Clearing the bottleneck

Hello everyone! Goodness, it’s been a long time since I posted much on this thing. There’s been a lot going on for me, and most of my writing time has been going on… MY NEW POETRY SHOW! However, I’d like to get this blog back up and running, so you’ll be hearing from me again very soon 🙂 Stay tuned, friends!


Quick note: on creativity and “creative people”

This morning, in my travels through social media, I stumbled into a discussion about creativity and what it means to be an artist. Much of it rang true: that it’s increasingly difficult to make a living purely from your art; that success or failure in your chosen art form is tied in to a deeply personal sense of self and self-worth; that creating can feel as though it is essential to your life. Yup.

However, there was also a note to some of the comments that made me feel very uncomfortable – the idea that being an artist is something mysterious and ineffable and special, that “the average office-worker” just can’t comprehend. Underlying this sort of attitude is a number of assumptions, all of which are (in my view) utterly busted:

– That nobody who works in an office could have a deep, personal, important connection with their work. (I’ve had an office job which involved doing outreach for the transgender community, something I’d already been doing for free as an activist; another friend of mine currently has an amazing office job recovering and recording the lives of people who lived through WW1 and she is working on making public erased histories of women and people of colour; yet another works on improving services for survivors of abuse and violence… working in an office environment does not equate to doing a job which is meaningless or dull – and even if it did, you are more than your job – see next point!)

– That “office worker” and “artist” are mutually-exclusive categories. (Does my bill-paying day job stop me from being an artist? Does it unpublish my poetry, undo my performances, cancel out the hours I dedicate to my writing?)

– That there are Creative People, and Non-Creative People, existing in two separate and essentialised categories.

This last one is a real sticking-point for me.  I do not think this is a useful division to put up. I think that there are some people who have found a medium (or several) that works for them, and it’s a medium that is generally recognised as Art by the society in which they live, and they have either been encouraged in it or fell in love with it enough to work on it without encouragement, and they’re public about their relationship with it. And then there are people who don’t meet all these criteria – but that doesn’t mean they’re not creative.

I firmly believe that all people have the potential to be creative. And I say this not just as a point of ideology, but from the perspective of someone who once spent a significant amount of their spare time running art classes for little kids. There were kids who didn’t want to talk much, or who zoomed around the classroom and wouldn’t sit down, or who tried to pick arguments with their peers and teachers: but all of them, at the end of the day, made something and had fun doing so. From my experience,  I think it’s the case that little kids are much less self-conscious about making art than older people: it’s only once they get older, and some of them have been encouraged and some have been shut down, that you start to see people who are put into the category of “not creative”, whether that’s because they’ve been told they’re not talented enough to succeed and so they stop trying, or because their creativity is expressed in a medium that isn’t seen as “proper art”.

But creativity is (and should be) for EVERYONE. And some people come to it early, and some late, and some not at all – but I just do not believe that there are people who have absolutely no creative spark in them, somewhere.

Edited to add: while it’s about maths rather than the arts, this article about children being praised for “gifts” vs “skills” feels very relevant, in terms of the discourse of innate ability and there being people who “have it” or don’t.

Also, when I finished writing this entry, I didn’t really have a pithy final sentence with which to make a final flourish, but I think this Twitter conversation with Goldfish has provided it:

@goldfish: “On Creativity & Creative People”  @hel_gurney is spot-on about there being nothing magical about artists
@hel_gurney: .@goldfish Or perhaps, that art is a kind of magic that anyone can do 🙂 Thank you lots for your tweet and comment!
@goldfish: Yes – that’s a much better way of putting it!

So there we go: art is a kind of magic that anyone can do. Go forth, and find new spells to learn and love.

Upcoming things!

The longer I leave off writing a blog entry, the more convinced I come that I need to re-enter the arena of online writing with something stunning, long, detailed, or all three – and so the longer I put it off. This is probably something that gets in the way of the main purpose of this blog – to tell people about things! So, dear reader, here is a short and sweet blog post about some things which are happening soon (and to which you should come, if you would like to and have the means to).

Wednesday 26th February, Brighton – the multivocal collage of thoughts, words, pictures, and experiences that is the Queer In Brighton anthology is coming out! (Pun unintended, but oh well.) I have a short piece published in this, about the first time I went to Brighton as a baby queer, and the year-or-so I spent living there while doing my MA. You can read it by clicking here. The anthology will be available to buy for £12.99, and I am very excited to attend the launch and get my contributer’s copy!

Sunday 9th March, London – I’ll be reprising my workshop on queer/feminist fairytales at Wowzers, a community-led feminist arts and music festival. This workshop was very popular at LaDIYfest Sheffield – you can read my write-up of it by clicking here. It was excellent fun to run, and I can’t wait to see where the participants take it this time round.

Saturday 15th March, Oxford – I’m sharing some of my poetry at the next installment of glorious queer-feminist performance night and punky crafting circle, Quiltbag Cabaret. I’m really looking forward to it – and I’ll be performing some of my newer and/or lesser-heard poetry, rather than my usual trademark pieces like ‘Hair’.

And with that, I shall leave you with a thought that I tweeted earlier: the other day, when confirming that my name is indeed Hel, I added: “with one L, like the terrifying chthonic Norse deity”.  I think I might just start introducing myself with that addendum from now on!

Transpose: London Pride Edition

This is another one of those flying updates along the lines of “hey, I’m doing some stuff – come see it!”

This Friday is the biggest and most packed Transpose yet – see above for details, and if you’re able to make it, then please do come along.

And while you’re checking out CN’s blog, there’s a lot of writing from me in the “Beyond the Binary” panel answers – we’re over half way through now…

a gentleman and a scholar

Transpose poster



Just in case you’ve somehow managed to avoid my constant chattering about this, I’d like to invite you (ever so cordially) to join us this Friday, June 28th, for the London Pride edition of Transpose. It’s everything that Transpose normally is, but BIGGER – but still for charity, and only £5 on the door.



We’re back in the gorgeous Cinema Museum with videos from My Genderation, storytelling from Roz Kaveney, Jacqueline Applebee and Hel Gurney, art and a videobooth from the Translations project, art from Claudia Moroni and Sara Moralo, poetry from Lyman Gamberton, AJ McKenna, Kat Gupta and Elaine O’Neill, and music from me and Wild. 



This time we’re raising funds for You Are Loved, the trans suicide prevention project – I don’t need to tell you how important that is. The more people through the…

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Article, workshop, book!

Another flying update for you, dear reader! Here are three things which you might find interesting:

I’ve co-written another piece about the Burchill/Moore mess with Sussex PhD researcher Lizzie Reed, which has now been published at academic blog Re.Framing Activism.

I’ll be running a workshop this Sunday, at StudentFems2013. It is amazing to see something like this coming out of the grassroots student feminist movement, and I’m honored to be a part of it. As well as providing the usual “Trans 101”, I’m hoping to facilitate a productive discussion about the points of intersection between trans and feminist thought, and the different ways that gender is envisioned and constructed in culture.

Finally, I’d like to alert any LGBTQ Brightonians to Queer in Brighton – it’s an awesome multimedia project about Brighton’s queer history, and the deadline for short written submissions for the printed anthology is the 1st of March. If you have a memory of being LGBTQ in Brighton that you want to share, then do consider sending something in – it looks like it’s going to be amazing.

A personal note.

Yesterday, a long-time family friend retired from his job. Today, he’s celebrating a milestone birthday that we thought he might never reach.

Steve was the best man at my parents’ wedding; he and his wife Deb have been like an extra aunt and uncle in my already extensive family; a constant presence felt in regular phone calls and emails, and acknowledged with cards and gifts every Christmas and birthday. In 2011, he was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer, and last summer he had a heart failure. Despite this, today he has reached his 60th birthday.

For various (long and banal) reasons, I’m not able to attend the celebration of his life this weekend. But in his invitation, he requested that instead of presents, people donate something to one of the charities which (alongside the NHS) have helped him through this: the British Heart Foundation, Myeloma UK, Macmillan Nurses, and Iain Rennie Hospice. I’ve just donated, and in case anyone reading this has some spare money and spare goodwill at the moment, it would absolutely make my day if other people donated too.

Steve has presented a brave and cheerful face throughout all of this: but that’s not why he’s still here. To suggest that some people are ‘survivors’ and some aren’t is not only wrong, it’s shockingly offensive to all those who fought and fought and fought – and still fell. People are saved not through divine providence or karmic justice or as some kind of reward for bravery, but through the ability to access appropriate medical care – which sometimes still isn’t enough. That’s why funding research and care is so important. (I’m aware there’s a wider discussion to be had about the role of charities and the role of the NHS, but that’s not one I want to have here and now.)

Happy birthday, Steve. May you have many more.