29 July 2010

Saddle up and ride em cowboy

This weekend, it's all about cycling. Well, every day is about cycling for me, but I do like to encourage other people to get on their bike (to coin a phrase), and sometimes they're not all that keen to do this if they're not being accompanied by other people on two wheels. Something to do with safety in numbers, I guess. (As perfectly illustrated by this photograph of two matching bikes I spotted in the Northern Quarter on Tuesday evening. Neat.)

So this weekend in Manchester there are quite a few excuses to dust off your velo and pump up your tyres pump up your tyres pump up your tyres - dance dance. (Uh, sorry, don't know what happened there.)

Kicking things off is the regular Bike Friday ride into town tomorrow morning, with led groups departing various points at 8am and all converging at Exchange Square for a coffee and a chat with folk from other parts of the rainy city. A couple of months ago, I tried to join the gang leaving from Chorlton Library, but I was, as usual, fashionably late and they'd set off just before I rolled up so I was always lagging behind by about 200 metres (this was back in Celia's day, just prior to retirement on her 30th birthday). Bike Friday is part of the Love Your Bike initative run by Manchester Friends Of The Earth, and the lovely Graeme told me all about the project at the "bike fair" on Albert Square on Bike To Work Day back in June. So I'm telling you. Full details on all the start points etc are here.

If, like me, you find 8am a tad too uncouth, tomorrow evening sees the monthly Critical Mass organised by I Bike Manchester (@ibikemcr on Twitter) and the inimitable Nes Bear (who posts updates on the Facebook page Manchester Critical Mass). Hoards of cyclists of all shapes and sizes, ages and backgrounds, and with all kinds of bikes (foldies, fixies, recumbents, post office, Dutch, cruisers, BMXes, mountain, racers, road, shoppers, step-through, sit-up-and-beg...) meet at Central Library from 6pm and go on an amble around town from about 6.30pm. The pace is pretty slow (all the better for not spilling beer all over my new steed, Hettie, and her marvellous spring-into-action basket) and, while the ad hoc route is often out to Platt Fields or Whitworth Park or Alexandra Park, it's not what you'd call strenuous. It's a really great way to meet fellow cyclists, promote cycling to the good people of Manchester and reclaim the streets in a friendly and non-agressive way.

On Sunday, the streets are being reclaimed using rather more organised methods as the Skyride returns for a second year. Starting at 10am, you can see the 12km (really?) route here. Lots of people took part last year, and there's plenty of "family fun" to be had, and while I'm a bit disturbed by the involvement of such a giant organisation as Murdoch's Sky, these events do raise the profile of cycling and the GB cycling team does need sponsorship. Gah.

28 July 2010

A Mini Moment Of Fiction: It's raining, it's pouring

Back in, oooooh June, the now regular (and, rather popular, I learnt at last night's quarterly Blogmeet) feature A Moment Of Fiction brought you the news of three writing competitions. I submitted a story for one, another I didn't enter although my sister-in-law did, and the third I have yet to get round to contributing towards.

Anyway, Rain Never Stops Play, the Creative Tourist and Rainy City Stories contest mentioned during that post, is now in the second stage of judging, and, as outlined in the rules, a shortlist of six stories has been drawn up. The first 500 words of each are now up on the CT site for the likes of you and me to cast our votes on (the public poll will count as 40 per cent of the score) and the final winners - one, a story based in Manchester; the other, a story set in another city - will be announced on 2 August, so you have less than a week in which to make a difference! Read the six intros to Dancing With Dragons, Finsbury Circus, Infinite Loop, Regulars, The City Is Leaving Me and Troubles, and pick your fave here.

19 July 2010

Short crust

Last Thursday, I joined fellow blogger and spare-time creative writer Adrian Slatcher at the glittering awards gala for the Oxfam Short Story Competition, part of the annual Oxfam Bookfest. Adrian had submitted a dialogue-driven piece of fiction called Buffeteering; I hadn't entered, but I was keen to see who won and why. Going on for 50 stories were apparently put forward, and the judging was done by Manchester authors Nicholas Royle, Adele Geras and David Gaffney. Nick and Adele were at the do, and kicked off proceedings by each reading some of their own work: Adele the fantastical short story Sippora; Nick a work-in-progress set in Paris that will be called either The Mask or The Hood (he has yet to decide).

Following a brief interval, during which we were encouraged (largely unsuccessfully) to contribute to a kind of Consequences or complete a literary quiz (which Adrian subsequently won), the winners were announced in reverse order. Third came Sian Cummins with A Passive-agressive Killing Spree, second was The Humpty by Susan Bennett and first prize went to Claire Massey's Chorden-under-Water. The runners-up and winner each read the first page or so of their stories, and all sounded impressive. You can now read two of them in full on the Oxfam blog here (The Humpty to follow); a treat I will allow myself when I'm not inundated with work.

ADDENDUM 28/07/10: Runner-up story The Humpty by Susan Bennett is now up on the Oxfam site for your reading delectation.

17 July 2010

Condiments to the chef

Recessions really are shit. No matter who you are, no matter what you do, and, in the current global recession, no matter where you live, everyone is affected in one way or another. I'm not going to get all deep or anything, but here's something bad: Salt Publishing, which has been gracing the shelves of bookshops and libraries and people's own homes for ten years, is currently finding itself on the brink.

In the last few months, I've met some lovely local writers who have had work published by Salt. There's your Robert Graham, whose creative writing workshop I took part in at last year's inaugural Didsbury Arts Festival and whose novel Holy Joe I think about every time I cycle through Longford Park. There's your Elizabeth Baines, who I knew of via the Chorlton Book Festival and who I've since had the pleasure of chatting to, first at the Manchester Blogmeet, since at her Chorlton Arts Festival slot (with an extract from Too Many Magpies plus a short story called Educational Psychology) and latterly when both of us were audience members at an Oxfam Bookfest reading. Then there's your Nicholas Royle, whose first reading I attended was the aforementioned Oxfam one (with two short stories Pink and Maths Tower) and whose second I slightly scuppered on Thursday night at a Short Story Competition awards gala because he spotted me hiding on the back row (perhaps hiding is the wrong word with that bright red ribbon adornment I was proudly parading) and felt he couldn't read the same story again, even though only one person had already heard it. I wouldn't have minded.

Anyway, Salt is sinking, but if we all throw it a Danbuoy it'll float just fine. I'm a part-time mariner (fellow salty seadogs might have spotted that last reference), so salt runs through my veins (or something). You, my friends, are good readers of this blog and probably put salt on your chips, or in your pasta water (or something). Salt's part of all our lives: let's keep it that way, eh?

Right now, in that there London, there's a flashmob in praise of Salt Publishing at the Southbank Centre, where there will be a mass public recital of Pablo Neruda's poem Ode To Salt. This blog post forms part of a "virtual flashmob" (brainchild of poet lady Katy Evans-Bush), so if you can't make it to the Big Smoke, you can read the piece right here right now.

I've told you I'm a sailor, so here's my favourite part of the poem:

of the ancient
holds of ships,
the high seas,
of the unknown, shifting
byways of the foam.

(Salt Pig pic courtesy Crate & Barrel)

16 July 2010

Hostess with the mostest*

So earlier this evening I bobbed by Cornerhouse for the preview of the new art show Unrealised Potential, which starts properly tomorrow and runs until 12 September. It takes up all three galleries, but it seems in the wrong order. Not back to front; more muddled up, really. Normally, I approach things from a rational, logical point of view, and, in the case of the Cornerhouse galleries, if a show is over three floors, I work my way up to the very top where I expect the climactic moment to be had (recently, there were nudey pictures and a sign at the door to warn the faint-hearted). As usual, therefore, I wandered into the first gallery because that makes sense in the scheme of things. It's also where you pick up your drinks token at such events, which is important.

So, in the first floor above the cafe (technically, therefore, the second floor, but let's not confuse things), pinned to the gallery wall are basically lots of nice neat cards printed with ideas for art projects. You know what? I can't be arsed reading them. I've got an aching head from where I banged it on the fridge door earlier this morning and I've had a dog of a week. I didn't come here to squint at 12-point type in a low level of light. I just happen to look at one about Star Wars, but only because I feel I ought to at least try and then the lady next to me whispers to her boyfriend that he'd like it. Underwhelming isn't the word. Sod this, I think, and head straight to the top. For that, apart from anything else, is where I can trade this ticket in for some cold hard liquor. Having snaffled a glass of the rose, I glance around at the work, and I just don't get it. It's like a student art project. Or something in a cutting-edge Berlin creative squat. I can't even be bothered telling you about it. It's not for me; it might be for you - if that's the case, work it out for yourself.

So, I go back down to the middle gallery. I noticed on the way up that it's dark there. I can probably hide in a corner and neck the wine without anyone noticing. When I walk in and the first thing I see is the weird negative video image of a face on the right-hand wall, I even start grimacing. It's like having my teeth pulled out, and I've not had enough of this plonk yet for it to work as an anaesthetic.

But then, THEN, I spot the crazy mesmerising air hostess ladies going about a choreographed routine to really slow cheesy cha-cha-cha music, and all is forgiven. I can't get away; it really pulls me in. And I'm not alone. Well, I was to start off, but by the time I leave, after perusing the maddest display of components (from "bell only" and "cranked handle" to "pressure gauge" and "wafer valve"), the space in front of the screen is heaving. Yes, the "mock business fair pavilion" is a bit bollocks; no, I don't understand the purpose of the chain curtain; but the film is brilliant, and that's really something coming from someone who generally can't stand video installations. It even makes me understand how the rest of the show fits together. See? Not all negative. I might even go back one day to work the rest out.

*Well, what else did you expect?

14 July 2010

Cutting a dash

Why don't we just face up to it: as a nation, we're just not all that awesome at sport. For proof, look no further than the recent disappointing performance by the England footballers at the World Cup, sharply followed by Scot tennis ace Andy Murray's semi-final showdown at Wimbledon. So who's looking forward to the 2012 Olympics, other than Boris? Ho-hum.

But does it matter, now we hear that Stella McCartney will be designing the official Team GB kits in collaboration with Adidas, with whom she already works (see photo). Gold medal to whoever came up with that idea.

I met Stella at an Elle Style Awards Party, some years ago when I was a proper full-blown media maven. I was in charge of the guest list; a kind of bouncer in a ballgown, if you will. Once my duties were over and the hideous glass paperweights had been handed out, I went for a wander around the bits of the Natural History Museum we were allowed to venture into, and bumped into Ms Mc wandering the other way. I greeted her with an enthusiastic, "Oh hi, Stella!", and she looked at me like I was an idiot. Which I was, really. Obviously she didn't know me from Adam.

13 July 2010

A moment of fiction #5

It's time for another bringing together of news about creative writing workshops, new zines on the scene and various other interesting project shennigans going on.

Tomorrow sees the launch of new magazine 3030, at Common on Edge Street from 7pm. The 3030 folk have a website and a Twitter account to follow, and you can contact them with your amazing ideas and wotnot via editorial@3030magazine.co.uk.

If you like photography, the first issue of Field Trip Magazine is available from Cafe Royal Books. Editor in chief Craig Atkinson had left his card on the special shelf in Common and his blog is quite interesting too. I'm liking the pictures from the camera he found in a charity store.

Now, Paper Planes have adorned these pages in the past, and one of their regulars has just started up their own creative writing workshop. I'm afraid you've missed the inaugural meeting, but they take place on every last Sunday of the month, so with the next on 25 July, you don't have long to wait! Sarah L Dixon runs the sessions in Chorlton Library from 1-3pm, and they're £5 (or £4 concs). See www.myspace.com/sarahldixon or email hectorandwanaka@yahoo.co.uk for more.

Don't forget: A Moment Of Fiction is a regular fixture so post a comment, email me or let me know via Twitter if you have anything you'd like mentioning. Here are all the most recent posts: A Moment Of Fiction #1, #2, #3 and #4

Button it!

If you were at the Beech Road Festival a couple of weekends back, you might have had the pleasure of perusing Ophelia Button's pretty little pieces on the Manchester Craft Media stall. Miss O is a founding member of this collective of creatives first spotted at Whitworth Art Gallery's recent Midsummer House Party, where the lovely ladies, all bedecked in vintage tea frocks and cute cardies, held a Yard Sale.

I bought a funky button ring, which has been drawing oohs and aahs ever since. As well as button rings, necklaces, earrings, brooches and bracelets (how gorgeous are these examples?), Ophelia Button's range includes unique pieces lovingly crafted from felt, tulle and wool.

As well as selling accessories and knick-knacks, the Manchester Craft Mafia gang organise events to promote craft as a career and also as a pasttime. This Saturday, I note, Ophelia Button is hosting a workshop from 2-4pm as part of the regular Crafternoon Tea slot at the Whitworth Art Gallery - it's £3; call 0161 275 7450 to book.

09 July 2010

Open day

So I was just bumbling around the internet looking for the opening hours of Manchester Craft & Design Centre and perusing the info on Debbie Smyth's awesome-looking Threadbare exhibition there as I'm aiming to fit it into the jam-packed W&F calendar, when, lo! I saw mention of this new Curated Place blog, which in itself is a work of interest and perhaps even beauty.

Tootling on through the recent posts, I saw that Andy Brydon, who is behind the CP curtain working the levers and pulleys, includes snaps of the Open City Manchester show I graced the launch of last night with my presence. (Blimey, these sentences are complicated in their structure, aren't they, readers? I must apologise: I have both a hangover and a disgustingly tight deadline to meet with the said hangover, and it's driven me to distraction somewhat.)

Anyway, the show is worth nipping to see, with all the pictures taken by amateur photographers who participated in the first Open City photography day on 23 May 2010, led by five professional Manchester-baed snappers Aidan O’Rourke, Andrew Brooks, Len Grant, Paul Herrmann and Mark Page. While some of the shots are a little on the cliched side and others felt somewhat staged, there are a number of surprising compositions and some interesting techniques. The number here is by Sue Langford, who I consequently bumped into at The Hillary Step as myself and Mr W&F gradually made the long way home from town with a flat bicycle tyre. (We had already stopped at The Whalley, which was full of scarily medicated patrons all sat at separate tables. It was like One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest meets Night Of The Living Dead. Suffice to say, we didn't stay for a second drink.) I hope Sue doesn't mind me featuring her work - we were chatting about it last night (I like the font; she told me it's on a lock gate just up from Dukes 92), but I will make sure I ask her for permission post haste.

Cityco's Open City Manchester is downstairs in the Triangle shopping centre and runs from today to 29 July, and is open daily 10am–6pm. You can also peruse the photos in the show on this here Flickr site. There are two further upcoming Open City photography days on Saturday 17 July and on Sunday 22 August, both from 2–4pm. It's £10 to take part - book by emailing Mark Page via info@manchesterphotography.com.

Picture credit: Sue Langford, all rights reserved

08 July 2010

Read me!

My good friend over at Manchester Libraries (@MancLibraries) spotted me cycling my lovely new Dutch-style steed, Hettie (as she has finally been christened), through the leafy Range this morning, and it prompted her to get in touch via the Twittervine.

She thought I might like to draw your attention, dear readers, to a book-winning contest. It's a monthly fixture and details for the July competition, which closes on Sunday, can be found upon the Manchester Lit List blog. This, as you well know, is a fine online establishment to which your trusty narrator has contributed on more than one occasion.

Up for grabs at this very moment is The Wonder, by Diana Evans. I have to admit I've not actually read it, but Ms Evans is the proud owner of a Betty Trask Award, so it must be good - after all, fellow Manchester Blog Awards winner Jenn Ashworth (check out her brand spanking new website here) is up for this glittering prize with her debut novel A Kind Of Intimacy (pictured).

Once you've won Diana's book and read it, you can chat to her through the ether on 12 August via ReadersPlace, which is pretty nifty. It seems quite a good site, too. Good luck, my lovelies.

07 July 2010

Tom, Nick and...

Here's a review of yesterday's Oxfam Bookfest readings by Nicholas Royle and Tom Fletcher (Tuesday 6 July 2010, 6pm, Oxfam Bookshop Didsbury).

It’s a humid evening in Didsbury Village as we’re welcomed into the bookstore side of the Oxfam shop with a glass of white wine. Fifteen or so of us gather on the flip-down chairs and start stripping off layers.

It seems to encourage Nicholas Royle, who - despite being among as many strangers as he is friends (I’ve already spotted the poet Mike Garry when the novelist Elizabeth Baines sits down on the row in front) - pulls down the back of his T-shirt to show us his new tattoo. There, inked in ebony on his left shoulder, is the word “After”, part of Shelley Jackson’s Skin short story project. That’s quite a commitment, but Royle (pictured below) is quite committed to short stories.

His first reading is of Pink, a story in the current issue of Shoestring (available at the Cornerhouse). The picture painted is indeed colourful, with the action undoubtedly unfolding just down the road, alongside the Mersey near Fletcher Moss.

Stepping aside, Royle introduces Tom Fletcher, whose first novel has just been published and who might count Royle as a mentor. He seems a little nervous, but his jolty delivery adds to the strange mystery of his slightly longer piece, Field. An intriguing tale, the ending is met with an intake of breath from around the room.

Royle is promptly back on his feet, telling of Nina in Maths Tower, which appears in The Flash, a collection of short short stories and flash fiction, compiled by local editor Peter Wild. The deconstruction of both a familiar building and an unfamiliar life is mesmerising.

Fletcher (above) rounds off the readings with the prologue to his debut The Leaping, all unanswered questions and red Saharan sand, and we’ve come full circle: from the stuffy store to the deep desert and back again.

Photos courtesy of Sharon Ring (@DFReview), who reviews the event on her blog Dark Fiction.

Elizabeth Baines (@ElizabethBaines) also talks about the evening here, as well as mentioning her own Bookfest spot (as mentioned in today's earlier post).

Oxfam Bookfest is on until 17 July. Various events will be taking place in the Didsbury branch, including readings by poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy and horror writer Conrad Williams (@Salavaria), who I also had the pleasure of meeting last night.

Novella idea

Anyone who follows me on Twitter might have noticed I was in Northumberland over the weekend, having a spot of well-earned time off from my present contract and busting some moves at a wedding in the French-style surrounds of Alnwick Garden. I can now state with absolute certainty that the combination of a cheese sarny and a stride along a wind-swept beach really is the cure for a beer-wine-spirit-induced hangover, even if I can't be sure what said spirit actually was (although its magical properties were well documented as one of our friends flew around the floor to MC Hammer).

Plus, as if more excitement were needed - apart from the wedding, the witnessing of our new-last-year tent withstanding some pretty hardcore gales (although not without damage, it has to be said) and a two-way trip through Rothbury (yes, that Rothbury) - I was treated to a mosey around "one of Britain's largest secondhand bookshops", recommended to me by a certain ex-patriated American in Ramsbottom.

Located in an old railway terminus, Barter Books has everything: a station cafe, lots of battered plush velvet seats scattered about, a "muriel", as Mum says, of famous authors (from Alan Bennett to Virginia Woolf), a complete selection of Keep Calm And Carry On memorabilia (the original poster was, legend has it, discovered in a box of books the storekeepers acquired at auction), a miniature train chugging about above the bookshelves and, oh yes, books. Tons of the monsters.

I picked up Nicola Barker's Small Holdings. I'd read on Who The Fudge Is Benjamin Judge? that her previous tome, Reversed Forecast, was "splendid", and this novella (it's only 130 pages or so long) is a lovely Faber & Faber edition with a waxy black cover and a photo of half a giant red onion. It's also about gardening, which added to the attraction. I even came home and planted some more salad seeds. Anyway these initial warm feelings were borne out and I managed to read the whole book in my makeshift home parallel to Hadrian's Wall, which is a very good sign indeed. I'm still not quite sure what happens at the end, but no matter, it'll be one of those things I think about and gradually digest. What really struck me was the characterisation - really amazing and detailed - plus some almost poetic playing about with words. The penultimate paragraph is a case in hand, but I don't want to go spoiling it for you. Just read it and see.

I was pleased, therefore, to see that Barker has made it through to Round Three of Benjamin's World Cup Literary Distraction (as mentioned back in June), and is the next fixture. However, I can't cheer her on as she's up against lovely local Elizabeth Baines and, as I was chatting to the newly becoiffed Ms Baines only last night, I'd feel guilty. (BTW, Elizabeth is doing a reading tonight, from 7pm, as part of the Didsbury Oxfam Bookfest programme - more on last night's event very soon.) I know it's not technically possible in a World Cup context, but I can only hope for a draw.

02 July 2010

Poet's corner

I'm currently busy busy busy, so instead of writing a whole new post for your Friday-afternoon delectation, I thought, what the hell, I'll be blatantly lazy and just reproduce here in its entirety (all of six lines) that poem I was whittling on about the other day. (You can also read it on the Bad Language site, which this week has unveiled a lovely new look if you care to check it out.)
Cracking the flags
, by Sarah-Clare Conlon

The crackle of England flags in the stiff wind
The stiff drink drowning England's sorrows
on a cracking-the-flags day.

A damp squib, a squabble, a sticky quagmire.
A drowning in the depths of despair
on a cracking-the-flags day.
I also wrote another World Cup poem this week, lamenting the fact that both teams I was "supporting" are dust. As you can tell, it took me some time to put together, and I think you'll all agree it's quite the masterpiece.
Team dispirit, by Sarah-Clare Conlon

England are pants
But not as pants as France.