25 September 2010

Are you local?

Kicking off today and running until 2 October is the second Didsbury Arts Festival, just down the road. Fabulously, there's loads going on for writers and readers, from creative writing workshops to poetry speakeasies, and much of it is free! Full listings are here.

Here are some of my highlights...

Tomorrow, Nicholas Royle will be telling Bird Stories in the RSPB-linked Fletcher Moss Gardens. I've heard his story Pink, which may well feature (being about bullfinches, as it is), so I highly recommend! In the evening, Conrad Williams will be upstairs in the newly renovated Didsbury pub reading from his crime thriller Blonde On A Stick. I met him the same night I heard Nick read that there Pink; he's a nice bloke, so well worth a look-in. On Monday at 7pm, Elizabeth Baines will discuss magic versus science in the context of her short stories and slightly spooky novel Too Many Magpies (which I've just enjoyed reading). Nick is back on Wednesday evening, this time at the tennis club with, among others, The Leaping author Tom Fletcher (both mentioned in this previous post), introducing audiences to Nightjar Press. On Thursday, my poet chum Adrian Slatcher joins James Davies at a Pizza Express-based shindig, where he will be reading from his newly published Salt collection, Playing Solitaire For Money. The DAF events round off on Saturday morning with an awards ceremony in Didsbury Library for the open competitions for poetry, judged by Adam O'Riordan and Linda Chase, and for short stories, judged by Nick Royle and Adele Geras (who also judged the recent Oxfam Short Story Competition). Might see you around!

23 September 2010

Two wheels good

It's the last Friday of the month tomorrow, meaning it's Bike Friday and Critical Mass, more about which you can read in this previous post.

To get you in the mood for a day on two wheels, I thought I'd share some cool cycling sites I've had the pleasure of acquainting myself with in recent months, plus this photo taken on a recent trip to Belfast.

First is Mancunion bicycle-based art project Papergirl Manchester (@PapergirlMCR) that's been bubbling away over the summer and building up to a special exhibition at Soup Kitchen starting on 1 October. Also on a creative tip is Messenger Town, which describes itself as "the journal of cyclogeography" and has loads of interesting snaps by bike couriers all over the shop (recently featuring our very own Rainy City along with our equivalent across the Pond, Seattle).

And it's not all about getting down and dirty with the grease monkeys, my fashionista friends, or kitting yourself out top to toe in nasty hi-vis. If you happen to be in the Big Smoke, VeLo Loves The City has some damn handy links, from bike shops and cafes, to other bike bloggers and handy bag stockists (you can also follow them on Twitter at @VeLoLovesCity). For more on cycling with style, check out the likes of London Cycle Chic (@LondonCycleChic) and US-based Chic Cyclists.

Now, this is brilliant. You never know when it's going to happen, or where, or indeed why, but every cyclist knows that at some point (and usually quite often), they will get grief from a motorist or be pissed off by a pedestrian. Dawn (@dawnhfoster) at A Hundred And One Wankers feels your pain, and is encouraging everyone to name and shame the worst offenders through the medium of the Worldwide Wankers map. I feel this might come in handy at some point...

...in the meantime, why not join the Contemporary Cartography Bicycle Tour, which coincides with the publication of the new art map of Manchester and Manchester Weekender. It sets off from Whitworth Art Gallery next Saturday at 11am. Art and cycling: we like.

20 September 2010

A moment of fiction #7

It's been a while since the last proper Moment Of Fiction post, and this time round I thought we'd look slightly further afield for our creative fix.

Starting way up north in Lancaster is Litfest, which runs the annual Lancaster Literature Festival (the next taking place 15-24 October) plus various all-year literary events and writing workshops at The Storey Creative Industries Centre. It also publishes the Flax imprint, featuring work by upcoming writers who live or work in the North West. Submission details are on the website here, and previous editions have included pieces by David Gaffney, Tom Fletcher, Pete Wild, Kate Feld, Adrian Slatcher and Katherine Woodfine, all of whom have been mentioned at some point or other on these hallowed pages.

Moving south, Word Soup is The Lancashire Writing Hub (formerly Preston Writing Network)'s live literature night coordinated, latterly, by A Kind Of Intimacy author Jenn Ashworth and held once a month at The Continental in England's newest city, Preston. The next soiree has the silver screen as its theme and takes place tomorrow (21 September).

Jenn Ashworth was also involved in Out On A Limb, the culmination of a four-month geo-writing project based on the Wirral and organised alongside artist Elaine Speight as part of the Liverpool Biennial. You can now submit your own story to create a growing archive of Wirral-set tales: see the website for details and a special online form.

Just down the peninsular and inland slightly is Chester's Alexander's, where the Zest! poetry evening is held monthly on Mondays from 8pm (the next is 18 October). As well as guest readings by the likes of former Cheshire Poet Laureate Andrew Rudd (who told me about the evening; he's my old junior school teacher) and Gill McEvoy, there are open floor slots and you can even have a posh dinner while you watch (call 01244 340005 to book a table and email Caroline Hawkridge for more on the poetry: candgoakes@aol.com).

Last but not least, Northwest Libraries are inviting North West England-based writers to sumbit stories no longer than 500 words and set pre-1960. Deadline for the Flashback Fiction Competition (flash fiction set in the past - get it?) is 31 October and first prize is £100.

13 September 2010

Sweet as...

You would have to have been deep in the Amazonian rainforest not to have noticed the recent pinnacle reached in cupcake outlets and home baker delivery services in Manchester, and, in honour of National Cupcake Week starting today, I thought I'd do a quick round-up of the sweet treats vying for your attention before anyone else yawns and says they're bored of the whole thing.

The original destination outlet in Manchester, Sweet Tooth Cupcakery of Chorlton and, since 7 June, Oldham Street (pictured), offers up the official Cupcake Week flavour for Wednesday with award-winning baker Vicky Parker's Ernest Hemingway creation: ginger cheesecake base with a vanilla and lime sponge, lemon and lime curd and a toasted meringue topping. I popped into the Northern Quarter "milk bar" branch for a vegan chai-flavoured David Lynch (see bottom photo) and a damn fine coffee with co-owner Fred Royle, who gave me the skinny on his and wife Lorna's business USP: creative, nicely retro, with plenty of Northern charm. On 25 September, Sweet Tooth's Vicky is teaming up with Ministry Of Craft to run a two-and-a-half hour cake-decorating workshop (a second follows in October), while the Sweet Tooth Cupcakery (who you can follow on Twitter at @Sweettooth_UK) is also up for Best Newcomer in this year's Manchester Food & Drink Awards: winners will be announced at a special ceremony during the Manchester Food & Drink Festival on 11 October.

Afflecks-based The Cocoa Emporium vintage cafe and cakeshop offers competition in the Northern Quarter (more on that here). Also in on the trend is Hey Little Cupcake, whose Sex And The City-inspired, Prestwich-based MD Sarah Wilson (@HLCupcake) cottoned onto yet another concept imported from the States: the pop-up shop. She'll be manning her temporary retail space in Spinningfields for the next week or so if you need a sugary hit while in town. Oh Crumbs! Cupcakes (@ohcrumbscupcake) also supply a number of city centre venues once the pop-up place folds.

Out in the suburbs, Chorlton-based Peach Pie was recently tried and tested (Michelle and Vicky's caramel shortbread was a sugary hit in more ways than one) at the last (and possibly last ever) Didsbury Food Market, as was a moist and fluffy slice of classic coffee and walnut sponge cake from And The Dish Ran Away With The Spoon (@dishesandspoons). Another husband and wife team, Anna and James are due to open a new shop and tearoom later this month on hipster-rich Burton Road in West Didsbury: you're spoilt for choice here, with other establishments, including Silver Apples and Folk, also selling homemade cakes. Also in Didsbury is home baker Airy Fairy Cupcakes, with ex-marketing gal Laura (@airyfairycakes) getting in on the social media scene and supplying boxes of blue-iced beauties for the inaugural South Manchester Tweetup in August.

Finally, although it is slightly off message, there's The English Rose Bakery, whose Emma Brown (@englishrosebkry) has cunningly eschewed the cutthroat competitiveness of cupcakes to shower Manchester with the niche macaroon. Flavours include the company's signature English Rose, plus almond, chocolate, pistachio, Earl Grey, caramel and vanilla. She plied the recent Parlour Chorlton opening bash with a "macaroon tier", whatever that may be. The only thing is, I'm just not sure I'm a fan of macaroons. I'm still trying to acquire a taste for almonds, and, allegorically, I'm still stuck puking on the side of a mountain having been dragged up here by overly Gore-Texed Alpha males trying to prove that the panorama will be worth it. One day I may well see the view and be amazed, but until then I'm not complaining about the cakes.

06 September 2010

Location, location, location

It's been four months since 1,000 volunteers willingly (and without the influence of alcohol) stripped off in Salford for photographer Spencer Tunick. The Lowry commissioned the living installation to celebrate 10 years of wind-swept life on the Quays, and the weather on the weekend of the shoot was characteristically breezy as ever. I knew of the project - in fact, I know someone who got their kit off for it - but it wasn't until I heard curator Katie Farrell (at the last Blogmeet) describe the pressure of priming people and places that my interest in the show was properly piqued.

The exhibition runs until Sunday 26 September in (thankfully) the larger gallery space, and I was pleasantly surprised by how many pieces it includes. The website tells me only eight locations were used, but it feels like much more thanks to the variety of poses and props. Double-decker buses are a humorous platform for one diptych; the snaking queue to a hand carwash another. Some of the compositions echo the paintings of the art space's namesake LS Lowry with, for example, Castlefield's rusting railway viaducts a backdrop to the bodies going about their business. Colour is an important motif, with pretty pink blossoms reflecting naked skin and the participants planted like blooms in the laid-out rose gardens of an old-fashioned ornamental park. Elsewhere, in the airport set, a sensation of movement is achieved through the gradual change in stature of the "statues".

One criticism would be the stilted effect the unnatural posturing undoubtedly has, but Everyday People still has plenty of merits, not least trying to spot where the photos were taken and how it was possible to take them without some naughty passerby managing to get in on the act.

04 September 2010

Losing the thread

I'm having a hiatus. I don't think it needs surgery, but I'm insisting that it involves plenty of bed rest. As a result of this extended break from office life, I spent my last week (last week) not only trying to facilitate some kind of work handover but also running hither-thither round town checking off tasks and visits from my current inventory of extra-curricular cultural excursions.

One such list entry was a long overdue trip to Manchester Craft & Design Centre to peruse the Threadbare show, as promised right here on this blog, ooh, a while back.

I was, it has to be admitted, slightly underwhelmed. Debbie Smyth's work is definitely interesting - black cotton (with focal points of blue) looped around pins to create a picture (think 21st-century take on those 1970s kaftan-swishing art teacher numbers so rarely found in charity shops) - but Threadbare turned out, disappointingly, to be less of an exhibition and more of an exhibit.

A large piece extends over two perpendicular walls in the light-diffused main space, and while I felt a tad unsure about stepping up onto the white dais to squint at things close up, I'm pretty certain this (the stepping up, not the squinting) was intended, as otherwise you'd need to have brought your opera glasses to read the info panel in the far corner. The scene depicted is the Northern Quarter streets surrounding the Craft Centre (a nice touch for this special commission), complete with air con units, metal rollershutters and lonesome road sweeper. The perspective and detail already have merit in themselves before the threading adds an extra creative dimension; giving the artwork a pen and ink feel while simultaneously having the effect of softening the lines.

Threadbare does also include a number of smaller pieces, including a rather beautiful bear, but these are displayed in glass cabinets round the back of the main number. In fact, they're in the cafe area, which is great if you're enjoying a coffee and cake but rather more of a strain if you have to crane over the heads of those people innocently relaxing with a mocha and a muffin. Ah well, if you go with the intention of seeing just the main piece (and you have until 30 October), you'll not be disappointed.

Now, if you fancy getting crafty yourself, the artist Debbie Smyth is giving two classes on textile sketching, and the first is today (the next is on Saturday 9 October, which gives you a little more warning!). Starting at 10am, the workshops run until 4pm, and a full day is just £30. Call 0161 832 4274 or email exhibitions@craftanddesign.com.

03 September 2010

Questions, questions, questions

Bloody hell, last night was the inaugural Bad Language Literature Quiz at the inimitable Waldorf and our team, The Arndale Twin Toilet Cubicle Confusion (yeah, ask Ben of Ask Ben & Clare), just missed the top spot by one point. No thanks to me - I'm just the lucky mascot, not the brains behind the outfit. The brains were Ben, Ian, Dave and Helen.

Not one to be discouraged by being crap at quizzes, however, I purposefully strode over to interrupt one third of the BL massive and query (for your benefit, dear literary quiz-enjoying readers) whether a second outing might be in the offing, the first one having gone so swimmingly. Joe was certainly up for the idea, so, if another function is organised, rest assured W&F will let you know.

By way of getting us warmed up, poet Max Wallis read some of his work (including a liberal hundreds-and-thousands sprinkling of "fucks"), while short story writer David Gaffney took to the floor during the all-important marking stage, treating us to some of his immense flash fiction, plus a couple of his Destroy PowerPoint presentations. We all got giddy and overexcited, possibly from eating some extremely pink cupcakes, maybe from nearly scooping the glittering first prize, but mainly at handing over five whole pounds (note to self: owe Ben a fiver) and getting our books signed. Sawn-Off Tales for me; Never Never and Aroma Bingo for the boys.

Cheekily, I asked Mr Gaffney if he wouldn't mind submitting a question to Ask Ben & Clare; he said I ought to put forward a contribution to his project The Poole Confessions. Briefly: "Over the summer short story writer David Gaffney will collect the anonymous confessions of the people of Poole and turn them into micro-short stories. He will read these short stories in special intimate one-to-one performances in a custom built mobile confessional box at Poole Literary Festival." I already have two confessions in mind. It's anonymous; I can't tell you what they are. You'll just have to guess.