29 June 2010

Football crazy

To reflect our short and not all that sweet stay in South Africa, I've whittled a little ditty about England's swansong versus Germany, which the lovely folk at Bad Language have included in their football "homage" (as mentioned in my recent Fixtures And Words post). You can read the poem, Cracking The Flags, on the writing collective's site here. Enjoy.

23 June 2010

A moment of fiction #4 - zines special!

Right, my latest literary round-up has been gently gathering momentum behind the scenes, but I’m now ready to pull back the curtain and reveal the pulleys and levers behind the magic in a special zines round-up.

Nice timing is tomorrow’s Midsummer House Party, the launch event for the new adult learning and engagement programme at the Whitworth Art Gallery. The shindig runs from 7.30-10.30pm in the South Gallery (the one with floor-to-ceiling windows and ivy wallpaper by Thomas Demand), and there will be crafty goings-on with Manchester Craft Mafia, poetry readings from friends of For Folk's Sake and DJ sets from Pull Yourself Together, usually seen in the surrounds of Common on Edge Street. As well as spinning the old wheels of steel, Dan and Hannah of PYT manage to write and edit a fanzine, called Pull Yourself Together like the night, which is published every two months and available in independent record shops around the UK. Email hello@pullyourselftogetherzine.co.uk, check out the website here, peruse the online back issues or hotfoot it to the Salford Zine Library to pore over the hard copies.

Talking of SZL, Matthew and Craig have been busy compiling the now six-month-old collection into a downloadable PDF file available for browsing purposes if you can’t always make it to their Islington Mill premises. The librarians aim to offer monthly updates, so keep popping back to their online space to ch-ch-check it out. And don’t forget to keep donating your zines and self-published books as they become available.

Anyway, without further ado, here's a quick round-up of other zines on the scene. If you know of others, please keep me posted via email or the comments function.

Things Happen is a new kid on the block, which you can get hold of in The Hive, Contact Theatre and the Cornerhouse (though not in the shop as it's free). Dan, the man in charge, says he’s hoping to distribute through other places too soon; in the meantime he’ll let you email him (dandidthis@live.com) to ask it he'll pop a copy in the post for you. Dan says: “Contributions are actively encouraged, but we are only likely to include stuff that is pushing in the same direction as us... I'm sure only people enthused by what we write will be the ones likely to want to contribute anyway.” For signposting, check out the first issue of Things Happen here.

Issues of The Hare can be picked up in Centro and Night & Day in the Northern Quarter, plus Tiger Lounge on Cooper Street. As the good people behind the self-published project live at the bottom of the Snake Pass, copies can also be had in three pubs in Glossop - The Oakwood, The Beehive and The Star. Brown bread topics range from sport to history, with fashion and gossip the white bread subjects and quite a spread of satirical political pokes forming the sandwich filling. Rob and Max take submissions and the guidelines are loose (articles of 600-1,000 words in length, original artwork and the like) – just email theharenewspaper@hotmail.co.uk with your ideas. The Hare also has a Facebook group, called The Hare Newspaper. So modern, you guys.

Bilingual (German/English) b&n magazine was already on its fifth issue when I snatched a copy in the aforementioned Common. You can get in touch with editor in chief Samantha Bail (email bunmagazine@gmail.com) with words and pictures or follow @bunmagazine on that there Twitter.

Other Magazine is an exciting new online sashay into essay-writing, fiction, photography and general silliness. Follow @othermag on Twitter or visit the website for more on contributions and wotnot.

Now, I'm not saying the others aren't, but Pantheon is proper. It has proper writers contributing and everything, including Manchester’s own Nicholas Royle and Tom Fletcher. The seasonal magazine of “assorted observations and tales” describes itself as “a house for all disciplines – art, creative writing, illustration, poetry, cookery, photography, cartoons and more. There are no predetermined themes or rules”. We like the sound of that. You can follow @pantheonzine on Twitter or email pantheonmagazine@googlemail.com for information on how to go about sending in work.

Other zines that have come to our attention but haven’t yet been properly explored are the marvellously named New Wave Vomit, strange fiction (prose and poetry) collaborative quarterly Dark Lane and the mysterious arty pamphlet The Mill Press, the first issue of which I picked up in the Cornerhouse yesterday.

21 June 2010

Worlds in motion

Even I'm bored by the football World Cup, although Portugal beating North Korea 7-0 may have been a bizarre highlight given the dearth of goals the tournament has brought our way so far. Thank goodness, therefore, for a bit of a distraction in other places, namely, er, Norwich, coincidentally currently bidding to become a UNESCO City Of Literature. Kicking off yesterday at the Writers' Centre was the Worlds Literature Festival (which surely should have an apostophe - where the devil's Lynne Truss when you need her? Why, presenting daily essays on the World Cup on Radio 4's Today programme, of course).

Perhaps in a nod to the hosts of the omnipotent soccer competition, this particular week of fixtures includes an evening with four South African writers. Proceedings wind down on Sunday, but between now and then friend of Words & Fixtures and fellow Manchester blogger Adrian "Art Of Fiction" Slatcher will be reporting live from the various events taking place, from workshops on "strange" poetry writing to talks on how to publish long fiction, courtesy of Manchester University lecturers John McAuliffe and MJ Hyland respectively. The train from Piccadilly must have been rammed.

14 June 2010

Fixtures and words

Happen you might not know, if you've been on the Moon or at the bottom of the ocean: there's a big footballing tournament currently underway. I, personally, have been so busy managing match-watching, playing pundit from the comfort of my own couch and "populating" my World Cup Wallchart with scores, that I haven't had time to spit. Unlike quite a few of the rather more ungentlemanly players. And while so far both my first team (England) and my second team (France) have been less than dream-makers, where would football be without disappointment, dashed hopes and, ultimately, heartbreak?

The ups and downs of the beautiful game are well documented, but a few folk round and about are adding some literary sparkle to proceedings via their blogs.

Dan "Winter Hill" Carpenter and his merry band of creative writers Bad Language "have decided to name [them]selves the official Creative Laureates of the 2010 World Cup". As such, they are writing flash fiction based on the events of the next month or so, using stories from the papers as starting points. Last time I joined them, we practised this technique; they're due to meet again tomorrow in Nexus Art Cafe from 6pm, if you fancy a go.

Elsewhere, in The Big Exciting World Cup Literary Distraction Extravaganza Of Wondrous Delights, Who The Fudge Is Benjamin Judge? author, er, Benjamin Judge pits writers against each other in a line-up of fixtures reflecting the Big One. In the event of a tie, the Random Sentence Playoff and the Random Word Playoff acts like a penalty shoot-out. I'm glad to report that some of my favourites, Room Temperature novelist Nicholson Baker and local talent Chris Killen (debut The Bird Room pictured), are through to the next round.

If you know of any other similar projects relating to the World Cup, including zines and that, be sure to let me know and I can do an update.

10 June 2010

Orange, with bits

I recently put first pen to paper then finger to keyboard and submitted an entry to the Guardian Orange First Words competition, for which the newspaper's readers (or mere website dropper-inners) were invited to write the first paragraph (up to 150 words) of an imaginary novel called Just Ourselves. This (rather clunky, I thought) title was magicked up by author Kate Mosse, co-founder and honorary director of the Orange Prize for Fiction, which had its starry pageant yesterday evening (Barbara Kingsolver's The Lacuna scooped top gong, since you're asking) to which I didn't win tickets.

Still you might as well read my effort. I like to imagine it may have made it onto the "high quality shortlist"; after all, I even seem to have shoehorned the word orange in, albeit totally subconsciously.

Just Ourselves – Written by Sarah-Clare Conlon

Where the baked bricks end, the darkness expands outwards. All the familiarity of the daytime becomes lost in a close wilderness of black secrets and mysterious noises. And here, together in the house on the hill, we huddle tight against the night and the howling. At least that's how I suppose you imagine us, but why? Are we paranoid because we don't see much of you, or do you really think we're hiding? We're not trying to be isolated up here, you know. I mean, just look at our place: it's radiating light and warmth. The windows glow orange, and they're gaping out into the heat. We're not shut off from the world. We turn our attention back from the outside, back to the moths, thrashing about wildly in the paper shade over the pendant bulb. The pair of them are going to disintegrate. Everyone knows; even them. Especially them.

09 June 2010

Take a walk on the Wilde side

I've lived in Manchester on and off for 20 years, yet for some reason no one has ever bothered to explore, it wasn't until very recently that I ventured into the Central Library to witness its myriad curvy delights.

It all started with a couple of casual visits to the theatre in the basement to do reviews. Then there were the sly trips to Manchester Literature Festival events in well-rounded side rooms off the upstairs corridor. Next followed afternoons during the snow when the heating packed in at work and we got told to go home but I'm an interim so there's no way I'm missing out on money hence I took my stacks of papers and reports to the big round reading rooms and took the red pen out on them there. Finally, I dipped my toe into the general readers library, even borrowing books and taking them away with me to enjoy at home.

I have to say, then, that despite being such a late starter, I've developed something of a soft spot for the place. I even mentioned it in a piece I wrote for the all-new Visit Manchester site. Now, of course, the removal men are in and the tons of tomes are being relocated shelf by shelf to a salt mine in deepest darkest Cheshire while Central Library is closed down for two years and spruced up. Sometimes, you know, my timing sucks.

Anyway, to get a final fix, last night I bobbed along to the Library Theatre, one of only two areas to still be open to the public and the one that will be pulling the door to and leaving a note for the milkman to hold off deliveries until 2012. It was a packed house for The Importance Of Being Earnest, which, I hadn't quite realised, is the last-ever performance by the company in these surroundings. The Oscar Wilde number is on until Saturday 3 July, after which the actors pack up their powder and Pompidou wigs and relocate forever: first (thankfully temporarily) to The Lowry in Salford Quays; then, in four years' time, to the Theatre Royale (or Royales, as I know it) back in town. According to the theatre's Artistic Director Chris Honer, backstage at the roundhouse the facilities are "dreadful"; I can certainly vouch that out front it's a tad on the cramped side and not somewhere you really want to be on a hot summer's evening.

Anyway, smelling salts and caribou fans aside, the show was a fitting end to the almost 60-year tenure with laughs a-plenty and even a bit of cross-dressing. The play is funny as ever, with political jokes and literary pokes, and once I got into the swing of things (it always takes me a while to stop cringeing at farce), I enjoyed myself immensely. The actors did what they needed to and there were some good touches of synchronised singing; the wardrobe and props worked just fine, and the unusual two intervals, to take account of set changes, gave welcome respite from the stifling heat (interval 1: nice cold beer; interval 2: nice cold icecream). Russell Dixon, as Lady Bracknell, was immense, and while I instantly recognised him beneath the pancake from his role as Pozzo in 2008's Library production Waiting For Godot, I thought no more of it as he made such a fantastic impression as the society-obsessed Aunt Agatha (above). Bravo!

08 June 2010

A moment of fiction #3

As promised, herewith the third in the now ongoing series of posts reporting on happenings what might interest writers around and about the great Mamucium.

This month, we take a look at the various free-to-enter competitions requiring submissions right this very minute. First off, fabulous arty website Creative Tourist has teamed up with the wonderful interactive literary landscape that is Rainy City Stories to offer writers a platform for their work, two top prizes of £100 and tickets to events at October's Manchester Literature Festival. All the rules and small print are here, but basically you need to submit a short story of no more than 3,000 words by Friday 2 July.

Next, Didsbury Arts Festival, the second incarnation of which is rolled out from 25 September, has two open writing contests: one for short stories (full details here); another for poetry (full details here). In a nutshell, the closing date for both is Friday 16 July, and writers can enter two 2,500-word short stories each or six poems of 40 lines. There will be a glittering awards ceremony during the festival and, as well as glory and fame, book tokens will be yours for the taking should you win.

Finally - for this is the order in which the deadlines are rolling in - we have "creative eavesdropping" project Bugged. Listen in to conversations on Thursday 1 July, then use what you hear to inspire some writing (poems of up to 60 lines, stories up to 1,000 words, flash fiction up to 150 words, scripts up to five minutes long). The closing date for submissions is Sunday 15 August (T&Cs here), after which you may spot your words on the Bugged blog or even published in a special anthology alongside work by the likes of Manchester-based author David Gaffney and fellow Manchester Blog Awards winner and local novelist Jenn Ashworth. The book will be launched at the aforementioned Manchester Literature Festival, which takes us neatly full circle.

04 June 2010

Uncreative times, Story #3

And finally. For this piece of writing, the brief was to mention all five senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, taste) along with something you had overheard.

The main sail blows taut with a snap and the halyard dings against the mast like a bell. The sudden gust propels us forwards into the surging surf and horses' tails flick up over the bow. I lick salt from my lips and concentrate on grasping tight to the smooth hard rudder which is pulling excitedly at this speed. Wiping the hair and spume off my face with my diesel-soaked glove, I squint into the sun and the froth. The song I overheard in the cafe that morning when I went in for Gauloises is stuck in my head, disappointing me by reminding me where I'd left the soft pack. (110 words)

I replaced the word "spume" with "mist" when I was nicely forced to read this out to the rest of the group on Saturday, just because spume sounds a bit, er, physical and I needed to doublecheck in a dictionary that it was what I thought it was and wasn't going to bring great embarrassment on me and my family. As it happens it is what I thought it was and I think it works pretty well largely because it sounds like the other and therefore I think has certain rumbling rude undertones after the rudder description.

Anyhow, talking of things overheard and indeed writing projects, check out Bugged for all your "creative eavesdropping" needs on July 1st.

03 June 2010

Uncreative times, Story #2

Two out of three. For this exercise, we were given the following subjects to incorporate into a story, either all or just some: a new house; two people who look like each other; a hospital; cheerleaders; some diamonds. There were some slow starters, so the line "apples are nice" was also offered up to help get things underway in the face of writers' block or despondency. I used neither the opener nor all the subjects, for fear of the story turning into an episode of Holby City.

We'd been at the new house a little over a week when she came to the door. John and I were in the dining room, hemmed in by boxes from the move. Despite the stifling heat, we'd agreed to try and unpack as much as we could, and we were sitting marooned on a patch of carpet, surrounded by a sea of scrunched up newspaper and floating palaces of glass and crystal. The doorbell shook us from our lethargy, but John was the first to his feet, plotting a clear passage though the expensive wedding present debris. He told me later how odd that in itself had been, let alone opening the front door to a woman the mirror image of his wife. (123 words)

Reading this back brought to mind the time I was stuck in Liverpool a couple of years back waiting for the weather to improve so I could sail the Irish Sea. I spent a pleasant afternoon pottering around Sefton Park Palm House - a lovely glass house and mini Crystal Palace - and the once glorious park, which seemed home to the entire Merseyside mistle thrush population that day.

02 June 2010

Uncreative times, Story #1

As promised, the first of three ramblings generated in a Paper Planes creative writing workshop at the weekend. The starting point for this one is the line "attached to the earth by a thread", which was selected at random by Happy Accidents workshop organiser Anthony Sides from his co-coordinator Steve Waling's poetry collection Travelator.

Attached to the earth by a thread, I look down on a verdant blanket dotted with multitudinous multicoloured jewels. It's funny how the flowers return every spring at the mere glimpse of the sun, once the bright white fields of snow have ebbed to nothing. The light is still dazzling up here in the thin air, but in a different way in this summer-filled mountainscape. A gentle breeze tumbles down the slope I'm climbing up, but dangling above. The chairlift swings slowly to a special rhythm all its own... (89 words)

Duomo, 2010, David Wightman
acrylic on wallpaper and linen
83 x 99 cms

Lots of the people in the class wrote about balloons, either traditional kids' ones like in Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge (a weirdly interesting film set in Paris and starring the fabulous Juliette Binoche) or the ones full of hot air. That did cross my mind, but I thought (obviously correctly) that it was a bit of a cliche, so I went with the Alpine story instead, inspired partly by my sister-in-law going through the process of ski lodge puchasing in the French Alps and partly by artist and new online friend David Wightman concurrently and coincidentally creating some new works of Swiss chalets.

01 June 2010

Uncreative times

I've just finished reading Joshua Spassky by Gwendoline Riley. I really liked her previous works, Cold Water and Sick Notes, but I'm remaining non-commital about this one. Maybe the mentions of Manchester (including two references to the Temple Of Inconvenience) were too sparse for me. Or perhaps it was the literary name-dropping I wasn't bothered by, or all the verging-on-cliche writers-talking-about-being-writers sections.

Oh well. Here's one passage about writing that I did appreciate: "I like writing," I said. "I like it for about fifteen minutes, on aggregate, every two years."

My sentiments exactly, for the very reason that I'm always scribbling things down, either in the middle of the night in my trusty 60gsm recycled lined paper spiral-bound notebook or here as a draft blog post, then it never goes anywhere and I'm left somewhat deflated in the shadow of failure. In fact, only this Saturday, I was feeling a bit of a spare part at a special Chorlton Arts Festival creative writing workshop called Happy Accidents. It was quite a struggle trying to get anything to come out of my pen, while all the other folk around the table (oh, except one, who headed for the door and never looked back) seemed to go through reams and reams of paper, and not just because their handwriting was big.

Oh well. I ended up with three pieces, which, because it took such an effort and because my brain is mush from doing all the press and PR for the festival in my spare time, I will share with you here as the week progresses. Since it's been a bank holiday, you can have a piece a day for the remainder of the working week. You have been warned, but it would be interesting to hear any comments, as long as they don't put me in a mood.

Before I get the process underway, here's a little information on the organisers of the workshop, poet and Commonword trustee Steve Waling and Comma fiction writer Anthony Sides. As a rule, they hang out at Fuel in Withington Village every second Saturday under the guise of Paper Planes. Get there for coffee at 11.30am or for the four-hour session upstairs at noon. Places cost £12/8 and you can get in touch with them via paperplanes@hotmail.co.uk or through their Facebook page.