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