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Writers’ Blog Relay

Megan Taylor, writer extraordinaire who is currently taking the short story world by storm after completely winning me over with her second novel The Dawning, has nominated fellow writer extraordinaire Giselle Leeb and (inexplicably) me to take part in a blog relay amble. This involves answering a few questions about writing before handing them on to two more writers. It’s already been round some amazing writers such as Matt Cresswell, Kerry Hadley, Anne Jensen, Louise Swingler, Graeme Shimmin and Steve Hollyman.

You can read Megan’s blog here, and don’t forget to check out Giselle’s answers, and those given by the other writers, too.

So, the questions…

What am I working on?

I have two projects on the go at the moment (or, more accurately, on the go-very-slow). I’ve been writing a novel for over seven years – a kind of magical realism fantasy type thing which is about a woman whose roots are in a small rural village, where the villagers made a deal with the land back in prehistoric times that each would look after the other. The land is struggling, and needs the woman’s help to recover. Magic and history and romance all entwine to make what will hopefully be an interesting story. I’ve started it three times now, and I’m hoping that at some point soon (and with the help of a marvellous critique group at NWS) I’ll get the bugger finished.

More recently, I’ve started writing poetry, and I’m getting more and more excited about what poetry can do. I’m hoping to use it to convey the ideas embodied in quantum theory… sounds a bit bonkers, but I’ve been trying to get my head round quantum mechanics for years, and I’m increasingly convinced that it’s virtually impossible to really explain it using prose. It can, obviously, only be properly expressed in mathematics, but I think it could be explained to some extent using poetry. We’ll see.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

What a weird question! I don’t think the novel does, particularly. It’s not very genre-specific, in that it probably would be classified as literary fiction (or maybe mainstream fiction) rather than fantasy or sci-fi. The poetry… hmm… poets have written about every topic under, above and including the sun. So how can I say whether my work differs, let alone how it differs? However, I was lucky enough to have a one-to-one with Jane Commane, the truly lovely publisher at Nine Arches Press, yesterday, and she seemed interested in the idea, so perhaps it’s different enough to be worth publishing at some point.

Why do I write what I do?

I write the novel because I enjoy reading, and I’d like to contribute to the general entertainment of the reading masses. I write the poetry because it’s fun, challenging and rewarding. Hell, that’s why I write the novel too. And all the other stuff I write.

How does my writing process work?

‘Process’ is definitely not the right word. It’s more like: ‘scrabbling around to find a few spare moments to wrangle some words into something like writing.’ As anyone who knows me can attest, I’ve become a workaholic late in life (something to do with having to earn a living somehow after being chewed up and spat out by the computing industry, but more to do with finally discovering how fulfilling it is to work at something you love). So I don’t have a lot of free time, and much of that is taken up with sitting on the sofa allowing my brain to switch off.

I’ve never been one of those people who can get up early and write (apart from anything else, I rarely get to bed before midnight), and I don’t have anything even vaguely resembling a routine. You should see my diary… or rather, perhaps you shouldn’t… So making space to write is not easy.

One thing that does drive me is deadlines – I’m one of those annoying people who leaves everything to the last minute, but I’m incredibly productive in those last few days and hours before a deadline. So I harness that in my writing practice. I’ve signed up for a part-time Creative Writing MA (which I can’t afford, in terms of money or time) which forces me to find time to write. And I’ve been a member of a fiction critique group at NWS for nearly 3 years now, which makes me keep going with my novel.

However, I do believe that everything I do and think and read contributes to my writing. So from that perspective I’m writing all the time!

Nominations

In turn, I’m going to ask the two newest members of Nottingham Writers’ StudioKim Jamison and Eleanor Hemsley to take on the baton and continue the amble. They don’t know about it yet because I’ve forgotten to actually ask them, but I hope they won’t mind.

Do drop by their blogs next Monday to find out more…

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Five Leaves Bookshop

Yes, you read it right…

Five Leaves is opening a bookshop in Nottingham!

Press Release: immediate
New independent bookshop to open in Nottingham

Five LeavesThe Nottingham-based publisher, Five Leaves is to open a bookshop in Nottingham, the first independent bookshop in the city since 2000.

The bookshop will open in mid-November at 14a Long Row, opposite the Tourist Information Centre, in premises that have been used as an art gallery and a café and will trade under the name Five Leaves Bookshop.

Ross Bradshaw, owner of Five Leaves, said “When I came to Nottingham in the late 70s there were several independent bookshops and in subsequent years various chains were represented, but for many years there has only been Waterstones in the city centre. It’s a great shop but there’s plenty room for an independent as well.”

The new bookshop will specialise in history, politics and landscape; fiction and poetry; lesbian and gay books; and international writing, with an emphasis on independent publishers

Ross BradshawRoss Bradshaw added “Nottinghamshire has a flourishing literature scene, with more professional writers than ever and a very active events programme including the longstanding Lowdham Book Festival which I’ve been involved with since the start. The bookshop will provide another focus and we will work with local and national writers to build the shop’s own programme. The premises became available suddenly and we are working hard to open by mid-November. Several of our own writers and other local publishers are pitching in to help.”

Initial events will include a memorial evening for the Nobel Literature Prize winner Seamus Heaney and a speaker from the peace movement in Israel.

Jon McGregorOne of Nottingham’s leading writers, Jon McGregor, said “I’m hugely excited at the prospect of a new independent bookshop in Nottingham. Despite the impact of online retailing, there is still a place for the personalised experience of a well-run independent bookshop; not just as a place to buy a book, but as the hub for a community of readers and writers. Ross Bradshaw has many years of experience in publishing and bookselling, and I’m sure will make a fine job of it; I’m equally sure that Nottingham’s thriving community of writers and readers will support the venture from day one.”

The Five Leaves Bookshop will complement other local independents including The Bookcase in Lowdham and the graphic novel specialists Page 45 in Nottingham city centre.

For further information please contact Ross Bradshaw, info@fiveleaves.co.uk, 0115 9895465 (w) 0115 9693597 (h).

Background

Ross BradshawRoss Bradshaw worked at Mushroom Bookshop in Nottingham from 1979-1995 (the shop closed in 2000) and since then has run Five Leaves Publications, initially part-time while working as Nottinghamshire County Council’s literature office, then full time. He is a trustee of the East Midlands Book Award and the Bread and Roses Award for Radical Publishing. Five Leaves jointly runs the Lowdham Book Festival with The Bookcase in Lowdham, the biggest book festival in the region. Together with Housmans Bookshop in London, Five Leaves established the London Radical Book Fair in 2012.

Five Leaves Publications’ forthcoming books include a collection of essays on Crime, a biography of the architectural writer Ian Nairn and A Brief History of Whistling by Nottingham writers John Lucas and Allan Chatburn.

Five Leaves Bookshop will be linked to the social enterprise Howie-Smith Project, which supports small creative enterprises in Nottingham.
The Five Leaves Bookshop will open for trading on 9th November, but there will be a grand opening on 16th November with events in the shop all day.

ENDS

It’s a pictorial post today.

Sky

Sky

Watch out for Pedestrains

Watch out for Pedestrains

A window

A window

Playing football

Playing football

An early riser?

An early riser?

Bad bricklaying

Bad bricklaying

Erosion

Erosion

Possibly poetry

Possibly poetry

41 Pitcher Gate

41 Pitcher Gate

One day this will be my office window

One day this will be my office window

Untitled/Anonymous

What is the Old Bat on about?

A few months ago, an artist friend contacted me to discuss ideas for writer-artist collaboration. She’s a member of a group of artists who all graduated from the brilliant Fine Art degree programme at the University of Nottingham (which, shamefully, the University has closed down) – the group calls themselves Untitled.

One thing led to another, and we have now formed a group that includes Untitled artists and Nottingham Writers’ Studio writers. We had our first meeting last week, and came up with all sorts of interesting questions. The first question was, “What should we call the group?”… hence Untitled/Anonymous.

Image of an extract from A Humument by Tom Phillips

Extract from ‘A Humument’ by Tom Phillips

Other questions, to which I don’t yet have but am greatly looking forward to finding answers, include:

How are the processes of writing and making art similar and different?
One of the most interesting aspects of the discussion was finding out about each others’ processes. I hadn’t thought before about how writing and art are similar – you have an idea, skirt around it for a while, make sketches or write drafts, start to make the real thing, edit-edit-edit, produce ‘completed work’… we didn’t get into how the processes are different, but I’m sure more observations on this will arise during the collaboration.

What does the use of ‘cross-media’ do to a finished piece of visual/textual work?
i.e. not just combining words with visual elements, we can use the other senses too, including audio components and textures for instance. How will this affect the work we produce? How can we collaborate to find innovative ways of combining artistic elements?

How does the concept of narrative affect our work?
Narrative is an important concept for most people in the group – how a finished work contains and creates narrative, but also how narrative is inherent in most objects in the world. It’s obvious how narrative is contained in most writing, but how does it feature in visual art? and how can we find it in our surroundings and represent that in cross-media art?

I’m excited about the work this group will produce, I’m sure it’ll be fascinating, whichever direction it takes us in. I’ll keep you informed…

More about What Writing Is

Image of tape measure and steel ruleI enjoyed the exercise I wrote about in a recent blog post so much, that I tried it with the Nottingham Dovetail group. And they came up with some wonderful metaphors, which you can read here. My favourite keeps changing, but the current one is:

Writing is like a tailor’s measuring tape when you need a carpenter’s metal yard, when you need the stiff manageable steel that lays on ANYTHING flat. You have a floppy reel of cloth that falls off everything and is only tidy when it is rolled up in itself rendering it useless for its actual purpose. by Joêl Daniel

They say that clichés are shortcuts for ideas or metaphors we all understand because they’ve been used so much. (So that makes them equivalent to words, doesn’t it? but let’s not get into semiotics. that’s not why I’m here.) They’re also often irritating, not-useful, and upsetting. For instance, you’re walking down the street just after your best friend has told you she’s got cancer, and a well-meaning stranger says, “Cheer up, it might never happen.” How is that ever going to help?

Not a place of fond memories...

Not a place of fond memories…

One thing people said to me a lot when I was made redundant five years ago was, “Oh, that happened to so-and-so, she was devastated at the time but later she said it’s the best thing that ever happened to her.” I repeat, how is that ever going to help? It certainly didn’t help me. I was recovering from a particularly bad bout of depression, had only recently bought a new house that probably cost more than I could afford, and I didn’t have much chance of finding another job. I was sure redundancy was not going to improve my life. I signed on for jobseekers’ allowance and desperately tried to find work. No go. No-one was interested in a middle-manager with out-of-date technical skills when the economic crisis had just started to bite.

My preferred definition of "redundant" (from Merriam-Webster)

My preferred definition of “redundant” (from Merriam-Webster)

It’s been a hell of a struggle getting to where I am now… but I can honestly say I’m happy. Not financially secure by any stretch of the imagination, and I work twice as hard as I ever did at the company which employed me for over a decade, but that stinking cliché turned out to be true. I enjoy my work more than I ever thought it was possible to enjoy work. I don’t just work to live any more, and that feels good.

I was sitting in Broadway last week, waiting to meet a friend, and I happened to bump into an ex-colleague – someone who joined the company around the same time as I did, and who’s still there now. It was lovely to see him, but intensely depressing to hear that everything there is almost exactly the same as it was when I left.

  • Short-term gain overriding long-term planning every time – “yes, it might make us millions in the long run if we do it properly, but if we don’t make any profit on it this financial year you can’t do it.”
  • Sales-driven development – “yes, I heard you say you can’t produce that piece of software in two months, but I’ve told the client that’s when they can have it so that’s when you’ll have to produce it by.”
  • Constant undervaluing of technical skills – “you don’t need trained programmers, the data developers know how to write SQL, you can get them to knock up a quick C# program, and they’re cheaper.”
  • Macho bullshit everywhere – “what do you mean you don’t understand that particular bit of sales jargon? I couldn’t possibly demean myself by explaining it to you…” Meaningless work – “so the products we provide simply help marketing executives target their adverts and campaigns more successfully, making loads of money for already super-rich tax-avoiding corporations and their fat-cat bosses, so what? isn’t that what we should all aspire to do?”

In a microcosm, that’s what seems to me to be wrong with the country, and with the whole of Western-style capitalism. It makes me so angry. People aren’t people, they’re resources to be used, and if they’re useless as resources they’re useless as people. What sort of system is that? A crap one, that’s what.

But, it also makes me very very grateful that they chucked me out of that world that was destroying me, enabling me to find a world that nurtures and supports and fulfils me. The cliché turned out to hold true in my case. But that still doesn’t mean it was any use to me at the time.

Not sure why I wrote this post, but it’s been on my mind. Make of it what you will.

Tennis

Tennis

Not quite sure how this has happened. I don’t watch tennis. I don’t really care whether Murray wins or not. That Djokovic has just broken serve in the second set has provoked no reaction in me whatsoever. In fact, I think they’re idiots, running around in this weather…

The grass is cut to 8mm here.

Gosh, really? Every single blade of it?

The excuses

There are many things I should be doing. And I’ve been using the length of that list to avoid writing blog posts. Of course, it doesn’t mean I avoid doing other stuff, like watching the sodding tennis. The idea was that those lovely young men would rush around in the background while I got on with a couple of ebooks, or perhaps hacked away at the Five Leaves website. Instead, I have eaten a bag of Sainsbury’s Dolly Mixture and completed a puzzle on Jigsaw World.

Oh yes, Murray’s father is sitting next to his mother. Glad to see they haven’t had a domestic.

D’you know what, I can’t be bothered with excuses. I haven’t been blogging because I’ve been busy and tired. So there.

The news

The NWS Goblin

The NWS Goblin

I am now a goblin as well as an elf. Robin Vaughan-Murray has left Nottingham Writers’ Studio… and guess who’s gone and got his job? Well, you probably already know, because I haven’t exactly kept quiet about it. SO exciting! Today, NWS, tomorrow, the world! (Except Robin will probably get there first – he’s left very big shoes to fill and is now down in That London doing Remarkable Things.) So, why a goblin? Because I’m definitely not a pixie, of course! Obvious when you know.

A nice skinny one with not too much fluff

(they’re talking about BALLS, you fool!)*

So, Ms Goblin, what did you do yesterday?

The Rights of the Writer (extract)

The Rights of the Writer (extract)

Apart from sleeping, I spent a morning at NWS (busman’s holiday) with a delightful group of teachers, doing some writing. Jane Bluett and Sheila Hubbard are starting a group under the aegis of the National Writing Project – “a collection of groups of writing teachers extended by an online environment and supported by NATE, the National Association for the Teaching of English.” The idea is that if you teach children and you expect them to write, you should write yourself. It’s a program that’s been running in the US since 1974 with a great deal of success. Simon Wrigley and Jeni Smith, who came along and led some exercises yesterday, have set up a similar program in the UK, and I am very happy that a group is forming in Nottingham. They will meet once every half-term and do some writing exercises, which will lead to discussion and reflection to help inform their teaching practice. I hope the NWS can support this worthwhile enterprise…

I wrote something I’d like to share with you. The exercise was to take an object and use it as an extended metaphor for writing. I chose at random, and ended up with a toy car.

Small red plastic toy carWriting is like a tiny plastic red car. It has wheels that are a bit stiff, you can push it along and it goes, reluctantly, where you want it to go. There’s no steering wheel, no delicate system of hydraulics that allows you to point it towards your goal with the merest touch of your hand. Steering is achieved by brute force. You really have to push.

Then you discover that if you do something counter-intuitive, say, like holding it down and dragging it backwards, it builds up a momentum all of its own, and you can simply let it go and try to keep up. It might not go where you think it will, it might go round in circles for a while and then shoot off in a totally unexpected direction, but that’s what brings a smile to your face.

You don’t know what happens inside the tiny plastic red car. There’s some mechanism that stores the energy gained from going backwards and releases it in a forwards direction. Someone, somewhere, designed that mechanism. Someone else put it together. You, all you can do, is pull back, then let go, and see what happens.

I’m getting excited

(Boris Becker, in a very sexy voice)

Silly game, this

(Andrew Castle, not in a sexy voice)


*(TENNIS balls, you twit!)

Vague assignments…

Just finished teaching for the term – last lecture on Writing Industries to second year Creative and Professional Writing students yesterday. Can’t wait to read their assignments, they’re a good bunch and have lots of great ideas. Although some of them are still a bit taken aback by the topic of the first assignment: “Write a 2000-word essay on an aspect of the writing industries.” Too vague? I don’t think so, they’re creative writers, after all.

There is nothing wrong with fun!

There is nothing wrong with fun!

Up yours, HR

Also had an interesting discussion after class with one of the mature students. The topic of the lecture was ‘the business of being a writer’ – so I talked about how to make money from writing and writing-related pursuits, and finished by telling them to make sure they have fun, whatever they do. This mature student said that coming from an HR (human resources? human remains?) background, she felt it was inappropriate to tell them to ‘have fun’, because it’s not clear what that means. She’d prefer me to say ‘enjoy what you do’. Personally, I can’t see the difference. A consultation of my Facebook friends has not enlightened me. And the more I think about it, the more I think it exemplifies a lot of what’s wrong with the corporate/capitalist/humans-as-resources mentality. Why shouldn’t people have fun at work? If you assume (as I suspect this person did) that ‘having fun’ implies frivolity… what’s wrong with that? It’s essential at some point in most work contexts. If you assume that ‘having fun’ implies slacking off, then you’re just plain wrong. The two are not in the least bit equivalent. A lot of the time I’m slacking off, I’m most definitely not having fun – I’m bored, or feeling guilty, or fed up. Not ‘having fun’. So I stand by my instruction… whatever you do for a living, make sure you have fun while you’re doing it, at least some of the time. You are not a robot. You are not a resource. You are a person. If you’re having fun, you will be more productive and more creative and more motivated.

Why I’m tired

As part of yesterday’s lecture, I talked about the possibilities of freelance and/or portfolio careers. And being a self-centred git, I talked about myself for a while – being, I think, a good example of someone with a freelance portfolio career. So to prepare for this, I wrote down a list of everything I’ve done since graduating last summer. By the time I got to the end of the list I had to sit down in a darkened room.

  1. Worked at Five Leaves 3 days a week
  2. Taught on the Creative & Prof Writing and Humanities courses at Nottingham University
  3. Typeset several anthologies
  4. Shadowed writing projects in secondary school and prison
  5. Run workshops at art galleries, prisons, schools, poetry societies, festivals
  6. Worked with schoolchildren (all ages), prisoners, college and university students, adults from many parts of the community
  7. Learned about ebooks (freelance and through Five Leaves)
  8. Produced ebooks for several writers and producers
  9. Given presentations and workshops on ebooks at festivals
  10. Run bespoke and general training courses on ebooks
  11. Published articles/essays in journals and books
  12. Published several poems in magazines
  13. Coached writers in IT skills
  14. Designed and developed a website for a bookshop
  15. Designed and typeset festival programmes, posters, and other publicity material
  16. Volunteered at Southwell Poetry Festival
  17. Helped set up Beeston Poets – a series of readings by well-known poets at Beeston Library
  18. Gained an industry-recognised qualification in proofreading
  19. Proofread several PhD theses
  20. Copy-edited and proofread a non-fiction book (about to be published)
  21. Obtained EU funding for and am managing a creative writing project with partners in Nottingham, Karlsruhe and Budapest
  22. Elected board member of Nottingham Writers’ Studio
  23. Elected committee member of Nottingham Poetry Society
  24. Active member of steering committee for Nottingham Festival of Words
  25. Joined Society for Editors and Proofreaders
  26. Joined National Association for Writers in Education

I think it’s reasonable for me to take a bit of a break…