The publication of Mess Theory

by Nick Owen in Lincoln, Lincolnshire, United Kingdom

The publication of Mess Theory


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Keep what you raise – this project will receive all pledges made by 21st October 2021 at 10:56pm

Shedding light on the mysteries of securing and sustaining gainful employment in the creative industries.

by Nick Owen in Lincoln, Lincolnshire, United Kingdom


Several years ago, I was in the fortunate position to be offered the job of Development Manager for the Creative Quarter in Nottingham.  It was fortunate for several reasons.  It had the word ‘creative’ in the title; Nottingham was a place I had not ever really visited properly and lastly but not insignificantly leastly, I had a part to play in developing links with our local universities, with a view to offering graduate internment opportunities.

Over the summer of 2015 we were lucky enough to be graced with the presence of some five luminescent graduates who made life in the CQ shine and resonate with their young energy, ambition and clarity of desire.  They had clearly not experienced life in the ups and downs of the start up venture and were all the cleaner and fresher for it.

The inspirations...

1631218531_mess_theory_(2)_ejector_switch_18082021.jpgCostas, Rachael, Emma, Paige and Matt made that summer sing with possibility, endeavour and a productivity born of skill, talent but above all desire and the whole CQ crew – Kathy, Cathy, Raj, Claire, Jane, Rory and myself – were enamoured with their energy and spirits. One of us, who shall remain nameless for the sake of decorum, openly wept when being presented with a proposal to produce a marketing booklet.   Such was the impact those young people had on us.

 1631218558_mess_theory_(6)_social_media_expert__19082021.jpgAnd the one impactful moment which stayed with me over that heady summer was when Matt, after a few beers, a pub crawl around Nottingham and endless deliberations about what it meant to be ‘creative’, asked me ‘Why don't you write a blog called A Day in the Life of the Creative?’ That was all I needed.   Within weeks a blog was forming and then soon after a book was shaping up.  

I had no idea where it was going, what the story was, whether there should be a story or whether it should be a semi-academic treatise about the troublesome concept that creativity had become in our culture in recent years.

 1631218581_mess_theory_(3)_a_job_doesn't_exist_18082021_.jpgI had after all spent several years in the mid-00s on a doctoral study investigating creativity in schools and what it meant to be part of a creative relationship between teachers and artists.  I  eventually produced a 120,000 word thesis which examined to death that process and which had left me completely exhausted, not wanting to write another thing about the ‘c’ word.  And I soon realised why.   For all the libraries of academic thought and practice about the ‘c’ word, the reality was that it would never be pinned down, it could never convincingly and finally be defined and like it not, the ‘c’ word continued to be a mystery well into the future, right up to that fateful moment when the CQ interns met the CQ staff.

 1631218606_mess_theory_(5)_dress_code_19082021.jpgSo, what else was I to do but respond to Matt’s call?  A manuscript was born and rather than attempt to produce yet another text on the ‘c’ word, I thought it was beholden on me – for the benefit of those interns, if nothing else – to produce a text which gave them insight into how to get a proper job in the creative industries, and then how to hold down aforesaid job. Whilst this might have started as a manual of sorts, a guide to survival perhaps, the creative muse got hold of that intention and shook it within an inch of its tiny life.  

Happily, the text was completed, the intention met – but the result is not quite what anyone was expecting.

 Some Happy Next Steps...

Even happier, a few years later, I met the artist Paul Warren who has an uncanny knack for interpreting my texts in exactly the right way: echoing what I think I intended as well producing new insights which surprise me, and which help me reassess exactly what it is I’m trying to say and how I’m trying to say it.  

 We collaborated together on my first Proper Book, Confessions of an Ageing Tennis Player, and on the back of that success, now want to present you with our next collaboration, Mess Theory.

Mess Theory: so what?

Mess Theory has been inspired by my belief that creativity is dependent entirely on mess.  We need scrap, junk or any old rubbish to exert our creative muscles and this book is no exception. 

Mess Theory plays with the challenges of getting and securing gainful employment in the creative industries whilst providing an alternative insight into what that work can entail. 'Creativity' is one of those words which conjures up all kinds of shiny, warm and cosy feelings: but there is a darker side to that moon and Mess Theory pulls no punches in showing us what that is.

It’s in two parts: “How Not to Get a Job” and “A Day in the Life of the Creative” the latter part of which is of course my response to Matts’ suggestion all those years previously.   

1631218697_mess_theory_part_2_(9)_creatives_congregating_0209202102092021.jpgWhilst it is borne out of seriously lived experiences, we hope it offers you the opportunity smile, laugh or guffaw at those experiences, revisit your own experiences of employment and reflect on the job decisions you will have made during your own time.

What we've done so far...

I've produced the text, tested it out with some readers and Paul has produced some scintillating images, some of which are scattered through this page.

What we need now...

To take the next steps from on-line blogs and disparate images, we want to produce our book to the highest quality possible, mirroring what we have achieved with Confessions of an Ageing Tennis Player. 

We want to engage the Leicester agency, Creative Triangle, to co-ordinate the production process and ensure that we get the best production possible.

And fundamentally we need your help.  Your donations will help cover the cost of the whole production process and help us get the book in front of as wide an audience as possible.  There are several rewards we're offering for your support, details of which you can read below.

More about us...

You can find out more about Paul's work here and more about me here.

Many thanks for your interest and for reading this far!


This project offers rewards in return for your donation.

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£20 Reward

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You will be named as a special supporter in the book, receive three free signed copies and be a guest of honour at the book launch, slated for early December 2021.

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£500 Reward

You will be named as a special supporter in the book, receive ten free signed copies and have the the book launch, slated for early December 2021, named after you or your designated creative or cultural organisation.

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