Goodbye 2016

I don't need to tell you that 2016's been an odd year. It's been felt by all us. I'll be able to tell my children what it was really like, I tell myself as a useful mantra, giving myself some weird kind of purpose in all of this.

But on the writing front, things have been good – it's been a definite year of progress. My decision to lay off the music and other non-fiction writing, to bring forth the short stories, was a good one. I participated in a short story course run by Comma Press, to kickstart my short story writing again, and it was massively helpful. I met some great new emerging writers and having monthly deadlines really suited me. I've now got a clutch of new stories that I'm happy with. I'd really recommend it.  At the end of the course, we put forward the story with which we were most content and a volunteer editor put together an ebook published by Comma. It's a really good read, and you can get your copy right here (99p, too!)

I'm now working on a proposal for my collection of short stories, which is really beginning to take shape.

In other news, the paperback of From Light To Dark is now available, and, amazingly, the story of Dave's bid to be the first disabled person to complete (deep breath!) seven-marathons-in-seven-consecutive-days-on-seven-continents is being made into a short film. An audio book is also on the cards. Exciting stuff!

But I couldn't lay off the music writing completely, not when the lovely Penguin Eggs were keen to see a feature on one of my favourite new bands, Lynched. So check out the most recent issue, number 72, to understand why they've chosen to change their name.

Happy new year, folks!

Reading at The Real Story

Well, here I am, reading away at The Real Story on 22 October as part of Manchester Literature Festival (image courtesy of The Real Story's eagle-eyed Twitterers)

It was such a great night. Of course, I scared myself stupid – stage? microphone? lectern? esteemed authors? audience? – but it was one of those occasions where I think I managed to conceal my nerves and I did actually enjoy it. Headline writer, Horatio Clare, was a fascinating listen. Once I've got through my latest pile of library books, I've earmarked him as next in line.

So if you've got an urge to tell a real story, send it to the guys and they'll work with you to get the best draft possible. It's really nice to work with other writers on your piece, and quite unusual – normally it's just a case of submit then yes or no. Full stop. Then, if there's a Real Story event on the horizon, they might ask you to come and read. They'll also publish you on the site, as they did right here.

The Real Story: Saturday 22 October

I've been to Manchester's Real Story live literature event twice, the first to hear Laura Barton read, the second to see Amy Liptrot in action.

And now it's my turn!

I've been invited to read my creative nonfiction piece, 'Hero,' at the next instalment of The Real Story as part of Manchester Literature Festival. The headliner is Horatio Clare and I'll be quaking in my boots. How about coming along to cheer me on? Tickets are very nearly sold out, so I'm told, but if you're quick enough, you might just get one... wish me luck!

Writing biography

Aside from The Word Mill sessions that I lead (gently!), I've never facilitated a creative writing workshop. But it's always something I've been keen to do: to try it out, challenge myself and deepen my writing practice.

So I was delighted – and, naturally, terrified – when the inaugural Saddleworth Literary Festival offered me a three-hour slot on day two of the 2016 programme. I chose to run a 'writing biography' workshop, building on the experiences I had writing Wayward Daughter and From Light To Dark. I designed a few different exercises, each on a different aspect off biographical writing: from good interview techniques; to using source materials; to allowing creative, imaginative license.

And it worked! I also took part in the exercises and we enjoyed swapping our in-the-moment responses to a variety of prompts. One participant also brought along her WIP which made for interesting discussions. Three hours flew by!

Joining Story Terrace

Have you heard of Story Terrace? It's a way in which anyone can write their memoirs, an anecdote, a family story... with the help of a professional pool of writers. I'm delighted to announce I'm a recent recruit to the senior pool, and you can find my profile right here. (Enjoy the grumpy photo of me in my reins...)

I'm really looking forward to getting stuck in; I'm sure there's going to be some great stories to unearth.

National Flash Fiction Day 2016

Today is National Flash Fiction Day and I'm extremely chuffed that The Pygmy Giant has chosen one of my stories as one of its best of the year so far. You can have a wee look here:

A short story

Oh my terrible, terrible silence. But my pen has been squeaking on the page at home, promise! In fact, I've had a short story published on The Pygmy Giant right here: Naturally, I'm delighted! 

'The Unquiet Grave' is one of my first short stories based on, inspired or influenced by an English folk song. I love folk and traditional music and I decided to write a collection of short stories based on the songs when I got my copy of the most recent edition of The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. It's a beautiful looking book but, most importantly, the songs are ripe for further artistic exploration. 

It's not easy - all that murder, incest, STI contraction, cross dressing trickery and supernatural occurrings mean that the stories are in constant danger of becoming unwieldy and overzealous but it's certainly good practice and good fun, if nothing else. I'm in the splurge stage at the moment, getting it all out without a thought for polish and editing, which is also fun - until I come to look at the story for a second time and realise how much work there is to do. But hey-ho, that's all part of the process, isn't it? 

Join us at Mossley Writers

Even before I moved to Mossley, the very outpost of Greater Manchester, I'd been searching to see if there was a writing group. For a town of about 10,000, I hoped there would be. But there wasn't. Give it a year, I thought...

So I did, and last week marked the first meeting of Mossley Writers, a new writing group aimed at writers of all kinds – and this worked a treat, as our first meeting consisted of playwrights, memoirists, crime writers, novelists, short story writers, the published, the unpublished, the terrified, the confident... It felt great to read aloud an extract of a work in progress, something I probably haven't done since the writing group I belonged to at university, and get really useful, constructive, honest feedback. Everyone seemed just as enthusiastic.

So if you're a writer, live in Greater Manchester and can get to Mossley on the third Tuesday of the month, please join us! Predictably, you can find us on Facebook right here.

From Light To Dark is launched!

What a night.

Last night, Thursday 18 February, Dave, his wife, Deb, and daughters  – and Seamus the guide dog, of course! – met at Waterstones Birmingham High Street. We were ushered into the very bowels of the store and kindly looked after by Alex, a member of staff at the store. And I've got to admit, I was so nervous, I was shaking. I didn't know how many people would turn up; I feared tripping up on stage or mumbling through my reading; I worried about letting Dave down in front of the glare if the cameras.

But later, even Dave – who speaks at public engagements for a living – confessed that he, too, was trembling with nerves.

Thankfully, we needn't have been nervous. The crowd was large, friendly and warm, with many familiar faces. The local press were in helpful mode; Waterstones staff were smiley and informal, helping the nerves ebb away.

Dave spoke about his experiences of working on the book, cracking a few jokes in his usual inimitable manner. Despite his loyal band of followers and admirers, increasing in number of the years, despite his incredible achievements, Dave is inexplicably modest, and that humility was clear last night when he answered questions about his forthcoming challenge in San Francisco and his favourite past challenges.

Throughout the writing of the book, I realised that I have never interviewed so many men keen to show their love, respect and awe for their friend, and that love could definitely be felt in the room. The queue for books to be signed snaked across the room and took some time to get through, as Dave was calmly, precisely writing an essay at the front of each book, chatting with each audience member as if they had been friends for years. In some cases, they had, but even those he had never met before, he spoke to them easily and fondly.

And even though my mouth was dry, and I had a microphone in my recently broken right hand and a hardback book in the other, I managed to read the preface without tripping up, without swearing, or losing my place, and I was bloody relieved.

Have a read and see what you think.

A lick of paint

The website's been given a long overdue overhaul and I'm very pleased with the results – it's a lovely feeling to be able to splash across it with news of my new book, the ghostwriting project I've been working on for the past three years. I'm sad that the collaboration's come to an end, of course, but I can't wait to get my hands on it... my very own hardback! I'll be posting here with news of the events that we're currently putting together to launch the book into the world.

The final editing stage wasn't without its difficulties, though. I had a horrible car accident at the end of October and suffered a rather nasty broken arm amongst a few other injuries (all thankfully pretty minor) so had to learn to type one-handed – with my left hand! Still, it's all experience for writing, I'm thankfully able to say. So now I'm the proud owner of a tub of therapeutic putty, which is a very fine thing indeed...