Welcome to my adventures and experiments in creativity. Where writing is like running: sometimes I know where I'm going, and sometimes I see where the mood takes me.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Blog Hawk Down

Hello! I hope you’re well.

Sadly, despite the reasonable quality pun of the title, it actually bears no relation to the contents of this post – the words just sprung into my head and I decided to stick with it. Of course, if in the course of writing I suddenly find myself embroiled in a rescue mission to a couple of downed helicopters, I’ll be sure to mention it.

The principal reason for this post is to deal with the recent decline of blogging activity, an occurrence that must be causing consternation around the globe as people cry out, “HAS HE FORGOTTEN US??”. If nothing else, it may be causing a bit of head scratching on the rather dodgy sounding Russian websites that have been unexpectedly cropping up in the blog stats.

While it is true that inspiration for the usual array of random topics that constitute the Repository 2’s output has not been wholly forthcoming, that is not to say I’ve been lazy and/or uninspired. At the end of June I started a writing course run by Stoke-on-Trent libraries (an advanced writing course, no less!), and that has consumed three of the last five Saturdays. In between those Saturdays there has been ‘homework’, as well as feedback to give on the other course attendee’s work, and so the blog has taken a back seat.

The course – entitled ‘What’s The Story’ – has, frankly, been a revelation. On a fundamental level, the opportunity to sit in a group of six or seven people and discuss each other’s writing (as well as writing in general) has been confidence building and inspiring. To have a group of strangers – most female, of all ages, and all from massively different backgrounds and social groups – say they enjoyed something I wrote, particularly something heavily featuring cinema and Formula One, was about the best I could have hoped for.

I’ve learnt a lot from their work too. You don’t realise how little you’ve lived until someone writes about their son’s battle with Hepatitis B, or their desperate search for a counsellor who will help them deal with issues rooted deep in childhood, or their struggles growing up under a religion they don’t identify with in the slightest. The third, and most recent, of the five sessions was by far the best as we all continued to grow more comfortable in each other’s company (there’s no better way to get a feel for people than by reading their work), so it’s a shame that we’ve now gone into a summer break with only two Saturdays left afterward.

The biggest potential long-term impact is the ideas I’ve gained, however. When I started doing blog posts about visiting independent cinemas, the thought never crossed my cluttered mind that anything more could come of it. Now I’m writing a 5000-word course project on the topic, adapting those blog posts into something better and more substantial, and e-mailing the cinemas involved to ask them questions about how they get on being independent. There are many, many angles from which to approach the topic, and I’m beginning to think I could do them all justice. It’s all built to a grand idea that I hope to start enacting in the next few weeks, but I think I’ll keep quiet about it for now…

Ultimately, whatever projects result from it all, the simple fact is that independent cinemas are brilliant and need to be championed. How good would it be if I could be involved doing it? If that should happen in the next six or twelve months, there are seven people that I’d never met five weeks ago who will deserve a great deal of thanks. And who knows, maybe this blog – or a whole new blog – will finally get the direction it has probably been crying out for since I wrote that first post on … yep, indie cinemas. If only I’d known to recognise the signs!


A quick postscript on my poetic efforts (or lack of them) – it won’t come as much surprise that having been so totally consumed by the course and the ideas resulting from it, my poetry writing has suffered. I’ve come to realise there is a place for both things, so I certainly won’t be abandoning poetry completely, I just need to be able to find the time to sit and craft a poem properly rather than rely on thinking one up in ten minutes and hoping it’s good enough. The well of ideas hasn’t run dry, but the mechanism used to raise and lower the bucket is being a bit temperamental and I’m struggling to draw water.

Or something like that.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Superman Never Had This Problem

The door creaked in well-rehearsed protest, suggesting it might choose to fall from its hinges at any moment and that I’d better be grateful if it didn’t. I wasn’t worrying about that, however – the surge of memory was too overpowering, struggling to recall days of yore. Fleetingly, I wondered when the door had last been opened and whether it too was experiencing memories. Or maybe it was secretly glad of simply being called into service.

It’s a long time since I found myself somewhere like this. I haven’t needed to do this in years…

Inside, it smelled nothing like as bad as I expected it would. In fact, nothing conformed to any of the usual stereotypes – everything was clean, everything worked. There was nothing pinned up – no ‘business cards’ or adverts for dubious services offered by local ladies. It was just like phone boxes used to be! I glanced outside to make sure nobody was watching and promptly checked the ‘change return’ compartment, but there was nothing doing. Presumably somebody had got there before me.

Not that I’d entered the phone box just to check for spare coins. I had genuine reason to use this dwindling public facility, having accidentally stranded myself on an island in the sea of technology. By which I mean I’d left the house without my mobile. And boy was it a struggle to find an alternative.

Being ‘mobile-less’ was a strange, unfamiliar sensation. I was out all day and kept patting my pockets to make sure I had everything I should, then wondered why one was empty. Oh yeah, it’s at home. It caused me to reflect on how technology has become so integral to us, and how disconnected we feel without it. Sometimes it’s good to take a break, but on this occasion it was at best a mild nuisance. And because of the nature of social interaction these days, I naturally felt the need to share my inconsequential predicament WITH AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE.

I don’t own a smartphone but can at least text tweets if I want to update my Twitter feed, and even this was beyond my capabilities. I was walking round with amusing thoughts and witty observations about trying to locate and then use a phone box coursing through my head, bereft of anyone to share them with! It’s a miracle I didn’t suffer a breakdown…

Where my head nearly did suffer a (genuine, non-sarcastic) meltdown was in trying to work out how to actually make a call from the phone box. A fee of 60p was demanded, two-thirds of which apparently covered a connection charge. The challenge lay in how to pay the 60p, because the instructions also demanded that NO MORE THAN FOUR COINS BE USED TO MAKE UP THE INITIAL CHARGE.

Eh? This is a phone box we’re talking about! And I’m a pathetic modern man who has forgotten his mobile phone and needs to make a call! ONE CALL!

Okay, it wasn’t that bad – mercifully there was plenty of change in my wallet. But in an alien environment, the last thing you want is to be confronted with a puzzle from one of those Mensa ‘Test Your IQ’ books. How many different ways are there of making up a pound in change? When is a 50p coin not a 50p coin? And how can BT make using a public telephone far more difficult than it needs to be?

There was some suggestion in the small print to the instructions that the remaining 20p provided half an hour of call time, but when the connection was eventually made and the crude display showed the remaining credit, it offered no more information than: £0.00. I expected the line to go dead any second, and once I’d said everything of import and the line was still functioning perfectly, I felt inclined to keep my Mum on the line for as long as it took to use up all three 20p coins swallowed by the machine.

Ironically, faced with a chasm of time that possessed unknown length/depth/whatever else might make this ridiculous metaphor work, my mind went blank of what to talk about and I elected to surrender whatever credit was left and go about my business. Perhaps it was the relief of establishing contact – however limited – with ‘my’ world. Perhaps it was simply that, in the end, using a phone box wasn’t quite as peculiar experience as might be expected these days – after all, the principle of credit is no different from anyone with a pay-as-you-go phone.

It’s just a shame there are only three – maybe four, at a push – telephone numbers I can actually remember. And one of them is the same home in which I’d left my mobile. Call me a visionary if you feel it appropriate – I think the mobile phone is here to stay.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011


Having previously given thought to the issues involved withpoetry competitions, and then failed to make the final shortlist for the Buxton contest that sparked this adventure into poetry itself, I recently found the time and inclination to prepare a couple of new entries. The competitions I deemed worthy of my attention (!) were notable ones – notable in the sense that they offered some excellent prizes (£5000 for the winner of one!) – though I don’t await the results with any eagerness because I almost certainly won’t win.

Despite the apparent prestige of these competitions (I say apparent because, in respect of one particular competition at least, for a novice like me there is only the scale of the prize and the presence of a few testimonials as evidence that success might lead somewhere), one thing remains unchanged – the requirement to send Stamped Address Envelopes (SAEs) if one wishes to be provided with a receipt of entry or a list of winners.

Where a small operation is concerned – my mind immediately thinks of the one-man-band poetry magazine that is Quantum Leap, and a remarkable achievement it is too (it’s even agreed to publish me!) – SAEs are vital to their continuing viability and ability to keep costs reasonable. But where a larger operation is concerned – like a competition offering five grand as a first prize – you have to wonder just how efficient a system utilising SAEs is.

Maybe it could be argued that all the SAEs simply get piled in a corner ready to be filled with, say, the yet-to-be-decided list of winners – straightforward enough, if a little labour intensive. But it still smacks of being the brainchild of someone who fondly remembers a world before the internet existed, and where Blue Peter used to send out factsheets for ‘How To Build Your Own Tracy Island’ in a similar manner.

Which begs the question – is it the publishers and administrators influencing this ‘old-fashioned’ method, or the poets? For example, are all the amateur writers out there modelling themselves on Roald Dahl, sitting in garden sheds with a pencil in hand and writing on paper supported by a soil-encrusted plank of wood?

Is ‘new’ technology so rare among poets that the Royal Mail is the only feasible medium by which competitions can be conducted? I would find it hard to believe if you answered ‘yes’ to that question. After all, there are enough people (of more advanced years than me) attending the Poetry Stanza in Burslem who are able to type and print their poems, and keep abreast of Stanza news via e-mail. One woman does an internet radio show for pity’s sake! You can’t tell me any of them would struggle adapting to entering competitions online.

Contrary to where this argument might seem to be going, however, I am not one of those people who advocate an ‘all or nothing’ policy and seek to penalise those who are unable – for whatever reason – to take advantage of the benefits offered by the internet. I don’t seek to condemn people who prefer using stamps to enter competitions, and I also acknowledge that probably the biggest stumbling block to these contests becoming entirely electronic is the issue of fee payment. Just because someone can type a poem and send it by e-mail doesn’t mean they can grasp online payment systems. Moreover, they may not want to pay for things online, a sentiment I can relate to much more easily given my own (seemingly limitless, at times) potential for paranoia.

That does not excuse the fact, though, that a competition asking for my e-mail address on its entry form does not then utilise said e-mail address to provide a list of winners without the need for paper, ink or envelopes. If I am not to be the winner then I certainly don’t care about the result enough to waste a stamp so the result can drop on my doormat like a lead weight on my soul. Just this once, I would be happy to shout at them, “Put me on a mailing list and keep me up to date with news, special offers etc!!”

I am not sufficiently brave or well informed to declare that the poetry world should embrace an electronic and online revolution. But in an age when so many other forms of media and creativity have embraced a ‘non-print’ alternative (even if it is in tandem with traditional publishing), poetry – or the poetry I have thus far been exposed to – seems determined to tread its well-worn path. I can’t decide if this is admirable or stupid, but it does make one wonder whether there is anything to be gained from starting to push a dedicated online agenda.

If you have any ideas or thoughts on the matter, why not write to me? And enclose an SAE, so I can reply to you…