Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Trope: in literature, a familiar and/or often used symbol, style, character, theme or device.

“I have a problem with the term 'horror' because it's not a genre, it's an emotion,” says Steve Feasey. “My books are action/adventure stories with a healthy dose of horror aimed at young adults and teenagers.”

Steve's first book, Changeling, came out in 2009. “Since then I've been pumping them out every 6 months, at an average of 80-90,000 words,” he says. “I didn't realise just how much stress I'd be under.” Writing for teenagers and young adults has its own pressures. “Because it's a young audience we are hoping to hit, and there are five books in a series, with a book a year you've lost your audience very quickly because it's unlikely that, if they start to read the books at about 12, they will carry on reading them when they're 17 or 18.” Steve pauses. “We had to strike while the iron was hot.”

It was a television programme that initially sparked Steve's interest in writing. “Post war there were lots (of books) for boys but that had died away and with Harry Potter suddenly people are starting to write for boys again,” he explains. “A lot of the books mentioned were ones that I'd grown up with – Treasure Island and Kipling - and at the end of the programme it was almost like an epiphany. I read lots of fantasy as a teenager and sci-fi and then I moved into horror so I felt I wanted to amalgamate the two. So I just went ahead and had a go.”

As a lifelong reader of this genre, Steve knows a lot about tropes, a term not known to many. “A trope is something that immediately resonates with a reader: they may have come across it before in another form of entertainment – a book or film,” he explains. “As a writer your job is to take those tropes – those recognised elements – and rework them so they fit within your world, the one you are creating for your reader. It's very rare that you get a truly original monster.”

The protagonist in Steve's books is a werewolf called Trey. “Werewolves are a tragic symbol of duality – like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde - but I think that works incredibly well for teenagers. The analogy of a teenager caught between the child and adult worlds, and a reluctant hero who discovers he straddles the human and supernatural realms is an interesting one, but I wanted to explore it in a new and exciting way.

“I wanted Trey (the protagnist) to baulk at and resist his powers, and not just come across as an all-conquering, two-dimensional superhero. So I explore his feelings and emotions in a way that I hope isn't typical for books that are mainly aimed at a young male audience. Yes, there are gore filled action sequences in the books, but I wanted to really explore the werewolf myth – to take the lycanthrope trope and make it fresh and exciting and thought provoking.”

Horror fiction often features twisted monsters – like Frankenstein - but why do we love them? “I think there's something fundamental in most of us that we just love to be frightened,” says Steve. “That's why there are so many thrill seeking things these days like rollercoasters – we love that moment when it tips over the top edge and plunges down and the adrenaline rushes.”

Steve believes that monsters have that kind of appeal. “They're a trademark; like spaceships in science fiction, good horror uses monsters in the mundane and I think that's when they work really well. Long gone are the days when we have mist shrouded castles in Transylvania – the great thing about modern horror is that it brings the supernatural into your living room and kitchen, into the workplace. I think that's why it works – anybody could be anything.”

Monsters have different purposes. “They can be a foil for bringing the supernatural into the human realm, or you can develop them into a more important character,” Steve explains. “Because horror relies so much on extraordinary events, the protagonist reacts in an extraordinary way and perhaps that's the key: the monsters imperil the protagonist in a way that other fiction perhaps can't, and allows the protagonist to become the superhero that many of us would like to become. In doing so the monster will realise strengths and weaknesses they didn't know they had.”

And they don't just have to be the bad guys. “My hero Trey is a good guy so that's another example of spinning out an old trope. You don't have to adhere to old ideas of what a trope should be. With writing you can rework those old energies yourself.”

Tropes evidently work well within horror fiction, for it seems that the same monsters turn up again and again. “Stephanie Meyer, Marcus Sedgewick, Alex Duval, to name but a few, have all written books that explore vampirism in different ways,” Steve explains. But werewolves differ in that they explore the two sides of man. “The original seed was Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde: the brutal side of man versus the more refined side. Most werewolves explore the question: when the person does change, will they be able to control their animal instincts and overcome the beast?”

Steve believes research is vital when reworking these old favourites. “I did a huge amount of research on old legends and supernatural creatures. That way you can work out which elements you want to keep and which to discard.”

While some might consider horror an unsuitable topic for children, Steve laughs. “Children are the most bloodthirsty creatures you could ever wish to meet! If it was up to them the books would be full of gore but the publishers are aware of the parents, librarians and teachers.”

Looking ahead, Steve has another contract with MacMillan, but this time to write a trilogy. “It's going to be a different genre completely, and I will be doing one book every 9 months, which gives me a bit more breathing space.” He gets a lot of school bookings and is keen to encourage young readers. “I most enjoy talking to the reluctant readers. It's much more rewarding if you can enthuse them to explore fiction.” He is surprised by how many girls read his books, “because I write the book that I would have enjoyed (as a boy). But girls are on the whole much more avid readers than boys and I get very good feedback.”

Steve's literary influences have been Elmore Leonard, Stephen King – and Enid Blyton. “They all understand that the story comes first. You have to appeal to a wide audience,” he explains. “They all hook you in and drive the story forward. As a boy I devoured Enid Blyton's books because she writes short chunky chapters with a great hook at the end that makes you read on.” He laughs. “I remember being under the covers way past my bedtime as a boy because she just didn't let me go and I think great writers do that – they don't let you go.”

Writers Forum 2011

Saturday, May 7, 2011


“I'm a history nut!” says Lynda Small. “I love researching things and I love anything to do with social history.” So it is fitting that she is Chairman of Callington Heritage Centre, which must be one of the smallest museums in Cornwall. “It's in one half of a cemetery chapel.” She laughs, anticipating my expression. “The chapel is in the cemetery and one side is consecrated and we are in the unconsecrated part - the cemetery itself is split into the left side, which is the Methodists and the right is Anglican. The Heritage Centre is basically one room with an attic above and a porch area so we are very small.”

The idea for a heritage centre came about when a local history group was formed in 1984. “The idea was to try to engender an interest in heritage of the whole area,” Lynda explains. “Our interests span all aspects of the social and economic history of Callington and the surrounding parishes which include South Hill, Killaton, St Dominic, St Eve, Stoke Climsland, St Mellion, Calstock and Linkinhorne.”
As well as being a place of interest, the Centre provides resources for anyone interested in the local history, and welcomes visits from local schools, youth groups, and any others. Lynda adds, “It is very much a local centre, but because of the mining history of the area, we get people coming from all parts of the world. Not a season goes past without Americans or Australians coming to research the mining history of their ancestors.”
Callington Heritage Centre was opened on 2nd June 1994 and modernised and re-launched on 22nd July 2006. Unfortunately it was hit by a terrible fire in March 2007 and wasn't able to re-open until 2008. “The fire brigade saved most of the archive, albeit with smoke and water damage, but there is some china that will need professional restoration and we are trying to raise the £5000 towards this,” says Lynda.
The importance of chapel china is not easily understood nowadays. “Methodism was very strong here in the late 19th and early 20th century, and could be part of your entire life, and certainly your social life,” Lynda explains. “There were a lot of chapel teas which were big events and much looked forward to – they all dressed up for them and were on their best behaviour and had their tea using the chapel china.”
So restoring the china is of great importance. “We are being charged £700 to professionally restore one saucer and we don't have the funds for that,” Lynda says. “Often when a chapel was closed, the china was distributed amongst the members, so we need to find these people. We're hoping they might donate or loan some on a long or short term basis - we could come to some agreement about it.”
Because the chapel is so small, the Centre has found that the best way of exhibiting their archive of 1600 items is to put on constantly changing exhibitions, although they may supplement these with material borrowed from the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro and the Plymouth Museum.
“We've just done an exhibition on Kit Hill which changed throughout the year, and one on the Guides Anniversary, one on Collars on Clothing and a few other smaller ones.” Lynda pauses, her enthusiasm highly contagious. “Next year we are doing an exhibition on Tipplers and Teetotallers – the history of drink in this area. This will include the history of ancient pubs around Callington, the pubs that have disappeared (the Methodists were responsible for the Temperance movement which got rid of a lot of them), the history of the beer mug, and dimples – which were multi faceted beer mugs. They started off in the 19th Century and are virtually disappearing now: the way things are going, beer mugs will disappear too.”
Bottle openers will also be included in the exhibition. “They are quite fascinating,” continues Lynda. “Somebody's loaning some spittoons and we're collecting bar paraphernalia such as old match holders and ways of igniting them. We're not quite certain whether we're going to touch on rum, but we are definitely doing flagons and beer holders, because in the past every town had their own maker of ginger beer and mineral water. There is quite a lot involved but it's very interesting and we're probably putting together a leaflet on it.”
In addition to the exhibitions, the Heritage Centre has many facilities available for the Callington area, which can help towards researching family histories. These include parish registers, census records, cemetery records, directories and surveys, newspapers, Wills and computer records. A huge selection of photographs has also been donated, and all of this information is free, though donations are much appreciated.
“We are entirely voluntary, and a key example of one of the smaller voluntary facilities and services to the community with no funding from anywhere,” explains Lynda. “We do get free accommodation from the Town Council but that's our only support. We have to raise £2,000 just to cover our costs and that doesn't allow us to publish books properly.”
As all their income comes either from donations, membership fees or sales, the Centre needs to boost their membership, which is their only reliable income. “We have the same problem of all museums: people expect to do all their research from their computers,” says Lynda. “It's the problem of trying to get people over the threshold, and because Callington is not a big tourist town we have to keep getting the people of Callington to come back, although we do get some other visitors, and we do put a certain amount of information on the website.”
Volunteers are much in demand, particularly for stewards. “We give training and it's a wonderful opportunity for people to have a good rummage and see what we have,” says Lynda. “If people could give us 3 hours a month that would be an enormous help. We also need someone with IT skills and an interest in history for the website so that we can set up our online shop and update things. And we need someone to organise events.” She pauses. “Ideally, we'd love a nice dry building rent free in the centre of town as we can't accept larger items.”
In these digital times, it's clear that the importance of Callington Heritage Centre cannot be underestimated. “If we don't preserve the heritage, who's going to do it?” asks Lynda. “We can store old papers and records in the correct, humidity controlled environment. We are the focal point: without the Centre all the records would be lost.”

Callington Heritage Centre, Liskeard Road, Callington, Cornwall, PL17 7HA
01579 389506 or e-mail us on enquiry@callingtonheritage.org.uk
During the closed season it may be some days before messages are picked up.
Open: Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holidays, 10am–4pm, Easter - end October 2011.
There is disabled-friendly access


The writers' community that's taking Cornwall by storm

“Good words are good words regardless of their purpose,” says Clare Howdle, one of the founders of Telltales. Clare was brought up in Liskeard, but worked in London until 6 years ago. “I didn't plan to come back, but I met Helen Gilchrist, who was setting up Stranger magazine in Cornwall, and everything spurred me on to move back,” says Clare.

Telltales came about through Clare and her friend, Chelsey Flood. “We wanted a reading night which was an inclusive community to welcome everyone to share their writing.” Clare talks quickly, using her hands for emphasis. But Telltales wasn't to be an open mic night. “We wanted a wide variety of writing styles to be profiled alongside each other in a dynamic set which would keep audiences engaged and leave fellow writers inspired. We wanted Telltales to represent first timers and established authors who would all draw something valuable from reading their work out. Finally, it couldn’t be intimidating.”

Telltales started in Babahogs, a tiny cafe in Falmouth, but quickly outgrew that space and is now in its third venue, at the Rum Bar above Nancy's bar in the middle of Falmouth. “Jane Pugh often says it has a New York 1960s boho feel to it with all the candles on the table and I love that idea,” says Clare.

In terms of material to be read out, there are no rules. “It's about the quality of the words, not experience,” says Clare. “As long as it's an original piece of work by the writer, we take prose, poetry, novel extracts, travel journals – any writing that has a creative bent to it. ” Work can be submitted by the website – http://wordslikepictures.com/telltales But Clare aims to achieve a balance. “We get a lot of submissions so I try and make sure we get different people reading out every month – that way we give as many people an opportunity as possible.”

Now people have understood what Telltales is about, the quality and diversity of work has improved. “We wanted to provide the opportunity to aspire to something, which is why we put first timers alongside more experienced writers. So it's about the upwards curve which is where the idea for the Parabola Project came from.”

The Parabola Project is a collection of short stories by Telltale writers. “I've always had a passion for print and a sense of independent publishing,” says Clare, enthusiasm bubbling out of her. “It struck me that after 18 months we'd heard so many talented writers but sometimes, if they weren't practised performers, the audience needed to read it themselves so it was really about wanting to take that talent to the next level in print.” She leans forward, eyes sparkling. “For a lot of writers having something in print is really important and can make a big difference for someone wanting to launch their career or reach a new audience.”

Clare managed to find funding for this project and worked with Venn Creative to make a book that has style and substance. “You don't often see a marriage of imagery and design with words in creative writing, and that makes a big difference when it comes to people picking it up. I was so impressed with how it looks and reads.”

Telltales also featured at the Port Eliot festival in 2009, and Clare had bigger ideas for 2010. “I wanted to be on one of the main stages so in 2010 I pitched much earlier and they scheduled us in the Walled Garden. We were the first literary act and it went down really well and the writers were asked to perform again,” she beams. “It's great experience for the writers to perform in a different environment, and we hope we're doing it again this year.”

Clare's enthusiasm is infectious, and she has many other events planned for the future, including live events at the Poly in Falmouth. “I'd love to do it all day every day but because I do it in my free time I just don't have the hours in the day,” she says regretfully.

But she is delighted at how Telltales has taken off. “More and more people are coming along just to listen and have a good evening. Maybe people who haven't picked up a pen in years will think, 'maybe I could do a bit of writing'.” She finishes her coffee and looks up. “It's really gathering momentum and I want to keep that momentum going. I love to see someone growing into their own writing and sharing their work.”

Check website for future events and next meetings - http://wordslikepictures.com/telltales

Cornwall Today May 2011



“Health is about fulfilling our potential as human beings and part of that potential is our creative potential,” says Jayne Howard. “If we don't fulfill that, it contributes towards all sorts of ill health.”

Cornwall Arts for Health was formed as a charity in July 2001, but didn't become active until 2004. “I was their first director - we've been very active and grown hugely since then,” Jayne says.

In the Arts for Health office are several posters, by people who have been helped by the Arts Response project. “I feel like I was starting a new day,” reads one. “I feel a sense of belonging,” says another. “I felt like I was in a black hole before I started the programme,” and “Every Wednesday was like opening a door into a new world.”

No wonder that this organisation has won two esteemed awards: the Guardian Public Services Award, 2009 and the GSK King's Fund Impact Award, 2010. “The King's Fund is very prestigious in health terms so it's hard for the NHS to ignore that,” Jayne explains. “The King's Fund gave us great training and development which has helped us a lot. The recognition of these awards gives us a lot of confidence and can be a shortcut for people.”

One of the many ways Arts for Health has helped is in changing GP surgeries. “A lot of waiting rooms are often overloaded with notices, dingy, and if you're already anxious they don't make you feel better,” says Jayne. Truro Health Park is a new building which brought together 2 GP surgeries plus a range of health services. “We were involved from the beginning to integrate art into the design of the building,” explains Jayne. “We asked people from the local estates and they said they wanted a sense of the outside and the inside. They really wanted running water which is a very therapeutic life-giving source but there are problems in a health care building with infection control, so we've created artworks that give the illusion of water. When the light plays on the glazed sculptures, it gives the effect of rippled water on the floor but they're not overpowering works of art – they are much more subtle.”

Another area where they have wrought change is in hospitals. “We have found that if people can see nature they recover more quickly,” Jayne continues. “We can't always provide that but we can create the effect of a natural environment and think about the light. In hospital people are over stimulated with some senses and under stimulated with others: there's usually a lot of noise and visual distraction but it's not very interesting. But they are often under stimulated with touch, smell and taste, so it's about trying to improve the sensory aspect.”

Arts for Health have two part time staff as well as Jayne who is full time, “but we have contracts with about 20 freelance artists who deliver work for us.” The artists aren't art therapists, but have to be able to communicate and empathise. “There isn't any specific training but we are looking for a real generosity as an artist so they can share their skills and expertise in order to allow other people to find their own creativity,” explains Jayne.

The type of creativity offered depends very much on the evidence available. “We've seen that singing, dance and creative writing have real benefits for people with dementia, so we try to give people a choice of what media they work with,” Jayne says. People can be referred via a GP or there are leaflets in libraries, surgeries and health centres as well as information on the website.

“Arts Response sessions are for people suffering a range of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. They run in Truro, St Ives, Perranporth and Bodmin so if people ring up they can just go along,” Jayne says. The sessions take place in a safe environment, with an artist and a volunteer, and people are encouraged to be creative.

“Some of it is about being with other people with similar issues but it's more about being able to create something, and people are often amazed at what they can do,” Jayne explains. “This has a huge impact on their confidence and self-esteem which can translate to other areas of their lives. It's not about being judged.”

Focusing on the creative aspect can have other benefits. “It can allow people to talk about very difficult things and move on,” Jayne observes. “Textiles work very well as it doesn't feel scary but it frees up the mind so people talk and share. One group said it was the first time they'd laughed together and had fun because they weren't just talking about their problems.”

Arts for Health have numerous projects underway, including Memory Cafes for dementia, arts for stroke rehabilitation, a group for siblings of disabled children, and work with the homeless. It might sound like a stressful job but Jayne beams. “It's the best job I've ever had. It brings me into contact with lots of creative people and I like the fact that we can be seen to make a difference for individuals – that is really lovely. The fact that we're quite small means we can be very flexible and quick to respond.”

But, as ever, there is a downside. “Funding is always an issue.” Jayne sighs. “To have security of our core funding would free up a lot of time. Also, the evidence around arts and health is out there but it's patchy and I would like more awareness of what we do.” But she has plenty of plans for the future. “What I want to see in all of our key areas of Cornwall is a regular weekly creative opportunity for people who are experiencing problems. And it's there when they need it, and it's free. We've started but we have quite a way to go.”

Jayne Howard
01326 377772, Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm.
Unit 7, Jubilee Wharf, Commercial Road, Penryn, Cornwall, TR10 8FG info@artforhealthcornwall.org.uk


A walk near Land's End with some of the most breathtaking coastal views in Cornwall

One of the many enjoyable aspects of these walks is the friends I make. Anne Pengelly, who runs the plant and vegetable stall at the Farmers' Markets in Falmouth and Truro, always reads these walks and has extensive knowledge of plants.

When I found a strange wallflower, I took it to Anne who said, “I'll ask Brian (her husband). He'll know.” Sure enough, the next week Anne greeted me with a huge wave and a smile and said, “Toadflax!” Not just that, she lent me one of Brian's flower books so I could read all about it.

Anne hadn't done this walk, but I always report our latest escapades. One drizzly afternoon Viv, Titch, MollieDog and myself left Penzance, taking the A30 towards St Just, then turned left onto the B3283 signposted St Buryan. This changed to the B3315 and at Polgigga we turned left signposted Porthgwarra and parked in a private car park.

Porthgwarra is a beautifully unspoilt cove whose sole occupant was a lone fishing boat on the tiny beach: here it really feels as if the clock has gone back several hundreds of years. Despite Viv reading from an OS map and three books, we were unsure of the route, but followed the signpost saying Land's End 3 ¾ miles.

“We can't really go wrong on the coastal footpath, can we?” said Viv - the sort of comment that usually precedes disaster on a grand scale. But as we walked, the clouds cleared and my spirits rose along with some incredibly steep steps. Looking down onto Porthgwarra we saw a boulder perched at the very edge of the cliff, as if it was just about to roll down into the sea.

Porthgwarra is the most south westerly valley in the British Isles, and choughs have been reintroduced to the area but look out for stonechats, meadow pipits, skylarks, jackdaws and buzzards. Adders are also to be found along these paths when it's sunny, so watch your feet and wear walking boots.

For those with vertigo (like me) or with dogs (like us), this part of the coastal footpath is not too close to the cliff edge so not as bad for the nerves. Soon we reached Gwennap Head Lookout Station, run by the National Coastguard Institution and noticed two beacons, one like a black and white rocket aiming at the sky. We were admiring the dramatic views when a voice said, “Want to come up?”

We looked up to see a figure dressed in navy blue uniform standing in the doorway of the lookout station. John Machary showed us around and we watched as a small fishing vessel passed by. “That's Lamorna,”said John, looking it up in a book that lists every fishing vessel and port in Cornwall. “She's out of Newlyn.”

He told us that the beacons are navigational aids and are different shapes according to how they're seen at sea. There is a reef on the way in from a large buoy, and these beacons guide the vessels through a gap in the reef. On a good day you can spot the southernmost tip of the Lizard Peninsula and the Isles of Scilly, 28 miles to the southwest.

Next we had a close up view of Wolf Rock, ahead, and Longships lighthouse, off to our right, through their special telescope. I noticed the NCI have a book where every walker is logged – in case they go missing, presumably. Details such as sex, clothing and hair colour were noted. (What would he put about us?) We could have stayed there all day, but finally we left the warm confines of the lookout station and headed out onto the cliffs.

The cliff face and boulders along this coast are magnificent hunks of granite with large crystal lumps indicating that the magma cooled very slowly, over 275 million years ago. There are numerous examples of lines of weakness in the granite where the sea has eroded the rock causing huge towers of rock, 200 feet high. These cliffs are like castle walls, with huge rectangular lumps of rock and long narrow buttresses. In several places the rock has weathered into strange shapes – we spotted one like an armadillo, another like a turtle, and much of the granite is covered in beards of feathery lichen of the palest green.

Leaving Gwennap Head behind us, we followed the footpath round towards Land's End, noting the next headland of Carn Guthensbrias, and passed through a ramshackle kissing gate in the middle of a granite dry stone wall and took note of a series of coves with magical names: Porth Loe, Folly Cove, Zawn Kellys and Pendower Coves, before arriving at Carn Les Boel and further round, our destination: Nanjizal Bay, otherwise known as Mill Bay.

From here we looked out onto the huge headland of Land's End, feared by most sailors. By the time we reached it, the sun was out and the sea glinted turquoise and aquamarine: the calmness of the water belied how treacherous it could be. As a fisherman said to me, “From Land's End you hope you can get into Newlyn, for there are no safe harbours on the North Coast until you get to Padstow.”

The landscape, looking inland, is very sparse here, bringing to mind Winston Graham's Poldark novels, and indeed little has changed since then: a few distant farmhouses, a sturdy church tower on the horizon. A field of cattle and a derelict house and barns with gaping holes to the sky where the roofs should be.

Despite checking the map, we took a short cut on our return journey which resulted in bad tempers and upsetting a field of cattle. “We'll have a better idea of where we are when the stars come out,” Viv said - a comment that didn't fill me with confidence. Inland a dark storm cloud hovered, so hurriedly we retraced our steps as we should have done - to Ardensawah Cliff on the south side of Pendower coves, then took a path inland. This finally led past a row of cottages to a tarmac path and the valley of Porthgwarra where sleepy violets and wild daffodils greeted us, blackthorn shed its white confetti, and blackbirds and skylarks sang above us.

Porthgwarra valley provided a stark contrast to the drama of the coastal footpath with its several hundred feet of towering granite rocks. Looking out, the sea glinted silver, then blue and green with ribbons of white where the waves crashed on the rocks. Don't miss this walk – it's one you will never forget.

OS Explorer 102 Land's End, Penzance and St Ives
Duration: Approximately 2.5 hours – allow 3 hours for rests, photographs and enjoying the spectacular views.
Length: 3.5 miles
Very steep in places, can be very muddy
Small shop selling refreshments only in summer.
Parking £1.50 per day at time of walking.

If you have suggestions for walks that you would like to see featured in Cornwall Today, please email flower.pot@btinternet.com

Cornwall Today May 2011