In September 2011 I went along to the Royal Academy of Arts as part of a ‘Stories at an Exhibition’ writing group led by Shaun Levin. I spent a couple of hours wandering around an exhibition of street photography by André Kertész, and writing to images that inspired me. The first exercise invited me to stop at ten random photographs and write the story that I saw in the image—one minute of writing per photograph. Looking back over my notebook, I’m surprised at the immediacy and energy in the few scribbled lines per image—each one could blossom into so much more.
I had my first experience of the Liars’ League on Tuesday 13th November at The Phoenix. The Liars’ League advertises its events as a place where: Writers Write; Actors Act; Audience Listens; Everyone Wins. The venue itself was a rather plush affair, with red velvet seating, a well appointed small stage, a bar and excellent food.
November’s theme was ‘Treason and Plot’ and featured five stories covering ‘lucky terrorists, taciturn cult-leaders, Nordic fishermen, Jewish princesses and an ankle-obsessed Jacobean in a ginger wig’. I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed all five stories, there’s something about having your story read by a talented actor that really brings it to life.
Exhibitions of street photography can offer a rich variety of inspiration for writers. A visit to the Tate Modern and the William Klein/Daido Moriyama exhibition on 1st December certainly provided me unexpected insights into one of my characters.
Klein has a distinctive approach to street photography, using a wide-angled lens to cram as much as he can into each shot. He wants to create the sense that the viewer is jammed in amongst the crowds. It was the faces that jumped out at me, one or maybe two in a crowd, often looking lost. Loneliness spotlighted. Writing in the cafe, it was this sense of being lost that emerged in the internal voice of a character who is, on the outside at least, a strong and confident man.
The English Department of Royal Holloway, University of London hosts a number of events during the academic year which feature authors reading from and talking about their most recent novel. These ‘Lunch Time Readings’ are reasonably well attended by both English students and members of staff. Last year Sir Andrew Motion read from his novel ‘Silver’ to a crowded lecture theatre.
In November the guest author was Kenneth McCloud reading from his debut novel ‘The Incident’. This novel is interesting in that it is framed around one day in the life of a young lifeguard in Germany. Within this frame three interlinked stories are told: the lifeguard (present day, in the context of the novel), the grandfather and his World War Two experiences, and Gerd a refugee from the Cold War.
Red Country is the third of Abercrombie’s stand-alone books, after Best Served Cold and The Heroes. While all three books can be read in isolation they are based in the same world as The First Law trilogy and feature some well-loved characters.
Abercrombie draws, in part, on his experience as a film editor when writing and he has likened Best Served Cold to a gangster/revenge movie set in something like a Machiavellian renaissance Italy, and The Heroes to a big-picture war film like Waterloo or A Bridge Too Far. His new book, Red Country, with its air of ‘narrowed eyes’ and ‘clenched jaws’, is firmly set in the fantasy equivalent of a good western.