Minions Lament – an immersive storytelling experience

I was chosen as one of a team of six writers to work on an app-based project inspired by the history and landscape of Bodmin Moor.  The result, Minions Lament, has recently been released on iTunes.

Starting just outside the village of Minions, the app takes listeners on a guided walk from The Hurlers stone circle, up to the Cheesewring and Goldiggins quarry.
Bodmin Moor is full of stories waiting to be discovered

As you walk, stories are triggered by GPS. Combined with specially commissioned music from composer Graham Fitkin, it’s an immersive, atmospheric experience that brings the landscape to life. The walk takes about an hour and a half in total, although you can pause the app at any point during the walk and take a break, or stop and reflect on what you’ve seen and heard.

You can also listen to Minions Lament from home in ‘armchair mode’. The great thing about this is that it makes the stories accessible to people who can’t easily get to Bodmin Moor, and allows people to listen again once they’re back home. I haven’t had chance to experience the app on location yet, but hearing the tales at home gave me goosebumps.

What I enjoyed most about being involved in the project was the opportunity to meet and collaborate with a range of people. It started with a trip up to Minions to experience the walk for ourselves and get a feel for the landscape, accompanied by a local historian who told us some of the stories connected with the area.  The famous standing stones are said to have once been men and boys who were turned to stone for playing hurling (a game similar to rugby) on a Sunday. On a misty day you can  start to believe that almost anything could happen here…

After discussing our initial ideas over a beverage in the local pub, we dispersed to start researching and writing our stories.  I came across a stack of old letters from WWII, and these became a major part my story.

A couple of months later we all met up again for a workshop session with the producer/director, a dramaturg and three professional actors. It was the first time I’d had my work performed (as opposed to reading it myself) and I was struck by how much the actors brought to the work, sometimes sending it off in a completely different direction. We mixed things up, shifted the emphasis, improvised, cut and edited. A narrative began to emerge.  Although each of the writers had written in isolation, there were some striking connections between the pieces. While there were moments of light, like the sun shining through the clouds on stormy day, most of the work was definitely in a minor key.

I’m fascinated by the way that technology and stories can work together and reach new audiences. It’s an area that seems to be growing rapidly at the moment, and has so much potential for writers willing to experiment. Working on Minions Lament has given me a great insight into the potential of apps for storytelling;  it’s something I’m keen to explore further.

Bodmin Moor got under my skin, and so have the characters I developed. They’re still talking to me, and at some point, I know I’m going to have to return to their story and find out what happens next.


The Big Art and Storytelling Tall Ships Project

It all started with one painting. This one.

The Big Art and Storytelling Project is a national children's art and writing competition and exhibitionIt’s by Cornwall-based artist John Dyer and is called Tall Ships and Small Ships. It’s the official image for the Falmouth Tall Ships Regatta, which takes place 28-31 August 2014.

It’s also the inspiration behind the The Big Art and Storytelling Tall Ships Project, a national children’s art and writing competition and exhibition.

The project’s been awarded funding from The Arts Council and local arts funding body FEAST. I was lucky enough to be chosen as one of four up and coming writers in Cornwall to be awarded a bursary to write a new piece as part of the project.

The brief was simple: to write a creative response to John Dyer’s painting. I went along to the Falmouth Art Gallery to take a look. Close up, the colours are vibrant, and a smile crept across my face I sat in front of it. The characters seemed to leap off the canvas, almost as if they were vying for my attention. “Write about me!” they called. I could have written a whole collection of stories inspired by it. In the end, it was those who first caught my eye that I chose to write about – a girl sitting on a rooftop playing the accordion to a black and white cat.

You can read my story, Operation Accordion online or download it from the website.

As part of the project I also ran a writing workshop with a group of Y6 children from a local school at Falmouth Art Gallery last week. It was a privilege to work with such enthusiastic, talented children and share my love of  writing and storytelling. Lots of them were keen to finish the stories they started in the workshop and enter them in the competition. All the stories entered in competition will be be posted online, so I’m looking forward to reading them. The competition closes on 1 August, so if you know any budding young artists or writers, there’s still time to for them to take part.

The last time the Tall Ships came to Falmouth was in 2008, just before I moved down to Cornwall. I can’t wait to see them come sailing in to the harbour. I’ve also booked a place on the Tall Ship Mercedes for an evening sail around Falmouth Bay, which may well inspire another story or two…

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!

A bountiful harvest

The beginning of autumn has to be one of my favourite times of year.  The air starts to get a little crisper. The landscape is awash with colour as the leave change from shades of green to fiery red, bright yellow and burnt umber before falling from the trees and offering up another sensory pleasure that transports me right back to childhood.  Who doesn’t enjoy walking along a leaf-strewn path, kicking up leaves to be carried off by the wind and hearing the satisfying crunch beneath their feet?

From tiny acorns, great oak trees grow…

When I first got involved in the 26 Flavours project, I could never have imagined how it would take off.  It seems as though Cornwall really has an appetite for the exhibition – it’s currently the Eden Project as part of their Harvest Festival.  After seeing, smelling and tasting what’s on offer there, perhaps the exhibition will inspire other writers and designers to create something to celebrate their favourite flavour…

Each viewing of the 26 Flavours exhibition has felt different in terms of place, space and atmosphere.  For me, it’s the first time that anything I’ve written has been so public, so open to interpretation.  As writers, we don’t often get the opportunity to exhibit our work in such a physical sense.  While the internet has enabled our words to be seen by a potential audience of millions all over the world, there’s something quite special about seeing your carefully chosen words in  a more  tangible form.

The experience has been both satisfying revelatory, leading me to ponder the question ‘what next?’

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…

Discovering treasure

Last week I headed up to Aberystwyth to the National Library of Wales to do some research for the latest project I’ve been invited to take part in.

26 Treasures has been set up by writers’ organisation This year’s project follows on from the successful partnership with the V&A last year.

I’m one of 26 writers who have been paired with an object, or ‘treasure’ from the National Library of Wales.  Each of us has to write exactly 62 words in response to the piece we’ve been allocated.

Some of the writers will be writing in Welsh, others in English.  Each response will be translated into the other language, giving the project a lovely bilingual element (it will also be part of the Translation Challenge at the National Eisteddfod).

The first step was to make an appointment to meet my treasure in person.  So off I set, admiring the Welsh countryside and enjoying the companionship of Radio 4 as I drove.  All I had to go on was a title ‘Two Sisters of Llanfechell’ and that it was a photo.  I have to admit, I was intrigued.

I’d already registered online, and when I arrived I had to have my photo taken for a reader’s card so I could access the reading rooms.  With security checks and guardians appeased, I was finally able to see my treasure.

The photograph dates back to c. 1875, and is of two servant girls, Cadi and Sioned.  I sat and contemplated it for a while, wondering what these women would think if they knew that I’d travelled all that way to see their photo, years later in the 21st century.

Then I started doing a little digging.  It turned out that there’s an even more fascinating story behind the photo.  It’s part of the John Thomas collection held by the National Library of Wales. Thomas made his living as a photographer travelling around Wales from the 1860s onwards.  This was a time of great change – the railways had opened up the country, and the traditional way of life was changing.  It was also the time when photographs were becoming very popular, and even the working classes collected small portrait photographs of the celebrities of the time, from popular preachers to the royal family or society figures.

But what John Thomas also did was unusual, radical even, for the time.  He took working class people and travellers and dressed them up in fine clothes, photographing them with a fancy backdrop.  He made them appear as if they were something other than what they actually were, subverting Victorian conventions in a very modern way.

My photograph shows Cadi and Sioned in their working clothes, but there’s a twin with them dressed up in finer apparel.  I wonder what they thought of that?

Onto the writing.  Now how am I going to fit all that into a mere 62 words?

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?