Nicola Monaghan's news, events and general thoughts about life and writing.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Happy Christmas and all that....

A little note to wish all you lovely boggers out there a very Merry Christmas, as well as a happy and prosperous New Year. I hope to blog a little more regularly again soon. I promise to try.

I will be making no New Year resolutions because I don't believe in them. I do have a few wishes for the New Year, though.

1. For COD Modern Warfare 2 to be changed overnight so that the guns make tinkly music sounds instead of blast and the bombs explode to the sound of Karma Charmeleon.

2. For my husband's sideburns to grow even more bushy and look even more like baby hedgehogs.

3. For more people to say things like this about my books. (Thank you Debi. I know it's all heartfelt but it means a LOT to me that you took the time to say it.)

That's about it really. See you in 2010. (How are we supposed to say this date. Twenty ten - which sounds a bit like cricket - or two thousand and ten? Neither seems to trip off the tongue.)

Time to wrap things up now. In more ways than one.

Nicola x

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Two novels...

I'm in the middle of an interesting writing experiment, which is one of the reasons I haven't blogged for so long. I've been working on a new novel. In fact, I've been working on two new novels. One of them is recognisable territory for me. A certain city, a particular lifestyle. Maybe even a couple of familiar characters. The second one is a bit of a departure. I'm enjoying departing. It's always fun to try new things.

The newest thing of all is that I am writing them both at the same time. Having a go at each in turn depending on how I'm feeling at the time. I've planned them both, one in more detail than the other but, then, that's the departure and it's the kind of book that needs more structure. I've started writing both too. I'm expecting both to round off somewhere near the one hundred thousand word mark. To top it all, I've just started a new and intense job that is extremely worthwhile and, at the same time, very challenging. This is emotionally rewarding work and I am glad I'm doing it but, at the same time, it has wiped me out this last week and I was quite unwell by Friday.

So, that's the experiment. Can I in and out of two extremely different novels without either of them suffering at the same time holding down a real job in the real world? As far as the writing goes, so far, so good, but it's such early days that I'm not submerged in either yet, and not taken over by the characters and their stories. Maybe it will take longer for that to happen, a bit like the way a child growing up bilingual takes longer to learn to talk in either language. The thing about a child growing up bilingual, though, is that she will have a better command of language in principle in the end, when she learns to talk, and find learning new tongues much easier than the average person.

I watched with interest this November's National Novel Writing Month and nearly joined in but wisely changed my mind at the last moment. I did think it might be motivating to have something going on that tracks my progress, though, so I've decided to blog my word counts.

Let's call my new novels Familiar Fred and Departure Dan, for the sake of this exercise. Here are the scores on the doors.

Familiar Fred 7235
Departure Dan 2419

A domain mes amies. Or perhaps a few days after... If I ever have the energy to blog again, that is.

Monday, 19 October 2009

The Hockley Hustle

Am appearing in the Left Lion spoken word event again, this time at the Hockley Hustle. This one's not free, but the tickets you buy gives you an armband for access to all the events, and it's for charity.

Murder, Madness and Fantasy....  

Celebrating the last day of summer, LeftLion presents their darkest spoken word event yet. From 4pm – 8pm they’ll take you to the oddities of the Victorian freak show, down the cold clean corridors of the mental asylum, across time, space and galaxies and then back for one final fantasy you’ll never forget...   

Final Fantasy
7.40 +: Al Needham (Todger Talk)

Speculative Fictions
6.50 – 7.30: Damien Walter (Guardian blogger) in conversation with Mark Charan Newton (Nights of Villjamur)
6.20 – 6.45: James Johnson (erth chronicles)

Madness and Murder
5.50 – 6.10: Nicola Monaghan (The Killing Jar, Starfishing)
5.10 – 5.50 Ann Featherstone (Walking in Pimlico) in conversation with Rod Maddocks (No Way to Say Goodbye)

Myth, Magic and Mayhem
4.40 – 5.00 Aly Stoneman and Milk
4.20 – 4.40 King Henry (England, my England)**
4.00 – 4.20 Joss Ink – (Leading a Horse to Water)

**Extreme content warning, imagine P G Wodehouse with turrets... 

Sunday, 4 October 2009

The Circus versus The Fair.

'It's not fair!' I used to moan at my mum when I was a little girl, in that annoying, whiny voice kids use when they want something, the kind of voice that makes you want to give them anything they say if they'll just stop. 'It's not fair till October,' my mum used to say. That used to be true when I was little. And when October came and you went to the fair, made yersen sick with too much candy floss and mushy peas (an appetising mix) and then the waltzers, your head snapping back as they went too fast and you screamed to make them go faster. You came away wearing your Kiss me Quick hat feeling nauseous, worn out and completely satisified with your lot.

These days, though, I don't know. Me and the dear husband have a bit of a problem with the fair in October, the Goose Fair. I mean, it looks kinda pretty, from the road at night with all the lights on, and there are a few rides that look kinda impressive. I noticed this time round some contraption of flying swings that went way higher than any similar fairground attraction I've ever seen, as well as a log flume and a smallish rollercoaster, all really a mile away from the big wheel and Wall of Death that were the highlights of my teenage fairs.

The problem for me starts when you walk down Gregory Boulevard or any of the surrounding streets. There's a lack of atmosphere. There's a lack of, well, a lack of much sign that you're approaching the fair. The side shows and fortune tellers used to run all the way down the boulevard, and lots of the other surrounding streets, but they just don't anymore. Maybe these kinds of attraction just don't get the punters in anymore, but it doesn't feel like Goose Fair with so few of them.

It doesn't get better as you walk inside. For me, these days, there's just something missing from Goose Fair. A vital thing, like a heart or a soul. It feels dead inside, and smaller than it used to. That could be the difference in my relative size but I don't think it is. I've been there as a teenager and as an adult. I believe it genuinely is smaller than it used to be. And don't get me started on the prices, or the rip off stalls where you are guaranteed a prize, but it never turns out to be one of the massive, great stuffed Disney cuddlies on display... There's inflation, and then there's taking the piss.

This year, we went to the circus instead. That is, the Circus Extravaganza organised by Left Lion. This event was free. Yeah, you heard right. Free. It didn't cost a thing. To be honest, I couldn't really go to Goose Fair instead because I was signed up to read at the spoken word. But that's not the point.

I was really glad we went to the circus instead of Goose Fair. We hung around for the entire spoken word event. It was by far the best event of its type I've been involved in. I read with a lovely young lady, and a fabulous writer, Megan Taylor, and we had conferred beforehand so that we chose pieces with a certain synergy. I shared a new story, one that no one had read or workshopped. It was a dark story about childhood, and some of the daft things adults tell kids. It seemed to go down well. After this there was some fabulous poetry, including the beautiful Aly Stoneman, accompanied on guitar by her friend Milk. After this Al Needham interviewed Rebecca Dakin, author of The Girlfriend Experience. Somehow I knew Nottingham's Mr Sex would find the right questions to ask, and he didn't let us down. Rebecca came across as bubbly and very genuine, and we bought the book.

The event climaxed (a good word under the circumstances) with a reading by Al of extracts from his award winning blog Todger Talk. It were mint, as our Al would've said. It was all bloody funny, but the highlights for me were this little peach, and then this one, which was his closing shot, if you'll pardon my exact choice of words, under the circumstances. Brilliant. I can't wait for Al's book, which he bloody well better write or I'll send some of me mates from Broxta after him.

We left all this behind and went out looking for a good band. We were spoiled for choice, with stuff going on at all the pubs in the area. We were also lucky enough to catch Shop's dead celebrity reinactment of the Thriller Video. It's not every day you get to see Michael Jackson, Freddy Mercury, Kurt Cobain, Audrey Hepburn, Heath Ledger and Marilyn Monroe, amongst others, dancing together on the streets of Nottingham. You definitely wouldn't get it at the fair. It was class. (And they knew all the moves.)

Perhaps the best thing about the entire evening was the way it felt around Canning Circus. There was a real sense that there was something special going on. A proper atmosphere. You wouldn't get that at Goose Fair either. 

Nice one Left Lion crew. You did real good.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

The funniest thing I have EVER seen on TV

I'm sure it will be no surprise to readers of this blog that I tuned in to Derren Brown tonight. I'm left, well, laughing all the way to my keyboard. Derren's deadpan 'Oh, one out.' The face of the man whose money's on the table, clearly utterly convinced that the ball's going to somehow jump over the divide in the roulette wheel yet, because Derren Brown wouldn't mess up on this scale. The production assistant, standing outside the trailer with a giant cheque at the ready for a hundred and eighty grand and the way he walks up, gingerly. 'Don't worry mate, we'll get your five grand back.' The silence as the series peters out could almost define dramatic anticlimax. It brought to mind the ending of The Blair Witch Project.

Of course they'll get his five grand back because they ain't gambled it away in the first place. Derren Brown ain't been nowhere near no casino tonight, not unless it was after the show in his own time. I know Casinos and I'm telling yous; that was a Channel Four studio 'somewhere in Europe', or a Casino they'd borrowed and closed for the evening.

For starters, it was too quiet and empty. There was no sound of other gamblers, of other roulette wheels, or cards being shoed or shuffled. Sure, it could have been a small casino but the problem with that is there was no evidence whatsoever, either visual or audio, of slot machines. They ain't not one casino in the world that don't got slot machines, girlfriend, and they make noise and flash lights all the time to try to hypnotise you and get your money (not unlike Derren Brown). There were no croupiers rushing past, or people serving drinks, and none of the small trolleys you get given as a punter to put your drinks on. You don't stand at a table with holding your wine glass while you play. You don't change your chips when you're putting them all on the same number. You don't walk around holding your sleeves up to stuff so the hidden camera can catch it. Well, not unless you fancy getting taken away and being beaten up in the basement.

Then there's the size of the bet. Five grand on a single number? Casinos risk manage their exposure. You don't just walk over to a table and put that much cash on the nose of a 35 to 1 payout without the pit boss having a look see if he's happy. At least, you don't unless you're in Aspinall's or one of the other super exclusive casinos on Curzon Street. And the thing about those Casinos is that A. you have to be a multi-millionaire to join (although mebbe our Derren's been playing the lottery) and B. you have to get a personal invitation by someone who's already a member. And like even if Derren did all that, they're gonna let him join, four weeks after the TV schedule announces he's going to bring the place down? Yeah, right, whatever.

It almost goes without saying at this stage that Derren's explanation of how he did it was complete rubbish. Brown claimed tonight to be able to assess two different speeds going in opposite directions by tapping his feet to their different rhythms. Hello? Anyone here ever tried to rub their stomach and pat their head at the same time? Well this would be harder, you'd have to do it faster, then apply a load of complicated calculations and take into account rebounds and bounces on the wheel. And all that in the few seconds you've got between the croupier spinning the wheel and you putting your chips down. Derren's clever and quick. He ain't a computer. Add to this the fact that there's a camera in Derren's sleeve, he is tapping *both* of his feet but at slightly different rhythms and yet we don't see its picture (or our Derren for that matter) shake any more than it was doing before. He would also have looked mighty strange while he carried out this little trick. If you don't believe me stand up and try tapping both your feet. Hmmm...

So, if what I say is true and it's all a big set up, why on earth not just go all the way and get the number exactly right?

Well one big reason springs to mind right away. If he did that, he'd have had to give Ben that blooming great cheque. There's a second thing too. By getting the figure one out, he makes the trick more believable. People think he came so close to pulling it off, and assume that if he was cheating he'd have got it exactly right so that he must be telling the truth. Paul Daniel's even suggested Derren should get one of the lottery balls wrong, for this exact reason.

But it was well done and it was funny, I'll give him that. I suspect there will be some kind of link between The Events and Derren's next series, where he'll be scam busting. Starting with his own scams mebbe? Just a hunch.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Circus Tricks.

Am at the circus tomorrow. No elephants that I know of, just Left Lions. If you can make it over this way, should be a peng night. And it's free.

My event kicks off at the Hand on Heart at ten to five and other writers are reading there from four. I'll be reading new stuff and everything, as well as some old fave passages from that Killing Jar book what I wrote. There's comedy, music, all sorts all at pubs with easy reach of each other around the Canning Circus area, so you don't even have to walk very far.

Hope to see yer there.

While we're talking Left Lion, there's a lovely new Write Lion podcast too, featuring yours truly and a whole host of other Nottingham folk what like their pens. Check it out.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

The allure of possibility versus the science of probability.

What with all this Derren Brown stuff and that, I've been thinking a lot recently about the Lottery, about casinos, about the games of chance we play with our money and why we do it.

The Lottery is probably the most extreme example. The chances of winning the jackpot are remote and, in fact, a single line is not terribly likely to win any prize. 'It could be you' approximately one out of fourteen million times. An averagely healthy middle aged man has a higher chance of dying in the hour before the draw takes place than he does of winning the jackpot. Flush a pound coin down the loo and you have more chance of seeing it again than winning the lottery had you bought a ticket with it. You are almost as likely to find a winning lottery ticket on the floor as you are to win with one you've bought. Etc etc. So why do people play this game at all? And don't make me laugh and tell me it's for the 'good causes'.

I decided to take this a stage further and do a few sums.

Let's take what I'd say was a fairly average lottery scenario.  I personally rarely put my hard earned cash into the hands of Camelot, but I know plenty of people who spend much more than the example that follows.

So, let's say Joe Blow plays Lotto twice weekly (after all, what if you didn't put your numbers on and they came up?) and buys 5 lines. He also puts 5 lines on Euromillions, and buys a couple of £2 scratchcards a week. So we're not talking an addict by any stretch, but just someone who thinks 'It bleddy well won't be me if I don't get a ticket.'

If you total that up, we've got £21.50 a week. That doesn't sound too bad, does it? It's not exactly breaking the bank...

Well, unless you think about the other stuff you could do with that cash. Total it up over the course of a year and it comes to £1118, which is actually quite a lot of money.

How much is Joe Blow likely to win?

Well, the chances per line of winning the Jackpot are 14 million to one, and five numbers plus the bonus one in about two million. Even getting four numbers is a one in over a thousand shot. The chance of winning a tenner is 1 in 57. On that basis, with his tenner a week, our Joe can expect (theoretically) to hit his three numbers and win a tenner 9.12 times a year, and his four numbers once every two years - coming to a grand total of about £123/year. He can expect to win the jackpot or any of the big prizes, well, quite a bit less than once in his entire life. He's spending £520 each year, so that means he's losing about 76% of the money he puts down. Sure, we can add the bigger prizes to the mix but they make very little difference, being so unlikely. So I reckon we can safely say Joe's going to lose about 75% of the money he spends on the lottery, over time. If this was a casino game, we'd say the house edge was 75%.

There would be slightly different numbers for Euromillions and for scratchcards, of course, but it's after one in the morning now and I ain't looking them up and working them out. I suspect the scratchcard figures will be significantly better, and the Euromillions ones, worse. Just a guess...

When you think about it, there are so many better ways to spend that £21.50 a week. You could keep a teenage girl
or store your car in a 'Insulated, Secure, Dehumidified controlled environment', have your own, year round pitch at a caravan site in Newquay. You could give it all to good causes, instead of the twenty odd percent passed over by Camelot.

You could even invest it. Sure, you don't get the heart stopping flurry of watching the draw with the ticket in your hand. However, putting it in a savings account, for example, would get you about 3% pa on your money, making you an extra approximately £16.60 a year (based on putting the money in every week and not making any withdrawals) and, of course, you get to keep the £1118 you've saved as well. And you could invest in stocks, shares or property and get a better return. Well, not based on recent form, of course. (Investments can go up as well as down, none of the information here constitutes investment advice just a few facts and figures yadda yadda...)

You would even be better off heading down the casino with this money. There are lots of casino games, if you know the correct strategy for playing them, with relatively low house edge. For example, if you play perfect strategy Blackjack (something you can learn and that is well documented on the interweb) over time, you should lose about 0.5% of your money. So you get to keep 99.5%. There are other slot and Casino games where the house edge is less than 5%. Considerably better than the lottery, when you look at that way. (Remember, equivalent to a house edge of about 75%!)

So, in short, you'd be better off saving up that £21.50 and taking the whole lot (plus your £16.60 interest) down the casino one night every year, and having a good ole time on the Blackjack table.

But, of course, it *could* be you. And we all know why people play, really. Life changing amounts of money is why. Like the Euromillions last week with a jackpot of £83 000 000. Hell, despite knowing everything I've just typed, I bought a couple of tickets. The prize money was too much to ignore, even though I knew just how unlikely it was that it would ever be mine.

And that's the weird thing about the lottery. Because, despite being rather reticent to give Camelot my hard earned cash over the years, I find myself in profit so far. I haven't entered more than about thirty times since that first draw in 1994 when I had my first lottery win.

Let me take you back in time.... imagine swiggly lines making the screen go all misty... and then you see me. it was November and the nights were closing in. There I was, slim and young and hopeful, just 23 and so soon out of a mathematics degree that I should have known better, sat on the sofa at my mum's house with my first ever lottery ticket (one line) in my hot little hands.

The first number came out. It was 30. It was on my ticket. The second number came out. It was on my ticket. The third number came out. It was on my ticket.... My heart was beginning to beat rather fast at this point.

By the time the draw had finished I'd found out I was one in a million.

Well, one of 1,073,695 people who'd won a tenner. Fancy that, and the first three numbers as well. I realised that no other lottery draw would ever match the excitement of that first one, well, unless of course the second half of the draw lived up to the promise of the first, and I so I've never watched a live draw since. Well, not until that evil bad man Derren Brown did his naughty prediction show.

Still, I did go on to have a lucky run. Over the course of the next several months, I only entered a (lucky) seven times. I lost three times and won a tenner three times. Then, as part of a family syndicate, I won about £50. I decided to quit while I was ahead.

I've bought only a few tickets a year since and won another tenner, and fifty something on the Euromillions, so I reckon I'm probably still slightly in profit. I also know two people who have won life changing amounts of cash. But then, I know a lot of people.

None of that changes a thing. I am an outlier and still insist, despite my experience, that there are much better ways to play with your hard earned cash.

But, of course, "It could be you."

Good luck with that one.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Destined for all this writing...

As suggested by Tricki in some of the comments below, I've got some extracts from my work up on the net. Do take a look here if you're interested in reading more.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Did he stick you to your seat?

For those who didn't have chance to watch it, here's what Derren Brown did on the telly tonight. But don't get too excited/worried about getting stuck to your chair if you watch it. He said right off that it wouldn't work ont tinterweb.

It didn't work for me.

I did watch the film. It made my vision go a bit milky but that's all. The music was a bit creepy but fneh. I don't believe for a second that one minute of a white flickery screen stuck anyone to their anything. What's the word I'm looking for? Misdirection.

There was no chance of me sticking to my chair. It was just never going to happen. I wasn't the 'best' at being 'talented enough at being susceptible'. Nor was I the right mix of 'creative' and 'special'. Oh, the power of suggestion.

All that said, I felt an almost overwhelming desire to ring in and say something stupid, as did my husband.

And I have to admit that I'm beginning more and more to feel that I have been manipulated somewhere along the way. I've never been a Derren Brown fan - not that I dislike him but I've never actively been very bothered about what he does - and yet, this last week, I've added him as a friend on Facebook and started following him on Twitter, as well as checking out relevant forums and blogs on the subject of Derren Brown.

There are some very interesting theories and thoughts in the comments on my previous posts and I thank all those that have taken the time to read my blog and comment. One of these theories is that 'The Events' is not about the actual events at all, but much more about us interacting with them, turning them into something bigger. One commenter points out that some of Derren's words in the first show were almost a 'call to arms' to us to join in and make these illusions into something bigger. From what I've experienced, that makes total sense.

So I wasn't stuck to my sofa today. But I was sat on it, watching. I take it all back. That's pretty impressive Derren and I must be cool, clever and talented enough to be susceptible after all. Go me!

Sunday, 13 September 2009

A personal thank you to Derren Brown

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Derren Brown for increasing the readership of my blog by, well, quite a lot. Actually, it's not really his doing, to be honest. I wrote a wish on a piece of paper and put it in my pocket. If anyone asks me, I'll say it was a trick...

I'd also like to point out to the new readers of this blog, who may or may not have spotted book launch photos on the right hand side from a few years ago, that I am thinner now.

And, while, I'm here, I'll just announce the next part of Derren's trick before it comes to light by itself. By showing a (bogus) method to the world on Friday suggesting that, if only we get together in groups of 24, do automatic writing and average out the numbers, we too can win the lottery (forgetting the small fact, of course, that he didn't) I'm guessing he may have set something in motion. I'm guessing that enough people will have seen and believed it, or think, what the hell that they'll actually get together in groups of 24 and give it go. There will probably be a significant number of these groups set themselves up and try to win using the wisdom of the crowd.

Of course, one of them will...

PS See this blog here for yet more evidence of misdirection by Derren Brown. Derren Brown fixed the lottery. Yeah, right. His second explanation was just as likely as his first one. ie absolute nonsense. Still, interesting that he showed the studio audience extra footage. I bet he didn't expect them to talk about that on blogs, facebook or to their families and friends, did he? Lmao.
PPS. My husband just won twenty quid on a scratchcard and gave it to me. Bless...

UPDATE: 15th September. Do a search on Facebook for "Derren Brown Lottery" and see the groups beginning to proliferate there along the lines of 'Let's predict the lottery Derren Brown stylie'.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Events of misdirection....

Derren Brown. Manipulator. Misdirector. Liar? I won't say some of the other words I've seen friends and family use about him tonight. They're too rude.

What I will say is this. I think everyone's been focusing the last two days on 'how he did it' when, in fact, what we saw on Channel 4 on Wednesday was a simple illusion that Paul Daniels could have pulled off. Camera trick, spilt screen, LED balls, time delay, who cares? However he did it, it was dead simple. As I said at the time on my Facebook status:

"Derren Brown lmao. He shows us his numbers *after* the BBC and everyone's amazed? That's not a prediction... Interested to see how he did it, except that the whole thing reeks of much simpler illusion than I thought it would be.... Paul Daniels could have pulled off that one."

Now, Brown always said his events would be events of misdirection. I think he's misdirected us entirely here. He's got the entire nation focused on a simple illusion, one that was, frankly, below him, when in fact his real trick was performed tonight. He convinced 24 people in the studio, and countless in homes around the country, that the way he did this was using 'deep maths' and 'the wisdom of the crowd'. He even showed us everything on video to 'prove' it.

For those who didn't see, Brown got a group of 24 people in a room together and got them to predict the lottery numbers. They were rubbish to begin with, getting just one right between them. He went through various iterations of the experiment. Taking the average of each number in the individual predictions - not much better. Then he got them to predict but stay in the room until after the draw so they couldn't profit from their predictions, removing greed from the equation. He sent them team building. He had them guess their numbers and averaged them again. Finally, he had them do automatic writing and, again, calculated the average of the numbers. It seemed the team got better and better. Some goes in, they even got 4 balls correct. Finally, they appeared to predict the numbers for last week's lottery. They were incredibly pleased with themselves and you could see it was genuine. It was almost convincing.

Appeared to predict. Almost convincing. As much as I'd love to believe 24 people in a room could work together and genuinely guess the National Lottery numbers, I'm afraid I can't. I don't have to think very hard to know this isn't true. It's all an illusion.

It was interesting, the way Mr Brown carried out that final prediction. The group did their automatic writing and wrote down their numbers again. This time, Brown calculated the averages. Without showing the group, he wrote them on the balls, sealed them in a tube and went on his way to the Channel Four studio. The rest is history. The group of 24 watched live and celebrated their victory. It was clear they believed.

But they hadn't seen those numbers on Derren's balls (oooer missis, sorry, couldn't help myself) until the show. Until after the actual lottery draw. Just like the rest of us. They had only seen the automatic writing they'd put on their own pieces of paper and would have had no clue what these would have averaged out at...

But how did they manage to get three numbers right, then four? We know this bit is genuine. We see their numbers being collated and averaged, right in front of us and them. On one occasion, a member of the group does the calculations and, on others, independent observers do. What happened with their previous predictions is still pretty unlikely, right? So why not believe they actually did produce the numbers Derren took into the Channel Four studios with him?

Well, yeah, it's quite unlikely they would improve over the weeks. Fairly unlikely they would ever predict four out of six numbers at the end of a number of weeks of trying. But not nearly as unlikely as guessing all six. (Reminder for those who can't remember - 14 million to 1!)

I suspect there were several groups being filmed like the one we saw tonight, going through the same kind of experiment. They did the team building, they did the automatic writing. Derren didn't know which would provide the right footage but he knew chances were that one of them would. The 24 people we saw today were the most successful of the groups and used to try to convince us that there was more to this illusion than we could possibly understand.

The real trick was to get us staring at the screen on Wednesday, finding clips on YouTube in the two days since, submitting to forums with all our theories and ideas. When the truth was, he never predicted a thing.

My favourite twitter through the whole event came from Derren himself.

"#derrenbrown is/was at the top of Twitter trends. This is very new to me. I'm not really dressed for it. Thank you, very kind. Xx" 5:57 PM Sep 10th TwitterFon

Really Mr Brown? So you can predict the Lottery numbers on live TV but not that you're going to be the biggest trend on Twitter the next day? Man, I could have told you that!

And the best Facebook update came from my mate Dex.

"Well I thought I'd give it a go. Did 10 minutes of automatic writing but all I could get was a stream of profanity and "Kill smug twat" over and over.

Derren Brown says that next week he will glue us to our sofas using hypnosis. Come on Derren, don't make me laugh. To be fair, you did that already this week. But never again....

Thursday, 10 September 2009

How did he do it?

If you don't know what I'm talking about then I can only assume that you A. have been gravely ill or asleep for more than 48 hours, B. took a trip to another solar system last night or C. are not from the UK and no one else is bothered. But that's okay, because you can watch the footage of Derren Brown 'predicting' the UK National Lottery numbers live on Channel Four here and catch yourself up.

Of course, the entire world wide web is buzzing this morning with theories and ideas about how he might have pulled this off. The one that seems to have convinced most people is this idea. It fits with what Derren said, that this illusion took a year of his time to set up. He only ever promised to get five numbers right so that massively cuts down the permutations of numbers he'd have to film, right? And it fits with the footage if you watch it carefully. Derren switches off the TV when he's written the numbers down, he pauses and stands still. There's even a gap in his speech at this moment.

There's just one problem with this theory. In the second, supposedly spliced on, pre-recorded TV clip, Derren would have to carry in his hand a card with the actual lottery numbers on it. He's supposedly just written them down from the TV a moment ago, so they have to be right. His prediction can be one number out, but the writing on the card can't be. This takes us right back to our 14 million little recordings, though, doesn't it?

Whatever the explanation is on Friday, it is even cleverer than that. And most of the nation will watch with bated breath to find out how he did it. I'm going to watch it, that's for sure.

Which brings me to the actual subject of my post. Because I wasn't really talking about his trick with the numbers. Derren Brown is a master illusionist and I've seen him do stranger things. They always end up being viable, explanable illusions and, sometimes, he reveals his methods to us. Bringing us in on the secret makes us feels as clever as him, and we like him all the more. We don't feel cheated because his methods are so intelligent and novel, so that we can only admire him.

I think he pulled off a much bigger trick than predicting the lottery numbers last night. I'm the kind of person who doesn't buy in properly to popular culture. I've never watched Big Brother, for example, and couldn't give a toss what the current status is between Peter and Barbie (although, admittedly, I do know there is something going on there despite my total lack of interest...) But last night I was hooked. I was completely fascinated with how he was going to pull it off. Then I was completely obsessed by how he might have done it. I even dreamed about it.

He had us. All of us, completely hypnotised and transfixed. How did he do that?

This one I can have a go at explaining. For a start, he chose the lottery. How many people can honestly say they've never bought a lottery ticket or at least dreamed of winning it? It could be you. Probably the most successful marketing gimmick of the last two millennia. Yes, of course it could be you, but the actual chances that it will be are around 14 million to one per line of numbers, so it's not very likely. What always puts this in perspective for me is the plain old laws of probability that say the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 are just as a likely to come out as any others. Last week's numbers are just as likely to be drawn again as the ones on your ticket. I remember back in the 80s some cynical comedian flushed a pound coin down the loo and said 'You're just as likely to see that back as win the lottery' and that's about right. (All of this, of course, ignores the fact there are other prizes to win, some of them well worth having, and these are much more likely to happen to you.)

The National Lottery (or Lotto, I suppose I should say) is something that has already captured our imaginations. We are already hypnotised by its power, the possibility that our lives could be completely transformed. Derren Brown was already compellingly famous but we would have tuned in to pretty well any old Joe Bloggs saying he could predict the lottery numbers and convincing Channel Four to give him a time slot to prove it.

And then this is the thing. Not only does Brown not predict the numbers in time for us to get rich (of course, that wouldn't be allowed, Channel Four have even banned him from buying himself a ticket pffftttt!) he doesn't 'predict' the numbers at all. He shows us a set of balls and reveals the correct numbers are indeed stuck to them after the lottery's been drawn. The whole thing felt a bit Paul Daniels, for me. 'I put the card you are going to choose in this box.' Basic Magic Circle stuff.

Is the world ablast with 'what a crock?' this morning, then? It turns out not. Wherever you look on the web there are hoards of people saying how brilliant Brown is. Most people talking about this agree he's a genius, and the best illusionist we've ever seen. There are others who seem to genuinely believe he has some kind of psychic power. Even the cynical ones who are saying 'prediction my ass' are convinced he's going to blow us away with his denouement in the show on Friday and are looking forward to finding out what he did.

And, by some remarkable coincidence, Brown's new TV series started last night. I wonder what the viewing figures were like for that? Tickets went on sale for his latest tour. I bet them there phone lines were quite busy. I don't want to but I have to say it - the man is a genius!

There's no doubt in my mind whatsoever that he has the nation well and truly hypnotised. Truth be told, I'm not really sure how he did that either. I'd kill to know.

Look into the eyes, in the eyes, not around the eyes, into the eyes, you're under. Buy my books. Buy my books. Buy my books....

Monday, 24 August 2009

Structure in movies and Inglourious Basterds.

I went to see a brilliant movie this week, Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds (I hope I've spelled that suitably incorrectly...) I don't want to say too much about it for fear of spoilers but I will say that (no surprises) it was brutal, inappropriately funny and had a spectacular ending that left my jaw hanging for about three entire minutes (which is actually a long time to keep your mouth open like that...) The soundtrack (as ever) was amazing and I was particularly struck by a version of Fur Elise that meandered into Western-style classical guitar at each main chord. Brilliant. The acting was brilliant too. Best ever Brad Pitt (except for perhaps his performance in 12 Monkeys) and a particularly compelling performance by Christoph Waltz as Colonel Hans Landa. (Sorry for all the brackets. Not quite sure why...)

It also, like Pulp Fiction, had an unusual structure. Pulp Fiction is told through various 'stories', each having its own clear narrative structure like a mini film, but over lapping. Chronology is all over the place so that characters dead in one scene are suddenly back in another. You can only truly understand the opening when you've seen the end of the film. I adore this movie.

Basterds is also set in chapters, although the characters, rather than the action, overlap, and the action is shown more or less in the order that it happens. It's still an unorthodox way of writing a script, but it works really well for this story.

I've been working on The Killing Jar treatment for months, trying to turn it into one smooth, straight A to Z story like I was taught in screenwriting class, succeeding on some limited scale. Then I saw this and felt like I'd been struck by lightning. Immediately it was obvious. I'd already sketched out TKJ as three part TV, but also knew it was too extreme for British telly. But just because it's a film, it doesn't mean it can't have three parts, does it? Well, not according to the Tarantino school of script writing, and he's my man when it comes to the movies.

I've put it down in a skeletal way and it works. I think I hang onto much more of the spirit of the book this way and I genuinely believe this isn't just the author of the novel in me trying to hang onto too much. I just have to see if I can persuade the world this is a good idea. For me, three chapters really fits with the story The Killing Jar tells but also, its major themes. They could almost be the caterpillar, pupa and emerging insect of the story. Bang on.

I just hope the world can see that and doesn't think you have to be Tarantino to get away with it. Answers on a postcard please...

Saturday, 1 August 2009

The Big Question

I decided today that I'm going to blog about 'The Big Question'. No, I'm not about to go all Hitchhikers on you and talk about life, the universe and everything, and come up with a random two digit number as the surprisingly simple answer. In fact, it's almost the opposite. The question is much less ultimate, and the answer an entire novel, rather than anything as elegant as 42.

The Big Question I refer to is the one that all writers dread and all writers are asked, over and over again at events and readings. In terms of writers' talks, it really is the ultimate question, the one that everyone seems to want the answer to. Where do you get your ideas from?

There's a reason writers hate this question. It's the one question guaranteed to make a writer's face fall, and cause he or she to mumble something incoherent about life, the universe and everything, or claim an almost spiritual kind of inspiration guiding their hands over keyboard or dragging the pen along the page. The more sarcastic amongst these creatures may comment 'I buy them all from the ideas shop', and the more honest 'I really don't know.' The latter is about the truth of it and it's near impossible to describe the creative process in any quick, simple way.

But, now, I've come up with the perfect answer. Write about it! Create a character who is an artist of some kind, put her in a settling and write a novel. Spend the entire two hundred odd pages exploring the creative process, as well as moving the plot forward, setting scenes, adding complications and eventually resolving everything. When people ask refer them to said book. Not only does it mean one won't have to answer 'The Big Question', but also may result in further sales of said book. Win, win, win!

There's only one problem with that. One whole novel later and I'm not sure that it might not have been easier to say '27' and leave everyone to go away and work out what 'The Big Question' actually is, after all.

Empathy, I've decided, is important, and an ability to switch off and tune into the subconscious mind, hence the garbled explanations that seem to point to some weird, psychic automatic writing that even Yuri Gellar would find dubious. Mostly it comes from the actual writing itself. That sounds very chicken egg but it's true. The more I write, the more ideas I have. When I first sat down to write I had none; now I have folders and documents full of the things, sitting there peskily calling to me, telling me I'll never have time to write them all. Not that I'm really complaining. In a sense, ideas are like friendships. You can never really have too many of them, but if you try to focus on them all at once they will probably come to nothing.

If that doesn't help then, well, you're just gonna have to read the book.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Epidurals and Carol Ann Duffy

Yes, these are not subjects that appear to be connected on first pass so please bear with me. After all, this is my second blog post in one day, and you gotta hand it to me for that.

Yesterday, I accidentally clicked something on my iGoogle home page and downloaded some gadgets to my desktop. It could have been a disaster but it turned out to be pretty cool. I now have a little clock, a slideshow of pictures randomly selected from my hard drive and a stream of news that I can personalise if I want to. I've not done that yet. I've left it random to see what comes up.

What came up today was a link to the Daily Mail (a paper that winds me up so much I would never usually read it) about a local (male) midwife and his opinions on epidurals. As I said when I posted this to Facebook and Twitter; only a man could come up with this one.

"maternity units should abandon routine pain relief" Hmm... As a blogging friend of mine so eloquantly put it, he 'should really have a go at shitting a bowling ball' and see if he feels the same way after that.

"Dr Walsh said the NHS was too quick to give in to requests for pain killing injections." Not the experience of anyone I've ever spoken to on this topic. In fact, certainly concerning epidurals, the opposite appears to be the case, the doctors and midwives working hard to be as discouraging as possible, right up to the point where they say 'Oh well, it's too late now. Might as well just get on with it now he/she will be here in a minute'. A friend of mine was even told 'you'll still have to push, you know' when she requested an epi, as if her unreasonable insistence on pain relief was all down to being a bit of a lazy cow who couldn't be bothered to try harder to get her baby out.

His final pearl of wisdom was that 'A large number of women want to avoid pain. More should be prepared to withstand it. Pain in labour is a purposeful, useful thing, which has a number of benefits, such as preparing a mother for the responsibility of nurturing a newborn baby.'

A large number of women want to avoid pain. No shit Sherlock. An aversion to pain is inbuilt in the human psyche. Jesus H C that's the entire point of pain, to be something we want to avoid! Human beings made a good decision, in general, to stand up and free our hands for other things and we've evolved well on that, the only problem is that it's meant childbirth for our species is painful and dangerous. Left completely to nature, a large number of women and children would die in the process of childbirth. I don't imagine for a second that this man believes intervention to ensure the safety of patients is a bad thing. Why does he feel that women should go through all the unnecessary pain? This kind of outdated thinking is what holds our society back from progress. It makes my flesh crawl to think that this man is involved with women at such a vulnerable time in their lives and I think it's no coincidence at all that most of the women I know have chosen to give birth at the other hospital in my city for their second baby onwards.

I also can't help wondering that, if we need this pain to prepare us, what is it that readies the male of our species for the responsibility of nurturing their children? Should we all give the men in our lives a nice big kick in the balls while they hold their new baby just to make sure they understand what nurturing their child is about? What a pile of steaming hogwash. Seriously. Does this sadist really believe the best start in life for a baby is to make sure their mother is totally stressed and in agony as he or she comes into the world to make sure they understand the implications of looking after their bundle of joy? On what scientific basis is he suggesting this to be the case?

Now, I'm not anti men. In fact, I rather like the creatures. However, on this one topic I really cannot be anything but Millie Tant and say that the first man to deliver a baby through his own vagina can also be the first to comment whether or not pain relief is necessary. Yes, there are risks associated with epidurals but, as my mum pointed out years ago, if men were the ones who gave birth there'd be pain relief developed by now that was much more effective and safe than what is currently available to women giving birth. They'd have damn well made sure of it.

It did remind me of a Carol Ann Duffy poem. It's from her collection The World's Wife, my favourite poetry book and one I was lucky enough to hear her read from on Friday. I was double favoured, as I booked the tickets on the spur of the moment and only found out on the night that it was her first official reading as Poet Laureate. I was thrilled. I've heard differing reviews of how well she reads and connects with an audience but on Friday she was fabulous.

Ms Duffy wrote a poem called 'from Mrs Tiresias'. For those who don't know the story of Mr Tiresias, he was a greek mortal who was transformed by the gods into a woman for seven years, as a punishment (!) for killing a pair of copulating snakes he'd been offended by. I think the idea is that he was disgusted by their copulation, rather than that one of them had called him a name, but really, none of that is so vital to my point. The thing you need to know is that he was a man and Hera, a goddess, turned him into woman. There were lots of laughs during Carol Ann's readings from The Worlds Wife, but this line, from 'from Mrs Tiresias' possibly was the most well received.

Then he started his period (dramatic pause and knowing look into the audience by Ms Duffy)
One week in bed.
Two doctors in.
Three painkillers four times a day.

And later
a letter
to the powers-that-be
demanding full paid menstrual leave twelve weeks per

Personally, I'm going to have a word with Hera myself. See if she can turn that trick for me just one more time. I have a target in mind. A certain member of the medical profession who works down the road from where I live. I'd like him, live on TV, legs in stirrups, shitting out said bowling ball to repeat the wise words from his latest report. Or admit that he was wrong. If he did the latter then, maybe then, I'd give him his epidural. Though I might make him beg first. That, after all, is what he is suggesting NHS doctors and midwives do to the women in their care.

Strange dreams

I've had some very unusual and vivid dreams recently.

In the first, someone bought me a bag of 'bushtucker trials' for a present. Now, I don't watch that jungle celebrity show, but I am aware of the concept, clearly. I remember Germaine Greer on some morning breakfast show and her credibility slipping out the window behind her as she complained about cruelty to insects and the crowding of the poor things in the dessert dishes they used on this show. Maybe Germain has never seen a hive of bees or nest of ants, bless her bleeding heart. She makes some good points in this article, but it wasn't how she came across on the telly. Anyway... I digress.

In the dream, my bushtucker present was wrapped in a big, brown sack, made of that fine but itchy woven material I believe is called sackcloth or hessian, though that's not important. It claimed on the label that there was some for 'now' and some for 'later'. I opened the sack to have a peep inside. Immediately insects swarmed out; electric blue flying creatures that darted as they flew, like hornets or small dragonflies. They were followed by tiny birds, also bright blue. I was with someone in my dream, one of those undisclosed people you get in dreams who have no face and body, or even an identity, but are a presence, watching or doing something with you. We both balked at the idea that anyone might try to eat these creatures and laughed at the idea that whoever had bought me this present thought that I might. In the centre of the sack there were a load of maggots and caterpillars, wriggling against each other and looking full of life. I'm not at all surprised that I dreamed about insects and larvae. My fiction is full of them, and I have a complete fascination with their lifecycle that I wasn't fully aware of until I started writing and it all came out.

My second dream was about a friend. A real friend, not a faceless presence, but one I won't name here for reasons that will become obvious. In this dream, the friend was having an affair and me and a bunch of mutual acquaintances were standing outside his flat talking loudly about it. We hadn't even considered the consequences of this until a friend of his partner popped her head out of the window and asked us to explain. I was straight in there, covering for him. 'Oh it's all past tense. It's the affairs she already knows about.'

The bloke concerned isn't, as far as I am aware, having an affair. In fact, there were some in his past but he did fess up and he and partner patched their life back together. I'm fairly sure he's been good since. I have no idea why any of this came into my dreams.

I like dreams. I have vivid ones, and lucid dreams too sometimes. I can often control what happens next and often replay a dream I didn't like and change the ending. I used to do this with fiction, when I was younger. If I didn't like the way a story finished, I would sit back and close my eyes and imagine something else, rewrite it for myself to something more satisfactory. I guess this was an early sign of the path my life would take.

I am dreaming loads at the moment, and also getting down the words. I'm working on a rewrite, so it's not all new material, but on good days I'm managing to get through ten thousand words or more. I think the two things are connected but I have no idea which drives the process.

It reminds me of a question I'm asked a lot at author events, a famous one that all writers hate only because it's so hard to answer. 'Where do you get your ideas from?' For me, they come from the writing. That probably sounds strange as, if the ideas come from the writing, how do you do any writing to begin with? I don't have an answer to this question. It's all a bit chicken versus egg.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Word of Mouth 8th July

If you are around Nottingham on 8th July (that's tomorrow) and free for the evening, then come along to the event below. Lots of the coolest Nottingham writers, like me, of course lol, and a free glass of wine with your ticket. What more could you want? Hope to see you there...

Word of Mouth – Wed 8th July 2009, 7.15pm in The Len Maynard Suite, (upstairs) The Royal Centre, Nottingham.

Curated by Michael Eaton, Word of Mouth promises to be a very special event, with readers including: Jon McGregor, Nicola Monaghan, Mike Wilson, David Belbin and John Lucas, covering a variety of forms from Newspaper interviews (James Urquart’s Lobster Lunch with Kazuo Ishiguro) to Ann Featherstone’s extracts from the journals of a Nottinghamshire Edwardian Lad, besides poetry, short fiction and critique. Tickets from RCH Box Office: £4 NWS Members/£5 other includes glass of wine/soft drink.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Lowdham and space time

The same thing seems to happen to me every time I arrive at Lowdham Book Festival. I walk into the main hall and find Ross (one of the organisers) and Jon McGregor chewing the cud near the main door, along with various people I've known over the years from the MA and the first punters of the day perusing the book stalls. I really love this about the Lowdham festival; that the writers and readers mix like this and there is none of this fake separation between the 'talent' and those who pay the wages. It feels very down to earth.

This year when I saw Jon, and Ross, and the people from various previous Trent MA intakes, I was struck down with a very strong sense of deja vu. My very first Lowdham came to mind, freshly published, a double act with Jon. His relaxed style and gentle sense of humour put me at ease completely and the day was a lot of fun. There's something about Lowdham that throws me back, though, further than that. Back to when I was a student.

The thing that's weird about that is that the Lowdham I'm thrown back to was one I didn't even go to. It was the day I started to write The Killing Jar. I was at the end of my first year on the MA course. It was a lovely summer Friday and a bunch of us met for a drink and ended up at a Warehouse party. I'd been thinking about the Broxtowe Estate for a while, about the sense of anarchy I felt being around there. I was staying with my sister at the time, just outside the estate the other side of Strelley Island, and my bus stop into town was the one I wrote about Kerrie Ann waiting at, more than once. I'd been watching from there; remembering what it was like on the estate and how it had felt to be part of back in the 70s and early 80s. I'd also done an writing exercise in class that had led me right back to the close I used to live on, and to the long hot summer of 76, ladybirds and butterflies. The warehouse party was the last piece of the puzzle.

The next morning, almost everyone from the course was heading to Lowdham for the book festival. I had crashed at one of my Uni mate's houses, and was considering going with them, but I had a strong urge to write that morning and I couldn't ignore it. I left St Ann's and went into town, found the nearest Starbucks, sat down and wrote the first scene of The Killing Jar. Kerrie Ann's voice came to me strong and clear, like possession. In hindsight, I am very glad to have missed that Lowdham and, at the same time, it has given that festival final Saturday a special place in my heart.

Being back there on Saturday and seeing Jon and Ross by the door, walking around town, nipping into The Ship for a quick drink, it brought to mind so many times I'd had in that village. Getting drunk last year with Clare Littleford and her partner after launching the Okinawa Dragon (really quite appropriate for that book, I'd say) and her book, The Quarry, and doing very bad impressions of Goldie Looking Chain. Launches for both The Killing Jar and Starfishing, kindly hosted by Jane at the Bookcase. Good times.

The whole thing made me think about spacetime. It made me wonder; can a place and time be so connected in your mind they almost become the same thing? Because I can't help walking into Lowdham and feeling like I'm walking into various previous chapters of my life, and one of my first novel. It's strange.

It reminded me of a phrase, one I've used a few times in my current work in progress, which has a good deal of action in Pere Lachaise cemetery. 'Someone walked over my grave.' It's a phrase I really like because, for me, it gives a sense of a fourth dimension somehow more fluid and malliable than we usually see it, a dimension that can be traversed in both directions, like the others we know. I love the idea it gives of a future that's connected to now, just like you can draw a line from that bus stop at Broxtowe all the way to Lowdham.

I'm digressing more than slightly so I'll get back to the point. I spent the day at Lowdham wandering between tents and book stalls then, it felt, randomly standing up in one talking about my work and reading from it. It was the kind of day when I can't help but love my job, surrounded by writers and readers and love for books. The quality of the readings and speakers was absolutely excellent. There were several things I was considering missing my own reading to attend. (Don't worry, Ross, I never would have done that...)

I was particularly impressed with a new publisher that has launched in Nottingham. They're called Pewter Rose Press, and have been set up by a previous graduate of the Trent MA. They've produced two books so far, short story collections, beautiful books and, what I've read of them so far, beauiful stories. (Watch this space for a review soon...) I actually published Robbie Dewa, one of the writers, many moons ago when I was editing Pulp Net. I really like her writing so it was very pleasing to see her first short story collection in print.

If you're interested in writing and you haven't been to Lowdham yet, you must. Expecially that final Saturday, when it's free. The only good excuse for not going is if you just have to, really need to, are possessed to and can't ignore the call to write the first couple of pages of your first published book.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Book of numbers

The last week has been a bit of a blast from the past, with return visits to Perry Barr for a NAW student showcase, and to Foyle's in London for the launch of their anthology 'Book of Numbers' , as well as a visit to Lowdham Book Festival, which somehow always reminds me of my own days as a writing student, perhaps because there's always such a strong Trent MA presence there.

More about Lowdham later but, for now, I want to talk about the National Academy of Writing. Last year, the anthology was done quickly, to be produced in time for the showcase in June, and as a result I ended up editing myself but that was never the idea. It was always intended that the students should run with this project, as part of their professional development and to give them editorial experience. I'm pleased to say that, this year, this is exactly what happened.

A small team Nick LeMesurier, Roger Noble and Geoff Mills were the main core, with help from Rena Brannan and Eveline Williams. I had the slightly surreal experience of being edited by one of my students. In the end, this wasn't that strange, because I've always workshopped my own writing with students I've taught and am used to the two way feedback. Some people have called me brave for presenting my work to a class of twenty odd people for comment but my opinion was that it was always a perk of the job. How often do you get the chance to get that much informed reader feedback in one go?

The editorial process was definitely good for me, and for the story, and I'm very pleased with the final version that appears in the book. The student team worked hard and were very professional, and they've produced a lovely book. Normally, I'd review it here, except that doesn't really seem appropriate given that one of the stories is mine. I will recommend it, though. I read it cover to cover yesterday and it is full of goodness.

Book of Numbers is the nth anthology I've had a story in (see what I did there?) but the first for which I wrote the story specially instead of just falling back on the folder I have of stuff I've written in the past. I was inspired to do so, because I found the theme very compelling. It may even have inspired my next novel. This made me think, about themes. We had one for our student anthology and I do think they work well when you are asking for submissions. As part of an audience at Lowdham the other day, in a session on short stories, I was asked what I think about themes. So there you go. You have the answer, Anne. I think it possibly makes more of a difference as a writer, rather than a reader and so for an anthology like this a well chosen theme may lead to improved standard of submissions. (More about Pewter Rose later, a very exciting new local publisher.)

It's so lovely seeing something you've worked on come to fruition. It wasn't always easy, working in Birmingham. The journey was hellish, the university kept changing things and I was pulling up a course and an ethos from thin air, based just on what I thought it should look like, although with lots and lots of help from colleagues, I might add. One of the biggest part of my vision was that the students should take control of a large part of the activities, particularly showcases and publications. This wasn't easy to put in place at all. There was resistance from some of the student body, used to more didactic teaching and controlling tutor influences in their pasts, who felt insecure and wanted more staff input. But, in the end, there were enough individuals ready to run with it and it worked and now it's just the normal run of things at the academy.

This year's showcase, just like many previously, was run by Rena Brannan. As ever, she did a fabulous, professional job. I was very glad to see her effort recognised with one of the course prizes this year. The showcase was perfect in that it was an embodiment of the course, with students reading a selection their own work, and actors performing some of the plays written on the Scripting and Staging module. It was a very special night.

I am very proud of what I achieved in Birmingham but prouder still of what the students have done. It was always their course, and I tried to give it to them.

Friday, 12 June 2009


I went last night to the launch of Kapow! the latest anthology produced by students at Nottingham Trent University. It was in the usual venue, Sillitoe Room at Waterstone's on Bridlesmiths Gate. I've heard so much over the years about Waterstone's not supporting local writers but that is miles from the experience I've had with them in Nottingham. I've always found them very accomodating and extremely helpful. I think last night was particularly hard for them; apparently nine of their staff had been made redundant that day, but they were as welcoming and helpful as ever.

It was a very pleasant evening with some posh horse dewberries, free wine and short, well presented readings. All the things a book launch should be and a good time all round.

My only real disappointment was when I spoke to one of the new writers about his experience of being in print for the first time, and how cool that must be. I mentioned I remembered being there myself, in a similar anthology, not that long ago. I was shocked by the bitter and cynical response I got, a short diatribe on the evils of the publishing industry and how it's hardly worth being a writer at all, the money you can't make from it. I countered this, talking about my experiences working with my publisher and agent, and in the end I stood there sounding like the naive first timer still with stars in her eyes.

This is a line of argument I'm used to hearing, of course, from writers further down the line. It's a really common theme, so common I'm almost bored of it. It came up on a forum I'm a member of recently and I ended up writing such a long post on it that I decided I really ought to blog about it.

I'm going to make a statement. It's controversial and may upset a lot of people, but I also think it's true. There is nothing less attractive than a bitter midlist author.

I know this because on my MA course I had pretty much two years of visits from this kind of writer. Nearly every speaker who came could be fitted into this category, with one or two notable and brilliant exceptions. In a way, it was a good thing. It certainly gave us a realistic view of what 'being a writer' really meant. At the same time, it was about as inspiring as a brick in the face, and six months after the course finished there was only one person left writing.

Maybe because of this education, or perhaps just because I'm generally quite a positive 'can do' kind of person (possibly a little bit sickeningly so) I've always managed to stay feeling pretty good and positive about my writing career. Don't get me wrong; I've had my moments of feeling down, frustrated or confused, but I've made an effort not to let these feelings get to me and I can genuinely say my attitude to being a professional writer has stayed positive.

This is the way I put it on my forum post.

"Although when you look at what Melissa Nathan was earning in the early days it's hardly a good salary or hourly rate. But it really depends on how you look at your writing career as to how you see that. Personally, I don't think you can or should expect a good salary from writing at the beginning. It's not a 'job' per se with an employer and that kind of security. In fact, it's a self-employed business.

If you set up in business selling widgets of some kind, or as a driving instructor (which my sister did and I can tell you is *much* worse) or with a new restaurant and so on, you wouldn't expect to make much money the first few years and you'd probably find yourself doing all the hours god sent to push your business forward. You'd see those years as 'investment' periods. You probably wouldn't take a salary at all from your business for a good while. You certainly wouldn't have a team arranging your product, PR and publicity. Sure, ultimately, you could see it as that these people take a big cut of your profit from the final product too but, then again, without them it would be hard to produce a viable product or get taken seriously at all, because they have the reputation to add legitimacy to what you're doing."

That's the way I see it anyway and it's helped me ward off the bitterness thus far.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Review: The Mother Garden and The Mercy Papers by Robin Romm

These two touching and moving books were yet again gifts from my US editor, to whom I am forever grateful. She works on wonderful books and has excellent taste but, of course, I would say that.

I'm sure you would too if you read these books. The first, The Mother Garden, is a book of short stories with a definite theme. In every story there is a mother and, in each of them, this mother is either dead or dying. The book is a smorgasboard of oxygen tanks and chemotherapy, of lives lived on but with an inevitably massive hole. Most of the stories are firmly planted in the soil of realism, except perhaps 'The Mother Garden' of the title. This slightly surreal piece contains many different mothers brought together and planted in an attempt to fill the hole left by the main character's lost mum.

The entire collection is touching and compelling. I often find short story collections tricky, enough of the stories leaving me cold to make finishing an entire book difficult, but this was definitely an exception. I was compelled to pick it up and continue until I had finished them all. Since, I've found I wanted to buy it for friends, one of the biggest compliments I could give a book, passing it on to people I care about.

It's no surprise then, that reading Romm's bio, you find pretty quickly that she did lose her mother in the recent past. The Mercy Papers is her record of that experience. It's a sad book, so very sad, but it's also incredibly honest, at turns angry, aware and vibrant. It's beautifully written in that clear concise style that seems to be such a mainstay of American publishing. Crafted. Although the subject matter is sad, and it could be depressing, I didn't feel depressed afterwards so much as full of compassion for those who have, are and will go through such things. All of us, then.

I hate to use a cliche but I feel I have to here, about these books, and that is that they are two sides of the same coin. This is an overused turn of phrase, but it does describe perfectly what I felt on reading these two pieces of writing so sod it. Romm documents what I think must be her most life changing experience so far in a memoir, then fiction. In doing so she gives the most complete picture I could ever imagine and that's as much as a writer can ever do. I am full of admiration.

I wrote a story once on this topic which I couldn't help but think of when I read Romm's books. In fact, it was my first pubished piece of fiction. I don't think for a moment it stands up to what Robin Romm has achieved. They say write what you know, and I didn't know this at all, though I could imagine it and have, as we all do, in bad dreams and moments of worry. I can imagine it whole lot better now thanks to Robin Romm's insightful and moving account.

I can't recommend these books highly enough.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Synecdoche, New York

"Millions of people, none of them is an extra. They're all leads in their own story."

I've been trying to blog about this film for days and have variously deleted everything I previously wrote, started from a different angle and realised again that it won't be enough. In the end, I decided this would tell people more about the film, and the dilemmas of its main character Caden Cotard than I ever could. Some people have compared the movie to a mobius strip , but I'd say it was more of a torus, self referential, spinning in on itself, everything the same and yet everything different. A rather abstract way to talk about a movie, I know, but then it's a rather abstract movie.

I thought it was brilliant. Like I did with Mulholland Drive, I know I will buy Synecdoche on DVD and that I will watch it many times, as many times as it takes for me to be able to watch and enjoy the scenes without trying to piece them together. My lovely hubby felt very differently, and I quote 'It was stupid.' The reviews I've read online seem to flick between these two standpoints, some of them expressing both opinions at the same time. Again, that tells you more about the film than I ever could.

Go see it. It's brilliant. It's a little bit stupid too.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Realism in films

I've been thinking a lot about film recently, and watching lots of new films as well as old faves. This is partly because I'm working on the adaptation of The Killing Jar, partly because I finally have the time to focus on film and TV, but a good deal to with a course I'm teaching in Nottingham: Writing a short film. I sometimes feel a bit of a fraud teaching this. I've not got any short films out there. I have written them, though, but inertia and practical issues have meant I've never tried to go further than the writing. I was so focused on being a novelist for so long, especially when I first discovered screenplay, on my MA course. But, to be honest, it does quite suit my style. Very structured, very visual. I enjoy the challenge of having to break my story down and work it out in pictures.

One of the films I've revisited recently is Swordfish. I think this is an interesting movie, not necessarily that great, but definitely one that I find worth studying. The opening is pretty special and probably holds more promise than the movie as a whole plays out. We've got John Travolta talking for several minutes, delivering the well written lines of dialogue the way only he can. He's talking about Hollywood and its lack of realism. He's suggesting ways that seige situations could be more realistically done, with no mercy on the part of the hostage takers and lots of bloodshed. People are sitting around drinking coffee, commenting on what he says. Then bam: span out and we are actually in a seige situation. Travolta follows up his words, well, I won't say how because some readers might not have seen the film. But he does follow up.

It almost feels like the film writer is setting his premise with Travolta's speech. 'This is going to be a realistic Hollywood film'. Of course, as the film continues, it's really not at all, just as stylised as anything you've seen. There's the longest and most unrealistic car chase I've ever seen. And the computer displays are much more visual than any hacker's screen would ever be. Perhaps it's impossible to be realistic in film, no matter how you set out to be. Maybe that's the point. A couple of views and I'm still not sure.

So I thought to myself, what would happen to some Hollywood storylines if the writer did try to inject some of that realism Travolta talks about?

Starting with Swordfish. Well, I reckon it would have taken the Hacker several hours if not days to get into the department of defense computer. He would have drunk coffee while hacking, not wine, but if he had drunk wine then he would have spilled it on the keyboard, turned the thing upside down to try to empty it out, then started typing again only to find the spacebar didn't work and several other keys had to be bashed quite hard, over and over, to get the letter on the screen, at which point they would stick and the computer send out a mad beep as it filled with bbbbbbbbbbbbs.

Fight Club would be a really short film. Jack would go out and get himself beat up once, then realise that it hurt, and he didn't like it, wasn't very good at it, and retreat to his finely Ikead apartment with his tail between his legs.

Pulp Fiction, I don't even know where to start, except that Uma Thurman would have died, John Travolta got shot by the big boss, and Bruce Willis would have won the fight and taken the money.

I'm going away to think of a few more examples and will post them when I do.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Writer's block

"Maya was stuck. That’s how she liked to think of it; stuck, like when you come up against a particularly difficult maths problem at school. She refused to use the word blocked because that sounded too serious. It sounded like something that could happen to an artery, or to your windpipe. It sounded like something that could kill you."

A short snippet from my work in progress, about a pop star on the run. It's interesting to be able to write about the creative process but remove myself from the equation a little. I'm finding out lots about what I really think. Bizarrely, quite soon after writing this, I got a little stuck myself. A few bumps in the plot became difficult to negotiate. I find train journeys useful for this, or cafes, a change of scene can make all the difference.

Sometimes, not thinking about the problem for a while is the best answer. Your subconscious keeps working then, without interference, and it's a clever beast. It's my excuse, anyway, for long walks and staring out of the window.

Writer's block is an important part of the process, I've always found, unless it lasts too long and stalls you completely. I'm fortunate that's never happened to me. But I do perhaps wonder if thinking about a blockage can be self-fulfilling and lead to more serious problems. I'm wondering if some alternative terminology might be useful. Intellectual regrouping. Subconscious planning. Or just being a bit stuck. I think Maya's right; it's a healthier way to think about it.

Monday, 30 March 2009

All publicity?

This year, I was asked to be on the judging panel of the Authors' Club First Novel Award. The way the award works is that all members of the Authors' Club are encouraged to read the entered books and to write reports on them, and then everything is compiled and compared by the committee, who work out a shortlist and pass it on to the adjudicator, this year Philip Hensher. The entire event climaxes with a lovely dinner, and presentation of the prize by the final judge, and this happened last Monday. Chad and I went along - it was only polite and the food is always so good. It was the best night out I've had in ages, Mr Hensher was a scream, and the evening ended with Chad, myself and a couple of other miscreants in the Groucho club. I'm not sure what I was expecting the Groucho to be like, except that this wasn't it. I guess I had pictures in my head of people dressed in bright jackets and dancing on the tables. It was classy, instead, and yet relaxed, with young, arty members. I can totally see why it was seen as a breath of fresh air compared to other London Clubs.

One of the highlights of the night for me (apart from having such a laugh with cool people) was meeting the Independent on Sunday's current literary editor. I have to admit, I quite enjoyed the blanche in her cheeks when she was introduced, having run, just the day before, by far the worse review I have ever received. I won't link to it here. I'm not giving the writer of said review any publicity at all, so if you want to see it, you can find it yourself. I'm not even going to comment about the review; people can read my books and make their own minds up and I don't expect everyone to like them. In fact, I quite deliberately write fiction that provokes, and think it's a bit of a victory that there are people who can't quite deal with the worlds I create.

What I will say is the same as I said on the night, to the literary editor sat two places away at dinner. No matter what a review says, I'd rather it existed than not. I believe every mention of your name, of the book, is of vital importance. Maybe I wouldn't feel the same if there weren't plenty of good reviews out there to balance the bad, but I do know this; when the Chatto edition of Starfishing came out, it didn't pick up many reviews at all, and it was completely dispiriting. There's nothing worse than a book being more or less ignored, so I'm pleased that it's getting so much more attention this time around. I'm also pleased that most of that attention is positive, but the odd bad review, even a real stinker like the I on S printed, is still worth having.

I've been thinking a lot about that adage all publicity is good publicity. PT Barnum apparently said 'I don't care what they say about me, just make sure they spell my name right!' and I like that attitude, and it works for me as a writer. But I'm not sure we can totally follow these rules in these days of celebrity obsession.

Take poor old Lily Allen. Hounded at home, followed around, chased by cars. Does it sound familiar? I'm sure that we were all left in shock about ten years ago by a woman who was hunted and chased by the press to such an extent it was contributory to her death, in a certain tunnel in Paris. Thank god, then, that the powers that be have made a sensible move and given Lily a court order to keep the dogs from her door. Sure, she courts publicity for her work, who doesn't? And she writes good music and lives a certain lifestyle, so lots of people are interested in her. I don't think this is a fair reason to hound the girl the way the press have been doing. There has to be a limit.

And talking of that limit can only lead us to the current Princess of our Hearts, Jade Goody, and her reality TV life. I'm not sure what there is left to say about the poor woman, except that I hope there was a pre-nup and that her babies see every penny of the money squeezed out with her dying breaths. Of course, that's after OK! take their cut, and Max Clifford of course, and all the rest. Magic.

For me, the whole Jade Goody nightmare was summed up by an anonymous and provocative local artist, all over Nottingham and also here. Quality.

It is her boys I feel for. No matter how much it's providing your inheritance, losing your mum must be bad enough. To see her illness plastered all over the papers and TV and not be able to turn away from it must be too much to bear. I just hope they are left alone now to deal with their grief.

RIP Jade. Well, if you want to, though I can't help wondering if we should send a photographer down there with you babe.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Some book reviews...

How Not to Write a Novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman
The List by Tara Ison

I received How Not to Write a Novel direct from the publisher and the title put me off to begin with; I prefer to be told 'how to' do something, in general, than deal with negativity, but the book came with a note of recommendation from somebody I know and respect, and so I decided to read it. I have to say, I was very pleasantly surprised, and I laughed a lot.

The book's structured around the various aspects of novel writing, plot, character, style etc and full of amusing examples of how to get your work rejected. It's astute, sardonic and generally very witty. Sure, it has a slightly superior tone in places, but I think it mostly avoids that, and whispers in the reader's ear 'are you sure you're not doing this?' I'm sure that if everyone who thought about sending submissions to editors or agents read this book, they could save themselves a lot of time and postage money, and improve the quality of what gets called the 'slush pile'.

I didn't agree with everything the book said and I certainly haven't always followed all its rules. For example, it said that writing about a break up was certain to get your book rejected and, in a sense, both my novels have featured one. I've just read a really great book that takes a break up as it's central subject (see below) and do think that bad relationships are too good a source of material to avoid. But I saw plenty that made sense in this book - and it's definitely one I would have recommended to my students, when I had them.

Overall, this was an enjoyable read, and filled with useful information presented in a more compelling way than the usual dry tone of the 'how to get published' or 'how to write a novel' books I've read. Recommended.

The List by Tara Ison is another book I was lucky enough to get for free - one of the biggest perks of being a published writer. This one was sent by Alexis, my US editor. She does think of me when she sees books I might like and I always enjoy them so thanks Alexis! It's taken me a wee while to get around to this one because I've had so much else I've felt I needed to read over the past year or so. It took me a good while to get to this one, but I am glad I finally did.

It's beautifully written, really elegant prose and Ison uses some complex ideas and unusual metaphors to bring the language alive. It has a small cast of characters, but they are incredible vividly drawn.

The story is almost exclusively about a break up, which apparently breaks the rules, but perhaps this book gets away with it because it's so well done. It's very, very compelling, car crash stylie, so that you know what's coming a lot of the time and don't want to see but you can't look away. You get the feeling these two people could be perfect for each other, if they were prepared to let each other go their own way. Isabel, the obsessive career surgeon, has found the perfect contented house husband if she'd just lighten up and realise that not everyone has to 'contribute' in the way she feels the need to. Al could work a little harder at explaining himself, at making sure Isabel understands why he's so contented with life, but also communicating the way he really feels about her. But then, I'm not even sure he knows he isn't. Men, innit?

The story pulls you along at quite a pace, getting darker by the page, just my kind of fiction. It's one of the best I've read for ages. The only slight negative for me was the ending. I really thought she had it just right and that I had reached the end, but there were pages left. There's not much I can say without spoilers, except that the last chapter significantly lightened the ending, and not in a way I could believe or level with. I would have left this final bit out. But, then, that's me. I'm dark, as I keep reminding my husband.

Highly recommended.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Onwards and, well, onwards...

My biggest news for a long time is that I am, with some regret, leaving the National Academy of Writing.

It has been a ball, it has been hard work and it has been nearly three years of my life, three of perhaps the hardest, all told, with certain personal circumstances. And now it is over. As of today.

It's time, I know that. The commute to Birmingham was a bitch, I can't stress enough how I hated it. I worked hard to get to know the writing and publishing community there but I always felt like a bit of an imposter in their midst and family life in Nottingham meant I couldn't get to nearly as many book launches and events as I would have liked. I also wanted to focus back on my writing, as it wasn't drifting as such, but it had ramped down pacewise by some level. So, yes, it was time and I will miss it very much. I will certainly miss my colleagues at Birmingham City, as well as members of the NAW board, who were the ultimate support network and never let me down. I will miss Birmingham, which is so much nicer than you think, and all the good folks there who took me into their hearts and helped me do what I was trying to do. I'd like to say a huge thank you to all of those people here. You know who you are.

The best thing about it has been the students. At times the worst thing about it has been the students too, but I won't dwell on that. (Or elaborate. No!)

Mostly I want to celebrate who they are and what they have achieved. I'm really proud of them. They're good writers because we chose them carefully, and each had to spend a week on our campus in Birmingham to prove themselves before they were allowed to proceed with the course. That's a big deal; giving up your life for a week to study on course that might not have you in the end. That's commitment and commitment, in the end, is what turns someone who can write into someone who can get published.

I truly believe the student body at the academy is unique. They are self-starting, managing and initiating their own projects, full of ideas to make the course experience better and enrich their own learning. They read, and consider fiction written by other people deeply, as well as their own. They work hard. They have all, without exception, come on leaps and bounds since they started the course (even those who do not know it yet).

Below I've detailed everything they've done so you can see for yourselves. I think their achievements are exceptional. I'm inspired by their energy and motivation and expect big things of academy students in the coming years. I'm looking forward to reading reviews of their books in the Guardian and Independent and telling everyone that I taught them.

So far, my teaching career has produced just one star, Bradley McIntosh of S Club Seven fame. As I taught him maths, I cannot claim to have contributed nearly as much as the Brit school, where he went after I knew him. But I did give him his first commendation (or accommodation, as he called it at the time) and I always smiled when he danced into the classroom.

I like to think of my writing students in a similar way. The success is theirs; entirely down to blood, sweat and tears. But I always smiled when they danced into the classroom.


PS You can buy a copy of their brilliant and very professionally produced anthology Finding a Voice here. Thanks to Imprimata for all their efforts and help with this.

NAW Student Achievements – as of March 2009

Tina Freeth

Published short story in Birmingham words pamphlet ‘Perfectly Formed’

Published short story in anthology ‘Original Skin’

Winner of SCRIPT Games playwrighting competition - one of five plays (ten minutes in length) chosen for to be performed at the B'ham Museum and Art Gallery directed by ex-BBC producer Kate Chapman (22 Nov 2008).

'Growing up on lard' published in The Map of Me - Decibel Penguin anthology (Nov 2008).

Contracted as writer by Franklin Watts Publishing for two titles in a newly created series (The Crew) for reluctant readers. The title of Tina's first book will be - 'Day of the Dog'.

'Aston Manna' (15 minute film) shortlisted for Screen West Midlands/UK Film Council funding for DIGISHORTS project.

Storytelling leader at Herefordshire Council's DESTINATION CHINA - Easter festival 2009

Short film script 'Lychees and Bingo Ball's' (an adaptation from own short story) has been chosen along with four others by the BBC Writers' Room who ran a competition BBC Bites in March 2008, looking for stories by or about the British Chinese community. The Writersroom are now looking for partnership funding to produce all five short films.

Featured on BBC Video Nation

Baljinder Gill

Completed 2 feature length scripts - "Walls Between Us" and "Don't Miss It - Live Suicide Tonight!" and also a short script - "Divine Intervention" which has made it through the first cut of the British Short Script Competition. There were 1500 entries and they've made the first cut to just over 400.

Federay Holmes

Federay has had a story published in literary magazine ‘Bad Idea’
Made third round of the Verity Bargate Award for play "Pull to Standing"
Audio play produced by the BBC which can be found here

Richard Howse

Made the top 20 in the Screenwriters’ Festival 2007 Fever Pitch competition and had his script sent to channel 4 for consideration.

Three issues of ‘Writing Tips’ broadcast in Litopia podcast to over 4500 listeners.

Completed work for Scholastic Children's Books on an ARG (Artificial Reality Game) for MG Harris's Joshua Files book series. Richard adapted the story from an original idea by MG Harris and co-authored the content of the game with her, which involves: blogs, interactive websites, video diaries, scripted dialogue, and a live event at the game's climax on the 27th March.

Fiona Joseph

Longlisted (last 25) in the Happenstance International Short Story Competition (Feb 2008)

Bobbie Darbyshire

Bobbie has now left the course, but will be publishing her first novel 'Truth Games' with Cinnamon Press this summer. She has also had another novel 'The Real McCoy' serialised, and short stories published and performed.

Robert Ronsson

Robert won the Button Bridge Books short story competition.

Published short story in Birmingham words pamphlet ‘Perfectly Formed’

Published ‘Olympic Mind Games’, a young adult novel, which made the heady heights of Amazon top 500 after a very well managed marketing campaign.

Shortlisted for Impress First Novel Award, run by Impress book and University of Exeter’s Centre for Creative Writing for his novel ‘The Spaniard’s Wife’. This was also longlisted (25) in the Jane Wenham-Jones 'wannabe a writer?' competition.

Presented the awards at the Worcestershire Teen Book Awards 2007 ceremony at Droitwich Library on April 24, 2007.

Sold 7000 copies of 'Olympic Mind Games' to a financial services company in America called Mutual of Omaha. Mutual of Omaha sponsors the 'Break-out! Swim Clinics' which tour the USA finding and coaching new swimming talent and they are giving each participant in the program a copy of my book. Has now sold more than 9000 copies of OMG in the UK and USA.

'The Speed Trap' won a Writers' News competition and it will be published in the May 2009 edition of the magazine. (Robert has also been shortlisted for this prize three times previously.)

Rachel Pickering

Rachel has had first person articles published in the Guardian and Sunday Telegraph. As part of "Open Mouth Productions" she wrote, directed and performed show "Love, Honour and Obey" (four character monologues) in Hebden Bridge – it was a sell out and very well received.

Geoff Mills

Short poem ‘The Film’ published in issue 19 of Aesthetica
Wrote a series of introductions for 501 Great Writers - A Comprehensive Guide to the Giants of Literature.

Elizabeth Nichols

Finished her first novel 'Little Time Bomb'

Rena Brannan

Rena’s play ‘Baby's Wedding’, about a Korean mother who is in competition with her best friend to see who can marry their respective daughters off first, was shortlisted for the Yellow Voices play writing competition, run by the Yellow Earth Theatre. Shortlisted playwrights had the chance to meet the directors of the Birmingham Rep, the Young Vic and the Soho Theatre.

Rena also deserves a special mention for her participation in NAW projects. She has been part of teams in a number of projects, and co-ordinated two showcase events and various workshops. She's done an excellent job on everything she's been involved with.

Gabby Bulmer

Gabby has finished her children’s novel ‘Elemental Heroes’ and is now seeking representation for her book.

Sophie Ward

Publication of article in the Times
Commission and reading of story at the Vice Chancellor’s installation December 2007.

Other publications have included My Orphean Underworld in Sesame, Meat, which won first prize in the BCU Free Word competition, and Private Lives, a regular column for Crave magazine.

Sophie's latest short story has been published by New Fairy Tales
Sophie blogs here, and about books here.

Anna May Mangan

Article in the Sunday Times October 28th 2007 ‘Proud to be a Pushy Mother’
Has now published two features in the Mail on Sunday You magazine, one in Saga, came second in the Prima short story competition in November issue and placed second in the international Sean O'Faolain Prize.

Eveline Williams

Had an audio piece broadcast on Resonance FM

Tamsin Walker

Completed 2nd draft of novel and is now looking for representation.
Completed 2 feature film scripts - received interest from UK funder and director for one, German director and producers for another.
Commissioned by Bertelsmann to write and record a series of 39 stories for children, plus a series of scripts for animation

James Kennedy

After a stint finding his feet at many open mic and spoken word events, James jointly founded Wrote Under Publishing, a non profit co-operative in Birmingham. He edited magazines and promoted gigs, and in 2007 he was one of the ‘three’ in Wrote Under’s first publication, ‘The Underground Three: Three Go Mainstream’, a collection of poetry and prose. James’s performances have included experimental music and acting as well as poetry, and he has performed at many arts venues, including the opening of Eastside Projects gallery.

Kathleen Dixon Donnelly

Kathleen is a Senior Lecturer in public relations, in the Birmingham City Business School, and has received a RoLEX grant from the university's Center for the Enhancement of Teaching & Learning [CETL] to develop an interdisciplinary course in public relations with the School of Media. This will expand the teaching of writing to students studying business degrees.

Finding a Voice

The following students were published in our annual anthology, Finding a Voice:
Bobbie Darbyshire, Robert Ronsson, Lucy Fussell, Fiona Joseph, Bruce Johns, Rachel Pickering, Eveline Williams, Gabby Bulmer, Sophie Ward, Ryan Davis, Rena Brannan, Tina Freeth, Gemma McErlean, Kathleen Dixon Donnelly, Nick LeMesurier, Elizabeth Nichols.


The following students took part in our June show:
Sophie Ward, Robert Ronsson, Edmund Bealby-Wright, Mike Morrison, Bobbie Darbyshire, Bruce Johns, Tina Freeth, Geoff Mills, Richard Howse, Rena Brannan.

Our prizewinners were: Bobbie Darbyshire (Fiction), Sophie Ward (Screenwriting), Tina Freeth (Enterprise) and Robert Ronsson (Professional Development).

The following students took part in our showcase at Birmingham Book Festival:
Federay Holmes, Bruce Johns, Tina Freeth, Rob Ronsson, Edmund Bealby-Wright, Carol Burns, Roger Noble, Fiona Joseph, Dave Ewer, Geoff Mills, Nick Le Mesurier, Bobbie Darbyshire, Sophie Ward, Rena Brannan

The following students took part in our showcase as part of the December course day:
Fiona Joseph, Rob Ronson, Geoff Mills, Federay Holmes, Mike Morrison, Roger Noble, Sophie Ward