Lost and Found at Write On, a Leicester Writers’ Showcase 15 February 2017

9780956696793Write On, a Leicester Writers’ Showcase featured the anthology “Lost and Found: Stories from Leicestershire Writers” (Dahlia Publishing, 2016) at Leicester’s Central Library. The evening had eight writers reading extracts from their stories and question and answer sessions with the writers and Farhana Shaikh, publisher.

Farhana Shaikh welcomed everyone and introduced the first four readers. I was first to read with an extract from my story “Someone Else’s Wallpaper”. It’s about a young couple, Mark and Charlotte, who move into a new house with their baby, Bethany. The house had been refurbished before they moved in with the exception of the master bedroom which had a chintzy rose-covered wallpaper. Charlotte’s been haunted by the scent of roses and suspects the roses have been multiplying. When Bethany takes ill with suspected pneumonia, a well-intentioned neighbour reveals a secret about the previous owner to Charlotte. Next up was Drew Gummerson reading from “Adrian” told from a viewpoint of a fifteen-year-old boy whose parents have (separately) left home so he falls under the influence of Adrian. Grace Haddon followed with “Zenith”, a story about a community on a space station where it’s announced they will be returning “home” (i.e. back to earth) but one girl, who was born on the space station, wonders where exactly her home is. Tony R Cox finished the readings for the first half with “Under a Savage Sky” about a man trying to make a home in an isolated house when storm forces him to confront the reason he’d been force to leave his previous home, a reason he’d buried in denial.

The question and answer session started with a discussion on inspiration. Grace said she’s brainstormed and took the idea to an extreme – what does home mean if you were born in space? Tony placed his main character in a place where he has to make a home. Drew’s story had elements of biography. Mine was inspired by a house viewing where a house had been refurbished but it looked as if the builders had thought “let’s give the main bedroom a feminine touch” and gone for garish pink-rosed wallpaper which got me thinking about who might have chosen such a wallpaper to live with and why. There was a question on how writers felt about being edited. Being edited is part of the job. Drew mentioned one agent liked his novel on the basis of the first ten thousand words he’d sent her but then, seeing the completed book, she asked that the ten thousand words be cut. That doesn’t necessarily mean that those ten thousand words were wasted: the ideas, characters or themes might recur in other work. The “what are you working on now” question was replied with editing, finishing or thinking about novels, drafting poems, about to write a review and writing blog articles. A question about whether writers consider sounds when they write prompted a discussion about how useful it was to read work aloud – whether poetry or prose – because the writer not only heard how it sounded but it highlighted repetitions, tongue-twisting sentences and odd words that were out of keeping with the others. I discussed how sounds leant meaning to the story as well: long vowels create smooth sounds or short, clipped vowels give a staccato rhythm which could be employed to support or counter the narrative strand either reassuring or discomforting the reader. There were thoughts on the differences between poetry and prose, the former being more concentrated and distilled, the latter giving writers more space to explore themes. When asked if I preferred prose or poetry, I said I had a preference for poetry but someone else might answer differently.

The second half followed the same format with readings from Jamie Mollart, whose “Home Game” looks at domestic violence through the lens of a crucial home game for Leicester City Football Club. Amy Ball with “Buzz’s Fury” about discrimination faced by a couple travelling with a circus. Rebecca Burns read from “Moving the Furniture” where a homesick woman yearns to return to England after circumstances push her to emigrate to New Zealand. Siobhan Logan’s “Whitby Jet” starts as a final holiday before an elderly lady surrenders to being packed off into a care home, which uncovers hidden memories.

When questioned about the differences between a novel and short story, the four seemed in agreement that short stories were more succinct, focused and offer more opportunity to experiment with form or structure. The writers felt their best short stories came when they could see how it was going to end before beginning to write. Farhana mentioned that in selecting stories for the anthology, all editors were clear that they wanted stories with a strong ending, not necessarily one that tied up all loose ends, but one that stayed in the reader’s mind and rewarded re-reading. Jamie pointed out that weak stories were those set up to end on a punchline that was interesting once but didn’t sustain re-reading. Some of the panel confessed to using music to set a mood. Jamie’s novels had soundtracks, music he’d played whilst writing, as it helped with a consistency of tone. Amy said she found music distracting while she actually wrote because she’d get caught up in the song and lose sight of the page. All four said they would read sections aloud while writing.

Leicester Writes is running a short story competition with shortlisted and prize-winning stories included in an anthology to be published by Dahlia Publishing. Full Leicester Writes Short Story Competition details here.

Copies of “Lost and Found: stories of home by Leicestershire writers” are available from Dahlia Publishing.


Welcome to Leicester event at DeMontfort University 27 February 2017

A Poet’s Biography

Following my article on dealing with rejection, you decided that sending out some poems (after following submission guidelines) was a good idea and managed to get some accepted. Now you’re been asked for a writer’s biography…

  • Check any word count you’ve been given. If there isn’t a word count, use 50 words as a guideline (that’s 50 words maximum)
  • It’s worth having a look at the publication’s current ‘notes on contributors’ to see if there’s a general format followed (that doesn’t mean you have to follow it but it gives you a starting point)
  • Always write in the third person so that your name appears in your biography (“I” could be any of the contributors and editors don’t have time to rewrite your biography)
  • Mention your best achievements to date: these could be your most recent collection, a reading, an award and your blog. A list of magazines is repetitive so stick to one or two and mention other things you’ve done.
  • A year of birth is better than your current age (which may be out of date by the time the magazine appears), but bear in mind that age is only interesting if you’re very young or very old and often best left out.
  • Take care when mentioning personal details. You may love your children to bits but they aren’t going to be taking a copy of the poetry magazine to school boasting about how their parent named them in the biography so stick to “has two children” or leave them out.
  • You need not mention your cat/dog/goldfish either, unless they happen to be relevant to the accepted poem.
  • Be wary of giving an exact location. Lives in City A is fine but if you mention a specific district, people may recognise where you live or combine with other information you’ve posted online or elsewhere and figure out where you live. It’s unlikely you’ll get fans camping on your doorstep, but exercise a bit of caution as to how much information you give out.
  • Quirky hobbies can add interest, but keep it relevant and make sure it’s not something you’re going to be embarrassed by in 10 years’ time.
  • Humour is difficult to carry off successfully. It works in a poem because the poem has its own context. A funny phrase or joke in a biography can just look odd.
  • If you stick to a format of name, a couple of publication credits, blog/website address, notable writing achievements, location and any interesting/quirky information chances are you’ll have met the word count before giving anything potentially embarrassing away.
  • Do tailor your writer’s biography to the publication you’re appearing in. It is easy to use the same wording each time you’re asked for a biography, but that gets very boring for readers.

A writer’s biography is a way of giving readers a chance to find out more about you and your work so one that points readers in the direction of your publications or where to find your blog/website is going to be more successful than one that tells readers when you were born, where you live, contains a joke and fails to mention anything else.

Combining Writing and a Day Job

The clickbait headline, “As celebrity books boom, professional authors are driven out of full time work“, isn’t an accurate portrayal of the article where novelist Donal Ryan explains why he is returning to a day job in the Irish Civil Service despite having three bestselling novels in five years. It’s not actually the fault of celebrities and the article does point out that the average earnings for writers is polarising – as with with most wages – the gap between the high earners and lower earners is getting wider. Nearly 10% of writers earn as much as an MP (£74692) and 50% earn less than £10500 (the average wage in the UK is £26500 to put those figures in context). In a world where celebrities can fall out of favour quickly, it’s hardly surprising that agents urge them to make money while they can and I’ve not seen anyone suggest that celebrity perfumes are putting perfumers out of business.

Consequently Donal Ryan isn’t the only writer with a day job. Ultimately, does it matter?

T S Eliot and Wallace Stevens are frequently trotted out as poets who held down day jobs whilst writing. Search engines will find reams of articles on “good” day jobs for writers. Some argue for a writing-related job such as teaching creative writing or working in advertising. Others suggest jobs should have as little to do with writing as possible but offer life experience such as customer-facing jobs (although most customer-facing jobs offer little time to interact with customers and, in some cases, penalise workers who deviate from a standard script). Others suggest physical work as a counter to time spent sitting and writing. Some writers like the structure offered by having to work around a day job. Others point out that applying for bursaries, grants, funding and writers-in-residence opportunities is almost a full-time job.

Let’s not forget that Wallace Stevens got his secretary to type out poems that were either dictated or scribbled on scraps of paper. T S Eliot had lengthy lunch breaks where he could organise literary meetings and didn’t have to work in an open plan office. These points are not insignificant. Writers who successfully combine day jobs and writing do so because:

  • They have some control over the hours they work. Those who write in the morning negotiate a later start or pick a job that starts in the afternoon/evening. Those who write in the evening do the opposite.
  • The job offers space to think either in breaks where a writer can find a quiet spot or in the commute.
  • The job offers a regular salary that covers the bills. Freelancing or applying for frequent short-term jobs with all the associated insecurity creates stress and anxiety which are not conductive to writing. Short term stress, such as meeting a deadline, can be a useful counter to procrastination and help get the writing done, but prolonged, ongoing stress isn’t just bad to writing it creates ill-health.
  • Their jobs offer the chance to meet people without having to stick to a script who might provide inspiration for writing.
  • They operate strong boundaries between work and writing, albeit with some flexibility, so that one doesn’t overlap with or interfere with the other. That might still mean sacrificing some writing time to meet a work project deadline or being able to book time off work to attend a literature event.

The obvious disadvantage combining a day job and writing is less time to write, less time to research and less time to practice writing skills. There’s no time to spend an afternoon writing a sestina just so a poet can really understand the form. Research has to be disciplined and focused so there’s less time for interesting side lines and diversions. Time spent writing really has to be spent writing and not frittered away on cat videos (although cat videos are useful if they are a way of breaking through a tricky plot issue or figuring out whether the third stanza should really be the fourth stanza. Social media is not evil.)

When you’re juggling a day job and writing or struggling to make enough from writing to pay the bills, it’s easy to become envious of celebrities who have no writing experience yet manage to pick a book deal. But they are the wrong target. J K Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” (UK title) was published in 1997 alongside Philip Pullman’s “The Subtle Knife”, Jacqueline Wilson’s “Girls in Love”, Rick Riordan’s “Big Red Tequila” and Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York’s “Budgie the Little Helicopter”. Guess which of those writers isn’t writing today?


Write On a Leicester Writers Showcase February 2017 Lost and Found

Shindig Live Poetry Leicester 30 January 2017

Poster for Shindig poetry readingsShindig is organised by Nine Arches Press and Crystal Clear Creators and the former usually lead the first half while the latter take over after the interval. Tonight Nine Arches Press was launching Under the Radar #18 and Crystal Clear Creators featured readings from Deborah Tyler-Bennett and Andrew Button.

Each half starts with open mic slots. Will Coles took the first slot with a sonnet from a series of ‘delinquent sonnets’ looking at rubber-neckers gathered after an accident, “he’s moving so he’s not dead” ending on the line “We’ll feed on him another day.”. Thomas Irvine gave us another sonnet about Icarus. It was third poet Richard Byrt who hit on the novel idea of giving the audience the title of the poem about to be read, here “Motivating Millie”, a darkly humorous list of suggestions of things Millie could do, gradually revealing that elderly Millie’s relatives are thinking of a care home for her and these ideas are to “Stop them deciding they have to put you away.” Ambrose Musiyiwa rounded off the open mic slots with a topical poem about Martians (and the aliening of refugees) of which I know the title because I saw it published in “The Journal.”

Jane Commane of Nine Arches kicked off the Under the Radar launch by reading two poems, “Hail” by John Challis and “The Way Queenie Smokes” by Edward Long, confessing that the latter poem gave her cravings for a cigarette,

“The way Queenie smokes is why they call him Queenie,
ballet-poise along his whole arm out to his held fingers.
Long sensuous drawing up of the smoke into his lungs,
a gentle letting forth of smoke from his mouth.

The rasp to his laugh rattles his belly
squashed tight into his stained t-shirt.”

Reviews editor, Maria Taylor, picked Catherine Ayres’ “Solistice”

“Perhaps I’ll find you in the valley’s bruise,
the jolt of your eyes in a seam of light;
I have my plans these winter nights
when the spent candle stumbles, gone,”

This was read before Joe Caldwell’s “Transmigration.” Deborah Tyler-Bennett picked both of Josephine Shaw’s poems “On the Banks of the Aude” and “Mum and Dad enjoy a Cocktail.” Cathy Whittaker read “St Jerome” where she wonders if his wife viewed him in quite the same way as those who laud him, and “Message to My Grandfather” (not featured in the magazine). Reviewer D A Prince selected Ramona Herdman’s “Wake Up: Time to Die” which takes a quote from “Bladerunner” as its source inspiration, explaining “It grabbed me and I went straight back to the beginning to see how she did it.” Her second selection was a short extract from Martin Figura’s “Shed” which she had reviewed. Fiona Theokritoff read her poem “Cartographer” and another, “Wrong Turning.” Although availability played a big part in selections, in a issue which includes poems from Sarah Barnsley, Giles Goodland, Josh Ekroy, Fran Lock, Jessica Mookherjee and Rory Waterman amongst others, a mere two poems would have been a tough choice.

Maria Taylor was back, this time in her Crystal Clear Creators role, to get the second half underway. She read her own poem, “Don and the Age of Aquarius”, imagining someone like Donald Trump meeting a hippy angel in 1967’s Summer of Love. Jim Kersey had three short poems, “Inheritance,” “Inspiration” and “Dawn” forming part of an “Autumn Verses” sequence. The first two had a serious tone, exploring rich autumnal shades and colours. The third was light-hearted, starting “Shall I compare thee to a maple tree/ though thou are more temperamental.” More humour from John Lloyd’s “I Believe” based on the foundation that if he’d signed up to the university of life, “it enrolled me on the wrong course.” Most open mic slots were taken by Shindig regulars, but both Johns were reading at Shindig for the first time and got a warm welcome. Dave Tunnley kept up the autumnal theme in “Imagine Travel.” I read “The Shoemaker’s Walk” from “Welcome to Leicester“. Angela Bailey read “Rania’s Story”, a woman fleeing Syria with her children but leaving her elderly mother behind and the guilt, “as close as a sapling to its roots.” Rob Jones wrapped up the open mic session with a poem about a house shared by three humanities students living in “nostalgic tribute to ‘Black Books’ or ‘Withail and I’,” a poem apparently without title.

Featured poet, Deborah Tyler-Bennett started with three poems, “Ways Home,” “North’s Street” and “Sutton-in-Ashfield” from “Napoleon Solo Biscuits” which I reviewed for London Grip here. She then read new poems from her forthcoming collection “Mr Bowlly Regrets”, “Overheard on the Threes”, eavesdropping a conversation on a long bus journey. “No Relation” inspired by the discovery that some soldiers who served in the First World War had put down employers as their next of kin because they had no family to return to. “Then” inspired by a grandmother, looking at “Superstitutions” shared by her grandmother and her grandmother’s sister who saw “sleek magpies not as thieves but portents.” “Upstairs at the Trading Post” where a down-to-earth woman is wary of a ghost “lurking upstairs while she did the cleaning.” A star of the silent film era is recalled in “Popping By” where a “soldier hubby’s specs matching those of Harold Lloyd hanging on to that clock face.”

Second featured poet was Andrew Button whose “Dry Days in Wet Towns” has just been published by erbacce press. He introduced us to a selection of dryly observed humour. “Glasgow Hotel” could have been drawn from Edgar Allan Poe’s imagination. “The Only Clue” ends “roving extraterrestrials will still find a shopping trolley in a canal.” “after the drive-thru refusal (no fence involved)”, a woman takes her horse into McDonalds in “We’re Lovin’ It”. “Two Dickies” is about a statue to the cricket umpire Dicky Bird. “Turner in his Grave” muses on a Turner Prize entry. “Light of Wonder” was a tribute to Ray Bradbury who “coaxed my fledging pen to write on” and ending “your books will never burn.” Andrew Button is a collector of news stories, not unlike Marcel Proust, and the quirkier the better. “Navel Pursuit” takes inspiration from a story about a man who collected navel fluff. “Microphone” was a nod to childhood where he and friends would past the time recording made-up jingles. The final poem “After the Rain”, the name of a bubble bath, a tender tribute to his wife.

“Under the Radar” magazine is available from Nine Arches Press.

Deborah Tyler-Bennett’s collections are published by Kings England Press.

Andrew Button’s “Dry Days in Wet Towns in available from erbacce press.

 


 

The importance of beginnings

I love that the opening line of the first poem in “Welcome to Leicester” starts “Leicester is alive”.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read each poem in “Welcome to Leicester” prior to publication. Each poem submitted was read at least three times – once on receipt and twice (once silently, once aloud) at editorial meetings. Those that we thought were maybes where spread out on my table and arranged near poems they seemed to fit best with. This involved several re-readings as new poems were added to the maybe pile and poems were rearranged. All maybe poems were read again at our final editorial meeting as we decided which poems were actually going to be accepted. The accepted poems underwent several more re-readings as the typesetting was done. Some of these readings were detailed, checking spelling, grammar, whether commas were justified. Some readings were of the overall shape of a poem or how it sounded when read aloud. Since the anthology has been published, one thing I’ve not done is read it from cover to cover.

At the launch, I’d asked which contributors were available to come and read their poem. If everyone who said they were had turned up, the poetry readings would have taken 1 hour and forty-two minutes. Naturally on the day, some weren’t able to be at the launch so the readings part took an hour and twenty minutes. It was wonderful to hear the poems read in the poets’ voices and to hear audience feedback that they appreciated the range of subjects, styles, approaches and stories about Leicester arising from the poems.

The invitation to hold a “Welcome to Leicester” event to start the “Write On, a Leicester Writers’ Showcase” series which take place in Leicester’s Central Library on the third Wednesday of each month was a great opportunity. It was an informal, relaxed evening with a good turn out. Around 10 poets read their poems and, to keep to the agreed time slot, I read a poem from the anthology in between readings. This gave audience members time to absorb each poet’s reading and allowed some of the themes explored in the anthology to be teased out.

What was most intriguing was seeing the audience react, sometimes with nods of recognition, but mostlly with that stillness that suggests people are absorbed in listening. I had to remember that some were hearing the poems for the first time and those who were contributors hadn’t necessarily read all the poems so were hearing some poems for the first time too. My job was to introduce poets but, more crucially, also to allow a space between each poem, rather like the space around a poem on a page or that pause when pages are turned, so give each poem a fair hearing and not to rush the audience into the next poem. It was a privilege to do so.

The very last word of the final poem in “Welcome to Leicester” is “home.” That was not a happy accident.

“Welcome to Leicester” is available from Dahlia Publishing.

The next “Welcome to Leicester” event is at De Montfort University’s Clephan Building from 6pm on Monday 27 February as part of the Cultural Exchanges Festival.

The next two “Write On, a Leicester Writers’ Showcase” events are:

15 February “Lost and Found: stories from home” (Dahlia Publishing, 2016) featuring readings from writers whose short stories are in the anthology.

15 March Carol Leeming will be reading from “The Declamations of Cool Eye”. I reviewed “The Declamations of Cool Eye” here.

Both events start promptly at 7pm. Doors open at 6.30pm.
Welcome to Leicester poetry anthology book cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

“The Swell” Jessica Mookherjee (Telltale Press) – Poetry Review

The Swell Jessica Mookherjee“The Swell” is a fourteen poem pamphlet that explores growing up in Swansea with a Bangladeshi heritage and moving away from a childhood home, most notably in “Red”

“When I first wore red lipstick, smacked across
my face, she said it was inappropriate
for a girl of six, wash it off, she said.
When I first wore that red silk skirt
it mesmerised me by the way it moved
around my legs. It made you smile at me.
Now your face is red, too much sun, too much
beer, too much butter.
I tell you not to wear that red shirt,
it doesn’t flatter.
There’s blood in the bathroom again,
this month.”

Each time the colour appears, it is as a warning sign, a little girl not understanding the significance of lipstick, learning how to dress appropriately in a long skirt, a complexion reddened by excesses, an unflattering shirt and the mark of transformation from girl to woman. The repetition lends a sense of weariness as the girl recognises that her mother has been through this and her grandmother before that.

The title poem looks at the pregnancy of her mother from a child’s viewpoint, noting her father “made a fuss of her for a change” and ends as he

“made milk-dribble jokes for the cameras,
said storms with girls’ names were the deadliest.
Then she emerged, fresh with her slake
of new flesh as the town lugged sandbags,
trying to stop her.”

Even dad can’t upstage mum and older sister is left observing these changes without yet having the words to describe her own reaction. In another poem, A non-mother receives flowers on “Mother’s Day” intended for someone else. She alerts the florist and keeps the flowers in water,

“I didn’t touch them until one week after Mother’s Day.
Wondering if the son, the daughter the mother
would fetch them away and
just as they began pushing out everything, she came.

Heartbroken, relieved, not forgotten. She muttered
polite complaints on my doorstep, told me
her son in the States spent seventy-five pounds
and left, clutching my wilted flowers to her chest.”

Jessica Mookherjee gives readers enough detail to wonder at this relationship between a mother and son where the son has moved to another country, sends an expensive bouquet to his mother but fails to get the address right. That’s where the strength of these poems lie: in the precise details given with enough space for the reader to draw their own conclusions. “The Swell” is a delight to read.

“The Swell” is available from Telltale Press.

 

Write On, A Leicester Writers’ Showcase

18 January 2017 from 6.30pm at Central Library, Bishop Street, Leicester.

poster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Review of Jessica Mookherjee’s “The Swell” will appear on 18 January 2017.