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  

Monday, 7 March 2016

The Northern Short Story Festival

So, as you may gather, I've been pretty busy lately. A bit too busy to update this blog.

One of the things I've been doing, is programming the first ever Northern Short Story Festival. We have so many great writers here in the North, so much talent, that it seemed wrong not to have a festival to celebrate it. Some of the writers appearing include Alison Taft, Avril Joy, Anna Chilvers, Barney Walsh, David Martin, Clare Sita Fisher, Benjamin Judge, and Carys Bray. It's a great programme (even if I do say so myself) and best of all, if you can't decide what to go to, you can buy a day ticket for £20!

View full programme for the Northern Short Story Festival here.

The other thing I've been doing is organizing and running the Remember Oluwale Writing Prize, in collaboration with the Remember Oluwale Memorial Association and The Big Bookend Festival.

Entries closed on Sunday, so we are reading at the moment. I'm glad to say that we have had some absolutely amazing entries to far, and the resulting anthology (to be published by Valley Press in June 2016) will be a great testament to David's memory, and to the work of the Foundation.

Currently reading 

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet Becky Chambers

Monday, 22 February 2016

EU: my opinion

Really frightened about the prospect of Britain leaving the EU. Mainly concerned that Nigel Farage & Boris Johnson's idea of "victory" is for them to sit around, eating porkpies and braying "ha ha! We won! We won! Our country is GREAT again!" whilst the rest of us live in wattle & daub huts, working 20 hour days and living on foraged nettles. And maybe the occasional turnip, for a treat.

I'll be voting to stay in & for what it's worth, I hope you'll join me.

Currently reading

Home Toni Morrison

Saturday, 9 January 2016

The Remember Oluwale Writing Prize

(Image from David Oluwale Memorial Association webpage)

I'm currently helping to organize the Remember Oluwale Writing Prize, a collaboration between Fictions of Every Kind, Remember Oluwale, and the Big Bookend Festival. Shortlisted entries will be published in an anthology published by Valley Press, and four winning entries will win cash prizes. We are really pleased to have an amazing judging panel of Caryl Phillips, Marina Lewycka, and Ian Duhig.

David Oluwale came to the UK from Nigeria in the 60s, in search of work and a better life. During his years living in Leeds he faced a range of issues like mental ill health, victimisation by members of the police, homelessness, and worklessness. His life and shocking death are written about in more detail, in Caryl Phillips' book Foreigners, and in Kester Aspden's book The Hounding of David Oluwale. 

We may notice that some of the issues faced by David -- mental ill health, marginalisation, homelessness, displacement, and racism -- are issues faced by many in our city centres today.

The Remember Oluwale charity was formed following a call to memorialize David in Leeds City Centre, by poet Caryl Phillips. "The charity’s aim is to reflect both the city’s woeful neglect and persecution of David, and on the signs of hope contained within his story.. The charity suggests that Leeds has to do more to address multiple issues of marginalisation and exclusion. Anyone, of any background, colour, or class, can and does experience many of David’s tribulations. In a world in which mass migration is promoted by war, environmental degradation and acute economic inequality, and in a city where social problems are increasing as public expenditure falls, ‘David’s issues’ are interlocking and they are multiplying."

For more information on how to enter the contest, please go to the Remember Oluwale Writing Prize page on the Big Bookend website.

Currently reading
Wuthering Heights Emily Bronte
The Shapes of Dogs' Eyes Harry Gallon  

Monday, 23 November 2015

How to write female characters

Here's a quick blog post about writing female characters.

I know a lot of male writers who have concerns about writing women; they don't feel like they can do it well, and they're worried about trying and getting it wrong. So here's a quick post on how to up your lady-writing game.

1. Women are people too!

Surprising, that. We're not some mystery creatures with snakes growing out of our heads. We're people, too! So here's a suggestion: Write your women characters, exactly the same way you'd write your male characters. Women, just like men, have desires, motivations, complex backstories. Just like a man, a woman can be difficult, awkward; we can act in illogical ways, or do things that work against our best interests.

Most of all, when writing a female character, make sure that everything you write makes sense. Give your female characters the same amount of attention you would the males. If you're writing a female character who's complex, awkward, mysterious - you also need to know why she is this way. You ever write a woman doing something illogical and / or self-defeating just to give your hero an obstacle to overcome? This is Cardinal Error Numero Uno, buster. Go back to square one.

2. Hi, do you come here often?

I'll give you the same advice I'd give to anybody writing something they don't know anything about: do your research. In this case, it equates to - get to know some women. I don't mean woman, singular. Your girlfriend or wife doesn't represent every woman in the human race. You need a broad subject matter to draw upon.

This means: meet women. You will find them everywhere. Get to know the women in your life. Talk to them. Listen to them. What quandaries do they have in their everyday lives? What do they hope for out of life? What are some of the difficulties they've had to overcome? The thing to remember is that women's experiences often are different from men's, but they're endlessly interesting. Stick around. Listen to the women in your life talk about their lives. You might learn something.

3. Twit, Twitter.

An easy way to learn more about women is to follow more of them on twitter. There are loads of interesting political thinkers, writers, and editors, on twitter, of the female persuasion. A really easy way to find out more about how a broad base of women think and act, and support one another, is to follow lots of them on twitter. If you're serious about learning more about women, you should really aim to support 50% women on twitter and 50% men.

A small piece of advice about following women on Twitter: please be courteous. I know lots of you don't need to be reminded about this, but the truth is, some people can be real jerks on there. If you're following women, if you want to chat to them, be polite. Don't repeatedly badger someone about the same / similar things; don't keep on tweeting somebody if they don't tweet you back (you're not entitled to an answer); and please, don't tell somebody else what their opinions should be. It's sexist and rude as fuck and I've had to block a couple of people for doing it. Just listen to them; again, as point 2, you might learn something.

4. Read women!

Ah come on, this is the easiest one of all. You read anyway, right? So why not read more women?

I've heard a lot of men - oddly, it's always men, and always the ones who don't write women well - say "I don't want to set quotas for my reading list", and "I think I can get a fair representation of human experience by reading male writers." WRONG. You can get a fair representation of male experience by reading male writers. You're missing out 50% of the human race! Also, you're a sexist, and piss off.

You'll be surprised at how much women's approaches to the same subject matter differ from that of male writers; also, the things that women choose to write about, and how they do it. It isn't inferior, it's just different, and by reading lots of women your mind will be opened to lots of things that I guarantee you won't ever have thought about before.

Some of my personal favourites include: Margaret Atwood, Barbara Kingsolver, Susan Hill, Linda Grant, Shirley Jackson (writer of the classic story "The Lottery", and some brilliant novellas too, including "We Have Always Lived in the Castle"), Lydia Davis, and Margaret Drabble.

5. Women know about their own experience.

I lose count of the number of times I've heard men dismissing women's points of views, women's knowledge, women's writing, just because they're women. They never say it's because they're women. The reason will always be something like: "She doesn't know what she's talking about," or, "That sounds made up." If you're serious about writing women well, you need to start listening to women, taking women seriously, and believing them. This is one of the best things you can do if you want to learn to write female characters, because you really need to understand what women go through, and what their lives are like.

I'll leave you with this video of Dustin Hoffman talking about his role in the film "Tootsie".