10th birthday

LLcover54510A few years ago I mentioned the possibility of doing a Reservoir Dogs style cover for LeftLion, with the editorial team walking down the street in black suits. Instead of being a Mr Pink  or Mr Brown we could be a Mr Books, Mr films, etc. This was put on hold for a bit and then along came Video Matt, aka Triumph Dolemite, with his superb spoof covers for films and record sleeves who had a more dystopian vision for our tenth anniversary issue. All we had to do was get dolled up in suits and frocks and he’d sort out the rest.

For the photo shoot we were asked to bring in something which signified our specialism so naturally I brought along a book. Or rather books. But which one would best represent our chip-littered streets? Decisions decisions.

Alan Sillitoe was an obvious choice, mainly because quotes from that book and film have regularly appeared in the inside cover (“I’m out for a good time, all the rest is propaganda”) but Sillitoe has had his fair share of coverage over the years. Jon McGregor was another contender because he’s the most established writer living in Nottingham, but he’s not a true local (e.g. hasn’t been threatened in Aspley as a kid) and certainly doesn’t need any help promoting his work. David Belbin has published over fifty books and his involvement with NTU Creative Writing and the EMBA made him a strong contender. Or what about Nicola Monaghan, one of the founders of the Nottingham Writers’ Studio and author of one of my favourite debut novels of all time, The Killing Jar.

decadeI must have spent a week working down a list of possible authors or publishers who were worthy of the cover. I didn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I felt racked with guilt. I took books off the shelves and then put them back again. On the day of the shoot I’d nailed it down to seven books. My shortlist included the like of Festus, Philip James Bailey; Sydney Race Diaries, Ann Featherstone; The Complete Works of Henry Kirke White and works by Graham Greene, D H Lawrence and Lord Byron. But in the end I plumped for a short story collection by Derrick Buttress.

Derrick Buttress is a writer I really admire. He is a master of vignettes, both in his short stories and poetry. He’s a true Nottingham legend who has shied away from publicity and so was the perfect choice for this very special issue of LeftLion. His memoir, Broxtowe Boy, is published by Shoestring Press but is out of print. Pick a copy up from the library and you’ll see why he’s a Nottingham treasure. For the inside cover I went for Emrys Bryson’s Portrait of Nottingham. Emrys was a Post journalist and perhaps best known for Owd Yer Tight. I’d love to interview him one day so watch this space.

By the way, if you’re wondering why I look like Pigsy on the cover it’s because I’ve got ‘my nose in a book’. Gerrit. Wasted

Join us for our tenth birthday celebrations on Friday 2 August at The Corner, Stoney Street



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.