Where We Go from Here

Further to last week’s entry about our Hotchpotch venue, I’m pleased to report we’ve at least found a stopgap venue for July. I was out of Dundee at the time, so a big thanks go to our core group of regulars for helping me to take swift action.

As we look to August, we need to find somewhere that’s quiet enough to hear unaccompanied speech and that can host the group in the long term. Our old venue allowed us to use the basement every month on a Monday as it pulled in customers on what is traditionally a quiet day in the licensed trade.

The other consideration is whether to start charging members. Until now, entry has been free because our venues have let us have the space in exchange for buying food and drink. We attract around 30 people, sometimes more, per event and a charge of – say – £2 apiece would cover a £50 hire charge.

Whatever happens, I’m keen to make sure the evening sticks to the same principles: to give people a platform for their work with no judgement and no criticism.

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Far, Wide and Deep

This blog primarily discusses writing and the performance of literary works. For the most part, this encompasses novels, short stories and poems.

But some of the entries touch upon films, TV series and rap music. What these forms have in common is that they almost always begin as a written document, from the musician who jots down lyrics in the notebook to the screenwriter carefully crafts a story arc.

In my view, it’s healthy for a writer to have influences from many different sources. Last week alone, I’ve been to see a 40th anniversary screening of Alien, I visited and participated in the StAnza poetry Festival in St Andrews, and I’ve been listening to the hits of Rizzle Kicks.

That’s not to say these sources will immediately influence my work. Rather, I might pick up a line of dialogue or a neat way of wrapping up a plot.

When I undertook my MLitt Writing Practice and Study course at the University of Dundee, I had the privilege of being taught by Dr Jim Stewart before his death in 2016.

If you came to him with a piece he didn’t understand, he’d ask you questions until it was clear to him or research it. If he felt something could be improved, he would guide you rather than make outright suggestions. I never once heard him dismiss anything.

And when a writer embraces an unlikely influence, the result can be eye-opening. Take P D James as an example. She was known for her detective novels, then at the age of 70, she wrote Children of Men, her only science fiction work.

The Weakest Ink

This month, I’ve been taking part in Fun a Day Dundee, a project to create whatever you like in or throughout January. Mine is called Line for a Walk, where I’m writing fragments every day to form a circular sentence by the end of the month.

Back in 2015, I made a post where I talked about my creative response to an exhibition where I wasn’t happy with my own work. This month, I’ve had a similar experience – particularly from Day 20 onwards – as I’ve realised my project is running out of steam. I did have a lot of ideas at the beginning of January, which I’ve now used.

I will finish the project as planned, but I’ve realised I need more focus. This doesn’t mean taking a prescriptive approach, merely setting some type of restriction or theme. A blank page is harder to tackle than a brief which reads something like ‘In 500 words, write about two characters on a boat’.

Where I have enjoyed some success is in my handful of side projects – those that are part of Fun a Day but don’t fall under Line for a Walk. These spontaneous side projects have included poetry and visual art experiments, but relying on spontaneity for a month is a tough request.

Meanwhile, I need to realise that I’ve yet to see the end of the project and that those perceived weak links might not be as flimsy as they now appear. I also need to remember it’s supposed to be a slice of fun.

All the Fun of the Day

For the second year, I’ll be taking part in Fun a Day. This is a project where participants do something creative during January, either one project per day or something larger over the entire month.

I’ve already started to document my progress in a commonplace book. With the official hashtag now announced, I posted my first two pictures online. The first contained the three rules of my project. The second contained this quote from Monica Geller in Friends.

Rules are good! Rules help control the fun!
Rules are good! Rules help control the fun!

My main project will be text-based. I’ll be writing a fragment of 40 words on Day 1, 39 words on Day 2, and so on until I’m writing 10 words on Day 31. The text will form a complete circle so the fragment on the last day will join up with the fragment on the first.

That said, being around visual artists has had an effect on me. Last year’s project consisted largely of pen on lined paper, which looked somewhat out of place compared to the other participants’ installations. Poets think about how their work looks on the page; artists think about how it looks on the wall.

In fact, the proposed title is Line for a Walk, derived from a quote by the artist Paul Klee. Depending upon which source you read, he said, ‘A line is simply a dot going for a walk,’ or ‘A drawing is simply a line going for a walk.’ I actually used this analogy to explain to the organiser what it’s like to write a novel in a month, and the phrase stuck with me.

There are side projects planned alongside the main one, but these aren’t quite so rigorously defined yet. Even if they don’t happen, January will not be a dull month.

Right Now or Write Later

The V&A design museum in Dundee officially opened its doors on Saturday. I’d been fortunate enough to win a ticket in the ballot so I could be among its first visitors.

However, this entry is not a write-up about the experience. Rather, it’s about the balance between reporting on an event as a punter versus enjoying the experience in person. This thought was prompted by a colleague who asked me to take lots of pictures while I was there.

As regular readers know, I do sometimes report on events for this blog, but my style has changed over the years. When I used LiveJournal, I would write about anywhere I’d been: music festivals, airshows, boat trips, and so forth, often taking dozens of pictures.

These days, I’m of the mindset that I report back on only notable places and often don’t bother taking pictures. I did tell my colleague I’d take one to show her the inside of the V&A, but that would be her lot. After all, there had already been many published in local media.

During the five or so minutes I spent taking and sending the aforementioned picture, it reinforced how little I was engaging with the surroundings. I was far happier to see it through my own eyes without the aid of technology. I’ll leave that to the real journalists.

Making a Move

Every month, I organise an open-mike night called Hotchpotch for writers to read their work in front of an audience.

Mayfly, May 2007
Mayfly, May 2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia). Mayflies are aquatic insects belonging to the order Ephemeroptera.

For the last couple of years, we’ve been using a bar called the Tinsmith, who took us in when a previous venue closed. We’re indebted to them for allowing our group to keep going, and we made it clear that the move was on good terms.

They have a snug area that offers some degree of separation from the other customers. Over the last few months, however, our audience has grown beyond this area. As a result, it’s become difficult for everyone to hear, even with a PA system.

With help from another member, we scouted out a few locations, bearing in mind that any venue needs to benefit from our presence. Some didn’t have the privacy or the space we need, while others charged amounts that we wouldn’t be able to sustain in the long run. We found the Mayfly, who take a reasonable approach to space versus cost.

Of all the impending changes ahead, the format of Hotchpotch remains the same: for writers to read out their fiction or poetry with no judgement and no criticism. The next meeting is on Monday 14 May.

Delayed Gratification

Having been delayed by heavy snowfall six weeks ago, the Fun a Day Dundee exhibition finally took place Friday to Sunday. This is a challenge to produce creative pieces during January.

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The exhibition featured dozens of artists working in different media: plastic, paint, photography, wire, ceramic, &c. My pieces were almost entirely made of ink on paper. Most of them were displayed in a ring binder, but a few were hung on the wall by the organiser Sam Baxter.

I was only able to be there for the Friday launch and the tail end of Sunday, but I tried to keep away from my work as much as possible. I wanted to observe how people interacted with it, particularly the centrepiece, a sheet of Amazon packing paper inviting visitors to write their stories of corporate waste. Another exhibit comprised a sealed envelope emblazoned with ‘PRIVATE – DO NOT OPEN’ that was opened within 20 minutes of the public entering.

It felt strange to present my writing in such a manner. A writer mainly sees written feedback on finished pieces, often from publishers. Here, on the other hand, was the possibility of instant reactions on rough drafts. The feedback I heard was largely positive, though.

Two of the other artists I liked were David Kendall who produced works within cardboard boxes, and Yasmin Lawson‘s tiny but monolithic tower blocks.

As the name of the project suggests, I found it fun to take part. I intend to be involved next year, perhaps with something completely different.