18 December 2019

An Oulipian 2020

Been thinking about New Year’s resolutions. Last year’s worked well - writing and submitting every month. For 2020, I might try and keep that up. I'm also going to do some kind of writing project related to stained glass, try and dabble in a bit of photography (pick up where my City & Guilds left off, maybe) and I’m going to see if I can read all the Perec books I own that for some reason I haven’t got round to reading. Here are some I’ve read in French and some I haven’t. I'm currently reading L'Infra-ordinaire. I was going to read all the French ones, but tbh I might read La Vie Mode d'Emploi in translation as Life A User's Manual as I've had the original since probably around 1992 (if I could be bothered going upstairs to look in the front, I could tell you the precise year, and probably where I was living at that point - but I'm busy writing this) and been overwhelmed by its immense pagination and tiny weeny font size. Tell me what else I might need to add to the reading pile. Be reasonable, like. No crosswords in the mother tongue, for example.

04 November 2019

Big Macc

November already - how did that happen? It means it's only a couple of weeks until the first LIT Macc festival, a brand-new weekend of stories and light, with loads of activities lined up over three days - more here. On Saturday 23rd from 6pm, six of us will be standing up in a church, reading the short stories we've written especially for the Macc Stories event, and it's promising to be really fab - lots of different themes, lots of different styles, lots to get into and take away. Joining the party are David Gaffney, Abi Hynes, Nicholas Royle, Reshma Ruia, Joe Stretch and me, so three of the Victoria Baths Re/Place(s) gang reunited, three of the Refract:19 FaxFiction lot back together and two of the Story Cities crew. Really looking forward to it! What's more, each of the six stories is being treated to its very own image taken especially for the purpose by Simon Buckley of the Not Quite Light project and festival (see one of his Macclesfield images below) - yes, the man behind that Lowry-esque image recently featured in the Observer.

Join us in the United Reformed Church on Macclesfield's Park Green, aptly near the Silk Museum, which features in my story, the title of which will in itself take all my ten minutes to read ("A Blast Of Light And Then It’s Gone", which is a quote I've reappropriated from an interview I did a few years back with Miles Lambert, Curator - Costume at Manchester Art Gallery & Gallery of Costume, about an Ossie Clark exhibition, part inspiration for this new piece). There's a Facebook event page to go and like here; and tickets are on sale through Eventbrite over here, although you can always pay on the door. Switch the lights off when you leave, would you?

02 September 2019

Integrated transport system

News just in – I’ve somehow managed to find my way onto the list of Best British & Irish Flash Fiction 2018-2019. This year, TSS Publishing put the BIFFY50 decision-making into the hands of Barbara Byar, Neil Campbell, Elisabeth Ingram Wallace and Rebecca Williams, so thank you to those guys.

My Victoria Baths Residency continues apace and this week sees me witnessing the Gala Pool being filled for only the third time since the complex shut its doors to the swimming public back in 1993, in readiness for the upcoming Swim For Restoration Weekend. Saturday will feature me performing some of my water-related flash fiction pieces written while I’ve been Writer-in-Residence, along with the announcement of the winner of the Splash Fiction Competition we launched at the Weekend Of Words and readings by some of the shortlisted writers – the hour-long event starts at 1pm; more here.

 From 1pm on Saturday 5 October, I’m one of six writers purveying their wares in a vintage caravan as part of the Burnley Literary Festival event Flash In A Van (geddit?). The others are Michael Conley, Kate Feld, David Gaffney, Tania Hershman and Fat Roland, so a fun afternoon should ensue. I’m putting together a set list of transport-related pieces. Expect boats, trains, possibly cars, maybe trams, and definitely a caravan.

The week later, on Saturday 12 October, starting at 2pm (all these afternoon gigs!), Sally Barrett launches her latest Mid Life Crisis Zine, ‘The Alice One’, at Chorlton’s Dulcimer. I’m one of the readers, as a slightly numbers-led, constraint-driven, experimental-y, Oulipian-esque story I wrote (inspired by overnight trains and canal boats) especially for the Alice In Wonderland-inspired tome while vacationing in Spain was accepted for publication, which was rather nice. The launch event will have Nell Osborne of No Matter headlining, and readings from (confirmed so far) editor Sally, Helen Clare, Joe Darlington, Anna Percy, and Tim Allen and Rachel Sills from Peter Barlow’s Cigarette. More here.

At the end of November, the 23rd, to be exact, I’m also due to appear at Macclesfield LIT Fest, and I’m expecting to announce further dates, including the launch of the Love Bites Buzzcocks-themed anthology coming out soon on Dostoyevsky Wannabe. Phew.

31 July 2019

Ship ahoy!

Although absolutely anxiety-inducing and nerve-wracking, the FaxFiction event turned out great. To use some boating terms, plain sailing and without a hitch (almost - had to swap out the word "archipelago" from my story when I realised in dress rehearsal that I really couldn't say it into the mic. Yes, reader, we had a dress rehearsal!). And as well as managing to write another new short story related to water (you know the drill by now, right?), I also successfully recorded the Shipping Forecast from the analogue kitchen radio then transferred my selected sections onto a recently procured but still old Dictaphone (my original one has died; it is ancient). I also created a set for the stage show - a microcosm of a yacht's chart table, complete with sailing books, bird encyclopedia, boat wellies, binoculars, an old ensign and genuine log book and other ephemera and general flotsam and jetsam. And I read the story along to a soundtrack of a gaff-rigged sailboat at sea, for added atmosphere, on an actual rainy and blustery evening at the Waterside arts centre. All good - here's a couple of pictures (first one courtesy audience member Phil Olsen; thank you, Phil).

11 July 2019

Time's sailing by...

Life as the inaugural Writer-in-Residence at Victoria Baths has been bobbing along very well and while I've not been in attendance at the Hathersage Road bathhouses much this last month, I've been busy behind the scenes - taking a tour of Withington Baths, for starters, with its fuggy full pool, and researching Chorlton Baths, now sadly shut to the public.

Weekend Of Words at the beginning of June was well attended and received a deluge of lovely comments - the creative writing workshops seemed to go down a treat, the Poetry Panel drew a crowd (including the Poet Laureate, still then, I think, Carol Ann Duffy) and Saturday evening's Re/Place(s) event featuring six specially commissioned completely new short stories saw our quota of deckchairs filled (see below; thanks to Gwen Riley-Jones for the fab photos), and someone who works at The Portico Library was overheard saying how much they enjoyed it. All kinds of book-based and literature-leaning activities took place on the Sunday, and the Baths were abuzz with writers and readers alike enjoying performances - poetry, plays, storytelling and even singing.

It fired me up to write a kind of coda to the piece I premiered at Re/Place(s), revisiting my character in later years as he looks back on his time as the caretaker - this will be something like the seventh story, each of varying lengths and voices and perhaps even genres, that I've been inspired to write since diving in to my Writer-in-Residence role. They're not necessarily about swimming or the pool per se, but each has water as a quite significant feature, and I've been setting them free into the world; more on that below.

The Gala Pool at Victoria Baths is filled once a year, and the next Swim Weekend will be 7 and 8 September, when I'm aiming to put on a performance of some of the work I've been whittling away at, alongside, hopefully, the winner and runners-up of the Splash Fiction writing competition we're currently inviting entries for. Full details of that can be found here - please send in stories on the theme of water, up to 300 words long, by midnight on Sunday 4 August.

Following on from my (possibly) creative non-fiction piece The General Synopsis At Midday finding a home in the upcoming Port anthology, coming out with Dunlin Press later in the year (as reported in my last missive), I have written another longer piece (for me) about sailing, this one going the opposite direction on the Irish Sea in trusty boat Hedhyu, and featuring (at least for the time being) another Shipping Forecast-inspired title. I'm allowed; I'm a Day Skipper. I'll be performing Falling More Slowly at the end of the month as part of the rather unique FaxFiction project and performance, when short stories meet sound installations at Waterside’s Refract:19 festival as myself and five other writers (and a sound artist) premiere brand-new work about old-old tech… more on that in Creative Tourist here and ShortStops here. Tickets are available here.

Meanwhile, an experimental 'prose poem' (maybe), Let's Go Round Again, was spurred on by memories of rain-soaked canal journeys through France with Hedhyu brought to the fore by spotting the Canal du Rhône à Sète from the Paris-Barcelona train while I was abroad recently, and the 600-word piece (that's normally massive for me!) Warning Signs also had its beginnings in the very same holiday notebook (Barcelona-Paris this time), and puts into words some of the experiences of taking Hedhyu along the French rivers. Let's Go Round Again appears soon in the 'Alice' issue of Midlife Crisis zine, hopefully with a launch in Manchester; Warning Signs has just been accepted by Lighthouse Journal. Which is rather apt, don't you think?

10 May 2019

It's all going swimmingly

Got to say, 2019 is panning out quite nicely, creativity wise. My secret New Year's Resolution to try and write and submit pieces every month isn't going so badly, and as well as finding a home for a 250-word short-short story Feet In A Yard in the lovely-looking anthology Story Cities, out next month on Arachne Press (with a launch event at the shiny new Manchester Blackwell's bookshop on 27 June), a longer piece, possibly even creative nonfiction, The General Synopsis At Midday, harking back to life on yacht Hedhyu as we traversed the Irish Sea, has made its way into Dunlin Press's upcoming Port collection of poetry, prose, paintings and beyond.

Sticking with the water theme, and remember that funding application I mentioned earlier in the year? Well, I'm over the moon to say that it was successful, so now I'm immersed in a new role as Writer-in-Residence at Victoria Baths. As part of this (but not exclusively - more on life as a Writer-in-Residence very soon... watch this space!), I'm helping to put together the first-ever Weekend of Words festival, running over three days from 7 to 9 June 2019. (What the heck, read my write-up for Creative Tourist here.) As well as inviting some great writers on board to run writing workshops in flash fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction on Saturday morning and join the Poetry Panel on Saturday afternoon, I've also had the privilege, once again, to commission brand-new stories in the third iteration of the Re/Place project, to be performed on Saturday evening. 

Re/Place(s) - with "s" for "swimming" - invites you to dive into the public places and secret spaces of Manchester’s Water Palace via six specially commissioned site-specific short stories performed by established and emerging writers against a backdrop of magical projections. Alongside me, there's: Kate Feld, recently spotted in Jon McGregor's The Letters Page and also Hotel, no less; David Gaffney, currently polishing his third novel and working on his second graphic novel with comic book artist Dan Berry; Phil Olsen, the brand-new Fiction Editor of Sabotage Reviews (so be nice to him); Joe Stretch, whose third novel The Adult won the Somerset Maugham Award and who's working on his fourth, he tells me, and Lara Williams, the author of short story collection Treats and also the novel Supper Club, which is due for UK release in July with a very snappy cover. 

Grab a drink and a deckchair and enjoy the evening! I'm planning some surprises, but I'm hoping it will be ace anyway - and, let's face it, sitting in a swimming pool is pretty special.

More details of the event and info about the contributors over on the Re/Place website here, and - roll up, roll up! - get your tickets here.

23 April 2019

European collaboration

I was delighted to be invited to participate for a fourth time in the now annual European Camarade, part of the European Poetry Festival, put together by poet-organiser extraordinaire SJ Fowler. Last year, I collaborated with flash fiction maestro David Gaffney; the year before that with Fat Roland (of Flashtag and Bad Language fame) in Manchester and Tom Jenks, formerly of The Other Room, in Leeds. 

This year, Jazz Linklater, of Carcanet Press and one-third of avant evening No Matter, kindly agreed to collaborate with me and we had much fun creating some brand-new work and performing it at Manchester's International Anthony Burgess Foundation on Saturday 13 April.  Our piece "900" was a mash-up of three gallery trips each, three sets of cafe-bar scribbles each and three dreams each. We wrote for 15 minutes flat on each occasion, then combined the results into a piece per gallery, per cafe and per dream each, and then swapped out the nouns, adjectives and verbs between our two lots of pieces. The resulting text was slightly surreal and at times funny and other times slightly sinister. You can watch us reading it here.

Here's the intro: One Five Oh times three equals four-fifty times two equals nine hundred. 900.
 To dream of the number 900 represents feelings about an ending or closure that feels chaotic. Unpredictably ending something. Alternatively, it may reflect an attempt to use creative skills to plan an unusual ending to a situation.

22 March 2019

Smokes and smokelongs

I've been asked to read at Peter Barlow's Cigarette, which is a real honour as it's one of my favourite regulars on the brimming Manchester live literature scene. I'm sharing the stage with three other writers: Gilbert Adair, who co-founded and curated the Sub-Voicive poetry reading series; Patricia Farrell, whose most recent publication is the visual text series A Space Completely Filled With Matter, published by Veer, and Colin Herd, who has tons out, including with Knives Forks & Spoons, Boiler House Press, Red Ceilings Press and, upcoming, Dostoyevsky Wannabe, so at least we share the latter. Still, please don't tell them I'm not an avant garde poet. Having said that, I am currently tinkering away on some new work with constraints other than just wordcount and have had my nose in a lot of books about OuLiPo and by OuLiPo. 

PBC#31 takes places Saturday 6 April, 4-6pm, at Waterstone's Deansgate, in city centre Manchester. It's free in and you get a glass of wine, so what's not to like? More here.

01 March 2019

Time marches on

Gosh, it’s only 1 March (Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus to you) and so much has already happened in 2019 in Live Literature Land (see all the pictures here and keep up-to-date with upcoming developments over at Creative Tourist) and with Project Writing. On that front, January saw the publication of one of my Re/place stories with Reflex Fiction and the signing of a contract (official!) agreeing to another flash fiction appearing in the University of Greenwich anthology Story Cities, to be published in the summer by Arachne Press. I’ve been sticking to last year’s resolution to submit pieces at least once a month, and I’ve also been busy writing new things (not just previews and advertorials, I promise) and tinkering with an application to fund a very exciting commission, which will include events and the creation of a body of work, so fingers and toes crossed for a successful outcome. I’ve had the honour of being asked to perform at the European Poetry Festival, and will be teaming up with Jazz Linklater at the Burgess Foundation in April, and also at Peter Barlow’s Cigarette the same month, at Waterstone’s Deansgate, and I’ve been back “on stage” at February’s outing of The Other, swapping work with poet Martin Kratz and wearing my readers in public for the first time.

Top left: PN Review launch Benjamin Nehammer 23 January; Top right: Poetry Pop Jukebox Co-op Emily Oldfield 24 January; Middle left: Manchester Prize Matthew Frost & James Draper 1 February; Middle right: The Other Steph Lonsdale & Hilary Robinson 7 February; Bottom left: Peter Barlow's Cigarette Dan Eltringham 9 February; Bottom right: Poets & Players Lavinia Greenlaw 23 February.

23 February 2019

Stranger things

Managed to catch the photographic exhibition at Central Library of the Manchester music scene, There Is A Light That Never Goes Out, just before the lights went out, i.e. on its penultimate day (it finished yesterday). 

Documenting the rise of punk, post-punk, Factory Records, The Haçienda, Madchester and beyond, the show (presented by Rockarchive.com) featured photographs of the likes of Buzzcocks, The Fall, Joy Division, The Smiths and so on taken by the likes of Howard Barlow, Jill Furmanovsky and the once ubiquitous (I used to be photo librarian at City Life, back when photos needed librarians) Kevin Cummins. 

Below is a picture of the contact sheet for a famous Joy Division photo-shoot (the selected Furmanovsky print is beneath it), photobombed by a copy of the book We Were Strangers. In an odd coincidence, the very same week (today, actually), Lavinia Greenlaw performed a poem inspired by Joy Division during her set at Poets & Players in the Whitworth Art Gallery, then Love Will Tear Us Apart was blasted out over the PA as the audience dissipated. 

We Were Strangers is the collection of short stories inspired by Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures album, edited by Richard V Hirst, designed by Zoë McLean, and out now with Manchester-based independent press Confingo Publishing. Here's the track listing:

Disorder - Nicholas Royle
Day Of The Lords - Jenn Ashworth
Candidate - Jessie Greengrass
Insight - David Gaffney
New Dawn Fades - Sophie Mackintosh
She's Lost Control - Zoe Lambert
Shadowplay - Toby Litt
Wilderness - Eley Williams
Intervene - Louise Marr
I Remember Nothing - Anne Bilson

Anne's story I Remember Nothing (the lyrics of which give the anthology its name) has just been announced as being included in the 11th volume in the Best Horror Of The Year series.

Find out more from Confingo and buy a copy of We Were Strangers hereUnknown Pleasures turns 40 on 15 June, so readings from the book will undoubtedly ensue - watch this space for details of live literature events in and around Manchester: Creative Tourist.