Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Shh. Keep your voice down. Do you see that woman writing in her notebook? No, don't turn around.

Yes, her. She's writing down everything we say.

I am not being paranoid. She's obviously warming up for Bugged, a national exercise in "creative eavesdropping" that takes place tomorrow.

Here's the deal: We all know writers are nosy parkers, right? And why shouldn't they be? You can't write real-sounding dialogue unless you study the real thing, and sometimes these illicit field recordings get appropriated for made-up stories. The Bugged project just legitimises an age-old process.

Writers are asked to write down what they overhear wherever they are, and then use the material as the basis of a piece of creative writing (poem, short story or flash fiction). Send it in to the Bugged people by August 15th and it could be published on their website or in an anthology alongside commissions from Daljit Nagra, David Gaffney and Jenn Ashworth, which is launching in October at our own Manchester Literature Festival and the Birmingham Book Festival. All the details are here. So get out and listen in.

Just, please, be discreet. It's not okay to ask people to speak up because you can't hear what they're saying. Or to throw them evil, surreptitious looks from behind your notebook, while snickering meaningfully to yourself. That kind of thing gives us writers a bad name.

(Illustration from Harriet The Spy, which you really should read if you haven't yet.)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Playing out

I'm a huge fan of after hours parties in museums, and The Whitworth's Midsummer House Party looks set to be a cracker, with a houseful of music, poetry and crafty goodness courtesy of local promoters For Folk's Sake and Pull Yourself Together and the Manchester Craft Mafia. It's this Thursday, from 7:30 to 10:30pm.

The weather is gorgeous at the moment, so the timing couldn't be better for Parklover's handy guide to public parks and green spaces in the city centre. It's a really comprehensive look at all the options for summertime picnics/recreation/sprawling on the grass hidden away in the urban streetscape. Some great little-known spots on there I will definitely be checking out soon.

If you feel like getting outside by the water this weekend, join Manchester Modernist Society for Tales of the Riverbank, a group meander in search of nature in the heart of the city. They say: "Join us on an investigative journey to find out how life on the riverbank has evolved through changing times. How have architects and planners responded to the presence of elemental forces of nature in the city centre? Sarah’s walk will follow the River Irwell uncovering tales of ecological development in the urban environment." Meet up at 1pm outside Manchester Cathedral on Sunday 27th June.

And if getting into the water is more your thing, you might want to check out my piece for Creative Tourist about wild swimming spots near Manchester. If I've missed any, and I'm sure I have, please add your own favourite swimming places in the comments (and no, the Rochdale Canal doesn't count.)

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Life of the Mind

Ideas are big news in Manchester at the moment. Sure, the city's universities are always hosting fascinating talks and lectures, but it can be difficult for the non-academic public to get involved in their events. Following on from FutureEverything's City Debate, it seems like there are plenty of interesting discussion-based events around or in the works, and this week I learned of a couple more that have been going for quite a while.

I saw something in Laura Barton's View from A Broad column this morning about Ladies who do Skepticism - a group I had never heard of before but whose existence I heartily applaud. They have meetings all over the country, at which crictical thinkers gather to discuss the appalling pseudoscience targeted at women (just open your nearest glossy mag to a random page). The Manchester group will be meeting for a luncheon outing this Saturday June 12 at 1pm - details here. And if you're a skeptic with a Y chromosome, you should check out the Greater Manchester Skeptics, who even do podcasts. I had no idea there were whole societies just for skeptical people. It seems uniquely English, though it probably isn't. But how cool.

Also new to me (via our great hyperlocal news blog Inside The M60), The Manchester Salon is a monthly discussion forum tackling current affairs questions such as the politics of football, how cities can best be developed, and the future of transport. The discusssions are led by experts and open to the public. The next one, Weds July 14, is about why crime novels are so popular. It's at Blackwell's Bookshop and there is a charge of £5 to attend.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Let's do launch: New Manchester websites

The past few weeks have seen the launch of three long-anticipated sites that all aim to shake up the way Manchester's cultural life is represented online. I have written something for all of them, so I'm not exactly impartial or anything. But I think each has a lot to offer in its own way.

Following the formal lifting of election purdah (such a funny idea, that) first out of the starting gate was Visit Manchester with a bold approach that sets out a new model for city tourism websites. Built by magneticNorth, it's a dramatically different user experience, with continuous scrolling, invisible navigation and an open-door approach to content.

It would be fair to say that it has divided the city's digital folk. For my part, I'm a fan of the site's design. Of course, it has bugs that need to be worked out over time. I really love that they have incorporated so much social media content, and though its nigh-on impossible to ensure that only relevant tweets/photos end up there, VM is to be commended for relinquishing absolute control of what people say about Manchester on their own site. I wrote a little rundown of the city's cheap eats options for VM, and I'm happy that they used other bloggers' writing as well - hope that continues.

Next up was Creative Times, with a re-launch of the regional creative industry news site/print newsletter formerly run by the sadly-departed CIDS. Creative Times has been reborn in online-only format as a joint venture between The White Room consultancy, Cornerhouse and Fudge in Bolton. Edited by former Metro editor Chris Sharatt, the site looks good and has some interesting features (as well as a good amount of original multimedia content.)

It will be interesting to see how exactly it carves out its own identity alongside sites like How-Do and Creative Tourist that weren't around during its last incarnation; participation from the creative community will be key to its success. And if anyone was interested in the Manchester blog aggregator project I first posted about here a while back, you can read a bit more about it in my Creative Thinking column: Are blogs the future for arts coverage? (though I should point out that the aggregator we're working on won't just feature arts blogs, it'll have Manchester blogs on every subject.)

Finally, fresh out today is Go See This, the new what's on website from All About Audiences (them that used to be Arts About Manchester, who took on a new name following their designation as the regional audience development body in the NW). Now, I did quite a bit of work helping Editor Adam Comstive develop the content side of things, so there's no way I can even pretend to judge it in a disinterested way. It's a place where you can find out what's happening in the city's arts and cultural venues, plan outings, book tickets and get involved in a conversation about the arts in Manchester. We have needed something like this for, oh, about as long as I can remember, and I hope that it will prove extremely useful to anyone who wants to know what's happening in Manctown.

Also want to point you in the direction of the excellent Manchester Scenewipe, a smorgasboard of video from Manchester-based bands, and This is The Now, also from Visit Manchester but focusing solely on promoting live music in the city. It looks very nice indeed, but hope that content is going to keep getting updated as most of the stuff on the mainpage happened back in May.