Degrees, drama and dusty old books
Happy September! It’s the month when everyone goes back to school and even those long done with academia feel a sense of new beginnings as the leaves turn yellow and a certain Halloween themed coffee takes over every caf, coffee house and posh sarnie shop with a collection of syrup bottles.
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But there’s a bit of a dampener for me this September, as a lot of English Literature degrees have been scrapped. This has sparked conversations around the associated erosion of arts and humanities in education, but as this conversation is had every few years anyway, I’m not hopeful that anyone will actually realise the effects that pushing literature, drama and other creative pursuits down to the bottom of the list of things people should study will have, until it’s too late.
We live in a world where people wax lyrical about the importance of mental wellbeing, mindfulness and self-care, but actions like this prove that the core of our society is not remotely concerned with any of these things, but instead with what it always has been: money, money and more money.
As someone with a degree in English Literature whose sister did a degree in Peadiatric Nursing, I have been aware for a long time that a BA often isn’t seen as anything worthwhile. I have lost count of the number of times I have been asked why I didn’t do a “real degree” like my sister, despite the fact that my day job is in fact related to my degree and, as she works for the NHS which is being cut to the bone by the same people who think English Literature is a waste of time, I earn more money than she does.
This is unusual to be fair, because working in the Arts isn’t going to earn you big money, unless you’re one of a lucky few, but private companies, like everyone else, need writers and content creation in the private sector, which is my day job, pays a decent wage.
For years we have watched the arts be cut to the quick in education. Drama, Music, Art, English, Dance are all pushed further into the background as Maths and Science are elevated to more dizzying heights. For every news report about education being improved to a higher academic standard, there is one looking at how the mental health of children and university students is dramatically declining at a frightening rate.
People insist that it’s a coincidence, that children need to be taught physics in a world which will soon be overrun by Artificial Intelligence and the Metaverse.
So why are artisanal crafts filling people’s homes? If the Arts are dead, why are traditional bookbinders and carpenters and watercolour painters and weavers making any kind of a living whatsoever? Granted they’re not making the stupid money that lawyers and bankers and politicians do, but people will pay for art. At least they will while they have some money to spare.
As the cost of living crisis continues and profit continues to be put before people the arts will suffer as they always do when funds are short, but the artists will stay.
No matter how many degrees are cancelled or how much the imagination of primary school classrooms is extinguished or how many times society tells us that creativity isn’t worth anything, some people are born to create beautiful things, and they will.
Unfortunately some other people are born to destroy beautiful things, and they are doing. Brushstroke by brushstroke, line by line, word by word, they are coming for the artists and the poets and the theatres and the writers.
We cannot let them win.
Here are five ways you can support the Arts without spending money:
Share work via social media
Just a note that this doesn’t mean give away their work for free! Most artists (which includes writers, musicians, actors etc), share examples or snippets of their work on social media. By sharing their posts you can help widen their reach and increase their audience.
Engage with arty social media
Sharing is a great way to get someone’s work out there, but algorithms, feed structures and all that jazzy social media tech means following, commenting and liking posts are great things to do too. It literally takes less than a second to give someone a thumbs up, and if you’re struggling with your work or creativity, it can mean the world to see that kind of engagement.
Write a review
People can be intimidated about review writing, but you don’t have to do 500+ words about technique or hidden levels of meaning. If you loved something, tell people. You can just pop a couple of sentences onto your social media saying you enjoyed something. If it gave you vibes of something else, that’s great too eg I love apples and pears are just the new twist I needed on my fruit intake. Most people see/read/listen to new things because their friends recommended it.
Talk in real life
It’s great helping out an artist on social media but chatting to people in real life about the work you love is even better. As long as they’re not being super rude and looking at your phone. In that case, post it and stare at them until they notice…
If you see something an artist friend would be great for, tell them. Don’t assume because someone is working freelance they’re aware of every festival, open exhibition or submission call, because there are loads of them all the time, and it’s impossible to keep on top of them all. Your friend might be trying to force some of their work into the submissions guidelines of something they’re not really a fit for (been there, done that) while something they are perfect for has slipped under the radar. Share the love.
I’d love to hear about the ways you support your arty friends for free, and I’d like to thank you for continuing to read my newsletter and keep up to date with my work. Your support really does matter to me, more than you’ll ever know.
What He Said
What He Said, with my Company Pique Niche Productions, was a great show and I’m delighted to tell you that we raised £243 for CALM, which is amazing. Every penny raised will support CALM’s lifesaving services and help them continue to be there for anyone who’s struggling. They answered over 157,000 calls in 2021 which shows what a huge difference they make to so many lives.
We received a lovely review from Opening Nights and some fantastic audience feedback:
Great show tonight. Really enjoyed all the different writing styles. Paul [Taylor] did a great job.
An interesting smorgasbord of writing styles and subject matter. Well done everyone.
A very enjoyable, and moving evening. Some great acting, and some powerful scripts. Well done all. Have a great run.
Enjoy your falafel... Today's matinee performances were absolutely first class. Engrossing and thought provoking from the word go. Wonderful bit of theatre.
Great night. Well done everyone.
I work in therapy, and wanted to take [James Lawrence] in for an assessment. Spot on portrayal of mental health.
I'm currently working with refugees who have lost their parents in conflicts. [PJ Murray's] performance was exactly right. He gave life to the pain, loss and bewilderment brought about by war today.
We were still discussing the end of Both Parents Matter days later. It really brought home how easy it is to watch someone decline and not realise until it's too late that you should have asked if they needed help.
If you missed it, or would like to see it again(!), keep an eye out for some news soon.
Big Jubilee Read
The Big Jubilee Read is a celebration of books featuring great read coinciding with the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. Whether or not you are a fan of the Royal family, seventy years is a significant period of our recent history. My book club and a few writing friends have mentioned what a great idea the Big Jubilee Read is, but with seventy titles consisting of ten books from each decade of the Queen's reign, there’s a lot to get through!
But, I’ve decided I’m going to do it anyway and will be blogging my way through the whole list, each Saturday, from 24 September. You will be able to read each post on my website and see how I get on with it.
Over on Sea Invisible, my newsletter about living with invisible disability, I’ve been looking at building resilience, stereotypes and looking after yourself on bad health days.
What I’m reading
Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason
Things that have caught my eye
Is Fabulism the New Sincerity? An interesting article about the speculative in fiction and how its affected by our reality. I’m currently working on a ghost story novel and this has given me a lot to think about.
For Sale: Scottish ‘Spite Castle’ Haunted by a Ghost Named Betty A beautiful castle for sale with an interesting and tragic story behind it.
Tudor Dinner Parties and Political Friendships An intriguing article about Tudor social lives and how these were affected by religion and politics. I recently visited the Power and Politics exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery which had some great examples of Tudor artwork and really brought the period to life.
21,915 by Sam Palmer A heartbreaking story which very deservedly won Writers Online 2022 750 word competition. It’s a beautiful piece and really struck a chord with me.
Neil Gaiman’s Books Have Enchanted Millions. Finally, Hollywood Is on Board. A fascinating article about Gaiman’s work and how it translates when adapted for screen. One of my favourite writers, there are some great audio and visual interpretations of his work, and looks like there’s lot more to come.
The Great Gatsby A show I reviewed for North West End which takes Fitzgerald’s Great American Novel and gives it a Burlesque twist. This is a fascinating adaptation which altered the way I see characters I’ve known and loved (or not!) for a very long time.
Kisses on a Postcard Another North West End review, this is an entertaining and fun audio musical which looks at life through the eyes of two World War 2 evacuees and “their second childhood”. A lovely listen for all of the family.
One Man’s Lonely, Lonely Fight to Ban Private Jets A vital look at how private jets impact the climate and the hypocrisy of asking the poorest people in our society to fly less or not at all to save the planet, while the richest fly for less time than HIIT enthusiasts work out.
Astrometry by Paddy Gillies A beautiful flash fiction which won Retreat West’s July monthly micro fiction competition. The concept reminded me of one of my favourite books, Slaughterhouse 5.
Are literary festivals doomed? Why book events need to change A look at how the pandemic and cost of living crisis is affecting literary events.
We recently adopted this beautiful cat, Molly. Molly sadly lost her home when her previous family’s house had severe storm damage and they needed to move into alternative accommodation and she wasn’t able to go. We’re really happy to give Molly a loving home and she’s settling in well.
Meow. I’m not sure I like living in this house but all my things are here which is nice, particularly my old mouse and robin which my old human kept putting in the bin and I had to rescue them over and over. The new humans haven’t touched them for now. The lady human also gives me fish, which is nice, except prawns, which I spat out on the carpet. Serves them right for giving me sea insects. They also bought me a new rattly ball which is lots of fun and I have worked out how to turn on the fan by myself. There’s a black and white cat that lives next door. I do not like it but the new humans say I have to try and be friends with it. Who needs friends when you have a mouse, a robin and a rattly ball? Purr.
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