Transcript for The Trickster's Hat - Nick Bantock

Anne Strainchamps: In the early 90s artist and writer Nick Bantock redefined what a book could be with the hugely successful Griffin and Sabine trilogy. The books are mysterious stories told, in part, through letters and postcards and collages. Bantock also teaches a popular workshop on creativity as mischief making, and he's just assembled his favorite exercises into a book featuring his trademark collages and an unusual muse. Steve Paulson talks with him.

Steve Paulson: Your book is called The Trickster's Hat and the trickster is kind of like our tour guide through all of the creative exercises in the book. Who exactly is the trickster?

Nick Bantock: Well, the trickster appears throughout many cultures in society. He's a mischievous character that is liable to tie your boot laces together or trip you up or knock your coffee cup off when you're not looking, anything that he can do to encourage you towards being more self aware and embracing life with all its potential.

Paulson: So kind of knocking you out of your routines, I guess.

Bantock: Definitely. One of the biggest problems of the creative path for people who are professional or semiprofessional is that they get stuck in ruts and one of the things that tricksters are very good is nudging you from a backsided direction and knocking you into a different path that is more fruitful.

Paulson: Was there a particular time or a moment when the trickster became especially important to you personally?

Bantock: I think he's always been there. I don't think I was conscious of him in that form, but he's such an essential part of archetypal structure that it's almost as though he's always trying to break through our peripheral vision, but if we're too trapped in some colluded perception of a single reality we don't allow him in.

Paulson: So do you consciously try to call up the trickster when you're doing something creative? Do you try to create situations where the trickster appears?

Bantock: No, the door is permanently open now for me, what I try and do though is to not rely on the notion of the muse. I prefer that Spanish concept of duende where you make yourself into a culvert through which the fire or energy or enthusiasm or curiosity of creativity can come through, so it's less about ego and far more about developing your craft and then making yourself available to just see what happens apart from anything else. It's so much more exciting.

Paulson: So what's wrong with the muse?

Bantock: There's nothing wrong with the muse but if you have to sit around and wait for the muse's whim, which may or may not come or may disappear for 30 years, you're not going to be an ongoingly creatively person. You also want to have the sense that you have choice.

Paulson: Yeah. Now, you are probably best known for your groundbreaking and bestselling Griffin and Sabine books from the early 1990s, and for those of our listeners who are not familiar with those books, can you tell us a bit about them?

Bantock: It's a correspondence between two people, one who lives in London, one who lives in the South Seas. Griffin, the guy, lives in London. He's never really sure at first who Sabine is. In fact, the whole premise of the story is, for a long time we don't actually know if she exists. The physical form of the book is a series of postcards and envelopes where the letters are actually inside the envelopes. So as you turn the page you can get a chance to read someone else's mail. It's highly voyeuristic in that sense. It's very pictorial. It's a romance. It's a metaphysical journey. It's in alchemical tract. But it's mostly an adventure in the love of finding yourself and finding somebody else.

Paulson: And it strikes me that one of the things that was so original about those books is you kid of pioneered this sense of interactivity before there was anything like hyperlinks on the computer. You're sort of breaking out at the bounds of what a books was supposed to be.

Bantock: Yeah, it was in many ways described as a new genre. You have to remember that it was virtually pre-email, so at that time the notions of letters and postcards was a definitive means of communication between two people at distance.

Paulson: Now, in your new book, The Trickster's Hat, you have come up with 49 creative exercises for us, and one of the things that you often recommend in these exercises is the use of collage. Why is collage so fertile for the imagination?

Bantock: It's fast. It allows people who are in some way scare of the notion of art or frightened that "I can't draw," or "I've never used paint..." it allows for a means of working that creates imagery that is both accidental and subconsciously intentional. Collage is available to anybody who finds a bunch of magazines or any paper ephemera and starts ripping them up and sticking them down. Obviously, the more you work the more it becomes complex, the notion that you put in 10,000 hours at something and you start to get reasonably good at it. That would apply to collage as well, but the real advantage of collage is you're moving forward from the second you start.

Paulson: Well, and it also takes away some of that horror of, let's say, if you're a writer, sitting down with a blank page and you've got to sort of start from scratch there. I guess you have something to work with to begin with.

Bantock: Yeah, and that leads us into the whole notion of writing and creating art and how they can feed each other. For a long time people have had a tendency to think that the words come first and then the images follow as illustrations, but in fact, if you think about nighttime activities and dreaming, it's a series of intuitive images that we're responding to. So if you can make the left side and the right side of your brain meet in some kind of marriage or harmony then both sides, the imagery and the text, can feed each other, and that's what a lot of these exercises are designed to do, is to help people become more balanced in their creative process but also very, very much to take away the notion of block because if you're working from one side and you don't know what comes next you just quickly flip to the other, take a risk, and then just go from there. In other words, it's all about trusting the process.

Paulson: Well, let's talk about a few of your specific exercises. Exercise number four: pictorial autobiography. What do you do in this?

Bantock: The idea is that we all need to tell our own life story. To sit down and write a long novel or autobiography defining our existence usually ends up in a series of self justifications. We're inevitably going to do that. So if you can get over that in about 20 minutes or half-an-hour, it actually is then going to release you to start doing something that is less self-conscious and less self-justifying. So the autobiographic exercise is a matter of telling your complete life story in a series of little images but constructed in a very, very short period of time and from found material, not from pictures of you as a little kid, but if you have to build your life story out of pages torn from a magazine or a newspaper or bits of old money or whatever it is you're using, it forces you to see your life in a different way.

Strainchamps: Nick Bantock is the author of The Trickster's Hat: A Mischievous Apprenticeship in Creativity. He spoke with Steve Paulson. If you're feeling inspired, we've got just the project for you. We're running a sci-fi flash fiction contest. It's called Three-Minute Futures. We're looking for a 500-word, hard science fiction stories set in the near future. Legendary sci-fi writer Kim Stanley Robinson will select three winners. Star Trek actress Gates McFadden will dramatize them for the radio and we will air them. For more information and to find out how to enter, visit our website,

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