The Writers’ Conference

The Sillitoe Trail App explores themes from Saturday Night and Sunday Morning

The Sillitoe Trail App explores themes from Saturday Night and Sunday Morning

On Saturday I chaired a panel at the Writers’ Conference called Working as a Writer in the Digital Age and was joined by Wayne Burrows, Farhana Shaikh and Rakesh Parmar. Digital technology offers many ways to make interactive and immersive narratives that are becoming ever more sophisticated and consequently writers are becoming increasingly experimental with their stories. Ease of publication, be it through a wordpress site or social media, means that writers now have platforms to showcase their work as well as immediate access to the mythical global audience. It’s all terribly exciting and meritocratic…and a little daunting.

Digital is a broad all-encompassing term that would require 45 years, let alone 45 minutes, to fully do it justice. But I think it’s worth summarising one key point that was raised on the day: You’re never too late to embrace digital technology because it’s constantly changing. There is no beginning middle or end. What is more important is experimenting with different platforms until you find what works for you in much the same way as you experiment with different writing styles and techniques until you find your own voice.

As promised, here is a brief outline of some of the websites that were mentioned during our discussion.

Digital doesn’t have to be funky, exciting or complex. It’s more important that it’s functional. Wayne Burrows talked about how a simple wordpress site acts as a holding space to pull all of his work together. As a practising artist (under the pseudonym of Robert Holcombe) a lot of his work is performed and exhibited live. The website acts as a portfolio of his work, enabling uploads of images and recordings of talks. Facebook is also an important part of this process as he has created a fake profile page of his pseudonym and now people are starting to believe Holcombe is actually real…  

If you’re looking at experimenting with narrative and want to try a multiplatform approach as I did with the Sillitoe Trail and currently with Dawn of the Unread then have a look at transmedia storytelling or The Literary Platform. By combining different media you offer the reader unique experiences and have to think very clearly about what you’re trying to achieve. For example, I have created Twitter accounts for some of the featured writers in Dawn of the Unread so that I can tweet passages of their books. I see this as a form of literary criticism as you are reducing a book to its core essence. Adding images to tweets also creates another layer of meaning, such as with these accounts Slavomir Rawicz and Mary Howitt. Offering a novel through this medium may in turn draw attention to the main Dawn of the Unread website, where readers can go deeper into the text.

Both of my recent projects have been funded by Arts Council England but to get this funding I have had to find a lot of support-in-kind. To be clear, I am not a techie and do not know how to write code. I am an editor who turns to industry experts such as Think Amigo to visualise my ideas. If you are unsuccessful with funding, don’t give up. Universities are another option who can provide work for free in exchange for work placements.

Writers' Conference digital panel.

Writers’ Conference digital panel.

Farhana Shaikh is the founder of The Asian Writer and enthused how the internet enables like-minded people or those with niche interests to come together such as through Leicester Writes. The major issue of the digital age is not so much creating content but sifting through the deluge of information and finding quality writing. She recommended Rebel Mouse as a very simple way of aggregating content feeds from elsewhere or Connect Curate for collaborations with other organisations. Crowd Sourcing is useful for funding projects and has helped imprints such as Unbound books. Kickstarter epitomises this new form of micro-funding but be realistic about your goals before starting. If you have a digital story and are looking for somewhere to submit it then she suggested the New Media Writing Prize  or digital only presses such as Shortfire.

Peer to peer review/writer community sites: 



Writers’ Workshop

I write read and rate

Useful websites for submitting work  

Sabotage Reviews – review small presses and online reviews/publications/magazines

Write Out Loud – Mainly poetry but also details fiction submissions

Duotrope – An incredible database that enables you to manage submissions to magazines as well as find the best magazine for your story/genre.


Salt’s Modern Dreams

The Friday Project


Born in ’84

There are three voices that I drop everything for when I hear them on the radio: Will Self, Brian Clough and Dennis Skinner. Will Self because he is eloquent and articulate and because he sounds like he’s swallowed a dictionary. The ever quotable Brian Clough because he’s arrogant and charismatic and a hack’s wet dream. And the beast of Bolsover because he’s so passionate. I had the pleasure of hearing the latter give a tub thumping speech at The Winding Wheel in Chesterfield on Saturday 8 March to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Miners’ Strike.

Skinner got a standing ovation, although at one point I thought he was going to keel over as he breathed fire into the ears of the attendant miners. I don’t necessarily buy into all of his arguments but l respect him because he stands for something, a rarity in today’s focus-led politics. He talked about the devastating effects of pit closures on local communities and believes that this is the reason for many of our current ills. He rightly stated that pits were a source of employment for ordinary folk who didn’t want to go and study, and that there aren’t jobs for people like this to go into, now that the manufacturing base has been destroyed. He also linked the closure of pits with the spread of hard drugs across estates.

I was ten in 1984 and had a very different experience of the strikes growing up in a pit village south of Nottingham called Cotgrave. It was full of drunken, angry men and violence was rife, particularly among my age group. Teenagers would actually come and knock on your front door and offer you out (fight). The population was largely Geordie, many of whom had relocated here in the early 1970s on account of Nottinghamshire pits being the second highest payers in the country. So there was already factions and tribes before the coppers moved in and families became divided on account of whether they scabbed or not. Then there were the skinheads who took over the local community centre and overturned the car of a social worker employed to keep them entertained. This happened more or less around the time that a disabled pit worker had their car over turned when trying to get to work. But my enduring memory was visiting one friend’s house who had no carpets and an old pop crate for a seat. I remember asking if he’d just moved in and he went quiet. It’s only now, 30 years on, as I read about the strike and visit events like this that the reality of his situation hits home. He was from a family of strikers.

When the artist Jeremy Deller introduced his Battle of Orgreave film a miner behind me moaned ‘these artists making money out of miners. It’s disgusting’. It did make me smile. Deller then confessed he went to a public school and was, of course, from London. But they knew he wasn’t one of their own and appreciated his honesty.

I spoke to Deller afterwards and he seemed like a well-intentioned and decent guy. I told him about my experiences of pit life and that based on this I imagined the re-enactment would have been really cathartic for the people involved.  The last thing they needed was a documentary analysing the fight. This was a lived experience. For this reason it was good to see the inclusion of a copper’s perspective and how over time he had come to realise things weren’t quite so black and white.

All of which brings me on to a book. I’m currently reading Look Back in Anger by Harry Paterson which is published by Five Leaves Press and thanks to the acute editing of Ross Bradshaw it delivers fact after fact about the strike, avoiding a ‘Mills and Boon meets Trotsky’ over simplification. There is no need to over describe what the police did or the effects it had on communities or why Thatcher is the anti-Christ. The raw facts are enough on their own and bleed out over the page. I’m hoping to interview Harry Paterson for the June issues of LeftLion and have a great idea for a topical front cover but more of this closer to the time.

Jeremy Deller’s All That is Solid Melts into Air is at Nottingham Castle until 21 April2014

Harry Paterson Look Back in Anger: The Miners’ Strike in Nottinghamshire 30 Years On, Five Leaves, £9.99