#100women100books launches online

Inspired by our Spreadsheets & Moxie residency in the Compton Verney 19th Century Women’s Library back in January, we wanted to know what books were dear to the hearts and minds of contemporary women. So we asked 100 women in our lives – from toddlers to eighty year olds – what one book they’d like to see on our library’s virtual shelves and why they’d recommend it. 

In the middle of the sweltering heat this week, Sarah Salway and I launched #100women100books: a virtual women’s Library for the 21st Century.

Inspired by our Spreadsheets & Moxie residency in the Compton Verney 19th Century Women’s Library back in January, we wanted to know what books were dear to the hearts and minds of contemporary women. So we asked 100 women in our lives – from toddlers to eighty year olds – what one book they’d like to see on our library’s virtual shelves and why they’d recommend it.

Between now and July 19th we’ll be posting a daily selection of their responses on the #100women100books Facebook Page. There’s a delicious mixture of bonkbusters, cookery books, poetry, plays, essential essays and riveting short stories. As well as old childhood favourites we have cutting edge literary fiction, obscure titles I’d never heard of and a cornucopia of non-fiction. It’s just glorious.

Then on July 19th we go analogue: Sarah returns to Compton Verney in Warwickshire for the second half of our residency (I’ll be cheering her on long distance from the Maternity Ward), taking a bound pamphlet of the full list to donate to their library. If you’re in the area then high-tail it along on the 19/20/21st to write/chat with her in the Women’s Library.

We’ll also be making a PDF of the pamphlet available to download from the 19th, for all you lovely people who can’t make it down in person. At the time of writing this, we have over 250 of you in the virtual Women’s Library with us, which is a joy to behold and we’re not even close to running out of imaginary seating space.

I bet you’re thinking of a book by a woman that you think we should have in our library… so tell us about it! We have a nifty little web form on the Spreadsheets & Moxie website for you to help us grow our virtual library.

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You said it (Moxie survey highlights)

Being professional can be summarised as a combination of ‘being well prepared’ and ‘being a decent human’.

When is a survey not a survey? Perhaps when it’s designed by two creative writers and asks you questions such as ‘What’s your professional superpower?’ rather than ‘which of these two brands do you prefer?’.

Our terrifyingly long online survey on creative professionalism (21 questions, yet still answerable in 15 mins) gathered responses from 71 individuals worldwide. We asked you for help and you delivered- thank you people of the internet.

A majority of you said in your feedback that you’d be curious to know what our results are. It’s a complex thing to share as this was feeding into a year of different R&D activities and in itself was a test of format as much as a way of gathering responses. We can’t simply publish the full data set as it in some cases it would compromise the anonymity of the lovely people who took the time and effort to share their experiences with us. However, here are some of our highlights:

Age vs Experience scatter graph
I was particularly interested to discover there was little correlation between age and level of experience (defined as number of years working at a professional level in your creative field). Hurrah for portfolio careers!

Across the different questions there was a general agreement that, in the creative arts, the important thing is to focus on finding one’s own expression of professionalism, rather than doing things in order to look a certain way for other people. 

Two big take-away questions from your responses were:

  1. How do I work out what depletes/restores me?
  2. How do I work out if a project challenges, excites or inspires me?

We also all had slightly different notions of what professionalism constituted. There was a sense of ambiguity about the word ‘professional’ linked to it being a commercial framework. For other people, it was about personal attitude to things such as plagiarism, punctuality, quality of process.

Survey job titles fun in colour
By what job title do you usually refer to yourself in a professional capacity?

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What other roles do you play as a creative practitioner?

Unsurprisingly, the question of fair pay stalked throughout the answers. On top of that, the importance of being valued for the work we produce in a way that goes beyond (but also includes) money. How do we value our time? How do we take our responsibilities seriously? How do we sustain ourselves, balancing personal and professional lives? How do we maintain the integrity of our work and our sense of identity alongside paying the bills this month?

Intersections of professional creative practice
Nope, not the world’s oddest wedding seating plan: this demonstrates the cross-over between areas of professional practice. We were perhaps unsurprised to learn how multi-faceted our respondents’ creative practices are; creative talents don’t need to be cramped in one area, and most of you also engage in regular collaborations on top of this.

As a writer, I found myself hugely jealous of the training some of the people in other disciplines engaged in, from certificates in oxy-acetalene welding to clown school, formal training as a fine bookbinder to horticultural degrees. I also loved how so many people had a formal background in science that they now applied to their professional creative practice, proving that the traditionally separate areas are in fact linked by a love of observation and attention to detail.

Your informal training highlighted the importance of keeping an open mind and continuing to enjoy learning new approaches. It turns out we’re all massively vulnerable and there’s no such thing as a quick fix: you have lost your resilience at multiple points during your careers so far, and found support networks – formal and informal- invaluable for keeping going. Also other activities such as cooking, walking, dancing (when these aren’t a part of your regular practice).

My favourite question-we-should-have-asked-you-but-didn’t was ‘What project are you not yet courageous enough to attempt?’. I also love every person unconditionally who thanked us for the questions (either in the survey responses themselves or in a separate email) and told us that they’d found the process of answering them to be helpful.

Our year of R&D is starting to draw to a close. If you are one of the survey respondents, watched one of our online broadcasts, came to our talks in person or have been quietly following our progress on Twitter/Instagram, this blog, our Spreadsheets & Moxie website or Sarah’s blog, and want to tell us what impact our project has had for you (big or small! Great or terrible!) then we’d love to include that in our evaluation: get in touch before June 15th.

Talking about professionalism in the creative arts #spreadsheetsandmoxie

We think we’re great as we are.

We don’t need to be fixed.

But we do need to find new ways of using the strengths we have to support ourselves and our creative communities.

Thanks to everyone who came to last week’s talk about Spreadsheets & Moxie as part of the NCLA First Thursday series – either in person or watching the live broadcast.

A video of the hour-long talk (inc. Q&A) is available to watch online, and gives a whistle-stop overview of Sarah and my process over the past 6 months in approaching professionalism in the creative arts, how we’ve worked with our (audacious, daring, lively) Associate Artists in the North East and South East of England, some of the advice we’ve picked up along the way, Sarah walking round a labyrinth and a sneak preview at the early results of our online survey. We’re aiming to be a positive, honest voice for sustaining and developing a career in the creative arts and are always happy to answer any further questions people care to throw our way.

Sarah will be talking at a similar event in Kent in May, dates TBC.

Next steps for the project? We’re knee deep in our mid-way evaluation (I’m an analysis geek so this is seventh heaven for me), working on creative pieces from the Compton Verney residency (fast-forward to the end of the talk to hear me read the opening of a draft of mine), and beginning to think more solidly about what shape a follow-on might be when our R&D finishes in the summer. All this alongside our ongoing skill-sharing and letting our questioning minds range broadly across the wider issues.

First Thursday event in Newcastle

Tomorrow lunchtime (2 March) I’ll be chatting about the Spreadsheets & Moxie project and what Sarah Salway and I reckon it takes to develop and sustain a career from your creative practice.

Part of the NCLA’s First Thursday series, the event is designed to fit into your lunch hour and starts at 1pm in room 1.75 of the Bedson Building, Newcastle University. It’s free, no ticket booking required, and you’re welcome to bring your sandwiches.

Dangerous Women project: ‘Tonight and for the rest of my life’

I’m really chuffed to have a piece included on the Dangerous Women project today, both as it gives me a chance to express some of the thoughts that have been in the front of my mind for the past four months and because it’s such an awesome collection of essays, poems, testimonies and stories to be included alongside.

What makes something dangerous is that it is unknown. Women are constantly – annoyingly, inaccurately, frustratingly – portrayed in film, literature, lyrics and the media as unknowable. Our supposedly mysterious bodies are either objects of desire or disgust. My newly pregnant body is neither: it is pragmatic. I am not ill, although my experience is going to be medicalised. I am in the process of what I am told is both a joyful miracle and terrifying.

I’ve been signed up for the daily blog post updates for the project for a while now and have been taking great pleasure in the morning dose of philosophy, creativity, anger and activity from a myriad of women’s voices. Some of the pieces I’ve identified with more than others, but all of them have made me think twice about the gaps in my knowledge and the strengths of my preconceptions.

 

*the Dangerous Women Project is currently open for a final round of submissions, until 20 February 2017. If you have something to contribute on the subjects of ‘What does it mean to be a dangerous woman?’ then browse through previous posts to get a feel for topics already covered and check out their submissions guidelines.

The gift of space: Compton Verney Women’s Library residency

One of the loudest things in my mind still from the residency a couple of weeks ago at the Compton Verney Women’s Library is the lack of real books in the room. Fortunately that’s something the staff there are in the process of changing as part of the Unsilencing The Library launch in June. Still, I felt oddly sympathetic to the blank bookshelves during the residency: they mirrored by own blank mind over the past couple of months. A library without books to read and a writer who isn’t writing. The fake books spines round the doorway were beautiful but unreadable.

The chief joy of a site-specific residency is space to create and to respond, preferably without the weight of having to do so in an immediate sense. You never know what deep triggers are being truck by spending time in a place or researching a particular topic, and they can come out in odd ways much further down the track.  Our deadline for finished work is a kind amount of time still to go (late June): kind because it’s not so far away that the work will get shifted to one side or moved too far from the original inspiration during the editing, but not so close that there’s no time to reconsider ideas, formats, readership or – even worse – proofread intently.

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Our elegant writing home at Compton Verney

As I had a day in the library by myself before Sarah joined me, I settled myself into the space by setting myself short writing exercises. Even if I didn’t feel creative (I told myself), I could still write. It didn’t matter if it was pants, it mattered that I made an effort. Mainly so that when Sarah arrived and asked what I’d been up to, I’d have something more to reply than to shrug and say I’d read for a while and then secretly napped. Plus the events staff were showing people round – architects engaged in the restoration work, couples looking for a wedding venue – and I wanted to look busy and important whenever someone came into the room, despite wearing fluffy slippers.

 

I wrote about my impressions of the room, then I wrote about libraries in general. I wrote about what the space made me want to do, then I tried writing a letter to the woman who probably decorated the library, Lady Willoughby de Broke. I wrote about the things that can happen in libraries, and the things I could see, hear, smell, taste and touch. I wrote about what a writer is supposed to bring into a space when they work there and who the readers might be that would come into that space after them. Then something clicked in my head and I started writing a piece that I like and I am developing, a sort of essay to the future.

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A carpet of winter aconites during a stroll through the Capability Brown grounds

When Sarah joined me, she’d cunningly discovered a diary written and published by the son of Lady W de B, and brought photocopies of passages where he talked about his female relatives. One rather gorgeous description of Lady Geraldine W de B  (née Smith Barry) was that ‘She was blessed with a keen sense of humour as well as a keen sense of the ridiculous, so that she seldom got very far away from the laugh’). Having Sarah there with me made me realise what I’d been searching for in my writing the day before- someone to have a conversation with about the things I saw and felt and to help me unpick them with different eyes. The pair of us schlepped round the empty galleries in our slippers (the historic house is shut to visitors until March, so we had it to ourselves), enjoyed the frozen dew hanging off the branches of the trees, and also spent time in different places by ourselves. It’s different being alone in a space when you have someone to call out to. It was an interesting and creative change to be putting some of our Spreadsheets & Moxie research into practise.

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Me & Sarah in front of the doorway, surrounded by the fake book spines

The staff were brilliant- they left us alone to get on with what we wanted, but were always available if we had questions. I particularly enjoyed the communal lunch hour in the staff canteen, trying to complete the day’s photocopied crossword without giving away answers to people working on a different sheet. As the public weren’t there, we tried to open up our residency through social media. We Tweeted, Instagrammed, and had a lot of fun experimenting with Facebook Live broadcasts. I was particularly surprised at the number of views for the broadcasts- as I type this, my 4 minute walk through the galleries to the library has been viewed over a thousand times, which is a lovely and unexpected thing.

In my final broadcast, I read out one of the lists I’d written in my first few hours in the library, when I was thinking about other libraries I’d spent time in and felt attached to. This one had more books in, but was much less beautiful than the Women’s Library.

Lines on a library I have not been to for over a decade

I lost my shoes there once

I sat with pens in my hair

I never crossed eyes over a shelf-stack

I never abused the silent corners

I liked it to be known I spent time there

I preferred the long-term loans

I went beyond the obvious

I missed the obvious, frequently

I had my favourite areas

There were floors I never visited

I cannot decide if I liked swipe-cards

Twenty-four hour access felt like a right, not a privilege

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Sarah brought me Moxie-infused socks for the residency

Incessant typing

A residency at Compton Verney this week, a video recap of #NaNoWriMo2016 and a train journey full of typing.

As I write this, I’m on a train heading for a residency at Compton Verney with Sarah Salway as part of our Spreadsheets & Moxie R&D. We’ll be hanging out in their rather unusual and special Victorian Women’s Library while Compton Verney is closed to the public, exploring and responding to the space ahead of sharing some of our work at the end of June as part of their Unsilencing the Library.

The cover image for this post is of the painted book spines decorating part of the library, so you can see why i’m so excited about the rest of this week. I’ll be blogging and broadcasting about the experience over the next few days; keep an eye out on my usual social media channels if you’re interested in seeing behind the scenes of a unique space, as well as some of the bones of a fledgling writing project.

Most of this train journey i’ve been typing up the seemingly never-ending supply of cramped, handwritten pages from my #NaNoWriMo writing challenge 2016: writing a new short story every day for the month of November. Still only a small way towards getting the (terrifyingly full) notebook transferred onto Scrivener; it’s been interesting for me to see how the stories match up to what I remember writing. I’ve compiled a nostalgic journey through the month in the form of a video, now available to enjoy on my Facebook Page.

Finally, the survey on professionalism for creatives (writers, dancers, painters, actors, etc.) is open until the 31st January 2017 – it takes 15 mins and is anonymous – please fill it in if you haven’t already, or send the link on to an interested acquaintance. Thanks for helping me out!

Have you done our survey yet? #spreadsheetsandmoxie

Closing date of 31/01/2017 set for our survey on creative professionalism: take 15 mins to fill it out now as your Christmas good deed!

As Sarah and I make our final preparations for the Spreadsheets & Moxie Christmas Party (to be conducted via Skype, with crackers & pre-posted Secret Santa), we’ve agreed on a closing date for our R&D survey on Creative Professionalism.

For those of you who’ve missed out on previous posts, I’m working with fellow writer Sarah Salway on a year-long R&D project funded by Arts Council England. We’re taking a rounded approach to professionalism for creative practitioners – e.g. artists, dancers, photographers, actors – with a particular focus on women writers.

One element of our work this year is to reach out to fellow creatives to find out more about their experiences and views on professionalism within our industry. The people we’re targeting are self-identified professionals within one or more artistic areas. You might work part-time, you might just be getting started, you might already be an international superstar. We want the views of all ages, backgrounds and levels of experience. The survey is anonymous and takes about 15 minutes to complete. You can find it here.

We’ll be closing the survey on 31st January 2017.Please do pass on the link to anyone you think might be interested- we’re keen to have as wide a pool of experiences represented as possible, preferably extending far beyond our own existing networks.

 

Umbrellas of Edinburgh anthology launch tonight

Umbrellas of Edinburgh anthology launches tonight at the Scottish Poetry Library, 6pm.

The nights are fair drawing in, NaNoWriMo is keeping everyone’s hands warmer than a pair of gloves with frantic daily scribbling, and Christmas decorations are jostling with leftover skeletons in the shops.

In a pre-cursor of excitement for Fireworks Weekend, Umbrellas of Edinburgh: poetry & prose inspired by Scotland’s capital city, launches tonight at the Scottish Poetry Library at 6pm. A map of one of the most beautiful cities in the world, drawn in words by over seventy contributors. Edited by Russell Jones & Claire Askew, published by Freight Books. The anthology is mainly poetry with a few select pieces in prose, including my Litlong competition winning piece, ‘People’s People’.

Come on a journey. We begin at Blackness Castle, Edinburgh Airport, the Bridges in the far west, then on to Dean Village and the National Gallery of Modern Art in the West End, via Murrayfield, Tynecastle and the Diggers pub. Next to the Cafe Royal, South Bridge, Nicolson Square in the centre, taking in the Scott Monument and Princes Street on the way. The Royal Mile and Cowgate make way for Morningside and the Royal Observatory on Blackford Hill. These are just some of the unforgettable locations that inspire the poetry and occasional prose in Umbrellas of Edinburgh.

There’s also a second launch at Blackwell’s Bookshop on South Bridge at 6.30pm on Tuesday 15 November with more wine, cake and readings. Tickets for both events are free.

Inspire me for #NaNoWriMo

Send me a word or a line of text to use as a writing prompt for NaNoWriMo

Along with fireworks, bonfires, piles of soggy leaves and pumpkins, November for me means NaNoWriMo. For those of you not familiar with the insider acronym, it’s National Novel Writing Month. The premise is simple: write about 1,500 words every day, without fail, to complete a first messy draft of something new or to finish a messy draft of something that’s been lagging behind.

I’ve dipped in and out of #NaNoWriMo in the past, but I love the idea behind it, the community it engenders, and the discount codes on writing software that can be your if you hit your target. This year I’m not planning on writing a novel (I’m already editing one…) : I want to spend a bit of time having fun with short fiction.

Specifically, I want to use NaNoWriMo to write a draft of a short story (or, lets be honest, a sketch of a short story) every day for the month. I have a handful of prompts ready to go and that’s where i’m turning to you (hello) to suggest a few more.

What i’m looking for are text-based prompts (no pictures- I need to be able to write it on a slip of paper and put it in my prompts jar). It could be a single word, it could be a couple of lines from a poem. A headline from the newspaper. The name of a dish on a menu. A snippet of overheard conversation. I don’t need to know where your suggestions came from- just add it as comment on Facebook, Tweet it to me or put it as a comment on this blog post. If you want to retain privacy then send it in using the contact form.

ASAP is preferred, last suggestions accepted on 31 October.

As an example, a friend recently sent me ‘Place of splinters’ as a prompt: she found it on a map of Scotland on the wall.