Well, the real East Midlands, but I’ll be talking about fiction.
Today, I’m off to the University of Leicester to talk to creative writing students about writing and all that jazz. I’m looking forward to it, but what do you say to someone just starting out as a writer? I’m not sure. Thinking back to when I first started reminds me of how impossible it can feel, and still does even though I’ve a few publications under my belt – yeah, it’s books, not middle-age-spread.
But what would I have helped me way back then? Well, a peek behind the curtain wouldn’t have gone amiss, but I didn’t know any writers. I didn’t know where they hung out, or even what trousers they wore – was there a special hat? I did meet one writer when I first moved to Birmingham, he’d placed an ad in the local paper, it was pre internet, asking to meet other writers, but I, rightly or wrongly decided he was mad and gave him a wide berth.
Nowadays, there’s tons of stuff on the internet about writing, you can even watch videos of writers talking about writing! Some of this is useful and some of it is watered down cut n paste gibberish from the click-bait crew.
The things that would’ve helped me were talking about the craft and the industry. You need to get your head around the craft before you can think about publication. I initially put ‘master the craft’ in the previous sentence, but this is something you work towards your entire writing life. I have not mastered the craft, but I continue to try.
I’m getting closer to Leicester, so I better wrap this up.
Write. I know it sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised by how many people are in love with the imagined life of the writer that never write.
Re-write. Hard to do unless you’ve cracked the first one. Editing your work is when the real work begins, but if you’ve no work to edit…Years ago, I thought writers say down in front of a typewriter and bashed out their masterpieces…
Hone your craft. Look at the writers you admire. How to they construct their stories? What makes their sentences alive and engaging? When I first joined a writers’ group, one of the members said my work reminded them of David Peace. They were right. I’d become so obsessed with his writing that I’d started to write like him – I don’t now, but I learnt a lot from copying his style. There’s nothing wrong with copying someone else’s style as long as your own style develops along the way.
The mechanics. This is what they teach in schools to the exclusion of everything else; it’s the nuts and bolts that hold stories together: spelling and punctuation. I’ve always struggled with this. I recently discovered I’m mildly dyslexic which answered a lot of questions. Check your work thoroughly before sending it out.
Finally, because I’m already at Narborough, read, read, read. I’ve met some writers who say they don’t have time to read, or they don’t read fiction even though they write it. This baffles me. You’d be hard pressed to find a successful musician, artist etc. who didn’t follow the work of people they admired. Reading other people’s work is so, so important – just do it!
Bugger, I’m approaching Leicester. This is way too brief, but let me know what you think.
I’m walking and talking this Saturday the 19th of October, tomorrow. The wonderful people at Overhear Poetry commissioned me to create a walk that would be a writerly response to my home city of Birmingham, so that’s what I’ve done.
This is not a facts and figures tour. It’s a creative look at a city you think you know, an interpretation of space, environment and architecture. But it’s not all me. I’ll be asking you to respond to points on the walk with snippets of poetic text in the style of Ian McMillan’s daily tweets.
Join me tomorrow at 10:30 outside Birmingham’s Roundhouse and delve into the heart of the city. There are a few tickets still available and you can get them here.
It’s the perfect supplement to the Barry Flanagan exhibition that is currently on at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham. Yes, you’ve guessed, it’s my short story, Ikon. Simply get the Overhear App, visit the Ikon Gallery, and download an audio file of me reading the story at the Ikon. Sorted.
I’m pretty shattered at the moment. I’m busy with the day job and I’ve lots of writing stuff to get done too. I’m not complaining, I like to be busy, but it would be nice to just stretch out and switch off for a bit. Anyway, what have I been up to? Well, writing, obviously, but not in the way I’m used to. Let me clarify that. I’ve been writing for two Apps, something I’ve never done before. Both are very interesting applications that I think a lot of people are going to love. The first I want to talk about is the Overhear App.
Overhear is an innovative way of sharing poetry and prose and bringing greater exposure to some of the beautiful spaces and places that Birmingham has. It works like this: you download the App, select your city, and then go hunting for literature. For example, my story, Ikon, unsurprisingly, is linked to the Ikon Gallery. You have to physically be in the Ikon Gallery to then unlock my story. When the story is unlocked, you will then be able to play an audio file of me reading the story. There are a whole host of files to collect as part of this year’s Birmingham Literature Festival, and you can also collect poems that were released at this year’s Verve Poetry Festival. The App is free, as is the downloading of the files. The only thing you have to do is be in the correct location to download the file. The really terrible thing is that lots of the venues serve fantastic coffee, cake, beer, food etc. It’d be just awful if you happened to eat or drink in one of them.
The actual writing work for this was fairly straight forward. I had a couple of constraints, most commissions only had one. All of the commissions had to link their story to the site where it was to be unlocked. They didn’t necessarily have to take place there, but the site must have some link to the story. The extra constraint I had was to link my story to the current Barry Flanagan exhibition that is on at the Ikon. This may sound like a bit of a bind, but I found it liberating and challenging all in one – and I like a good challenge.
I’m pleased with the story I’ve produced. It speaks about the nature of art, loneliness, and friendship between males – something we’re not very good at expressing. Do check this out next time you’re in Birmingham, and please let me know what you think.
The Overhear App is available from the App Store and Google Play.
The other App I’ve been writing for has been a very different kind of challenge altogether. Questo is a location-based App. It’s like a cross between a puzzle and a story. You have a physical starting point in Birmingham, and you have to solve clues before you can move onto the next stage of your’ quest.’ It’s a great, fun way to explore a city, to enjoy a story, and to learn a bit about the place you’re in. The challenge for me was to not only have an idea for a story, but to also plan a route through the city, and create clues that need to be solved.
I had to do a fair bit of research for this commission. There needed to be the right proportion of historical facts interwoven throughout the quest, and it had to link in with the given theme. I won’t say what the theme is, but the fact that it launches on October the 31st should give you a clue.
To be honest, the second App, Questo, has been the more significant challenge. I’ve learnt a lot about collaboration and communicating with others, but there have been moments where I’ve felt like chucking it all in. Thankfully, the Questo team have been very supportive and have guided me through the whole process.
Questo is also available from the App Store and Google Play. There is a fee for unlocking each quest. If you do try this quest, I’d love to hear how you got on.
That’s it for now. I’m going to lie down in a dark room for a bit.
I received my copy of Songs For The Elephant Man the other day and its a beauty. This great collection of short stories is yours for mere pounds – £8.99 for eighteen stories!
You can order this from any good bookshop or buy it direct from the publisher’s website by clicking here.
As always, let me know what you think.
My story, Electricity, will be published shortly as part of this wonderful anthology from Mantle Lane Press.
It’s a excellent title for the collection as all the stories are about or misfits. However, thanks to Matt Berry’s Year of the Rabbit on Channel 4 I can now only ever see the Elephant Man as a camp thespian on the make.
You have two chances to hear me read from my latest book, Submerged, next week.
First up is City Voices in Wolverhampton. It all starts at 7:30 at The Lighthouse a few minutes walk from the train and bus stations. City Voices is one of the Midlands’ finest spoken word evenings and never fails to delight with its range and quality of work on offer. I will be selling books.
Secondly, will be the official Birmingham launch of Submerged, and it’s going to be a corker, but don’t just take my word for it check out the line-up here.
A very poignant and fitting short story from Yasmin Ali. It’s brief but manages to nail the current turbulence in British politics. It’s well worth reading.
She’d put it down to getting older, or perhaps it was the slow process of adjusting to being on her own? Whatever it was, it was deeply unsettling.
The garden gate swung shut with a familiar click as Julie stepped out into the lane. There had been a time when she might have driven into the village. She’d done a lot of driving in the last few years. In some ways it had been a lot like being a young mother again, with a helpless, dependent human to bundle into the car, his eyes somehow pleading, even as his face was blank. Since Ronnie’s death there had been relief, even a guilty feeling of transgression, in leaving the car on the drive, and walking.
He’d been the oldest Young Conservative in the local association when she’d first joined. Joining the YCs had been her mother’s suggestion. ‘You’ll meet…
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