In the beginning, there was only green. Green and green and nothing more: the green haze of meadows; long leaf-green summer days; the glass green of a pool. In spring the trees were electric. The hedgerows flashed past me behind glass, bending away into nothing. There was only the endless green of the garden, blurring before me as far as the eye could see.
But I don’t want it to begin this way. The beginning ought to be so much more spectacular. This is our Big Opening, after all, so surely there should be fireworks, a band striking up, velvet curtains swishing open with a flourish? I want the shimmering of strings as the opening titles roll and we descend from above in a pool of light, a shower of glitter and confetti. The wave of a magic wand, the silver clash of cymbals, a puff of smoke, a cosmic explosion. The heavens and earth rising out of chaos as we slide out of the void and burst into being in tiaras, feather boas and sequinned shoes. The wave of our hands – hello there! we’ve made it! – and trumpets sounding out a triumphant ta da!
But perhaps there were no fireworks. Perhaps instead we came to life quietly, awaking first in the garden. Say it all happened slowly, amongst the roses that bled fat petals into our empty hands, with mossy grass between our toes. Or maybe it began the bare room, beneath the cold ticking of the clock on the wall, far from the green of the garden. Some sleight of hand and here we are: perhaps after all the end is where we start from.
Back to the start. Stop. Rewind. In the beginning there was green and only green. I’m going back through the gate, down the path, back to the beginning. I’m telling you how it really happened: with distant voices, and laughter. High summer again and the garden callow, viridescent. The garden is green and green and nothing more and I am lost again the long grass, where the lawn slopes away towards the still lake shore.
[Read Part 2/Part 3]
It has been a very busy week or two. It’s been one of those times when I suspect I might be a bit mad even attempting to have a full-time job at the same time as studying for an MA. On the other hand, though, it’s also been a really varied and interesting couple of weeks, so I can’t really complain too much.
Anyway, I will shortly be heading down to That London for a few days, but first, here are a few things I wanted to post – a quick round-up of news:
Apartment is closing its doors… The unique exhibition space in a council tower block flat, co-curated by Hilary Jack and Paul Harfleet will close its programme with a show by Giorgio Sadotti entitled ‘PAUL, PAUL IS THE ART’. The show runs until 2nd April and viewing is by appointment – check it out while you have the chance!
Throughout March, look out for the project If you read this, I’ll give it to you by artist Katya Sander throughout the public spaces of Manchester and Salford. Thousands of pin-badges bearing the statement “If you read this, I’ll give it to you (but then you must wear it too)” are moving through the cities, travelling from person to person. Badges will be available at sites within the city, and can be taken from anyone you see wearing them. The project is part of Whose Cosmopolitanism? a series of public events to launch the Research Institute for Cosmopolitan Cultures (RICC) at the University of Manchester which has also included events with visiting speakers such as David Harvey and Jacqueline Rose.
The Other Xeno-epistemic is an interesting event coming up at A Foundation on Friday 20 March. The event is part of TAXED, A Foundation’s series of events designed by locally-based artists which explore the power of imitation, and “art’s capacity to import other people’s ideas, to shamelessly replicate successful existing models, to beggar belief with its flagrant piracy!” This event has been literally “taxed” from a workshop by Sarat Maharaj at Test Site, Rooseum, Malmö in 2002, and involves a “sideways” reading of a chapter from Deleuze & Guttari’s A Thousand Plateaus. Participants are each assigned a footnote to research in advance, and will come together to discuss their findings and ideas, resulting in what Maharaj describes as “the kind of crazy-paving reading that makes [artists] ‘dodgy’ from the ‘doctoral’ point of view”. You can read more here, including details of how you can participate and view the results!
Nominations for this year’s Best of Manchester Awards are now open. There are categories for art, music and fashion (though sadly not for writing) so get nominating all your talented friends and neighbours!
And coming soon… Artyarn will be artists in residence at Contact throughout April and May as part of the AIRprogramme. As well as workshops and yarn bombing, they plan to produce a new piece of work, the Knitting Orchestra – an experimental sound piece produced directly from the act of knitting.
Take a look at the new Preston Writing Network
which aims to “put Preston’s diverse and vibrant literary culture on the map,” promoting and developing new writing in Preston through on-line activity and a programme of workshops, live literature and more. The network is the writing strand of They Eat Culture, a new arts development company run from the Continental
Arts Space in Broadgate, and there’s more information about how to get involved or submit work to the blog here
Please find ZigZag!
is a storytelling project launched by Litfest
and writer David Gaffney
. If you should happen to be in Lancaster, look out for a series of mysterious lost cat posters appearing around the city centre. These stories form the first part of a three-part story of unrequited love set in and around the Storey Institute.
You can read more online by checking out both characters blogs – Fern
– though really, half the fun of this story is how it unravels in real time in the public spaces of Lancaster in a distinctly non-digital format.
Do check out Bewilderbliss, a new literary magazine dedicated to “new words from new writers” which showcases the poetry and prose of Manchester University and MMU postgraduate creative writing students. You can buy the brand new first issue (the theme is ‘The Guilty’) from the Cornerhouse foyer bookshop where I hear you can also get hold of Belle Vue, another new zine I’m hearing good things about from reliable sources (see here and here). I’m loving all this DIY publishing action going on at the moment!
Kate from The Manchizzle is organising a get-together for Manchester Bloggersat Centro on Tuesday (10 March). I plan to be there, and will be wearing my name-tag with pride!
On a similar blog-related note… I am astonished by the wealth of great new Manchester blogs I keep coming across at the moment – it feels like I discover one practically every day. If you want a good read, may I point you in the direction of Equine Obesity, Mithering Times and Blunt Fringe just for starters? And whatever you do, don’t miss Emily Powell’s My Shitty Twenties which is absolutely brilliant.
…I was reading somewhere recently that you should never write a blog post longer than a paragraph or two because people get bored and don’t bother reading it. That’s a rule I absolutely fail to observe on this blog, and I have certainly broken it very conclusively today. If you’re still with me, well done you. And you’ll probably be relieved to hear that I’ve now finished.
The second edition of the excellent Manchester Review includes an interview by MJ Hyland with Irish novelist Colm Toíbín in which he somewhat controversially claims there is “no pleasure” to be found in the process of writing:
Oh, there’s no pleasure. Except that I don’t have to work for anyone who bullies me. I write with a sort of grim determination to deal with things that are hidden and difficult and this means, I think, that pleasure is out of the question. I would associate this with narcissism anyway and I would disapprove of it.
Toíbín’s response, which was picked up by the Guardian on Monday, fascinates me precisely because personally, I couldn’t feel more different. I don’t think there’s any way I would ever write anything if I didn’t love the process of writing. Narcissistic or not, like Will Self – one of nine writers surveyed by the Guardian in response to Toíbín – I find the whole experience of writing enormously enjoyable: “the mechanics of writing, the dull timpani of the typewriter keys, the making of notes – many notes – and most seductive of all: the buying of stationery.” Maybe it’s because I don’t do it for a living – or maybe it’s because of the kind of writing I do – but unlike Amit Chaudri, who believes “writing novels is no fun; nor is, generally speaking, reading novels” – for me writing (and reading for that matter, novels more than anything else) has always been a source of uncomplicated pleasure.
In fact, just thinking about this makes me sorry that I seem to do so little writing of fiction these days – I struggle to find either the time or the imaginative space to give to it. But I do miss writing more regularly and consistently, for the sheer experience far more than any actual ‘outcomes’. What I miss is the utterly self-indulgent pleasure of what A.L. Kennedy describes as “making something out of nothing, overturning the laws of time and space, building something for strangers just because you think they might like it, and hours of absence from self.”
Of course, I don’t pretend that writing – and especially writing fiction – isn’t hugely difficult. In fact, it’s often a fraught process, with all the pitfalls that Hari Kunzu pinpoints “self-disgust, boredom, disorientation and a lingering sense of inadequacy, occasionally alternating with episodes of hysterical self-congratulation as you fleetingly believe you’ve nailed that particular sentence and are surely destined to join the ranks of the immortals, only to be confronted the next morning with an appalling farrago of clichés that no sane human could read without vomiting.” But it’s exactly that sense of a challenge, of problems to be overcome, of seemingly insurmountable obstacles in your path that makes writing fulfilling – and thus (or perhaps I’m just a masochist!) also ultimately enjoyable.
Consequently, I was surprised how many of the novelists in the Guardian’s survey appeared to agree with Toíbín, some even claiming they were simply in it for the cold, hard cash – though amongst the wealth of negative voices, Self and Julie Myerson (“Writing gives me enormous pleasure…it’s a joyous thing”) provided welcome relief.
However, I have to say that I am tempted to take all of their responses with a pinch of salt – for as Joyce Carol Oates herself rather perspicaciously reminds us, D.H. Lawrence tells us to trust the tale and not the teller. Ultimately one can’t help suspecting that these writers are simply entering into a process of self-mythologising, consciously or unconsciously believing they should uphold the stereotype of the “tortured artist.” Of course everyone’s different, and my experience isn’t necessarily true for everyone, but I do wonder if there’s just a tiny little bit of “protesting too much” going on here.
I’d be intrigued to know what others out there make of the question of “writing for pleasure”. For those writers out there, is the process of writing something you enjoy, or is it just too fraught to be truly pleasurable? And if so – for those of us unable to command fees for our work on the Toíbín scale at least – what do you think it is that motivates us to do it at all?
I am ill again. I think I have the flu, or something flu-ish anyway. I can’t believe I am ill, yet again. Once again I’m missing all kinds of things I wanted to do, like going to this, or the opening of this new exhibition, not to mention lots of important university and work related stuff. Instead I am lying low with a gallon of lemsip, more tissues than you could possibly imagine and all my blankets. To cheer myself up I have been experimenting with tumblr (most addictive – check me out here) writing postcards to friends, and knitting. I’m just crossing my fingers and hoping the evil disease won’t hang around for too much longer.
Anyway, to get onto more positive things… one of my favourite bloggers, andrea of hulaseventy has a little tradition of writing a list of exciting things she hopes to do in the coming year each birthday. You can see her list of the 38 things she plans to do before she turns 39 here.
I really like the idea of a list like this. It’s not about sensible, worthy things you feel you ‘ought’ to do, or even a traditional ‘to do’ list as such, but a list of things you genuinely want to do – the places you want to go, the projects you want to start, the adventures you want to have.
I was inspired to make my own list of the things I’d like to do this year, which I thought I would share here. Some of the things on this list are totally new, but others are things I have done before but would like to do again, or things I do already but would like to do more of. It was surprising how quick it was to write – I had a lot of ideas, but thought maybe I’d better save at least some of them for next year!
- knit a jumper
- go on an adventure by train
- sit around a midsummer bonfire
- go to a really good sushi restaurant
- find the perfect vintage dress
- pass my driving test
- practice the piano
- start a new novel
- get a bicycle with a basket (in an ideal world, it would be this one)
- go wild swimming
- finally finish reading ‘a la recherche du temps perdu’
- plant something
- go to new york
- make a charm necklace
- order moo cards
- go dancing
- find a lovely place to live (no green taps please!)
- learn to crotchet
- write a dissertation!
- have a handmade christmas
- eat a lobster
- investigate d-i-y publishing
- go to rye in east sussex
- take more photographs
- drink champagne (this one is in much the same vein as ‘eat more cake’ I feel)
- take a break
(The picture is a sample of just one of many images on my new tumblr thingy – this one comes via яuғina♫)
Homemade pancakes with raspberries and blueberries; birthday parcels wrapped in baby blue tissue; wandering in (very brief) interludes of sunshine, anticipating spring; drinking rum and ginger beer with mint and lime; taking a nap; celebrating my birthday with Susie and Chris with delicious snacklets and fizzy wine; buying treats; browsing in the Tate Modern bookshop; coffee in Soho; spaghetti with mussels; watching the sky-line; getting lost ‘Logan’s Run’ style in the Barbican; listening to Billie Holliday and Miles Davies; cooking prawn laksa; seagull spotting; new perfume that smells like ginger biscuits; buying pretty cards to send to faraway friends; eating glittery cupcakes for breakfast; watching children in rainbow wellies puddle-jumping; contemplating maps; delicious Mexican food at Wahaca in Covent Garden; seeing friends; following the yellow brick road – or line, in this case – around the Barbican to see if it really goes anywhere after all.