Archive for July, 2013

What is the Old Bat on about?

A few months ago, an artist friend contacted me to discuss ideas for writer-artist collaboration. She’s a member of a group of artists who all graduated from the brilliant Fine Art degree programme at the University of Nottingham (which, shamefully, the University has closed down) – the group calls themselves Untitled.

One thing led to another, and we have now formed a group that includes Untitled artists and Nottingham Writers’ Studio writers. We had our first meeting last week, and came up with all sorts of interesting questions. The first question was, “What should we call the group?”… hence Untitled/Anonymous.

Image of an extract from A Humument by Tom Phillips

Extract from ‘A Humument’ by Tom Phillips

Other questions, to which I don’t yet have but am greatly looking forward to finding answers, include:

How are the processes of writing and making art similar and different?
One of the most interesting aspects of the discussion was finding out about each others’ processes. I hadn’t thought before about how writing and art are similar – you have an idea, skirt around it for a while, make sketches or write drafts, start to make the real thing, edit-edit-edit, produce ‘completed work’… we didn’t get into how the processes are different, but I’m sure more observations on this will arise during the collaboration.

What does the use of ‘cross-media’ do to a finished piece of visual/textual work?
i.e. not just combining words with visual elements, we can use the other senses too, including audio components and textures for instance. How will this affect the work we produce? How can we collaborate to find innovative ways of combining artistic elements?

How does the concept of narrative affect our work?
Narrative is an important concept for most people in the group – how a finished work contains and creates narrative, but also how narrative is inherent in most objects in the world. It’s obvious how narrative is contained in most writing, but how does it feature in visual art? and how can we find it in our surroundings and represent that in cross-media art?

I’m excited about the work this group will produce, I’m sure it’ll be fascinating, whichever direction it takes us in. I’ll keep you informed…

More about What Writing Is

Image of tape measure and steel ruleI enjoyed the exercise I wrote about in a recent blog post so much, that I tried it with the Nottingham Dovetail group. And they came up with some wonderful metaphors, which you can read here. My favourite keeps changing, but the current one is:

Writing is like a tailor’s measuring tape when you need a carpenter’s metal yard, when you need the stiff manageable steel that lays on ANYTHING flat. You have a floppy reel of cloth that falls off everything and is only tidy when it is rolled up in itself rendering it useless for its actual purpose. by Joêl Daniel

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They say that clichés are shortcuts for ideas or metaphors we all understand because they’ve been used so much. (So that makes them equivalent to words, doesn’t it? but let’s not get into semiotics. that’s not why I’m here.) They’re also often irritating, not-useful, and upsetting. For instance, you’re walking down the street just after your best friend has told you she’s got cancer, and a well-meaning stranger says, “Cheer up, it might never happen.” How is that ever going to help?

Not a place of fond memories...

Not a place of fond memories…

One thing people said to me a lot when I was made redundant five years ago was, “Oh, that happened to so-and-so, she was devastated at the time but later she said it’s the best thing that ever happened to her.” I repeat, how is that ever going to help? It certainly didn’t help me. I was recovering from a particularly bad bout of depression, had only recently bought a new house that probably cost more than I could afford, and I didn’t have much chance of finding another job. I was sure redundancy was not going to improve my life. I signed on for jobseekers’ allowance and desperately tried to find work. No go. No-one was interested in a middle-manager with out-of-date technical skills when the economic crisis had just started to bite.

My preferred definition of "redundant" (from Merriam-Webster)

My preferred definition of “redundant” (from Merriam-Webster)

It’s been a hell of a struggle getting to where I am now… but I can honestly say I’m happy. Not financially secure by any stretch of the imagination, and I work twice as hard as I ever did at the company which employed me for over a decade, but that stinking cliché turned out to be true. I enjoy my work more than I ever thought it was possible to enjoy work. I don’t just work to live any more, and that feels good.

I was sitting in Broadway last week, waiting to meet a friend, and I happened to bump into an ex-colleague – someone who joined the company around the same time as I did, and who’s still there now. It was lovely to see him, but intensely depressing to hear that everything there is almost exactly the same as it was when I left.

  • Short-term gain overriding long-term planning every time – “yes, it might make us millions in the long run if we do it properly, but if we don’t make any profit on it this financial year you can’t do it.”
  • Sales-driven development – “yes, I heard you say you can’t produce that piece of software in two months, but I’ve told the client that’s when they can have it so that’s when you’ll have to produce it by.”
  • Constant undervaluing of technical skills – “you don’t need trained programmers, the data developers know how to write SQL, you can get them to knock up a quick C# program, and they’re cheaper.”
  • Macho bullshit everywhere – “what do you mean you don’t understand that particular bit of sales jargon? I couldn’t possibly demean myself by explaining it to you…” Meaningless work – “so the products we provide simply help marketing executives target their adverts and campaigns more successfully, making loads of money for already super-rich tax-avoiding corporations and their fat-cat bosses, so what? isn’t that what we should all aspire to do?”

In a microcosm, that’s what seems to me to be wrong with the country, and with the whole of Western-style capitalism. It makes me so angry. People aren’t people, they’re resources to be used, and if they’re useless as resources they’re useless as people. What sort of system is that? A crap one, that’s what.

But, it also makes me very very grateful that they chucked me out of that world that was destroying me, enabling me to find a world that nurtures and supports and fulfils me. The cliché turned out to hold true in my case. But that still doesn’t mean it was any use to me at the time.

Not sure why I wrote this post, but it’s been on my mind. Make of it what you will.

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Not quite sure how this has happened. I don’t watch tennis. I don’t really care whether Murray wins or not. That Djokovic has just broken serve in the second set has provoked no reaction in me whatsoever. In fact, I think they’re idiots, running around in this weather…

The grass is cut to 8mm here.

Gosh, really? Every single blade of it?

The excuses

There are many things I should be doing. And I’ve been using the length of that list to avoid writing blog posts. Of course, it doesn’t mean I avoid doing other stuff, like watching the sodding tennis. The idea was that those lovely young men would rush around in the background while I got on with a couple of ebooks, or perhaps hacked away at the Five Leaves website. Instead, I have eaten a bag of Sainsbury’s Dolly Mixture and completed a puzzle on Jigsaw World.

Oh yes, Murray’s father is sitting next to his mother. Glad to see they haven’t had a domestic.

D’you know what, I can’t be bothered with excuses. I haven’t been blogging because I’ve been busy and tired. So there.

The news

The NWS Goblin

The NWS Goblin

I am now a goblin as well as an elf. Robin Vaughan-Murray has left Nottingham Writers’ Studio… and guess who’s gone and got his job? Well, you probably already know, because I haven’t exactly kept quiet about it. SO exciting! Today, NWS, tomorrow, the world! (Except Robin will probably get there first – he’s left very big shoes to fill and is now down in That London doing Remarkable Things.) So, why a goblin? Because I’m definitely not a pixie, of course! Obvious when you know.

A nice skinny one with not too much fluff

(they’re talking about BALLS, you fool!)*

So, Ms Goblin, what did you do yesterday?

The Rights of the Writer (extract)

The Rights of the Writer (extract)

Apart from sleeping, I spent a morning at NWS (busman’s holiday) with a delightful group of teachers, doing some writing. Jane Bluett and Sheila Hubbard are starting a group under the aegis of the National Writing Project – “a collection of groups of writing teachers extended by an online environment and supported by NATE, the National Association for the Teaching of English.” The idea is that if you teach children and you expect them to write, you should write yourself. It’s a program that’s been running in the US since 1974 with a great deal of success. Simon Wrigley and Jeni Smith, who came along and led some exercises yesterday, have set up a similar program in the UK, and I am very happy that a group is forming in Nottingham. They will meet once every half-term and do some writing exercises, which will lead to discussion and reflection to help inform their teaching practice. I hope the NWS can support this worthwhile enterprise…

I wrote something I’d like to share with you. The exercise was to take an object and use it as an extended metaphor for writing. I chose at random, and ended up with a toy car.

Small red plastic toy carWriting is like a tiny plastic red car. It has wheels that are a bit stiff, you can push it along and it goes, reluctantly, where you want it to go. There’s no steering wheel, no delicate system of hydraulics that allows you to point it towards your goal with the merest touch of your hand. Steering is achieved by brute force. You really have to push.

Then you discover that if you do something counter-intuitive, say, like holding it down and dragging it backwards, it builds up a momentum all of its own, and you can simply let it go and try to keep up. It might not go where you think it will, it might go round in circles for a while and then shoot off in a totally unexpected direction, but that’s what brings a smile to your face.

You don’t know what happens inside the tiny plastic red car. There’s some mechanism that stores the energy gained from going backwards and releases it in a forwards direction. Someone, somewhere, designed that mechanism. Someone else put it together. You, all you can do, is pull back, then let go, and see what happens.

I’m getting excited

(Boris Becker, in a very sexy voice)

Silly game, this

(Andrew Castle, not in a sexy voice)

*(TENNIS balls, you twit!)

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