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Nottingham’s second Festival of Words will take place in October this year. It will be a celebration of the spoken and written word, as well as a key part of the city’s bid to become a UNESCO City of Literature – keep an eye on that website, which will fill up at an alarming rate over the next couple of months!

Sarah Dale – a great force for literature and all things good in Nottingham – has kicked off a blog-hop to celebrate the Festival. You can read her opening blogpost here. She passed the baton to Pam McIlroy and Andrew Kells, and Andrew kindly passed it on to me. When I’ve finished answering the questions I’ll be nudging Rachel Phillips and Nicki Hastie to carry on the good work.

What’s your connection with Nottingham and its written and spoken words?
I’ve loved Nottingham ever since I came here to university in 1984. How could you not love a city that has a memorial plaque to Xylophone Man? Rosie Garner’s poem is a perfect example of how the written and spoken word pervades the city. But enough about Nottingham. More about me. I’m the Development Director for Nottingham Writers’ Studio, and I also work for Five Leaves Publications and occasionally for Five Leaves Bookshop, the first independent bookshop in Nottingham this millenium. I’m currently working with a large group of people to put in a bid for Nottingham to become a UNESCO City of Literature. And sometimes I’ve even been known to write some stuff.

What do you love about Nottingham and its creative scene right now?
Mainly, that it’s happening anywhere and everywhere. I just had a look round the Surface Gallery on Friday, just across the road from the Writers’ Studio… they’ve got 24 local street artists painting the wall of the bus station in the alley behind the gallery… and some amazing artists inhabiting their studios… and I didn’t even know it existed till a couple of months ago! They’re keen to get a writer in residence, and I’m sure we’ll make something happen. That’s just one example of collaboration between the myriad facets of grass-roots creative activity that are happening all over the city. It’s almost too exciting!

How would you describe Nottingham to a visitor coming to the Festival of Words?
A city full of surprises, a city full of enthusiasm and friendliness, a city full of literature and art. A city you’ll never want to leave.

That’s me done. Time to hand over to the next pair of hoppers. Nicki and Rachel, it’s up to you!

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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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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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Beeston Poets 2012 season flyer

I designed this over the weekend. Three things:

1. Tickets will be available very very soon. Probably tomorrow. Definitely by the end of the week. Buy them.

2. I’d love to hear what you think of the poster, design-wise. Any critiques gratefully received. Trying to get the hang of this graphic design lark.

3. This particular Beeston Poets elf is VERY VERY EXCITED about the whole project!

In other news…

Got lots of work on at the moment. Good job I can survive on 4 hours sleep for a couple of weeks. Caffeine addiction has firmly re-established itself.

Nottingham Festival of Words is taking shape, slowly but surely. I’ve volunteered to design the programme and they’ve accepted my offer. Whoop whoop! If you haven’t done so yet, sign up to the mailing list, like the FB page, and mark 9th-24th Feb 2013 in your diary. Oh, and don’t forget to sign up for the Festival launch, which will be at Antenna on September 12th, and is free.

And… tomorrow I’m off to prison.

Behind bars - and not the sort that sells beer

Yep…

Prison.

I’m going to a meeting to discuss a creative writing project at Sudbury Open Prison, where I’ll be shadowing someone and will have the chance to run a workshop with prisoners. What fun!

Lots of other stuff happening. But if I wrote about all of it you’d get bored and I’d get even less sleep.

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Meet Brother Capslock

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I went to London yesterday, just to keep an eye on the boss… this is what he got up to.

I was given charge of Five Leaves’ new camcorder, and this is my first ever youtube video… I obviously have a lot to learn, but I’m quite pleased that it’s watchable.

From Revolution to Repression event flyerFive Leaves was launching its newest book, From Revolution to Repression: Soviet Yiddish Writing 1917-1952 at an event commemorating the execution of 13 members of the Soviet Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee by Stalin’s regime. Five of those murdered were writers, who are represented in the book alongside other notable Soviet Yiddish writers.

The event was fascinating, even though I know next to nothing about Soviet Yiddish writers and the social, political and historical context of the time. I know a bit more now… and am greatly looking forward to reading the book.

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So, I’m in Dorset. This is Syd, my mum’s ram, with one of this year’s ram-lambs. You might think the grin on Syd’s face is pride in his offspring, but no…

Lamb-ram and daddy-ram

Father and son


… he’s widening his nostrils as far as possible so he can smell the hormones emanating from the ewes in the next field. There’s lots of frustration going on in the rams’ field at the moment. One of the ram-lambs seems to have decided to shag anything with four legs. I expect Mum’s land is full of traumatised rabbits and badgers at the moment.

Barrington CourtToday we went to Barrington Court. It’s a splendid Tudor house with beautiful gardens and grounds. Most of the window glass is warped, giving some great visual effects (which I spectacularly failed to capture).

Barrington Court - panelled roomMany of the rooms are oak-panelled. Much of the panelling is plain, but some is beautifully carved. The floors are all boarded with oak too, and several of the rooms have ornately carved stone fireplaces.

Dodecahedral sundialThis is the best sundial I’ve ever seen. It’s a dodecahedron, and every side (except the top and bottom) is a working timepiece. Of course, the sun wasn’t out while we were there, so I couldn’t test it.

Four-up privy in cattle shedsI was delighted to find this four-up privy stashed in the cattle sheds. The sheds themselves are quite posh, with a tiled roof, stone floors and individual stalls, each with its own gate.

As delightful as the house and gardens are, the best part of the visit for me was the coconut chocolate brownies in the cafe Antony Gormley’s Field for the British Isles. While I’ve seen photos of the 40,000 small terracotta sculptures in huge rooms, I think the effect is probably just as intense when the pieces are crammed into three smaller rooms of an Elizabethan manor house.

Field for the British Isles at Barrington Court

We had explored the house, moving through rooms which used to be bedrooms, libraries, bathrooms, sitting rooms, kitchens, laundry rooms… many of those rooms were bare, and as a result somehow more evocative of the centuries the house has lived through than if the National Trust had ‘interpreted’ them by cramming them full of artefacts. After going down a narrow wooden staircase we had to wait a little while, then we were allowed to look at the first of the three rooms. The incongruity of those Elizabethan rooms full of tiny terracotta figures was almost a physical shock.

Each figure is small enough to hold in one hand. Each is roughly person-shaped. And each has two eyes, poked into the clay with a pencil. Apart from that, they are all different. Most are around six inches high, some are taller, a few are smaller. I guess there were about 13,000 of them in the first room, placed tight close to each other so the floor isn’t visible, and all the eyes are pointing forwards.

All looking at me. Waiting. Expecting. I felt like I should know what they wanted, but I didn’t. I went right up close and knelt on the floor… somehow they seemed to multiply as I got down to their level, their silent voices became more insistent. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a piece of art that actively (passively?) demands so much from its audience. Need to think a bit more about it. Want to go and see it again (but not going to pay another tenner to do so).

Now I’m sitting in front of the tv, sipping mead and eating alcoholic fudge, with lamb curry and bread-and-butter pudding digesting nicely inside me, watching the news after seeing Usain Bolt get a gold medal for trotting along a track for less than 10 seconds…

It’s lovely being on holiday.

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I'm going to see the sheep!

I’m going to see the sheep!

I’m going to make some resolutions for my holiday:

  • I will spend at least two days without connecting to the internet (if you see me on Facebook on Thursday or Friday, slap me).
  • I will get into the habit of writing every day (need to establish the habit).
  • I will not worry about how overweight and unfit I am until I get home (want to fully enjoy Mum’s wonderful cooking).
  • I will not spend more than an hour a day working (I’d like to not work at all, but that’s not going to happen).

I never thought I’d end up being a workaholic. But then I was never passionate about my work when I was in IT.

 

This is what I’ve been doing over the last few days.

 

The Bookcase, LowdhamWorking on a new website for The Bookcase in Lowdham. I’m very excited about this project – Jane Streeter wants to make a website that reflects the shop itself, including aspects of the service they give in person and giving a feel for the atmosphere of this perfect example of what an independent bookshop should be.

 

Draft programme for the Nottingham Festival of WordsSorting out the programme for the Nottingham Festival of Words. It’s going to be amazing, awesome, fantastic, brilliant… I know I keep banging on about this, but honestly, it is going to be EPIC. I’m a bit worried that I’m going to mess it up, but I honestly think we’ve got so many top-quality events that even I can’t blow it!

 

Nottingham and Leicester Poetry Society members at the Huw Watkins memorial eventAttending and reading at a special Nottingham Poetry Society meeting to commemorate the life and work of Huw Watkins, who died earlier this year. I never knew Huw, but I know by reading his poetry that I would have liked him. David Duncombe asked me to read Huw’s poem ‘Heifers’ – having spent much of my childhood years living right next to a field that was always full of cows, I can testify that Huw totally understood the beasts. We had a great audience and heard many beautiful poems.

 

The Heroes anthologyToday the proof arrived of an anthology I’ve typeset for the Nottingham Writers’ Studio’s ‘Heroes’ project. Richard Goodson and Natasha Picot worked with groups of young people from diverse backgrounds, which resulted in some amazing poetry and stories, not to mention colourful and inspiring pictures. It was a pleasure to design the anthology and help put it together, and I’m very pleased with the result.

 

Let the Blood RunOver the weekend I worked on a script for a graphic story that Emily Cooper is going to illustrate – we’ve submitted the proposal to Brick’s new project, which is called ‘Drawing from Distress to Recovery’ – an anthology of graphic stories about mental health problems. I hope our proposal (gorily entitled ‘Let the Blood Run’) is accepted, because I’m looking forward to working with Emily. She’s so talented…

 

… and lots of other stuff too. I love my life. Just got to find a way to work some more writing time into it!

Oh, and I somehow ended up watching the Olympic opening ceremony. I loved the cauldron, and the bouncing punks. I wanna be a bouncing punk.

Bouncing Punks

How could you NOT want to be a bouncing punk?

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