Toyo Shibata: Never give up.

Today I did something that I haven’t done for yonks. I wrote some fiction. I started out writing fiction a decade or so ago and was fortunate to have early success. One story won the Jo Cowell Short Story Competition, others were published in the Roundhouse Review, Staple and the New Writer and Route published a short collection of five in their anthology Route offline. And then I fell into journalism and spent the next decade promoting other people’s work. It’s been a wonderful apprenticeship, though, and now I feel hungry for my own writing again.

It was through journalism that I discovered a competition and knew I had a previously published story in York Tales that I could rehash (the bread and butter of journalism) and sent it off. I got some good feedback from some readers and decided to beef it up and submit it for radio only to discover that Radio Four had reduced its budget and weren’t broadcasting as many stories anymore and the only info on the BBC Writers’ Room was for play submissions.

A quick google brought up a fiction desk with a list of magazines that were not only in print but paid as well. I thought, let’s send it out elsewhere and see what happens. I selected five random magazines I’d never heard of before and followed the links and a familiar pattern emerged: Chimera were ‘closed until further notice’ Bonfire were thankful for the interest in their publication but ‘unfortunately we do not plan to publish any more issues’. Etc.

Then I came across a publisher who was accepting novel manuscripts. Now that my agent is treating me like a one-night stand and no longer deems it necessary to communicate I decided to send them over a copy. I followed the online drill and tinkered with the font and spacing and all other titillating requirements and then, amazingly, managed to write a new synopsis in under thirty minutes. Previously this had taken me months. This is another skill learnt through journalism – cutting to the chase. I converted the file to the appropriate format and then followed the submit link which said ‘we are no longer taking unsolicited manuscripts’.

All in all the entire evening was a bit of a waste of time (bar the synopsis) and a reminder, perhaps, of why I began to lose interest in sending work off. But then I read that Toyo Shibata had recently passed away, a Japanese poet whose first collection Kujikenaide was published at the grand old age of 98, selling over 1.6 million copies in her home country. And Derrick Buttress, who I commissioned to write about the Sillitoe Trail for The Space, had his first short story collection Sing To Me published at 80. I slept well that night, realising there was plenty of time.

A day in the life of…

When LeftLion hits the city it serves two purposes. Firstly, as an amusing drunken distraction whilst waiting for a friend to turn up and then later on, when the friend has turned up, as a useful device for wedging under a wobbly table leg to restore equilibrium. But there’s so much more that goes on behind the scenes, Nottingham. Take today…

Spend four hours going through a PDF of an upcoming literature festival programme and copying and pasting events into a multi-columned word document that lists time, location, date, and event details. Just to appease anal personality, colour-coordinate events according to genre. Email out to subs list. Answer emails from subs list who all want to review the same event. Persuade them to do different events so that the whole festival is covered.

Now submit list to festival for press passes and discover they’ve changed their policy on passes because they need to break even on ticket sales. Contact subs list and explain they now don’t have to review the events you convinced them they needed to review. Tantrums. Reviewer quits. Put a call-out for new reviewer through social media.Get in trouble at work for using social media instead of doing work.

Now go through a similar process with a book reviews schedule. Compile list detailing: Book, publisher and author details, copy deadlines, a short synopsis, genre, web links, etc. Allocate appropriate reviewers for specific books, email them, find out if they want physical or digital copies, contact publisher for electronic ones in the correct format, take physical copies to post office, offer to meet reviewer in town to hand over the book to save on stamp but end up buying them a coffee.

Phone call. Someone wants advice on various aspects of starting up a literature-related business. You are under no obligation to do this. You do this because you like their idea and it will be good for Nottingham if they succeed. Spend an hour compiling a list of useful contacts who can help the said person. Offer to meet them. Buy them coffee.

Upload various articles to website that subs have submitted. Find images online or videos to embed in the file and then resize the images in photoshop so that they correctly fit the house style. Go for a ten minute walk around the block thinking up catchy sub headings and titles for their work. Find relevant literature listings that the person reading this article might be interested in and then link them to the article.

Phone call. Meet poet for a chat about their new book. Arrange to do interview and come down to their next event.  Buy them coffee. Put flyers for festival up in café so that people buy tickets (in the hope that the festival will then reallocate more press passes). Put events in calendar. Check emails on phone. Author wants to know when their work will be reviewed or why a recent review was critical of their work when it was brilliant. Offer to buy them coffee.

Go home and read book for review on bus and in the bath. Boot up laptop and forget to eat. Argue with girlfriend about always being on that laptop. Write blog. Write article for magazine. Tweet something promoting someone else’s work. Remember that you’ve written a book yourself and the agent hasn’t been in touch for ages and you need to find a new one. Email from PR company. Poet in town tomorrow. Any chance of writing a quick preview? Start to write preview but don’t know anything about the poet. Start researching poet on google. Yes, I’m coming to bed in a minute. Drink coffee. Get email from festival saying they are reverting back to their original press passes policy. Email all subs again saying that they can review the events that you just said they couldn’t. Start to do the work you were meant to do at work at home. Forget about own book. LeftLion readers.