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Môn i Enlli

Bardsey Island Observational Research Project


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 …


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


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.


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.


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