Sick — the prescription you need

Sick_1The blog has taken a back seat over the last month due to the fun and frolics of the day job so apologies to regular readers (both of you) for the lack of rambles and rants of late. I just had to break radio silence this morning, however, to strongly and enthusiastically recommend that you go see Shey Hargreave‘s affecting, compelling, and downright wonderful Sick “a storytelling show… documenting one receptionist’s journey through four years of austerity”.

I went to see Sick at the Nottingham Arts Theatre last night and it was one of the most moving and entertaining shows I’ve seen. Ever. Shey’s performance — a one hour monologue that seemed to fly by in five minutes because I was so caught up in the story — is entirely believable because it draws from her experience of, as Shey herself puts it, the “organised chaos of an emergency medical unit” when she worked as a clerk in the NHS from 2013 to 2017.

Nottingham’s LeftLion’s review of the show captures what makes it so very special:

Littered with well timed jokes and frequently laugh out loud funny, whilst telling tragically sad stories, SICK is a bizarrely charming and entertaining show. A bittersweet study of what makes us human, and a funny and approachable call to political arms told in Hargreaves’ appealing, warm and honest style.

I should come clean at this point and admit that I’ve known Shey for a number of years. We’ve worked together, along with Charli Vince and Brigitte Nerlich, on a graphic novel, Open Day (which we’re hoping will be published in the not-too-distant future. More about that in due course. Charli and Brigitte have both previously blogged about Open Dayhere and here.)

IMG_6493I knew from her Open Day script that Shey is a talented and engaging writer but I was delighted to find out last night that she is also an exceptional actor. The audience was rapt throughout — alternately chocking back tears and laughing out loud. That ability to connect so well comes from the compelling honesty of Sick; as Shey puts it in a wonderfully named podcast about the show, “It’s fucking hard sometimes” to perform a piece that is based on, at times, harrowing real-life experiences. What was remarkable about last night was Shey’s ability to not only balance that sadness with laughter but to blend perceptive political analysis (NHS funding, Brexit, nationalism…) seamlessly into the narrative.

There are still a number of dates left on the Sick tour (including another date in Nottingham Arts Theatre tonight.) You owe it to yourself to go. I guarantee you’ll have, in Shey’s words, “a Right Good Time.”

A graphic depiction of nanotech

Far back in the mists of time — well, towards the tail end of 2015 — I wrote a post for the Making Science Public (MSciP) blog on just why I had done a rather embarrassing U-turn regarding the “Pathways To Impact” [1] statement that is required for every grant proposal submitted to the UK research councils. You can read the full confession here but, in a nutshell, I was very happy to eat humble pie in this case: a grant application for which the Pathways… statement focused exclusively on public engagement (with nary a whiff of commercial appeal or application) was funded.

A major component of that particular Pathways To Impact statement is the commitment to produce a graphic novel stemming from our research. Over at MSciP, my colleague and friend Brigitte Nerlich has been tracking the development of the graphic novel in question, Open Day — the result of a collaboration between Brigitte, the Nottingham Nanoscience Group, and the exceptionally talented duo of Charli Vince and Shey Hargreaves. (I’ve got to stress that the collaboration is very uneven indeed, with Charli and Shey providing both 99% of the inspiration and 99% of the hard graft necessary to bring Open Day to fruition.)

If you want to find out more about how Charli brought Kim, Radhika, and the fluorescent feline below to life (and death…), take a look at the fascinating Open Day: Planning, Talking, and Inking over at Charli’s blog.

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[1] Follow that link and you’ll see that the research councils’ primary criterion is “research excellence”. Of course it is.

Nano Does Nottingham Does Comics

Yesterday evening I spent a fun few hours at the Nottingham Writers’ Studio with my colleagues and friends Brigitte Nerlich, Shey Hargreaves, and Charli Vince. We were invited to a bimonthly event called Nottingham Does Comics. This does exactly what it says on the tin: it’s a forum, and I quote, “by and for anybody interested in reading, creating, publishing, selling or studying new work and new horizons in the comics medium.”

My knowledge of graphic novels and comics unfortunately petered out quite some time ago but I was a huge 2000 AD fan when I was growing up (and well beyond when I stopped growing up). I have stacks and stacks of issues of 2000 AD in the attic, and a number of graphic novels on my book shelves at home. My favourite of the genre is the Dredd classic, America. A number of the Sláine volumes run a close (joint) second, however.

Given my lack of graphic novel expertise, you might ask why I was attending — and, indeed, speaking at — Nottingham Does Comics? All is revealed in the flyer below…

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The script for Open Day is finished and Charli, who joined the team quite recently, is now relishing the challenge of bringing Shey’s engaging (and amusing) characters to life via her fantastic artwork. (There’ll be regular updates at Charli’s website). Shey and Charli described to the NDC audience just how they’re translating the research we do to the graphic novel format (in their own inimitable style). Brigitte, who has a long-standing interest in nano images, is documenting the process at the Making Science Public blog.

In addition to having the opportunity to plug Open Day we also got to hear about James Walker‘s fascinatingly innovative Dawn Of The Unread project. (That title alone was all it took for me to shell out for a copy of the …Unread compilation you can see pictured at the bottom of the flyer above). James’ talk was a thoroughly absorbing, and very funny, discussion of the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of the Dawn Of The Unread project. He touched on his concerns about the extent to which books (and libraries) are being pushed aside in favour of rather more immediate — and, too often, significantly more shallow — online sources. Let’s just say that James’ arguments on this theme resonated with me just a little. (I’ll expand on this in a future post).

We owe a big debt of thanks to both John “Brick” Clark for the invitation to speak about Open Day at the NDC event and to our host, Jessica Cormack, who made us feel right at home (despite some of us having a shocking lack of knowledge of the comics scene!). Thanks also to all at NDC for the hospitality. Oh, and the mince pies.

And I should of course thank those who have generously funded the Open Day project: the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (via the grant described in this post) and I’m A Scientist, Get Me Out Of Here.