I was in London’s Free Word centre last week, where the brilliant Throwaway Lines project has become an exhibition. This project is all about turning litter into literature – or litterature, as those of us in the know call it.
The idea is simple: give 26 writers 26 different scraps of paper found in the street and tell them to use the scrap to inspire a piece of fiction. These aren’t any old bits of paper, but evocative ephemera gathered by Andy Hayes. I had two: a will and a kind of megalomaniacal to-do list, so wrote two stories. (You can read them here and here)
For the exhibition, Andy took a selection of the stories and gave them – along with the inspiring scrap of litter – to a selection artists. They had to read the story and then “frame” the inspiring scrap so that it could hang on a wall.
My piece was framed by Gitta Gschwendtner, an amazing furniture designer. The contrast between the piece I wrote and Gitta’s frame is stark. I went off on a wild, baroque, biblical fantasy; Gitta got a cheap black frame and balanced it on a nail. “Your narrator seemed unstable,” she said, by way of explanation.
Perhaps the blush-inducing, ego-stoking highlight of the evening was meeting popular-science writer David Bodanis, who told me how great he thought my story was. The next day, he emailed me a lovely “blurb”. He said:
“Neil Baker has the remarkable ability to mix two things which few writers manage: his language is beautiful; his stories drive along with a compelling plot. Either one of those on its own would be attractive. The two together make Baker a talent to watch. I’m not a publisher, but if I were I’d want to sign him up before anyone else nabs him.”
A couple of days later, another lovely surprise. The people at the Free Word centre had arranged for Vincent Franklin – a familiar face from the Thick of It, 2012, and other brilliant stuff – to record an audio version of the second story I had in the exhibition, Docile Creatures. You can listen to it here.
All in all, a very special week.