Tuesday, January 05, 2016

In 2016

I'm not a great one for New Year's Resolutions, as I guess the things that I wanted to do, I will try and get on with anyway, however long they take - yet I have to think of 2016 as a bit of a new start as, along with rather too many other people I know, 2015 seemed a bit of a slog. Having lived through a Tory government for the much of my early and adult life, I'd hoped I wouldn't have to go through it again but here we are....and just as Thatcher and Major never did a single thing to help my life, I'm not expecting much more from the P.R. man that is David Cameron.

Anyway, politics aside, there's always football to look forward to...unfortunately the last time my team Aston Villa were this bad, Margaret Thatcher was in power. Perhaps I will have to look elsewhere for solace.

This blog is about creative things, and for all 2015's faults, I was pleased to attend so many artistic, cultural and literary events locally. I'm not sure if anything stood out particularly, but having two-three things to go to each week has been a great way to keep chipper when other things haven't been going so great. I didn't read or watch anything like as many things as I'd have liked and in 2016, if I'm anything I should probably try and be a bit more discerning.

There's always a strange dichotomy in a creative person's life between the outward manifestation of your work and what is actually going on. After a flurry of stories and poems published early in the year I seemed not to get much work out there after the spring. Yet, this hides away the actual creative work I did during the year. I've been working on a novel for two years, and though finding time for it intermittently - and it being some way off being complete - 2015 was the year it got itself a title, a shape and some bulk. From being a piece of writing to a novel-in-progress. After two years of writing inevitably I'd like to get it finished as soon as possible, but these things do take time.

The idea of the time that things take was most obvious in a story I wrote over the summer from an idea I'd been toying with for something like eight years! I'd even started it a couple of times but found it hard to get into the story until this summer when I approached it from a different angle. In fact, most of the writing I did this year came at things from a different angle, and was the better for it. I think I'd lost a bit of faith in the "writing" of stories, becoming more enamoured of the technical exercise - but this was the year I started to loosen up a bit. I think having concentrated on poetry the last few years, the different approaches to each work mean there are different muscles need oiling. I know a lot of poets do move on to write short fiction or flash fiction (and vice versa) but I find creative prose and creative poetry different beasts in many ways.

As for poetry I'd almost say I'd not written much, and my notebooks - full to brimming the last few years - seemed much emptier than usual, at least until the last month or so when I wrote a long sequence which I hope to get published some time in 2016.

I've not released any new music during 2015 - despite completing the best part of an album by the spring - and a priority will be to finish that album, albeit a year late.

So in 2016 I hope to see the impact of this "quiet year" somehow, perhaps a few of these things will find a home, also, I hope that this new focus on prose will continue to develop as its definitely a muscle that needs to be used, whereas poetry is always there in the background if I need it. The world around us is not going to get any easier - with the refugee crisis continuing, as well as the rhetoric (and reality) of austerity. The irony of being on the left is that you see the Tory party as never building anything, never creating anything; destroying rather than empowering - yet one can't rejoice in their destruction being what will ultimately lead to a different government, as the damage done is alway so great. The latest example will be the EU referendum. I cannot seriously believe that "Brexit" will happen despite a hostile press and right wing politicians crying out for it. The British are notoriously cautious when it comes to constitutional change; but also the absurdity of this offshore island deliberately isolating itself from the continent across the way will surely become more apparent. As a Europhile I feel I know and understand its faults, but can't see how an unprecedented exit from Europe can in any way help me or the country - for once I think the interests of both are aligned on staying in. The best we can hope for of course is that this unecessary distraction will split the Tory party, without destroying the country in the process.

It is against this hostile backdrop that creativity, music, art, literature becomes more important than ever - and it does seem that our insatiable need to be entertained has moved beyond hackneyed soap operas and reality TV shows. If the American "boxset" has been the art form of the 21st century its helped the BBC and European broadcasters begin to up their game. If only cinema would get over its comic book fetish and do the same. I do worry a little for fiction, as ever; I don't think the "resurgence" in short fiction indicates any kind of golden age - if anything there seems less tolerance for experiment and innovation, and too much concentration on a certain kind of craft. All art needs a bit of an edge, after all. The "world" fiction we have now seems to sometimes be a dilution - everyone writing in English, becoming a kind of Globish. I'd much prefer the idiosyncracies of Bellow's Chicago for instance. Small presses and the like are the "go to" places for translated fiction as well as poetry, short stories and new writing to an extent that seems more valid than ever.

What I think we do see sometimes is that the simple expediency of the mega-product (whether J.K. Rowling's world, "Game of Thrones" or "The Force Awakens") means that there becomes a thirst - small at first, but likely to grow - for backstreet vendors with grubbier tablecloths and less predictable menus. From out of this, as ever, is where inevitably something new will come which will be big enough to challenge the mainstream. (Remember George Lucas began with cult movie THX 1138!) At the moment there seems to have been a little bit of a severing between the main street and the back streets, like the latter is no more than a shanty town, and gentrification shunts the latter out in art as it does in urban locations; I feel this can't last. A lot of this will come down to the audience - and surely a young, multi-cultural audience will eventually tire of the mainstream's clear lines.

So in 2016 I will do more of the same, but with an eye above the waterline, looking to surface. I know from my friends and acquaintances in the arts, music and literature scenes in Manchester, that I'm not swimming alone, but part of a diverse, abundant shoal. Let us swim upstream together.

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