11 October 2014

Men Who Like Women Who Smell Of Their Jobs

…is the name of a new exhibition at The John Rylands Library, which launched this week as part of the Manchester Literature Festival 2014 offer, and takes as its start point David Gaffney's short-short story collections Sawn-off Tales and More Sawn-off Tales. Of course, I'm by no means biased in favour of the show, but why bother coming up with my own witty moniker for this post - that one just can't be beat. I've been working on the PR on behalf of David and the visual artist who has interpreted his work, Alison Erika Forde, and the title has helped garner plenty of column inches. "If we were giving out awards for the best exhibition title of 2014, the bookies money would be on Men Who Like Women Who Smell Of Their Jobs," says The Skinny. "Possibly the weirdest exhibition title ever," Emerald Street said yesterday on their weekend round-up of things to do. There was a great spread in the City Life section of yesterday's Manchester Evening News (we got more space than Kate Tempest, natch) and Creative Tourist have had a private tour of the show and should be running something on Monday, so watch that space. 


Men Who Like Women Who Smell Of Their Jobs (the title is based on a story in More Sawn-off Tales called Reekers, which involves a woman who works in a gelatine factory - inspired itself by one of my anecdotes, dontchaknow) launched officially on Thursday evening, with a bells and whistles event that saw upwards of 175 people - including some of the great and the good of the literati and arts scenesters - gather in the cafe area of The John Rylands new extension. They were treated to David reading some of the stories that feature in the exhibition, plus some more, followed by new work by Anneliese Mackintosh and Socrates Adams, inspired by the paintings inspired by the stories. Alison explained a little about her creative process and how the project came together, then Kevan Hardman described the involvement of O>L>A, an ambient two-piece including Dean Jones, before the pair played live in the lovely gothic part of the library - compositions inspired by the stories, the artwork and the building, and described by my electronica expert pal Fat Roland as "all plaintive and grand and spooksome". The exhibition continues until 31 January 2015 and is free entry. I'm off to have a proper shufty at it in a mo...

02 September 2014

Frock stars

Following my recent act of derring-do, saving an Ossie Clark frock from being half-inched from the Gallery of Costume, I was back at Platt Hall recently for the launch of the latest show, Something Blue,  an exhibition of wedding dresses. I wasn't expecting to be blown away by it, but it's a great look at one hundred years of marriage wear, with some fabulous real-life stories about the couples who tied the knot. I've written a piece about it for Creative Tourist, which you can read here. It has some lovely quotes from a chap I met at the launch, who told me all about getting hitched in 1949. It also tells you more about Manchester City Galleries director Maria Balshaw's Vivienne Westwood number (below).


12 August 2014

Small ones are more juicy

I've been published again by The Manchester Review, this time with a write-up of The Best British Short Stories 2014 anthology, edited by Nick Royle and just out on Salt Publishing. I was given the first copy out of the box while on a recent visit to Salty Towers in Cromer! You can read the review here.


16 July 2014

It's the fictionbomb

Last night, after the inaugural meeting of the Quarantine theatre company's Assembly, where we discussed audience reaction and feedback to the recent debut of the show Summer (which will pop up again in other locations, you'll be pleased to know - see my previous post for a review), I made a pitstop at Cornerhouse and had great trouble finding a parking space for Hettie. How delightful! I've never seen the bike stands so full, all of them tripled up (I have a feeling that Boyhood might be quite popular).


It reminded me of Micro Commission: Flyer Fiction, a guerrilla writing project that I devised, developed and nearly died of heat exhaustion doing, and I suddenly realised that I worked on that exactly a year ago this gone weekend, so I thought I'd do a little blog post about it here. At the time, Flyer Fiction: The Cornerhouse Project was documented on my Site Specific Stories website, where I also published the pieces of micro fiction produced during the project and flytipped (sorry, fictionbombed) on the bikes locked up outside.

Here's a bit from that site about the process (my posts about the project start on 9 July 2013, so do scroll down to older posts), and below is one of last year's photos, featuring a couple of people who were coming to visit me:
Over the next four days, I will spend three hours per day in the Cornerhouse cafe, watching the bike stands out of the window, scribbling down my observations in an obsessive Oulipian manner, and hopefully producing at least one short-short story per sitting stint with which to fictionbomb the steeds. I may even squeeze in a light beverage or two. It's a hard life, but someone's got to do it. I'll be there at different times in order to capture different moods and activities, and the whole writing in situ part of the project will add up to 12 hours, covering 11 in the morning to 11 at night. The 12 is significant for a future piece I'm plotting to work on and which will also involve a system, if it comes off. We shall see.

Hmm, looks like I set myself some homework there, which the dog consequently ate. Maybe I'll get back to it at some point…

24 June 2014

Seasons greetings

First instruction: Look at us while we look at you.
Second instruction: Imagine that you know what other people are thinking.
Third instruction: Lose yourself in the chaos.
Fourth instruction: Decide where you stand.
Fifth instruction: Try to make sense of it all.

These instructions come up one by one on a dot matrix display above the "stage" (which is essentially just the shop floor of a modern warehouse and feels like an indoor basketball court; vast and complete with the noise of squeaky trainers), typed in by Lisa and Sonia (the third instruction with the addition of: "Can we join in?"), and interpreted first by us then by the performers.


This is Quarantine theatre company's production Summer, the first of four parts of a larger, three-year-long project about the human life cycle and our relationship with change. Autumn looks at the older generation, Winter deals with death, while Spring, I'm told, is about birth. Summer encompasses all age groups, from the tiniest tots upwards, and, despite the voluminous setting and extensive cast, does have an inclusive and intimate feel to it - with a very personal introduction to some of the actors (all amateur), quizzed via a PA system by a lady at the top of the raked seating behind me. It also feels cyclical, taking the audience on a very circular journey, and ending in the same way it starts, with a vocal unpacking of thoughts and feelings from the players (different ones for each performance). In between, most of the narrative is told silently, through actions such as posing, as if for wedding photographs, in delineated groupings (for example, all the men, all the women, all the children, then different sub-sets of these - the Venn diagrams of social and familial categories, if you like), and a physical unpacking of life from holiday suitcases - not just T-shirts, beach towels and shower scrubs of all colours, but also violins, Anthony Horowitz thrillers, family portraits, even a glitter ball.

Dance and movement is important for telling the Summer story - at one point, most of the cast stands still and responds to instruction number two while some others start running around; at another point, we watch everyone partying together while each individual also does their own thing. There are streamers, balloons, feathers, confetti… there is Mister Blue Sky by ELO, Take It Easy by The Eagles, a song by Led Zeppelin, Feel The Need In Me. There's a lot of joy in the show, but there's also a fair amount of sorrow; one part involving the use of microphones to amplify the actors' voices feels slightly one-way and a bit too emotional, especially when we've almost got used to a lack of dialogue. Having said that, all that on-stage fun would be a bit frivolous without some depth. I also suppose it's easier to invest personally in the show because we know that these are real people telling real stories, not just actors reciting a script. A vibrant production with clever direction: I look forward to the changing of the seasons.

Summer took place in Salford in June 2014. Autumn takes place in Newcastle in September 2015. Winter takes place in Cardiff in December 2015. Spring takes place in Manchester in May 2016.