It’s November, and my autumn literature festival odyssey is now at an end. It’s been a good one. I have heard so many interesting and inspiring writers read over the last month or two that I have accumulated a huge list of new books to check out, starting with Claire Wigfall’s short stories, Sallie Day’s Palace of Strange Girls, Adam Marek’s Instruction Manual For Swallowing, and Anne Donovan’s Being Emily to name but a few. I have been to all kinds of great events, ranging from the Northern Poetry Slam to David Gaffney’s rather marvellous Destroy Powerpoint, to the very appropriately spooky Halloween launch for Comma Press’s New Uncanny anthology, and of course, the Manchester Blog Awards.
Since the blog awards, I have been enjoying reading the many and varied responses to the event, as well as to the shortlisted and award-winning blogs themselves. One or two have been less than complimentary, like this one from Manhattanchester, who dismissed the whole sorry affair as ‘whimsical’, ‘trite’ and ‘woefully middle-class’ and characterised the blog readings as 'flat, ill-chosen and uninteresting' mumbles 'about coffee and home appliances':
They chose the wrong winners... evidenced in part by the reaction of the crowd and the vox pops of the people I interrogated. The few that is who had actually heard of or read any of the blogs. Do your homework people!
...I have to admit, though, that actually I don’t mind much being considered whimsical or trite. In fact, dare I say it, I actually quite like it. I quite like domestic appliances too - they’re quite harmless really, sometimes quite useful for cooking and that kind of thing. I think it’s OK to write about domestic appliances if the mood takes you.
Anyway, other responses have been much more positive, emphasising the exciting possibilities of the critical mass of blogging activity in and around Manchester. I like this one from Adrian Slatcher on the Mancunian Way, which identifies the blog's potential to act as a ‘genuine platform for new writing:’
What was noticeable last night is that there's hardly a hair's breadth anymore between the blog writer and the writer. Follow the Yellow Brick Road or Chicken and Pies could easily be the first chapter of an autobiographical novel...
I’m intrigued by the idea of a blog functioning like an autobiographical (or perhaps even not-so-autobiographical) novel. After all, I think even if you try to be quite honest, there’s something about the nature of this medium which necessitates you to assume a certain voice, a certain character, to tiptoe over into the territory of fiction. I think the ‘character’ or ‘voice’ of this blog is not dissimilar to me as I am ‘in real life’, but is quite a lot more perky. I feel quite jaunty and frivolous when I write this blog, as if I am a peripheral character in a Nancy Mitford novel. There’s a touch of the lashings-of-ginger-beers too I suspect - that’s the bit of me that grew up on Enid Blyton and likes words like ‘marvellous’ and ‘lovely’ and has probably read I Capture the Castle one too many times.
I have to admit, though, that for me, the whole blog awards experience has been quite odd. I was genuinely very surprised to be shortlisted, and especially surprised to win. It was quite a shock to the system to realise that there are actual ‘readers’ out there - I don’t think I had really thought about readers before, having always assumed that very few people would be interested in listening to me happily rambling about things like baked potatoes or tights and sparrows. But suddenly lots of my friends are reading my blog, and the link even got sent around my office. It’s made me feel rather self-conscious: I realise that this blog has been largely a place for me to indulge myself, to play and experiment, rather than a particularly thought-out project. I started it mainly just because, not having much time to dedicate to writing at the moment, I hoped it would keep me going, even if just by forcing me to write the occasional small something-or-other. There’s never been a clear plan in mind: it feels entirely different from a polished piece of finished ‘proper’ writing.
Thinking about it though, maybe that’s part of what makes this medium interesting. It’s inherently organic, and there's always space to play or to move in unexpected directions - to write about stuff you see out of the window, or on the bus, or to post a picture of your shoes if you feel like it - in a way that you would never feel free do in a more formal context. It’s a good way to break down your own barriers, to banish the fear that every piece of writing has to be 'perfect' in some way. And in the end, in spite of all the strangeness, winning the blog award has been an enormous encouragement - just to keep on playing, if nothing else. Perhaps not everything we write has to be carefully considered. Perhaps all these unimportant, frivolous (even trite or whimsical!) words can come together and start to mean something more. Perhaps it's in precisely these kinds of fluid, open spaces, where you feel you can just meander about anything, just like I’m doing now, where sometimes things can happen.
So with all this in mind, in spite of the oddness, I’m going to keep going and see where this takes me. Isn’t it the whole point about yellow brick roads that they can lead you to good places, after all?