An Uncanny Image

Even though words are my business, I find it very hard to describe my feelings when I first saw this small animation of one of the few pictures of my grandfather in existence. 

My dad brought this tiny head and shoulders image with him when, at the end of the war, he ended up in a Polish resettlement camp at Duncombe Park, near Helmsley in Yorkshire.  This is the grandfather I never knew, the person I wanted to know more about, the man I occasionally fantasised might turn up on our doorstep in the Leeds of my childhood. 

He never did, of course. He was long gone by that time, another of Stalin's victims. But one of my reasons for writing The Last Lancer was to try to find out more about him, to get to know this person my father had loved so much. 

Then a friend posted a vivid animated picture of one of her handsome forebears online and thanks to her, I realised that My Heritage would allow me to do the same thing to this image of Wladyslaw Czerkawski.

I uploaded the picture, clicked and waited. 

My grandfather looked out at me and smiled. It is movement, however small, that brings people to life. 

It was the strangest and most spooky feeling. Not in a bad way. I knew that he was a kindly man. Had always known it. He had his flaws and faults, of course, but he was a man whom many people loved and so do I.

My heart still aches when I recollect what happened to him. But I feel a little closer to him now. 


Luminate - What Went Wrong?


Back in October 2017, I remember becoming aware of a Scottish Festival of Creative Ageing, organised under the umbrella of an organisation called Luminate. You can still have a look at the brochure online. I went to one of the 2017 events: a Creative Ageing Day in Ayr Town Hall. 

It was described as 'A fun, explorative event which aims to generate some genuinely creative thinking through a range of hands-on workshops, performances, talks and screenings of short films. There will also be a marketplace to promote local opportunities for creative learning, arts and cultural activities.' 

It certainly was a fun day, most notably because it seemed to involve mostly older people doing their own creative thing. By themselves, for themselves, with plenty of enthusiasm and skill.

A glance through the brochure for the whole festival shows a variety of excellent events run by all kinds of groups throughout Scotland. There was Irvine Community Art Club, 'a group of retired people who share a passion for art.' There was traditional jazz, a life affirming drama about a son accompanying his elderly father on a trip back to India, and an inter-generational photography project. There was an event called Celebrate National Grandparents Day by taking part (with your grandchildren) in a workshop run by an experienced traditional carpenter. This included 'A chance to use axes, draw knives and chisels in an appropriate and safe manner to make a small piece to take home.' There were tapestry and other craft workshops for adults and children or grandchildren, a workshop on Muriel Spark, something called Thrawn Craws, a Murder of Writers aged between 40 and 80, committed to writing for older actors. ('We invite you to join us as we present important stories about the many facets of love in contemporary Scotland.') There were dance classes for the over 60s and Prime, an over-60s semi-professional company presented a series of bespoke two minute solos, created by top Scottish choreographers for individual company members. 

The whole programme was full of interesting, exciting, entertaining events with the aim of showing that older people are already wise and creative, and that when you provide opportunities and mix up the generations, without patronising, something wonderful can happen. 

Then have a look at this. 

Do you spot the difference? The way in which the whole venture has become didactic (Creativity for carers, anyone?) rather than exciting and inspirational. 

What went wrong? How, in five short years, could something that was so vibrant, so interesting, and so positive become a project almost wholly aimed at facilitating (they're very fond of that word) younger creatives to teach us poor oldies how to be creative in our dotage. The creative practitioner as a sort of cut price social worker promoting our 'wellbeing' (another buzz word) whether we want it or not.

Why and how did this happen? Was it a political decision? If so, it was a bad one. The creative arts are always worth engaging with, in and for themselves, not as some kind of short cut to 'mental health'. 

All I know is that something that started out full of life and vibrancy, seems to have become stodgy, pedestrian and faintly patronizing. 'Let's find something for the poor old folks to do' and 'let's train our young creatives to facilitate them.'

Am I alone in finding this profoundly depressing? Especially compared with how it all began? 

Happy New Year - and another of my (very occasional) writing tips ...


My grandfather, Wladyslaw Czerkawski: the last lancer himself.

OK, I have a new book coming out in late February 2023. You can read more about it on Barnes and Noble's website here. It will be available as they say in 'all good bookshops' and on Amazon too. 

This means that issues of publicity and promotion are, dear reader, very much on my mind. Because these days, even traditionally published writers have to do a significant amount of promotion themselves. It isn't so very different from being self published in that respect, and I've done both. 

I've begun to share links to the book like the one above. Begun to talk about it as a real thing, rather than the difficult project I've been wrestling with for years. It has become exciting rather than harrowing - and it was harrowing and moving to research and write, even though I loved doing it. 

But something else occurred to me when I was taking stock of my social media profiles and use, early in the New Year. Facebook is as good an example as any. I still like Facebook, still use it to connect with old and new friends including a few friends I've known and loved since we were very young. I also use it to connect with other writers, to find out what they're working on, how they're going about it, and what's new in their creative world. I sometimes find myself straying into (perhaps unwise) political discussions on there, but mostly, it's just good to chat. Good to see people's photographs and artworks too.

Except that there are some people - and I hate to say this, but they do tend to be men - who only ever interact on FB when they have a book of their own to promote. They will not so much as bestow a small 'like' on anyone else's news, professional or personal, never mind go to the immense effort of making a comment. They are clearly only there for the promotional opportunity. It's a bit like those experiences we've all had where you've just started talking to somebody at a party and you can see their gaze already moving to the middle distance in case somebody more interesting hoves into view. 

So here's a marketing tip. By all means promote your books on social media, talk about your books, tell us about your trials and triumphs. We love to read these. But in return you have to show just a wee bit of interest in other people, their trials and triumphs too. 

It isn't too much to ask, is it?