Remote Control

Regular readers will know I run Hotchpotch, an open-mike night for writers.

Earlier this month, we not only celebrated ten years as a group, but we managed to have our last gig before all the pubs were ordered to close on Monday 23 March. This attracted a sizeable crowd under the circumstances.

We’d planned to reconvene on Monday 13 April, but that’s almost definitely off the table. I’d always half-joked that if we ever had no venue, we’d meet up in the street. It’s not something we’ve ever needed to do, and – considering the nature of the threat – wouldn’t be appropriate.

So if we want this night to continue, we need to move temporarily online, as many poets and musicians have done. Our challenge is somewhat larger: we don’t just have one or two writers, but easily 30 or 40.

While mulling over the problem, I remembered we use a GMail account and that Google gives us a YouTube profile with that. So over the next two weeks, we’ll invite members to send in videos of themselves reading their work and post it to the channel.

It won’t be a patch on the vibe that happens when we all assemble, but it’ll keep us going until this lockdown is eased.

I also run a separate writing group every Tuesday evening as part of National Novel Writing Month; this also can’t meet because of the restrictions.

In this case, we’d already set up a Discord server where members can chat via text. Last week, we set up a voice channel alongside the text, and we were able to speak to each other, almost as if we were in the same room.

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.

Four, But Not of a Kind

I’m a member of at least four literary groups. I would normally have perhaps two in one week, or have to miss one because another takes precedence. But in a rare alignment last week, they occurred in sequence from Monday to Thursday.

On the surface, it might seem unnecessary to be in so many groups, but each one has its own distinct character and role. I also run the first two groups, while the other two are held by others. Here’s a brief rundown of what happens.


Monday: Hotchpotch

Of all my groups, this is probably the one I talk about most as it’s open to the public, while the rest have a semi-closed membership. Once a month on a Monday, we provide a space for writers to showcase their work in an open-mike format. There’s a strong ethos of no judgement and no criticism, so members are never given a hard time even if they make a mistake or if their work is rather political.

Tuesday: National Novel Writing Month

Although National Novel Writing Month officially only takes place during November, our region has continued to meet up in a pub every week for the past three or four years. We work on our own projects and have a lot of banter, although it’s not specifically for feedback. We’re gearing up for November by providing extra meet-ups and more encouragement for participants.

Wednesday: Table 23

Table 23 is an offshoot of our Tuesday meetings, named after the table we normally monopolise. These are held roughly every month at a member’s house. Unlike Tuesdays, each of us talk through our current writing project and ask for feedback about how it might be improved or about how to solve a particular plot problem.

Thursday: Wyverns

Wyverns is a group exclusively for poetry, formed when the local university stopped providing a suitable evening class. The members write a poem to a theme each month, and it receives constructive feedback from the others. We’re also working on our second pamphlet; our first was about Frankenstein, while this one is themed around the River Tay.


It can be hectic keeping up with all these groups, but it’s so rewarding to have this support from other writers that it’s definitely worth the effort.

Plans on my Hands

Having received my kit from the headquarters of National Novel Writing Month, I’ve been thinking about our group’s plans for when the contest starts in November. I also need to do some work on Hotchpotch, my open-mike for writers.

As such, I’ve had no time to write a full entry. However, we should be back next week with something to say.

BusyBusyBusy

Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much time to construct a full entry this week. I’ve therefore rounded up two main points, ahead of a full entry next week.

  1. Don’t forget to save your work as you write it, and back it up once you’ve finished. I was reminded of this point when I lost last week’s entry by accidentally hitting the Move to Trash button in WordPress. The entry should still be recoverable, like your computer’s Recycle Bin, but it was missing.

    Fortunately, I’d handwritten the first draft, so I was able to reconstruct it. I later reported the incident to WordPress and it was found to be a bug when using the Block Editor.
  2. As alluded to in previous entries, we’ve had trouble finding an open-mike venue after our last one closed. However, we had a successful meeting yesterevening, and we now have the same stopgap venue again for August. A few of us are meeting on Friday to discuss the long-term future, plus a potential collaboration with an Edinburgh-based group.

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.

Venues

I often speak about Hotchpotch on this blog. This is an open-mike night I run, with an ethos of no judgement and no criticism.

Yesterday, we heard that the venue we use is closing down, so we currently have nowhere to hold our next session, scheduled for Monday 15 July.

A few of the regulars are working on a stopgap venue, and we hope a permanent place can be found for August. We’ve also sent a message to members, advising them of the situation and asking for help.

So I’m afraid this entry has not much style nor substance, as this conundrum will be taking up much of my time this week.

Nonetheless, we’ve endured a number of venue closures over our ten-year history, and we’ve bounced back every time.

EDIT: In the time since this entry was written, we’ve found a stopgap place. This will give us breathing time before August.

A Place to Speak

Over the years, I’ve been to poetry gigs in many different locations.

In most cases, there are only a few legal requirements, including the correct insurance, a PPL licence if music is involved, and an alcohol certificate if drink is served.

For this reason, pubs and cafés are a common choice, and many bookshops, theatres and libraries are able to help. And there are plenty of alternatives. A friend launched her novel in a bank, while my own Hotchpotch event has previously taken place on an ancient warship.

And now I have somewhere new to add to the list: a virtual reality studio. On Saturday, Second Space took over the place for one night only.

This studio is largely open-plan to allow two or more players to battle against each other wearing VR helmets. As a result, there’s an area large enough to seat 50 people comfortably.

The other unusual factor in this gig was the extent of technology involved. Each poet was accompanied by computer-generated fractal imagery such as you might find at a nightclub, plus short films screened between performers.

Even before I knew about this, I’d discussed with one of the owners the possibility of holding a special Hotchpotch there, as we’ll celebrate our 10th birthday in March 2020. From seeing how well the Second Space performance was staged, I’ll start making plans now and we’ll be all set for next year.

A Weekend of Shows

Regular readers will know that I run a monthly open-mike night called Hotchpotch; it’s for writers rather than musicians. This past weekend, we branched out and held two extra events that differ from our usual format.

On Friday, it was Hotchpotch Presents…, a 40-minute showcase of some of our regular members’ best work with no open-mike element. This was part of a festival called Stripped, organised by Dundee Rep Theatre. Our set finished off a cabaret-style evening that included the poet Imogen Stirling.

The staff there treated us well, even when we changed our technical requirements a couple of hours beforehand. I did feel the audience needed to be loosened up a little, but they had done by the halfway point. The best part was that we had a small budget, so the performers could be paid a fee.

This will certainly open the door for another members’ show in the future, possibly next March when Hotchpotch celebrates its 10th birthday.

On Sunday, we held Hotchpotch in Perth, around half an hour away by car. This was part of the Soutar Festival of Words, and we were given the use of the AK Bell library for 90 minutes. That event was modelled on the Dundee open-mike sessions, but performers were to be given five minutes rather than seven, and we allowed them to sign up in advance.

Although the audience was around half the size of what we would normally attract, it meant that everyone was allowed a second turn at the microphone if they wanted it. Among the crowd was Rana Marathon, who holds a regular spoken-word night in Perth called Blend In – Stand Out (BISO). Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to go to the BISO Slam the previous day because I was organising our event.

And there’s more to come. I’m currently in Wolverhampton on business where there’s an event tonight called PASTA, short for Poets and Storytellers Assemble. It seems to be similar to Hotchpotch, so I’m looking forward to taking part.

Busy Bee

Last week, I learnt that the venue we use for Hotchpotch – the spoken-word open-mike night – will be closed for refurbishment until the end of August or the beginning of September.

By Texas State Archives from Austin, Texas, USA (2001078_009_70_132_002ac) [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons
By Texas State Archives from Austin, Texas, USA (2001078_009_70_132_002ac) [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons
You might remember three weeks ago, I spoke about the importance of keeping a kind of Cabinet office when there are difficult decisions to be made. The system definitely worked in this instance, with regular members making good suggestions about what to do next.

Within 24 hours, we’d managed to secure another bar in the city centre for this month, and potentially next. We even had an offer from another venue that we can investigate if we need to. The next Hotchpotch will now take place in the Westport Bar in Dundee on Monday 16 July at 7pm.

Meanwhile, I’ve been working on my Make / Share presentation on the subject of impostor syndrome, as touched upon in last week’s entry. If you’re local to Dundee, this happens tomorrow at The Beer Kitchen from 7pm.