Saturday, 31 December 2016

2016: A Year in Pictures

Well, I think we can all agree that this year hasn't been one of the best. We've lost Prince, David Bowie, Terry Wogan, and Carrie Fisher, among others, and politically, it's been one of my least favourite years yet.

Despite that, I've kept busy with plenty of projects this year. The arts are so important in upholding values of decency and inclusion, and I'm glad to have had the opportunity to work on projects that uphold those values this year.
Here's my review of the year in pictures.

Riot! My Chariot of Fire publication

Riot! My Chariot of Fire publication

This summer, an artwork called The Aftermath Dislocation Principle by Jimmy Cauty, came to Leeds. Housed in a shipping container, it's a scale model artwork of a small British village in the wake of some mysterious civil unrest.

To accompany the visit of this artwork to Leeds, I put together a publication of some local writers and artists responding to the theme 'Riot'. We had some great writing and poetry in there from writers like Ian Harker, Gloria Dawson, Jennifer Isherwood, Boff Whalley and Lisa Bristow, among others. Copies were available free from The Chemic pub in Leeds, where the ADP was situated.

Gloria Dawson reads from the Riot! My Chariot of Fire Publication

Here's my friend Rachael Rix-Moore invigilating the ADP exhibition.

There were plenty of other performances going on during the ADP's visit to Leeds, including a performance by the Commoner's Choir, readings, and noise workshops. It was a joyful and celebratory few weeks, and I was glad to have had the opportunity to be involved.

Teaching for First Story 

One of the things I was really excited about doing this year was teaching for First Story. They are a literature charity who place writers in residency in schools in the UK.

First Story anthologies
This year I started a Residency in Leeds White Rose Academies Trust, which will result in an anthology just like one of the ones pictured above.

It has been such a huge privilege and joy to work with the young people at the school. They constantly surprise me with their bravery and inventiveness. One of my students even got shortlisted in the First Story National Six-Word Story Competition!

Remembering Oluwale: an Anthology 

Writer Catherine Vallely at the Remembering Oluwale Book Launch. Photo by Raj Passy

Towards the end of 2015, Max Farrar of the Remember Oluwale charity got in touch to ask whether I'd be interested in helping them put an anthology together in memory of David Oluwale.

Oluwale was a man who came to the North of England from Nigeria in the late 50s; he spent a great deal of his time in Leeds sleeping rough, where he was repeatedly victimised by two police officers, who assaulted and taunted him. He was later found floating dead in the River Aire. (You can read more about his story in Foreigners by Caryl Phillips, or The Hounding of David Oluwale by Kester Aspden.)

The Remember Oluwale Charity works to keep his memory alive, and to campaign to make the city of Leeds one which is more inclusive and welcoming. It's a great charity.

A writing competition resulted in an anthology, which was launched as part of the Northern Short Story Festival. The book is out now and available from Valley Press books.

Poet Cherie Taylor-Battiste at the launch of the Remembering Oluwale anthology. Photo by Raj Passy
Writer David Cundall at the Remembering Oluwale book launch
Remembering Oluwale: an Anthology, available now from Valley Press
The Northern Short Story Festival

2016 saw the launch of the first ever Northern Short Story Festival: a day of talking, reading, discussing, and workshopping, short stories.

We were lucky to have some amazing writers taking part in this year's festival. Avril Joy, Clare Fisher, Anna Chilvers, and many more, all took part.

Carys Bray talks to Richard Smyth at the Northern Short Story Festival 2016

The Northern Short Story Festival 2016 was a huge success - we saw all of the workshops sell out, and lots of positive comments on social media afterwards. Plenty took us up on our offer to talk small publishing with editors from Comma Press, Valley Press, and Tartarus Press; this kind of event is quite rare in the North of England, and it was clear that people wanted the opportunity to talk about short stories, and to find out more about the publishing world.

It was an exciting day, and afterwards we were all glad to get to the afterparty to have a drink to wind down. Boo Owl (from the Big Bookend) got a bit excited and rowdy. Here he is, having a go on a ukulele that doesn't belong to him.

Boo Owl plays the ukulele

I'm pleased to say that, after winning a grant from Leeds Inspired for next years' festival, there will be a Northern Short Story Festival in 2017 too - so watch this space for more news!

Fictions of Every Kind, and Writing on Air 

Fictions of Every Kind at Writing on Air. L-R: SJ Bradley, Claire Stephenson, Jenna Isherwood
One of the really fun things I got to get involved with this year was the Chapel FM Writing on Air festival. Every year, the folk at Chapel FM invite writers and writing groups into their (frankly amazing) space, to come and broadcast a festival of live spoken word events.

Organising our programme is something I can't take credit for - Jenna Isherwood (pictured above, on the right) did most of the hard work. It was great to be involved and we're planning to take part again in 2017.

Jenna was also responsible for buying gifts for any brave participants who took part in the open mic at Fictions of Every Kind this year. It was she who was responsible for buying these majestic mug cakes, which were one of the highlights of my year:
Fictions of Every Kind Mug Cakes

Now I look back on it all - whew, it seems to have been quite a jam-packed year! I was glad to have the mug cakes on hand to keep me going.

Other things that were good this year were: I found a shop near me that sells old Ladybird books.

I saw this cool little boat and harbour while in Northern Ireland over Christmas:

Two of my own short stories were published this year: The Gordon Trask, on Disclaimer Magazine, and Maps of Imaginary Towns, on Litro.

I'm also looking forward to working on some more exciting projects next year. Here are some (just some!) of the things I'll be up to in 2017:

February to July - teaching a Comma Press Short Story Writing Course at Carriageworks Theatre in Leeds. There's some more information about the course itself here, and you can book your place online here.

February 27th - hosting Fictions of Every Kind: Treats, with short story writer Lara Williams and poet Suzannah Evans. If you're lucky, there will be more mug cakes. More information here.

March 2017 - taking part in the Chapel FM Writing on Air Festival.

3rd June 2017 - the second Northern Short Story Festival; programme and ticket information to be announced.

Late June 2017 - the release of my second novel, Guest, from Dead Ink Books. Details, launch events and readings to be announced. Watch this space for more information!

Happy new year, everyone!

Currently Reading

Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow - Peter Hoeg
Radio Sunrise - Anietie Isong

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Comma Short Story Writing Course

From February to July 2017, I'll be teaching a Comma Short Story Writing Course at Carriageworks Theatre in Leeds. The course is six months long, and consists of six two-hour workshops on the craft of short story writing. 

Writing the course has brought me back to thinking about my own development as a short story writer. When I first started writing short stories, way back in about 2006, I had little to guide me. All I knew were the things I'd taught myself, and I didn't know many other writers - I certainly hadn't got many other writer friends at that time - and as I counted up the rejection slips for the stories I sent out, I often asked myself: where am I going wrong

It was a very hard time, because although I knew I had some good ideas, and a level of good craft, I didn't have anybody to ask. 

I've been thinking about this a lot as I wrote the Comma press course. Over the past 10 years of trying, failing, trying, failing, and finally trying, and succeeding, to be a short story writer, I've learned an awful lot. It wasn't until I first started reading Raymond Carver in around 2009, that things finally started to click into place. 

The first Carver story I read was Neigbors. (There's a free PDF of it here.) It's short, like so many of Carver's stories - only 8 pages long, and on the surface of it, it doesn't seem to be about very much. A man and his wife agree to water a neighbour's plant, and look after their cat, while the neighbours are away for the weekend. Simple, right? 

I read it, and found myself thinking: this story is simple... almost too simple. Nothing really happens! Where's all the drama? The exploding cars? The discovery of an affair? The slapped face, the knife in the back? Needless to say, and probably because I'd been reading so much of Roald Dahl's short fiction prior to this, I really didn't get the Carver love. 

But something about the story stayed with me. For days afterwards, I kept on thinking about it. It was in thinking about the story in the following weeks that I came to realise - the drama is there; it's hidden under a veneer of respectability. It's lurking there, quietly, hidden amongst Carver's incredibly well-constructed sentences. It happened to me after the fact of reading Carver's story, as so often does with brilliant literature - I was hooked after the fact. 

Can it really contain all the things I remember, I asked myself? So I read it again, and yes, it did. I was amazed that a story could have the power to make me continue thinking about it for days afterwards, and have further realisations. 

The next thing I did was to take a book of Carver's entire published works out of the library. This book included the story So Much Water So Close to Home (originally published in Carver's collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love). This story, like so many of his other works, is incredibly short - just 7 pages - and yet it has everything. Drama - deceit - betrayal - an unbelievable sense of having the rug pulled out from under you; fully realised characters, a marriage and relationships that all seem completely real and believable - little wonder that Carver is considered one of the masters of modern realism. If you haven't read the story, I won't spoil it for you - I just recommend that you go and read it for yourself. 

Carver was my first introduction to absolute mastery in short story writing. What he could do in just a few short pages has never since been equalled by any other writer, in my opinion. 

In my Comma Short Story Writing Class we will discuss and learn from one of Carver's short stories; and in the following months we will discover, discuss and learn other short story writers too -- including several modern day writers. Each month the course will cover topics like structure, creation of tension, creating character, and editing and endings. 

Every month there will be writing exercises - I will be asking every participant to write a short piece in every single workshop, so there will be plenty of time for writing itself, too. 

Numbers on the course are limited - which will allow every participant the chance to have at least some of their work read and critiqued. At the end of the course, following our final class - which will be a session on Editing & Endings - all participants will have the opportunity to have their stories published in an e-Book by Comma. Two reduced fee places are available for writers who are single parents or in receipt of benefits - email Becky at Comma Press to book one of these places (address at the bottom of this link

You can book onto the course through the Carriageworks website or by calling their Box Office on (0113) 376 0318. 

Look forward to seeing some of you there!

Currently reading

Foreigners Caryl Phillips
Homeland Cory Doctorow 

Monday, 21 November 2016


Hello, I'm just updating my blog to let you all know that I am still alive, but that I've been so busy with my work lately there's been not much time to write on here.

In lieu of writing a proper blog entry, I'll just share this video, which is my current favourite YouTube video.

For now! Later!

currently reading

America Franz Kafka
Raising Arizona Script The Coen Brothers

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Comma Short Story Writing Course

I'll be teaching a Comma Press Short Story Writing course in 2017, from February to July, at Carriageworks Theatre in Leeds.

The course will cover generating ideas, structuring a story, developing characters, use of voice, editing, and how to find opportunities to publish your story.

I'm really excited about teaching this course - it's the first one that Comma Press have offered in Leeds - and to be doing it at such a brilliant venue.

To book your place, please visit the Comma Press website.

Currently reading

Tainted Love Anna Chilvers
The Beauty Aliya Whiteley  

Monday, 22 August 2016

Some new fiction online....

I've been away on holiday (see pictured), so that was good, and I'm also really pleased to have had two stories published online recently.

You can read "The Gordon Trask" online at Disclaimer mag, here.

You can read "Maps of Imaginary Towns" online at Litro magazine, here.

In other news, I'll be teaching a short story writing course, through Comma Press, in Leeds in the New Year. More news on that soon.

Currently reading

Uprooted Naomi Novik 

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Riot! My Chariot of Fire

"Leeds has been the site of over 20 riots over the years..."

Super chuffed to have edited & organised this Riot! themed publication, Riot: My Chariot of Fire, which features fiction & non-fiction by Max Dunbar, Jenna Isherwood, Gloria Dawson, Boff Whalley, Debbie Coope, Nick Allen, and Ian Harker, among others. The publication was very beautifully laid out by b-e-n-d design, and we are grateful to them.

These publications are FREE! and you can grab one by picking one up at The Chemic Tavern when the ADP Riot Tour exhibition opens from 14th-21st July. But, be quick! There are only 1000 of them and we expect them to go quickly, so don't miss out!

Tim Waters has designed this rather excellent interactive Leeds Riot Map, which you can view here:

Leeds Riot Map

More info on the events at The Chemic from 14th-21st July by looking at the poster below.

Currently Reading

The Fishermen Chigozie Obioma 

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Some thoughts on Brexit

Some quick thoughts on Brexit:

Nigel Farage

Too many people think of Nigel Farage as a sort of comedy politician, a one-issue wazzock whose views can safely be ignored. But here's the truth - Nigel Farage is dangerous.

Here's a man whose party, UKIP, only have one seat in Parliament. Farage isn't even an MP! He lost his seat, South Thanet, in the last election. Yet, despite having no real political remit, and no real power in the UK Parliament, somehow this "comedy politician" has managed to bring about an EU Referendum, and even persuade 52% of the turnout to vote "out".

Yes, we know that he fought his campaign on lies - he was rescinding his promise to spend £350million on the NHS before the Leave vote had actually even been delivered - and we need to stay wary of him, and what he stands for. Many voters realising the gravity of voting 'Leave' on Friday morning - realised, only too late, that they had voted based on lies they had been told.

You think Farage is going to apologise? Not in a million years, and we'll be living with the mess he's created for generations.

Yorkshire voted out

It's a fact that fascism & right-wing views always rise in a recession.

We saw it in the 30s, during the great Depression, (it was a major contributing factor to the election of the Nazi party in Germany) and during the 80s. In tough times, people always look for somebody to blame for their troubles.

My adopted hometown, Leeds, voted in, as did the other two cities around it - Harrogate and York. Other places in Yorkshire - Barnsley, Doncaster, Calderdale, Kirklees, Wakefield - voted Out, by quite a considerable margin.

Many of the Northern cities that voted Out are some of the most impoverished places in the country. This government has been creating a North-South divide ever since it was first elected; it talks about a Northern Powerhouse, whilst cutting public services. The North has always relied heavily on the public sector, and we've lost up to 1 in 5 jobs here. There are places up here where whole streets are boarded up, with no jobs, nothing to do, and no prospect of things improving.

Even in Leeds, it's sometimes easy to think the government has forgotten about us. I can't imagine how much worse it could be in some of the smaller, surrounding areas.

When a one-man figurehead like Farage is seeking control & power, they're going to seek it through whatever means necessary. He's not going to go into Bradford or Blackpool or Dewsbury and tell the truth, which is: "Actually, all of you lot are suffering because the Tories have spent the past six years systematically cutting public services", or "Actually, the reason why you can't get a GP appointment is because the Tories have continued to underfund the NHS and increase GPs' workloads, so loads of them are leaving." Farage wants power and the quickest way to get it is to say: "You can't see the doctor because there are too many immigrants," or: "You can't get a job because they're giving them all to the immigrants."

He's played a blinder in playing on people's fears, and in sweeping up all of those voters who feel abandoned and powerless and forgotten.

What to do next?

Sadly, I think it's likely we'll see a rise in nationalism and right-wing action following this vote "out". Not everybody who voted "Out" did it for racist reasons, but too many did, and now they're going to feel vindicated, and more open in their views.

It would be wonderful if this weren't the case, but sadly a few immigrant friends have already shared how unwelcome they feel following Friday's "out" vote, so rather than blithely go "It's going to be fine! It'll all be fine! Fine!" I think I'm going to listen to them, and try to be active and do what I can to help and resist, and I encourage you all to join me.

So, I'll end by sharing parts of this rather wonderful Facebook post by Ewa Jasiewicz:

1) Don't hate on leavers, some voted for reactionary and racist reasons some for good reasons. Reclaiming power and taking control are what most people want in and over their lives, but the obstacles to that or the route to that are highly contested and influenced by 30 years of neoliberal hegemony, underwritten by establishment media.

2) Don't let the Right control the narrative and define reclamation - overcoming dispossession means redefining what should be ours on inclusive deep democracy terms - housing, education, public and health services, transport, energy, control over our own labour

3) join a union - we need control over work and workplaces and right now we're weak and the raid on our rights is coming as is division between workers incl migrant, youth and workfare workers. We need to organise and collectivise at work,

4) get involved in local housing struggles - your local anti housing bill campaign, you local tenants and Residents Association, your community garden. We need to find each other where we live, build relationships there, and resist social cleansing and dispossession of our homes.

5) stand in solidarity with all migrants. There will be intense 'othering' and racialising going on now, on the street and at the top of the political system. Have the arguments with people, challenge racism and prioritize and support black and brown and migrant voices in all political organising as it should be anyway to dismantle white supremacy and structural oppressions

6) get Corbyn and Mcdonnell Labour in to government in 2020. Make it happen. Don't give up on anything grassroots but don't give anything away and up in the parliamentary political sphere to the right and far right.

Currently reading

Owls Do Cry Janet Frame

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Remembering Oluwale: now available!

"Remembering Oluwale is an inspiring reflection on David’s story. It includes extracts from recent books about David Oluwale by Caryl Phillips and Kester Aspden, as well as previously published poems by Ian Duhig, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Sai Murray, Zodwa Nyoni, and a performance by The Baggage Handlers. This body of new and earlier writing serves as a clarion call for us to re-make our neighbourhoods as places of inclusion and hospitality."

The anthology I edited, Remembering Oluwale, is out now - available from Valley Press. It contains lots of great writing from Robert Miles, Zodwa Nyoni, Rommi Smith & The Baggage Handlers, Char March, and is available now from Valley Press.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Quick ways to infuriate other writers


I've been sitting on this blogpost for a while now, mainly because I didn't want to seem sourfaced. But then, after a good afternoon sucking on a grapefruit, I finally figured, what the hell, Bradders, just go for it.

Seven years of writing and organizing have brought me into contact with a lot of writers. I'm glad to report that most of them were amazing. I love writers, oddball, twitchy, socially awkward little things that they are. I'm one myself.

But, there is some writer-behaviour that I don't love. Ridiculous, demanding, diva-style behaviour. Writers with massive egos and chippy shoulders. Writers who believe the world owes them a favour, but that they don't have to do anything to earn it.

Over the past few years I've come into contact with some pretty extraordinary behaviour, and a lot of it has left me slack-jawed. It's not cool when writers hurt other writers or their community, so, I've done a little blog post on ways to be a good literary citizen.

If you all pay attention to it, and abide by my suggestions, you will be making the world a better place. Thank you.

1. Be nice! (especially to editors and contest organizers.)

Most of them aren't getting paid (or maybe some of the smarter ones are, I don't know.) Most editors / organizers Do Stuff because they're interested in a project, and because they want to bring great writing into the world. Most of us are doing it in whatever tiny bit of spare time we have. Please, for the love of God, be nice. Not snippy or mean or cross or whatever. Just nice. Say thankyou. Offer to buy us biscuits.

Otherwise we're just going to think, "Huh, what a jackass. I won't work with him/ her again in a hurry."

2. Be careful about asking for favours when you haven't got any goodwill in the bank.

Most writers are happy to do things for other writers. I know this because I do it myself all the time. Luckily, I've had lots of help from lots of cool people over the years, too, and I'm glad of it. I wouldn't have got to where I am today without it. (Thank you, writer-friends!)

One thing that won't endear you to others though, is if you're the kind of person who's always taking. By that, I mean, you ask for things from others without offering something of equal value in return. For example, please don't go to somebody you barely know, and say "Hey, I've written this 10,000 word fantasy/ horror story with flashing unicorns and sparkly vampires, it's TOTAL GENIUS. I'm entering it for a contest on Tuesday so will you read it this week and give me a critique before the deadline?"

Be reasonable in what you ask of others. Giving critique thoughtfully and helpfully can take ages. It's a real skill and it's a big ask of somebody you don't know.

It's not easy meeting good critique partners, I know that. A good way is by going to other places writers hang out. Go to literary social events, join a writers' circle. I met my first ever critique partner on MySpace, which gives you a clue as to how old I am. Seek out your peers - if you're a beginner writer, try to meet other beginner writers.

Be aware that if you're a beginner writer asking a more experienced writer for critique, any critique you might offer in return may not be an equal exchange. If that's the case, what can you offer instead? A book token? A good dinner? Money?

And whatever you do, make sure you help others. If you don't, you'll pretty quickly become known as the person who takes all the time, and nobody will want to help you at all. Word about life's takers generally spreads pretty quickly, and it won't be long before you've exhausted whatever goodwill you had to begin with.

3. Do stuff for others

Doing stuff for other writers is great! There's nothing other writers like better than a writer who helps writers. Some of the most well-liked and well-respected writers I know do things like: run little magazines, or run contests that get writers their first publications. One of the coolest and most well-liked writer-citizens I know, runs a writers' circle in a part of West Yorkshire that didn't have any writers' groups before.Yeah, I know, it's not easy running a writers group / a literary social / running a contest. That's why people will respect you so hard if you do it, and do it well.

You'll get extra bonus points and goodwill if you show kindness and helpfulness to other writers, when there's not much in it for you.

4. Try not to be a dick (pt. 1)

If somebody is doing you a favour, especially somebody who's very busy (you can assume this of most editors or literary organisers), let them do it in their own time. Don't repeatedly hassle them by email or over social media. It's rude and not cool. Just be gracious, wait patiently, and say thank you afterwards.

5. Don't be a deadweight.

If you get involved in working on a literary project of some type, a shared endeavour, whether it be a live lit night or a book or a festival or whatever, do your share. Don't be unreliable by saying you're going to do something, then not doing it. Do your share, do it well, be enthusiastic, turn up on time, and for God's sake smile. If nothing else, it will make your organizer-friends want to do more projects with you in the future. (see: 3, "Do stuff for others".)

6. Please don't be weird and super-creepy on social media (or: Try not to be a dick, pt. 2) 

It can be tempting to approach writers / organisers on social media to ask questions. Fair enough! But, if somebody doesn't get back to you straight away - or if they've answered your question, and you haven't got the answer you wanted - please, don't get all weird. Don't start bombing them with @-replies or a bunch of super-creepy DMs. They are more likely to block you than to pay you attention.

A good rule of thumb is, treat Twitter as you would real life. Don't say things to people on Twitter that you wouldn't say to a person's face. There's nothing you want less than to be marked out as a Person Not To Deal With before a writer / editor / organiser has even met you in real life. Please! Don't be that guy / girl. Just be nice. Not creepy or aggressive or weird. Make yourself seem like the kind of person other people want to be around.

7. Try to be a great writer!

This is last but definitely not least. Work hard on your writing. Read lots of other writers. Buy books from independent presses, because they're the ones that publish the best writers. Go to bookfairs. Practise reading your work out in front of others (7a. Please be courteous and stay within the time limit. It's not a time limit "for others, but not for you". The time limit applies to everybody. This point could also be, "Try not to be a dick, pt. 3".) Don't assume that you're already a genius, because you probably aren't. Keep working, keep writing new stuff, keep trying to learn new techniques and / or styles. Read things that excite you, read things that are popular, read things that make you go "huh, wtf?!" Never stop learning and working and striving and growing.

Currently reading

A Song for Issy Bradley Carys Bray 

Saturday, 7 May 2016

The End of All Things Podcast

Or listen on Soundcloud by following the link here:

 After Rob (the presenter) left my house, I found his list of questions. He'd left them behind on my desk.

I didn't have time to answer those questions in the podcast, so I'll answer them here on my blog instead.

"Do you make enough money to survive?" No I don't, not from writing. I won't go into exact numbers, but the most I've ever made from writing didn't even pay my share of the council tax bill that year. (FYI, our place isn't on Council Tax band Y, or whatever it goes up to. It's on the lowest possible one.)

 "So what do you do to get by?" I have a day job. Not a particularly glamorous or exciting one, but it's one that I love. My day job is in the public sector, and involves helping people. It is nothing to do with literature development or writing or "The Arts" and I think that's good. It means I get to spend a lot of my time interacting with actual people, and that's one of my favourite things about it.

"Do you get Arts Council funding and if so, how does one do that?" No, I don't get Arts Council funding. I have never had Arts Council funding for my writing, or for any of my projects - except for a small pot of Northern Accent funding, which we used for the Northern Short Story Festival. Fiona (of Leeds Big Bookend Festival) and Linzi (at the Carriageworks Theatre) helped me access this. I wouldn't have been able to access it on my own, because it's tied to the venue (The Carriageworks) and also because I don't know how to get Arts Council funding for things.

The thing is, I've been taking writing seriously for about 7 years now, and I still have no idea how the Arts Council works, or how it distributes funding, or how even to apply to it. I think the Arts Council should make it easier for people like me to get money to support their work. Applying for any sort of funding at all seems to require a level of knowledge that most artists / writers don't have. I think the Arts Council could make applying for arts funding much more accessible, especially for writers & artists in the North. Being able to apply for arts funding seems to be a discipline in and of itself, and it's not something many writers are good at (and why should they be? Learning to be a good writer is a full-time occupation in itself.)

(Note: there is a writing development agency in the North which does distribute literature development funding in the North, but most of its efforts seem to be focused on the Sunderland / Newcastle / Durham area. It doesn't seem to run or support projects based in West Yorkshire - I'm not sure why this is, though it's possible that West Yorkshire isn't within its remit. I'm also not sure who to ask about this, or how to apply to said writing development agency to run a project in West Yorkshire myself. You see? Complicated!)

So that just about sums it up! I hope you enjoy the podcast and I look forward to hearing your comments on my thoughts.

Currently reading

Winter Dan Grace 
The Wave Lochlan Bloom  

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Jimmy Cauty's Aftermath Dislocation Principle: Submissions sought

This summer, Jimmy Cauty's artwork the Aftermath Dislocation Principle will be taking a RIOT! tour around the country. It will be arriving in Leeds from the 14th-21st July.

We are gathering riot stories, poetry, and narratives to publish in a newspaper / fanzine to appear as a companion piece during its time here. The newspaper will be given away free, and all authors will retain copyright to their work.

We are gathering stories and poems in response to the theme of 'riot'. Accepted pieces will be published in an accompanying newspaper which will be available, for free, when the Aftermath Dislocation Principle lands in Leeds.

Perhaps you were caught up in a riot? Perhaps you were a bystander, or your business or family were affected? Perhaps you were (or are) part of a radical community group involved in self-organising, in doing things differently, or in doing something riotously amazing. Whatever it is, we want to hear from you. We can also print black & white images, so if you want to send a photograph or image that goes with your story, please send us that, as well.

If your story is a true one, please include a year or date which tells us when your story took place.

We are also accepting creative responses - stories or poems - on related themes, too. Stories or poetry which reflect off themes of riot, disruption, destruction, uprising, community work, and radical approaches, are all welcome. A ‘riot’ doesn’t always have to be destructive: we’re also talking about riots of the mind. Radical approaches can be creative and positive - they don’t always have to be about smashing things up. We are open to receiving anything that you think matches the theme.

Please send your submissions in .doc format (2000 words or less for prose please, 30 lines or less for poetry)

When submitting your story / piece to our project, please also give us a short description of what your piece is in the 'further information' box as you submit. This will help us to keep track of things!
Submit using our Submittable portal, here

submit Currently reading

Liam Brown Real Monsters

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Organising the Remember Oluwale Writing Prize

It feels like such a short time ago that Max Farrar of Remember Oluwale first contacted me on LinkedIn, to ask whether I'd be interested in helping organise a writing contest, and anthology, in memory of David Oluwale. That was last November. Now we're in April and about to publish our shortlist, and I can't believe how fast the time has flown.

The Remember Oluwale Anthology was a joint venture between myself, my organisation Fictions of Every Kind, Remember Oluwale, and The Big Bookend Festival. We're very happy that Valley Press agreed to publish the resulting anthology quite early on in the process - before we'd even started taking entries.

I've done a lot of work organising the writing prize, and editing the anthology (with help along the way from lots of people - we'll come to that in a minute), and wanted to do a blog explaining the process we used to run the competition.

Once Fiona Gell (of the Big Bookend), myself, and Max Farrar had all agreed that we wanted to run a writing contest, things got moving pretty quickly. Valley Press got onboard early on, and said they would be happy to publish the book - in which we were planning to publish the longlisted contest entries, as well as previously published works by writers like Linton Kwesi Johnson, Ian Duhig, and Kester Aspden. Max did an excellent job of recruiting an amazing panel of judges, which included Marina Lewycka (of 'A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian' fame), poet Ian Duhig, and Caryl Phillips (who has written extensively about David Oluwale's life and death.)

This was great news and gave us momentum to get the writing prize running.

As the charity's work is to raise awareness of 'David's issues' in cities - marginalisation, immigration, mental health, and homelessness - we were all agreed that we would invite poets and writers to submit stories and poems that reflected on these issues. We did this because we all felt that 'David's issues' were a wide and current issue, and we knew that writers would have a lot of interesting things to say about them. We agreed our themes and contest rules, and Fiona got the contest page up on the Big Bookend website.

I took advice from a colleague more experienced in running writing contests, and set a submission window 3 months long. This way, he told us (thanks Wes!) we'd be sure to get as many entries as we needed.

We took entries from 20th December - March 6th, and recruited an excellent team of filter readers - 5 people in total - all of whom are practising writers themselves, who either read for existing literature magazines, or are literature professors, or who have a Masters in writing or cultural practise, or a combination of all of the above. We were lucky to find such a great reading team, and all of them get a thanks in the book.

We took all of our entries through Submittable. This was for two reasons: one, because it cuts down hugely on admin (very important, when you're running a writing contest in your spare time) and two, because it allows for "blind-reading."

"What is blind reading?" I hear you cry? Well, it's a system whereby the filter readers don't get to see the author's name. It's a much fairer way to read submissions, because it doesn't allow the readers' prejudices - whatever they may be, we all have them - to impact on their reading of the work. So, each reader had a selection of 15-20 pieces each, which they read without knowing anything about the person who wrote it. Not their gender, or their background - nothing. This seemed important, as it means the readers had to choose (or not choose) work, based solely on what they saw in front of them.

Submittable does charge a fee - not huge, but it was one we thought worth paying, given that it allowed us to read the entries 'without prejudice', if you like. It also made running the contest much easier. Our contest entry fee was only £3, which is a total bargain when you compare it with some of the larger writing competitions.

We had 70 entries in all. The readers did a great job of reading these thoughtfully, then choosing a few from their pile to go forward into the anthology. If the readers weren't sure about an entry - and this might have been because they didn't know whether it was relevant enough to 'David's issues', or because they were on the fence about whether or not they quite fit in the anthology - they let me know, and these pieces went for a second reading, by somebody else in the team.

This process produced a longlist of 26 writers, all of which will be published in the anthology.

One thing that we did in this contest, which is quite rare, was that I kept up a high level of communication with the entrants. I sent 'decline' responses to those writers whose pieces we hadn't selected for the longlist, and 'acceptance' responses to those whose we had. Most writing contests don't bother to do this - they just let declined writers find out, by default, when the longlist or shortlist is publicly published. Having been on the other side of the fence so many times, as a writing contest entrant, and knowing how it feels to find out that you haven't been shortlisted by reading a list on the web.... well, I didn't want to treat entrants to our contest that way. Luckily, our submissions portal made it very easy to remain in contact with entrants, otherwise I would not have been able to do this.

At this stage of the process, everything started happening all at once. We were on a fairly tight deadline to get everything in to Valley Press on time, so there were lots of things to do.

Max Farrar and Sai Murray started sourcing previously published works to go into the anthology, and they also worked on whittling the longlist down to a shortlist of 10. This shortlist was to go on to be read by the judges, who will select and award the four top prizes. (More on the shortlisting process, later.)

Whilst all this was going on, I was receiving the previously published works, and collating the longlisted contest entries to go into the anthology. I was doing loads of different things all at once at this point: going through a light editorial process with some of the writers (where I had spotted errors or omissions in their pieces), getting writers' bios (for the contributors' notes section in the end of the book), looking for and correcting typos; getting Max's introduction for the book, writing my own introduction for the book, putting it all together into a single document; making sure the same font was used throughout, checking and double-checking for errors and typos, making sure the formatting made sense.... basically, all the things that you don't notice when you're reading a book when they're right, but the first thing you notice when they're wrong.

I spent about three weeks constantly glued to my computer. I got backache and my eyes started to go funny. I legit thought I was going mad at a couple of points. (It was all ok in the end, though.)

At the end of March, breathing a huge sigh of relief, I sent everything off to Rosa, our lovely editor & publisher at Valley Press. She was very complimentary, and also very pleased that we'd got everything in on time to meet our projected publication date, of 3rd June.

A thing nobody often tells you about publishing: lead times are long. It's not as if you send a manuscript into a publisher, and they print it out, and hey presto! next week, you're holding a book in your hands. Things take much longer than that. Publishers need time to typeset your work, to proofread, and to design the cover. In our case, Sai Murray (or Remember Oluwale) will be designing the cover. If you ever work with a publisher that doesn't spend time doing these things, you're going to end up with a very shonky-looking book indeed. Ours will be at least 2 months from me sending everything to Rosa, to the book actually coming out - and that is an unusually short timeframe, for publishing.

I promised you more about shortlisting. Choosing the best pieces for the shortlist was not an easy task at all, never is. By the time we were down to a longlist of 26, we had a lot of very good pieces to choose from. All of us in the organizing party - me, Max, Sai, and Fiona - all had our favourites. And they did not coincide at all. Literature: it's so subjective. I produced one 'wishlist' for the shortlist, of 9 pieces; Fiona did the same, and so did Max. They were all completely different. (Apart from 1 or 2 pieces that appeared on all three lists.)

So, Max and Sai developed a system, using points awarded for various things like: how relevant the piece was to David's issues; how well-written it was; how creatively it approached its subject. How can you award points for creativity, I hear you cry?! Well, the answer is, none of us is completely sure. Like I said, it was tough.

There were lots of pieces that nearly made it into the shortlist, then at the last minute, didn't. There were pieces we all argued over and pieces we defended to the death. There were lots of things that we all liked a lot (including a couple of my personal favourites - not that I'm bitter) that didn't make it onto the shortlist. That is shortlisting for you, I'm afraid.

In the end though, Max and Sai discussed it and produced a list of 10 pieces that we could all agree on, and which will soon go forward to the judges for their deliberation.

It has been a great privilege to be involved with this project, and I have learned so much during the course of it. Not just about editing and running a contest, but also about David's story, and about how important stories and poems can be in bringing his story back into our consciousness.

My huge thanks go to Fiona Gell for all of her help & support, for my co-organisers at Fictions of Every Kind for the same, and for Max Farrar for having suggested it in the first place.

Currently reading

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch Philip K. Dick
Sweet Home Carys Bray  

Monday, 7 March 2016

The Northern Short Story Festival

So, as you may gather, I've been pretty busy lately. A bit too busy to update this blog.

One of the things I've been doing, is programming the first ever Northern Short Story Festival. We have so many great writers here in the North, so much talent, that it seemed wrong not to have a festival to celebrate it. Some of the writers appearing include Alison Taft, Avril Joy, Anna Chilvers, Barney Walsh, David Martin, Clare Sita Fisher, Benjamin Judge, and Carys Bray. It's a great programme (even if I do say so myself) and best of all, if you can't decide what to go to, you can buy a day ticket for £20!

View full programme for the Northern Short Story Festival here.

The other thing I've been doing is organizing and running the Remember Oluwale Writing Prize, in collaboration with the Remember Oluwale Memorial Association and The Big Bookend Festival.

Entries closed on Sunday, so we are reading at the moment. I'm glad to say that we have had some absolutely amazing entries to far, and the resulting anthology (to be published by Valley Press in June 2016) will be a great testament to David's memory, and to the work of the Foundation.

Currently reading 

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet Becky Chambers

Monday, 22 February 2016

EU: my opinion

Really frightened about the prospect of Britain leaving the EU. Mainly concerned that Nigel Farage & Boris Johnson's idea of "victory" is for them to sit around, eating porkpies and braying "ha ha! We won! We won! Our country is GREAT again!" whilst the rest of us live in wattle & daub huts, working 20 hour days and living on foraged nettles. And maybe the occasional turnip, for a treat.

I'll be voting to stay in & for what it's worth, I hope you'll join me.

Currently reading

Home Toni Morrison

Saturday, 9 January 2016

The Remember Oluwale Writing Prize

(Image from David Oluwale Memorial Association webpage)

I'm currently helping to organize the Remember Oluwale Writing Prize, a collaboration between Fictions of Every Kind, Remember Oluwale, and the Big Bookend Festival. Shortlisted entries will be published in an anthology published by Valley Press, and four winning entries will win cash prizes. We are really pleased to have an amazing judging panel of Caryl Phillips, Marina Lewycka, and Ian Duhig.

David Oluwale came to the UK from Nigeria in the 60s, in search of work and a better life. During his years living in Leeds he faced a range of issues like mental ill health, victimisation by members of the police, homelessness, and worklessness. His life and shocking death are written about in more detail, in Caryl Phillips' book Foreigners, and in Kester Aspden's book The Hounding of David Oluwale. 

We may notice that some of the issues faced by David -- mental ill health, marginalisation, homelessness, displacement, and racism -- are issues faced by many in our city centres today.

The Remember Oluwale charity was formed following a call to memorialize David in Leeds City Centre, by poet Caryl Phillips. "The charity’s aim is to reflect both the city’s woeful neglect and persecution of David, and on the signs of hope contained within his story.. The charity suggests that Leeds has to do more to address multiple issues of marginalisation and exclusion. Anyone, of any background, colour, or class, can and does experience many of David’s tribulations. In a world in which mass migration is promoted by war, environmental degradation and acute economic inequality, and in a city where social problems are increasing as public expenditure falls, ‘David’s issues’ are interlocking and they are multiplying."

For more information on how to enter the contest, please go to the Remember Oluwale Writing Prize page on the Big Bookend website.

Currently reading
Wuthering Heights Emily Bronte
The Shapes of Dogs' Eyes Harry Gallon