Category: Places

I Remember York (2013)

GratefulWhippet

I remember the Writers’ Workshop Festival of Writing 2013.

I remember it was Friday the 13th.

I remember the quiet carriage.

I remember people crowding on to the train before most of us had got off.

I remember sun, and rain, and going back for an umbrella.

I remember bunting, and a loving balloon. Well, I think it was a balloon.

I remember little chunks of coffee cake. I had one with Saturday’s lunch, but two on Sunday.

I remember using Windows again. It looked different, and improved. I actually felt a little bit jealous.

I remember losing my voice.

I remember a very kind glass of water.

I remember a very nice glass of champagne.

I remember my English teacher Mrs Blakemore used to mark us down if we used the word ‘nice’ in a sentence. Yes, we have to be concrete and specific in our word choices, but sometimes an often-used word is just right.

I remember Harry (in sunglasses), and Beth and Tom (not in sunglasses). Ah!

I remember being called a recovering publisher.

I remember channelling my inner Sharon Osbourne. ‘You go, girl!’ (I wish I’d had the balls actually to say that.)

I remember, the next morning, discovering I’d left the label on the sleeve of my new jacket as I sat on a stage in front of hundreds of people. And they were writers, so they could read, and what they could read was Marks and Spencer Sartorial. (And who knew I’d end up in Marks and Spencer Blue Harbour so soon.)

I remember not remembering if I’d worn these boxer shorts before :/ Sniff, sniff.

I remember my opinion of literary agents rising.

I remember saying that ‘Opinion is the death of thinking’ is a very elegant sentence, illustrating, for any number of good reasons, how to balance noun and verb forms in your writing.

I remember saying how ‘Opinion is the death of thinking’ is an important sentiment for a divided world.

I remember being very opinionated.

I remember saying The Slap is a book that must be read; you must overcome your prejudices against its (apparent) prejudices, because the prejudices are critiquing prejudice, not prejudices in themselves. And if you can’t see that, maybe you should stick to reading the Farrow & Ball colour chart.

I remember telling any number of writers it might be best not to open their novels with that cliché of someone waking (especially from a dream).

I then remember remembering that The Slap opens with someone waking up. But at least its very first page has a fart under the sheets and some very spicy language.

I remember realising I was ranting when I was rattling on about the deficiencies of the learning and teaching of writing in British schools and universities. Oops!

I remember thinking that sometimes people’s written stories only really come to life when they are talking about them (and by that I mean talking conversationally, not delivering some worried-about pitch).

I remember repeating that mantra that you should trust your natural speaking voice. Sometimes those sentences that you speak aloud are the ones that need to go down on the page. ‘I used to work in Jarrow, and my office looked down on the street where Catherine Cookson used to live.’

I remember telling people to write I remembers.

I remember widely recommending Steering the Craft by Ursula Le Guin and Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale.

I remember telling people that their writing is an act of giving to a reader. When do you give, when do you hold back?

I remember needing extra chairs and handouts.

I remember not having time to get to the tightening and brightening exercise. One to finish at home. (No Right Answers, just variations on a theme.)

I remember knowing I must have been snoring, and hoping my neighbours never noticed. Halls of residences have very thin walls.

I remember thinking that York University students must be very thin, because their showerheads are very close to the walls (like, two inches away).

I remember porridge, and prunes.

I remember a robot, mothers, teachers, detectives, an engineer, a creepy neighbour, and an abbot who bangs his fist on the table.

I remember the Weimar Republic, Ireland, Africa, the Lebanon, the 70s, rings, sewers, a tsunami, a prison.

I remember listening with mother, great-grandchildren, dogs, teachers, divorces, a doctor, a New Zealander, the Olympic stadium in Berlin.

I remember Yorkshirewomen, more dogs, four cats and a doctor, a lorry driver, a costume shop, Australians, self-publishers, and a Black Country accent stronger than my own.

I remember even more dogs, and lovely dog-lovers, and an apparently grateful whippet (dogs really can communicate, you know – especially with their eyes).

I remember loving dog-people, and realising they’re probably even stranger than cat-people.

I remember thinking that I love the job of working with writers because you meet so many colourful, sweet, funny, crazy-assed people, and hear so many colourful, sweet, funny, crazy-assed and very moving stories.

I thank all those people for sharing so much.

I remember marking dates in my diary for 2014.

 

PS I will remember to post links and other info from the workshops later in the week. (Update: I did remember, eventually, but did forget some things I needed to add later. But here are my notes on York as well as notes on the book doctor one-on-ones, and here also is a Friday Writing Experiment from last year introducing variations on the idea of ‘I Remember’. And all credit to Joe Brainard and his own ‘I Remember’, now in its own very handsome UK edition.)

Round-up, 25 October 2012: Murderous Self-Publishers, DRM, Supply and Demand, Handwriting, Serials

A lot of noise this week (quite rightly in my view) on how Amazon controls your Kindle content, and can shut it down at its own whim, it seems. More on this another time, perhaps, but here is the original blog that kicked up the fuss, and some other links with perhaps some of the most useful commentary:

Outlawed By Amazon (original blog)

Amazon Inspires Wave of Anti-DRM Sentiment Following Customer Kindle Shutdown (links from Booktrade.info)

I increasingly favour the DRM-free approach to publishing, at least for many aspects of content. What you give away comes back to you some way or other, I feel (but then I am a generous kinda guy, I hope). Here is an article from Publishing Perspectives describing a succesful DRM-free venture: Top SF Authors Raise $1m With Pick-Your-Price, DRM-Free E-Titles. May their success ever increase (and I love how its the genre writers who’re pioneering this).

From IndieReader, some provocative views on whether self-publishing is killing the publishing industry (basically, self-publishers need to get a bit more professional):

If indie authors are going to make their mark, they’ll need to band together, put out reputable works, and stop looking for get-sales-quick gimmicks.

And from the Globe and Mail, a pertinent discussion on the creative writing industry and whether we’re creating more writers than can or will be read, with Canadian examples: Writers: graduating by the bushel, but can they find readers? Given the laws of supply and demand, I’m inclined to think that Mexican critic Gabriel Zaid is right when he (only half?) jokes that perhaps writers need to slip a five-dollar bill into their books in order to pay their readers …

And from earlier in the week a lovely blog on the lost art of letter-writing in the Guardian. Do follow some of the links therein, and also back to the extract from Philip Hensher’s book on handwriting: Why Handwriting Matters.

And finally: I am a big fan of the idea of serial fiction, and I am enjoying the reports on Naomi Alderman and Margaret Atwood’s serialised novel The Happy Zombie Sunrise Home. I can see (see above too) I am going to have to look into Wattpad some more.

 

Eel Pie Island

I really love Twickenham. It’s a great mix of so many things, part of London yet too very much its own self, wrapped around a bend in the Thames.

One of its most magical spots is Eel Pie Island, a boho boatyard and hippietopia of sorts on an eyot (small island) in the river. No cars, just a footbridge, and a history going back to Henry VIII, who apparently stopped here for an eel pie on his way upriver to Hampton Court after seeing his mistress in Kew.

For a potted (and colourful) history, listen to this feature broadcast by NPR back in August: From A British King To Rock ‘N’ Roll: The Slippery History Of Eel Pie Island (that link has the recipe for eel pie, but this link from the producers has more pictures). I never knew Anjelica Huston had a connection to Twickenham.

The golden era of squats and skiffle and art students and trad jazz has passed, but some of the spirit lives on in the studios of the Eel Pie Island Artists. The yard where they are based is mostly closed off to the public, but it opens twice a year for the open studios weekends. Last Christmas I bought my mom a gorgeous glass robin there. And back in June, my friend Antonia and I sipped punch in the pop-up pop & punch bar assembled around heaps of boaty junk (items I don’t know the words for, but they were made of iron and peeling paint, and there was also a very rusty trampoline – I imagine it enjoys part of that colourful history).

And then we snuck through a gap in some bambooish thicketry, and wandered through the watery green of a nature reserve of sorts – tall and slender tree trunks, a high canopy of leaves, and the song of robins and blackbirds and our local squawky parrots. Were we in London?

Here are some other related links:

* Eel Pie Island Hotel & Dancehall – pictures, words, and links

* Eel Pie Dharma – a super haibun/memoir by Chris Faiers

* The Eel Pie Club – the current ‘home of Richmond & Twickenham Rhthym & Blues’, at the Cabbage Patch

* Come Hell Or High WaterSunday Times feature by Richard Johnson

* Exploring Eel Pie Island – from the Little London Observationist

* Twickerati’s feature on the open studios in 2011

* Suburban Hymn – a walk around Twickenham from Simon Hoggart (from 2001 – not much needs updating; guess the burbs are pretty timeless in their charms, if not hipsterish, though we can brag about Noah and the Whale now)

And here are some snaps of my own, taken at various points during the last year.