Thursday, 26 May 2011


Blogger has graciously arranged to return the discussion comments that followed a post sparked by a recent article by Carlo Gebler, entitled in part What You Might Lose By Becoming a Writer. Add them to the coments that peeps kindly rewrote - and we have quite a flood of thoughts from writers of all kinds, reacting to his somewhat depressed ourpourings. Makes interesting reading for any writer. Do we really know what we are getting into?
Post and discussion is here...

Tuesday, 24 May 2011


Driving into Brighton along the Lewes Road, you are driving through a community. Endless little shops. Things for sale displayed on the pavement, passing by in a blur when the lights change. Caffs. A small funeral director on each side of the road. Glimpses of terraced streets running to the left, the right. Bus stops. Kids. A church or two - a hall, Mums pushing buggies into a porch, going somewhere good. Furniture shops - second hand and new. Launderette, I expect - although I might have made that up...Not a lot of green. A few trees struggling to hold their heads up... and quite a way further on, past the intersection with Elm Grove, a wide space, the levels, a park where the fair sits down for a rest once a year, otherwise it is one of Brighton and Hove's lungs, green and peaceful - kind of - as peaceful as you get in Brighton.... Tall tall old trees, with gracious and rather lovely regency terracing overlooking....rather different to the street you've just driven down.

Back on Lewes Road, between two of the side streets there was a patch of derelict ground. An eyesore. A place where maybe you wouldn't want to walk barefoot... certainly wouldn't want to let your kids play...It had been like that for a very long time. Various 'For Sale' notices appeared now and again. Then one day, things changed. On the earth, a chair or two. A painted table. Then some raised beds - a notice declaring this a Community Garden - making use of a dead space for a while - always people there, kids, people growing things, somewhere to meet, colour, sound, and it was funny to watch how people like me, who were only passing through in their cars, slowed down to look - glimpse something lifted the spirits.

Growing things on a bit of borrowed ground - sounds idyllic...until the owners of the site took the gardeners to court. And the gardeners attended court unrepresented...not that that would have made a difference, probably. This was the outcome.

I was particularly cross to hear someone saying the ground was contaminated... and that's why they were pulling the garden down. What rubbish. The diggers and bulldozers, driven and organised by workmen wearing not one mask between them... fling the earth (much of it topsoil brought from elsewhere for the raised beds) high in the sir, scattering dust far and wide. If there were contaminants, they are sure as hell in the lungs of the locals by now.
Cost of destroying the garden... a lot.
Cost of creating the garden... nil.

Sad. We all lose out when things like this happen.
Pics from HERE and from the Community Garden's own website, complete with lovely gallery - where you can read the whole story...HERE

Sunday, 22 May 2011


'Are MFA Programs Ruining American Fiction?'--- and by extension, are all writing progs ruining fiction in general? That is the title of an article I read recently. My reply? Nah of course they are not - on the contrary, they are encouraging, and helping, and honing.. aren't they - anything that brings new writers to publishers is good, if you ask me. But it is an interesting debate, isn't it? How do you mark manuscripts without imposing some criteria? I'm sure, if a student is clever, and wants to get good marks, they submit work they know fits the criteria, whether or not they intend to write like that in future. I'd love to reproduce an email from a fab young writer of my acquaintance, frustrated but amused at having to send in work they would 'not write off my own bat in a million years, and never will again' - However - I digress. That's the system, and if you want the qualification, you play the game. And you learn, despite yourself, probably, on the way. And my fab young writer may well be taking in all sorts of things that will feed the communication of all her amazing creations at a later date. But the article underlines a truth - you can be taught all sorts of craft - how to make your prose fine and dandy - but no one can teach your brain to come up with interesting and original stuff. Can they?
Article is in full, HERE
Here are some quotes....

“MFA grads with nothing to say are now able to say it more skillfully, (HA!! love it!) but authors were pretty good at being boring before university writing programs came along and would surely go on being boring if every MFA program were wiped off the face of the earth. The programs don't make them dull, even if they also can't make them interesting.”
“Lucidity, striking word combinations, evocative descriptions, inventive metaphors, smooth transitions and avoidance of word repetition, does not necessarily lead to more interesting or appealing books.”
“Anything that helps good writers publish more good books is fine by me, and the programs at the very least provide teaching jobs for talented authors who might otherwise have difficulty making a living because their work is insufficiently commercial..”

Really interesting article – very thought provoking, and I enjoyed the read because it does not come down heavily one way or the other but gives a good overview of arguments for and against.
Read, inwardly digest and discuss away then. But here are my own views...
I am slightly interested in the assertions in author bios that they have a degree, masters, M Phil, PhD, or something else, in Writing – mentioned as if it gives weight to the work that would otherwise not be there. Maybe all it is saying is ‘My work has been found worthy by others, not just my Mum’, a bit like listing publications and other successes. Or maybe I am jealous – but I don’t think so. I AM however, very jealous of the company they kept for a few years. I AM jealous of the space they had - both actual and metaphorical - to write, the permission to create, the synergy that builds up in a group of writers, the tussle, the buzz, ideas flying, the challenges thrown out from their peers and betters. The opportunities and permission to discover and try new things. I AM also jealous of the network opportunities missed, because as we all know, in this game one helluva lot depends on contacts. And to teach at a university, one needs to have a university qualification - and so the circle tightens...However.
I know many writers who teach at the highest level, have worked with some and found them extremely exciting and inspirational teachers- and would love to spend regular time with them, chewing over craft issues, discussing a piece of contentious work – published or not - and I almost did just that, once, some years back. But it didn’t go as planned.
The truth is, that had I stayed on a well-respected course, I would not have written ‘The Coward’s Tale’, as I was told not to, and for me, not writing it and doing something more acceptable for the course, wasn't an option.

But I am therefore completely unqualified in Creative Writing. But please note, I am not unqualified to write. Or to create.


Thursday, 19 May 2011


Copied from The Coward's Journey Blog, linked over there somewhere, where I am following all the stages to publication in November...Brilliant! Now I know where I am, and where I''m going. I have a map - and so do my characters. It is very interesting, as I said before, and none too easy, to create a map of a fictitious place. It made me see where characters had turned right to go left, if you follow me... (I wouldn't if I were you!) Beautiful, isn't it? All the main characters are located carefully, close to the place that means the most to them. So - clockwise from the top, you have:
Tommo Price, by the tunnel on the old coal line
Laddy Merridew, on the Brychan Estate (that's his gran's house...)

below them there is:
Icarus Evans in his caravan, surrounded by feathers

continuing round the edge, there is:
Peter Edwards, near Deep Pit (closed...)
James Little, by his allotment which he digs at night
Ianto Jenkins, the beggar, close to Ebenezer Chapel where he sleeps on a stone bench in the porch
Judah Jones, near the park where he finds silver leaves

moving left there is:
Factual Philips, at the Public Library, where he is Deputy Librarian and is probably reading The Collected Adventures of Sherlock Holmes on the quiet...
Tutt Bevan, the undertaker, off for a walk, soon,
Baker Bowen, in his house at the bottom of Steep Street, doing anything but baking

and at nine o'clock there is:
Matty Harris (and his wife Eunice, who will be red-faced with fury at being left off the map)
Mrs Bennie Parrish (who will be delighted to be included...)
Nathan Bartholomew, at The Cat Public House - where he's a lodger

and last but not least, for the last shall be first...
Half Harris, at 11 Maerdy St.

Bless 'em.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011


Brighton Festival Fringe Flash Slam Saturday May 21st, 8 pm – hosted by the somewhat incomparable Damian Barr at Hendrick’s Horseless Carriage of Curiosities /– Jubilee Square, Brighton.

The Festival Fringe website says this...
The ultimate short short short short story competition! Well-known writers Niven Govinden, Vanessa Gebbie and Stuart Evers read their Flash Fictions aloud and judge yours! Strict rules apply. Your story must be 3 minutes or less. Your story must be entitled ‘the End’. Prize: £100. Free entry: names drawn randomly on night. Complementary decadent libation included
Damian Barr is a journalist, Radio 4 playwright, Host of the Soho House Literary Salon and cultural entrepreneur among other things...
Stuart Evers is the author of “Ten Stories about Smoking” (Picador) among other things...
Niven Govinden is the author of “We Are The New Romantics” (Bloomsbury) and Graffiti My Soul (Canongate)

Full details and booking info HERE >>> Brighton Fringe website

Sunday, 15 May 2011


I am deeply indebted to Oscar Windsor-Smith for another coveted award - not only did I get an 'Oscar', a while back, but I now have a Versatile Blogger Award... thank you Oscar.
We are meant to pass it on to a million others, and also to divulge seven little-known facts about ourselves. The first I won't do - and if it's one of those things that visits at midnight and strikes one dead in one's sleep - so be it. The second, I guess I better had - or it would have been churlish to accept the award.

1. I once ate half a worm. My best friend ate the other half. It was a sort of bonding thing - we were six. I can let you know worms are very gritty. And a bit slimy too.
2. I had a common childhood operation at the age of seven. I smuggled my teddy into the room where I was sedated, no one noticed, and it came with me onto the operating table. Said teddy fell off said operating table in mid-operation. Surgeon was a father of small kids, and unthinkingly bent to pick it up... chaos ensued as he had to re-scrub...
3. I wrote my first play at 14 years old. Called "Randy Cilla and the Beautiful Sisters" it was a highly hilarious and rude reprise of Cinderella. The best character was Zipper (Buttons...?) or maybe it was The Hairy Godmother. I came close to being expelled from my boarding school for that masterpiece.
4. I had tea once with Dannie Abse. He was invited to the school to talk to us gels about being a poet. I informed him he wasn't much of one, because he said he threw his drafts away. I think we ate sponge cake.
5. My favourite short story, Cactus Man, written in 2004, explores what happens to the psyche of an adopted nice guy when he discovers his father was a rapist. Did that new knowledge allow a darker side of the bloke to manifest itself? In 2008 I discovered my own birth father could be a very violent far, I have not developed psychopathic tendencies.
6. I used to bite my fingernails. I was told not to, as it was unsightly and unhygenic. I bit my toenails instead. Not to be recommended.
7. I often wonder about that worm...

Thursday, 12 May 2011


The mother of a highly successful writer sang her offspring’s praises to me recently – for writing the sort of “rubbish” (her word, not mine) that masses of readers want to read – said offspring earns a lot from their writing – but wouldn’t choose to read that stuff themselves as (quote) they “have standards.”

I did not sleep easily after that. My head was/is full of questions. What is the logical outcome of this... a highly literate, Oxbridge-educated (is this relevant??) writer who has chosen to write the kind of books they look down on as a reader?? Of course, they have a perfect right to do so. And every reader has a perfect right to read exactly what they wish. However. What happens to lasting literature if those who might well attempt to write it, never do because it makes them no money any more? But you don't need an education to be a writer of meaningful words, do you? I was churning over these conundrums in my head... and my continuing sleeplessness was fuelled by my recent reading of a fascinating and very sad article by Carlo Gebler – entitled A Life in Literature – or What You Might Lose by Becoming a Writer”.

Here are a few quotes from this article. Comments from self at the end. And a link to the whole thing, which ought to be required reading on all CW courses if you ask moi.

Carlo Gebler:
In 1982 or maybe 1983, I published my first short story, called “The Speech of Birds.” ...The Literary Review paid me thirty pounds...I had come by publication honestly. I had worked hard. I had learned things, and I had put those things into practice. My interest in writing was also honest. I was a passionate reader.

I wrote all sorts of things. I worked as reader and wrote reports. I wrote novels. I wrote reviews. I wrote plays. I wrote scripts. I wrote all kinds of things. I made some money....I became a writer and teacher.

Today, I am 56. I hardly read any more. Not like I did....(There is) no time for the proper function of my imagination. ...That capacity has not been killed... my attitude has changed.

I never simply enjoy the act of reading anymore. My authorial intelligence is totally and fully engaged. When I read, whatever I read, I examine and analyze.

I read primarily to steal. This attitude applies not just to books but to everything. In every situation ... there is another part of my personality that is scrutinizing my experiences and thinking two terrible things: What’s in this for me? And: Can I use this? Can I put it in a story? Can I put it in an article?

I am also bitter. ...I am so fucked off with how the world has gone to the dogs and in particular that little bit of the world I think I care about most, which is the Kingdom of Literature...

Self – comments.
I am so saddened by the overall lack of joy here. The apparent self-harming low level of self-esteem in the ghastly admission that he reads now for money and ‘to steal’, not for enjoyment or for mental food. What has the writer's life done to the spirit of this man? The drift from the great pleasure of learning, writing better and better, becoming published, spreading one’s wings, achieving goals – and ultimately - the life of the writer as prisoner of the system. And a system he never meant to become part of, or agrees with.

The complete article is HERE on Some Blind Alleys

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Looking for a writing group with tuition??

This is where I learned. It's called Boot Camp, for good reason. There's a special offer on, see below, message from the tutor.

Boot Camp numbers are currently on the low side so we are offering a new deal
to allow interested writers to try the BC experience.
The first four weeks free (no grid) to NEWBIES.
(The grid is a spreadsheet based on craft elements...)
Or (again NEWBIES only)
£100 up front for membership to the end of August (includes grid)
Please contact AK on alex.keegan
or go to BootCampKeegan on