Annual changing of these lovely illustrations by Kerstin Frykstrand from December to January. A bit late in a day of technologies conspiring against me but it’s ok because there’s been writing, good books and food, and plans with friends.
Look at that amazing tweet. I’ll come back to it during this lengthy, rambling but happy post. I’ve been volunteering for East London’s free reading festival for the last two years and now I’m saying goodbye. Here’s my round-up from 2013 which pays a quick word of tribute to some of the amazing writers to take part last year.
This time was different and much more demanding as I was also curating the Festival Fringe. I’m very proud of introducing this idea last year and hope it continues. Unlike many of the big lit fests, the main festival Writeidea folk actually get paid. But the Fringe folk do it for free and they are a wonderful and noble race.
It seems very, very hard to single out anyone or any session from this year to mention and time is too fleeting to do them all justice. So I am going to mention some random personal highlights both in and around Writeidea, which should not be taken too seriously by those involved.They’re partly personal as they involve the folk I invited to take part, as this is my blog and it is all about Me.
Anyway, please don’t sue me or my tiny child will not have goose this Christmas (she won’t anyway as the Great Vegan Experiment is underway. Sort of):
Best Festival Footwear: A Gordian knot of a tie between Liz de Jager’s Boots of Awesome
Sarah Jackson’s category-creating shoes
and the Socks that Launched a Lambchop into Space, as wrangled by brilliant Nikesh Shukla.
Best Creative Use of a Fire Alarm
No, it wasn’t me smoking in the loos (honest) but someone did. Despite the fact that, among others, poor Jake Arnott had his fascinating talk full of 18th century slang interrupted: I’m almost glad that it happened. That alarm gave the world its first Create a Comic on the Street by a Supermarket masterclass, from the unflappable Louie Stowell.
Look here she is in the Guardian doing something similar but sans fire alarms. I met Louie through last year’s Writeidea, making it even more of a Good Thing.
Best Historical Talks
I live-tweeted Tom Holland on the origins of Islam until my tendons howled with multi-syllabic exhaustion
And I got to talk to him about cricket in the pub after. Alhough I missed his talk, archaeologist Dave Sankey on the Crossrail excavations beneath Stepney was standing room only and easily one of the most popular events this year.
Best Local and Alternative Histories
Organiser of the East End Suffragettes Festival Sarah Jackson read from her ace book about Sylvia Pankhurst and her awesome contemporaries – in the East End where it all happened, at a time of austerity and attacks on the freedoms on women. A real privilege to hear such a generous and talented person. That was followed up by the last but most definitely not least Fringe event: a fascinating look at London’s urban legends from Scott Wood of the London Fortean Society. From Springheeled Jack (talk coming up in January) to vengeance- (or not) inspired gargoyles, I could listen to Scott all night.
Best BSL Interpreted Talk
Another superb writer I invited but had to miss, darn it, as a Fringe Curator’s work is never done – star of the YA universe, here in his factual persona with This Book is Gay *bows*: the Queen of Teen, James Dawson. At least I got to meet him during that fire alarm break. And he got some lively signing done: ‘sexyfuntime’ caused no difficulties at all …
Personal Biggest Coup Feel
Three top indie publishers – some of whom may well have done similar paid-for prestigious events elsewhere – came to talk book trade and times for free. These are very special people. Meike of Peirene Press is bringing contemporary European literature to new audiences, Kit from Influx has published one of my favourite contemporary poets, Chimene Suleyman, and is doing amazingly radical work (watch out for the anonymous anarchist) and Sam from Galley Beggars brought us wonders as diverse as Simon Gough, Baileys’ prizewinner Eimar McBride and possibly the greatest author ever: Francis Plug.
Best New Getting Folk Involved Sessions
I know ‘interactive’ is the right word. But it feels a little impersonal for three events that were each in their own way very special ways for people to come together in real life. Lots got together to eat cakes and write letters. Proper ones, on paper, thanks to the lovely Letter Lounge.
I am very, very proud to have organised the first Death Cafe in Tower Hamlets. Lots of us talked, listened, laughed and cried. We were really lucky to have this led by Annie Broadbent, again for free, gave a wonderful talk about dealing with bereaved people.
And there was #QuizYA created by Jim Dean of YaYeahYeah who has read more, preached more and inspired more people to read, love and be social over Young Adult (and other) books than anyone can possibly do with a mere 24 hours in the day. He’s busy bringing lots of lovely indie bookshops to daily view at the moment with #indieadvent. A real star.
Other generous people helped that to happen – that’s brilliant debut writer Robin Stevens on Jim’s left – @redbreastedbird mentioned at the beginning. She’s taking over the Young Agatha Christie mantle: one murder and bunbreak at a time. Robin also gave up her time for free, to chair a terrific session with Tanya Byrne: Tanya makes such beautiful, original writing look effortless. More pride here, at getting such hugely-talented YA writers involved. I don’t think I’ve ever written such a pleased with myself piece 😉
But that tweet, back at the beginning, has to be my Desert Island highlight: the one thought I’m taking away with me. This isn’t a humblebrag but a proper, delighted, ”I done good one. I helped out at a festival, invited writers and publicised it to booklovers. Sally, a young writer and bookblogger came to see, hear and meet writers she admires. Now she’s even more inspired to write. Here she is with Liz de Jager, author of the utterly brilliant Banished and Vowed, who also gave up lots of time and energy to give a brilliant free session on fan fiction.
I’m really sorry to step down as the Festival’s only non-staff volunteer organiser but I’ve taken on a big role with the Society Of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and only have so much volunteering time to spare. But that tweet gives me a truly wonderful, my work here is done feeling. It’s been fun. And next year I will be in the audience.
It’s been a death-intensive year for my family. After Dad dying in January, my much-loved Uncle Bill died a couple of weeks ago. His funeral was last Thursday at a pretty church in Hemel Hempstead.
The ‘moor’ of Boxmoor is a small green space on the edge of an ever-growing town that has swallowed up the cottages and cowslips of my Mum’s 1930s childhood. When I was small, heading to the millpond by the canal with a fishing net, it was a wild expanse of trees. Probably with bears.
So it feels timely that a poem I sent to the fun Verbatim Poetry site back in the summer inspired by, yes, death, has just been posted. The Verbatim Poetry idea is to add punctuation and spacing on to non-poetic text, from ‘road signs to shampoo bottles.’ It is, I warn you, addictive. As well as editing any text in front of me, I now scan it for verse potential, which often means talking aloud to myself in shops and other public places.
Up until today I felt I’d lost my regular blogging ability. The Weekly Blog Club was such a wonderful impetus.
Now found: my own much-needed ‘just get on with it and don’t rely on wonderful Janet E Davis to encourage you’ push to post regularly again.
By the way: the photo is a different churchyard: St Eanswythe in Folkestone on a summer’s day. Definitely my favourite saint with superpowers as she made water run up hill.
Here is a wonderful description of another favourite and local to me cemetery, with some stunning photos – the gloriously gothic Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park: visited by The Gentle Author of Spitalfields Life on a a misty winter morning. Beautiful and moving. And that’s enough death, thanks.
The brochure notes how the sculptor valued the aesthetic presence of bamboo scaffolding while he was in China. His sculpture ‘proposes the coming ‘Chinese century’ in Folkestone’s heart.’
In the background, the BBC Radio 4 Today programme advises British businesses how to invest in China. It seems a good place to start a quick post on the first few works I visited yesterday. Please don’t think this is even a vague attempt to look at the Triennial with any form of critical eye: it’s just personal experience.
Our party comprised one would-be art appreciator, a local now based in London (me); a bolshy 17-year-old whose potential love of art has been largely trashed by GCSE drudgery but likes Gaudi (daughter, hereafter referred to as 17) and my mum (78) who likes nice pictures of flowers and the countryside.
They’re a good example of ‘two fixed points determining the position of a third’, as described in the brochure. I’ll only get to go where they’re prepared and able, or can be persuaded, to visit.
From the brochure again: ‘The unofficial brief is create something ambitious, high quality, fun, surprising, challenging, and maybe a bit crazy: these things make an exhibition memorable and thought-provoking.’
I arrive home to much excitement. ‘There’s one of them headless chickens on the Martello Tower and you can see it lit up from your bedroom!’ Mum hands me a piece of paper from one of the small notepads Dad bound when he worked at a printers.
She’s written down the different colours that roofoftwo’s Whithervane turns at night, depending on the output of alarmist words in the newsfeeds it monitors. On Saturday night, it’s green: fear levels are low. Mum is concerned that it’s been blue and whoever told her the colours hasn’t mentioned this. We agree it’s probably a nice colour.
The view from the tower is one of my dearest and best. I am allowed to walk to the end of the road for a look at the illuminated chicken, in the dark, on the promise that I won’t go up on the cliffs at this time of night. I am 52.
Sunday morning: I meet Best Friend for coffee. Best Friend is a very talented, though no longer practising, artist. We talk about the best-known work: Michael Sailstorfer’s Folkestone Digs. News of this had reached me on holiday in the forests of Sweden, with several friends emailing, texting and tweeting that Folkestone was full of people digging for gold.
We agree that it’s fun, bringing optimism and life to the Outer Harbour. I admire her suggestion that all the digging should be filmed on timelaspse camera and then put on two minutes of video to the Benny Hill theme.
Her shop in the Old High Street is next door to Andy Goldsworthy’s Clay Window and Clay Steps. She’s watched its progress with fascination. I meet 17 and 78, who look into Georges House Gallery and its tiny 3D printed figures and chorus ‘Ooh no!’ at the idea of being scanned and turned into teeny statuettes like The Luckiest Place on Earth.
We walk to Payers Park and I read aloud from the brochure about the ‘series of open-ended invitations to visitors to occupy and appropriate structures.’
‘Like that,’ notes 17, nodding at a woman changing a nappy on the grass. ‘It’s a nice place,’ 78 says. ‘Bit steep but good for you.’
At Something & Son’s Amusefood , 78 is enchanted and spends a long time talking to the attendant. The aim to produce fish, chips and mushy peas aeroponically is a response to the twin evils of obesity and food scarcity.
17 and I have talked about this very subject on the train, as it’s part of her A Level Geography course; she hadn’t known we’d visit this. She’s initially excited, then disappointed at the small scale, then saddened by trying to work out on what a huge level this would need to be to produce a meal on demand. It’s made her think.
A look at Clay Steps meets with hisses and mutterings about modern art from 17 and frank confusion from 78. Both are reluctant to enter the thick darkness of the shop interior, and then:
‘Oh! It’s so beautiful!’ 17 is impressed by Clay Window. 78 has a nice chat to the attendant about ‘her’ Whithervane.
Off to Electrified Line. It made an unexpected impact on me. I’m saving that for a separate post after I’ve gone back for another visit. 78 notes that she wouldn’t have gone up it if I hadn’t made her and she’s glad that she did: you can see the posh people having their lunch at Rocksalt and it’s the closest she’ll ever get to it.
We walk to the harbour and stop to stare up at Alex Hartley’s Vigil, eventually rewarded by a wave from the tiny, tiny hand of Em Peasgood. Please, please read her blog post here, from Saturday 6 September. One of the most moving and inspiring things I have ever read. What a truly brave woman.
17 has recently given up climbing after four years and is reluctant to engage with Vigil in any way. 78 is again frankly bemused. After a cup of tea at the Station Cafe – top hospitality there – we walk along the old platforms, reminiscing about the ferries. Tim Etchell’s Why is the Place is pronounced ‘very nice’ though it would look better if the railway line were weeded.
I am FURIOUS that the pilot station has been demolished and the only way I can see the work as it was installed is in the brochure. I hope it’s one of the works that becomes permanent but suspect the likelihood of vandalism will rule that out.
We walk along the Harbour arm towards Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Weather is a Third to Place and Time. I regret the silencing of the foghorn, which would have been a wonderfully mournful soundtrack on such a misty day. 78 says no, because it used to keep her awake. All three of us look through the telescope, in separate admiration.
There are faded knitted poppies along the rusting handrails. ‘I wonder if Prince Harry came along her,’ says 78. ‘He should of done.’
I have a five-minute dig for gold (nope) under the distant disapproving eye of 17. Then home to London but I can’t wait to come back.
A test post from the mobile, even though I’m home from Sweden now.
The scene means perfection to me. An area without a name: ‘Just the forest.’ Tall trees, soft moss, boulders like trolls hiding in ferns.
No synthetic interruption. No cars, planes or pavement cyclists. No spitting, shoving or shouting.
Just sun and clean air and ten types of mushroom to pick.
Aching arms and legs and back to stretch out later, utterly satisfied, looking up at the stars.
A tall rickety tower where the elk hunters hide with their rifles.
A tiny fairy tale frog to kiss and check in case of princes.
A terrifyingly warm heap of poo from a large wild boar, not far away.
Then back to a small wooden house to prepare them to eat: Karl Johan and chanterelles and all the other names I forget now I’m back in the noise and grime and air I don’t want to inhale.
A few hours and a while wide world away.
I also know I can disappear in unproductive mists of rumination if I start to try to write about writing.
Over the last fortnight, I’ve been writing a lot but have done nothing on the project I’m trying to finish. What I have written includes:
- a blog post for a charity CEO
- news about the brilliant, wonderful and important East London Suffragette Festival (do come. It will be brilliant)
- loads of varied content about the Writeidea Festival, including a submission that now means I’m curating this year’s Fringe
- precis help for my daughter’s vet clinic work experience
- two poems: both execrable
- a short story about feet on the Underground
- critiques of fellow SCBWI writers’ fiction
- exercises on a Writing for Teenagers’ course
Not to mention tweets via various accounts, letters of complaint to council planning officers, a job application for unfamiliar work, daily scraps about stuff that may end up in fiction,a major edit of the opening of my middle grade novel and a whole lot more …Oh, okay, critical self: some of it is editing. How far is editing writing? There’s another rabbit hole down which to vanish and look, there goes another hour.
It’s all writing, in different ways: but none of it relates to the project I think is most important.
What with family and festival commitments, hospital appointments and pesky friends who insist on having birthdays EVERY year, I’ve been away from here for those two weeks. I value the Weekly Blog Club space; partly it’s the closest I come to keeping any form of diary or journal.
There’s nothing like trying to recreate your 17-year-old thoughts – for a novel – to make me wish I had done this. Maybe I’ll feel the same in 20 years’ time but it seems unlikely I’ll go through similar changes and such intense feelings.
I’ve mentioned the 750 Words process before. I’ve been neglecting that recently too. And it’s probably no coincidence that the piece I am having problems with is non fiction but personal.
I’ll try again later. Or tomorrow. Except I’m busy tomorrow.