The Long and Short of It

Dear friends and readers,

Since I began this blog in January 2020, I’ve tended to publish mostly long-form articles on topics of interest or concern to me, as well as interviews with various salsa personalities, etc. As most of you probably don’t have time to read longer pieces, however ‘worthy’ they may be, I have decided that in future, I’ll write shorter pieces, and hopefully more regularly, as I begin a new journey / phase in my writing life.

Apart from the above, my main reasons for this sea-change in approach are as below – I invite you all to comment on these points at the end of this blog if you will!

Yes, I can blah blah blog with the best of ’em – but I’m going to try a different approach (Credit: Shutterstock)

1. Longer articles also take quite a lot of time to write, edit, illustrate, polish and upload, and I have less time available for this now, because…

2. I need to use most of my available writing time to work on my historical fiction novel Netsuke – A Novel in Three Parts (working title), and need to keep my current momentum going to reach my goal of completing the entire first draft by next spring. I am writing chapter 8 of part 2, so a little way past the halfway mark.

For those who don’t know, I began writing this novel in December 2020 – one of those rare gifts of Covid – after being inspired by a netsuke collection at the Kyoto to Catwalk exhibition at the V&A. These prompted a journalist’s ‘what if’ questions about forgotten personal histories, as two items in particular (a netsuke of a Dutch merchant and a beautiful, very erotic woman) made me wonder what a relationship between a Dutchman with the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie [VOC or Dutch East India Company] and a Japanese woman could have been like.

As I began researching life in the VOC, etc, I realised it would not only involve plenty of adventures at sea, pirates, fight scenes, etc and other fantastically cinematic elements, but would also reveal how the exchanges between these two completely different cultures – each at the height or beginning of their their golden eras in the early 17th century – would radically transform each, planting the seeds for some of the most exciting works of art the world has ever seen.

A pair of elegant Japanese netsuke figurines carved from ivory (Credit: Shutterstock)

I’m still working on my ‘elevator pitch’ as I write and shape the story, but it’s essentially a cross-cultural/star-crossed love story with lots of action and adventure – a romance as much about exoticism, the journey of self-discovery and art as between two physical lovers.

As it also features several real-life historical characters – Rembrandt, François Caron, Philips and Petronella Lucasz, Pieter Nuyts, Joost Schouten, Shogun Iemitsu Tokugawa, Okuni (founder of kabuki), etc – it requires infinite research, including lot of research rabbit holes and ultimately imaginative exercises in filling in the gaps historians fail to agree on!

3. Despite the fact I always meant to be a creative writer (a poet, novelist and/or short story writer), I have spent most of my professional life working as a B2B journalist / production journalist covering major financial risks and other threats.

It was while I was editor-in-chief of The Investigative Journal in 2018–2019 that I developed a long-form journalism approach to writing about bigger topics as I have mostly done here.

Through this work, I became deeply alarmed at the mounting scientific evidence of an imminent environmental apocalypse, which subsequently propelled me into over two years of ardent, dedicated activism with Extinction Rebellion, Stop HS2 and other environment-focused groups, with much of my writing, both personal and professional, focused on this.

Yet as we are already experiencing the runaway effects of climate change through increasingly severe fires, heat waves, droughts, floods and extreme weather events – which will only escalate rapidly in coming years, since the people in power refuse to change their fossil fuel-married ways – I am not sure how much I can achieve by protesting, signing petitions, writing articles and letters, or banging on about it endlessly on social media.

Not only is the time window for making the needed changes rapidly closing, but it seems any professional doors for me as a journalist seeking to write about this have also closed, as many articles I’ve painstakingly researched, fact-checked and crafted remain unpublished, and related jobs I’d applied for have not worked out.  

Guardian journalist George Monbiot outside the National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, during the Extinction Rebellion protest in October 2019 (Credit: Shutterstock)

As my efforts to wake people up through publishing alarming statistics, etc only seem to be reaching those who are already aware and active (please do correct me if I am wrong, however!), I wonder how much I can really achieve through continuing in this vein. There are many articulate and better-resourced writers, such as prolific Guardian journalist George Monbiot, who have ready platforms and are using them as best as they can.

Perhaps I am just feeling temporarily dismayed and cynical about this now, but between recent vaguely restless, uncomfortable feelings in activist activities and the closing of professional doors, I take this as confirmation I need to do something different, perhaps a little more lighthearted, for the sake of mine and my readers’ mental health*… as my mum said last night, every creative effort made with love and joy sends that much more love and joy into the universe, which God knows we urgently need at such a dire time!

If I think of what really gives me the most joy in life, it is simply having fun messing around with paints and developing other talents God gave me – art, creative writing, dancing – as well as taking time out to worship my Creator and enjoy the wonders of his presence and the beauty of his creation, while it still lasts. So – here’s to choosing joy!

While I am still a novice painter, nothing gives me more joy at the moment than messing about with paints in my new studio/‘she shed’, Casa Azul (Credit: Shutterstock)

4. I should also add that as of Monday, I am also commencing a new job as senior projects editor with a start-up called StoryTerrace, which creates, crafts and publishes memoirs utilising teams of gifted ghostwriters, designers and printers for clients who have the urge to tell their stories, but need external assistance to bring them to life. I feel this new appointment is more in line with my general direction in life at the moment; as well as returning me to my earlier book publishing career, it will enhance my present connections with other writers and memoirists via the London Writers’ Salon.

I began this blog as “a journey through the bigger picture” – and for me at this time, that bigger picture is evolving towards the fulfilment that comes via creative expression. I hope therefore that my ongoing journey in developing as an artist and writer (I am already fairly well developed as a dancer, but who knows – I may yet take up flamenco!) as reflected in my future blog posts will inspire and encourage you in your own journeys. Please feel free to add an ‘Amen’ or disagree as you feel inclined at the end of this post!

But before I move on to writing shorter blogs on the above themes, I will post a few reviews of art exhibitions, both with an environmental theme – one is a review of a friend’s (Cornwall-based potter and sculptor Colin Caffell) recent exhibition, and the other is a review of the recent Royal Academy Summer Show, which was supposed to be on the theme of ‘climate’. Both were written for the Frieze New Writers competition, though alas I was only allowed to submit one, and was not one of the five out of 1,500 competitors chosen. Both had to be written to a strict word count, so are already shorter than most of my blog posts, but I feel they do the job of acknowledging the climate crisis while celebrating artists who are articulating this through their work.

Jane – aka Small Writer at Large

*I’m sorry I didn’t end up adding more on my Mental Health series as planned (I’d intended to add longer articles on ‘Mental Health and Creativity’ and ‘Mental Health and Faith’), but let’s just say my journeys in relation to both should be evident from the above. I may return to these at a later time, but hopefully both will be much shorter!

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