Saturday, 25 October 2014

Birthday musings....

Today I turn 37. 

I sat for a while yesterday and quietly mused on the twelve months that'd passed, and all that had happened to me. Some of it seemed noteworthy, so I started scribbling things down. 

During my 36th year (amongst many other things, both small and large), I did these 36 things (in no particular order):

1. I sat many times in the outer hall of the Royal Exchange Theatre - my very favourite place to be. 
Whenever I walk up the rainbow-rimmed steps, pass through the big heavy glass doors and into its serene hall, I stop to gaze - first up at its purple-domed ceiling, and gently-lit spectrum of stained glass - and then to the majestic arch of the theatre pod. 
It always makes me smile.

(Photo by Adrian McGarry ~ found here.)

For me, walking into the Exchange - and particularly into the theatre pod - always feels like a unique alchemy. It's like coming home, and yet also inspires the sense of setting out on a remarkable adventure. I've visited it so often over the years that it is both familiar and comforting  - and full of vibrant memories - and yet remains ever surprising and illuminating. 
I sat in the outer hall for a yesterday for a time, and, as usual, sketched and read and dreamed and remembered - and felt completely at peace.

2. Said goodbye to two of my very dearest friends, who both left Liverpool in order to go onto greater adventures - one who moved to London, and one to Finland. And, as tough as it was to say farewell, its been hugely cheering to hear that they're both blossoming and very happy in their new homes. 

3. Marvelled at my amazing Gran, who came through a complex heart operation at the age of 89, and who still has astonishing reserves of curiosity, mental energy and fascination for the world as well as great determination and will.

4. Designed my first tattoo, and had the scary-yet-wonderful pleasure of seeing the final version etched on my friend's shoulder.

5. Missed my Taid, and so started wearing some of his favourite ties, in his honour. 

6. Discovered I really like beetroot.

7. Got caught up in the London marathon crowds, and was unable to escape. But I did get to witness the unforgettable sight of Bananaman, a dinosaur, three Where's Wallys, Iron Man, a gent in top hat and tails, a kitchen tap, a jigsaw piece, at least three Smurfs, a dalmation, many men in tutus, a hippo, Father Xmas, Sonic the Hedgehog, Spiderman, two bananas, two sunflowers, a tiger, Virgil Tracey, a huge killer whale, and a giant eyeball come racing by.......and coming in last...a very slow moving but cheery Flash.

8. Was driven up Pendle Hill by a lovely friend. We kept a sharp eye out for the lingering ghosts of persecuted witches, but saw only sheep. (Unless they were mystical old crones in disguise... Hmmmm...)

9. Drew 15 silhouette illustrations, no less. Drawing stills my hyper brain, and lets me channel so many of the stories and characters and things I love. And makes me very happy.
(The Girl Who Flew from the Pier ~ the original can be found here.)

10. Celebrated my Mum's grand and beautiful 60th birthday with the help of Aye-Ayes and Kiva and with a very merry special family meal.

11. Also cheered on my Great Aunt, who turned 90, and yet had the energy and enthusiam to keep everyone at her birthday party up and talking until late in the evening - and my brilliantly talented musical cousin, who turned 21, and promptly went off to London to play trumpet with his band.

12. I turned into a Harper Lee groupie. I even found my very own Boo Radley knot-hole in a gnarled old tree just two streets away from my house. Sadly yet nothing has been left in it, but I keep checking.

13. Grew my hair long and then had it all cut off again - while talking about feminism and politics and India and art and gender roles and travel adventures with the remarkably talented Rachel at Watermelon Studio. 

14.  Thanks to a friend's loan, I saw Cabaret for the first time, and fell completely under the spell of the lights and the greasepaint of the KitKat Club, and was mesmerised by Joel Grey's fascinating-yet-sinister-yet-strangely-beautiful-yet-disturbing EmCee...

15. Very proudly helped to celebrate News From Nowhere Bookshop's 40th birthday. 
In spite of fascist arson attacks, financial difficulties, and competition from the likes of supermarkets and Amazon, this brilliant radical independent still stands strong, and is still selling books that promote hope and justice and change and peace. 
We celebrated with a big, free, communal party in the city centre, and (later in the summer) a free literary festival in the Bluecoat Arts Centre. The party sported copious balloons, a literary themed cake, and much dancing and celebratory music. 
About 150 people came and hugged and talked and cheered and bonded, and affirmed their pride in being a part of the community that's grown up in and around the shop. I felt very moved (and rather shy) but very honoured to work there, and to have been a small part of it for the past 12 years or so. 
The day afterwards, I was stopped by a regular customer in town, who hadn't been able to make the party, but wanted to know how it'd gone. I related the night to him, and he beamed, genuinely moved. Wasn't it wonderful, he said, to have gathered all those people together, to see all that love? To be reminded that you're not alone. That other people in the city all really care about making positive change. It gives you hope. It reminds you to keep going. 
It really does.

16. Met Robert Llewellyn (at one of the aforementioned News from Nowhere 40th birthday celebration events). He was utterly lovely and kind and warm and very funny. We talked about books and writing and feminism and electric cars and of the extraordinary new scientific inventions he knows of (which sound as if they've sprung straight from the realms of fiction, and yet, wonderfully, are completely authentic) - and he began to tell me an amusing tale about a commune he once lived in, which also housed a pig.... Although sadly at that moment he was called away to prepare for the reading he was going to give, so I never found out the rest.  
I remain very proud that I managed to stay dignified throughout, and restrained my long-held Red Dwarf fangirl geekdom till after he left.

17. Created a logo for a newly-formed New York-based theatre company.

18. Celebrated two joyful partnerships of four wonderful people - with my friends' elegant summer wedding (which, incidentally, had to compete with the arrival of The Giants in Liverpool, but there was no doubt for us as to what the real special event of the day was!), and with my step-sister and her fine fellow's glorious Scottish wedding, complete with numerous kilts and rainbow-attired bridesmaids.

19. Cheered on my amazingly brilliant and clever brother, who worked his way through some very complex and mind-boggling maths and science Open University assignments and exams, and in spite of various difficulties, fought his way through it all, and is now signed up to learn more. He's just fantastic. In so many ways. 

20. I admired and exclaimed over - and then was taught how to work - a lovingly-restored antique letterpress, by the very kind and patient Elizabeth at the Juniper Press
 
The letterpress is the same model that William Morris would have used, and is a stunningly beautiful piece of elegant engineering. The Juniper Press studio is home to two more presses, as well as ancient wooden boxes and drawers, which are crammed full of hundreds of tiny individual letters. It's like stepping back in time to another era. The studio is full of light and quiet and calm, and its workers bend studiously over their work, selecting and laying out tiny letters individually with immense care and attention, in order to hand-print poems and writings.

21. Sold books by candlelight, during an hours-long, street-wide blackout. It was surprisingly magical, and turned the experience of locating books into something of an imaginative treasurehunt in the semi-darkness.

22. In true unashamed Whovian style, got tremendously excited about the arrival of the brand new Twelfth Doctor. :) 

23. Said goodbye to some remarkable talents and marvellous people, with the loss of Harold Ramis, Lauren Bacall, Nelson Mandela, Lou Reed, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Maya Angelou, Peter O'Toole, and Robin Williams.

24. Found that, in the wake of the immensely sad death of Robin Williams, there was a resulting wave online of compassionate writing about mental health, and a renewed and determined movement to try and dispel some of the myths and fears and stigma surrounding it. 
I found people I know and admire blogging and writing and sharing their own stories. And in doing so, found I could begin to explain to others my own experiences with depression and other mental health complications, without fear of judgement or ridicule. It was a most extraordinary relief. I hope many others have found the acceptance and help they need.

25. Started planning and saving for an epic and long-dreamt-of trip to New York - and then another to New Zealand.

26. Admired my parents' respective adventures in gorgeous Venice. And, via their photographs and stories, I lived it all as if I'd been there, amidst the softly ever-flowing water and the crumbling majesty of the buildings. 
But I also learned the importance of watching out for elusive small figures in scarlet coats

27. Caught rainbows on my Gran's kitchen wall, during one quiet and mellow March afternoon.

28. I became an archives volunteer. This is thanks to a senior librarian at a local library. He's had the good sense and great initiative to get a project started which will get their astonishingly beautiful archive of  1900s photographs scanned in and up online - both preserving it, and making it accessible for others to enjoy. 
It also makes me feel like I'm a part of Shooting the Past. Now we just need an Oswald Bates to join the team.

29. Developed an unexpected crush on Bradley Whitford, after observing his (equally unexpected) energetic and impressive dancing at the end of an episode of  Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

30. Discovered the very brilliant Steven Weber's eloquent, inspiringly lefty and insightful Huffington Post blogs. His writings are thought-provoking, entertaining - and most encouraging - as well an an illuminating look at modern American politics and culture. 
...Shock the cynicism out of our system by being polite. 
By being respectful. 
By thinking before speaking. 
By just not hating.
...Doing any one of these things can start a ripple 
that builds to a swell 
that gathers into a tide 
that washes over and drenches anyone who ever cursed an enemy, ever spat out a slur, ever raised a hand in rage, ever spurned hope.
(And he's also got some lovely things to say about the importance of theatre and art.)

31. I continued to slowly work on my Craftivist Collective mini-protest banners, and mused on quotes to stitch, on issues I find important - and remembered why I'm very very proud to be a Craftivist

(The Craftivist Collective make small, quiet, non-threatening, beautiful hand-made public pieces that educate and inspire and make people think. They even have a little book that tells you all about it.)

32. Watched in awe as Nick Cave set the Manchester Apollo alight and ablaze with his extraordinarily fierce, tender, bold music and with his brooding preacherman persona.

33. I exchanged a long silent moment with a young wild fox, which peered into my Gran's ground-floor window, while wandering through her garden. It was bright, firey orange, amber-eyed and svelte, its brush dusty and a little matted. It met my gaze, and for a long moment we stared into each others eyes. 
It was my first real fox encounter, and was strikingly memorable.

34. Fell in love with Sarah Kay's performance poetry,  after watching (and re-watching again...and again...) her stunning, hugely uplifting TED talk  – in which she speaks of the transformative power of words - and of spoken-out-loud poetry.
...I want her to look at the world through the underside of a glass-bottom boat, to look through a microscope at the galaxies that exist on the pinpoint of a human mind...
Give her a bit of your time -  she’s a remarkable performer and speaker, and brings her poems to life with great passion, intelligence and joy.

35.  Thanks to the immense kindness of my family, I got to sit in 'my' seat, and proudly gaze upon my seat plaque at the Royal Exchange Theatre. 
It's hard to explain just how incredibly exciting this was :) 

36. I got up the courage to finally compose and illustrate my own book. It's to be a collection of folk and fairy tales, some very old, some very new. I've just begun the first story and illustration... The rest will unfold over the next few weeks and months.

Now. 
I wonder what I might do in my 37th year... :)


Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore...



Morris liked to share the books with others. Sometimes it was a favorite that everyone loved, and other times he found a lonely little volume whose tale was seldom told.
"Everyone's story matters," said Morris. And all the books agreed.


~ William Joyce, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore


This is one of the loveliest celebrations of books (and of bibliophiles) I've seen in a long time.
It is, in part, an affectionate nod to the awe and excitement of the whirling wonderful weirdness of The Wizard of Oz (particularly the transformative use of monotone and colour...)
It also draws on and celebrates the delicate subtle silent clowning of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd.
It's a quiet love story, in its own unique, understated way.
It's exquisitely designed, and splendidly created, and full of so very many tiny delightful details, that it requires watching and re-watching to appreciate it properly.

And it's a small, gentle story about the wonder and adventure of reading.
It celebrates libraries and bookshops and bibliophiles - and all those who take the time to absorb and lose themselves in books - and who pass on that joy to others.

Give this little film 15 minutes of your time. You won't regret it.
Then go and find yourself a book to fly with.


(Click on the picture for a bigger view. Picture found at fijr-granada's Flickr stream)
p.s (Without wanting to give too much away....) .... the film includes a episode in which the repair of an antique tome takes place, and it's by far my favourite scene.
It's beautifully thought-out, full of subtle little references, and is surprisingly gripping and poignant...
I've just begun to research the possibility of book-binding courses, and this gives book restoration and repair a whole new delightful meaning for me 

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

A tiny snapshot of the always interesting - and sometimes surprising - world of bookselling...

....Four separate requests for religious books...one direction given to Pauline's Catholic bookshop....two Big Issue vendors wanting assistance, money changing and supportive chat ... one enquiry about anti-TTIP demos and local action...one successful search for an obscure anarchist pamphlet (which saved a customer from resorting to Amazon shopping)... one request for advice about buying second-hand board games in Liverpool...one re-cap on the day's Palestine actions in town....one enquiry about what goes on in the way of activism in Liverpool... one woman wanting to track down books and exhibitions about Diego Rivera...and a string of happy expectant customers clutching stacks of books, and queueing tightly round the till.
All this in the space of 20 minutes.

(Photo: the very wonderful News from Nowhere Bookshop)
It's now nearly the end of the working day, the shop shelves now look like a small-yet-effective hurricane has hit them, and I suspect my eyes have a slightly glassy appearance.
'I'm going to go and read this right now...' beams a wonderfully resplendently-bearded man, waving his newly-acquired journal.
'I love this shop...' one woman murmurs happily, as she packs her bag and leaves the till.
Me too. I love being a bookseller 
It's been another crazy busy Saturday, but a brilliant one too, and nothing beats the satisfaction of watching contented people leave the shop, and clutching books as if they're newly-found treasures.
Which they are, of course.
What's more, I have Doctor Who to watch tonight, and vegan chocolate saved for the occasion 

Thursday, 2 October 2014

The girl who returned a raven to the Lady of Autumn (and in return was told many secrets...)

She found the injured raven on the outskirts of the forest one evening. 
It cawed and hopped and tried clumsily to fly, furious and flapping and terrified. One wing hung awkwardly to one side, feathers shredded. Beads of brilliant red blood oozed slowly from the dark tatty folds. It took great patience, but she managed to reach it by approaching slowly - the child's calm demeanour eventually lulling the great bird into an exhausted stillness. She lifted it with immense care, and it shuffled a little in her hands, protesting - but then grew still. She walked the bird silently home, tiny drops of red blood leaving a trail behind her, burning the white snow.

It took month upon month to heal the bird - with gauzes to absorb the blood, splints to repair the fractured bones of its wings - and long hours of mending torn muscles and ligaments. And then there began the necessary progress of coaxing the raven gradually back to flight - short and brief glides to begin with, stuttering and nervous bursts into the air and back to land - before his confidence gradually grew and its muscles strengthened.

When at last the raven was fully healed, another Spring and Summer had passed, and the Autumn had returned again. And it was finally time to return him to his mistress.

The girl donned her deep scarlet hood - thick wool, heavy folds - and stout, sturdy boots. A simple yet effective way to defy the cold and the snow. 
The wolf appeared as he always did, unannounced - instinctively appearing when he was needed most by the child. She kissed her parents goodbye, scrambled onto the back of the wolf, and gripped his dense grey fur with both hands. The raven - still feral but tamed enough to be familiar and comfortable with the girl - sat on her shoulder, sharp black eyes watching the path pass and the forest begin to emerge, as they set off on their way. 

The journey was hours long, winding through almost impenetrable clusters of trees, through falling leaves and past moss and boulder, past caves where things watched with bright eyes. As they moved deeper into the forest, silence gradually fell - fewer birds sang, and soon the only noise was that of crunching leaves and the occasional dry snapping twig beneath the wolf's tread. 

Eventually, a clearing began to appear in the distance. And it was there that she could be seen. The Lady of Autumn. 

She stood - magnificently tall and regal -  watching them approach. She was a creature of of sapling and branches, leaves and moss and golden falling leaves. She stood silently as they reached her feet, observing with deep hazel eyes. Leaves fell softly from her branches, twisting and spiralling in blazing orange, gold and red, crisp and curling as they fell. 
A fox moved with her - a huge fox, defiantly red and blazing against the dark folding bark of her dress, amber-eyed and svelte, protective. It watched the arriving pair with some wariness, and kept vigil as the exchange took place.

The Lady held out her hand, and there was a sudden dry fluttering of ebony wings as the great bird took flight, a shimmery flurry of black-purple-green-deep-blue, of fleeting claws and and gentle mighty wings. And settled in her arms.  
And the Lady smiled. 

She beckoned the small girl to her, and bent over, whispering into her ear.

I do not know what secrets the child was told that day - only the raven, wolf and fox bore witness to the long, murmured, earnest exchange that passed between the two. But the girl left with a serene smile on her face, and a faraway thoughtful look in her eyes. And so wolf and child padded away through the forest, and began their long journey home.

The tall woman of the woods watched them silently as they left, and until she was just a tiny splash of scarlet in the distance. Then, with her raven perched amongst the sturdy branches that sprouted from her shoulders - she turned and made her way back, and melted into the dense cloak of the forest.

I owe an enormous artistic debt of thanks to Patrick Ness, Siobhan Ward and Jim Kay for this one, as their combined creation of their titular Monster in A Monster Calls was what got me dreaming of forest figures - and Jim Kay's memorable, haunting illustrations stay with me now, months after finishing the book. 

...the sidewalk is full of people and leaves and we're all turning colors 
i want more radiance and less green this season is my perfect lover 
long nights for more dreaming short days to fill real and fast 
sweaters for my heart's safe-keeping, for my soul's heating, through the cold of winter to last 
~ Tanya Davis 

And it was drawn while listening to Tanya Davis' most beautiful newest album - and particularly this luminous track, which speaks of Autumn, and loss and change and renewal.
 And the music video is equally lovely :)