Deeper and deeper into the darkness we go. December has arrived, cold, bare and bleak. It’s just as well Christmas is on its way, giving us an excuse for eating, drinking and shopping far more than is sensible. But Christmas has a way of underlining pain too, especially for anyone who has lost loved ones. And with news of terrorist atrocities echoing in our ears, it can be hard to muster any cheer at all.
During wartime it was suggested to Winston Churchill that he should cut funding for the Arts. His reply was “Then what are we fighting for?” He saw the value of what is too often undervalued. As humans we need so much more than food, warmth and the latest gizmo - as illustrated by the fact that people with an abundance of these things are often desperately unhappy.
Over the last couple of weeks I've been helping out at Taunton Literary Festival (hosted by the wonderful independent bookshop Brendon Books). Not only have I met all sorts of lovely people but I've been reminded of the rich array of experiences books bring to us. I've learned about Barbary lions, fairies, village schools run by nuns, a harrowing escape from Afghanistan, the lives of Medieval castrated singers... I've been thrilled, amused and intrigued. My literary tastebuds have been tantalised, my horizons have been expanded, and I've even won a pot of Marmite!
Sometimes I hear about the abuse, the pointless cruelty and the vast suffering that goes on, and I think: how lucky am I, enjoying these gorgeous Exmoor landscapes, writing stories and playing the (for Heaven’s sake!) harp? Guilt starts to take hold because creativity seems such a ridiculous luxury. But then I remind myself of all the times that music and writing have lifted me from pain, both emotional and physical. And how, with the help of my harp and my pen, I am actually beginning to convey something life-affirming to other people too.
We have all experienced times when a black mood has been banished by a blast of joyful music, or a snuggle by the fire with a good novel. I know of many people who, in their darkest hour, have turned to the arts and found solace: A lady who took up clarinet when her husband died and claims that it saved her sanity. Another who, on the loss of her father, plunged herself into books, and later became a writer herself. Another who took up dancing when her husband left her.
The arts give us so much: thoughts, dreams, emotions, perceptions - and, perhaps most importantly, ways of holding on throughout the dark times. I am convinced of it: Creativity isn’t a luxury. It is a life-line.