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Fun at Lumb

A fun week was had by all (I hope!) at Lumb Bank last week when fifteen aspiring novelists gathered for a residential writing course, which I co-tutored with the excellent writer and all-round lovely person, Catherine Johnson.

The five-day course at the Arvon Foundation‘s centre in Heptonstall, West Yorkshire (the former home of the poet, Ted Hughes), focused on young-adult fiction and was aimed at more advanced writers who already have work-in-progress. The participants travelled from all parts of the north of England – and from London in several instances – to take part in workshops, individual tutorials, talks and readings . . . and to enjoy plenty of great food (and drink).

The group produced a wide variety of impressive work during the week – either from their own novels or in response to the writing exercises we set – and the Friday-night showcase was a real celebration of their talent and an inspiring way to round off the course.

Catherine Johnson

The special guest on the Wednesday evening was Sarah Crossan, winner of the 2016 Carnegie Medal and one of the most feted of the current crop of leading YA authors, who spoke engagingly and with bracing honesty about her career as a writer and her passion for writing fiction in verse. It was a privilege to work with Sarah again (we shared a stage at the Ilkley Literature Festival a few years ago) and to work with Catherine for the first time.

This was my ninth stint as a tutor at Lumb Bank and my 14th Arvon course in total, having taught three at Totleigh Barton, in Devon, and two at The Hurst, in Shropshire. I also tutored at the Scottish equivalent, Moniack Mhor, last year. If you haven’t been on a residential writing course I can highly recommend them – they’re certainly great fun to tutor! Here’s a link to the Arvon website.

Taking off to FLY

I’m taking a trip down memory lane this week with a visit to Norwich to take part in FLY 2017, the Festival of Literature for Young People. The festival, now in its fifth year, is organised and hosted by the University of East Anglia, where I took my Creative Writing MA back in 1993-94.

That was a special year for me, as I got married and wrote what was to become my first published novel, Acts of Revision, so I’m always glad of an excuse to revisit Norwich and the UEA campus. This is my second time on the programme at FLY, where I’ll be giving a talk and reading to around 200 teenagers from local schools and leading a creative-writing workshop.

This year’s festival runs from July 10-14 and includes a wide range of events and a great line-up of authors – Frank Cottrell Boyce, Clare Furniss, Andy Briggs, Jo Cotterill and Cliff McNish, to name just a few. For full details please click on this link to the FLY website.

Gloria in German

I’m delighted to announce that this week marks the publication of the German-language edition of my latest YA novel, Twenty Questions for Gloria, under the title #WoIstGloria? (Where is Gloria?). It’s published by DTV Verlagsgesellschaft, in Munich, and has been translated by Gerald Jung and Katharina Orgass.

Ciao Rimini, hello Coventry!

What a busy week! It kicked off with a brilliant three-day trip to Italy, to take part in the Mare di Libri (Sea of Books) Festival, in Rimini, to promote Tutta la Verita su Gloria Ellis – the Italian edition of Twenty Questions for Gloria, published by De Agostini.

On stage in Rimini

My event took place last Sunday morning in the wonderful setting of the Museo della Citta (City Museum) in the heart of Rimini’s historic and very attractive old town, parts of which date back to Roman times. I’m pictured, here, on stage with Simonetta Bitesi, far right, the writer and critic who interviewed me, and Emma, one of the festival’s young volunteers, who acted as interpreter – translating Simonetta’s questions in to English for me, then translating my answers into Italian for the audience. There were close to a hundred people in the hall – the Sala del Giudizio – and it was great to see so many teenagers among them (not least because the event started at 10am!).

This was the 11th year of the festival, the largest in Italy specialising in children’s and YA literature, and which included leading authors from the U.S. and Canada, as well as from all over Europe.

I’d barely returned to the UK, when I was on the move again – this time, bound for the Ricoh Arena – home to Coventry City FC and Wasps rugby club – and the presentation event for the 2017 Coventry Inspiration Book Awards. Pictured, right, is Isobel Powell, of the Coventry Schools Library Service, which organises the annual awards, giving the opening address at the event, held in a conference suite beneath the stadium. You can see my left ear and part of my head in shot! There was a real buzz at the event, with so many students of all ages from the participating schools to cheer the winning authors in each category.

And here’s a photo of the trophy awarded for Twenty Questions for Gloria in the Simply the Book category (for readers aged 13+), which was presented to me by Snya Riaz, a Year 10 student at Sidney Stringer Academy, who attended the event with the school’s librarian, Lynda Clapham. I’m grateful to Snya and her friend Nadira (sadly unable to be there) for championing Gloria during the voting process – and especially to Snya for saying such lovely things about my novel in her speech.

Wittering at the Beeb

I spent an unusual but very enjoyable hour at BBC Radio Leeds this week, when I made my debut as a guest on the “Wednesday Witter” segment of Andrew Edwards‘ afternoon show. Along with my fellow guest – Carol Robertson, a charity fundraiser and cyclist – we discussed three topics which were in the news that day: stereotypes in advertising; taking early retirement (a la Daniel Day Lewis); and the summer solstice.

Here I am (above) pictured in the studio with Andrew and Carol as we were about to go on air. It must have gone okay because the show’s producer has invited me back to do some more wittering in August.

Time to protest!

In these febrile political times, it seems apt for a new anthology of fiction about resistance to be hitting the bookshelves (virtual and physical). Protest: Stories of Resistance is the latest book of short-fiction to be published by the excellent Manchester-based independent Comma Press . . . and I’m pleased and honoured to be among the contributing authors.

In putting together this anthology, editor Ra Page paired twenty writers with leading social historians and other experts, to produce stories and commentaries ranging across centuries of political dissent – from the Peasants’ Revolt to the Poll Tax riots, from the Suffragettes to the anti-Iraq War demonstration, from the Diggers to Greenham Common. For my story, Withen – which centres on the Battle of Orgreave, during the 1984-85 miners’ strike – I worked collaboratively with Prof. David Waddington, of Sheffield Hallam University, who assisted my research and has written a factual afterword to accompany my fictional response to those events.

Other contributing authors include: Kate Clanchy, David Constantine, Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Maggie Gee, Matthew Holness, Sara Maitland, Courttia Newland, Alexei Sayle and Kit de Waal. I’m proud to see my name – and my story – alongside theirs, and to be making my small contribution to the political discourse generated by this recasting of social history through the prism of imaginative literature.

Protest: Stories of Resistance (hardback, £14.99) is officially published on July 6th but is already available online direct from Comma Press at a discount price of £13.50. Click here to visit the book’s page on the Comma website.

Off to Italy

It’s always nice to be invited to literary festivals but, it has to be said, some invitations are just a tad more exciting than others. So I’m especially pleased to have been asked to fly out to Rimini next month for the Mare di Libri (Sea of Books) Festival, which is Italy’s foremost event for young adult and children’s fiction.

I’ll be there as a guest of the festival and my Milan-based publisher, De Agostini, to promote the Italian edition of Twenty Questions for Gloria (published in translation as Tutta La Verita Su Gloria Ellis). For my event, I’ll be interviewed on-stage – with an interpreter, I hope! – by Simonetta Bitasi, a writer, performer and promoter of children’s literature.

The festival, now in its tenth year, draws in audiences of young readers from across northern Italy and is held in the historic centre of ‘old’ Rimini, a town best known as a destination for holidaymakers, with its glorious beaches along the Adriatic coast.

There’s an international line-up of YA authors at this year’s event, which runs from June 16-18, including several high-profile British, American and Canadian writers – among them, Carnegie medal-winners Kevin Brooks, Aidan Chambers and Jennifer Donnelly, as well as Kenneth Oppel, Katherine Rundell and Lisa Williamson – and the leading lights of Italian and other mainland European teen fiction. To see the programme in full, click on this link to the festival website.

Orgreave revisited

As a former fellow of the Royal Literary Fund, I was recently invited to contribute an essay to the RLF’s website about the way in which the germ of an idea can evolve into piece of fiction.
I chose to reflect on the process by which I conceived, researched and wrote my latest short story, “Withen”, which is centred on the Battle of Orgreave, during the 1984-85 miners’ strike. The story is being anthologised by Comma Press in Protest! Stories of Resistance, to be published later this month. In the meantime, if you’d like to read my essay on the story’s genesis – and how it all began more than thirty years ago . . . in Hong Kong! – please click on this link to the RLF website.

Tune in to Gloria

I spent a very enjoyable half-hour in a studio at BBC Radio Leeds yesterday afternoon, chatting to presenter Johnny I’Anson on The Book Club. He invited me on to the show after Twenty Questions for Gloria won the Coventry Inspiration Book Awards, so we discussed that novel and my writing more generally.

If you’re interested in hearing the interview, please click on this link (my segment starts at 1:35:20).

Now for WoW

I’m looking forward to a trip to Liverpool next month to take part in the 2017 Writing on the Wall Festival, where I’ll be helping to launch a new anthology of short fiction about political dissent and resistance. The anthology – Protest! : stories of resistance, published by the Manchester-based independent Comma Press – includes my latest story, Withen, which centres on the Battle of Orgreave during the 1984-85 miners’ strike.

For the book, Comma Press commissioned twenty writers – including Frank Cottrell Boyce, Kit de Waal, Alexei Sayle, Maggie Gee, Sara Maitland and Courttia Newland – to bring to life crucial moments of protest in British history through the medium of fiction. The stories range across topics as diverse as the Suffragettes, the Peasants’ Revolt, the Brixton riots and the civil rights movements of the 1960s.


Each story has been written in consultation with a specialist historian or, in the case of more recent protests, in partnership with activists who helped organise them. The resulting fictions are accompanied by short essays by the historians and activists, contextualising the events and offering insights into the political climates that produced them. For my story, I worked closely with Prof. David Waddington, a social historian from Sheffield Hallam University, who was an academic observer at Orgreave.

At the festival, I’ll be sharing a stage with Stuart Evers and Jacob Ross, whose stories also appear in the book. The event is at 7.30pm on Thursday May 25th, at Blackburne House, Blackburne Place, Liverpool, L8 7PE. Tickets (£6/£3) can be obtained via these links to Comma Press and the Wowfest site.

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