Greetings From Singapore

I thought you might like to hear what’s been happening creatively at my end.  Three years ago I was invited to teach at a Singapore conference run by two major Christian publishers, one US and the other UK, intended to help develop the creative, editorial, and publishing work in developing countries.  There were three hundred participants from forty-three countries.  This month they held it again – three hundred and seventy participants from fifty-one countries.  I had a hundred and eleven students in my fiction class with five simultaneous translators.

That last conference, my plan was to stay in Singapore for a couple more days, then travel to Malaysia, which I have never visited.  Instead, I held up in my little hotel room for two full weeks, and wrote half a book.

There have been a few other times when I’ve found myself entering into such a creative overdrive.  The most important thing I’ve learned is, when it happens, go with the flow.  So this time the plan was the same.  Book a two week trip, have a place where I can stay just in case, and watch what happens.  I’ve been here eight days thus far, and the effect has been identical to the last time.  Somerset Maughan had it right all along.  This place is magical.

Each day I write until I hit the wall, then I go somewhere and see something, walk the streets of Chinatown or Sentosa or whatever.  And I sketch.  I’m sketching a few days beyond where I write, which allows me space to percolate before putting it down in final form.

The only way to describe the weather here is, tropical.  Hot, muggy, raining every day, humid, blistering when the sun is out, steamy when not.  The one afternoon it remained clear, I took a bumboat to the lone Singapore island that remains in its original state.  A bumboat is a small craft used to ferry supplies (or dumb tourists) to nearby ports or ships anchored offshore.  In years past, it was also known as a scavenger boat, or privateer’s vessel.  Which pretty much describes our skipper and crew.  Everything about Singapore is so precise, so civilized.  This boat, by contrast, only left when fifteen passengers showed up at the terminal.

The trip to Pulau Ubin Island lasted less than an hour.  The ferry docked in this ratty little Malay-style village, chickens in the road, men in wraparound sarongs smoking and dozing under banyan trees, the works.  I walked down the town’s only road and rented the worst bike in the world.  The guy pointed me north.  No map.  Off I went.

The paved road gave up about five miles out.  After that, it was trail riding through jungle.  I have never been on a trail ride before.  I am a road-bike addict.  This trip gave me no reason to change my mind.

When I first started writing, one of the authors I used to shape my original style was Somerset Maughan.  I always loved his description of the jungle heat, how when the branches closed in overhead the air became too heavy to breathe.  Well, I’m here to tell you Maughan got that one right.  I rode sixteen miles on those trails, and sweated sixteen gallons.

The highlight of the hottest day in my entire life was when, on my way back, the trail was invaded by monkeys.  These guys were about a foot tall, and fast.  One minute I was huffing up this steep incline, the next and the furry horde swept in.  Down from trees, out of the bushes, several dozen tiny little beasts who claimed the trail.

I’m getting a bumper sticker made up when I get back – I stop for monkeys.

When I finally made it back to the ratty village and gave up my ratty bike, I headed to the ferry terminal (a rickety pier to nowhere).  Then I spotted on the side of one of the ratty buildings a hand-painted sign that read, ‘Shower, Fifty dollars’.

Fifty dollars Singapore is about thirty-five dollars US.

I was tempted, man.  Tempted.

Davis

 

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Salon Prive by Davis Bunn

Dear Friends and Family,

The last weekend in August marks the Salon Prive, the largest gathering of supercars and vintage racers in Europe. For the past five years it’s been held here, in Blenheim Palace’s front yard. Okay, ‘yard’ probably isn’t the right word, since the distance from the front door to the end of the drive is just over two miles. But still.

That’s me leaning against the wheel of this year’s Renault Formula One racer. I snuck in at daybreak for this shot. Before they cordoned off the machine, and also before I had to go back and put on a jacket and tie. I got in free because I live here, but I still had to dress up like I actually belonged.

This past weekend was broken into four segments. Thursday was a sort of ‘show up and get your bearings day’. Cost to enter was three hundred dollars. Friday was ‘hat day’. As in, ladies must wear one, and first prize for the weirdest hat was ten thousand dollars. Cost to enter, four hundred dollars. Saturday was ‘Porsche day’. Each year, the Saturday is given over to one car club or another. Cost was three hundred bucks. One car is judged the best from each production year, going back to the nineteen thirties. Owners spend months pimping their rides. The winners get a decal for their rear window and the chance to drive in a circle around the other people who stand and watch and wish their car had won.

All this is true.

Sunday is ‘peasant’s day’. Okay, that’s not what it’s actually called. But still. The price drops to twenty dollars and the place is just jammed. Eleven thousand people came this year. There were so many supercars on display, they directed all the Rolls Royces and the Maybachs – we’re talking four hundred thousand dollars for the base models – to the general parking area.

A lot of these vintage super cars would be expensive if you bought them by the pound. Last week, a sixties-era Ferrari sold for, wait for it…

Twenty-eight million dollars. Read more

Blenheim Palace – July 17, 2018

Dear Friends,

As most of you know, and for those who don’t, through our work at the university my wife and I had the opportunity to take the former chief butler’s apartment at Blenheim Palace.  There are a lot of drawbacks to this place, for example:

–No closets, no pantry, no garage, no cellar, no storage space, not even for the vacuum cleaner or our suitcases,

–No pets,

–No garden.  Okay, so the palace does sit inside a walled estate of two thousand acres, designed by Capability Brown.  But still.

–Last year, four hundred and seventeen thousand visitors walked under the archway which is directly below Isabella’s office (she is next to the clock tower you will see in some of these photos).

And so forth.

That said, it’s not everybody who can lean out their hall window and watch President Trump be greeted by Prim Minister Theresa May.  Actually, I was assured that if I did lean out I would be shot by snipers on the palace roof.

But that was last week.

This week, Bollywood came to Blenheim.

In case you weren’t aware, Bollywood – India’s film industry – is the second largest in the world.  And their most successful comedy series ever is a trio of films called Housefull.  They are now filming number four, and for reasons that you probably have to be Indian to understand, they decided to do a final big dance number here in Blenheim.  Yes, the rest of story takes place in India.  No, this doesn’t make any sense at all.  But it was a LOT of fun to watch.

A couple of points you might find of interest.

First, the ancient Rolls Royces you see parked in front of the dancers are supposedly waiting to take the royal family back home.  Why they would choose to ride in cars that are ninety years old is not actually explained in the story.  The modern Bentley convertibles are reserved for the Indian stars, once they finish dancing.  Naturally.

Secondly, the figures standing on the front steps are lookalikes – I am not making this up – for Prince Charles, Lady Camilla, Megan Markel Duchess of Sussex, and Prince Harry.  What you can’t see, because I couldn’t get close enough to film it, was when the dancers started their routine, the four royals boogied down.

Never a dull moment.

Warmest regards,

Davis

 

 

Blenheim Palace – July 13, 2018

Dear Friends,

I thought it might be nice to share some photos I took from our apartment window yesterday.  Needless to say, this is as close as I was allowed to come to the festivities.  As it was, I had two sniffer dogs and a dozen armed officers go through the apartment earlier yesterday.

If you take them in order, you will see the UK Prime Minister and her husband come down the main stairs as President Trump’s helicopter lands.  He is then driven through the estate in his armored limo (no pics of that, wrong angle).  Trump arrives, they cross the forecourt, climb the stairs, and stand there for the trooping of the colors.

For the two days running up to this, we had three hundred and fifty police officers, plus 50 armed SAS, and the US Secret Service.  I went through three checkpoints and a search just going from our apartment to our car.

Be it ever so humble…

Davis

The Portable Sanctuary

“Making the simple complicated is commonplace.  Making the complicated  simple, awesomely simple, that is creativity.”

Charles Mingus, jazz musician and band leader

 

Sometimes it feels as though change is the only constant.

Change is an enormously powerful force, both in our lives and our creative space.  And it’s impact is increasing.  Facing this is crucial to maintaining a regular creative output.

The problem is, many creative types seek to use their art as a shield against change.  They resist anything that comes between them and their sense of a creative haven.

I know a few successful artists who manage to live in such static surrounds.  A very dear friend, one of the world’s best-selling authors, resides in a tiny farming community that is basically as isolated from modern civilization as she can get, and still call the planet earth her home.

For most of us, this is not an option.

What is more, the speed of change is accelerating.  When I started writing, the time between significant changes was relatively long.  Mail was the primary means of communication.  Teletypes followed, then faxes, email, cellphones, tablets…You get the picture.

Psychologists often say millenials are much more comfortable with change, where rapid and significant shifts are seen as a constant.  Change is a way of life.  Millenials are comfortable constantly adapting.  So they say.

If you are one of these, please skip over the rest of this lesson.  Good on you.

But what I have found in the vast majority of my students is this:  They see their creative work as an opportunity to retreat from this constant change.  Their art is their haven.  They find stability here.

Too often this attitude results in dropping the creative hour whenever change or stress invades. Read more

The Improbable Hour

“Those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.”

Fredrich Nietzsche

Remember the blizzard of 2015?

If you don’t, you weren’t anywhere near the east coast.

The region from Maine to Baltimore got hammered.  Hurricane force winds, severe damage to the Jersey shore, tons of snow, blinding conditions, followed by extreme cold.  The works.

The last day of the blizzard the winds turned offshore.  Which means basically nothing to anyone not viscerally tied to the sea.  But for surfers along the New England coast, the conditions became epic.

Needless to say, it remained a bit on the chilly side.  Not to mention frigid winds and blinding snow.  Four governors declared states of emergencies and told everyone to stay indoors.

On that day, videographer James Katsipis filmed four Montauk surfers having the time of their lives in twelve to fifteen foot Long Island waves.  The resulting video has gone viral, especially after Pearl Jam rendered ‘Rain On Me’ by The Who for the soundtrack.  The Vimeo link is https://vimeo.com/118156877.  But in case that is down, search for ‘Juno’ by James Katsipis and Tauk Is Cheap Productions.  The view is somewhat blurred at times by the blizzard, but for some of us that only adds spice to the mix. Read more

Quicksand

“Every day, do one thing that scares you.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

My wife is the smart one in our family.

When we were able to start living from my writing, Isabella had the opportunity to fulfill her own lifelong dream, and began work on her doctorate at the University of Oxford.  She promised me we would only stay in England for three years.  That was in 1992.  We are still there.

During our second year at Oxford, I was offered my own dream-come-true, in the form of my first large advance.  A word of explanation is due here.  An author’s advance is based on what the publisher thinks that particular book will earn in its first year to eighteen months.  My earlier books had done well, and my publisher decided that they wanted to up the ante.  They said they were going to try and elevate me to ‘front of store’, where the book comes out in hardback and is positioned on the table you see when you first enter a bookstore.  This placement has to be purchased by the publishers, but it also has to pass muster with the bookstore’s buyers.  They only offer front-of-store placement to books they think are going to hit the bestseller lists.

When I finally descended from my low-altitude orbit, my publishers asked if I had a story in mind that could potentially justify such a big jump.  And as a matter of fact, I did.  I wanted to write a romance-adventure based in the six months that began on May 22, 337AD. Read more

Goals, And How to Get There

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”

Pablo Picasso

Quite possibly, the hardest word for many artists to speak, read, write, or hear is…

Get ready for it.

Bran.

Even so, we have to discuss it.  Because, let’s face it, an artistic brand has never been more important than now.

Current definition:  An artistic brand is like a signature.  A buyer – as in, the person who supports your creative profession – wants to know what to expect from you, the artist.   Everything you produce needs to be identifiable to the untrained eye as distinctly yours.  It needs to follow a pattern, and create expectations in the buyer’s mind.  Eventually, the audience comes to anticipate your next work.  They grow eager to buy because they trust you to deliver along the same lines as before, which they already have come to love and desire.

The problem is obvious.  Seen in this light, designing an artistic brand and sticking to it basically requires you to build a cage.  You erect these restrictions to your creative direction, then you step inside and consign yourself to years of limited growth.

Who in their right mind would be motivated to even try? Read more

Why Bother

“Each of us have moments when we are swept away by an inner sense of excitement about something we are doing or want to do.  In this state, whatever we are working on seems to come alive with significance and even necessity, and our contribution seems to validate who we are or, perhaps more accurately, who we can be.”

Martha Graham, dancer and choreographer

But such moments of inspiration cannot be forced into being.  They cannot even be awaited.  Instead, for the artist to truly be an artist, the creative work must continue despite this inspiration being absent.

But why bother?

There are so many other demands upon our time and energy.  Why put up a fight against the incoming tide?  I mean, let’s face facts here.  There is so little chance we’ll succeed.

And another thing.  What about everything we have to give up in order to make this creative dream reality?

I’m so glad you asked. Read more

The Day, The Hour

But I shall let the little I have learnt go forth into the day in order that someone better than I may guess the truth, and in his work may prove and rebuke my error. At this I shall rejoice that I was yet a means whereby this truth has come to light.

Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) leader of the German Renaissance

We cannot declare when the moment shall arise, when we cast off the chains of mundane existence and rise up to that incredible, exalted state.  We can’t fashion the hour that our wings will unfold, and we fly off, and glimpse a brief fragment of creative bliss.  We can’t, we just can’t.

But we can most certainly name it.

“Everything flows and nothing stays,” said Heraclitus, the fifth-century Greek philospher, speaking of how time constantly moves us forward, and change is life’s only constant.  But these days there is another meaning given to this word.  And it is by this term that we will begin to take aim.

Flow.

Why call it this?  Well, we need to call it something.  And naming that moment when we become one with the practice of our art is sort of like trying to name a vaccuum.  In that instant, we simply are not there.  So in naming it, we instead need to look at the process that brings us to that point.

Flow.  It works as good as anything else. Read more