Sailing By

Four weeks ago, I wrote a blog entry about warming up for Fun a Day Dundee in 2020.

I’m pleased to report that a version of that entry has been posted on the official website. Be sure to click around the menu at the top to read more stories and information about the project.

Note that the post is under my legal name of Gavin Cruickshank, which I don’t normally use for writing since few people can spell it correctly.

I haven’t had a great deal of time this week, so I’ll be back next week with a fuller entry.

Two Festivals

There are two major festivals happening concurrently this week.

The first is the popular Book Week Scotland, an annual festival of books and reading across the nation. The organisers produce a promotional paperback containing short stories from contemporary writers that are given away at literary events. As such, I ordered a box for my open-mike night Hotchpotch, and we had just enough for each member to take one.

What is less well-known is the Being Human festival, a commemoration of the humanities across the UK, and it’s that one I’d like to focus on in this entry. Until Saturday 23 November, there will be events held in Lincoln, London, Sheffield and Swansea – as well as in my native Dundee.

I’ve previously mentioned my poetry circle, the Wyverns. In 2018, we created our first booklet as part of Being Human. This was inspired by the 200th anniversary of the novel Frankenstein, all the more appropriate since Mary Shelley was living in Dundee when she started to write it. The booklet was then launched at the University of Dundee.

We’ve now been given an opportunity to do the same with this year’s theme: discoveries and secrets. Our circle took inspiration from the nearby River Tay, more than a mile and a half wide at its mouth, with plenty of physical and metaphorical space for secrets waiting to be discovered. Incidentally, only one poet wrote about the obvious connection with the RRS Discovery, which was built in Dundee and visited Antarctica in the early 20th century.

To me, it’s lamentable that Book Week Scotland tends to grab the headlines and overshadow Being Human, as there are so many potential connections to be made between the two that they deserve an equal footing.

For instance, my friends Erin Farley and James Barrowman have been temporarily resurrecting The Poets’ Box in the Wellgate shopping centre. The original Box opened in the 1870s and stayed open for more than 70 years, albeit in different locations around the city. It not only sold poetry and sheet music, but had a printing press on the premises to distribute work by local writers.

Despite the overshadowing, I’m looking forward to taking part in Being Human this year, and if all other factors remain equal, in years to come.

Looking Ahead to January

Although it’s not until next year, I’m already gearing up to take part in Fun a Day Dundee (FADD) for the third time. This is the local chapter of a global project that encourages participants to undertake something creative during the month of January. It happens at a time of year when professional artists and creators often struggle after the Christmas rush.

I first learnt of FADD in 2017, although the group has been running since 2011. A few of my artist friends were taking part, some working on a different piece every day for the 31 days, others concentrating on one or more larger projects during this time.

Those friends told me I should take part the following year, but I had some reservations: I’m not a painter, a model-maker, a jeweller, nor anything similar. Rather, my craft is writing words in pencil or pen on lined paper.

Rationally, I knew I was welcome, while still feeling like a misfit. As such, I hesitated in signing up, only registering my interest on the first day: 1 January 2018.

I started off with the intention of producing one piece of prose or poetry each day of the month, with provision to create side projects if something else occurred to me that I wanted to try out. Four days into FADD, I created my first such side project and something extraordinary happened.

In late December, I’d ordered a watch strap from Amazon, and it arrived in early January with six wasteful feet of brown paper cushioning stuffed into a needlessly large box. But inspired by the artists of FADD posting their work on Instagram and Twitter, I straightened out the paper and kept it aside for the public exhibition. I then planned to invite visitors to write down their own stories of corporate waste on that sheet of paper.

With the addition of that piece and my other side projects, the exhibition display looked so much more colourful and engaging than simply a folder full of black or blue ink on cream paper, and visitors did indeed fill the paper with anecdotes.

But more than that, this piece in particular gave me a direction for my 2019 project, where I still wrote words, but on recycled material. The surfaces used included used envelopes, expired tickets, and even the sole of a worn-out Dr Marten boot; anything except fresh lined paper.

In 2020, I have every intention of taking the recycling theme one stage further. The finer details will be worked out nearer the time, but the project will include actively destroying some of what I wrote in 2018 and 2019, and encouraging the public to do the same.

Whatever happens, however, I will make sure I have fun doing it, just as the name suggests.

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.

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.