Catching up

  • After a short hiatus, I'm posting to the Brighton Argus marathon blog again. My most recent posts are A Frustrating Few Weeks and The Doldrums. Despite these titles, training has recently been going well.
  • I planned my marathon training schedule last week and was horrified to discover I have 663 miles to go before finishing the marathon.
  • Alan Moore's new magazine, Dodgem Logic is now out. I liked the review that described it as "resembling if anything, a fanzine version of Radio 4" The magazine is hoping for people to set up local franchises – hopefully it won't be long before a Brighton edition appears.
  • I recently posted about Tim Clare's attempt to write 100 poems in a day. This was successful, and there's an interesting summary on his blog along with links to some of the most interesting poems produced.
  • A couple of Saturday's ago was the Brighton sketchcrawl, the second time Kay Sexton has encouraged me to try drawing. Photographic proof is provided here by mockduck.

I’m reading at Sparks 7 on Tuesday 1st December

This coming Tuesday I will be reading at Sparks 7, at Brighton's Three and Ten (BN2 1TE). I'm reading my short story finis terrae, which is a little different to my usual work, partly because it features a female narrator:

"He used to call me Finisterre, whispering the name in my ear between kisses to my neck.  He’d sleep in my arms after making love and I’d stay awake, watching the sweeping lighthouse beam, the three-second, five-second rhythm of its Light Characteristic.  The radio would be on – not the lighthouse set but Mum’s old portable.  It never keeps a signal long and through the night it slips from voices to static.  I would hold him tight, knowing he’d soon be leaving."

The night starts at 8pm, with entry costing £5. Also reading is my friend, poet Naomi Foyle, who I read with at Short Fuse's erotic fiction night in March. There will also be stories from Sarah Charsley, Chloe Penney, Sam Mead, Gretel My, Jon Heath, Annie Clarkson. Each reading will be accompanied by the backdrop of a specially commissioned photograph.

If recent Sparks nights are anything to go by, there will be drinking and shenanigans afterwards. Do come along if you can!

100 poems in a day?

In a stunning feat of derring-do, poet Tim Clare is attempting to write 100 poems today. Tim Clare is a talented performance poet, who recently played a great set at Hammer&Tongue. He was also part of the show Found in Translation, which I saw in London last year, and the writer of We Can't All Be Astronauts, a lovely book about not being a bestselling writer.

In his blog, Tim has talked about speed poetry, where groups of poets write new work in 10 minutes. This is something I'm very interested in after my experiments with Write Club. In one recent post, Mr. Clare talked about the benefits of speed writing on his work:

"Each speed poetry session, I might hear between three and twenty new poems read out to me by their authors. Each one gave me hints on different ways of approaching the same subject matter or interpreting the same phrase – oh yes, I'd think, a poem can sound like found dialogue, or it can be like a little third-person short story with line breaks, or it can have a chorus like a song, or repeated lines, or take all its similes from a particular lexical field, or be presented as instructions, or just be a list of stuff, or be an open letter to somebody, or be in praise of something, or adopt the style of another type of text like a newspaper report. Slowly, I was building up a repetoire of options for when I got the next title… Doing speed poetry regularly helps abolish a fear of blank pages. You learn to just roll your fucking sleeves up and have a bash."

The attempt starts today at 9:00 GMT and there's a blog set up for the poems. Tim is planning about eight minutes a poem, and will be posting the titles on twitter as he starts each one so people can play along. I'm sorry that I'll be at work most of the day and unable to watch until the evening.

Photos of Zombie James

On Friday the 13th it was the Trailer Trash: Zombies vs Vampires night at the Komedia. I performed as part of the group act, which featured a battle between zombies and vampires. I fought Thérèse La Tease and Honour Mission before being killed and resurrected to do the Thriller dance.

It was a fun night, with Rosy compering, becoming increasingly blood-soaked throughout the night. The next Trailer Trash event is on New Year's Eve, and will be themed around Pirates of the Carribean.



Below are some photos taken by Ashley Clark. His main site is here, and he has a huge collection of shots from the night here (including pictures of the Zombies vs Vampires act)


Above: Me with Thérèse La Tease


Above: Rosy Carrick

Above: Me with Jake Spicer

Write Club: Round 2

Last night was the second Write Club, run by Ellen de Vries and myself. Write Club is a flash fiction writing event (no, definitely not a workshop) which sprang from Brighton's Write Club networking group. The night has the following rules:

  • The night is divided into rounds. Each round has a prompt image and a time limit of 15, 10, 5 or 2 minutes.
  • Everyone writes a story or poem 'inspired' by the image
  • Everyone then takes a turn reading what they've written, whether they're happy with it or not.
  • There is no formal critique of the pieces.
  • Nobody is allowed to apologise or pre-empt their work – what you've stands or fall on its own merits.

(We work very hard at not making Fight Club references, as shown by my restraint in the list above. But last night did feel a little reminiscent of the movie, with 18 of us in the basement of the Skiff after hours. Word of mouth had brought in more people than last time, some of whom I didn't know personally. For what it's worth, I see Ellen as the Tyler Durden figure).

I felt more nervous this time because of the larger group. I wanted everyone to leave feeling they'd had a worthwhile evening. And it was, of course, guaranteed that I'd have a projector glitch half-way through the night. Even so, I think people enjoyed the evening and the approach we've taken.

I don't know if it was my nerves, but I was less happy in general with the work I produced this time. I found it harder to come up with ideas, facing a blank sheet three minutes through one of the five-minute rounds. Even though Ellen and I choose the pictures, we don't manage to prepare ideas in advance and the prompts end up being as hard for us as everyone else.

Despite feeling less sure about my work, there were two pieces from last night that I'd like to do more with which, I guess, is good going (and better than last time). But the main thing was that I had a fun evening. I heard some amusing, interesting and thought-provoking stories, some of which seemed well-formed despite the short time available.

Ellen and I are still tinkering with the format. Some ideas and prompts have worked well in the last two sessions, other things not so well, but I'm very excited about the third Write Club session, which will be coming soon…

If you want to play along at home, the pictures we chose (CC-licensed photos from flickr tagged with Brighton) were:

  1. Ghosts on the shore (10 minute round)
  2. chickens (5 minute round)
  3. Pac-Man Drinking (2 minute round)
  4. Fish and chips (15 minute round)
  5. movie still #6 (5 minute round)
  6. The Head (2 minute round)

Thanks to everyone who came, and thank you to the Skiff for providing a fantastic venue

My weirdest #foundwhilewalking yet

Brighton and Hove have been battered by high winds for the last week. It’s made running a chore and caused hundreds of starfish to be washed ashore. As well as other things, some of which were thoughtfully arranged by a passer-by:


(Photos taken on Sunday November 13th)

(#foundwhilewalking is a game on twitter, which @kaysexton started. People tweet accounts of interesting things they’ve seen while on foot. Some recent examples are:

  • @LaGirafa The ragged skeleton of a leopard print umbrella, a purple hat in flight, scarily angry awnings
  • @asalted Rain, puddles, a picture book rainbow that looked as if started by my house…
  • @laurencehill de-flowered bouquet dumped on a bin. Failed romance?
  • @orbific tiny bumps of ships on the horizon; the west pier looking like a sea monster.
  • @madhavaji – I let my love run in circles
  • @orbific debris among pebbles, storm-scatterded on the promenade. Seaweed, a flattened shotgun cartridge and a champagne cork

I’m going to miss my seafront route to work)

Thoughts on Vanessa Gebbie’s Short Circuit

Sunday travel on East-Midlands trains is a trial, with the journey to St Pancras taking twice as long as during the week. The one advantage of this is that it provides some quiet time for reading. The weekend before last I received my copy of Vanessa Gebbie's new book, Short Circuit, a collection of essays on writing short stories. I read the book over the weekend and finished it on my epic crawl to London.

Short Circuit is a very good book. It was refreshingly free of mysticism, offering practical advice and techniques. Being a collection there are many different voices, some even contradicting one another as Vanessa has pointed out. Not every piece in the book spoke to me, but I don't think it should have done – I imagine every writer could find something useful in this collection. Some of the things I found most interesting are below:

  • My favourite piece was by David Gaffney. Gaffney has written two collections of microfiction, Sawn-off Tales and Aromabingo. Microfictions fascinate me, and I've found homes for a few sub-100 word stories. Not all of my pieces have worked, and Gaffney offers some interesting advice on structuring tiny stories. Most useful was his suggestion to put a microfiction's ending in the middle to avoid the punch-line effect. Great advice, and something I can use in my own work.
  • Alex Keegan's piece, '24: The importance of theme' was very interesting, starting with a discussion of theme, then discussing how theme can be explored through the use of character. It's a compelling argument, and gave me some ideas for fixing a few stagnant stories.
  • Elaine Chew talks about the epiphany ending for short stories, "sudden or dawning change upon or realizations of inner truth for a protagonist based on the events of the story" Chew questions how realistic an approach this is, how such stories often rely on time stopping as the character is changed. With such an ending the reader does not see any resulting change in the character's actions. Using a story by Lorrie Moore as a model, Chew suggests a series of epiphanic footprints are more realistic, "the dribble-down effect of a life-changing realization."
  • Paul Magrs essay was fun, a quirky list of thoughts on creative writing, written at the end of a term teaching workshops
  • The most fascinating piece was Sarah Salway's discussion, 'Stealing Stories', particularly in light of the scandals this summer. Salway focusses on stories heard from family and friends, or found in newspapers. In her introduction, however, she quotes TS Eliot's line that "Mediocre writers borrow, great artists steal", comparing such theft to stealing a car: if the car is stripped down or resprayed, it will be unrecognisable to the original owners. Which seems to support the view that theft, particularly of virtual goods, doesn't count if no-one notices that a crime has been committed. It's a fascinating and provocative essay, which amusingly practises what it preaches.

Short Circuit is a fun book. It's certainly given me more techniques to work with than most writing manuals I've read. Well worth the time.

Write Club: Round 2

Ellen de Vries and I will be running another free writing workshop on November 23rd.

As with our previous workshop, the aim is to produce stories based on photographs, then share them with the other attendees. Each round of the workshop is done to a time-limit, which varies between fifteen minutes and two. The event might sound imposing, everyone produced work interesting and complete work, even in the two minute round. One of the previous attendees, Tom Hume, has posted about  his experience of the event.

The event starts at 7pm on November 23rd and will again be at The Skiff, 49 Cheltenham Place, Brighton BN1 4AB. If you'd like to join in then turn up on the night or mail me

A busy week

  • Last Sunday I read my story 'Laurence Holloway's Cartoon Babylon' as part of Short Fuse's Nouvelle Noir night. Also reading was Danny Hogan from Pulp Press and AK Benedict. It was a fun night, and people seemed to respond well to my story. twhume and I enjoyed AK Benedict's piece, which included some horrifying information about what happens to men's testicles after death.
  • Wednesday I went to see Luke Haines at the Hanbury Ballroom. Haines seemed to enjoy the gig, and played his hits alongside the new album, as well as two of my all-time favourites, Baader Meinhof and Bad Reputation, pausing the latter to describe the horror of playing a song about Gary Glitter to an audience of Ricky Gervais fans.
  • Thursday was Hammer and Tongue (poet and novelist Lou-Ice talks a little about the evening here). The night featured Byron Vincent and my favourite poet from outside Brighton, Ross Sutherland. It was a busy night (we were at capacity for part of it) and featured the final heat of the slam before next month's final. The final should be good, with Spliff Richard, Adam the Rapper and The Speech-painter among the qualifiers. I might also be doing the sacrificial poet slot, which is likely to be be only ever poetry performance.
  • Friday night was the Trailer Trash Zombies vs Vampires night. Kitty Peels made me up as a zombie and I was part of the group dance act, which included part of the thriller dance – so that's a childhood dream achieved. Kate Kamikaze has some photos here, and there should soon be some photos of zombie-James (and possibly video of the dance routine!). I'll post more about the night when I get some images.

I didn't get home from Trailer Trash until three, and then had to remove the gore and make-up before bed. I checked my email before turning in and received some great news: my story 'finis terrae' has been accepted for Sparks 7. It's very different to my recent pieces and has a female narrator. I'm looking forward to seeing what the photographer makes of it (as well as figuring how best to read it live).

Following my late Friday, Saturday and Sunday have been very slow. I managed about 5 hours sleep on Saturday before the block's fire alarm went off. The weekend has since been taken up with napping and rest. I emerged briefly this morning for the Brooks Brighton 10K, although I had to run 2 miles to make it to the start in time! I'll post about that another day though.

Last Minute Reminder: Short Fuse’s Nouvelle Noir tonight

I've had a lovely few days relaxing with family in Derbyshire but I need to head back to Brighton today. While the journey up here takes three hours, the return is a five hour epic – and that's without any replacement bus services. Fortunately my copy of Short Circuit arrived yesterday, so I'll have plenty of time to read that.

This evening I'll be appearing in Brighton at Short Fuse's Nouvelle Noir night:

A line-up of contemporary noir fiction, rooted in Series Noir, film noir and the pulp novels of the 40s and 50s, this Short Fuse special will see local crime writer Danny Hogan headlining. Danny will read from his pulp novel 'Killer Tease' a novella set in Brighton,where a psychopathic burlesque dancer takes her violent revenge on a string of venal males who discover they have bitten off more than they can chew. Hogan is the man behind Pulp Press, a publishing company which delivers the best and newest in pulp fiction. "From hard boiled crime to rockabilly sleaze via a few Westerns and tales of delinquency." Also featuring Brian Bell aka Charlie McQuaker, A.K.Benedict, James Burt and Tara Gould.

Doors open 8pm at the Komedia Studio Bar, and entry is £5. As I've said before, it going to be a good night with an interesting line-up. You should come! Meanwhile I'm off to East Midlands Parkway to begin my epic journey home.