…at The Albany earlier this week. Some lovely responses. It’s from Wordcafe.
…tomorrow to set up the ReAuthoring zone, which will consist of a wonderfully saucy confessional booth (courtesy of our friend and co-conspirator Betty Herbert) and a home base for our LoungeStories project.
Me, I’m not only co-producing I’m actually mucking in and writing…though don’t be surprised if you don’t actually see my byline. A hint below, which admittedly not much of a hint, but if you Tweet keep up with #LOTF2012…all will be revealed! Maybe…
Yesterday, I attended the National Association for Literature Development’s (NALD) annual conference, airily titled ‘The Space Between Us’ . The ‘us’ in this context is writer and reader, with one speaker going so far as to say that ‘audience’ is a degrading term that should be abolished in favour of ‘participant observer’. Whatever.
Wanky terminology aside, NALD did a fine job of assembling some interesting folks with stimulating ideas. Perhaps not surprisingly, the conference was very tech-heavy…as in, if you’re not heavy into tech in some way, you are in the process of missing the proverbial boat where the future of literature is concerned. There were differences of opinion aplenty, which made for lively discussion. Uber-prolific writer-gamer Naomi Alderman offered that technology was yet another way for writers to explore “the possibility space” while Mercy director Nathan Jones worried that a world of writers focused on pimping their work on every available tech and media platform could give rise to the “auteurmaton” (my personal favourite neologism du jour) who is less intent on creating good writing than good marketing.
What everyone agreed on is that no one really knows where the writing and publishing world is going…or if, indeed, there’s a destination at all, as opposed to a confused eternity of rapid, wrenching evolution. Industry veteran Ian Daley probably came closest to the nub of the zeitgeist when he noted that “discovery is the central problem of the book business,” a point surely confirmed by the presentation about Movellas, whose alternative moniker might have been Sticky Noodles; as in, throw enough ideas out there and some are bound to catch interest.
If no one knows exactly how writers might best reach the ‘participant observers’ they want, it is clear that there are more walls at which to fling our sticky literary noodles than have ever existed before. Writer/coder/maker James Bridle whizzed through a number of fascinating projects that stretch the definition and boundaries of literature, in a great way. Culture and technology pundit Bill Thompson added that “experimenting with non-linearity” was closely linked to the idea that writers and readers “work together to co-create meaning.”
For all the fun and (literally) games, there was little discussion about the potential for the writer, as a ‘live’ presence, to enhance the literary experience: there is so much still to play for here, and that is very exciting for us at The ReAuthoring Project. We absolutely believe that modern technology is an essential part of the 21st century writing and publishing experience…how could it be otherwise? But when it comes to literature, the medium isn’t the message. At least not yet.
I’ve just finished an unusually busy round of work in schools: insets with more than 100 teachers, workshops with more than three times that many students, all in the space of a few weeks. The work was arts-led and creativity-driven, intended to offer students a different perspective on certain subject matter and expose teachers to some processes they might not otherwise have access to.
It’s an interesting time to be working so intensively as an insider/outsider in our education system. I say ‘insider’ because I probably experience a wider variety of schools, both culturally and geographically, than most teachers, which offers a very broad perspective on ‘education’ as it now happens. But on the micro level, I’m always an outsider: as anyone who works in schools knows, each school is its own little universe, distinct in culture and operation, even if linked in its aims to every other school in the country, not to say the world.
Still, having now finished this recent burst of delivery, I can’t help but feel as though I’ve glimpsed something of the zeitgeist when it comes to publicly-supported education in this time of global austerity. And here’s what sticks.
– The teaching profession is harder than its ever been. Longer hours, more paperwork, more targets, bigger classes, fewer resources, more scrutiny. A friend working in finance said recently that he, too, faced these kinds of challenges. Yes, I said, but your paycheque probably involves several more zeroes than that of most teachers, none of whom will receive a fat bonus if they do a great job. The conversation ended there.
– There is nothing as much fun as a group of switched-on, fully engaged, creative teachers. I’ve written books and produced theatre, but I can honestly say that I’ve experienced some of my liveliest, most enjoyable professional moments while playing around with ideas and possibilities with teachers who clearly love their job and like each other.
– On the flip side of the above, some teachers should not be teaching. If you’re loudly describing children as ‘impossibly thick’, you should leave or be forced to leave. If you’re allowed to say such things openly, amongst staff, perhaps even in earshot of students, your school’s leadership needs to change. Sadly, neither seems to happen very often.
– Strong leadership makes a strong school. A head teacher who gives up his afternoon to help support a student workshop is different from one who cowers in a corner as his staff feels free to openly abuse the practitioner (both scenarios I experienced in recent weeks). Probably obvious, but seeing is believing.
– Government’s various schemes, such as academies and free schools, seem to make not a blind bit of difference to any of the above. Pushing superficial reform while cutting actual resources is even more cynical than rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship. It is more like encouraging lower-deck passengers to switch cabins, even as the hatches are spun shut above them as the water floods in below.
– The discipline culture in our schools is worryingly Orwellian. So many children can’t form an independent opinion yet can mach schtum at the merest gesture of their teacher. Where will this lead?
– Teachers are hungry to be more creative in how they teach yet too often have neither enough time nor virtually any structural encouragement to do so. Given this, it’s a wonder that so many teachers are still so very creative and engaged. Thank goodness they are, because they’re the ones keeping the whole creaking, sinking ship from going under altogether.
Right about now is the semi-official five-year anniversary of this thing called Nimble Fish; as in, the approximate time when corporate approval came in the post from Companies House. Still, one anniversary is as good as another, n’est ce pas? And so, with 2011 drawing to a close and the quasi-apocalyptic 2012 upon us, we list here in no particular order the big-ticket stuff we’ve done since embarking on our journey in 2006:
Creativity Quest, Einstein’s Dreams, The Container, Debate London, Culture Detectives, Billboard, Re:bourne, Fourth Plinth, Creative Partnerships (London, Essex, Kent…and most recently, Lithuania and Norway), Space To Learn, The Learning Town Project, ReAuthoring, and Sounds of the Stars.
Looking back on one’s work via project titles creates a strange reality distortion field: some of these projects spanned several years, others were one-offs, and still others are ongoing. By the numbers we won three awards, worked in half a dozen countries, presented/performed at five festivals, and connected with nearly 100 schools. We’ve provided gainful and hopefully enjoyable employment to more than 150 people while managing to not default on loans (since we’ve never had any), ask for a government bail-out, or make headlines by living large on taxpayer-fuelled bonuses.
It’d take too long to list all of the friends and colleagues we’ve made since 2006. But hopefully you know who you are. Nimble Fish would be far less nimble (and way fishier) without your talent, energy and dedication. Here’s to a bright and creative future for all of us, Mayan calendars notwithstanding…
The late, great Nobel-winning physicist Richard Feynman musing on the relationship between scientific enquiry, curiosity and the universe. Enjoy with a cuppa.