27 February 2011

All dolled up

Henrik Ibsen is a popular man in Manchester at the moment. It was only October when the Royal Exchange dusted down The Lady From The Sea and gave it a rare airing; now the Library, temporarily playing out of The Lowry, is tackling the rather better known A Doll's House.

A Doll's House caused a bit of a stir when it hit the Norwegian stage in 1879, taking a dim view as it does towards the traditional role of women and the 19th-century norms of marriage. It has often been tagged as a feminist piece, but if Nora making off to drown herself in a fjord after being exposed for conspiring behind her husband's back is feminism, well...

I'll admit I wasn't in much of a mood for a morality tale on Friday evening, but actually I enjoyed the play. Director Chris Honer's device for underscoring Nora's progressively mad mutterings to herself gave strength to the soliloquies; although the crescendo door-slamming was less effective, tending towards farce at points. As is often the case with Library productions, the set and costumes were a little staid, with period furniture and bustles a-plenty, but it worked well here with the Ibsen Realism.

Despite the famous Ibsen Naturalism not being played up as much as at the Exchange (largely because this play is completely indoors), there were some light floaty movements when Torvald (Ken Bradshaw) is comparing Nora to a bird. Other imagery includes financial: Dr Rank (Daniel Brocklebank) describing his foreseen death as "bankruptcy" and "liquidation"; Torvald's timely banker and bonuses chatter raising a laugh or two. Probably my favourite performance was from an impressive Paul Barnhill as shady wheeler-dealer Krogstad whose heart is melted by ice queen Mrs Linde (Sarah Ball), and special mention goes to my former schoolmate Emma Cunniffe, who was incredibly convincing as the increasingly delusional Nora. Solid stuff.

Emma Cunniffe as Nora and Ken Bradshaw as Torvald. Photo by Gerry Murray.

A Doll's House continues until 12 March. See the Library website for full details.

24 February 2011

Three is the magic number

Last night's Bad Language event at the Castle Hotel on Oldham Street was another corker. This was number three of the regular monthly outings. There's a load of pictures on organiser Daniel Carpenter's Facebook page, so be nice and make friends with the fella then you can see them. Here's one of me looking suitably entranced by newcomer Aaron Gow, regular contributor on Dave Hartley's wunderbar Screen150 (on which I have a new review this week, of my favourite film Black Narcissus, complete with a picture I drew with coloured pencils and that. Get me). Aaron writes about the experience here; he kindly doesn't mention that I pronounced his name incorrectly, bless him.

So, lots of people took to the stage for the increasingly popular open mic slot (I've already signed up for next month so's I don't miss out on torturing the masses with my weird and wonderful tales of death, destruction and, er, clown outfits). I really can't be bothered listing all the performers, partly because I'm lazy but largely because I'm hungover, but suffice it to say #beatoff were out in force. Fat Roland did his tooth fairy story off of 330 Words, Tom Mason did the unabridged (I believe) version of Dream Girlfriend, my Ask Ben & Clare compadre Benjamin Judge brought back to life some women authors as zombies in Brains, the aforementioned Hartley (modelling a second natty waistcoat. Who'd've thought?) got his revenge on rude bookshop customers, and I treated the hordes to Dress-down Friday, inspired by my first run-in with the concept, in my current place of work. Special mention goes to Claire Symonds and her fabulous tale of magpies. She's a good egg and even bought Tom a mop and a tomato for his birthday, which he was celebrating, quite obviously, in style.

After David Gaffney's fantastic PowerPoint presentations last month, this time the headline slot was filled by poet Jo Bell of Bugged. She read some stuff from Something Everyday (I really love Urban Mermaid from 21 February), alongside the project's editor and fellow poet Max Wallis, and plenty of other great potty-mouthed poetry. Next month's event features Rod Tame, another poet (who brought a bit of steampunk to the shenanigans), and takes place on Wednesday 30 March, starting at 7.30pm. All the details are on Facebook here. In the meantime, don't forget that the deadline for submissions to the next Bad Language anthology is 2 March. That be next week, me hearties.

ADDENDUM 27/02/11, ERRATA: The lovely folk at Bad Language tell me that, in fact, Rod will be the special guest star at April's event, not March's. March is still TBC.

ADDENDUM 07/03/11: March guest has been confirmed as Gerry Potter poet. The date has come forward a week to 23 March.

More on the last event here, courtesy Matt "CageFightingBlogger" Tuckey - thanks for the mention!

23 February 2011

A moment of fiction #11

Ahoy there, writing and reading chums. Here's the latest update of reading and writing stuff around and about the merry town of Manchester.

Firstly upcoming events...

It's been promised for a while, and I finally have confirmation that UNSUNG will be holding the launch event for issue 6 on Monday 14 March at 8pm in the Thirsty Scholar. It's two quid on the door, you get a copy of the mag and there are more details on Facebook here.

If your stomping ground is south of the city, there's a new 10-week creative writing course (with an accredited teacher, no less) starting up soon at trendy-old-record-shop-cum-cafe ON THE CORNER on Beech Road in Chorlton. Sessions cost £6 each and take place 6-8pm from Thursday 24 March. Booking is advised: call 0161 881 4841 or drop in to On The Corner (formally Kiss My Feet) to book.

Next up, the BLANK MEDIA COLLECTIVE are running In_Tuition, weekly discussions and workshops open to all creative types based in the North West, at the newly opened BlankSpace in town. The second Tuesday of the month (so I'm guessing it starts on Tuesday 8 March), 6.30-8.30pm, is dedicated to literature and creative writing. "Informal and relaxed discussions of technique in poetry, prose, scripts [...] will mix with debate around contemporary and classic stylings from particular authors and publications of interest. The sessions will incorporate a constructive criticism session of original work from participants within the group." Recommended donation is £1.50 and rumour has it tea and cake will be served. Full details are on the website here or in the latest issue of Blank Pages, a copy of which you can download online here.

Now submissions news...

The aforementioned BLANK PAGES are currently looking for submissions. If you are a writer of poetry (up to 60 lines per poem) or short fiction (1,500-2,500 words), send your work to editor@blankmediacollective.org. Any themes are considered; full submission guidelines are here.

Matthew Hull of Blank Pages fame (you may remember him from such Manchester-based publications as Creative Tourist and Bewilderbliss) has yet another new venture feather in his cap, as the editor of IT'S GETTING WORSE. It’s Getting Worse is, and I quote, "a new home for creative cultural commentary". If you’ve got an idea for a feature and you’d like to become a contributor, email editor.itsgettingworse@gmail.com. Benjamin Judge (you may remember him from such fabulous creations as Ask Ben & Clare and Roy Keane's Lucky Scarf) did.

NEW WRITING DUNDEE, an internationally focused anthology, is inviting submissions for its sixth issue (stories 2,000 words max; poems 25 lines max): the deadline is 2 April. All the ins and outs of what you need to send are on the Literary Dundee website here.

Finally, fun things...

YET TO BE BOOKS is an "online group to read and chat about unpublished but finished books", co-run by local lass Sian Cummins, a well-deserved gong-winner in the most recent Oxfam Short Story Competition. If you leave a comment on the Yet To Be Books blog before 10 March, you will a) be privy to some great new writing and b) be in the running to win the US version of Chris Killen's fantastic debut novel, The Bird Room. Read more here.

COMMONWORD have a Best of Blog Competition 2011 on the go for writers living or working in the North of England. The first round runs until 30 June and will be judged by Shamshad Khan (the second round runs 1 July to 31 December 2011), with winnings of £100 first prize, £50 second and £25 third up for grabs. You need to sign up to the Commonword Blog, which is a "blogspace for placing your creative writing and inviting feedback on it", leave at least five useful comments on other writers’ work and, obviously, post some of your own stuff. "Posts can be of short fiction, flash fiction, poetry, autobiography, excerpts from a novel, a traditional blog post – in fact any kind of writing that works on the blog." Check the conditions here.

21 February 2011

Film studies

Great news about £8 million being awarded to my old next-door neighbour the Whitworth Art Gallery. The money, from the Heritage Lottery Fund, will go towards the long-awaited MUMA-designed extension, which will double the public space and introduce a new main entrance into the building from Whitworth Park. An art garden will also be created, which sounds very pleasant; read more on the project here.

If you fancy seeing the Whitworth before the changes get underway, combine your trip with the free Unravel drop-in workshop taking place for one day only in the gallery this Saturday (26 February), 11am-4pm. Follow @unravelfilm on Twitter for updates.

The Unravel project aims to create an epic 16-hour hand-painted film that correlates in length to 874 miles - the distance from John O'Groats to Land's End. Winner of the Deutsche Bank Award for Art at the Royal College of Art 2010, Unravel is involving as many people as possible across England, Scotland and Wales in collaboration with national film venues, art galleries, community spaces and educational institutions.

The organisers Chris Paul Daniels (my pal Jo's cousin, I believe), Maria Anastassiou, Mark Pickles, Jo Byrne and Manchester-based Kelvin Brown say: "Unravel aims to turn the viewer into the maker of the work in a literal 'hands-on' way. We hope that these events will be an entertaining, informative and inspiring introduction to film-making, providing an informal setting for people to interact with each other as much as the project." Enjoy!

16 February 2011

The first rule about Book Club...

Following on from last month's call to arms, going on for 20 ladies and gentlemen (slightly more menfolk than women, but that's the way it goes) gathered at Madlab last night to reinvigorate the Sci-fi Book Club for 2011.

This was a most encouraging turn-out and various ideas were knocked about for how to proceed. It was decided that the remainder of the reading list from 2010 would be scrapped, so if you were reading The Book of Dave by Will Self or Feersum Endjinn by Iain M Banks, tough. The six below were offered and agreed instead. They will probably take this order, but for updates follow the all-new Twitter feed: @mcrsf_madlab and use the hashtag #mcrsf in Tweets. Sci-fi Book Club meets at Madlab the third Tuesday of the month at 7pm; the next get-together is Tuesday 15 March. There will be pizza and perhaps beer, so bring your pocket money.

March: I, Robot by Isaac Asimov, advocated by Omar
April: Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold, advocated by Trialia
May: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick
June: The Siberiad by Stanislaw Lem, advocated by Naomi
July: Snowcrash by Neal Stephenson, advocated by Simon
August: Anvil of Stars by Greg Bear, advocated by Mark

Photo by Book Club Clothing, who will be touting their wares in the Kestrel Suite at Common, opposite Madlab, on Thursday 24 February 7.30-10.30pm. Be there or don't get a fab book-inspired tee.

ADDENDUM 17/02/11: More on the Madlab website - click here, wontcha?

15 February 2011

Nicholas Royle vs Nicholas Royle (like Kramer vs Kramer, but with less crying)

The exposed brickwork of the Engine House at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation is becoming a familiar fixture in my life. Last Thursday, I was once again gazing upon its redness, at the meeting of the two Nicholas Royles.

Both writers, the pair have known each other since first being confused when new writing magazine Sunk Island Review rejected a short story by each but sent the rejection letter for both to just one. (Are you keeping up?) The recipient was Nicholas Royle, Professor of English at the University of Sussex and author of various non-fiction "academic" works including the appropriately entitled The Uncanny, and pictured below on the right. He forwarded the rejection, both stories and a covering note to Nicholas Royle, Lecturer in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University and author of various fiction "non-academic" works including Counterparts, Saxophone Dreams, The Matter of the Heart, The Director’s Cut and Antwerp, and pictured below on the left.

Royle Manchester (as University Challenge would have it) explained, "Our interest in doubles predated being aware of each other", and it's this shared curiosity along with the shared moniker that led the two to arrange to get together, at a lecture in London some years ago. They have since continued to meet up socially, have toyed with the idea of collaborating on a project called "Double Take" (watch this space - you never know!) and are still intrigued by the coincidences caused by the crossover of name and profession.

Royle Manchester: "[There have been] a number of things where we've been confused one from the other, and from the start we've found that entertaining and interesting..."
Royle Sussex: "And also irritating, weird..."
Royle Manchester: "Uncanny?"
Royle Sussex: "Yes, uncanny."

As well as chatting and fielding questions from the floor, the two Nicholas Royles also read their work. Royle Manchester treated the 50 or so audience members to his number-strewn short story The Maths Tower ("at, where we at MMU like to call, The Place Down The Road") along with the first half of the new weird but wonderful The Other Man. Can't wait for the full version when it's finished. Royle Sussex, meanwhile, gave us two extracts from his richly descriptive first novel Quilt, described by The Guardian as "an intense study of grief and mental disintegration, a lexical celebration and a psychological conundrum". Can't believe either of them would have their work rejected. Just goes to show, eh?

Photo, ahem, "borrowed" from Rob Spence's Topsyturvydom blog, taken by Matthew Frost of Manchester University Press, who whet the whistles with their whiskey (try saying that when you're pished). Hope Rob and Matthew don't mind!

10 February 2011

Collection selection

I'm a bit behind on reporting here, but this better-late-than-never news ties in nicely with today's adventures in the Mancunian wonderland, relating, as it does, to Didsbury-based writer Nicholas Royle. Nick, a self-confessed collector, has been busy collecting stories for Salt's new anthology The Best British Short Stories 2011, and the list is in. You can read the contents here and more on the collection, which I hear is out in April, here.

I'm so pleased to see the inclusion of the fabulous Feather Girls by Chorley gal Claire Massey, who won the Oxfam Short Story Competition last summer with the amazing Chorden-under-Water and treated us to this particular number at the launch of The Hidden Gem Press in November (see my post). I'm a bit of a fan.

Anyway, the link to today is that Nicholas Royle is at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation tonight from 6pm, reading a new story (if his Twitterings are anything to go by) and talking to the other Nicholas Royle. More here, and hopefully more from me about it tomorrow.

09 February 2011

Alchemical reaction

So yesterday, the word "alchemical" cropped up on Words & Fixtures and today, totally by accident, I learnt more about alchemy. Alchemy, so I'm told, is both a philosophy and an ancient practice that attempts to change base metals into gold.

Upcycling also converts worthless tut into wonderful trinkets, as mentioned in this post here, and earlier I swung by the Royal Exchange to see the Craft Shop's Upcycled exhibition.

Supported by the Crafts Council, the Royal Exchange Craft Shop commissioned students from the MA Design LAB at MMU's Manchester School of Art to transform defunct objects into objets d'art, and these are now on display (and for sale) in the voluminous lobby until Thursday 31 March.

I'm particularly taken by Lorraine Otoo's crocheted creations re-using metal and cotton (necklace pictured above) and Catherine Chester's reworking of old watch components and vintage photos into unique jewellery. Other jewellery includes Sharleen Marius' recycled steel pieces, and work by a number of established makers invited to complement that by the students - I've got my eye on the button brooches and earrings courtesy Lovely Pigeon; the fabric flower corsages by Lucy Smethurst, and Chain Of Daisies' vintage gem earrings and bird necklaces and bracelets (I can't stop buying things with bird motifs at the moment).

There are also plenty of homewares and tablewares. Bethan Jones offers up ceramics, while Hannah Lovett, Emily Jackson and Geoff Hall have all worked with recycled glass.

Geoff has also created a special display using recovered glassware, recycled scrap window panes and flameworked scientific glass tubing, and it's worth the trip for this alone. Called "The Alchemist", this three-tier exhibit makes full use of one of the three-sided cabinets near the bar, so each face reveals one of the three stages in the alchemical process: Nigredo, Albedo and Rubedo. The craftmanship, attention to detail and even historical link to the Royal Exchange demonstrated is amazing: go see!

08 February 2011

Altered images

Yesterday evening saw the pretty much packed launch of new art show Reflexive Landscapes & Cutting Machines by Bruce Thompson at the Beggars Bush bar on Beech Road in Chorlton. Before we go any further, I'd better come clean: Bruce is my friend and lodger. He feeds my cats and I don't want to get on the wrong side of him.

Nonetheless, I show no bias when I advise you to check out the exhibition over the next month or so. Treat yourself to a drink while you're there. Go on. Here's the exhibition poster, influenced by Bruce's interest in decorative screens:

The works on display, however, are each an image in themselves and the show encompasses two series Bruce has been working on over the last few years. I was already familiar with Reflexive Landscapes, a colourful, dynamic oeuvre (did I just say "oeuvre"? Ha!), with more than a few sci-fi threads. The pieces from the Cutting Machines series, however, were new to me, and I really enjoyed their pared-down compositions, subtle cream and garlic pink shades, and rich textures.

Bruce has studied both art and architecture, and was working on very fine airbrush automatic abstract paintings when I first met him a number of years ago. In his latest work, he reconsiders these spontaneous pieces by rendering them using a computer-based 3D modelling package, and adding more colour, light and depth. This second stage is then further transformed by manipulating points of view and fragmenting and recombining elements of the original canvas to produce a totally new image.

Says Bruce: "This body of work is concerned with the unconscious mind in relation to space and perception, expressed through art and architecture. The work can be viewed as a departure point from painting and a move towards a cybernetic, pataphysical and alchemical world."

Unsure what pataphysics are, I consulted Wikipedia and discovered that it's a pseudophilosophy that parodies modern science often through the use of nonsensical language. Well, if it's good enough for Bruce and French author Raymond Queneau, it's good enough for me...