Being Creative during Quarantine

The paradox of quarantine is that there has never been a greater opportunity for people to be creative in an atmosphere which couldn’t be less conducive to being productive.

Even for the seasoned introvert who is very comfortable getting along in solitude, the forced isolation can be difficult. It comes from the restriction, I think, of not being able to go out when you choose, rather than from any particular desire to be doing more than you currently are. It is a limitation of freedom which hangs around your neck like a weight, holding your loved ones, your neighbours, the whole world to ransom. How are you supposed to work in an environment where Covid-19 prowls, invisible, outside the door, like an eldritch monster that that you cannot predict or see.

The added disadvantage is that for many people things feel busier. This even applies to people who aren’t essential workers, but have set themselves up at home.  For those who have little experience working from home it can feel like a nightmare—everything takes longer, it’s harder to get into the groove of things, and you have all the frustration of technology and delegation and other nonsense. The very mind-set of working from home can take time to cultivate. After all, we’re used to a certain routine: specific hours, specific clothes, specific locations which are all part of the working experience. When you deviate so suddenly from it, it can be hard to engage your brain into work-mode. On top of that, lots of people have the added pressure of doing another full-day’s work in terms of care-giving, child-care and household chores. (Because yes, if a bunch of people are all in the house constantly together, the washing, tidying and cleaning are going to double!)

This is the sort of environment where stress, fear and tension can cultivate, like mould in a petri dish, multiplying and growing more and more deadly. You pace around your habitat, like a tiger in a cage, simultaneously under and over-stimulated. (The whole question of life for animals in captivity is another conversation entirely.) The results can be a sense of restlessness, anxiety, depression, lethargy and hypertension. Your problem-solving brain is trying to engage and misfiring, staring down the barrel of a pandemic where the only viable solution for many is to stay in-doors and do as little as possible.

One of solutions to this claustrophobic nightmare is to engage your mind with something creative. And yet, at a time where our sanity calls for it, it seems to be more difficult than ever.

So why can’t people just allow themselves the release of being creative? Well I believe that actually comes as an unfortunate by-product of our society’s insistence on marketability. Time and materials are resources that you should only dip into if the resulting product has ‘worth’, and the worth of the product is usually assessed on its monetary value. (Eg. “You could sell that!”). In other-words you can only create things if you are doing it at a professional level. We’re no longer allowed to enjoy something, unless we’re good at it, and thus we don’t do it.

For those who are capable of creating to a professional level they have the added pressure of usually having a vocation related to their art. Perhaps it’s a full-time job, perhaps they’re a freelancer, perhaps they’re a student – the point is that their art is intrinsically connected with work. They can’t draw or write for pleasure, because if they’re drawing or writing, they should be working! Only, as we’ve established, working and productivity are currently harder than ever. And can you blames us? With the weighty traumatic terror of Covid-19 looming, how is any reasonable person supposed to balance the added pressure of deadlines, which are hard enough on their own!

Forget fight or flight, we’re all in full fright mode—we’re playing possum, too overwhelmed and petrified to move.

And yet it remains that being creative might just be the only thing we can do right now, to help relieve this pressure, to combat symptoms of anxiety and depression, and to bring a little brightness into the disaster. But in order to take advantage of it though, we have to let go of that expectation that the product is the important thing. At this time the product doesn’t matter so much as the process—the pleasure of writing, of painting, of playing, of baking, of building. It truly is a situation where ‘The treasure is the friends you made along the way’. By giving yourself a task, but relieving the pressure of expectation, you can engage your problem-solving brain, without the paralysis of inadequacy and requirement getting in the way. Whilst some people have been able to dive into long projects—and kudos to you, my friends—for many, now is not the time to try and create your magnus opus. Now is the time to have fun.

Draw, paint, sculpt, even if you’re bad at it. Take out that candle making set you got for Christmas, make your own cookies with spare Easter treats, learn some origami from a Youtube tutorial. Pick up the guitar that’s gathering dust, make models out of playdough or lego, start scrapbooking. And if you’re like me—write. Write whatever you want; prompts, short-stories, poems, ideas, fanfiction…Anything you want.

And for those who can’t convince themselves to try something they know they’re bad at, or for the artists who cannot suppress the guilt of doing something just for fun, I remind you that practising a craft is never a waste of time. It is the best way to improve. Furthermore, without the pressure, many people will produce good things. Think how many of the great innovations came about by accident, or by someone indulging in a hobby. You might come out of this with your magnus opus yet! The point is to remove the emphasis on the result, and place it on the process.

It’s a rough time for so many people. For those stuck at home, for those who can’t see their families, for those who are out there protecting and serving the public as essential workers, and for those who may have already lost someone…We can’t make that aspect easier, but we can try to help ourselves even as we help each other by staying home, and doing our part in flattening the curve.

A personal note:

I have been running a series of Live ‘Writing Retreats’ on my Author Facebook for the last few weeks, which have been really good. It’s been attended by a whole number of people—dabblers of fiction, and dab-hands, professional writers, students and hobbyists. Each session consists of a number of fun prompts, set to engage your creative mind, without the expectation of results. From my standpoint, I have found them beneficial—coming up with prompts and seeing so many cool ideas has been brilliant. Those who attend have also seemed to really enjoy it, and particularly like the social aspect of sharing ideas and work. Naturally all of my readers are welcome to come and join us. The next Live episode will be on Monday the 20th of April, 14:00. Come and join us, if you like! Until then, stay safe and well, my friends.

2015 ‘The Sons of Thestian’ Competition – Results!

Today is the day! Over the last month and a half, I have received a good selection of entries, and judging them has been an extraordinarily difficult task for me, not least because of the level of work.
Due to this, I have judged Art and the Written entries separately, as I felt that was only fair. As such their will be prize-winners from both sections.
Before I begin, I would like to say how much I appreciated each entry. They were each extraordinary pieces of work, and I am so proud and honoured to have received them. You cannot know how much your efforts have meant to me, and I will be forever grateful for your support.

Each piece has been given an individual critique below. Writing Entrant winners will be announced tomorrow (31/05/2015).

CONGRATULATIONS TO OUR PRIZE-WINNERS

ART

1st Place: Red Cap by Thomas Fummo
2nd Place: Rufus Merle: La Mort by Rebecca Welch
3rd Place: Rufus Merle by Hamish Steele

ART ENTERIES:

Red Cap by Thomas Fummo
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The winning entry. There is nothing I don’t love about this picture. Whilst all of the entries were very good, each boasting a different artistic style, The Red Cap is to me a perfect specimen. The attention to detail is immaculate, and the picture totally captures exactly how I imagined the Red Cap should be. The textures, the way the skin hangs both loose and yet tight, the single nostril, the red eyes, the lanky limbs and above all the beak like teeth…You have a great talent for drawing monstrosities Thomas, and on this occasion you’ve really outdone yourself.
If ever anyone wants to know what I envisioned the Red Cap as, I will be directing them to this picture.

Fae by Thomas Fummo

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Your rendition of Fae is incredibly pleasing to me! I love the scars, the design of her weapons (all of which you noted and drew!) and her stance, like she’s going to spring out of the screen. For Fae, who is often drawn in a passive way, I liked seeing her looking so fierce and battle-ready, like the warrior she is! You captured her essence perfectly.
Rufus Merle: La Mort by Rebecca Welch

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Where do I even begin? The concept is fantastic, and your line-work as always is horrifically enviable. The more you look at this picture, the more details you pick out, and that’s especially what I love about it. You’ve encapsulated the character extraordinarily well, throwing in hints and clues. As always, the way you draw the folds in clothes is wonderful, and I cannot fault you for the anatomical accuracy (those hands!). I am totally charmed by his picture; it could really be ‘La Mort’ in a genuine Tarot Deck, and maybe when I have enough money, I’ll commission you to make the whole thing!
My only quibble, and it is a small one, is that you didn’t have time to colour it, which would have really completed the picture. This, I understand, but it is a shame. Regardless, La Mort is a fantastic piece of work and among my absolute favourites.
Rufus Merle by Hamish Steele

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As always, I am charmed by your style. Everything from the pose to the bright colours is just brimming with life and character, and this picture looks like a professional poster for a genuine cartoon! I am especially fond of the details on the clothing and Rufus’s expression. It is clear you drew on the front-cover and the book trailer to inform Rufus’s look, and I especially love the long coat with the fur-line and the boots. Adding the magic was a wonderful, extra touch which just completes the whole thing.

 

Luca by Amelia Bull

Luca - By Amelia

As a big fan of Art Nouveau, I was delighted to see Luca drawn in this way, not least because the style totally compliments the character, and you spent time investigating how she should be dressed and appear. The colours compliment her, and I am very pleased by how anatomically correct she is in build and size. This is a very beautiful homage to the character, and one that I have put up very proudly on my wall. I apologise for not being able to load a better scanned version.
Athea Ascending by Jules Ironside

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This is an incredibly vibrant and striking picture. I can imagine it would be even more impressive on paper, and was very struck by its regality and power. The new design of Athea’s staff was creative and interesting, and I liked the touch of the sand turning into a different colour (Almost reminiscent of oxidised blood, though that of course isn’t actually blue!). I think the thing that gets me most about this picture is the eyes, as they really do stand out and are very piercing. You’ve certainly captured Athea very well.

**~KINDLE RELEASE: THE SONS OF THESTIAN! ~**

Front Cover, High Res

The Prince Jionathan is plagued by visions of death. With the King on his death-bed, and the tyrannical Queen in power, the Kingdom of Harmatia lies in peril. Fleeing the city in fear of his life, Jionathan is shadowed by Rufus Merle, a young, secretive magi tasked with bringing him home. Now, with the help of a fearsome sidhe warrior named Fae, they must traverse a dangerous faerie-wood together. Against bandits, faeries and cursed priestesses, these unlikely friends travel a path fraught with danger, not least from the blood-thirsty Night Patrol and the dark conspiracy that shrouds them.

Oh, Kindly Rose
Composed by Madeleine Vaughan & Hannah Curtain
Lyrics by Madeleine Vaughan

Performed and recorded by the University of Winchester’s King Alfred Singers, at Chester Cathedral for the 2015 Choir Festival.
Soloists: Madeleine Vaughan & Charlotte Lambert

Oh, Kindly Rose
Written in loving memory of my mother Dominique Casalta-Vaughan, (1957-2014)

The Rose stands tall, with spindled spine,
And marks of love, enamelled vine,
Oh pretty rose, your beauty bright,
the summer’s grace, Eden’s delight
A butterfly, pressed to your heart,
nourished and born, by song of lark
May dance and prattle, til autumn come,
and lips turn brown, and summer’s done.
Oh kindly rose, you wilt too soon,
rise up again, the lilting tune
Is not yet done, mais dormez bien,
Maman, cheri, Ma rose a moi.
Alas, no more, the earth is dry,
the stem is cracked, and the petals die.
Too soon, too soon, I pray you stay,
my heart it aches, belay the day.
But rose is earth, the garden bare,
the memory fades of flower fair.
Live on, live on, the echo plays,
the song you sing, may still remain.
And yet so soon, at winter’s draw,
With wings of paper, will butterflies fall.

***WORLD PREMIERE*** Sons of Thestian by M.E. Vaughan – BOOK COVER

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Art by the amazing Peter Brockhammer.

BACK COPY – Prince Jionathan is plagued by visions of death. With the king on his deathbed, and the tyrannical queen in power, the Kingdom of Harmatia lies in peril. Fleeing the city in fear of his life, Jionathan is shadowed by Rufus Merle, a young, secretive magi tasked with bringing him home.

Now, with the help of a fearsome sidhe warrior named Fae, they traverse a dangerous faerie-wood together. Against bandits, faeries and cursed priestesses, these unlikely friends travel a path fraught with danger and a dark conspiracy that shrouds them.

For more on The Harmatia Cycle Books, check out the website at: www.harmatiacycle.com
Like the facebook page at – https://www.facebook.com/Madeleine.E.Vaughan 

Character Introduction – The Night Patrol

The Mighty Night Patrol -  Marcel, Zachary and Emeric

In my upcoming book ‘The Sons of Thestian’  the Night Patrol present as one of three offensive enemies the main characters must face. The Night Patrol is a sector of the Magi with the unique ability to transform into creatures of nightmare, and is lead by Arlen Zachary, Rufus’ brothering apprentice.

At Zachary’s side, his closest friend Marcel Hathely, acts as his second in command. Marcel brings with him too an apprentice, Emeric Fold. Together, these three are the most skilled and ferocious in the Night Patrol. Despite this reputation however, they do not always present as the powerful warriors they are. Emeric and Marcel tend to shadow Zachary in his day-to-day business.

Above: (Left) Marcel Hathely, (Bottom, lounged) Arlen Zachary, (Back, Right) Emeric Fold.

To find out more about the world at its characters, check out my book website at www.harmatiacycle.com