As anyone who read last week’s post will know I have recently come back from three days at the MIX Conference, run by The Literary Platform and Bath Spa University and showcasing projects that combine writing and digital technology. I’m still in recovery and need some kind of post-conference rehab program to integrate me back into society, but while I’m battling through the re-adjustment process I’ll tell you about the final day.
This was the Making Day, an opportunity to do a hands-on workshop with experts in their field. I joined The Object of the Story, run by Barney and Lucy Heywood of the Stand + Stare Collective who are based in Bristol. The purpose of the workshop was to create and record a story using objects as inspiration. This recording would then be attached to the objects using RFID technology (Radio Frequency Identification Device), as though the things themselves were telling their own history. My love of radio drama came into play here, although I had to work through the fear of recording my own voice, an uncomfortable exercise for most people I think.
My partner in this workshop was Michelle Newell (visit her fascinating blog where she writes about Mass Observation) and we bonded over writing for teenagers, turning up too early for festivals and buying second hand goods on market stalls. We started by choosing from a collection of objects. Michelle decided on an antique compass, and I chose a candle in a glass jar with a prayer printed on the back. I’m not a religious person, but something about the words appealed to me and the idea that someone in need would be grateful for a ready-made prayer. I also like the duality of candles. They are functional objects but also have the ability to transform feeling, within a person and a room.
We had just over an hour to write and record the story, and being YA writers we both liked the idea of a dystopian scenario, using dramatisation to show the characters’ situation. The compass and candle fitted with the idea of two strangers flung together by circumstance, hoping to find the right path despite their differing personalities. We took a character each and quickly developed a script, thinking about how we could show the story with only dialogue and sound effects.
Recording is a strange process. Your senses suddenly focus on the slightest sound, the noise your body makes as you move, the sound of placing the candle on the table, the acoustics in the room, the disintegration of the whole process when you fall into a fit of the giggles. But finally, and in a remarkably short period of time, we had a couple of minutes of audio drama, and when each object was placed on a wooden plinth, that section of the story was played. We only had time for a couple of takes and there was very little editing, but if you can tolerate my dodgy acting and sticky shoes (it was a very hot day) you can listen here for the candle, and here for the compass.
There were many fascinating stories created in this workshop with some genuinely compelling voices, and it reminded me how multi-faceted objects can be as a starting point. Whether it’s a personal memento you carry with you every day or an impulse buy from a market stall, there is something about a concrete thing with scuffs and scratches, marks and dents, that can trigger unconscious connections in the brain. It may trigger a memory, it may remind you of someone important in your life, it may be a relatively random association, but whatever connections you make the most mundane things can become full of possibilities.
So stop for a moment. Look at the objects that surround you. Some will already have your stories attached to them and some will have the stories of other people layered beneath your own. Either way they are all there, waiting to be heard.