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#NaNoWriWee 26th and 27th January 2013

6 Feb

For those of you who don’t know, a couple of weekends ago I took part in #nanowriwee which was organised by Kernel Mag in conjunction with publisher HarperCollins. You can find out more about the event in The Kernel. Been remiss in not posting this sooner but life and being mortal got in the way.

The premise is rather simple: over a weekend, writers, journalists and miscellaneous creative types would come together and each try to write a novel in just 30 hours. It sounded crazy the first time I saw it advertised and, to be fair, it probably is. Received wisdom teaches us that great works of fiction don’t get written in 30 hours. A friend, a writer, described it as a fool’s errand, but I do like a challenge so I have now written a Novella-ish in 30 hours. I’m so pleased I did, it’s one of the most rewarding and fun weekends I’ve had. I wasn’t alone, 122 pieces of fiction, of varying length and style, were submitted from all over the world, by the deadline at midnight on the Sunday the 27th. I Wanted to share some of my experiences.

I decided not to venture out to London to write my novel at Kernel Mag HQ, instead choosing to write mine in our office at home in Rugby.

I have some regrets about not going to London, as all reports from those who did have been of a supportive and creative environment. I was worried I would be too easily distracted by others and not manage to finish the task. I was equally worried that my incredibly loud typing might have me thrown out and barred; anyone who has ever worked with me can attest to this, the keys have been bad, they must be punished. So I missed out on a part of the experience, but throughout the Twitter hashtag #nanowriwee provided ample support for writers taking a break from the slog.

You can read accounts from Shirley Ayres and Chris Brosnahan who were both at Kernel HQ over that weekend.

I’m certain I would not have been able to complete the challenge were it not for the support of my beautiful wife Lara. From 8am on Saturday morning until 10pm on Sunday when she went to bed I was taken very good care of, provided with endless cups of coffee and three meals throughout the day while ensuring not to offer too much in the way of distraction while being supportive of her, increasingly frazzled, husband. I’m a very lucky man, there’s no doubt about that!

So, what did I learn? (in no particular order)

I’m really rubbish at picking titles for novella: Singularity was chosen as title for my Sci-fi masterpiece towards the end of my 30 hours…not exactly my most inspired moment, Singularity was the name of the first chapter I wrote and therefore the name that Word picked to save the file under. I should probably come up with a) a better title or b) a better story for the title.

I learned that, no matter how much I might like it to be true, I did not think up the line: ‘Here I stand with the knife in my hand and now I understand why the genius must die’. That’s a lyric from the Iron Maiden track Edge of Darkness which I probably hadn’t heard for at least 10 years, but still managed to recall word-for-word with the exception of the source until post-submission.

There should be a name for a work of fiction that is longer than what can reasonably be termed a long story but a little shorter than what can be thought a novella. I quite like Novella-ish which feels quite a fitting description for my work.

I learned that writing for 15 hours a day, almost continuously, for two days is exhausting. I’m not overstating that in the slightest, it was far harder than I had ever appreciated. By Sunday night it had sapped every ounce of strength from my body, leaving my brain feeling decidedly like it had the consistency of a cheese soup. I’ve been reckless in the past, fun but reckless, I’ve gone quite long periods without sleep, but seldom have I been so tired. It took me the best part of a week, filled with much more sleep than I would usually have, to recover from the weekend; it’s been a long time since I said that.

I was reminded how much I enjoy writing, totally exhausting granted, but I loved every single moment doing it. Not since I was a student have I really had the opportunity to sit down and focus on a single piece of writing like I did over that weekend. Writing has always felt exhilarating to me; the excitement of crafting totally new worlds out of words, crackling with potential, The exhilaration of creating and completing such a work in such a short space of time remains, though tempered somewhat by recent events.

I learned that, despite my long-held suspicions that I had been a pretty awful student, I remembered most of what I’d been taught by David Morley and the other brilliant writers on the Warwick University Creative Writing Programme. I’m not sure whether I would have been able to get through the challenge without using some of their techniques. I shared this link before the event, but these writing challenges are a really useful resource.

I learned that if you are not going to go completely abstract and plan to write a traditional novella with a beginning, a middle and an end, it is advantageous to know what that ending will be before you start writing the final chapters.

I’ve learned that the story I just planned to tell in a weekend seems to have the legs to become a lot bigger over time, already written some material around the fringes of my submission.

Finally, I learned that although one day I will possess the prowess as a writer to convincingly describe sex between a man and a badly damaged android in a zero gravity environment, that time is not yet. Perhaps not ever. Seriously, sex in a zero-g environment, ponder that thought if you will.

Well done to Nero and The Kernel for organising a great event and congratulations to everyone who took part whether you submitted a piece or not. Same again next year!?

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Introducing Camp Camp (Or shit just got Meta, but I’d still like to see your ROI)

19 Oct

I suspect this post will alienate a big chunk of my regular readers. I’m not going to apologise for that. So, if you’re sitting comfortably, pre-packaged outrage in hand, I shall begin…

I’d like to formally introduce you all to ‘Camp Camp’. It’s the latest in a long-line of public sector events and aimed at people who want to best use social media to set-up and attend huge numbers of events in their spare time, where roughly the same topics will be covered by largely the same people…Meta, right?

For my non-public sector followers, ‘Camp’ is the commonly applied term used to describe an Unconference-style event. People, mainly in the spheres of IT and Communications, gather together to discuss how new technology and social media can be used to best benefit a particular service area. Unconferences are largely unstructured events, sans agendas and totally driven by the topics that participants want to cover.

I’m joking about Camp Camp, of course, I have no intention of creating a Camp about the organising of Camps. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone else was though.

I did help organise BlueLightCamp in April of this year and had great fun (on the whole) doing it, but it’s left me with a weird feeling ever since. You see, despite it’s lofty aims, you know what the camp I spent a massive amount of time organising actually achieved? Nothing at all! There is nothing that exists now that I can say came into being because I helped organise that camp. The level and standard of engagement by Blue Light Organisations is no better or worse than it was before we started. This makes me decidedly uncomfortable. Why? Because a lot of people gave up their time on a Sunday, a lot of Sponsors paid a lot of money and no one has anything really to show for it. Sure, we all made some new friends, but is that something that should be measured as a Return on Investment?

Return on Investment, ROI, now there’s a concept not regularly applied to Public Sector Unconferences, but it damn well should be! It should be, because I strongly suspect BlueLightCamp isn’t the only Camp that would struggle to demonstrate any form of Return on attendees Investment in terms of time and money.

The ‘Camp Scene’ is fast approaching critical mass, the bubble WILL eventually burst and, unless serious thought is given to things like Outcomes, a lot of great people will become disillusioned with the principles of Unconferences.

So…what am I asking?

To Organisers

It’s simple really, if you are organising a Camp I need to know you’re confident there is a need for that event. A real NEED, not just a spurious one that you can justify in your own mind. If you want me to attend your Camp, I don’t need an agenda, I do need to see something come about as a return on such a huge collective Investment. My time is very precious to me.

To Attendees

Don’t let my words put you off. If you are planning to attend your first Camp, I hope you enjoy it and find it useful. Broadly-speaking, I believe Unconferences are a valuable tool, I just don’t see them as an end in themselves. Always ask yourself this though: what has the event changed for me?

My top tip is: If you are are at a Camp with people like Dan Slee, Andy Mabbett, Mike Rawlins et al, spend time with them, they are truly lovely and brilliant people you can learn from. I have learnt a lot from them…but I could have done that without attending Umconferences as they are so generous with their time.

Finally…

To Sponsors

If you’re approached to sponsor an event like this, it’s reasonable and right to expect stated desired Outcomes that are a bit more robust than ‘sharing good practice’ and ‘meeting new people’. You would demand a damn-sight more if you were asked to invest in anything else.

**Update 21 October 2012**

Well this has certainly provoked some interesting responses from people, as the comments below give a flavour of. In the last few days I have been told that I am right, wrong, brave, a coward, short-sighted, insightful and, my personal favourite: that I have betrayed and annoyed a lot of people.   I am not sure that there is greater compliment as a writer than provoking such varied and intense responses from readers.

The thing that has surprised me most is this is nothing new, the issues that I raise, have been raised before. Here’s a post by Simon Gray that yoiu might find interesting: Challenge and groupthink amongst the #localgovweb community…

Interesting isn’t it? That was written over a year ago now and what’s changed? Really…What has changed? I’m sure when Simon wrote that it prompted the same sort of responses that this post did. A lot of people probably wrote some rather self-congratulatory posts about Camps and Uncons and nothing changed. The problem with cliques is that they will work hard, when needed, to maintain the status quo when it is threatened. Ask yourself this, who does the status quo is actually benefit?

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts and…

You know the drill, if you don’t like these thoughts, stick around, I have plenty of others.

#warwick4amproject got our Shakespeare on.

20 Nov

Despite claims this morning to the contrary, I have not temporarily evolved beyond the reach of sleep so this is the post I started this morning on getting home from the Shakespeare’s birthplace (If you want to read more on the background see: The 2nd Warwick 4am Project.)

I had a fantastic night, so I’d like to start by offering a huge thanks to everyone who took part on this rather icy November morning and made it the experience it was. None of this would have happened without Sasha Taylor, Nivi Morales, Glynis Powell and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, thank you all for making such a memorable evening and to all our photographers for bringing their cameras and enthusiasm to capture the magic of 4am.

13 photographers were present and we had total unrestricted access to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust visitors centre, the house grounds and Shakespeare’s birthplace itself. On behalf of all those who took part, I think I am safe to say that we are eternally greatful to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust for their kind hospitality throughout our time with them.

From the very moment we arrived at the visitor’s centre where our experience began, we found ourselves in the very capable hands of Don Foster, one of the Trust’s guides who took us on a whistle-stop tour of the visitor’s centre and the history of Shakespeare! Don was proof of a theory that I have, but seldom get to test, that the ability to talk with great passion and enthusiasm about a subject at 4am in the morning is truly an indication of a genuine love. It was during this tour that an early highlight of the event came for me, with a chance to see and photograph a genuine First Folio:

First Folio of Shakespeare's Plays

I imagine that’s how Christians would feel seeing the tablets bearing the ten commandments, it was my first time being that close to one of the folios  and I have to say it felt exciting.

Unfortunately, due to the constraints of time, it wasn’t long before the tour of the visitors centre was concluded and we were led through the house gardens and into Shakespeare’s Birthplace. We couldn’t have had much better conditions this morning for creating an atmosphere around the event and as we walked through the grounds low fog gave everything a ethereal air of improbability. Once in the house we were treated to a brief history of the building and its occupants before, at 3:57am we were invited to explore the house. We were all very grateful that Don, from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, was always on hand to answer any questions that any of our photographers had on history and the artefacts in the house.

The photographers needed little encouragement to explore and within moments of the off everyone had gone their separate ways, spreading out throughout the house and grounds searching for their ideal shot, which is always great to see. I spent my time wandering around the house capturing photographs on my phone and taking in the history of the place. For well over an hour (Special thanks to the Trust for allowing us those extra minutes to finish off.) the house reverberated with excitement and the sound of shutters closing and in what seemed like no time, we found ourselves huddled together outside the house for our final shot of the evening:

2nd #Warwick4amproject Group Photograph

 

It was a highlight for all of us who had been involved in organising  to see lots of tired faces and beaming smiles from the photographers as we all trooped out from the Visitor’s Centre at the end of the event. Thanks again to all those involved and to anyone reading this who hasn’t yet been to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, it’s well worth a trip to Stratford-Upon-Avon just to pay them a visit!

You can see the pictures taken at the Warwick 4am Project on our Flickr Group and my shots from the evening can be found on My Flickr Page.

What next

Just about everyone present this morning asked us at the end of the event what was next for the #Warwick4amproject which was lovely to be asked. We are currently looking into events for 2012 with Coventry Cathedral being one of the venues we’re hoping for next, but watch this space, we have your email addresses and will notify you as soon as we have more definite arrangements.

On a personal level, I think Shakespeare’s Birthplace is going to be pretty difficult to top as a venue, but I am always happy to be proved wrong. If you have a venue that you think might be ideal for a 4am Project and would be willing to open it at this magical hour in the morning, I feel sure we know some photographers who would love to come and take some pictures.

Call to arms

If you’re reading this thinking, ‘I’d love to be involved in something like that’. Then it’s very simple really, if no one is running an event like this in your area, you’re welcome to join in and come along to our next event, but better still, why not organise your own event for your area. What’s stopping you?

The Second Warwick 4am Project

19 Nov

Today I’m excited, as in just under 12 hours I will be taking part in the second Warwickshire 4am Project.

What’s a 4am project?

Well I’m glad you asked. The 4am Project was started by Birmingham-based photographer and creative-type Karen Strunks  in 2008 after a night out brought about a realisation:

After a night out a while back, I was driving from one side of the city to the other. It was around 4am and I was really struck by the cityscape. Streets and roads normally teeming with people and traffic were deserted. The city was asleep and it felt like I had it all to myself. I liked it. – Taken from the 4am Project site

Since 2008 the project has truly become global with the idea of photographing the seldom-seen world of 4am capturing people’s imaginations! I’d highly recommend spending time looking at the gallery on the 4am Project site

I first got involved in organising a Warwickshire 4am project following a tweet from my dear friend Sasha Taylor who was keen to organise one in Warwick and on the 29th May a small group of photographers met to take pictures of St John’s House museum in the town and a good time was had by all.

I should make it clear that I’m not personally a photographer, I like taking pictures but this in no more makes me a photographer than owning a pair of Dr Dre Headphones makes you a hip-hop mogul. For me the draw of the 4am project is two-fold:

  1. There is something intoxicating about sharing time with people who are passionate about their chosen artform. I remember looking round at the last event and feeling both happy and proud to have been involved in something that gave all these brilliant people access to a totally unique experience; and
  2. It’s about the experience; I love old buildings, the way they are infused with history that seems to whisper and echo down the ages and the opportunity to have access to such buildings at a time few others will ever see, for me, is truly magical! (For more thoughts on this see: On Learning to Read Stone)

So after the first 4am Project in Warwick we were keen to organise another one, but as the lyrics go ‘life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans’ and it’s fair to see until a few weeks ago we weren’t much closer to securing a venue…then enter stage left Nivi Morales who wanted to help us organise another one and with the brilliant matchmaking of Glynis Powell had already found us a venue and wow, what a venue it is!

Tomorrow morning at 4am, thanks to the kind support of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, the second Warwick 4am Project will be taking place at Shakespeare’s Birthplace in the centre of Stratford-upon-Avon! I can’t begin to even put into words, as a writer, poet and lover of literature, just how excited this makes me! I’m heartened by the huge response we’ve had from people and the amount of fantastic photographer that will be present there later. There are only 2 tickets left, so if you’re reading this and thinking ‘why am I not going to that’ then head over to our Eventbrite page and book yourself a ticket!

You can find out more information here:

Warwick 4am Project Home

You should Follow on Twitter:

@Sasha_Taylor

@Nivi_MS

@Paulcoxon81

@ShakespeareBT

@mdoness

@KarenStrunks

All of us organising the Warwick 4am Project are feeling a massive and equal amount of love and gratitude for The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, the work they do is truly amazing in preserving some of the most important history this country has to offer. We highly recommend visiting the Trust Website and their amazing buildings if you’re ever in Stratford.

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