The Cornerhouse on Oxford Road provided a secluded location for the launch of the new 7x7 anthology, divulging an intriguing collaboration of illustrator, animator and writer.
The evening promised insightful interviews with the participants; a mixture of MMU Cheshire writing talent and Stockport College student artists, all introduced by Robert Graham, the programme leader for the Creative Writing BA over in Crewe. The main event consisted of intimate readings by the writers and the display of animations and artwork that really added a hidden depth not often glimpsed at by readers of fiction, all within the low-hung rafters of the Annexe room.
Following on from the assured success of last year’s 6x6, it was time to take it up a notch (just numerically, don’t worry it wasn’t ridiculously intense) and present 7 writers' creative input with artistic collaborators material like a tasty side dish complementing a filling main course of fictional delight.
Anna Paldanius kicked off the evening with a delicate slice of seduction in her piece, Music Box Ballerina, that carefully described a moment of noir infused passion between a man and a woman, all against the backdrop of a hidden musical score and uncontrollable desire. Anna related her writing to ‘crafting a sculpture’ following the reading and we also got to hear off the illustrator and animator, Chris Howker and Kirsty Newman who worked well together apart from what sounded like an all-nighter to get the material finished.
A lighter-hearted look at being ‘on the pull’, entitled Something Dark and Purplish by Vincent Crimi, was well received and explored the perspective of a character named Jason, considered by the author to be the underdog and totally at odds with his loud, social surroundings. The piece was very entertaining – Jason’s straight to the point, logical musings put the club scene in a sobering perspective and revealed the innocent feelings of a man pouring his heart out at exactly the wrong moment. Jane Richardson and Joanna Brown provided artistic back up.
In the absence of Jennifer Guillard (since she was abroad at the time), Robert Graham stepped in to the fray to deliver her work, entitled A Soft Touch. Many lines brought back images from my own university attendance in Crewe, especially the night club ‘Steam’, which definitely seemed more dilapidated last time I visited. The story itself revealed the hospitality and affection of the Polish population of Crewe some of which I have to say I have witnessed myself in my three years there (apart from the thick hairy legs…did not see that coming). Entertaining visuals were skilfully provided by Nikki Denton and Stephen Brown.
Another absentee, Joanne Key, asked fellow student Angi Holden (who also read her own piece later) to deliver her work entitled When One Door Closes. The extract was a very real, touching account of a struggling relationship coping with the early arrival of a newborn baby, and how the emergence of a new life can make priorities turn on their head. At one point the mother, Kate, is clinging to life after delivering the baby premature due to complications, “As soon as her eyes were shut the view was immaculate. She sailed through the blackness”, beautifully summing up birth, life and death in two short sentences. Gemma Beaven and Katy Anne Jones provided intriguing artwork that did a good job of highlighting the mother’s loneliness at birth and turning to religion that is a focal point of the story.
The most bizarrely original title fell next, A Conversation with Quetzalcoatl, and was made softly verbal by author Johnny Carrington. The story seemed to blend present and past revolving around the thoughts of an aging woman whose fears of losing her mind are quickly becoming a reality as her imagination takes over. It works to the text’s advantage that its conversations and fantastical thoughts are mixed up in an almost insane potion that leads to a strange outcome that has to be deciphered by looking beyond the looking glass. Illustrative support was provided by Liz Parker and Jane Harrison who upon being interviewed explained it was interesting working with ‘Lotharios’.
Angi Holden returned to provide a reading of her own work this time, entitled Continental Drift, a tale of a woman who is house sitting for her parents who are on a cruise, who then proceeds to get a knock at the door from another woman claiming to have the same father. It tackles the subject of family relationships, war turning families upside down and men often leading mystery lives abroad, and how the repercussions of these secrets make themselves apparent years later; two lifelines colliding like ships in the ocean. Angi delivered her piece clearly and concisely, the extract she gave leaving the audience wanting to discover the rest of the story. When she was interviewed she added that the characters she creates tend to have a life of their own and interestingly decide what they want to do in the story – even the writing of it is a story! The illustrators, Beverley Gartside and Janet Kershaw, further commented that it was challenging working with the models that seemed in the visual piece to be stop-motion animated and added a welcome dimension to the text.
Robert Graham had the final word, explaining that the event a ‘win win’ for writers, illustrators and animators given they got to see there work shown in public, gain experience of the creative process and gain support from a large group of friends and family given the amount of people that participated. He also commented regarding the Literature Festival itself, that the events seem to be getting more versatile every year, and it is a great pleasure to be posted on the same bill as such famous, published authors such as Seamus Heaney, Val McDermid and Grace Nichols. Personally I found being in the room with up and coming talent and hearing interesting, original stories accompanied by illustrations and animations quite an uplifting experience, which will hopefully lead to individual successes for the guys involved.
by Rob Bester