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.