4 things I learnt from The Story

tim wright and rob bevan

Tim Wright tests his sense of balance

Today I spent at the excellent The Story conference at Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, organised by my fellow Commissioning Editor at Channel 4, Matt Locke (a labour of love on his part). The theme was stories and story-telling – little theory, no money talk, just narrative and tales about tales. So what I learnt…

1) The best conferences (like this one) have only two outputs – Inspiration and catalysing Connections between people.

2) The best comic books have a layer of history, a layer of mythology and a layer of contemporary relevance as evinced by Sydney Padua‘s Lovelace & Babbidge. She showed the development of  their new adventure Vs The Organist which combines Victoriana with Orpheus & Eurydice with proto-geekage. Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has a similar combo, a bit more literary, and it’s top of the tree for me. (Talking of trees, the frames in the new story where a band of monkeys break into Babbidge’s office and drag him off to the underworld gave me a sudden flashback to a game we played as children with plastic monkeys, something I hadn’t thought of for decades- there’s so much buried in these memories and imaginations of ours, and connection, especially surprising connection, is the key to creativity.)

3) The best stories combine profound emotion and humour. My old friend and colleague Tim Wright stole the show with his Harrison Fraud story. It’s about a mad time when he tried to convince his business/creative partner, Rob Bevan, that Harrison Ford wanted to work with them. The comic story of facial hair and faked letters was punctuated with insights into Tim’s marital struggles, recounted with an unflinching honesty. That willingness to confront difficult themes head on – as demonstrated equally in Tim’s wonderful In Search of Oldton project which has its roots in his father’s tragic death – is what raises his stories to special heights. Tim and I worked together on the writing of MindGym back in 1996, a game about creativity, Rob worked on it too programming and designing  – it was a landmark project for me, drawing me into the world of non-linear story-telling and interactivity, and I learned a wealth from Tim’s methodical approach to scripting. I remember sitting with Tim in a bar in Clapham Old Town, asserting my dedication to film-making and that I’d be giving up this interactive thing before too long, not really my bag. 14 years down the line and here I still am.

4) The best fiction is less strange than truth. The day was rounded off in style by a besuited David Hepworth, he of The Word and Smash Hits, who told a lovely circular tale of the passage of wisdom from father to son to grandson via a bespoke tailor’s in the Yorkshire village he grew up in. It involved the coincidence of a suit being made for him unknowingly by the tailor who had made his father’s suits. It reminded me of my wedding ring. I wear two rings – the wedding ring my wife gave me in the top O of the OXO Tower by the Thames when the O X and O were all floor-to-ceiling windows and the tower was still a building site, and a plain silver ring I bought from a stall in Camden market several years before. To cut a long Irish story short it turned out that the posh jeweler in Gabriel’s Wharf and the Camden stall holder were one and the same person from Inishowen in Donegal (where my wedding ended, 60 miles down the road from its start point in Derry). This stranger than fiction coincidence came to light one day when I was chucking out old chequebook stubs and I found the £10 cheque I’d bought the silver ring with. Recently I’ve had another such experience where I came across the same person (Pippa Harris of Neal St Films, Sam Mendes’ business partner) through two totally different routes – one starting off in a novel I was reading, The Great Lover by Jill Dawson; the other through judging the RTS Single Drama Award for work – the true-life story weaving through all manner of themes from Rupert Brooke to Wikipedia. It’s coincidences and dynamics like those that make life worth living.

I had a quick chat with David Hepworth on the way out about the merits of The Word podcast (very good for jogging I said, great for repetitive domestic tasks he countered) – it’s the very best on the Web, a chat with friends over the kitchen table. Leaving the period lobby, it felt great to have spent the day in Conway Hall with its radical, left-wing vibe. It was here that I took my first published photograph – one of  Gerry Adams and Ken Livingstone that appeared in An Phoblacht, the Irish Republican newspaper. But that’s another story…

barrel of monkeys

Monkeys test your sense of balance

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6 comments so far

  1. […] blog posts by some of the attendees – Charles from Mudlark, James Bridle, Susi O’Neill, Adam Gee, Jane Young, Rebecca Denton, Vicky Matthews, Jez Paxman, Meg Pickard and Suw Charman. Suw also […]

  2. […] labour of love alongside his day job at C4. I thoroughly enjoyed that first iteration and recorded 4 things I learned from it on Simple Pleasures part 4. It’s interesting looking back at that entry today: the […]

  3. Practical Psychologist on

    It’s amazing how often I’ve come across the word ‘serendipity’ recently.

  4. ArkAngel on

    By luck or judgment?

  5. Practical Psychologist on

    Priming. I was listening to John Martyn’s track of the same name – a scorching version on the BBC live album that came out about 15 years ago. Suddenly I see the word everywhere.

  6. […] Bringing some Hollywood glam to the afternoon Justin K Thompson Production Designer of Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse talked us through the making of the animated movie, which may well win the Oscar as I am writing this post (having already won the Golden Globe and the BAFTA, for which I voted it), using fascinating layered moving picture illustrations to show how shots and sequences were conceived and built up. I was particularly taken by the colour palette and mood board illustrations and the ‘colour script’ which captures the colour and lighting across the whole movie. Justin, with whom I had a brief chat on leaving Conway Hall, captured the driving concern to get back the tactile quality into animation, the qualities which made us fall in love with comic books, the line work, the imperfect printing – in other words, Nick Park’s thumby qualities which bring the humanity to animation and other artistic disciplines. Justin highlighted a couple of key aspects of creativity – the permission to try & fail (in an intelligent, progressive way) and perhaps above all the ludic quality (which Marie Foulston also touched on) – the best creative projects are made fun as the team are empowered to try new things. For pure speaking-verve, it was hard to beat the very engaging Head of Engagement at the Museum of London Sara Wajid. She brought us back in touch with those childhood experiences of museums as playgrounds (again that ludic dimension of the creative experience).  Having highlighted the nadir of “book on the wall” museum experiences (I have a strong fairly recent memory of that in the British Museum where my MA had not equipped me with the wherewithal to understand the labels by the permanent exhibits). Sara drew attention to the quality of “bounce” – the word of the day – gritty energy to debate and then get shit done. She advocated bringing the vibe and dynamics of the TV comedy writers’ room to museum design and curation. She discussed all this in the frame of diversity – one of the first talks on that dimension of creative enterprise I’ve heard that captured the true energy and advantage of mixing things up, of bringing together talents and ways of thinking from all quarters. She gave us a sneaky peak of the new Museum of London space in old Smithfields market. Conway Hall, the home of The Story, is another great London space. It opened in 1929 as the home of what is considered the oldest surviving free-thought organisation in the world, established on 14th February 1793, 226 years to the week before The Story No. 10. My first visit to the Hall was a creative one – my first commissioned photo shoot, around 1987 – to photograph Gerry Adams and Ken Livingstone for Sinn Fein’s An Phoblacht magazine. With its legend (one of Shakey’s, from Hamlet) To Thine Own Self Be True high above the speakers, it is the perfect reflective, ethical, free-thinking place to learn from and delight in stories. Previous The Story posts (with pics) include: 2014 2012 2010 […]


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