Monday, 30 June 2008

Interview with Irvine Welsh

Irvine Welsh really doesn't deserve his reputation as an awkward and hostile interviewee. I found him enthusiastic, thoughtful and clearly moved by the difficult research he has undertaken for his ninth novel, Crime. It was torturous turning a half hour conversation with this engaging writer into just 600 words. Here's my attempt.

Irvine Welsh Author of ‘Crime’ (Jonathan Cape Trade Paperback, £12.99)

What’s the book about?

Crime deals with an individual coming to terms with his past without any real support. The main character, Lennox, is isolated from his community, his colleagues, and he’s also eventually isolated from his fiancĂ©. He’s forced to negotiate between rescuing a girl who he fears is being abused, and recovering from a breakdown provoked by horrific child murder case that he’s recently worked on.

What originally motivated you to tackle such challenging subject matter?
Because it was difficult. Like everybody else, I find paedophilia so harrowing and so hard to get my head around. I almost stopped twice. I was finding it too much. The first time was when I just finished the first draft and the whole Madeline McCann thing kicked off, and I just had to stop for six months and do something else. The case made the novel too real.

How do you feel about the media’s relationship with child abuse cases?
I think the media are so interested in paedophilia because it’s the one thing that unites everybody. It seems to be something that we can all agree on, as evil in its purest manifestation. It’s true there is something about reality TV and voyeuristic culture that’s very unsettling and disturbing. This is an issue that I wanted to flag up. But we are complicit in the kind of society that we create. You’ve got to see it as an empowering thing that we’ve created this world. We can change it and modify it for the better.

Ray Lennox is a secondary character in the novel ‘Filth’. Why did you decide to go back to this character?
In Filth Lennox is a quiet but sly and manipulative cop. I always thought he was a character that had secrets. I started thinking about his motivation for being in the police

The novel presents an ambivalent relationship with the police. Is this something that you share yourself?
The state is always going to be a necessary evil. Like any form of bureaucracy, it’s human and so it’s going to be flawed. If we lived in an ideal libertarian world, we’d all get on without any argument. We don’t, so we need cops to protect people. But then we also get the kind of police we deserve in the kind of society that we have. I’d happily see a time when we didn’t need a police force. I admire the work the police do, I couldn’t do it.

Crime is your ninth work of fiction, is writing getting easier or harder?
It’s different. The earlier books, like Trainspotting, were very much driven by my own experiences or the experiences of people around me. Whereas now I’m reaching out a bit more, I’m doing more research now. It becomes less about you and more about what you’re trying to write about.

Have you felt that you’ve had to be true to the testimonials of the sex abuse victims that you’ve met?
I think the thing about writing novels is that it’s a selfish thing. You try to tell the truth as you see it but it’s not always the truth for everyone. That’s the whole point of the novel. I found that all the victims’ experiences were very different. Some of the people I met and thought ‘how did you survive that?’ It was inspiring because they actually came through it all in a very positive way.


Bristol Comes Out to Play

I went to Southville on Thursday to meet two men passionate about wine. Chris Scholes and Mike Cardwell are the brains behind the Bristol Wine & Food Fair that will grace the harbourside next month. We're in for a treat.

“Food is the new rock’n’roll”, says Mike Cardwell with a smile. “There’s been a revolution in the nation’s eating and drinking habits and events like this have been at the forefront of that. So many people now are really interested in where their produce comes from. One of the most important things about the Wine & Food Fair is that people will be able to come down and chat with the experts behind the stalls. These are the people directly involved in the making of the produce or the specialist importers.”

“Most of us drink a glass of Chablis or Rioja and probably forget that it’s actually an art form” says Mike. “It’s a very tricky craft and getting it right is difficult. I actually picked Champagne grapes when I was a student. I remember cutting my fingers and the cold, damp mornings. It gave me an insight into what it’s like to actually be a grower and to work on a farm. You realise that, as humans are involved, there are so many variables that can go wrong. It makes the process exciting but very scary!”

“We’re also ex-traders. Four years ago you’d find us down in Glastonbury by the pyramid stage running a coffee and patisserie stand. So we’ve been through the mud together. Being a trader you get insider knowledge. You quickly recognise what makes a good event and what makes you happy. We want to give good service to our traders, our exhibiters and the public.”

The Wine & Food Fair is shaping up to be the culinary treat of the year, with a huge array of things to see, do and taste. “There’s going to be a Chef’s Theatre, where you can watch top level chefs in action and get great tips to impress your friends when they come round for a meal, says Mike’s equally enthusiastic business partner Chris Scholes. ”We’re also hosting eighteen tutored wine and cheese tastings. This is a chance for people to learn more about cheese and wines in a relaxed environment. They’ll be plenty of talks and demonstrations and everyone can also taste any of the 350 wines on sale for free.”

“There’s going to be some amazing chefs in the chefs’ theatre. I was taking to Mark Evans at CafĂ© Maitreya and he was telling me that he’s considering cooking a whole menu with flowers, that really blew me away. We’re talking about working chefs here, not people that just write columns. These are the people that toil away in the kitchens, serving up some fantastic food.”

“Our main message is keep it local,” Mike declares. “We’re all aware of our environment and food miles but also we recognise that there are a lot of people that earn their living through local fairs. It really is a lifeline for these producers because they can sell direct to the public thus taking a bigger share of the profits. It enables them to sustain their way of life and helps them continue bringing fantastic produce to our tables.”

“There’s been massive leaps in the quality of British wine in the last ten years” asserts Chris emphatically. “Some of the sparkling wine producers are even beating Champagne in wine tastings.”

Both Chris and Mike have wine flowing through their veins. “I lived in Italy until I was three,” says Mike, “so I was introduced to wine at a very young age. We’d just be given a little glass to sip with the rest of the family, and then spend the afternoon sleeping it off!”

“My dad was from Blackpool,” says Mike “so one of my earliest memories of food is him frying his black pudding for breakfast. He really loved his red wine. He was wine-maker as well. He was famous for his strawberry wine. It was ridiculously strong though, just a glass would make you really tidily!”

“Most of all we want to demystify wine, make it simple and fun” laughs Mike. “We want to encourage people to use their taste buds and senses. We like to think about the fair as Bristol coming out to play! There’s food and wine, so it’s a bit of a no-brainer really!”


Sunday, 29 June 2008

Venue Clippings Number Two

More cuttings from my first week at Venue Magazine. There's another 'Reply All' and 'On the Job' as well as my contribution to Venue's bumper camping special.

I spoke to author Jonathan Knight about his new book Cool Camping. Jonathan has pitched up at some of the UK's best campsites and has collected his favourites in this charming book. The photography is stunning as is his insightful and friendly prose style. We chatted about his top ten sites in the southwest and what made them especially memorable.

Another (slightly dull) 'Reply All' from Acker Bilk and a lovely smidgen of Jobs editorial courtesy of my housemate's dad Peter.

Venue Clippings Number One

Here's a 'Reply All' that I put together for Venue in my first week of work experience. Plenty more to come!

I also interviewed Andy Council in an attempt to spice up the jobs section with a bit of editorial.

Helicon hits the shops

The summer issue of Helicon hits the shops this week. It's on sale at Here Shop, Waterstones (Bristol Uni), Blackwells, Bristol University Student's Union, Cafe Kino, The Cube Cinema and Oppo. Buy it, go on.

Helicon is a chance for the creatives of Bristol Uni to show off their poetry, prose, features, photography and artwork. The quality of submissions has hit an all time high this issue, with some magical prose from Ed Morgan, hilarious limericks from Adam Hanna and even a Bristol dinosaur from Helicon's inspiring uncle, Andy Council. I've loved every paint-covered minute of my time as the magazine's arts editor. Goodbye little glossy, and good luck to next year's editorial team.

Here are some of the pages I designed for this term's Wonderland themed issue.

Friday, 27 June 2008

Jamaica Street Open Studio

Hand-painted monsters chasing punters into the open studio.

This post is seriously behind the times but I feel the open studio was far too good to neglect on account of laziness. On Friday the thirteenth I nipped down the road to the Jamaica Street Artists' open studio. Wandering through the rabbit warren of art-packed rooms felt like traveling into a hidden, magical world. Some really superb artist work away in this unobtrusive building. Here are three of my favourite:

I'd seen Chris' posters around Bristol for months so it was great to finally meet the hand behind the pen, so to speak. He's working on some wonderful children's books that document what actually goes on underneath tortoise's shells.

I fell whole-heartedly in love with Sophie Woodrow's ceramic creatures. So much so that I was seriously considering blowing £240 of my overdraft on a bearded monkey/bear.

I love Bjorn Lie's characterization and wacky ideas. There's something really retro about his colours. This one has made me reconsider piscine head gear.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Emma Moxey at Centrespace

Settlement: A Drawing Out From Place

Viewing the work of multi-disciplinary artist Emma Moxey is akin to spiralling down a rabbit hole into contoured landscapes and clouds of colour. Her beautiful map-like creations inspire a heady experience similar to internet marvel Google Earth. The intricate details of her brushwork allow you to mentally zoom in on miniscule areas of canvas and imagine existing in her dizzyingly vibrant worlds.

For her recent exhibition ‘Settlement’ at the Centrespace gallery in Bristol, Moxey has created an entire body of work inspired by one particular visual and subtextual wonderland. This ‘post glacial semi-wilderness’ complete with Iron-age barrow lies beneath a noisy flight path and is embedded with many of Moxey’s childhood memories.

The womb-like ring of the barrow repeatedly features in many of the works on display, and her use of earthy colours and primitive marking techniques also help to conjure the site’s ancient history. The ghostly outlines of the original settlement have been overwritten with futuristic schematics and astronomical imagery. The fusion between two contrasting realms provides viewers with a giddying sensory adventure.

Unusually, Moxey describes herself as a ‘drawer’ and is interested in the mechanics of her art as well as its final product. Many of the exhibition’s images are concerned with what is lost and gained by translating a place to paper and question whether it is possible for art to accurately reiterate spatial experience at all. By using a combination of very different artistic techniques, as well as leaving areas of paper completely untreated, her work acquires the partially finished feel of a sketch or diagram. We are reminded that what we see is not the place but its pencil-formed double.

The exhibition is a den of mystery and riddle. ‘Settlement’ invites observers to puzzle their own interpretative reading from a rich nexus of symbols. Branch-like imprints double up as veins, and outlines of fences become molecular diagrams. As well as drawing on cartographic methods, her paintings are filled with hints of other systems of marking. Constellation maps, anatomical drawings, space-age architecture, DNA coding and topography all haunt her artwork. Some of these emblems are explained, such as the reoccurrence of the site’s geographical reference ‘57’ and the asymmetrical boxes, which represent the treasure the artist dug into the burial mound as a child. Others are left to float on the periphery of the observer’s comprehension.

The audience’s experience is at the forefront of Moxey’s creative process. Her Centrespace show works more as an installation rather than a straight-forward exhibition, with each piece carefully sequenced for maximum impact. Patterns are picked up, developed and are dropped as you move through the gallery and follow Moxey’s thought processes. To further the installation experience, Moxey commissioned four musicians to create a soundtrack for the show based entirely on their interpretation of the pieces. The tribal rhythms and gentle melodies created by the quartet have a hypnotic effect, and add the aura of an ancient religious ritual to the already intoxicating visuals.

Moxey’s ultimate aim for this project was to create a range of work that explores the difference between what she terms a ‘space’ and a ‘place’. Her drawings and paintings are not just aesthetic representations of the site (the ‘space’), but blend the visual with a mythological, mnemonic and sensory interpretation of the wilderness. This fusion of a location with its cultural and personal significance transforms it into a ‘place’, and mimics the creative process that we all undertake, perhaps unknowingly, as we journey through our environment.

With such a rich heritage in Bristol, the city is prime ground for stimulating interesting experiences of ‘place’. Next time you have a few moments, whether it be beside an historic building or in the chippy, take time to experience your own settlement. You may not spy Iron-age barrows but there are plenty of other topographical ghosts just waiting to be unearthed.


Interview with Joe Melia

Joe Melia is the mastermind behind the first Bristol Short Story Prize. An anthology containing the best twenty entries is released next week. I caught up with Joe to ask him about the prize and why he thinks the short story is the next big thing.

Joe Melia
Prized Possession

"I’ve always thought that short stories have always had a raw deal. I’m a big fan of the form and so is everyone else involved with the prize. Working in the bookselling world, I see a lot of single author collections and anthologies getting published but sadly they never leave the shelves. They’re not marketed properly by book shops. Instead they’re tucked in a corner and left to gather dust.

A short story is an excellent way to discover new authors. You can just sample their work; explore the writer’s style and then move on to something different. It’s perfect medium for those with hectic lives as you don’t have to invest the same amount of time as you would in reading a novel. When my first child was born about four years ago, I started reading a lot of short stories. They’re almost exclusively what I read now, as with young children it’s all I can fit in.

The prize started as an offshoot of the Bristol Review of Books Magazine. We were looking to diversify a bit and to raise the profile of the magazine and we thought a competition would be the most interesting way of doing that. I’ve been overwhelmed by how well the prize has gone this year. I thought it would be successful but it has traveled a lot further than expected. One submission winged its way all the way from New Zealand. We also received stories from unexpected locations like Sri Lanka, the United Arab Emirates and Iran.

The judges were searching for originality above anything else. They wanted a convincingly tale but also something that you could tell the author had spent a lot of time on. Short story master Raymond Carver, said that in constructing a good piece of work every word and every comma had to be sweated over. We were looking for narratives that had generated buckets of the stuff. The quality of the entries was surprisingly high considering it was the prize’s first year. Many really strong stories that didn’t make it onto the longlist, let alone the shortlist. There are so many talented writers out there; the whole process has been very inspiring.

We were really worried at one point that we weren’t going to get everything done in time. Nearly all of the people involved in the project are working for free. We’ve all got other jobs to provide us with food and shelter so we’ve had to fit in organising the prize in our own time. The Anthology has been a real labour of love, I hope it shows.

The prize is all about providing undiscovered authors a leg-up towards bigger things. In the future we’d like to get to a point where we can fund local creative writing projects for young people, whether in schools, young offenders’ institutes or on other creative programmes. We aim to get more cultural and educational establishments involved next year. The cover for this year’s anthology has been designed by Femke De Jong, a final year illustration student at UWE. Many of the students there gave us advice about the design of the book. These kinds of partnerships are something we’d really like to build upon in the future.

Next year it’s going to be easier to enter, as we’re going accept submissions via email as well as online payment. We’re going to have to buy a giant printer. It would be nice to see some entries that really challenge the traditional prose format next time or even some graphic novel-style short stories. There’s a little hint for authors that want to enter next year! Most of all we really want to make Bristol the home of a massive literary project. It has been this year but next year we want it to be even bigger. The project is going to go global with Bristol right at the centre."


Interview with Luke Jerram

After months of neglect, I'm back in blogland! For the last two weeks I've been pressed to the warm and ample bossom of Venue Magazine for a smidge of journalistic work experience.

Last week I was lucky enough to speak to one of Bristol's finest conceptual artists, Luke Jerram. We talked pianos, street art and parabolic flight as well as enthusing about his ambitions to shine towers of light into the Bristol Clouds. Find out more about Luke's plans below.

Luke Jerram
Artist of Ideas

‘Play me, I’m yours’ started because of Birmingham’s bad weather. I was asked to perform ‘Sky Orchestra’ (an artwork that involves playing specially composed music from hot-air balloons) in the city but the weather wasn’t right so we had to come up with another idea that would reach the same amount of people. I was thinking about what I could distribute around the city and a piano was just sitting by me in the house. I thought “that’ll do!”

I’m interested in revealing hidden communities. Here in Bristol I go down to a laundrette and each week I see the same people. They sit in silence waiting for their underwear to be washed. Often it’s the same people day after day. People know each other but they don’t talk to each other. We’re hoping that placing pianos in public spaces might act as a catalyst to get people talking in Birmingham’s bus stations, laundrettes and hospitals. This project is not about my ideas, and my desires and wishes and ambitions, it is about everyone else’s creativity.

‘Play me, I’m yours’ is a way for Birmingham’s citizens to claim ownership over the public domain. The idea was that the pianos would stay on site for as long as the community wanted. A few have been vandalised and others have been loved and cherished. We thought that a couple might be stolen and sold on eBay but that hasn’t happened.

I’ve got slight hang-ups about galleries and theatres. They don’t seem to do their job properly in bringing in a broad audience. Even I’ve got reservations about going to the theatre and I come from a white middle-class background with an arts degree, so I don’t know what it’d be like for other people. I try to make artwork that works for everybody, so my gran can appreciate it but so can an academic, or even a small child.

In July I am going to Star City, Russia to create a number of artworks on a parabolic flight. The plane goes up to 20,000 feet and then falls for 23 seconds and for that time you experience weightlessness. I’ve got five artwork ideas that I’m hoping to accomplish whilst I’m on the flight, one of which is a tribute to the 200 jumpers of 9/11. I want to recreate Richard Drew’s emotive ‘Falling Man’ photograph that captures a man falling from the Twin Towers before he died tragically at the bottom. The man in the photograph is almost like a fallen angel. He’s not flaying his arms about but appears quite relaxed as though he’s come to terms with his position. That is what gives that image such power. Responding to contemporary events is part of an artist’s job. I don’t tend to create artworks instantly in response to a certain moment. I give it time to digest and for ideas to emerge.

My next project has been inspired by the birth of my daughter. In Bristol there are twelve babies born every day so again there’s that hidden group of people connected by a shared experience. To reveal that community and to celebrate that moment, I am going to create an artwork called First Breath. For each new baby we’re going to erect a huge searchlight that will create a tower of light. You’ll look across the city and there will be twelve searchlights lighting up the clouds. Each day the lights will be moved to a new set of locations for the next night’s declaration. The piece will run for perhaps two or three weeks. Like much of my work, it is an intimate and personal moment but also a spectacular public display that spans right across the city.