Monday, 10 December 2018

Things Of The Year

Good day, thank you for stopping by.

Regular fans of my blog will notice I haven't been updating too often this year. That's because I've been spending most of my free time working on my third novel, which is about a catering company who take on a contract to run a prison.

Most of 2018 has been spent with my head down, writing, occasionally despairing, complaining to anybody who will listen. I deactivated my Facebook account so I could get more done. I didn't really publish or write a lot of short fiction, because I was trying to get my novel finished, so this end of year blog post is necessarily going to be less eventful than last year's.

That said, I have produced this handy pie chart to let you know how I've been spending my time:

Fig 1: my 2018 in pie chart form. by SJ Bradley
There's not much else to say about it, other than that I've now nearly finished work on the current draft (apart from the four additional chapters, see attached diagram.) After that, I will mostly be returning to writing short stories for a bit.

In amongst the writing, I also managed to read and see and do a few things. Here follows a list of some of my favourite things that I read or saw or did.

Favourite films of 2018 

Black Panther
In no way can I pretend to be any sort of 'comic book' aficionado. I don't care much for films with super heroes and I don't even know the difference between Marvel and DC. However, this film was brilliant: it was funny, it had a terrific story, even the villain's motivation made sense (a rarity in superhero and/ or fantasy films in my opinion) and the action sequences were A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. It is by far the best superhero film I've ever watched, and definitely is not just for kids. See it! 

Saw this film at Leeds International Film Festival. Viola Davis (also seen in How To Get Away With Murder) was superb as a grieving wife in this remake of the Linda la Plante drama, who finds her professional criminal husband's notebook, and gathers together his colleague's widows to carry out one final job. I damn near broke my fingers gripping the edge of my seat during this one. It really is superb. Go and see it!

A Simple Favour 
Ended up going to watch this when we couldn't find The Sisters Brothers showing anywhere, and crikey was I glad we did. Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick play two schoolgate Mum friends with very different parenting styles: you've got the 'cocktail Mum', and the 'smug craft blogging Mum'. When Cocktail Mum asks Smug Mum to pick her kids up from school one day, then doesn't turn up to pick her children up later... things turn very dark... and strange. For one thing, it's great to see a film with two kick-ass female leads, and for another, there were so many twists in this film I came out having watched a very different film from the one I'd expected. I definitely recommend this one.

Fave books of 2019

Milkman (Anna Burns) 
This has been described as a 'difficult book', a description I could not agree with less. In this novel, Burns' skilful use of voice draws you completely into the claustrophobic world of Troubles-era Northern Ireland, yet despite its difficult subject matter parts of this novel are surprisingly funny. This has been one of my favourite Booker books ever, and in my opinion a worthy winner.

The Study Circle (Haroun Khan)
This brilliant novel, set on a housing estate in South London, follows three young men, friends who all attend the same Islamic study circle in one of the estate's flats. We get to know Ishaq, Shams, and Marwane, their families, their motivations, holding our breath for them as they negotiate an unfriendly world which offers them few opportunities. It's a complex and intriguing novel and was one of my favourites of the year.

What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky (Lesley Nneka Arimah)
My favourite short story collection. It didn't come out this year, but I only got around to reading it this year. These stories skate effortlessly from realism to magic realism, from world to world. Full of convincing characters, unique situations and wry humour, this is a varied and skilful collection from an author of immense talent.

The Devils' Dance (Hamid Ismailov) 
I had the privilege of meeting Hamid Ismailov at a Northern Fiction Alliance event at York St John University, at which he described this novel as being "three novels for the price of one", and he was not wrong: beautiful, richly detailed, and full of poetry (figuratively and literally) this is a novel not to be missed. Ismailov painstakingly recreates the political imprisonment of Abdulla Qodiriy, who was the first Uzbek novelist, re-imagining his plans for a second novel as he struggles through his time in prison. It was not an easy read: there's a lot going on, it jumps back and forth between several time periods, but it is so rewarding. I liked this one a lot.

Favourite other things 

Leeds International Film Festival. Bought tickets for 17 films, only managed to see 12. Left my cardigan in a cinema at one showing. Still enjoyed the festival. If you find my cardigan please text me. Film highlights: The Raft, Killing God, The Punk Voyage, Failsafe, Widows.

The Northern Short Story Festival. Naturally, I can't not mention this.

Small presses: Dead Ink (of course), Comma Press (of course), Influx Press, The Eden Book Project, Parthian Press, Peirene Press, Valley Press.

Currently reading

War of the Worlds HG Wells 

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Northern Fiction Alliance Roadshow & Books on Tyne Festival, Newcastle

Good afternoon, or morning, or evening. Thanks for stopping by!

I've been intending to update for a while now. The world is pretty stupid at the moment. I have a lot of Opinions about things, and not enough time to write them down, or not at the same time as working on my third novel, anyway. Brexit: still stupid. Tories: What are they even doing and how can they live with themselves? Boris Johnson: Would Like To Punch In The Face, Hard.

That's a quick summary, and here are the next few public events I'm doing.

Wednesday 24th October, Northern Fiction Alliance Roadshow, York St John University with Hamid Ismailov and Gaia Holmes, among others. 6-8pm, tickets £3.60 (includes a glass of wine).

Book your tickets to the York St John Northern Fiction Alliance Roadshow here.

Saturday 26th November, "These Books Are Dangerous" Dead Ink event with Daniel James, Haroun Khan, Sophie Hopesmith, and Marc Nash at Newcastle Central Library. 4.00, £3.

Book your tickets for These Books Are Dangerous as part of Books on Tyne festival here.

There is also an afterparty with a jazz pianist and some of the other Dead Ink Authors afterwards, at Fictions After Dark at the Town Wall Pub. I won't be able to appear but you should definitely go and check the other authors out! Tickets for the Dead Ink Fictions After Dark tickets here.

Currently reading

Pat Barker Double Vision
Rose Tremain The Gustav Sonata

Thursday, 19 July 2018

New Comma Short Story Course

Good afternoon, thank you for stopping by!

I can only say my apologies for not having written more often. It's been a busy few months what with the Northern Short Story Festival where, not only did we have a superb weekend of workshops, discussions and book launches but where I apparently also spent a lot of time Vogueing.

Me with Rachel Connor at The Short Story & Our World panel. Photo by Izzy Brittle
As ever, I've been busy working on the second draft of my third novel (65,000 words and counting) and am currently writing a short story commission for a forthcoming Comma Press anthology, which I'm very excited about. In my opinion those are two (three!) very good reasons as to why I haven't updated this blog more often.

One last bit of news is that I'll be teaching a Comma Short Story Writing Class from 6 months from September-March at the Carriageworks Theatre in Leeds. Some of the lovely comments I had last time included things like, "I can't fault the course in any way as I enjoyed it so much" and "This course really delivered on the hopes I had for it. It definitely made me write more during the six months, and I'm really happy with some of the work I produced during it."

Several of the students who took the course had stories accepted for publication afterwards, including in Litro and Disclaimer magazine, so if this sounds like something you'd be interested in, please do book a place (but don't wait too long, because it sold out last time!)

Currently reading

I'll Sell You A Dog Juan Pablo Villalobos

Other recent reads I've enjoyed 

When I Hit You Meena Kandasamy
Home Fire Kamila Shamsie 
Elmet Fiona Mozley 

Monday, 2 April 2018

Hello, I am still alive

We went on holiday to Scarborough for a few days, too.
For weeks now, I've kept thinking to myself, in an idle sort of way, "I really must update my blog, otherwise people will think I'm either dead or have forgotten how to use the internet."

Surprise! I haven't forgotten how to use the internet. I did deactivate my Facebook, though, mainly so I could get some bloody work done. So if I seem quiet, on social media or in real life (I'm not doing much teaching at the moment, either), it's mainly because I'm spending all of my free time trying to write my next novel.

The novel is about outsourcing, and thanks to my K Blundell Trust Award from the Society of Authors, I've been able to spend the past few months concentrating on researching and writing it. Writing a novel, especially a realist novel, is somewhat like writing a Masters dissertation, in that you can find yourself ensconced in several research wormholes, and have a hard time deciding what to put in, and what to leave out.

Outsourcing is a fascinating business, horrific and surprising. One of the challenges I've had in writing a novel set in this world is that it's extremely difficult to think of something outlandish enough to dwarf some of the things that actually happen in real life. I'm incredibly grateful to the people who have met with me to share their knowledge and expertise.

Here are some of the things I've found out (SO FAR.)

1. In 2015, despite being rated "Good" or "Outstanding", a tier of the probation service was outsourced to the private sector. The most high-risk offenders stayed with the National Probation Service, with the lower risk offenders being managed by Community Rehabilitation Companies, or CRCs. The NPS [the public sector arm of the probation service] ended up being massively oversubscribed, because so many offenders were 'bumped up' from the CRCs [the outsourced arm] into their service.

2. To work in the National Probation Service, you have to have an MA in Criminal Justice.
To work in a CRC, all the companies have to do is ensure staff training is "appropriate".

3. England has the "highest incarceration rate in Western Europe" (Alan Travis in the Guardian.) We really love sending people to prison for a long time. And guess what! That's also why we keep running out of prison places. Hence, this is also why we have so much outsourcing in the prison service.

4. In 2012, Sheffield Council entered into a PFI contract with multinational corporation Amey, who were tasked with improving the streets and roads, a project that they said would involve felling up to 17,500 trees, more than half of the trees in Sheffield. (Josh Halliday, The Guardian.) Activists from Sheffield have put up a strong protest. One of the Council's most controversial actions was that it got a civil injunction to stop protestors entering the barriers around the trees. South Yorkshire police also accompanied Amey on a dawn raid. When householders refused to move their cars so tree felling could go ahead, the raid ended with pensioners still in their nighties being arrested (you can read more about that here.)

More recently, a vicar with a tambourine, and a middle-aged woman playing a pink glittery recorder, have been among some of the people arrested trying to stop the trees being felled. (Helen Pidd, The Guardian)

The PFI deal that Amey have with Sheffield Council is apparently due to run for 25 years.

5. At one stage, the multinational "Security" service G4S, whose "specialism" is in transporting prisoners between custody and the courts, were losing prisoners at court at a rate of about one prisoner a month. Even so, the government continued to give them contracts to move prisoners. Perhaps because they are so amazing at it?

6. There are 17 species of bat in the UK. All of them are nominally protected, and 4 of the bat species have extra protection: they are "annexed II species".

7 If you've ever seen a bat, most likely it was a Common Pipistrelle. It's the only bat that comes out at dusk. Most other bats only ever come out at night.

It may seem odd that I'm researching bats and outsourcing both for the same novel. The truth is, I have an esoteric method. Also, I know plenty more about bats that I'm not sharing here, because I've got to save something for the book.

Thanks for reading my little update. That's it for now. Check back for another update in about four months.


Thursday April 19th I'll be reading at the Leeds launch of the Verse Matters anthology at Leeds University. Book tickets through Eventbrite (it's free!)

Tuesday May 22nd helping with the launch of May You: The Walter Swan Anthology (Valley Press) at The Leeds Library. Again, it's free. More info & book tickets here.

Currently reading

The Underground Hamid Ismailov 
Home Fire Kamila Shamsie