Leave a Comment · Posted on December 14, 2016
Back on November 18th I was at Experience Barnsley for a Museum Takeover Day. I was there with primary school children to learn and to write about the Battle of the Somme which ended exactly 100 years before.
It meant an awful lot to be asked to run the workshop if I’m honest and, even though it’s almost a month since I was there, doing it (yep, I’ve been that busy), I’m still feel exceptionally excited by what we did. It was learning about the First World War in history and the war poets in English when I was in high school that made me want to write. I’d go as far as to say that I doubt I’d have ever even thought of being writer without that. Seeing how art can inform, educate, move us, seeing how it can almost put us in someone’s thoughts and dip us in their feelings was really, really something. And I think that’s what good art does when it’s at its best: it makes us feel.
And I enjoyed it so, so much. After a look around the exhibition, spending some brilliant time with the brilliant Alison looking through some objects of the time (a Princess Mary tin, medals, coins, uniforms, letters) and the also-brilliant Louise Ann Wright (her Instagram’s here) seeing what life was like for people in the trenches, it was time to write.
For two hours we looked at all the aspects of what war does and what war did. Barnsley has a considerably rich mining heritage so it was interesting to look at the roles of miners on the Somme (and of not blowing things up ten minutes before you really should just so you can video it) but I think my favourite part of the day was looking at how the roles of women changed, and how they were able to show that they were every bit as good and as capable as men in roles they’d not been allowed into before.
And the writing that happened was extraordinary. It was terrific and interesting and affecting and it did what I hoped it would do, what good writing and good art should: it made us think and it made us feel. I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of it.
And a huge thanks to the hugely talented and very lovely Charlotte Elizabeth Photography for the photos. Have a look at what we did…
2 Comments · Posted on December 6, 2016
It’s nice to not be talking about myself on here for a change and to be celebrating great books by good people (see previous post).
I’ve known and admired Angela Readman for many years now – she’s definitely one of writing’s good eggs. She’s also a wonderful writer and I’ve never not enjoyed her work immensely. So it is a huge pleasure to welcome her back here to talk about her latest book, the poetry collection, The Book of Tides…
Angela! Welcome! I couldn’t be happier to have you here. You have a new book out. The Book of Tides. What made you decide to return to poetry again?
Hello Nik. Thank you for inviting me. It’s funny, last time I was here you asked what I was writing. I mentioned poems, but I was shy about admitting it was a collection! I knew it would be called The Book of Tides, but it was too soon to talk about it. I was getting some poems ready to send to a publisher and putting it off. It was that nail biting time of having to send that submission letter. I didn’t want to jinx it.
Your last book was a short story collection, Don’t Try This at Home, how have things been since then?
Wonderful, in so many ways. Don’t Try This at Home won a Saboteur Award, The Rubery Book Award and was shortlisted in The Edge Hill Story Prize. I didn’t think anything like that could happen. It’s such a strange book I had no idea what people would make of it. I’ve been kept pretty busy ever since.
I don’t think it matters how long you’ve been writing, it’s always just you and some words. There’s no way of knowing if someone will like it. Publishing is a huge act of faith. We all pray for that reader somewhere who the work may mean something to, but when it happens it takes your breath away. I’ve been amazed by how much love there’s been for my little book. I didn’t expect it. I write and expect nothing.
Your last poetry collection, Strip, was a book I loved, has your work changed since then?
I like to think I’ve made progress, I hope so anyway. It’s been ten years since Strip and I wasn’t as widely published when it came out. I’d never won a single prize, but I’ve worked really hard at submitting these past few years and won a few competitions. I’d like to think that sort of commitment shows and the work has improved.
Strip is different to The Book of Tides. I’m older, so things are bound to change a bit. Strip is urban and set in America. The Book of Tides is coastal and isn’t afraid to celebrate my favourite Northern words.
It’s not realist. It’s a world of folklore, myth, and old wives tales. There is a sense of danger and loss here, but there is more beauty too, I think. I suppose it’s an age thing, I’ve started to appreciate small things so much more. It probably shows. I hope I’ve learnt something since my last book, that’s what writing is about, I think. We want to be a better writer each time. Why else would we do it?
What have you learnt?
It’s such a journey, being a writer. There are no careers advisors to tell us where to go or what we should do next. It can be slow, so I’ve learnt to be patient. It can be frustrating, so I’ve become grateful for small things. I’m grateful every single time anyone publishes me, or a reader contacts me to tell me something I wrote meant something to them. This makes all the difference to me, it has kept me going.
Last time you were here I asked you about your journey from poetry to prose and how easy it seemed. Was coming back to poetry easy?
I don’t think it’s always so easy to be a writer, but we do it because we have no choice. The words are part of us, trying not to write sometimes is like cutting off a part of yourself. I worked really hard to publish poetry again. I spent a lot of time submitting to get poems in journals and anthologies. I wanted to build a poetry biog that would give me something to say on that letter to a publisher. It took years.
One thing that helped was Jo Bell’s 52 project. I joined the group whilst I was waiting for the Costa Short Story Award results. I needed something to distract me from the long wait to find out if I’d made it further than the shortlist, but I knew I had to come back to poetry sometime, if I’m honest. It hurt not to write it. There was kindness in the 52 group. I found the encouragement I desperately needed. It made me love poetry again.
How would you describe the relationship between your stories and your poems?
They are both strange. They can both be disturbing, and they both have a sense of story. There’s prose poetry in The Book of Tides, which brings poetry and prose closer than they used to be. I need both in my life, I realise, poetry and prose. One feeds into the other for me.
Folklore, witchery, and oceans, some that can be crossed, some that can’t. The Book of Tides is lyrical poetry with a sense of story. Though there are losses, there is also a sense of searching for hope. In some ways, it’s the most personal book I‘ve ever written.
What’s next for you?
I never know. I know I’m working all the time, but I have no idea about the future. (Who does?) I know Sweet Talk just recorded a story I wrote, so I’ll have a short story on radio 4 next year. I’m really looking forward to that.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Just a huge thank you to everyone: readers, poets, editors, 52, Jo Bell, and people like yourself who have been so supportive it made me try poetry again. I am truly grateful. Thank you.
Leave a Comment · Posted on November 28, 2016
I’ve known Santino Prinzi for a good while now, mostly because of the excellent work he’s done (with other good people) with National Flash Fiction Day and, when I heard he had a book out, as well as being thrilled for him, I couldn’t not ask him to come over and talk about it. I’ve only had chance to have a small flick through but I really like what I’ve read so far – lots of tiny moments that are bigger than they are… (And you can get your copy, well in time for Christmas, by clicking here.)
Deceptive Perceptions – Guest Post by Santino Prinzi
If you’re reading this then I’m sure, like me, you’ve found yourself wrong about a person, a situation, or a version of events you were convinced you were right about. You were definitely sure that the guy you were flirting with was in to you. You knew that Susan, who moved in across the road from you a month ago, was responsible for running over and killing your cat when you went knocking on her door. You knew you could save your marriage, and that it would be his fault if you couldn’t. And you’re definitely sure that your husband has curbed his addiction to cakes and pastries.
The truth, though, is actually different. Your husband gorges on goodies during his lunchbreak and throws away your salads, your marriage fell apart and it was your fault entirely, and the guy you were flirting with has a husband and children and is very happy. But you were right about Susan killing your cat, even though she told you she didn’t, even though you were convinced by her lies because she tearfully recollected that time it happened to her. Guess what? She hates cats, and yours isn’t the first she’s enjoyed running over.
The way we see the world is exactly that: it’s what we think of the world we see and our reaction to that. Sometimes the world isn’t actually the way we perceive it to be, and other times we’re completely right. Sometimes we’re wrong about our prejudices and sometimes we’re spot on. This is the theme my debut collection of flash fiction explores.
Each character in Dots and other flashes of perception has a story to tell, or rather, their version of the story to tell. Do they perceive the world as it really is? Are their stories, like their perceptions, warped and twisted? In particular, these stories focus on human relationships, and these relationships are never as straightforward or simple as they seem. Are they really in love? Does he know what’s really going on? Unfortunately, there is no clear answer to any of these questions, no clear bigger picture of what’s really going on: you decide that for yourself.
But isn’t that what flash does, though? It’s what I believe makes flash fiction so interesting to write and is why I wanted to explore this theme in my collection. Flash fiction does tell a story within a few hundred words, but I do believe the form allows readers to work things out for themselves. Flash gives credit to the reader, allows them to read the subtext, and encourages readers to think about what they’ve read. What better form is there to explore the idea that what characters think about the world may not match up with reality?
Dots and other flashes of perception is a collection for readers who enjoy very short stories that are rooted in reality but, at the same time, call into question that reality. In the collection, there’s a man who is at war with slugs, a child watching her mother suffer from post-natal depression, a man drawing his lover while he sleeps, and more. There’s love lost and love found, jealousy and envy, and the desire to hold on tight to the memories of the past. Nothing is quite what it seems, or perhaps it’s exactly how it seems; either way, I hope you’ll enjoy reading the stories in this collection.
Leave a Comment · Posted on November 4, 2016
… and here it is, a celebration of the celebration that was the Golden Ticket Chatterbooks event I did a little while ago at the Central Children’s Lending Library in Sheffield. From the wondrous talent (and the lovely person) who is Book Monster Ally (thank you!). Good, innit?
4 Comments · Posted on October 26, 2016
And the books are in, a little over two weeks since the brilliant and fun event itself. And I’m delighted to be able to share them. There’s a mix of linked stories (from mutating chicken nuggets to time-travelling to the Titanic within barely a sentence), illustrations, and some wonderful answers when I asked the young writers to say how reading makes the feel – because feeling is exactly what good stories and poems and art make us do. Here are some snaps I took…
This won’t be the last you hear of this. Oh no. There’s even more. Because a little bird told me that the magnificent and stupidly talented Book Monster Ally is doing one of her AMAZING displays. (And I’ve already seen the beginnings of it. It will be special.)
So there you go. Brilliant thoughts, fun stories, pretty pictures. I hope you all heard something interesting, or read something good, or saw something pretty today too.
6 Comments · Posted on October 12, 2016
I’ve been all over the country since I last blogged – doing good things with brilliant people. Oxford, London, Leeds, Sheffield, Barnsley, Bradford; teaching, meetings, a festival with First Story; workshops, a residency. And I’ve loved all of it.
There hasn’t been a highlight as such, because they’ve all been brilliant in their own way, but I think the Chatterbooks Celebration might just pip all the others because it was just so, so much fun. Members of Sheffield Libraries’ Chatterbooks groups (reading groups for young people – I think there are six in Sheffield alone) were all sent chocolate bars. Some of the those chocolate bars contained Golden Tickets. Finding a Golden Ticket in your bar meant an invite to an event at the Children’s Central Library where we celebrated books, writing, and came up with our own, very brilliant, stories and poems. Everything worked brilliantly and, like I said, we had so, so much fun.
(added: you can read what Sheffield Libraries had to say about it here.)
A selection of Chatterbookers
Another brilliant, brilliant event was the First Story young writers’ festival at Oxford University. Hundreds of writers from schools from all over the country gathered there to immerse themselves in stories and poems, listen to panels, each other, and, most importantly, to WRITE under the guidance of a whole bunch of brilliant authors. I saw, and heard, some absolutely wonderful pieces of writing, met some amazing people, and even got to hear someone play a piano like it was meant to be played. It was ace.
It was a very early start.
…and there really are lots of bikes
And, amongst it all, I ran a three day workshop where there is an actual CASTLE in a library.
And, after it all (or amongst it all) there was time for a (secretly filmed) two-man piano jam (that’s me on the left).
13 Comments · Posted on September 28, 2016
Ten years ago I was crapping myself. I was twenty-five years old and, the next day, my first book was being published. I think that time sums up writing, or a writer’s life, pretty well. Hugely excited and proud, but terrified too. I was good enough that someone wanted to publish me but I was desperately worried that I wasn’t good enough to be liked. Thrilled my name was on a book but so, so worried that no one would buy it and that it wouldn’t be read. You know, people talk about putting your money where your mouth is and I’m not sure I’ve ever felt that more than then.
And I’m not even sure that ever goes away – ten years, loads of stories and four more books later, I still have that fear – and I’m not even sure that that’s a bad thing. For me, it makes me work harder. I think I tell myself that if I can make it even a little harder for people to find out I’m a phonie then it’s worth it. I don’t think I don’t know any decent writer who doesn’t doubt their ability or worry that, one day, they’ll be proven to have been winging it.
I’ve heard people say that releasing a book’s like opening your house up to the public and asking them to tell you what they think of how you’ve decorated. Or like walking naked down a high street, asking for people’s opinion of what they see. And it is.
But it’s better than that too. When people like what you’ve written, when you’ve moved them in some way, it’s probably the best feeling in the world. Knowing your words have mattered to someone is a gift.
And I’ve been lucky because people have liked, in some cases, loved what I’ve written and it doesn’t get much better than that.
Even when the writing’s hard. Even when it’s exhausting and when the rejections hurt and even when I’ve had to learn the meaning of the word patience (folks, things in publishing move slowly).
I was going to do some sort of celebratory giveaway thing but I’m that busy over the next couple of weeks that I’d struggle to fit it in. I might put that off until Christmas. For now I want to say a heartfelt thanks to everyone who’s read me, bought me, published me; taken the time to review or to say nice things to me or about my books and stories; met me for cups of tea when I’ve been in unfamiliar cities; booked me for events, invited me into schools, colleges, libraries… I’ll stop there. Basically, thank you to everyone who’s made what can feel like the hardest job in the world feel like the best. Because it probably is.
And here’s me running my first ever workshop.
And about a year after the book came out, opening a library and clearly too tired to shave.
Happy birthday, book.
Here’s hopefully, to many more.
Leave a Comment · Posted on September 24, 2016
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.
4 Comments · Posted on September 19, 2016
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…
2 Comments · Posted on September 14, 2016
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.
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.
And look! Another amazing Book Monster display!