On Friday 4 March a group of third-year undergraduate Creative Writing students set out in freezing rain in search of Shandy Hall in Coxwold, where Laurence Sterne wrote the majority of his novel Tristram Shandy.
From the moment we arrived we knew we were in topsy-turvy Shandy Land, where nothing is quite right. We started by looking at a full-stop. The wonderful, digressive curator of Shandy Hall, Patrick Wildgust, began by showing us the full-stop that appears at the end of the first edition of TristramShandy, magnified and turned into a work of art by Scott Myles.
In the chapel we saw sacrificial glass and stones that speak.
Back in the hall we measured out an hour in grains of sand. We took books that took books to pieces to pieces.
So of course we learned that a full-stop is not really what it appears. There is never a full stop or end to narrative. Look at it closely, magnify it a hundred, thousand, million-fold and a full-stop seeps into the paper with valleys and channels, black holes and highlights. It is not a stop at all, but just another messy mark on a page out of which we try to make meaning; in which we swear we can decipher the head of King George III in silhouette.
The full-stop launches us into new narratives, fresh meanings. So watch this space for our creative responses to the topsy-turvy world of Shandy Hall…
James David is a freelance writer – primarily for children – former school teacher and craftsman. His most known book series, Aqua Crysta, is a fantasy series set along Whitby’s coast, where he lives. His other titles include Squbbitz and Remote Control.
1) When and why did you get into writing?
From school age, having won competitons urged me to write as a hobby, even during twenty years as a teacher. I had freelance work published but nothing serious in volume until the Aqua Crysta series was a accepted after I’d packed up teaching. I’d always regarded it as a relaxing pastime.
2) Is there a reason you chose to write from the point of view of children/young adults? Do you find this perspective easier or more challenging than writing for adults?
I always had young fiction in mind with my writing, but my work is read by many ages. My oldest regular reader is now about 93! I like mixing prose with my own black and white illustrations, which works most effectively with children’s stories. As an ex-teacher I felt at home with school visits etc and book signings. I have had an adult-aimed novel in mind for years – decades – but never got around to it!
3) Is the Whitby Coast setting of your Aqua Crysta series a place of sentimental value to you, or is it more of a case of writing what you know?
Definitely both. I’ve always loved whitby, and it makes a perfect setting for stories with a hint of magic. Also, being based here helps with promotions such as book signings in a tourist hotspot and ‘A Day with an Author’ days with school parties (a day with me in the locations from the books, doing creative work and exploring, games etc).
4) As well as writing your own books, you also receive manuscripts from aspiring, unpublished writers. Do you receive a lot of unsolicited manuscripts? If so, what would you say determines which pieces you look at/accept?
I meet many budding authors at booksignings etc of all ages. I generally encourgage them to send manuscripts. If a piece is original, well-presented, and has a ‘grab factor’ in the first few pages, they’re likely to get an encouraging response from me.
5) Would you recommend self-publishing (or other contemporary shared-cost deals etc) to aspiring authors, or would you suggest a more traditional path?
With such competition regarding new names, I’d say all methods are acceptable and to be encouraged.
6) If they were to choose a self-publishing route, how would you advise they get their work noticed?
The best route, to me, is to have a run of physical books produced and then arranging book signings to meet the public (or getting into school in the case of young fiction), plus back up with radio interviews etc, even on a local basis to start with.
7) As a fantasy writer for young readers, do you find that the market for such works has become saturated, with the popularity of fantasy serials such as Harry Potter and Twilight and so many similar books popping up?
Indeed that is the case, although it has to be said that as time moves on with new readers there is always a new market. Especially regarding the HP factor; recent juniors have seen all the films, but many find the books too long to bother with and prefer something shorter and fresh. Teachers prefer something children have to read/listen to without pre-contact images in their heads! So there is still a market, and I would still encourage the genre with new writers, but obviously a unique angle has to come first!
8) Do you have a specific writing process – any traditions or superstitions – or do you treat your writing as any other day’s work?
During the creation of a particular title, one gets into a certain routine. In my case, mornings, alternating between text and illustration, day to day. But with new experimental, non-commissioned work, I suppose it’s more hit and miss when the mood or ideas crop up. The location of working can vary for the second, with holidays etc, but I need a consistent location for my daily work; I find I often need a more mechanical, routine approach for deadlines.
Benji Goldsmith is a writer of comics and resident comics expert at Travelling
Man in York. He runs sequential art workshops for school children, is a proud
member of York based writers group, and is currently working on a comic with artist Abz-J-Harding.
They plan to release the book in both web and print format later this year.
Benjamin was born in Coventry, England and raised in Cheshire. He originally
started out as a sound engineer and music producer, moving to the area of
Teesside in 2006 where he obtained a B.Sc. in Music Technology with frst-
class honours. Since graduating University Benjamin has done everything from providing a
sound installation for The Old Truman Brewery at Brick Lane in London as part
of Free Range to producing his own electronic music (which has been aired on
BBC Radio) and more recently his work as a flm composer and sound designer
for a multi-award winning flm and animation company based in York called
Benji’s creative focus has steadily shifted over the years towards another of his
greatest passions, comics. He now feeds all of his time, passion, energy and
creativity into writing.
Q Whats your work gonna be about?
A I’m currently writing the first book in a series of comics inspired by the representation of
Wolves throughout history, mythology and folklore. The story is routed in speculative fiction,
quite dystopian in tone and heavily conspiracy laden. It focuses on sociocultural factors and
explores themes such as industrialisation, social inequality, spirituality and identity. Q How did you find the artist to work with?
A It was actually a case of serendipity. The artist I’m working with named Abigail J Harding is
a customer at the shop where I work in York called ‘Travelling Man’. That’s how we got to
know each other and also how I discovered her art. I was completely blown away by her
talent and immediately asked her to do a book with me. Q Which authors inspire your writing?
A If we’re talking comics then Warren Ellis, Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka without a doubt. In
terms of prose I would have to say Philip K. Dick, H.P Lovecraft and likes of Kerouac. I have a
broad taste in reading. Q When do you find time to write?
A I carry a notebook and a pen with me everywhere I go and tend to use my phone a lot for
note taking. I write at every spare minute I get, which is most evenings and whenever I have
time off from work. I have a strong work ethic and tend to give myself very little downtime. Q How have you scheduled yourself?
A I set myself fairly rigid goals and objectives for every month and then every week. For
example with the book i’m currently writing; I aim to have the outline and structure for the first comic finished by the end of April and then scripting will be completed throughout May.
I’ll then break those sorts of things down into smaller milestones week by week to ensure I
keep on top of things. Q Do you have anyone proofread for you as you go?
A I’m part of a writers group based in York comprised of friends who also write for comics. Through that group I’m able to gain valuable feedback and commentary on my writing, it’s like having a team of editors. I think a fresh perspective is always welcome and absolutely invaluable. Q How have you gotten the connections in the industry that you do?
A I’m quite lucky because I work for a chain of independent comic shops which have strong
ties to the industry and association with things like ‘Thought Bubble Sequential Arts Festival’.
This undoubtedly affords me greater opportunities to network, make contacts and get advice
and guidance from people in the industry. Q What other works have you been involved with?
A I’m a fresh face. I worked/studied as a sound engineer and produced electronic music for
years. My focus seems to have naturally gravitated towards writing over time. My fathers a
writer and a poet amongst other things, it could be his influence on a subconscious level
perhaps. It started off with a bit of work writing reviews for comics blogs and then I began
submitting pitches for short stories to comics anthologies; one of which was accepted recently and i’m about to begin scripting for. I’m basically working as hard as I can and throwing myself head first at the industry. The aim with the book i’m currently working on is to have a 6-page preview printed and ready to take to DICE (Dublin International Comics Expo) in late September, to publish the comic online shortly afterwards and then launch the comic in print around mid November at Thought Bubble. Q Know of any good alternative literature events for people?
A I was hoping you guys could maybe tell me about one or two…as a writer trying to break into the comics industry it’s all about the conventions for me, but I’m always open to writing for different mediums and being involved in anything that might help me improve my writing skills. Q Dogs or cats?
A Definitely cats, they’re naturally aloof, clean, tidy and good at taking care of themselves….a
bit like me 🙂
Students who would like their work to be part of the student showcase in the York Literature Festival. The deadline has now been moved to: Monday 10th March. So you have more time to submit your work!
Submissions should be either poetry or prose and should be an interpretation on a given theme. The theme is:
“We are born in one day. We die in one day. We can change in one day. And we can fall in love in one day. Anything can happen in just one day.” (Quote: Gayle Forman – Just One Day)
Students can submit up to 3 submissions. Poetry should be no longer than a page in length and prose should be between 1000-2000 words. Students should be prepared to read their own work at the showcase, but we can provide some people to read your work for you, if you so wish.
Jack Fallows is a comic book artist and illustrator from Newcastle Upon Tyne. He has been self-publishing comics for the last 12 years and reading/making them his entire life. He worked at the Travelling Man comic book shop for 5 years, where he founded the Paper Jam Comics Collective in 2007. Between 2008-2011, he delivered workshops in schools, libraries and youth centers teaching young people how to make their own comic books. This eventually led him to pursue a career in primary teaching. His work has been sold and exhibited internationally and his latest title Axolotl has been reviewed highly. For more information on his works, go to: http://jackfallows.com/
What inspires you most? Do you act on all inspiration or choose which ones will be worth it?
I consume quite a lot of art and I think that’s an important thing to do regardless of which creative sector you’re working in. I’ve had movies inspire my music, I’ve had paintings inspire writing, I’ve had music inspire comics etc. I find artists who care about their craft and who have something new to say most inspiring. But what motivates me to sit down and do things is really just looking back over the last thing I did and hating it. It sounds kind of cynical but being able to pick fault with your own output, striving to make it better and wanting to make sure it isn’t the last thing people see before you die really lights a fire under you.
If you do any contract work or commissions do you just do what they’ve asked for or strive for something inspired?
It really depends on the client. I do a lot of commissioned work in the local music scene here in Newcastle and that’s always a lot of fun. Lots of the bands and promoters know my work now and give me a lot of free reign to take the seed of an idea and put my mark on it. Because I teach full time now and don’t need the money as much as when I was self-employed, I’ve decided these are the only commissions I’ll be taking on for the foreseeable future now. It can get extremely arduous and self-deflating working with clients who are trying to get an end result from you based on work they’ve seen by other artists, without really considering your own merits or limitations. Unfortunately, even as a freelancer, you mostly have to subscribe to the motto of ‘the customer is always right!’
Have you ever started writing anything and changed it radically mid-way through because you’ve been inspired differently?
I don’t think I’ve ever sat down with an idea and stuck with it right until the end. Even the act of creating something changes it from an abstract notion in your head to a concrete thing in front of you. A lot of the time, I’m making decisions as I go, especially with illustration work and with prose. Comics don’t have quite as much leeway because you have to consider everything at the same time but they do constantly evolve and change. Is it okay to have multiple projects going at the same time?
For absolutely no reason whatsoever, I’ve spent most of my creative career under the assumption that it isn’t okay to have multiple projects going at the same time. In the last year or two, however, I’ve been trying it out and the results have been incredible. Instead of trying to plough through those not so enjoyable projects and really struggling to motivate myself, getting behind on deadlines, scolding myself etc. I’ve been balancing those out with other, smaller and easier jobs. That means all the projects are getting done faster and to a better quality, and I’m not going gradually crazy. I guess everyone works differently but I’d definitely recommend trying it both ways to see what works for you. Of course, the danger with taking on multiple projects is spreading yourself too thin and not being able to manage time properly. But as long as you’re sensible and keep dates and deadlines in mind, you should be okay!
How do you begin your writing/drawing?
It’s different for each project. With longer stuff like The Big Bang, I started by deciding on everything that needed to happen in an issue. Then I broke that down into events, pages, panels etc. Then I wrote a script for the whole issue and kind of did thumbnails as I went to make sure everything flowed okay. After that, I took it a page at a time and pencilled, inked, scanned and shaded each page in order, on A3 paper that would be reduced to A5 for print. But I found this really laborious so I’ve taken a completely different approach for my new (and I believe, better) title Axolotl. A lot of this, I’m making up as I go along. It’s an anthology of short strips, so I can dip in and out of each story depending on whether the ideas/motivation are there. This way, nothing is forced and I’m having fun doing it – which will always improve the quality of the output. I’ve given up on adding greyscale because I don’t think the results are worth the effort – at least not with my work – and I’ve been enjoying the challenge of making striking images in pure black and white. I’m also working entirely in A5 Moleskine sketchbooks now and drawing when I’m out and about in coffee shops and pubs etc. which breaks up the monotony of sitting at a drawing desk alone for 8 hours and gives the stories more context.
What about music, do you do lyrics or music first?
From time to time, I’ll be humming away and come up with a little song in my head that I’ll then set music to. But usually, I just mess around with different instruments and if a nice sounding riff or melody emerges, I’ll let the mood of that dictate what the song will be about and set lyrics to it. I love making and performing music but I don’t really have any idea what I’m doing, most of the time. Do you then use an editor to finalise your work?
When I’ve worked on anthologies, there has usually been editorial input. Alexi Conman worked as a co-writer and editor on The Big Bang but that was a very natural, collaborative kind of arrangement. If I’m self-publishing, I take complete, megalomaniacal, creative control over everything that happens. I think listening to and acting on feedback from peers is really important though, so I’ll often take works-in-progress along to the Paper Jam Comics Collective meetings to see what people think.
When you were younger did you decide to become a writer/artist/musician/teacher?
Since I was about 5 years old, I’ve always enjoyed writing and drawing and making comics and playing songs. I think everyone pretty much keeps doing the things that they enjoy for as long as they enjoy them and I’m still not tired of any of it. It wasn’t until I had to start thinking about GCSE subject choices and A-Levels and job prospects that I started researching ways to make money from any of it. While I was self-employed, I started running comic workshops for kids and realised that I loved the creative challenge of teaching and that’s what led me down that career path.
Should new writers accept working for free?
A horrible drawback to working in the creative sector is that unfortunately, yes, it is the industry standard for you to prove your salt for no money to begin with. That’s why it’s best to do this while you’re still in education so that you can make inroads and do some networking before you’re out there in the big wide world. I did a lot of free gig posters while I was at university and that’s why I’m being paid to do posters and album artwork etc. now. Writing and drawing are extremely competitive fields and getting yourself noticed is a big challenge. Equally, you need to realise your own worth and not be afraid to make that step into saying ‘you need to pay me for this service’ when the time is right.
Any advice for aspiring writers or students?
If you don’t enjoy writing or drawing or whatever it is you’re hoping to turn into your career, don’t bother. You’re setting yourself up to either fail or somehow succeed against the odds and be unfulfilled for the rest of your life. Enjoying what you do enables you to keep things fresh, stay motivated, meet deadlines, improve your craft and put out the kind of work that people want to pay you to do. The worst thing that can possibly flash into your brain is ‘Hey, this seems really popular and lucrative, maybe I’ll give it a shot’. I often meet people new to the comics scene, who have seen a handful of superhero movies and come to conventions with an idea for a 500 page graphic novel. You need to take the time to understand what you’re getting yourself in for before taking a dive as big as that otherwise the rejection can be really discouraging. Dip your toe into lots of things and figure out what inspires you the most.
A long time ago you told me that things get so much better after high school. When would you say are your best years?
Hopefully I’m yet to have them! My school years were pretty rough but everyone has different experiences. I think I might have just been listening to ‘You Were Cool’ by The Mountain Goats a lot when we had that conversation.
How do you market your self-published works?
I go to comic conventions, get work stocked in comic shops and use Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, Etsy and my own personal website online. I’m very proud to say that the comic scene is extremely welcoming of new-comers, so don’t be afraid to use any of these avenues if you’re looking to get involved.
For more of Jack’s writing, artwork and music, go to http://jackfallows.com/
We have a visit from a Literary Agent on Wednesday the 12th of February in Skell 037 from 2-4pm. Literary Agents represent authors, and anyone thinking about publishing a novel in the future needs to know how they work! This is also going to be great for anyone thinking about a career in publishing. Janelle from Peters, Fraser and Dunlop will talk about the work of the literary agent
All are welcome, no need to book, just come along.
“Since 2006 Penned in the Margins has published over 35 books, spanning poetry, experimental fiction, criticism and creative non-fiction. Our current output is between 6 and 8 new titles per year. We are currently accepting submissions of unsolicited manuscripts and project proposals.”
Tom Chivers was born in 1983 in South London. He is a writer, publisher and award-winning arts producer, and runs the independent literary arts company Penned in the Margins. His poetry collections include How to Build a City (Salt, 2009), The Terrors (Nine Arches, 2009) and, as editor, the anthologies City State: New London Poetry and Adventures in Form (Penned in the Margins, 2009 & 2012). Since 2006 Penned in the Margins has published over thirty-five books spanning poetry, criticism and experimental fiction, and produced numerous arts events, projects and tours including Generation Txt (2007), Kalagora (2010), Riot Acts (2012) and Electronic Voice Phenomena (2013). Recent publications include Holophin by Luke Kennard (Winner of Best Novella, Saboteur Awards) and The Shipwrecked House by Claire Trevien (Longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award). From 2007 to 2011 Tom was co-Director of the London Word Festival.
Luke Kennard will discuss his incredible novel at this special event! Luke Kennard is the author of four volumes of poetry, two pamphlets and a novella called Holophin. His second book, The Harbour Beyond the Movie was shortlisted for the Forward Prize in 2007. He lectures at the University of Birmingham and is working on his first novel.