Category Archives: General

New reading group

I’m pleased to announce that I have been appointed by the Royal Literary Fund to run a reading group in Ilkley as part of the nationwide Reading Round scheme. I’ll be taking over from another Ilkley-based author, Mary Colson, at the end of her two-year stint.

Reading Round is different to a typical reading group in that the focus is on short stories and poems, not full-length novels, and there’s no advance reading required as photocopies of the texts are circulated at the start of each session. The other distinguishing feature is that the leader reads the story and poem aloud, while members have the copies in front of them, then the group share and discuss their responses to each piece.

My group will meet from 10.30-12.00 every Monday morning for 30 sessions in total, from September to June, with breaks over Christmas and Easter. There’s no charge to join (the RLF funding covers room-hire as well as my fee) and, of course, no requirement on members to attend every session if they’re not always able to come along. The sessions will be held at the Dales Room, Christchurch, The Grove, Ilkley, starting from September 23rd.

Although it’s free to join, numbers are limited. To book a place please email me via the contact page on this website.

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 Open to published and unpublished writers, the theme for the 2020 prize is Artificial Intelligence.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.

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.

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.

Tuscan tales

I thought I’d share a spread of photos from my recent visit to Tuscany to tutor a residential retreat for The Art of Writing. The attendees at the one-week course in Casentino, in the wooded hills above Florence, converged from all over the world – America, Australia, Brazil, Ireland, the Netherlands and the UK – to take part in workshops, seminars, tutorials and readings, and to develop their works-in-progress. Plenty of excellent Italian food and wine was enjoyed, too!

The Art of Writing is run by Australian-born author and blogger Lisa Clifford, who has lived in Tuscany for many years. To find out more please click here to visit her website. I’m grateful to the photographer-in-residence, Jilly Bennett, and social media consultant Georgette Jupe for permission to reproduce these photographs.

Indie night

I’m looking forward to a trip to Manchester this week for a celebration of independent publishing in the north of England. I’ll be one of eight writers sharing a stage at the first Northern Fiction Alliance roadshow, to mark the formation of a new collective of indie presses.

The event, from 6-8pm on Tuesday 26th September, at Waterstones, Deansgate, will showcase a variety of NFA presses and books, with talks and readings from editors and authors. I’ll be reading an extract from “Withen”, my story about the battle of Orgreave, which is published in Protest, the latest anthology from Manchester-based Comma Press.

Here’s the full line-up of writers:

Martyn Bedford (Comma Press)
Heidi James (Bluemoose Books)
Joanna Walsh (And Other Stories)
Paul Hanley (Route)
Jacob Ross (Peepal Tree Press)
Naomi Booth (Dead Ink Books)
Benjamin Myers (Mayfly)
Graeme Macrae Burnet (Saraband)

Tickets cost £3 and include a glass of wine or soft drink on arrival. There will also be a 10% discount on any books purchased on the night published by any of the presses in attendance. For more information, email commapublications@yahoo.co.uk, events.manchester@waterstones.com or tweet us @waterstonesmcr.

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.

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.

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).

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