This book is a small treasure– a wee jewel of a book. And that’s just the physical feel of it. It’s a beautiful artefact – feels lovely to hold, looks gorgeous.
As to what’s between the covers of this very slim volume – it’s heart-rending – desperately sad and tragic. I don’t want to give too much away so I’m not going to say too much about the story. Suffice to say it’s about a mother’s love and fear for her children. It won’t take you long to read it but it will stay with you for a long time after you finish it.
The writing is beautiful – icy and precise – and yet, at the same time, the words ache with love.
It’s no surprise that the book is a French literary bestseller. It has been translated into all the major European languages and has sold more than 100,000 copies in Germany alone.
It’s published by Peirene Press and is the first book, out of three so far, published by them. I first heard about this press on – yeah, you’ve guessed it – the Eight Cuts site. Check them out at http://www.peirenepress.com – even the website is good-looking.
Their mission is to publish contemporary European literature (in English translation) – books that are ‘thought-provoking, well-designed, short’. They only publish novels that are 200 pages or less. It’s a neat idea and neatly packaged. Definitely proof that small is beautiful .
Some readers may remember my review from last year of the Eight Cuts online gallery’s exhibition – ‘Into the Desert’. Indeed you may have visited for yourself. Well, Eight Cuts has a new exhibition. It opened yesterday. Below is a copy of the press release for the show. This will set the exhibition in context for you. I have visited and have written a review, which will be my next post here on the blog.
I should also come clean and tell you that I have two of my stories in the exhibition – I haven’t reviewed them. 🙂
Once Upon a Time in a Gallery Live
International writers, artists, filmmakers and musicians join in a new kind of online exhibition, using the oldest form of storytelling to offer a unique perspective on the foundation myths of the digital age’s new societies.
Once Upon a Time in a Gallery is an online literary exhibition offering a new way of presenting a modern book of fairytales that combines technology with work from some of the world’s most exciting writers and artists to cast a fresh light on some of our oldest stories. Running through February and March, this is the second exhibition from eight cuts gallery, a project designed to blur the boundaries between literature and other art forms, and make the public think about what literature is, as well as about a series of important cultural questions.
Curated by Dan Holloway, who runs eight cuts gallery, the show creates possibilities that aren’t possible with a traditional anthology or storybook. Like the first exhibition, Into the Desert (http://eightcuts.com/eight-cuts-gallery/into-the-desert/welcome-to-the-desert/), which featured stories, poetry, photography, art, music and film by 19 writers from around the world, the virtual exhibition will guide readers through the pieces using hyperlinks. “Once inside, people can click on pictures, or words and phrases within a piece, and by choosing where those links take them, I can make people question their presuppositions about the nature not only of fairytales but of literature,” Holloway explains. “I can also create an experience that’s different every time someone visits. It’ll be like being lost in a forest and trying to find your way out – what could be more perfect for a fairytale experience.”
Fairytales are our foundation myths, reflections not just the manifestation of our own Freudian psychosexual neuroses but of the fears and aspirations of our communities. For diasporas everywhere they provide roots that creep back in time and place to a utopian or dystopian ancestral home. As the digital age pulls us increasingly into communities not just geographically dispersed but born in diaspora (and often, ironically, subsequently drawn together physically), fairytales will inevitably be recycled and refreshed to form the foundation myths of these new societies – ones that have no physical homeland, whose communal roots lie lodged in the internal, not the external, lives of their members. What better time to re-examine the way fairytales relate our individual psyches to our social networks, and ask: Have we reached a tipping point in the evolution of collective cultural consciousness, where we can opt freely in and out of communities, picking up and leaving behind their roots as we go? Are there any universal archetypes left?
The hyperlinked, flitting, rootless style of curation of this exhibition invites the audience to reflect on this rootlessness, and whether, when they find themselves lost in today’s dark forest, there is any gingerbread trail to lead them to safety.
The exhibition has a live launch in the fairytale setting of the O3 Gallery, located in a turret of Oxford Castle on January 27th. The show features writing by local and international authors, artwork from the UK and United States, and music from acclaimed Oxford-based artists Christi Warner, Dylan Gwalia, and Kevin Jenkins.
“Storytelling began as something spoken and communal,” says the show’s organiser, Oxford-based writer Dan Holloway, who runs eight cuts gallery, the experimental literary gallery hosting the online exhibition and the live show. “Fairytales reflect our collective subconscious, and form the foundation myths for our communities. So many of our modern social groups exist online, but we also exist in the physical, geographically limited world, so combining an online event with a real-life show, bringing together writers, artists, and musicians from all over the world, and those from a specific place, Oxford, is the perfect way to reflect on, and maybe start to build, the foundation myths for our new societies.”
N.B. from Anne and the Write Enough Blog – Some of the content is adult in nature so if you’re offended by sexual references, nudity or erotica, the exhibition is probably not for you. But there is also material that is suitable for children and adults alike.
Guest Blog/Interview with Johanna Harness – founder of #amwriting
I’ve not interviewed anyone for the blog before or hosted any guest appearances, so any shortcomings in the format are entirely down to me and my inexperience. But I believe I’ve definitely got something right – and that’s my choice of interviewee.
I’m delighted and excited to be able to welcome YA fiction writer, Johanna Harness, to the blog. Johanna is the winner of the inaugural Christopher Al- Aswad prize set up in Christopher’s memory by Eight Cuts Gallery http://eightcuts.wordpress.com It is awarded for ‘outstanding contribution to breaking down barriers in the arts’.
Johanna received the award because of what she has done by setting up and running #amwriting on Twitter. But, as you will discover, there’s more to #amwriting than its status as a very successful common interest group on Twitter – although that is awesome enough.
Anne: So, welcome and congratulations on the award, Johanna. First of all, could you explain what #amwriting is and why you set it up?
Johanna: Thank you, Anne!
When I began #amwriting, I really had no idea it would become so big. There was no master plan. I knew I felt isolated in a way that I didn’t feel when I was teaching. I missed the collegiality with others who were doing the same work I was doing, so I started a twitter call-out at the beginning of my writing day. I’d chat and drink coffee until my fingers were warm and then we’d all dive into the words. Writers who joined us later would stay longer and greet others.
It was really thrilling to watch #amwriting grow into a nonstop 24-7 conversation. We have over 2000 individuals posting every week from all over the world—and apparently a lot more who only read. The writers who post using the hashtag have so much enthusiasm and energy. It’s really a wonderful group. I don’t think anyone can plan for something like that. I’m thankful.
Anne: How was it winning the award? What does it mean to you and for #amwriting?
Johanna: At first I was a little confused. It never occurred to me an award could be attached to what I was doing. We had this big hashtag and I’d started compiling author biographies for members of the group. I still did my morning shout-out and looked for ways authors could help each other, but it always felt like we could be doing so much more.
The Christopher Al-Aswad award came with an amazing prize: volunteers. In order to accept the help of others (which, clearly, I needed to do), I needed to better understand my own vision for the group. We could keep getting bigger on twitter, but I’d reached a practical level of difficulty with the author bios. I needed to put my writing ahead of developing the site and I had more bios piling up every day. I couldn’t get them all added. What we needed was a new site.
Winning the prize helped me to tighten my focus. I had all these people willing to publicize #amwriting, to spread the word even farther, but I needed a website that could absorb that increased involvement.
The member site we have now just opened December 1st. Anyone can become a member and post to group forums. Those who have been tweeting with #amwriting for a while are becoming authors on the site, posting new author bios as well as new articles for the blog. The focus of http://amwriting.org is community. I want growth to always flow from members helping each other. We’re still really getting started there and I keep holding my breath, hoping the site will hold together as more and more people join. So far, so good!
Anne: You have a wonderfully refreshing and open attitude to writing and writers – you say on your website http://www.johannaharness.com that ’you’re an author once you author something’. That is a very affirming and validating thing for a writer to hear. What would you say to those who say you must be traditionally published to be able to call yourself an author?
Johanna: I really have no patience with limitations. You can’t do that or you can’t say that or you can’t be that. Who says?
We each have the responsibility to make the most of our individual potential. That’s all there is. How you define your potential is entirely up to you.
For every rung up on your personal ladder of success, there will be people pulling you back down, filling your space with negativity. If you stop to address every one of those people, you’ll lose sight of your goals.
So what do I say to those who would define writing or authorship in a narrow way? Nothing. Nothing at all. I keep exploring my potential and I keep encouraging others to do the same. Life is too short!
Anne: Tell us a bit about your own writing? How did you get into writing, what does it mean to you and what sort of things do you write?
Johanna: I write young adult and middle grade fiction. I started writing seriously a little over two years ago. My dad’s death had an enormous impact on me, making me realize that I really didn’t have all the time in the world for my someday-goal of becoming an author. If I wanted the dream, I had to put in the time. I’ve worked on my writing in one way or another every day since then.
Most recently, I’ve been working on revising my young adult novel, Claire Morgane Almost Saves The World. I have a series of short stories based on Claire’s early life available on my Claire Morgane website (http://clairemorgane.com). I talk about recently signing with a literary agent on my author blog (http://johannaharness.com).
Thanks so much for this opportunity, Anne!
And thank you to you too, Johanna, for taking the time to collaborate on this post.
I urge all readers of this blog, who are also writers, to visit the #amwriting community on Twitter and the amwriting website – then you will truly appreciate Johanna’s awesome achievement – from its small beginnings to its present wide-ranging, supportive and influential status.
As well as the Al-Aswad prize, Eight Cuts http://eightcuts.wordpress.com also announced its Gallery Prize winner on the first of October. This award was open to EVERYTHING and in setting it up, Dan Holloway gave himself an almost impossible task when it came to deciding on the winner – as he said himself, it was like comparing apples and oranges. So do visit the site and see not just the winning entry, but also the others on the shortlist. I’ve already blogged about one of them – ‘ MUT@TUS’, the book by Joan Barbara Simon and I intend to blog about another of the shortlisters – Pereine Press – at a later date.
Don’t visit the blog if you’re offended by ‘bad’ language, sexual references or are in any way up yourself.
Do visit if you want to be entertained, made to think, shocked out of complacency and don’t mind making an effort.
It’s an effort that will be awarded. Okay you might not get it at first – but like any ‘good’ art it repays revisiting and a willingness to be open and actively engaged. You may have to attune your reading brain to the long, no pausing for breath sentence (or lack of) structure – but don’t be put off.
Thomas Stolperer is an artist and a writer. His line drawings appear (deceptively) simple – almost childlike – they’re anything but. The art and the writing work together – you really couldn’t have one without the other – and boy, do they work!
The blog is shocking, clever, arch, cynical, subversive and FUNNY.
Just three examples:
The August 11th post – ‘Woman Looking in Mirror in Hotel’ – a wry smile of self-recognition was my main reaction. We all do it – well me and her do – justify our existence, keep busy-busy and avoid thinking about the real, the shameful and the insecure, terrifying aspects of being human.
The August 23rd post – ‘Sneak Peek – Titles of Drawings of the Anthony Bourdain Finnish Project’ NOT for the prudish – but worth leaving your sensitivities to one side and retrieving them after reading.
The August 12th post – my favourite – ‘Small Slidable Plastic Tiles’. Apart from wanting one of these ‘nostalgic toy/game’ things custom-made with images of people in my own industry, this is just SO CLEVER and SO FUNNY. It’s a knowing, mocking – largely self-mocking – piece on the artist’s craving for recognition.
He’s not got the write up in Artforum that he claims to crave, but Thomas Stolperer is definitely a worthy and deserving winner of the above award.
‘The Dead Beat’ by Cody James is due to be published on November 1st 2010 by Eight Cuts Press. It is one of the first two books that the press is publishing. The other one being ‘Charcoal’ by Oli Johns – previously reviewed here.
I must admit to not liking the book at first.
It wasn’t the subject matter – Adam, the main character gives a first person recollection of his drug addicted life in San Francisco in 1997 – the year the Hale-Bopp comet appeared in our sky. He shared a house with three other addicts. Their lives are described in grim detail – shooting up, STDs, cold turkey and loveless, violent sex. All are powerful ingredients with the potential for a cracking (no pun intended) tale. I worked for many years with families whose lives were blighted by heroin, prostitution and HIV, so I wasn’t shocked by the details in the tales of the lives of drug addicts.
Neither was I shocked by the ‘bad’ language – I don’t believe in the concept – words are words – but if you overuse the ‘f’ word, it loses its effect and it just becomes a verbal tic.
However, I was irritated by the characters. I wanted to tell the main character to grow up and the three supporting characters seemed 2D and stereotypical. I was annoyed by the plethora of adverbs – especially the ones attached to almost every dialogue tag – the frantic signalling of emotions, the repetition, the use of upper case lettering. There was an awful lot of telling – lecturing almost – a feeling that the reader was being told some home truths.
I didn’t think I’d be able to finish it. I put it away at the bottom of the pile.
But something about it nagged at me. I had the feeling I was missing something, that if I didn’t get it, it was maybe because I wasn’t trying hard enough. It reminded me of when I first saw the paintings of Salvador Dali way back in the 1970s, when I was a student. I hated them – my reaction was physical – I found them nauseating. Pictures like the one on the right really shook me up and scared me. But I was also fascinated by them and so went back to take another look and now consider them utterly incredible and beautiful. The slim little volume at the bottom of the reading heap seemed to exert a similar hold. It kept beckoning – so I went back to it.
And something strange happened when I started again. It was like I found the key – or maybe I just stopped being thick and prejudiced.
I believe Cody James knew exactly what she was doing when she bravely and brilliantly tore up the writing manual of received wisdom on what makes good literature. How else could she convey this counter-culture? How else could she draw these inarticulate, powerless individuals?
Of course her characters are stereotypes, of course they talk in over-dramatic, hyper prose, of course they over-react and telegraph their every emotion. Of course their lives are passive, bleak and pointless. They’re JUNKIES – overgrown, overblown, self-obsessed adolescents – exhausted no-hopers – deadbeats. But Cody makes you care about them – see them in a ‘there but for the grace of fortune go I or my kids’ kind of light.
The comet doesn’t prove to be either omen or harbinger. As a symbol of change for Adam and his housemates, it’s as empty as their lives. But as a symbol of their lives it’s powerful – travelling in the dark a contradictory mix of cold and heat, of death and life.
I also realised that, as a reader, I was being 2D – blinded by the junkie label. As I saw the characters as Cody portrays them – really saw them – I began to see their humanity. Adam strives to get clean, to hold down a job, admits his sexual relationships are sick, in every sense. Xavi proves to be a character to care about, as do Sean and Lincoln – because, actually, they all care about each other.
The scene in the hospital where Adam and Lincoln are tacitly reconciled is beautifully written – the understatedness shows that Adam has changed – grown up a bit – and that the author is perfectly capable of conventional/ subtle when the occasion demands it. And if you still need reassuring that here is a remarkable writer whom a reader can trust – just look at the passage where Adam himself is hospitalised and ‘retching and wretched’ just wants to die.
And as for the ending – well if it’s gifted use of symbolism, metaphor and adverb-free writing you’re after, you’ll be well satisfied.
So approach with an open mind and a trusting heart – Cody James is a brave and unique writer – the book fizzes and burns as it lights up the cold dark – just like the comet – and I should have realised that from the start.
‘The Dead Beat’ can be downloaded for $2.99 from http://eightcuts.wordpress.com or bought as a paperback after November 1st 2010. There are also a couple special editions left which you can pre-order from the website. Mine’s ordered.
Oli John’s book, ‘Charcoal’, due to be published by Eight Cuts on November 1st, could be shelved along with the work of Kafka, Dostoyevsky and Sartre, but it’s probably best placed alongside Camus in the absurdist section. However, it’s also genre-defying. It’s literary certainly. It’s possibly, at least partly, autobiographical. It’s contemporary, erotic, noir, ironic. I can’t define it – it defies defining. JUST READ IT. As with all ‘good’ art, it requires active engagement and there will be as many interpretations as there are readers.
But I’ll do my best to give you some idea of what to expect.
First some personal background – so you know what I brought to my reading of the book.
I’ve suffered two bouts of depression – the first was post-natal and the second was post-cancer. Both occurred at times when I ‘should’ have been happy – after all, in the first instance, I had a new baby daughter and the second time, my cancer had just been confirmed as in remission. Both bouts were due to a combination of biology and life-changing/threatening events. I was fortunate to receive appropriate medication and therapy. I recovered.
Mental illness is as life-threatening a disease as cancer.
I’m also sure even the most mentally robust and least introspective of people have moments where life seems meaningless or they feel worthless. It’s also part of our human frailty to doubt ourselves. Those of us who are kept purposefully busy enough, who have a network of supportive people and have reasonable levels of self-esteem, mostly manage to keep on keeping on. Good physical health, a family to raise, a rewarding job, an absorbing hobby, a loving partner, loyal friends and a curiosity about what life still holds – any one of these things can help us to keep fear and stress at bay.
BUT what if our minds get sick? What if the job is unbearable, or the people who should care about us don’t, or we find ourselves despicable? What if all that toxicity unravels us? Or what if we succumb to biological and chemical changes that upset our moods, emotions and rationality? How do we cope with daily life and its pressures? How do we find our way back? How do we get healed?
“It is/was like that for me too” – surely amongst the most reassuring and moving words a person can hear. They’re a marker of recognition, affirmation, shared humanity. And if the speaker has since recovered from whatever ‘that’ was, then they are words of hope to the vulnerable.
And sometimes ‘insanity’ is the only sane response to an insane world.
Reading the inner monologue of the narrator of ‘Charcoal’ led me to many intense, sometimes painful, moments of recognition, and I wanted to tell him “it was like that for me too” – to offer hope.
This is a brilliant account of an unravelling personality. The charcoal of the title refers to using the substance as a method of suicide – i.e. by burning it in a confined space so that it uses up all the oxygen.
The story is told by a first-person narrator in the present tense. Author and narrator are both called Oli – but the question of how fictional the tale is, is an open one.
The text is mainly single lines and sentences. The effect is intense and claustrophobic. The prose is hypnotic; the atmosphere sombre and fearful and the tone self-deprecating – right from the off with the apparent ‘quotes’ about the book.
The reader is forced to put logic and rationality to one side and to just ‘be’ with the narrator and see things as he sees them.
At the beginning, Oli, the narrator – a stressed out, burnt out teacher who’d rather be a writer – is living alone and working in Hong Kong. He’s considering methods of suicide – even going so far as to experiment with the charcoal method in a hotel room. Then the story jumps forward a year and gets progressively darker. The narrator becomes increasingly paranoid, psychotic and disorientated. He cannot cope with his teaching job or relate to his colleagues. He becomes fixated on a Korean model who has committed to suicide. Even although she’s already dead he believes he can save her. She becomes real to him. She moves in with him for a time before disappearing and then reappearing throughout the narrative.
He is also obsessed with existential philosophy. He tussles with the work of Bergson and Deleuze – with concepts of time and theories of personality. After all, if you can get your head round, and go with the theories of these guys – abandon Newtonian laws and take the Einstein quantum view – then the possibilities are infinite. If time is merely movement and not a one way track – then maybe Oli can save the model. And maybe Oli can just ‘be’ – no cause, no effect, no regrets, no recriminations, no dread.
As for Oli’s writing, he wants success yet he also fears it. He wants recognition but is desperately scared of exposing himself to criticism and failure. He ponders upon the plight of writers who peak with one great (often the first and sometimes their only) novel. He thinks particularly of Fitzgerald and the ‘The Great Gatsby’. He realises that achieving success can be double-edged – because having achieved it – what’s the point in continuing to strive? He refers to Camus’ assertion that life’s about the rebellion and not the revolution. But it’s not the answer he’s seeking – because what if he never finishes anything, never has any success – that would be depressing and depression leads to…
And so it goes.
The book raises all the big questions – questions of core identity – is there even such a thing? It’s life, death and the whole damn thing. There are no pat or trite answers.
It’s a slim volume – a novella really – but has the scope and feel of a much larger work. The author is fearless in his honesty about the human condition and our potential for self-destruction – the reader has to admit – yeah, I’ve had these what if moments too, moments of reckless fascination – what if I just jump in front of the train, let go of the rope?
The flashes of humour and of hope – such as the graffiti episode where he asserts that ‘real art is not presented but found’, the admissions of weakness – for example when he admits to just wanting something simple to read – all add a bit of warmth to what is often a bleak landscape.
Reading this book, you may also long for something simpler – BUT – you’ll probably find you can’t put it down either. It stays with you, calls you back, forces you to take a look at yourself, forces you to accept there are more questions than answers, that control is an illusion and the only constant is change.
This is glorious writing – Camus with added warmth and humanity and a dash of uncertainty, philosophy wrapped in and woven through ‘real’ life. In the end Oli has to accept he can’t save the Korean model from herself. He also admits he doesn’t know where he’s going – none of us do – and everything in life, as in art, is open to interpretation. But the important thing is he IS going on and the reader can only wish him well. Perhaps, as Camus said, meaning in life is to be found through simple persistence.
Johns is an incredibly talented writer – gifted not only with the required depth of insight and self-awareness that is vital for any artist but also with enough humility to be an excellent communicator. What you make of ‘Charcoal’ will be down to your effort and interpretation – as with any work of art. All I can guarantee is that it will be worth the effort.
The first ever winner of the Christopher Al- Aswad prize has just been announced. This annual award was set up by Dan Holloway at Eight Cuts http://eightcuts.wordpress.com and it is intended to honour and commemorate the life of a very special young man who died in July this year, aged just 31. Christopher set up Escape Into Life a community where barriers in the arts and literature could be broken down. He was a visionary artist and writer. You can read the beautiful tribute to him on the Escape Into Life site. Make sure to read his poem ‘The Pleasures are Fleeting’ – heartbreaking and heartlifting. And apart from reading the tribute, you’ll be able to see the poetry, pictures and collages created by the members and to read about the amazing Moleskine Project.
The prize is “for outstanding contribution to breaking down barriers in literature and between literature and other arts.” And the inaugural winner is – Johanna Harness, the founder of #amwriting.
Johanna describes #amwriting as an ongoing chat amongst a community of writers who care about one another. She likens it to a water-cooler. It’s a gathering place where writers can pop in and out during their writing day. There they can say what they’re writing or share concerns, blocks and queries about the writing process. It’s reckoned there are more than 2000 writers using the #amwriting tag.
But there’s more to the concept than the hashtag on Twitter. There’s a website http://www.amwriters.com On the site, besides an Amazon linked #amwriters store, there’s also the opportunity to view and apply for listing in the #amwriting directory.
Johanna is, of course, a writer herself and she also has a new writing blog (begun in June this year) at http://johannaharness.com/blog Here you can read about her own writing – as an author of YA and flash fiction.
So, what are the barriers that #amwriting seeks to breakdown?
Well – they may be barriers of the writers’ own making – writing so often involves self-imposed exile and a siege mentality. The solitude required by writers can be a blessing when the mood and motivation are high, but it can also leave room for self-doubt and feelings of isolation. Having a staff room of supportive colleagues to check into is something to be cherished.
The barriers may be between writers – we can be a bit of a precious bunch, can’t we – defending our own areas whilst dismissing those of others? The genre writers versus the literary, fiction or non, prose versus poetry, shorts or novels, traditionally published as opposed to independent, journalist or academic – we like everyone safely boxed in. We can be overly judgemental and hyper-critical – of ourselves and others. And, as for those who won’t/can’t be pigeon-holed – artists who write, writers who make films, poets who write music…The #amwriting mentality has no truck with any of that – if you write – you’re a writer.
On the other hand the barriers may be between writers and their audience. We need to get our work ‘out there’. We need a network and we need outlets. The #amwriting community provides that too – the directory, the store, the support.
And in case you’re not convinced about Johanna’s axe-wielding powers – I’ll let her words speak for themselves…
‘I don’t care if you write fiction or non-fiction, if you’re pre-published or published, if you’re traditionally or independently published, If you’re non-agented or agented, if you’re a blogger or a novelist or a reporter or a business writer. *Pausing here to gasp for air* I don’t care what you write or how you write it. I don’t care if you’re a planner or a pantster. I don’t care how much formal education you’ve completed. I don’t care how old you are or how long you’ve been writing, if you’re a newbie or a sage. You don’t have to prove your credentials to be included. You do, however, have to show up and write alongside other writers on twitter. You have to say, “Here I am. I’m writing too.” -And we say “welcome.” That’s all there is. It’s what we do.’
All the best and Slàinte Mhath to Johanna – and to all present and future members of #amwriting.
P.S. Johanna tells me she has plans to further develop #amwriting during the next year and she has agreed to do a guest blog here at Write Enough in December.
I previewed the Eight Cuts Gallery Exhibition into the desert a few posts back. The exhibition opened yesterday – and is only a mouse click away. I urge you to visit – there’s art visual and literary – poetry, short fiction, novel extracts… Here’s how my visit went:
Visiting any exhibition at any gallery has the potential to be exhausting. The senses are assaulted, the brain challenged, the body disorientated, time stands still and the feet and back get sore. And in the case of the Eight Cuts exhibition all but the last one apply – at least you can visit this one sitting down. I started by clicking ‘on the edge of something’ and then on each category listed in turn, after that on the website’s header. You can flit around, clicking on links within the exhibits – but I’m a linear sort of girl –and tried not to be distracted by glimpses into other rooms or to get too lost in the desert.
I began my visit yesterday evening. Fortified by a glass of wine and my husband’s excellent Friday night curry, I set off. First I downloaded and read through the programme – so that I could be, at least a little bit, familiar with the contributors. Then for the next two and half hours, while a force 7 blew along the loch and the rain battered against the windows, I became oblivious to everything – except this most amazing, joyous, original, jaw-dropping gallery space. I’ve visited galleries all over the world – Barcelona, Edinburgh, London, Glasgow, Boston, Cape Town, Sydney, Verona, Hobart, Prague, Jerusalem, Singapore and, oh yes, Portree! And this virtual example is up there with them all.
Then this morning, the necessary household chores completed to keep the cottage sanitary, I returned to continue my exploration of the treasures on offer. Fortified this time by a cup of Taylor’s rich Italian blend coffee, I set off. I was very glad not to have to go further than my desk as, the south-westerly gale continued to howl and whistle and the white-crested waves bashed against the cliffs at the foot of the croft.
Pausing only for lunch and another, mid-afternoon, dose of caffeine I completed my tour. And, yes, it was an amazing journey. What talent is on display! Artists – literary and visual –of great integrity, honesty and depth are all on show. Your philosophy, politics and preconceptions will all be challenged. Your brain will hurt – but at least your feet won’t.
Wow – just – wow! Glé mha! My preview didn’t do it justice. Dan Holloway, the curator-creator of this truly wonderful space, has done an incredible job putting this lot together. As for the exhibitors and their exhibits – a few thoughts from me below.
But don’t take my word for it. Go visit!
Andy Harrod’s‘Repeat till Fade’ – a picture = a 1000 words -a nightmare in a handful of words.
Allyson Armistead’s ‘Oasis’ – what a beautiful story – not a wasted word. Warmth, humour, pathos, love and that all-consuming fear of mortality all conveyed in a deceptively simple story. Wonderful!
AT THE EDGE OF SOMETHING
Andy Harrod’s – ‘At the Edge of Something’ – moving- in my case to tears. A very close family member committed suicide ten years ago. Those of us he left behind will forever wonder if we could have listened and helped more. The photos and the words – I can’t think of a more intense example of human heart to heart communication.
Andy Harrods’s‘Alice’ – DISTURBING! Chilling, menacing, ambiguous – it’s brevity makes it all the more sinister – and leaves the barriers in tact. Masterly writing.
SOMEWHEN OTHER ME
Sarah Melville’s– ‘French Lesson’ – three cheers for the child – in the story, and in us all. Acquiescence doesn’t necessarily mean compliance. The feisty, wee narrator says a lot – about adult/child relationships, power/vulnerability, and respect/disrespect in a very few words. Clever, economical, powerful, story telling.
Oli Johns’ – ‘The Things They Let Into the Classroom’ – VERY dark. We’re inside the head of a burnt out, exhausted, stressed, depressed, paranoid teacher. A narrator provoked beyond endurance and tolerance by a difficult pupil. Boundaries – between reality and dreaming, between characters and between right and wrong blur and bleed into each other. Horrible and sinister double standards surface – loving fathers are also potential child molesters. Reading this will affect the reader deeply. It’s gripping, horribly fascinating and unsettling. Oli is an original and uncompromising writer and he presents the more unsavoury truths about human nature and our capacity for destruction – of ourselves and of others.
ON A ROLL
Penny Goring’s– ‘Temporary Passport’ – this recollection of a long gone love – a busking, poverty laden, peripatetic, partnership is raw and haunting. There are no regrets over the fact of the relationship but the loss of the narrator’s drawings of her former partner’s ‘fantastic face’ is deeply felt. The language and the imagery give this short story the feeling of a novel.
Kathryn Megan Stark’s ‘Touchdown Toward Midnight on the Potomac River’ – is a story of a plane ditching in a freezing river. The passengers’ stories are told with such depth that they made this reader gasp. Wonderful writing. I was especially impressed by the assault victim’s take.
Cendrine Marrouat’s ‘Grains of Sand’– the photo is striking – are the structures nothing more than sand sculptures – vulnerable and frail like life? The poem is a liberation from concerns over life’s fleetingness. Cendrine takes an eternity-embracing view in this deeply philosophical musing on time and life. The desert she presents here is anything but barren. An incredibly talented poet at work here.
Joyce Chng’s ‘Desert Mother’– this is a reverential and touching poem – the tone is both respectful and sad. The desert mother could be both literal and metaphorical. is the ‘heat and grit’ symbolic of a late mother’s personality. This is a poem to ponder upon, and to revisit.
SHRINKING FROM THE SUN
Marc Nash’s –‘Feed Tube’Thispoem is surreal – I hope I’ve ‘got’ it – it’s one hell of a drug-induced trip. It’s a stream of yearning consciousness; at least it is on the surface. I don’t mean it’s gone straight from the poet’s brain to the page – there’s real craftsmanship present here and I think Marc’s poem demands re-reading – in a good way.
Stacy Ericson’s ‘Sole’s Rest’ – this is awesome – a waltzing rhythm of arresting imagery – depicting day’s (life’s?) end – a fading to black of sky and hills and being called home by the desert dogs.
Quenntis Ashby’s ‘Into the desert of breaking things without pause for concern’ – post-apocalyptic prayer and warning message for those haunted and taunted by their casual disregard of our beautiful, wee, blue planet, of its structures – physical, natural, political and economical – i.e a call to all of us. This is reminiscent of P.D.James’s ‘Children of Men’ (I loved that book and the movie) – it’s ‘Children of Men’ on the moon, if you like, and what might come next. Clever and entertaining.
Alexander McNabb’s ‘The Salamander’– Fuelled by ‘power and passion made molten and pure’ the Salamander – or is it really a rather sick and discarded old tramp in a heat induced nightmare stupor – roams the streets – looking for the One. Delusion, illusion, drunken dream – whatever it’s powerful, it’s shocking – you’ll stop and, in a weird way, you’ll enjoy.
Sabina England’s ‘Brown Trash’– it’s a hymn, a war cry for inclusiveness, for the right to be yourself, to embrace your beliefs. Go girl! Here’s to all who dare to be different just by being themselves. Nobody has a monopoly on truth – Sabina’s shout needs to be heard.
SabinaEngland’s –‘Self-Portrait’ video – GASP! LOL! GASP! OMG! love it! Just remember the little old lady might not want to cross the road or indeed the young woamn may not need you to holler ‘Stop!’ She might actually be able to manage just fine by herself!
Chris Graham’s ‘What’s Going On?’– dark! I laughed, then felt I shouldn’t; hands covering mouth, I watched the narrator drop his bomb on his parents and then applauded him for doing so. Being true to yourself has its price – but it’s worth every penny.
Thomas Stolperer’s ‘The Desert’ – Stick with this one and come back. It’ll repay a revisit or six. The characters reflect on the many aspects of a/our desert life. There’s self-justification, self-deprecation, cynicism, subversion, regret, humour and resignation. It’s life as we know it.
Grace Andreacchi and Natasha Guy – are the contributors here. Theirs is stark, bleakly beautiful poetry.
Grace’s ‘On the U-Bahn’ and ‘Dream’ are laden with menace and (self) destruction and Natasha’s ‘Barren Determination’ sings out with perseverance.
Thank you, Dan and all the exhibitors for a wonderful day out (of myself).
Oh and for anyone in or around Oxford on November 18th there’s a LIVE SHOW with presentations by many of the above artists and authors – at the O3 gallery.I wish I could go – yes, there are times when I wish I didn’t live in the Hebrides.