A New Story – Live

Just a quick heads up to those in the Sheffield(ish) area…

 

I’ll be reading a brand new, not published, not even sent anywhere to be published story at the brilliant Verse Matters at the Theatre Deli on The Moor this Thursday. That’s the 9th of February. I’ve been to the night a few times now and it’s been so good every time and I can’t wait. There’s a great line-up and something for everyone. I’m on right at the beginning so, if you want to hear me, probably best to get there early (we start at 7:30).

And if you’re on Twitter, they’re here.

January – Which Sounds More Like: What I Did Over The Holidays…

January. It kind of came out of the Christmas darkness, seemed to last an age, then seemed to be over in a week. But mine was good. There’s so much I need to fill you in on – and I will – I just have to wait for a few things to be sorted first.

So, January began as December ended – with me in front of my laptop typing up the poems and stories young writers from primary schools all over the Dearne Valley had written with me. It meant that I kind of lost my Christmas holidays to typing (I think I ended up with just over 500) but it also meant that they were done. And they were so, so good. And, reading them as I typed it reminded me how everyone, and I mean everyone can write something – and not just something but something good.

Every single young writer wrote something good. That’s some going. But what’s better is that they didn’t just write one good thing – they wrote four. When it’s ready I’ll point you the way of the website where there’ll be stories and video and pics so you can see for yourselves (and also see what a brilliant job the people at the Dearne Valley Landscape Project, and Barnsley Museums are doing. But more of that soon…).

And then it was back into schools for what’s probably been the busiest few months I’ve had since my first book came out. Loads of workshops, loads of wonderful work produced, and loads of amazing young voices and amazing young people who were given the confidence and trust to create – and they did.

Mid January I hopped on a train to Bradford to work with some more amazing writers (these were a little older) at the Appleton Academy where we made emotions into people after looking over my story, Love, (which you can read in this book) and it was brilliant. And always a pleasure to see the amazing Gill and the wonderful Miss Boyle again.

My view a lot of the time. I liked today’s decor.

Then I ended up getting a little ill, which I’m sure is pretty much all my own doing and one day I will stop and, for the first time that I can remember, I cancelled a talk and a reading (as well as a meeting). And that’s never something I like to do.

Last week I was back at the BBC at Media City, which is always enormous fun (especially when there are stories about badger car-seats) and then, very suddenly, it was February and I was agreeing to even more interesting and exciting stuff.

Which is why I’ve been a bit quiet here, there and everywhere else social media shaped. But do stay tuned, there’s lots more to come. And I’m looking forward to telling you all about it, as well as sounding a bit more like myself, rather than some strange summariser of my month.

And… to finish. Here’s a picture my nephew drew on Christmas day. Because it’s cool.

 

Me and McAuley

2016 wasn’t really a year for publishing, for me. Writing, sure – I’ve written what I consider to be the best things I’ve written in a long time, perhaps in my whole career and I can’t wait for you to read them. Patience, Nik. I had to tell myself that a few times last year. Because publishing is a slow business and waiting so long for answers on things has, as much as it’s frustrated me, done me good in that it’s reminded me that that’s how things are and also that, in having a book out every year or two for the past decade, I’ve been really, really lucky.

 

But I have been writing, and writing well, I think.

I’ve also, as anyone who follows me on Twitter or Instagram or Facebook will know, spent a lot of time teaching – that’s another post for another time but I did want to mention a really great afternoon I spent at McAuley school in Doncaster in December, running workshops (thank you, Lyn). It’s a real pleasure and honour to be able to work with all ages (I was with a Year 3 and 4 class today) and that’s one of the things that keeps life interesting. I had an amazing time on Doncaster and was ridiculously impressed with the quality of the ideas we made and the writing we tried.

And here are some pictures…

 

 

New Year

I believe, pretty strongly, in not saying anything unless you’ve got something to say and if I’m honest that’s why things have been quiet here lately. I meant to say something for the holidays, and then that passed, and I meant to say something wishing everyone a happy new year, and that passed too. In truth I’ve been exhausted – 2016 was a long and tiring year and though there was much for me to love about it, there was plenty that disappointed me in it too. And I didn’t want to go on about that or about politics or how I’m feeling about the world because I’d far rather do that in stories. And they’ll come (or come out), in due time.

 

The other side of things was that I spent an awful lot of time working over the break. There was much to do – planning, typing up stories and poems from things I’ve taught, setting up a separate website for something else (which should go live pretty soon), answering emails. So, with that, and everything else, filling time and my head, there’s not been much room for much else.

 

But, as I’m here, I do want to wish you, and the world (not that most of it’ll be listening to me) the very best of things and to start 2017 on the right note. Happy new year – I hope it’s a better one for everyone than 2016 was, even if yours was amazing. We have work to do. Things to achieve. We have kindnesses to gift, tolerance to remember, hope to carry. Yes, we have work to do. Let’s do it bloody well.

And I’ll be back just as soon as I’ve something else to say.

100 Years

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…

 

 

 

 

Tides In Time For Christmas

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

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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.

Style: "gt 2"Could you describe The Book of Tides. What’s it about? 

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.

Click here to see more about the book.

 

Dots and Flashes!

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.)

 

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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.

me

 

I Promised You a Display…

… 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?

 

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Chatterbooks Books

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…

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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.

Piano Jams and A Lot of Trains

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.)

 

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Winner!

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A selection of Chatterbookers

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Me, backstage

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.

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It was a very early start.

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…and there really are lots of bikes

img_0798…but it was all SO worth it

img_0809…and I got to sit here.

And, amongst it all, I ran a three day workshop where there is an actual CASTLE in a library.

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In discussion

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).