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Creative Tourist + More on Procession

Creative Tourist, launched today by the Manchester Museums Consortium is a brand new online magazine about art and culture in Manchester.

Issue 1 features Jeremy Deller, Ansuman Biswas (aka the Manchester Hermit), Marina Abramovic in conversation with Maria Balshaw, Director of the Whitworth Art Gallery, Andrew Shanahan’s guide to videogames and Dea Birkett on children in galleries, as well as much more.

And as if all this wasn’t enough, Kate Feld (of Manchizzle fame) will be working alongside editor Susie Stubbs to bring in content from Manchester’s lively blogging community, commissioning guest posts from bloggers who write about art and culture… and guess who you’ll find in the very first issue?

That’s right, it’s me! Check out my post about Jeremy Deller’s Procession here. I was delighted to be the very first blogger commissioned to contribute to Creative Tourist, and I was even more delighted to be asked to write about such a fantastic event. If you read the piece, I’d love to know what you think – and whether or not I’ve managed to capture the unique atmosphere of this very special Manchester experience!

PS You can also keep up with Creative Tourist via the magic of twitter. Looking forward to reading more soon!

[Photo courtesy of the very talented Duncan Hay]

not doing well: blog vs diary

I have not upheld my pledge to write here more in May. It’s already the 23rd (how did that happen, exactly?) and I have but two measly posts.

I’ve been wondering why it is that I don’t seem to be writing this blog quite as much as I once was. Perhaps it’s partly because, in the last couple of months, I’ve got back into writing a diary much more regularly. I have long been an avid writer of diaries: I started writing when I was twelve, and have continued ever since. But I do have ‘on’ and ‘off’ phases with it – and at the moment I’m definitely in an ‘on’ phase. I’ve got back into the habit of writing every day, and perhaps that has absorbed some of my need to write here.

But that in itself is interesting. I have always felt that a private, paper diary and a blog, however personal, were inherently different, separate spaces – one very much for yourself alone, and the other, whether you acknowledge it or not, by its very nature designed for an audience, for a very public readership. But maybe they aren’t really so very different: perhaps secretly our ‘public’ blogs are for ourselves before they are for anyone else, after all…

I’d be interested to know what others think. Do you keep a diary, or write a blog, or both? Which do you prefer and why? What do you think the real differences are between them as formats – and what is it that motivates you to keep going?

Meanwhile here’s a few other things:

Emily started a very interesting discussion about blogging and anonymity, writing and autobiography on her blog which Jenn and Max joined in here and here and here.

Ben unmasked himself as the author behind not only the Although I am not as delicious as I once was… blog by the mysterious ‘Rosetta Hampshire,’ but of a whole Patchwork Labyrinth of slowly-unravelling blog-based metafiction! I am looking forward to reading more…

Booooooom! and Design for Mankind’s Free Encouragement project (which I blogged about back here) has now launched its much-anticipated second stage. Take a look at their beautiful Free Encouragement postcards here.

I have another book review at Bookmunch – this time for Anne Michael’s second novel, The Winter Vault. You can read it here.

Manchester Writing is a new and most useful blog bringing together news and reviews of writing and readings around Manchester. Check it out here.

Main things I am doing at the moment: eating, sleeping, reading obscure 1920s prose poems for my dissertation, playing the piano (item number seven on this list), rock pool dabbling, baking cakes, watching the kittiwakes, contemplating whether or not to buy myself a bicycle with a basket, admiring bluebells and paddling in the sea.

[Pictures are via We Heart It here and here]

a visit from fiona robyn

Throughout March, writer Fiona Robyn has been travelling from blog to blog to celebrate the publication of her first novel, The Letters, in her very own blog tour.

The Letters is the story of Violet Ackerman, who has “drifted through a career, four children and a divorce without ever knowing who she is or what she wants. After moving to the coast, she starts receiving a series of mysterious letters sent from a mother and baby home in 1959, written by a pregnant twenty-year-old Elizabeth to her best friend. Who is sending Violet these letters, and why?”

It also features a cat called Blue, an unexpected twist in the tale, and (according to Aliya at Veggie Box at least) an impressive number of references to vegetables. What’s more it has already won praise from everyone from Scott Pack at Me and My Big Mouth who described it as ‘an accomplished and promising début novel‘ to Vulpes Libres who admired Fiona’s ‘wonderfully descriptive writing‘ to Caroline Smailes who described how she ‘devoured [The Letters] within a couple of days‘.

Fiona has already visited 16 other blogs as part of the tour (you can read the full list here, including where she is going next). As it’s now Day 22 I reckon she’s probably getting a little weary, so I suggested she put her feet up and then asked her a few questions:

Firstly… it’s Day 22 of your blog tour, and you’ve already visited 16 other blogs. Are you getting at all tired of answering questions about yourself and The Letters yet?

You’d think I would be, but nobody is asking the same questions! It’s really interesting how different people have approached the book in different ways, and are interested in different things…

Do you have a favourite question you’ve been asked on the tour so far?

‘Tell us what you grow in your veggie patch’ by Aliya at the Veggie Box and Lane asked me lots of good questions about cats. Caroline also asked me some good questions, one involving Mr. Men. You can see that I like to take things very seriously…..

You’ve already been asked a lot of questions about The Letters: the idea for the novel, the characters, and how it came to be written. To make a change I thought I’d ask you a few questions about the three blogs you write as well as your novels: a small stone; a handful of stones and your personal blog, planting words. How do your blogs fit in as part of your overall writing practice?

I try not to let them interfere with my novel-writing – if I’m writing, then I’ll always do that before I do anything else (including checking Facebook). a small stone usually only takes a few minutes a day, and a handful of stones maybe takes half an hour a couple of times a week. I only write Planting Words when I feel the urge, and again this can take a few minutes or up to half an hour. I do sometimes wonder if three is a bit excessive, but it’s been ok so far!

What first got you started writing blogs?

I started writing a blog called Creating Living when I was working as a coach, as a way of promoting my services. It was a little bit like Planting Words, and resulted in my book A Year of Questions: How to slow down and fall in love with life. a small stone came next.

What gave you the idea for your blog project a small stone?

The phrase literally arose in my mind one day when I was driving back from the sea. I was thinking about starting another blog for my poetry at the time, but I didn’t even know what it meant, and it felt a bit boring as a blog title. It was persistant, and then I happened upon the idea of picking a small stone up and carrying it home from a long walk – something little that you could save from every day.

Which other blogs do you read regularly?

I’ve always been a big fan of whisky river and have recently found lassie and timmy, both of which have a strong zen flavour. Sarah is always finding good stuff.

I recently wrote a post about how much writers enjoy the actual process of writing, which provoked a bit of discussion. Is the process of writing itself something you find pleasurable?

I find parts of it pleasurable – and parts of it horrid. It’s hard to sit down and get started, especially with first drafts. I’m sometimes struck by terrible doubts. But I love reading back a sentence and thinking ‘ah, that’s a good sentence’, or finding something new out about my character. Intensely satisfying. Really, nobody is holding a gun to my head – I’m a writer because it’s supremely important to me – and things that are important aren’t necessarily fun all the time.

What inspires you? Where do you go to find inspiration when you need it?

Being outside in my garden is good for me – whatever the weather – but I do prefer sunshine! I’ve been lucky enough to wait for inspiration to find me so far, rather than going out and looking.

Tell us a little bit about what you’ve got coming up next…

The Blue Handbag is out in paperback in August, and then Thaw in February next year, both with Snowbooks. I’m currently working on a novel about a young boy that goes to stay with his aunt in Amsterdam – I’m off for a research trip this summer. What a life, eh?

And finally (just because I had to ask) do you own any red shoes?

I’m afraid I’m not much of a shoe person – black trainers is pretty much it… I do think they look nice on other people though – I’m sure yours are lovely!

Perhaps you’re just more of a handbag person, since your next book is called The Blue Handbag? Anyway, thanks very much, Fiona (for visiting and for complimenting me on my shoes!) and enjoy the rest of the tour!

stepping outside the comfort zone

The last three posts make up the beginning of a piece of writing I’ve been toying with for quite a long time. It’s actually the start of a novel I wrote about four or five years ago. Every now and again, I get the whole thing out again, have a look and wonder whether I ought to have a go at rewriting it, or whether I should simply shelve it and move on to something new. I’m still not sure about that, but I thought it would be good to post it here in the interests of take a step outside the comfort zone.

In the past, I know I’ve been fairly useless at getting outside my comfort zone – in terms of writing, at least. I’m much more inclined to settle down in it, put my feet up, maybe make a nice cup of tea. I’m not very good at putting my work “out there”: in spite of good intentions I’ve even chickened out about posting any fiction here up until now. Maybe it’s partly because I’ve never studied creative writing, or even attended a class, so I haven’t entirely got my head around the idea of standing up and acknowledging ownership of my work. Maybe it’s also because I’ve spent so long studying literature which can be a bit of a dangerous thing to do if you want to write yourself.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels like this a lot of the time: even the best of us get The Fear when it comes to putting our work out there in the world. Evidently even Derrida suffered from anxieties about his writing: “moments of fear” when he came over all neurotic in the middle of the night and was tempted to burn all his papers.

Having said that though, I do think it’s important to get used to the idea of leaving the comfort zone. Writing this blog has been a good step in the right direction: it’s helped me to get back into the habit of writing regularly, but more importantly, to get used to sharing what I write with others and to cope with the scary stuff (see here and here). It’s also taught me that not everything I write has to be carefully worked out and immaculately put together. In fact, I’ve found that sometimes the best things come out of just having a go and not worrying too much. It also makes it a lot more fun, which has to be the point in the end really, doesn’t it?

Anyway posting this has been a good start. Now I just have to keep going and get used to the idea of stepping outside my comfort zone. Or as Derrida himself puts it, I just need to “do what must be done.”

(The excellent picture above is by Keri Smith from her blog wish jar)

This Might Be Something, Part 3

There is a certain taste to it, a weight. It has its own roundness, depth and texture. There is the sweet-sharp tang of a raspberry. The lightness of a balloon drifting across a cloudless sky. A cool blue note, like a love-song played at twilight. A sleekness, a flicker, a whisper, and it’s gone.

Memories move and shift like waves on the shore. I dabble my toes and the story flutters, showing me glimpses, moments, then evading me again. There are no cold hard facts after all, but only speculation. Nancy again: “Stop. That’s not how it happened. I didn’t say that. Why do you always have to do this? You’re just making stuff up.”

And it’s true: there is so much I have forgotten, and so much more that might never have happened at all. I was always making up stories, telling and retelling things that had happened, to make them more interesting, to make them mine. “You tell lies,” this girl said to me once, at school. But Alix just looked at her with her cat-green eyes and said coolly “You have no imagination.”

Of course, I didn’t know then about the pitfalls. Deception taking shape on the tip of my tongue, its rich snake coils. Now, they tell me it is best after all to stick to what’s real. The only problem is I can’t seem to separate what was from what might have been anymore.

What’s real is now. Myself here. High summer again and the streets are hot and dry, a desert seemingly without end. The blankness of time to be filled with nothing but the sounds in the distance: a siren, a thumping bassline. This small room, these paper walls, this house. Looking out of my window. There could be anything out there. There could be something.

Something. A story perhaps? Out there are our stories, haunting the empty streets like ghosts. On days like these I feel restless, buoyant, as if I could just take off and fly into a story. I could tap the heels of my old red sandals together, one-two-three, and I would lift up from my window on invisible wings. I’d fly beyond the city limits, back over the fields and the woods, and touch down by the house on the hill, back in another story. There’s no place like home. Back again, through the gate, down the path, into the garden. Stop. Play. Play it again. Down the rabbit hole, into the eternity of a moment that has long since passed me by.

[Read Part 1/Part 2]