Hugh Blanc is the Author of Between Bodies Lie and Louison: His Painted Words, and Co-founder i9 Films.
1. How do you define creativity and what does it mean to you?
Creativity is possibly just the expression of a unique perspective. In art, creativity tends to be about communication and sharing experiences or ideas, or sometimes just entertaining. Ultimately I think it is driven by the need to express externally something that is internal.
2. How much of your creative ability do you think is innate? Or is your creativity a skill that you have developed?
I would say it’s 50/50. There are certain predispositions to being creative and then there are environmental and experiential influences which affect them. You can be creative and then you can express your creativity in a chosen area. If you express your creativity in an area there are always ways you can learn and develop skills in that area, you develop the skills of a craft.
3. When did you realize that you wanted to express your creativity? Was it encouraged by others (e.g., parents)?
Creativity was always encouraged in my family. When I realized that I wanted to be a storyteller, initially the idea was to tell stories as films, but I wanted to write as well. So I discovered that early on. I started writing stories from about the age of 12 and from about that time I kind of felt that this was what I wanted to do. I think the time where it solidified in me that I needed to be a writer or realized it was my calling, I was probably about 17.
I always credit or blame Nabokov as a turning point influence. I’d always thought that the visuals you could achieve with film (music, visuals etc), allowed for the best storytelling. It was only when I started reading more classic literature around age 16 (Dostoevsky, Fitzgerald and especially Nabokov) I started to realize what you could do with literature that you couldn’t do with film. And being a bit of an introvert I think I liked the idea that with a novel you didn’t have to rely or necessarily interact with others. But, both appeal to me: the thing I love about film is the collaborative aspect while the thing I love about writing is the non-collaborative aspect.
4. What is your standard for evaluating your own creative work and the works of other people? Do you think that monetary rewards can be compatible with creativity in general? Are monetary rewards relevant to your own work?
I think you just kind of know when it works, when it says what you want it to say in the way that you want it to say it. I think that’s not just writing, I think that’s true of most creative forms. For example with painting, you don’t always have a crystallized idea of what the finished product is going to look like, and that’s part of the excitement of it. But you just have to sort of trust yourself to know intuitively that when it works, it’s done. For my own work, it’s intuition. For other people’s work it’s based on how it affects you, if it engages you in the way the person who created it intended it to.
I think that monetary rewards and creative success are two very different things. Monetary rewards can be compatible with creativity in general but it depends on how you look at it. If you are asking if monetary rewards infringe upon creativity, well no, I don’t think so. They can be compatible, or assist each other. In terms of the creative merit of something... if it does happen where the monetary reward matches the creative prowess of a work I think that’s pure fluke. Something can be really good but not make a lot of money or something can be poor creatively but make a lot of money. That’s par for the course. That’s normal. I don’t think that monetary reward negates creativity. But it’s not a gauge of it either.
5. Do you think your own perception and evaluation of your creative endeavours are influenced by the views of other people? What role do you think the culture that you live in plays in your creative efforts?
Yes, of course it has to be, but they don’t get the final say. The creator does. So there is definitely a weeding out effort in terms of which suggestions and criticisms you take to heart and which you don’t.
I’ve drawn a lot on that culture. In some ways it is difficult because I think the culture we have here is not one that necessarily values creativity, although it is changing. It does not see creativity itself as something that deems reward. They think that anything is pretty much creative and they trust other people to tell them what is creative and there is a small group which sort of distinguishes what is creative and what is not.
In Trinidad we don’t have many educated boards that understand what is valuable and why it is valuable. A lot of the boards that we have are based in politics. It’s like Paul Keens Douglas once said: They form these little groups and pat each other on the back and give each other awards. And we are told they are great because they got an award, but from whom? From the guy who got the award last week. We’re not conscious enough, as a people on the whole, of what is valuable in art and therefore not able to stand and look at a piece of work and say “Does this creative endeavour offer anything valuable?”
6. What do you do when you experience a creative block?
These days, I’ll read poetry or do free form writing to sort of loosen up and get the writing muscles moving. More and more I’m taking the Henry Miller approach which is: “The days you can’t create, you can work.” Just work through it.
7. How do you make the leap from a "Spark" in your head to the action you produce?
What works for me is this: I develop it and let it grow. I have the spark and then find connections to my own experiences. Usually I can draw from my own experiences but if not, most of the time I can find other things to connect me to that experience. Then I basically just write notes, look for other things to feed that spark, until I have fairly solid pieces of the puzzle and then I connect the dots. I work with themes a lot so I look at that. What is the theme I want to develop and what is the process of that.
8. Do you have any special rituals that you do in order to achieve your creative goals?
Goat sacrifice then a rooster at the end. Kidding. Lots and lots of coffee.
9. Has your creativity changed stylistically as you have matured?
Yes. I’d like to think it’s gotten better and a little more sophisticated. It’s solidified a little bit. There is a confidence in my writing style that is apparent in my second novel, Smoke Words, when compared to my first, Between Bodies Lie.
10. What has been the greatest sacrifice that you have made for your craft?
The goat again. I was really fond of the goat. The rooster not so much. But the goat, he was a good kid.
My greatest sacrifice has been financial security. I’ve always been pulled away from these stable jobs because I wanted to do other things.
11. Who or what has helped you to persevere and not quit?
My parents, my immediate family. There was a teacher in high school, Betty Smith, and a Professor in University, Christopher Dewdney, who were very encouraging. Close friends who also write and my Sunday Write Club. Being around people who have a passion for writing. The Kirkus Review of Between Bodies Lie was very encouraging. Fate.
12. Do you believe that it is important to be accepted by others as being creative or is just doing what you love to do enough to justify your work? Explain.
Just doing what you love to do. I think it’s enough to just do what you love to do. That’s what being creative is all about. It’s about expressing yourself ultimately in some form and sharing with others a part of your internal self. It is ultimately what Smoke Words is about: About coming to terms with the idea and the beauty of language and the passion that the character has for it, and the idea that it is a way of expressing your internal self, of sharing your internal self with others, and at the same time understanding that what you are communicating is such an unclear thing - the internal self.
So I don’t think that there is a need to be accepted by others as being creative. There is no specific group or creative caste that you need to appear to fit into. I don’t think that people have to perceive you as such. Or make allowances for you because they deem that to be the case. I think that you do it because you love it, and your work will speak of certain things and you will speak of certain things and they will be separate things. The acceptance part of it, I don’t know what that really means. The “I want you to like me because I’m artsy.” That’s kind of cliquish.
“The Novel is the great prose form in which an author thoroughly explores by means of experimental selves, some themes of existence.”
13. Has rejection ever affected your creative process? Explain.
Of course it has, and still does. Writing is a very personal process so any kind of rejection of it feels like a personal rejection. It is very easy to get deterred or hurt. The biggest conflict that arises when you are getting really creative (as I see it as expressing part of the self) I think that any criticism does feel like criticism of the self and that creates self doubt and self doubt is kind of the enemy of creativity in a sense. It leads you to being safe which can lead to being conformist which is the opposite direction to being creative. I think being creative is expressing something individually. It can be a shared individuality but if it is something that everyone expresses every day it loses potency. It’s not really creative because everyone is already saying that.
14. Looking at what you have created in the past, would you change anything today? Why or why not?
Interesting question. Looking at my first novel, Between Bodies Lie, I would say yes and no. On the one hand I see problems with it, I see faults and little things that could be tightened up, that could be a little smoother or work a little better. But at the same time, now that it has gone out I feel like it’s completed. I lean away from it but I am not opposed to the idea of minor changes. If Between Bodies Lie was picked up by a publishing house I might be open to tweaks.
15. Have you ever doubted your talent? If so, how did you work through your doubt?
Yes, repeatedly, constantly. I think that doubt is a natural part of creative avenues. Encouragement from others helps me work through it. The Kirkus review was a validating experience for me – receiving a positive review from one of the three major publications dedicated solely to book reviews was good. As a creative person you have to have faith in yourself as well, even though we will probably always struggle with that. It is internal and personal you see, and there is no yardstick to say if your work is creative or not. You already have the nerve or gumption to think that you have something that is similar to other people’s but at the same time unique, so there is this balance you have to find. Sometimes you reach the point where you just have to say, this is what I want to do and do it. Just be honest and throw it out there.
16. What piece of work are you most proud of? Why?
Between Bodies Lie. I’ve always wanted to write novels and it was my first novel and it got a reception that I am proud of.
17. Have you helped or mentored anyone else? Is there someone that you see that you would like to mentor?
There are people I have shared ideas with. I would be interested in possibly doing classes. When the time is right I would like the opportunity to host classes if I feel I have knowledge to share.
18. To a young Creative emerging in your field, what advice would you impart unto them?
Write. Write. Write. Try to write honestly. Read a lot. If you feel that drive to do it, then do it. Constantly try to improve. Seeing what other artists are doing is one of the best ways to develop because it helps you open up your mind and think out of the box. And from that you can cull your own Frankenstein monster out of those pieces. Add your own touch to it too, because anyone who enters into it thinking “I am going to do something that no one has ever done before”, I’m sorry; you are being naive and prepare for disappointment. The way you do it can be your own - can be unique, but that’s like saying “I’m going to have a human experience that no one has had before.” It is not possible. But all those little building blocks as they are put together by you - the particular pieces you use or don’t use, and the order in which they are put, is the combination that will make what you create unique.
19. What would you most like to be remembered for?
My sense of humour. Oh creatively? I think, in the work: a humanity to it.
20. If you were a crayon, what would be the name of your colour?