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A blog about creativity, culture and why it matters...


The Month in Mood Board - Christmas, looking back, loneliness in life & art

Helen Davis

The thing with Christmas present? It tends to be haunted by the spectres of Christmas past and Christmas future.

Sometimes that’s a warm and cosy feeling, overflowing with rosy-cheeked expectation. Other times it’s just a dread-filled pit of despair with tinsel on it.

So, perhaps it's time to go with the gloom in order to better appreciate the glitter?

Why don’t you cover a big cork bulletin board in bright pink felt, banded with bamboo, and pin with coloured thumb-tacks all your various enthusiasms as your life varies from week to week?
— Diana Vreeland
Dec Blog Pin Board 2.jpg

MR James - wandering in a haunted hinterland

Montague. Rhodes. James. What a name. Turn of the twentieth century mediaeval scholar. Provost of King’s College, Cambridge.

I like to think of his leading men as Brit versions of Indiana Jones. Slightly awkward, lone academics in lonelier locales intent on ‘looting’ some historic hotspot.

And, instead of Nazis they’re pursued by ancient forces beyond their academic comprehension - all the more harrowing for their just out of sight - was-that-a-man-or-a-bin-liner? - presence. No gun-toting, whip-wielding antics will help here, I’m afraid.

Watch Michael - original Paddington narrator - Hordern in Oh Whistle & I’ll Come to You (1968). Or listen to King of Horror Christopher Lee tell tales by the fire on Christmas Eve just as MR James himself did...

Inside No. 9 - cherry-picking = a recipe for delectable disaster

In fact MR James’s brand of macabre-meets-the-mundane has inspired writing duo Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith of Inside No. 9 fame.

A masterly mix of Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected, comedy, horror, history and more, Inside No. 9 harks back to TV-past.

And it’s this wealth of storytelling techniques, from the Twilight Zone to Shakespeare, which make every episode distinct.

Speaking about their inspiration Shearsmith told one interviewer:

[W]e’re cherry-picking all our obsessions and teaching some people who don’t know about Hitchcock and things new tropes and new worlds.

David Bowie - innovation can be a lonely place

Speaking of inspiration and innovation David Bowie was never afraid to take his ideas and run with them - often into a future others hadn’t yet envisaged.

But innovation is often a lonely place, as Bowie’s son director Duncan Jones Tweeted:

Creative arts can be painful. I remember my dad being beat up numerous times by critics, only to have those same people come back 5 / 6 years later & say that in retrospect the work was ahead of its time. Was even revolutionary!
Be patient. Good work proves out in the end!

December Reflections - inspiration for dark times

When you’re out of sorts Christmas revelry can drag you down faster than Jacob Marley’s manacles. December seems to magnify everything: loneliness, loss, love, lust (if office parties are anything to go by), long-held resentments… . It can be a bumpy ride to say the least.

Which is why turning all that Quality Street jollity on its head and doing December a different way can be no less than soul-soothing.

Although I firmly believe we need a bit of light and glitter in the darkest days of the year, it should be a time to retreat and regroup too.

One way is to use some of December’s much needed down-time to reflect on the good stuff that came your way in the last year and get inspired about the year to come.

Which is why I’d recommend Susannah Conway’s December Reflections Instagram challenge:

The idea is simply to take a photograph (and share it if you wish) every day in December while reflecting back over the year. I’ve provided a list of daily prompts with a mix of things to photograph — for example: sparkle, red, skyline — and things to ponder. The ponder prompts are an extra invitation to pause for a moment and consider some of your favourite bits of 2017.

Sex & the City - the twisted fairytale of New York

If Christmas doesn’t get you then there’s always singledom:

When did everybody stop smoking? When did everybody pair off? . . . I’m so bored I could die…

Says an older-single-lady, before accidently plunging to her death.

Yep, this is Sex & the City, the show maligned for its self-obsessed, shoe-obsessed, sex-obsessed superficiality.

In truth I did turn to SATC for some trusty old style sustenance. But boy are those NY tales of dating and relationships dark and twisted - packing, not so much a punch, as the relentless grind of a cold, hard stiletto heel.

As New Yorker writer Emily Nussbaum says:

[SATC] felt ugly, and sad, in a realistic way.

Most unusually, the characters themselves were symbolic. …[T]he four friends operated as near-allegorical figures, pegged to contemporary debates about women’s lives...

Carrie Bradshaw begins the show all sassy and dressed-to-please-herself but winds up admitting that when it comes to love with the elusive Mr Big:

I’m not like me. I’m, like, Together Carrie. I wear little outfits: Sexy Carrie and Casual Carrie. Sometimes I catch myself actually posing. It’s just—it’s exhausting.

And eventually as Nussbaum says:

[Carrie] became scarred, prissier, strikingly gun-shy—and, finally, she panicked at the question of what it would mean to be an older single woman.

And so I couldn't help but wonder: Could I make dating any better?

Feud - how the macabre helped two movie stars make a comeback

While many women are trapped in the romance fairytale, many more are realising a girl’s best friend is probably her, well, friends.

But, still, a good old cat fight gets people talking. And one of the best shows in town was Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. Cue: Feud: Bette and Joan.

Whether you were the most beautiful woman in the world or one of the greatest actresses of Hollywood’s golden age, actual age made Davis and Crawford hasbeens. Enter: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? A tale of two of twisted sisters, and yes, Hollywood hasbeens.

As the show's writers, Michael Zam and Jaffe Cohen told the BBC ahead of Feud’s UK debut:

[W]hat makes Bette and Joan so fascinating is that they are both fighting for their dignity, their legacy, their futures, and their self-esteem. In other words: their lives. For them, this is the equivalent of life and death.

So is Feud fact or fiction?

As writers of historical fiction - as opposed to die-hard historians - our guideline is not what happened, but what could have happened … Drama is often described as the lie that tells the truth. In historical fiction, the lie simply needs to be plausible. It has to feel like it could have happened.

I think this is what legendary magazine editor Diana Vreeland called ‘faction’.