The city of York hosted its annual Festival of Ideas in the beginning of June. Since I’m a good bit more local to the city now, and since it’s always good to try and broaden your mind, I thought I would give it a go. The festival is a huge event that is run by the University and you can read about it here: http://yorkfestivalofideas.com/2016/
I was pleased to get tickets to four the events I wanted to attend:
- Mythology: Our Imagined Worlds
- Ideas for Publication: What Works for Us
- Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World
- Towards a Maritime Deep History of our Planet
A lot of it was maybe too deep and scholarly for this little brain, somewhat removed from the academic sphere, but I really enjoyed them all. Three were lectures and one was a workshop held by the York Novelists, a local writer’s group about how to set up a similar group as an opportunity to meet like-minded people and get some proper constructive criticism. That was super useful for me – I hadn’t even ever thought of a writer’s group, and I think it is really going to be the best next step for me. I can hone and tweak and write and rewrite to my heart’s content, but if it’s only me reading it, it’s no good. I need someone to tell me this is good, this is bad, I hate that character, I love this scene, I think the mood or the tone is a bit off here. Hopefully the writer’s group will be the perfect scene for that! I also hope that for all the constructive criticism I get back, I’m not reduced to tears and anxiety like I was in the feedback sessions from my teacher training. It would be nice to hear if I am on the right track, or what I can do to make sure I’m on it.
The lectures I went to were greatly informative – not only for my interest in our mythology, and the concept of gods and pantheon, plus a long-standing interest in the sea and all things nautical, but also for my own writing. As I’ve engaged with published books and my own writing, and if we take the fantasy/science-fiction genre(s) as a main example, things that I’ve found issue with have always been of interest, and one of those is this idea of religion vs mythology. I’ve read a fair bit of fiction – I’m no serious book blogger by any stretch, and while I like my fantasy, I can and will read others – and if you don’t mind the sweeping generalisation, any group of people or civilisation – outside our recognised world here – require a backbone headed by some form of deity: a religion, a god, a worship structure. In the Wheel of Time, we have the classic Creator/Dark One pairing, and that entire sequence is permeated by the constant theme of dark and light, yin and yang, male and female, opposites. In A Song of Ice and Fire, we have a multitude of religions, which I really like: Martin shows how gods rise and rule and are in turn conquered and destroyed by new gods: the old gods and their weirwoods, the Seven, the Many-Faced God, the red priests and priestesses of R’hlorr. One of the lectures I attended spoke about the relationship between mythology and religion, and how thousands of years ago what we now see as myth and legend was ardently believed in as religion, and the speaker went so far as to wonder if in a thousand years from now the religions we see in our daily lives might go the same way.
I really enjoyed my time wandering about the city in between lectures; they were held in King’s Manor, where I used to have my supervision meetings for English, so it was nice to be back there, in one of the more aesthetically appealing buildings owned by the University. If you’re at all familiar with the Uni, you’ll know what I mean!
And yet, in my own writing, (bar one), I seem to shy away from creating a god structure of any kind. Yet it’s something I’ve always been interested in – less modern religion, and more the ancient world: Greece, Egypt, Norse. For MFB, there isn’t an organised religion, as such – or at least, not yet. The society I’ve created seems to be very much anchored in a world of science and technological advancement, but the patriarch in charge could be seen as maybe thinking himself of akin to a deity, so maybe I have done something like there. Since I like to think far ahead, the book that follows this one (that I’ve planned, anyway) will feature a religious centre to the society the story is set in. This will tie in nicely with the theme – but enough about MSB!
I have two degrees, and half a PGCE (but the less said about that the better, I don’t even know why I brought it up), but I wouldn’t consider myself a very cultured person. What does it mean to be ‘cultured’? Do you have to know lots of languages, have travelled across the world; do you need to have read all of Shakespeare’s plays, be able to quote the Odyssey and the Iliad without jumbling them up; does a cultured person regularly frequent the ballet and the opera, and say things like regularly frequent instead of sometimes turns up to? I’ll settle for this: I might not know much, but I always like to try and know a bit more. As an only child having grown up in the lush landscape of North Yorkshire, I was simultaneously cursed with a tendency for immediate boredom and blessed with a wild and overactive imagination. I am inspired by everything and anything, from a sound to a building to a person’s face to the ending of a story or a situation for a character that didn’t pan out how I expected. So I’m glad I dragged my lazy bum off to the Festival of Ideas, and I think it really sparked off some ideas for me, too.
After all, learning is fun. Or so they say! Try telling that to my fourteen-year-old self sat in Maths.