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 

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Pragmatic R&B song

Here is a song I co-wrote with These Men, a barbershop quartet from Leeds, and one of my favourite local bands. Morgan from the group told me once that they struggled a bit for lyrics sometimes, and we talked a bit, and decided to collaborate.

This song, which doesn't really have a title other than 'Pragmatic R&B song', is about a chap trying to get off with a lady. Rather than promising to 'make it last all night' or 'take her to heaven' or whatever, he promises that he'll always do his share of the housework. You can't say fairer than that.

This video was taken at the launch of These Men's EP, "Four Short Songs About Love."

Currently reading

100 Years of Solitude Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Platforms are overrated

"As a recent MFA graduate who’s wading into the world of publishing, I’ve been counseled to start a blog, scare up a couple thousand Facebook friends, consider Twitter. This pressure to promote myself, in addition to writing a book and working full-time, could break my will, make me consider giving up writing altogether. Except that my full-time job is at an ad agency, and for the last six of the almost twenty years I’ve been in this business, I’ve worked at a company that specializes in digital media. So I feel lucky to recognize this advice about “platform building” for what it is: bullshit."

"Platforms are overrated": an excellent piece on how to prioritise your time as a writer, from Stephanie Bane. 

Currently reading

The Man in the Picture Susan Hill 

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Winter Wear for Writers

As the nights draw in, and conditions in your writing hole become icy and untenable, you are going to want something warm to wear as you scratch away at your work.

These gloves were very much on my 'last season's wear' list, and they are such a strong look they will certainly continue on into A/W 2015. Items like a warm aran glove, along with a strong thermal jodphur, and a fleecy onesie, are certainly must-have wardrobe items for any working writer this winter. Because as we all know: heating is expensive, and most writers don't earn enough to be able to afford to switch it on.

The really on-trend writer this season is going to want to pair these cute gloves with a bobbly Peruvian hat (worn indoors), two pairs of socks, a hot water bottle, and as many cups of tea as they can humanly drink.

I knitted mine from this pattern; if you're an experienced knitter, they're very easy, and really simple to modify. Rather than knitting the fingers all the way to the ends, as it suggests, I knitted my fingers an inch or so long each, and then bound off when I reached the desired length.

Now go forth and shiver.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Publishing: Independent & "Indie"

It's been a couple of months now since my book came out, on the excellent Dead Ink Books. It has been such a fun few months. The guys behind the press - Wes and Nathan - have done so much great stuff that I could never have managed to do by myself. I've been on a book tour with my Dead Ink cohort Richard Smyth. Both of us have been to Manchester, London, Leeds, and Wakefield, on promotional events. We've been in the paper and in magazines. It really has been a great experience and I'm massively grateful to everyone at Dead Ink for everything they've done, and to Richard for making the book tour so enjoyable.

My friends will attest that I'm a big fan of Independent Things. Independent shops, independent cafes, independent music, independent clothes, the newspaper The Independent. Basically if you put the word "Independent" in front of it, there's a fair bet I'll find something to like about it.

You see, the thing about independent things is that they're INTERESTING. In independent record labels, and in independent press, you find fanatically driven people putting out the things they love with few resources, and doing it because they love it. That's the sort of thing that's exactly up my street.

Dead Ink have been running as a press now for several years, and they're pretty well established. They started out as a digital only imprint, and now do 'actual' books. (With pages, and everything.) I had always hoped to have my book come out on an independent press, so I was really excited when they got in touch and said they wanted to publish my book.

Because I'm such a fan of Independent Things, people often ask me what I think about self-publishing. (Confusingly, people who self-publish also often call themselves "Indie Authors".) I've got an opinion about it, just like I've got an opinion about everything.

Lots of people are self-publishing these days. It's so much easier than it used to be, and as a consequence loads of people are doing it. A lot of the people I've talked to who have self-published, end up doing it because they haven't been able to find a publisher for their work. Nothing wrong with that, if that's the way you want to do it. But one thing that I've found in working with an independent press is, that even working with a small press you have so many more resources and reach than you would have putting something out yourself.

Here are the things I've really enjoyed in my experience working with Dead Ink Books.

1. Editorial input.

In summer 2013, I handed Nathan Connolly what I thought was the final draft of my novel. I'd got things as far as I could myself, and had already sent the book around a few trusted writer-friends for critique. But what the book really needed was an editor's eye: somebody experienced, who could look at my work fully objectively (let's face it, your writer-friends are never going to be as savage as you need them to be) and tell me where I was going wrong.

Nathan had a few suggestions about the structure of the book, and about where I could work a bit harder to improve things. Many of his suggestions were extremely good and changed the book much for the better.

If I hadn't had access to an editor through working with Dead Ink, I can categorically say that Brick Mother would have been a much worse book.

2. Graphic design.

I cannot draw for toffee. I have friends who can, but if I'd been self-publishing, I would have had to pay a friend to make the cover. And yes, drawing a cover is a service you should pay for - because good design and artistry costs money, and I wouldn't feel great about asking a friend to do it for nothing.

In addition, because they're my friends and I don't want to hurt their feelings, if they'd done a not-quite-right version of the cover, I wouldn't have felt able to say. Working with the fab Estelle Morris (who designed the cover both of Brick Mother and of Wild Ink), I was able to email suggestions back and forth, and choose from an impressive array of images which she'd given to me to choose from. It was a very good experience and I think the cover looks ace.

3. Publicity & distribution

Now this is a big one. I like socialising and I like a good chat, but a salesperson I am not. Could I go around book fairs convincing a distributor to pick up my book so it would make its way into shops up and down the country? I could not. But Wes and Nathan can: they've got all the Dead Ink books distributed, in shops throughout the UK. To my knowledge, there isn't a distribution company in the UK that will distribute self-published titles into shops.

And as for publicity: we've been in various blogs, magazines and papers. Some of the blog stuff, I sorted out myself - but I do also think that many of the blogs wouldn't have touched my book with somebody else's bargepole if it hadn't had a good cover, good content (see above) or been published by reputable small press.

In addition, I've appeared at two literature festivals and two book parties now, all publicity events which were organised by people at Dead Ink. It's crucial to me that that kind of organisation stuff was sorted out by somebody else: it left me with more free time to write.

4. Infrastructure and organisation.

Every time you sort out a book review, a goodwill copy, journalistic requests, etc, somebody, somewhere, has to get down the post office and send books out. Somebody has to warehouse the books somewhere, whether it's a sort of modest warehouse that also doubles as a spare room or a box under the kitchen table.

Who has done this for me and my cohort Richard Smyth? Wes and Nathan. Yes, I've got a box of books in my house, but they're my books, for me to take around events and sell. They're not books that I have to use to fulfil orders through the website - Nathan and Wes do that. Again, leaving my hands free from organisational stuff, in order to have more time to write.

It is true that alongside this I manage my own social media account (Twitter! Facebook!) - but thanks to the input and doings of Dead Ink, I don't need to use my own accounts to spam my followers / friends with exhortations to buy my book. I hate it when authors do that and, thanks to Dead Ink, who will do some of it for me, I don't need to do it all myself.