Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Canal Club

I spent three days last week on the Canal Club, on the Leeds-Liverpool Canal (towards the Liverpool end) as part of Urbanism 09. I was commissioned by PublicWorks to write a new fiction for the canal – a magical story which pulled out the potential of a place which is frequently dismissed as a 'wasteland'. My story is called 'Fishing For Stars' (inspired by the star shaped lanterns attached to the 'Club'). It follows three characters, Caib, Rhaw and Bywell (their names are drawn from a mural of ancient tools painted on one of the canal's walls) who all discover their own routes into a magical parallel universe, where their wishes for the canal come true. Here’s the beginning few paragraphs:

“Let me tell you how I found this place. I was fishing for stars. You can see them, if you look, just below the surface of the canal, like silver, sharp-edged fish. Mum says they’re the souls of the people who built the canal. Dad says they’re the dreams of children whose bedrooms overlook the water. Whatever they are, they are as heavy as stone. I was fishing for stars and I caught one. It pulled me right in – headfirst, surprised. I like fishing. I’ll step onto a door one of the boys has stolen from a skip, and push my way to the middle of the canal. But I’m not a swimmer. I hate going underwater I didn’t choke or splutter or drown though, and the water was crystal clear and rubbish-free. I’m telling you, you can breathe as easy as air down here, and if you open your mouth the world tastes sugar-sweet. It took me a while to work out the upside-down thing, because the water makes everything shimmer and shift when you move, like there are a million crushed diamonds floating in front of your eyes. You have to stand absolutely still before things become clear, before you realise that you can walk on the sky, dip your toes into cool white clouds.”

The Canal Club was only in existence for three days, over the lifespan of Urbanism 09, which presented a number of challenges, including finding ways to get visitors to engage with my story. Our plan was to ask visitors to write letters to the fictional characters, but whilst some people did this, it was difficult to get them to commit to reading the story 'on site'. We put vinyl-cut extracts from the story onto the Canal Club itself, hung copies up by the seating areas, and gave away photocopies. It's a short story, only 4 sides of A4, but that's quite a lot to read if you're just 'dropping in'. I think giving the copies away was the best tactic, but then it's very difficult to know if anyone read it, what they thought about it, and whether it influenced their thinking about the canal.

If the project had been longer, I would have liked to involve more people in the story's creation, to have sent copies to people before the 'live' bit of the project, and posted it online, and organised more 'formal' (by which I mean people commit to come for a specific length of time) workshops where I could have read the story and then worked with people to write responses to the characters. Equally, it would have been good to have a blog (or fairy post box!) where people could post responses to the story after the event.

No comments: