Collecting stories with Anna Maria Murphy

On Saturday I went up to Liskeard for a writing workshop – Collecting Stories. I’d been looking forward to it since I first heard about it.  Not only was it an opportunity to spend the whole day focusing on writing, but it was also a chance to meet Anna Maria Murphy (best known to those outside Cornwall for her work with the Kneehigh theatre company).  I’ve been an admirer of her work for some time, so I was keen to see her in action and find out more about her writing projects and processes.

Process is one of the things that I’m always interested in when I talk to other writers.  It’s something extremely individual.  But the one thing that almost all writers seem to agree on is the importance of the notebook.  How each writer might use their notebook, and what type of notebook they choose is a different matter entirely.  Discussing writing materials reminded me of how much I used to enjoy writing in pencil.  It’s something I haven’t done for a while; I’m not sure how I got out of the habit, but it’s one I intend to take up again.  There’s just something about the flow of writing in pencil that you don’t get with a biro…

After spending some time in the garden using the natural world as inspiration for kennings, we set off to explore Liskeard.  Anna Maria Murphy opened our eyes to the wealth of possibilities.  Potential inspiration is everywhere – we found plenty of ideas for stories and characters in the car park.  As we walked, we created our own ‘story maps’ of our journey, jotting down details that we could use later.

collecting storiesCollecting stories in the car park

Our next challenge was to go into charity shops (often a particularly good source of stories) and either talk to the people working there about the most unusual items they’d come across, or choose an item of clothing, and conjure up what kind of person might have worn it.  We also spent a while surreptitiously observing people, taking note of what they were wearing and their mannerisms.  What the people shopping in Liskeard thought of us, scribbling away furiously in our notebooks, I don’t know, but plenty of people were happy to stop and talk to us.

Back at the Liskerrett Centre, we shared our stories and looked at ways of developing characters from the material we’d collected.  It was heartening to realise how much could be gathered in a short space of time.  I came away feeling inspired, with a notebook full of ideas ready for potential development.

Stories, it seems, are everywhere.  You just need to know how to look for them.  Now, where did I put my pencil…

The Collecting Stories workshop was part of the Vital Spark Festival – a celebration of creativity in Liskeard that runs throughout January and February.


The Parabola Project

Launch of The Parabola Project II: The Quickening

I’m lucky to live in a place like Falmouth.  A place that’s beautiful, vibrant and bursting at the seams with creativity.  Everywhere I go I meet writers, poets, photographers, designers and musicians.

I’ve been going to Telltales ever since I moved to the area, nearly three and a half years ago.  It’s a regular evening for ‘readers, writers and listeners.’  When I first came across Telltales, it was based in a small independent cafe that felt like being in someone’s, admittedly rather quirky, living room. RIP Babahogs Art Cafe, you are still missed.  Usually about eight people would turn up, and probably five or six of those would be reading.

Since then, it’s gone from strength to strength, moved venues a couple of times, and now attracts a large crowd of word lovers from across Cornwall.  I’ve enjoyed reading from time to time, listening to a huge range of work, and meeting other writers.

The Parabola Project was launched in 2010, with the aim of producing a illustrated publication showcasing the work of writers in Cornwall, with fresh voices appearing alongside established names.

After the success of the first edition, the second volume The Parabola Project II: The Quickening was launched on 29 November 2011. The illustrators have done the writers proud.  Each of the pieces, including my short story, Stargazer, is wonderfully illustrated.

It’s fantastic to see a project like this come to fruition, especially as I’ve been involved with Telltales since its early days.  The Parabola Project is a far cry from a handful of writers getting together in a little cafe to share their work, but it just shows what can be achieved.  I also have to say a big thank you to Clare Howdle, one of the original founders of Telltales and the driving force behind the Parabola Project.

So will 2012 bring volume III?  Here’s hoping!

Welsh treasures

26Treasures bookOver the summer, I wrote a 62 word piece about one of the treasures in the National Library of Wales, The Two Sisters of Llanfechell.

Several of the other writers wrote in English, others in Welsh.  All the work has been translated (you can see all 26 pieces on the 26 Treasures website, in both English and Welsh).  It’s quite strange, seeing the words I chose in another language, particularly one that I don’t speak.  It makes me wonder how the translators managed it.  Capturing the particular nuances and turns of phrase must be difficult enough, without having to keep to the word limit as well.

But then I’ve always thought that the stricter the limitations, the more creative you have to be to get around them.  The most difficult thing of all can be complete freedom – without any rules to push against, it can be hard getting started.  It’s rather like deadlines: when you have all the time in the world, often you achieve very little.

Bring on the next challenge…

More flavours

People are certainly developing a taste for the 26 Flavours exhibition.  After its success at Trebah, it went on to appear at the Poly during Falmouth Week (6-14 August) and is due to appear at the Lander Gallery in Truro from 16-30th September.

Which means a lot more people have the chance to see our words and pictures.

As a writer, you don’t often get chance to show off your work in quite the same way as a photographer, or a painter, for example. At the end of my MA course, I have to confess I was a little envious of people on the other creative courses who had week-long exhibitions of their work.  Simply telling people about my novel wasn’t quite the same thing…

So for me, 26F has also been a chance to show people a bit more about what I do, as well as an opportunity to get away from my laptop and work as part of a creative team to develop something totally different.

Me with design partner Eleanor Bell with our finished flavour at the launch

It’s been a fantastic project to take part in, and I have to say a big thank you to the 26F team – Tom Scott, Rob Self-Pierson, Phil Gendell and Daniel Oparison for all the hours they’ve put in to make the project a success).

And there are also plans afoot for the 26 Flavours exhibition to travel further afield, so watch this space for details…

26 Flavours bears delicious fruit

On Friday evening the great and the good gathered at Trebah Garden for the eagerly anticipated 26 Flavours launch.  And what a delightful evening we had.

With mouthwatering food and drink, stunning artwork and a whole host of writers, designers and food producers, this was a combination that really worked (rather like the mini scones topped with Kea plum jam and clotted cream that were quickly snapped up).

John Simmons speaking at the 26 Flavours launch

To top it all off, the piece that my design partner Eleanor Bell and I had created was exhibited in all its glory – I could see it glowing as soon as I walked in to Trebah.  We thought we were only going to be able to exhibit a photograph of the piece. But at the last minute we were told we could go ahead and install it.

Every piece was very different, and I was delighted by the range of creative approaches each of the pairs had taken with their flavour.  It was the type of exhibition that generates discussion; each of the pieces invites you to look a little deeper to try and figure it out.

I know I’ll be back to take a closer look soon.  The exhibition runs to 26th July, so if you’re down Cornwall, take a peek…

26 Flavours of Cornwall

Once in a while a project comes along that you simply have to be involved in. 26 Flavours of Cornwall is one of those projects.

A celebration of Cornish food and drink, 26 Flavours will explore familiar and perhaps not-so-familiar flavours, delving deep into their origins to uncover their essence.

There are 26 teams in all, each made up of a writer and a designer. Each pair will focus on a different item of Cornish produce – or ‘flavour’.  Our brief is to come up with a piece of artwork that combine words and design in the form of paper table-settings. They’ll be displayed at a special exhibition at  Trebah Garden in July (along with posters of the designs).

So why 26 Flavours? Because the project has been organised by the national writers’ association 26, working with the Cornwall Design Forum and University College Falmouth.

My design partner, Eleanor Bell and I got lucky with our flavour: wine.  Read our first post about our trip to Camel Valley vineyard. Wine tasting, on Bank Holiday Monday in the sunshine – all in the name of research.  What could be more perfect than that?

In search of lost time

Time.  It’s strange how sometimes weeks can fly by, but sometimes a few minutes feel like hours.

Most people seem to live such fast-paced lives; we’re always rushing. I noticed it particularly when I was working in London.  Even when you’re not actually dashing from one commitment to another, there’s something about being in the city that speeds everything up.  You rush to get on the underground.  Slow-walking tourists annoy you and having to queue for more than a minute has you tapping your foot impatiently and muttering under your breath about why some people take so long.

Often we’re so busy trying to cram everything into our already-overflowing lives that we rarely take the time to enjoy the experience of doing something.  Obviously there are some things that you just want over as quickly as possible.  Trips to the dentist, for example.

A few years ago I spent a few months travelling around New Zealand and Australia.  The opportunity to step off the treadmill was an enlightening experience.  With few responsibilities, it was the perfect opportunity to really experience everything – to be in the moment.

Unfortunately, real life beckoned me back before long.  But feeling of being in the moment is something I’ve tried to hold on to.  A few minutes a day can be enough.  And it doesn’t have to be anything extraordinary.  Sitting looking out of my window and watching the sun glinting off the water made me realise how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful place.

And it also gave me an idea for a short story…