Monday, 10 December 2018

Things Of The Year

Good day, thank you for stopping by.

Regular fans of my blog will notice I haven't been updating too often this year. That's because I've been spending most of my free time working on my third novel, which is about a catering company who take on a contract to run a prison.

Most of 2018 has been spent with my head down, writing, occasionally despairing, complaining to anybody who will listen. I deactivated my Facebook account so I could get more done. I didn't really publish or write a lot of short fiction, because I was trying to get my novel finished, so this end of year blog post is necessarily going to be less eventful than last year's.

That said, I have produced this handy pie chart to let you know how I've been spending my time:

Fig 1: my 2018 in pie chart form. by SJ Bradley
There's not much else to say about it, other than that I've now nearly finished work on the current draft (apart from the four additional chapters, see attached diagram.) After that, I will mostly be returning to writing short stories for a bit.

In amongst the writing, I also managed to read and see and do a few things. Here follows a list of some of my favourite things that I read or saw or did.

Favourite films of 2018 

Black Panther
In no way can I pretend to be any sort of 'comic book' aficionado. I don't care much for films with super heroes and I don't even know the difference between Marvel and DC. However, this film was brilliant: it was funny, it had a terrific story, even the villain's motivation made sense (a rarity in superhero and/ or fantasy films in my opinion) and the action sequences were A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. It is by far the best superhero film I've ever watched, and definitely is not just for kids. See it! 

Saw this film at Leeds International Film Festival. Viola Davis (also seen in How To Get Away With Murder) was superb as a grieving wife in this remake of the Linda la Plante drama, who finds her professional criminal husband's notebook, and gathers together his colleague's widows to carry out one final job. I damn near broke my fingers gripping the edge of my seat during this one. It really is superb. Go and see it!

A Simple Favour 
Ended up going to watch this when we couldn't find The Sisters Brothers showing anywhere, and crikey was I glad we did. Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick play two schoolgate Mum friends with very different parenting styles: you've got the 'cocktail Mum', and the 'smug craft blogging Mum'. When Cocktail Mum asks Smug Mum to pick her kids up from school one day, then doesn't turn up to pick her children up later... things turn very dark... and strange. For one thing, it's great to see a film with two kick-ass female leads, and for another, there were so many twists in this film I came out having watched a very different film from the one I'd expected. I definitely recommend this one.

Fave books of 2019

Milkman (Anna Burns) 
This has been described as a 'difficult book', a description I could not agree with less. In this novel, Burns' skilful use of voice draws you completely into the claustrophobic world of Troubles-era Northern Ireland, yet despite its difficult subject matter parts of this novel are surprisingly funny. This has been one of my favourite Booker books ever, and in my opinion a worthy winner.

The Study Circle (Haroun Khan)
This brilliant novel, set on a housing estate in South London, follows three young men, friends who all attend the same Islamic study circle in one of the estate's flats. We get to know Ishaq, Shams, and Marwane, their families, their motivations, holding our breath for them as they negotiate an unfriendly world which offers them few opportunities. It's a complex and intriguing novel and was one of my favourites of the year.

What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky (Lesley Nneka Arimah)
My favourite short story collection. It didn't come out this year, but I only got around to reading it this year. These stories skate effortlessly from realism to magic realism, from world to world. Full of convincing characters, unique situations and wry humour, this is a varied and skilful collection from an author of immense talent.

The Devils' Dance (Hamid Ismailov) 
I had the privilege of meeting Hamid Ismailov at a Northern Fiction Alliance event at York St John University, at which he described this novel as being "three novels for the price of one", and he was not wrong: beautiful, richly detailed, and full of poetry (figuratively and literally) this is a novel not to be missed. Ismailov painstakingly recreates the political imprisonment of Abdulla Qodiriy, who was the first Uzbek novelist, re-imagining his plans for a second novel as he struggles through his time in prison. It was not an easy read: there's a lot going on, it jumps back and forth between several time periods, but it is so rewarding. I liked this one a lot.

Favourite other things 

Leeds International Film Festival. Bought tickets for 17 films, only managed to see 12. Left my cardigan in a cinema at one showing. Still enjoyed the festival. If you find my cardigan please text me. Film highlights: The Raft, Killing God, The Punk Voyage, Failsafe, Widows.

The Northern Short Story Festival. Naturally, I can't not mention this.

Small presses: Dead Ink (of course), Comma Press (of course), Influx Press, The Eden Book Project, Parthian Press, Peirene Press, Valley Press.

Currently reading

War of the Worlds HG Wells 

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Northern Fiction Alliance Roadshow & Books on Tyne Festival, Newcastle

Good afternoon, or morning, or evening. Thanks for stopping by!

I've been intending to update for a while now. The world is pretty stupid at the moment. I have a lot of Opinions about things, and not enough time to write them down, or not at the same time as working on my third novel, anyway. Brexit: still stupid. Tories: What are they even doing and how can they live with themselves? Boris Johnson: Would Like To Punch In The Face, Hard.

That's a quick summary, and here are the next few public events I'm doing.

Wednesday 24th October, Northern Fiction Alliance Roadshow, York St John University with Hamid Ismailov and Gaia Holmes, among others. 6-8pm, tickets £3.60 (includes a glass of wine).

Book your tickets to the York St John Northern Fiction Alliance Roadshow here.

Saturday 26th November, "These Books Are Dangerous" Dead Ink event with Daniel James, Haroun Khan, Sophie Hopesmith, and Marc Nash at Newcastle Central Library. 4.00, £3.

Book your tickets for These Books Are Dangerous as part of Books on Tyne festival here.

There is also an afterparty with a jazz pianist and some of the other Dead Ink Authors afterwards, at Fictions After Dark at the Town Wall Pub. I won't be able to appear but you should definitely go and check the other authors out! Tickets for the Dead Ink Fictions After Dark tickets here.

Currently reading

Pat Barker Double Vision
Rose Tremain The Gustav Sonata

Thursday, 19 July 2018

New Comma Short Story Course

Good afternoon, thank you for stopping by!

I can only say my apologies for not having written more often. It's been a busy few months what with the Northern Short Story Festival where, not only did we have a superb weekend of workshops, discussions and book launches but where I apparently also spent a lot of time Vogueing.

Me with Rachel Connor at The Short Story & Our World panel. Photo by Izzy Brittle
As ever, I've been busy working on the second draft of my third novel (65,000 words and counting) and am currently writing a short story commission for a forthcoming Comma Press anthology, which I'm very excited about. In my opinion those are two (three!) very good reasons as to why I haven't updated this blog more often.

One last bit of news is that I'll be teaching a Comma Short Story Writing Class from 6 months from September-March at the Carriageworks Theatre in Leeds. Some of the lovely comments I had last time included things like, "I can't fault the course in any way as I enjoyed it so much" and "This course really delivered on the hopes I had for it. It definitely made me write more during the six months, and I'm really happy with some of the work I produced during it."

Several of the students who took the course had stories accepted for publication afterwards, including in Litro and Disclaimer magazine, so if this sounds like something you'd be interested in, please do book a place (but don't wait too long, because it sold out last time!)

Currently reading

I'll Sell You A Dog Juan Pablo Villalobos

Other recent reads I've enjoyed 

When I Hit You Meena Kandasamy
Home Fire Kamila Shamsie 
Elmet Fiona Mozley 

Monday, 2 April 2018

Hello, I am still alive

We went on holiday to Scarborough for a few days, too.
For weeks now, I've kept thinking to myself, in an idle sort of way, "I really must update my blog, otherwise people will think I'm either dead or have forgotten how to use the internet."

Surprise! I haven't forgotten how to use the internet. I did deactivate my Facebook, though, mainly so I could get some bloody work done. So if I seem quiet, on social media or in real life (I'm not doing much teaching at the moment, either), it's mainly because I'm spending all of my free time trying to write my next novel.

The novel is about outsourcing, and thanks to my K Blundell Trust Award from the Society of Authors, I've been able to spend the past few months concentrating on researching and writing it. Writing a novel, especially a realist novel, is somewhat like writing a Masters dissertation, in that you can find yourself ensconced in several research wormholes, and have a hard time deciding what to put in, and what to leave out.

Outsourcing is a fascinating business, horrific and surprising. One of the challenges I've had in writing a novel set in this world is that it's extremely difficult to think of something outlandish enough to dwarf some of the things that actually happen in real life. I'm incredibly grateful to the people who have met with me to share their knowledge and expertise.

Here are some of the things I've found out (SO FAR.)

1. In 2015, despite being rated "Good" or "Outstanding", a tier of the probation service was outsourced to the private sector. The most high-risk offenders stayed with the National Probation Service, with the lower risk offenders being managed by Community Rehabilitation Companies, or CRCs. The NPS [the public sector arm of the probation service] ended up being massively oversubscribed, because so many offenders were 'bumped up' from the CRCs [the outsourced arm] into their service.

2. To work in the National Probation Service, you have to have an MA in Criminal Justice.
To work in a CRC, all the companies have to do is ensure staff training is "appropriate".

3. England has the "highest incarceration rate in Western Europe" (Alan Travis in the Guardian.) We really love sending people to prison for a long time. And guess what! That's also why we keep running out of prison places. Hence, this is also why we have so much outsourcing in the prison service.

4. In 2012, Sheffield Council entered into a PFI contract with multinational corporation Amey, who were tasked with improving the streets and roads, a project that they said would involve felling up to 17,500 trees, more than half of the trees in Sheffield. (Josh Halliday, The Guardian.) Activists from Sheffield have put up a strong protest. One of the Council's most controversial actions was that it got a civil injunction to stop protestors entering the barriers around the trees. South Yorkshire police also accompanied Amey on a dawn raid. When householders refused to move their cars so tree felling could go ahead, the raid ended with pensioners still in their nighties being arrested (you can read more about that here.)

More recently, a vicar with a tambourine, and a middle-aged woman playing a pink glittery recorder, have been among some of the people arrested trying to stop the trees being felled. (Helen Pidd, The Guardian)

The PFI deal that Amey have with Sheffield Council is apparently due to run for 25 years.

5. At one stage, the multinational "Security" service G4S, whose "specialism" is in transporting prisoners between custody and the courts, were losing prisoners at court at a rate of about one prisoner a month. Even so, the government continued to give them contracts to move prisoners. Perhaps because they are so amazing at it?

6. There are 17 species of bat in the UK. All of them are nominally protected, and 4 of the bat species have extra protection: they are "annexed II species".

7 If you've ever seen a bat, most likely it was a Common Pipistrelle. It's the only bat that comes out at dusk. Most other bats only ever come out at night.

It may seem odd that I'm researching bats and outsourcing both for the same novel. The truth is, I have an esoteric method. Also, I know plenty more about bats that I'm not sharing here, because I've got to save something for the book.

Thanks for reading my little update. That's it for now. Check back for another update in about four months.


Thursday April 19th I'll be reading at the Leeds launch of the Verse Matters anthology at Leeds University. Book tickets through Eventbrite (it's free!)

Tuesday May 22nd helping with the launch of May You: The Walter Swan Anthology (Valley Press) at The Leeds Library. Again, it's free. More info & book tickets here.

Currently reading

The Underground Hamid Ismailov 
Home Fire Kamila Shamsie  

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Obligatory end of year post, 2017

Writing is a funny business. You've got to be a bit odd to want to be an author in the first place: all those hours spent in a room by yourself, making stuff up, and rarely, if ever, getting paid for it. Those of us who choose to do it either have a bit of a personality defect, or an awful lot of things they want to say, or in my case, a bit of both.

Every writer has good years and crap years. I've been on the receiving end of plenty of crap and terrible years myself, but this year... this year has been ace.

Notes written for Guest, 2015

So here's a quick summary of my 2017, in pictures.

Comma Press Short Story Writing Course

I began the year teaching some wonderful students in a Comma Short Story Course at Carriageworks Theatre, Leeds.

Comma Short Story Writing course, Carriageworks

It was such a joy to teach these students and to think deeply about the short story craft. The students also produced an anthology. Tyto Alba: Short Stories by New Leeds Writers (which I edited) is now available as an e-book on Amazon, here.

Winning a Saboteur Award for Remembering Oluwale

It seems like ages ago now, but one of my hugest highlights of this year was the Saboteur Awards in May this year.

We won!
Putting the anthology Remembering Oluwale was one of my highlights of last year. The project was such a fulfilling one, one which took months of work, and although I was incredibly proud of the book, it was hard to know whether other people liked it too. Anyway, it turns out they did, and we won a Saboteur Award for it.

Here's a pic of me and Max Farrar from Remember Oluwale getting a bit giggly at the Awards bash after our win (sorry for picture quality; we'd all had a few boozes by that point.)

Max Farrar & SJ Bradley at Saboteur Awards, May 2017

However, there are always losses to temper the winnings, as I found out when I handed Max the big bottle of gin we'd won as part of the prize, and he went on a lengthy bar crawl, and left it in a pub.

We never did get to drink that gin.

On the other hand, I did get to keep the trophy.

This little fella lives on my writing desk.
Sadly, this was also the weekend in which the notebook in which I'd written most of the working notes for Guest was pickpocketed out of my bag on the Tube. Farewell, little red notebook, I will never forget you.

If you see the notebook on the right... I want it back!

Teaching for First Story 

During 2017, I was writer in residence at Leeds East Academy in Seacroft, Leeds. Teaching creative writing to the students there was one of the most rewarding things I've ever done. In September this year, they launched their anthology at Chapel FM in Leeds.

I'd watched these students go from being frightened little mice to being fierce lions, and it was an honour to watch them reading fearlessly in the beautiful upstairs space in Chapel FM.

First Story Students along with Peter from Chapel FM

Northern Short Story Festival

Can I say it? This year's festival was a belter. A full day of short story goodness for £20 (you can't even get a long-distance train ticket for that these days) with workshops from Zoe Lambert, Sarah Dobbs, AJ Ashworth, and the mighty mighty Jacob Ross, winner of the Jhalak Prize.

Jacob Ross at the Northern Short Story Festival 2017

What a treat it was to hear Leone Ross read from her newly-launched collection, Come Let Us Sing Anyway, in conversation with Peepal Tree Press editor Jeremy Poynting. Talk about having the crowd eat out of her hand!

Leone Ross & Jeremy Poynting @ Northern Short Story Festival '17. Photo: Izzy Brittle
As ever, our audience came from far and wide for this festival. We hosted our first ever Flash Fiction Slam (a huge success, by the way) at which the judges crowned Phil Olsen a very deserving winner. Here's a photo of judge & compere Jimmy Andrex whipping up the crowd.

Flash Fiction Slam, Northern Short Story Festival 2017. Credit: Izzy Brittle

Second novel, Guest, was launched
Phew, as if going to London, teaching for First Story, and organising a short story festival wasn't enough, this was also the year I launched my second novel, Guest.
Myself & editor Nathan Connolly at the launch of Guest.

A queue for signing! Guest launch, July 2017

It's always weird, after months or years working on a piece of fiction (Guest took about 2 and a half years to write), to see it finally come out into the world. You never quite know what people are going to think or how it's going to be received.
Photos: @carmymac and @carriebethx

Anyway, it turns out people quite liked it. The Morning Star called it "a tightly honed work of dirty realism with convincing characters and richly developed settings, Guest is an entertaining and life-affirming work with important things to say about protest, [and] resilience", and Disclaimer Magazine called it "a journey told in clear, well-chosen prose [...] [with] characters both naturalistic and recognisable." It made it into The Morning Star's Books of the Year.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to do a number of events to support the book, in Bradford, Leeds (twice), Bolton, Manchester, and even in London! Many thanks if you invited me somewhere or hosted me anywhere. This event in Housman's Bookstore in London was a particular highlight. Thanks to Kit Caless of Influx Press for playing host.
L-R Kit Caless, Abondance Matanda, SJ Bradley, Sam Berkson, Holly Pester @Housmans Bookshop, November '17

Guest is still available from Dead Ink Books.
Comma Press & Verse Matters publications 
I was really chuffed to have a number of short story publications this year. Comma Press invited me to contribute to their Conradology anthology, which is a collection of stories and essays responding to the work of Joseph Conrad. My story, Fractional Distillation, responds to the themes of colonialisation threaded throughout Conrad's work, particularly Heart of Darkness.
Conradology from Comma Press
You can purchase Conradology from the Comma Press website here, and why not treat yourself to one of the many other fine anthologies and collections they have, while you're there?

Verse Matters, ed. Helen Mort & Rachel Bower, from Valley Press

There's also the Verse Matters anthology, edited by Rachel Bowers and Helen Mort, which "harnesses the power of everyday stories, highlighting the strength and inspiration that comes from speaking out proudly in unsettled times." My story Weak Heart is in there, along with new writing from Malika Booker, Liz Berry and Hollie McNish, among others, and is available from the Valley Press website here.
Winning a K Blundell Trust Award 

To use a hackneyed aphorism, winning a K Blundell Trust award in December this year was the cherry on top of a particularly cakey year. On Thursday I arrived home from work to find a letter waiting from the Society of Authors. I never get exciting post like that, and I wasn't sure what it was.
Turns out it was a letter telling me that I've won a K Blundell Trust Award, to support me to research and write my third novel, The Everything Company.
Whut? AKA: my face when I opened the letter.
It couldn't be real, I said to myself, as I looked around the kitchen for a hidden camera. (My kitchen, by the way, is where I open most of my post. I find it very well suited to the task, in case the post makes you suddenly need to make a calming cup of tea.) This must have been the tenth or twelvth or maybe twentieth award I've applied for over the course of the past five years or so, and I never win grants or awards, I said to myself, so surely this must be a mistake, or perhaps I am suffering from some kind of Grants or Awards Non-Winning Mirage, such as the type a thirsty man might suffer when crossing a desert.
So then I read the letter again, and then I rang my publisher Nathan, and talking to him convinced me that perhaps it wasn't a prank after all, that I really had won a Society of Authors Award, and later on it popped up on The Bookseller website, which means it must be true.
The Award will be of huge help to me, since it will allow me to take a bit of time away from my day job to concentrate on writing the next book, and honestly, I can't wait to get stuck in.

Another thing I want to say 
At the end of this very long blog post, what I want to say is that this year has been a real bowl of fancy chocolates for me; it's been truffle after truffle, maybe the odd praline or marzipan-coated treat, and not a single coffee-flavoured liquer among them (well, maybe one - that time when my notebook got pickpocketed on the Tube.)
I also want to say that not every year I've had as an author has been like this one. Some years have been real stinkers. I've had years when nobody wanted to publish anything I wrote, when I got rejection letter after rejection letter; years when supposedly reputable editors have tried to rip me off, I've had stretches lasting months and years where I've had nothing but rejection or often lengthy haunting silences and no rejection letters at all, and times when I've been invited to give readings and I've gone along and literally nobody's turned up.

There was a period of years when I've wondered why I bother continuing trying to write when a. nobody wants to read my writing, or b. nobody likes my stuff anyway apart from me, so maybe it's me that has the problem? or maybe c. the odds of success are so low and there are so many writers out there better than me, so why bother?

All of this makes it all the more sweeter when I've finally had a great year, a year like the one I've just had.

Anyway it turns out that if you keep going, keep on reading, writing, working, meeting deadlines, and being kind and supportive to other people, and accepting other people's help, eventually you might be lucky enough have a year like mine.

Merry Christmas, and God bless us, every one! 
Bradders' favourite books from this year
Know Your Place anthology, Dead Ink Books
Sealed, Naomi Booth
ThoughtX anthology, Comma Press
The Intuitionist, Colson Whitehead (didn't come out this year, but I read it this year)
The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead
Hold Tight, Jeffrey Boakye, Influx Press
Come Let Us Sing Anyway, Leone Ross, Peepal Tree Press
The Dead Lake, Hamid Ismailov, Peirene Press

Monday, 27 November 2017

Thank you!

L-R Kit Caless, Abondance Matanda, me, Sam Berkson, Holly Pester. Photo by Ricky Adam

Phew! It's been a mad few weeks. I'm so grateful to have been asked to do so many events over the past month or so: I've been to Bolton, to London, to Leeds (twice); it's been a knackering few weeks, but I'm so glad to see the spirit of literature is alive and well, and that activism, print and protest is well and truly alive. Thank you to the wonderful people who have hosted me and put some terrific events on. Just look at the crowd at the Blackwell's Leeds Short Story Salon, from 9th November! 

Blackwells Leeds Short Story Salon (photo from @blackwellleeds)

It was wonderful to see so many people there, and great hearing Martyn Bedford read from his new short story collection, Letters Home.  

(photo from @blackwellleeds)

Similarly, a couple of weeks ago I went to Bolton. This was a fab event in their Central Library - many thanks to Simon Holloway at the Bolton Creative Writing MA for hosting me, and to Liz at Bolton Libraries. There's nothing quite like entering a venue only to be greeted with a massive photo of your own face. 
Super weird. 
The students were attentive & engaged and asked some brilliant questions; I was glad to have been invited (and gone) to Bolton. 

Another thing was the time when I went to Seacroft, to appear on Peter Spafford's show Love the Words on Chapel FM. Peter is a great fellow, and Love the Words is a great show, so I was really chuffed to be invited. Even better was that I appeared alongside poet Ian Harker, and historical crime writer Mark Knowles, each of us talking about our recent books, and our musical inspirations. You can listen again to it on the Chapel FM website here.

Perhaps my favourite thing of all in these most recent weeks has been talking to like-minded, and sometimes not-so like-minded people, having conversations about the role fiction can play in protest and resistance. In this post-truth world, what role can fiction play in representing and questioning the truth? Many of the literature events have reminded me of the huge importance of writing the truth in our fiction, and of building and creating networks that resist existing systems of oppression and dominant narratives. Discussions around this were a particular feature of the Housman's event in London. It was a particular treat at this event to run into some of my fellow Dead Ink authors, Marc Nash & Haroun Khan. 

L-R me, Marc Nash, Haroun Khan

In case you were wondering - I'm currently working on my third novel, 80,000 words into the first draft, and wondering whether I'm going mad, as usual. Will I have some time off?

Probably not, to be honest.

Currently reading 

Death and the Seaside Alison Moore
Finch Jeff Vandermeer (I cannot recommend the e-book version of this, because it's full of errors. Read it in print if you can.) 

Sunday, 13 August 2017


Many thanks to everyone who's supported Guest so far. It was amazing to see so many people at the launch - I honestly wasn't expecting such a good reception, but in the end we had almost 70 people there, a great crowd. Thank you so much for all of your support and you were a great crowd.

If you have read the book, may I please ask you to leave me an Amazon or Goodreads review? Cheers!

I'll also be doing the following events over the next few months:

Tuesday 19th September, Leeds - Fictions of Every Kind: Family, along with Emily Devane, at Wharf Chambers. Anybody can come along to this event, although you do have to sign up to become a member of Wharf Chambers beforehand, which costs £1 and you can do it online at Further details on the Fictions of Every Kind events page.

Saturday 30th September, Wakefield - Wakefield Lit Fest event at the Hepworth Gallery with Claire Fisher and June Taylor, 3.00.

Monday 9th October, Ilkley - Un/Forced Rhubarb Anthology launch at Ilkley Literature Festival Fringe, Ilkley Playhouse - Lounge, 9.15pm (hour-long event.)

Wednesday 25th October, Shipley, Bradford - Rhubarb 15 at the Triangle in Shipley.

Friday 3rd November, Manchester - National Creative Writing Graduate Fair, hosted by Comma Press. I'll be appearing as part of a panel event at this great fair. Reduced price places are available for writers who otherwise wouldn't be able to attend. See the Facebook page for more information.

Monday 6th November, Bolton Library - in conversation with Simon Holloway of Bolton University Creative Writing MA. This is a cheap (or free, I'm not sure) event with wine, starting from 6.00.

Tuesday 14th November, Chapel FM, Leeds - I'll be on Peter Spafforth's radio show talking about Guest.

Thursday 16th November, Housmans Bookshop, London N19DX - Pages of Protest with Abondance Matanda (Know Your Place), Holly Pester (Protest: Comma Press), & Sam Berkson (Influx Press). Entry £3, redeemable against any book purchase. Starts 7pm. 

I'm also taking part in Script Yorkshire's Adaptation Challenge, on September 18th at Basement Bar, City Screen Cinema, York. This is a sight-unseen 'script in hand' reading of a short story I've adapted for stage (i.e. I've done the adapting, but it isn't one of my own short stories!) It promises to be a great night so please do come along.