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.

DSCN1580.JPG
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.

IMG_0628.JPG
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.

img_0732
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

img_0670
Sarah brought me Moxie-infused socks for the residency

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.

 

Our Associate Artists & the questions they raised #spreadsheetsandmoxie

Introducing the Associate Artists for Spreadsheets and Moxie, alongside an exercise for you to try at home.

For those of you who haven’t come across it yet, Spreadsheets & Moxie is one of my current projects: a year of R&D (funded by Arts Council England- thanks guys!) working alongside the inspirational and talented writer Sarah Salway to take a rounded approach to professionalism for women in the creative arts. More details here. Skip to the end of this post for an exercise to try at home.

img_3040
Viccy & Sarah in the middle of a silent walking (& silent selfies) exercise in the grounds of The Hurst, Shropshire

Over the coming months I’ll be blogging some of the exercises and approaches we’re taking, and soliciting views and experiences from the wider creative communities (FYI men: your thoughts are very welcome) via an online survey. Today I wanted to introduce a layer of the structure we’re working within. As you’ll already have gathered, the project is led, jointly, by Sarah and myself and feeds off the coaching sessions we’ve been swapping with each other since we met four years ago on an Accredited Coaching Skills for Writers course run by the National Association of Writers in Education and Arvon. The next layer we’re working within is an invited network of five women creative arts professionals based in the North East of England and five based in the South East of England: our Associate Artists.

The Associate Artists are a sounding board for Sarah and I to challenge our ideas, get directed feedback on our work in progress, build a wider picture and think things through differently. We’ve hand-picked women who approach the world in interesting ways, are generous to others and who produce high quality artistic work. They are (in alphabetical order): Clare Best, Vanessa Gebbie, Kris Johnson, Helen Limon, Lisa Matthews, Juliana Mensah, Ellen Montelius, Susannah Pickering-Ronnie, Catherine Smith and Kay Syrad.

 

img_3013
Tackling some of our Associate Artists’ questions in a glorious, outdoors setting

While Sarah and I were at the Arvon Clockhouse last week setting out the backbones of Spreadsheets & Moxie (it’s lovely there BTW, I highly recommend it as a writing retreat option), our Associate Artists each gave us a short activity, prompt or discussion point to consider over the six days. These ranged from keeping appropriate boundaries in collaborations to taking decisions on when to stop working on a piece and start a new one, from standing up for ourselves in public situations to considering alternatives to commercialisation. What I want to share with you today is the blanket approach Sarah and I developed as a way of making sense of the different questions in the context of the project.

With so much to cover in the six days we had working together, rather than trying to set ourselves up as Agony Aunts or the definitive last word on what’s ‘best’ and ‘right’, we did a 6 minute freewriting exercise to get down on paper different ways in which we might approach answering the question. After the 6 minutes were up, Sarah and I would explain to the other what we’d thought up and discuss ways of expanding or refining them. It was fascinating how many varied pathways this offered us, and even more surprising how little overlap there was in the techniques suggested. It made a great starting point for thematic discussions. It also helped us keep our responses to the questions/prompts/discussion points linked firmly back to the project. I found that my responses normally started by unpacking the language of the question or re-phrasing, for which I blame my background in research academia, but which became my route into understanding the question better before trying to work out how it might be answered.

DO TRY THIS AT HOME:

Take a blank sheet of paper & write your question/prompt/discussion point at the top. This might be set by someone else, it might be something you’ve been stuck on with your writing, it might be an area you want to know more about.

Set a timer for 6 minutes.

Freewrite as many possibilities as come to mind how you MIGHT approach answering it.

When the timer goes off, if working as a pair/group then share your approaches. If working solo, set the timer for 3 mins and freewrite on ‘when I read this back I notice…’

* If you work professionally as (or with) a writer or creative arts practitioner & want to help us out by filling in an online survey about your experiences later this year, sign up to the Spreadsheets & Moxie mailing list*

 

 

Happy-news *blows kisses* #anchoredterset

Thanks to all you amazing people being generous with your support, Samantha and I won the People’s Choice Award category of the New Media Writing Prize for our iPad app, Recollections: 12 vignettes from Lashihai.

Coming from the same quarter, we’re in the final stages of publishing a limited edition printed version of the app – complete with Chinese translation – supported by Lijiang Studio. Pre-order details going out on the two.5 email list soon, sign up here to be kept informed.

If you’re feeling lucky (or have just finished editing a damn fine piece of writing), Josh Turner has listed some upcoming writing competitions over on his blog. And if you’re looking for some creative inspiration consider Sarah Salway’s suggestions for setting Artist Dates (& follow Sarah’s dates on her blog).

For a short, 3-word poem, the anchored terset is the opening to an enormous can of worms. On the other hand it really is just three words and a full stop.

When not bed-ridden with flu this week, I’ve been distracted online by some beautiful things. One I think deserves to be sent around as wide a reach as possible to spark discussion is Lisa Matthews’ creative residency focusing dyslexia, inspired by her own experiences, which has led to her invention of the ‘anchored terset’. You might already have come across it on The Guardian this week, but if not then read up on the Northern Poetry Library’s website and have a go at your own. Here’s mine for the w/e:

Conversing

Books

Wait

.

Flashing around: June 2014 round-up

Mildred passed Ernie the small silver jug of cream and he attempted to balance the blue cup and saucer on the thick ridges of his corduroy trousers.

extract from ‘Things We Do Not Talk About’

Continue reading “Flashing around: June 2014 round-up”

Do you tailor your writing?

Writing and tailoring have a surprising amount in common, from drafting patterns/stories to weaving metaphorical and actual threads. So i’m very excited to be one of the writers on Helen Limon’s Bespoke(n) project, and that over the next few months I’ll have the opportunity to discuss and respond to the process of tailoring clothing for women.

Working with an artisinal women’s tailoring studio in Hackney Wick, Gold Coat,  a group of writers from across the UK will be producing an artist’s book-worth of writing. The project is funded by the Arts Council, but Helen will be launching a crowdfunding campaign in a few weeks to raise money to cover some extra dissemination possibilities.

Today, some of the Southern-based writers writers met up for (tasty) lunch and (productive/creative/introductory) chat at Stour Space, followed by a tour of Gold Coat’s studio. Here’s a selection of snaps from the studio, complete with cat and perforation tools. I’ll save the stories of blood, saliva, pigs and pyjamas for another time:

Gold Coat studio 04/12/13 Gold Coat studio 04/12/13 IMG_7124 IMG_7125 IMG_7127 IMG_7126 IMG_7128 Gold Coat studio 04/12/13