Chinese space

Returning to the subset of science / sci-fi focussed posts on Writer’s Block, I came across these wonderful Chinese posters, glorifying the Chinese Space program. I understand that the program started in earnest after a satellite was successfully launched in 1970, which continuously broadcast Dongfang hong (东方红, The East is Red), one of the best known Chinese tunes, which eulogizes Mao Zedong. The program stalled during the 1970’s with the Cultural Revolution, and these posters date to that time and the early 80’s.

Rather like traveling, they give you a bewildering glimpse into a different culture, don’t they? I can’t help but wonder if they would have been received more cynically in the West, although of course I don’t know what the reception was within China either. I do love the colour palettes used. Can’t miss the appeal of socks and sandals teamed with a space helmet though! 😉

My thanks to for this information.


One of the greatest challenges I seem to face as a writer is managing transitions. As I work and have a toddler, my ‘spare’ time is intensely, painfully precious, and the pressure to use it fruitfully is keen. However, my frustration is that my creativity doesn’t seem to want to work like that. It is a lazy beast, and doesn’t respond well to whipping. In fact, it flips its top lip and sneers at the concept. It needs time to lumber thoughtfully into it’s stride, and I just don’t have that luxury. We need to go from 0 to 60 in under an hour.

My beast may look a little like this, but he is elusive… Image by Sargon the Dark at DeviantArt

I feel like when those opportunities to write do come along, I should be sitting down and pounding out as many hundred words as I can, but somehow mundane things keep getting in the way.
Following a terrific suggestion from readers of this blog, I carry a little notebook with me at all times, and that has been wonderful for poetry and jotting down ideas as they occur. That little notebook is like the slice of ‘me’ that remains just ‘me’, without any other hats heavy with responsibility. However, ideas are building up in there without the time to bring them to their full dreadful glory.
Any other suggestions as to how to manage these transitions better? To go from ‘worker’ to ‘Mum’ to ‘Writer’ in the blink of en eye?

Some possibly useful links I’ve found:
You may not be able to force creativity, but you can certainly invite it.

You cannot force creativity. You must force creativity.

The Power of Forced Creativity

Kay Nielsen’s Stunning 1914 Scandinavian Fairy Tale Illustrations

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These are too beautiful to miss, so I thought I would reblog them for you.

I particularly like the sense of line, and the carefully chosen colour palettes. If only I could get some illustrations as gorgeous as this for my novel and short story collection: I’ve been thinking for some time that it would be nice to release a version with illustrations. Somehow the lack of time gets in the way – not to mention that my own style of drawing tends rather to Dr. Suess than Errol LeCain. 🙂

You can see more of these lovely illustrations at:

Kay Nielsen’s Stunning 1914 Scandinavian Fairy Tale Illustrations | Brain Pickings.

Artist profile: Judith Logan Farias

Copyright Judith Logan-Farias

Copyright Judith Logan-Farias

If you’ve dipped into this blog before, you’ll know that one of my projects at the moment is an Anthology about Honest Motherhood. That is, the real thing as experienced by ‘ordinary’ women in all its diversity and complexity, rather than the bland, white bread, buy-this-and-it-will-make-you-happy version. I’ve been immensely lucky to have had contributions from a great collection of women from around the world, and I’d like to take the opportunity to introduce you to a few of them.

Judith Logan Farias is an artist based in Ballymena, Northern Ireland, although she spent nine years living in Chile. An artist and illustrator, she works in various media, in a style that has been described as a mix of naive, figurative and semi-abstract. She is inspired by Nature, pattern, colour and designs, and loves to sketch from life when her three young children will permit her to! She not only produces beautiful prints and artwork, but has also done book illustrations and even an album cover!

While the female figure and nature are typical themes in her art, the struggle between her love for two countries and a sense of belonging is also sometimes present.

Judith says, “If I can be surrounded by nature, walk for miles and still have a coffee with a sketchbook or a good read, then that`s all I need to be happy, although if there were more than 24 hours in a day, I`d be even happier….”

She is one of our contributing artists for the project, having done a fabulous pen and ink drawing. If you check out her blog or Facebook page, you will see the sort of work she does, and why I’m so honoured to have her art in our Anthology!

If you have a story to tell, or artwork which expresses your experience of motherhood, please feel free to get in touch with me. Love to hear from you!

Art dirtied by the mighty dollar


In a reversal of the usual roles, yesterday I interviewed a psychiatrist. Perhaps it was novel for her: it was certainly informative for me. The interview will hopefully form part of the Anthology I’m working on, with many other writers from around the globe, on the subject of motherhood. It’s even tentatively acquired a title now (which I will post about another time), so it must be starting to resolve itself, like the image appearing gradually on photographic paper. I’ll just have to keep swirling it in the developing fluid of continued effort, and hopefully it will emerge as something beautiful.

Anyway, one slight stumbling block in the interview was her continued confusion as to what the Anthology was for, and whether it would be commercial. Had I looked at all the other works about motherhood out there? Was ours going to fill a niche? Would it be useful? What, in short, is the market?

I suppose that a more mercenary person would have considered these issues in more detail, but for me, to complete the project as well as I am able is actually enough. If I’m going to give it the self-aggrandising name of ‘Art’, then I think art can, and perhaps needs to, be created just for itself.

Not that I’m saying that I wouldn’t like it to be successful, but it feels like something that needs to happen regardless. One of the best rewards a writer can have, I feel, is to have people enjoy their work. In the case of this Anthology, we’re perhaps hoping even for some social change, by deepening and widening the discussions around the experience of motherhood. The current level of conversation on the subject in wider society seems to be at the moment at best trite, and at worst shallow and deceptive.

Anyway, the psychiatrist’s emphasis on the commercial viability of the project got me thinking. I’ve always been someone who writes and paints ‘just because’. It’s an outlet of my subconscious, which has taken me to some surprising and very varied places. I don’t have a consistent painting style, and perhaps that is a reflection that I am an amateur. But I also write about diverse subjects – few things could be further apart than this current Anthology and my novel, which is science fiction! Perhaps my brain would explode if I didn’t let this stuff out.

I’m aware that other writers do find a niche, research a market, and write accordingly, and no doubt many of them are more commercial successful than I am. In the case of non-fiction, that seems an entirely justified approach. But I wonder if that whole process doesn’t compromise the creativity of fiction writing. It feels to me a little manipulative: like having an ulterior motive to do a good deed. I read a great post over at the ‘the Writing Blues’ some time ago about how she might lose her real voice if she started to think too much about what her readers would like to hear.

I’d be very interested to hear what others think about this issue. Is creation of art for arts sake enough? Am I just naive? Does having a market in mind compromise your work?

You said it, Mick


‘I can’t get no…satisfaction.’

How true. I have been pondering whether we are destined to go through life in a state of vague dissatisfaction. As my partner said when I expressed this to him, it’s a thought that Alain de Botton would be proud of. If any of you have read his work, de Botton does seem to have a strange affection for the melancholy and bleak, seeing an acceptance of the less glamorous aspects of life as a necessary part of achieving happiness. To paraphrase him dreadfully, if we expect life to be the gold-plated, celebrity perfect version, then we are bound to be disappointed. Accept that it will be more ordinary, and there is less to get annoyed about.

It’s a viewpoint which I suspect fits quite well with Buddhist theology as well, although I’m certainly no expert. However, I do know enough to say that part of the practice of Buddhism seems to be letting go of the ever grasping, materialistic and sensory ego, which drives us all the time, and feeds our dissatisfaction with the world.

The dissatisfaction I’m talking about though isn’t one which is concerned with money, or status, pretty things or pretty people. It’s about having a strange inner need to do certain things, that I fancy doing just because I want to. There is always a nagging dissatisfaction that I can’t get to them fast enough, complete them as well as I would like, or do them as well as others I admire. I suspect that I have a tendency to bite off more than I can chew! I seem to manage to gulp most of it down though, somehow.

My dissatisfaction is in fact probably the thing which drives me to keep producing creative work, whether it’s writing, painting, design work or whatever other thing I decide to try my hand at. I’m sorry to say that lack of any previous experience doesn’t seem to actually deter me from trying anything: I’m currently up to my ears in bits of shredded magazine, as I’m working on some collages. Never done it before? Never mind. It can’t be that hard! After all, if it’s only for my own satisfaction, then if I stuff it up, then that’s OK, I figure. I’ll learn every time, and maybe those mistakes will fuel sufficient dissatisfaction with the result that I’ll be spurred to on to something better.

A strange cycle of creativity perhaps, but perhaps dissatisfaction isn’t an entirely negative emotion after all.

Different shorts

Fantastic vintage shorts from Gypsy Wear Vintage

This afternoon, I popped along to see Accelerator 2, which is part of the Melbourne Film Festival’s showcase of short films. I always try to get along to see some of the shorts, and this year’s offerings were particularly good, and particularly thought provoking.

They tell stories so well and in such a short period of time, that I was led to compare the world of short films with that of short stories.

One of the most obvious differences to me was how much of the setting for the story, and how much of the ‘back-story’ we pick up tremendously quickly through visual cues. For example, in ‘Yardbird’, a fantastic film which will be going to Cannes I understand, we understand implicitly that the girl in the film is being brought up solely by her father by the clothes she wears, her slightly grubby face and dirty hair. We see him drive away from the car yard, and understand her isolation, without having to be told.

‘Show don’t Tell’ is a piece of advice often repeated to budding writers, and of course in the medium of film, there is no other option. In a short story, by describing certain features, we are almost pointing them out to the reader, almost saying, ‘Make sure you notice this.’ In film there is no need to be so obvious: the cues are there if you choose to absorb them. The emphasis is not so blatant.

I think part of the speed with which we absorb the flavour of a film is due to the broader range of inputs they have available. I imagine it as something like a silk screen squeegee – it passes over the whole scene, and many different inks may come through at once, whereas story telling in words is a purely linear experience. We describe one thing happening at a time; one experience at a time. If we read fast enough or the storyteller is good enough, we can achieve the same kind of immersion, but it is not as immediate as film.

A short film can convey the feeling of a story though the visual, but also with sound effects, music, lighting and the way that the camera takes us on that journey.

This is perhaps one of the primary differences between a written story and one which is sealed in film. Stories constructed from words do allow us to colour our own world. The way that I imagine a character looking, for example, may be quite different to your interpretation, and I think this is one of the reasons we often find film translations so disappointing: they don’t live up to our imaginations. In a film, however, we all see the world in more or less the same way: the way that the filmmaker wanted us to.

There are obviously similarities in terms of how much story each medium chooses to tell, and I found this particularly evident in Lambs, from NZ filmmaker Sam Kelly. This story does not really try to follow the traditional pattern of Beginning-Middle-End, and does not try to resolve the character’s issues for the viewer. It more of a portrait snapshot of a situation for one person at one time, and in this I found it very closely echoed the short stories of David Malouf. I’ve never been game to try this myself: I suspect that like portraiture, it is hard to know when to stop, when the reader has been given enough to be satisfied.

The final comparison I’d like to chat about is the means to the end. Both media benefit from a strong editor, I think, but writing is basically a solitary task. It relies solely on one individual to tell the story as best they can.

A film-maker, however, is usually reliant on a whole host of people to assist them. Without camera people, lighting experts, costume, music and of course actors, they would not be able to tell their story at all. I think the power of acting was best brought home to me a few years ago when I saw Le batteur du Bolero. The story here, such as it is, is brilliantly and yet so subtly conveyed by the actor.

So Vive la difference, I say. Both media have strengths and weaknesses, but there are times when I am really quite envious of all the tools a filmmaker has available.

What are your thoughts on this? I’d love to hear.

The joy of reading

Some of you may have already seen these photographs by Joel Robinson, which portray beautifully the feeling of getting lost in a book. That absolute concentration and obliviousness to the outside world.

I particularly love the one where the story is flying from the typewriter – exactly what it does feel like when all is going well with your story.

You can find out more at: Joel Robinson’s photographs

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The Modernist Nerd: Vintage Science Ads from the 1950s and 1960s

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I blundered across this link to adverts for scientific equipment and technology which I though you might enjoy. I’m not completely sure what some of these advertisements are for, but they are really gorgeous pieces of graphic design, and strongly reminiscent of sci-fi paperback covers of the 50’s.

The Modernist Nerd: Vintage Science Ads from the 1950s and 1960s | Brain Pickings.

If you have time, also check out the link to the Nerd tattoos in this article – some are quite stunning!

Dr Who monsters who missed the cut

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A disaster befell our household the other day. The video player (yes – you remember VHS,) finally broke down after 15 years of faithful service. So we’re making the slow and painful transition of recording all our irreplaceable videos to mp4.  I’ve heard that it’s the curse of Gen X to always be converting things between formats. It has had the up-side that we have been re-watching our old Dr Whos. These are the ones from the age of Tom Baker – the man who really lived the Dr Who role. They are slower than the modern ones, and in some ways more enjoyable. The stories take place over between four and six half hour episodes, and actually make sense, which is more than can be said of a few of the new ones. There is no CGI, and so the monsters are rather charmingly made of bubble wrap and egg boxes. I think these were the days when Dr. Who didn’t really take itself too seriously.

Anyway, I have been tempted to create a few Dr Who monsters of my own, just for fun. I have stuck to the rules that they need to have an actor inside them, as you will notice a strange propensity for the aliens Dr Who meets to have a basically humanoid form. Enjoy!

An alien crustacean