Are you Thinking Digital next week? #TDC16

Are you going to the Thinking Digital conference at The Sage, Gateshead next week?

Thanks to an Emerging Talent award from the lovely organisers, I’m heading to The Sage, Gateshead next week for Thinking Digital: an annual conference for those curious about technology, ideas and our future. I’ll be attending the Unusual Collaborations workshop on Tuesday 10 May, and the whole day of talks on Wednesday 11th.

If you’re heading along too and fancy chatting over a cuppa during one of the breaks then tweet @ViccyIsWriting or keep an eye open for my mustard yellow coat and come say hi.

Heating things up

When a last-minute invite to spend the weekend in a sauna crops up in your inbox, what’s a girl to do?

In this case, book train tickets down to Leeds to join a handful of other artists for some R&D on the possibilities of the rather gorgeous horse-box converted into wood-fired sauna that is Bethany Wells‘ WARMTH.

Inspired by the traditional Finnish savusauna, WARMTH is a mobile wood-fired sauna, a dark, timber-lined and candle-lit space, designed to function as both a venue for experimental performance and impromptu gatherings, WARMTH creates a safe space to spend time, have conversations, and challenge preconceptions about the performance of the body in public.

Parked up in at Slung Low’s HUB & supported by Compass Live Art, we spent the Saturday experimenting with the sauna as a site for performance and inspiration for our individual work, testing it out on each other. Both meeting and working alongside Nick Cassenbaum, Alice Malseed, Chris Jenkins & Gen Doy for the first time was an intriguing whistle-stop tour of different live art interactions with text, narrative and storytelling.

IMG_2306.jpg

On the Sunday morning we brought the five individual works-in-progress together in an experience that lasted about an hour and a half, prepared the yard at the HUB, and got our sauna on with the invited audience.

IMG_2308.jpg

My particular contribution was The Sauna Experience, a site-specific intervention based on offerings of memories set in or inspired by saunas, written on logs to be burnt to fuel WARMTH. Read more about it and see some of the images of the logs here.

5 tech tool tips for writers

I found a new techy helper for my writing yesterday (see no.1 below) and it got me thinking about some of the different techy tools I use to help the different facets of my life as a writer. In the evangelistic mood of new year’s resolutions and the joy of passing on helpful things, here’s my current top 5 tips for writers looking to support their writing with a bit of tech.

1. Dark Skyfor avoiding rain on the walk home

When I wrote mainly from home, the weather outside didn’t particularly impact on my routine. Now I’ve switched to writing in a studio 30 mins walk from my flat, hyper-local weather information via the Dark Sky app means I know whether to stay at my desk for another fifteen minutes to avoid the worst of the hail, or if I should leg it as soon as possible to make it back before the heavens open. Given that brollies don’t survive more than a couple of minutes in Edinburgh and I don’t have a car, this is awesome. Plus the app interface is really pretty.

 

2. Scrivenerfor structuring and getting down first drafts of long-form writing

I started with the free trial and upgraded to the (surprisingly cheap) licensed version as soon as the free month was up. One of the first compilation writing platforms I stumbled across, I’ve not felt the need to try any of the alternatives that have become established in the last couple of years. I like that Scrivener makes it visually easier for me to break my long-form writing down into chunks, and I also use it to store and categorise all my short fiction in one place. I love that you can get it to auto-read your writing back to you, and that it’s easy to set daily word targets and break longer-term goals down into digestible chunks. I’d love to find out how to stop it from auto-indenting every single paragraph when I compile to print (nope, I haven’t looked in any of the tutorials…).

 

3. Slackfor simplifying communication during projects

I only started using this at the tail-end of 2015, but i’ve had several people recommend it over the past year, for project management across a variety of sectors. I tend to work with small teams on fixed-term creative projects and so far I’m enjoying not having to hunt through my email to see what I said to someone because it’s all there in the messaging channels. Jury is still out on how helpful it’ll become across all the different projects I work with, and I’m looking forward to trying out integration of things like Evernote when I’ve built my confidence up on the basic format.

 

4. Twitterfor asking questions and keeping in touch with a writing community, long-distance

Love or hate social media, Twitter is the go-to chat zone to stalk/chat informally with other writers, agents, publishers, bookshops and a massively engaged, loyal scene of booklovers. Whether it’s using #askanagent to iron out wrinkles in your query letters or finding out details of a short story competition through RTs from a literary organisation, there’s a wealth of practical and useful information there in 140 characters or fewer, as well as endless opportunities to procrastinate, chit-chat and make bad literary puns. Great for keeping in touch with writing buddies, terrible for time-wasting.

 

5. Freedomfor stopping yourself from creating distractions online

This was my top techy-helper when I wrote from home, currently less useful as the studio doesn’t have internet. Somehow willpower was never strong enough to stop myself from googling a fun fact or checking in on emails/Twitter when writing on a computer. This simple, time-limited internet/social-media blocker forces you back into pre-digital levels of concentration on the task at hand and I can think of no bad points about it. Except that you also have to switch your smartphone off to stop yourself from cheating…

 

Distract yourself from the blank page by following me on Twitter @ViccyIsWriting or tell me about your favourite writing techy helpmates in the comments below.

A seasonal alternative to bookshelves: DIY book Christmas tree

My sister-in-law sent us a text with a picture of a christmas tree made out of books, possibly as a joke. One month, a set of fairylights and all the book piled in the hallway later, we’re set up for Christmas in the new flat.

When we moved out of  Newcastle, I got as far as dismantling the gorgeous bookshelves a friend’s father had built into the nooks either side of the old fireplace in my typical downstairs Tyneside flat. The dismantled shelves are still in storage in an obliging friend’s workshop, but all the book are in our new place in Edinburgh. After several months of moving cardboard boxes from one cupboard to another pile and several unsatisfactory attempts to build furniture out of the boxes of books (instant bedside tables!), I decided to unpack the books and pedantically sort them into categories, in preparation for sorting out the shelving crisis.

Play & theatre texts are stacked around the husband’s desk in the sitting room, with poetry tucked away by his feet. Also in the sitting room are dictionaries, reference, travel, foreign language books and large-format non-fiction, with humour/novelty/coffee table books under the coffee-table. Writing & academic reference books are on the bureau in my study/the spare-room, and my mixed  to-read pile is on the mantelpiece. Cookery & food has a satisfactory home under the sideboard in the kitchen. Which left fiction and paperback non-fiction stacked all along our hallway, in the two zones the shelves will hopefully be re-built when I get round to sorting a van for it.

This all translates to there being several large stacks of books in teetering piles. Build no.1 went less well than hoped: we trialled  building in a hollow semi-circle against a wall, so that we could suspend fairylights in the centre of the tree to flash-through the gaps. Everything went fine in a build-your-own-igloo-walls kind of way until we started tapering in the tree and realised a full circle was necessary for structural integrity.

first attempt

 

The second build- as seen in the video – was much more successful. We have a small niece living nearby so as well as using a full circle, Andy decided to fill the centre with books so it was less likely to come crumbling down if a small person (or a drunken older visitor) knocked into it. Battery-operated LED fairlylights (leftover from our wedding decorations) strung round the outside, and topped by a less-than-seasonal knitted bride and groom made for us by a friend and voila, our first christmas tree in the new place and as a married couple.

DIY book-tree advice:

  • use larger. heavier books on the lower layers
  • keep spines facing out for a coloured effect or have end-papers facing out for a neutral effect
  • Experiment with a hollow tree only if you have a very even floor, and suspend fairylights down the middle by duck-taping one end of the string to the top book (nb- incorporate the controls into the build so they’re accessible from the outside, hidden round the back…)
  • For greater stability, fill your tree with books or do a (filled) semicircular build against a wall

GREAT FOR: cheering yourself up if you’ve just moved house and are living in a depressing, cardboard-box jungle and don’t know where to start unpacking. Surprising your flatmates/partner. Celebrating print books.

TERRIBLE FOR: anyone with a puppy. Alphabetising pedants. Uneven surfaces. People with a lots of christmas baubles.

Haunting and intimate places

From the High Arctic to the Northumbrian coast, and looking back to China.

Having not been able to make it to Durham Book Festival this year, I was pleased to finally be able to see (online, via Vimeo) Stevie Ronnie’s triptych of film poems, made with filmmaker Alastair Cook, borne from Stevie’s trip to the High Arctic in 2013. ‘What I Should Have Said‘, ‘Time and the Two Year Old’s Hands‘ and ‘From Arctica‘ tell a haunting and intimate story of climate change, personal reflection and sorrowful love.

Likewise, Lisa Matthews and Melanie Ashby’s A Year In Beadnell project, celebrating the work of US marine biologist Rachel Carson transposed amidst the gorgeous Northumbrian coast is growing every more intriguing. They’re due to kick-off the winter residency in a few days: the spring (vernal), summer (estival) and Autumnal logs are already online.

It’s a year since I was in China with Samantha, in residence at Lijiang Studio. Our digital artists book for iPad, Recollections, is in the process of being prepared for a bilingual Chinese-English print edition (available early 2016, contact me for pre-order info). The latest edition of Transartists’ Antenna is a China edition, including a visual feature on Lijiang studio – Lotte visited while we were in residence, so there’s a picture of me at the lunch table with my eyes closed. My creative non-fiction e-book from the residency, There and Now: a writer’s perspective on everyday life in South West China, is now on a kindle special at a bargain price of £1.00: so that’s your Christmas sorted.

A meaningful response: #shortstories for #socialworkers

Lovely social workers who have been in touch and requested copies, or who have stumbled across this blog post by recommendation/accident: please remember to send us in your feedback!

Email: ncenla@ncl.ac.uk with the subject line ‘Intervening Fictions feedback’

Post: Intervening Fictions Feedback, Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts, Percy Building, Newcastle University, NE1 7RU

In order to take the project on to the next stage in a meaningful way, we need feedback from at least 50 people (and anything over that makes it even better) by 31st October. This means that every response is very much needed and will be helping us shape the plans for the full, print (& ebook) anthology of short stories inspired by the differences social workers make.

The questions at the back of the pamphlet of 3 short stories are:

  1. While reading these stories, which parts struck a chord for you?
  2. Did reading these stories make you reflect differently on your own experiences as a social worker?
  3. If someone who wasn’t a social worker read these stories, do you think they would gain a better understanding of the kinds of differences social workers make?

And the three short stories can be downloaded or read online as a PDF here.

Intervening Fictions: social workers wanted for feedback!

I’m looking for social workers to read three short stories inspired by the differences social workers make, and then to email me some feedback on them. Please pass this on to anyone you know who may be interested or have social work connections!

Download the pamphlet as a PDF: Intervening fictions story pamphlet

I also have a limited number of printed versions of the stories- leave a comment or email me to have a copy posted to you (UK only): vsadams (at) gmail.com

BACKGROUND: Intervening Fictions is a creative writing project run by the Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts (NCLA), Newcastle University. We intend to produce an anthology of short stories inspired by the work of social workers in the UK, telling the story of what they do; what value they bring and what differences they make. In this first stage of the project we have interviewed a number of social workers from across the UK and three fiction writers have been commissioned to write short stories using the anonymised interview transcripts as background research. We want to know what you think – please take the time to read these stories and answer the three questions at the back of the pamphlet.

 

Celebrating World Book Day with debut novelist Jane Alexander

I’ll be back on STV Edinburgh’s Fountainbridge show tonight (7-8pm), celebrating World Book Day with debut novelist Jane Alexander. Continue reading “Celebrating World Book Day with debut novelist Jane Alexander”

If you missed us live this morning, catch us live on STV Edinburgh tonight #dwf15

Jemma and I had a lot of fun (& surprisingly few technological mishaps) live broadcasting our writers tour of literary Edinburgh this morning as part of the Digital Writers Festival  ’20 Minute Cities’ strand. Continue reading “If you missed us live this morning, catch us live on STV Edinburgh tonight #dwf15”

Join our writerly tour of Edinburgh: 10:30am GMT #DWF15

Only 24 hours to go until Jemma and I set off — armed with iPhones and enthusiasm — to do our 20 minute tour of the joys of being a writer in Edinburgh for the Digital Writers Festival in Melbourne, one of the sister UNESCO Cities of Literature.

We’ve got a couple of surprise guests lined up along our route to drop in some ‘fun facts’, read their work and extol the beauties of our city.

This is a city of shifting light, of changing skies, of sudden vistas. A city so beautiful, it breaks the heart again and again.

Alexander McCall Smith

Remember, you can watch our live broadcast from 10:30am GMT (21:30 AEDT for our friends in Melbourne) and join in on Twitter using #DWF15

Thank you Edinburgh Libraries for sending us this map of novels set along our route

 

And thank you to Prof Jon Oberlander of the University of Edinburgh for telling us about the Palimpsest project, which allows users to interact with layers of maps and accessible visualisations that explore our literary city at particular times in its history, in the works of particular authors, or across different eras, genres and writers.

Keep your Edinburgh literary favourites coming in — where do you like to write? Which bookstore keeps your supplied with reading fodder? Where in the city have you drawn on for inspiration?