Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Clare Jarrett – combining art and writing

Clare's installation at
Words & Women's Garden Festival
Clare Jarrett is a Norwich-based artist and writer and her work is currently featured in a fascinating interview for the contemporary art e-journal  Studio International.

Below is an extract from the interview which mentions Clare’s first fabric piece which was commissioned by Words And Women for our Chelsea Fringe Garden festival in 2014.

‘MKP: Looking at your biography online, you describe yourself as an artist and writer. These are two very different creative disciplines. Can you talk about how your use of different disciplines and materials weave together in your practice?

CJ: I think they inform each other, but I’m not sure they really weave together. On the other hand, when I was bringing up my children, I didn’t have enough time or space to go to the studio or think about my visual work, so I thought writing would be a smaller way of making the same kind of work. I thought I could take people into a world through my writing; one I hoped was like my visual world. But, actually, it’s not the same; it’s another place. They are different worlds, but they are connected. And going into writing happened through making books for my children. I made drawings and wrote stories, and they were published by Walker Books, five altogether. That led me to try writing fiction for adults. So I did a part-time MA (in creative writing) at the University of East Anglia in 2005-07. I write a lot and make notes. I wrote most of a novel. I left it for a while, but in the past year I’ve gone back to it and I’m working on it again. I might be able to finish it off: I don’t know, I can’t promise. So that’s the writing. And I’m always reading. I’m reading some Italo Calvino essays at the moment (Six Memos for the Next Millennium) and short stories. I’ve got a pile of books by my bed. Then I’ll go and look at work. I rushed to London the other day to see the Mary Heilmann show at the Whitechapel: very interesting work. She started off doing English literature, then ceramics and sculpture, and then moved into painting. I liked the way the chairs were part of the paintings. I read interviews with her, to hear her voice. Yesterday, I was reading The Writer on Her Work by Janet Sternburg (1980) about women talking about their practice. In 2012, I had a Hawthornden Castle writing fellowship – four weeks just outside Edinburgh in a castle – which was fantastic. It was a strange time because I was doing lots of writing, but I gradually understood that I needed the visual world, too. The writing, even though I absolutely love it and it’s very, very important to me, wasn’t the only thing I needed to do. So I found myself a studio in St Etheldreda’s church in Norwich. And the first fabric piece I made was in that studio. It was for an International Women’s Day celebration, and part of the Chelsea Flower Show Fringe, commissioned in January (2014) by Words and Women (Norwich), which I’m part of, and installed in the Plantation Garden [in Norwich], in May 2014.’

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Isabelle King on The Norfolk Story Book

Following the completion of ‘The Norfolk Story Book’ this Summer 2016, Isabelle undertook a Writer in Residence position at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse to work on a potential second children’s book ‘Children of the Workhouse’.

In this piece, Isabelle explains the inspiration behind ‘The Norfolk Story Book’, how she
came to be on site at Gressenhall and her fascination with Workhouse history:

‘My first children’s book is inspired by objects in Norfolk Collections Centre, situated on the same site as Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum.

The first time I set foot in Norfolk Collections Centre, just over a year ago, I knew that I wanted to write about it. An atmospheric cabinet of curiosities, the store is full of exciting objects; Snap Dragons, a Mammoth tusk, and equipment used to make mustard and toffee, to name but a few. Even though the building was open to the public, there was a sense of secrecy in the air, almost as though you, as a visitor, had stumbled into the store by accident - which I believe, is a huge part of what makes the store so utterly unique and which certainly captivated my imagination.

The book is endorsed by Norfolk Museums Service and combines historical fact with imagination and fun. Released October 2016, all details of the book, including how to purchase your copy, are here -
I am very excited to have a book launch October 15th at Norwich Castle - three storytelling sessions will take place at 12 noon, 1pm and 2pm. All families are welcome!

Whilst in the completion stages of writing ‘The Norfolk Story Book’ I was delighted to be invited to the ‘Collaborate with Gressenhall’ day. This was a fantastic day in which Gressenhall staff and freelance creatives got together for a meeting of minds with a view to collaborating on creative projects. The day consisted of talks and activities, led by history professionals, which focused on the lives of people in the Workhouse, as well as discussions with creatives about the ways in which they could bring Workhouse history to life through collaborative projects in community spaces.

There was even a chance to touch and examine some of the museum’s objects; particular favourites of mine were some of the hand-made dolls. It was awe-inspiring to think of how many people’s hands had touched those objects throughout history and how these artefacts had played a part in people’s lives. It sparked some very interesting questions; who made them; who played with them; how were they made?

Naturally, I jumped at the chance to collaborate with Gressenhall and last February, taught a day’s creative writing course on site in the Learning Centre. The course was an introduction to creative writing which drew inspiration from real-life stories and images in the ‘Voices from the Workhouse’ project at Gressenhall,  focussing on how to create character in the narrative. I was thrilled to receive five stars from everyone who participated on the course, in the evaluation.

I suppose it goes without saying that all this work and meeting interesting people had got the creative juices flowing!

Coupled with the fact that I’d experienced such a fascinating insight to the Workhouse through teaching the course, I was eager for my next book to be based on the project at Gressenhall. ‘Children in the Workhouse’ will explore what it was like for a child to be an inmate at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum, inspired by real life stories.

It is extremely important to me that the book is historically accurate. As with ‘The Norfolk Story Book’ I intend to root the stories in historical fact and combine this with imaginative interpretation.

Throughout the Writer in Residence position, I dedicated much of my time to research. Thanks to the new displays at Gressenhall, I was hardly short of resources!

The ‘Voices from the Workhouse’ project beautifully highlights, through interactive displays, the many stories of real people who lived and worked at Gressenhall, from how they washed to what they ate and where they slept. In particular, I enjoyed listening to some of the audio interviews from Workhouse inmates, as well as the film clips of actors portraying Workhouse characters, which radiated with warmth and humanity and really brought home the fact that these people could have been you or me.

As a nature enthusiast, I was keen to make the most of my time on site and explore the Farm where I saw some beautiful Suffolk Punch Horses, piglets and chickens!

In the morning, my writer’s desk was situated in the staff offices where I could bounce some ideas at my computer screen and where I was introduced to that most vital of research devices, the staff photocopying machine which, in spite of its evident simplicity, I could never quite get the hang of!

In the afternoon, my writer’s desk was situated back where it all started, at Norfolk Collections Centre which was open to the public and I had the pleasure of chatting to visitors. It was a joy to work on the second book in the place which inspired my first!

Having explored the collections at great length, I am now in the process of writing. In the initial stages of working on this book, it’s clear that the process will not be without challenges in the sense that these stories will differ greatly from my first book. In ‘The Norfolk Story Book’ the majority of the characters are fictional. I believe it is an uplifting book; each story celebrates local history by shining a light on the magic, warmth and fun associated with this region.

As ‘Children of the Workhouse’ is inspired by real-life stories, of course, I cannot fail to acknowledge that this should be handled with sensitivity and respect. However, this does not mean that the stories cannot be without warmth, humour and humanity and I fully intend for each tale to have a positive message at its heart.

As I have learned with all writing - ‘heart’ is the key!'

Isabelle has worked as an actress in theatre, film and radio in the UK and abroad; a career in which she has predominantly been seen in various Shakespearian guises.

She is the founder of literary event Books Talk Back, which is hosted in London and Norwich, including at The British Library with support from The Eccles Centre. Isabelle's creative writing has been short-listed for the Ideastap/Writers' Centre Norwich national fiction competition and she also writes and produces arts journalism pieces for Future Radio.

For more information on Isabelle’s forthcoming book and events visit www.isabelleking.net or www.bookstalkback.com