Saturday, 11 July 2015

Dissent by doing

If you're anything like me, you'll have spent the last few months since the election, living with a circling sensation of impending doom. If you're a writer or artist, or young and poor, or disabled, and can't help feeling that the Tories hate you on a very deep and personal level... you're right.

You don't need me to rehash all of the things the Government have been doing. The list of things they've done to make sure the poor and disadvantaged, and the young, stay in their 'place' and have no opportunity to rise above it, makes for pretty depressing reading. Slowly but surely, the Tories have been removing opportunities for a better life for our young. Making University more expensive - removing access to sixth form college - allowing corporations to employ people on 'zero hours' contracts, which leave them without workers' rights.

And you also don't need me to tell you, that the Government hate the creative arts too. High University fees dissuade students from choosing creative subjects; and the Education Secretary (The Education Secretary!) likes to go around telling people that children shouldn't focus on the arts at all - because doing so limits their career paths for years into the future. (What career path, by the way, Nicky Morgan? Aren't our young all either unemployed or working for Sports Direct on zero hours contracts?)

Little wonder that a Government obsessed by big business and exploitation of the lower orders, should think that the arts don't 'matter'. Their reason for not funding the arts often comes down to money: that the arts don't generate enough income for every pound spent, and they don't contribute enough to our country's growth. How typical of a Tory, to think that something that doesn't generate huge wads of cash can't possibly be worthwhile.

But, it seems to me that there's another reason why the Government hate the arts. Another reason that's less straightforward, and much more sinister.

(image from

Do you want to know what I think? 

I think the Tories are frightened of the arts. Why? 

Because artists (and I use 'artist' as a catch-all word that encompasses musicians, composers, writers, film directors, theatre makers, graphic novel artists, and anybody else I've forgotten) show people what the joy of life can be. The arts take us out of the misery of our zero-hours contracts, (or the misery of unemployment), and take us away for a few hours. The arts can transport us around the world: they show us other people, other places, other ways of being. The arts make us ask questions: they make us think. And there's nothing this Government is more frightened of than a general public who think, and ask questions. 

There's nothing this Government would love more than for artists and writers all over the country, to throw up their hands and say, "Well ok, I give up." It wants to squeeze the will to live from us, just like it wants to squeeze the lifeblood out of the poor, the disabled, and the vulnerable. Don't let them do it. You have the tools to resist! 

If you're young, and feeling trapped by high University fees, and the length of internships needed to get into any arts industry, let me tell you something. You don't need a degree to become a writer. I never studied writing at University, but I've got a book out, and have been shortlisted for a couple of national / international awards. Plenty of artists, writers, and actors, throughout the ages, have been self-taught. Chris Pratt is one extremely famous example; AL Kennedy, writer and winner of several international awards, is another. There are many others - I couldn't possibly list them all here. 

If you are intimidated and afraid of the helplessness of the difficulty of trying to be an artist - maybe it all looks too difficult, and you don't know where to start - let me tell you, there are thousands of others like you. There is no need to wait. Don't worry about trying to find a way of generating income from your art, certainly not at first. Try to find a way to do it alongside whatever other income you can get. For the time being, your day job (or your JSA) is going to support whatever art you want to make. 

Making art is one of the best ways you can resist the Government. They hate the arts, because they don't want us to be able to imagine a life outside of what we're assigned: a grind of struggling to get by on pennies, of blaming the other poor (the tropes of 'the undeserving immigrant' and 'the workshy benefits scrounger' are a couple of stereotypes they'd like us to believe in) for our problems. But by creating art, you can resist that. 

During the 80s, (which was the last time the Tories were screwing our country over so comprehensively, by the way) there was an explosion in amazing, home-made art and music. Tiny record labels like 4AD and Two Tone were putting out politically motivated records that still stand the test of time. The band Crass were such a thorn to the government of the day, that questions were asked about them in Parliament

And one of the best things about art? It brings you into contact with other people doing the same sorts of things - musicians, film makers, writers. Art is a way of bringing communities together - another thing this Government doesn't want. 

Yes, it's harder when you've got limited resources, but not impossible. Creative minds can always think of creative solutions. Can you make an album in your bedroom at home? Start a blog which you post from the nearest public library? Draw a comic on the kitchen table at home, and find a way to photocopy and distribute it? Get together with a few friends and start a magazine? Start a night class / short course at the nearest 6th form college to get access to the music studio / photography studio / screen printing facilities? Join the 1 in 12 club (other anarchist clubs are available) to get access to a library? Reframe your project so that it's smaller, cheaper, more manageable? 

One of the greatest things about making art today, by contrast with the 80s, are the tools available. These days anybody can start a photography project, or a band, and get their work up onto Tumblr or Bandcamp. But, one thing that's also worth thinking about is: can you make your art available in your local community? Could you start a local arts' market? Start a regular, affordable film screening night in a community centre? Or somebody's house, if your local council have closed all the community centres near you? 

One effect of the Government's work has been to deny access to the arts in our communities. People are too busy & ground down by the struggle of life to be able to go to the cinema, or to make long journeys to galleries and museums. What can you do to bring art into your town - into your local community centre - into your street? How can you use it to make connections with other artists and your neighbours? 

Again, this is another thing the Government don't want. They'd much rather we were all holed up in our homes, watching Benefits Street and blaming a whole bunch of fictional 'others' for our problems. But you can use your art to make connections with others. I hope you'll believe me when I say that this will help others having the same struggles, and help you, too. 

I hope this blog post has given you some inspiration and ideas for things that you can do. This is the second Tory government I've seen in my lifetime (I remember the last one, more's the pity), and I know that we have the tools and resources between us to resist them. Good luck, my pals, and tweet me / email me if it has given you the inspiration to work on a project of some kind. I would love to hear about it. Bon chance! 

Currently reading

Zoo City Lauren Beukes

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Advice for new writers

Yet again, I'm here with an apology for not blogging more often...

Things have been busy, and at the moment I'm ferreting away at my short stories, trying to get them all to behave themselves. Soon, I'll have enough for a collection. And after that, I'll go on holiday.

A couple of weeks ago, I taught a short story writing class. I was asked what advice I'd give to young people who want to become writers. I will share the advice I gave then, again on here. And just for the record, this advice applies whatever age you are.

It's really pretty simple. If you want to be a writer, you have to write. Some people manage to make a living from writing, usually by taking on paid commissions, some people don't. (I'm the second type: I support my writing with a day job.) Either way, the answer is still the same. If you want to be a writer, you have to write!

So my advice to anybody who wants to write is, find a way to do it. Try to get yourself into a position where you can work compressed hours, or part time, so that you have a day or two a week that you can devote to writing. If you can't work as few hours as you'd like, maybe devote a day at the weekend to writing, too. It might mean that you have to give up other things, like doing fun things with your friends, or spending time with your family. This choice is not a fun one to make, but unless you're in the luxurious position of not having to earn money, and having the freedom to write full time, sometimes you have to make sacrifices in other areas. Also, it will help a lot if your other half is supportive. One thing I did a lot when I was starting out, was that I cut down on doing things that were taking up a lot of my time. I stopped doing volunteer work and didn't socialise so much. It was rubbish, and sometimes I slightly resented it, but it also meant that I manage to write a novel, and get it published. So there's that.

On your writing days, make sure you write. Don't make excuses for yourself. If you're on a writing day, and you don't feel like writing, write anyway. Just write one sentence, and then another one. Then another one after that. It won't be long before you've got started, and you'll soon wonder what all the fuss was about when you got up that morning and didn't feel like doing it. Whatever you do, don't go on the internet. Just get to work.

My other big tip (it's no secret) is to keep at it. Writing is horrible sometimes, especially at first. But it gets easier the more you do it. Writing and imagination are both muscles that get stronger with use. Cultivate them. Make them do 50+ reps every time you sit down at your desk. Also, try to surround yourself with writer- and artists-friends who are going through the same thing, and who will be able to cheer you on a bit. And keep going!

Good luck!

Currently reading

Fishnet Kirstin Innes

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Genus: Spring issue of December Magazine

"My brother was born strange. As a child, he spent hours gazing into the distance, clenching and tapping his fingers, all when he was supposed to be minding the seedlings. 
You only had to walk one end of the greenhouse to the other, taking the watering can in hand. You gave every tray a sprinkle, more if the earth was dry. Each day the seedlings grew a little; it was part of the job to keep an eye on them, see whether they had grown big enough to go out into the furrows outside. I'd been doing it myself since I was six, and tall enough just to see over the shelves. But my brother, though he had been doing it longer, did it poorly. He would put the can down at the end of the hut and look out of the window, mouthing words as if there were somebody standing on the other side – somebody none of the rest of us could see."

My story, Genus, appears in the Spring 2015 issue of December Magazine. You can buy the mag (or read the story - you have to write your name & your email address in the boxes, it's really easy) by following this link

As ever, it's really exciting to have a story appear in print! And particularly exciting to appear in December, which is a really long-running and very established literary magazine. It was in this magazine where the early stories of Raymond Carver & Joyce Carol Oates first appeared. It's exciting to be amongst such distinguished company! 

Currently reading

Angels Denis Johnson
The Man in the High Castle Philip K Dick

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Short Story writing workshop

Hi! Sorry for the total radio silence. The reason for my quietness (on here at least, not on Twitter) is because I've been ferreting away on some short stories. I've been really busy and now I nearly have enough for a full collection.

Anyway, I'm running a Short story writing workshop as part of the Big Bookend Festival, in Leeds. The workshop is entitled "Ideas are everywhere!" and it's about finding ideas for short stories everywhere you look. It's on Saturday 6th June at 1.00 and tickets are £3. You can book through the Big Bookend website

More soon. 

Currently reading

The Keep Jennifer Egan 
Ubik Philip K Dick

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Hello, hello?

This is my first blog update for ages.
I haven't updated for a while, because I've been concentrating on writing some short stories. It's time for me to stop saying that I'll write a short story collection, and time for me to actually do it. So that's what I've been doing at the moment. It hasn't left a lot of time to update my blog, although strangely, it has left me with enough time to fanny about on Twitter. I'm not really sure how that works, but who am I to argue with the laws of Physics? 

The writing seems to be going pretty well at the moment, thank you for asking. 
The cat is fine, thank you for asking. 
Hope you are all well too. (ULTIMATE POLITE BRITISH SIGN-OFF.) 

Currently reading
Yes Please! Amy Poehler
A Gate At The Stairs Lorrie Moore

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

2014: Round-up post

2014 really has just been the most amazingest year so far.

Those of you who've been reading my blog a while will know how hard I've worked - and how thankless it felt, at times. All those years of scratching away, of sending my work out to rejection and indifference... I feel now, like all of it was worth it.

Soon, I'll do a blog post of what a year of being a published writer has taught me. But, for now, a short list of highlights. There were so many, I had to leave a few off the list. But hopefully you won't mind that. Here they are...

Favourite things this year:

1. Seeing my book. Holding it in my hands for the first time.
2. Getting longlisted for the Not The Booker Prize; seeing it creep up to No. 2 in the Amazon rankings in "Literary / Thriller" as a result.
3. The review where a writer referred to Barney, the hapless social worker, as being "heroically avuncular."
4. My friend texting me to say she kept on trying to borrow my book from the library, and that in the end she'd had to reserve it because it was out on loan all the time.
5. Being shortlisted for the Gladstone Library Writers in Residency programme; the judges wrote me to say they enjoyed the book for its subject matter, particularly. (I didn't win one of the residencies, unfortunately. Next time!)

Other ace things that happened: 

1. Mentoring for the Womentoring project was a really fulfilling, and enjoyable thing I did this year. I was able to see my mentee's work come on in leaps and bounds, and be there with her as her ideas about plot and character really solidified. I'm on a break from it at the moment, but hope to be taking mentoring applications again from February 2015 onwards.
2. Fictions of Every Kind won a small grant from Leeds Inspired, which will enable us to bring short story writers from further away, to Leeds. The first event we're running using this money is on April 14th, themed Relativity, with award-winning authors Zoe Lambert and Avril Joy. Keep watching for further events, as the money will allow us to be much more ambitious in what we can do.

Rubbish things that happened:
My cat was sick for a week or so. But he soon got better again. It turned out he'd eaten something he shouldn't have. Here is a picture of him, for all you cat fans out there.

Plans for 2015:
1. Write more. I'm doing a lot at the moment, and have finished the 1st draft of my second novel. Without going into too much detail, the novel is about a sad angry man living in an abandoned hotel. I'll be heading more into a borderline/speculative direction second time around. The rewriting will probably take me the rest of the year. I'm obsessive like that.  
2. Write more short stories. 
3. Take more pictures of the cat.
4. Go on holiday, which I haven't done for about 3 years. I might have forgotten how. (Though I have just booked flights to an exciting sunny location, so there is definitely hope.) 

Currently reading

The Secret History Donna Tartt 

Saturday, 22 November 2014

This is what I've been doing...'s also why I've failed in my Mid-Year New Years' Resolution to update this blog more often.

More soon.

Currently reading

The Girl With All The Gifts M.R.Carey