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Archive for the ‘General stuff’ Category

Today is Nottingham Pride. I’m supposed to be taking part – at Nottingham Writers’ Studio, with the Rainbow Writers group. But for one reason or another, that’s not going to happen. It’s a shame, but they’ll be fine without me. If you’re reading this today (Saturday July 26th) before 6pm, you might want to get yourself down there to have a tarot reading with a difference, and listen to (or possibly perform in) the open mic event. There will be tea and cake.

So, pride. What do I feel proud of? My kids. My wonderful, funny, clever, loving young men, who’ve grown up tall and strong and kind and thoughtful. Do they need direction in their lives? Yes, of course they do. They’re 19 and 21, trying to find their way in this world that puts pressures on kids that they can’t be expected to bear. Should they pull their fingers out, focus, become responsible members of society? Yes, I guess so. But they’re getting there, on their terms, and I’m immensely proud of them.

I also feel proud of the work I do these days. When I worked as a software developer making programs that helped marketing departments sell more of their big companies’ products to people like me, whether or not they needed them, I went home at the end of each day with an empty feeling. Now, I’m part of Five Leaves Publications, an independent press that publishes new books and new editions of out-of-print books that ought to be out there, and Ross Bradshaw is now the happy proprietor of the first independent bookshop in Nottingham for a very long time. And I’m helping to run Nottingham Writers’ Studio, which is going from strength to strength. As part of that, I’ve co-managed the Dovetail project, been involved with getting Nottingham Festival of Words off the ground, and I’m now helping to develop a bid for Nottingham to become a UNESCO City of Literature. I go home at the end of every day with a profound sense of satisfaction.

Today’s all about celebrating the LGBT community in Nottingham. Gay Pride events have been happening all over the world for decades now… partly in reaction to a societal pressure on homosexuals to feel ashamed of their sexual preferences. But… do I feel proud that I’m gay? Not particularly. It shouldn’t be something that I have to feel anything about. It shouldn’t be something that matters one way or another. In fact, as I haven’t had a partner for a very very long time, it’s irrelevant. I don’t know… it’s all a bit confused in my head.

Emotions I’m feeling today are: sad (thanks to a hurtful email), inadequate (thanks to a migraine that’s put me so far behind with work I don’t think I’ll ever catch up), stressed (ditto), pleased (that I’ve finally managed to have a decent amount of sleep, thanks to that same migraine), relieved (that the heat is due to break tonight). The depression I’ve been battling for years, and thought I’d beaten, is creeping close to me at the moment, which brings in another emotion – fear. What if I get depressed again? I can’t bear the idea of being that miserable, that hopeless, that desperate. But I’m not going to dwell on that. I’ll just get on with my work, and when I go to sleep tonight I’ll feel proud that I’ve had the best day that I could have had. Either that, or I’ll wonder: what’s the point of my existence?

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It’s a pictorial post today.

Sky

Sky

Watch out for Pedestrains

Watch out for Pedestrains

A window

A window

Playing football

Playing football

An early riser?

An early riser?

Bad bricklaying

Bad bricklaying

Erosion

Erosion

Possibly poetry

Possibly poetry

41 Pitcher Gate

41 Pitcher Gate

One day this will be my office window

One day this will be my office window

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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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Tennis

Tennis

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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Vague assignments…

Just finished teaching for the term – last lecture on Writing Industries to second year Creative and Professional Writing students yesterday. Can’t wait to read their assignments, they’re a good bunch and have lots of great ideas. Although some of them are still a bit taken aback by the topic of the first assignment: “Write a 2000-word essay on an aspect of the writing industries.” Too vague? I don’t think so, they’re creative writers, after all.

There is nothing wrong with fun!

There is nothing wrong with fun!

Up yours, HR

Also had an interesting discussion after class with one of the mature students. The topic of the lecture was ‘the business of being a writer’ – so I talked about how to make money from writing and writing-related pursuits, and finished by telling them to make sure they have fun, whatever they do. This mature student said that coming from an HR (human resources? human remains?) background, she felt it was inappropriate to tell them to ‘have fun’, because it’s not clear what that means. She’d prefer me to say ‘enjoy what you do’. Personally, I can’t see the difference. A consultation of my Facebook friends has not enlightened me. And the more I think about it, the more I think it exemplifies a lot of what’s wrong with the corporate/capitalist/humans-as-resources mentality. Why shouldn’t people have fun at work? If you assume (as I suspect this person did) that ‘having fun’ implies frivolity… what’s wrong with that? It’s essential at some point in most work contexts. If you assume that ‘having fun’ implies slacking off, then you’re just plain wrong. The two are not in the least bit equivalent. A lot of the time I’m slacking off, I’m most definitely not having fun – I’m bored, or feeling guilty, or fed up. Not ‘having fun’. So I stand by my instruction… whatever you do for a living, make sure you have fun while you’re doing it, at least some of the time. You are not a robot. You are not a resource. You are a person. If you’re having fun, you will be more productive and more creative and more motivated.

Why I’m tired

As part of yesterday’s lecture, I talked about the possibilities of freelance and/or portfolio careers. And being a self-centred git, I talked about myself for a while – being, I think, a good example of someone with a freelance portfolio career. So to prepare for this, I wrote down a list of everything I’ve done since graduating last summer. By the time I got to the end of the list I had to sit down in a darkened room.

  1. Worked at Five Leaves 3 days a week
  2. Taught on the Creative & Prof Writing and Humanities courses at Nottingham University
  3. Typeset several anthologies
  4. Shadowed writing projects in secondary school and prison
  5. Run workshops at art galleries, prisons, schools, poetry societies, festivals
  6. Worked with schoolchildren (all ages), prisoners, college and university students, adults from many parts of the community
  7. Learned about ebooks (freelance and through Five Leaves)
  8. Produced ebooks for several writers and producers
  9. Given presentations and workshops on ebooks at festivals
  10. Run bespoke and general training courses on ebooks
  11. Published articles/essays in journals and books
  12. Published several poems in magazines
  13. Coached writers in IT skills
  14. Designed and developed a website for a bookshop
  15. Designed and typeset festival programmes, posters, and other publicity material
  16. Volunteered at Southwell Poetry Festival
  17. Helped set up Beeston Poets – a series of readings by well-known poets at Beeston Library
  18. Gained an industry-recognised qualification in proofreading
  19. Proofread several PhD theses
  20. Copy-edited and proofread a non-fiction book (about to be published)
  21. Obtained EU funding for and am managing a creative writing project with partners in Nottingham, Karlsruhe and Budapest
  22. Elected board member of Nottingham Writers’ Studio
  23. Elected committee member of Nottingham Poetry Society
  24. Active member of steering committee for Nottingham Festival of Words
  25. Joined Society for Editors and Proofreaders
  26. Joined National Association for Writers in Education

I think it’s reasonable for me to take a bit of a break…

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It’s Mother’s Day in the UK. I have had a lovely lazy day, being waited on hand and foot, relaxing and pampering myself.

Hahaha!

OMG, I'm a mum! How did that happen?Actually, it’s not so far from the truth. I went to bed early last night and had a good night’s sleep. Got up at a relatively civilised time this morning to find a beautiful card waiting for me, opened said card, and thus started the day with a smile. No sign of kids till lunchtime, so took the opportunity to get on with lots of work-type things I’m normally too busy to catch up with. Felt a craving for cake, so did the Sainsbury’s shopping that I’ve been putting off for days. Got back at gone 1pm to find there was still no sign of male lifeforms in the house… was half-way through unpacking the shopping when Simon (#1 son) returned from a fruitless quest for maple syrup, gave me a hug and told me to go and sit down while he finished putting the shopping away. Then he cooked us lovely lunch of eggybread and bacon (he had planned to do american pancakes, but that’s no good without maple syrup), and Blake (#2 son) and I watched the utterly ridiculous Land of the Lost. We also ate cake. I’ve spent a pleasant afternoon doing more work-type stuff, and I think I shall have a similarly pleasant evening. Which might involve more cake, and possibly beer. Or wine. And I might phone my mother…

Happy Mother’s Day indeed!

This is a pome wot I wrote a while back…

blakeandsimonSomething of Nothing

Nothing is not
         sugar, butter, eggs and flour
         a stout mixing bowl
         25 minutes at 180°

it’s not
         bricks and mortar
         floors and ceilings
         four good-sized bedrooms

not
         a block of marble
         a mallet and a chisel
         the body in the stone

not         words
     especially
     not    words.

You and I
        unsettled ghosts
you cannot rest
        a comforting hand
        on my shoulder
I cannot find
        passion
        on your lips

yet somehow
we made our sons
of nothing
and    oh

    they are
        something.

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