Friday, 26 March 2010

The Literature Week in Gothenburg

I was one of about thirty Swedish authors who took part at the Literature Week in Gothenburg. It's an yearly event where authors of children's and Young Adult fiction visit schools to talk about their books and their writing.

The fifteen-year-olds that I met at Kärralundsskolan were good at both listening and asking questions. Some people have said that my first novel, Punkindustriell hårdrockare med attityd doesn't have a proper plot, but I explained that some books are character driven rather than plot driven. The protagonist Amanda is very insecure and is feeling at bit left out at school. This has nothing to do with her family. I'm fed up with the common theme that in order to feel bad about yourself it has to be a big reason behind it, e.g. one of your parents have died, your mum is an alchoholic or your dad is mentally ill. I think it's enough to be a teenager to feel bad.

Amanda is 16 and has never been drunk, has bever been kissed, has never had a boyfriend and has never had sex. For me these were really big issues when I grew up and that's why I wanted to write about it. So the plot is based on Amanda's anxiety around these rituals and how she goes through them and deals with them. I told the teenagers that it's important to remember that everybody develops in their own time and that some have sex when they are thirteen and for others it doesn't happen until they are in their twenties. Nothing is right or wrong ...

On the Wednesday night all authors were invited to an evening where everybody had five minutes to present themselves to librarians and teachers in the Gothenburg area. It was nervwracking, but hopefully it'll lead to more invites to talk at schools and libraries in the future. It was also a great thing for me to meet Per Nilsson and Katarina Kieri whom are two Swedish writers I really admire. It's a surreal feeling that someone you look up to has read your book and liked it ...

All in all I really enjoyed my time in Gothenburg. Most of the other authors have been doing this for years and they laughed at my enthusiasm about staying at a hotel with all expenses paid ... I hope I'll get invited to loads and loads of things in the future, but that I can still be grateful about sleeping in a bed with clean white sheets and having a massive buffet breakfast.

I was lucky with the weather too as the headlines cried out that it were the warmest days in Gothenburg this year. Yet there were ice and snow left in some places ...

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The Noise of Strangers

The Noise of Strangers is not only the title of Robert Dickinson's debut novel, it's also the title you could give the past two days of my life.

The launch party itself was a noisy event populated by people whom I didn't know, but the almost unlimited free-flowing wine transformed strangers into friends. The party was hosted in a beautiful flat next to the British Museum and the place was so packed you could hardly move. As you could tell Robert was very happy and got to sign a few of his books and talk to his fans (yes friends do count). It was very rewarding to discuss the book with other people who've read it and it made me realise the novel is even more clever than I thought ... The so-called "Scoomers" who cruise the streets in their battered Fiats is short for "Moulsecoombers" which is veyr funny if you live in Brighton and know that Moulsecoomb is a bit of a problem area.

The Noise of Strangers is for sale in Waterstones in Brighton and on Thursday night, 6pm, Robert will do a reading and book signing at Jubilee Library in Brighton. Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to speak to the other debut Myriad writers Ed Hillyer and Tom Connolly, but they'll also do readings at Jubilee Library this spring. I would've liked a reading yesterday, but there was too much noise and not enough space ...

Now, back to the title. I stayed at a hostel in London last night and it was a bit of an eerie experience ... I didn't see any of the other guests, but I did hear them ... The noise of strangers indeed. Tonight I'm in Gothenburg and I've upgraded. The hotel me and the other writers who are here for the Gothenburg Literature week are staying in is well soundproofed. It was only when I went into the spa and sauna that I could hear (but not see) the presence of strangers ... Maybe I need to go down to the bar and socialise and find out who the other writers are, but I need a clear head. I'm doing three book talks at a school tomorrow, and the free wine from yesterday is still affecting me ...

Sunday, 21 March 2010

To Do-List, Book Launch & Book Festival

I had 11 things on my "to-do"-list today and I've done them all, apart from writing this blog post. Among other things I edited a short story, GINA'S LOVER, and sent it off to the Glasswoman Prize, proof-read my brother's course application and finished a poem for a friend's wedding. I'm proud that I did so well despite having a hangover from the burlesque club Trailer Trash last night and distracting myself with a walk through St Ann's Wells Garden and down to the seafront, having a cup of tea with Sky at Babylon Lounge.

Tomorrow I'm going to a book launch party in London. The publisher Myriad is celebrating their spring editions, and one of them is The Noise of Strangers by Robert Dickinson. I'm very excited as Robert is one of the guys who's given me feedback on REPLACING ANGEL. He kindly gave me a copy of his debut novel, and I read it a few weeks ago. It's a future dystopia set in Brighton and takes the piss out of civil servants. Well worth reading if you want to have a laugh about bureaucracy. It's also interesting the way Robert has mixed the narrative of the different characters with transcripts of dialogue at meetings, emails and newspaper reports.

I'm spending the night in London as I'm leaving from Heathrow early Tueday morning to go to a Book Festival in Gothenburg, Sweden. Another thing on my list was to rehearse the talk(s) I'm going to do at a school, and make sure my PowerPointPresentation is up to date. I always feel a bit weird talking to myself in front of a pretend audience, but the photographs on my door of some friends helped.

With the daffodils being in full bloom in Brighton it will feel like time travelling going to Sweden. I just hope the snow and ice will be gone ...

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Are you sitting comfortably?

Yesterday my short story "Foxy Lady" was read out by actor Gareth Brierley at White Rabbit's live lit event Are you sitting comfortably? at the Basement in Brighton.

It was a surreal experience hearing somebody else reading my story, as if it was not mine. I thought "oh, I've read that somewhere before, I recognise it." Gareth did a good interpretation and the audience seemed to like it.

The other writers were: Glen Stevens, Denis Doran, David Patchett,Erika Szostak, Joe Ralley and Jules Craig. The topic for the evening was "secrets", so in every story there was some kind of revelation. There was also a confession box in the room where you could post your darkest secret. The best one won a prize and it turned out to be a girl called Kate who had puked in a cup at Glastonbury, selling it for £1 to a passer-by, saying it was soup ...

I really liked the concept of the evening with free cakes and teapot cocktails (not free.). Next event is in April and the topic is Magic. Here's info if you want to submit a story.

I also had some more good news yesterday ... another short story of mine, "Steal from the rich and give to the poor" was accepted for another live lit event: SPARKS on April the 6th upstairs at the Three and Ten in Kemp Town. And this time I'll read it myself ... Thanks to Tim, Brian and Saksia for feedback!

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

What do teenagers do in their spare time?

Yesterday I ran a creative writing workshop for Young Adults at Hove Library called "It's raining words". Only one teenager turned up, so in the end we opened it up to all ages and got two more participants: one 56-year old and and one 29-year old. The girls from the study support team joined in as well so in the end I had five people in the my workshop.

Despite the low number we all had great fun. Matt - the teenager wrote about a woman who lost her watering can in the library due to library staff knocking on her door telling her that her books were late ... He's 13 and it was the longest story he'd ever written and he seemed very pleased with it. He also wrote a brilliant two-line poem inspired by the old saying "It's raining cat's and dogs." The adults were equally productive and I was pleased that my exercises sparked their imagination.

Now my question is: Why did the teenagers not turn up to a free creative writing workshop?

*Not the right marketing?
A couple of months ago a leaflet went out to school children about different activities during the Aqua Festival (which my workshop was part of.) Bookings had to be made by phoning or emailing a third party (not me, not the library, but the person organising the festival) Posters and flyers went up in the library, but again pre-bookings had to be made by contacting a third party. It was also advertised on the council website and the library website.

A flyer can be seen by clicking here.

The theory me and my colleagues have is that teenagers don't want to book things in advance, they prefer to drop in on the day, so at the last minute we put a "drop in"-banner on the posters in the library.

*Not the right age group?
Teenagers is a tricky age group. Before I was sixteen I was too shy to do anything. And if you don't have any friends who want to come along it can be very difficult to go to something on your own. At that age writing could also be something that feels very private and they might be afraid they have to read out what they've written. (I wanted to do a creative writing project as my final exam work when I was 19, but decided not to do it when my teacher said I might have to show it to other people ...)

*Not the right time and place?

I can understand that if you have spent all Monday at school you might not want to come to the library, sit down and do something that almost feels like school. Not that many teenagers go to Hove Library anyway, but when the library ran a drawing manga workshop a while ago about ten teenagers turned up, so that was obviously more cool ... (on that occasion you could sign up directly in the library)

To make me feel better, any other ideas about why teenagers didn't turn up are most welcome! :) :) :)

As I've put in quite a bit of time in preparing this workshop the library managers suggested that I do it again, but that we ask a specific class to come in during school time. A break from ordinary lessons is often welcome. The talks I've done in classes during school time in Sweden have been very popular and successful.

I'm also open for doing the workshop at other venues, so please contact me if you know anyone who's interested.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Good News - story accepted for live lit event!

My short story "Foxy Lady" has been chosen as one of the stories to be read out by actors at the live literature event Are you sitting comfortably?

So please come along to The Basement (24 Kensington Street North Lanes) this Wednesday 17 March 7.30pm.

I'm so happy! It was just the encouragement and reward I needed for breaking into the short fiction scene. Big thank you to Chris, Jenni, Solera & Petra who gave me valuable feedback on "Foxy Lady".

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Change of Scene

I've been part of the Brighton Poetry Scene since 2004. I've been a regular at nights such as Brighton Poetry Society's Open Mic, Hammer & Tongue Slam, Floetics, Horseplay, Wordplay and of course Poets Cornered meetings. I've also done special gigs like Brighton&Hove Peace Festival, Shoreham Beer, Cider & Literature Festival, The Bass Festival, All arts Fiesta, The Poetry Marathon Poets Corner Festival etc. I've had a good time and made lots of friends.

Yet, after five years I've realised that it's bloody hard becoming a professional poet, even semi-professional. You constantly have to suck up to other people in order to get gigs and it's even harder to get poetry published. I'm torn between being a "stage poet" and a "page poet". There are few people who can really pull it off, being good both on stage and page, like Bernadette Cremin and Ros Barber.

What I want to say with this blog post is not that I'm going to stop performing or stop writing poetry, but I'm not going to dedicate as much time to poetry as I used to. It feels like I wrote my best poems and did my best performances 2-3 years ago, and since then I haven't really developed. To become better a poet I need to put in a lot of work: courses, training, studying etc. If I'd put as much effort into poetry and performing as I have put into my novels I'd be a "big star" by now :), but it's hard to succeed in more than one area.

Mainly I'm a novelist and I'm better at writing prose than poetry. I've recently discovered that there's quite a good live scene for short fiction in Brighton with events such as Short Fuse, Sparks, Are you sitting Comfortably? and the former Tight Lip. So I'll cut down on going to poetry events and focus more on the short fiction scene.

It's scary though, starting all over again. When I go to poetry events I feel very comfortable as I know a lot of people and they know me. It's funny that there's a completely different crowd that goes to short fiction events compared to poetry events. What I really like about the poetry scene is that everybody is welcome and everybody can have a go and you get a great mix of people. Of course everybody is welcome at the short fiction events as well, but the main difference is that you have to submit your stories in advance to the short fiction events and only a few get selected to be read on the night, whereas anyone can go up and do anything at a poetry open mic night. It makes the short fiction scene more competitive, but I understand that this is necessary. You can stand listening to a poem that is not to your taste for 5 minutes, but it's worse listening to a story for 15 minutes that is absolute rubbish, so I guess you need some kind of filter.

The reason I started to write poetry at all was that I needed a break from my novel writing, the satisfaction of actually completing something. Poetry used to be my hobby, but somewhere along the line I started to take myself too seriously ... I need to find the FUN again.

I also must admit that I love being on stage. I'm quite shy in real life and often worry about boring people and taking up to much space, but on stage I feel absolutely free: it's my time to speak. Being on stage is also an excuse to dress up. As I don't go clubbing on a regular basis, as I used to in my early twenties, I don't often get a chance to dress up ...

Lastly I'm interested in blog readers opinions: Why do so few people write both prose and poetry? Well, some poets write short stories, but very few write novels. And very few novelists writes poetry, but do write short stories. (As mentioned before you don't see many people from the poetry scene at short story events or many people from the short story scene at poetry events.) For me it's either poems or novels; I find that short stories are a real challenge and haven't written that many, but it's time for a change ...

Photo: Kristen Healy

Monday, 8 March 2010

Time Management

I want to have time to:
*read trashy novels for pure pleasure
*read classics and understand them
*paint my nails twice a week
*use teeth plackers
*write letters
*listen to a whole CD album and read the lyrics

I thought I'd have time to do these things, now that I've finished my novel, Replacing Angel, and sent it off to agents. But funnily enough it seems like I've got LESS time when I'm not working on a particular project...

I become more organised when I write; my life has a structure and I feel focused. Now I'm drifting like a discarded water bottle in the sea. Do I have a message inside me? I don't know. When I shuffled my iTunes to start writing this blog post the first song that started playing was Lou Reed's "There's no time"! My message to myself and everyone else is that you have to make time for things - if you don't you'll drift to a distant shore of a desert island where there's nobody to pick you up ...

Despite all this drifting I've had the first really productive day for about a week.
*I washed my clothes
*Re-wrote Steal from the rich and give to the poor, a short story that I wrote a year ago, and sent it off to a couple of people for feedback (am planning to submit it to SPARKS - a short fiction night)
*Worked on a poem for a friend's wedding
*Booked a night at a hostel in London as I need to stay there on my way to a literature festival in Gothenburg at the end of March (and in London I'll attend a launch party for 3 Myriad novelists)
*Wrote a very short postcard and posted it
*Power-walked along the seafront and did some food shopping on the way back
*Went through my writing workshop "It's raining words"(that I'm doing at Hove Library next Monday) with my friend Sophie
*Made some notes and prepared stuff for the workshop
*Booked a train ticket to London (£3 advance on the national rail website)
*Printed Google maps of parts of London and Gothenburg

And now ... it's 10 pm and I've been up for 13 hours, and the only real leisure time I've had was when I had breakfast and read Patricia Highsmith's Carol. I don't feel sorry for myself. I designed this day (made a list before going to bed last night) and am very happy and grateful that I achieved so much. It's a mystery though that there's a still a pile of socks and knickers on my bed waiting to be sorted out after being in the tumble dryer ... Hopefully I'll get to bed before midnight.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Celebration Time!

I had a great time visiting my friend Laura in Edinburgh this weekend celebrating
a) the completion of my first English novel Replacing Angel
b) my 28th birthday

Two good reasons to drink absinthe ... (and absinthe also features in my novel :).

We didn't spend the whole weekend drinking though ... We had vegetarian Haggis at Henderson's, admired installations at National Gallery of Modern art, danced to punk & rock at Studio 24, and went for a snowy walk in the Pentland Hills outside Bonaly. It was great to have a proper holiday, feeling very free now that I've sent off Replacing Angel.

Laura is also a writer and one of the people who has given me feedback on Replacing Angel, so she was the right person to celebrate with! Not sure how much she enjoyed the snow trudging though ...