2nd Annual Review – 2014

13 Jan

When I wrote my “1st Annual Review” on the blog this time last year, I was in the middle of a very unpleasant legal matter that threatened to drag me emotionally back into the dark days of 2012. I was decidedly drained following months of turmoil, and had begun to lose sight a little of what was happening around me. In among the pain, there had been a string of happy occurrences and rich experiences which promised to help me put my life back on track. I voiced my tentative feelings about 2014 – a cautious optimism that things would improve. Twelve months later and its time to see how I got on.

Undoubtedly this has been a year of change for me. Massive, overwhelming change in some instances. And I’m trying to capitalise on those changes going forward – attempting to learn from the mistakes and take the best I can out of everything – even the pain (The darkest days of the year ended up uniting the family in a way I hadn’t expected). I am undoubtedly still some distance from where I want to be in my personal and professional lives, but importantly the cautious optimism of last year has been borne out repeatedly.

I don’t make New Years Resolutions as a rule. I think they’re fraught with expectation and pressure, and goodwill which leaves one open for a fall. But there are promises I am making to myself too, and while not traditional resolutions as such, are probably worth voicing. I’m going to push myself this year with various projects, embracing the creative streak which has remanifest itself this year. I’m going to look forward with more positivity and open-mindedness. I’m going to put myself out into the world more.

 

There’s something about January, its a rather bleak and depressing month for many of us. For me it was the hangover from 2013, as I darted back and forth dealing with a legal action I’d initiated at the end of 2013. The scale of the situation threatened to throw me off-balance just as something more positive showed up, but I stuck with it, coming out the other side with a peace of mind I’ve not had in years and a resolve to speak up for the truth. It looks like I’ll be able to put the whole chapter behind me in the next few months – though I appreciate there are ramifications of the experiences which are going to hit for years to come. Bridges burned. Lessons learned.

On location in the Cathedral Quarter for The Arts Show

On location in the Cathedral Quarter for The Arts Show

Thankfully January also offered the opportunity to refocus my career potential and I started a broadcast media course in a bid to supplement my decade-plus of experience with some proper qualifications and an unprecedented (for me) opportunity to work in television on a regular basis. Being thrown in among a group of 20-something aspiring media types brought me right back to my university days. Unlike my BA days, I made a point of joining in whenever possible and not turning down any opportunity. I could shout at myself for the opportunities I let slide by a decade ago – I’ve wasted a lot of time since then, and there’s always a little worry that as I hit 34 this year that I’ve maybe left things too late, that I’m written off as ‘too old’ before I even get a chance to demonstrate let alone prove my capability.

The classroom forced me back into writing, which is never a bad thing. And with the focus on radio production, I experimented a little with audio work – something which I’ve never done enough of. I got a massive kick out of a little acting for short pieces we produced in class, restoking that desire to perform I keep trying to bury. I’ve bunged some of my experiments on Soundcloud – putting things out into the public sphere is the only way I can get feedback.

Part of the course involved producing a short documentary piece, and I ended up developing several when plans started to fall apart during the process. Material which I’ll have to use when I get the chance. You can read about the experiences ghosthunting onboard the Nomadic here; and there’s another piece about Belfast City Cemetery I’ll publish soon. The final piece was loosely on the relevance of the cinema experience (and contains only a fraction of the recorded material).

We also dabbled with a podcast format – The Bunker – with me taking on the role of host. Conceived as a sort of magazine programme dealing with NI culture and politics, it was a worthwhile experiment, but one for which momentum was hard to maintain within the group. That said, I’d be keen to return to the idea and redevelop the format, something I might look at this year – if I can find a group willing to work on it.

As the classroom sessions ended I threw myself into pitching projects again with varying success.

February saw me attend my brother Ben’s wedding down in Killinchy. The weather was seasonally inclement, and my paternal grandparents weren’t able to make it owing to ill-health, but that didn’t mar the day. Ben and his wife Briony asked me to do a reading and of course in the middle of it I found myself chocked up with emotion. Amazing how these sorts of events can hit us. That’s both my baby brother and sister now married – very strange how we’re all growing up so fast. And somewhat disturbing.

I made my first visit to Donegal in several years for a weekend of head-space with some close friends. After recent stresses the trip was welcome if brief. There’s something about getting away from absolutely everyone that’s good for the soul.

March/April brought the Belfast Film Festival, and for the first time I was very involved with the main festival, hosting two on-stage events at the QFT. After many years of involvement with events around the UK and Ireland, to take to the stage in my home town at last was very welcome. I brought my dear friend Renée Glynne over from London to talk about a lifetime in film. We barely scraped the surface of Renée’s work, and if anything I perhaps spread the conversation a little too widely for the timeslot available. But I was delighted that we were able to bring her to Belfast for an event for the first time.

I also played host to an on-stage discussion with comic book and Game of Thrones storyboard artist Will Simpson. Built around his dual careers in comics and film/tv, it was an engaging couple of hours (judging by the comments we had after). The chat would have been fun already, but Will is also my uncle, and this marked the first time I’ve ever done an event closely related to family. In the past I’d shied away from anything like this, but having built a reputation on my own merit, and working on other events with the Film Festival, it felt like the time was right to do this.

Filming on The Arts Show at the University of Ulster

Filming on The Arts Show at the University of Ulster

With festival fever dying down I found myself moving on to the placement part of the course, and spent the next few months working on The Arts Show for BBC Northern Ireland. I’d spent a couple of afternoons in rehearsals as a stand-in for guests on The Nolan Show, and helped out at a couple of other events during the first part of the course, but this was a full-time posting which gave me a much better understanding of the television environment (I’ve worked on radio shows as a guest, tv is something I had very limited experience of). I knew presenter Marie-Louise Muir slightly from appearing on Arts Extra for Radio Ulster in the past, but the rest of the team were new to me. I tried to make the most of my time at BBC NI. From handling social media, behind-the-scenes photography, to liaising with guests (some of whom I knew from my previous life), interviewing, question setting, researching, and video editing,  it was a packed period and creatively rewarding.

I spent a bit of time researching a piece on the old North Street Arcade for a radio pitch I’d made. Of course, I managed to screw the package up, so it wasn’t used, but I did salvage some of the material for an article for BBC News, and in turn some of that fed into the content of the Cathedral Quarter Special of The Arts Show back in May, which was satisfying. There’s still quite a bit of material unused which I’ll publish before the spring.

In May I found a new outlet for my creativity (and to be fair, a little bit of self-therapising too) via the Tenx9 event run at the Black Box. Nine participants each have up to 10 minutes to tell a true story about themselves based around a theme. I debuted on the theme of ‘We Are Family’ on 28 April – telling a deeply personal tale few had previously heard. The comments afterwards were fantastic, and bitten by the bug I returned several times in quick succession – for May’s ‘Bodies’ (my story also known as ‘The Tale of The Willy Watcher’),  and July’s ‘Labels’ (a partially unscripted piece about my experiences of mental health issues).

The summer seems to have been spent in a round of gigs. I’m far too cheap and put off by big festivals like Glastonbury (unless for some reason I’m ever asked to host or perform something there), so it was with a little trepidation I made my way to the Bushmills – turned out to be a lovely event, with some great acts, and a fair bit of free whiskey. I caught Hayseed Dixie, and The Hardchargers (who had played at my brother’s wedding) down in Groomsport on a rather lovely if wet afternoon; another outing with Mr B The Gentleman RhymerDavid C Clements, and The Shires.

 

The summer also marked the start of the more regular radio appearances, beginning with a tribute to actor Ray Lonnen for Arts Extra. I was a guest on Revolutions Per Minute on Radio Ulster on 2nd August, alongside Bap Kennedy, Willie Drennan and host Steven Rainey to talk about The Doors’ album Strange Days, an album which provided part of the soundtrack to my A-level artwork. To add to the pressure, this was a one hour live broadcast, and kept the adrenaline pumping. I came straight from the broadcast out into a damp Belfast City Centre and caught my first proper glimpse of the PRIDE parade, something I’ve been meaning to catch for years.

Me and my niece Emily

Me and my niece Emily

The family expanded with the birth of my sister’s daughter Emily. When your baby sister starts having babies one knows one is getting old! One of the pleasures of the year has been watching my siblings and their offspring. Spending time with them never ceases to warm my mood.

My bus broke down en route to Dublin on 23rd August causing me to miss the opening minutes of the panel discussion I was taking part in for Shamrokon, (The Dublin Eurocon 2014) on screen adaptations of J Sheridan Le Fanu. Old friend Brian J Showers had asked me to take part, and I joined highly esteemed writers James Rockhill and Maura McHugh for the afternoon. This was a major strand celebrating the 200th anniversary of Le Fanu’s birth. I realise now I was lucky enough to be involved in the centenary commemorations of Bram Stoker’s death in 2012 too. Hopefully we’ve been successful in renewing interest in both writers. My own has certainly been expanded in the case of Le Fanu.

Everything in my world changed in September at the end of one of my busiest fotnights. I caught up Green Envi during a rehearsal with their new drummer (my brother Ben!), made my first appearance on Kerry McLean’s show for Radio Ulster, and then spent the best part of the next fortnight in Derry. Regular readers of the blog will already be aware my grandfather died mid-September – the first of my grandparents I’ve lost, and so it has hit pretty hard. There’s not a day goes by where he doesn’t get thought about, and the impact has been far-reaching.

During the last few days in hospital I had to come back to Belfast (giving others the chance to spend the nighttime vigil with him). I managed to keep a promise to Rachael B Kelly to help her with her book launch, and was honoured to host the evening at Crescent Arts for her. Dr Kelly and I have been developing a number of projects together and I hope we’ll start to see the outcome later this year of several. Rachael did tell me I didn’t have to come under the circumstances, but a brief soujourn back to relative normality and the comfort of a friend was welcome and revived me for the arduous week that followed.

There were further comments from friends and colleagues in private, and I cannot begin to tell you how much they meant to me.

After Granda’s funeral I ploughed back into work, signing off proofs on my contributions to a book on British Cinema. Then in October I was off to London for the first time in over two years for an event at the British Library as part of their Gothic season. I’d been a consultant on the Hammer part of the accompanying exhibition, and now the show is coming to an end I can probably tell you that its thanks to me that the huge US 3 sheet for Hound of the Baskervilles is part of the exhibit – I had lent my personal copy but conservation concerns and a pressing deadline meant that the Library found an alternative at the last minute  – a very nice linen-backed version. Its a reminder of how long these things take to develop when one considers we started talking about the exhibition in 2013. I joined old friends and colleagues Marcus Hearn and Jonathan Rigby for a panel discussion on screen adaptations of Dracula, with Sir Christopher Frayling in the chair for the event (last time I spoke to Frayling I was interviewing him and Sir Jonathan Miller).

I was only able to do an overnight trip in the end, but made the most of it with a walk through Islington in search of the locations of some of the original Blue Hall cinemas (one for the Hammer completists). On the way home I flew back via Birmingham (somewhere I hadn’t been in several years) and met up with my 2nd cousin Emma for the first time. We made contact via ancestry.co.uk a couple of years ago and have stayed in touch since. Actually meeting one of the family members I didn’t know before (albeit a fairly close relative) was a real thrill.

Since granda’s death I’ve been in touch with several other members of the family, and have made further progress unweaving things. I’m glad I got talking with him about a lot of the findings before he died, as it brought me closer to him. Pursuing it subsequently hasn’t provided closure by any means, but it has given me some comfort.

I didn’t let up as the year drove to the end. I joined the ranks of the guest reviewers on the Banterflix podcast on a regular basis – something I’ve been enjoying a great deal. I look forward to working with the guys again this year. Sitting talking about movies with like-minded folk, what’s not to like?

I made another trip to Dublin – this time to witness my dear friend Joanna’s wedding to Jon. Its been a long-time coming, and was the one event I promised myself I wouldn’t miss this year, re-organising several other appointments just so I could be there. It didn’t disappoint, and provided a wonderful example of religious tolerance as they had both a pagan handfasting and Church of Ireland service. I hope they have many happy years together.

November saw another on-stage interview with Will Simpson, this time as a fundraiser for the F.E. McWilliam Gallery in Banbridge. Another lovely audience, and a very busy room considering the heavy flooding on the roads that night. The two events we’ve done together this year seem to have gone well so we’re open to the possibility of doing them again elsewhere.

As part of my grieving process I took part in another Tenx9, on the theme of ‘Grandparents’, telling a story about granda. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect, and the comments I had afterwards made it very worthwhile. I’ve added the story to my Soundcloud, and you can listen below.

I’d promised myself earlier in the year that I’d become more involved with the arts scene in Northern Ireland – part of my attempts to throw myself back into the creative world I’d shied away from thanks to years of academic pressure and insecurity. Last year’s inclusion in an exhibition as part of Art In The Eastside recaptured my confidence, and so it was I found myself accepting a position on the board of Creative Exchange Artist Studios in my home turf of East Belfast. Through the Art In The Eastside, I’d already become part of the extended family. I’ve been getting to know the artists and fellow board members in recent weeks, and am looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead.

The stage in the Black Box, set for Tenx9

The stage in the Black Box, set for Tenx9

Several more radio appearances before the year end including Kerry McLean and Vinny Hurrell’s shows, kept me attentive. And of course December would never be complete without my annual stint in the red suit and beard for charity.

Christmas itself was a little different this year. We had mum’s folk down with us for the day itself – something I don’t think we’ve done before – while dad’s mum was at my uncle’s just a few miles away. With my brother Jonny home, and my other siblings living close by, I did get to see everyone this year during the festive period.

In what looks like fast becoming a festive tradition I ended up at the Limelight for a gig at the year end. This time the big benefit for Terri Hooley. A chance to meet up with old friends and listen to great music, and take a few snaps for the portfolio. An excellent way to end the year.

 

So as I enter 2015, I’m able to look back at 2014 as a very strange transitional period. One that was filled with interesting things, and a good deal of progress professionally.

The challenge is to maintain and improve on that this year, in spite of challenges that will be thrown my way.  Last year I watched a lot of films, visited a lot of galleries, made numerous radio appearances, and progress with some writing. This year I’ve some further media work lined up, and am on the look out for more. Film will continue to provide a backbone, and I’m working on my writing once again. I’d like to start traveling again too. I have a trip to London lined up, and I’d like to make it back to Paris this year… we’ll see how things develop. Certainly compared to the travails of 2013, life has been good this last year.

 

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2 Responses to “2nd Annual Review – 2014”

  1. Renée Glynne January 15, 2015 at 11:04 pm #

    Je suis Robert

    • avalard January 15, 2015 at 11:06 pm #

      Oh very good Renée. Thanks for being part of the positive 2014. Hopefully see you again soon x

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