Tales from the Hidden Grove

Tales from the Hidden Grove
"Amongst the finest short story writers in the UK right now" ~ Black Pear Press

Friday, 20 June 2014

Introducing... Liberalis Books

I've decided to have some guest posts here in the Hidden Grove.  Today we begin with a two-way interview with Leon Conrad of Liberalis Books, a new imprint of John Hunt, the publishers of Silver Hands.  Liberalis' website says:


"Liberalis is a Latin word which evokes ideas of freedom, liberality, generosity of spirit, dignity, honour, books, the liberal arts education tradition and the work of the Greek grammarian and storyteller Antonius Liberalis. We seek to combine all these interlinked aspects in the books we publish."


Leon is also Co-Author of Odyssey: Dynamic Learning System
A simple, innovative educational intervention with inspiration hard-wired in it.
Due to be published in late 2014 by Liberalis Books.



Leon's questions for me


What comes naturally to you and what do you value in terms of technique when it comes to storytelling?


I think humour comes naturally to me.  Even in serious stories, there's often a lot of witty/insulting banter between characters.  That's what I grew up with at home, so I think that's why it's so natural.  Emotion is another thing that comes naturally.  I feel the emotions of my characters (I think I probably pull the faces when I'm writing!)  And I value the classic plot patterns laid down by fairy tales.  You can always use them to "hang a story on," and you know it will work because those plots have stood the test of time.


Your main language, as a writer, is the language of words - the classical liberal arts featured other languages, such as the language of numbers and the language of music - how do these feature in your works and your approach to writing?


The language of numbers is another thing we get from fairy tales.  Patterns of threes crop up a lot, for example, and I often find them in my writing too, whether in sentence structure or the overall plot.  It's something that just feels right.  Or I will often plan a story (short or novel length) in five parts.  The classic story structures seem to break naturally into five.  I was taught a method for dissecting stories called Freytag's triangle, where numbers 1-3 would be placed on the ascending line of a triangle, and 4-5 on the descending.  So even geometry has a connection with storytelling; I would never have believed that when I was at school!
Music is especially important in the Angelio stories I am writing at the moment.  Music is a language that speaks to the spirit, and it can definitely be used to tell stories too. (Take Peter and the Wolf, for example, or the William Tell overture).  In the Angelio stories, Tammo communicates with his flute, first with the birds, and then with people.  It's a magical, mystical thing.  And it refers back to Mozart's opera, The Magic Flute.  Carlo, the castrato character in the stories, also communicates by song, and is known in childhood as the Nightingale.  I actually play the flute and piano, and can sing soprano (in an amateur way), and write music and songs for fun.  So I have written pieces for Tammo to play, inspired by birdsong.  For me, that's part of the story.  I have get involved in all different aspects of creativity, just as I would do as a child.  


My questions for Leon


What "lost" area of learning would you like to see brought back, and why?


Your approach is fascinating - the series of three is not just integral to a triangle, that triple quality is what gives the simplest solid form stability - and what makes rhetorical series of three work. I'm not surprised you find it works structurally as well - but to answer your question, here's the thing: we've lost sight of integration - I'd be surprised if you could find a mainstream educational institution of any kind today in which all staff members actively practised integration, as a goal, rather than having it buried in a statement of values - subjects are taught separately, in a disconnected way; and as a result, students' minds, bodies and spirits are also kept very much apart. It's not my understanding of what a liberal arts education is about - there's a mysterious thread which relates the tangible and the intangible that lies at the heart of it which was ever present, particularly in the early days - it's there in Aristotle's categories - it's there in words: in the distinction between categorematic and syncategorematic words (if you're not familiar with those terms, check out my TEDx talk here) - it's there in numbers: in the distinction between rational and irrational numbers - it's there in grammar, in logic ... it's the stuff of philosophy, and ultimately it's what inspires purpose, the realisation of which involves getting all three aspects of our humanity - our minds, our bodies, our spirit (that series of three again) - to work together.


I'm sure I sound like an old fogey harping on about how stuff was better in Ancient Greece - actually, Seneca the Younger was saying the same thing around two thousand years ago - according to him, the liberal arts education that was being bandied about then was just as unintegrated as it is now. The integrated version that he valued was just as hard to find.


Liberalis is set up to make it easier for contemporary readers to access this integrated approach to the liberal arts - not to mention celebrating the art and craft of storytelling.


I'm very interested in combining storytelling with other art forms - I've created both digital interactive fiction, which makes use of technology, and "FictionCrafts", which combine handcrafts and stories to create gift items.  Are there any multidisciplinary forms of storytelling you would like to see - or have seen?


Well storytelling itself is both an art and a craft - but from a multidisciplinary perspective, in terms of live storytelling, many stories are associated with string figures, paper folding and art - the Japanese Kamishibai tradition, for instance, involves illustrations being shown as a story unfolds. If you think of it, it's rather like a magic lantern show, or a traditional shadow theatre performance (I'm particularly fond of contemporary shadow theatre and have produced work in the medium). In terms of literary storytelling, there's a wonderful picture book my daughter used to love called The Quiltmaker's Gift, which has won several awards, which features loads of visual puzzles wrapped up in a story that itself surrounds you like a warm quilt of love.


At Liberalis, I want to celebrate the ability that words and stories have to do that to people - wrap them in the transcendent world of story and I'm always on the lookout for people who are in tune with the ethos of the imprint to write for us. You can find out more about Liberalis here. And it's easy to submit an inquiry via the on-line form.


I'd like to thank Leon for his time and enthusiasm.  Leon has also contributed to next time's blog with a translation of the English adventures of the "castrato poet" Filippo Balatri.  Don't miss it!

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Amazing Asexuality

One of my most popular posts on this blog has been, "Giving Birth to Hairy Worms", all about the Renaissance belief in spontaneous generation (ie giving birth without the need for sexual reproduction).  While the idea may seem far fetched, it turns out that spontaneous generation is in fact all around us.  And it's called parthenogenesis.


In fact, it's right in my garden.  The round things growing on my tree are oak galls.  They are created by wingless, asexual female gall wasps, which are born from galls in the tree roots, created by winged females, who have mated with males.  The tree galls hatch more wasps, which begin the double cycle again.  So every other generation of female gall wasps will be asexual and wingless.  The next generation will be sexual and winged.

Other creatures that reproduce asexually incude aphids, which produce exact clones of themselves, and a certain species of ant.

Amazingly, parthenogenesis is not limited to small creatures like insects.  Something as big as a Komodo dragon is capable of reproducing asexually when there isn't a male around.  But then it can change back to sexual reproduction when males arrive.  Check out this site for more instances:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/adaptations/Parthenogenesis

Imagine if this were possible for humans.  How would it work in science fiction or fantasy?  Would you like to have little clones of yourself?  Could reproduction be brought on by looking at a picture of your ideal baby (or your ideal spouse)?  What if people could change back and forth like the Komodo dragons?  How would men feel about this, or would they be able to reproduce as well?  What if we had a double life cycle, like the gall wasps?  The possibilities are endless...