Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

The Collaboration Diary 6

Last entry: The Collaboration Diary 5

After our first full-day session bashing out scope and structure, there was a bit of a hiatus. We had as ‘homework’ to each write our first 5 short pieces. We chose themes from our list (Buckets) and went our separate ways. I read relevant stuff (e.g. Rory Sutherland’s Alchemy, my collaborator Doug’s previous book Collaborative Working Pocketbook) and thought about the task. But I didn’t set pen to paper until the weekend before the second get-together/half-day session on the Monday (last Monday 11th). 

But that helped. It kept me focused. It gave me bursts of energy.

On Saturday I sat down to mark the blank sheet.

I picked the 5th topic on my list – Listening. It spoke to me because Enfant Terrible No.2 had sent me the previous day a photo from his lecture at UWE in Bristol, from his Paramedic Science course, of a Powerpoint slide about Listening and Empathy which had struck a chord with him. I used that as the springboard for a 1st person piece about the central importance of Listening in Collaboration.

It took me half an hour to write (the target 300-400 words). I went off for a short coffee break. Came back and wrote a second piece on Authenticity. That took me more like an hour.

On the Sunday I wrote two more. I didn’t write a 5th because I was happy with the first four and didn’t want to make it a chore. I sent them to Doug on Sunday night, having suggested we each read the other’s work before meeting.

I read Doug’s pieces and marked them up for the 2nd session on the Monday at the Royal College of GPs. We started the session by throwing down a quick agenda which we them worked through systematically. In so doing we addressed some big stuff…

Doug was uncertain about our working title – he had tested it on a few people and felt it wasn’t quite striking a chord. We discussed what was wrong or missing , concluded it was too narrow and added “&” and a second adjective to get something that hit the right note for us both.

We talked about the positioning of the book, the difference between Collaboration and Team-Work, and how to make our book distinctive. We felt the new title (as the old had done) captured a sense of a particular, original approach. We also spent some time debating a definition of Collaboration Doug had read and liked. We edited it a bit together and decided to make it the touchstone for the Manifesto that would be our opening. We are each going to write a version of the Manifesto and then combine them.

At 11 o’clock we stopped to observe the silence for Remembrance Day

join hands siouxsie and the banshees album lp vinyl cover design

We looked at the work we had done on structure and felt it was reasonably sound and an easy step from our Buckets document to a neat Structure document for the Proposal.

Item 3 on the agenda was a mutual “critique” as Doug put it. That was very civilised. He wanted to push me beyond the 1st person singular/personal perspective I had adopted – possibly too narrow? I encouraged him to avoid extended metaphors, neat turns of phrase where the sound overrode the sense and to include more concrete examples so the text didn’t feel too abstract. We agreed to be wary of imperative tones.

Finally we discussed the path forward through publishers, both the one Doug has been discussing this book with and other options. He was very disciplined in not making our final submission too early but to keep shaping and refining our (not particularly conventional) approach until the new year.

We concluded by setting our ‘homework’ before the next session and fixing a date in December. Doug has more time to write this month, I don’t so will probably end up leaving my homework until Sunday night just like the good old days.

It was another very satisfying, focused and productive session – shorter than last time, a half-day.

4 highlights of Geneva

Following on from the last post (All Souls’ Day) I have spent much of today reading most of Patti Smith’s new book, Year of the Monkey. It’s put me in the mood to write (which is always the sign of a special writer – her friend Allen Ginsberg has much the same effect from my experience).

GIFF Geneva International Film Festival 2019 Geneve

I am in Geneva on a flying visit to the Geneva International Film Festival. Late last night – after returning home from my second viewing of the brilliant Joker at Warner Bros., where I bumped into my old Channel 4 colleague John Yorke and chewed the story fat with him – I managed to find the old tobacco tin at home where I keep my Swiss money. It turned out I had quite a lot – I haven’t been to Switzerland for a few years and it has appreciated markedly in the wake of the disastrous Brexit referendum (I hear they are a bit better at referenda here).

referenda oui non geneva geneve switzerland suisse

So I shifted the Swiss francs to my Euro purse, a suede purse from California my grandmother gave me as a boy – it says something like Gold Nuggets on it, long since worn away. I notice in Year of the Monkey how attached Patti Smith is to particular (not monetarily valuable) objects in her life, attributing meaning through memory to them.

purse with swiss francs

I decided to blow as much of my purseload as possible – this is what I spunked it on…

1) Soup

pumpkin soup cream

I love soup – it’s a top food and generally healthy. In Year of the Monkey Patti has chicken soup, decorated with egg yolks (not sure which came first the chicken or the eggs), with her ailing friend Sam Shepherd on his ranch in Kentucky. This is pumpkin soup – I don’t normally like it, often too sweet, but this was delicious. I ate it outside Le Perron restaurant at the foot of the hill in the old town – I ate under the tree at that restaurant years ago with my younger brother. We did a sudoku outside another cafe in the old quarter that time too – I hate puzzles and crosswords but on that occasion it was fun. Patti seems much attracted to numbers both in dates (in which she sees magical coincidences – see All Souls’ Day) and in books of geometry. The fly leaves of Year of the Monkey have some kind of algebraic-geometric sketch and scribblings. I think it’s what she describes herself drawing on a white bedsheet in a moment of inspiration.

2) Perch

perch fillets geneva geneve

Fillet of perch is a speciality of Geneva – they get the poor little critters from Lac Leman. So I sat outside Le Perron – the only person to do so – but the weather was mild. The owner found it amusing but conceded the weather was soft. “Il faut en profiter” I told him – I’ve really enjoyed exercising my French today. Patti references Rimbaud’s Illuminations in the bit I just read – I made a mental commitment to read it soon. He wrote those prose-poems in London around 1873-75.

verlaine rimbaud camden town plaque

8 Royal College Street, Camden Town

3) Steak Frites

steak frites wine

The Cafe de Paris was a recommendation by the lugubrious hotel night receptionist – it is a stone’s throw from Hotel Cristal. It turned out to be a carbon copy of Le Relais de Venise in London’s Soho and Marylebone. A restaurant that just does one meal but one meal really well – a great idea. The meal is green salad followed by steak and French fries aka steak frites. There must be a model for this kind of restaurant I thought – checked it out, there is – Le Relais de Venise established in Paris in 1959. Of course the meal demands red wine so I had a couple of little glasses. Patti is always eating and drinking in this new book as well as the last, M Train. It’s like join the cafes.

4) Cherries

cherries in cognac

Cherries drenched in cognac. Frankly it’s one of the BEST THINGS I’VE EVER TASTED.

I love cherries. I’ve not really engaged with cognac. Perfect combo. Highlight of the highlights.

Geneva geneve autumn fall old city

The old town

Patti Smith – like myself – is an inveterate flâneur. I wandered over to the digital outpost of the Festival where the VR projects were on display. As usual, underwhelming. I contend that factual programming is not the strong point of what is a very important new technology. Games, health, retail, architecture, training – all no-brainers. Documentary – my jury’s out. The cobbled streets, small squares, narrow lanes and flowing fountains of the old town are charming – in stark contrast to the banks and luxury goods shops.

When I lived just over the border in Savoie (Savoy, SE France) there was an outbreak of graffiti that year in Geneva. At the end of the year they caught the culprit – a psychologist who contended that the place was too clean and boring for the citizens’ mental health. The thing is someone somewhere pays for these watch shops and luxury brands to be here – they pay in poverty and hardship. Le reverse de la medaille. Every coin has another side.

GIFF reverse banners geneva international film festival geneve

All Souls’ Day

Patti Smith 1975 by Robert Mapplethorpe 1946-1989

Patti Smith by Robert Mapplethorpe (1975)

Today is the day the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe was born in 1946. Today is the day the guitarist Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith of the MC5 died, a quarter of a century ago. Today is the day Patti Smith’s grandchild was born. Patti was married to Fred, and was best-friends with Robert.

Coincidences is one of the things I write often about on this blog. It feels like there’s a pattern in the coincidences of these dates. It’s the kind of thing that makes me think of myself as a pantheist.

Two days ago, on All Souls’ Day, I went to see Patti Smith at the Central Hall Westminster aka Methodist Central Hall, a two-thousand seat domed venue near the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey (and Channel 4) which served as venue for a number of key Suffragette events around 1914. It is also the building where the first meeting of the United Nations General Assembly took place (in 1946). Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Churchill have all spoken there.

On Saturday evening Patti Smith spoke about her work and life and read from her new memoir ‘Year of the Monkey’. She also performed six songs with her bandmate Tony Shanahan.

1 Wing

I was a wing in heaven blue
soared over the ocean
soared over Spain
and I was free
needed nobody
it was beautiful
it was beautiful

After the UN General Assembly used the hall on 10th January 1946 with 51 nations attending it repaid the venue by paying for it to be painted light blue – perhaps heaven blue.

The song comes from ‘Gone Again’, Patti’s 6th studio album, which was released in the wake of various losses in her life – Fred, Robert, her brother Todd and her pianist Richard Sohl among them. All Sohl’s Day.

2 Beneath the Southern Cross

Oh
To be
Not anyone
Gone
This maze of being
Skin
Oh
To cry
Not any cry
So mournful that
The dove just laughs
The steadfast gasps

This song is from the same LP – it features Jeff Buckley on backing vocals. Tony Shanahan played bass on the record. ‘Gone Again’ came out in the summer of 1996 – Jeff died in the summer of the following year. All Souls’ Day.

3  My Blakean Year

In my Blakean year
I was so disposed
Toward a mission yet unclear
Advancing pole by pole
Fortune breathed into my ear
Mouthed a simple ode
One road is paved in gold
One road is just a road

I’m not sure which year was Patti’s Blakean one – it might have been 2004. That was the year ‘Trampin’ ‘ came out, her 9th studio album. I am sure that her Year of the Monkey was 2016 – a trying year for many of us – Brexit, Trump, illness in the family, it was one you celebrated reaching the end of. The day after this gig I broke out this T-shirt from 2017 to mark the memory:

2016 survivor tshirt

on the floordrobe

Blake is a big presence in Patti’s life, as he was in Allen Ginsberg’s. I met Patti Smith briefly once not far from Blake’s grave in Bunhill – it was after a concert she gave at St Luke’s church/concert hall in Old Street. We talked about Rimbaud and his time living in London. Rimbaud is another big literary figure in her life. In the wake of the All Souls gig I went for a walk yesterday with the member of my family who had been unwell in 2016 and we passed the house where Rimbaud lived for a couple of months with Verlaine.

verlaine rimbaud camden town plaque

8 Royal College Street, Camden Town

Les sanglots longs
Des violons
De l’automne
Blessent mon coeur
D’une langueur
Monotone.

Chanson d’automne (Paysages tristes – Poèmes saturniens) – Paul Verlaine (1866)

[Autumn song from Sad Landscapes]

4 After The Goldrush by Neil Young

neil young patti smith

Neil & Patti

This song appears on ‘Banga’, Patti’s 11th studio album from 2012. It was co-produced by Patti, Tony Shanahan and others. Both her children with Fred – son Jackson and daughter Jesse – played on it.

Well I dreamed I saw the knights in armor comin’
Sayin’ something about a queen
There were peasants singin’ and drummers drummin’
And the archer split the tree
There was a fanfare blowin’ to the sun
That was floating on the breeze
Look at Mother Nature on the run
In the 1970s
Look at Mother Nature on the run
In the 1970s

A timely anthem for the climate emergency. She changed the lyrics towards the end to:

Look at Mother Nature on the run
In the 21st Century.

5 Because the Night

patti smith bruce springsteen

Patti & Bruce (1977)

This song was co-written by Patti & Bruce Springsteen, fellow New Jerseyites. Patti said at the gig that it is about Fred. It was on ‘Easter’, her 3rd studio album, the first one I bought, after having picked up a single ‘Hey Joe’ / ‘Piss Factory’ out of intrigue at the cover and the B-side title. Inside the ‘Easter’ vinyl sleeve is a photograph of Rimbaud, a First Communion portrait with his father Frédéric.

Take me now, baby, here as I am
Pull me close, try and understand
Desire is hunger is the fire I breathe
Love is a banquet on which we feed

Come on now try and understand
The way I feel when I’m in your hands
Take my hand come undercover
They can’t hurt you now
Can’t hurt you now, can’t hurt you now

6 Pissing in the River

patti smith hey joe piss factory single record cover

1974 debut single

Two years after her debut single (Piss Factory) came another piss song (Pissing in a River).

Pissing in a river, watching it rise
Tattoo fingers shy away from me
Voices voices mesmerize
Voices voices beckoning sea
Come come come come back come back
Come back come back come back

It appeared on her second studio LP, 1976’s ‘Radio Ethiopia’, which followed her ground-breaking, landmark debut ‘Horses’. ‘Horses’ features a classic photo by Mapplethorpe on the cover:

horses-cover_patti smith

1975 debut LP

Patti got most into her stride performing this song, which is perfect for All Souls’ Day

Come come come come back come back
Come back come back come back

She spoke most movingly about working with her friend Sam Shepherd on his final publication. He passed on in 2016. As did her friend record producer Sandy Pearlman who produced Blue Oyster Cult and The Clash’s ‘Give ‘Em Enough Rope’ among others. I remember walking through the snow on New Year’s Day down to Loppylugs in Edgware to buy that record in the days when you had a delicious wait for things.

I always associate in my head BOC’s ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ and ‘Because the Night’ – I’ve no idea why, they were released two years apart (1976 and 1978). Patti didn’t talk about Pearlman although he was one of the key losses behind ‘Year of the Monkey’. But she spoke at length about Shepherd and made it clear that he didn’t really fear the reaper – he got to the end of his book with Patti’s help – he could no longer hold a pen or type on a keyboard, or play his Gibson in the corner of the room where they worked together on his Kentucky ranch – so she had to capture his voice and ten days after finishing he went to the big farm in the sky. One thing that really struck me about what she recounted about Sam was that they had written together back in the early days in New York so it was familiar to do it again at the end of his time in Kentucky. They had always been able to write side by side on their own things, alone and together at the same time. I love being alone but together – for example, in the house when all the family are sleeping like this weekend just passed, all souls as one.

patti smith at central hall westminster 2 nov 2019

Soul music: Patti & Tony at Central Hall

 

The Collaboration Diary 5

Our first full-day writing session worked out really well. Doug bought me a copy of Eat That Frog! at Euston Station to add to a dozen other volumes he’d brought with as references. I brought along three tomes as rangefinders for format:

  • Alchemy – by Rory Sutherland (which I am mid-way through reading)
  • Unleash Your Creativity – by my friends/collaborators Tim Wright & Rob Bevan
  • Damn Good Advice – by George Lois

They are all examples of books which are written in small units that can be read linearly or dipped into. We quickly found we both had the same kind of book in mind in the wake of Doug’s radical suggestion to take it this way.

We put together an agenda in the classic way. Doug had brought 3 points, I added another 2 (made up on the spot) – all outputs for this session. We achieved all in a 6-hour session.

I drove the process, with Doug willingly coming along for the ride.

First, a couple of key questions I threw out:

  • What have been your best experiences of Collaboration? Why?
  • What have been your worst? Why?

We both listed what came to mind.

We discussed a few high-level ideas – like our core concept (codename DC) – before diving deeper into those questions. We individually drilled down into what characterised those experiences good and bad then shared the results to generate key topics in number.

I then went to the classic questions I learnt from Rudyard Kipling via Pat Mitchell (who Doug & I both worked with at Melrose Film Productions – we toasted him with coffee):

6-honest serving-men rudyard kipling question words questions

From the six core questions we developed six ‘buckets’ – a term borrowed from Tim Wright (the one referenced above) which we used when writing the interactive script of MindGym.

Doug was at Melrose when I made MindGym and he watched the process closely. By coincidence this tweet came in during our session, reminding me of how much positive impact our creative outputs can have:

tweet about MindGym

Into the six buckets we dropped the topics we had generated. We then stepped through the Collaboration process – both when done voluntarily as an individual and ‘enforced’ within an organisation – and chucked those stages into the buckets. Finally we went back to the suggestions about What Makes a Good Collaborator? generated from online circles and added those too, leaving us with a set of topics divided into six main categories and in a roughly sensible order. All painlessly generated with plenty of interesting discussion in the process.

We concluded by deciding to write 5 pieces each initially to test the waters which we are to select from the list. We set a deadline for that, a date for the next day-long session and plotted a path to publication.

An all-round successful first collaborative writing session.

The Collaboration Diary 4

factual booksAfter an excellent weekend well clear of work (Open House days, Rugby World Cup, Underwire Film Festival, Hungry Hearts big night out at its centre) I am deliberately going in to our first joint writing day with an almost blank – or open – mind. I want to see where we get to together. So no specific preparation. No agenda. No plan.

I remain as excited about the prospect as ever. I’ll take along a couple of books to serve as potential models for the proposal Doug came back with – a less highly structured, more colourful, more narrative-centred book. I’ll take Rory Sutherland’s Alchemy and one or two books on creative thinking that I have vaguely in mind.

We’re meeting on the premises of the Royal College of GPs which is a space I regularly work in when I’m after somewhere on the informal side.

The Collaboration Diary 3

12/9/19

An email arrived from Doug with a radical rethink of our approach. Based on some successful books currently on the market in the business category and some previous work we did together inspired by Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies, he suggested we create “a book that you can dip into or read cover to cover” constructed from smaller sections carefully organised, as opposed to one long coherent body of text. This strikes me as a way we can create a really energetic, genuinely readable book.

That email was at 04:43 – I really hope Doug is abroad somewhere in another time zone! It was preceded at 03:27. In that earlier email Doug agreed with my point about how to ensure our tome is distinctive: “I think we need to make sure to keep focus on the thing that will make this book distinctive from the competition – the idea of Dirty Collaboration over and above the rather sterile notions of teamwork that are the norm

 

The Collaboration Diary

Day 2 – Monday 9th Sept

As I left the writing retreat and the island, the flow of documents and emails from my end ceased. I got up early to write a brief Audiences document to send to Doug and an even shorter Scope one, derived from yesterday’s workshop. That was the lot, the last outputs from five days intensive work. Then onto the boat back to the mainland.

So from intense action on my side, batted off as best possible by a busy Doug at the other, we went to radio silence all day. We both have significant other work so it will be interesting to see how stop&go the process will be. And who will fire off the next note…

The Collaboration Diary

Day 1 – Sun 8th Sept 2019

While out walking and talking with Jonathan Gosling, the leader of the writing retreat I was attending on Lambay Island, Co. Dublin, Ireland, I had the notion that to reflect the meta dimension of our book – Doug and I collaborating on a book about collaborating – we should each keep a diary of how the process looked from our side.

I got back to my desk in the library of the White House and fired off a short email to suggest the diary idea to Doug. He swiftly replied: “That diary idea is a superb one.”

So this is Day 1 my side, the day of that email. On this writing retreat I have been kicking the tyres of Doug’s original proposal. That process is largely recorded here in these blog posts which I used each day as a warm-up:

  • Adventures in the Writing Trade: Day 1
  • Adventures in the Writing Trade: Day 2
  • Adventures in the Writing Trade: Day 3
  • Adventures in the Writing Trade: Day 4

Following the one-to-one with Jonathan I decided to broaden things out after much concentrated attention on the Proposal and related documents to outside media in the form of a recommended video: Margaret Heffernan’s Super-chicken TED talk.

I did some more work on the Structure/Contents page, trying to come up with something I felt happier with, more convincing and consistent.

Then I read parts of Doug’s Collaborative Working Pocketbook to get a better grasp of those perspectives of his I found hardest to grasp from paper alone (the concise proposal).

In the afternoon we did a workshop on Readership from which I further developed my thinking on Audience and Scope.

But Doug’s response to the diary suggestion was the key event of the day: “That diary idea is a superb one. But could be a significant chunk of the book. An evolutionary process.”

I was delighted we felt the same about that. And delighted he pushed the idea further.

Adventures in the Writing Trade: Day 5

Monday morning. The boat’s coming from Malahide to collect us at 10. It’s like coming back from space or returning from some fantasy land through the mirror. A touch of tristesse but more, a sense of a jewel of an experience coming to a natural conclusion.

lambay whiskeyYesterday I worked mainly on the structure and scope of the book. I took a break from writing to watch a video recommended to me by a friend I met through one of my oldest friends. The video was Margaret Heffernan’s Super-chicken TED talk.

Commercial Break: Coincidence No. 477

I ask my online circles for the answer to this question: “What makes a good Collaborator?” One friend sends a video recommendation via Facebook – Margaret Heffernan’s Super-chicken TED talk.

The day before Jonathan Gosling, the writing retreat leader, asks me if I know Margaret Heffernan? I say the name is familiar for some reason. (The video recommendation has come in earlier that same day). Jonathan asks because he and another participant both work with her at the Forward Institute.

After watching the video I go look at Margaret’s website and books and pick one I fancy reading. I go to Amazon to buy it. It says I ordered it in 2015.

This year I occasionally catch a glimpse of a red spine on my bookshelves and think what is that (Margaret Heffernan) book?

In 2015 my mentor, Roger Graef, recommends a book by Margaret Heffernan in relation to what I was thinking and writing about at the time – the role of collaboration and the collective, of openness and generosity, in human evolution. Put another way, the limitations of competition. That’s what Margaret’s book with the red spine is about.

For my one-to-one with Jonathan we opted for walk&talk – we wandered along the coast talking about publishers/publishing strategies and he gave me some really useful perspectives on getting the book I’ve already finished – When Sparks Fly (title stolen from my as yet unfinished book) on online creativity. I’d been in discussion with academic press but he persuaded me to go more commercial. While chatting I also had the idea of me and my co-writer keeping diaries of the making of our book to capture the meta dimension – collaborating to write a book about collaborating. How would that look from each side of the collaboration?

We stopped to observe the seals. Lambay has the largest colony on the East coast. I suddenly appreciated the contrast between the way they look like big fat maggots on land (I’m being a bit harsh) to being slick and nimble in water (and cute with those soft eyes). A seagull was pecking at a fat white dead pup. Feck, nature is tough. It was a great walky talky session and really interesting to find out a little more about him. He is looking at the world from the perspective of an imminent collapse and what would be needed for the species to survive it. That’s a heavy load. I think about that kind of shit when, for example, watching the first Terminator last week with Enfant Terrible No.1. Otherwise not so much. Unrealistically optimistic about the bald ape’s ability to pull himself out of the nose-dive. (Who am I kidding?)

The afternoon workshop was centred on readership. The pattern of workshops had some kind of psychoanalytical underpinning, establishing the system in which the text exists and all the people who interact with it working outwards from the writer. It was a useful session as I wrestled with the taxonomy of our readers / different ways to slice the audience. It also helped better define (slightly broaden) the scope of the book.

At the end of the day I donned my earphones and, as I was walking around the island, listened to a summary of Ed Catmull’s Creativity, Inc. which I bought from Audible yonks ago. My old boss recommended it highly and tried to implement some of the guidance at All4 e.g. sharing early cuts of films broadly among the team. I’m about five chapters in – so far, so banal. I’m sure the summarising and the flat voice of the reader isn’t helping any. I listened walking above the beaches of the North-West coast to the top left corner of the island. The landscape merited a better audiobook – or none at all.

marmite jar

The Last Supper with my six fellow participants was jolly – a lot of contrasting of US/UK language & culture as three were American, two Brits, one Finn. I haven’t written much about them but the whole experience afforded on this fabulous island revolved around having a harmonious, generous and bonding group of writers. I want to retain their privacy so let me capture them anonymously with the help of Tarrantino and Cluedo (as I’m a lover of colours)…

Mr Orange is from Wisconsin, a healthcare professional drawing to an end a ten-year writing project. We got on really well and he gave me a signed copy of one of his previous books, on meditation.

Mrs Plum hails from Oxford and is writing a PhD thesis on leadership in environmental groups. She says she doesn’t like writing – everyone else professes to love it. She was particularly helpful in the Readership workshop, highlighting our assumptions.

Ms Pink is from Maryland and was putting together a Fulbright Scholarship application to teach business at university in Surinam. I very much encouraged her to apply as she was wavering at the beginning. Her accent had an exotic touch of the Southern states.

She was with her friend Ms Peacock who was focused on studies of the dynamics of credit card transactions. She exuded considered and thoughtful in her speech.

Reverend Green is an elderly Finn, a psychoanalyst and academic. He observes calmly and expresses his thoughts slowly and deliberately. He may have thought half of us were crazy.

Last but not least, Mr Brown runs an Institute to help leaders become more responsible. He makes a habit of arriving last to everything but I think this is to throw us all off the scent. Turn your back for a moment and he is to be found half-way up a mountain with his noise-cancelling headphones propelling his running. He was writing mission statement type texts.

So lots of colours, lots of different forms of writing, all united by a single motto: “Crack on!” The Americans, particularly Ms Pink, were tickled pink by this exotic British turn of phrase. Is it anything to do with crack, the drug? No. But to add to the complexity, in Irish Craic means fun. “Crack on!” “Apple crumble!” “Jumper!?” “Posh!” “Marmite!” The craic was ninety. Fuelled by Baron Badassière wine and Lambay own brand Whiskey. “Crack on!”

baron Badassiere-Carigan-Label wine

The trips across the water were a key part of the experience. Arriving at the small stone harbour in bright autumnal sunshine was magical and welcoming. On board the big, sturdy Shamrock. We left bouncing across choppier seas on the Fionn Mac Cumhaill, a cheeky little RHIB, crashing into the waves, speeding just above the surface of the energetic September swell. We left full of energy to come back out of the mirror, re-emerge from the magical wardrobe, wake up from the loveliest of dreams. And then (after our concluding workshop on dry land) we drank Guinness before noon in Gibney’s pub in Malahide and blow me, it was not a dream after all.

Adventures in the Writing Trade: Day 4

Friday ended up as a frustrating feeling day. A lot of loose ends. Nothing finished. Including my relatively short To Do list. Saturday (yesterday) by contrast finished with me hitting send as a fired over three useful documents to my co-writer, Doug Miller. A mark-up of his outline. A set of notes collating the helpful, considered responses to my online call-out. And a response to Doug’s initial thoughts on how best to collaborate in practice. A satisfying, rounded-off feeling to conclude the day.

It’s important to live with mess, loose ends, even chaos in the writing process, indeed in all creative endeavour. It’s getting over that hump, bringing back some order in the face of the most out-of-control prospect, which usually marks where the creative achievement lies.

view from the summit of Lambay Island County Dublin Ireland

View from the summit down to the harbour

After lunch we headed up to the summit I had visited the day before. This time it was as a group, led by our hostess who is one of the two prime-movers on the island. I had a lovely chat with her on the way up, quite deep for a modest walk. At the triangulation point on the top there was a real sense of a cohort, a group bonded across very different experiences, backgrounds and personalities. Two of the Americans asked me to explain what we were looking at so I pointed out Howth Head as the North end of Dublin Bay and the Wicklow Mountains as the Southern limit; Rush and Malahide opposite; the small islands of Skerries looking North, and at the limits of our view the Mourne Mountains, faint in the distance, where my Other Half comes from. The panorama was epic, a beautiful subtle palette of blues and greys and delicate purples in the autumnal sunshine.

view of Howth from Lambay Island County Dublin Ireland

View of Howth Head from Lambay

On returning to the white house we did our second writing workshop with Jonathan (Gosling) on Style. Clarity; Pace; Engagement were the factors we considered. I focused on the opening of my as yet unfinished book When Sparks Fly, on the creative rewards of openness and generosity – a subject closely allied, it turns out, to the book on Collaboration Doug approached me about (the focus of my efforts this week). It was a helpful exercise and I could see at least a couple of things to improve – too long sentences in a quest for fluency/flow and questionable assumptions about how Digital Culture is perceived by many people.

The day before our first workshop was on our relationship to Writing. By using two observers as we spoke concisely about writing’s role in our lives, one recording facts, the other emotions, we quickly got some real insights into our work and ambitions. A really useful technique I hope to deploy in some other context soon. Probably starting with the MDes course on Story-telling I am teaching at the end of the year at Ravensbourne university/film school.

After the workshop I made a bee-line to the harbour to take advantage of the strong late afternoon sun. Donning my new Finisterre swimming trunks I strode into the September sea and dived in. It was …fresh. Envigorating.

Commercial Break: Coincidence No. 477

I am out for a walk in St Agnes, Cornwall during my summer break a few weeks ago. It’s a bit rainy so I head up from the cliff top inland towards where I’ve been told (by Joya & Lucy of Surf Girls Jamaica, both locals, hence my choice of St Agnes to sojourn in) there is a small business estate where there’s the HQ of a great surf clothing retailer called Finisterre. I eventually come across it, go in and buy some swimming trunks, shirts and a lime green recycled plastic water bottle. As the shop assistant is wrapping up my stuff he explains a bit about the business, how well it is doing, where the branches are, there’s even one up in London. Oh, where’s that? Earlham Street.

I work at Red Bull at 42 Earlham Street. I’ve never noticed Finisterre.

I have the harbour to myself, except for sharing it for a few moments with a black Labrador. The tide is out, the sand is smooth, the water cold (colder than Donegal a couple of weeks ago) but bearable, soon really refreshing. After the swim I feel amazing. I chat to a couple of Dubs from Howth over for a nature walk day trip. The wife shows me on her phone a photo of their view of Lambay from Howth village.

IMG_7492 lambay island harbour white house cottages county dublin ireland

I finish the day tying those loose ends on the lawn, my spot du choix. I also connect the lady-boss of the island to an old colleague & friend of mine who lives on the Isle of Eigg. Eigg has done an amazing job pioneering green energy & sustainable living, and my friend Lucy has been enthusiastically involved in driving those efforts. The Lambay Trust has similar ambitions. I’m glad I made the connection during our walk&talk.

Creativity, in my view, revolves around Connections. This includes the people connections offered by a writing retreat like this. And the factual/conceptual connections such as Lambay is a proto Eigg.

I bought myself a book from the island on Friday – it was my birthday present to myself. From my family, I asked for a new walk as a gift.  The book is In Praise of Walking by Shane O’Mara. Mara is Irish for sea. John of the Sea. It explores the science of walking and why it is good for us. I am convinced it is very good for Creativity, hence my early morning walks every day on Lambay. Here are a couple of quotations on Walking I recently gathered.

“Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.”

Steven Wright (US comedian)

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