Random Harvest 18 – Update from The Borders

I’m finally back in the blogging seat after what feels like so long! I’ve been so immersed  in personal projects and family life issues, that I just haven’t had the head space to write posts here or read others’ blogs. So I’m looking forward to catching up with you soon and finding out what I’ve been missing.

Covid life restrictions were eased just over six weeks ago here in the Scotland, where all the shops and cafes opened and people could visit one another in their homes, give each other much missed hugs, and even go on holiday abroad to designated ‘green’ countries, if they so desired. Many did desire it, such is the lure of sun, sea, sand and sangria to many. Red, green, and amber were the classified country ratings for covid travel safety, but ‘amber’ has caused much confusion – as you might expect ;>) Portugal was green a few weeks ago, but recently turned amber, with droves of tourists being given a deadline to get themselves back over here or face self isolating for ten days. Hefty airline costs were incurred for many people who had to get back for work purposes. Personally, I don’t believe the stress and uncertainty are worth the hassle, but I can certainly appreciate a need for a change of scene. This is where the term ‘stay-cation’ has been coined, going away from home but staying within the UK. People are also waiting to book weddings with a larger number of guests, trying to work around dates the government cites, only to be scuppered when the dates are postponed. Hovering amidst all this are new virus variants which have yet to be evaluated properly. And so the race for vaccination is on and my second jab is tomorrow. 

Overall though, I feel there has been a pressure building, born during lockdown life. Like sailors getting increasingly tense waiting to leave the harbour while the tide swells. Eager to get going, yet uncertain as to what is out there. Is the ocean the same? If it’s different, then how? Just what is the ‘new normal’? Many of us have been able to sail our boats out of the harbour and this lockdown pressure has blown a brisk wind into our sails. I’ve loved catching up with some friends, it’s been wonderful, but the rapid onset of appointments for myself or family members, like my elderly mum, has been a bit too brisk. And there is something contrary in me about responding right away, like a dangling puppet suddenly having its strings pulled.

What the restrictions have been useful for is learning new skills at home and that’s where my most recent random harvest has been gleaned.

1. One of my lockdown projects for the first few months of this year was to fully develop a new art website which I can dip in and out of and make changes easily myself, and to be able to transfer this to my existing server which retains my domain name. No adverts and no fees. My experience with wordpress and blogging was invaluable in this and I was able to choose a free wordpress theme to build the site as I wanted it from scratch. I have to give some credit to my hubby whio helped me get it started, even though it created a few tensions now and again ;>)The plugins were vital, but the most difficult tussle was with the block editor and classic editor – I could choose between the two, but I was going back and forth between them to achieve my desired layouts of pages. It was difficult and a long haul! But now the site is up, all my art is displayed on it, with a simple selling facility too, and it is the perfect place to have all my art teaching handouts available to download from my ten years as an art tutor. This project was long overdue, and it’s a relief to me that it’s done, with all my work present and accounted for. A great feeling. Here is a link if you’d like to take a look.

2. The second project was to go through my older artwork and begin a ‘clearance’ process, where I have listed these, what I class as ‘under the bed’ artworks, on my own designated ebay shop for very reasonable prices. It has been immensely satisfying to send some paintings to new owners for them to enjoy, bringing a kind of new life to these paintings. The fact that the financial profit to me is negligible is far outweighed by the pleasure in sending them to a new home.

3. Number three has been family related. My sister has chosen a new home – a very difficult process through lockdown as you can imagine – as well has now having a new puppy to join her there when she moves in. The puppy is a Staffordshire bull terrior with bold markings of black and white. She’s been named Harly, short for Harlequin. So we’re getting there. I say ‘we’ because it really does feel like a family project and I naturally can’t wait for the interior design stage!

4. Four is a more frivolous but fun harvest, discovering a lovely App for my phone  – something I never would have believed I’d find myself saying. Its called ‘Deep Art Effects’ and there is a free version. What I can do with this is an extension of what I’ve sometimes done before with Photoshop, applying creative filters to my photographs to  dramatise or highlight the essence of something I’m looking for when I take stimuli photographs for possible paintings. The resolutions are very low with this app which is a good thing, as it gives you a flavour, a nudge if you like, of how you might want to develop a painting based on the feel of the filter. Is it cheating? I don’t know, but my excitement overrides such sensibilities.   

Here are some examples

The humble ribwort plantain and its magical seed heads with circlets of flowers is hard to capture in situ in a hedgerow and on the hoof (as in the first photo), but when applying a few filters it highlights both the heads and the background:

And here’s some hogweed on the edge of a field. I liked the bands of colour and the soft ethereal feel. The filter enhances these qualities:

5. Five was learning about sponsored advertising with Amazon and setting up a load of ads. Yes, a bit of a groan inducing project which I’ve been meaning to get to grips with for the last couple of years. I did this with a free course run by Bryan Cohen. I would never have had the confidence to do this without him and his helpers. The ads haven’t brought me much financial reward ( I never seem to get the hang of that one!) but at least my books are getting seen more, the UK ad costs are a trickle, and the rest is up to the Gods. But I’ve learned so much about genres, how to write strong one-line hooks for your story, how to think outside the box concerning who might be interested in your books, and I expect this learning will come in useful in the future. So this was a marketing project I’d been meaning to do and now it’s done.

6. Six has been greeting card and print production here at home. This is something I was always doing in years past when I was a member of a local craft cooperative shop. Very time consuming, and not without material costs, so these days I just supply one local gallery close by to me. Lockdown created a necessity for a healthy top-up once shops were open again. So I prepared 300 cards and 52 prints. Where is the harvest? Well although I can’t stand the sound of the printer churning away, I was reacquainted with my paintings, one after the other after the other, and realised I’d done so much that I’m truly happy with, and I want to keep going whatever the outcome, so I sorted out my ‘image bank’ of reference material and set up a new file to go forward with. Another nice feeling.

7. Onto the last harvest for now. With all the above, I’m sure you can appreciate that my creative writing was forced into the back seat. I managed to crawl along for a while in first gear, but then my engine stalled. I became stuck – stuck half way through my current novel’s plot. It’s acquired a new working title of ‘Life after Life’ and despite the title already in use, there is no copyright issue with book titles, so it’s probably going to be the one I end up using. But getting back to being stuck, I was stuck fast with the plot. I always know where I’m headed in my novel writing and I always have a loosely planned structure, but I do allow this to change in the writing, as the characters begin to exert their natures and other possibilities for story conflicts and resolutions then emerge. There are three alternating points of view in ‘Life after Life’ which has required delicate handling, but it was the plot for each character and where their paths would cross that impeded my flow. I needed to know exactly how this novel was going to develop for the second half, with conflicts and dramatic arcs laid out for the three concerned, as well as for some of the important  helper/hinderer characters, and until I did there was no point writing. So I left it alone for weeks while I pondered. How could I be stuck? I wondered. How has this happened? But of course it’s endemic for writers. My mind became preoccupied subconsciously, as tends to happen – a kind of creative incubation process.  We can be working on our writing even when we’re far away emotionally or mentally. There is a muse working regardless. And I don’t say this lightly. So my harvest is that I learned I can trust mine. Just like other writers have had to learn at some critical point that they can have faith in theirs. Well, eventually, while I was on one of field walks, the thoughts and solutions finally came. And when I got home I typed up my guidelines for the rest of the novel’s plot. What a wonderful feeling! Next up was another gap before I sat down to actually progress with the writing. How would it feel after a long time gap?  Well the wheels turned slowly to start with but soon picked up with the second sitting and now I’m off again, making progress, bit by bit, towards the finishing line. I’ll get there.

Now to finish with a bit of film news. Harrison Ford is putting the Borders on the map. He’s here filming for another Indiana, and covert snaps are appearing of him taken by intrepid locals peering through the trees with their long lens. I wish I could share one with you! He’s looking as trim as ever, if a little more grizzled (but of course he carries it well )and apparently he cycles 40 miles a day to keep fit. There is a very high viaduct close by, the Leaderfoot Viaduct, with massive arches, and this is going to feature in the film. I’ve found a picture of the very one on pixabay, and here it is!

Now all you have to do is imagine Indiana clinging onto it, dangling at the end of a rope, or jumping off it onto the back of a boat chugging down the river Tweed.

So long for now, best wishes to you all, and do let me know how you are doing in your part of the world :>)

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