31 October 2009

I turned and faced the door...

(This was taken on my way home from the Manchester Blog Awards, hence the slight camera shake, on a dodgy back street somewhere in the Northern Quarter. I quite like graffiti, especially funny stuff like this and arty stuff like you get in Europe. Maybe I'll dig out some more pics and post them, too. We'll see, eh? Don't go getting your hopes up now; I can't promise anything.)

29 October 2009

The magic of mushrooms

Today, I whiled away a pleasant length of time in the orchard between Chorlton Water Park and Northern Moor. Apart from a few unripe raspberries and some crab apples the yellow-orange-red shades of Scotch bonnets, there wasn't anything left for humans or birds. The long eye-shaped leaves had mostly fallen from the cherry trees, and the branches were softly clack-clacking in the gentle breeze higher up. It was very relaxing, just sitting there on the wooden bench in the autumnal Ees, listening to the gentle hum of the nearby motorway and sucking up the smell of the damp earth.

I wandered into the orchard because I - liking gardening, cooking, eating and getting stuff for nowt, as I do - am partial to a bit of foraging and I wondered if there might be some edible bounty still available for the taking. I've always been a keen brambler come late summer and I used to go hazelnut picking with my nan back in the day. At around the same time, I remember finding fabulous fresh field mushrooms hidden in the lush dewy grass of the cow pasture at the end of the bumpy unadopted road near her bungalow. Despite always champing at the bit for the champignon season, I never manage to spot any these days, and I'm too chicken to try and identify other edible varieties without a bit of expert guidance.

Back in April, I was all geared up for making Sunday lunch for my brother-in-law's family, but they cancelled at the last minute, so I decided to take advantage of the early summer warmth and go on an organised forage on Fletcher Moss in Didsbury instead. I'm so glad the plans changed - the herb hunt was brilliant, the sun shone brightly throughout and I met some really lovely folk, including Jesper Launder, the local herbalist who was running the event. We spent a good three hours rummaging around under bushes and alongside boardwalks, and came out clutching all manner of food, including aniseed-tinged Sweet Cicely, tangy three-cornered leeks, pungent ramsons and even some meaty St George's mushrooms. We were taught how to identify the correct species and shown some failsafe doublechecking procedures, and, after our wander, I was pleased to source my own plentiful supply of fungi friends a bit closer to home, giving me a free and flavoursome addition to risotto and pasta well into May.

Anyway, back to the orchard in October, and, as I pottered around looking at the plants and shrubs, I noticed more and more different varieties of mushroom and toadstool down at ground level. There were little teated Liberty Cap-like fellows, bright yellow blobby specimens, solid stark white puffball types, queer inside-out umbrellas, raggedy muck-brown numbers and dusty, turmeric-hued examples. All I can think is that it must be quite a fairy outpost down there in the orchard.

These colour plates are from Edible & Poisonous Mushrooms, a field guide for the amateur mushroom collector that was published in 1894 and written by one of the (apparently) great British mycologists of the nineteenth century, Mordecai Cubit Cooke.

I found the plates reproduced on the wonderful website MykoWeb, first stop for all your 21st-century mushrooming needs. (Mykoweb warns: do not use these plates as a guide to the edibility of any mushroom. The ediblity concepts of some of these species have changed in the past century. The prints are reproduced here for their artistic and historic interest.) I have to say, I like the idea of an "edibility concept" very much. And, from a words point of view, I'm pleased to have been introduced to the term "mycology".

28 October 2009

Money makes the word go round

No wonder there was a global banking crisis. I've just seen a job ad for an international ecomony editor. Duh.

27 October 2009

Well red (or perhaps not...)

Sixty-four per cent of Spar shoppers are flummoxed by all that gubbins on wine labels. Fact.

Helpfully, 'so near so...' has found a way to get round this: printing labels in local dialect. Because obviously that's the solution. Not getting rid of all those airy fairy phrases or anything - 'plummy undertones', 'raspberry notes', 'goes well with curry dishes' - you know, that kind of thing. No, what Joe Public really needs is a description written in a really broad, really fake accent, targeted at the specific geographical area in which JP happens to live. Cor lummy bloimey, guvnor! Fuckh a duckh, mate! Hoots, mon!

(And what makes me really chortle is that they have only labelled up one wine: Merlot. Because that one particularly, out of all the wines in the whole of France - nay, the whole of the world - is the one that nobody's ever tasted before. FFS.)

Who does the work on this stuff? Did they misunderstand the brief about making the language easier to understand, but somehow the client thought it was great, cos it's, like, ironic or something? More to the point, are they looking for copywriters?

26 October 2009

Ligaturely speaking

Yesterday was Oxjam, which is nice. I didn't go, of course; I forgot. I picked up a flyer for the gigerama the other day and just found it again now, slipped between the pages of my notebook. Oh well. But anyway, there I was, looking at the flyer, thinking, 'oh yes, I forgot that, didn't I?', when lo, I noticed that there appear to be a couple of mistakes in the text; two, in fact. I reproduce them here, although I can't seem to reproduce the funny spacing that also appears.

Manchester’s most diverse fundraising event is taking over 9 of the nest venues throughout the Northern Quarter from 1-11pm to bring you the best established and upcoming music, art, lm, dance, comedy and poetry in the city.

I was idly musing that I don't know what a 'nest venue' is, or indeed an 'lm', and wondering if I'm just out of it, man, when the production editor in me realised that it's a printing problem, not a spello (or indeed a case of me not being down with da kidz). If you insert the letters 'fi' in front of both 'nest venues' and 'lm', they become instantly recognisable as words we all know and love. The 'fi' has gone AWOL in both cases, leaving the aforementioned funny spacing.

Squinting into the mists of my old-fashioned book publishing training, I remember that the letters f and i (and some others too, but you can go learn about them in your own time) can join together in what is called a ligature. As per the pic here for illustration, the top of the f melts into the dot of the i, and the two letters become one in a lovely embrace (or the f bites the head off the i, whichever you prefer). You don't get ligatures so much in texts produced after desktop publishing took over the world in the 80s as most of the new digital fonts didn't include them (and many were sans serif). Ligature use fell (I am reliably informed by Wikipedia) as the number of employed, traditionally trained hand compositors and hot metal typesetting machine operators dropped. (I knew a typesetter once; can't say I know any now.)

So, anyway, somehow, somewhere along the line, the two examples of 'fi' in the Oxjam flyer text have become ligatures - presumably due to a font that actually does allow this to happen (in this day and age!) - then when the file has been downloaded at repro, the font hasn't quite matched what they're working from and the ligature has upped and disappeared, all shy at the thought of appearing in print. Bless.

24 October 2009

Where there's a will, swears away

As you all know by now, dear readers, I'm a bit potty-mouthed. And today, none other than Dame Joan Bakewell has been extolling the virtues of swearing on Radio 4's Saturday Live with the lovely Fi Glover and the now ever-so-slightly-overdone White Stripes opening gambit.

'Swearing is important for drama, and for comedy,' said Dame Joan (a dame!). 'If you want drama to be realistic - if you want drama to convey energy and real life - you have to speak as people speak in daily life. So I think there's a case for moderate amounts of it. There's a need for creative people to be creative with language, and swearing is a very rich part of the language and a very magical part of the language because it triggers anxiety and resentment, and all sorts of things - fear, shame - so swearing matters.'

Huh. And there was me thinking I'd gone off the excessive use of expletives after three of the six finalists in last night's Manchester Fiction Prize Gala went a bit over the top with the profanities. Especially that naughty Toby Litt. He made me start coughing with all his talk of cock. Tsk. See my official Manchester Literature Festival Blog review for more.

23 October 2009

It's not the winning that matters (oh, who am I kidding?)

So I'm still reeling from Wednesday night and the shock of the moment (and certainly nothing to do with the copious amount of drink imbibed soon thereafter) when the Words & Fixtures moniker was announced as the recipient of the glittering Best New Blog gong at the 2009 Manchester Blog Awards. Look at us working that logo! We wear it well, non?

The evening, which took place in the newly refurbed and reopened Band On The Wall, was compered by a very-tight-and-very-red-dress-wearing Maria Ruban, who came up against something of a challenge with her catchphrase idea (we'll just leave it at that, eh?). Prize-giving duties were taken up by Kate Feld, and winners received a book courtesy of Manchester Literature Festival, a cheque courtesy of Arts Council England and a CD bearing the aforementioned logo courtesy of, ooh I dunno - Manchester Blog Awards? The bloggers nominated in the Best Writing category gave readings, as did author and judge Jenn Ashworth (showing her immense talent for situational description, but, if I'm honest, something of a downer with its rather bleak subject matter). Various mp3 bloggers played us some top tunes as part of Bloggerpalooza, a unique music streaming event, and I enjoyed The B-52s very much through my by then drunken haze.

The judging panel included: author and Guardian columnist Naomi Alderman; Dave Carter, head of Manchester Digital Development Agency; Richard Fair of BBC Manchester; author (and former blog award winner) Jenn Ashworth; Mike Noon of Arts Council England North West, and, last but most certainly not least, Manchester Blog Awards founder Kate Feld. Apparently, one of the judges said of W&F: 'It was the only blog out of the 24 shortlisted that made me laugh out loud.' See, I said I should become a comedian, didn't I?

So here's a list of (and links to) all the movers and shakers at the 2009 Manchester Blog Awards; big heartfelt congrats to them all (and, indeed, to everyone who was nominated and shortlisted):

Best City and Neighbourhood Blog: Lost in Manchester (anonymous). One of the judges said: "Sometimes it's easy to forget to look at what's right under your nose. I love its unashamed raw passion for Manchester."
Runner-up was The Manchester Zedders (Liam Purcell and Marie Pattison).

Best Personal Blog: My Shitty Twenties (Emily Morris). One of the judges said: "Moving, thoughtful, funny and wise. Sometimes heartbreaking, always uplifting."
Runner-up was Cynical Ben (Benjamin Judge).

Best New Blog: Words and Fixtures (Clare Conlon - that's me, that is!). One of the judges said: "It was the only blog out of the twenty-four shortlisted that made me laugh out loud."
Runner-up was Songs From Under the Floorboards (Andy Wake).

Best Writing on a Blog: My Shitty Twenties (Emily Morris again). One of the judges said: "It's almost impossible not to get drawn into the story that this blog tells."
Dual runners-up were I Thought I Told You To Wait in the Car (Richard Vivmeister Hirst) and Dave Hartley's Weblog (Dave Hartley).

Best Arts and Culture Blog: Run Paint Run Run (Ella Wredenfors). One of the judges said: "Opinionated, heartfelt and pleasantly rough-around-the-edges, a blog with an infectious enthusiasm for art."
Runner-up was The Manchester Hermit (Ansuman Biswas).

Blog of the Year: Lost in Manchester (still anonymous). This was awarded to the blog with the highest aggregate score in the competition. One of the judges said: "Quirky, original and focused, with an eye for detail. Putting the extra into extraordinary."

This here's a pic, from the MEN, of Emily Morris (My Shitty Twenties), Manchester Blog Awards organiser Kate Feld, me (me!) and Ella Wredenfors (Run Paint Run Run). Don't we make a splendid line-up in our posh frocks? And I like the height graduation.

This big ole bunch of links is some of the stuff that has been written in The Press and on the interweb thingy (if you know of any more, kindly post a comment. I thank you).

The Guardian: Women Dominate At Manchester Blog Awards
How-Do: Best Blogs In Manchester Revealed
Manchester Evening News (mis-spelt name and all): Single Mum Scoops Blog Award
Neville Hobson: In Conversation With Kate Feld
MDDA: The Return Of The Anonymous Blogger
Visit Manchester: photos
The Manchester Lit List: Manchester Blog Awards - And The Winners Are...
Searched Designed Developed: Manchester's Blog Awards Demonstrate The Real Power Of Blogging

City Life: Girls On Top At Manchester Blog Awards 2009

22 October 2009

Glittering prizes

Wow, as of last night, Words & Fixtures is an award-winning blog!
More tomorrow when I can speak, but in the meantime go visit the Manchester Blog Awards website.

21 October 2009

Reading festival

So both my mum and my friend Alice this week asked me how the Manchester Literacy Festival was going. See, that would be something else altogether now, wouldn't it?

If they'd've asked how the Manchester Literature Festival was going, I'd've said, 'Great, thanks.'

And indeed it is. So far, I've had the honour of seeing author, national treasure and all-round good egg Fay Weldon (photo above by me); well-thought-of poet Michael Schmidt, and the first Faber New Poets intake, Toby Martinez De La Rivas, Fiona Benson, Jack Underwood and Heather Phillipson.

On Friday, my name's down for the MMU Fiction Prize Gala, which I really wanted to go to as I almost entered the contest myself (except I didn't manage to complete my short story on time, instead choosing to spend the summer swanning around on yachts in the Med and such like). On Saturday, I'm off to Salford Lads Club for Paint A Vulgar Picture: Fiction Inspired By The Smiths. I don't even like The Smiths, but a couple of good friends who are accompanying me do, so my reviewing opinion will be no worse off. Myself, I'm looking forward to hearing a number of authors including Catherine O'Flynn reading from their work. I'll post the reviews to these events in the Links To My Work Online bar just as soon as I can, as I know you can't wait.

For more from the big book event, go meander round the latest musings on the blog, as edited (and sometimes written) by yours truly. Unless, of course, you're illiterate.

20 October 2009

The big picture

238 Tweets + 48 hours + 14 Fineliners + 2 penguins = 1 #TwitterPicture

Last week, black and white illustrator Johanna Basford launched #TwitterPicture, 'a unique concept merging creativity with social networking platform Twitter'. On Wednesday 14 and Thursday 15 October, Basford invited the Twitterati to come up with ideas for the world's first Twitter-inspired artwork and got to work capturing the myriad proffered themes in delicate penned detail. She says: 'The torrent of Tweets came thick and fast, draining several dozen of my beloved Fineliners within the first three hours.'

Read more about this project and see the full finished product on Basford's blog, and learn about all her other fabulous inky adventures on her website.

18 October 2009

Der burger meister

(From TV Ad Music)

This, Exhibit A, is Favourites (The People's Restaurant), the current ad for McDonald's. It features an ode to Drive Thrus, Coke and Chicken McNuggets, and promises something for everyone who is 'just passing by'. (C'mon, you must've seen it.)

I have to admit I've been sucked in by the poem; I like it. It has a good rhythm and a clever simplicity. It's also read in a pleasant lilting Liverpudlian accent by the actor David Morrissey (star of such shows as Red Riding, State Of Play...). It was written, so it says in trade mag Campaign, by the copywriters/creative team Tony Malcolm and Guy Moore, aka Tony & Guy (yes, like the hair care bunch), for the agency Leo Burnett, and the background music is apparently the opening track from Stephen Frears' flick The Grifters (I can't remember: I've only seen the film once, when it came out in 1990, which is an awful long time ago now). If it is, then I find it a bit odd given the movie's tagline: Seduction. Betrayal. Murder. Who's conning who?. Er, Pelman versus McDonald's Corporation, anyone?

Anyway, forget that; I've been known to consume the odd Filet-O-Fish for my wife in my time, so I'm not going to get all sanctimonious and hypocritical. Back to the poetry. It was on a TES online forum, no less, where I learnt that the Favourites piece follows the same pattern as a work of great importance by the famous Australian artist Rolf Harris dating back to 1964. The Court Of King Caractacus, as it is entitled, starts like this: 'Now the ladies of the harem of the court of King Catactacus, were just passing by.' The next verse begins: 'Now the noses on the faces of the ladies of the harem of the court of King Catactacus, were just passing by.' Then: 'Now the boys who put the powder on the noses on the faces of the ladies of the harem of the court of King Catactacus, were just passing by.' You get the picture and I guess you see where the fine fans of the Times Educational Supplement are coming from.

So, 'The It bods with their taps and prods eating a Big Mac while writing their blogs, were just passing by.' I have to say, I often chow down on a Big Mac while writing my blog.

Yeah, I'm lovin' it.

17 October 2009

Battlestar Helvetica

Today, we're revisiting the Helvetica typeface; it seems to be quite the de rigueur topic.

Some background to the font, learnt this morning. Helvetica was developed by the Haas Type Foundry in Switzerland in the 1950s, under the leadership of Edouard Hoffmann. (The Basle foundry had dominated Swiss typography since around 1580 and became the Haas Type Foundry after the punchcutter Johann Wilhelm Haas joined the company in 1718.)

Freelance graphic designer and type designer Mark Simonson has written an article called The Scourge Of Arial (Arial isn't very popular among purists, it turns out), in which he reveals:
An icon of the Swiss school of typography, Helvetica swept through the design world in the ’60s and became synonymous with modern, progressive, cosmopolitan attitudes. With its friendly, cheerful appearance and clean lines, it was universally embraced for a time by both the corporate and design worlds as a nearly perfect typeface to be used for anything and everything. “When in doubt, use Helvetica” was a common rule.
I found all this out as a consequence of checking out the quiz So You Think You Can Tell Arial From Helvetica?, on photographer David Friedman's blog, Ironic Sans. This, in turn, was brought to my attention by my favourite author and Twitterer, Douglas Coupland, whose latest novel, Generation A, features Helvetica on the cover (the G and the C are dead giveaways).

So there we go. Arial v Helvetica: let the battle commence!

16 October 2009

Keep on trucking

Alphabet Truck is the photographic work of Eric Tabuchi. He has done plenty more interesting stuff, including Twentysix Abandoned Gasoline Stations, French Countryside Skateparks and Road Signs. See here. I used to have a postcard of one of his images, I now realise, but it fell down the back of the fireplace, dammit.

I've put this up for your delectation, because words are made up of letters so by default Words & Fixtures likes letters as well as words.

(Thanks to @MancLibraries, BTW, for flagging this up on Twitter.)

15 October 2009

Literati, glitterati, Twitterati

Today marks the start of the fourth annual Manchester Literature Festival, which sees a number of literary events taking place every day until 25 October at various venues around the rainy city. A success already was the Trailblazer event with Margaret Atwood
back in September and, earlier this week, the first of two festival "Bookends". This initial one brought the University Of Manchester's Professor Of Creative Writing Martin Amis together with fellow novelist Will Self for a heated discussion about sex (apparently largely in the context of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita). I say!

Other famous faces on the ten-day programme include Joan Bakewell (who is presiding over afternoon tea at the Midland Hotel as we speak), Eoin Colfer (author du jour thanks to his Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy follow-up And Another Thing..., which just so happens to be this week's Book At Bedtime on Radio 4), feminist novelist Fay Weldon, historical author Kate Mosse, TV writer Jimmy McGovern, poet Michael Schmidt, local scribe Robert Graham (who led the fab creative writing workshop I recently took part in and seems to live down the road), Manchester-based MJ Hyland, Catherine O'Flynn and Jeff Noon... there's just loads. Check out the who, the what, the where, the why and the when (maybe even the how) here.

There are talks, discussions, readings, recitals, launches, awards, workshops, walks. And there are novelists, poets, short story authors, screenwriters, essayists, performers, broadcasters, journalists, editors, cartoonists, dramatists and bloggers. Talking of blogging, bob over to the official Manchester Literature Festival Blog here and follow events as they unfold (you may even see my name pop up). Follow the fun on Twitter via @McrLitFest and go hashtag happy using #MLF09. See you soon, bookworms.

13 October 2009

Her name was New York, New York

On tour from the British Museum and showing at The Whitworth Art Gallery until 13 December is The American Scene: Prints From Hopper To Pollock. The fascinating (and free!) exhibition charts printmaking in the US from the early 1900s to 1960; referencing a number of schools, movements and big names (yes, including those two), and exploring various effects on the artform - from outside influences, such as politics, war and immigration, to the introduction of new techniques, including screenprinting, lino cutting and lithography (this example is Louis Lozowick's New York, 1925).

But this is pictures - what has any of it got to do with words?
Whoah there, horsey, we're getting to that bit. Back in 1947, Louise Bourgeois (remember her? Monstrous spiders at the Tate Modern ring any bells?) made her most important set of prints (she kind of moved onto sculpture soon after), He Disappeared Into Complete Silence, at the famous Paris- then NYC-based print studio Atelier 17, and the series forms part of this show. He Disappeared Into Complete Silence combines simple black and white prints (some engravings, some dry point) with a sheet of text to almost paint a picture in your head. Here's Plate 3 in the series, the text to which really conjures up an image of a poor storyteller:
"Once a man was telling a story, it was a very good story too, and it made him very happy, but he told it so fast that nobody understood it."

Let's study guide

I like Trof, I really do. I like all three of them, actually, but especially the one in Fallowfield as it's just near the Loop and handy when on a thirsty bike ride. I like that one in particular because it has its own-brand cider and lager, both of which are good and cheap, and it's all small and, er, intimate. I also like the whole thing going on with the "quirky decor" (as they would say in the old-fashioned press) and the funny little drawings with speech bubbles on the menus and the fact that the people who go in there don't mind in the slightest acting a bit weird, like using plastic cutlery they brought with them or talking into a mobile phone as if it were a tricorder (do you think that should take a cap - is it a trademark in the imaginary future?).

So I was in Trof Fallowfield, self-proclaimed "eating and drinking palace" (I remember when it was a really crummy second-hand bike shop), just having "the one" (which - whaddya know? - before long became "the four"), and, while I was waiting at the bar for my drinks to be poured, noticed the cute little sign flagging up the tips jar. I can't remember the exact wording but it was saying something like: give us some money "and then later lets go dancing".

I know, I'm sorry, I can't help it - I got out my Biro (that, I know, is capped up) and drew on an apostrophe, just like that; as if I owned the place. It was in the same style (blobby) and colour (black) as the writing, mind: I'm all for style. The girl behind the bar looked at me, perhaps not surprisingly, accusingly. "Just making it grammatical," I said perkily. God, I'd not even touched the fizzy pop by then, either. Do I need to be put down before I turn into Lynne Truss or can I still be rehabilitated before I go too far?

12 October 2009

Pull the udder one

Wandering quite aimlessly around the Manchester Museum yesterday afternoon (I was trying to find the mummies, but somehow drifted straight past them), I stumbled across a backlit display featuring a picture of a happy cow, chewing the cud, and some text explaining the origins of words relating to the subject of money.
The word "chattel", meaning "moveable possession", is connected with the word "cattle". When we pay a "fee", the word is related to the German "Vieh", which also means cattle. And when we have no money, we are "impecunious" - we literally have no cows, as the word comes from the Latin "pecus", meaning cattle. These all recall the days when wealth was measured in livestock and land, rather than precious metal or paper.
Holy cow, who'd've thought. Live stock, literally! Do you reckon the word "moolah" is also linked? What about "cash cow"?

(This pic, incidentally, is of Jersey Cow, which was part of the CowParade in Manchester in 2004. Jersey Cow was the brainchild of singer Jarvis Cocker and his good lady wife Camille Bidault-Waddington, a fashion stylist, and was put together by my friend Zimeon Jones, who is a textile designer and artist.)

10 October 2009

The what becoming the who

Wandered into the Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2009 exhibition at the Cornerhouse yesterday totally unprepared for being as blown away by the work as I was. Really I went there a) to waste a bit of time while I was in town, b) because the galleries are nice and warm and my house is not, c) it's free and I have no money. Thank goodness for these three reasons, because now I can give you one other: d) it's well worth a visit.

Forty-seven artists are represented in the show, which runs over all three floors of exhibition space. There are paintings, photographs, sculptures, video installations - and a whole lotta talent.

Myka Baum
Mare Undarum – Sea of Waves
2008, C-type print, scanned from negative, 70.25 x 105cm

Martina Lindqvist
Untitled 2, Ragskär Island series
2008, C-type print, 61 x 76.2cm

Francis Mason
Intrusion 1
2008, Digital print, wood panel, concrete, 30.5 x 20.5 x 2cm

Jorge de la Garza
Untitled No. 3 (Book 1)
2008, Collage, 31.4 x 23.2cm

These are just some of the images I was impressed with, but I was also surprised to enjoy quite a bit of the digital video work too, especially Una Knox's When What Becomes Who.

This follows two men working for the "Preparation Department" of what looks to be a museum, busily moving large display cases and the like up and down in a vast service elevator, all the while conducting a rather philosophical conversation on, among other things, words. "How does a word come into being?" poses the older man. "To me, that's a great, great mystery." They then discuss "terms of language, grammatical structure", how "one liberates a meaning from its word" and "the what becoming the who", which has a lovely Dr Seuss ring to it.

Anyway, it's worth taking the time to sit and listen in on the lift men. Get over before the show closes on 25 October (or check it out on the London leg at A Foundation 10 November to 20 December).

09 October 2009

Relegation on the subs bench

Spotted this in The Guardian's Corrections And Clarifications yesterday, but was so caught up in Poetry Day excitement,
I didn't get round to blogging about it.
"While journalists and subeditors are not expected to be multilingual", said the weekly column of the readers' editor, "they should put the right accents on names in all languages, where possible".
Subeditors are journalists.
In trying to distinguish between the roles the column should have referred to writers/reporters and subeditors.
Way to go, Corrections Editor! Good to see someone sticking up for subs. Subs are people too, y'know! (What's the betting the Readers' Editor is really a writer/reporter slighted by having his sentences rearranged and the Corrections Editor is actually a subeditor who's sick of correcting obvious spelling mistakes?)

08 October 2009

Happy National Poetry Day, everybody!

Today is National Poetry Day, and the theme chosen to celebrate this year's fixture is Heroes & Heroines. To honour this subject, recently appointed Poet Laureate (and fellow Manchester dweller) Carol Ann Duffy has created a new work called Atlas, which can be seen here.

(Photo: Walker Art Gallery)

Here's my own take on the topic...
by Clare Conlon

You can keep your sporting legends,
Screw your rock gods and pop idols,
Stick your celebrities where the sun don't shine.

Stuff the literary greats,
Shove the art heavyweights,
Sod the fashionista's hot dates.

The masters, the mistresses -
Confine them to history's
long-forgotten library.

Cast asunder the kings, aye, and the queens.
Their place is in dusty books
or curling, mildewed magazines.

Silver screen, small screen;
A good face for radio,
Voice contorted by the pips.

Superstar, reality star,
Famous for five minutes,
Tomorrow wrapping chips.

Forget the big heads, the talking heads,
The heads of state, and more.
The proper heroes and heroines
live quietly next door.
(Copyright Clare Conlon 2009. All rights reserved)

07 October 2009

Collaboratively speaking

Just got an email off Angels Of Anarchy, which looks slightly weird sitting there in my inbox. A bit surreal, you might say. I'm guessing that effect may well have crossed the minds of the good people at Manchester Art Gallery, where there is currently an exhibition of the same name, subtitled Women Artists and Surrealism.

The reason why Angels Of Anarchy have emailed me is because yesterday I couldn't resist the invitation on the exhibition's website to be surreal.

According to the site, "the surrealists had a lot of fun creating collaborative poetry and artworks", and now, "using Facebook, Twitter and our own website, people everywhere are writing a surreal line of poetry, without knowing what has come before, and what comes next...".

I contributed a line, which had to be 50 characters or less, hence: "Congratulations! Your Angels of Anarchy poem is finished and you are now officially a surrealist poet." Here's the result.

Poem 27, a collaborative work by
Juliet Vinçon, Clare Conlon, Joanne Finn, John Davison,
James Roome, Neil Coombs, Rachel Witkin, Barbara Byatt and Sean Diamond, 7 October 2009

Sleep parrot sleep, let this traveller fly
All her duck-egg dreams lay scrambled on the floor
You cut through me with your diamond gaze
Before the picnic, I was seeing too much of Flora
Speak 'concrete mixmagnanimous', deft, bent, whole
Through the Dark Windows he glimpsed his own face
Enveloped by the rich blanket of the night
Rage, ragged, & red as raw meat, swirled above her
As time went on, my fins became sore.

Blogging: sooo this season

Somehow I feel sullied. I can't quite put my finger on what made me feel this way, but it has something to do with the feature bigging up blogging in the latest issue (November 2009) of Marie Claire, which just landed on my doorstep (don't worry, I didn't pay for it - my mum collected vouchers off her nightly Horlicks to get a free subscription).

It's not that I don't like fashion blogs, because some I do; indeed, I even have a couple listed on my blog roll. I just don't know...

Perhaps it's the word "blogonista" that's got my hackles up. Or maybe it's MC's top tip box, which includes: "Create your blog using the Blogger.com site. It's simple to use". 'Cos you lot are women and you need simple, right? Ah, how to lose readers and alienate people.

06 October 2009

Yet another magazine

A new weekly women's magazine launches tomorrow in six cities around the UK, and it's free. Apparently, ShortList Media will distribute 400,000 copies of Stylist in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Glasgow and Brighton. Are they mad? Or do they at least know something everyone else in the free world doesn't?

In these recession-bitten times, Associated Newspapers have downsized their freesheet Metro, News International have bumped off The London Paper and the Guardian Media Group have decided that giving away the Manchester Evening News every weekday in the city centre just doesn't make economic sense. Meanwhile, the Evening Standard has gone from being paid-for to being unpaid-for and now the future of London Lite hangs in the balance...

But the folk at ShortList Media certainly aren't short on confidence. Just open the front page of their "flagship" title ShortList (I know, I had to force myself, too) and there's a whole sidebar harping on about its circulation and year-on-year ABC increase and prize-winning prowess.

(Worryingly, incidentally, the company's founder, Mike Soutar - yes, the man behind Nuts, that wonderful example of men's "journalism" - said that 65 per cent of ShortList's readers do not read any other men's magazine. Well, I suppose it would put even the best of us off.)

So, back to Stylist. I'll admit that there's promise - I love a good font, and the one on the masthead is good. That's a great pic of Angelina, too, and a nice close crop. The design looks clean and they've got some experienced journalists on there (the editor left the big chair at More! to join the launch).

Whether the standard of writing is up to much, however, and whether managing to drum up 17 pages of ads in a 56-page book is a viable business proposition in the long term remains to be seen. And I'm sure there are a lot of people watching intently right now...

Read more at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/oct/06/stylist-new-womens-magazine

04 October 2009

Sweary pants

According to Ritula Shah on Radio 4 last week, a new survey has revealed that only five per cent of adults make it through the day without hearing a swearword. (Poor people, they must lead particularly sheltered lives - forget battling along a binge-drunk high street on a Friday night or bunfighting over cheap Chinese jeans in Primark on a Saturday afternoon; you only have to turn on the telly for a torrent of abusive language and obscene words to sully your world. Hell, I'm sure even The Archers plays host to the odd slightly less offensive colloquialism every now and again if you listen carefully when those young'uns are on the Old Rosie in The Bull!)

Regular readers will probably have already recognised that I am quite a fan of, er, colourful language, so given the opportunity to hear an intellectual discussion on the subject, I was obviously all ears.

The main topic up for debate was whether swearing has lost its potency as we all vomit forth crudeities and blaspheme our way through modern life.

John Ayto, lexicographer and co-editor of Stone The Crows: Oxford Dictionary Of Modern Slang (OUP Oxford, 2008, £10.99), said that if it's used as filler, cussing may indeed be less potent, but that when used in anger, it can still carry "quite a hefty whack". John admitted that his main concern is that we're "losing some of our swearwords as they become common currency and create less of a frisson", citing the example of "bloody", a word many people would have found shocking 50 years ago, but which, nowadays, "most people wouldn't turn a hair at".

His wife, Jean Aitchison, Professor of Language And Communication at the University Of Oxford, also made a few points, but she gave too many quotes using actual profanities, so a large part of her contribution was bleeped out. Shame.

But I digress. Point is, if we're starting to run short on swearwords, we need to tackle this problem head on before it becomes a major social issue not so far into the future from now. I therefore propose that we have a competition to come up with some new swearwords. Perhaps we could even get the winners into Mr Ayto's Oxford Dictionary Of Modern Slang.

03 October 2009

Caught short

On the last day of the first Didsbury Arts Festival, I've left my Chorlton comfort zone and taken part in a workshop on fiction writing. It was held by novelist and short story writer Robert Graham, who is a lecturer for MMU Cheshire and has published the useful tome How To Write Fiction (And Think About It) (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006, £14.99).

I've been reading a lot of short stories lately, notably Dylan Thomas and Roald Dahl, and was after a bit of guidance to help me get my own ideas down on paper. We learnt about characterisation and immediacy, and we wrote some stuff off the cuff, there and then, in the class, hangovers and all. Here are three of my stories, each written in about five minutes flat.

This one was about a man, of whom I had been given a photograph and had previously been tasked with describing. I picked the situation "walking into a party" from a list we were presented with.
Standing at the edge of the room, Michael nursed a warm bottle of Old Speckled Hen and eyed the other guests cautiously. Realising he had been loitering alone a little too long, he made a beeline for the table where a simple buffet was laid out, and perused the food on offer. It was just as he was reaching out for a coronation chicken sandwich on white sliced that a voice made him jump.
"Do you come here often?"
He swerved round, holding the beer and sandwich up and close, and peered at the intruder.
"My name's Susan," she said, smiling.
"Oh, er, Michael. Er, Mike," he replied, putting the bottle down and holding out his right hand.
"I saw you standing on your own and thought I'd come over and make sure you're OK," said Susan.

This one was to lead on from the sentence: "I wonder if this happens to a lot of people".
I wonder if this happens to a lot of people. It's certainly not the first time it's happened to me. I supposed I really should learn, but I'm always in a hurry, and generally I have my hands full as I'm on my way to work. The first time it happened, I managed to ram my hands onto a black lady's ample bosom. It was so embarrassing but thankfully she saw the funny side of it.

This one was following an exercise when we worked in pairs to come up with three scenarios which included a person, a place and a problem. We then had to pick one person, one place and one problem, but not the ones that went together. I ended up with "teenage girl", "park bench, eating lunch", and "loses her son".
Bethany liked going to the park to have her lunch; it got her out of the poky council house she shared with her mum and younger brother. It also meant Ryan, who was now two and quite boisterous, could run around and wear himself out so she could have a nice, fuss-free evening in front of the telly. That wasn't going to happen this Thursday, however, although as yet she didn't know that. As usual, she laboured with the pushchair on the rough ground just inside the gate and went straight to the bench near the tree. She unclipped Ryan and lifted him out, then watched as he ran over to the roundabout where some other children were playing. She sat down and reached under the pushchair for her sandwiches, wrapped in an old Sunblest bag. She pulled one out and sank her teeth into the soft white bap, the tang of Cheddar almost a surprise. Looking over towards the roundabout, she saw it spinning, growing gradually slower, but the children were gone; the two that had been there and Ryan, who had joined them.

I really enjoyed myself, and hopefully I've learnt something useful. Robert Graham was a good teacher and a very nice man, and everyone seemed to have fun.

Robert is taking part in the upcoming Manchester Literature Festival
(see www.manchesterliteraturefestival.co.uk for full details), in a free event called Northern Salt on Sunday 18 October at 3pm at the Whitworth. This is a showcase of Northern talent, all published by the independent publisher Salt, and Robert will be reading some of his work, alongside prizewinning writer Elizabeth Baines, novelist Mark Illis and poet John Siddique.

02 October 2009

Politics and religion

It's not often you'll catch me discussing politics or religion. Certainly not in public, anyway. Perhaps it's because, in terms of the first, I just can't make up my mind any more, having been let down so often in the past, like a lonely spinster; in terms of the second, I've made up my mind, but I don't really want to offend anyone unnecessarily.

Or, perhaps, I'm now old enough and wise enough to know it's best to keep my mouth shut on both thorny subjects, especially at family get-togethers, and especially when booze has been imbibed. Ah, Christmas 2007...

So anyway, I surprise myself to be drawing to your attention yesterday's Thought For The Day, from the Today programme on BBC Radio 4. Newly woken and face still puffy with sleep, I was caught somewhat unawares and it took me a very long time (until the first mention of the Bible, actually) to realise there was a religious undercurrent as I perked my ears up to the talk of grammar.

"...when I was at school we were encouraged to be a bit suspicious of adjectives. Rules of syntax kept them firmly in their place. An adjective qualifies a noun or pronoun. They are not the important words like verbs: 'being or doing words', or nouns: 'names of persons, places or things'. For all their flamboyance they don't really tell you much. They may make you feel vital, vibrant and vigorous, but in fact their content is often vain and void. They represent aspirations, worthy ones, perhaps, but they don't come with dates, times or budgets; they are wonderfully cheap because they float free of concrete reality. They soar like helium balloons, raising our sights, but not delivering anything except, perhaps, hot air..."

It's interesting, this. I, too, GCSE guinea pig that I was (so grammar wasn't really up there on the curriculum's list of important skills to learn in English Language class; preferred were exploring abstract ideas and presenting your work at the front), was taught to be unliberal with descriptive words, and henceforth I've shied away from overly flowery prose and quickly developed a tendency to run screaming from anything written before 1950. (I'm getting better, but Thomas Hardy still brings me out in a cold sweat.)

I also find that excessive use of adjectives sees me getting my ersatz (now, that's a good adjective) red pen out straight away when I'm editing and have to cut to fit. Well, spurious adjectives and shit copy and crap structure.

Anyway, the full TFTD is here if you follow this link, and you'll see it sits in a wider context of politics, just to complete that circle of doom.


01 October 2009


I'm over the moon to be able to announce that Words & Fixtures has been nominated in the category of Best New Blog in the upcoming Manchester Blog Awards, which is being held during Manchester Literature Festival (more on that soon)! Read all about it at:

If anyone fancies joining me at the Awards Ceremony, it's on Wednesday, October 21 at 7pm at the recently revamped Band On The Wall. Tickets are £4 (£3 concs). Right, I'm off to buy a fancy frock for the soiree and try and stop grinning like the Cheshire Cat...


Made my second pie in as many weeks. Both have been plate pies, made with shortcrust pastry. That is the best kind of pie you can have, in my humble pie opinion. Unless it's a pork pie, which is a different kettle of fish (or, at least, a different kind of pie).

Anyway, the last pie I made was rabbit, in tribute to the sad demise of classic musical duo Chas and Dave. The latest one was chicken, using the leftovers from Sunday's roast (it is a recession, y'know).

So, there I was, standing in the kitchen rubbing butter into flour and gazing wistfully out of the window at the newly trained jasmine, when inspiration came to me. In a flash. Like it does. That's when I started making up haikus about pies; piekus, if you will.

Here's a selection of the tasty morsels. Let me know what you think.
Pieku #1: Prize Pies
Pastry case, golden
Glaze. Crimped, pimped: three leaves, two slits.
Fit for first, this one.

Pieku #2: Mind The Gap
Meat and potato.
Chicken, mushroom, leek; steak n'ale.
Pork, mustard on't side.

Pieku #3: On A Theme By Queen
I want a pie. I
Want a pie. I want a pie.
And I want it now.

Pieku #4: Not My Type
Shortcrust. Suet. Puff.
Plate pie. Pudding. Vol-au-vent.
Well, each to their own.

Pieku #5: Lady Killer
"You're too damn flaky,"
Shrilled the woman, knife in hand,
Expertly stabbing.

Pieku #6: Man Slaughter
"You're a right pudding,"
He muttered under his breath,
Then dug in sharp teeth.

Pieku #7: After The Beatles
I am the pie man.
I am the pie man. I am
The pieman. Coo-coo-ki-choo.
(Copyright Clare Conlon, as if you were going to nick this rubbish.)