This is how I lived my life for years and years. I drifted through the day at the mercy of chance and happenstance. Whatever came along, I did it.
If you’re a writer or an artist, you can’t live like that.
You have to run your day. You can’t let your day run you.
You must roll out of bed each morning with an unshakeable focus and intention. Your novel, your start-up, your movie. That’s your day. That’s why you’re here.
I was suitably intrigued when I found out that Rob and Tommy were teaming up for the project. They are both multi-talented artists who have contributed a lot to the music and art scenes in Edinburgh and beyond.
Rob makes music under his own name and as part of eagleowl, as well as writing for the likes of Caught By the River. Tommy was up until recently a member of band and art collective FOUND, produces art/illustration as Surface Pressure and recently released an EP under the name ComputerScheisse.
I hope that introduction has whet your appetite. Now, here are a few probing questions about the project’s creative flow.
How did the Water of Life project come about in the first place and what were the main aims of the project?
Rob: Tommy and I had worked on a few things together before, and had found that we had shared interests: the overlaps between art and science; finding new ways of exploring, seeing and thinking about the city.
Creative Scotland’s ‘Imagining Natural Scotland’ fund was announced in the Spring, and we put the project together in response to the call: thinking about what we term ‘natural’ in the Scottish (and wider) landscape, and how this ‘naturalness’ has been imagined and reshaped, both literally and metaphorically through time.
Tommy: I’d previously worked with Rob on a handful of different music and art projects. I had been a huge fan of Rob’s music and at one point his live band were my favourite act in Edinburgh (they only lost that esteemed position as Rob moved away to Oxford).
We definitely share a bunch of interests across art, design, music, photography and science. Rob spotted the opportunity and suggested we put in a proposal. We met up a few times, chatted and the idea for Water of Life emerged pretty quickly.
Did you both share a fascination for Edinburgh’s watery past? Why did you choose to explore this topic in particular?
Rob: Water was a great focal point for exploring the city, in the way that it was been constantly reshaped and managed through history: streams culverted off underground into sewers; lochs drained and refilled; the water itself constantly changing, from filtered to polluted; connecting our selves with pipelines through our houses, the water in rivers, lochs, sewers, drains, sanitation plants.
As well as asking questions about what we term ‘natural’ or ‘wild’ in the city, traces of water often reveal interesting conduits into Edinburgh’s past. Street names often echo watery histories. In Edinburgh this includes: historic water supplies (Fox Spring Avenue and Swan Spring Avenue are both named after springs at Comiston that first fed the city in the 17th century); lost lochs (Boroughloch at the edge of the former loch on the Meadows) and industry along the Water of Leith (Tanfield, Bleachfield, Ladehead).
Tommy: For a while before we began this project I’d been interested in the Edinburgh sewage works down at Seafield. For those who know my visual artwork, I’m very interested in the less well documented details of city life. I had become fascinated by Seafield because visually it looks completely different from anywhere else in Edinburgh. There’s some wonderful, industrial buildings and large scale pipe work visible from the perimeter fence.
I’d also been looking at satellite images of Seafield on Google Earth and loved the repeating circles of the water treatment pools. So when we embarked on this collaboration I was already thinking about the kind of life support systems a city needs to sustain its inhabitants and I think we both took that as a starting point and followed it in different directions.
How did the collaborative process work? Did you agree on specific roles?
Rob: We worked as collaboratively as possible, taking off on field trips across Edinburgh’s water network, from the grand Talla and Megget reservoirs in the Borders, which together provide much of the city’s drinking water, to the Seafield Sewage Works, where much of the city’s water ends up, sullied and full of dissolved excess. The trips would be exploratory, taking in sound recordings, photography and note making.
For example, we went to the Glencorse reservoir in the Pentlands, interested in the new sanitation plant, and the 19th century reservoir. Denied access to both (a common theme in the project, raising other questions), we happened upon the old filter beds below the reservoir – now overgrown, with the remnants of the industrial process now mingling with encroaching nature, giving the impression of a landscape art installation.
Tommy: I think we were aware of each others strengths so there were certain tasks that we divided up. Rob is very good at researching a subject and spent a lot of time in various libraries across Edinburgh uncovering amazing stories that I definitely wouldn’t have found on my own. Rob also did the bulk of the writing as it’s a skill that comes easy to him. I like writing but it tends to tax my brain a lot – especially since becoming a dad early this year – I find it very difficult to focus long enough to get the words down.
I took charge of researching how we were going to produce and manufacture the records, folder and prints. And I did most of the design and drawings. But even in these areas we collaborated – making suggestions and offering each other our opinions.
Did anything unexpected come out of the collaborative process or the research?
Rob: We set off with an exploratory remit: to work collaboratively, drawing from elements of artistic and scientific practice; to attempt to trace ideas of what is ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’ regarding water in the urban environment. As a result, most of the stories we discovered were new and unexpected, and we ourselves found new ways of seeing and understanding a city we’d both lived in for a considerable amount of time.
For example, in the car park of office buildings by the Seafield Sewage Works sits a glacial erratic boulder, the Pennybap. This boulder is said to be inhabited by a Shellycoat, a water-based spirit, yet is neglected and off-limits, a blend of the folkloric, historical and industrial, perhaps a good metaphor for how we view and use water in the city.
Tommy: Although we submitted a detailed funding proposal with fairly concrete outcomes, I had no idea what the content of our project would be. I really enjoyed allowing our research and the materials we gathered on field trips to inform the artwork we produced at the end of the project.
I didn’t expect us to write so much music – in fact at the beginning of the project we weren’t sure if the audio component would be just field recordings or something else. I also hadn’t anticipated that we’d use film photography and that the results of the photos we took would be so unusual (my pictures came back from the developers marked with random vertical streaks which at first disappointed me but then I realised totally added to the images).
A few things that stand out to me from perusing the website are the attention to detail that has gone into both the research and the artwork, including the packaging etc. Would it be fair to say that this is an integral part of both of your approaches to your creative work, and could you both say a little bit about why that’s important to you?
Rob: Yes, it’s an important part of how we both work, I think. From my perspective, it’s important that every bit of creative output has a number of tangents that you can follow out: links, histories, sites. We’ve created the release of a 7″, prints and essays in a letterpressed folder. All aspects of the production process have been chosen to minimise their environmental impact: the vinyl, paper and card used is recycled, the essays and prints printed with soy inks, and the letterpress with existing type and a teaspoon of ink for 300 copies.
Part of the motivation for this process was to try and show that it is possible and (reasonably) affordable to incorporate ideas of environmental impact into your production process for projects such as ours, which can hopefully be used as inspiration for others wanting to do similar things.
Tommy: I’m very happy that you’ve noticed this! I think my parents would tell you that I’ve always been interested in fine details ever since I started drawing as a young child. But in recent years I have wondered if it’s really necessary to put quite as much detail into each project. I know you’re aware of my previous collaborations with FOUND, in our last project #UNRAVEL we produced 160 pieces of music for the installation. My collaborator Simon pointed out that it’s very possible that a number of these songs will never be heard. I felt a bit crestfallen when he mentioned this.
It’s clear I really enjoy the process of creating artwork but my intention (and hope) is that there will be an audience for it. Working with Rob was potentially quite dangerous for producing work with such depth of detail that some might be lost. We both have this tendency to really think the details through to a ridiculous degree. When I was working on the audio production for the music I kept asking myself if I could justify the choices I was making within the limits of the project. I desperately wanted every element to feel like it belonged.
The project was funded by Creative Scotland – presumably without that funding it wouldn’t exist at all? Do you have any advice for other artists who want to pursue funding for their projects?
Rob: We’re grateful to the ‘Imagining Natural Scotland‘ fund for making this work possible. Tommy and I would have most likely collaborated anyway, but the funding allowed us both to experiment and to address every aspect of the project as we wanted: from research to manufacture, allowing us time for reflection and the ability to address environmental impact in every aspect of the production process.
Tommy: It is amazing to have a budget to work on a project like this and produce a 7″ vinyl with some pretty lavish packaging. These kinds of opportunities don’t arise very often so when they do I think it’s best to make the most of them. I think we have and I’m convinced we got a lot for our budget.
The Water of Life limited edition 7″ is now available to pre-order from bandcamp. It is limited to 300 copies, and will be released on 9th December 2013. The package includes a letter-pressed folder on recycled card, a 7″ record pressed on recycled vinyl and a set of essays by Rob and prints by Tommy exploring the themes of the project, riso printed using soy inks on recycled paper. It also includes digital download of the music.
Tommy and Rob are giving a short talk at Analogue (bookshop, Candlemaker Row) on 7 December. It’s a small space and there weren’t many tickets left at the time of publishing, but if you’re quick you might be lucky enough to get the last few tickets. More info
I’m also a big believer in the importance of ‘fandom’. Fans, the so-called geeks who aren’t afraid to demonstrate their love for their favourite TV shows, films, superhero characters and bands – often unjustly get a bad press.
But from music zines to cosplay to fan fiction, these fans display tons of creativity and often keep ideas alive that shortsighted industry types do their utmost to sabotage.
It’s amazing, and heartening to think that a ‘daft’ idea about a man who travels through space and time in a Police Box that is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside, could last for 50 years and bring so much joy to so many people.
Yes, that’s right – as most people will know thanks to a massive amount of hype from the BBC, yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, with the Day of the Doctor broadcast simultaneously across the globe (in over 75 countries) and in 3D in cinemas across the UK.
I can’t claim to have watched every single episode of the series but I definitely hold Doctor Who in great affection, and the coverage during this anniversary really opened my eyes to the depth and variety of the storylines over the years as well as the active part that the show’s fans have played in its evolution.
I still remember vividly the first time I saw it. As far as my memory serves we didn’t have a TV at the time, and we were visiting some friends of my parents.
I seem to remember they were in a caravan, so perhaps we were on holiday. Anyway, they had a small black and white telly and Dr Who was battling the Daleks.
I became transfixed with terror by the tiny screen as the Daleks advanced on the Doctor chanting ‘exterminate, exerminate’. It’s definitely one of my strongest childhood memories, which says a lot about the impact it must have had on me!
Probably the best programme I’ve watched during the anniversary celebrations was the drama about how it all began, An Adventure in Space and Time, directed by Mark Gatiss (League of Gentleman, Sherlock).
At first I was a bit unsure of it because the initial tone made it seem like more of a jolly romp than anything insightful, but thanks to a spellbinding performance by David Bradley as William Hartnell (the first Doctor, who he looks uncannily similar to) it ended up being an extremely moving story.
There was also a great Culture Show documentary presented by Matthew Sweet (clearly a fan) about the series over the last 50 years. It was fascinating to hear that Douglas Adams, creator of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, worked on the show for several years during the Tom Baker era.
Many of the show’s biggest fans who got hooked on it growing up continued its legacy during the 15 years it was off air, recording their own radio plays and writing fan fiction. Some of them even ended up working on the show when it came back – which reminded me of a recent story about how “enthusiast droid builders’ have ended up getting hired to make R2D2 and friends for the new Star Wars film coming in 2015.
The Day of the Doctor itself was ridiculously over the top of course, but very entertaining with it – David Tennant and Matt Smith make an excellent double act and Billie Piper was great. (Though I would have liked to have seen Amy Pond making an appearance.)
Lisa-Marie Ferla, writes an excellent, insightful review over at the Arts Desk, pointing out that John Hurt’s part was probably written for Christopher Eccleston originally, but the idea of another, previously unheard of Doctor was probably introduced when it became clear that Eccleston didn’t want to take part.
The BBC’s Live show after though was a shambolic mess, and I’m sure Eccleston was thanking his lucky stars he wasn’t involved in the One Direction phone in!
Still, a click of the red button revealed the highly amusing Five-ish Doctors Reboot, directed by Fifth Doctor Peter Davison and featuring tons of cameos – which more than made up for it.
Anyway, all of this was a long and drawn out way of leading up to this: on Monday 25th November I’m going to be doing a reading at this Doctor Who themed spoken word event, as announced by Ali George on her blog. My reading isn’t strictly Doctor Who related, but it does fit in with the space theme.
If you share any interest in sci-fi or spoken word, it would be great to see you there – there might even still be a few spots left.
Note: I’ve linked to the programmes mentioned on the BBC website where they can still be watched if you live in the UK.
This fourth guide in the Career Masterplan for Mad Geniuses series has taken quite a while to get finished (somewhat ironically given the title).
That’s because it not only involved a lot of research, but plenty of real life experience during my first 18 months or so of full-time freelancing/blogging.
I’ll admit it did involve some procrastinating too (but there’s a pretty good reason for that which you’ll find out when you read it).
I’m really happy with the results and hope the guide will be helpful to anyone else who has ever struggled to get their creative projects finished.
It’s available to download for free for the next week, after which it will only be available to email subscribers:
(Click to view in your browser, or right click and save as to download).
There’s also a brand new Spotify Playlist to accompany the guide and help you get into a good rhythm with your creative work. (A few people might be relieved that unlike the Pimp Your Online Presence soundtrack, it’s not hip hop!)
If you enjoy the guide, I’d be VERY grateful if you could share it with at least one other person who might find it useful, or on social networks like Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus.
Eagle-eyed readers will also notice that the guide includes a (not-so) subtle plug for The C.A.K.E. Method, my new course with Fabian Kruse. The first round of the course sold out within 48 hours and we’ve had some fantastic feedback so far.
I had tears in my eyes and fire in my heart by the time I finished this book, which charts Sean Platt’s journey from working in his father’s flower shop to full-time fiction writer.
I discovered Sean via his site Ghostwriter Dad (you can now find him at seanmplatt.com). His book Writing Online makes a great companion to this one, with loads of great advice for writers. This book however is much more personal and as a result was even more inspiring – and I believe will be for any writer.
I’m half-way through my second year of full-time writing so this book gave me a good sense of perspective as it spans five years of Sean’s writing career. I’m currently paying the bills with my writing, but it’s equally important to me that I find work that is also rewarding and enjoyable, and I’m not quite there yet. It means a lot to hear that Sean also struggled to find the right kind of work for him at the beginning, and so great to hear that he eventually found a way to make a living from fiction writing, which he clearly enjoys!
I was an early convert to Yesterday’s Gone, Sean’s sprawling post-apocalyptic fiction serial that he wrote with David Wright and was hooked, going on to read many of their other books published under the Collective Inkwell umbrella. I was also delighted when they teamed up for the Self-Publishing Podcast and Better Off Undead with Johnny B Truant. Listening to these is one of the highlights of my week because they’re inspiring and hilarious (though they are definitely NSFW or for those with a sensitive disposition!)
In this book however we definitely see a much more introspective and personal side of Sean. At first this is a bit disconcerting as the style of writing is different to what I’m used to from the likes of their character Boricio, a filthy-tongued serial killer!
Sean has said on the Self-Publishing Podcast that this book is a love letter to his wife Cindy, and that really comes across, as does his love for his two children. Cindy sounds like a very special woman, encouraging Sean to write in the first place by buying him his first MacBook and also supporting him through thick and thin.
Whilst at first the writing style may seem a little sentimental compared to his fiction, by the end of the book you can understand why, and can really feel the deep love that Sean has for his family. Whilst I don’t have any children, my wife has been similarly supportive of my own journey in becoming a full-time writer I could really relate to this part of the book.
Highly recommended to any writers, or ‘wannabe’ writers, whether you are writing fiction or non-fiction.
This review contains Amazon.com affiliate links.
Last night I was honoured to be joined by my friends Michael Nobbs and Fabian Kruse live on Google Hangouts (as well as a number of other friends and family from around the world who tuned in) for the momentous occasion of me drinking my first beer for a year (and celebrating my birthday).
We talked about what I’ve learnt from a year of being sober, which I also wrote about in an article for Medium called ‘A Year Without Booze‘ (in case you missed it!).
Given the relevance of tasty baked goods to birthdays, Fabian and I also took the opportunity to reveal all about our new course, The C.A.K.E. Method.
You can watch the video of the full Hangout below, which is almost an hour long, or if you prefer to cut to the chase you can just watch the 15 minute extract on YouTube where we reveal what C.A.K.E. actually stands for, and what the course involves.
Note: We’ve announced a special introductory price for the course which is valid for the next 48 hours (until Thursday, 10pm BST/5pm ET).
We’ve also limited it to 10 people because the course includes personal feedback and a live co-working session and we want to make sure we can give everyone who signs up our full attention. (And at the time of writing only 7 places remain!)