Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Fictions of Every Kind: procrastination

Flier typeset and designed by Sarah Bradley. Photo by Nick of The Print Project.

We all do it. Don't pretend you don't. Whether it's cleaning the house or perfecting your golf swing, every single writer has his or her very own perfected procrastination method. A writer can sit down in front of her computer, only to find three hours later that the house is mysteriously meticulously clean, the cat bathed and brushed, the windows washed inside and out, and there's a quiche baking in the oven. How did that happen? The sink and the bath are gleaming, and she still hasn't written a single word.

The theme of July's Fictions of Every Kind will be 'Procrastination'. It's a theme that strikes a deep chord in the heart of every writer. It's unlikely anybody will learn anything new by attending. Most writers could probably write a book on the subject, if only they could get started. (Curiously, the most popular 'words of encouragement' card is the one that reads, "Bloody get on with it". Now what does that tell us?)

Fictions of Every Kind: Procrastination is on Tuesday July 5th from 7.30pm - 9.30pm in The Leeds Library, a 'secret library' on 18 Commercial Street, accessible by a recessed doorway across the road from LUSH. Instead of invited speakers, we'll be showing a selection of short films around the theme. As usual, there will be chance for writers to share their work at an open mic. Entry is free, and there will be boxed wine and popcorn - donations towards the costs of these will be welcomed!

We have some rather marvellous films to show in a range of styles: animation, documentary, comedy, and the abstract, all around the theme. As usual it promises to be a thought-provoking evening, and we look forward to meeting you there!

Click here to go to the facebook event page

Fictions of Every Kind on facebook

Fictions of every kind: the future!

Last Monday, the Fictions of Every Kind collective got together in the pub to discuss future events for the rest of the year. Little of the conversation went over to 'business', naturally. We were in the presence of real ale, and so at several points the conversation veered off variously, into: the summer festival circuit; what it would have been like working in the same post office as Charles Bukowski; and whether or not you look for potential exits in case of zombie apocalypse in every new place you visit. Apparently I am the only one in the collective who doesn't look for zombie-proof exits everywhere she goes. Still, at least it means I won't have to live out my days terrified in the top floor of a shopping mall, while the undead shuffle around in front of the shop windows, their flesh dripping from their bones in synchronicity with the piped music.

During the course of the afternoon, talk turned to 'Fictions of Every Kind', and what gives our night its personality. At the time we were talking about the kind of invited speakers we like to have. Over the past few months we've had some great writers speaking. The performances have ranged from literary fiction to horror, and science fiction to hip-hop poetry. So far we've been able to welcome a diverse range of speakers to our night, without ever losing the personality and soul of what we do, and long may that continue.

For us, ownership is important. In a very real sense, the people who come to Fictions of Every Kind are what define it and give it its personality. With help from Sam Francis, I originally started Fictions... because I know that writing is a lonely business. It's easy to lose perspective on what you do, and to not know whether or not what you're doing is any good. With that in mind, I wanted to start a night where writers could meet other writers, and gain support and encouragement from one another.

The way that we do things is important too. Sam & I both have a background in the punk rock & DIY music scene in Leeds, and we were keen that Fictions... should have the same kind of ethos. Therefore, involvement in Fictions... isn't a route to 'bigger' things. The aim of the night is never going to be to help 'launch' writers, or to make money. Although writers who speak are welcome to sell and promote their books - hell, they have to, because we can't pay them a lot to appear - we want to promote the idea that all writers are equal. Whether you've sold a million books, or whether you have a stack of unpublished, unagented novels in your desk drawer, the struggles you face as a writer are the same. Writers of all persuasions have the same 'dark times', and we all ask ourselves the same questions: "Is anybody ever going to want to read this?"; "Is what I'm doing really any good?"; "Why have I spent six hours cleaning the house instead of sitting in front of my computer, looking at a blinking cursor and an accusingly blank Word document?"

So the aim of Fictions... is simple. It exists to bring writers and writers together; to give us support and encouragement, and inspiration to get us back to work again. A combination of conversation and performances serves to break writers out of the dark spiral of neurotically-driven writers' block we all sometimes get sucked into. Sometimes its hard to speak to people about what we do, and a lot of the regular Fictions... community have found it almost mind-blowing to be in a room full of other writers. At last, we can find our counterparts, the people who understand how difficult it can be to be a writer.

I'm glad to say that out of the afternoon's meeting came some very exciting ideas for the next few months. Until we've got everything planned and firmed up, I wouldn't like to go revealing anything for fear of the others attacking me with an axe. I will say, though, that I think the next few months are going to be fun. And that we hope to see you there....

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Working through psychoanalysis conference

Last week, Dr Sam Francis put on a conference at the University of Leeds entitled Working through Psychoanalysis: Freud's Cultural Legacy. He and his colleague Dr Nicholas Ray were responsible for convening and calling the conference, so well done to them.

The conference was a two day mash-up of writers, thinkers, psychoanalysts and psychotherapists talking about Freud's legacy to the arts and culture. Everything from Tony Soprano's course of analysis in the HBO series The Sopranos, to viewing Facebook from a Freudian perspective, was discussed. The whole thing took place in the distinguished atmosphere of the University's English Department's buildings. (You cannot imagine how exciting this was for somebody who got their higher education at two former polytechnics).

On Saturday morning, Dr Sam spoke at the panel "Resisting and working through psychoanalysis in LIterary Fiction", chaired by Armela Panajoti from the University of Vlora in Albania. Dr Sam presented some of his work on JG Ballard, claiming that his paper was "cribbed from the book I've just finished writing" (The Psychological Fictions of JG Ballard, forthcoming from Continuum Books), and Naomi Booth presented a paper from her work about Angela Carter's The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman.

Both papers were really interesting - Dr Sam's in particular, made me want to go down to the library and take out everything JG Ballard has ever written. It was also interesting to think about Angela Carter's work through a Freudian lens. Booth said at one point that she felt that a table was needed, so integral and densely-woven were the allegories within the book. It was certainly interesting to hear Carter, one of the big feminist writers of the 20th century, discussed with reference to Freud.

I was left wondering afterwards how we as women writers/ thinkers / academics identify ourselves through this sort of lens. Somewhat a product of his time in many respects, Freud isn't always noted for his enlightened attitude towards women. Despite treating many women for 'hysteria', Freud seemed to view women as fundamentally being neurotic, and often complained even in his written work that he didn't understand the female psyche. (Men today often make the same sort of complaint). I wondered whether there was room for a feminist discourse around the idea that the beginnings of psychoanalysis was rooted in a very male discourse, and whether there's an allegory between this and any themes in Carter's work about women trying to find a voice in a 'male' world. It certainly left me with a lot to think about, and also made my 'to-read' list instantly ten or eleventy books longer.

Added to the 'to-read' list

The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr Hoffman Angela Carter
The Bloody Chamber Angela Carter
The Atrocity Exhibition JG Ballard
The Kindness of Women JG Ballard
Civilisation & Its Discontents Sigmund Freud
Envy & Gratitude Melanie Klein

Sunday, 10 April 2011


I don't know how you're getting on for weather in the unfriendly, capitalist south, but here in t'glorious north we've had a beautiful weekend. It has been cause for many a ramble up park and down dale, and for men of all shapes and sizes to have an excuse to take their tops off (FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PUT IT AWAY). It's likely that this is going to be the only summer we get. You may as well enjoy it, because come June and July we'll all be moping about in sodden shoes, with out-turned umbrellas, looking miserably out at long days of downpour and unseasonably low temperatures. You heard it here first.

Anyway, the weekend out & about has provided me with sights of some of my very favourite things. Contrary to the impression you may get from reading my work - that of a black-hearted, misanthropic cynic - I am actually, in real life, a big romantic softie. True Fact. Here are some of the lovely things I've seen in the last couple of days.

Item one: an old couple holding hands

Is there any sight better than that of an old couple holding hands? I tell you there is not.

Item two: a little tiny dog carrying a big massive stick

This dog knows this stick is too big for it. Yet, with the determination of the tiny dog, it is resolute that it will not put the stick down. Sir, we salute you.

A sign whose missing comma entirely changes its meaning

This one's for anyone who was thinking of trying to scale a mountain and eat a sandwich at the same time.

Baby animals

The only thing that could possibly ever top the heartwarm of an elderly couple holding hands.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Fictions of Every Kind: Missing

I'm glad to say that planning for Fictions Of Every Kind: Missing is now all complete, and the full line-up can be revealed (whoop whoop!) You can expect yet another evening of engaging performances,exciting words and ideas, and getting drunk and pretending that it counts as "being cultured". It's on May 24th at The Library pub, on Woodhouse Lane, and runs from 7.30 - 10.30pm.

The theme is "Missing". Whether you're missing somebody, or don't know where one of your favourite socks is; whether you've missed the boat, the bus, or the point - Fictioners are invited to engage with this month's theme in whichever way they see fit. As usual, the theme is by now means strictly enforced, and divergers will not be strewn out.

Our guest speakers this month are:

Gareth Durasow an award-winning poet with a strong West Yorkshire sensibility, Gareth "collaborates with the audience to create a truly unique spoken word experience that alternates between the disarmingly endearing, the riotously funny and the blisteringly intense".

Phil Kirby Temple Works' writer-in-residence collaborates with artists and writers to create something rather new and exciting, exploring the fringes of fiction and art. Currently working on works of Imaginative Life Writing / fourth genre, Phil is likely to be full of surprises.

This month, music will come from the rather marvellous 7 Hertz. Long-standing troupers on the DIY scene, 7 HERTZ create fascinating textures and interweaving lines of melody through improvisation on violin, violin, and double bass.

The open mic will start between 7.30 and 8.00; please sign up from 7.30 onwards. Entry is £3.

Currently Reading

King Crow Michael Stewart
They Knew Mr Knight Dorothy Whipple

Friday, 1 April 2011

Precarious working...

Over the past couple of weeks a friend of mine, Grace Harrison, and her friend Rachel Cloughton, have been running an art project in a reclaimed arts space called Alternative Strategies. For two weeks there have been lively debates, discussions, screenings, and workshops around the subject of self-organised learning:

The project intends to expose the many alternative educational platforms active in the city, bringing together groups and individuals with art as its departure point.

Many local arts groups and organisations have been involved in the discussions and workshops, and the subject of how we can educate ourselves seems now more pertinent than ever in a month when many universities have announced that they will charge the maximum capped fee of £9,000 a year for their courses.

I went along one night this week for the discussion on 'precarious working'. Precarious working is usually defined as the kind of work that is by nature insecure (it comes without a permanent contract or rights), poorly paid, comes without benefits, gifts its labourers no rights, and cannot financially support a household. Examples of precarious working can include work under zero-hours contracts, fixed-term contracts, and enforced self-employment. I was interested in this because I define myself as a precarious worker: although I'm in employment, I don't have a permanent employment contract, and haven't had one for a few years.

Precarious working can benefit the worker, as it gives her greater autonomy. But it's more likely to benefit the employer, as it means their workers have few or no employment rights - for example, right to redundancy payouts or maternity or sickness benefits, and little protection from stress or harassment at work. The effect of precarious working upon the worker is to give her no security, no 'safety net' - many precarious workers will force themselves to go into work when they're really not fit to work, because they won't get sick pay and can't afford to take the day off - and to make her feel isolated and alone. It's cheaper and easier for employers to offer this kind of work; it means less responsibility for them, and - if you want to be a cynic - it often means they can treat their employees poorly, and minimise the risk of being sued under employment law.

It was an enlightening discussion, and the people who participated were a diverse bunch. Less did we discuss the benefits of 'precarious working' (I think we were all agreed that precarious working is generally pretty lame), than its existence being a symptom of a larger problem.

There's a lot wrong with public sector cuts, and if I wanted to I could type about it all day; but I'll leave that for now, and come back to it another time.... needless to say, though, that one of the effects of the cuts has been to force millions out of work. Mass unemployment has a depressing impact on the labour market in any system. The effect of it is that those who want to work will gladly do it beneath their level of skill, experience and qualification, for less money than their skills demand, and sometimes for free. One of Tuesday's attendees summed it up well by saying: "What does an unemployed academic do? He just goes away and works harder somewhere else."

The drive to work isn't confined to academia, though. Lots of us will go on working regardless of the expectation to be paid for it. Writers, for example - yes, you lot, writers, I've seen your 39p royalty cheques - artists, musicians, and newly-graduated students who need experience. If we're not 'working', we're 'preparing for work' by training, studying, or doing an internship - and yet the points at which people are reimbursed for their efforts become rarer and rarer.

So what can we do? One of the conclusions of the discussion was that the concept of a union for precarious workers could be problematic. Many of the large unions that exist have histories in manufacturing, or in certain industries and sectors. If precarious workers are in a union at all - and many only join when they feel their job is in danger - it is in one aligned to their sector. It might be that there's little awareness amongst precarious workers that they have more in common with other precarious workers than more securely employed workers in their own sector; and there isn't an existing union specifically for precarious workers. Yet all were agreed that one of the effects of precarious working is to make the employee feel alone. We wondered whether precarious workers would feel able to band together in their places of work, to collectivise their resources and gain strength in unity. A lot of those attending were left with a lot of food for thought about how precarious workers could do this in their workplaces.

Someone told a heartening story about mill-workers during the industrial revolution. The term 'cottage industry' comes not from a person owning their own business and working for himself, but from people who were forced to work at home for the local millowner. Such workers had to pay to borrow looms from the factory owner, and often weren't paid for their work until it suited the factory owner. Angry homeworkers banded together with other angry homeworkers to hire many looms, and held them to ransom until the masters paid. Or, if they had hammers, they smashed them up.

I should state, by the way, that I do not agree that smashing machines with hammers is a good solution to the problem of precarious working. We are no longer in the 1800s, and I like machines, especially laptops. It is merely an illuminating tale about the possibility of strength through collectivisation.

Again, I should thank Grace for all the work she did at Alternative Strategies, and to Art In Unusual Spaces in Leeds. They have supported a lot of really interesting exhibitions in Leeds recently.

Currently reading

The Shadow of a Smile Kachi A. Ozumba
They Knew Mr Knight Dorothy Whipple