Tag Archives: Stroud

I say Hopeless, you say Maine…

As I write this, I’m still recovering from a most amazing weekend. Stroud had its first Steampunk Weekend, run by John Bassett – he’s a very creative local chap and also an excellent organiser of things. When he expressed an interest in Steampunk last year, Tom and I were very excited and piled in as best we could to help. Tom was heavily implicated in sorting out the day program and we both did a fair amount of luring people in.

It was a touch surreal seeing people we normally have to travel to spend time with. It was also rather lovely getting people from afar who we really like and being able to share them with local friends. There’s a particular pleasure in watching people I like connecting with each other, and this is one of the things a Steampunk weekend can be counted on to do. Steampunk is all about the social opportunities and the creativity. There was a lot of cross pollination over the weekend.

We took a Hopeless Maine Home Companion set to the event – a team piece lead by The Keith of Mystery. It was fantastic for me being able to focus on performance in an ensemble session and have someone else hold the space together and make that work. There’s also something very lovely about seeing my project in other people’s hands. We also took a Cup Full of Tentacles set to the Sunday – this is me, Tom and James singing stuff we like to sing (mostly folk) and using it to talk about Hopeless Maine a little bit. The room we were in had fantastic acoustics, which is always a delight.

Saturday night was so emotionally loaded that I’m still recovering. It all revolved around Professor Elemental. He is one of my favourite people. It was something akin to love at first sight for me, encountering his Cup of Brown Joy song on youtube many years ago. Tom got talking to him at an event in America (after some pleading on my part) and we’ve stayed in touch ever since. The Prof and I co-wrote a novel, which was an amazing thing to get to do. He wrote us a Hopeless Maine song as well – which is out there should you feel moved to hunt it down with a search engine.

In Hopeless Maine sets, my son James performs Professor Elemental’s Hopeless Maine song, but the Prof had never heard him do it. On Saturday night, he had James up on stage to do the first verse of the Hopeless Maine song. Which was brilliant. What nearly broke me though, was Cup of Brown Joy – the song I started with. Normally there’s an audience participation bit – “I say earl grey, you say yes please” and then people in the audience yell ‘yes please’ in response to a few rounds of ‘earl grey’. We also normally get assam – lovely, herbal – no thanks and oo-long…. But on Saturday the song went “I say Hopeless, you say Maine.”

And they did.

Some of this is because Professor Elemental asks you to do something in a gig and you do it because of his strange, hypnotic powers and irresistible knees… but even so.

If you want to go to a gig that will make you feel better about yourself, and the world in general, he’s the person to seek out. If you want to come out of a room feeling love and solidarity with everyone else who was there, he will do that to you. If you want a space to laugh and cry and jump up and down and feel good about things, and like there’s room for you in the world and that we might be able to make lovely things together… go and see him. He is medicine for the soul.

https://www.professorelemental.com/

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Stroud Short Stories, revisited

Stroud Short Stories runs twice a year, picking ten stories to be read at an evening event. Participation is usually limited to Gloucestershire. In the winter of 2014, I was picked to read. In the spring of 2015 I edited an anthology of all previously selected stories. Last autumn I was invited to help with the judging, and I’ve been asked to do that again this spring.

Judging literature is a very subjective process. A small percentage of the submissions don’t work – they don’t make sense in some way, are too unoriginal, or express prejudices that aren’t acceptable. Those are the easy ones to weed out, although I have to admit it’s possible that amongst them are high art, super clever serious literature that I’m not smart enough to get. The flip side of this is that I know the audience who come to hear the stories, and they tend to be more like me, and are not cutting edge literary academics either.

The quest for the best ten is not an easy one. It helps that there’s the ‘reading out’ aspect, because this rules out a percentage of the stories. We judge without knowing the author, so I’m less likely to pick a story that depends on fantastic, theatrical delivery. Most authors are shy, wary of the microphone and many come to the events not having read much (or ever) in public before. The story has to work regardless of delivery. I’ve learned to be wary of vast stretches of dialogue, because not every author can produce two or more clear voices on a stage.

As a reader, first and foremost I want to be surprised. This is true of anything I get my nose into. I want not to know where it was going. I want to encounter thoughts that would never have crossed my mind. I am susceptible to beautiful language, but it has to be in service to the story, and I do not like things that sound clever and poetic but lack for meaning.

In the autumn we were picking to a theme, and having the Eerie Evening (see poster!) to work with, was a useful focus for selection. There’s no theme this spring, and I have no idea how that’s going to go. The competition is now open for submissions, and in the weeks ahead, I’ll be reading, and pondering perhaps something in the region of a hundred short stories, looking for the ten. I hope I can do the process justice.

It helps greatly that I’m not doing this alone. John Holland also judges, and he’s done far more of this than I have. While there’s a fair overlap in our tastes, we think in different ways, and in finding stories that we both think work, we’ve got a good shot (I think) at getting the best ten, at least on paper. How they’ll translate on the night is an unknown quantity. Some stories come alive in whole new ways when read aloud, others don’t have the punch you expected. Nothing is certain, and that’s part of the allure.

If you’re in Gloucestershire and want to give it a go (but don’t tell me!) the details are here – http://www.stroudshortstories.blogspot.co.uk/


Tiny books, big love

3 very small books this week, all from independent creators. I’m fascinated by the way in which a small book can also be an art object, especially if handmade. Small books are more likely to be limited edition, and are in my foreseeable future going to require their own very small bookcase! 2 of these are very Stroud-centric, the last one isn’t.

Little Metropolis – poems of Stroud, of small town living, nostalgia, and reluctantly growing up, by Adam Horovitz. Ideal for anyone with a Stroud connection, money from the project goes to support Stroud Fringe, and there’s also an audio version with music. It brought home to me something of what it means to be deeply rooted in a place, which having moved several times in my life, I don’t really have.

More about the project here – https://littlemetropolis.bandcamp.com/releases

 

 

 

Growing Victorians in Your Garden – by Bill Jones. Illustrated by Bill Jones as well. A mix of the mournful and the whimsical, highly recommended for steampunks, gardeners,  and people who like tiny, lovely things.

I think the only way to get one of these is by hurling yourself at Bill in the street, but it’s worth doing if you can get to Stroud. More about Growing Victorians over on Bill’s blog – http://www.hawkerspot.com/2015/12/growing-victorians-in-your-garden.html

 

The League of Lid Curving Witchery’s Guide to Peffa Oidy Witches – (which I couldn’t find an image for) this is a tiny(peffa oidy) book from Phil and Jacqui Lovesey of Matlock the Hare. They make a lot of tiny books, with gorgeous colour illustrations and extra insights into the world of Winchett Dale. Peffa Oidy Witches are one of my favourite things. Keep an eye on their website for new peffa oidy books, these are a delight to own.

More about handmade books and what’s currently available here – http://matlockthehare.com/products/302245–matlock-the-hare-handmade-books.aspx


Stroud Short Stories

A bit less than a year ago, I ran into Stroud Short Stories competition on Twitter. I decided to have a go, found a 1500 ish word story somewhere at the back of my brain, sent it in and promptly forgot all about it. This is a protective tactic that comes from more years than I care to number sending stories, novels, poetry and articles to contests, magazines, publishers and websites. Like most authors I hear ‘no’, or I hear nothing far more often than it gets me anywhere.

Consequently I was quite surprised to find myself picked as one of the ten readers, reading on a dark night last October. I haven’t done much getting onto stages in recent years – Druid Camp of 2014, when I contributed a single song, was the first time I’d been on a stage singing, in years. I’d done a couple of talks in years previously to that, but had gone from being a confident and regular performer, speaker and ritual leader to being an anxious mess and not at all easy about stages. I’ve got a lot better over the last year, I’ve done a lot more stuff in public and I’ve had some much appreciated support. The Stroud Short Stories evening was a stepping stone on that journey, and it led to all manner of things.

During the competition, organiser John Holland kept saying that there never would be a published version of the selected stories. His version of what followed, and mine are radically different, especially around who talked whom into what and on what terms. The net result was that in January 2015 I started collecting and editing the 70 stories that had been read at previous events, plus the 10 that were read this April. Almost everyone said yes to being included. Over a busy few months I got to know some amazing local authors, a number of whom I’ve gone on to explore other creative possibilities with since. It’s been an epic journey.

There are usually two judges picking the ten stories to be read on the event evenings. When it turned out there could e a vacancy this autumn, John Holland asked me if I might consider doing it. (Give us six months and there will probably be some very different versions of how this happened as well.) I’ve never done anything like this before, so was delighted to say ‘yes’. It’s a wonderful community event, Stroud based, but open to writers in Gloucestershire and South Gloucestershire.

I’m looking forward to it.

The contest is now accepting submissions, full details over at http://stroudshortstories.blogspot.co.uk/


Stroud Short Stories

It all started last year, when a chance encounter on twitter alerted me to the twice yearly event that is Stroud Short Stories competition. In a fit of inspiration, I wrote a piece of the right length, sent it in, and entirely forgot about it. Consequently, I was very surprised some weeks later to find I had been picked as one of the ten authors reading at the event. I hadn’t been on a stage much for years at that point, and was nervous, but it went well and I enjoyed it.

Along the way, John Holland (author and organisational powerhouse who took on running this event last year after Miserable Poet Bill Jones set it up in 2011) kept saying ‘and there won’t be a print version’. I’m perverse. There’s nothing like saying a thing can’t be done to get my interest. And really, a book of short stories? I can edit, I’ve put books together before, I live with a cover artist, how hard could it be?

80 stories and more than 50 authors. I’m nervous about stating an exact number for fear that, like Rollright standing stones and May Hill trees, they will prove uncountable in practice. I started in January, and there was a lunatic mad dash at the end to include the people who read on the 19th. Only three authors declined to participate. One straight ‘no’ and no reason given, but Adam Horovitz declined because he’d worked his into a much longer piece and is doing things with it (how awesome is that?) And one of the chaps who read in October is still looking at placing the story elsewhere. So, the odds are we’ll get him in volume 2 a few years hence. At least one other story became the basis for a novel.

The authors span ages, styles, genres and just about anything else it might occur to you to span in 1500 words. Even distance, because while most have a Gloucestershire connection, some are further afield now. There is genuinely something for everyone, and during the editing process I developed a deep affection for many of the stories and become fond of all the others. It has been a labour of love (which is to say, no one will become financially rich out of this, but other riches have definitely been forthcoming). We launch officially on the 8th of May at the Ale House in Stroud (all being well, I shall be chewing finger nails until books turn up.) There will be some copies to buy on the night, and otherwise, a saunter to www.lulu.com/will provide!

And there’s a lovely post from Debbie Young, here who read on the 19th.

One way or another I’ll be throwing myself at next October’s event, and yes, there will be another anthology a few years hence.


Small films, big ideas

This year, Stroud had its first film festival. I managed to be at the launch, not so very long ago, which included the winning films from the film competition associated with the festival, because Stroud doesn’t do things by halves!

These are all short films with local connections, and they were all played on the night, and for all of their localism, they have things to say that deserve a wider audience. In the order in which they were shown then…

What is Art? Funny, playful and also rather clever. John Bassett does a lot of local theatre, his update of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists last year sent me out to read the original novel.

Ganapati Clayman. Andrew Wood talks about art and Parkinson’s disease. I spent a few weeks last year being Andrew’s studio assistant. He’s a brilliant and fascinating person. I spent a lot of time re-whiting walls and cleaning floors, being a studio assistant not being a terribly glamorous sort of job really.

7 Miles of Pinkness is about the huge Wool Against Weapons protest last summer – 7 miles of pink knitting stretched between 2 nuclear weapons sites as we watch the government trying to claim that spending £100 billion on replacing Trident –  weaponry it would be unthinkable to ever actually use – is a good idea. Much to my surprise, I discovered on the night that I am fleetingly in this film. My abject panic does not come over as clearly as I had feared. My section had just run out of wool, we had no idea where any spare wool was, and I was stood where the wool wasn’t when a nice man pointed a camera at me. I’m very proud to have been a very tiny part of this epic, international project. I’ve also helped turn the scarf into blankets for international aid projects.


Creating your reality

One of the concepts in magical and spiritual thinking that could use some fettling is the notion that we create our own realities. To a significant extent, we shape and inform our own experiences. However, this is not about reality conforming to our desires. It’s not about ‘doing magic’ as a thing separate from how we live. It’s about being able to see and work with the threads of connection that guide what’s happening around us.

Let’s take a case in point. How we treat people informs who they will be for us. You can get the best a person has to give by acting as though you trust them and believe in them. Just believing in them won’t do it, you have to very deliberately put that belief where it can be seen, where it affects the other person’s sense of self and their ideas about what might be possible. And thus your will flows into the world and they become better able to manifest the things you were looking for.

I’ve noticed this recently in terms of how I respond to people, as well. If I’m taken seriously and treated as though I have a value, my morale is improved and my investment in that situation increases. The person who treats me like I have a value to them gets my best work. The people who see my skills and strengths and give me room to manifest those, get the best I am capable of. I’m finding myself in a number of spaces at the moment where this is happening, and I feel inspired by that sense of being valued. I become capable of doing more.

There have been times and places where I’ve faced the opposite. Places where I felt tolerated rather than welcomed, where what I do was/is belittled, diminished, dismissed or assumed to be of little consequence. Places where I have been taken for granted, or afforded no respect for my contributions. In those spaces, I am not at all inspired to do my best – I’m more likely to plan a quiet escape as soon as I am clear about what’s happening.

I go into these as the same person – same abilities, same willingness to give, same capacity to work and think, but what I’m able to do is informed to a significant degree by how I am treated and valued. I can’t do my best work for people who don’t think I’m up to much.

Every interaction we have with every other living thing creates ripples and changes. Every word spoken, every casual gesture. We shape so many of our relationships unconsciously, sending messages that were not intended, and reaping the awkward consequences. Self knowledge, self awareness and clarity of perception make it easier to get what we were intending. Putting into the world the things we want to find makes a lot of odds. Want to be taken seriously? Try taking other people seriously. Want to be loved? Be willing to put love into the world. It’s not a simple, causal effect, it is not the case that what you put out is what comes back to you. However, what you put out shapes what comes back to you. There is magic in being able to craft that so that what you do achieves the results you were looking for. In this I am a novice, but a happy, enthusiastic novice.

And as an entirely related aside, I’m really excited about what I’m getting to do at Moon Books, at nerdbong.com, with Down to Earth Stroud and Stroud Short Stories competition and I’m wondering whether a few other spaces might start to shape up some time soon.


The quest for pretty things

IMAG0354I live in a small flat, and it’s not a property innately full of character. Lots of little boxes, and when I first landed, lots of white walls, beige carpet and all the personality of a motel or travelodge. I’ve been working on improving that.

I like playing with fabric, it’s something I can do in my downtime that has little or no cost and some utility. I’ve also discovered that if I sit down to do some crafting, it gives me the necessary headspace to think about writing fiction. I can use it for breaks between scenes while I’m gathering thoughts, as an offset to block and a way of creating space for the writing. I’m seldom in a state where I can just sit down and write, and crafting helps with the transition. So, this was made alongside quite a lot of story.

The underpinning is a hessian sack (bought from the Stroud Valley’s eco-shop). To this I added blue and green background fabrics, and the patches of colour in the centre (fabric mostly sourced from freecycle). The leaves, flowers, trees and birds all came from swatches of curtain samples, picked up very cheaply (fabric shop in Mills Courtyard). I pinned all of this to my sack, sewed it down and embroidered the edges and the bird (there’s a fantastic haberdashery near Bank Gardens for embroidery silks). The frame is wool spun by Theo, which I knitted using an adaptation of her pointy scarf pattern.

It now adorns the back of the bedroom door, hanging from a door-towel-hook-thing, and the ‘pole’ across the top of the fabric, is a bound together bundle of aluminium slats from a cheap blind I picked up in order to Frankenstein it into a much more cheery Roman blind. I don’t waste much. I’m now plotting a second one of these hangings, to cover a glass door, and afford a bit more privacy for anyone staying over. My son was so enthused by the first one that he’s asked to be involved in the design and layout stage of the second, although he doesn’t have the needle skills for the sewing (yet) but is inclined to learn


Stroud Short Stories

One of the things about being an author is that you spend a lot of time doing things you know are long shots, and probably won’t amount to anything. Every approach to publishers, agents, magazines, media outlets, competitions, bookshops, festivals and so forth feels that way, and all too often what you send out into the world disappears in silence.

It doesn’t help that the stories about writing are all about the successes, because no one likes to talk about failure, or the streams of setbacks, the frustrations and moments of being so demoralised that you want to quit. No one talks much about the people who quit, either. There’s a lot of it out there.

Obviously some of my long shots have worked – I’ve got books with Moon Books, I’ve had two graphic novels published, there’s the Prof Elemental novel, I write for Sage Woman blog and Pagan Dawn Magazine and podcast stories for nerdbong… and that’s all very visible. What is less obvious from the outside is all the things that don’t work out. For everything that went somewhere, there are dozens that didn’t, submissions and entries that didn’t match the project, events for which no one was interested in me, book signings that were quiet, bookshops that come back and say ‘you’re not commercial enough’ (Nailsworth!) or ‘I don’t like graphic novels’ (Gloucester). It can be bloody frustrating some days.

It’s so easy to build a bubble around a few books and imagine you’re getting somewhere, but in reality for all that I have an array of books to my name, I only usually get things done by banging on people’s doors and asking, and that’s true for any creative person who isn’t a household name. Even those who appear to have made it can find, a few years later that they’re back to banging on doors and passing round hats again.

I’m saying this for context. Much to my amazement, one of the long shots hurled into the wind actually came to something. I entered Stroud Short Story competition a while back. Apparently in all there were some 64 authors submitting 82 stories. My story got through, and I will be reading it on Sunday 26 October at SVA (Stroud Valleys Artspace), John Street, Stroud GL5 2HA. Doors open at 7.30. Prompt start at 8.00. It’s £5. As I’ve done a fair amount of reading for the nerdbong podcast, and have some experience performing as a musician, the reading in public part isn’t as intimidating as it might be.

It’s a first person story, so it means I can really use my voice as an instrument. I wrote it for the contest, aware that the end result *could* be a public reading, and that influenced my approach. First person works better than third if you’re voicing something, it creates immediacy and drama. I’ve listened to a lot of spoken short stories, to storytelling and to radio drama, and it doesn’t work in quite the same way as the written word. I think somewhere after the 26th, I’ll either record it, or put it on here for people to read. It is a dark tale. I’ve been doing a lot of more comic stuff lately, for the podcast and writing with Professor Elemental, so it’s good to change track for a while and do something different.

Here are the readers for the 26th, in (librarians’) alphabetical order by title –

Barry Parry – Andrew Stevenson   (Nailsworth)

Erosion – Michael Amherst   (Tewkesbury)

The Handmaiden – Stephanie Smith   (Broadwell, Forest of Dean)

Imaginary friends – Nimue Brown   (Stroud)

J – Laurence Cotterell   (Cam)

Preparing for winter – Ali Bacon   (Emersons Green, South Glos)

Public transportation – Jo Bousfield   (Stroud)

Signing off – Alice Jolly   (Stroud)

The Tigers’ ball – Joe Eurell   (Cheltenham)

Trog and Kron attempt to re-fuel – Philip Douch   (Stroud)

 

http://stroudshortstories.blogspot.co.uk/


Nothing Changes in Stroud

Last night I went to a Spaniel in the Works production – Nothing Changes, part of the Stroud Theatre Festival. It’s an updated take on Robert Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, re-written by John Bassett and much to my surprise, there were songs in it. I’ve not read the original book, but it’s on the kindle awaiting a day or ten when I have time to do it justice. However, after poking around online for a plot synopsis, it’s evident this hundred year old tale of poverty and inequality didn’t need much re-jjgging to fit in a modern context. As the title says, Nothing Changes.

You’d think after a hundred years, we might have made some headway, but the horrendous social setbacks this country has endured under Tory leadership are in many ways enabled by the same issues that were apparently at play a century ago. Considering the ways in which we do it to ourselves, is not a comfortable business. Without the co-operation of its workers and consumers, big business would not be able to pillage so successfully. We are still far too willing to accept that the affluent somehow earn or deserve their massive bonuses, government handouts, and disproportionate share of the profits. Those of us nearer the bottom than the top will all too readily buy into the idea of a natural order of things that put us here. We know our place…

One of the things the play explores is the way in which creating a profit margin contributes to screwing the masses. Profit is the difference between what a thing costs and what you can sell it for. To achieve profit, you push down the costs as far as you can – that invariably means paying your workers as little as possible and giving them as few benefits as you can get away with. Then on the other side of the equation, you have to get your buyers to pay as far above the actual worth of the product as you can. Meanwhile the difference between cost and price delivers cash to shareholders, who did not contribute a great deal of effort to the process. The money that is invested is given a far higher value than the work, by such a system.

If you reward people for having money, you will inevitably keep the money flowing towards the people who have it. That’s what we do. As the saying goes, if it was hard work that led to wealth, African women would be the most affluent people on the planet.

Is there anything natural, inevitable or unchangeable about what we’ve got? I don’t think so. Neither, evidently, did playwright John Bassett. Change is possible. However, to make changes we have to stop buying into the existing system, and stop assuming that there are no other options. We have to imagine that money itself might not be the thing to prize most highly. The profit orientated exploitation system inherent in capitalism is not the only way. Co-operatives, crowd sourcing, small companies, local projects… there are better, fairer and happier ways of underpinning an economy.

More about Stroud Theatre Festival here – http://www.stroudtheatrefestival.co.uk/performances.html