Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Blog Roundup

It's that time once again: where we delve into the technicolour world of Preston's blogs. This month we'll be turning our attention to the 'new and views' patch of Preston's blogosphere.

First up is Punk Psychologist. Just as the title suggests, this is a blog, maintained by psychology lecturer Mike Eslea, whose twin subjects - psychological musings on themes as varied as mental arithmetic and knife crime, and old-school British punk rock - occupy the majority of the posts. The overall raison d'etre of the blog, however, is to aid science in its defence from the evils of 'pseudoscience'. Eslea variously tackles homeopathic medicine, chiropractors and the great MMR autism hoax in his posts. All of which are, of course, backed up with the sort of linked references you'd expect from a rigorous-minded academic. He even goes so far as to test his theories about acupuncture's efficacy by submitting himself to various needle 'treatments' and filming the results for his followers' edification. Amid all this holding up of quack science to swashbuckling scrutiny, he also finds time to go watch Killing Joke and get his hair dyed.

Missives From Doktor B is also a journalism blog, although with its roots more firmly anchored in the world of Westminster and party politics. Liam Pennington - Doktor B's Clark Kent, if you will - wears his Liberal Democrat allegiances on his sleeve being, as he is, a card-carrying member of the party. This, however, has given readers a more detailed insight into the recent Lib Dem conference than one ordinarily tends to expect from a blog. Elsewhere, 'B' analyses the ongoing campaigns again Barack Obama's plans for healthcare reform orchestrated by Republican rivals, the apparent success in the far-right BNP's campaign for self-legitimisation, and that hottest of topics: Derren Brown's recent lottery 'prediction' stunt.

Andy Dickinson another local lecturer, is similarly rigorous when it comes to including links to other blogs and websites, to the point where some of his posts are composed solely of links to recent articles which he's found interesting. Current areas of interest have been what the future of print journalism (if there is one) would look like, the growing importance of Twitter and, naturally, the influence of bloggers. Handily, there's also tips on how to get the most out of various software and online resources for the would-be blogging journo.

And finally we come to the wonder that is iFranky - a blog by self-confessed 'web nerd', also has plenty of advice for aspiring bloggers looking to establish a greater online presence for their writing: how to reference a blog as part of a CV, a list of indispensable 'Holy Shit' online resource discoveries, and plenty geek-heavy posts about things such as 'visualization graphs'. This blog also takes on a veritable trove of further subjects: current posts have focused on the on the ever-ongoing debate about what the legal status of downloading music should be.

And that's all for now, folks. Join us next time when we explore yet more of the flaura and faunae in Preston's blog-forest!

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Word Soup Five

Hello Word Soup Fans!

It has been too long, (which is entirely my own fault), since the last Word Soup review, so thank the Preston weather that it's here. Excitingly, courtesy of our newest PWN friend, Norman Hadley, it's also got some new fangled video content which means if you missed out on the night, you can catch up right here.

The night got underway with music from Harvey Lord, who, after a brief fight with the mic stand which I promised not to mention here, impressed by sounding like a mix of Nirvana and the Beatles.

The theme for the night was revolve which was observed as loosely as ever. First by poet Michael Molyneaux, who I'm not sure mentioned the theme at all but did read several poems from his new collection "Selected Poems." These ranged from haiku to the epic "Ode to Lorca"

Peter Wild, writer, editor and reviewer had written something especially for us at Word Soup. Only he didn't like it. So instead he read "The Summerplace," a moving story about a man who experiences the best moment of his life with his wife by a tree in the summertime and the slow decline of everything that comes afterwards.

After a break and some more music which I shall post right here

It was time for the open mic slots, this month's readers were:
Mark Charlesworth: who read poetry from his collection which is coming out soon
The ever lovely Simon Baker: who wore a tie (effort with attire is always rewarded in this column) and performed stand up comedy (very loosely) around the revolve theme
Chris Billington: member of Preston Poets who read poetry based around the blues rhythm about death and jam
Paul Sockett: Actor and poet who read "I Love You" and "Happy Anniversary." My personal favourite of the night and one to watch for at future events.

After some 12 bar blues from Harvey Lord, it was the turn of Sian Cummins, Manchester creative writing graduate and author of Fluids. She read a tense extract between the main protagonist and another character Mavis over a dead cat. Have a look below

And finally, genuine Prestonian Andy Duggan read two extracts from his novel Scars Beneath the Skin which has been reviewed by PWN right here. He read part set immediately after 9/11 but came into his own when capturing the narrator's childhood in East Berlin.

Word Soup 6 is on the 20th October and will be, I am assured, a spooky special. Keep checking the blog and twitter for more details.

PS. I love to get comments like a small child likes to get post so keep in touch! Leave me your thoughts on Word Soup 5 or just say hi

Monday, 28 September 2009

Word Soup on Tour

We always get excited to announce our latest Word Soup offering - but this Word Soup is special because it's our very first touring event. And where better to present an 'away' fixture of Preston's biggest and friendliest live lit night than at the sea-side!

Blackpool Library Service deliver an annual literature festival: Word Pool. This year the opening day of the festival falls on National Poetry Day and we've been asked to kick off the celebrations by presenting a poetry Word Soup at Blackpool Central Library.

The event will be held in the library's main space between 3.30 and 5pm on Thursday the 8th October.

It's FREE to get in and there'll be our usual open mike spots for all budding poets and spoken word performers.

We're excited to meet the local readers and writers in Blackpool, hear their words and tell them all about what we do. For our Preston poets, this is a great chance to come with us, take advantage of an open mike slot and showcase your work to a wider audience.

The line-up of poets we've got booked for the afternoon is a treat.

Our start performer is Ann Wilson - most of you will remember Ann from the splash she made presenting our very first Word Soup poetry special. We had such excellent feedback about her performance that we couldn't wait to get her back - and when better than a Word Soup special to celebrate National Poetry Day?

Annie Clarkson, another previous Word Soup performer, will be comming up from Manchester to share her words and work with us. Her collection Winter Hands will be available for sale - and if you can't wait until the 8th, you can always read her blog. She's a really great performer and we can't wait to see what Blackpool makes of her.

Norman Hadley - our newest PrestonWN volunteer, will be joining us again from Garstang after a fantastic first performance at Word Soup #4. Norman is a poet, author, writer and photographer and his website is well worth exploring - he's also a regular performer at Lancaster Spotlight and a contributor to the Lunecy Review.

Ron Scowcroft used to teach literature to Blackpool Sixth formers and is pleased as punch to return to the town to share his own poetry. A poet, blogger and regular performer at gigs across Lancashire, Ron will also be joining us at Spooky Word Soup #6 on the 20th October with a very special poem.

For more information about Word Soup and how to get involved, email
For more about Word Pool - Blackpool Library's very own literary festival, click here.

Creative Writing at the Continental

They Eat Culture and the Preston Writing Network present the latest round of creative writing classes with local writer Jenn Ashworth.

Taster Course

Saturday 11th October 2.45pm - 5.15pm

Jenn will be teaching a 'creative writing taster session' - this course is aimed at beginners or those who have some experience of writing but would like to increase their confidence at working in a group. The two hour session in our relaxed riverside venue will involve writing prompts and sharing your work, but there's no obligation to read aloud.

The cost of the course is £5 - and this taster session is run as part of Preston Arts Association's annual Arts Festival - more details of this and other Arts Festival events can be found via their website, here.

Six Week Workshop Course

4th of November - 9th December 7.30 - 9pm (all sessions)

Over the course of six one and a half hour workshops Jenn will take you through the basics of creating character, plot and setting. She'll work with you on description and dialogue and set writing prompts and excersises to get your creative juices flowing. This course will help you turn your ideas into fully fledged pieces of writing, teach you how to present your work for publication and deal with issues like procrastination and writer's block. There will be some homework, and the opportunity to read your work out during the workshop - although this isn't compulsory.

Cost: £50 per person.

Workshop dates (the price is for all six workshops)

Wednesday November 4th
Wednesday November 11th
Wednesday November 18th
Wednesday November 25th
Wednesday December 2nd
Wednesday December 9th

The taster and the six week workshop are all held at the New Continental Pub, South Meadow Lane, Preston. You can book a place by telephoning the They Eat Culture office on 01772 499207 or emailing - payment must be made in advance in order to secure a place.

As an added bonus, everyone who attends a Preston Writing Network creative writing workshop - whether this is the taster session or the six week course, will be invited to perform at Word Soup with your very own 3 minute slot to showcase your work to a friendly and growing audience.

Regional Writers' Group Networking Day

Skelmersdale Writers Group

invite you to
The 2nd Northwest Regional Writers’ Groups Networking Day.
to be held on SATURDAY 14TH NOVEMBER. 10.00am - 4.00pm
at The Engine Rooms, Westgate, Skelmersdale. WN8 8AZ.

Cost just £15 per person, includes lunch and refreshments.
Book sales table provided.


10.00 am: Coffee and registration.
10.30 am: Morning speaker: Andrew Darby (Lancaster Litfest/Flax Books.)
12.15 pm: Lunch and book sales.
1.15pm: News from the groups around the region and readings from members.
2.30pm Refreshment break.
3.00p.m More regional reports and members’ readings.
3.50: Final feedback and farewells.

Following on from the hugely successful regional writers’ group networking day hosted by Ormskirk Writers’ and Literary Society in 2009, Skelmersdale Writers’ Group is delighted to host the regional networking day for 2009. A great opportunity for writers in the region to share their experiences and publicise their work and their forthcoming events.

We are also pleased to offer the region’s writers the opportunity to get an in depth view of Lancaster Litfest and its publishing imprint Flax Books.

Information about Lancaster Litfest:

Andy Darby the Artistic Director of litfest ( will talk and take questions about the range of litfest's work as a literature development agency, publisher and festival based in Lancaster in the North West of England.

Litfest has been Lancaster's annual literature festival since 1978, and now runs literary events through the year as well as occasional writing projects on an ad hoc basis. We support and publish upcoming writers in the North West of England through our Flax imprint and are about to open a poetry bookshop as part of our new space at The Storey Creative Industries Centre.

This year's festival runs from the 16th to 25th October 2009 and features a fantastic range of novelists, short story writers and poets, find out more at or call 01524 62166 for a brochure.

To receieve a booking form for this writers' group networking day, please email or telephone Carol at 01695 728320. The day is open to individuals as well as members of Lancashire and regional writing groups.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Guest Post: Claire Laurraine Sharples

September's Guest Post is from Claire Laurraine Sharples. She is a creative writing student at UCLAN, and recently worked as part of the team that edited and published Michael Molyneux's collection of poetry. Here she tells us a bit about the behind-the-scenes work that went into the collection, and why, as a writer, the experience was so valuable to her. Claire blogs about the ups and down of the writing-student's life here.

As a writer, I have always been curious about the publishing industry. How do I submit my work to one? What happens to my manuscript? How are books published? I was able to answer these questions by taking part in a publishing project through UCLan’s very own publishing house,
clan – u press.

Being chosen to be one of the five students involved in this publication was an exciting moment for me. We worked alone or as a team, taking on different roles performed in a publishing house: editing, design, promotion, accounting etc. Like the staff of a small publishing house, we were involved with the project from start to finish.

Publishing a book involves different stages so we set deadlines for the tasks to be completed, allowing space in between each one in case anything went wrong. As a team, we sat down with Michael and discussed our ideas and opinions in respect of the design and layout. We read through Michael’s poems, deciding which ones should go into the book. Sitting down together, we sifted through the images that some photography students had taken for us, and chose one for the cover, taking into account Michael’s choice too. The selection process was straight forward but the editing and design was more difficult.

Although Michael’s work had been published before, the manuscript we had contained various errors which had to be corrected. Taking into account that poets can break the rules when using punctuation, it was important we checked any amendments with Michael. We did not want to alter the structure of his poems. The corrected manuscript was dropped into a special software programme that we had been trained to use. A number of drafts were produced before the final one could go to print. All the drafts had to be carefully read through and edited where necessary. We had to come into the publishing house during our spare time. Staff expect to work long hours in this industry and we had to be willing to do the same in order to meet our deadlines.

Michael and the team enjoyed this project and gained valuable experience. For me personally, I developed new skills and an urge to pursue publishing as a career; as a writer I have learnt how to submit my work to publishers, how the process will work and what is expected of both publishers and authors. Good communication and developing a good relationship with your editor are the two main important issues I have learnt. My editing skills come in useful when I read through my work. Finally, I will be able to mention this valuable experience when I apply for internships next year.

Other recent publications from clan-u press include a local history book; “Memories of Frenchwood”, Beaumont College artwork; “Response” and poetry anthologies; “Taste” and “Therefore I am... For further information of the press and their publications, please send your enquiry to

Monday, 21 September 2009

Word Soup #5: The Line Up

Word Soup fans are in for a treat this month - we've a hand-picked line up of poets and writers as well as a special appearance from Lancaster's favourite son, alt-folk musician Harvey Lord who will be providing our usual musical interludes between acts.

Michael Molyneux, who we interviewed on the PrestonWN blog this month will be reading from his new poetry collection - Selected Poems. Coming up on the blog, we've a guest post from Claire Sharples, who worked on the UCLAN based team of budding editors and publishers who put together this collection so keep your eyes peeled for more.

From Manchester, we have Sian Cummins - a graduate of the University of Manchester Creative Writing Masters - she's recently completed her first novel: Fluids and is now busy working on her second: The Elastica Principle.

Also from Manchester, we have Peter Wild. Peter is an editor, reviewer and short-story writer. He'd edited collections for Serpent's Tail - most recently, Paint a Vulgar Picture - fiction inspired by the Smiths and edits the online book review and comment magazine BookMunch. He'll be reading his own work, and be available to sign anthologies available from our bookstall on the night.

All the way from Chester, we have native Prestonian Andy Duggan - we reviewed his first novel Scars Beneath the Skin (Flambard Press, 2009) here, and you can read an interview we did with him here. He's been working on somerthing special for us, based on our 'revolve' theme and will be available to sign copies of Scars Beneath the Skin from the Word Soup book stall available on the night.

Finally - and as always, we'll be opening up the stage for you.

We've an open mike section, and you're invited to get up on stage and wow us with three minutes of poetry, prose or performance. If you're interested, come early and sign up on the door - our spots go very quickly and we dish them out on a first come, first served basis.

Word Soup # 5 - The New Continental, 22nd September (that's tomorrow night!)

8pm - 10.30pm £3 on the door.

And yes, that is our shiny new logo, thank you very much.

sCribble: New Creative Writing Group

News from the organisers of sCribble - Catherine Cable and Cat Dunlop. Those of you who've been attending Word Soup from the begining might remember Cath and Cat who took our very first open mike slots performing pieces they wrote and worked on during our eight-week creative writing course last winter.

Now they've set up a creative writing circle, and have dropped by to answer a few questions.

PrestonWN: What is scRibble?

Catherine: scRibble is a new creative writing group who will be meeting on a monthly basis in the New Continental, South Meadow Lane, Preston. We are a group of like minded writers who feel that a chance to get together, share ideas, give and receive feedback on our work and take part in writing exercises would help to motivate us to produce more writing.

PrestonWN: Why the name?

Catherine: The name was chosen because as writers we spend a lot of time scribbling words onto a page in the hope that some of them may make sense. Our home is to be the New Continental which is situated by the river Ribble (with wonderful views of the river from the beer garden!). It seemed like a suitable name to encompass both what we do and where we do it.

PrestonWN: Who is welcome?

Catherine: Anyone and everyone who wants to write. From experienced writers to the first timer. We intend the group to be organic and dynamic and to shape itself to the needs and wants of its members. Whilst there is a small annual subscription fee, members who join throughout the year can pay a proportion of this fee, so we are open to new members throughout.

PrestonWN: When's your first meeting?

Catherine: Our first meeting will take place on Monday 28th September from 7.30 to 9.30. We will then meet on the last Monday of each month - same time, same venue.

: How did you come up with the idea of starting a creative writing group?

Catherine: Cat Dunlop and I are graduates of the first Creative Writing course run by Jenn Ashworth. We took the course as a much more enjoyable activity that going to the gym and whilst we learned that we could occasionally come up with a good story or poem, it also allowed us to legitimately drink wine on a Monday night!

Following this course, we both found that in order to motivate us to actually put pen to paper, it helped enormously to have the support and feedback from the other students on the course.

: What is the benefit for new writers of joining a creative writing group?

Catherine: For new writers, such as myself, I found the confidence being part of a group gave me was invaluable in motivating me to write more. Being a member of a group allows a new writer to feel they are not alone in, what can be a lonely pastime.

It also allows them to pick the brains of more experienced writers, learn tips and techniques, have access to information about performing their work and entering competitions.

Being part of a group for both new and experienced writers helps to motivate and receiving feedback from other members of the group in a relaxed safe environment helps us to hone our craft. Oh and there is the added bonus of the drinking wine legitimately on a Monday night!

To be added to our mailing list to receive information about further meetings or just for a chat about what to expect, please contact

So there you have it. sCribble - Preston's newest creative writing group. Open to all, with their first meeting at The New Continental, South Meadow Lane, Preston on the 28th September from 7.30pm. Off you go, and tell them we sent you!

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Interview: Andy Duggan

Next up in our series of interviews is Andy Duggan. Andy will be reading from and signing his debut novel Scars Beneath the Skin at Word Soup #5 on the 22nd September.

Tell me a bit about how you got started with writing. Did you try short stories or poetry first before settling on the novel form?

I was caught up in an IRA bomb explosion in Manchester in 1996 and I began writing as some sort of a reaction. Not that I can explain it precisely, all I know for certain is that I had no interest at all in writing before that event. I can't remember any poetry, but there were lots of short stories and fragments of stories. Anything that came into my head, really - it did feel like an opening of the floodgates.

I also wrote a script for a Channel 4 competition. Around 1998ish, I think. There was a movie pitch website I sent a lot of ideas to as well, complete stories reduced to a synopsis of 3 sentences. I went on writing purely for the sake of writing, with no real direction, until I began to try and join up this jigsaw of fragments into a bigger story. I suspect I'd got to a point where I needed to feel a proper sense of purpose, but I had no confidence at all in my ability to write a novel.

Two things I was sure of. Firstly, the bare bones: a man who finds love at the point of suicide. Secondly, the opening line: There is only so much loneliness a human being can bear.
Scars Beneath The Skin took you ten years to write - what changes did the novel go through during that time? How did you keep yourself motivated during the long haul?
Many, many changes! There were 3 completely different versions of the story. Version 1 petered out and was never completed. The basics of the main character, Karl Dresner, were there, the sense of an alienated outsider was there, but the main female character was so ill-defined she was more like a ghost. Version 2 was an espionage thriller, but it was a real dog's dinner; more like 3 novels squeezed into one. Both Karl Dresner and Lucia Cavallieri were better defined, but they were lost in a plot that went out of control. Version 3 was a simplification of Version 2 and the final title appeared at this stage. Ditching the thriller baggage allowed me to concentrate on Karl Dresner's battle to overcome the effects of trauma.

Motivation did flag at times. There were periods where I didn't want to write at all, but the story kept nagging at me. I always felt I had a great story idea, but there was a dire confidence problem; I didn't believe I'd ever be good enough to do the story justice.I joined a writing group in 2004 and that was a huge help in picking me up from another low motivation point. Joining the WriteWords online community was another big help, mainly for making the process of approaching agents and publishers seem more do-able. I used The Literary Consultancy critique service once the final version was largely complete. Their report gave me enough confidence to submit the work.

Tell me a bit about your usual writing routine. Are you an early bird or a night owl? Computer or note-book?

If Carlsberg made writing days, they'd be like this. Get up at 6AM, write for a couple of hours, have breakfast and go for a walk. Read the day's work, probably in the evening, then let the unconscious turn over the ideas while asleep. I did have a pattern like that when I really got into my stride with 'Scars Beneath The Skin' and I'd like to get back to a similar pattern.
Computer, definitely computer. I sometimes make handwritten notes and I'm now trying to use handwritten index cards as well. I have got A4 notebooks I've been using for writing groups, but if there's something I particularly like in there I will try to make sure I get it onto the computer. It's the thought of losing handwritten work that makes me prefer the computer: I make sure I keep regular backups.

I'd love to make it sound as though I'm ruthlessly efficient and disciplined in my approach, but I'm not very good at lying.

Are you working on anything now? Can you tell us anything about your current projects?

Graham Greene is the writer who makes me want to write, and I'm aiming at a thriller with some of the depth and complexity (and seediness) Greene put into his work. There's a tentative working title of 'Supply & Demand,' I'm pretty certain the location will be Amsterdam and I'm pretty certain about who the main characters are: a drug dealer and a victim of human trafficking.

There's a gritty, visceral Danish crime movie called 'Pusher' which has given me a lot of inspiration. Films like 'Mona Lisa' and 'The Long Good Friday' as well; and 'Get Carter,' but I want to aim at something more than a gangster story. I want to add a layer of political/military conspiracy. Possibly a plot to smuggle nuclear weapons technology, but I'll have to be careful the story doesn't collapse in on its own complexity like my last attempt at a thriller.
I'm aiming for a larger cast of characters in this one; that was a piece of advice from The Literary Consultancy.

Confidence again is the issue now. Is the story good enough, or will I realise 60,000 words in that I'm on a hiding to nothing? I'll be a lot happier once the story's firmed up enough for me to be able to get up at 6 every morning to work on it.

Aside from that, I do short pieces for review at a monthly writing group and I keep meaning to do some more work on one of those and submit it to Radio 4 for the Short Story slot.

How are you finding the promotional readings and signings you are doing are affecting your work? Is it helpful to meet your readers?

I haven't done enough events so far to greatly affect my work, but I've had some useful feedback via email and Amazon reviews to give me some food for thought. One thing I've learned. Make sure there are some passages suitable for reading out aloud. There's a lot of dialogue on 'Scars Beneath The Skin' and it's very difficult to use dialogue-heavy sections for readings. Daunting, really, the promotional thing, overall. To say I don't exactly relish being the centre of attention is an understatement that belongs in the Guinness Book Of Records (is there a world record for understatement?). Having said that, I'll be sitting in the Cheshire Oaks Borders on September 19th hoping that some people notice me. I'm hoping, over time, to find reading groups who want to try my book out. Then I could go and talk to them, if they want me to. That sort of set-up, sitting round a table with a smallish group hearing what they have to say, appeals to me far more than standing in front of an audience while desperately hoping they don't slip into a catatonic state.(You can listen to an audio click of Andy doing an interview with BBC Manchester here)

How far is this book autobiographical?

Only in the sense that I've got personal experience as an innocent bystander in two events from the story; a terrorist bombing and a riot. I didn't get so much as a scratch form the bomb explosion, though, and I'm not aware of suffering any psychological after-effects. I suspect, unconsciously, I made Karl a foreigner as a way of avoiding slipping into an autobiographical dead-end.

I have used some UK locations I know well, but some of those were moved to Germany. Karl's Munich office, for example, is based on where I used to work in Manchester. There's a scene on a tram based on snatches of an overheard Manchester Metro conversation. Some of the stroppy shop assistants are based on real people; one of my pet hates, that sort of 'service with a snarl' attitude. Parts of the Berlin riot are very close to reality and I couldn't resist allowing myself a Hitchock-style fleeting appearance (it's in an Irish bar scene).

As well as a writer, you're a blogger. What do you think are the benefits of a writer having a blog? What are the pitfalls?

An occasional blogger, really. There's no way I'd blog at all if it wasn't for having a novel to promote. Which leads on to the main pitfall in my eyes; I'm a very private person and it's too easy to give too much away on the Internet. Ideally, I'd prefer to remain completely anonymous while the book sells by the truckload, but that isn't the way it all works. Blogs are one big potential quagmire of self-indulgence as well.

So, I try to keep blog posts directly related to book promotion. I have posted one piece of flash fiction and I keep meaning to post some very brief book/film/TV reviews. Too often, blogging sinks down to the bottom of my 'things to do list.' Since it's free, though, it'd be daft to ignore it as a marketing tool. I've noticed some writers using Twitter to post quotable sections of their work. That'll be worth a try at some point.

Do you have any hints or tips for our readers who may be working on novels?

Top tip - join one or more creative writing classes or groups. Writing a novel is a very lonely activity and so it's important to get some social interaction with like-minded people. It also creates some peer pressure. I wish I'd joined a class/group much earlier.

A novel can take over your life. I had no idea when I began just how much time and energy writing would soak up. It's a difficult balancing act. You have to put your heart and soul into it, but don't let real life pass you by.

When you've spent 10 years slogging away with no sign of success, it's a great feeling to hear that a publisher wants to produce your work. It feels like winning an Olympic gold.

Don't imagine there's much money in it. There are statistics out there to show that only a tiny percentage of published writers can make a full-time living out of it.

Join an on-line writing community and you'll find a mountain of useful information. I've been a member of the WriteWords community for a number of years and that's how I first heard of Flambard Press.

Be prepared for lots of rejections. I've got a pile of 40 or 50 'Thanks but no thanks' letters. Every time you get a rejection letter, don't mope about. Do something positive and send your work out to another agent or publisher.

Don't let the lack of a literary background put you off. I failed my English Lit O-level, my career has been in engineering/computing and I feel at a definite disadvantage due to a lack of literary knowledge. I guess those feelings aren't going to disappear in a hurry. Who knows though - maybe that lack of a literary background helps me to write with a different voice.

The usual path is to find a literary agent first and then the agent seeks a publisher for the work. In my case, though, I've been taken on directly by a small independent publisher and I'm still agent-less (or should that be unagented?).

Make sure you have finished a novel and it's the best you can possibly do before you send the work off to literary agents and publishers. Even then, bear in mind that they are snowed under with work from aspiring novelists.

Consider a critique service. I used the The Literary Consultancy when I felt I'd done enough work on 'Scars Beneath The Skin' and the report gave me enough confidence to start sending it out. I bit the bullet, sent the whole manuscript and so had to pay a fair old whack. However, you could always send the first the first few chapters instead.

Be patient. I began submitting the work in mid-2006 and it was 2 years (and about 50 rejections) later before Flambard Press showed an interest.

Review of Scars Beneath the Skin - by A.J. Duggan

Scars Beneath the Skin, the debut novel from Cheshire-based writer A.J. Duggan, captures the uncertainty and moral emptiness of a post 9/11 world prone to random violence through the eyes of East Berliner, Karl Dresner. Caught up in a bomb blast in London in 1996, he struggles to cope with the traumatic psychological injuries, which are intensified by the September 11th attacks some years later.

Gradually detaching himself from society, Dresner descends into an emotionally barren life of lap dancers, drink and disturbingly vivid flashbacks, until by chance he saves the life of Lucia Cavallieri, who tries, in turn, to save his. Billed as a ‘dark modern love story’, the novel charts Dresner’s road to deliverance and his desire to know himself once again.

Duggan cites Graham Greene as one of his influences and certainly the prologue – with its striking opening line: “There is only so much loneliness a human being can stand” - is reminiscent of the kind of dark, desperate underworld Greene often portrays. It also draws heavily on noir, with Dresner on the point of suicide - the pills, the drink, the pistol all on the same table, a coin turning ominously through his fingers. The first few chapters are full of tension as we draw nearer to the moment of explosion – and Duggan writes from first hand experience here, having been in Manchester the day much of the city centre was ripped apart by an act of terrorism.

Coming in at over forty chapters, the narrative ploughs along at a blistering pace and there is an urgency and immediacy which is infectious, but I felt at times I wanted just a little more - some unpredictable twist or unforeseen difficulty, some larger truth under the surface tantalisingly withheld. The episodic structure and disturbance of linear time works very well in places, mirroring Dresner’s (literally) fractured world, but there were parts when events and conversations didn’t seem to feed into or suggest a bigger plot when I really wanted them to. But perhaps I was looking for something that intentionally wasn't there. Perhaps the point is that Dresner’s world is made of nothing more than these inconsequential meetings.

Traumatised and lonely as he is, some readers might find it hard to sympathise with Dresner, given the fact that women from all social strata seem to like him instantly and a perfectly formed, successful Italian woman with an Alfa Romeo gives him everything he could ever wish for. But there is more to their love affair than this. There is comedy, for sure, in pitching her Latin exuberance and brutal honesty against his morbid self destruction - but perhaps the most important thing is what Lucia's willingness to mend Dresner's mind says about the capacity for human goodness. On the surface they bicker flirtatiously, but there is a mutual need beyond all the wisecracking which is much more complex and fragile.

For my money, Duggan is at his best during the action sequences – namely the explosion itself in London and where Dresner and Lucia find themselves trapped in a riot sparked by George Bush’s visit to Berlin. The strength here is in the subtlety; Duggan resists the urge to overdo the violence and mayhem, enabling the horrific events to speak for themselves. 9/11, Afghanistan, the build up to the Iraq invasion and paranoia reminiscent of The Cold War, rather than taking centre stage, linger ominously in the background. Dresner’s world is one which can change in an instant, but not always for the worse. Amongst all this terror, there is still hope.

Scars Beneath the Skin is available now from Flambard Press and A.J. Duggan will be reading from the novel at Word Soup #5 on 22nd September.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Word Soup # 5: The Theme

At each of our Word Soups we’ve had a theme to pull the night together and to inspire our writers.

Word Soup # 5 falls on the 22nd September along with the autumn equinox, when the days and nights are exactly equal. The night inspired our theme: revolve. Spinning. Turning. Changing. Or staying the same?

What do you think about when we say ‘revolve’? Are we talking about a revolution, a washing machine, spring into summer into winter, or something else?

Those revolving doors that used to be in the front of St Georges – you know, the ones you’d get your coat stuck in, or be trapped inside with someone who hasn’t washed for a week?.

Wheels. Clocks. Birthdays, anniversaries, the start of the school year. Wheels. Tyres. Engines. Records and RPM. What’s on your Ipod?

Roundabouts. Your childhood memories at the play park that isn’t there any more. The first day of school. The last day of school.

Revolve. Revolver. Someone got a gun? Stay still, no-one gets hurt? Hmmm.

There are open mike spots available – you’ve got a three minute ‘turn’ on the stage along side the best of new, North West writing. We can’t wait to see what you come up with. What will you be doing when the seasons turn at 21.18?

We’ll be at Word Soup. September 22nd, 8pm at the New Continental. £3 on the door.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Interview With Michael Molyneux

Next in our series of interviews, Richard Hirst talks to Michael Molyneux about his collection of poetry: Selected Poems. Michael lives in Preston and will be performing at Word Soup on the 22nd September - so if this whets your appetite, you know where to come. Michael blogs here.

First of all: congratulations - I imagine you must be very proud to have a book of your selected poems published. How did you get into writing? How long have you been writing poems?

I have been writing poems since my formative years, when, on a train, I wrote a very self-indulgent rhyming poem about feeling responsible for society's improvement and the contrasting pull of the personal freedom I was experiencing at the time. I think this was quite a naive way of looking at the world but, at the same time, I think it's a relevant principle at some level for every person, (and one that Andre Gide writes about in his book The Immoralist).

That was my first memory of poetry and, although the dilemma remains, was that of a different person. I now rarely write poems, being more concerned with experiencing 'poetry' in the everyday than reading or writing 'poetry' as an art form.

I think it is important to discover the poetic in its many forms. Often, trying to render or capture 'the poetic' in a 'poem' can actually do more harm than good. I find that many poets, and I certainly don't exclude myself here, write as an excuse for living or to try and pass off emotions, ones they can't fully understand or accept, for art.

Poetry is commonly both a cathartic process, or a kind of mental masturbation, and a kind of collector's search. But in the words of Thoreau 'how vain is it to sit down and write when you have not stood up to live'.

Between this more stoical approach today and the early musings, there have been innumerable postcards, beers mats and napkins filled with mystic ramblings, love letters and descriptions of trees in the night-wind (etc!).

The poems themselves seem to follow more of a European tradition than a British/English one. Would that be a fair assumption? Who are the writers who you admire and feel have influenced your work the most?

I think the British tradition is generally one that lacks passion, insight and mysticism. This is clearly a general statement and I could cite many exceptions. But, as a rule, I favour Japanese poetry (short, mystical and allusive - and therefore a better reflection of what life is really like), Spanish poetry for the deep passion and congruence, and also some American poetry.

The two greatest poets on the last century were, in my eyes, Wallace Stevens and Pablo Neruda. Pablo Neruda writes about love and the sea better than anyone I have ever known and Wallace Stevens fuses the imagination and reality in a subtle and profound way - 'the poem of the mind in the act of finding what will suffice'. I find it amazing and disheartening that so many people are yet to look outside the bounds of one or two familiar poetic traditions.

I believe you were born and raised in Preston. Do you feel the city itself has had any influence on your writing? Has your background as a philosophy student at UCLAN had any bearing on your poetry?

The only influence Preston has had on my poetry is thanks to the poetry society at the university - I don't know if this still exists. Preston has only featured in my poems as 'an urban area' and in a negative light.

As for philosophy, I think that poetry and philosophy are intrinsically linked, as they both are rooted in a primordial sense of wonder at the world and address many of the same questions, albeit in different ways. I again refer to Stevens. Merleau-Ponty is one philosopher who writes so eloquently as to warrant the title of poet and who writes about the link between language and being.

Selected Poems
is published by the Clan-U Press which, as the name would suggest, is a UCLAN publisher, and is run by Ceth, a national Centre of Excellence in Teaching and Learning. Can you tell us anything about this and how it came to publish your work?

Ceth is the University of Central Lancashire's publishing house. The university runs a module in which students must publish a book from beginning to end (editing, marketing, printing, proof reading - the lot). My selected poems were published by a group of several students who were studying such a module.

Do you have kind of 'routine' for your writing? Have you got any advice for any would-be poets who may be reading?

I personally don't have a routine for writing but I think there are many commonalities in other writers' routines that might serve as advice for other would-be writers. Regular walks, reading constantly, getting drunk occasionally, sleeping well, travelling, exercising, falling in love, looking had at everyday objects until they shed their veneer. I suppose there are too many to list.

The important thing, though, is developing self awareness and then forming a routine (or otherwise) around what you discover about how you operate. The best advice, though, is rather than succumb to ordinary weakness, don't write at all!

Don't forget to put PrestonWN into your feed reader, or follow us by clicking the link in the sidebar. Our next post is a guest piece by Claire Sharples, who was part of the team who worked to publish Michael's collection.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Spring Clean

Those wise souls among you who read PrestonWN through a reader might want to click through this time, because the PrestonWN team have done a bit of spring cleaning in the side-bar.

We've been up and running since March and a big part of what we've done since then is to find all you writers, bloggers and readers and try and get you talking to each other. At last count (and it will be more, I'm sure, by the time this blog post has been slotted into September's Schedule) we'd found over 120 Preston based bloggers... 120. One hundred and twenty. If we were all in a room at the same time, that would have to be quite a big room. I'm having ideas about a Blogging Word Soup special as we speak...

To make it easier to navigate through all those lovely links we've gone and broken them down into categories for you. At least one of us is a librarian, and found the task strangely soothing.

We've got Creativity - blogs about art, design, crafting, cooking, books, television, music, theatre, bands and photography. Fictional blogs, blogs for web and graphic designers, blogs for fashionistas and lifestyle gurus.

We've got The Great Outdoors - a fairly wide-ranging category (as big as outside is, in fact) that encompasses travel, gardening, environmentalism, conservation, sport, animals and games. We never knew how many of you felt as strongly as you do about our Ribble, and now we do.

We've got Community Blogs, for those of you commenting on the world, politics and society, creating your own digital newsrooms, blogging about your street, neighbourhood or suburb, for activists and commentators of all ilks, and for those of you blogging collectively about your group, church or society.

And finally, we have the Personal Blogs - mums and dads, relationships, your jobs, daily lives, darkest secrets, pets, houses, the world of work and anything else weird and wonderful you see fit to put hand to keyboard about and share with the world.

Now we want to ask you a little favour...

Go off and spread the word. Tell us about blogs we've missed so we can link to them from here. Go and tell other Preston bloggers about us. Have a click through the links, find a new blog to read and tell them where you found them. And, if you must, tell us when we've put you in the wrong category or spelled your name wrong (we are only human...)

That's all. Once you've done that, you can get back to your lurking.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Word Soup - pictures

Just a little link to photographer James Brunton, who's put up the pictures of our very first Word Soup on his new sparkly website.

We've come a long way since then, haven't we? Keep checking back, because James tells me the site will be updated with fresh pictures, links and commentary soon.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Linky Linky

If you must go and read elsewhere, here's where to go...

The View From Here - an on-line and print based literature review magazine, interviews Stephen Clayton. Originally from Rochdale, Lancashire, Stephen now lives in Hebden Bridge and has just published his first novel: The Art of Being Dead.

One small click here will take to you the Poetry Archive, where not only can you read, but you can also listen to the poet George Szirtes read his own work, a poem about Preston North End. Szirtes came to the UK from Hungary when he was a child. Of this poem, he says: 'it's a poem about belonging, about belonging in a crowd, about belonging to a nation'.

If poetry is your thing, click here for The Poetry Kit - a detailed and growing listing of broadcast and podcast poetry and poetry themed audio files, including the arts programming schedule of our very own Preston FM.

Script writing opportunity

Here's a great opportunity for all of you scriptwriters out there. The Organised Chaos Theatre Company are inviting writers living and/or working in the North West of England (that is, Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Cheshire, Lancashire and Cumbria) to submit new scripts for entry into a new initiative they are running.

Writers are asked to submit an original script with a performance running time of up to two hours; any running time below this will be accepted. Obviously, the script must be all your own work and not previously published or professionally performed.

The company say that they will commit to produce the selected play in Manchester in the early part of next year with the potential for future productions in the North West (and beyond) and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Send your entries by email in word format including a cover sheet with the title and writer's name. The deadline for submissions is 27th September 2009.

Writers should email their script to Kirsty or Gayle at