Good Things

I have been working as a writer for many years now and over the past decade or so I’ve been lucky enough to work with many, many talented people. Collaborating with editors and publishers and writers and illustrators on books and stories, putting together charity anthologies, teaching, running workshops and groups. My longest commitment has been a writing group at the library in the town where I grew up – that’ll have been going for ten years very soon. And, from that group, lots of really interesting and really good stuff has been produced by some very lovely and very talented people.

And, as such, I’d like to point you in a few interesting directions after seeing this is this month’s issue of Writers’ News.

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Jenny’s are really terrific books, and are definitely worth checking out. I think my favourite, and probably because it’s the most recent is Night Light (you can see the full list here).

And here she is talking about Why Didn’t They Listen?.

 

 

And Jenny’s aren’t the only ones I’d love to point you towards. We have Barbara Challenger’s brilliant account of working as a volunteer in Ghana, By God’s Grace.

And Sally Gething’s two self help books, How To Breathe (which is still selling by the bucketload) and Too Much Salt are well worth a look too.

Calling Sheffield Young Writers

 

I’ve been really lucky to have worked with the fine people at Sheffield Library Service a few times now, and I’ve been absolutely thrilled with the work we’ve produced. It’s been a lot of fun too. So I’m delighted to say that I am running a six week after school writing group (all the details below) at Darnall Library next month. We’ll be learning how to write good stories, from generating exciting ideas to turning them into brilliant stories which, at the end of the six weeks, we’ll turn intern actual. proper, book. Places are going very quickly so you’re probably better signing up sooner rather than later.

Do spread the word. Hope to see you there!

And you can book my contacting the library either by email darnall.library@sheffield.gov.uk or by telephone 0114 2037429

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The Glorious Dead

I’m delighted to welcome the brilliant, and long time friend of the blog, Tim Atkinson along today to talk about his next book, the Unbound produced, The Glorious Dead. Here’s what Tim has to say about it…

 

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“My book hit something of a milestone recently. It’s now 33% funded on Unbound – one third of the way to publication.

 

In case you’ve never heard of it, Unbound (the world’s first crowd funding publisher) basically allows authors to pitch their ideas direct to the public. Readers then decide what gets published.

 

The company was founded in 2010 by authors Dan Kieran, John Mitchinson and Justin Pollard. They realised that traditional publishing had become – for writers and readers alike – a stale and formulaic business-driven venture. ‘Put simply,’ they said, ‘there are lots of potentially great books we’re not getting the opportunity to read.’

 

My book – The Glorious Dead – is a book about the Great War. But it’s a war book with a difference – because the action only starts when the guns stop firing. There are no battles, no set-pieces, none of the clichéd characters (absurdly young subalterns, hoary old sweats) that might populate similar books, nor any of the Olde England Arcadia that comes through Blunden, Thomas and even Wilfred Owen.

 

As such, it is unlikely to appeal to the traditional devotee of Great War literature. Instead of guns, the soldiers now have picks and shovels. The narrative is almost inverted – from the creation of the iconic war cemeteries as the men clear the old battlefields and bury the bodies of fallen comrades, to the action of the killing fields as it appears in reminiscences and dreams. But there are secrets hidden on these Flanders fields – including one that is revealed only when a visitor from home comes searching… for the grave of one of the survivors!

 

I’ve supported Unbound for a long time as a reader and I was delighted to be accepted by them as an author. But I’d be lying if I said that crowd funding wasn’t bloody hard word. It’s a bumpy old ride, having to market a book before publication. But I’ve found the engagement with the reading public has been a real pleasure (largely – there have been a few exceptions). And – and here’s the real bonus – I’ve actually had conversations with people about my book that have changed what I’ve written. I’ve hardly had any conversations with anyone before about any of my books. And now I’m having them almost daily, and before the ink is dry, when I can do something about them. It’s wonderful.

 

There are drawbacks, as I’ve said. It takes a lot of time. But then, so does any publishing model these days. There also seems to be some confusion about what crowd funding books is about. My MS was assessed – twice – by Unbound before I was allowed to sully their Booker-nominated imprint. But to judge by the reactions of some people (including some ‘friends’!) you’d think what I’m doing is a cross between vanity publishing and pyramid selling.

 

Well, you can’t win ‘em all. Except with Unbound, that is. Because as a reader (and this is where I started) the real bonus of crowd funding books is the opportunity it gives you to be part of something, to help get a project off the ground and to have the chance to ‘talk’ to the author as s/he writes the book. As well as to make sure, of course, through your support and involvement that the book you really want to read gets written.”

CLICK HERE for all the info. And a fab video too.

Bradford Literary Festival

A little heads up for those of you in the north (or those who fancy a trip up to the north)…

 

I’ll be appearing at Bradford Literary Festival on Sunday May 22nd, 2pm – 3:15 and I’m very excited about it. Not only because of the brilliant things I’ve heard about it, or because there’s genuinely brilliant line-up there, but also because the panel discussion feels important and interesting and fresh. And relevant too.

Here’s the blurb (all the info can be found here):

“Writing will always be writing, but the act of finding, consuming and enjoying the written word is evolving rapidly. New writers are finding innovative ways to get their words in front of an audience, sometimes taking a totally new path, and sometimes combining new techniques with more established publishing models.

Exploring the new ways of writing are panellists Leah Moore, comic writer and project manager of experimental digital publisher Electricomics; flash fiction exponent and poet Nik Perring; author and online writing pioneer Taran Matharu; and founder of groundbreaking comics publisher PositiveNegatives, Benjamin Dix. Journalist and comics lover David Barnett chairs.”

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Tickets are, of course limited, so booking ahead would probably be a good idea. Hope to see some of you there. (And if you are going, let me know – there might be time for a chat and a cuppa afterwards.)

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2 am

So, it’s 2 am and I’m up with a book and I’ve not blogged in a while so here we are. I have opened a beer and there is a Japanese film playing on the TV in the background (not because I am or want to look cultured – it was on after Rudetube, which I caught the end of). Basically, I am just done for the day. I’ve been out to do things and I’ve spoken to people on the phone and I’ve written – and that’s been a lovely change because I’d not been writing too much recently because I’ve been so busy doing other writing stuff (teaching, editing, running my course). Two stories in two days makes me feel happy and more like an actual writer again and, at the moment, I’m not too bothered if neither of them turns out to be any good. Things are moving in my brain and that’s enough for me.

Especially after last week, when I missed a trip to Berlin because I had flu. I’m not sure I’d had that before and I can tell you now, I’d rather not have it again. One thing it did do though, was make me stop for a few days. I’ve not done that in years.

And, what else? Well, as well as all the teaching and workshops and editing and flu-ing and sleeping, there’s been reading. The lovely people at And Other Stories sent me Joanna Walsh’s Vertigo, and I’m glad they did because I’ve been dipping into that (it’s tonight’s book) and it’s excellent.

I also read My Name Is Lucy Barton and that was pretty spectacular too – a real gem from the woman who brought us Olive Kitteridge.

 

On Wednesday I was with a young writers’ group I co-run and as part of the session I read them some Aimee Bender* and Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut. And, when I think that that was the first time they’d heard those stories from those people it made me fiercely proud – not just to live in a world where that kind of wonderful literature exists and we have access to it (even in the US Vonnegut gets banned in places!) but also that stories like them are still desperately relevant. Often I take that for granted. And, often, I take for granted how lucky I am to be able to work with people of all ages and to teach because it’s a hell of a lot of fun and I get to get excited about things that excite me and I get to see those things excite other people. And affect them. And get them thinking.

 

So there you go. That’s all from me, for now. But while I’m away, feeling smug about it all, you can watch this – a brilliant adaption of Harrison Bergeron (which even features the brilliant hostess from Airplane – it Shirley does). Watch it, and be amazed. And then please seek out the story, because the story’s even better. (I’m only saying seek it out because this is the only link I can find and the font’s bloody awful and it’s 2 in the morning and I have books to read, and some Samurai has just been stabbed on the telly and he doesn’t look too happy about it.)

 


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*What You Left In The Ditch

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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