I had the absolute pleasure of speaking with Avellina Balestri, Catholic Author of the Robin Hood retelling “Saplings of Sherwood”, the first of a planned seven in “The Telling of the Beads” series. Based on the Maryland/Pennsylvania border, USA, Avellina is also the editor-in-chief of Fellowship & Fairydust - an online publication on a mission to “inspire faith and creativity by exploring the arts through a Spiritual Lens”.
As somebody who was brought up around atheism before transitioning into adulthood by exploring my own spirituality, I was really excited to get to know Avellina when I saw her post about Saplings of Sherwood. I entered the conversation with a completely open mind to the direction this piece would take us, which I am so grateful I did as the theme that screamed out to me throughout the entirety of our phone call was entirely unexpected, and if I may say, pure magic.
The Beauty of sub-creation
What on Earth, or not on Earth, is it?
I was immediately struck by the statement on Avellina’s profile reading: “sub-creating stories that reveal God in all things”, and as much as the phrase fascinated me, I had no idea what was meant by ‘sub-creating’. She explained that it had been introduced to her by J.R.R Tolkien, and with her use of the word she is highlighting the ‘sub-creation’ process that happens between herself and God, throughout the act of writing.
Reflective of the human desire to birth worlds within our own world, sub-creation is multifaceted in nature and was as prominent in Tolkien's religious life as it was in his storyworlds. I’ll admit it, I’ve never read, nor watched, any of Tolkien’s works, I know, you don’t have to tell me how outrageous that is, but I soon recognised the similarities sub-creation shares with the philosophy of the interconnectedness of all things - a pivotal theme in my debut novel.
So where does inspiration come into all of this?
Firstly, let's talk music...
Before we spoke voice-to-voice, Avellina and I exchanged messages online and discovered that on top of all of our obvious commonalities in the world of authorship, we are also both folk musicians, sparking her to send me some links to music artists that inspired her whilst writing her Robin Hood debut.
The initial song she sent me was by the viking group SKALD, followed by a track from Faun, Pagan Folk, and I was immediately singing rainbows as there have been many times where I’ve had them both on in the background whilst I’m typing away.
Music played a major role in Avelinna’s writing process, the sounds painting a world within her head, allowing her to reach meditative states and flow into the medieval realm. There were many musical names that popped up as a notable favorite for this project, including the Medieval Babes, John Michael Talvik, Damh the Bard, Maddy Prior, Julie Fallis and Martin Casey.
Curating playlists for a variety of moods helped to explore all of the aspects of her fictional world, but she also found solace in tuning into the Spa radio channel, a collection of atmospheric and soothing music intended for, well, you guessed it, the Spa.
“Music transcends world overlays…”
Being a musician might be to blame, however I could widely relate as when I’m in my office, AKA an enormously out of place hexagonal table in the corner of my box-sized living room, my headphones are either blasting subliminal messages to ‘beat writer’s block’, or one of the ten-billion glorious works of artistic finery that are the albums of Peter Gundry.
If you’re ever looking for the transformational soundscapes where the fairies, witches or gnomes reside, go check him out, you won’t regret it, especially if you write anything on the fantastical side.
Communion with the natural world
"Drumming has a certain level of spirituality to it."
Following on from the musical magnificences of otherworldly exploration, Avellina spoke of her connection to nature and how taking some well deserved time to step back and appreciate the land, all of the people that came before us and the other beings we share it with, has helped her to stay focused and on track with her writing goals.
One method she disclosed that I also have experience of, and vastly recommend to anybody looking for a way to stir the creative capabilities of the untapped mind, is through drumming. An ancient practice featured in many Shamanic and ancient healing traditions, the pulse, or rhythm, can help us to align with the beat of the Earth and relax our consciousness in a way that enables the exploration of previously hidden, creativity-harbouring states.
"You can't write as an island"
Weaving human interaction into depictions of fictional characters
As memorable and invigorating as every second of our conversation was, Aveillina’s finest point was the one that emulsified all of the compartments within my brain into one big lump of gobsmacked. Her biggest source of inspiration can not be pinned to a figment of somebody else's imagination, nor can it be found through time spent alone.
It is through observation and heart-centred connection to those around her that Avellina finds her biggest motivator and spark of ingenuity, and with her work being heavily dialogue driven, she says that there is no better way to infuse her stories with reality than to include it.
“Watching others talk and talking to friends is a big help, as the dialogue flows naturally.”
As a Sci-fi writer, it’s an area I’ve always been aware of but haven’t paid attention to in the way I probably should have. My eyes and ears are always on the prowl for the next big conspiracy or abstract theory that’s bound to stir up a few cobwebs at the back of my brain, but share very little with the day to day of modern life.
The chances of stumbling upon any real-world conversational topics that share any relevance to my fictional worlds are rather slim, therefore, taking inspiration directly from the way others speak has been one to skip my radar in a vicious cycle.
But I was looking at it the wrong way!
By speaking with Avellina, it’s been solidified in my mind that it’s not about where my story is set, my characters could be fighting off giant sock-puppets on planet Whatevermabob, or navigating a post-apocalyptic Earth, it doesn’t matter as the language they speak holds massive irrelevance. The focus should be on the way they speak it…
The nuances in behaviour and expression;
A slight crookedness to an otherwise perfect smile, revealing a shadowed discontempt.
The movement of emotions & their associated body language;
A hurtling anger displayed by galavanting fists or aggressive jerks of movement.
An individual's patterns of speech and their psychological influences;
A droney, monotonous tone that sounds as painful as the experiences its owner has suffered.
People Watching: who would have thought a common pastime you often find yourself with no other option other than to indulge in would prove itself to be so indescribably valuable?
The only threshold guardian we must face is ourselves.
Another thing that struck me significantly was Avellina mentioning that she rarely suffers from writer's block, the most noticeable times being when she finds herself unable to move on from one project in order to start another.
Usually, I’m on a similar level and writer's block is so far down the list of things that prevent me from writing to my fullest capacity that I barely notice it nowadays, and when I do, I’m armed with a list of strategies, most of which can be linked to the ideas covered above. Which leads me to speculating…
Has that got something to do with myself and Avellina’s shared grounds for finding inspiration?
Maybe, but maybe not.
When it comes to the ins and outs of the expansion of ideas, no two writers will be the same. It's an individual journey with a multitude of paths, intensities and levels, all of which will produce different results depending on the traveller. What works wonders for Avellina and I might not scratch the surface for you and that’s absolutely okay, in fact, it’s grand. It means the jot of creativity that flames inside you, waiting to be unleashed amongst your characters and their world, is uniquely yours.
So go and find it.
If the work of Avellina and Fellowship & Fairydust interest you, you can find out more here.
Written for The Plottery
F. Abika, otherwise known as the hopeful dystopian, is a neurodivergent, all-round creative from Brighton, UK. Born with a head stuck in a realm that doesn’t exist, F has had her head stuck in a screen ever since the moment she was old enough to turn one on. Creative writing has always been an escape from a world that lacked the ability to understand a mind such as hers and after a lifetime of dilly-dallying around future pathways, she has finally settled and is working towards her debut novel Ethereall, the first of a trilogy.