Posts tagged dickens
Ipswich Calling

 

I’m doing the final prep’ for the next Paradox Sketches event. Ipswich is calling tonight.

Sketches is in its third month, and I'm still learning the ropes. Each event is different. On purpose. Trying new ‘lines.’ Adjusting each section; seeing what works or needs a little more attention.

But one thing has not altered.

This tour has been one of the most affirming spaces I’ve occupied. Not because of sales or reviews, but the awareness that this Dickensian narrative really does connect to the present.

For those who haven’t heard my ‘dulcet tones?’ Or dared venture into my ‘imagination on the page.’ My Paradox book (and tour) is suggesting that the Dickensian landscape of poverty and social injustice is still around today... just with a different language. At face value, you could think it’s a fully negative statement. But Dickens had a twist with his observations. His deliberate ‘pounding of the streets’ (where he placed himself in situations that forced him to observe what was happening around) turned his gaze to another side of that injustice.

The response.

And reimagination.

I’m not going to give away any more of that twist... I still want to sell the book and do the tour!

 

ps: if you want to host one of these events just let me know. Email me or connect through my website.

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Sketches Tour: A Lesson

I faced a new challenge heading towards my second event.

How do I transport my books via train and tube during rush hour?

For some reason during my tour planning stage, I always had the picture of Paradox safely packaged away in the boot of my car. ‘Safely packaged’ being the key phrase.

The Iris Cloth front cover was chosen to amplify the sense of touch for the reader, complimenting the storyline of Paradox. It was my attempt at producing a fictional tale in the style of a coffee-table keepsake. And I think it worked, but this also brought with it a complication.

As with all cloth covers, the material can get damaged during transportation.

Since the launch of Paradox, I’ve navigated through this challenge in many ways; from placement of stock and postage, to wrapping an individual book in a tea-towel if I needed to show someone a copy. But transporting a stack of books, alone, on public transport? That’s a whole new dimension.

One idea was to individually package them up, just like how they are posted out. But how would I personalise the message inside if I didn’t know who would be purchasing the book? I tried using a suitcase, but even a bedsheet around the edges didn’t stop the books from moving around. The compromise was cardboard and bubble wrap - in a weekend bag. And needless to say, my attempt didn’t entirely succeed. 20% damaged bag stock.

But this is nothing to feel down about. It’s all part of the adventure. I love trying to figure all this out. What matters is that the second event went well. I met wonderful people. The host did amazing with their greeting and ‘spread of snacks.’ And most of all, I came away believing in the possibilities for this approach.

I now have a week off from the Paradox Sketches — another challenge, mixing childcare with touring.


Sketches Tour: The First

 

First lines fascinate me. They embrace the present and at the same time, capture the uncertainty of the future.

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” (George Orwell, 1984)

“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.” (Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle)

“Marley was dead: to begin with.” (Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol)

These opening lines, amongst others, inspired my own offering with Paradox. “My name is Samuel Abrahams, and this is my confession.” This week, I’ve begun to write another first line.

“Harpenden was the first, a doorway into...”

…?

The Paradox Sketches Tour started last weekend. I was nervous. It was the ‘opening night.’ And for the previous twelve hours, I had been making sure my presentation was concise; not to forget the double/triple checking that my folder was full with inserts and handwritten cards. The regular check of a traffic app provided assurance for my travel plans.

In a living-room, with old and new friends, we shared tea, cake, and chatted about my book. Everything was going to plan. My opening line was coming along nicely - “Harpenden was the first.”

Until.

A surprising discovery.

“A doorway into...”

I realised that the first line of this tour was not going to be completed by my hand alone. It's the people in the room, regardless of where I am, who shape the journey of Paradox. And that's both an exciting and nervous prospect for a writer who likes to craft his own lines.

Harpenden, thank you. This adventure just took on a life of its own.

 

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The Spirit Of Billy Shears

In 1967, The Beetles presented to the world a fictional character called Billy Shears. This drummer with limited vocal range stood up to the microphone and humbly declared that he got by ‘With a Little Help from My Friends’.

It was a simple tune with obvious shortcomings but surprisingly became a fan favourite. Shears and his shaky voice defied the odds stacked towards slick perfection, singing a different tune into the airwaves - Vulnerability. We need each other.

And now this is my moment to step up to that same microphone and say that “I need your help.”

How can we review books differently? ...How could my book be reviewed differently?

Since the launch of Paradox, I’ve kept away from asking for reviews. There’s a reason for that. The review game is just that — a game. The typical approach is to encourage snappy comments before and during the launch. These will then get funnelled through a well-known online store. If the author does their job right, it will present a robust and successful image for their product. Foster enough 5 Star reviews early on and it should encourage others to follow suit. Finally, the strategic code hidden within the purchase link should help that ranking system kick in.

This game has a few apparent champions. Occasionally a wobbly voice defies the odds. But it’s hard.

Every part of the Paradox Hardback, from design, production and promotion, is my attempt at trying to do something different within the publishing world. The same goes for reviews. Over the last few months, the conversations I’ve had about the book, and the emails received, have been rich. Special. Which strengthens my resolve that I want to engage with reviews where honesty, authenticity and conversation take place. Away from the game of manipulation.

Except I don’t know how.

And that’s why I need a little help from my friends.

Can we review Paradox in a different way? Is there a site or service (other than Amazon and Goodreads which share the same owner and stacked digital system) which taps into the heartbeat of what I’ve been talking about? If you have ideas, please email me at andy@andysmithyman.com or comment the usual ways.

Billy figured it out. And I’m confident ‘we’ will figure it out.

It’s what friends are for.

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Paradox Sketches: Change?

During the times of Charles Dickens, between 15% and 20% of the population in the UK was living at or below the expected subsistence level in food. That meant, nearly a quarter of the population were skipping meals or reducing the quality and quantity of their food. Alongside that, 10% of the population experienced severe food poverty where even charitable donations couldn’t stop those families experiencing abject hunger.

Shocking. And rightly so. It’s an example of historical poverty which fits perfectly into the image of Dickensian times. But there is also another set of statistics that I’m reflecting upon.

The UK news recently picked up on a UNICEF report, highlighting that in the UK, 19% of children under age 15 live in a family where they experience food insecurity (skipping meals or reducing the quality and quantity of food). Alongside that, 10% of children under the age of 15 live in a family experiencing severe food insecurity. Hunger. Beyond charitable donations.

Today. Right now, as I craft this post.

I wrote Paradox for many reasons; one of them is my belief that the Dickensian landscape of poverty and social injustice is still around today.

Dickensian poverty is ugly. It’s ugly because it’s blatant. In my face. And yet how often do I move on, justify inaction or give myself enough excuses to ignore what is in front of me? The harsh reality is that 'The Twins’ of Paradox are real. I walk their Paths on a regular basis.

‘Wish you were(n’t) here?’ That’s the tagline of the book. A question. Continually asked. Of myself. My answer determines what happens to The Twins. My answer determines what happens to my heart.

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The Swirl: More Than A Tour

November was a special month for me.

I travelled with a ragamuffin band of creatives to Scotland, France, Spain and England. We called it The Swirl; a tour where I had the privilege of talking about my new book, Paradox. My not-so-great acting abilities came into the spotlight as I attempted to emulate how Dickens delivered his Christmas Carol readings. The one glaring omission - I didn’t dress up in fancy clothes.

And November was a special month for me because…

I stepped outside my comfort zone into a world I’ve worked hard to avoid for many years — the public stage. I know how easy it is to believe my hype and, paradoxically, at the same time doubt my ability. This tour helped to remove some of those fears.

But November was also a special month for me because I was part of a group of dreamers who ‘made good art’

Together.

I like my own world; the Andy universe. It’s safe, covered with all the stuff I’m familiar with. But art is not designed to be controlled like that. Art dismantles the frame in which we see the world. And this was true of my experience on The Swirl.

The Swirl logo is an illustration of a campfire; a fitting image. At every event, we all brought our individual logs of creativity and placed them on the fire. As the flames danced into the night sky, something magical appeared.

The embers.

These small lights of dreams, hopes, sacrifice and questions, leapt into the sky. To follow each movement is impossible, because their individual journeys blend into a collective dance, swirling higher and higher into the unknown. Out of sight. But still floating. Their adventure, just beginning.

This is the paradox of art — life beyond sight.

We are connected.

For the better.

(Ps: a documentary is coming out next year, until then, here are a few little insights into this crazy time).

https://www.youtube.com/user/daveerasmus/videos

https://www.youtube.com/user/georgeholliday123/videos

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Andy Smithymandickens, Paradox
A Carol Type of Success

 

To all you creative dreamers out there.

Charles Dickens paid all expenses for the production of A Christmas Carol. He expected the initial profit to be about £1,000, but because he insisted on expensive bindings and illustrations, the first 6,000 copies brought him £230. The earnings for the following year - £744.

It may not have produced a triumphant monetary return, but the Carol became a story which changed the world.

Andy Smithymandickens, thoughts
Happening on my watch
“Two years ago a woman from Dewsbury called Claire Skipper, suffering from toothache, went into her garden shed, clamped the offending tooth in a pair of pliers, and pulled. Her tooth broke. There had been no vacancies at her local NHS practice and she couldn’t afford private care or the journey to the nearest emergency clinic in Bradford.
A week later, in ‘indescribable’ pain, she went to the Real Tooth Project, a ‘pay as you feel’ dental clinic that had been set up in Dewsbury with the support of DentAid, an international NGO. DentAid’s UK operations began in 2015, providing a charitable alternative to what Stephen Armstrong calls ‘DIY Dentistry’.
In a chapter that’s almost impossible to read without flinching, Armstrong’s book ‘The New Poverty’ tells story after story of individuals forced by the scarcity of public services and the cost of private treatment into self-dentistry, sometimes aided by cheap off-the-shelf ‘kits’ for basic treatments up to and including replacing lost fillings.
Armstrong first came across the phenomenon in Paisley, where one woman, concerned about being fined for a missed dentist’s appointment and apprehensive about future treatment costs, ‘resorted to popping her own mouth abscess with a fork’.
...Poverty is not only thriving, but also taking increasingly sinister forms.” 

(London Review of Books: 22 February 2018) 

 

I would go one stage further. The ideology behind the Victorian Poor Law is still alive and feeding off the heart of society. It’s hard for me to get my head around how a way of thinking that Dickens so passionately wrote against is blatantly parading itself down the streets. 

The Poor Law had its roots in how people defined ‘moral’ work. The ability to purchase property, goods and security were all signs of a moral and worthy lifestyle. Work hard, and you will be rewarded. Slack off, accept the curse. This shift of thinking impacted the poor. The inability to provide for oneself was a sign of weak morals and questionable lifestyles. That way of thinking condoned the shift in how care services for ‘all’ morphed into services for those deemed ‘worthy enough.’

Today, we have different terms to describe ‘moral work’. But the way of thinking remains. Us. Them. Deserving. Undeserving. Poverty is thriving and taking increasingly sinister forms. 

And it’s happening on my watch.

Andy Smithymandickens
'A Christmas Carol' talk

My Dickensian hat-tip to the people who designed such a welcoming space for me to talk about 'A Christmas Carol.'

Dickens announced the ghost of Marely as a prophet's rod, urging the reader to give careful attention to the message that was about to be announced. That voice in 1843 is still relevant today. Beware of 'Ignorance' and 'Selfish Want.'

 

Andy Smithymandickens, new book
Two Quotes. One Decision.

Preparing a talk that I'm giving around 'A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas' by Charles Dickens.  Mindful of two quotes.

The first is the description of Scrooge walking the streets of London.

 

"Along crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance."
 

The second is of Charles Dickens, recounting a moment before one of his Christmas Carol readings.

 

"There lay, in an old egg-box, which the mother had begged from a shop, a feeble, wasted, wan, sick child. With his little wasted face, and his little hot worn hands folded over his breast, and his little bright attentive eyes, I can see him now, as I have seen him for several years, looking steadily at us. There he lay in his little frail box, which was not at all a bad emblem of the little body from which he was slowly parting - there he lay quite quiet, quite patient, saying never a word. He seldom cried, the mother said, he seldom complained. He lay there, seeming to wonder what it was all about. God knows, I thought, as I stood looking at him, he had his reasons for wondering - and why, in the name of a gracious God, such things should be."

 

Two quotes.

One decision.

My response?

Andy Smithymandickens, quotes