Thursday, 30 April 2009

Emma Darwin on The Writing Life

The Mathematics of Love was described by The Times as 'that rare thing, a book that works on every conceivable levelTo celebrate today's release of the paperback of her second novel, A Secret Alchemy, we asked Emma a few questions about her books, career and the writing life.

PWN: Thanks for coming, Emma. To start, could you describe your novels to us in a couple of sentences - something to whet the appetite of any readers who may not have heard of your work yet?

ED: At the moment I’m writing historical fiction. My first novel, The Mathematics of Love, is two love stories which go in opposite directions, one involving a Waterloo veteran in 1819, and one about a disaffected teenager in 1976. My second, A Secret Alchemy, re-imagines the story of the Princes in the Tower in the voices of their mother and the uncle who brought them up, and weaves it together with a modern historian who has her own mysteries and griefs. The work in progress is still under wraps, but it’s a bit of a challenge for me, in having both its feet in the same ten, fast-moving days.

PWN: What's your background? How did you come to writing?

ED: I was a bookworm as a child, but I didn’t write anything between school and my thirties. And then one day when I was pregnant with my first child I decided I wanted to write a novel. If there were courses and editorial services in those days I didn’t know about them, which I think was a good thing, on the whole: I think it’s important to develop your own sense of your writerly self and what your work’s all about, and have lots of flying hours under your belt, before you start trying to take on board feedback and teaching. Eventually, when I’d taken it as far as I could go on my own I did do a course: an MPhil in writing at Glamorgan, and it was that novel which became The Mathematics of Love.

PWN: But The Mathematics of Love wasn't the first novel you wrote? I get the feeling that the 'flying hours' you mentioned might describe a rocky road to publication?

ED: Yes, if the six novels under my bed count as rocks. But I knew an encouraging rejection when I got one (or two, or three), and that’s what kept me going. I’d only just started writing short fiction when Jim Crace gave me third place in the big Bridport competition, which was the first time I was sure that what I wrote made sense to total strangers, and it was my first publication credit. I got an agent with The Mathematics of Love and she sold it to Headline Review very quickly, and then to Harper Collins in the US. Since then the rocks have been more about coming to terms with the book trade and where authors fit in it.

PWN: Can you tell us a little bit about how you feel your background in drama helps with your fiction writing?

ED: I suppose doing Drama for my first degree meant I spent a lot of time thinking about character, storytelling and plot, but then any keen reader does that. I think almost more important were the things which novel readers aren’t so conscious of but playwrights and actors must be: how to reveal character and emotion in dialogue and action, because in a play you don’t have direct access to the characters’ consciousness. So subtext is crucial, stage business, space, choreography, gesture, gaze, timing and pacing of dialogue... they become doubly important. The negative help is that I didn’t spend my degree reading and dissecting the great novels. It means I haven’t read as many as I’d like, but I know people who read English because they wanted to write, and were too daunted to write a word of their own for a decade afterwards.

PWN: As an network for writers indulging at all levels from happy amateur to successful professional, we're really keen on writers of all kinds getting together. How important do you feel networking with other writers has been to your sanity, your creative development and your professional success?

ED: My MPhil was the first time I really mixed with other writers, and I wish it had happened years earlier. There’s so much only other writers understand (for instance, the nature of an ‘encouraging rejection’) and the validation you get from a tutor or a fellow-writer you admire has a quite different quality from the validation you get from your granny who loves you. I don’t have a writer’s circle, but I know writers for whom it’s the key to their success as well as their sanity. A Secret Alchemy was written as part of a PhD, which I’m about to finish, so I’m wondering whether to seek out some kind of ongoing feedback for the future.

Now my various groups of published and unpublished writer friends online and in the flesh are what keeps me sane, particularly in the very peculiar roller-coaster ride which is being published. You need others, one or two books ahead of you, to whom you can say, ‘Arrgh! Is this normal?’ And if I hadn’t gone to a Society of Authors reception I nearly didn’t bother with, I wouldn’t have got a commission to write a story for the erotic anthology In Bed With (Sphere), which has been huge fun to be involved with, and is selling like (ahem) hot cakes.

PWN: Any wise words of advice for budding writers/dramatists?

ED: Whether your idea of success is having a small core of passionate fans and a review in the TLS, or seeing your books chock-a-block in Asda, you need four qualities to succeed as a writer: talent, persistence, hard work and luck. Enough of any three of those can make up for lack of a fourth. Don’t pin every part of your self-esteem and identity on landing that contract, be realistic about how badly writing is paid, and don’t underestimate how it may change your relationship with your writing to be doing it to a deadline and for money.

And remember that in the book trade writers are like the animals in the zoo. The industry needs us in order to exist, and individual zoo-keepers (editors and agents), get very fond of individual authors and are willing to do quite a lot to keep our sales in good health. But in the end, a tiger’s a tiger and it doesn’t much matter to the zoo management and the visitors which one’s on display: if we sicken and our sales go down, no animal is indispensable.

PWN: As well as a novelist, you're a regular blogger and your blog often touches upon various technical or theoretical aspects of writing as a craft. You've also mentioned your Mphil and Phd. How far do you think writing can be taught, and if so, what are the best ways of learning to write? Reading a book or a blog, or going to a traditional class?

ED: I think writing can be taught as painting can be taught: you can’t give someone a talent they don’t have, but you can teach craft to help make the most of whatever talent they do have. And you can help with ways to find and grow the material in the first place, so that talent has something to work on. I don’t think there are ‘best ways’ of learning, they all have their pros and cons. It’s more a matter of trying things and getting to know what works for you, allowing yourself to be challenged but not damaged. Sometimes the things you resist are what you most need, but that’s quite different from meekly accepting and acting on unconstructive or brutal criticism.

PWN: And finally, as the man from News at Ten says, could you describe your usual writing routine to us? What helps you write? What hinders? Are there any 'enemies of promise' you've had to deal with in your own life?

ED: When I can arrange things how I want, I write every morn
ing for four hours, either the next 1300 words of a first draft, or on whatever the current job is on later drafts. What helps is that routine, and a good place to work, with space, books, tea, lots of natural light. What hinders is the need to earn money in between, with teaching and editorial reports and the like. Being a single parent hinders in some ways too, but on the other hand, it’s so much part of me I don’t know what kind of writer I’d have become, if any, if my life had gone a different route.

And thanks to Emma from PrestonWN. She's agreed to give-away one signed copy of her novel: A Secret Alchemy to the first person who can answer this question, either on the blog or by email to prestonwritingnetwork [at]

What three kinds of bird are mentioned in the extracts from my work at

Monday, 27 April 2009

Free Online Magazine Writing Workshop

DEADLINE: 30th April

Originally an e-course designed as an on-line learning workshop, this course covers all aspects of writing for the magazine article market, including pitching, research, query letters and finding markets that pay.

Each lesson is followed by exercises to help hone skills and useful links for further help.

Mags & Rags to Riches is completely free. It is delivered in 6 instalments by daily email. Signup here or email Sue Kendrick

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Preston Blog Round Up II

We're so keen on all the Preston blogs we keep finding (don't forget to send us your links) that in advance of the Preston Bloggers Meetup on the 13th May, we've decided to do yet another blogging roundup. This may even be a regular feature.

This post is brought to you by guest contributor Richard Hirst, who blogs in strange style at I Thought I Told You To Wait In The Car and rounds-up in strange style below...

It's time once again for a big meaty roundup of local blogging activity for you Preston wordy types to get your teeth into.

Of all the Preston blogs which focus on the city itself, my personal favourites are the ones which retain an outsider-ish quality. Jonty Nation is a nice example of this: the blog is composed almost entirely from seemingly mundane photographs of things spotted out and about in Preston : soup, washing machines, Dyson Airblade hand-dryers. These are accompanied by short, cryptic passages of text which occasionally lapse stylistically into Raymond Chandler-esque musings. All of which leaves you with a slightly surreal and pleasantly skewed re-imagining of Preston.

In a similar vein is Five Months In Preston which, as far as I can tell, is a pretty ordinary blog. The thing which stands out about it however is that it's entirely in French and, therefore, largely unintelligible to a plebby yokel-brain like mine. It's a fascinating blog though, written (I think) by a French student. Like Jonty Nation, there's pictures of objects which seem very much everyday but, seen through the eyes of an outsider, become oddly intriguing. Similarly, looking at photographs of the usual sights of Preston - the Harris Museum, Avenham Park, even 'The Mall' - becomes a strangely exotic and enchanting experience due to the accompanying French text.

A blog which is very much more at the 'insider' end of the spectrum, is Victoria's Secrets. Written by someone who works at the 53 Degrees music venue, this blog details the concerts which go on there - upcoming gigs, reviews of the bands' performances and the preparation and schmoozing which go on backstage - complete with front-seat photos (or they would be if there were any seats involved).

Sticking with the world of entertainment, Scratch That Actually, alongside day-to-day observations, includes musings on popular music, reviews of new singles and albums, and interviews with American reality tv socialite Kourtney Kardashian and bookish-type-turned-Hollywood-mover Danny Wallace.

Largely unrelated to this insider/outsider theme I'd no doubt so subtley woven into your subconscious with my blog choices, special mention goes to a personal favourite. Chapman's Compendium Of Chatter takes on seemingly disconnected subjects - television, crabs, the correct time of day to eat a 'hot sandwich' - but makes them hang seamlessly together due to its author's acid outrage, lengthy digressions and exquisitely crafted sentences. It's a terrific blog and deserves more visits, so you should all go there and say nice things. Just don't call it 'a diary'.

Keeping a ‘Diary’ reeks of Bridget Jones-esque solitude and desperation, I have no wish whatsoever to keep a record on floral scented paper of the way I’ve wasted my life.

A blog isn’t a story of life, I plan to come and go to blogging. It’s simply a way of venting creativity when you discover you can’t play like Knopfler, draw like Thelwell or act like Dench.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Linky Linky

Interesting post here from Preston based writer, freelance journalist and web-designer, Chris Skoyles on how to get the best out of journalists.... well worth reading for anyone who is planning on promoting an event or getting some publicity for a project.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Word Soup: The Post Mortem

Well, our theme was RISK - chosen wisely, I think. Writing things down is risky enough, but standing in front of other people and reading your words out loud is down right terrifying. Or at least it is to me. (What if they laugh? What if they don't laugh?) When you're stood on that stage (tottering, actually - in too-expensive shoes meant to instil confidence on just such occasions) the room looks MASSIVE.

Thanks to a good-sized, friendly crowd that were more than patient during our little technical hitches (who knew laptops actually blew up?) we had a fantastic night, and will be back again with Soup II (Soup: The Return) on May 19th. Special mentions are owed to Cat Dunlop and Catherine Cable - who, newly graduated from one of Preston Writing Network's creative writing courses, wowed the room with stories of revenge. I'll never look at a washine machine the same way.

For coverage of the event, try Sarah Hymas at Litfest, who came, saw and approved. Or you can follow the twitter updates made by Ed and Liam (who didn't even tell me he was a very good writer himself) or live blog coverage by one of our new contributors, Mel Webster.

Photos to follow.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Preston Bloggers Meet Up

This is an impromptu re-post from Prestonblog, who is working in partnership with PrestonWN to put the night together.

We're interested in getting Preston bloggers together, taking about favourite blogs and blogging styles, meeting the faces behind the blogs we love, and throwing ideas around for ways to take it forward. A Blog Festival? Blog Awards?

Please register your interest with him or us and we will keep you posted as arrangements for dates and times progresses.

The aim is to have an event that anyone who blogs in Preston (and the surrounding area) can come to, meet other bloggers, or if you’re interested in setting up a blog you can come and find out more about it from established bloggers. You don’t have to blog about Preston to come along.

As you can see from the list on the right hand side of this blog Preston has a reasonably good blogging scene, there’s plenty of blogs out there and with tools such as Blogspot, Tumblr and WordPress it’s never been easier to set up your own blog.

The format for the evening would be chilled out, networking, with a short presentation by a pro-blogger about a particular topic - we’d probably kick off with something like ‘How to start up a successful blog’ and then a Q&A session. We might also have a ’surgery session’ where more experienced bloggers have a laptop on hand to talk through issues that people might be having. Mid-May is looking likely for something to happen.

We’re looking at the New Continental pub’s Snug area as a venue, it comfortably takes 30+ people, has wireless access that managed to handle Preston Tweetup.

If you’re interested, or have any ideas about the event then drop a comment below or email We would of course have a Twitter hashtag, probably #prestonbloggers for anyone who couldn’t make it but wanted to know what was going on.

Monday, 20 April 2009


They Eat Culture & Preston Writing Network present...



Steven Hall - The Raw Shark Texts

Chris Killen - The Bird Room

Jenn Ashworth - A Kind of Intimacy

With Socrates Adams-Florou | Sally Cook | Continental Collective

nu-folk musical interludes: Ottersgear

The New Continental, Tuesday 21st April 2009, 8pm £3 on the door

turn up, or if you live far-away, follow us on twitter #wordsoup

Sunday, 19 April 2009

On the Joys of Self Promotion

This post is a guest article written by novelist and blogger Fiona Robyn. If you're interested in contributing to the Preston Writing Network blog - check out our submissions page.

I used to hate the idea of marketing my novels. I wanted to do the writing, and then hand the books over to someone else to flog them – an agent, my publisher, the bookshops. I hate the idea of blowing my own trumpet. I hate the idea of nagging people to buy something they don’t really want.

This all changed when I became self-employed and I was forced to learn how to market myself. I read books about marketing, and discovered that it doesn’t have to be all pushy elevator pitches and cold-calling. The books advised me to choose a few marketing activities I felt comfortable with, and to do them consistently.

Funnily enough, as a writer I’ve always felt comfortable with the written word. I’m also very impatient, and so blogs are perfect for me. One click and it’s out there! Six years ago I started my first blog, and I also started building up a list of subscribers using Constant Contact. Some of those early contacts are still in touch with me today, and some of them have bought my novel.

Over the years I’ve had great fun and I’ve met some amazing people. Marketing online gives you a broad reach, and I’m in touch with lots of readers in the US and in other parts of the world as well as across the UK. I went on an extensive blog tour with The Letters, which involved stopping at different blogs and being interviewed or reviewed. I had a ball.

Today I use a variety of tools to help me promote my books. I find networking very helpful – especially once I realised that I only had to network with people I genuinely liked and would want to stay in contact with anyway. I keep several blogs, a website, and I’m active on Facebook. I’ve just started a new project to promote my next novel which will interview 100 readers at 100 Readers.

How do I get time to do all this and still write? That’s a good question. Promoting my books can be much more fun than writing them, and I need to be careful that I’m getting the balance right. My main rule is that I try and do my writing in the morning, before I do any blogging or other marketing. This doesn’t always work, but there are always lots of excuses not to write, including doing the hoovering…

One final question - does it work? Who knows. I can be sure that I’ve sold a few extra books, but I imagine having my book in the 3 for 2 section in Waterstones probably blows these sales out of the water. What I can be sure of is that I have enjoyed connecting with new readers, and using my blogs as a form of creative expression. I’ve made some firm friends, and I’ve learnt a lot about myself and about marketing. I’ve enjoyed writing this article – so it doesn’t

really matter if it leads to any more sales or not. I try to apply this philosophy to as much of my life as I can. As Ibn Arabi said, ‘If you engage in travel, you will arrive’.

Fiona Robyn lives in rural Hampshire with her cats and vegetable patch, and blogs at Planting Words. Her debut novel The Letters is out now with Snowbooks.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Screaming Theatre Present 'Bollocks'

Spring is upon us, the sun is slowly starting to come out and Screaming Theatre are back at the Adelphi, with their latest production 'Bollocks' by Lee Hall, the screenwriter of Billy Elliot.

24th-26th April, 8:30pm, Upstairs @ The Adelphi
Tickets: £4 & £3 (conc)

Box Office: 07841 391068 &

Inspired by Ernst Toller's 'Hinkemann', Lee Hall (Billy Elliot, Cooking With Elvis) examines lives ruined by war. This intense, dark comedy looks at the emotional and physical scars suffered by Peter, an ex-soldier who served in North Ireland, and his relationship with his wife and friends in a Northern town in the early 1990's, which will draw many parallels to the present day.

Bollocks is a stage adaptation of Lee Hall's original play for Radio 4, Gristle, which was first published in 1997.
Also, this summer Screaming Theatre will be producing the inaugural Preston Tringe - covered by PWN here. The Tringe aims to be an exciting mini-Edinburgh fringe style festival in Preston, with a mixture of theatre, comedy, literature and music etc. Deadline for applications to perform is the 6th May.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Lee Child hits Preston

The publication of a new Lee Child novel is always a high point on the literary calendar. One of the most familiar names the world over in the thriller genre, Child’s Jack Reacher books have sold over 16 million copies worldwide and has given him the rare distinction of being a double number one best-selling author simultaneously in the UK and the US markets.

In an exclusive event on the date of publication itself for his new Jack Reacher novel, Gone Tomorrow, Lee Child will be giving a talk at Preston’s County Hall on 23 April, 18:45.

This will be Lee’s only event in the North West and guests are already travelling the length and breadth of the region to attend this not to be missed event, the latest in a line of high-profile events brought about by a collaboration between award winning independent bookshop, SilverDell, and the Lancashire County Library and Information Service.

Jake Hope of the library service says Fans of the series and new readers alike are in for a nail-biting treat when they meet the man behind some of the best read books of recent years’.

Andy Martin, literary critic with ‘The Independent’ states: He follows in the great Philip Marlowe pulp tradition, nuanced with a dash of Rambo and Bruce Willis… Reacher is a moody, modern outsider figure, one of the great anti-heroes… a liberal intellectual with machismo, and arms the size of Popeye’s.’

Lee Child was born in Coventry in 1954 and grew up in Birmingham. He studied Law at Sheffield University and worked for Granada Television as a presentation director for eighteen years, until he lost his job at the age of 40 as a result of corporate restructuring. Always a voracious reader, he decided to see an opportunity where others might have seen a crisis, spent a few pounds on paper and pencils and sat down to write Killing Floor, the first in the Jack Reacher series. When Killing Floor was published, he moved his family to the United States. He now divides his time between New York and the South of France.

Explaining the appeal of Jack Reacher, Child states: ‘He’s whatever the opposite of metrosexual is. He’s post everything. He’s post-politically correct, post-feminist, post-macho. He wouldn’t recognise a gym if you showed him one, but he just is what he is, a big strong man who will do to you what you deserve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a man or a woman, he’ll help you, or he’s just as likely to kill you if you deserve it.’

Tickets for the unique event are available through SilverDell bookshop, tel 01772 683444.

And, you'll be pleased to hear, PWN has managed to convince the organisers of this event to let her in with her laptop. If WiFi and technology co-operate, she'll be live tweeting the event for all of you bookworms who can't make it in person. Search for #gonetomorrow on the afternoon itself, or afterwards.

Do you have a reading or writing related event or project you'd like PWN to help you publicise? If so, email us the details, including links and pictures, at prestonwritingnetwork[at] Ace!

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Summer Events from Litfest

Our friends at Litfest up in Lancaster have just launched their summer events programme. With the events kicking of at the beginning of May and including a series of summer readings, lunchtime classics and live lit events, it's well worth a visit.

Many of the events are going to be held at Litfest's swish new premises, The Storey Building - which means Lancaster's longest established literary cabaret: Spotlight, has moved from its old location at The Yorkshire House to a regular spot at the Storey Auditorium.

If you want to participate in a piece of history and attend Spotlight's last night in it's old venue, turn up at Yorkshire house tomorrow (17th April) to be treated to performances from Mike Barlow, Mollie Baxter, Julie Simmons and Preston's very own Andrew Michael Hurley.

For more details, click here.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Last Minute Update

We do nothing if not fly by the seat of our pants....

Last minute news from Alicia Duffy of the Preston Literature Society.

"Sorry for the short notice, but tomorrow (Thursday 16th) will be Poetryoke #3 at Harbls. It will start at around 7.30 and as per usual there will be books aplenty for you to read from, or you are welcome to read your own or other people's poetry if you prefer. Poetryoke is always a good time, and there is a really supportive and friendly atmosphere. It'd be lovely to see you there."

She said it. Harbls is on Fishergate, opposite my old stomping ground the Dog and Partridge.

Writing Comp Deadlines for April

If you want to try your hand at entering a competition, get in there fast because all these opportunities expire this month. If you're successful, we'd love to know about it so drop us a line. Information collated by Sally Quilford, who is a regular columnist at Writers' Forum Magazine - and who blogs here.

30th April

Dark Tales Short Story Comp

Story: 5000 wds. Fee: £3 or £5 with critique. Prizes: £250/£50/£25. Entry: web

Earlyworks Press Myth and Legend Story and Poetry Comps

Story: 2000 wds. Poems: 40 lines max. Theme: Old magic in a new age - includes picture prompts Fee: £5 per entry, up to 6 poems or 5 stories for £20. Prizes: £50/10x£10 plus copy of anthology for each winner. Entry: Web Post: Earlyworks Press, Creative Media Centre, 45 Robertson Street , Hastings , Sussex TN34 1HL.

Momaya Short Story Comp 2009

Story: 3000 wds. Theme: (optional) Alienation. Fee: £8 Prizes: £110/£55/£30/10xhonourable mention and publication. Entry: web (or email

Pulsar Poetry Comp

Poem: 40 lines max. Fee: £2.50 1st poem, £1.50 others. Prizes: £125/£75/£50. Entry: web post: Poetry Competition Administrator, Pulsar Poetry Magazine, 34 Lineacre, Grange Park, Swindon, Wiltshire, SN5 6DA, UK

Southport Writers Circle Poetry Comp 2009

Poem: 40 lines max. Fee: £3 per poem. Prizes: £200/£100/£50/humour and local prizes £25. Rules: entrants with Liverpool and Preston postcode mark top right hand corner of envelope with an "L". Entry: web: post: POETRY Competition, Southport Writers' Circle, 32 Dover Road, Birkdale, Southport, Merseyside, PR8 4TB

Templar Poetry Pamphlet and Collection comp

Poems: 18-24 pages. Fee: £18 Prizes: 4x £500 and pamphlet publication. Entry: web: post Templar poetry, PO Box 7082, Bakewell, Derbyshire, DE45 9AF

Ver Poets Open Comp 2009

Poems: 30 lines max. Fee: £3 or 4 for £10 then £2 others. Prizes: £500/£300/£100/1x£100 for young writer. Entry: web post Competitions Secretary, 181 Sandridge Road, St Albans, Herts AL1 4AH

A Free Man In Preston is my small stand against the unmysterious world.

PWN has been away stuffing her face with chocolate, admiring the skills at Jugglecon, having a nice rest and plotting lots of new blog-posts to tickle your fancy (sorry).

Over the next few days we've got posts lined up giving news of writing competition deadlines, local live lit and theatre events from Word Soup, Screaming Theatre and internationally successful thriller author - Lee Child as well as coverage of the slightly-further afield Bury Text Festival, and more in our series of interviews with high-profile authors of all ilks. You lucky folk.

But to kick it all off we're starting with an interview with 'Tim' who blogs over at A Free Man In Preston.

The blog's been going for years and in 2005 was picked up by the Guardian, among other places. In 2006, at the first Manchester Blog Awards, Tim won his category and was awarded the prize for Best Personal Blog. In 2007, he was nominated and shortlisted again - this time for Best Writing on a Blog.

(Funny - they seem to have a habit of awarding Manchester prizes to Preston Bloggers... not, of course, that we're complaining.)

Tim's unique brand of the mundane and the surreal is satirical, familiar and at least one-quarter absurd (you'll get it in a minute). He came along today for a few minutes to chat to us about fractions of absurdity, pheromone tablets and his part in the success of the world's first Doctor of Blogging.

PWN: Hello Tim. Why don't you start by telling us a little bit about your blog - how long have you been going? What inspired you to start?

AFMIP: I’ve been blogging for over five years now. I began after reading three or four blogs that the Guardian had suggested and liked the immediateness of it immediately. Pre-blogging, the only way to broadcast your important insights was by wearing a sandwich board and yelling into a megaphone, which is all very well but rather exhausting. With blogging you can reach a lot more people, and all while sitting down with a cup of tea. It was a no brainer then and still is.

PWN: You've had a lot of publicity along the way. What have been the high-points?

AFMIP: The best bit is when you realise that people actually read your stuff and apparently enjoy it, although you can never be quite sure about the latter. Blogs get publicity by word of mouth: blogrolls are blogging’s equivalent of “If you liked this, you may also enjoy...” and it’s very gratifying to have acquired a bit of a readership by people linking to mine on their blogrolls.

In the space of one fortnight in 2005 A Free Man In Preston was mentioned in the Guardian (who described it as absurd) and I was interviewed by BBC 5Live (who called it semi-absurd) which was a bit bizarre, but nice bizarre. It was strange to have that chink of light cast into my otherwise dark corner, and I was really hoping that someone else would come along and describe me as quarter-absurd, but it never happened. The blog saw a not unpleasant little bump in popularity that month, then settled back to normal levels soon after.

Perhaps the oddest thing that’s happened so far is that a very nice girl in New York wrote about my blog (and others) as part of her doctorate. She interviewed me over the phone and I got to approve a transcript and so on, and it was all very peculiar but enjoyable. To my knowledge she’s the first ever Doctor of Blogging, so I feel very proud to have been able to help her on her way.

PWN: What's the secret of your success?

AFMIP: Thirteen hours sleep every night and plenty of pheromone tablets.

PWN: How important is your anonymity to you? Have you been 'busted' yet?

I suppose the way I write could loosely be described as satire and as such, I’m far too big a coward to put my name to it. Busting my anonymity isn’t a very high item on right thinking people’s agendas, and I’m happy for it to stay that way. Though it’s not happened to me, I’d imagine that once you lose your anonymity, you lose the freedom to say whatever you like, and the integrity of your writing suffers as a consequence. I wouldn’t wish that upon anybody.

Also, being anonymous enables me to perceive myself as more enigmatic than I actually am, which is not very enigmatic at all. There’s not much mystique in the world and I suspect we all wish there was more. I certainly do. A Free Man In Preston is my small stand against the unmysterious world.

PWN: Preston Writing Network exists to promote the distinctive literary culture of Preston - do you think there's anything distinctive about the Preston voice?

AFMIP: I often like to try and guess a blogger’s gender from their writing, up to the point when they say something which gives the game away. That’s hard enough.

Guessing whether a writer is from Preston is, for me, practically impossible. If you subjected me to a hypothetical blind blog testing, with ten different blogs from different towns, then no, I don’t think I could single out the one from Preston. Could anybody? Which isn’t to say that I don’t think it’s great that there’s loads of good Preston bloggers, because it is great. The more the merrier.

PWN: Any words of wisdom for our readers on blogging, writing or anything else?

AFMIP: It’s really nobody’s concern how or why or when another blogger goes about their business, but might I suggest that writing, say, over six hundred words for a blog post is not the best way to hold a casual reader’s attention? My own ideal is to be able to get my point across in less than five hundred and ninety nine, a target I fail to achieve almost every time I try, but I think it’s good to have that goal.

Can I also suggest, while I’m telling people what to do, that bloggers smile while typing? As a reader you can tell. You really can.

PWN: I forget my last question. Something about favourite local blogs. Recommended reads.

AFMIP: There’s quite a few, isn’t there? I must say that I like Adventures of a Taxi Driver for reasons of brevity. He says his bit then gets out of your face. If I can read a post in the time it takes to eat a piece of toast then it helps a lot when I’m trying to keep my weight down.

PWN thanks Tim for a great interview and reminds her readers that he's available to answer questions either here or on his own blog. And reminds herself she needs to get out of the habit of speaking in third person, because it's just weird.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

The Creative Art of Blogging...

via Literature Training

Many writers use their blog as a way of getting them started each day or just as a way to take a break from something they’re working on. Freelance creative, writer and social entrepreneur – and avid blogger – Yemisi Blake looks at how you can also use blogs as creative spaces where you can play and explore, giving examples and recommending blogs by other writers to read. There is also practical information and advice on setting up a blog and getting people to read it.

Yemisi Blake has recently been an Emerging Artist in Residence at the Southbank Centre where he collaborated with other artists, curating events and mentoring young creatives. In 2008 he co-curated a blogging project for the Southbank Centre’s Poetry International Festival. He is currently an Associate Artist in Company and Practice Development with the North London based charity All Change.

Free briefing sheet on creative blogging available from Literature Training.

Poetry Courses

Elements and Forces with tutor Grevel Lindop will be held over four Thursdays (30 April, 7, 12, 21 May), from 6.30-8.30pm, at the Friends’ Meeting House, 6 Mount Street, Manchester M2 5NS. The fee is £37 (£30 concs).

Four seminars on fundamental elements and forces of poetry. ‘Myth, Magic and Poetry’ examines what we can learn from myths and legends about poetry; ‘The Identity of Words’ looks at the nature of language, and the ways in which words can interact to develop the shape of a poem; ‘Private to Public’ studies ways of transmitting the poem to an audience – magazines, competitions, the internet, book publication or performance; ‘Sustaining a Poetic Life’ explores how everyday life can best support and feed our poetry. Lots of scope for questions and discussion.

Poetry and Vocabulary: Galvanizing Your Work with tutor Matthew Welton. This workshop will be held on 2 Saturdays (25 April and 9 May), from 10am-4pm, at the Cathedral Visitors’ Centre, 10 Cateaton Street, Manchester M3 1SQ. The fee is £80 (£50 concs) for the pair.

A very musical poet himself, Matthew will encourage you to find ways of improving the textures of your poems by examining in depth the language you use. Using examples from poets who have used both expansive and restricted vocabularies, you’ll investigate how the meaning, etymology and sound of words can open up intriguing new possibilities for your poems.

Courses run by The Poetry School.

Interview: R N Morris

As part of PWN's mission to raise the profile of writing in Preston and connect Preston Writers with each other and with figures in the profession, we're running a series of interviews with high-profile novelists writing across a variety of genres. So far our very own Faye L. Booth and Y.A horror writer Steve Feasey have come to talk to us. Today we have crime writer Roger (sometimes R. N.) Norris whose agreed to answer a few questions about his bumpy road to publication and a very special twitter project.

Roger's novel, A Vengeful Longing has just been announced as one of the top ten crime novels of 2008 by The Crime Squad, who described it as 'a novel about power, suffering, bitterness and the lengths that people will go for revenge. There is a darkness about A Vengeful Longing that leaves the reader repulsed yet fascinated. Strong and stirring.'

PWN: I usually start by asking writers to tell us a little bit about their background.

RNM: I was born in Manchester in 1960. So I guess that makes me old. Older than I used to be. I read classics at university. Good training for a crime writer. Oedipus Rex was the first whodunit, you see. I used to write stories as a kid all the time, but unlike most people I never stopped. Normal sensible people grow out of it. Most of my working life I’ve been a freelance copywriter. That has enabled me to work quite flexibly and free up time for my own writing.

PWN: 'Your own writing' has included three no
vels - all published successfully. Could you sum up your books for readers who might not be aware of your work?

RNM: My first novel, Taking Comfort, was a contemporary urban novel. A literary thriller, someone once described it. The central character witnesses a number of bad things happening and collects souvenirs from them. I’m now writing a series of books set in nineteenth century Russia, with Porfiry Petrovich – the detective from Dostoevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment – as the central character. I’ve published two so far, A Gentle Axe and A Vengeful Longing. The next one is more or less complete and is in the editing stage.

PWN: I think every not-yet published writer is interested in a writer's path to publication. Could you tell us a little bit about that?

RNM: It’s been a long hard slog, I can tell you that much! I was an unpublished writer for far longer than I’ve been a published author with a stack of unpublished novels behind me. My wife and I argue about the exact number. I had my current agent for nearly ten years before I managed to get a publishing deal. And I had had another agent before that. I met my US editor once and he said my story would be a great inspiration to other writers, but I’m not so sure. I suppose I’m living proof of how important it is to persevere.

PWN: So you'd say perseverance is as important as talent when it comes to getting recognition as a writer? Sounds like you've had some low points along the way...

RNM: I reached a very low point in my writing, just before I wrote Taking Comfort. My agent told me that my name was ‘meeting with resistance’. I thought I was coming to the end of the road, and I began to come to terms with the fact that I would never get published. But I was determined to try one last throw of the dice - a book I would write entirely on my own terms. That was Taking Comfort. At the same time, while that was being rejected, as it was, I tried a ‘second last throw of the dice’ – which was to write the most ambitious book I could think of, one that I sincerely doubted I would be able to pull off. That was the book that became A Gentle Axe.

PWN: And A Gentle Axe is now the novel you're taking to a new audience with a twitter project that has been picked up and reported in The Bookseller? PWN has had its own brush with twitter recently - can you tell us about the ways you're using this technology creatively, and how that has changed your experience of writing?

RNM: Tweeting my novel A Gentle Axe is really an experiment, though I’m not quite sure what I hope to discover or achieve with it. I’m always interested in new and different ways of communicating. With the twitterisation, I’m interested in the way the sense of the text changes when it is delivered in isolated sentences an hour apart, as opposed to being part of a continuous narrative.

In one sense, the words lose meaning, they become more enigmatic. But strangely, they seem to gain a kind of mysterious power, or presence. When you’re reading a book, you’re constantly moving from one sentence to the next. With this method of delivery, you’re forced to stop and consider each sentence as an autonomous unit. I’d be interested in hearing from readers.

PWN: During all the ups and downs of the writing life, how important has networking with other writers (either on or off line) for your career and or sanity?

RNM: Essential for sanity. I look in on two writers’ websites, Writewords and Zoetrope. The main benefit has been realising that I am not alone, that there are other people engaged in this mad pursuit, who take it just as seriously as I do. These are great places to get feedback on your work too, and there are some excellent and very generous and supportive writers on both sites. Offline, I meet up now and then with some other historical crime writers, who all happen to live in the same part of North London as me. We’re meeting tomorrow night as it happens. We mostly moan about sales and publishers. That’s what writers do.

PWN: So after all that perseverance, hard slog and final throws of the dice, there's been more than a few successes for you. What's been the highlight of your career so far?

RNM: Nothing beats getting your first novel published. Though being shortlisted for the CWA Dagger for best crime novel for A Vengeful Longing was amazing. That would probably be it, I think. PWN: Any final words of wisdom or experience you'd like to impart to Preston writers?

RNM: Let go, but don’t give up.

To find out more about Roger, his work and the twitterature project, visit his blog here and his official website here. Roger is also active on myspace and you can read the serialisation of A Gentle Axe, for free, by following Roger on twitter: @rogernmorris.

The winner of Steve Feasey's novel is Samantha. Samantha, get in touch with us or Steve and we'll get the novel sent over.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Events: Flax launches Preston Writer

Flax, the publishing imprint of Lancaster Litfest will be launching a digital anthology featuring work from Northwest writers in Carnforth train station cafe (setting for that scene in A Brief Encounter, or so I've been told) on Thursday 2nd April (that's tomorrow). Entry is free! Hurrah!

The collection, Unsaid Undone is 'is a punchy, diverse collection of stories that explore the silences in our relationships and the ensuing comfort and discomfort'. Among the fine writers featured in Flax's first anthology for over a year are Annie Clarkson, who we've bagged for Word Soup's second outing in May, and Preston teacher, writer and blogger Andrew Michael Hurley.

Congratulations, guys!

For more information about Lifest's programme of events, seminars and development opportunities for writers in the North West (that's us) click here.

Preston Blog Roundup

One of the things I did when preparing to start the PWN was spend a day researching (for 'research' read: clicking on things) Preston Bloggers.

There's a fair few of us out there, isn't there? Some of the better known ones are hosted at LEP blogs and from there make it into the print edition (Adventures of a Taxi Driver has a regular slot - Q: is a blog in a newspaper still a blog?) but the 'blogs today' template the LEP uses is basic and there's plenty more out there for someone willing to explore a bit.

I Thought I told You To Wait in the Car is a personal favourite of mine. If you like your writing dark, funny, scary and occasionally scatological, this is the blog for you. A newcomer onto the scene, this blogger is already building a following for his irregular, surreal, ranting posts, predictions and opinion pieces - the sense of humour spills into the sidebar, where followers become 'minions'.

On the other end of the spectrum is Just Testing - an account of an MA Creative Writing course that describes itself as 'chatting shit about yourself and stealing ideas from other nice people'. The sub-title sums up the mix of writing on offer - with insights into the writing process, ruminations on creativity, family life, memories, writerly insecurities, reading experiences and original work. Wish I'd read something like this before embarking on an MA.

The Temple of the Matmos is, in its own words a 'collection of artifacts from the shadier and, let’s face it, just plain better side of your Earth culture and creativity' and would appeal to lovers of classic horror, B-movies and SF. Also covers local events.

Broadgate is Great does what is says on the tin, and acts as a one man/woman/blogger band to promote events and issues happening in and around Broadgate. As a community news portal specific to the Broadgate area, this blog is hard to beat. The writing is clear, informative and characterful, and the look and layout of the blog make the most out of the template and include some amazing pictures of the area.

Miss Mashed, an illustration student from UCLAN wins the prize for prettiest blog - the photographs of her work, designs, craft projects and, my favourite - moleskine project. The blog has the feel of a scrapbook, and although updated irregularly, is well worth subscribing to.

Almost finished, but not wanting to miss out Goodbye Blue Monday who (via a content warning) blogs a cool collection of music, reading and writing - with original poems included, my favourite of which being: When I Want to Make A Good Impression I Tell People About My Parents Having Sex

Finally, I'm going to let Barney Farmer speak for himself, with a quote which sums up a surreal, meandering style that had me laughing out loud as I read... (must also mention the fantastic Flaming Panther post - who knew what Avenham Park was hiding?)
The internet is no place for sexy prattle.

Instead, let me big-up the particularly fine pork pie I just had for lunch. Crisp pastry, sweet meat and oodles of salty jelly. Boiled hooves. Wobble wobble. Delicious.

Got it off Preston Market’s tripe man. Tripe connoisseurs might want to pay him a visit today, actually. The ladies’ tripe looked first rate.

For more, check out the links in the side bar - go exploring, and come back here to tell us about your favourites.

Recommendations, plugs, links and rants about what we've missed out can all appear below in the comments.