Bowie and Me

I’ve been meaning to do this for ages. Post something on here about David Bowie, once the (star)dust had settled after his passing. And, I guess, now I’m here doing it there doesn’t seem that there’s too much to say that’s not already been said, much better, and by much cleverer and successful people, than me.

What I will say is: thanks. I know, absolutely –  without question – that without him I would not be doing what I’m doing now were it not for him. And that’s not because I’m a Bowie superfan, because I’m not. I love his music and I love what he did. But the reason I’m sitting here, able to do this, able to have an audience, to publish the kind of books and stories I publish, (picture books for grown ups about a relationship told through people’s favourite words and trees, anyone!) and to have those magazine and publishers who publish them, owes so, so much to him. He opened doors. He showed people in the mainstream what was possible. In fact, I’d go as far to say that he showed that anything is possible if you try and if you have vision and conviction. And that different is good. That different can be better – exciting. And also that it’s okay to try and to fuck up. There haven’t been too many of those around and we are lucky when they find us.

When I was at the end of writing Not So Perfect I was listening to Bowie a lot and, as a result, the last story in the book is my retelling (if you can call it that) of Five Years and it’s one I’m still, more than five years on, really proud of.

I had a few minutes earlier so I read it. Here it is.
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Miriam Drori on Sale!

I’m not really here at the moment. I’m trying my best to be away, catching up on edits and emails and other stuff while hoping, too, that I might actually get some actual writing done.

But being away’s not going to stop me having guest around. And today it’s the lovely Miriam Drori. Over to you…

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Nik and I first “met” via an interview of me on another blog. The topic of the interview was place, and I talked about the reasons why I moved from London to Jerusalem many years ago. I also mentioned social anxiety in that interview. As social anxiety is unfortunately a part of who I am, I don’t think any picture of me can be complete without it.

Social anxiety was also the reason why I started writing. I’m passionate about raising its profile and the understanding of it, and writing was the natural direction for me. So my romance, Neither Here Nor There, published by Crooked Cat, obviously features a character with social anxiety, right? Wrong. Mark, the hero of the romance, is a bit shy, that’s all. His upbringing in London was too restrictive, too protected. But he’s working on that. Moving to Jerusalem was a big step in the process.

Esty, the heroine, has moved to a place that’s in one way much closer to her childhood home and in another much further. She grew up in the ultra-orthodox, haredi, community. Having taken the brave step of leaving the only way of life she has ever known, she has to acclimatise to a very different one – not an easy task at all. Imagine walking to the sea dressed in nothing but a swimming costume, when you’re used to always being covered up. Imagine seeing sex on the television, albeit covered with a blanket, when you believe that act should be totally private and should only take place in the marital home.

So what about that novel that features a character or two with social anxiety? I’m still working on it. It’s not easy to step outside a world you know only too well, but that’s exactly what authors have to do when writing what they know. In the meantime, the process of writing this book has taught me an awful lot about writing.

Nik, thank you so much for having me on your blog. Neither Here Nor There is on sale for a few days. Links to it can be found here on my blog. I’m also on Twitter and Facebook.

Weightless Fireworks

 

It’s always a pleasure to welcome the multi-talented Mr Scott Pack here. As well as being publisher extraordinaire (he’s the chap responsible for Freaks! while he was with The Friday Project/HarperCollins) he’s also published his own books which I know I’m not the only person who’s thoroughly enjoyed them. And he’s back – in both ways, both as a publisher again at Unbound, and as an author. Only this time, things are a little different…

 

Scott. Hello! Welcome. I trust you’ve been well and kept in cake.

As you well know, there is always cake. But thank you for asking.

 

 

So, first things first: Unbound. Tell us about it and what you’re doing there.

Unbound is the world’s first crowdfunding publisher. It was founded a few years back by three authors who were frustrated with how the publishing indiustry works. Most notably, the fact that authors are so far removed from readers. Here were three authors with hundreds of thousands of readers between them but no idea who those readers were. So they decided to change all that.

Unbound enables authors (famous ones like Andy Hamilton, Terry Jones and Raymond Briggs as well as debut writers you’ve never heard of) to pitch their books direct to readers. Readers can then pledge for different reward levels (a copy of the book, dinner with the author, having a character named after them, that sort of thing) and every supporter gets their name in the back of the book.

 

It’s a lovely idea and is proving to be rather successful.

And, more importantly, the new book. Weightless Fireworks. Tell us about that.

It is a book containing 100 haiku. Haiku is a form of poetry that came to prominence in Japan in the 17th century. They contain three lines and conform to a strict 5/7/5 syllable structure. I have written loads of the buggers over the years and always wanted to collect them in some way.

 

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Why the title?

Well, originally I wanted to call it Hundred Haiku but the Unbound crew weren’t so keen. So then I wanted to use a line from one of the poems. It was a toss up between Weightless Fireworks and Ready Salted Love. The former sounded a bit more poetic.

And why haiku? You’re a dark horse! Where did that come from?

Well my first ever published book was a collection of poetry called aardvark. It came out 25 years ago this year. So poetry always came first for me. I love haiku, the fact that you have to try to say a lot in such a short space. No room for wasted words. You need to be spot on. If you try to force it, it shows. Nowhere to hide. All that shit.

So this book’s clearly very different to what you’ve put out there before. How does it compare to your others and how much fun was it to write?

After aardvark I wrote three non-fiction books which were somewhat throwaway bits of fun. Trivia books. Toilet books. The sort of books that end up being sold for a quid in The Works before the year is out. Nothing wrong with that, one of them sold a hell of a lot of copies, but I don’t think they’ll be remembered years from now. They were lots of fun to write though.

Technically, Weightless Fireworks isn’t actually finished yet. I am still writing haiku every day as I get ready for publishing the book.

Now, the really important part. Where should we buy it from?

Well, you can’t technically buy it at all. Not yet. What you can do is pledge towards it and then, if enough people do the same, then the book will be published. We got to over 20% of our target at the end of the first day, so things are looking promising. Pop on over to https://unbound.co.uk/books/weightless-fireworks and you can cough up if you like what you see.

What’s next for you?

Well my immediate future involves staring at the status of this book on Unbound and watching the percentage total creep up. Or stall. It can’t go backwards, though, so that’s something.

 

And I should really be writing some haiku.

But once the blasted thing is funded I guess I’ll be spending a fair bit of time fulfilling some of the rewards.

 

Anything to add?

I should really mention some of the rewards. You can just pledge for the book, which is fine. But you could also pledge for me to bake you a cake. Or I could send you a haiku every month for a year. Or you could even have one of the few copies of the book that I will be writing out by hand.

There are also some ‘professional’ rewards, so to speak, where you can get me to edit your book for a much lower fee than I normally charge.

Anyway, something for everyone.

Here is example of said cake…

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It’s been a pleasure, of course. Until next time…

Unless I see you first, sunshine.

 

No, seriously, thanks for inviting me. It’s been emotional.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Shakespearean Thanks

So Shakespeare Week is done. Five workshops at five different libraries in and around Sheffield are over and I am happy. Tell you the truth, I couldn’t be happier. From the off this had the whiff of something a bit special and it’s not disappointed one bit. Everyone at Sheffield Library Service have been, as ever, supreme and helpful and lovely – and I’d like to put a huge public thank you to all the staff, in libraries and behind the scenes, for all their help and for making us all feel so welcome.

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And a massive thanks to you too, for helping spread the word. Each workshop sold out in no time and I can’t remember anything I’ve done being quite so over-subscribed. We had to turn a lot of people away, and I’m sorry about that – don’t worry though, there are other very exciting things in the pipeline.

But this was always going to be about the young writers who came along. If you’re reading this – and it could be any of you – YOU ARE BRILLIANT. Some absolutely wonderful, funny, moving, scary and generally brilliant work was produced in those five, three hour sessions – from stories, to story plans, to poems and potions and even recipes. Those Macbeth witches have a lot to answer for. And, if you like, you can see much of it at The Children’s Central Library, Highfield Library, Chapeltown Library, Hillsborough Library, and Ecclesall Library too – and you should (you can see where they are and when they’re open here). I’ll be posting a bit of what we did on here at some point too.

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Sheffield Central Children’s Library, Day 1

The workshops had some amazing coverage in the press and on the radio – huge thanks to BBC Radio Sheffield (we’re at 1hr 55) and to The Sheffield Star (and thanks to Dean for his photos), and there’s even video too.

I am a very happy, and very proud, author tonight – and not just because of the reaction to what we’ve done. It’s reminded me why I do this. Being involved with helping people who are excited about writing (even if they didn’t think they were before) is a huge privilege. And when those involved are as brilliant as the young writers I’ve worked with over the past few weeks are as amazing as they were, then that makes things even better. Well done, folks.

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Never Let Me Go – – The Joy of Language

I have come late to Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. It’s something I seem to do, that. Only read wonderful things years and years after every bugger else (I think a lot of that has to do with me not reading enough as much as I’d like and reading a lot of possibly more obscure things – not an excuse, it’s just how it is).

But I did come to it in the end and I am glad I did. It is an astonishing book and one that, without question, has changed me. And it’s been a while since I’ve read anything close to being that good. It’s a masterpiece. The story’s wonderful and affecting and the characters are convincing and everything works.

But what I wanted to highlight here is how good I think the writing is. I said, on Twitter, upon finishing it that I thought it was probably the best written book I’d read. And I stand by that.

I’ll not review it here (I’ve never been that good with reviews and so many people do it better) so you’ll have to look elsewhere for the plot (if you’ve been stuck under a rock like me and not read it yet). It’s the language Ishiguro uses. The way (and I talk about this a lot when I’m teaching) he doesn’t let a huge vocabulary –  or desire to use it – to get in the way of either the story or the authenticity of the narrator’s voice. Yes, the language is simple (some have said dull) but that’s exactly how it needs to be. For me, it’s all about story. When we read something I don’t think we really need to notice the writer  – in fact I’d probably argue that, in most cases, we shouldn’t because it’s the story we should be immersed in, not the writer or their ego. Sometimes people do just sit or walk or say things. And sometimes there are just fields – we don’t need to know the exact shade of green every blade of grass is beneath the oak. Of course, there are times when that kind of thing is a joy to read – but only if that language is appropriate to that story.

So, if you’ve not read it, you should. So here’s a toast to brilliant story telling without the need to show off and, more importantly, with the master’s touch of knowing exactly how his or her character is. Language is a wonderful thing and we’ve got an enormous, brilliant, beautiful pot of it that we can pluck from – it’s a fine thing we can be reminded that we don’t have to use it all.

 

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Video Shakespeare

As you might have already read, yesterday I was at Sheffield Central Children’s Library running the first of five writing workshops for Shakespeare Week. During it, the lovely Kate Hughes from Sheffield City Council came along to video some of the writers who were there. Here they are…

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And We’re Off/A Note to The Disappointed

The first of the five workshops I’m running for Shakespeare Week has happened. And it was brilliant – even on the day there were people waiting to see if they could sneak in and, as I’ve said before, that there has been such a huge amount of interest has been wonderful.

But, before I go on talking about the actual event, I’d like to say a few things to those who haven’t been able to get on to one.

First, I’m sorry.

It always makes me sad when we have to turn people away and put waiting lists up and I am honestly sorry we’ve had to but, rest assured, I’m doing my best behind the scenes to cater to as many people as possible (and there have been a LOT of you). If there’s something we can do to accommodate everyone then it’ll be done. Also, rest assured that if you’re not able to get onto one of the courses then it’s for good reason – and that reason’s pretty straight forward: there’s only one of me!

In any event I’ve ever done what’s important is that everyone gets a decent chunk of time with me and a fair and useful amount of my attention. These events are to inspire (and inspire confidence), they’re to help, they’re to encourage and to educate, and they’re for people to enjoy themselves – to have fun with words. And a massive part of that is being able to work with me closely. And a part of that is not feeling you’ve had your hand up for too long, or that I’m spending too long at the other end of a table that’s longer than it should be. It’s a dialogue and it’s relaxed and it’s helpful. And I’d much rather have, say, twelve people going home feeling happy and inspired, than twenty or thirty feeling it was just ok.

As I said, bear with me! (If you’re one of those parents or guardians whose children haven’t been able to get a workshop place, drop me a line by clicking here and let me have your email address.)

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And, on to today.

Yes, it was fun. It was brilliant, in fact. The workshop was called Fun With Words and that’s exactly what we had.

We talked about Shakespeare, his plays, his life and times, and what sort of things he did. And then we did our own. There were potions and spells, there were basketball player stories, poisons, and lists of ingredients and a whole load of amazing stuff that reflected, I think perfectly, the range of what he did. And I’m not exaggerating when I say that every single writer produced at least two really excellent things (they’ll be on display before long so can see for yourselves if you’re in the area).

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The Sheffield Star were there with their camera (thank you, Dean); some of the writers were even filmed (watch out for that) and, as usual, the staff were mind-blowingly good. They even forgave me for not putting a water jug back.

And they made me this (thank you Alexis).

 

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And, Head of Libraries, Nick, who was brilliant too, came down to make sure I knew my Hamlet from my Macbeth (and to marvel at Alexis’ handiwork).

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All in all a brilliant few hours and I can’t wait to get on with the next four.

And, as for any others, watch this space…

 

 

All Set

Tomorrow I start the first of five workshops in two weeks for the brilliant Sheffield Library Service. It’s for Shakespeare Week and this one’s a little bit special in that it’s 400 years since the great man (and possibly the most influential story teller that’s lived) died.

Things have been printed. The Lion King has been re-watched and Shakespearean insults have been chortled at (how’s the for research) – stationery has been bought and bags have been packed. Most importantly I know what I’m doing and I can’t wait to get started.

I think one of the coolest things is that the workshops sold out in record time – that’s something that always makes me happy because it means (or should, at least) that people are keen. And an appetite for Shakespeare can only be a very good thing.

And now I go for a walk and don’t think about it until tomorrow, when the fun begins.

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Three Words – Review

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At the end of last year I was really pleased that Rachel Fenton came onto this very blog to talk about Three Words: an Anthology of Aotearoa/New Zealand Women’s Comics (read what she said about here – it’s great). At the time I said that I thought the whole thing was ‘dripping with good’ – and it really was. It was redressing the balance and exposure of female comic book artists for one and, from what I knew, the produce was going to be something wonderful too.

And it is. And I mean really wonderful. It’s a thick book (not that it’d take a lifetime to read) and there are tens and tens of contributors and each (and I mean this) are wonderful. My favourite, aside from Rachel’s (are you listening, Rae?!) are Jem Yoshioka and Alex McCrone but really, I could have pulled any names out of a hat because they’re all so good, and the breadth of stuff in there, from the stories themselves (some funny, some scary, some devastatingly honest, all good) to the art they’re told through is brilliantly astonishing. The production of the book’s seriously impressive too – it feels that, as much as it’s come out of something important and a need to tell good stories through great art, it’s come from love too. It would be an ideal gift, either to someone else or, probably better, from you to you.

I think one of the big acid tests for a book, especially one like this, is how people who know nothing about it react to it being there. I don’t think there’s been one person who’s been in its company who hasn’t picked it and opened it and grinned.

And you can, and probably should, buy your copy from Beatnik here.

 

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Jem Yoshioka

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SheFest – Sheffield – Saturday

Another day, another celebration of women. And quite right too.

 

Here’s the brilliant Nitya to tell us more…

 

Last year over 600 people visited Sheffield Town Hall for a fantastic one day celebration of International Women’s Day featuring local traders, live music and a spectacular finale fashion show.

This year that idea has grown into ‘SheFest’ – Sheffield’s inaugural Fringe Festival!  The main event on 12th March is SheFest Saturday at Sheffield Hallam HUBS 12-5pm – in addition to the all female traders market and live entertainment and multicultural fashion show, it also features 14 workshops, with an array of topics from Wellness and Relationships to Tech Start Ups and STEM.

Sheffield’s makers and shakers were encouraged to schedule events around this time that would fit with the IWD theme #PledgeforParity and to create a diverse range of events in the city.

@IWDSheffield! #SheFest2016
facebook.com/SheFestSheffield
http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/shefest-sheffield-7914305030
http://bit.ly/SheFest2016Brochure