News and announcements about all things 26 including Wordstock, 26 Words, Pecha Kucha and celebrating Norwich’s literary past.
My daughter had gone to see Bruce Springsteen at Wembley and she suggested I should start my part of our 26 Writers for Norwich launch with ‘GOOD EVENING NORWICH. ARE YOU READY TO ROCK?’ Sorry, I failed the dare. But the evening really did rock for the 26 writers there.
We gathered on this Monday evening in mid-June, having spent six months visiting Norwich, researching historic authors associated with Norwich, then writing in response to those writers. The historic writers ranged from Bishop Herbert de Losinga from the 11th century through to poet George Szirtes today. In between those chronological extremes, 26 writers were paired with writers of every kind who had influenced the world in some way – Julian of Norwich (first woman published in English), Thomas Paine (Rights of Man), Luke Hansard (parliamentary reporting) and many others. And of course Norwich is famous for the University of East Anglia creative writing MA founded by Malcolm Bradbury and Angus Wilson, first graduate Ian McEwan – all three writers represented in our project. So it was fitting that an extra aspect of the project was the pairing of 26 student writers from UEA with the two sets of 26 writers.
We came together at a civic reception in the Forum in the centre of Norwich. Chris Gribble, head of Writers Centre Norwich, welcomed everyone. He’d promised ‘There will be drinks. And revelry’ and he was true to his word. There was also a welcome from the leader of Norwich City Council. And Sara Sheridan (Elizabeth Fry), Elise Valmorbida (William Godwin) and John Simmons (John Skelton) gave short readings of their poems. These writings and all the others (poems, stories, biographical pieces) including the students’ work and creation stories by the 26 writers, now appear on a specially created website.
You can see the website soon, we’ll let you know where and when. Then you can dip in and find out more about great writers from Norwich’s history as interpreted by a talented group of 26ers.
Einstein famously said that ‘If you can’t say it simply, then you don’t know it well enough.’ Fine words, and he had the right to say it. With e=mc2, he changed the whole course of human knowledge in five keystrokes.
Set against that degree of compression, the Pecha Kucha format feels generous almost to the point of being slack. Twenty slides, and twenty seconds per slide, meaning that your whole talk can last no longer than six minutes and forty seconds. Albert would have been sitting down, sipping his coffee and twiddling his thumbs with six minutes and thirty nine seconds to spare. Perhaps six thirty seven if he said ‘good evening’ first and ‘thank you for your patience’ at the end.
For us lesser mortals, it’s a challenge, and one that a number of us are going to attempt at 26’s second Pecha Kucha night at the Betsey Trotwood in Farringdon on July 2nd. The numbers are the only constraint. That apart, any topic is allowed. It can suit personal travel memoir, book precis, biography, rhetoric. In my case, I’m going to do a primer on semiotics, the study of signs. Sound dry? That’s the great thing about the format – however crashingly dull I make it, and let me tell you, I’ve got previous where this is concerned, you’ll have less than seven minutes to wait before someone more compelling takes the stage.
But if the first evening was anything to go by, what you’ll get is an evening that is pacy, eclectic, beer fuelled, funny, informative and lively. A quintessential 26 event.
Board members Sara Sheridan and John Simmons and spoke about the 26 Treasures of Childhood Exhibition at Felixstowe Book Festival earlier this month.
Felixstowe hasn’t had a book festival before. June saw the first ever, spread in venues all around the old part of town – the pretty part with brick-built Victorian villas and vintage shops, a mile or two from the container port. Along the beach tiny changing huts are painted in pastels. This town loves words – there are lots of reading groups and creative writing groups and it felt as if the place was thirsty for a forum to talk about what they loved and what they hated, the ideas that books gave them and their passion for stories. People loved the fact that they now had a book festival and the atmosphere was friendly and relaxed.
We were one of the last events over the weekend and as we took the stage at the Orwell Hotel in what was rather grandly called His Lordship’s Library (the books that lined the walls were real – I checked!) John and I weren’t sure how we would go down. For a start, we hadn’t written a book about 26 Treasures of Childhood, all we had were the exhibition brochures that John had brought with him from London. We talked about 26 as an organization and the idea for the 26 Treasures exhibitions and then moved onto this year’s showing at the Museum of Childhood. It was exciting for us, we said, having written about objects without a personal connection at the V&A, the National Museum of Scotland and the National Library of Wales, to be endowed with objects that were part of our own lives at the Museum of Childhood. The exhibition was at personal as well as looking at the wider issues.
We asked if anyone wanted to hear the pieces that were written from the year they were born and the hands sprang up. One lady cried at what had been written about the Sylvanian families and two or three of the older audience members were annoyed that they predated 1948, the starting point for the exhibition. When the pieces were on show we didn’t get to see people’s reactions to them and it was lovely to hear the laughter (at some pieces) and have the audience burst into spontaneous applause (at others). There was a queue at the end to buy brochures – I only wish we’d been able to bring more writers with us. I’m beginning to think that 62 words might be able to change the world.
Neil Baker has been musing death and funerals with designer Mark Noad for the 26 Words project with the Letter Exchange.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about death and funerals. Specifically, about the word ‘hearse’. I have 26 to thank for this. I’m one of the writers working on 26 Words, a project to celebrate the fact that 26 is ten years old.
The idea is simple. Take 26 (of course) writers and pair each one with a lettering artist from Letter Exchange.
Next, choose 26 random words, each starting with a different letter of the alphabet. Give each creative pairing a word and tell them to produce an artwork inspired by it. It’s a terrifyingly open brief.
I’m working with Mark Noad, designer and Letter Exchange chairman. Our big idea is… well, like I say, we’re working on it.
We started with the etymology of hearse – its roots are in the Latin hirpex, a kind of rake or harrow. Then we peered into the shadowy world of hearse clubs. I found an unintentionally disturbing promotional video for a funeral industry trade show. Mark shared his fascination with those roadside shrines that appear at accident sites. We sipped cappuccinos and whispered about death. And we did a lot of other stuff.
Most recently, I’ve been tinkering with funereal palindromes – poems that work forwards and backwards. I’m thinking there might be some kind of “circle of life” connection. It could be cheesy or brilliant; the creative breakthrough we’ve been looking for, or another dead end (excuse the pun).
Either way, it’s a lot of fun.
Other teams are wrestling with words such as Acidulate, Naviculoid and Zaffre. I’ve heard rumours of people writing songs, inventing new literary forms, and building impossibly large objects.
In the autumn, whatever we produce will form an exhibition. It should be quite a show.