Tuesday, 13 December 2011

The Times and Chicken House Children's Fiction Competition


I am blowing a trumpet today, and it is my very own. Not the easiest instrument to play, and it probably sounds pretty repulsive, but sometimes the occasion warrants a bit of a parp.


Today I found out that my novel The Tarney Scalp has been longlisted for The Times & ChickenHouse Children’s Fiction Competition. (There’s a short excerpt available under the ‘novel’ tab at the top of this blog.)


The longlist of 16 novels is whittled down from 2,000 or more apparently, so I feel I’ve already won a great prize. The fact that a Chicken House editor now has no choice but to read the manuscript is an added bonus!


Excerpts from all the longlisted novels will be appearing in The Times Online sometime soon, which is an exciting opportunity in itself. I’ve no idea how many people read The Times’ books section, but it’s got to be good exposure.


I’ve tried to look back and evaluate how I got to this point, having been scribbling away for years without any real belief that anyone would take any notice.


  • Being a regular member of the Brick Lane Writers’ Group has definitely been a factor, and I’d recommend writers’ groups to anyone who wants to gain momentum as well as oodles of feedback.
  • Going on residential writing courses or retreats (with Ty Newydd and Arvon) has also helped, providing motivation, a sense of a community of writers, and of course more invaluable feedback from professionals.
  • I have only just begun sending my work out to journals and competitions, beginning in September this year, and a series of small successes in that regard has made me feel that I am on the right track and writing is not futile. It’s reassuring to know that even if not everything you write is great, sometimes you hit the spot and that is enough. Sending something off with a view to publication really helps to crystallise your own view of the work, especially when you have to pay to enter a competition. After all, you only want your best words to be read by editors and potential audiences.



Having said all that, I have found it a strange experience having stories published. Perhaps it is the control freak in me, panicking at the idea that I cannot influence who reads them and what they might think about my writing. Suddenly something you have nurtured is cut loose, and has a life outside of your own domain. It brings self-doubt to the surface as much as it does any sense of pride or achievement. Perhaps that is just the curse of creativity though, and I am always suspicious of people who reveal no self-doubt at all. How else do we improve except by believing we could do better?

So, back to that draft of my next novel then...

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Paper cutting and book making

A papercut for one of my short stories

Well, a week off from Mind and Language after National Blog Posting Month felt more like a week on with everything else. Luckily the everything else was creative too, though not all of the kind I enjoy. I have been wrestling with Adobe Indesign for the first time, trying to format my picture book (see the ‘papercuts’ tab above for a couple of images). I knew I could get frustrated with computers, but this took the stress to new heights, not helped by attempting to finish it within the 30 day limit of the software free trial. But, I’ve got something resembling a book, in electronic form at least, though I doubt the next stages will be any easier.

During the E17Arts Trail this year, when over 100 venues opened their doors to the curious, I visited an artists’ studio where they have an ancient traditional printing press. I won’t be able to use that to print from a PDF, but they also have a professional guillotine that can slice through inches of paper (or fingers) in one ker-chunk, and I am hoping they will let me use to cut the edges flush on my picture book. 

While I was there someone also showed me how to hand stitch a slim booklet spine, so I plan to retrieve that memory from wherever I lodged it and do the same. She made it look so easy...

So, my self-imposed Christmas deadline is looking unrealistic, but I’m on course to make my own book, which will be immensely satisfying. I’ve already started paper cutting for the next one, so I need to prove to myself that I can reach a finished product and all those hours with the craft knife will not have been in vain!

In the meantime a couple of my papercuts will be published in an anthology of stories and illustrations, Duality 6, one of them to complement my very own short story which is also in the book. You can see my hopeless attempt to photograph it above; it will be interesting to see how different it looks in print from the excellent photographs my brother took of my paper cuts for my own book. It was such a painstaking process that I intend to document it here fully for the benefit of other papercutters, so watch this space if you are interested in such obscure matters.

Paper cutting is a far more serene activity than it sounds. I imagined it would be horribly stressful – just one slip with the knife and hours of work is potentially ruined (I’m resisting that ‘on a knife edge’ pun), but actually it is so absorbing as to be meditative. In that respect I find it quite addictive and it is a great antidote to writing. I’ve got a long way to go when it comes to thinking in shapes rather than words, and it’s difficult to overcome the urge to make notes and instead start sketching. Still, I’ll breathe a huge sigh of relief when this messing about with publishing software and printers is over and I can return to a sheet of origami paper and a craft knife.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

NaBloPoMo day 30 - it's all over!

National Blog Posting Month has contributed to a particularly inspiring November for me. So much other creative activity has been rustling away in the background but this blog project of writing 100 words for art every day set the pace and kept my mind in creative mode. So, it's been time-consuming but has had the usual effect of upping the productivity all round. Best of all, I have discovered some amazing artists whose work might otherwise have passed me by, and been able to share their visual wonders with other people who (like me) aren't able to spend afternoons drifting around London galleries very often.

So, day 30 is a bit of a cheat, as my 100 word drabble today is to go with the photograph that appears at the top of this blog. It's not art, it's not in an exhibition and it never will be, but I get to make the editorial decisions around here! And for once it's based on a true story. I'll be back in December to write about writing,  and probably about art too.


When the sharp brambles blur, when the puffballs turn to clouds between my toes and the horizon tips, it’s not because I’m out of breath. The footprints are invisible but they are yours, pressed here in the night when only a fox could see and we were blind, shrunk by sky. I hardly slept that night and I know why: it was to remember, every star that hurtled by, every glint of the fox’s eye, circling, sniffing for our souls. And we left some traces of them here, for the fox, for me when I trace your footprints through pines.


Tuesday, 29 November 2011

NaBloPoMo day 29 - Jonathan Leaman at Beaux Arts Cork Street

It was hard to pick out one of Jonathan Leaman's paintings; they are all magical. This one suggested a mysterious ritual to me, and I'd love to know where the image came from - folklore or pure imagination. You can see the paintings at Beaux Arts Cork Street until 17th December.

It's All the Same Electricity courtesy of Jonathan Leaman
When it came my year to hang the bells, now I’d turned sixteen, I asked Flora Fletcher along. It was my opportunity. But when I knocked at her door, bag clanging, breath held, she wasn’t there. Gone down the dunes with Bobby, her mum said.
It didn’t ruin it completely. I hung the bells to charm the bees and said the honey prayer. The wind set them chiming and just then a flutter of white whipped up from the beach followed by a giggle on the breeze. It lodged there on the bell bush like a flag: Flora Fletcher’s shirt.

Monday, 28 November 2011

NaBloPoMo day 28 - Suzaane Moxhay in Print and Design Now! at Bearspace

The Print and Design Now! collective exhibition at Bearspace looks like a rich feast - so many wonderful images, but Suzanne Moxhay's appealed to the lover of myth in me. It is impossible to look at this image without conjuring up some epic tale to explain this being rising from the forest. It reminded me of the Mayan structures that poke above the canopy in parts of Mexico and Guatemala, suggesting gods as much as the bloodthirsty people who created them. The show runs until 16th December.

Feralis courtesy of Suzanne Moxhay

They knew their gods, and where they lived, in red-stained temple rooms. They knew how happy they must be, flooded with gifts of blood and grain and flowers. The cry rang out: had they erred, somehow? Surrounded, crowded, forever shaped by trees, had they forgotten a tree god amongst the monstrous throng? The cry rang out again: give all you have in trunk and branch shape, sap and spreading leaf shape. Limbs dropped and slumped in the leaf mould. Blood spattered bark. The shrieks told them the pain of cut trees, and they cut until the forest, sated, fell silent.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

NaBloPoMo day 27 - Michael Wolf's Tokyo Compression at Flowers Kingsland Road

Michael Wolf's photographs of Tokyo are both shocking and beautiful. The images of seemingly edgeless apartment blocks are probably best described as sublime, being beyond comprehension in many ways, impossible to really take in all at once. Somehow he turns photographs of commuters suffering journeys that make the London Underground rush hour seem like a walk in park by comparison into something serene, often bringing to mind religious imagery. His show Tokyo compression is at Flowers Kingsland Road until 7th January 2012.

Tokyo Compression #75 courtesy of Michael Wolf

I have breath, I have patience. I have learned mediation. I have this fantasy, of turning into a snake and sliding between the monsters whose elbows dig into my spine, whose buttocks sweat against mine. I administer silent bites to ankles; one by one they slump, jaws hang, muscles slacken, and I burst from my snake skin, clean and pure. Every day I kill them off like this, then open my eyes as the doors slide for my stop and nod, thank you, thank you, as I slither out­­. Every night I wash it away and become human again.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

NaBloPoMo day 26 - Doreen McPherson in Studio Voltaire's Members Show

I've never seen portraits like Doreen McPherson's before and I found them intriguing. This one gripped me, as did the title, which I used to kick off my 100 word story to go with it. The show continues at Studio Voltaire until 3rd December.

The Man is all Staring at Me courtesy of Doreen McPherson


The man is all staring at me and I think, who looks deeply into my eyes, ever, really? My mother did, searching for lies and the things I liked to hide. A lover, seeking the promises he would not return. The time I told my best friend what I really thought of her tattoo.
What is this one looking for? He’s not giving anything, not taking anything away. His eyes are so open I can look right in and I see a surprising thing, I suppose: peace.
If he sees pain he's not saying anything. Eyes can be deceptive too.

Friday, 25 November 2011

NaBloPoMo day 25 - Thomas Grunfeld's Young Steerer at Hidde van Seggelen

Aside from this art-drabble project for National Blog Posting Month (I'll be glad to write something longer than 100 words in December!) I am currently researching for an article I'm writing on taxidermy in art and literature. So, not surprisingly. this piece of Thomas Grunfeld's caught my eye. It's grotesque but it also made me laugh; the bulldog face looks slightly forlorn in a way that doesn't match its body language. Magnus Mills has written a short story especially for Grunfeld's exhibition catalogue, which is bound to be magnificently dark and hilarious, so my drabble here is second to something greater. The exhibition runs until 3rd December at Hidde van Seggelen.

Misfit (Bulldog/Goat) courtesy of Thomas Grunfeld

I’m mad, me. Game for anything. “Just do it, man!” I yelped. “I wanna be famous!”

My balls were long gone by then anyway, so what was there to lose?

And they do, you know, they keep me in luxury. No more pedigree chum; it’s fillet steak, choccy chews, premium biltong. Dunno why, but it all tastes the same. That’s one thing. A hurtling stick doesn’t do much for me either anymore, but hey, things change.

But what really gets my goat, so to speak, is the clacking racket these new feet make on a parquet floor. Drives me nuts!


Thursday, 24 November 2011

NaBloPoMo day 24 - Lee Maelzer's The Hypnosis of Error at Poppy Sebire

Lee Maelzer's paintings are uneasy, turning the familiar into mournful and sometime spooky views of the world. This one was like the beginning of a modern fairy tale to me, but I turned that on its head somewhat for my 100 word story to go with it. You can see Lee Maelzer's exhibition at Poppy Sebire until 23rd December.

Fright, courtesy of Lee Maelzer

It wasn’t Betty at the window, because she was right behind me with the paraffin lamp. It wasn’t anybody, I realised; just a shred of curtain turning in the breeze.

“Call that spring cleaning?” I asked her, nodding up at it.

“I’ve not been down,” she frowned. “Raccoons, maybe?” Rascals.” Then she dropped the lamp as we both caught sight of the smoke. “Jesus, Mike. Did you come back and fix it?” she said.

I shook my head. “Nope. Still leaking.” We stepped backwards in unison, turned, and as we ran the blast of heat and thunder pounded our backs.