Arvon Writing Retreat

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One of my resolutions for the year was to take part in a writing retreat. I looked at a few possibilities, one of which was abroad in sunnier climes. In the end I plumped for an Arvon Foundation course. I had heard nothing but good things about them from people who attended previous retreats.

There was a good choice of potential other courses in the brochure, some I couldn’t do because of timing and work. In the end I settled on the Starting to Write Short Stories course. It looked like an interesting one, with a wonderful setting and tutors with impressive backgrounds. It was also a good chance to develop my short story writing this is an area that I dip-in and out of when I am not writing my novel.

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The course was at Lumb Bank, not far from Hebden Bridge and it’s the former home of Poet Laureate Ted Hughes. It is a beautiful and inspiring setting. Along with 15 other participants we had a number of workshops with our excellent tutors Tania Hershman and Robert Shearman throughout the week. We even had the chance to have one-to-one tutorials with them too.

As well as the formal opportunities to write there were a number of opportunities to go away and write or to socialise with the other writers. One of the good things about the week was the lack of Internet access. For someone that is distracted by constant access to the web this was a welcome novelty. It also highlighted what can be done without being constantly tied to the web.

Also I don’t think I have ever eaten as healthily as I did during the week. We took it in turns to work in the kitchen to prepare the evening meals for everyone, using locally sourced fresh produce. My stint was on the last night Friday. I was tasked with making two fruit trifles from scratch. This was a first for me and surprisingly they went down well.

Each evening there were a number of themed events. On the Tuesday Tania and Rob read from their work, I didn’t need a second invitation to buy their books. Wednesday’s event saw Manchester writer Zoe Lambert come along to read from her work. Friday it was the participants turn and we all had the chance to read a piece of work that we had produced over the course of the week.

I read my short story ‘100 Million Light Years From Where I Want to Be’. This was something I had written in one of the workshops. This was a serious piece but I don’t think that I set the right tone for reading it by tripping over my own feet as I advance towards the spotlight. I think my piece went down reasonably well despite the comedy interlude. It was great to hear what everyone else had been working on over the course of the week.

It was such a brilliant and rewarding week and one that I didn’t want to end. There’s talk of us all meeting up socially in the future, which would be nice. For now I feel very inspired and I hope to put into action all that I learnt during the week. I may even have a go at making another trifle.

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Here’s something on the Arvon blog that eloquently sums up the week from Colette, one of the other participants – ‘I’m a Writer’.

Arvon Postscript

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Saturday morning was the time that we all left and headed off home. Feeling inspired by all things literary during the week, I decided to stop off in Haworth to visit the Bronte House and the surrounding village as it wasn’t that far from Lumb Bank. It was also somewhere I had never been before. While there, I wasn’t expecting to be drawn attention to works of another Haworth-based writer especially one that was working on the car park. In return for free parking I bought the author’s book. His name is Edward Evans.

 

 

My Burgeoning Photography Portfolio!

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I don’t consider myself to be a photographer, more as someone who takes pictures and stores them on various social media sites. Before Facebook there was Flickr. I have not been using the site as much as I used to, but it is still there and available to view.

Back in August 2008 I had a day out at one of my favourite places Parkgate over on the Wirral. As I usually do, I took a photograph and I uploaded it to the web. I thought nothing of it until last week when someone from the Liverpool Echo contacted me and asked if the picture could be used for a feature about the best Ice Cream Parlours on Merseyside.

Here’s a link to it online and below is a copy of it in print. My picture is the third one across. So I am now a published photographer…without even trying to become one.

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We4Poets

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I recently took part in a great event organised by my MA colleague David Llewellyn and his friend Stanley O Ayodeji. The night at the International Anthony Burgess Centre, in Manchester, was a book launch for David’s Jack Par(r) and Damage Limitation by Stanley. This was part of the first (and hopefully not the last) We4Poets event.

A number of colleagues from the MA took part reading short stories, poems and some performed live music. My involvement was not a literary one, but a musical one. I was ‘coaxed’ out of retirement to perform two (self-penned) songs. When I was asked by David if I would like to get involved, I said I would love to. When he mentioned that he was looking for some variation in the line-up. I mentioned that I had written and performed my own songs a few years back. I thought this would be the last that I would hear of this, but when I saw David for our regular MA get together it was obvious that he was serious about me performing. So without a convincing enough excuse to get out of it, I was down to play.

So a couple of weeks of hasty rehearsals was called for to get myself up to speed. When I was rooting through the songs that I had previously performed and deciding which ones I would perform I realised actually how long ago it had been since I had last performed solo. It was nearly 12 years ago. I wasn’t too sure why I had left it so long, I had every intention of getting back into it at some point, but I always found an excuse not to do so. In the time that I hadn’t written or performed, though I had enjoyed being a part of the Resound Community Choir, where I could hide behind a number of other talented performers. This time it would be just me and a guitar.
The atmosphere of the night was welcoming and friendly. I knew most of the performers from my MA. It was good to meet Stanley and the a songwriter called Tez Scatchill, who headlined the event brilliantly. I joined him to accompany singer Laura Sinclair on a cover of a Eryka Badu song. I say joined in, I had to improvise by ‘miming’ as I realised that my guitar was so badly out of tune, but the song had already started and I didn’t want to delay the proceedings. I nodded to Tez to carry on without me. Which he did magnificently. This was not a great way of settling my nerves.

By the time I was due to play my first song I realised that I would have to improvise and tune my guitar while introducing my first song. Given my nerves I was all fingers and thumbs at this point. That’ll teach me to buy a new guitar and re-string it the week before. In the wait to get up stage it had somehow detuned itself. Thankfully Tez was on hand to lend me his guitar for both numbers.
Given the issues and the need to borrow a guitar. I felt it went ok, though I was very rusty. I ended up doing two of mine ‘A Place in the Sun’ and ‘Betrayed’. I was reliant on my lyrics which I had propped on a stand. Next time I do this (or any other gig, which I hope will be sooner than 12 years) I will be fully conversant with my lyrics. This will help with the performance aspect, which I scraped-by somehow, only just.

It was nice to get positive comments afterwards, one guy who I didn’t know, said that I sounded a bit like early REM. A band I like, but had I had not directly tried to emulate.

I really enjoyed being part of a part of a great night and I think all that attended (and performed on) the night got something from it. It was good that David and Stanley also did well from the event. There books seemed to be selling well, as too was Tez’s cd which I bought a copy of. It has certainly inspired me to get out and perform more often in the future. As well as finish of my novel which had indirectly led me to this moment.

A review of the night can be found here.


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Pulp Idol Final

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After nearly a month in the waiting Saturday saw the final of the PulpIdol competition at the siren Café in Liverpool. I had been looking forward to taking part in the night and I was fairly relaxed about it, well until I stepped foot into the venue. Then the nerves finally struck. A few of my friends had come down to support me and this was the possibly the first time that they had heard/read any of my writing.

The final was the same format as the heats. Each finalist had to read three minutes from their chapters. Ten people were due to attend the final, though only nine read their chapters. One of the heat winners couldn’t make it unfortunately.

I was drawn out of the hat fourth to read. I managed to dodge the bullet of going first. I hadn’t timed my and I had to be wrapped up before I overran. Thankfully it was at a decent point in the chapter.
I wasn’t too sure how it had gone down but I was reasonably pleased. My friends thought it was good and a couple of people in audience who I didn’t know came up to me to say they enjoyed what I had written, which was nice to hear.

After the deliberations the three judges came back to announce the winners. Sadly I didn’t win, but I wasn’t too disappointed. It would have been nice to win, but I was just pleased to make it to the final and get my chapter published.

Well done to the two winners Rob and Craig and thanks to WoW who organized this and many other interesting events over the course of the month.

Here’s to getting my chapter published in the near future.

Writing on the Wall Facebook

Pulp Idol Heats 2014

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The judges and winners of one of the heats from this year’s Pulp Idol. (Picture: www.writingonthewall.org.uk)

Last year, I entered the PulpIdol writing competition, held each year as part of the Liverpool Writing on the Wall Literature Festival. It is something that I have circled in the diary, but it was the first time I had something substantial to submit for. I was selected for the heats, although I didn’t make it to the final, but the experience was a good one, especially the chance to meet other writers and to get feedback from the judges who are all published authors. I would say that the experience kick-started my desire to take the more creative writing side a bit more seriously and led to me signing up for my MA.

Fast forward twelve months, the Writing on the Wall Festival and in particular PulpIdol is back, and yet again I submitted a chapter of a novel for the competition. It is one that I had been working on this term during the workshops as part of my MA. It had been polished, restructured and generally bashed about to make it worth listening to (or reading).  I was successful in making it to the heats again this year.

The heat that I was selected for took place in the wonderful setting of the Liverpool Central Library. There were a number of heats taking place there over two nights, as well as an online one. From these they would select ten writers for the final, who would all have the prize of being published in the yearly Firsts anthology.

Having been given my heat, and dodged the bullet of going first (I ended up reading fifth). I sat through a number of really good and interesting first chapters. In my mind I was trying to place mine alongside the others. Once all the chapters had been read the judges sent everyone outside while they had their deliberations as to the three that would go through. Milling around outside gave us the chance to chat to our fellow contestants and a wonderfully supportive bunch they were. I was even chatting to someone who had travelled down from Newcastle to take part – there’s commitment for you. After what was only a short delay, but with the nerves kicking in, it seemed longer. They called us all in to hear who had made it through to the final.

They called out the first winner, who was sat next to me and while I was congratulating her, they read out my title, and then my name. To say I was shocked was an understatement. I was still taking it in, when they called out the third name, I nearly forgot to applaud him given that I was still processing what was going on.

So I have made it through to the final. Delighted, doesn’t quite cover how I feel after this. The final will select a winner, but knowing that I will be published in the anthology next year, is enough of a reward. Just to be in the final is a great achievement.

End of Term

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It’s hard to believe that the first year of my MA in Creative Writing is now over. Apart from one or two meetings with an assigned tutor, the assignments and classes have finished for year one. My usual Tuesday nights have been something of a distraction given everything that else that was going on in my life.

It is two modules down (Contemporary Novels I and The Workshop), with four more to go – one which will include the final major project of the novel in the final year. In the meantime the down-time in class gives me a chance to build up a portfolio of work in readiness for the workshops of next year. The aim over the summer is to try and send some work out to be published somewhere.

The second module has been really good, it was led by the writer AJ Dalton who has worked us all hard in the allocated sessions, though they have been enjoyable too. The homework that was set has seen the group pull together a portfolio of work that includes elements that will help with the marketing of our work and ourselves as writers. There have also been numerous opportunities to get feedback on our developing novels. So much so, I feel the first two chapters of my novel are beginning to take shape. Though there are still a few teething problems with the narrator/POV, which are slowly being ironed out with each draft.

As well during these sessions we have looked at many aspects of the writing craft as well as dis-cussed aspects of the publishing industry. These sessions have been both inspiring and informative.

Not only have the sessions been productive, but Adam has joined us in the pub afterwards to
further discuss our work and that of the industry. I have to say it’s been one of the best modules that I have done during any of my studies.

Although I am sad that it’s over, here’s to the summer, and preparation for the next academic year.

 

Happy New Year

I have been reading a number of writer’s blogs over the Christmas period and they have all written resolutions as to what they hope to achieve in the coming months with their writing. Last year for me would have been a good year to have set out a number of resolutions at the outset, but I didn’t get around to writing them down. I have decided to follow the same course of action for 2014.

Even though I didn’t get around to making any resolutions last year, I can look back on the year as one with some degree of success and achievement.

My writing highlights for 2013 are as follows.  

·         Taking part in the Pulp Idol writing challenge in Liverpool.  

·         Starting my MA in Creative Writing

·         Finishing Nanowrimo for the second time

·         Attending a number of writing workshops and writing groups over the course of the year

I think if I was to formulate a list for this year, I would hope to achieve a number of these again this year but I would maybe add the following:

·         Attend a writing retreat.

·         Write more short stories and get them published.

·         Continue to enjoy the MA in Creative Writing.

·         Attend more writing workshops.

Here’s looking forward to a creative and productive 2014.

First Term Over

Well somehow it’s December. Soon it will be Christmas. Even more significant than the afore mentioned festivities, it’s also the end of the first module for my MA in Creative Writing. Back in September, when I wrote about my intentions to do an MA, I didn’t think that the first term would whistle by as quickly as this one has. I may be premature in writing and posting this about it being over. I still have a 3,000 word essay to write – due in January, but that’s all in hand…I think.

It has been an enjoyable experience. The staff and students that I have worked with have all made the Tuesday night sessions worthwhile attending. It is also inspiring (and daunting) to read some of the work from the cohort. It’s certainly of a high standard. 

The first module was not about the writing aspect as much; instead it was devised to get the class to read from a selected reading list. Looking back it was an interesting and enjoyable experience to be given a reading list and told what to read, a few of the selections I would not have done so without being prompted. A few of the selections I was glad that I was, as I will now try and read other books from the authors. Some, not many, I think I won’t be going any further with the other works.  

The reading list for this modules was as follows:

Patricia Highsmith – The Talented Mr Ripley.
Anthony Burgess – Time for a Tiger.
Vladimir Nabokov – Pnin.
VS Naipaul – Miguel Street.
Muriel Spark – The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
Russell Hoban – Riddley Walker.
Milan Kundera – The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
Carol Shields – The Stone Diaries.
Beryl Bainbridge – Master Georgie.
JM. Coetzee – Disgrace.

I enjoyed The Talented Mr Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith, which was the first one that we looked at. This is the first in a series and I may investigate the others in due course, but don’t ask my opinion of the film. I have never been a fan of Jude Law, who plays one of the central characters Dickie, so that may explain my antipathy to it. I didn’t really enjoy the adaption from book to film.

The Anthony Burgess book A Time for Tiger, was so good that it I will try to read further books by him (I had only read A Clockwork Orange previously). I am also in the process of reading through the second and third parts of the trilogy for my essay. I am enjoying them as much as the first book. The genesis of most of what makes up the trilogy has seemingly been drawn from his life and very loosely fictionalised. This doesn’t detract from the accounts on any level.

I enjoyed Pnin, by Nabokov. I had only previously read Lolita. This was a book that provoked great discussion in class, some hated it, I quite enjoyed. It was hard work, but some of the exquisite writing that made the hard work worthwhile.

Muriel Spark’s, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was enjoyable and not too dated. It was nice to read about the Edinburgh of the author. Beryl Bainbridge’s, Master Georgie, likewise, even though it was set in a different time frame from the time that she was alive, what could be drawn from this book was a sense of place. Her descriptions of her home town at the outset were so vivid that you were drawn so easily to her account of the Crimea that came later in the book.  J.M. Coetzee’s, Disgrace was bleak at times, but I could see why it received the plaudits that it did.

Miguel Street was an easier read after Pnin, but it wasn’t one that I full engaged with at the time. I’m sure that I will revisit it in the future. The same could be said of Ridley Walker. I had a week to read it and I don’t think that was conducive to enjoying it. The theme was something that I would normally go for, but it’s densely written and not designed to be skimmed through. I enjoyed two-thirds of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, before it fell away at the end. The film likewise is equally baggy.  

The book that I enjoyed without reservation was Carol Shields’, The Stone Diaries, this is an episodic book that details the lives of a family over the course of a century. Though don’t do what I did and turn to the family tree at the back of the back first, as it acts as something of plot spoiler.

From the ten books I would say favourites were; The Stone Diaries, A Time for Tiger, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Master Georgie and Disgrace.

Here’s to the next year of The Workshop module, when we have to present examples of our own writing.

Thirty days later…

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For the second time in two years, I have just completed the November writing challenge, Nanowrimo. Last year was a bit of struggle, as I battled the norovirus to complete it, this year didn’t throw up (pardon the pun) any challenges of that scale but it was still quite difficult to achieve the target given my increased commitments this year.

The reason that I wanted to do it this year, more so than usual, was for the usual challenge but it was also to get a head start for the module of the MA that will see each member of the class present samples of their work in progress. As my course is three years, I am ahead of the game as a result of the last month, given the final year is about writing up the 60,000-word novel.

For this year I had a theme that I wanted to write about – it was always going to be something relating to my interest in music. Right up to the start of my course, I didn’t really have an idea what I was going to do but that wasn’t a problem as I had a few weeks before Nanowrimo came around and I could knock something into shape by then. Thankfully inspiration struck me on the way driving home from the Induction event.

The challenge now is to go back and edit what has been written so far and shape it into something approaching how a novel should look. This has sadly not been the case with what I produced last year.  I think I will have a few days off from it and get the red pen out and get to work and putting a workable draft together. So far, I would say that this is draft 0.5 because I know it is littered with typos, literals and other horrors that I would be embarrassed to publish.

No matter what state it is in, the position I’m in now, highlights the benefits of Nanowrimo, with the fact that I am 30 days along from having a blank page, to have written over 50, 000 words that can now be deleted, extended and corrected as I see fit.

Though I am rather tired now, I can look back on the last month with some satisfaction. Given that the time is now 1am on Friday night/Saturday morning, God knows where I found the energy to put together this blog post, I suppose it shows that with the discipline of non-stop writing for a month, makes it easy to write when you need to.

Nanowrimo 2013

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Given that I have signed up for a creative writing course, so far my writing has been minimal to say the least. For that reason alone I have decided to get my act together by signing up for Nanowrimo again.

Last year, I successfully completed the challenge for the first time; this was despite going down with a vomiting bug in the last week of the month-long challenge. That draft remains unfinished but will be returned too in due course. For now I have decided on a new idea which goes under the working title of ‘Difficult First Album’ a concept that until now has been a title in search of a plot. That may be the case when the month is up.

Ironically the plot/plan was formulated on the way home from my first session of my MA. I was jolted in to action hearing how the other students had already written novels and had work published. The idea almost came to me as I walked back from the pub. In case I forgot it all, I jotted notes on my phone before I drove home.

Most of those ideas I will be looking to develop as I draw together a plan for November. I am making use of a rare day off work – I’m on strike today (an official one I might add). So I have put the day without pay to good use by getting this together.

So here’s to another month of nonstop writing and the same result as last year – minus the vomiting bug hopefully.