Animating graphics for Sillitoe project Cheap Gossip for Retail Later.

This is the third of three blogs originally published on the City Arts website for Words for Wisdom, a project which aims to bring older and young people together through literature. During my commission we explored Alan Sillitoe’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and uncovered an incredible artist called Paul Warren who illustrated the animated graphics for the project: Cheap Gossip for Retail Later.

Whenever I complete a commission there’s that moment where you sit back and reflect on what went well and what you would do differently. Working with City Arts has taken this to another level, clarifying what it is I’ve been doing all my life: I basically find excuses to talk to people.

Journalism is all about navigating a city through the minds of locals, discovering the weird and wonderful things that people get up to – the woman who sends the Queen a teddy bear every year, the puppeteer who wants to cover the Council House in felt. I’ve met them all over the years. I’ve always believed that my digital projects were a celebration of literary heritage, but really they’re an excuse to collaborate with a broad range of disciplines and people. The Sillitoe Trail explored the enduring relevance of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning through a beatboxer, jazz bands, a historian, memoir, actors, writers and many more. Dawn of the Unread enabled me to promote organisations I strongly believed in – Sparrow’s Nest Anarchist Library, The Nottingham Black Archives, The Women’s Centre, the Bertrand Russell Foundation. For Words of Wisdom I’ve met people I wouldn’t have come into contact with otherwise, some of whom I now consider as friends.

In the 20 sessions we hosted across four venues in Nottingham, we used Sillitoe’s writing to reflect upon our own experiences. Some people were uncomfortable with writing, others were unable to write on account of their physical health – such as Brenda at Radford Care Group, who has such severe tremors she joked ‘imagine what it’s like when I try and eat me dinner’. Instead, they shared their memories verbally. The purpose of these sessions wasn’t to force people to write, rather to express and share ideas – whatever that may entail.

During one session, a participant who had served in the army from 1961-4, said he was more comfortable with drawing than writing. He was very dismissive of his art, but agreed – after a little encouragement – to send over a sketch later that evening. His email would change the entire shape and format of the project. His name is Paul Warren.

Paul’s sketch, drawn on an ipad, was of a group of drunken men. The style is reminiscent of a watercolour due to the texture and brush strokes, with some aspects given more emphasis than others. This created the feeling of the characters being both present and absent. Paul explained that he was influenced by the concept of Impressionism, drawing glimpses of moments rather than the completed pictorial composition. I personally loved his characters long flowing limbs which created a sense of inebriation – you could feel the alcohol running through their limp bodies. It felt like they could collapse at any time. His work reminded me of Paul Waplington, the Nottingham artist who captured the liveliness of people and places through his rhythmic paintings.

I had originally intended to create a YouTube video for the project output but instead opted for a series of vignettes to be animated by Paul’s artwork. Each one would include a framing quote from Sillitoe, and then an audio of a participant’s story. At first, Paul couldn’t see the value of his work. He felt he had underachieved in terms of an art career, perhaps because his working life had not afforded the time to perfect his craft, but me and Kate Duncan took a different view. He’s an incredible talent, and we wanted him to be the fulcrum of the project. He later gave us access to his dropbox account where we unearthed hundreds of portraits of people.

This is why projects like Words of Wisdom are so important: They allow space for creativity. They place a value on self-expression. They provide validation to hidden talents.

Better late, than never at all…

Words of Wisdom: Choice Gossip for Retail Later, 12 November (6pm-8pm), City Arts, 11-13 Hockley, Nottingham. NG1 1FH   

Book tickets from Eventbrite here 




City Arts Commission: ‘Choice Gossip for Retail Later’

Over summer I’ve been running writing workshops in the Meadows and Central library, Radford Care Group, and the Marcus Garvey Centre, gathering stories inspired by Alan Sillitoe’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. The commission was for a City Arts project called ‘Words of Wisdom’ which aims to bring older and young people together through literature.

Anyone who has ever stumbled across this blog or my work (with Paul Fillingham) will know how important Alan Sillitoe is to me. I explored the enduring relevance of his debut novel in a commission for The Space called The Sillitoe Trail, brought him back from the dead in ‘For it was Saturday Night’, a comic in my literary graphic novel serial Dawn of the Unread, and presently I’m working on a new graphic novel called Whatever People Say I Am, which aims to dispel myths around identity and give voice to those deprived of the right to speak. He’s popped up elsewhere, but you get the point.

For the City Arts project I broke Saturday Night and Sunday Morning down into four areas: Work, Factory, Community, Relationships. Groups were provided with relevant quotes and extracts which we read and analysed together. These then served as inspiration to reflect on our own lives. The stories that came out were incredible. Here’s a few from our work themed sessions: Life as a pig farmer and the sadness of befriending one animal and discovering the next day it was off to slaughter; a young female locking herself in a toilet to avoid the advances of a lecherous boss; knocking on doors to inform people they had contracted a sexually transmitted disease and having water thrown over you; working at the Greyhound Stadium and hiding tips in your blouse; physiotherapist in a rehab unit working with miners with head injuries; hungover female bitumen workers grafting every hour of daylight; a textile worker who kicks his wife in his sleep because he still dreams he’s sat at his machine working the pedals.

Any analysis of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning rightly focuses on the wonderfully quotable antics of Arthur Seaton, the hard drinking, anti-hero at the heart of the novel. But for this project I wanted to give Mrs Bull a bit of a focus. She may not slug her guts out at the lathe, but she certainly puts in a shift at the yard where she is known as the “Loudspeaker” or “News of the World” for “her malicious gossip” which “travelled like electricity through a circuit, from one power point to another, and the surprising thing was that a fuse was so rarely blown”. Mrs Bull watches people head to the Raleigh factory in the morning and afternoon with one main purpose: “to glean choice gossip for retail later”.

Gossip is a contentious term. Did Mrs. Bull serve an important social purpose in keeping her community in check or was her gossip malicious, with the intent of feeling superior over others? This was perhaps one of the most interesting discussions to come out of our sessions, particularly in light of recent feminist debates about being heard and supporting each other, such as #Metoo

In Witches, Witch-Hunting, and Women, Silvia Federici has traced the origins of gossip and found it originally meant godparent, “one who stands in spiritual relation to the child to be baptized”. Later it referred to companions in childbirth, then a term for female friends with strong emotional connotations. It is only recently that it has been used as a derogatory term.

We decided to call this project ‘Choice Gossip for Retail Later’ as a nod to women like Mrs. Bull who’ve been given a hard time over the years but also because this is what we were doing in our sessions: we were gleaning gossip from each other, sharing stories, listening and talking, evaluating and questioning our respective experiences to create a sense of togetherness through words. That choice gossip has taken the form of a series of illustrations with audio recordings which will be released bit by bit over the coming months. You can decide for yourself if this gossip is worthy of retail on 12 November.

Words of Wisdom: Choice Gossip for Retail Later, 12 November (6pm-8pm), City Arts, 11-13 Hockley, Nottingham. NG1 1FH   

Book tickets from Eventbrite here