Nathan Penlington

writer / performer / obsessive

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Hello.

I'm a writer and performer who makes shows, books and other things about my various obsessions. Some of those obsessions include Choose Your Own Adventure books, Uri Geller, darts and Richard Brautigan.

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Interactive fiction #2: back to front

Through an on-going series of blog posts I’ve decided to share some of the interactive fiction I’ve been collecting for the last 15 years or so. 

This week - 5 books that take advantage of their innate double-sided construction to explore duel/dual narratives. The reader deciding the starting point, and often the path through the text. 

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‘The inner side of the wind’ – Milorad Pavic, 1993. Knopf.

The story of two lovers told from two different viewpoints and from different points in time, the lover’s path converging physically and figuratively, ultimately joining at the centre.

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‘The Canvas’ – Benjamin Stein, 2012. Open Letter.

Like Pavic’s book reading from each side gives you the narrative of two protagonists, as they recount their own version of the truth. With ‘The Canvas’ you have more freedom as a reader to read in the manner you want, alternating as many chapters as you wish. The conflicting stories lead to a showdown at the centre of the book.

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'Only Revolutions' - Mark Z. Danielewski, 2006. Doubleday.

A complex love story and road trip, two teenagers stride through the geography and history of the USA. The publisher suggests reading 8 pages of one character, rotating the book and reading 8 pages of the other.

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Typographic inventiveness is also a feature of Danielewski’swork, diminishing font size, dual columns, symbolically coloured words and letters. 

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'Behind closed doors' - Alina Reyes, 1996. Orion Books.

A series of badly written erotic adventures in a Choose Your Own Adventure style, you decide not only which sexual fantasy to live out but depending on which side of the book you start from, but also which gender to follow.

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'Nightclub Yes/Nightclub No' - Jeremy Dixon, 2013, Hazard Press.

A cleverly constructed magic-wallet, double-spined, one-poem book…

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…you decide which side to open, and which version of the text you want to read.

Do you have any other double-sided books you think deserve sharing or that I should know about? Please get in touch.

Antenna Documentary Film Festival, Australia

Next international stop for Choose Your Own Documentary is Sydney, Australia, and the Antenna Documentary Festival. 

The festival is an exciting mix of local and international films and events, I’m very excited to be part of it, although I’m not made for either heat or large insects. I also can’t help but have this image in my head:

To find out if my worst and best Choose Your Own Adventure fears and fantasies come true…see the show. Tickets for the festival, and individual events are on sale now. 

Tickets are $30, $25 concs - for online booking or more information click here. 

Interactive Fiction #1

I’ve been asked to do a talk about interactive fiction, so I’ve spent the last few days going through the books that fill my flat, pulling out the interesting and odd. I hadn’t quite realised the extent of my collection. I’ve had a serious interest in experiential fiction for the past 15 years or so - books which take an usual form or graphically uses text in an original way. Choose Your Own Adventure books are part of that interest, but it also embraces the work of Raymond’s Roussel, Queneau and Federman, and the novels of Richard Grossman. I also have a large and growing collection of zines and independently published works - which often, because they are hand made or printed in limited numbers, are produced in unusual forms difficult to make on a larger scale. 

I’m particularly interested in the conjunction of text and form, where one is dependent on the other, rather than the arbitrarily contrived purely for the sake of novelty. For this talk I’m focusing on narrative work that demands the interaction of the reader/participant to form that narrative. There are hundreds of books that use the form made famous by Choose your Own Adventure, but still surprising in their variety and invention. And then those novels of unique form - the ones using tarot cards, crossword puzzles, dictionaries, rotating text, unbound pages in boxes. I’ve been photographing and documenting the best of these, and while doing so some interesting themes have formed themselves, sub-collections in the collection. So, I thought I’d post some of these over the coming weeks - as what is the point of collecting if you don’t get to share it in some way? And if you’ve found anything interactive I’d be very interested to hear about it. 

Marginalia

I’ve been honoured to have one of my poems selected for inclusion in a new anthology: ‘Marginalia - ten years of poems and texts from Penned in the Margins’. 

Penned in the Margins is an innovative publishing and performance producing company based in London’s East End, which, since its inception ten years ago by editor and poet Tom Chivers, has been pushing at the boundaries of experiential creation. Penned in the Margins in now part of the Arts Council of England national portfolio, which will allow its work to have greater range and reach. 

Marginalia looks back at some of the writers and poets that have helped shape the first decade of Penned in Margins' events and books, and includes work by some of the best innovative cross-over artists like Ross Sutherland and Hannah Silva, excerpts of prose by Luke Kennard and Alan Cunningham, and pieces by more established names such as Roddy Lumsden and Iain Sinclair. It is an excellent example of the diverse range of one of the UK's most daring independent publishers.

Click here to buy Marginalia direct from Penned in the Margins. 

Anonymous asked:

I have just finished reading your book "The Boy in the Book"! I was intrigued by the book from the beginning to the end. I have never read any "choose your own ending books" and I am ashamed to say I knew very little about you before reading this book! What I wanted to ask is whether you are still in touch with your school-boy "girl-friend" whom you finally asked out? What was it that you felt you fulfilled by asking her out when you were in a happy relationship already? Thanks!

I answered:

Thanks for your question Anonymous. Glad the book intrigued you, hopefully enough to also track down some of Edward Packard’s books too. If you haven’t read any before then you are in for a unique experience - even in our connected age with its permanently branching narratives of everyday life. 

The search for Terence raised some deep issues from my own childhood, one of those issues was to do with how come to terms with those moments in which you should have acted differently, taken another path, turned to a different page. I don’t want to give any spoilers away here for people who haven’t read the book yet, but the moment in question wasn’t about fulfilling any present day romantic desires - it was about testing the past, living for a moment of time travel into an alternative ‘what if’, in doing so realising I was wrong not to follow my heart as a boy, and finding bravery in knowing the other side of the story isn’t as you imagine it to be. It was that knowing that pushed me forward towards the resolution of my whole quest.

Hope that answers your question - feel free to email me if not - information is on the contact page. Good luck with your own adventures. 

Edinburgh Fringe 2014: 10th-25th August

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Choose Your Own Documentary is back at the Edinburgh Fringe - once again at the fantastic Gilded Balloon. 

Last year we won The Scotsman Fringe First Award for new writing and innovation. This year we are hoping to give everyone who might have missed the show during the past year an opportunity to experience it. 

Tickets are on sale now. We’re only at the festival for two weeks, so get in quick. 

Online booking click here.

Or call the box office: 0131 622 6552

Can you be trusted? Win a FREE a psychically inspired teddy bear.

Last week I was unfortunate enough to be featured in the vile monstrosity of a paper known as the Daily Mail. The feature purported to be a review of The Boy in the Book, albeit one full of factual inaccuracies and lumbered with the clunky headline ‘Never trust anyone that collects psychic teddies’. The title, although having nothing to do with the book, refers to my obsession with the 70’s psychic superstar Uri Geller and his merchandise.

Although his psychic ability may be in question, Uri’s uncanny talent to expand his range of merchandise is incredible. While writing Uri & Me I turned my ruthless business mind to creating a range of Inspired by Uri collectables. My best sellers were undoubtedly the psychically straightened forks and bent spoon brooches, followed closely by the packets of portable orange dots and hand decorated plastic plates. In honour of Uri’s psychically energised teddy bears I also created a limited edition (of three) IBU bears. Here is the catalogue description I wrote at the time.

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In 1989 Uri Geller energised his son’s teddy bear with psychic energy to send to American Vice President Al Gore’s son who had been hospitalised after an accident. Six year old Albert Gore had suffered a broken thigh and ribs, and a ruptured spleen after being hit by a car. Uri said:

“For a while, they thought he would die. I knew I could help, so I sent him a psychically energised teddy bear. It worked! After Albert began hugging his new teddy, he improved fast”(1).



Uri’s special psychic relationship with teddy bears began when he was just a baby. His first memory dates from when he was six months old, and recalls the third floor, one room apartment in Palestine, and the tiny bed his mother had made underneath the window.

“I’ll never know why but a British soldier shot two bullets into our window…I remember the two shots, and I remember glass falling almost in slow motion. My mother had put a little teddy bear next to me in the pram, and somehow it rolled over my face and it saved me. Maybe I would have been cut up, perhaps even killed”.(2)

If it wasn’t for that teddy bear the world would certainly have suffered a tragic loss.

“Ever since then, I’ve felt something special towards bears, I always had them as a child and they were the first gifts I bought for both my children when they were born”, Uri told The Teddy Bear Magazine in September 1997 in an article to help publicise his new range of Uri Bears. Each Uri Bear was hand made by the specialist bear shop Asquith’s, and energised by Uri himself. But the making of teddy bears to help the sick was not just a profitable, or selfless, scheme for Uri, as he told The Teddy Bear Magazine he really does believe in the healing power of bears:

“I believe that everything has life in it. I am a religious man and I feel there is no end under God, just infinite space. Just as there is no end to outer space, there’s no end to inner space either. When I pick up a bear, I feel that in just one strand of its mohair, there could be an infinite world, planets, galaxies, universes. I feel life there, bears are not just objects”.



#011 The INSPIRED BY URI™ Bear

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It is with Uri’s love for teddy bears in mind, and the twenty-year anniversary of Uri’s gift to Albert Gore, that the INSPIRED BY URI™ collection has produced a very special limited edition INSPIRED BY URI™ Bear.

The INSPIRED BY URI™ Bear is the ultimate symbol of positivity, combining no fewer than five symbols that relate directly to Uri, and is the perfect gift for healthy or unwell(3)children of all ages, from 3 to 103 (4) . 

The INSPIRED BY URI™ Bear measures 13cm in height, and is made from a soft golden-brown plush, with a machine stitched nose and plastic eye detailing. Each bear wears a bright orange felt t-shirt bearing a bold white number eleven, hand stitched by Nathan Penlington. In his left paw the INSPIRED BY URI™ Bear holds a stunning and exquisitely detailed miniature bent spoon made from Tibetan silver, and around his neck is a replica Turquoise birthstone necklace. 

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Each bear comes complete with a Passport to Positivity certificate of authenticity, which outlines the symbolic nature of the bear, and a genuine INSPIRED BY URI™ button sewn into the left ear. 

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The INSPIRED BY URI™ Bear also comes with a FREE MUG that depicts the bear, and gives the meaning behind the birthstone for December, Uri’s month of birth. 

All of these details combine to make the INSPIRED BY URI™ Bear the ideal gift for yourself or others. It has been produced in a strictly limited edition and once they have been sold there will be no more. The price is for this investment piece is only £13.31. Remember, once they have sold out, there will be no more. 

Despite the cheap price and the convincing description I still have all three bears. So, I’m hoping, after the publicity afforded by the Daily Mail article, to give away one of the bears FREE to a good home. All you have to do to win one of these beautiful collectables is to email me with a short reason why you deserve an Inspired By Uri bear. Last date for entries is 11:11pm on 22nd July.

You have eleven days from the date of this post to write your convincing heartfelt plea and send it to: info <at> nathanpenlington <dot> com - the winner will be selected from the best entries. 

Good luck!



1) Quoted in the National Enquirer, June 25, 1996.

2) ‘Uri Geller – Magician or Mystic?’, by Jonathan Margolis. 1998. Orion Books. p19. The same incident is recounted in Uri’s 1975 autobiography ‘My Story’, except there is no mention of a teddy bear, just a miracle: “I didn’t have a single scratch, even though there was broken glass all over me”. I prefer to read this omission as the younger Uri’s bravado, rather than the later inclusion to back up his merchandising. 

3) No claims are made for the positive effect of any of the symbols of positivity, nor for any health benefits. Uri’s standard disclaimer also applies to the INSPIRED BY URI™ Bear: ‘Not intended for the treatment, cure, diagnosis or mitigation of a disease or condition. If you have a medical condition or are taking any prescription or non-prescription medications, see your physician before altering or discontinuing the use of medications. Persons with potentially serious medical conditions should seek professional care. No therapeutic or medical claims have been made’. 

4) Please note the INSPIRED BY URI™ Bear contains small parts and is not a toy. It has been designed as a collector’s piece only.

Writing Process blog tour

There is an interesting baton currently being passed around writers I know, a series of questions aimed at opening up about the writing process. I’ve been tagged by Mark Blayney - you can find out who I’m passing the tag along to at the bottom of this post. 

So, here are my answers…

What am I working on?

 
For the last 18 months I’ve been working on my first non fiction book The Boy in the Book which was published by Headline at the end of May. It is based on a live interactive spoken word/film documentary hybrid which I made in collaboration with three film makers called Choose Your Own Documentary.

The book and the show chronicles my quest to discover the truth behind four pages of a heartbreaking diary I found tucked inside an old Choose Your Own Adventure book. The diary, written twenty years ago, belonged to a boy called Terence Prendergast - its essence resonated with me in ways deeper than the need to just find out the story, and it became a personal quest too. In effect the diary has been my entire focus for the past few years. 

I’m just about to start work on a new project. This is the scariest/most exciting point to be at - where anything is possible, but you have to fight against the inertia that can be created from that abundance of choice. I’d hate to limit the possible by outlining anything until I’m on firmer ground, so for now, that’s all I can say.   

 
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
 
My work over the past few years falls between genres - theatre, film, documentary, spoken word, comedy, memoir, magic, experimental. It’s important to push at the easy to tick boxes of neat categorization. Although unique ideas are important, its the edges of things where the most exciting work is found.  

 
Why do I write what I do?

I’m interested in where the real life of the writer/performer intersects with the necessarily fictional elements of the creative process. I tend to treat life as an experiment, challenging myself to do things I wouldn’t ordinarily be inclined to do, or to do things that shouldn’t work. It’s a precarious line between risk and the creation of something unachievable by taking a surer route. I also believe that you shouldn’t take yourself too seriously, but that doesn’t exclude rigorousness. Non-fiction can and should be both honest and riddled with non truths.

I’m a firm believer that you shouldn’t be constrained by genre or form, and that your work should take to the stage if it demands a live audience, a book if it benefits from longer form, or film if you need to capture a certain moment in time or place. The unusual, forgotten, discarded and excluded and all huge draws for me, and real life stories are ultimately more inspiring. I’m definitely going to be exploring this area further in future work.

 
How does my writing process work?
 
I’m a gatherer, an obsessive collector, both of things and ideas. Those traits have incorporated themselves into my creative process. I spend a long time researching and wallowing in information, allowing myself to follow each path organically along ripples of references.

When writing I tend to write the first draft directly into my laptop, and then print everything out so I can scribble my terrible handwriting all over it. There is something important in the process that only comes from creating distance from your words and from treating your writing as an object to be remade. 

Next up on the writing process tour is Tim Wells, poet and man about town, who is currently researching a huge project about the history of ranting Stand up and spit.

Signed copies of The Boy in the Book now available

After some mysterious code manoeuvring and financial security checking it is now possible to order signed copies of The Boy in the Book.

Please indicate if you would like them dedicated to anyone special, and feel free to email me if you have any more complex instructions.

For ordering information head over to The Boy in the Book page by clicking here.   

Everyday Adventures

On the 23rd May 1982, exactly thirty-two years ago today, two brave adventurers set out on a quest unlike any other. It was a mission that embraces a way of being close to my heart - the desire to find adventure in the ordinary. And if, no matter how hard you search, adventure doesn’t exist, the ability to transform the everyday so that it does, making life literally extra-ordinary

Autonauts of the Cosmoroute chronicles the expedition of writers Julio Cortázar* and Carol Dunlop to explore the Paris-Marseilles freeway.

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It is a journey that should ordinarily have taken ten hours. Driving a camper-van packed with essential and non-essential provisions – typewriters, cameras, wine, cheese, coffee, canned spaghetti – they set out on a thirty-five day voyage. The rules of the adventure were simple:

  1. They could never leave the motorway.
  2. They would visit each rest stop, at the rate of two per day, staying overnight in the camper-van or roadside hotel.

The result is a travelogue written in the manner of the accounts of great explorers, cataloguing the scientific and topological explorations of each rest stop, recording moments of clarity, persecution, and calamity, encounters with wild animals and their owners. It is an absurd adventure taken seriously.

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My friend Pete once said to me, “You treat life as a continual experiment”. My work has always reincorporated my personal history, and over the last few years my work has also become my way of living. It’s a subtle shift of perspective that pushes at the confines of habit and routine. My last three projects Choose Your Own Documentary, Uri & Me, and Brautigan Salad have subverted reality through a obsessive re-appropriation of the everyday into imagination fuelled, but genuine quests. 

For me, a successful everyday adventure must observe three important elements:

  1. Objective – a target, a goal, an end point.
  2. Rules – without constraint there can be no transgression, no creativity. Rules can be quantifiable (ie two rest stops per day) or moral (I will not let my quest put others in danger).
  3. Observation – photographs, film, documentation, and writing are all permissible. As are fictional accounts of factual occurrences, or vice versa.

A good literary example of these three elements can be found in a short work by the French writer Georges Perec An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris.

Perec was a member of the experimental writing group called the Oulipo, whose work is characterised by hidden objectives and labyrinthine rules. One weekend in October 1974 Perec set himself the challenge of recording “what happens when nothing happens”, writing an account of everything that passes through his field of vision.

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His objective was simply to record everything, the rules were also incredibly simple – his attention would be focused on one square in an unimpressive corner of Paris, over a period of three days, rotating between cafes located at the corners of the square. The resulting observations are incredibly melancholic, poetic, an intensely normal account of events, that suddenly given importance, renders the world strange.

It is the world made strange that is the destination of all successful adventure.

Can you think of other examples of Everyday Adventures? If so, please let me know - comment, tweet or find me on facebook

 

*I came across Cortázar’s work about ten years ago through his novel Hopsotch, published in 1966, which could be considered an earlier precursor to the Choose Your Own Adventure format. The book has two sequences, one the conventional front to back, the other a literal hopscotch to numbered chapters as the end of each section indicates.

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