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!

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.

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.

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.

 

My e-book (There & Now) available for pre-order #writing #china

A Naxi saying — that sounds a little like ‘tia hu pe la tcher’ — translates as ‘when you are happy, so very happy, every part of you is happy including the faeces inside you’

 

My novella-length creative non-fiction book, There & Now: a writer’s perspective on everyday life in South West China, is now available for pre-order for Kindle, for the very reasonable price of £2.39 (or $3.73 if you’re in the USA).

Published by Cargo, a lovely Scottish independent press, the collection mixes interviews, poetry, recipes, an unexpected camel and a trip up to the mountains to visit a Dongba shaman.

My book builds on the web app, Recollections: 12 vignettes from Lashihai,  Samantha and I released earlier in the summer so if you have an iPad and haven’t already taken advantage of the free-to-download version I suggest you check that one out first to set the scene as it has pictures…

New tube-flash website: submissions open in September

TubeFlash pairs London underground stations with brooches, and invites people to write a piece of flash fiction inspired by the combination.

My Monday morning brightened up when the TubeFlash e-newsletter popped up in my inbox, informing me that there was a sleek and joyful new website for TubeFlash as well as plans to re-open for submissions in September.

For those of you who haven’t encountered it yet, TubeFlash pairs London underground stations with brooches, and invites people to write a piece of flash fiction inspired by the combination. The stories are available to read online, and there are also audio versions.

You can browse by mood, genre, brooch, station or listen to an audio version of your commute. My piece, ‘Storms Ahead‘, was selected for King’s Cross, which I was particularly pleased by as an East coast commuter that’s the station that has taken me home to family, back to Uni, and welcomed me into London for many years.

Intermission #shortstory

Lying in a tangle of sheets, I watch a spider cross the ceiling while Jacob struggles unsuccessfully to open the window.  ‘I’m afraid I’ve broken off some of the paintwork,’ He holds up the thin white slivers, and lets them fall from his hands onto the wide windowsill of the triangular alcove. Continue reading “Intermission #shortstory”