Looking Glass Language

a word bird reflects on life & language

26AC: the exhibition

the secret archaeologist

Last Friday saw the launch party for the exhibition 26 Atlantic Crossings, the latest collaborative project from writers’ group 26. The three-day exhibition was in Prince Edward County, Canada, and the only one of the 26 UK-based writers involved able to attend was Faye Sharpe, who – with her artist sister – came up with the original idea and drove the project. Fortunately, Faye has penned a blog piece that lets us enjoy the ‘happening’ vicariously.

I’m now anxiously awaiting my copies of the printed book. There are no more copies left, so if you didn’t manage to buy one for yourself and you’d like to explore the art and poetry of 26 Atlantic Crossings, why not download a free e-copy of it here?

Enjoy!

26 Atlantic Crossings

 

Canigou

When ‘The Unseen’ (shown below), a painting by Canadian artist Barb Hogenauer, pinged into my in-box last May I felt a sharp pang of homesickness for the dramatic landscape of Céret in southern France, my home for seven years, where the view from my window was of The Canigou (above), sacred mountain of the Catalans.

‘The Unseen’ was my artwork – produced by Barb for 26 Atlantic Crossingsa collaboration between 26 Canadian visual artists and 26 writers based in the UK. You can read my poetic response to ‘The Unseen’, below.
my artwork the unseen

The Unseen

The squall hits at dusk, blackening the sky

Like a three-day bruise,

Shrouding the mountain in sulphurous mists

Red sandstone runoff bloodies the sea,

And icy flames of phosphorescence –

Blooming phytoplankton and disturbed crustacea –

Flicker on the ship’s churning wake

Old World émigrés cross themselves,

Filling with foreboding for their journey’s end,

But Canada holds no Ellis Island-like inquisition:

This is home.

 

Of course, everyone’s response to art is different: I’d be interested to know what Barb’s painting evokes for you.

If you’re curious to learn how such a geographically challenging collaboration came about, you might want to read this blog post by project originator, Faye Sharpe. Or, if you happen to be in Prince Edward County, Canada at the moment, you could visit the 26 Atlantic Crossings exhibition, which features all 26 artworks alongside their matching sestudes (poems of exactly 62 words – a playful inversion of 26, the writing group’s name, inspired by the number of letters in the alphabet).

26 Atlantic Crossings is the latest in a series of fascinating projects I’ve been lucky to be involved with, organised by writers’ group 26: these range from 26 Treasures, a collaboration with National Museums in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (which resulted in a beautiful hard-backed book), to 26 Characters, a project celebrating favourite fictional characters from childhood, at the Oxford Story Museum.

If you’d like to know more about the project, but like me, you’re on the wrong side of the pond, why not download the lovely little 26 Atlantic Crossings e-book free, HERE? (You’ll find ‘The Unseen’ on pages 36/37.) On the same page you’ll find a link to a gorgeous paper version of 26 Characters, for sale at just £5…

Design Week | We Like | 26 Characters

Design WeekSo great to see that a project I’m involved in, 26 Characters, is this morning’s Design Week We Like pick… Having received my copies in the post a couple of days ago, I’m not surprised – it’s a lovely thing, with beautiful illustrations.

 

B is for Borrowers.

The book sees 26 children’s literary characters – from Mary Poppins to Merlin – reimagined by 26 writers (of whom I am one – see A Father’s Duty) and 26 leading illustrators. 

This book came about thanks to The Story Museum’s 26 Characters exhibition in Oxford. We writers were asked to respond to portraits of leading authors taken by celebrity photographer Cambridge Jones. The author subjects, including Malorie Blackman, Philip Pullman and Julia Donaldson, were dressed as their favourite childhood literary characters for the portraits, which featured in the museum’s inaugural exhibition.

Our written responses to the portraits had to be in the form of a sestude – a poem of 62 words exactly (26 in reflection – 26|62 – a form of verse invented by writers’ collective 26 to reflect our name, itself inspired by the number of letters of the alphabet). Each of us was given a letter of the alphabet as our starting point, and the completed sestudes were then passed to the illustrators.

My letter was B, and Paul Pateman, aka Pâté, did a fabulous job illustrating my sestude about Pod & Arrietty from The Borrowers – illustrating the B with a giant pencil clasped in a Borrower’s hands. ‘B’ is for beautifully done, Paul…

 

Pic by Cambridge Jones

Pic by Cambridge Jones

Here’s the portrait which inspired my little poem: Ted Dewan and his daughter Pandora dressed up as Pod and Arrietty. I’m looking forward to visiting the exhibition proper in a couple of weeks’ time but I’ve already relished seeing authors throw off their inhibitions to personify a favourite character from a childhood book – just look at how gleefully Malorie Blackman embodies The Wicked Witch of the West!

 

Malorie Blackman as The Wicked Witch of the West

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 26 Characters booklet is available here, priced at £5.

Related articles / sites:

http://www.designweek.co.uk/we-like/26-characters/3038329.article

http://www.26.org.uk/index.php/2014/04/26-characters-at-the-story-museum/

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/sara-sheridan/childrens-books_b_5153274.html

https://www.facebook.com/events/599353783488397/

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Absolutely Shoreditched…

Image copyright Charlotte Cory

I seem to be unable to step foot on the grim and grimy pavements of Shoreditch after dark without getting drunk (or ‘Shoreditched’, as I’ve now christened it). See image at left by Charlotte Cory, from her ‘You animal, you’ series, which bears an uncanny resemblance to me the morning after the night before, and can be found on the walls of the Hoxton Hotel.

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This tendency to overdo it whenever I head to Hoxton seems to stem from the period when I was working in Shoreditch, reeling from a break up with a long-term boyfriend/business partner. Hedonism seemed the way to go, and it was fun and frantic time of excess, irresponsibility and freedom – a kind of long-delayed adolescence. A dozen years on, I’d thought all that was far behind me, but the last fortnight has proved me wrong, as two successful client presentations in the Old Street area have ended up in decidedly messy evenings…

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I’m starting to think I may have a Pavlovian response to being back on these mean streets.

But – reluctant to admit that Shoreditch can still ring my bell – I have another explanation. I blame the food, or rather, the lack of it. Everyone knows that if you forgo the tacos and enchiladas, a couple of glasses of Tequila can have the same effects as a bottle… And I’m frequently unable to eat when I’m out on the town, as I have a serious and frustrating allergy to garlic, which can make eating out positively dangerous. (Unfortunately, I love spicy food – I can think of nothing more delicious than Thai street food – but these days I have to resort to making my own, and it’s just not the same!)

Read more…

Be My Valentine

Though Spring certainly hasn’t sprung, and the birds and bees (and poor old Somerset cows and sheep) are so waterlogged that there’s little love action going on, the arrival of Valentine’s Day still naturally turns one’s thoughts to love. And thus, last night, in the Pig’s Ear in Chelsea, the topic of conversation did just that (more specifically, it turned to the reasons why our friend Richard has yet to find it).

Love heartIt’s not that he’s a bad catch: Richard (who bought the night’s first bottle of Claret) is a sweetheart: generous, warm-hearted, diffident, and charming. Still in his 30s, he’s tall and well-built (verging on nicely cuddly), and makes up for the paucity of his hair by having lovely, expressive, soulful eyes. A successful entrepreneur, he’s comfortably off, so doesn’t have to worry about the rat race, which means he has time to pay attention to friends and family. He even loves kids, for God’s sake, and is the go-to-guy when his beautiful girl friends are looking for a godfather for their offspring.

So, what’s going wrong?

Well, by the time the three of us (me, Richard and our friend Annie) had downed our second bottle of wine, the reasons had become a little clearer…

Text talk

Light started dawning when he shared an ongoing text conversation he’d been having with a prospective date – a close friend of one of his many girlfriends, who’d  decided they’d be perfect together. A couple of dozen texts, sent and received over a three-month period, with many a tentative plan to meet, had all come to nought. What had gone wrong? Well, firstly, why not just ring her, and have a proper conversation? Who wants to chat about nothing very much to some stranger they’ve never seen and not yet talked to? You have to act sometimes, rather than keep life at a distance.

The perils of being a wing-man

We remembered then that his best friend is a charmer: handsome, and far from diffident. They hang out together all the time, and Richard always takes the role of wing man, and, as is traditional, never gets the girl.

Online dating

match.com

So we asked him about internet dating, something I have positive personal experience of, as nine years ago I was lucky enough to find my true love on a dating site (Dating Direct, since you ask). We were early adopters, and the scene has developed massively since then, with one in five UK relationships now estimated to have started online, and more than nine million Brits registered with a dating site. There’s a plethora of sites to choose from, from Guardian Soulmates to Match.com, eHarmony to My Single Friend. And, of course, there are special interest sites, such as Be Naughty and MySugarDaddie (sic), PositiveSingles.com (for the HIV positive), farmersonly.com (with all this rain, they need a little sunshine in their lives), uniformdating.com. There’s even one called DiaperMates.com, to bring those who like to dress up in diapers, and those who like to change diapers, together…

Anyway, I digress. What’s clear is that there are lots of options for those looking for love. So, we asked Richard: which dating services do you use? Match.com? eHarmony? Dating Direct? It turned out that this wannabe family man was trying to find love on Tinder. Tinder! The straight equivalent of Grindr, an app whose every pouting picture contains a promise of commitment-free shagging, mind-numbing hangovers and long-lasting regrets.

We asked Richard if he was just looking for a shag. But even as we asked it, we knew that wasn’t it true. He’s an innocent. An old-fashioned guy, more interested in companionship and family than in pulling.

Speed dating

Then Richard mentioned that he’d tried speed dating, and we laughed: we couldn’t imagine how a date like that would go. So, laughing, I persuaded him and Annie to role-play a speed date.

Richard started, and his questions were perfectly polite: “How are you?”, “What do you do?”, “So, what are your plans for the weekend?” Somehow, though, they dead-ended the conversation. So I got Annie to ask the questions, and she turned out to be a natural: “If you were given £10k tomorrow, what would you do with it?”, “If you could live anywhere in the world, money no object, where would you go?”. Faced with such unexpected questions, Richard’s conversation flowed, although his answers were rather eccentric – he said, for instance, that he’d like to live on the back of a whale, and travel around the world and hang out with other whales, ending up in Antarctica, carving himself a fishing hole. But though this whimsical answer is fun, there are few girls not of the Inuit tribe who’d want to marry and raise kids with a a guy who lives by an ice fishing hole…

The moral of the story

If you’re looking for love, it helps if you know what you’re looking for and look for it in the right places…

Here, from TED, is an investigation into love: http://www.ted.com/playlists/143/in_the_mood_for_love.html.

And, if you need some encouragement, here are a few good reasons to search for it: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/14/this-is-your-body-on-love_n_4780934.html?ir=GPS%20for%20the%20Soul.

Wordy Wednesday: Fluffy la Voie

My porn star name, based on the name of my first pet and my mother’s maiden name, is Gussy Baker. This has a nicely 20s sound to it, but I must admit that my one-time boyfriend’s porn star name was even better: Fluffy La Voie. It’s so good that it makes me want to set up a porno company, despite disapproving of the industry (in broad terms).

photoI’m in the south of France with my English boyfriend Nick, my Brazilian friend Paulo, his French boyfriend Didier, and our Dutch friend Yvonne. We sat around the fire pit outside, eating samosas I’d made earlier, and drinking rose, and then retired inside to a supper of red cabbage and walnut salad, with duck breasts cooked on the fire pit by Nick (who was careful not to let the sparks carry far as, unlike Dorset, it’s hardly rained here for the last 6 months). Read more…

Belatedly: The Mysteries of Christmas…

Sestude by Chris Bird

26 Stories of Christmas

The mysteries of  my Christmas 2013 include…

  • Why I thought it was a good idea to eat my own body weight in turkey & trimmings
  • How I imagined that, after all that turkey, some Christmas pudding and a glass of port might be a good idea
  • How, after combing my sister’s house for our possessions, and doing a thorough sweep under the bed and behind the sofa, I managed to leave behind the bag of presents she gave me for the children
  • And how I could have forgotten to post up a link to 26 Stories of Christmas , on which my sestude, The Mysteries of Christmas, written in response to a wonderful picture drawn by a young cancer sufferer, was  featured on Chrsitmas Day…
  • The advent calendar was produced in support of wonderful charities, It’s Good To Give and The Teenage Cancer Trust, and if you’d like to see the site in action, and donate to these worthwhile causes, the Day 1  plus donation link still works… As the Christmas Day one no longer seems to, I’ve included my poem and the great drawing that inspired it, at left. I’ve also included some background on the project, below…

The story behind the idea

At the beginning of September 2011 Sam Gray had an idea. What if we, the writers’ collective ’26’ challenged our members to create an online advent calendar of words and images? In its first incarnation 26 Stories of Christmas paired writers with design students, inspiring 26 short stories.

How the idea grew

In 2013 we wanted to build on what we’d achieved. During our 26 Treasures exhibitions of 2011- 2013 we piloted a new literary form – the sestude. This comprises 62 words written in poetry, drama or prose. We decided this year to write our Christmas advent messages in this, shortened form. As it’s Christmas, we wanted to add an emotional core to what we were doing so we teamed up with two worthy charities – Teenage Cancer Trust and Its Good 2 Give – who asked some of the sick children and young people they help to draw us 26 inspirational Christmas images. As it turned out, the children and young people themselves proved as inspiring as the Christmas trees, snowmen, elves, reindeer, stars and even Santa submarine they came up with. And we added the ability to donate to the charity of your choice to make everyone’s daily dose of 26 Christmas stories feel even better…

Wordy Wednesday: gratitude

Feeling grateful

Feeling grateful

Happy New Year, everybody! I thought I’d give gratitude the starring role in this Wordy Wednesday, as I’m feeling incredibly grateful for all sorts of things at the moment. My lovely friend Erin sent me this picture she took of me last night as we watched London’s spectacular firework display from a friend’s boat on the Thames, and it captures how happy I was to be in that place, at that moment ,with such a special bunch of people – something I’m incredibly grateful for… I’ve also just spent Christmas surrounded by my family and other loved ones, and I’m incredibly grateful for that too, and for having them in my life.

I’ve always believed that an attitude of gratitude is one of the keys to a happy life, and it’s now been scientifically proven to have a positive effect on one’s levels of happiness. I’ve used it myself: a few years ago, if my step daughter was feeling grumpy, I’d challenge her to a rapid-fire, one minute gratitude list-making exercise: the idea being to shout out as many things as we were grateful for as we could. (Specificity is key to this, by the way, so not just ‘friends’ but ‘Jane and Edgar and Fred and Ruth’, and not just ‘my pets’ but their names, and it’s also good to include all the different aspects of yourself you’re grateful for, such as intelligence, hearing, sight, touch, taste etc, plus tthe things you love to do, and the places you love to visit.) We always ran on for far longer than 60 seconds, and she was always much happier afterwards.

Read more…

#shelfie, #26xmas

Twitter #shelfie

#shelfie, a glorious, literary take on #selfie (this year’s word of the year, according to the Oxford Dictionary), has been trending on Twitter for the past couple of weeks.

It’s the kind of trend I’d normally be right on top of (see Wordy Wednesday: Selfie), and the fact that I’ve been reluctant to add my bookshelf pic to the mix doesn’t reflect the busyness of the season, instead demonstrating that ego plays as much part in a #shelfie as it does in a #selfie (in fact, since I’m no longer a teenager, possibly more…). Ok, I admit it: I want a #shelfie that suggests erudition and hidden depths of character – who wouldn’t? Read more…

My favourite jumper

I just wanted to re-post this lovely drawing, and Faye Sharpe’s brilliant, heartwarming poetic response to it. You can find these on 26 Stories of Xmas, where they’re helping raise money for Teenage Cancer Trust and Scottish cancer charity, itsgood2give. (Read more about all this on yesterday’s post, Wordy Wednesday: sestude.)My favourite jumper

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My Favourite Christmas Jumper

by Faye Sharpe

 

*

September

Comes. Granny

Picks a pattern. October

Comes. Granny decides the yarn.

November comes. Granny’s nerves crackle. By

Christmas Eve she’s in a panic. But on Christmas Day

She beams. I tear open her present. All reds, blues, greens.

And I wear my favourite Christmas jumper, though its sleeves reach

my knees,

Because

I love my Granny.

xx

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