WARNING: VERY LONG BLOG!
Well, this was a hell of a week! After a relatively quiet winter, things have picked up on the culture front.
Last Tuesday, we were off to the lovely Theatre Royal Stratford East to see the new version of Oh! What a Lovely War. I do hate musicals with a passion and would have to be dragged to one kicking and screaming, but I knew that this one would be different.
Highly satirical and poignant, it highlights the absurdity of the "war game(s)" and that of the military - not forgetting how naive the civilian population can sometimes be. The play has been visually freshened up and you have to admire the cast's energy and hard work. Note to Michael Gove: maybe you should have shut up before you criticised the play as you now appear at the beginning of it paired up with a donkey... Just sayin'...
For a more comprehensive review of the show, go to my partner's Matt ArtPix's BLOG - he has been studying WW1 for years and is better placed than me to give his opinion about the show.
On Wednesday, we were off to a venue we had never been to, Village Underground in Shoreditch, to see the infamous Laibach - whom we have seen before on numerous occasions! The Slovakian "avant-garde" art collective - whose main body of work concentrates on the links and interaction between ideology and culture - keep reinventing themselves with each project; their latest one, Spectre, is a brilliant, addictive collection of multi-layered tracks sung in English - a bit less industrial, a little bit more electro, with "quasi-pop" moments...
Laibach have always been exceptional live and tonight's sold out gig didn't disappoint: the background visuals were striking; the live drums added impact to each and every track; Milan's presence was as impressive and authoritative as ever, his deep-seated, sonorous voice counter-balanced by the mysterious and charismatic Mina Spiler's clear, pitch-perfect vocals. Mina's place within the band has really grown; she now fully shares vocal duties with Milan (she is also given writing credits in Spectre) and exudes the confidence and attitude necessary for such a performance (she fronts her own band, Melodrom).
The first 45 minutes saw the band play the whole of Spectre, revealing the genius of the new songs to their attentive audience. Then after a 15 mn interval, we got something completely different: a few tracks from their Iron Sky soundtrack with the movie's stunning visuals playing on the screens behind; we were also treated to everyone's favourite, "Tanz Mit Laibach", and of course to a few deconstructed covers, including Dylan's "Ballad of a Thin Man" and Serge Gainsbourg's "Love On The Beat". As someone who absolutely loathe both individuals and their work, I was first taken aback by the choice of songs, but then I remembered that this is what Laibach do: they take the most absurd popular songs and give them the Laibach treatment: they redefine them entirely by reshaping and remodelling them through the industrial filter, injecting them with the harshness and the edge they never had and pumping a little bit of life into them. Fabulous.
Saturday, we were in London for the Classic car boot sale at Southbank, organised by Vintage By Hemingway. The weather was glorious and the place was packed with loads of cool and happy people, wonderful cars and jam-packed stalls; the atmosphere was lovely and the location iconic... What else is there to say?
Here are a few pictures!
We made a detour via The British Museum to get tickets for The Vikings exhibition... Yesss!
Then we ended up at The Barbican cinema to see Under The Skin...
I have been waiting to see this movie for MONTHS.
Michel Faber is my favourite author, and I really wondered how on earth his unforgettable novel could be turned into a movie.
I am still thinking about it; as my partner said when the lights went back up after the film: "I didn't want it to end".
And I felt the same: it is truly mesmerising and gripping. It's bleak and unforgiving. There is very little dialogue; the music is brooding, distorted, haunting, basically: perfect... (soundtrack by Mica Levi). Scarlett Johansson, whom I have always thought of as being interesting as well as stunning, is deeply touching; a naturally fatale femme... (I have always been interested in the Femme Fatale concept; they are always the most interesting ones, remember Louise Brooks's Lulu?).
Director Jonathan Glazer has removed a lot of the original story and changed quite a few things around; he has - dare I say it in the context of the novel? - removed the meat and kept only the skeleton of the story - but said skeleton is what keeps the body upright, isn't it? - Same here. Spared down to the minimum - namely, the alien and her reaction to the world around her, with a setting transported from the rural A9 road in the book to the decaying urban landscape of Glasgow.
I was fascinated by the sequences in which the alien observes the strange behaviour of the humans around her - how many times have I found myself in the streets, in a venue, or simply in the same room as other people and thought that I didn't belong to the same world or species? My strong misanthropic streak made me feel completely at ease watching Under The Skin. It looked like the landscape in my head...
I couldn't say whether Under The Skin is technically a good movie; I go for gut instinct, and I loved it.
Tonight, I'm off to see the bonkers The Grand Budapest Hotel. This should be a fun evening!
Pictures by Carya Gish and Matt ArtPix.
Old Spitalfields Market is a brilliant place to be every day of the week. We were back there specifically to buy a piece of jewellery from Lelong Designs, who create pieces inspired by the 20s and 30s, Art Deco and Art Nouveau styles - my favourites!
I am not usually big on jewellery, but their stall is simply wonderful and I had to try and concentrate on the task at hand: purchase something to add to the back cover of The Book of Thoth - the cover itself is very minimalist, and we thought adding something completely different at the back would work well.
Matt ArtPix, the Arcane Publishing designer, helped me choose between some Egyptian-inspired pieces or some insect jewellery.
In the book, one item in particular plays an important role in the story: a dragonfly pendant. As Egyptian imagery is already well represented throughout the book - on the cover and inside - we decided to go for the wonderful dragonfly brooch above, which looks very, very close to the jewel I had in mind. And it is very, very wearable, isn't it? I had a little chat with the stallholder and was thrilled he agreed to have his work on the back cover of my book... Of course, credit will be given where it's due!
I also HAD to make a detour and buy some tea on the Yumchaa Tea stall. Honestly, they are the best teas around. I knew I was going to a gig in the evening, and yet, I still bought three bags of tea and carried them around the whole day and night. How Rock'n'Roll is that?
OK, I admit it: I can be a terrible snob from time to time, and I refuse to set foot in your average cinema like the Odeon, for example, ever again. People eat, talk, check their phones, fidget; their attention span doesn't exceed two minutes... It just spoils it for me. So we've decided to only go and see films in "civilised" surroundings, like the Curzon cinemas and the Barbican Centre. Below is a picture of Cromwell Tower opposite the cinema at the Barbican, pure Brutalist style!
Talking about Brutalism... There's a great programme on at the moment about Brutalist architecture: Bunkers, Brutalism and Bloodymindedness, presented by the impossibly cool Jonathan Meades. It is absolutely bonkers, with Mr Meades's very, er, original presentation style. I'd love to get the script; it's wonderfully written in a rich, kaleidoscopic vocabulary... And it's very inspiring for me, with visuals close to what I'd like to achieve with my fourth book.
We went to see the not-very-critically-acclaimed The Monuments Men. I've never seen any movie with George Clooney or Matt Damon, so I have now. Clooney has some kind of Cary Grant, twinkle-in-the-eye thing going on, and Matt Damon is... err... a bit bland, perhaps?
I liked the movie because it had a sort of old-fashioned charm you don't really find in modern movies - I have always been a lover of classic cinema me, from the 20s to the late 50s. Also, it is rare in a mainstream movie to have references to art and its importance in our society. True, the movie doesn't go very deep into any of its topics, but I never go to the cinema to see movies making deep and serious social/political points - I leave that to pseudo-intellectuals.
I haven't been to the cinema for ages, and then bang, several films turn up all at the same time! I also want to see Only Lovers Left Alive, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Under The Skin, and they are all out in the forthcoming weeks!
When we stepped into the Lexington on Sunday, we entered a parallel, beautiful, lyrical world.
I have already written a little bit about cellist and "looper" Jo Quail - when she supported Rasputina in November. It was a pleasure to see her play again - and it was even better the second time! Not only is her music truly mesmerising, but watching her play is fascinating. Music inspires me and has always played an important role in my life, but the process of creating music and playing it is a complete mystery to me. To witness the alchemy practised on stage by Jo was simply awesome. And her music is definitely otherworldly.
On Sunday night, we were treated to a brand new, not quite finished piece - temporarily called "DD" - the music note I hasten to add - a "baby" track that still has quite a lot of growing up to do according to its creator, although it sounded pretty grown up to me already!
We continued our journey into a realm of magic and shadowy beings with the excellent Seventh Harmonic (for some reason, my computer refuses to open the website on either Chrome or Explorer, which is a real shame!). Sunday was their new singer Liza Graham's first gig with the band, and if she looked slightly uncomfortable at the beginning, this changed pretty quickly as she literally beamed as the set went on... Jo Quail joined the band for their track "Winter" and added a layer of cords to the already rich ensemble.
Experimental, dark and seductive stuff indeed...
Daemonia Nymphe do know how to put on a show. Costumes, masks, ancient Greek instruments - made especially for them by craftsman Nikolaos Brass, and a dancer. On Sunday, they were presenting their new album, "Psychostasia".
Spyros Giasafakis and Evi Stergiou, the core members of Daemonia Nymphe, have worked for film and theatre (in particular The Theatre Lab Company), and it shows in their taste for the subtly dramatic; they also know how to surround themselves with talented musicians, and joining them on Sunday were among others Tanya Jackson (whom I had seen perform before with the Mediaeval Baebes) and ex-Dead Can Dance member Peter Ulrich - I still remember reviewing his fabulous album "Enter The Mysterium" years ago, so was particularly chuffed to see him there!
Also present was dancer/model/actress Denise Moreno.
Hypnotic, evocative and full of Ancient Greece's rhythms and flavours, Daemonia Nymphe's world is infused with myths and legends and carries the words and stories of Hellenic literature.
This is dark, ritualistic, spellbinding music, plucked from ancient times to speak to the soul of modern audiences.
To conclude, I would just add a word or two about the audience. Everyone should be proud of themselves: attentive and respectful of the silent/quiet bits in the sets, holding their breath at the end of each song before applauding enthusiastically. It was just a pleasure to be there.
I have heard so many negative things recently about acoustic/quiet sets being completely spoilt by drunken idiots, blasé crowds speaking over artists and heckling...
Well done, everyone.
Last Saturday, we spent another great day in London. There was an exhibition we wanted to see and we had a gig in the evening. As usual, we ended up doing a few detours along the way...
We were making our way to GRAD in Little Portland Street when we thought it would be a good idea to go and have a quick look at the BBC Broadcasting House just a few streets away. We got in to have a look at the Art Deco reception and the lovely security guy gave us a flyer for the tours organised there - this is a new attraction that launched in April last year.
Just opposite Broadcasting House, you can find the imposing and rather fabulous Langham Hotel. Quick literary diversion here: the hotel was popular with writers such as Mark Twain, Arthur Conan Doyle - whose Sherlock Holmes stories The Sign of Four and Scandal in Bohemia are partly set there! - and Oscar Wilde...
It was then a short walk to Little Portland Street and GRAD (Gallery for Russian Arts and Design) to see their fabulous little exhibition "Soviet Posters of the Silent Screen". The gallery is not big, but we still managed to stay ages. The exhibition is free and really, you should go! (It's on until 29th March).
My partner Matt ArtPix has written a great little blog about it, so go and have a looksie. Of course, I adored it; the 20s are my favourite era, and I am fascinated by silent movies. We sat down and watched the absolutely wonderful 1925 film "Chess Fever" in its entirety.
And you're lucky: I have just found it on YouTube, so you can watch it too! - Warning: contains cute kittens and a killer actress who rocks the 20s look beautifully!
From Fitzrovia, we walked to Covent Garden via the stunning All Saints Church in Margaret Street.
I am hunting for a perfume, but I loathe the usual fare on offer in mainstream shops, especially as women's perfumes are mostly floral and "fresh". I don't want that rubbish: I like heavy perfumes, with wood, patchouli, spices, neroli, that kind of thing... In Covent Garden, I came across a shop that made JUST what I'd been looking for - with a seriously vintage/heritage twist and marvellous bottles to boot: Penhaligon's. I adored their Elixir one, but there are too many amazing concoctions in their collection!
Have a look at their website, it is fascinating and real treat for the senses... Unfortunately, I simply cannot afford their prices...
I might get tempted by their £3 samples one day!
Talking about heritage, we also spent a bit of time in the very chaptastic shop Thomas Farthing on Museum Street, a stone's throw from the British Museum . Their cloche hats are lurvely and I was tempted to steal all their nice vintage wooden crates for my Arcane Publishing stall!
We made a short visit to the venerable institution that is the British Museum to pick up flyers for the next big exhibition I absolutely have to go to: Vikings: Life and Legend.
Then we were off to the Islington O2 Academy for some choons...
I have written about Red Sun Revival and The Eden House before - read my review of their gig at The Lexington HERE.
We didn't catch RSR this time around but were in for co-headliners And Also The Trees, who play very rarely in this country. Elegant, atmospheric and poetic, their music took us far away from our urban landscape.
The Eden House are one of my favourite bands and their set was as good as ever, albeit a little bit too short for my taste... I always want more of their beautiful music!
Last week, I watched the most astonishing documentary about Paris in the 1920s: "Paris, années folles".
Les années folles" (The crazy years) is a French expression used to describe the 1920-1929 era in Paris.
Anyone interested in the 1920s should see it; the footage is literally jaw-dropping. This documentary is about history, culture, art, literature and social changes.
Paris was once the exciting place to be - mostly thanks to rich and not so rich foreign artists, intellectuals and entertainers who flocked to the French capital in the 20s in order to live their wildest dreams.
Ignited by a desire to put the unimaginable horrors of WWI behind, this incredible explosion of creativity, glamour and social change reached an intensity never equalled.
It didn't last long and never returned to the banks of the Seine.
This two-hour long documentary is a unique glimpse at life in Paris at the time (only for certain groups, though; as shown at some point in the documentary, the reality of French life on the outskirts of Paris and beyond was still steeped in peasant misery, in a world which struggled to evolve socially and economically and launch itself into the 20th century.
The film's director, Fabien Bezat, has taken the decision to show the film in colour to appeal to today's audiences who can barely cope with black and white - the documentary was shown at prime-time in France. He and his team have been through a gigantic amount of archive from the time and then worked on colourisation (done in India and in the US), then added the soundtrack and the score.
So what will you see in this film?
The bar terraces in Montparnasse which acted as HQ to the artists and their muses; the jazz clubs in Montmartre; Coco Chanel, Art Deco, the bob, Gertrude Stein and the «Lost Generation», the famous clubs «la Rotonde» and «la Coupole», Man Ray and his muse and lover Kiki de Montparnasse, «dirty french novels» and the beginning of porn, the Surrealists an Dadas… Josephine Baker, Scott Fitzgerald, Miller, Hemingway, Dali and more...
The Avant-Garde, women's emancipation, sexual freedom, but also the way a very conservative France tried to resist change - this led to the birth of fast-rising far-right and Fascist movements, The Olympics of 1924, poignant footage of disfigured ex-soldiers, the sumptuous orgies and finally, the boats who took the rich Americans back to the US after the 1929 crash.
There is no DVD of this film and it is a shame. The French commentary is succinct and would be easy to translate and add subtitles to - I can predict it would sell very well indeed.
Nevertheless, you can still enjoy it without being able to understand French; it is well organised in clearly separated sections, is fast -paced and crammed with rare footage.
Personally, I have always been much more fascinated by London - my spiritual home - and have never been much interested in Paris, a city I have come to know and dislike very much.
Contrary to what a lot of people think, Paris has never been a romantic city or an exciting metropolis. It feels like a big French provincial town at the best of times; it is grey and tired, people are grey and tired; it hasn't got any edge, is incredibly dirty, choked by an erratic traffic and a constant stream of demonstrations - I was there briefly yesterday and it has gone worse!
And at times, it feels like a third world city.
Paris is now nothing more than a former courtisan, old, diseased and tired, who cannot even bother to put her make-up or her showy gowns on anymore. When you glimpse at what it has been and what it could have been, as in this documentary, you wonder what on earth has gone wrong.
Then you shrug, French-like, and go to enjoy London, a city with many foibles but which feels like the capital of the world for all the right reasons...
I have actually found the documentary online, I think it's the whole thing ... Enjoy!
Watch "Paris, années folles" HERE!
Well done to my sister and her partner who found a lost injured baby seal in Staffin Bay on the Isle of Skye, Scotland, this weekend. They called the seal rescue centre and they came to pick him up... What a cute little chap! We wish him a swift recovery!
In our house, there is a writer/editor and a designer, which means that we spend most of our waking hours at a desk in the middle of an urban area. It can get pretty claustrophobic and often cripples the thought process. There's nothing better than a good walk to get your brain to work again.
Robert Macfarlane has written extensively about the kinship that exists between walking and thinking and how he "remains fascinated by the idea that when on foot, we think in ways that would never otherwise be possible."
I agree. After a good walk in an inspiring environment, I could easily write half a book in one sitting!
So as we love walking and nature, we put our walking boots on and get out there. If you read the blog regularly, you know that our favourite place to do this is Dorset, but as we currently reside in Essex, we try and explore the area.
We have had some gorgeous weather during the Christmas holidays, and managed to get to Brightlingsea, Bradwell and Paglesham.
We barely saw anyone...
Go to Matt ArtPix's blog to see more pictures!
I have found an informative blog about Brightlingsea HERE.
HURRY! This fantastic exhibition closes this Sunday 5th January, having already been extended by two months.
We went to see it on the Monday before Christmas, and therefore had the exhibition to ourselves!
We were allowed to take pictures, so here are a few of the beautiful posters on display.
Do go if you can, it is incredibly inspiring, evocative and enchanting, and gives you a glimpse of life in London throughout the decades.
As developers carry on destroying our capital city, it is lovely to spend a few hours immersing oneself in its history and let one's imagination run wild.
Perfect for a writer!
Find a few more details about the exhibition on a nice little blog HERE.
By the way, if you pay entry for this exhibition, you get a one year pass for the rest of 2014! Well worth it...
Their next exhibition sounds interesting too!
Today is the first day of 2014 and I have just started work again on The Book of Thoth, my second novel, to be released - hopefully - at the end of this year. I am trying out a few new things for this one, so the writing and publishing processes are taking much longer!
More news soon...
Normal service is resuming on this blog from today, so I will be posting regularly again here. Expect even more blogs about writing, art - we have our National Art Passes again this year, vintage and antiques, music and the sea this year!
During yet another fabulous outing in London last weekend, we were able to see some astonishing art on display and listen to some terrific tunes...
First to the imposing Somerset House, where Stanley Spencer's Heaven in a Hell of War is exhibited (free entrance!) as part of The First World War Centenary. All the paintings have made the journey from their permanent home of the Sandham Memorial Chapel - bar the gigantic The Resurrection of The Soldiers, which was displayed as a projection on the wall, as the original was painted on a canvas adhered to the wall of the high altar of the chapel.
Most of the scenes show everyday life during the war at the Beaufort Military Hospital in Bristol - where the injured soldiers shared the building with mental asylum patients - and are fascinating and often humorous vignettes; some others depict scenes from the Macedonian front. There is a lot to see here, loads of little details. I was also very taken with the richness of the colours in some of the scenes and by the lovely, quintessentially English Tea in the Hospital Ward and Bedmaking. The exhibition is on until 26th January 2014.
It was only a short walk to Trafalgar Square - for a little look at the Big Blue Cock there - no, I am not being rude - and I can tell you something: the two manky pigeons perched on the plinth were not impressed - nor was I, to be perfectly honest.
I went to Vienna when I was very, very young, and remember not liking its monumental architecture at all... I do not know a lot about Austrian history and culture, but I am a massive Klimt fan, and therefore was not going to miss this.
The exhibition is rather fascinating and is showing works from the Secession movement - concentrating on their portraits of members of the affluent, international and liberal middle-classes, who were often also their patrons.
The styles vary enormously, with some works genuinely surprising in their boldness and originality - some of them unsettling, even.
And I was so thrilled to see a few original Klimts at last!
I really liked Oskar Kokoschka's work and his unique use of colours, especially in Portrait of Hans and Erica Tietze-Conrat below - the online images and even the prints do not do justice to the original, I'm afraid.
Another favourite of mine: Erich Lederer by Egon Schiele. The young man looks like he is straight out of a silent movie.
Facing the Modern at the National Gallery continues until 12th January 2014.
A quick stop for refreshments in the fast-disappearing Soho, and we were on our way to the Islington O2 Academy to listen to some music!
Industrial band Ventenner were excellent, taking their influences from different genres and injecting a welcome uncompromising, misanthropic energy - think Killing Joke, Nine Inch Nails, Atari Teenage Riot among others... I will definitively keep an eye on them!
Die Kur's singer Ays Kura looked thrilled to be playing in front of a sold out Islington Academy and his enthusiasm was infectious, even though their music was slightly too metal for me.
It was good to see Inertia's Reza Udhin wear his Sophie Lancaster Foundation t-shirt and wrist band to play another energetic set from this hard-working electronic band - who were celebrating their 20th anniversary last year!
Time for yet another celebration: The Young Gods' 25th anniversary!
The pioneering post-industrial Swiss band played a fabulous set, with samplers as sharp and biting as ever - original member Cesare Pizzi is back and taking charge of them for this tour. I don't really know what kind of stuff singer Franz Treichler is taking to keep his youthful, dancer-like physique, but I'll have some of it, please. He just doesn't change, and still makes an engaging, charismatic frontman.
As for drummer Bernard Trontin, he was on impressive form...
Arcane Publishing will be sharing a stall with Matt ArtPix at this great Christmas event! We will have copies of I Am a Muse and also a great selection of second-hand books. We will be focussing on fashion and glamour for this event!
It's a bit of a lengthy one - I have spent a WHOLE DAY on it! I hope you do not fall asleep whilst reading it! There are loads of links to click if you feel your eyes irresistibly closing...
In a recent article entitled “The problem with literary festivals”, The News Statesman wondered whether there was a future for literary festivals in our austerity-scarred, celebrity-led and technology-obsessed times, and if attending them was really worth the trouble, both for the audience and the authors.
The comments are as interesting as the article itself, so go and have a look.
Even the London Book Fair is losing its Earls Court home and its future is now uncertain as the publishing powers that be are fiercely disagreeing about where to hold the next events. There seems to be an ever-increasing chasm between traditional publishing and less corporate, more independent and forward-thinking authors/publishers.
It looks like one constant in the industry is the lack of interest shown towards small independent publishers and self-published authors; there is still a belief that if you haven’t got an agent and are not published by a “proper” publishing company, you are bound to be an amateur who cannot string two sentences together.
Thankfully, it looks like there has been an explosion of small, independent literary festivals around the country ready to take a few risks, but they are not widely publicised and you would need to do your research yourself.
This leads me to the second edition of Shorelines: Literature Festival of the Sea. This biennial event – the first one of which took place in 2011 in Chalkwell Park, Westcliff-on-Sea – is curated by local resident and acclaimed author and artist Rachel Lichtenstein – who, incidentally, is working on a book about the Thames Estuary.
When I participated in Metal’s Culture Lab: on writing fiction in October 2012 (my blog about it HERE), I knew that the week-long creative lab would enable me – an author without an agent or a publishing contract and completely deprived of any contact in the industry – to take part in a literary festival, and I couldn’t let this opportunity pass me by. Since the lab, I have created my own small imprint and published my first novel.
In due course, I was invited to do a reading at Shorelines with the other members of the group who took part in the Culture Lab. I also thought that it would be a good idea to volunteer to help at the event.
I really wanted to see what was going on behind the scenes and learn a little bit more about how to set up and run a small cultural event – I would love to have a go one day at setting up my own small literary/artistic event, you know, something a little bit different, with music, collaborations between visual artists, musicians and writers; stalls would be offered to independent, alternative publishers and authors. I already have a few names lined up in my head…
I volunteered, and ended up working four days at the Leigh Community Centre. I can’t deny that it has been some kind of a challenge for me, as I am not a very sociable person and have been happily indulging in the solitary life of a freelancer and writer for the past four years! But I’ve survived, learning a lot along the way, which can only be a very positive thing.
I have been going to events put together by Metal for several years now, and it was brilliant to get to know the team a little bit more. I was very impressed by the amount of work necessary to prepare the venue for the event – the main hall was unrecognisable on opening night, transformed into a proper intimate venue; one of the upstairs classrooms was turned into a welcoming Green Room, complete with deck chairs!
Someone has to stick up for art and creativity these days, and Metal does that brilliantly and with a very contagious enthusiasm.
What ensured the success of this festival, I think, was its modern, refreshing approach to the world of literature: there were well-known authors and self-published ones; novelists and adventurers; artists, cabaret singers and musicians; there were multi-media performances and art workshops; oh, and most of it was entirely FREE. So no moaning about art and literature being for a wealthy elite or any such nonsense.
There was a bookshop in the reception area where I was able to display copies of my first novel, I Am a Muse. Of course, I bought several books – but didn’t sell any of mine… That’s life!
Obviously, the fact that I was working at the event and taking part in a group reading prevented me from attending quite a few events. I missed Robert Macfarlane, whose talk was exactly at the same time as mine; I had brought along my copy of Holloway for him to sign as I am working on a book about Dorset, but I didn’t even catch a glimpse of him… To help me deal with my disappointment, I bought The Old Ways, which I have been meaning to read for ages.
I also missed Justin Hopper’s Public Record – a walk around Old Leigh’s fishing village accompanied by poems inspired by archival reports of 19th-century Estuary sea accidents.
Local author Syd Moore had also organised a walk around Old Leigh, where her first novel The Drowning Pool is based. Apparently, the walk was so successful that it began with 18 people and ended with 30!
The opening event on the Friday was a stunning performance by Norwegian-French writer and performer Caroline Bergvall of her new piece of work, Drift.
I have to admit that I didn't know Caroline Bergvall at all before Shorelines. I had had a bit of time before the festival to have a look at her website and I have to say that I have found it pretty much fascinating. Caroline works with languages; she is bilingual herself (French-Norwegian) and speaks English fluently, albeit with a slight accent. I have a French ID card but I have been having an intense, very emotional relationship with the English language since childhood - a relationship that is extremely difficult to explain and make sense of. I have always been fascinated by bilingualism and what it does to your personality - I have experience of it. I also have a thing for Scandinavian landscapes and culture. I do find Bergvall's work simply enthralling because it speaks to something deep inside of my head and heart...
Drift is a live performance mixing words, electronic visuals and music performed by percussionist Ingar Zach. The performance is high-hitting, hypnotic, atmospheric. It uses language in a creative way just as a sculptor would use clay or stone or a painter would use paint; it links past experiences to present ones, a theme that I have always been interested in.
From the artist's website - I think I wouldn't explain Drift in a better way:
“Drift takes you on a journey through time and space, where languages mix, where the ancient cohabits with the present.[It] invents a language of connections and of extremes: from Anglo-Saxon and ancient Nordic seafaring literature to rare pop songs to human rights reports of contemporary sea migrants’ disaster. A complex and haunting meditation on sea travel, exile and history.”
I also took a bit of time out to listen to the delightful Cathi Unsworth, who was one of the guest speakers at our Culture Lab back in October last year. She brought in a bit of alternative grittiness and rock’n’roll edginess to the festival by reading from her powerful latest novel, Weirdo. She took us on a bleak yet incredibly evocative walk along the seafront of the fictional Norfolk town featured in her book - based on Great Yarmouth, where the author grew up...
Another fiction writer present at Shorelines was Deborah Levy, who talked about Swimming Home, shortlisted for the 2012 Man Booker prize. A very charismatic personality, Ms Levy took us to Nice in the South of France and to a very dead Mediterranean sea, then was invited by Craig Taylor, the editor of Five Dials magazine, to press the “send” button on his laptop to send issue 29 to its subscribers – the next issue will contain some Shorelines-related articles…
Throughout the weekend, people could slip into Room 6 upstairs to watch Mikhail Karikis’s multimedia installation, Sea women, about a disappearing community of female divers on the island of Jeju, located between South Korea, Japan and China. But even better than the installation itself – for me – was the talk this multi-talented, fascinating artist, performer and academic gave about his project, from the background to his research to his encounter with the Jeju community; he described in detail “the vocal practices of the women, including the unique sounds of their ancient and trans-generationally transmitted breathing technique”.
Interestingly enough, the women he has met are the last divers on the island. The money they have made thanks to their speciality has enabled them to educate their daughters so they do not have to perpetuate the tradition and can go and find a better life for themselves.
The weather had been awful on the Saturday - thankfully, the rain had stopped just on time for the beginning of the walks at 4 pm - but Sunday morning, it was just glorious. I walked from my flat to Leigh-on-Sea via the seafront; it was full of runners and happy dogs!
I was determined to catch the whole of the glamorous Lili La Scala’s sea-themed brand new show, Siren. The seasoned cabaret performer admitted to being very nervous about the show – this was the first ever time she was performing it in front of an audience – but of course, it didn’t show. As confident and witty as ever, Lili sang a bunch of lovely sea-related songs with her trademark theatrical panache, only accompanied by a piano. Behind her on the screen, photographer Simon Fowler’s beautiful images of the Thames estuary added to the magical atmosphere. Siren brings together songs from different eras and with varied moods: from The Ships of Arcady (1919) to Siren Song, written especially for the show by Michael Heath, via Nick Cave (The Ship Song) and Tom Waits (Fish and Birds), Lili kept the audience spellbound.
If a professional performer like Lili La Scala was nervous about her show, imagine the state of my nerves before and during my reading. As I wasn’t the first one in my group to have to stand up and get onto the stage, I had plenty of time to stew and worry.
I was reading the 1,000 words I had written during the Lit Lab – I had worked a little bit on it since especially for Shorelines. I also had a visual presentation and a song by PJ Harvey, all minutely timed. Standing on the stage, I think I forgot to breathe for a while and the words struggled to come out; I could hear my voice wobble, and of course, I read too fast – without the pauses between the different sections, as I had planned – I think I just wanted it to be over. So I managed to get to the end of my reading without any major mistake but too early in the presentation!
The extract I read was the opening of my third novel, The Right Place, which is in the development/research phase at the moment. I have added the extract to The Right Place page on this very website. There, you can read a little bit more about the novel and watch the official video of PJ Harvey’s The Wind – it has absolutely nothing to do with the subject matter of the song, sadly.
I predict that Shorelines will grow over the years, and I hope I will be able to participate in the next edition – as an artist or volunteer.
As Southend has been identified by The Sunday Times as one of the places London "hipsters" and creatives are flocking to - once again as recently as two weeks ago - it is only logical that we should see an explosion of creative endeavours in the area, and it can only be a good thing.
Bring it on.
Find some pictures of the event HERE.
A great blog about the festival was posted HERE – the author managed to go to some of the events I couldn’t attend!
The Shorelines festival is branching out and is paying a visit to the National Maritime Museum as part of its event “Lost at sea Late with the Thames festival” on November 28th. More details HERE.
I think therefore I write.
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