The Writers’ Conference

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.

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: 

Authonomy

Quilliant

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.

Publishing

Salt’s Modern Dreams

The Friday Project

 

Derrick Buttress

As part of the Space project I’ve enjoyed spending time with Derrick Buttress. Derek, at the tender age of eighty, has just had his first short story collection published by Shoestring Press although he has five poetry collections, two memoirs and various scripts for radio and television under his belt. Derrick is our first commissioned writer and will be taking us from the 1930s up to the publication of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning in 1958. He’s going to take us on a personal journey through the market square – a key location in the novel – and share his memories of when it was filled with GIs, communists, and folk doing a celebratory conga in celebration of VE Day.

 

Going to Derrick’s home was a little bit like stepping into one of his short stories in that I knew everything about his relationship with his wife Joan though a couple of comments. Joan was in the front room watching Casablanca, ‘for the seventeenth time’ Derrick informed me. I wasn’t sure if he meant that day, week or the duration of his sixty years of marriage. Later on Joan pulled me to one side and said, ‘you know he spends all of his time up there tapping away on that computer’ and shook her head, like I must be in agreement with her that this was ridiculous behaviour and I’d be better suited sitting down with her watching Casablanca.

 

As part of our public engagement for the Space project, Derrick kindly allowed me to piggy back on to his book launch Sing to Me and we chatted about his market square memories. The event was held at Lee Rosy’s on 11 April which is a lovely little venue – although if you’re planning a similar event there, make sure you keep the door shut upstairs as the noise quickly filters downwards. It was a lovely event with a highly respected audience including John Lucas, Ross Bradshaw, Wayne Burrows, Nicola Monaghan, Michael Eaton, David Belbin, Tony Roe, Al Atkinson, Cathy Grindrod and Aly Stoneman. Derrick then went on to share a story about working as a teenager in a factory full of women where a big breasted bully would deliberately pen him in to a corner and make him blush, much to the amusement of her cackling comrades.

 

After explaining the Space project to Derrick he said he wished he’d known me when he was younger. I can’t wait for new audiences to experience his writing and I hope that at eighty, he gets the wider recognition that he deserves. I can think of no better validation for the arts council than offering this writer a platform into the digital age.

 

Preview of Derrick Buttress’ book launch

Twitter: Arthur Seaton for more info on events

And of course The Space…coming 1 May.