Turning litter into literature


Over the last few weeks 26 writers have been charged with the task of writing short stories based on various scraps of paper found somewhere between Waterloo and Clerkenwell.

The rain-swept, wind-strewn, handwritten scraps had been collected by Andy Hayes, the client services director of Quietroom and they form the basis of Throw Away Lines, the latest project from the writers' collective 26. I thought I'd ask him how he came up with such a rubbish idea.

'Ever since I got my first digital camera I've been taking close-cropped pictures of the ground. It's weird, I know - but I find it to be a constant source of inspiration, and mostly ignored by everyone else. Anyway, I was working at The Partners at the time, and had to do a talk about something I loved. I chose walking and decided to take a few shots on my daily trundle from Waterloo to Smithfield. There was a beautiful flattened Nero coffee cup holder which looked like a cold blue tongue. I stopped. Snapped. Then noticed a scruffy handwritten letter a few yards away. I took another picture, picked it up and read it. It was a poorly written but heartfelt rant against racism. It had a muddy footprint on it, as though it had been stamped on by a Nazi jackboot'.

Andy kept the letter and the seed of an idea took root in his head and started to grow. What if he looked out for other discarded hand-written notes, or 'throw away lines'? He could keep and collect them, and, who knows, one day they might come in handy as material for his own writing.

Two years later, Andy had at least 26 of them. One, found outside an English language school, stated a brazen promise to, only do the pass criteria'. There was a letter from a mother jetting off to foreign climes, leaving her daughter Anya with her Nan. Another gave permission for Morgan to be allowed 'off the premises for boxing'. There was a beautiful song complete with chord changes and a small post-it saying simply, 'Have a lovely trip x'.

Then, nothing happened. He kept on collecting but all the stories remained unwritten. He had an idea, to share the storytelling with other 26ers. He pitched it to John Simmons over coffee and a sticky bun at the Museum of London. He liked it, the 26 board did too. Elise Valmorbida offered to help. Now, each scrap is going to be the starting point for a small story: a story about an abandoned story if you like and Andy is thrilled with the amount of interest it's creating.

The response has been brilliant so far. From the enthusiasm of the writers, the dedication of the editors and the comments from the writing community on the stories published to date. I'm chuffed.

The stories will continue to be uploaded to http://throwawaylines.org until mid-December.




John Fountain is a freelance writer and a contributor to Throw Away Lines


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