Young Writers’ Groups

 

I’ve been lucky enough to have been running (and helping running) writing groups in South Yorkshire for a while now. And, after a break over the summer, they’re back with Hive – an amazing new programme for young writers in south Yorkshire (there’ll be writers days, competitions, a festival, and all sorts of goodness in the future – go here for all the info).

There’ll be groups for 14 – 19 year olds in Doncaster, Barnsley, Sheffield, and Rotherham – so if you’re in the area and fancy coming along, or know someone who might fancy it, do spread the word (and go here for more info). And, of course, they’re free.

Here are the start dates:
Sheffield – 28th Sept – 5.30 to 7.30pm
Rotherham 3rd Oct – 5 to 7pm
Barnsley – (date TBC) – Likely the week of 10th October
Doncaster – 5th Oct 5 to 7pm

On a personal note, the groups are brilliant, friendly, fun – and we do really good stuff. And it doesn’t matter how experienced you are – everyone is welcome. If you like it as a hobby (or would like to try it out); if you’re thinking of a career in writing, come along. I’d love to see you there.

First Story: Changing Lives

I was in London last week with First Story (who do really really amazing things by putting writers in schools). I’ve worked with them for a little while now as a writer in residence in Leeds and, hand on heart, they’re brilliant. I’ve said this time and again: it is wonderful to see an organisation who care so much about young writers and who put what they need before all else. And they’re a wonderful bunch of people. All the info’s here – do have a look.

And London was good. I always like London. And it was a great opportunity to meet friends I’d known for ages and not yet met and, after, I rushed off to hang out with Robert Shearman who’s probably the nicest man in writing and someone whose work I have loved for many, many years.

Much writing and polishing has also been happening in amongst the filling in of calendars and prepping for a whole load of exciting stuff that’s on its way – more of that soon…

But, back to First Story. They’ve gone and done a video. This is what they do:
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Golden Tickets

Chatterbooks is a very good thing – it’s the UK’s largest network of children’s reading groups. That this is a thing makes me very happy.

What also makes me happy being a part of it, which I will on October 5th. There are a load of Chatterbooks groups supported by Sheffield libraries and, over the past couple of weeks, someone has been sending out chocolate bars to the members of them. And some of those chocolate bars have contained golden tickets (and not just because I may have been called the Willy Wonka of short stories once upon a time). And those golden tickets are invites to attend a one-off celebration event in the city and get to work with me, writing stories.

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There are (or certainly were – I’ve got a feeling it’s already pretty much sold out *added: there are 2 places left) a couple of non-ticket spaces available so if you fancy it give the Central Children’s Lending Library a shout. I’m really looking forward to it. It will be fun.

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And look! Another amazing Book Monster display!

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Darnall and Things

So, where were we? Oh yes, last time I had time to blog I’d just got back from a few days away which now, as lovely and relaxing and needed as it was, feels like a long time ago. I have been busy with loads of writing (yes, actual writing) and teaching and things.

Tomorrow I’m off to the library at Crystal Peaks Shopping Centre to present young writers with their copies of the books their stories are in from them they spent three afternoons with me a little while ago and I genuinely can’t wait for them to see them – they’re wonderful and the artwork they created is probably the best I’ve seen. I’m sure there’ll be photos to follow. There’s supposed to be quite an audience there too which is exciting.

Speaking of photos though…

 

Before Crystal Peaks I spent six Friday afternoons at Darnall Library, working with eight really amazing young writers. We had fun. We came up with some really brilliant ideas and we worked really, really hard on turning them into exciting stories – and we succeeded too (I say ‘we’ I mean ‘the brilliant writers’ of course). Everyone produced something brilliant – even when they didn’t think they could at first. And it was a real pleasure to see so many people in the audience for their presentation event mostly because the stories were so good and because they were read brilliantly. Maybe, too, because there were ice lollies as well…

The whole six weeks were a genuine pleasure and I’d like to say a massive thank you to the librarians and to The Library Service (who are always amazing) and to the writers and their families who were amazing too. The support was wonderful.

And here are some of the highlights…

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PENTACON Digital Camera
PENTACON Digital Camera
PENTACON Digital Camera
PENTACON Digital Camera

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I Went Away

I’ve been at my desk all day today, preparing for the workshops I’m running at Crystal Peaks next week, and tidying the stories I wrote while I was away. Yes. I went away. First proper break in about nine years and it was as worth it as it was needed. I had fun. I walked, visited interesting places, spoke to nice people, and wrote. I even visited a Buddhist temple and smelled the most beautiful smelling roses I’ve ever come across. Here are some pics.

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Things I’ve Enjoyed

Here are a few things I’ve enjoyed over the past couple of weeks…

 

First off, The Sculptor. An epic and wonderful graphic novel on art, relationships, and what you’d give up for the time to make something brilliant. I loved it.

Juhmpha Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies – an absolute masterclass of short story writing. It won the Pulitzer. As a short story collection. Say no more.

I re-read Café Niagara by István Örkény, which is lovely but I can’t seem to find it anywhere to read or buy online (I have it in a Nothing’s Lost – a collection of Hungarian short stories).

Last night I watched Midnight Special which was great – a kind of a modern B movie/ X-Files mashup that, simply, worked.

And, a couple of nights before, I watched the Deadpool movie and was more surprised than I thought I’d be when it turned out to be really good fun.

We Have a Winner

Thank you to all who entered the Sandlands giveaway.

 

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The names have been printed and put in a pot. They have been shuffled and I have closed my eyes, pushed my hand into the pot and I have pulled out and unraveled a scrunched up piece of paper.

And the name on the paper

was…

and still is…

 

Debra! 

Huge congratulations to her- I am sure she’ll love it.

(And, even better, I can give it to her in person which means I even save the postage.)

Crystal Peaks Junior Writers

I’ve barely finished one set of workshops for the brilliant library service in Sheffield (their books are being prepared for printing as we speak) and now I get to announce another.

Really, really thrilled to say I’ll be at Crystal Peaks Library for three days to work with young writers (ages 8-11). The sessions will run at 2pm on Monday 22nd August, then 10:30 on Tuesday 23rd, and  10:30 Thursday 25th.

We’ll learn how to write well – generating good ideas and turning them into brilliant stories, with illustrations and, at the end, those stories will be turned into their own book which’ll be presented at an event where mums and dads and friends will hear the stories being read. It’s FREE but places are strictly limited so I’d suggest booking very soon (the last couple have sold out very quickly). Do spread the word and I hope to see you there!

To book contact Crystal Peaks Library – Email: crystalpeaks.library@sheffield.gov.uk or by phone: 0114 2930612

 

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Rest, Sculptors, And Not a Train in Sight

So I’ve had a week where I’ve not had to be anywhere and it’s been lovely and refreshing. A different city every day, or every few, can really wear you down so it’s been nice to stop and consolidate and get up to date. And I have. Emails have been done, things have been sent to people, a little writing has happened, music has been listened to, and books have been read (I’m currently getting along very well with Scott McCloud’s The Sculptor). And there has been plenty of sleep. And not one train was caught.

I also had a birthday. 35. That came around quick and I’m still pretty bowled over by how many lovely messages I had. And a couple of cards too. And mugs! Thank you for all the good wishes – they always make a difference.

Don’t forget to comment here for a chance to win Rosy Thornton’s brilliant collection.

So that’s that. There’s still plenty to talk about here but there’s no rush. Not just yet anyhow. Now I’m going to make dinner, have a shower, and take myself off for a beer somewhere where I’ll mostly look something like this.

Nik relaxed

 

Sandlands! Stories! And a Book Giveaway!

Thrilled to welcome the very lovely and very talented Rosy Thornton to the blog who, after a bucket load of novels, has published a collection of short stories, Sandlands. And she’s here to talk a little about that.

But that’s not all, folks because I have a signed copy to give away. All you need to do is pop your name in the comments. The winner will be announced next Monday.

Over to Rosy…

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To cut a long story short

Four years ago when I published my fifth novel, Ninepins, which weighed in at just over 97,000 words, I had never in my life attempted to write a short story. My prose style, in fiction as in the academic legal writing which is a large part of my day job as a university law lecturer, has a tendency towards the fulsome, the orotund, the meandering, the grandiloquent… (you get the picture). I once enjoyed the philosophical paradox of having a manuscript rejected by a publisher for being ‘too wordy’. Five novels, none much under 90,000 words and two of them over 120,000. How, I wondered, could anyone begin to say anything at all in less space than that?

But a novel is a major undertaking. It takes (me, at any rate) nine months to a year to write, and in that time the characters and their trials and tribulations, their hopes and dreams, their loves and losses (there I go again!) fill up an alarming amount of my emotional and imaginative headspace. Ninepins came out in 2012, and for a variety of reasons over the next couple of years (the death of my father; my mother’s encroaching dementia) I just didn’t have space in my life to embark on another piece of long fiction. But the urge to write still tingled my fingertips – so I had a go at a short story.

It was rubbish, of course, so I threw it away and wrote another. And threw that one away and tried again. Soon I had one or two I was happier with, and slowly they multiplied and evolved into the collection of sixteen linked stories published on 21st July as Sandlands.

The advantages of short stories from the point of view of the author are obvious. They represent a cheerful, no-strings-attached promiscuity compared with the committed slog of the novel. One preoccupying idea, a weekend at the keyboard, and there’s your first draft, all complete. Then you can set it aside, knowing it’s keeping warm for you until you have the time free to pick it up for a second date, this time with the editing pen.

But what of the different skills involved? How do you manage to communicate anything worthwhile in three, or five, or eight thousand words?

For me, the trick was to let go of the notion that I was trying to fill an entire canvas. A novel is like a big fat oil painting, complete in every detail – figures in a landscape, with everything coloured in, from the background forest and the clouds in the sky above to the sprigs of grass in the foreground beneath their feet. There’s all the back story, all the sub-plots, the cause and effect and the what-happened-next; the characters’ motivations are carefully layered up, pigment applied upon pigment.

A short story is completely. What is absolutely not, it seems to me, is the same compete painting, only smaller. If I say that instead I visualize it as being like a study for a larger painting, that might sound as if I think short stories are somehow unfinished or imperfect, somehow a lesser artefact than longer fiction. That’s not what I mean at all.

What a short story presents to the reader, I think, is an intensely painted middle bit – the exciting bit, the bit to which the eye would be drawn in a large work – which is complete in itself. The forest and sky behind and the grass below are nothing but a rough wash of colour, perhaps a few suggestive, sweeping lines, or maybe just empty canvas, because the point of a short story is that it allows readers a lot of blank space to fill in for themselves the what-thens and the maybe-ifs. But that middle bit needs to be precise in every detail, vividly coloured, sharply edged, expressive, just as much as in a novel or even more so. Because it’s the rich, lifelike quality of those few square inches of painted canvas which spark the imagination, enabling it to range and to create, uniquely in the mind of each reader, the detail of the forest, sky and grass.

That’s my theory anyway. So I can keep my own voice, the same rather ‘wordy’ style and love of detail that characterise my novels – it’s just that I’m applying it to a small tableau only, and leaving all the background and foreground empty of anything but a few sketchy squiggles.

Which is great, because I never could draw clouds.

11698560_10153538145031414_9104589124214858967_nFrom the white doe appearing through the dark wood to the blue-winged butterflies rising in a cloud as a poignant symbol of happier times, the creatures of the Suffolk landscape move through Rosy Thornton’s delicate and magical collection of stories. The enigmatic Mr Napier is feeding a fox rescued from the floods; an owl has been guarding a cache of long lost letters; a nightingale’s song echoes the sound of a loved voice; spiralling rooks recall the dogfights of wartime Spitfire pilot. Through the landscape and its creatures, the past is linked to the present, and generations of lives are intertwined.

Rosy Thornton is the author of five novels, the latest of which, ‘Ninepins’, won the East Anglian Book Awards prize for fiction in 2012. ‘Sandlands’ is her first short story collection. Rosy lectures in law at the University of Cambridge, where she is a Fellow of Emmanuel College. She divides her life between Cambridge and coastal Suffolk where ‘Sandlands’ is set.