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 






LeftLion 50

LeftLion celebrated its 50th birthday on 1 December and to celebrate we sunk a few beers in the ridiculously expensive Orange Tree. We decided not to milk this in the magazine because it’s not really our style. We’ll save that for 2014 which will mark our tenth year of surviving on wits alone in the brutal realm of print media. Instead we celebrated our latest significant anniversary by interviewing Shane Meadows who appeared in the first ever issue. It made for a nice bit of symmetry while also giving us the excuse to break our number one rule that you only ever get one interview in the magazine.

The front cover was shot in my front room but you wouldn’t be able to tell as the background was blurred out to focus in on the main image of a Quality Street tin which would later become ‘Clumber Street – an unsavoury assortment of chattiness and trainer shops’. Dom Henry popped over to take the image and brought an array of Christmassy treats with him – wine, smelly cheese, chocolates, to be used in the shot which was wolfed down shortly after.

The Quality Street tin was painted white for the photograph so that it would be easier to draw over when it was handed over to our illustrator. Now when people pop over the house for a glass of mulled wine they look at the tin and think that I’m some kind of minimalist who likes chocolate but has a Naomi Kleinesque aversion to branding.

WriteLion saw the return of a bumper book reviews pages, with reviews of Graham Joyce, Alan Sillitoe and Zoe Fairbairns as well as NottsLit Blog stepping in to review three books from Pewter Rose. I really like the idea of featuring guest reviewers looking at specific publishers as it offers a little bit more promotion for both. Our poetry page also included three bonus reviews of Sue Dymoke, Kathryn Daszkiewicz and Alan Baker. Katie Half-Price was given a Santa’s hat courtesy of our wonderful illustrator Rebecca Hibberd and got stuck into E.L.James, Naomi Wolf and Graham Rawle. It was great fun to write as always and a scary reminder of how easy it is to get into character. My girlfriend always looks a little puzzled when she reads it.

The literature interview was with Alison Moore who was recently shortlisted for the Booker Prize for her debut novel The Lighthouse. The illustration came from Michelle Haywood and as always is an example of getting your work (and brief) in early to allow an illustrator time to work on their design. The Lighthouse is a wonderful book, full of subtle warnings that become clearer on a second read. It also has a wonderful rhythm to it, a little like John Banville’s The Sea. Alison is a genuinely lovely person and will go on to be a very significant writer. Salt are definitely my publisher of the year for having the bollocks and faith to submit the novel, given all of the financial risks this entails.