Big White Shed… venturing outside into the world of publishing

A few years back I wrote a novel… you know how it goes… it lay finished, I lay exhausted and a tiny bit bored with the whole thing. Then came a flurry of activity involving spread-sheets, emails, cover letters, sample pages, stamps, large brown envelopes, rejection letters, no letters at all. Then came the ‘getting on with everything else’. Then came a re-write. More activity. Encouragement in its many splendoured forms, nestling on a bed of discouragement in the guise of NOTHING HAPPENING.

So what to do? Publish it myself? I can’t just park it in a file on my laptop and forget it ever existed can I? So, I have looked into self publishing every now and again. The costs of producing a reasonably good looking book are quite high, there’s a variety of companies offering a service from basic printing the file you send them, Print On Demand options, to graded packages, Gold, Silver, Bronze, offering book design, cover design, full edit, copy edit, no edit. I didn’t have a spare £1000 to spend and have a stack of books languishing in a box in the spare room. I have also been very aware that some of the companies don’t produce the finished product that I would like. I have also seen professional services offered where their own material is mis-spelled or clumsily laid out.

What about an e-book? That’s probably the next step… again there are companies offering the service to convert files to e-books but when i see typos in their advertising and marketing I’m loathe to hand over my hard earned cash.

Then I went to Karlsruhe on a writing trip with a crowd of English ne’er-do-wells and met a young man called Florian Arleth who runs a small publishing company called Brot und Kunst. He publishes local spoken word artists, poets and performers, and the books are like REAL books. What’s more even for a small print run of 100, the cost is easily affordable. He uses a company called Booksfactory who offer a minimum order of £50. For the style of book I would like to produce I could print as few as 20 books and pay only £50.

So where am I now? I have a final manuscript which I am about to send off for a copy edit. In my case I have had a lot of creative input, critical reads, full manuscript reads, sample chapter assessments, I don’t feel there’s much more can be done with it, but I do know it needs a professional eye put over it to catch all those glaring errors that my eye just doesn’t see because I’ve read the damn thing so many times.

I am about to buy a batch of ISBN numbers, have an artist working on a cover design and logo. Logo? Ah yes, most importantly I shall be launching this novel as a Big White Shed production… and what is Big White Shed? It is a creative space which will be gestating new and exciting creative things from now on… first up, publishing my novel.

Wet hair

I remember the shampoo wouldn’t lather. I remember going to school with wet hair. At morning break it still wasn’t dry, it looked greasy, and I realised I must have used conditioner. So I stood in the playground toilets and tried to rinse it out. I remember I didn’t want to tell anyone and I felt very alone. If you had asked me my age I would have said 13? But those toilets were at Primary School, so I must have been only 9 or 10. I don’t know why I remember that this morning.

“DIVING FOR DEAR LIFE” final version

So, this is the final draft… for performance at Nottingham Playhouse, with Mouthy Poets in Say Sumthin 6.

Where I come from,
there is no colour.
It’s film noir.
The only sound,
icebergs scraping across the ocean floor.

Or is that my singing?

I know there is another life than this,
So I pull with my arms and rise up,
through shadows,
future memories
and the comfort of violet darkness.
Until blue emerges,
then green and yellow mix in
showing my skin to be living,
then orange lights my hair,
fronds tangling around my face
and finally red, complete.

I’m a Technicolor version of myself!

My head breaks the surface and the waves lift me and drop me.
I swim for the first time
relishing the battle of me
against the swell.

I live an ordinary life,
feel the way people feel.
I learn new skills,
to keep my tail hidden underneath my skirt,
how to mask my fishy smell,
cut my hair a little shorter,
try not to comb it sitting on the bonnet of a car,
wear a bra to cover my breasts,
they can be so distracting!

Take care not to let them feel the coldness of my skin,
find seaweed in my hair
or the barnacles growing along my ribs.

I keep my shell collection to a bare minimum
and pretend I covet shoes instead.
I learn to hum softly under my breath,
keep my song to myself.
My voice,
the things I say,
can give me away.

Lately every breath I take draws salt from the ocean and flavours my tears.
Every step I take is like a blade.
But I thought everybody feels like this,
so I keep walking.

I didn’t realise that once I put my head above water,
the air would distort my perception
and reduce the scale of everything around me.

You can’t say I haven’t tried to live a life the ordinary way.
But this surface life is not adventure.
This morning I heard gulls shrieking for me to come home.
So I’m going back.

I dive.

Above me the sun makes a valiant attempt to follow,
hot-foot-hopping on the waves,
but where I’m going it can’t come
the spectrum cannot be
there will be no colour.

At 50 feet, red is invisible.
my sharp-cut-hair,
Piccolino tomatoes!
The dozen long-stemmed apologies,
a kiss,
sleep-shot eyes and tear-taut-face.

200 feet
orange is gone.
Kicking through leaves,
Winter bonfires.
Marmalade
steaming tea,
the warmth of arms,
rust on the blade.

300 feet
yellow green is almost gone.
Sunlight through trees,
the lightness of thought
and the softness of voices,
Golden plums.
Healing bruises.

400 feet
I lose blue,
That glimpse through the skylight,
forget-me-nots in the milk jug
vein-laced eyelids
torn shirt.

500 feet
I am losing violet.
Morning mist and evening shadows,
wilted flowers.
Plump pigeons,
broken promises,
old wounds.

800 feet​​
there is no colour.
It is dark.
There is no sound
but I am home.

A work in progress

I am a mermaid.
You wouldn’t know because I keep my tail hidden under my skirt.
I’ve learned to mask my fishy smell,
cut my hair a little shorter,
try not to comb it sitting on the bonnet of my car,
keep my shell collection to a bare minimum
pretend I covet shoes instead,
wear a bra to cover up my breasts,
they can be so distracting.
And I’ve learned to hum softly under my breath,
to keep my songs to myself.
My voice,
the things I say,
can give me away as something…
other.
Yes, they can draw a man to me,
but when he really sees me,
he gets scared and wants to run away.

I must be a mermaid
my obsession with the ocean
feels like more than a desire to breathe in the air
and besides,
every step I take
feels like a blade cutting in.

I thought everybody felt like this?
So I kept going.
You can’t say I haven’t tried to live a life
the ordinary way.

See, the pattern on the rug looks like a dog’s face
it reminds me how we made out faces in the wallpaper
and animals in clouds,
but everybody does that, don’t they?

I watched him,
sweeping leaves into piles
and along with them, his dreams,
and the stories of when he was young.
His bones crack now, like sticks on the bonfire,
and a trail of smoke rises above stark trees,
as striking as his thoughts used to be.
Unspoken words hang in the air
like breath from lips
that remember how to kiss
but don’t want to anymore

He was born from the land,
brow furrowed like the fields,
voice like the call of crows,
his breath drawing minerals from the hillside,
to course through his blood.

And me? I was born from the sea,
my skin cold to the touch
my voice lost on the wind
my breath drawing salt from the ocean
to flavour my tears.

So, I am leaving land behind
and going back to where I came from.

I didn’t realise that once I’d put my head under water,
I would be compelled to dive,
to swim on the surface is not adventure.
I didn’t realise that water would distort my perception of distance,
and magnify size.

I am diving.

Above me the sun makes a valiant attempt to follow,
dancing hot-foot on the waves,
but where I’m going it can’t come
the spectrum cannot be
there will be no colour.

At 50 feet, red is invisible.
signature lipstick, along with black rimmed eyes and 3 coats of mascara,
my sharp-cut-hair,
fear of the dark,
tear-taut-face.

I am diving.

At 200 feet orange is gone.
kicking through leaves
the rug on the end of the bed,
warmth of arms
October mornings.

I am diving.

At 300 feet yellow green is almost gone.
sunlight through trees,
the lightness of thought,
softness of voices,
the healing of bruises,
driving the old Renault
The objects in the mirror may be closer than they appear
and water distorts my perception of distance.

I am diving.

At 400 feet violet has completely eclipsed blue,
peeling paint,
the sky at midday,
pleading eyes,
ripped shirt,
my song.

I am diving.

At 500 feet, every colour gone but violet.
Morning mist and evening shadows,
broken promises,
wilted flowers,
old wounds,
cried out eyes,
comfort in darkness.

I am diving

At 800 feet
no colour.

Recurring, recurring post.

About this time last year I wrote this:
(perhaps I should amend the dates, perhaps I should plan a trip away this time next year, to prevent this appalling regurgitation?)

This time last year I wrote this: I am in that place
between years… I used to work and I will work again… I used to
go to bed and sleep, for now, I watch films too late and lie-in
till I hear the bin men in the street, then rush to catch them
before they leave. I shop, with a thousand million shopping drones
and feel like I do in church, waiting for it to make some sense,
while those around me seem to get it, I do not. I am going through
the motions. I am waiting for my PUK code, my MAC code to release
me from the contract with this year, so I can move on to the next.
I am sorry 2011, it isn’t you, it’s me… 2012 looks so appealing,
I know it’s just flirtation, that once I’m in it the old routines
will seem the same, but I have to try, or I will never know.
There’s a few slugs in the old carton, but I want to open a new
one, fresh and cold. I am in this zone, this place, a matter of
days before I can move on. So here I am… 2012. I’ll just copy and
paste.

How Arts Council Funding has helped me realise why I am a Mouthy Poet

So… it is funding bid time again. We have laboured over word count and evaluation, we have agonised over cash flow projections and budgets. we have stayed awake until way past midnight, texted and emailed and called each other across the darkness to check and double check and cross reference what we wanted to do, how we wanted to do it, how much we should budget for this or that. It has been frustrating. At the moments when I have wailed into the night that I’m tired and the figures won’t balance and I never wanted to be involved with financial stuff anyway, I realise that somewhere across the city is somebody else wailing and gnashing too – and what’s more there are people across the other side of the country proof reading and editing and advising, not because they have a vested interest, but simply because they care about what we are trying to do. Then…. hit SEND. All we have to do is wait…

…except, we need to do our ‘Activity report’ for last year’s fund, if we don’t, we won’t get the final payment and if we can’t show where all the money has gone, who knows, they might want it back. This is the point where I scrabble through our spreadsheets and pull out all the required data, whilst my partner in crime trawls through documents and evaluation material to write the bulk of the report – by 10.30pm last night she had sent me a first draft which needed cutting in half- I slash away and send it back to her at half past midnight. I awake this morning to see she had completed it at 2am this morning. I found it in my inbox, needing about 300 words trimming off. But that’s okay – I do that, spot on 2000 words to see a ‘timed out’ message and discover file hasn’t saved… so I start again and this time get it down to 1997 words.

Then I move on to reading through the evaluation material in the attached documents and remember why I sit at this lap top at night and bash away until my eyes go like Catherine wheels.

For sake of clarity, Say Sum Thin Events are the performances we deliver at Nottingham Playhouse twice a year – this year our headliners were Tshaka Campbell  Lemn Sissay. After each Say Sum Thin Event, Mouthy fill out an online Survey explaining how they felt the event went and what they achieved.

“Sitting in the front few rows, surrounded by people I had in some cases only
met a month or so ago, before the lights went down and the show started-up:
feeling part of something so vital, necessary.”

“Performing! I just wanna perform all the time now. Watching all the other
mouthies kill it. Having poetry come to life and engage a whole room in front
of me.”

“I’m so proud of the numbers we managed to get and have faith that we could
do it more regularly. I’ve never performed on a stage before so that was very
new to me, and being told by people afterwards how good I was makes me
feel confident in not only performance and writing but in all aspects of my life.”

“The breadth of people who attended and were involved in SST5- not just
friends and family- not just the usual spoken word scene.”

“The main constant of the day was actually the attitude mouthy had as a
whole to the public. The level of welcome, drive and interest with whoever
they encountered, of all ages and backgrounds, was there throughout. The
feeling of safety, again, of acceptance and general enthusiasm for whoever
walked into the day was apparent and pretty beautiful.”

And talking about our weekly Mouthy workshops (every Friday 5-8pm) in relation to
SST5:
“They bedded in the reality of the road ahead. Not an easy road, but a journey
that could be chunked into stanzas and swallowed in small pieces.”

“Friday sessions are always helpful no matter what we do. Having a place to
socialise as a group of writers helps immensely to understand each other and
our individual aims. Audience members have said that the camaraderie
between us is obvious, and I think that that is built each and every Friday
session.”

“The editing quality in Mouthy Sessions is beyond pretty much anything else
I’ve taken part in – especially impressive for a group that anyone can join. This
applies both to work editing and critiquing performances. The level of detail
and the… ah… benevolent ruthlessness of the criticism would be valuable to
any performer, let alone a completely amateur one (like myself).”

“The sessions helped me forget about my exams for a while.”

“Overall, the safe, productive space generated in the weekly sessions
provided a consistent feeling of worth within my writing and even further than
that, myself. The opportunity to share material prepared for SST5 in smaller
groups was an absolute stand-out in terms of activities that truly supported my
own performance. The chance to have in-depth feedback, dialogue and
responses from such a diverse range of participants was invaluable in terms
of confidence in what I wanted to get across in my piece and overall faith it
was as important an undertaking as I believed and wanted it to be.”

“the perception of numerous audience members as to what poetry ‘was’ and who it was for. So many murmurs of ‘I didn’t know poetry could do that, or say that, or make me feel like this’ were going on during the interval and after the show had finished. So many perceptions were smashed apart in a single experience.”

“It changed my mind on what performance is after seeing Lemn Sissay.”

“It makes me confident to try new things in the future and continue to push
myself to become better, again, not only in regards to writing/performing, but
in all aspects of my life.”

“It was a family in that auditorium.”

“Showed me that we are able to draw an audience to fill a large auditorium
and made me realise that maybe Mouthy needs to step up to the next level.”

“ I feel that in comparison to SS4,the performances were more polished. Last
event was about each poet writing something that for whatever reason was
something they needed to write about, very emotional. This time around
Mouthy came across as emotional but far more polished and controlled and
the audience were taken on more of a journey. Each performance was
diverse and they was defiinately something for everyone.”

“people have now witnessed the breadth of talent we have and the power of
Mouthy passion. From a Mouthy perspective: one step closer to world
domination.”

And all of that is why I will continue to be a Mouthy Poet. Each and every member is a bit battered and bruised by life, as we all are and so seeing them develop as writers and people is a really rewarding and special thing.

The certainty of heat and rain

20130716-081238.jpg
This morning I remember how annoyed my ex used to get when I’d ask what the weather was like, when we lived in Crete. By the time I left there, my brain had only just adjusted to the fact that every day was the same. I’m adjusted here already. It’s hot. I left some washing on the line and it hasn’t been rained on in the night. I don’t want rain. I’m enjoying the certainty for a while. But it will rain, that’s a certainty too. And when it does, I won’t mind.

Snapshots and lifetimes

A snapshot becomes a lifetime, and I, conscious of getting somewhere, did not savour it, did not savour what was good. Is that true? Perhaps my gut has always driven me to move on. The times I have not moved on fast enough are the times I have regretted. I have never regretted moving on.

Where I lived, we never had this view. I lived surrounded by houses. It is easy to remember it differently. Some words come back easy, the names of things, of places, but it’s the connecting words that make the sense. That’s the same in any place. We all know what we want, but not how we might get it. The trouble with wanting peace is, I can’t help thinking: but for what? Then what?
And here, this view all around me, in the dark I can hear all the other lives.

Mouthy Poets meet Lemn Sissay, Peter Khan, Michael Eaton, John Berkavitch and more…

I’m not sure if I have mentioned a little event I am part of in June – called Say Sumthin 5 – at Nottingham Playhouse… Saturday June 15th from 2pm-6pm we will be hosting a myriad of events (‘we’ being The Mouthy Poets). From 7pm- 10pm we will be hosting an exciting showcase of theatrical wordsmithery, with the amazing talent that is emerging in the East Midlands, The Mouthy Poets, followed by headline poets from London, and to top it all, Lemn Sissay… there will be music, there will be words, there will be laughter and tears… I PROMISE that you will come away having heard at least ONE poem that will change the way you think about something in life. You may not like ALL OF IT, but you will LOVE some of it. HONESTLY… if you enjoy performance, live theatre, spoken word, then this is an evening for you. Tickets are still available for both the day time events (a mere £3) which includes music, craft, poetry, open mics, writing and collaborating, workshops with Peter ‘Louder Than A Bomb’ Khan, Michael ‘Shipman’ Eaton and John ‘Shame’ Berkavitch.
Did I say we would have LIVE MUSIC and film too?
How can you not BOOK TICKETS for this? If you care about the future of this planet, you really should come and support what we are doing, we are your future! 
http://www.nottinghamplayhouse.co.uk/whats-on/spoken-word/say-sum-thin-5/

Seriously, if you have been at this event, in 2 or 3 years time you will reading a broad sheet, or watching a documentary and you’ll say, ‘That’s amazing! I saw … (insert name of poet here) in 2013 at Nottingham Playhouse, they were amazing!’
These performers are the stars of the near future.

Never throw anything away…

I was clearing my desktop, as in, laptop-desktop. I am an untidy file-er, stuff gets shoved on the desktop all the time. I found this snippet of words. I find it hard to throw stuff away, writing included. I’m not sure when this was written, it could have been last month or a year ago. Recurring themes.

The moon must be up to something tonight, as I leave work my colleague tells me her weariness is tipping into depression, I collect Small Boy, who has had a ‘terrible day,’ the lady who runs After School Club looks like a forgotten balloon two weeks after the birthday party. We drive home as he rants about how stupid people are, I answer by telling him about my day. We get home, The Lovely J has cooked meat&veggie lasagne, but the moon has other ideas. Somehow the evening fizzles and spits and battle ensues… quiet now, we lick our wounds, all together in front of The Great British Bake Off. A back-to-back bonanza of last week’s plus tonight’s. Buns will be our saving.

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