A couple of years ago I came across the collective 26. I don’t remember exactly how, but most likely while reading an old blog piece by writer-for-business and one of 26’s co-founders John Simmons. A highly regarded copywriter and former writing juror for D&AD, his books on writing and why tone of voice matters in design and advertising are must-reads for business writers. I recommend starting with We, Me, Them & It then if you’re thirsty for more (sorry) Innocent: Building A Brand From Nothing But Fruit. I took two of his D&AD copywriting workshops some years ago and he is as enthusiastic and encouraging in person as in print. After one of the workshops he asked if he could include a piece I wrote in his book Twenty-six ways of looking at a blackberry. (My answer: ‘cripes, yes please!’)
So I linked on over to 26 and found a creative community united by a love of words and a determination to make words work and live harder. What’s not to like? It’s a busy, friendly not-for-profit, run for and by its members. In 2014 I signed up for two projects: 26 Atlantic Crossings and 26 Designs.
26 Atlantic Crossings was a collaborative exhibition between 26 visual artists from Prince Edward County in Ontario, Canada, and 26 writers from Ireland and the UK, who ‘gave voice’ to a piece of their artwork in the form of a sestude. (It was new to me too: John Simmons’ invention, a sestude is a piece of writing with exactly 62 words, i.e. 26 in reflection). The this-side-of-the-Atlantic bit was organised by John and Faye Sharpe. My editor was Tom Collins. I was paired with artist David Boorne, who lives with his wife on a farm in Prince Edward County, 300k in from Toronto. The farmhouse dates from the 1880’s, which as Dave said himself, is an old house by Canadian standards. His artwork was a sculptural series of frames, itself forming one long framed piece. I loved the idea of the frame being the content itself, and I wrote a piece about the imaginary pictures that may once have inhabited each. One of the many things I enjoy about 26 projects is that they are encouraged to develop and turn and find their own forms. 26 Atlantic Crossings evolved into a book designed by Sophie Gordon.
With 26 Designs – managed by Katie Treggiden & Ellie Parker, and my editor was Elena Bowes – six of us were paired with 26 new designers during London Design Festival, and asked to write 100 words in response to one of their designs. These pieces were illustrated and all featured in the new design magazine Fiera, edited by Katie. I was lucky enough to be pulled out of that hat with London-based designer and bone china specialist Richard Brendon, who will be exhibiting at the V&A Museum this year. I had come across him before in magazine features about his stunning Reflect series, which brings life back to antique saucers that have lost their other halves, by teaming them up with highly reflective cups. He launched his new Speck series during the London Design Festival. Every piece in this collection is decorated with a seemingly random array of dots. Hmm, I thought. I sat down to work on my response to Speck just after I came back from an overnight stay in the Fastnet Lighthouse. The tiny dots breaking up the clear white of the china reminded me of the beam of the Fastnet lamp, and the way it touches the sea, flaring to life for a moment before moving on. The beautiful illustration is by Assa Ariyoshi.
I regret not putting my name forward for was 26 Ghosts, a ghost story writing project last year. At the time I convinced myself it was because I wouldn’t have something done in time, but really, I was afraid I wouldn’t come up with anything at all. Afraid of a ghost story? Tut Tut. That’s not the 26 way.
I shall know better next time.
Thanks to Rosa aged five for the ’26’.