The Man Who Mistook His Vote For An Instruction

Check out Yasmin Ali’s new blog. If this first story is anything to go by, it’s going to be a corker.

Scritti Politti

Derek was a man of clear views, forcefully expressed. Janet had come to know this well. In the early years of their married life, Janet had listened to what Derek had to say, often nodding to signal agreement, when in truth she had no strong opinions on Aston Villa, Reginald Maudling, or the merits of imperial measurements.  Sometimes, foolish young woman that she once was, she tried to argue with him.   Perhaps not argue, so much as try to dispel his anxiety.  Of course it was exasperating that the supposedly dead Bobby Ewing had suddenly walked out of the shower in Dallas, she would soothe, but did it really matter?

Janet no longer made the effort.  Derek’s explosions were many, but short lived.  She had come to regard them as being like steam released from a valve in a pressure cooker.  Within Derek’s brain…

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Have you ever heard of the Human Values Foundation? No, neither had I, but a friend of mine put my name forward to them, and they’ve commissioned me to write four short stories as part of what they do.


But what do they do?


“Our vision is that young people among all sections of the community, both in the UK and also overseas, will imbibe and practise human values so as to become responsible, happy, fulfilled members of society and aspire to human excellence.”
Part of all that is providing resources and lessons plans that enable teachers to create work around those values.
The four topics I’ve been given are: Becoming Responsible, Contentment, Hope and Optimism, and Self-Sufficiency.
It’s been interesting writing them, and the results will be on the Human Values Foundation website in the near future.

City Voices – Wolverhampton


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I hadn’t been to City Voices in a while. It’s a bit of a trek for me, travelling from south Birmingham to Wolverhampton, but I’m glad I braved public transport and read there last night – I even sold a few books!

If you’ve never been, it’s based in the Lighthouse which is a three-minute walk from the train station and housed inside the industrious Chubb building. As ever, Simon Fletcher, no relation, is the convivial host who sets the scene and puts everyone at ease. I’m not sure how long Simon has been running City Voices, but whenever I’ve been there the quality of the readings is always of a high standard and last night was no exception.



Sadly, my memory is bloody awful, and I can’t remember the names of those who read last night. The only names on the listing are mine and Fergus McGonigal’s – Fergus had to cancel, and Simon stepped in – but the quality of the writing and the reading from the three poets were very high. If anyone reading this can tell me the names of the poets leave me a comment below, and I’ll amend this accordingly.

The reading that stood out for me was a collection of poems from a creative writing graduate that was all based on a mysterious death in Hagley Woods in 1941. The poems were dark, evocative and original and stayed with me long after she’d finished reading. This mysterious death still generates graffiti to this day. This is from Wikipedia:

Who put Bella in the Wych Elm? is a graffito that originated in 1944 after a woman’s corpse was discovered by several children inside a wych elm in Hagley Wood (located in the estate of Hagley Hall, Worcestershire, England). Among other places the graffiti has appeared on the Hagley Obelisk near to where woman’s body was discovered. The victim, whose murder was estimated to have occurred in 1941, remains unidentified.

1280px-Bella_graffitiThe next City Voices is in February and will be love themed, with guests including Kuli Kohli, Yvette Layne and Bert Flitcroft.(Pancakes will be on sale in Lock Works for Shrove Tuesday).

City Voices info can be found here.

Writing, damn you!


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writing keyboardI’ve been struggling of late to get stuff onto the page. It’s not as if I don’t have things to do. I have a novel that needs a final tidy up and then sending off. A rough outline of a sci-fi novel that needs finishing, and a whole host of short stories that need finishing and starting. I know what I need to be able to write. I need space, time and routine. I have a room in my house where I can go to write. My office is at the back of the house, above the kitchen, and for the most part, it is quiet and interruption free, ideal for writing, providing it can be kept free. My daughter will occasionally camp out there to complete her homework. In fact, only the other night I spent over an hour with her going through her maths home-work – percentages, damn you!

In my previous job as a teacher, I had a routine. I’d dropped down to working three days a week, and on Thursdays and Fridays I stayed at home and wrote. I also wrote in the evenings and sporadically on the weekends. However, once I’d changed jobs, the routine went out the window. The new job involves shift work, and they’re open to change. I can find myself looking forward to some dedicated writing time, a literary event, or just meeting up with other writers and I’ll have to cancel it. Whenever I don’t write when I should be, I’m gripped by a festering guilt. I’m not writing for fame, fortune or recognition. I’m writing to keep the guilt at bay.

I’ve been here before. I know how to get out of this malaise. What I need is routine; I need purpose, and I need to be consistent. It’s just rather frustrating at times. I know writers that go through this. I know writers that struggle to juggle family, work and writing, and I know writers that do not have the worry of the commitment juggler. The one thing that unites us all, I think, is that awful shiver of guilt when we know we should be writing and we aren’t.

Things have gotten a bit better recently. I’ve completed a short story, well not that short, that’s been rattling around in my head for a while, and I’ve started another. The novel still needs to be tidied and sent out, but I know it’ll be done before Christmas – providing I get that tax return in!

What do you do when you’re struggling to write? What sure-fire tactic, habit etc. do you employ to keep the guilt demons at bay?

All answers gratefully received.


The other end of the telescope – a dozen ways to guarantee rejection


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Some great tips for getting rejected from periodicals and competitions. They’ll either make you laugh or blush with shame.

Thanks to Kmelkes for this glimpse from the other end of the telescope.


Source: The other end of the telescope – a dozen ways to guarantee rejection

The Write Stuff


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For those of you who are of a creative or aquatic bent, you may be interested to know that I will once again be leading canal based creative writing workshops. Those crazy fools at the Birmingham Literature Festival have asked me to lead dusk till dawn writing sessions as part of this year’s festival.


It really was great fun.

I don’t have a lot of details yet, but I guess that they will be similar to the ones I ran back in April as part of the pop-up festival. Back then, we started from Birmingham’s historic Roundhouse and explored the canals via canoe and kayak. It was a real eye-opener for me. There are parts of the city you can only explore from the canal. Deserted glassworks, industrial loading bays and the Victorian red brick of disused warehouses stand beside the canal, and their decaying shells now home a multitude of wildlife and their walls canvases for graffiti artists and frustrated lovers.


Come and witness my world famous invisible fish wrestling.

We will spend at least an hour on the water and then back inside the relative, although not guaranteed, warmth of the Roundhouse I’ll put you through your paces with some short, focused writing exercises that will nudge you towards creating longer pieces of work.

All photos are the property of the very talented Jana Eastwood. You can find more images from previous workshops here at her excellent blog, Escapes and Photography.


Birmingham’s Roundhouse.


One of the many incredible views along the canal.



Wildlife in the heart of the city.

So long and thanks for all the fish.


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This weekend has been a bitter-sweet affair. On Friday, I celebrated my 48th birthday. It was a beautiful evening spent with friends, slowly getting drunk, ruminating on life, love and loss and, as usual, talking bollocks – note to foreign readers, bollocks is British slang for testicles, but in this instance can be substituted for nonsense. We sampled a few of Birmingham’s finest drinking holes, made fun of each other, swapped news and decided to meet up again in the summer to really get to the heart of whatever shite it was we were talking about. One of my mates bought a copy of my book, Night Swimming, for me to sign, which was an unexpected pleasure, and as I was signing, he told me that my old English teacher, Mr Alsop, had died. This was a shock.

A few of us had stayed in touch with Mr Alsop. Some of the lads saw him around town, and one even joined in the weekly pub quiz that he ran. Most of my contact with him, apart from the occasional pint when I was in town, was through social media. Those of you who read this blog will know that I gave up Facebook just after Christmas. The giving up of Facebook has been a real liberation regarding work output and quality time and is something I would highly recommend. Well, I would recommend it as long as you stay in touch with people via other means. My blog posts and tweets still post through onto Facebook and, despite me announcing my leaving the site, my mates assumed I was still on it and knew that Mr Alsop was ill.

Alsop, as we called him, was a brilliant teacher. I went to a rough school. Learning wasn’t the top priority of most pupils or even teachers, and discipline could be tenuous at best in some lessons. An example I often use to illustrate how rough the school was, is the time a pupil brought in some live ammunition and threw it into the metalwork furnace – that was an interesting day. There are many others I could use. Some teachers had no control; their lessons were exercises in shouting and threats. Learning outcomes didn’t exist then, although I guess there must’ve been a plan of sorts – I seemed to spend a lot of time copying stuff off the board and staring out the window. But Alsop was different. He commanded the classroom with his physical presence, his love of his subject, English, and his scathing wit. No one pissed about in his lesson, and you learnt stuff. I remember, at the height of the miner’s strike in the 80’s, a load of us decided to go on strike and walked out of the school gates after break. We refused to go back into school and jeered at whichever teacher it was that tried to get us back in. Alsop walked out, said, ‘In’ and everyone shuffled in without a murmur – you didn’t mess with Mr Alsop.

He had a genuine love of literature, from Chaucer to John Cooper Clarke, Shakespeare to Douglas Adams, Thomas Hardy to Joe Strummer and everything in between. And his energy and enthusiasm were contagious. We were studying Evelyn Waugh’s, Men At Arms, and he delivered it with such insight and passion that I went on and read the other two books in the trilogy. I already had a love of reading before I met Mr Alsop, but he helped to focus it and showed all of us that words are important and that when they are combined in the right order, with the right intent, they can have a profound effect upon the reader. It only takes one bad teacher to put you off a subject for life. I was lucky; I had an excellent one.

I wanted to thank him for giving me, and all those he taught, such a rewarding time at school. For being so passionate about literature and creativity and for giving a shit. I mention him in the thanks section of, Night Swimming, but he died before he got a copy. I’m hoping to make his funeral in two weeks time. I know there will be lots of ex pupils there wanting to pay their respects. Here’s to you Mr Alsop, ‘So long and thanks for all the fish.’




Navigating Birmingham.


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Paddling and writing along Birmingham’s canals

Ever thought of combining canoeing and writing? Well, now’s your chance. On April 23rd, Jo Bell (poet,) Alyse Fowler (gardener/writer,) and I will be doing just that. We’ll be taking groups down the industrial canals of Birmingham and using this unique perspective to inspire creative writing. Check out the press release below for full details and booking info:


£20/£16 (concessions), children £10

Need some inspiration to get writing? Want to explore hidden Birmingham?

Look no further than our series of creative walks, bike rides and canoe trips developed in partnership with the Canal & River Trust, National Trust, Birmingham Roundhouse, British Canoeing and Big Birmingham Bikes, and delivered by five fantastic writers.


Take to the waterways of Birmingham by canoe for a unique perspective on the city, returning to dry land for a writing workshop at The Roundhouse led by Alys Fowler (10am-1pm) or Jo Bell (2pm-5pm). Workshops for young people at both sessions will be led by Garrie Fletcher. Canoes and instruction supplied free of charge from British Canoeing and B-ROW.

Please dress comfortably: we advise that you don’t wear jeans, you do wear trainers, bring waterproof coat and trousers, and a complete change of clothes. The canoes have a weight restriction of 17.5 stone.
Drinks are provided free of charge but please bring a snack to sustain you.

Suitable for adults and children aged 8 and over. Children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult.

Workshop 1 – 10am – 1pm (Alys Fowler) 

Workshop 2 – 2pm – 5pm (Jo Bell) 

Roundhouse Writers

Jo Bell is a former Canal Poet Laureate and currently appears on Nationwide’s ‘Voice of the People’ ads. Her poetry collection Kith is published by Nine Arches Press. She is co-writing a handbook for poets – How to be a Poet – and lives on a narrowboat.

Alys Fowler is an award-winning journalist, regular presenter of BBC Gardeners’ World and Guardian columnist. Her new book Hidden Nature charts her journey through the canals of Birmingham by canoe.

Garrie Fletcher writes short stories, novels and poems. His collection of short stories, Night Swimming, has just been published by Mantle Lane Press. He leads the Birmingham Young Writers’ Group for Writing West Midlands.

How to Book:
Please contact The BOX to book tickets on 0121 245 4455 or you can book online by clicking the button below.