Tag: literature

#WriteHereWriteNow: Can we learn to write better?

I was on assignment in Stockholm last week and looking for an idea.

We obsess, as writers, about the words. We analyse the craft and devour books about the technique.

Writing in the Guardian recently, the columnist Ian Jack discussed the perennial question: can writing be taught?

He suggests that, while we can study templates and consult with experts, nothing beats the age-old concept of practise. He says:

Writing is like riding a bicycle: its techniques are best not dwelt on.

For me, it’s about the ideas.

If the ideas are poor then, no matter how erudite the words, then the writing will not shine.

If there’s no angle, no hook, no reason to grab the attention of the reader, then it’s just more words on a page. And we have enough of those already.

The writer David Quantick says ideas are gold.

In his book, How to Write Everything, he describes the craft of coming up with good ideas as even more crucial than the craft of writing itself.

A good idea is simply one that inspires something you are capable of writing, something that might sustain.

But can we learn to have good ideas?

We’ll consider this at the next #WriteHereWriteNow meeting.

As for me, wandering around Stockholm in search of a good story?

Well, let’s just say a visit to the Abba Museum [pictured above] and a night at the Pop House music-themed hotel may just make a Scandi-pop story about Eurovision-crazy Sweden.

Thank you for the music.

Liked this? Try A new writing group comes to Storyhouse, Chester.

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A new writing group comes to Storyhouse Chester

Image: Storyhouse.com

Storyhouse opens this week.

The new arts centre is big news for Chester and already riding the crest of local support.

But it’s not just a new theatre, cinema and library. A major aspect of the project is the community programme.

That’s why I’m leading a new writing group, based at Storyhouse, from this month.

It’s called #WriteHereWriteNow and open to anyone who wants to find their voice as a writer.

THE CONCEPT

We all have a story to tell but not everyone has the opportunity or confidence to do so.

This new creative community offers an opportunity to express yourself in a supportive environment.

Expect workshop-style activities and occasional guest speakers, based around Storyhouse events.

We will look at ways of getting your story out there — from blogs to flash fiction via magazine features — and craft our work together.

Never tried a writing group before? No problem. Here’s an outlet for your creativity.

JOIN US

We meet monthly on the last Thursday, starting May 25th. It’s free. No, really.

The sessions run 7.30-9pm and we will be in the Meeting Room. Subsequent dates are June 29, July 27 and August 31.

To find us, take the cinema stairs and follow it round to the left to the meeting room. You can take drinks up from the bar, or we’ll retire there afterwards.

There’s space initially for 14 people.

Please bring your own iPad/laptop or similar device.

You will need to create an account via the Storyhouse website in advance to use the free public WiFi. No need if you have already bought show tickets through the site.

More events listed at the Storyhouse activities page.

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Story of the week: Uncovering the life of Jules Verne in Amiens, France

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*photo credit: famouauthors.org

He is one of our greatest ever travel writers, producing 62 novels and 18 short stories to transport his readers to fantastic new worlds.

Next year marks the 100th anniversary of his death and his adopted home, Amiens, capital of France’s Picardy region, is holding a year-long cultural festival to celebrate his legacy.

The author in question? Jules Verne, author of Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1864) and Around the World in 80 Days (1873).

Early years

Verne was born in Nantes but moved to Amiens, home to his wife, Honorine, in 1871.

He went on to produce many of his best-known works from their house in rue Charles-Dubois. The Maison Jules Verne re-opens after renovations in the spring of 2005 as a major museum, showcasing over 30,000 items of Verne memorabilia.

Festival events, however, kick off on New Year’s Eve with 21st Century Voyagers, a giant parade through town accompanied by fireworks and marching bands.

Jules Verne week (March 21-27, 2005), meanwhile, will see Vernians gather in Amiens for a week of lectures, readings and debates.

Weekend break

For a weekend in Paris combined with short festival hop, Amiens is just 70 minutes away from the French capital by car, or one hour by TGV train from the Gare du Nord.

The Unesco World Heritage listed Notre-Dame Cathedral is the largest Gothic edifice in France, while the lively St-Leu canal district has a Left Bank feel and is packed with restaurants; try Les Marissons for a taste of traditional Picardy cuisine.

Verne was an inveterate traveller and made sailing expeditions in his boat, le Saint-Michel, including trips to Britain and Denmark.

But, in later life, he became a leading member of Amiens council, using his influence to champion a new municipal circus.

Verne had always been fascinated by circus arts and, today, Le Cirque Jules Verne remains one of only seven working indoor circuses in France.

Throughout his life, Verne dreamed of a “time when the creations of science are beyond the imagination.”

Now, 100 years after his death, his moment has finally come.

What did you think of this story? Post your comments below.

This story was first published in High Life magazine in 2004.

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Story of the week: A walk around literary Manchester

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Literary types gather soon for the annual Manchester Literature Festival.

They’re in for a surprise. Manchester has a host of hidden-gem treasures and a slew of new openings for bookish types keen to explore the city’s rich literacy legacy – from Karl Marx observing working life in the mid 19th century to the UK’s current Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy.

“Manchester always had an edgy, radical feel as a city,” says Blue Badge Guide Kate Dibble of Manchester Tours, who leads literary tours of the city.

“Great authors through the ages have always tried to capture it.”

Walking tour

I joined a walking tour to trace a route around the modern-industrial city, following in the footsteps of the writers who have documented its evolution.

We started by Oxford Road train station where the Cornerhouse arts centre – moving to the new HOME development in May next year – remains one of the city’s best bookshops for art and cinema literature.

The short stroll along Whitworth Street West leads us past The Ritz, the gig venue where the performance poet John Cooper Clarke famously met Salome Maloney:

“In lurex and terylene, she hypnotised me.”

The nearby International Anthony Burgess Centre, dedicated to the Manchester-born author of the dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange, houses an eccentric collection of possessions, including letters to the film director Stanley Kubrick and his personal copy of A Clockwork Orange with doodles by the author.

The upstairs performance space hosts author Blake Morrison for the Burgess Lecture during the MLF on October 16, while the guided Unlocking the Archive tour is on October 22.

Heading towards St Peter’s Square, Manchester Central Library reopened in March this year after a £50m refurbishment to open up the library as a living-room space for the city.

It has welcomed some 300,000 visitors since, combining a high-tech media lounge, contemporary exhibition space and an interactive children’s library with the faithful restoration of the original architectural flourishes to their 1930s glory.

Neil MacInnes, Head of Libraries, Information and Archives, says:

“It’s the library as the street-corner university, a place to engage with knowledge and wisdom.”

Hushed reverence

By contrast, a visit to the Portico Library and Gallery, the Neo-Classical newsroom and library accessed from Charlotte Street, is like stepping back in time.

The 19th-century collection of dusty tomes, including travel literature, biographies and first-edition fiction, offers an insight into the mindset of Manchester in the industrial age. The genteel Reading Room is for members only but the café and gallery is open to all, as is the programme of literary events.

Cutting through the sidestreets towards Deansgate, the John Rylands Library, named after the 19th-century cotton magnate, is the third largest academic library in the UK.

Transformed by fusing a modern wing onto the existing neo-Gothic structure, new exhibition space and a study centre now complement the hushed reverence of the historic reading room. The John Rylands has a tour of the building and its collection on the third Thursday of each month.

Chetham’s Library, the oldest public library in the English-speaking world, traces Manchester’s literary legacy back to the medieval period.

The 17th-century Manchester textile merchant Humphrey Chetham established the library in his 1651 will as a free library for the use of scholars and the rambling space of cloisters and courtyards has been a haven for study ever since.

Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx researched here and their desk is now a place of pilgrimage in the 16th-century, wood-paneled reading room.

Writing in The Condition of the Working Class in England, Engels describes industrial Manchester:

”If anyone wishes to see in how little space a human being can move, how little air he can breathe, how little of civilisation he may share and yet live, it is only necessary to travel hither.“

Literary legend

I finish my tour in the city’s Ardwick district where Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, the family home of the Cranford author, reopens on October 5 after three years, restoring the Grade II-listed Regency villa as if the family had just popped out and left the table set for dinner.

The opening is timed to host two MLF events, the Manchester Salon exploring Gaskell’s 1855 novel North and South on October 8 and a walking tour of Gaskell’s Manchester, culminating at the house, on October 15.

Gaskell documented Manchester’s burgeoning industrial revolution from her writing desk at 84 Plymouth Grove after the family moved to the house in 1850 and her views contrasted starkly with the ideals of the Victorian era.

“As a female voice, few were as courageous as hers,” says Janet Allan, Chair of the Manchester Historic Buildings Trust [pictured above].

“Her greatest skill was to use storytelling to address the social issues of the era.”

A walking tour of Manchester proves the city may have evolved but its penchant for speaking out remains a constant source of literary inspiration.

What did you think of this story? Post your comments below.

This story first appeared in The Guardian in 2014. Liked this? Try also A weekend in Manchester’s Chinatown.