How the Idea for This Project Was Born
I believe that the first seeds were sown in 2006 when I came to Birmingham to study at university. As you can imagine, at that time my view of the city was very different from the way it is now. At first, not surprisingly, I saw no inspiration here. Being away from my family, getting used to loving on my own, I saw the place from a purely functional point of view: I had to know the locations of the university, my home, some bus stops, and the most important shops. I was also glad to live in a large city because it allowed me to find a student job relatively quickly.
When I arrived in Birmingham, my father gave me great, practical advice: get on random buses every now and again and explore the surroundings, get familiar with the city. It took me a while to put that advice into practice because I dedicated the first term solely to the adaptation to my new pace of life and there was no time to explore the city (which is a shame because a lot of good writing was born out of subsequent explorations). Only in late spring, when I got more used to my new life and learnt to ‘play the school game, and when my desire to explore the unknown was bursting on the inside, did I actually catch the first bus I saw. It was bus 6 that took me to Sarehole Mill. I had no idea what this mill was. I had no idea it existed, nor did I know that J.R.R. Tolkien used to play around the mill when was small. When I saw the sign that said ‘Shire Country Park’, I stopped dead in my tracks and my heart made the biggest jolt it had ever made. Sorry for the clichés, but it was the first time the Second City had me under its spell. As it turned out later, the spell was meant to last.
In the beginning of my journey of discovering hidden secrets of the city I found it very difficult to write about the actual process of getting to know the city that was so new and unfamiliar to me. My thoughts were all over the place, the sentences in a few Facebook notes I wrote about my discoveries were disjointed and somehow the words just did not want to form the ranks on the pages the way I wanted them to. It feels strange to write about it in these terms but my life in Birmingham has been like entering into a relationship or becoming friends with a difficult person. I have gone through all four stages: the forming, storming, norming and performing. At first the city did not want to reveal itself and showed its rough, industrial, sometimes rude side as if testing whether I really wanted to know it. When I persisted and did not relent, it started revealing itself to me, showing its different side and revealing its secrets. One of the objectives of this project is to try to show you the Second City’s hidden sides, the ones that are often missed.
Before I could render my impressions of the city in any form, everything had to mature: my relationship with Birmingham, my writing, and, of course, I as a person had to mature as well. The actual idea for the project was born in early 2012, and, strangely, I was not in Birmingham at the time. I was living in Luxembourg and doing a translation traineeship in one of the EU institutions. I was in a situation similar to the one I had experienced before in Birmingham – I was in the unfamiliar surroundings once again and I desperately needed to find places that would have an effect on me as a writer. I wanted to see places that would tickle my imagination and whisper stories in my ears – stories that would take on their wings, make me cross time and space, see what life was like in the place many years ago and hear stories of people who lived there before me.
As I was discovering such places in Luxembourg, each time I recalled how discoveries unexpectedly sprang at me in Birmingham. Each time I scratched the rough surface of the Second City, I found a treasure. Everyone says that the City of One Thousand Trades is as industrial as can be; everyone knows about the Birmingham accent. For many, these two reasons are enough to write the city off. However, there is much more in Birmingham than just derelict steel mills and abandoned factories along the canals (although, as a writer who searches for stories, I find these very exciting, but that’s just me). There is a hidden side to the city – and I want to show it to you.
The Aims of the Project
The project has several aims and objectives. My initial plan is to run it part-time for 9 months – from March till October 2013. During this time, the following goals should be achieved:
- Develop the project’s website and populate it with content: articles, videos, photographs, podcasts, memories, reflections and the people’s stories.
- Publish a book called ‘The Unemployed Writer’s Guide to Birmingham’ in summer 2013 which would contain both my articles about the city and the people’s stories
- Run a series of book launch events in a number of locations. Here are some ideas regarding the venues:
– Sarehole Mill
– Hall Green Library
– The Pen Museum
– Spring Hill Library
– Birmingham Central Library (the new building if I am allowed to do it – there are many events scheduled for autumn 2013 when the library opens)
– Moseley Bog (if the weather permits)
- Run a writing workshop and a storytelling event in autumn 2013.
- Run a side project with local schools and universities: organise writing workshops for students there.
Thank you once again for visiting my site!