The workshop led by Abi Curtis and Luke Kennard was definitely afternoon. Set out much like a University session we explored a broad range of Science Fiction writing and genre tropes. Some excellent writing was created from the exercises given to us, especially great writing from some people who claimed to have no prior knowledge of Sci-Fi, so the workshop must have worked! Being quite a Science Fiction buff I found it quit enjoyable to get together with a group and discuss the genre, the only thing was it all felt a bit short for time! Maybe next time a longer session would be great to really explore some more in detail. But as I say I’m a great admirer of anything Sci-Fi so I may be biased! For someone trying to get into the genre it’s a great way to start! If it’s on again next year I would recommend attending.
York St John is pleased to host the novelist Maggie Gee for a reading and discussion of her work. Gee was included on the first Granta list of ‘Best Young British Novelists’ in 1983, and since then has published twelve novels, a collection of short stories and a memoir. She is Professor of Creative Writing at Bath Spa University and Vice-President of the Royal Society of Literature.
We are a group of second year Creative Writing students producing a collection of poetry and prose to be sold at the CREATE event in May. This is an annual publication, celebrating the work of all graduating Creative Writing students.
If you are interested in submitting your work, our suggested theme is York. However, York is a preference and not prescriptive. We want people to get creative, so we welcome all submissions. Submissions should be sent by 31st March to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like to receive more information regarding the anthology, or have any questions, please contact the email above.
We are a group of second year Creative Writing students producing a collection of poetry and prose to be sold at the CREATE event in May. This is an annual publication, celebrating the work of all graduating Creative Writing students. Therefore, we have opened up this exciting opportunity to art students. We are asking you to help us design the cover for the anthology publication.
This is a fantastic way to expand your portfolio, add to your CV, and get experience being a published artist. The anthology will be printed professionally, and will be sold at a YSJ event.
We have given the writers a suggested theme of York, so please could you reflect this in your designs. We would like you to get creative, so your designs can be in any medium, such as paint or photography.
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/
So it’s been a pretty exciting November. On the 7th we had a fabulous book launch with Nuala Casey and Matt Haig here at YSJ. Matt read from his latest novel, The Humans, and reminded us all why it’s great to be a human, from the point of view of an alien. Matt’s lively and moving writing is highly recommended. Nuala Casey, a graduate of the MA in Creative Writing here at YSJ, read from her debut novel, Soho 4 a. m. Nuala held the audience with her atmospheric and gritty prose, taking us through the shady streets of Soho. Nuala doesn’t wait around either, her next novel, Summer Lies Bleeding will be out next summer. Both writers responded to questions from the audience with generosity and refreshing honesty, and we all got an insight into the discipline and hard work necessary to become a successful writer.
Last week we were incredibly proud to see our first cohort of joint honours Creative Writing students graduate in the grand York Minster. We were all dressed in our finery, struggling to balance our hats and comparing our gowns. JT Welsch definitely won that particular contest…
We know that all our students are going on to do great things, and are happy to have the pleasure of continuing to teach some on our MA.
Finally, novelist Barrie Sherwood gave a wonderful reading of his latest work, Sandia, yesterday evening. Barrie was a lecturer here at YSJ for five years and recently left to teach in Singapore. It was lovely to see him again, and lots of his previous students turned up to wish him well and thank him for being an inspirational teacher. Barrie’s new novel is remarkable, a work that shows a novelist at the height of his ability. I was bowled over by the control and power of the prose. I can’t wait to read the whole thing.
There are more exciting events coming next year, including a reading of Holophin by Luke Kennard, who will be joined by Tom Chivers of brilliant independent press Penned in the Margins. We are also welcoming an literary agent, and looking forward to the York Literature Festival, where we’ll get to see Germaine Greer, Nicholas Royle, Alison Moore, Emily Berry, Helen Mort, Rebecca Goss (to name only a few).
Ben Warden has recently completed the MA in Creative Writing at YSJ. He had already published a novel Life Without just as he began the full-time MA. He also works full-time at York St John University as a Quality Officer & Deputy Admin Manager for the Faculty of Arts.
Hi Ben, what made you decide to take an MA in Creative Writing here at YSJ?
I’d been writing for about 6 years, after doing a degree in film. I’d written in loads of different genres and formats and entered competitions and sent my work off to literary agents but I was getting very little interest. When I came to work at York St John I started to hear about this fantastic MA from loads of students, colleagues and graduates and I heard nothing but good things. I went to talk to the Head of Programme and the course just looked perfect. I wanted to be challenged, improve my writing and get back into a room full of other writers, which I’ve always found makes the ideas come so much quicker and stronger than trying to write on your own. The MA looked like it could provide all of that and it did.
You chose to study full-time over one year – was this really intense? How did you manage your time around your job?
I’m one of those people that works best when I put myself under pressure. I was really organised during the course because I had to be. I do work 9am-5pm Mon- Fri, but my partner works a 6day week, so I basically managed the course by using Saturday as I working day. I’d sit down and work 9-5 like a working day and I also used my lunchtimes and evening at the pressure points, like when essays are due. To be honest I didn’t find it to intense. It was challenging, but not unmanageable. The only time it got a little much was in the very last term when I had a module and had started my dissertation/project, but that was only because I had to take a break from the dissertation, which I was really immersed in, to write the essay for the other module. I think it just depends on how you work best.
You had just published your first novel, Life Without, as you began the MA. Tell us a little bit about it and where we can buy it.
The book is a romance about a London boy who has a high flying job, some great mates and good looks. He seems to have it all, but he’s just divorced his university sweetheart and he’s down. It quickly becomes apparent that, like a lot of young people, he’s actually floating along feeling a little lost. In an effort to get some excitement back in his life he quits his job and starts a high risk project with an unstable artist. As the project takes a twist, throwing him back into his ex’s life, he finds his money, relationships and sanity pushed to the brink. It’s a great holiday-type read, really based entirely on the characters. Anyone interested can pick it up on Amazon as a paperback or kindle copy.
You decided to self-publish the first novel. What has that experience been like?
It’s been really exciting and it’s gone a lot better than I hoped. It isn’t an easy process. You have to push and learn to become your own marketing team. If you stop marketing, or even pause you see the effect in your sales. It’s been hard to balance how much I market the book I have out and how much I stop and go about writing something new. But through doing it I’ve got genuine feedback from readers and developed a readership, which has been amazing. So far I’ve sold about 1000 copies. If you include the free promotions, which I’ve done to get the book noticed, there’s about 5000 copies out there in 8 different countries. It’s mad. My book is far better travelled than I am!
How has taking the MA changed your approach to your writing?
When I started I was all about storytelling. I didn’t think the writing was that important as long as the structure was good, the characters were strong and the story tied together. Now I’ve done the course I’ve learnt how much atmosphere and feeling you can lend through the language you use and how the voice, tone, pace, etc., can really enhance a scene. I used to write in all sorts of formats; short stories, film scripts, novels, plays. I’ve definitely fallen more in love with the written word and I think I’ll be sticking with books for a fair while.
What are the best things about taking an MA in Creative Writing at York St John?
I loved so many parts of this course. You look at technique, structure, but you also do things like reflecting on your own approach to writing, which really helped me ground the sort of writer I am and then move forward with a much better sense of ownership over what I was doing. If I had to pick a favourite part it would be the work shopping. Getting to listen to so many different takes on an exercise and receiving direct feedback on my work was brilliant.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently doing a couple of things. I’m acting as a script doctor for an independent film that is being written and directed by the Amoeba art collective; I’ve written a short story which will be published at Christmas, in a collection called Christmas Lites (it’s an anthology released every year and proceeds go to victims of domestic violence); I’ve written a 2 minute short film, which is currently being worked on by a small production company in Kent and I’m helping a friend to develop a TV series idea.
My main project is my second book, which is going to be very different to Life Without. It’s a thriller and I’m hoping I can get it picked up by a literary agent and publish through more mainstream channels. If that doesn’t work I will self-publish again, as I’ve really enjoyed the process.
What advice do you have for someone thinking of taking the MA?
I would say that you’ve really got to know that you love writing and that this is what you want to do. I couldn’t have committed to the course the way I did if it wasn’t in a subject I love. Make sure that you really want it, then go and get it! :]