Thursday 24 June 2010

Great Writing 2010

This was another successful conference. There were some old faces there and some new ones. As usual, there was as much value in the discussions over coffee and at mealtimes as in the sessions themselves. We were blessed with warm sunny weather and much time was spent on the balcony outside. This enhanced our mood as did the wonderful food provided during breaks.
The old debate about why do a Masters or a Ph D in Creative Writing was there again. Two sessions addressed this in particular: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, presented by Sara Bailey, Craig Batty and Sandra Cain. In the audience and the panel, some people have completed a Ph D, others are part way through and others can’t or don’t want to find the time. Those of us who have them are pleased that we do, but we still grapple with the question. We were partly answered by Sally O’ Reilly, who started on her Ph D after being published. What she said resonated with my take on it: it is another way of being given permission to write and another way of having your writing endorsed. One investigates that whole practice with a view to evaluating one’s own and improving it and investigates more deeply a particular part of it. I actually think that writing within the academy is about more than being published.
I was struck by two items in particular this year. Many presentations contained a delightful mix of the creative and the reflective and even the critical and seemed to epitomise what we are all about.
The pursuit of excellence and the practice / training needed for that – in other words, the need to write and write and write – was something else that became clear to me. I’ve come back determined to write more and better.

Thursday 17 June 2010

The Anthony Burgess Foundation – Opening of New Premises

The Anthony Burgess Foundation – Opening of New Premises
What a fabulous occasion this was yesterday evening. One of my colleagues is a member of the Foundation and consequently we were all invited. A large number of us went along.
The new premises are at the Engine House, Chorlton Mill, Cambridge Street, Manchester. It was easy to park and not too costly - £2.90 for four hours. There is a medium size car park opposite the venue and it was nowhere near full although all of the slightly cheaper on street parking was used up. Then there were probably more people there at one time than there would be normally be.
Goodness, we were fighting over the space. We could all see excellent uses for it. I personally would like to launch Babel from there. There is a small auditorium which is blessed with impressive light. There is a café – and I suspect this is going to become one of my creative cafés. Downstairs there is a small study area. Everywhere is tastefully decorated with interesting pieces of furniture and books – just right for the type of venue this is.
We were served drinks and small canapés throughout the evening. If this was an example of the catering, it bodes well for the future. There was a tasteful elegance about the way all was served, yet it was without pretension. The atmosphere was exactly right.
A highlight of the evening was a recital of some of Burgess’ music.
My goodness, what an extraordinary evening and my goodness what a fantastic venue.

Wednesday 9 June 2010

Three Meetings in a Productive Day

This is the business side of being a writer, of being an academic and of being a partner in a publishing house. I enjoyed an extremely productive day yesterday – and managed to sell ten books to boot.
My first meeting was with an enterprise organisation with whom I’m going to work at St Patricks High School, Eccles. I’ll be involved with two groups of children who are going to produce a modern version of a traditional fairy story. It will be all about working in team. I met with a representative of the enterprise organisation and one from the school yesterday morning. We sat and sipped coffee at the bottom of Crescent House. It’s remarkably quiet at this time of year. I’m so glad they changed the layout there. It is now conducive to those types of meetings. They seemed thrilled with my ideas. They’ve to buy ten of my books – five for each group as prizes. I’m offering The Prophecy, Nick’s Gallery, Scum Bag, Scream and Gentle Footprints. I’m actually really looking forward to this day.
At lunchtime, I joined a working lunch with the Aimhigher team. This time we were in the Old Fire Station. It’s a great building – even if you can hear the A6. There was a lot of lunch and not much team – I even managed to take some of the food for my pre-choir snack. The lack of people did mean those of us there could thrash out much of the detail about the courses. Again, I find myself looking forward to this. I’ve done it before. I know what I’m doing. I can do it even better this time.
My third meeting was with a lady who wished to pick my brains about forming an independent publishing company. I explained the Bridge House model.
“We’re not really in competition, are we?” she asked.
I think we are, actually, but it’s healthy competition: we’re not deadly rivals. I wonder what our mission statement really is. On our site we have “passionate about new writing” but I actually think it’s a bit more than that – maybe it should be “producing beautiful books in a way that is fair to the authors and the workers”. However, that is terribly clunky. All suggestions welcome.
The new company will be a women’s press. Some of us may even find ourselves submitting to them.
The day was extremely satisfying and was what it is all about.

Tuesday 1 June 2010

Hay Day One

There is an incredible atmosphere at the Hay Festival. The main events are held on a field just outside the town. Large marquees are sponsored by the likes of Barclays Bank and the Guardian newspaper. There are quirky side-stalls such as the one selling a Monopoly-like board game based on books and the tombola for original and reproduced artwork. Proceeds support green initiatives. Young people wander around with beehive-shaped backpacks giving samples of honeybeer. There are open meadow areas with people sitting on designer deckchairs and on the grass and guess what – they’re reading. Reading, of course, is a respected activity at this festival. There’s the atmosphere of a rock festival though it’s a little more subdued – and of course the inevitable queue for the ladies’ loo.
I actually attended two events: a reading and interview with Audrey Neffenegger who wrote The Time Traveller’s Wife and Andrea Levy who wrote Small Islands. They were both extremely interesting though totally different from each other. Both good speakers in their own way. Speakers and presenters at Hay are awarded a long-stemmed rose. You can spot them as you wander around the town afterwards. We walked straight past Levy later in the afternoon.
I was fascinated that Neffenegger is part writer, part artist and part college professor. Sounds familiar somehow. Even the best of us have to juggle. She did give us a tip for a book we really need: Time Travel for Writers. Need to google that.
Levy was a performer. She read with a fabulous Caribbean accent. She sets out to portray amongst other things the ordinary day to day life of the 300 years of slavery. She talked of a distinction between voice and accent.
We also visited the Rainforest Rescue stand which was interesting and supported by Sky Arts and the World Wildlife Fund, so there’s a connection with Gentle Footprints and our launch on Friday.
We took some time afterwards to visit the town of Hay itself. You can see that the locals are milking the festival. One family were offering cream teas in their garden. A house for sale is having its Open House in exactly this week. Many people are holding garage sales. But who can blame them? If the world invades their space at festival time… why not? In a way, it’s a form of hospitality.
We took the time out to investigate the Swan where we’re having our meet-and-greet before the main event on Friday. It was crowded but delightful. The evening menu seemed very reasonable and they didn’t seem to have inflated prices at the time of the main festival. That too is a form of hospitality.
We dined at the cheaper of the local hostelries, The Wheel Wright, recommended by our landlady. There was actually more choice there and it was cheaper. The people were very friendly if a little noisy.