Leave a Comment · Posted on November 3, 2019
Very quick post today to let you all know my very short story, In The Five Minutes They Ate is up in the latest issue of Locust Magazine. If you have a spare couple of minutes you can spend that time here.
Back to writing, for me which, I’m happy to say, has been happening.
Leave a Comment · Posted on October 28, 2019
It’s such a pleasure seeing good people doing brilliant things, and it’s a delight being able to share that when I can. Jessica Patient’s been a great writer friend for many, many years now and, aside from being a very good egg, she’s a great writer too. Here, she talks about her short story collection (ON OFFER! Only 99p!) The Marriage Scrappage Scheme And Other Stories, and about how the book came to be.
My short stories were on the endangered list, heading towards becoming extinction.
Over the past 10 years, I’ve accumulated many short stories published in magazines and also many floated around the interest ranging from Dear Damsels, Metazen and 3:AM Magazine. Slowly, over time, domain names were not being renewed and links were starting to break. More and more were vanishing, leaving only the echoes of earlier versions on my hard-drive. I was at a crossroads with my writing – let them fade and quietly give up writing, having hit a brick wall with my novel submission or propel myself forward and plunge into a new writing direction.
My writing relationship see-sawed between loving the intensity of typing up a first draft and then reshaping the story, celebrating when stories clicked into place, and celebrating successes to convincing myself I no longer had an imagination, being told it was a ‘silly little hobby’ and the dread of not having an ideas left.
Austin Kleon says in Steal Like An Artist, ‘When you get out of the groove, you start to dread the work, because you know it’s going to suck for a while – it’s going to suck until you get back into the flow.’ I had been stuck for a while, dread tangled around me, amplified my hesitation to write. Yet, a little voice, reminded me how I enjoyed the experience of writing. With lots of encouragement, the idea of a short story collection started to form enabling me to have all of my favourite stories in one place.
Some of the stories, now in my short story collection, The Marriage Scrappage Scheme & Other Stories were stories that reminded me how much I loved writing. Snowman: A Love Story came to me fully formed and I wrote it in a matter of hours, after seeing my elder ex-neighbour walking out in the snow, shouting at children having a snowball fight. Jasper’s Betrayal was added because I entered a writing competition, completely forgot about it until the email arrived, letting me know I had won gold, and if I could attend an award’s ceremony. I was dubious until I turned up at the iMax in Waterloo and found my writing up on the wall. I remember writing Black Hole one summer’s afternoon when the smell of cut grass was tangled in the air with BBQ smells.
Now, after battling with ebook formatting, and designing front covers, The Marriage Scrappage Scheme & Other Stories is available to everybody, back from the brink of broken links.
The Marriage Scrappage Scheme & Other Stories
The 12 stories within The Marriage Scrappage Scheme tells the story of ordinary people stuck in extraordinary situations – an imaginary friend who leaves for the girl across the road, a black hole swallowing a hotel, an old lady falling in love with a snowman, a woman trading in her husband for a newer model.
This collection includes Jasper Betrayal, winner of the Wordskills gold award and The Department of Extinct Objects which was nominated for the ‘Best on the Net’.
Available to buy from Amazon across all territories, and available for all devices when you download the Kindle app from your app store.
About the author
Jessica published her short story collection, The Marriage Scrappage Scheme & Other Stories early in 2019, and is currently submitting her novel to agents and publishers. She lives here on the internet, posting about her writing and book reviews here: www.writerslittlehelper.blogspot.com as well as Instagram. She lives in Bedfordshire, England.
Leave a Comment · Posted on October 10, 2019
It’s been a little while since I’ve done anything personally at Sheffield’s brilliant Off The Shelf Festival (I was there, last night, listening to Brett Anderson talking about his latest memoire, which was brilliant – as anyone who really knows me will know, Suede have been an integral part of me for many, many years (and there was an awful lot of Suede being played, certainly, while I was writing my second collection, nearly ten years ago).
I met Susan last week at a thing. An important and brilliant and very-close-to-my-heart thing which you’ll all be hearing about in good time. And, as the universe is filled with brilliant synchronicity, Susan has a new book out which I’m thrilled to have her here to talk about. She’s at Off The Shelf THIS SUNDAY with Helen Mort (all the details here).
First, I’d just like to say thanks to Nik for inviting me to do a guest post on this blog.
My fourth novel, The Flight of Cornelia Blackwood, is a little darker than my previous novels, but it’s the book I’ve always wanted to write. It’s out in paperback – the hardback came out in February, with a very different cover. The paperback cover is great, but I have to say, I think the hardback jacket is beautiful, and the merging of the woman’s face with the crow works perfectly for the story, (you’ll have to read it to see why!)
Cornelia Blackwood started life over 15 years ago in a short story called When the Bough Breaks, which came close to saying something I wanted to say about early motherhood. I was working as a magazine journalist at the time, and I’d been wanting to do something on maternal mental health for a while, but the magazines weren’t keen – they liked to present a rosy picture of serene and smiling mothers with serene and smiling babies. So I’d decided to explore the topic in fiction.
When the Bough Breaks was placed in a couple of competitions and received lots of great feedback, but it wasn’t quite there. I kept thinking about it, and I knew I wanted to go deeper, so a few years ago I tried reworking it as a radio play, but although I was pleased with the result, it didn’t get picked up for broadcast. Again, I put the idea aside.
Fast-forward a few more years and I’m working on the outline for a new novel, struggling to understand my central character’s motivation – why was she doing the things she did? Why was she thinking these thoughts? Suddenly the answer drops into my head. I know who this character is! This is Cornelia Blackwood, and she’s finally ready to tell me her full story.
I wrote the first draft in four months, which is incredibly fast for me – a first draft usually takes me a year – and I actually enjoyed the process (I usually find it agonisingly difficult!). There was lots of rewriting to do, of course, but I’m pleased with the result. I was nervous about the book, because it is quite dark, but the reviews have been wonderful and I’ve had some lovely personal emails from readers with whom the book has struck a chord.
I’m so happy that The Flight of Cornelia Blackwood is helping raise awareness of maternal mental health. For many new mums, those first days are filled with sunshine and remembered with joy, but for others, new motherhood is a time they find dark and frightening and bathed in shadows.
Leave a Comment · Posted on October 7, 2019
I’ve been in London a couple of times this past two weeks, and both for wonderful things.
Last week I was at the BBC’s Broadcasting House for the BBC Young Writer’ Award/Short Story awards. It’s the second time I’ve been and this time was extra special, and I mean really special because Georgie Woodhead a member of Hive’s Sheffield Young Writers won! She is, officially, the BBC’s young writer of the year and, honestly, I can’t tell you how happy and proud I am. It’s always a great thing when you see someone talented, humble, and absolutely committed to writing, getting good things. All of the shortlisted stories were terrific in their own right, and simply being in that top five is an achievement enough – so a huge congratulations to everyone involved.
You can read more about it, and the other shortlisted stories, here.
And, in more brilliant Hive news, the equally lovely and brilliant Lauren Hollinsgworth-Smith is the Foyle Young Poet of the Year – read more about that here.
And here we are, post-awards, celebrating with mum.
I was at the other end of London, at The Ideas Store at Whitechapel library, a week or two earlier, being a judge and being a part of celebrating Streetcake’s Experimental Writing Prize. It was a terrific night, as you’d expect, filled with brilliant readings of wonderful fictions and poems (and a big shout out to the Streetcake team for making it all happen!).
The anthology of winning work IS AVAILABLE NOW. It’s 100% worth buying, not only to enjoy what’s inside, but also to get a feel for the sort of things that have done well. Streetcake are open to submissions at the moment – if you’re thinking of sending them something (and you should!) then a little extra research can go a long way.
Also brilliant to see First Story being represented, both at the BBC as partners and with one of their alumni as one of the Streetcake winners. A good couple of weeks.
Leave a Comment · Posted on September 30, 2019
I was lucky enough to read Oscar Seeks a Friend a little while ago and I was absolutely blown away. Regular readers/followers will know that I try my best to shout as loudly as I can about books I love and authors I admire but I don’t often find enough time to do it here. When I read Oscar Seeks a Friend – a delightful picture book – I contacted Lantana, who publish it (and many, many other exciting things – honestly, what they’re doing is simply wonderful and exciting and they are, right now, my favourite publishing house), the very same day and I’m thrilled that its author and illustrator, Pawel Pawlak has taken to the time to stop by here, all the way from Poland, to talk about it. For me, it’s the perfect marriage of beautiful art and a beautiful story, and it’s been translated gloriously by Antonia Lloyd-Jones. It does what all good books do: it feels like magic. And it’s out on October 10th [edited toad: 17th! It’s the 17th which means there’s even more time to pre-order!), just in time for Halloween…
Hello, Nik! Thank you for featuring me on your blog. Your first questions may be simple, but you might find my answer surprising. Just as with my other author-illustrator projects, in the first place I produced “Oscar” for myself, for my own amusement. I think the joy I derive from the creative process is reflected in the book, which then passes it on to its readers. Their enjoyment of the book, and all the positive reactions they feel on reading it, are an extremely important reward for me, but it’s an extra one, a bonus. Oscar has been around for long enough by now for me to know that he’s a success, who speaks to children of about 5 or 6, especially the ones who need stories about friendship, acceptance, and good relationships, children who feel that maybe they’re not terribly good-looking, or are worse than others in some way. Not just because they’ve lost a tooth.
2. I’m always super-curious to know where we get our ideas from and I was wondering where the idea for Oscar came from. I love the idea of wishing on buried milk teeth – is that something I should have done when I was younger?
It all began with a commission I carried out in 2010 for a French children’s magazine called Toupie. A little skeleton in oversized shorts was one of the scary things that appeared in the illustrations for a children’s poem about a train full of ghosts and phantoms. I fell so much in love with the character that I decided to produce a book about him. It took me months to find an idea for the story and a structure for it, and I was helped by my friend, the French writer Gérard Moncomble, and by my wife, Ewa Kozyra-Pawlak, who is also a children’s author and illustrator. It was Ewa’s idea to have a tooth as the detail that frames the story, the object that brings the skeleton boy and the little girl together. There’s a bit of a reference here to stories about the tooth fairy who gives children coins in exchange for the milk teeth they leave under their pillows, and also an allusion to the one part of our bodies that we come across every day of the week and that’s like a bone, so it’s also like Oscar. The idea of burying the tooth in the ground came up in one of the early versions of the book’s graphic design, in which Oscar’s world was underground, and a small hole dug in it was the point of contact for the two realities, the place where the skeleton’s hand and the little girl’s hand first touched. You haven’t got any of your milk teeth left, have you, Nik? That’s a pity, or you’d be able to bury one now to make a wish come true!
3. What dreams or secrets would give to someone reading the book?
I’d like them to look at the world and at others without letting themselves be misled by the outer appearance of people, objects and phenomena, I’d like them to look deeper, and to be open to otherness, because we can find love and friendship in the most unexpected places. But I’m also spreading my own personal “propaganda”, which is that the pictures are very important to any book, and can convey content that’s meaningful and different from what’s in the written text; they can harmonise with and supplement it, so it’s worth learning how to read the pictures too.
4. I adore the illustrations and art work – they reminded me of the best bits of Tim Burton’s work and Funny Bones. Where did the inspiration for them come from? And how did you make them?
I hadn’t heard of Funny Bones until now. It’s not familiar in Poland, or at least I’ve never come across it before. Of course I know the images from Tim Burton’s films, and perhaps their popularity provides a sort of confirmation that a skeleton can be the hero of a children’s book. I’ve already talked about the origins of Oscar, and that his prototype first appeared in my illustrations for a French children’s magazine. I think I may also have been inspired by an installation by the Korean artist Lee Hyung-koo, which I saw at the Venice Biennale in 2007. It was called “Animatus”, and it featured the main characters from the Tom and Jerry cartoons – a cat chasing a mouse, except that both of them were in the form of realistically produced skeletons. In fact I think I’ve had a fondness for skeletons since I was very small; one of my favourite books in childhood was an album of naive art, which included a whole chapter about the work of the Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada, who drew very lively skeleton people and animals.
Once the story was ready, and the book had reached the stage of a detailed paste-up with black-and-white sketches, all that remained was to complete the illustrations. I wanted them to be made in the form of a spatial collage made of paper. My aim was for the pictures to look real and physical, but at the same time fragile and ephemeral. Like paper, like life… The first stage was to prepare the paper (either by painting it or by looking for ready-made paper to suit my purpose), then I used it to paste up the backgrounds for the illustrations, on which I went on to place each of the figures and additional elements, mainly made out of thick cardboard. Once the complete illustrations had been assembled, I scanned them and “embroidered” them a little on the computer. When the final pictures were ready and I’d added them to a mock-up of the book, I could hone the text to make it short and simple, and also to be the perfect supplement to the illustrations.
5. In terms of process, which comes first: the image and illustration or the story?
I’ve already said something about what happened with Oscar – first the main character appeared, and the world he lives in (the other characters, their activities, and the details of the space they’re in), and only then the actual story. I think of myself as a graphic artist and illustrator, and for me a book is above all an object built out of several creative elements: pictures, rhythms and compositions. I see it like that from the very start of the thinking process that goes into producing each book: my author-illustrator projects have their sources in the scenes and situations described by the pictures. It’s only around them, using them as a frame, that I build my stories.
6. Other than Oscar, what picture book would you recommend?
I’m going to carry on in the same direction as in my previous answer, and I’m going to be mildly provocative. I hope as a writer you won’t be offended 🙂 but I’d like to recommend silent books, where the idea or the story is told without any text at all, but only pictures, visual metaphors, so the atmosphere is created through graphics alone. I’m extremely impressed by the silent books produced by the Belgian illustrator Anne Brouillard, which I first saw in France some years ago and which have continued to fascinate me. These include two books with no words at all, “Promenade au bord de l’eau” (“A Walk by the Water”) and “L’Orage” (“The Storm”), as well as “Rêve de lune” (“Moon Dream”), which does have some text, but kept to the minimum, by Elisabeth Brami.
7. Is that your favourite?
Yes, they still mean a lot to me. Especially the first one, “Promenade au bord de l’eau”. The way the visual narrative is handled and the metaphors produced by artistic means (which would be hard to convey in words) were and continue to be a source of inspiration for me, and an incentive to try something similar. I have produced one book of this kind, “Czarostatki i parodzieje” (“Magiships and Steamicians”). I didn’t manage to do away with the text entirely, which may be why I still have others ideas of this kind going round in my head.
8. How does it feel seeing your words in another language? And how did you work together in translating the book (you’ve clearly done an amazing job!).
It’s a wonderful feeling! It’s exciting to know that my story, both the words and the illustrations, are reaching children from other cultures. I’m very curious to know how English-language readers will respond to it. The book has appeared in four foreign editions now – before the English one it came out in Czech, Romanian and Korean – but the English-language publication is special for me, partly because of the huge audience it might reach, but mostly because of the talent and involvement of the translator, Antonia Lloyd-Jones, who has not only translated my text with sensitivity (by carefully examining the illustrations, which tell their own parallel story, and to which the written text needs to be faithful), but who is also acting as an ambassador for the book in the United Kingdom.
I had no comments on Antonia’s translation. But it took a few conversations, mainly with the publisher, to find an English equivalent for the main character’s name. Here’s how Antonia tells the story: “In Polish, the skeleton boy is called Ignatek, the diminutive form of the name Ignacy, which corresponds to Ignatius, but is still a not unusual boys’ name in Poland, without sounding particularly old-fashioned. But ‘gnat’ means a bone, so Ignatek includes a pun, as well as being a perfectly reasonable name for a nice little boy. I suggested calling him Scully, or Boniface (which, like Ignacy, is a Catholic name), but the editors at Lantana Publishing didn’t think either of those would work. At first they suggested Iggy, but I wasn’t sure about that – it had no ‘bone’ pun, and it made me (being middle-aged) think of Iggy Pop, who is scary but not sweet. Then the editors had a great idea. In the rough translation the Polish publisher had provided, the character was called ‘Ossie’, picking up on the bone connection, and that made them think of Oscar. I agreed that it’s a very good name for our hero.”
9. Any advice for picture book writers out there?
I don’t think I’m entirely qualified to give general advice to writers (or any kind of “book creator”, as I think illustrators can count as authors too), because I probably haven’t produced enough of them myself yet. I think it’s important to avoid trends and calculation, but instead of that, to base your books on your most personal inspirations, your deepest, almost intimate feelings that you feel you can forge into stories that are universal.
Speaking as an illustrator, my advice for writers, using words for their creative purposes, would be to leave enough room for the illustrations, to allow the pictures to tell the message for themselves, and to think about the book as a combination of two complementary narratives: verbal and pictorial. My best experiences have involved projects where the writer and I worked on the story or idea for the book together, and jointly established which elements should be presented in words and which in the illustrations.
10. What’s next for you?
Apart from book and illustration commissions (I am an illustrator “for hire”, and most of my work involves illustrating other people’s texts) I do have plans for more books of my own. The most far-advanced of them is about fear and how to overcome it, and the main visual motif involves shadows and how they stir the imagination. The main characters in the next book I’ve been thinking about as I fall asleep will be children’s toys, and then there’s a third one I’ve had on my mind lately, inspired by my own childhood drawings, which I found this year in my parents’ house. I’d like this last book to be a silent book, without words.
Thanks, so much Pawel, Antonia, all at Lantana and BookMonsters who gave me that first sneak peek. Wishing everyone involved all good things.
Here’s some behind the scenes things…
Leave a Comment · Posted on September 27, 2019
Goodness, where to start? An awful lot of my time as a writer is spent helping other people, in libraries, in schools, in the community, even the BBC a few times and, without being cliché, it’s utterly rewarding seeing someone improve or achieve something you know they can. And I love collaborating and making some sort of magic with other people.
I’m absolutely over the moon to be able to share Georgie Woodhead’s news – she’s part of the Hive South Yorkshire community and, as well as being a tenacious and supremely talented writer, she’s a great human too. And now she’s up for the BBC Young Writer of the Year Award – she’s in brilliant company and you can read the finalists’ stories right here.
And you can hear her talking to Paulette Edwards on BBC Radio Sheffield here (15 minutes in).
Sticking with Sheffield… As I mentioned the other day I was a part of a brilliant comic book writing workshop. Now, while Freaks! is a collection of comic book inspired stories and bursting with super powers, and despite writing script for pictures and illustrations, I’m no illustrator. So it was amazing to have BookMonsterAlly’s enthusiasm and talent in the room to show the young writers and illustrators how it’s done. And, it’s a little know fact that Ally is perhaps the absolute Queen of the Display – here’s her latest (above).
And, still sticking with brilliant art…
Last week I hopped on a train to St Mary Magdalen’s Catholic Primary School, in South Ribble for Never Such Innocence. I was joined by playwright, Andy Bennison, who’s latest work was a dramatised piece about the search for a soldier’s grave from the First World War. What made it brilliant was that the true story was from the actual village where the school was.
We wrote protest poetry on postcards, just like Lizzie had done almost 100 years before and I have it on very good authority that, when the poems were read out at Friday’s event, founder of NSI, Lady Lucy French was brought to tears and that made me especially happy because that’s what good art should do – it should move people!
Here are the poems – huge thanks to Mr Hughes for spending extra time decorating them and making them even cooler.
There’s still absolutely tons to talk about, and I’ll get to it all in good time. More very soon…
Leave a Comment · Posted on September 21, 2019
Whenever I get the chance to sit down and write something here it always strikes me how long it’s been since the last one and how time seems to be speeding up. Time’s a funny one. One minute it’s December and you’re in hospital, then next it’s approaching Halloween and you’re old.
I’ve been doing lots and lots of cool stuff and things, including making protest poems and stories for Never Such Innocence/The Invictus Games (I’ve just come back from a brilliant afternoon near Leyland doing just that). I’ll post some photos soon.
Over the summer I spent time working with Barnsley Libraries at the Lightbox, their brand new, stunning new home, and in the Civic with Hive running TimeHop workshops, taking inspiration from Anita Corbin’s Visible Girls exhibition there – which was amazing (people photographed in the early 80s, and then, a second time, all these years later). We had a terrific time, writing stories and poems – even constructing 3D human photographs.
Another summer highlight was making comic strips with some younger writers and illustrators for Sheffield Libraries, and I LOVED it. I spend so much time saying to people that there are so many different ways to enjoy stories (and tell them) – doing it with pictures is among my favourites. We were there for two hours and it we did so much (something I’m trying to apply yo my own writing – you can do a lot in a short period of time if you’re prepared, 1200 words in Stoke train station on Thursday proved that) — we came up with ideas, turned them into stories in a way no one had been used to – planning them into panels. Then we took those and we wrote them and then copied them up neatly and illustrated them. And they look amazing.
And writing’s been happening as well, and that’s always a good thing when you consider that, really, writing is what writers do. Hopefully more on that soon along with some great things I was involved in in London. This is probably long enough for now though.
Leave a Comment · Posted on September 13, 2019
Thrilled to do that thing I do on occasion – handing the blog over to someone who’s got something to say that I think’s interesting enough to want you good people to know about it. This time it’s Kayleigh Campbell who’s here to talk about her debut pamphlet, Keepsake, and to talk about motherhood. The book looks ace and I’m looking forward to digging in myself…
Keepsake: Motherhood & Me
By Kayleigh Campbell
Firstly, I’d like to say thank you to Nik Perring for inviting me to feature on his website. As an emerging writer, support like this is invaluable. My debut poetry pamphlet collectionKeepsake has just been published by Maytree Press. Perhaps I am a little biased, but it looks beautiful; better than I could ever have imagined for my debut. It’s a very personal collection of poems, which mainly focuses on motherhood, and the many highs and lows that come along with it. Maytree describe it as “a haunting debut collection, vividly illustrating the journey of a young women into parenthood. Themes of loss, love, anxiety and transition are underscored by the brutality of post-natal depression and family break-up.” which I think sums it up pretty well.
I am a mother, but I’m also a poet, a PhD researcher & freelance proofreader. As much as my days are filled with thoughts of my daughter – is she happy? is she eating enough healthy food? isn’t she just so beautiful? – they are also full of poetry musings and anxieties about life. I have countless notes recorded on my phone; snippets of ideas which I have to save until the bedtime routine is complete, providing she goes to sleep when she should do. Sometimes I forget to write ideas down and they are lost in the abyss. Sometimes I am so tired and desperately want to quit. But writing is my escape, my therapy and always has been. It was a mindful process to channel my anxiety, happiness and sadness into these poems. It’s a vulnerable endeavour, sharing personal moments, feelings and memories with strangers and those who you know. But, as much as this was a cathartic experience for me, I hoped that others would be able to relate to what they were reading. To understand how tenderness and sadness can exist in a moment. To know that, despite how much you love your child, you want to run away sometimes. To know people are not alone in anxiety and depression; we face similar mountains.
Being a mother is wonderful, and also very difficult. Being a mother, an emerging writerand a hopeful academic certainly has its challenges. In one sense, it’s easy. Easy because I am a very organised person and very fortunate; I live a comfortable lifestyle and have support around me. But, it’s also extremely challenging. It can be very lonely; being at home with a tiny human who can’t talk/really understand you can be oddly isolating. It can be quite boring. I need stimulation, I like to be busy and productive, artistic where possible. Being a mum means that some days are just filled with chasing your child around with several intervals of Peppa Pig – this isn’t always fun, surprisingly. I look forward to afternoon nap time, then feel guilty for wanting time to myself. This is the time of day when I can enjoy my lunch in peace, when I can lay for a moment or two. When I can write poems and read books, all whilst little snores drift downstairs. Those are precious moments for me. I want to be nestled up in the library at university, or attending poetry events each week. I want to feel like I’m still part of the world, not just the world within my own house. I want my daughter to stay young forever, to love me the way she does now.
I wanted Keepsake to tell the truth. To show the infinite love I have for my daughter and to show the days where I can’t cope. To tell the truth about anxiety. To show the transition, the journey into motherhood. To be honest about the past, to connect it to the difficulties I have faced. And through all of this, I could work towards peace and perhaps others reading will see a little bit of themselves somewhere along the line. I will end with a poem from the collection; one of my favourites.
The nurse, a gloved hand
and a sympathetic look.
Tremors continued to wreak havoc
on my body;
the richter scale broken.
And you were still,
Blood seeped from between my legs, then came the shit;
infantile as I edged towards motherhood. An audible pop
and the holy water came.
You followed, head first.
I looked out over the rooftops of the city; your skin on mine,
even after all this time.
Leave a Comment · Posted on August 6, 2019
I’m delighted that the terrific Short Fiction Journal have published Feast. It’s been one of my favourites to read out for a little while (and I know it’s scared a few people, which is good too) so I’m even more pleased that it’s going to get itself a wider audience. It’s just a shame the theme feels pretty pertinent right now.
I hope you like it.
And I love Rebecca Cottrell’s artwork commissioned to go with it. All of my books are illustrated and keeping that tradition makes me very happy indeed.