27 December 2010

That bit between Christmas and New Year...


Just so, as our memories fade with old age and alcohol abuse, we don't forget that in 2010 we had a white Christmas, here's a photo of some snowy cow parsley down on Chorlton Ees. If we're friends on Facebook, you can peruse further wintry scenes on my profile therein. If we're not friends on Facebook, you'll just have to use your imagination.

23 December 2010

Happy kitschmas

In my last post, the blog Follow The Yellow Brick Road was mentioned in passing; sticking to the theme, today I'm going to see The Wizard Of Oz on the big screen. (The Cornerhouse recently invited Twitterers to vote on their favourite festive films; if you were reading W&F last year, you'll already know this was my choice - and it just so happens to have been scheduled for my birthday!) The print has been digitally remastered and is apparently in all its full three-strip Technicolor glory; one of my favourite devices in the movie is the variation between the black and white dustbowl Kansas reality and the land of wonder and fantasy over the rainbow represented in full saturated colour (a fairly recent innovation in 1939 after the expensive process fell out of favour during the Great Depression which immediately followed its invention). I may leave the ruby slippers at home given the snow, but may all your White Christmas dreams come true, lovely readers... see you soon!

20 December 2010

Short but sweet

Tomorrow is 21 December, meaning it's the shortest day of the year. Some clever clogs has had the genius idea of setting aside this date for National Short Story Day "for a celebration of all things short but perfectly formed", and there's a proper good event lined up for Manchester. Hurrah! The main website has full details on all the fabulous short story-related events taking place the length and breadth of this snow-filled land, and if you're really modern there's also a Facebook page where you can make friends with Short Story Day. So forget frantic festive shopping, and get down to MadLab on Edge Street in the NQ at 6.30pm instead for some short story action. Who knows - perhaps you'll even be able to pick up some pressies while you're there.
I picked this picture for featuring The Complete Stories & Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, with The Pit & The Pendulum, which I remember being read at school. The painting is by Jane Mount from her Ideal Bookshelf project, which I heard about through Katherine Woodfine's Manchester Blog Awards Best New Blog 2008, Follow The Yellow Brick Road. Jane paints people's favourite books as commissions (a lovely idea!), or you can buy a picture "off the shelf" (sorry...). There's lots about the project on her blog here and she sells her wares through the wonderful Etsy here.

15 December 2010

Dear diary

So you think I've been avoiding you, eh? That's what all this is about. This monumental grump. You think I'm ignoring you, or that I don't want to talk to you. That's not it at all, but it's not always about you, you know. Other people, other THINGS sometimes get a look-in too.

There have been non-existent quizzes, celebrity spots, farmers markets, freezing fog, trips to Grotto, pictures of geese, 40th birthday parties, disco dancing, jay watching, Christmas social diary planning, press release writing, list idea developing, #beatoff events organising (oh yes indeedy - see, there's something to look forward to in the new year!).

There's even a story in progress. Maybe I'll let you read it at some point. You just have to be patient. I promise to write soon...

08 December 2010

Three stories

Apologies if you've been waiting for a post from me. I know some of you are in high-security institutions and this blog is your only chink of light out into the real world. I've let you down. I've let myself down. It happens. Especially as the short dark days of December dribble on by. As recompense, I'm giving you three stories to read. And they're not by me, you'll be eternally glad to know.

I finally remembered to swing by the Didsbury Arts Festival website to check up on whether they'd posted, as promised, the winning entries to the summer's short story competition. It's nearly Christmas; I'd be more than underwhelmed if they hadn't. Of course they have, doubting Thomas, and you can link to the top three stories (and indeed poems) and download them here.

First prize statuette went to Heather Leach with So Much Time in a Life. Second place rosette was picked up by Juliet West's You and Your Beautiful Words. Tim Scott picked up the bronze medal with his Suicide Notes (well, not literally, hopefully). Also shortlisted were the talented Mr Socrates Adams-Florou (A Bus Ride) plus Max Dunbar (Anderson Visits the MRI), Elizabeth Stott (The Anniversary Oysters) and Veronica Turiano (Right There When You Need It).

Enjoy. And don't be expecting any proper gifts off me this festive season.

01 December 2010

A moment of fiction #9

Let's get this out there before the party season kicks in; give you a fighting chance of getting something other than random sherry-induced witterings down on paper...

Tomorrow from 6pm, I've just heard, you can talk to Sam Pritchard, New Writing Associate at the Royal Exchange, about The Bruntwood Playwriting Competition. The next Bruntwood Competition launches and opens for entries on 31 January 2011.

If your bag is more "amazing fiction, flash fiction, prose poetry and nonfiction", the third issue of creative writing quarterly Spilling Ink Review has just come out (featuring a piece by the brilliant Valerie O'Riordan). I imagine, therefore, that the Editorial Board (oh yes) will shortly be looking for contributions for the fourth. You can read the whats, whys and wherefores of the submissions process here - "but keep in mind (above all else) we want to read your very best work" (their words).

Lancaster Litfest's Flax imprint (as mentioned in A Moment Of Fiction #7) is looking for submissions of flash fiction from writers in the north west for the Flax026 issue. Deadline is 20 January; see here for more.

I've just heard that Unsung, as mentioned in A Moment Of Fiction #8, has extended its deadline to 20 December (well, it never published one in the first place that I saw). Matthew Unsung says: "The quality and amount of submissions that we've received after announcing the next issue has been very encouraging ... however, there is still plenty of room for whatever poetry, prose, literary articles, essays and reviews that you've been pondering over!" Email your work to unsung.manchester@gmail.com. The magazine launch will be towards the end of January - I'll try and let you know when I hear.

Let's hope it doesn't clash with Bad Language's new monthly slot at The Castle Hotel, which gets underway in the new year, starting on 26 January. "Mark your calendars," the merry band of three say, as do I: the Scattered Reds launch last week was vibrant, varied and a very good excuse to sink a few pints with my #beatoff chums. There will be an open mic slot: email events@badlanguagemcr.co.uk to get your name on the list. Visit the Bad Language Facebook event page, the website or the blog for more info.

At the birth of #beatoff was @samanthabail, who Tweeted me following publication of the November edition of Moment Of Fiction to let me know about the next issue of B&N Magazine, the bilingual (German/English) zine she edits. The topic is “tied to the 90s”, according to the B&N site, with "estimated time of arrival: early to mid December", and Sam assures me it will be out by 15 December at the latest, so keep your peelers peeled in NQ venues such as Common. You heard it here (or on Twitter) first.

Finally, please don't forget to quiz Ask Ben & Clare (via askbenandclare@gmail.com), submit stories and poems to Roy Keane's Lucky Scarf (via roykeanesluckyscarf@gmail.com), fling flash fiction at 330 Words (via 300words@gmail.com) or rustle up a review for Screen150 (via screen150@gmail.com). That is all.

30 November 2010

Autumn leaves

As regular readers may have already picked up on, I'm a bit partial to the Tales Of The City series of novels by Armistead Maupin, which follows the weird and wonderful adventures of Mary Ann Singleton, Michael "Mouse" Tolliver, Mrs Anna Madrigal, Mona Ramsay, Brian Hawkins and various other friends and acquaintances of the 28 Barbary Lane household from late 1970s San Francisco. Not surprisingly, therefore, I added the latest instalment to my reading list (as mentioned here) as soon as I got wind of it over the summer.


How pleased was I, then, to have the opportunity, first, to review Mary Ann In Autumn for Peter Wild's brilliant Bookmunch and, second, to attend Armistead Maupin's book launch last week at Waterstone's Deansgate; a sold-out event, complete with reading and Q&A session, which I have now reviewed for the fabulously entitled For Books' Sake.

You can have a shufty at the Bookmunch review here, and the For Books' Sake review here. Thank you for reading.

28 November 2010

Another reading

Well, won't you look at that: that's me, that is, reading my 330 Words story, Hope. You can have the pleasure of perusing it here. This was at yesterday evening's inaugural Unannounced open-mic event at Waterstone's Deansgate. Also reading were David Hartley (with a Pantheon published short story about clowns and punctuation), Tom Mason (with a 330 Words number about the Recorders show at Manchester Art Gallery), Benjamin Judge (with Roy Keane's Telescope from Roy Keane's Lucky Scarf, and Barry, a new story, part of his Who The Fudge Is Benjamin Judge? Advent series), Fat Roland (with The People Vs The Tooth Fairies from 330 Words, and a haiku about Beyonce), Socrates Adams (with an extract from his in-progress novel) and Jon Atkin (with three poems). All were immense.

27 November 2010

Hidden Gems

Thursday night saw the launch of new independent publishing house The Hidden Gem Press.

As well as getting to hear some fabulous work by some lovely local ladies, the evening gave me the chance to finally have a snoop around the International Anthony Burgess Foundation (well, when I say snoop, I mean I went in the cafe, the Engine Room and the his’n’hers loos – “progressive”, as a fellow visitor put it). There are various cabinets containing probably rare but definitely nicely artworked Burgess novels, and loads of weird bits of paraphernalia and objets d’art. There is what appears to be a harpsichord, and also a piano, on which I tried to get Nicholas Royle to bang out a tune, but he was having none of it (to be fair, he already had his hands full, touting Nightjar Press chapbooks next to the folk from Comma Press, including founder and managing editor Ra Page, who I had the pleasure of meeting).

Writer (and Nick’s MMU colleague) Sherry Ashworth is one half of The Hidden Gem Press; the other half is her other half Brian. Sherry did the talking, like any good woman. She explained the thinking behind setting up a new publishers, and the USP of the HGP. She reiterated the website, which outlines the mission statement: "The Hidden Gem Press is based in Manchester and is owned and run by Sherry and Brian Ashworth who have some strong ideas about how to find good fiction and how to publish it. We’re independently run, and we aim to publish good quality novels from the best of emerging writers – and we have a distinctly north-west flavour." She said that "London publishers just don't get the north" and explained that she and Brian see so much "readable fiction" and so many "top-class novelists" that they "want to give them a platform".


Sherry also explained that the first title out of the stable, if you will, is Hungry, The Stars and Everything by Emma Jane Unsworth, which is due to hit the shelves in June 2011. Emma (who I vaguely knew through a friend of a friend and who I forced a hello onto during the evening, poor girl, although she was absolutely lovely and gracious about it) treated us to a couple of extracts from her novel: the prologue and part of a chapter entitled Vintage Champagne. Featuring a main character called Helen Burns (oh, hello, Jane Eyre), it's about different sorts of love (food, romantic...) and Sherry described it as being "like a Russian doll" with many layers of "witty, original, off-the-wall" prose. The parts we heard certainly whetted the appetite.

Emma's "support acts" were fellow Manchester writers Zoe Lambert and Claire Massey (well, Claire is from Chorley and I think Zoe might be from Salford, but hey). Zoe read Down Duchy Road, a sad tale of a soldier's ex-wife Marjorie, and one of her stories from her new collection The War Tour, published by Comma Press in the new year. Claire edits Fairy Tale Cupboard and has previously been mentioned on this blog when she won the Oxfam Short Story Competition back in July with the awesome Chorden-under-Water, which you can read here. She gave us Feather Girls, a fantastical (and fantastic) fable with women and ducks indistinguishable one from the other.

It was a great evening with three great writers. Definitely ones to watch.

EXTRA, EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT!
There are now piccies of the launch up on The Hidden Gem Press website (I can be seen loitering in the background in one, wearing purple and stroking my hair - very odd behaviours, all), and a brief write-up of the event from Sherry and Brian. You can read Emma's blog post about the shindig here and about the first time she met Sherry here. Zoe's take on proceedings, meantime, is here, while Claire wrote a preview, complete with link to an interview with Sherry on Manhattanchester. (Sherry is also interviewed on Manchester Confidential here.) Salt poet Adrian Slatcher also mentions the evening on his blog The Art Of Fiction.

PLUS: My event review on For Books' Sake.

25 November 2010

24 November 2010

Generation #

My fifteen-year-old self would be proud: I am finally part of a scene. It might have been totally made up in a tongue-in-cheek manner after the consumption of a certain amount of alcohol on a loud evening in Common last Friday, but it's still a scene. A literary movement, if you will, which is handy as I have that as a blog label, and it doesn't get used half as much as I'd like. The scene is called the Beatoff Generation, a nod to various previous scenes and a tidy attempt at "blue" humour, and it even has a Twitter hashtag. Plenty has already been written about the scene, and you can read various other #beatoff members go on about it so I don't have to.


There's Fat Roland On Electronica with the snappily entitled "The Beatoff Generation: Our Future Books Shall Bleed From Your Shelves Like A Hardback Elixir Reddened From An Embarrassment Of Grammatical Riches", complete with a whole ton of comments. Then there's "#beatoff - Generation Hashtag" by Sam Bail, editor of B&N Magazine. Adrian Slatcher cottoned onto the excitement, writing "The scene that celebrates itself" on The Art Of Fiction, while Who The Fudge Is Benjamin Judge? gave us "...and then I Made Fridge Magnets". And he did too, and handed them out to the great and the good gathered last night at the launch bash of Bad Language's Scattered Reds anthology, which features one of our very own (Dave "@lonlonranch" Hartley, the brains behind the all-new Screen150 site). Here are the fridge magnets. As @FatRoland said: "Did Kerouac have fridge magnets? No he bloody did not." Well, quite.


So in the spirit of the Beatoff Generation - which is all about writing, reading, collaborating and quaffing - a core number from the group, a critical mass, took part in the open mic slot (after first taking some Dutch courage). All were short short stories; a nod, perhaps, to National Short Story Week. Fat Roland, introduced by lovely Dan Carpenter as "one of the founding members of the Beatoff Generation", was ultra cool and confident in his first-ever short story presentation (the brilliantly leftfield Sandra Sue). Tom Mason (who discusses the evening's proceedings on Audioboo: #beatoff and Bad Language) brought us Lions Not Yet Available, his fabulously inventive tale of umbrella-taming in the Rainy City and his latest offering on the 330 Words writers site he curates. I was announced as "another #beatoff writer" and gave the crowd Glasshouses, a new piece of flash fiction that will shortly be appearing on the revamped relaunched Roy Keane's Lucky Scarf, a collection overseen by magnet-maker extraordinaire and my Ask Ben & Clare colleague Ben (who joined in the drinking, but didn't read because he's stressed and self-loathing about his current novel-writing shenanigans).

Wanna be in our gang? We'll be at Waterstone's Unannounced on Saturday, 6-9pm - join us.

19 November 2010

A moment of fiction #8

It's high time for another instalment of A Moment Of Fiction, wouldn't you say? So here's the agenda for this round-up of all things writery: first up, submissions; second, readings; third, publications; fourth, AOB.

Unsung, "Manchester's best free literary magazine" which had its very own festival earlier this year, is accepting submissions for a December edition promising to be "its mightiest". I'm not privy to the deadline as I hadn't heard back off Mr Matthew Byrne at the time of going to print, but I'm guessing it's pretty soon. Send your poems / prose / articles / illustrations to: unsung.manchester@gmail.com. Matthew says, "Launch night is TBC but I assure you there will be beer, a mic, a roof and a toilet", so keep your eye on Facebook for details as they become available.

Bewilderbliss is under new management. Having completed (and hopefully passed) their creative writing MAs, Matt and Jon are off to pastures new, and poet Max Wallis (of Talk To Me About Love and Something Every Day) is now in the hotseat. Issue 5 has been provided with a theme by lovely poet Jo Bell, one of the brains behind the Bugged project. Not surprisingly, she has picked "overheard". You can read more here and here, but basically you have until 15 January to send up to four poems, up to 5,000 words prose or a piece of black and white artwork relating to the theme for the cover and interior design.

Also on a poetic tip, poetry quarterly Magma welcomes submissions, as I found out at their recent "roadshow" as part of the Manchester Literature Festival (see my review on the official MLF Blog for more). The deadline for the next issue - the 50th! - is 28 February and edition editor Clare Pollard has chosen "journeys" as the theme, but off-theme poems will also be considered. Full details here.

A gentle reminder too that Ask Ben & Clare are also looking for contributions (nothing too strenuous; just a questionable conundrum for the great minds to solve), along with Roy Keane's Lucky Scarf.


Next week, meanwhile, there are a couple of events where you can be inspired by the work of others or indeed dabble in a reading and try your stuff out on a live (albeit dead drunk) audience. The Bad Language gang (aka Dan, Nici and Joe: blog; website) are having a launch night for their second anthology, Scattered Reds, next Wednesday (24 November). At newly done-up and beautifully betiled The Castle, it's free, kicks off at 7.30pm, with the first performer up at about 8pm - and there's still chance to read! If you wish to partake in the open mic slot, get an email off to events@badlanguagemcr.co.uk. You'll be in good company; I hear some of my Bad Language literature quiz teammates (see pic above, left to right: Mr Hartley, Ms Power, Mrs Conlon, Mr Judge, Mr Roland) will be stepping up to the oche.

Another open mic event next week is on Saturday (27 November), 6-9pm in the 2nd View Restaurant in Waterstone's Deansgate. I am reliably informed by Jon from MLF that this new monthly event is actually back due to popular demand! The Unannounced Poetry Acoustic is "an evening of songs and poems and stories to perform or just to listen. The first drink of the evening is on us and the entertainment is on you!" Did someone say free drinks? See you there.

Experimental poets If P Then Q are busy plugging The Other Room 21, which has a bit of a do on Wednesday 1 December with readings and that, free from 7pm.

Quick update on zines hitting the shelves... Out now is Pantheon issue 2 (featuring a "Beckett-ish piece" by Lil Dave Hartley and now available in Blackwells on Oxford Road, near t'uni, or via the website); Flux Autumn 2010 edition, which features a short story by Chris Killen called Sorry (it's good, but it has suffered a cut'n'paste error in the first par; I've reedited for your delight and delectation below*); Dan Russell's Things Happen Part Deux, which you can look at on Issuu with hard copies about the place soon; the latest B&N Magazine, edited by award-winning mightaswell blogger Sam Bail, is (I am assuming) available in the next month or so, while number 11 of The Shrieking Violet, the "media special", is out now at Good Grief! - which has just this week relocated to the Soup Kitchen in the NQ. My good friend Andrew tells me they sell alcohol, not just soup, so this, and its beautiful art nouveau adornments, gives me a number of reasons to get my arse in gear and visit some time soon.

If you want to gaze back wistfully over previous incarnations of A Moment of Fiction, I've created a magic little widget on the left hand side of this here blog. Look! A Moment Of Fiction archive! Consider it an early Christmas present. Don't say I don't treat you well.

(*Craig has a dream. In the dream he is dead. He has just died. He is in a room, with things in it. The things in the room are: a desk, a bed, a chair, a coffee table, a sofa, a wardrobe, a cup (with some tea in it, gone cold), a computer, a copied CD of Planet Waves by Bob Dylan, a pair of shorts, a sunlounger, a bottle of Daiquiri, a pair of mirrored sunglasses, a coat, a hat, a pair of tweezers, a sheet of writing paper, the lid of a biro, an empty cassette box, a packet of Walkers crisps (prawn cocktail flavour), a poster of Ben Affleck, an empty ice cream tub, a toy car, a toy boat, a miniature ‘gift book’ style copy of War and Peace (6 pt. font), a 50p coin, a cigarette lighter, a cornflake, a wisp of hair, a blank greetings card (‘Best Wishes!’), a pornographic magazine from the seventies, no windows, no door, and the smell of cats... Read the rest here.)

12 November 2010

Science fiction


Last night I went to see Fritz Lang's 1927 crazy futuristic sci-fi silent movie Metropolis at the Cornerhouse. I was very excited about this as: a) I haven't seen the film for nearly 20 years as it never seems to get shown (that first time was in no less than the hugely imposing Palais de Chaillot, opposite the Eiffel Tower, yes in Paris, in a special bunker-like screening room; something, I think, to do with La Cinémathèque française); 2) I thought I'd missed it this time as when I was due to go last week I was feeling poorly and pathetic, and I thought it was only going to be on during Manchester Science Festival (23-31 October); iii) it's a scrubbed-up print with new footage they (whoever "they" are) found in Buenos Aires, of all places. Then I got very very excited because I noticed on the ticket while chowing down on my scrummy three-bean and preserved lemon tagine that it was on Screen 1. Oh man.


It didn't disappoint. Dystopia. Modernism. Maschinenmensch (great word; love German). Flappers. Art Deco. Brave New World meets The Great Gatsby tipping a wink to Alphaville and 1984 mixed with Bladerunner and The Fifth Element sprinkled with Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom and even Back To The Future. Oh, and let's not forget Frankenstein and even a bit of scary shadowplay à la Nosferatu.


It was good. And it made me think of that show at the Whitworth Art Gallery a year ago, The American Scene: Prints From Hopper To Pollock. Compare the lithograph New York by Louis Lozowick from 1925, below, to the stills and poster from Metropolis, above. Credit for the film artwork and sets goes to Erich Kettelhut, who was apparently art director, set designer, trick photography (special effects), painting effects (visual effects) and technical consultant. But still, similar, non?

09 November 2010

Chorlton Book Festival 2010

Us Chorltonites like to think we're a bit boho and bookish, and, as if to prove it, yesterday saw the start of the sixth annual Chorlton Book Festival, which runs all the way through two weeks until Sunday 21 November. The Manchester Lit List has an online brochure for you to flick through in a virtual manner, and there's an event preview on Didsbury Life.

As well as prose readings and poetry slams and all kinds of book-based events (including a Cracking Good Food cook-off in the library), there are a couple of writing workshops which might well be worth a look-in.


The first is this Saturday (13 November, 11am-1pm, Lloyds Hotel, Wilbraham Road) and run by Chorlton-based MMU Creative Writing lecturer and author of Holy Joe and The Only Living Boy, Robert Graham. I've been to one of Robert's workshops before, and he is very warm and welcoming so you don't feel too apprehensive about sharing the wonderful words you come up with as a result of the different exercises you get to try out.

The second is the following Saturday (20 November, 11am-1pm, Chorlton Central Church, Barlow Moor Road) with prize-winning poet Sarah L Dixon. Taking books by festival authors as a starting point, she will also get the creative juices flowing using tried-and-tested writing exercises. I've been in a Paper Planes workshop with Sarah, but not actually been to one she's run (more here), so it could well be interesting.

For both, places are free, but limited and booking is recommended: call the Chorlton Book Festival organisers Chorlton Library on 0161 227 3700 to put your name down.

05 November 2010

Manchester literature festivities

The memory of Manchester Literature Festival 2010 is already fading, ten or so days on since it shut up shop for another 12 months. It's therefore the perfect time for a little look back over this year's events. Once again, it was a fabulous opportunity to see, hear and read all kinds of new writing, from poetry to prose and from various different projects and publications.

Once again, it gave me the excuse to peek into venues (and parts thereof) around the city that I might not ordinarily frequent. I've been to the upstairs lecture hall at The Deaf Institute for the first time, and the purpose-built lecture room at Manchester Art Gallery. I've been to the wood-panelled, stained-glassed Becker Room in City Library and the top-floor Events Room in Waterstone's, both on Deansgate, both twice. I've also been to the Cornerhouse more than once, to the light and airy new Annexe with its weird and wonderful level issues (ground floor on one side; third floor on the other).


As well as writing about some of the events here and here, I've also contributed reviews to the official Manchester Literature Blog, which I also helped edit last year. All my reviews have now been published, so pop on over for a wee shufty using the handy links below:

Poems After Frida Kahlo, Tuesday 19 October: Words and pictures make for an inspired lunch date with Pascale Petit.

Magma Poetry, Wednesday 20 October: Magma is a hot ticket for poets and poetry fans.

Is There A Novelist In The House, Saturday 23 October: In the presence of future greats.

Rainy City Stories: Writing About Place, Sunday 24 October: Another bright idea by Rainy City Stories.

28 October 2010

Hanging with the literati

Wednesday evening, I eagerly take up my personal invitation to the relaunch, at Waterstone's Deansgate, of Elizabeth Baines' first novel, The Birth Machine. I've mentioned the Zedster (as Benjamin Judge deferentially nicknamed her during his Literary World Cup Final, which she won) on a few occasions over the last 12 months as she's pretty prolific on the reading scene round our way (Didsbury Arts Festival; Chorlton Arts Festival; Oxfam Bookfest Didsbury; Chorlton Book Festival). I've also just read her most recent novel, Too Many Magpies, so I was keen to hear extracts from this rerelease. (I'll admit it: I also wanted to try before I buy; the cover, although amazingly creative and rather different, is also quite shocking and a little offputting.)


I'm not disappointed. Elizabeth is incredibly warm and welcoming to everyone in the audience, many of whom she knows personally; many of whom form part of the Manchester literati. She begins by explaining the reasons behind the relaunch on 1 October - partly because the book, which was on a number of university reading lists at one point, went out of print; partly to reinstate its original, intended structure (feminist publishers The Women's Press moved chapter four to the start and changed its tense from past to present for "political" reasons). This time last year, Elizabeth (aka Helen; glad to see other people have schizophrenic names) was at the Northern Salt event held at the Whitworth as part of Manchester Literature Festival, when Jen from Salt (her new publisher) broached the subject of reissuing The Birth Machine. And to to cut a long story short - here we are!

Elizabeth presents three extracts, in the original storytelling order that builds up to the disorientating, slightly creepy fourth chapter. Similar to Magpies, TBM fuses reality with fairytale, and as Mrs Zelda Harris undergoes an induced labour and becomes confused, so her memories and myths become fused. The descriptive narrative and natural conversation I've come to anticipate with Elizabeth's work is all present and correct, and descriptions and images produce a couple of involuntary squeaks of laughter. (See, it's not all "literary misery"; a phrase coined the other day at MLF event Is There A Novelist In The House?.) You can read more from EB about the back story to the launch here and more about the the novel itself here. I'm really intrigued by the story, but we'll have to wait for payday before any more new books pass my way. Sigh.

EXTRA EXTRA, READ ALL ABOUT IT! Check out EB's own blog for more from the event!

25 October 2010

Dramatic pause

A week ago, I saw The Lady From The Sea at the Royal Exchange. I'm always harping on about it, I know, but I love the Royal Exchange. For the first time in a long time, I got to sit in the posh seats, because I managed to blag myself onto the press guest list by saying I would write about the play here on W&F. It's taken me a while (well, a week), so big sorries for the delay, nice Rex people; I've been a bit caught up with Manchester Literature Festival. I did big it up on that Twitter, however, so all is not lost. Plus it's on until 6 November, so if you read this now, you still have time to swing by. And I'd definitely recommend it. As well as the usual high standard of costumes, props and sets I've become accustomed to at the Royal Exchange, I really enjoyed the piece.


The play, from 1888 (the painting of the same name, above, is by Edvard Munch from 1896), is by the Norwegian Henrik Ibsen, and even though I'd never heard of it (I read a ton of his stuff as part of a subsidiary drama course at university: Hedda Gabler, A Doll's House, Ghosts...), it has his trademark Naturalism, Realism and Modernism in spades. Particularly nature, and especially the sea and water, with the noise of waves in the background at points and a dappled image projected onto the floor to represent a pond. "Sea people are a law unto themselves. It's like they belong to the sea", is one line about Ellida (Neve McIntosh), the nutty woman at the centre of the story who bathes every day in the fjord (this water is described as "brackish"; such an evocative adjective). But all the characters are sea people, not just the lighthouse keeper's daughter Ellida: some have been brought to the town via the coastal steamers (interestingly, the ships are referred to in the masculine, not like our own convention of personifying boats as female); some will leave the town via the same route. As the blurb on the website itself says: "the undercurrents threaten to drag a whole family beneath the surface". Clever.

Chatting to a fellow reviewer a day later, it became clear he wasn't keen on the work because he couldn't empathise with any of the characters, but I think that's part of the point. Each and every person (even the fleeting German tourists) is dislikeable for one reason or another, but that makes the plot more complex than it appears at face value and drives the narrative and drama forward. I'm not sure if it's because of this that I was quite uncomfortable watching Ellida's husband Dr Wangel or whether it's because I remember seeing the actor Reece Dinsdale in quite a nasty episode of Silent Witness, but his performance was perhaps the only bit I had trouble with. And even that isn't worth mentioning, so maybe I'll just take it back.

21 October 2010

Readings of writings

Last night I appeared at the Manchester Literature Festival. And not just by turning up at a poetry recital or book launch. Nope. I actually climbed up on a stage in front of a ton of people and spoke into a microphone. Thankfully it was at about the right height, otherwise I'd've been jiggered. My first words were: "Hello." Pause. "I'm scared." Nice intro, wouldn't you agree?


I'd been asked to read one of my short stories published on 330 Words, which was up for two gongs in the Manchester Blog Awards, the event in question. I presented An Accident Waiting To Happen, my first submission to the site. It went a whole lot better than I expected; I even heard tittering, and at the right bits. Phew. It leads me to conclude that consuming three pints of strong lager before any public speaking can only be a Very Good Idea.


330 Words went on to snatch the Best New Blog, following in some damn fine footsteps, if I do say so myself. Congratulations to Tom Mason, and to all the other winners and shortlisted blogging champs. You can read the full list, with all the links and that on the MBA website. One day I may even get round to updating the blogroll here to reflect the newcomers.


Back-slapping, too, to the organisers: the upstairs room at The Deaf Institute turned out to be a great venue with its raked lecture hall-style seating and fancy flock wallpaper, while hearing Chris Killen (aye, he of The Bird Room) read was also a fantastic opportunity. (I only recently twigged why the Blog Awards form part of Manchester Literature Festival, hence all the readings: all the writers who blog in our fair city. I know: I can be a bit tick sometimes.)


Valerie O'Riordan wrote about the glittering shindig on Not Exactly True. Ben of Who The Fudge Is Benjamin Judge? too. Meanwhile, Dave Hartley was the official reviewer of the event for the Manchester Literature Festival Blog although at the time of going to press, it hadn't been published. I'm also trying to get hold of some pictures, so it may well be worth checking back to see if I'm successful. (And to see evidence of me wearing a skirt, which happens about five times a year.)

ADDENDUM 22 October 2010: Jon Atkin of Manchester Literature Festival has kindly sent over some snaps from the 330 Words readings. I have now pasted them into this post following the same order in which we appeared: Dave Hartley, my good self, Benjamin Judge and Tom Mason. I have also spotted that Fat Roland has written about the bash on his star-spangled Blog Of The Year, also referring to a previous post using the search function on 330 Words to bring up two references to "bananas". They are in stories by me and L'il Dave, and we (well, it was me, actually) happened to mention this on the very soiree. Well I never.

POSTSCRIPT 25 October 2010: Another wee mention, this time on the Manchester Blog Awards website. Thanks folks!

AND ALSO THIS 11 November 2010: Dave Hartley's write-up on the Manchester Literature Festival Blog, which has somehow alluded me until this very day.

19 October 2010

Literary movements

Manchester Literature Festival is in full swing, and this week sees my diary well and truly stuffed to bursting largely thanks to the fifth annual foray into all things wordy. Today and tomorrow see me well versed, with two quite different poetry events, which I'll be writing about for the official MLF blog. Keep checking back for new posts (I'll nudge you via Twitter); I understand the nice lady in charge of loading them into the ether is a bit snowed under!

At the weekend, I'll also be reviewing "Is There A Novelist In The House?" (shortlisted entrants include Susie Stubbs of Creative Tourist and Benjamin Judge, the other half of my other blog Ask Ben & Clare) and "Rainy City Stories: Writing About Place", a chitchat between author Clare Dudman, my list chum Nicholas Royle and 2008 Manchester Blog Awards Best Writing On A Blog winner Jenn Ashworth. I'll also, of course, be gracing this year's MBAs with my presence, where the wonderful 330 Words, which kindly put a couple of my stories out into the world, is pitted against Who The Fudge Is Benjamin Judge?. Oh blimey. I'm so torn, I feel like Natalie Imbruglia.

The events I've squeezed into so far (packed houses all round, so me not putting my name down was something of a silly oversight; thank goodness I have friends in high places) have incorporated as much fascinating production detail as they have highfalutin literary knick-knacks ("highfalutin" is totally the wrong word there. These are far from pompous or pretentious shindigs. It is however a good word, and one which I had to look up in the dictionary).


The first get-together was the Bugged launch, held in a room in the new but fleeting City Library; all fancy wallpaper and wood-panelling. This was the creative writing project mentioned in one of our popular regular features A Moment Of Fiction back in, ooh June, and encouraged contributions from scribes of all ilks. Co-founder Jo Bell filled us in on all the background and introduced each of the 14 poets, short storyists and "life writers" who gave snippets or full pieces of flash fiction, including the aforementioned Jenn (pictured above clutching McTiny and being stared at by the lovely little MLF dog adorning all 2010's promotional bumph) and also Valerie O'Riordan, who is mentioned later. Jo also explained the publishing process involved in getting the resulting compendium printed and distributed - the ever-improving "on demand" system worked a treat, she enthused. All the help you'll need to get your mitts on the collection can be found on the official site for "nosy buggers" (to coin a phrase).


To yesterday, now, and a special literary zine showcase, featuring Corridor8 (also, similarly, largely following the published-on-demand model) and Bewilderbliss, in the all-new Cornerhouse Annex (a much-needed space, if I might tangentally divert). Bewilderbliss has been described on this hallowed scrolly-uppy-downy site somewhere before, and issue four of the University of Manchester's Centre For New Writing brainchild features pieces by W&F cohorts Benjamin Judge (see above), Dave Hartley and Valerie O'Riordan (who also happens to be the fiction editor for the publication). Now, until the Annex gig, I'd never actually seen a copy nor witnessed the enthusiasm, cake-baking skills and humour-filled, almost humbleness (is that even a word?) of current editors Matt and Jon, but I was already a fan. You can buy it in the Cornerhouse shop; I suggest you do.

(As an aside, I wonder if there are quite enough links in this post. More to the point, I wonder if any of them actually work.)

15 October 2010

Ask Ben & Clare. No, really

Hullo. Remember me telling you about the, like, way awesome new collaboration I'm involved in, called Ask Ben & Clare? Yes, you do; stop messing. I've been dropping enough giant, neon-signed hints. Here's our Graham with a quick reminder.

My inimitable co-collaborateur and most deserving Manchester Blog Awards 2010 shortlistee (in not one but two categories - vote for him here before 5pm on Tuesday!) Ben says, in his very own pages: "Those of you who are still all trousers and a large champagne cocktail on a Friday night will have already seen that there is a cool new blog on the undeniably hip medium of blogs. In fact I’ll go further, I’d argue that if Ask Ben & Clare was any closer to the cultural zeitgeist it would be opening up its own bar in Chorlton while celebrating the fact that its new single [...] has gone straight to number one by having a good laugh about how cupcakes are so late last year."


Quite so. And the enterprise is now well and truly open for business, as you'll see if you happen to shimmy on over, and we're looking for new customers (the photograph is, uh, ironic). Yes, we want you to get involved, and, we're telling you, you want to get involved, you really do.

So send us a question, please. Do it now, while you're in a mid-Friday afternoon lull and staring blankly at your screen pretending (quite well, it has to be said) to look useful and an asset to your secretly-but-everyone-knows-it-planning-on-downsizing company. Email it to askbenandclare@gmail.com and we will endeavour to answer it both succinctly and wittily (and hopefully usefully). You can choose to remain anonymous by utilising a nom de plume if you so wish, either to keep your identity a secret from your adoring public or to protect the innocent. We don't mind. We don't ask questions; you do.

04 October 2010

Reading lists

I was trying to come up with something new and interesting to write about, which has been proving difficult (my brain has, for the past fortnight or so, been fuddled from strong winds and some pretty reckless all-day drinking), so I distracted myself by swinging by some other of my favourite blogs to see what's going down with them.

Over on my estimed Ask Ben & Clare colleague's own personal weblog, a nattily entitled post The Book Spreader caught my attention, encouraging bloggy folk to list their favourite tomes so other people might share the pleasure of reading them. You can read Ben's suggestions in their original context here, and follow his link to the Nik Perring post which sparked it off.

Anyway, I thought a reading list was appropriate in the run-up to the fast approaching fifth annual Manchester Literature Festival (14-25 October), so I've put together a five-strong selection of modern works I've recently enjoyed. Feel free to pass it on. (It's kind of like a chain letter, but without any guilt, shock tactics, or weird religious undercurrents.) So, in no particular order and without further ado, ta-da...

Two books ago, I read Catherine O'Flynn's debut What Was Lost. I'd been waiting to get to it for a while, and especially since hearing Catherine read at last year's Manchester Literature Festival, but my copy was elsewhere. Anyway, we've been reunited and I can report back that it was worth the wait: an easy read with some interesting twists, and a fancy line in intertwined storytelling. Certain sections reminded me of Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time (just because lots of people have read it doesn't necessarily make it bad) and the style wasn't too far removed from my fave, Douglas Coupland.

A bit before that, I read my second Nicola Barker offering. This one, Five Miles From Outer Hope, had been recommended to me by the previously cited Ben (who had her up against the wonderful Elizabeth Baines in his Literary World Cup over the summer), and I can confirm its credentials. I'd previously read her "novella", Small Holdings, which I perhaps prefer, although they are both quite different to each other, despite sharing a certain similar dark humour and dramatic build-up.


Just before Central Library shut down, I managed to pop into the lending library and borrow Gwendoline Riley's most recent (but not that recent being published in 2007) novel, Joshua Spassky. I have to admit I was a little disappointed. It's about a writer enduring some rather cliched writer problems not to mention some equally cliched hardships of the heart. Her previous novels Cold Water (2002) and Sick Notes (2005), however, are definitely worth getting your hands on, with familiar Mancunian sights and nights detailed in abundance.

Another Manchester writer I checked out not so long ago was Chris Killen, who is going to be doing a reading at the upcoming Manchester Blog Awards on 20 October. His first work, The Bird Room, is really well written with some fantastic utilisation of swearwords for effect. Both big and clever. I understand he's in the process of writing a second, so I'll be keeping an eye out for that.

My final pick, Erlend Loe's Naive. Super isn't Manchester related in any way except I bought my copy in a Chorlton charity shop purely out of intrigue in the back cover blurb. It turned out to be a fine purchase and it's a shame that none of Loe's other books seem to have been translated into English from Norwegian. If you've read Room Temperature or The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker (not to be confused with the aforementioned Nicola Barker), you too will be pleased with how fascinating the minutiae of mundane everyday life can be made to appear. Lovely obsession with Duplo, too.


So there you go. A few wee ideas. As both Nik and Ben have recommended Like Bees To Honey by Caroline Smailes and Something Beginning With by Sarah Salway, I will put these on my own reading list, along with Armistead Maupin's new Tales Of The City book, Mary Ann In Autumn (above), out across the pond next month.

25 September 2010

Are you local?

Kicking off today and running until 2 October is the second Didsbury Arts Festival, just down the road. Fabulously, there's loads going on for writers and readers, from creative writing workshops to poetry speakeasies, and much of it is free! Full listings are here.


Here are some of my highlights...

Tomorrow, Nicholas Royle will be telling Bird Stories in the RSPB-linked Fletcher Moss Gardens. I've heard his story Pink, which may well feature (being about bullfinches, as it is), so I highly recommend! In the evening, Conrad Williams will be upstairs in the newly renovated Didsbury pub reading from his crime thriller Blonde On A Stick. I met him the same night I heard Nick read that there Pink; he's a nice bloke, so well worth a look-in. On Monday at 7pm, Elizabeth Baines will discuss magic versus science in the context of her short stories and slightly spooky novel Too Many Magpies (which I've just enjoyed reading). Nick is back on Wednesday evening, this time at the tennis club with, among others, The Leaping author Tom Fletcher (both mentioned in this previous post), introducing audiences to Nightjar Press. On Thursday, my poet chum Adrian Slatcher joins James Davies at a Pizza Express-based shindig, where he will be reading from his newly published Salt collection, Playing Solitaire For Money. The DAF events round off on Saturday morning with an awards ceremony in Didsbury Library for the open competitions for poetry, judged by Adam O'Riordan and Linda Chase, and for short stories, judged by Nick Royle and Adele Geras (who also judged the recent Oxfam Short Story Competition). Might see you around!

23 September 2010

Two wheels good

It's the last Friday of the month tomorrow, meaning it's Bike Friday and Critical Mass, more about which you can read in this previous post.

To get you in the mood for a day on two wheels, I thought I'd share some cool cycling sites I've had the pleasure of acquainting myself with in recent months, plus this photo taken on a recent trip to Belfast.


First is Mancunion bicycle-based art project Papergirl Manchester (@PapergirlMCR) that's been bubbling away over the summer and building up to a special exhibition at Soup Kitchen starting on 1 October. Also on a creative tip is Messenger Town, which describes itself as "the journal of cyclogeography" and has loads of interesting snaps by bike couriers all over the shop (recently featuring our very own Rainy City along with our equivalent across the Pond, Seattle).

And it's not all about getting down and dirty with the grease monkeys, my fashionista friends, or kitting yourself out top to toe in nasty hi-vis. If you happen to be in the Big Smoke, VeLo Loves The City has some damn handy links, from bike shops and cafes, to other bike bloggers and handy bag stockists (you can also follow them on Twitter at @VeLoLovesCity). For more on cycling with style, check out the likes of London Cycle Chic (@LondonCycleChic) and US-based Chic Cyclists.

Now, this is brilliant. You never know when it's going to happen, or where, or indeed why, but every cyclist knows that at some point (and usually quite often), they will get grief from a motorist or be pissed off by a pedestrian. Dawn (@dawnhfoster) at A Hundred And One Wankers feels your pain, and is encouraging everyone to name and shame the worst offenders through the medium of the Worldwide Wankers map. I feel this might come in handy at some point...

...in the meantime, why not join the Contemporary Cartography Bicycle Tour, which coincides with the publication of the new art map of Manchester and Manchester Weekender. It sets off from Whitworth Art Gallery next Saturday at 11am. Art and cycling: we like.

20 September 2010

A moment of fiction #7

It's been a while since the last proper Moment Of Fiction post, and this time round I thought we'd look slightly further afield for our creative fix.

Starting way up north in Lancaster is Litfest, which runs the annual Lancaster Literature Festival (the next taking place 15-24 October) plus various all-year literary events and writing workshops at The Storey Creative Industries Centre. It also publishes the Flax imprint, featuring work by upcoming writers who live or work in the North West. Submission details are on the website here, and previous editions have included pieces by David Gaffney, Tom Fletcher, Pete Wild, Kate Feld, Adrian Slatcher and Katherine Woodfine, all of whom have been mentioned at some point or other on these hallowed pages.

Moving south, Word Soup is The Lancashire Writing Hub (formerly Preston Writing Network)'s live literature night coordinated, latterly, by A Kind Of Intimacy author Jenn Ashworth and held once a month at The Continental in England's newest city, Preston. The next soiree has the silver screen as its theme and takes place tomorrow (21 September).

Jenn Ashworth was also involved in Out On A Limb, the culmination of a four-month geo-writing project based on the Wirral and organised alongside artist Elaine Speight as part of the Liverpool Biennial. You can now submit your own story to create a growing archive of Wirral-set tales: see the website for details and a special online form.

Just down the peninsular and inland slightly is Chester's Alexander's, where the Zest! poetry evening is held monthly on Mondays from 8pm (the next is 18 October). As well as guest readings by the likes of former Cheshire Poet Laureate Andrew Rudd (who told me about the evening; he's my old junior school teacher) and Gill McEvoy, there are open floor slots and you can even have a posh dinner while you watch (call 01244 340005 to book a table and email Caroline Hawkridge for more on the poetry: candgoakes@aol.com).

Last but not least, Northwest Libraries are inviting North West England-based writers to sumbit stories no longer than 500 words and set pre-1960. Deadline for the Flashback Fiction Competition (flash fiction set in the past - get it?) is 31 October and first prize is £100.

13 September 2010

Sweet as...

You would have to have been deep in the Amazonian rainforest not to have noticed the recent pinnacle reached in cupcake outlets and home baker delivery services in Manchester, and, in honour of National Cupcake Week starting today, I thought I'd do a quick round-up of the sweet treats vying for your attention before anyone else yawns and says they're bored of the whole thing.

The original destination outlet in Manchester, Sweet Tooth Cupcakery of Chorlton and, since 7 June, Oldham Street (pictured), offers up the official Cupcake Week flavour for Wednesday with award-winning baker Vicky Parker's Ernest Hemingway creation: ginger cheesecake base with a vanilla and lime sponge, lemon and lime curd and a toasted meringue topping. I popped into the Northern Quarter "milk bar" branch for a vegan chai-flavoured David Lynch (see bottom photo) and a damn fine coffee with co-owner Fred Royle, who gave me the skinny on his and wife Lorna's business USP: creative, nicely retro, with plenty of Northern charm. On 25 September, Sweet Tooth's Vicky is teaming up with Ministry Of Craft to run a two-and-a-half hour cake-decorating workshop (a second follows in October), while the Sweet Tooth Cupcakery (who you can follow on Twitter at @Sweettooth_UK) is also up for Best Newcomer in this year's Manchester Food & Drink Awards: winners will be announced at a special ceremony during the Manchester Food & Drink Festival on 11 October.


Afflecks-based The Cocoa Emporium vintage cafe and cakeshop offers competition in the Northern Quarter (more on that here). Also in on the trend is Hey Little Cupcake, whose Sex And The City-inspired, Prestwich-based MD Sarah Wilson (@HLCupcake) cottoned onto yet another concept imported from the States: the pop-up shop. She'll be manning her temporary retail space in Spinningfields for the next week or so if you need a sugary hit while in town. Oh Crumbs! Cupcakes (@ohcrumbscupcake) also supply a number of city centre venues once the pop-up place folds.

Out in the suburbs, Chorlton-based Peach Pie was recently tried and tested (Michelle and Vicky's caramel shortbread was a sugary hit in more ways than one) at the last (and possibly last ever) Didsbury Food Market, as was a moist and fluffy slice of classic coffee and walnut sponge cake from And The Dish Ran Away With The Spoon (@dishesandspoons). Another husband and wife team, Anna and James are due to open a new shop and tearoom later this month on hipster-rich Burton Road in West Didsbury: you're spoilt for choice here, with other establishments, including Silver Apples and Folk, also selling homemade cakes. Also in Didsbury is home baker Airy Fairy Cupcakes, with ex-marketing gal Laura (@airyfairycakes) getting in on the social media scene and supplying boxes of blue-iced beauties for the inaugural South Manchester Tweetup in August.


Finally, although it is slightly off message, there's The English Rose Bakery, whose Emma Brown (@englishrosebkry) has cunningly eschewed the cutthroat competitiveness of cupcakes to shower Manchester with the niche macaroon. Flavours include the company's signature English Rose, plus almond, chocolate, pistachio, Earl Grey, caramel and vanilla. She plied the recent Parlour Chorlton opening bash with a "macaroon tier", whatever that may be. The only thing is, I'm just not sure I'm a fan of macaroons. I'm still trying to acquire a taste for almonds, and, allegorically, I'm still stuck puking on the side of a mountain having been dragged up here by overly Gore-Texed Alpha males trying to prove that the panorama will be worth it. One day I may well see the view and be amazed, but until then I'm not complaining about the cakes.

06 September 2010

Location, location, location

It's been four months since 1,000 volunteers willingly (and without the influence of alcohol) stripped off in Salford for photographer Spencer Tunick. The Lowry commissioned the living installation to celebrate 10 years of wind-swept life on the Quays, and the weather on the weekend of the shoot was characteristically breezy as ever. I knew of the project - in fact, I know someone who got their kit off for it - but it wasn't until I heard curator Katie Farrell (at the last Blogmeet) describe the pressure of priming people and places that my interest in the show was properly piqued.


The exhibition runs until Sunday 26 September in (thankfully) the larger gallery space, and I was pleasantly surprised by how many pieces it includes. The website tells me only eight locations were used, but it feels like much more thanks to the variety of poses and props. Double-decker buses are a humorous platform for one diptych; the snaking queue to a hand carwash another. Some of the compositions echo the paintings of the art space's namesake LS Lowry with, for example, Castlefield's rusting railway viaducts a backdrop to the bodies going about their business. Colour is an important motif, with pretty pink blossoms reflecting naked skin and the participants planted like blooms in the laid-out rose gardens of an old-fashioned ornamental park. Elsewhere, in the airport set, a sensation of movement is achieved through the gradual change in stature of the "statues".

One criticism would be the stilted effect the unnatural posturing undoubtedly has, but Everyday People still has plenty of merits, not least trying to spot where the photos were taken and how it was possible to take them without some naughty passerby managing to get in on the act.

04 September 2010

Losing the thread

I'm having a hiatus. I don't think it needs surgery, but I'm insisting that it involves plenty of bed rest. As a result of this extended break from office life, I spent my last week (last week) not only trying to facilitate some kind of work handover but also running hither-thither round town checking off tasks and visits from my current inventory of extra-curricular cultural excursions.

One such list entry was a long overdue trip to Manchester Craft & Design Centre to peruse the Threadbare show, as promised right here on this blog, ooh, a while back.

I was, it has to be admitted, slightly underwhelmed. Debbie Smyth's work is definitely interesting - black cotton (with focal points of blue) looped around pins to create a picture (think 21st-century take on those 1970s kaftan-swishing art teacher numbers so rarely found in charity shops) - but Threadbare turned out, disappointingly, to be less of an exhibition and more of an exhibit.


A large piece extends over two perpendicular walls in the light-diffused main space, and while I felt a tad unsure about stepping up onto the white dais to squint at things close up, I'm pretty certain this (the stepping up, not the squinting) was intended, as otherwise you'd need to have brought your opera glasses to read the info panel in the far corner. The scene depicted is the Northern Quarter streets surrounding the Craft Centre (a nice touch for this special commission), complete with air con units, metal rollershutters and lonesome road sweeper. The perspective and detail already have merit in themselves before the threading adds an extra creative dimension; giving the artwork a pen and ink feel while simultaneously having the effect of softening the lines.



Threadbare does also include a number of smaller pieces, including a rather beautiful bear, but these are displayed in glass cabinets round the back of the main number. In fact, they're in the cafe area, which is great if you're enjoying a coffee and cake but rather more of a strain if you have to crane over the heads of those people innocently relaxing with a mocha and a muffin. Ah well, if you go with the intention of seeing just the main piece (and you have until 30 October), you'll not be disappointed.

Now, if you fancy getting crafty yourself, the artist Debbie Smyth is giving two classes on textile sketching, and the first is today (the next is on Saturday 9 October, which gives you a little more warning!). Starting at 10am, the workshops run until 4pm, and a full day is just £30. Call 0161 832 4274 or email exhibitions@craftanddesign.com.

03 September 2010

Questions, questions, questions

Bloody hell, last night was the inaugural Bad Language Literature Quiz at the inimitable Waldorf and our team, The Arndale Twin Toilet Cubicle Confusion (yeah, ask Ben of Ask Ben & Clare), just missed the top spot by one point. No thanks to me - I'm just the lucky mascot, not the brains behind the outfit. The brains were Ben, Ian, Dave and Helen.

Not one to be discouraged by being crap at quizzes, however, I purposefully strode over to interrupt one third of the BL massive and query (for your benefit, dear literary quiz-enjoying readers) whether a second outing might be in the offing, the first one having gone so swimmingly. Joe was certainly up for the idea, so, if another function is organised, rest assured W&F will let you know.

By way of getting us warmed up, poet Max Wallis read some of his work (including a liberal hundreds-and-thousands sprinkling of "fucks"), while short story writer David Gaffney took to the floor during the all-important marking stage, treating us to some of his immense flash fiction, plus a couple of his Destroy PowerPoint presentations. We all got giddy and overexcited, possibly from eating some extremely pink cupcakes, maybe from nearly scooping the glittering first prize, but mainly at handing over five whole pounds (note to self: owe Ben a fiver) and getting our books signed. Sawn-Off Tales for me; Never Never and Aroma Bingo for the boys.


Cheekily, I asked Mr Gaffney if he wouldn't mind submitting a question to Ask Ben & Clare; he said I ought to put forward a contribution to his project The Poole Confessions. Briefly: "Over the summer short story writer David Gaffney will collect the anonymous confessions of the people of Poole and turn them into micro-short stories. He will read these short stories in special intimate one-to-one performances in a custom built mobile confessional box at Poole Literary Festival." I already have two confessions in mind. It's anonymous; I can't tell you what they are. You'll just have to guess.

25 August 2010

Got an "aks" to grind?

Oh looky here: it's a shiny new blog. It's called Ask Ben & Clare. It's nice, isn't it? Subtitled "What's your problem?" (ha!), you can send in any "contemporary conundrum that needs contemplating", and some nice people called Ben and Clare will offer a succinct solution to cheer you up while you chow down on that tasteless cold wet sandwich you made the mistake of buying for lunch. Again. You never learn, do you? Perhaps you should email Ben and Clare for some hot new ideas, fresh out the kitchen.

Clare, now that's a name I recognise... oh, it's me, isn't it? Quelle coincidence!


So, this is the soft launch of mine and Ben's new blog. (Don't worry, dear reader, I'll still be blogging independently and just as often here on Words & Fixtures.) Maybe one day we'll have a proper launch. If I have anything to do with it, it will be in a pub. It won't be anywhere la-di-da or in a "special bit" of somewhere that makes it sound like we hired it out. There won't be free drinks. In fact, we'll probably be hoping that you buy us drinks; after all, ABC is the brainchild of two poor writers on the breadline (as tradition insists). We'll let you know.

In the meantime, here's a direct quote from Ben about our collaborative project: "We think it is dead dead good and that." I think that just about sums it up. Tune in every week (or so) for regular fixtures and fill your boots with happiness and goodwill. Stick with us - you never know what life-saving tips and interesting information you might pick up along the way.

18 August 2010

It's all about me

Last week, some survey by some person somewhere revealed that Manchester is the third biggest European user of Twitter. We come after London and Paris, so we're in good company. It goes without saying, but I will anyway, that I have lived in all three of these hip'n'happening cities and no other conurbation (unless you count Liverpool which I inhabited for perhaps as long as a month).

Anyway, as if to prove the Rainy City's position of social media status, yesterday was a busy old day in Manchester's interweb.

First off, some bloke from The Guardian did some live Tweeting travel feature thing: "armed only with a mobile phone – and ready to go wherever the best of your tweets take him". He was called Benji Lanyado and it was called the TwiTrip. Yawn. Still, somehow me, along with many of the other regular Manc Twitterers, got sucked into the whole thing and started blatantly self-promoting and showboating, and desperately bigging up places for this bloke to go in a "my suggestion's better than yours" kind of way. I was finally namechecked at about 7pm, along with my Chorlton mate Gill: "@benjilanyado: Instalations at the Cornerhouse, thanks to @Wordsnfixtures @Gillmphoto & @popisthis http://flic.kr/p/8tt24N". If you're remotely arsed, you can see the TwiTrip to Manchester in its entirety here.

Secondly and very bizarrely, @wordsnfixtures starting trending on Twitter. WTF? This is what the Tweet said: "@TrendsManc: Sarah-Clare Conlon, @wordsnfixtures is now trending in #Manchester http://trendsmap.com/gb/manchester". My colleague Josh (aka @technicalfault) loudhailed this announcement across the office (which was rather embarrasing as it does probably mean that I'd spent more of the day dicking about on Twitter than doing any actual work. And we all know that such a thing would never happen, right? RIGHT?). He then showed me how to do a screengrab, for proof, like. Look, I'm right at the top, above that Benji bloke:



Thirdly, the first-ever South Manchester Tweet-up chugged back some ciders and shimmied into its sparkle boob tube for a night out in Didsbury Village. Such a glamourpuss, this latest social media mover and shaker has not one, but two hashtags: #southmcrtweetup and #southmanchestertweetup. Organised by Tom Mason (@totmac) and Nicola Cooper-Abbs (@ncooperabbs), the get-together went swimmingly with quite a gaggle of creatives, SEOs, PRs, developers, local business reps and even some "normal" folk, and lovely Laura from Airy Fairy Cupcakes put on a spread of sweet treats. Didsbury Life's Helen (who I didn't recognise because I am a complete dunce, although, in my defence, it has been a while) is going to do a write-up about it, so look out for all the action shots down on the DL blog. Rumour has it the next SMTU might be in Chorlton. Hold on to your hats, kids, I'll be able to crawl home!

17 August 2010

An other world

Wow. I'm so totally beside myself with excitement that I can barely type. To prove it to you, let me put up the smallest possible logo I can find to illustrate this post. Let me also inform you that, as well as some terrible spelling which I've been trying to keep on top of as I go along, I'm also afflicted by an ongoing accidental pressing of the delete button. Idiot.

Anyway, what I'm excited about is this: some of my witterings have today been published on Other, which is a fabulous online magazine I (and many others) have been very much enjoying since back in, ooh, April. Contributors chalked up from the start included Chris Killen, Tom Fletcher, Jenn Ashworth, Nick Royle, Joe Stretch and Lee Rourke.

I showed an interest in submitting when it was still a cheeky glint in its creators' eyes and was very much encouraged by editor Socrates Adams-Florou. It took me a while, but I finally rustled up a concept last week. (It coincided with a Tweet in which I revealed I was "practically puking ideas", if you were watching closely.)

Here is a chunk of my email. I reproduce it here as it kind of explains my idea:
Basically, I collect lists. Discarded shopping lists, to be more precise. They are sometimes quite dull, but largely they are immensely interesting and often even amusing. People even use special paper to write their lists upon, and sometimes they reuse sheets which have fascinating tales of their own to tell on the reverse. For a while, I have been wondering quite what to do creatively with my lists, and I suddenly realised they might offer me an opening into the wonderful world of Other.

You can read THE TAXONOMY INSPECTOR #1 by Sarah-Clare Conlon here.

Yes, that #1 means it's going to be serialised! And yes, I am sharing a section with Nicholas Royle. NICHOLAS ROYLE!

13 August 2010

Too cool for school

It's Friday, I'm tired, I meant to blog something really witty and wondrous to ease you into the weekend, but hey. What I'm going to do for you instead is show you a picture of a fantastic spelling mistake which is a fixture out there in the public arena. Thankfully it's on the other side of the pond, otherwise I'd be worrying about the state of our education system because a) some of my friends have kids and b) some of my friends are teachers and c) some of my friends have kids and are teachers (imagine that as a Venn diagram).

Anyway, I thought it might raise a smile on a dreary August afternoon. If you have the energy.


Obligatory pic cred: AP Photo/News & Record/Joseph Rodriguez. First seen here.