Happy New Year! I’ve just pledged to Common People, An Anthology of Working Class Writers, crowd-funding with Unbound now. I’ve been thinking a lot about class in literature lately. Last year I read Allie Roger’s book Little Gold, set on an estate in Brighton in the 1980s. It was moving and stark and cleverly used its 30 years ago setting to shine a spotlight on the injustices of the present. Common People’s editor, the campaigning writer Kit De Waal, said in an interview last year with The Guardian that working class representation had declined over the last decades. “I really see a gap in white, working-class stories – it’s a massively neglected area. I don’t think the experience of the white working class is valued enough.”
Allie’s novel is just the sort of book that should be being published to address this inequality but, apart from a few token titles from the major publishers; working class literature is left to the independents. To the companies without the marketing budgets to push their titles forward, or to crowd-funders like Unbound. Gone are the glory days of Alan Sillitoe, David Storey, Barry Hines, note that even in the 1960s they were almost all men, I don’t think this has changed much. Perhaps some shift of focus is now underway but it’s painfully slow.
Class is a subject close to my heart. I worry about not being working class anymore. I’ve got an MA and I work from home, my oldest son corrects me on my pronunciation of the word ‘bath’. In fact my sons are so well spoken I sometimes wonder if they are cuckoos. At what point do you stop being one thing and become another? Is it when you go to university? Own a property? Marry Prince Harry? Some people would say, once working class, always. Can that really be true? I’m very, very lucky but I remember my Dad working two jobs in order to pay the bills and my mother was born in a two roomed cottage in rural Ireland and went to work as a maid at the age of fourteen. I feel constantly guilty about what I’ve got, never buy anything that isn’t in a sale and hate waste in any form. A room full of publishing types with cut glass accents brings me out in a cold sweat and I have to remind myself that I’m just as good as they are and also that their class doesn’t make them bad people. A friend laughed a lot recently when I told her that I had to make an effort to afford the upper classes equal rights. In order to make amends I consciously try to write about class. In my collection, 15 Minutes, half of the stories tackle class in some way, either with characters or by highlighting societal inequalities. I’ve got an ex-miner, a hobo, a sous chef, a failed Big Brother contestant, a Mexican maid in the US, two disadvantaged kids and an ordinary family watching a royal wedding. It was almost impossible to get this collection published. I have no idea if that was just because of publishing’s fear of short fiction or if the subject matter played a part too. The story I’m most proud of is Carbon In Its Purest Form, which is about an ex-miner on the day Margaret Thatcher dies. It was subbed to every competition and journal going and never got anywhere so I’m absolutely delighted that it wound up in this collection.
Here’s to 2018, may it be the year of working class fiction.
I will be swallowing back my insecurities and talking at the wonderful Bookish Supper Salon on Feb 9th at The Regency Town House in Hove. Tickets available here.
Blade Runner 2049 is almost upon us and I can barely conceal my excitement. Blade Runner is one of my favourite films. They better not fuck it up; but going by the trailers and previews it looks like they’ve managed to get it right. We’ll know for sure on Friday. When I’m not working on my novel, or marketing my collection, I’ve got a sideline in movie memoir. I’m collecting together pieces about films I’ve seen with family. Here’s a shortened version of the one about Blade Runner.
Tears In Rain – The First Time I Saw Blade Runner
We made and odd couple, my Dad and I, walking into the dilapidated late night cinema. I was fifteen and he was in his mid-fifties. I had Sun-in hair and too much black eye-liner, waif-like in the way that only teenagers can be, while he was tall and solid, his bulk made bigger by his sheepskin coat. It was winter 1982 and we’d gone to a midnight screening, both of us wanting to see different films on the double bill. In 1980s northern England there no instant movie streaming like there is now; if you wanted to see an obscure American movie you had a window of about a fortnight and even then only at selected cinemas. If you missed this opportunity you sometimes had the chance to mop it up at a repertory screening. And so it was that Dad and I braved the Yorkshire winter to go and see a double feature of Blade Runner and Firefox. You’ve probably only heard of one of those films, and with good reason, but in December 1982 I first had to sit through Clint Eastwood’s mediocre cold war offering in order to experience one of the greatest films ever made.
I was a film mad teenager. I consumed movies the way other people ate food – they were necessary for my survival. Severe hip-dysplasia had meant a childhood of surgeries and immobility. I spent a lot of time watching television, lying in bed or, when I was feeling up to it, on the sofa in the lounge, from which I’d watch mid-morning reruns of classic Hollywood movies. I was born late to my parents, my mum was 46 and my Dad 40, we were not just one but two generations apart. A love of cinema helped Dad and I bond. He introduced me to all the greats, John Ford westerns, Busby Berkley musicals, screwball comedies. He liked both Marylin Monroe and Ingrid Bergman, James Stewart and Robert Mitchum. His all-time favourite was Humphrey Bogart. I suspect that as a young man he’d been told he looked like the morose movie star because he often emulated his idol; in any given film Dad knew many of Bogart’s lines by heart and often wore a Philip Marlow mackintosh and chewed a match. There was indeed a striking resemblance. Dad had the same pleading eyes and thin upper lip, a square jaw and a slightly dissatisfied expression. We’d watch the movies together over and over; Key Largo, The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, To Have and Have Not, The Caine Mutiny and, of course, Casablanca.
Most of the films we watched were on TV, trips to the cinema were rare, especially as I moved towards adulthood and away from a love of Disney. I began to go with friends to see modern horror movies and comedies. I’d read about Blade Runner in my beloved film magazines and was intrigued – a sci-fi movie in film noir style! I watched for the listings at my local cinema but it never appeared. I’d just about given up hope of seeing it when I saw the ad for the double bill in Leeds. I showed it to Dad knowing he liked Clint Eastwood and to my surprise he said we could go.
‘It was strange thing to do,’ said my sister, home from college a week later, when I told her about it. It had been an experience. As you can imagine, those attending a Saturday midnight screening were not the usual cinema audience. It had been freezing outside, a few scant snowflakes making an appearance as we walked up the stone steps to the old-fashioned picture palace, slightly out of town. The doors were art deco, their brass handles worn from the many hands that had held them open. Inside we were hit with a blast of acrid heat and the odour of stale popcorn mixed with cigarette smoke hung in the foyer. The bored looking woman at the box office eyed us suspiciously as she sold us our tickets. We opted for the balcony because they were the best seats in the house. There were a few single men dotted around the aisles, some obvious junkies in from the cold and a row of drunk students at the back. Firefox was on first. It had a ridiculous cold war plot about Clint Eastwood stealing a spy plane from a Russian airbase. My Dad loved it, I watched his face more than the film, saw the delight on it, the joy when the hero saved the day.
‘That was fantastic!’ He declared and nipped out for a cigar in the interval, leaving me to sip my cola and stare at the patched velvet curtain closed in front of the screen, even at that age aware that it would not be a good idea to catch anyone’s eye. He arrived back in his seat just as the camera panned across Los Angeles 2019, accompanied by the first notes of the Vangelis score, and I decided that I was going to be a film director. I sat open-mouthed throughout. Here was a movie that had managed to incorporate all my beloved classic films into something shiny and new. It felt like it had been created specifically for me. I must be the only person who likes the original voice over version the best because it’s the most like those old Bogart movies my Dad loved so much. Dad wasn’t so keen. He snored softly at one point. Afterwards as I enthused he said it thought it was ‘a bit boring and so damn dark you couldn’t see anything’. Within a week I’d dyed my hair auburn, started smoking and wearing vintage clothes and put the poster on my wall. I still have an antique VHS version of the film somewhere, though nothing to play it on.
I never became a film director. But I did study film at University and managed to get a research job at The British Film Institute in London where I stayed for fifteen years. During that time I went to West End premieres, special preview screenings and Q&As with famous directors but still nothing beats that screening of Blade Runner in terms of raw cinematic experience.
Now I’m a writer I use cinema a lot in my work. I often write about people going to the cinema, using the way they respond to certain films as a way of developing character. In my current collection (15 Minutes) I have two stories in which films feature heavily. The first is Lost In Translation which sparks an unhealthy Scarlett Johansson obsession in my protagonist and the second features a teenage boy obsessed with Blade Runner. He listens to the soundtrack, talks like Deckard’s voice over and smokes unfashionable Marlboros.
As we walked from the cinema in the pre-dawn, the snow had turned to rain. It pattered on the car windows on the silent drive home, windscreen wipers creaking. Dad concentrated wearily on the road ahead while I watched the city lights flick past and imagined that I was riding into the unknown with Deckard, searching for immortality. My Dad is no longer with us. I often think of the night we went to that midnight screening. I sometimes imagine the times he went to the cinema as a young man, on dates, to shelter from the rain or just because he wanted to catch the latest Bogart before anyone else. Only he knew about those times and now they are gone – moments lost in time, like tears in rain.
As the weather gets more autumnal and the wind scratches at the windows my thoughts are turning to Halloween. Halloween is my absolute favourite festival, so much better than Christmas with its 6 month build up, Halloween is just fun from start to finish. As a special ghoulish treat this week I have a guest blog from writer Paul Holbrook. His novel Domini Mortum is extremely close to being fully funded by crowdfunding publisher Unbound. I know how this works because my own book 15 Minutes has just been released by them. Paul is offering some great pledges in his crowdfunding campaign, not least one which should appeal to even the most fearless ghost hunters.
Hello Paul tell us about your book?
Domini Mortum is a novel set in late Victorian England, and set in London, York, and the village of Pluckley in Kent.
It tells the story of a journalist called Samuel Weaver, who has travelled down to London from his native York to work as an artist and reporter for The Illustrated Police News (the preeminent tabloid of the day). Weaver is obsessed with a series of murders which occurred six years earlier in London and the man accused of the crimes, who died before he could be brought to justice.
Weaver travels around London, and to Kent, to meet people who knew the accused, in the hope of writing a book about him. However, the more he finds out about the murders, the more he becomes embroiled himself with the people and organisations who have the most to lose by being exposed in the press. Meanwhile another set of murders has begun in London which hold a much darker and foreboding purpose.
Domini Mortum is a tale of how single-minded obsession can lead to a person’s downfall, and how it is impossible to escape from the sins of your past. Once a heart is blackened by deeds, it can never recover.
The book is currently the centre of a crowdfunding campaign by the publisher Unbound. The way it works is straight forward; each book has a cost in order to get it published. Lovely generous members of the public give their support to the book by pledging to buy it. Once enough people have pledged and the target amount is reached, the book is published and everyone who supported it gets a copy with their name inside on a list of people that made it happen. It’s a quite brilliant idea, to get books published that people actually are interested in and want to read, rather than books that a publisher thinks the public wants.
How can people pledge?
Pledging is easy, all you have to do is visit www.unbound.co.uk/books/domini-mortum have a read of the synopsis, the excerpt, and then decide what pledge level you want to support the book at.
Once you’ve decided, it’s just a case of clicking that button and entering order details. If you’ve pre-ordered a book from Unbound before, then you will have an account already. I’m so glad that I am publishing my book through Unbound, the quality of the authors on show on their website is extraordinary, and I find myself wanting to support quite a lot of books there.
One of the pledges catches my eye in particular, the ghost walk. Can you tell us a bit about this pledge and what it entails?
Ah, the ghost walk, yes.
“We do not have time to enter the ‘Screaming Woods’ this evening, my friend, which is a terrible shame as it is an experience to be savoured,” he said holding his arm across my chest. “The eldritch howls of the long and recent dead can be heard throughout the night, and it is a brave man who dares enter. Few have tried and they left in such terrible states that they ended their days unable to speak of what they saw, most were placed in asylums, gibbering wrecks of men, hollow of mind and bereft of soul.”
“What did they see in there?” I asked awaiting a terrible tale of murder, suffering and the afterlife.
“See? See? I don’t know, Samuel. Did you not you hear me say that they never spoke of it?” He lowered his arm and paced away muttering under his breath.
The ghost walk pledge came about because of a section in the book which is based in Pluckley in Kent, supposedly the most haunted village in Britain. In the book Samuel Weaver visits the village as part of his investigations, and ends up taking part in a drunken ghost walk with a local called Edward Higgins.
The character of Edward Higgins, is named after a friend of mine, who I definitely had in mind while writing the story. Samuel and Higgins experience the full horror of the ghosts of Pluckley during their tour, which is both humorous and frightening.
In writing the book I did an awful lot of research into Pluckley, watched countlesYouTube videos of ghost hunters visiting the various haunting sites, and read just about every word ever written about the village. For those lucky people that pledge for the ghost walk, they will get a copy of the book, with their name inside, as well as making their way to Pluckley where I will meet them, have dinner and a drink or two in the Black Horse (the pub which Samuel Weaver stays in) before heading out into the dreadful night air to experience such sights as The Devil’s Bush, The Screaming Woods, and St Nicholas church where the famous ‘Red Lady’ has been sighted, as well as many other spooky stops along the way. I will of course be inviting my friend Edward Higgins along, to make it all a bit more authentic to the book.
It’s a very adventurous pledge, but one which I am really looking forward to fulfilling, it will certainly be a night to remember for those who take up the challenge.
It’s official! Fifteen Minutes is out now, after months of crowdfunding and readying for publication the book is available to order from bookshops and on kindle and for other e-readers directly from Unbound Publishing. I can’t thank my pledgers enough because without them this book would never have happened. Please consider it for a summer read and let me know what you think. If you’ve got a book group make it your next read – I might even come along and talk about it. There will be a launch party in Brighton in October, I’ll keep you posted!
15 Minutes, Andy Warhol, apes, book covers, book design, books, celebrities, celebrity, crowdfunding, fame, Laura Wilkinson, Mark Ecob, Mecob, publishing, short stories, short story collections, Skin Deep, starlings
Last year I was signed by British crowd-funding publisher Unbound and now my short story collection about fame, 15 Minutes, is almost ready for release. Yesterday I was sent the final cover proof and I’m sure you will agree that it is an arresting image!
Writers don’t usually get any input in their cover designs. With my first book, Starlings, I was just sent the finished cover with a note saying ‘here’s your cover – hope you like it.’ Bizarrely that cover looked like the front of my house at the time. In the first few months of editing Unbound Digital send their authors a questionnaire to fill out for their cover designer Mark Ecob to work from.
It’s quite a long document and it really makes you think about the book you have written. The questions vary from the practical; title, buy-line, genre, to, ‘Describe the tone and mood you want to come across on your cover,’ and, ‘who do you think your readers are?’ These questions really make you think about your reader. Who is going to buy your book? What are their age, gender, interests? They even ask how they will buy it and where from. As a writer I have to admit I don’t actually think that much about my reader, certainly not when I’m writing, but in order to sell you have to know who you are appealing to. The first reader I listed was ‘short story enthusiast’. Then came the question about genre and the book is obviously made up of short stories but I realised there and then that each story is its own beast, there’s literary fiction and sci-fi and experimental fiction and memoir and it became very hard to pin down.
I was asked for a synopsis, again something the writers of short story collections will know is an almost impossible task, I provided key words and a list of the celebrities in the stories. I tried to get across the idea that fame is not necessarily a good thing. At one point I suggested that if there was a face on the cover it should be hidden in some way, blinded by paparazzi flashbulbs perhaps or masked.
Finally, they ask you what sort of cover you have in mind. This was a curve ball – I didn’t have anything in mind. I made a few suggestions. The Warhol connection was the obvious route, pop-art, bright colours, paparazzi photos. I also had to send an extract and I picked one from a story about a man obsessed with Scarlett Johansson.
Mark phoned a few days later. Surprisingly he didn’t seem that keen on a Warholesque cover but had picked up on the idea of fame as artifice. We talked about masks and dropped cameras. Then I mentioned that the last story was a flash fiction about a talking ape and Mark asked me to send it to him. A few days later he sent over a series of ideas but the one that was the basis for the final cover was the standout. Not Warhol, not pop-art but the suggestion that fame is nothing more than a performing monkey seemed to sum up what I was trying to say.
The proposed cover designs then went to Unbound and I had a long wait before finally getting to see the finished cover complete with cover quote and blurb. Seeing the finished image brings home the fact that this book is really happening and I am absolutely thrilled that soon you’ll be able to read my take on the masks and artifice of fame.
amwriting, anthologies, books, craft, creative writing, criticism, crowdfunding, ediotrs, editing, feedback, Fifteen Minutes, publishing, Rattle Tales, short stories, short story collections, The Brighton Prize, writing
I am currently co-editing an anthology of short fiction. I also supplement my paltry writers’ income with freelance editing projects. I’m not a proof reader; the edits I offer are structural, though I will pick up on any punctuation that has gone awry. Editing is something I enjoy. The idea of helping a writer to perfect their work makes me happy but I also find that editing other people’s work makes me a better writer. Editing not only raises my awareness of common writing pitfalls, it also reminds me to put away the resistance to criticism that all writers experience.
I’ve been lucky enough to have been on the receiving end of dedicated and improving edits for both my books. Uppermost in my mind is my collection of short stories, Fifteen Minutes, which has recently undergone several in-depth edits with Unbound Publishing. This was an amazing learning curve and the book is vastly improved as a result. When the first edit arrived I opened a manuscript which was literally covered in red marks and comments. My editor had forewarned me that this was normal in her email but even so it was quite a shock. I have had short stories edited professionally before, for publication in journals like Rip Tide and The Manchester Review. The editors of those journals did brilliant job and, yes, each manuscript was covered in crossings out, with sentences shifted and lengthy comments inserted. Again, I was a bit shocked by the extent of the mark-ups. For a moment I wondered if the writing was any good after all.
This seems to be a common experience for most writers. When faced with a manuscript covered in mark-ups and comments we tend to take it personally. The self-doubt nags, we mutter things under our breath like, ‘obviously they haven’t read it properly,’ and, ‘they wouldn’t know a joke if it got up and bit them.’ What we forget is that as writers we can become too immersed in a piece to see the flaws and the gaps. The writing is obviously great or it wouldn’t have been selected for publication. However, the editor has read it more closely than anyone else ever will. Their mark-ups don’t mean that the writing isn’t good, just that as the writer we have become too used to what we have written. We think that because we can picture it in our head our readers will be able to too. This is not always the case. If an editor points something out as not being clear, and you have to use a paragraph to explain to them why it is clear, the editor is right and you are not.
Obviously editors are not infallible. This is why they often work in pairs. The first edit of Fifteen Minutes suggested alterations that the second editor then suggested should be changed back. At this point it was up to me to decide which worked best. Often it was the original – but not always – sometimes it was something completely different. You can always negotiate. If you truly believe that your piece is better without the changes, that the reader you have in mind will know exactly what you mean, then go ahead, argue your case. What is interesting is that as you progress in your career you will get comments such as ‘still not clear’ from a professional editor a third or fourth time no matter how much you plead. If this happens you have no choice but to adhere to their suggestion. If you are arguing about the placement of commas and the cutting of single words you are being too precious. Go with what the editor suggests; it’s what they do for a living. They know what they are talking about. The real shock will come when you get your proofs back and realize you know nothing about punctuation!
For further information on my freelance editing services please email firstname.lastname@example.org I specialize in shaping up short stories for publication or competition but I have edited full-length manuscripts from children’s books to spy thrillers.