After 12 months where many of our normal daily activities have been severely curtailed it was really great to hear that one of my poems, “Pigments”, will be published in the 2021 edition of the Bolton Review.
During the periods of lockdown, weighed down with concerns about the safety of our loved ones, friends and the public at large, it has sometimes been difficult to concentrate on writing. I’ve always tended to write best when I have a good clear head and can experience the world and emotions without them being clouded.
That means that I’ve only written a handful of poems in the last year so for one of that small number to be published is not only exciting, but also a reminder that sometimes it isn’t how much we write that is important but what we write.
Pigments is a poem about how stories are created and how, like life, they change with each retelling. I wouldn’t pre-empt the published version yet by sharing on this blog, but here are a few lines to whet appetites:
My metal nib scratches and slides,
scratches and slides,
laying its snail-trail of ideas.
Whilst writing less than usual I’ve managed to keep stoking the metaphorical fires of creativity by focusing more on my photography and image making including starting on a new series of linocut prints of which I will write more in a forthcoming blog post.
Recently I was invited by my friend and fellow poet, Eileen Earnshaw, to play a small part in a project with a Bolton creative writing group.
The article reproduced below gives some information about the project which looked at the Worktown project in Bolton from 1935to 1942 and in particular to look into the Cotton Queens to inform some new writing. A 30 minute audio play and a number of poems have already been produced. My role was to accompany the writers as they visited the Blackpool Archives to carry out further research and to make photographic records of the event.
Whilst in Blackpool for the project I was also inspired to write a poem inspired by my time with the ladies from the project.
The whole project will culminate in an exhibition, performance of the play and a documentary recorded with the support of the media faculty at Bolton University.
An interesting and inspiring day out with an enthusiastic group of writers and the opportunity to have a close look at some of Blackpool’s archives with the added fish and chips.
A selection of my photographs from the event and my newly written poem will feature in the exhibition in Bolton.
The Rochdale Literature and Ideas Festival 2019 took place in late October at various locations across the borough of Rochdale. For local creative writers a highlight is the Writers Showcase event which on this occasion took place in St Mary’s in the Baum, one of Rochdale’s impressive historical churches.
I was delighted to have the chance to close the session with a set of my own poetry following some great performances from others including a standout set from Sue Devaney and a remarkable and moving performance from “Sing Along With Us” – Jade Kilduff and her younger brother Christian.
The newspaper review of the event is shown in the image below.
When Touchstones Creative Writing Group asked me to deliver a writing workshop on 4th July it was always going to be themed around Independence.
But I felt this workshop needed to be much wider than the best known “Independence Day” as celebrated and commemorated on this day in the USA so I brought along research about some of the 150+ other countries who also celebrate their independence on days throughout the year. Discussion included the easiest and most recent cases of countries gaining their independence and some cases where a country has gained independence more than once.
This led to discussion about various types of independence and what they mean to different people in order to help to inform some new writing.
I read a brand new poem titled “I can do it” written specially for this workshop and there were periods for writing and the participants shared their work with the group. The quality and variety of work was genuinely excellent, feedback was supportive and positive and it was a real pleasure to lead such a session.
The writers produced, poems, prose, factual accounts, a formal letter, a song and flash fiction. Topics covered included The American Civil War, children growing up, a granddaughter’s first steps, Zimbabwe, dementia, bravery, recovery from dependence on prescribed medication and a story about receiving a first pay packet. There was lots of discussion and reminiscence around the work shared in the room and I will certainly workshop around this theme again – even when it isn’t 4th July!
Perhaps the best feedback a facilitator can hope for is when a participant waits at the end of the session to explain how it has helped them. On this occasion a lady told me she had been blocked, unable to write, for the last 3 years after having trouble with physical illness but she had written two very promising and effective pieces during the session and she felt enthused and inspired and could not wait to get home to write some more. That is what creative writing groups like this aim to do, to provide the encouragement and support to enable people to enjoy their writing and develop skills and confidence and comments like these prove their worth.
Touchstones Creative Writing Group meet monthly from 2.00pm to 4.00pm on the first Thursday of the month at Touchstones on The Esplanade, Rochdale and sessions are led my professional writers.
we began the workshop with quick introductions and a chat about why people had come along. Some were very new to poetry whilst others had been writing poetry for some time and some wanted to reignite their own poetry writing.
We spent a little time looking at the exhibition and using images selected from each section from A to C created lines or phrases which were gradually developed into poems.
We also selected a single image to consider in more detail using it for the inspiration to develop another piece of writing using a mind mapping approach.
The participants had fun, produced some great new writing and with an age range from 5 years old to a little older than myself proved that as long as you have the basics of the language and some suitable inspiration you can produce worthwhile poetry.
The tweet shown above from the Library service, who arranged the workshop, shows that the use of Dave Ball’s exhibition for inspiration was successful. I’m looking forward to meeting Dave this weekend to talk about his work and how the workshop was able to draw on it for our inspiration.
There is still time to visit the exhibition and tomorrow, Saturday 9th February, the artist Dave Ball who is normally based in Berlin, will be at the gallery to give a talk about his work. The artist talk will take place at 1:00pm and there is no need to book for this free event. You can find out more HERE
As a photographer and tutor I am starting a series of occasional ” Photo Pointers” articles on this blog to give some guidance to those finding their way with photography. I will avoid using too much technical language or lots of formulae and numbers.
For those who would like to go into more depth I will be running workshops during the year and can also arrange 1 to 1 or small group sessions to suit. Please email me firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be happy to discuss your requirements.
A couple of days ago I posted a trio of colourful images on my Instagram account which provide a simple example of the ways a photographer can change the focal point of the same scene.
For this set of pictures four highlighter pens were stood up on my desk, each an inch or two apart.
This first photograph shows just the pen that is nearest to the camera being sharp with all of the others looking blurred because they are out of focus.
To create this effect you set focus on the nib of the blue pen either by using the manual focus on your camera, or using automatic focus and placing the camera’s selected focus point exactly on the nib.
Setting a wide lens aperture will make sure that only the one pen is sharply focused and the wider the aperture you set on the camera the less of the image will be sharp, this effect is strongest when you are close to the subject.
The second photograph is similar to the previous one but the camera has been focused on the nib of the yellow pen and the same technique used to make sure only that pen is sharp.
The final image in this set has both the yellow and red pens sharply focused whilst the closer blue and furthest green pens are out of focus (not sharp).
To create this effect the lens is focused at a point between the yellow and red – this is fairly easy to achieve by focusing manually but it using automatic it is possible to focus on an object temporarily placed at the point where you want to focus and by keeping gentle pressure on the shutter button keep the focus set to that point, remove the object and take the picture. The real benefit of digital cameras is that you can take lots of shots making little adjustments until you are happy with the result. This kind of experimentation is really helpful when learning new techniques.
This afternoon I was able to go over to Oldham and spend some time in the gallery taking in David Ball exhibition “A to Z: The First Seven Years”.
On Saturday 2nd February I’ll be running a poetry workshop in this space using David’s exhibition and ongoing project for inspiration so today was all about finding some of that inspiration in preparation.
I had a good look at lots of the pictures and spent quite some time soaking in the atmosphere and even watching the reactions of those visiting the exhibition.Things that occurred to me included:
The scale of the exhibits surprised me
The scale of the task for the artist is hard to comprehend
The word “scale” is a good few years further through the alphabet
What if the dictionary were indexed by years and months rather than pages?
I wonder if he can really complete it
What happens when he reaches the word “unfinished”?
I speak at around 100 words a minute so it would take me almost 20 minutes just to read a list of the words represented on the walls – only 20 minutes to list 7 years of work….
I wonder if, having moved from drawings and illustrations to photos, the artist will embrace other ways of visualising as the project develops
I wonder if I could talk to the artist about this….
Some of the pictures are what we might expect but others are really personal, unusual and clever interpretations of the word, I loved the image for asylum shown here:
I’m looking forward to the workshop even more having completed today’s visit.
The second Altrincham Word Fest will run from 11th to 26th May 2019 at various venues in the town and promises to be even more exciting that the first edition held in 2018.
Last year’s festival followed a poetry event created by Anne Early and Yoko Isami as part of the Hidden Arts Festival in 2017. That first festival in 2018 proved to be a great, popular success with demand for new events and bigger venues for 2019 and Anne and Yoko are putting the finishing touches to the schedule of events in May.
So why am I, a Rochdale poet, so keen to promote this event?
Is it because I’ve been invited back to Altrincham for the 3rd year in a row (1st year was the Hidden Arts Festival)? Perhaps a little bit….
Is it because it has a great line up of talent? Well it does….
Is it because it celebrates writing and literature? Well it does….
Is it because it is different from other Literature Festivals? Yes, absolutely!
This is a festival that does something different, this is a festival for writers; it puts its energies into encouraging all of us to go out and create, to write our own literature and to share the joy of writing; and it does that through workshops, performances, writer events and of course the open mic (that I’ll be hosting again in 2019).
As a writer I experience and see the benefits people from all walks of life, of all ages and with all levels of experience can gain from putting their thoughts and ideas into words. I know the value in terms of enjoyment, fulfilment, health and well-being that writing can bring and to be involved in a festival that promotes this is both a privilege and a great pleasure.
Dates for the specific events will be appearing soon on the www.altrinchamwordfest.com website and on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
I’m delighted to announce that I’ve been asked by Oldham Library to produce and facilitate a new poetry workshop in Oldham’s Art Gallery.
The workshop is linked to a current exhibition of work, A to Z: The First Seven Years, by artist David Ball. The exhibition runs until March 2nd in Gallery 2. The artist is producing a drawing visualising every word in the Concise Oxford Dictionary – starting from A (with 461 words) the work is currently at the letter C. The project has taken 7 years so far and Dave expects to take another 28 years to finish. Some of the drawings and photographs produced so far are currently exhibited in the gallery in Oldham and some can be seen on the artist’s website by CLICKING HERE.
Taking the work by Dave Ball as its inspiration this poetry workshop will give writers the chance to create some brand new poetry themed around words from the dictionary beginning with A, B and C. We’ll look at how inspiration drives creative people and how inspiration, such as this exhibition, can be turned into a plan or outline for a new poem and will take participants through the evolution of the piece. There will be opportunities (for those who want to) share their work during the workshop and the gallery and library have kindly agreed to display writing produced in the workshop.
No specialist equipment is required and all writers are welcome from those just starting out to professionals.
The event is listed on the Oldham library website HERE and you can book places through EventBrite by CLICKING HERE
Today I am recommencing that challenge and will see how long it might continue – when i started the challenge I decided it would continue as long as it was fun and I was learning from making the images – both of those things still apply so (although I’ve been unable to post for a while); here I go again….
Next Thursday, 5th July, I am honoured to once again be facilitating a workshop for Rochdale’s Touchstones Creative Writing Group (TCWG).
The workshop will include plenty of opportunity for the participants to write and there will be two separate but related writing exercises during the session. Usually I like to create a challenge where the writer will need to take different approaches for each piece of writing in order to help develop the range of their writing skills and in this workshop the challenge will be in the format as well as the content of the writing.
I will keep the detail of specific themes and styles under my hat until the day but there will be no shortage off ideas and there may be a connection to one of the new exhibitions at Touchstones.
As always I’m looking forward to working with some of Rochdale’s talented and enthusiastic writers.
TCWG is a friendly and welcoming group and they are always glad to see new faces so if you can make it to the session you’ll be more than welcome. The session runs from 2.00pm to 4.00pm.
My first #shaysimageaday challenge image from Dec 2018
Pretty much every creative person will occasionally get stranded in the metaphorical doldrums, we suffer a creative block. The cause can be anything from tiredness, apathy or fear to events in our busy lives overtaking us. The solutions are many and books have been written about how to move beyond the block and regain our creativity.
Six months ago I found myself feeling creatively stymied, I wasn’t writing, I wasn’t drawing and I wasn’t making images. The circumstances that led me to that point are not important, the important thing is how I was able to more on. This post is an initial look at that process and how it has helped me. Should this approach help others then that would be a real bonus.
I decided in late December 2017 that to stimulate my mind and create something new to focus on I would set myself a challenge: every day I would make a brand new image and that image would be posted online on Instagram. The challenge would be called “#shaysimageaday” and I would use that hashtag on my posts. Images can be photographs (most of them are), drawings, prints or images made from words (as long as the words can create an image in the reader’s mind) and there is no target length for this challenge – as long a it is fun and I’m learning then I might as well keep going!
At first I expected the challenge might run for a few weeks. My very first post on the day I decided on the challenge was the poppy head pictured at the top of this article. There was no advance plan for the images and I generally decide on a subject during the day but strangely enough six months later I find myself posting images of poppy seed heads collected in the last few days from our garden. In the meantime there have been images of all sorts of man-made and natural objects and there have been plenty of shots taken outdoors. The latest image is shown here:
Wild poppy seed heads
The bottom line is that setting myself this challenge has really delivered as I hoped it would and I believe it has gone further than that and the personal and creative benefits have been, and continue to be of real value to me. A nice bonus is that I’ve amassed a collection of over 180 new images with which I am very pleased.
I’m sharing this post partly so that the challenge might offer some value to others as well.
In future posts on this blog I will show more examples of the images created and explain some of the methods I’ve used; meanwhile here area couple more of the images
A photo of my linocut print of Whitby Pier being carved
A drawing from classic cars at Vintage Village in Stockport