Tag Archives: poet

**Running in Circles Blog Tour**

 

Today we welcome to the blog Claire Gray to the blog as part of the blog tour to celebrate the release of her new novel ‘Running in Circles‘.


Claire Gray lives in
 the South Lakes with her husband and two small children. She studied Creative Writing at the Cumbria Institute of the Arts. She graduated in 2006 and then went on to complete a journalism course at Darlington College. 


That same year
, Claire won a Northern Promise Award from New Writing North, and her work was featured in their anthology, ‘Ten Years On‘. Claire now works as a freelance copywriter and continues to write short stories, some of which have been published in magazines and online. 


Sapere Books published ‘Running in Circles‘ in 2019 and Claire is really excited to have published her first novel!
My thanks to Claire for sharing her experiences with us.


Vic x

Don’t Quit the Day Job: 
Claire Gray

It’s difficult for novelists to make a living purely through their writing. I’m probably only a Google search away from the official statistics, but I would guess only a tiny percentage of authors are able to sit at their desks every day, working on their latest manuscript, without worrying about paying the heating bill or feeding the kids. 


Many
 novelists supplement their income by working in education, or by editing other people’s work or writing for newspapers and magazines. That’s the tier of professional writing that I aspiring to reach, and it still seems very far away. But I don’t think it’s necessarily bad to be in the position that I, and many other writers, are in. We’re the writers who have day jobs; jobs completely unrelated to the creative work we do. While it can be challenging in terms of time management, and occasionally dispiriting because of how far removed it is from what we really want to be doing, having a day job is valuable. To write you need to have life experience. Working is one of the most natural ways to achieve this. 


I studied Creative Writing at college and then found myself
 working in betting shops across Cumbria and the north-east. What started as a weekend job rapidly became full-time as I realised (and probably should have realised much earlier) that Creative Writing is not a vocational course. But it wasn’t all bad. I met some interesting characters amongst the staff and the customers. There was a period in Newcastle-upon-Tyne where I narrowly missed a number of armed robberies, which was horrible but also great fuel for short stories. One of my co-workers was a published poet, and I still have the signed book he gave me as a leaving present. The writing and gambling industries seem to go well together, somehow. 


Eventually
, I enrolled on a Journalism course at Darlington College. Once all the exams were over I was qualified to work as a junior reporter. For various reasons, this didn’t happen. I’d moved to North Devon with my husband who was in the Royal Marines, and there weren’t many local newspapers or junior reporting jobs around. But I’ve worked as a freelance copywriter and my journalism training was certainly not a waste of time. I discovered the power of an opening sentence, how to firmly grab the reader’s attention, and the importance of editing. The main characters in my novel are journalists, and it is good to have background knowledge about the industry.


Since then I have moved around the country a fair bit, working on my novel, doing the odd piece of copywriting, and working in a succession of NHS administration j
obs. Much like the betting shop period of my life, this is a line of work I fell into accidentally, but somehow it stuck. I like working for the NHS because I feel like I’m doing something worthwhile, and it is inherently unpredictable; things rarely get dull. There are stories everywhere inside hospitals. You hear about, and see, some horrible things and some wonderful things. These polar opposites help to fuel my writing when I find time to switch on my laptop in the evenings. 

 

Running in Circles‘ is available now.

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Jan Fortune

Lots of people don’t realise that although you may see work by a certain author on the bookshelves in your favourite shop, many writers still hold down a day job in addition to penning their next novel. In this series, we talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Jan Fortune to the blog to talk about how she managed to write a trilogy in the last four years while holding down a day job. My thanks to Jan for taking the time to share her insights with us.

Vic x

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Over the last four years I’ve been working on a trilogy of novels. A Remedy For All Things follows Catherine, who is in Hungary in 1993 to research on the poet Attila József, when she begins dreaming the life of another woman from a different time period (imprisoned after the Hungarian Uprising of 1956). Even more disturbing, she’s aware that the other woman, Selene, is dreaming her life. 

It’s a complex book that has taken a great deal of research as well as several edits, but like most contemporary writers, I don’t write full-time. How do we do it? Juggle work, homes to run and still write? And are there any benefits to writing in this way, without the luxury of all the time in the world, or at least all the time that would otherwise go into holding body and soul together?

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Many of my favourite writers combined work of all sorts with writing. William Faulkner is reputed to have written As I Lay Dying in six weeks. He claimed that while working 12 hours days as a manual labourer he wrote this phenomenal novel in his ‘spare time’. Most of us need a lot longer, but it’s certainly the case that many writers don’t only write.

Anthony Burgess taught and composed music; Joseph Conrad was a sea captain; T.S. Eliot worked in a bank and Arthur Conan Doyle was a doctor, as was the poet William Carlos Williams. Wallace Stevens turned down a Harvard professorship rather than give up his 40-year career in insurance.

Women who write may not only do the lion’s share of domestic work while writing, but also hold down demanding jobs. Agatha Christie worked as an apothecary’s assistant, a great place to learn about poisons. Toni Morrison worked as an editor and for many years Octavia Butler had to write in the early hours so that she could work low-paid jobs like telemarketing or cleaning.

If working the day job is a necessity, it can also be one with benefits. Working as an editor and publisher, I get a lot of time to see how form works, how language can constantly be honed and how handing our precious book to someone with skill and objectivity and then listening carefully can make all the difference. One of my authors recently took a PR role that is giving her masses of people-watching time, none of it wasted. Writers are people who walk about the world with all their senses open and work is an endlessly rich environment for observation of the human condition.

Of course, we still need time to find that trance state in which to write and to go into deep flow. If your day job does nothing but hollow you out, it may be time to reconsider. But if your work sustains you and leaves the time and energy to write whilst being a source of experiences and characters, then writing around the day job is an honourable tradition. 

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Neil Fulwood

Lots of people don’t realise that although you may see work by a certain author on the bookshelves in your favourite shop, many writers still hold down a day job in addition to penning their next novel. In this series, we talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

Poet Neil Fulwood is here to share his experience of work and writing with us. My thanks to Neil for taking the time to tell us how work has affected his life as a writer. 

Vic x

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My grandfather was a miner; my dad ran his own haulage business. It’s not a matter of record whether granddad liked his job or not, but he was definitely a grafter. Dad subscribed to a “dignity” of work philosophy that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Nevil Shute novel. In three generations of Fulwoods, I was the odd-one-out.

In my late twenties, I came across a Raymond Carver poem with these lines: “… this much is still true – / I never liked work. My goal was always / to be shiftless”. I’d been putting in the nine-to-five for a decade at that point: I’d worked as an admin assistant, a receptionist and an estimator for a firm that made road signs. Even with the benefit of longevity and a minor tendency to hagiography, I wouldn’t file any of them under “job satisfaction”.

My first job ended in redundancy after four years. I’ve been downsized several times since then. The “job for life” of my father’s generation is a thing of the past. I’ve quit a couple of jobs of my own accord – one with a financial services firm as a matter of conscience, one at a training company after I was threatened with violence and wasn’t convinced that effective safeguarding was in place.

I’ve never really had a career path or any professional goals. Work was simply an act of pragmatism: there was board to pay, then rent, then a mortgage; a car to run; food to put on the table. Debts to pay off or holidays to save for. Beer money. Bookshops. If one job ended, I temped till another came along. To date, I’ve worked in the manufacturing and retail sectors, financial services, training and healthcare. The same culture of mismanagement, office politics and grassroots employees treated as cattle has been prevalent in all of them.

Some folk succeed in dodging what Larkin called “the toad work” and I have friends and colleagues who deplore these people as spongers and scroungers. But if I’m being perfectly honest I quite admire those toad-avoiders. That I’ve never managed to join their ranks says something about me, though I’m not quite sure what.

While I’ve seldom enjoyed work – the one job I had that I genuinely engaged with ended in redundancy after just a couple of years – it’s given me material. For a while I held off writing poems about office life, convinced that paperwork and poetry weren’t a good match. Then it occurred to me that no-one was documenting the white collar whereas the blue collar experience had champions of such stature as Fred Voss and Philip Levine, and the toad-avoiders had Raymond Carver and Charles Bukowski on their side.

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I found my voice as a poet in my mid-thirties – I’d written during my teens and early twenties, but what I produced was shallow and derivative – and by the time I published my first collection, No Avoiding It (Shoestring Press), at the age of 45, poems about work accounted for a third of its content. In a review published in The Morning Star, Andy Croft noted that I was “especially good on the mental slavery of contemporary work”.

‘Nuff said!

**The Gilded Shroud Blog Tour** Author Interview

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It’s my pleasure today to have Elizabeth Bailey, author of ‘The Gilded Shroud‘ on the blog.

Elizabeth Bailey says she feels lucky to have found several paths that have given her immense satisfaction – acting, directing, teaching and, by no means least, writing. 

She has been privileged to work with some wonderful artistic people, and been fortunate enough to find publishers who believed in her and set her on the road.

Elizabeth has kindly taken the time to answer my questions so we can get to know her, and her writing process, better. My thanks to Elizabeth for taking the time to answer my questions. If you fancy getting in touch with her, you can tweet Elizabeth

Vic x

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Tell us about your book(s).
The Gilded Shroud
 is the genesis of Ottilia, Lady Fan, who turns by chance into sleuth extraordinaire and, incidentally, meets the love of her life in the process. It’s a murder mystery set in the late 18th Century, with a dollop of upstairs downstairs and a touch of romance too.

What inspired them?
My original idea was Ottilia as a potential heroine for the first in a series of sweeping romantic historicals which never materialised. My brother one day suggested it might make a detective story, and that set me off thinking. When I finally took the plunge, I intended at first that Ottilia, a wispy retiring sort of female as I thought, would be the brains in the background behind the apparent showy male sleuth, but the moment she set foot on the page she took centre stage and refused to be dislodged. So that was that.

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What do you like most about writing? What do you dislike (if anything)?
I love the way it surprises me with turns and twists I never expected, and I like finding creative ways to express things rather than turning to clichés. I like the process of watching it unrolling as I write what I see, like a film reel projecting onto a screen somewhere in the air around me. 

I hate what we writers call treacle books, when the words won’t flow and you just have to drag them out one by one, sticking with it as you really feel as if you are wading through a sticky sea. You learn to keep at it, and quite often find you do good work in spite of the stop/start nature of the writing. Fortunately, readers can’t usually tell if a book was treacle to write. There’s always the editing process to fix it.

Do you find time to read, if so what are you reading at the moment?
I can’t not read. I started as a reader and reading feeds my imagination. My reading time is an hour or so before I go to sleep – assuming I’m not so hooked I can’t put the book down. I’m just finishing Tarquin Olivier’s book about his famous father, and I’ll be starting on Jodi Taylor’s latest St Mary’s Chronicles, to which I am addicted. My TBR pile is pretty eclectic as I read all sorts of genres, as well as biographies and books that add to my knowledge of my period and other history.

Which author(s) has/have had the biggest influence on your writing?
Primarily Georgette Heyer – of course. Also Daphne du Maurier, who does dark with panache and beauty; Rumer Godden, who is both lyrical and cryptic, as she doesn’t tell you everything. And Dean Koontz, who is so good at surprising twists. Finally, PG Wodehouse for humour. He has the one-liner gag down to a fine art. But I can learn from almost any writer – a turn of phrase, a twist, a different voice. It all goes into the maelstrom and comes out somewhere without my realising it.

Where do you get your ideas from?
They tend to leap out from nowhere. I might catch a rhythm, a fleeting glimpse of some image, song or dream, a snippet in a news item or programme, a phrase or word in a social media post even. The spark might not even reveal itself because the idea wafts in and before I know it the what-if game is on. I do jot ideas in notebooks. If I’m stuck for a plot, I can sift through to see if anything catches my imagination. I think most writers have more ideas than they know what to do with, or will ever write up as stories. The ones that gel will hopefully roll into fodder for readers, if the process goes well.

Do you have a favourite scene/character/story you’ve written?
My current completed book is usually my favourite. Not the one I’m writing because that’s in too much upheaval to be loved. Though I am usually falling in love with my characters in the work in progress. But the one that’s done and dusted, that’s the one I can afford to love until it gets superseded by the next. I do have a few that are perennial favourites and I am rather in love with Lord Francis Fanshawe. As for scenes, when I have occasion to re-read a book, sometimes I find one that really pleases me, and I will wonder how I managed to make it that good.

What are you working on at the moment?
I am writing another Lady Fan mystery, in between my traditional Regency romances. Mysteries take more thought, more time and energy as one must tie everything in together and half the time I don’t know what’s about to happen.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given (and who was it from)?
Funnily enough, it was my mother, who is a poet rather than a novelist and my beta reader in my early days, who gave me the best piece of advice. She said one day that she thought I was ending my chapters in the wrong place by running a scene to a conclusion rather than keeping it back. She woke me up to cliffhangers.

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
When I began writing I plotted extensively, but was forever having to adjust the plot as new ideas sprang up. Now I’m a total pantster. Apart from the opening springboard, I have no idea where the story is going and must trust to my inner writer. That is not to say that ideas don’t float about in my head, but when I sit down to write I never know what words are going to come out through my fingers. Still less do I know who committed the murder!

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Keep at it. We all say that. Get the words down any way you can. You can’t edit a blank page. Being a writer is all about persistence. Not just keeping going against the rejections. But keeping going when life throws brickbats at you; when you think you’ll never get to the end; when the deadline is looming and panic strikes; and when you’d honestly do anything – take out the rubbish, clean the car, walk the cat – rather than sit down and write. Successful writers work through every pit stop and drive through to the end. Every time.

What’s been your proudest writing-related moment?
Apart from my very first acceptance which sent me to the ceiling where I remained for days, I think it’s the review of The Gilded Shroud that said: “Georgette Heyer lives – and is writing mysteries as Elizabeth Bailey”. That accolade said it all for me. I grew up on Heyer and still consider her the greatest writer in the Regency genre she spawned. We all wish we could write at her level, so this was to me the best compliment ever.

 

 

Getting to Know You: Lilja Sigurðardóttir

I’m delighted to welcome Lilja Sigurðardóttir. I first met Lilja at Newcastle Noir 2016. Having heard her talk about her books, I – like many others – were desperate to read them and I’m thrilled that Orenda Books have published Lilja’s novel ‘Snare‘ in English. Yet another novel on my ever-expanding TBR pile! 

Thanks to Lilja for taking the time to talk to us today.

Vic x

Tell us about your books.
I am the author of five novels that have been published in my home country of Iceland. The latest are the Reykjavík Noir Trilogy that is enjoying international success and being translated into many languages. The first in the series, Snare, is just out in English, translated by Quentin Bates. 

What inspired them?
It is hard to tell what inspires a book, as there are so many things that influence a story. I would say that I have a passion for writing, for telling stories and entertaining people with them. That passion is the driving force behind what I do.

How do you feel about your novel being translated into English?
It is an absolute dream come true! Both because I have many English-speaking friends and they have been waiting impatiently to get to read my books, but also because the English language is such a gateway to the world. I have been a bit stressed about how the stories would be received in English as the English-speaking world has such a rich and strong tradition of crime fiction, but the reception so far has been very positive. But the best part of the whole process was working with Quentin Bates, whom I now consider a close friend.

Where do you get your ideas from?
From all over, I have to say. I dream a lot and some of the ideas come from my dreams as strangely as that sounds. It usually starts with a character that begins to grow in my mind and then I try to find a place and time for them, a purpose and a drive and from there on dreams and research come in handy. Dreams for mad ideas and research for deciding the limits of the possibilities.

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
Oh, so many! I do love my characters like family. Even the nasty ones. Usually my last book is the favourite one, as it is fresh in my mind and I still feel like I´m in love with the story but now with the publication of Snare in English I have been reading it again and talking about it and promoting it, so now I’m totally in love with it again! I will have to say that the complete Reykjavík Noir Trilogy is my favourite work.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
The best advice I have been given was from a wonderful friend and renowned Icelandic poet and writer Þorsteinn frá Hamri. He told me that since I had a compulsion to write I would just have to make a go of it and give it my best, otherwise I wouldn’t be happy. He was right. I have never been happier than when I made writing my main job.

What can readers expect from your books?
Entertainment! I hope. My main goal with writing is to make people happy. Everyone likes a story and in order to make people happy, the story has to be good and fun to read. ‘Snare‘ is fast-paced and the point of view changes between four very different characters that then connect to each other. Everyone seems to have a favourite character in that group and I love asking people who their favourite character is.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Yes. Only one. Write a story that you love. Never mind trying to be clever or funny, just write a story you fall in love with. Then it has the best chance of being a good story.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
I love, love, love writing! I love creating the story, connecting to the characters, finding the pace, pumping up the action. Editing is another thing altogether. Rewriting and fixing sentences and proofreading are things I wish I could get out of. It takes way too much time and bores me. I would rather write a whole other book than edit one I’ve finished.

Are you writing anything at the moment?
Yes. I am starting a new series. It is very exciting although I miss my old characters from the Reykjavík Noir Trilogy and am very tempted to make some of them appear in the new story, just so that the readers and I can see where they are now. But we’ll see.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
Every morning that I have time to write and sit down at the computer with coffee in the mug that Quentin gave me and Malinche, the 16th century Mexican skull my dad gave me, by my side. I enjoy living in my head and portraying that inner life to a page. Of course, like all writers I love the moment when I write: “Endir” at the bottom of the last page. That’s Icelandic for: The End.

*Yellow Room Blog Tour* Getting to Know Shelan Rodger.

I’m delighted to be the final stop in Shelan Rodger’s book tour for her wonderful book Yellow Room‘.

Today, we get the opportunity to get to know the author of this extraordinary novel. I’d like to thank her for taking the time to share her thoughts with us – and for writing this thought-provoking story. 

Tell us about ‘Yellow Room‘, Shelan. What inspired the novel?
The notion of personal identity intrigues me – the extent to which our sense of who we are is bound up with the culture and place we grow up in, the way we use a job or a cause or a relationship to create meaning and definition, the extent to which a single event can shape the person we turn into.

In Yellow Room, Chala’s sense of self is moulded by something that happened when she was only four – and the drama takes place when the goalposts of her reality begin to change. Although we think of twists so readily as the realm of fiction, we all face twists at times in our lives. We meet someone out of the blue and fall in love, we lose a loved one suddenly, we have a life-changing accident or illness, a buried secret breaks out into the open… These ‘twists’ can be exciting or they can be appalling, but they always cause some kind of evolution in our being – and this is the kind of thing I wanted to explore in the novel.

And secrets! Sometimes I think of life as a bank of sedimentary rock: layer upon layer of new experience compressed into a formation that looks solid from the outside yet crumbles quite easily; and secrets are like layers of sand within this rock, covering and compressing what lies below. I believe we all live with secrets of one kind or another, even if these are about truths we have repressed from ourselves… and perhaps that is why secrets hold such a peculiar fascination. In Yellow Room, the secret sands of different lives interact in ways that not even the characters involved can always see.

Where do you get your ideas from?
I don’t know how the light-bulb ever actually comes on – for me it tends to manifest in the form of an idea, which then turns into a character – but I am certainly aware of the earth it has grown in: the rather nomadic, multi-cultural mish-mash of my own life!

I was born in Nigeria, grew up in aboriginal Australia, then England, and have spent most of my adult life between Argentina, Kenya and Spain. I’m sure this has created a kind of questioning within my make-up that explains the fascination I talked about just now with personal identity and what this really means.

I think there is also a strong sense of place in my novels and that is certainly grounded in personal experience. Twin Truths, my first novel, is set in Argentina in the nineties, where I lived for nine years. Yellow Room is set in Kenya, where I was living on a flower farm in Naivasha, one of the hot spots that was hit by the post-election violence ten years ago which killed over a thousand people and turned half a million overnight into refugees within their own country. Chala’s personal drama takes place against the backdrop of these real events, and Kenya plays an active role in the story of who she becomes.

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
Mmm… a difficult question to answer. Writing a novel is a bit like having a relationship; you get to know and live with the main characters inside your head.

My relationship with Chala was conflicting at times; sometimes I just wanted to shake her, but mostly I love her honesty with herself. The twin sisters of my first novel, Twin Truths, are still close to my heart. As for scenes, I love writing scenes that I know are pivotal – those intensely emotional and significant moments that can make or break a novel.

I also love endings – both as a reader and a writer. I think endings are hugely challenging for a writer: how to create a sense of emotional closure that is satisfying but not trite, how to keep the door open for the novel and the future of its characters to linger in the mind of the reader, in a way that is somehow thought-provoking without being manipulative. Yellow Room has two endings in a way: the last page for Chala, and the epilogue, which is told from the viewpoint of another character, and I really felt the last lines when I was writing these.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
My father’s words: ‘Just get it out and suspend judgement until later.’ My father was a poet and a non-fiction writer and these were his words of advice when I was writing my first novel. I’ve never forgotten them. Let it out, get it out. And then, only then, let the jury in and edit and rewrite as much as you need to, but first just pour it all onto the page.

What can readers expect from ‘Yellow Room’?
If I have achieved what I aspired to, the book is compelling and thought-provoking. A drama that explores the power of secrets, the shifting sands of our sense of personal identity, the grey areas that flow between the boundaries of relationships. A poignant insight into the reality of poverty in Kenya and the events that took over a thousand lives ten years ago. Kenya has its own secrets, which are still unfolding today.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
I think I would simply share my father’s words again. They had a profoundly liberating effect on me and I believe creativity is an act of liberation. The attempt to connect with the reader is at its heart, I believe, something deeply intuitive not learnt. Trust your intuition first, question it later.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
It doesn’t happen all the time of course, but what I love most are those special moments when you lose track of time and it becomes almost a form of meditation, with words seeming to flow through you rather than from you. There is something earthy and connected and grounding in that feeling. To be honest there is nothing I really dislike about writing because the different phases, for example editing, are all part of the process of creation. The thing I am most wary of, as you can see from some of my answers, is the monkey that sits in judgement on your shoulder if you let it, sneering and undermining your confidence!

Are you writing anything at the moment?
Yes, I am working on my third novel, which is another psychological twisty tale, also set in Kenya (but this time on a flying safari). It’s inspired by something that happened two weeks before my father died: he found a novel he’d forgotten he’d written, read it, changed the last line and gave it to me. I never saw him again. In the book, a box of writing by the father she never knew falls into the hands of a drama therapist called Elisa and takes her to Kenya, where a twist presents the one person from her past she never wanted to meet again.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
I was driving along a pot-holed road in Kenya to my parents’ house for lunch. The lake filled my view to the horizon as it always did; pelicans and flamingos dipped below me to the water’s edge. But that day the lake looked different. The news I’d just received made everything feel different. Someone – a person who was to become very important and dear to me – wanted to be my agent. Suddenly, the possibility of being what I wanted to be was real, stretching like the lake below me to the horizon. That is the moment I think I would single out, a moment full of hope and beauty, a moment – ironically – intimately connected with my own personal sense of identity.

Review: ‘Yellow Room’
by Shelan Rodger.

What I’m about to say may come as a surprise. ‘Yellow Room‘ is currently a hot contender for my book of 2017. 

Having lived the majority of her life in the shadow of a tragic childhood accident, Chala is shaken by the death of her stepfather who steadfastly supported her throughout. In the midst of this emotional turmoil, Chala decides to volunteer at an orphanage in Kenya. Despite providing Chala with the opportunity to re-evaluate her life, the country remains on the brink of violence and horror. 

Shelan Rodger has deftly created a truly compelling novel featuring complex yet empathetic characters. The author really understands the nuances and complexities of human behaviour and her insights are weaved skillfully into her characters, bringing them to life. 

Yellow Room’ contains everything I could possibly want from a novel: evocative descriptions, well-written characters and an exploration of how power shifts in both personal and political relationships.

Despite being a story that delves deeper than most, ‘Yellow Room‘ is incredibly readable. I honestly did not want to put this book down. Part of me wanted to stay with the characters in this book forever. 

From the opening page, I was hooked by ‘Yellow Room‘ and I suspect that the story will stay with me for a very long time. 

Vic x 

Guest Post: Helen Cadbury on Writers who Teach.

Helen Cadbury is one of the nicest writers in the business at the moment in my opinion. I love her wit and can’t wait to host her at Noir at the Bar NE in February. 

Helen is the author of the Sean Denton series of crime novels, To Catch A Rabbit and Bones in the Nest, with a third in the pipeline. To find out more about Helen, check out her website.

Helen is here today to talk to us about writers who teach which is a topic that is of particular interest to me. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Helen.

Vic x

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Writers who Teach
by Helen Cadbury

It is not a given that just because a person knows how to do a thing, that they can necessarily teach it. There are some extremely talented writers who are also brilliant and inspiring teachers, I have been lucky enough to be taught by at least two: the poet, Carole Bromley, and the novelist, Lesley Glaister. But there are also a set of esteemed authors and poets who are not great teachers, some of them are even terrible teachers, jealous perhaps of those coming after them, or simply lacking the enthusiasm or skills to enable others. There is also another set of writers who teach while at the very beginning of their careers, emerging writers whose enthusiasm is infectious to their students.

Bones in the Nest

So why do writers teach? Many writers I know claim to be introverts, so being in a group setting like a classroom or workshop space might seem like masochism. Is it for the money? Well that certainly helps. With average author earnings well below the Living Wage, and even beneath the annual full-time minimum wage, there are only a tiny minority of authors, and virtually no poets, who solely earn their living from selling their writing. But a word of caution: teaching creative writing is not a get rich quick scheme. It’s hard work and inevitably takes far longer than the hourly rate offered for a session of delivery. I estimate my preparation time to be 1.5 to 2 times the length of a one-off taught session. If it’s a course, then there will also be marking. Quoting the real cost of session to a perspective client can put them off, so sometimes we undersell ourselves, in order to get the work, regretting it later when we are committed to a group of learners, a long journey, and a novel at home waiting to be finished.

To Catch a Rabbit

There are easier ways of creating the income you need to sustain a writing career, but there is something that teaching gives a writer, which working a day job doesn’t, and that is the creative process of writing itself. When setting an exercise on structure, for example, the writer is also reflecting on their own use of structure. When teaching a class on character, new characters emerge for your own work. The character of Barry ‘Burger’ King, a detective in my debut, ‘To Catch a Rabbit‘, was created during an exercise in a class I was teaching at HMP Askham Grange. My learners added some very helpful characteristics to his sketch, as we all fed back on each other’s creations. I don’t always join in with the exercises, but when I do, it’s to show that I’m not asking my learners to do something I wouldn’t do myself. When I don’t, it enables me to pause a little, in that golden silence when they are writing, and be even more alert in listening to the work they read out.

I trained as a secondary school drama teacher, and I’ve also worked for many years as a trainer in the Youth Arts sector, so for me, bringing the skills and techniques of creative education to groups of writers – whether they be young people ambitious to be published, mature writers exploring their life stories, those writing for their own therapeutic release, or any combination of the above –  gives me a sense of completeness in bringing the different parts of my life experience together. It also takes me away from my own work, makes me think, and brings me back to my writing desk refreshed.

Guest Post: Harry Gallagher on his home town.

Harry Gallagher first attended one of my writing groups in January 2013 and since then, I’ve seen his success grow exponentially. That, however, has little to do with me: the range of Harry’s poetry is astounding and he can write on pretty much any subject. Whether you’re looking for political rants or romantic poems, Harry’s your man. That said, the poems I have enjoyed the most have been inspired by Harry’s home town and the people he knew there.

Harry’s spending time with us on the blog today to chat about his home town.

Vic x

Harry performs his work

My Home Town
By Harry Gallagher

There’s no easy way of putting this. I’m from Middlesbrough. There, I said it. Home of steel making since Victorian times, when Prime Minister Gladstone labelled the town “the infant Hercules”. When this writer left school in 1979 (the year of the first election of St Margaret Of Hades) there were, from memory, some 45,000 people directly employed by British Steel on Teesside. This is not to mention all the supporting industries, chemical giants ICI (remember them?) and the shipyards. Like it or not, this stuff is in our bones and in our lungs – check my asthma, baby!

Fast forward to 2016 and we now no longer make steel, the blast furnace having been sacrificed just last year in a disgraceful sop to the Chinese government, in return for their help building a nuclear power plant elsewhere. And all under the baleful gaze of the Minister for the laughable Northern Poorhouse project, unbelievably a local MP. The Middlesbrough FC chairman, Steve Gibson – a local council estate lad made good and a left leaning champion of the town to boot – furiously labelled him “an absolute clown” and who am I to argue? But first let me take you back, back, back…

Our heavy industrial roots – which is now referred to, apparently without irony, as ‘heritage’ – and unique cultural mix are what made our people who they are. Everyone’s ancestors in Middlesbrough came from somewhere else, having followed work to a smoke blackened, nigh on lawless Wild West. Both sides of my family came from Ireland.

I grew up in the 1970s and consider myself fortunate to have spent the 80s working alongside pretty much the last generation of men in this country who, in their own words, spent their lives “fighting iron”. These people lifted and bent heavy steel to their will, or had once dug ironstone from the earth, or processed massive amounts of deadly chemicals, or built and then sent ships to all corners of the world. Their lives were hard and so they had to be hard too, in order to survive. The men I knew smoked pin-thin woodbines, held between thumb and forefinger, lit end pointing into their palms. Their humour was often coarse – by God, they were funny – and cruel, but they were bound by a common purpose and by communities as close as the back to backs they often lived in. They were as tough as… well, ironstone, but they were also often surprisingly warm and kind.

These people inhabited a world now almost gone – and in many ways maybe we should be glad it is. Their wives seemed to mostly stay at home, raising the family; sometimes working part-time to supplement the income of the 7 days a week man. Their children could expect to follow a similar path. The sons of the Tyne and Wear rivers had shipyards, coal mines and heavy engineering. On the Tees, coal mining was exchanged for iron and steel or chemical works. They knew the river would provide, as it had done for the previous hundred years or more. They would marry a local girl and expect to bring up a family in a similar vein, perhaps hoping to provide their own family with a little better than they themselves had known.

So where did they all go, the children and grandchildren of these people? Well, the lucky or more adaptable ones followed the example of their forefathers and became migrants themselves. I challenge you to step onto an oil or gas platform anywhere in the North Sea or Middle East and just listen. Within minutes your ears will be assaulted by that gruff twang – a “Now then chor!” or perhaps “Yer jokin’ arn yer!” It’s how we roll – all around the globe. I have encountered my townsfolk in most countries in Europe, in Kazakhstan, in Qatar, in fact everywhere I have worked.

But what of the others, those without a recognised trade? Or those unable to work? Or the helpless or hopeless? You know – the people who helped build the country. To spell it out, the unemployed. Well, they found themselves at the top of our lovely government’s priority list, just above asylum seekers and rabid dogs; and thus became the chief target of Ian Duncan Smith’s austerity drive.

These people are the Have Nots. Many of their children are either on low paid, zero hour contracts or if they are lucky, work in call centres. Others are themselves on Benefit Street. They will never be able to afford what many of their parents’ generation aspired to – getting a step on the property ladder – instead paying rent to the Haves.

And then along came Nigel, with his tabloid-owning friends and his hatred and his simple answer to a complicated question. To cut a long and depressing story short, we took the bait. Not everyone did – I have friends and family in Teesside as horrified as I am – but enough people blamed the other people doing exactly what our own ancestors had done. And so here we are, on our way out of the EU. The one and only institution propping up an area which our own government has abandoned and we have just marched proudly away from it, right arms in the air. But, hey we got our country back.

At the time of writing, our future looks as bleak as the clouds that once hung over our town. But we must have hope. Teesside people are unique. Though rooted in history, we have always been a largely forward-looking bunch and we are nothing if not pragmatic. We have adapted to enormous change and are still evolving. Thatcher’s filthy brood continue to throw sharp objects at us, but resilience came hard-earned and we are a tough bunch. Here’s to the future, wherever it may lead…

Review of 2015: Harry Gallagher

 

Today, super-poet and member of Elementary Writers, Harry Gallagher – co-organiser of the monthly event The Stanza – is on the blog to review his 2015. 

Thanks for being involved, Harry!

 

Vic xHarry Gallagher2015 was a great year for you. Do you have a favourite memory professionally?
It has to be the first Stanza back in January.  I’d been telling Mandy if we got 20 people in, we’d be lucky.  On the night I was stuck in a horrendous traffic jam on the A1 and got there just before doors opening, so arrived stressed to hell.  Bless them, Mandy & Claudia had arranged everything already.  Then we opened the doors and in they came…and came…and came!  The place was absolutely rammed, our first headliners were brilliant and the audience brought the house down.  And it’s continued in much the same vein ever since.  Our audience are just fantastic and we’re very grateful.

And how about a favourite moment from 2015 generally?
On a personal level, too many to list.  I’m very, very lucky.  I have two daughters of whom I’m extremely proud and am in a great relationship too.  Done very little to deserve such luck.

Favourite book in 2015?
Windharp, Poems Of Ireland Since 1916“, Edited by Niall MacMonagle (Penguin, Ireland).  From the moment I picked it up in the excellent bookshop at St Boswell’s, Northumberland, the poetry within just leapt at me.  I keep going back to it.  I think there’s just something about the Irish voice that resonates with me and this one contains poems right up to date including several from 2015 and they stand up against the more traditional earlier stuff within.

Favourite film of 2015?
Has to be The Theory Of Everything.  Astounding central performance from Eddie Redmayne, not just in the physicalisation of Hawking, but also in bringing such warmth to the role.  Felicity Jones did the same as his wife. And I think that’s what I really love about the film – the warmth.  Everyone comes out of that film – and I mean everyone – really well.  There isn’t a bad guy in sight, just (extra)ordinary folk doing their best under horrible circumstances.  It’s seeing things like this that remind me there are more wonderful people around than the media would have us believe.

Favourite song of the year?
Am I allowed to say “Yer jokin’ aren’t yer?!”  I am very old and lost touch with the charts long ago.  No?  Ok then, I’m going to cheat and have a whole album.  There’s a great local band called Shipcote & Friends.  They are so up when you see them live and such fun to be around.  I bought their 2nd album (imaginatively titled ‘Shipcote & Friends 2′!) this summer and love every track.

Any downsides for you in 2015?
Iain Duncan-Smith not being locked up for crimes against the poor and defenceless.

Are you making resolutions for 2016?
I’m with Churchill – KBO.  Keep buggering on.

What are you hoping for from 2016?
To still be here, still writing, still gigging.  My third pamphlet “Chasing The Sunset” is due out early in 2016 and I’m already working towards a book, but that depends on friendly publishers liking my stuff enough.  In the meantime, my luck holding out will more than do me, thank you very much!

Getting to Know You: Harry Gallagher & Mandy Maxwell, organisers of The Stanza

 

Today on the blog, I have the brains behind The Stanza – Harry Gallagher and Mandy Maxwell. I visited The Stanza last month, click here to read the review. May’s Stanza will be held on Thursday, 21st May. 

Many thanks to Mandy and Harry for taking the time to chat to me about their exciting venture.

Vic x

The brains behind The StanzaTell us about yourselves…

H: I’m a poet and singer/songwriter, based in North Tyneside, but originally from Middlesbrough.  I mention this because it informs my writing quite heavily – there’s quite a different culture there to the one I now live among only 40 miles North!

M: I’m an SEBD Teacher in a specialist school in Northumberland. I’ve been teaching there for 6 years and I absolutely love it. I teach English and Literature with a large side portion of poetry.  I’m also a poet and I perform around the North East scene. I’ve been living in the North East for 8 years since moving down from Edinburgh and I adore everything about the place, the people and the amazing poetry scene.

The Stanza

Tell us a little bit about The Stanza – where and when does it happen and what can we expect from it? 

H & M: It’s a poetry night on the third Thursday every month in the Chillingham Arms at Heaton.  We have 3 main acts, plus lots of open mic opportunities.  The people who get up on the open mic range from seasoned, published poets to first timers, and everyone gets the same warm Stanza welcome.  We also have free poetry books to take away, provided by our friends at Borderline Books.  On top of that we have a house band – Renata & Trev – who kick off the evening and finish it with a song at either end.

Renata and Trev

How did the idea for The Stanza come about? 

M: The idea for The Stanza came about when the previous poetry night at The Chilli came to an end and we realized there was going to be a gap where a poetry event should be. Also we both love poetry and spoken word events and really wanted to create one of our own that would encourage and support local talent and voices. Also we’re both poets and it seemed like a cool thing to do.

H: There had previously been a monthly poetry night – Hot Words At The Chilli – run by Aidan Clarke and Annie Moir and they had decided to end it.  We had the conversation detailed above, checked with Aidan and Annie that they were ok with us rebranding and re-launching (they were their usual lovely and supportive selves) and we went for it!

How did you get involved in running The Stanza?

M: I met Harry Gallagher, me partner in rhyme, at a poetry event in Middlesbrough celebrating Burns Night in 2012. We bumped in to each other lots of times on the poetry scene from Tyneside to Teesside. We were driving back from a Black Light Engine Room poetry workshop in the Boro when we came up with the idea of running a new spoken word night. We thought of a few names before we hit on The Stanza; thanks to Claudia aka Miss Wired.

H: Mandy and I were talking about how we thought Newcastle was missing a poetry night.  There was already a well established and successful night at Jibba Jabba, run by our good friend Jenni Pascoe, but that was about it in Newcastle.  Mandy said, “You should start one!”  I replied something akin to, “Not on your Nelly!”, took a second and then followed it up with “…But I’d run one with you!”  From that it just seemed to grow arms and legs and we got more and more excited by the idea.  Then Mandy’s partner Claudia came along and she glues it all together on the night with great practicality, while we’re floating around like poets are wont to do!

Can anyone come along? 

M: Yes, absolutely anyone can come along. We try to make the whole night as inclusive as we can and our audience are a huge part of the atmosphere and success of the night.

H: A resounding YES!  My own personal viewpoint is similar to Paxman’s much debated opinion from last year – too often you find yourself reading to other poets.  My own big driver is turning new people onto poetry, so the more new faces we see, the happier I am!

What’s the craic with the open mic section?

H: A moot point! We are currently in danger of becoming victims of our own success!  The open mic is wonderfully busy – we have 3 sections built around the main acts and we have just started limiting it to 20 poets, which I suppose is an indicator of how popular poetry has become, that that many people want to get up every month to read.  But the thing I really love is the warm reception EVERYONE gets.

M: We have 3 separate sections for open mic because we want to really encourage new voices from the North East and give a platform for local talent. Also, the open mic sections are so entertaining because you really never know what you’re going to get and it’s really amazing how much talent the North East has. Also we want to create a supportive and friendly place for people to share their work and to develop their performance skills.

How did you get the idea to put paper and pens on the table? What are they for?

M: The idea for the flip chart paper and marker pens on the tables came from Claudia (if you don’t know, Claudia is the lovely lady who sits at the door, takes your cash, convinces you to put your name down for the open mic section and knits). What we want people to do is write, doodle, comment and play around. We’ve had so many brilliant comments, drawings and poems on the papers so far thanks to the awesome audience. We call them Stanza Shorts.

What’s the best bit about running The Stanza?

M: The best thing about running The Stanza is that we get to invite our very favourite poets on to our stage every month to hear their fantastic work. We’re really treating ourselves but, shhhhhh, don’t tell everyone that! Also we have the brilliant Renata and Trev every month bringing their unique sounds to The Stanza which is always a treat and, of course, our eclectic and always entertaining open mic sections where we are always looking out for our next main act to step up.

H: There are two things for me – we get to see all of our favourite poets for starters!  But also for me, I really love the way Mandy gets lit up every month – both the lead up to it and the night itself.  Every month we have a big hug at the end of the night, as if to say, “Fucking hell we did it again!!!”

What’s your dream line-up for The Stanza?

M: My dream line up for The Stanza: Buddy Wakefield, Sophia Walker, Chris Young, Catherine Ayres, Steve Urwin, Kirsten Luckins, Dominic Berry, Jo Bell, Michael Rosen… oh, stop me!!!!

H: I don’t have one.  Every month has been just great.  For me what makes it is the wonderful generosity of spirit the audience bring along.  Add to that the massive amount of talent that seems to assemble itself in the room every month and who needs dreams.  Though if we are really talking dreams, I wouldn’t mind old Wilf Owen and Stevie Smith dropping by one month.  Martin Newell, a more contemporary genius everyone should be acquainted with, could hold their coats…

Harry and Mandy are a great team.

Harry and Mandy are a great team.