Monday, 1 March 2010

'Thaw', by Fiona Robyn


Fiona Robyn's new novel is called Thaw. Lucky for you, she has decided to blog the novel in its entirety over the next few months, so you can read it for free. Robyn's experiment is in keeping with a radical shift in publishing and writing that sees blogging, social and online media increasingly used by authors to redefine contemporary literature. Very Radiohead. And that's not just the tendancy to give work away over the internet: Thaw's diarist Ruth is giving herself 3 months to decide whether she commits suicide, or not.

Ruth's (the character - not me!) first entry is below, and you can continue reading tomorrow here.

*

These hands are ninety-three years old. They belong to Charlotte Marie Bradley Miller. She was so frail that her grand-daughter had to carry her onto the set to take this photo. It’s a close-up. Her emaciated arms emerge from the top corners of the photo and the background is black, maybe velvet, as if we’re being protected from seeing the strings. One wrist rests on the other, and her fingers hang loose, close together, a pair of folded wings. And you can see her insides.

The bones of her knuckles bulge out of the skin, which sags like plastic that has melted in the sun and is dripping off her, wrinkling and folding. Her veins look as though they’re stuck to the outside of her hands. They’re a colour that’s difficult to describe: blue, but also silver, green; her blood runs through them, close to the surface. The book says she died shortly after they took this picture. Did she even get to see it? Maybe it was the last beautiful thing she left in the world.

I’m trying to decide whether or not I want to carry on living. I’m giving myself three months of this journal to decide. You might think that sounds melodramatic, but I don’t think I’m alone in wondering whether it’s all worth it. I’ve seen the look in people’s eyes. Stiff suits travelling to work, morning after morning, on the cramped and humid tube. Tarted-up girls and gangs of boys reeking of aftershave, reeling on the pavements on a Friday night, trying to mop up the dreariness of their week with one desperate, fake-happy night. I’ve heard the weary grief in my dad’s voice.

So where do I start with all this? What do you want to know about me? I’m Ruth White, thirty-two years old, going on a hundred. I live alone with no boyfriend and no cat in a tiny flat in central London. In fact, I had a non-relationship with a man at work, Dan, for seven years. I’m sitting in my bedroom-cum-living room right now, looking up every so often at the thin rain slanting across a flat grey sky. I work in a city hospital lab as a microbiologist. My dad is an accountant and lives with his sensible second wife Julie, in a sensible second home. Mother finished dying when I was fourteen, three years after her first diagnosis. What else? What else is there?

Charlotte Marie Bradley Miller. I looked at her hands for twelve minutes. It was odd describing what I was seeing in words. Usually the picture just sits inside my head and I swish it around like tasting wine. I have huge books all over my flat; books you have to take in both hands to lift. I’ve had the photo habit for years. Mother bought me my first book, black and white landscapes by Ansel Adams. When she got really ill, I used to take it to bed with me and look at it for hours, concentrating on the huge trees, the still water, the never-ending skies. I suppose it helped me think about something other than what was happening. I learned to focus on one photo at a time rather than flicking from scene to scene in search of something to hold me. If I concentrate, then everything stands still. Although I use them to escape the world, I also think they bring me closer to it. I’ve still got that book. When I take it out, I handle the pages as though they might flake into dust.

Mother used to write a journal. When I was small, I sat by her bed in the early mornings on a hard chair and looked at her face as her pen spat out sentences in short bursts. I imagined what she might have been writing about; princesses dressed in star-patterned silk, talking horses, adventures with pirates. More likely she was writing about what she was going to cook for dinner and how irritating Dad’s snoring was.

I’ve always wanted to write my own journal, and this is my chance. Maybe my last chance. The idea is that every night for three months, I’ll take one of these heavy sheets of pure white paper, rough under my fingertips, and fill it up on both sides. If my suicide note is nearly a hundred pages long, then no-one can accuse me of not thinking it through. No-one can say; ‘It makes no sense; she was a polite, cheerful girl, had everything to live for’, before adding that I did keep myself to myself. It’ll all be here. I’m using a silver fountain pen with purple ink. A bit flamboyant for me, I know. I need these idiosyncratic rituals; they hold things in place. Like the way I make tea, squeezing the tea-bag three times, the exact amount of milk, seven stirs. My writing is small and neat; I’m striping the paper. I’m near the bottom of the page now. Only ninety-one more days to go before I’m allowed to make my decision. That’s it for today. It’s begun.

Continue reading tomorrow here...

Monday, 18 January 2010

Gift no 4. Tessa Souter: 'Give our LOVE to the audience!'


Tessa Souter is author of 'Anything I Can Do YOU Can Do Better', and is a writer and jazz singer from the UK but based in New York. Read the full interview with Tessa Souter on The Hip Girl's Guide to Being an Entrepreneur. Her gift to you on Creative Resistance is this valuable insight:

I think perseverance is gigantic. In my book I mention Vincent Van Gogh and say imagine meeting him at a party, mid career. 'You are sharing a studio with an accountant turned painter called Paul. Your BROTHER buys your work!?" Sadly for him he never 'made it' in his life. But luckily for US, it didn't stop him from trying. Don't ever do it for money or fame because you might not get that. You have to love it for itself. Use it to gain insight into yourself and/or others. And also to think of it as a gift you are GIVING to others. Your job is not to be a big old clever clogs and IMPRESS anybody. Your job is to entertain people/be cathartic/empathize/tell the story of the song/yourself/people in the audience whose stories you can sometimes feel by their reaction to certain songs or words. My old teacher Mark Murphy completely cured me of stage fright by pointing that out to me one day. He says, our job is to give our Love to the audience. When you think of it like that you can't be nervous. Also to have people believe in you so you don't give in (related to perseverance). And to be grateful to those people for that inspiration. I think to remember it's not about "you" is huge!

What motivates you to work? Is it money, fame or love? What gifts do you receive from others? What shift do you notice when you stop thinking about "you" and view your practice as a 'gift' for others?

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Gift No. 3 Marta Pelrine-Bacon ''My mom had this dream, but she gave it up'' - That Gets Me Back To Work


Marta Pelrine-Bacon is a writer and artist working in Austin. Her unique art involves cutting up the rough drafts of her novels and making pictures with the slices. The pictures capture the mood of the novels though not the actual scenes. Anyone who buys a picture gets a chapter password and can take the password to the novel website (www.mylakebelle.com)and use it to read the chapter the artwork is from.


'I have a short piece of wisdom...though maybe it is just wisdom to me. It is why I keep writing and making art even when it feels like I'm not getting anywhere. I imagine my son, 20 years from now, telling his friends, "My mom had this dream, but she gave it up." That gets me back to work. I'd much rather him say, "My mom has this crazy dream. She just keeps trying!" Maybe he will shake his head and roll his eyes. But that is okay.

I may not be remembered as an artist of great fine art. That's okay. But I refuse to be remembered as someone who let her dream go and watched more TV.

Is that a gift? Is this the best way to give?'

Monday, 11 January 2010

Gift No. 2 'Be Here Now', Jennifer Waescher, musician/artist/writer/actor


Jennifer Waescher is Canadian born, but lives in Seoul, Korea.

'I hope you enjoy my rough recordings, for what they're worth. I enjoyed making them. I have been calling myself an artist for so long, I sometimes forget what it means. But underneath it all, I feel it's my truth - the truth to live life blissfully, expressing the joy of creation in every act of actually doing the art. To play. I have been an actor, a writer and a musician. A traveler, a wanderer, a yogi. I live my life as best I can, in the moment, making art because the moment moves me, the song finds me, the poem writes me.'

Love is enough. Presence is enough. Presence is all we have and all that we are. So let’s just experience the presence and let ourselves have it.--- Bhagavan Das

Sunday, 10 January 2010

A Gift: No. 1 From Alan Hudleston, Painter


Alan Hudleston says: The life and people that are around me are my main inspiration. It means that my canvases are always a new adventure! This painting is titled, 'Self Portrait With Friends'.

What is your inspiration? Do the people around you feature heaviliy in your work, or not at all?!

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Do writers and artists ever really ... stop?


I recently enjoyed an amazing break away in the South of France and in Paris, over the festive period. There was plenty to keep me inspired: from the drama of the mountains, valleys and rocks in the South, to the legendary bohemia of Montmartre, Paris. But it also was a family holiday - I was there visiting my mum's new home and celebrating Christmas with her and my stepdad, and spending quality time with my other half.

In 2009 I'd maintained a fairly robust daily writing practice, working to get the first draft of a new 'secret writing project' - of around 90,000 words - complete by the end of the year. During the final throes of the year, I'd been averaging around 10,000 words a week and got into a real habit of giving the necessary time to get the work done. It meant whole weekends spent writing - cocktails on one night of the weekend, not two; the odd friend's private view or artshow sacrificed to the cause. Ironically, less time spent in the studios and more time writing at home. And it was working ... very well!

When the holidays began, I suddenly realised that this writing time would now encroach on time that otherwise could be spent with family. When we arrived in France, I explained how important it was for me to keep up the momentum, write for a few hours each day while visiting. Happily, they were extremely tolerant of me hiding myself away; I set to work getting a good few thousand down on paper after three days off over Christmas. This did make the inevitable time spent gazing out of the window pondering over plot, or a particular line, feel more wasteful (I had abandoned a family walk to write, and had to bloody well write!) Which of course, it isn't - you need time to think! But overall, it worked well. My family respected my wishes not to disclose the nature of the project, too.

I ended the year having written around 80,000 words - and felt really happy with this. And while I could have spent the remaining break nudging it up towards 90,000 -Paris wouldn't let me. The language and contrasts of France, the art, the poetry and beauty of Montmartre, taking hundreds of photos. The food. An abundance of free champagne. And love, sweet love inspired a whole new little baby writing project, and some very beautiful poems. I began writing in French again, which I haven't done in years.

I could have fought the tidalwave of inspiration, and continued with my deadline. But as someone commented to me on my impending goal in the run-up to Christmas, 'the very word deadline sounds awful'. Even though this deadline had created the first draft of something special, knowing when to give up and go in a new direction was definitely the best decision to make. At the London School for Social Entrepreneurs Christmas party, someone said to me: 'So you're having a proper holiday? No laptop? No work!' I answered immediately - 'am a writer, am not going to stop writing!' Do writers really ever go 'on holiday' and stop writing? Do artists ever really stop working and fully switch off?

Monday, 23 November 2009

Saatchi's 'Best of British' Art Stars

Saatchi's 'Best of British' features a glittering panel of artworld movers and shakers - artist Tracey Emin, critic Matthew Collings, art collector Frank Cohen, Head of Art Galleries at The Barbican, Kate Bush, and Charles Saatchi, who select six young artists to participate in an X Factor style reality TV show designed to help them develop their skills under the guidance of leading British artists and figures from the art world. One of them will then be selected by the panel and Charles Saatchi to have their work exhibited in Newspeak: British Art Now, both at The State Hermitage Museum and the Saatchi Gallery.

The winning star artist also takes home a free studio for 3 years in London's Chelsea, from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in partnership with the Saatchi Gallery.

It makes compelling TV, but has predicatably raised eyebrows in the artist community for it's shameless emulation of arguably one of the tackiest popstar competitions on British TV - the X Factor. 'I really believe I can make more money and promote myself better without tarnishing my image through things like this than through reality TV. It is sad that the older generation like Saatchi do not yet realize that the vibrant artistic communities are thriving organically!' says one artist in response to the show.

For anyone interested in what really goes through the minds of what some would call an elite, 'cultural capital creators' - those who give value to art, and decide whether it is 'good' or not - this is essential, sometimes brutally hilarious and incredulous viewing. The whimsical mechanisms of the artworld revealed at their most raw, rudimentary level. Watch it and laugh, cry, and ... possibly cry again.