Due to lurgy, I missed my two days in the department last week. In between getting plenty of rest & fluids I wrote a little more of GIL & Ada. Once I’d escaped the duvet I took the camera out and about with me and started filming groups of writers. I have a general interest in charting writing processes, which has so far mainly been expressed through photographing handwritten pages and blogging on collaborations. Filming people in the act of writing has so far uncovered that a lot of what I term ‘writing space’ doesn’t actually involve much in the way of writing. Talking, drinking coffee, chewing my pen, texting, googling, reading, and drawing boxes all rate much higher on the list. To be fair, since I was interested in how the panoramic lens captured group situations it’s unsurprising that the least social aspect of being a writer (putting words onto paper/screen) didn’t get so much of a look-in.
To illustrate that, here’s an extract from myself (prose) and John (poet), sitting and writing in the Tyneside Cinema bar after a workshop with the writer and cartoonist Sarah Leavitt (incidentally, Sarah very kindly allowed me to film her reading from her graphic memoir, Tangles: A Story About Alzheimers, My Mother and Me, at the end of the workshop). Re-watching the footage, I saw a definite change in tone when a non-writer friend, Ali, turned up: writing space turned into social space. From analysing the footage, I decided that in writing space, you’re allowed to tune out and disengage without explanation. When that is turned into social space, it becomes discourteous to concentrate primarily on something other than talking and listening. Ali and I were meeting to see a film so when she arrived it signalled a complete switch for me. John was planning to move to the library to continue writing, so he remained primarily in writing space.
While the presence of the camera was definitely on the edge of our consciousness while we were writing, it didn’t become a ‘problem’ (well, for me. I’m yet to canvass John’s opinion on this…) or a focus puller until the switch to social space happened. At that point we were all self-conscious that there was the equivalent of an infinitely replicating fourth pair of eyes and ears. Perhaps this is because when I’m in writing space my attention is very inward- the action is literally taking place in my head. Therefore, anything ‘important’ remains private and hidden. The camera only captures the movements of my hands or the direction I turn my head. Conversation happens in snatches; fragmentary and tangential. Conversely, social space is all about interaction; the direction faced, the words and tone used. Both verbal and body language constitute the action. To be observed – to be recorded – in this context is to feel invaded.