Thursday, 23 February 2012

Manchester: In Residents ... #5: Ra

Ruth Allan nominated Mr Ra Page as future hot-seat contestant for the ‘Manchester: In Residents’ series, and he kindly agreed...!

‘The fact the media here only seems to be interested in Coronation Street stars and footballers is a really good thing...’

What’s your name?

Ra Page

What do you do?

I’m an editor. I run Comma Press, which is a specialist short story publishing house, with Jim Hinks, and I also coordinate a few short film projects in my spare time.

Where do you live?

I live in the Northern Quarter, just a roll-out-of-bed away from the office: which is set in the truly unique MadLab (Manchester Digital Laboratory) on Edge Street.

Tell us the story of how you ended up in Manchester.

I had completed a first degree in science and philosophy, and had just spent a year dossing about in London. I wanted a way of getting back into literature after so much science, so I applied to do an English MA under Michael Schmidt at the University of Manchester. Amazingly I got in – then I never really seemed to leave the city after I graduated. I moved to Yorkshire for a while, but I seem to have worked almost my whole adult life in this fair city. Scary!

What’s great about this city?

It doesn’t look at itself too much and, at its best, it just gets on with things. The fact there isn’t much media here and what media there is only seems to be interested in Coronation Street stars and footballers is – I’ve come to realise – a really good thing. People can experiment here, make mistakes and throw themselves into their own industriousness without being too self-aware, and without wasting time worrying what other people are doing (which is something I felt myself doing a lot in London). It gives people breathing space, and time to take their own work seriously. The best thing though is my friends are here (or hereabouts).

What’s not so great?

It doesn’t seem to take visual arts very seriously. Someone once said to me, ‘If you want music go to Manchester, if you want art go to Liverpool’. My civic pride was stung, but I realised they were absolutely right. We have the will and the talent in fields like photography and film but there’s zero infrastructure. What tiny morsels of support there are for artistic development– like Castlefield Gallery or Kiosk Gallery – seem to go unappreciated. Liverpool Art dwarfs Manchester Art, it makes us look like a village, and we should face up to this.

Do you have a favourite Manchester building?

The Central Library. Easy. Whether the refurb will preserve the magic of the place is still to be seen. The plans, I have to say, are pretty spectacular, but I can only speak for its former incarnation. Central Library is/was a cathedral to the most important things a city can offer: knowledge, empowerment, self-improvement. Its architectural beauty, amazing staff, wonderful events programme, its labyrinthine, subterranean stacks – these were just the icing on its already cake-like shape. Hopefully the re-launch in 2014 will kick-start the rebranding of Manchester as a genuine literary capital.

Do you have a favourite Mancunian?

I love Manchester’s abundance of hard workers – passionate people who express their passion through their hard work; people who become synonymous with it. Jayne Compton – a legend. Kwong Lee – likewise. Guy Lovelady. Libby Tempest. Mike Chavez Dawson. Warren Bramley. Gwen Osmond. Sarah Jane Eyre. Michael Schmidt. Tim Birch. Dave Mee. Steve Wyatt. Jim Hinks. Caleb Shaffer. Adelle Myers. Olly Wilson. And the best of them are enablers, not self-promoters. They’re all my favourites!

What’s your favourite pub/bar/club/restaurant/park/venue?

At the moment I guess it’s the Castle Hotel on Oldham Street – I know, quelle cliché! It’s old-man-ish in a good way. (Can there be a bad way?)

What do you think is missing from Manchester?

A photography gallery. A good film festival. A place to go after 6 pm that doesn’t involve drinking. A council that listens to anyone other than the usual suspects. A sense of proportion with regard to its musical heritage (get over it already!). A film school. Oh, you just asked for one thing, didn’t you...

If I was Mayor for a day I would …

Fast track the Central Library’s return (with the same staff as before!). Do something slightly less moronic with Urbis (a football museum – brilliant!). Ask the International Festival to stop bringing back the same guests each time and look at what Manchester actually has to offer. Ask Patrick Henry in Liverpool to do what he did there, here. And invest what’s left in Castlefield Gallery, Islington Mill, Rogue, and all the other studio spaces that don’t even seem to be on the council’s radar. Drunk with power, I would be. Drunk with power!

Who else would you like to nominate to answer this questionnaire?

Author, Michelle Green.

Comma Press has just launched Zoe Lambert’s The War Tour, a collection of interconnected short stories about global conflict and the consequences of war. Each story is in some way linked to Manchester. Read more about it here.


Chrissy Brand said...

Really interesting feature, and agree about some of the shortcomings of this gr8 city, although must confess I don't know lots of the names mentioned by Ra. Time to research...

Chrissy from Manchester: a photo a day at Mancunian Wave

Will TRAMP! said...

Great interview. Agree with a lot of the points made about our heritage.