I’m very much looking forward to this event. Here you will get to meet the editors of Digbeth Stories, hear their thoughts on the state of publishing in the UK, why they’ve chosen Digbeth and what makes a good piece of writing as well as hear from Kit de Waal who will be submitting a brand new story to the anthology. As well as all the above it’s an ideal opportunity to meet other writers and to pitch your story ideas to the editors. See you there.
Hmm, let’s start by looking back.
My last post was concerning the huge boost to arts funding that would become a reality after Labour won the 2019 general election – well, that never happened. A bit of a shock if I’m honest. I’m a bit of an optimist, and I was convinced that Labour’s argument couldn’t fail, but it did, so what does the future hold? Well, not a lot if you’re going to sit around waiting for someone to do things for you. It seems that the right-wing have public opinion sown up, thanks to their super-rich media-moguls, but that doesn’t mean we can’ bring about change in our own lives – just look at the huge impact Greta Thunberg has had upon the world simply by going on strike!
We need to make things happen ourselves – don’t worry, this isn’t the part where I hurl internet platitudes at you, ‘Be the lobster you want to be!’ So what am I doing, apart from displaying my fondness for the word lobster? A few things. Me and a talented friend are putting together a book. We’re both fed up of being at the mercy of literary gatekeepers and decided we’d do it ourselves, but this isn’t some self-publishing vanity project – to be fair, much of the self-publishing world isn’t. This will be a labour of love to a part of our city that means a lot to both of us. We’ll be documenting in words, both factual and fictional, and images, a part of this glorious place we live in that could soon be no more. Some of you may even buy it – now there’s a thought.
I continue to scratch away with my own writing. I will have a short story out this year in a Birmingham themed collection from Dostoyevsky Wannabe, and I continue to send words out to potential publishers – chin up, no man’s put me down yet…
There are opportunities out there for creative types like me and I shall be doing my best to snag a few of them. I enjoy working with others, and unlocking other people’s potential, so I’ll be looking out for more stuff like that as well as stand alone projects. A few are already on my radar – it must be this 2020 vision.
I’ve also agreed to climb Snowden in the dark – climbing it in daylight is too easy! That last statement is something I’d never say. I’ll post some more info regarding this soon.
January has nearly gone and I’ve not done half as much as I intended to. I will do more in February. See you there.
Art, Birmingham, Comics, David Cousins, Garrie Fletcher, Kevan Manwaring, Mantle Lane Press, Nene College, Night Swimming, Northampton, short stories, Submerged, The Sliding Door People, University of Leicester, writing
Following on from my visit to the University of Leicester last week here are some pics of me in action and a link to the podcast that came from the day. Scroll down for the link.
Click here for the Golden Room podcast featuring me interviewed by Dr Kevan Manwaring.
I’m pleased with the podcast because I don’t sound like an arse and you can hear that we genuinely get on and enjoy talking about writing – there’s quite a bit of laughing, which can’t be bad. There’s also a couple of old songs from me, not too cringeworthy, as well as some recordings of the work I read on the day.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Leicester answering questions from the students and sharing my limited insights into the world of writing and publication. I hope you enjoy the podcast and pictures, well, the podcast more than the pictures.
My latest short book, submerged, is due to be released in early March and I’ve just had a look at some of artist and illustrator Jessamy Hawke’s initial ideas.
These, as you can see, are rough sketches, but Jessamy’s finished work is rather wonderful. I’m looking forward to seeing the finished cover.
You can check out her work including book covers, illustrations, and comissions at her website here.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
Arvon’s on Tumbler.
You probably already know this, but I only just found out and it looks rather wonderful.
So, for those of you who don’t know, who are Arvon?
Avon are all things writing. They have a number of writer’s retreats across the UK and run a range of courses for poetry, scriptwriters, novelists, non-fiction writers and so on. I’ve not yet been lucky enough to go on one of their courses, but I know people that have and they can’t speak highly enough about them. The courses are pricey (there are bursaries available,) but the wealth of talent on offer and the venues warrant it.
The Tumbler feed looks really interesting – it’s where I grabbed the Ray Bradbury quote from and the gif above – and is full of little sound bite advice regarding writing. Don’t just take my word for it, pop over and have a look for yourself by clicking here.
Birmingham writer, Kit de Waal, has set up a scholarship for marginalised people. She wants to give someone, who wouldn’t otherwise have it, the opportunity to write and to develop as a writer.
Kit says, ‘I really see a gap in white, working-class stories – it’s a massively neglected area. I don’t think the experience of the white working class is valued enough.’ I couldn’t agree more.
She also talks about some of the reasons for the lack of working class literature, ‘I think there are gatekeeping processes at work in publishing. First, you need an agent, and you need the time to write. That’s one way you’re going to be filtered out of the system. Maybe there is a lack of confidence in our working-class stories, in whether people want to hear them? But sometimes we have to tell them, otherwise other people do so on your behalf, and that’s no good. We have a responsibility to tell our stories, and the industry has a responsibility to hear them.’
Working class stories are really important to me. My father was a builder, a labourer and tells some incredible stories of friendship, betrayal, law breaking, violence and toe curling humour. These stories are not represented in publishing. These are the stories I write and the stories I want to read.
I think this is the reason I enjoy Sleaford Mods. They tell modern day working class stories with none of the romanticised crap that you see in shows like Call The Midwife and the like.
Please read the whole of the article on Kit and her scholarship here and if you are a working class writer apply.
How about a list of great working class books or stories?
There’s stuff to do. There’s always stuff to do. I’m supposed to be finalising my application for the Word factory apprenticeship scheme and to be fair I’ve done a bit, but my mind is elsewhere. Early this morning I’d just got out of the shower and was about to do some press ups when my wife came in and told me that David Bowie had died. I looked at her as if she was mad. ‘I’ve just heard it on the radio,’ she said, ‘they just announced it on 6 Music.’ I grabbed my phone and sat on the bed. Sure enough, the BBC News confirmed it, David Bowie had died at the age of 69 from cancer. All my enthusiasm for the day ahead sagged away. I went through the motions of my morning exercises with one word bouncing around, ‘fuck.’
These last few weeks have seen some musical greats depart. First there was Lemmy, the infamous front man and bass player from Motorhead a man known for his partying and ‘fuck you attitude.’ Many were surprised that he was still alive. Then there was the death of John Bradbury, the drummer and backbone of The Specials, a band that created the soundtrack to my teens and now…now this.
I got into Bowie late. Lots of people loved him, but they weren’t my people. They were old or dyed their hair and wore ridiculous jackets with padded shoulders. ‘Let’s Dance’ may have catapulted him into world-wide stardom but it wasn’t for me. ‘Ashes to Ashes’ had a bleak melancholy that was loved by Goths and New Romantics alike, but once again they weren’t my people. When I was at Art College a friend of mine went to see Tin Machine (Bowie’s short-lived rock project) and I couldn’t understand why – why would you go and see the guy who sang ‘China Girl?’ Then in the mid 90’s I listened to Hunky Dory and nothing was ever the same again.
I wouldn’t say I was an obsessive Bowie fan; I haven’t listened to all of his work, yet, but I know what I like. What got me from the off was his lyrical playfulness, the way the words were just as important as the music. He could weave history, heartache and literature all within a song that you couldn’t get out of your head and he never stood still. Many musicians will find their niche and stick with it ploughing the same furrow over and over. Bowie was always moving, always growing and never afraid to take risks. In 2009, Vanity Fair published their Proust Questionaire that included answers from David Bowie. It’s well worth reading through the whole thing -which is here– but the question that stayed with me was this:
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Living in fear.
David Bowie showed us what it was like not to live in fear, to be daring, to take risks and to have fun and he did it all with an innate sense of style.
I haven’t received my copy of his latest album, Blackstar, yet, but I know it’ll be good. It’ll be something I take time to listen to and digest, something that I cherish, something beautiful made by a man who changed music and art for so many and who wrote some of the best songs ever.
There was a post today from Gaz Coombes, musician and former front man of Supergrass, that I found incredibly helpful. A friend had texted it to him, when he heard of Bowie’s death and he posted it on:
If you’re sad, just remember the world is 4.543 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie.
Something to lighten the mood…
I’ve recently been involved with the wonderful Hearth organisation. Founded by Polly Wright, the artistic director, Hearth aims to use the arts to animate key issues in mental health, social care and the humanities, and to promote well-being. I’ve been enlisted, as part of the Writing Begets Writing initiative, to deliver a creative writing workshop in a mental health setting. I’ll be working alongside a mental health practitioner who will continue the work that I start, promoting creative writing as practice to promote well-being and who will encourage the service users to submit work to a short story anthology.
I’m really looking forward to working in this field as a writer. I have some experience of working with people who need mental health support but this will be the first time I’ve worked in this setting as a writer. The feedback from mental health service users regarding the benefits of creative writing were incredible.
You can find out more about this project and Hearth here.