The Hero’s Journey

Do you know about the hero’s journey? The one where you set out on a journey, and meet a wise man, and fight a dragon to gain treasure? Of course you do, because you’ve done it. The monster you fought may have been metaphorical – there aren’t many dragons in modern cities – but it was a real threat nonetheless. Luckily monsters come in different sizes: you tend to get the adventure for which you are prepared. It works like this….

Hercules (Herakles in Greek) was a golden boy. To his doting parents, his gifts were apparent from an early age  His mother made him a cradle from a great bronze shield. Once a snake slid in beside him, and he strangled it with his bare hands. As he grew older he was a wild one, good at games but less keen on school stuff. His mother made him take music lessons, but he hit his teacher over the head with a lyre. If there was fun or trouble brewing, you could be sure to find Hercules at the heart of it. Tall and strong, he was always a leader among the boys. He wore a lionskin which he slung over his shoulders like a cloak.

When he was older, his temper got the better of him. In a fit of madness, he killed his children. The Twelve Labours were set as penance, a way to reconcile him with the world. The first few depended on brute force: he used muscle power to wrestle beasts to the ground, assert dominance over nature. Later on, things started to get more complicated. He had to work out challenges, start to use his mind. The last task involved a trip to the Underworld. This is a symbolic journey, and necessitated insight and spiritual wisdom.

Hercules is honoured because he made the hero’s journey. He plumbed the depths of despair, gained wisdom and returned to benefit the rest of society. He has been remembered down the ages; he even got a constellation named after him. But the real reason we retell his story is that it resonates with our own lives. We each have to grow up, face our personal demons, and hopefully learn a degree of self-knowledge. There will be times when we despair, and times when we triumph. With luck we will have a mentor to guide us; we will certainly need friends to help us along the way. The depths we face may be symbolic, but the insights we achieve are very real.

Joseph Campbell wrote about the Hero’s Journey which we must each undertake. He believed that there are heroes (and heroines) everywhere: ‘The latest incarnation of Oedipus, the continued romance of Beauty and the Beast, stand this afternoon on the street corner waiting for the traffic lights to change.’ Sometimes the greatest heroes are those leading the most ordinary lives: Campbell reveres Leopold Bloom, that humble modern Ulysses, equally with Achilles or Cuchulainn. The inner spiritual journey matters more than the dramatic outward quest.

It’s daunting to set out on this journey. The threshold guardians represent unknown dangers: far easier to stay within our comfort zone, in the familiarity of the known world. But if we dare to take the first step, we will find the support we need to achieve our goals. The hero’s journey is the path we must travel if we are to fulfil our true potential. It is the way we were meant to follow, the work we were born to do: the deepest expression of our inner self. The heroic journey is the great road of life itself.

The Hero is one of the twelve major archetypal figures. Learn how these figures manifest in your experience. ‘LifeWorks‘ by Jane Bailey Bain helps you to develop your own story. Visit Jane’s Author Page and follow her on Twitter @janebaileybain. If you like this post, use the buttons to Follow or Share on Facebook, Twitter and Stumbleupon.

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Music and Myth

I spent the afternoon at a concert in Bushy Park, London. It was a hot day: summer has finally arrived, we’ve gone from boots to suncream in two days. There were five musicians in the group, including one viola. Stay with me here, if you don’t like classical music: I wasn’t expecting to love it. The trouble with living in a city is that you can be too choosy about what you do, thinking you already know what you like. It’s much more fun to let friends guide you, sharing their passions and introducing you to new things. They played the Brahms Clarinet Quintet, and it was wonderful. The music flowed in waves of energy which shifted from sound to colour on the warm summer air.

Myth and music have much in common. They each use classic elements woven into new compositions. They both depend on harmony and counterpoint, synchrony and balance. Recurring themes echo and contrast with each other. A melody repeats but in a different key. The hero and the villain often have much in common. Music and myth follow rules, yet work best when they play with our expectations. They are linear compositions which lift us above the sequential constraints of everyday life.

The universe is composed of a symphony of energies. Life is a dance to that cosmic sound.

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Advice to Authors

At book signings, I’m often asked by aspiring authors how they can get to where I’m sitting. Here are some of the tips that worked for me.

First and last rule: Keep writing! If you’ve got a work in progress, or a first draft manuscript, don’t stop there. The dream won’t become reality until you’ve got something worth publishing. So do whatever it takes to keep working: get up an hour earlier and drink sweet coffee; join a creative writing class. Put yourself in a time and place where there is no excuse, nothing else to do but write.

Subsidiary rule: keep editing. A lot of what you write will be superfluous, or repetitious, or just plain junk. If that sentence or paragraph won’t come right, cut it out altogether. Think of it this way: if you had woven a length of beautiful cloth and wanted to make a coat, you’d have to cut out the pieces you wanted and throw quite a lot away. It’s not wasted material, just part of the process of creation.

So you’ve got at least 10,000 words. Time to test the waters in the wider world. Try posting your work on a writing website. I used Authonomy, the Harper Collins talent-spotting forum. You probably won’t get spotted, but you’ll discover an online community of fellow writers who will give you mutual support and invaluable feedback.

Now you’re ready to approach a publisher. Do you really need an agent for this? The answer is probably yes. A good agent will tidy up your proposal, help you to present yourself clearly and professionally. Either way, invest in a copy of the Writers & Artists Yearbook. Yes, they have one in the local library, but you really need to have this bible to hand. Besides, buying this – along with your first rejection letter – is the badge of being a Real Writer!

Another option is to self-publish. Nowadays this is a completely respectable option. A friend of mine recommends Lulu: simple, cheap and fast. Or try a micro-publisher like Ocean Highway Books. If you go this route, get at least two other people to proof-read the manuscript (worth paying for if necessary). Even books from the big publishers will have a few mistakes in the first print run: you just want to avoid looking sloppy.

Once your book is in print, sit back and enjoy the royalties: not! You’ll have to work hard to publicize your book. Send review copies to relevant magazines, but don’t bother with too many: those ‘as new’ second-hand copies on Amazon – guess where they come from? Offer to do things for free: give talks to local community groups, provide copies as prizes for charity raffles, donate books to local organizations which may be short of funds. Word of mouth recommendations repay this sort of generosity a hundredfold.

Social media are the next step. Connecting with other people online lets you reach literally thousands of readers whom you’d never have met otherwise. You’ll need a Twitter account to start: ‘Follow’ mine (@janebaileybain) to see the sort of thing I mean. The idea is to connect and share information with like-minded people. There are definite rules of Twittiquette: support each other, return favours, acknowledge sources.

It’s a big world out there, and the rules are changing fast. Facebook, You-tube, blogging… the possibilities for promotion keep proliferating. Investigate them and find the ones that work best for you. The journey may seem long, but it’s fun along the way. Above all, remember to share and support: we writers have got to help each other.

More ideas? A simple exercise to develop your characters using Voice Dialogue for Writers.

More tools & tips on achieving your writing goals in my book ‘LifeWorks’. Follow me on Twitter @janebaileybain and visit my Facebook Author Page. Use the buttons below to Like, Comment and Share on Facebook, Stumbleupon or Twitter.

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Boudicca: Warrior Queen

Boudicca was a striking woman: tall enough to look a warrior in the eyes, with russet hair tumbling to her waist and a voice that rang out like a bugle call. She was married to the king of the Iceni, but she was of royal blood, a queen in her own right. Her name means ‘Victorious’ and she was revered as both a leader and a priestess. Boudicca was a young girl when the Roman legions arrived in Britain. The invaders demanded that the Celts pay tribute tax: their leaders demurred, negotiated, and eventually agreed on a treaty of celsine, a patron-protector relationship. When her husband died, Boudicca became leader of the Iceni people. The Romans took this opportunity to declare Iceni territory their own. They used the usual brutal methods to deal with women and savages. Boudicca was whipped and her daughters ravished. But Boudicca was a true queen, and she was not prepared to accept such treatment of her people.

May Day was the Celtic festival of Beltaine, the Shining Fire. It was a time for the extended clan to assemble for celebration and conference.  On this day, livestock were driven through clouds of smoke to purify them for summer pasture. Boudicca, priestess and queen, invoked the power of fire for a different reason. On 1st May 60AD, she led the Iceni in revolt. Dismayed by decades of Roman oppression, other Celtic tribes rallied to her cause. They destroyed Camulodunon (Colchester), captured Londinium and marched on Verulamium (St Albans) amidst scenes of great rejoicing.

The Celts were fearsome warriors: they  fought naked apart from a torc (neck ring) and woad tattoos, their hair stiffened with lime into tall spikes. Celtic women were reknowned as even more skilled swordfighters than their menfolk. Boudicca led her people into battle riding in a light chariot, her daughters by her side. The Romans were outnumbered, but their military discipline was superb. The legions rallied and in a final confrontation the Celts were routed. Boudicca and her daughters were never found: some say they took poison to avoid capture.

She may have been beaten, but Boudicca was never forgotten. She is honoured as a Great Mother, a woman who rose against adversity and defied death to protect her children. There is a  statue to her on Embankment, near the Houses of Parliament in London. It shows a figure reminiscent of Britannia. Boudicca was arguably the first great British queen.

How much of our image of Boudicca is true? The Celts kept no written records, and the Romans had a vested interest in recording facts from their own perspective. The Roman Tacitus was a contemporary recorder, but his terse style of writing gives us the word ‘taciturn’ so we learn little from him. Another historian Dio mentions her, but he was writing nearly 200 years later. So we have to use our imaginations a little, our empathy a lot, to keep alive the memory of this glorious woman: fighting like a lioness protecting her cubs, with her mane of long tawny hair.

More stories in ‘LifeWorks‘ by Jane Bailey Bain. Visit Jane’s Author Page and follow her on Twitter @janebaileybain. If you like this post, use the buttons below to Share on Facebook, Twitter or Stumbleupon.

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The Secret of Happiness

Whatever happened to ‘happy ever after’? You waited so long for everything to work out right. You’ve tried hard to be a kind child, a fair friend, a loyal lover. It doesn’t seem fair that you’re still searching for the answers.  Sometimes you just don’t feel that you can carry on.

Of course, you know quite well that life isn’t fair. And that today’s answers won’t provide a permanent solution. That each day will only come once is what makes life so sweet. Change is an intrinsic feature of Samsara, the great Wheel of Life. ‘Everything will be all right’ is not the same as saying ‘Everything will stay the same’.

You just have to do the best you can, and have faith in the future. Never look back to say those pointless words, “What if…?” You must have confidence in your younger self: trust that you made the best possible decision at the time. You can never know how the road not taken would have turned out. Have confidence that everything will be all right in the end (‘and if it isn’t alright, it’s not yet the end’). Sometimes your way will be clear and bright. At others, you may feel that you’re wandering in circles through a dark wood. The important thing is to keep moving. It is only in retrospect that we can see the patterns in our story. Life has to be lived forwards, but read backwards.

It is more important to be able to commit, than to make the ‘right’ choice. Because you are mortal, you will ultimately lose everything you possess. All that you have and know and value will inevitably pass away.  Material goods and memories, talents and achievements, skills and gifts: all these will vanish… unless you give them away. When we pass things on to people – to your partner and children, friends and neighbours, strangers that you meet once on a train – you ensure that they endure. Only in sharing can we keep the things we love. This is like the Native American custom of potlatch: the host would distribute gifts – blankets, jewellery, wood carvings – to gain power and prestige. Potlatch festivals maintained the social hierarchy, but they were also a way of redistributing material goods. Only by sharing their wealth were rich men able to benefit from their good fortune.

The old song says that love is only something if we give it away. Loss can paradoxically be good for us. Stephen Joseph, professor of psychology at Nottingham University, suggests that trauma really may make us stronger. After people recover from the initial suffering and stress, they often achieve what he calls ‘post-traumatic growth’. Surviving a threatening situation can leave you feeling calmer, wiser and more compassionate. Events such as terrorist bombings or natural disasters are beyond our control: our response to them is not. Suffering can be a precipitant for spiritual development. The key to this personal growth lies in a new approach to trauma, which encourages people to take responsibility for their own recovery. A medical model which labels people as ‘patients’ actually perpetuates damage and dependency. “The traditional therapist is like a mechanic. Something’s wrong with the car and the therapist is the expert who’s going to work out it’s a leaky radiator and fix it… Maybe the therapist should be more like a gardener who’s nurturing growth, acknowledging our capacity for transformation.”

Happiness lies not in doing what you like, but in learning to like what you have to do. You can’t always change the world, but you can decide how you’ll respond to it. Buddhists practice ‘walking meditation’ which involves noticing everything around you in a non-judgmental way. By truly accepting your situation, you promote a feeling of congruence between your circumstances and your inner self. The Ancient Greeks had a concept which they called eudaimonia. This is often translated as ‘happiness’. A more accurate definition involves behaviour which is congruent with your daimon, or spirit. Eudaimonia is a state in which you are being true to yourself. Whatever you have to do, behave with personal integrity. When you are acting in accordance with your inner being, you experience a state of ‘living in the moment’ which the psychologist Csikszentmihalyi calls ‘flow’.

Ultimately you must create your own happiness. This is not easy to accept, even when you know it is true. How you respond to the world – to the people around you, and the things that life throws at you – is no-one’s responsibility but your own. When life hurls you a fast ball, pitch it right back. Don’t wait for inspiration to descend from above. Pick a direction, then try to stay on track. If you are facing the right way, all you have to do is keep on walking. Treat people according to their potential, and help them to become that thing: we create the others around us in our own image. This applies most obviously to children, but it is true for everyone you know. Above all, take responsibility for composing your own personal story.

Your life script is the greatest work of creation you will ever undertake. It is both an adventure and a duty: you owe it to yourself to make the most of your time incarnate. Make a bucket list – what you want to do before you kick it – and start crossing things off. Some people will start this work earlier than others, but they will not finish any sooner. It is never too late to be what you might have been. Live each day with awareness and appreciation, because life is too short not to have fun. Being conscious of this does not mean that every moment will be blissfully serene. Hopefully it does mean that ultimately you will feel satisfied with what you have achieved in this life.

LifeWorks‘ by Jane Bailey Bain is a practical handbook which helps you to identify relationship patterns and life themes.

Visit my Author Page and follow me on Twitter @janebaileybain.

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Mermaids: A Fishy Tale

Do you believe in mermaids? A beautiful woman with a fish’s tail. Sometimes they come out of the water and sit on the rocks combing their hair. Sweet-voiced and slippery, they are hard to catch. In Shakespeare’s time, the term was used to mean ‘courtesan’. So when Ben Jonson and Walter Raleigh met at the Mermaid Tavern, they were maybe in search of more than beer to quench their thirst!

They are linked with the old French tradition of ‘poisson d’Avril’. Mermaids move between two worlds, sea and shore. April is the month of new beginnings (Latin aperire, to open): 1st April is around the old-style spring equinox, hence the countryman’s new year. Mermaids are April creatures, bridging two states of being.

New year, fresh start, old order turned upside down.

Or maybe it depends what time you read this. Catch me out if you can!

More myths in ‘LifeWorks‘ by Jane Bailey Bain. Follow me on Twitter @janebaileybain.

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Voice Dialogue for Writers

Writing is an act of creation. That’s why fiction is often called creative writing. It can also be a form of re-creation, or therapy. When we write, we work out things in our own minds. The things our characters say sometimes surprise us. By definition, anything our characters do must have come from within us, even if that isn’t how we normally feel or act. Through writing, we can discover things about ourselves which we didn’t even know: emotions and opinions, fears and dreams.

Your characters are (hopefully!) unique, but they must also be believable. The reader has to recognize them as people they might actually meet. You do this by combining unique features with universal characteristics. Realistic characters are based on widely-recurring figures called archetypes. Archetypes are outline forms which arise spontaneously in our minds. Their individual features are filled in with material from your experience. Your story may have a clever girl, a trickster and a tramp: they will be your creations, yet they will also draw on (and play with) the reader’s expectations of these roles.

Sometimes you may introduce a character to provide a contrast with another personality. The protagonist needs an antagonist to provide dramatic contrast: this opposition is most effective if the two characters also share some features. The darker figure then becomes the alter ego of the lighter one. One way of viewing such figures is to see them as aspects of the same person. In dramatic terms, this means that the characters can never appear at the same time.  A classic case is King Lear’s Fool and his daughter Cordelia: the two are never on stage together, and are sometimes played by the same actor. Another example is Jane Eyre, whose repressed sensuality is succinctly expressed by Rochester’s mad wife.

In another sense, all your characters are aspects of one person: yourself! After all, you identify with different archetypal figures according to your situation. Sometimes you might need to be a hero; other days you might feel more like an ogre. Voice Dialogue is a counselling technique which explores the idea that there’s more to you than meets the eye. Your public image is only one part of your personality. The characteristics which you disapprove of are suppressed. Your disowned qualities are what drive you mad when you see them in other people! Instead of being annoyed, you can choose to explore those aspects of yourself. When you give your characters a chance to explain their actions, you learn something about yourself.

Here’s a fun exercise to develop your writing. Take two characters who seem to have reached an impasse. Choose an item of clothing for each of them: a broad sunhat, a colourful cravat, some sequinned sandals… charity shops are a great source of material. Find a quiet space where you won’t be interrupted. Place two chairs opposite each other, and put one item on each chair. Now, you’re really going to get into character! Put on one item of clothing and sit in that chair. See how it feels to be this person: note how you sit, what you see and feel. Start talking to the ‘person’ opposite you. When you’re had your say, take off the item and move to the other chair. Put on that piece of clothing and sit down: how do you feel now? Answer the first character: you may be surprised at what you hear! Repeat this process as often as you like. When the meeting is over, come back into the role of author and think about what you have learned.

Getting published? See ‘Advice to Authors‘ for tips! Tools for character development and plot analysis in ‘LifeWorks’ by Jane Bailey Bain. Follow Jane on Twitter @janebaileybain.  If you like this post, use the buttons below to Share on Facebook, Stumbleupon or Twitter.

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