26 Fruits

Random pleasures

I’ve often said how much I enjoy randomness. I love the writing process when it is influenced or even inspired by chance.

As readers we like to be taken by surprise. It helps when you sense that the writer whose words you are reading enjoyed the same sense of surprise in the writing.

The writers we enjoy reading – and are most persuaded by – do not usually set out their thoughts as a logical series of facts. Conventional wisdom says that this is what business writing should be like. Give me facts, facts, facts because these must represent the truth.

In fact, I believe we are more attracted to the seemingly illogical workings of chance. Our brains respond to the less obvious patterns of randomness, rather than to the strictly linear exposition of facts. Facts, hard information, are useful in supporting the story that we have responded to.

These were the issues in Amsterdam this week, preparing and running a workshop with a multinational company. We had observed that their internal communications were absolutely fact-driven. No one enjoyed writing them, and no one read them. They needed to tell better stories.

zz121r7Quite by chance, while this was happening, a beautiful example of random inspiration landed in my email inbox. This was for a new 26 project called 26 Under a Northern Sky. Some of you will recognise a Nick Drake song in that title.

The project came about after Michelle Nicol, a terrific writer and Dark Angel, was inspired by a session at last autumn’s 26 Wordstock. Michael Burdett had talked about a discarded version of Nick Drake’s Cello Song. On the way home by train to Newcastle she tweeted about it and was contacted by 26 member Sandy Wilkie in Glasgow.

Now in conversation they discovered that you can catch a train from Newcastle to Glasgow that has 26 stops. It’s the country train, not the direct route, but the journey takes you through wonderful scenery and stops at interesting places en route. The idea for a project started to form.

This led to the invitation that dropped into my inbox. It was an invitation to be one of 26 writers, each to be inspired by two random influences. In my case the first of these is a stop on the train line between Newcastle and Glasgow – it’s a small town in Northumberland called Haltwhistle. I’ve never been there but now I will go. The second random influence I was given was one of Nick Drake’s songs Which Will.

I love Nick Drake’s music and this is a fine song. He himself was not well-treated by fate and died young over 40 years ago, leaving us a collection of 26+ songs that did not sell well in his lifetime – but have sold in their millions since. The first line of the song I’ve been assigned begins “Which will you go for?” Perfect.

Of course, seeking answers, we can all now go for the random ordering of a Google search. Which is what I did, seeking Haltwhistle and Which Will. You might, if interested, choose to do the same.




4 Responses

  1. Michelle says:

    I’m highly honoured by this mention. And thrilled that 26 Under a Northern Sky has captured the imagination of wonderful writers. I can’t wait to enjoy what you make of Haltwhistle.

  2. Anita says:

    Really enjoyed this and hadn’t heard the Nick Drake song before, so much like John Martyn circa The Tumbler, thank you

  3. Martin Lee says:

    It adds to the poignancy of his death, but also to the piling up of chance ‘facts’, to note that Nick Drake was 26 when he died…

  4. Sue Evans says:

    Looks like the photo of Nick Drake was taken under a northern sky. There are views of Accrington that are similar, or it could be another northern mill town. Sounds (literally) a great project.

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