Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Letterpress graveyard

This was a nice early 'Christmas present'; a set of five cool printing blocks, salvaged from a letterpress graveyard! Clockwise, from top: house, concertina camera, car, bunnies, vacuum cleaner (ERRR, HOW WOULD I KNOW WHAT ONE OF THOSE LOOKS LIKE - RIGHT?? RIGHT???!!!) sheep, centre: more sheep. These little babies will get some printin' use some time in the New Year. For now I am having one of those - r ... resch? - - rezzzit ?? - - oh, rest! - - things that people talk so much about.

In accordance with 'having a rest', I don't have too much time to update my blog just now. To compensate, here is a picture of a kitten.

More soon. (Words, that is, not kittens)

Currently reading

1Q84 Haruki Murakami
The Tiny Wife Andrew Kaufman

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Great political writers of our time: George Orwell

“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” - George Orwell

Born 1902 as Eric Blair, Orwell at the age of 30 disappointed his well-to-do parents by abandoning a well-paid career in the Imperial Police in Burma for the unstable life of a writer. His years in the Imperial Police, along with years spent in poverty in Paris and London, contributed to his strongly-held political convictions: “[They] increased my natural hatred of authority and made me for the first time fully aware of the existence of the working classes,” he was later to write. He became a committed democratic socialist.

Like many writers, he struggled in the actual act of writing, finding it uncomfortable and difficult. Yet he felt driven to continue his work, and was determined to develop political writing into an art. Pushed by his ideologies rather than a desire to create artistic works, political allegory and injustices created by existing systems were always a feature in his novels.

1984 was Orwell’s last book. He had seen much suffering in his life, living through both world wars and fighting in the Spanish civil war, and was opposed to any form of totalitarianism, whether it came from the Left or the Right. Though many read it as a warning of a possible future, Orwell maintained that he always intended it as a warning about the mechanisms used by the state to exert control over individuals.

In the novel, the state controls everything. Citizens are allocated their work, where they live; the state even controls the language they use - and they are manipulated into respecting and admiring their government, which has as its figurehead the shadowy Big Brother. Conflict in the novel comes from the desires of individuals against the state, and in particular in the love story between Winston and his girlfriend Julia. When they are together, the freedom of the human spirit prevails. This - love - is the one thing that Big Brother can’t control.

When their affair is discovered by the authorities, the two are separated and tortured into betraying one another. Their love has to be beaten out of them; it cannot be tolerated that they should have greater loyalty to someone other than Big Brother. “Never again will you be capable of love, or friendship, or joy of living, or laughter, or curiosity, or courage, or integrity…” Winston is told by a state enforcer, towards the end of the book. […] “… there will be no loyalty, except loyalty towards the party. There will be no love, except the love of Big Brother.”

He is told: “Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever.”

The novel is one of the greatest of the 20th Century. It came out to almost universally positive reviews and is still much loved today. At the time of its publication, the Book of the Month club in America wanted Orwell to cut out large sections of the book, including its Newspeak appendix and the long section on Emmanuel Goldstein’s “The Theory and Practise of Oligarchical Collectivism”. Orwell refused. The publisher speculated that, by declining to make the cuts, he stood to lose a minimum of $40,000. But Orwell valued the political aspect of the work too highly to do any different; and the Book of the Month club decided to take on 1984 anyway. Orwell: “So that shows that virtue is its own reward, or that honesty is the best policy, I forget which.”

Currently reading
IQ84 Haruki Murakami

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The Book in my Head is now on the Page

Last night, I went to see The Book in my Head is now on the Page, a collaborative performance piece by Matt Bellwood and A Quiet Word. The piece is set and performed in the beautiful surroundings of The Leeds Library, on Commercial Street.

The audience were greeted at the doorway by a mysterious man in a strange wig. "Trick or stunt?" he asked us, jiggling ping-pong balls around in his pocket. Bouncing them off the tiles, he threw them up in the air, then caught them in his mouth - all four of them. "Did you know that the Leeds Library was first started by King Olaf with three pieces of wood in 1485?" he said, waving us inside.

Librarians checked us in at the doorway. "We are lucky to have such creative minds with us tonight," they said, stamping us in. They gave us each a book and a coloured ribbon. A trio of beautiful maidens, dressed in black, tied the ribbons around our wrists. "You are all such talented and important authors," they said. "But is one of the pages from your book missing?"

A young man on the stairs, introducing us to the history of the building, ushered us into the reading room. The smell of old books greeted us as the head librarian, an eccentric woman in horn-rimmed glasses and hot pink lipstick, told us about the importance of her work. "I am custodian of the words," she said. "Without my care, they would be forgotten!" Overcome with passion for her job, she crawled away on all fours, climbing the stacks and stroking the books with desperate hands. "Save the library!" she cried, with ever-more impassioned cries. "Save the library! Save the library!"

Onwards, and a man sat in a darkened room, waiting to tell the visitors tiny tales of the city. Sitting in a semi-circle around a map, the participants listened, enraptured, as he read short tales of overheard conversation, and arguments in the chip shop.

As our experience drew to an end, we were invited to find, amongst the shelves, the missing page from our book. On the balcony of the back room, we searched amongst the shelves for odd pages sticking out into the air; voices, telling tales, whispered from hidden places behind the books as we went on the hunt for the final page.

Absorbing, witty, and very imaginative, The Book in my Head is now on the Page sent me out into the night thinking seriously about some of the questions it asked. By drawing the 'audience' in very adeptly to be 'participants' - but never in an uncomfortable way - it makes attendees think about the nature of creativity. It makes the audience think about whether they see themselves as creative people, and about the value of their own creative efforts; and what inspiration they can gain from the everyday.

The Book in my Head is now on the Page will be shown again in the evening of Monday 28th November at The Leeds Library. Performances are about 20 minutes long and run every 15 minutes from 7pm until 8.30. To book a place call The Leeds Library on 0113 245 3071.

Currently reading

Tim Binding The Champion
Best American Short Stories (1993) Various - Edited by Tobias Wolff

Monday, 14 November 2011


I'm a bit too busy to update properly at the moment, so here's a picture of a nice dog.

More soon.

Currently reading

Slaughterhouse 5 Kurt Vonnegut
Things fall apart Chinua Achebe

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Christiania: Free Town

Christiania - Free Town is a small section of Copenhagen, not far from the city centre.

The community was established in 1971, when a group of well-organised anarchists moved into a set of disused army barrack buildings. Today, 40 years later, members of the original community - as well as 'incomers' from later generations - are still there.

Anarchy is often misunderstood. Many people perceive anarchists to be dangerous individualists who want to do whatever they want, to please themselves, all the time. That's not necessarily the case. Behind anarchism is a principle of personal responsibility: everybody has to take responsibility for his or her actions, and has responsibility, too, to the people they live with. Anarchists resist the interference of state and corporate institutions. In any society, even an anarchistic one, you still have responsibility, and Christiania operates under simple 'common law': No private cars, no weapons, no hard drugs, and no violence.

The whole area, miraculously, has managed to avoid gentrification. Around the lake are a myriad of amazing self-built houses, made from mis-matching window frames, pieces of wood, and tile. Some are better built than others. Along with resistance to state interference comes greater reliance on the self, and not every anarchist can be a great builder. Take a few steps away from the more 'notorious' parts of Christiania - and you will find something interesting and beautiful.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Aphex Twinset

Knit a Bear Face, a guerilla knitting group from Leeds, collaborated with Circuit Ben to make a knitted piano that makes ACTUAL SOUNDS. It was first exhibited at Light Night in October 2011, to much hilarity from the general public. Here are some of the videos. I thought you might all get a kick out of them....

Currently reading

Sisterwives Rachel Connor
Work Crimethinc.

Cops & Robbers

The October issue of Cops & Robbers is out now! Cops & Robbers is a free DIY listings zine. It is run by volunteers and survives on donations and benefit gigs from the DIY community.

This month the illustrations were done by me & Nick of The Print Project. The pictures illustrate a 6-line 'fact-haiku' (written by me!) about the nature of activism. Over the past couple of weeks we've been typesetting and letterpress printing the text and illustrations. This is one of the projects that has been keeping me from updating this blog.

You can pick up a copy of Cops & Robbers at the Brudenell Social Club, at Jumbo Records, or at any DIY gig in Leeds.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Excuses, excuses

Sorry, but I have been

far too busy to

update my blog lately.

Currently reading

The Millstone Margaret Drabble
This Boy's Life Tobias Wolff

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Cops & Robbers

Cops and Robbers is a free guide to DIY gigs in Leeds. It's a long-standing institution which lists gigs that are for fun, not profit, and not as a stepping-ladder into mainstream music industry success.

Run by a couple of hard-working volunteers, Cops & Robbers is itself a non-profit - you don't pay to list your gigs in it, and it carries no advertising. It survives on money from benefit gigs and the generosity of donors.

In and amongst the gig listings are illustrations, usually drawn by members of the local DIY community. At the moment, Nick & I (the print project) are working on illustrations for the next issue. I've written a short 'fact-haiku' about DIY and activism, and the text is illustrated with text pictures using large wooden letters and typography, mostly courtesy of Nick. I'll post up pictures of the whole thing when it is done - but for the time being, you'll just have to content yourself with looking at part of the text and a letterpress forme 'word-cloud'.

Black Dogs: Next to Nothing

Black Dogs: Next to Nothing, an exhibition of the price of nothing and the value of everything, opens this coming Thursday. The exhibition contains work from over 30 individual artists and contributors, whose work has arisen from a series of discussions around themes of worth and value. The exhibition is in a disused shop unit on the 3rd floor of The Light - which is one of Leeds' 'destination' shopping centres. Luckily, the manager doesn't seem to mind having a critique of materialism installed there for 2 weeks.

Leeds' DIY art collective Black Dogs have been active since about 2003. Completely self-organised, voluntary and non-profit, the ethos is one of non-corporatism and being non market-driven. The Next To Nothing exhibition will pose questions connected to those themes: "What is the radical potential of thrift and an economical approach? When and why is something cheap? What does it mean to be not-for-profit or operate in a non-capitalist fashion? How do we value our time and how does this find expression through the things we do or make? When are we working and when do we play?"

The preview evening will be on Thursday 15th September, from 5-8. The exhibition is open until the 1st October, and its opening hours will be: 4-7 Mondays - Fridays, and 10-6 Saturdays.

Currently reading

The Millstone Margaret Drabble
Three to See the King Magnus Mills

Monday, 5 September 2011

Next to Nothing

This is the latest in a long line of current projects... two letterpressed short stories for the Black Dogs 'Next To Nothing' exhibition, which opens at the Light in Leeds, on September 15th. The exhibition, which will include contributions from around 30 artists, and non-artist reprobates like me, is sited in a disused shop unit in one of Leeds' most 'aspirational' shopping centres, and explores our conception of worth and value.

I have two short stories included in the exhibition, both of which I typeset & printed myself: Hourly Rate, and The Most Wonderful Time of The Year.

The exhibition's preview is on Thursday 15th September, with an after-party gig at Wharfe Chambers (formerly the Common Place). It will be open until 1st October and will be open Mon-Thurs 4-7pm, and on Saturdays during the day.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Doing It Yourself

A lot of people in publishing will tell you that self-publishing is the mark of failure. It's the last ditch resort, they'll tell you, of anyone whose work is so terrible they have no chance of publishing through conventional means. Unlike a band who put out their own record, or a director who funds his own film on a shoestring, self-publishing is considered to be the last refuge of the talentless. Her work is so bad, the received wisdom says, that nobody else believes in it enough to put it out.

In the punk scene, it's the norm to put out your own record (or agree to let a friend do it for you). A large part of the culture of punk is the strength of feeling against mainstream culture, and the corporations who control it. Large entertainment corps like Sony EMI make millions of dollars from the exploitation of musicians. They own the creative endeavours of those who work for them - the music and words they write, and their performances. They can even shelve a band's album, and stop the band from releasing it themselves, if its in their interests to do so.

"Is the publishing industry really as bad as all that?", you might ask. "Surely it's not so corporately driven as the music industry." It's true that there are lots of small presses doing excellent work. It's often the small presses that take the risks; they're often run on a shoestring, by people who have day-jobs who run their publishing house in the evenings and at weekends. These sorts of presses are usually run for love, not money, and they don't make a lot. (One of my favourites is Nightjar Press, who have been putting out a series of short story chapbooks for the past couple of years now.) Big publishing houses, on the other hand, have a responsibility to generate profit for their shareholders, and that isn't always going to mean that they're publishing great literature. Katie Price biography, anyone?

In some cases, the publishing industry actively works against the wishes of its authors. Once the manuscript is sold, the writer may lose a certain amount of power over what happens next. You may not always have a say in how the book is marketed, or what the cover looks like. If you care about whether people will read your book, and whether the content of it is accurately represented by how it looks on the shelf, you will care about the cover. Some publishing houses (hello, Bloomsbury) are well-known for grossly misrepresenting their authors' work with egregious covers. As recently as 2010, Bloomsbury published novels by Justine Larbalestier and Jaclyn Dolamore, both of which had non-white protagonists, with white models on the cover. Why does it matter? Simple answer, it matters because it's racism. The same thing has been done to Ursula K Le Guin's work. There's a comprehensive article on 'whitewashing' on BookSmugglers here.

The tools for self-publishing are now within the reach of most authors. As Zetta Elliot says in her HuffPo article on self-publishing, "Writers today have options. We don't have to wait for someone else's stamp of approval".

There are loads of different ways to self-publish, from e-publishing to offset printing to print-on-demand; each has their advantages and disadvantages. Time spent researching the various methods to decide which will suit you, and your work best, will definitely pay off here. In short, as writer Hamish MacDonald says in his article Do-It-Yourself Book Press (on the No Media Kings website), "Generally, self-publishing involves an inverse relationship of work to money: The more work you’re willing to do, the more money you can save; the more you want to just skip to an end product, the more it’ll cost you".

Self-publishing isn't by any means an easy route, and to my mind if you're going to do it you should endeavour to do it well. There's nothing worse than a self-published book that looks self-published - dodgy formatting, spelling errors, unbelievably shonky sentence construction. You shouldn't look upon this route as a quick route to publication because the simple truth is, if your work is bad, nobody will want to read it. Your work should be the best it possibly can be before you bring it out into the public eye. There's an excellent, if somewhat acid, article by the writer Chuck Wendig on common errors that self-publishers make on his blog terribleminds: "You think publishing is full of mean ol’ myopic gatekeepers and you can do it better? How is anybody supposed to take you seriously when you can’t even approach a fraction of the quality found in books on bookstore shelves, books put out by publishers big and small? ... [if] you’re going to put something out there, make it count."

In other words, make sure your work is ready. Rewrite it, edit it, keep on polishing it the same as you would if you were trying to impress a 'professional'. Going down this route requires much more dedication and self-discipline than does a conventional route. The person breathing down your own neck is you. You must be the one horse-whipping yourself into creating something great, into something that other people actually want to read; and once it's out, you have to be the one who gets around, who networks, who gets the book into shops and libraries. It's not an easy route, but it gives you more control, and maybe more satisfaction.

More information on self-publishing on the No Media Kings website

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Next to Nothing

It's been a busy summer. The second rewrite of the novel is almost done, and as well as getting ready for a spoken word appearance at the sadly cancelled Beacons festival, I've also been preparing some flash fiction for an exhibition. Next To Nothing, a collaborative project by art collective Black Dogs, will open on September 15th in a disused shop unit in The Light in Leeds. It will contain works by various artists, performers and musicians exploring our notions of worth and value. My contribution has been to write and letterpress two short stories on the theme. Above you can see some of the words from the story 'Hourly Rate'. The typeface, Secession, is one that I bought on a recent letterpress expedition. I like this typeface because it's got a nice Art Deco look to it. Have a look below at all of the copies I printed!

Currently reading

The scheme for full employment Magnus Mills

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Bringing home the bacon

Recently, I've had a couple of strange conversations about how much I make from my work as a writer. Having these sorts of conversations always reminds me of that David Sedaris joke: at parties, when people find out what he does for a living, people ask: "You're a writer? You've written a book? Oh, I might write a book. How much do you get paid?" The joke isn't always obvious to non-writers. They don't see how many hours of toil go into working on a novel, nor how little money you'll ever see back from those hours. Very few writers make money, and there are lots of great writers who worked their whole lives, leaving behind works of massive importance, who never made any more than the minimum wage.

Commercial success isn't necessarily a great thing to aim for. The problem with writing for money, as the saying goes, is that you'll have to write for money. But if you remove the burden of having to generate profit through your writing, you can devote yourself to writing whatever you like. That doesn't mean you dash off whatever crap comes into your head, and never push yourself to improve. All it means is that you're writing the work you think is important, the work that matters to you. It doesn't matter whether or not it has commercial potential. It matters that you care about it.

When you decide you want to be this kind of writer, you also have to figure out how you're going to do it. Above all else, you make sure you write, and that you've got as much time as possible to do it. It's not always easy, but there are a couple of ways to make sure you can write, and still have enough money to live.

One way is to find a job without much responsibility, where you can spend most of the hours you spend at the day-job writing. Raymond Carver, (ONLY ONE OF THE 20TH CENTURY'S GREATEST WRITERS, IN CASE YOU DIDN'T KNOW) spent many years as a hospital porter. He used to get all his work done in the first hour on the job, then spend the rest of it clacking away on his typewriter. (Or scribbling in his notepad, I don't know which method he used). That's RAYMOND CARVER, one of the greatest writers of OUR TIME. He wasn't above working in a hospital, and it will have given him a great deal of material to write about, too. Go figure.

Another way is to find a job well-paid enough to allow you to only work part time, so that you've got a couple of days a week to spend at your writing desk. Charles Ives, one of the forefathers of American composition, worked as an insurance clerk - AN INSURANCE CLERK - his entire life, and in the evenings composed some of the most groundbreaking works in the American musical canon. You didn't catch Charles Ives bitching, "Ohhh, I think I'll give up my day job as an insurance clerk to take a job writing advertising jingles, just so that I can truthfully say I'M A COMPOSER!" No! Charles Ives did not write music for money! He dutifully worked away in the evenings at his work, never allowing his lack of commercial or critical success to deter him from getting on.

In any case, an imaginary third option of making as much money as Dan Brown, and rolling around in bales of bank notes on a yacht, isn't really available to most of us. And if it were, would you really want to take it up? (Remember, when you give your answer, that you would have had to have written a book as bad as Angels and Demons). You'd basically be writing books for people who don't really like books very much. You think about that, and you get behind your desk, and stop worrying about being poor, and bloody well get on with it.

Currently reading

In American with Greenday Aaron Cometbus

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Untitled Books - August 2011 issue

Too excited about it to post in detail just now, but my short story Things that are Lost, and things that are Broken has just been published in the August 2011 issue of Untitled Books. Last night, on my way back from holiday I received a lovely text from them to say that they thought my story was excellent and that they would like to include it in the next issue. Would I mind terribly? No I would not. In fact, only being cased in the steel body of a car stopped me jumping all over the place in excitement. Click the link above to read it.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

First experiments at making bookmarks for The Leeds Library...

Currently, I'm embroiled in several projects in which art, literature and letterpress collide. This is one of the newest: a potential commission for letterpress bookmarks for The Leeds Library. Opening in 1768, the library is one of the country's oldest subscription libraries. It houses a marvellous book collection, which is chosen by and reflects the interests of its members, and recently they were kind enough to allow us to host Fictions of Every Kind there.

The library has a range of merchandise ranging from book bags to postcards and bookmarks. When Geoff told me they were thinking of having new bookmarks printed, I leapt right in to offer to letterpress some. (Everything looks amazing when you letterpress it). He lent me an old printing block that they have, and I got to work typesetting their address and contact details. Above, you can see some of the prototypes. The completed versions should be available before too long!

Currently reading

The Wayward Bus John Steinbeck
Collected Stories Raymond Carver

Friday, 22 July 2011

Letterpress nerdery

Here is a picture of a nice dog I saw yesterday whilst on a print-related adventure.

Yesterday, I went to a strange place - a letterpress graveyard, if you will - with my letterpress conspirator, Nick. He had his eye on a proofing press, and I wanted to perv over many different kinds of type.

At the moment, I'm working on several letter-press projects. One is a collection of micro-stories for an exhibition themed 'Next to Nothing'. I'll letterpress print the stories and show them in the exhibition, which is going to be in a disused shop unit in Leeds later on in the year. There will be three stories, and my aim is to print each using a different typeface... so I needed to get my mucky little paws on some more of those lovely letters!

The chap who runs the strange place used to work with computers, and has gradually moved, bit by bit, into the world of antiquary. While we were there, he mentioned in passing that he would never go back to working back with new technology again. The mainstay of his business is in repairing and moving printing presses, but incidental to that has a massive collection of trays of type, printing press spare parts, and everything that goes along with it. Cases reached from floor to ceiling, each full with type trays. There were lots of rare typefaces, in all shapes and sizes, and I spent a pleasant hour standing on chairs and climbing over printing presses to look at them. I came away with two trays of an 20s style art-deco typeface which so rare it isn't in any of the books. (This is what I'll be using to print one of the stories).

In addition, the guy was looking after two of his friends' dogs and they were both running around the yard, yapping and getting excited. Here's a picture of them in action.

Friday, 8 July 2011

What does it take to be a writer's other half?

Most of the column inches in this blog are taken up with me complaining about being a writer. The hours suck, it's poorly paid, and nobody ever says "well done". In fact, they are much more likely to say, "Would you please stop filling the house with scraps of paper, and get that bloody laptop off the kitchen table?"

It occurred to me lately that few of us would ever get anything done were it not for the support of our other halves. People of a creative mindset are wont to be flighty and inconsistent. Anything and everything interests us, and we can almost forget that the world is turning when we're absorbed in the act of creation. In my rush to get back to the writing desk, I'll often leave pans dirty and crumb-covered plates all over the worktop. Later on I'll come back downstairs and shout "WHO ON EARTH MADE ALL THIS DISGUSTING MESS", forgetting that in fact it is I who has the softest of hands from never bloody washing up.

Stability, that's important to us. The working life of any writer is filled end to end with discouragement. There is no steady ground beneath our feet. Every writer has her black periods. Quite apart from constantly doubting whether our work is really any good, we face discouragement from lots of other angles. A constantly growing pile of rejection letters or resounding silences, or sniping reviews can reinforce our belief that we're really not all that good at what we do. If we didn't have our other halves to support us when we're moping, or to remind us that we have to re-tax the car or break off to eat every now and again, we would probably be a bit depressed, as well as somewhat unproductive.

And the job of being a writer's other half is far from a rewarding one. You're attached to somebody who spends most of their free time staring moodily into a computer screen; and when they're not doing that, their thought processes are mainly taken up with the process of deciding What Happens Next. Your spouse's head is continually in an imaginary place - an imaginary place completely inaccessible to you until its creator has spent months of her life writing, rewriting, and editing it. On top of all that, what your scribbling beloved requires from you most of all is that you never, ever interrupt her while she is working.

So let's all give 'props' to our other halves - for putting up with our inconsistencies, for doing more than their share around the house, and for placing cups of tea unobtrusively just within reach of our hands when we are deep in the quagmire of a third or fourth edit. We would be nothing without them.

Currently reading

The Outsider Albert Camus
The Cossacks Leo Tolstoy

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Now out!

After months of hard labour, copies of my letterpress & handmade short story chapbook 'A Stranger Came' are now officially available! They're priced at £3.90 post paid to UK addresses - contact me for prices if you live outside of the UK. I'll accept payment by paypal, cheque, or the time-honoured method of sticking coins to a bit of card and sending them through the post and hoping for the best. Contact me at the email address in my profile, or leave a comment below, if you want one.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Let's get organised

I keep promising myself I'll stop using the phrase, "Sorry I've been so rubbish at staying in touch lately. Things have been really busy at my end." I came out of my mother's womb saying it, and despite numerous resolutions to stop getting involved in things, I somehow always manage to fill every moment of spare time with doings. Whether it's organising, writing, going to the library, having meetings, or typesetting and printing, there's always something to do. It'll be on my gravestone: "Here lays Sarah Bradley. She wished there could have been more hours in the day."

Comma Press is seeking submissions to a structurally-based anthology called 'The Reveal'. Entries ought to be between 2000 & 8000 words in length, and entry is free if you've bought one of their previous anthologies. Entering is a bit complicated - you have to email your entry to two email addresses as well as sending a hard copy through the post - so look carefully at the guidelines.

Mslexia magazine, the magazine for women's writers, is running an unpublished novel competition for the first time ever! Entries can be of any genre, and the prize is a generous one - £5,000. To enter, send them the first 5,000 words of your novel; the entry fee is £25.

There's an exciting arts in the public realm festival in Chapeltown, Leeds, next week. Under the Paving Stones, the Beach aims to encourage interaction with creativity, and to offer different opportunities for the public to interact with different kinds of art away from traditional gallery spaces. There are all kinds of events from a pop-up art pub, to an interactive mobile phone experience that gets participants involved in the running of the "Independent People's Republic of Chapeltown".

As for me, I'm going to get my head down and get some work done....

Currently reading

The Crystal World JG Ballard
Sunset Park Paul Auster

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Fictions of Every Kind now has its own website!

Fictions has grown up. It's gone through a teenage phase of shouting "I hate you!" and "I didn't ASK to be born!", slamming the doors off all of the hinges and inviting it's mates around to run up and down the stairs like a herd of baby elephants, and now it's moving out.

Please go and visit Fictions of Every Kind in its new internet bungalow to see its baby photos, and to find out what it'll get up to next.

Fictions of Every Kind: Procrastination

Photo by Nick of The Print Project

Fictions of Every Kind: Procrastination is our next event. It will take place on July 5th at The Leeds 'Secret' Library and will feature screenings of specially curated films around the theme of 'procrastination'. Award-winning shorts from Canada, the US, the UK and Ireland will be shown, and boxed wine will be provided. Entry will be free, although donations towards the cost of the boxed wine will be welcomed. There will be time and opportunity for writers to share their work. It'll start at 19.30 and will end around 21.30.
The 'Secret' Library - also known as 'The Leeds Library' (for that is its real name) is the city's oldest independent subscription library. If you live in Leeds, you have probably walked past it hundreds of times without even noticing its there. The doorway to it is snuggled between Britannia Bank and Paperchase on Commercial Street, Leeds, opposite LUSH. It was opened in the 1760s and boasted Joseph Priestley as one early member. Annual membership costs £25 for young 'uns between the ages of 18-25, or £75 if you are starting to get wrinkly, like me. However, you do not have to be a member to attend the 'procrastination' event, as one of us will be able to sign you in.

There are lots of things to love about this library. It has a beautiful tiled entrance hall and stairway, and old-fashioned library ladders, and is filled literally floor to ceiling with really, really old books. The collection is idiosyncratic and reflects the interests of its members. Any member can request for new books to be added to the collection; accordingly, it has a large collection on the occult, following the interests of a member who was evidently a casual Satanist, and rich sections on topography and American classic literature.

Behind the original library is an extension to the original building, which was completed in 1900. They call this 'the new room'. This is where you'll find all the books on travel, topography, and the occult. Every week, on a Thursday afternoon, specialist book preservers in white lab coats come to fix the old books. It is thanks to their work that the library is able to continue to hold a collection of marvellous old tomes.

Thanks for reading, and we look forward to seeing your lovely faces on July 5th!

Saturday, 4 June 2011

A Stranger Came: Out Shortly!

A close up of those bound edges

'Tis nearly finished! After months of labour, A Stranger Came is now (almost) completely bound, cut and ready to go. It will be out later on this week. Two things remain to be done: the pages trimmed, and for each copy to be numbered. I am sure I won't get writer's cramp doing the second one.

Let's have a look at those different-coloured covers in full.

L-R: White with ltd edition silver binding; cream; brown; pale yellow

Pale yellow; cream; brown; white with ltd edition silver binding

Currently reading

Trust me, I'm a junior doctor Max Pemberton
The Crystal World JG Ballard

Sunday, 29 May 2011

What a bind!

These are the pages of my short story 'zine A Stranger Came. Those of you who've been following my blog regularly will know that I've been typesetting and letterpress printing this story for the past few months. It's been a bit of a painstaking endeavour! The text is set in Morris Gold 8pt type, and because I didn't have enough of it to set a full page at a time, I instead spent many weeks typesetting two paragraphs at once, printing those, breaking up the type, sorting it, and then setting the next two paragraphs....

The last of the printing itself was finished about a month ago. (Special thanks at this point must go to Nick at The Print Project for teaching me how to typeset and print, and for letting me come over every week to print more bits of it.)

This week, the pages will at last get bound together. The rather marvellous Alice Rix is going to come around to lend a hand, and to help me work out how to bind it. Hopefully, by the end of this week, 86 copies of A Stranger Came should be bound and cut and ready for sale.

Here are the things you need for binding:

Clockwise from top: Craft knife costing £2.69 or less; hole punching device; hammer; embroidery thread.

More to follow.

Currently reading

Burma Boy Biyi Bandele
Not on the Label Felicity Lawrence

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Fictions of Every Kind: Missing - two days after

Gareth Durasow reading at Fictions of Every Kind: Missing

What a marvellous night we all had on Tuesday at the Library. My thanks go out to everyone who came out, making it such a success!

There were plenty of exciting newcomers to the open mic, and some brilliant contributions from our regulars. Many of the pieces were touching and thought-provoking. Approaches to the month's theme were diverse. The creativity in the air was palpable....

Catherine reads a piece on 'going missing' during the Open Mic

Our guest speakers were Gareth Durasow (pictured, above) and Nasser Hussain. We had been expecting Phil Kirby, but he was unable to make it at the very last minute. Gareth read from a set of poems, numbered 1 - 12, and the audience chose (by heckling) the order in which he should read them. It was funny and biting and inspirational, and we were really glad to have him. Nasser, an excellent addition to the bill, is a Canadian-born hip-hop influenced poet. His work riffed off and referenced Stevie Wonder and Run DMC, and his poems were read with fascinating rhythm. If you ever get the chance to see him perform, I really recommend that you go.

The night was closed by the marvellous 7 hertz, whose music perhaps can best be described as "improvised sound-paintings". Though it was late, and much beer had been drunk, the audience listened in a raptured silence, drawn in by the intertwining melodies and counterpoints.

Thanks again to everyone who came out ... hope to see you at the next one!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Late addition to Fictions of Every Kind: Missing

Sometimes life throws you these curveballs. Sometimes they're curveballs that make you want to kick the nearest kitten, and other times they're the sort of curveballs that make you want to jump for joy - like that time I saw an elderly couple riding a tandem around Huddersfield city centre.

Pleasantly enough, I'm pleased to say that life has just thrown you, and me, a very pleasant curveball, in the form of Nasser Hussain. Nasser, a smooth hip-hop poet who graced the stage at the first ever Fictions of Every Kind, will make a very welcome return to Fictions... this coming Tuesday May 24th. He's a late addition to the bill, and we're all pretty bloody excited about it.

Appearing alongside Nasser will be West Yorkshire poet Gareth Durasow, and Phil Kirby, who is writer in residence at Temple Works Leeds. As usual there'll be a writers' open mic from 7.30 onwards, and the music at this event will come from the extremely marvellous, and spookily atmospheric, 7 Hertz.

The theme of the night is 'Missing', but don't feel you have to stick too closely to it. You won't get thrown out if you don't. It's at The Library on Woodhouse Lane, and entry is £3. See you there!

Sunday, 15 May 2011

All the advice you have so far read is wrong: the importance of editing

Advice on writing can be irritatingly contradictory. As if being consistently ignored, being paid below the minimum wage, and trying to train your partner to be quiet when you're trying to work wasn't punishment enough, writers also have to contend with a welter of opposing opinions on the web. You try browsing the internet for support and advice! You'll find yourself bombarded with ridiculous suggestions ranging from "make sure your work has commercial potential", to "make sure you disable your internet connection so your writing sessions can be more productive".

Well, luckily for you, I have read everything the internet has to offer the writer, and I have condensed it down into two points of advice, with two sub-sets of advice on editing underneath. It is yours, to use, for nothing.

1. Keep working. When you feel demoralised by rejection, by the feeling that you are writing into a void, that nobody cares about what you do, that nobody will ever be interested in your work, keep writing.

2. Be your own horse-whip. Every writer needs to learn to look at their own work with a critical eye; not to say that we disparage all of our own efforts, but that we learn to edit objectively our own work. We mercilessly excise that which does not belong, and we don't allow ourselves to get away with sub-standard work.

The importance of editing, for the writer, really can't be overestimated. More than half of the work of writing lays in the rewriting and editing. A writer doesn't only write: she rewrites, she edits, she corrects; she gets pernickity about sentence construction, about making subject and object agree, the consistent use of tense, the considered usage of active or passive verbs; she doesn't let herself run riot with the overuse of adverbs, or words repeated too closely together; she varies the way sentences start, the lengths that they go to, and the way they are punctuated.

Most of all, the skill of editing can come in useful when writing to word limits. Short story competitions and first chapter competitions are important for writers. Chances to get published are rare, and it can be hard to attract the attentions of an agent or publisher when you're not yet out of the starting blocks. Reputable competitions can be a worthwhile avenue for writers to pursue, as they give us chance to get our work recognition.

Many come with a word limit, and with good reason: editors and judges don't have time to read through thousands of words, from thousands of entrants. This fact can pose a dilemma for the wordier among you. When your work naturally runs lengthy, how are you to expunge all those words to get your work within the competition's parameters? Thankfully, I have a couple of suggestions for you wrestling with this very difficulty.

suggestion one: you do the math. If your story is 4822 words long, and the word limit 2,000, simply select the last 2822 words of your story, and hit 'delete'. Hey presto! Within less than one second, you've ensured that your work meets the criteria for the competition. Don't worry too much that the structure is now strangely-lopsided, or that the ending is missing. The sense of intrigue that the judge feels from only reading half the story will compel him to want to read more. Especially if it suddenly cuts off in the middle of a sentence.

suggestion two: remove all of the prepositions eh, who likes a preposition anyway? All they do is go around clogging up your sentences, throwing their weight around and making everything 'too obvious'. This is slightly more labour intensive than your first option, as it means going through every single sentence and removing the words one by one. The results will leave you with a distinct, and rare, 'voice', likely to leave your entry standing head and shoulders above those from the other contestants. If Leo Tolstoy had used this technique for War and Peace, the opening would read "Well, Prince, Genoa, Lucca are family estates Buonapartes. I warn you, you don't tell me means war, still try defend infamie, horrors perpetrated Antichrist- I believe he is Antichrist- I will have nothing more you, you no longer my friend, longer my 'faithful slave,' you call yourself!" The book would have been much shorter and less heavy to carry around; people would take it on holiday and read it on the bus. It would have increased 'readability' and sold a lot more copies in the long run.

I hope you find these advices useful. They're the result of many hard hours' labour and research on my part. Followed carefully, they should stand you in good stead for many successful and happy years' writing!

You're welcome.

Currently reading

Ngugi wa Thiong'o A Grain of Wheat

Thursday, 12 May 2011

More letterpress!

Fictions of Every Kind: Missing is on Tuesday May 24th. Our invited speakers are Gareth Durasow, a controversial poet with a strong West Yorkshire sensibility who collaborates with the audience to create a truly unique spoken word experience that alternates between the disarmingly endearing, the riotously funny and the blisteringly intense; and Phil Kirby, writer in residence at Temple Works, Leeds.

The music at May's event will come from long-time DIY improvisatory stalwarts, 7 Hertz. You may recognise them from former and other music projects including Madame Laycock and her Dabeno Pleasures, and Maquipacuna.

As ever, there's a writers' open mic at the start of the night, so get down early to sign up! The night starts at 7.30, and entry is £3.

Monday, 2 May 2011

A letterpress tale...

Last week, I finished letterpress printing my short story chapbook, 'A Stranger Came'. I wrote this story last year. It's a tale of isolation and betrayal, all set in the picturesque heart of the Yorkshire Dales.

It's hard to explain the beauty of letterpress printing without getting helplessly nerdy about it. Letterpress is an old and obselete technique for printing which involves setting metal type - in individual letters - into words and sentences, and then printing them with an old and dangerous press. Since starting to learn to typeset and print in November last year at The Print Project, Bradford, I have only come to love letterpress more and more, even though it is a frustrating, time-consuming and sometimes teeth-gnashing process, with no shortcuts.

A lot of people have asked me "why bother with letterpress, when you could use a computer?" The answer is that there's no comparison between the end results. If you hold something produced using letterpress in your hands, you feel the impression the type and text leave in the page; you can literally feel the hours of human labour that have gone into creating it. When you touch the page and the impressions, you know that this is something made by another human hand.

Letterpress isn't used for large-scale commercial printing any more, and is slowly dying out. The machines and typesets that produce it are no longer made, and the techniques kept alive by being passed on from enthusiast to enthusiast. Many commercial printers are closing their doors as their businesses become untenable. The typeset that I used for this short story came to me from one such printer, in Sheffield. The man who ran the business no longer needed any of his typesets, and ended up as good as giving them away.

After I'd set and printed the first page with my typeset, I noticed what an unusual font it was. It had an upwards sloping e, and looked somewhat old fashioned. I wondered what it was; I trawled font sites on the internet without success, and nobody I knew could identify it. In the end, someone at the Briar Press letterpress community told me what it was: Morris Gold, a font designed by William Morris in the 19th Century.

William Morris, an active member in the Arts & Crafts movement, was a successful furniture designer for most of his career. Late in life, he got interested in printing and started the Kelmscott Press. Many printing houses of the time were using compressed types, because it used less paper and saved money. But Morris' aim with the Kelmscott Press was to produce beautiful books at affordable prices, and he didn't want to follow their example. Keen to distinguish his press from other outfits, he designed a font of his own, basing it on an old Roman type. It was used to print the first few Kelmscott Press titles, and earned itself the nickname 'Morris Gold'. I couldn't believe that I'd ended up with a tray of it myself, and completely by accident!

I used the typeset to print the entirety of 'A Stranger Came', printing it paragraph by paragraph as there wasn't quite enough type to do a full page at a time. As I reached the end of the chapbook, I noticed how worn the type was becoming. The act of printing wears the type down at the edges, and causes it to become blunt and unreadable; and so, with regret, I think this particular typeset will have to go into retirement lest it becomes blunt entirely. All the same, I was glad to have been able to use it to letterpress print a full short story with its use. I like to think that William Morris would have been proud to see some of his type be used for this purpose in its last ever outing before retirement.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Fictions of Every Kind: procrastination

Flier typeset and designed by Sarah Bradley. Photo by Nick of The Print Project.

We all do it. Don't pretend you don't. Whether it's cleaning the house or perfecting your golf swing, every single writer has his or her very own perfected procrastination method. A writer can sit down in front of her computer, only to find three hours later that the house is mysteriously meticulously clean, the cat bathed and brushed, the windows washed inside and out, and there's a quiche baking in the oven. How did that happen? The sink and the bath are gleaming, and she still hasn't written a single word.

The theme of July's Fictions of Every Kind will be 'Procrastination'. It's a theme that strikes a deep chord in the heart of every writer. It's unlikely anybody will learn anything new by attending. Most writers could probably write a book on the subject, if only they could get started. (Curiously, the most popular 'words of encouragement' card is the one that reads, "Bloody get on with it". Now what does that tell us?)

Fictions of Every Kind: Procrastination is on Tuesday July 5th from 7.30pm - 9.30pm in The Leeds Library, a 'secret library' on 18 Commercial Street, accessible by a recessed doorway across the road from LUSH. Instead of invited speakers, we'll be showing a selection of short films around the theme. As usual, there will be chance for writers to share their work at an open mic. Entry is free, and there will be boxed wine and popcorn - donations towards the costs of these will be welcomed!

We have some rather marvellous films to show in a range of styles: animation, documentary, comedy, and the abstract, all around the theme. As usual it promises to be a thought-provoking evening, and we look forward to meeting you there!

Click here to go to the facebook event page

Fictions of Every Kind on facebook

Fictions of every kind: the future!

Last Monday, the Fictions of Every Kind collective got together in the pub to discuss future events for the rest of the year. Little of the conversation went over to 'business', naturally. We were in the presence of real ale, and so at several points the conversation veered off variously, into: the summer festival circuit; what it would have been like working in the same post office as Charles Bukowski; and whether or not you look for potential exits in case of zombie apocalypse in every new place you visit. Apparently I am the only one in the collective who doesn't look for zombie-proof exits everywhere she goes. Still, at least it means I won't have to live out my days terrified in the top floor of a shopping mall, while the undead shuffle around in front of the shop windows, their flesh dripping from their bones in synchronicity with the piped music.

During the course of the afternoon, talk turned to 'Fictions of Every Kind', and what gives our night its personality. At the time we were talking about the kind of invited speakers we like to have. Over the past few months we've had some great writers speaking. The performances have ranged from literary fiction to horror, and science fiction to hip-hop poetry. So far we've been able to welcome a diverse range of speakers to our night, without ever losing the personality and soul of what we do, and long may that continue.

For us, ownership is important. In a very real sense, the people who come to Fictions of Every Kind are what define it and give it its personality. With help from Sam Francis, I originally started Fictions... because I know that writing is a lonely business. It's easy to lose perspective on what you do, and to not know whether or not what you're doing is any good. With that in mind, I wanted to start a night where writers could meet other writers, and gain support and encouragement from one another.

The way that we do things is important too. Sam & I both have a background in the punk rock & DIY music scene in Leeds, and we were keen that Fictions... should have the same kind of ethos. Therefore, involvement in Fictions... isn't a route to 'bigger' things. The aim of the night is never going to be to help 'launch' writers, or to make money. Although writers who speak are welcome to sell and promote their books - hell, they have to, because we can't pay them a lot to appear - we want to promote the idea that all writers are equal. Whether you've sold a million books, or whether you have a stack of unpublished, unagented novels in your desk drawer, the struggles you face as a writer are the same. Writers of all persuasions have the same 'dark times', and we all ask ourselves the same questions: "Is anybody ever going to want to read this?"; "Is what I'm doing really any good?"; "Why have I spent six hours cleaning the house instead of sitting in front of my computer, looking at a blinking cursor and an accusingly blank Word document?"

So the aim of Fictions... is simple. It exists to bring writers and writers together; to give us support and encouragement, and inspiration to get us back to work again. A combination of conversation and performances serves to break writers out of the dark spiral of neurotically-driven writers' block we all sometimes get sucked into. Sometimes its hard to speak to people about what we do, and a lot of the regular Fictions... community have found it almost mind-blowing to be in a room full of other writers. At last, we can find our counterparts, the people who understand how difficult it can be to be a writer.

I'm glad to say that out of the afternoon's meeting came some very exciting ideas for the next few months. Until we've got everything planned and firmed up, I wouldn't like to go revealing anything for fear of the others attacking me with an axe. I will say, though, that I think the next few months are going to be fun. And that we hope to see you there....

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Working through psychoanalysis conference

Last week, Dr Sam Francis put on a conference at the University of Leeds entitled Working through Psychoanalysis: Freud's Cultural Legacy. He and his colleague Dr Nicholas Ray were responsible for convening and calling the conference, so well done to them.

The conference was a two day mash-up of writers, thinkers, psychoanalysts and psychotherapists talking about Freud's legacy to the arts and culture. Everything from Tony Soprano's course of analysis in the HBO series The Sopranos, to viewing Facebook from a Freudian perspective, was discussed. The whole thing took place in the distinguished atmosphere of the University's English Department's buildings. (You cannot imagine how exciting this was for somebody who got their higher education at two former polytechnics).

On Saturday morning, Dr Sam spoke at the panel "Resisting and working through psychoanalysis in LIterary Fiction", chaired by Armela Panajoti from the University of Vlora in Albania. Dr Sam presented some of his work on JG Ballard, claiming that his paper was "cribbed from the book I've just finished writing" (The Psychological Fictions of JG Ballard, forthcoming from Continuum Books), and Naomi Booth presented a paper from her work about Angela Carter's The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman.

Both papers were really interesting - Dr Sam's in particular, made me want to go down to the library and take out everything JG Ballard has ever written. It was also interesting to think about Angela Carter's work through a Freudian lens. Booth said at one point that she felt that a table was needed, so integral and densely-woven were the allegories within the book. It was certainly interesting to hear Carter, one of the big feminist writers of the 20th century, discussed with reference to Freud.

I was left wondering afterwards how we as women writers/ thinkers / academics identify ourselves through this sort of lens. Somewhat a product of his time in many respects, Freud isn't always noted for his enlightened attitude towards women. Despite treating many women for 'hysteria', Freud seemed to view women as fundamentally being neurotic, and often complained even in his written work that he didn't understand the female psyche. (Men today often make the same sort of complaint). I wondered whether there was room for a feminist discourse around the idea that the beginnings of psychoanalysis was rooted in a very male discourse, and whether there's an allegory between this and any themes in Carter's work about women trying to find a voice in a 'male' world. It certainly left me with a lot to think about, and also made my 'to-read' list instantly ten or eleventy books longer.

Added to the 'to-read' list

The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr Hoffman Angela Carter
The Bloody Chamber Angela Carter
The Atrocity Exhibition JG Ballard
The Kindness of Women JG Ballard
Civilisation & Its Discontents Sigmund Freud
Envy & Gratitude Melanie Klein

Sunday, 10 April 2011


I don't know how you're getting on for weather in the unfriendly, capitalist south, but here in t'glorious north we've had a beautiful weekend. It has been cause for many a ramble up park and down dale, and for men of all shapes and sizes to have an excuse to take their tops off (FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PUT IT AWAY). It's likely that this is going to be the only summer we get. You may as well enjoy it, because come June and July we'll all be moping about in sodden shoes, with out-turned umbrellas, looking miserably out at long days of downpour and unseasonably low temperatures. You heard it here first.

Anyway, the weekend out & about has provided me with sights of some of my very favourite things. Contrary to the impression you may get from reading my work - that of a black-hearted, misanthropic cynic - I am actually, in real life, a big romantic softie. True Fact. Here are some of the lovely things I've seen in the last couple of days.

Item one: an old couple holding hands

Is there any sight better than that of an old couple holding hands? I tell you there is not.

Item two: a little tiny dog carrying a big massive stick

This dog knows this stick is too big for it. Yet, with the determination of the tiny dog, it is resolute that it will not put the stick down. Sir, we salute you.

A sign whose missing comma entirely changes its meaning

This one's for anyone who was thinking of trying to scale a mountain and eat a sandwich at the same time.

Baby animals

The only thing that could possibly ever top the heartwarm of an elderly couple holding hands.