Read part 1 of the Hayling Stories blog series here.
Listening to a story is different from reading a story. We all know this. Our brains process written and spoken language in slightly different ways, and what arrives through the ear can land with a considerably different impact than what arrives through the eye.
First, the ears: there is volume, and tone, and acoustic resonance; the crackle of an old headphone, the cough of the person beside you. There is the whistle of a hearing aid, the popping of a microphone. There is the breath in. Cadence.
Next, the eye: black lettering on off-white paper, ten point type, twelve point type, serif, sans serif. There is backlit monitor and screen tired eyes. Left to right, lavender paper, or lemon, perhaps, to keep the words from slipping away. There is the quiet interior into which the words speak, that deeply solo experience of reading and building a world inside. Add to that the many different ways we each access and process text and sound, perhaps dyslexia, or sound and light sensitivity, and we collectively have a huge range of ways in which stories are received.
From the start of this project, I knew I wanted to address disability, and the ways that it can affect how a person hears or reads a story. More than that: I wanted to address the experience of life in a body that is pushed to the margins, and address the fact that – as theatre-maker Conor Aylward aptly put it – those of us who are dis-abled by a world that fetishises being busy often have a stack of unused tickets from events we were unable to attend. I wanted to address access and embodiment, build it into the aesthetic of this project – aiming to create art and writing that not only acknowledges disability, but carries disabled experience in its very fabric.
Disability is, of course, a huge word that covers a vast array of experiences, and what makes something accessible to one person will, inevitably, make it inaccessible to another. There is no perfect solution, though there are ways to open art up to a wider audience.
The mainstream arts world has a pitiful record when it comes to access for disabled audiences and artists alike. We are kept out of buildings by steps and narrow doorways and accessible toilets full of boxes; invited to site-specific work in concrete rooms with no seating and no heating; and we are kept out of development opportunities by incomprehensible application forms and a burn-out working culture that rewards adrenaline abuse as a sign of true commitment.
I am tired of all these avoidable barriers. And I am tired of being chronically fatigued, to be precise. Often too tired to read from a page or a screen. Sometimes too tired to hear. Sound becomes painful, or light becomes painful, and those kinds of bodily experiences are so rarely accounted for in mainstream arts work.
Short stories became my friend in the midst of illness, their brevity an ally in a life that only works in small parcels of time. Life lived in present tense.
One of my creative collaborators on this short story mapping project is the sound designer, musician and engineer Caro C. Caro who is known for what she calls her bat ears – a careful sensitivity to sound that is woven through all of her work. Early on in our collaboration she set me homework to help me tune my own bat ears and step into the rich sonic world she works from. ‘You can’t fully hear sound if you’re not fully present,’ she told me, ‘so listen’. Life in present tense. I took walks on Hayling beach as a sound scavenger: squeaky bike panning left to right, a snatch of teenage conversation blown in on the wind. Shingle and sea, the garbled tumbling inhale of the turning tide.
We have started recording the stories and non-fiction pieces that we’re creating so that audiences can take their pick of text or sound, following either whim, or the format that fits them best, adjusting volume, font, or backdrop as needed. It will take time to complete, and will be imperfect of course, but I hope that by creating a multi-form collection that speaks and whispers and lays out a choice of text, we are able to share the stories with as many folk as want them.
This is the second in a series of blog posts exploring the creation of a collection of audio digital short stories – Hayling Island: stories at sea level. Michelle Green is a short story writer collaborating with Maya Chowdhry on digital design, Caro C on sound design, and Dr David Cooper on non-fiction and literary mapping. The project is funded by Arts Council England and New Writing North, in collaboration with Comma Press. More info at http://www.haylingstories.com
Michelle’s short story collection Jebel Marra is available in e-book and paperback from the Comma Press website.