Sketch-tober: my 30 day challenge

Hi. So last month I watched a TED talk about 30 day challenges and decided to do one during October. The thinking is that you can do most things once a day for thirty days, and it’s a chance to try something new and develop skills.

So I’ve been doing a sketch every day for the past month (apparently October has 31 days. Who knew?!) hence the name Sketch-tober.

You can see more highlights of the challenge below…

Longbenton station
Longbenton station

I’ve always liked drawing, but have never been particularly good at it. And for the past few years I haven’t felt it worth my while to draw in my free time. But I wanted to see what I would come up with if I made myself draw something every day.

Overall it’s been a massively enjoyable adventure, for only 5-20 minutes a day. Looking back at what I’ve sketched, I’m pretty happy with my detailed pen drawings of buildings – as I’ve managed to get the proportions and lighting right.

In terms of the ‘woah’ moments – I found the drawings that I connected with most were the ones drawn completely from imagination. These ended up like deeply symbolic and metaphorical sketches which have shown me that I’m currently really interested in topics like surface/depth, the subconscious and the subtexts of situations.

What do you think? Have you done any 30-day challenges?

Just click on any picture to see the slideshow…

The two times I got paid for my writing

That’s right, paid! After writing free articles for free student newspapers, and free short stories for free magazines, and doing free interviews and reviews for free – in the past year I’ve been paid twice for writing something.

So now you know that it’s not a vicious rumour that writers can get paid. Ah, but nor is it some cash-filled nirvana where you and J. K. Rowling and Stephen King just sit around writing words as money kerchings into your pockets.

This is the reality of getting paid, or at least for me it was:

1. The first time I got paid for my writing was when I self-published my first novel, Banes of Boys and Girls, on Kindle and Nook. It was the summer of 2013: they were the hottest months on record, Rolf Harris was still a national hero, and beards were still cool. And into the swell I plopped my little homegrown handmade coming-of-age novel (which had been turned down by agents the previous summer). I didn’t expect it to earn me thousands, but here are the (depressing) maths…

My debut novel

I sold 114 units at either £1 or for free through Amazon’s promotions tool. Then minus fees by Amazon and Barnes & Noble of up to 70% per unit. Then I was left with… 

Total = £22.80

2. The second time I got paid for my writing was when I submitted an article to The Writer magazine. I had kept in touch with Cathryn Summerhayes at WME, one of the agents who I contacted with my novel (see above if you’ve forgotten already or are reading from the bottom of the page upwards – weirdo). And by “kept in touch” I mean “pestered with intermittent emails”. I asked Cathryn if I could interview her about being an agent and what she looks for in submissions. Short story: the interview happened, I submitted it all over the shop, and The Writer magazine picked it up.

Now here’s the good bit… When The Writer accepted the interview they sent me a freelancer contract which said I was getting paid $400 (something like £233) for it. I figured it was some sort of bizarre practical joke, but the piece went in print and I got paid. Needless to say I submitted another piece to them again.

Total = £233

The moral of the story is that you can get paid for writing. The other morals of the story are that you might not get paid as much as you want or need. And that the amount you get paid probably won’t match the effort you put into it. (Unless you think writing an interview is harder than a novel. Again – weirdo)

Have you been paid for writing anything recently/ever? What do you think? (No need to divulge bank details.)

My interview with Richard Milward

My interview with novelist Richard Milward is in the May edition of Bookslut. You can read it here:


Richard is the writer behind novels like Apples (2007), Ten Storey Love Song (2009) and Kimberly’s Capital Punishment (2012), who I was lucky enough to meet at a pub in Middlesbrough last Christmas. He told me about his next novel The Headaches, gave some great advice about writing, and was generally a good laugh.

Let me know what you think…?

“Don’t give up until you’re five years dead”: my interview with Mike Di Placido

Recently I was lucky enough to get an interview with Yorkshire poet, Mike Di Placido. He’s a really interesting guy – as you’d expect from his name, him being an ex-professional footballer, and his poem about a vacuum cleaner!Fringe-Valley-Press-Logo-200x200

You can read here my review of his first collection A Sixty-Watt Las Vegas... Or just buy it from Valley Press already, for god sake…

But for now, here’s a sneak peak of the interview, in all of its writerly glory:

In your first full collection, A Sixty-Watt Las Vegas, you seem to play a lot of roles: literary muser, romantic, social commentator, stand-up comic, to name a few. When you write poems, are you in a particular mood?

Well, I suppose the first thing to say, on writing poems, is that not many poems arrive fully-formed, although I always know exactly which ideas I want to pursue, otherwise I wouldn’t have jotted down the initial word or lines at all. I joke about my wallet being my filing cabinet, what with ideas, words and subject matter jotted down as they arrive on bits of paper! After that, the poem, which can be about absolutely anyone or anything, simply dictates the process. There is no set mood, other than a determination to be true to the subject matter and the tone of voice which it dictates, and which can be, and I hope often is, various.

I have spent years in writing classes, too. Here, the process is the same, just concentrated and more intense because of time limits, and I try not to think too much but just go for it. I usually find that even if I don’t produce the beginnings of a poem, many ideas are generated to work on later. One could muse on the existence of The Muse, but I like to keep things simple! I suppose being open to whatever is there is as good a definition as anything. The tone is dictated by that, as well as the characters and situations that one inhabits, so to speak . . .

Enjoy? Read the full interview here

Revolution is in the air! (And on your Kindle)

I co-edited the March issue of Myths of the Near Future magazine, an online literary magazine by under-25s. You can download it now onto any Kindle reader for less than £2, or just search “Myths of the Near Future Revolution”.



It’s the first time I’ve edited a literary magazine, but was great fun and filled with new experiences. We held a launch event and open-mic event as part of the 2014 Student Writers’ Toolkit hosted by Writing West Midlands, and we were lucky enough to get an interview with one of Granta’s Best Novelists 2013 and John Llewellyn Rhys Prize winner, Evie Wyld. Plus there’s an article on Modernism in there, and an interview with me!

Here’s a sneak peak from my interview…

“What were you looking for in terms of style?” 

“Good question! I suppose it was the same as with any poem or short story, I went into it looking for literature that had impact. Hence the choice of ‘revolution’ as the theme, as it encourages writers to make work which is about urgency and immediacy and which is tense. I think this kind of impact is a real strength of writers under-25, where emotions are still very raw. We got through some incredible pieces, across poetry and fiction. I particularly love some lines from Richy Campbell’s poems, as he has really compact, economical couplets which are also kind of emotionally stunted: “Pigeons peck at pave-squashed gum,/hop tiles as I stagger to mid-platform.” On the other side, I’m awe of the emotional intensity of the pieces by Eliot Mason, those free-form poems which are all about repetition and disgust in the modern world, and with moody refrains like “enjoy it now/the revolution is about to start”. I tend to be more of a short fiction fan, so co-editing this issue has kind of opened my eyes too as to the diversity of great literature out there. As the wide range of work we’ve got in Myths shows, it’s not really about the style of the piece but about how well the words work semantically and poetically to create that impact.”

We are currently looking for submissions for issue 4 on the theme of ‘Money‘.

Ten reasons why you must read Animals by Miles Salter

This review was originally published on Dead Ink.

1. Because the second collection from Yorkshire poet Miles Salter, Animals, is such an incredible mystery. This is a 47-strong ‘mewling crowd’ which explores Britain’s suburbia, confronts capitalism and corruption and war and godlessness, and predicts terrifying (as well as mundane) post-apocalyptic futures. Salter’s various voices are charming and challenging, and their richness deepens with every reading.

2. A case in point: the inimitable ‘Ten Reasons Why This World Must End Soon’, a poem inspired, we are told, by ‘a phrase on a placard held by a religious gentleman in the centre of York in Summer 2011′. The poem is literally a numbered list, unrhymed and unlined. Its ‘ten reasons’ range from the obscure ’1) There are not enough elastic bands to go around’ to the pragmatic ’3) There are more of us people arriving each day’ in a typically Salterian flux between high and low style. This is bravado of the highest order, and at times the reader would be forgiven for asking: ‘Is this poetry?’ But Salter should be given the benefit of the doubt, especially as the poem epitomises his complex approach to the collection’s ‘animal’ theme.

3. Animals avoids any cliché or sentimentality about humanity and animals. This is definitely not a book of poems about gaggles of geese and herds of hippos, nor is it restricted to the blurb’s assertion, ‘the most dangerous animal of all – the human being’. Instead, Salter uses animals as a way to talk about much richer territory: whether humans are most humane when acting ideologically or individually, whether humans are nurtured or tamed by their societies, and most importantly for the lyricism of the poetry itself, whether humanity thrives or dies under order. Salter’s attention to the power of (dis)order is impeccable and subtle: ‘Ten Reasons’ slides from the casually coherent ‘why/because’ form into inexplicable poetry, giving us these as final lines.

9) Imagine it. No rock and roll. No stock market.

10) The dust. The light. The silence defeating stars.

This is the kind of animalism that Salter is interested in: it is feral, wild, disordered and chaotic, and—

4. He is expert enough to reflect this tension between order and chaos in his poems’ form as well as subject. For example, ‘The Horse Rider’s Code of Conduct’ evolves from the professional and perfunctory language of the ‘code’ (‘I understand that riding at any standard has inherent risk / and that all horses may react unpredictably on occasions’) into a nostalgic poetry from the perspective of the liberated rider:

We kept going for an hour and the whole
world seemed to flood through me and I yelled out in a language
I didn’t understand, and did not want to go back.

5. Polemic poetry. It seems unfashionable at the moment to write poems with a political, ethical or religious point. But many of Salter’s poems do have an argument that is described and demonstrated as if to convince the reader. Through some clever arrangement the collection almost tackles issues in groups of four or five poems. First religion, as in ‘Their Eyes Were Not Watching God’ which mocks the shallowness of people (‘because the deity / never turned up on a TV show like Britain’s Got Talent‘). Then consumerism, as in ‘The Only Thing I Had Left To Sell Was My Soul’ and ‘World Without End’ which warn against the excesses of Western culture (from the latter: ‘we bought that quiet, single-minded / mania every time, looting shops // with plastic or cash, cramming cars with food’). Then war:

Your Country Needs You to forget the rules
of cricket and become a man who sweats
and screams in his sleep, a man who beats
his wife and daughter

Often the trouble with polemic poetry is that if you disagree with the poet’s argument, it can scupper your relationship with the work entirely. Perhaps conscious of this, Salter includes enough poetic interest (note the misleading eye-rhyme of ‘sweats / beats’ above) to appease to even the most anti-theistic, pro-capitalist and pro-war reader.

6. Because these poems are funny. ‘School’ depicts a Battle Royale where ‘The final exam requires no writing, / but, happily, a single baseball bat/will be available to the group.’ In ‘Ears’ a man keeps a tin of ears and, on some nights, ‘Lighting a candle, he takes one, / from the box, holds it in his palm / and starts. ‘It’s like this,’ he says.’ Okay, well maybe these poems are darkly funny, but it is still another of Salter’s skills which makes this collection such a diverse and engaging beast.

7. The cover photo. Squirrels, boxing.


8. Unlike a lot of poetry pamphlets or collections which look like they’ve been Canon-printed on recycled paper in the writer’s garage, this collection has the highest calibre of production values. The cover design is ingeniously simple, the paper is tactile and the typography is clean and professional. You might call that superficial, but it makes the reading experience into an actual experience. This quality is fast becoming the hallmark of Valley Press, a small Scarborough-based operation run by 26 year old Jamie McGarry.

9. For the sheer poetry of some of Salter’s lines. Examples include: ‘Outside, priceless birds were dancing in the breeze’ or ‘She unhooks the door three times / then places herself in the chamber of the day.’

10. Because you should get to know Salter. He organises York Literature Festival, plays music, and has written for BBC Radio, The Sunday Times, The Guardian, The Independent, etc. His other works include his debut poetry collection The Border (Valley Press, credited to Miles Cain), and A Song For Nicky Moon, which was shortlisted for The Times/Chicken House Children’s book award in 2010.

My favourite Christmas story: ‘The Dead’ by James Joyce

This article was first published by Liars’ League

6a00e551c6d2b28834019b02200aa1970c-800wiI first read ‘The Dead’—the last piece in James Joyce’s 1914 short story collection Dubliners— because someone told me it was much shorter than Ulysses. And thank God I did, because ‘The  Dead’  is essentially a jolly fantastic  story  about  a  family  gathering at Christmastime. It has all of the festive gripes that you would expect from the debut of a 22-year-old writer:

  • Having to put up with Irish nationalist grannies (“— And haven’t you your own land to visit, continued Miss Ivors, that you know nothing of, your own people, and your own country?”)
  • Wishing you were out in the snow, or in a food coma, or anywhere else “much more pleasant than at the supper-table!”
  • Putting your foot in it by saying something inappropriate, then trying to ‘gift’ yourself out of it.

But the beauty of the story is in its gradual movement away from the pettiness of the dining-table and towards tender remembering of past years, as in a  speech given by the protagonist, Gabriel:

“— But yet, continued Gabriel, his voice falling into a softer inflection, there are always in gatherings such as this sadder thoughts that will recur to our minds: thoughts of the past, of youth,  of changes, of absent faces that we miss here tonight. Our path through life is strewn with many such sad memories: and were we to brood upon them always we could not find the heart to go on bravely withour work among the living. We have all of us living duties and living affections which claim, and rightly claim, our strenuous endeavours.”

I have a suspicion that when — ninety-nine years later, this Christmas — we speak about “remembering people no longer with us”, our words will be somehow directly descended from Gabriel’s speech. Later, at home, as Gabriel’s wife recalls a boy she once loved who died at seventeen years old, and Gabriel finds that he knows nothing at all about his wife’s past, then Joyce is at his best: completely wrought and epiphanic. For such a well-known piece of literature, with one of the most quoted last sentences (you’ll have to read all 15,000  words to get there: no peeking!), this is a beautifully unassuming story. To me, it captures the weird mix of emotional intensity and sheer inanity that can only come at Christmastime.

You can read The Dead at this link: