30 May 2011

Just stepped out of the salon

You'll be pleased to know that the Flash Mob Literary Salon was a roaring success. Well, I enjoyed myself, at least, and other people seemed to, including your Toms Fletcher and Jenks, your Chris Killen, your Joe Stretch. Either that, or they were being polite. Oh well. I had fun. I drank copious pints of Hell and I liked wearing my new frock (that is, until Ben suggested it might be see-through, which was a little offputting given that I had to go up on stage another two times. Personally, I don't think it was. And if it was, at least the audience got some cheap thrills). Anyway, other people have written about the event, so I suggest you read what they've said so I can go off and eat some cake.

The evening's been written about by Bad Language's Dan Carpenter on the Chorlton Arts Festival blog (a fantastic innovation by my Chorlton Arts Festival colleague Sarah) here and Nici West here. Our special guest star Nik Perring has written about it here as has my fellow Flash Mobber Dave here. You can now read all twelve of the shortlisted stories in an anthology which we have published online. Whizz on over to the Flash Mob website, and it's all there in glorious technicolor.

Look, I even have pictures. Look, there's a picture of the wonderful Helen from Didsbury Life taking a picture of me. And look, there's Helen's picture of me.

Being gluttons for punishment, the Flash Mob gang, who will henceforth be known as Flashtag (don't ask: this must be the fifth name we've had), are now working on some more events and projects. First up is the Flash Language Literary Pub Quiz we're running in conjunction with Bad Language for the Not Part Of fringe to the Manchester International Festival. That is on Wednesday 6 July at 7.30pm at Barcelona in the Northern Quarter. We're also hoping to be collaborating with Bad Language again for the Oxfam Bookfest later in July.

At the moment we're also putting together an application for September's Didsbury Arts Festival. Our current intention is to possibly run a smut night (my idea). Going on our track history, however, that could all change. Fingers crossed it doesn't.

27 May 2011


When I was in the bar after Station Stories last Friday night, I was invited to join a writing group by two of the storytellers. (I think that one of the points to take away here is that we were in the bar. Still, the invitation hasn't been nixed, so perhaps their judgement wasn't totally clouded by grog.)

Anyway, there are now five of us in the group. I'm not sure who gets to be Timmy the dog. We even have a name: Inklings. Cute, huh? The idea is that once a month two members of the posse circulate some work up to about 5,000 words (though crucially for me, thank the stars, it doesn't have to be more than 500 - I can't imagine 5,000! What does that even /look/ like?), then a week or so later we get together and ransack it. We discuss what is working, what isn't, what needs more detail, what needs less; what will make it is as good as possible.

It's a swell idea, except I've been shitting bricks about the whole thing all week. Everyone seems to be writing a novel. I'm not writing a novel. At least I wasn't. I mean, I might one day. But it will be a Mills & Boon. Um, I am largely incapable of writing anything more than 400 words. I can't even rumble out a standard short story most of the time. Anyway, noone seems to give a monkeys, so I calmed down a bit; stopped mainlining gin and put the knives away.

And then I saw my horoscope: "Working with a diverse group won't be easy, but it will be illuminating. You can learn valuable skills from a young renegade character. In return, you will give your group comfort and stability."

Great: I'm comfortable and stable, like a pair of M&S slippers.

26 May 2011


The day has arrived. The day of reckoning, the day of truth. The big day for the Flash Mob conspirators: the pop-up Flash Mob Literary Salon. (Read more in a previous post HERE and indeed HERE.) It all kicks off at 7.30pm upstairs in Dulcimer as part of the wonderful Chorlton Arts Festival, so I hope to see you there. I have a new dress channelling Anna Karina in Pierrot Le Fou and I have promised to dance, so it would be rude of you not to put in an appearance.

The absolutely ace Nik Perring - short-short story writer extraordinaire and our star turn for the soiree - has been chatting to me about the event on the Chorlton Arts Festival blog: click HERE to read. And he let me loose on his own blog: how cool is that? See my guest appearance HERE.

25 May 2011

Ambitious ideas

Yesterday, I popped by the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, aka my current second home (just after my real home and slightly before The Castle), for an evening of poetry and prose hosted by Ambit Magazine. This literary quarterly has been going since 1959 and lists among its contributors a certain Mr William Seward Burroughs, which I'd say is a good thing.

Jim Burns introduced proceedings, and first up was Edmund Prestwich with various poems inspired by Africa, in particular South Africa where he was brought up. You can read some of them on his website, including Egrets and Moshoeshoe And The Cannibals.

Next at the lecturn was Nicholas Royle, who explained he's been submitting to Ambit since he started writing in the 80s. He'd half-written, especially for the reading, a short story called The Head; he swore to me and Adrian that he'll finish it at some point, so we'll have to hold him to that. He then read The Lancashire Fusilier, his Station Stories contribution. That's my third listen, and it's still incredibly moving.

After a break, Jim was back, with some of his very funny poems. Dirty Old Blues was great, and I was pleased to be transported to Shakespeare & Co in Paris through La Vie de Boheme.

David Gaffney followed, telling us that Ambit was the first place his short Sawn-off Tales stuff was published. He'd already let slip to me that he wasn't going to read any proper stories, instead giving us 2,000 words or so made up of as yet unused material from his ideas folder. "Call it Ideas That Never Happened, if you like", he said. I had been characteristically sceptical; the result, in fact, was hilarious.

The final slot was Joan Poulson, another poet. I enjoyed No Teetering, about shoes and her imaginary dog named after Frida Kahlo, and containing the lovely line "out to the licorice-dark garden".

20 May 2011

Roll up, roll up

Look, I've written a review of Station Stories for Manchester Literature Festival. Having gone on and on and on about it for, like, ever, I thought it was only polite to go along and check it out. Tonight I go along again. It's just as well, because yesterday I was so awestruck by the project not to mention downright nosy and watching folk from various vantage points that a couple of times I somehow forgot to listen. Here, however, are some of the particular lines in the stories when I did pay attention and was duly rewarded...

David Gaffney: "dabbing cream onto her face, like pressing fingers into wet moss".

Jenn Ashworth: "you look like one of them".

Tom Fletcher: "Neuromancer ... 'each rang in turn, but only once, as he passed'".

Peter Wild: "hair like Barbara Stanwyck".

Tom Jenks: "Styrofoam".

Nicholas Royle: "your mam makes me soup now like my mam did".

Nicholas Royle made Guy Garvey cry. Guy Garvey crying. Imagine.

Thanks to Conrad Williams for sharing his ace images. Go and see him at Waterstone's tomorrow from 2pm.

19 May 2011

A moment of fiction #14 - Chorlton Arts Festival special

It's literature events a-go-go at this year's biggest bestest Chorlton Arts Festival, which starts today.

Top of the bill, because I helped organise it, is the Flash Mob Literary Salon, which is the culmination of our amazingly acetastic flash fiction writing competition. It's on Thursday 26 May at 7.30pm in the newly done-up Dulcimer. There will be readings by the 12 shortlisted writers and the five judges (that's a lovely pic of us by the inimitable Gill Moore Photography, dontcha think?), a guest slot from microfictionmeister Nik Perring, fabulous fun and surreal shenanigans, and a glittering gong-giving ceremony. There will be a stage and projections and lights and, if I get pissed enough, dancing girls (I'm kidding). It's going to be broadcast live on Chorlton FM (on air 87.7 FM across South Manchester and online), so even if you can't come down in person, you have no excuse not to still take part.

Next might I flag up my new girlfriends For Books' Sake, who are presenting a free "evening of live music and spoken word" called Books & Blues. There will be "storytelling, spoken word and musical treats", and Jane and Alex, who run the show, are great, so you should totally check them out on Friday 20 May, 7.30pm, at Chorlton Irish Club (please note venue change). Promised is a book swap and "surprises", and, as if that weren't enough, they're only going and having a bloody raffle.

In competition tomorrow are local scribe copland smith and his Manky Poets in Chorlton Library (£2), but you can catch them again on Sunday 22 May at 8pm in The Beech (free) and with their merry band of musician friends on Wednesday 25 May at 8pm in The Spread Eagle (free). If the music and poetry mix floats your boat, there's also a Means To An End on Monday 23 May at 7.30pm in The Lloyds, and Word Musicians same time same place on Thursday 26 May. At The Lloyds on Tuesday 24 May, 7.30pm, is Joe Blue with a collection of monologues and stories.

Both weekends in the Festival calendar host creative writing workshops; both poetry, both wimmin. First (Saturday 21 May) sees Bad Language regular Anna Percy and her Stirred Poetry sidekick Rebecca Audra Smith host a workshop (2-5pm) and open mic evening (7.30pm) at St Ninian's (£3 for both events; £2 for one). Second (Sunday 29 May) sees Paper Planes and Manky Poets regular Sarah L Dixon from 10am in the Library Meeting Room (she usually runs workshops on the first Sunday on the month 1-3pm, £2; for reference, the next is Sunday 5 June; call 07743 685221 or 0161 881 3179 to book).

Last but not least, is a reading by two Salt writers, on Monday 30 May, 7.30pm, in the Library (free). Local novelist Robert Graham will read from his new Salt Modern Voices chapbook, A Man Walks Into A Kitchen, while short story writer Heather Leach will read So Much Time In A Life, from The Best British Short Stories 2011 anthology edited by Nick Royle.

17 May 2011

It's good to stalk

As I was saying on the Twitter only yesterday, it appears I am fast becoming the official Station Stories groupie. I am now going along to the event not once, but twice, and I'm thinking it may be prudent to don a disguise lest the writers start to get twitchy about being stalked. Still, it's all in the name of art: the extra date is so I can write a review for Manchester Literature Festival. In the meantime, you can read another preview written by my fair hand over on the fabulous For Books' Sake site. Here's a link. Don't say I don't treat you well. I'm even going to give you a picture because you've been so good. This one is inspired by David Gaffney's Station Story Hidden Obvious Typical, which I helped edit. Well, when I say "helped", I probably really just hindered. I don't know, but I certainly enjoyed doing it - much as I really relish sinking my teeth into a strategic business plan or an end of year financial report (ahem), it's bloody lovely working on something creative once in a while.

15 May 2011

Normal service resumed

Right then, you may have noticed me going on about upcoming literature project Station Stories, yeah? OK, well, it's going to be ace and I know five of the six writers involved *to talk to and shit* so I wrote a preview of the event. But I didn't write it here; I wrote it elsewhere. I do that sometimes. I wrote it on the Manchester Literature Festival blog because the lovely people there asked me to do it. The very next day, the piece disappeared, which was a teeny bit worrying, but apparently Blogger fell over. Anyway, it's back up now, so go and bloody read it: click here and the interweb will kindly lead you over there without further ado. Then return at some point later this week as I'll be doing a proper review.

11 May 2011

Curious and curiouser

As promised, as planned, yesterday I swung by the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, where I practically live these days. Tony Treahy introduced experimental poet James Davies and flash fiction author David Gaffney and what turned out to be something of a surreal evening, complete with PowerPoint presentations, PhotoShopped images and computer-generated voices.

I've never encountered James before, and his work is definitely out there. Some I found confusing (for example 16 Glass Bead Games; I know nothing of Hermann Hesse, who inspired it); some I found amusing. He opened with a number of "notes" on pieces he's begun and never finished, many not even getting further than a basic idea on a page. There are 44 of these Unmades in his collection Plants, each one with a slightly differing construction:

Conceived 7th May
Written 7th May
Considered 7th May
Rejected 9th May

He then read from his Occasional Poems, but it was the last segment, delivered via two on-screen characters (a man and a woman, called Audrey), that caught my attention and had me and Fat Roland giggling with its great language and mix of made-up words, use of trademarks and celebrity names, and random juxtapositions. We particularly enjoyed the concept of "flea spunk".

Next up, David gave us The King Of PowerPoint, which is the very funny story of Bob's leaving do and the head of IT's deliberations over the accompanying presentation. He then read a couple of stories from the 23 Stops To Hull project (published in his latest collection The Half-life Of Songs), with a tale told about every junction on the M62. These are twinned with a slideshow; I've seen this twice now and the cutesy unicorns floating about Eggborough still made me nearly cry with laughter. Last up was George and his health and safety shed. I don't remember what it's called. My refusal to take notes sometimes disappoints even the hardiest amongst us. I can only apologise.

09 May 2011

Book it, book it real good

This is happening tomorrow. I am going. You should go too. It is free. All the other details are on the flyer. David Gaffney is a flash fiction writer and also a novelist, and he will be reading some short stories from his latest collection The Half-life Of Songs (up for this year's Edge Hill Short Story Prize) and maybe presenting some of his Destroy Powerpoint slides. I can't recommend this enough. James Davies is the organiser of experimental poetry night The Other Room and editor of If P Then Q. He will be performing some poems from his new anthology, Plants. The event will be compered by "the incredible" (apparently) Tony Trehy, text-poet and founder of Text Festival, currently on the go in Bury.

After that, I'm hotfooting it to the Kings Arms in Salford, where my friend and Flash Mob colleague Mr Dave Hartley is co-hosting a Flash Mob quiz with his brother Mr Rick Hartley. Some of the questions will be about books. Benjamin Judge has written a round. I expect that will be about cheese. Or books. It's a quid per person and there are prizes. See Dave's blog for more.

07 May 2011

Pan fried

On Thursday, it rained for the first time in many days, perhaps even weeks. Still, a bit of dampness didn't put off a trip to the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, where Pandril Press were launching their first anthology, Panopticon.

This, we were told, is the product of a year of writing and editing by a group of seven writers who got together through the masters in creative writing at Manchester Metropolitan University, class of 2007. The seven were never introduced, which is a little odd (also odd was that we were specifically instructed not to clap after each reading), but I have deduced from their Facebook page that they are (left to right): Dave Chadwick, Ros Davis, Alison Jeapes, Paul Beatty, Lucia Cox, Iris Feindt and Nicky Harlow (not pictured).

The readings were split into two themes: "lost in translation" and "weird love". Iris kicked off the first half with a really good story about instruction manuals. She was followed by Ros with Isabella, about a soldier groom ("she hadn't expected the word [mulligatawny] to sound like a mouthful of pebbles"); Paul with The Seer (which Fat Roland enjoyed), and finally Dave with a tale taking the mickey out of marketing speak ("diversity tsar" etc). The second half saw Nicky's funny Peverse Fruit, Alison with a story of travelling to Macau, and Lucia Cox with Tarmac Nights, my favourite. Lil Dave wasn't so keen as at least one rabbit was harmed in the telling of it.

02 May 2011

A moment of fiction #13

Well, now we've got that wretched wedding out of the way, let's get back to stories. May is apparently Short Story Month 2011, and there are a few events coming up which have caught my eye; I thought I'd quickly sum them up as A Moment Of Fiction (no submissions stuff, for the moment, I'm afraid; my brain is awash with Flash Mob).

This Thursday (5 May) sees new Manchester-based publisher Pandril Press launch Panopticon, a collection of short fiction by seven emerging writers. The free event takes place at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation on Cambridge Street from 6.30pm. Nicholas Royle will be manning a stall selling Nightjar chapbooks; might I recommend The Field by Tom Fletcher? Comma Press will also be there.

The following Tuesday (10 May, 6.30pm, free - sorry, this originally said Monday, but that's incorrect), the IABF plays host to a joint book launch from The Other Room/If P Then Q poet James Davies (whose collection Plants is published this month) and flash fiction author, novelist and Station Stories creator David Gaffney, whose Edgehill Prize-shortlisted collection The Half-life Of Songs recently came out on Salt. You can read more about David in my flash fiction feature for Creative Times - oh look, here's a link; there's more on the Station Stories project, which takes place later this month, below.

Friday 13 May sees Station Stories contributors Jenn Ashworth and the aforementioned Tom Fletcher combine forces at An Outlet on Dale Street in the Northern Quarter to celebrate the launch of their second novels: Cold Light in the case of Jenn and The Thing on the Shore in the case of Tom. They'll both be reading from 8pm, as will some of their friends from the Northern Lines Fiction Workshop. Jenn promises: "There'll be wine and possibly Twiglets."

Station Stories itself takes place on Thursday 19, Friday 20 and Saturday 21 May, with three performances a day to choose from (midday, 3pm and 7pm). It promises to be a really varied and interesting event, with six writers surreptitiously and not so surreptitiously reading specially commissioned tales of trains and tracks and other things beginning with "tr" around Piccadilly Station. The writers are: David Gaffney, Nicholas Royle, Tom Fletcher, Jenn Ashworth, Peter Wild (of Bookmunch; see more below) and Tom Jenks (also of The Other Room and If P Then Q).

On Tuesday 24 May, from 6.30pm, literary quarterly Ambit Magazine will be holding an evening of poetry and fiction (free), again at the IABF. After an introduction by Ambit editor Martin Bax, there will be poems from Joan Poulson and Edmund Prestwich, and David Gaffney and Nicholas Royle crop up again to read some short stories.

Thursday 26 May sees the Flash Mob Literary Salon, starting at 7.30pm at Dulcimer in Chorlton. There will be readings by the winners and runners-up, something special courtesy the judges (including my good self), and a special appearance from flash fiction author Nik Perring. Part of Chorlton Arts Festival 2011, it's free and will be fabulous; see the Flash Mob website for more.

Stacks of other literature events are taking place as part of this year's Chorlton Arts Festival. Keep checking the website to see what's on; details of the full programme should be released this week. Sneak preview from proofreading the brochure: I'm looking forward to hearing Salt writers Robert Graham and Heather Leach on Monday 30 May, 7.30pm, Chorlton Library (free). Robert will be reading extracts from his new Salt Modern Voices chapbook, A Man Walks Into A Kitchen; Heather will read So Much Time In A Life, included in Salt's new anthology, The Best British Short Stories 2011, edited by Nick Royle. You can read my review of the collection on Bookmunch here.