About James

James is the Literature Editor of LeftLion magazine. He is also an academic and a writer who has been published in various magazines and books. This means he spends most of his time in front of a computer screen writing about life instead of living it. Therefore, do not trust a word he says.

Being Arthur and Raphael Hefti

Being arthurThis weekend saw Paul Fillingham and I produce the first ever live 24 hour Twitter presentation of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning for a project called Being Arthur as part of the Being Human Festival at the University of Nottingham. We billed this as The Sillitoe Trail II as it developed themes and ideas from our Space commission a few years ago.

being arthur then and nowThe presentation was split into two parts: Then and Now. The script for ‘then’ was a combination of the novel, the screenplay, a few other Sillitoe novels and a bit of improvisation. ‘Now’ saw Seaton working his way through ‘nine hundred and fifty-bloody-four emails’, playing fishing on his wii because the canals have now dried up, and using dating App Tinder to meet lonely women because it’s cheaper and more immediate.

arthur pintsIt took a lot of research and time and was pretty much last minute due to other deadlines vying for attention. Paul created some beautiful visuals. I particularly liked the ‘drinking contest with the sailor’ as he visually created the slow, demolition of a pint. We created Twitter accounts for some of the other characters too, which was a right headache to properly synchronise so that it got tweeted in the right place.

One of the most pleasurable aspects of the project was getting comments from people who weren’t aware of what we were doing. As I’d used my personal Twitter account (TheSpaceLathe) for the modern Arthur, a few friends got quite concerned about the content of my tweets and thought I’d had some kind of personality change. I haven’t explained to them yet that I am not having a string of affairs as I’m quite interested to see if any of them start gossiping to my partner or spreading rumours.

tinder arthurBut using my personal account did restrict some of the content and meant I was more cautious than I should have been. One person on Twitter (@monsterlander) commented that the real Arthur Seaton would have laid in to noisy neighbours who woke him up (this is how the ‘new’ story starts) but as far as I am aware, Seaton didn’t really go around lamping people. There was always the threat of violence but he didn’t really instigate it. When he gets caught out by the squaddies it’s them that catch him rather than the other way around. But I was able to respond to this later on in the schedule by sending Monsterlander a threat.

It was a pleasant coincidence that Raphael Hefti’s exhibition was running at the Nottingham Contemporary at the same time as Being Arthur. Hefti is fascinated by processes and experimenting with materials. For his current solo exhibition he visited industries in the East Midlands, such as Rolls Royce with the aim of learning about the composition and treatment of metals in different states.

Arthur Seaton is a factory worker at Raleigh who grafts all day at his lathe for “14, 3 and tuppence for 1,000 of these a day”. Raleigh, during the period in which the book was set, was one of the largest employers in Nottingham, alongside Players and Boots. Sillitoe worked at Raleigh too, describing the daily grind as “a thousand times a day I set the bar, spin back the turret, push in the chamfer, force the drill. Working two cutting blades till the brass hexagonal nut falls into my right hand and gets thrown into a tin.”

Photograph taken from Evening Post, Nov 6. Mark Patterson article

Photograph taken from Evening Post, Nov 6. Mark Patterson article

Hefti, if you like, has taken these offcuts, these pieces of industrial waste from the production process, and given them new meanings through his experimental art. Instead of nuts he has used aluminium, titanium, copper and steel poles and heated them up so that they produce ribbons of beautiful colour. The artwork is entitled ‘Various Threaded Poles of Determinate Length Potentially altering their Determinacy, 2014’.

Both Seaton and Hefti’s artwork share quite a few similarities: Neither can be easily classified, they are both shaped by the industrial production process, and they equally strive to transcend their material existence. Seaton described his lathe as ‘my everlasting pal because it gets me thinking’. His imagination enabled him to temporary escape from monotonous, repetitious labour while defying anybody to try and grind him down. Hefti’s incredible artwork refuses to be pinned down and transforms industrial waste into something quite magical. But the similarities end there. Seaton would never be seen dead in some poncy art gallery, not even for a free cocktail on opening night.

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Ta-ra, Festival of Words

Photograph: Nottingham Post

Photograph: Nottingham Post

About three years ago at an AGM at the Nottingham Writers’ Studio we asked members what things they would like to see happen at the studio and within the wider community. Quite a few members, such as John Lucas and Michael Eaton, mentioned their desire to see a city-wide literature festival. To our astonishment, we realised there hadn’t been one for over thirty years.

Plans were quickly drawn up and in 2013 we put on the inaugural Festival of Words in collaboration with Nottingham City Council and Writing East Midlands and the two universities. The festival had many flaws in that we had over programmed, events competed with each other, and we were simply a little too ambitious. But this was hardly surprising given how long we had had all waited. There was no funding, either, which meant we ran completely on goodwill and the incredible effort of many volunteers.

2014 was a completely different beast. We went for a more devolved approach whereby both universities planned and coordinated specific events that saw the likes of Ali Smith and Will Self on the streets of Nottingham. We received a grant from Arts Council England (up to 15k) and at the very last minute additional funding came through to put on an international series of talks from writers from afar afield as Hungary, China, and Afghanistan.

It was an incredible week (with additional fringe events that are still going on, such as Judith Allnatt talking about her WWI novel The Moon Field) and was generally very well attended, which the first festival was not. In between the meetings and emails there was also time to be creative. For the first Festival I did a literary walk with Michael Eaton and for this one ran a game of Masterbwainz, whereby we brought back dead writers from Nottingham’s past to raise awareness of local literary history.

There were teething problems with the festival which were inevitable given the small turnaround in which we had to structure the programme and market events, but overall I think it was fantastic and something I feel very proud to have been involved with. There are still areas in which we need to improve; in particular defining roles and how we communicate internally and externally. Agreeing on the identity of the festival and its function is important too, but we’re nearly there in that we are a Festival of Words rather than a Literature Festival. And the website desperately needs tarting up so it has a bit of magic. These things are possible with time, the thing all of us are chasing.

I stepped down as a director of the Festival on Wednesday because I feel as if my work is done. Although stepping down doesn’t mean I’m free. There are still ways in which I will be involved but not at the forefront or in an official capacity. More of a gobby backseat driver.

The Festival is in great shape and with a bit of preening here and there will become a handsome devil. NWS is already represented by Anne McDonald so there is no need for two of us to be involved. At NWS I have slowly tried to devolve roles for the Board and Anne’s role has been working on the Festival, so it makes complete sense for her to carry on in this capacity. And she has done an incredible job and deserves full credit, alongside Jacqueline Gabbitas, Sarah Dale, Pippa Hennessy and many many others. Nottingham, you don’t know how lucky you are.

There are quite a few reasons for stepping down, which I expressed with a few people prior to the festival. Firstly, I am worried that the local literary scene is getting too incestuous. I have too many ‘hats’ on and this could create the impression the literature scene is closed off. It’s not. You get sucked into a lot of things through being the Chair of NWS. Secondly, wearing too many hats can create a conflict of interest which can lead to miscommunication. Thirdly, the devil is in the detail. It is simply not possible to give things your full attention when there is so much else going on. My priority is now with the UNESCO City of Literature bid – which is something that, in many ways, has been born out of the festival as it helped to bring organisations closer together. And lastly, I’m sick to death of emails and meetings and so need to trim these away a bit to concentrate on my two very needy children who I love dearly. They are Dawn of the Unread and Being Arthur (The Sillitoe Trail: II).

 

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