Sunday, 29 December 2013

Next Year, Work Harder

"Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work." STEPHEN KING

Welcome to my end of year post! It might make for sobering reading, but I hope you won't mind that. Some of you might well need the kick up the arse I'm about to give you. You're welcome!

As anyone I've ever bored on to about writing knows, I'm a firm believer in discipline and hard work. Go to work every day, put the hours in, get a system together for submissions. I'm not rich (and probably never will be - HURRAY!) but all the same, I consider myself a success on my own terms. Success in my mind being: a writer who writes the way she wants to, and gets her work published pretty regularly. Your definition of success is probably different, but there is mine, and I'm sticking to it.

Below, I detail what I've been up to this year, in numbers.


Number of hours spent writing: 450 (approx)
Number of hours spent submitting: 16 (approx)


Number of submissions made: between 48 & 52 (approx)
Number of short stories published: 5: 3 print, 2 web

Most number of times a story was rejected before finding a home: 18 (approx)
Fewest number of times a story was rejected before finding a home: 1
Number of times a story got accepted the first time I sent it out: 0

The Best Of Times, The Worst Of Times

Low point: receiving 4 rejections for the same story within the space of 2 days.
High points: seeing my words handset in a letterpress book made by a friend; having my novel accepted at Cinder House & Dead Ink Books.

In Summary:

You won't get anywhere if you sit around feeling sorry for yourself.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Toro - a new short story

[Image courtesy of Dead Ink Books]

My new short story, Toro, is now available to read for free on the Dead Ink Books site. Many thanks to Nathan at Dead Ink Books for all his help with this! 

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Top Dog: available now!

Photo credit: Jeff Moriarty

I'm really excited that my story, Top Dog, has been published in the December issue of the US lit journal Toasted Cheese. The issue is now online and you can read the story for free by clicking here!

Many thanks for Theryn and all the editors at Toasted Cheese for deciding to publish my work.

Currently reading

Pharmakon Dirk Wittenborn
Bossypants Tina Fey

Crap Dad: The Ideal Christmas Gift

(Photo by Phil Treble / @muttonsandnuts) 

"There once was a family who lived in a wood; a boy, a girl, and their selfish old Papa. The children went about barefoot, and ate whatever they could find on the forest floor. They were always dirty and hungry. Their Papa had no interest in looking after them. He lay in bed all day, smoking and listening to filth on the wireless." 

 Now available to buy: a seriously limited edition handmade letterpress short story chapbook. Featuring a modern-day flash fiction fairy tale, written by me, in a book with a centrepiece illustration by Helen Entwistle, and letterpress printed and handmade by Phil Treble.

Only 100 of these were ever made, and believe me they are absolutely beautiful - the picture really doesn't do them justice. I am forever grateful to Phil for making these, and for he and Helen for collaborating with me on them. You can buy these from me at readings, or email me, or they're available in Phil's etsy shop.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Join my mailing list!

As a general rule, I think mailing lists are the work of the devil. I say this as somebody who regularly gets added to mysterious email lists without her permission.

HOWEVER. Following a recent request to join my mailing list (I don't have a mailing list!) I decided it was probably about time I started one of my own. 

Here are my mailing list promises to you:

1. I won't pass on your email address to anyone else EVER.
2. I won't email you every single day (too busy). You'll probably get emails three to four times a year at the MOST. 
3. My mailout will contain exciting information like: where my stories have been published lately, where I'll be giving live readings, when my book comes out, etc. 

In addition!

4. To make the mailout more exciting and creative, subscribers to the mailing list will receive one completely exclusive story a year via email. The story will be something new, unpublished elsewhere, and will be available only to mailout subscribers. This is my way of thanking you for taking an interest in my work. 

You can sign up below: 

Subscribe to my mailing list

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Saturday, 23 November 2013

What We Talk About When We Talk About Short Story Writing

Hello, readers.

Those of you who are regular readers of this blog (hello, four people) will know I'm not generally in the business of going around telling other people what to do. I don't consider myself an expert by any stretch of the imagination, and also generally think people should find their own way to do things. But recently, having had a bit of success having my own short fiction published, I've had a few writers approach me for help. So I decided to do a little blog post about my own approach to writing short fiction. Hopefully some of you will find it helpful. You can take what you take and leave what you leave. It's not intended to be definitive....

I have these all the time. They come from all sorts of places. Maybe I overhear a funny argument in the supermarket, or see somebody nearly fall off their bike. Maybe I have an idea during the day while I'm at work. Often these ideas need a bit of time to fully form into something that could be a story. Either way, I write my ideas down in a notebook small enough to carry around everywhere. That way I've always got something to work from.
I often find that the best short story ideas come when my brain is partly occupied in something else, like washing up. This is pretty common. It's when your conscious brain is occupied that your unconscious can have a little bit of a skip about and come up with something good. So my advice here is, pay attention to your daydreams.

Write every day, or as close to it as you can manage. Set aside writing time and don't let anybody or anything interrupt it. Get used to having to say no to things. People might assume that you can write any time, and try to intrude upon your writing time. “You can write any day!” they'll tell you. NOT TRUE. Discipline yourself to write when you say you're going to write. Don't make the mistake of thinking you'll do it later. For reference, my excuse to say no to things is always, “I'm working that day.” Nobody will try to persuade you to skive off work to go out drinking, or whatever. As excuses go, it's solid gold.

Write your story
Do whatever it takes to get it done. There's that piece of advice from Neil Gaiman that says, “Whatever it takes to finish it, finish it.” It's such good advice. Finish everything you start, even if you start to think it's total bollocks halfway through. Finish it anyway. It's good practise, and you'll never be a writer if you don't. No excuses.

Rewriting & editing
Another piece of advice from a great: this time, the graphic novelist Chris Ware. “Work hard. And then when you think you can't work any harder – work a little bit more.” So true. Look at the standard of published work in the best places. It's so high. Sure, if you don't want to aim for good publications, there are always ways to get your work out there. You can get them in a local free paper, or put them out yourself. And if you want to do things that way, you should. But the danger is that doing things that way doesn't force you to work hard. If you want good publication, you have to really put yourself through the mill. More so than may even seem possible.
For some people, this is where the real wailing and gnashing of teeth begins. For me, certified nerd, this is my favourite part of the process. I usually spend at least twice as much time rewriting and editing as I did writing the first draft – and sometimes longer. I often think that more than half the battle to be a good writer is in learning to be really ruthless. Don't let yourself get away with anything. Look for sloppy sentence structure, parts of the story that don't contribute to the whole. Tear anything out that doesn't work. Does it hurt? Yes, good. It ought to.
If it helps, write a one-sentence summary of what the story is about. For example, for my story Top Dog, the sentence would probably be: “A story about finding value in simple pleasures; in finding the worth in something others discard.” As I go through the story, I look for resonances to this central theme in everything, and bin things that don't contribute to it. Sometimes it hurts to take things out. Usually I paste the cut sections into a separate document. I tell myself, “I can put this back in later if it turns out the story needs it.” It's a bit of a psychological crutch. Most usually, it turns out the story doesn't need what I'm throwing away. But it's there just in case. Ha! I fooled myself! Way to go, me!
Learning to bin things you like is hard at first, but it's worth doing. It totally serves your writing in the end. You might be writing about sentimental things, but you don't have to be sentimental in how you go about it.

With short fiction, I always think it's worth going away and coming back, going away and coming back. Work on something else between finishing the draft and the first edit, and between the first edit and the second. You will always see things much more clearly this way. It places a bit of distance between you and it, and lets you be a bit more objective. Really good short fiction is a bit deceptive. The simplest-seeming stories, those that seem effortless, are the ones that take the most labour to write. So go away and come back. But! NEVER use going away as an excuse to never come back. You must ALWAYS finish things. Even if you still think it's bollocks at the end. It's all a process. You have to go through it over and over again, before you get to the point where you'll do anything you're happy with. The lesson: you'll never get anywhere if you don't finish.

Practise, practise, practise
The more you do it, the easier it gets. Sure, writing short stories is never easy (where would be the fun in that?) - but the more you write short fiction, the more confidence you'll have about doing it. Your early attempts may well be a bit derivative. Don't beat yourself up about that. All the best writers go through that. Nobody ever wrote a story as good as “I could see the smallest things” first time out of the gate. Just keep going.

Currently reading
Memoirs of a Geisha Arthur Golden

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Appearance in Toasted Cheese Literary Journal

I'm really excited to announce that my story Top Dog will appear in the December issue of US lit journal Toasted Cheese. The issue will go online in the first week of December, I believe.

Really exciting news & I'm grateful to the editors of Toasted Cheese for taking an interest in my work.

Currently reading

The Blindfold Siri Hustvedt
Memoirs of a Geisha Arthur Golden
Something I've Been Meaning to Tell You Alice Munro

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

An Announcement

I'm 10000% stoked to announce that my novel, Brick Mother, will be published early 2014 by Cinder House and Dead Ink Books.

Brick Mother is a literary thriller set in a locked psychiatric ward.

As yet, we don't have a release date set, so keep checking back (or follow me on Twitter @bradleybooks). All the same, this seems like a good time to thank everybody who's supported me over the years - old housemates for putting up with me keeping odd pieces of paper all over the house, friends for putting up with me never going out anywhere, the Fictions of Every Kind crew (Mason & Ian in particular), my long suffering boyfriend, and of course Nathan & Wes for taking an interest in my work.

More soon.

Currently reading

The Secret History Donna Tartt

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Coming soon: Crap Dad

Coming soon: Crap Dad by SJ Bradley.

A single short story chapbook, typeset and letterpress printed by Phil Treble (@muttonsandnuts) with centrefold illustration by Helen Entwistle (@memohelen).

I've only seen the cover of this so far, and it looks amazing. I'm indebted to my co-conspirators Helen & Phil for agreeing to collaborate with me on this book. It should be out by mid-November in a limited edition of 75 (soft cover) or 15 (hard cover).

If you'd like to get one, you can contact me on s.j.bradley [at] hotmail [dot] com.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Tony 'The Great' Boltini

I had a fabulous night at The Red Shed Readings on Thursday this week - many thanks to hosts John Irving Clark and Jimmy Andrex for organising it.

Sharing the stage with me that night was Lancashire born poet Tony 'The Great' Boltini. I've read alongside Tony a couple of times now, and the man's something of a legend around these parts. Yet Tony has never published a collection. Perhaps it's partly for that reason that he isn't more well-known. Here are a couple of videos of him in action from The Red Shed this week.


Currently Reading

Old School Tobias Wolff
Reasons To Live Amy Hempel 

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Red Shed Readings

Really excited to announce that I'll be making an appearance at the Wakefield Red Shed on October 3rd. The Red Shed Readings series "is the venue for the finest spoken word event in the area. It is governed by two key unwritten rules: on no account must any degree of pretension creep in and elitism is equally forbidden." Previous guest speakers at the Red Shed Readings have included Helen Mort, David Peace, and Ian Macmillan. Apparently impossible to get to by SatNav (it says so on the Red Shed Readings website), so I'd suggest heading towards Wakey Market, then asking the first person you see how to get there. I think it is probably £2 in or something like that. Currently Reading Train Dreams Denis Johnson The Clothes On Their Backs Linda Grant

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Favourite kitten video

Things have been a bit serious on this blog lately so here is a video of some kittens. If you don't like that one then there is always this one. Currently reading The Ocean At The End Of The Lane Neil Gaiman

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Rape joke 101

Lately, I've been starting to feel like I'm losing my sense of humour. I used to have a wonderful sense of humour. I was always making jokes and, in return, laughing at them. But lately I've started to feel that all I'd really like to do is smash my computer with a fucking hammer. Why so angry, Bradders, I hear you ask? Well, it's mainly the fault of social media misery vortex Twitter.

Several days ago, equality campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez was repeatedly subject to rape threats for her work on the Jane Austen £10 note campaign. Perez was subject to hundreds of @ mentions an hour at the height of her persecution. Perez has called upon Twitter to improve their response to this kind of abuse. Many have responded, citing the example of the twitter joke trial, that Perez was only subject to trolling, and that she should just ignore it and move on. Lots were concerned that an improved 'report abuse' function might hamper freedom of speech on social media networks. I'm here today to explain - in the simplest terms I can - why ignoring abuse is no way to solve this problem.

Sexism still exists. (boo!) It still affects men as well as women. However, it is women who are far more affected by sexism than men. Some of the effects of sexism upon women are things like: getting paid less for doing the same work. Being more likely to be unemployed than a man of the same age and educational background. Being the one in the family who has to take parental leave, even if it is your family's preference to have the father be the stay at home parent. Being highly likely to be made redundant upon your return to work from maternity leave. Being judged more on how you look than what you can do. There are more. This isn't intended to be a comprehensive list, but it'll do us for starters.

Ok, so let's move onto the worst bit. It's relevant, so stick with me. Women have a bad time in many public spaces. Sexual assault is prevalent to quite a disturbing level. When I talk about sexual assault I include: having 'compliments' shouted out of car windows at you as you walk down the street; having strangers make sexualised comments to you in the street; being stared at in an intrusive way; being followed; being shouted at; being grabbed or groped. You might be shocked to find out the extent of this. Personally, between the ages of 15 and 17, I had at least one of these things happen to me almost every time I went out of the house. It still happens to me these days, though not as often, thankfully. The worst ever one was when a complete stranger grabbed my boob in the street. I was about 16 at the time and the guy who did it skated off afterwards, laughing. Now listen. These things didn't happen to me because I am hot shit. They happened because all over the world, in all of our streets, there exist a lot of men who have internalised the belief that women's bodies are public property. In short: they think that if they like the look of it, it's their right to touch it. You with me so far? And the worst part of it is: it happens all the time.

You, reading this, might be cynical. Perhaps you think either "She's exaggerating. That doesn't happen", or perhaps that the women who suffer it somehow 'bring it on themselves'. Well, I have two responses to this. One is to ask any woman you know. Your mother, your sister, your friend, your girlfriend. I guarantee she has suffered the kind of low grade sexual assault I'm describing. And my second response is: we do not bring it on ourselves. I've been sexually assaulted while wearing baggy jumpers, paint-splattered dungarees, even on one occasion (restrain yourselves, gentlemen) a borrowed German Army surplus jacket several sizes too large. In short: It matters not how we dress. It happens anyway, and the message from our assaulters is: "We can do whatever the fuck we like to you, and it's your own fault for going around being a woman in public."

It had a wearing effect, as continued abuse does. There were days when I was genuinely reluctant to leave the house. I knew that at some stage in the day I'd likely be subject to more of the same. Please, when reading this, consider: abuse is not the fault of the victim, and there is no 'right' way to respond to it. I did not invite these things to happen to me. All I wanted was to be able to go out without worrying that some knobhead was going to try to masturbate down the back of my coat, or whatever. Simple, right? A right I should enjoy, right?

Well, the truth was, it happened so often I started to get a bit jumpy. There didn't seem to be a good way to respond to it. I often wanted to be able to ignore it, but often couldn't. Sometimes the abuse was done in such a way as to be deliberately intrusive, as a way of getting a reaction. Stuff like, a weird guy sitting too close to me on the bus, and breathing heavily. Getting up to leave would be a reaction. Looking uncomfortable would be a reaction. Anything would be a reaction, so whatever you do, the sex pest has got what he wanted. These things, which happened to me at one stage almost daily*, (THIS IS KEY SO PAY ATTENTION) made me feel like I had no right to be in a public space. The effect (KEY MESSAGE KEY MESSAGE) was to make me feel like that if I went around being a woman in public, I should be prepared to take the consequences.

I mention all this not because I think that all men do it. They don't. Many men are respectful and non-sexist and would never dream of going around grabbing a stranger's ass in a bar. But there are two important things to mention. One, this sort of abuse has a degrading effect on our ability to feel safe in public spaces. (As I mentioned above, there were many occasions when I did not feel safe in public spaces.) And two, rape jokes are a continuation of the kind of unwanted sexual comments that women suffer in their everyday lives. They're a specific kind of sexist abuse targeted at making women, as individuals and as a group, feel uncomfortable.

Rape overwhelmingly affects women far more than it does men. 1 in 3 women will be raped in their lifetimes; it is something that far less frequently happens to men. Only a dunderhead could fail to notice that, given these statistics, rape jokes are likely to be targeted specifically at women. Rape 'jokes' are used by sexists and misogynists to make women feel uncomfortable in a very specific way. Remember how often women have suffered sexual assault already - even the type you might consider 'minor'. The rape 'joke' is a continuation of street abuse. It's a way of telling women: "You have no right to be here, and I can do whatever the fuck I like to you, and it's your own fault for going around being a woman."

If you want to improve the world, I'd suggest that the way to do it is not by trying to protect anybody's freedom to make a rape 'joke'. Instead, I'd urge you to think about the implications of preserving sexists' ability to intimidate and threaten women, as individuals and as a group. Do you really want misogynists and sexists to be able to say whatever the fuck they like to your girlfriend, your friend, your sister, your daughter? A rape 'joke' is specific - it's targeted to women, done as a way of keeping women in their place, and making us feel uncomfortable; like we have no right to be here. So seriously, if you want to uphold anybody's rights - think about the rights of women to feel safe.

*Gentlemen, if you are shocked by this and want to help, there is a lot you can do to become an ally of women. A good place to start would be by supporting and listening to the women who surround you, and by challenging sexism where you see it. This article on 101 ways to become an ally to women is an excellent starting point.

Fun pop quiz: When is it ever ok for me to grab the ass of a strange woman I do not know, and have never spoken to? Disclaimer: she has a really nice ass and she looks the type to respond well to my advances.)

1. When Cheryl Cole comes back as a judge on the X-Factor.

2. When George Lucas makes another Star Wars film, and the Star Wars film that he makes is as good as The Empire Strikes Back, and the film stars Alec Guinness playing the part of his own Dad.

3. When Chris Nolan releases a sequel to Inception titled Inception II: Running Away Through Treacle and the film stars Chuck Norris, Danny Dyer, and Jason Statham.

4. Never.

(Answer: any or all of the above!!!!!)

Pop quiz question two: But what about if I want to shout a nice compliment like 'nice tits!' or 'give us a smile, love' out of a car window? I mean, she looks a bit like she could do with cheering up, and women love that sort of thing, don't they? So when should I try that?

1. When Erasure release their long-awaited LP of Millwall FC football songs.

2. When Oasis reunite and release an album of Beatles covers.

3. When The Beatles reunite and release an album of Oasis covers.

4. Never.


Answer: any or all of the above!!!!!!!)

Currently reading: The Martian Chronicles Ray Bradbury

Monday, 1 July 2013

I didn't get where I am today by ignoring internal logic problems

People define writerly success in different ways. For me, success as a writer means being able to produce work you can be proud of; and for your work to get published regularly. Writing is hard, a fact universally acknowledged by everyone from Dan Brown to Tobias Wolff. For what it's worth, here's my bullet point guide for writing success, The Bradley Way. 

1. Read. Read all the time. Read everything, from literary prizewinners to the most commercial trash. Most of all, read short fiction by the best short story writers. You will laugh, you will cry, you will despair by comparison the shortcomings in your own work to those of the greats. And then you will get back to your desk and you will work hard, until your own work no longer shames you. 

2. Write. Try to either work part time, or find a job that allows you to write at work (hospital porter, security guard, night-watchman). It's better if your day job has nothing to do with writing. That way you're brought into regular contact with a wider range of people and situations. And write every day. Be strict. Let nobody come between you and it. This is hard. You're still young, and you want to have fun. But here you are missing out on films, gigs, parties - hell, maybe even entire friendships. Well, suck it up. You're a writer now. 

2b. Accept that your life will not follow a usual trajectory. You'll see your peers have lovely things; they'll wriggle up the career ladder at work, while you concentrate your energies on writing. Your friends will most likely live in a bigger, nicer house than you. You, in contrast, will spend hours scratching away at a desk, making up stories in your head, earning no money, and receiving legions upon legions of form rejections (or at least, at first). In social situations people will ask how the writing's going, and you will want to cry. You might feel like saying: "Writing is ruining my life." I don't have any answers for this, other than that if you want to live in a big house and have a steady, reliable stream of income, you might want to rethink your career options. 

3. Say no to things. People will want you to write things for them for free. They'll want you to run workshops and classes. Think carefully about accepting. If you take on everything you're offered, you can soon find yourself with no writing time at all. You'll often find yourself having to say no regretfully. I worked for a couple of years in a letterpress collective, something I absolutely loved doing. But it ate into my writing time, and when I gave it up my publishing rate doubled within a matter of months. At some stage you have to learn to say no. 

4. Don't compromise. In Writing Posthumously, Jeffrey Eugenides advised new writers: "Don't go along with the crowd". Other writers might be doing things that are more trendy. They might have quicker pay-offs, get published more easily, and get more plaudits. Don't worry about them. Just worry about what you're doing. Forge your own path. Work hard, and write what you want to write. If you're doing something groundbreaking, you might struggle to get it published. But don't worry. Keep your eye on the long game, and make sure that what you're doing is exceptionally good. Have mercilessly high standards. Beat yourself up for not being good enough. And then go back to your desk and work some more. 

6. Systematic, bloody-minded persistence. Your early work will most likely be fairly rubbish. Hell, your work might be rubbish for quite a few years - mine certainly was. Your short stories will be dreary and derivative, and your first novel will most likely stink beyond belief. Most of the writers I know have at least one Novel of Shame hidden away in a drawer somewhere. Hell, I've got two. How do you get better? You keep writing. You keep working. You keep going. How do you get published? You keep working. You keep improving. You get better. You keep going. 

Currently reading

William Faulkner As I Lay Dying
Jennifer Egan A Visit From The Goon Squad

Monday, 24 June 2013

Submit, submit!

Last year, there was an inspiring piece on The Review Review called "Yes, Your Submission Phobia is Holding You Back". Having published short fiction at an embarrassingly low rate since 2010 (1 a year - go me!), one sentence in particular stuck out: "You think rejection is proof that you have no talent or that the work is no good. Actually, the only thing a rejection proves is that you sent out your work." 

2013 has been the first year ever - ever - when I've had stories plural published (here, in the LS13 anthology, and here, in the Willesden Herald anthology). And it's still only June! I'm hoping to have at least two more published before the end of the year. The only way I can improve my embarrassing strike rate of 1 story per year, I realised, was to get my work off my hard drive and out into the world. 

So, I developed a system. Being something of a systems nerd (there's no cure, apparently), I worked out a way of tracking submissions using a spreadsheet*. Doing this helps the whole process so much less painful. I am sharing this spreadsheet with you, everybody on the whole of the internet, because I'm nice like that. 

In day to day internet browsing, I keep an eye out for submission opportunities. If I see a competition I want to enter, or a lit mag with its submission window open, I add it to my spreadsheet in the lower columns, making a note of the closing date and word limit. If I think one of the stories I have ready is worth trying in one of these competitions, I put the magazine's name next to that story title. (see spreadsheet for illustration). The whole thing is colour-coded. Blue for acceptances, Red for submissions, Black for places to try, Green for rejections, and Purple for stories I have withdrawn myself. This last one is key, and a kind thing to do for other writers. If a story gets accepted for publication somewhere, I make sure to contact the other places and withdraw it. This allows editorial teams to reduce the size of their slush pile, and get back to other writers more quickly. It's only fair. 

The bookmarking and updating of the spreadsheet is something I do as I'm going along, but the submitting is something I set aside time for. Many of the magazines have slightly differing formatting requirements, and that in itself takes time. I set aside a couple of hours every month to get the stories I'm sending out into the right format, and then I send stories out - at the moment, I'm doing at least 2 a month. It's good to set a target for yourself, because then you're in the position of actually having to look out for appropriate submission opportunities. And please, for the love of God, make sure you're sending your work to the kind of places that are likely to publish it. Don't waste your time sending pulpy science fiction to Granta. You're only setting yourself up for disappointment. Know what kind of work you make, and what kind of magazines like it. Your submissions process will only ever end in tears otherwise. 

One last thing. I always save my finished stories in two different versions - one that's been through a UK English spellcheck, and one that's been through a US English spellcheck. This makes it easier and quicker for sending versions out internationally. 

Thanks for reading, and happy submitting! 

Currently reading

Breakfast of Champions Kurt Vonnegut
Best of Young Brazilian Novelists Granta 

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Busy bee

Recently I've been hard at work revising my novel, and collating my short story collection. Both have been very involved tasks leaving me with little time to update this blog!

However I'm pleased to say that there's quite a lot of exciting stuff going on in Leeds over the next few weeks, not least The Big Bookend Festival and The Hannah festival. I'm not involved in core organisation for either of these events, but am glad to be peripherally involved either by organising warm-up events, or giving readings. Have a look below to see whether there's anything that interests you!

4th June 2013 - Avast! Join us as we plash a creaking boat through a miscellany of stories, songs and poems of the sea. Featuring performances by Matthew Bellwood, SJ Bradley, Becky Cherriman, and Ian Pepper, with music from We Died at Sea and The Ocean Loiners. At Santiago's, Leeds, from 7:45, entry £3. Avast! facebook events page

7th June 2013 - Big Bookend Anthology launch. At the Customer Services lounge in Trinity Leeds, from 7pm onwards.

14th June 2013 - Poetry in the North / Fictions of Every Kind / Hannah festival - A shared event curated jointly by Fictions of Every Kind & Poetry in the North, as part of the Hannah festival. With readings from SJ Bradley, Kathryn Glass, Jenny Oliver, and Catherine Stones. Clock Cafe, Otley Road, from 7:30 (not sure of entry price)

2nd July 2013 - Fictions of Every Kind: Ramble featuring guest speakers Anna Chilvers and Max Dunbar, and music from Look Yonder! Wharf Chambers, 7:30, £3 (please note Wharf Chambers is a members' club and you must be a member, or guest of a member, in order to attend an event here. Please visit for more info). More information on the Fictions of Every Kind facebook events page 

Currently reading

Junot Diaz Drown
E M Forster Howard's End

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

The Printing Press Of My Dreams

If you've been following this blog a while, you may already know that I'm a sucker for an antiquated printing method called Letterpress. I didn't mean to fall in love with Letterpress - it just happened. We met one day while I was at a book fair. Letterpress showed me all these cards made with salvaged type nobody else wanted; it whispered in my ear that it would take up hours of my life, infect my thinking, and make me want to drive to other parts of the country to look at bits of metal in boxes.

"I don't mind," I said. "It is already too late."

Between then and now I've printed cards, chapbooks, posters, and a tiny anthology of work by writers I admire (now sold out). I used to print these at The Print Project, but for various reasons decided I'd be better off with a press of my own (pictured above).

In the future Yuertes (as he is affectionately known) will likely be used to print gig fliers, leaflets, and short story postcards. For now, he is just settling into my kitchen. Doesn't he look at home?

Here are some of the things Yeurtes and I have made this afternoon.

(answer: fabulous).

Thursday, 11 April 2013

What You Can Do To Help

Long ago, I used this very blog to air my complaints about one of my least favourite living writers, a one Mr. J Franzen. I dislike Franzen for several reasons, all of which I will not bother you with now. We'll gloss over those, and go directly to my #1 gripe with J-Franz, which is: the way he writes about women.

Male writers, I know it is not easy to imagine what it is to be a woman. Many male writer-friends have told me they avoid writing women, or leave them out of their work altogether. It's often for the most honourable reasons. Perhaps you're afraid to get women 'wrong'. Or you're sensitive to the fear of undermining female perspectives, because you might steal women's stories and mistell them through the prism of male experience. Worst of all, women like me might read your stories, become enraged by your lack of understanding, and write a whole series of blog posts about what a massive misogynist you are.

So how does a writer like Franzen - somebody who is frequently hailed as being the greatest writer of his generation - get women so wrong? For me, as a reader, the answer is really simple. In trying to use his female characters to explore the problems of sexism, Franzen ties them up in knots. His female characters often are used as mirrors to extrapolate the dilemmas facing his male characters. They don't jump off the page; they don't have needs, wishes, desires. Their needs only exist as a means of irritating or servicing (delete as applicable) the needs of the men in the book. They have no volition, save when it serves the men for them to do so. They have no complexity, no depth, no sympathy. In short: Franzen writes about women as though he has never met any.

Men, here is what I suggest: if you want to get women right, there's a lot you can do. The more you do, the more your feel for women will improve. You can do as little as much as you feel able, but I recommend doing as much as you can. It'll all serve your work in the end.

A good place to start is by reading women writers, and lots of them. You might find that women writers see the world differently, that they write differently. It might surprise you how different the female perspective is. There are plenty of amazing female writers to read - my personal favourites are writers like Margaret Drabble, Muriel Spark, Amy Tan, and Claire Massey. Don't just leave it at one book. Read many, and widely. Women write a wide range of fiction as do men - do yourself a favour, and check their work out.

Fiction an easy place to start, but needs to work in tandem with actual experience. This is where you really need to put your back into your research. Be ready to go places you have never been before. Stay calm, it's all in service of your art.

To really write women well, you have to get to grips with good characterisation. Your reader will believe your characters if they seem real; and poor characterisation always results from drawing on too little. Write a character based on only one or two people, and it will always come across thin. But write based on many, and you'll have something believable. It's as true of female characters as it is of males.

It will help to start meeting new people. If you only really ever meet women as a means of dating them - if you only know women your own age, say, or if you only know women who are dating your friends - this isn't really a wide enough pool to draw upon. You need something outside your social background. You need to meet women of differing educational backgrounds, and of different heritages. Always think about expanding the range of your experience, and most importantly, of doing it deeply.

There are tons of good ways to do this. A good way to start is by meeting women of different ages. You'll find you can learn a lot from older women. They'll be able to tell you how women's status has changed over the generations, and the struggles they faced when they were young. If nothing else you'll find their stories fascinating. Where do you meet them? Well, that's up to you. Older women are all over. Join a book group. Start going to a knitting circle. Seek them out, hear their stories. Seek out that which is outside your immediate experience. Find it and soak it all up, and write it down in your notebook afterwards.

But the best way of all to learn about women - and I know many of you will baulk at this - is to do what has become women's work. Low paid, low status jobs in the health and care industry are crawling with women. Why do women do these jobs? Go and do one yourself, and you'll find out. It's not just one answer, but many. The hours might suit for childcare; or perhaps this job is the only one your colleague has the skills for. Perhaps it's a stopgap between graduating university and finding something better. In amongst doing this low status work, during which you'll have the chance to find out what it is to do that work - literally what it is to be a woman - you'll have the chance to meet women from a whole range of different backgrounds. You'll find out why they do the work they do; you'll hear them talk about their home lives, their domestic arrangements, their wishes for the future. All of this is stuff that you can draw on for your female characters. As always, make sure you do it with respect. Be mindful that the women you're working with are real. They're not just somebody you're going to take the piss out of later to get a cheap laugh when you come to write your novel. They're real people, with real lives, and most likely many of them will still be doing this work when you are long gone. Tread carefully and you can represent them and their lives well. Giving accurate voice to someone who can't speak up for themselves is a big responsibility.

Above all, my advice would be to pay your female characters the same amount of attention you would your male. Give them backstories. Know where they come from and what they want. If your characters are drawn from a range of experience in life, they will have that much more of a ring of authenticity. Don't assume that you can make it all up in your head and get it right. You won't. Listen to women; collect their stories, blend what you know from life well into believable characters, and you will get it right.

Currently reading

Best European Fiction 2012 Ed. Aleksandar Hemon
The Shipyard Juan Carlos Onetti

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Appearance at Words on Tap

I'll be reading at Words on Tap, "A Celebration of spoken word and booze", at The Chemic in Leeds this coming Friday. It's free in, I think, and I'll be reading excerpts from some short stories I've recently been working on. You can click this link for more info.

Currently reading

Budapest Chico Buarque
Bartleby & Co Enrique Vila-Matas
Falling Through Clouds Anna Chilvers

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Literary Sisters interview

The absolutely lovely and talented Rachel Connor, author of Sisterwives, interviewed me over on her Literary Sisters blog. Many thanks to Rachel for the interview, and you can read it by clicking here.

Currently reading

A Hologram for the King Dave Eggers
Not Fade Away Jim Dodge

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Willesden Herald International Short Story prize

I'm really pleased to be able to reveal that I've been shortlisted for this years' Willesden Herald International Short Story Prize for my story, Dance Class. The story will shortly appear in an anthology of the competition, with the winners being announced shortly. It's exciting to appear on a list with nine other excellent writers, and I bet they're all as chuffed as I am to have their work appear in the book. Many thanks to Stephen Moran of the Willesden Herald for organising, and to David Means for judging.

The full Willesden Herald shortlist is here.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Fictions of Every Kind: Blast Off!

On Tuesday 12th March, I'll be reading of a couple of new stories at Fictions of Every Kind: Blast Off! I'll be appearing alongside the lovely and almost talented enough to hate Gareth Durasow, who last read at Fictions of Every Kind two years ago.

There's more info on the facebook events page here.

Currently reading

All Our Spoons Came From Woolworths Barbara Comyns
Fup Jim Dodge

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

The Franzen Get-Out

The Franzen Get-Out (also known as The Franzen Excuse): The excuse white, overprivileged male authors use when challenged about their tedious, overprivileged novels about tedious, overprivileged white people living tedious, overprivileged white lives*. Though the novels may present characters with unhealthy levels of narcissism, self-obsession, and limited awareness of their own status and privilege, the author of the work, rather than accepting this as valid criticism, may employ The Franzen Get-Out: "This work and these characters are a comment on the nature of our American culture of self-obsession and entitlement."

See also: Lack of willingness to do the kind of low-status work that will enable you to write anything outside of the sphere of your own limited experience; 

Also: Not knowing anybody who isn't similarly privileged as yourself, and being unwilling to have the kinds of experiences that would bring you into contact with people hailing from a wide range of social backgrounds;

Also: Not wanting to have anything to do with poor or dirty people.

Currently reading

The Witness Juan Jose Saer
Reasons to Live Amy Hempel

*In the near future, I plan to write a post about writing convincing female perspectives and female characters. For now, I haven't got time to do it, so you'll have to be content with me spitting tacks about Franzen. 

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Bad Language

Last week, my Fictions co-compadres Mason Henry Summers and Ian Pepper and I went on a little outing to Manchester to go to a night called Bad Language. Run by a group of writers, Bad Language is a monthly writers' open mic night that goes on in the back room of a pub called The Castle.

I went, and read the opening of a short story I've been working on called "Control". Mason tried to take a video but it came out a bit Wrong. Instead, I made the resulting audio file into an MP3, which you can listen to on my Soundcloud.

Currently reading

The Marriage Plot Jeffrey Eugenides
The Witness Juan Jose Saer
The Illustrated Man Ray Bradbury

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Scenes From A Life

Scene: A New Years' Party. In a bar in the centre of town - in the run-off, undesirable part of the city - a group of friends, known to each other through the sort of gigs that ruin your hearing, are talking. Two are propped up against the bar, beers in hand. They are trying not to get in the way.

Quiet, unvoiced thoughts of self: Wow, look at all these people. I wonder if they go out all the time. I bet they do. They probably talk to each other, and everything. Not like me, spending all my evenings glaring fiercely into a laptop and jabbing at the keys. Those lucky, socialising bastards.

Self, to old friend: Hey, Neil! How's it going?

Old friend (trying not to get beer on floor): Hey! Great, thanks!

Self: You up to much this week - after this madness is over?

Old friend: You know, I am. Guess what I'm doing on Thursday?

Quiet, unvoiced thoughts of self: He has Thursday off work? Wow, I know what I'd do if I had Thursday off. I'd go and hang out in the library. Best not say that, though. That's a shit thing to say at a party.

Self: No, what?

Old friend: I'm off to Madrid. I've been invited to play a solo set over there - me, and Seb Rochford from Acoustic Ladyland. We're getting flown over there, and flown back. Not bad, eh?

Self: That's ace! Hey, congratulations Neil. I bet you'll have a brilliant time. And it'll be warm, too. You lucky sod.

Old friend: Yeah! I know! I'm really excited.

(Pauses; drinks beer).

Old friend: So what about you, anyway? Haven't seen you for ages. What you been up to?

Self: Oh, you know, not much. The usual. Working. Writing. Writing. Working.

Quiet, unvoiced thoughts of self: That is no good, Bradley. Jazz it up a bit. Try to make it more interesting and dramatic.

Self: You know. Making things up in my head and then typing them down into a blank Word document.

Quiet, unvoiced thoughts of self: Should I tell him about discovering the Navigator function in Open Office last week? I wonder whether people, in socialising situations, are interested in that sort of thing.

Self: I've been working on some short stories. This and that. You know. I've been working on a novel. It's er - it's about ...

(Friend nods; smiles politely).

Self: You see, the trouble with a large document like a novel is that it's quite unwieldy. You might want to rearrange the chapters - say, if you realise, a part of the action would be better moved to an earlier or later section. Because these things don't just organise themselves, you know. And that's why I was so excited last week when I discovered a new function in my word processing software...

Quiet, unvoiced thoughts of self: ABORT ABORT DO NOT SAY ANY MORE WORDS

Self: Hey listen, the band is starting.

(Glasses raised; people cheer; the band begins to play).

Currently reading

Stone Junction Jim Dodge 
A brilliant present from Ian Pepper, one of my Fictions of Every Kind co-conspirators. Thanks, Ian!