Thursday, November 30, 2006

I won NaNoWriMo

At last, I have finally typed my 50,000th word, which makes me an official winner of National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo.) Something like 80 percent of the people who sign up drop out before reaching their goal, and I completely understand why. It's the kind of thing that sounds far easier than it actually turns out to be... and then some oddballs make it even harder for themselves by deciding to write a novel in Esperanto, or writing the entire thing dressed in a chicken costume while sitting in the window of a bookstore (nope, not making it up.) Congrats to Keris, who also won, and the many (around 250) Mancunians taking part.

I was lucky in happening to have a big fat chunk of time to devote to it during the month of November, but not blogging sure helped a lot. The book is far from finished, but I've gotten most of it down. Sure, it's in a raggedy, sure-to-be-rewritten-extensively incarnation, but even having something to edit is a first for me. I've always been derailed at the "sort of thinking about writing some fiction" stage before. NaNo was a very good motivator; it forced me to sit on my internal editor and just barf it out. (You see, it's just that flavour of gruesomely mixed metaphor action that will make my work a delight to read.)

Anyway, now I can go back to my accustomed life of blogging and wasting vast amounts of time on the internet. Starting in grand style with the Manchester blogmeet Saturday at 3pm at The Castle on Oldham Street. A few folks have already said they'll be there and I'm looking forward to catching up with ConnectMedia Craig, James Yer Mam!, C. Mancubist and Jon the Beef and meeting Rachael of The Console.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Blogmeet This Saturday

Hi y'all. Sorry I've been so behind on organising this blogmeet, but this month of novelwriting is almost over (and hey, I only have 10,000 words to write in four days...) Anyway, a few folks have emailed to say this Saturday is a good one, so I'm going to plunge ahead with it.

Time: 3pm this Saturday. Probably going on for an hour or so.

Place: The Castle on Oldham Street, same side of the road as the Night N' Day but further back towards Great Ancoats. There's a back room with pool tables and they have good beer on tap. It's not as much of an old man pub as the Hare and Hounds, but it's still pleasantly scruffy.

Let me know if you can make it.

Also, here's a beautifully designed new Manc blogsite called The Console, which features music and art writing and comes tricked out with podcasts for your listening pleasure. It's the work of Rach and Olly, and I don't know much more than that, but go check it out. Cheers to Yer Mam! for pointing it out.

Monday, November 20, 2006

New Writing Types

Am headed down to Norwich at the end of this week for New Writing Types, a conference hosted by The New Writing Partnership. I'll be speaking on a panel discussion called Screenburn: Writers and The Internet, along with some very talented and interesting folks: Paul Carr from The Friday Project, Lane Ashfeldt of Pulp Net and poet Todd Swift. I'm really looking forward to it, and will probably come back all fired up about online writing again. And if anyone from these parts is going, give me a shout.

This will be my first visit to Narch, as my friend there calls it - and actually my first time in that whole bit of England, so it'll be good to check out a new place. I heard they have a store there that sells nothing but mustard. In the whole shop. Yep.

Holy new blogs, Batman!

Good morning. I've finally gotten around to adding a number of new Manc blogs that have been piling up around here. They are:

The personal blogs 3rd (R)age, Ubersnack, and Totga.

The writerly blog In Search of Adam.

The street fashion photography blog Manchester Looks, which is the source of the photo above. This blog doesn't shed any light on the eternal Manc fashion dilemma (novelty socks over OR under the trackies?) but maybe that's next week.

The blog of the esteemed Northern Film Network , which is bringing documentary filmmaker Jes Benstock to Preston's Mitchell and Kenyon cinema tomorrow night - and it's going to be free, I hear. Hope to get over there for that.

A shiny new urbisblog, which today makes mention of the fascinating historic Mancunian Ann Lee, who started the Shakers. There's a great biopic there, if you ask me.

And, last but not least, Corrieblog.

Many thanks to everyone who wrote in asking to be added or tipping me off to a new blog, and especially to Mancubist, for being dilligent about scoping out new blogs while I'm off noveling.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Salford Star: The real deal

This little item provides a perfect contrast to my last post. Hats off to the Salford Star, for publishing a no-holds-barred investigation of Urban Splash's regeneration and affordable housing schemes. The Star's intrepid fact-finders discovered that, though Urban Splash's Seedley and Langworthy developments were heavily funded by the government through affordable housing grants, the resulting housing wasn't that, erm, affordable. Funny that.

That fine piece of work has landed the Star on the longlist for the Paul Foot Award for Investigative Journalism, and today earned the Star a glowing write up by the Guardian. Imagine, a Greater Manc publication having the bottle to take on Urban Splash, one of the biggest advertisers and most untouchable sacred cows in the region? That's something I thought I'd never see. Almost gives you hope, doesn't it?

UPDATE: The Star have now posted the article about Urban Splash on their site, due to popular demand. If you want to read it, go here, click on the "atricles" link in their sidebar, and scroll down until you hit "Urban Cash"

Moving Manchester: real or not?

I’m here to report back, as promised, on Moving Manchester. Some of you may remember I’d made a disparaging comment about it here. Surprisingly, the editorial team at MM responded with a rather peevish 400-word comment taking me to task, which you can read below the original comment. My favourite part is this:

As regards the difference between our magazine and a ‘real’ magazine, we would be interested to understand what, in your view, constitutes a ‘real’ magazine’. As we understand it, a magazine is “A periodical containing a collection of articles, stories, pictures, or other features”.

Congratulations, you know how to use a dictionary. Here’s another word for you to look up: pedantic.

Okay, I’ve gotten that out of my system. I came here not to sharpen my snarkening shears but to take a long and hard look at Moving Manchester in order to determine one thing: Is it a real magazine or not? Let’s open the November issue.

MM seems keen to differentiate itself from a mere property magazine. A property “magazine” should be more rightly called a property brochure. The only reason they call it a magazine is because they hope we might be dumb enough to pick one up thinking it’s a magazine if they call it a magazine and make it look like one on the outside. Then, when we open it up, hey presto! It’s all ads: Aspiration Towers, Gentrifcation Wharf, GenericQuarter.

To be fair, MM has gone to a bit more of an effort than most property magazines to present something that resembles editorial content. But sadly, the resemblance is only a passing one. We have long, byline-free “articles” on property developments in Manchester, with marketing contacts thoughtfully provided. For instance, Macintosh Mills is “a six storey love song to Manchester’s Industrial Legacy,” the piece on page 10 tells us. The only person quoted is Sam Williams, regional sales manager for Bryant Homes. The text reads like ad copy, detailing all of the developments’ assets. No effort is made to provide an objective or alternative viewpoint about this development. I have to conclude that this is not an article. It’s advertising, marketing, promotion, or whatever you want to call it. But it’s not journalism. Worsley View is given the same gushing treatment on page 24. Dandara’s ‘concept’ apartments on Page 28. I’d go on, but you get the idea.

A magazine’s credibility rests entirely upon how readers perceive its independence. A close look at MM’s slick pages reveals a maze of advertorials, sponsored sections, ads made to resemble editorial, promotional contests and dubious page placement of the kind that immediately raises red flags. Even its columnists all seem to come with corporate ties and branding.

Take a look at the spread on page 46 and 47. A full-page ad for Magners Irish Cider placed opposite an “article” titled: Cider Revolution: The ‘New’ Cool Drink? The piece about cider’s remarkable rise in popularity barely mentions Manchester, but the Magners brand name appears five times, in contexts such as this:

“Perhaps there’s something about cider that is innately comforting. It could be that it makes us think of idyllic scenes, unspoilt countryside, trees sagging under the weight of their fruit, the lightly sparkling tang of apples helping you relax and enjoy midsummer sunsets…” Sorry, I can’t go on. I’m feeling a bit queasy. I mean, come on! We’re actually s’posed to believe that a journalist decided to write this ode to cider the wonder drink independently, with no financial encouragement from the gang at Magners? Maybe the piece wouldn’t seem out of place in Over-Poeticised Beverages Monthly, but it sticks out like a sore thumb in a Manchester lifestyle magazine. Something smells rotten. And it ain’t cider.

In a feature titled Decadent Delights: The Indulgent Guide to Manchester, we’re encouraged to check into the Moulin Rouge suite at the Malmaison Hotel, the delights of which are enumerated in breathless detail. The one detail they leave out is that Malmaison is listed on MM parent company BBDM’s website as a client. Guess the whole disclosure of conflict of interest thing isn’t a priority for the editorial team at MM. Unfortunately, it’s one of the most basic requirements of journalism, and non-negotiable for real magazines the world over.

I’m not saying that every article in MM is about a BBDM client or paid advertiser. Indeed, in this same issue I was quoted in an article about Manchester bloggers, an article that seems to have arisen out of a genuine sense of trying to communicate current happenings in Manchester. And I’m sure many of the other articles have the same innocent origin. But what are readers to think when they see so much in the publication that calls into question its editorial independence?

Is it a real magazine? No, as far as I’m concerned, it’s not.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Not dead. Yet.

Thanks for your touching emails of concern. No, I haven't died, I've been writing a novel for NaNoWriMo, which is just about to nudge past 25,000 words. I'm enjoying it, but it's a pretty weird process. It's kind of like driving through a snowstorm. You can't see where you are, and have only a vague idea of where you are going, so all you can do is go forward slowly and hope for the best.

I have to say giving up blogging (well, mostly) for the month was a good idea. It made me realise just how much time I spend blogging and reading other blogs. But no worries, normal blogging service will resume in two weeks. And there had been some talk of another Manchester blogmeet... what does everyone think of the first weekend in December? I'm assuming weekends are better than weeknights, but maybe not...? And is it time to branch out from the Hare and Hounds/Urbis option... any ideas? A social event would be good, since I'm feeling a little bit like a hermit what with all this solitary writing, and have started talking to my cat. Not good.

I did manage to get out of the house to see Tony Benn on Saturday at the Lowry. It was pretty great for me because I didn't know that much about him - he doesn't have a very high profile in the US - but this show, with folksinger Roy Bailey, was a brilliant introduction. What an amazing speaker Tony Benn is. Benn talked about different protests and popular movements, working his way through British history. Now and then he'd take a break and let Bailey do a few relevant protest songs. While he was singing, Benn sat back in his chair, lit a pipe and looked on benevolently, as a great cloud of pipesmoke gathered over his head.

Anywho, Crinklybee has just written a good bit about a misadventure on our newest pedestrian bridge here in Manchester, which he has christened Archie. Go read it, it's very funny.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Oh Happy Day

Midterm elections aren't that big of a deal, except once in a while when they're a really really big deal. This is one of those times.

I turned on the TV in the wee hours of this morning hoping the Dems might have recovered the House of Representatives. I was delighted when I found out that they had taken over the House and may even win back the Senate, too - in case anyone hasn't heard this already, the two key races in Montana and Virginia are too close to call, and we won't know for ages. What this means is that Bush and his cronies don't have a blank check from Congress anymore. We may actually see issues being debated, instead of presidential edicts being rubberstamped by smirking parasites and spineless yes-men. The Republicans will now be dealing with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, one of the gutsiest grandmas around. They find her "scary." They should be scared.

My own state of Vermont will again be sending two Democrats and one Independent to Washington. But now U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders will become the first Socialist to serve in the Senate ever, having handily defeated an arrogant software tycoon who spent $7 million of his own on the campaign. The outcome was no big surprise - he's one of the most beloved politicians in the state. While Vermont's Republican candidates were calling in sick for their photo opps with the President, Bernie Sanders picked up an endorsement that has real traction in Vermont: Willie Nelson.