LeftLion 50

LeftLion celebrated its 50th birthday on 1 December and to celebrate we sunk a few beers in the ridiculously expensive Orange Tree. We decided not to milk this in the magazine because it’s not really our style. We’ll save that for 2014 which will mark our tenth year of surviving on wits alone in the brutal realm of print media. Instead we celebrated our latest significant anniversary by interviewing Shane Meadows who appeared in the first ever issue. It made for a nice bit of symmetry while also giving us the excuse to break our number one rule that you only ever get one interview in the magazine.

The front cover was shot in my front room but you wouldn’t be able to tell as the background was blurred out to focus in on the main image of a Quality Street tin which would later become ‘Clumber Street – an unsavoury assortment of chattiness and trainer shops’. Dom Henry popped over to take the image and brought an array of Christmassy treats with him – wine, smelly cheese, chocolates, to be used in the shot which was wolfed down shortly after.

The Quality Street tin was painted white for the photograph so that it would be easier to draw over when it was handed over to our illustrator. Now when people pop over the house for a glass of mulled wine they look at the tin and think that I’m some kind of minimalist who likes chocolate but has a Naomi Kleinesque aversion to branding.

WriteLion saw the return of a bumper book reviews pages, with reviews of Graham Joyce, Alan Sillitoe and Zoe Fairbairns as well as NottsLit Blog stepping in to review three books from Pewter Rose. I really like the idea of featuring guest reviewers looking at specific publishers as it offers a little bit more promotion for both. Our poetry page also included three bonus reviews of Sue Dymoke, Kathryn Daszkiewicz and Alan Baker. Katie Half-Price was given a Santa’s hat courtesy of our wonderful illustrator Rebecca Hibberd and got stuck into E.L.James, Naomi Wolf and Graham Rawle. It was great fun to write as always and a scary reminder of how easy it is to get into character. My girlfriend always looks a little puzzled when she reads it.

The literature interview was with Alison Moore who was recently shortlisted for the Booker Prize for her debut novel The Lighthouse. The illustration came from Michelle Haywood and as always is an example of getting your work (and brief) in early to allow an illustrator time to work on their design. The Lighthouse is a wonderful book, full of subtle warnings that become clearer on a second read. It also has a wonderful rhythm to it, a little like John Banville’s The Sea. Alison is a genuinely lovely person and will go on to be a very significant writer. Salt are definitely my publisher of the year for having the bollocks and faith to submit the novel, given all of the financial risks this entails.

‘The young and the beautiful have nothing to fear but time (management)’

‘The young and the beautiful have nothing to fear but time (management)’ is a slight reworking of the old W B Yeats quote to accommodate the writer. I say this because the last two weeks have been absolutely awful when it’s come to deadlines and has meant I’ve had to be at my sharpest ever to ensure everything gets done on time. A heavy workload is something a hack should never complain about because it means work is flowing but being realistic is just as important, as one missed deadline can invariably cost you in the long run. Editors take such things incredibly personal as they are reliant on you to produce the goods and failure to do so inevitably reflects on them.

One of the biggest drains on my time is research – which I should also point out is one of the most pleasurable aspects of writing because it provides knowledge, the drug on which writers of all persuasions live. A recent example of this is when I chaired a panel on ‘Community journalism and blogging’ at the Writing Industries Conference at Loughborough University. Not only was research required on the subject itself but knowledge of fellow panellists also. You don’t want to be offending someone you’ve met for the first time because they’ll hold on to it with just as much energy as a bitter Editor. It’s about respect and professionalism – which are just as important in gaining you future work as the words before you.

The next edition of LeftLion has been particularly draining with a ‘literary timeline’ of Hood requiring research into five and a half centuries of ballads, poems, plays, books etc. Naturally I haven’t read them all but I’ve certainly dipped my toes, courtesy of google. Similarly an interview with David Horspool of the Times about his historical masterpiece the English Rebel required much background research to ensure the right questions were asked and just as importantly, the right kind of relationship was formed. Gentle introductions, polite email correspondence, knowledge of who he is from radio interviews, television shows and readings his work and reviews were just as integral as reading his mammoth book and thinking about the right questions. Then of course there is the time taken to edit down these 3,000 odd word interviews into a package of 1,200 for the magazine – before my own editorial fights begin to steal valuable magazine space from other word hungry writers. The end product is important, but failure to suitably engage with a big hitter on the Broadsheets could be disastrous as far as our reputation is concerned.

So how do you manage time? To adjust another famous quote, this time from Wall Street, ‘sleeping is for wimps’. You certainly don’t need more than six hours a night. The body can be conditioned to do anything, it really is that malleable. A diary is useful as well. I use two. One is through my Outlook Express which is full of calendar entries that flash up on screen as a visual reminder. The other is written down into my page-a-day diary that lives close to my chest and is always worth glancing over in those invaluable moments of solitude on the toilet. Blutaced notes on the wall are also useful but lose their purpose if there are too many. Remember this next time you go into the kitchen at work and see a thousand photocopied signs in various fonts all saying ‘please wash-up’ so that you no longer notice them anymore. But for me it’s largely all in the head. The brain is far more effective than an excel spreadsheet and faces and times seem to pop up before my eyes constantly vying for attention.

Time is nothing without discipline and this was a point wonderfully articulated by Graham Joyce, the guest speaker at the Writing Industries Conference. He explained how a writer will find absolutely anything to distract themselves from the actual task of writing itself, from trying to perfectly balance a pencil on a table to finding an excuse to hoover the house every five minutes ‘this place is filthy, how can I be expected to write here’. The answer is simple. Switch off the TV and hide the remote, don’t text your friends or check your status update and simply crack on and write. A blog like this of nearly 800 odd words can be whacked out in twenty mins flat once the brain muscles have been conditioned and disciplined to work effectively. It’s a lovely feeling if done regularly and improves your writing by making it second nature. I’ve now got 48 mins to get showed and walk to work. Maybe my time management isn’t quite as good as I thought…

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