Welcome to a K3 seminar with Martin Cathcart Frödén, Lecturer in Creative Writing, K3
The title of the seminar is A circular argument
This will be an online seminar, carried out through Zoom, and it will take place on Wednesday, October 7 at 10.15-12.00. Please join here:
Johan has just taken up his position as Lecturer in Creative Writing this fall. Below you will find an abstract of his talk and a description of previous work:
The main focus of my talk will be on my forthcoming publication, A Circular Argument (Emerald, Jan 2021). I will also talk a little on my interdisciplinary PhD (Creative Writing, Criminology, Architecture), as well as touching on future research plans.
A Circular Argument / The Out
‘The architects, planners – and businessmen – are seized with dreams of order, and they have become fascinated with scale models and bird’s-eye views. This is a vicarious way to deal with reality, and it is, unhappily, symptomatic of a design philosophy now dominant: buildings come first, for the goal is to remake the city to fit an abstract concept of what, logically, it should be.’ (Jane Jacobs, Downtown is for People, 1958)
Spanning creative writing, criminology and architecture, this work examines some of the ways power and hierarchies can be explored and exploited in space. It is a practice-led study in two parts: one primarily creative non-fiction (A Circular Argument) and the other in the form of a novel (The Out). The two parts will be published in one volume with two entry points, two beginnings.
The novel part is about an imaginary prison. The story revolves around Cecil, an architect who for his own misguided reasons has designed a prison with an inbuilt escape route. A ‘boon’ for someone worthy. Cecil has promised himself that whoever solves his puzzle he will rescue and transport out of the country. One day the phone rings and Frank, the escapee, asks for help. Now Cecil has to make good on his promise and swallow his reluctance as it turns out that Frank has personally affected Cecil’s life. What ensues is largely a road trip where the two men are stuck in a cell on four wheels.
The main focus of the non-fiction part is the obsession with the circular as an architectural gesture and as a concept combining containment and transparency, from the ideal planned city of the Middle Ages, via Bentham’s panopticon, to the all-seeing eye of modern digital society. The creative piece explores how the complications and surprises of human interaction are bound to colour and change the supposedly watertight systems of social control we design as a society – how prison architecture or national road networks might be undermined, or how the power dynamics of the class system might be temporarily suspended in a heightened situation. Forgiveness, desistance and redemption also play a part in the narrative, for both the ‘guilty’ and ‘innocent’ parties. Both elements of the work also examine how time moves differently inside from outside of the prison walls, and the limited success of trying to build away social problems.
Methodologically speaking, the work follows certain key features of practice-led research, where the creative outcome constitutes the research in and of itself, rather than existing as a conduit for pre-existing research conclusions. The practice-led approach prioritises the making process, in dialogue with a theoretical framework, although this may not always be visible in the finished work. Again, there are hierarchies at play here, in an epistemological sense, in how knowledge is created, viewed, accessed and consumed. In this sense, the work takes a deliberately outward-looking approach in terms of intended readership, aiming to sit alongside works of fiction as comfortably as academic texts.
On several levels, the work inhabits grey areas and liminal spaces – between the three academic disciplines across which it is situated, between fiction and non-fiction, and between multiple social and spatial hierarchies. This liminality has come to be reflected within the work through exploring non-places, in an explicit sense in the non-fiction work, and implicitly in the creative work – from the limbo of the motorway service station, to the carceral dead space exploited by the prison architect and his escapee. It is also interesting to note that both ‘non-place’ and ‘non-fiction’ are defined by what they are not, rather than what they are. In researching and writing this book I found that the ‘thing’ and its Janus-like twin the ‘non-thing’ were often holding an inherent friction which ultimately proved to be creatively generative.
I have tried to keep the writing centred on the concrete and rebars of the various sites I’ve described. I’ve tried to conduct interviews with silent corridors. Mumbled monologues while walking down pathways, the line painter’s ruler-straight line separating me from the prisoners. I’ve come back on trains, furiously writing in a little notebook, which I couldn’t bring into the prisons. Transcribing an inner, half-remembered harangue of silent questions and slippery answers. It might have looked like I was doing one thing in the prison but I was doing something else – patching together an erratic, fictional ethnography, with a building as the main character.
Practice as Research is a lovely beast to wrangle. If nothing else, this work has taught me to wear my research lightly, and at the same time to be rigorous in my imaginings. My fictional and non-fictional output have for obvious reasons bled into one another, as they should.
This relationship between fact and fiction has meant that I have had the pleasure of translating concepts and complicated ideas into character, conflict, voice, point of view, tense, and dialogue. That I have been allowed to think about narrative structures as well as real concrete structures. I’ve busied myself with transforming people like one of the prisoners I have talked with, and places like the circular town of Palmanova, into imagined landscapes, townscapes, weather, and into written emotions, which lie somewhere between the real, the unreal and the hyper-real. This porous approach has allowed me to use the structural elements of fiction to represent critical thinking, and architectural critique. To re-use bricks and marble from one kind of structure to make anew, and like all builders past and present, re-imagine an edifice – in this case, a book.
Martin is the winner of the 2015 Dundee International Book Prize and the 2013 BBC Radio 4 Opening Lines competition. He was the 2017-18 National Trust for Scotland Poet-in-Residence and holds a PhD in Creative Writing, Criminology and Architecture. Swedish by birth, ten years a Glaswegian with his wife and three children, now in Malmö as lecturer in Creative Writing. Previoulsy also in Canada, Israel, Argentina, Haparanda, London, Stockholm.
List of publications
A Circular Argument: A work of creative non-fiction exploring the circle in carceral architecture and urban planning. This work formed part of my doctoral submission, ‘‘We make spaces and spaces make us – An exploration through Creative Writing of the relationship between literature and carceral spaces’.
Ms Adeline (Stories from Home, Garmoran Publishing)
I’m Away Home: Poetry pamphlet written as part of AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council) funded collaborative action research project Distant Voices
Light and Other Observations: A 90-poem collection, the result of a year spent as Poet in Residence with the National Trust for Scotland 2017-2018
Near By: Editor of this collaborative publication between AHRC-funded composer Richy Carey, 8 other sound artists, and Glasgow Centre for Contemporary Arts, exploring the translation and flux between sound, image, object and text
Devil take the Hindmost: My debut novel, which won the Dundee International Book Prize, and was published by Freight Books
Various short stories published including:
Les Joueurs (Inside/Outside magazine)
Boiler plate (Underground anthology)
Finnish for Beginners (Shipwrights Review, Malmö)
March of the Monoliths (Glasgow Review of Books)
Various short stories published including:
A Floating Halfway House (Gutter Magazine)
Japanese Orange (From Glasgow to Saturn)
Golden Wonder (Sub City Radio)
An Underwater Cathedral (Short story, winner of BBC Radio 4 Opening Lines competition for emerging writers, broadcast on Radio 4 several times between 2013 and 2018)
Robert Anderson’s Fires (Novel shortlisted for the Luke Bitmead Award)
Is/land (Shortlisted for the Baker Prize and published in Baker Prize Anthology)
Finnish for Beginners (shortlisted for the Birmingham Book Festival Short Story Award)
Keith Morris is a Royal Plum (longlisted for the Bristol Short Story Prize)
A Floating Halfway House (shortlisted for the Bridport Prize)