Thursday, 21 July 2011

Writing to commission

You get a really great picture in today's blog, by photographer Roeloff Bakker, whose images of the abandoned Hornsey Town Hall won a London Photographic Association first prize earlier this year

It's here because I'm posting to celebrate having just finished a short story inspired by another of his photos.

I've found that it's really hard to write a story to accompany someone else's work - though I love Roeloff's pictures, and found them moving and thought provoking, the thoughts they provoked didn't seem to lead to stories that worked with the photo I'd chosen. How far can you move from the picture? And how much can you say in no more than 1500 words?

I put my first feelings on seeing my chosen picture aside as unworkable in story form, and for several weeks have been wresting with other ideas which just didn't seem to grab my attention. Enough, I said to myself yesterday, and sat down and wrote two-thirds of a story. Today I threw it away and in an hour wrote something completely new, which went right back to my first gut reaction on seeing the picture. I've no idea if it works - my (not famously literary) son says it's mad but great and he's looking forward to having a mum who's famous for writing mad but great stories. Me too. But maybe it's mad but terrible. I'll put it aside and re-read in a few days.

If you like Roeloff's photos of abandonment, take a look at these, of the terrible destroyed centre of Detroit, by Yves marchand and Romain Meffre . I'm saving up for the book.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Lounging with Trollope

I've been off the blog radar for the last couple of weeks, doing this and that, interviews for a lovely piece of journalism, a bit of admin, a lot of desperate weeding in the veg plot, heaps of reading (just re-read JG Ballard's Concrete Island to see why I loved it when I was 15, and remembered how shocking and spare it is) ...

... and I nipped up to London a couple of weeks ago, to hear a whole bunch of Bloodaxe poets read (highlights were Susan Wicks and Carole Satyamurti, who were the reason for me trekking from Sussex to Shoreditch, and Kona Macphee, who made a surprise guest appearance, and who was wonderful - she won the Geoffrey Faber memorial prize last year, and I can see why). I'm a poetry slacker - I read in bursts, and then not at all for ages - but whenever I pick up a book of poems that work for me, they remind me of just how powerful language can be, and how dangerous, and how surprising. Poems make me write differently, that's for sure, because they challenge me to move away from the prosaic. Just read Susan Wicks' opening poem from House of Tongues, 'Pistachios' and then try writing a straight piece of prose.

When I left the reading all sorts of new ideas had appeared in my head, and within a couple of days I knew how to write the story that had been swimming around for a couple of weeks getting nowhere. So last week, I delivered it to ... well you'll have to wait and see, but it's coming out in September, I believe. As soon as I know for sure, I'll post the link here and you'll be able to read it. 

Within hours of sending off my story, I was at Lounge on the Farm, a smallish festival near Canterbury - I went last year and discovered that being stuck in a field with 10,000 other people is surprisingly relaxing, as long as you admit to not being 16 and pitch your tent in the quiet field. And watch the big acts like Ellie Goulding only for long enough to realise that she's not very interesting so you're better off in a small tent with an unknown act who might be great, and who won't wreck your eardrums, and where you can sit peacefully on a bale of hay while you listen.

 Here's the crowd behind me at Ellie Goulding:

And here's the six foot four man with a huge hat in front of me:

I didn't discover any acts that I loved this year, which I guess is a shame - but while listening to a whole load of perfectly good acts I did read the first few chapters of Trollope's Barchester Towers. It's not the ideal book for a festival - all around me people were lazing in the sun in various stages of undress, relaxation and inebriation while the residents of the Cathedral Close in Barchester circled each other and schemed with 19th century courtesy. I'm getting along much better with Trollope now I'm home.

Anyway, I shall continue to listen to First Aid Kit and Erland and the Carnival, whom I loved last year at LOTF, and who sound just as good as they did when I first heard them.

And tomorrow I start a new story ...