Live Your Life

It’s been another very busy couple of weeks but now I have at least a couple of weeks of not having to be anywhere for anything. It’ll be nice to catch up and get some writing done.

On Wednesday I was in London, working at the BBC again which was brilliant. I ran two sessions there, met some more brilliant people and was really, really impressed with what was produced. A good, and very enjoyable, day all round really.

And, a little before, I was reminded of this and, although it’s an oldie and I’m sure a lot of you will have already seen it, it doesn’t hurt to be reminded. I love it. Live your life.

 

More Junior Books

Last Tuesday I got to do one of my favourite authory things, I got to present the junior writers I’d been working with before the holidays with the books they’d written. I do this quite a bit and I love it. In this case we’d met once a week over a month and a half, we’d come up with good story ideas, turned them into brilliant stories, written them, designed and illustrated our own book covers, all the while helping each other, and then I’d gone away and, with the help of the tremendous Vicky Morris, formatted them and turned them into actual books.

And Tuesday, at Bollington library, was when the writers received theirs. There were brilliant readings and much applause and, I think, everyone left feeling very happy and proud, especially me. A heartfelt well done, from me. You were brilliant.

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Glass Dice. And Hats.

As I wrote in my previous post (which you can read in full here) I did some work at Huddersfield University with the omni-brilliant First Story, and the brilliant writers from the Appleton Academy, last week. And here’s one of the pieces. It’s called Changing Horizons and it’s written by Henna Ravjibhai  and I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s wonderful. (The other stories were too, of course.)

 

We started to get worried when we needed binoculars to see the trees. What should have been 30-foot horsechestnuts, were now 3 centimetres high. The buildings seemed to have taken a shrinking potion, like the one in Alice in Wonderland. Slowly but surely, they shrank into glass dice, some oblong, some square. We worried when roads became narrower and shorter, vehicles became little moving dots. But what worried us most was when the children started to get shorter instead of taller. So did the rest of us, fitting into the tiny dots of cars, walking around in the glass dice. One day, the ground began to move left and right, snow came off the ground and fell on us again. It only appeared to us when we were snow-globe small and stuck.

Click hear to have a read of some of the other great stories.

 

 

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And, last weekend I took myself to York to do something absolutely and categorically that was not writing. And it was fun. I went all touristy (and old!) and walked the walls and did museums and ate cake and also…

VictorianNik

went Victorian. And then…

Bowlertried on a hat. And then…

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met Mr Punch. Before getting delightfully creeped out by glass eyes.

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Huddersfield

The holidays seem a long time ago now, don’t they? It’s been full steam ahead this year with loads going on and loads of exciting things lined up (more on that, closer to the time).

I’ve been writing again, which is good. And stuff I’m pleased with, which is better. It’s been nice to have found space in my brain to have been able to.

And I’m editing and looking at stories from my course, which has been brilliant (it helps when the stuff you’re editing’s great).

But the highlight of the year so far was jumping on a train to Huddersfield University last Monday to run a workshop for First Story, for their Regional Creative Writing event. And I had a brilliant time there. Seven schools, a whole bunch of really brilliant writers leading, from what I saw in the readings at the end, some terrific workshops. I was lucky enough to work with Appleton Academy (you were AMAZING!) who were just brilliant (and who’d previously, and clearly, been in Nick Toczek’s good hands)- as were the lovely Miss Boyle and Gill, the librarian. (I have a love for librarians, quite naturally, doing what I do and I think a good, enthusiastic school librarian has the opportunity to set the mood of a school in a lot of ways). So, yes. A brilliant day and a privilege to have been asked to be involved (Andy, Emily – you’re brilliant too).

And now it’s back to more writing, more editing, and more workshop planning. There’ll be a week in Sheffield in March doing cool stuff, and I’ve a big day out in London at the BBC in a few weeks so much to look forward to.

Snow Likes Trees

A very quick post today as I was supposed to be somewhere else at least a few hours ago.

Really, really thrilled with what the amazing Rachel Fenton (her work is wonderful do check it out) had to say about Beautiful Trees in her review (read it in full here).

Here’s an extract:

“But nothing is ever as simple as it first appears. Beautiful Trees is much more than a series of jigsaw pieces about trees and their relevance to the lives of Alexander and Lily. The book makes a much broader commentary on the significance of nature on all our lives. Not only the nature we are surrounded by, but the nature within us. 

Beautiful Trees makes us question what it is to be human, our mythology, to be connected to something greater than individual selves, and to think ahead to what may be. It’s really a book about choices, if we have them, or if we are in a bigger story arc, one where trees are the main characters, perhaps, and we are merely players, on repeat.”

And that’s it from me for now. Off to be where I need to be. More soon.

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60 – 100%

I read an article a little while ago (and can’t for the life of me find) on how to work efficiently and, most of it, I really liked. There were interesting bits in there on how, if we’re ill, we should actually take the day off because, according to research, it’ll make us far, far more productive than snivelling through a could or whatever. And I can see the logic in that.

But the bit that stuck with me was the 60% rule. The article talked about how perfectionism is the enemy of doing good stuff because it causes us to be obsessive in chasing something that doesn’t actually exist. It makes sense. You know, nothing is perfect. So, if most things are 60% okay then they’re probably good enough.

When I thought about that in terms of my own work I naturally looked at it in terms of stories, and got round, pretty quickly, to thinking what percentage I’d leave mine at. 60% is miles away. I couldn’t be further from being a perfectionist (you should see my office here, or my flat, or just ask anyone who knows me) but when it comes to stories – I don’t know. I know when I’m writing and editing them I absolutely aim for 100% because there’s simply not room for any slackness. I don’t aim to be good, I aim to be brilliant. I don’t want to write something that’s okay, I want everything I write to mind-blowingly fucking awesome. Of course, I never get there (a combination of me not being good enough enough as well as the fact that there’s no such thing as perfection) but that’s how it feels and that’s why, when I’m writing – especially towards the end of something – there’s a weird adeline/panic/terror/nausea thing going on – it’s because everything, every tiny detail is vitally important. It’s because the story is vitally important. And I think that’s how it should be.

Often it turns out that that’s not the case – often, especially when I was younger, the story’s ended up being rubbish or not what I thought it’d be and, although I think I’m better at judging what’s going to turn out okay now I think that panic of needing to make this thing as good as I possibly can even if it kills me is good. Not only does it mean I care it means I’m sweating for it – often over days and weeks. Writing good stuff is rarely easy. Often it’s pretty painful.

And, again, looking back at all the stories I’ve had published I can say I’m proud of them. There are some I’ve written (again, when I was younger) when I thought they were done at 80% or 90% or whatever and, you know what, they’re not so great (I came across a few over the holidays while I was sorting out my files). They’re not going to get read at readings or go in books. The others I like, and I’m proud of. Some I even love. None of them are 100% right though, but that’s okay because I tried to get them there at the time.

So, I guess my message (buried deep in this waffle) is: if you’re writing, try hard. Try very hard indeed. And, you know what, you can get there.

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Back To It, Then

So, I’ve holidayed and new yearsed and slept (a full twelve hours last night, followed by a too-much-sleep migraine on a train – told you I was tired), and now I’m back at my desk.

But the holidays were good.

I saw family, and I saw my, very ace, nephew and nieces and we did jigsaws and we did Mr Men and Little Miss books.

I saw Star Wars, which was pretty much everything it should have been.

I walked along canals and I watched old films and read a little.

On Tuesday I started teaching again, and that was fun and productive and we made plans.

I wrote – which is something that, last year, I definitely didn’t do enough of, with one thing and another. Last year, often, was a year of necessary distractions. But I’ve written and I’ve sent people things and that’s all good. And you know what? It feels good. Now I’ve a week of writing and editing and helping people on my course, and planning workshops (first one of the year’s with the brilliant First Story next week, and I’m very excited about that). Pretty much business as usual, then.

So yes. Much to look forward to, I reckon. And not a bad start. And I hope you’re all doing as well as you can, of course. I’ve missed you.

A Different Tree

Happy new year. I hope yours was good. I watched Casablanca again before watching fireworks through attic windows and that was about it for me. I’m just pleased I got a little time away from the desk to rest up a little. But it’s quickly over and I’ve been at the desk all day today.

But enough about me. I spend an awful lot of time on here talking about me and what I’ve done and my books, so what better way to start 2016 giving someone else the spotlight?

So here is the lovely Tree Reisener talking about her Eludia Award winning book, Sleepers Awake. Take it away Tree…

First of all, Nik, thank you so much for this opportunity to talk about my new book, Sleepers Awake.  I spend a lot of time in the UK and it’s my daughter’s adopted homeland so I love to reach readers there!

Some have used the term magical realism about my work. To me, what I write doesn’t have anything magical about it.  This is just how I see the world.  I recognize the angel clerking at the convenience store on the corner, her wings disguised as long silky blonde hair. I guide my actions by the advice I find on tea bag tags. I’m not a snob.  I take my advice as it comes.

Among many other things, I’m fascinated by by how half-understood bits of old ideas intrude into our everyday lives and that’s what I write about.

For example, we read all the time about people seeing images of Jesus in things like grilled cheese sandwiches (that one sold on e-bay for a cool few thousand dollars) so it’s totally plausible that an elderly retired woman may encounter the BVM (Blessed Virgin Mary) making herself comfortable in a California trailer park.

How about the old idea of demon lovers?  Demons are not necessarily grotesque and terrifying. If demons live among us, like sleeper spies, what kind of a lifestyle do they lead while they’re waiting for the apocalypse?  The answer is, in the cover story, they buy hundred-dollar espresso machines and subscriptions to little theaters in abandoned abbatoirs while they live deeply in love with their human partners.

In a demonstration of grace that allows her to go on, an elderly woman with a grouchy, abusive husband meets a warm, welcoming god in the person of an exotic sex worker when both are going down a main thoroughfare on a bus in a busy city.

Given his love for common humanity with all their foibles, why wouldn’t a smelly, drunk, crossdressing Jesus meet with the congregation of an Episcopal church on Judgment Day (he let a few people skiing in the mountains enjoy the last run of the day).

Although I blush at the comparison to Flannery O’Connor and James Thurber, reviewer Jacob Appel hits the nail on the head when he notes that I am very close to the characters in my stories and love peeking into their lives.

“Her tales are as original as the best of Flannery O’Connor and her wit reminiscent of James Thurber at his most irascible.  Yet what sets these stories apart is the author’s abiding compassion for her quirky, beset characters; we sense that she is on their side, so we are too. “

I hope your readers will read my stories and then open up a friendship with me so we can talk about them, even by e-mail via my website .  Thank you for letting me visit your blog!

 

– A pleasure! You can follow Tree on Twitter here, and this is her Facebook page.

New Year

It’s been quite a year.

I’ve had loads to celebrate and enjoy and, now I look back there’s an awful lot I feel really proud of. My fifth book came out and people liked it. I had other stuff published, and won a competition too. I have worked with some really amazing and talented people. People who I’ve edited and mentored and taught have been published and won competitions and nominated for Pushcarts. I’ve taught writing at the BBC and been asked back, three times.

I’ve worked with some wonderful young writers (and you so know who you are – Yoda, and co) and even younger ones too and seen them produce wonderful work and I’ve met and worked with some of the most wonderful, imaginative, and utterly BRILLIANT library staff you could imagine. And I became an uncle for the third time. There’s a lot to be thankful for.

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Of course there are other bits which have been less enjoyable, but I’m not going to go into those right now. What I will say is, to those who’ve known the not so great bits and have been kind, thank you.

And thank you to those who’ve been kind and who have had no idea.

If there’s one thing I’d ask you to take into this new year, with its door open with opportunities: it’s hope. Because things can be ok and because we can all be brilliant and we can all be better than who we think we are.

And if there’s one thing I’d ask you to give, it’s kindness. Because, sometimes, that can make ALL the difference.

So, everyone – I wish you all the happiest of years. Do something good. Be somebody amazing. In your own way make this world, or your world, or someone else’s, a better place – the amazing thing is each and every one of us can – and that is a wonderful power to have. Use it! Keep one eye on all that’s already been but look forward too. There’s much to look forward to.

And, last, thank you for your support/advice/friendship/trust/book buying/kindness/listening and putting up with me talking at you about what *I* think you should do with this sentence or story or whatever. You’re all ace.

In Depth and in Liverpool

A couple of weeks ago I sat down with the lovely Virginia Lowes in Café Des Amis in Sheffield. It was raining outside – hard – but inside was good. We ate baclava and I talked, at length, about writing, about teaching, about place, about my childhood influences. We got through a lot and it was good and it’s probably the most in-depth interview I’ve given in a long time. The full interview’s here.

I say things like:

“I think that in writing if you say anything simply and boldly your reader will believe you. If you say confidently that there was an 8-foot man who lived in a tree and you could only see him at Halloween people will believe you. Fantasy doesn’t always stretch to sorcerers and swords and elves, fantasy can be anything at all. The point of the writing is that you’re allowed to make things up – that’s the joy of it all. Look at the Life of Pi people don’t normally get on boats or rafts with tigers! Or look through the classics at Dracula or Frankenstein!”

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At what point do you decide if it’s going to be a piece of flash fiction or a short story? 

When it’s finished. I write everything first draft by hand and I write ‘til the story’s finished. If it happens to be 200 words that’s fine. Same if it’s 7000 words. The story has got to come first. Once you start to try and wrestle it into a particular shape or size it stops being what it is.

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And at the beginning of the month I took a train to The Fly in The Loaf in Liverpool to be at the Poised Pen’s awards night. I read a couple of stories I’d not read in public for a long time and I presented the winners (who could make it) of the flash fiction competition I’d judged with their prizes and I had a lot of fun and met a lot of really lovely and really talented writers (I think there were about 100 there).

Vanessa did a wonderful job of pulling everything together and was dazzling, and it was all very good. And I think what I noticed most was how far some people had travelled to be there – from The Lakes, from Kent, from Manchester and I think that goes to show what I great job the group’s been doing and the quality of work they produce.

And here are some photos, courtesy of the brilliant Zevonesque (you can see many more here).

DSC_0633The Highly Commended (who were able to be there) including winner, Barbara Renel (3rd from left)

liverpool1Me. (Because I prefer myself in black and white.)

DSC_0603Getting ready to announce the winners

DSC_0607Reading from Freaks!

And I imagine this’ll be the last one on here before I take a couple of days off for the holidays and see people and sleep. I wish you all the very best of things and I hope you get what you deserve. Be nice and be happy.