Tag Archives: Creative Writing

Comma Press Writing Competition: Redefine The Spy Genre

Edward Snowden, CCTV cameras, the partner that checks your phone… what is modern-day spying? Comma Press seeks short stories redefining the spy genre

Espionage: The practice of spying or of using spies

The next Comma Press New Writers Anthology will present a new kind of challenge to emerging and previously unpublished writers. We want you to write a short story which centres on espionage. This is your chance to breathe new, contemporary life in to a genre which has is increasingly blighted by clichés and stereotypes. Comma Press have spearheaded a new wave of genre writing in the short story form; from updating the grand old tradition of the horror story with The Uncanny to putting the science back in to science fiction by partnering writers with scientists in Beta-LifeLitmus and Bio PunkNow, in partnership with Creative Industries Trafford and ACE, we think it’s time to tackle the spy story with fresh new writers.

Let’s start with what we DON’T want: We have a rough set of guidelines for submissions and general pitfalls here. But for this project in particular, we want writers to avoid the many and well worn clichés of the genre. The era of the Cold War thriller is long gone, of course, but it isn’t just a case of re-pinning the badge of enemy or ‘other’ onto the presumed ‘bogeymen’ of the day (as defined by the media – terrorists, extremists, etc). We want stories that are more intelligent than that, more politically savvy. We are of course living in the age of Google (owning all our data), WikiLeaks (exposing government wrong-doing) and PRISM (allowing one government to spy on another), not to mention bizarre politics-culture crossovers like the North Korea/Sony debacle… the watchers and the watched no long fall into neatly partitioned groups.

What we DO want: Tension, suspense, compelling mysteries, and a redefinition of what modern spying actually is! Espionage can, of course, take many forms and we hope for a broad swathe of spying-types; from the political to the domestic, corporate to state-sponsored, private interest-led to cellular fanaticism. But remember: always avoid the clichés and well-worn tropes; if it’s been done before, ditch it. We want to meet characters we wouldn’t normally meet in a spy story, to find ourselves in settings the genre has barely visited before, and to be compelled from the first word to the last. Comma is also perennially concerned with structure: for this project we want writers to play with the different shapes a spy story can take, and to find new ones. Plot is everything in the thriller genre, so even when nothing seems to be happening, in the background, everything has to be…

Deadline: 1 July 2015

For more info and how to apply

Black & BLUE with Beckie Stewart

Ahead of the publication of REVOLUTION on Bonfire Night, we talked politics, pamphlets and people with Black & BLUE editor Beckie Stewart

It took just a few short years for Black & BLUE to establish itself as one of Manchester’s top contemporary literary exports. Founded in November 2011 by Dane Weatherman and Alex Marsh, both students of University of Manchester at the time, Black & BLUE has now grown to be a five-strong editorial team (plus designer). They host exhibitions and readings up and down the country and bring the works of artists and writers from around the world together in original, beautifully curated print publications/print journals and political pamphlets. Though the Black & BLUE founders are now based in London, there’s still a strong Manchester presence maintained through Beckie Stewart, one of the Black & BLUE editors, who has stayed in the city and continues to contribute to its creative scene.

Beckie describes the people behind Black & BLUE as “an odd handful of people, each with really diverse tastes, political views and backgrounds but with one aim: to provide a space for new writing as a counterpoint to what we view as the ‘traditional’ literary scene”. This patchwork of people and ideas is reflected in the genre-crossing nature and variety of the work they produce: annual journals of creative writing, images and art; political pamphlets; blogposts on art and words – there’s no one rule. They’re tackling as many art forms and inviting as many collaborations as possible in their attempt to re-imagine literature.

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When I asked Stewart what Black & BLUE are looking for, she noted that they are “openly political…because everything is political”. Black & BLUE believe that “no one can speak from a position of neutrality anymore” so embracing the highly political nature of society through literature is what seems natural to this group of creatives. What this means for the submissions Black & BLUE want is that they are eager for “fresh writing that speaks to everyone; we want to make it accessible and break down the walls of what surrounds poetry and creative writing” – they want to challenge people’s assumptions about literature and the forms it can take in the modern day.

Talking about how Black & BLUE want to represent themselves, Stewart referred to co-founder Weatherman who saw representing younger writers as a main focus of the magazine. They wanted to “make a break from outdated literature promulgated by archaic university lecturers” which is something I’m sure a lot of students can relate to and appreciate at least some of the time (I know I certainly can!). This focus on newness and energy is in everything they create, every issue of the Black & BLUE journal aesthetically and thematically unique.

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That being said, as you look at the Black & BLUE catalogue there is an underlying current that links it all. Beckie points out that the issue CITY ended on the lines “you have no idea what you are doing, that you are merely wandering the earth, no particular reason for being there, no particular place to go” (from a piece by Louis Jenkins). The Black & BLUE team felt that this could not be left on a cliffhanger – they had to pick it up in the next issue and “it was only natural the theme of REVOLUTION followed, considering pieces in CITY like Robert Montgomery’s billboards denouncing high capitalism, tweets encapsulating the rise of UKIP… it drew our attention to this shift, this un-settling.”

REVOLUTION is Black & BLUE’s boldest issue to date. To be published on 5th November, the edition features poetry, prose, art and thought that is in itself revolutionary, or is inspired by what is. A dedicated Twitter feed set up during the submissions process gave people a chance to share that exciting experience of reading what revolution means for different people around the world. Beckie talks excitedly about it as “a strong collection of writers” having received phenomenal submissions – the main problem she encountered in the process of making it was finding space in the magazine for it all! “It’s a shame we can’t feature more of it, there’s a huge pool of creative writing out there and it’s so exciting to provide a platform for some of that”.

Turning to the future of Black & BLUE I asked Stewart what we could expect from the publication.

“Much like M20Collective, we’re all for collaboration in all areas of arts – Black & BLUE work with the basis that the more people involved, the more inspired we can be and the more we can accomplish”.

This has already been a key focus for Black & BLUE in 2014: in June they put on a London-based exhibition, Illuminations, showcasing textual forms of art. The success of this project has spurred on hopes for more in the future with a pop-up gallery and other collaborative plans in the pipeline. We can also expect a follow-up to the brilliantly received political pamphlets Black & BLUE released last year and Beckie revealed that the group is “hoping to do a series of lectures”.

For anyone who wants to get involved with Black & BLUE, and we can’t push this opportunity enough, Beckie is eager to find new collaborators and submissions to the Black & BLUE body of work. After all, collaboration “is how the most progressive and beautiful things in life are formed”, she says. The contemporary, collective Black & BLUE way is certainly progressive and a great platform for future developments as yet undiscovered.

Alex Webb

REVOLUTION is A NEW ANTHOLOGY OF REVOLUTIONARY CREATIVE LITERATURE IN SEVEN PARTS: FATHERS| CHILDREN|FUCKERS|WOLVES LIBERTINES MONSTERS|THE DEAD|NO PLACES|PLANTS & FLOWERS. Pre-order now to receive on bonfire night [051114]

Like Black & BLUE on Facebook
Follow them on Twitter
If you want to get involved email them at revolution@blackbluewriting.com
Read some of Beckie’s work in the creative corner…

CREATIVE CORNER… Myles Bagnall

Protesters Manchester Center 2014

Who are you in Manchester’s Eden?
Longing for justice, protesting for freedom.

Tarpaulin shelter and tales of woe,
banners of facts of crimes we should know.

Holding vigil for those who are lost.
Discussions of politics, counting the cost.

Displaying disturbing photographs of terror.
Carefully laminated against English weather.

Displaying the flag of a proud & treasured past,
their fight for the hope that Palestine will last.

Myles Bagnall

myles_photo_protest

An Interview with… David Hartley

Alex Webb sits down with Manchester writer David Hartley to talk about his work, getting published and how to get into spoken word…

In the spoken word scene, good short story performers are hard to find. It’s difficult enough holding an audience’s attention for the duration of a poem, let alone that of an extended narrative. David Hartley seems to be an exception to this. When I saw the Preston-born writer perform at September’s Bad Language I was crying with laughter as he performed a piece about being endlessly stuck in a cinema watching the same film. Hartley’s talent for spoken word is evident in his delivery, bringing his work to life in a hilarious light that left me begging for more. Fortunately, there was more to read! Hartley has four collections out including his most notable one, Threshold. I was fortunate enough to get the chance to ask Hartley a few questions about his writing style, his inspiration and the Manchester literature scene.

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Hartley describes Threshold as a collection of various short pieces that are based in “some kind of unreality, whether that is the future, something monstrous, or something abstract”. This is very clear in my personal favourite, ‘The Haunter’, which sees Hartley turn into a revenge-seeking ghost desperate to torment his partner’s parents. Lines such as ‘I will be satellite interference on the Adult Channel, an unseen mouse fraying router wires, ecto-fluff clogging sinks’ shows Hartley’s ability to twist the mundane everyday into something to laugh about. This is summarised best by the writer himself who notes that he likes to write “things [that are] familiar but unfamiliar at the same time”.

Having moved from Preston to Manchester when he was 18, Hartley says that both these places have played huge roles in his writing. In fact, in Threshold, there is a piece called ‘Guess the Preston’ that takes us back to the writer’s childhood, a time he now recalls with “a kind of aching for happier times along with a gentle frustration at the  ‘small city’ mentality” that I’m sure a lot of us can relate to. If Preston was his childhood Manchester is Hartley’s adulthood, with Manc-inspired pieces “tend[ing] to be abstract, weighed down by history or, more interestingly, apocalyptic”. One such piece (yet to be published) is Hartley’s ‘Lest We Forget’ which he described as a fusion of his “love of the city [with his] distrust of city planners and their wilful disregard for history and art”. From this, it is clear that to say Hartley is happy tackling a huge range of topics is an understatement. It is this apparent fearlessness in his writing that makes him such an interesting artist.

When I asked Hartley what drew him to short stories, he said that it may be down to his father, a drama teacher, and his time in an experimental student theatre at college. “I ‘hear’ poetic prose in my head when I come to put words onto paper” says Hartley, citing Beckett, Berkoff and Greek tragedians as some of his major influences in his style. However, for this writer, it is important to “trust the inner language that spills out” when experimenting and embrace your style, whatever it may be.

“Go out in the city and meet other creatives”

When I asked Hartley to give advice to those who may want to get involved in Manchester’s spoken word scene he said his number one piece of advice is always: “get out there, get away from the keyboard, go out into the city and meet other creatives”. I’ve heard this advice a number of times and nothing could be truer. To really expand your skills you have to embrace the literary world around you and absorb as much as you possibly can. The main reason for doing this, in Hartley’s case, is because “you can hear some brilliant stuff that will inspire you, and you’ll hear some awful stuff that will anger you, and rile you up” leading you back to the keyboard “giddy with enthusiasm and ideas”. When Hartley speaks about his work and spoken word it is clear that he loves what he does. It’s cliché but true: if you love what you’re doing, it will show in your audience’s reaction, so always be enthusiastic about your work.  This is part of what makes a performer great.

Talking about Manchester-based artists to look out for, Hartley named Fat Roland (the man behind ‘Bad Language’), Benjamin Judge, Joy France, Kieran King, David Gaffney and Zach Roddis. It is obvious how much respect Hartley has for these writers and after checking a few of them out I can see why.  On regular spoken word nights that are worth checking out, Hartley suggested Bad Language as the first port of call. This is because it is “always excellent, ever-expanding, very welcoming, friendly and smartly run”. What more could you ask for from a night?

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When asking about Hartley’s journey to being published he said: “Threshold came together because someone saw me perform and liked my stories – three months later I had a book and an ISBN” proving that it really is just about making yourself accessible and finding ways to improve your style whenever possible. Whilst in the past a desire to be published was a “vanity project”, nowadays Hartley believes it is “more of an essential step in the ladder of becoming a ‘proper’ writer”. In the near future, we can expect a re-packaging of Hartley’s two Christmas collections, God Rest Ye and Merry Gentlemen. Alongside this, Hartley is working on a novel that is still far from finished but he is hopeful that it may be done by next year.

If you want to check out Hartley in person pop along to the King’s Arms, Salford on November 6th for an evening of experimental storytelling based on the themes of animals called ‘Fauna’. Whatever Hartley does in the future I wish him the best of luck and I am looking forward to what he has to offer in the coming years.

Alex Webb

Visit David Hartley’s website: http://davidhartleywriter.blogspot.co.uk/

Follow him on Twitter at:  http://twitter.com/DHartleyWriter

Buy Threshold at the Gumbo Press site: http://www.gumbopress.co.uk/threshold.html

A Night Out: Bad Language MCR

Alex Webb heads to the Castle Hotel in NQ for Bad Language MCR…

On September 24th I went to Oldham Street’s Castle Hotel for a brilliant night of spoken word. Bad Language is one of Manchester’s best-known spoken word nights, held on the last Wednesday of every month and promising huge variety from one night to the next. The set up of Bad Language is that ten performers have four minutes to showcase their work to a very attentive, informed and genuinely interested audience. The crowd at Bad Language was the best I have ever seen with a real sense of appreciation for what the performers are doing. The majority of acts this month performed comedic pieces that, at times, left the entire room in tears. Most notable, for me, was David Hartley’s performance of ‘I didn’t want this, I didn’t ask for this’: a short-story about being endlessly stuck in the cinema watching ‘Mrs Brown’s boys – da movie’ (it’s something you have to see for yourself). Other standouts for me were Roger Fizzerton’s ‘The Thin-Skinned at Breakfast’ (an account of a philosophical debate with a sausage) and another’s narrative about a woman’s war against motion-sensor bins. The main event of the night was Carys Bray reading from her new book, A Song For Issy Bradley. The novel focuses on how a Mormon family of five copes with the loss of their daughter/sister, Issy Bradley. To say Bray writes convincingly does not do her justice; when she read a passage from the youngest Bradley, a seven year old determined to bring his sister back to life, it felt like the boy was in the room. I bought Bray’s book as soon as she finished performing and it jumped straight to the top of my reading list. For anyone looking for something new to pick up, you’ve just found the novel for you! What I liked most about Bad Language was the accessibility of the night; whatever your style it has a place here. This is why I would recommend Bad Language to any new performer looking for opportunities to try their stuff out. Slots for Bad Language open on the 5th of every month and all it takes is an email to get a reservation. The night makes a promise that at least half their artists are Bad Language “virgins” meaning that you are always guaranteed to see new Manchester talent. That isn’t a promise many nights can make and this is just one reason why you should make your way down to the Castle Hotel for October’s Bad Language! Bad Language’s website Like Bad Language on Facebook Follow Bad Language on Twitter  If you are interested in taking a spot at next month’s Bad Language send an email to badlanguagemcr@gmail.com any time after the 5th of each month! Alex Webb

BASEMENT SESSION #3… Mento-B//Sobi//Kid Kartharsis//Alex Webb//Creative Writing Society//Joel White

Join us for the latest chapter of M20COLLECTIVE’s brand new weekly creative sessions in the Northern Quarter…

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This Thursday M20Collective is back at the Montpelliers Cafebar for the third time, bringing the best of Manchester’s creative men and women directly to you.

In this week’s instalment we bring you music and poetry to excite and relax, to make you think and make you tap your toes. Come join!

music

Kid Katharsis

Bringing on point delivery of his account of Manchester life. Soul infused with elements of hip hop, Katharsis continues to write songs and improve his live performance. I expect big things of this lad this year.

Sobi

She will captivate any room with her pitch perfect vocals. Humble and shy outwardly but Sobi has all the wow factor.  She released her first EP, Creatures in My Mind, last year. A must see.

Mento B (AKA Calypso George)

A Moss Side legend and calypso don. Charming, cheeky and everything in between.

poetry

Alex Webb

A key member of M20 Collective and thoughtful writer. Check out his piece God is Dead on our site.

Joel White

Compere for the evening. He’ll also be reading a selection of poems.

Creative Writing Society

Back again to bring you poems fresh from the pad.

details

When: Thursday 25th September, 8pm

Where: Montpelliers Cafebar, 42 Back Turner Street, Manchester M4

How much: £0!

Basement Sessions #3 on Facebook

See you in the basement! M20 x

Basement Session #2… Rangeela//Sipsmith and Twine//Rosalie Warner//more!

Join us at M20COLLECTIVE’s brand new weekly creative sessions in the Northern Quarter…

10714235_10152711808877744_3201549178055157076_o

Every Thursday, M20COLLECTIVE hits Montpellier’s Cafe/Bar to bring the best of Manchester’s creative community together for an evening of integrated arts.

Reflecting the diversity and collaborative nature of Manchester’s creative scene, this week features a mix of musicians, poets and visual artists performing in all kinds of different styles. Flex your creative muscles and come enjoy!!

music

Ranjeela

Hip-hop infused with captivating hindi rhythms and melodies of kora and percussion. A case of you have to see it to get it. Humble guys with a big sound…

Sipsmith and Twine

The amazingly talented and charismatic lead singer Ben Thompson’s heart felt delivery of emotion accompanied by alluring string section makes this band one to look out for this year.

Rosalie 23

Rosalie’s ground-shaking operatic vocals and exceptional ways with a harp will wow any crowd. I defy you not to instantly fall in love.

poetry

The Creative Writing Society

Manchester University’s creative writing society will be down to perform poems fresh from the notepad. Have a read of Storm, a short story by CWS wordsmith Jonny Heath

Joey Frances

The latest creative to join one of Manchester’s most creative bunch of cats Generic Greeting Collective. @JoeyFrances 

Stephen James

A strong believer that expression is something you can’t do wrong. He shall read poems he has written using this format.

visual arts

A wild card… I shall say no more. Come and check it out! http://word86.com/

details

When: Thursday 25th September, 8pm

Where: Montpelliers Cafebar, 42 Back Turner Street, Manchester M4

How much: £0!

Basement Sessions #2 on Facebook

See you in the basement! M20 x

Storm by Jonny Heath

The storm arrived in the middle of the night. Nothing and no one was prepared for its force.

They had said on TV that people should expect heavy wind and rain. Maybe the weatherman was new or asleep or drunk on the job, or maybe the weather itself had made the last minute decision to behave in a completely new and unexpected way, because no whisper of a warning ever came close to reflecting the savagery of that wind, that rain; that force.

First it arrived as an icy wind so powerful that as it swept through the city’s streets it tossed up cars, pulled down chimneys and ripped out road signs; obliterating with whistle, howl and moan the silence that hangs between dancing and dawn.

The first three victims of the storm were, in order:

A set of traffic lights,

The front window of St. Margaret’s Church,

And a papier mache elephant named David.

St Margaret’s was the church on Witherton High Street, and it had a window display that was updated every now and then with a new symbolic item. For a while there had been an elephant there, along with a sign that read:

 

‘ELEPHANTS NEVER FORGET. DON’T FORGET GOD.’

 

When the storm hit, the traffic lights came off best, because they were mostly made of metal; the window of the church shattered into a million pieces, and poor David was caved in like a collapsed meringue.

The storm’s first lucky escapee was a man called Lou, who at the time was watching his feet.

When the wind tore the traffic lights from their moorings in the concrete, pulling up a big clump of it like the earth that comes up with the roots of a weed, Lou was pretending to be in the Bahamas. Lou had never been to the Bahamas, but he had the idea that it was warm there. He was watching his feet because when he brought his face up any higher he got scared that the wind would scrape it off.

The traffic lights missed him by three inches. He didn’t see them but he heard them go; the dreadful rumble as they were ripped from the ground, and immediately after that the dreadful crash of the window as it shattered.

Lou was saved by the same gust of wind that got the traffic lights. It picked him up too, taking him off his feet and throwing him into the opening of an alleyway running alongside the church. If it hadn’t been for that gust of wind, those traffic lights would have taken Lou’s head off. (Although actually they wouldn’t have done any such thing, as if it hadn’t been for that gust of wind, those traffic lights would have stayed just where they were meant to.)

Lou went into the alley on his hands and knees, not thinking anything at all. He held on tight to the bottom of a gate a little way inside. Still Lou had no thoughts, but he knew he should hold on tight to that gate. Sure enough, as soon as his gloved fingers closed around the bars another gust swept through the alleyway as if a giant was trying to blow the dust out, and lifted Lou’s feet clean into the air. Then Lou was upside-down, and his arms near torn from their sockets, but still he thought nothing.

Then he came down with a thump. Then, he had his first thought:

Bloody hell.

His second thought was for Deirdre. She was in the breast pocket of his fraying jacket. Deirdre was a rat.

You’re alright, Deirdre, Lou thought.

(Lou’s thoughts only came every so often, and when they did they were white on a black background with a white embellished border, like the narrative frames of old silent films.)

Maybe Lou felt a wriggling near his chest, as if Deirdre was letting him know she was alright and hadn’t been crushed. Before he had time to check, the spire of St. Margaret’s fell into the alleyway.

There was first a flash of blinding white, then there was a sudden tumbling around, and then there was darkness.

The darkness was total. The darkness was like velvet, blacker than black, and the darkness was deep, stretching out in front of Lou forever. An unmeasurable number of moments passed. Then a thought came:

Can’t feel my feet.

It was true. He couldn’t move them either. One peculiar thing was that Lou couldn’t tell which way up he was. There was pressure from all sides. Soon the parts of his body that he could feel began to complain about the weight of the stones or the ground or the sky or whatever it was that had fallen in on top of him.

Deirdre.

   One of his hands was trapped up against his chest, the arm bent at the elbow. He wriggled his fingers to discover a small cave of space to move around in. He cupped the bulge in his breast pocket; it was warm. Carefully he freed the button of the pocket. His wrist had just enough room to bend so that his hand could slip inside. His fingers met fur.

You’re alright, Deird. You’re alright.

And Lou felt a nibble on his index finger.

Must be terrified.

And he stroked her with one finger, up and down.

You’re alright, Deird.

In the dark with weight on all sides Lou lay, and with each thunderclap he felt the rat quiver in his hand. He heard another window shatter. Kebab King? Solomon Grundy? The One Stop Supermarket? Then came a noise like clashing titans’ horns, and the scream of tearing metal, and thunder erupting in cracks and booms; the wind was a chorus of tortured creatures; high-screeching banshees and low-groaning undersea giants, and car alarms, whistles and shrieks, howls and moans, and ever more breaking glass, breaking glass, and every so often the faraway rumble of a wounded roof.

Lodged in the black, Lou could have been a stone in the belly of a mountain. He remembered the time when playing hide and seek with Uncle Felix as a child he had found the perfect spot, a space behind the washing machine where there was barely even room to breathe.

Felix couldn’t find me as hard as he tried.

Then he noticed wetness seeping through the back of his jacket, and that made him notice the constant radio hiss of falling rain which before he had taken for silence.

The only clues given by time of its passing were each white clash of the storm and the spaces in between.

There were no thoughts for a while.

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Call for submissions: Black & BLUE

Black & BLUE is a Manchester-born arts and literary collective that shares writing and hosts exhibitions in Manchester and London. Exploring politics, poetics and all that’s inbetween, it publishes beautiful journals, pamphlets and critical writing.

They are currently open for submissions to Black & Blue #4, a new anthology of creative writing around the theme of REVOLUTION to be published 5th November.

“Revolutionary writing takes place at the limits of life, at the distant and compulsive outer edges of reason, at the painful frontier of experience. It is always at the barricades, at the boundary, playing tricks on established orders, crossing borders.”

Writers of revolutionary words of any kind should send their work to revolution@blackbluewriting.com and Tweet it to @revolution51114 

Deadline: 14th September.

For more information about Black & BLUE

For more information about submitting to Revolution

CREATIVE CORNER… Rachel Ferguson

4

Yellow
I , spring a catalyst
A reminder
A menace
I stand outside
The wind , the wind
A gentle, effervescent injection
Of time remaining unremembered
Blue ,
I , a symphony
But I walk with purpose
Oh I frail child
I see it all
when the spring sets in.

 

2

I succumb
At the threshold to his tongue.
I , weightless
I find someone to fulfill such carnal desires.
Sweetheart?
I , created you
Your insignificance is significant.
Sweetheart?
I am the man I lost.
Yet I address you so sweetly
I am the man I lost
Sweetheart?
He laughs , your sins , your sins!
redemption
I , you desire
Woman?
You are not what I intended
Man?
You are everything
I’m in debt to you
I can bleed no more.

 

Rachel Ferguson