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Dinesh Allirajah Prize

As someone who loves reading and writing short stories, I’m pleased and honoured to have been invited to join the judging panel for the 2020 Dinesh Allirajah Prize for short fiction.

The prize, in its third year, is named in memory of the renowned writer and creative-writing tutor who died in 2014 and is run by two organisations Dinesh Allirajah was closely involved with over many years: the Manchester-based independent publisher, Comma Press, and the University of Central Lancashire. Open to published and unpublished writers, the theme for the 2020 prize is Artificial Intelligence.

Creative writing students from the university will whittle the entries down to a shortlist of ten stories, to be judged by me and the other panellists: Northern Soul‘s Literary Editor Emma Yates-Badley; UCLan lecturer Robert Duggan; and Julie Fergusson from The North Literary Agency.

Stories of between 2000-6000 words should be submitted to commaprizes@gmail.com before 25th October 2019 to be in with a chance of winning £500 and publication in Northern Soul. All of the shortlisted stories will be published in an e-book anthology by Comma and showcased at a special event as part of the 2020 Northern Short Story Festival in Leeds next summer, when the winner will be announced.

For full details of the prize and the terms and conditions of entry, click on this link to Comma’s website.

Mentoring role

One of the UK’s newer literary agencies has launched a scheme to help aspiring writers develop their work and I’m delighted to have joined their team of mentors.

The Ruppin Agency, founded by former bookseller Jonathan Ruppin in 2017, has set up The Ruppin Agency Writers’ Studio, offering mentoring and editing packages to writers of fiction, non-fiction and young adult. Full packages will involve one-to-one mentoring sessions, a developmental edit and a session of literary agent advice. Mentoring-only packages, including agent feedback, are offered for fixed periods as well as one-off sessions and bespoke options.

Each writer will be matched with one of nearly 30 mentors across the UK, experienced in the relevant genre and providing both face-to-face feedback and video consultations. I’m one of 11 based in the north of England and am offering meetings in Leeds and Bradford. Other mentors include Women’s Prize-shortlisted novelist Emma Henderson, Royal Society of Literature fellow Irenosen Okojie, and author and critic Jonathan Taylor, director of the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester . . . as well as two of my former students, now both successful writers: Susan Barker and Rachel Connor.

The Ruppin Agency Writers’ Studio is run in association with The Book Edit, led by Emily Pedder, Course Director at City, University of London, who has 15 years’ experience as a developmental editor and creative writing tutor.

For full details of the scheme click on this link to the agency’s website.

Miriam reappears

My interactive story, “The Virtual Disappearance of Miriam”, is to be discussed in Postdigital Storytelling: Poetics, Praxis, Research, an academic book written by Dr Spencer Jordan, Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Nottingham, and due to be published by Routledge later this year.

The story – a collaboration between me and designer Andy Campbell – was originally commissioned and published online in 2000 by the Ilkley Literature Festival, in conjunction with Route Publishing, and is regarded as a key hypertext in the early development of digital, interactive narrative fiction in the UK.

It’s smashing to think that the story is still being read and studied nearly 20 years after it was written!

Miriam is now hosted by Dreaming Methods and can be viewed via this link: https://dreamingmethods.com/miriam/

Prize night

It was prize night at Leeds Writers’ Circle last week, when I was honoured to hand out the awards in my capacity as judge of the group’s annual short-story competition. LWC is a long-established and thriving writing group with more than 60 members and it was a difficult task to whittle down the many very good entries and select the best ones – and even more daunting to be asked to provide verbal feedback on their work in front of everyone at the awards event!
As it happens, the evening – held at LWC’s regular venue, The Carriageworks, in Millennium Square – couldn’t have been more enjoyable or convivial. Here I am (centre), pictured with the winners and runners-up. Photograph courtesy of Bob Hamilton.

New short story

My latest short story is newly published online as part of an innovative project that pairs writers and photographers to produce pieces of fiction and accompanying images for use in hospitals working with stroke patients.

A Thousand Word Photos has been conceived and set up by Ben Lambert (creator and editor) alongside Alexia Singh (photographic editor), with the idea of commissioning 1000-word short stories inspired by photographs – in my case, an intriguing and atmospheric shot of a basement storeroom, taken by the internationally renowned, award-winning photographic artist, Chloe Dewe Matthews. Using this as my starting point, I wrote The Interaction, a Pinteresque piece in which an unnamed protagonist is subjected to interrogation.

Here’s the opening to give you a flavour:

The procedure is the same as always. I am escorted to the Interaction Room and made to sit at the desk, facing the glass screen that divides both desk and room. My escorts retreat but do not leave. After the customary wait, my Interactor lets himself into the other half of the room, briefcase in hand. He sits opposite me, shaved head gleaming beneath the spotlights that enclose us in white haze. His suit shimmers like a seal’s pelt. The screen holograms my reflection over his face, as if we are one entity. This thought hasn’t struck me before but I daren’t let it distract me: it might be months until my next Interaction – assuming this one ends in failure, as the others have done. I shut that thought down, too.

In addition to being published online, the stories selected for the project are read aloud to stroke patients at hospitals by professionally trained actors working with the charity InterAct Stroke Support to aid recovery through creative stimulation.

To read my story in full, click here. You can also view some of the other photographic images and their accompanying stories by following this link to the A Thousand Word Photos website.

Story (re)published

I’m pleased to announce that one of my short stories has been given a new lease of life by being published for the second time. “The Wrong Coat” appears in Reflections, the newly launched anthology published by Cleckheaton Literature Festival and featuring prose and poetry from writers who have taken part in the festival. My story was originally published in Journeys: a Space for Words (Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2016).

Off to Durham

I’m looking forward to a trip to the north-east next weekend to take part in the prestigious Durham Book Festival – my first gig there in nearly twenty years.

I’ll be reading from and discussing my short-story collection, Letters Home, and sharing a stage with Jacqueline Crooks (The Ice Migration) and Colette Snowden (The Secret to Not Drowning) in a panel event chaired by Kevin Duffy, founding editor of Bluemoose Books. The event is organised by the Northern Fiction Alliance, a radical collective of independent publishers based in the north of England, showcasing work from Bluemoose (Hebden Bridge), Peepal Tree Press (Leeds) and my own publishers, Comma Press (Manchester).

Durham Book Festival, which attracts tens of thousands of visitors, is now in its 29th year. The 2018 festival runs from October 6th to October 14th and includes some stellar figures from the world of literature: Pat Barker, Sarah Waters, Carol Ann Duffy, Simon Armitage, Sarah Perry, Kate Mosse, Alan Johnson and Andrew McMillan, to name just a few.

Our session will be in the Burlison Gallery at Durham Town Hall, from 4.00-5.00pm on Saturday October 13th. Tickets, priced £5/£4, can by booked by phone or online – please follow this link to the event’s page on the festival website for more details.

Hebden Bridge gig

I’m very pleased to be sharing a stage (again) with my good friend and fellow writer, Mandy Sutter, at a gig in Hebden Bridge next week. In a reprise of our recent “Mad, Bad & Sad” event in Ilkley, we’ll be reading from our story collections – Letters Home (Comma Press 2017) and Bush Meat (New Welsh Rarebyte 2017) – and discussing what draws fiction-writers and readers to dark and disturbing subject matter.

The event is at 7pm on Thursday October 4th in Hebden Bridge Library, Cheetham Street, Hebden Bridge, HX7 8EP (doors open at 6.30.) There will be plenty of time for audience questions and we’ll be signing copies of our books, and generally mingling, afterwards. Admission is free but tickets can be booked in advance – please click on this link for full details.

Cool for school

On (yet another) blistering hot summer’s day, I was glad of the chance to cool off in the air-conditioned surroundings of the impressive library at Notre Dame Catholic Sixth-Form College, in Leeds, to run a writing workshop. The session included Year 12 students from the host school and a visiting group of Year 10s from Corpus Christi Catholic College, also in Leeds.

Part of the National Collaborative Outreach Programme (NCOP) in Higher Education, the workshop was organised in conjunction with Leeds Trinity University, where I’ve been teaching creative writing since 2009.

The photograph is courtesy of the Notre Dame website and here’s the accompanying piece which the school published in its online newsletter:

Creative writing masterclass with internationally renowned novelist.

On Thursday July 12th, Notre Dame Catholic Sixth Form College invited students from our partner Catholic schools and A-level NCOP students to take part in a creative writing masterclass. The session was led by Martyn Bedford, senior lecturer in creative writing at Leeds Trinity University and author of eight novels.

Martyn introduced the session by talking about some of his students who have gone on to enjoy successful careers linked to their English degree and as we looked through the college library we were delighted to stumble across a book by *Liz Mistry, who recently studied creative writing at Leeds Trinity University.

Martyn used a range of techniques to inspire students to work collaboratively to bring their ideas to life in a fun, relaxed setting. The work they produced was of outstanding quality and one of our partner schools commented that, ‘Martyn was so engaging and made everybody feel at ease. It was a really productive afternoon and the students were buzzing when they returned to school.’

(*For the record, Liz Mistry, a graduate of the MA in Creative Writing at Leeds Trinity, is currently completing the first year of a Creative Writing PhD with us, which I am co-supervising. She is the author of four crime novels, published by Bloodhound Books.)

Write like a lion!

A commission to contribute an essay on creativity to a leading literature website has allowed me to explore an issue which has been on my mind recently: on the journey from wannabe writer to professional author, do you lose some of the freshness and freedom of expression that characterized your early, unpublished work? Can the act of writing be inhibited by the demands of being a writer?

This is the topic I’ve chosen to write about in “Writing Myself into a Corner”, a 1500-word piece which has been published online in Collected, a weekly series of articles, essays and reflections by writers on the art and craft of the creative process, which is published by the Royal Literary Fund.

Here are the opening paragraphs:

In my twenties, I acquired the habit of rising early each morning to write for an hour before heading into work. Back then, I was unpublished, an aspiring novelist, more focused on writing than on becoming a writer. I already had a full-time job as a newspaper journalist, so my fiction writing had to be fitted into my spare time. I’m a morning person, hence the pre-breakfast regime.

To begin with, I produced fragments: responses to prompts in creative writing books, character sketches, stand-alone scenes, abortive stories and novels. Often, I simply free-associated, scribbling the first thought that entered my head and seeing where it led, resulting in pages of stream-of-consciousness prose-poetry. Unreadable, for the most part. Some mornings, I would just gaze out of my window and describe whatever was going on — which wasn’t usually very much, at 6 a.m., in an East Oxford side-street. The milkman often featured in my embryonic work, recast as an MI5 agent (peeping tom, undercover cop, serial adulterer), his delivery round a front for his nefarious activities… or his existentialist musings, during my homage-to-Sartre phase.

Nothing I wrote in that period made it into print. Rightly so. For the most part, it was amateurish, ill-formed, and immature; or, more generously, ‘developmental’. Publication wasn’t the point, though. These were experiments in creative process: flexing my imagination, putting words down any old how, settling into the rhythms of my mind and the motion of pen across page. The writing gurus I was in thrall to at the time assured me such methods were not an indulgence but indispensable to the true expression of my creative self.

Brenda Ueland, in her classic If You Want to Write, urged me to ‘Be careless, reckless! Be a lion, be a pirate! Write any old way.’ I should not be anxious, timid, restrained or afraid in my writing, she advised, because these were the enemies of creativity. The tutor of the adult-education evening class I attended advised: ‘Don’t be scared to try things and rip them up if they don’t work.’

From the perspective of thirty years’ hindsight – twenty-two of them as a published novelist – those days of free-writing spontaneity might belong to some other writer’s past…

To read the piece in full, or to check out some of the other articles in the archive, please click on this link to the RLF website. I’m grateful to Collected‘s editor, Christina Koning, for commissioning, editing and publishing the essay.

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