brisk breeze from the south west is chilly and it’s going straight down the back of my jacket, so I’m hunkered down – sheepstyle- behind a heavily lichened rock. The grass is so green here compared to the grey salt-battered cliff on the north coast of Anglesey. There are a few tall, grasses with their seedheads waving in the breeze, a few yellow flowers like dandelions that are called something like Jack of the morning because they close up by noon. There is also a little Heather dotted about and a few tiny red and blue wildflowers hunkered down in the grass that you would probably need to be a rare wildflower expert to identify. It seems strange to be typing all this on my phone, here, now. In many ways I wonder why I am doing it.

I didn’t expect to enjoy having to keep a blog for this project but funnily enough I have bonded with it. I might even put the finished script up here when I am done with it. In fact, I think that would be quite fitting end to the project if not the blog. But it doesn’t have to be the end of the blog … I know I will be coming back to Enlli and I would love to be one of those people bringing their grandchildren here one day. So maybe this blog will be the story of all my journeys here.

Today I am not writing or observing. Or researching. Today is not about words, so I will not write today apart from this. I’ve been reading Eat, Pray, Love lately and have been inspired to rekindle my interest in meditation and to stop using words for a while. The monks here a thousand years ago were probably silent at least for part of their time. I am also trying to get away from thinking in words. I find drawing, painting and sketching help with this. I started this morning by doing an oil pastel drawing of the abbey ruins, trying not to draw anthing you could give a word to (archway, rock, moss) just focussing on the shapes, colors and the deliciously warm sunlight creeping up behind me. Then I moved on to more abstract charcoal drawings. I must be disciplined not to represent anything ~ only to draw shapes, doodle if you like. It’s my own kind of dreamtime based on the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain (can’t give a proper citation as am typing in phone on a cliff right now). The book teaches us to draw representations of emotions and it seems that we humans have an inbuilt vocabulary of what different shapes and lines represent. I think this is probably very relevant to story – especially when trying to convert it to film scenes.

My aim here is also to try to find out the shapes and colors that the island gives me. Among the firewood beside our log burner on the first night was a piece if driftwood with Ynys Enlli written on it and a doodle that took me a moment to realise was the island. Like a backwards capital P lying on its side, it IS the island. Flat at one end with the rounded mountain at the other. This drawing interests me. What other shapes are there that I can use?

We shall see…


Research, hmmm!

Aug 10, 2010. Today I went from feeling fantastic after having a brainwave last night (when a story finally flashed up into my mind) to tonight, feeling skeptical. As I sit in the front garden of my little house, with its low wall, iron gate, and cobbled path, staring out to sea where the sun is an hour or so from what promises to be a beautiful sunset, I am writing on the little table and chair that lives out here in all weathers. I wonder, given the storms that bombard this place much of the time, how the grass is so green and full of clovers. I wonder how these chairs look like they were just carried out of the house a few moments ago, rather than having been out here through every storm, shower and squall since spring – especially given that my own garden chairs from B&Q back home look like they’ve just been pulled out of the sea and I only bought them a few weeks ago! My mind is so bursting with questions that my head aches. Most of all I wonder whether I can take all these observations and turn them into a script.

But assuming this IS the story I am going to tell, I think the idea is basically good. It’s doable. Not easy, but possible. I’ve talked to an islander and to my daughter about the story and they both seemed keen on the idea. A good start. And it’s working its magic all by itself in my head which certainly works for me, not to mention taking the pressure off.

So I think I have the basic story down, and some sense of the characters in it. I am now looking for little scenes that I can include here and there, a hen taking a dustbath, the farmer harvesting his crops, a grasshopper jumping on the page as I write. Weaving those into a film structure seems quite easy in fact, which is a helluva big surprise to me. I didn’t think it would come as easily.

But what vexes me is that now it is time for research. Finding out just how viable the story is in terms of cold hard facts; dates, times, people, places, what life was really like on the island in the past, all little things but important details nonetheless. And to be honest, right now I’m thinking it would be so much easier to make it all up. It’s not like this project ever stands much chance of becoming an actual film, so who’s going to know if I make up the facts? And the funny thing is that doing that even seems better in a way!

Why? Because in a way it all seems profoundly arrogant; to think that I can come to this place for a week and represent this arena, let alone tell any part of its story. Enlli has thousands of years of history, a proud and serious heritage. There are complex communities, past and present. It has strange and unusual wildlife, habitats and nature. And its present day visitors are just as just as strange and unusual in their way, be they religious pilgrims, visiting chaplains, birdwatchers, artists, writers like me, or families who have come here since they first came with their grandparents and who are bringing their own grandchildren.

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I don’t have the right to represent this. It just seems too much! Too bold. Too brass. Too damn cheeky.

I don’t belong here. And yet I want to more than anything. I have lived in Wales for twenty six years are yet I feel more welcome here than I have in the village where I live. Everyone has been called here in some way. Everyone here has a purpose. Even those who grew up here still choose to live this odd life today, isolated and insulated from the rest of the world, two miles offshore, without electricity or plumbing.

So my answer tonight is to take a break from writing, recording, filming and photography. I will not observe this evening. Tonight I am just here, belonging, being a part of it, BEING on Bardsey.

For tonight, that is enough.


This is progress, right?

Aug 9, 2010. I did a lot of writing today. But not fiction.

Sure I wrote fiction in my head, but not on paper or screen. With novels I tend to get the characters and the plot inside my head and then they live there, their lives carrying on once they are installed in my brain. It’s a bit like some parasitic tapeworm that infects in your mind, subtlely feeding off your thoughts and your experiences, interweaving their life with your own. Their story begins to tell itself once they exist there. It is practically a preoccupation, or obsession. I cannot NOT do it. It’s like breathing to me.

But screenwriting, that seems like an altogether more organised affair. so precise, so technical, so economical of words and scenes and plot and dialog. With novels you just let the characters get in, spark and then get on with it. You don’t need economics. Plot is thrashed about in an evolution that is primarily subconscious, happening in moments when I’m not concentrating, like this morning when I was sweeping the stairs with a handbrush. Of course the character was doing the same thing in this same place, but she was doing it in a different time and a different space, and boy did the task feel different to her!

Her life, her story goes on even when i am sleeping. Her adventures are at their most riotous in my dreams.

But all this planning is foreign to me. Writing for me is very slightly organised daydreaming. It’s not organised in any conscious way, it just happens. If some element of plot or character in a novel doesn’t fit it gets instantly obliterated, forgotten before it was ever remembered. If a character doesn’t find their place they fade into the background like a type of narrative natural selection. But if something burns through with the bright fire of interest on each subtle subsequent mental retelling, reworking of the story then that thing BECOMES the story.

If it turns out not to be as interesting as first thought it becomes just a minor happening in the story, a page filler. Most novels could be boiled down into very few pages if it wasn’t for the page fillers. These minor happenings are the meat and potatoes of filling pages for the hungry novel reader. In this way, novels are made from minor happenings. Films are not.

When minor things happen in that precious two hour film story they happen for an important plot reason or for some symbolic or thematic reason. They do not happen for no other reason than because it was interesting to the author when they wrote the first draft and whatever the minor happening was it was not too glaringly out of place to be lost in the edit. A film is a succinct parable, not vicarious daydreaming, a mind adventure for the reader. It is the most nutritious and efficient meal the viewer’s brain can have. If it’s well written and well produced it tastes good – but like nouvelle cuisine, you never got too much of it. It’s always the smallest portion you fit on a plate. Whereas with novels sometimes you end up feeing nauseous from too many dishes that are far too full. And we often forgive this overindulging from our favourite authors because the characters exist inside their heads and their heads alone. But it takes many heads to make a film. And it seems the screenwriter is only the first head rather than the main head.

So it seems I am on a screenwriting course primarily because I don’t get on with the novel, but funnily enough the novel is growing on me now. I’m coming back to it. Overall this is good. This is progress, right?

But not for my course.

So what do I need to do for my course? What goes into a twenty minute short film? What is the structure of a short film? IS THERE a structure for a short film or are they all different because of the time constraint? Of this, I have no clue.

All of the stories here seem so big. Can I find a small story? I don’t know.

All I can think is that I need to approach this from what I know. Find the story in my own way rather than approaching it from the path of film structure. That is still too foreign to me, for the moment at least. The technicality of it seems backwards, like trying to see the end before you’ve conceived of a beginning.

Icebow and whispy cloud

I need to let a character creep in I think.

Maybe while I am asleep.

Hey, that might work!

Nos da! (Goodnight!)

(I am watching the sunset behind the Wicklow mountains of Ireland as I send this off into the ether. Beautiful. Inspiring. Peaceful. I wish I could post a photo but it will have to wait until I am home with broadband.)


Meditations on a Seal

Aug 9, 2010 I am writing this on the edge of the cliff while waiting for my previous post and hopefully photos are winging their way from my phone to the Internet.

I am sitting on the north west tip of the island on a large chunk of white quartz that is protruding from the grass. It is like a jewelled throne. Well almost.

Good company

The wind is blowing behind me and, despite pulling my collar up as high as it will go, it is threatening to blow off my hat. Once again I pull the string tight under my chin.

Good Company

Today is my third day on the island, but my first day of ‘proper’ observation. Today I have observed seals from this cliff. I have also watched the bars of charge left in my phone dwindle as I type this from 100% to now 31%. Batteries are going faster than expected. It is like the phone is working extra hard to send my data through the dense salty airwaves between here and the nearest transmitter on the mainland. This cliff is the only spot where I can get a phone signal from Orange (my carrier) unless I climb to the very top of the mountain. I can get a signal a little closer to the house but that is an O2 signal. And it’s coming from Ireland. That is going to land me with a big bill! So, here I must sit.

I am looking at the seals. They are looking at me. We are curious about each other.

They lie in the sea, their heads sticking out like fronds of seaweed. They dive occasionally but mostly they just stay where they are. They look at me. I sit here in my hat and look at them.

Watching me, watching you

Occasionally one or both of us yawns. It’s funny how mammals can make each other yawn. This is no barrier to species. I can now say I have caught a yawn from a seal. I can’t say whether it has caught any from me, as I had the advantage of a telephoto lens.

Oh do excuse me ..

.. I think I'm going to ..

.. Y A W N ..

Hehe, pardon!

My daughter has now taken over my camera and has taken many hundreds of photos of the seals while I sit and type my observations.  No semblance of story is showing up. The more I search for one, the further away and more elusive it seems to get. I am clearly trying too hard.

Some of the people here have caught on that I am a writer and are worried that I might cast the island and its islanders in a bad light. This pressure only adds to creative block. For now I am writing long emails of my observations to my husband, and my schoolfriend in New York, I am of course writing on my blog and I am coming up with lots of plot points for my book which is fleshing out quite nicely.

I think my short film might be about seals, although thirty minutes might be a little long.

Really? You think???

I am cold and tired and thirsty and I want to get this sent off before I can head home to the hearth and the kettle.

Tomorrow I will explore the chapel, the ruins of the thirteenth century monastery and maybe talk to some islanders. Perhaps. Or maybe I will sit and look at these seals again. They are so calm, so peaceful, so delightfully free of busy. They are the perfect meditation partners.

I remind myself once again that this is about observation, not meditation. But something on this island is calling me to meditate, pray even. Saint Cadfan came here over a thousand years ago and he must have felt the same compulsion. It is just that sort of place. Thoughts tend toward the holy. Even if you are not normally that way inclined it just happens. It is higher here.

A mysterious and magical place

In the night however, the twenty thousand ancient bards of Bardsey must have been terrified. Twenty thousand birds – Manx Sheerwaters to be exact – fly about in the dark moonless night calling their unique and eerie cries to find their mates who are each calling out with their own unique call. Their cries are odd. They are not unlike human voices and can easily be mistaken for speech that is just out of earshot. Some of them sound like screams and shouts and cries for help from some person – sometimes man, sometimes woman, sometimes elderly and sometimes newborn – that has befallen of some great horror just out there in the darkness and it is all that you can do to stop yourself charging out into the night to help them.

Still others sound like wheezing, breathless asthmatic chickens that have taken to the wing but are suddenly regretting it. When you hear one like that it’s hard not to laugh.

But to the ancients they must have sounded like tortured souls or demons. I had imagined that these birds would be roosting on a cliff on the other side of the mountain making this cacophony. It had not occurred to me that these birds would be flying around invisibly in the dark making these odd cries and getting surprisingly close to my head as they go past. It is an incredible sound and an equally incredible sensation. It is hard not to be afraid. It is hard not to feel like this is another world, another realm.

To the saints it must have seemed like hell. And if you can make hell into a holy place it must be very holy indeed.

And that’s the thing about Bardsey, whether it’s birds or bards, this IS a holy place.

Tea beckons. My daughter has gone ahead to put the kettle on. Dinner, dishes before dark, then bed. it’s amazing how quickly you adjust to the hours of the sun. I can’t believe day three is almost over.

The sun sets behind the mountains of Ireland


Journey

Aug 7, 2010. On the way to Enlli. The journey is a little choppy but only enough to be fun.

Journey to Bardsey

Journey to Bardsey

I am trussed up to the nines in fleece, waterproof coat and overtrousers then a lifejacket on top.

My cameras, recording equipment and mics are packed in waterproof cases. At least I hope they are waterproof – we used them for experimental testing a few years ago which included filming them as we sank them in the sea, dropped them off cliffs and blew them up. We kept the cases that not only survived the testing but which also kept their contents – a single uncooked egg – dry and intact. Hopefully they still have the same durable qualities now they contain all my most treasured possessions.

A lot of what is treasured in there is power, in the form of rechargeable batteries, power packs, and a solar charger. I confess to also having some normal alkali batteries in case the aforementioned don’t work! I know, not very green. Hopefully I won’t use them. It will be another seven days before I see a mains socket again!

My daughter (fifteen and also a writer) is coming with me on this trip. Between us have a dry bag of clothes. It’s called a dry bag because hopefully that is what it will stay inside. It is old however and while I can report that it had done good service over the years keeping backpacks afloat while crossing rivers and sleeping bags dry on camping trips, it has also served as the permanent storage for all our camping kit in the back of our Landrover which doubles as a shed. So it has seen better days and if the seaspray gets in there’s no tumble drier on the island to get our stuff dry again.

We also have 2 plastic boxes of food. There is no shop there although we can probably buy fresh veg and eggs from the farmer’s wife.

I also have a tripod and a walking stick, which I have attached to the dry bag with a bungee. I hope it stays attached. It will be hard to film without the tripod and it will be harder to get around the island without a hiking stick.

The boathouse

The view of the island is hidden from the back of the boat as we approach it, so my first sight is of the lighthouse just moments before we approach the cove where the boat lands, you can’t really call it a harbour. The red and white striped lighthouse is on low land at the end of the island. In high tide and storms the island separates into two as the water rushes in across the salty isthmus. We spot seals in the water as a boy with no shirt and tanned skin paddles past in a canoe.

We don’t exactly dock on the island as the boat drives onto a trailer which is then pulled up onto the land by tractor. When we climb down the ladder we are officially on Bardsey Island.

A handful of people are gathered on the sand to meet the boat. When the tractor has pulled us far enough up the beach they launch into singing Happy Birthday for one of the passengers. Everyone knows each other or so it seems. Are we the only ones who haven’t been here before or who don’t know anyone? We wait patiently as the farmer’s children transfer everyone’s bags over the side of the boat into the tractor trailer. The farmer greets us then asks if we know which way to walk. I have studied the map a little bit so I know our cottage is at the furthest end of the path.

We start walking. Eventually we find the track. What looked like it would be a ten minute walk takes longer as we are swaddled in waterproofs and carrying the camera cases, which seem to get heavier moment by moment.

The view down the track. Lighthouse in distance

We arrive at the cottage before the tractor which is dropping off the luggage at each house. There are seven houses. The children tell us that we travel light. This is a compliment I think. Or perhaps we are a curiosity. Most of the people have a lot of bags, boxes, parcels, cases, suitcases, holdalls etc. I wonder if they are thinking we don’t have enough food for a week here.

Our cottage on Bardsey

I wonder if we have enough clothes and bedding. The instructions were a little vague. We have brought two sleeping bag liners from our camping equipment and a pillowcase each. The instructions said that blankets were supplied. My mother in law suggested however that we take a sleeping bag and thinking maybe she knows something that we don’t, I do take one. But only one. We shall see.

It’s a delightful collage with four bedrooms, three upstairs and one downstairs. We pile all our stuff into the downstairs bedroom as we can’t wait another second to get our waterproofs and coats off.

The kitchen is large and basic, little more than a room compared to a modern kitchen. The counter tops are slate shelves. The fridge runs on gas which is clear from the profound smell of propane in the air which hits you as soon as you enter the house.

Our delightfully basic kitchen

The dining room – or perhaps this is more of a parlour – has a small wood burning stove, set in front of an old fireplace. This original fireplace range is black, shiny and will have seen many years of use. I can almost hear the families that were raised here around this hearth. There is a long table with a high-backed wooden bench along the wall and dining chairs on the opposite side.

Parlour

Parlour and Fireplace

One place at the head of the table facing the fire and with it’s back to the high window looks imposing. I wonder, seeing this chair, if I should’t have convinced my husband to stay behind on this trip. This seat – his seat – will remain empty to show that I miss him.

Lolfa - Lounge

Ystafell Fyw - A room to live in

The living room is cozy and yet the central focus is the mantel which is commanding. It is high, higher than me, definitely this would be a man’s mantelpiece. Children of days gone by might have spent their entire childhoods wondering what was up there, probably never seeing, never touching until it was time for them to raise their own families in this house. Surely it would have been the family bible that was the most important object up there. I wonder what other treasured possessions handed down through those families might have lived in pride of place high up on that shelf to be only taken down for high days and holy days and sentimental moments. I am sure I can feel the house warming to me now. I want to live here, not just visit. I want my treasured things safe up there out of my reach. I think this house might let me.

The High Mantel

The fireplace is old, with little sections for baking and one with a tap for what I presume would have been a built-in kettle. There is no light in the ceiling, only a single candle lamp hanging from the mantle.

And indeed as promised there is no lock on the front door. Or on the back. Outside is a little Tŷ Bach (little house or outhouse) with a white wooden door, which doesn’t quite shut properly but who cares. If the door is closed, it is occupied. Otherwise you leave it open and let the breeze do its work. After you’ve used it you drop a little grass in to start the ‘contents’ composting. It will need emptying once a day into the big composting box at the end of the garden. Judging by the contents of that box – well of course I had to take a peek, and then immediately regret my curiosity – I’m not sure throwing grass clippings down the hole into the bucket in the meantime will get any composting started at all. I think it’s more to help our poor modern sensibilities. Out of sight out of mind. Still it’s not so bad, And after all I have been teasing my daughter all week that I only brought her along precisely so she could empty the bucket each day.

The view from the back door

More disturbing to us, than the outhouse is the lack of a bathroom. That is not so much that we need a bath or a shower – at least not yet, ask us again tomorrow – but the lack of a sink and running water to wash your hands after using Tŷ Bach. The water here comes from wells and springs. It is in short supply, especially since this has been quite a dry summer so far. Therefore water for washing, laundry, dishwashing and food preparation comes from a rainwater butt that is fed by a series of pipes and gutters from the house and outhouse roofs. Water to wash ones hands is therefore cold rainwater that doesn’t exactly leave you feeling clean. We learn quickly that if you want to have a proper clean feeling after going to the outhouse a little forethought is required to fetch some rainwater, heat it in a special pan on the stove and leave it steaming in a bowl on the garden wall outside next to a bar of soap. I tie a towel to the handle of the back door. Perfect. We can do this. I put a little pot of antibacterial hand gel on the shelf just inside the backdoor … just to satisfy any remaining OCD tendencies.

We flop onto into pretty armchairs with lace doileys. As we look around we both realise that we have been transported back in time.

I have no clue what kind of ideas this place will give me. I am already using it in the plot for my new novel – a dystopian cyberpunk meets steam punk lark – but as regards the screenwriting observation that I have come here for, I have no inkling of what I might write.


The monastery ruins & celtic cross

The people are fascinating of course. The warden and the farmer and his family must be brave souls living here as they do all year round. But I feel a reticence at intruding into their lives. They have already appeared in the Guardian newspaper. Did they welcome that intrusion? I wonder. Would they welcome another from me? I don’t know. I shall tread carefully. I realise already that I am shying away from doing interviews. So be it. This is me, I think.

There are also the visitors of course. Why are they here? What brought them if they haven’t been before? Some people like me who have rented one of the seven cottages. Many of them already have some connection to the island or the islanders. One is the previous warden who lived here for seven years. He only lives a short distance across the water. He is here to bring his children and grandchildren to this magical and sacred place. HE has a twinkle in his eye and a proud grin as he shepherds his little two year old granddaughter around the island on what is her third annual visit here. He breathes happiness and contentment to be here. He knows that he is home.

There are also the birdwatchers who go to stay at the observatory and the Christians for whom this is a place of pilgrimage and retreat. Is there a story there that I can tell? Do i want to intrude, be nosey? Or will this be my story of my visit here? And could I possibly tell that story in the script for a twenty minute short film? is there a story here like that? Can I tell the story of an island? A story about the lichen covered rock walls? Or of sheep? Would it be absurd to write a short about the trials of using an outhouse and not having electricity and locks. Don’t screenplays have to be about people? Can I get close enough to them to achieve anything here?

Everyone seems nice enough of course, friendly but in a reserved way maybe. Perhaps that is how it is. They need to size you up, find out how you will fit into this place. Whether you will be a part of the jigsaw of this community of strangers or whether you will be a burden, calling for help the first time the toilet bucket needs emptying. Whether we are the sort of people who will complain, that will hate every moment, every lack of convenience then proclaim loudly that they are never coming here again. It’s something you hear a lot of in Wales from the tourists. They either love it or they hate it. My first guess is that on this island those emotions are amplified. Most will love it, but the memories of the difficult guests can probably outweigh all the friendly, happy, enraptured visitors who regard the residents with a level of awe and celebrity. It would make them distrustful I’m sure to have guests leave just as you are getting to like them and to have yet another set of people arrive on Saturday’s boat. One week here is not going to be enough, I can feel it in my bones.

As I look out the window at the sweeping green fields, leading down to the rocky coast and the vast expanse of the Irish Sea beyond I know in my heart that this is my first visit to this place, not my last and I understand the centuries old calling to this place that was declared by the pope that three visits here were worth one visit to Rome.

I too feel that draw. I too know that I am home.


The mainland across the sea

Sunset Day One


Packing!

Aug 5, 2010 Am packing for my trip.

Need food for a week (plus we are advised to take extra in case return boat journey is delayed).

Need waterproofs for the journey. Also weather forecast doesn’t look promising. Warm clothes for a week. No laundry facilities and weather looks like handwashing/outdoor drying won’t be an option next week.

Video camera. Sound recorder. Mic (though no Dougal – might be a problem) Digital camera. SLR & lenses. Tripod. Lots of batteries charged up, though quite sure there will be not enough for the whole week.

Binoculars. Bird book.

Am also looking forward to this: “Manx Shearwaters are extremely noisy at their colonies after dark, calling to their mates to ensure they return to the correct burrow. The darker the night the more cacophonous the sound – a most wonderful experience for those lucky enough to experience it first hand by staying on the Island” – and perfect it’s a new moon. May need earplugs!

Plus side: No elec light = no light pollution. Just in time for the perseids and the aurora hopefully! Now just need one clear night! 😀


Finding a plan

July 29, 2010 This is the first post in the blog that I’ve created for the Observational Research Unit of my MA Screenwriting course at Bournemouth University.  For the project I need to go somewhere – anywhere – and sit there for five days, observing, recording sound, taking photographs and video  and generally absorbing the atmosphere of the place. The idea is that from this I will be inspired to write about that setting and that this arena will come through, hopefully as a character, in my script.

The brief was to challenge ourselves and take ourselves out of our comfort zones. So far just finding a place has been challenging!  My first thought, judging by my own sense of being outside my comfort zone, was to go somewhere busy, like London’s Piccadilly Circus. This would be torture. I decided against it because largely I am not at my most creative under duress! I could well come home a jibbering wreck – and worse still with no idea for a script!

My second choice was to go to Wootton Bassett, the village with the dubious privilege of receiving through their streets the bodies of our fallen soldiers on their return from Afghanistan. As my own daughter has previously served in Afghanistan and her husband is currently out there, this seemed like a potent place to sit and observe.  It would certainly be outside my comfort zone.  I know because a cold shudder runs down my spine every time I pass the road to there. It’s somewhere that every military parent, spouse , or child hopes they NEVER have to visit.  But whilst that would be challenging, to do the job properly I would also need to be very nosey and ask a lot of questions. I’m not sure I could be quite that ruthless as an investigative journalist, at least not in the context of a course assignment.  And from reading articles about Wootton Bassett (like this one) I get the feeling that they are wearying of media people noseying about the place.

My next choice was to sit at the top of Mount Snowdon for five days.  I’m reasonably familiar with Snowdonia and the exercise wouldn’t do me any harm.  I’d also planned to use the Snowdon Mountain Railway on two or three of the five days so I could spend longer at the summit.   The only flaw in my plan turned out to be that the railway only allows you to stop at the summit for thirty minutes before the train departs.  If you don’t return on that train your return ticket is invalid.  So if you want to stay for longer up there you have to buy a single to get back down – and whether or not they’ll sell you one is the discretion of the guard.

I thought I could get smart, so I asked the rather surly man in Llanberis “what if I throw some money at this thing, and buy a SINGLE to go up in the morning AND a RETURN on the evening train?”  Surely then they’d have to let me on the train down? Apparently not, I would not be allowed on the train down because I had not come up on it. In fact, according to the ticket office, your journey down is only valid if you are actually present on the train up.  If you have paid for your ticket but your bum is not on a seat when the train departs from Llanberis, they won’t let your bum touch the seat to come down when the train returns from the Summit!!

Presumably this means they will happily sell your seat to someone else even though you’ve already paid for it!!  But, this is Wales and there was to be no argument or reasoning over this.  So very angry and disgruntled I have said “Stuff Snowdon Mountain Railway”.

And sadly, it looks like I won’t be doing my observational research on Snowdon.  In fact, the sight of the mountain is angering me still every time I see it.  Right now its head is lost in the clouds, not unlike my own.  Keep your head hidden, I am angry with you.  Tomorrow may be different and I will love you again. I guess it’s all just part of the love/hate relationship that I have with Wales as a whole.  There’s a funny way of doing things sometimes and in the summer with the influx of visitors changing the landscape,  anything tourist-related tends to make unhelpful, grumpy staff who are less than accommodating.

Walking up the hill for all five days is still a possibility of course and I shall keep that on the back burner, at least while we still have the long evenings. I’d still like to do the project, though maybe not for my course. We shall see.  I realize that I’ve already got an idea for the project, a little bit of story that’s already crept into my head prematurely. To be honest much the same thing had already happened with Wootton Bassett too and that’s not what this project is all about.  By having a bit of a story already in my head I wasn’t really going to be letting the arena tell its own story to me.

How could I find somewhere that was outside my comfort zone, challenging and yet also somewhere unknown enough that I wasn’t already writing a story before I got there?

Luckily for me, at this point came an opportunity to do something much more interesting –  an opportunity to stay on Bardsey Island (or Ynys Enlli in Welsh) for a week.  I have absolutely no clue what it’s going to be like. I’ve read quite a bit online and there are quite a few articles out there from journalists, artist and writers who’ve stayed on the island. But I’ve no idea what it’s going to be like. I know I will need waterproofs and wellies for the journey over there which is likely to get a bit choppy. All my stuff must be packed in waterproof bags.  I need to take enough food for a week as there are no shops. And there’s no electricity.  There is no indoor toilet. (Trips out to Ty Bach in the middle of the night are going to be interesting – note to self: take a torch, in case candle blows out!).

And my comfort zone?  Well  leaving behind my technology for a week (no iPad, no 3G, no iPhone, no mp3) will be hard.  But what scares me most? Well according to at least one article I read there are no locks on the doors!

That really scares me!

But it will be an adventure! I should say “Touch wood” at this point because this is Wales and there are no guarantees.  The man in charge is going away on a sailing trip for a few days but he said I could considered it booked. I hope he remembers when he comes back or I might be having to make my peace with Snowdon.


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