A last-minute 2016 update

OK, so I’ve been very bad at blogging here lately, and I’ve been busy doing a great many things, not least of which is just getting on with all the things in life that prevent one from doing things like blogging about writing, and other similar indulgences… but. It’s nearly the end of 2016, and I haven’t posted for months, and it’s about time I did, so here I am.

Writing about writing has taken a back seat, but I have been just plain old writing, oddly enough – I even managed to help raise £3,500 for refugee charity PAFRAS by reading at the Goth City Festival in Leeds, UK, alongside the wonderful Rosie Garland et al (details here, post hoc, because I’m too useless to promote it beforehand). Anyway. It was great, and we rasied money for charity, and I got a good photo out of it too, wherein I resemble a human for once.

NJR reading, by Gareth Pedrick 2016

NJR reading, by Gareth Pedrick 2016

So, what’s next? I seem to be going to Iceland. There’s a writers’ retreat in Reykjavik each year, going by the name of Iceland Writers Retreat, and I somehow won a place, no doubt through my dashing good looks and fiendish wit. Or my writing. Or luck. Whichever. Anyway, I am extremely grateful for this, and am very excited to be going! I’ll be spending a bit of time wandering around posing on rocks, reciting poetry about ice, or similar. Who wouldn’t?

This blog was never meant to be much more than a calling card, with a few links to things and very occasional news, but perhaps the retreat will spur me into engaging more. Maybe people will even read it. O the heady prospects!

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The Forgotten and the Fantastical 2: a (totally unbiased) review

Mother’s Milk Books recently published another story of mine in the second of what looks like being an annual series of fairy tale anthologies. Normally I don’t review anything I’m in, or anything by people I know, but as MMB are a small press and I have nothing but good words for them, and because I really enjoyed reading everybody else’s stories in this volume, I thought I’d risk a airing few thoughts.

I posted my review on Goodreads, so will link here rather than repeat it.

The Forgotten and the Fantastical 2, a totally and definitely unbiased review, yep yep.

You can buy the book from MMB’s own online store, cutting out certain retailers if you wish…

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The Forgotten and the Fantastical, vol. 2

At last, an update! 😀

My short story ‘Icarus’ will be in print soon (21st March) in the second volume of The Forgotten and the Fantastical from Mother’s Milk Books. You can pre-order direct from the publisher at a modest discount.

TFATF vol.1 is still available too, and includes two of my pieces: The Paper House, and The Boy and the Bird.

Currently, subs are open for volume three, so it looks like MMB are running with this series – stories range from new takes on the old, to old takes on the new, and are cross-genre. What they have in common, I think, is a sensibility for a certain kind of storytelling that foregrounds the act of the telling and the ways in which we latch onto what we read. Volume One was certainly interesting, and I’m looking forward to seeing Volume Two when it’s out (at the time of writing, it’s on the way to press).

I also want to say thank you to Teika for being a tolerant and keen editor. Icarus is a better piece for her input. A good editorial eye is essential in maximising the quality of your writing, I think – perhaps a blog post on the matter is in order.

And yes, I’ve been awful at keeping this page up to date. I’ve been writing, but I’ve also been very busy indeed finishing an MA in Literature, focussing on medieval poetry and Old Norse translation. There will be more to say on all this later 😉

The Forgotten and the Fantastical vol. 2

The Forgotten and the Fantastical vol. 2

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The Forgotten and the Fantastical

Thank you to Mother’s Milk Books for publishing two of my short stories in The Forgotten and the Fantastical, a collection of fairy tales aimed at adults.

Included are eleven stories from nine writers, all treating the idea of ‘fairy tale’ differently. Some are traditional, some not. It’s a really nice little volume, and features some very good writing.

Mother’s Milk are a small independent press, and I think that’s something that should be applauded – there are some wonderfully talented people out there who don’t get much of a chance in the mainstream, so everything we can do to help indies and small startups is for the general good of art!

You can purchase TFATF in paperback here directly from the publisher, or from your favourite online or high-street retailer. The ISBN is 9780957385849. The UK cover price is £8.99.

The Forgotten and the Fantastical, front cover

The Forgotten and the Fantastical, front cover

‘Enchanting, fascinating, alchemical’ – Alison Lock

‘captivating… a wonderful celebration of the lost voices of our past, with a contemporary flavour.’ – Kate Lunn, For Books’ Sake

(You can read more of Kate Lunn’s review over at For Books’ Sake)

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2015: Level Up!

Do you make New Year Resolutions? Do you stick to them? Me neither. We’re just over 9% of the way through 2015 already, and I’ve no idea how it happened… so maybe it’s time for a stocktake.

Things to do

All the things.

I want to edit my novella Scissors/Paper/Stone, write more of my short stories based on Greek myth (a sample here at The Bohemyth), and make Nothing’s Oblong available in paperback. Then there’s the secret project I’m working on with another Yorkshire writer, about Yorkshire writers, which will hopefully see daylight this calendar year.

Various projects – including this blog – were put on hold last year after the death of a close friend, and picking up the pieces has taken time. But things are moving again. Win! Probably!

Things done

In the last few weeks I’ve signed two contracts for some short stories for a compilation which will be in print around the end of Q1. I’ll post details as soon as they’re ready. I also had the pleasure and privilege to be interviewed for the Leeds Big Bookend literature festival – a ‘Rock Festival for Words’ no less! – and you can read that here. Thanks to Halima Mayat for the conversation. I skilfully avoided all the cake.

I’m still researching and making notes for another novel, set on the Yorkshire coast in Victorian times. There’re a few things that need to be right before I dive in and just write it, but it’s increasingly approaching that dangerous point… no turning back then! Exciting and scary times! Argh! Yay! &c.

Things that Remain Undecided

Life and stuff.

I’m considering setting up a small press to promote Yorkshire writers. Details are, as yet, no finer than that, but it’s been on my mind long enough to want to put some proper thought in. We’ll see.

Have an excellent February, people of the internet! Books! Buy them! All the books!

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For the sake of decoration, if that’s what one might call it, here’s a pic of a recent reading. Thanks to Nigel Ward for the photo. The event is the regular Jackanory spoken word and music session at Mocca Moocho in Wakefield.

reading Nothing's Oblong at Mocca Moocho

reading Nothing’s Oblong at Mocca Moocho

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Nothing’s Oblong: first review

My literary mystery novel Nothing’s Oblong just got its first reader review over at Amazon today – four stars for which I am very happy. I reckoned a first review merited a bit of promo… 😉

You can read the review (and buy the book, naturally!) here.

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Theseus online

Thanks to the folks at The Bohemyth, you can now read my short story Theseus Enters the Labyrinth online.

Theseus… is one of a gathering set of short fictional pieces rooted in classical Greek myths – Theseus and the Minotaur being one of the most famous. It’s not exactly a new idea – writers have been using Greek myth as source material for pretty much always – so all I can do is offer my take on it. Robert Graves delivered the stories in a traditional way, retaining the sense of the originals, and I didn’t want to do that. My cues come more from writers like Angela Carter, who used folk and fairy tale (particularly the stories of Charles Perrault) as a basis for a kind of reconstruction of elements, a re-framing of things. That’s nearer my intentions here. I’m also influenced by Jorge Luis Borges, whose short metafictions spiral wonderfully around themselves.

Theseus… is an experiment. I hope you like it.

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Fictions of Every Kind – a reading

Here’s a photo from a reading I did the other day at Fictions of Every Kind, an open mic and invited speaker event at Wharf Chambers in Leeds, UK.  They run every three months, and are themed – this last one was “home”, and I think the next one is “the North”… I already have an idea lined up for that, so hopefully I’ll get some floor time!

Here I am reading from my short story The Categories of Ernest Bookbinder, a piece from a few years ago that can be found in Route 18: Ideas Above Our Station, amongst other places.

NJR reading at Wharf Chambers for FOEK

NJR reading at FOEK event “home”

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Blog Tour

I have been invited by the most excellent poet, performer, and facilitator Becky Cherriman to continue this writers’ Blog Tour. Becky’s own entry in the series can be found here. The idea is simple: each week a writer answers four questions about themselves, and passes the virtual baton to a recipient of their choosing. The four questions are these:

Here goes.

What am I working on?

Three strands I think: the academic, the creative, and the business-like.

At the moment I’m busy studying for an MA in Literature. I taught English and Creative Writing for a few years and fancied a change, so when the chance came up to go back to university for a while, I grabbed it. I’m looking mostly at aspects of space and place in medieval Arthurian texts.

If this implies the creative writing has taken a back seat for now, it needn’t. I’ve been drafting less new material in the past twelve months, true, but I’ve also been through a large backlog of older work that needed a damn good editing if it was going to go anywhere. The pressures of research and drafting lifted, editing pieces that had good intentions but were less than ideal has proved enormously fulfilling, and some of those pieces have now found homes in the outside world – and I’m pretty sure that starting the MA gave me the push to do all that revision, because otherwise I’d have just carried on planning fresh material and not dealing with all those neglected but perfectly valid pieces of writing. I’m still putting together new ideas, mostly for a themed collection of short stories based on ancient legends, a novel of 19th-century engineering, and a re-writing of old Arthurian narratives featuring Gawain. I can’t say too much about those right now, as they’re in the early stages of development, and I don’t like to talk too much about nascent matter.

As for business, I belong to a writing collective called Circa Works. We started out as members of the Yorkshire Arts Circus’ Writer Development Programme several years ago, and drifted apart – then we drifted back together again to perform at a couple of festivals. We’re now looking to expand our presence not only as a group of writers, but as a more actively engaged creative and productive team, and over time I’m looking to help steer this process as I believe very strongly in writing, writers, and doing it for yourself.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

This is difficult. I don’t write to be different, I write because I have to. If what I write is different to something else, it’s because I have a voice that is not someone else’s. Everything we write comes from somewhere, and we absorb a great deal from other writers that may not come out again as we imbibed it (which, by the way, I think is a good thing). So despite being a mashup of everything coming in, filtered through a writer’s other experiences in life, I think a writer’s voice becomes its own. We don’t always have conscious control over it, perhaps. Perhaps sometimes we would like to be X or Y but end up Z. That’s fine. So long as we accept our own voices as valid, we can write what feels right to write, and not feel guilty about it.

For the record, I love Donald Barthelme’s precise and surprising short pieces, Angela Carter’s baroque and convoluted fairy tales, Thomas Pycnhon’s manic free-wheeling, JL Borges’ intellectual games – but I couldn’t write like any of them in a million years.

Why do I write what I do?

Force of habit; the brevity of life.

I mostly write short fiction. I hesitate to call them “stories”, though mostly they are, in the sense that they’re coherent narratives with what you might call a plot. But “story” also implies completeness of some kind, and I don’t think short fiction needs to be complete. I think it needs to be full enough, or empty enough, to provide a look into a space that may be familiar but not from this angle. I think it needs to be complete only in the sense there is nothing I would want to add in order for whatever it is to be satisfying on a simple level. I prefer my short fiction to be unsatisfying to some extent. I like gaps, ambiguities, strangenesses. Short pieces are a wonderful way to explore these things. They are no easier to write than long pieces, and often take a great deal of time to make, but their being more like miniatures in a locket than wall-filling vistas renders them no less valuable, no less worthy. Scale is not the same thing as strength.

Some of my pieces are more traditional than others, though I tend not to produce what I often call “stories about people doing things in places”, because that happens everywhere around us every day, and I feel no need to write about that. Writing, for me, and it is a very personal thing, writing, is about ways to explore the edges of what happens, ways of seeing, ways of experiencing or of filtering the world. Exploring form and style is one way to do this. It’s about playing with language, playing with words and the ways they fit together to suggest any number of things. I see a lot of “rules for writing” or “how to do X or Y writing thing”, and I mostly doubt their worth. Perhaps a beginner can find value in simple dogma, and when we begin to write, trying such stuff is good practice because it yields experience that will quickly push us beyond the simplistic. But beyond that, there are no rules. There are tactics. Ideas and the ways we express them are gameplay. Writing is a game. The aim of the game is to work out how to play the game, and when you work something out, the game changes.

I don’t write poetry. I’m a terrible poet. I have nothing to say in poetic form, except the occasional mildly amusing limerick. Poems are largely alien to me, and I rarely read them, though there are specific poets I admire, and I enjoy using poetic techniques within prose. I like poetry best when it’s from the ground up, not from the head down, which is the opposite of how I like my fiction.

How does my writing process work?

Who can say where ideas come from? They appear. I jot them down in a pocketbook with a pencil. Ideas sometimes gestate for years before they turn into pieces. Sometimes things come suddenly, seemingly from nowhere. Sometimes I fight them for a long time before they change (or I change) into something else. Often the draft is hard, but always the edit is hardest. I write on paper in pencil, or on a tablet with a small keyboard, or on a desktop computer using Scrivener, my favourite writing software. I wrote my novel Nothing’s Oblong entirely in fountain pen. I sometimes bang away on a manual typewriter. Technology (and all these things are technology) affects not how we think or dream our ideas, but about how we place them into the world. I type differently to how I scrawl with a pencil. I can be quicker on a computer, and it still be legible. Stream of consciousness is easier with a keyboard. Very careful writing is perhaps easier with paper. It’s one reason I almost exclusively edit on paper – any work I make on a screen ends up on paper for revision.

I edit thoroughly, intensely, and repetitively. Becky Cherriman called me “the King of the Edit”, at which I smile quietly. First drafts can be thrillingly fresh and even damn near the mark, but nothing escapes an edit or six. My first drafts are experimental, often very bad, and roughly shaped, and I think of them as an under-drawing, as an awkward maquette, as a wild and untutored intelligence. Editing is where I shape finely, balance elements, relocate the misplaced, add the missing, remove the unnecessary, and generally tighten and hone everything in detail. From the placement of punctuation, to the developmental paths of narrative elements, to the kinds of poetic resonances employed – all are shaped in the edit. Often the edit is where I find out what I have written. Often I have no idea what I am doing, and a kind of experiential intuition is the guiding principle. Often I have very clear ideas of what a piece will need to do, but I reserve a good deal of the conscious shaping of that till the edit. Drafts need to live and breathe, and I think they do that best when not over-planned. Drafts need freedom to explore; edits need control to inscribe and delimit that exploration.

There is much to say about writing. Much of it must go unsaid, except by the writing itself. If I knew what I was trying to say, I would not need to write it down.

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Next week, the questions will be answered by Alison Taft, author of the Lily Appleyard series.

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A small selection of Circa Works writers’ work can be purchased here.

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A poem for Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day when you’re single

is walking barefoot over shingle –

best stay in bed

and read novels instead,

with a big mug of tea and some Pringles.

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