Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Riot! My Chariot of Fire



"Leeds has been the site of over 20 riots over the years..."

Super chuffed to have edited & organised this Riot! themed publication, Riot: My Chariot of Fire, which features fiction & non-fiction by Max Dunbar, Jenna Isherwood, Gloria Dawson, Boff Whalley, Debbie Coope, Nick Allen, and Ian Harker, among others. The publication was very beautifully laid out by b-e-n-d design, and we are grateful to them.

These publications are FREE! and you can grab one by picking one up at The Chemic Tavern when the ADP Riot Tour exhibition opens from 14th-21st July. But, be quick! There are only 1000 of them and we expect them to go quickly, so don't miss out!

Tim Waters has designed this rather excellent interactive Leeds Riot Map, which you can view here:

Leeds Riot Map

More info on the events at The Chemic from 14th-21st July by looking at the poster below.





Currently Reading

The Fishermen Chigozie Obioma 

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Some thoughts on Brexit

Some quick thoughts on Brexit:

Nigel Farage

Too many people think of Nigel Farage as a sort of comedy politician, a one-issue wazzock whose views can safely be ignored. But here's the truth - Nigel Farage is dangerous.

Here's a man whose party, UKIP, only have one seat in Parliament. Farage isn't even an MP! He lost his seat, South Thanet, in the last election. Yet, despite having no real political remit, and no real power in the UK Parliament, somehow this "comedy politician" has managed to bring about an EU Referendum, and even persuade 52% of the turnout to vote "out".

Yes, we know that he fought his campaign on lies - he was rescinding his promise to spend £350million on the NHS before the Leave vote had actually even been delivered - and we need to stay wary of him, and what he stands for. Many voters realising the gravity of voting 'Leave' on Friday morning - realised, only too late, that they had voted based on lies they had been told.

You think Farage is going to apologise? Not in a million years, and we'll be living with the mess he's created for generations.

Yorkshire voted out

It's a fact that fascism & right-wing views always rise in a recession.

We saw it in the 30s, during the great Depression, (it was a major contributing factor to the election of the Nazi party in Germany) and during the 80s. In tough times, people always look for somebody to blame for their troubles.

My adopted hometown, Leeds, voted in, as did the other two cities around it - Harrogate and York. Other places in Yorkshire - Barnsley, Doncaster, Calderdale, Kirklees, Wakefield - voted Out, by quite a considerable margin.

Many of the Northern cities that voted Out are some of the most impoverished places in the country. This government has been creating a North-South divide ever since it was first elected; it talks about a Northern Powerhouse, whilst cutting public services. The North has always relied heavily on the public sector, and we've lost up to 1 in 5 jobs here. There are places up here where whole streets are boarded up, with no jobs, nothing to do, and no prospect of things improving.

Even in Leeds, it's sometimes easy to think the government has forgotten about us. I can't imagine how much worse it could be in some of the smaller, surrounding areas.

When a one-man figurehead like Farage is seeking control & power, they're going to seek it through whatever means necessary. He's not going to go into Bradford or Blackpool or Dewsbury and tell the truth, which is: "Actually, all of you lot are suffering because the Tories have spent the past six years systematically cutting public services", or "Actually, the reason why you can't get a GP appointment is because the Tories have continued to underfund the NHS and increase GPs' workloads, so loads of them are leaving." Farage wants power and the quickest way to get it is to say: "You can't see the doctor because there are too many immigrants," or: "You can't get a job because they're giving them all to the immigrants."

He's played a blinder in playing on people's fears, and in sweeping up all of those voters who feel abandoned and powerless and forgotten.

What to do next?

Sadly, I think it's likely we'll see a rise in nationalism and right-wing action following this vote "out". Not everybody who voted "Out" did it for racist reasons, but too many did, and now they're going to feel vindicated, and more open in their views.

It would be wonderful if this weren't the case, but sadly a few immigrant friends have already shared how unwelcome they feel following Friday's "out" vote, so rather than blithely go "It's going to be fine! It'll all be fine! Fine!" I think I'm going to listen to them, and try to be active and do what I can to help and resist, and I encourage you all to join me.

So, I'll end by sharing parts of this rather wonderful Facebook post by Ewa Jasiewicz:

1) Don't hate on leavers, some voted for reactionary and racist reasons some for good reasons. Reclaiming power and taking control are what most people want in and over their lives, but the obstacles to that or the route to that are highly contested and influenced by 30 years of neoliberal hegemony, underwritten by establishment media.

2) Don't let the Right control the narrative and define reclamation - overcoming dispossession means redefining what should be ours on inclusive deep democracy terms - housing, education, public and health services, transport, energy, control over our own labour

3) join a union - we need control over work and workplaces and right now we're weak and the raid on our rights is coming as is division between workers incl migrant, youth and workfare workers. We need to organise and collectivise at work,

4) get involved in local housing struggles - your local anti housing bill campaign, you local tenants and Residents Association, your community garden. We need to find each other where we live, build relationships there, and resist social cleansing and dispossession of our homes.

5) stand in solidarity with all migrants. There will be intense 'othering' and racialising going on now, on the street and at the top of the political system. Have the arguments with people, challenge racism and prioritize and support black and brown and migrant voices in all political organising as it should be anyway to dismantle white supremacy and structural oppressions

6) get Corbyn and Mcdonnell Labour in to government in 2020. Make it happen. Don't give up on anything grassroots but don't give anything away and up in the parliamentary political sphere to the right and far right.

Currently reading

Owls Do Cry Janet Frame

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Remembering Oluwale: now available!



"Remembering Oluwale is an inspiring reflection on David’s story. It includes extracts from recent books about David Oluwale by Caryl Phillips and Kester Aspden, as well as previously published poems by Ian Duhig, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Sai Murray, Zodwa Nyoni, and a performance by The Baggage Handlers. This body of new and earlier writing serves as a clarion call for us to re-make our neighbourhoods as places of inclusion and hospitality."


The anthology I edited, Remembering Oluwale, is out now - available from Valley Press. It contains lots of great writing from Robert Miles, Zodwa Nyoni, Rommi Smith & The Baggage Handlers, Char March, and is available now from Valley Press.



Monday, 13 June 2016

Quick ways to infuriate other writers

Afternoon!

I've been sitting on this blogpost for a while now, mainly because I didn't want to seem sourfaced. But then, after a good afternoon sucking on a grapefruit, I finally figured, what the hell, Bradders, just go for it.

Seven years of writing and organizing have brought me into contact with a lot of writers. I'm glad to report that most of them were amazing. I love writers, oddball, twitchy, socially awkward little things that they are. I'm one myself.

But, there is some writer-behaviour that I don't love. Ridiculous, demanding, diva-style behaviour. Writers with massive egos and chippy shoulders. Writers who believe the world owes them a favour, but that they don't have to do anything to earn it.

Over the past few years I've come into contact with some pretty extraordinary behaviour, and a lot of it has left me slack-jawed. It's not cool when writers hurt other writers or their community, so, I've done a little blog post on ways to be a good literary citizen.

If you all pay attention to it, and abide by my suggestions, you will be making the world a better place. Thank you.

1. Be nice! (especially to editors and contest organizers.)

Most of them aren't getting paid (or maybe some of the smarter ones are, I don't know.) Most editors / organizers Do Stuff because they're interested in a project, and because they want to bring great writing into the world. Most of us are doing it in whatever tiny bit of spare time we have. Please, for the love of God, be nice. Not snippy or mean or cross or whatever. Just nice. Say thankyou. Offer to buy us biscuits.

Otherwise we're just going to think, "Huh, what a jackass. I won't work with him/ her again in a hurry."

2. Be careful about asking for favours when you haven't got any goodwill in the bank.

Most writers are happy to do things for other writers. I know this because I do it myself all the time. Luckily, I've had lots of help from lots of cool people over the years, too, and I'm glad of it. I wouldn't have got to where I am today without it. (Thank you, writer-friends!)

One thing that won't endear you to others though, is if you're the kind of person who's always taking. By that, I mean, you ask for things from others without offering something of equal value in return. For example, please don't go to somebody you barely know, and say "Hey, I've written this 10,000 word fantasy/ horror story with flashing unicorns and sparkly vampires, it's TOTAL GENIUS. I'm entering it for a contest on Tuesday so will you read it this week and give me a critique before the deadline?"

Be reasonable in what you ask of others. Giving critique thoughtfully and helpfully can take ages. It's a real skill and it's a big ask of somebody you don't know.

It's not easy meeting good critique partners, I know that. A good way is by going to other places writers hang out. Go to literary social events, join a writers' circle. I met my first ever critique partner on MySpace, which gives you a clue as to how old I am. Seek out your peers - if you're a beginner writer, try to meet other beginner writers.

Be aware that if you're a beginner writer asking a more experienced writer for critique, any critique you might offer in return may not be an equal exchange. If that's the case, what can you offer instead? A book token? A good dinner? Money?

And whatever you do, make sure you help others. If you don't, you'll pretty quickly become known as the person who takes all the time, and nobody will want to help you at all. Word about life's takers generally spreads pretty quickly, and it won't be long before you've exhausted whatever goodwill you had to begin with.

3. Do stuff for others

Doing stuff for other writers is great! There's nothing other writers like better than a writer who helps writers. Some of the most well-liked and well-respected writers I know do things like: run little magazines, or run contests that get writers their first publications. One of the coolest and most well-liked writer-citizens I know, runs a writers' circle in a part of West Yorkshire that didn't have any writers' groups before.Yeah, I know, it's not easy running a writers group / a literary social / running a contest. That's why people will respect you so hard if you do it, and do it well.

You'll get extra bonus points and goodwill if you show kindness and helpfulness to other writers, when there's not much in it for you.

4. Try not to be a dick (pt. 1)

If somebody is doing you a favour, especially somebody who's very busy (you can assume this of most editors or literary organisers), let them do it in their own time. Don't repeatedly hassle them by email or over social media. It's rude and not cool. Just be gracious, wait patiently, and say thank you afterwards.

5. Don't be a deadweight.

If you get involved in working on a literary project of some type, a shared endeavour, whether it be a live lit night or a book or a festival or whatever, do your share. Don't be unreliable by saying you're going to do something, then not doing it. Do your share, do it well, be enthusiastic, turn up on time, and for God's sake smile. If nothing else, it will make your organizer-friends want to do more projects with you in the future. (see: 3, "Do stuff for others".)

6. Please don't be weird and super-creepy on social media (or: Try not to be a dick, pt. 2) 

It can be tempting to approach writers / organisers on social media to ask questions. Fair enough! But, if somebody doesn't get back to you straight away - or if they've answered your question, and you haven't got the answer you wanted - please, don't get all weird. Don't start bombing them with @-replies or a bunch of super-creepy DMs. They are more likely to block you than to pay you attention.

A good rule of thumb is, treat Twitter as you would real life. Don't say things to people on Twitter that you wouldn't say to a person's face. There's nothing you want less than to be marked out as a Person Not To Deal With before a writer / editor / organiser has even met you in real life. Please! Don't be that guy / girl. Just be nice. Not creepy or aggressive or weird. Make yourself seem like the kind of person other people want to be around.

7. Try to be a great writer!

This is last but definitely not least. Work hard on your writing. Read lots of other writers. Buy books from independent presses, because they're the ones that publish the best writers. Go to bookfairs. Practise reading your work out in front of others (7a. Please be courteous and stay within the time limit. It's not a time limit "for others, but not for you". The time limit applies to everybody. This point could also be, "Try not to be a dick, pt. 3".) Don't assume that you're already a genius, because you probably aren't. Keep working, keep writing new stuff, keep trying to learn new techniques and / or styles. Read things that excite you, read things that are popular, read things that make you go "huh, wtf?!" Never stop learning and working and striving and growing.

Currently reading

A Song for Issy Bradley Carys Bray 





Saturday, 7 May 2016

The End of All Things Podcast


Or listen on Soundcloud by following the link here:

 After Rob (the presenter) left my house, I found his list of questions. He'd left them behind on my desk.

I didn't have time to answer those questions in the podcast, so I'll answer them here on my blog instead.

"Do you make enough money to survive?" No I don't, not from writing. I won't go into exact numbers, but the most I've ever made from writing didn't even pay my share of the council tax bill that year. (FYI, our place isn't on Council Tax band Y, or whatever it goes up to. It's on the lowest possible one.)

 "So what do you do to get by?" I have a day job. Not a particularly glamorous or exciting one, but it's one that I love. My day job is in the public sector, and involves helping people. It is nothing to do with literature development or writing or "The Arts" and I think that's good. It means I get to spend a lot of my time interacting with actual people, and that's one of my favourite things about it.

"Do you get Arts Council funding and if so, how does one do that?" No, I don't get Arts Council funding. I have never had Arts Council funding for my writing, or for any of my projects - except for a small pot of Northern Accent funding, which we used for the Northern Short Story Festival. Fiona (of Leeds Big Bookend Festival) and Linzi (at the Carriageworks Theatre) helped me access this. I wouldn't have been able to access it on my own, because it's tied to the venue (The Carriageworks) and also because I don't know how to get Arts Council funding for things.

The thing is, I've been taking writing seriously for about 7 years now, and I still have no idea how the Arts Council works, or how it distributes funding, or how even to apply to it. I think the Arts Council should make it easier for people like me to get money to support their work. Applying for any sort of funding at all seems to require a level of knowledge that most artists / writers don't have. I think the Arts Council could make applying for arts funding much more accessible, especially for writers & artists in the North. Being able to apply for arts funding seems to be a discipline in and of itself, and it's not something many writers are good at (and why should they be? Learning to be a good writer is a full-time occupation in itself.)

(Note: there is a writing development agency in the North which does distribute literature development funding in the North, but most of its efforts seem to be focused on the Sunderland / Newcastle / Durham area. It doesn't seem to run or support projects based in West Yorkshire - I'm not sure why this is, though it's possible that West Yorkshire isn't within its remit. I'm also not sure who to ask about this, or how to apply to said writing development agency to run a project in West Yorkshire myself. You see? Complicated!)

So that just about sums it up! I hope you enjoy the podcast and I look forward to hearing your comments on my thoughts.

Currently reading

Winter Dan Grace 
The Wave Lochlan Bloom  



Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Jimmy Cauty's Aftermath Dislocation Principle: Submissions sought

This summer, Jimmy Cauty's artwork the Aftermath Dislocation Principle will be taking a RIOT! tour around the country. It will be arriving in Leeds from the 14th-21st July.

We are gathering riot stories, poetry, and narratives to publish in a newspaper / fanzine to appear as a companion piece during its time here. The newspaper will be given away free, and all authors will retain copyright to their work.

We are gathering stories and poems in response to the theme of 'riot'. Accepted pieces will be published in an accompanying newspaper which will be available, for free, when the Aftermath Dislocation Principle lands in Leeds.

Perhaps you were caught up in a riot? Perhaps you were a bystander, or your business or family were affected? Perhaps you were (or are) part of a radical community group involved in self-organising, in doing things differently, or in doing something riotously amazing. Whatever it is, we want to hear from you. We can also print black & white images, so if you want to send a photograph or image that goes with your story, please send us that, as well.

If your story is a true one, please include a year or date which tells us when your story took place.

We are also accepting creative responses - stories or poems - on related themes, too. Stories or poetry which reflect off themes of riot, disruption, destruction, uprising, community work, and radical approaches, are all welcome. A ‘riot’ doesn’t always have to be destructive: we’re also talking about riots of the mind. Radical approaches can be creative and positive - they don’t always have to be about smashing things up. We are open to receiving anything that you think matches the theme.

Please send your submissions in .doc format (2000 words or less for prose please, 30 lines or less for poetry)

When submitting your story / piece to our project, please also give us a short description of what your piece is in the 'further information' box as you submit. This will help us to keep track of things!
Submit using our Submittable portal, here

submit Currently reading

Liam Brown Real Monsters

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Organising the Remember Oluwale Writing Prize





It feels like such a short time ago that Max Farrar of Remember Oluwale first contacted me on LinkedIn, to ask whether I'd be interested in helping organise a writing contest, and anthology, in memory of David Oluwale. That was last November. Now we're in April and about to publish our shortlist, and I can't believe how fast the time has flown.

The Remember Oluwale Anthology was a joint venture between myself, my organisation Fictions of Every Kind, Remember Oluwale, and The Big Bookend Festival. We're very happy that Valley Press agreed to publish the resulting anthology quite early on in the process - before we'd even started taking entries.

I've done a lot of work organising the writing prize, and editing the anthology (with help along the way from lots of people - we'll come to that in a minute), and wanted to do a blog explaining the process we used to run the competition.

Once Fiona Gell (of the Big Bookend), myself, and Max Farrar had all agreed that we wanted to run a writing contest, things got moving pretty quickly. Valley Press got onboard early on, and said they would be happy to publish the book - in which we were planning to publish the longlisted contest entries, as well as previously published works by writers like Linton Kwesi Johnson, Ian Duhig, and Kester Aspden. Max did an excellent job of recruiting an amazing panel of judges, which included Marina Lewycka (of 'A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian' fame), poet Ian Duhig, and Caryl Phillips (who has written extensively about David Oluwale's life and death.)

This was great news and gave us momentum to get the writing prize running.

As the charity's work is to raise awareness of 'David's issues' in cities - marginalisation, immigration, mental health, and homelessness - we were all agreed that we would invite poets and writers to submit stories and poems that reflected on these issues. We did this because we all felt that 'David's issues' were a wide and current issue, and we knew that writers would have a lot of interesting things to say about them. We agreed our themes and contest rules, and Fiona got the contest page up on the Big Bookend website.

I took advice from a colleague more experienced in running writing contests, and set a submission window 3 months long. This way, he told us (thanks Wes!) we'd be sure to get as many entries as we needed.

We took entries from 20th December - March 6th, and recruited an excellent team of filter readers - 5 people in total - all of whom are practising writers themselves, who either read for existing literature magazines, or are literature professors, or who have a Masters in writing or cultural practise, or a combination of all of the above. We were lucky to find such a great reading team, and all of them get a thanks in the book.

We took all of our entries through Submittable. This was for two reasons: one, because it cuts down hugely on admin (very important, when you're running a writing contest in your spare time) and two, because it allows for "blind-reading."

"What is blind reading?" I hear you cry? Well, it's a system whereby the filter readers don't get to see the author's name. It's a much fairer way to read submissions, because it doesn't allow the readers' prejudices - whatever they may be, we all have them - to impact on their reading of the work. So, each reader had a selection of 15-20 pieces each, which they read without knowing anything about the person who wrote it. Not their gender, or their background - nothing. This seemed important, as it means the readers had to choose (or not choose) work, based solely on what they saw in front of them.

Submittable does charge a fee - not huge, but it was one we thought worth paying, given that it allowed us to read the entries 'without prejudice', if you like. It also made running the contest much easier. Our contest entry fee was only £3, which is a total bargain when you compare it with some of the larger writing competitions.

We had 70 entries in all. The readers did a great job of reading these thoughtfully, then choosing a few from their pile to go forward into the anthology. If the readers weren't sure about an entry - and this might have been because they didn't know whether it was relevant enough to 'David's issues', or because they were on the fence about whether or not they quite fit in the anthology - they let me know, and these pieces went for a second reading, by somebody else in the team.

This process produced a longlist of 26 writers, all of which will be published in the anthology.

One thing that we did in this contest, which is quite rare, was that I kept up a high level of communication with the entrants. I sent 'decline' responses to those writers whose pieces we hadn't selected for the longlist, and 'acceptance' responses to those whose we had. Most writing contests don't bother to do this - they just let declined writers find out, by default, when the longlist or shortlist is publicly published. Having been on the other side of the fence so many times, as a writing contest entrant, and knowing how it feels to find out that you haven't been shortlisted by reading a list on the web.... well, I didn't want to treat entrants to our contest that way. Luckily, our submissions portal made it very easy to remain in contact with entrants, otherwise I would not have been able to do this.

At this stage of the process, everything started happening all at once. We were on a fairly tight deadline to get everything in to Valley Press on time, so there were lots of things to do.

Max Farrar and Sai Murray started sourcing previously published works to go into the anthology, and they also worked on whittling the longlist down to a shortlist of 10. This shortlist was to go on to be read by the judges, who will select and award the four top prizes. (More on the shortlisting process, later.)

Whilst all this was going on, I was receiving the previously published works, and collating the longlisted contest entries to go into the anthology. I was doing loads of different things all at once at this point: going through a light editorial process with some of the writers (where I had spotted errors or omissions in their pieces), getting writers' bios (for the contributors' notes section in the end of the book), looking for and correcting typos; getting Max's introduction for the book, writing my own introduction for the book, putting it all together into a single document; making sure the same font was used throughout, checking and double-checking for errors and typos, making sure the formatting made sense.... basically, all the things that you don't notice when you're reading a book when they're right, but the first thing you notice when they're wrong.

I spent about three weeks constantly glued to my computer. I got backache and my eyes started to go funny. I legit thought I was going mad at a couple of points. (It was all ok in the end, though.)





At the end of March, breathing a huge sigh of relief, I sent everything off to Rosa, our lovely editor & publisher at Valley Press. She was very complimentary, and also very pleased that we'd got everything in on time to meet our projected publication date, of 3rd June.

A thing nobody often tells you about publishing: lead times are long. It's not as if you send a manuscript into a publisher, and they print it out, and hey presto! next week, you're holding a book in your hands. Things take much longer than that. Publishers need time to typeset your work, to proofread, and to design the cover. In our case, Sai Murray (or Remember Oluwale) will be designing the cover. If you ever work with a publisher that doesn't spend time doing these things, you're going to end up with a very shonky-looking book indeed. Ours will be at least 2 months from me sending everything to Rosa, to the book actually coming out - and that is an unusually short timeframe, for publishing.

I promised you more about shortlisting. Choosing the best pieces for the shortlist was not an easy task at all, never is. By the time we were down to a longlist of 26, we had a lot of very good pieces to choose from. All of us in the organizing party - me, Max, Sai, and Fiona - all had our favourites. And they did not coincide at all. Literature: it's so subjective. I produced one 'wishlist' for the shortlist, of 9 pieces; Fiona did the same, and so did Max. They were all completely different. (Apart from 1 or 2 pieces that appeared on all three lists.)

So, Max and Sai developed a system, using points awarded for various things like: how relevant the piece was to David's issues; how well-written it was; how creatively it approached its subject. How can you award points for creativity, I hear you cry?! Well, the answer is, none of us is completely sure. Like I said, it was tough.

There were lots of pieces that nearly made it into the shortlist, then at the last minute, didn't. There were pieces we all argued over and pieces we defended to the death. There were lots of things that we all liked a lot (including a couple of my personal favourites - not that I'm bitter) that didn't make it onto the shortlist. That is shortlisting for you, I'm afraid.

In the end though, Max and Sai discussed it and produced a list of 10 pieces that we could all agree on, and which will soon go forward to the judges for their deliberation.

It has been a great privilege to be involved with this project, and I have learned so much during the course of it. Not just about editing and running a contest, but also about David's story, and about how important stories and poems can be in bringing his story back into our consciousness.

My huge thanks go to Fiona Gell for all of her help & support, for my co-organisers at Fictions of Every Kind for the same, and for Max Farrar for having suggested it in the first place.

Currently reading

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch Philip K. Dick
Sweet Home Carys Bray